Archive for April, 2015

It has not been a good week.

30 April 2015 at 9:12 pm
by Berck

Spring is sluggish where I live, but I’ve been checking the weather every day, trying to scope out when I might get to ride a motorcycle to work. Given that I live at 9,200 feet in Colorado and my work is 45 miles away, the opportunities are not as plentiful as they might be for some folks. A couple of weeks ago, I aired up the tires in both motorcycles, started them up and rode them around the neighborhood. I’ve gotten in a couple of rides to work on the CB1100 this month, both days where the temperature was 33F when I left. 32 is my arbitrary cutoff, and 33 is still pretty cold. I’m okay, except for my hands. Even with my warmest gloves, my hands are pretty much frozen by the time I get down the mountain. I can lean over and rest my left hand on cam cover, but the right hand is simply out of luck. I need hand guards or heated gloves or a windshield or something.

Monday was not a motorcycle day. 26F, and the foot of snow from Sunday was still melting. Tuesday was similarly cold, but Wednesday would be the day.

On Wednesday, Jonah apparently thought that I was joking on Tuesday about riding the motorcycle, so she wasn’t prepared. A perfect excuse to ride Yoshiko. Even though I’d ridden around the neighborhood earlier in the month, the battery was still mostly dead. Not a problem though, she kicked to life pretty quickly, so I headed to work. I figured the 45 mile journey would get the battery nicely charged. As long as the cops didn’t care about the headlight and I used hand signals, I figured I’d be okay. The ride was fine, but sadly, the battery wasn’t showing any improvement by the time I got to work. Turn signals still refused to flash below 5,000 rpm, and even the neutral light looked a bit dim. I figured I’d order a new battery.

I noticed when I got to work there were quite a few fresh drops of oil almost immediately after parking. Not a good sign. I checked the oil, and it was still full. Leak was coming from the left side. Either the crank seal or the clutch seal, I figured. I decided that after I got her home, I would park her until I figured out which seal was leaking and fixed it.

When I left work, it was a bit hard to get her started (took a dozen kicks, which seemed a bit unusual, but I chalked it up to the low battery voltage and poor technique from too much time on the shiny new fancy fuel-injected computer-controlled vixen that needed nothing more than a tap of the starter switch every time. I pulled out of the parking lot, and waited at the stop sign for traffic to clear to take a left. Had to hold the throttle open a little to keep it idling, but that’s not terribly unusual in cold weather since she’s got the coldest plugs I could find. While turning left, she died, in the middle of a four lane road. I rolled backwards to the side of the road to kick her started again. Which is when I noticed the neutral light wasn’t even on. Something in the battery have gone boom, and I realized that I just wasn’t going to make it home on that battery.

Fortunately, it was downhill back to work. I got up to about 3,000 rpm rolling downhill, but that’s apparently not enough to get any juice out of the alternator. It may not even be a self-exciting alternator–I have no idea.

I had been thinking of getting a fancy lithium battery, or at least an AGM battery, but now I was stuck at work. Fortunately, Jonah was able to come get me. We went to Walmart, a thing I’ve managed to avoid for 10 years, but I knew they had the right battery in stock, and it was next door.

What I didn’t realize is that I had to buy the battery separate from the acid. Which meant that it wasn’t going to do me much good until I took it home and charged it. So that’s what I did, leaving the bike at work over night.

This morning, I got work, popped the new battery in, and the bike started immediately. I rode around the parking lot, satisfied that all was good, and played fun car games with a coworker to get Joanna the car so I could ride home.

And the ride home started fine. Yoshiko started on the first kick, the neutral light was bright, and she idled fine. I got on the interstate and was pleased to discover the unusual afternoon tailwind, which only happens when there’s a thunderstorm afoot. Still, I’ll take it, as the CB350 isn’t known for its abundance of power. This means I can cruise at 75mph easily, and not worry about being run over.

As I neared the exit for the road up the mountain, I noticed a loss of power. Still firing on both cylinders, but a sudden, noticeable, loss of power. I slowed to about 65mph, downshifted, and everything seemed smooth, but I was worried about having enough power to make it back up the mountain. I decided to check things out after I exited. I was curious if it would idle, and as I slowed down on the exit ramp, I pulled in the clutch. It died instantly, so I let out the clutch to get it started again. It did, and I tried again. Clutch in, engine dead, clutch out–whoa, it really didn’t want to start there…. but it did. I was able to keep it running with the clutch in if I revved it to about 3,000rpm. What’s going on? That’s when I started to wonder how much oil was left. So I let the clutch back in and let it die, and pulled off on the side of the road.

As soon as I hopped off, my worst fears were confirmed. The back of the bike was covered in oil. This was no leak, this was an empty crankcase. The dipstick confirmed. I hoped wasn’t seized, so less than a minute after starting, I tried to kick it, and was able to stand on the kick starter without it budging. Not good.

I had to call 7 tow companies before I found a tow company able and willing to get me off the side of the road. I was stuck on this stupid triangle between a right turn lane and the main flow of traffic. There was no where for me to go, and I could barely hear anything on my phone with the noise of traffic. With no better ideas, I had her towed to a friend’s house in town, where can she drip the last few drops of oil in piece.

I hope to rebuild her, but I have no idea if I’ll be able to find parts, or how hard this might be, or how much such a project might get in the way of aircraft construction. To top it all off, my newest pair of BDUs have a hole in them. I must have spilled some battery acid.

As unfortunate as all of this has been, I can’t help but feel lucky. Had this happened in the middle of Missouri, I’d be really screwed. Had this happened a few years ago, I wouldn’t have had another motorcycle to ride in the meantime, and probably wouldn’t have had the resources to buy parts to rebuild her. Things could be a lot worse, and if this had to happen, it probably happened in the best way it could.

To This American and Alix Spiegel

22 April 2015 at 9:04 pm
by Berck

While listening to “Freedom Fries” (Ep. 545), I realized that I’d sinned an enormous sin of omission by not having written in before. Had I known that there was anyone who disliked the voices of Chana Joffe-Walt, Miki Meek, or Alix Spiegel, I would have immediately voiced my support for these very voices. I’ve been listening to This American Life since the late ’90s, and these voices have been comforting to me.

It would never have occurred to me to write in to proclaim the virtues of female vocal fry along with all the other positive qualities of the voices of the female reporters because I’d be sure that doing so would make me sound like some sort of creeper. But now I’m just going to have to take that risk because you guys (and girls) need to know that not all your listeners are tasteless misogynists.

Years ago, when only a few minutes into hearing Alix Spiegel’s voice in the excellent “81 Words”, I was mesmerized. While the piece itself was wonderful, regardless of the voice that might have narrated it, I was completely entranced by Spiegel’s voice. I fell in love with her voice while listening to that piece, and it’s turned into a decade-long obsession. At a time when I rarely listened to the NPR news shows, I made an effort to check for new Alix Spiegel stories online and listened to each one with the sort of excitement generally reserved for new Star Trek TNG episodes. The content didn’t really matter to me for two reasons. First, Alix seems to have such a dedication to her reporting that she doesn’t waste my time with boring stories, so I knew I’d never be disappointed. Second, I’d gladly listen to her read the phone book. For hours. I’ve often wondered what she might charge to record an audio book, because an audio book read by Alix Spiegel would be the best audio book ever.

When Planet Money started, it was Chana Joffe-Walt’s pieces that most attracted me to the podcast. I found her style engaging but relaxing. I was crushed to learn she was leaving Planet Money, but elated to learn she joined This American Life.

I don’t know that it’s specifically vocal fry that I like about Alix or Chana’s voice, but I certainly don’t mind it. Years after first becoming mildly obsessed with Spiegel’s voice, I stumbled across several posts on the Language Log about vocal fry, and realized immediately that was the thing that Alix Spiegel does. I started noticing it more often, but unlike others, I find it somewhat endearing. I was glad to see that TAL cited Mark Lieberman in this piece.

As a data point: I’m a 34 year old male, and there are voices I don’t like, but I guess they’re different voices from everyone else’s. For example, I was slow to like This American Life because I really hated Ira’s voice, but I don’t notice it at all now. I’m also not a fan of Zoe Chace’s voice.

So, please, ignore the nay-sayers and do what you do best.