Monday, June 30, 2008

The plan

I think I finally have a plan for my July motorcycle travels.

Our Indiana friends Lauri and Jim had earlier planned to visit the week of July 20-26, which meant I would have to hustle back to Arkansas 2008 moa rallyright after the July 17-20 BMW Motorcycle Owners of America International Rally in Gillette, Wyo. (See logo.)

Jim's work schedule made visiting that week a bad idea, so we hit upon a new plan: Lauri and their two kids will come down Friday night 7/25 or Saturday 7/26 and Jim will follow a day or two later on his Harley-Davidson. That way, the girls can do girl stuff and he and I can go off to explore the region's more interesting roads.

Since their visit has been pushed out a week from the original plan, I can now enjoy most of the Indianapolis BMW Club's Colorado Chalet Week at the home of Tim and Linda Balough near Alma, Colo.

Tim and Linda plan to be at the BMW MOA rally, so I will ride back to Alma with them and whoever else is staying with them and I can spend a few days riding the high country before heading home.

I expect I'll celebrate my birthday here on Monday, July 14, then roll out of here early the next morning, spending Tuesday night somewhere on the road and arriving at the rally site Wednesday evening.

Young composer

This photo was in the latest RSS feed from my son Steve and shows an oh-so-brief musical score apparently composed by his daughter Lisa.score

Looks like it was photographed with his iPhone on the refrigerator door.

Whatever musical abilities Lisa has, she comes by them honestly. Her dad is a professional musician and her Uncle Sean is a musician/recording engineer/producer.

They were raised in a house where there was always music playing. I was in every instrumental and vocal ensemble my high school had and considered a music major in college before veering off into journalism.

My dad's musical expression was limited to singing in the church choir but his father was a multi-talented musician who was recruited for John Phillips Sousa's band, but had to decline because his parents were Amish and didn't approve of such things.

Anyhow, nobody will be surprised if Lisa turns out to be very musical.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Personal archaeology

Maria mentioned the other day that she was searching for some dress patterns and had exhausted all of the place in the house where unpacked stuff was put.apron01

So I did a little poking around amongst the boxes still stored in the garage. I didn't find the patterns she wanted, but I did find some rather old stuff that had belonged to my mother, including this pre-World War II (printed in 1941) McCall's apron pattern.

It appears that my mother used the pattern to make at least one apron, but all of the components are still in the envelope.

My mother would have been 26 when she plunked down 25 cents at a store in Delphi or Lafayette, Ind., for this pattern. She'd been married for four years and I, her first and only child, was still another four years in the future. I bet she looked pretty spiffy in her necktie-pattern apron, bustling around the kitchen in her new home at 609 E. Franklin Street, Delphi, and listening to big band music on her blonde bakelite Philco table radio.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Burgers for dinner

Grillin' and chillin' on a Saturday afternoon.

Bald paynuts

This may seem like a quaint observation to my Southern friends, but this opened can of boiled peanuts on a bench outside the Hays supermarket is a bizarre sight to Yankee eyes.
But then so are dead armadillos along the highway, a sky full of crop dusters dumping tons of agrichemicals willy-nilly over the landscape, and every third man, woman or child wearing cammo.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Full cup this time

The semi-conscious drones at this McDonald's gave me a 2/3 full cup of coffee the last time I dropped in for breakfast.
This time they got it right - all the way up to the fill line.
I rode Maria's bike this morning and watched the odometer roll over 9,000 miles as I passed the city limits. Pretty low mileage for a 14-year-old BMW, but Maria hasn't done much riding the past few years. So it falls to me to keep the battery up and make sure everything's road-ready.
I've put about 830 miles on it so far this year since it's so much fun to ride and gets the best gas mileage (45 mpg on the Memphis trip) of our fleet of bikes and cars.
If it had a luggage rack, I'd consider riding it to Wyoming next month.

The Mild Hogs ride to Alaska


My Jonesboro BMW friend Charlie Parsons (the guy on the right in the do-rag) and two of his BWM Riders Association of the Mid-South buddies are en route to Alaska.

They spent last night at the Big Horn Hotel on Watson's Lake in the Yukon Territory and filed some photos and a brief report.

Club newsletter editor Rose-Anne Cunningham is putting the stuff together as a blog so we can follow their progress at

It was Charlie and his wife Deb who graciously provided garage space for our two bikes during our protracted move from Indiana to Arkansas last year.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mr. Fix-it strikes again

This is the Weiser adjustable springlatch.

The one that was part of our back door latch mechanism crapped out over the weekend. I found a replacement on the Home Depot weiser latchwebsite, but discovered to my chagrin, that they don't stock the Weiser brand at their stores. Ditto the Hated Lowe's.

So I ordered one online from Home Depot Sunday evening. The UPS guy delivered it this evening and I had it installed and working in 10 minutes. My kind of home repair project.

And shipping was free.

Melting my heart

lisa new dress

Lisa looks pleased with her new dress. It's one of two that Maria made for her over the weekend. We put it into the mail Monday morning and her dad posted this photo yesterday.

Looks like the glamorous Las Vegas life is agreeing with her.

Supreme Court gets it right

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Americans have a right to own guns for self-defense in their homes, the justices' first major pronouncement on gun rights in U.S. history.

The court's 5-4 ruling struck down the District of Columbia's 32-year-old ban on handguns as incompatible with gun rights under the Second Amendment. The decision went further than even the Bush administration wanted, but probably leaves most firearms restrictions intact.

The court had not conclusively interpreted the Second Amendment since its ratification in 1791. The amendment reads: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

The basic issue for the justices was whether the amendment protects an individual's right to own guns no matter what, or whether that right is somehow tied to service in a state militia.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that an individual right to bear arms is supported by "the historical narrative" both before and after the Second Amendment was adopted.

The Constitution does not permit "the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home," Scalia said. The court also struck down Washington's requirement that firearms be equipped with trigger locks or kept disassembled, but left intact the licensing of guns.

Scalia noted that the handgun is Americans' preferred weapon of self-defense in part because "it can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police."

In a dissent he summarized from the bench, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the majority "would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons."

He said such evidence "is nowhere to be found."

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a separate dissent in which he said, "In my view, there simply is no untouchable constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas."

Joining Scalia were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. The other dissenters were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter.

Gun rights supporters hailed the decision. "I consider this the opening salvo in a step-by-step process of providing relief for law-abiding Americans everywhere that have been deprived of this freedom," said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association.

The NRA will file lawsuits in San Francisco, Chicago and several of its suburbs challenging handgun restrictions there based on Thursday's outcome.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a leading gun control advocate in Congress, criticized the ruling. "I believe the people of this great country will be less safe because of it," she said.

The capital's gun law was among the nation's strictest.

Dick Anthony Heller, 66, an armed security guard, sued the District after it rejected his application to keep a handgun at his home for protection in the same Capitol Hill neighborhood as the court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in Heller's favor and struck down Washington's handgun ban, saying the Constitution guarantees Americans the right to own guns and that a total prohibition on handguns is not compatible with that right.

The issue caused a split within the Bush administration. Vice President Dick Cheney supported the appeals court ruling, but others in the administration feared it could lead to the undoing of other gun regulations, including a federal law restricting sales of machine guns. Other laws keep felons from buying guns and provide for an instant background check.

White House reaction was restrained. "We're pleased that the Supreme Court affirmed that the Second Amendment protects the right of Americans to keep and bear arms," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

Scalia said nothing in Thursday's ruling should "cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings."

In a concluding paragraph to the his 64-page opinion, Scalia said the justices in the majority "are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country" and believe the Constitution "leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns."

The law adopted by Washington's city council in 1976 bars residents from owning handguns unless they had one before the law took effect. Shotguns and rifles may be kept in homes, if they are registered, kept unloaded and either disassembled or equipped with trigger locks.

Opponents of the law have said it prevents residents from defending themselves. The Washington government says no one would be prosecuted for a gun law violation in cases of self-defense.

The last Supreme Court ruling on the topic came in 1939 in U.S. v. Miller, which involved a sawed-off shotgun. Constitutional scholars disagree over what that case means but agree it did not squarely answer the question of individual versus collective rights.

Forty-four state constitutions contain some form of gun rights, which are not affected by the court's consideration of Washington's restrictions.

The case is District of Columbia v. Heller, 07-290.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Home again, home again

Thanks to XM Satellite Radio with a George Carlin retrospective and several sci-fi episodes on the Old Time Radio channel, the ride home was easy.

As easy as 150 miles in steamy 95-degree heat can be.

But now I'm back in the AC and my bike has a new battery.


I'm sitting in a McDonald's at Sikeston, Mo., across the street from the Drury Inn where Maria and I encountered the most horrible, uncomfortable mattress in all of our combined travel experience a few years ago.
Since I have my Camelbak for drinking, I just got a Big Mac.
I'm almost within roll-throwing distance of Lambert's Restaurant (the home of the throwed roll) but I'm not that hungry and trying to shed a few pounds before next month's ride West.

Hanging out at GrassRoots

I rolled into the GrassRoots BMW parking lot about 11 a.m. It was a steamy, but uneventful ride on U.S. 412 and I-55 and the folks here jumped on my bike immediately to fit me out with a new battery for my travels next month.
Now I'm sitting in their customer lounge, watching BMW travel videos on their 42" hi-def TV.

On the road again

I'm off this morning to Cape Girardeau, Mo., and GrassRoots BMW Motorcycles to get a new battery for my '03 K1200GT. It's one of the new (in 2003, anyway) gel batteries and has performed well for the past five years. However, when I tried to start the bike Sunday afternoon after about four weeks of idleness, the battery was too weak to fire the engine. I put it on the trickle charger and within a day it was registering as fully charged. Nevertheless, I know that batteries can fail at inopportune times and I'm loathe to head for the West in a couple of weeks with a five-year-old battery that may or may not be good.
It's 145 miles to GrassRoots, so I'd better get moving.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Chasing the wild goose

I'm grabbing a quick Wendy's lunch at a Pilot truck stop on I-40 just west of the Mississippi and Memphis after a fruitless ride to Best Buy.
I was told yesterday that I could pick up the old hard drive from my laptop, only to discover today that the Geek Squad kid was mistaken. The drive remains at the Sony Service Center. I can pay to have the data retrieved, but I can't have the drive back.
Oh, well. It's a nice day for a ride.

Monday, June 23, 2008

8 drugs your doctor probably wouldn't take

Morgan Lord, writing in Men's Health magazine, has a story headlined "Eight Drugs Doctors Wouldn't Take." I've taken three of them and am currently on one of them.

They are:





Prilosec and Nexium

Visine Original


My family doctor, three physicians ago, had me on Avandia for my Type 2 Diabetes. I think I took it for a year or two. Lord writes, "Last September, a Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) study found that people who took rosiglitazone for at least a year increased their risk of heart failure or a heart attack by 109 percent and 42 percent, respectively, compared with those who took other oral diabetes medications or a placebo."

I have occasionally taken Pseudoephedrine-based decongestants. Lord reports, "...pseudoephedrine doesn't just constrict the blood vessels in your nose and sinuses; it can also raise blood pressure and heart rate, setting the stage for vascular catastrophe. Over the years, pseudoephedrine has been linked to heart attacks and strokes." And it can worsen symptoms of benign prostate disease and glaucoma.

And I'm currently taking a 40 milligram capsule of Nexium every day to head off acid reflux. Here's Lord's take on the Little Purple Pill and Prilosec:

Heartburn can be uncomfortable, but heart attacks can be fatal, which is why the FDA has investigated a suspected link between cardiac trouble and the acid-reflux remedies Prilosec and Nexium. In December 2007, the agency concluded that there was no "likely" connection. Translation: The scientific jury is still out. In the meantime, there are other reasons to be concerned. Because Prilosec and Nexium are proton-pump inhibitors, they are both incredibly effective at stopping acid production in the stomach — perhaps too effective. 

A lack of acid may raise your risk of pneumonia, because the same stuff that makes your chest feel as if it's burning also kills incoming bacteria and viruses. You may also have an elevated risk of bone loss — in the less acidic environment, certain forms of calcium may not be absorbed effectively during digestion. "The risk of a fracture has been estimated to be over 40 percent higher in patients who use these drugs long-term, and the risk clearly increases with duration of therapy," says Dr. Philip Rodgers, Pharm.D., a clinical associate professor at the University of North Carolina school of pharmacy.

Your new strategy: When you feel the fire, first try to extinguish it with Zantac 150 or Pepcid AC. Both of these OTC products work by blocking histamine from stimulating the stomach cells that produce acid. Just know that neither drug is a long-term fix.

So, once again, we come back to lifestyle change and weight loss as the most important thing I can do for my health. Time to lace up the hiking shoes, plug in the iPod and get my ass out the door for a good brisk walk.

You can read Morgan Lord's entire piece here.

My seven-word reaction

George Carlin died yesterday of heart failure at the age of 71.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The fan club

Today's project started out to be the replacement of the adjustable springlatch on our back door latch mechanism.

It's made by Weiser and I was pleased to find that Home Depot had the replacement part on their website. So we went to the Home Depot on the southside of Jonesboro to get one.ceiling fan

But, of course, the Weiser line of locks is available only from the Home Depot website - not the stores.

So while we were there, we checked out the ceiling fans because we need one in our upstairs office. Since the ceiling is kinda low and there is already plenty of recessed lighting, we didn't want one with a set of lights hanging down to bang our heads on.

And we were looking in the $50 price range. The only had a couple of choices and they didn't really fit with our decor.

So we went to the hated Lowe's to look for the latch and found the same non-Weiser brands as at Home Depot.

But they did have a $49.95 52" Harbor Breeze ceiling fan (see illustration) that was just what we've been looking for.

So we came home and I ordered the latch mechanism from the Home Depot website for $13.90 - tax included, free shipping - and we  assembled and hung the fan this evening.


Let's go Krogering.

Tootle the horn trumpet

Good advice from a 1935 Japanese brochure, in English, explaining the rules of the road to foreign drivers:
"At the rise of the hand of a policeman, stop rapidly. Do not pass him by or otherwise disrespect him. When a passenger of the foot hove in sight, tootle the horn trumpet to him melodiously at first. If he still obstacles your passage, tootle him with vigor and express by word of mouth the warning, 'Hi, Hi!' Beware the wandering horse that he shall not take fright as you pass him. Do not explode the exhaust box at him. Go soothingly by or stop by the roadside till he pass away. Give space to the festive dog that makes sport in the roadway. Avoid entanglements of dog with your wheel-spokes. So soothingly on the grease-mud, as there lurk the skid demon. Press the brake of the foot as you roll round the corners to save the collapse and tie up."

The Iowa Rally and the Amana Colonies revisited

The second weekend in June has come and gone and with it the 32nd annual Iowa Rally, put on by the Pure Stodge Touring Association, a long-standing BMW motorcycle club.
Despite flooding in the state, the rally went on this year at the Iowa County Fairgrounds in Marengo, Iowa. We didn't make it to this year's rally.
In fact, I haven't been to an Iowa Rally since 2000.
Back then, the rally was held at a campground owned by Keith Dempster near Coralville, Iowa.
Dempster knews how to put on a good party. After 39 years in the restaurant business, a decade at the helm of the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America, and a lot of years organizing national and local motorcycle rallies, Dempster had the knowledge and experience that made his Iowa Rally one of the best in the country.
The four-day event is an all-brands affair. You’ll see plenty of Harleys and Hondas, as well as a liberal mix of Moto Guzzis and Ducatis too.
Keith and Pam Dempster hosted the rally on their 32-acre farm and campground near Coralville, an upscale western suburb of Iowa City on Interstate 80. The 2000 Iowa Rally was dogged by cloudy skies and showers, but still drew about 800 people. The record over the 24-year history of the event is about 1,200.
The key, commented Keith, is the weather for a 500-mile radius around Iowa City. “It’s not so much how the weather is here, but how it is in Colorado Springs or Kansas City or Chicago or Detroit,” he said. “Even for some of the committed lifestyle riders, it’s hard to pull out of your barn or garage into a monsoon when you’re doing this for the fun of it and you don’t really have to be here.”
Folks looking for the Total Iowa Rally Experience begin showing up on Thursday and are rewarded with a free pre-rally hog roast that evening. Besides three nights’ camping, the rally fee also includes a chili supper Friday night and a Saturday night steak dinner with all the trimmings.
At registration, you’re fitted with a wristband, get a strip of door prize drawing tickets, and a 16-ounce plastic cup emblazoned with the Pure Stodge Touring Association logo. You can fill the cup with free soft drinks, coffee, or beer from strategically placed spigots on the rally grounds anytime, night or day, for the duration of the rally.
The gravel road to the camping areas wound past a vendor midway and mechanic’s station, the shelter house where meals were served, the shower/restroom building, and down the hill past the bandstand. Bands were booked for dancing Friday and Saturday nights. And a Saturday night awards ceremony recognizes the oldest and youngest riders, longest distances traveled, and other achievements.
Some folks preferred camping in the woods close to the food, showers, and other amenities, while others gravitated farther down the slope to a flat, grassy expanse near the site of the Saturday afternoon field events. For those who wanted to rally but didn’t care to camp, there are over 2,000 motel rooms within five miles of the site.
The 2000 event was the 25th annual Iowa Rally and the eighth I’ve attended since 1992. I kept coming back because of the amenities and the variety of experience. You could hang around the rally grounds looking at bikes, cruise the vendors, and meet old and new friends. If you were up for a ride, there were plenty of interesting places to go.
A short ride to the west takes you to the Amana Colonies. Also close at hand are the Grant Wood/Stone City Arts Festival, the Herbert Hoover Library, and a fascinating fossil bed that was exposed in the wake of 1993 flooding. If you’re up for a Saturday morning ride, you could head to the Brooklyn Festival of the Flags about 50 miles west on U.S. 6, where the whole county turns out for a flag-waving parade down the main street.
Here's a story I wrote for Motorcycle Tour & Cruiser magazine that ran in the May, 2001, issue:

By John M. Flora
With the rising sun at our backs and an Iowa blacktop curving away before us, the world looked shiny and new on this fine June morning.
Yesterday’s five-hour interstate slog from Indianapolis to Coralville, Iowa, now seemed like a minor inconvenience as Maria and I faced the prospect of a warm, cloudless day - all ours to spend exploring. We’d come for the Iowa Rally, one of the best BMW club-sponsored rallies in the country, but we also wanted to experience the charm of the Amana Colonies.
This cluster of seven villages was founded 150 years ago in the Iowa River Valley by the “Community of True Inspiration,” a German Protestant sect that came to the United States in search of religious freedom. Under their communal system of living, all land and buildings were owned by the group. Families were assigned living quarters and each person over school age had a job in the fields, factories, shops, or kitchens. The Amana Church Society was created to handle religious matters, and the Amana Society Inc. oversaw the farming and business operations. The system lasted until the residents voted to abolish it in 1932.
Turning north at the intersection of U.S. 6 and U.S. 151, we descended into the Iowa River Valley. A light mist hung over the river. I caught a glimpse of an egret stepping gracefully into the air as we swept over the bridge and closed the distance to Amana, the largest of the villages. Flipping up my visor to drink in the cool morning breeze, I thumbed my right turn signal and gave the throttle a little twist to negotiate the uphill right turn onto 220th Trail, Amana’s main street.
It was only 7 a.m. and we had the street to ourselves. My ’91 BMW K100RS hummed past stolid-looking brick and stone shops and businesses with such German-sounding names as the Chocolate Haus, Der Weinkeller, and Ronneburg Restaurant. I angled right again on 47th Avenue at the east end of town and pulled into a parking space in front of the Colony Inn.
The Colony Inn’s family-style breakfast is one of my all-time favorite food discoveries, and they can count on my business anytime I’m in the neighborhood. Waitresses in navy blue dresses with starched white aprons and matching collars and cuffs bustle across the creaking wood floor from the kitchen, arms laden with pancakes, eggs, nutmeg-seasoned Amana-made sausage, bacon, and fried potatoes. There’s also orange juice, fruit, and toasted English muffins with the Colony Inn’s own homemade jam. The determined waitresses make the blue-and-white checked tablecloths disappear beneath serving after serving - offered continuously until you beg them to stop.
Thus fortified, we settled our bill and saddled up to explore the Amana Colonies. Riding through Amana (sometimes called Main Amana because it’s bigger than the other villages), we noticed how well-kept the homes are. Surrounded by neatly manicured lawns, many of the wood frame houses have trellises tacked to their west, south, and east sides, frameworks for grapevines to climb in the summer sun.
Riding west on 220th Trail over the undulating countryside, we soon spied the Amana appliances plant on the east edge of Middle Amana. If the name Amana was part of your vocabulary before you began this story, chances are it’s because of the Amana line of appliances.
The Amana Corp. was founded here in 1934 when young entrepreneur George Foerstner hired local craftsmen and cabinetmakers to build beverage coolers. The Amana business grew over the years to include refrigerators and room air conditioners, but really took off in 1967 with the introduction of the Radarange, the first countertop microwave oven built for home use. Today, the Amana name also can be found on dishwashers, freezers, wall ovens, ranges, cooktops, dehumidifiers, and washers and dryers.
Besides the Amana Corporation’s headquarters, Middle Amana has three bed and breakfasts and a bakery. At the Communal Kitchen and Coopershop Museum, you can see how meals for the entire community were prepared by designated kitchen workers and also inspect the workshop and tools used for repairing wagons.
We continued west another couple of miles to High Amana, so named because it stands on the crest of a hill, higher than the other villages. We parked and pulled off our helmets to explore the shady High Amana cemetery with its view of the surrounding countryside.
Returning to the bike, we were beset by a small terrier who bolted from his yard across the street to yap and growl at these two leather-clad intruders. A moment later, his master, Ivan Hartley, strolled over to intercede. Hartley, it turned out, was the first outsider to build a house in High Amana.
Explaining local cemetery protocol, Hartley told us his final resting place will be in a pine box in the corner section set aside for those who aren’t members of the Community of True Inspiration. Noting that church members are buried in chronological order, rather than in family groups, he swept back an unruly shock of brown hair and laughed, “So you could be buried next to your worst enemy!”
Hartley invited us over to his garage to see the birdhouses he builds from scrap lumber, then surprised us with a tour of his basement where he keeps an amazing collection of toy truck banks. He has hundreds in wood cases and has been featured in a bank collector’s magazine. We felt we’d discovered a new friend and a treasure.
Another mile down the road lies West Amana. Here, we paused long enough to inspect the antique and basket shops and the cool dark general store with its high, old-fashioned decorative tin ceiling.
Turning south, we crossed the millrace that dates from the 1860s and then the Iowa River. We cruised through South Amana, with its furniture shops, two bed and breakfasts, and museums. From South Amana, we picked up U.S. 6 and rode east, making quick work of the five miles to Homestead. We found the western approaches to this colony awash with orange. It was the annual Homestead Implement Reunion weekend, and we’d stumbled across the rallying point for the Allis-Chalmers collectors.
The Milwaukee-based Allis-Chalmers firm built tractors and other farm implements from 1914 to 1985 and scores of their lovingly restored machines - painted the distinctive “Allis-Chalmers orange” - filled the field around a huge orange-and-white striped tent. Under the canopy, we checked out the displays, examined a replica Allis-Chalmers tractor made from wooden matchsticks, and enjoyed dishes of blended orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream.
We recognized in these Allis-Chalmers collectors the same common thread of brand loyalty and dedication that unites BMW riders, Harley folks, and Gold Wing people. Almost all had farm backgrounds that included warm and fuzzy memories of the huff and chuff of an Allis-Chalmers tractor churning through an open field.
The A-C folks mentioned there was a similar contingent of Minneapolis Moline collectors on the other side of town and persuaded us to stick around for a parade of the two groups’ combined rolling stock. We found comfortable seats under a shady tulip tree and took in the sights and sounds as a mile-long cavalcade of orange Allis-Chalmers and yellow Minneapolis Molines chugged past. Their drivers smiled and waved to the small but appreciative crowd. Here and there, a young boy or girl sat on daddy’s lap behind the big tractor steering wheel, grinning with delight.
Congratulating ourselves on our morning’s discoveries, Maria and I pulled on jackets and helmets and rode the three miles back to Amana, closing our loop of the colonies and looking for a light lunch. We found it at a local wine and cheese shop. We dined on the porch, sharing a chunk of Gouda and some summer sausage, and washing it down with soft drinks. Our tour of the colonies concluded with a visit to Heritage Designs Needlework and Quilting, where we picked out fabric swatches for a quilt Maria is making to commemorate our motorcycle travels.
Back at the Iowa Rally that night, I drifted off to sleep thinking about the kindred spirits we’d found in Ivan Hartley and the tractor folks. Life is good, I decided, when you can spend a pleasant weekend immersed in whatever makes you happy, whether it be motorcycles, toy banks, or big, orange tractors.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Dress Barn

The view from a steel folding chair outside the Dress Barn fitting rooms.
I hate steel folding chairs. They discourage sitting.
That's an employee in the photo. She was hovering around the fitting rooms like she thought someone was going to steal the store. She was creeping me out.


My usual view of Target.

Heading for Gillette?

S/W Ver: 96.B0.0FR S/W Ver: 96.B0.0FR

Friend Lauri noticed this BMW rider heading west on I-74 from Indianapolis Thursday afternoon and shot a couple of pictures with her cell phone camera to share with us, knowing that we're BMW motorcycle people.

Any BMW rider seen east of the Mississippi, heading west and loaded for touring as this guy is, is quite likely headed for the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America International Rally next month in Gillette, Wyo.

With the Canadian flag on his back and the other identifying characteristics of bike and rider, this guy should be easy to spot when I get to the rally. And, since I'm one of the official rally photographers, I'll be sure to get a photo of him to share with Lauri.

He will doubtless be surprised to learn he was spotted in Indiana and tracked down in Gillette.

Who says people don't notice BMWs?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Las Vegas weather report

122 deg

At least this is what Steve's car thinks the temperature is.

New mouse in the house

I bought a new mouse yesterday while I was at Best Buy in Memphis picking up our repaired laptop.
And, yes, the laptop was repaired for free because I got it to the Geek Squad with a few days remaining on our three-year extended warranty - one of those rare occasions when an extended warranty turns out to have been a good idea. They sent it to a Sony repair site where the 80GB hard drive was replaced.
That means I get to reinstall Windows XP and about a bazillion patches and fixes and try to reconstruct the software configurations we had. All of the data, of course, is gone, but then we never put anything on that computer that we didn't have backed up or couldn't afford to lose.
But I digress.
As I was shutting down my desktop computer Tuesday night, I discovered my right mouse button wasn't working. I'd been using a Microsoft wireless mouse for the past two or three years - I bought a couple of them on the cheap when an office supply place was blowing them out to make way for a newer model. They worked well - Maria's continues to work just fine - and I had no thought of upgrading.
So I surveyed the mice at Best Buy, bit the bullet and bought an $87 Logitech MX Revolution (Oooooh, sounds edgy, doesn't it?) wireless mouse.
There are a lot of things to like about it: The scroll wheel scrolls much faster, it has a button that lets you jump from one application to another and fits my hand a bit better than the Microsoft mouse.
If you highlight a word or a phrase in text and push the button just aft of the scroll wheel, it launches a Web search of the highlighted item using the search engine of your choice.
And it came with a rechargeable lithium ion battery and desktop charging holster, so I don't have to go searching for a couple of AA batteries every nine months or so.
Is it worth $87? Probably not, but I have a working mouse again.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tick, tick, tick...

I fumbled an automated call from the Best Buy Geek Squad last night, which I think was supposed to notify me that our laptop has been repaired.
So I'm killing time until 10 a.m. when the Best Buy in Memphis opens and I can reach someone to confirm or deny my guess.
If I'm going to Memphis today, I'll be sure to top off the del Sol tank with (comparatively) cheap Jonesboro gas. The cheapest I noticed yesterday was $3.78/gallon, which I suspect is better than I can expect in the Memphis area.


It's ready to come home, so I'm outta here for Memphis.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

At last!

The cable guy just left after running cable for the Internet and TV to our upstairs office.
We've had a TV up here for months, but couldn't use it for lack of a connection.
We've been using a wireless router and Wifi repeater to get the internet signal from the modem/router setup at the other end of the house up to the office. Now our two desktop computers are ethernet cabled into the router and we're getting all of the data speed we've been paying for.
And it only cost $21.40. What a deal.

My favorite bumper sticker

Minor surgery

I'm sporting a nasty looking red abrasion in the middle of my right eyebrow where a dermatologist scraped away a suspicious bit of tissue this morning.
He didn't think it was skin cancer, but removed it anyway just to be safe. Fine with me.
As a side note, the referring physician said there are two dermatologists in town - one who is very well-liked by his patients and has a long waiting list and the other who has a reputation for not being very patient-friendly and has a short waiting list - and both are equally good professionally.
I opted for the short waiting list and was resigned to dealing with a cranky cold fish. To my amazement, the guy turned out to be super friendly, and an excellent communicator with a great sense of humor. I can only conclude that being a fellow midwesterner - he's from Ohio - he may have trouble relating to southerners. I thought he was great and would recommend him in a heartbeat.

Waiting room entertainment

This young woman is struggling to maintain control over her little girl.
The girl won't hold still and has dropped her mother's ring of about 50 keys at least a dozen times.
It's going to be a long wait...

Way cool

I have a 9:30 appointment with a new doc at a facility I've never been to before.
I used my Garmin GPS to get me here and it took me through a heretofore alien part of town and brought me to the parking lot at 9:26, just as promised when I left home.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


We lost our Internet connection this morning, something that happens with annoying frequency here.
I did the routine troubleshooting and found I'm getting a good strong Wifi signal from our wireless router and repeater. So I stopped short of rebooting the modem and router - something that requires disconnecting the repeater and re-synching it with the router at the other end of the house - and called the cable company to see if the problem might be on their end.
Their tech support guy opined it probably was and offered to send a guy out to work on it. After some discussion, I determined the guy can also go into our attic and connect the two cable outlets in our upstairs office, which will make it possible to hard-wire our two desktop computers to the router and free the repeater for use elsewhere in the house in support of any roving laptops we may want to use.
And he'll only charge $20 to do it. What a relief.
The guy is coming tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, the Internet connection is up, however shaky it may be.
We also got the final printed albums for our last wedding clients and they look fabulous. I had them sent to us first, in case they had any defects. I'll mail them to the clients in Atlanta this afternoon and at long last be done with that job. We shot the wedding on my 62nd birthday last July 14. The obligation caused me to miss the BMW MOA national rally, which I considered a major sacrifice.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Mowing the snakes

I'd been putting off mowing the lawn for the past several days because I've been feeling crappy because of the shingles outbreak and because it's been hot and steamy here - temperatures in the 90s pretty much every day.
I decided I couldn't put it off any more and fired up the John Deere after dinner when the sun was low in the sky and the mercury was back into the 80s.
I've known we live in snake country and am always a little wary when I venture into the far reaches of our property, especially near the woods. But I hadn't seen any snakes until Sunday evening.
I was making my initial perimeter cut down at the southwest corner of the lot when I noticed what looked like a six-foot piece of black electrical conduit. I gave it a wide berth and when I got about 10 feet from it, I realized it was a motionless black snake. Yikes!
I passed it by and found it was gone when I returned on the next lap.
I concluded it was as keen to avoid me as I was it and had retreated into the woods.
About 20 minutes later, I called to Maria who was reading a magazine on the back porch, to open the gate so I could mow the fenced part of the back yard. That's where the grass grows the thickest - maybe because it's a septic field that is also constantly fertilized by our two dogs.
Determined to make quick work of this relatively level ground, I gave the mower full throttle and blazed around the yard cutting 42" swaths as I went. I was on my third pass past the patio when I caught a glimpse of a colorful banded snake, a little bigger around than a Slim Jim jerky stick and about a foot long, hauling ass to get out of my way in the high grass. I was over him in a flash, shut down the engine a discrete distance away and shouted to Maria that I had just run over a snake - something that looked like a coral snake. She poked around with a stick and found the mortally wounded critter - he was intact, but hit by the blades in at least three places - writhing in the grass. By the time she finished photographing him for later identification, he was dead. At my request, she used a metal rod to pick him up and fling his remains over the fence where he could be properly scavenged and where we wouldn't have to worry about one of our dogs dragging him into the house.
I subsequently identified him as a seldom-seen Northern Scarlet Snake, a harmless type that lives mainly on the eggs of other reptiles.
The big black snake I saw earlier was probably an Eastern Race, also non-venemous. They're known to hang out near woodlands and to freeze when they sense danger, then go like hell once a threat enters their comfort zone.
So we can add these two to the growing list of wildlife we've identified by sight or sound here.
Our other discovery this weekend was the sound of one or more wild turkeys out in the forest.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


At Hobby Lobby's fabric department.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Start me up

The elderly woman in this champagne-colored Lincoln land yacht is having a bad day.
I've been sitting outside a fabric store next to a supermarket, waiting for Maria, for about 15 minutes and this woman has been trying to start her car the whple time.
At the moment, she seems to be giving her battery a rest while she smokes a cigarette.
She may get it started, but it's my guess there's a wrecker in her future.
Now she's putting a couple of plastic bags of groceries into the trunk and returning to the driver's seat.
Five more cranks of the starter and a middle-aged guy comes over to offer help.
She cranks it repeatedly for him to no avail.
He has her pop the hood.
She, he and the guy's daughter peer into the engine compartment.
He pokes around.
She gets in, turns the key and it momentarily catches, blows blue smoke from the exhaust and dies.
He attaches jumper cables from his white pickup truck.
His wife offers encouragement to the woman.
She cranks the starter repeatedly and long. Still nothing.
She gets out and they examine the engine again.
Now the guy gets in and cranks the starter long and hard, then gets out again to stare at the engine, hands on hips.
The sky has cleared and it's getting hot - close to 90.
Other shoppers come and go, their cars firing up easily as if to mock her.
Another guy stops to consult and I wonder why nobody has called for a wrecker yet. Surely there has to be a cell phone among them.
I'm sitting on a bench in front of the supermarket.
She cranks. It starts with a blue cloud and one of the guys shouts, "Well, you'll know what to do now."
Must have been something obvious.
She drives away.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Too good not to share

Seriously, though, I hope everyone noticed that Hillary suspended - not ended - her campaign last week.
Reading between the lines, one may conclude that she's ready to crank it up again if Obama stumbles on the way to the convention.

A public service announcement

Motorcycle, scooter and moped sales are up sharply this spring as drivers look for a way to ease the pain of ever-increasing gas prices.
While that's good news for the motorcycle industry, there is a downside.
It also means more untrained and unskilled riders on the streets and highways.
The best way to learn the skills and strategies of two-wheeled survival is to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's rider courses. The MSF's RiderCourse for motorcyclists is available nationwide and more than 4.3 million riders have graduated from it. There is also a MSF ScooterSchool program, but it's only available in nine cities so far.
Some state-level MSF programs are already operating at capacity. Indiana's training sites have waiting lists. Other states, like Arkansas, lack adequate state funding.
It's clear that the need for rider education is barely being met and will become even more critical as more and more untrained riders flood the market.
And the sad fact is that an untrained rider is an accident waiting to happen.
If you - or someone you know - are thinking about two-wheeled alternatives to your gas-guzzling car, please go to find the nearest RiderCourse training site and sign up. The MSF provides the training bikes. It helps if you have a helmet, but they have loaners, so all you have to do is show up.
If you're sticking to four wheels, go to, the new MSF site with vital information for car drivers on how to look out for motorcyclists.


A worker for Dail's Tree Service drops the last and biggest segment of the dead oak tree in our front yard this morning.

Our neighbors are having some trees cleared to make way for a garage/shop structure and the tree service guys asked them to let all of us in the neighborhood know that they will be glad to do tree work for us while they're here.
So I jumped on the chance to get rid of the big poison ivy-covered oak tree that has been shedding limbs and menacing our house every time we have a strong wind.
They're charging us $300 to cut the tree, haul it away and grind the stump. Compared with what the tree service charged the town of Thorntown to take down three big maple trees next to our house a few years ago, that's a helluva good deal.

Birthday girl, birthday flowers

Here are the flowers that arrived yesterday afternoon at Maria's office from her friend Lauri.
She got a very welcome gift from Steve and Nicky, too.
We scouted out a new (to us) restaurant in Paragould last night and had a couple of excellent bleu cheese burgers.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Happy Birthday, Maria!

Today is Maria's birthday.
I won't say which one, just that she is way younger than I.
I consulted a psychic when I was going through the craziness of separation and divorce in the collapse of my first marriage. I don't put much stock in psychics, but I was grasping at straws, searching for clues and directions.
"You haven't met your soulmate yet," she told me. "She's still a few years away. She's younger than you, has two children and her name starts with an M."
So I spent the next few years walking around with my antenna up for M women.
Until I was introduced to Maria.
I think she recognized me too.
Maria understands me on a deeper level than anyone I've ever known. She has an astonishing sense of fairness. Even in the heat of an argument, she's analyzing and checking for ways she could be wrong and I could be right or looking for some larger issue for which the argument is just symptomatic.
She gave me the nerve to quit my 34-year newspaper job after it became more of an ordeal than a joy. (The psychic said I would retire early. I quit/retired at 55.)
She helped me through the declining years and deaths of my parents.
I could sit here all day and list the ways in which Maria has enriched my life. I just hope I've been half as good for her.
I love her and hope everyone she knows will join me in wishing her the happiest birthday ever.

The Zimmers

Old song, new interpretation.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The New Orleans lady's house sold

I often drive in to town for lunch with Maria and have my choice of two routes.
The fast route is down U.S. 49 and the scenic route takes me west on Pine Log Road and then south on Ark. 351.
I came home by the scenic route and was pleased to see a house we had visited when we were house-hunting last September finally has a SOLD sign in the front yard.
It was a nice place - built to order by a woman who had fled her lifelong home in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina swept in. The woman was there when we toured the place, but she had most of her stuff packed and was preparing to move back to Louisiana to be closer to her family.
The house wasn't quite what we wanted and apparently nobody else wanted it, either, until recently.
I'm glad to see it finally sell. It gives me hope that we can find a buyer for our Thorntown house, which has been on the market since the first of the year. We couldn't have picked a much worse time to try to sell a house in a place where few people want to live.
I put our June house payment into the mail today and, as I do every month, hope it will be the last or the next-to-last.

Uninspired and offering advice

I'm feeling singularly uninspired this morning.
This is Day Five of my Shingles treatment. The blotches are about the same, but the nerves in my right arm are tingly and on edge - sorta like when your arm falls asleep, but constantly and accompanied by joint pain in the fingers of my right hand. And my right armpit feels like it's on fire.
There is a vaccine for Shingles that will either prevent or reduce the severity of the condition.
Maria says she recommended it to me several months ago, but I don't recall the discussion. It's a moot point now.
But if you've ever had chickenpox and have not yet had Shingles, I suggest you look into it because about half of the folks who have had chickenpox can expect this nasty little experience by the time they reach 70.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Shingles report

My Shingles outbreak seems to have stabilized.
It's not especially painful, but there are unpleasant tingling sensations associated with it, particularly throughout my right arm and on the top of my head.
I've been taking the medication regularly and haven't had to resort to the pain pills. By all accounts, this seems to be a relatively mild case.
Mostly, I've been following the medical advice and avoiding stress and getting plenty of rest.
In that connection, I'm suppressing an urge to get out on the riding mower and cut the grass this morning. A cold front came through last night and the temperature is a pleasant 68 - going to a high of just 88 this afternoon. Then it's back to the 90s tomorrow.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Yuppie compass or useful tool?

Arkansas was terra incognita for Maria and for me when she moved down here to start her new job last September.
I suggested we get her a GPS unit to help her find her way around, but she declined in favor of maps and a compass.
While many of my BMW-riding friends adopted GPS years ago, I've been a holdout, waiting for the technology to mature and for prices to drop. Earlier GPS units had less memory capacity and a greater dependence upon a computer link to choose and download map data for just the part of the country where the user planned to go.
Now, even the cheaper units come loaded with mapping and point of interest data for the 48 contiguous states.
Still, I held out.
Then we drove to Mountain View, Ark., a few weekends ago in a convoy with Maria's daughter and the daughter's boyfriend. While most of northeast Arkansas is flat with a fairly predictable road grid - the sole exception being Crowley's Ridge - western and northwest Arkansas is mountainous with an amazing hodge-podge of state and federal highways involved in any long drive.
We got along fine with our map on that trip, but it occurred to me it would be a whole lot easier and more fun to have a GPS voice give me a heads-up in advance of every route change. And, I must admit, I used computer mapping software to work out the most direct route.
Circuit City is blowing out a lot of stuff and they had the Garmin 200W on sale at a reasonable price over the weekend.
Besides, we both figured I needed a little retail therapy for my shingles discomfort.
So a day later, I can say I'm impressed. Yes, there are places that don't show up in the Points of Interest lists that I think should be there and no, it's nowhere near as flexible and sophisticated as the new Dash Express that I blogged about a week or two ago. It doesn't know about our little county sideroad. It was very short on documentation - just a fast and dirty Quick Start guide and so far, I've found nothing more detailed on the Garmin website. I did, however, download and install the latest 4 GB update and it seems a bit smarter than it was straight out of the box.
This thing will doubtless prove useful as we explore our new home state and we hope it will save us a few gas dollars by always showing us the shortest route. That is, if I don't burn up gas just driving around and playing with it.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Elephant Man

I'm sitting in the mall, waiting for a store to open, and feeling like everyone is staring at my deformity - my angry neck blotches from Shingles.
So far, this is apparently a mild outbreak involving the right side of my neck from shoulder to behind the ear, with a small spot under my beard on my right cheek and a couple of blotches on my chest.
Not much discomfort - it looks way worse than it feels. Hence the Elephant Man feeling.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Gratitude Campaign

Longtime friend Joe Repp emailed a link to this site today and it seems like a good idea to me.
The point of the Gratitude Campaign is using a reasonably universally understandable American Sign Language gesture to say "thank you" to military, police and fire personnel for their service.
Here's the explanation of the gesture:
This sign originated in France in the late 1700s, and was published in “Theorie des Signes”, a dictionary of signs by the Abbe Sicard. The sign was brought to the United States in 1816 by the Rev. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, founder of Gallaudet University, who later modified it to start at the chin rather than at the heart. That sign is now the standard sign for “thank you” in American Sign Language. The original sign, starting at the heart, is less commonly known today and might now be considered “slang.”
You can see a short video about it here.
I think the old "thumbs up" works just as well - maybe better - but that's just a matter of personal preference.
And it's not about politics, it's about service.

Shit! Shingles!

A doctor took one look at the angry-looking rash on my neck behind and below my right ear this morning and pronounced that I have the dreaded shingles.
Herpes zoster is the medical name and it's apparently the legacy of childhood chickenpox. The virus has been lurking in my nervous system for more than half a century, waiting for the right stressful conditions to erupt.
I started noticing a prickly sensation on my neck a couple of days ago and waited for it to go away. It was decidedly worse this morning, with nasty little blisters that looked like poison ivy poisoning and big red blotches.
Maria insisted that I see a doctor and the shingles diagnosis was the result.
I'm now taking Propoxyphene-N 100W thrice daily with a supply of Famciclovir 500 mg in case I get too uncomfortable.
So far, it looks worse than it feels and if this is as bad as it gets, I'll count myself lucky in light of the shingles horror stories I've heard.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Leaving Memphis

The Pyramid again.


Crossing the Mississippi with the Memphis Pyramid in view. There's talk of tearing it down. I think it's kinda cool, but then I don't have to pay the upkeep either.


$3.65 per gallon

I must be off

I'm off to Memphis this morning to the nearest Best Buy (100 miles distant).
I dropped our Sony VAIO laptop last week and now it won't boot Windows or recognize the USB mouse.
Fortunately, we have about a week left on our 3-year extended warranty/service contract - one of the few times I've ever opted for an extended warranty.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A message from SQ1

Hey, I was a bona fide Ovaltine-drinking Secret Squadron member with decoder badge, manual and membership card.

May I scrawl on your arm, mister?

I'm pretty sure this classified ad in one of Portland, Oregon's alternative newspapers is a joke.
At least I hope it's a joke.


Sooner or later, this kind of thing happens to all of us in the newspaper business.
This time it happened to Rod Rose. I'll go easy on Rod because he's a longtime friend, a good solid journalist and the guy who introduced me to my wife.
Writers at bigger papers used to have the luxury of being able to blame bad headlines on the copy desk. Now, with the advent of computer pagination, the blame falls upon whoever built the page. Unless things have changed at The Reporter, that probably means Rod built the page and dropped the crucial "n."
So it goes. Chances are, most of the readers glanced at the headline and - given the context of the word in a weather story - their brains turned "Lighting" into "Lightning."

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

What about Bill?

As the talking heads on TV were analyzing and overthinking the presumed nomination of Barack Obama and the presumed demise of Hillary Clinton's presidential aspirations last night, I found myself thinking that this election year probably still has lots of surprises in store.
For the second time this spring, I heard the name of Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) casually mentioned as a vice-presidential candidate. You may recall that I raised that possibility here months ago.
And I thought it was brilliant of Hillary to let slip the idea that she might accept the #2 spot on the Democrat ticket while, at the same time, declining to concede.
As some of the folks on FOX News pointed out, her hint at being Obama's VP sucked a lot of the wind out of the sails on Obama's victory.
But the tantalizing thing about these scenarios is Bill Clinton.
I suggested earlier that Bill probably isn't eager to be relegated to the status of the husband of a president. But at the same time, it would be even more ignominious to be the husband of a vice president. Neither is a lofty legacy for a former president of the United States.
But then Jimmy Carter has turned into a treasonous moonbat, setting a new benchmark for presidential legacies.
And then there's the question of why on God's green earth would Barack Obama want a former president as the spouse of his VP? That would make for some awkward and weird scenes at state dinners and other such affairs.
And finally, I think Hillary is considering taking this all the way to the convention and making a fight out of it. The Clinton ego is pretty big, you know.

Sounds great

My quest for a good motorcycle sound management system began when I started touring.
Back in the early 1980s, I stuck a couple of earbud earphones under my fullface Bell helmet so I could use my Sony Walkman as I rode my first BMW – a ’71 R50/5 – to Michigan.
It was more of a distraction than entertainment, because the earbuds wouldn’t stay put and I had to crank the volume up too much to get over the sound of the wind noise.
When I made my first ride to the West Coast in 1986, companions Tim and Linda Balough introduced me to foam earplugs. During a break somewhere west of Kansas City on our first full day on the road, I reached into my jacket pocket and fished out the plugs Tim had given me earlier. Twenty miles later, I was a believer. I could hear everything I needed to hear, but just at a reduced, less alarming volume.
The stress of wind noise muted, I quickly discovered I could ride more miles a day and not feel as fried when I reached my destination.
Over the years, I experimented with a variety of earplugs. I found the EAR brand a bit too large for my ear canals and in later years favored the Hearos brand because their smooth finish made for easy insertion.
After swimming at the thermal pool at Glenwood Springs, Colo., I discovered earplugs go in easier and seal better if they or your ear canals are wet, so I got into the habit of giving myself a stereophonic wet Willie every time I put in my plugs.
But I still longed for music to fill those long stretches of superslab I traverse every summer in the West.
I bought a set of Bass Monster helmet speakers from Collett Industries Ltd. in Canada and installed them in my helmet. Added to the wind noise, the Bass Monsters were just too much for my un-plugged ears. But I also found that my Walkman’s output couldn’t drive the speakers hard enough to be heard clearly over earplugs. I’d ride down the interstate trying to hear music that, given the muting of earplugs, was slightly more perceptible than a thought.
Then, I discovered the Boostaroo – a $20 stereo amplifier about the size and shape of a Bic lighter – that kicked the Walkman’s output up to a usable level and also had multiple input jacks, letting me add my radar detector to the mix.
At last, I had a system that seemed to work.
The problem, however, was that I’d just changed the mix – the ratio of wind noise to music – and I was still bombarding my eardrums with too much sound. Our ears, after all, are designed to spend most of their time picking up subtle stuff like the gurgling of a stream or the rustle of leaves in a forest. I’d already noticed a touch of tinnitis – chronic high-pitched ringing of the ears – and worried I might end up with serious hearing loss if I didn’t find a better solution.
A few years ago, I noticed Bob Weis, an Orlando, Fla., audiologist at one of the BMW MOA national rallies. Bob makes custom-fitted earplugs, using an injection molding process that produces a plug that is a perfect fit for each customer’s outer ear and ear canal structure. But what really caught my eye was the option of installing stereo speakers in the custom plugs.
After missing connections with Bob at a couple of rallies, I finally caught up with him at the BMW RA rally in the summer of 2003 at Red River, N.M. For $20, he made me a temporary pair of color-coded (red for right, blue for left) plugs with the understanding that I could send them back to him after using them for a month or so and he would cast permanent medical grade silicone plugs, with or without the stereo speakers.
Later that day, I discovered Marilyn Navia, an audiologist from Miami, who was doing the custom formed stereo plugs – called in-ear monitors – on site.
With another three weeks on the road in front of me, I was eager to get the finished product, so I plunked down $170 worth of VISA plastic and Marilyn shot my ears full of colored silicone. I picked up the finished product later that day, along with a storage case called a Hearing Aid Saver – a cylindrical plastic case about 3” tall and 2” wide with silica gel in the bottom to protect the monitors from moisture damage.
Tim Balough had just had MotoLites installed on his F650, so we went for a ride to try out our new purchases. We did a 90-mile loop east and south to Taos and back and I was immediately amazed and impressed.
Without music, these are the best earplugs I’ve ever used. The noise attenuation is somewhere in the 25 decibel range – not quite as much as the -30 db Hearos, but still quite effective because of the perfect fit.
When I plugged in to my Sony Walkman MiniDisc player/recorder, I was all smiles. On the way across Kansas a few days earlier, I’d been struggling to hear clearly over the wind noise and Hearos with the volume cranked all the way up and Boostaroo-ized. Now, I was actually turning the volume down. Way down, like below half-volume, and still hearing the music perfectly. It is, without question, the best sound I’d ever heard on a motorcycle.
(The MiniDisc player/recorder has since given way to an XM satellite radio receiver and an iPod.)
I can't help comparing this minimalist arrangement with the full zoot stereo system on big touring bikes, notably the BMW K1200LT with its 6-CD player/changer hogging luggage space in the right saddlebag. I have to think I’m getting better sound and better hearing protection without the added bulk and weight of hauling the equivalent of a home stereo system around on my motorcycle. And, it’s an investment – under $500 total - that stays with me if and when the bike is sold or retired.
I gave the system a good workout the next couple of days, riding from Red River down through Albuquerque and across western New Mexico and Arizona to Kingman the first day and then across the California desert and Central Valley to Gilroy the next.
I found my breaks were shorter and less frequent and, quite unexpectedly, noticed my seat stayed much more comfortably much longer. Music as an anesthetic for the posterior? Maybe I could get a grant for some serious study of this phenomenon.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Eat in the hat

Here's a vintage postcard photo of the Brown Derby Cafe on Wilshire Blvd. near Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. It was 28 feet in diameter and 17½ feet high.
My first father-in-law, who served with distinction in the 144th Field Artillery Group of the U.S. Army, was an avid postcard collector. He bought picture postcards as souvenirs wherever he traveled in the 1940s. This one is circa 1940.
The sign on the roof says, "Eat in the hat."


I'm scanning vintage postcards and photo sets for Ebay today.
I have a bunch of them, including a set of views from 1940s Yellowstone National Park. Here's one of them - a shot of tourists feeding bears along the roadside.
We now know what irresponsible insanity this is, but as late as the 1960s people went to Yellowstone with the intention of feeding bears from their cars.
I think I mentioned earlier than when my parents took me to Yellowstone in the summer of 1956, we counted 29 bears along the roads during our two days in the park.
The National Park Service has pretty well stamped this practice out and the park's bears no longer see park traffic as a food source.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Free audiobooks & ebooks

I've been a fan of for a long time and have read several of their free books on my Treo smartphones.
I was happy to discover the other day that they now have several titles available for free download in mp3 form, either as individual chapters or as all of the chapters in a single zip file. is the creating of Matthew McClintock for the benefit of the Internet community.
Here's how he explains it:

All of the eBooks from are free, however donations toward the maintenance of the site are welcome.

Many of the etexts are from the November, 2003 Project Gutenberg DVD, which contains the entire Project Gutenberg archives except for the Human Genome Project and audio eBooks, due to size limitations, and the Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks, due to copyright. As of July 2004 most current PG texts are available here, usually within the week of release. There are also public domain and creative commons works from other sources.

Zip archives are stored in the same directory structure as on the DVD, with Author, Title, and related information stored in a MySQL database. Pages are built with PHP and served using the Apache webserver. The server is a 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo Mac mini running Mac OS X 10.4.

eBooks are generated on demand using a variety of tools, and cached for future readers - which means that the first time anyone requests an eBook in a particular format it will take a bit longer to deliver, but the next time that eBook is requested it will be sent immediately.

That means has nearly 21,000 titles - mostly in the public domain that can be downloaded in a variety of formats - pdf, ereader, Kindle, Ipod Notes, and on and on for visual reading and three varieties of audio: 64 bps mp3, 128 bps mp3 and ogg vorbis.
I just finished listening to the unabridged original version of H.G. Wells's "War of the Worlds," which is considerably more detailed than any of the theatrical adaptations I've seen.
I'm about to start on Mark Twain's "The Innocents Abroad."
Check out. I think you'll find something worth reading/hearing.


The hood latch on my del Sol has been increasingly stiff over the last 4 years or so.
The most recent struggle began last Friday when I ran out of windshield washer fluid. I bought a gallon of solvent at an auto parts store and popped the hood to fill the reservoir.
I lifted the hood about 2 inches, found the hatch and pushed on it - hard. It wouldn't budge.
Over the last couple of days, I shot WD-40 into and around the latch mechanism in a vain attempt to free it.
So I called the local Honda dealer first thing this morning and made an 11 o'clock appointment for an oil change and lube,telling the service manager I couldn't open the hood. He seemed confident it was no problem.
I'd been sitting in the service department for 15 minutes when a woman from the service department scurried up and announced,"Sir, they cain't git your hood open to change your awl."
"Yeah, I told them I couldn't get it open."
Some confusion ensued and I ended the discussion with, "Hey, if it takes a new hood latch mechanism, do it."
So here I sit, awaiting further news from the mechanics.
Later: They got the latch open, lubed it to a point where they are confident it will work right, did the awl change and lube, replaced the wiper blades and tracked down an awl leak that stems from a seeping awl pan gasket. Since they didn't have a replacement gasket in stock and since replacing it would mean dumping all of the new motor awl they just put into the engine, we decided I should phone them a few days in advance of my next awl change to order the gasket and do the whole thing in one shot.
Considering the time spent on the latch and diagnostics, I was pleasantly surprised that the bill was only $78 and change.
I thought I'd never find another Honda service department as friendly and honest as the one in Lafayette, Ind., but it looks like I have.

Monday crap

Most of my Ebay transactions go off without a hitch, but I'm dealing with a couple of major exceptions today.
I've been disposing of a set of dishes that Maria no longer wants and am happy to report that we've made more from them on Ebay than she paid for them and that almost all of them have gone through the mail stream without damage.
Except for the cup and saucer bought by Betty Mapes of Nebraska. She said they arrived broken. So I carefully packed a replacement set this morning and will mail them presently.
And then there's Maria's Nikon D100 SLR digital camera.
I sold it on April 25 to a guy in Colorado who was slow to respond to emails and welshed on the deal. He claimed he mailed a check, but it never arrived and I'm willing to bet that it was never sent.
So I voided the deal and re-listed it.
This time the buyer was a guy from India, living in Canada, who writes in very broken English. To his credit, he paid promptly by PayPal. But a few days ago he wrote to say the camera wasn't what he expected and he wants to return it for a refund.
I have been selling on Ebay for 10 years and have 568 comments in my profile - all positive - and I have always striven to make sure the customer is satisfied. So I agreed to let him return it with the stipulation that the camera, batteries, charger, and manual all arrive in the same condition in which I sent them.
And I will refund his money via PayPal.
I've been asked to shoot photos for the BMW MOA rally in Gillette, Wyo. next month and I was originally planning to take my D200, but now I think I'll spare the more expensive camera from the dust and vibration of a motorcycle trip and carry the rejected D100 instead.
For the record, the guy in Colorado has only 5 comments in his Ebay profile - the sign of an Ebay novice or a crook. From now on, I sell no big ticket items to bidders with less than 100 positive comments in their profile.
And I'm not crazy about the hassle of international transactions, either.
Now, I'm off to the postoffice and to take my Honda del Sol in for an oil change and lube and to get the hood latch repaired.
It's always something.