Thursday, December 25, 2014

Holiday Letter 2014

Another year has flown by, with its own slew of changes to keep up with. Among our challenges have been trying to decide who is going to be Elsa, not calling Davis a baby, managing personal and vehicular energy and pressure levels, and the last of the major household projects for a while.

The kids were definitely caught up in the Frozen frenzy, which has changed their wardrobes, the games they play, and the music they listen to. There's still room for the old favorites and sometimes painful injections of pop music when they're playing, listening to music in the car or for one on Moira's many self-produced dance recitals. Walker avoided Frozen until October, when he finally watched it with the kids in exchange for them watching Princess Bride while they were sick. For Moira, Princess Bride ranks up with Nightmare Before Christmas, receiving a "Never Show Me That Again" rating.

Overall, raising the children has gotten a little easier over time, but not as much as we'd like. Moira has always been motivated by having people read stories to her. Bath time, washing hair, brushing teeth and flossing all happened smoothly with a reminder that these things needed to happen in order to have bedtime stories. Davis, on the other hand, has been a tougher nut to crack. Since Moira still gets her story, skipping a story for Davis doesn't do much. So, now there are funny noises in public at times to get him to eat, not to mention a barnyard full of the sounds of the animals living between his teeth. Moira gets jealous of this at times. There's some hope, though - since she's beginning to lose her teeth, there's room for more things to hide.

This year's vacation was down to a resort in Oregon Shannon used to visit with her family, where Davis discovered a love of mini-golf which carried on into his birthday celebration. So far, the improvised course we made in the newly finished back yard was comparable to most of the courses we've seen in the Pacific Northwest. Apparently this region has something against windmills.

We've had some changes in the household with roommates moving on, which has left an opening in the cooking schedule which Moira was eager to fill. Her skills have gotten a lot better, and she's even starting to branch out from cookbooks featuring Disney princesses. She's also branched out into acting with a program for kids run by the Seattle Children's Theater.

Shannon and Walker have generally been at the same old things, having held out a long time against everything being about the children. They've stopped trying to keep up with the endless tide of LEGO-based co-op games, have driven contractors from the house (at least for now), and do manage to get a few hours off each week, away from the house, without the kids, sometimes together even, that they then proceed to squander by talking about the kids anyway.

Hoping for a peaceful 2015,

Walker, Shannon, Moira & Davis

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Under Pressure

This is mostly driven by recent observations with my car, but since starting out with that would likely have most readers moving on elsewhere, I'll leave that for later. If all you're here for is the car porn, you want the last paragraph with the associated picture.

Summer has been busy as usual. Even with taking off the week of the Fourth of July, another week in August, and another day or two, there's just more to get done than there is time, at least when you include entertaining the kids. They're getting better about self-entertainment, but every so often, the go into a phase of wanting to do some particular thing that requires help. Moira still asks to play Toy Store 3 on the PS3. Davis asks more for Beatles Rock Band (thanks to Caspar Babypants), where he attempts to play the drums. Davis likes board games in general, and is asking to play one every day. One of the pieces for Mouse Trap got broken, so that hasn't been in the rotation for a while, and I think he's mostly forgotten about it for now. Moira asks about Robot Turtles on a regular basis, which I take as a good sign, but it is something that needs adult help.

During our August vacation, I finally found a place that has two seat go-karts that would let me take Moira out with me. We did a session of that, and talked about it a bit, and it sounds like she isn't so interested in driving on her own. Meanwhile, whenever I'm taking the kids somewhere in the car, Davis asks to take the Porsche, so maybe there's hope. On today's trip, he told me the engine is really big. On the last trip, I tried to explain, at two year-old level, how the engine works, because he kept sticking his arm into the air intake while I was putting in the car seat. We'll see what sticks. The next concrete step will be the Traxx Racing in Mukilteo when he turns 3.

When we first gave Moira an allowance, she was pretty good about saving it up. I remember being quite happy when she decided she wanted a stuffed jellyfish from the Seattle Aquarium (pink, of course), and saved up her allowance over about 6 weeks to buy it. Since then, she's mostly tried to spend money whenever she could. Before turning 5, she mentioned she wanted an aquarium. A small one came up for sale at work, so I bought it and told her that we could set it up when she saved up enough money for fish. She did that earlier this year, so we spent a month or so looking at fish, doing the initial setup with the water and no fish, and finally went to get real fish at the beginning of August. I've kept a 20 gallon tank before, and I don't remember it being a large amount of work. The 5 gallon aquarium was a big challenge. Algae and nearly opaque green water within a week or so. I struggled a lot with it, and finally broke down about two weeks ago and got a 20 gallon, on the assumption it'd be more stable. It was beautiful for the first week, and then after the first water change, we were back to dark green water and various algae colonies. I've added an extra filter, restocked with algae eating fish (I tried with the smaller tank, and they didn't make it more than two days), and we'll see if a less invasive approach from here on out works better.

So, back to pressure. Tires have been a challenge recently. My road bike got a flat tire shortly before I got the electric bike, so it sat neglected for a few weeks. I decided to go on a social bike ride with a few people I didn't know, and figured it'd be better to show up with a regular bike rather than the other crazy contraption. Turns out, the flat on the road bike was due to tire underinflation, which wasn't a surprise, but it was surprising that I ran out of patches before I managed to get the tube to hold air.

One interesting side effect of using the electric bike is it has changed my pacing. With the electric, going uphill is mostly a rest break, so I tend to push harder when I'm getting close to a climb. Getting back on the regular bike, I noticed myself doing that, but caught it before I got to the bottom of the hill. I suppose I could skip using the motor when going uphill and save it for hauling the kids around, but I noticed from my Kirkland bike commute that, after the first couple weeks, there weren't appreciable gains in how quickly I was able to go. I think right now, I'm close to breaking even on how long it takes to commute home with changing clothes and showering on each end vs. sitting in traffic, so while I'd get more exercise per ride, I'm pretty sure the better approach for me is the consistent exercise. When I did start biking to work in Kirkland, I think it was September. I learned fairly quickly what I needed for gear to get through the rain and cold, so I suspect there won't be an issue with being gung ho about biking to work now and abandoning the bike once the rain starts coming down, although I do have to finish getting the front fender installed.

Twenty years ago, I bought my first yellow car, and my first Porsche. That doesn't quite mean I've been a Porsche owner or yellow car owner for 20 years, but it's been close. Twenty years ago, if you were taking the car out autocrossing or to the track, a reasonable place to start was taking factory recommended pressure and adding about 5 lbs. psi. With the new car, I was given the recommendation of 36 lbs. in front and 40 lbs. in back, which is 5 to 12 lbs. lower than factory recommendations. The car has been okay, I've been struggling for grip. There have been enough events where other people have complained about grip that I figured it was affecting everyone. This past event, after actually talking to some people about it, it turns out even that was too high. Getting down into the correct pressure range does help, but not enough given the current state of the tires. You'd think the speed holes that have developed here would help out. Sadly, nearly a year into the car's existence, there aren't any additional options for tires that are legal in my class.
Speed holes!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Ride the Lightning

It has been an eventful month for transportation for me. Coming home from the last autocross, the climate control system couldn't keep the interior of the car below 80 degrees F, and that's only gotten less tolerable as the temperature insists on staying in that range. Turns out the car took a rock through an A/C condenser, and needed a replacement. At least that part is cheaper than a radiator, and the Toyota RAV4 loaner I had proved convenient over the past week.

Test run to the neighborhood mailbox
I finally did get an electric bike solution. It involved having most of a bike built up at one shop, the motor installed at a second, a pit stop at a third shop due to problems with the rear wheel, back to the first shop for some adjustments and finally a trip to a fourth shop for an actual fitting appointment. I took the full week of the 4th off from work, which is a good thing, given the number of trips involved there. In the end, I'm happy with the final result. At some point, I'll get better pictures of it.

The motor package I wound up with is the Bafang BBS02 kit. While not as smooth a solution as a number of the others I've tried, it makes up for that in power. Hooked up to a bike trailer with 70 pounds of kids in tow, it still climbs the hills in our neighborhood at about 15mph just using the throttle. The battery meter is a little wonky. Seems like it shows 60%+ charge for a long time, then falls off quickly. I haven't tried pushing it to see it actually run out, since if it happens on my commute, there'd be a lot of uphill pedaling.

Moira returning a book she borrowed the day before.
Inaugural weekend bike ride with celebrity guest

Moira would prefer to ride the Trail-a-Bike, but Davis seems to enjoy being able to come along on bike rides. Good thing, since it's his only option right now.

Waiting for the Interurban Dad to finish taking pictures so we can have lunch
The first real ride we took was up to Wallingford via Fremont so that Moira could take a book back to a neighborhood children's library after borrowing one the day before when we were there for the Wallingford Family Parade. After we found that, it was back to Fremont. I didn't have a bike lock when we set out on this trip, so our options for where to have lunch were limited to places we could walk to from my office. Blue Moon Burgers is quite close, has a gluten free bun, and a large enough kid's burger that they could split it.  This may wind up being a regular stop when I'm on my own. We're probably two weeks away from our first ride with Ellis, so I'll find out then what the regular routine is.

Trying to maneuver around with a bike trailer seems even tougher than dealing with a car trailer. I suspect that's because the confines tend to be more cramped and I'm also trying to hold up the bike, and possibly trying to hold open a gate as well. On the plus side, I can pick up any individual piece if I have to, unlike with a car.

Speaking of cars, it's a week until I head out to Packwood for two days of autocrossing. While the car was in the shop, it got software updates to both the rear wheel steering and the suspension. I have no idea what effect those will have, but there's a bit of concern around what happens once I've gotten used to the car. Having the throttle mapping reset was really the nail in the coffin on the last once, since getting the car through the break-in period is a bit of a pain, especially after you've gotten used to not having to make sure you're gentle with the throttle all the time. I suspect the suspension and steering adjustments won't be nearly as dramatic as that was. I suppose it comes with the territory, though. If I wanted a Turbo that couldn't possibly do that to me, there's always this one.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Back in the Saddle

Three weeks later, and still no batteries for the electric bike kit. That hasn't stopped me from biking to and from work every workday so far in May, in spite of certain challenges due to having birthday and Mother's Day presents delivered to work instead of home. At least there's spiffy new clothing to go along with the old bike while I struggle up the hill.

Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the spectrum, it seems I'm starting to get the hang of the car. I'm sure there will be backsliding, but it felt like progress to not be the slowest regular autocrosser in the car during timed runs for the first time.

In other news, I did survive a trip to Tucson with both kids on my own. It went remarkably well, up to the point where the kids saw Mom when we got back. It's taken about two weeks to get back to normal from there. I was a bit surprised that Moira didn't want to go see her aunt's horses, but not at all surprised that she wanted to spend as much time as she could in the pool. Davis liked floating on the pool raft, but wanted no part of anything closer to actual swimming.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

I'm still primarily driving the 996. It's not because I don't like driving the Turbo, but most of my driving is back and forth to work, and that's only barely far enough to get the car warmed up. Meanwhile, there are lots of excuses not to bike. I did manage seven days between January 1st and March 31st where I biked both to and from work, plus a bunch more that I didn't track where I biked one way and drove the other.

The major issue is that we live on a hill. I'm struggling to find a good map showing the grades of the streets around us, but I did find one showcasing some of the steepest rides in Seattle, and they list the street you take to get from the bottom of the house to the top at 18%. The secondary issue is being able to take the dog to work, or dealing with the local produce box, etc. When I do bike, I wind up walking the last block or two. Throw in a bike trailer to let Stewie come along, or to hold the the produce, and I'll be walking a lot more than that, dragging the extra weight of the trailer with me. I've been given an alternate route suggestion, which has two issues: it's longer, and it involves going another block or two south after

I used to have an electric bike conversion, with a motor and controller made by Looking at their website, what I had is no longer available, but I see they've added "failure detection" and "high reliability" to the image of their controller. Those certainly weren't features of the controller I had. When it was working, it had plenty of power, and turned the cheap mountain bike I had, which Vicki got free with the purchase of a mattress and box spring, into a very capable hill climber. A 750W front hub motor will do that for you. I remember one commute home where another cyclist seemed to take the fact that anyone might try to pass him as a challenge. I saw him bear down for a few seconds in order to accelerate. He looked over when he realized he couldn't pedal fast enough to stay ahead, and then gave up. Compared to that, the bikes I've tried haven't stacked up terribly well so far.

Currie eFlow E3 Nitro

Currie eFlow E3 Nitro
Currie eFlow E3 Nitro
I liked the ride of this one a lot. Very smooth, and the power delivery was seamless. The controls left a little something to be desired, as they're located on the digital display, but overall a good package. The non-standard seat post would have been a bit of an issue for attaching a Trail-A-Bike, but the bigger issue was that I struggled to climb up the 18% grade test slope with it just carrying me.

Stromer ST1 Elite
Stromer ST1 Elite

This one also had a very smooth ride, but power delivery wasn't nearly as seamless. I could distinctly feel the motor pulsing while I was pedaling. The controls were better than the Nitro, and it had a standard seat post, but I also struggled with the test slope more than I should with the help of something like this.

Currie iZip E3 Peak

Currie iZip E3 Peak
Currie iZip E3 Peak
The first mid-drive bike I've ever ridden. With the motor being able to use the mechanical advantage of the rear gears, I made it up the 18% grade test slope going about 10mph, somewhat tired from the exertion. This is a vast improvement over the 4mph and panting that I got from the other two. The ride was rougher, in spite of the front suspension, apparently due to the off-road tires. I think the dash was similar to the other iZip E3 bike, but there was a 3-4 month gap between riding those and riding this one. The controls were reachable with the left thumb, rather than on the digital display, which is an improvement over the Nitro.

I still haven't purchased one yet. Electric & Folding Bikes Northwest is expecting to get a kit in within the next couple weeks using the Bosch mid-drive control system and a motor from the same manufacturer that iZip has been using. Details of the battery weren't mentioned, but I believe the motor options were 350w and 750w. I expect the 750w is going to be the winner, although that'll still mean finding a bike to convert.

There are two other options on my radar: the Optibike SIMBB 29C and the Specialized Turbo. I haven't seen an Optibike in person. I've briefly ridden a Turbo, but only on the flat. The Turbo matches well the things I like about the Stromer, but with the smooth power delivery of the iZip E3 line. Unfortunately for both of these, there are no local shops demoing them or, more importantly, servicing them. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Got the Time

The problem with blogging, for me, is not a lack of content. Anyone without kids knows there's an infinite wealth of drivel waiting to spew for from any parent at the slightest provocation. There's also a bit of self-consciousness, I suppose, about where we happen to fall in the ongoing discussion about the division of wealth in this country. Not self-conscious enough to confine myself to driving a Geo Metro or something like that, but it's there. Really, the problem is there are a lot of things I have to or want to do, and only so much time to do them.

One of the things I rarely make time to do is exercise. Bringing the latest car into the family, not knowing whether it'll go up or down the ramps in the parking garage at work, and knowing that the engine won't warm up on the commute, I've finally managed to start commuting by bike again. I biked to and from work three days out of the five last week, plus one day of just biking into work. The remaining day, I did take the new car, as it needed an alignment. My timing was particularly good here, as I picked Plague Week in the office, and probably shouldn't have gone in on Friday. Odds are, I'm not going to be better enough to go in tomorrow, but at least I'm feeling functional again. Other than the illness, biking hasn't been so bad, although I'm still waiting for mid-drive electric bikes to be locally available to help deal with the last block of two of the trip home.

So far, I'm satisfied with the car. The two things I recall not caring so much for in the last one have been fixed. I ordered this one without a sunroof, and without the separate shift paddles. The paddles were fine on the last one, but they meant not having any controls on the wheel, which was inconvenient. With this one, I'm a little sad that I can't use the programmable button on the wheel to toggle Sport mode on and off, but the center console has been revised so I suspect I'll soon be able to find that button without looking down. The updated display feels more modern, the rear seats are amenable to car seats, and the low speed turning radius is surprising. I can't speak much to the handling or performance until Saturday, but it's given me no reason to doubt it'll be at least as capable as the last one.

Someone I worked with the Bay Area was recently bitten by the Porsche bug. In talking through the manual vs. PDK debate, I realized that there's a similar argument to be made about the changes in the handling between the earlier cars and the new ones. I haven't driven a 964 or a 993, but I'd say that I struggle to feel what's going on with the 996 on an autocross course nearly as well as I could with my old '72 911T. So, for this season, we'll see how much a bit of technology can help out.

Technology hasn't been entirely friendly on other fronts. My desktop at home died a few months ago, and it's taken a while to cobble something back together. I tried a low power machine from Shuttle, and after RMAing two consecutive ones after ordering enough parts to swap around and test at work to make sure it was their product, I wound up with an Intel NUC box. I've been happy with the performance, but I haven't figured out how to coax any sound out of it. I've seen instructions for this for Windows, and people who have hacked something together for MacOS, but not Linux yet. I may give SteamOS a try, or break down sooner rather than later in buying a gaming PC for myself. I have managed to offload all the auxiliary stuff my machine was doing to a Raspberry Pi, and have a spare that used to serve Moira's music, for the next time something goes wrong. The biggest complication has been that it doesn't hold a 3.5" internal drive, so reassembling a canonical music directory from all the various backups. I thought I had a good one, but letting MusicBrainz Picard created a few hours of work sorting things back out. Going through that, I did finally learn how to type in umlauts, so that was something. For the next pass of trying to automate the management of this, I'll be trying python instead of perl. I considered skipping ahead to go, but there are no libraries yet for handling ID3v2 flags, and trying to do that as my first programming project in a new language sounds like torture. Just reading the documentation around ID3v2 is bad enough. I think I'm actually farther along than I've been with this before. We'll see if I get as far as successfully making it through the m4a files, which have been largely opaque to me up to now. Perhaps if I had time to just listen to them all, but that's about where we came in...