Thursday, July 30, 2009

Kid's Custom Mountain Bike

So for no apparent reason I bought this Yeti frame and rear fork from my friend, Troy. It was brand new, but a 1999 model and size small. My plan was to build a basic cheap bike for myself that I could throw in my race trailer and take to races and have something to ride around in the paddock (my current dedicated mountain bikes are just too expensive to be doing that with). I built the bike, but then had a better idea...

I bought my seven year old son a Specialized kids mountain bike about a year ago. It's okay for what you pay for it, but that's about it. It has a front suspension fork, six rear gears, and twenty inch tires. You can get some parts, but many items, like the six speed rear derailleur, just don't seem to be easily available to a do-it-yourselfer. But I got to looking at my son's long legs and this small frame and started thinking...

Step one was to see if the Fox front fork I had could be shortened in a non-destructive manner (ie. it could be put back to normal length for cheap). I had heard they could, and an email to the guys at Suspension Experts in Asheville confirmed I was right. I sent the fork to them, and as usual, they got it taken care of and back to me in short order. Next was to switch it to 24" wheels. Turns out a good many trials riders are going to 24" wheels on this type of bike, so it was easy to find a set of rims and have a set of full wheels custom built for under $300 from Universal Cycles. I placed my order online for some Atomlab rims, Shimano XT hubs, and DT Swiss spokes built up and ready to go. Got them from Portland about nine business days later. Not bad.

So the combination of removing two inches from the front fork and going to 24" wheels dropped the entire bike down about two full inches. I ordered a cheap seat post that I cut down myself since the seat post would interfere with the rear suspension otherwise. Then I moved the seat all the way forward in the mount. Next I narrowed the handlebar by 3/4" on each side and I installed it as low as I could on the front fork, but I left about an inch on top of the fork using spacers so it can be raised later in life.

So I put it all together this way to find a problem. With everything as small as it would go, my son's legs were fully extended at the bottom of the pedal stroke. No good. Besides that, 175mm cranks were going to be fairly close to the ground with all this lowering, particularly if I set the suspension up with much give for him. It's still got around three inches of rear travel and three inches of front travel, and I wanted him to be able to use it. He could get on and off the bike somewhat awkwardly, but it seemed like that was just a "getting used to it" thing.

So I decided to have my friend, and very talented welder, Bill Flynn shorten the cranks. The cranks on the bike he was riding were just over five inches and these were a full seven. So I had him take an inch and a quarter out of them. Now the fit is perfect with him still having a reasonable amount of knee bend. And the best part? The bike can grow a LOT as he does. He will probably ride this same bike for a LONG time since everything other than custom built wheels is an off the shelf part I can easily get.

Now, I did have to do some weirdness to get brakes on this particular bike. Seems the newer Fox forks don't support V-brakes, so it had to be disk. That's easy, I chose a disk mount front hub and put a Magura front brake on. Why Magura? Because the back was tricky. It had V-brake mounts, but that just ain't my style. It also had the old-school "parallel" disk mount. Nobody makes brakes to mount to that any more, but there's still an adapter you can get to put IS style brakes on a parallel mount. The big problem with that is parallel style brakes sit inside the triangle, and many calipers on the market are two big. But I found that if you find one with the piston in the middle of the assembly and you go to a 185mm disk and IS adapter, you can make it fit and work like a charm. Adjustment is a little harder to get right with these adapters, but it can be done. Magura had a brake with the caliper configured right, so that's the brand that won by default.

Otherwise the bike is built with fairly standard parts. That Rock Shox SID rear shock is the same basic shock that they STILL sell to this day. I had to send it to Suspension Experts and have the old-school custom valves that they used to use changed out for Shraeder valves, but otherwise it's stock. The cranks are just relatively cheap Truvativ cranks and chainrings. It's got a SRAM rear derailleur and SRAM shifters, but a Shimano front derailleur since it has a TINY mounting post for that derailleur and Shimano was the only company with spacers small enough. Hmm, or maybe I put a SRAM derailleur on with the Shimano spacers. I don't remember now.

Kenda makes their new microblock tires in 24", so he's sporting the same tread pattern that a lot of my friends hit the trail with. One of the coolest parts is that I pretty much had to figure out what products would work and what wouldn't (with a little trial and error, but nothing too bad, thankfully) and put it all together. I learned a lot, and the kid has one of the coolest bikes any seven year old ever sported.

As he grows into it we'll convert it back to normal cranks and adjust the seat. Then eventually we'll put the front fork back to five inches and maybe move the handlebar up. And we can go back to 26" wheels and tires really easily, too. Or maybe he'll get to move up to another bike and the four year old will get the step up. Either way, it's been a fun project that I think he really appreciates.

What more is there to say, really?


Wii Motion Plus!

Yeah, so I'm following up a Health Care Reform post with a post about a video game system. So sue me.

But the Wii Motion Plus is very cool. It definitely adds more realism to the Wii controller for games that support it, and Wii Sports Resort is a HUGE improvement over the already much-loved Wii Sports pack. Not only do you get a new 18 hole golf course, but the game is much more realistic in the swing. I'm not sure I'm a huge fan of that now as I really liked the old game, but I'm guessing it'll grow on me.

The new games are pretty killer. The jet-ski game is fun, basketball rocks, and there are a ton of games I haven't even tried yet. Currently there seems to be no problem getting Wii Sports Resort (which includes one Wii Motion Plus controller add-on). Target had them in the video game section and a huge pile of them at the check-out line! What was missing was additional Wii Motion Plus controllers, however. Not sure if those are available elsewhere. I wanted Tiger Woods 2010, and they had that in stock both by itself and with one Wii Motion Plus, and the one with the WMP was only $10 more, so I got that so we'd have two controllers. So one can presume that additional WMPs will be fairly cheap when available by themselves.

So for all you Wii fans or those on the fence, get on this. You won't regret it.

Health Care Reform

Okay, so President Obama is traveling around the country speaking to 2,000 people at a time to try to sell health care reform instead of spending his time fixing a much larger threat to our country, the deficit. Well, if he's gonna do that, then we ought to at least be armed with some knowledge about it so we can get it right.

I found this story thanks to my friend Sarah Street (hmm, all things political on my blog seem to come from her and my Dad and nowhere else...strange). It's a quick read, though it has a lot of good links that might not be so quick. But the general point here is how free markets may not apply well to the business of health care if we deem patient care more important than doctor profit. Okay, I get that. But it cites some very old papers that predicted this kind of model wouldn't work. Where's the new research on this? Shouldn't the government be doing that instead of pushing something half baked down our throats?

Another problem I have is that the predictions cite problems like a very large education gap between patients and doctors, and even more importantly a situation of fear. The patient is vulnerable, feels uneducated, and is generally also under some time pressure. So my question is how much of that has changed? These days the information age has closed that gap (or allows it to be closed) fairly significantly by an ever growing segment of the population of this country. So now the educated may not all be doctors, but we at least think we can educate ourselves pretty well on a given topic if we have to, and do it fairly quickly and free (thanks, Mr. Internet).

Is that good or bad? Are we able to do that effectively? If so, where does that leave the lesser educated lower class who may still not know how to use those tools (or have access to them)? Will they be preyed upon by the greedy doctors whereas the more educated folks can ferret out the good ones? Or should we assume that our Internet prowess may not be so good and that the doctors are the experts (I mean if you are having a heart attack you probably don't have time for research anyway, much less a choice about which hospital that ambulance is going to take you to first) and just "fix it all"?

If we need to just fix it all, then how? I suppose the most annoying thing about these kinds of articles (and worse, the old articles that predicted the mess) is that nobody seems to know the right way to fix it all. And there are so many interested parties involved that I'm not sure the government has the ability to do it anyway. My guess is that the free market with some sort of reasonable regulation is about the best we can hope for, but the insurance industry is so big I'm not sure that's an attainable goal, either. Hmmph.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A little bit pregnant?

Semi Oceanfront? Isn't that like being a little bit dead? Or a little bit pregnant? I mean either you are or you aren't. I'm just sayin'.

Hello, Apple, time to wake up!

Dear Apple,

Your anti-Google policies are alienating users fast. Last week it was reported that the Google Latitude application was rejected because it might confuse people with the native Maps application. Confuse who? The people that CHOOSE to download and install it? Please. Give me a break. So now we have to use a somewhat crippled version over the browser. But the point here is that the latitude functionality is something the native Maps application DOESN'T EVEN HAVE. Plus, the native Maps application is based on the maps from Google anyway. Just let us have our latitude without having to run it in the browser for crying out loud.

The bigger complaint here is Google Voice. This has been rejected completely and it's not likely it can be done as a web-only service. Sure, we'll be able to get to parts of it via the web, but you likely won't be able to make a voice call that way. You've already seen fit to allow for VOIP applications in the App Store as long as they don't use the cell data connection, just wifi. Okay, fine, but Google Voice is no different than this (well, except for being BETTER). Come on, let us have Google Voice. You really can't say this is a threat to AT&T service. If people would consider dumping their cell coverage altogether on an iPhone, well, they can already do that with an iPod Touch (yes, you need a headset currently, but rumors seem to indicate you won't need to do that any longer with the next Touch generation).

Come on, get with it, and let customers have the full funcationality provided by the hardware. Locking things up like this is playing silly corporate games at the expense of the end user and could only serve to make Android devices that much more compelling to us down the road. Don't go there. It's gonna bite you.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Daily Double

So you only get one thing, but the "double" is that this is both a sign and a restaurant recommendation. If you're ever in Reidsville, NC, I suggest Short Sugar's. They've been in business at this location since 1949 selling NC BBQ, and it's pretty good. The atmosphere is nothing to write home about, but you can pull up to the side of the building and eat in your car if that bothers you. They come to you for service and that area is shaded as well. Can't beat that.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reserved Judges Only

Can anyone tell me what this sign means? These chairs were just out here like this along a road in someone's yard in Hatteras Village, NC. There is nothing but swamp across the road from here. It was really odd.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Spending versus Saving

So, I don't know how generations of Americans through around 1970 knew how to save money and retire comfortably on a single income with a family. But I do know that since about that time, Americans have chosen to skip that in large quantities. And it's becoming a serious economic problem we need to fix. The best idea I've heard is that we need to be educating everyone at the high school level on money management.

My idea is to call the class "how to get rich." Hey, it's what most people want and certainly gets your attention. The reality is there is no easy answer to the question of how to get rich, but what I do know is that if you can get yourself a steady middle class job and maintain a reasonable lifestyle such that you can save 10% from a fairly early age, well, you can retire before you're too old to enjoy life and live off your money. You will have to know exactly how to live responsibly and how to invest money wisely (and no, that doesn't mean how to "beat" the stock market nor does it involve knowing ANYTHING about the stock market, really). But it can be done. It can even be done in today's "normal" life of a two income family with kids.

A friend pointed me to this article that refutes some of what Elizabeth Warren has to say. As you might expect, I don't agree with the article. Warren is just trying to level the playing field somewhat so that consumers have a chance. Right now, most don't because they can't even understand what the products are that are offered. They're so complex because we can't understand them and the banks can hide ways to benefit themselves and not us. But my argument here is that once those things are simplified then consumers have a better chance of understanding the impact of choosing a particular product will be on their bottom line. It's not the entire solution, I admit. People are still CHOOSING to spend themselves into debt they can't satisfy. But it's a start, and education is the next logical step.

But think about this. If current Americans are spending level or negatively from now until retirement age, how do they retire? And if they can't retire, do they work until death? Someone is going to have to not only take care of the old people, but will have to absorb that debt sometime. It could get very ugly.

Monday, July 20, 2009

How does this work?

How can an entire industry with millions of customers be terrible? You might have guessed I'm talking about the cellular telephone industry, but in reality I could be talking about several different sectors. I'm going to focus on the cellular industry in spite of the fact that it's so common for people to complain about their carrier that it has become quite tired to hear people do it. I mean who cares to hear about how bad someone else's carrier is when your own carrier is so bad?

The thing here is that it seems that every single carrier has serious customer service issues. Everything from the technical side of the world (no coverage in needed areas, data being slow, etc) all the way to a complete inability to solve basic problems with billing or even selling proper accessories. Companies have come and gone and consolidated and been acquired and sold and split in so many different ways it's crazy. But the only result of all this seems to be things stay the same or get worse, never better.

Companies only seem to get customers by acquiring them, by having an exclusive phone contract (can you say iPhone?), or having coverage in just the right place. But I think a poll of cellphone users would find that there are very few that don't have serious problems with their current cellphone carrier. That carrier just happens to "suck less" than everyone else.

So how does this happen? How can there be no room in the market for a company to actually do a good job of solving the customer's needs? I have no idea. I do know I don't see any of the current carriers doing anything much to make the situation better. AT&T doesn't seem to be expanding their current network to new areas, they're just making the data side faster where they currently are. Verizon is stuck with none of the new wave of awesome smartphones (iPhone and Palm Pre). Sprint has always had network coverage problems in big ways, so they went and bought Nextel, which was worse. Yeah, that makes sense.

My theory on how these things happen is that the stock market puts so much emphasis on growth yet very little on actual, oh, profit that companies make decisions based on growth. And when they have a captive customer base (we all require cellphones in our lives now), well, it's easier to acquire/merge/whatever than it is to do the right things to take your competitors customers. The contract model seems to also hurt their ability take customers with upgrades in actual customer service. Perhaps it's time to end that as a major business model? Or at least regulate the telco industry again? I really don't know, but I know there's something significantly broken right now when an industry so large can suck so bad.

At your own risk...

This sign was on the back of the door of the workout room at my hotel in Blytheville, AR. The misspelling is what caught my eye, but it also has another could be what really started this new "hobby" of taking pictures of interesting signs to post here. I had to stare at it for an hour while using their "equiptment" and the idea was born.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Consumer Financial Protection Agency

Well, assuming there's nothing hidden or insidious that might happen behind the scenes (a tough assumption, but let's go with it for now), I can't help but agree with Elizabeth Warren on our need for a Consumer Financial Protection Agency. This video is under eight minutes. Tell me what you think about it.

All my logged workouts...

...are available by clicking here. Pretty interesting to compare my 14 mile day in Pisgah to the ride I did today. I was really in better shape then, I thought, but maybe not by much. There is more climbing in Pisgah, but still, things look fairly comparable. For those curious, I use a Garmin 405 GPS and heartrate monitor watch. Very nice little device, I must say.

Epic local mountain bike ride.

Didn't remember to start my data logger until about 15 minutes in, so this was a 16 mile plus day of mountain biking. How, I don't really know, because I haven't mountain biked since my trip to Pisgah other than one little ride that wasn't even three miles long last week. But I actually seemed to last okay on this day, so that's good. You can click here for the full gory details of the data, but the map pictured here shows the route, too. This isn't even all of the trail available in Chapel Hill near the airport.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Debt is normal. Be weird!

The title of this blog post seems attributed to Dave Ramsey thanks to the bumper stickers he sells, but I'm not sure he didn't lift it from somewhere else. My good friends, Matt and Angie, have this sticker on one of their vehicles, and I've always loved it.

I know on the surface that staying out of debt is important, but I've never really thought about how truly important it is. My wife and I had some very significant (to us, anyway) credit card debt at one point. We managed to get it mostly under control when a life altering event meant never having to worry about that kind of thing again. But I still vividly remember what it was like. I'd like to think had my event not occurred that I would have still found a way to get on the good side of the debt curve, but I'm not totally convinced of it. At any rate, what I do know is that most Americans aren't convinced of the importance or we wouldn't have a lot of the economic situations that exist today.

I implore every hard working person to take an hour of your time to watch this video:

I want to thank Sarah Street for turning me on to Elizabeth Warren. It's a shame that it takes a law professor turned statistician and researcher who happens to be a good public speaker almost an hour to articulate this kind of data properly, or more people might get the message. And you can skip straight to minute five and miss the introduction if you're time sensitive. Watch at least ten minutes and you'll find a way to watch the rest even if it is in pieces. It's well worth it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


These are just some random things I've realized about myself lately.

I fold my underwear and I can't figure out why. Every time I start to fold a load I think "there's no point in this" and then I continue to do it anyway. The entire time I'm doing it, well, it sort of bugs me. Every time I take a pair out of the stack it sort of bugs me. At no point do I ever think "man, I sure am glad this stuff is folded." Is this new? No, I've lived in this paradox for years now.

I am waking up earlier and earlier. These days "sleeping in" only goes past 9am in strange and dire circumstances. Most of the time 8:30 is sleeping in, in fact. I used to be able to sleep until noon if I didn't have a reason to get up earlier and would do it quite often. But it did screw up my sleep habits a lot when I did that, so I'm actually starting to appreciate getting up earlier. Well, that's a lie. I want to appreciate it because I want it to make me go to sleep better, but in reality it doesn't. I seem to have chronic insomnia, though it's mild enough that it's hardly worth doing anything about. At least not yet.

I never played soccer as a kid in ANY fashion and thus grew up with a deep disdain for it. I enjoy basketball, then football, then baseball, and I think the order is like that because of scoring. I like sports where you score more. Soccer is generally a pretty long game with a pretty low score. But as soon as your kid goes out on that soccer field and does well...'nuff said.

I know I've been blessed and I try to enjoy what I have, but it only takes one evening at someone elses house to realize that all we really need is a charcoal grill and a yard and good company. You got that, you got it made. Everything else is gravy, and you ought to enjoy it while you can.

Eating good is hard. Eating bad is easy. Eating good means you live longer. Eating bad means you don't. Hard is worth it.

I like who I am, but I know I can be a much better me. I think it's important for your own mental health to always be improving yourself somehow. Not for pride or for the improvement itself, but for the sense of accomplishment. Sure, it feels good to get a chore done, but it feels way better to know you just handled a situation in a way so much better than you might have a year ago. Or ten. Or even the day before.

I'm a better basketball player today than I ever was. No, my legs won't do what they used to. Yes, I'm 40 pounds heavier than when I was 18 and in my athletic prime. But the simple fact of the matter is if I could play my 18 year old self, I'd crush that guy. Like a bug. I really like that. Sure, it only means that I wasn't very good then because I'm still not very good, but it's the improvement that matters. I'm not going to the NBA or anything, but the game has a different meaning to me now. Things happen slower because my body is slower, but things happen WAY slower in my head, which is why I've improved so much. I still have a lot of room to grow as a player and it seems to be happening faster and faster now, which I really like.

I like teaching. I'm terrible at it mostly for lack of patience. I'm getting a lot better at it, though, especially the patience part. Coach 5-6 year olds in ANYTHING and you'll acquire more patience than you thought possible (or get arrested!). I don't take as many opportunities to teach my kids as I should, and I'm working on that. This week Mom was gone and while we did a lot of really fun things and had a lot of "firsts", what I enjoyed the most was the fact that I think they learned a lot and grew as young men. I need to do more of that while they're still sponges.

I'll end this sappy pile of steaming dung with a nugget that my friend Matt and I came up with a couple years ago: Life is a rut, might as well dig it! Yeah, we need to get that on a t-shirt or a spare tire cover with a cartoon of a Jeep making a big rut in the mud and sell it. Could make millions I'm sure!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More Blytheville Signage

This one jumped out at me because of the "Youth Awareness Week" thing. What does that mean? Are people forgetting that youth exist in Blytheville? Are they trying to get the youth of Blytheville to be more aware of something? What? And the "week" is only four days long and it's two hours each day. They aren't going to be getting a whole lot of awareness that way. Then there is the fact that this is a "Temple Church." Reminds me of Ashley and her sister's story of all the giggling they'd do every time they passed the "Friendly Chapel Church." There is some serious redundancy going on. Oh, and the fact that this place has a "Founder/Overseer" is more than a little bit scary for some reason.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Oh, might as well...

...go for a third one in a row.

Seriously? Someone was annoyed enough that people were illegally passing on the right to hand paint their own sign and put it out? Amazing stuff. Found in Buxton, NC. I love how the text gets bigger on each line, too.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Hey, when you need a good deal on some lemonade, I got your joint. And I like that I got me in the picture, too.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Here's your sign!

So, I had every intention of doing a separate blog for these, but now I'm thinking I'll just post them here occasionally. My new hobby is taking pictures of signs that I find "interesting." It may be that they're funny, artistic, silly, or just plain cool. I have a stash of them, but I'm not sure how often I'll post one. Depends on how fast they are coming in, really. So not more than once a day, and not likely even that often for a while. We'll see. Anyway, first up is one from our recent trip to Hatteras Island.

This one sort of sums up the island to me. Why? Because you just don't find unhappy people there. Maybe that's why we love that place so...

Our new dog!

Meet Hattie, our new Weimaraner. "Hattie" is short for Hatteras, which is one of our favorite places on earth (and on our minds because we just got back from a few weeks there). She's eight months old and her birthday is October 21. She's somewhat nervous still after a few days here, but starting to fit in fine. Our other two dogs seem to not mind her, and she seems to want to play with them but not enough to get her in trouble. She's been great with the kids, but that's because she's still VERY timid in her new surroundings. I think the energy level is still somewhat low for her, but we'll see...

Friday, July 3, 2009


Pardon me while I get political, but this is a really good read. I implore everyone, Democrat or Republican, to read it to the end. I don't think we're far from hearing "give Obama his fair share of time" type arguments, which is sad since a lot of the problems he is having to deal with are not of his making. But that's the case with any president, really. I currently rate him a big "fail" on most of what he's done or is intending to do. I'm actually starting to feel pretty good that he's doing so badly* we won't have to put up with but four years of him, with the exception that there doesn't seem to be anyone waiting in the wings of much merit, either. sigh It sure as heck isn't Sarah Palin!

* Yes, I know Obama is still a media darling. But people are starting to notice just how little change he's made since taking office on everything from energy (other than taxing the poo out of it) to the economy to the war to Gitmo. Only thing he's done better than his predecessor is fewer mis-speaks in public speaches. Bravo. His foreign policy sure is doing a great job with North Korea so far, too.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

There's just something about the baseball.

I admit to not being a lifelong baseball fan. I admit that I don't know as much about the history of baseball as I do about the issue of steroids in baseball, which is quite sad as I'm sure I'm not alone (and in fact am probably in the majority). But I do know this one simple thing...the baseball itself may be one of the most perfectly designed devices in all of sports.

What makes me say that? I can't really articulate it well, but what I do know is it just "feels" right. I've played a lot of softball in the last ten years or so, and I've loathed the ball itself the entire time. Too big and strange to throw and catch. That's coming from someone with relatively large hands and the owner of a good glove, too. It's just all wrong. Even the ladies/youth ball is just too big.

Why am I just now noticing this? Well, I've always sort of known it, but recently I've been playing some catch with my boys and it's just sort of hit me. Those of you who know me know that I'm a HUGE basketball fan. I both play and watch. I have times when I haven't played in a little while (like now) when I can sit and daydream of what it feels like to shoot a jumper. I can daydream about what it feels like to execute that perfect crossover dribble. And lately, for some strange reason, I can feel that baseball in my hand.

That's what makes the baseball thing so profound to me. I grew up playing basketball. I still play a lot of it. But I played very little baseball as a kid (one year of coach pitch was it, and I was bad at that). But something just feels good about throwing a baseball. I think right now I could play catch for hours, and not just with my kids. With anyone. I sort of yearn for it, in fact. And it seems like it has a lot to do with that stupid little ball.

The basketball cannot compete with the baseball for best ultimate design simply because there are too many differences from one basketball to the next. Sure, any good basketball player can adapt to them pretty easily, but the fact of the matter is that you do have to make some changes from ball to ball. They feel slightly different, they have different weights to them, and worst of all, different levels of tack. College and pro football use completely different footballs in terms of dimensions, weight, and probably material. High quality baseballs are much more consistent. It is what it is and they'll all feel pretty much the same. This consistency is a key, but somehow the stupid thing is just pretty perfect and apparently has been for a looooong time.