Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Revisiting childhood books

I'm a lover of books... always have been. It runs in the family, actually, as my mother has always been a book nut as well. When I was about ten years old, she returned to work, after having stayed home to raise five kids for many years. The place she ended up working, after a short stint at fast food, was the local library. As a result, I spent a lot of time in the library growing up. And like many of us, I had my favorite books.

Among the earliest I can recall is Little Toot, the story of a young tug boat in a city harbor. Yes, one of those stories where a machine has a personality, which were rather popular back when I was a kid. Maybe they still are. Anyway, the tug of the title is young and only wants to play games, and is therefore looked down upon by the older tugs. In the end, an event occurs where he redeems himself and saves the day... just the kind of book a kid would like, where a youngster performs an act of heroism.

Well, a few months ago, I heard on NPR that a new edition was coming out, with the artwork restored to it's original, vibrant colors. Apparently, over the years since it was first published in 1939, the colors had lost their luster. So the publisher and the daughter of the author (Hardie Gramatky), got together the original plates and some other work of the author's and restored it. I told my mom about this, and when Christmas came around, she gave me a copy. It was a delight to re-read it again after all these years. A bit hokey, granted, but it made me smile, and brought back that wonderful feeling a kid gets from reading a favorite book or hearing a favorite story.

Which reminds me of another Christmas gift from my mom a few years back... a CD version of a recording of Julie Harris reading Stuart Little, the story of a plucky young mouse-boy. I'm guessing more folk are familiar with the book than the recording, but I listened to that endlessly when I was a boy. I probably drove my mom half crazy with it. Anyway, that was another lovely gift, and visit to days gone by, and many happy times reading or listening. There were so many good books in my childhood... and adolescence... and even now as an adult. I've always loved reading, and I'm grateful to my mom for encouraging it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A radical new astronomical theory

I'm not an astronomer... I don't even play one on TV... and no, I didn't stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

But I have come up with a new theory... one that came to me in the night... as I tried to sleep... Here goes...

There appears to be an actual Center of the Universe!

It is a mobile yet immovable object, that seems impervious to any external force... it only moves at the urging of some unknown, mysterious force entirely internal to itself. When it is at rest, it most assuredly WILL stay at rest, regardless of whatever else is happening in the universe around it. When it is moving, it moves, unaffected by anything else, going the path it chooses.

It is, in astronomical terms, really, really small... not infinitely small, mind you, like some matter... no, it has a definite size and weight.... call it about eight and a half pounds, give or take... and smaller than a breadbox, but bigger than a bagel.

It is, simply put...

My cat, Tybalt! You see him there in all his glory, basking in bed, secure in the knowledge that nothing and nobody can get him to surrender his spot in the bed, unless he chooses to do so!

Honestly, this is one stubborn cat... if he's decided on "his" spot in the bed, heaven help anyone who might actually think otherwise! :-)

Good thing he's so darned cute!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

More snow riding

Well, "snow" by DC-area standards, anyway.

This past Thursday we got about 3-4 inches I'd guess, out in the Virginia suburbs. I had driven to work that day, but planned to ride my stud-equipped Miyata 210 in on Friday. That turned out to be tougher than I had imagined! The temperature had reached a point that made conditions particularly challenging, and the ride took roughly twice as long as usual going in to work. That is to say, a half hour ride became an hour ride, and a strenuous one at that.

It seems the temperature was at just the right point that it left the trail in a state of mixed slush and ice, never fun. Basically, the areas where no one had traveled were thick, wet, slushy snow which sucked at my tires and really bogged me down. On the other hand, the parts of the path where folks had walked or cycled before me were frozen just hard enough to make it rather bumpy and tough to hold any sort of line. Any time my front wheel intersected the path of a previous rider, it got bumped around and tried to follow that rider's path, regardless of where I wanted to go. A tough ride, but in retrospect, a good one. And more learning in the ways of winter riding.

The ride home was quite a bit easier, as some areas had melted down to pavement, and the rest had frozen back up more solidly than the morning. Studded tires really excel on hard-frozen surfaces, so I made much better time and had more fun on the way home. An added challenge was the dark, but with decent lights and a certain amount of just letting go and going with the flow helped to make it fun. And a lot faster! Basically, my time landed right between my usual half hour and the morning's hour, at 45 minutes. Not a bad time for snow and ice.

The one kind of winter riding I haven't gotten to experience in way too long it that lovely moment when you get to be the first, or among the first, to travel a given path. Ah, that's so wonderful, to gently push through the snow to the quiet crunching of powder. Alas, that's all a matter of timing, and I haven't really done it in a while. Here's hoping...

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A New/Old Front Derailleur

This may be one of those posts that only a bike geek can appreciate... and an old bike geek at that. I mean a geek about old bikes, not an old geek, although... well, you get my point.

Anyway, I just recently bought the derailleur you see to the left there. It's a Campagnolo Record front derailleur from around 1973 or so, and I'm really happy to have found it. You may be asking why it is I'm excited about an old bike part. Well, there are a couple of things that make this item special.

First, in the early 70s, Campagnolo (Campy for short in the US, Campag in the UK) components were widely thought to be some of the best, if not the best, available. Sure, you had and still have aficionados of other brands of components, but all in all, Campy was seen as the cream of the crop. By today's standards, it might be seen as somewhat primitive, with none of the shaping and sculpting of the cage side plates that help modern derailleurs do their magic. But for the drivetrains of the day, in the hands of an experienced rider, this was as good as it got.

Second, it's in great shape for a derailleur of this age, and for the price I paid. Basically, it looks like it has never been used, which is rare for something this old.

Finally, and most importantly, it's the "correct" front derailleur for my lovely 1973 Schwinn Paramount P15-9. I bought the bike this past summer, and it has almost all of its original parts, with the notable exception of having a SunTour MounTech front derailleur from the 80s. I figured one day I'd get around to replacing it, but when I found this one being sold by someone on an internet list I read, I jumped on it. Now about the only part that isn't really "correct" on the Paramount is the rear rim, a Japanese Araya, rather than the original Weinmann. I'm not that worried about that, honestly, but if the right rim came up for sale, I'd get it.

Now all I have to do for this bike is get the period decals for it, which luckily are still available from Waterford Precision Cycles, the heir to the Paramount line, sort of. Oh, and I think the lugs should be outlined in red paint, but I don't know that I'll deal with that.

Oh, and I know the clipless pedals aren't the right pedals, and I have both the original Campy SL quill pedals and a set of the Campy SL track model that I prefer.

Friday, January 4, 2008

One Reason I Ride...

Today I was reminded of why it is I ride my bike... one of the reasons, at least.

It was cold... much colder than yesterday. And I'm still suffering from a lingering cold and cough, so I was feeling run down and having trouble breathing sometimes. Frankly, it wasn't feeling like fun. But then I saw a fox... a rather large and healthy one... racing across the bike path and up and embankment to my right. He stopped at the top and watched me... until I stopped to take his picture, when he vanished before I could even get my camera out. Still, it made me smile, and remember why I ride.

A few minutes later, I had another nice encounter... this time with a flagman in a road construction zone I was crossing through. We chatted a little while I waited for the light... he asked if I was cold, and I said the wind was the tough part. Then he asked how many speeds my bike had, and when I told him 21 he smiled and said he used to have a Raleigh that had 3. I laughed and said I remembered those... and that I actually still own a couple. A minor encounter, but the kind of thing you don't have happen in a car.

All in all, a good ride in, and a good start to my day.

It even made the various "French threaded component" issues I dealt with at the shop today a little easier to take.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy New Year!

Well, I missed posting on the first of the year as I'd planned, so not an auspicious start to the whole "I'd like to blog more in 2008" idea knocking around in my head at year's end. Ah well... better late than never.

I think one of the obstacles for me, aside from basic procrastination, is staring at the screen feeling I don't have anything interesting enough to say. I suppose a visit to any number of other blogs would reassure me that's not really an obstacle! So I'm going to make an effort to just write more often, whether it's about something exciting or simply random observations and thoughts. Writing, like so many other things, is better with practice.

For now, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all of you out there reading my blog, a Happy New Year. May 2008 bring wonderful things into your lives.


PS - the photo above is just a shot I took a long time ago (with film!) in Flagstaff, AZ, while visiting for a job interview... for a job I had previously held, no less. It has nothing to do with anything, I just thought it was a nice one to share.