Sunday, October 26, 2014

One Drone, Two Passes, Three Uralisti

Great riding weather yesterday here in the great state of Colorado!  Things started a bit cool with temperatures in the mid to low 50s but would climb into the high 80s by the late afternoon.

I met two other Uralisti, Scott M and Mike S. at the gas station near Morrison, CO at 8:30AM.  After greetings and looking over Mike's new Black and Silver Patrol sidecar rig, we set out north on CO93 towards US40.

We motored smoothly into the mountains, paralleling the faster traffic on the I-70 Super Slab, heading towards US6, aka Loveland Pass Road.  The objective today was to try out Mike S.'s flying drone setup with attached gopro camera.  There was high hopes for cool video shots of our rigs as we moved about Loveland Pass.

 Here's Mike by his pretty black Patrol with silver trim, 
behind him is the drone, a DJI Vision 2, as he worked to set it up for flight operations.

The winds however, proved too strong for the lightweight drone in the Loveland Pass Summit area so we moved westward a bit to a more sheltered area to try again.

 Just west of the Loveland Pass Summit, there's a small parking area with 
picnic benches nearby.  We posed our rigs once again and once again Mike tried
to get his drone flying correctly.  Unfortunately, technical issues involving some damage to
a couple of the propellers resulted in unstable flight behavior.  

We decided to carry on without the drone, relying on our respective cameras instead for the rest of the riding.  We made our way west towards the Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort and stopped at a hairpin turn where one can overlook the ski area to once again pose our rigs:

 Near the A-Basin Ski Resort.

A video snippet of Mike and Scott on their rigs on Loveland Pass Road

A composite of two screen snaps from the above video

Scott M. left us at this point, he was going on to Vail where there was a swap meet scheduled for folks looking to unload their old ski equipment, bargains were to be had apparently.  Mike and I headed East back towards Georgetown for lunch.  I somehow managed to not get a photo of Scott M during all this, hopefully Mike got a good one of him for this posting.

Lunch was at the Lucha Mexican Restaurant in the downtown area of Georgetown.  Chile RelleƱos, hmmmm, tasty!  Mike even paid for lunch, such a good deal.  We parted ways afterwards, he heading home and I riding up to Guanella Pass with Scarlett.

The northern half of Guanella Pass, which in rides past had been a mess of potholes and constructions, was now a nicely paved road all the way to the summit area.  The skies were that deep Colorado blue hue and they framed the nearby mountain peaks nicely.

The southern half of Guanella Pass Road however, was all torn up for construction!  I dimly recall it having been mostly paved, now it's all packed dirt and gravel with assorted rocks and boulders to keep one entertained on the way down from Guanella Pass.  I was following this car, trying to keep back to keep from inhaling the dust that all the vehicles were spewing from their tires on this part of the road!  I was glad I had the full windshield on Scarlett today!

I made it down to the southern terminus of Guanella Pass Road, the small settlement of Grant, and the junction with US285.  Scarlett and I motored eastwards towards the Denver Metro Area along with very light traffic and steadily warming conditions.

As I got to within a few miles of home, I was monitoring the odometer reading on Scarlett and as soon as the magic figure below showed up, pulled off the road for this picture:

Made it home with no issues, having learned a lot of the logistics and conditions one must consider when deploying cameras on an airborne drone.  Much to consider!

This was the first time Mike S. and I had ridden together, though we've known of each other since my days with Natasha, my '96 URAL Sportsman.  Mike S. used to have a Troyka URAL but had given it up around the time we initially met.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Neat Road Trip Planning Tool (plus other map toys)

As I contemplate my next road trip, I found myself using googlemaps to calculate distances but then finding the selected destination of the day not reachable within specified time frame or willingness to sit in the saddle for the amount of time required.

Tried seeing if googlemaps offered a range function which measured how far you could get once you input average speed, hours of riding, etc.  Nothing found but then I didn't spend a lot of time searching either.

I tried googling the phrase "map radius" or some such and stumbled upon this site:  Free Map Tools

They had a map utility that lets you: Discover how far you can travel on land from a fixed point. Specify the start point, then input either how far you can go or your mode of transport with time available. This tool will then show you the range of locations that you can reach in that time on an isochrone map.

So as an example, I put in my home zipcode, average speed of 45 mph and eight hours of traveling by driving and got this result:

source: Free Map Tools

The map shows me how far I can go, by driving (or in my case, riding), within stated parameters.  Of course, it can't account for you going faster in some spots or taking pictures in others but you get the idea.  In the above example, a day's worth of riding would get me to Green River, UT on the westernmost edge of the shaded area on the map.

I'm thinking one could use this tool to estimate overnight stops, estimate days of travel required to reach some final destination and so on.  

For instance, following the model above, I used Green River, UT as my jumping off point for day two of travel and got this:

Starting from Green River, UT...could reach Elko, NV

Day Three of travel, starting from Elko, NV would put me within
striking range of Sacramento, CA

I mentioned mapping toys in the title of this post.  Check out the Map Tunneling Tool, it allows you to select a point on the map on the left screen, and the corresponding point on the Earth if you could tunnel straight down from the selected point is displayed!  Cool beans.  So now, you can prove that one can't really dig his way to China, at least not if you're in the USA!  :)

Digging straight down from center of USA would put you
in the Indian Ocean!

Finally, an area calculator using maps.  In the example below, I found a satellite view of the local elementary school, designated the building with the tool and it tells you how much area it covers.  Not 100% accurate, but still, a neat tool.

Oh the things one finds on the Internet.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fall Colors in the Denver Metro Area

I believe this is the latest I've seen Fall Colors grace the trees in the Denver Metro Area.  I wonder what it means in terms of a snowy winter?

 The road leading into Chatfield Reservoir Park from the South

 I like the way the sun backlights the golden leaves....

 Had to go to the data center today for some work, the trees beside
the facility were a bit past their peak in terms of colors but still nice.

Trees at the elementary school near our home.

Gorgeous riding weather, sunny and warm with temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s.  Little to no wind and my network change went well!

Update: 19OCT14

Per RichardM's request, some pics of red Fall colors....not as brilliant red as the stuff on the East Coast but it'll do.  Oh, and throwing in a bonus pic of Brigitta at the Westlands Park in the Denver Tech Center, earlier this year.

A very much "tweaked" photo of the view near my house

The Entrance Arch at Westlands Park

Monday, October 13, 2014

Improving Ergos on Scarlett

I have a 32 inch inseam, perhaps 33 with boots on.  This has led in the years since I've started riding URAL sidecar rigs to some knee pain during long rides.

You see, there's not much room for one's right foot in your standard URAL. The standard seating height puts my right leg at an angle where the armor in my riding pants binds up on my right knee, eventually causing soreness and pain.

In the past, I would raise my right heel a bit and it helped, but I couldn't hold that for long periods of time.  I could deploy the pillion's ride peg and move my right foot back, resting it on said peg but again, it's not something I could hold for long.

The other day, it occurred to me that if I could raise the bench seat on Scarlett, it would allow a better angle for my right leg, obviating the need to ride with the heel higher than the toe as it were.

Some testing, some thinking, some observations later, I tried raising the seat using stacks of washers....this worked to raise it about 1/4 inch but then the mounting screws involved were not long enough.

This morning, I rode Brigitta over to the hardware store to get longer M8x1.25 nuts and bolts.  Brigitta ran well, and the headlight stayed on, so that was a good test ride after Saturday's work involving the headlight bucket.

Returning home, I set about installing the new bolts, using nuts to adjust the height of the bolts.  The bolts replace the OEM ones that held the mounting plate over the battery compartment in place.  The bench seat has a primary mounting bold that secures to the mounting plate, with two other bolts at the rear of the bench seat holding things down on that end of things.

Closeup view of the bolts which now hold the bench seat
about one inch higher than stock.  Usually, the mounting plate
sits flush on top of the tug's frame.
Note how the middle rubber bumpers now hang in the air.

Unless you really know to look, there's no real change to 
Scarlett's appearance.  Especially if I am sitting on her.

source: URAL
example rig with the seat flush mounted to the mounting plate

Getting geared up, I took Scarlett for about 30 minutes or so of riding.  My right foot fits much better now on the right peg, and it feels comfortable to hold my foot parallel to the ground.  I think this little mod will help during the long rides, but we'll see.

Scarlett at the power plant by Smith Road, north of the I-70 highway
and near Powhaton Road.

As you can see, storm clouds, which caused me to ride back homeward in a pretty steady rain.  No big deal but it was close to lunch so I just rode on home, getting wet since I didn't bother to don rain gear.

There is no such thing as warm summer rain in Colorado.

A bit chilled, I got home just fine.  Took a look at the relays which are mounted on the bottom of the mounting plate that the seat is anchored on; a few small drops of water hat collected on them.  I took some leftover rubber trim used for garage doors, black in color, place it under the seat and secured the ends to the pillion's grab bars.  That should keep water and snow from collecting on the relays, the proof will be the first ride in snow; which should be within the next two to three weeks if I'm lucky.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Headlight Weirdness by Brigitta, Resolved.

Back when I replaced the speedo/odometer on Brigitta, my '87 R80, I happened to notice that sometimes my headlight remained on even when the key was off!  Weird.  At the time, I attributed the headlight behavior to me messing about the wiring involved around the headlight area.

It sort of remained in the back of my mind however, and this morning I took a closer look at things.

One obvious thing as I moved her front wheel back and forth, the headlight would come on when the wheel was turned all the way to the right!  Yep, with the ignition off.  Heck, with the key out!  Obviously, a circuit was being completed somewhere, independent of the ignition switch.

Off came the headlight so I could get at the ignition wiring.

Ignition switch wires

Saw some bare spots on the wires, thought it'd be an easy fix.  Trouble was though, as I checked things by wiggling on the connectors, the headlight didn't come on.  Hmmmmm.

I followed the wires into the plastic tube which housed all four wires, wiggled that and the headlight would come on when I moved it in different directions!  Aha!  

So I removed the battery's negative cable from it's grounding point on the engine case so I could work on things without making sparks fly.

Started off peeling the plastic tubing away, and exposed burned/melted red and green wires.  Red of course is hot or power, green is usually ground.  The insulation had burned/melted off both wires in multiples spots, allowing the wire underneath to touch and complete a circuit when bent a certain way.

I kept peeling away the outer plastic further and further along, more burned and melted plastic insulation on the red and green wires!  Two attempts at just patching what I had exposed just resulted in the headlight being on all the time when I would reconnect the negative cable on the battery.  Not good.

Off came the negative wire again and off came the gas tank, I pulled the connectors off and pulled the wires out of the headlight bucket, continuing to free it from cable ties until I reached a four connector plug into the main wiring harness.  

Once the cable was free, I removed the entire outer tube.  I ended up removing all the melted red and green plastic, leaving both the hot and ground wires complete bare.  Once I had all four wires separated and cleaned off, I used electrical tape to re-insulate the now bare hot and ground wires, ensuring there was no contact between them anymore.  Each wire I re-insulated, I tested by touching the grounding strap on the battery to ground, no spark meant no contact!

Tidied things up with more electrical tape, re-forming it into a single wire bungle which I threaded back along the cable path and into the headlight bucket.  Got everything connected back up, negative cable in place, no headlight coming on when swinging the front wheel all the way left and right!

Tested the ignition switch, lights came on when I turned the key as expected and she fired up when I pushed the starter button so the connectors were correct on the ignition switch.

No more mystery headlight turning itself on for no reason!  I did take more pictures, but bare wires are just that, bare wires!  I lucked out, the melted wires had connectors on both ends which were in good shape, and it was a relatively short run of wires, perhaps 18 inches; so not a lot of ruined insulation to remove, not a lot of new electrical tape used to form new insulation.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Working remotely, working out the details.

As a follow-up to yesterday's posting, today I rode out with the early morning traffic over to Morrison, CO.  Took me about an hour to get to Evergreen via the Bear Creek Canyon road after slabbing it via the C-470 highway south of the Denver Metro Area.

As I neared Evergreen, my first realization that I'd forgotten stuff about what it takes to work outside.  Being in the mountains, Evergreen was about 12 degrees cooler than the balmy 53°F the Denver Metro Area had awoken to you see.  So it was a brisk 40 degrees as I arrived onto the main downtown area of Evergreen.  After a brief look, I decided to start the day inside a local cafe, the Muddy Buck.

Warmly ensconced inside, I drank coffee and had a breakfast burrito as I worked via their WiFi Internet access for about 2.5 hours or so.  A bit before an 11:00 AM call, it had soared into the low 60s outside so I geared up and moseyed down towards the lake area of Evergreen where Xfinity claimed there was a hot spot in a strip mall's parking lot.

Found a parking spot with no problem and yes, by joe, there was an xfinitywifi hot spot and I logged in successfully and continued to work and take the business call at the same time.  Here's where I realized something about my idea to work remotely; you have to stand by the rig as you work and the sun makes it really hard to see the screen unless you turn the brightness way up.  This of course eats up more of your battery life!

After the business call, it was time to do some riding for fun during the lunch hour.  I packed everything up and motored back into Evergreen and explored a couple of interesting streets that led upwards into the hills around Evergreen.

 The view from Independence Trail, a road leading to homes 
located on the hills outside of Evergreen.

 Some of the Fall color along Myers Gulch Road east of Evergreen
Most of the trees had already "peaked" so the pickings were slim.

Leaving the Evergreen area, I moved west with Scarlett along Bear Creek Canyon Road until I reached Idledale where I turned left onto Grapevine Road to see what we could see.  It's a narrow twisty road, again leading to hillside homes and small farms.  Not much to report otherwise for this road.  We rode till it summited and started going downhill and that's where we turned around to get back to Idledale.

Some nice color from the edge of Grapevine Road.
The road was narrow and no safe spot for Scarlett so she didn't get to 
be in the picture.

Then it was onwards to Morrison where Xfinity reported another WiFi Hot Spot at the Blue Cow Restaurant.  I pulled into the parking lot at about 1:15 PM and the lunch crowd was already thinning out.  This is something else to consider when doing this kind of tele-commuting, you tie up a parking spot and some businesses might look askance at that.

I logged onto the xfinitywifi hot spot, worked on stuff till about 2:30PM.  Got UDF'ed right there in the parking lot by this fellow who used to work on sidecars back in Missouri.  He talked knowledgeably of Urals/Dneprs and even Zundapps!  He was quite shocked that URALs now run for about $16K, he thought they were only $8K!

I left Morrison and arrived back home shortly after 3:00 PM, worked till 4:00 PM which is usually the time I stop for the day.  I found the power inverter and hooked it up to the marine battery to test whether it would power the laptop enough to recharge it, and it does.  Then, I hooked up the inverter to a small jump start battery unit and it too seemed to be able to recharge the laptop.

The marine battery is pretty heavy but packs 285 Amp Hours of juice, the jump starter unit only packs 7 Amp Hours of juice but is lighter and smaller.

My laptop's battery was able to last all day and still had about an hour of life left when I got home.  I think it could conceivably last a full work day, such as the one I had today, if I can limit the brightness of the screen.  So I fashioned a proof-of-concept cardboard "hood" to keep sunlight from washing out the screen:

Basically, it's a box that my laptop fits into....will see how it does tomorrow.

So, I think I got the power thing figured out, the screen visibility will be proven out tomorrow, and as to standing by the rig, now I'll sit in the sidecar and work!  All I need is a shady parking spot or perhaps pack an umbrella along with some water and snacks.

So why do all this you may ask, well, it positions me in a good spot to ride and take pictures during the lunch hour.  I can't get to the mountains/foothills without incurring an hour of riding time on highways and streets so the lunch hour is wasted doing that.  

21OCT14: Update:

1.  One must pick a shady spot to block the sun from washing out the laptop screen.  The box pictured above works OK but really, placing a small umbrella on the spare tire rack to block reflected light from behind the rig is best, that and wear a dark color shirt!

2.  I get about four hours of battery life, with the laptop brightness setting set on Maximum so I can see the screen.  You can bolster that time by using a DC Inverter unit hooked up to an inexpensive battery jumpstart unit with a cigarette outlet built-in.  I ran the laptop this morning for three hours, and it displayed 1 hour remaining.  Then I plugged in an inverter unit into my small jump start unit that I bought last winter, see below, and it powered me till TBD.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Finding WiFi on the Road

We moto-bloggers are always looking for easy and free ways to get on the Internet when on the road. The need to post pictures and ride reports can be an addiction at times, at least for me.  :)

Now that I work remotely 100% of the time in my job, the ability to work from anywhere is a reality so long as there's access to the Internet.

I am going to start "commuting" to remote locations (as in, away from home) in the next few weeks, not going too far but seeing how easy/hard it is to locate free WiFi Internet access and doing work away from one's home infrastructure.  Ride someplace in the morning and setup, work till lunch, ride for fun during lunch, work in the afternoon then ride home.

To aid in this, a bit of research yielded several options which I now present to you.

1.  An agreement was made by several major  home internet service providers, such as xfinity (aka Comcast), bright house, cox, time warner etc.  As long as you're one of these provider's customers, you can log into a participating company's WiFi hot spots and get on the Internet!

I am guessing each provider has some arrangement with these hot spots, perhaps giving them a discounted rate to allow part of their bandwidth to be shared out to the occasional roaming users.  Some of the hotspots are businesses, some are people's homes.

There is an xfinitywifi hotspot not two blocks from my house so I just walked over and was able to log in using my laptop and my comcast userid and password.  Neat.  You have to wonder though, how the homeowner feels about someone parked outside his home, accessing the Internet?

2.  There's also a WiFi Service called which lists known WiFi access points worldwide.  The status of the access points can be verified by users in order to keep their database somewhat up to date.  Jiwire isn't the only one of course, there's Boingo and others I imagine, each with their own database, each with their own pros-cons.  Some like Boingo and Netzero are fee-based services.

3.  You can try searching for establishments using googlemaps.  Establishments that usually provide WiFi Internet access such as Starbucks, McDonald's and the like.  The catch here of course is they usually expect you to make a purchase or two and not just spend the day using up one of their booths!

4.  You can use your smartphone's data plan (this option can get expensive if you exceed your monthly allocation of course).  You cable up your laptop to your phone via a USB cable and use it as a hotspot.  This of course depends on your data plan, check with your provider.  I've tried it, about 3 hours of remote access to work computers via my phone cost me about 500 MB of data.  So unless you've got an unlimited data plan (quite rare these days or very costly), this is a last resort option and still requires you be within 4G/3G coverage zones of your cellphone provider.  Oh and yes, you can tether to your phone via bluetooth if you're so inclined.  Your throughput might be lower though.  Oh, and you become a discoverable hotspot as well.  Be careful with this, there's hackers out there, use a USB cable instead.

The CNET article  from which I drew most of the above information, lists other options and mentions organizations such as which seeks to provide open WiFi access to the world I think.  Lofty goal, not sure how widespread they are.  It's probably worth your time to give the link a full read.

Other methods are listed and described in the article but I am going to mainly try points 1-3 above in the coming weeks.