Thursday, December 11, 2014

Brief Rides for the Girls

Nice weather today, with a forecast of snow for Sunday, so I took Brigitta out for a short lunch time ride to "stretch her legs".

We only covered perhaps 20 miles since I had meetings to attend to, but both she and I felt good to be in the wind under nice sunny skies and temperatures in the low 60s!

Of course, I forgot to pack my new Sony A5000 camera, and had only my iphone 4s with me.

Turns out, it shoots rather "noisy" shots when one uses maximum zoom.  So here's a highly cleaned up version.


That's Long Peak at the far right of the mountain range visible in the background.  As you can see, not much snow on the front range mountains so far.  I'm hoping the snow on Sunday will change that.

On the far left, on the horizon and before the mountains, you can see downtown Denver and the infamous brown cloud.

In the evening, as the sun set, a fairly bland sunset (for Colorado standards you see) was on display and I rode Scarlett out to take pictures with the new camera.  Shot in both Sunset and Enhance Intelligent Auto mode to see the difference.

The iA mode actually went into "shoot 3" HDR mode and combined them into one shot.  Colors were brilliant in both modes but in iA mode, you could make out more foreground details on Scarlett.  Cool Stuff.

I did tweak the picture below but right out of the camera, it would have been fine too as you can see below.

 Straight from the camera, just cropped and resized

Tweaked version using tools at ribbett.com

Previously: Ergo/Protection Mods for Scarlett

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Another Ergo Mod and Protecting Scarlett's Belly

This week, I've added a couple of hardware mods to Scarlett, my 2014 URAL Patrol Sidecar Rig to both improve the ergonomics for yours truly and protect the rig's belly pan or bottom of the engine.

First the ergo mod.

I found what I call barbacks, but the manufacturer calls Handlebar Risers.  Regardless, the purpose is to move the handle bar back about 1.25 inches and up about 1 inch.

This way, I don't find myself leaning slightly forward to get a comfy grip on my bar and I can ride with a straighter back, leading to more long range comfort.  That's the plan anyways, I'll see how I feel after the next day-long ride.

source: amazon.com

 The handlebar in the stock position, with the top portion of the risers removed.

The handlebar now 1 higher and 1.25 inch closer to me.

All my control cabling/wiring proved long enough for the move without having to adjust the were they were secured.  That was a good deal.  Took Scarlett out for a short ride and no control issues and I could feel the difference in reach.  I'd done such mods on Maria, my 2004 R1150RT BMW  and it made a difference then.

I did have to re-adjust the windshield mounts to account for the new handlebar position but this also was not a big deal.

Now for the protection mod:

A fellow Uralista, known as Mr. COB (Cranky Old Bastard) within the community, is a welder among his many talents.  Once in a while, when there's enough interest and he's got the time, he makes protection skid plates for our URAL rigs.

The mission of this skid plate, is to protect the belly area of the rig, specifically the oil pan which is underneath the tug's engine and exposed to rocks on the "gnarlier" trails one can find himself on at times of poor judgement and adventure.

I'd lucked out so far in such rough trails but do remember getting stuck one time on Natasha, my '96 Ural Sportsman rig, on a rock....high-centering the rig briefly.  I was lucky then, no permanent damage!

The plate and brackets are not cheap but definitely will be cheaper than a damaged engine if/when the belly pan is ripped away or holed, causing oil loss and engine seizure!

I followed the instructions on Mr Cob's smugmug picture sharing website to install the skid plate and encountered only one minor issue.  Also, the instructions deal with pre-2014 rigs and have you move an exhaust hanger strap that doesn't apply to 2014 rigs.  No big deal.

 I'd painted the skid plate and brackets a few days ago, they come to you in bare steel.
Lining up the right bracket to the right position re the skid plate took me the longest bu
the written instructions provided by Mr COB did the trick, once I understood what he meant by
spot welds and lining them up.

A closeup of one of the brackets and a spot weld both on it and
the skid plate.  You match these up and you end up with correct 
bracket on correct location, oriented correctly!  Easy Peasy.

 Carefully following the instructions mentioned before, I first installed all
four brackets and left them loosely mounted to the frame.

 The skid plate is heavy steel, so the first bolt was a bit tricky to screw in,
but once in, the rest were no problem once I moved the crossover exhaust pipe
clamp out of the way.
 You can see above how well the skid plate protects the engine's belly pan.
Here's a look at the front of the skid plate, you can see I had to 
rotate the crossover pipe clamp's tightener screw to allow the
skid plate to mate up cleanly with the brackets.

So, now the belly pan is protected.  On to the next protection item, the left muffler which keeps getting knocked off by rocks when the rig is tilted in just the right angle to the left while on rocky trails.  But that's another posting.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Reunion with Long Time Friends

Warning: Absolutely zero moto-content.

A bit over 33 years ago, I met both Lee and Otto.  I was a new cadet in the University of Miami's Army ROTC program and they'd been part of it for a couple of years already.  We were to become life long friends.

Going through the ROTC program together, training together, partying together and as part of a small group of cadets....it was the start of a friendship which has lasted over 30 years as we all went our separate ways after being commissioned into the U.S. Army.

Both Otto and Lee are now retired from the Army after distinguished careers in Military Intelligence and Engineering jobs respectively, now working civilian jobs.  Lee lives in Virginia and Otto is a resident of New Hampshire.

It was Otto that was hosting both Lee and I this time, one of the somewhat infrequent meetups we've had over the years.  The objective was to go hunting for deer (Bucks, to be specific) in the woods near Otto's town of Jaffrey, NH.

Dinner at a nearby watering hole
Lee, Otto and yours truly

The first evening was filled with good food, drinking and catching up on each other's lives.  There was of course the re-telling of tales, the spinning of new ones and drinking.  We retired at a late hour, with the plan to sally forth into the dawn for some hunting.

This was, by the way, only my second experience hunting.  The first time had been decades ago and was really just a one day event.  This trip would ultimately involve 3 days of hunting where we'd start soon after sunrise, and I'd tramp in the snow-covered ridges and valleys comprising the hunting area.

I would begin to learn the art of moving quietly over snow covered wooded terrain, enjoy the sitting in a post, enjoying the quiet and the cold temperatures, all the while hoping to catch a glimpse of movement perhaps; movement which might be a deer moving through the trees.

Rain had washed away a lot of the snow that had fallen previously in the week

Temperatures were cold but we were geared up for it so no one suffered.  The hiking up some steep hills in broken wooded terrain certainly built up heat for each of us as well!  I became quite winded on the uphill climbs, while trying to be quiet, slipping on snow and ice that hid roots and branches underneath. 

Otto and Lee, day 1 of hunting

We even managed to find ourselves in a swamp, a snow-covered swamp, which added the possibility of wet feet into the equation while one tried to avoid twisting an ankle.  Fun.

Otto and Lee were armed with their hunting rifles, I was armed only with my new Sony A5000 camera as I had not gotten a hunting license.

Lee, preferring to hunt alone, would post in one area and Otto and I would wander about; stopping now and then for quiet watchful periods where he strived to get me to be quieter.  I am told I got better by the third day.  Most of the movements were aimed to "drive" any deer in front of us towards Lee's position of the day.

Much time was spent in silent "posts", hoping to catch a glimpse of a buck.  In the end, on the third day of hunting, Otto would spot and point out to me two Does perhaps 70 feet in front of us which we flushed from hiding.

It had been lightly but steadily raining that day you see, so no wind and the rain made so much noise we managed to surprise the deer somewhat.  I caught fleeting glimpses of gray bodies racing away through the trees.  That was a win for me, my first sight of a deer while on a hunt.  NO pictures of the deer running away though, it happened within the space of 2-3 seconds I think.

Day One, scouting possible post locations for the next day, we
would stay together this day as we explored.

As you can see, the snow was not deep at all.
Otto told me it had been closer to knee-high the week prior

At various posts, I'd take pictures of nearby flora that caught my eye

Above is a beaver dam, one of two we ran across while 
moving about the hunting area

Otto and Lee discussing the many tracks found, possible post sites
and where Otto had seen deer sign in the preceding week.


The cut pattern left on this tree trunk caught my eye as
I sat quietly in a post near the above picture with the trees.


The interesting growth in the downed tree trunk located a few
feet from me, shot using the zoom lens.

A relaxing Otto, probably thinking that any nearby deer could hear
the clicking noises made by my camera

Early start, hunting day 2, we were all staying at Otto's
large home in Jaffrey, NH.  Early morning roads were a bit icy but
not too bad if you took things easy, which we did.

The consensus is the above are bear paw prints, I found them
shortly after Lee went off to his post and I walked with Otto to ours.

As you can see above, the roads were pretty dry except for
ice-covered patches here and there.

 The road which led up a small hill which held 2-3 small open fields lined
by stone walls.   It was much warmer up on the hill, when exposed to the sun's rays!

 At the edge of the biggest one of the three fields on top of the
hill, nice location.  It was warm with temperatures in the mid-30s 
I think, and we had 3G network coverage so I did a little work:

Pitiful, isn't it?  I must say though, it was only for a few minutes.

 Small streams were encountered by us as we meandered about the
hunting area, easily crossed at selected points with a bit of care.

At yet another post location, being quiet and watching for movement.

 Above and below, pictures taken near the end of the hunting on day 2

 A small frozen pond near where we parked for the day.

Fallen leaves trapped under the ice in the frozen pond,
the light making them look like golden/bronze objects underwater.

All smiles at the end of day 2's hunting

 Last day of hunting, overlooking the small pond created by the 
beaver dams, you can see the beaver's house in the center of the picture above.

 We had a bit of snow and ice fall overnight, making Old Dublin Road
look more winterlike as we moved about.


The "young" forest we were hunting in, had been in years past open
farm fields, divided by rock walls.  The rocks, as you can see above, were
collected as the fields were cleared and remain in place as trees slowly
take over the cleared areas of yore.

 One last shot of Otto, as he walks to the truck at the end of the day's hunting

 A flock of turkeys which were spotted not far from Otto's 
back yard in Jaffrey, NH.

Otto, the consumate host, put out quite a spread during our visit.
Here we are enjoying a lunch of bratwurst with sauerkraut and red cabbage.

No motorcycling but still quite the enjoyable visit with old friends.  I count myself fortunate to have friends like Lee and Otto.  Otto is currently renovating his 140+ year old house back to correct period condition, and hopes to have it ready by Christmas 2015, so that may be the next time I see it.  

Oh, by the way, no Bucks were seen by us, and thereby none were shot by either Lee or Otto.  Still, an enjoyable time was had by all!  Am I now a fan of hunting?  Probably not.  The quiet introspective solitude mentioned by both Lee and Otto as one of the perks of hunting I can achieve while on my motorcycle, and it sure is much less exercise!  :)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Upgrading my camera

It had been in the plans for a while now, for me to get a new camera and give my Nikon AW110 Point and Shoot to Martha for her use.

I thought I had narrowed it down to a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS35 with a 20X Optical Zoom and the standard features I'd found good to have for pictures destined for this blog.  So Martha went and picked one up for me at Costco but when she got it home we found issues.

Someone had pilfered the charger unit and cable, the picture count on the camera was in the 500s and the pictures I took as test pictures came out slightly blurry!  Very disappointing but at least Costco took it back with no arguments.

My thoughts then turned to researching perhaps a more "capable" camera and settled on a Sony A5000 camera.  It had great reviews, had all the features I wanted and some nice to have stuff as well.  Here's the online reviews that basically sold me on this particular system camera:  LINK1 and LINK2.

Sony A5000
src: photographyblog.com

Note: the second link actually recommended the A5000's predecessor, the Sony NEX-5T but it proved impossible to find locally and the differences involved features that were not important to me; differences such as more pictures per second in continuous mode: 10 to 4, a digital viewfinder, touchscreen controls.

Finally BestBuy had the A5000 bundled with a 16GB SD Memory Card, a travel case and a 55-210mm Telephoto lens!  The price for all of this was the same as just the camera and a 16-50mm lens for the NEX-5T!

I dithered all of Black Friday, being the tightwad that I am, debating whether to splurge on the camera bundle or just buy the camera....a difference of $150 you see.  Finally, Martha just said to go whole hog and go get it.  Probably got tired of my mumbling and such all day.

Here's the first few pictures I took once I got the camera home Black Friday evening:

 My oldest son Patrick and I, I took the photo using my iPhone with 
the remote shutter control app installed.  You connect to the camera via it's WiFi 
access point and can now be part of the picture.

 My loving wife, Martha...aka SWMBO

The camera's LCD monitor flips up 180 degrees to facilitate
the shooting of "selfies".  That's my son Miles making a face and 
my father-in-law Richard G joining in on the fun.

src: photographyblog.com
This feature will allow me to shot low angle shots of my motorcycles
without having to lay down on the ground! :)

Today, Saturday, I rode out early to meet up with two other Uralisti for a short ride in the foothills to the west of Metro Denver to give the new camera a workout.

We wandered towards Idaho Springs using back roads, enjoying the clear skies and blazing sunlight.  The lighting was so bright it caused most things to look "flat" but I must say, the camera did well in the intelligent auto mode I set it at and proved easy to use.

 We only found limited amounts of snow in the foothills, where there was snow
it was compacted and icy, making for interesting riding conditions.

 We ended up near the town of Central City, parking our rigs at
a small overlooking hill and chatting for a while.

Everyone had stuff to do in the afternoon so we split up shortly after we finished talking about farkling our rigs and catching up on each other's activities.  Tim L and Dan K, my fellow Uralisti, rode off through Central City and I lingered a bit for pictures.

 A train display in Central City


I rode on through Central City, Black Hawk, both of them Casino Towns and took CO 119 towards the town of Golden.  Once there, I took a brief detour up 19th Street and rode part of the way up Lookout Mountain.

 The view from the first overlook point on Lookout Mountain Road

 As a compare and contrast, the above picture of the Denver skyline was taken at max zoom
using the Sony 55-210 mm lens.  Then, cropped and tweaked using my normal tools.

The above shot was with my old Panasonic Lumix ZS8 camera, at 16X zoom,
cropped and tweaked with similar settings as the first skyline shot.

I must say, the two skyline shots highlight how the larger APS-C sensor in the Sony A5000 camera does better in capturing detail over the smaller and older sensor in the Panasonic.

Another note, I barely had to do any post-shoot tweaking of the jpg photos created by the A5000, whereas previous experience with my Panasonic and Nikon point and shoot cameras usually involved more tweaking!  

I shot in the RAW + JPG file format but didn't use the RAW files at all, the JPG files created by the Sony were just fine.

So, initial impressions of the Sony A5000 are very favorable!  Not to say the Nikon AW110 is not a good camera, I like it a lot and it's much tougher and durable than the Sony!   We'll see how the Sony does in colder and more inclement weather in the coming Winter season.

The A5000 also has "apps" you can download from Sony, a couple of which might intrigue me enough later on to get me to pay and download them.  More on that later but you can see the apps here:  LINK.