Monday, March 25, 2013


Ok so I have an idea:

A musical instrument MADE OF ENGINES.

That is: un-muffled internal combustion engines, where the explosions make both the beats and the tones! Its an idea who's time has come, with the advent of Dubstep!

The most obvious (of doubtlessly many) problems: the tone an engine produces is determined by its RPM (as well as size), and an engine would have to rev through all RPM's between two tones in order to change the note. This would make for boring music, most likely. I can think of several solutions to address this:

1. Electronically controlled ignition/fuel injection. The engine doesn't have to fire on every stroke. This could be used to make percussive, not necessarily regular beats at low speed, or to increase or reduce the pitch by factors of two at higher speeds. I'm assuming v-twins would be used (obviously).

2. Spin the engines to the needed RPM's with electric motors. When they're not firing, their speed could be adjusted to whats needed to create the next tone.

3. Number two would work best if there are several engines available, so that they can alternate which one is firing while the others are adjusting their speeds to match the next note. This probably implies that it would only be good for pre-recorded music, though it might work with a delay live. Unless you just had enough engines being spun at different speeds that you could make any tone you wanted; like an engine organ. Different size engines would also naturally give a different range of pitches.

4. Since the energy of the combustion isn't being used to maintain the engine speed, the volume of each explosion could be varied by adjusting the air-fuel mixture. The electric motor might even need to brake the engine to keep it at the right speed.

 Fuck yes. Now I need a bunch of engines, some electronic stuff, and more skill with programming than I have. 

How many engines? Well, twelve, if I wanted to do the organ thing, where each is spinning at a speed appropriate for a tone. That would give all the semitones in one octave, which is probably overkill. Since you're likely to want to be playing in some key, eight is probably sufficient (or maybe even just seven). The trick with the electronic ignition would give you at least a three-octave range without changing engine speeds; and that can also be adjusted on the fly. Though, I suppose I don't know what range of speeds the engines could actually support without exploding. Actually I do know that, I just don't know what tones they would make.

Another thing: V-twins would require extra cooling, assuming (obviously) that I'd be using air-cooled engines. They'd have to be wrapped in copper tubing and have water running through it, which is also pretty cool.

Oh and finally: The exhausts will be brass trumpets. Actually if there were valves on the trumpets they might have some control over the tone as well...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I am a slow learner.

That inspiring story, plus the end of daylight savings time, encouraged me to take the old beast out the other day. Started on the first kick! Snow piles be damned, I took it for a spin!


Monday, March 4, 2013

Ive got 99 problems, and every one of them is a result of something I originally thought was a good idea.

Good news! At least one person (probably exactly one person) remembers that my blog exists! Hi, Rick.

Bad news! Re-melting the shit inside my playstation didn't make it work again. Oh it fixed the problem, where "problem" is defined by having a yellow light blink for a half second. Now I get a green light, and nothing else. Not what I was going for, really. Internet's got a solution for the "green light problem" as well: stick some fucking coins between the graphics chip and the heat sink. This is so stupid that I'd immediately assume it was either a prank or an inept guess from a thirteen year-old, but YouTube's got proof (such as it is). Apparently the increased pressure does something good? I can't imagine it compensates for what you'd loose in thermal conductivity, but maybe the coins-on-the-back-side approach wouldn't have that problem.

I don't, by they way, expect any sympathy for these mostly self-inflicted, eminently first-world problems. I just think they're funny to write about. In that vein, here's some more from the genre of "problems that TJ inflicted upon himself through obstinacy and/or questionable decision making."


Owning and trying to ride a fifty year old motorcycle has got to be pretty high on the "questionable" index. Its been a constant set of crippling problems for literally the entire time I've owned it. I didn't even get to ride it for the first few years I owned it; I could never get it to start. I kept it secret from my Dad because he'd been so anti-motorcycle every time the subject ever came up, but he was inexplicably thrilled when I finally told him about it. Good thing, too, because he had a garage and a pretty good set of tools, and the thing might as well have been scrapped without those resources on hand. Plus a vehicle with trailer hitch, to tow the fucking thing with every time it broke down unexpectedly. And when does it ever "expectedly" break down? Actually I think at this point I've adjusted my expectation to "always;" after having pushed it up several miles of hills, deadlifted it into the back of a van, and several occasions of borrowing cars to tow it. Now its just a pleasant surprise when I reach my destination without discovering any new problems.

The event that finally precipitated that change in attitude coincided with convincing my dad to tow it up to Chicago last spring. I was so excited... I couldn't wait to ride it all over the city, hang out at seedy bars, just generally be a badass with a sweet motorcycle that sets off car alarms. Riding a motorcycle in the city is stupid enough that its probably a good thing there were so many barriers to actually living out that fantasy; in my brief city-riding experience I very nearly got hit at least three times whilst riding pretty cautiously.

The first barrier was getting it running again, of course. I can't even remember which problem it was that time; probably electrical (its a safe bet). With that problem solved, I had to go out and get a Chicago city parking sticker. I had been parking it right up against the sea-wall at the beach outside my apartment (which looked totally awesome) because I figured it was unlikely to be seen and ticketed there, but if I wanted to park it in front of those seedy bars and not find a five hundred dollar ticket on it when I stumbled out later, I had to go buy a sticker from some parking-sticker-selling twats.

Chicago sells car parking stickers at every currency-exchange place. Car parking stickers, the currency exchange place on my block helpfully informed me. Motorcycle stickers have to be purchased from one of like three offices in all of Chicago. I made the classic Chicago-neophyte mistake of finding it on the map and thinking that since it was only three miles from me, it was close and would be an easy ride. Three miles in Chicago is far, and no ride is easy unless its three in the morning. I realized, in this three miles, why people spring for five-hundred dollar carbon fiber helmets and don't ride cafe-racers: checking blind spots and mirrors in traffic every five seconds while hunched over your handle bars does a number on the neck, no matter how cool it looks. And not checking gets you hit by cars.

An hour or so after setting out on this quick errand I find the one-of-three offices where you can buy motorcycle parking stickers, and they want to charge me something like double for a late fee. Despite that I'd just registered it in Illinois a few days before. They wouldn't accept any argument other than the registration papers, which, naturally, I hadn't brought. So far this has just been a waste of time, but it gets serious when I go outside and can't start my bike.

Not even a cough of life in the engine. I kick it for, I dunno, a half hour? Run it up and down the parking lot of this government office trying to roll-start it... I'm literally shaking with exhaustion by the time I decide to humble myself by calling Rachael and asking for help. This, in turn, is seriously impeded by having a dead cell phone. Why did I leave the house on a barely functional vehicle with no phone and, as it turns out, no change to make a call? I'd like to know that myself. Motorcycles are exciting. Here everyone (among my vast readership) with a well-maintained, newish motorcycle is laughing at me and shaking their heads condescendingly; and to them I say:  fuck you, despite that you're right. My bike is way sweeter because of these travails. Thats what I tell myself.

To my great relief, there's an awesome motorcycle shop just a few block's push from the stupid government office. I had, in fact, stopped there earlier to ask where the stupid government office was. So I'm sure their amusement was great when I came back an hour later panting, asking for water and tools. They were super cool about the whole thing, and they hid their annoyance pretty well when I started revealing my ignorance and stupidity about bikes in general. The coup-de-gras (or whatever) was when I crossed the jumper cables right in front of the mechanic who was helping me. Thats right, I put red on black, spent a confused moment wondering why shit was sparking and smoking, and panickedly tore the cables off. A stupider mistake couldn't be made (sadly this is the second time I've done this; the other was on my old Escort, but it was dark that time).

I ended up leaving the bike at the shop, calling Rachael from the shop's phone, and asking her to come get me. That's got to be the most humbled I can remember being in the last... decade. The number of conversations in which she's strongly expressed her displeasure about my having, riding, and spending money on this thing are beyond counting. Calling and saying "you were right, fucking thing broke again, can you come drive an hour to get three miles and pick me up please? Oh and bring me an extra shirt, I'm soaked in gasoline" was pretty tough. Its a function of how much I dislike riding the bus in the Chicago suburbs and my level of despondency that I actually made that call.

To get it home the next day, I had to borrow a friend's trailer-hitch-having car. The plan was to go get the boat trailer from the south side of the city (which Dad and Jack had previously modified to also be a motorcycle trailer via the ultra-high-tech expedient of some boards bolted to the frame). That led to a debacleous afternoon of moving a bunch of other trailers around to get mine out of storage, having the wrong size hitch-ball, buying the right sized ball but the wrong sized hitch-adapter, and saying fuck it and calling a tow truck. I waited a good two hours for the tow-truck, then had the bright idea of renting a uhaul trailer for a third of the cost. The tow-truck driver, having spent two hours getting to me, was understandably pretty pissed when I called and canceled when he was a block from me. Such is life; I blame the dispatcher for not finding someone closer.

The uhaul trailer at least worked as intended. Except: I didn't realize it was an exceptionally bad idea to leave the kickstand down while I towed it. Actually it seemed like a good idea, having not realized what the consequence of driving a suspensionless trailer over a bunch of pot holes would be, I thought having the kickstand down would be more stable. Turns out that the welds that hold the kickstand to the frame aren't infinitely strong, and bouncing up and down for three miles is just enough to break them. It literally happened two blocks from my apartment: I was looking in the rear-view mirror,  reassessing my kick-stand strategy as I watched the thing bounce and BOOM! Bike falls over, kickstand snapped clean-off, remaining mirror shattered.

So: I get home and lean the bike against the sea-wall, because it doesn't have a center-stand. Can you imagine how dispirited I am at this point? My masculine fantasy has become an exercise in emasculation. I was so completely and obviously miserable that Rachael couldn't even bring herself to berate me. I told her I'd learned my lesson, that I'd sell it, just as soon as I get it into some kind of shape where someone would be willing to take it home with them.

Good news! After I re-did the carbs, put a center-stand on, fixed some shit with the lights, and put baffles in the mufflers, it works pretty good! I rode it to and from work maybe ten times before it got dark enough after work that I didn't want to ride it (theres... still some shit wrong with the lights). So now I don't have to sell it! Plus now I live way out in the suburbs where traffic is less homicidal (though I still got rear-ended (albeit gently) at a stoplight), and close enough to work that I can just push it home if it stops working rather than calling my wife to save me! Good thing I had listed it on craigslist for like twice what anyone wanted to pay for it, right?


This is what comes of having Ford Prefect and Bilbo Baggins as childhood heroes rather than someone healthy like Lance Armstrong or Ronald Regan or... Dennis Rodman. Its shit like this that makes me wonder whether my self-image as a really-pretty-smart guy has any foundation in reality, or is just the consequence of my mom telling me so for all my life.  But hey, its offered some opportunity for mechanical skill-development and introspection, and now I know.

And Knowing,

Is Half The Battle