The Side Door

You’ve arrived. The crowd is waiting, lined up at the entrance. You’re on the red carpet. Imagine the fanfare. The foyer of the building is vast, looming large. You feel simultaneously grand and small. What are you being recognized for? Did you arrive by limosine? Is a ticket required?

The front door welcomes you to a special place you’ve been questing toward. There are many paths on the journey here. For the VIPs, it’s about status or recognition of achievement. Others are in line bargaining with their time or money to be considered for entry. Some people are outside peering in or looking at those who are being admitted, accepting this as a proxy for their selection.

What’s happening inside is significant for the effort that has been made to filter those who have the privilege to enter through the front door. “Events” are necessarily exclusive…

The back door is opposite the front. This door is different. Who enters here? Step up the bare concrete steps with paint-chipped railing. The door is locked, but you have a key. Knock, explain your PURPOSE. Deliver the linens, the lights… Change into a costume, a uniform. Are you preparing or serving? The ebb and flow of people is professional, polite, terse, tense.

You could be a star. The crowd is expectant, surprised. Ushered through the corridors among the offices and storage rooms, there is comfort in the privacy of your walk. It is familiar – guides are there to help you. A quiet room awaits. Does the back door open to a safe, secluded yard or terrace?

The front door welcomes you as a guest, the rear entrance enables controlled participation. As you explore, you discover another way in. With the throngs of people in the front busy vying for attention and actors at the rear concerned with particular roles, the obscured, unassuming path to the side door goes unnoticed. What happens at the side door? The unexpected and serendipitous. Unscripted Life.

The longer you’ve soaked in the bathtub of being, the more you appreciate the side door. Side door experiences have quiet, personal meanings. In one instance, I was mowing lawn on a crisp and sunny afternoon. By not thinking of it as a menial or mundane chore, it became a worthy gift. I was getting exercise, outside (after some previous rainy days) in a pleasant surrounding. I imagined having a different experience if it was just one more lawn to mow. My reward was gratitude for just being in the place, able and aware.

Technology is amazing. We all have a responsibility to use it to advance understanding, peace and the protection of our planet. With an insight, I write something to publish it on a web server connected to you via the Internet. Do I create anything of lasting importance? What is my significance? A side door enters here.

A Side Door – To Steve Jobs’ Yard

A person who has been an inspiration to me is Steve Jobs. One of the ideas attributed to Steve is that the world is yours to create. You have the ability to push on a point of it and anticipate a result. We all contribute to collective reality governed by this formula, whether we are conscious of it or not.

Interested in the Escher Knot of the experience (Steve Jobs inspiring me to inspire Steve Jobs), I reached out to Steve in December 2007 with a letter. The letter is posted here. I included the letter along with a mobile I designed. I personally delivered it to the mailbox at his Palo Alto home. (It was THE message at THE time I was destined to send it. There will never be another opportunity.)

My expectation was that the note and gift would be summarily discarded with no feedback or impact. However, one evening shortly after the day I delivered the note, I experienced a ripple from my action. I was at home at our dining table serving dinner to our sons when I glanced out the front window. At that fleeting moment, I saw an SUV that was standing along a close curb immediately speed away into the dusk. The driver no doubt saw me look out at that moment as I was clearly illuminated inside.

The memory of this side door experience has remained with me. It was a connection enabled by curiosity and the circumstances in my life at that time. I’m not suggesting that Steve was in the SUV, but I was convinced that my push had created a response by someone.

When you find connection in the present, you gain an appreciation for the meaning of your life. Awareness is an important obligation of opening any door to feel connected with the experience. Share the side door with family and friends: create an autobiography of important events in YOUR life. How often do you find satisfaction in achieving a personal goal? Your creative solution to fixing something in your home or kindly offering advice to someone based on your experience – side door.

Palo Alto Side Door – “Use Front Door”

I live in Palo Alto, California as the result of a flow of chances, changes, choices and circumstances. I have the perspective of a rural New York childhood. Self-employment is liberating, but not without challenges. Family is a source of strength and concern. I am the sum of my past and present: relationships, consumption, actions, thoughts, feelings. The context of my life determines which doors I have the choice to open, those I’m even aware exist.

The energy and resources that create front door experiences are hidden from the guests. The artifice is constructed to flatter them. In the back, experts are in control pulling levers and turning dials. Insiders feel importance in their purpose.

However, most of our lives we are entering or exiting a side door. We explore through personal experiences. We strive to find meaning in our lives. This is a good reason to infuse our thoughts with an appreciation of just being.

We all want to reach the shore. We fixate on a point that we’ve heard about, see on a map or from a distance. Much as a sailboat tacks sideways to advance into a prevailing wind, we feel a struggle is required. What’s the point of the journey? What does the wind know?

Moving sideways can be likened to possibilities. We are characters in a movie running from one side of the screen to the other, moving from room to room. We have so many choices today. Our sideways motion is inevitable, and relentless. What if we were comfortable spending time in the rooms? Is there something deeper to experience?

Some things I’ve learned about side door experiences:

  • they reveal themselves if you are aware
  • they have a purpose
  • they teach and empower you
  • they are personal

What you see depends on how you look. Doors I see now have a different meaning. I think of arriving as a guest or as a familiar friend, as laborer or anthropologist. We stand with rich potential in the present thanks to the many, many doors that have been opened in humanity’s history. When all is said and done, these doors are portals within your own reality.

I continue to welcome collaboration to share ideas and resources with my friends, family and colleagues. My perspectives are the voice of this blog. Let me know your thoughts on personal growth and connections. Share a side door experience in the comments. Thanks for your consideration.

Posted in Insights and Action | 1 Comment

What I Learned From Falling Out of a Plane

It’s leap day 2016. Last month, my son and I jumped out of a plane and lived to tell about it. With the help of instructors at Skydive Hollister, we accomplished tandem skydives from 11,000 feet.

We all graduate in steps. Our lives are full of milestones. We set a goal with personal and profound meaning. The event was a graduation — the fulfillment of a promise. Some things I learned. . .

Trust Your Partner

Launch DoorLife has its freefalls. As I was falling toward the ground, suspended in space and time, I had the feeling the ground was approaching, but the difference in perspective at one mile and at a half-mile isn’t that noticeable. I’d given my trust to my competent instructor. I was along for the ride. At the end of it all, the instructor taught me to trust. Wishing to remain alive, he also had ‘skin in the game.’

The biggest thing that assuaged my fear of the jump was recognizing that I wasn’t alone. Someone else had his life on the line with me. This mutual liability went far to give me the confidence that the technical details were monitored and handled competently. The skydiving experience is meant to be safe and fun. There have been countless innovations and refinements to its execution over the years. Points of failure have been recorded, studied and reduced.

Trust Your Equipment

FreefallIf you don’t trust your equipment, why are you using it? Unless you live in a cave, you use the technologies and services of others. There are assumptions and risks to using any equipment. I noticed Skydive Hollister made competent choices in the facility, staffing and processes. By extension, I felt that the unseen and unknown were also given similar care and attention to detail. One of the rites of passage to taking a freefall is completing a multi-page legal document that essentially signs your life away. The document releases all equipment manufacturers and operators from death caused by a failure. The choice to skydive is voluntary and the diver assumes all risks.

The nature of the contract was not hidden. Skydive Hollister had a comfortable waiting room to ponder and complete the document. A looping video displayed a representative of Uninsured United Parachute Technologies emphasizing the voluntary decision that participants were making. The message was simple: you could die performing the activity.

 Trust Physics

The terminal velocity of a person in freefall is about 120 MPH. Normally a person will not fall faster than this due to air resistance acting on a human body. This speed is not painful to endure, even in street clothes. Loose jewelry and hats cannot be worn. No text messages from the plane. . .leave your cell phone in the car.

Because of the tandem configuration, two bodies fall faster than one. Without a small trailing parachute, the tandem jumpers would fall at a painful 190+ MPH. The physics of the act of skydiving are basic calculations of friction and fluid dynamics. The tomes of study and experimentation provide the framework to understand and control the freefall. What a thought: to control the lethality of a deadly act.

Much of your trust in the experienced staff is that they understand the physics of the activity. There are many aspects that contribute to a safe flight, including the calm confidence of the instructors. The team bravado contributes to a necessary psychological safety that places risk at the back of the mind.

Trust God and Spirit

It’s one thing to give into circumstances beyond your control. It’s another thing to perform a voluntary act giving in to a higher power. Not that transcendence was a goal, but it was included in the package. What heights are you attempting to reach? Assisted skydiving is not an accomplishment of skill. Anyone, within reason (i.e. weight limits apply), can fall from a plane. The launch door is more than an opening to physical space, it also opens to your mental space. Fear of heights, open space and even death are patterns in your mental landscape that can be left behind along with the plane.

The decision to take flight began as a goal, a dare. With the momentum of time and conviction, the event was accomplished. We all need to challenge our relationship with ourselves. Will we discover inner voices that we haven’t heard before?

Trust Yourself

Plane SideYou can’t know exactly how you’ll feel at any moment in the future. There are so many instincts, evaluations and calculations that we bring to bear in a moment of crisis or stress. There are agitating and dampening influences to every incident that we record in the level(s) of our awareness. It was a great relief that the seasoned instructors exuded a calm confidence. There was a great amount of support for the process. The team (staff, fellow jumpers, pilot, …) was positive and encouraging.

If you’re reading this, thanks, you’re a friend. I’m sharing this personal memory with you to reach another human. How do we connect across the time and distance? Let’s talk about collaboration and sharing. I’m

A post-jump Dive Video is available on YouTube. As an exploration, I built a website to collect donations for the event at These are some of the fun projects I’ve done.

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Zappy New Year!


How do I begin this? I’m confronted with choices. Choices exist in our worlds as an aggregate of our preceding decisions and the decisions of those who made theirs in worlds based on the decisions of those who decided before them. . . The conscious effort that drives our decisions gives us an illusion of control, yet with a myriad of actions and occurrences that happen every instant it’s hard to even begin to fathom the conditions and compromises that define the nexus of our present. Who’s your farmer? is a popular bumper sticker slogan in the rural area where I grew up. The statement begs an understanding of those unseen and unknown that support our lives.

Decisions and choices are simultaneously new and mundane. The majority of our decisions are pedestrian. Move. Gather. Interact. Where do I place my foot? Where do I buy? What is my response to a stimulus?  What makes each choice and decision unique is the passing of time and those ever-happening instances. You cannot step into the same stream twice. Some decisions are not yours. Do you decide your parents? Do you decide where you’re born? There are things in every equation that are pre-defined. All science embeds a set of given values.

2006 Zap! Xebra SD

The decisions of a friend and his son contributed to my ownership of the car pictured. With the hope of selling it to a Stanford student, John’s son responded to a Craigslist posting, as he was soliciting donations for his father’s non-profit corporation — Silicon Valley Historical Association. The car is a 2006 Zapcar (Xebra), a 3-wheeled electric car from a Santa Rosa, CA company, imported from China. After accepting the donation and replacing the exhausted batteries, the car had an intermittent problem that, in addition to the limited range inherent in its design, caused a series of failures that repeatedly left the new owner stranded. It was after the car was sitting for months in a vacant lot that my friend contacted me with an offer to give me the car.

Serendipity is the foundation for things I wear, drive, eat. . . I buy from stores and online resources for different reasons (proximity, price, selection, reputation, etc.). I decide among the choices that are available. Different sources provide different selections, yet boundaries to choice always remain. Deeper still is the serendipity of choices arising as a result of the people who are connected to our lives.

I was ready for a change in vehicles. My previous car, a ’68 Bug, needed the TLC and enthusiasm of a new owner. A car originally owned by my wife’s parents, I repaired it to rescue it from disuse and used it for over a decade. Similarly, my new car isn’t a make or model I was searching for. To the contrary, many people would question my sanity for owning it. I agreed to purchase the car for a fraction of my friend’s investment in the new batteries. It was an opportunity to explore “green” technology. The Zapcar is unusual. It is legally classified as a three-wheel motorcycle. The car was a challenge to rehabilitate. Learning and discovery always presents challenges (for more detail see “Nuts and Volts,” the story of repairing the car, below).

Zap! Pow! Crash!

Zap Jonway, Inc. is a company with a checkered history. Starting as a company selling electric scooters designed by a California inventor, the company set its sights on the EV market with a change in company management. It began selling its first car, the Xebra, via distributors in 2006, selling around 150 vehicles that year. In the ensuing years, the company ran into difficulties, with shoddy business practices and stock manipulation by Board members. Poor design choices led to a recall of their 2008 models sold in the U.S. Wired recounts the company’s sordid past in the article Hype Machine: Searching for ZAP’s Fleet of No-Show Green Cars.

The car is a glorified golf cart. The shell is molded fiberglass. The interior dash and trim are crude. The car has a wide, flat center console with removable panel and a hinged door located under the rear seat to provide access to the batteries cradled beneath the car. I’ve purchased some parts from the manufacturer and others (including the seat covers shown) from, an online parts store established by a Zap! enthusiast. Replacement parts are scarce. Service stations are non-existent.

The Zapcar is a strange, comic concept transformed into physical reality. While it’s range has diminished due to battery issues, the initial range of 15-18 miles (on flat terrain) was reasonable for local errands. The 72-volt battery pack (6 deep-cycle 12-volt AGM batteries wired in series) charges via a standard household outlet. The small, light car is energy-efficient and, registered and insured as a motorcycle, thrifty. Unfortunately, the vehicle is plagued with reliability issues. While I’m hard-pressed to find any good reason to own it, I can’t help but be fond of the idea that the car represents. The sagas of small, quirky, independent companies can be inspirational and entertaining. The Zap! story has the intrigue of failure after a short-lived success. Initially, the company was an EV darling: “Changing the World, One Car at a Time,” Zap! once boldly stated. Sometimes the wrong things are done for the right reasons. The company ran a gamut of financial and regulatory hurdles before finally building a thing that can legally and cleanly travel on city streets.

I couldn’t have predicted owning this thing and didn’t set out to become a “Zap Guy.” Embracing the experience however, I have more respect for the serendipity that defines us. New cars, like new years, are a topic for discussion. The new year is a time of reinvention. With my new ride, I portray the real or assumed characteristics of Zap Guy, which include:

  • eco-minded (a small carbon footprint is a move forward — just not that far)
  • alternative (a twisted mind isn’t a prerequisite, but it helps)
  • level-headed (stay cool by staying on top — of the hill, the ups and downs are draining)
  • buzzed (the sound of racing electrons, agitated neurons, or rattling doors and windows, take your pick)

Everything Makes Waves

I don’t extol the virtues of EVs over gas-powered vehicles. Battery charging relies on power generation that is shades of dirty, whether producing “clean tech” or burning coal for the grid. Electric motors are more efficient than gasoline engines, but each form of energy has trade-offs. Miles between charges or fill-ups? Availability, convenience, efficiency and impact of power storage? The constraints of our choices define our lives. In some ways, the Zapcar has made me a better person. I’m riding my bike more. It’s reliable. I’m obeying city speed limits, mainly because the car is challenged to break them. The laws, of physics, are hard to ignore when an extra hill or leg of a trip may mean the difference in reaching home. This reality forces me to be more aware and conserving. I coast when possible, anticipate stops. A successful journey is its own reward.

Fortunately, I work in a home office so I don’t rely on the car for commuting. Unfortunately, on some errands zap has degraded to sapped as the car slowed to a crawl. The Zapcar owner’s manual introduces the idea of “opportunity charging” — using electrical outlets for charging along your trip to extend the car’s range. I keep an extension cord in the car for this reason. On one occasion, I pulled into a service station when I was running low on power. While I couldn’t gas up, the owner generously provided use of an outlet near an outdoor vending machine. After an hour of errands nearby, I gave the garage a $0.25 thank you and was ready to move. Reading the urban energy landscape is an EV ninja skill.

To be fair, other EVs are also limited in range. The owner of a Nissan Leaf told me that he charged his car at work or it wouldn’t make the round trip from home. How far can you drive without a gas station? Cars are lifestyle accessories — a composite of metal, plastic and rubber worn while moving from point to point. Wearing a Zapcar turns heads and generates smiles. The efficiency of lifestyles vary. Imagine carrying the door of your car to a local store. Now imagine carrying the door the distances you travel daily/yearly. How big is the box you move in? Our lifestyles leave footprints.

Collaboration is Personal

We can all share the expectations, joys and foibles of discovery. If you’re reading this, thanks, you are a friend. For my friends, a few words about another small, independent (and sometimes quirky) business. Pictured left is an interface from a suite of online tools for collaborative work I began developing in 2008, initially creating the site to manage my project tasks and invoices. More recently, I’ve added tools for members to share tasks and manage notes and files associated with projects. I continue to develop the tools for my own needs.

I define tools to solve problems. I’ve created numerous websites for clients that interact with customers. I’ve developed tools at that are useful to me. Collaborative needs and feedback will help define future iterations and enhancements. AQUA is a virtual water cooler. PLAN•M is a menu system mapping links to background images used as a landscape. These ideas are incorporated to be improved upon with help from users.

I’m interested in value-added networking. I have as many questions as answers. Sharing your ideas and efforts can enhance the prospects of like-minded individuals. Your personal motivation contributes to a collaborative network. I’m interested in ad hoc work with mature, independent professionals who want to provide and/or receive some help with e-life. All ideas are welcome. Collaboration promotes friendship. Opportunities are everywhere. If you want to build bridges in 2015, join me at If you want to stay in the loop on e-marketing resources, tips and trends, sign-up for THREADS. I’m interested in your suggestions. Send me a note requesting advice or offering assistance. I’m happy to share success stories helping friends and colleagues in business. Let’s Skype a virtual coffee together.

Rehabilitation Log: Nuts and Volts

ZAP is an acronym for “Zero Air Pollution.” It is also the sound of a spark, usually unexpected and inconvenient, that has negative consequences. In rehabilitating the car, I’ve had @*%zap!!# moments. Initially, the car’s intermittent problem was a mystery. Turning the key would light up the dashboard, but the car would only move forward sporadically. Clicks sounded at certain times and there seemed to be a correlation between when and where the clicks originated and if the car would move.

A problem needs to be identified before it can be fixed. My experience with internal combustion engines did not apply to electric motors. I began researching the problem by investigating the car’s design/operation. Electrical wiring is messy and hidden in most vehicles. What makes troubleshooting electrical issues worse is the intangible, silent nature of electrons. I searched the web and discovered some postings and discussions about the car. I finally reached out to the parts department at Zap Jonway and was pleasantly surprised to be contacted by Robert, a parts clerk, offering help — he provided a link to electrical schematics for the car and assured me that repair parts were available.

In a previous post “Motorcycle Rehab: What Does Free Cost?” I discuss the cost of a free motorcycle, in terms of time and material investments. By accepting the Zapcar, I was committed to a similar proposition — the car needed multiple repairs. While the batteries had been freshly replaced, hidden mechanical problems were surfacing. The thumbnails shown are a pictorial representation of some of the repairs I completed. Clockwise from top left: relay, hub, CV boots, battery isolation pads, wheel bearing. I attribute the failure of the hub to poor manufacturing and material quality, as it broke without unreasonable impact. The CV boots were cracking due to age and poor rubber quality. The smooth, fluid operation of bearings is imperative for a quiet ride. The wheel bearing damage could not be seen, but it could be heard: vibration and noise suggested a problem in the rear of the car. The damaged bearing (bottom left) is shown before it was removed from the suspension swing-arm. You can see a spot where there are no balls between the races of the bearing. Failure of the thin, metal cage that kept the balls evenly distributed allowed the balls to collide and grind, causing noise and vibration due to irregularities and pitting in the balls and races (bottom middle). I partially attribute battery failure to vibration caused by conditions like wheel bearing distress and bumpy roads. To isolate the batteries from the frame of the car, I added a series of rubber pads beneath the battery trays (bottom right). The pads were cut from tire tread.

I assessed the Zapcar’s electrical schematic to understand the failures that would cause the motor to be unresponsive. Searching the schematic near the ignition switch I identified a small component and subsequently determined it was broken. The component is an electromagnetic relay, a common electrical device worthy of further discussion. The relays at right are shown with their covers removed. The state of electrical current in the winding of an electromagnetic relay determines its switch state. In the schematic, the relays JD4 and JD8 are connected to the ignition switch. I was able to determine that relay JD4 was broken by testing the electromagnet circuit (tabs indicated with green arrows) using a multimeter. The magnetic field in the electromagnet is driven by current flowing through wires wound around its steel core. The energized electromagnet attracts the switch arm (blue arrow) to flip between an “off” connection (between the central and top tabs) and “on” condition (between the central and bottom tabs). Because the circuit was “open” and no current could flow through the electromagnet winding, it was incapable of creating the magnetic field necessary for proper function of the switch.

Completing the Circuit

Understanding the theory of operation allowed me to quickly verify the relay problem. Though it seemed simple, fixing the relay wasn’t so quick. The car’s schematic diagram (referenced above) indicates the JD4 relay is 12-volt. I ordered two replacement relays from the Zap! parts clerk in the company’s Santa Rosa, CA office.

I didn’t know that the the wiring for the Zapcar model I own differs slightly from the available schematic. Actual wires are much harder to follow than a schematic. After trial-and-error (a.k.a. @*%zap!!# moments), I discovered the JD4 relay uses 72 volts supplied by the ignition switch. Trial: I installed one of the replacement relays and turned the ignition switch. Error: POOF! a cloud of noxious smoke emitted from under the dashboard. What?! Surprised and not thinking clearly, I installed relay #2 convinced that the first relay was faulty. Key->Turn->Click->POOF! It took sacrificing a third relay before I was finally jolted to consult this Zap! documentation. On page 9 of the document, it specifies the profile of 72-volt relays that matched the original relay. (The documentation was the only reference of the relay’s voltage — 72-volt relays in the Zapcar are not imprinted with this specification.) Experience and understanding are hard-gained from @*%zap!!# moments. The schematic from this document was incorrect for my car. I was initially ignorant of this statement in the document: “This document describes the original wiring with the 12V key ignition system. Do not use this manual for the 72V key ignition system.” I now know that my car has a 72V key ignition system. Component labeling would have flagged the discrepancy.

In the picture above, the relays on the left and right are 72-volt and 12-volt, respectively. The melted mass of wire insulation (red arrow) is evidence that the 12-volt relay “burned out” due to excess voltage. The reason for the failure of the 72-volt relay was not visibly evident. The “break” was evident by testing the electromagnet wiring. The intermittent nature of the relay suggests that the break was microscopic and occasionally allowed the electrons to flow and energize the magnetic field. Eventually the connection failed completely and would not engage no matter how many times the key was turned on and off (the temperature of the relay was a factor, i.e. the relay was more likely to engage when cold due to contraction of the wire’s electrons).

Batteries Included

Modern, gas-powered cars have sophisticated electrical systems. Electrical dashboard instruments, lights and accessories are common to all cars. Spinning alternators and generators charge the batteries of gas-powered cars while the cars are driven. Driving a gas-powered vehicle improves its state of charge. Driving an electric vehicle depletes its state of charge.

The Zapcar has seven batteries. Six large 12-volt AGM batteries provide power to the drive motor. The 7th battery is smaller. It supplies 12-volt power to the dashboard, accessories and some relays (72-volt relays are powered by the “Traction Pack”). When the ignition switch is on, a DC-DC converter attached to the 72-volt pack supplies current for charging the small battery as well as providing 12-volt power throughout the car. If the 72-volt pack is weak or the DC-DC converter is not working, charging current is affected and the small battery can drain to a point where the dashboard and headlights suddenly go dark while driving. The electronic speedometer and 12-volt accessories quit (the car’s heater is 72 volts — presumably to allow you stay warm while you are stranded at night). Because the 72-volt relay in the drive motor control circuit isn’t affected by a depleted 7th battery, the car can continue to move. If the 7th battery is drained, use an external trickle charger to charge it. The terminals of the battery are accessible by removing the center console panel. A depleted 7th battery can cause the 20A fuse (F1) to fail due to charging current overload. Fix a weak battery pack to address issues with the 7th battery. Also check DC-DC converter connections and output.

Batteries are like apples — wired in series, one bad battery spoils the output of them all. The health of the car’s batteries has a direct impact on the health of the car. You can’t ignore a battery issue — the range of your EV diminishes. Batteries are mysterious. Electrochemical processes that generate electricity are known chemistry. The magic is harnessing these processes with real materials and designs. The lead-acid battery is an automobile technology workhorse. The life of these batteries is limited for many reasons, including variable operating conditions and abuses. The Zapcar’s six-battery Traction Pack is charged as a unit with an onboard 72-volt charger. A dashboard meter provides a rough indication of the total voltage of the pack, but batteries may not contribute equally. How do you “see” inside a battery? With numbers. For clues on the poor performance of the car, I persistently recorded the voltage of each battery before and after use. I was interested in relative strengths and trends. Based on its lower values, I concluded that battery #3 (my label) was under-performing. To verify this required measuring the current provided by the batteries.

For me, working on an electric vehicle required new tools — mental and material. One advantage of an EV using common technology: an ordinary carbon pile load tester could be used to analyze the batteries. I found numerous low-cost models on eBay and chose one rated at 500AMP, sufficient for batteries up to 1000CCA (the car’s batteries are 800CCA). The dual-gauge unit is simple to operate. Turning the knob applies a load across the terminals of the battery. When the left gauge (D.C. Amps) reaches half the CCA capacity of the battery, watch the right gauge (D.C Volts). The health of the battery is determined by the voltage drop during a 15-second test. There is embedded knowledge in the information design of the tester. Beneath the absolute values (i.e. AMPS and VOLTS), the gauges have translation scales for different specifications (amp hour/cold cranking amp on D.C. Amps gauge) and common pass/fail interpretations (battery test/state of charge/alternator and regulator test on D.C. Volts gauge).

SEO and You Shall Reap

I enjoyed friendly, personal service obtaining parts for my repairs. I experienced the enthusiasm and cohesion of the fringe — the shared conviction and circumstance of owning a Zapcar. The car and company are on the fringe. Along with the few people who own and support it, I share a commitment to the vehicle. Club membership affords some familiarity and respect among its members. We all join clubs, whether we pay dues or not. Clubs give us a sense of belonging. They are a large factor in our allegiances.

Consider this post a contribution to the fringe. My purpose is not to reach Zapcar owners exclusively, as the number of those who actually read these words may be counted on one hand or even one finger. But I appreciate those who support the fringe, even if it’s just a tent stake in the ground. On my quest for repair support I visited a few digital backwaters. At one,, webmaster Ryan writes with passion about EV techology in his post.

This post contains troubleshooting tips, but the story is larger than the topic. Reading this? Friend, family, colleague, associate, stranger: I appreciate your consideration. Who did I write this for? My target audience is pulwaterly. “Pulwaterly” is not a Google or Yahoo search result. . .yet. The meaning of the word? ANYTHING YOU WANT.


To my colleagues regarding Search Engine Optimization (SEO), I recommend being unique. This post is not just a story, but a tag cloud. Another stream of characters in this hyper, linked world. Words make it more or less than an idea. What search or link did you follow?

QuiQ Charger Algorithms (.enc)
The algorithms below were provided by JLG Ground Support to support my purchase of a QuiQ charger programmer. While some algorithms do not apply to the Zapcar, I offer them for anyone interested in modifying a QuiQ charger.
1 Trojan T105
2 Trojan T105 tapped
3 Trojan T105 const power
5 Trojan 30/31XHS*†
6 Deka 8G31 Gel*
7 Trojan J305 const power
8 Concorde 10xAh AGM
23 JLG/Douglas const power
42 Discover 80-150Ah AGM*
43 Discover 200-400Ah AGM*
73 Generic 400Ah flooded const power
* indicates algorithms for popular Zapcar batteries
† Zap! service manual states to use this algorithm with Discover AGM EV31A-A, EV12A-A and Interstate DCM 0100

Here’s to embracing the fringe to increase your search relevance.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Paradox of New: Learning to Love Shades of Gray

There are so many beginnings to be happy about. As time marches on, annual activities and other milestones trip through the years. The new is inexorably linked to one “Happy” sentiment or another. We are constantly barraged by the new to obsolete the old. New has value in the now.

What is the value of maturity? Assets attained and maintained are less celebrated in our commerce-driven society. If we consider that every new thing is a product of its time, each other-than-new thing is a product of its time plus time. The best form of a new thing or idea incorporates lessons learned from the past. The new is not always in its best form, however, due to new constraints and blindness to history. Some new things aren’t propitious and may be downright undesirable. A “Happy Birthday” is the beginning of another year to be lived, a milestone marking the years lived. Spent youth is the complement to age and wisdom.

Pons Asinorum

Pons asinorum is latin for “bridge of asses.” It is also a synonym for paradox. In the classic sense, pons asinorum is a puzzle that is a bridge to raised awareness and intelligence. A classic problem is Euclid’s fifth proposition in the first book of his Elements. Considered a measure of transcendence to a higher-level of thinking, dim-witted medieval schoolboys failed to grasp the concepts required to understand it.

A more general meaning of paradox is roughly the reconciliation of contradictory features or qualities within a seemingly complete, rational system. Conscious behavior is as doomed as blissful ignorance to be confronted with paradox in daily consumption. Consider the polarity of these word pairs: conscious/unconscious, yin/yang, perceived/intuited, cognition/meditation. These words apply to activities of our physiology as certainly as to our relationship with our environment.

Transition is paradox is transition. New rises from the old every moment. In celebrations, we recognize that old and new exist simultaneously. At what point does the year cease to be new? At 12:01 AM January 1st or 11:59 PM on December 31st? For most, the answer lies somewhere between the two extremes – in a shade of gray.

The basic conception that our planet revolves around the sun explains the annual environmental phenomena that have colored our rituals around the globe – cultural, political, corporate, nothing is immune. We cannot have May or December without a stable context and understanding. It is this orderly mask that is directly challenged by paradox. Order is necessary for paradox to exist.

Untangle the Gordian Knot

Choices are our continuous challenges to untie and unravel. Standard procedures are the zone. Some decisions are easier than others. As definite “best” thinking solutions are supplanted by more intuitive choices that just feel right, we learn to bridge the fundamental paradox of thinking and feeling. The opposition of the forces are reconciled by the understanding that they are already in coherent alignment.

Even as we attach scheduled activities and rituals, each day is simply another span of 24 hours in our lives. What colors our temporal and spatial experiences are the connections we have to each other. Shades of gray lead to the decisions we make. As we begin to assign actual value to feeling, the economics of our experiences change.

Understanding drives perspectives. Seeing is a function of our minds. We are more appreciative as we understand paradox. A gift is anything we recognize as such. Count your blessings. We gain a vast perspective from the realization that we are all standing on the shoulders of giants. Our lives are defined as much by what we don’t have (conflict, disease, hunger,…) as what we do.

The lighter at right is a bargain brand costing fewer than 50 cents. In the context of the technologies and processes required to produce it, I am wealthy to be able to own such a thing. Imagine fire, the understanding of elements, metallurgy,… centuries of knowledge that are embodied in this disposable product. Our ancestors would have marveled at it. To command the manifestation of fire crossed a primitive pons asinorum. Considering the “wealth” built into every product is to begin to understand shades of gray.

Meditation Amidst Chaos

The process of control is a paradox. As soon as you place rules on behavior, exceptions arise. The process of creation is a paradox. Creating form is as much the absence of matter as it is the connected network defined by a blueprint. An idea is defined as much by what is not understood. Am I clear?

What we seek is conscious control over entropy, while paradox rules the unconscious. Each moment, consciously or not, our minds collect data and follow decision trees that exceed the capacity of powerful silicon technologies. When was the last time you thought of breathing? Of your heartbeat? Of healing?

In the spirit of paradox, I announce a lifestyle tool to promote meditation in the midst of busy lives. It’s simple to use and built with interrupted focus in mind. How many times have you been waiting in line with too little time to make yourself productive (e-mail, web), but still long enough to feel time passing? Instead of aimlessly data-collecting – attempting to find meaning in the banal – consider a focus that stills the mind. My site,, offers graphical, symbolic images to concentrate on, allowing you to create custom views and trips.

Exercise your ability to find quiet among distraction. Rest your mind, however briefly. Symbols are strong places of refuge. Experience the images abstractly, divert your attention as needed.

Try my website and let me know what you think. There is also a version for those mindless mobile moments of waiting. Embrace the paradox of quiet in chaos.

Thanks for reading.

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Tour 13 – Trip Log

Premonitions and warnings about riding a motorcycle would have me posthumously writing this blog. Concerned family and friends made an effort to inform me of the dangers of a “donor cycle.” Listening to their assessments, I gained an understanding of the fantastic properties that make motorcycles so lethal: they are at once highly magnetic and invisible.

In one story after the next, the bike’s power of attraction was described causing cars, trucks, pedestrians, road debris and even potholes to find themselves drawn to the front of it – in its path of travel. It seemed a sheer certainty that I would be hit by something if I rode the motorcycle.

The second property was as dangerous and disconcerting as the first: no one would see me riding the bike. I was told the cloaking would be such that caused responsible drivers to dart in front of me, unaware of my presence. I began to understand the responsibility that came with this awesome power. I would use the bike for good, I thought.

Fortunately, my experiences on the 1,000 mile round-trip from rural New York to Massachusetts and Rhode Island were largely positive. In this post, the final chapter of Tour 13, I’ll recount the highlights of my trek and introduce my friends.

Deliverance: Better Late Than Never

My motorcycle finally arrived on the evening of August 10. Prior to delivery, I’d texted Chris, the shipper, for updates. I explained that my vacation was ending and the window of opportunity to complete my tour was closing. He was responsive to my inquiries, but could only travel so fast and was delivering his cargo in a logical progression of stops. He delivered at 10PM on Saturday, making a special effort so I would be able to start my trip the next morning. He was apologetic and explained that a mechanical failure caused a 3-day delay which cascaded to become a larger deficit due to missing weekday pick-up and delivery targets requiring him to wait over weekends.

Chris used mobile broadband to enable his tablet computer to serve as a communication platform and route planner. His brother was the second driver at the delivery. The bikes were well-packed and handled well. Chris mentioned that he had enough shipments to fill his trailer for the return trip. He was doing the work day after day. He looked forward to spending some time at home to unpack more after a recent move from Tennessee to Texas. Thanks again Chris.

Dollars and Sense alert: I debated whether I should ask Chris for a partial refund, considering he missed the target delivery date on my auction item. Regardless of the binding terms of the agreement, which I didn’t care to explore, I considered the realities of the transportation business (fuel charges, tolls, labor) and decided to provide Chris an ‘opt-in’ choice. I gave him a inkjet-printed business card with the Tour 13 logo and the URL to “buy me a virtual beer” I said. Whether the concept even registered with him or he wasn’t interested or lost the card, I don’t know as he isn’t on my contributor list (yet?). Completing the delivery, he expressed I could consider him a friend in the motorcycle business. The transaction was personal. The delivery was recorded at, triggering my eligibility for a $25 rebate. It was relatively simple to print the online rebate form and send it via snail mail to Rebate Promotion Department, 205 Brazos Street, Austin, TX 78701 (I mention the address to remind myself of the real people in real places that supported the process.) A $25 PayPal payment was made to my account. The onshore processing of my rebate form was almost immediate (allowing time for the USPS). A far cry from the 4-6 weeks typical of manufacturer, etc. rebates.

In hindsight, my delayed tour departure turned out to be a good thing. I spent the last four days of my vacation on the road. There were family events in the previous week I wouldn’t have been able to attend. My brother Joe and his wife Karen are a duo among their bands. I watched their performance at the King Ferry winery (in the photo Joe closes the gig with “Stuck in Lodi Again” ). The shifted tour dates allowed me to visit friends who were unavailable the previous week. The weather was clear for the most part. It was fortunate that my planned departure date gave me the time I needed.

Nuance alert: The power of serendipity should not be underestimated. There is an intelligence to self-assembly. My trip schedule was not self-assembled insofar as I was involved in an ongoing dialog with my friends via e-mail and phone, but the solution was evident at each point due to the constraints that presented themselves. Eventually, I had no choice of the dates I’d be riding, since they were the last possible days I could complete the tour. With known dates, I set off with two of my three overnight locations known.

Onward Ho, Hey

Wallet. Check. Phone. Check. Underwear. Check Web Server. Life is about staying out of the path of your own wheels. What happens to the momentum of wheels already set in motion? Was I committed to the ride? I wasn’t questioning what could happen, it was the next step. Considering what could happen to each of us at any time, it’s amazing any of us gets on the freeway of life with our bouts of distraction and daydreams, and careless drivers among us.

I rose early on Sunday, August 11. The weather was sunny and mild. The dew was thick on the grass. It was quiet. Rural quiet is the same as rural dark, there is an absolute quality to them. In urban areas, there’s a perpetual din of traffic and other sounds. You may become accustomed to it to the point of not noticing, but it’s there. When you visit an area with space and sheer stillness, the silence is deafening. The nights without moonlight are black, with no street lamps or light diffusing into the sky from nearby cities.

My mother Dorothy provided a hearty breakfast including fresh eggs and kefir made from a local farmer’s milk. The harvest bounty is full of fresh vegetables. Gardens are always planted to provide food. I have to mention my mom. And my dad. I can start to thank them for the sacrifices of parenting.

While my trip was still ahead of me, I realized the tour had already started. I was with my family. My siblings are my first team, my first collaborators. They are hard-working and helpful. They have a diverse set of perspectives and abilities. They’ve taught me a lot.

Steve and Joe are older brothers (shown at right). I won’t even try to explain who they are or what they ‘do’. My brother Steve (in tie) doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile and a congregation is his idea of a chat room. He’s a welder at his blue collar job. At home Steve’s a farmer, builder and inventor. Joe is a musician with a 10-piece band who also raises grass-fed beef. Joe and I continue to collaborate for the brotherly bond and the dream. I serve a website for his band The Destination and we produced the Blue Collar Man video with his original song. Other brothers to be mentioned: Mike, Tom and Ed. My sister Anne, sadly, was only there in our memories.

I began my ride at 9 AM on Sunday, August 11. The gas in the tank barely registered on the gauge. It was what remained of the gallon I’d added in California to test the bike. I rode down the hill to fill up at the Pit Stop in Genoa. It was my first fill of the tank. I topped it off for $15. The bike started well. I was confident that it was up for the tour. It had been over nine years since it burned a tank of gas and I was excited about turning the fuel into combustion into rotation into forward motion.

I set off to see Randy in Aurora, a local village with a small college and spectacular lakefront property. (He rents next to the house in the background.) Randy has a day job that provides for his two daughters, but not his personal expression. He’s writing a novel and posts humorous content regularly to his Facebook site “Strange WOOD: The Ruminations of Randall Hess”. Randy is a well-read student of literature. Imagination is one of his assets. He gives form to his tragi-comical thoughts. He shares the angst of playing a role without the benefit of a script. The show must go on, but who is writing it? This is a shout-out to Randy. A blue-collar, white-collar man with a kind heart and a profound existence. He’s contributed to my life by being who he is. Thanks for collaborating. Welcome onboard.

I Would Ride 1,000 Miles. . .To Be Back At My Door?

I left Aurora on Route 90 through Locke to Homer. I then took sleepy Interstate 81 North to Route 20. Route 20 was my route to Albany. It was Sunday and traffic on Upstate NY roads was not intense. Local/regional “blue” highways connect directly to the main thoroughfares of small villages. If you’re not in a hurry, it’s a refreshing change of pace to ride down these Main Streets (at the village speed limit) seeing the storefronts from the seat of a motorcycle.

I wasn’t in a hurry. The day was clear and it was comfortable riding. I passed numerous other riders enjoying the same thing. I belonged to the club and waved in solidarity with them. When I found myself approaching the suburbs of Albany at 3 PM, I phoned Herb to discuss my arrival. He convinced me that I needed to pick up the pace to drive across Massachusetts before nightfall. That meant only one thing: use the NYS Thruway and Mass Pike, riding on Interstate 90 for over four hours.

The Interstate had none of the relaxed, journey-is-the-reward feeling of traveling the blue highways. I was on the road to go fast without stopping, deliberately or otherwise. The cruising speed was typical of the other Interstates I would ride on the tour: 70-75 MPH with bursts to 80 MPH overtaking trucks. At these speeds, there wasn’t much point in considering a failure. I had faith in the bike’s tires and mechanical integrity, the road conditions, other drivers and my ridership.

When in MA, Do as the CA-ns Do

What are rules, really? Are posted speed limits merely suggestions when so many drivers exceed them regularly? While I don’t make a habit of being reckless, I recognize there are many instances where you can be safe while breaking the law. The law sets targets. Targets have tolerances. In the instances where laws merely provide convenience rather than a substantial correction for dangerous or destructive behavior, there is less basis for them. Imagine bending or breaking Byzantine codes that are not reasonable or appropriate. You take a calculated risk and prepare to deal with the consequences, if any.

At several points on the Eastbound Mass Pike I encountered bumper-to-bumper traffic. The traffic slowed to a crawl and I could see a long line of cars ahead. I considered the advantage of splitting lanes with my motorcycle. This IS legal, right? Not exactly. In California, where my license is issued, it is legal to split lanes such that a motorcycle can ride beside a car in the same lane. I considered that a progressive state like MA would have the lane splitting law as well. I was in no position to Google the MA DMV, so I proceeded to enjoy the benefit of my blissful ignorance of the law. I was able to shave an hour or more of slow-moving traffic by bobbing and weaving between cars and trucks as I moved forward. It was a great feeling, though I can now imagine the stares of outrage and horror that pelted me from the bewildered drivers as I passed them. I didn’t look back.

I reached the I95 interchange at about 7PM. Stoneham was close, I just had some late commuter traffic to contend with. I was able to make up for lost time in the previous two hours after refilling with fuel at the Blandford Service Area. Fuel was burning at the rate of a tank every 3-4 hours of riding. I leave enough in the tank instead of being caught without it. I set the petcock to ‘RES’ and watch the gas gauge. The average fill is $11 – $15. Service Areas are motorist oases along tollways. I’m amazed at how our culture has evolved these gathering places, bristling with activity. There are so many exotic foods to sample, brightly packaged and heavily processed. No thanks, I’m just there for the fuel.

The homemade soup was worth the wait. I exited I95 at Stoneham around 7:30PM. In my navigation-dissociated moment, Herb came to meet me at a local shopping center and I followed him home. We picked up where we left off years ago as we sat on the deck, more mature as we are. The conversation about hopes, dreams and accomplishments. Reminiscences. Herb and Stephanie dance a tango lifestyle. The hearty chowder was a team effort. I found balanced appreciation and respect throughout their space. I was energized with familiarity and friendship as I enjoyed a special welcome.

On Monday morning, I was up with the couple for their workday. My five-star treatment continued with fresh-brewed coffee and breakfast cereal. Herb was making lunch and would be taking the train to Suffolk University in Boston that morning, one of several variations on the theme of his work routine. (Herb is pictured in his commute attire at right – he transforms into Professor Ramy at the school.) Stephanie commutes to her job in IT (and occasionally a therapist) at a health care facility nearby. She doesn’t have the parking issues that Herb confronts. I was refreshed and ready to continue my journey. After Herb and Stephanie left, I spent an hour with my laptop using the wi-fi connection from the table on their deck – the epitome of a mobile office to respond to clients and continue to reach out to friends in the area.

Nuance alert: Physical proximity opens a wireless network of information exchange between people. Call it what you will – body language, non-verbal communication, clairvoyance, vibe, intuition, hunch, feeling… Personal exchanges are much richer with some synchronization on a physical plane. Phone, e-mail and text exchanges are how we manage a multitude of modern relationships. These modes of communication cannot wholly substitute for the much more primitive physical connection.

Boston: More Than a Feeling

I rode into Boston a commuter, albeit a late morning one. I had planned one step: take I93 South to Boston into the “big dig” tunnel and exit somewhere in the city. I would end up near Chinatown with a sense of where I should go. Riding a motorcycle, that’s all I needed. Downtown streets weren’t busy. I rode in an available direction and spontaneously adjusted based on the available choices. On a meandering ride, the biggest concern is selecting a path that allows you to continue to meander. Unaware, you can select an on-ramp or other access point that commits you to traveling an undesired highway, bridge or tunnel until you can undo the choice by turning around at an exit.

I rode streets that were vaguely familiar. I quickly reached Boston Common, took Beacon Street to Kenmore Square and then Brookline Avenue to Fenway Park. I’ll admit I wasn’t looking at names so much as traveling in a trajectory, though I was familiar with Commonwealth Avenue. I’d lived on Commonwealth Avenue in the late 80s (“in a shoebox in the middle of the road” – Monty Python). Actually, a studio apartment only slightly larger than a shoebox.

I rode to Cleveland Circle and found a gas station in the location I remembered, though the brand had changed. As I was fueling, another biker came roaring in. The roar was an on-bike stereo system blasting music of some metal or other heavy element. He refueled and rode up from the pump behind mine to make a bike owner’s introduction: comments on ridership and the vintage of my bike,  showing solidarity. His cycle was a newer, more powerful Suzuki with a scuffed, bright green cowling. When Lawrence mentioned the top speed he’d ever ridden a bike, I pictured him traveling on his bike at 195MPH in a grip of sheer terror and exhilaration. Why do we possess this need for wresting survival from the throes of self-inflicted abuses? The “T” (Boston Transit) emblem on his shirt suggested his work was slightly less tolerant of an unrestrained pursuit of speed.

Continuing my ride, I discovered the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, a massive urban body of water that I was unfamiliar with, though I had commuted past it for years. It was a simple left turn from Commonwealth Avenue onto Chestnut Hill Driveway that I’d never even considered taking until I noticed it as an interesting entrance from a cyclist’s viewpoint. In juxtaposition to the urban landscape, the vista along the road was especially expansive. Rather than circumnavigating the reservoir, I turned around at the corner of Boston College on Beacon Street, retracing my path to take in the view a second time. Cloaking alert: The only instance of invisibility during the trip occurred as I was approaching the Chestnut Hill Driveway entrance. An SUV darted in front of me and I adjusted by moving into the other lane. There was no traffic and the lane was clear. It becomes a habit to ride defensively. The car always has the advantage in an accident.

I’d arranged for a late lunch with Chris, a friend and current client. She’d capped off a weekend in New Hampshire with a Monday morning client visit and would be back in Boston around 1:00. It was serendipitous that our schedules overlapped. Serendipity enabled by wireless communication. I needed to finish Boston siteseeing to continue my ride to Rhode Island after lunch. I failed in a quest to find my shoebox apartment. I couldn’t find familiar landmarks – the stores, building textures and landscapes were different. One thing had markedly changed: there was an absence of trees. Who doesn’t like trees? Apparently, an urban landscape concerned with simplified maintenance and liability over mitigated earth-island heat absorption and naturist preferences.

I traveled back downtown for another photo op before meeting Chris at Steve’s Greek Cuisine at the corner of Hereford and Newbury Streets in Back Bay. I decided the Prudential building was sufficiently monumental and didn’t involve the complication of navigating around the impressive buildings of the financial district. (The photo, right, was taken at the corner of Ring Road and Route 9. It was a quick stop along the curb as no parking existed there.)

Greek to Me

I’m not a foodie, but I can appreciate food. A gyro. I hadn’t eaten Greek cuisine for a while and I knew that I wanted one. Chris and I met through her older sister who I worked with when I lived in Boston. Over the years and the distance, we’ve stayed in touch. In 2005, when Chris started Open The Door as a marketing and public relations professional, I helped with her website. Since then, she’s been steadily building her business and continues to use my hosting and e-mail services. Among other data transfer, I provide her an image upload and retrieval solution facilitating the distribution of PR images. It’s a modest, yet critical demand on my server.

The gyro was good. Chris was kind to claim the meal as her expense. Interpreting a map on her iPhone, we determined directions for the next leg of my journey. It started with I93 South and mid-afternoon traffic leaving Boston would be congested. No splitting lanes. Following simple directions from the restaurant to the on-ramp, I was on my way to Rhode Island. Thanks for the collaboration and support Chris. Geographical nuance alert: Greater Boston is very accessible. Built on a peninsula, the city has a center of gravity with large buildings giving way quickly to the Charles River, Boston Harbor and lower structures South and West. You can easily find your way around. Unique landmarks assist you in your orientation. It’s America’s Walking City™, not that the trademark makes it any more or less so.

Traffic became considerably lighter when I reached the interchange. I would take I95 past Providence to Route 4 and then find a smaller road. . .I could consult my smartphone map again nearer the destination. The riding was more of the same, though I was feeling a commuter vibe. Urban Boston quickly changed to more rugged New England landscape. East coast highways cut through forests and hills.  I imagined the difference in my trip and that of the drivers commuting home. I noticed the light of early evening. I smelled the ocean.

All States Are Not Created Equal

The eastern seaboard is incorporated into the borders of 14 states. The west coast (excl. Alaska) has a mere 3. The New England states are small and well-connected. The sizes make sense in historical context as they were the first to be settled by our forefathers necessitating smaller territories to self-govern using the existing modes of transportation and communication. As the U.S. grew westward, efficient, bureaucratic thinking shifted to define states as big boxes with long, straight lines.

State-hopping to Rhode Island was quick. In 2-1/2 hours, I’d traveled from Boston through Providence and was on Route 1 South. I realized I’d missed a turn to North Kingstown, when I began seeing signs for South Kingstown. I called Scott and found that he and his wife Cheryl had just docked in East Greenwich after sailing from Block Island. With Scott’s directions, I rode up Route 1 and found his home. The coastal communities I passed felt comfortable.

I met Scott in community college. We edited a newspaper together. After college, we parted ways for other schools and other lives. It took phone calls to his father and brother to find updated contact info for him. From the outset of my visit, Scott and Cheryl made me feel welcome in their fine home. I was there for chicken wing night at the local pub. Scott was up early Tuesday with his young yellow Labrador, Scout, while Cheryl prepared for her workday as an interior designer for commercial space. I’d planned on leaving in the morning to ride home, but changed my mind after Scott advised me on current weather conditions. Since Scott sails, he is weather-minded by necessity. There’s nothing fun about sailing in a storm. A sage piece of advice on motorcycles: do not ride in the rain. The animation of current local conditions at (Scott’s choice) showed a storm intersecting my route for most of the morning. I abandoned the idea of reaching Central NY that day. I was able to sync new plans with my friend Bill, who had offered me a place to stay earlier, among the original tour dates. Scott hadn’t yet started a new job as an account executive at a microscopy company, so we had time together and met Cheryl for lunch. After lunch, the storm passing, I was prepared for my ride to Groton, MA.

Scott and Cheryl are do-it-yourselfers. They add tangible and transcendental value to their lives through sweat equity. By no means limited to Yankees, there is an ingenuity required of rugged lifestyles in rugged climates. Rugged can also be the terrain of self-determination. The human condition manifests itself in many dimensions and depths. Visiting Scott and Cheryl illuminated my perspective. They comprise years of experiences different than mine. I’m fortunate to consider them resources in my life. Scott’s advice on dogs: Keep dogs in pairs, they will “play” with each other, rather than the furniture cushions, clothes, etc. The couple’s second dog is an older chocolate Labrador named Cayden. I experienced Scout playing roughly with Cayden, annoying the senior dog. The snipping and barking directed at the “father” was modulated and returned as an occasional, loud groan of frustration. This is energy all young dogs and children have.

All Systems No: Failure to Shunt

Diverting briefly, I will reveal that the system I installed to charge my cell phone and iPod using the motorcycle battery was not working. I was using my cell phone regularly and it reached a low charge capacity that was not being replenished by the lighter adapter. It didn’t appear the adapter was providing the 2.1A of current as specified. I normally charge the phone using a Rhino 2A USB lighter adapter without a problem. I also discovered that my laptop USB port did not provide the required current. I ended up charging my devices via friends’ USB power sources. The output of USB power supplies varies and the charge indicator on a device may be misleading. I resorted to powering up Bill’s desktop computer to charge my phone and iPod, even though the phone had been “charging” overnight using a wall adapter.

Au to Groton

Riding in the afternoon on the outer ring was easy going. I was set to be at Bill’s in time for cocktail hour. I arrived to one of the usual greetings and had a tour. Bill was rightfully proud of his property. Well maintained with German discipline. We went for a swim in his immaculate pool. Amy was a consummate host. They provided me a fine meal and fine bed. In his tree-rich community with large parcels, there was no danger of upsetting the neighbors with our Ping Pong grudge match in the garage. I must concede defeat at the jaws of Bill’s steely serves and saves. I felt at home when Bill remembered my visit with Sophie and Christian many years prior. The homestead had changed, but in a well-managed way. The important details were the same: family, diligence, sharing. Bill is in a state of limbo between jobs. He was severed from Motorola after the Google acquisition. He was managing developers in a networking division. Now he’s making progress on home improvement lists. The ability to work with construction materials is a skill you don’t see on a tech resume, but it is fundamental to maintaining a house.

Another morning routine. Amy was off to the beach with Caroline and William, their children. Jillian wasn’t going. Bill was looking forward to working on his windows. I appreciated Bill anticipating my need for gas and giving me directions to the cheapest local station. I would have been aimlessly looking for one. After some fresh coffee, I was ready to get home. I had a long trip ahead – I’d be on various Interstates for six hours. The plan was I495S to I290, which would take me through Worcester. The Mass Pike/NYS Thruway would then unfold toward Weedsport.

The day was clear with scattered clouds. The weather wasn’t threatening. I wasn’t considering the forecast partially because I had no choice, my flight to California was leaving at 7:45 that evening from Syracuse. There was a necessity to move myself 350 miles on the bike. I was refreshed and focused as I took the on-ramp. Getting in the zone meant balancing the exhilaration of the act of propulsion with the technical calculations of traffic responses, changes in conditions, etc. The zone is a busy one that distorts the feeling of time lapsing. It’s continuous work. The long ride remained fresh with my enthusiasm buoyed by its novelty.

I’ve traversed many more miles in 4-wheeled vehicles for good reason. I encountered wind sheer near Albany. Ideally, we travel with the wind at our backs, gently pushing us along. With a headwind, there is a resistance pushing us back, requiring more force to push into it, but with some control. When strong winds pushed perpendicular to my direction of travel, I compensated by maintaining my trajectory firmly, leaning the bike into the wind to help course corrections. The bike undulated as a result of wind gusts and reflex responses. It’s a little unnerving to feel yourself being blown into a neighboring lane, much like the feeling of passing a large truck.

Country Roads

The exit for Weedsport was a welcome sight. I approached this toll booth as the others, anticipating a transition. The motorcycle didn’t idle well. The complexity of taking the ticket out of my pocket and paying the toll was increased by the necessity to hold the throttle to keep the engine running. The wallet in my right jeans pocket and ticket in left jacket pocket. Right hand, then left hand crossing over to the throttle as I handled the money. The engine stalled. No line, no rush. It started easily as it had throughout the trip. I was back on the blue highways. The end of the tour was near.

Route 34 was a straight shot from Weedsport, through Auburn, to home. I was riding on a well-worn path of my youth, my destination roughly equidistant between Auburn and Ithaca. I’ve been in both cities numerous times. Auburn is a second-city to Ithaca. The cities are distinctly blue- and white-collar, respectively. Ithaca is home to Cornell Unversity. Auburn is home to a correctional facility. I attended Cayuga Community College in Auburn. Curley’s, one of the watering holes frequented with friends during college, stood near the southeast corner of the prison. Not that Auburn is a prison town, some areas are majestic, but the influence can be felt. Parts of the city are a mixture of industrial and light-industrial businesses and services with a working-class aura. As I eluded to in my last blog post considering the Auburn DMV (“DMVNY: To Protest and be Served“), lifestyles, perceptions and attitudes have geographical underpinnings.

Final Odometer Reading

I’d reached the Weedsport toll booth at 3:43PM with roughly an hour left to travel. I had a comfortable window to make it home and return to Syracuse for my flight. I traveled light, so packing my luggage wouldn’t require much time. The stress accumulated on the Interstate melted away in the final miles of the ride. A hearty meal prepared by my mother awaited. A series of goodbyes and a car trip later, I was flying out of Syracuse John Hancock International Airport in the evening twilight. A connecting United flight from Washington Dulles to San Francisco and I would be in California after midnight.

Sophie welcomed me home after two weeks. I’d left her school-year preparations to juggle alone and she was due some help. Steffan started his sophomore year in high school the day I returned. Our oldest son, Christian, was settled in at UC Davis thanks to his mother. Aidan is still enjoying some vacation before beginning classes at Foothill College later this month. I’ve been partners with Sophie for 20 years. She has been an inspiration for growth. The fires of love and respect require continuous attention. Repairing neglect involves stoking and warming the hearth.

Why the Tour?

I’m approaching an age where I will have lived half of my life in California. The “second half” of my life has been a different journey than the first. I’ve been fortunate to become a husband, a father, a resident of Palo Alto. The tour was a connection to the first “half” of my life, a resident of NJ, NY, PA, NH and MA. It was primarily an excuse to take serendipitous steps toward a shifting goal that I chose to document. The reason you’re reading this is as much the reason I’m writing it. If we can connect to each other with a simple touch of a key, why can’t we find so much more utility in our exchanges. My sharing and collaboration site is – I invite you to join.

I hope that the wisdom I’ve gained is greater than that I’ve lost. We all have compartments in our lives, whether separated physically or psychically we change frameworks as we navigate and invent meanings and associations.

I believe in the power of making connections. Familiarity is the currency of networking. I’m not an exhibitionist – wallowing in the mundane details of my life is not my motivation. I’m all for sharing in others successes, but not TMI. Consider these reflections a thoughtful digest, not an unedited stream. You pick your channel. Tune into your own.

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Tour 13 – The Art of Brand and Motorcycle Maintenance (Part 2)

In my previous post, I described the initial stages of repair necessary to ready a neglected motorcycle for Tour 13, a tour of New England in August 2013 to visit friends. The tour is promoting support for collaboration and membership on my website,

In this post, I continue my journey through the mechanical and aesthetic milestones in the rehabilitation. The annotated picture below identifies the remaining areas of consideration:

7: Failing the Clutch

A part fails as the result of usage and limitations in its design. Design is the vocation of people who use skilled judgement to determine how to accommodate the stress inflicted on a part performing a function and maintaining the appropriate interface to humans and other parts. An accident (compression, extension, etc. from an action such as a collision) can cause a catastrophic failure where a part deforms or breaks. This is an abnormal stress and the failure is excusable. Repetitive stress applied as a result of normal usage (pulling, pushing, lifting, etc.) can also cause a part to fail. Design is more to blame for parts failing under normal conditions. Well-designed products consider appropriate longevity.

Weakness of a material under repetitive stress is manifested as wear (diminishing thickness) or cracks that develop over time. Cracks in a part that has not yet failed may go unnoticed. Imagine the material along the line of eventual failure. Due to strain, atoms are moving away from each other on opposite sides of the eventual fissure. The material is weakening, but there is no visible crack. Eventually, enough atoms have separated far enough from each other to cause the break. Repetitive stress is also applied by time. In addition to the corrosion of chemical processes, aging weakens parts along unnoticed strain lines by expansion and contraction as parts heat and cool with usage or environmental conditions.

At right is an illustration of the clutch lever on my motorcycle. An image of the actual failed lever is below it. The lever failed as I was engaging the clutch during initial tests in static conditions. Occurring after only a small number of repetitions, I attribute the failure to the influence of age on the lever weakened by the repetitive stress applied over the bike’s history. The lever is constructed of an aluminum alloy. Considerations that resulted in this choice of material may have included durability, but weather-resistance, weight, price and production are also factors. I’ve encountered steel brake levers on bicycles that seemed indestructible. If durability were paramount to the clutch lever design, a stronger material may have been more suitable.

Weakness is also attributed to a part’s shape. The lever’s area of failure is indicated by a circle on the diagram above. Having experience replacing broken parts, I was not surprised where the clutch lever failed as the stress on the part is ‘visible’ to anyone considering how the linear pull of the cable is transferred to a rotation around the mounting bolt. Failure analysis is a specialty. It’s difficult to believe that the institutional knowledge of Suzuki or any other large manufacturer does not contain the details of part failures. The physical record of broken junkyard bikes is also a reference. Parts that fail on one motorcycle will fail on others for the same reasons. Design deficiencies are apparent in a simple observation – parts with obvious weaknesses or vulnerabilities are well-stocked by suppliers. Is faulty design the result of ignorance? Planned obsolescence? Deliberate motivations that promote premature failures are the scourge of responsibility and sustainability. Unfortunately, knowing how and why parts fail does not necessarily lead to better, more reliable design in subsequent revisions.

I obtained a replacement lever online for $16 plus $10 shipping. I thought I was buying from Xtreme Powersports, the OEM parts source I found for my first parts order. The receipts for the orders were markedly different. Both receipts had a URL in the upper-right corner suggesting the orders were printed from a web browser in the fulfillment center. The URLs of the first and second receipts, respectively:


Ah, the wondrous, wacky world of e-commerce. . .

8: Twisted Switcher

An obvious reason for material failure is design with disregard for usage. Related to the consideration of a part’s purpose, the utility of a part is in its service to human users, directly or indirectly. There are always human factors to be considered. The ignition switch of the motorcycle is made with a cast polymer (hard plastic) housing that encloses an electrical switch and mechanical steering fork lock. The switch provides an easy-to-use interface between a key lock mechanism and a series of contacts which create active electric circuits when solid pieces of metal bridge between them at the correct rotary position.

Turning the key to the far left or right, the electrical circuits are inactive and the switch deploys a small, square metal bar, pushing out from the polymer housing to catch on the edge of a metal strip welded to the motorcycle frame. The purpose of the fork lock is to confound theft of the bike by fixing the front wheel in the position of an extreme left or right turn. However, the material of the switch housing lacks the strength to restrain the potential force a human could apply using the handlebars to turn the wheel. The installed switch was broken as a result of its frailty in the face of intentional or unintentional abuse. The manufacturer’s solution for the switch was under-engineered and optimistic that such an abuse would not occur.

I found a used replacement switch on eBay. The original part was still intact, suggesting that the the fork lock was not regularly engaged or its strength was not truly tested. The motorcycle dismantler ‘cyclejunkie999’ accepted my offer of $35 (plus $10 shipping) for an ignition switch, seat lock, helmet lock and gas cap (the seller’s photo is shown here with the ignition switch outlined). A new OEM switch was $142. A new aftermarket switch was over $100. The eBay parts fit correctly and operated well with the exception of the gas cap, which was the wrong type for my bike. It was a satisfactory eBay experience. I’m not always satisfied with eBay purchases, but I consider the website for unique used parts and sales offering a substantial savings over other sources. Any service that promotes the reuse of resources is making a positive impact.

Nuance alert: There is a grace inherent in having ample time for repairs. I was fortunate to discover weak and broken parts in my process of rehabilitation rather than later on my trip. Working on the bike over many months, I was able to study the bike, test the components, contemplate repairs and study the bike more. Testing the operation of the bike at various intervals after repairs, I used the clutch lever and ignition switch (until eventually they failed). Even in a static state (not running), turning the key and throttle with actions simulating a ride gave me a feel of cable and linkage motions. Studying the owner’s manual combined with physical manipulation of components described therein provided a deeper understanding of the motorcycle’s condition and operation.

9: Signal of Invention

The damage of aging and abuse on parts has been previously discussed. Replacing broken parts with identical, serviceable parts is the obvious solution. However, in the rehabilitation process there are opportunities to be innovative and creative with repairs. A custom assembly can be implemented to fix limitations of OEM parts or simply give the bike a more unique, personalized style. Creative modifications can employ any materials or other parts to function as a suitable replacement. Utilizing scrap materials saves money.

The original signal lights on my motorcycle were badly worn due to age. The lamp assemblies mount to the frame with pleated, flexible rubber arms. The rubber was severely degraded by age and environmental conditions (UV light and heat from the sun is an enemy to many materials and coatings). The original rear signal lamp is shown at right. Notice the cracking along the rubber arm. Some of the dry and brittle rubber is missing. A front lamp was in even worse condition, with the arm completely broken and dangling from the wire harness.

Since the beginning of my restoration of the motorcycle, cost-effectiveness has been one of my primary goals. The bike is not particularly special. From these posts, I expect readers will realize that it is not pristine, mechanically or otherwise. Returning it to legal useability was a path to be traveled, a peak to be conquered. When I considered that a proper restoration would require replacing all four of the signal lamps, I couldn’t justify spending over $120 ($30+ for each aftermarket replacement lamp). OEM replacement lamps were even more expensive. I decided to repair them.

The decision to repair the signal lamps was facilitated by their design. The hard plastic signal lamp lens and enclosure units could be separated from the rubber mounting arms. The hard plastic resisted the aging and weathering that had damaged the rubber arms. The lamp units (lens, enclosure and bulb socket with wiring) were the starting point of the repair. I needed to determine the best way to replace the rubber arms.

My workshop is a collection of tools and materials collected over many years. Broken appliances, toys and other machines contribute to this bounty. A landscape of wood, plastic, metal, nuts, bolts, connectors, straps, spools, adhesives, supports and other purchased or received or extracted things combine with experience and imagination to become a physical object, a solution to an environmental need. The need to hold the lamp units firmly on the motorcycle frame was solved by shaping and combining a subset of these materials. Among other things, the solution incorporated aluminum square stock cut from a piece of household TV antenna (saved from an analog antenna which was replaced with a much smaller, more-effective digital one). An important step was to seal the unit with silicone, which provides weather resistance as well as keeping the square stock in position.


Nuance alert: At one point, I had mounted the lamps and everything seemed to be finished until I tested a turn signal, the bulb flashed and the fuse protecting the circuit failed. I was confounded that the marker lights (always illuminated along with the headlamp) did not cause a failure. After a few attempts at reconfiguring wires and consuming more fuses, I considered what was different between my solution and the original lamps. In addition to flexibility, the original rubber arms insulated the steel bulb holder from the motorcycle frame. My new mount incorporated a bolt that physically and electrically connected the bulb holder to the frame. This ground path was causing a short in the turn signal circuit. Squares I cut from a mouse pad as weather seals also insulated the aluminum square stock. I fashioned insulators for the mounting holes from drywall anchor bases, a bonus being that the lip of the insert insulated the mounting washer and nut from the frame. With the lamp units electrically insulated from the motorcycle frame, the turn signals blinked continuously.

Mounted Signal Lamp

10: Shock Therapy (Going with the Flow)

As Newton postulated, any action is balanced by an equal and opposite reaction. When a motorcycle is slowed using the front brake, the momentum (moving energy) of the bike is transferred to the front wheel. The front suspension is compressed by this action. The front fork on my bike is oil-filled, designed to dampen this compression. Gentle compression is a desirable, controlled motion instead of a more violent transfer of energy that would be absorbed by other movable parts on the bike (including the rider). Within the shock absorber, oil flows between chambers to achieve a ‘fluid’ feel. Metal springs are incorporated to add resistance against compression and reset the shock absorber to its resting state.

Gaskets and seals are required anywhere gaps and channels exist between the interior of an assembly (where a fluid is contained) and the exterior (where the action of the assembly is utilized). Gaskets are barriers between static parts. Seals of rubber or other flexible material are used to manage fluid around interfaces that twist, rotate, slide, etc. Seals provide a fluid-tight seal, but they are vulnerable to wear from the constant contact required to maintain the barrier. A worn seal will reveal itself as a fluid leak.

Initially, the front shock absorbers of my motorcycle did not leak oil. The fluid, dampening action was diminished due to a low oil level. The dampening action returned when they were filled, but then they began to leak. When the shock absorbers were compressed, worn seals allowed the oil to squeeze out as it flowed between the internal chambers.

There are many forks along the path to rehabilitation. Decisions at every point vary between making the bike ‘as good as new’ or simply functional. New parts add integrity and freshness. Rebuilding parts by adding new subsystems, seals, etc. is almost as good as replacing them. Sometimes, however, resigning performance to the ease of doing nothing is ‘good enough’. While the front shock absorbers on my bike could have been improved by fixing their seals and maintaining the recommended oil level, I decided to do nothing and accommodate their deficiencies. I adjusted my riding style to slow down with a combination of downshifting, rear braking and a greater appreciation of forward momentum. Oil eventually stopped dripping onto the front wheel and has not been replaced.

11: Heading Forward

A helmet is an extension of a bike. It is a windshield and safety housing. Choosing the correct helmet requires some of the same decisions as outfitting the bike. The fit and durability of the helmet are important characteristics. My primary goal was comfort. The style also mattered: I didn’t want to ride around with flames or skull-and-crossbones decorations adorning my head.

I wanted to try the helmet before I bought it, so I only considered local sources. I decided to buy a used helmet to save money, since I was only planning on using it for a short time. Motorcycle helmets are universal, but not ubiquitous. Rollerblade and bicycle helmets are readily available at second-hand merchandise stores, but motorcycle helmets are not. I found local sources on Patience and persistence are the secrets to successful shopping on this site. I checked for new listings regularly.

A low-priced HJC helmet in my size was listed. In the listing picture, it appeared to have a damaged shield. I was unfamiliar with the brand, so I visited the HJC website. Convinced that the brand was reputable, my next step was to find out if a replacement shield was available. I discovered the CL-10 is an older model helmet. No online seller listed the model for a replacement shield, but customer feedback on indicated the shield for the CL-11 was identical. Visiting the seller, I checked the fit of the helmet. Knowing the shield could be replaced (for $18 + $7 shipping), I negotiated to buy the helmet for $40. It was an easy negotiation as the helmet was well-used, but it was relatively clean and its integrity was intact.

The CL-11 shield was an exact match. The helmet has some scratches and wear, but the new shield has given it a second life. I repaired a worn lining with the elastic of a sock. I replaced a missing pad at the top of the helmet with a small piece of fabric-covered polypropylene padding (a scrap saved from some packaging). For both repairs I used contact cement to glue the fabric. It created a strong, flexible bond that eliminated the need for stitching. I have a greater appreciation for the HJC brand, considering the comfort of the helmet. An attribute I found particularly well-designed is the allowed space for breathing in front of the mouth and chin, also an intuitive place to handle the helmet.

12: Power Point

There is a vista point during every journey, a point where you can relax and enjoy the view, if only for a moment. During the moment, you have the clarity to assess where you’ve been, where you’ve yet to go. The view is expansive, evoking a calm feeling that it was worth making the steps that brought you to that point. At the point I was finishing necessary repairs, I started thinking of the physical journey, the tour I would be taking.

While any part of a project can be fun, the creative, auxiliary accoutrements depend upon enjoyment as a prerequisite. As I wrote in my previous post, a bike’s electrical system is the center of its civility. Having replaced the battery, my thoughts were liberated as to how I could use these available electrons, a life force that would be continuously rejuvenated as I rode. I’ve always enjoyed 12-volt accessories for their portability and possibility. The cigarette-lighter plug is so crude, yet it is a symbol of independence. I decided to make playful use of the storage box on the motorcycle by installing a cigarette-lighter jack.

The lighter jack I installed was saved from the dashboard of my brother-in-law’s Volvo station wagon before it was recycled. I efficiently housed the jack in a small section of aluminum conduit (an impulse buy at Weirdstuff Warehouse, an eclectic second-hand and surplus parts and electronics store in Sunnyvale, CA). I was amazed at the fit. The experience was one of others I’ve had where serendipity trumped foresight in a combination of physical objects. The wiring of the jack was simple – I connected the 14-guage red and green wires directly to the battery using crimp-style loop terminals fastened by the terminal bolts. Inside the conduit I applied insulating tape to prevent the always-live electrical contacts from short-circuiting.

Possibilities of the power source stretched out before me. I purchased a $10 2.1A USB power converter (see photo above) to charge my Motorola phone. I also have a small 75W power inverter that will allow me to use the 110-volt charger for my Norelco electric razor. The bike is a power station for the open road.

13: Flourish to Finish

Suzuki GS700ESThe motorcycle is an ES model, which was originally equipped with a cowling. The cowling had been repainted blue (along with other parts of the bike) and the windshield was opaque, fogged from sun damage. It wasn’t attractive. I expressed this to my son and he removed the cowling. I liked the simpler look of the bike without it.

The cowling covered a tubular structure on which it was mounted. Retaining the structure was necessary, since it was also the mount for the headlamp and front signal lamps. Toward the end of the bike’s rehabilitation, with the plan for Tour 13 becoming a reality, I decided that the structure should to be covered to make the motorcycle look finished. I was committed to replacing the cowling as it had been discarded months before.

I created a cardboard shape template that covered the mounting structure. I found that sheet metal I’d saved from a water heater offered an appropriate rigidity for the motorcycle components. I considered that cut sheet metal would be sharp and a rolled edge would be necessary. I cut the sheet metal shapes larger than the finished sizes to cut and bend tabs of metal in short segments around the outlines of the final shapes. I attempted and then abandoned this idea. Smooth curves could not be achieved by bending the metal along the outlines in segments. I discovered that filing the edge of the metal made it sufficiently dull and safe, so I cut the shapes to the actual sizes. The sheet metal was bowed since it was once a cylindrical appliance. This yielded more shapely covers. The headlamp was covered with a piece of aluminum salvaged from a baking tray for weather protection and aesthetic purposes.

The covers were canvases to be decorated. I spray-painted them simply with a clear, white area to accommodate the Tour 13 logo I designed. I had two logos laser-printed on a sheet of label material at FedEx/Kinko’s and then laminated the face of the sheet. I carefully cut-out the printed shapes and applied them to the covers. The bike was now complete.

DMVNY: To Protest and Be Served

Thanks to my brother Joe. I sent him the California title when I had the idea of shipping the bike to NY for him to register and insure it. I’d filled-out the transfer information on the title with my name and CA address. Since I didn’t complete the California registration process, the title listed Ahmad Z. (not me) as the owner.

Joe insured the bike in preparation for its delivery. When I arrived in NY, he informed me that he hadn’t completed the registration process. My flight arrived in the morning, so we visited the DMV in Auburn on the way home. We anticipated there might be an issue with the title transfer, since my name was only written on the CA document and we had no statement from Ahmad transferring ownership to Joe. At the DMV, we handed the clerk a stack of forms and documents, explaining that the bike was given to me and I was giving it to Joe. The clerk kindly informed us that a different form was required along with a written, signed statement that I was giving the bike to my brother. She did not raise alarm or concern. Excited, we left her window to complete the documents at a counter in the office. With the additional documents completed, we returned to the waiting line a short time later. When it was our turn, the clerk we had previously spoken to was not available.

The second time was not a charm. The clerk, less confident in the paperwork provided for the transaction, consulted with a supervisor for guidance and judgement. Authoritatively, she informed us that the California title needed to be issued in my name for me to give the motorcycle away. I was unclear on CA titling requirements, but I assumed that transfer of title happened only when the vehicle was registered by the new owner, an expense I was trying to avoid. Besides, there would be no way I could expect an official document to be issued and arrive from the CA DMV during my short stay in NY, regardless of whether I paid for it or not.

Crestfallen, I left with my brother to consider our options (we didn’t feel that going back to the first clerk would be a good idea in light of the second clerk’s consultation with the supervisor). We all have expectations based on previous experiences. In this case, the Auburn DMV lived up to my brother’s expectation that registering the bike would be difficult there. Joe suggested that we would have a different experience in a different office – in Ithaca.

Joe was right. With the same paperwork, we approached the gray-haired clerk. She was affable, but again unsure of the proper procedure. Fortunately, the Ithaca supervisor interpreted the prerequisites for our request differently than the supervisor in Auburn. That I was present with my California driver’s license allowed them to notarize the transfer statement I’d written. The gray area of ownership was not an issue. After paying an $80 registration fee, Joe was promised to receive the NY title within three months and we left with a license plate and current registration sticker.

Gratuitous DMV Moral: If at first you don’t succeed, try a different office. Our government is by the people, for the people. People make a difference.

Rolling with It

I’m still awaiting delivery of my bike. It’s a week beyond the target delivery date I specified in my auction. I’ve contacted the shipper who has promised the bike by end-of-week, if not earlier. I’ve had to adjust my expectations and the departure date for the tour.

The picture above is a stretch of rural road near my childhood home in NY. This countryside is the delivery destination for my motorcycle. It’s a long way from Palo Alto, CA where the bike started its trip. I consider Chris, the shipper transporting my motorcycle. He is a businessman carrying my bike and others to destinations across the U.S.

I’ve driven across the country in a car twice. Disappointed about the delayed arrival of my bike, I considered my experience as a traveler and the sobering reality: space that we can easily comprehend intellectually and traverse electronically is far more foreboding physically. At right is the route map calculated by for my shipment. The distance of this direct route is estimated at 2813 miles. Chris informed me he would be traveling a west to east route past his home in Texas (to drop-off his family who traveled with him to San Francisco). This adds even more miles to his route. He enlists a pickup truck pulling a cargo trailer to transport his freight. I imagine the sheer strength and will required to endure the trip, a continuous attention to the momentum of tons of metal. I appreciate the effort.

I’ll be riding my motorcycle soon. I’m committed to traveling hundreds of miles on it to visit friends I haven’t seen for years. I will gain an even greater appreciation for the endurance of traveling. The physical ride will be a continuation of my journey thus far. I’m grateful for the warm receptions and invitations I’ve received by phone and e-mail. If I can reach you physically on this tour, I’ll see you soon. For those I’ve reached with my words, thanks for reading.

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Tour 13 – Motorcycle Rehab: What Does Free Cost?

A motorcycle tour would have been impossible for me without the existence of a reason for a quarter of a ton of metal to be in my possession in the form of a device with the singular purpose of propelling a human body through space with minimal baggage. The story started with my son being given a “gift,” a motorcycle, 1985, and not ridden since 2004. Wide-eyed, we weren’t considering the rehabilitation process, nor had we undertaken a project like this in the past. Our first attempts at starting the bike quickly unearthed a recovery path that began stretching out before us.

In this 2-part post, I’ll be considering what it takes to make a neglected 28-year-old bike run with the confidence that it will take you on a tour of New England. The tour is Tour 13. I’m promoting my collaboration website by visiting friends I haven’t seen for years. Join the network at

The picture shown here is an annotated photo of the bike in its final days before shipping from California to New York. The repairs completed, it awaits the shipper. The numbers are a rough skip and jump through the major costs and efforts. Initially, the troubleshooting of an older bike is mere observation of critical failures – definite problems that hinder the basic operation. Working on the critical problems helps to uncover subtler issues.

1985 Suzuki GS700EF

Steps in Bike Rehabilitation

0: What goes around comes around

The friend who owned the bike lived within a few streets in suburban Palo Alto. He was moving back to India and needed to clean up his rental property. I expect he was grappling with the profoundness of the reality: you can’t take it with you. My son was happy to drag the bike home, literally, as the rear wheel master cylinder (see 4) was frozen and the rear wheel was flat. The valve stems (0) of both wheels were weather-checked. The rear valve stem had failed. The front valve stem was about to fail. The remedy was OEM Suzuki Genuine valve stems. $16 for 2 at a local dealership. Remove the wheels from the motorcycle. Use hydraulic bottle jack to break the bead of the tires. Remove/replace valve stem. Inflate with air tank. Re-mount wheels with cotter pins in castle nuts of mounting hardware.

Nuance alert: The valve stems that were previously installed showed critical failure as a crack in the rubber near the exterior of the hole in the rim. The valve stem was bulging. It was a tight fit that deformed the rubber and caused this natural place of failure over time. I discovered that the valve stems used were for automotive rims, for a slightly larger hole. Seeing this, I could only justify replacing them with original equipment that were designed for the Suzuki ‘non-(SAE)standard’ rim specifications.

The tires now inflated, I assessed the damage that time and weather had exacted on the sidewalls. Very reasonable. I took a moment to reflect on the favorable environmental conditions of Northern California. It is a haven for older vehicles. The bike had minimal rust and corrosion, although some preventable rust in the wrong place was a hidden obstacle (see 2).

1: Heart of Lead

The battery is the heart of the motorcycle. It isn’t big or even noisy, but without it, the bike is lifeless. Bikes with kick-starters can be started without a battery. The electrical starter is required for motorcycles with large engines. Regardless of the necessity, the electrical system is what makes the bike civil. The headlamp beacon signals your approach, it illuminates the road. Cryptic electrical schematics in Owner’s Manuals only serve to increase homage to the exalted electrons.

Interstate Cycle-Tron Battery

Cycle-Tron YB14L-A2

The battery shown here was installed in the motorcycle. There was no electrolyte (battery acid) in any of the cells as it had long since evaporated. I filled each cell with distilled water and charged the battery. My experience with lead-acid batteries was telling me that there was no way the battery could be serviceable, but it seemed to be holding a charge. I held out hope – this one could saved, I thought.

It turned out the installed battery was only serviceable enough to coax me along the path of rehabilitation. The charge allowed the starter to work, with the roar of combustion only a faint promise in the future. Through subsequent steps, the battery showed its fatigue and I could no longer justify keeping it when I considered the [cost savings]/[do I really want to be stuck waiting for jumper cables?] comparison.

After comparing online prices and quotes from local motorcycle stores for different brands, I decided to stay with Interstate Batteries. Since a distributor was nearby, I was easily able to match it with the help of a salesperson. Some local sources were selling cheaper brands, but I felt $10 was a small price differential between the Cycle-Tron and a Chinese brand. The new battery was sold dry with a bottle of sulphuric acid. The battery charged quickly. The bike starter spun more vigorously.

Nuance alert: The installed battery was a YB14L-A2. Part No. M2214Y. Made in U.S.A. The replacement battery was an IB14L-A2. Made in Taiwan. I had a twinge of lost patriotic pride in noticing the originating country had changed, but then there are many bigger, more powerful batteries that are proudly stamped: Made in U.S.A. Considering the origin of the premium Yuasa battery brand, I think that Interstate is sourcing for quality.

The biggest insurance policy for the trip, the battery, was $64.

2: A Fuelish Assumption

Gasoline has an expiration date. A small quantity of gas in a ventilated gas tank for 8 years is not an ideal condition. The VOCs (volatile organic compounds) of the gasoline dissipate, the gasoline loses its ability to explode, making it harder and harder for explosion in the cylinder, thus becoming harder to start. In my first attempts to start the bike, I used the original gas. In hindsight, it couldn’t have started even if the carburators weren’t in need of some tuning. I eventually drained and refilled the gas tank. I could have done this sooner, but I started by fixing mechanical problems with a carburator, considering that unless the fuel can flow into the float bowl, nothing else mattered.

Examination of a stuck needle valve revealed it was stuck due to corrosion. Some TLC and cleaning fixed the problem and saved the expense of another part. Fortunately, the three (3!) other carburators’ float mechanisms were not jammed. The difficult part of rehabilitating a carburator while the engine is on the bike is the lack of room to use tools around the float bowls. It was a painstaking process to loosen and tighten the phillips-head machine screws. Seeing the underside of the inner carbs was difficult.

Working with gas is my least favorite part of working with engines. The most advanced technologies of manipulating the fuel still do not change the fundamental nature of the hydrocarbon: it smells bad for you. On many occasions I’ve breathed its fumes and had it on my skin.

With the proper operation of the float, the float bowl fills with gas. Removing this bowl means gasoline can spill. Vinyl or rubber gloves are welcomed. By the time the float has been installed, tested and removed for the fourth time, the smell of gas is familiar. Add to that the occasional mishap and you’ve probably had it on your hands or legs. A float valve stuck open will quickly allow a combustion cylinder to fill with fuel, requiring it to be ejected from the cylinder via the spark plug hole. Doing this, I was surprised at the velocity of the fuel when it erupted as the starter was engaged. Even with a paper towel over the hole, the gusher managed to spray me.

An upstream problem like rust in the gas tank can be mistaken for a float or other carburator problem. Determining that rust is in the tank is easier with experience, but clues are available to everyone. Eventually, even without knowing it, the brute-force action of emptying the old gas to replace it yields the evidence of rust scale that can’t be ignored. Even considering that the screen in the tank will keep most offending particles out of the fuel, reducing the loose rust scale in the tank is a good thing to do.

Nuance alert: One of the spare parts provided with the bike was a used petcock (the mechanical valve you turn to select the Reserve, On or Prime fuel flow). I ended up using the part to fix a problem that the previous owner diagnosed – the reason the part existed. I finished a process that was started with the acquisition of the part. The part was a physical avatar of an item on the bike’s to-do list.

With new fuel and a cleaner fuel system, the engine finally started with the help of starting fluid and continued to run. The bike was breathing on its own. At this point, I felt we’d accomplished a milestone. It was motivation to continue. My son’s interest in the bike was waning due to a busy schedule and an unclear path to its utilization. He officially gave it to me on Father’s Day in 2012. Since then, I’ve stuck with it on the principal of reuse – I was still thinking of riding it in California, or selling it if I didn’t.

3: Seal of Integrity

The luxury of buying OEM parts for a motorcycle is a blessing and a curse. The efforts of workers spanning the globe creating parts within the brand and tolerances of the original machine makes swapping parts a most rewarding process. There is the feeling that a refurbished cycle is ‘as good as new’ when the necessary parts are changed.

The curses of buying motorcycle parts are distribution, selection and price. The curses of distribution and selection have been reduced with the rise of e-commerce. The curse of price is variable. There are common bikes as there are common cars. The main master cylinder for my ’68 VW Bug was $10 at a Kragen auto parts store a few years ago. Just the rear master cylinder piston for my motorcycle (see 4) was $29 and I consider my Suzuki year/model a common bike. Prices go higher from there.

Buying online means finding as much wrong as you can before you order parts to save shipping costs on things you need, that you just don’t know yet. Ordering a valve cover gasket was the result of the diagnosis of an oil leak. Other worn or broken parts reveal themselves under examination. Another reason to order a part is preventive maintenance (see 6) for things such as air and oil filters.

Nuance alert: I am impressed by the utility of replacement parts websites. I’ve ordered parts for appliances as well. In both instances, the ease of navigation to reach a parts diagram with annotated pieces and ease of ordering have provided me a dashboard that feels like a power user. In one instance, I was at the parts counter of a local Suzuki dealer and inquired about obtaining an oil temperature sensor. I’d checked and it was unavailable (out-of-stock and end-of-life) from online sources. The service person checked his sources and couldn’t find the part. One of his search tools was a website that looked familiar – the same interface I’d seen for online vendors.

Bonus nuance: This image is a snapshot of the parts diagram at (ostensibly ‘Xtreme Powersports’ of Kinderhook, NY). The valve cover gasket is highlighted. I arrived at this page by drilling down make, year, model and category of part. The appropriate category choice was labeled ‘ES, (GS700E)’. The part categories Frame Cover, Front Brake Hose, Front Master Cylinder, Handlebar, Headlamp and Steering Stem were subclassified as GS700EF or GS700ESF. A part category Cowling (GS700ESF) existed. I deduced that the ‘F’ was redundant, but considered how the acronym artifact was propagated. The make of my bike is GS700ES. It had a cowling (the ‘S’ as ‘Sport’ or ‘Special’ option became clearer when considering the part categories that varied, listed above). Whatever reason a name or model isn’t listed exactly, an appropriate alternative may exist. The tolerance or gray area of some alternate selections is acceptable, other times it isn’t. On the website, the closest selection for make of 1985 Suzuki motorcycles was ‘GSX 750 EF’. I selected it considering that the difference in weight of the motorcycles was most likely negligible where a shipping carrier fee is concerned. Interface extra: Note the social media icons at the top of the page. . .evidence that every opinion does not count. Are Facebook, Twitter and Google+ widgets appropriate for your web pages? If no one ‘Like’ you, that doesn’t mean you aren’t liked. We are better for pieces of advice from friends, but when the institutionalization of recommendations feels like a corporate come-on, I prefer them to be one-to-one, quiet, offline. I mention brands in this blog as signposts I saw on my journey. There are many choices to explore and cull. Your results will vary.

The need to replace the valve cover gasket also justified checking and adjusting the valve clearance. These branches and possibilities of the job were only recognized with understanding. Without guidance or the previous experience adjusting valves, I could have considered the oil leak the primary and only goal of removing the valve cover and missed the opportunity to check the valves when it was most convenient.

4: Braking Loose

Considering that coming to a stop is at least as important as going forward when riding or driving any vehicle, brakes are fundamental. Brakes for bicycles, lawn mowers and other small, light vehicles are likely to be mechanical – the pressure of pressing a pedal or pushing a lever directly applies friction to the wheel(s) via a redirection of the force through a cable or linkage. The force is stepped up by applying lever and fulcrum mechanical advantage.

Brakes on more powerful, heavy vehicles are largely hydraulic. Master cylinders work with calipers and wheel cylinders using fluid equations to increase the advantage of pulling the brake lever or pressing the brake pedal. My motorcycle has two, independent fluid-driven brake systems. The front brakes (two disks and calipers) are applied by a brake lever attached to a master cylinder on the handlebars. The rear brake (one disk and caliper) is engaged via foot pedal. The front brakes were intact and working correctly. The rear brake cylinder was frozen.

Considering brake problems, they will usually not go unnoticed. With any routine inspection, a leaky hydraulic (i.e. brake-fluid driven) system will reveal itself upon checking the fluid level over time. Normal fluid usage will result in a slightly lower level as brake pads or shoes wear and more fluid stays in the calipers or wheel cylinders. Abnormal fluid drain is indicated by a very low level that continues to get lower, even after refilling. Silent brake problems can cause anxiety without an understanding of the tolerance of braking systems in general. Regularly adding brake fluid is a stop-gap solution to a slow leak, however leaking fluid may find its way onto the brake lining, reducing its braking efficiency. The leaking fluid is wasteful, but not necessarily dangerous. Adding fluid to a system without a leak indicates the brake linings are becoming thinner and, without replacement, the metal of the pad/shoe could contact the metal disk/drum. This results in a disturbing noise and more expensive repair.

The normal operation of a braking system is analogous to breathing. Pressing the fluid in the master cylinder is breathing out into the wheel (caliper/cylinder). When the lever or pedal is released, fluid flows from the wheel back into the master cylinder (breathing in). Corrosion is an enemy of brake components as it is for any precise system. A symptom of corrosion in a brake system is that breathing becomes harder. Eventually, a breath out is not returned. This results in a condition where the brake lining is applied to the rotating disk/drum continuously. When I pressed the rear brake pedal, it stayed down, with master cylinder compressed (stuck breathing out). The back wheel would not move.

At right is a diagram of the rear master cylinder of the bike. The plunger (highlighted) fits with tight clearance in the aluminum cylinder. The corrosion of either plunger or wall inhibits the smooth reciprocation (breathing out / breathing in). The counterpart of the master cylinder is the hydraulic mechanisms at the wheels, also vulnerable to corrosion. The plunger on the bike was stuck. I determined that sacrificing the plunger was the only way to remove it and save the cylinder. A No. 7 wire gauge tap drill was used as the pilot for the 1/4 x 20 bolt to become the handle for removing the plunger. Removed in this manner, the plunger became useless. A replacement plunger was $29. I buffed the cylinder with steel wool and the new plunger and cap fit snugly and slid easily.

I reviewed and cleaned the rear caliper. Both ends of the rear brake system were working in concert. My examination of the system revealed that the rear brake pads were thinning. Since I like to use the rear brake when I ride, a new pair will be well-used. I found new pads on eBay. There was no reason not to consider the $11.14 upgrade. Tz-Bing Lin was the eBay seller ‘sokbrake’. There were other listings of comparable price. I was convinced of the purchase by the split-pad design.

5: Chain of Commands

The bike was now rolling smoothly with minimal effort. The open and not-so-open roads of Northern California were calling. If I eventually wanted to ride them, I needed to take care of DMV paperwork.

The Damage: I approached the clerk with Pink Slip in hand, nervously. The license plate tag was 2004, so I knew it wasn’t currently registered. What I didn’t know was if the previous owner had written the bike off years ago and neglected to pay the lower PNO (planned non-operation) fee in lieu of registering each year. The fee is paid to avoid penalties if the vehicle is registered after a period of inactivity. This image is the DMV printout that summarized the registration penalties and fees. The good news is that they fit on one page. Barely.

The $610 CA registration fee dazed me. The value of the bike that I declared in the transfer document was $0. At this point the utility of the bike came into focus. Considering the value of the bike in Palo Alto, it was severely limited by its age. It would be more valuable where there is a larger market for bikes in its condition. I grew up in rural New York. I began to consider shipping the bike to the east coast. My brother would register and insure it and I would borrow it during my visit. The title is transferred to NY, making it easier to sell locally (with current local registration, etc.).

I began exploring shippers to move the 500-pound motorcycle from one side of the country to the other. I found multiple sources online. I chose to compare two: (J.C. Motors) and They were different businesses with the same target. J.C. Motors has an established, regular shipping process. is a shipping buyer bazaar where you solicit shippers based on origin and destination. You provide a fixed offer or solicit bids via auction. I decided to offer the shipping job via auction. There is no obligation to accept any offers. charges a service fee if the shipping offer is accepted (via a customer web portal).

Before the uShip auction was finished, I talked to a sales representative for J.C. Motors who quoted a fixed price. Their website was easy to use and filling out the online form provided the same quoted price as the salesperson. I would save $50 on the shipping if I could drop-off the bike at a transfer station. I could save an additional $50 for picking up at a shipper-specified location near my rural destination. I considered that I could drop-off the bike, but not pick it up. For station to residence delivery, the quote was $698.

The drive chain is a series of rugged steel links that are essential to transfer power from the engine to the rear wheel. This exterior chain is exposed to the elements. I cleaned the bike’s chain with kerosene and a wire brush. The black deposits on the chain melted away to the brighter metal. I applied a coat of motor oil after the chain dried. Much of refurbishment is cleaning. Cleaning parts gives them a second lease on utilization.

6: In the Details

I road-tested the motorcycle around my neighborhood. Without proper registration or insurance, shifting and acceleration were tested by bursts of speed between residential blocks. I soon wanted to adjust the clutch linkage in an attempt to make shifting smoother.

An access plate covered the clutch adjustment screw. The plate was loose with only one mounting screw installed. I was curious why two screws were missing until I attempted to remove the remaining screw. It was stuck. The steel machine screw was fused to the aluminum chain housing.

Corrosion is the bane of every restoration project. The still-installed screw indicated that the previous owner stopped short of doing what I knew I must do to reach the clutch adjustment mechanism. I twisted the head of the screw and it snapped where it met the aluminum threads. With the screw broken, I removed the cover and discovered one other screw had been broken and one threaded hole was empty. I added a replacement screw to my growing list of parts to order.

With only one screw, the access plate would be vulnerable to loosening with engine vibration. I was determined to add a screw where one had broken. The embedded screw was small enough that a screw extractor couldn’t be used. In the past, I’ve had mixed luck extracting broken bolts anyway, even with the best conditions. Bolts that break due to corrosion are virtually welded to the tapped threads. Penetrating oil and heat, etc. will sometimes help, but you give up on these when, considering experience, your chance of success is slim. Sometimes the required fix is more drastic.

I decided to drill the lower screw and tap the hole to accommodate a larger 1/4″ bolt. The threaded hole wasn’t quite centered on the broken screw, but it was close enough. The repair was the difference between just getting by and a solid solution.

To understand something is to get a feeling of what is essential about it. Being confident in the mechanical integrity of the bike, the form is gravy. The utility of the motorcycle transcends its style. I was less concerned with polishing the metal as I began to appreciate its inner beauty. At what point do our fetishistic relationships with objects end? Visit any junkyard and look at the scrap. Imagine how the owners of scrapped cars or other objects revered them when they were new. They were only a scratch, dent or mechanical failure away from being considered junk.

Changing engine oil is preventive maintenance that I perform regularly on my car. Oil damaged by heat and use offers less protection against the friction of metal-to-metal twisting, turning and sliding. It was good to replace the motorcycle engine oil and oil filter installed 8+ years previously.

At the end of a 10-day auction, I had one bid. The door-to-door price quoted by Rocky Top Transport (Moto Express) to ship the bike from Palo Alto, CA to Ledyard, NY was $600. uShip would add a $48 listing fee. A uShip promotion for first-time shippers promised a $25 discount. The real total would be $623. This beat J.C. Motors’ station to residence delivery fee by $75. I accepted the bid.

The bike is in transit as I write this. Within a day of accepting the bid, I received a phone call from Chris Terry to discuss when he expected to pick-up the bike. It was loaded for shipment in the front of my home on July 22. Chris was driving the large pickup pulling a covered trailer. He was courteous. His operation looked efficient, maximizing the number of motorcycles he could carry safely. He was a professional driver and had crossed the country numerous times.

The steps described above are only half my journey. There were some unexpected mechanical failures and design solutions that remained. I will conclude this blog next week with steps 7 – 13. Thanks for reading. And collaborating.

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What’s YOUR Brand?

Happy New Year. Or should I begin with a disclaimer: this is not a brand-neutral message.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we are created and sustained by many processes that we have no control over. We sleep and wake in the midst of the colors, sounds and smells of the efforts of some labor and materials brought to us by the wonders of commerce. Take a good look at a piece of food you’ve just unwrapped, and you’re bound to consider the process of crispy wafers in a chocolate shell a mystical art. No less so the music player or oil for your car.

When we acquire things to suit our needs, brand has more or less importance depending on your idea of what the product is or does. All products have a brand, if only a “Made in” sticker or the product of labor. Brand is the only reason the product exists. What’s interesting is not that brands are ubiquitous, but rather that we make so many decisions based on them. We sift through a multitude of value judgements, consciously or unconsciously, to arrive at the decision to engage (purchase) a product.

Man vs. Machine

Can a product be stereotyped? Do we feel comfortable with a brand? Do brands have personality? Are we talking about brands or people?

Beyond our Facebook® LinkedIn® Lonsky™ brands, our personal brands are diffuse and malleable, much of them dependent on proximity. Our personal brands become less specific as we are defined by more people. We all have many different brands. Brands or positions become dominant in response to the observer. A parallel to the quantum law that observing a phenomenon changes it.

The key to maximizing effective communication of any brand is in the observer. Where are we being observed? This is the stuff of actuaries, demographers, marketers, statisticians, gossip — you are being studied in more ways than you know.

We can find some comfort in the fact that due to the extent of the number of transactions of any large organization (i.e. Google, Wal-mart, U.S. Government), there is a security inherent in relative anonymity in the broth. There are certain hooks in your behavior that are exploited to target you in general ways. If you remain inconsistent and wandering (i.e. curious) you are less easily classified. Think like a marketeer to protect your brand.

Billboard vs. Handshake brands

As we discover our personal brands, we discover ourselves. I’d like to offer a not-so-cynical view that the most important brand of exchange is YOU. Each person is a diverse collection of experience and understanding. What makes our brands relevant is that we are free to explore, choose and perform. And as we make mistakes, there’s no reason that Crate & Barrel is any better than Bed, Bath and Beyond. We only achieve course corrections with awareness of the course. To err. . .means debugging.

You choose your brand. With so many transactions required to sustain a busy life juggling modern work with modern leisure, everyone becomes a brand. To misquote Bob Dylan, “Everyone must get brand.” What we reflect of our personal brand may change in every encounter, but we still become imprinted as brands. “He wears sweaters and penny loafers.” “She pitches in and helps out.”

There are people who put face and likeness on billboards to promote a professional brand. A personal brand? Is it possible to maintain one realm independently of the other? We’re all billboards, active and relevant. But you can’t shake a hand from a billboard. Or build a relationship. Meaningful brands reinforce each other. Personal brands are scalable.

Take the hot air out of any balloon and it falls to earth. Or it lands with grace and panache. Are you in a balloon? Are you eating mustard from a jar? Are you growing your own food?

There is an aspect of maintenance to any structure, any facade you create. There is a tremendous amount of information management inherent in a social media, connected, wired lifestyle. We become slaves of the continual effort to choose and manage relationships with our brands (people, products and companies that sustain our lives). That’s life. C’est la vie. If I don’t post Happy Birthday on your FB page, please don’t take offense.

As individual brands become harder to distinguish and maintain, we all become truer to our natures, for better or worse. The only core brand, your TRUE brand, is that which you cannot shed or change. If it is with you every day and in every interaction, it’s called character. I’ve seen character described as the whole of this list: convictions, values, wisdom, morality, tastes, behavior. What I like about the list is that it’s an honest benchmark. I also like that I can overachieve in some aspects with the illusion it will compensate for deficits in others.

Rolling With It

We are each singular beings with the desire to truly, definitively control and merge our Billboard and Handshake brands. But not so fast. . . Even if you had a choice, the stable approach is to “flow” with it, aware and appropriately connected. Stay above the fray and pick a brand, any brand. The dealer will deal you a new hand and sell you a new brand. Is your core brand in question? Walk away from the table and discover it.

In design, my goal is to distill a multitude of thoughts, feelings and preferences into a concrete form. This blog is for those friends and acquaintances who have read this far. If you or someone you know could benefit from my services, I’d like to hear from you. References are appreciated. My portfolio is

The future of sharing is in creating collaborative, mutually-beneficial relationships with everyone whom we exchange goods or services. I’ve begun development on a professional services task exchange and management platform. If you’re a source or client of freelance service providers, you may find interesting. Sign-up as a collab member. I’d like your comments.

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The Inception and Cultivation of Virtual Teamwork

The Web, fortunately, waits 24/7/365 to launch new ideas. It’s as easy as click-and-drag. It was my goal to launch a blog in January 2011 and I’ve procrastinated until the last possible moment. I write my first commentary, on the nature of the virtual workplace and the challenges of remote employees, for my own benefit. If I can convince myself as well as my readers of the value of working smarter among friends and talented collaborators, the network will reach a critical mass to benefit all its members. I’ve been a web developer/entrepreneur for over a decade gaining small business (aka garage) consultant experience. What can a network of consultants achieve that is not possible for any individual? To quote a well-worn phrase ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.’

Losing a Grip on Reality Can Be a Good Thing
Or does reality have a grip on you?

It’s the staple of all downsizing/restructuring stories. The veteran employee is offered “early retirement” to open a position for a younger, greener candidate. The skills that the “older” employee possesses are considered expendable, or at least replaceable. Depending on the age and inclination of the displaced worker, the downsized may find the change a welcome turn of events. There may be some retired activity like golf or hobbies that rush in to fill the void of employment. To others, sudden inactivity leads to a sense of disorientation, an unclear purpose is precipitated by the lack of definite goals and deliverables.

When I left Silicon Graphics in 1997, I wasn’t being pushed out or replaced. To the contrary, I was part of a bloated marketing creative team which had yet to be dealt the blow of market forces. The pre-dot-bomb era was heady and confident, with the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, visiting Silicon Valley, more specifically, Ed McCracken and the wunderkind of SGI.

Changing technology has given many of us the ability to function as remote employees. Where the computer is the means of production (as programmer, designer, support, marketing. . .), there is less and less reason to cling to the traditional model of the “office.” There is no reason that office workers, with the appropriate discipline and commitment to the job, cannot be as successful, if not more successful, working from a home office conducive to concentrating on the tasks at hand. With this opportunity looming larger to me, in 1997, just after I’d just won a year’s worth of 56K Frame Relay from UUNet, I decided that the ‘net was where and how I wanted to do business. Having some dad duties came with the home office territory.

Make Money @ Home – Stuffing e-Mail?

Home and office is not an easy integration. Family patterns are disruptive to work’s traditional exclusivity on working hours and can make scheduling more difficult. Domestic chores conflict with work time – completing projects, answering e-mail, talking on the phone. . .

As a consultant, it’s the slow times, not the busy ones, that are the hardest. It’s those times when you ask yourself “what’s next?” What do I DO next? After 14 years of selling my abilities, I can look back with satisfaction and I don’t measure my success by the size of my paychecks. For some jobs there was no paycheck. When you sell your talents to a client, part of your remuneration is the relationship and skills you establish. Think long-term and win-win.

Home and family is a large investment. When I wasn’t working on business development or client projects (which were hit-and-miss), I had the opportunity to build floors and walls, with the occasional help of my sons. I managed a baseball team. They learned how to hammer nails and use a circular saw. We won a few. You can’t outsource these challenging and rewarding moments – supervision and guidance is necessary.

The Nodes We Travel

The advantage of being 40-something is that we’ve been there, done that. The next step is to do something collaborative with it. I heard David Coleman of Collaborative Strategies label our generation (roughly Gen-X) as “Digital Workers,” which aptly describes our proficiency with using and maintaining fairly complex networks using technology. We are conscious/competent users. Our next successes depend on participating in an even larger network of interconnected nodes. And we’re starting to realize it: Coleman also mentioned that the 40+ age group is the fastest growing population on Facebook.

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of a “natural monopoly.” A business in which it costs less to add additional users of a service/product than it cost for the user preceding him or her. Effective collaboration is always win-win. The next node is self-interested in joining. The processes support the growth of every node. The “last mile” is a term in telecom/networking that refers to the complexities of end-user installation. It is the Central Office to home link where idiosyncrases arise. The “last mile” of your network is the space between your ears.

Is Facebook a collaborative platform? I’m not inclined to think so, yet its content serves as watercooler talk, an important forum to share ideas that help personalize business relationships. LinkedIn is an important contribution to the idea of shared dossiers. But are any of these sites putting ‘skin in the game’ where your success is concerned?

I’m a Pro – Pro Bono

You could ask yourself why I feel I have the expertise to critique the suite of current collaborative solutions. Have I built anything that has utility for virtual teams? Well, no, I’ve built something that has utility for virtual and physical teams – Little League of Palo Alto’s website and intranet, Local Little League organizations are a myriad of processes that are accomplished by self-interested volunteers with enormous efforts and rewarding success.

I became involved with the Palo Alto Little League as a Board member and built the website because my sons were participating in the program. The Board agreed to bankroll website development efforts. I continue to appreciate the efforts of the organization’s volunteers. Coaches spend hours weekly teaching the game to young baseball players. Board members interact with community members and perform administrative duties. A small amount of coordination via centralized web processes yielded large savings of volunteer hours completing mundane, critical tasks. At the time we are most under the pressure of our lifestyles and other activities, we need these efficiencies.

We apply efficiencies to all aspects of our lives. Every website you visit to buy, pay, communicate, share, is an environment that was created and now supplies a “cloud” service. By their nature, every website is a service.

My small-business clients have custom needs, but within a more generic template of functionality. Design and content are important, but also are budget constraints. The client is more-easily satisfied when you take a collaborative approach to the design that offers trade-offs and tiered implementation. My aim is to be more efficient in the management of each successive client.

Vendors provide expertise and produce client deliverables. Clients, on the other hand, offer the vendor an opportunity to collaborate and learn more about business processes and trends. Sometimes a client can feel like a mentor, especially to a consultant whose paycheck depends on supporting the client’s business model. Clients assist vendors by suggesting implementation strategies and indicating preferences that help build profiles that can be applied in other instances, with other clients.

I like it when a client offers me more than I ask for. Compensation negotiations, approached collaboratively, respect the value that the vendor’s contributions add to the client’s business.

Be a Rock Star

A collaborator is on a mission. The mission statement is ‘Rock and Roll.’ We all benefit from music that we resonate to. Rock groups and choirs are examples of collaboration at its most visceral. The themes are the same for groups of entrepreneurs riff-ing on ideas that will save the world or make ‘a million’ or both. Successful organizations have self-interested collaboration at their heart.

I’ve been honing my chops for over a decade as a consultant. I’ve met many other people who feel their experience is under-utilized and want the excitement of change and challenge.

Where’s the gig? Making a long-term investment is the thing. The band stays together to make great music. Collaborators have passion and vision and things are constantly evolving. Early efforts are important, no matter what size. The benefit is multiplied over time. I’ve tried to give my clients more than they expect – a little more than I was capable of, a little more than they paid for.

Back to the Future

The goal of is to build a system that supports individual contributors offering and soliciting skills and jobs. As a node in the network, you will have access to tools that allow you to manage collaborative relationships.

Personal examples of recent collaboration illustrate my idea. Here’s a shout-out to Mark Olson of Ex3 Solutions, a friend and fellow consultant. Mark is an electronic marketing automation guru. I helped implement his website and some other tools he uses on a server he’s prototyping. Mark is also an SQL master. Recently, I’d done some work for Mark, but instead of exchanging payment, Mark is writing SQL to help me optimize a product I’m developing. This morning, I took a phone call order for the Marker Parker, a product my friend Robert developed. I built his website (with online ordering) and help him with order administration. While this is a sideline/pet project for Robert, he is receiving orders and can learn from his growing list of customers. I’m helping another Rob brainstorm the marketing message for his product targeted at the commercial fishing industry.

The collaborative tools will embrace the ad hoc nature of personal/professional relationships. As the network grows, expect more features and functions, different ways of communicating, sharing and developing. Join the team for your own reasons. Think collaboratively, be self-interested. I welcome feedback and contributors. I invite you to join.

In future posts, I’ll explore other themes and ideas, including collaboration technologies. My work environment is defined by the technology I’ve incorporated. The ability to work remotely is facilitated by the Internet and mobile technology that provides seamless communication and distribution of ideas and data. The future is full of possibilities. It’s exciting to be a part of it.

I look forward to your success.


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