The motorcycle is now running.

If I may indulge in a bit of whimsy...

The sky was gloomy outside. Inside the workroom, the doctor was at his work-bench.

"Igor, the 10-mm socket." The doctor gestured at the tool-drawer.

"Yes, Dr. Frankenstein." The hunch-backed assistant shuffled over to the drawer. He spent a minute searching for the item; then shuffled back with the requested tool. 

"Hold this wire." Igor carefully held the wire in place. The doctor placed the bolt into position, and began tightening it with the socket.

"Good, Igor. Now hold this other wire." They repeated the task with the second wire.

"Now fetch the ether spray." Igor obediently did, as the doctor stepped back with a strange gleam in his eye. A moment later, the doctor was setting the key and adjusting a choke setting.

Igor handed the doctor the requested spray-can. The doctor chuckled ominously as he sprayed the ether into the air-intake box.

Then the doctor switched the key, and touched the red button.

The machine cranked and sputtered.

The doctor grabbed the throttle, moved it to max, and touched the red button again.

The machine cranked, sputtered, and then roared to life with raucous noise.  

"It lives, Igor."

Igor smiled.

The doctor cautiously adjusted the throttle and choke a few times. The raucous noise settled into a smooth rumble. The doctor's eyes gleamed with pleasure; his voice rose. "It lives, Igor. It lives!" 

Outside, the wind blew in a strangely ominous way. The neighbors wondered at the strange portents from the doctor's shop. 

It felt kind of like that.

Well, without a hunch-backed assistant. (And I'm not a doctor...and the neighbors don't think I have a touch of madness about me.)

But I spent many hours with the motorcycle, awakening it out of a winter of slumber.


Motorcycle Repairs, part 2

Last weekend, I spent most of a Saturday replacing a chain on a motorcycle.

After trying to re-start the motorcycle, I discovered that the battery was no longer any good. It's been in use for several seasons, and I typically put the battery inside and on a trickle-charger during the winter.

Even though the voltage measure indicated full-charge, the headlight went dead while trying to crank the engine. And the battery couldn't turn the engine over fast enough to bring the engine to life.

Thus, I had to purchase a replacement battery.

I did delay the purchase somewhat. The weather went from warm-weekend to cold-and-snow-flurries during the week. And I gave the old battery another session on the charger...then tried to start the engine again.

That, and the variations in weekly schedule, kept me from being able to do anything until this weekend.

The new battery has been purchased, prepared, and charged. But it hasn't been tried yet. I'll see what the result is tonight.


Weekend Reading: Promise Kept

The story of Abraham, as told in Genesis, went through several layers of interactions with the Creator.

First, a special promise, Abraham's faith in response to the promise, a mistake in applying that faith to his situation, a special covenant (with a new name and a promise of a son with his wife Sarah), and a ring-side seat on God's judgement.

The narrative then moves on to the birth of Isaac, the promised son.

Earth Shaking News

An old friend of mine is involved in missionary work. That work has him traveling a good deal. (It's more short-term work than long-term work.)

Over the weekend, I saw (on his FaceBook feed) a note that he'd left Nepal earlier than planned. Then there was a note that he is now happy that he was safe. And that it feels odd that he is looking at pictures of old buildings from Kathmandu...which are now destroyed. Less than a week after he took them.

That's one way to learn about a big earthquake in Nepal...

I'm saddened by the news that so many people have died. And that so many remote villages in the mountains were likely flattened by this quake.


Did I miss Earth Day?

I think yesterday was Earth Day.

I must have missed it. What on Earth was I thinking?

In the meantime, I am amused (somewhat) by this post. A list of past Earth Day predictions that have turned out wrong.


Intellectual Property

Saw a post here about copyright, intellectual property, and the automotive business.

Which kind of piques my interest.

I work in a company that sells widgets for installation in automobiles. I've worked on units that were all proprietary-code on a custom microcontroller.

I've also worked on units which use a mix of Open Source code, Open Source toolkits for proprietary code, licensed code, and all-proprietary code. (Those tended to be big, on-dashboard infotainment units. It's not really a radio, it's the little brother to a tablet PC. With all sorts of custom hardware connections for talking to FM/AM/XM/DAB radio receivers, CD players, USB connections for MP3, Bluetooth-HFP, Bluetooth-A2DP, etc.)

I've got a minor nit to pick with the article from AutoBlog.

Though the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was signed in 1998, cars typically at least one programmable micro-controllers by that time.

Almost all cars since model-year 1996 support ODB-II technology. That requires, at minimum, and engine controller which includes some control software.

Predecessors to ODB-II have been in the field since the early 1990s. Many of these also used programmed micro-controllers.

Thus, the assumption that things have changed since 1998 doesn't really make sense to me.

The complexity of code, and range of features controlled by the code, have both risen drastically since 1998. However, the fact that cars contain some copyrighted software hasn't changed since then.

Nor has the fact that niche markets exist for custom coders who want to tweak that software. Even if the niche is now much larger than it used to be.

I do know that such aftermarket modification might make the project I work on less profitable. Or it might be more profitable, depending on how the aftermarket modifications affect demand for this project.

It's an odd legal question. Do the intellectual property rights of the manufacturer mean that it is illegal for tinkerers to poke at the software, and try to improve it?

What is the difference between modifying a car's hardware and modifying its software?


Motorcycle Repair

Over the weekend, I did some work on my motorcycle.

She is in good shape, though the chain and sprockets were obviously old and worn.

Originally, I had thought that I needed to pay someone else to do the task. After a short discussion with my father, I decided to let him help me with the task.

Though my motorcycle is much older than the one in this video, the steps involved in the task were much the same.

At the end of the day, I was able to mount the new sprockets, put the rear tire back in place, install the new chain, re-attach the suspension and rear brakes, and align the rear wheel.

All told, the day went well.

With one small exception: after I pulled the battery out of storage, it couldn't generate enough current to start the engine.

Either I need a new battery, or I need a better trickle-charging system for use during the winter months.

Possibly, I need both.

Once I figure that out, I think I'll be able to ride. (Unless I can convince someone to help me push-start the machine...)

Weekend Reading: hospitality

This weekend's section is closely entwined with the section I mentioned last week.

Abraham, bearing a new name and receiving a repeat of previous promises, is talking with some visitors. In this conversation, the narrative suddenly reveals that one of the visitors is some embodiment of the Creator of All.*

Abraham was talking about the Promise, and his expected son Isaac.

Now, the narrative shifts, and Abraham's guest asks himself and his friends if he should discuss with Abraham what is about to be done nearby.


Hasn't this happened before?

So, a Presidential candidate visits a restaurant, and doesn't leave any tip for the staff.

Talk about friend of the common people.

(Admittedly, the person in question didn't pay. And the restaurant in question isn't the kind of establishment that expects tips for personal service at tables.)

For some reason, I have this memory of a mid-2008 campaign stop in which the same thing happened. But all I can find a trace of is a news story attempting to report that no, an actual tip was left, but someone on-staff may have absconded with a $100 bill rather than split it with fellow workers.


Song of the day

In honor of the day that tax returns are due in the United States:

Something Gnu

I discovered, a few days ago, the existence of the GnuCash software toolkit.

For many years, I've tracked finances on a spreadsheet. It took me some time, but I developed processes and algorithms which help me track my finances using the spreadsheet.

This toolkit, and the instruction set, might make that task much easier.

The documentation attempts to explain the processes of accounting, while it explain how to use GnuCash. While reading this, I realized how similar in structure this tool is to my current set of spreadsheets.

It feels like I tried to invent my own accounting system, and slowly converged on the practices used by actual accountants.

This is interesting.


Pistol Range

Visited the pistol range last night.

It's been more than a few months since I last visited a range. I took two Ruger pistols, one in 0.22 and one in 9mm.

The 0.22 pistol was easy to place on target. At 21 feet, I placed 95% of my shots in a two-inch circle. This isn't competitive-shooting accuracy, but it is pleasant to know that I can hit what I aim at.

The 9mm pistol was harder to shoot accurately. If I hurried, I got lots of scatter. If I didn't hurry, I still got scatter--and I realized that I was anticipating the shot too much. It was too easy to flinch against the expected recoil.

When I didn't flinch, the shots were scary-accurate. The same two-inch circle at 21 feet.

When I did flinch, the scatter was wide. Too wide for comfort.

I think I know what I'll work on when I'm next at the range. And while dry-firing, and while using my LaserLyte in the basement.


Fails in internet advertising

For all the scary power of computers to track data, I find that focused advertising is a little...off.

I've read a few articles on this subject. (Most memorable are the ones written by Megan Mcardle...she has a gift for bringing together data, story, and presentation. Though those articles are more about the trials and travails of journalists trying to support their business through advertising, than about the economics of advertising in the digital world.)

In theory, computer networks and user-tracking should allow powerful predictive algorithms to show me ads for things I'm interested in. Or may need soon.

However, I find it much more likely that I'll see targeted ads for things that I've recently bought already.

This month, it's the rear sprocket for my motorcycle. I spent an evening digging up prices and options at two different online retailers, and made a purchase. During that same evening, I purchased a new chain and a new front-sprocket.

Every evening since then, I've seen ads for the rear sprocket that I already purchased. Except on Amazon, which is recommending other things I've bought within the past six months...or "books you may like", which are already on my bookshelf.

I wonder what is driving this behavior. The algorithm knows enough about me to know what I have gone shopping for. But it doesn't know enough about me to know what else I might be purchasing soon.

Or maybe the algorithm isn't capable of--or isn't even attempting to--predict my future shopping. So it tries to advertise to me things that I've shopped for in the recent past.


Weekend Reading: Special Ceremony

The story of Abram has already had several interactions between Abram and his Creator.

Now comes another instance where the story is altered by a direct communication with God.

Abram has already gotten instructions to move to Caanan, and already been given a list of tribal lands that will belong to his descendants. God repeats this promise, but merely names the land as Caanan this time.

Abram is given a new name: Abraham. His wife Sarai is also given a new name: Sarah. The promise of descendants is repeated, with a special mention of Sarah as the mother of those descendants. The name of Isaac is mentioned for the promised son, and a date is given.

A special sign of this covenant is given, the covenant of circumcision. All the men in Abraham's household are instructed to go through this action. The act is a sign, in the flesh of men from the culture, that they are different. Yet it is a sign that is not obvious to most outside observers.

This formal statement of a promise from God and a covenant of circumcision is separated from a special visit, as told in the next section of the story*.

In the next section, the story-telling style looks more like the story of Abraham's interactions with his neighbors. He's sitting in his tent, and sees travelers. Then he greets those travelers with courtesy expected among nomadic peoples in arid climates.

One of the men asks about Sarah, and then re-iterates the promise given by God to Abraham in the previous story. "By this time next year, she will have a son."

Sarah, overhearing the conversation, laughs. The men (one of whom is suddenly named as the Creator, or a special incarnation of His presence), asks about the laughter, and repeats the promise about the birth a son within a year.

Here we have two separate stories that promise the birth of Isaac within a specified period of time. One is related to the covenant of circumcision, the other is related to the Creator somehow manifesting in a form that allows face-to-face conversation with Abraham.

The covenant of circumcision seems an odd one. It is a sign, but a sign that is not often made visible to outsiders. It is a sign that is ever-present, yet not often shown. It is more to remind the bearer of the sign, than to remind others. It is also a change that is impossible to reverse.

This seems part of the personal nature of the interaction of Abraham and his people with God. It is more important that the bearers of this sign know that they wear it, than that others know. And it reminds them that God sees things that can be hidden from other men.

*This second story addresses the Creator by a different name. Yet the promises given are similar, even though the interaction is vastly different.

Was this an artifact of different branches of the Abrahamic family remembering the events in different ways, and underlining different details of the events?

Were these two separate encounters with the Creator, or one?


Springtime weather

Thursday night, and into Friday morning, the Metro Detroit area had strong winds and heavy rains.

However, I'm happy that we didn't see anything worse. People in parts of Illinois saw funnel clouds and towns torn apart.

It's sad to hear of injury and damage; but it is also good that we have the ability to predict such weather and distribute warnings to all in the area.

Radar itself is not even a century old; the beginning of the use of radar to detect developing tornadoes is still within living memory.


Trouble with Police

[UPDATE Sunday 2015-04-12. I've noticed that the story, as given below, may not be complete. I'm surprised that the core narrative as first reported has so many holes...but I'm still not sure whether the officer was justified in this instance. It's possible that Walter Scott had a currently-unknown reason to run from the traffic stop, and it's known that the shooting happened some distance away from the traffic-stop.]

In reading this story, I'm reminded of chats I've had with Police officers and former Police officers.

One of those is a distant relative, Officer J*. When Officer J and I had a chance to chat about the incident in Ferguson, MO, he was able to quote all the violence that deceased suspect Michael Brown had visited on Officer Wilson before Wilson shot him. I was able to point out that the bullet-wounds on Brown's body did not indicate a posture of surrender. Nor did the wounds indicate that he was shot in the back.

I remarked, at the time, that even a pasty-skinned white boy would not have survived such behavior.

Now I see the story of Walter Scott.

Scott may have had reason to be afraid of identifying himself to the Police. There isn't much news of a history of violence. But Scott had a record of arrests and warrants; most were related to failure to pay child support.

Scott's vehicle had a broken tail-light. A Policeman notices and pulls him over. Scott leaves the vehicle at a run, and the Policeman shoots him. Further, the Policeman may have tried to manufacture evidence about Scott taking a Taser away from him before running.

This is the kind of case that makes other Policemen mad. An officer shooting a suspect who does not present an immediate danger to the officer or to the public. An officer attempting to lie about the danger presented by the deceased suspect.

Fittingly, that officer is already imprisoned and bound over for trial on a murder charge.

I think this is good. Not because of the skin colors of the officer and victim, but because this is the case of a policeman being more violent than was necessary. And being punished for it.

And it is a case where an obvious Police misdeed is being punished by other Policemen.

[UPDATE: interesting. someone thinks that Al Sharpton isn't helpful in this situation.]

*An aside: Officer J is a mixed-race individual. He's had perps call him all sorts of nasty racial names. He's co-operated with good officers, with mediocre officers, and interacted with citizens of all stripes.

When he and I discussed the Ferguson situation, skin color did not come up. Which I'm kind of happy to say.

Interestingly, Office J and another former-Policeman present at that conversation said that it was somewhat common for one of them to see a jay-walker, yell "get on the sidewalk", and realize a moment later that the jaywalker was wanted for something else.
[UPDATE: forgot to finish this thought. This experience of seeing a jaywalker, and then realizing that the jaywalker is wanted, was exactly what Officer Wilson went through in Ferguson.]


Early in the morning

On the morning of the first day of the week, after Passover those many years ago...

The followers of the executed rabbi went to the tomb where he'd been hastily buried. And found the surprise ending to top all surprise ending.

Another song comes to mind.


Were you there?


Yesterday, I attended religious services. While there, I heard a rendition of this song, "Were you there?"

I still think that Johnny Cash did that song better than anyone else. But Cash had a habit of taking other people's songs, and singing as if the song were his own.

I am reminded of what the story looked like to the soldiers present that day.

They were punishing a rabbi, reputedly a miracle-worker.

The rabbi from Nazareth had made enemies among the Sanhedrin, the religious council connected to the Jewish Temple. The High Priest and leaders of the Sanhedrin had captured the rabbi, and reported Him to the local Roman Governor for trial as an enemy to the Pax Romana.

A peace--not always an easy peace--existed between Imperial Rome and the Jews.

Both sides remembered Judas Maccabeus, a religious and military leader who had driven out the Seleucid empire, nearly two centuries previous. After the imposition of Roman rule, Imperial taxes or a census connected to taxes would lead to bloody riots in Judea.

The soldiers had heard stories: this troublesome rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, had a large following. The Sanhedrin felt threatened. There was no evidence that Jesus was raising an army to drive out the Romans...but large crowds followed Jesus. And there was lots of talk about a Kingdom of Heaven.

The Sanhedrin had convicted Jesus of blasphemy, and the Governor Pontius Pilate had initially opposed the execution. He offered the mob friendly to the Sanhedrin a choice between executing Jesus and executing an infamous thief and murderer. They clamored for the death of Jesus.

So the soldiers had their day of whipping, beating, and finally executing this rabbi.

After stripping Jesus, nailing him to the cross, and raising the cross into position, the soldiers divided his clothes among themselves. Above Jesus' head hung a sign, reading "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." Two other men were executed alongside Jesus.

Late in the day, the sun darkened and an earthquake shook the region. The soldiers remained on-post. Near sun-down, they set about to break the legs of the crucified men. Though they would eventually die if left on the cross for days, broken legs would speed up their death.  Jesus appeared already dead, and one soldier plunged a spear into Jesus' side to verify the death.

The officer in charge at the scene might have said "Surely this man was a just man!", or "surely this man was a Son of God."

It seemed an ignominious end to a lifetime of teaching and ministry.

Yet it was only the beginning of a movement that had large impact on the world, long after the end of the Imperial power that sentenced Jesus to death.


What to do with a classic

It seems a day or two late...

Since I have a classic motorcycle (model year 1982), and I have a hard time convincing any repair shop to look at it, should I do the repair myself?

It's an odd question. I have the ability, though I may not like spending the time on that particular task.

On the other hand, it's also easy for me to make a mistake that will be hard to fix. (Such as mis-aligning the back tire.)

I've done many oil changes, some spark-plug-wire changes, pulled the fuel tank off, replaced the battery, removed/cleaned/re-installed the carburetor. But I have't pull tires or wheels off myself. And I haven't disassembled any part of the transmission or chain-drive before.

It's an odd feeling. I know I that I can do it. I'm just not sure I'll be fully happy with the results. And I know that a professional will likely do the task quicker and better than I can do it.

This is a strange feeling. I don't know what I'll do.