please go to a life mechanical for a continuation of this blog's entries

as of 2010.03.01, i've moved over to wordpress with this blog, so please follow me over there. it made me a little nervous having all my activity consolidated and tracked and focus-advertised here in the Google-sphere. i had a slightly nagging concern, then a friend voiced the same concern, and then i jumped ship. so call me paranoid. just 'cuz you're not paranoid doesn't mean they're not watching, right?

as a side bonus, i got the name i wanted in the first place over there!


the healthcare system is FINE.

i need to get a wisdom tooth pulled. the United States Navy did me the service of removing two of my four wisdom teeth way back when i was 18 or 19, as a matter of standard procedure for any sailor bound for the submarine service. i guess they didn't want to have to deal with emergency dental surgery while underway on nuclear power. of course, their extraction of two means that two remain. last February - almost exactly a year ago - i awoke the morning after the 2009 Atlanta Supercross with the right side of my mouth in excruciating pain. at first i thought it might be my inaugural cavity, accelerated by the amount of cotton candy i had consumed the night before, in an attempt to mitigate Lucas' intake of an astounding amount of sugar.

i went to visit my dentist soon after, where he examined me and took x-rays, et cetera, before declaring my discomfort was a result of me grinding my teeth in my sleep. i've spent the last twelve months occasionally wearing a night guard, brushing exclusively with Sensodyne, and avoiding chewing hard things. in that time, i can feel my upper right wisdom tooth beginning to break thru, and my teeth touching in different places than they ever have before. this week, i again called my dentist for another consultation, and within a few seconds on the phone he concurred that it must actually be a wisdom tooth. apparently he actually looked at the x-rays this time.

anyway, he had to refer me because he doesn't do dental surgery. it must not be profitable, or something. i called the dental surgeon he recommended, and they were more than happy to schedule the extraction of my wisdom tooth this week. during the hashing out of the details, i was trying to ask "how long will that take?" so i said to the nice lady, "so what does that look like as far as..." and she quickly answered, "yes - cost breakdown will be $70 for the consultation and $360-475 for the extraction," to which i replied, "oh - i'm not worried about that, i have Blue Cross....," and she then answered,

"we don't accept that plan, so you will have to pay for this in full on the day of the procedure."

i was silent for a few seconds, before quipping, "well, what the hell do i have insurance for, then?!?"
in what i could tell was a well-practiced script, she said, "alot of our patients ask the very same question, so i understand your concern." note that she didn't answer the question. she did say she would "file for me." i guess it's possible that i'll get a rebate, then?

something is definitely broken, if i'm paying almost $50 a month for dental insurance, which, from what i've been told, most dental providers have declined to honor. the reason i was given is because the insurance company's reimbursement of "reasonable and customary" fees are a fraction of what the doctors actually charge. and what, it seems, the general public is willing to pay out-of-pocket.

so, just what is fucked up? is it that insurance companies can dictate what medical procedures should cost? is it that doctors will charge the very limit of what the market will bear? or that they can, because like it or not, we need medical care? is it that insurance premiums are too high for the services (or lack thereof) provided? that's probably what pisses me off the most. i've been paying my insurance company $600 a year for the past 5 years (just for the dental coverage, mind) - a total of $3000 for those math-handicapped - and now i need $500 worth of credit from those assholes, that i apparently can't use.

even if the doctor did "accept the plan," i would still need to pay a deductible, and then 50% of the costs. so in essence, Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC has turned my $3000 of premiums into $6000 for them (or $1500 for me, depending on how you look at it - either way i'm getting bent over). i give you $50, but when it comes time to pay it back, you only have to give me $25, and only after i give you another $75. again, how is that not broken?

i have some amount of sympathy for the doctors. i know their malpractice premiums are ridiculous, because the law allows no limits on monetary damages. it is important to note here, however, that the companies getting money from us for health insurance are also getting money from the doctors just in case they screw up, in essence getting paid twice for every medical procedure ever performed in this country. of course, the one time a huge judgement is levied against the doctor or dentist or hospital and the insurance company has to shell out a hundred million dollars, they're going to be writing a check using money they made off their investment of my premiums. you just know they'll raise premiums again in response to the current legal climate, though, and make that back fairly quickly.

i also understand that at some level, a person can never be fully compensated for a loss of health or life from a doctor's negligence, however rarely that might happen. tort reform will aways be a sticky quagmire to wade through, as no lawmaker or judge wants to be the one to set a precedent regarding limited compensation for the one isolated incident where the doctor shows up drunk and removes the wrong half of the patient's brain. doctors are, after all, human just like me. they simply make (a minimum of) ten times what i do. i'm cognizant of the fact that eight (or more) years of medical school ain't cheap.

i can walk these circles in my head for days, and still not be real clear about anything except that at some level i always end up back at the unpleasant reality that i'm the end user, and i'm getting screwed. and i hate that feeling. moreso, i hate that i'm absolutely powerless over it. my options are seriously limited. i ruptured my spleen one time, and it nearly cost me $30,000. that was for 3 days in the hospital and an angioscopic procedure. luckily, i was uninsured and below the poverty level at the time, so the hospital took a charitable write-off. so yeah, it was free.

taking that into consideration, canceling all my health insurance and taking my chances in the E.R. when i seriously jack myself up is starting to look pretty good. even if the current "healthcare reform" bill somehow does get pushed through our horribly ineffective Legislative Branch and signed into law, the proposed legal penalty for not carrying health insurance ($750, i believe) is roughly 1/6th of what i'm paying in health insurance premiums right now.

and as i understand it, i would be able to purchase insurance any time i needed it, regardless of whether my spleen is already ruptured or not.

thanks a bunch, Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC - you will no longer be getting any money from me for that "dental plan."



how come 30 motorcycles (or race cars, for that matter) can leave the starting line at one time, but six dumbasses can't manage to pilot their Buicks thru an intersection before the light turns red again? i'm beginning to think fully automated vehicles may be an idea whose time has come. of course, America would never go for it, for a number of reasons. the very fresh, over-reported, incredibly hyped Toyota recall debacle has the government convinced that America's drivers aren't actually the problem. oh no...it's the cars, of course. they're driving themselves!

i personally think they'd do a better job. one of the most ridiculous scenes to come from the stupid Toyota congressional hearings (yeah - that does mean our taxes're paying for that, as well) was the woman whose Lexus purportedly accelerated out of control somewhere in Tennessee. in overly-theatrical tears, she tells the story of how no matter what she did, the car simply would not slow down. she had the wherewithal to call her husband on the cell phone while piloting her rogue vehicle through traffic at 100mph, but she couldn't hit the fucking brakes?!?! here's the thing - the weakest brakes on a modern vehicle are more powerful than the strongest engine. put your foot on the brakes, the car stops. period. my truck is probably pumping out 500 or 600 ft-lb of turbo-diesel torque, and if i simultaneously stomp on the brake and the go-pedal, the truck will just sit there, smoking, making funny noises, until the transmission blows up. swear. if that got old after a little while, i would probably just turn the key off. i understand the panic makes people do unreasonable things, but if you've got the presence of mind to make a phone call, there are several much more effective options at your disposal for a "runaway" vehicle.

in the latest issue of one of my motorcycle magazine subscriptions, a man wrote a letter to the editor. he began, "speaking as a police officer with 17 years experience, i am disgusted by current driving behavior...the people who use the far left lane as their personal domain are the source of 90 percent of the problems on the highways of the United States....(it) causes frustration and contributes to dangerous passes and lane changing. (but) what can be done to remedy this situation?" he goes on to rail a little bit on Harley riders who have no courtesy (duh) and to claim that Americans take no pride in their driving skill (again - duh) as the Europeans do. this is not news to me. what is news is that apparently the police have no right to stop any driver who is not overtly breaking the law, even if they are driving comfortably swaddled in spatial ignorance or just plain lack of courtesy. just what we need - powerless officers of law.

in my utopian society, automobiles are fully automated. probably twenty years ago, many of the automobile magazines were predicting we'd have some form of computerized traffic control by y2k, but like so many other good ideas, the populace is resistant to change the status quo. i imagine some form of "gap control," at least in metro areas, where we would all turn the control of our vehicles over to Big Brother during the commute, and when the light turned green, every car would begin moving simultaneously, accelerating at a constant speed to maintain a comfortable gap between vehicles. our destinations would be programmed into our integrated GPS systems, and once shuttled off the main arteries, drivers would be given ample warning before control of the vehicle is relinquished back to them. you know, so we could end that phone call or browsing session. surface streets would still be primarily "standard" control, leaving plenty of opportunity for bicycle and foot-commuting, as well as fender-benders in light-controlled intersections to keep the insurance companies from going broke.

merging would be taken care of, stopping and starting, and fast-lane/slow-lane choice. drivers would no longer have any control over what speed they choose to travel on the main arteries, or perhaps there could be a single, walled-off section of two-lane for people who were in a hurry and wanted to take their chances. the speed would be the most efficient average - probably 60 or 65, except for the far left "express" lane for longer-distance commuters, who may be traveling 70. default mode would return control to the operator after a loud, positive warning, except in the event of a mechanical emergency, wherein the vehicle would be shunted to the breakdown lane and stopped as quickly as possible.

it would obviously take considerable investment in infrastructure and could be the newest high-tech industry in America. it would set the standard for the rest of the world and revive the economy with actual ideas, manufacturing, and jobs, instead of printing money and giving it indiscriminately to broke people/corporations as we currently are.

i also understand this is mostly a pipe dream. America is not going to relinquish its God-given right to drive whatever car we want in whatever manner we choose, especially not to no socialist computer system! not even if it works better and ultimately allows us to be even lazier.

in the meantime, maybe we could start with baby steps - like programming the GPS systems, which an alarming number of people seem to be depending on, to tell drivers traveling at or below the posted speed limit to "travel in the right lane until the next turn," in that soothing automated chick's voice. i bet it'd work.

(thanks for the link, Don!)


Oh yeah-

Remember the smack-talkin' back in January? Brian's boisterous claim to better my best lap by 2 seconds? Yeah - afraid it wasn't even close. I can't recall his best time of the weekend, but it seems he was a minimum of 10 seconds off. I tried to take it easy on him, to be encouraging and offer constructive feedback. He was very strong thru the technical back section, but losing tons of time in the fast sections from T1 to T3 and thru T12.

How do you tell somebody to "just open that thing up, mane!" without sounding like a dick?

follow the rules (pt. 3)

by the end of day 2, i was feeling really comfortable on the bike. my confidence, both in its mechanical soundness following deep repair and in its handling following my adjustments of the previous day, was very high. the sun rose warm and bright once more, temps in the low 60's by the end of the rider's meeting - outstanding.

geared up and ready, i hit the track fresh off the warmers in the first session of the day. i tagged onto the tailsection of a guy on a newer GSXR-750 (same model as mine, only likely 5 years fresher) that had dusted me late in day 2. seemed like he had a well-sorted bike, Akrapovic full exhaust emitting the sweet scent of race fuel. we both did half a lap or so at a quick pace, then hammered down. i silently vowed not to let him get away. he would pull me thru turn 2, a very fast 4th-gear left kink that should be taken very close to WOT, but which i couldn't convince myself to go into all-out. i would make up some ground into T3, another left taken at the top of fifth - right around 150mph. (don't ask me why i could go into one left rolling off the gas at 150, but not the other left rolling on the gas at 130...) i would close up on him just a bit more thru the slower T7-T8-T9-T10 right-left-right-left series, but around the apex of T11, he would get on the gas much, much sooner, pulling me thru 12 to the braking point for T13, where i would once again make ground. now, "they" say a trackday is not a race, and technically it's not, but any time you put two or more boys on motorcycles near each other on a track, it might as well be a race. he knew i was there, and he wasn't going to just move over & let me go ahead. but for what it's worth, i couldn't really pull a clean, safe pass on him anywhere, either.

we went the whole session - about ten fast laps - nose to tail like that. it was great fun! i really enjoy having a rabbit; a slightly faster rider can always show me my weak points & inspire me to push just a little harder than i normally would if i were just out there riding circles by myself. after the session, i went and introduced myself to the guy, and he had been having as much fun as me, so we made a point to go out the next session and do it again. i had immediately laid down some low 1:26's, matching my best of the day before, and i knew i could go just a bit faster.

next session, Lee was waiting for me at pit out. he motioned that i should lead, but i shook my head & indicated i would follow. we were not as quick to get on the track as we'd been in the first session, so there were a handful of bikes out ahead of us. we managed to reel them in fairly quickly, but getting past them became more difficult.

the thing about encountering just-marginally-slower traffic is that the disparity is often in a small amount of corner speed. most bikes in the 600-1000cc range will accelerate to terminal speed at pretty close to the same rate. on a short track such as Jennings, a larger-displacement bike doesn't really have the opportunity to out-accelerate a less-powerful bike before it's time to slow down for the next corner. coupled with the fact that most riders know how to whack the throttle open once the bike is straight up-and-down, very little passing can actually get done in the straights. that leaves the corners.

passing in the corners is usually done under braking on entry, sometimes midcorner if the slower rider is particularly off pace, but very rarely on corner exit. this is because a person running just slightly off-pace midcorner will absolutely ruin the drive of the trailing rider. in this gaggle of mid-pack experts, everybody was capable on the brakes. since it's just a trackday, nobody was really willing to "stuff" anybody else , especially going fast into T1 or T13 - the two best braking zones. so that left midcorner passes in the longer corners - my favorite spots were around the outside in the second part of T1, or outside going into T3 (at 150mph), just as the more timid riders would back off. i could occasionally work the inside of T7. it took several laps, however, to line up the passes, make them stick, and then work past the next guy. i'd say there were 4 or 5 riders to work past, and they were only running a second or two off our pace. by the time i got clear of the last rider, Lee had about 10 or 15 bikelengths on me, and he had clear track ahead of him. i had again vowed not to let him get away, so i put everything i had learned the first session to work. i really tried to hold the throttle open all the way through T2, and i consciously got on the throttle earlier and harder coming out of T11. i also used his weaknesses against him, going deeper into T3. my extra drive out of two meant i was hitting 6th gear before three, requiring me to work in an extra downshift just when things were happening incredibly quickly! i pushed and pushed, all the way around the track for several more laps, until i could see him coming back to me.

i had done it - i had reeled him back in by laying down a series of consistent laps, until finally i stuck to his rear wheel coming out of T11, thru T12, and was able to show him a wheel going into T13. i couldn't quite commit to the pass, and of course, the checkered flag came out as we crossed the line. we both did the next half-lap at full pace, but then eased off through the back section. dumping it on the checkered lap is nearly as embarassing as dumping it on the first lap.

i had been so focused on catching Lee up that i hadn't even looked at my lap times, so i checked them as i rolled into the pits. the timer will show the fastest lap of the session, and i was elated when it flashed up 1:24.76! i cannot begin to explain how stoked i was as i rolled in and parked the bike. i was nearly dancing - pumping my fist, grinning, telling anybody who would listen. it ain't the fastest anybody had ever gone around Jennings - hell, it's still more than ten seconds off the record lap. nonetheless, it was the fastest i had ever gone around that track, by a minimum of five seconds. and it was under my goal by a full second - i would have been happy to see anything in the 1:25's.

so there it was. i spent the rest of the day dialing in my reference points and dealing with traffic, never able to match or better that lap. first the track got warmer, then my shagged-ass takeoffs went off, and my third day straight started to wear me down. late in the day i strung a few mid-1:25's together, convincing me it wasn't just a fluke. i can't wait to head back down with some fresh black shoes & a little front suspension work (new valving & fresh oil). pretty sure i can break into :22's from there!

i skipped the last session of the day and rolled out in time to make the Bike Love party, representin' tha FL in shorts & sandals!


follow the rules (pt. 2)

at the end of day 1, i had managed to already drop the bike. being a good social-networker, i was able to upload photos & a brief description of the incident to Facebook, whereupon many of my friends expressed concern, dismay, wry wit...or some combination thereof. at this point in my life, my reputation is such that my doing a little pavement-surfing at a trackday is not wholly unexpected.

through the cyber-cacophony emerged one glittering gem of useful feedback. my friend Eric, who races professionally in the AMA, came out with the following reply to my status update; "sometimes my mind goes to the next turn before i finish the one im in, this is usually followed by a pasturing the kow." i also canvassed the pits & found the guy who had been following me at the time. he said that he had no idea why i should have lost the front at that pace, which was merely on the quick end of "moderate."

the morning of day 2, i slapped on the lap timer. i've never had one before, and this was a borrowed unit (thanks, DJFootball!) that i planned to use in my quest to break into the 1:25 range of lap times. 1:28 is considered "expert pace," and the lap record is now something under 1:14. most fast trackday riders will run around 1:22, so i felt my goal was reasonable. 

during the first session, i paid particular attention to my technique on the bike, especially through the corners. Keith Code literally has written the book on sportbike riding technique. it is called "A Twist of the Wrist," and presently exists in two printed volumes and several DVD's. he constantly reiterates the three parts to every corner - entry, apex, and exit. during the entry, the heavy braking and corner initiation, or "tip-in," is done. during apex, the bike reaches maximum lean and is driven to the desired arc. during exit, the throttle is cracked open, then slowly rolled on as the bike is straightened up, until the bike is wide-open (WOT), or as close as possible before the next corner. this is how the machine is designed to work; these are the rules. i found that i was not following them.

in the back section, between turns 6 and 11, i was riding sloppy. the thing about riding street in between track days (or in our case this winter, not riding at all) is that street riding is done at such a reduced pace, it is easy to become lazy, maintaining partial throttle nearly everywhere, using only a small range of the bike's capabilities. i was not finishing the corners, particularly T7, the site of my mishap on day 1. i would crack the throttle open, then just maintain steady throttle all the way through to the point i had to flip it over for the next corner. in T7, i was even rolling off to set up for the T8 left while i was still leaned over on my right side. i was not rolling on the throttle all the way through any of the corners except T1 and T13-14, which are faster sections. once i began paying attention to the three phases of the corner, my lines got better & the bike felt more planted through all the corners.

pushing pretty hard on a cool track, i was running mid-1:28's in the morning sessions. after the second session i felt as if the bike was wallowing, or transferring weight fore-and-aft, a bit too much. i was also starting to have traction problems from the Bridgestones, sliding the front thru T8 once or twice, and lighting up the rear out of T6, T11, and T14 with my fire-breathing fresh motor. i took a session off to get a set of somebody's well-used Pirellis mounted (my other set of tires was one of those things i had forgotten in my haste to leave town). once the wheels were back on, i spent a few minutes checking my sag. whereupon i discovered the most likely cause of my gardening the previous day.

checking sag is the most basic, rudimentary suspension setup procedure. it should be done immediately & without delay after any significant changes to the bike's forks, rear shock, or tire sizes. if one were to Google "motorcycle suspension setup," easily the first five results will involve setting sag. do you think i had done this most basic procedure after swapping my entire front end and changing to a 190 rear tire? no, i had not. the main reason is that i'm lazy. it takes two or three people and maybe ten minutes. i had been too anxious to get on the track & go fast, to take a few moments & ask for some help. 

upon checking my sag, i found my rear to be 23mm. suggested baseline for rear sag is 25mm, so i felt that was close enough, since the bike felt wallowy to me. however, when i checked front sag, i came up with just over 40mm. suggested baseline for front sag on a race bike is 30mm - a full 10mm less. what this means is that my forks were gravely lacking preload, or initial spring load, which had a couple of detrimental effects. primarily, it means there was too much weight on the front tire. in addition to this effect, the softer setup was allowing much more weight transfer from rear to front in off-throttle or light-braking situations, such as my disastrous run thru T7 the day before, when i had rolled off the gas in premature preparation for T8. too much weight on the front tire will quickly overcome the available grip of the rubber. combine the lazy technique with my laziness in setting the bike up, and it's a wonder the thing even stayed on the track!

after lunch on day 2, having dialed 10 turns (!) of preload into my front forks and with a slightly-less-cooked set of tires, my lap times tumbled pretty quick. i finished the day in the low 1:26's, easily the fastest i had ever gone at Jennings. i was catching & passing a number of the guys that had been rolling past me & my ill-handling beast during the morning sessions. i was also able to hold onto the the tailsections of some of the faster guys for just a bit longer before i made a mistake & they went up the road. 

at the end of the day, i was pretty stoked. my as-yet unspoken goal of breaking into the :25s was at least fathomable, and i was feeling more comfortable on the bike than ever. i checked sag once more as the sun was setting, and found the front was now 28mm, right about where i wanted it. the rear, however, had increased to 28mm as well. this was most likely from adding the front preload earlier, transferring weight to the rear of the bike. i added 5mm of rear preload (taking it back to the 23mm i had previously), plus a few clicks of low-speed compression damping to address the wallowing i continued to feel under heavy throttle. i also added a couple clicks of rebound damping to both front & rear shocks to counter the increase in spring preload. 

then i went to sleep around 9:30. riding a track bike at one's physical & mental limit is exhausting! 



gotta follow the rules (pt. 1)

this past weekend was the culmination of a few of these here blog topics over the past couple months. i did indeed manage to get the track bike back together and get myself to north Florida for a long speed weekend with my buddy Brian, among others. i managed to forget a few things, but i was pretty well covered. i hope to have some photos of some on-track action in a week or two, so check back.

first of all, i had to break-in my freshly rebuilt engine. with new rings, new rod & main bearings, and having been all the way apart for the work, an engine needs some specific treatment for the first few miles in order to make good on the repairs. of biggest concern is making sure the rings seat properly so that compression isn't compromised. the best way to do this is to run the engine at varying loads and RPM for several heat cycles, avoiding the extremes - ie keep her from idling too long, and try to keep her from running near redline. i decided the best way to do this would be to run with the "I," or intermediate, group for the first half of the first day. this would also give me a chance to show Brian and his friend Trey around the track.

the sun rose in a clear sky, already at least 15 degrees warmer than back here in the mountains of NC. the overnight low had been around 35, so the track surface was cold - important to realize. the first session went well, the bike running cleanly & feeling fairly well-sorted at "I" pace, as if i had put her back together correctly - always a good feeling! i was able to relax & re-learn the lines, occasionally pointing out the apexes to Brian & Trey as they followed. the next two sessions were similar, easing into the speed, gently working thru traffic following the "outside-passing-only" rules of the group. the day warmed to the point i had to ditch my base layer. during the last session before lunch, one of the "control riders" gave me a sign-language scolding for looking back, waiting for Bri and Trey to catch up. i put my head down & turned in a few faster laps, gapping them all by the time the checkered came out.

at lunch i changed the oil & filter as i finished the break-in protocol. the bike seems to be working as it should, running better than it ever has, shifting cleanly, so out with the "dino" break-in oil, in with the synthetic. two tiny little flakes of metal on the drainplug, which i would expect with a bunch of new components rubbing on each other, not to mention the impact of tools on internal engine parts during the repair work.

after lunch i headed out with the "A," or advanced group. i had never ridden with this particular group of people, so there's always a nagging bit of trepidation that somehow i'm not going to measure up, always unfounded. i had the advantage of having ridden the track a few times in the past, so i was among the faster half of the "A" group on day 1. i was passing more people than passed me, and feeling pretty good on the track.

right up until the point i dropped it.

it was the second session after lunch, and i was starting to rail around the 2-mile track pretty good, working through some traffic. i had just gotten thru a group of three or four bikes & had my head down again, feeling good about my lines & gear choices. left through the T5-T6 complex, tight to the apex of 6, then a short fourth-gear straight, bang down to third (no brakes), and toss it right into T7 on a late apex, then down i went - losing the front end very soon after tipping it in. it happened too fast to try to save it, so i let it go & flattened out on my back, sliding off after the bike with my feet out in front of me, willing it not to flip when it hit dirt. bikes will usually slide along pretty well and can remain relatively unscathed in a lowside. if a handlebar or footpeg catches the curbing at the edge of the track or digs in when it hits softer ground, suddenly all that sliding momentum can be transformed into flipping, rolling momentum, and shit gets really broken when that happens. luckily, it did not.

i popped up as soon as i was moving slow enough to run it out, quickly hoisting the bike up on its wheels to check for mortal wounds, also trying to keep the corner worker nearest me from throwing the red flag. too late - she was already waving off the session before she saw my thumbs-up. i hate to be the cause of a red flag! the bike was in surprisingly good shape - some grindage to the end of the footpeg, but serviceable. some damage to the fiberglass & brand new paint job, and a little scuff on the end of the brake lever. it could be (and has been) much worse. i cycled the kill switch, found neutral, and it fired right back up. by the time the crash truck rolled up, i was ready to ride it back to the pits. the corner worked double-checked my assessment & gave me the go-ahead to ride it in.

--- at the rider's meeting that morning, the race controller had specifically said that upon wrecking, one should let the corner workers make sure the bike is rideable, rather than making an adrenaline-addled judgement for ourselves. as i stood there checking the bike & waiting for the corner worker to make it over to me, i realized my heartrate wasn't even elevated from having done that bit of 60-mph pavement surfing...it was then that i accepted i may have a problem.

it's a good crash when you can ride it back to the pits! i shook the sand out of the bellypan, checked my tire pressures (they were a bit high), and had the bike re-teched by another "A" rider just to be safe. by the time the next session rolled around, i was geared back up & ready to go. it was the last session of the 1st day (of three), and i had just thrown it down, so i tentatively built speed, easing back into it, admittedly tiptoeing thru T7. no further unpleasantness came to pass, which was good for my confidence. it sucks to have an off and have no idea what happened or why, which is where i thought i was. happily for me, the answers would become clear fairly quickly.



fear is a killer

tragedy struck the winter olympics this year, even before they officially started. so far i've managed to avoid seeing the actual video, but i have a pretty good idea of what happened up there on that luge run. even before the news outlets reported that the Georgian athlete had told his father on the phone, "i'm scared of one of those turns up there." i hate to say it, and understand it's certainly not my intent to speak ill of the dead, but if this was true - that this competitor was scared enough of the course to say it out loud, then it's my opinion he had no more business taking runs down that mountain. it was time for a serious gut-check, and a period of contemplation.

those of us who participate in dangerous activities know that fear is a demon that must be tamed. doubt is what brings the dreaded self-fulfilling prophecy, nearly every time. in order for an athlete to perform at his utmost, and consistently, he has to know he can do it - that he's gonna make it. in my experience, there is precious little middle ground for error. doubt breeds fear, and fear causes a physiological response that is the exact opposite of focus. lack of focus leads to mistakes, and mistakes to serious injury or death. beyond this simplistic breakdown, i personally believe that God allows us to manifest our own reality in nearly all endeavors, so if my intention wavers into a place where success is not absolutely possible, then all the horrible outcomes i envision in those moments of doubt also enter the realm of possibility.

in my mind's eye, i am riding with the young man at incredible speed down an icy tube, inches off the deck. i've been having trouble with my focus, due perhaps to jetlag or being in a strange country surrounded by strange culture while my family anxiously awaits my events a half a world away. maybe i got spooked in one of the fast turns earlier in the day practicing the unfamiliar course, but i'm still pushing, because the expectations of my family and country weigh on me. i miss a few of my marks, and my attention goes behind me rather than ahead, thinking of mistakes i just made, further sapping my confidence. things seem to be coming at me way too fast. i momentarily lose track of where i am on the course, and suddenly, the turn that scares me is right there. and i just know i'm going too fast to make it. fear takes over all my reactions, and i tense up, immediately looking for a nonexistent escape route, convinced i need to get off this contraption. things go bad quickly, and i am off my sled, hurtling down the frictionless chute with even less control. and you know the rest.

the piece below is one i posted on a couple motorcycle rider forums this past summer, following the serious injury of a buddy of mine in a weekend mishap. i still don't know the whole story concerning his get-off, so my version of events will have to suffice. the point, however, relates exactly to how i feel about the luge-run accident. it is very sad, and i hate to hear of the violent demise of any fellow human being. i remain convinced that it was his responsibility to take a step back and come to grips with that fear before heading down the hill again.

We had a not-so-good weekend up here in the NC mountains with a solid rider, and friend, in the Trauma ward as a result. Broken pelvis, blood on the brain, and other injuries sustained in a minor lowside on a road without room for that error. Rob went hurling a few feet down into a rocky creekbed. Strangely, the group was comprised of riders who had been with another minor lowside that turned fatal when the rider met a tree, almost exactly a year ago. That's just weird.

We ride sportbikes, and most all of us like to ride fast. That's the point, to some extent. I try to reel it in to 7 or 8/10ths on the street, but sometimes the dicks come out for the dick-waving contest, and luckily, mine hasn't led me into any avoidable mistakes. Most of the guys I ride with are in the same boat - willingly acknowledging when we get stupid, then backing down, only to wick it up again next time, usually in the most challenging sections.

I think the thing that sets the great riders - the truly greats, like Fogarty, Spencer, Haga, Bayliss, Rossi, Spies, even f'n Mladin - apart, is CONFIDENCE. Duh. But they also exhibit an incredible lack of FEAR.

Fear is a killer. Fear will steal your attention, directing it to something frivolous, and tell you you're fucked. Fear will convince you, despite much evidence to the contrary, that something bad is about to happen. And then it does. Fear can also be a pall, jumping from one isolated incident with one rider to affect an entire group. We call it an "off day" or "not feeling it," then in a half-hearted attempt to shake it, carry on. Sometimes we can shake it off & recover, but too often end up riding uncomfortable, off-kilter & off-line, inviting a mishap. I watched Dani Pedrosa push the front so hard he had to pick it up off his knee the other day, then flip it over & attack the next corner as if nothing had happened. I've had some of my best days like that myself - near-highsiding in an unseen sandpile, then rail it on down the road, giggling...but how come sometimes it just doesn't come back?
How to turn it off? Recapture focus, exorcise the demon fear, and stop. thinking.

One time, I was up in the woods w/a friend of mine, hucking off this 8' rock drop on my DH bicycle. Craig wanted to do it; the run-in was perfect, the landing had good transition, and he is a capable rider...but he kept balking. The last time, I watched, and as he rolled to the edge, I yelled up, "STOP THINKING, NOW!" and he hit the drop perfectly. He was so amped! For that split second, he forgot about all the things that could've gone wrong & focused on landing it.

I find I have to do this to myself when I ride - push aside all the bullshit thoughts, the doubts, the fear demons. They are only trying to hurt me. Gravel in the road is a perfect example. Instead of focusing on where the gravel IS, you have to ascertain where it ISN'T, because that is the key. I have a friend who'll run his BMW R1100S thru piles of gravel in the road at normal street speeds, as if it isn't even there. He says, "the bike's not gonna just shoot out from under you - just aim for where the least of it is & let the bike roll. When you get to the other side, it'll hook." And it does - every time that I've seen so far. If you tense up as your mind screams "GRAVEL!!!," and you grab a handful of brakes or chop the throttle completely, all the weight goes to the front, the bike goes off-line (ie INTO THE GRAVEL), the front tire locks up, and down you go. Wet roads - same thing. Having seen him rail some crazy-dirty pieces of road, I myself have gained some faith - not only in the capability of the bike, but in my own ability to relax & ride the damn thing. I have this idea that if he can do it, then I can do it. I've gotten a ton of mileage out of that sentiment.

How many times do we hear, "It's an inherently dangerous activity. Wrecking is a part of the game." But FEAR causes more offs than anything else, I bet. It takes a TON of practice & active relaxation in the face of danger to hone the ability to put FEAR aside. Tons. Of. Practice. And ambition. To some, the ability to ride a fast pace in the wet is NOT IMPORTANT. Don't care to know that, thanks. But get caught out in the middle of nowhere with only wet twisty roads to get home on, it makes a difference then! Some don't feel crossing the yellow line overcooking a corner is that big a deal. Until there's an oncoming truck. Another friend nearly got taken out on Sat by a minivan that had crossed the yellow significantly - he was able to relax & tighten his radius. Had he been hit by the minivan, he would've had the right-of-way. He would not have been doing anything wrong. But he would be hurt or dead - small condolence to be in the right, when you're dead. It came from years of experience, of practice relaxing in the face of FEAR. It's an action. Actively forgetting the threat & refocusing on the correct response.

If I find myself in a group & the fear pall hits - one guy says, "Man - I'm just not feeling it today.." or "My buddy went off in this next section & broke his..." or a couple people start blowing corners, I usually find a reason to get the hell out of there. I'm not saying the death of the rider a year ago had ANYTHING to do with my friend Rob's off, but the coincidence of riders & dates, with the downed rider's Memorial Ride scheduled for the next day, would've been enough to give me pause. Riding nervous is riding scared. We cannot ride around at the speeds we ride around at, HOPING nothing bad happens to us.

I think we need to ride instead with the assumption that nothing bad is going to happen to us, because we're capable of avoiding it. And if we can't make that assumption, then practice, practice, practice exorcising that fear demon; putting it aside; turning off the chatter - whatever metaphor works for you - until we do.

To put forth a very concise version of what I'm trying to say...TRAIN the brain to block out the "Survival Reactions" (Code) - the mantra idea works (i use "Focus" myself), breathing works. Instinct works, sometimes, so long as you pick the right one. Many riders will panic and try to get off immediately when things begin to go awry, while a better rider will add a little lean angle, or brake just a tad harder, or pick it up with his knee...! Sometimes you have to pick Fight over Flight.

I'm also trying to say it's an attitude we must carry with us, tucked into our leathers somewhere - HUMILITY. Not the beat-dog kind of humility, either. There's a very interesting definition of humility that says it's a "clear recognition of who and what we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be..." This resonates with me.

I am a solid motorcycle rider, with natural ability and years of experience on the street and track. I love the feel of throwing it into a corner, loading the front, railing the apex, then standing it up as the rear tire squirms under heavy throttle. I live for that.
I am constantly striving for improvement, however. I'm not satisfied with my level of skill, experience, or outright speed.
I also know when to dial it back, and I know where 7/10ths is for me.

I am also generally convinced that I will make it home in one piece. If not, I wouldn't leave the house.

once again, please don't judge me to be lacking in compassion. i feel we all need to understand our psyches and our metaphysical limitations, especially if involved in activities more likely to kill us than everyday life. i'm also not saying there's a guarantee against death or serious injury by practicing what amounts to self-hypnosis. there's always a chance i could die. i am convinced, though, that the chances of mutilation are much higher when fear makes the scene.


making chips fly

buried somewhere in the recent middle of my resume is the job i held as head CNC machinist for Industry Nine Componentry (link below in the "props" column) - a little company that makes some incredibly strong and beautiful bicycle wheels. i was fortunate to have been an integral part of bringing those wheels to market as the company was just starting up, an accomplishment of which i'm very proud. especially considering i had no - as in  zero - experience operating CNC machines before i finagled myself a job there.

i had had some machine tool schooling in the Navy, and i have good math skills. i also had many years in the bicycle industry by that time, which enabled me to help with the marketing side while i honed my craft as a CNC machinist. CNC stands for Computer Numerical Controlled, which means the machines are programmed in a language called "G-Code" to perform their various functions about the X and Z axes (on lathes) or the X, Y, and Z axes (in milling machines). it's a pretty simple language to learn, but the machines do exactly what you tell them to do. if you miss a decimal place with a 4-pound chunk of aluminum spinning at 5000 rpm, it is guaranteed to make some kind of loud, sickening noise and could get somebody hurt.

my minimal experience with "manual" machining was primarily on a small engine lathe in the engine room of the submarine. to be honest, i had forgotten how to even operate a lathe in the interim decade-and-a-half. my aptitude had not left me completely, though, so i was able to pick it back up pretty quickly. a large part of machining metal successfully is in the "feel." obviously, there are some rules of thumb to give a starting point concerning speeds and feeds (how fast to move the cutting tool and the workpiece, respectively), but in order to be more than merely competent, the operator has to take visual and aural cues from the machine, adjusting for tool sharpness, ambient temperature, type of lubricant, and a number of other factors as the part is worked. few things are as satisfying as being able to balance all the variables and produce good parts repeatably.

i had a boring job to do on our old Bridgeport mill the other day, and i only was going to get one shot to get it right - we have been tasked to modify a set of very expensive, fully processed tooling plates for a client. in my present position, i don't have access to all the CNC lathes and mills we had at i9, just a small benchtop CNC mill and a manual lathe, along with the aforementioned Bridgeport.

the first step in a successful machining job is workholding. the part must be firmly clamped in whatever machine is going to do the work, taking into account the required movements of the tool. i had an aluminum plate, 1-3/4" thick, on the face of which i had to make two 2"-diameter bores, each .125" deep. the bores were to be 13" apart on the X (left-right) axis, so i had to make sure the plate was clamped down dead-straight on the mill table. i used a dial indicator on the front face of the plate and ran it back and forth until i had less than .0005" of sweep from one end of the plate to the other.

i centered up on one of the holes and used a 1-1/4" endmill to plunge the first cut down to full depth. all the axes on the mill have graduated dial handles with resolution down to .001" (one "thou"). once the cutter touched the surface of the plate, i squirted on a little lube and dialed up the Z (up-down) axis .125". i verified the depth to be within .005" (although i will hold myself to a little closer standard - .002") by measuring with a set of digital calipers.

next i put in the 1-1/2" endmill to hog it out a little more prior to boring. to make sure i hit the same exact depth, i blued the bottom of the existing pocket. this way, when i make the next cut, i can see when the second cutter reaches the depth of the first. i then touch off the larger tool and dial up the Z axis again until the cutter just wipes the bluing. since i am returning the table to "Z zero" after each cut, i take note of the position of the dial for reference when cutting the bore. it shows .127", which is a little further than intended, but i feel confident it was a slight error made when touching off the cutter, and the depth is probably still on the mark.

next i set up the boring tool. this is a fairly rudimentary tool, with a single cutting blade offset from the center of the mill spindle. for my baseline setting, i'll dial it back 'til it's smaller than the 1-1/2" pocket i just made, then drop it in the pocket and slowly dial it out until it just touches the outside edge of the pocket, which should be about 1.500" in diameter. when boring with this tool, we can only take about 1/8" at a time on the diameter, so i plan on taking 4 cuts to the rough diameter, then a finish pass of something less than that - maybe .050" to 1/16". setting the bore is done with a relative dimension - note the baseline setting, then dial the diameter out 1/8" (.125) at a time using allen wrenches to set it and lock it down. once the first cut is locked in, i run the slide down until the tool just touches the plate, then fire up the mill. speed for this single-cutting-edge tool on a diameter this large will be much slower - 150 rpm or so.

this is where the "feel" comes in. i watch the chips spitting off the tool while i dial up the Z axis, looking for the balance between smooth cutting chips that break regularly and minimal chatter. chatter is a high-frequency vibration in the tool or the part, usually caused by not pushing the cutter hard enough. pushing it too hard will cause a rough finish or tool breakage and can itself cause chatter. by watching the shape and size of the chips, and listening to the sound of the cut, i can finesse the best, most accurate cut. these are good chips:

i repeat the process three more times, taking .125" at a time out of the diameter of the bore on the first two cuts, then a smaller cut of .075", to leave me room for a finish pass. the finer cut on the finish pass usually allows greater accuracy along with a nicer finish. my trusty calipers tell me the diameter is 1.943", or .057" away from my goal. i make the final adjustment to the boring tool. experience tells me the cutter will probably bite just a tad & open the bore beyond the desired size by a thou or two, so i go shy and dial in .055" instead. one more time up on the Z axis, and i think i'm done. a check with the calipers reveals 1.9995". i'll take it.

as far as the finish depth of my bore, i would be satisfied with +/- .005", which we can easily adjust out in the mechanism. my personal goal was +/-.002", and a quick check reveals a final bore depth of .1265", only .0015" off the nominal dimension. i'll take that, as well.

the CNC machines i used to make hub parts at industry nine could repeatably hold a +/-.0002" (that's 2 ten-thousandths of an inch) tolerance, once the machine was settled in to equilibrium operating conditions, running automatically. if it ran out of material, or an operator was a half-minute slower to load the next part, the metal in the machine would actually expand or contract enough to throw that dimension off by 5 tenths (.0005") or more. ideal conditions for any machine is equilibrium operation - think of it like cruise control on a long, flat road. the machine finds its cruising levels.

the challenge in manual machines is to be able to anticipate what the workpiece and the cutter are going to do in a given operation, and to be familiar enough with each piece of equipment to be able to feel what it's doing. being attuned to that is pretty damn cool.


leave john mayer alone!

i heard the dj's talking on The Current (Minnesota Public Radio, of all things, which absolutely kicks ass - listen to them here - bookmark it) the other morning, and they were going on about somebody who had made all these horrible racist, misogynist statements in a recent interview. i didn't at first hear who they were talking about, but they sounded so earnest and so horrified that i opened up a Google window and typed in one of the phrases they had quoted, "jessica simpson is like sexual napalm," i think. it didn't take me long to find out that the blogosphere was simply about to have a conniption over none other than...what? John Mayer? you've got to be kidding me.

i know, i know. John Mayer is probably a douche. mostly because he's an insecure, geeky, bubble-gum proto-romantic pop guitarist who's rolling in both money and hoochie. he tapped Jennifer Aniston, for crying out loud - that's enough to make any heterosexual white guy over the age of 30 hate the dude. that and the tune from "Your Body is a Wonderland" is one of those that gets in your head & causes mental anguish while standing behind some large woman with bad hygeine at the grocery store.

john mayer did an interview in the March issue of Playboy magazine. i don't subscribe to the periodical, but i'll still read the articles if i find one laying around the bathroom at a machine shop, or stuffed in the bottom drawer of my mechanic's toolbox. Playboy chicks are still among the tastefully hottest nude centerfolds in a world of horribly tasteless and prolific pornography.

in this interview, which can be found in its entirety here, our boy says some pretty provocative things, some pretty sexual things, some pretty candid things. in reading the interview to determine what all the hype was about, i found it pretty damn refreshing that a star of this guy's magnitude pulled no punches, told no lies - he put it all out there, perhaps to his own detriment. or maybe not - he may have just wanted some more attention. i don't know, because i haven't talked to him.

but it was a Playboy interview! that alone might give a hint that provocative, sexual questions might be asked and answered. he did drop the "n" word, which i guess white people still aren't supposed to do. but he qualified that by pointing out the irony that a white guy can never really have a "hood pass," for that very reason.

and he did say he had a white supremacist dick, which is probably not a good thing to go into black and white, because the reader can't hear the subtext. but in reading the actual context, i got that it's an aspect of his id that he really doesn't like, that it baffles him and causes some amount of self-loathing.

which is why i guess i feel sorry for the guy. he may be a narcissist douchbag wannabe, but at some level i relate. alot.

i have lots & lots of friends - good friends, who give me way more than i feel like i ever give back. i am very smart & talented at nearly everything i put some work into (and more than a couple things i don't even have to try very hard, which creates other problems); yet i still feel incompetent - afraid y'all are gonna find out that i'm a no-talent hack one of these days, and i'll be abandoned. i've a host of insecurities that make me act out in crazy stupid ways and say hurtful things because i don't think i'm getting enough attention.

so anyway, it's my opinion that there's a couple things going on here: jealousy and white guilt. what else could possibly explain all the feigned shock over some of the things this 32-year-old unthreatening whitebread motherf'er said in a Playboy interview. especially in a world where very shocking, explicit pornographic images are three clicks away for your average five-year-old. white dudes are hating on him because he's living the dream - he's a rock star, just like in the Nickelback song, with the ability to make hot, popular chicks drop panties for some inexplicable reason. all the chicks that aren't hot or popular are similarly pissed off, because it ain't their bodies he's singing about.

and whenever some white guy starts pushing the boundaries of what's culturally acceptable to the black community, how quickly the rest of us white people are willing to sell that dumbass down the river. "oh my god! i can't believe he said that! that is absolutely unacceptable, and i don't find anything funny or justifiable about him saying he had a white supremacist dick*. i am horrified!" as if this one white guy had spoken for the rest of us. moreover, as if what he said had any credence.

(* this last is a direct quote from one of the Current's uptight dj's)

race relations in America will never advance so long as the "n-word" card can still be played. i love me some Mos Def, and on his 1999 release Black on Both Sides (arguably the best hip-hop album ever), a few of the lyrics of the song "Mr. Nigga" pretty much describe the loop we're stuck in:

Yo, the Abstract with the Mighty Mos Def
White folks got it muffled across beneath they breathe
"I didn't say it.."
But they'll say it out loud again
When they get with they close associates and friends
You know, sneak it in with they friends at the job
Happy hour at the bar while this song is in they car
And even if they've never said it, lips stay sealed
They actions reveal how their hearts really feel

so mr Def, who i admire and whose music (and acting) i really dig, has just put me in a very uncomfortable position. i'm boppin' along to his oh-so-very-fresh beats, rhyming along with these very insightful lyrics, and then he just whips out his nine and points it at my dome and says, "HEY! i know you didn't just say the n-word while you was singing along to this song i wrote called Mr. Nigga."

how the fuck am i supposed to reconcile that one? how does my heart really feel? 

how does John Mayer's heart feel? read the interview in context and entirety before expressing your socially-expected discomfort, America. leave the poor conflicted douche alone to play his guitar and feel conflicted. who really gives two shits about John Mayer anyway?


devil's advocate

true neutral. some crazy internet personality alignment (see edit) "test" made the determination that i'm pretty much in the center when it comes to conflict response and mitigation. i don't remember the name of the test, but it seemed interesting, and i remember the result. the jist was that i don't really get worked up about needing to be right because i'm able to see all aspects and consider the points of the opposing argument. i feel like that's a pretty close assessment of that aspect of my personality.

edit: in looking for a photo, i realized i was duped into taking a d&d "alignment" quiz by my dork buddy Karl, who apparently is no slouch when it comes to throwing twenty-sided dice. i was never cool enough to be invited to any sorcerer's den, myself.  however, the point is made.

 my wife just says i'm contrary. i'm able to make a compelling argument to any point she makes. even when i agree with her. i get tickled, she gets pissed. it doesn't help that i find that hilarious.

in truth, i've begun to realize that whatever happens, happens. i/you/we/they can think what we want to think and do what we believe to be the "right" thing...but for every person who is sure that up is the way to go, there will be another convinced that down is better. the universe perpetually seeks equilibrium, which means to me that all "good" must be balanced by an equal measure of "evil."

so most of the time i've been simply taking the other position to see if i can defend it. i've mentioned challenging false belief systems, and i think this exercise is an important one - kind of like a life debate. it ultimately has served to guide me into an easier coexistence with the likes of fundamentalists and Republicans, because i'm willing to see if i can understand where they're coming from. 
"So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.
If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself." -
Sun Tzu

more than a few of my so-called "enemies" have become friends.

i'm not invested in "winning" the argument most of the time. if presented with a well-reasoned response, am capable of adapting my views to account for new information. i think the most dangerous resource America possesses right now is an overwhelming surplus of misguided dogma. instead of building consensus and bettering ourselves and our nation for the common good, most of us are involved in taking one side or the other - often merely the side our friends or family has taken (even as a matter of tradition rather than reason) - the side we think we're supposed to take. common wisdom dictates that we should remain steadfast in our desire for things to go our way (the right way, btw), without much willingness to compromise. the current debacle with healthcare reform is proof positive of that. the net result is that nothing gets done, positive or negative, and the schism between the sides grows ever wider.

and that's actually OK with me. the status quo is what it is, more than anything else. it represents a part of that equilibrium. i need to mind my own business, pay my bills, teach my kid to open his mind. in withholding judgement, my own beliefs and actions have become less necessary to defend, because no matter what, there will always ultimately be a counteracting force.

catching up

first things first, i guess. it's been seemingly an eternity since i got a chance to sit down and projectile-vomit these words onto this page. i've been incredibly busy getting the track bike's engine rebuilt, painting it (ahem - assisting in the prep work and watching it get painted), and with some projects at my actual job.

so my friend Marshall linked-back an interesting article on fruit juice to one of my HFCS diatribes. here's the link. very interesting, and it seems that fizzy colored sugar-water may not be the only culprit in the fattening of our society...

in the "this can't possibly be for real," department, this crazy bitch is actually allowed to spew her misinformed, bigoted, vile hatred in public. i hope she is writing from prison, but i know freedom of speech is one of those inalienable rights that we're so proud of in America. still, more than a few need to just shut the fuck up. if i were a Republican, i might consider a lawsuit against the idiotic whore for misrepresenting the tenets of the party so egregiously. i dated a girl named shelley oh-so-briefly when i was a sophomore in high school. i really hope that's not her.

Australians crack me up. check out this guy's blog for non-stop wry wit directed at just about everybody. it gets my vote for "possibly the funniest website ever."

from the "what a dork" headlines, i've become a crack 'berry psuedo-hacker. my friend David mentioned that he was surprised at how technologically savvy i am, to which i responded, "i like gadgets." these little handheld computers amaze me. i can get up-to-the minute emails, facebook alerts, instant messages in several different formats, surf the web, take pictures or video & store 16 gigs of media on a device smaller than my handy TI-30 calculator. oh and it's got one of those, too. i can also consolidate all that data so i remember when to pay my credit card bill or what to get Laura for her birthday (while reminding me it is her birthday.) blows my mind, man.
so recently, i was doing a little surfing & found some resources for updating my workhorse Blackberry Curve's operating system to the one found in later models, hybridized yada yada because it's technically "not supported." i did this because when following the carrier-sanctioned "auto update" like the rest of the sheeple, i ended up with a PDA that was suddenly glitchy and unstable. and the bugs were known, but sent to market anyway. in researching how to downgrade, i ended up learning how to really upgrade, so now i'm hooked on the potential performance these little machines are capable of. plus it's neat having esoteric knowledge that doesn't impress anybody. here's a couple shots of my screen right now in case anybody cares:

OS5.0 hybrid w/Bold icons:                    Same hybrid OS with "hidden dock:"