High speed photography, view cameras, and cupcake cannons

So I’m in the midst of a dive backwards in time and speed towards a simpler, slower, more calculated approach to capturing images. The roll film cameras just were not slow enough apparently, so I picked up a 1964-era Graflex Crown Graphic press camera at a recent camera show. It doubles as a folding view camera, and has a few movements so I can play around and get my Scheimpflug on.

I’m currently in the middle of cleaning and repairing/restoring some old shutters from Ebay ($50 lens capable of generating 100 megapixel images?  Bargain!), and apart from a nasty habit of losing springs (those little buggers *FLY* across the room, let me tell you), I should be able to get things working this weekend.

Soon I’ll be looking at the ground glass plate and seeing things as they used to be seen, backwards and upside-down (photo flipped for clarity):

In the midst of all of this retrophotogeekery, I come across some amazing high speed videos that must be shared.  I’m not sure what I want more, a high speed camera, or a cupcake cannon:

I just love some of the images they are getting:

Bikes or art?

So this post I came across recently scratches several itches, including bicycles, design, engineering, and photography. The craftsmanship in these machines is simply stunning.


I think I’m homing in on why I like bikes and cameras so much as objects: they represent possibilities. You look at a camera, and you can imagine the pictures you might take with it. It might be a crappy camera by some standards (the Holga cult comes to mind) but it may take you to an image that you wouldn’t have captured otherwise, or that you wouldn’t have caught in the same way. Part of the fun is, as you’re headed out to take photos or just go to the grocery store, grabbing a camera that may be well-suited or completely wrong for the situation and just rolling with it. Allowing for the peculiarities of a particular tool is all part of the fun. Sure, I could drag the d300 along everywhere I go, but I’d lose some of the perspective that playing with old cameras gives me.

Bikes can yield similar experiences. The fixed gear is not the ideal mount for many of the little rides I’ve been doing lately, but its limitations throw enough variety into the mix to make every ride different. Hills that would be a simple matter on the road bike turn into real difficulties, particularly with the legs being relatively untrained for cycling over the last few years.

Then I go out on the road bike or shoot with the d300, and I appreciate the improvements that years of development has brought us. Gearshifts are quick and certain. Metering and autofocus work nearly flawlessly. Everything just works. Nice if you need to get there sooner, or have a job to do that requires your pictures come out well.

But something is inevitably lost when technology intercedes. The user is one more level removed from the basic fundamentals of what they are trying to accomplish. The camera looks into it’s database of 10,000 photographic scenarios and decides that it knows better than you do how to adjust exposure. The carbon fiber rails on your saddle isolate you a little more from the road surface. If you never rode or shot without these filters, you may not even realize that they are there, or what they do for you.

I had the chance to experience this a winter or two ago.  I was riding my vintage snowmobile at one of our lunch rallies, then I got a chance to hop onto a 2010 Rush 600.   The difference between the 1980 and the 2010 sled was incredible.   The power, the handling, the comfort.  It was 10 times the sled.  I was staggered.  Progress is really a great thing.

But that new sled retails for $10k.  I got my sled for $500.  If anything goes wrong on the new sled, I have to go to the dealer.  If something goes wrong on the old sled, I get to learn how to fix it (which is all part of the fun.)  Similarly, the fixie, the old mechanical shutter on my Graflex, and the 1970-1975 Honda CB350s I’m eyeing on Craigslist (cafe racer, natch) are all …  well, I won’t say they are easy to work on.  But they are easier to work on than anything newfangled and computerized.  They are more accessible.  Sure, they will go wrong, they will need attention, and they will never work as seamlessly as the modern gear.  But they have a fuckwithableness that pleases me.  I will learn as much from the repairing as I will from the using, and I will get more satisfaction from resurrecting old gear and turning it useful again than simply purchasing the latest digital wondercam, turning it to “Auto” and letting the countless hours of toil from software engineers I will never know take care of all the “hard stuff” for me.

I realize that a lot of this may sound like the school of Masochism that says “hit yourself in the head with a hammer because it feels so good when you stop” and I’ll grant that the assertion may have some merit, but I maintain that there is no substitute for understanding the fundamental principles underlying any worthwhile activity. Furthermore, understanding is much more complete when all the modern conveniences have been stripped away.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go finish whittling my next bicycle seat from oak.

Still going

Just finished day 6 of #30daysofbiking
I’m really enjoying it. Legs feel a little stronger, which is good because I can’t ride any direction without hitting F@#$ing hills. There. Is. Nothing. Flat. Here.

Tonights ride was fun. Rode up V across 64:

Found the Anderson Scout Camp, which overlooks the Saint Croix just across from the boomsite. What a beautiful spot. (too hilly, though.)

Hardest ride so far was the ride into town (one big dip followed by the drop down to the river, across the liftbridge in the dark, then all the way back up to the top through town to get to the gym). Not helping matters much was that the workout called for heavy squats. I didn’t go that heavy, as I knew I had to do the climb up to Houlton on the way back.

Ow, that was a grind. I took the road bike. On the fixie, I would have had to walk it.

Stilll enjoying this. good fun.

#30daysofbiking day 2

Okay, so I came to this whole ride your bike every day for 30 days thing a bit late (more than halfway through), but I dig the idea so much I thought it would be worth jumping onto.  I’m wondering if a #30daysofrunning is in my future?  Followed by #90daysofphysicaltherapy?

I’m so glad I did.  I just had one of the best short rides of my life.  Conditions were perfect (there was nothing good on TV… ), the sun was low in the sky, and I found one of my favorite roads ever.  It’s short, which is the only thing wrong with it.  It winds its way down into a little river valley and then trundles along twisting and turning.  There were trees, and houses.  Nothing special, just comfortable little late 60’s ramblers that had been well kept.  You got the feeling that people were happy there.  There was an old couple sitting on a bench watching the stream flow by.  It was lovely.  Normally, my “happy places” don’t have so many people around, but this one qualified.

Here’s the route:


I took the fixie.  Only forgot it wasn’t a fixie once.  Turns out your instinct to stand up and coast to absorb a bump is wired very differently from the “my legs are tired so I will stop pedaling”  circuitry.  I have managed to turn off the latter pretty successfully over the last ~20 miles of fixie-acclimatization, but the former surprised me.  Makes my tentative plan to take a fixie off road one day seem even more inadvisable.

Anyway, I found out that I am going to have to be especially careful around wildlife.  The bike is so quiet, I snuck up on a squirrel so successfully that it got within a foot of my front wheel before it scrambled out of the way in a furry and energetic fashion.  This is the second time that’s happened.

Obligatorycameracontent: I brought the Olympus XA, which fits perfectly in the new CamelBak I got recently.  Click on the image to go to Ken Rockwell’s thoughts on the camera.  The XA and I go way back.  It was my first camera, and I acquired it by kicking a rock on the trail while we were  on a hike in Big Bend National Park in Texas (it was the Windows trail, if I’m not mistaken).  Turns out it wasn’t a rock, it was an Olympus XA that somebody had dropped.  We asked all week at the ranger station whether somebody had asked about the camera, but nobody had, so it became mine.  The only thing wrong with it, besides a dent in the back and lots of grit, was a missing shutter button.  My dad cleaned it up and I used it for many years, but I don’t know where it ended up.

I found my current camera at an estate sale for $10 (on Ebay they can go for $150, but that’s just people hoping to prove PT Barnum right again).   I love the manual control you get.  It has everything you need, and nothing you don’t.  The viewfinder is great, and it takes good pictures.  Perfect for travel.  With practice, you can operate it more or less one-handed, making it perfect for rolling pictures.  I’m not brave enough on the fixie to do this yet, but I can on a bike with a freewheel.

Mini-review of new Camelbak:  I bought the CamelBak Octane 18X at our local REI when I got Owen’s bike.  Two things sold me immediately:  It weighs nearly nothing, and it has stash pockets with zippers on the waistband.  I put the iPhone on the left and the camera on the right, and you barely know they are there.   This will also be useful for gu/gel packets, though I doubt I’ll carry them next to anything electronic.

The back gets a bit sweaty- it doesn’t have the off-the-back features of the more sturdy frame-type hydration system (my old Deuter Race Air is the gold standard in this regard), but the Camelbak hugs your body and feels like a piece of clothing rather than an external pack.  So far, it’s been very comfortable and has worked well mountain biking and on the road.

It took Camelbak (and everybody else, for that matter) forever to get the bite valve right, but now they have.  NO drips.  Ever.  They’ve also nailed the length of the hose- it never hits your leg, even when you’re hunched over on one of those Quasimodo-style climbs.  Believe me, I was hunched today.

There is plenty of space to stash gear, and you never have to worry about it puncturing the bladder- they are in separate compartments.  As a bonus, the zipper at the back unzips and allows the bag to expand.  This is great because hydration packs tend to resemble footballs when they are stuffed with gear.  They feel terrible on your back when they are like this.  Yesterday, the pack took my soft shell very nicely without going all football-y.  Full marks for storage.  For me, it’s the perfect blend of a wearable pack that can handle a decent amount of cargo.

Problems:  There are a lot of fairly unruly strap-ends.  They are pretty lightweight, so they aren’t as bothersome as some, but I’m going to have to figure out how to get them restrained.  I guess this pack is more meant as a daypack for hiking, so maybe it’s my fault for using it in the wrong way.  (But it’s so *light!*)  All of the buckles are a proprietary design that’s not the same as the typical fastex buckles.  They work well, but are slightly more sensitive to alignment when you buckle them.  Also, I worry about durability.  Standard Fastex buckles are bombproof; any knockoffs or redesigns that I’ve seen have ended up failing at some point or another.  These appear to be fairly lightweight, and could be fragile.  Best not to step on them

Overall, I’m very happy with the pack so far.  Much as I hate to admit it, I like the color as well.  You can’t go wrong with yellow and black.

I love me some data…

Except when it paints a very stark picture of things.

Recently, I followed a link to this article about why the US isn’t anywhere close to a socialist state  (short version: if we were, then our kids would be doing better, our income inequality would be smaller, and life in general would probably be better for the majority of Americans.)  I reposted, because I thought it was a good article that raised some interesting points.  Not that facts matter much to tea partiers.  But because I’m pretty liberal, and an engineer, and curious, I enjoy facts.   I was left wondering, though, where the facts came from.  It was an op-ed piece, so I understand why they didn’t cite sources specifically, though it would have helped their cause.   So I went looking, and found a wealth of information here:


It’s not that easy to use at first, but you can dig into some complete datasets from countries around the world regarding GDP, unemployment rate, spending on healthcare, etc.  I was able to generate some pretty neat graphs.

Follow the links on this page:


and you should be able to recreate all of what I have done here.

Some graphs paint a very disturbing picture of America’s place in the world.  

Scared yet?

30 Days starts today


I’m not counting yesterday, though I did ride up the driveway and back a couple of times with Owen on his new Novara Afterburner (a birthday present I bought for myself for Owen, if that makes any sense) trail-a-bike.

Watch for a review of the afterburner after a few miles.

The goal: ride my bicycle at least 5 miles every day for the next 30 days.

today: 7.5 hilly, windy miles with Owen on the back.  No, he didn’t pedal.  34 pounds of Owen+ 23 pounds of trail-a-bike makes for a slog uphill.


Highlight:  He jammed his foot into the back wheel and locked it up.  Made a pretty good skid mark.  It wasn’t on purpose, I don’t think.  It scared him a little, but he recovered.

Edit:  Video:

What camera should I get? (Part 1)

Or, a long rant about film cameras that has nothing to do with the title.

No, I’m not soliciting advice.  I really should be thinking about what 5 cameras I should sell, as the shelves are rather full right now.  If forced to do an inventory of the cameras I own, it would be a significant undertaking, and I would not be able to do it from memory. But you really never know when you’re going to want a pre-1975 35mm rangefinder with a 40mm lens and decent portability to document inadvisable moto-adventures ( Canon Canonet GIII QL17, in this case.) Or, say you absolutely need a medium-format rig with interchangeable lenses, no metering, and a cocking mechanism that sounds and feels a lot like a bolt-action rifle… Koni Omega Rapid M to the rescue:

So I suppose I should be more specific… I’m writing about what camera *you* should get. In most cases, the camera you already have is fine.  It just represents a certain state of the art.  At one point in time, it was competitive at a certain price point,  unless it was a Leica or a pro-level SLR, in which case price point was exorbitant and not really part of the equation.  Now, it’s probably not.  That doesn’t mean it’s not still useful, it’s just that you’re probably tired of one or more of its attributes by now.  Newer cameras have been released at a staggering rate in the last 10 years, and each has (usually) been at least an incremental improvement over what came before it.  Except for the Nikon D3000, it is said, but that’s another story for another time.

So, yes, by all means buy a new camera.  I do it frequently.  Well, I mostly buy used, old cameras, but I’m wired that way.  I only buy expensive new cameras when the state of the art has advanced to be a real enough difference for what I do to be worth it.  Thus the progression went:

2000: Canon Rebel EOS 2000 35mm film camera

2003: Canon A-something point-and-shoot

2005: Nikon D70

2008: Nikon D300

In each case the camera offered more convenience, better pictures, or some combination of the two.  I’m currently waiting for the successor to the D700, which will be a full-frame wundercam capable of not only seeing in the dark, but seeing through time and ladies’ clothing.  Hey, I can hope, can’t I?

My brother in law recently gave me his old Sony digital camera rather than throwing it away (Sony DSC-S70, 3.3 MP)  I remember oohing and aahing over it when he got it in 2000 or so.  It was a really nice camera in its day, and he took some great pictures with it.  It probably hasn’t changed in its ability to take good pictures.  The lens looks clean- it’s been well-cared for.  Provided you can get the battery to hold a charge and a memory stick (Sony, wtf were you thinking with a proprietary memory format!?!??  Didn’t you learn from Betamax?), it will take pictures just as well as the day it was new. What’s changed is us, and our expectations.

Using the old Sony, I was suddenly transported back to a time when it was okay for a digital camera to take 5 seconds to wake up.  To make the screen go blank (presumably to save batteries) at odd times.  To take forever to focus and save a picture.   To have a postage-stamp sized screen.  You get the picture, if you’ll forgive the pun.  This was a time when a 512mb card was huge, and 3.3 megapixels was something to crow about.  Cell phones didn’t have cameras, and Flickr, Facebook, and the like didn’t exist.  To author a web page, you had to know HTML, FTP, and a bunch of other arcane things that were not user-friendly.

Cameras have certainly come a long way in the last 10 years, but the thing is, in the whole mad scramble to digital, they got worse before they got better. Contrast the experience with the sony with my recent use of a ~1976 Nikkormat ELW that I inherited through my wife’s family.

The thing I’ve found with the old Nikon is that it works really, really well. It doesn’t do anything you don’t need, and it makes some rather sophisticated things very easy. Mirror lock-up, for instance, is a lever on the side of the body. On my digital cameras, it’s buried in the menus.  There are two modes to worry about:  Aperture Priority and Manual.  They are both accessed on the same dial, which also does a few other things.

The viewfinder is awesome, particularly with the Nikkor Series E 50mm f/1.4 lens I keep on the camera most of the time. It’s bright. It’s easy to tell when you’re in focus, and there aren’t too many things distracting you from seeing your shot. Just a wonderfully simple needle on the left side of the viewfinder, doing double duty as both a shutter speed indicator in Aperture priority mode and as a coupled lightmeter when you are shooting manual.

The camera is quiet and immediate. When you hit that button, sh!t happens… quickly. No racking the focus motor in and out. No blinking little error messages in the viewfinder. It just… goes… click. (Jesus from The Big Lebowski would love it.)

There are some limitations with the camera, though.   Manual focus sucks if things are moving, or if you’re grabbing a quick shot without enough time to compose, focus, think, then shoot. If you have time to focus, then the old Nikon works better.  The shot of the cyclist above was carefully prefocused (I used the line on the road to focus and a higher f-stop to increase depth of field), so yes, it is possible.  But with my D300, I could forget about focusing entirely and let the camera do the thinking for me.

The other thing is cost. Every time you press the shutter, chemistry happens in a film camera. You get one frame closer to having to stop and reload the film. You don’t have 300+ frames before your memory card is full, and you have to pay to see what you shot on a film camera. This can add up, though it takes a lot of film developing before you’ve spent more money than digital. Still, psychologically, the variable costs of film do change your habits. Nobody (at least that I know) burns through half a roll of nearly identical compositions to see which one might turn out right.  My average film cost for C-41 (color) developed and scanned is about 40 cents a shot.  Talk about a few hundred shots, and you’re still talking small money.  Talk about tens of thousands, and you can see digital has a clear advantage.

Henri-Cartier Bresson once said “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” I’m well above that number now (and still creating bad images), but I doubt I’d be even close if I was shooting film.
When you don’t have to worry about a resource, such as film, then you are free to be more creative. Hold the camera out of the car window, hose it around, go nuts. Figure out how to hold it so you get a self-portrait holding your son without messing up the framing… it doesn’t cost anything except hard drive space, and that can be recycled easily. Digital teaches you more about photography in a short amount of time because it’s free.  Just be careful not to upload everything you shoot.

The other thing you get with digital is immediate feedback. You can see the results of your work right then and there, with a histogram overlaid so you can measure if you’re too bright or too dark. This is invaluable for dialing in a complicated flash arrangement, or arranging a still life, or getting the framing just right. Most people don’t take detailed notes when they take a film photograph, so you lose the ability to remember what you did and what you were trying to do by the time you see your prints. With digital, you can envision, execute, and evaluate all in the same minute. That’s a sound recipe for learning.

Film can teach you different lessons, though. I remember when I got back into film and went out shooting. I was almost paralyzed with the feeling that this would Go On My Permanent Record. These negatives would end up in a box, and one day my grandkids would see them. [never mind that more people see my Flickr photos than will ever bother to pull out my negatives for inspection] It just feels as if you are creating something for posterity when you shoot film. As a result, you slow down a little. You slow down a lot more when you are using a manual camera. Focus? Exposure? Did you set the film speed dial correctly the last time you loaded the camera? Did you load it correctly?  Many more things can go wrong because you don’t have a little computer riding herd and keeping you from making mistakes. The more the camera does for you, the less you think about what you are doing, and the more removed from learning about the craft of capturing light you become.  Film slowed me down.  It made me think.  It made me concentrate more on seeing the composition.  I treated each exposure as a more valuable thing than just the arrangement of electrons on a silicon wafer.

Today, I shoot both.  It’s a crapshoot as to which bag I’ll grab when I’m on my way out the door, but I always make sure to have a camera with me, usually within arm’s reach.  You just never know when the perfect opportunity will present itself.  I violated this rule the other day, and missed a great shot.  The camera was in the back of the car because my wife was in the passenger seat.  We were stopped at a red light, there was a beautiful woman sitting on a bench, with an amazingly photogenic Boxer on a leash (dog, not pugilist), who was staring at a little girl eating an ice cream cone on the next bench over.  It was perfect, and I missed it.

The point of this long-winded attempt at explication is this:

A newer camera will probably have more features than an older one.  Whether those features matter is entirely a personal matter.  Be aware that there are many many marketing and product managers employed in the world whose sole source of income is managing to convince large numbers of people that they need more features and more megapixels in their cameras.  (What??  You don’t have face recognition, 18 megapixels, a magnesium alloy body fully weathersealed against nature, and a 25x superzoom?  You’ll never get a decent photo again unless you upgrade now!!!)

A newer camera will probably be capable of better picture quality than an older one (unless you are comparing film to digital, where film usually wins, especially for cameras normal* people can afford)

A newer camera  will usually be capable of shooting at higher ISOs than an older camera.  This makes it possible to pretty much see in the dark, and is one of the primary reasons to upgrade.  Megapixels don’t really matter, but decent image quality at high ISO does.  If you’re typical, you will faced with dodgy light far more often than you will be faced with the need to blow up an image into a poster-sized print.  Most people don’t clue into this until they have had to deal with blurry photos (from slow shutter speeds) or lots of noise from a camera with poor high ISO performance.

But a newer camera won’t make you a better photographer.  It won’t make your subjects more interesting, your framing more aesthetically pleasing, or your timing better.  You will still own the bulk of the responsibility for taking a good photograph.  You’re the one with the eyes and the brain.

*Normal: those not obsessed with cameras and photography.

Mountain Bikes and Big American Motorcycles.

I just finished watching Klunkerz, a documentary about the birth of the mountain bike in Marin County, California.  It’s quite the inspiration to get out and ride, moreso than the usual cycleporn/sledporn/motorcycleporn I throw in the DVD player.  This was a bit slower paced and more accessible than HD footage of some 20 year old with no sense of his own mortality hucking himself at 60 frames per second (played back at 25) off a jump it took 3 days and a crew of 20 to build across a goat trail in Patagonia.

Wow, those guys did some cool stuff.  They literally invented a whole new lifestyle out of stuff they had lying around.  It took hold, and now look at it.  Sort of like snowboarding outgrew and out-cooled skiing (sorry, two-plankers.)  I wonder if there are any more sports like that?  Is stand-up paddling doing the same?  I think it will if you can catch decent waves off boats and surf on inland lakes and rivers.

Memo to self: try that this summer.

I did get a little kick out of the bikes they were using as the starting point for the mountain bikes.  The best frames, apparently, were stripped-down Schwinn Excelsior Xs.   They took these old newsboy bikes with balloon tires, and stripped off all the crap that Schwinn had bolted to them to get them to look like old motorcycles.  This is interesting, because in the late 20’s and 1930’s, Schwinn owned both Excelsior and Henderson motorcycles.  Excelsiors were the V-twin American style cruisers, and the Hendersons were big inline-4 touring bikes.

The bicycles looked like this:

The Excelsiors looked like this:

The most famous model was the Excelsior-Henderson Super X…  easy to see where the bicycle name comes from.

So the Marin County hippies were stripping these bikes down to the frames and riding them in the hills.  Then they started adding to them.  Some of the first things they added were decent brakes… which they sourced from tandems and period off-road motorcycles.  It would, of course, take many years for bicycles to follow the evolution of motorcycles, from fully rigid, to hardtail with front suspension, then fully suspended.  As with motorcycles, it took many years for any of that suspension to be worth a damn.  I suppose the motorcycle’s greater power and speed made the weight penalty of suspension less of a barrier, and more of a necessity.

The reason this gets me so nostalgic is that I actually worked for a descendent of the Excelsior-Henderson company from 1997 to late 1999, designing parts of what was supposed to be a revival of the original Super-X.  [ before you comment, yes, I know the springs are quite large.  I may have done the engineering on them, but I was forced to make them that big- I had no control over style.  Blame Dave Hanlon and Tony Pink… I think their names are on the design patents.]  Blame me for the fact that the front end worked at all, and that the front brakes played nicely with the suspension.  During this time, I wouldn’t have known even one tenth of what I was doing without a misspent youth tinkering with bicycles… including, it just so happens, an old Schwinn  balloon tire bike with a coaster brake, really wide Tommasselli knockoff handlebars, and a frame identical to the one Fisher is riding in the picture above.  Imagine that- boy grows up tinkering with a bike named after a defunct motorcycle brand, only to find himself helping to revive that brand one day.

It’s all very incestuous, really, when you think about it.  The design lineage and technological advancements from one field have been crossing over and influencing the state of the art in the other field for more than a century now.  Each discipline serves as an incubator for new technologies and ideas.  Motorcycles got to develop suspensions, disk brakes, loud pipes, and the feet-forward riding position.  Bicycles get credit for spoked wheels, the diamond frame, chain drive, drinking decent coffee before a ride, etc.  (I am aware that many patents for technologies existed in one discipline first- my categorization here is based on which was able to bring that technology to widespread commercial success.)

Keep your eyes peeled, because right now we’re in a phase where bicycles are teaching motorcycles a thing or two.  Dirt bikes have gone from steel frames to Aluminum.  From bicycle evolution, we know what comes next:  Carbon fiber.  After that, bicycles will teach motorcycles that bigger wheels roll better and that stripped-down minimalism has its own beauty.  Come to think of it, are fixies built from 1970’s Schwinn World Travelers == hardtail bobbers built from 1970’s XS650s?  The similarities are definitely there.

Where do we go from here, then?  What comes after bobbers and rat rods and tattoos and piercings?  Are we all going to be oohing and ahhing over metalflake-coated restorations of 1970s GoldWings with Vetter fairings?  Will the (mini?) Van Kulture come back?  Are Dodge Panel vans going to replace street rods at the car shows?  Is the next ZZ Top video going to feature a 1984 Chrysler Voyager?

The FiveFiveFive

So I work with a bunch of whack jobs.  Total nutcases.  To tell the truth, it’s the main reason to keep going to work.  You get drama, comedy, tragedy, motorcycles, interesting problems to solve, and a paycheck.  Who wouldn’t love that?  People pay good money to get all of those sorts of things at different times, and we have them in abundance, all day long, every day.

I mean, just look at the people we have on staff.  We have expert level roadracers, six day enduro riders, tractor pull aficionados, rock crawling maniacs whose lives seem to revolve around 30 year old trucks, gun nuts, pilots, tinkerers, farmers who became engineers, engineers who became farmers, auto industry refugees, hunters, fishermen, and guys that are so nuts about baseball that they bought an airport shuttle van and have it pimped out far more than it has a right to be.  Think “Hogan’s Heroes” without the respect for authority crossed with the Mythbusters guys and the computer nerds from “War Games” and you’re close.

So my buddy Z flings a magazine over the too-low cube wall at me the other day.  “Check this out” he bubbles.  Z bubbles a lot.  He’s a very happy individual who doesn’t take himself too seriously.  I’ve noticed that that tends to correlate with people who have a good time.  This is a typical Z office moment:

The magazine is the latest Cycle World, which has an article on the Five Five Five, which is a form of race.  Or endurance event.  Or something between the two.  It’s a cross between 24 hours of lemons and the Iron Butt Rally.   The object is to obtain a motorcycle and get it in something like serviceable condition for less than $500.  It should be older than 1975, and no larger in displacement than 500cc.  Then you race it somewhere.

This is right up our alley, I think.  Here’s to hoping that our house sells, and that the new house comes with a basket case but complete 1973 Honda CB360 thrown in.  Or an old XR-something.  Dual sport would be cool.  Bombing along on backroads on machinery as freaking old and maladjusted as we are.


If we do this, I promise to document everything with camera gear as near to the era that I can find.  I suspect some of my odder old rangefinders may work, which is good because they are light and easy to carry.  I have next to me a Nikkormat EL that may qualify (though it may be an ELW, which was released in 1976.)   Shooting Tri-X.  The only concession to modernity shall be the scanning of film and posting to the web.

Five Five Five Resources:

I can see this taking hold like Lemons has…

On bicycles and cameras


I went for a ride on the fixed-gear on Saturday.  It wasn’t a long ride, and I didn’t ride particularly fast.  I figured it would be good to get out for an hour or so and see some of the countryside and work some of the soreness out of my legs from Friday’s soccer and a recent Crossfit workout.  It was.

Riding the fixie pleased me in ways that I’m having trouble identifying or articulating.  Part of it is the aesthetics.  When you look down, there’s no extra stuff.  The drivetrain is incredibly simple.  A simple (cheap) probably mild-steel frame without too many things bolted to it supporting only what is necessary to go down the road.  Flat black everything, some bar tape I had lying around, nitto bullhorn handlebars, and a brooks saddle.  The only concession to style (and visibility) on this bike is the bright yellow wheels, tires, and chain.  I like bright yellow- it’s a happy color.

The feel was nice, too.  Kinesthetically, you feel every degree of gradient, because you’re more connected to the back wheel.  You don’t get to coast, so you experience going down hills differently.  You can’t just store energy from coasting down a big hill and use it to get up the other side, you have to moderate your speed so your legs don’t fly off the pedals.

The sound was probably the best part.  You don’t realize how noisy a normal bicycle is until you go without the freewheel and derailleur.  If you’re pedaling smoothly on a fixie, you don’t hear much.  The chain is nearly silent when it doesn’t have to go through idlers and pulleys and scrape past derailleur cages.  It just goes around in its pleasantly asymmetrical rounded shape and propels you forwards.  The perfect chainline, lack of anything to slap, and constant chain tension make for a very pleasant, quiet ride.

My gearing wasn’t ambitious (42×18), but neither are my lungs or legs.  I muddled through, and managed not to forget to pedal and send myself over the bars.  (I’ve nearly done that before, and it’s not fun.  The urge to pedal-pedal-pedal-coast must be overcome, because the coast bit just doesn’t exist anymore.)  I didn’t wear anything particularly special, save for bike shorts under my normal shorts.  I wanted to be able to wander around Hudson without looking like I just stepped off the set of a superhero movie.


While on this ride, I wanted to be able to take some pictures, so I slung a $10.00 messenger bag I picked up at Goodwill on my back and loaded it with cameras.  I was thinking about bringing along my Olympus XA, which is a fun little rangefinder (and also a $10 garage sale find), but I need to get some batteries for it so I can finish off the half-exposed roll of film that’s in it.  Who knows what’s on the already-exposed frames?  Not I.  Instead, I brought my Voigtlander rangefinder along.  Now this is a camera.  It takes Leica M-mount lenses, if you are so inclined.  I’m not… yet.  They are a bit spendy, so I opt for the Voigtlander versions instead (which are made in Japan, not Germany or Canada as the Leica lenses are.)   I brought the 40mm 1.4 and the 12mm, but only shot with the 40.

I had about half a roll of Ilford Delta 400 to finish off.  There were a couple of interesting spots worth shooting, including the main drag in Hudson where a few interesting store signs line up in a particularly pleasing manner, at least to my eye.

Shooting with the rangefinder pleased me in ways similar to riding the bike.   It’s quiet.  It’s solid-feeling.  You have to know what you’re doing… if you forget to set the ISO on the camera, you get under- or over-exposed pictures.  If you leave the lens cap on, you get black pictures.  If you backlight something, you have to figure out how to do the exposure compensation or use AE lock (an unlabeled silver button on the back of the camera that could be for anything.)  If you forget to pedal, it sends you over the bars, in effect.

I spent a couple of very enjoyable hours with these toys.  We’ll see how the pictures turn out, and we’ll see if I get the strength back into these legs to put the 46t chainring on the front again and get some decent miles on the bike.