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.

Jamie Oliver and NUMMI

At first blush, these two don’t seem to be related in any way.  One is a famous British celebrity chef, the other is a soon-to-be-closed car manufacturing plant in California.




I saw the Jamie Oliver bit first.  I expected it to be a bit like that show on BBC America with the sharp little Scottish woman scurrying about telling obese Brits to stop frying their food and eat vegetarian… and admittedly getting results, but being rather nasty while she is at it.

Not at all.  Jamie has a love of food that shines through no matter how much reality TV drama they try to slather on top of it to make it more compelling.  He also appears to genuinely love people and children.  Not that children aren’t people some of the time.  I won’t argue for all of the time.  I mean… have you met any children lately?   [that’s a joke, folks.  And it certainly wasn’t directed at your kids.  Honest.]

Jamie swans about preaching real vegetables and real meat and food that is recognizable as food without looking at the picture on the box/tin/jar.  He does a live demonstration showing exactly how a chicken nugget is made [short version- take a chicken, cut off all the good meat, put the rest in a blender with enough additives and flavor enhancers to choke a horse, fry, and serve].  This is sure to turn even the most diehard fan away from manufactured foods, except in this case, it doesn’t.  The audience (local schoolchildren) want to eat the nugget after it’s fried…even after knowing what went into it.

Watch the show to draw your own conclusions.  The chicken nugget demo is in show 102 at 3:40.

Colbert’s take is here (at 3:09):




Now, skipping around a little bit, we come to the example of NUMMI.  This was the auto plant set up in the 1980’s as a joint venture between Toyota and GM to learn from each other.   Toyota was to learn how to deal with the Americans, and GM was to get access to the Toyota Production System.  At the time, Toyota had higher quality than GM, but had a much lower market share.

Well, three guesses as to who got the better end of that deal?  Toyota became the largest car manufacturer on the planet, and in spite of recent quality spill still has a pretty sterling reputation for quality.  GM filed for bankruptcy and is now only just beginning to catch up in terms of… well, everything.

For the real scoop, listen to the whole episode.  It’s not all bad… parts of GM appeared to be very receptive to change.  The team concept took hold.  Quality improved, along with job satisfaction and productivity.  The part where the line worker describes his “a-ha” moment at being allowed to shut the line down to fix a problem then and there will move you… and the bits where they describe going to car dealers just to look at the cars they had built.  Yep, I can resonate with that.  There’s a special thrill in seeing something you had a part in creating out in the world.  Seeing a whole bunch of them is even more rewarding.

Other parts are so cringeworthy it hurts to listen to them.  The section starting at 35:00:  “People now snitched on each other… They would even keep track of stuff that they had missed, because that’s what the company puts in them that the only way you could protect your job you have to keep the team strong, so there’s a weak link you’ve got to get rid of that weak link.  And I would go tell them that ‘you can’t do that.  You can’t build a case for management against your union member.’ Made me angry and disappointed that the union had gone so backwards that they had forgotten what a union meant: taking care of each other.”

Wow.  Just… wow.  You wonder what sort of chance you have at success with thinking like that going on within your four walls.  Probably not much, particularly if that example isn’t just an isolated individual but a representative sample.

It’s notable that the parts of GM that were receptive to Toyota ideas (at least at first) had already been laid off for a long time.  They were desperate, they were willing to listen.  Other plants were facing the same layoffs, but didn’t believe that it could happen to them.  They wanted to maintain the status quo.

How they are related:

I wonder what chance of success we have with controlling healthcare costs when people will eat chicken nuggets even after being shown what’s in them.  When a town is more concerned with what was said about them than what is being fed to their children at school.  When school lunch policies are formulated with a minimum of 2 breads and a cost target.  Sounds kind of like the “that’s what the union is supposed to do” thinking in the NUMMI example, doesn’t it?  With the current trajectory we’re on, do you reckon we’re GM, or Toyota?

Vintage Sled Rac… Rallying

We don’t race vintage sleds at work at lunchtime.  For insurance purposes, it’s a rally.  Either way, much fun is had.  I’m better out on the course with a camera than with a sled.  Inevitable mechanical problems with 30-year old machinery kept me from getting too many good laps in this last year, but I learned a lot.  Mostly stuff about how to get a vintage sled running again, but whatever…   Man needs something to strive for, right?

This set contains most of my best shots from the last two years.  It was taking these that made me realize that I am actually starting to figure out what I’m doing with a camera.  As soon as I walked out to the course, I knew I wanted the shot shown above.  To my eyes, it’s not perfect, but it’s pretty close to what I had in mind… a whole row of riders, all on the same racing line, showing how close the racing is, and giving an idea of the intensity involved in piloting such scary machines around a bumpy, slippery course.

Scary?  You bet!  40 or more horsepower, maybe 6 inches of travel, pretty much zero damping, worn out skis and steering pivots, and ever-changing conditions.   Throw in questionable ergonomics, safety systems that were either nonexistent to begin with or rendered inoperable due to neglect, apathy, misguided machismo… yes it’s scary.

Speaking of scary, this shot was taken with my D300 and an 8mm Samyang fisheye.  Manual focus, shutter priority.  Prefocus on the racing line, stand as close as I dare to the action, shoot, and yank the camera and myself out of the way before any of the aging, rattling, snarling beasts has the chance to take me out.  Good fun!   Not too many near misses on this session- enough to let me know that any closer would be foolish… which means that I was just close enough.

Post was done in Adobe Lightroom.  Clarity and Contrast bumped, saturation bumped a little in camera and further in LR.  Dropped a stop of exposure out of the sky with a gradient (much easier than messing about with polarizers or gradient filters.)  I should probably spend some more time on it in PS… get rid of the light pole and the van in the background.  But I like it.  It’s close to what I wanted.

Travel Blagging

This was a great trip.  I got the chance to ride from LA to the Bay Area on a 2010 Victory Cross Roads.  I didn’t hurry, and stopped whenever I felt the need to take pictures.

The bike was perfect for this ride.  Comfortable after hundreds of miles, yet still enough of a motorcycle to enjoy the twisties.  The cargo capacity made it easy to carry nine days’ worth of gear, plus cameras.

Camera Gear:

  • Nikon D300
  • Sigma 24-70 f/2.8
  • Nikkor 35mm f/1.8
  • Tamron 11-18
  • Olympus E-p1 with 17mm f/2.8 lens (usually around neck)

I didn’t bring any film gear because I was traveling light.  Yes, that’s light.  Nothing is more annoying than not having the right lens.  No underwear, no problem.  No lens, big problem.  I also had to carry my laptop, some tools, a few parts that needed delivering, and the wherewithal to flash various bits of software onto the bikes I was working on (these were production bikes, but they needed to be updated with the latest-latest-latest versions of everything before we could officially call them complete.)

You could hardly tell I was carrying anything.  The air shock at the back made it easy to adjust the ride height so I didn’t scrape in the twisties.  The comparatively light weight (for a cruiser-based tourer capable of carrying such cargo) made even the switchbacks leading into and out of Ojai easy.  It only took a short while before I found my groove and was able to flow nicely through the corners.  It’s no sportbike, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun on a twisty road… as this video shows.

Now who’s up for a ride?

fiddling about with two wheels and lenses… usually not at the same time