Thursday, May 15, 2008

She's back - better than ever

So poor Swifty has been laid up for a few days while I figured out how to change a tire. It was a little more complicated than I thought. But I did it and today was her first day back on the road! I had to get the back wheel off, with the drive belt complications. I followed the instructions painstakingly, though, and after a lot of fumbling around, got the tube out, finally found out that the valve stem was cracked, replaced the tube and tire - much heavier than an average ten-speed's tire - and wrangled the wheel back on and the belt back around the pulley. There were moments - I blush to relate - when I thought I wasn't going to be able to do it, that it was all over between Swifty and me. But I carried on.

And I discovered that the rear brakes had been misadjusted. They were too tight to the rims, causing rubbing and perhaps contributing to the flat. So I adjusted them right and found that Swifty was swifter and free-er than ever! She runs almost noiselessly and, I could swear, faster. Piu velocemente, I should say.

I had thought the flat happened because I went too fast over too many bumps, so I took it real easy coming home. And me and my bike are more in tune than ever. Not that I don't like my 1994 Mazda pickup. Without that, Swifty would never have got home from my workplace. But let's face it, with gas the way it is - over 3.70/gallon in Tallahassee - I'm going to be doing a lot of commuting on good old Swifty! And by the time I retire my truck should still be in good shape. Life goes on and so does my electric scooter.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Swifty lets me down - or does she?

So I come out of work and Swifty has a flat tire. Oh, heck. I've been riding her pretty hard, I guess, and she's picked up a nail or some glass or something. So I walked home (I needed the exercise) and got Ned to help me pick her up with my truck. And on the weekend I took the back wheel off - not an easy task. Getting the tire off was even harder - the heck with those new plastic tire irons, I wound up using good old reliable screwdrivers. And there was no hole in the tube! Did someone take the air out of my tire? And why? Well, jealousy no doubt. Who would not envy me my sweet little bike? But now I'm going to be paranoid all the time I'm in work. No matter. Must get Swifty going again. Need a pump and repair kit. I'm expecting her to be back on the road Tuesday. And it will be 53 that morning! Lovely.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

One week of Supermemo Italian

I've been using Supermemo's "English-Italian phrase book" online system for one week now. And, sure I'm prone to enthusiasms, but I could not hope for a better result. I've studied lots of languages in my day, from German in Germany at the age of three and Spanish in Florida at six to Russian in college and French, Latin, Czech, Bulgarian and Turkish at various times and by various methods. I even took a few lessons in Dari from an Afghan exchange student one summer a few decades back. But I have never seen a language learning system that works as well as, or anything close to the way Supermemo works. The final verdict will come in a few months, when I go to Italy and see how much I've remembered. But for comprehension, vocabulary and pronunciation, this is "l'ultimo"!

I have been putting in at least an hour a day, in fifteen- to twenty-minute segments, stopping when I feel overwhelmed or other matters demand my attention. But the system picks right up where you left off and won't let you forget things forever. And it's even fun.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


I have found a great tool called "Supermemo", a system that lets one learn in a rational way extremely complex or voluminous material. I'm studying Italian using the system. In the first week, I've learned hundreds of tourist-type phrases but, more important, have derived a real appreciation for the structure of the language. It's the little words that count: fra, da, tra, gia, qui, che, and so on. The online course program is easy to use and fits my computer-dominated life perfectly. All you need is a connection to the Internet. I have no doubt that I'll be able to speak decent Italian within a month. Then it's on to German, maybe or refresh my Russian or Czech or Bulgarian or, what the heck, all three!

I would love to use the system to learn chess openings, too. I have an old (1972) copy of Modern Chess Openings that I consulted while watching Fischer beat Spassky. Maybe in a couple of years I'll be going up against the Russians, thanks to Supermemo!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Still cold

Here it is April 30 in Tallahassee and it was in the forties this morning. And tomorrow may be 51, not exactly freezing but needing my Blogger hoodie on Swiftcurrent at 7:30 AM. I can wait for summer.

I'm having a bit of trouble mastering the fine art of cornering. Perhaps it's because I have done so much cycling in my life. And Swifty is not balanced like a bicycle. She's much more bottom-heavy - sorry old gal, but that's the truth. The batteries and the motor are under my feet. When I lean to go around a corner, I expect to go over because a bicycle at that angle would just fall. It's been three weeks now and I still can't get myself to trust that Swifty won't fall if I lean a lot more in the corners than I would on a bike. Of course just when I get the technique down I'll go for a ride on my bicycle and fall on my nose in the first corner.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Rainy Monday

Left the house this morning, sky was gray - hey, that sounds like the beginning of a song. But it's merely the truth. And I hopped unthinkingly on Swiftcurrent, barely feeling the first few scattered pinpoints of rain. And, you guessed it, by the time I got out on Apalachee Parkway the rain was driving down. Now I had thought I would take the truck when it rained. I gassed it up yesterday - almost fifty dollars' worth! - for such an eventuality. But I didn't turn Swifty around and put her back in the garage where she'd been sleeping or in a trance or something all weekend, absorbing electrons and dreaming about flying through a lightning storm. That would have been cruel. The little scooter handled the rain just fine. I got wet, but so what? I was dry by the time I had my first cup of coffee made. Now I just have to remember to bring a paper towel out when I go home, to make sure the seat's dry. I should get her a cover. And myself should get me a rain slicker. The all-weather electric motor scooterman! But I also don't want too much paraphernalia. Especially when I recall that the word "paraphernalia" means the gear and gadgets that a bride brought to her new home, which, as I remember, were to be hers alone and separate from her other property, which automatically became her husband's. Ah, the good old days! Of course the sneaky new brides, no doubt at their mothers' promptings, tried to get as much as possible included in paraphernalia. The unwary new husband had to be careful. In those days, love had better not be blind or you'd miss a few valuable objects that could be reposing in your strongbox instead of being concealed beneath piles of underclothes and hats.

Now here's something Swifty could use. I wish I could bring her inside and charge her up. And what I wouldn't give for a lithium-ion battery pack! Not that I really need it, but in a few years when the present set of lead-acids is clapped out, it would be cool to double the range and, perhaps, speed up the recharge process. Until then, I'll just keep it for commuting. And flying through lightning storms.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Go far, go fast

Swiftcurrent has two modes: "go far" and "go fast". I had to do a little shopping at WalMart, so afterwards, I decided to head out Apalachee Parkway and see what the little gremlin could do. I streaked out four miles or so, in "far" mode, until I started to get nervous about whether I could get back or not. I got to the Capital City Baptist Church, about a half-mile before the dump. Then I turned around and investigated a little side road, looking for likely residential properties. Back on Apalachee, where cars were whizzing along at 65+, I decided, what the heck, I'd try "fast" mode. The worst that could happen was that I'd have to walk the bike a few miles home. Boy, what a difference! I felt like I was flying, but I could feel the juice draining out of the batteries. I made it fine back to Capital Circle, though, in record time. It must have been seventy degrees, but I was chilled by the breeze. Beautiful day.

Free Baja!

So I bought some Skyy vodka to make vodka gimlets with. This was after, and related to the fact that I read the story of the silly ad for Absolut vodka that implied that the Southwest should still be part of Mexico. I went on and read the Wikipedia article about the Gadsden purchase. I did not know that the Mexicans had signed over much larger portions of what is now Mexico to the US but their cession was refused - not ratified - by the US Senate because they were afraid that the territory would come into the Union as slave states. So, if history had worked out differently, the US would have had Baja California! And Sonora and Coahuila and Nuevo Leon and who knows what all!! So all that area is US territory illegally occupied by Mexico. In commemoration of the expropriation of US territory by Mexico, I propose we set aside December 30, the day in 1853 when General Santa Ana of Mexico and James Gadsden signed the cession of enormous areas of what is now Northern Mexico to the US. We all need to move to northern Mexico and work for the liberation. Free Baja!

Silvercurrent got a nice little trunk today at the scooter dealership. Now I can stow my helmet when I go in a shop or to work. And I can put a modest amount of groceries away. So I don't have to wear a knapsack to go shopping any more. Swifty just became more capable and convenient. I love it that the gas needle on my truck hasn't budged for two weeks. That's real savings. And the truck will last longer and always be there when I need it. I am looking into the situation with the battery, since the scooter guy told me the battery had a memory, so I should always drain it as far as possible before I recharge it. Yet in the Users' Manual it says there is no memory and you can recharge it as often as you like. It would indeed be less convenient if you had to drain it down completely, because there's no sure way to tell just when it's going to run out, like those old VW bugs. My commute probably doesn't even take half of the charge it gets overnight, but I have never yet run completely out of charge (and I don't particularly want to) so I don't really know. It's not like you can roll it into a gas station and refill, unless you have the charger cord with you and can convince the gas station guys to let you charge up enough to get home. If this thing takes off, will there be a market for padlocks for outdoor electric plugs?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Lunch with Swifty

Power went out at the building where I work today. So what could one do when one needs a computer to do almost anything? I went for a quick ride on Swifty, scoping out a better, less annoying route to the mall. She performed great. I needed to go to Sears to get a garage door opener remote control. I knew the choices would overwhelm me, but I just had to get an idea of what I needed to know to get the right one. That would be so cool, to buzz up to the garage on Swifty and have the door open automatically! Big thrill, but cool nonetheless.
I'm learning to ride the machine much more skilfully and I'm more familiar with the best routes. I noticed right away that I have a little trouble controlling the bike's path when I'm speeding up to merge into a street and when I'm slowing way down to check out an intersection to see if I can go across without stopping. Can't wait for the weekend for a free-form ride, so I can go wherever Swifty takes me.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Frosty Swifty!

So I took a couple of days off, one of which happened to be record-breaking cold in the morning - 34 degrees yesterday. In April, in Tallahassee, Florida! And today I woke up and turned on the web and it was 37, so I'm thinking, no way, the truck will be nice and warm. But then I thought, hey, summer's coming, I'll have six months of sweaty weather, better take my frostbite when I can get it. So I got it, all right. Oh, not actual frostbite, I guess, but goldurn was it cold. And not only my hands were cold, so was my body even though I was wearing a wool peacoat. Swifty did seem glad to be back on the road, though. She performed well through the mall, although one clueless morning coffee-ed up phone-user almost went through a stop sign right into us. Nobody's expecting an (almost) sixty-year old electric scooter driver in the mall at quarter past seven.
Which reminds me, I went into World Market to buy some wasabi peas and wine. They asked me for my ID! This has happened before, but not lately. So I got quite grumpy, especially when the salesgirl mentioned something about them wanting to be "non-discriminatory". Talk about pushing my buttons! So I said, "There's nothing wrong with discriminating between logic and nonsense!" Harrumph! Why do stores do that? It's like the airport security searching soldiers' shoes and grannies' sewing baskets. Not only is it a waste of time, it's an insult. Now that I think of it, the wine at World Market isn't any better than anywhere else. So next time I'll just buy the wasabi peas. Those I can't live without.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Swiftcurrent betrayed?!

OK, so I took the truck to work today. Big deal. It was cold - really cold. It was 52 degrees at noon, it might break the record of 36 tonight. So a nice warm truck was a lot more appealing after my second cup of coffee than a too-invigorating zoom on my favorite electric bike. I'm sorry, Swifty, nobody ever said you were the perfect vehicle for every situation. I don't have any gloves and my hands got quite cold yesterday. In New Hampshire you'd only be usable two months a year. And Tallahassee stays quite cold even after equinox. I can tell you're mad, but look at it as just a little rest, eh? Now Canada, there you'd be useless! HA! Oops, I didn't mean that, I apologize, OK, don't look at me that way. (just what I need, an oversensitive electro-bike. Well, she's new. She'll grow out of it.)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Swifty brings home the bacon - and more

Up early today and out to the supermarket on a somewhat hung-over Swifty. Misery loves company. Walking through the aisles, I warmed up from the more-than-a-little-breezy ride. I kept seeing things I "needed" and forgot that I would have to put everything in my backpack. No matter. Bacon, shrimp, hamburgers, bottles of soda, sausages - can you guess I'm on Atkins? But I was a bit dubious after stuffing everything in my Rick Steeves knapsack, which had survived Istanbul, Plovdiv and Sofia. Would a groggy Swiftcurrent carry me up the daunting hills between Publix and home with forty pounds of provisions? Not to worry. She (hmm - have I decided the bike is female? Interesting) zipped right along and I could sense the enjoyment in her heart as we swooped down Morningside, a very steep hilly street nearly covered in trees. Excellent job, my dear.
Not yet there aren't

The above was my reaction to this news story about unusual seismic activity off the coast of Oregon. I was especially taken by the following statement by heavily credentialed geophysicist Robert Dziak:

"It looks like what happens before a volcanic eruption, except there are no volcanoes in the area," Dziak said.

I was paying attention because the kids and I are planning to head out to Montana in June. It would be too bad if a new volcano chose to make its presence known just at that time. I shouldn't worry. We'll stay on the other side of the Rockies from the critical area. If it's big enough to get us there, we're all for it, anyway. You think global warming is bad? Try dealing with a couple of decades of volcanic ash-induced global freezing!

In the spirit of always looking for the good in fearsome events, we may be able to get in an early bid on some nice new oceanfront property in Idaho.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Swiftcurrent survives!

Yes, the strong and the brave and the wise survive. Even after a few brandy-sodas. And so as the sun went slowly down Swiftcurrent V. (for voltage) Electrobike (Swifty for short) brought his master home from the fancy totally jam-packed French restaurant halfway across town. Oh, yeah, the voltage bars were flickering on the last mile or so but there was no need to worry. Even after commuting three miles each way in heavy traffic to work another four or more miles each way was no problem. The e-go bike has a plentiful supply of reserve power, just like those old VW's with no gas gauge. I was flying down Apalachee Parkway. Of course it had been a tad nerve-rattling. There I was with Bill and my old friend Joe Albright and some new friends Cesar and Gigi talking about Cadillacs and Sofia. And all the time I was thinking, hmm, I wonder if Swifty has enough juice to get me back home with the light on. So I left early like a doofus, before it started to get really dark so I didn't have to use the headlight. I am getting better at using the mirrors, though. And I only had one little incident where I forgot to let off the throttle and jammed the bike into the kerb (Brit. spelling). I learned a lot.
Swiftcurrent goes out and gets drunk?

So here's the first big test for Swifty. My friend Bill is going to this fancy French restaurant tonight - Chez Pierre's - not to eat snails, but to drink. So he wondered if I would like to come along. The truck's still hors de combat, so it's going to be Swifty or nothing. After an exhausting day carrying me to work and back, with no time to recharge, will Swifty still be able to get me to Thomasville Road and back? In the dark? Somehow I think I'm going to give it a try. It's so crazy, it just might work. And it would prove that an e-go bike is a practical vehicle for more than just commuting.
First electro-week

So I've completed my first five mornings of riding to work on Swiftcurrent. It has become routine to find ways around traffic, zipping in and out of parking lots and side roads and parking right at the door nearest my office. Swifty is still banned from the building. I'm thinking of protesting but may not bother. This morning I nearly forgot my helmet, which I don't legally need anyway, but I decided to go get it. Then I did forget my knapsack, which wasn't a real problem. I was definitely cold in short sleeves this AM. Monday I had better wear a jacket, since it's supposed to be in the thirties, which may break a cold record.

Overall I am very pleased with my first commuting week. It's getting a little boring but I am relaxing into the process of riding, even having fun with it. I love the surge of power when I take off from a stand. It always surprises me. And sometimes going uphill I'll call for more power and it will be there, which is a pleasant surprise. I've had many waves and comments and questions, making me feel like a pioneer and daring individualist. All I really am is a bureaucrat looking for a cheap and fun way to go to work.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

So many different roads home

On my fourth day of electro-commuting, I'm realizing that there may be easier ways to get to work than the main highway I have used for five years with my pickup truck. So each time I'm trying a different way, like The Who and their magic bus, except this isn't magic, it's electric. I'm finding that I can get to work by about a dozen routes using mainly quiet residential streets, just crossing busy streets. The trip may take a little longer than blasting down Apalachee Parkway with all the other traffic, but it's a lot easier on the nerves, and maybe better for the bike, too. I can wave to joggers and mothers with baby carriages and check out all the "for sale" signs, since I'm kinda sorta looking for a good house.

A tactical matter: Am I right not to stop at all the stop signs I come to? I find myself coasting into intersections with four way stops, checking quickly for other cars and then blasting on through without fully stopping if the way seems clear. Seems safe enough to me. My gout-medication wooziness made me fall over at one busy intersection, but I recovered soon, realizing I had to be more aware. I continue to be surprised at the massive acceleration available in the first few seconds after a stop. Makes life easier when you're worried about holding up traffic.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Ridin' in the rain

Bummer. I came out of Publix with a knapsack full of food and it was raining. So what do I do, cry and call for a taxi? Nah, not with Swiftcurrent right there to get me home safely. Of course, Swifty's seat was wet, but what the heck, I was going to get wet all over anyway. I am becoming a careful, skilled electro-cyclist. I never take anything for granted. I shut off the power switch before walking the bike across a busy road. I find my hand has a tendency to twist the throttle when I'm walking along beside the bike, crossing a street. I've got a big bruise on my shin to prove the hypothesis. So I try to turn the e-bike off whenever I'm not sitting on it.

I survived the rain, obviously. It was pounding into me when I was going fast downhill. But it would have been the same on a bicycle. And worse, since it would have taken longer to get home. I was quite aware of the warnings in the user manual about the slickness of wet streets. The tires did seem to have good traction, though. And I had observed how little attention many auto drivers pay to dorky electro-bikers. But, gee, don't I have a right to the road as much as them? Of course not. Rights don't come out of nowhere. In fact, Nietzsche would opine that they don't exist. Only power exists. But when you're riding a 2-horsepower battery machine, you try not to think of things like that.
Swiftcurrent exiled!

I've been pulling my electrobike Swiftcurrent into my office building during the workday, locking it to a railing near an outlet from which I can recharge it. This morning a maintenance functionary told me that the head maintenance guy noticed it and said that it had to be kept outside. I asked the guy if he knew it was electric. Apparently he thought it was a gas scooter. Now I can see a possible reason for being forced to keep a gas bike outdoors - fumes and explosions and all that. But what possible danger was there from an electrobike? More to the point, how can one convince dubious bureaucrats that an electrically-propelled vehicle poses no risk? It would be reassuring to know Swiftcurrent was inside safe away from prying eyes and close to an outlet in case I needed to recharge it during the day.

Then I looked at the door through which I brought the bike in. It was for cripples, with their wheelchairs. And weren't some of those wheelchairs electrically propelled? Would an electric wheelchair be banned from the building? Somehow I don't think so. How un-PC would that be? So maybe when I talk to the head maintenance guy I can use that argument to get him to let me keep Swiftcurrent inside. Worth a try. Also, maybe I can guilt-trip him with "save the earth" nonsense.

That brings up all the enviro-weenie reasons for wanting to have an electric bike, none of which are my reasons. Global warming is an absurd delusion. Oil companies are not great big meanies pushing everyone around. There will be plenty of hydrocarbons for the foreseeable future. Cars and trucks are not evil, in fact they're some of the best things ever invented. So why do I want an electro-bike? Mostly because I enjoy it more than a car. I had been driving my Mazda pickup truck to work and back, maybe three miles each way. This was costing me almost $50 a month in gas, at the latest $3 plus per gallon price! I am, after all, at least half Scottish. And I guess I like to be different. I've discovered it's also quite a bit cooler on the bike at 20 mph compared to standing in traffic. No a/c needed! That coolness could come in handy this summer. Today I was positively cold riding into work, even though the sun was shining and it was over sixty degrees.

I can do just about everything on my bike that I was doing with my pickup, and I don't have to worry about finding a parking place near to a store I want to go into. Even at the Publix grocery store they have bike racks. And I want my shiny new bike to be protected from wet and hot weather. It would not be cool to get out of work and have to sit on a wet bike seat all the way home. So I think I should be able to keep it inside. We'll see if the powers that be agree.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


I bought an "E-go"(!) electric motorcycle at "All about scooters" to go to work on. Is it just a coincidence that I made a reservation at a place in Glacier National Park called "Swiftcurrent"? For that seems to me an ideal name for this contraption. So Swiftcurrent it is. It has fifty-five pounds of lead-acid batteries, which I am sure in a few years will sound awfully obsolete. By then I'll have installed a micro-mini black hole power source. Millions of miles without refueling.
But for now lead-acid it is. It gets up to a pretty good speed, especially right off the mark. I do have to plan my route smartly, avoiding canopy roads and older roads without a bike lane. My morning commute isn't noticeably longer than before. The bike seems rugged enough.