Friday, December 30, 2005

Cheeseburger in Paradise

I'm curled-up on the couch with a nice glass of 20-year Port wine reading Jimmy Buffett's latest novel, A Salty Piece of Land. Jimmy paints a fine picture of a Caribbean paradise, and it almost makes me forget the 2 days of freezing rain and current snowfall outside the living room window.

I hate winter, but Mother Nature and I have come to a mutual understanding. As long as she makes sure that the weather is nice when I take my yearly vacation in more tropical climates, I don't bitch too much about the white stuff she occasionally dumps on us Northerners.

I've been planning a few weeks in Key West this coming April - a fine time of the year to get away from winter, as spring is just around the bend and if timed correctly, I get back from vacation just in time to take the bike out of hibernation and finally start moving around on two wheels again. Jimmy's writings are only confirming that I've made the right choice for my destination.

I'm hoping I'll be able to rent a motorcycle while I'm down there, but unfortunately all I've been able to find are HD rentals. Not exactly my cup 'o tea, but if that's all there is then I'll get a Sportster or something.

For now, I'll just go back to my glass of Port and immerse myself in exotic locations!

"Lately, newspaper mentioned cheap airfare.
I've got to fly to Saint Somewhere.
I'm close to bodily harm.
" - Jimmy Buffett

Music From the Skies

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a bit of a technology geek. I love electronics; toys like MP3 players, GPS units and all forms of portable gadgetry really get my blood pumping! So you can imagine how happy I was to unwrap a Sirius satellite radio from under the Christmas tree a few days ago. Of course, the very next morning I was in the garage installing the radio in my car. All in all, it was a rather painless install. I guess the biggest PITA was routing the antenna wire from the back hatch area (I drive a station wagon) to the front dash - this basically involved removing various interior panels and tie-wrapping the wire onto clips. Whatever, it only took a few hours to install.

First impression - the activation was easy. It took about 10 minutes on the phone and when I powered up the radio for the first time: BINGO! Over 100 channels at my fingertips. I was a little disappointed at the sound quality since both Sirius and XM tout their services as being "Digital-Quality Sound". This may be true, but it doesn't define the level of quality. From what I understand, both satellite radio services have a similar setup where they're pushing about one hundred channels through a sipping-straw's worth of bandwidth. So basically, music stations get more bandwidth, while talk-radio gets less. The best comparison would be with Internet radio; a good netcast will sound OK at about 64Kbps, while less than stellar quality can be heard at 32Kbps.

What did impress me, however, was the quality of the programming. Three stand-out music streams (for me) were Big 80's (with former MTV VJ's), The Spectrum (Adult Rock) and Hair Nation (80's and 90's glam rockers). I also find myself listening to The Faction quite often as I like their mix of Hip-Hop, Hard Rock and Rap.

I've never been a big fan of talk-radio, even less of Martha Stewart (yup, she's got her own channel - 112), but I was pleasantly surprised when I landed on the Whatever show while checking out the different offerings on Sirius. What I heard could not have been farther from what I had expected coming from the Queen of Homemaking's radio station. Whatever is hosted by Martha's daughter Alexis Stewart, and her good friend Jennifer Koppelman Hutt (daughter of Omnimedia Chairman, Charles Koppelman). It was refreshing (and damn funny) to hear Alexis and Jennifer bitch about their parents (very openly, I might add) and the ups and downs of being part of the New York bourgeoisie. One of the phone-in topics of Wednesday's show was "do your parents still treat you like a child?" It was great to hear Alexis being frankly honest about her relationship with her mother, and just as wonderful to hear Jennifer disagree! The whole show had a very relaxed feel to it, sort've like sitting in a bar with a few friends and bitching about life in general.

Anyhow, I've now ordered the "Home Kit" so that I can hook-up Sirius to my home stereo. Not being a big TV fan to begin with, this just may be the death nail in my cable company's coffin!

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Do One Thing Right.

Why do people have this need to branch out into other disciplines? The running gag is that most actors really want to direct, which isn't a very big stretch as these are very intimately related professions. But why do some actors insist on trying their hand at singing? At the risk of offending her legion of fans, I have to say that Lindsay Lohan can't sing to save her life. Her very poor cover of Stevie Nicks' Edge of Seventeen at the American Music Awards had me rolling with laughter! Oh well, at least she had the guts to try and sing it live; unlike Hilary Duff (another child actor) who seemed to be lip-syncing the whole thing. Whatever, I'm going way off topic here!

The purpose of this entry was actually to crack a few jokes at the expense of ARMEC... Yup, they're the sidecar manufacturer that I mentioned in a previous post. They've got a great reputation as a sidecar manufacturer, where they've created some interesting new concepts (like a sidecar that still allows the motorcycle to lean in corners). Seems that they also have illusions of grandeur with their 3-wheeled "City-Mobil" prototype vehicle. Basically, it's a front-wheel-drive scooter with two wheels in the rear. The front "cockpit" area is attached to the rear through some kind of hinge that allows the front section to lean in corners while the rear wheel remain strait.

What is it with aftermarket motorcycle accessory manufacturers wanting to come out with a "revolutionary new means of transportation"? Some of you may recall Corbin's Sparrow electric vehicle (another 3-wheeled wonder), or even BMW's C1 scooter...

I guess one exception to the rule is Campagna's T-Rex, although this is billed more as an exotic performance vehicle than some ecological marvel. It's an interesting three-wheeler, to say the least. But with a base price nearing the $50K mark, this clearly isn't for everybody.

"Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best." - Henry Van Dyke

Had To Start Moderating Comments :-(

Greetings all!

Just wanted to let all cybernauts and bloggers know that I've now switched-on the moderation tool for comments. It really sucks that I had to, but unfortunately I'd been getting tons of spam comments from idiots trying to sell HD accessories or cheap software. Rest assured, if you post a comment that has to do with the blog (good or bad), it will get published ad verbatim.

Sidecars: To Lean, Or Not To Lean?

I've been doing a bit of research lately on ways to add luggage space to my bike. I've already got hard luggage comprising of sidecases (Kappa K40 - 40 liters each) and a topcase (Givi E450 - 45 liters), add to this an expandable tankbag that holds up to 30 liters and it adds up to a total luggage capacity of 155 liters. Now I can almost hear alot of your moans that "if you need more space, get a car!" Although I hate passing the blame, the simple truth is that my SO requires more space than I. When I'm riding alone, I can easily make due with what's on the bike now - but when my wife tags along, we run out of space pretty darn quick!

One of the first things I checked out were trailers. I didn't like the idea of towing something that didn't lean, so I looked into the selection of single-wheel trailers. The most popular probably being the Uni-Go; a small (140 liter) single wheeled trailer with great styling and nice features being made over in New Zealand. Unfortunately, it costs an arm and a leg (which can be a problem when shifting); with the base "Touring" model ringing-in at over $3,000 CAN. I kept searching until finally I came upon the Monogo trailer manufactured by a small company in Quebec; only half-a-day's ride from home. These guys took an interesting approach; rather than re-invent the wheel and build a trailer from scratch, they used a car-top luggage box (i.e. Thule), added a wheel and a hitch and voilĂ ! The great thing about using existing parts is that they can manufacture them for a very reasonable price: $995 CAN. Another very good thing is that it's very light (54 lbs) and the wheel is positioned close to the middle, which means very little weight on the hitch (tongue weight). Monogo isn't the only company to use a luggage box, there's also the Piggy-Backer out of South Carolina, but it's a two-wheeled rig.

I was almost ready to put down a deposit on the trailer when a friend of mine mentioned sidecars. At first, I shrugged and laughed because the image I had of a sidecar was a URAL rig or something out of a WWII movie. Then he made the remark that "with a sidecar, you could bring your dog along with you". Being a dog person (and very cheap), I'll admit that it saddens me to leave the dog at the kennel when we go away for a few days of riding... It saddens me even more when we go to pick her up and have to pay the bill! But again, doesn't a sidecar equate to little more than riding a three-wheeled car (i.e. no leaning). Not necessarily, there's a company out of Switzerlan called ARMEC that manufactures a sidecar that allows you to lean. This is achieved through an ingenious bottom-mount. This is a very interesting option for me, as it would not only allow me to bring the dog along, but also add about 120 liters of luggage space. The great part is that it can be removed from the bike in about 10 minutes with little more than an adjustable spanner. Oh yeah, did I mention that it also costs an arm and a leg? Oh well, maybe someday...

"The more people I meet the more I like my dog." - Unknown

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Travel Videos... And Other Ways To Bore Your Friends!

I've just recently bought a DVD-Burner - nice little gizmo really. Now I can take boring home movies and import them into the computer, add a menu, soundtrack and some transition effect and subtitles with some handy-dandy software that came with the burner, only to finally realize that they're still nothing more than boring home movies with a bit of bling! Let's face it; most events that make it into your Handycam are usually of the "had-to-be-there" variety. When taken out of context, the viewer will most likely fall into a daze or self-induced coma to make your 2-hour video memories of the summer cottage tolerable!

Here are a few tips that can make your home DVD's a little more interesting:

  1. Keep length of clips to a minimum. Your viewer doesn't need to see all two and a half hours of little Tommy's choir recital to figure out that A) Tommy looked cute in his suit, and B) Tommy can't sing. Try to use the best bits; usually no more than 30 seconds per clip. This keeps things moving and thus can prevent viewer-coma.
  2. Mix media. When traveling abroad, I always try to buy some CD's of local musicians playing some traditional music (folk songs are great). Add this as a background track to a video montage; this way the viewer discovers not only the sights but also the sounds of the region. We've all heard the saying that "a picture is worth a thousand words" - use it! Try to alternate between brief video clips (15 to 30 seconds) and still pictures (5 seconds) with an audio background track.
  3. Add ambiance. If you can swing it; get a small digital audio recorder (some MP3 players have a built-in microphone that allows you to record). This will allow you to pick-up some ambient sounds that you can use as an audio track to strengthen narration. A simple voice-over gets boring mighty quick, but if you add some ambient sounds it lends more depth to the narration. A two-minute loop is usually sufficient for an audio recording.
  4. Subdivide. Try to subdivide your DVD into different subjects, with each "Chapter" no more than 15 - 20 minutes in length. For a road-trip, each "Chapter" can be a different area that was visited.
  5. Don't overdo it!!! Just because the software lets you add scrolling titles, fold-over transitions, lighting effects and mondo-reverb doesn't necessarily mean that your viewer wants to see and hear it! In video montage, the KISS rule definitely applies (Keep It Simple, Stupid!).

As a last tip, here's some simple etiquette: don't assume that guests want to see your home movies! If a certain subject comes up in conversation (the lost art) like Little Tommy's Choir Recital - then suggest that you have a brief clip. If your guests are bored after 5 minutes, shut it down... PLEASE!

"I can think of nothing more boring for the American people than to have to sit in their living rooms for a whole half hour looking at my face on their television screens." - Dwight D. Eisenhower