Straight as an arrow! (Is there a crosswind?)

Well, the RGV is as straight as it is likely to get.  As you would imagine, the frame specialist has seen more than his fair share of bent bikes.  He showed me an immaculate looking cruiser that had been restored from a crash and re-sold.  The front wheel was about 40mm (over 1.5 inches) off centre.  Apparently it “rode alright” and it was not until the new owner was cleaning it did he spot the issue!  So, if you go to buy a second-hand bike, make sure you check it is straight.  The frame specialist also told me that it was common to find bikes were up to around 10mm out when they are brand new!  I guess that means some leniency may need to be shown when inspecting a second hand bike.

My bike had bigger issues:  At some point, it had taken “a big whack” to the front end.  When this happens, the front forks (with their extra leverage) tend to stretch and bow the steering-head assembly.  The cups that hold the steering head bearings had also stretched “out of round”.  The bearings that are meant to fit snugly into their cups fell out in his hands!  It also has the effect of “steepening” the steering head angle, making the bike “quicker steering” and less stable.  If you are considering purchasing an insurance write-off to turn into a track bike, it is probably well worth remembering this point.  Obviously, a bike that has not suffered from a catastrophic reduction in wheelbase length should not be suffering from this issue.  People do crash in other manners!

Not surprisingly, a couple of minor cracks had formed around the steering head and these have been welded-up. The tortured sub-frame has been coaxed back into being straight.  A common issue with the RGVs was a tendency for a crack to form on the engine mounting brackets.  This had occurred on my frame.  He welded it up “the best he could” but it was difficult to access.  This means the next task is to remove the engine and take the bare frame back for him to finish the job.

I have been doing my fair share of web-research on restoring the Suzuki RGV.  Most of the write-ups I have found on-line are going to be registered for road use.  In addition, it appears no one bothers to write up “restoration on the cheap” projects.  I guess projects without the bling, do not attract the same fanatical owners. (or at least not the same desire to show off the project)  My goal is to build the bike up to be practical and functional.  That is not to say it will not end up with a few fancy parts on it, eventually, just that the purchase of these parts will not take precedence over what will make it an effective track-bike. 

My secondary goal is to be “slow and steady”.  I have a monthly budget for the bike and a list of tasks I want to achieve.  There has been more than one web-site where the project starts off with a rush of expensive, light-weight components only to appear to halt with the bike little more than a rolling chassis of finely polished parts.  Strangely enough, you never really see a final post where the owner admits defeat / bankruptcy / declining interest.  Maybe all started and published projects will be “finished” one day… 

The other point to make is “finished” is a relative term.  My declaration is this:  Once the bike is ready for a track day, the restoration project will be deemed “finished”. 

Programming Bloggers’ Lament

Programming blogs try to distil wisdom, pass on advice, inform their readers of good practices.  The authors of blogs I read, tend to be modest of their own abilities – willing to offer advice, but willing to stand corrected.  I like this trait: less rock-star, more egoless programmer.

One of the common issues bloggers have, is getting their information to the screens of those who need it most.  Almost every programmer I know could name a “hopeless” programmer.  Someone they have come across during their careers that really just cannot code.   These are often the kind of people who should be taking an active interest in learning; but generally, they don’t.  In other words, they do not read the blogs that could possibly help them to improve their work.  This is what I refer to as “the Programming Bloggers’ Lament”

There is a simple explanation as to why these sorts of programmers do nothing to improve their skills: Learning would take effort.  These coders may not be particularly lazy people.  There is more to life than work – and to them, programming is just work.  Anyone with a healthy “work-life balance” (as the trendy ones call it) deserve respect.  It is worthwhile noting that the key word is “balance”, which indicates to me that diligence in the “work” side of the equation is still required.

So, how do you reach these sorts of people?  First of all, I am convinced that not every programmer I have met, should be one.  As I have suggested before if patience is your trump card when it comes to programming, then maybe you are in the wrong career.  Presuming that “improving” is a possibility, mentoring and team leadership are the best ways to reach these kinds of programmers.  In a positive atmosphere, everyone will seek to improve their skills.  You really cannot change other people.  They have to want to change, before it will happen.  Even then, they really have to want to change with a kind of freakish determination before they are likely to do so.  The best you can hope for, is to inspire them to be better.  Continual guidance of these people is not ideal, but may be necessary.  Sometimes, you will never be able to get them to an end-goal such as “being a great programmer”.  Sometimes the best you can hope for is getting them to a level of acceptable competence and professionalism that allows them to admit when some task is beyond them.So if you know someone who you wished would take more of an interest in reading programming blogs, then you are probably wishing for the wrong thing.  Use the lessons you learn from reading blogs to pass them on to those who need to know them the most.  The bottom line is: if you know someone who will only spend a minimal amount of effort on their work, then that is the “price” you must make the lessons they need to learn.

Giving it to you straight

The handling of a motorcycle can be greatly affected by its “straightness”.  Even a minor “topple-over” in a car-park can be enough to warp the chassis and thus affect the handling.  Making sure a bike rides properly is a major concern when buying a second-hand bike. 

When a bike is not straight, one of the problems is that the rear wheel is not directly in-line with the front wheel.  When this happens, it takes more effort to lean the bike one-way, than the other.  Let’s take an example:

In our case, the rear wheel remains centred, but the front wheel is to the left of centre.  Leaning to the left is easier than leaning right.  When leaning to the right, the bike has to “climb” past the centre of the rear tyre.  It’s almost as though you are “leaning uphill”.  Leaning left, the bike has already passed the highest point of the tyre and hence falls into the turn.

Just as brick-layers do, it is possible to get a good idea of straightness with a piece of string.  Preferably, with the bike on a paddock stand (or somehow held vertical) the idea is to run the piece of string down the sides of the rear tyre and towards the front of the bike.

How long is a piece of string?  

Starting with the middle of the string, wrap it around the rear tyre two or three times.  Carefully loop the end of the string around itself twice, near the edge of the tyre.

Looped around the tyreLooped around the tyreThe looping of the string.

 If you pull the string too tightly, where you have looped the string will slip back past the edge of the tyre.  The problem with this happening is that it then makes it difficult to get both stringlines at the same height.  It is not the end of the world, but it does make measuring more difficult.

Pass the lengths of string through to the front of the bike.  If you would like, you can attach the ends to a rod – ensuring that the gap between the two sides is equal to the width of the rear tyre.  Through a true moment of serendipity, I happened to have an old Ventura gear-sack mounting bar with lugs on it that were exactly the right distance apart.

It was the

Ensure the front wheel is pointing straight ahead and stretch the string until it is under a slight tension.  If all has gone according to plan, the only place the string will touch the bike again is at the front of the rear tyre.

Yes, I haven't washed it yet...

From the front of the bike, you should be able to ensure the string is travelling straight along the path of the rear wheel.  The distance from the string, to the sides of the front wheel should be equal on both sides.


One side... ...and the other 


That's not a pretty picture...


As evident in the photos the RGV is a long way off being straight.  I already knew that.  It is actually so far out of line, you can see it with the naked eye.  What is worse: SOME SPIDER HAS BUILT ITS NEST IN MY FRONT TYRE!

Nature reserve

In theory, it would be possible for the chassis to be bent and for the wheels to still be in-line at some point.  If the headstock of the bike were off to one side, but twisted so that the forks were angled back toward the centre line, it may be possible to not notice the misalignment with a string test.  But, for a quick and fairly accurate approximation of straightness, the string test is a good guide.  In the meantime, the RGV is off to the frame-specialist to get itself straightened out.


The Trailing Edge

It does not sound as exciting as “the leading edge” does it?  I have been inspired for some time to build a PC.  I do not think it will give me an intimate understanding of how a computer works. I do not think that it will make me a better programmer.  I am not predicting a career change from software to hardware.  It just seemed like a fun undertaking.  Put that down to lots of formative years spent building Lego and a genuine interest in computing.

Whenever I have purchased a PC in the past, I have spent a fair amount of time researching and deciding what parts went into it.  I blame my programming career for making me want the best equipment that I could afford.  As a result, MTBNPC (Mean time between new PCs) tends to be fairly long. 

As technology changes quickly, this means my home computers tend to be as long in the tooth as a sabre-tooth tiger.  (And almost as current)  Because they started out close to the leading edge, they do tend to age fairly gracefully, but in the end they are old and far below the spec of anything you could get off the “bottom end” shelf by the time I replace it. 

My parents recently had a PC failure.  Their current machine has had a myriad of issues. (Probably around 3 and 4 – but as it rarely gets used for more than hour or two a day, that seems quite a lot!) As I live about an hour away, most of the times it fails, they simply take it to their local computer place to get it fixed.  From their dealings with the shop, it appears the shop staff are competent and parts are reasonably priced.  If you lived in the area that my parents do, I would have no drama in recommending them. (Apart from the fact I don’t know the shop’s name!) 

This time though, I have volunteered to fix it for them.  Given that they run Windows XP, and an old version of Office, they aren’t exactly in need of a high performance system.  As a result, the replacement parts I have chosen are at the “bargain basement” end of the spectrum.  Exact specifications and prices do not date well, so if you discover this blog in twelve months time know that the components I have chosen represent the cheapest, what I consider to be decent quality, parts my favourite shop currently sells.  A generic 500W power supply, 2GB RAM, 2.6GHz AMD Dual core processor and Gigabyte motherboard (with on-board graphics card) for under $260 AUD.  Those stats won’t make any PC-gamer excited, but unless you are running something as “hard-core” as games do you really need any more? 

I have never been much of a PC gamer.  I can seriously appreciate the talent and skill that goes into games programming, but my other hobbies and family life are such that the time I have left over for such pursuits is somewhat limited.  Given that a bit more RAM would probably see the PC comfortably run any developer environment I choose it has dawned on me that “the trailing edge” is really where I should be aiming my next home PC.