Tag Archives: Torelli

My Favorite Gadgets: The Top Five

3 Mar

With the iPad 2’s arrival next week, the temptation to buy another gadget rears its expensive head once more. This time I’ll pass. At least until the the device gets handwriting recognition, then I’ll exercise my American Express card.

Forgive me, environmentalists, but I am a gadget addict. Have been for years. I have forgotten boxes of gear stuffed with everything from original iPods and Sony Walkmen to handheld printers and portable scanners. My office is littered with defunct digital cameras and outmoded laptops. I own multiple boom boxes and bicycles as well as telephones and tape recorders. I’ve got…well, you get the idea. If you stripped and sold the copper from the cables, cords, and connectors that came with all my gadgets, you’d probably drive down that commodity’s price by a substantial margin.

At various points in my life, I felt it necessary to have each and every gadget in my home. So, I understand all-too-well the impulse to buy these damn things. But what if I had to pare them down to, say, a mere five items? What would make the cut?

I gave this notion some deep thought recently and whittled my list to these:

5. iMac: I enjoy working on my iMac. It’s fast. The 20-inch display is clear and crisp. It’s everything I want in a desktop computer.

4. Bianchi mountain bike: I can’t always ride in dry weather (This is Oregon, after all.), nor do I always want to pedal on pavement. Going offroad is fun and terrific exercise; something I can only experience cycling with a mountain bike.

3. iPhone: Everyone these days needs a cellphone. Although not a perfect device, Apple’s smartphone is good enough to make my list.

2. MacBook Air: The best computer I’ve ever used. No contest. Lightning fast. Feather light. Decent battery life. A perfect computer for our times.

1. Torelli road bike: I’ve owned this bike for nine years. I have ridden tens of thousands of miles on it. It’s great for 100 mile long, slow trips as well as ten-mile, all-out quick rides. Fact is, if I could only keep one gadget, it would be this machine.

If you had to choose among the gadgets you own, what would make your top five list?

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Spring Teases the Willamette Valley

12 Feb

Still deep in winter, the Willamette Valley had spring on its mind today.

On my ride this morning I watched a redtail hawk fight a stiff headwind while hauling a substantial addition to its distant nest in its beak. Dusky Canada geese rode the southeast winds to the north, forming and reforming their trademark V patterns high overhead. Llamas haughtily watched me pedal by from their corrals and flocks of wooly sheep on green sloping hills fussed over their gaily tromping black and white newborn lambs.

Blueberry field after the harvest

Blueberry field in winter after pruning

In the blueberry fields of Breyman Farms near Independence farmworkers spiffed up the strikingly red bushes that bear the fruit. Last fall I snapped a photo of my Torelli “after” the harvest but pre-pruning. Today I took a “before” photo near the same spot. Obviously, based on my scant evidence, the antioxidant-rich fruit needs a fair amount of TLC handiwork before it gets to market.

Further on my ride along Riverside Road the folks at Ankeny Vineyards had prepped most of the hillside’s vines for this year’s vintage. Ankeny, which makes some tasty pinot noirs, is also one of the few wineries in the country that produces Maréchal Foch grapes and wines.

I continued around Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, as I often do. Today its fields, ponds, woods, and roadside bramble were alive with wild doves, Steller’s jays, redwing blackbirds, more hawks, a Spotted Towee or two, and many other birds I did not recognize.

As I climbed up Liberty Road at one point off to my left I could see Polk County and the coastal mountains in the distance being kissed by the leading edge of a Pacific storm heading our way. If I looked to my right I saw the sun light up the snow and glaciers on Mt. Jefferson looming 3,199m (10,497 feet) above a fifty mile stretch of the Cascade Mountains.

Winter may rule the calendar, but for today, at least, spring held sway.

User Error

6 Jul

My biggest complaint about my iPhone has been its lousy battery life, particularly when using its GPS processor while on three-hour or longer bike rides. I’ve scoured the Internet looking for a practical battery charger that could turn my pedaling into electricity, then I could attach it to my Torelli road bike and connect my Apple smartphone and ride as long as I wanted. No luck.

I was bemoaning my problem to Cathie, my wife, and she suggested I get an extra battery. I answered that, while small, light, and easy to use, the batteries only added a couple of hours of life to my iPhone. I wanted something that could last for those extra long, 100-mile rides that I take occasionally.

She said, “Get two.”

Now my wife has always been a smart gal. She graduated summa cum laude from college, reads more books in a month than most people read in a year, and was running big IBM systems before I ever touched a keyboard. But these might have been the most brilliant, insightful two words she’s ever spoken to me. While I was over-thinking my dilemma, seeking a perfect solution with over-priced and unproven technology, Cathie was solving the problem.

So I went to Best Buy and picked up two Kennsington batteries. They work simply and effectively.

Yesterday I planned a 50-60 mile ride. I launched my iPhone’s Motion-X GPS app, put the batteries in my pocket, and took off.

As happens a lot while I ride, my mind began to wander, distracted by the sights and sounds around me as well as ideas and observations as I pedaled around the fertile farmland of the Willamette Valley. As hour three of the ride drew near, I realized that I needed to add a battery to the iPhone. Too late. It was dead. I should have attached the battery before I left for my ride. Dumb me.

It reminded me (once again) of a comment made back in the 1980s by a UNIX system administrator at Sun Microsystems who was fixing my workstation after I had screwed it up somehow.

“If it weren’t for users, this network would run perfectly,” he muttered.

Indeed, if it weren’t user errors, my toying with technology would be a near-perfect experience.

Can’t Trust My Garmin

29 May

In a previous entry, I noted that my CicloMaster broke and I had replaced it with my Garmin 205. To be more precise, I have had my Garmin for more than a year and a half, intending to replace the CicloMaster. I thought the all-digital, satellite-based Garmin would be more accurate. I was wrong.

The CicloMaster is part analog. It measures distance by knowing the size of my front wheel and tracking the revolutions of a small disc attached to one of my bike’s spokes. Pretty much the same technology I had on my Schwinn Continental ten-speed back in the 6th grade. I figured 21st century technology had to be better. As I said: Wrong.

Until the CicloMaster sputtered and died, I had both units on my Torelli road bike. I immediately noticed a discrepancy between the units on my rides. After a little more than 10 miles the Garmin would show a .01 extra mile. That is, it was off the mark by just under 1%.

I had more faith in the CicloMaster because some of the bike rides I take I also have driven in my and my wife’s cars and it matched their odometers. Later I learned that Garmin devices have been tested as inaccurate.

Even before I noticed the discrepancy in distance I had discovered that the Garmin’s elevation estimates were way off. Like most bicyclists, I have many different routes, but because I ride so often, I take them repeatedly. One takes me from my house, over Skyline Road, and around Ankeny Wildlife Refuge. It’s a great ride.

On any given day the Garmin will report that I am leaving my house at an elevation of as little as 469 feet and as much as 530 feet. The top of Skyline can be between as low as 938 feet or as high as 1001. And there’s no relation between starting low at home and topping Skyline at a higher elevation. For example, the log Garmin automatically keeps indicates when Skyline was 1001 feet in elevation, I had left my house at precisely 500 feet.

I’m not sure what the problem is. It could be that the Garmin is calculating GPS data from different satellites each time, which causes the problem. Could be that, as a low-end unit in the Garmin line, the company used a less precise GPS microprocessor. Maybe Garmin engineers can’t write decent GPS software. All I know is, that the device is not accurate.

That’s a shame. Not so much for the distance or elevation data. But the Garmin unit also calculates the calories I burn on each ride. I depend on it to tell me how many of those I consume in order to calculate how many Bridgeport IPAs I can drink “for free” that evening. If get a beer belly I’m gonna blame Garmin.

Writing & Riding

22 May

It’s pouring outside, hailing off and on. Has been for days. My eight-year-old Torelli sits idle in the garage. I want desperately to get out on the road and burn off my pent-up stress. Deadlines are crashing down on me. I need a bicycle break. But weather and work are conspiring against me.

I’m writing furiously, but not effectively. I start and stop. Words materialize, then vanish. Concepts that should be hammered into whole paragraphs, collapse into a confused mess. A good bicycle ride would be better than a great editor right now.

A good bicycle ride doesn’t always depend on fine weather. I’ve had some of my best rides in some of the lousiest conditions. But a nice day is conducive to a decent ride, especially when I’m using the ride as distraction from and an inspiration for work. If I’m fighting black clouds of anxiety about assignments while dealing with a dark, damp day, it’s misery on two wheels.

When I’m under duress from pressing free-lance duties, a long, hard pedal can refresh my mind while it exhausts my body. As I push my legs up and down, up and down, up and down, climbing endless hills or speeding along flats and curves, new ideas pop into my head; disparate facts get elegantly linked; sentences and similes find life. It happens without effort. Nothing is forced. I pedal, therefore, I think.

But I’m doing neither at the moment. Instead, I flail at the keyboard, cranking out copy, because a looming deadline is more ominous than the stormiest weather.