Archives for category: Gadget

All I want for Christmas is a Park Tool Workstand… and it has arrived early! One of the reasons I love cycling is the mechanical aspect of maintaining my steeds. I don’t have all the tools in my kit bag and there are still some types of repairs that I have not quite cracked, but now that I have this workstand it will make things a whole lot easier. I had been eyeing up one of these for quite some time, and was further inspired by this video of one of the Garmin team mechanics plying his trade.

The workstand was delivered unassembled and we had to put it together before putting it to use. When I write we, I meant the Pok and me. He loves playing with tools, and already knows what screwdrivers, allen keys, and wrenches are. Though I think I give my son’s intelligence more credit than it deserves – he thought we had just built see-saw.

Today we got to use the workstand for the first time, giving both the road and mountain steed a through clean and lube. This workstand is awesome! For starters, it works equally well for both bikes. It enables me to get in under the rear derailleur mechanism and into the nooks where dust and grime build up. With its pivot, I can also rotate the bike around 360 degrees making it much easier to do whatever I need to. The height is adjustable too, but I have not fiddled with this setting yet. Little Pok loved the whole set up and joined in the bike cleaning fun. Now to work out how to adjust my rear derailleur.

If anyone thinks that I am subjecting my son to hard working child labour, the alternate option would have been dealing with a crying tantrum spitting two year old. He loved washing the bike, constantly interjecting with “Daddy, my do it.” Although he did object to the spray from the hose bouncing off the frame onto his head, to which he instructed me to “Stop spraying me Daddy, my don’t like it.” In between his bursts of assistance he spent the rest of the time jumping in the puddles I created, hopping over the hose in the garage and doing laps of the mounted bike.

How would I rate my new piece of bike gear? About 4.5 out of 5 stars, and the reason why I drop the 1/2 star is because of the mount that sits underneath the bottom bracket. It could be a bit better in terms of it’s base of support for the frame, but it is not flimsy – you just have to tighten hard the frame grip strap. I would definitely recommend my fellow cyclists to invest in one of these. If you shop prudently from one of the online bike shops you should be able to pick one of these up for not much over USD200.

Time to giddy up and go for another summer spin with one of my now super clean steeds.

A couple of months ago I rode with a couple of mates in the Sydney Ride to Conquer Cancer. It was a two day, 200km ride to raise funds in support of the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Camperdown, NSW. The Lifehouse is the vision of  oncologist Professor Chris O’Brien, and it aims to transform cancer treatment for Australians in an environment thriving on discovery, research and uncompromising care. Unfortunately Chris O’Brien also lost his battle to cancer, but his legacy lives on. In total we were all able to raise $5.8 million, which has gone a long way to funding construction of the new facilities – which are still under construction. This was the best organised ride that I have ever done, and it had a really good vibe.

Today the organisers of the ride got a few of us together again this morning for a celebratory ride, as a thank you for our combined efforts. It was a good opportunity to catch up with my fellow riding mates doing some of what we love – two wheel travelling. JE, one of my former work colleagues, joined me this morning at my house on the way to Centennial Park where we were going to go cruising. Both of us have young 2 year olds, and we were both yawning as we rode to the start area. The weather was looking dodgy, but with a few snacks in a belly JE and I set off with the rest of the group.

CY and JE riding to celebrate Conquer Cancer

For the ride’s journey out, we followed the road down to La Perouse that GE and I rode on Thursday morning. What greeted us was a pretty mean head wind sent in our direction courtesy of the regular Sydney Southerly.  On the return we took a detour over to the shipping docks and container yards. This was a cool little detour, but I reckon it would be busy to ride during the week through that area. By the time we returned to Centennial Park, we  hadn’t quite racked up the 50km. We decided to ride back home rather than have Pok and his Mummy come and pick us up. This choice rewarded us with some sunny skies and the opportunity to spin by the shores of Sydney Harbour. I realise I am pretty lucky to have  Sydney Harbour as my local riding area. It was a good morning riding all round, with a reasonable amount of climbing (446m). Here is the link to the Strava ride that I uploaded from the GPS if anyone is interested in the route.

What surprised me when I uploaded the ride from the Garmin was how my trip computer appeared to be suffering from a hangover. See the arrows against the route mapped out below – too funny.

Is my Garmin drunk?Truth be told, all those areas are surrounded by high rise buildings in the Sydney CBD. So I imagine that the GPS was probably picking up some reflected signals from the buildings. Nonetheless it looks funny, and this is the first time that I have seen this on a route recorded on my Garmin.

Good times, Summer has now officially arrived in Sydney. I look forward to having a hot one, though not sure I could handle day after day of yesterday’s 35+ degree heat – too stifling to ride.

After a solid year of training and a few big rides in September and October this year, I have wound down the riding a bit in November. But I am already putting on some pudding around the waist and I had enough of it yesterday – so back in the saddle. I picked up a new riding buddy, GE, who is training for a sprint triathlon to raised funds for the Cancer Charity Can Too. GE is an old work colleague who finally got around to attaining a new road steed to add to his stable. He has been off the bikes for a while, so was a bit rusty. But it was good to introduce another cycling buddy to one of my routes – Centennial Park to La Perouse and back.

For those who don’t know both locations have historical significance for Australia. La Perouse was where the French Navigator Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse landed in Botany Bay a few days after the First Fleet of British Convicts entered the bay before proceeding to Sydney Cove. Centennial Park was originally land belonging to the Gadigal people before European settlement in Australia, but in more recent times the park is significant as the site of official ceremony to mark the federation of Australia on 1 January 1901. The pavilion for the ceremony still stands today. While the whole area holds great history for Indigenous Australia, Colonial Australia, and the modern Australian Commonwealth – for me personally the area is great for riding with the two cool bookends.

For this ride I had installed a new piece of kit on my road steed, a K-Edge Garmin computer mount. I had been eyeing this piece of kit up for a while, through fear of crashing while bombing down the hill and trying to look at my Garmin for a speed check. What convinced me was the review by another blogger Alan Thomson over a Scarlet Fire who wrote up this article.

K-Edge out front Garmin computer mount

That is it in the metallic red paint and you can see it is quite a fair way in front of the stem headplate. I left the old mount on the stem as a comparison point and the viewing angle is greatly improved in terms of how far you have to look down (over the front wheel and not the stem). In this new setup, my peripheral vision is over past the front wheel – much safer for speed checks while bombing down hills.

This ride has a good downhill bombing segment that leads to Bare Island at La Perouse. I always conk out before the cul-de-sac at the end that swings around to return back. My goal is to maintain maximum speed all the way down this segment. For this ride with GE I grabbed a PR, but well short of the guys racking up 69km/hr. We were rewarded with a beautiful dawn view of the Tasman Sea and heads at Botany Bay. That is GE’s new Giant steed that you can see in the shot, cool ride.

Botany Bay heads La Perouse

It was also a nice calm view of the bay and airport runways too – in fact nice morning for a ride all round, given that it was sprinkling ever slightly when I left home.

Botany Bay - La Perouse

And I suppose I have to include a shot of me in my riding gear (the cursed BMC kit that I wore for my only road steed stack). I am normally the one doing the shooting, so surprisingly I don’t have many photos with me in them.

CY on the LaPa ride

At the halfway point GE was doing pretty well, as hadn’t done a lot of road riding. We started our return, and unusually there was a bit of traffic for that time of the morning. We returned through Maroubra along ANZAC Parade, and the traffic was really getting busy. I told GE to ride single file on my tail, but as soon as we did so another rider flew past both of us as he weaved in and out of the second lane. The other rider had got no more than 50m in front of us when, as he was sitting in the left most lane, he got cut off by a ute that decide it wanted to turn left – without the driver looking in her blind spot. He nearly got collected and had to come to a pretty much full stop to avoid being hit. In fairness, the rider had put himself in her blind spot, but nonetheless she would have been at fault. The challenge that I have in this case is that even she was at fault, the loser will always be the rider on two wheels. Crash adverted for him – luckily.

We approached the five ways roundabout at Kingsford where some the traffic signals had afforded us a clean run on the road without any cars alongside of us, but as I entered the roundabout with ample space and no traffic a single driver in a car coming from the south into the roundabout decided that he didn’t have to look and sped in on a collision course with me. I was readily anticipating this sort of stupidity and lucky for me there was no other traffic on my right and I could change lanes to avoid him. GE was watching it all from behind my rear wheel and started yelling at driver, at which point the driver finally looked and saw me less than a metre from his open driver’s side window.

Words were exchanged… politely.

He apologised profusely and took off, probably heart in his mouth at the crash that he avoided. At least I saw the “oh sh!t” look in his eyes.

For me this is all too common an occurrence on Sydney. Unlike some of Australia’s other capital cities like Melbourne and Adelaide, there is little acceptance of riders on the road. In Sydney, there appears to be an anger directed at cyclists – fueled by some idiots like Alan Jones on the radio. The focus instead needs to be on how everyone needs to ride and drive safe to avoid accidents and incidents like the one I experienced. Until the road safety situation improves, I will be driving my car to Centennial Park to go for a ride and not risking my life on Cleveland street to get there. The good thing is that young riders like a fellow blogger Alex are thinking about the safety situation, so the future generation and all of us riding now will have safer riding conditions all round.

We finished our ride back at Centennial Park with a few laps to dust out any remaining cobwebs, and apart from the near miss it was a great ride which I will repeat next week. GE is getting some good kilometers in his legs through his training and it can only improve. Looking forward to some good riding this weekend, and it is going to be a swelter on Saturday morning with a top of 38 degrees predicted.

Let’s hope I am not writing another blog about near misses again any time soon.

OK – first thing to set straight – I LOVE LEGO!

Good that is out of the way. Even now as an adult, I achieve the same sense of wonderment from a simple set of plastic bricks. For me it is like building a puzzle, but with no set form and untold number of possibilities (and the most phenomenal statistic that I uncovered was that for 6 – 6-sided 8-stud bricks, the classic Lego brick, there are 915,103,765 possible 6-brick combinations – I have found that statistic out on How Stuff Works).Left to my own devices I could build and build and build, restricted only by the time commitments of being an adult and father.But I have not gone down the path of master builder as this would also probably be the path of divorce for me.

6 Lego BricksBut with the birth of the Pok, I have a new reason to play Lego! I probably pushed it a little too early, buying him way too much and constructing a lot of it for him when he couldn’t possibly interact. I do remember him sitting there in his first year watching me as I built him towers and cranes whose arms rotated above his head. We are not playing with Lego proper just yet, more Duplo, but it is great fun nonetheless. Below is our latest incarnation of a tower building, our Lego rendition of the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world) – not quite the match that we would hope for, as we are stuck with the 90 degree angles that Duplo blocks push you towards. Obviously, the real thing is the one on the right.

Lego Duplo Burj Khalifa - for PokBurj KhalifaLego Duplo Burj Khalifa - Helicopter ViewWhat is funny is that the civil engineers who design these buildings do so to account for huge wind loads. We have to contend with apocalyptic Godzilla like attacks from none other than the Pok. Which shouldn’t really be much of a surprise given that there are not many real play opportunities for a big tower made of plastic bricks after it has been built. Hmmm… maybe a Lego Duplo Godzilla may be next on the cards – Pok would love that.

Lego Duplo Burj Khalifa - CrashHmmm… notice how he looks innocent again?

As he has been growing, I have waited patiently for him to connect two bricks together. You can imagine my joy when I saw him for the first time connecting the bricks, and then over and over again as he discovered a new found dexterous ability. But now our plotting and scheming is lifting up a level in our creations. The Pok has become quite interested in all things mechanical, and Lego is a great avenue for this. We were watching Cars 2 the other day and saw Mater become a secret agent with all sorts of gadgets. That gave me an idea, how about we make a cannon! But not just any cannon, a proper cannon that can target anything in the room. Below is the creation we landed with.

Lego Duplo Turret CannonYou cannot believe that amount of cheeky giggles that we have got out of this contraption. First target of course was Mummy of Pok. We sat on one couch and shot at her on another – 100 times. The beauty of this little contraption is that it has a full 360 degree arc of fire in the horizontal axis and 90 degree arc of fire in the vertical axis.

Lego Duplo Turret Cannon - Trajectory arcs of fireNow he is probably too young to learn trajectory physics just like a little Napoleon.cannon_trajectoriesI will wait until he turns three years old before I teach him this. The creators of Lego Duplo would probably have a heart attack when they found out that one of their customers was building mini projectile weapons systems from the pieces of the Agent Mater set (the cannon), The Deluxe Train set (the blue struts), both the Play with Numbers and Play with Letters (the support bricks for the bridge), the Stone Quarry set (the turntable to support the base platform) the Car Wash (base platform), and the Big City Zoo (the tiger log bridge which rotates on its supports).

Some people would probably call me a bad parent, but I think that every boy (big and small) needs an outlet for these militaristic tendencies. Hopefully I am nurturing a young engineer, let’s hope he doesn’t turn into a fiendish weapons manufacturer – like Tony Stark.

Lego Duplo Turret Cannon - manned by the PokPlus, he has his mother to teach him about cooking, music, and all of that stuff. 😉

Sometimes, it is too much for the little man and he has to do his own thing. More creations another day.Lego Man pondering and Pok asleep

Last week I was catching up on a few articles on Digital Photography Review (www.dpreview.com), and one article that piqued my interest was this one ‘Roundup: 11 Cool Photography-related Kickstarter Projects’ (http://www.dpreview.com/news/2012/10/19/110-cool-photography-related-kickstarter-projects). There were some cool proposals, and one or two of them might make it on my wish list but the thing that surprised me was the number of photography related gadgets that were proposed related to shooting photos on mobile phones. Pretty much all of them were focussed on the iPhone, which should be no surprise given that as a single device it probably has the greatest market share (versus the fragmented number of Android offerings). Even This is different from the fact that for the OS share of the market Android is definitely king in the smart phone space. But I digress. This irked me a little, because I felt like all this mobile phone photography focus was taking eyes off the prize – how do we make “proper” photography even better.

Now don’t get me wrong, I shoot mobile photos. My weapons of light are my digital SLR, my digital point and shoot, and (as a last resort) my mobile phone camera. But the last one I really don’t like. I asked a fellow amateur photographer friend of mine, who is currently in the closing stages of a photo a day for a year, whether he ever takes a mobile phone photo as his entry. He emphatically answered no! His showed me his weapons of light, which he carries with him daily, being his digital SLR or his top end digital point and shoot. And sometimes he carries both. For him, quality is everything.

So what do I think are the strengths of using a mobile phone camera. We both agreed that the ability to document at any time what was happening was a big strength. You know, pull out the phone and docu-shoot what is happening now. The ability to share the photo instantly on any social networking site, upload to the cloud, or even post to my blog was a big bonus as well. It is the one device that you have on you all the time, regardless of where you are. And the plethora of photo software options that you can install through either Google Play store or iTunes is incredible. But in my opinion there are too many detracting points around my phone camera for it to be a serious:

  1. pocket fluff is always on the glass (lens)
  2. the sensor size is pretty small so regardless of the quality of the glass the picture quality is average at best
  3. proper zoom is just… absent
  4. exposure capabilities are just poor
  5. low light shooting sucks, wit the flash being a bit mickey mouse
  6. the form factor of these “cameras” is just bad.

This list in itself would encourage me to relegate the mobile phone camera to the scrap, but it is probably the most common weapon of light I use to shoot at the Pok – and of course he hams it up for the camera too. Quickly followed by “show me Daddy!”

I trawled my phone gallery to see if there were any photos that I would be proud to post on Flickr, and of the close to 1,000 snaps I have captured in the last few years I was struggling to pick 10. 10 snaps that stood out by themselves as ones that could compete with what I can capture on a dedicated camera. But I think that these ones are cool. I would be keen to see what other people think, and if they have other “phone” snaps that, without photoshopping, they would be happy to blow up and hang on a wall in their house.

Winter sunrise over the CityReal Life Comic LuggageFiery Sunset SilhouetteStar Spangled Banner in LightsTerritorial DogGull on WatchNeon Tree under the OverpassLeaning Glass WallsSandstone SentinelI guess for me, like my photography mate, I am adding to the wish list a top-end point and shoot that I am going to carry around with me EVERYWHERE. Add maybe an eye-fi card to have some wireless capability. And hopefully up my game by shooting more often – maybe even daily. Me thinks the Canon Powershot G15 is my target addition to the light arsenal.

Next clue on my site header photo – the building has appeared in a James Bond film.

I originally thought that the title of this post was going to be “Is My Garmin Evil?”, having only just purchased a Garmin Edge 800 GPS bicycle trip computer earlier this year. Previously I had a crappy old Trek trip computer that kept on losing the link to the cadence sensor. Finally it gave up the ghost and I splurged on a Garmin. It is not the most user friendly interface, and I was surprised how chunky it was when I got it. But what a cool little gadget! After finally figuring out how to configure my custom screens, and setting up a few bike profiles (I have three – ‘Road Steed’, ‘MTB Steed’, ‘MTB Steed + Potatoes’ i.e. Pok), it has brought a level of visibility and tracking to my rides that I never had before. At first it told me to stop eating the pies and pedal faster, but being able to track my routes (or not when the steed is locked into the indoor trainer) has been absolute gold dust.

My Garmin Edge 800

So after getting the device, I set up a Garmin Connect account and religiously logged every ride into the cloud. Even reviewed my rides on the player to great enjoyment – only to get blown away after reviewing a TT ride that Dave Zabriskie did in this year’s Tour of California.

But here is where the devil steps in. I was quite proud of my GPS purchase, feeling like I stepped up into the big leagues, so was talking a lot about it with my fellow cycling colleagues at work. That is when one of them – AC you know who you are – piped up and said “Your ride doesn’t exist unless it is on Strava!” The darkness started descending…

I replied “Strava? What is Strava? Can you spell that? What is the URL?” So now my interest was piqued, in a terrible way. I was busting to get home and jump on the net to check out this “Strava”. The devil now had me hook line and sinker. I created an account, and loved the fact that it called me an athlete. At this point I had no idea about segments and leaderboards, but I was a happy little cyclist. I uploaded my first ride – this year’s 40km Ride Around the Lake (www.ridearoundthelake.org.au) and was pretty chuffed that I was 3rd in my time after setting off in the last group and giving it a good belting. But as others started logging their rides I noticed I finished 5 out of 6. OK not so good.

So I thought to myself, ‘Surely there are routes that I could be the KOM on’. So off I went to discover how bad a rider I was. It is pretty disheartening to see yourself in the lower half of the leaderboard by a good 15km/hr slower than the top dogs on a route that you have belted out and is one of your local rides. Disheartening is an understatement, totally deflating is probably the more accurate description. But the evil that Strava plays on is the competitive nature of every cyclist – I gotta go faster and beat that time!

The good part of Strava is that it has motivated me. Motivated me to keep riding, upping the kilometres, and religiously tracking every one of my rides. The evil part is what it has done to my regular night training rides. I scope out my route, analyse the segments on Strava and then for a short 300-600m or so in the middle of my ride I try to go out and absolutely smash it. Just for a KOM. Of course the Strava trophies will keep piling up, and I get PRs, and my followers give me the kudos. But I reckon I am going to write myself off one day trying to get one of these KOMs.

There is a route around Canada Bay, commonly known as the Bay Run, which has numerous segments marked up on it. I targeted one segment in particular because it is a good indicator of how I am progressing -the N-S route along the Iron Cove duplication bridge. 400m of paved flat goodness. My first couple of feeble attempts were not well thought out, I was hitting the start of the segment at less than 30km/hr, no chance for a Top 10 let alone a KOM. But then I had an ingenious scheme. I had just finished the two day 200km Sydney Ride to Conquer Cancer (http://sy12.conquercancer.org.au/site/TR/Events/Sydney2012?px=1142452&pg=personal&fr_id=1070) the weekend previous – and after months of training with a pretty good hit-out on the ride, I had steel in my legs and bravado in my ride. To add to my scheming, I plotted a new route that dropped me in from the North on Victoria Road and allowed me to get up to 45km/hr at the start of the segment. I got on the route and absolutely buried myself as deep as I could go. I got to about 50m to go and ran out of steam but the momentum I had gained carried me fairly well in my mind at the time. I couldn’t wait to get home and connect up the Garmin to see if I had any success. This is the truly evil part – I rushed home, kicked my wife of the laptop, and plugged in the GPS into the USB slot…. Uploaded new rides… then boom 3rd place! Awesome, 3rd place! 50.3km/hr! Awesome! Quick let’s check out the Leaderboard in more detail – WHAT! The guy who was in first place clocked 100km/hr? How could this be? Is he the spawn of the devil? how could this be? He bettered the one other guy that was ahead of me by 48km/hr.

I was fuming.

I told my wife that this guy had to be a friend of the devil. How could he have possibly logged that fast a ride. He was faster than Cav, Griepel, Sagan, and Farrar all rolled into one. He was robbing me of a 2nd place.

At that point my wife, with the cold hard sense of someone who couldn’t give a sh!t about this website informed me “he must have left his GPS on his bike while he had it connected to his roof racks on his car.” My wife is not stupid. And with that she shook her head and left me in front of the website to suck eggs.

So is Strava evil? Maybe not, because it has motivated me to ride and train. The daily updates I get from all my cycling buddies get me fired up. But listen here Mr 100km/hr Speed Demon, I have you in my cross-hairs. Time to giddy up and spin a bit.

 

Lucifer: Father of Pok – go spend a week’s wages and buy a power meter.

 

It was an early start to the day for this photoshoot. I caught the first train from Town Hall to North Sydney crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge before sunrise. Very quiet ride, and I can tell you I was missing the zzzz’s. My partner in photo shooting crime, Grumpy Burton, picked me up in his jeep to head to the target spot at Middle Harbour. We got there just as pre-dawn hit, and what looked like some interesting cloud formations turned out to be a messy wash of sky. We were greeted to one of the many cruise ships visiting Sydney. The results were a bit disappointing, but I have washed a few of the shots through Photoshop to bring out some of the colour in the clouds. Middle Harbour Sunrise - Cruise Ship entering Sydney Harbour Middle Harbour Sunrise - Sun Peaking through the Clouds  Middle Harbour Sunrise - Sun struggling after its riseAnd it looks like we weren’t the only ones out and about. Middle Harbour Sunrise - PaddlersEven though it was not as striking a morning as we hoped, Grumpy pulled out a handy little camera carrier. Middle Harbour Sunrise - Quadcopter launchingGrumpy built this quadcopter himself, and it is a cool not-so-little flyer. It has four carbon fibre rotors with brushless electric motors and electronic controllers. It even has a GPS to hold its position. But the best mod that Grumpy has installed has to be the Go-Pro HD camera that he has pinged to the front and that you can see in the photo above. He has uploaded the video from this morning on the YouTube, check it out below. You can see me plenty of times in the video on the edge of the cliff at Middle Harbour.

Super cool! Grumpy is a pretty sharp shooter himself, check out his Flickr page – Grumpy Burton Flickr. His blog site is Fotonic Exposure and it is over on Blogger.

If anyone is interested to know where the location for this shoot was, have a look at the map below. The green arrow is the point where we were shoot and Grumpy was flying.

Middle Harbour Sunrise Shoot Map

Next clue for my header photo – the building is located in a large European city. Time to giddy up and plan the next shooting excursion.

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