DJB

Finding Adventure...

Kid's Custom Mountain Bike

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So for no apparent reason I bought this Yeti frame and rear fork from my friend, Troy. It was brand new, but a 1999 model and size small. My plan was to build a basic cheap bike for myself that I could throw in my race trailer and take to races and have something to ride around in the paddock (my current dedicated mountain bikes are just too expensive to be doing that with). I built the bike, but then had a better idea...

I bought my seven year old son a Specialized kids mountain bike about a year ago. It's okay for what you pay for it, but that's about it. It has a front suspension fork, six rear gears, and twenty inch tires. You can get some parts, but many items, like the six speed rear derailleur, just don't seem to be easily available to a do-it-yourselfer. But I got to looking at my son's long legs and this small frame and started thinking...

Step one was to see if the Fox front fork I had could be shortened in a non-destructive manner (ie. it could be put back to normal length for cheap). I had heard they could, and an email to the guys at Suspension Experts in Asheville confirmed I was right. I sent the fork to them, and as usual, they got it taken care of and back to me in short order. Next was to switch it to 24" wheels. Turns out a good many trials riders are going to 24" wheels on this type of bike, so it was easy to find a set of rims and have a set of full wheels custom built for under $300 from Universal Cycles. I placed my order online for some Atomlab rims, Shimano XT hubs, and DT Swiss spokes built up and ready to go. Got them from Portland about nine business days later. Not bad.

So the combination of removing two inches from the front fork and going to 24" wheels dropped the entire bike down about two full inches. I ordered a cheap seat post that I cut down myself since the seat post would interfere with the rear suspension otherwise. Then I moved the seat all the way forward in the mount. Next I narrowed the handlebar by 3/4" on each side and I installed it as low as I could on the front fork, but I left about an inch on top of the fork using spacers so it can be raised later in life.

So I put it all together this way to find a problem. With everything as small as it would go, my son's legs were fully extended at the bottom of the pedal stroke. No good. Besides that, 175mm cranks were going to be fairly close to the ground with all this lowering, particularly if I set the suspension up with much give for him. It's still got around three inches of rear travel and three inches of front travel, and I wanted him to be able to use it. He could get on and off the bike somewhat awkwardly, but it seemed like that was just a "getting used to it" thing.

So I decided to have my friend, and very talented welder, Bill Flynn shorten the cranks. The cranks on the bike he was riding were just over five inches and these were a full seven. So I had him take an inch and a quarter out of them. Now the fit is perfect with him still having a reasonable amount of knee bend. And the best part? The bike can grow a LOT as he does. He will probably ride this same bike for a LONG time since everything other than custom built wheels is an off the shelf part I can easily get.

Now, I did have to do some weirdness to get brakes on this particular bike. Seems the newer Fox forks don't support V-brakes, so it had to be disk. That's easy, I chose a disk mount front hub and put a Magura front brake on. Why Magura? Because the back was tricky. It had V-brake mounts, but that just ain't my style. It also had the old-school "parallel" disk mount. Nobody makes brakes to mount to that any more, but there's still an adapter you can get to put IS style brakes on a parallel mount. The big problem with that is parallel style brakes sit inside the triangle, and many calipers on the market are two big. But I found that if you find one with the piston in the middle of the assembly and you go to a 185mm disk and IS adapter, you can make it fit and work like a charm. Adjustment is a little harder to get right with these adapters, but it can be done. Magura had a brake with the caliper configured right, so that's the brand that won by default.

Otherwise the bike is built with fairly standard parts. That Rock Shox SID rear shock is the same basic shock that they STILL sell to this day. I had to send it to Suspension Experts and have the old-school custom valves that they used to use changed out for Shraeder valves, but otherwise it's stock. The cranks are just relatively cheap Truvativ cranks and chainrings. It's got a SRAM rear derailleur and SRAM shifters, but a Shimano front derailleur since it has a TINY mounting post for that derailleur and Shimano was the only company with spacers small enough. Hmm, or maybe I put a SRAM derailleur on with the Shimano spacers. I don't remember now.

Kenda makes their new microblock tires in 24", so he's sporting the same tread pattern that a lot of my friends hit the trail with. One of the coolest parts is that I pretty much had to figure out what products would work and what wouldn't (with a little trial and error, but nothing too bad, thankfully) and put it all together. I learned a lot, and the kid has one of the coolest bikes any seven year old ever sported.

As he grows into it we'll convert it back to normal cranks and adjust the seat. Then eventually we'll put the front fork back to five inches and maybe move the handlebar up. And we can go back to 26" wheels and tires really easily, too. Or maybe he'll get to move up to another bike and the four year old will get the step up. Either way, it's been a fun project that I think he really appreciates.
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What more is there to say, really?

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Checkmate.
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Wii Motion Plus!

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Yeah, so I'm following up a Health Care Reform post with a post about a video game system. So sue me.

But the Wii Motion Plus is very cool. It definitely adds more realism to the Wii controller for games that support it, and Wii Sports Resort is a HUGE improvement over the already much-loved Wii Sports pack. Not only do you get a new 18 hole golf course, but the game is much more realistic in the swing. I'm not sure I'm a huge fan of that now as I really liked the old game, but I'm guessing it'll grow on me.

The new games are pretty killer. The jet-ski game is fun, basketball rocks, and there are a ton of games I haven't even tried yet. Currently there seems to be no problem getting Wii Sports Resort (which includes one Wii Motion Plus controller add-on). Target had them in the video game section and a huge pile of them at the check-out line! What was missing was additional Wii Motion Plus controllers, however. Not sure if those are available elsewhere. I wanted Tiger Woods 2010, and they had that in stock both by itself and with one Wii Motion Plus, and the one with the WMP was only $10 more, so I got that so we'd have two controllers. So one can presume that additional WMPs will be fairly cheap when available by themselves.

So for all you Wii fans or those on the fence, get on this. You won't regret it.
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Health Care Reform

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Okay, so President Obama is traveling around the country speaking to 2,000 people at a time to try to sell health care reform instead of spending his time fixing a much larger threat to our country, the deficit. Well, if he's gonna do that, then we ought to at least be armed with some knowledge about it so we can get it right.

I found this story thanks to my friend Sarah Street (hmm, all things political on my blog seem to come from her and my Dad and nowhere else...strange). It's a quick read, though it has a lot of good links that might not be so quick. But the general point here is how free markets may not apply well to the business of health care if we deem patient care more important than doctor profit. Okay, I get that. But it cites some very old papers that predicted this kind of model wouldn't work. Where's the new research on this? Shouldn't the government be doing that instead of pushing something half baked down our throats?

Another problem I have is that the predictions cite problems like a very large education gap between patients and doctors, and even more importantly a situation of fear. The patient is vulnerable, feels uneducated, and is generally also under some time pressure. So my question is how much of that has changed? These days the information age has closed that gap (or allows it to be closed) fairly significantly by an ever growing segment of the population of this country. So now the educated may not all be doctors, but we at least think we can educate ourselves pretty well on a given topic if we have to, and do it fairly quickly and free (thanks, Mr. Internet).

Is that good or bad? Are we able to do that effectively? If so, where does that leave the lesser educated lower class who may still not know how to use those tools (or have access to them)? Will they be preyed upon by the greedy doctors whereas the more educated folks can ferret out the good ones? Or should we assume that our Internet prowess may not be so good and that the doctors are the experts (I mean if you are having a heart attack you probably don't have time for research anyway, much less a choice about which hospital that ambulance is going to take you to first) and just "fix it all"?

If we need to just fix it all, then how? I suppose the most annoying thing about these kinds of articles (and worse, the old articles that predicted the mess) is that nobody seems to know the right way to fix it all. And there are so many interested parties involved that I'm not sure the government has the ability to do it anyway. My guess is that the free market with some sort of reasonable regulation is about the best we can hope for, but the insurance industry is so big I'm not sure that's an attainable goal, either. Hmmph.
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A little bit pregnant?

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Semi Oceanfront? Isn't that like being a little bit dead? Or a little bit pregnant? I mean either you are or you aren't. I'm just sayin'.
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Hello, Apple, time to wake up!

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Dear Apple,

Your anti-Google policies are alienating users fast. Last week it was reported that the Google Latitude application was rejected because it might confuse people with the native Maps application. Confuse who? The people that CHOOSE to download and install it? Please. Give me a break. So now we have to use a somewhat crippled version over the browser. But the point here is that the latitude functionality is something the native Maps application DOESN'T EVEN HAVE. Plus, the native Maps application is based on the maps from Google anyway. Just let us have our latitude without having to run it in the browser for crying out loud.

The bigger complaint here is Google Voice. This has been rejected completely and it's not likely it can be done as a web-only service. Sure, we'll be able to get to parts of it via the web, but you likely won't be able to make a voice call that way. You've already seen fit to allow for VOIP applications in the App Store as long as they don't use the cell data connection, just wifi. Okay, fine, but Google Voice is no different than this (well, except for being BETTER). Come on, let us have Google Voice. You really can't say this is a threat to AT&T service. If people would consider dumping their cell coverage altogether on an iPhone, well, they can already do that with an iPod Touch (yes, you need a headset currently, but rumors seem to indicate you won't need to do that any longer with the next Touch generation).

Come on, get with it, and let customers have the full funcationality provided by the hardware. Locking things up like this is playing silly corporate games at the expense of the end user and could only serve to make Android devices that much more compelling to us down the road. Don't go there. It's gonna bite you.
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Daily Double

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So you only get one thing, but the "double" is that this is both a sign and a restaurant recommendation. If you're ever in Reidsville, NC, I suggest Short Sugar's. They've been in business at this location since 1949 selling NC BBQ, and it's pretty good. The atmosphere is nothing to write home about, but you can pull up to the side of the building and eat in your car if that bothers you. They come to you for service and that area is shaded as well. Can't beat that.
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Reserved Judges Only

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Can anyone tell me what this sign means? These chairs were just out here like this along a road in someone's yard in Hatteras Village, NC. There is nothing but swamp across the road from here. It was really odd.
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Spending versus Saving

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So, I don't know how generations of Americans through around 1970 knew how to save money and retire comfortably on a single income with a family. But I do know that since about that time, Americans have chosen to skip that in large quantities. And it's becoming a serious economic problem we need to fix. The best idea I've heard is that we need to be educating everyone at the high school level on money management.

My idea is to call the class "how to get rich." Hey, it's what most people want and certainly gets your attention. The reality is there is no easy answer to the question of how to get rich, but what I do know is that if you can get yourself a steady middle class job and maintain a reasonable lifestyle such that you can save 10% from a fairly early age, well, you can retire before you're too old to enjoy life and live off your money. You will have to know exactly how to live responsibly and how to invest money wisely (and no, that doesn't mean how to "beat" the stock market nor does it involve knowing ANYTHING about the stock market, really). But it can be done. It can even be done in today's "normal" life of a two income family with kids.

A friend pointed me to this article that refutes some of what Elizabeth Warren has to say. As you might expect, I don't agree with the article. Warren is just trying to level the playing field somewhat so that consumers have a chance. Right now, most don't because they can't even understand what the products are that are offered. They're so complex because we can't understand them and the banks can hide ways to benefit themselves and not us. But my argument here is that once those things are simplified then consumers have a better chance of understanding the impact of choosing a particular product will be on their bottom line. It's not the entire solution, I admit. People are still CHOOSING to spend themselves into debt they can't satisfy. But it's a start, and education is the next logical step.

But think about this. If current Americans are spending level or negatively from now until retirement age, how do they retire? And if they can't retire, do they work until death? Someone is going to have to not only take care of the old people, but will have to absorb that debt sometime. It could get very ugly.
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How does this work?

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How can an entire industry with millions of customers be terrible? You might have guessed I'm talking about the cellular telephone industry, but in reality I could be talking about several different sectors. I'm going to focus on the cellular industry in spite of the fact that it's so common for people to complain about their carrier that it has become quite tired to hear people do it. I mean who cares to hear about how bad someone else's carrier is when your own carrier is so bad?

The thing here is that it seems that every single carrier has serious customer service issues. Everything from the technical side of the world (no coverage in needed areas, data being slow, etc) all the way to a complete inability to solve basic problems with billing or even selling proper accessories. Companies have come and gone and consolidated and been acquired and sold and split in so many different ways it's crazy. But the only result of all this seems to be things stay the same or get worse, never better.

Companies only seem to get customers by acquiring them, by having an exclusive phone contract (can you say iPhone?), or having coverage in just the right place. But I think a poll of cellphone users would find that there are very few that don't have serious problems with their current cellphone carrier. That carrier just happens to "suck less" than everyone else.

So how does this happen? How can there be no room in the market for a company to actually do a good job of solving the customer's needs? I have no idea. I do know I don't see any of the current carriers doing anything much to make the situation better. AT&T doesn't seem to be expanding their current network to new areas, they're just making the data side faster where they currently are. Verizon is stuck with none of the new wave of awesome smartphones (iPhone and Palm Pre). Sprint has always had network coverage problems in big ways, so they went and bought Nextel, which was worse. Yeah, that makes sense.

My theory on how these things happen is that the stock market puts so much emphasis on growth yet very little on actual, oh, profit that companies make decisions based on growth. And when they have a captive customer base (we all require cellphones in our lives now), well, it's easier to acquire/merge/whatever than it is to do the right things to take your competitors customers. The contract model seems to also hurt their ability take customers with upgrades in actual customer service. Perhaps it's time to end that as a major business model? Or at least regulate the telco industry again? I really don't know, but I know there's something significantly broken right now when an industry so large can suck so bad.
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