Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Transformer 2 - Bad Movie in Disguise

So some of you are probably wondering if I went and saw the movie. Fuck yeah I did. Come on, it was a sequel, with hot cars, and Megan Fox!!! So was it as bad as the critics said it was: YES. Do I recommend you go see it: YES.

Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen is well on its way to reaching the magic $400 million dollar domestic ticket sale mark. This would put this movie in the same class with eight others all time selling movies: The Dark Knight, Spider-Man, E.T. the Extra-terrestrial, Star Wars, Shrek 2, Titanic, Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. However most of these movie had more or less a positive review, I can not say the same for this one.

So what makes this movie so bad. First off it is drawn out. The two and a half hour movie could have been been shorten to and hour and the story would have been told just the same. And that is if you call the plot a story. It is more or less a loosely connected series of scenes that allow Megan Fox to look hot, robots to combat each other, cars to drive around, and the US military to showcase it brawn. Fight scenes these days are so long that viewers often get "battle fatigue", it is ten times worse when the battle is between CG robots.

Why are people going out to see it then? Well if you are like me you grew up with the Transformers, and no matter how bad it was I would have been there to see it. A interesting indicator for times of recession is an increase in movie ticket sales. Going out to see a movie is one of the cheapest activities for a night out. It also meets all the factors to make this a blockbuster summer movie; sequal of a good movie, popular actors, high dollar special effects. And finally, people are not expecting Oscar winning performances from Optimus Prime, they simply want to be entertained. And entertaining it sure was!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Floating the Truckee River

2011 Update

When it comes to leisure summer time activities in Tahoe, nothing is more popular than floating the Truckee. This is one activity that crosses all boundaries of race, age, wealth, as well as physically shape and partying ability. I have seen one year old babies float in their own tube as well as taken my mother down the river.

Floating the Truckee refers to rafting the section of the Truckee River between Fanny Bridge (just north/west of the dam release), and the River Ranch restaurant (just south/east of Alpine Meadows Road). It should not be confused with Rafting the white water section along highway 80 on the way to Reno, nor should it be referred as the Upper Truckee River, a creek found in South Lake Tahoe.

This last Sunday, looking for a relaxing activity, we decided to float the Truckee. Though the weather was a bit chilly, we loaded up coolers and our rafts and headed out.

Equipment-The simplest way to float is to rent a raft from one of the many rafting companies near the junction of Hwy 89 and 28 in Tahoe City and the "Y".
These guys will gladly take your money in exchange for a pro grade raft, and shuttle service. But this is not the true way to experience the river. Most that float the river use rafts of much lower quality. The ideal vessel is a "X"-mart raft with upgraded paddles, inner tubes are also a great choice. I have even seen people on air mattress, and even a pair on a blow up killer whale.

Logistics-since running any river is a one-way thing, a little bit of pre planning is required. During the peak summer months, parking at both the take out and the put in is limited. Traffic going into Tahoe City is also a bear to deal with on these peak weekends. Rather than using two cars. Based on conditions I usually leave a bike at either the put in or the take out. The ideal put in is along the south shore of the river, since the north is dominated by the commercial outfits. The south shore put in can be accesses easily from "64 acres", from Tahoe City, take 89 south over Fanny Bridge, go a few hundred feet and take a right.

Boozing-A float trip would not be a float trip without a little boozing. However this aspect of the float has come under fire in the last few years. Litter, drunk driving, and a non-family atmosphere has almost lead to the ban of alcohol on the river. Last year a no alcohol law was passed for the fourth of July weekend. Though the law was passed, no citations were issued. Also take into consideration that law enforcement often park at the take out looking for the drunk floater to come to shore and stumble to their parked cars to drive away.

The float is approxiamtely five miles long and takes a minimum of 2 hours. The bike ride between the IN and the OUT take 10-15 minutes. A few aventurous soles might attempt the rapids past the take out. Be warned that though the rapids are not very dangerous, class 2ish, the sharp rocks, not found on the upper section of the river, often ripps holes in "X"-mart rafts.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Camper Shell

Like a tortoise I now have a house where ever I go. Ever since getting my new truck I have been looking for a camper shell. I say looking for one, because I want to find a used one. A new camper shell of this type cost anywhere from $1200 to $2100 new, and I didn't feel like paying such a premium, when the last shell I bought cost me $40. Since my truck is newer and a mid size, a used shell was not easy to find. I also wanted to find one that was made specifically for my truck rather than a generic, or for another truck with similar dimensions. My search lead me into the heart of Sacramento to pick up a white Leer shell.

Other than being made for my truck I had very little requirements. Beggars can't be choosers right. Sure I would have liked one that was the right color, or that it was slightly taller than the cab for more living space, but the only real requirement I had was that the back glass have a slider and no rubber boot to mate to the truck. Rubber boots usually rub against the cab of the truck and wear the paint off. Without a boot, a piece of glass is usually put in place to keep the shell weather tight. I wanted a slider, in this glass, so that I could access the bed space from the cab. From the picture on the left you can see that the cab and the shell do not touch. You can also see the perfect fit of the shell as it curves to match the lines of the truck body.

I was not sure exactly how I was going to be securing the shell to the bed, so when I went down to pick up the shell I brought a handful of various clamps to hold it down. Clamping the thing down in this fashion was more than secure enough for highway cruising. Off road however would have been a different story. A permanent solution for holding the shell in place was still needed. In the past I have drilled holes and bolted the shell to the truck's bed rails. But I also had a bed liner that I would replace when not running a shell to cover up any unsightly holes. I do not have an over the rail bed linear for this truck, and thus that was not an option. I know that they also made camper shell clamps that might work. What I found instead was a clamping system called the Leer "J" hook. In fact they are not "J" hooks at all, but act very similar to one. A section of an extruded material slides into the utility track. The shell has four protrusions which stick out further than the rails. The extruded slug has a tapped hole which a bolt runs through. Real slick! I was able to get these from my local camper shell shop in Reno for $10.

The last step to a compelete working shell was a quick visit to the lock smith. For $20 I had a new set of keys made to replace the ones that previous owner misplaced.

Total cost for my new shell:

$280- shell it self (this is a steal, I would have paid double, maybe even triple)
$25- in gas for the pick up
$10- clamps
$20- keys

Friday, June 12, 2009

The End of Analog TV - Web TV

Kind of feels weird doesn't it. I am not sure why, but the fact that you can no longer grab an analog signal over the air makes today special. A kind of passing of an era.

But to most of us we are not really effected. Only those that still pull a TV signal from an antenna might really notice. Having not lived in a large city for most of my life, cable TV was a fact of life. Bunny ears or a large TV antenna was never an option.

However these days, I don't even get cable. Seems weird to many, but I don't watch TV. Sure I have a LCD television set in my living room, but it is hooked up to a DVD player, VCR, and a computer (yes I can not bring myself to throw away my VCR, though it only gets used a few times each year). Most of my "TV" viewing is of movies. But it is not like I am completely in the dark when it comes to prime time network television. All the major TV stations broadcast their shows over the web. ABC Fox and NBS all have a website where they post their most recent prime time shows. Instant on-line movies is another option. Netflix has a large selection of movies you can view instantly, as well as countless other movies which have been uploaded. I recently watched a French Car racing movie, "Michel Vaillant" on Street Fire Videos.
Though the digital tranformation has little effect on me, it is something that we can one day tell our kids : "I remember back in the day when..."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Downieville Downhill - My kind of Biathlon part II

If you live in Tahoe, you often hear talk of Downieville as the mecca of mountain biking. I actually think that Tahoe itself is the mecca. It just goes to show "the grass is greener" mentality of people. However you can not deny that Downieville does provide some fabulous riding, especially the world famous Downieville downhill. The DV DH is a 15 mile long ride which links several trails, drops 4000', and has about 1/4 miles worth of climbing. It is of moderate technical difficulty, except for a couple of challenging obstacles.

The ride starts at the top of Packer Saddle. From Highway 49 turn north at Bassests onto Gold Lake Rd. Take the fist left over the bridge onto Packer Lake Rd. Take the first Right to stay on Packer Lake Rd to Packer Saddle. Once over the saddle take a left at the "T", and you will find a well established parking lot a few hundred yards from the "T".

The most difficult part of the DV DH is setting up the car shuttle. To avoid the grueling Downieville Uphill, most people shuttle the ride. Setting up the shuttle takes two cars, a long time and a lot of driving. A good option is the use Downieville Outfitters. Each van ride to the top cost about twenty bucks. These guys also rent bikes. http://www.downievilleoutfitters.com/

There are two basic options for the downhill. Pauley Creek, or Butcher's Ranch. Butcher's Ranch Trail is the most popular and starts almost immediately from the top, where as the Pauley Creek Trail requires a few miles of dirt road riding to the trail head. Actually the true start of BR starts a little bit down the dirt road, but most people take Sunrise trail to link to BR. Sunrise at the time however still had many snow patches, which resulted in mud holes. I felt bad about having a ten person crew tear through those holes, but we did not know of its condition. The beginning of the trail is south facing and great. It isn't till a little ways in that you find yourself on the cold, snowy, muddy, north face.

BR seamlessly joins up with Pauley Creek trail. Then onto the third divide, dirt road, through the campsite, first divide, and into town.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My Kind of Biathlon - Rafting the Yuba / Mnt Biking Downieville

The institute of marriage has strayed far from the traditions which once defined it. Thus most aspects of weddings have also become non standard. Me, being very traditional, had my bachelor party in Las Vegas. However some of our good local friends opted to have a joint bachelor/batchelorette party. Well I think that it started as a batchelorette party, but it sounded so cool that all the boys wanted in as well. So this last weekend we traveled down to Downieville to raft the North Fork of the Yuba and to ride the Downieville Downhill.

Tucked aways in Sierra County lies the small town of Downieville. Established in 1849, it was originally called "Forks", due to the fact the town sits at the confluence of the Yuba and the Downie River. But the town was soon renamed after William Downie.

We stayed in Tahoe Friday night was planning on leaving for our trip in the morning. I was extremely apprehensive. It had been raining all week, very odd for spring, and the temps had dropped dramatically that day. The section of the river we were going to raft include a class five rapid name "Maytag" which I assume is for the washing machine action it resembles. Since Downieville is located about 3000feet in elevation, the temps were moderate. The river was also running very low. Snow melt, from the Sierra Buttes, rather than rain run off feeds the river, and our early thaw this year, made for a rather dry river by this weekend.

With the crew decked out in wet/dry suits, and various foul weather gear we meet at the put in. Goodyear bar is the put in location, however the actual put in was 1/8 to 1/4 mile north of the Goodyear bar turn off. We had three boats rigged, including the girls boat, which had an oar frame in the back.

The rapids are mostly class two and three, with a fourth class thrown in occasionally. Soon after lunch we eddied out to examine the crux of the river: Maytag. The pucker factor was high as we examined the giant hole which we were to drop into. With the river flow being low, the result was both good and bad. The good was the the large recirculating pool at the bottom was not so great. The bad was the a large rock was then exposed at the bottom of the hole, which was a potential hazard.

All three boats hit the rapid with various degrees of cleanliness. However the river gods seem to shine upon us for none of the poor lines had negative results.

Though we hit the largest rapid of the trip we were not out of the woods yet. On some class three or two rapid we seemed to have wrapped our boat on a rock/tree. This in fact provided the most excitement of the trip. After freeing the boat, we eventually make it to Indian Valley Campground. This is the take out. From the river your only clues that this is the location is by the presence of a the campsite. It is not easy to spot.

That night we camped at Indian Valley campground, and the next day we went and hit the Downieville Downhill. But I will save that story for another day.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Subaru Skid Plate - One tough Subi

The most popular car in Tahoe is the Subaru Outback. And if you look underneath one you will most likely see an image similar to this one. Odd you might think; exposed exhaust manifolds and oil pans. Shouldn't all that stuff be covered up. Well at one time it was. The auto industry uses the term "splash shields" for the plates that cover the under side of a car. Humm I always thought those things were called skid plates. Sorry no. Modern cars have their undercarriages protected by a shield composed of a material somewhere between plastic and cardboard. As their name suggest, the only thing that they are good for protecting against is splashes of water.
A fact of life in snow country are snow berms left by the plow. Driving over a berm or even worse getting stuck on a berm and backing off, can be the end of your precious splash shield.

Enter Primitive Racing. They produce many "homegrown" aftermarket products for Subaru's. Due to the popularity of grass roots rally racing, Subaru's have strong following with the armature race crowd. And what do racers need more than anything else, but aftermarket and replacement parts. http://www.get-primitive.com/ Rather than just focusing on the smaller cars; WRX, Impreza, and STI's, Primitive has expanded their product line for most Subi's.

For our car, I selected the 3/16" aluminum skid plate, with all holes deleted. In retrospect, I do not need the added protection of no holes, and will be adding them soon to make oil changes easier.
Though I do not intend to do any heavy offloading in the station wagon, I do not feel like I am driving around with a naked car.

UPDATE: The skid plate will soon come off durning pre winter work over. At this time I will be cutting two large holes in the bottom for oil and oil filter access. Have the "no hole" version of the skid plate is a good idea if you are a ralley racer. However the station wagon only sees very mild offroading and the holes would be fine. A quick e-mail to Paul E, owner of Primitive Racing yeilded some of the dimesniosn and locations of the access holes. Attached is the e-mail repsonde from Paul:

Sure, verify all measurements for yourself prior to cutting.

You can use a 2.5" hole saw.

Drain ~2.5" hole location is 4.4" up (towards front) from center of the OUTER of the 2 rear mounting holes (elongated hole, measure from center) and 2.2" out (towards outer edge of plate on passenger side. So 4.4 up and 2.2 over.

Filter ~4.25" hole (2.5" hole then jigsaw or find a 4.25" hole saw) location is 8.9" up from the center of that same mounting hole and 4.9" out. So 8.9" up and 4.9" over.



Update: I have finsihed cutting the two access holes for the skid. See:


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ken Block - Rally Racer, Gymkhana drifting

Ken Block has made a name for himself as a rally race car driver in the few years he has been one. He has done so not only by racing, but putting his rally skill on display. His sponsorship with DC shoes was the instrument used to deliver the thrills of driving to the younger masses. The "MTV" style videos produced by Ken's team, surely contribute to making a rock star out of a humble driver. The popularity of drifting and the timeless fascination with "air time", made Ken an instant icon in today's motor sports world. His snow jump and 171 footer, have cemented themselves in the timeline of motor sports history greatness.

His first Gymkhana video spread through the web like wildfire. http://video.kenblockracing.com/flash/player/ A fine example of awd drifting. Earlier this month he released his second gymkhana video. Though equally impressive in driving skill, it was slightly played out as far as originality goes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQ7R_buZPSo

Be sure to catch the snow jump video in the snow rally video section of his website.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Rebuilding Rechargeable Battery Packs

Now a days it seems that you can get a cordless anything. From electric razors, drills, to even lawnmowers. Life seems grand, taking your drill out to the far corner of your yard to drive a few screws into some loose fence boards. But what happens a few years later when the battery dies and it is time to replace them. Well it depends on what device you have. If you went for some for some of the high end name brands, you might choke when you discover the replacement battery for your De Walt or Makita will run you $75 or more. Some of these devices cost barely over $100 for the drill, charger, case and one or even two batteries. Some times the most cost effective thing to do is to throw everything away and buy new. DON"T DO THAT!!!

Instead let us dive into what makes up a battery pack. If you are like me, you have probably attempted to take apart an alkaline battery when you were a kid. When I took apart a 9volt, I was surprised to find several smaller batteries within. When I asked my father, he simple said, "How else do you think they get up to 9volts." Well the same is true for a rechargeable battery pack. A 14.4 or 18 volt battery, is built up of several smaller cells connected in series till the desired output voltage is created. As you can see from the picture, this battery pack is built up from what looks like a bunch of smaller "c" type batteries connected by little tabs, and covered with a small piece of cardboard. One can remove and replace each individual cell dead cell with fresh ones and voila, a new battery pack at a fraction of the the price.
Replacements cells can be sources from various Internet sites, or from your local batteries plus. http://www.batteriesplus.com/ However there is a tricky part to all this. From the factory the batteries are connected to each other via a spot welded tab. When you DIY, you will only be able to solder the connections back together, since most of us do not have a resistance spot welder. I also fear that welding a battery might have detrimental effects to its performance. Getting a good soldered connection on the smooth tabs of the battery is difficult. Scoring the surface is a must, but even that is not a guarantee for a solid connection. This is where ones soldering skills are put to the test.
Instead I opted to have my local Batteries Plus in Reno rebuild my De Walt 14.4V XR battery. It cost me $35 and was turned around in less than a week. They have two options, a lower mA rated battery build for ~$28 or the higher one I got for $35. Since my "XR" (eXtended run) pack was originally the higher output battery I opted for the same.
Taking apart the battery is a bit of a trick. Like the pictured battery, mine had a single screw holding the cover plate in place. However the edge was glued down and required some prying to free.
When selecting power tools we look at price, specs, performance rating and reviews. However most do not look at cost of replacement parts such as batteries. I have found that Ryobi tools have decent performance, but the replacement batteries only cost about $20. This has made the the Ryobi line of cordless power tool very popular. In fact I think that Ryobi subsidizes the cost of the batteries in order to sell more tools, just to capitalize on this fact. One would assume that their marketing strategy would be to slowy ramp up the cost of the batteries after the brand has gained popularity, but they have yet to do so.