Monday, October 26, 2009

Finally Back in the Saddle

I was finally able to do some riding over the past few days. 12 miles on Thursday. Today I chose a new route and managed 22 miles. I really liked today's route and will probably do it again. More than half of it was on 2-lane roads. Although they are sometimes heavily traveled the traffic (on a Sunday afternoon) was manageable. The route is a large loop that first heads north then turns west. On the south leg it crosses part of Lake Allatoona, then turns east and takes me through town before returning me to my home. Lots of climbing (for me anyway) but the hills weren't too steep. Well, there was one that was almost too steep, but I managed to make it. Parts of this route I have never seen before, either on a bike or in a car. So it was only natural that I missed a turn. I was looking for the street and was expecting to see a traffic light at the intersection. As a consequence I blew right by it. I went an extra 2 miles (at least) before coming across a major highway that I wasn't supposed to encounter. I did a U-turn and headed back to find the right road. It added about 4 miles to my trip, but that's supposed to be part of the adventure.

Unfortunately it was on my detour that I encountered The Rude Driver. This stretch of road was 4 lanes: two in each direction. Traffic was light enough that cars had no trouble using the second lane to get by me. As always I was riding as close to the right shoulder as conditions allowed. Then I heard a very loud horn. It easily lasted 10 seconds. This was no "beep beep", this was solid blaring horn for a long time and was the sound of one very irate driver. I was apparently the source of his irritation. I looked over my shoulder and saw a red pickup behind me with plenty of room to his left to get around. The shoulder opened up to a right turn lane so I moved a bit further right to clear the lane. As he pulled past me he gestured to me with a motion that was clear he thought I should be on the sidewalk. Well I wanted to say "Too bad! I am a vehicle and I have every right to use the roadways. It is unsafe and perhaps even illegal for me to ride on the sidewalk." Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to actually say that, and I doubt it would have made any difference anyway. So I rode on. Next time maybe I should just "take the lane".

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away

You think I would learn, but I guess I have to make the same mistake many times over before reality finally sinks in. I haven't ridden since a week ago Sunday when I was on the Silver Comet trail. Why have I not been riding? Because of the rain. But it hasn't been raining every day. That's where I keep making mistakes. By now I should know to ride any day the weather is dry, because the next day it will rain again. Yesterday is a perfect example. We had a break between weather systems, and conditions were sunny and pleasant. But I didn't ride. Why? I don't know. Lazy, tired, schedule, procrastination, not sure. Today it is raining again and this will probably continue until tomorrow. On the good-weather days, something else always seems to keep me off the bike.

It is getting late in the year and soon riding will be made even more difficult by the weather. So I can't really afford to pass up these chances. I also plan to get a "trainer": a device that turns a regular bike in to a stationary bike. With a trainer I could at least get in a workout on days like today when the weather keeps me off the roads.

Home Theater Progress

Putting together a home theater is harder than I thought. I figured the hard part was getting all the right equipment installed and working. But it turns out, for me, that's the easy part. Deciding what the room should look like is proving to be a real chore. We talked to a cabinet maker. He measured the room and we discussed ideas. About a week later I drafted up (by hand) some plans for what I want the cabinets to look like. I sent him copies of the plans and dimensions of the things that need to fit in the cabinets (screen and speakers, primarily). And I have heard nothing. Meanwhile we had to decide on chairs and wall treatments, while continuing to discuss (in other words, repeatedly change our minds about) the appearance of the cabinets. We were kinda hoping that we could walk in to a home theater store, look at the theaters that they have in the showroom, perhaps look at a book of photos, and say "we want one that looks like that." But things aren't that simple.

We have been making progress, however. We finally ordered the chairs (which take 6 to 8 weeks to be delivered). They are Berkline "Matinee" chairs. We had to hunt around a bit but we ended up getting a good deal on the chairs. The projector arrived and we have already used it to watch a few movies (projected on the wall). I ordered the speakers, which should arrive this week. I also have the receiver (more on that later). I ordered an APC equipment rack that I just finished assembling tonight. It sits in the unfinished basement space behind the theater room and is waiting for shelves, power strip, and cable management stuff.

For future plans, I have located a surplus computer store in Atlanta and I will be visiting it (very soon I hope) to pick up whatever equipment I can. I need a computer to run the automation system, and I need an ethernet switch to put in the rack. I hope to pick up a rack-mounted keyboard and monitor as well. I have finally decided on a Blu-ray player: the Oppo BDP-83. The reviewers all rave about it and it appears to be well supported. I also want to try to pick up a used Sony 400-disc DVD changer from eBay. That will be enough to hold our DVDs and will provide the basis for hands-off movie selection.

After much debate and research on a suitable receiver I finally settled on the Integra 8.9. Although the amp is more powerful than I need (140 watts per channel for 7 channels) the deciding factor was the unit's ability to "upconvert" video to the full resolution used by the projector. Face it, when you project an image to be over 100" wide any little defect becomes pretty glaring. DVD resolution is fine for 40" or 50" TVs, but when you go to something this large it starts to suffer. All the movies we own are on DVD and I don't have plans to convert the whole library to Blu-ray. So it is important that we be able to play DVDs and have them look good. The Integra will convert the lower resolution (480 lines) of a DVD to the higher resolution (1080 lines) of the projector, and it does this using one of the best video processing chips in the industry -- the Silicon Optix Reon. And of course the receiver does an excellent job with the audio too.

The final piece to the puzzle is the automation system itself. There are several manufacturers for these "high end" automation systems, such as Control 4 and Crestron. But they are all very expensive, completely custom, and completely controlled by the vendor. The end-user can't make any changes to the system without paying someone to come out and "reprogram" the system. I think I would rather have a Pronto remote than be hamstrung like that. So I am still looking at a software solution call Cinemar. It is fully programmable by the end-user which gives me enough room to tweak and play to my heart's content. I still have concerns about it, however. There are no custom remotes for it, so the best "remote" ends up being a touch-screen tablet PC. That's a tad on the large & expensive side just for a remote (I'm investigating its support for the iTouch, which would be ideal). Also, Cinemar doesn't seem to have solid support for some of the components that I will be using, so I will have to do a lot of interface work. In that regard it is kind of the Linux of home automation. Except you have to pay for it.

Our goal is to have the theater done by Christmas. If we can come to a conclusion on how to decorate the room we have a good chance of hitting that goal.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Weekend Ride: The Silver Comet Trail

Last Sunday with the rest of my family out of town I finally did something that I have been wanting to do ever since taking up biking. I rode on the Silver Comet Trail. This trail starts just west of Atlanta and ventures all the way to the Alabama state line. There it joins up with the Chief Ladiga trail and continues on to Anniston, AL. That's about 90 miles of paved trail. Most of the trail is on a former rail bed, and is part of the rails to trails conservancy. As a result, the trail contains (mostly) low grade inclines and descents and has very few street crossings. For me this is a welcome relief from the typical north Georgia riding with steep hills, narrow shoulders, and lots of automobile traffic. I freely admit it: I am a hill climbing wimp. Sadly I am not like some bike riders who love to climb mountains. I look at a "steep" incline and groan. In fact I have no idea what grade any of these roads are around here. I like to think they're 8% or something because it makes me feel less wimpy, but they're probably more like 3%.

Due to the recent flooding in our area part of the trail was temporarily closed. So I attached the bike rack and my trusty Cannondale to the back of my green Miata (with tan roof) and drove out to Dallas, GA, to a point just beyond the closed portion. There I found the Tara Drummond trailhead. As I pulled in to the parking lot I was amazed to see another green Miata, with tan roof, and bike rack attached to the back, already parked. I could not resist: I had to park next to it. I really wish I had brought a camera! I wonder what the driver of that Miata thought when he or she arrived back at the car.

As I was standing behind my car in my spandex and cleated biker shoes, detaching my bike from the rack, a couple came up to me and the woman said "you look like you know what you're doing." Isn't it amazing how dressing the part can fool so many people? Turned out they had never worn helmets before (!) and weren't sure they had them on correctly. After reassuring them that indeed they had got it right, I felt compelled to tell her that I only looked like I knew what I was doing.

Then it was time to tackle the trail. I love this trail. If I lived closed to it I would ride it every day the weather let me. Oh what an easy ride. Even on a Sunday the trail was not crowded. The walkers and joggers were easy to get around and none of the dogs chased me. There were very few bikers and the ones I came across were easy to pass. It felt really wonderful to just ride and not worry about cars, stoplights, road hazards, and many of the other things on a typical road that interfere with a good ride. But the ride was not without its challenges. There were several underpasses and each one of them had mud and dirt piled up from the recent heavy rains. The longest tunnel (the Brushy Mountain tunnel) was so bad that I had to dismount and walk the bike through the worst of it. The skinny tires of my road bike were no match for all that mud. Despite those little obstacles I had a good ride. I did get passed by one rider, just as a reminder that I'm really not as fast as I like to pretend I am.

I rode from Dallas all the way to Rockmart, GA. In Rockmart the trail leaves the railroad bed and joins a riverwalk through downtown. This part of the trail is narrow and windy, and has a speed limit of 10. Just after downtown Rockmart the trail climbs a little hill and for a brief time shares pavement with a cemetary road. That was rather unusual! Just past that it goes across a short boardwalk (gives the rider a nice massage), then hits a very steep uphill to a street crossing. It was at that point that I said "no thanks" (remember, I'm a hill climbing wimp), turned around and headed back. I stopped at a park in Rockmart, ate my snack (a Clif bar), and swapped water bottles. Then I rode back to my starting point. 2.45 hours of riding (with only one stop for snack) and 37.45 miles. That was only a rate of 15.3 miles per hour. I was hoping for higher with the easy road conditions, but I'm not in very good shape. Maybe next time. But I am pleased that I was able to ride that far for that long with only one stop.

I will definitely return to the Silver Comet. Hopefully soon.