Author Archives: Matt

Biking in Baltimore, Maryland

Recently my wife and I visited for several days. She spent most of her time in art museums — which are all excellent and all free! We arrived at midnight Wednesday, and the next morning I was waiting at the door of a family-operated bike shop for them to open so I could pick up my rental bike. The owner of the bike shop, Penny at Light Street Cycles, was one of two people who comprise 95% of cycling advocacy in Baltimore. Sunday, I went on a 40 mile ride with the other, Bob Wagner. Both were very warm, hospitable and delightful people. The city was fascinating to ride in, with lots of history and much older buildings and homes than what you see in Austin. “Bike-friendly” like Austin? Not quite….maybe 2 miles of trails total, few and random bike lanes, far fewer people on bikes, and sewer grates everywhere with the bars running parallel to the curb! Drop a front wheel in one of those and you can expect to break the fork off our bike and do yourself some major hurt!

So, fascinating as Baltimore was, as much as I wish Austin could get it together and repair its broken down and disconnected trails, as annoyed as I am at so many of Austin’s bike lanes rendered unsafe due to parked cars, I returned home with appreciation of what we are doing well re’ cycling here in Lance’s home town.

Penny and Bob have a standing invitation for a guided Austin “urban century” courtesy of Don.

Telemarketers & statements about them I don’t agree with

“One shouldn’t be rude to a telemarketer, after all, he/she’s just trying to earn a living.”

You can say the same of a crack dealer, a prostitute, or someone who rifles your car looking for money or credit cards. The telemarketer is taking something of value from you — your time — without your consent or invitation in the hopes of financial gain. This is a form of petty thievery. I guess if you feel you should be polite and turn the other cheek to thieves, then it follows you should be courteous to a telemarketer. In any case, when the phone rings and a telemarketer is on the other end rudeness has already been initiated by the caller.

“You can take care of telemarketers by putting your phone number on the “Do Not Call” registry.”

This is of some use for a residential phone number, but of no use at all for a business. The telemarketers that harass businesses are an almost entirely different group than the ones that call your home. They mostly push credit card processing services, group health plans, questionable loan programs and internet marketing schemes. The “Do Not Call” registry has no legal application to a business phone. In any case, even at your home, telemarketers trying to sell political candidates, a telemarketer calling from an entity you have transacted business with, and telemarketers trying to stick a hand in your wallet on behalf of alleged charities are all exempt from being required to follow the registry. An ethical law-abiding telemarketer will honor the registry and not call your home. Wait a minute! “Ethical, law-abiding telemarketer?” Isn’t that an oxymoron?

“You invite telemarketing calls by owning and answering your telephone.”

In one sense true, in another sense not even worthy of rebuttal, but I have heard it said.

“You should put your cell phone on a “Do Not Call” registry because publication of a directory of all cell phone numbers is imminent.”

This is a persistent urban myth. See this Snopes report. I suspect it’s probably a bad idea to put your cell phone on any list which could be used to verify its a working number.

“I am NOT a telemarketer…….”

“I am simply trying to help your business get to the top of the Google listings, I am trying to help you save money on your credit card fees, I have a college degree and am trying to help you manage investments…..” Etc., etc., etc….. Barf! OK, you are not only a telemarketer, but you are trying to insult my intelligence with an obvious lie, or perhaps you need a dictionary.

“Telemarketers raise money for causes such as fighting drugs, aiding the family of fallen law enforcement officers, etc. etc.”

They raise money for those that own the boiler room operations. The state troopers associations or whatever get only the most token percentage. Its despicable and wrong that they let their name be used by disreputable businesses on the theory that any pittance they might receive is that much more than nothing. Perhaps even worse, is that public school athletic booster clubs do the same.

There’s nothing you can do except hang up on them.

I use this program which I cannot recommend too highly. You will also need a voice modem in your PC (cost approx. $19), caller ID service from your phone company, and to plug a phone line into your PC. The program is highly configurable and you can rest assured that any telemarketer who transmits caller ID will only cause you to answer a call from them phone the one first time. You can block anonymous calls also if you wish, and you can play any message to them that suits your taste. It can be loud painful screeching noises or a polite “Not interested. Please don’t call again.”

It’s hot, its tempting, but PLEASE don’t do this!

I refer to trying to recharge your AC yourself without having adequate equipment to analyze the system’s condition. The gauge on the kit from Autozone or Pep Boys does not measure both sides of the system. It is very easy to overcharge the system with potential damage. Also, even the low side gauge readings are variable for a given level of charge depending on the condition of the compressor and the expansion valve. The proper way is to pull the refrigerant into a recycling machine where it is weighed and the service technician knows how much — if at all — it fell short and how much to add to bring the level to factory specs. This service should include adding a leak detection dye if none is already present and examining the system under ultraviolet light for the presence of leaks. At Don’s the price of $107.50 plus refrigerant and dye includes a free follow-up inspection, while you wait, in a week or two.

Much worse is using refrigerant with “sealer” added. This substance destroys AC systems and destroys professional service equipment.

Rollerderby WAS serious!

Several last jams had major penalties and so were skated over. Then it became a tie and went into another three minutes of play time. Talk about hard-fought. The Cherry Bombs ended up losing by a couple of points. Probably good for them as they won’t be too complacent about training for the upcoming championship. Don’t miss the championship on October 15. Its at the convention center to accommodate the anticipated attendance. But get tickets ahead because it will likely sell out.

Banked Track Rollerderby is fixing to get serious!

8-21-11 —

This morning I went to the veloway to start accruing the 100 miles I try to get in every week on the seat of a bicycle. I ran into Dawna Destruction of the Cherry Bombs and had a nice chat. About the time she left several members of the Rhinestone Cowgirls showed up to skate a few laps and we had a nice visit. So, that reminds me to remind you…..Saturday 7:00 PM at the Palmer Events Center we have the Cherry Bombs vs. the Rhinestone Cowgirls. These are currently the two top teams in the league — both undefeated so far this season, the Cherry Bombs undefeated last season as well. The winner of this upcoming bout goes straight to the championship bout, the loser has to play the #3 team — the Putas del Fuego — to go to the championship. Having sponsored the Cherry Bombs for the last few years I have my bias, but really this one is too close to call. If you go and find the bout boring, I will personally reimburse you for your ticket! I have made this offer before — no takers yet! If you can’t make this one, the playoff and championship bouts are in October.

More misinformation from Click & Clack

I don’t listen to their radio show because it annoys me how much they laugh at their own tired jokes. But today I read their column in the Statesman. The first topic they answered well, the second, not too well at all. It concerned someone who drove a ’98 Toyota Corolla on bad roads and experienced steering wheel shimmy at 60-70 mph despite having had the car’s wheels “balanced and aligned.” Click and Clack offered two possible explanations:

1. Tread separation on a front tire.

2. A loose tie rod end or ball joint in the front suspension.

Tread separation would have been caught by a proper wheel balance job. A loose tie rod end or ball joint has the following symptoms: Clunking and knocking at low speeds when turning or going over bumps. If a tie rod end or ball joint is catastrophically loose, a wicked “death wobble” vibration will be triggered when you go over a bump at about 30 mph or less. This vibration is such that you will pull over to the side of the road wishing you had a change of underwear with you.. High speed shimmy is not generally a symptom of a loose tie rod end or ball joint.

The following are common explanations for high speed steering wheel shimmy:

1. A wheel balance operation was not successful due to poor equipment, poorly maintained equipment or operator error — happens all the time. My 3/4 ton crew cab diesel truck has wheels too big to fit our shop’s balancer. NTB flat out cannot balance my truck’s wheels — after they tried several times I got disgusted and tore off all the weights they had put on and it shimmied far less! Recently, Discount Tire was finally successful on about the sixth try. This was with new Michelins and me standing over them telling them how to do it and insisting they use different equipment than what they had tried without success on two sets of new tires. And, that said, Discount Tire is one of the best of the “big box” tire chains.

2. Front tire out of round or rim grossly bent so the wheel/tire assembly is technically balanced but does not roll true.

3. Shimmies when brakes are applied at highway speed because of brake rotors that are not flat and of uniform thickness due to warpage from the repeated heat generated by braking. Probably 50% of vehicles on the highway have this syndrome to a greater or lesser degree.

4. Inner CV (constant velocity) joints on the front wheel drive axles can cause a wicked vibration up the steering wheel any time the gas pedal is applied at high speed and they are under torque. This is, in fact, particularly common with the drive axles used on certain Toyota Corollas and Geo Prisms.

All four of the above are commonplace, but Click and Clack only mentioned #2, (sort of).

If you think they are entertaining, that is a matter of personal taste. If you think their information is to be trusted, I regret to inform you it is not.

What have things come to? Bottled water—rant!

8-12-11 —

Yes I know its hot, and as someone who bicycles 100+ miles/week I know the importance of drinking plenty of water in August in central Texas. But what seems insane to me is Nestle’ or some other mega-food corporation takes municipal water somewhere, possibly performs minimal filtration on it, puts it in a plastic bottle, ships it a few hundred or a few thousand miles and marks it up like 10,000%!! This is madness! Its only water! When I was a kid, bottled water was unheard of, but we were not dying of thirst right and left. We drank out of water fountains and water was free and available at most any public place. If you want your water filtered — not that Austin tap water is at all bad — its child’s play for a handyman to plumb a filter under your kitchen sink, that is if your refrigerator doesn’t already have a filter in it. There all all manner of insulated stainless steel canteens for sale allowing you to drink water that has not absorbed carcinogenic plastics. In our current Texas climate, it won’t take any time at all for these to pay for themselves, to say nothing of the huge environmental benefits. I am not a hard-core tree-hugging, recycling freak, eco-nazi — unlike my stepson Tony πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ — but bottled water strikes me as an abomination! Happy to report that Tony comes to the shop and fills his one gallon canteen from the water cooler/filtration unit in the office. Apparently bottled water does somehow appeal to many “tree-hugging, re-cycling, green” folks, because it occupies considerable shelf space at Whole Foods Market and other such stores.

I’m listening if anyone can explain this to me!