2010-08-11

Building a Chopper Bicycle

This blog post starts waaaaay back in time, sometime in my childhood. After learning to ride bicycles. My friend had a, what could be considered, a chopper bike. It was nothing more than his normal bike, that his stepdad had fixed up a bit. Removed the luggage rack, shortened the mudguards, but above all, installed the long forks from an adult bike. Then painted it in metallic blue. Gorgeous. And amongst us other kids, his bike was awesome.
Let's add to that, the fact that I had friends who all had garages and/or access to welders, grinders, and other tools. They had home-made stuff, and customised stuff. I never had that. I wanted to cut, bend, weld, etc, but I never really had the equipment, nor did I have the encouragement. That last part is quite important. If you never get encouraged to do things you can't do, you'll end up living in a life that's surrounded by a wall that tells you that inside the wall is stuff you can do, and outside the wall, there's stuff that you can't do, and that you shouldn't really aspire to do the things you're clearly not capable of doing. Welding is one such thing that I was told is difficult and that you just can't do.
Well screw that! Here's a fact I've learned, and the sooner you learn it too, the better the world will become.

The skills you don't master right now, are only hard work, studies and lots of practise away. Just learn how to do it. That's all. Really. There's no magic in it. Tedious practise, studying, investigating, and so forth. It can be done, but you're the one going to have to do it.

Back on track... Chopper bike.
As you can imagine from the aforementioned setting, I've always wanted to build a bicycle. I never really knew how to do it, and I never knew where to start. I thought I had to have calculations, drawings, engineering degrees, precision jigs, and so forth. Thanks to Brad and Kat at Atomic Zombie, I've realised, that I don't need all that. What I need is scrap bikes, a bit of hard work, unconventional engineering ideas and a bit of "just do it"-attitude.
So, there I was. I was given a complete girls cheap mountain bike - perfect. I paid £5 each for two car wheels, and a ridiculous £10 for a kids 20" mountain bike, fully suspended, I might add, but it doesn't add anything. With that, a welder, some other tools, I was ready.
From there on, I had to order some tubing, I got some 3/4" 18swg tubing along with some 1 1/4" 18swg (that's 1.2mm wall thickness for the civlised world).
Well, to cut a long, sweaty, bloody, painful, burning-flesh-smelling-story short, I spent about two months in the garage. The above picture is taken on 3rd June 2010, and I fitted the new brake cable on the 29th July 2010.
The result is this;
 I've learnt a lot, and I've had a lot of fun. One mistake I did was put a deadline on the project. They always take more time than you expect, but this took a bit more as I had hoped to build a trailer for the Chopper too. This deadline was because I wanted Mark Willhans of Pinstriping.se to do the gorgeous pinstripes on the bike. He was kind enough to do it, but I must admit I felt quite stressed during the last week or so. I think the quality dropped a bit too.
When I ride the bike people stare, stop and ask, give thumbs up, ask for test rides and so forth. It's actually quite hilarious. I love riding it.
I'm considering the bike done, but as time passes I'll do some improvements to it and it will evolve a bit. I need other bars for it, and another wider seat. Also the aforementioned trailer will be built at some point.
If you're interested, there's some 240+ images of the whole project in my Picasa album "Chopper Cycle Project".
So, all in all, one more thing ticked off the list, and a funny object to be a bit proud of. Finally a thought for all of you; Just do it - you can, all it takes is hard work.

2010-08-06

Upgrading MacBook Hard Disk

I thought I'd share my adventures of swapping my 160GB disk for a 340GB disk in my MacBook (Black one, bought Summer 2007).
I have been running this 160GB disk since I got the laptop, and since TimeMachine (Apples built in backup system) became available I've been using an external 2.5" 250GB USB disk for the TimeMachine backup. The reason for the 2.5" is quite simple, it's small, and it doesn't require an external power source. This means I can easily do backups wherever I want them.
To upgrade I bought a new SATA 340GB disk (Western Digital Black). I opted for a 7,200rpm one as I'm mostly using my laptop plugged in, so a decline in battery life isn't that critical. Then I also bought a new external backup disk. My choice fell upon the Buffalo 500GB one. I'm pretty pleased with it, it's black and shiny, pretty much similar to my old WD backup disk.
To get started with the disk swap I watched a YouTube video about it. As it turns out, Apple's hardware is, as it has always been, lovely (and we only buy these machines because they're "shiny" - right!!!). The procedure is, simplified, remove the battery. Unscrew the shiny L-shaped guard by undoing (not unscrewing) the three small phillips head screws. Carefully remove the L-shaped bracket. The disk is hidden at the short end - you'll see a white plastic tab, unfold it and pull the disk assembly out. Use a Torx T8 (I carefully used a Torx T7) tool to unscrew the four bolts that hold the "caddy" on the disk. Swap disks, reverse procedure to assemble. That's the hardware done.
Then you stick your Snow Leopard (or whatever MacOS you're using on the old disk and the backup disk) into your CD/DVD drive. Also plug in the TimeMachine USB disk. Boot the machine. It should now boot up to the Mac OS installer. At the installer choose the option for restoring your machine from a TimeMachine backup. You can now click forward in the wizard interface until you get to the spot where you select the disk to restore to. In my case, my disk was either unformatted or, formatted with the file system of a more commonly used operating system. Fret not, dear upgrader. Simply go to the "Utilities" menu and select "Disk Utility". Locate your new "blank" disk, and on the "Partition" "tab", select Options and choose "GUID Partition Table". Proceed and wipe the new disk and format it with the new filesystem. When done, exit "Disk Utility" and return to the Installer/Restorer. In my case the newly formatted disk was already found, so all I had to do was to select the steaming fresh disk and click forward until the restore proceeded.
The actual restore too about 4 hours or so.
The next part is to move your existing backups to the new backup drive. This is, simplified, done by "just dragging the 'Backups.backupdb' folder from the old disk to the new disk". However, there's a few things you need to do, such as turning the automatic backups off. See this Apple Knowledgebase article for full details: Mac 101: Time Machine. The information is under the "Mac OS X v10.6: How to transfer your backups from your current hard drive to a new hard drive" sub-heading.
BUT! There had to be one, hadn't there?! The Apple KB article mentions that "This may take some time to complete". In my case, "some time" meant 24 hours. I'm not kidding you. You have been warned! Now, there's a speck of good news; Firstly you don't have to do this on your own machine. You can use any Mac (or any other machine that can read/write that OS - I'm guessing) to copy the folder over. Secondly, I assume that using a command line option would be better, such as plain old cp (copy) or rsync (remote synchronisation). If I'd do this again, I'd use my girlfriends Mac and I'd use rsync to do it. That way I could interrupt the copying if needed.
Once you've got your old backkup on the new backup disk, it's time to reactivate your automatic TimeMachine backups and obviously to choose the new disk as backup target. And then you need to make a new fresh backup of your system. This might take some while as the file modification times have changed etc. It took about 2-4 hours for me - I don't know exactly as I don't know when it finished. :) Also, Spotlight will want to index your new backup disk too (process named mds), so expect your laptops fans to whirr away whilst this is happening.
So, not totally painless, but a lot less pain than I expected. If the backup copying would have been faster I think it would have been pretty much totally painless. There's a few caveats, but all in all, quite a straight forward process.
If you wonder about the faster disk? Did it make any difference? Yes, it has, but it could also be due to that the machine, now, has got "unlimited" swap capacity. (160GB+ compared to 1-4GB before). The machine feels a bit nippier and I'm very pleased with it. Battery life has decreased quite a bit, but the only time I've ran it off battery power, I wasn't very kind to the CPU with a lot of software running, so that was definitely contributing to the short battery life. Either way, very pleased. :)

Scoot de la Scoot

It's so long ago since I wrote about Scoot that I'm quite ashamed of it. The things that has happened with Scoot since 19th Feb 2010 is quite a lot. Not only did we (I) take the whole engine apart, but we spent a long time washing it and making sure every bit that was going back into the engine was up to scratch. We've bought tons of new bolts, a bearing, new starter gear, new brake pads, new fluids, etc, etc, etc.
I had to keep reminding myself that this isn't a restoration, that this is a repair. In my head, I wanted to shot blast every piece of the engine that didn't look brand new. I wanted to paint, sand, polish, powder coat, etc. But all the time, I had to remind myself that this Gilera Runner 180SP is a machine that's past its visual best, especially if you factor in how much it's worth. You can't spend 20% of the scooters sale price on refurbishing the wheels for example. They are, as they stand, perfectly round, perfectly acceptable to take a rubber tyre and they have good bearings and they work as per specification. Still, it rips my heart that they are not pristine. Really.
On the inside of the engine, however, things should be absolutely tickety-boo. I'd like to think that anything that has to do with the engine is up to scratch, up to Haynes Manual standard. I'd like to think that the whole mechanical aspect of the scooter is sound.
I'll give you an example. When we (I) removed the rear brake disk, some of the bolts were rounded off (allen head). I used my Dremel to shape the heads so I got some pliers on them so I could turn them. Now, out of the 6 (if my memory serves) maybe 3 of the bolts were "damaged" in this way. In my book totally useless. I could have reused the 3 that were "OK". But I didn't. As I can't guarantee that the next time they need to come out, I've chosen to replace all of them. Cost is not an issue as the cost is almost negligible, but it's the principle. By the same principle there's been a lot of bolt replacements, most of them genuine Gilera spares, some of them improved stainless steel ones (in the brake calliper, for example).
Another example is the exhaust. I spent a few evenings TIG welding it to fix the rust holes that had developed over time. A few parts of the exhaust are quite exposed to road grit, dirt, stones and above all salt. The exhaust had rusted through here, so I cut things off, steel brushed, dremelled, brushed, etc. I formed a piece over it all, then carefully TIG welded the whole thing up, and all the other bits and pieces I had to remove to get to the rust. I also welded on new threaded nipples that hold the stainless heat shield onto the exhaust. When I was done with the welding I painted the exhaust with Zinc paint to prevent further rust-rot. This should make sure that the exhaust will have a reasonable lifespan after Scoot has left our care.
 We have since the rebuild ran the Scooter for, maybe 500 miles. We've had a few things that didn't work - a hose kept coming loose, for example. I've had to thread lock a bolt as it was undoing itself. We've had to replace the new battery as it died on us after we cranked the engine too much due to the loose hose. The floater bowl was leaking... and probably something else too. Either way, all the teething problems have been minor, and they've been rectified.
Which brings me to the next point. Scoot de la Scoot is now, pretty much, ready to be sold. I'm going to wash her up, give her a coat of wax and then we're going to take pictures of her and all the accessories and parts we're including in the deal.
When we finished the repairs we had her MOT'd and Taxed, so she'll come with some 10 months remaining on both of those.
If I were to be the next owner, and I'd like to have her looking good (i.e not a workhorse commuter scooter), I'd probably take the wheels off and refurbish them, probably powder coat them. I'd also paint the forks as they've got a few specs of rust on them. I might also fork out on new fork legs as they're a bit worn and pitted. And a new rear shock, whilst at it. If my budget would stretch I'd also put on a nice expansion chamber - the 180cc two-smoke engine kind of deserves that.
Other that, she's ready to rock, ready to move on.

2010-02-19

Scoot is on the mend

It's been a long overdue project. We've not really felt for it, but now it's time. I'm talking about our Scooter, nicknamed Scoot De La Scoot, or just Scoot. It's a Gilera Runner 180SP, yes, that's the 2-stroke 21bhp "super" scooter.
Quite a long time ago, we serviced it quite thoroughly, and then we used it for quite a while. Caz used to do the 70 mile round trip to work on it, partially on the motorway. I used it for my commute too. It's so fast that you'll easily overtake cars in the slow lane. It'll cream pretty much any normal car up to 60mph, very much to the boy-racer's annoyance.
Either way, one day on my way to work, the scooter just lost its drive. Engine running but no drive.
It turned out that the crank had broken. Yes. Totally. The crank was off.
It's now time to fix it, we bought a new crank off eBay a long time ago, but now it's time to use it.
We pulled the engine out tonight. It's an annoying job as there's tons of panels in the way, and a lot of hoses, cables and wires to disconnect.
During the stripping we noticed that we'll have to clean a whole lot of parts, we'll have to paint quite a few of them too. Brake calipers need some TLC, new gaskets, new bolts, new nuts, etc. Loads to do.
When it's fixed we're thinking of running the Scooter for a month or so, and then it's time to sell her on to a new home where someone will actually use her as she's meant to be used.

2010-01-22

I want my paper bills!

Today I got a letter from O2. The later says "This will be the last bill you'll get in the post.". My bills are now online only. Here's the benefits;
  • Less trees have to die.
Here are the drawbacks;
  • I will no longer have a papertrail of my history with O2. Should there be some problem and some legal implications, all I have to present to the courts is my login and password. Or potentially (forged?) home-made-print-outs. I doubt the court would accept those as evidence.
  • I am the one who'll have to remember yet another URL, yet another Username, yet another Password.
  • If I want to have a paper trail, I will have to pay for the Printer, Ink, Paper (there goes the "less trees have to die" benefit), but also all my time. And this might still not be admissable in court.
  • What happens when I want to go to some shop and buy something that requires the foolproof UK way of asking for "a recent bill". If all companies that I'm a customer of will turn to "paperless bills", I will have no way of securing another contract. I doubt they'll accept some dodgy print out..?! (Or will O2 guarantee it?!)
  • But the big one: What happens if I should move from O2 (quite friggin likely!)?; Do I still have access to my bills on their website. Is my login still valid?
There's a reason why paper has been admissable in court for centuries. There's a reason why we sign paper contracts - not just some click on "OK" after ticking an "I agree to the terms" on some random website. Paper is physical.
If you really want to save trees, figure out a way to get rid of envelopes and print on smaller and thinner paper. I bet there's a 66% to 75% saving there.
No, the real reason why O2 are doing this, and a lot of other companies do it too, is so that they can save money. They. Not me. So, rightfully, I'm entitled to a discount for "paperless billing".
Here you have it O2;
Give me my bill back, or drop, saaaaay... £3 off my monthly bill!

Update!
I just logged in to view my online bill. If I want to print it it doesn't even say what phone number, let alone my address, name and account number. How am I supposed to present that to any 3rd party. It could be anybody's bill. FAIL!

Update II!
I forgot to mention that I've been trying to change my direct debit details forever. I can't do it in a shop, and even if there's an "update billing shizniz" button on the O2 site, I'm unable to change my details. The only way I can do it is to ring them. Which I refuse to do as I bought the device from the shop. FAIL II!