Monday, September 18

Balance and Power

Dallas Museum of Flight Supports the Popular Image of the Wrights and Their Cycling Company
This post is, more or less, a book review. Recently I read again about the effort that the Wright Brothers expended in order to make the first sustained human controlled flight in history. This book, by David McCullough, entitled "The Wright Brothers, recounts their journey. My loyal reader may recall the Wright Brothers as bicycle mechanics, but that serves only to minimize their accomplishments. In truth, their accomplishments were made possible by their cycling background, combined with the love of reading instilled in them by their parents. McCullough makes this point, but fails to emphasize some of the groundbreaking accomplishments these two brothers from Dayton, Ohio accomplished.


  • As cyclists, they realized that proper balance was essential to controlled flight. Any cyclist knows that balance is a prerequisite to movement. The Wrights realized early on that balance was even trickier for powered flight than it was for cycling.
  • Their learning led them to absorb virtually every book written on human flight. One of their sources was Samual Langley, the head of the Smithsonian Institution and an erstwhile competitor to be first in flight with his "Aerodrome." More on this later.
  • They realized that scientific research, whether peer reviewed or not, was sadly lacking. One example was the absence of any serious research into the principles behind propeller operation despite their having been used in ships for a half century. They had to develop the principles themselves. They achieved far better efficiency than the best ship propellers of the time.
  • Similarly, stability and control laws were lacking; this led them to build their own, homemade wind tunnel. One of their first conclusions is that the big problem in flight was the learning of how to control the aircraft, not in the basic principles.
  • The Wrights were far more than sinple mechanics. According to McCullough, before the turn of the century, they were turning out close to 200 machines a year when they started working on building a flying machine. The photos above make it look like they were a couple of country hicks working with tools one might have seen in the American Revolution. They don't look like an outfit that had a wind tunnel in the back room.
  • As they developed the scientific principles needed for flight, they asked all the auto manufacturers of the day to provide them with an engine. They asked for an engine that could develop at least 8Hp and weighed less than 200Lb. Nobody offered to meet their specifications. So they put one of their employees, Charlie Taylor to work. He built one that weighed 150Lb and put out 12Hp. Score another for the cyclists. For comparison, the 1912 Model T engine weighed around 300Lb without transmission and put out 20Hp.
  • Their choice of Kill Devil Hill was also not accidental. They researched all the potential
    From Wikipedia
    locales, looking for one that was relatively unpopulated, with consistent wind, and with lots of level and hilly locales for launch/recovery sites.
  • Somewhat strangely, considering the almost instant spread of news today, the first accurate eyewitness account of the Wright Brothers flights didn't come out until January 1905; more than a year after their first flight. The publication: "Gleanings in Bee Culture."
  • The editor of the first accurate article on human flight (the same "Bee Culture" guy) sent a copy to Scientific American with an offer of free republication. Far from taking him up on the offer, Scientific American ignored it and, instead, a full year later, ridiculed the notion that the Wrights were capable of something they'd been doing for over two years. Wilbur Wright opined: "If they will not take our word and the word of many witnesses, ... we do not think they will be convinced until they see a flight with their own eyes." By that time, the Wrights were negotiating the sale of the Wright Flyer III to the French Government after receiving no interest from the US Government. Three years later, they were making their famous flight over the Statue of Liberty.
  • Oddly, even long after this, in 1928, the Smithsonian turned down a Wright offer to donate the original Flyer. Instead, the Smithsonian falsely claimed that Langley produced the first machine capable of flight. They even had Glenn Curtiss modify it so it COULD fly. As a result, the original Wright Flyer was sent to England to reside in the London Science Museum. It stayed there until after Orville's death in 1948. I guess we're lucky it wasn't hit by the Germans in the Blitz.

I guess the US Government has reconsidered. After the Flyer went to England, the Smithsonian board recanted their denial of the Wrights being the first to fly. Perhaps final vindication came in 1969 when a piece of the original Wright Flyer went to the Moon with Neil Armstrong. One Giant Step indeed!


Thursday, September 7

Rebel Shame

Some of you may know that there's a fight going on right now in Dallas over the proposed removal of the Robert E Lee statue in Lee Park. There're a bunch of stories on the subect here.

It is less well known, except to my loyal reader, that the Lee statue is less offensive than other memorials that have appeared in posts from this blog. Notable amongst those, are posts here, here, here, and even here. At least the last was "just for the day" and used the common name for what I sometimes call "The War of the Rebellion." The offensive memorial sits a block from Dallas City Hall. I believe it is on Dallas City property and is administered by Dallas Parks and Recreation.

The memorial in Dallas  was moved there only in 1961. It is notable that three of the four corner statues had their main connection with Texas during the Mexican War. There is no mention of the other notables, such as US Grant or Sam Houston that also fought in that war. Most shameful is the lack of any mention of those that lived and are buried in North Texas that fought to preserve the Union. THAT lack is the true REBEL SHAME. Inscriptions such as

“The brazen lips of Southern cannon thundered an unanswered anthem to the God of Battle.”

and
“Confederate infantry drove bayonets through columns that never before reeled to the shock of battle.”

(among others noted here) seem to me to attempt to rewrite history in a way unconnected to any reality as an attempt to change things to a narrative of "The Lost Cause." And THAT is the Rebel Shame. I'm not sure most of that belongs even in a museum, any more than Holocaust Denier documents would.

IMO, worthy of a memorial a block away from Dallas City Hall would be something including the Sam Houston quote: "I wish no prouder epitaph to mark the board or slab that may lie on my tomb than this: 'He loved his country, he was a patriot; he was devoted to the Union.'"

Closer to my home, almost hidden amongst the Rebel monuments, is the fact that Old Doctor Colley, after whom Colleyville (where I live) is named, was a Southerner that fought to preserve the Union. THAT should be a source of Southern pride. If we want to talk about history, let us at least not leave Rebel Shame as the only voice. It took REAL courage to stand up for the Union if you lived in the South. 



"Old Doctor Colley" is the Second Name from the Top; With a Union Star

Colley Enlisted in Missouri in 1864

"Old Doctor Colley" and Wife
Lest you think this is limited to the South, the "Jefferson Davis Memorial Park" is located in Southern Washington State. It is within sight of Interstate 5. In its defense, at least it is on private land, though I cannot fathom why people feel they need to put up a monument to two milestones originally put up along old Highway 99, many miles from where the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway was SUPPOSED to be. See the story here

Back around 2000, I clearly recall that the Blaine milestone still resided along the main border crossing into the US from Canada about five feet from the left side of the road, where you would have much time to contemplate its meaning if traffic was backed up. Look left and you see Jeff Davis. Look further left and you see the Peace Arch. Rebel shame indeed!

Wednesday, August 30

Learning from the Dogs

Our Dog's Blinky Collar Light. A GODSEND to Keep an Eye on a Black Dog Running Around in the Dark
Late last year, we discovered a blinky light that was designed to attach to a dog collar. Since we often play "fetch" with our black Labrador Retriever at night, it was a godsend. While a black dog in the dark is hard to see, a black dog in the dark with a blinking light can't hide from anybody.

The light broke this spring when the battery wore out. I wound up buying 2 new batteries for it, which cost $5 after I used a $5 coupon. Not long after, it fell off our dog's collar, so we got a new one." A few weeks ago, I saw batteries at "Tractor Supply Company" that would fit the light for $5.99. THIS price was for 50 of the batteries. I'd never imagined that new batteries could be had for less than 20 cents each. Live and learn.

Light Display at a "Big Box" Hardware Store

Even MORE recently, I saw that the outfit, "Nite Ize" makes a wider variety of lights. These include ones designed to fit around one's wrist, along with several that work on bikes in various ways. I didn't get one because I saw a "disposable" somewhere in the display, but now I notice that these lights use batteries inexpensively available from Tractor Supply.

Note to self, I must pick up one of these. In "blinky" mode, on the left wrist, it would make an excellent left turn signaller supplement for upcoming dark mornings. I don't think I'd bother getting one for my right wrist since it is rare to need a lighted right turn signal when on a bike. This is a FAR better solution than the more expensive light I considered here. I'll also note that ONE of these covers all you might want to do with hand signals when in the dark, as noted here, unless you feel compelled to stick with the "alternate right turn." Lately, I've seen a bunch of posts suggesting you ought to always point out the direction you want to go - like pointing with your right arm when you want to turn right. I, however, do not recommend you buy a second one of these just to satisfy those posts. Either point with your right arm when in the dark or give the "official" right turn signal. Either way, get a BUNCH of replacement batteries from TSC rather than paying the same price for one at your typical checkout counter.

Sunday, August 6

Plastic Fantastic

FAIL of the Plastic Tire Iron

The first thing I needed to do to the Univega was get the front tire to hold air. Accordingly, I removed the tire and tube. I found out the tire had an oversize tube, so I simply replaced the tube with a new one of the correct size. Along the way, I discovered that my plastic "tire iron" wasn't up to the job. Note to self: carry a plastic tire iron on the road, but keep the steel ones to use at home when a "real fix" is necessary. I guess there's a reason that steel "iron" was used back in the day instead of the plastic they give you nowadays.

Along the same line, our Jaguar car club had its annual show yesterday. One of the cars, a mid 1950's XK 140 emphasized the theme of this post. From a distance, it looks like the car has some gold trim. You can see it below.

Note Gold Color Around the Headlights and Turn Signals
However, if you look closer, you can see a statement is being made.

Some Things Were Done Differently Back in the Day...

Tuesday, July 4

Hawaiian Rescue Bike

I really don't go around garage sales looking for bikes or bike stuff. However, once in a while something drops into my lap affordably enough that I have a hard time passing it by. Ocean Shores, being a tourist town, has GOBS of garage sales on holidays such as Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. Oddly, it doesn't seem to have nearly so many on the town's biggest holiday; Flag Day.

This particular example showed up over the weekend. Apparently its owners traveled, with a bicycle registration from Fort Collins, Colorado. Relevant to this post's title, it also had a "Bicycle License" from Honolulu, Hawaii. According to the script on the "License," it expired on December 31, 1990. Apparently, Hawaii has changed its laws, since nowadays, the city imposes a $15 "permanent" fee, as noted here. This is also enshrined in STATE law, documented here. Apparently, the most recent change was effective starting this year. Apparently you can be tasered and jailed for not having a bike license in Hawaii, or more likely they'll just take away your bike and sell it as described here. I thought about trying to contact Honolulu to see what records they had on it, but nearly 30 years after the "license" expiration, I decided that some things are better just left alone. You can't see it in the photo, but Hawaiian bike licenses didn't use to be permanent since there's another one underneath. Like car license tabs in many states, each year they use a new color.

But I digress. The bike's asking price was $25, but the seller readily accepted $20. There were a few other bikes up for sale, but they were all junk bikes. The bike is a Univega. For those of you unfamiliar with the brand, Univega was pretty popular in the 1980's. Unlike many other Japanese brands, Univega didn't build their own bikes. Instead, they contracted with other companies, notably Miyata. These bikes were built to Univega's specifications. Technically, Univega wasn't a Japanese brand, as it was started by an Iraqi immigrant, Ben Lawee. Univega headquarters was in Signal Hill, California and it was Ben that designed the bikes built by Miyata.


Still, the bikes, after an early period in which they were imported from Italy as "Italvega," were pretty purely built entirely in Japan. In the late 1980's, manufacture moved to Taiwan and the company was bought by Raleigh in the mid 1990's. Raleigh discontinued the brand around 2000 or so.


This particular bike had a flat front tire upon purchase, along with surface rust that you can see in the various photos. It also looks like it had a peg-mounted pump at one time.


The bike is a mixte frame, and uses Suntour ARX derailleurs. It rides on 27" Araya rims and uses middling Dia Compe brakes. I think the pedals originally had toe clips since there are pedal reflectors only on one side of each pedal. You can see the Lawee imprent in the "Lawee design" decal on the chainstay.

Suntour ARX Derailleurs. Designed by "Lawee design"
Just a Touch of Drivetrain Rust! However, Everything Works
You can see there will be a bit of rust removal necessary on this bike's drivetrain, which has suffered over the years in the humid climates of Hawaii and Ocean Shores. Though it is an early 80's design, it does have a six-speed freewheel. That's particularly convenient since my daughter's bike has Shimano shifting indexed for six speeds. The Univega's Suntour has no indexing so I plan to swap the freewheels.

One oddity is the saddle on the Univega. I suspect it is something the bike acquired during the years. It's a fairly low end mattress saddle. Actually, it might work well in Ocean Shores, since the place isn't all that big anyway.

Vinyl Saddle by "Bike Extras Cycle Products Co"