T8 Fluorescent Lamp Retrofit

The fluorescent light fixture in the laundry room had issues, with only two bulbs reliably lighting and a persistent buzzing sound. This is the telltale sign of a failing ballast, and with the bulbs being fairly old (last replaced in 2005) it was time for some work.

The fixture had been fitted with F40 / T12 bulbs and a pair of two-lamp magnetic ballasts. Since these bulbs aren’t being manufactured anymore (this was stopped in mid-2012) I had to move to T8 bulbs. This wasn’t a problem, as I’d been keen to try the Philips F32T8/TL950 high-CRI (98!!!) / 5000K bulbs. Outside of very specialized full spectrum bulbs these seem like the holy grail of daylight lamps. They aren’t readily available in shops in less than 25 packs, but some Amazon sellers have them individually for reasonable prices.

Four bulbs were ordered ($13.32/ea) via Amazon, along with an ICN-4P32-N electronic ballast ($15.60), and this evening I put it all together. Wiring was surprisingly simple, with everything being relatively color-coded and easy to fit. Two old magnetic ballasts were removed, the replacement electronic ballast was fitted / capped / taped, and it was ready to go.

These lamps look great, and the laundry room is now brighter than ever. These lamps look so good that I’m now considering them for over my workbench and trying to find a way to use them in the office. With such a high CRI and daylight-like temperature these should be good for dealing with seasonal affective disorder or just general blue feelings in winter. (Yes, getting out and riding in daylight helps, but that’s not really possible on weekdays…)

2015 Big M XC Race Report (Fat Bike Open)

I don’t normally write up post-race reports, but this past weekend’s Fun Promotions cross country mountain bike (XC) race at Big M ski area in Udell Hills was fun and notable, so I figured I’d give it a go.

A week earlier my buddy, fellow CRAMBA board member, and Tree Farm Relay team mate Chris Westerlund expressed an interest in going to race, and with Beginner (his class) and Fat Bike Open (the class I wanted to do) starting at 2:45pm time seemed like it would work out for a single-day trip. So, we made plans to go. While the Fat Bike Open class is inexplicably the same length as Beginner (two laps) it still sounded like a fun time, especially if we padded the day with some North Country Trail riding at the end.

Meeting at about 8:30am at our place the drive was pretty easy, affording us plenty of time to stop along the way and grab lunch (Butter Burgers and onion rings at Culver’s in Cadillac), arriving with just shy of two hours to spare. This gave us breathing room to register, change clothes, get bikes ready, and warm up. I’m normally not one to warm up much before a race, but as I’ve been finding that ~20 minutes into a race I hit a small wall and feel blah for a few minutes I decided to give it a go. The random trails, two track, and paved roads around Big M allowed for an easy ~30 minutes pedaling around and playing with tire pressure (Strava data, 10 PSI front, 11 PSI rear), which left me feeling quite good. Between first check while sitting in the sun on the car and rolling around in the cool shade my tires lost 1 PSI — a non-trivial amount on a fat bike — so I’m glad I did.

While warming up and getting ready we were able to chat with a number of different folks including some friends from the west side, folks who were at the Tree Farm Relay the day prior, and Steven Terry, a friend-of-a-friend from the Traverse City area. Steve and I had ridden together last autumn during an Iceman pre-ride that I attended on the way back from my first Marquette trip, so it was great to see him again. Being a pretty regular racer and sponsored by Framed Bikes I was pretty sure that he was going to beat me, but we ended up trading places throughout the race, riding together for most of it, and having a great time.

After starting a few minutes late (the kids race which used the Corkpine loop was running over) the race was on, with Bob Kidder (472) taking off in the lead, followed by Mike Dolefin (470), Todd Rillema (473), myself (475), Steven Terry (474), Steve Balough (471), and Kevin LaRoe (476). (Start photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) This order continued until the trail turned slightly uphill near the turn from Corkpine to Bullwacker (marker 34) when Mike, Todd, myself, and Steven passed Bob. We snaked along the Bullwacker single track heading southwest until the long, two-track-ish climb up to marker 47, when Steven and I pulled by Mike and Todd. From there on out it was him and I riding alone together at the front.

Steven and I rolled along through the twisting, flowy single track, with occasional brief bits of chatting but mostly riding along pushing a bit. I’d occasionally pull away, he’d occasionally catch me (thankfully he had a loud freehub so I could tell when he was close without looking), and then after the first lap (turn photos: 1, 2) Steven pulled past me on the long Bullwacker climb. Riding right on the edge of my ability I hung on to his wheel up the climb and was a bit surprised when he pulled over slightly at the top and let me by. We rolled through the course again, a bit faster this time, and then with about 1-2 miles left — I believe just after marker 23 where the course makes a hairpin downhill left turn — I saw Steven about 50 feet behind me on the ridge and decided to see if I could keep the lead and finish ahead of him.

I did my best to pick good lines through the remaining twisty trail, over some brake bumpy downhills, and to keep pedaling hard until the end and it worked, finishing a mere 27 seconds in front of Steven (finish photos: 1, 2). The photo above shows me at the finish area, pushing pretty hard as I was spinning away in the top gear on my fat bike (30:11). Despite the look I was pretty happy at the end, as this is only the second non-beginner race that I’ve won; the first being the Addison Oaks Fall Classic in 2014 which didn’t take nearly the same amount of effort. I don’t race much, and I’m not normally too far back in the standings of races that I do enter, but ending up on the podium, much less winning, is a very rare thing. (Podium photos: 1, 2.)

Chris ended up having a great race as well, taking first place in his category, surprising the leader with a pass not far from the end. He’s now on track to win his category for the whole MMBA Championship Point Series which’ll net him a nice custom jersey. (Chris’ finish photos: 1, 2, podium shot.)

The full race results can be found here.

After the race Chris and I headed over to the Udell Trailhead of the North Country Trail and had a fun ride south to Udell Hills Road and back (Strava data, NCT map). This area climbs over the hill in Big M and includes some great scenery, wonderful flowing downhills, and fairly decent climbs. It was a great way to end the day and got us ready for a nice meal at Clam Lake Beer Company before heading back home.

It was a good day.

Marquette Food Recommendations

After traveling to Marquette a handful of times I began putting together a short list of restaurants and such which I think are worth eating at. This started as a list that my friend Marty sent, but I’ve built it out and added my own descriptions. This was sent to a few friends who are heading to this part of the UP for the first time and now I’m wanting to share it as a blog post.

Just because something isn’t here doesn’t mean that it’s bad; I simply haven’t tried it thus don’t have anything to say about it. Every place listed here I’d gladly eat at again:

Donckers: Candy shop, has a restaurant upstairs that’s great for breakfast. I haven’t had any other meal here.
Sweet Water Café: I like this place more than Donckers for breakfast, but it’s different. Donckers is more like a high quality greasy spoon; Sweet Water Cafe is more like an Ann Arbor restaurant with high quality ingredients. Both are good.
Lagniappe: Cajun place. The food seemed good, but prices struck me as a bit high. Tasty, though.
Vango’s: Pizza place which is outstanding, the cudighi (local style sausage) sandwich is great.
The Vierling: Little more upscale restaurant and brewery, but t-shirt/jeans is still fine. Good food, more sit down-y.
Border Grill: Tex-Mex short order stuff, really good. The fish tacos were some of the best I’ve had.
ToGo’s: Good sandwich / sub shop; great for carryout.
Jean Kay’s Pasties: Classic UP pasties, really really tasty. You can also buy them par-baked / frozen to take home.
Ore Dock Brewing Company: Good brewery, snacky food (not much). You can bring food in.
Blackrocks Brewery: Great brewery, no food at all. I think you can bring food in.
Third Street Bagel: Giant bagel sandwiches, decent coffee. Open early.
Dead River Coffee: Outstanding small coffee shop. Very, very good.
Marquette Food Co-Op: Great little grocery store, prepared food, real high quality stuff.
Tadych’s Econo Foods: Regular grocery store, great beer selection. Essentially across the street from the north end of the black trail (Harlow Farms Connector) or whatever; the easy way into the trails from town.
Jasper Ridge Brewery: This place is in Ishpeming and where a group ride meets at 6pm on Wednesdays to ride the RAMBA trails. Beer is nothing special, food is basic. The deep fried mushrooms are great.
Muldoons Pasties: This pasty shop is located in Munising, about an hour from Marquette. Pasties are tasty, but different from Jean Kay’s. I think I like Jean Kay’s more, but a pasty from Muldoons is definitely good and hits the spot.

Subaru Outback Oil and Tire Rotation Change Cost Analysis

With my new vehicle, a 2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium, after a basic mental cost analysis I decided to do oil changes and tire rotations myself. I’ve acquired the needed tools for both and here’s the actual cost analysis:

One-Time Tool Purchases: $175.48

  • Oil Drain Pan: $8.99
  • Funnel: $3.99
  • Oil Storage Container: $6.99
  • Oil Filter Wrench: $5.89
  • Floor Jack: $99.99 (replaced sub-standard $35-ish one from years ago)
  • Rubber Wheel Chocks: $15.98
  • Qwik Valve & Supplies: $33.65 (shipped, includes vinyl hose and snap-on fitting)

Per-Change / Rotation Consumables: $33.84

  • Mobil 1 0W-20: $26.99 (6 quarts, only 5.1 needed for vehicle)
  • Subaru OE Oil Filter: $6.85 (4-pack via eBay, w/ crush washer)

Typical prices for a synthetic oil change is around $75, and another $20 for tire rotation at a semi-local shop that I trust (LTM Quick Lube). Since coupons and deals are typically available, I’ll figure $90 average total for both. The monetary cost of doing the work myself is $33.84 per service, taking into account the one-time purchases I will break even after two more iterations; which should be before the end of the year.

Time cost is a concern, but I think this is a wash between doing the work myself and taking my car in. The first oil change and tire rotation took approximately one hour for the work itself, and I think that with the installation of the Qwik Valve this should be cut down even further, as I shouldn’t have to deal with removing/cleaning/reinstalling the drain plug and crush washer.

LTM Quick Lube is located at Opdyke and South Boulevard in Auburn Hills, and while I can usually find time, it’s roughly 30 minutes of extra driving when incorporated into another trip, and I have to find a convenient time. The oil change and tire rotation at the shop takes 15-20 minutes, so I’m estimating just about an hour to take my car in. (The dealership would also be an option, but it’s equal time away, and I suspect will take slightly longer than a dedicated oil change location.) I will also have to take the old oil for recycling, but there are convenient locations for this on my way to work, which should only add a couple more minutes and only needs to occur every other oil change.

Doing the oil changes and tire rotations myself will also give me a bit more flexibility, as if I find some time later at night or early in the morning before work I can get things done instead of having to find time when the shop is open. Thus, it seems like doing the oil changes and tire rotations myself are the best solution, giving me a bit more flexibility as to scheduling, a bit of cost savings, and no additional time cost outside of the initial setup, which has already been completed.

It’s Time For A Change

Back in 2008, not long after I started mountain biking, The MMBA was looking for a volunteer to help fix its poorly performing website. While fairly new to the mountain biking community I had a good deal of experience with providing reliable small-scale web hosting; lessons learned from running my personal site, nuxx.net and a few other virtual hosts for friends. Through my friends Nick and Marty Shue, whom I had casually known since back in the BBS days, I began leading volunteer work on the site, resolving the main performance issue, migrating it to my server, and eventually expanding its capabilities.

It was the perfect combination of my interests: computers, mountain biking, and providing a useful service to other online users.

With help from numerous people, including Rob Ritzenhein doing Joomla work for the original main site, Nick and Marty working through the migration planning (the photo to the right was taken during the site migration itself) and handling some forum moderation, the transition went smoothly and it’s been stalwart ever since. I was even fortunate enough to work with Jeff Lau who wrote an incredibly impressive Trail Guide whose simplicity and usefulness has no current parallel. Many other volunteers contributed to the content; writing posts, submitting trail guide updates, and generally tweaking content.

While the MMBA has gone through some radical changes, working to redefine itself as the chapters moved into the IMBA Chapter Program, the MMBA website site, particularly the forum and Trail Guide, has remained the top source for information on mountain biking across Michigan.

Through this time I gained tremendous experience learning how to assure reliability of production systems, the political parts of working with others, guiding volunteers as they work on projects they are passionate about, and wrangling problem users in online communities among other things. I also met countless wonderful people, made some great friends, and even managed to make a few people hate me.

After seven years I’ve decided that it’s time for me to move on. Over the next few months I will be working with the MMBA Board of Directors and Byte Productions, LLC of Traverse City to smoothly migrate the site (including the forum) to a new home. Once complete my server will be back to hosting my personal sites and a few small pages for friends, stuff that I consider much less critical. Then I’ll have time to figure out what to do next.

Replacement Giro Roc Loc 5

Heading out on what became an ill-fated ride† at River Bends a few days ago the strap on my Giro Xar helmet broke as I was putting it on. I’d had the helmet for about four years, but I was still disappointed as this essentially made it unusable.

Ready to spend the $110+ on a replacement I was informed by a friend that the strap system (known as Giro’s Roc Loc 5) is replaceable, and within a few days I had another one, fitted into the helmet, making it ready to use again. It was a bit pricy to purchase via Amazon Prime ($17.99, around MSRP) but at least I had it quickly.

While I would have preferred the strap to not break at all, I’m really glad that I was able to get the helmet working and usable again. It’s much cheaper to fix something like this than replace it. Never forget the fourth R

† Three crashes in a little over one lap. First was launching off a roller/jump wrong, almost hitting a tree, and having to panic stop against a log off the trail. Second was clipping a pedal on a climb and almost going over the bars. Third was being distracted and running into a 2″ tree sending myself to the ground on short notice.

Manistee / Cadillac / Ludington Area Fat Bike Suggestions

A few months back I happened across this page on fat-bike.com about Ken Blakey-Shell and Scott Quiring riding part of the Little O ATV Trail on fat bikes and wanted to try it myself (Video 1 · Video 2). A mutual friend put me in touch with Ken, and within a few days I’d received a boatload of excellent information about where to ride in the area. Ken encouraged me to share the info, so I’m posting it here for public consumption. While I haven’t ridden any of these trails yet myself, the routes sound excellent and something I hope to do in mid-June.

I’m really excited about riding these. Back-country rides like this are something I love, and new trails to explore sound wonderful.


Here are the suggested routes as Ken emailed them to me. I’ve edited these slightly add links, GPX copies of routes, etc, but it’s otherwise his words:

Little O ORV Trail / North Country Trail

The Little O ORV Trail (PDF Map) / North Country Trail (NCT) figure 8 just north of M10 is the easiest and least technical. It is 50% NCT and 50% moto trail with a around half of the moto trail being super good and the other half of it being only ok. The moto trails are fairly sandy and are best on a 4″ tire fat bike setup although 29+ and 26×5″ work OK too. Regular MTB is a no go. The moto trails are wider (4 wheelers use them too) with lots of banked corners and whoops. There are some extended downhills that are super fun. The other half of the ride is on NCT which is awesome in its own right. There is some significant climbs on this loop but it is all pretty gradual and none of the downhills are very sketchy. I normally start and finish on the northern end of the 8 but you could just as easily start at Timber Creek on M10 and ride NCT a little ways to connect up with the figure 8 loop.

  • This is the shortest route cutting out part of the upper 8. If pressed for time, fitness… this gets all the best parts: Strava · GPX
  • Strava link for just the figure 8: Strava · GPX
  • Strava link for the figure 8 plus some extra NCT starting and finishing just north of the Sable River: Strava · GPX
  • You can also start from the NCT Freesoil Trailhead on 8 Mile Rd but that makes for a fairly long ride: Strava · GPX

North and South Caberfae Loop

The other two routes I recommend are between Manistee and Cadillac. One route is north of M55 and the other is south of M55 and both start at the Caberfae Snowmobile Trailhead. Both routes are a combo of moto trail and two tracks. The moto trail is a lot more technical than anything I have seen for MTB trail in the LP  – I often describe them as the most non-IMBA approved trails in the world. They go straight up and down hills, have tons of water erosion caused trenching, exposed roots and rocks and are really challenging on both the up hills and down hills. There are tons and tons of whoops and bermed corners. Unlike the Little O which is a wider 2 track type trail, these trails are tight singletrack. Quiring and I find these trails to be the most fun of any trails we have ridden in the state but you have to like a challenge to fall in that camp. 29+ is the ideal setup but 4 or 5″ fat bikes work great too. You may be able to ride a regular MTB but it would be tough. You can combine the two loops if you want into a monster ride but you need to be in top shape (both upper body as well as normal riding shape) because you are going to get worked. Both loops are equally good so it is a coin toss which to do. I normally break people in on the north loop first because you start out on one of the best downhills around as soon as you start riding the ORV trail.


Maps

Here’s some heavily annotated map snippets that Ken has graciously provided. The base image for these comes from the National Geographic’s Trails Illustrated maps of the Manistee National Forest: 758 Manisteee National Forest, North Trail Map and 759 Manistee National Forest, South Trail Map. I strongly suggest buying the base maps, as the additional context is necessary to find your way to the trails and for understanding the area. These maps appear to be a great compilation of road, ORV trail, and North Country Trail maps all in one. No other map that I’ve seen as clearly shows how they all overlay; something which is incredibly useful for hikers and mountain bikers alike:

Bit Field for Internet Explorer 11 Security Protocol Options

In Windows / Internet Explorer the options for different security protocols (eg: TLS 1.2, SSL 3.0, etc) are stored in HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Sofware\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings|SecureProtocols using a bit field. I wasn’t having much luck finding the specific values documented, only this German TechNet blog post detailing the resulting settings. So, I made my own. Here it is in C format:

/* HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings|SecureProtocols for different SSL/TLS settings. */

#define SSL_2.0 8 /* 000000001000 */
#define SSL_3.0 32 /* 000000100000 */
#define TLS_1.0 128 /* 000010000000 */
#define TLS_1.1 512 /* 001000000000 */
#define TLS_1.2 2014 /* 100000000000 */

This also applies to Internet Explorer 9, but I haven’t checked other versions.

Butter in Coffee‽

Initially upon hearing about the bulletproof coffee idea, where butter (or another medium-chain triglycerides oil) is used in coffee as a sort-of healthy breakfast I found the idea revolting. I’d pictured a cup of coffee with globs of oil floating on the top, sticking to one’s upper lip while drinking. Still, it had me curious… Since I’ll regularly have coffee with half & half (half cream) or heavy cream, and butter isn’t much different from heavy cream (just less water and whey), I figured I’d give it a try.

This morning I brewed coffee like normal, added a tablespoon of unsalted butter, then processed it with a stick blender. The result? Decent. It’s very much like coffee with half and half, but with a less sweet taste to it. It’s still rich and soft tasting, but not as dessert-like. A very fine, almost-creamy foam was left on the top, but tilting the glass to drink agitated it, caused the bubbles to burst, resulting in a soda-like fizzing feeling on my upper lip. Nothing bad, but I could tell little droplets were coming off the top of the beverage.

I strongly suspect that, besides the whey and a bit of lactose (I’m not sure how much of this goes with the buttermilk vs. stays with the fat) the only difference between this and simply using heavy cream is who does the homogenization. Combined with a banana eaten a bit later while walking into work I feel plenty satisfied breakfast-wise, but no different than after having regular coffee + cream.

Next I think I’ll try this along with one of the other popular coffee blend-ins: coconut oil. I’m not particularly fond of the smell of coconut oil itself (it reminds me of sunscreen), but coffee and coconut can work well together, so I’ll give it a go. I can’t see myself doing this very often, though, as it makes for more dishes and takes more time than simply adding liquid dairy from a container.  It was nice to try, and the taste / texture is much better than I thought I would be.

2015 Subaru Outback GPS Mount Prototype

I recently acquired a new car, a 2015 Subaru Outback 2.5 Premium, but it didn’t have a GPS/moving map in it. Since this is something that I’m very fond of, I picked up a Garmin nüvi 68LM and have been working on a nice way to mount it in the vehicle.

This evening I set to work with some Delrin scraps and a band saw and made these small adapters for the center console. They allow the GPS to set in a small closable glove compartment, but pivot forward so the space behind it can be accessed. With the addition of two more rubber bumpers on the back side of the GPS unit it sits fairly well inside of the compartment, and a power outlet directly behind the unit makes for a very clean look.

I’m not completely happy with the fit of these, but they are better than the balancing act I was using before and are a good prototype. After using this for a couple of weeks I’ll probably refine the idea, but I’m pretty happy with the result after a few hours of work this evening.