Thursday, April 12, 2018

“Spring has sprung, the grass is riz, the boid is on the wing.”

Oh yeah, the “grass is riz” and the “boid is most definitely on the wing.” Or to say it another way, our ever-present flocks of Canadian Geese have finally headed north and as beautiful as they are to watch in flight I am rather glad that they have elected to move out for the summer, and the grass freshly planted last fall is greening up nicely. Spring is a time for rebirth, regeneration and yes, a time to simply kick back and watch Mother Nature do her thing. It’s been quite a while since Margo and I were last in New York, but just running across this phrase atop the post brought back memories – we need to head back to the Big Apple soon, if only we could find the time. 

The business of Pyalla Technologies, LLC, has really picked up over the past year and we are being constantly kept on our toes – this weekend we are off to Northern California, our former home for many years when Margo and I both lived and worked in Silicon Valley. It’s good to visit, even if we no longer yearn to live there anymore. Why would we? It has become crowded, expensive and yes, awash in shabby, barely livable dwellings. Very much like Sydney, as it turns out – what is it with these Pacific coastline cities? The only one that really makes any sense at all in terms of livability has to be Canada’s Vancouver.

The arrival of spring is not only a time to watch grass grow but also the time to bring the cars out of hibernation. Sports cars aren’t all that useful when road temperatures drop below 40F so onto battery tenders they go, often times for four and even five months. Here in our family that means two or three cars are seldom driven although this year, winter was a lot milder and we had opportunities to drive them all at one time or another. The arrival of spring also means it’s time to prep the Corvette for track days and this year, we are making plans to squeeze in a few open lapping days at our nearby circuit,  Denver’s High Plains Raceway, with perhaps a weekend or two at a NASA club event. NASA is the National Auto Sports Association and has nothing to do with those other intrepid souls who leave our atmosphere. Nothing is set in concrete at this time however, but the Corvette is ready to go with all maintenance tasks complete – and it is a very long list.     

Thumbing through all the receipts I can confirm that our little red Corvette has had its shocks replaced with heavy duty Bilsteins – a more sports-oriented set-up. The drive shaft too was replaced with something much beefier as the old drive shaft was bent. Brake rotors have been swapped out for vented StopTech rotors and Hawk High Performance Street pads installed. The braided stainless steel brake lines – the last foot or so of lines terminating at the calipers - have been returned to their original rubber line configuration as the braided lines were interfering with the ABS, Active Handling and Traction Control processor. Motul DOT 5.1 brake fluid replaced the original fluids in the brake lines. Also replaced were the two catalytic convertors that failed over the winter and yes, new tires were mounted replacing tires that had suffered through 30 plus on-track sessions and the Corvette’s battery was replaced. For a fifteen year old car it still looks and drives like new and with only 24,000 miles on the odometer, it’s a car we will keep for many more years. 

Looking inside the Corvette it still is in original condition with the exception of the harness bar and six-point harness. We work hard at maintaining the appearance of the interior which has always been a challenge given the dust we accumulate on track mostly at desert circuits. Running with windows down and with the occasional two-wheels (and yes, sometimes even four-wheels) off-track, we have removed an awful lot of dirt over the years. But this Corvette is the ideal weekend track car as it’s light, relatively powerful and best of all, not overly burdened with electronics – the “nannies” that help out when needed are pretty rudimentary and for the most part, non-intrusive, making for a car that gives you a lot of feedback with the ability to tell you exactly what you are doing wrong even as it generally gives you time to recover. Well, nearly always!

At this time of year, I am reminded of the lines from an Alfred Tennyson poem, “In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Although, I have to admit, whenever I read this line I am always reminded of the opening line of a Disney cartoon that paraphrased it to say, “It’s springtime when a young man’s fancy turns to … baseball!” With an eye on the television set I am watching to see if Colorado’s Rockies baseball team take the field for their “opening day” as light snow has just begun to fall and the temps have dived below freezing. 

On the other hand, with the first quote of this post, “Spring has sprung, the grass is riz, the boid is on the wing” being a reference to Brooklyn, it only makes sense to mention the Yankees baseball team. For the uninitiated, there is a connection between Corvettes, racing, friends of the family, baseball and the Yankees as our good friends, Brian and Jan Kenny just happen to be the grandparents of Indy Lights racer, Colton Herta. And as fate would have it, Colton drives for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, an organization owned by none other than George Steinbrenner IV. 

This has been the subject of previous posts but what I am reminded of this spring is that last year, in his first public appearance with the race team, Colton had the opportunity to throw out the first pitch of a spring training game featuring the Yankees! Now that’s a sporting cross-over you don’t typically encounter within the racing community. As reported at the time, “Whether on track or on the field, spring is an exciting time in sports with the start of racing and baseball seasons. Though Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta has already participated in his own version of Spring Training with the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tries series, he and Steinbrenner Racing’s team president George Michael Steinbrenner IV will join the New York Yankees in theirs at the March 7 game versus the Tampa Bay Rays.” All I can add is to repeat what I have often stated in this blog, “we all wish we were Colton!” And where was the game played? Well, at George M Steinbrenner Field, of course.

This has been the subject of previous posts but what I am reminded of this spring is that last year, in his first public appearance with the race team, Colton had the opportunity to throw out the first pitch of a spring training game featuring the Yankees! Now that’s a sporting cross-over you don’t typically encounter within the racing community. As reported at the time, “Whether on track or on the field, spring is an exciting time in sports with the start of racing and baseball seasons. Though Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta has already participated in his own version of Spring Training with the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tries series, he and Steinbrenner Racing’s team president George Michael Steinbrenner IV will join the New York Yankees in theirs at the March 7 game versus the Tampa Bay Rays.” All I can add is to repeat what I have often stated in this blog, “we all wish we were Colton!” And where was the game played? Well, at George M Steinbrenner Field, of course.

Throwing out the first ball at spring training – for the Yankees, no less – running flat out in an open wheeler around the streets of St Petersburg, and closer to home, watching the grass grow and trees bud – well it has to be spring, right! With the attention that our Corvette is getting of late it’s as almost if we have nothing else to drive. When it comes to this week’s go-to car, taking center stage, we have to admit, is the new BMW M4 – what a car!

It has become Margo’s first choice for trips up and down the front ranges and even though neither of us has fully exploited the capabilities of the M4’s engine we know that engine is champing at the bit to be let go. We still need a thousand plus miles to show up on the odometer before BMW advises using anything more than 4,000 rpm and for an engine that easily swings past 7,000 rpm, it should be a whole new ball game when that day comes!

It was this time of year back in 2015 that we made the quick dash from Simi Valley California back to Boulder in order to catch the birth of our daughter’s twin boys but we didn’t quite make it as surgeons intervened. It all seems so long ago now and if you want to catch up on that initial drama, you can read the post of May, 2015, The trips we plan but seldom stick to! Fortunately, this month is a more joyous occasion as all the grandchildren celebrate their birthdays around the same time (as does our daughter for that matter), the only difference being the boys are going to be 3 while the young lass will be five. As for the mother then that is a completely different story as with this handful, it may no longer be the age but the mileage!

I would like to say that our granddaughter, Ella, takes after her grandmother but that may be a stretch unless of course, you take into consideration her already blossoming sense of fashion. Despite their own circumstances, our daughter Anna’s family is starting to take shape in the sense that routines have started and school is beginning., Grandchildren never stay small however and while this is a good thing it’s also a terrible reminder to both of us about the passage of time – yes, another season and as much looked-forward-to as it is, it is still one more season we cannot put back in the bottle!

Spring is definitely a time to watch the grass turn green as birds fly overhead. It’s a time too for baseball here in America as the boys of summer begin another season-long 162-game marathon. Cars will be returning to race tracks – hopefully, even our own Corvette. Family gathering will center on grills and not hot plates and trips will be planned with visits to family and friends squeezed in even as we start longing for the first snowfall yet again. Change truly happens as seasons bring a reminder of years passing by but then again, nothing really changes – just the backdrop and the characters crossing the stage! 

A trip to sunny California is now under way and we will be spending a full week away from our Windsor home. It has been a long time since we have been out on America’s highways, but we cannot wait. For the past three months we have been working from our home office and while it’s been a fun time – yes, our curtains and drapes finally were all sorted out and are now hanging where they should – but for Margo and me, there is no substitute for being out and about, greeting friends and colleagues and making further observations on life.

As it so happened, we were jolted back to reality the day we left Windsor as snow overnight and temperatures well below freezing wasn’t what we expected. Even so, it didn’t deter our plans or lessen our spirits for the journey. Yes, “the grass is riz and the boid is most definitely on the wing” and hopefully, by the time we reach California we will get to see the state as sunny as we remember California from the time we lived in the Golden State. On the other hand, it is the time when change happens so we will take in our stride whatever we find. And with this, the only thing left for us to say is spring? Bring it on!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Change … in with the new; out with the old!

It never ceases to amaze Margo or me how quickly change can happen. After weeks of research on a number of cars, Margo walks onto a showroom floor to view a car not under any serious consideration and falls immediately in love with the color. The business of Pyalla Technologies continues to do well and Margo has found her niche as managing editor of the digital publication, NonStop Insider, we launched almost two years ago (with the help, of course, of our good friends in Scotland at TCM Solutions). If you have a technical inclination and perhaps more than a passing interest in what is happening today with NonStop Computers (formerly, Tandem Computers) then yes, check out the web site for NonStop Insider and page through a couple of Margo’s editorials. 

As of right now, however, a quick peek inside our garage will reveal that our trusty 2012 “Chilli Red” Mini Cooper S Roadster is no longer. In its place you will see a 2018 BMW M4 with the Competition package, of course. As for the color, well that’s a story all by itself. Turns out it isn’t a common request to order an M4 painted Ferrari Grigio Medio, but the M4 can come with the same paint you usually only ever see on a Ferrari 458 Italia – just like Quattroporte sounds so exotic in Italian (and a lot better than the English equivalent, four doors), Grigio Medio rolls off the tongue a whole lot better than “Medium Gray!”

Speaking of Quattroporte, yes, Maserati, our former Maserati GT-S, came in the same color as FCA paints Ferraris – what Maserati calls Giallo Modena. Just the name is a clue to its origins and again stirs the passions much faster than saying, yellow!  Having had a Maserati painted with Ferrari yellow and now a BMW painted Ferrari gray, all we really need next is a real Ferrari painted well, perhaps Corvette Blue! No, seriously, the color of Margo’s M4 is eye-catching to say the least, sometimes radiating a greenish tinge and under different lighting, more of a blue hue.  Needless to say, it’s a long way from being close to the eye-catching Chili Red of our Mini! On the other hand, we are getting closer to having red, white and blue in the garage!

For a family that has strong ties to GM, as we have moved from GMC to Cadillac to Pontiac and yes, Chevrolet Corvette with regularity over the years – two GMC Yukons and three Corvettes (there is still a Corvette parked in the garage) – seeing the M4 at rest alongside the i8 wasn’t something we expected. And yet, Margo has favored the marque for many years since she bought her first BMW in the early ‘90s – a BMW 540i. Here the story line shows a few twists – my first BMW was purchased during the years I spent in Canada and was a hot BMW 530i. Since then we have owned an M3, now an M4, two 7 series and yes, the i8. Who knew?

Speaking of the Corvette, we are awaiting the arrival of new catalytic converters at our front door after which it is a trip to the nearby Chevrolet service bay for them to be installed. Even as we prided ourselves on how few miles we have on our fifteen year old Z06, the lack of miles accelerated the demise of our cats – and no, they aren’t an inexpensive feature to replace. Our first indication we had a problem was the Check Engine light, but the cats weren’t the only problem that surfaced this month. That triple threat of Service ABS, Service Active Handling and yes, Service Traction Control appeared as well. Our friendly Corvette tech pulled a tech note from GM that highlighted we may have introduced this problem ourselves, as some time back we had swapped out rubber brake lines with stainless steel – appears they mess with the electronics so we are reverting to rubber.

Let’s see how this turns out as the number of times we have had the triple threat displayed on our console has been too many times to recall. The new cats were just delivered as I was writing this post so it will be off to the dealer for installation – and no, we aren’t going with the original Chevrolet Corvette parts ($3,500+) but rather after-market from Summit Racing ($750) on the advice of our good friend, Andy Green of A&A Corvette Performance, Oxnard California. If they are good enough for Andy then they are more than good enough for us. 

I wonder what they call these problems in Italian – probably a lot more exotic and yes, a lot more expensive, I suspect. The recent move to leasing BMWs hasn’t really come about by accident – keeping separate out private and company cars makes book-keeping so much easier (and cheaper) as we can account for our time in each more easily. As it now stands, we have the Jeep SRT and the Corvette Z06 for private use and the BMWs are for business where we see most of the miles tick over as we continue to drive to business events and meetings rather than fly – and you wouldn’t blame us, would you, with all that’s happening on planes these days. Margo still shudders at the time at LAX when I was threatened with arrest over such a silly act, standing in the security line.

After writing the previous post I was asked whether our Corvette Z06 would receive a franchise car endorsement. Well, as we were writing that post there was some debate going on as to whether we should swap the Corvette for a new model as our local Chevrolet dealer had the ideal Z06 car on their showroom floor – a 2017 7 speed manual with the Z07 performance options. Wow – and guess what; it was also painted Torch Red, the same as our current Z06. Turns out, smarter minds prevailed and as we own the Vette outright and have it set up as our track toy, it made little sense to buy one more.

We have kind of done the Corvette thing for now and unless the new ZR1 blows our doors off, we will be playing a wait-and-see game over the new C8 iteration that is promised to be mid-engine for the first time. So, yes, the Corvette is a franchise car in every way. For the time being, at least … 

The really big news fortunately is that our RV is about ready for pick up. Just a few weeks shy of having to return the RV for de-winterizing, it has spent many months in the shop being reworked. Mechanically, it’s all good with the only change needed was with two of the house batteries. As for the inside of the RV, we are waiting to see how the corrective measures taken to redo wallpaper, some fixtures and hardware  including items that have been on backorder for over a year. There were some Tiffin recalls to be attended to and just in general, many times to be given a once over as durability isn’t a strong point on even the finest of RVs. 

After all the incidents we lived through last year with what had to be replaced, add in what has now been done and theoretically, we should have close to a new RV to break in. With almost 60,000 miles on the odometer after six summers, we have certainly gotten good use from our company command center. Throughout the summer months it has been our go-to vehicle for driving to technology events and conferences across the country. It’s seen both coast lines and touched both the northern and southern borders. The way it is set up so that I can work from the onboard office means that my time away from our home office is every bit as productive and no matter where we park it, there are always clients who want to drop in even if for just an evening martini.

From a company marketing perspective, it has been the perfect tool helping us promote Pyalla Technologies and as the summer rolls around, we expect to be hitting the highways once again. Without the Mini it will be our track car, the Corvette, that will be doing double duty as our towed vehicle and that isn’t entirely a bad thing to have to accommodate. And thankfully, Chevrolet makes good air conditioners and on that score, the Corvette has never let us down. It’s always been such a cool car to drive! But for now, we can share one last photo of the Mini present in the garage only hours before it would become homeless. Oh well, no franchise tag for the Mini but who knows? 
Margo really loved that toy so you can never say never, now can you? On the other hand, “Arrivederci, Mini” – now that doesn’t sound so bad, does it!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

“Franchise Cars” and the mistakes we have made …

I am not sure if we have made a mistake or not, but after owning almost nothing but black cars it seems red is now the color. The occasion that triggered the lineup above, right outside our new Windsor home, was basic – the Corvette was off to the local Chevrolet service facility to have it’s serpentine (OK, fan) belt replaced after fifteen years, a clogged air filter swapped out for a new one and yes, for the second time in its history, a fresh replacement battery. Against the cobalt blue sky we saw this morning after a number of really cold days, it was in stark contrast to the cars – as for the color of the house, well it kind of blended in with the scenery. As for the BMW i8, being a color other than red, it simply didn’t make the cut this time around when the photo was taken – but it wasn’t our fault. No mistakes were made at the time of purchase as there wasn’t an option to purchase a red i8. 

Car and Driver columnist John Phillips wrote in the January 2018 issue of the magazine, “Car enthusiasts are defined by their vivid mistakes.” For several years now, at this time of year, when it looks like winter has left us and it is the time for flowers to push up past the winter debris, I have posted about the four or five cars we should consider having in the garage. These posts now are a walk down memory lane for Margo and me but at the time, living out of two homes well, a home and a condo, meant we did have five cars and for a brief period, six. And there were always two and for another brief period, three, motorcycles.

Today, however, we have fewer cars and motorcycles than we once had but we continue to maintain a big RV – our company command center – along with a Featherlite aluminum car trailer. This seems to meet our needs very well as across the portfolio we have the RV, the SUV, the track car, the supercar and yes, the Mini Roadster which is our round-about-town car particularly loved when springtime truly arrives and the ragtop can be lowered. Far removed from either our Corvette or Viper ragtop roadsters, the Mini is still a six-speed stick shift and for the opportunity to row-your-own gears, it is a delight to drive. And "very torquey" at that, with its turbo inline four cylinder engine meeting the tarmac via tires that really grip and there isn’t a traffic light derby we can recall ever losing – at least for the first hundred feet or so. But the real purpose of the trailer is to give us a means of transporting our red cars either to the track, or as more often is the case, to business meetings and corporate events as finding parking for the RV rig often leaves us far from where we need to be. And it won't be long before another track season begins for the 'Vette.

NFL football teams along with other professional sports programs I seem to recall have an opportunity to tag a good player and call them “franchise players!” The concept is that, baring exception circumstances, the team elects to keep this player no matter what state of affairs exist concerning his playing status – he simply is too good to lose to free agency or anything else. Like a whole lot more money. At this time of year, when all you can hear on television sports programs is the upcoming NFL player draft, and with the thoughts of the cars we have garaged at the house (and offsite now at our new heated storage facility) still very much on our mind, I have asked myself, why haven’t I declared some of the cars we have owned through the years, franchise cars! Never to be traded or sold, but rather, kept until their replacement parts supply dwindles to where you have to know a person who knows another person who is good friends with yet another person who just might be able to find that part you desperately need.

Back when we did have a majority of black cars, the local exotic car showroom unloaded a selection of them on our driveway as part of the initial sales effort working to sell our home in Niwot. We sure were surprised when the eighteen-wheeler showed up on our doorsteps early one morning and unloaded a nice selection of cars – all white. So it seemed like a good idea at the time to insert our own black vehicles in with the group, alternating black and white. I would like to say that the F-Type Jaguar was ours, but it wasn’t. On the other hand, the Nissan GT-R and the Dodge Viper ragtop roadster didn’t look out of place behind the Maserati and the Lamborghini Gallardo. Of all of the cars, on that day of hijinks, my drive was the Gallardo, as our architect had taken it to show to a nearby client and couldn’t engage first gear – so he called me. Of course, I jumped and engaged first and drove it back to our home much to the surprise of those attending the event. “Who are you?” came the refrain from those who watched me step out of car. On my own driveway …

There have been numerous posts to this blog written around this time of year that takes stock of the cars that are either lining our driveway or are sitting curbside in front of our home or even parked in the garage. And on occasion that has led me to ponder that great question of what cars we need to own and yes, how many. More often than not the answer came to five and while this may seem extreme, at the time it has made sense. That is, until we hit a rough patch when all five cars need new tires, but that’s another story for another time. Whether you think it’s important to have a get-around-town car, something that is better suited to winter mountain driving or that it is really important to know the difference between a track car, a sports car, a grand tourer and an exotic may not be the real question, but then again, it is completely un-American not to have as many cars as you have garages. Sometimes, more!

If you missed any of them, perhaps the ones that really stood out were those of 2011, 2014 and 2017. Some of them only make oblique references to the collection but if you scroll through them, sure enough you will come across the references to what really is required when living in a state that has such extremes of weather. If you want to follow these links, you will get the picture, so as to speak:

March 13, 2017

February 15, 2014

Sunday, December 25, 2011

But here is the thing. If we could declare some cars as franchise cars, after all these years which ones would Margo and I choose? Well, to start with, we don’t have pictures of some of them, but the second Mazda RX7 I ever owned, the 1994 model that we called “the glove”, as it was a car that surrounded its occupants in a manner that was more akin to being swaddled than anything else. This was a car we should have kept and even today, as we turn up at road courses around the west, there are still a lot of these cars in the hands of bona-fide racers! But another car of the same vintage also is one that I know Margo will always cherish – her BMW 540i. Remember it? Before there was an M5, BMW responded to the inroads that Lexus and later Infiniti were making into the German Lux business by releasing “the Tiger!” Slamming a quad cam 32 valve 4 liter engine into the much lighter 5 series body while not having quite the impact that was made by Mercedes Benz when then independent AMG released “the Hammer” a hot-rod E-Class variant, but all the same, the Tiger was a whole lot of fun to drive and we kept it for more than a decade.

If the mighty 1994 RX7 was a glove then what could you call the 2008 Gen IV Viper SRT/10? It too quickly earned the glove tag as it was an even tighter fit when seated than the RX7. But when we consolidated homes and brought back to Colorado those cars we had in California, we faced the somewhat ridiculous situation of having more cars and motorcycles than we had room for – something just had to give. At the time we had two Corvettes, the Viper and a Nissan GT-R and the Cadillac Escalade. The Vettes were our track car but then it kind of got a little silly – the GT-R was our grand-tourer, the Viper our sports car and well yes, the Escalade was our around-town, all-season, SUV. But if the Viper was a candidate for being a keeper under the franchise banner then it was a car of a completely different color that really hit the mark.

From the time we first saw this Maserati it was controversial. It wasn’t immediately “love at first sight” – it was bright yellow, for crying out loud. As one Maserati enthusiastic suggested to us much later and after we brought it home, “you have to be very confident to drive yellow!” Over time it really grew on us and make no mistake about it, Maserati has the best exhaust note of any car we have ever owned and as best as we can tell it was a completely natural sound, not subject to synthesized augmentation as is often the case today with newer cars. We drove it everywhere – to Toronto and back, through the Canyon Lands and Natural Arches parks in Utah on down through Telluride. We drove it all over the west coast but as much as we were tempted, we never took it on track, although the only other yellow Maserati GT-S we ever saw was trackside, Sonoma, where a serious racer was indeed tracking it. 

So here we have it. Just the RX7, the BMW 540i, the Viper and the Maserati were cars we should have tacked on the franchise label. What of the Nissan GT-R? We had two GT-Rs, a 2010 and a 2013 and boy, were they fast. Wickedly quick under all conditions that gave us our first ever experience with a double-clutch automated manual gearbox. Diving into a turn and being able to pull back the levers and drop three gears in an instant – wow! But it wasn’t a car that you warmed to and after having had them in the garage for six or more years, we didn’t miss their absence even after a few days. And of course, the hole in the garage was soon plugged!  

It was on a weekend trip back from San Francisco, driving the Maserati, that we made the decision to buy the BMW i8. Well, to be truthful, not really. Margo and I faced a predicament. The day before we left for San Francisco we were shown a brand new Corvette Z06 in black, but with yellow double-stitching surrounding the plush leather interior along with yellow powder-coated brake calipers. The complete opposite color scheme to the Maserati. Why not buy the Z06 as a kind of complement to the GT-S, we thought? And then while on the road, our BMW salesman phoned us to inform us he had found the very i8 Margo had wanted and he was prepared to deal. Which car, we thought. As we pulled back up the driveway at the end of the trip, we had made the decision. We just liked Corvettes too much. But not everyone was convinced and on her way into the kitchen the following morning, Margo simply said, “we’re buying the i8!” 

Now that we have had the i8 for two years, does it earn the franchise tag? Well, no, actually. We love it and every time we drive it, we are impressed. But does it bring the same wide smile to our faces that the RX7 and Viper did all those years ago? And the answer is no, not quite! This may shock many car enthusiasts to hear, but what the i8 has kindled is an anxious wait for what’s next. This seems to us to be very much a case of work in progress and the fact that BMW didn’t want to sell the i8, just lease it, tells us that they want it back for some reason and we think we know why. The i8 is generating so much data about the car, and us, they want to run a whole bunch of analytics against its computers to see how it behaved under the stresses of daily life. However, it came oh so close to getting tagged with the franchise label. On the other hand, it was all pretty exciting the day we picked it up and it was left to Margo to make that all-important first drive home from our friendly BMW dealer.  

On the other hand, the i8 does represent the future but Margo and I aren’t really enthralled with all that we see. It may have looked right at home when we lined up all the black and white cars on the driveway as we had done only a short time before the i8 arrived. However, as one motoring journalist noted just this month, “We live in a time of unprecedented speed and power from even the most mundane new cars, but also a dwindling connection between driver and machine. New cars have grown heavier, more complex, and less engaging, their engineers seeking to eliminate the drawbacks of the average commute.” And we agree, wholeheartedly! “Performance has become less a metric for a company’s engineering skill than a solved-for-commodity, reliable and friendly.” Yuck; not a future for cars I am anticipating with anything close to the levels of enthusiasm I once enjoyed.   

Yes, car enthusiasts may very well be defined by their vivid mistakes and as we are car enthusiasts in every sense of the word, we have made many. We put on a lot of miles as we continue to cover a lot of territory ever since we elected to drive and not fly. And we love the journey a lot more than the destination and this has been true for us for decades. But even as we put a lot of miles on the cars and even as we adjust each time to the idiosyncrasies of the chosen car of the day, gloves or otherwise, we consider our mistakes and wonder. Could we ever live with just three vehicles? Or two, perhaps? At some point this is a conversation we have to have, but for as long as we are as young as we are today, that day is a long way off. And we are just itching to kick off our next trip and which car we take well, who knows. It just could be something entirely different, yet again!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Get on your bike, and ride!

This week, the weather warmed considerably and I was able to get back on my motorcycle – well to be truthful, Margo’s motorcycle – and drove it out of Windsor, Colorado down to Loveland, Colorado. We have leased a 1000 square foot heated facility where we can lockup all of our toys. The “shoes” we wrote about, in our last post, has seen new tires mounted to the wheels of the Corvette and along with the trailer the Corvette and motorcycle will welcome this facility as their new home. And it really is only a handful of miles away and is a vast improvement over where we had previously stored out RV and trailer. Oh yes, in time, the RV too will join the rest of the vehicles in this facility as soon as all the winter maintenance and repairs under way with the RV are completed. 

Getting back on the motorcycle and picking up once again from where I had left off last year, was enjoyable. I don’t what it is about riding a motorcycle but it certainly is outside of the ordinary. Helmet firmly tightened and my reinforced riding jacket and my much-loved boots brought back memories of so many rides over the past twenty years here in the US. Our sole motorcycle is a Yamaha V Star 1100 that is close to being the smallest motorcycle we have owned and yet as a middleweight cruiser, it is easy enough to maneuver and while down on power and weight, is proving to be a fun ride!  

There is a lot of history behind the photograph headlining this post and taken during the last months we spent residing in our former home in Niwot. The Honda and the Yamaha depicted – what are referred to as metric cruisers – have covered a lot of miles. As for the ride this week, properly attired as I was, getting back onto the saddle for a late winters day ride was not only enjoyable and memorable but having just celebrated another birthday, let me briefly relive my past in a way that surprised me. Someone once said you never forget how to ride a bike and for me, this seems so obvious. From my late teens into early adulthood, I have been riding motorcycles on two contents – on the left side of the road on one continent and on the right side for the other. Surprises? It was if years indeed decades just fell away!

Experience, they say, is everything. And in my early days, I learned a lot – whoever said, slow in, fast out, never gave me this message or taught me how to handle corners – and tore up a lot of clothing. I learnt the hard way and for a short period of time, riding in Sydney, I owned a Honda sports bike and a Yamaha moped (with the moped acting as my backup) but even so, there was a brief time where both modes of transportation were in the shop being straightened. So much for having a Plan B – ever tried taking off your glove while on a moped? Not recommended …

The big Honda depicted above was traded for the Mini Roadster just a few years ago. What a change – as a ragtop two seater and the smallest Mini on the road – we still enjoy the wind in our hair even as we have the A/C running and the satellite radio tuned to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville radio station. I loved that big, almost two-liter, Honda as my very first motorcycle had been that Honda sports bike although this model, a late 1960s “250cc” Honda CB72. Weighing almost nothing when compared with today’s sports bikes, it would barely be given a second glance by todays riders. And in the days when highways in Australia were not regulated or policed, I was able to pull 100 mph across on the top of Wollongong’s Mount Ousley Road. Yes, for two years, I commuted between my northern suburbs Sydney home and the steelworks in Wollongong where I was a “Computer Cadet” on a two year apprenticeship in technology. 

But those days ended when I took my first job in IT that had me working out of an office in the Sydney CBD. I sold that Honda after one really big shunt that had my father pull me aside to tell me, that’s enough! So, no more Honda CB72! Fast forward some thirty years and there I was, freshly married to perhaps the most adventurous young lady I have ever known who bluntly informed that if I was going to get another motorcycle then she would be getting one, too. Where we do we get lessons? This was all the way back in 1999 but we waited until late 2000 before we summoned enough courage for each of us to buy a motorcycle.

When you step onto a motorcycle and venture out onto America’s highways you immediately immerse yourself in an entirely different culture. The biggest, meanest, most-tattooed biker, coming towards you, will lift his hand from the handlebars and give you a friendly wave as he passes by. When it comes time to refill the gas tank, other bikers will wonder across for quick, “howdy,” oftentimes flash an even bigger smile as Margo removed her helmet, and ask quite politely (at times), what bike is that? Do you ride it?

Kitted out and all dressed up, as Margo had had her Yamaha customized to her taste, and dressed in full rider’s leathers as was he custom, they would ask, “do you really ride it?” Back in the early 2000s you rarely saw a woman riding a cruiser but today, they are everywhere you turn. So much for twenty years of riding as the lone, “lady of the lanes!” But just as it was when Margo took the Corvette on track, a day riding the bike was an opportunity to clear the head and distance yourself from the cares of the day! Once astride the motorcycle, staying alive was the sole order of the day!

Times are changing. We are now grandparents and there is a lot of time devoted to helping out with three youngsters under five. And with responsibilities comes caution and so the days of riding the Colorado front ranges are coming to an end even as still enjoy every ride I take no matter how long the road. Perhaps the Yamaha and the Mini are destined to be replaced by something that is a cross between both as we still keep a watchful eye on the Slingshot trikes that we often see touring the mountains. But it is still not a firm consideration at this point and until any decision is made on the front, I will keep taking advantage of any sunny days to go for a ride!

I recently read in Fortune Magazine of an executive of Adobe stating that “we are the CEOs of our own ideas” and I really warmed to this observation. In our daily lives, Margo and I continue to set an agenda that allows us both a lot of freedom. As a writer and do need to read and I do need to converse with others. And I do need to “take it all in,” as it were, as there really isn’t any other way to prepare to write – innovation takes many forms and creativity has many guises but it all takes work. And I have so many ideas …

We used to have a saying in technology about “garbage in / garbage out” and today I know it applies equally well to the work I do for my clients. Coming up with the story lines is always a challenge but getting out and about on America’s highways, no matter the mode of transportation, is by my reckoning the best formula for ensuring there is only minimal “garbage out.” One big idea I have is to make sure we see the West Coast from top to bottom and with a couple of business meetings coming up, this may just work out but no, the motorcycle will have to stay in storage for that trip.

On the other hand, we may not be covering as much distance as we did last year but even as we pull out the maps and begin to set plans in motion, I have my fingers crossed that there is still one more great ride to come! We have the Rockies just a stone’s throw away and there are still backcountry roads not ridden. And the Yamaha just needs a minor tune as winter transitions to spring but after that, well I hear the highway calling! With my atop the motorcycle and Margo behind the wheel of the Mini, roof retracted, we should make a fine pair. And yes, to my fellow riders, of course, for 2018 – ride safe!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The “lady” has new shoes …

Margo and her shoes – no question about it, Margo really does like her shoes and with her handbags to match she has put together quite the collection of fashion accessories. Now fully ensconced in our new Windsor home, we are still working on just how best to store them both as our walk-in wardrobe lacks adequate display space for her growing collection. On our recent “bizcation” aboard Star Princess, Margo had plenty of opportunity to wander the decks, all decked-out herself!  On a more somber occasion, a few years back, when we both attended a memorial service for my father down in Sydney, it was only “the nieces” that picked up on the shoes Margo wore for the occasion and all I can recall is them forming an entirely new opinion about their auntie!

But in our family, it is shoes of a different type that frequently generate the same level of excitement and enthusiasm. And 2017 proved to be a year when we spent more on these different types of shoes than Margo budgets for in any given decade. Ouch! We are talking about tires for our cars and for as long as I can recall, we have called them shoes. Perhaps it is the reference to wheels being shod with new rubber that creates the association with real shoes or perhaps it is simply a matter of not being able to take a car out on the road because it isn’t adequately shod, but all the same, in our family buying new shoes for the car, as much-anticipated as they often are, just doesn’t generate the same degree of enthusiasm from all of us.

Just this week, it was another lady, our pretty red with black trim track-oriented Corvette Z06 received its latest pairs of shoes and they certainly brought a smile to my face at least. What is it with red and black? Last time on track it was almost impossible to “romp on the gas” as the rear end would simply break away from lack of grip. Many of our friends who track Corvettes are puzzled by our ongoing preference for these Bridgestone Potenza RE760 Sport as the Treadware number stamped on the tires is pretty high (i.e. at 300 you would expect these tires to be hard) and yet, after a lap or two, they get really sticky and do the trick. I often come off track and return to the pits and scratch my head and yet, the confidence I have with these tires remains very high!

We are looking forward to spring this year and while we will not be pursuing an ambitious program we are still planning on doing three or four outings, mostly at our local track here in Colorado that is just beyond Byers – the High Plains Raceway (HPR). We have lost count how many laps Margo and I have done on this track but we have to be close to 1,000 by now and it takes little time for us to sort out the flow of the track and begin to exploit the many turns included in the circuit. And of course, we are always circulating on the full course, which is 2.55 miles start to finish. Recording times below two minutes is the goal for most of us, weekend track enthusiasts, and for both of us this remains a goal that is out there that hopefully, we will be able to get close to recording.

As an introduction of what a day at the track looks like, the last time we were camped at the track with our good friends from Southern California, Brian and Jan Kenny, we were able to take a few photos – all of them when it was Margo’s turn to get behind the wheel and as we now are about to put the new shoes on the Corvette, it seemed only appropriate to look back at how the Corvette looked with new shoes.

Safety has always been a priority for us so we added the harness bar and the six point harness only a short time before this outing and to make it conform to the standards our good friends at our club, the National Auto Sports Association (NASA) – and no, not THAT NASA – we had the Corvette seats modified so the anti-submarining straps came up through the seat
  and not over the front lip of the seat as this allows the harness to work properly should it ever be called upon to restrain you in any shunt you may be involved in. 

Once strapped in the car, on this occasion Margo had agreed for me to come along for the ride. I really like to do this as I get a real kick from the way Margo approaches this track. It always takes Margo two or three laps to line the car up close to perfectly and thereafter she is quite capable of holding her own with the other drivers on track in her category. 

Margo is now in NASA’s HPDE 2 group which means she runs with Group 1 and 2 drivers, the difference being Group 1 must have instructors whereas Group 2 you are on your own. And while both groups don’t allow passengers when on track with NASA, weekends often start with Friday open-track days where the opportunity to take a passenger is something track management monitors and with all the laps we have both done, there is never any issue with Margo taking me along for the ride as she has done with business clients on occasion.

We have tow hooks permanently affixed to the chassis so that should the worse happen, we wont add any further damage to the bodywork and since we have had them installed, we haven’t had “an off” that required attendance by the tow trucks. What we have done to turn our lovely Corvette into a track car is pretty basic. The fluids are all changed at the start of each year and we monitor them as the year progresses but typically, they stay true all year. The specs of a number of the fluids – brake fluids in particular – are upgraded in order to tolerate higher temperatures and we have upgraded the brakes, both rotors and pads, with a more track-oriented focus that in our case includes drilled StopTech rotors and Hawk High Performance Plus. And then we have had a more aggressive alignment performed resulting in a little more toe-in, more aggressive negative camber and a pretty well maxed-out castor. All to help us be able to turn-in a little more aggressively! 

But having the right shoes definitely helps as well and this is where we inspect the Bridgestones before and after each outing. The primary goal is to return to the pit with all four tires having the same pressure, which in our case is about 36psi coming off track. Which means going out with slightly different pressures left to right and I remember that “left is light” and when you look back at the track map, you will see why – so going out, it’s 32psi right and 30psi left! And of course, there are very few occasions where you don’t find Margo also inspecting her shoes which on this occasion meant a trip to Jimmy Choo on our last trip to Las Vegas. “No, I don’t have any good sandals but these will do the trick,” I seem to recall …

One aspect of HPR that we really like is that there is almost nothing to hit should you ever get to experience an “agricultural excursion.” At the very bottom of the track, depicted on the track map at turns 6 (Danny’s Lesson) and then the complex of turns 9(a), 9(b) and 10 (To Hell on a Bobsled) – all the turns have great names, by the way –there is nothing but deep, oozing mud and encountering any of that stuff can put an end to your day pretty quickly. 

For us, most of the fun takes place on the tight hairpin at turn 8 which requires some serious braking and a really good look over your left shoulder and on more than one occasion, I have dropped a tire or two – once spinning out completely! But no harm was done other than having to pull a whole lot of muck and grass from the radiator opening. For Margo, it continues to be very much a rhythm track and sitting alongside her this outing, she quickly became one with the track and the amount of energy she exerted was minimal even as her speed continued to climb with each lap!

 Depending on the club we happen to be spending the weekend with, our time on the track is usually limited to either twenty or thirty minutes and if you think for one moment that isn’t all that long, just try staying completely focused on your car for that long. There are two really good reasons why you take a performance car to the track and that is that everyone is going the same way (hopefully) and yes, you can go as fast as you like! We often talk to drivers who are new to the track and they talk about how quickly they can drive the front range “Peak to Peak” highway but in all reality, they have no idea what it really is like on track. 

Oftentimes joining more experienced drivers on track, in no time at all a train of cars forms behind these first-timers and it takes a couple of outings if not weekends before you come to understand your car and then the track. Margo and I vividly recall our first weekend on track at California’s Big Willow – the infamous fastest track in the west at Willow Springs – and as we departed for home we both were visibly shaken by how much we had to learn. But time and laps are good teachers and now Big Willow is one of our favorite tracks.

There is always one more lap to go once you pass the final start / finish line and it’s the cool down lap that at HPR takes us all the way around the track before we find the exit to the pits. It never ceases to amaze us just how competitive some drivers on track can be as it has been on our cool down lap that some of them elect to pass us – as they all have on-board video recorders I guess it is that one opportunity to pass Margo. As you may also recall, the license plate surround on our Corvette points out in jest, “You have just been passed by a Grandparent!”

But the cool down lap is when you take a good look at all your instruments – the Corvette has a heads-up display that shows revs, speed and transmission temp which we watch like hawks. Before we upgraded to the Tick Performance Adjustable Clutch Master Cylinder Kit on hot days we would find the clutch pedal going all the way to the floor leaving us with no options to change gear but with that simple upgrade, we haven’t experienced any further trouble no matter how hot HPR temperatures climb to. 

 Climbing out of the car and coming back down to earth all the while chatting away with those who have come to check you out and to make sure you stay hydrated, is always a time to reflect. Margo and I talk over every session on track and when we go out together, whether it is Margo behind the wheel or me, we always see adjustments we can make to either our lines or our speed. We are always asked “how fast did you go” and we have to admit, we are never sure but that really isn’t the point.

All through the times we have spent on tracks around the country, what the real point has become is that we get to relax. Surprised? Well, what we mean as time on track requires our complete attention, so much so that what may have been worrying us all week is no longer a concern. Work-related issues simply fall by the wayside and for Margo and me it’s a real treat to be able to put that all behind us. And of course, when it comes to putting things behind us, then there is one thing Margo likes doing more than being on track - sling over her shoulder one of her favorite bags and her most recent purchase is one that she cares a lot about. Yet one more impulse-buy on our last trip to Vegas; I guess what you buy in Vegas ends up never staying in Vegas!

And now, its back to thoughts of accessories and those all-important shoes for the Corvette – watch for posts later this year as once again, we relax behind the wheel, keep an eye on our lap times, enjoy the company of friend and oh yes, continue to end each day with our traditional martinis, no matter how hot it might be on track.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Oh, restless spirit …

January is always a time to reevaluate priorities and to put into place plans for the coming year. When it comes to the business of Pyalla Technologies, LLC, we are both fully engaged now with Margo working hard to establish her latest venture, the monthly digital publication, NonStop Insider. As a result of working the way we do, we are discovering just how flexible we can be with our time; yes, we can work at any time, almost anywhere and this month we put this into practice. Call them BizCations, as we are want to do, but the bottom line remains the same - we fill our waking hours with work even as the scenery keeps on changing and for that, we have no complaints!

As for our plans, it all happened rather quickly. The need to meet with clients in Los Angeles mid-January and then late-January left two weeks of “calendar free space” and, with no appointments we decided to, once again, take to the seas and see how well we could work far from shore. We had done it once before, but only for a week and you can read about that in the November 5, 2014, post,
The A, B, Zs of Fall! This time we would double the time at sea and it would be a test of how disciplined we would be not to mention how practical it was to depend on the vessel’s Internet capabilities for an extended period of time.

We have been sailing with Princess cruise lines for a very long time and our status gave us a combined 500 minutes of free internet access, but with so many passengers on board, it turned out that early mornings worked best. Princess has an International Café that serves Lattes and pastries around the clock so from 4:00am onwards, you would find me working from my new, impromptu desk. And yes, it all worked out and a number of our clients, until I updated them on our return, were unaware of our newly equipped remote office!

By chance I came across the poetry of Tyler Knott Gregson, whose poems can be found on the web and among her short verses, this one struck a chord:

Oh restless soul, oh wandering spirit, come, and breathe a spell.
Come, and gently fall into peace.
This is what you were seeking, this, is home.

I have always been fascinated by ports and terminals handling container ships. This fascination dates back to when I worked for Overseas Containers Limited (OCL) as they first entered the container shipping business back in the late 1960s.

My time with OCL was way back in the early 1970s, when container shipping was still a novelty. Long before the construction of the very large Botany Bay facility you will fly over on your final approach to Sydney International Airport these ships would sail under the Sydney Harbor Bridge and dock at a small facility in White Bay. As a sailor, I just couldn’t wait to get onboard to take a look and when the opportunity presented itself, I was hooked and asked for a transfer to the London head office – an approach that turned into reality and laid the foundation for the wandering that to this day simply hasn’t stopped!

This January, as we sailed out of the harbor at San Pedro, we were passing a complex made up of two ports – the port of Los Angeles and the port of Long Beach that are the two biggest container terminals in the US. Combined, they would be in the top 10 worldwide and the perpetual movement in and out of the facility meant that cruise ships as big as the Princess Star had to do some pretty tricky backing in order to safely leave the port, but as the sun was setting and the lights came on, Margo and I felt right at home on the ship – yes, this is what we had been seeking; this is home! Or, so we thought at the time.

 As it turned out, the two weeks kicked off with us celebrating our wedding anniversary and ended with Margo celebrating her birthday. Having advised Princess of these dates we ended up eating a lot more cake than we have in years but it was a fun time. Each bar we stopped by over the course of the evening was only too happy to pull out from the counter yet another treat. In the picture above we were seated by the Crooners Bar that became our late night retreat. 

Before going any further, we did manage to burn through all 500 minutes of free Internet access across the two weeks so if we plan on doing anything longer it may be a bit of a challenge, although, as Margo noted on more than one occasion, the discipline we would maintain meant that we didn’t have to be checking our email every hour or so. Well, I tried! Bottom line, in this respect, I only stepped away from the laptops and phones on weekends which I rarely do back on shore. As for Margo then there was plenty of time for reading.

Our destination would be the major islands of Hawaii and given that it is the middle of winter in the northern hemisphere, breaking away from the clutches of winter seemed more than appropriate. As we drove away from our Windsor home, it was 8 degrees, Fahrenheit. By the time we arrived in San Pedro, it was a balmy 70 degrees, with the forecast for the voyage suggesting that we would be enjoying even more balmy days of 70+ degrees. While the sun managed to break through the clouds on occasion, the first two days at sea were cloudy with the wind whipping around the deck all the time.

As for the seas, well we were sailing through 20 foot swells and it was fun to listen to passengers complaining about how rough the seas were and of whether or not the ship’s master could do something about that. At one point, he did come over the ships coms channel to note that well, this is the Pacific (and not the Caribbean or the Mediterranean) and it was winter so yes, the movement onboard wasn’t entirely unexpected. As for Margo and me, we barely noticed it, but it was a reminder that on deep water voyages the sea can be very restless!  

Another short verse from the same poet seemed more than appropriate for the times:

A time for movement,
and a time for sitting still.
We need both of these.

Once we had arrived in the Hawaiian Islands, the seas abated considerably so we were able to enjoy an extended long weekend cruising among them. Our first stop was Oahu, where we took advantage of the ports close proximity to Waikiki and walked along the foreshore to take in the view of the former volcano that is now Diamond Head. With wall-to-wall hotels lining the beach, it proved difficult to walk along the sandy beach without having to step onto the beach.

For me, the destination was always going to be Duke’s – romanticized in songs and, to my way of thinking, symbolic of a laid-back lifestyle - I hoped to enjoy a quiet drink alongside the sandy shoreline. Having enjoyed lunch a couple of times at Dukes in Malibu (and seeing another Dukes on Kauai), for me this was a must. Despite the overcrowding evident everywhere you turned in Waikiki, we managed to get inside of Dukes and found seats that let the day ebb away. Finding a time for sitting still was priceless!

By contrast, even with the number of passengers onboard the Princess Star, there was plenty of open space. Dining was casual even as it was what it was – large scale catering with meals dumbed down to the point where eventually, we gravitated to the specialty restaurants where there was more spice and yes, way less noise. Having spent a lot of time on much smaller vessels, it takes a little getting used to and so much has changed from when we first stepped onboard a big ship. But again, that is what it is all about – for the price you get a little more than what you expect and it is that little more that brings you back to these big ships on those occasions when you want to do a little more than zip around a few ports in seven days!

Cruise lines such as Princess still hold formal nights, but to be honest, it is still very casual and marginal when it comes to dressing up, so as to speak. Having said this, it matters little what others may be doing as whenever Margo dresses for the occasion, she steals the show. And this voyage proved to be no exception. When the camera caught up with her, those behind her complained that it wasn’t fair, as obviously, Margo had experience when it came to posing and I was asked more than once, how many times has she posed for fashion shots!

All good fun of course and none of those around us ever asked her similar questions about me but that is neither here or there – and I have to admit, I didn’t see another passenger decked out in Prada the way Margo was on formal nights. The disappointment for me was that the formal nights proved to be just a little too casual so Margo left the “red-sole shoes” in the wardrobe! We ended up not liking any of the ship’s photos, so here is a snapshot I took of Margo on our first formal night.

Each day we docked in an island saw us hanging back until late in the day. We have spent time on all the islands so for us it was more a case of checking out the area around the dock. Hilo, on the Big Island for instance, saw us walking for miles which could have been a good thing, I suppose, but there were surprises, too. On the island of Kauai, we docked in the port of Nawiliwili where we found the sprawling Marriott hotel just around the corner. On first sight, it didn’t look all that impressive but up close, and looking out over the port, it proved more opulent than we had initially thought. And did I mention that is where you will find Duke’s on Kauai, but unfortunately, we had arrived well before it opened for patrons. Then again, anchored offshore of Lahaina, Maui, with whales clearly visible nearby, we had to take the tender to shore and this time we found ourselves rooftop atop Mick Fleetwod's restaurant, Fleetwood's on Front Street! 

Hawaii Islands are mountainous having all formed from volcanic eruptions. And it shouldn’t surprise any visitors to these islands that in winter, it’s not the seas that are restless but the skies as well. Each day we were ashore we encountered rain but these downpours were nothing more than passing squalls. However, they did make the sky look moody and from the shore, looking out across the sea to adjacent headlands or even nearby islands, it looked as if at any time a major storm would develop. They never did and even when we were caught out in the rain, we never stayed wet for too long as the temperatures, often nearing 80 degrees, ensure it all vaporized quickly. However, walking along the shore, keeping an eye out for changes to the weather, gave us opportunities to take a picture or two of our ship.  

Returning to dry land just a few days later and picking up where we left off, it was yet another line of verse from the same poet that really hit a nerve:

We may head back home,
but we’re leaving one behind.
Pieces of us stay.

Yes, there is a ring of truth to that – even as Margo and I talk about the two weeks break to our schedule – pieces of us do stay wherever we set foot. Not sure I can properly explain this, but I do feel that home for us will always be just over the horizon. And as we found the time to work and to read and to just unwind as we whiled away the hours, I guess the only thing I can now say is that yes, everyone needs to find the opportunities as we have been doing and to acknowledge that truly:

Oh restless soul, oh wandering spirit, come, and breathe a spell.