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BRC day 2: fun with Alphonse

Saturday afternoon was instruction and riding on the practice lot. I was one of the first students to arrive, so I had my pick of the fleet, although there were really only four or five different models to choose from. I decided to ride a Suzuki GN125 named Alphonse.

When we started the class I had practically no experience wih motorcycles or manual transmissions. By the time we finished I could shift, swerve, corner, and quick brake like a pro--or like someone who has done five hours of intensive training.

At the end of class, I walked away with a greater respect for motorcycles and gratitude toward Alphonse for carrying me through the day. I was amazed at how much I had learned so far, and humbled by how much I have yet to learn. I was sore, tired, and sunburnt (despite the fact that I lathered on sunblock before class). I was also looking forward to another day of practice, because riding motorcycles is fun!

BRC day 1: classroom

I don't have pictures from the class, so here is a photo of my uncle-in-law's Honda Dream Touring motorcycle

I sat through day one of the Basic Rider Course and now I'm qualified to sit on a motorcycle. I have been boning up on cycling safety as preparation for the class, so some of the material was review for me. But it's good review and I look forward to reinforcing those lessons with actual practice in the saddle.

The new material was the real basic stuff, since books for motorcyclists will assume you will know how to do things like, oh, turning it on. Of course, I have close to zero experience, so this information was extremely helpful!

The class involved mostly going through a book (the BRC Rider Handbook) and answering questions in small groups. The discussion was broken up with short (and sometimes mildly cheesy) video clips. There were about 20 people in the class on Friday and that will split in half for the weekend; one group in the morning and one in the afternoons. I'll try to arrive early to get first dibs on bikes, and maybe some photographs as well.

BRC introduction: motorcycles are awesome

When my dad was about the age I am now, he was involved in all kinds of risky hobbies: skydiving, amateur car racing, and of course motorcycle riding. He gave up his bike after a buddy of his died in a crash. When I was little, he scared me away from motorcycles by telling me this story. But it turns out that biking is just in my blood!

I first got the itch when my college flatmate bought a 1972 Honda 350 to ride around town. Or it could have been a couple of years later, after I was married, and took my first rides as a passenger on my father-in-law's touring bike. Or maybe it all started at high school graduation when I sat on this Harley Davidson Heritage Softail.

Either way, this weekend I'm taking the first step toward learning how to ride and survive on a motorcycle. I will be attending a 3-day Basic Rider Course (BRC) with the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center (MMSC). The course starts with 4 1/2 hours of classroom instruction on Friday night. Saturday and Sunday afternoons, I will practice riding in a closed lot on a training motorcycle. At the end of the day Sunday, there's a skill test so I could potentially earn my license endorsement this very weekend.

How exciting! I'll be posting reports after class each day.

The skull project by Matthew Amey

I plan to have a big skull done as a shoulder piece if I'm allowed to get any more tattoos in the future. Therefore, I've been looking at photos and illustrations of skulls as source material. The Skull Project builds on Matthew Amey's Skull Reference book, which contains line-drawings of a skull as viewed from 151 different angles. I'll let him explain:

"In 2006 he decided to take that book one step further, to show how a variety of artists can use a similar framework to produce a wide range of imagery. Therefore, he invited 150 artists to each take one page of the book and draw on their own experiences and inspirations to draw or paint their interpretation of the image."
As you would imagine, many of the images incorporate tattoo or graffiti imagery. You can go ahead and look at a few sample pages on the Skull Project website.

Love Bug in the Car Craft lot

One final photo from the Car Craft Summer Nationals weekend, because this little VW Beetle was too cute not to share.

Western tiger swallowtail, Papilionidae rutulus

Those purple coneflowers we planted were a great investment for increasing the number and variety of bug visitors in our yard. Twice, I have looked through the kitchen window to see a beautiful yellow swallowtail. But by the time I grab the camera, its big wings are already carrying it far, far away.

Like the Aphrodite, which I saw only once, this butterfly is unlikely to return. Maybe next year I'll catch it with my camera. Until then, this great photo by Flickr user audreyjm529 will have to suffice.

Car Craft: the child seat custom AMX

The color of this car was the first thing that caught my eye. It's a different shade from the factory green for American Motor Company. I joked that if I ever buy a muscle car, it will have to be this color because that's the only way my wife would approve of it. Most cars, I snapped a photo and moved on, but I liked this one so much that I took a look inside and saw the best modification of the day.

I don't know much about engines and all that mechanical stuff, but this is something that I can appreciate. I spoke with the owner, who told me that this was a custom design. I can't say enough about how great this is, so I'll let the picture speak for itself. The only drawback to installing this in your car would be that the utility decreases dramatically if you don't have a child to put in it. Maybe by the time their kid outgrows it, I will have a reason to buy it for myself? What do you think honey?

Bonus: here's a look under the hood, in case any car geeks drop by. Shiny!

Flame on! Car Craft paint critique

If you're going to embellish the paint job on a muscle car, you have two options: stripes or flames. It's not so important which one you choose, as long as you make sure to get it right. Stripes seem relatively easy. On the other hand, painting a decent flame job must be really difficult, since there are so many crappy ones out there.

This Chevy Nova features unusual placement of flames on the trunk lid, but at least they look somewhat respectable. It should go without saying that I enjoy this shade of orange, since I chose it for the background of my blog.

The flames on this Chevelle SS 396 are a step up. Note the overlapping patterns and a complementary blue fading to black. I also like how the solid front side runs parallel with the lines of the car, rather than extending all the way to the grille.

Using green as a contrast color is very effective on this car, especially when combined with the evocative swirls of 'smoke' against a flat primary color. A solid lime green border makes it look sharp, not sloppy.

Here's the back of the same car. Notice that the flames cover only a small portion of the body, whereas too much coverage would be a mistake; the complicated pattern works best as an accent. Also observe the flames on the inside of the door, which I assume to be custom-stitched leather or vinyl. Nice!

Car Craft Summer Nationals

On Friday I went to the Car Craft Summer Nationals show with my dad and little brother. It was a loud, fast, fun time. This '69 Camaro RS/SS was the first photo-worthy car I located upon entering the fairgrounds. Bumblebee, is that you?

I think my new favorite pony car might be the Dodge Challenger. This '73 model is the color of poo, and I still love it.

Here's another Challenger of unknown vintage. The hood is conveniently labeled, in case you couldn't tell that it was cut for a shaker scoop.

It wasn't too long before I started to feel like I was just seeing the same cars over and over again ("look, there's another Camaro"). As a result, this made truly unique cars shine through all the more. During the whole day, we only saw three or four AMC cars, and every one was a standout. Dig the fuchsia paint job on this classy Javelin.

Vehicles at the show were primarily either musclecar-vintage or souped-up ricers. Here's one that stood apart from the pack. From the outside, this 1950 Chevy Bel Air would have looked right at home in the Back to the 50's show. In fact we saw several cars at that show that were almost identical, except for the giant tank of nitrous in the trunk.

The Chevrolet Chevelle Super Sport. My dad was on a quest to find this car, because he owned a '72 Chevelle SS back when he was in high school, during the heyday of muscle cars. Either I took a photo of the wrong car, or he was misinformed, because near as I can tell this looks like a 1970 model. We later did see a '72 Chevelle, although this one was not a SS:

Blue '72 Chevelle, neither super nor sporty. (More photos to come.)

America's Favorite Fun Car

This one goes out to Aaron, who drives the funnest car in America.

Aphrodite Fritillary, Speyeria aphrodite

This fellow was spotted in my garden and identified by examining photos at What's That Bug. Although their example has much more striking coloration, it is unmistakably the same butterfly. Perhaps this is a difference between species in Minnesota and those found in Southeast PA?


Adrienne is a Minneapolis transplant writing about local coffee shops and hangouts. She posts reviews on average about once per month, and they're worth the wait, with capable writing and stylish photography. I found her site, Cafeapolis, while searching for directions to Blue Moon.

I will be checking back to read her take on biker joint Cars-R-Coffins. This shop was one of my scheduled stops at the End Times Alleycat last November, but unfortunately it was closed, and I've never been back to give it a proper checking-out.

Bespoke menswear: DIY pocket square

Oscar Wilde, with pocket squareA pocket square is the finishing touch that completes the fashionable man's ensemble. Without one, your coat pocket, it is naked. A well-selected pocket square should pop with a complementary flash of color, without detracting too much attention from the man who wears it.

"A gentleman always wears a pocket square."
The bad news is a solid-color silk pocket square will set you back at least $15. Considering the sartorial importance of this little piece of fabric, why shell out the cash for a mass-produced one when you can make your own custom square for eighty cents? (or, in my case, have your wife sew it for you?)

The primary advantage to DIY is being able to exactly match the color of the square to a color in your tie or shirt. Once you've found your fabric, there are two ways to sew it up: the fancy way (which requires difficult rolling and stitching by hand), and the easy way (which involves ironing the side hems and sewing with a machine). Nobody will know the difference, except for you. Everyone else will be too busy admiring your classy outfit to notice that you didn't spend $35 on a hand-rolled pocket square.

Galaxy Zoo

Last year I posted about Stardust@home, an open effort to locate interstellar dust particles with a virtual microscope. If you like astronomy but searching for tiny impacts is too small-scale, here's something you might find exciting. On the opposite end of the size spectrum, we have Galaxy Zoo, a project for identifying entire galaxies.

Computers can't keep up with the vast reams of data being collected by digital survey telescopes. Humans are needed to catalogue hundreds of thousands of galaxies that might slip through the cracks of software analysis. Just like with Stardust@home, you take a short test to learn about galactic identification, and then get to work categorizing images.

Click here to learn more about the project and enlist as an amateur space explorer.

The garden in July

The purple coneflower that my mother-in-law gave us has been attracting birds and bees. I was too slow to catch a goldfinch that landed on these flowers--the first one I have ever seen in our neighborhood--but this honeybee sat still enough for a close-up shot.

We've also had migrating butterfly visitors lately. This monarch is enjoying some nectar from a neighboring coneflower.

Phlox is flowering. White is mixed in with lavender for a pleasant contrast in blooms. I don't remember if we planted these, or if they were already here when we bought the house.

And here's the Hosta. We basically grow these things for their pretty foliage, but I really enjoy the flowers too. This is from our monster Hosta growing near the water supply on the side of our house. It just keeps getting bigger.

Garden in July part II: more bugs on flowers

Here's a better bee photo than the one I posted above.

Red Admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta. These guys are all over the yard right now. I took several good action shots with its proboscis flicking out. It was hard to choose just one for the blog, so I picked three. You can see how the wing color changes from Monarch orange to deep scarlet red in different lights.

A shiny green bee, Agapostemon splendens, apparently male due to the yellow abdomen. Females are brilliant blue-green over the entire body. This was the best shot I could get of the metallic head and thorax, on account of him sticking it down into our flowers.


The new Transformers film is an extended ad for cars (except when it's also an ad for the armed forces). Nowhere in the movie is this more blatant than the scene where Bumblebee upgrades from a second-generation 1970s Camaro into GM's fifth-generation concept car. The problem? I think the original F-body car looks way cooler than the new model. Judge for yourself.

Rusty old early '70s Chevrolet Camaro: totally awesome (image from Altered Spaces)

Fifth-generation Camaro prototype: arguably not as awesome (image from Jalopnik)

This movie is rife for drinking games. If you are lucky enough to see it in a theatre with a bar, as I did, I recommend taking a drink every time someone yells "no no no no no" or beats you over the head by describing something as "more than meets the eye." The dialogue really is that bad. Having a pint of Blue Moon at hand seriously enhanced the experience for me between fight scenes.

For the record, I actually enjoyed this movie. The plot and hammy acting were exactly as sucky as I anticipated, but the giant fighting robot action exceeded my expectations. There are just not enough movies about giant fighting robots. And with robots that transform into cars, well, not even Michael Bay can screw that up.

How to tie a Windsor knot

Here is something that every gentleman should know how to do. Watch and learn.