Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cameras plus Caffeine = Zoom Lense!

Since there seems to be a lot of camera buffs on two wheels I thought I would share my new lense purchase with you all. The lense has a great portrait focal length range being a 24-70mm on my Nikon with a 1:5 correction ratio. It's pretty "fast", opening to f2.8. If that's neither fast nor far enough, there's an accessory that adds even more speed and zoom factor.

As you can see the lense does zoom. There's an extra thick cap for protecting this high end G series NIkkor lense.

Being both the wild man and coffee hound that I am, I've discovered how to get even more from the optics. How many of you people are brave enough to pour strong Starbucks coffee on your lense for extra performance?

Should you, too, wish to follow in the wild footsteps of Irondad and become your own wild Ironperson without the discovery risks I've taken ( pause for a breath after reading that sentence ) simply click on the link below. Operators are standing by. I think. Unless they're on coffee break.


Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Removing the Labels.

The east and west coasts of the U.S. may be getting closer due to air travel, but it's still a bloody long time to sit in an airplane seat. During the round trip there was plenty of opportunity for me to reflect on this past year. My motorcycle training season has ended. Travel to the east coast caused me to miss our end of the year banquet. It's a great time to see old friends and for all of us to wrap up the year together. This is the first time I've missed the event. So I had to do my own wrap-up.

One of these years I'm going to write a book. I think I'll copy Robert Fulgham who wrote "All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten". My book will be called "All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned on a Motorcycle".

Yes, I'm still in that philosophical rut about how lessons in life and in riding intertwine. It's also a pretty deep endeavour for a Road Warrior. Kind of like asking an elephant to do a waltz. Strike up the band, Johnny, because Matilda's going to give it a whirl!

One particular thought came into my conscious recognition this year. It's something I have always sort of realized but never voiced. During my musings on the plane the watery substances gelled into a solid mass of quivering Jello. Suddenly it was clear. At least as clear as red Jello gets. Hey, I'm a Redneck, what kind of analogy were you expecting? Actually, I used the term Redneck with a clear purpose. It's a label. That's the point of my sharing this.

There are a lot of labels that people attach to other people. Some are innocent and some aren't. Giving to others with the goal of helping them to achieve success is a great way to remove the labels. Motorcycle training is my own personal vehicle to go down this road. As do many things related to riding, the principle applies to other aspects of life. Thus would be the premise of my book, in case you hadn't figured that out by now.

In the interests of truth in advertising, I'll be the first to admit that I often apply labels to others. I don't do it with evil intent, but it happens. A lot of the reason is my upbringing. Blame it on both nuture and nature. More on the nature part later.

I grew up in a small town. Rural America. Grandpa was a blue collar cowboy. Literally. He always bragged that he had me riding a horse before I could walk. I was brought up immersed in that setting. Gramp was a good man. He taught me morals and manners, respect for others, chivalry towards women, and the fine art of fisticuffs. There's more but you get the idea.

The other side of the coin is that those who didn't fit his picture of what a person should be were distrusted. A guy who could work but wouldn't. People who let their homes develop a "trashy" look. God forbid a man should show up with long hair. Even worse, a pony tail! I remember a few guys being offered a hair cut with Grandpa's sheep sheers. Even I would get threatened if I went too long between haircuts.

"You either need to get a hair cut or a dog license!", he'd tell me.

Interestingly, the labels always had to do with how a person presented themselves by either dress or actions. Never by race, religion, or skin color. In Gramp's world, a man was a man as long as they acted in the way Gramp thought a man should act. I know it was a somewhat narrow view of the world, based as it was upon Gramp's definitions. However, I can honestly say that racism has never been a issue for me.

One of the great things about those days is that troublemakers would get a quiet "talking to" in a dark alley. I kid you not, I was there as a teen for some of those sessions. The "trouble" either quit or the perpetrator left town. I think one of the reasons this worked so well was that Gramp had worked his way up to assistant police chief by then. It was never really violent. The force of numbers might have implied it, but I never saw or heard of anyone being physically hurt. The troublemaker was informed that his actions weren't approved of by the rest. Having the men of a town hold someone accountable was kind of a good thing. The labels weren't such a good thing.

People can claim what they will but I think everyone labels others whether they will admit it or not. It seems to be a human need to sort our world. We need to "fit" things into our world. How often do you hear somebody describe another human as just a "person"? It might be as simple as using the labels "man", "woman", or "child". Sometimes we try to inwardly match a person's occupation or hobbies by their dress. We form preconceived opinions based on how a person presents themselves.

Again, to be honest, when I see a guy with his ass hanging out and his pants down to mid thigh I'm not favorably impressed. I associate that with ganster rappers. That's a pretty negative picture in my mind. It might just be a kid trying to fit in with his peers but what he presents is a pretty strong label.

To one degree or another, like I said above, I firmly believe we all use labels and form preconceived notions about others. On the surface, I don't think that's by itself a bad thing. As long as we're willing to stand corrected by further discovery. The harm occurs when we let those labels stand in the way of discovering what's in a person's heart. Forming an initial impression should be a very distinct thing from judging a person's character by their words and actions. Unfortunately, a lot of the problems between humans comes from the fact that way too many fail to make that distinction.

Wow! Those are a couple of heavy sentences for a Road Warrior motorcyclist. I think I hurt myself writing them! Let's get back to my comfort level and talk about riding. Particularly, about reaching out to help others achieve success as riders.

Our classes are comprised of many diverse individuals. On the first night of class I'll have a group of 24. We break the group down into two groups of twelve for the actual rest of the course. Which means I'll be closely working with, and responsible for, a group of twelve. In an Advanced Rider Training course it will be up to 18 individuals.

Out of even that smaller group, how many do you think are going to be different enough from me to cause me to be tempted to put labels on them? If you guessed most, if not all, you'd be right. Don't go getting all up in arms, here. It's just the way I sort my world. This guy might be "Joe Biker Dude". The kid might be "Ricky Racer". I've had "Poor Little Rich Kid" and even a "Rich Bitch".

For those of you with pure hearts, are you getting a bit steamed at me, yet? Look at the next picture and cool off a second. I'll elaborate in a bit. By the way, speaking of photos, these are simply random shots I've taken from classes. None of these folks are in any way, shape, or form, meant to illustrate any particular personality type or label. They are simply photos of students!

Truth be told, there are going to be people who show certain personality traits. There are going to be spoiled rich kids who think they should be passed on through because Daddy has money and influence. There are going to be people who think they know it all. The only reason they show up to class is because they need it to get an endorsement. There are pampered women who expect to be specially catered to. We all know guys whose only concern is appearing macho and cool.

I've been a professional evaluator of human character for over four decades. From law enforcement to corporate management to motorcycle training. Add extra training in things as diverse as psychology, tactical evaluation, human motivation, and so on. Total up the number of employees, customers, and students and the figure will be in the thousands. What it boils down to is that my initial assessments of people are pretty darn accurate.

Knowing that, what are the chances that any of these personality traits are going to prevent me from giving a student ( we'll keep it to motorcycles, here ) my very best in order to help them succeed?

Zero to none. Period.

I make this unspoken promise to a student.

"I probably won't agree with your politics or a number of other things. There's a pretty good chance that we won't be "buds" after this class. In fact, we'll probably never see each other again. However, I will treat you with respect as a person. The same as I would like to be treated. Your success will always be my number one goal. I will use my understanding of your personality type to help me find the best approach for you in my coaching. Even if you have a "difficult" personality type, I will try hard to find something to like so we can relate. This is most likely your one and only shot at professional training and you deserve my very best. My promise is to deliver that."

That promise is kept. Then a very interesting thing happens.

Labels are removed. Individuals emerge in their place. This is no longer "Joe Biker Dude". Now he's Rory, the guy who is kind of insecure and needs to put on a fierce exterior for protection. Once you see past that exterior, Rory's really a caring kind of guy.

"Ricky Racer" is really just Mark. A young guy trying to be cool and impress everybody as young guys are often known to do. Often the one he's most trying to impress is me, the instructor. What Mark's really looking for is approval. He's got great physical coordination and energy but it needs to be funneled in such a way that Mark will benefit from the class. I tell Mark that I'm impressed by some of his qualities. He's the kind of rider the rest of the class will look up to. I help him keep his cool image by encouraging Mark to be a great example for the rest of the class. Whenever the rest of the class needs to see what they should be doing, all they have to do is look at Mark. Hey, it works. 9 times out of 10 a "Mark" will be my buddy for the rest of the course. A little extra praise goes a long ways. Mark gets what his teenage psyche needs and learns in the process.

These are just a couple of examples. The names are made up but represent real people. You can fill in your own stories.

One summer in Roseburg I had a student that looked like the typical biker troublemaker stereotype. I'll never forget him. We'll call him Cody. ( yes, I remember his real name ) After talking with Cody off and on during the first day my assessment was confirmed. Cody basically had a good heart. He'd just been the kind that never excelled socially or academically. In self defense he acted like the tough guy and that had gotten him into trouble off and on. So the cycle continued.

At the end of the first riding day I could tell Cody was bored and a little frustrated at having to follow the rules involved with safety. Day 1 deals with the very basic skills of riding. The guy could ride much better than the other students in this class. Cody was there solely to get legal. I could also see that Cody needed the advanced skills we'd be working on the next day.

Anyway, Cody told me he probably wasn't coming back. This was too much to put up with, according to him. He'd continue to ride unendorsed. I looked at him for a minute. There was a lot I could say. Legalities, consequences, etc. That stuff wouldn't matter. I needed to reach him as a person. Fortunately, I'd made the effort to see the real him. At least as much as I could in the short time I'd known Cody. I shuffled through the responses and picked one. Thus I said,

"Man, Cody, you can't leave now. You're my best guy!"

It was amazing watching Cody's face. I could see the struggle taking place. That stern look was trying desperately to hang on but there was this big, goofy, Golden Retriever grin trying to take over. That grin never really gained hold, but I saw that it was there. Cody looked back at me and said,

"You know, nobody's ever told me that before."

Cody came back the next day. I genuinely liked him by then. Cody also passed the class with flying colors. He got what he needed which were the skills to keep him alive on the streets. I got to feel good about touching another human in a positive way.

Not every story will have a happy ending. Sometimes a jerk is a jerk is a jerk. There are some people I will never reach. The important thing is that I made the effort to see past any label to find the real person underneath. It sounds like this great and noble thing. Forget it. It's not that hard. I'm just a Road Warrior. Certainly nowhere near the likes of Gandhi or Mother Teresa. I'm not even that altruistic.

I am, however, smart enough to follow simple direction. Followed by some effort. Like this quote from Mother Teresa.

"If you judge people, you have no time to love them."

Again, when it comes to philosophical stuff I'm like a bull trying to do needlepoint. I just think the world would be a much better place if people spent more time trying to connect with each other as humans. Remove the labels and see what's really there. We're so much more alike than we are different.

For me, reaching out to help others achieve success is a great way to see past the labels and connect with people as individuals. Again, teaching motorcycle classes has been the perfect vehicle for my personal journey. I consider myself extremely blessed to have found this world. The amount that I have given has been returned to me several times over. In this season of giving I sincerely and humbly hope I've offered something worthwhile to reflect upon.

Miles and smiles,


Friday, November 12, 2010

Motorcycle Restraint.

If you came across this post title on a search engine and surfed over hoping to see some stuff about about B & D, S & M, M & M's, and so on, you'll be disappointed. If you don't know what those letters mean, good for you. I think. You may want to find out for your own protection. Here's a bit of help. M & M's are candy. I just threw those in because they seemed to fit and I wanted to watch myself type. You still need to be wary of the other letters.

For example, you may one day find yourself strolling across an empty parking lot just before dark. Before you a mountain of a man on a red K bike with a Pennsylvania plate pours into a parking space nearby. Pulling off his helmet, you can see his face. It looks innocent. If you look closely, though, you'll see his habitual leer trying to burst out around the edges of that face. You'll see him pull some leather pieces out of the bike's tail trunk. Walking towards you, his innocent look tries to get even more innocent.

"Excuse, me," he says. "I'm making a leather riding garment for a 'friend' and you're about their size. Would you mind trying this on so I can get an idea of how it's gonna fit?"

That's when those letters above should flash like warning signs in your brain. Three other letters should light up in Hi Viz retroreflective yellow-green. R_U_N!!!!!

Ah, but I digress. I should have shown more restraint. Which is, after all, the point of this post. Not the bondage kind, but the mental kind. I know the two are sometimes impossibly tangled in some Twisted ( Roads ) minds, but bear with me. Successful riding often involves exercising restraint.

Isn't it interesting how those of us who ride a lot often find that the line between our riding behaviour and that of our personal lives blurs? I've written this before about riding:

It's who I am. It's what I do.

That isn't meant to be some sort of melodramatic statement. What it means is that I learn things while riding that I can bring back to my life otherwise. I learn things in my life that help me to be successful at riding. I tend to live hard. I spend a lot of time on a bike. Pretty soon the two become almost indistinguishable from each other. Thus my statement about it being who I am.

Learning to exercise restraint is a useful tool. In fact, it's hard to survive long if we don't. Here's an example or two from a couple of days spent riding for work this week.

I know, this is a baby toy. It's stretched across the front of Ryan's car seat. If you push one of the frog's eyes the thing plays one of three songs. Every kid seems to need to take some portable tunes along for the ride these days. I call it Ryan's iFrog. Anyway, the batteries were wearing down. I decided to stop and get some new ones while I was out and about riding for work.

Ryan's mother is a little annoyed by the iFrog. However, Ryan's mother is also my daughter. So the amount of restraint I needed to show was a little less than one might normally expect. Just like in riding it's all a matter of calculated risk. I figured the odds were in my favor so I went for it.

Ok, ok. I can hear what you're thinking. Show some restraint of your own, already. Don't tell me you've never done something similar. I can see the horns poking out of your halo.

Here's Elvira behind Gateway Mall in Springfield. You will notice she is not alone. The van wasn't there when I arrived. In fact, there was no other vehicles around me. That's one of the reasons I chose this spot. I also figured that the curb and the trees would encourage people to park elsewhere more convenient for getting out of their car. It was actually a cold and gray day but I was shooting in Raw format and warmed the picture up a bit in Photoshop. Makes the contrast between the black bike and white van a little easier on the eyes.

I'm heading back to the bike with batteries in hand and a couple of laps around the mall worn off my riding boots. I try to get some exercise besides pushing my luck. Staying in some sort of shape helps with riding a motorcycle. Round is a shape but it's one I'm trying to avoid. It's another example of how exercising restraint helps one to be a successful rider. I'm trying to push away from the table a bit earlier these days.

Anyway, I'm in my riding gear and carrying my helmet. Halfway between the mall and my bike I encounter this old man. He puts his hand up and slaps me on the shoulder. Then he tells me he parked behind my bike to help protect it. Or some such bulls**t. So now I have a choice of how to respond.

Several options cross my mind. One of which is to warn the guy that if he ever touches me like that again he and his arm will be going home in separate bags. Plus some other things that I won't mention because I don't want to have to put a parental warning on my blog.

What I actually do is force a smile and walk on by without saying anything. Who knows? Maybe the old guy was some shell shocked veteran like in yesterday's post. It wouldn't really have done any good, anyway.

The same thing happens on a bike, doesn't it? We always have to weigh the return versus the cost. Another driver does something that offends us. Then it's decision time. You know what I'm saying. You see what I mean about riding and life being intertwined? In either case it's a question of how far past the end of our noses we look.

Incidentally, when I was taking a picture of the van and Elvira I saw this old white poodle in the front passenger seat of the van. It saw me and drooped down into the seat. Kind of like,

"Hey, don't look at me. I only work here and I'm just trying to live out my days in some sort of peace and comfort."

I assured the poodle that I wasn't holding it responsible for its owner's behaviour. It look relieved and promptly settled back into napping on the seat.

Here's another example of learning restraint from riding that proves valuable in life.

Those of you with a romantic flair might think I was buying flowers for Katie. The floral shop is empty and Katie hates to watch the flowers die. Just concentrate on the parking space. This is downtown Corvallis. There's one word spray painted on the street next to the yellow curb. It simply says "cycles". Presumably it's for bicycles judging by the rack on the sidewalk but I would argue that Elvira is a cycle. Don't know how parking enforcement could win that argument.

I like the spot because there's elbow room. Parking and walking is just fine by me. I think it was Robert Frost that said:

"I'd rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than to be crowded on a velvet couch."

Anyway, the point is that riding reminds me of the value of living simply. I'm not saying that a person shouldn't have "stuff". What I'm talking about is showing restraint in not dedicating our life to the pursuit of "stuff". It's hard not to live simply when riding. We simply can't take much with us. It's us and our surroundings. Leaves some concentration for things like the way the air feels, the way things look in different lighting, and so on. For me, that's the value of living simply. The ability to immerse myself in the journey. I pray to never lose the wonder of seeing all the small and beautiful things around me. Both in riding and in life. Again, the bond between the two.

Looking across the street I watch this woman in a Mercedes finally pull into a parking space. She has circled the block a few times waiting for a spot close to her destination to open up.

There was another empty spot when I took this picture later. When I first saw her things were more crowded. It's always hard to know where another person is coming from as a casual observer. To me it didn't look like she had any trouble walking. She looked about my age but was much better looking! Of course, helmet hair always puts one at a disadvantage. I could be totally wrong but it seemed her and I were approaching the morning from opposite viewpoints.

It was time to get some coffee and return some phone calls. Some of you may have noticed the Starbucks at the far right of the block. That wasn't where I went. I know that's my usual modus operandi as evidenced by this picture I took on Wednesday at Washington Square. It was 48 degrees (f) before windchill. Hot coffee was welcome as I made some phone calls.

Just because I USUALLY stop there doesn't mean I ALWAYS go there. If you want to get your exercise by jumping to conclusions, that's okay by me, though. A couple of doors to the left of Starbucks is the New York Bagel shop. I sat outside with a cup of coffee and a toasted chocolate chip bagel. Restraint is a fine thing but one shouldn't get carried away with it.

I find it fascinating to reflect on how my riding and life have become so entwined. For some people riding a motorcycle is a hobby or a sport. For me it's a way of life. More accurately, it's a major part of my life. It's been a journey of over four decades so far. I hope it continues for a while longer, yet.

Saturday will see me winging towards Hartford, Connecticut. That's where corporate headquarters is located for the USA divisions. I've been invited for a week's worth of management training. I probably won't post but the G11 will get a workout. Stay tuned for later.

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thoughts for this day.

Somebody sent this to me today. Fitting for the date, I thought I would pass it along. Paying it forward, as it were. I've changed the wording a bit to include the women who have, and are, serving.

Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye.

Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, A piece of shrapnel in the leg or perhaps another sort of inner steel: The soul's ally forged in the refinery of adversity.

Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem. You can't tell a vet just by looking.

What is a vet?

She or he is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers didn't run out of fuel.

He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel.

She or he is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Danang.

She or he is the POW who went away one person and came back another or didn't come back AT ALL.

He is the Quantico drill instructor who has never seen combat but has saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang members into Marines, and teaching them to watch each other's backs.

He is the parade riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.

He is the career quartermaster who watches the ribbons and medals pass him by.

She or he is the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb Of The Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor remains unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean's sunless deep.

He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket, aggravatingly slowly, who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.

She or he is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being, a person who offered some of their life's most vital years in the service of their country, and who sacrificed their ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.

She or he is a Soldier, Marine, Sailor or Airman, and also a savior and a sword against the darkness, and is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known.

So remember this each time you see someone who has served our country. When you see one just lean over and say "Thank You".

That's all most people need, and in most cases it will mean more than any medals they could have been awarded or were awarded.

Two little words that mean a lot, "THANK YOU".

God Bless Our Veterans!

I realize there are a lot of you reading this blog from outside the United States. Thank you for that. No matter where we live we are all members of the human family. It's to that extended family that I pass this along.

May governments soon find a way to settle their differences peacefully.