Thursday, August 25, 2011

Farmer's Market

I'm supposed to be on vacation this week. I sort of managed to turn working for the motorcycle program last weekend into something of a vacation. Katie came along and we stayed an extra night in Portland. Hey, she got to stay in a nice hotel and I took her out for a fancy supper. That has to count, doesn't it?

Then there was that one little thing I needed to do so a contractor could finish up a project. It's only a half day, after all. Katie left me on my own and spent the day with her sister. Guess I'll have to shut things down for a few days and try to actually act like it's vacation time. In the meantime, here's a few photos from the Farmer's Market in Salem.

You may go looking for vegetables but find something else. Like my training Sergeant told me years ago: "Welcome to Yakima, the land of fruits and nuts!"

So here's the early morning stop at the project that started it all. I love early mornings in summer. Cool and fresh. Perfect for riding.

As I was parking Elvira in Salem I saw this scooter pull up. No backing in, I see. The woman riding the scooter had a light weight jacket the same color as her bike. Which was also the same color as her helmet. Looks like the perfect accessory for some similar crocs, don't you think?

This shot below struck me because it shows mass transit, the scooter, and an SUV. Differing ways to roll, as they say.

This is the rider of the yellow scooter. Her and I had a nice chat. As charming as I am, she decided after a bit that getting food was much more interesting. I am so deflated!

This was the day for pastel colored Vespa LX150's. Another good accessory for those who wear crocs. Especially for Canadians!

A little dog.

You know what they say. It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog. In this case I think the big dog was already full and decided not to snack.

There were many displays of vegetables. Way too healthy for the likes of me.

However, even junk food eaters like me are not averse to learning more about Russian culture!

Here's the obligatory cute sunflower shot. Oh golly gee, have a nice day!

Why not make a little music and collect a little dough? I tried standing on a corner and singing, once. You'd be amazed how many people paid me to shut up!

The solar panel caught my eye. The guy uses it to charge the battery on his chair. We had a brief conversation. The woman behind him is his mother. Aw, what togetherness. I asked why she didn't have a solar panel. I guess he likes ditching her for a while when her battery dies. What a way to repay the woman whose Social Security check supports you!

These twins looked pretty bored. Until......

Wow! Did somebody mention motorcycles?

I was really tempted to get a hair cut on the way home. There's a beauty college in downtown Salem. One can often get a good haircut for a cheap price. Especially when you just want a regulation cut that only involves running an electric clipper over your head. This sight caused me to have second thoughts.

Haircuts while you wait. If you're in a real hurry leave your head with us while you go to Starbucks. I have to say I wasn't too excited about the new "lop off" service!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Miles and smiles,

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thirteen Photos and a Thousand Words ( give or take )

Once upon a time I started a separate photo blog. Then came the brutal realization that keeping one blog going was tough enough so adding another one might not have been a great idea. I may streamline the plan for a while by simply posting photos there. With everything I have my fingers in right now I feel like one of those old Vaudeville acts. You know the one I'm talking about. Some guy has a bunch of plates spinning on a row of sticks. The act gets really interesting when the performer is running up and down the row trying to keep all the plates spinning. My fervent hope is that the plates don't all come crashing down on me before I take the time to prioritize better!

My pursuit of photography is getting much more serious. Not that the outcome is anything to write home about. However, I'm beginning to really understand how to work the exposure triangle to my advantage. Composition is something I know about on the surface but it hasn't become ingrained by any means, yet. There's still a long ways to go. Stuff like when to use spot metering versus center weighted, etc. The really good news is that I'm learning a lot. They say you learn from your mistakes, you know!

A trip over the mountain into Central Oregon was on the books a bit ago. For this post I just felt like sharing some photos and some comments.

One of the burdens I have to deal with is staying in fairly nice hotels. The favored place these days is the Riverhouse when staying in Bend. It's across the highway from the Hampton where Bobskoot and some of the gang stayed last year for our bloggers gathering.

This photo of the pool was taken with the G11. I also had the D7000 along. It's bad when when you take less clothing in order to carry two cameras. I finally figured out how to use the built-in ND filter. That, and a smaller aperature helped conquer the glare of the really bright sunshine.

The folks are kind enough to put me in a building in the back. It's very quiet and nice back there. Across the parking lot is a conference center.

The place looks ok during the day but looks a lot better at night, doesn't it? Who knew you could get cobalt blue skies with a camera after our eyes think it's all the way dark? A nice added touch is the light trails from passing vehicles.

After I played with a bunch of different shutter speeds and got a couple of shots I liked I moved the tripod off to the side but left the camera set up and on. It was nice to simply stand and enjoy the evening air. A very large Ford pickup drove into the parking lot towards me. Since the camera was already on and the remote shutter release cable was still in my hand, I quickly zoomed the lense to wide angle and pressed the button. Here's what the headlights of the truck looked like with a 30 second exposure. The photo itself isn't so great but it was fun to make.

Just on the edge of town is Pilot Butte. It's really just a big hill. The road winds around and around in ever decreasing circles towards the top. One evening I decided to ride up and try my hand at sunset photos. I find I'm not really drawn towards landscape photography although I do appreciate the wonders around us.

The small flat area at the top of the butte was surprisingly busy. There were the usual tourists, a group of guys making some kind of band / music video recording, and a wedding, of all things.

Here are the bride and groom. He seems more interested in his mobile communication device than he is in her.

The late evening light gave everything a kind of golden glow. It was pretty awesome, actually.

Somewhere around a dozen people attended the wedding. There was a woman in a black robe whom I presume was a Justice of the Peace or something. She performed the ceremony.

This couple were a part of the wedding party. The guy had a bottle of iced tea in his hand and was saluting everybody with it. I think it was ice tea, but who knows?

My tripod mounted camera was pointed to the West. The wedding was in the center of the flat spot, to my back. I quietly turned the camera around and took a few discrete shots. The girl noticed my camera and said something to the guy. He saluted me with the bottle. She looked a bit self conscious so I was considerate and turned the camera back around. It wasn't my intent to intrude uninvited on the wedding, after all. It was just a target of opportunity.

The photo is a bit washed out. Her face was in shadow since the camera was set on matrix metering. I had to put a lot of fill light on her face in Photoshop to bring it out. On the other hand, you have to see her face looking my direction to get the idea so it was necessary.

Here's the drummer checking everything out from his vantage point. The music wasn't connected to the wedding. The video crew was very considerate and stopped everything for the short wedding ceremony.

There were enough clouds hanging onto the mountains to mess with the sunset photography. I hope this guy had better luck than I did. None of mine turned out to be worth keeping.

One side effect of pursuing photography is that I've become really into light. Sometimes I feel like some hippy dude eating pine cones or something while expressing rapture at some new discovery.

"Man, have you ever, like, REALLY looked at the light?"

All jokes aside, it's amazing how much difference there is in light from season to season. For that matter, from hour to hour and even minute to minute. What looks like a fantastic picture can go away in a space as short as a couple of minutes.

Check out this photo taken of the river behind the hotel. It was taken very early in the morning as the sun just started to light the river. It's an okay photo but really lacks punch.

Compare it to a photo I took in late March from just a few feet to the right from where I was standing. The lighting comes from late afternoon sunshine with the sun lower towards the horizon. There's a huge difference in the "wow" factor, isn't there? I never appreciated the differences until I got serious about this picture making stuff.

I realized I had really tipped over the edge on the way home. This is back on the West side of the pass but we're still heading downhill. I passed this view and a convenient wide gravel spot on the side of the road without stopping. For the next six miles I wrestled with going back because the view kept getting more and more limited as I descended. Finally, knowing I would regret it if I didn't take the opportunity for a photo, I doubled back and pressed the shutter.

A polarizing filter added a bit more blue to the sky and brought out the dazzling white of the snow. The remarkable thing is that I actually did it on purpose. Maybe not really well, but kind of like an ape using a stick to pry ants out of a log, there was a purposeful act involved.

Of course, being parked beside the road, as well as actually standing in the road, one has to be on the lookout for traffic. Like this loaded log truck headed up hill.

Having finally figured out that a narrow aperature is another way to slow down the shutter speed, I left the aperature at f/16 which gave me a 1/10 second exposure. I thought it was a pretty cool effect.

It's becoming easier all the time to see the appeal that Steve Williams finds in riding a scooter. Making photos can easily become more addicting than riding. A thing I never thought I would ever find myself saying. Time to wrap this thing up. I have to shake it off and go for a fast ride!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Motorcycle Training, Practice, and Muscle Memory.

So here's the question from Jay in the last post.

I will practice. I will take classes. But I don't think I will "train" like a police motor officer or MSF Rider coach. I would like to hear more about "training" as opposed to "practice". How much "training" does it take to develop muscle memory and is that much "training" realistic among recreational riders and commuters?

To me training and practice are two different animals. While practice does happen during training, not all practice has to be done in the context of formal training. Nor should practice be limited to those times. Muscle memory is based on repetition but the successful application of it, I think, depends less on deep seated actions and more on how long it's been since we last used the skill we're asking our body and mind to perform.

I want to at least try to keep this post fairly succinct. To that end I'm going to provide the skeleton with only a little bit of muscle filled in. When you're reading this and come to something you want more information on ask in a comment. I'll use another post to fill in more of the body, as it were.

Let's start with muscle memory.

When most people think of muscle memory they think of actions that have been repeated so many times that they become a permanent part of our subconscious. I guess the idea is that when a person finds themselves in an emergency situation the correct response will happen automatically without a lot of thought required. There's a lot of truth to this, for sure. While I'm certainly not an expert on the mind / body connection I have studied enough to know that there's more components to the formula than this. Besides, I stayed at a Holiday Inn last night! ( that's a humorous reference to an American television commercial for those of you in other parts of the world )

More on muscle memory in a bit. Here's a good way to think of the different settings for training versus practice.

Training teaches us what we need to practice.

Whether it's motor cops or civilians as shown in the two photos below, there's a specific reason for coming to formal training sessions. This brings us back to how muscle memory is formed.

Repetition is the process by which muscle memory is formed. The content, however, is a series of snapshots. Think of the flip books that used to be popular with kids. Each page would have a picture on it. By itself each page was static. Rapidly flip the pages, however, and the individual pictures start to look like a movie.

That's another aspect to forming muscle memory. What happens is that our brain connects a series of individual actions into a smoothly flowing whole. The process is similar to the flip book thing but a lot more sophisticated. What's equally true for both the flip book and muscle memory is that each individual picture has to be the right one to contribute to that smooth flow.

Can you imagine a flip book that has all these drawings of a black and white panda walking along the ground, for instance? We flip the pages and things are flowing smoothly. It really looks like a movie of the panda walking. Suddenly, right in the middle of the sequence, are two color photos of pink crocs. While pink crocs are certainly the rage in certain situations, they have no place in this sequence. Our movie is ruined because it's not what we want or need right now.

Training helps us make sure each picture in the sequence is correct for the plot of the movie. In my mind training is any situation where a person who understands what needs to happen can observe us and offer the appropriate feedback. So not all training has to be "formal", per se. It could consist of two riding friends meeting in a parking lot for a morning session, for instance.

Of course, the caveat is that both friends should actually know what each step in the sequence should look like and how to offer that feedback. Telling somebody that their last stop sucked, for example, isn't really helpful. They should be able to hone in on the specific spot in the sequence and offer tips on how to improve. This kind of training can be of benefit. Sometimes riders do know what SHOULD happen but might simply have become sloppy. It could be that a rider has also picked up a bad habit. Having a riding buddy watch us for a bit can make us aware where we've slipped to, as it were.

Still and all, there's no substitute for professional instruction. There's also the fact that advice we pay for can have more value to us than "free" advice offered by a friend! Under the watchful eyes of a pro we get feedback on every still photo and useful coaching on how to improve. We also know what's going right so we can concentrate more on the things that need work. Going back to the statement that training teaches us what to practice, one professional training session can fuel our personal practice for months to come.

Do you like the reference to "watchful eyes" and then the photo of the osprey? This is a bird nesting at the track where we hold our ART classes. She watches everybody pretty closely. It's hard to get a photo against bleary white clouds but I think the point comes across.

As a quick example let's look at maximum braking. I've posted this photo before. It shows a fellow instructor demonstrating maximum braking at 70 mph during one of our police training sessions. Note the head and eyes up, the fully compressed front fork, the slightly squashed front tire, and the lack of a skid mark! There is no ABS on the Ducati. This is perfect form for maximum braking but it didn't get that way by itself. This nearly perfect "movie" is made up of quite a few individual still photos.

Just to break the photos down consider these. Keeping the head and eyes up and looking well ahead during the entire stop. Smoothly rolling off the throttle while reaching for the front brake. Squeezing the knees against the tank to hold us in the seat and allow us to use the fine control of the smaller muscles of our lower legs on the rear brake pedal as opposed to the force of our thigh muscles. Ensuring that our initial application of the front brake is very firm, but equally as smooth. Modulating the feedback from our fingers and the feel of the bike to achieve a progressive squeeze throughout the application of the front brake. One squeeze until we're stopped. Not two or three squeezes like we often see. Making sure we nail the actual stop. Easing off the pressure on the front brake lever right at the end of the stop because we have a second opportunity to skid the front wheel when we're nearly stopped and the bike's weight starts to rebound off the front wheel which lessens our traction. Letting off pressure while making sure we don't let the bike actually lunge forward.

All the while modulating the rear brake pedal because, as the bike's weight moves forward, less traction is available for braking at the rear. Remembering to lift our foot as we squeeze more on the front. Light to lighter on the rear. Progressively more on the front. Move our toes up to meet our fingers.

This is if everything goes as we planned. We haven't started on the list of things that can go wrong and what to do about them.

During formal training ( and I'm talking about sessions for experienced riders here ) a professional instructor will actually be able to look at and analyze each and every individual still photo. The rider will be then be told which photos are properly placed and which need work. Along with coaching on how to fix those photos that need fixing. Armed with that knowledge we go back into our personal worlds and comment to practice.

Practice doesn't have to consist of doing the whole "drill" over and over. Yes, we do need to do the whole drill often enough to let the brain form the whole movie. It's equally critical to make sure each photo is right. Let's say the instructor told us we need to smooth out our initial brake application. Take a ride and dedicate it to practice being as smooth as possible whenever we apply the front brake. Maybe we were told we need to work on keeping our eyes up because we tend to look down right in front of the bike when we stop. So dedicate a ride to practice keeping our eyes up. Maybe take a ride and practice putting our knees against the tank when we apply the rear brake. You get the idea.

Once we're confident we have all the properly exposed photos in place then take a ride and practice putting it all together. Find a few opportunities to practice a quick stop in a safe place. You'll be amazed how it comes together.

People say that practice makes perfect. Take that a bit further and think "Perfect practice makes perfect".

I may be treading on questionable ground here, but I'm going to step forth anyway. Compare two riders. The first rider will practice a quick stop a hundred times in a session. The last few stops are picture perfect. Then, thinking they have it down, they never come back and practice it again. Another rider could practice five quick stops in one ride, five more on another ride next month, and so on for twenty months. They have both done one hundred repetitions. Who would be better off if an emergency stop were called for at the end of twenty months? The rider who did it a hundred times and then took twenty months off from practice, or the rider who practiced five times a month each and every month for those twenty months? ( we also assume they've both been very lucky during this time! )

I'd put my money on the second rider. That's the other factor in muscle memory. Our brains have long term and short term memory. As we know, there is only so much room in the short term file box. If we don't use something for a while our brain puts it into the long term box. Which is usually buried under something else. It's still there but it can take a bit longer to find than something in the much more readily accessible short term file box.

I'm not saying practicing a quick stop five times a month is enough. It may or may not be. What I am saying, though, is that the freshest correct memory wins every time.

The same applies to cornering sequence, head turns, being smooth overall, or whatever.

Most casual or recreational riders won't train or practice to the level of an instructor or a motor cop. It would be great if every rider did. Especially if we think of what's at stake if we get something wrong. However, every rider can, and should, make sure each and every still photo is correct for the sequence and that the movie is on fresh film!

Miles and smiles,