Monday, August 14, 2017

one-off Torah ark (crosspost from beth-hamon-music.com

I love the mystery of ritual as much as anyone else. I think that, given the choice between reading aloud from a Torah scroll or from a bound book, I'd rather read from the scroll. But as an Off-The-Grid specialist, I don't have access to a kosher scroll, either (and in fact, some rabbis are not super-thrilled with my dedication to facilitating Off-The-Grid celebrations for unaffiliated Jewish families, but that's another blog post).
This summer, the unaffiliated family of a B'nei Mitzvah student offered to purchase a non-kosher scroll, printed on heavy paper and glued to wooden poles so that their child would have a scroll to read from -- and then, in exchange for a few of the lessons, to give me the scroll to keep for use with future students.
I was deeply moved by this offer and accepted it humbly.
Then, I set about making a proper ark for my scroll. Because even a non-kosher scroll deserves to have a place of honor. The story is still kosher, right?

So here's what I came up with. it's made from assorted car and bicycle license plates, an abandoned wooden planter box, hinges and other hardware that came from my shed or from a local house parts recycler, and some paint that was left over from my time at the bike shop. It took some figuring out, and some modifying when I realized too late that the box wouldn't quite fit the scroll (I too one end apart, rebuilt it and added a "roof" made from a license plate). But in the end, it makes a fine, and a wonderfully whimsical, "SO Portland" home for my little Torah scroll. I couldn't have asked for it to turn out any better. And I am grateful to the family whose bright idea inspired me to make it.

 Picture






Wednesday, August 9, 2017

why don't more people learn to fix their stuff?

One of the beautiful things about getting everywhere by bicycle is that the technology is so elegantly simple that most minor repairs -- flat fixes, brake and derailleur adjustments -- can be done at roadside in minutes.
It's very satisfying to be able to fix a flat, hop back on and resume riding.
And if you were to pay a shop to fix a flat, they'd charge you between 8 and 12 bucks for parts and labor.
So why don't more people learn to deal with the small stuff themselves?

We've arrived at a point in the history of consumerism where more people would rather pay someone else to fix their stuff than to learn how to fix it themselves.
Now, I don't think it's wise to try and fix everything yourself, especially if you're inexperienced; I tend not to attempt to deal with my home's wiring, for example.
But so many of the things we own can be repaired at home for far less money than we'd spend to pay someone else to do it.
Bicycles are perfect example of this.

Once upon a time, lots of people were quite willing to fix their own stuff. Because fifty, sixty years ago, more of us had to. We didn't live near a repair shop or we simply didn't have the money to pay someone else. And thrift was considered a far greater virtue than it is today.

The problem with not fixing your stuff is that if you don't learn how to fix it, you don't fully own it.
People used to own their cars more, back when pulling the dashboard and rewiring the ignition switch was easier. Hell, I learned how to hotwire a car when I was seventeen. It wasn't hard once someone showed you how the system worked.
Today, most car dashboards have computers underneath. And hardly anyone works on their newer cars at home because of those computers.

Thankfully, most bicycles have yet to become so computerized. And older bikes abound, on craigslist and at yard sales. So why not learn how to do the basic stuff at home?
Fixing your own flat will save you $8-12.
Adjusting your own gears or brakes will save you $10-15.
And wiping down your bike's drivetrain every 2 weeks (once a month in the summer) and applying a light coating of oil when the chain runs dry will save you a lot of money on replacement parts, because you won't have to replace them quite as often if you do simple maintenance like this.

Depending on where you live, many bike shops offer basic maintenance classes. Some offer open wrenching nights where you can come in a rent their tools for cheap and work on your bike under the helpful eye of a shop mechanic. And if your local shop doesn't offer this, there are lots of good books and Youtube tutorials to help you get started. Here's a few:

Everybody's Bike Book by Tom Cuthbertson. One of the oldest and still one of the best for basic things like flat fixes, brake adjustments and the like.
The Park Tool Big Book of Bicycle Repair. Available at shops or on eBay. Covers the newer stuff including V-brakes and disc brakes, if you're so inclined. Lots of helpful photos along with concise instructions.
Park Tool and hundreds of others have posted videos on how to do all sorts of bike repairs.
Here's a basic idea of how to fix a flat, by the folks at Park Tool.





If you live in the city, you don't need to bring along more than a small pump, spare inner tube, patch kit and whatever tools you need to remove wheels and/or make very minor adjustments on brakes or gears. The whole thing will fit in a small pouch you can strap onto the underside of your saddle (and easily remove when you go indoors, to avoid theft).

 My basic repair kit, wrapped in a cloth roll and small enough to fit in a pocket of my saddlebag.

Below: Homemade patch kit, including homemade patches (from recycled inner tube squares and tin foil), levers and sandpaper, and tube of glue (sold separately at shops). It all fits in a repurposed cough drop tin.
Yes, your hands will get dirty. And you can wash them with soap and water. Really, it's not a big deal.
Own your stuff. Fix your stuff. And save some money.

Happy riding!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

refugee bike update: august 2017

Now that my music crowdfunder is complete and I am recovering from a throat infection, I'm beginning to tackle the few bikes that were waiting for me since I got home from kansas a month ago.
This one was a donation from the fellas at Velo Cult. Originally a city bike with 120mm spacing in back and a Nexus-8 rear hub, When I got it it was running on replacement wheels of different sizes and nothing worked.
After a lots of modifications, including converting the bike to a 1 x 7 (and spreading the frame to take a 135-spaced rear hub), the bike is now ridable. The integrated headset is a mess and if I open it up and it falls totally apart I'm stuck with a bike I cannot afford to deal with. For the time being, I've decided to go with a slightly-too-tight adjustment to get rid of most of the front brake judder, pour in some Phil's and hope it will be okay for now.

I really cannot stand integrated headsets for basic city bikes. They're a dumb idea. Perhaps the previous owner thought so, too and that's why this became a donor bike for my project. Anyway, it's safe to ride at this point and that means someone gets a bike who didn't have one before.

I am sometimes forced to make compromises like that.

Right now in the stand I have a very tall Peugeot road bike from the 1970s, with original Simplex shifters and derailleurs that work astonishingly fine. I left them on, swapped in some upright handlebars and added a rear rack. I need to go to Bike Farm tomorrow and find a cheap used seatpost to fit the frame and a cheap used front tire, and it's basically all done.

After that, I have two other bikes, both rusty mountain bikes from the late 80s/early 90s. One is so rusty that I may need to strip and rattle-can it -- and I don't know if I want to take the time to do that with all my music commitments coming up in late summer/early fall -- but my other option is to strip the parts for another frame. Gonna sit on this one awhile, I think.
The other bike isn't quite as rusty and needs a few replacement parts, and I will probably try to whip that one into shape when the Peugeot is done.

This week we're expecting a serious heat wave in Portland, with temps today through Friday eaching into the 100s. Sweetie and I will be doing whatever we can in the early morning hours before its gets too hot; and later we'll seek out a city water fountain or a cheap movie with air conditioning. My riding will be minimal, if I do any at all. Not a safe time to ride a bike if you have issues with extreme heat, as I do.

Hopefully it's cooler where you are -- happy riding!