Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Of Any Given Age

As the old saw goes, if there is any constant, it is change. So it goes with another year gone by and it becomes self-evident that I have more years behind me than in front of me. So what has changed?

That realization reports a transition from the ignorance of youth, where like an heir to a seemingly endless fortune spends wildly, to the place of knowing, possibly wisdom, where the account is more singularly defined and whose limits are not only have become clearer, but known.

Reflecting on the age I have lived so far, and we all live in an age, a common age for people born at a particular time and those experiences mark a greater transition of society as well as with ourselves, I see that things have changed quite a bit. Not as much for me as for my paternal grandfather, who was born before the advent of the automobile yet lived to see men go to the moon, even if he didn't believe it. In my age, I was born before the age of the Internet, personal computer, cell phone, iPods, GPS, satellite radio/TV, cable TV and widespread use of the microwave oven.

In spite of all the advancements, it seems that while it has freed us to do more, we seem to think less. Some might posit that we are now free to think about more important things instead of using our mental capacities for controlling processes that are now self-evident. I have to wonder. A lot of the technology today has lead a lot of people to be believers in FM or F@#$ing Magic. It is the black box, the mystery that somehow performs a task and somehow we are better off not knowing how it happens. From my perspective, this may dull critical thought.

Take automobiles and motorcycles. They still use the internal combustion engine, but ask a kid today how it works and you are as likely to get a blank stare as a plausible explanation. I bet though the kid will know how to buy a computer programmer to get more horsepower out of it even if he or she isn't sure exactly why or how it works. Astounding. Suck, squish, bang, blow, the 4 cycles of a 4 stroke motor. Fuel, compression and spark must exist for such a device to work. Today, add a fourth: The computer. In a new vehicle, it manages almost everything. Even in it's simplest form, the computer controls the amount of fuel that get burned by an engine. It does this by measuring multiple variables in the engine and combustion process such as oxygen content in exhaust gases, coolant temperatures, atmospheric pressure, internal vacuum pressures in the intake manifold, measuring the mass of air taken in by the engine by measuring the change in resistance in a wire by shunting current through the wire as air passes over it, RPM, and throttle position, to name a few. Given all these inputs, matrices in memory are consulted by a computer and for the given parameters, the fuel injectors are pulsed at a specific frequency as to create the proper fuel/air mixture. This is constantly being adjusted by the computer to match any operating conditions. In other words, it's FM to most people.

When I was a kid, I learned how a carburetor worked (Venturi Principle), spark (induction coil), and the effects of timing, both static and cam have on compression. These principles hold true today in a sense, but the black box makes in unimportant even to the Friday night drag race impresario. If there is a problem with the car, just use you cell phone to call the mechanic. Oops, I mean automotive technician. With the advent of electric power vehicles, it's only going to get worse, be less fun and less challenging.

On the other hand, they were the bad old days too. Cars did not stop well, steer well, got poor fuel mileage and if you wanted to have a lot of power, you needed to do a lot of modifications to the engine or use a bigger one. Cars also did not stay in proper state of tune for as long as they do now and engines certainly did not last as long on average either. You had to know how stuff worked, even to the uninitiated, as a matter of functionality and I am sure it was an improvement from the previous generation of automobiles.

In spite of the advances in engineering and FM, I have to say there are times I miss the bad old days at times when I am troubleshooting one of my cars or trying to modify something on them or my motorcycle. A lot of the technology today requires special equipment and doesn't tolerate tampering so much. Take my BMW motorcycle. You have to buy a special computer tool just to reset the service reminder that blinks on the computer display on the dash. Either that or take it to the dealer. Talk about discouraging the shade tree mechanic. I mean motorcycle technician. The entry fee for that is a cool $299 for your own computer scanner. It's really just a interface adapter that has the proprietary connector on one side and USB on the other. The software is what does the work. Forget about getting the tool BMW uses, it's not for sale. BMW stands for Bring Money Wilhelm. All I can say is the cheapest thing on a BMW motorcycle is the rider.

So where does this this bring us? Back to the beginning I guess. Change is constant and we are defined by not only our age, but the age in which we live. As this year draws to a close I realize how fast time has flown, how little I have accomplished and how little time I really have left. Steve Jobs said "I want to put a ding in the universe." I used to feel that way and sometimes I still do. Sometimes though, I would rather just kick back with a highball glass of 18 year old Macallan, an Arturo Fuente Churchill Natural and just be content that everything is going to be alright, no matter what. Is that silly?

Thank you for reading this blog.


Welcome to my blog. My Motorrad is a blog that follows my trials, tribulations, travels and joys in owning a BMW motorcycle, specifically, a 2009 R1200RT. I purchased the motorcycle this past November, coming from a number of Kawasaki platforms. Hopefully this will be a fun trip!

Thank you for reading this blog.