BMW International Rally–Salt Lake City

Today was the final day of the BMW International Rally in Salt Lake City.  It was a great event thanks to tireless work by its organizers.  Unfortunately, it was also memorably hot, topping 100 degrees each day and lingering over 80 well into the evenings as fairground campers tried to sleep.

Mornings were pleasant, but by afternoon, all the shady spots–the beer garden in particular–were crowded.  Evaporative cooling vests sold out fast.  Many resorted to cowboy air conditioning–a wet bandana around the neck.  Electrically-heated vest sales were slow.

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GT 750

My cousin Mark has a thing for the GT750, and I may have caught the bug from him.  Suzuki produced the GT750 from 1971 to 1977.  The bike was innovative in several ways.  Some hit.  Some missed.  It was the first water-cooled motorcycle from Japan.  For that it got the nicknames of ‘Water Buffalo’ in the US and ‘Kettle’ in Britain.  Today, almost all big-displacement bikes are water cooled.  It was a two stroke.  Today, almost no bikes are two stroke.  It was also a triple; an early member of a small and still quirky club.

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The engine is the focal point of any motorcycle.  This one’s got bigger-than-life character.

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Big Science From a Little Tent in a Snowstorm

Wegener (left) and companion in Greenland on November 1, 1930.  They look cold here, but a couple of weeks later, both were frozen solid.

Waiting out a winter storm in a small tent on Greenland’s icepack, German meteorologist, Alfred Wegener was bored.  With only his diary and a world map to help pass the time, he pondered the apparent puzzle-like fit between the continents of South America and Africa.  Though not the first to notice this curiosity, Wegener became the first to seriously study it.  For years he compared the geology and the fossil record in the corresponding areas of the two continents.  He published papers on his findings before World War I, and in 1915, a book, “The Origin of the Continents and Oceans”.  Wegener proposed that all the continents had once been joined to form a single super-continent that he named Pangaea (all earth).  He advanced a theory that the present continents had broken apart and, through a poorly explained ‘continental displacement mechanism’, slowly moved to their current positions.

The big-name geologists in their universities predictably ridiculed the presumptuous German ‘weatherman’.  Nobody else paid much notice.  Wegener’s theory sank into decades of obscurity.

A century later, Continental Drift, plate tectonics (Wegener’s poorly explained continental propulsion system) and a proto-continent called Pangaea are taught to every budding geologist.  Wegener is a scientific hero.  He’s my hero.  He receives credit for a colossal, apparently obvious, but brain-bending insight; a reality staring the world in the face for centuries.  For this I create the “Wegener Prize” to be awarded to other seers in future posts.  What else is staring us in the face?  Maybe I’ll pitch a tent…

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Mystery Ship

Craig Vetter and Mystery Ship number 4 with collaborator Fujio Yoshimura on left


Dream
  Craig Vetter dreamed of designing a motorcycle.  The success of his Windjammer fairing company in the 1970’s paved the way for the Vetter Mystery Ship.

Where’s your Mystery Ship?…Where’s mine?

I love the grainy picture to the left.  This is the best part of any project, when the dream is fresh and compelling.  Its debut may look like, well…a kludge.  But that chunk of black Windjammer screwed to some scrap plywood is actually a beautiful idea making a jailbreak.  For a few time-suspended moments, perhaps the best of his life, Craig felt the freedom, purpose and exhilaration of making a dream become real.

Art is not something that hangs on the wall.  It’s what we do when we feel most fully alive.  It’s working without a map…or a net.  Art is building a Mystery Ship.

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The Thought Police Rides Out

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Vincent Black Knight motorcycles provided quick mobility for the Thought Police in the 1955 film adaptation of George Orwell’s ‘1984’

I was recently accused by a young person I love of “not being politically correct”.  I was puzzled.  Was that a good thing or a bad thing?  By reflecting on the context, I deduced that it was supposed to be a really bad thing. (more…)