Coffee with Craig

During the recent rebuild of “Grover”, my wife’s 1973 BMW R75/5, I wanted to restore the original Windjammer II fairing it came with. The Windjammer was designed and sold by Craig Vetter who has long been associated with motorcycles, fairings and fuel economy. So I was pleased to find he and his wife maintain a web site and store for his fairings with what I needed to repair it.

I had a question about what adhesive was used to attach the headlight bracket to the fairing and sent a note to Carol Vetter, his wife. In short order I was in an email exchange with Craig. I thought at the time how cool it is to be able to get information directly from the designer of the Windjammer 40 years later.

When I got done with the fairing repair and paint work, I send him a link to these write-ups.

Last week I got a note from Craig saying he would be coming through Colorado on his way back to his home in California and would I like to get some coffee.  And yesterday, I got coffee with Craig Vetter.

Chatting with Craig Over Coffee

Craig Vetter

What Craig Has Been Up To

Craig has documented the work he has been doing to build  “The Last Vetter Fairing” in his quest to boost fuel economy and mileage for motorcycles. He had been in the mid-west at a mileage competition, the 2014 Vetter Fuel Challenge at the AMA Vintage Days, but the weekend before we met, someone stole his trailer with the bike in Kankakee, Illinois. The good news is the bike was recovered but the bad news was the trailer is still missing and he was now returning much later than he had anticipated, but he was still willing to stop and chat with me.

I rode Grover over to a Starbucks near the intersection of I-76 and I-70 where Craig would be arriving so he wouldn’t have to detour far from his route.

We talked about his goal for energy efficiency, a long time passion, and his efforts to “learn what I don’t know” to design and make available a motorcycle fairing that can double fuel efficiency. So, does anyone really care enough about conserving fuel on a motorcycle to want a fairing that doubles the mileage?  He admitted it has been a struggle, but he believes the need for energy efficient gasoline powered bikes is inevitable as the cost of oil exploration continues to rise with the corresponding hike in gasoline prices at the pump. The near term opportunity lies in the emergence of electric powered motorcycles since they need more range between recharges and that matches up with a well designed, cost effective, slippery fairing that cuts drag enough to double the range of any electric powered bike.

As you might expect from a man who built a successful company, sold it and then continued to work on projects to extend the limits of what is possible for motorcycle fuel efficiency, our conversation was fast, wide ranging and equal parts observation, questions and guesses about what the future could be.  It was the best hour of coffee drinking I’ve spent in some time.

We took some pictures of the old (Grover with a Windjammer II, circa 1974) and the future (The Last Vetter Fairing) that span 40 years of Craig’s thinking, learning, testing and trying in the parking lot at Starbucks.

40+ Years of Vetter Technology

Craig Vetter Surrounded by 40 Years of His Innovation

Criag and his "Last Fairing"

Only 16 HP, 70 MPH, and Over 100 MPG

Me Holding Grover's Hand

Me Holding Grover’s Hand

One of the stories Craig told me is whenever he rides the bike or trailers it, it’s almost always a women who will stop to ask him what it is, but not men. We both think men are reluctant to ask because they are uncomfortable admitting they don’t know what it is (sort of a corollary to the “men don’t ask for directions” syndrome), but women are genuinely curious and are not so encumbered. He jokes with me that if the women is older he will tell her “It’s really a chick magnet” which always gets a chuckle before he tells her the rest of the story and why it matters.

And then as he is about to leave, a lady drives by the two of us and leans toward the passenger window of her car and asks, “What is that?”

A Curious Bystander

“What is That” From a Women Passing By

Craig looks at me and just smiles. He tells her what it is and before you know it she is out of her car and the two of them are talking about fuel economy, how to get 100 MPG on a motorcycle and why he believes this matters.

Then, after saying good bye to her, he tows The Last Vetter Fairing out of the parking lot and heads west on I-70 toward home. As I fire up Grover, I realize rebuilding this old bike opened a door for me to get a cup of coffee with one of the icons of motorcyling. The old airhead engine runs that much smoother as I head back to work.

Mars Curiosity, The Art in Engineering

I listened to and watched the Mars Science Lab mission land the Curiosity rover last Sunday night. It was a mix of high drama with advanced technology.  Below is one of the first pictures returned after the landing showing a fish eye view of a the rover wheel, and at the upper right corner, the edge of the Gale crater.

Did you ever wonder what it takes to get that image to Earth?

What is it like to design software that can capture that image and runs on a space craft on another planet where there is no “help desk”? How do you design the code to process it with a 20 MHz CPU (that’s right, 1,000 times slower than what’s in your iPhone or laptop), very limited memory of a bit less than 10 MB (an iPhone 4s can have 64 GB or about 6,400 times more memory), then send it anywhere from 36,000,000 up to 250,000,000 miles (+/-) to earth using a 10 watt transmitter (one fluorescent tube in the light above you is 32 watts)?

Here is an interesting description of what it takes to design that software based on an earlier Mars mission, the Phoenix mission, that was sent to the Martian north pole to look for frozen water.

You can read about the tradeoffs that were made to meet the design goals.  Sometimes we forget that products and technologies have limitations, and the act of engineering includes figuring out how to accomplish the goal but not exceed the technology limitations.  That’s the art in engineering.

The Phoenix mission did find water, and that discovery helped drive the design of the current Mars Science Lab mission with the Curiosity rover to search for biological precursors of life on Mars.

BTW, my name is on the Phoenix lander, along with many others, inscribed on a silica mini-DVD with a collection of literature written about Mars provided by The Planetary Society.

I wonder who might find and decode the contents of that digital DVD time capsule one day?

Musing #6 The “Quantified” Life

Recently, there have been news reports about Google’s new privacy policies, Google’s street view project intercepting Wi-Fi content, Facebook’s general “thank you, that’s mine” approach to what you do and where you go on the internet and then today, I saw this article on “The Quantified Life“. This is also known as “lifeblogging”.

I don’t get it. 

Why would anyone want to record everything they do, said, to whom they said it, or where they went? What need does this satisfy?

Some of the comments to this article are … at best, naive. One commenter said this would really help us to “know ourselves” better. Really?? No. I don’t think so.

You come to know yourself by taking the time to focus the reflective part of the mind on the self as you evaluate experiences you have had and the associated emotions they are wrapped in. Introspection does not need a realtime recording of all events in the day you experienced. If it did, you would never complete a reflection as it would take just as long to reflect as it did to experience in the first place. [We do need some time to sleep 😉 ]

Another comment from a “future economist” stated he was “blown away” by what we can learn “from the data”. Really? I don’t think economics suffers from a lack of data, it suffers from a lack of understanding about how humans make decisions. [IMHO, this is due to separating our emotional motivations out of the economic algorithms]. Since lifeblogging of all events in your day does not convey the emotional state of you or other people involved (and thank goodness for that), it adds little useful learning to economics as best I can tell.

And finally, this article is more interesting due to what it does not say. It does not talk about the destructive power of this information. If it’s digitally recorded assume it can be used by anyone for any reason. If it’s centrally stored, it is very easy for any government entity to get access. Finally, why would you ever provide this much personal information about your going and coming to any commercial enterprise? Do you think their motivations are more noble than the government?  Really? Truly?

I’m left with several questions:
– Is the interest in lifeblogging a symptom of an inability to be comfortable in your annonimity?
– Does it reflect a deep longing to have your existence acknowledged despite your ability to text and tweet at will?
– Are people uncomfortable with quietly engaging in deep introspection to make sense of their emotions, decisions and interactions with other people?

To quote Alice in “Alice in Wonderland”:
“Curiouser and curiouser”. 

And even more to the point:
I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”

Indeed, that is the great puzzle, but I doubt a quantified life will help you put the pieces together.


Musing #5 Being Balanced

I found a TED talk on what’s commonly called “Work/Life Balance” by Nigel Marsh. I think the use of work/life inplies a conflict and separation where none should exist. Work is part of the experience of living so work’s woven into the process of becoming who we are, not entered into as a separate state.

Nigel’s advice can be summarized as “Monitor the process becoming who you are and aim to be engaged with and connected to multiple experiences”.  If living is about the process of becoming, it makes sense to avoid “lock-in” so becoming who you are is as rich an experience as it can be.

He makes four points about how to achieve balance.

  1. Some job choices leave no time for proper attention to marriage and children. Confusion of wants with needs leads to working for money, not joyful experience.
  2. The problem is within us, so we can’t look for a solution outside ourselves. We are responsible for the experiences we choose, work being one of our choices. Your company will not/does not concern itself with how work is experienced by you.
  3. Measuring balance requires a time frame for the accounting as does balancing the books in finance. We don’t balance them every minute nor every five years. Choosing the time frame avoids anxiety (too short) and regret (too long).
  4. Approach the goal of achieving balance in a balanced way. Intellectual, emotional, spiritual, physical and sexual activities require proper attention, time and contemplation. They are not well served by multi-tasking. Full attention to each in the proper place and time creates the balance of experience that results in a fulfilling process of becoming who you are.

Nigel’s final point is about a deep subject, measurement. He says what we choose to measure changes what we become.

The powerful effect of measurement on what is known is elegantly stated at the quantum level by the Hiesenberg Uncertainty Priniciple. The reality of a particle is unknown until you measure it at which time it “becomes” what you measure. If you measure position, you miss out on knowing the momentum and vice versa. When you change what you measure you directly change the reality of the particle you experience.

This principle seems to apply to people and the process of becoming as much as it does to electrons. Make your measurements balanced and the life you live will balance itself.

Musing #4 Doing Things Well, One at a Time

I happened upon a little article at the Harvard Business Review on the topic of multitasking and disruptions, The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time, by Tony Schwartz.  This has been a problem for many people I know, particularly those who live and work in the technology sector in the Bay Area. I don’t live in the Bay Area, but when I visit, it’s telling to see the number of people walking down a hall, or on the street, looking at their smart phone instead of where they are going and participating in what’s happening around them.

My most memorable incident was with a VP who would come out to Denver and invite me to breakfast. We would chat, and then his phone would beep with a text message and in mid-sentence he would start tapping a note on it, often stopping the conversation. The next time we had breakfast and he started to do this, I asked him what was more important, our conversation or a text that could be responded to at any time? He said he could multi-task, so it wasn’t a problem. I said being in the here and now in a conversation required attention and engagement with the person you are talking to.  Would he kindly refrain from texting.  We continued to debate the value of multitasking when another text came in. Again he began to tap out a message looking at his phone.  I excused myself and left. After that, whenever we met, he purposely took his phone out of his pocket, turned it off and put it on the table. We can control our impulses, but sometimes you need a pointed reminder.

One of the comments to Tony’s article mentions a simple exercise to show that you are not more efficient when multi-taking. The task is to write the alphabet, a-z and underneath each letter, write the number 1-24 at the same time and as fast as you can.  The next time, just write all the letters and then all the numbers underneath. them as fast as you can. How do you feel when you do it each way? Did you make mistakes? The claim is you can complete this task in less time, with fewer mistakes and minimal effort if you do it as two separate tasks, one at a time.

I have become a strong believer that multi-tasking is not a virtue but a bad habit and a vice. It can be turned around, like any habit, by learning to recognize when you are about to start doing it, and then not do it. As happened with the VP, maybe it just takes each of us reminding our friends to stay in the “here and now” when talking with each other.