Monday, June 14, 2021

13" Laptops compared: Apple Macbook Air M1 vs Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

on the left: Apple Macbook Air M1, on the right: Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

I use a variety of machines every day. Right now I'm typing this on my windows machine, my primary workstation. Since 2013, Lorraine and I have used matching "mid 2013" Macbook Air laptops as our portable machines. I bought those back then because I didn't consider any of the Windows "Ultrabook" hardware comparable. But the screens relatively low resolution was showing it's age and I decided we could justify an upgrade after 8 years.

For my Lorraine, I wanted to get another Mac as it would keep everything the same and easy the transition. But for myself, I was very open, almost excited, to get a windows laptop again. Note the transition is easy for us as we do not use any Mac exclusive software, except the operating system. Google apps and LibreOffice work great on both Windows 10 and OS-X.

My criteria for a new laptop:

1) 13" displays, thin and light.

2) Quality construction. Solid metal preferred.

3) No vents on the bottom! We actually use our laptops on our laps. This is a remarkably hard feature to find on Windows laptops.

4) The Mac display is 16:10. Most Windows laptops use a 16:9 display. I REALLY wanted a taller display. IMO, it is just so much better to have a taller display for anything that isn't a movie.

So I looked around, and was really happy to find the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 has a 3:2 display and no vents on the bottom! It does have some on the lower back edge, but it wasn't too bad. The Surface Laptop 4 can be purchased with a variety of options, but for my use the base unit was perfect... except I was a but wary of the Alcantara palm deck.

I ordered a new Apple Macbook Air M1 for Lorraine and a Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 for myself.

Results & Review

Lorraine happily adopted the new Macbook Air. The jump up to a new display and a bigger SSD were just what she needed.

But I my side, I struggled a bit with the Surface Laptop 4

On the positive for the Surface Laptop 4:

+ I liked the exterior and it seemed to be well constructed.

+ The tall 3:2 display was GREAT! It is exactly the same width as the Macbook Air display, and look at the top picture above. It's only about 1cm taller, but between the extra space and how the PC manages the display, you get much more vertical content on the screen.

On the negative for the Surface Laptop 4:

- The display had a bit of a bluish tint. It's probably possible to tune that out but takes some work.

- The font rendering was substantially different than the Mac. I've encountered this before, and fonts are also rendered differently in different browsers. You can play with the ClearType settings and adjust that, but again, it takes some work. I remember having trouble when I last switched from Windows to a Mac, complaining about the situation on the Mac; so it may mostly be "liking what you were used to".

- The Alcantara keyboard deck / palm rest. I didn't like it. I missed the cool feel of the aluminum and I didnt like that I couldn't easily clean it with an alcohol wipe.

- Battery life seemed to less than I hoped. I run my screen bright, and if it is a well lit room like most of our house during the day, the screen will be at 100%. I don't have any objective numbers, but the battery depleted more quickly than I expected. It wasn't obviously better than my old 2013 Mac (that did get a battery replacement a couple years ago). Note the old Macs also had a relatively low resolution display 1440 x 900, and that saves power too.

- I had trouble with the magnetic battery charge cable. Sometimes it wouldn't seem to connect and I'd have to play with it. Once it seemed I had to unplug the cable from the wall and plug it back in to get it to work. (A note, you can charge this laptop over the USB port too.)

- The keyboard flexed a good amount. Many really like the Surface Laptop 4's "bounce", but to me the flex just felt cheap.

- Encryption. Apparently, Microsoft really wants you to let them keep your keys in their cloud. If you set up the machine with only a local account, Windows 10 home edition does not allow you to encrypt your hard drive. You can either upgrade to Windows 10 Pro, or perform some technical maneuvers to get around the problem. This is much easier to avoid on the Mac.

- This isn't really a negative, but personally; I have no use for the touchscreen on the Surface Laptop 4.


The biggest issue for me was not liking the Surface Laptop 4's Alcantara. But the other issues added to my annoyance significantly. The combined negatives outweighed my love of the Surface Laptop 4's 3:2 screen. I was able to play with both machines side by side, and I just preferred the Macbook Air M1. So I sent the Surface back and bought myself a Macbook Air M1.

I should note, I could have paid more for a version of the Surface Laptop for with an aluminum deck. However, to do that I'd have to accept a color I didn't like (Sandstone or Matte Black) and an "upgrade" to the Intel processor. If it were not for the other annoyances I probably would have tried that.

Another note: I like Windows, in many ways more than OS-X. This really wasn't driven by features of the operating system, it was about my preference for the Apple hardware. If I could have gotten the Surface Laptop 4 with a metal deck, the Ryzen 5 processor and maybe one of the other hardware items (better magnetic charging connection, less flexy keyboard, better battery life), that would have tilted me back to the Surface.


Here is a follow up now that I've used the mac some more. The M1 Macbook Air is so similar to my old mid-2013 air that is is hard to come up with new positives. It is a great display and I prefer the stock color rendering and text rendering over that of the Surface.

Just to balance things a bit here are my negatives of the Mac:

- No 3:2 display. Boo.

- I miss the old mac's magsafe power cord (I ordered an external connector gizmo).

- The glass at the top screen gets greasy from opening. (Maybe I can train myself to only open it by the very edge.)


Saturday, March 13, 2021

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Leather Glove Finger Stretching

Often, the thumb on my leather motorcycle gloves seems a bit too short. I think this is mostly because how the motorcycle grip puts a twisting force on the glove, pulling the glove onto the thumb of your hand.

I had heard leather gloves are easily stretched, especially if they don't have many seams. So this may work best with classic style gloves, because modern motorcycle gloves often have lots of stitching and synthetic materials that may not stretch.

What I used:

  • 6 tongue depressors, glued together and drilled through one end.
  • Shoe Stretch: some mystery liquid. I bet water might work just as well?
  • Steel ring with a 1-inch (25mm) inside diameter: I used the ones on my motorcycle lift. Like these.

Here is a side view of the tongue depressors. They are about 6 inches long and a little less than 3/4" wide. I laminated 6 of them so it was about finger size. I didn't want to use just one as that might put a thin ridge in the end of the finger.

First I soaked about 1 inch of the glove's thumb in the area between the last knuckle and the palm. I carefully kept the tip of the thumb and the palm dry as I didn't want to stretch the glove there. 

I used the ring mounted on my motorcycle lift. I fit the depressor thing into the thumb and then the thumb into the ring. I used a zip tie through the hole in the depressor and around the ring to pull the gizmo tight. I was careful to just stretch the glove enough... I didn't want to stretch it too far.

I left it there about 24 hours to dry... and it was perfect.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

N95 and KF94 Masks


I've been wearing N95 masks for more than a decade for doing dusty work. So I was fortunate to have a supply of some of these from before COVID-19 hit. I thought I'd do a post on my mask opinions.

First, About Reuse and other Details
My wife and I use our masks and then hang them in the open air. We let them sit at least 48 hours and then I consider them "clean" again. I try to leave them longer if possible, especially if I have worn them in close contact with other people. The bug is supposed to die on porous surfaces relatively quickly... but some say the virus may survive on the outside of masks for up to 7 days. Make your own decision on how long you need to let the mask air out between wearings.

Remember, you are sucking air in through the mask and the outer surfaces of the mask is where any virus would enter and get caught. And of course, if you have the virus, you would be blowing virus into the inside of the mask. So, immediately after you use them, handle the used masks like they are contaminated.

I've heard getting a mask wet will kill the mask's effectiveness. And it is possible for the masks to get very wet from your humid breath after a long wearing. They work with an electrostatic charge, but it is not clear to me what else besides being wet would break that down. In the box the masks last years, and note that many N95 do not come in a sealed container. The latest box I got says they expire in 2025... so extended exposure to the air would seem to be fine.

In a hospital setting they only use these masks a couple times with careful sterilization each time. But I think for our purposes they will last 12 to 30 short wearings (like a 20 minute visit to a store) or more, if they hold up mechanically.

Our masks eventually become unusable because they become too dirty or crinkled. You may wish to be careful not to stain them with makeup or colored face cream.

Watch out for fakes! I try to only buy from reputable sellers.

All of the N95 masks have straps that go behind the head. They are harder to learn to put on, but they make a much tighter seal with your face because of these behind the head straps. Read the directions as it really helps to don them correctly.

We wear the N95 masks when we expect to be in close with other people, like a trip to a doctor or a visit to the grocery store. For any meeting where we will be in a small room with someone else we wear the N95.

We wear the KF94 masks when we don't expect close contact with other people, like a distanced (6ft plus) meeting with a single other person that won't last long or even for outdoor walks were we might encounter other people. The KF94 is easier to pull on and off for quick distanced encounters.

Vintage Veloce's N95 picks
3M 8210 PLUS
These are a "formed shell" mask. Very durable. I consider these the "best". The "PLUS" in the name means they have a braided strap that will last a long time. These are now impossible to find; the ones I have were purchased by me in 2019 for workshop use.

3M 8210
Same as the plus version with a much less durable strap. These seem to be available on eBay. I'll be curious to see how the straps hold up, and may try to replace the straps when they wear out. Currently about $5 each on eBay in a pack of 10.

3M 8211
Just like the 8210 PLUS but with a VALVE. These are fantastic if you don't care about venting the virus on others. And they work great because of the valve, far better than the 8210 versions. It's easier to breath and the vent allows moisture to escape. What some people do is they wear these with another mask over the top to protect the vent. I've been wearing these for years in the workshop and wore them on a long airplane flight for many hours nonstop. We also have taped up the valve on a few, but people don't recognize that the valve is taped, so that is uncool. Not recommended for coronavirus use because of the valve.

3M Aura 9205+
These are a soft mask that comes packed flat. The straps are the less durable kind. We just got 10 of these and they fit great! But harder to put on because they are soft. Questionable durability. Currently about $5 each on eBay in a pack of 5.

Vintage Veloce's KF94 picks
These are the Korean standard, and many people trust these more than the Chinese (KN95) masks. When I first bought these they only came with Korean labelling, they now exist in English labeled packages that I personally mistrust. I only buy ones that are fully labeled in Korean. Note these are a "flat front" mask, and leave space in front of your mouth, very comfortable in my opinion. They are "ear strap masks" and this is the biggest failing of these in that they may not pull tight enough on your face to seal fully. (You can tie a knot in the strap or buy cord locks to tighten them.) Currently about $2 each on eBay from a US seller in a pack of 10. I have bought these brands: Wiicare, INT and HappyLife / Good Day with Korean language labels. The INT supposedly has a built in strap length adjustment but I found it doesn't hold particularly well (otherwise it is comparable to the other brands).  
There is LG brand KF94 mask that has a better length adjustment mechanism but those masks seem to command a premium price that gets close to the cost of a N95. I like the LG mask because I recognize the brand and the built in adjuster makes them ready to use. But I do prefer using the cord locks as they seem a little more secure and I'm not a big fan of how the extra loops on the LG look. 

LG Mask:

In my opinion: Nope. Some may be good, but I'm not trusting these. There are known incidents of fake KN95 masks.

Single layer cloth masks
These provide little protection.
But, I do wear these when exercising alone outdoors. When I bicycle and I wear a buff over my nose and face when riding. I do see people running, bicycling and walking without any mask at all, and in my opinion that doesn't show support for the mask wearing societal effort. So when I'm working out and need to breathe harder, I wear a thin single layer mask AND I make sure to keep my distance from other people. Wearing the mask shows that I agree with the effort to wear masks, and it helps people who see me feel more comfortable.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Daisy 880 881 Rifling

In my last post I talked about an early 1973 Daisy 880. That early rifle had a barrel without rifling.

Just a bit later Daisy came out with the 881 rifle, and that model did have a rifled barrel.

Here is a 1976 Daisy advertisement for the 881 that features a "ten sided rifled brass barrel".

I just received a 1979 Daisy 881 and was excited to examine the barrel. The barrel shroud announced "Rifled Barrel". But upon first inspection of the inner barrel I could not see any rifling! Then I noticed the whole rifle including the barrel was soaking in oil. So I took it apart and pulled some cloths through the barrel to dry it out and inspected again... I had to look very closely, but with a bore light and a magnifying glass the rifling became obvious!

I made a couple attempts to photograph the rifling. They are not great photos, but here they are:

The barrel of my 1979 rifle is steel and does appear to have rifling with 12 sides. I'm not sure, but this may be polygonal rifling?

Sunday, January 3, 2021

It's a Daisy!

Back when I was a kid, a multi-pump air rifle was a cool thing to own. I had a Daisy Red Ryder first, and then a Daisy Model 25. But I never got the 880...

So I just bought one.

A Daisy 880 Power King! Mine is a very early model, manufactured in October 1973. Cobalt357 from the was a great help identifying this rifle's age and with other details. I was lucky enough to find a matching early model manual on eBay. Here are some scans, click to see full size or download. 

Of course, it arrived with some problems. Sadly, the bolt handle had broken during shipping. Arg.

I took the rifle apart and drilled the broken pieces. I used a piece of an old 1/16" drill bit shaft to reinforce the joint and then JB Weld to epoxy the pieces together.

And the various air seals on this nearly 50 year old rifle are shot and so I replaced those with a kit made by ronno6. Ron was a great help.

All apart:

Various new seal assemblies:

And now it works great! One of the cool features of the earliest models is that they have more metal parts and that they don't have any warnings on them. By the late 1980s these rifles started having string warnings cast into them and many more plastic pieces. You can still buy one today, 48 years later, but it is mostly plastic! Daisy 880 on Amazon

This rifle still has its original stickers on it.

And the early models had a non removable butt plate with fake screws and a Daisy plate on the end of the pistol-grip.

It also has the all metal pump handle.

And check out the ridges on the bolt handle. Those rare ridges made repairing the bolt handle worth the effort.

A great .177 pellet and BB air rifle.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Motorcycle Wheel Alignment


I just aligned the wheels on a new motorcycle I just acquired. This is one of those activities that is an arcane procedure.
Back in the 1990's I made a post to the Ducati mailing list describing this procedure. And then I posted it on my blog back in 2012. But I keep seeing confusion about how to do this properly, so this is a refresh of that description, now with pictures!

A couple notes to begin:

  • For this to work, your motorcycle needs to be in good condition and undamaged (no warped wheels, bent swing arms or loose bearings that allow the wheels or steering head to wobble).
  • This method ignores how the chain and sprockets are aligned, and focuses on how the wheels and tires are aligned. I can imagine that having the sprockets and wheels be perfectly aligned simultaneously may not be possible, and I'd rather have the wheels lined up.

The "Thread Method" or 'String Method":
I've always aligned my wheels the way I saw Rich Oliver do it on his TZ250 years ago. I think this way is standard "racer" practice. 

You really should use a thread to do this. It is possible to use a string or something else thicker than a thread, but it doesn't work as well. The thicker the string, the harder it is to see if the string is bending around the wheel instead of just touching it. This will make more sense when you understand the procedure.

The theory of this procedure is that you run two perfectly straight parallel lines forward along each side of the bike. These lines are arranged to touch the edges of the rear tire. Then if the front tire is narrower than the rear tire, the front tire should be perfectly centered between these lines. Like this:

(image credit: Scott DiRoma - see the end of this post for more great info)

Put bike on service stand. Take about 15 feet of thread or string (elastic thread works best!). Tape center of thread to back of the rear wheel about 4" off the ground.

In the picture above, I have wrapped the thread around the wheel, taped it, and then run the end forward the front of the bike. Note how the lower thread that runs forward runs over the top of the tread block: it is NOT in the notch of the tread. It is important that the thread runs over the outer edge of the tread.

Bring the ends of the thread to the front of the bike. Tie the ends of the thread to some movable objects (I use a pair of jack stands), at the same height (about 4"). 

Make sure the thread is as high as possible without hitting anything under the bike. It must not hit anything like the exhaust or side stand.

The idea is to set the threads so they are parallel and "just" in contact to the front edge rear tire by moving the jack stands. 

This is where using a thin thread really helps. Above you can see the thread is just barely in contact with the front edge of the rear wheel. If it more than just touches, the thread will bend around the wheel and will no longer be running straight forward. Check this very carefully!

With the threads taped to the back of the rear tire, and "just" touching the front edge of the rear tire, they should make two parallel lines that run forward, passing along either side of the front tire. 

 It is hard to see the threads in this picture, but they are there. Make sure the front wheel is pointed perfectly forward by adjusting it carefully at the handlebar. The thread should be the same distance from the wheel at both the front and back edges of the tire.

Now the alignment of the front and rear wheels can be easily observed by examining the clearance of the front wheel and the thread on either side. 

 Above, you can see the right side of the tire (on the left in this photo) is is 23mm from the thread.

Here, above, you can see the left side of the bike (on the right in this photo) is about 15mm from the thread. So this front wheel is not perfectly aligned!

Again, be sure the front wheel is pointed directly forward with these measurements the same at the front edge and rear edge of the front tire. Also, be sure the thread hasn't fallen into the tread on the rear tire and is just barely touching at the front edge of the rear tire.

Adjust the chain adjuster appropriately if necessary, and then recheck. After you move the chain adjusters, you will have to recheck how the thread runs and touches the rear wheel and you WILL have to move the jack stands because you have moved the rear wheel!

 It's a pain to do the first time, but then it gets easy. Use the thinnest, elastic thread you can find. Also, try rotating the rear wheel to several points to make sure you aren't just adjusting for uneven tire manufacture. And make sure the thread isn't on some bump of "mold seam" rubber or in a tread at the edge of the tire. This would screw up everything.  

When using this procedure on my '92 750SS, a quarter turn of one of the chain adjusters is quite significant. When complete, the adjusters appear to be at even marks at either side of the bike, indicating adequate swing arm manufacturing. However, a quarter turn seems to effect the alignment significantly, but is just about invisible in relation to the adjuster marks. Doing this procedure properly will result in much better alignment than just counting on the adjuster marks.

There is ONE video on youtube that I have found that explains this well. Be sure to check it out here, by Scott DiRoma: