Saturday, September 19, 2020

Alex Caemmerer III


I met Alex when I was a junior at Syracuse University in 1983. He was a sophomore at the time so he wasn’t in my classes, but we were both in the electrical engineering program and more importantly, we were both avid motorcyclists and motorsports fans. We became friends very quickly. Syracuse had just started a cooperative education program where they connected you with a tech company for employment and the students alternated semesters with school and work. This led to working semesters where we had a little money and time, so Alex and I spent both on all sorts of motorsports adventures and beer.

I remember being amused at Alex’s proud “III” at the end of his name. He enjoyed being the 3rd Alex Caemmerer (with 2 “m’s as he occasionally reminded me). He was some descendant of the “Livingstons”of the Hudson river valley, and I grew up near there. He claimed there had been some money in the family handed down from his ancestors, but joked that his father was intent on spending the last of it.

We’d take off on our motorcycles at every opportunity and explore the countryside around Syracuse. I remember hopping over humps in the road as small jumps and hiding from the police down side roads. He led us on a couple expeditions to the “13 curves”, a haunted road with great sweeping turns on a tree lined road Southwest of Syracuse.

Back then, I was riding a 1981 Suzuki GS450EX, a sporty but inexpensive motorcycle. Alex went shopping and brought home an awesome 1983 Kawasaki GPz 550, a real sport bike. Our bikes were basically similar, and I pretended mine was close to his, but really, his was a far superior bike. We talked endlessly about the differences! We occasionally swapped bikes and he would complain about the lesser power of mine and I about the weight of his… It was a good natured exchange.

I heard in high school that Alex had a Datsun 240Z. He told me the story of how he had rolled it and ended up upside down dangling from his seat belts with glass in his hair. He told me that after high school he worked in an engineering role at a small tech company. After a year or so of that he had made some money and had a decision to make… he could buy a Porsche or go to college. He figured that not having a degree was going to be a problem, so he headed to Syracuse. That explained why although he was a bit older than me he was a year behind me in the engineering program. When I met him Alex was driving a Pontiac 6000, that I guess had been the family car before he took it over. It seemed like a regular sedan, but he was proud it had the accolade of having been on Car & Driver’s “10 Best” list.

Alex drove the Pontiac hard. We would often go out for a few drinks at night and on the way home would detour into Oakwood Cemetery near the school. It had a narrow winding road through it and Alex would attack that route like it was the Targa Florio. As navigator, I would urge him on, laughing all the way. One night he missed one of the corners and we entered the high weeds that lined the side of the road. We could see nothing but their tan stalks in the headlights. Alex kept his foot down and I remember pointing out the road was to our right and he over corrected as he tried to get us back on it. Suddenly the weeds parted… but instead of regaining the road, we dove straight across it and into a ditch on the other side. As we regained our wits, Alex pronounced; “All in all everything was under control!” We found the whole situation hilarious of course, until we realized we were having trouble getting out of the ditch. We had to get some help for an emergency extraction before the local police found us. All ended well and we had a great story.

There was another “racing venue” close to us in Syracuse… It was called the Skytop. Skytop was a university run student apartment complex with a twisty access road that ran around all the buildings. In the summer it was completely empty of students. And so, at random times, we would declare it was time for a “Skytop Grand Prix” and we would hop in Alex’s car for a few hot laps around the complex. One day another roommate had rented a car because he was going to have some visitors, and Alex and I grabbed the keys declaring it “Grand Prix” time! We made it home safely but the next morning all 4 tires were flat! All we could think is that we must have pulled the tires loose from the wheel bead with our wild cornering on under inflated rental car tires. Of course, the roommate who had rented the car was rather upset at having to pump all the tires up early in the morning while we were still sleeping off the adventure.

I also remember that with that same third roommate, Alex and I had started a strange cap gun battle game. It started in the apartment, a two floor duplex. But it was summer and much of the complex was empty and after a couple drinks sometimes the game would head outside. The three of us would sneak around the dozen buildings in the dark, often dressed in black “spy clothes”, trying to find each other and then blast away with our cap guns. I can’t imagine what any of the neighbors thought!

Of course Alex and my favorite pastime was taking our motorcycles out into the countryside that surrounded Syracuse. We would escape for hours chasing each other over the hills and through the curves. This was before either of us had gone racing, and we were still just learning what we were doing. I remember flying off a road once when I couldn’t make a corner and Alex walking out to help me extract the bike from the muddy field. He stood there picking weeds out of my bike for a while before I convinced him to help me push it back to the road.

Another time, after a long fast ride together in the countryside, I was feeling a bit too aggressive. He was ahead of me but I was hoping to beat him home so at the last intersection I dove up the inside to cut ahead of him. But there was no way I could slow down in time for the turn and I forced us both to run wide and miss the corner. It was a big mistake on my part and he chastised me, appropriately.

Alex and I enjoyed a place near campus, Harry’s bar. We loved it because it was a bar and not a nightclub and they served fantastic roast beef sandwiches. It was a regular hangout for us. We’d talk and enjoy discussing motorcycles, music and other things. We’d talk about helmets; Alex wore a Shoei helmet, and I wore an Arai Signet. The helmets were a big investment for us in those days, so we discussed them a lot. The choice was really about your head shape and what brand fit better, but we also talked about which racers wore which helmet and why one helmet was better than the other. Alex would also joke about a cartoon character, “Racer X” who was some kind of hero. Apparently he loved the cartoon as a kid, but I had never seen it. He would use that moniker, Racer X, as a self imposed nickname when he had a fun opportunity to use it.

We made a trip one summer to see the GTP cars race at Lime Rock. I remember the first lap the GTP cars came around the track in front of the grand stand. The roaring sound was glorious and I can clearly picture Alex turning around to look at me, grinning ear to ear. I’m sure I was smiling the same way back, it was a connection we both shared.

At some point we made an expedition to see the motorcycle races at Pocono in Pennsylvania. It was a long trip for us, but I think we were both lightning struck by the event. We both knew that after college, somehow we were going to race motorcycles. Back in those days they let the few spectators wander the track and we could sit feet from the edge as the racers flew by and left us amazed in their wake turbulence.

In 1985 I graduated a couple months late and I had a last Summer in Syracuse while I finished a few classes for my degree. That was the only time Alex and I were roommates, along with the third guy whose name I don’t remember (he wasn’t a motosports guy). It was a good three months but I remember being very sad when I left. Graduating late, all my other friends had already left town months before. I had to leave to go back to Albany, and Alex stayed in Syracuse as school started up again for the new fall semester.

During the next few months I went back to Syracuse occasionally to participate in the job recruiting that happened on campus. Once I took my Dad’s car, and I discovered it wouldn’t start when I was there. Dad needed his only car back, but I was forced to stay overnight with Alex while we debugged the problem and found it needed a new alternator. I remember being in the cold garage and working with Alex, the car crusty underneath with snow and salt. We struggled to replace the alternator ourselves with Alex’s simple hand tools. We got it done together.

By January of 1986 I had found a job in Boston and started work. It wasn’t long before I wanted to start racing motorcycles and Alex joined me for our first track experience. He came to Boston and we went to the California Superbike School at Loudon, New Hampshire. It was a thrilling experience. I remember Alex politely disagreeing with the instructors about trail braking with the rear brake to stabilize the bike entering the corner. They probably just didn’t want the novice students mucking about with advanced techniques. The renowned expert, Keith Code, told him, "I know what you mean, and no." For Alex and I, it was just another bonding moment. After the fantastic school experience, we both received photographs of ourselves riding on the track. Alex signed his for me, Dear Carl, Remember, “all in all, everything is under control.” - Alex “Racer X” Caemerer III. I’ve always cherished the photo.

I think Alex had grown bored of school at Syracuse and he stopped going and instead was working at GE, as an engineer. We discussed the wisdom of that decision a couple times on the phone, but he wasn’t going back to school. Eventually GE warned him they required that he have his degree or be working on it to be employed there, and he left for a job he found in Portland, Oregon. At about the same time I started racing at Loudon near Boston, Alex started racing at PIR near Portland. We would share stories and notes in phone calls, both excited to finally be “real racers”.

Alex and I didn’t see each other much after college but we did keep in touch. In 1988, after 23 years away from the United States, a world championship Grand Prix was scheduled to come back for a race in Monterey, California. Alex and I hatched a plan to meet there. I flew out from Boston to San Jose, and he drove down from Portland and picked me up at the airport and then we continued to Monterey. We camped at the track for the long weekend. It was fantastic and from that event I have my only photo of us together, standing by the track. The scene at the track was raucous at night with wild parties, burning cars and noise all night. While we enjoyed a bit of fun, this was far beyond what we were comfortable with and Alex was concerned about his new white Honda Acura. Luckily the car ended up being fine and only covered with ash.

As years passed Alex and I went our own ways. We exchanged Christmas cards and a rare note and let it be that.

Eventually I heard Alex had an apartment in New Jersey. He was playing darts with a team and seemed to enjoy it and won some local championships. And he finished his graduate degree at Columbia in 2000. Although we weren’t in touch much, I was happy to check in on Alex occasionally.

And then Alex showed up on Facebook in 2010 and somehow that renewed our connection. Sharing motorsports jokes and simple comments made me feel connected to him again. I found out he was also a fan of Krampus and we shared some great holiday cards. My wife Lorraine also met Alex on Facebook and they enjoyed sharing and commenting on various posts together.

Around 2012, I bought a 1981 GPz 550, very similar to the bike Alex had purchased in Syracuse. Frankly, it was the impression Alex and his bike made on me that convinced me I needed to have one myself so many years later! I wanted it to relive memories of our back road experiences in Syracuse.

Last year in July of 2019 he sent me a message, he bought a new motorcycle, a GSXR 750! Alex had always wanted one and decided to get one and start motorcycling again. We exchanged messages about riding again and what kind of helmet and boots and other gear he was getting. I was thrilled to hear he was riding.

Recently I heard on Facebook that Alex had moved to Poughkeepsie, NY. He said since his father had died and the estate was settled he didn’t have anything holding him in New Jersey. We didn’t chat for a while and then last week I bought a new motorcycle and so I went to Facebook to share the excitement with him… and I saw his brother Bill’s message on his page that Alex was gone.

Godspeed Alex.

your friend, Carl

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Setting up Plex for Live TV & DVR recording on a Nvidia Shield TV Pro with an EXTERNAL USB DRIVE

Tips for setting up Plex for Live TV & DVR recording on a Nvidia Shield TV Pro with an EXTERNAL USB DRIVE.

These are random things I leaned when I set up Plex for Live TV & DVR on my Nvidia Shield TV Pro. Hopefully these will help others to set this up. 
These may not be perfect, as I am writing them up after doing everything... but I still think it will be a big help if you are doing this for the first time! 

Note the difference between the following locations where you will find different important settings:
  1. the Nvidia Shield settings: Go to the top right of the main shield screen on the TV and click on the gear icon.
  2. the Plex app settings on the Shield: Go to your username at the top left of the Plex menu on the Shield, select that and then Settings.
  3. the Plex Web app settings: Go to your compute and use the browser to reach the settings in the Plex Media server: http://server.local.ip.address:32400/web  (Use your actual Shield's IP address, not the text in this sample) 


1) You have to turn on "Plex Media Server" inside the Plex app on the Shield to enable the "Live TV and DVR" features. Go to your username at the top left of the Plex menu on the shield, select that and then Settings. Scroll down to "Plex Media Server" and turn it on. 
Note: About multiple Plex Servers on the Network. I already had a Plex server on my NAS for my personal video library. I wasn't sure what would happen when I added the Plex server, but it works fine. Actually both the Plex web app and the app on the Shield gracefully handle both servers. 
2) Use a PC to format the USB drive as NTFS (Supposedly exFAT is fine too, but I didn't try that.) My WD Elements 2TB drive came formatted this way. 

3) Use the Shield's "Removable storage" setting. When you plug the USB drive into the Shield, the Shield will see the drive and the Notification will prompt you to set it up. BUT, it will already show up as "Removable storage" in the Storage menu. (Settings/Device Preferences/Storage). Plex recommends (here: that you use the drive as "removable storage", so do NOT set the drive up as "Device storage". Ignore the Shield's suggestions to format the drive to add it as "Device storage". 

4) Only one directory on the USB drive works: "NVIDIA_SHIELD". 
In the Shield menu, find: Settings/Device Preferences/Storage
You can turn ON the switch for "Transfer files over the local network"
You can then set up directories for your libraries as you wish by using a computer to connect to the hard drive as described here:
NOTE!: There is only ONE place the Shield will allow Plex to write to the external USB drive! This is the folder called: "NVIDIA_SHIELD". You MUST put your directories and libraries there, or the libraries will not work! (This took me write a while to figure out. And no, changing the permissions doesn't let you place the files elsewhere.)
If you want a particular directory structure on the drive, set it up before creating libraries on Plex or doing anything else. Note that Plex DOES strongly recommend a particular directory structure: 

5) You need to set the Storage location for the Plex Media server to the external drive. Go to your username at the top left of the Plex menu on the Shield, select that and then Settings. Scroll down to "Plex Media Server" and use the Storage location setting. Set it to use your external drive. 

6) Make your libraries on Plex and name them correctly the first time.
This stuff must be done from the Web app from a computer, NOT on your Shield! Use this, with the actual IP address of your shield: http://server.local.ip.address:32400/web 

Basic (and inadequate) to set up Live TV and the DVR directions are here: 

Directions to set up libraries are here:

Changing library names IS possible, but it is a pain. And you want to place the libraries in the proper directories as suggested in item 4 above.  
Personally, I suggest naming the libraries something that makes it clear they are DVR recordings and not other movies or videos. I used "TV Shows DVR" and "Movies DVR".  
If you change stuff like library names, it helps to restart the Plex app on the Shield to get it to pick up the changes. You can do this by stopping and the opening the app in the settings on the Shield here: Settings/Apps/Plex 
Use "Force Stop" to stop Plex and the Open to restart it. Wait a minute and the changes should show up. 
Finally, Good Luck! The Live TV and DVR stuff on the Nvidia Shield appears to work great. But it did take a bit of digging around for me to find these details, so hopefully this will help others.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Counterfeit Superfeet Insoles - Are the inexpensive counterfeits the same as the genuine insoles?

Answer: NO.

I've been wearing Superfeet Green insoles in my shoes for many years. And I have also been rather annoyed at the high price! The darn things are about $50 a pair.
So I started to look around, and I found I could buy them on eBay for about $15 a pair!
What a savings!?

Well, the cheap ones are not the same, and when I emailed pictures to Superfeet support, they told me they were counterfeit! When I asked about the differences, they said:
You can see by looking at the pattern of the fabric. Ours goes toe to heel and the counterfeit one goes side to side. Also, if you feel the shape of the foam on the counterfeit insole, you’ll notice it is narrower and there is no shape in the arch area. Ours is a normal width and has a distinct shape and feel to it. If you compare two side by side, you’ll be able to easily see the difference. At a glance, I can see how they may look similar.
I looked closer, and sure enough they are correct. Here are the differences and problems I see with the counterfeit insoles:
  • much less arch support
  • less rounded heel
  • thinner foam
  • foam is too long and wide in the toe area
  • green pattern on top goes side to side instead of from toe to heel
In my opinion, the counterfeit insoles are not good. They lack the arch support of the genuine items and the heel cup is not as rounded. I'll be careful to buy the genuine ones in the future.

Some pictures follow.

On this picture of the green tops, you can see the counterfeit is actually a bit longer, and the lines in the green patter go from side to side, unlike the genuine one which has the pattern going toe to heel. It is hard to see in the picture, but the heel cup on the counterfeit insole has a bit of  flat bottom, unlike the well rounded genuine insole.

 The bottom hard plastic is slightly different on the counterfeit but is very similar to the genuine article. The foam part is definitely longer and a bit wider in the toe area.

The side view is very similar, but the counterfeit's foam is definitely thinner.

The arch support on the counterfeit is definitely lacking! You can also see how the foam is thinner.

The boxes were actually very similar. It would be very hard to tell them apart! I will just leave these photos here without comment.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Vespa LX and S seat lock cable broken - how to fix it!

Modern Vespa  a bunch of posts on this topic... but in my opinion, none have all the key info in one spot.

I'm not going to spell everything out, but if you are mechanically inclined this may be all the info you need.

Here is some of items you will need
- a special tool you make yourself to open the locked seat
- a replacement cable
- a staple gun and stainless steel staples to put the seat cover back on
- other normal tools

Step one: get the seat open.
The easiest way to do this is to make a tool from thin stiff plastic. I used a stiff plastic folder. Here are some pics.

For a temporary solution, you can attach a wire or string to the latch hook like this:

Step two: Get a replacement cable kit, like this one from Scooter West.
Step three: remove the latch cable end.
Remove the cover around the latch and remove the circlip and cable end. In this picture, the cable is broken at this end, so you can only see the cable end ring.

Step four: remove the plastic protectors by the grab rail /rack mounts.
These need to come off to remove the seat cover.

Step five: remove the cylinder lock.
You have to remove the lock before you can remove the seat cover. There is an R style wire retaining clip and two screws. Be sure to remember how these go back together!

Step six: remove the staples that hold the seat cover on and pull the seat cover back.
The seat pad is not glued down so this is fairly easy. I only removed the staples on the back half of the seat.

The rest of the steps:
I'm out going to spell these out as they are as expected!
- replace the cable.
- reassemble the cylinder lock
- staple the seat cover back in place.
- etc.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GT Veloce in the Garage

I love this picture of my GTV in the garage. I just drove it 170 miles (275 km) over Mount Laguna this morning; that's my regular run to exercise the car. I try to do that at least monthly.
I drive it with my earplugs in and the radio off. It's great to be out there with no distractions, just the steering wheel, the pedals and the road! Forza Alfa!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

"Fast" guys: Crossing the Center Line?

Oops, there is a car coming! In this still taken from a video, the driver has crossed the center line when an oncoming car appears. He does return to his lane, but his recovery appears to force him wide as he exits the corner.

I’ve recently seen a few driving videos where the driver crosses the double yellow center line. My reaction is always… WTF?

The idea seems to be that the driver can go faster by straightening the curve. This is a racing concept for a driver trying to go as fast as possible. (Of course, it isn't legal, but I won't get into that here.)

On public roads, I know some drivers think that if they can see ahead to the next corner and the road is clear, there is no harm in crossing the center line of the road. So they play at racing and cross the center line when they are trying to be “fast”.

But… I have always considered this to be bad form, less fun and dangerous for other drivers (or at least impolite). Please let me explain:

Style and form: 
On the street, no one is truly racing or on a time trial, so there is no real motivation to straighten the corners by crossing the center line. The goal isn’t to get to the destination the quickest, or the driver would take the straight superhighway instead of the curvy back road. On the curvy road, the fun is in cornering, and thus tight sharp corners are fun. Also, staying on the narrow path of your single lane is harder, as it is a greater constraint to the driver, and isn’t the challenge the fun part? I always thought that the more curvy the road, the more fun it is! 
Politeness to other drivers 
It may be true that when the driver can see far ahead, through 3 or more corners, that there may be little risk to crossing the center line for the first corner. But many cross the center line when they can only see the corner they are approaching and the next corner beyond… and this is a true problem for other oncoming drivers. An oncoming driver may come around a corner and find the violating driver across the center line. While there may be plenty of time and space for the violating driver to return to their lane, think of the oncoming driver! That driver doesn’t know what the violating driver will do and there is at least a moment of fear and confusion for them. And that fear and confusion can result in dangerous choices on their part.
Many times, I have come around a corner to find an oncoming car partially in my lane. A few times the oncoming car has been completely in my lane! It’s always a real scare and a concern. What will that driver do? Do they see me? Are they in control? Will they get out of my lane? Or are they going too fast to return to their lane? This experience of being the innocent and frightened oncoming driver has taught me to be polite myself. And thus my personal rule: I don’t cross the center line just to straighten a corner. I have the skill to stay in my own lane, and I can enjoy that challenge.

Another point, imagine two drivers heading toward each other are both crossing the center line. Now you have both drivers in a conundrum! If you are a "center line crosser", are you trusting that you are only driver doing this, and that you won’t encounter an oncoming driver doing the same?

Crossing the center line on public roads isn't an "advanced fast driver technique", it is cutting the course: a dangerous cheat.

Here is my advice: If you cross the center line when driving, try not doing it for a while. And ask yourself, why am I motivated to cross the center line? Is it truly “more fun” to drive that way? Or is it perhaps a lazy habit, because you don’t actually want to do the driving work to follow your designated lane completely through the corner? Or is “going faster”, just a daring exercise to see which driver can cut the corners more, effectively taking the shortest shortcut? What is your personal motivation to cut the corner by crossing the center line, and is it really more fun? I suspect if you stop doing it for a while, and concentrate on all your fun while still remaining in your lane, you may arrive at your destination a few seconds later, but you will have enjoyed the drive just as much and you can be satisfied you haven’t scared any other drivers in the process.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Oil Filter Cutter

Somehow I convinced myself to buy an expensive oil filter cutter.

The purpose of this thing is to see what's in your old filter after you swap in a new one. I also wanted to see inside two different manufacture's filters to compare their construction.

Looking around the web, I saw most liked the Longacre cutter... but I found one made by "Joes Racing Products" that seemed like a nice design to me.

It really is a nicely made tool.

Worked great!