Monday, December 31, 2007

Unconvential Marketing Wisdom

Slate has an interesting article up about how Starbucks can actually improve the business of local Mom & Pop coffee houses. If you think about the role of Starbucks in coffee-culture at all, you probably think that the opening of a Starbucks means the closing of a local, independently owned java-joint. And this does certainly happen, but...

But closures like this have been the exception, not the rule. In its predatory store placement strategy, Starbucks has been about as lethal a killer as a fluffy bunny rabbit. Business for independently owned coffee shops has been nothing less than exceptional as of late. Here's a statistic that might be surprising, given the omnipresence of the Starbucks empire: According to recent figures from the Specialty Coffee Association of America, 57 percent of the nation's coffeehouses are still mom and pops. Just over the five-year period from 2000 to 2005—long after Starbucks supposedly obliterated indie cafes—the number of mom and pops grew 40 percent, from 9,800 to nearly 14,000 coffeehouses. (Starbucks, I might add, tripled in size over that same time period. Good times all around.) So much for the sharp decline in locally owned coffee shops. And prepare yourself for some bona fide solid investment advice: The failure rate for new coffeehouses is a mere 10 percent, according to the market research firm Mintel, which means the vast majority of cafes stay afloat no matter where Starbucks drops its stores. Compare that to the restaurant business, where failure is the norm.

I've seen some of this myself, in the Mid-West and deep South, where until the early to mid 90s (the time of Starbucks initial explosion) coffee shops of any kind besides the neighborhood diner were virtually nonexistent, now there are coffee shops, both local and corporate in every decent sized community. Heck, whereas once you could only get some tepid, rusty-colored dishwater at your local convenience store, now every gas station in the country has a variety of coffee flavors at your disposal. If anything, Starbucks has single handedly introduced the country to the concept that coffee can be more than the swill you are used to getting at Dennys, (actually since Starbucks ascension, even Dennys' perennially despised brew has improved significantly.) For reasons beyond those mentioned in the article, this has benefited those local businesses who make a great cup o' joe.

This is actually a discussion I've had with several people over the years, including one today. I've heard it expressed that McDonalds' omnipresence in the world is a sign of American cultural dominance. An American tourist, no matter where they are in the world, knows that they can go to a McDonalds and receive a burger which, while it may not be the best in the world, will be just what they expect. A kind of colonialistic, imperialistic comfort food. I think Starbucks represents the same sort of thing but for the caffinated elite from the Pacific NW, who came to the forefront of our economics at the same time as Starbucks. Even though you know that it won't be the best No Caff, Soy Latte you ever had, it WILL be a No Caff Soy Latte. And that's reassuring on some level.
But still, if faced with a choice, any good Pacific North Westerner knows that Starbucks is not Seattle's Best Coffee.
Which brings my thinking back to McDonalds. I've heard it said that McDonalds spends millions of dollars analyzing markets and traffic patterns before opening a new store. Wendy's, on the other hand, just tries to find a new location near where a new McDonalds is...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Now, THAT is What I Call Bling!

Though, I'd hate to try to get it insured...

That's right folks, the new contender for Most-Blinged-Out-Car-of-All-Time is "Ninety-Nine Auspicious Dragons", a true heavyweight, weighing in at 2 tons. The car is encrusted with dragons carved out of mammoth ivory and yak bone, which is further embellished with gold and diamonds. And you pimps out there thought your spinning rims and dvd players were hot stuff...

"Artwork is invaluable. If my car is put up for auction, I except that it could fetch 20,100,000 yuan, for the Guangzhou Asian Games is to be launched in 2010. I also hope my car could stay in China and even in Guangzhou." Folk art master Su Zhongyang said. (quoted in Life of Guangzhou)
That's $2,728,000 rapidly shrinking Yankee dollars! I suppose all artwork is invaluable, but some artwork is more invaluable than others...
(click any of the links for more pictures, I just liked that dragon best.)

via Automotto

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Lambretta Story

The Lambretta Story

Several months ago, I posted about the advertising montages of YouTube member Bubbledesign, which they set to some great old Northern Soul.
Well they have this kooky little number up now, which shows the evolution of Lambrettas through vintage TV adverts... set of course to Northern Soul.
Thanks to Valoise for the heads up on Bubbledesign's Lambretta ephemera video.

Crossing the US on a Ruckus

Y'all surely know by now that the Dragon is a sucker for any tale of cross-country wandering. When such feats are accomplished on two wheels, it's even cooler, and the smaller the bike... well the more props are due. Well, the intrepid Wan from Seoul, South Korea saved money he'd earned from working in a restaurant for a year to live his dream of touring the US on a 49cc Honda Ruckus.
That, my friends, is what the old skooler's call intestinal fortitude.
Wan networked with folks over at the Total Ruckus forum before his trip, and the saga of his journey is lovingly documented there with many photos... Man, I can see many hours of daydream fodder ahead of me as I digest that thread.

So far from what I've read Wan, or drinkbeer9 as he is known on Total Ruckus, has been really fortunate in meeting friendly and enthusiastic 'Mericans. I sure hope that continues to be true for him.

I also found this post by Wan really interesting. It is a short photo-essay on how he packs his Ruck. Like so much else about this story, it should be inspirational to any scooterist, no matter what lineage their steed descends from.

OK, there are like 31 pages to this thread, and while the Dragon is not normally the kind of beast to flip to the last page of a book, I had to see where Wan is now. Seems he's spending some time enjoying Austin, TX (and who can blame him?) So, it lucks like I'll be posting some updates on this story as it progresses.

GO WAN! You Rock!

via Neatorama

The Dragon's Portfolio and Guerrilla Marketing

I began this blog almost two years ago with intent of it being a platform for promoting my creative endeavors, as well as a tool for archiving the assorted internet weirdness that inspires me. In that time, well it's turned into something slightly different.
Ironically, I guess one of the reasons for that divergent development is that I have a hard time tooting my own horn, despite that being the original purpose of this blog. It's not that I have low artistic self-esteem or anything. Far from it, I probably think more highly of my talents and potential than my output warrants. But self-promotion just seems kind of rude... like a dinner guest who only talks about themself... (Just counting the first-person singular pronouns in this paragraph makes me cringe...)

Anyhow, as I make baby steps to developing some self promotional materials, I've started referring potential contacts to this blog, and have realized that there is no easy way for readers to find my personal works. Clicking on Painting just gives you every post on painting, frequently featuring works by other artists which tickled or inspired me. Same goes for Art or Photography.

So to make it more convenient for those who might be interested in browsing images created by yours truly, I've gone through and labeled posts with my personal works as Portfolio.

If you are interested, you can always check a different version of my art portfolio here, without all my usual insipid ramblings.
The same goes for the photographic portfolio here.
Yes, I'm working the free online image storage services for all they are worth. My artistic endeavors are being operated on a hobbit's shoe-string budget (that is to say nonexistent), so if you'd like to see these images in a more professional dedicated environment, you could always buy one of my t-shirt designs or one of my fine-art prints...
On the other hand, if all the above has bored you to tears you could just use the Scooters label for the dedicated Scootin' posts, or the Steampunk label for some RetroFuturist love...

Any artists out there have any other suggestions for guerrilla marketing tools and techniques, or ways to overcome a Mid-Western feeling of self-promotion being cheesy, greasy, and sleazy? I'd love to hear some conversation on this in the comments.

Art of Noise

That's right kiddos, the Dragon's here with another flashback video post, eating through your bandwidth like a chainsaw through a baby grand.
Enjoy the techno-anarchistic glee!

and what 80s flashback would be complete without a visit from Max Headroom?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Steamy Holidays

The Make! blog has enlisted Steampunk maker extraordinaire Jake Von Slatt to create a gift guide for that Steampunk on your list. As you might expect from a tinkerer of Herr Von Slatt's ingenuinity and refined taste, there are some real beauties on this list:

Tool box - Journeyman Tool Chest Price: $987.00 Buy: Gerstner - Link.

There is something about beautifully crafted hand tools that enhances your work. It's not just that they are of high quality, there's something about an heirloom tool that inspires you and allows you to exceed your normal skill level when you work with it.

Such tools need, nay, demand! a worthy case. Gerstner & Sons of Dayton Ohio have been making such cases since 1906. To put it simply; OMG, WANT!

Jes's folks got her a vintage example of just this type of toolchest for her birthday this year, and it is freaking amazing! Of course, hers needs some refinishing love, but that in itself is a project I'm sure she will enjoy. So if the new price gives you sticker shock, you should keep in mind that your favorite nefarious anachronistic mastermind just might enjoy restoring and customizing a slightly broken in specimen of the above, just as much as the chest itself...

But if you have the budget, here is another ready made steamy gift suggestion, I recently came across on Retrothing:

There are countless iPod docks on the market, but few are as carefully crafted as the Thodio iBox lineup from Amsterdam... Each case is handcrafted from 15 mm beech, oak, teak, zebrano or mahogany. They contain a 2 x 25 Watt solid state amplifier and a pair of Focal Polyglass 100CV1 full range speakers.

One thing that bothers me about many docking systems is that they tether you to the wall with an awkward AC adapter. Thankfully, the iBox does away with wires by incorporating a built-in rechargeable 15 hour battery pack that enables you to take the unit beyond the four walls of your home. You'll be the life of the party during power outages, too. There's even a 149 euro Bluetooth option for completely wireless operation.

Prices start at 359 euros for a painted MDF version and range up to 549 euros for a deluxe finish with 7 layers of scratch-proof gloss finish and UV protection.

And if you feel that the iBox's steamy retro yumminess is somewhat marred by sticking a very modern iPod into the docking slot, well get your favorite retrofuturist a steampunk iPod skin:

These beauties are available for all generations of iPod, and at $15 will certainly not break the bank. In fact just one of these by itself, could be the perfect steampunk stocking stuffer. The artist, Colin Thompson, also has some brassy, rusty, patina-encrusted laptop skins available for a variety of portable computing platforms:
This laptop skin is basically adhesive vinyl and might be used for customizing items other than laptops... for instance I'm thinking one of these might look good on my Steampunk Vespa's glovebox...

Now if your favorite retrofuturist is more of a NeoVictorian than an exposed gears and boilers type, you know emphasis on the STEAM instead of the PUNK, you might consider a Kowal Portable kit, which will transform their mundane laptop into something like this:
The kits run a little more than Colin Thompson designs, but are far more customizable, with the option to choose from a variety of woods and such.

Another great, inexpensive steampunk present was posted recently by Tinkergirl on Brass Goggles, a brassy, antique-looking webcam:
This unique cam might present a little more challenge to acquire, as the site it is available on seems to sell wholesale to importers. Still, they do offer pricing for sample quantities of 1 to 15 for less than $12...

Now all these commercially available products will be claimed by some to be watered-down Steampunk, a few steps away from the DIY tinkerer's ideal. If you have the ability, a handmade gift should always be appreciated, or you might try finding something with some steam potential and customizing it a bit before gifting it. Inexpensive welder's or army surplus goggles and some applied imagination could just provoke waves of delight. (Plus one simply never has enough goggles!)

Or if you can't swing that, you could take Jake Von Slatt's suggestion and search for "steampunk" on All sorts of suitably steamy one-of-a-kind handmade items will instantly appear before you. Plus you will be supporting individual artists and craftspeople, rather than corporations, and that will display some steampunk savvy, indeed!

Finally, if money is no object and you are shopping for the Steampunk who has it all, there is the gift to end all gifts, a hand crafted keyboard by Datamancer:
Datamancer has produced several gorgeous variations on an original design by Jake Von Slatt. These are labor-intensive works of art by a master craftsman, and are priced accordingly ranging from $800 -$1000+. I doubt that Datamancer would be able to get you one by the 25th, as they are made to order with at least a two-month wait. Still, no steampunk worth their brass gears would be disappointed with the simple assurance that one was on the way...

The Sea is Our Shake-Up Flashlight

OSU is working on a new system for harnessing Poseidon's limitless energy. Their website is short on details, but the basic concept is ... well pretty basic, and you'll the get the gist from the above graphic. Pretty heady stuff.

The New York Times has an article about the technology and concerns it raises with fishermen and environmentalists. I have heard previous concepts for wave energy which center around submerged turbines which would be powered by ocean currents. That technology I could see unacceptably effecting sea-life. In fact in discussing the wave-turbines with Jes, she proposed a solution almost exactly like the illustration above.

via Slashdot

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Golden Compass Goodies

In our house, we are pretty excited about the upcoming Golden Compass movie. Jes has read all the books, and while I haven't, I've heard good things from her, and from the Steampunk community at large.

One of the premises of the series is that everyone has a familiar, or sort of external animal soul-friend. The movie's website has an area where you can determine what shape your personal Daemon will take, thusly:

Daemon? Well, I guess it's no wonder the Christian Right is already up in arms about the movie. If these folks had any imagination or knowledge of classical languages they might not be so quick to leap to judgement. Of course we are talking about the same intellectual giants who threw "Judge not, lest ye be judged likewise," out the window, and protested Harry Potter, and the Chronicles of Narnia. Both of which are basically imaginative indoctrinations into the better aspects of Christian faith... but whatever...

While the Dragon doesn't wish to offend anyone's religious beliefs, he is of the conviction that imagination, like sexuality, is one of the Divine's greatest gifts to us, and one of the best means of reaching an understanding of the Divine... but you know, what ever kicks your starter, I suppose...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

More Anachcronistic Scooter Anomalies

Well real-life responsibilities and some difficulties with my flux capacitor prevented my week of exploring the obscure glories of prehistoric scootering with as much depth as I would have liked.
Still, I feel I must share a few of the more interesting examples I've found, in an attempt to put to rest the myth that Vespa invented scooters. Don't get me wrong, I love Vespas, but I cringe a little every time I read one of those news stories about how high gas prices are driving increased scooter sales, and the Vespa invented scooters after WWII is tosssed out there.
Take for instance this lovely Dieselpunky military grade Cushman. 4734 of these Auto Glide Model 53 Cushmans were sold to the US Government, and some were used by Airborne troops after D-Day. Cushmans are probably the most common of the Pre-Vespa scooters, especially in the U.S., and there is a cult following of collectors and restorers to this day.

The above two Cushmans are on display at the Motorcycle History Museum in Sturgis South Dakota. Jes and I stopped there on a lark during our recent cross-county trip, and were very impressed by the place. While we expected merely a shrine to Harleys, they had a lot of cool pieces of two-wheeler history from manufacturers all over the world.

A really scoot which was on display there was the 1922 Ner-a-car.

Now that is one sick old scoot! And as a Scot, I love that the placard brings up one of my favorite arguments for scooters. Real men ride scooters, " 'Cause ya cannae wear a kilt on a motorcycle!"
Like the great-grand-daddy of the Ruckus, it's a cool naked scoot. But of course, customization of two-wheelers didn't start with chopped Harleys...

Built on a Neracar chassis, Mr Lawson built this in 1948 using a 288cc straight 4 from Mr Haythorn. It had outriggers that dropped under gravity and locked in position. They can just be seen hiding in the rear bodywork.


Mr. Lawson's custom ride reminds me stylistically of one my favorite old scooters, also from the twenties, the Unibus.

I haven't been able to scare up much info on these cute little machines, which have such classic and timeless styling. While there are plenty of cool step-through bikes prior to World War II, which definitely should be classified as scooters, the Unibus gets my vote as the real precursor to Vespas as a stylish machine for personal transportation. They also show how early savy advertisement entered into scooter culture. Indeed these antique adverts are about all the info I could scare up on them.

Well, before I sign off, I want to include a couple more cool Steampunk/Dieselpunk scooters I've come across, though again I forget where I found these...

Above is a Lutz Hummel.
And this is a Monet Goyon Velauto. Check out the wicker vent in front of the engine, and the wicker seat, definitely an idea to emulate if you are considering a Steampunk customization on your scoot.

Well, hopefully I'll be able to scare up some time to post some more of these cool old scoots in the next few days.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thumpin' Bikes or Dance-Dance Pedal Revolutions

The New York Times has an article and slide-show up about the latest trend for Guyanese and Trinidadian youths in Queens, strapping ginormous stereo systems onto bikes, as in bicycles.

The bikes roar, but the booming sound has nothing to do with engines — because there are no engines. They are ordinary bicycles, not motorcycles, although these contraptions look and sound more like rolling D.J. booths. They are outfitted with elaborate stereo systems installed by the youths.

“This one puts out 5,000 watts and cost about $4,000,” said Nick Ragbir, 18, tinkering with his two-wheeled sound system, with its powerful amplifier, two 15-inch bass woofers and four midrange speakers. It plays music from his iPod and is powered by car batteries mounted on a sturdy motocross bike.

Man, I'm all for crazy custom jobs on vehicles that will "freak the mundanes," from custom paint to covering your car in AOL cds, but this one has got me head scratchin'. Still some of these set ups are kinda cool, and definitely the result of a lot of time and effort. Having just had a birthday, I'm going to try and keep seeing it that way... though my knee-jerk reaction is closer to that of my grandparents whenever one of those cars would roll-by with a stereo that registers on the Richter scale.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sample Steampunk Bike: The 1914 Aerothruster

This isn't what I planned to post next for Steampunk two-wheeler week, but it is just too cool and too weird to hold back. Plus it is too random for me to tax my brain, coming up with some contrived connection with the upcoming group.
The 1914 Aerothruster, a motor-assisted bicycle with a twist: the motor doesn't power the chain drive or wheel. Nope, that would be too obvious. The inventor in stroke of diabolical genius worthy of a comic book super-villain, decided to make the motor power a propeller that sits behind the rider!
Somehow this never took off... or should I say caught on... or well the fact that I can't come up with a ready expression for market acceptance that doesn't immediately invite death-trap puns, explains the obscurity of this contraption.
Still, if there was ever a vehicle designed to evoke quizzical looks, this is certainly it.
The title link will take you to a blog post on the bike with scans from a magazine article on the bike.
Thanks to Lady Vim on the Brass Goggles Forum

Two-Wheeled Time Machine Week

Since I started working at Vespa Ridgfield/Branchville Motors, I've realized my knowledge of the history of two-wheeled vehicles is sorely lacking. Similarly, I've been itching lately to do some artwork of Steampunky scooters and motorcycles, as I mentioned in a previous post.

The above image was lifted from a thread on Brass Goggles that discusses how Steampunk aesthetics seem to dovetail quite nicely with early and vintage two-wheeling. There have been some other threads on the quintessential Steampunk Forum on this overlap, and it's something that has been occupying my mind quite a bit recently. Retro-Futurism is a blade that cuts two ways, for it isn't simply nostalgia and kitsch, it is a kind of refractive looking forward. One looks ahead through a rearview mirror which is angled to reflect a mirror further back which looks forward.
(Are you still with me? Because I almost lost myself there...)
To continue the mirror- time/space metaphor, the refractive process of Steampunk imagining provides us a perspective in which our own position as well as the road ahead seem much smaller and distant. It allows us to view ourselves with an outsider's detachment, which is always useful. But perhaps more importantly, it grants us a vision of the larger vista in which we are placed. We are permitted to view where we are, were, and possibly will be all at once.

So, besides this strained metaphor of rear-view mirrors, what does Steampunk and Retro-Futurism have to do with cycling? Go to a motorcycle dealership, or flip through a motorcycling magazine and ask yourself that question. Break it down, "Retro" and "Futurism". I think you will find that the motorcycling world is rife with it. Currently available bikes can almost all be pigeonholed as vintage-evoking nostalgic day-dreams, and day-after-tomorrow techno-gadget wet-dreams. Many are trying to be both. This is especially true in the United States, where a motorcycle is much more of a fetish-object, than other parts of the world where they are practical daily transportation first, and their role as lifestyle accessory is secondary or tertiary, if it exists at all.

Whew... it's getting a little deep here. How about we just look at some bikes for a bit:

Above is a TRUE Steampunk two-wheeler,the Michaux-Perreaux Steam Bicycle. Built in Germany in 1868-1869, it was supposedly capable of 19mph. (You can also view a different, larger photo here.) This was actually a Velociped, as the pedals are fixed to the front wheels. That's right boys and girls, the first motorcycle was in fact, a Steampunk Moped. The Swarm-And-Destroy Moped Army kids will be serving up heaping helpings of crow-stuffed humble-pie to every Harley rider who ever ranted too long about the heritage of their hawg.

Coming in second (though some count it first) in the history of motorcycles is Stanley Roper's Steam Velocipede. Beautiful! This design is from 1869, and Roper continued tinkering with steam powered bikes right up to his death from a heart attack. And as was chronicled in this blog about a year ago, I mean RIGHT UP to his death.

Next we come to the first internal combustion engine powered two-wheeler. (Well, if you want to split hairs, I guess it did have two dinky training wheels on the sides.) Though fueled by gasoline, this four-stroke steed was steamy indeed, with its wooden frame and large brass gear. Built in 1885 by Gottlieb Daimler, the Reitwagen is considered by many to be the first "true motorcycle." Boy, one look at that seat explains why many bikers and scooterists still refer to them as saddles. Cool stuff.

All these previous bikes have the added Steampunk credentials of being experiments and prototypes, the products of mad inventors pushing the boundaries of the possible. The above design from Hildebrand & Wolfm├╝ller in 1894, has the distinction of being the first production motorcycle available to the general public.
Oops! Did I say "motorcycle"? That definitely looks like a step-through frame to me, which would make it... that's right, a scooter.
And what a scooter it was, with a two-cylinder, four stroke, water-cooled engine that weighed in at a staggering 1488cc's! Of course it didn't have a clutch and only generated slightly more than 2 horsepower. Still it marks quite a milestone in motorcycling history, and as it remains to my knowledge, the largest displacement scooter ever, quite a forgotten milestone in the history of scooting.
Yep, that's right kiddies, not only did Harley, son of David, not invent the motorcycle, but neither did Piaggio invent the scooter with his wasp-like beauty.
Next time we'll explore the boggling plethora of scooters which existed in that misty time before Vespa "invented" the scooter.
Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dragon Skins

Well I finally got around to making some t-shirt designs, which you can get online.
My favorite, so far is this Lambretta, which I think looks best as white ink on a black garment.
I predominately buy and wear black t-shirts, so while I'd been thinking about doing t-shirts online for awhile, I was stuck on finding a way to do quality prints on black shirts. I'd come across Spreadshirt sometime ago, who will allow you to do plot printed images on colored shirts, in addition to the digital prints which are more common. Digital prints are swell and all, but are delicate. I wanted to do the plot printing because it works better on dark garments, and holds up better to repeated wearing and washing. The problem was for this type of print they want a vector graphic file... ala Illustrator. While I'm something of a wiz with Photoshop, I just never successfully picked up Illustrator until recently.
Luckily that changed, when I discovered VectorMagic, a beta site put up by Stanford. It's an online tool which converts jpgs and other raster files to eps files, with all the paths and such ready to go in Illustrator. So I've been playing with this for the last week and a half, bouncing images between Photoshop, VectorMagic, and Illustrator. If like me, you're experienced with Photoshop but have been intimidated by Illustrator's learning curve, I recommend dinking around with VectorMagic, it really helped me transition into the different mindset, and allows you easily start with images you already have.

I'd been hoping to do a Honky-Tonk Dragon shirt, using some of the images I've already created. Unfortunately these are all comprised of many smooth gradients of gray, and require a lot of tweaking. The above image was the easiest to get transformed into something that would meet SpreadShirt's printing requirements. While I like the image in its original form, I'm not sure how I feel about this incarnation.
This last image (the above is the black-on-white version, it's also available white-on-black) is something I've been playing with for a few months. A version of it appeared in a dream as a kind of spontaneous graffiti glyph intended to guard against psychic warfare... Give me a break OK, it was a dream. Actually any dream where you turn the tide from being a nightmare by busting out a spontaneous spray-paint sigil is pretty good.
Anyway the image stuck with me, but I hadn't been able to satisfactorily capture it until now. I'm calling the design "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts" after the great song by the old-school punk band X. Wear it and let the world know "evil to those, who evil think."

Stay tuned, I've got a few more designs in the works, scooter themed, steampunk themed, and hopefully even steampunk scooter themed. Till then check out my shop, Spreadshirt's cool, you can put these designs on different garments, change the color of the ink or even of what it's printed on. If you come up with a cool combination I've missed, let me know.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Catch the EV Bug... (VW Bug, that is...)

This is from a classified listing for a VW Beetle which has been converted to a full electric vehicle. As such, it's not really a step-by-step tutorial, but it is quite inspirational, and there is some good information in the listing:

Top speed 75 MPH, range 70 miles. New tires, new batteries, new seat covers and new brakes. The battery pack is 144 Volts, controller 600 Amps. Total acceleration power 86,400 Watts, with 0 to 40 MPH in 6 seconds.

Stinking Gas report;
11/11/07, San Jose, CA $3.49
My GMC Sierra pick-up has a 32 gallon tank, total cost to fill the tank is $112
Electric car distance for $112 of electricity is 5,600 miles.

Drive from San Francisco to NY and back for the cost of one tank of gas.

When the batteries run low, FREE charging stations can be found at many businesses including some Ralphs grocery stores, Costco stores and Hilton Hotels. Maps of FREE recharging locations,

Roll into the parking lot of Costco and pull up in front of two chargers. Bright green signs read "Electric Vehicle Parking Only." Nearly every Costco store has a pair of chargers in its lot, or plans to install them soon. The company is committed to creating an unbroken string of chargers up and down California for electric car drivers.

Some day we'll see a lot more of these:

via the Make! magazine blog

$10 DIY Passive Solar Room Heater

Life Hacker has an excellent little instructional video posted today on a DIY solar window heater. The vid details how you can turn a couple sheets of foamboard, some pennies, some flat black spray paint, and a sheet of plexi-glass into a unit that could save you $30 to $40 dollars a month on your heating costs.
The concepts are simple, and the construction looks like it could be managed by any child old enough to be trusted with a hobby knife and spray paint. I'm thinking seriously about trying to slap one of these together in the next few days, since our new house has oil heat, and I doubt the price of heating oil is dropping this winter.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Cool "Heroes" Themed Mock Vespa Ads

John Rana, over at Who Rides A Vespa, has created these cool faux-Vespa ads, ripping on Piaggio's recent Vespanomics campaign.
Being quite the "Heroes" fan myself, I think these are brilliant. Click the title link to see more.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


So for the past few weeks I have been working at what has to be one of my dream-jobs. That's right, I'm working at a Vespa dealership! Vespa Ridgefield and Branchville Motors, which are two faces of the same Janus-like business, is where I'm spending my mornings. In addition to Vespas, we sell Triumphs and Moto-Guzzis, as well as the best selection of high-quality riding gear I've ever seen under one roof.
For now it's only part-time, but I'm really enjoying it, to say the least. It's a small locally owned dealership that is located within two cool old structures. The Vespas, Piaggio scooters, and gear are in an old wooden building, which was a house in it's original incarnation, and a specialty gun dealer prior to housing sweet Italian two-wheelers. The motorcycles and service area are in an awesome old stone building that looks like it was purpose built as a garage back in, well back whenever they first started building garages. The owner, Alex, has been selling vehicles here for some time, and the basement has all the parts you'd expect for the marques we carry, as well as a smattering of Royal Enfield, BMW, Indian, and even Whizzer parts!
Look at that, that's what I look at every day when I get to work!
We have a small crew down at the shop, and I'm really starting to like and respect these guys. After my last corporate job (which was so horrid, I don't think I ever mentioned it on this blog) it is so nice to go to work and associate with people who really care about what they are doing.
Jim, the guy I work with the most, has been selling bikes for over twenty years, and riding and racing longer than that. He is an amazing resource of knowledge, as well as having the best collection of cowboy boots, this side of the Mississippi.
Boy, look at that GTV... such a pretty scoot.
Don't get me wrong though... I'm certainly not drooling over over scooters all day. I'm drooling over Bonnevilles and Thruxtons. Seriously though, it is an interesting atmosphere to work in. Our customers tend to be very serious riders, not content with the view that Harleys are the end-all-be-all of the two-wheeler world, and not looking for the latest Japanese racing Sui-cycle. I'm beginning to understand why many Vespisti later go on to Bonnevilles, when they feel the need for greater displacement.
Speaking of the never ending biker's lust for more cc's and Triumphs, have you seen the Triumph Rocket III?
This monster is the largest production motorcycle in the world, with three cylinders weighing in at 2300 ccs! Um... yeah. It's definitely impressive, though not for me. I mean I still feel quilty for lusting after the upcoming Piaggio MP3 500. IllNoise, over at 2Stroke Buzz recently posted a video on this bike, that looks like it was produced by Monty Python for Triumph. I guess over the top British humor is the only way to promote over the top British engineering.

But the coolest thing, from this anachronistic countrified reptilian scooterist's perspective about this job, is that I work with the fine gentleman pictured above. I'd seen this picture on the BBS or on some time ago, never thought I'd meet this guy. He's Larry of the Checkered Demon S.C., and he's a scooter mechanic where I work.
Though we normally work in different buildings, one morning he comes into the wooden building and asks Jim, "What's the story with that crazy Woody Vespa in the back?"
After the obligatory exchange of info about scooters ridden and owned, I discover that Demon Larry is about as old-skool a scooterist as I've ever met. Heck, his wedding to his lovely wife Sam is listed as a rally in the gallery section of
Anyway, Larry told me that Jes and I "just had" to go this party for the folks who organized the most recent Gotham Rally, that was coming up. Well, long story short, once we found out that there would be an open bar and go-go dancers, we reckoned it just might be worth the trip into mean old NYC, to meet some fellow scooterists in the area.

So after much studying of train schedules and subway charts, we ventured off into Babylon. Now some of you may be thinking that the Dragon, whose scientific name is Dragonis Rusticus, might have been like the country mouse venturing into city mouse territory. Well, I'll inform you if you didn't already know, I've lived on the streets of N'awlins as mohawked punk, wandered the projects of Lil' Rok back when it had the highest murder rate per capita in these here United States, and even eatin' dangerous looking patty-melts at Norms. Still despite living in some tough areas, having had a gun or two pointed in my face, and even sharing a one room apartment with not one, but two of the owners of Last Word Books, I will admit, I was a little intimidated by the thought of my first trip to NYC. And the Lower East Side, on top of that.
These hesitations vaporized once we got off of that last subway car and emerged on East Houston. 10 p.m. on a Saturday night in New York City. Neon, bustling people of more ethnicities than you ever thought existed, traffic like crazy, and taxi drivers illustrating that smallest quanta of empirically measurable time is the interval between the light changing and cabbie hitting the horn. That's right, baby, the night life ain't no good life, but it's MY LIFE.

After a few blocks of of extreme urban sensory overload, we reached our destination, the Parkside Lounge. The scene was just about what we expected, loud, cramped, and sweaty. Luckily Larry and Sam where right near the door, and so were easily found. We met a lot of cool folks, and I must say felt right at home with the NYC scooter scene, and Lower East Side bar scene. I guess hipster drunks really are the same, wherever you go.
I don't know how much of the party is really appropriate to report with these pixels, but as you can see above there were some loverly scoots in attendance.
I spent a lot of the night chatting with yet another fella named Larry, who was the sole Rocker in attendance. He showed up on this great 1973 Honda 350, which he informed me was the highest selling cycle in the states, back in its day. He'd heard about the gathering on , a site I'll be investigating in the coming days. We had a great conversation about smaller displacement motorcycles, scooters, and the principles of appropriate technology as they apply to personal transportation. Larry also happened to to be a Reed Alumnus, so we discussed West Coast liberal arts colleges (emphasis on the Liberal), and the classic Eastside vs. Westside conflict.

Of course, as all good things must, the night had to end eventually, and the bell started tolling as we neared the deadline to catch the last train to CT. Sam and Larry let us know that they could hook us up with a place to stay in the city, but Jes thought it best to head home. I was torn between the angel on one shoulder, advocating shooting a homeward azimuth, and a devil on the other whispering, "but there's free booze and go-go dancers here!" Luckily, the angel and my sweetie's wisdom won out over diabolical influences, and we hoofed it back to the subway.

So after all that, I will leave you with your notion of Zen for the day:
"If you meet Jack Kerouac on the road, kill him."

Akira Kurosawa Online

Some kind soul just posted a link on Reddit to the Internet Archive, with the info that many of Kurosawa's films can be found here. I'm not sure about "many", so far I've only found about four, but that's still info worth sharing.

To Live

They Who Step On the Tiger's Tail

Sugata Sanshiro

Stray Dog

Cardboard Lambretta

British artist Chris Gilmour creates some amazing assemblages/sculptures from cardboard boxes. You'll have to side-scroll through the title link to get to this tricked out Lammy, but it's definitely worth it. There is another image of a Lambretta with out the encrustations of simulated Mod bling, which has a cowl taken off and the engine and tanks crafted out of paste-board. Pretty impressive stuff.

via Neatorama.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Art and Commerce

I promised some scooter photos a couple days back, so here you go...

Actually, fulfilling that pledge is only a secondary purpose of this post. The real motive behind this post is to notify the world that I now have a small select group of fine art prints available for purchase at Imagekind.
And by small I mean, um... three.
For the past week or so, I've been distracted from my usual quirky, snarky blogging duties, by a personal experiment in the abomination of intellectual endeavor which is trying to marry art and commerce.
I've known way too many extremely talented individuals who steadfastly believed that trying to make a buck off of their creativity was a lost cause, and thus exiled themselves to the service industry. Seriously, for every waiter who wants to act, there is a Van Gogh busing the tables after them. And as much as I am prone to argue with these folks, and at least try and encourage them to SHOW other people their work, I am a crappy example. Sure I spent several years hawking paintings in group shows, and small exhibits in coffee houses and bistros, but I've let defeat and apathy get the best of me. I haven't made a serious effort to show and sell my work for sometime, cordoning myself off from the world in a labyrinth of rationalizations and self-pity.
Anyway, lately I've been trying to hack my way out of that maze. I haven't made as much progress as I might like, but I do have a few things to show for the struggle. Like the above digitally edited photo of an extremely Mod Modern Vespa , taken at AmeriVespa in Seattle this past summer.

Also available are prints of this image, called Goldmund's Gaze. It is a highly digitally edited image of a painted collage I did a few years back in a fitful rage of creativity after reading Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse. The original is currently in the collection of Ben Coffraw.

And last but not least, prints are finally available of this painting of Fudo Myo, or Acalanthara Vidya Raja. More simply called Demon Buddha, I finished this painting (still one of my favorites) in 1994. It was featured in the 40th annual Delta regional exhibit in 1995. Since 1996 or so, it has been in the private collection of a thief.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Two Gallants - Despite What You've Been Told

Well, whaddayaknow, there is some justice in the world after all...

I was prowling Youtube, on a totally unrelated blogging-mission, and just happened to notice that the Gallants were the tops of the Tube's featured videos.

Great video for a great song.
It's really nice to see these two guys getting the attention they so rightly deserve. Here's to hoping fame doesn't water down their poignant self-loathing, it's better than whiskey for helping a grown man cry.

Mod Scooter Paintings

If you are in Palm Springs anytime in the next month, you might want to check out the show of paintings by Chris Reccardi at the M Modern Gallery. His paintings explode with the bright Space-Age colors of 60s movie titles, and feature not a few scooters and scooterists.
For those who might be able to make a trip to So Cal for an art show, you can see many of Reccardi's images here. There is even a painting with a decidedly Steampunk vibe...

thanks to bOINGbOING

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I just ran across a link to these guys over on the Make! Blog, and oh Buddy! is this some cool stuff.
Neat, educational, and fun projects for kids of all ages, in a format kids of all ages can appreciate: Cartoons.
Fer instance, Pen Pal, is some groovy sequential art which rewards the reader with all the knowledge they need to make their own paper and ink, and cut a quill for a traditional dip pen. Now if that ain't fodder for a rewarding rainy afternoon with your own favorite hatchlings, I don't know what is.
If'n you are of the inclination to prod your progeny in a more steampunky direction, you might try making the Soda Bottle Submarine, teach them some principles of buoyancy and push the little megalomaniacs closer to being Captain Nemos in training. I know a certain book-pirate on the West Coast, whose twins would love this.
That's right folks, why sit back and complain that all kids want anymore are ipods and gameboys, if you don't encourage them to make their own fun?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Yet Another Steampunk Scooter

Came across this pic in a thread on the Brass Goggles Forum about the Steamy side of the most recent Burning Man. It was taken by the notorious Mr. Johnny Payphone. If you have some time to kill, and are interested in just how punk steam can be, you could do a lot worse than perusing some of his posts on that aforementioned forum...

Retro-Futurist Art Scooter

Found object sculptor Nemo Gould is creating an awesome art scooter out of an 80's Honda Elite, street lamp covers, and old metal vacuum cleaner bodies. Most folks would call it Steampunk, but it might technically be more Dieselpunk. In any case this thing is fan-freaking-tastic!
It's still a work in progress, but you can check out the first stages here.
And with a little more work on it.

Heck while you are at it, check out his portfolio, there's a bunch of cool Steam/Diesel Punk sculpture there, including lotsa squids and robots. And I mean c'mon, who doesn't like squids and robots?

Thanks to Oscillator, on Modern Vespa

The Dragon's got Style... (for an Old Man!)

Like usual, I was checking out the Modern Vespa Forum today, and I came across this thread by IFixJets.
Mr. Jets, had posted a link to a Scooter Style blog, wondering if anyone had seen it.
While I had checked out the blog in question, it had been some time. So I'm scrolling through, and I found the post which the title link will take you to.

This is a terrific example of minimalist scooter aesthetics. Old and new form a convincing whole. The vintage Vespa (an eighties rally, according to matt) and goggles, and the black helmet go great together with a new Corazzo jacket. Thumbs up for savvy styling!

The thumbnail picture looks kinda I click it and it takes me to a Flickr page...

Yup, that's the Dragon, on Jes's Sprint... and while Scooter Rider Styling gives me thumb up for fashion sense, the photographer's comments on the pic are "Old man on his Vespa scooter."