Welcome to a much-anticipated installment of the TENA saga!

Procurement status:
  • both Farnell and Radionics made amends and shipped the right parts last week
  • the aluminium beams (and L brackets and screws) from MakerBeam also arrived last week
  • the power transformer from Trafco arrived last week with, surprisingly, no customs-related fun
  • this concludes main project procurement, other small bits I got last week were spiral wrap and lettering for the cables and three capacitors I initially forgot to order
Design decisions:
  • after much fiddling around with many alternative scenarios, the final case layout has been set in stone: plate capacitor and chokes inside, -VDR regulator outside, transformers back to back across the bottom end of the case
  • a frame made from aluminium beams will be used to support the transformers and raise the cover 10mm, to allow needed clearance between the tube socket contacts and components on the power supply PCBs
  • transformers will be fixed to the frame using huge (~140mm) worm drive hose clamps
  • a cable harness system will be used for connections inside the case
Mandatory pictures:
(initial layout version, codenamed "Jet Engine")
DSC_0044.JPG(final layout version, view from back)
DSC_0048.JPG(same, from front)
DSC_0049.JPG(same, from above)
DSC_0050.JPGDesign status:
Mandatory picture:
  • milled rectangular openings in the front and back panels for the power connector, power switch and voltage selector to go through
  • mounted heatsinks on all TO-220 parts, fiddling with larger than needed mica shims included
  • I spotted a few mistakes on the low voltage power supply board, so I repopulated some parts thus bringing it to its final configuration as well, awaiting cabling
Mandatory picture:
DSC_0043.JPGNext event:
  • case machining concluded, tube cabling commences
  • frame and harness manufacturing concluded, assembly commences

See you in a week's time,
Hello again, it has been a busy week in TENA-land :-)

Procurement status:
  • I've contacted both Radionics and Farnell regarding their missed lines in my order. Radionics was polite and quick to reply, agreeing to fix it this week. Farnell took some convincing (of the "people, do we actually have to go to court for this?" kind), but finally shipped the heatsinks on Friday
  • the extra aluminium beams from MakerBeam are still in transit, I expect them to arrive this week
  • the output transformer from Amplimo arrived last week
  • the power transformer from Trafco arrived in Ireland last week according to the tracking site, I'm looking forward to its final delivery to me

Mandatory photo:


Trivia: the output transformer is actually larger and heavier than the power one, despite being rated for 100W as opposed to 376VA for the latter. The reason for this is twofold: special winding technique to insure ultra-linear frequency response throughout the whole audio band and oversized core to insure it never gets saturated, even in the harshest of usage conditions.

Design decisions:
  • the IRF820 that regulates the +VDR line will be placed offboard, on a 7C/W heatsink. Whether that will be inside or on top of the case, remains to be seen when all measurements are complete
  • the 600µF@600V capacitor for the plate supply will also be placed offboard, most probably inside the case
  • the 800mH plate choke will be built up from 4 2x100mH chokes connected in series
Design status:
  • finished preliminary CAD drawing for case alterations, an update is due after both transformers arrive
  • hand routed the high voltage power supply, success in 1 layer
  • exported the low voltage supply to PCB Artist/Design Spark PCB (same software, different branding), enlarged things to 1:1 scale, placed and hand routed, success in 2 layers. It remains to be seen whether an actual (manufacturable) solution exists for 1 layer routing of that board
  • a lot of enhancement work is going on in the EDA realm: ironing out the last bugs in the original schematic, adding secondary values (wattage for resistors and voltage ratings for capacitors), creating net classes and assigning them (10A traces must look different than 200mA ones), adding proper package mappings for all passive components etc. Updated Eagle files will be posted as soon as this refresh is complete (please note that due to real package sizes being used, the resulting files may not be routable in the free version anymore)
  • machined partway through the case: drilled all extra holes and countersinks, changed original panhead slotted M3 screws with countersunk M3x6 pozidriv stainless steel ones, mounted nylon standoffs for the boards
  • populated and cabled the high voltage power supply, one IRF820 and the plate supply capacitor left out as they're offboard, the other IRF820 left out until the heatsinks arrive and accurate measurements can be made. I still have to make a second pass on the board, harden all connections and make sure all needed clearances (high voltage, remember?) are in place
  • populated the low voltage power supply, cabling is due very soon. Once again, all TO-220 capsules will be left out until heatsinks arrive for the same reason as above. The good news is I had no size surprises on this board and everything fits like in the blueprints
Next event:
  • power transformer arrives, pictures and case layout revisit are in order
  • both power supplies are completed, testing begins
More pictures ('cause they're worth 1000 words each):
(high voltage power supply and placement/cabling legend printout from Eagle)
DSC_0035.JPG(high voltage power supply mounted inside case)
DSC_0037.JPG(low voltage power supply populated and placement/cabling legend from PCB Artist)

See you next time,
Hi there, it's a beautiful sunny Saturday morning here in Ireland and I'm happy!

Here are the promised updates on the tube audio amplifier project I've recently undertaken.

PR Updates:
  • I e-mailed Norman Koren this week to thank him for sharing the design and he wished me good luck with the build

Procurement status:

  • all electronic parts have arrived, from both Radionics and Farnell (I've split the order in two since the former had better prices for some lines and in so doing I managed to save just enough to add some heat shrink tube and necessary wire in the same budget). That being said, both vendors botched one single line of the orders I placed with them: RS sent a C14 cable-side connector instead of a C13 and Farnell sent common-mode chokes (!) instead of TO-220 heat sinks. Oh well, I guess nobody's perfect, especially in Ireland
  • the tubes have arrived from Jac-Music and they're in perfect, I would even say "artistic", condition. I can't wait to put them to good use!
  • the output transformer should be very very close to delivery, but due to Monday being a bank holiday here, I've lost any hope I'll see it before Tuesday noon
  • the power transformer should be done somewhere on Wednesday and then it's 5 more days of delivery time. Just in time for finishing the power supply boards!
  • the extra aluminium beams have been ordered from MakerBeam and are currently stuck with the wire transfer delay, I expect to get them by the end of next week
  • speaker analysis ended and the Behringer Truth B2031P have been selected: best price/performance ratio in the target price tier, easiest to modify later if needed. As previously discussed, they will be ordered when the whole power supply section is deemed functional and assembly approaches completion
Mandatory photo:
TENA-parts-enclosureTrivia: all the parts that you see in the cardboard box (which is about 12"x9"x6 1/2" or 30.5x23x16.5cm) came in 3 boxes (two of which were bigger than this one) and 3 envelopes. It's amazing what tidy packing can do ;-)

Design decisions:
  • the enclosure has flat head M3x6 screws which do no justice to the intended looks of the finished product so I will change them with countersunk M6x3 of which I've got plenty. This will mean all holes need to be upgraded with countersinks
Design status:
  • power supplies have been grouped into high voltage (+450V, +420V, +VDR and -VDR) and low voltage (VOP, VBB, BIAS and HEATER), copied off the main schematic and PCBs designed for them. This was done mainly as a fit-test to see if the two Eurocard-sized perfboards I got (100x160mm) could accommodate all components and it was a success!
  • case alterations CAD drawings are underway and will be posted as soon as they're finished and checked. The file in question will get a second update when the transformers arrive as well

Next event:
  • output transformer arrives, pictures are in order
  • CAD drawings for the case are completed, new blog post

Stay tuned,

Hello, world!

It's been quite a while, but I'm back (at least for the moment). First of all, a short technical note: all comments posted in the English section of my blog seem to have disappeared some time ago, most probably of my own mis-clicking. Fear not, they're saved, I just didn't get around to re-importing them into the database. Fear not too, comments were not, are not and will not be closed on this blog.

Second, I was writing some time ago that I'd like to get involved with electronics again. Well, as the saying goes "beware what you wish for", an unexpected course of events had me doing just that recently :-)

Skipping through the irrelevant part of the story, I was always a closet audiophile and now the opportunity has presented itself for me to indulge in that. I've one day come across TENA by Norman Koren and it was love at first sight: the simple, clear design; the elegant solution to such a daunting technical task, the crystal clear transparency, the awesomeness of the bias servo!

So, encouraged by the "But be forewarned if you plan to build it: It's not a simple project. Absolutely not for beginners!" line in the beginning of the page, I decided I shall build it. I intend to document each and every step, such that others reading this won't have to jump through the hoops I did and, yes, there will be pictures!

Read on to see how the story of building TENA started last week ...

Having a dreadfully bad day today and some time to waste, I though I'd pick a random subject out of the few that still get my blood going and I went to XMusic to look around for studio equipment in the light of a prospective resurrection of Radio Andromeda. I've set my hopes and expectations quite low, audio equipment being one of the unfortunate areas where there are a lot more wannabes than real professionals, and I shoved myself through the door.

The mission target was solely recon and data acquisition and the shopping list was quite short:
  • condenser microphone
  • microphone desk stand or arm
  • analog mixer with at least two microphone (including preamplifiers) and 4 stereo inputs
  • USB audio interface
  • cables
Of course, as always, there was a nice to have section too:
  • windscreen/popkiller for the microphone
  • voice processor (native or alternative combination that can be used for that)

As soon as I stepped inside the shop, I had a feeling of strangeness tangling me: all the walls of the first room were covered in guitars. No, really, who runs a guitar shop and doesn't call it a guitar shop? Having defeated the something's wrong feeling, I moved on and looked around, only to find more things guitars: spare strings, pick-ups, instrument cables, guitar bags, guitar amplifiers ... after a long stare around, I managed to find the department labels hidden among, you guessed, more guitars!

The second wave of something's wrong hit me: the microphones are on the 1st floor, in the Studio section, but the mixers are in the basement, in the PA section. WTF?!? How would you do PA with just a mixer (and no microphone) ... and how would you do studio work with just a microphone (and no mixer)? Are these guys for real?!?

Having calmed myself down a second time, I boldly scaled the staircase to the Studio department upstairs. Surprise again: that room was full of keyboards. From full-size Clavinovas to small 1-octave MIDI controllers. Keyboards everywhere! Except, of course, you guessed, where there were keyboard stands, keyboard cases, MIDI sound modules and so on. By this time I shut my instincts off and decided to give any credit I could give and not allow myself to be deceived by the looks of it.

I navigated the keyboard island and got to the counter where, with a clearly clueless face, I asked about microphones.
"Well, what kind of microphone are you interested in?"
No, there was no "Sir" at the end of the rather bored interrogation :-( All those years of British rule all went to waste! I'm in a shop where things are so expensive they could easily charge just for touching and they don't call me Sir! This is bullshit! Moving on, I reply:
"A standard condenser microphone, for a small Internet radio studio."
"Oh, that. We have some Neumanns here ... somewhere ..." (walks to a small shelf full of microphone boxes)
"I asked for a standard, for example a Behringer, a T.Bone, a Samson or even an AKG or an Audio Technica."
(looks surprised I dared pronounce "Behringer" in his shop but seems saved by my last utterance) "We have some Audio Technicas, for example the AT2020 which is currently on offer, down to 129EUR from 159EUR."
(it's my turn to look surprised: the AT2020 is 98EUR at Thomann. 30EUR more and you don't call me Sir?!? There'll be a cold day in Hell before you close this sale, son ...) "The AT2020 is a good microphone, but at this price point the T-47 from Behringer largely outperforms it. If I'm to pay the price, I require better performance than that of the AT2020 or, alternatively, if I have to stick with the AT2020, the price has to go down."
(looks very surprised to discover I'm not a n00b and tries to get it straight) "We might get some Behringers next week: if you could return then, I may be able to offer you the model you're looking for.".

Next please ... thankfully, it was a good minute's walk from the 1st floor to the basement so I had just enough time to blow off some steam. The PA department was well hidden between a recording studio and their offices but I managed not to get lost and in I go. I look around: many speakers, many stands, many cables and a few mixers. I approach the counter and, surprise:
"Are you looking for anything in particular, Sir?"
(wow, finally, somebody who noticed I'm the customer) "Actually, I am looking for a medium-sized analog mixer for a small Internet-radio studio. I also need a microphone stand for that."
"How many inputs do you need, exactly?"
(hmm, promising, promising) "Two XLR microphone inputs with preamplifiers and phantom power and four stereo line inputs: anchor, guest, music, phone, secondary and spare."
"So a 10-input should do. I recommend the MG102C here from Yamaha, it's only 139EUR."
(outstanding, all is not lost! The MG102C is totally better than the 1204USB, despite the latter including a USB interface, but I wanted to see if he can actually walk the talk) "I was aiming towards the Behringer Xenix 1204USB or even the 1002, the latter being what I used before with great success."
(undisturbed) "We'll get stocked on Behringers next week. The price point will be lower indeed, but so will the quality. Also, if you're thinking about starting small and then upgrading, you might want to know it'll be easier to do that with a Yamaha than with a Behringer."
(I should hire this guy if I ever open a shop myself! Moving on ...) "And what about the microphone stands? I see you have a sizable lot there, but they are all for stage use. I need something that I could either place on or clamp to my desk, the latter being my favourite approach."
(in the same cold-blooded manner) "I see, we have this one, which is intended as a drum mic stand but can be used on a desk as well ..."
(looks ok but it's 5" too tall to be comfortable for my use case) "I'm really looking for the arm-kind, you know, the one that looks just like the desk lamp in the Pixar logo, only instead of the lightbulb you attach the mic and it can be clamped to the desk and you can easily move it around ..."
(gets the point, but ... surprise) "Oh, I know what you mean. Unfortunately, we haven't got any of those in stock, but you could always get a floor-type and put it next to your desk, extending the boom such that the mic falls where you need it or, even better (!), get a stage one and saw off the boom to the length you need."
This will be a broadcast studio, not a workshop! Next please ...

By the time we got to the voice processor discussion where he was insisting a graphic equalizer is the best solution while I was trying to explain de-esser or multi-band parametric compander it was already boring and so disappointing. So very disappointing!

Since when do you have a say in the customer's decision what to spend money on, if they want to spend money in your shop?!? Oh boy, I don't even want to get started on this so I'll just limit myself to showing you how a proper sales discourse actually needs to look like, if you want to be closing that deal:

(customer enters the shop through the main door; not more and no less than five seconds pass while the customer looks clearly lost as they're helplessly looking around trying to find what they're looking for)
Attendant: "Are you looking for anything in particular, Sir?" (you never say "Can I help you?" since that would imply the customer is somehow disabled or handicapped and needs to be held by the hand; also, the customer is the one paying your salary so you will always address them as "Sir", "Madam", "Young Lady" etc.)
Customer: "Actually, I am. I'm trying to set up an Internet radio studio at home and so I need a mic, a mixer, an audio interface and cables. Oh, I also need a stand for the mic."
A: "Well, you've come to right place, Sir. Let's take it one item at a time, please follow me to the microphone shelf." (you make sure the customer feels comfortable being there and you also make sure their mind is never left to idle -- if it does, they'll start thinking about the "other" shop where something was cheaper or they were treated better; as you walk them down to the mic aisle, take advantage of their mind being busy with making their legs move and try to find out whether they're wearing someone's colours in particular ...)
A: "I guess you're looking for a condenser microphone, since you'll be using it for broadcasting. Is there any brand you worked with before?" ("guess" not "assume", "worked with before" not "prefer" -- remember, even if you're smarter than the customer, you must not state that to them)
C: "I am indeed looking for a condenser microphone. I used the C-3 from Behringer before with quite good results." (so you will never ever even attempt to sell anything else unless you know you have a killer deal; we all know no one has or can come up with a killer deal against Behringer since no one can beat the "engineered in Germany, made in China" price/value point)
A: "Here are the mics and here is the Behringer section. Would you like to still get the C-3 or would you like to, perhaps, move up and get the B-1 Pro?" (yes, you're supposed to know where everything is in your department without looking at the shelves, "errrm, if I could only find it" is a no-no; also, when something is out of stock, you should know that without having to look at the empty spot on the shelf; note "perhaps" and "move up" -- remember, you're selling value and not the product itself)
C: "While I have no complaints to make about the C-3, I would indeed like to try something new and I was thinking of the T-47."
A: "We have it, it's over here. As you probably know, it comes with its own power supply which doubles as a preamp, a windscreen, a shock mount and a sleek travel case." (showcase the product and reinforce the customer's choice but don't start blabbering about it's performance figures; remember the type of thread its mount has and the fact that the XLR connector on the box is gold-plated)
C: "Ok"
A: "You mentioned you need a stand for it. It's a broadcasting studio and a rather heavy microphone so I recommend the arm type, that you can clamp to your desk and have the mic where you need it without it or its stand getting in the way." (show the customer you are smart and knowledgeable enough to help them but do not make them feel stupid or inferior)
C: "Yes, please. Have you got anything like that?" (the customer has no brand preference here so feel free to start with the mid-high price bracket; make dead sure you're showing a stand that actually fits the thread on the mic's shock mount)
A: "Follow me, Sir. Here is the stand area and you're probably looking for something like the black one over there." (encourage the customer to go and have a look, touch, taste and smell if need be; it is the customer's perception that matters; remember: no word about cheaper alternatives until asked about them; finally, offer to grab a T-47 and mate it with the stand -- all in an effort of giving the best "try before you buy" experience possible)
C: "That one looks sturdy enough and I also fancy the design. I'll have it." (of course, you will memorize what the customer ordered or you will discreetly take notes on a notebook or PDA; having the customer walk around loaded like Santa is a no-no)
A: "Good choice, Sir. We should move on to the ... mixing console, right?" (make them feel good and attempt to gradually shift the conversation to lighthearted, if the customer seems to lend themselves to that)
C: "Right so. I'm looking for a 10-input mixer, preferably with two mic inputs and the rest as line inputs. Oh, and it needs to have phantom power, for the condenser mic. Something like the Xenix 1002." (you will never ever say anything like "but of course it does" or "doh!"; only if the customer misses it, add it discreetly "and phantom power, since you'll be using a condenser mic"; finally, the customer has a clear brand preference for Behringer, it would be about time to up sell)
A: "Follow me, please. We have the 1002 here and if you want to go up, we have the 1204USB which includes the USB audio interface. Speaking of which, we also stock the stand alone UCA-202 USB audio interface." (resist the temptation to add "which you were probably using before", it would seem you know everything about them which would make them uncomfortable)
C: "I think I'll stick with the 1002 and the separate audio interface. I need two of the latter, actually: one for music and one for the phone." (they probably meant VoIP but it never hurts to ask, you never know when you could cross sell a high-end phone hybrid)
A: "Will you need a hybrid for the phone line, to patch it in?"
C: "No, it's a VoIP line."
A: "I believe we got everything covered, then." (intentionally attempt to close the list before time, it could make the customer remember they also need something else beside the obvious item left out)
C: "We still need cables!"
A: "Right, I completely forgot, I'm sorry. Follow me, please." (it didn't work this time, but they could have gone "yeah, I need a pair of good headphones" or "I could do with some podcasting software" which would have allowed you to gracefully go "oh, yes, and we also need cables" only after the previous item makes its way safely on the order; while you walk to the cables aisle, remember that the UCA-202 has RCA connectors and try to guess the patchmap the customer will use; finally, remember this is also a place where the customer did not express a brand preference so feel free to offer the Proels first)
A: "And here we are. Here are the XLR-to-XLR microphone cables in 1.5m, 3m and 5m lengths, from top to bottom. Here are stereo RCA-to-TRS, If there's anything you think you'd also need and can't see, feel free to ask." (this customer seems to be knowledgeable so keep the conversation at a high level; if they seemed half-clueless, offer paper and pencil and help them draw a schematic for their intended patchmap and offer cables for that design; if they're completely clueless, then suggest one of the canned architectures)
C: "I'll have 1.5m of each and I need one microphone cable and 4 stereo RCA to TRS. I also need a Y-adapter, to feed the VoIP line from the FX send." (you will now remember that the 1002 has a balanced mono output for the FX send and since the customer ordered 4 RCA-to-TRS cables, it follows that they need an unbalanced TRS male to 2xfemale Y-adapter; use this occasion to surprise once more)
A: "I think this is the adapter you are looking for." (hand it over to them for close inspection; once again, encourage hands-on interaction between the customer and their prospective choice of products)
: "It is indeed, thank you very much." (and if it's not, don't dare suggest another until you ask the customer to explain what functionality are they trying to obtain)
A: "You're more than welcome, Sir." (always be polite, remember that the path to the customer's wallet is through their heart, not through their brain or, as you might think in this example, through their ears)

I believe I have made my point and I'll end the example here. Of course you will "take VISA" and of course you will "do delivery". If you are so inclined, you may present it as "since your order is over xEUR, the delivery is on the house" -- even if it's free for everybody, it's important to let the customer know you truly appreciate their custom. Finally, if something's not currently in stock, of course you will have a catalogue or posters showing the product ready and of course you will strive to offer an incentive to cover for the situation created.

Oh boy, I long for the day all this will be the norm ...

(This is a loose translation of the Romanian version here. The Romanian version shall take precedence when- and wherever the particular literary and semantic renditions disagree)

Good morning, honoured guests: acquaintances, close friends, members of the press and faithful readers of this blog.

I have called this press conference to put an end to the rumors and speculations regarding my alleged departure, the more so as the situation has just cleared up for me as well.

Following a recruitment process which began de jure in August 2006 and de facto in April 2010, I have been offered a Site Reliability Engineer position with Google Ireland, Ltd., effective Monday, September 13th, 2010.

Subject to the speed at which paperwork formalities in which I am involved progress (on both the Romanian and Irish side), I shall leave Romania sometime during the next week, Thursday or Saturday, via an Aer Lingus flight departing from OTP.

The little time left until then will be taken up by departure preparations, but, in spite of that, I will free up my schedule for anyone wishing to see or talk to me before I leave. Just drop me a note proposing a place and a time and I shall be there.

Moving on to administrativia, I wish to bring the following to your attention:
  • I will hand my motorcycle over to my brother, Adrian. So, if you happen to see B-11-RVW ridden by someone else, wearing different equipment/decals than mine, do not be alerted as it has not been stolen :-)
  • my personal e-mail address (aforementioned) remains valid indefinitely.
  • my personal phone number of 226-01 (Vodafone) remains valid indefinitely. At first, I will resort to the roaming service to keep it available and I'll then look into a technical solution to porting it.
  • my personal VoIP phone number (NetMaster) remains valid indefinitely. At first, it will be directly assigned to my VoIP client and I'll then switch back to the present topology, where it is assigned to a PBX.
  • atlas.linux360.ro shall follow me to Ireland and will be unavailable begining next week and until it will be installed at the new location and connected to the Internet. Also, along with the change of jurisdiction, the acces method to some of its services will be changed, namely those that might arise the unwanted interest of local authorities (most probably, I will switch from HTTP to HTTPS, from anonymous to authenticated acces and from direct connections to dial-in VPN -- either way, you will be notified of such changes and provided with new access instructions). In the same vein, some services may be resource-limited owing to the small(er) bandwidth available at the new location.
The press release ends here, I will now take your questions.

Hello everyone, it feels so good to be back :-)

I've finally fixed my MovableType instance after the upgrade to the 5.x series botched it up, mainly because of major incompatibilities with 4.x plugins. Other "interesting" things about MovableType are that it still does not support mod_perl 2.0 and that it shoves the Zemanta thingie up my throat without asking first.

Unfortunately for Six Apart (MT's developer), I am a programmer and I just cannot stand poorly designed code, especially in what is supposed to be a "successful commercial product, leading by excellence" ...

So, if I wrote NABPS ("New Aggregator Because Planet Sucks"), I'll just start writing NBCMTS ("New Blogger 'Cause MT Sucks") -- and, yes, you are all welcome to come up with a better name for it :D

I think I'll use many of the good things that MT4 had (e.g. templates) but I'll reimplement them in a very streamlined, fast and (most important of all) usable way -- the same thing I did with NABPS some time ago.

Stay tuned for the first ChangeLog entries ;-)

Good night,
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Good evening everyone and welcome to a new issue of the motorcycling saga I have started this summer :-)


As 2009 is almost over now and over the past few months I have experienced many facets of motorcycling, both good and bad, I though I would share them all with you such that anyone reading this may get the wisdom and information they may crave regarding the subject at hand.

I'll start with some dry statistics first: I have been a licensed motorcyclist for the past three months and one week. In that amount of time I have ridden my motorcycle for almost 1200 miles (~1900 km) around the country and around my city of residence. I have found out it makes about 55 MPG (~4 l/100 km) when riding cross-country (moderate front wind or strong lateral wind, 60 mph (100 km/h) cruise speed) and about 30 MPG (~8 l/100 km) when riding in the city (cold starts, using only the first three gears and a top speed of 30 mph (50 km/h)).

Overall, the blue-and-white Yamaha Virago XV535 I proudly own and ride handles very well, both at speed and while negotiating tight turns in the parking lot. Power control is also very smooth and pleasant, with enough kick available for screaming take offs if need be (stray dogs in the road is a very good example of a circumstance mandating such a maneuver).

Vibrations and noise are both within reasonable limits, at least up to 115 km/h (as tested). Driving in both warm and cold weather is comfortable and, finally, even if the XV535 is regarded as the junior in the Chopper/Cruiser genre, it still makes you feel good because you are riding a chrome beast puffing around in the neighborhood at midnight :-)

Moving on, the equipment stood up to my expectations, despite the bad critique received from the audience. The jacket and pants do not let any (and I mean absolutely any) wind go through them which makes things very comfortable, even for long distances. I had a couple opportunities to test their waterproofing and it proved to be exemplar: not a single drop of rain reached me even though I had been riding through light rain for the past hour. Finally, it is easy to add extra layers of insulating clothing underneath it to make it warmer in colder days.

Speaking of cold days, stubborn as I am, I kept riding my motorcycle way up into mid December until it started snowing -- I had no trouble whatsoever starting her up in the cold mornings (it would seem Yuasa makes good batteries ;) ), getting her warm and then riding the ~2 mile distance to work. Its air-cooled engine is a pleasure to straddle in a chilly morning as it gets hot very quickly and keeps your knees and legs warm, despite the weather (I even remember one rainy morning when I actually managed to keep myself dry on the inside of my legs, while the rain only got a bite on me on the outside).

Moving on to the helmet, it stood up to its reputation: no problems with it whatsoever, even if it was probably the cheapest thing I could get at that time -- it is the only piece of equipment I plan to change for the next season and that solely because of its looks and flaky mechanics (it's a flip-up design with integrated sun screen).

I made a couple of longer trips this fall, one to the Chopper Academy (Calaraşi Chapter) 2009 meeting and the other to the city of Tulcea -- the motorcycle proved comfortable and a smooth ride in both, combining more power than I could handle (read: ample headroom) with a steady and calm ride: so much so that I could safely admire the landscape while riding, even on rough ground.

If I were to change anything on my Virago in an attempt to make it better for long rides, I would either choose to always wear a large backpack or replace/modify the saddle to something resembling the one on the Kawasaki EN500 -- a backrest is a blessing after some ~200 miles of non-stop riding.

Unfortunately, winter came over and forced me to stop riding until it had passed ... leaving me alone with the craving for another day in the saddle, riding a country road somewhere in the middle of a green field.

It has also left me with enough time to make plans for the next season :-) So, for the spring (read: as soon as the roads become usable again), I'm planning to have the following done on my motorcycle:

  • basic technical check (the compulsory one is scheduled for May, so it's a good idea to prepare in advance ;-) ) -- that means an oil change (filter included), brake liquid change and bleeding, carb synching and valve freeplay adjustment; if need be, cable oiling and adjustment will be added
  • extended technical check (depending on my mechanic's recommendations) -- that would mean a fork oil change, final gear oil change and the greasing/repacking of various bearings
  • tire change (they are both worn out: the back one probably beyond the safety limit and the front one probably just touching the "accident waiting to happen" limit)
  • helmet change -- either a ProBiker KX4 (metallic blue) or a Shark Evoline
  • turn signal auto-canceling circuit fix -- it presently does not work, I'm suspecting the reed switch in the odometer is broken or there is a faulty contact somewhere along the wires
  • front light change -- either switch to the original optical design of the twin lights (one for the dipped beam and the other for the high beam) or replace it altogether with a single headlamp (following the original Virago design). Finding a second hand headlamp from an European Virago would help a lot here (hint! hint!)
  • front light enhancement (budget permitting) -- install a headlight bar with two identical lamps (on the outside), the right one configured as a second dipped beam for foggy conditions, sporting a selective yellow lamp (yes, I'll have to find a way to get yellow out of an H7 -- stay tuned :D ) while the left one will be configured as a second high beam for pitch dark conditions (or special ops/patrol/escort missions), fitted with either a high-efficiency, cold-white H4 or with a fancy D4R HID lamp. Of course, this will pull in a new switch and extra wiring.
  • cockpit instrumentation enhancement (budget permitting) -- add a real time clock, an air temperature gauge, a voltmeter and an oil temperature gauge
  • power consumption enhancement (budget permitting) -- replace all four blinker bulbs and the two tail/brake light bulbs with LED counterparts. I only want to replace the bulb, not the entire lighting enclosure as I want to conserve the looks and only improve the engineering behind ;-) Of course, this may require some fiddling with the original Virago blinker relay should it throw a fit when it'll feel some 90% of its load vanished :D

Finally, coming back to philosophy (i.e. regarding motorcycling as a way of life), David L. Hough was right in every word he wrote in his books. I had the chance to test that first hand in a couple of nice and ... not so nice situations, the latter of which brought about the wreckage of my windshield and original Virago headlamp :( and the former of which taught me the importance of keeping it rubber-side down :)

I'll be back soon with more stories, I just can't wait for the snow to melt and to be in the saddle again :-)

Good night,
Hello everyone,

As promised in my previous post, here is the whole story of me getting both licensed to ride a motorcycle on the road and the motorcycle itself. But first, I know some of you are craving some photos so here is the first batch, along with a promise to take and upload better ones soon.

The saga starts somewhere at the beginning of June 2009, when I took the decision to follow classes for a driver's license. It is as of yet unclear what caused or influenced this decision but there are speculations that a certain change (to the better) in my personal life is the culprit.

I chose this school for my driver training because it was close to where I live (a 20 minute walk) and because it looked the most trustworthy of all driving schools in this area. I submitted my application on Monday, June 15th; got scheduled for the psychology test the next day and I attended the first driving law theory class the third day, Wednesday, June 17th. The first motorcycle riding class was held on Thursday and the first car driving class the next Monday.

According to local laws, the psychology test must be taken (and passed) before any driving school attendance. Following that, the theory course must then be completed before any actual driving/riding takes place and only after completing that last part are you allowed to submit you application for the government-administered driving license examination.
As you all know, laws are treated as advisories here so the school only enforced the amount of time that had to pass from the date the psychology test was passed to the day they would sign your file and thus allow you to submit your application to the authorities.

Moving on to the schooling itself, the law theory classes were a good idea and I attended about three weeks of them (and since the classes were held three times a week, that would sum up to about 9 2-hour classes). Unfortunately, the local view about laws is that you will obey them if you are made sufficiently aware of their content (and not their meaning and/or applicability). On the same note, the theory exam contains 20 multiple-choice questions for future riders (26 for future drivers) which can have one, two or even all three correct answers and it's light years away from being at least psychometrically correct, let alone well balanced, normalized and entropy-masked.
The questions cover what you would expect: signs and markings, right-of-way, speed limits, highway driving; what you would less expect: preventive driving, ecological driving, automotive mechanics; and even what you would not expect: detailed aspects from the text of the law itself.

The law theory class consisted of us solving sets of 26 questions (picked from the same database that the formal examination draws them from), checking our results and then the instructor explaining the correct answer for any and all questions that we've messed up. It is a good method for gaining enough knowledge (read: experience with question-type fingerprinting) to pass the exam but it has nothing to do with learning and understanding the law itself (not that there would be enough meaning in any local law to warrant understanding it).

Moving on to the driving and riding classes which were also held three times a week. Driving was on Monday, Wednesday and Friday whereas riding was on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. As you probably know, local laws mandate that the practical examination for a future rider consists of performing a fixed choreography in a closed court within 4 minutes and without making more than 3 mistakes. As opposed to that, the practical examination for a future driver consists of driving a car in live traffic, following live navigation orders from the exam judge.
Because of that, practical training for the two disciplines follows differing paths and methods, rendering both training efforts insufficient and incomplete -- something which is not readily obvious unless you do what I did and take up both riding and driving classes. The reason for drawing that conclusion is that operating a device is one area of interest while using a device in a context driven by usage laws and populated by other users is a totally different thing.

So, if you are to take up driving classes, you are going to end up knowing how are you supposed to drive a car in traffic, obeying all rules -- but being unable to drive the car itself proficiently and master driving itself as a skill; while if you are going to take up riding classes, you are going to master controlling the motorcycle -- but you will remain totally unprepared for riding in in the wild, on the open road and unforgiving weather.

Moving on to the more hand-on part of the classes, the driving part was held on Citroen C1s which (both the vendor and my instructor) called "a car". I really beg to differ on that ... but it was enough of a car for me to learn driving. The riding part was held on a pack of Suzuki, three GN250 (yes, there is a typo in the first post, claiming they were "GZ" 250s), one GN125 and one Marauder 250. Even though not exactly right for all people, the attitude of the riding instructor was perfect for my way of learning new things: after making sure we mastered "how not to drop the motorcycle", he left us to roam freely around the court, practicing the exam choreography in whichever order we felt comfortable with, giving us a chance to discover the art behind motorcycle riding ourselves.

It is at this point that [om3ga] (or Sixx as he signs his posts now) suggested David L. Hough's books as compulsory reading, which I have read one-per-night and which I hold directly responsible for me understanding (and learning how to apply!) enough motorcycle physics to pass the practical exam with no sweat. My thanks and gratitude go to both of you!

Moving further, after completing all paperwork for the final examination (which included a thorough-wannabe medical examination), I have submitted my application on August 11th. The dialogue with the clerk remains a landmark of local flavor:
Clerk: "So, which exam to you want to take first? Riding or driving?"
Me: (large grin) "Riding first, please!"
Clerk: (after typing at the computer) "Soooooo, we have riding examination on the 26th and driving examination on the 19th!"
The theory exam can be taken at any time from the day you submitted your application (inclusive) until the day of the practical examination (exclusive) so I came back the next day and did them both. The results were no surprise: I passed the riding part and failed the driving one.

I decided I shall put driving on the back burner and concentrate on riding and so, on the 26th, I took and passed the practical examination. I got my license the next day and so I was now legally a motorcyclist :-)

That's about it for now. I'm sure I must have missed some details -- please ask and I shall answer.

Good evening everyone, please find the long-expected press release below:

Earliest, on August 7th, I have bought my jacket (ProBiker Liberty) and gloves (ProBiker PRX-5 Black) from this shop, a local distributor of this vendor. Since the trousers (ProBiker Concorde II), boots (ProBiker Louis'70) and socks (ProBiker) were not on their stock at that time, I have placed a special order for them which was subsequently delivered on August 18th. The helmet is an anonymous Venom matt-black flip-up that I got from my former trainer (for sentimental reasons) and will probably get replaced when outgrown by either a ProBiker KX4 or a Shark EvoLine -- time will tell.

Earlier, on August 12th, I have passed the theoretical exam for the motorcycle riding license with a score of 17 out of 20 (barely, as 16 results in a failing grade).

Today, at around 10:45EEST, I have passed the practical exam for the motorcycle riding license (category "A" driving license as the local terminology calls it) :-) This allows me to drive a self-powered two-wheeled vehicle on any public road, irrespective of displacement, weight and power.

Later, at about 12:30EEST, my registration request for a motorcycle has been accepted by the local authorities and even later, at about 19:10EEST, I have been issued a number plate and registration certificate.

The motorcycle is a blue and white 1997 Yamaha Virago XV535 which I bought a few days ago and the number plate is B-11-RVW. The motorcycle is still parked at the previous owner's location, somewhere in the small city of Otopeni so I have to find the nerve to go and ride it back home :-)

That is all for now and I hope it answers most of your questions :-) I shall write the full story too because I think it would be useful for others wanting to follow in my footsteps and I shall also post pictures as soon as I take them. Please allow until this weekend for those two to happen.

Have a good night everyone,