Neckmike first impressions

I ordered a communications package for use with the bikes a few days ago, and it arrived yesterday. The system is the Cobra MT600 + Neckmike combo from Bikeman I mentioned in the Preparing for the Iron Butt post.

The contents of the box

I ordered the double package, which comes with two Cobra MT600 radio units, rechargable NiMH batteries, a charger with a Y cable (to charge both units simultaneously), two Neckmike bundles and one set of small + one set of medium size earbuds each.

Along with that, I also ordered an MP3 player extension – and some extra earbuds, since I’ll be using the system while training a couple of friends for their rider tests.

The Cobra units (manufacturer’s spec sheet) are vanilla two way radios in a retail package. They’ve got the standard features with availability of both CTCSS and DCS “channels”, and a theoretical range of 5 km.

The Neckmike all bundled up

The Neckmike system basically consists of a throat microphone of the kind used by tactical units in noisy environments, in-ear headphones, and a waterproof send button. The pick-up part of the unit is mounted on a springy piece of rubber covered metal, that feels solid enough. Because of how a throat mic works, it’s pretty sensitive to placement, in an almost digital way: It needs to sit right next to the jugular to pick up the vibrations from one’s speech, or you won’t hear a thing. Other units I’ve seen solve this with an elastic or velcro-fastened band around the neck. Further use will have to prove if the Neckmike approach to the problem is good enough, but I can see why one wouldn’t want to have a fastened band around the neck while riding a bike. In case something happens, you really don’t want to be stuck with things wrapped around your neck. This shouldn’t happen with the Neckmike system.

The problem with other communications packages for motorcycle use, is that they tend to depend on speakers mounted inside the helmet. This is alright if you never ever need to ride at highway speeds, or if you’ve got a windscreen like a barn door. Otherwise, riding for long periods without earplugs is a pretty good way to get permanent hearing damage.

The in-ear phones of the Neckmike come with interchangeable heads in three different sizes (the largest one can be specially ordered, but the small and medium ones are included in the package, as I mentioned earlier). They work very well in protecting from outside noise, and from what I could feel, they should be no problem to wear for a while, although I will write something on this when I’ve had time to try them for real.

A real road test review will follow.

Mac Mail and fonts

It’s time for a little mac-related rant, for one of the few things that disturb me when using my computer at work.

I immediately fell in love with Mac Mail: Lightweight and nimble, but at the same time offering a much more powerful experience than Outlook/Entourage, very much thanks to the speed and ease of use of the search function, which plays in a completely different league than the “Advanced Search” in Outlook 2007.

The only problem I have with it is so trivial that I was really surprised to see that it’s been a regularly re-occurring question on forums for several years, namely the little question of fonts.

My gut feeling is that a modern mail software should be more or less WYSIWYG. Most of today’s mail programs solve this by encoding the contents of mail using regular HTML tags. Mac Mail uses Rich Text Format instead, but that’s just a technicality – it should do the exact same thing as ThunderBird or Outlook, which is to have some kind of a header containing information for the reader’s rendering software to use font (or font family) x, in size n, etc, so that the reader gets a similar experience as the writer probably intended her to have.

In a corporate environment, this is even more important, since PR departments often define a graphical policy for the company to use, so that customers get a homogeneous impression of the company even if they have to deal with different employees.

Now, consider the following screendump and try to find the problem:

A mail sent from Mac Mail, received by Outlook and replied back to Mac Mail

Sorry for the size, but I really want the horribleness to stand out in all it’s gory.

If you’re slow on the uptake, don’t worry: I’ve described the problem in the actual screenshot, but to recap:

  • The mail was written in Mac Mail, using a font set by me according to company standards: Arial, 12pt.
  • The signature was explicitly set to “Always match my default message font” in Mail Preferences.
  • Upon reception in Outlook 2007, the recipient’s software obviously does not receive any kind of information about what font to use when rendering the email, but instead defaults to Times New Roman. This time the size is right, at 12 pt. I haven’t experimented enough to see if that’s just a coincidence, but judging from the character of the rest of this problem, it probably is.
  • The signature, however, is a different font, namely the font I chose when I created it: Calibri.  But the size is wrong. When I created the signature, I wanted it to be size 11; slightly smaller than the other text in my mail. But as stated above, I checked the box to make Mail adjust the font properties of the signature to match the rest of the mail.
  • It’s obviously not a general problem with Mac Mail’s ability to handle different fonts, though, since it obviously shows the message exactly as it was received by Outlook, and the replied text is rendered exactly as it was displayed in Outlook when I wrote it.

I’ve seen a number of different workaround tips, and these are my comments for them:

  • Write the entire mail, then select the entire text and manually set the font properties for it before sending it
    Yes, that’s a completely serious response on a Mac forum, along with a fanboi rant about how it’s really Outlook’s fault that Mac Mail doesn’t define fonts properly when creating the RTF information for the message, and that Microsoft should choose another default font in Word.
    The problem with this workaround is of course that it’s a lot of time down the drain if you write more than a couple of mails a day.
  • Create a custom signature using the font you want your message to use. Start the signature with an almost empty header, so that you can write your message inside the font definition tags for the signature.
    I understand this one. Also, it’s not a lot of work. But this is something I might have accepted from an obscure, non-supported, free (as in beer) software package for a Linux based system in 1996. Having the same kind of “solution” for the main communications package bundled with an Apple operating system in 2010? Yeah, right. And by the way, I’m still not sure if the font size is correctly transmitted with the message.
  • Use plain text for the messages
    This is actually the best solution of them all. Except for the little fact that plain text will be rendered as Courier New by Outlook, and where does that look professional in a corporate environment?
    Also, 1982 called and wants it’s ASCII table back – it’s needed on another BBS. What’s the next big thing in email? ANSI “graphics”? Don’t get me wrong, these de facto standards were great, but when there is a working way of solving the problem in a way that looks good regardless of the viewing software (yes, a text-only software might strip formatting tags it can’t render), then why oh why not simply fix such a simple thing that does so much (relatively speaking) for the credibility of a system in the corporate world?

I really want to continue using Mail. It’s a great program with great features, which does what I want to do as fast as I want it to. I’ve filed a bug report to Apple regarding this problem, as have, seemingly many others.

Follow this link to join the movement and file your own report on this bug – Mail is a good program, it just needs some fixing to be usable in a professional environment. With enough people complaining, we can become a bunch of complaining people.

Preparing for the Iron Butt

IBA LogoThe mission

I intend to become a member of the Iron Butt Association by riding a Saddle Sore 1000 run – “At least 1000 miles in less than 24 hours”, according to the rules – this summer.

The original plan was to ride solo, but now a friend wants to tag along as an introduction to his driver’s license. The reason I’m even thinking of accepting is that even though his papers will be new, he’s reasonably mature, has been driving cars at least as much as I have, and also has been riding motocross for a couple of years, so he’s by no means a rookie when it comes to riding on two wheels, staying awake and to traffic in general.

Also, if he has a driver’s license, it doesn’t really matter if one of our bikes would break down on the road, or if one of us would have to abort the ride, since the other one could finish the run independently.

The route

Map from Google MapsEach leg of the ride starts and ends at gas stations. The oligopoly here in Sweden means that you can find “your” brand of gas station almost anywhere, and use your brand specific credit card at all stations, which makes planning for night-time stops a lot easier. My route is planned from a safety perspective: I know more than half of the road like the back of my hand, and the final leg is almost all super slab, which makes for less chance of deer encounters during the time when I expect my reflexes to be toast.

The route follows the main roads from the westernmost town of Sweden, across the country to Stockholm, down along the east coast to the southernmost point, and back up along the west coast to the starting point. I will be passing Sweden’s three largest cities, which means I will need to plan my time to avoid traffic jams.

According to the Google roadmap, the trip is supposed to take about 20 hours, which leaves 4 hours of margin. Counting 200 km between gas stops, gives 8 stops á 10 minutes – say up to 1.5 hours including a couple of snacks. Four proper food/toilet stops á 1/2 hour each (separate from gas stops, as per advice from the more experienced), gives a net margin of half an hour. Given that we should be able to ride perhaps 10 km/h faster than the posted limits in most places, we should be able to save up another couple of hours, which could be used for an additional rest/nap stop on the last leg of the trip.

The bikes

I will be riding my almost-stock ’06 Buell XB12X Ulysses. I have mounted the pannier racks, but expect to do without the top box. I feel I can trust the bike now, having ridden it almost two thousand kilometers after putting it together earlier this season.

Rijad will, if he chooses to go, be riding his Kawasaki ZX7. It too has been along for a few hundred kms, so I’m not particularly worried about it.

Since I have the stock windscreen and Rijad doesn’t have a screen at all, orangutan arms will be an issue – extended highway speeds will be limited to well under the point where our licenses are in danger. I am confident however, that he’ll have more of a sore butt than what I’ll have: The Uly saddle is great.

The gear

My current riding boots are done for and need to be changed. I just bought a new pair of Lindstrands Max Tour which I got at a good price at Hansson’s Skinn & MC. They’re a bit thicker than my old boots, so I’ll have to adjust the shifter accordingly stop sissying around and just get used to moving my foot a bit more, but they’re so much more comfortable that I actually just threw the old ones away in a dumpster right outside the shop. I’m pretty sure my feet won’t go numb after a couple of hours on the bike in these boots.

I’m still unsure of what jacket to wear: my leather jacket has less lining than my textile one (both are of the Halvarsson persuasion) and will be more comfortable during the day, but the night part of the ride might get pretty cold, depending on how late in the season we go. On the other hand, I can just compensate with more layers of clothes.

I haven’t given rain gear any great thought, simply because I don’t intend to ride in rain. The area we’ll be covering is small enough that the weather should be predictable within a margin of a couple of days.

For communications, I plan to use a NeckMike/Cobra MT600 radio combo from Bikeman, along with a cable to connect the headset to an iPod.

When it comes to food, the overall advice seems to be to eat lightly. Cous-cous based salads are readily available on most gas stations and should do the trick, along with regular water.

The tools I will bring will be the most basic set: duck tape, a good knife, pliers, a small hammer, screw driver with bits, a tube of Loctite and a can of puncture spray. What I can’t fix with that will probably require more tools than I can bring anyway.