Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Biking and camping trip in Quebec's Eastern Townships

+Laura Krick and I along with our friend +Tee Lew took a trip to Quebec. There are many reasons to do this.

  1. Quebec, especially the Eastern Townships, have cycling infrastructure dedicated to long distance cycling.
  2. Quebec cheese.
  3. Quebec Beer.
  4. Beautiful scenery that contains mountains.
Our original trip had to be modified because the weather in the places we wanted to go was not going to be pleasant on the first few days. So instead of going right into the townships, we went to Montreal first.

Day 1

A long drive from Toronto to Montreal. We decided to see a lock on the west end of Montreal and eat at one of the many restaurants on the river shore.

We stayed at a motel that was not that great and I would not recommend it. The rooms smelled of dust and the AC was loud. The WiFi was next to unusable.

Day 2

Tania wanted to see a furniture supplier in Montreal near were we were staying, and we got a chance to tag along to see if there was anything we liked for the house. Tania was successful, we were not. Then off to the first location for our camping trip, Granby. 

We actually stayed in Parc national de la Yamaska ("National" park of Quebec).  It was a very nice park on a man made lake. Sadly Granby seems to the location of at least one abattoir, so depending on which way the wind was blowing, the smell could sometimes be unpleasant.

Laura got very comfortable in no time in her new camp chair. 

It was a lot of setup for one night, but the weather forced our hand.

Day 3

We had breakfast and packed up. This was going to be our first day of biking. Approximately 54KMs from Yamaska to Mt. Orford via Magog.

I had a new setup where my Nikon AW100 was mounted to my handlebars allowing me to take convenient photos as I was riding.

Here you can see the damn that made the lake the park surrounds.

We managed to meet up in Waterloo to have lunch.

The scenery was beautiful.

It took a long while to get to Mt. Orford and setup. So much so that we didn't have enough time or energy to make a meal, so we went to St. Hurbert's which was close to the park for dinner.

Day 4

No biking today.
 Magog is a nice little town the the surrounding countryside has a lot to offer. One of the most important orders of business in this area is visiting the Abbaye De St-Benoît-Du-Lac. This is a modern Abbey, where the monks make cheese and hard cider. We all had a lot of fun shopping there and checking out the Abbey.

Afterwards some more shopping of local fare like jams and soaps.

We also dropped by the local big bike store in Magog where Tania picked up an nice pair of Specialized Cycling shoes and I picked up a Specialized cap. That nights dinner was Steak!

Getting ready to cook.

Day 5

Another day, another camp site to pack up. Due to weather, we had to setup and takedown too often in a short period of time. It put a bit of stress on our trip but that's how it was. Due to how unmotivated we were to take things down quickly, we decided not to do the full ride today from Mt. Orford to Sherbrooke. That would have been over 50KMs. Instead, we all drove to Magog and then set out from there.

This also gave Laura and I the opportunity to take a very special photo. Here we are aprox. 5 years after I proposed to Laura on this spot (or abouts).

Lots of long steady inclines.

Lots of train track crossings as well.

Getting close.

We also decided that we were tired of camping, so we stayed at Hotel Jardins de Ville. It was relatively convenient and very close to the bike highway. Our first order of business after finding a place to stay was dinner. 

+Stephen van Egmond once showed me a place on Rue King that made a great baked potato dish and had a great selection of micro brews. Micro-Brasserie La Mare au Diable, and they now brew their own beer! 

Day 6

We started out our day by having breakfast at one of the Eggsquis location in Sherbrooke. It's similar to Cora's or Egg Smart here in Ontario, but far better than Egg Smart and slightly better that Cora's. We then went to the mall to check out some Quebec brands. Lastly, we went to the best bike shop in Sherbrooke, Vélomania. It's amazing how nice a store like this is in a town much smaller than Toronto.

Now one thing we were dissapointed with up to this point in our trip, was the poutine. Tania was having none of it and directed us to La Belle Province. A chain of diners in Quebec that does indeed serve a very good poutine. 

It was a nice day, but sadly, not warm enough for any swimming.

Observe, Laura on a bike!

Tania with her new matching cycling shoes!

Day 7

This is it, the last day of our trip. We of course had to go back to Eggsquis for our last vacation breakfast.

Then off to a hydro electric power station on our way home, the Beauharnois Hydroelectric Generating Station.

The ride home was otherwise uneventful. Except for this.

Nothing like a fellow cyclist in training!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

PSB M4U 2 headphone failure and fix

I had wanted a nice pair of noise cancelling headphones for some time. The undisputed champion of "noise cancelling" is Bose. At the time this was the QC15, more recently replaced by the QC25. I have tried many NC headphones, and can confirm that the noise cancelling system in these headphones is amazing. However, they are rubbish to actually listen to music on. So after trying out a bunch of headphones, I went with the PSB M4U 2s.

These headphones appealed to me for many reasons. The sound out of them was excellent. They offered not only noise cancelling, but also had a built in amplifier that could be turned on without NC. The cable was removable and could be attached to either side of the headphones. They functioned as a headset. They functioned and sounded great with no battery at all (passive). And lastly, they seamed very well built. No plastic snaps but screws all over, with metal and high quality polycarbonate.

If there was one downside it was the price. And really, the price was justified but I didn't want to spend $400 at the time. I managed to find them used for half that. I have enjoyed wearing these almost every day for over a year. But two weeks ago the left channel just stopped working.

Customer Service & Warranty

I contacted PSB about getting them fixed. I didn't expect warranty service because I purchased them used, but I was expecting to be able to pay to have them fixed. This proved to be false. Unlike PSBs other products, which are made right here in Ontario, Canada, their headphones are made in China. PSB informed me that they do not service out of warranty headphones. I called the two closest authorized PSB dealers, and was informed that they cannot service them because PSB does not supply parts and I should contact PSB directly. I contacted PSB again about getting parts, and they informed me that they do not provide parts. So it appears, that if you have a fault with your M4Us after the 2 year warranty has expired, you're on your own.

The Flaw

First off, these headphones were purchased used. It's very possible that this flaw was fixed in later units. I took apart the left side of my M4Us. As expected, the headphones are well built using hardware instead of glue and plastic snaps. This was until I get it all apart. On the inside it was apparent that PSB chose form over function. The cable used to connect the two halves of the headphones together was wholly inadequate. It was tiny, to facilitate hiding it within the head band.

I've created an image with two areas highlighted. You can see that the individual cables fray where they come out of the sheathing a 1. One of the cables for the speaker was being held by just one copper strand when I took things apart. You can see in the area marked with 2 that another wire had completely come disconnected. 2. also illustrates what I would call the main design or assembly flaw. The cable sheathing terminated right where the housing ends for the main body of the headphone earpiece. I've pulled it out to work on it, but this explains the fraying. The cables were rubbing up against the plastic here. 

Overall, there are 12 conductors coming in through that tiny cable. They are small and fragile. I had another 3 come off their solder joints just while trying to take the unit apart. 

The Fix

You will need the following items to fix these headphones:
  1. #0 Philips screwdriver
  2. #6 Torx Screwdriver
  3. tweezers and/or small needle nose pliers
  4. precision wire cutters
  5. thin masking or electrical tape
  6. precision tip temperature controlled soldering iron
  7. flux
  8. heat shrink tubing
  9. heat source for shrinking the tubing

  1. Take apart the headphones by fist removing the ear padding on the side that has stopped working.
  2. This will expose 4 Philips screws holding the speaker into place.
  3. Be careful pulling the speaker housing away as there is very little slack in the cable.
  4. Twist the speaking housing to get to the two Philips screws holding the main body together.
  5. Place the speaker housing back into the cover for the main body to prevent accidentally dislodging any cables further.
  6. Again, be careful pulling this second part away as there is little slack in the cable.
  7. Use your pliers or tweezers to remove the tape holding down the wire. 
  8. At this point you have enough clearance to start unscrewing the part of the headband that holds the speaker in place. This is where you need the Torx screwdriver. 
  9. Take apart the two halves of the speaker holder, pay attention to the copper spring attached to the metal armature and remove the cable from the cable guide.
  10. Now you have slack in the main cable which will allow you to pull it into the main part of the speaker housing so that you can work.
  11. At this point I would take a photo of all the cables so that you have a reference of what goes where if something has gone wrong later.
  12. Cut away any excess wire that has frayed from any split connections.
  13. Add flux to the two halves of the cable you have to repair and lightly tin the ends (360c was good for this application) 
  14. Cut a small amount of shrink tubing and slide it over one end (I used too much)
  15. Use pliers, or ideally self closing ones to hold the two halves of the cable with a bit of overlap and use your soldering iron to melt the solder together. Try not to burn a whole in the ear padding of the other speaker :(
  16. Let the joint cool sufficiently and then slide the heat shrink tubing over the connection. 
  17. Tug on both ends of the cable to make sure you have a solid connection. 
  18. Use a heat gun or other source to shrink the tubing over the solder joint.
  19. I would also check all the other solder connections at this point and re-solder them if needed. 
  20. At this point I would test the headphones by plugging in a source, putting in batteries and make sure everything works.
  21. Once the test works out, pull the cable out so that only a bit of the housing is left inside the headphones. I used some electrical tape to add some buffer for further fraying.
  22. Then use more tape to hold down the cable so it doesn't get in the way of re-assembly. 
  23. You now have to re-assemble the armature that holds the speaker unit. First lay out the headphone cable into the cable guide. The slack goes at the head-padding end for extension. 
  24. Make sure to place the copper spring in place into the metal armature.
  25. Getting the two halves of the speaker holder together while keeping the cable in place was probably the hardest part of re-assembly. I have no advice other than growing another few limbs
  26. Then re-assemble the main speaker housing in reverse of how it was taken apart. 
There you have it. If you have any questions feel free to comment below and I'll try to answer them. 

Hopefully PSB has fixed this issue in later production runs or plans to. For what is otherwise an excellent pair of headphones.


Independent of this blog post, I have been in contact with PSB above.  Before I published this info, I sent them a further update via their support forums about the issue that I had found. They have offered to sell me a discounted set of M4U 2s. I am taking them up on their offer. First, these are a great sounding pair of cans with great features. This will allow me to have two pairs, but more importantly, a whole spare set of parts for the one pair I really need.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A great example of what is wrong with banking and the progress of technology

So I got spam from UGO Wallet today. It's essentially Google wallet but backed by the banks. Chances are I will never get to use it, or if I do it will be years from now. This is technology at the speed of banks and mobile carriers for you. Google Wallet is not available in Canada. Even in the US, it's starting to be blocked at a lot of retailers.

UGO only supports a small list of phones. You have to be using an NFC SIM Card because the NFC built into almost every modern phone is "Not Good Enough". You have to have support from your carrier, so only Rogers and Telus right now with only minor support from Bell. I'm sure they all want a cut of the action. You're using "Their Phones" after all.

Why is this? User tracking. With Google Wallet, it's Google who gets to track you. That's no good for the big banks, so now they want to track you. Oh, but the cellular companies can block these features, so they come up with this ludicrous NFC SIM concept so that they can lock the feature into their cellular services.

This is why we can't have nice things.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Toronto to almost Kingston

So I set off on my first fully packed bike tour on Thursday after work. This is something I've been wanting to do for ages. I've been planning this in detail for months. Though this is a compromise as I originally wanted to ride from the Bruce Peninsula National Park back to Toronto.

Day 1

I took the Go train after work to Oshawa to bypass what is probably the worst part of a bike ride east. This also allowed me to save a vacation day. This was mostly uneventful other than frantically trying to switch trains at Union with all that baggage.

Darlington provincial park isn't very nice, mostly because you can hear the constant traffic from the 401 and the CN train line. It was also a very cold night. It went down to 2 degrees and my sleeping bag was only rated for 4.

Day 2

The next day was the longest distance of the tour. Just over 100kms to Presqu'ile Provincial Park. Right from the start things were not going well. OPG had closed a part of the waterfront trail, making me loose 5km.
The other problem with the day was the constant head wind. Normally, you want to travel east and not west as the wind tends to come from the west. Not today. I was facing 20-30km winds all day. I had a mid way point marked out in Cobourg, which I was supposed to arrive to at 1pm. Instead, I was in Port Hope at 2pm.
I had lunch at a pub just off the main street. It was nice to sit and be warm away from the wind for an hour.  I was ready to give up on my original plan and tried to cancel my next two camping reservations. I was able to cancel Sand Banks for my last stay, but not that nights stay at Presqu'ile. After the one hour rest and food, plus the thought of failure motivated me to go for it. I had just over 50km to go.
I ended up making it to Cobourg at 3:30pm, 2.5 Hours behind schedule.I went to Green Canoe outfitters in Cobourg, where 2 weeks before, I had ordered a new sleeping bag for +Laura Krick. I then set off to my next camp site. The wind had died down and the going was slightly easier. I saw a lot of fields.
And a lot of views of the lake.
The waterfront trail in these parts isn't well signed, if at all. So someone had gone around making cute heart shaped road signs. Thank you rode sign painter. I love you too.
The last 10kms were very hard, but I finally made it.
The notable thing about this leg of the tour is that it's also my first metric century. I've never ridden 100kms in a single day before. It would be another 4kms from this sign to my actual camp site. The longest 4kms ever. Presqu'ile caters to cyclists with bike lanes on the roads, bike paths and even offering to drive your firewood to you so you don't have to try to lug it on your bike.
First order of business was dinner. I never let myself get hungry on the ride, constantly downing nuts or energy/granola bars. Still, it was nice to sit down and eat a warm meal. Thanks to +Laura Krick for helping me plan those. The MSR Pocket Rocket stove is very good and compact. Thanks to +Jane Sobil for the camp cookware set.

At this point I realized I was not going to make it to Kingston. Luckily, Laura had agreed to pick me up vs. me taking the train back from Kingston. Laura and I discussed me being picked up a day early. That night was one of the deepest sleeps I've ever had. I don't think I woke up once during the night.

Day 3

Though the next day I woke up at 7am, and it was overcast but warm. Laura and I sent a few messages back and forth and we confirmed the pickup to happen in Trenton. She had to drop her days plans which was great of her. That night was supposed to rain right into Sunday. Not a great prospect for camping, or packing up. I decided to head out and see the park and the bike paths it had to offer.

I rode out to the light house at the end of the park. There were a lot of bird watchers all over the park, as the birds like this area. This lighthouse is lime stone covered in ceder.

RVers also like this area

I went back to my camp after riding around. Laura sent me the GPS coordinates of where we would meet because I had screwed up loading maps onto my GPS and only had the basemap and routes for the tour. 
And then packed up and had lunch
The set off to Trenton, the agreed upon pickup location. The weather was really great by this point. The wind had intensified but changed direction. I was cruising at over 30km/h now. I ran into a paramedic fundraising group biking from Toronto to Kingston!
Spent quite a while chatting with some of the riders. They were riding to raise money for a monument to paramedics who have lost their lives. Their ride was a supported ride over two days. I managed to keep up with their pace, even though I was fully loaded until I got stomach cramps from starting out too soon after eating lunch.

I made it to Trenton with 1.5 hours to spare. I was sad I didn't agree with Laura to meet in Belleville instead. The wind and 25 degree temperatures made the ride enjoyable, unlike the previous day.

I did get to ride around Trenton and see the town though. at 1:55pm, Laura arrived to greet a very tired me.

Even though I failed in my goal, I'm happy I did this. I learned a lot about touring and my abilities. I look forward to the next one. You can see my entire ride in Strava.

What I will do better next time around

  1. Only pack the food I will need on the ride itself. Buy lunch and dinner items along the way so I'm not lugging all that food weight.  This will also avoid the expense of freeze dried meals or the unhealthiness (saltiness) of shelf stable packed meals. 
  2. Do not reserve any campgrounds, especially in the Spring and Fall. It costs more at provincial parks to reserve and also forces you to keep to an itinerary you may not be able to keep. 
  3. Purchase and break in a Brooks saddle.
  4. Eat a small lunch and then often during the ride. Stomach cramps suck.
  5. Double check your GPS has all the data you need.
  6. Check wind direction forecast to better plan your distances.
  7. Buy a small multi purpose pot instead of a pot set like I took for weight and packability.

Other thoughts and learnings

One of the things I picked up for this tour are Continental Travel Contact tires. I got the folding versions at an amazing price from Chain Reaction in the UK. These tires have an amazingly low rolling resistance for their size and recommended pressure. I had no flats on the ride. When it was time to traverse gravel or dirt roads/paths, the tires offered enough traction to keep my comfortably controlled with or without load. 

I might look into butterfly bars or trekking bars. These appeal to me much more than drop bars on my commuter, and would allow me to continue using the existing shifter/brake leavers.