A Long Weekend in the Smoky Mountains

This past weekend I had the opportunity to go car-pool South to Gatlinburg, TN for a bike-cation with some of the team members of Team McPC.  We rode 150+ miles and just gained just under 10,000 feet of elevation. The trip was an absolute blast.  Here are some images and video clips from the trip.

Sun rise from our balcony. Love the turkeys gobbling in the distance.

A video posted by Randy Hammons (@rhammons) on

Riding with Team MCPC. #betteronabike #ribblesportiveracing #ribble #gatlinburg #smokymountains #pohr

A video posted by Randy Hammons (@rhammons) on

Ride photos, Townsend Rd. Gatlinburg, TN

A photo posted by Randy Hammons (@rhammons) on

Bike sightings. @ribble_cycles #ribblesportiveracing #ribble @ribblecycles #gatlinburg #betteronabike

A photo posted by Randy Hammons (@rhammons) on

Right before the sky burst out in rain. #betteronabike #ribblesportiveracing #ribble #gatlinburg #smokymountains

A photo posted by Randy Hammons (@rhammons) on

This blog, but in motion.

I’ve started doing some research and development around the idea of turning this blog into a vlog, posting periodic video shorts to a YouTube channel.  I’ve incorporated videos on here in the past, but going forward I think I might just make it the central focus of this site.  What do you think? What would you like to see?  My initial thought is to use it to tell the story of my participation in the American Cancer Society’s Pan Ohio Hope Ride (now in it’s tenth year, and me returning for my 5th year).  Showing fundraising efforts, and extending them, other riders networking events and the stories of those affected by Cancer and the impact the ride brings to them.

Again, tell me your thoughts in the comments. I’m nervously looking forward to it. And, as always this time of year — help support the ACS and their Hope Lodges by donating as little as $5 at this link!


We Interrupt This Broadcast: Pedaling to fight Cancer

Hello true-believers!

I have near abysmally failed to stick to my guns on this blog business, but there’s no time like the present to put it to good use.  I have nearly 10 draft posts that I should likely dust off and polish into finished posts; I’ll get there.

In the meantime, I have started back on my training and fund raising for the 10th Annual American Cancer Society Pan Ohio Hope Ride and I need your support in my fund raising.  Please show your support toward putting an end to Cancer and giving those affected by it compassion, care and a place to stay when treatment’s not nearby.  Make a donation in support of my ride here.

In the coming weeks I hope to invigorate my fundraising with more creative ideas.  If you have any suggestions — post in the comments.  Things that have worked out, even if marginally in the past include:

  • Selling jams and preserves
  • Tip-jar style donation can in my office
  • Visa Gift Card Raffles
  • Party with silent auctions and plenty of libations

Thanks again for the continued support!


I finally bit the bullet back in June and ordered myself a direct-to-order 2015 Ribble Sportive Racing built to my specifications — 20 something days later it crossed the ocean and arrived at my office.

And man. Man-o-man. The thing is just a dream, and I’m excited to put it through its paces.  Continue on to hear me gloat about how great it is, and my experience shopping with Ribble from across the pond.

Summary, Review and Consumer Experience

I had been debating for sometime on my next n+1 bike purchase; bouncing back and forth between the idea of a single-speed cyclocross bike or a full road-spec bike. I’d also heard about Ribble here and there in the past, mainly as a place to source components cheaply from the UK, but was unaware that they had begun designing their own frame-sets until this video crossed my radar:

After watching that, reading it’s accompanying article, doing a week’s worth of research on Ribble, endurance carbon bikes, wheelsets, groupsets, etc. I made up my mind and began the Ribble Bike Builder process. I was going into this working on a budget, an obvious part of why I went with the Bike of the Year 2015 – Best Value as opposed to going with say, a BMC Granfondo GF01 so I tried to choose my parts wisely.

My Build Specifications: 

  • Ribble Sportive Racing Frameset 50cm
  • Shimano 105 (5800) Black 11 Spd Double Groupset
  • Shimano 105 Black 5800 (11Spd) Brake Set
  • Shimano 11 Spd 105 5800 Cassette 11-28
  • Shimano 11Spd 5800 (HG600 105 Chain)
  • Shimano 105 Black 5800 11Spd Chainset 172.5 39/53
  • Shimano 105 Black (5800) 11Spd Front Braze-on
  • Shimano 105 Black (5800) 11Spd Rear Gear Short (SS)
  • Shimano STI Levers 105 Black 5800 11Spd with cables
  • Fulcrum Racing Quattro Wheels Black
  • ITM Alcor 80 Bars Black 44 c to c
  • Deda Zero 2 Stem Black on Black 90mm
  • ITM Headset Spacer Carbon 1 1/8″ 10mm
  • Selle Italia X1 Flow Saddle Black
  • Deda RSX 02 Seatpillar Black on Black 31.6 350mm
  • Vittoria Rubino Pro 3 Folding Tyre Black/Black 700x25mm
  • Cinelli Cork Handlebar Tape Black
  • Crankbrothers Candy-1 Pedals
  • Lezyne Sideload Bottle Cages
  • Garmin Edge 510
  • Garmin Speed and Cadence Sensors

Regarding the ordering and building process with Ribble; I cannot complain too much, and based on what I had read, I had a pretty typical experience.  I placed my order on June 2nd, got confirmation that the order was received and that it would be moved into fulfillment soon.  Ribble warns you to expect delays, and that once it the parts are picked from their warehouse the build experience should be a matter of 5 business days or less.

I had one hiccup along the way, wherein the original bottle cages I ordered were not in stock which caused the entire order to be delayed. After a quick email conversation with Ribble’s customer service staff they were able to remove those from the order, reimburse me for the charge and move the bike along to picking, and then into building. I think, with that delay it was a total of 21 days from order to delivery here in the USA. In fact, the build and delivery process alone only took 5 days entirely — so if what you order is in stock you may end up getting it much sooner than I did.  I will say, waiting 21 days for a bike did in fact feel like a lifetime. I was quite antsy, especially knowing two things: my birthday was coming up, and I have a big ride to train for and would want to get the bike fitted and in good working order as soon as possible.  Thankfully it arrived with plenty of time, and since then I’ve dialed in the fit and have logged more than 350 miles as of writing this. A week from now I’ll be adding another 328 over the weekend.  On day 21 the bike arrived, near completely assembled in a very large and sturdy cardboard box.  I unpacked it, and within an hour I was setup on my indoor trainer making fit adjustments. When you receive a Ribble built to order bike it comes near completely assembled, just requiring the addition of pedals, mounting and adjustment of handlebars, front brake calipers, and seat post and saddle; all of which I believe anyone should be able to do with a few Allen keys and some reference material on the internet.  I would warn that it is also be a good idea to at least purchase a TorqueKey to insure you do not over-tighten the seat post clamp bolts.  I’ve done the mail order bike thing in the past with a certain Bicycles Direct company, and the difference in experience, packaging and general quality are night and day.  With the other guy I received a bike with a bent fork, and on one occasion a completely different (albeit similarly described) bike altogether.  Never again.

So, with roughly 300+ miles logged and the fit dialed in here’s my short-term review:

Bike fit and form — The sportive racing’s geometry is true to the specifications on Ribble’s website.  They recommended a 50cm for my measurements, and it’s precisely the frame size I needed.  I can say I was a little skeptical ordering a bike I couldn’t test ride, but after running the measurements past my existing bike and other bikes I’ve ridden I felt informed enough to hit the Buy Now button. In my opinion this frame fits somewhat similar to that of a cyclocross bike; less aggressive, but that same sort of uprightness.  I can stretch out when I need and sit upright as well,  with plenty of range of motion without being cramped or uncomfortably reaching.  The bike is light, but not ultra-light by any means. I wanted carbon to shave some weight from my beefy aluminum CX setup, and for better comfort than the aluminum provides. This delivers on that requirement nicely. The frame and wheels feel incredibly balanced.  There’s little to no buzz or rattle that I’ve been warned to expect with carbon bikes. The paint job’s also quite nice and grabbed my attention right away when I was shopping. I will warn you, it takes some persistence to keep the matte meets glossy finishes clean and nice looking.  I’ve got into the habit of simply wiping down the frame with a shop cloth after long and/or wet rides.

Saddle and standard equipment — To stay on budget I went with a few of their standard equipment options on the build figuring they were of lessor importance and I could swap them out with components I already had around the bike room if they weren’t to my liking.  One of the ones I was concerned about was the saddle, and I figured I would immediately swap over my Fizik Arione to this new bike — well, I’m surprised to say the $30 Selle Italia X1 Flow is a fair match for size, weight and positioning to my Arione.  I’ve logged all of these miles to date with this saddle and have not a single complaint; it’s firm and well fitting for my seat bones. I still think the perineum channel is a bit hoaky, but I only notice it when I’m off the bike.  Apart from the saddle, I went with the stock handlebars, opting to go a little wider than my main bike to increase comfort and room for more hand positions.  The drop and angling of the bars seems to be ok, I don’t feel like I’m stretching in the drops or on the horns.

Wheels — I feel my choice of wheels really make this bike shine.  I had a few options with the groupset I chose, and these hit the sweet spot of value, speed an reputation.  To give some back story of my level of experience, I’ve previously run fairly stock CX and road wheels on my bikes; the kind that come on the bikes you buy off the floor at your Local Bike Store. Most people say these should be the first things you replace on your bikes; however, my experiences have been that they’ve been comfortable and long lasting, bullet proof even. I’ve got one set with over 7000 miles on them that I plan to run into the ground, and likely have rebuilt once they need it.  Enough about those however,  the difference in handling and aerodynamics going from those to the Fulcrum Racing Quattros is just night and day.  I’d love to demo some full carbon wheelsets, but for now — these wheels are fantastic.  Paired with the 25c Vittoria Rubino Pro 3’s they are incredibly compliant, comfortable, a little noisy, and really fast moving.  On corners the team seems to grip well, and on the wet they’re not too shabby either.

Groupset — Shimano 105 is my go-to on bikes. I’ve spent some time on Sora and Deore level equipment and didn’t enjoy it over extended miles because of the clunkiness that comes with them. Doesn’t mean they’re not acceptable for most, I just prefer the difference in efficiency, weight and quality that comes with the step up to 105 without completely breaking the bank on Ultegra and DuraAce equipment.    It’s the sweet spot in my mind, and the new 5800 11-speed equipment keeps the legacy going with the 105 line-up.  It’s great on this bike, shifting’s firm, quick and responsive and the range from 11-28t in the back is just right for the type of riding I do.  The brakes are fine, I’ve not experienced better and wouldn’t know what else to state — they’ve held up in wet and dry, on descents and when needed coming out of corners.

What can I say, this bike, so far — has just been spectacular. Expect updates after the Pan Ohio Hope Ride.


Currently reading…

Currently reading Building Single-page Web Apps with Meteor.

So far, so good.  5 Chapters in and I’ve got a comfortable grasp on the basics for Blaze and reactive template making, routing with Iron Router, and best practice setup of a Meteor app.  Looking forward to building out a couple quick, lean single page web apps soon for some work tasks and potentially home.

Building an Ambilight for your Home Theater

Following up on my last post, ‘My Latest Time Sink’, I am finally at the point I feel happy showing off my home theater ambilight setup I’ve created from a lot of trial and error, and support from tutorial posts, reddit threads and youtube videos.  Below I’ll give an overview of the hardware, the how-to, and some of the mistakes and lessons I learned along the way. I feel the end product is by-far the easiest to approach it, but this can be accomplished a plethora of ways.


To begin, let’s review the hardware I chose and why:

  • Woodenshark Lightpack – This is the LED setup mounted to the back of my 47″ LG TV.  You can add on multiple packs of these if you have a TV larger than 50″, but I think the single pack option is fine for my 47″.  Increasing the number increases the resolution and detail of the lights emitted behind your TV. Lightpack’s a solid out of the box solution and there are lots of clones and copy-cats out there.  I feel like I got a high quality product and good customer service going this route. I also chose this route because I have no electrical engineering experience and didn’t want to make a serious investment (time, money, family) in a project I may not be capable of completing.
  • Raspberry Pi 2 – This is the brains used to drive the ambilight. It’s a SBC (small board computer) that I can power from an alternative device (in my case a Mac Mini) using power over USB.  For this setup it requires at minimum a power source, network connection, micro-SD storage card (8gb is plenty, if not overkill),  and a USB hub (it has four ports, but some of the items won’t fit easily in the tightly grouped rear of the pi). The Pi is $35 and perfect for these sort of stow away single task projects. This was my first Pi experience, and I plan on completing a few more projects using them.
  • Fushicai Easycap Device – This one is the most important for capturing an external source with your Lightpack.  There are lots of various chipsets and all the devices look reasonably the same.  It took me three attempts with various $8 Easycap devices to find one that was a Fushicai.  I’ve read the STK1600 models also work, but have not used one.  The others I ordered were SOMagic DC-60’s and they will not work with the various Linux distros currently available for the Raspberry Pi. This is the one I ordered on March 8th, 2015 that was a Fushicai-based model. YMMV.
  • HDMI Splitter – This will allow you to take your primary video source, in my case an Xbox One, and split it out to the Easycap for capturing and to your TV for everyday display tasks.
  • HDMI-to-Composite Video Converter – This takes the split HDMI source and converts it down to a simple 480i input that the Easycap can accept.  The high-quality of an HDMI video signal isn’t needed for displaying to tens, or even hundreds, of LEDs for ambilight projection.
  • External Source(s) – In my case, I’m feeding an Xbox One and a 2010 Mac Mini into the HDMI input being captured by the Raspberry Pi.  In our household we do our primary media watching with the Xbox One via Plex (driven by the Mini), Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Youtube.  The mini’s there mostly for server needs running a local hubot, plex, and the home-shared iTunes library.

That’s it for hardware; now, keep in mind I didn’t mention cables or input devices such as keyboards and mice. The cables are a given; you’re going to need various USB cables, power cables/adapters, and a composite video cable. Mice, keyboard, bluetooth remotes, etc. are all up to taste — and honestly they’re not required as most of the setup for a Raspberry Pi can, and likely should, be done over SSH in the terminal of your favorite OS.

Software and Configuration

I want to preface this section by saying I am, for the most part, a complete Linux noob. I’ve used the CLI (command line interface) a small amount in the web development trade, but have never lived in it and let it soak in.  With the Raspberry Pi, doing just about anything custom involves spending a decent chunk of time neck-deep staring at the command prompt.

  • Operating System – OSMC (The Open Source Media Center)
    I tried a handful of options here. Originally, I was going to drive the entire project through my Mac Mini (which, btw all the easycaps work with), but I ran into over-heating due to the LED driving software (Prismatik) and the capture card software. The entire setup would shut down around 30 minutes into playback due to the Mac Mini shooting up to 75C. This was incredibly frustrating. I went as far as setting up custom fan control and upgrading the ventilation system in my home theater cabinets.  I settled on OSMC after trying Raspbian, OpenElec, and Arch.  OSMC gives me the comfort of the XBMC/Kodi environment (a great means to test that the LED driver is working correctly after installation), the ability to install external packages (something you can not do in OpenElec, for example),  and has a sizable community to lean on for support. You can do this with Raspbian, but out of the box its setup to run a GUI and has a lot of additional features I just did not need.
  • LED Controller Software – Hyperion
    As mentioned above, I originally tried Prismatik. It’s the software recommended by Lightpack’s creator’s Woodenshark.  It will work and it’s GUI is really easy to use, but it requires a fairly beefy specced PC to do all the heavy lifting and even then I noticed lag.  Also, if you’re like me and store your PC in a home entertainment center or hutch, you’re going to cook it when this software is running.  That’s where Hyperion comes in to play — it’s lightweight, runs in the background, and is super fast.  This can run on a 700mhz Raspberry Pi just as smooth as it does on the new Pi 2. Installation requires just a few commands SSH’d to your Raspberry Pi:

    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get install libqtcore4 libqtgui4 libqt4-network libusb-1.0-0 libprotobuf9 ca-certificates 
    wget -N https://raw.github.com/tvdzwan/hyperion/master/bin/install_hyperion.sh
    sudo sh ./install_hyperion.sh

    This discussion on OSMC’s forums goes through quite a bit of the process more thoroughly, but after performing those commands I had my lights displaying the OSMC screens behind my TV.  After installation you will need to check that your Raspberry Pi sees your Easycap correctly, and then make modifications to your Hyperion configuration. This wiki entry on the Hyperion github helps out a lot with that. I also found this guide helpful in determining the right chipset in my Easycap.  Following the Hyperion wiki the only thing remaining is to remove or comment-out the XBMCVideoChecker and Framegrabber blocks from the configuration file and add in the following to point Hyperion’s V4l2 module at your Easycap device:

    "grabber-v4l2" :
    "device" : "/dev/video0",
    "input" : 0,
    "standard" : "NTSC",
    "width" : 640,
    "height" : 480,
    "frameDecimation" : 2,
    "sizeDecimation" : 8,
    "priority" : 1100,
    "mode" : "2D",
    "cropLeft" : 22,
    "cropRight" : 22,
    "cropTop" : 20,
    "cropBottom" : 20,
    "redSignalThreshold" : 0.1,
    "greenSignalThreshold" : 0.1,
    "blueSignalThreshold" : 0.1


The most difficult part of this entire setup fell on finding the right Easycap that has the chipset supported by a Raspberry Pi linux distro.  I would reiterate to everyone getting into this — you likely won’t find the right Easycap on the first try, regardless of who directs you to it, what the reviewers say, etc. They seem to switch these things out randomly in warehouses and they’re for the most part visually indistinguishable. Past that, the Lightpack configuration has it’s own learning curve, but I found it progressively easier to work with.  A few tips for those of you thinking of attempting this:

  • The default plug order on the Lightpack may not be true when using Hyperion. In prismatik the order seemed fine, but once I moved over to Hyperion the order was out of whack. I found running the ‘Snake’ effect in Hyperion and manually rearranging them on the back of my TV was the best way to sort this out.
  • Download the Hyperion app for your phone — it makes controlling it a breeze, and can help for some of these configuration details.
  • You will likely need to play with Black Levels and Saturation to get a happy result. With the Easycap source I immediately noticed all blacks were coming out at around 30% brightness, so I had to drop my black levels on all three colors into the negative to get the result I wanted. It’s not obvious that these configuration numbers can go into the negatives, but they work just the same.
  • Using a static image on screen with various color bars in the ‘zones’ of your LEDs will go along way with configuring the LED placement in the config file.   I created this image from a Prismatik screen grab.
  • If it can help, this is my configuration as shown on the video above.

In closing, this has been a good learning experience and the end result is great. It took me way too long to get to the end, mostly due to the Easycap discrepancies.  It’s fun playing video games, listening to music with a visualizer on, or watching a video stream with the ambilight effect going on.  It’s not for all the time TV watching, but it really changes the mood, makes watching more immersive and easier on the eyes.

Science’s Biggest Fail | Scott Adams Blog

I used to think fatty food made you fat. Now it seems the opposite is true. Eating lots of peanuts, avocados, and cheese, for example, probably decreases your appetite and keeps you thin.

I used to think vitamins had been thoroughly studied for their health trade-offs. They haven’t. The reason you take one multivitamin pill a day is marketing, not science.

I used to think the U.S. food pyramid was good science. In the past it was not, and I assume it is not now.

Science’s Biggest Fail | Scott Adams Blog