TinyURL Considered Harmful

Back in late 2006 I wrote the following as a letter to the editor of Motorcycle Consumer News. They printed it, and stopped using TinyURLs! One small lurch forward.

To: editor@mcnews.com

I wish you wouldn’t use tinyurl.com in the magazine, for a number of reasons.

First, any error in a tinyurl code makes the link completely useless. This might be a printing error in the magazine, or a typing error on the subscriber’s part. Either way, there’s no way to guess where the link was intended to go.

Second, a careful computer user is very reluctant to visit a web site “blind” without any idea of where he’s going. Tinyurl makes that sort of reckless behavior mandatory. Even if we completely trust the magazine to vet web sites for safety, any typing error and we could end up anywhere on the web.

Third, the reader may not be sitting in front of the computer as he reads the article. If there’s a real URL on the page, he at least has a chance of remembering what web site was mentioned, so he can find it later when he’s at the computer. Likewise, when reading the magazine he may recognize the URL as one he’s already visited, saving a trip to the computer entirely. There’s no chance of remembering or recognizing a tinyurl.

Fourth, occasionally the writer will succumb to the temptation to give a tinyurl without ever even mentioning the actual company or product he’s referring to. This renders the whole reference completely useless unless the reader is at a computer and able to type in the tinyurl correctly.

Fifth, tinyurl.com could disappear without notice, or turn evil somehow, and where would that leave you? All the tinyurl links in a subscriber’s collection of back issues would be obsolete.

I realize that full URLs are too big to fit nicely in narrow text columns in the magazine. I would suggest that there’s a perfectly good standard solution to problems like this one: footnotes. Instead of a tinyurl, put something like [Link 1] in the text, and put the link at the bottom of the page. You can let it span multiple columns in order to minimize line breaks within the URL. The footnote reference is even more compact than the tinyurl, and the full URL at the bottom of the page avoids all of the disadvantages mentioned above.

Thanks for listening.

K1200LT Accessorizing

This week I added a set of driving lights and a VHF/UHF ham radio antenna to the K1200LT motorcycle. The driving lights were a complete kit from CycleGadgets.com featuring PIAA 1100X halogen dichroic lamps, custom brackets, and a custom wiring harness. The installation required removing the large plastic fairing pieces from the front of the bike, which I had never done before. It turns out to be relatively easy, once you know how.

The ham radio antenna required a little bit more innovation. I started with the standard BMW bracket, normally used to mount a CB antenna on the right side of the bike, opposite the existing broadcast antenna on the left side. Of course the BMW bracket is designed to work with a special BMW antenna assembly, so it doesn’t have any standard fittings or connectors on it. I ended up drilling out the bracket to 5/8 inch, the diameter of a standard SO-239 style connector, and then cutting off most of the vertical length with a hacksaw. This allowed me to fit in a standard coax cable adapter (a Diamond C101), and mount a standard dual-band antenna, a Diamond NR-770HB. By good luck, the ham antenna is almost exactly the same height as the existing broadcast antenna.

For now, the antenna doesn’t do any good, because there’s no radio. I could park and hook the antenna up to a handheld radio, but that’s not the main idea. I still need to decide what radio to install and where the heck to put it. The standard BMW solution is to use a small handheld and put it in the oddments compartment on top of the bike just in front of the seat. That’s unacceptable, because the controls and displays are not accessible or visible inside the compartment.

The leading contender right now is the Yaesu FT-90R compact mobile transceiver, intended for mounting in a car. It’s pretty small, but bigger than a handheld (and bigger than the oddments compartment). The front panel can be mounted separately, and the front panel is really small and light (but not weatherproof). I can put the front panel on top of the bike just about anywhere. The problem is where to put the main unit. Which would be no problem at all except that it requires some ventilation for cooling. That may be impossible, and I may end up ignoring it and hoping for the best.

The other missing link is the user interface: microphone, speaker, and push-to-talk (PTT) switch. I can get the BMW PTT kit intended for the CB or FRS radio, so that’s easy. The microphone and speaker need to mount inside my helmet. That stuff is available off the shelf, too. I just need to work out where the wires will connect to the motorcycle and figure out how to interface them electrically to the ham radio.

Then I’ll get a chance to test my theory that two-way radio is too distracting to use in traffic on a motorcycle.