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HOG Lewis And Clark Touring Rally

Lewis And Clark Touring Rally

Harley Owners Group registration is now open!

It starts on July 10th in Portland, Oregon and ends July 21st in St. Charles, Missouri.

It’s a throw back to 2002 when HOG led a contingency of riders along the route made famous by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during their 1804 – 1806 expedition.  I didn’t attend the original ride, but wrote about it in a post HERE.  I’m sure the box of commemorative “swag” from HOG only contributed to the adventure and road stories.

From the Pacific Ocean to the banks of the Mississippi River in Missouri, the touring rally will take Harley-Davidson riders to 9 cities along the famed route, numerous museums and interpretive centers, as well as some spectacular wind in the face riding.  It’s an especially great opportunity to ride the famous Bear Tooth Pass and explore Yellowstone National Park.  Here is a post with some photos from when I traveled this route back in 2013.

It’s not an inexpensive touring rally as registration on the members.hog.com website is $450.  It does include numerous meals, commemorative merchandise and special gatherings with fellow participants as part of the event package.

Notes from the website state: Maximum Capacity for the rally is 300. Full members may invite 1 guest on the tour.  The member must register the guest under his/her member number and purchase one of the above packages.  Cancellation: Prior to May 1, 2017 there is no cancellation fee. May 2, 2017 – July 3, 2017 a 50% fee will be imposed ($225).  If the Rally Package has been mailed to members they will need to return the rally package before a refund will be issued.  Cancelation deadline is July 4th, 2017.

Alert: You might not have this issue, but I was registering for the Pacific Northwest Rally earlier in the day and had numerous issues with the HOG website hanging.  I was using a MacBook with Safari browser, but couldn’t get the site to work. I called the HOG Support phone line and it was suggested that I use Google Chrome browser, which I did and it worked fine with that browser.

Photo courtesy of HOG website.

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BITW-HelmetAs I write this I’m reminded that I was flying home from Barcelona, Spain about this time last year after a long work week at an industry event and that every year in business is different.

A few years are easy, some are hard, and most are somewhere in between. Each year you face a different set of circumstances: changing economic, political, social and what’s cool in the billet industry.

We know from the Discovery Channel which scripted a mini-series project about the history of Harley-Davidson, that in the early years the company really struggled to survive. From month to month, they worked hard to keep from getting further behind and sinking further into debt.  There were the AMF years and then came the housing bubble.  Those of you who have tried or are establishing a little business of your own know that success is much harder than you envisioned it should be. Many folks think there must be “one big thing” they are missing that if discovered and remedied would turn things around and put them on the path to major prosperity.

Clearly, that isn’t the case, and over the course of a few startup years often you learn that rather than “one big thing,” there are many functions throughout the business that had to get established in good working order for the business to really succeed.

After 114 years, this still holds true for Harley-Davidson. There are no guarantees or shortcuts to success. There is only doing the hard work that needs to be done, doing it to the highest standards, and identifying the next area to establish or improve in order to build the next generation of Harley-Davidson rides and riders to control their destiny.

All of this became acute over the last week when Harley announced their Q4 and full-year 2016 financial results (HERE).

Words like “intense competition, flat market, soft sales, and earnings miss” ruled the day.

These are just words.  I’m of the viewpoint that how well any company performs is a key factor in how well they succeed compared to their competition.  Since we’re a few days before Super Bowl — a sports analogy is in order — how well a team executes ALL aspects of their game has everything to do with whether they win or lose.

Obviously taste in motorcycle brands, styles, or in paint schemes, is subjective. Some in the press have beaten down the overall market with reports that seem to indicate the riding “fad” has ended. Granted there’s been negative publicity with Polaris shutting down the Victory Motorcycle brand and overall motorcycle industry earnings not being great, but there are many very nice motorcycles being made, and WE the riding enthusiasts/public have lots of choices.

Why do I bring this up?

I’ve notice in my travels that many successful companies have a sense that they are masters of their own fate; their success is within their control. They know it’s a myriad of little things done well that add up to their success. And no matter what their size, they realize that a company always has the resources at hand to take their next step. Isn’t that really the “art” of it: to creatively employ existing resources to advance the ride, the employees and the company?

Most of us know the answer to a problem is rarely found outside the company; it usually comes from within.  I’m confident that Harley-Davidson will find the answers and simply function better as an organization.  I predict they will do a more thorough job of performing the functions a successful motorcycle company needs to and roll out compelling new products that will be industry hits.

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I’m talking about the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe who are the native people of Death Valley.

Death Valley

Destination: Death Valley

With multiple weeks of nice weather, our posse departed Portland, Oregon early morning on September 17th with a cold front and threat of rain and the occasional spit of rain drops in the face. We haplessly listened to the V-Twin’s drone on as we traveled east on Interstate 84 for 426 miles.

Long delay due to overturned semi on I-84

Long delay caused by an overturned Concrete semi on I-84

We arrived in Boise late afternoon which was hosting Oktoberfest in the Basque Block part of the vibrant downtown!  We enjoyed some island fare and refreshments on the rooftop tiki patio at The Reef.  Crowds gathered in the closed off streets for authentic German biers, food and of course the occasional chicken dance.  And in what has to be one of the best Idaho cover bands — Pilot Error — rocked the crowd most of the evening.  Here is a video of the band doing a Def Leppard cover with Derek Roy as lead vocal and the awesome Roger Witt – on lead guitar.

As the evening wore on it seemed filled with young college kids who were trying hard to “be” the club scene.  Like those videos produced by I’m Shmacked.

Idaho Basin

Snake River and Great Basin area

The next morning was a continuation east on the mind-numbing straight road of Interstate 84. However, we really clicked off the miles to Twin Falls doing the freeway speed limit which is now set at 80 mph!  We rolled along and were surprised by how many 18-wheelers tried to pass us.

As a side bar, you might recall that in the mid-1970s, Congress established a national maximum speed limit by withholding highway funds from states that maintained speed limits greater than 55 mph. Do you remember the “I can’t drive 55” days?  The requirement was loosened for rural interstates in 1987 and completely repealed in 1995. As of today, 41 states have speed limits of 70 mph or higher. Oregon state legislators who seem to know more than the average citizen about how to protect us from ourselves just recently increased some rural interstate speeds to 70 mph.  Texas is the fastest at 85 mph.

Idaho

In route to Ely, NV

But I’ve digressed.  This part of our arid motorcycle journey took us on the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway which runs through the Snake River Canyon. We rode through bright green irrigated fields, crossed the Snake River, saw a waterfall spilling from the top of a high bluff, and watched windmills turning in the stiff wind.  As we headed further south on U.S. Route 93 we split the Great Basin that covers most of Nevada and part of Utah. There were mountains to the East and West, and the traffic thinned to an occasional tractor-trailer hauling freight or cattle.

Our ride ended that day in Ely, Nevada, which was founded as a stagecoach stop along the Pony Express, and later became a booming copper mining town.

We parked the bikes and enjoyed a nice dinner at the La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant.

On the Lonliest Road

On Nevada’s Loneliest Road

The following day we were up early and continued our ride south on one of Nevada’s loneliest roads.  I’m not sure about you, but I find the Nevada desert to be immensely beautiful and awe-inspiring. Even though most of the roads are flat and straight, the scenery is grand and I always enjoy the ride.

Just a few miles south of Ely is a turnoff for the Ward Charcoal ovens.  We didn’t travel down the eight miles of gravel road, but there are beehive-shaped stone kilns built by Mormons around 1876 to produce fuel for the silver and lead smelters serving the mines on Ward Mountain.  As you look across the valley at the Big Basin National Park, there is the 13,000 foot Wheeler Peak standing off in the distant.

More Lonely Road...

More Lonely Road…

We traveled the mostly straight 240+ miles and finally rolled into North Las Vegas and could see the skyline of the famous Las Vegas strip.  Speaking of the city that never sleeps, our posse picked up a lot of traffic at the U.S. 93/I-15 interchange and were immediately greeted with a dude on a sport bike weaving in and out of lanes.  Then adding to the traffic drama he started to split lanes at full on freeway speeds.

I must have missed that part of the training about how motorcyclists should always make sudden moves in heavy traffic!  Most people who’ve had any experience driving in and around Vegas know that it can be a bit treacherous. Cages with locals that always seem to be in a hurry and cabbies are out in force all day and night driving fast and cutting across multiple lanes.  Add to that the tourists trying to navigate a new city on the freeways and it’s a perfect storm of distracted drivers.

After all the traffic hustle and bustle I was looking forward to parking the bike for awhile and relaxing around the pool for a day.  That evening we took on the “clickers” (i.e. porn panderers) who stand on every corner of the Strip and aggressively try to shove advertisements for adult entertainment in your face.

Selfie

Departing Las Vegas

Don’t take me wrong, Las Vegas has world-class restaurants, cool bars, amazing entertainment and great weather, but after a couple of days of breathing air freshener the casinos pump into their ventilation systems to mask the reeking of camels, cigarillos, cigars and those slot machines going ding-ding-ding… I’m ready for some fresh air and wind in the face!

We did have an opportunity to walk through the sprawling Harley-Davidson dealer across from the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.  We checked out the new Milwaukee Eight touring bikes and spent some time chatting with a knowledgeable sales person about the 2017 differences.


It wasn’t too long (about 48 hours) and Las Vegas was in our mirrors as we rode out into the desert on Hwy 160.  We departed the city early so that we could tour through Death Valley before it got too hot.  It was still in the high-70 degree range as we departed.  We increased altitude going through Red Rock Canyon National Park toward Pahrump as the desert landscape morphs from sandy, rocky terrain dotted with low brush and creosote bushes.  Big stratified rock formations and hills define the valleys in the distance, closing in on the road periodically before opening up to a wide expanse of flat desert floor. It’s a wonderland of muted color.
Rearward pic

Looking back on Hwy 190

We fueled up in Pahrump which is an interesting town.  Like in the rest of Nevada, gambling is legal in Pahrump, and there are several casinos to take advantage of that fact. But, unlike Las Vegas, the casinos in Pahrump are present but not dominant. They’re smaller and a little less intimidating.  There might be some wisdom in staying overnight in Pahrump instead of the hectic scene in Vegas. Certainly the traffic situation would be a lot less stressful.

At the Death Valley junction we turned west on Hwy 190 and headed for Furnace Creek where the Native American tribe known as the Death Valley Timbisha Shoshone Band of California are located.

Initially it was was quite comfortable, but as we descended into the valley it felt like someone was turning up an oven.  It was still early and the temps were in the high 80’s but by the time we stopped in Furnace Creek it was 100 degrees.  Surprisingly hot for the end of September, but the scenery is spectacular!

Death Valley

Death Valley – Timbisha Shoshone Tribe

It’s some of the best “landscape” on the planet that looks a bit like you’ve arrived on Mars. There’s nothing growing out there higher than your knee yet it will be forever etched in your memory as not just one of the greatest motorcycle rides ever but one of the most beautiful.  At one place in the park you can look down at one of the lowest points on earth at -280 feet in one direction and up to the highest point in the continental U.S. in another (Mt. Whitney, at 14,494).  It’s an amazing color contrast.

Existing Death Valley

Exiting Death Valley

We scurried on out of the national park and headed toward Mammoth Lakes on Hwy 395.  The first real town you come to is Lone Pine. In the early to mid 20th century, the area around Lone Pine, particularly the Alabama Hills, which lie between the highway and the Sierra range, was a popular setting for western movies.  Just west of town you’ll get another nice view of Mt. Whitney.

By the time we rode through the Inyo National Forest the desert heat had faded and we were getting hit with cooler air.  Much, much cooler as we gained altitude and it started to spit rain drops.  Not enough to soak the road or require rain gear, but enough to make it a bit uncomfortable.  Our ride on this day ended at Mammoth Lakes which is a ski and outdoor-sports town.

Heading up toward Mammoth Lakes

Heading up toward Mammoth Lakes

Surprisingly it rained most of the night, but the sky cleared up in the early morning and we departed Mammoth Lakes with the temperature only in the high 40’s.  A brisk start to our riding day as we continued north on Hwy 395 on the eastern side of the Sierra’s.  We rode around Mono Lake, and we climbed to another 8100-foot ridge, which offers a great view back to the Mono basin before starting back down past the turn-off for Bodie.

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

The last real town before your reach Nevada is Bridgeport.  We stopped at the Bridgeport Inn, for breakfast.  A nice place built in 1877 and about 23 miles from Mono Lake.  It’s a family run historic period Victorian hotel, old Irish pub, and fine dining restaurant.  After warming up a bit we continue our ride and crossed into Nevada about 50 miles after Bridgeport. Aptly named Topaz Lake covers the state line next to the highway as you cross.

We arrived in Reno for the start of Street Vibrations 2016. Downtown was rumbling with motorcycles of all shapes and sizes for the fall rally which marks the last big motorcycle rally of the season for the west. There was no shortage of vendors and having been to the event a number of times we repeated some of the events over a couple of days.

The Posse

The Destination: Timbisha Indian Country Posse

Part of the posse departed early Saturday morning and some headed out late morning to return back to Portland.  I’m not sure about you, but I don’t take many photos on the return trip from Reno as I’ve been on these roads a lot over the years and just focused on riding home vs. scenery.


In summary, we traveled over 2100 miles in 8 days with no mishaps, tickets or mechanical malfunctions. What more can you ask for?

 

Street Vibrations UPDATE:  There was some disappointing  news surrounding Street Vibrations which I learned of upon my return.  Jeffrey Sterling Duke, 57, of Georgetown, Calif. was shot to death on Interstate 80 near Truckee on Saturday night.  According to law enforcement he was semi-associated with the Vagos Motorcycle Club and his Facebook page noted that he was a Green Nation Supporter.

According to officials three motorcyclists rode up to the victim and fired multiple gunshots before taking off.  It’s not clear if this shooting is associated, but you might recall that five years ago this past weekend, members of the Vagos and Hells Angels Motorcycle Clubs exchanged gunfire during a deadly brawl on the floor of a casino in Sparks.

Randy Burke (Road Shows) applies some media “spin” and explains why the Street Vibrations Rally is not to be blamed for the shooting.

Photos taken by author.

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"M-8" top view showing tubular rockers

“M-8” top view showing tubular rockers

It happens every year and often it’s big news.

This year the launch of the Harley-Davidson 2017 motorcycle line-up is anchored by the new Milwaukee-Eight™107 and Milwaukee-Eight™114 power plants.

A couple weeks ago I posted about a new eight-valve Big Twin and now we know the rumors are true.  The displacement of the standard version is 107ci (1,750cc) or in the CVO version it’s 114ci (1,870cc). The 2017 touring models get these engines first and may waterfall down to other models later in the year.  The 107 uses precision oil-cooled cylinder heads and will be in the Street Glides, Road Glides, the Electra Glide Ultra Classic, and Freewheeler trikes.  A Twin-Cooled version with liquid-cooled cylinder heads and radiators will be in the Ultra Limited models, the Road Glide Ultra, and Tri Glide models.  The CVO Limited and CVO Street Glide models will have the Twin-Cooled Milwaukee-Eight 114.

M-8: Four-valve combustion chamber and the dual spark plugs

M-8: Four-valve combustion chamber and the dual spark plugs

You might recall that the last major design evolution of the Twin Cam — and a significant part of the Project RUSHMORE and marketing campaign — was anchored on improving power plant cooling.  This took the form of circulating liquid coolant in tubes around each cylinder head’s hot exhaust valve seat and then to external radiators.  Many riders neglected to notice much in the way of decreased heat from this method of trying to get more power out of the 103.

So let’s talk details of the new eight-valve “M-8”.
ksksksksk

M-8:  Cutaway shows cooling areas of circulating liquid (Blue)

The 107 (3.937 x 4.375-inch bore and stroke) is cooled by pumping oil through it and then through a “chin radiator” ahead of the crankcase. In the 107 and 114 Twin-Cooled models (the 114 has 4.016 x 4.500-inch cylinder dimen­sions), water/antifreeze coolant is circulated through a cored heart-shaped passage that encircles the exhaust valves and then through radiators mounted forward to either side of the engine, as we’ve seen.  The new engine uses a nearly flat chamber of minimum surface area with four valves and abandons the large surface area of the traditional deep, modified hemi two-valve combustion chamber found in the old design.  The new engine operates at high compression ratios (as high as 10.5:1).  As a result, the 2017 Touring motorcycles will provide 10 percent more torque.  Harley states that will translate into two to three bike lengths faster from 0–60 mph, and one to two lengths quicker in top-gear 60–80-mph roll-ons along with improved fuel economy.

Overall airflow capacity of the “M-8” is 50 percent greater versus previous Big Twin engines, and the throttle body now has a 55mm bore.  Each cylinder has an acceleration-type knock sensor along with ECM control which protects the engine from detonation.  The new system is an improvement over the previous ion-sensing knock detection.  The exhaust components, including the catalyst, have been relocated to help move engine heat away from rider and the new engines have a single four-lobe camshaft with automatic hydraulic tensioner in place of the Twin Cam’s pair which will help reduced mechanical noise.

And in a first for the rubber-mounted Big Twin is a single counter-rotating internal balancer.  It’s meant to eliminate 75 percent of the engine’s primary shaking force.  In addition, idle rpm has been cut from 1,000 to 850 rpm all in a effort to give riders improved engine smoothness.  Other engine items of note is a new higher capacity alternator along with a new 1.6 kW (2.14 hp) starter that replaces the previous 1.2 kW (1.6 hp) units.  There is a self-torque-boosting clutch with Brembo hydraulic actuation for a lighter lever pull and the engine ECM has been changed from a mapped system to torque-based which will be interpreted as a call for a specific torque level, not a specific throttle angle.

On the motorcycle side, the front and rear suspension is new.  The new 49mm fork contains “dual bending valve fork technology” and uses cartridge-style variable-orifice damping valves, which Harley claims will deliver improved control at low speed without harshness over sharper bumps.  This wasn’t achievable with the old system of fixed damping.  Touring fork travel is 4.6 inches on standard models and 3.9 inches on low models.

After doing a quick H-D web site scan on the CVO Street Glide and CVO Limited models — it looks like the MSRP price went up $1K from 2016 ($36,799) to 2017 ($37,799).  The same $1K increase is also shown for the CVO Limited ($39,999 to $40,999).

Only you can decide if the new 117 engine, the new suspension along with the radio power adjustment warrants the price increase.

Photos courtesy of H-D.  Engine detail/stats courtesy of Cycle World.

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Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 11.26.49 AMThe “spin” is that Harley-Davidson reached a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the sale of its Pro Super Tuner — an aftermarket tuning product used to calibrate motorcycles intended for off-road and closed-course competition.

The 411 is:  Harley-Davidson agreed to no longer sell its competition-only tuner in the U.S.  They also agreed to pay a $12 million civil penalty and spend $3 million on an air pollution mitigation project.  In addition, Harley-Davidson will also have to buy back and destroy the roughly 340,000 “illegal” devices that it sold.  As part of the mitigation of air pollution under the settlement, the motor company agreed to work with an independent third party to replace conventional wood-stoves with cleaner-burning stoves in designated communities, thereby improving future air quality.

Important to note is that the settlement is not an admission of liability by Harley-Davidson.

The EPA took legal action and alleged that by selling the Harley-Davidson Pro Super Tuner through its U.S. dealer network, the motor company enabled dealers and customers to tamper with motorcycles used on public roads. Harley-Davidson disagreed with the EPA’s position, noting that the tuner was designed and sold as an after-market, competition-only product used to adapt engine parameters for use with Harley-Davidson after-market equipment.  The product was sold for more than two decades, under an accepted regulatory approach that permitted the sale of competition-only parts.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 11.28.51 AMIs this government overreach or the administrations regulatory process/approach to public protection in the race/competition-only arena?

Ed Moreland, Harley-Davidson’s Government Affairs Director contends that it was legal to use the Pro Super Tuner in race conditions in the U.S., however, “concern for our U.S. customers and dealers weighed heavily in reaching this compromise with the EPA…”by settling this matter, we can focus our future attention and resources on product innovation rather than a prolonged legal battle with the EPA.”

To settle or not to settle a case often comes down to a corporation’s litigation culture. Harley-Davidson likely determined that legal fees and the possibility of liability/payouts at the end of a losing legal battle meant it was more cost effective to capitulate, remove the product for sale — settle for $15 million and move on.

Harley-Davidson, is one of many suppliers in the aftermarket race/performance parts industry and the legal tactics of the EPA, along with the potential consequences of prolonged legal action with manufactures will have a chilling effect on the performance parts market.

It should be noted that Harley-Davidson’s corporate stance is and has been committed to meeting or exceeding all emissions requirements for its motorcycles in every market it serves.  They have always included clear product labeling of competition-only products and detail on what performance enhancements are considered street legal and for competition-use only, and called out the legal consequences of tampering with emission controls and components, and what enhancements would void the vehicle warranty.

Photos courtesy of H-D.

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H-D new engine -- “Milwaukee-Eight”

H-D new engine — “Milwaukee-Eight”

According to the rumor mill, Harley-Davidson is set to release a new engine in certain touring models for 2017.

The new engine is called the “Milwaukee-Eight”.

The engine will have four valves per cylinder and be increased to 107 cubic inches, or 1753cc.There have been seven distinct engine designs from the motor company since 1914, and Harley-Davidson has been consistent with air-cooled, pushrod driven, two valve per cylinder designs.  The new engine is the eighth in the line and may explain the naming convention. The new engine will be air cooled, but the increase in the number of valves will help make the new engine compliant with increasingly more stringent emissions laws.

The official unveiling is reportedly to occur in a couple of weeks when Harley-Davidson rolls out the new 2017 models.

Photo courtesy of Harley-Davidson and motorcyclelife.com.au

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Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 11.42.14 AMI’m a bit late getting this information out, but you can read the company press release HERE.

From my experience you know it’s going to be a long day when the financial perspective includes statements about how we’re in challenging times…  “Political, economic and cultural forces working against the confidence and security for people everywhere in the world” — whoa, roll the eerie and scary sound effects!

Here is a quick synopsis:

The Bad:

  • Worldwide sales for the quarter were down due to significant declines in the U.S. industry which was a surprise and far weaker than expected. Worldwide retail sales of new Harley-Davidson motorcycles in Q2 were down 1.9%.  U.S. retail sales were lower than expected on surprisingly weak industry results.  Q2 retail sales in the U.S. were down 5.2% versus prior year, behind weak U.S. industry sales.
  • U.S. retail inventory was up at the end of the second quarter.
  • Manufacturing expenses were higher than expected, driven by startup costs related to the implementation of a new ERP system in Kansas City, and costs associated with plant retooling.  In addition, plant efficiencies were lower than expected due to lower production given soft sales in Q2.  This is an overly simple statement because in reality it’s complex planning and execution, including numerous down days, inventory bridges and careful new model ramp plans.
  • The motor company stated they are taking steps to lower expected 2016 shipments which is largely due to continued pressure on industry growth in the U.S.  Third quarter shipments are expected to be approximately flat to down 9% versus 2015 third quarter.

The Good:

  • Revenue was up slightly.  Net income was $280.4 million on consolidated revenue of $1.86 billion compared to net income of $299.8 million on consolidated revenue of $1.82 billion in last year’s second quarter.
  • Q2 market share of 49.5% in the U.S., was up a strong 2.0 percentage points. The gains came in all segments, Touring, Cruisers and the Street/Sportster segment size of motorcycles. And it came from all seven sales regions in the U.S. The market share gains were over double the nearest competitor and came largely at the expense of Japanese competitors.
  • Retail sales in international markets were up in Q2 in all regions except Latin America (Brazil).
  • The company added six new international dealerships in the second quarter and has a goal to add 150+ international dealers over the next 4 years.

Given this current environment one could wonder if Harley-Davidson is positioned appropriately for the flat/declining industry which seemed to surprise them in Q2 — management states they are prepared.

Full Disclosure:  I have NO personal stock holdings in HOG or plans to procure any.

Some parts of the above text are attributable to the Seeking Alpha transcript on July 28, 2016.  Photo courtesy of Harley-Davidson.

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