Sunday
Jul202014

Is that daylight?

Yes, it actually is daylight.

It is not a metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel after a hard struggle.  This light spells doom and illuminates failure.

The past 36 hours have seen me sleeping for a mere 7 hours.  Ordinarily, this is not extraordinary.  However, it is currently half past seven in the morning, and I've spent the last four hours attempting to return to sleep after a short midnight-to-3AM stint, which came only after the stimulants mercifully filtered out of my system.

So here I sit, with the German Grand Prix qualifying playing off my DVR while I write a blog post about it. ...Because apparently in this day and age, that's what all insomniacs become these days: bloggers.

Oh, wait... blogging is dead now, and they're all on Twitter.

It's not as if yesterday wasn't tiring, either.  I arrived to work after leaving that very building at 3AM the night before, having begrudgingly covered two people's shifts at the same time, with my obsessive nature taking over and spending an hour longer than they would have done cleaning... Wait, where did this sentence start? Yesterday morning, okay.  Sold-out show with a twist: unique cocktails on special, meaning extra prep work, which my fellow bartender was doing for one of them while I did all the rest.

Only half an hour to do all this.  Actually less, because the MOD wanted to open early without telling anyone.  So people are pouring in and I'm only half done with the other bartender MIA as far as I know. Next thing I know, four servers are suddenly behind my bar setting up, when I really only wanted one bartender who knew what to do. No offense to the servers, but they don't do this every day, and I really don't have time to answer questions.

Did I mention just four hours of sleep the night before? Well, if not, you're probably better rested than I am and you did the math already.

Oh, look.  Lewis Hamilton just crashed. Brake failure. Mercedes boys might want to look at that.

But the event, thankfully, went smoothly. I've done busy without decent rest plenty of times after three years, especially when I was working two jobs.  The only real problems came when a manager would relay an instruction to the other bartender, and I can't hear the contents of said instruction.  Working in the same setting long enough, you just know what instructions sound like as opposed to conversations or general comments.  I then break my concentration (risky move) to try and get someone to repeat what was said.

I had one ray of hope: the following show was going to be slow. I asked the other bartender if he was cool with working that show solo so I could get a smidge of rest.  "Um, they're switching me to server and sending a bunch of them home."

My brain fails to compute this.

He explains this a second time and I immediately go to 7-11 for energy drinks.

Stimulants keep me awake, but alertness is another matter.  I'm now on autopilot for the rest of the day. It's enough to bartend a half-capacity crowd solo, receiving minimal help from other staff. The weird thing I noticed, looking back, was that muscle memory seems unaffected by how awake you are. Rotating a shaker tin on my palm and tossing a bottle in the air to get a better grip work as smoothly as ever.

Why do all energy drinks taste terrible? With such a crowded market, why is no one working on that?

Relief comes when my GM tells me they've got it and sends me home.  A shower, pizza delivery, and whiskey give me those three hours I was talking about earlier.

But why am I up now? Logic dictates I should be out like a coma patient. My roommate can pass out virtually anywhere.  Where's my coma?

I'm getting a headache now.  That's enough writing.

Thursday
Jun192014

LeadFoot Video: Oil, Wind and Fire

I take pride in my car.  A 1999 model year Pontiac Sunfire sedan with a 2.2 liter engine, 3-speed automatic transmission with overdrive, aftermarket radio and tasteful body-colored rear spoiler.  I call him, “Eddy.”

Sure, it’s fifteen years old.  Sure, we got it just before GM canned the Pontiac brand.  Sure, it hasn’t got much power, it shakes the front passenger door panel when the compressor’s on, someone in the parking lot at work put a big dent in the rear driver’s side door, and it’s not great on gas (despite its four-cylinder engine; damn the three-speed auto).

But beyond all this, I love it.  The car has grown on me these past five (almost six) years.  In that time, much has been done.

Before we even got it, it had been in a front-end collision.  This was immediately apparent, because the front passenger door doesn’t fit right in the frame and generates significant wind noise at highway speed. In addition, the plastic bits in the front-right wheel well aren’t in good shape, and rub against the wheel in full-left steering lock.  This became gloriously apparent when a bolt on the water pump wore a hole in the coolant hose, and half a dozen pieces of plastic had to be removed to attach a new hose (with proper screw hose clamps and the old hose wrapped around the new one for protection.

Actually, now that I’m thinking of it, I should probably investigate that hose.  It has been a while.  Next time.

If I recall correctly, the next thing we did was regular maintenance (brakes and the like).  There was a coolant temperature sensor that went bad, which made for some interesting readings on the dash.  And almost three years ago, we found the starter motor was going.  The OBD reader was throwing off some weird codes because of the voltage drop on that occasion.  Replaced that part in a parking lot.

Then two years ago, the air conditioning died.  In the middle of summer.  After an entirely new system was installed, we eventually we’d found that multiple slow oil leaks had worn out the rubber bushings in the torque strut mount, and without the dampening effect of the mount, the engine was rocking forward, rubbing the AC hose on the radiator fan grille, rubbing a hole in the line, allowing Freon to escape.

Replacing the mount would have been cheaper than rebuilding the engine (the ultimate solution to the problem), and we had a warranty on the earlier AC system work, since we were at the same shop, so we had them install a new mount and they’d replace the AC line for free.

(Between this and the next service, the cooling fan motor had gone, which was an interesting day in and of itself, and I shall detail it another time.)

To their credit, when they did the complimentary AC work, they’d wrapped the line with rubber hose, like one from a coolant system, and zip-tied it on.  This was very kind of them, and I’ve always respected them for this.  But in practice, rubber is a soft material, and if you beat on it enough times even with plastic, it will be eaten away.

Lately I haven’t been driving as much, living so close to work, so I haven’t been able to notice the recurring problems with the Sunfire.  As summer has been rolling in, I’ve finally noticed the air conditioning wasn’t working again.  This meant another possibly damaged hose.  I watched the engine as I shifted from neutral to drive and reverse, and saw that dramatic rock-forward as the transmission shifted into reverse and the engine pushed against the torque converter, pressing the AC line on the radiator fan grille, rubbing in that ever-irksome hole in the system through the rubber covering.

Upon learning this, I immediately banned myself from using reverse gear to prevent further damage.  This meant I would be walking to work more often (especially because the scooter has decided to go on strike; All this time I thought it was Chinese, turns out it was French).  It made it interesting when I had to back out of my parking space at home, and there’s a big column on the driver’s side that would have hit the door, so I was pushing from the passenger side and hoping the steering would stay straight.

One day, I was running too late for work to walk, so I braved driving.  Sitting at an annoyingly long light, I saw the engine temperature climbing uncomfortably high.  Oh, crap, there goes the cooling fan again.

So to sum up so far, we’ve got no AC, no reverse, and no cooling without forward momentum; a veritable trifecta of problems.  I’d guessed I’d need a whole day to resolve them.

So finally comes a day off from work, and I get down to business.  Quick trip to [insert national auto parts store here], and I had a torque mount, cooling fan motor, some engine degreaser and a headlight polishing kit.

Let’s get this out of the way: I’ve seen the results of those kits that involve just wiping the oxidation away.  Do yourselves a favor and use a kit that needs a drill.  It’s just better.  Eddy’s headlights are sparkling now, and they light up the end of the street.

With the car on ramps, I doused the oily bits with engine degreaser and followed it up with a spray from the hose.  It did all right, but there’s so much caked-on oil, I’d need a stronger product.  In the meantime, elbow grease took care of the worst engine grease, especially around the torque strut brackets.  They’re nice and clean now.  Or, at least, they will be for a little bit before oil gets on them again.

Removing a torque strut mount is a simple affair: wedge some plastic parts out of the way and loosen the two bolts, letting the mount fall free.  One normally has to loosen the bolts about an inch and they can be pulled out (there’s only thread on one side of the bracket, and not in the torque strut itself).  Such was not the case.  As soon as the bolt was free of the thread, the engine pulled on the strut, holding the bolt at an angle so I had no choice but to unscrew it the entire length.  The front bolt, having more play, took on some especially interesting angles.

At last, it was free and I could further clean the grime off the brackets.  Then came time to put in the new one.  Rear bolt in: Check.  Front bolt in: Um, the bracket’s not supposed to be that far away…

The engine had shifted forward almost two inches, and my arm strength from underneath the car was not enough to force it into place, let alone hold it there while my other hand inserted the bolt.  A super-strong, eighteen-inch screwdriver employed as a pry bar couldn’t give me the necessary leverage, either.  I had a ratchet strap in my trunk, and I was able to find two suitable points for the strap, but it was such a piece of [expletive] it couldn’t even move the engine half an inch without slipping.  And every time it did slip, it did with such force and noise I thought the world was going to end.  I’m amazed my heart’s kept beating to this day after seeing all that.

It’s worth saying now, I think, that I had taken the car to my parents’ house.  My lease prohibits automotive repair done in the garage (though I’ve done quite a bit to the scooter there), and my dad had a set of ramps I could use to raise the car.  (They’re old, so I put some blocks of wood underneath them for peace of mind, as I’m not fond of 3000 pounds of metal landing on my face, but they held up all the same.  Good job there.)  There’s also a power drill for the headlight polishing, a hose for the engine cleaning, and a much shorter walk to a refreshing drink of water.  It’s been kind of hot lately.  The house also has a backup vehicle in case I needed to make a run to the national chain parts store.

My folks are on vacation, having taken the minivan, because it’s better at carrying many things.  My dad’s car is a Honda subcompact with a manual.  His old car is a Nissan subcompact with an automatic, which my sister now drives to her work.  She was home while the folks were away, just hadn’t gotten home until I’d gotten to the torque strut part.

Having realized manual labor and a lousy ratchet strap wouldn’t be enough to move the engine, I knew I’d need to make an additional purchase.  An educated guess told me Harbor Freight should have something.

Side note: This mention of Harbor Freight is an actual endorsement.  I’m not being paid for this, I just think it’s a great place to buy that one tool you need for that one occasion you didn’t have a tool for before, and probably won’t need again, and getting a decent price on it.  That said, it took a while for me to find what I was looking for.  In my head, I was looking for a bigger, badder ratchet strap than what I had, but ended up with a steel cable ratchet that was hiding in the “Trailer Hitch” section.  I was thinking it would have been in the “Rope” section, which didn’t exist in the first place.

An earlier Skype conversation had granted me permission to use the Honda if need be, so when I’d come to the decision to go to the store, the only thing in my head was, “Okay, I’m going to borrow the Honda, get the part, and be back before the dinner my sister cooked gets cold.”  My sister was home, as was the Nissan, but still it wasn’t until I got to the second main street after a couple of hard shifts before I asked myself, “Why didn’t I take the AUTOMATIC Nissan?”

But as a gearhead, I was already committed, and in my defense, it was only the fifth time I’d driven a stick-shift. So a couple of rough shifts and two stalls on uphill starts later, I’m back with a cable come-along.

Used in conjunction with the lousy ratchet strap (which works better at shorter lengths, and adds length to the new steel cable ratchet), I was able to move the engine into place and hold it there to screw in the bolts (which are, thankfully, thick enough to withstand the forces involved).

Much cursing and grinding of teeth got me this far, and the sun was going down, so something involved as replacing the radiator fan motor would warrant checking simpler solutions first.  So, multimeter in hand, I disconnected the fan motor cable and pulled the coolant temperature sensor connector, forcing the fan to turn on.  Sure enough, the car’s computer wasn’t sending the necessary 12V to turn the fan in even the worst of circumstances.  This meant there was an electrical problem bigger than the motor, which I didn’t have time or resources to diagnose. So I called it a day, feeling I’d at least accomplished three of my four goals.

The fan motor turned out to be a bad fuse upon another trip to the national auto parts chain store.  While I was there, I grabbed an air conditioning system stop-leak product, along with a recharge kit.  Hell, it’s worth a shot, right? And if it works, it’s better than half-a-grand in shop repair.

So here we are, in the end, I have a new torque mount, clear headlights, and (kind of) clean engine,  a working fan motor, and a (for now) working air conditioning system.  I’ll call it a win for at least two weeks.  Beyond then, Eddy probably needs AC work…

Thursday
Jun192014

Oooohhhh. Aaahhhhhh.

Chilling at home tonight, sitting on my balcony, having a drink, writing a future blog post, when a lightning storm (ahem) "sparks up."

Many people have a fear of lighting. I understand this. It's several million volts of electricity at an insane amperage it can easily kill a human being, if not sufficiently protected.

But I find it facinating.  This phenomenon happens every day in some part of the world, but only rarely do you get to see it in such frequency from where you sit. About now, the sky is lighting up about four times every second! This is better than any rock concert anyone's ever been to!!

And the best part is I'm watching in complete safety.  I'm not the highest point in the area, so nothing's going to hit me.  Everything strike is from cloud to cloud, at least fifteen miles away (given the lack of thunder), and it isn't raining here, meaning the guardrail I'm resting my feet upon isn't soaked in highly-conductive water.

This is a great show I'm watching, and it's letting me get more done because the TV's not on, distracting me with dialogue.  Fewer people should be afraid of lightning. It is, in fact, beautiful.

But now the wind has picked up, and thunder has reached "Cracka-BOOM!!!" levels, so I have retreated to indoors. It's not as cool in here, despite the presenece of air conditioning.

Thursday
Mar202014

Keep calm

To sum up, we've got:

  • Russia invading its neighbors
  • A broken health care law
  • The economy is still in the toilet
  • Unemployment still in the stratosphere
  • Welfare fraud up the wazoo
  • An airliner that vanished into thin air
  • Dan Snyder is still the owner of the Washington Redskins
  • And four years after graduating college with special recognition for academic achievement, I still can't get a real job.

But its all gonna be okay, because Obama just filled out his NCAA bracket.

Sunday
Mar162014

Cheap Chinese Scooter: WHEEEEE!!!!

 Why did nobody tell me how much fun two wheels and a small engine could be?

 To go back a few pages, the day after I had finally gotten self-sustaining combustion from The Little Engine that Didn't Want To, I decided to take it out for a spin.  The weather had finally reached a level of mild (unheard of in this area, for early March) deemed reasonable for a late evening spin.

Retracing my steps for engine start was easy enough (I had blogged about it, after all). Getting the engine going again, however, was another matter.

Turns out that blasting it with name-brand carburetor cleaner was only enough to get it to work for the day. Numerous stomps at the kick-starter got the little mongrel going were more than enough to tell me I had some work to do.

But I did get it going after some furious kicking. And off I would ride! ...sans helmet. (But don't tell my mom!) But I wore a hat, at least!

And boy, what an experience! It would be cliché to say it was like riding a bike, but that's the best aproximation I can give you readers. Because quite honestly, it's probably been over ten years since I rode even a bicycle. (I had a car by then. What did I need a bike for?) Thirty seconds after I set off, I remembered, "Oh yeah, you bank when turning a bike."

My local streets are all but deserted at 2 A.M., a perfect time to test unfamiliar motorized transport. A vast majority of two-wheeled accidents are due to the rider's mistake, and happen in his first year of riding, and the rest are a mistake made by the driver of a nearby car. Given that knowledge, the best time to learn how to ride is at two in the morning in the middle of the week on city streets. The streets are completely empty so you can learn the intricacies of riding without having to dodge traffic. The fact that they're outer-city streets provides benefits as well, since they're very well-lit. This came in handy when I tested the high-beam headlight, which did nothing but illuminate the trees above me.

My conclusions on riding the scooter are thus:

 

  • There's not a lot of power. Even a slight grade is enough to bog it down. My 6'4" frame may have something to do with it, but there's no getting around the fact that this engine is only 1/44 the size of the one in my car, with three fewer cylinders.
  • There is some suspension. It absorbs some bumps. But you're better off avoiding them if you value having feeling in your rump.
  • The rear brake doesn't do a whole lot. Needs adjusting.
  • A potentially invaluable purchase for further night riding: goggles.
  • It could benefit from a manual clutch. The centrifugal clutch is not ideal when setting off while facing uphill. Stalling was a concern of mine, especially considering the effort it took to get it going in the first place.
  • The horn is useless. I was right next to it and I couldn't hear it.

 

But these concerns aside, I had the biggest smile on my face. I happened past some coworkers, who attested that I looked on top of the world.