Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pic of the Day: Mission Accomplished!

In observance of Fratboy's "Mission Accomplished" stunt 10 years ago, we present...the guy who actually got bin Ladin! :)

Dunno who did the 'Shop job, but it's funny :p~~~

(posting this early since I'll be away from computers for a few days, sunning my pale skin in California)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Song of the Day: Going to California (Led Zeppelin)

Got an opportunity to fly out to San Francisco for a few days. This'll be a lot of firsts. Never been further west than New Orleans, no farther north than Louisville, KY--and that trip was just last year.

The only mountain I've seen is Lookout, right near the Georgia/Tennessee line. Furthest south? Key West.

Never been out of the South.

Got the cameras ready, batteries charging, and all that. Really looking forward to seeing Alcatraz, that big orange bridge, and whatever I can spot from 30,000 feet.

(Edit to add: I want to thank those awesome fellas in Congress for doing an end-run around the Sequester by getting the FAA to make things more convenient for traveling members of Congress by throwing money at them. In fixing things to their own benefit, they've indirectly made my trip easier. Hope that hurts.)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cartoonists Demand Action

Cartoonists Demand Action is a subset of Demand Action, which is a campaign of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

You might not recognize all the cartoonists' names at the end, but if you've read editorial cartoons and comics pages you'll recognize their work.

Brace yourself for one heartbreaking image at the end.

The Cartoonists:
Lincoln Peirce
Lalo Alcaraz
Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman
Dave Roman
Mike Luckovich
Art Spiegelman
Tom Tomorrow
Bill Amend
Roz Chast
Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott
Jeff Keane
Mo Willems
Ruben Bolling
Stephan Pastis
Mike Peters
Ted Rall
Steve Brodner
Garry Trudeau
Raina Telgemeier
Dan Piraro
Peter Kuper
David Mazzucchelli

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Road Trip: The Little Citation That Could

Tallahassee damn near dried out in 1998. We had several months without significant rain; most of the spring and early summer went by without relief.

Tallahassee's surrounded by woodlands. Lots of kindling in the undergrowth. There were quite a few controlled burns, places where you'd be driving along and start smelling smoke, come around a curve and find a patch of ground the size of a house still smoldering.

There was at least one uncontrolled burn, a big forest fire between Tallahassee and Crawfordville. I could smell that one from my apartment 11 miles to the north.

We needed relief pretty badly and when the rains came they made up for lost time with a vengeance. We were getting some light sprinkles around mid-morning. I covered the Citation with a tarp: the area around the top of the windshield was pretty badly rusted out. If it rained hard enough I'd be driving home with a soaked seat and pools in the footwells.

Light sprinkles turned to heavy rains like gray curtains. Not bucket-loads, but tanker loads. Windshield wipers struggled in vain, giving only inches' more visibility. Falling water smote car roofs like a thousand Neil Peart drum solos.

The great thing about the delivery driver job I had at the time was that on a typical run you could be gone for an hour or more, depending on whether certain shops had ordered something. Our customers were scattered widely around town and in Quincy, Crawfordville, and Monticello, which are 15 to 25 miles out. Plenty of time between shops for thinking and recording writing ideas on a little tape recorder.

Not so great if you're struggling to see past the nose of your car, hoping the guy in front of you can see the guy in front of him (a common hope in rainless Tallahassee, a forlorn one in any other weather). Within hours people's yards on the southeast side of town were lakes, flooded from front door to pavement by insufficient drainage and massive runoff from Doak Campbell Stadium's lovely parking lot a few blocks north. There was an insane amount of water running in the shallow ditches and not much place for it to go. Most of my shortcuts were under water by noon. Lake Bradford Road had a lake where it went under a railroad bridge.

It rained all day, hard. We stayed busy. And wet. By quitting time it was back to sprinkling.

The Citation had stayed reasonably snug and dry, but the real test still lay ahead. Just about every road I could take had a problem; Lake Bradford was flooded, Orange Avenue westbound wasn't much better off, and eastbound would lead me to Monroe Street, which would be clogged with cars and construction instead of water.

I took Lake Bradford. That lake under the railroad bridge hadn't subsided much, but where it had been too deep for my delivery car (a Geo Metro), the Citation nosed through without any fuss. I passed a few abandoned cars on the higher ground just past the bridge. I knew not to try taking my usual shortcut that would get me to Ocala (Pepper, Lipona, and Belleview to Ocala, for the locals), so I went around the stadium's east side (Varsity to Pensacola). Varsity was flooded, too. Damn stadium. More abandoned cars on the roadside, some of them with their rear ends floating in nearly 3 feet of water.

The Citation rolled on, kicking up an impressive bow wave even at low speed. I took it slow. Pensacola Street took me past the north side of the stadium. At least now I was out of the worst of the flooding, but now I joined the lines of cars seeking higher ground and passage out of town. I don't know why I didn't just hit Ocala and head north like I normally would. Probably the traffic was too heavy that way. Can't remember. For whatever reason, I ended up on Mission, I think. All I remember about this bit is that I was cruising north on whatever road, came over the top of a hill, and had to panic stop so hard that all four wheels locked up. A line of cars stretched more than a mile to where this road--I'm pretty sure it's Mission; it's the only one that makes sense--dead-ended into Fred George Road. Stop sign. Very long wait.

From the shop to my apartment took at least an hour, probably 90 minutes, instead of fifteen. The Citation never sprang a leak, even when the water was halfway up the doors--though the next morning I discovered that my door and one taillight had become water tanks. Plenty of other people weren't as lucky. The Tallahassee Democrat ran a photo of one FSU parking area that was under six feet of water. A few inches of roof was all that showed of some guy's vintage '50s Chevy pickup. Some antennas poked up in other areas. Shortly after the July 13th Rain from Hell, Tallahassee or the County or someone decided that the southeast side's drainage problem should be addressed. Now there's a big drainage pond or two. I haven't seen the neighborhood since I moved to Pensacola in 1999, but it's got to be better for them these days.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Road Trip: You Turn Me Right 'Round, Baby...

Not really a road trip, so much as a test drive that went sour.

I had this monster '76 Impala wagon 20 years ago. It was the first car I owned that I actually drove anywhere. Mine was as white as Eric Estrada's teeth. There were some dents and dings, one spot above the left taillight where the previous owner backed into a garbage truck, and all the floorboards were rusted out, but for the most part it was straight and rust-free.

Huge car. Twenty feet long, with three rows of seating. The back row opened backwards so the occupants could look out the back window and make faces at other motorists [remembering that wrong--the seat flipped up facing forward, but there was still room behind the third row for small, unsecured, face-making brats].

Coolest feature on this beast was the "clamshell" rear door and window. Turn your door key partway and the rear window would retract into the ceiling. Turn it all the way and the tailgate would retract under the floor.

That was about the only "extra" other than power steering and brakes. Everything else was manual.

The Impala and I had a rivalry the entire time I owned it. I had it in my head that this car was going to run, and run well.

The Impala had other plans. Very passive aggressive. I'd have it running (again), run out and hop in to head to work, and...nothing doing. I'd curse it up and down, grab my 10-speed out of the back (got in the habit of always toting a bike as backup), and go to work.

I'd been fighting the Impala for about a year, rebuilding the carb, adjusting things, tricking it into being more reliable. Took it for a little proficiency run to see whether I could get my gas mileage into double digits, since 9mpg really freaking sucks. It wasn't even a big engine, just a run-of-the-mill 350 with a 2-barrel. I never got around to hot-rodding it.

Headed east down Creighton Road toward the bay...and damned if I didn't get trapped in a line of cars behind a big yellow road grader. I could hear its engine howling, maxed out, but only giving the thing 20 mph. When it turned south onto Old Spanish Trail, I fed gas to the Impala and headed for Scenic Highway, where I'd be able to open the throttle at least a little. South on Scenic, down to Langley, west. There's a long, high hill from Scenic up Langley. As I crested the hill...damned if I didn't see a line of cars ahead, and that farking road grader crawling along like a rolling roadblock.

I should have turned on Spanish Trail, which is right at the top of the hill. But no, I kept rolling along, planning to turn instead on Leesway, which runs between Langley and Creighton, to escape the grader. It took forever to get to Leesway. Some jackass in a black Lincoln tailgated me once I made the turn. I glanced at him in my rear view mirror--and there was a sudden flash of red ahead of me. I had an impression of something car-sized right in front of me, felt the Impala jounce, heard a loud CRUMP! and screeching tires.

The Impala barely slowed. I'd only been doing 35, but a 5,000 pound wagon has a bunch of inertia.

I was still trying to put things together as I hit the brakes and guided the car over to the curb. People were pouring out of houses, there was a red Chevy Cavalier in the yard to my left, and the Lincoln had vanished. I sat there shaking for several days in a few eyeblinks.

Turns out that this 18-year-old girl had been trying to get around a road grader that was holding up traffic a few blocks away and was so intent on looking for it that she ran the stop sign just as I rolled into the intersection.

The Impala rammed her right on the driver's side rear wheel, bashing sheetmetal from door to back bumper. Her car described 3/4 of a circle and ended up in someone's yard, two tires off their rims, rear axle bent, a sculpture dedicated to physics. The other driver was shaking harder than me. Maybe some bruises, possible whiplash.

The police ticketed her for failure to yield and figured the had about $2,000 damage to her car. He looked at mine and guessed maybe $500. The front bumper was compressed and swiped a few inches sideways. The grille had shattered and the nose panel above it was flattened. Both corner caps above the headlights were damaged--but the radiator was fine.

Her car was loaded onto a flatbed. I drove mine home.

A week or so later, her insurance company sent a guy out. He looked it over, pronounced it "totaled," and offered me a $400 bank draft--minus an imaginary $75 "towing fee" because I was keeping the car.

$325. Assholes.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Song of the Day: The Golden Room (Joe Satriani)

A strong Egyptian ethic to the main rhythm. He builds on a strong foundation, gives you a massive hook, then goes places with his guitar. Makes me want to hop in the car (don't have a camel) and drive some twisty mountain roads or visit an isolated rocky Pacific beach--anywhere primal forces are coming together.

Still haven't put the stereo in the X-11.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

When Troubleshooting Just Causes Trouble

Just to show how good I am at overthinking car troubles (and why I'd probably starve if I had to work as a mechanic)...

I was cruising along in my '83 Citation (the '81 X-11's "little sister") maybe 10 years ago, headed north along Scenic Highway. As I passed a last line of houses and started seeing undeveloped woodlands, I heard a loud BANG, like a gunshot.

Didn't stop to check for bullet holes. I just hit the gas and looked in my mirrors. Didn't see anything. Once I got home, I didn't find any damage. The event was shrugged off and forgotten.

The Citation's engine developed a rough idle, slightly worse gas mileage. I looked over everything, checking carb settings, ignition timing, engine vacuum. Didn't make sense. The carb settings were fine, timing was a little off but not causing trouble. Engine was breathing fine, maybe a little low.

But the idle stayed rough.

I went through the shop manual's troubleshooting guide--carb's okay, timing's good, vacuum's good...all the easy stuff got checked off the list. The manual suggested that the timing chain might have jumped a sprocket, and all the symptoms seemed to agree. I hated to think this might be the problem, since it was more work than I wanted to do.

Drove around like that for several months, occasionally trying those simpler checks--carb, timing, vacuum--in the hope that I'd missed something simple. Finally stopped putting it off, parked the car, and got to work.

Busted out the jack stands, got her nose in the air...loosen the belts, lose the water pump, timing cover...huh.

Timing chain looks fine. Rolled the engine a little to line up the crank and cam timing marks.

They're fine.


Oh, well, probably the original chain, and as long as I'm already here...put in the new one, double-check timing seal on timing cover, new gasket...water pump, pulley, belts.

As long as I'm here, though...let's do the valve cover gaskets, get rid of that little oil leak.

Kind of a pain in the ass. Some stuff in the way--SNAP!


There's a little trident-shaped set of pipes that are part of the emissions controls. The engine computer blows fresh air into the exhaust system through these to burn unburned or partly-burned fuel.

I'd just snapped one of the pipes. They tend to rust pretty quickly as it is, but on a 20-year old car they're brittle. Turning the nut holding the pipe in place just folded the pipe.

Wrecked all three getting the thing off of there. At first, I tried fabricating one from brake line (which is all the pipes were, basically) but couldn't bend the stuff with my limited tools. I put that project on the back burner, plugged the exhaust manifold with pipe plugs, fixed the valve cover gaskets, and buttoned everything up, pissed that I'd wasted a weekend on a not-bad timing chain.

Car started up as always, ran just fine, but that idle just wouldn't stabilize. Bugged the hell out of me. And again I tried all the simpler stuff yet again--carb settings, ignition timing, vacuum check. No leaks, no computer trouble codes, and still no idea what was causing the roughness.

A year went by. I still occasionally tried to ferret the problem. No magical new information in the troubleshooting guides. I wondered whether the engine computer might be acting up; it controls spark timing, fuel delivery, and all that. I thing I pulled it out and looked it over, decided I wasn't going to screw with it, and bolted it back in. No easy way of poking around on a plastic-sealed circuit board. Nothing looked burned or damaged.

I don't know what I was doing, the day the problem was solved. Maybe just checking the spark plugs, something I hadn't done in all the troubleshooting. I know I'd never looked at the things because... car guys will love this. Really.

Put your drink down.

As I was feeling along the back side of the engine, I found the #3 spark plug hanging by its wire.

Remember that "gunshot" I thought I'd heard? I remembered it, then.

I'm guessing that I didn't tighten #3 down properly sometime before the "gunshot." Every time the plug lit off the air and fuel in the #3 cylinder, the concussion worked the plug out a little. That BANG was the final air-fuel charge blowing the loose plug out. From then on, my V6 was a V5.

Threaded the little shit back in...tightened it properly (this time). Engine ran perfectly.

The X-11 is just the latest in a line of cars with laughing rights on me.