Hybrid life.

I think I mentioned our dryer died. From the distant clanks coming from the basement, I suspect Alan’s trying to fix it right now. I did my part yesterday — driving to Roseville to pick up a switch that turned out not to be the problem. (Of course. It was simple and inexpensive. We’ll have a new dryer by week’s end, I predict.)

On the way, I started woolgathering about machines.

Alan’s a good partner to have in a household because he understands machines at a level I never did. He grew up in a working-class family, where a core value is you never pay someone to do what you can do yourself. As a teenager, he campaigned a motocross racer, needless to say at a level where you don’t have a pit crew. So when something breaks, he approaches the problem the way he would any other, by breaking down the components, the chain of connections that make the thing work, and tries to find the failure. What is a dryer? A drum that turns while hot air is blown through it. What are its essential parts? The motor, the fan, the heater. What’s the nature of the malfunction? It runs and blows, but the air isn’t warm. And so the problem is isolated — it’s something to do with the heater.

On the way out to Roseville, I thought about how few of us really understand how the machines we use work. I thought back to junior high and tried to remember the elements of the internal combustion engine, which we learned in physical science. I was one of only a few girls who got an A on that unit, and I still remember the feeling of wonder at the unlocking of the secret — the valve opens, the mixture sprays in the cylinder, the piston rises, the spark plug ignites, the piston is pushed down, another valve opens and the exhaust exits. My brother was a car guy, and I finally understood all that language he used. Manifold, camshaft, drive shaft, flywheel. I understood carburetion! And I was 14 years old. It was thrilling.

(My proudest moment: I wiggled under my friend Mark’s ’69 Camaro with a wrench and unjammed the shift linkage, based on having seen it done once before. It wasn’t a complicated repair — a good whack to unjam it — but I was the only one who could do it, and everyone cheered when I wiggled back out, because it meant we wouldn’t have to drive home from Sault Ste. Marie in second gear.)

Well, Henry Ford got old and died, and fuel injection replaced carburetion, and it’s safe to say most of my knowledge is obsolete now. I once interviewed a man who had been, at one time, the most sought-after Volvo/Mercedes mechanic in the region. He’d moved up in the world, and now owned a dealership. He said he’d be utterly lost under the hood these days, that it was more electronic than mechanical anymore, and while it made cars unquestionably better in a million ways, he could no longer fix them.

So this is what was on my mind when I got home, and found John and Sam had arrived in my absence. Their new Prius was in the driveway.

They’ve become Prius cult members, more effective salesmen than anyone paid by Toyota. We talked about the marvels of the car — the hybrid synergy drive, the seamless transition between the battery, the electric motor and the gas engine, the keyless entry and starting (you push a button). And then they insisted I drive when we went out to dinner. I tried to navigate the nasty Detroit freeways while maximizing my mileage, aided by the display of animated colored arrows. (Hybrid enthusiasts speak of the fender-benders they tend to have when their cars are brand-new, and they can’t tear their eyes away from the display.)

I stepped on the brake. “You’re think you’re braking, but you’re not,” John said, explaining that the car is smarter than I am, and knows braking is unnecessary, so it’s transferring energy from the brake to the battery, or something like that.

“Look, you have one and a half green cars,” said Sam, switching to the how’m-I-doing mileage display. Apparently it’s good to have green cars, and you try to get more. Driving this car is like being stuck in a video game. And I haven’t even told you about the cable John bought, so he can hook his car up to his laptop, and watch numbers fly by; it’s for the diagnostics when it breaks down, whenever that might be. “Yes, I know, we might have a kernel panic on the freeway. We may have to reboot,” John said with real glee. All his life he’s been waiting for Apple to make everything in his life, and it seems Toyota has come close enough, at least with the car.

This morning they got up before dawn and slipped away in their silent car, and I didn’t even hear them go. I guess I shouldn’t, but I sort of miss carburetion. At least I understood that.

No bloggage today; my fatigue is at the walking-into-walls level, and I have to go buy groceries and dryer parts. How about an entertaining comment caught in the spam net?

hello , my name is Richard and I know you get a lot of spammy comments ,
I can help you with this problem . I know a lot of spammers and I will ask them not to post on your site. It will reduce the volume of spam by 30-50% .In return Id like to ask you to put a link to my site on the index page of your site. The link will be small and your visitors will hardly notice it , its just done for higher rankings in search engines. Contact me icq 454528835 or write me tedirectory(at)yahoo.com , i will give you my site url and you will give me yours if you are interested. thank you

This might be the best one ever.

Enjoy the day. It’s hot here, so if it’s hot there, keep your radiator cool.

Posted at 10:28 am in Same ol' same ol', Uncategorized |

26 responses to “Hybrid life.”

  1. alex said on September 5, 2007 at 10:36 am

    We all understand carburetion at 14, my dear. Even the current generation, from what I’ve seen and heard.

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  2. Julie Robinson said on September 5, 2007 at 10:52 am

    They showed us a great movie in junior high science class that showed the valves and pistons and the fuel spraying. My recall is that it came from Disney–anyone else remember this?

    While in college I was gung-ho on learning everything to take care of myself, and I had a friend who tried to teach me oil changes and tune-ups. After he graduated I went to a co-op where for a small fee you could use their space and tools, and supposedly, expertise.

    But the first time I went there I realized the co-op was just a stretch of grass with a guy who might have been smoking it, and it was wretched work and I hated being oily and filthy. Now I believe in the power of a good and trustworthy mechanic.

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  3. Robert Rouse said on September 5, 2007 at 11:07 am

    I’ll do you one better, add a link to my place and I’ll find Richard and force him to stop all spam everywhere. Or, just ignore my request and allow me to sigh. 🙂

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  4. Danny said on September 5, 2007 at 11:09 am

    Alex. Bong reference. Funny.

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  5. Danny said on September 5, 2007 at 11:25 am

    One thing I’ve noticed about hybrids is that when they (or at least some models) start, you do not hear the engine. There is only a really quiet electric motor that is nearly inaudible to passers-by (especially with ambient noise). The unexpected consequence is that I’ve had to learn to be extra alert around cars that are seemingly parked. Both as a pedestrian and as a bicyclist.

    Nance and MichaelG, take note. And anyone else here who finds themselves on a bike around parked cars.

    And especially if the driver was to say be looking diagnostics on their iMac whilst driving. You could find ourself in the iAmbulance riding to the iEmergency Ward for your iTriage. Then comes the iLawsuit and iBankruptcy.

    (Apologies to John for the extended metaphor. As a friend of Nance, I’m sure he is not one of the iNumbskulls I am envisioning)

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  6. Connie said on September 5, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    I do miss understanding how my car works. When I was in grad school I had this grungy old Ford LTD. To start it you had to open the hood, remove the top to ?the carbureter? the air filter?, then put a stick in the butterfly valve to hold it open, and then start the car. And then do it all in reverse. Not something I could do today.

    My first ever new car a few years later was a Chevette, which I drove for 9 years and 120,000 miles until the floor rusted out of the front seat. Since I had a baby in a car seat (in the front seat in those days) I thought I’d better get a new car. As I started and tested various new cars at a dealer’s I realized that my husband and the sales guys were laughing at me. Because I was going vroom vroom to start a car with a fuel injection system. Well who knew you no longer had to push the gas to start the car? Not me.

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  7. Andy Vance said on September 5, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    Hmmm. This all seems vaguely familiar.

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  8. brian stouder said on September 5, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    Oh Good Heavens! It appears that the ‘other Hsu’ has dropped!


    REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – A top Democratic fundraiser whose criminal past has roiled the campaigns of top presidential candidates failed to appear Wednesday for a bail hearing and a judge issued a new warrant for his arrest. Norman Hsu, who had been a fugitive for more than 15 years, forfeits the $2 million bail he posted last week. His attorney said Wednesday he didn’t know where his client was.

    …and, he has his passport

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  9. MichaelG said on September 5, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    I had a meeting in Berkeley this morning. That is, I had one scheduled. Also lunch at Oscar’s, a venerable hamburger joint I hadn’t been to in 30 years. I thought I’d be greener than a Prius and take the train. The train left Sacramento on time at 7:40 AM and made almost to Davis, a distance of about 10 miles, before we stopped. The conductor came on the blower and informed us that a truck had hit a bridge and there would be a delay while the bridge was inspected. We were stopped just short of the Davis station because there was another train right ahead of us occupying the station. We waited for a little over an hour before rolling the 100 meters or so to the Davis station and starting out again. Moments later we stopped again in the middle of nowhere which turned out to be seven miles west of Davis. A pedestrian, the conductor informed us, a suicide, had jumped in front of the train ahead of us and the tracks would be closed for two and a half to three hours. Then he came back to tell us buses would meet us to take us to our respective destinations. Then we were told we would roll back to Davis and buses would meet us there. Then we were told that another train would be there to take back to Sacramento those who preferred to return home. I so preferred, understanding by this time that it was doubtful that I would even reach Berkeley in time to catch my 1:39 PM return trip let alone make meetings or lunches. I called everyone and told them to carry on without me and that I’d catch them all tomorrow on the phone. There were four passenger trains and a freight stuck at Davis. Eventually I made it back to Sacto sometime after noon. Over four hours for a 34 mile round trip to nowhere. I bagged it and started for home. The client agency’s rep called me to tell me the meeting had gone fine and that the burgers at Oscar’s were great. I can’t imagine what he was laughing at.

    All this on top of the train trip to Bakersfield a couple of months ago when we collided with a pick up truck. I don’t know whether I’m unlucky for AMTRAK or they’re unlucky for me.

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  10. Danny said on September 5, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    Bummer. I’ve heard public transportation in America described as having to go somewhere where you are not, to be picked up and taken to somewhere that you don’t want to be. And late.

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  11. john c said on September 6, 2007 at 7:32 am

    MichaelG … you should try using public transportation in Chicago. The trains are on time so consistently (more than 95 percent) that when they are late, employees from Metra are waiting on the platform to hand out notes in case people need them to explain their tardiness.
    This post put me in mind of memorable family vacation car breakdowns and encounters with scary tow-truck guys and mechanics. Fast forward to modern auto mechanics and my little crew heading “up north” in our GMC Envoy last year. We rolled off the exit for a break and the car died at the red light on the off ramp. I let it coast off to the side and my wife suggested calling “On Star” to see if they could tell us what’s wrong. As this is the high-tech version of asking for directions I, of course, balked. (I was not yet familiar with on star diagnostics) When I finally gave in my jaw dropped when the operator said: Give me 30 seconds and I’ll run a check. As she did that I turned the key just for the heck of it and it started up fine, then the operator came on and said there was some problem with a throttle switch. I told her the car was now running, but my good wife chimed in: “Can you tell us where the nearest dealership is?” There was one eight miles away, and we were there in a jiff. Ol’ Mr. Goodwrench plugged ‘er in, told us there was , indeed, a problem with a throttle switch – a problem with a computer program that ran the throtle switch. “I can reprogram it in about 20 minutes.” Then came the dreaded question: “How much will that cost.” Answer: “Nothin’. Warranty.”

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  12. nancy said on September 6, 2007 at 7:39 am

    John C., representing the D.

    That’s a great story; you two should be in an OnStar commercial, as its present advertising suggests its main purposes are to call 911 when I can’t, to unlock the car when the keys are inside, and to give me directions when I take the wrong exit to the South Bronx at 1 a.m.

    Maybe they don’t want to suggest their throttle-switch programs are faulty, but that would sell me on OnStar a lot faster than their map-reading skills.

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  13. MichaelG said on September 6, 2007 at 7:47 am

    That On Star stuff scares the crap out of me. If they can turn it on they can turn it off. If they can tell you where you are they can tell everybody else where you are or were. Told your wife you were bowling? On Star knows you were at Betty-Sue’s house. How fast were you going? On Star knows. This thing has a lot of potential and as far as I am concerned, at this point, the bad outweighs the good. Plus, after the initial free period, you are actually paying big brother to monitor your every automotive activity. If you elect not to pay, They can still monitor you, they just don’t give you those benefits they tout in the ads. No thanks. I’d pay money to have the thing disabled or removed.

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  14. nancy said on September 6, 2007 at 7:54 am

    Well, you know what they say, Michael: Those who don’t break the law have nothing to fear from it. Next you’ll be telling me you don’t want the government examining your cell-phone records.

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  15. brian stouder said on September 6, 2007 at 8:08 am

    Well, I suppose OnStar records could be subpoenaed; years ago it was interesting to me that Scott Peterson’s cell phone activity could be tracked and mapped. Honestly, I think that such information is mostly worthless to the government…..but if free-lance hackers and stalkers (sounds like a b-movie) can gain access, then THAT would be no good!

    My old (1998) Olds Eighty-eight had a black box problem 6 months ago; cost $500 to repair, which beat having to buy a ‘new’ old car (I know all the current car’s secrets)….and the other morning the young folks and I had just rounded a corner and she quit – stone cold dead. We coasted to a stop off the road and onto the shoulder, and we literally ran the 1/2 block back home to grab mom’s van (in the process gaining a funny story they’ll always remember!) and get down to the bus stop, just behind the arriving bus.

    A local repair place – Tuffy’s on Coldwater Road – offers free towing, and to make a long story short, the repair was entirely free! The owner there said the black box component he replaced last time failed again, and was under warranty; and he waived the tow fee. I had him do a full-service oil change so we could pay the man some money – but he had me at his mercy and could have charged hundreds of dollars, and instead he dealt the cards off the top of the deck. Needless to say, we’ll beat a track in to see him, for all our service needs

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  16. john c said on September 6, 2007 at 8:23 am

    MichaelG … Your concerns are real. I can’t remember the rules exactly but remember reading something about them. I think GM only gives up records with a subpoena. But I could be wrong. (I do remember Tony Soprano telling someone to make sure “all that GPS s#%t” was ripped out of his car before he used it.) I would only disagree in that I think the good outweighs the bad. And I think OnStar is far better than the dashboard screen maps that force you to program in addresses, etc. As for having to pay money for it, of course you have to pay money for it. It is a call center staffed by hundreds of employees. Why would you expect to get that for free?

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  17. alex said on September 6, 2007 at 8:29 am

    Not to worry, Michael. OnStar is only for those loyal Americans who still buy GM products despite getting burned time and again. You know, the very same sort of people who gave Dubya his second term. These are good folks who would never cheat on a spouse and have nothing to fear from Big Brother so much as they do Mr. Goodwrench.

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  18. MichaelG said on September 6, 2007 at 9:24 am

    If I wanted it I wouldn’t have any problem paying for it, John. The whole point was not that I want anything for free but that I don’t want the thing at all. I believe I mentioned that I would pay to get rid of it. I was pointing out the irony of paying someone to spy on you. Also, while there is apparently no nefarious use being made of the data at the moment, the data is still being collected and the moment will pass. The potential is still there. Also so is the knowledge that if there is a thing such as this that could be abused, it always has been abused.

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  19. jcburns said on September 6, 2007 at 9:46 am

    Yeah, I’d say the willingness of corporate america and our government to cross the line and mess with our data pretty much puts trust out of the equation. The trick is to be healthily aware of what could happen with your info without spiraling down into pure 24/7 paranoia.

    And by the way, the whole “you can’t hear those hybrids” thing confuses me…they’re not silent…but then again, there was the guy who walked into a moving train the other day while texting. A distracted society, ours.

    My Prius will not be beeping to warn people. I will, however, occasionally roll down the window and say “outta the way!!”

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  20. Danny said on September 6, 2007 at 11:04 am

    Agreed. They are not silent. Just very quiet and when you have the other road noise to mask, it just makes it harder for a bike rider to depend upon their sense of hearing to keep them safe.

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  21. john c said on September 6, 2007 at 11:55 am

    Alex … I’ll try not to be offended by your infantile and unoriginal assertion. I’ve grown used to the fact that people like you simply think you are smarter than me because you drive a foreign car. This might have been true in the 80s, when the crap coming out of Detroit was epic. But it doesn’t hold up anymore. You wouldn’t know that, though. Your mind is closed, or at least your brain is washed. How do you think it is possible that Consumer Reports can give completely different ratings to vehicles that come off the same assembly line and are different only in that one has a Chevy badge and the other has a Toyota badge? It’s because Consumer Reports is filled with people like you. Why do you think that no one knows that Lexus, for the first time in 10 years, has been unseated as the JD Power king of overall quality? It is because it was unseated by Buick, and Buick is not cool. Nancy knows that the bills in my house are paid by General Motors. So take my comments with whatever grains of salt you wish. But if you are going to join the chorus of GM haters, try to be a little more original.
    And for the record, I did not vote for Dubya. And I have never voted Republican. I believe I am, as Fredo once said so eloquently, “smaht, not like everyones says.”

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  22. brian stouder said on September 6, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    I read that Buick is the number one car seller in China….which is seriously good news for Jimmy!!

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  23. alex said on September 6, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    John, I was just being flippant. And I do acknowledge that GM products are much better these days, although I wouldn’t take J.D. Power’s word for anything. J.D. Power ranked Buick tops in customer satisfaction in 1985, when I bought one, and it was the most incredibly junky thing I ever drove, although it did surpass my expectations in one regard: the headliner never sagged like the draped ceilings of a Moroccan theme restaurant.

    As for the difference between the GM- and Toyota-badged cars coming off the line, Consumer Reports doesn’t ding the GM product for quality or reliability but rather for resale value, where perception does count for a lot. There are also more Vibes on the road than Matrixes, so the latter commands a higher price because there are fewer.

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  24. brian stouder said on September 6, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    or should it be Matrices?

    As in – one dominatrix, two dominatrices (three potato, four)

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  25. alex said on September 6, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    Or as in this part of the country, where you might hear:

    “They told me it was the house with two may-tresses out front. All I see is a coupla rahce-burners.”

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  26. Andrea said on September 6, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    Send Alan to this website…. I even figured out what was wrong with my dryer awhile back….

    Sound familiar?

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