July 16, 2002

Advogato Entry 294

Well, my car is finally back where it belongs. It ended up costing quite a bit less than I expected to get it fixed. Sounded like a computer component went nuts.

Anywho, I took a detour on my ride home to go get some 8 pound weights at Target. I probably shouldn't have been that ambitious (the trouble I had getting it out of the rack should have given me a clue ;-) I'd read that guys should start out with 10-15 pound weights, though I knew that (until recently at least) my arms were skinnier than most women's.. At some point, I did something that put too much stress on my left shoulder somewhere. None of the muscles on top hurt or anything, it's buried underneath, so I figure it must be a tendon or something related to tendons/muscle connections.

I'm going to have to avoid upper-arm exercises for a few days, but that gives me a chance to do some leg work. I've avoided my legs since they've always seemed fairly strong (at least to me), and since I walk quite a bit already (the University of Minnesota is a huge campus, and I have to walk all the way across to get from home to work).

For the past week, I've mostly just done a lot of aerobic-type exercises. I don't like high-impact or high-stress stuff, so doing a lot (2 hours, though usually not in just one go) of silly stuff (waving my arms around like a lunatic) seems to be something that's good for me. I've got enough time this summer to do it, and for once I have the motivation to do it. I've been doing it every day, since I'm certain that if I don't work out every single day, I'll keep pushing it off day by day until I completely forget.

There have been a few moments where I've felt absolutely great during or after exercise, and it makes me wonder why I hated gym class so much when I was in school. Probably the competitive atmosphere, and the fact that most activites were geared toward people who were already in good shape.

Anyway, I'm happy to see the image in the mirror is slowly becoming closer to the image of myself I have in my head -- looking like that is my real goal. I just have to make sure that the image in my head stays realistic ;-)

Posted by mike at 12:27 PM Central | Car , Old Advogato Diary | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

April 30, 2003

Drive Time

I went to the CPC Job Fair today. Not much to speak of. There were more people there from schools and other self-improvement places than from businesses looking to hire.

I got a Mother's Day card for my mom. I was glad to find one quickly, as I was really tired by then. The lady who checked me out at Hallmark asked if it was raining out or sunny, but I honestly usually don't pay much attention to the weather. I knew it wasn't raining when I came down, but it started just as I left the mall.

I took the Crosstown (Highway 62) there and back, which is a pretty scary road at points. Fortunately, it seems to be a smoother surface than it looks, but it's probably a lot more twisty than a road carrying that much traffic should be.

On my way back, I actually heard a Phish song come on the radio. I was listening to Drive 105, the station that I think plays the best music in the Cities. Unfortunately, they still play a lot of stuff I don't like and their transmitters in the area aren't very powerful, so I have to switch between them, Cities 97, KS95, and some other stations. I usually don't like 93X, though I always tried to listen to it back when it was The Edge, but that was over five years ago.

Oo! Looks like edge937.com is an available domain name now. Last I checked, KQRS still owned it.

My car seemed to be producing funny smells, though maybe that's just because it's a fossil fuel-burning vehicle. It's overdue for an oil change, though, and I'm pretty sure it needs a new air filter and possibly other stuff. But that takes money, so I'd better get a job soon.

Posted by mike at 04:33 PM Central | Car , Family , Music , Work | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 17, 2003

Grease vs. Hair

Went and had the oil changed in my car. It ended up being a lot because it was recommended that I get the automatic transmission fluid replaced along with a radiator flush. So, I ended up paying like twice of what I thought the high end might be.

Of course, I went there on the weekend, so prices might have been higher.

Anyway, they recommended that I get some service done to the spark plugs too, but I guess that'll have to wait until next time. I didn't want that bill to get any larger...

Anyway, the car seemed a bit funny when I started it up—the idle was very low. Then again, it had been running just seconds before, and it seemed fairly happy on the way back to my apartment. I'm still a bit nervous about traveling any significant distance in it, though.

Well, now I'm off to try and find a place that will give me a haircut on a Saturday. I find myself echoing some of the sentiments that Erin implied, though I haven't gotten militant about it yet—I'd need to have some level of style first. Still, I highly prefer to have women do my hair. Whoever it is should communicate with me (meaning they speak English and not Engrish) and demonstrate that they have an idea of where they want to go.

But hell, it's hair. It grows back. (except there are some spots where I think my hairline is starting to recede.. nnngaaah!)

Posted by mike at 01:59 PM Central | Car , Self | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 19, 2003

How Do You Fail?

I worry a lot when I hear about new technologies (especially computer technologies) being added to cars. The main problem I have is that computer parts can fail fairly suddenly.

I think my family's old ’84 Cavalier had computer parts fail a few times. The last time it happened, the failure caused the fuel pump to shut down. I could only drive as long as there was gas in the fuel line. Well, the car had been hesitating a bit as I drove it earlier that day, so maybe the failure could have been anticipated. Fortunately, I was only a few miles from home when the car broke down.

I had a similar problem with the ’88 Cavalier I have now. I'm not sure if the computer ever outright failed (the fuel pump always worked, at least), but the car would hesitate intermittently. Apparently it was no longer doing proper fuel mix calculations. At least this failure was accompanied by a “Service Engine Soon” idiot light on the dashboard. I could drive the car, but it behaved funny, and in theory the engine could have been damaged if I continued to drive it in that condition.

Back to the ‘84 for a moment: I once had the car overheat while I was driving in light city traffic. I tried to mitigate the problem by turning on the heat, and I probably started driving slowly as well. However, my mother (who has an Electrical Engineering degree) looked at the car's repair manual and discovered that turning on the air conditioning would have temporarily fixed the problem. The thermostat that failed controls the fan behind the radiator, but turning on the A/C makes the fan run continuously. Anyway, the problem went away once I got on the highway, since there was actual airflow through the radiator..

In my opinion, the scenario with the ’88 turned out the best. There was a failure—but the car fell back to a simpler mode of operation, informed the driver that something was wrong, and kept the vehicle drivable.

I'm not impressed with how the other parts failed. Of course, it's possible that the first problem I mentioned could not have been worked around. Also, the last scenario with the failed thermostat might have turned out the best way—the car could have been set up to keep the fan on if the thermostat failed, but then you'd have to take it into a service station to have them communicate with the computer to determine the problem... That's way more expensive than just going down to the parts store to pick up a $10 thermostat.

Well, I guess there's a whole other discussion of open formats and protocols for communicating with onboard computers in cars that I could get into here, but I'll hold back on that for now.

The main point I'm trying to get to is that, when designing a system that needs to be robust (like a car) you need to think about how to react when parts of that system break. And things will break on cars—they're hot and cold, dry and wet. They produce and accept lots of shock and vibration, and are just dowright dirty.

Now, new cars are getting all sorts of sensors and doodads. Suspensions and brake systems are computer-controlled (or at least computer-influenced). Some steering wheels aren't even connected to anything. Some cars are bristling with miniature radar systems for parking assistance, collision avoidance, and even controlling airbag inflation. Continuously variable transmissions are neat new toys too.
However, what happens if nothing is in control of these things anymore?

I'm sure many of the engineers who have worked on these projects have thought this out, but there are probably more than a few products that can fail in very strange ways.

Posted by mike at 12:18 PM Central | Car , Hardware | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 23, 2003

Opportunities Abound (Sort of)

Well, I just got back from my interview. Seemed to go pretty well. They showed me around and explained a lot of stuff to me, which I figure is a positive sign. I was also dressed better than they were, which I suppose could be good or bad...

They said that they were just starting interviews, so that unfortunately, means the timeframe for notification (about 2 weeks) overlaps with another thing I might be able to do for a month. I'll have to call the people heading that up tomorrow and see if they're still taking people. However, this Adaptec job would pay a lot more and would likely be steady for 9 months or so.

So, I'll send out a post-interview thank you tomorrow, after I've called those other folks.

Too bad the Adaptec place is pretty far away on a pretty sucky stretch of I-94 and right next to a truck stop. Just what I need to be dealing with at 9 in the morning—screwed up roads overflowing with fleets of semis. At least I'd be going in the “wrong” direction (less traffic) and there would be plenty of opportunities to stop for supper on the way back. Still, I'd have to invest in some nice sunglasses (always driving toward the sun) and a CD player or MP3 player for my car so I don't have to listen to the DJs and ads on the radio.

I have a hypothesis that more crashes happen when DJs are yapping and ads are blaring than when music is on the radio. I'm sure there's no good way to figure out if that's true, though.

Posted by mike at 07:30 PM Central | Car , Music , Work | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 28, 2003

In This House, We Obey The Laws of Thermodynamics!

I keep hearing about this “hydrogen economy” idea. It seems like a lot of people talking about this never bothered to pay attention in high school physics.

A lot of noise gets made about the lack of a “hydrogen infrastructure” like the distribution network we have for gasoline. Nevermind that hydrogen doesn't really need a distribution network. I see little reason why there couldn't be little solar- or wind-powered hydrogen generators spread all over the place.

It would seem to me that the simplest thing to do would be to use electrolysis to separate hydrogen and oxygen from water, though I know there are certain problems with that. Heck, I'm sure people have had the crazy idea of keeping a bank of solar cells on top of a car, and using that power to generate more fuel while the car sits in a parking lot. It might not generate a lot of fuel, but it could be worthwhile..

A lot of attention is given to extracting hydrogen from gasoline or other fuel sources, which seems a bit odd to me. You'd lose some energy in that conversion process, though there is a method to the madness—fuel cells are much more efficient at using hydrogen than piston internal combustion engines are at using gasoline, for instance. I'm not sure if the scheme really works very well, though—perhaps a better approach would be to more efficiently use the original fuel, like in a turbine.

Well, whatever ends up happening in the future, we're stuck mostly using petroleum products for now. Just so I don't feel like an evil planet-destroyer, I think I'll have to consider getting a new fuel-efficient car in the next year or so. At the moment, the Volkswagen Jetta TDI and Toyota Prius are at the top of my list. Yeah, they might not exactly be performance automobiles, but almost anything is an improvement over a 4-cylinder automatic transmission Cavalier ;-)

Posted by mike at 08:29 PM Central | Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 29, 2003

I, Consumer

I've been researching various things today. I looked over options for cars a bit more, and figure I will probably end up shooting for a 4-door Volkswagen Golf TDI. I could probably run it on biodiesel if I became so inclined. It's more expensive, but I'd want to do it just because petroleum-derived diesel produces a lot of nasty gases in addition to your standard carbon dioxide and water vapor.

(Dropping away from my “what I'm going to spend my money on” topic for a second, I came across an interesting article on thermal depolymerization or TDP. That's a technique for breaking down almost anything into oil, water, and purified minerals and simple chemicals. Kind of a creepy-sounding process, but it could be a really important technology in the future. It's even supposedly a better way to do petroleum refining, strangely enough! ;-)

I'd like to buy a car outright when I do decide to get one, so that will require me to wait a while (probably two years). But, I wouldn't mind a relatively short-term payout (over 2-4 years, probably) if I had to get something sooner. I suppose I'll wait a year and see how much money I've managed to save.

I went to Best Buy today, mostly to look at car stereos, but I need to research those a bit before deciding on one. I had wanted to get one that would just rip music off of CDs I put in and store it on an internal hard drive, but I think I saw one they had previously, and it cost $1500 or something insane. I think I'll try to go for something a little more standard like a CD player that can handle MP3 CDs, or a deck that can be connected to an XM or Sirius radio receiver. I should figure out which one of those services I'd like more...

I stopped by the television area and decided to shoot for a nice Sony KV-34HS510. Pretty spendy, but the image quality seemed quite a bit better than the other similar sets nearby. I'll have to research what all it has for connectors—the display model cycled through about 10 inputs, but I need to figure out how many of them can work (hopefully full resolution) with a computer. It'll take me a while to save up money for that, too. I'll see how things look in 2 or 3 months.

Posted by mike at 06:59 PM Central | Car , Music , TV | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 01, 2003

Music Man

Oh, I suppose here's another option for doing music in my car: Ogg Vorbis support for the Neuros Audio boxes has just gone Beta

Posted by mike at 07:58 AM Central | Car , Hardware , Music | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 10, 2003

Das Boot

Spent most of the day engaged in battle with a beige Mac G3 computer (it's non-translucent, what's up with that? ;-) That's a somewhat weird machine for a Mac—it has an IDE hard drive, but a SCSI CD-ROM and Zip drive (well, that's what the machine I was working on had). Unfortunately, that machine won't boot off of a SCSI CD drive, so I had to swap it with an IDE one.. And, of course, it's slow, so installing operating systems only takes a day and a half..

I hear that these boxes aren't going to be supported by upcoming versions of Mac OS X. If that's true, I guess Steve Jobs must just be trying to make everyone forget the period of time between when he left and when he came back and brought out the iMac...

I hit an actual traffic jam today coming back from work. Actually, I suppose I hit two of them. Don't really know why—the first one must have been due to a crash on U.S. 52 in or near St. Paul, since that off-ramp was backed up. I hit more traffic as I got close to the Huron exit in Minneapolis. I've had to slow down there before, but this was much worse than normal. Can I blame the Shriners?

Everybody at work was tired today. Maybe it's because of the weather. I was shocked that it was (momentarily) sunny when I left to go home.

Posted by mike at 07:30 PM Central | Car , Hardware , Software , Weather , Work | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 11, 2003

Mind Your Pedals

There was a really nasty accident this morning at the end of the off-ramp from I-94 to University Ave. The cops had it fairly cordoned off. A totally ripped up car ended up on its side just before the intersection, and there were a few other banged up vehicles behind it. I wonder how the cars ended up in that layout, as the accident seemed to happen before the intersection..

Listened to 89.3 FM the whole way in this morning, and they played some pretty good local-ish music. And I was reminded that they don't have to censor stuff on public radio ;-)

I've mostly been listening to 89.3 and 99.5 on my way to and from work, since they actually play music rather than having talking heads the whole time.. I really dislike the normal morning shows..

Posted by mike at 09:03 AM Central | Car , Music , Work | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 16, 2003

You Have Taken the Lead

Looks like the U of MN managed to take the lead in that solar car race. Still a long way to go, though..

There's an intern here where I work who started a month or so ago (he's just here for the summer). I saw him pass me on the way in to work this morning. And, well, when you're driving an Acura NSX, you shouldn't be going slower than me in my Cavalier ;-)

Posted by mike at 11:12 AM Central | Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 17, 2003

Mr. Longcut

The thing that sucks about having my commute be a straight line along I-94 is that there are no shortcuts. If traffic is snarled, I don't have many options. I've tried getting off at Snelling and taking Energy Park Drive about 3 times, but that often makes me run into people going to the St. Paul Saints games..

Maybe if I can get to Como...

Oh well. Traffic usually isn't too bad in the evening, but it's defiritely worse than what I experience in the morning.

Posted by mike at 06:04 PM Central | Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 21, 2003

Working for the Devil

Started working with Windows XP Media Center today. I have to admit, it is kind of cool, but there are certain design decisions that I don't really go for..

My car seems to be acting up and hesitating a bit on the highway. I'm concerned, because this is similar behavior to what has happened in the past when the fuel computer goes nuts. However, I think the O2 sensor must be getting gunked up with all of the driving I've been doing recently, so I'll have to look into replacing it.

I also have to remember to take the car in for an oil change. My new job means that the miles will add on pretty quick for this car, and I might even have to consider changing the oil every two months. I suppose I should just bring the car in for a checkup in the not too distant future as well, to make sure nothing is going to explode in my face while I'm halfway to Hudson, but the car seemed to be doing fine until the hesitation I was talking about..

I guess I was also thinking it might be the Vehicle Speed Sensor, but I think that would only affect driving under cruise control, but the problem still seems to exist when I'm controlling the throttle manually. Another option might be to disconnect the battery for a while, which would (in theory) cause the car's computer to forget some of the calculations it has made about the car's normal performance. But then I have to go and reprogram all of my radio stations ;-)

Oooh, some people might like this story about the annual “Lebowski Fest.” Hmm.. I think I'd be scared by a group of Jesuses walking down the street :-)

Posted by mike at 10:37 PM Central | Car , Movies , Software | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 26, 2003

You Are Now Entering the Most Secure Zone in the Whole of England

Saw Johnny English with the family. Overall, probably just fairly entertaining, though a few moments I was dying of laughter. One of the most innovative chase scenes I've seen in a while ;-)

And hey, Natalie Imbruglia is pretty hot ;-)

I've been thinking about T3 a little bit, mostly because Claire Danes stands out in my memory for some reason. I'm trying to remember if she's been in any movies I've seen in the last few years, but the only thing I can think of is Romeo and Juliet

I got Jane's Addiction's new CD today. I think I most like the track that's been playing on the radio, but other tracks are fairly good…

Went to get the oil changed in my car, and they said I need a new gasket in the transmission, since it's supposedly leaking fluid. I guess I'll have to monitor that, though the fluid level seemed fine last I checked.

Speaking of cars, my mom mentioned that car dealers sometimes have good deals for recent (i.e. within 1-2 years) graduates. I guess I'll have to keep my eye out for anything about that..

Now we have to see if I'll finally get to hang out with my friend tomorrow. Hmm… I haven't gotten a haircut for a while… That sucks.

Posted by mike at 10:07 PM Central | Car , Family , Movies , Music | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

July 28, 2003

Go Speed Racer Go

I'm running into some downtime at work because the firewall we have seems to be blocking some stuff we need. Or, maybe it's just not working. Fun.

Anyway, this gives me a small opportunity to talk about cars. I spent yesterday afternoon visiting a friend from ages past, and watching him and his friends talk about hot-rodding… Then I went home and watched an episode of Modern Marvels about the German Autobahn.

I went on a class trip to Germany in high school and noticed that their roads are amazingly well-maintained (or at least they were in the West part—they were still reconstructing the old East German roads at the time). Never really got going very fast on them, though, since the bus we usually traveled on was restricted to 100 or 120 km/h. We stayed with host families for a few days and they drove faster, but nobody took it extremely fast (though I think some of my classmates stayed with people who took them for some scary rides ;-)

Of course, the road is designed for speed. I guess the original roads over there were designed for 100 MPH speeds, which was essentially infinite since no cars could go that fast anyway. The roads were designed with even higher speeds in mind later on, with only gentle curves and low grades allowed.

The roads have also been designed for safety, and there's nearly always a guardrail in the median to prevent cars from careening into oncoming traffic. The road surface is also very smooth—I remember the ride always being like that of fresh asphalt, and the show discussed this in moderate detail. Apparently the road surface is twice as thick as U.S. roads, and it's meant to last twice as long. When cracks appear, they aren't just patched—an entire section of road is replaced.

The Germans have the concept of Rechtsfahren, or “drive right,” which could be a phrase with a double-meaning (I tried googling on it, but I could only find German-language websites talking about it). In the very least, it seems to encompass the idea that slower traffic should always move to the right, and there is no passing in the right lane. I imagine there are other ideas built in there as well…

German cars and motorists have to live up to the promise of the roads as well, and it's much harder to get a license there—probably 10 times as expensive as it is here, and the training is much more thorough.

Here in the U.S., Americans border on the belief that everyone is entitled to have a car, which is somehow mixed with the belief that everyone is entitled to be an idiot. German automakers apparently had difficulty understanding the need for a cupholder, since driving on the Autobahn requires your full concentration.

So, obviously, if you have a combination of good roads, good drivers, and good cars, people can safely travel at higher speeds. It appears that for the past ~25 years, American and German highways have had comparable safety records, although the average speed on German roads has increased from 70 to 80 mph over that period, while the change here has been more like 60 to 70 mph.

Hmm… Okay, that's not that much… Although, the 85th percentile speeds have a bit bigger difference.

Certainly, a vast number of roads here in the U.S. could use a lot of improvement. Sometimes, I drive down certain roads and think that I've been somehow transplanted into a third-world country. I'm sure that Germans visiting the U.S. must feel very strange driving down some of our roads.

There are a lot of big differences in the roads—I doubt that there are more than merely a handful of left-hand entrances and exits on the Autobahn, for instance—but some things are more subtle. On- and off-ramps are often very inconsistent. Sometimes a lane is added to the road, and it stays for miles and miles. Other times, the lane only exists for a short distance. Sometimes the short-distance lanes have the short-dash painted stripes, and sometimes they don't. Sometimes the signs indicate that a ramp is merging when it isn't, and sometimes they indicate that the ramp is not merging when it is.

Visibility is a big limiting factor on American roadways (unless, perhaps, you're traveling through Kansas…). This can be caused by constantly varying inclines or declines as well as plenty of sharp curves. Of course, I'm sure the rules for making roads get violated way too often in this country. Apparently, the spot south of downtown where I-35W shifts from heading west to going south is out of spec for Interstate highways, as they are supposed to be designed to at least handle 50 MPH traffic. It is possible to go that fast around that curve in most cars, but it's not very pleasant to do so.

So, why do I care? I'm not a speed demon.

Yeah, it's just something I'm thinking about. An intriguing problem to solve.

I guess one thing that sticks out in my mind is that we are in a culture that embraces cars more than any other. Why, then, do we not invest more in our roadways to make them safer for us (and for our suspensions)? Why don't we work harder to make sure that we have the best drivers on the road? Other than the ubiquitous response of “money,” I'm at a loss… (and, arguably, investing money in roads could save on costs elsewhere…)

Posted by mike at 10:27 AM Central | Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Super Karate Monkey Death Car

AAGH! Okay, when you've got a mile-long exit lane, why do you need to wait until the exit ramp has already, well, exited before making your move? I was nearly plowed into an embankment by a careening silver Dodge Ram as I got off the freeway this evening.

I slam on the brakes as he crosses the solid white lines and squeal out of the way. Then, of course, he has the gall to pull up next to me at the light and yell and give some big thumbs up sign or something (well, didn't seem to be the middle finger, at least).

*sigh*…

Certainly resets the thinking process…

Well, anyway, I tried driving home today without the cruise control on (which I normally do). I figured it would help me to react more smoothly when cars come up in front or behind me. Besides, I tend to do a better job of keeping a consistent speed than the cruise does. In addition, driving without the cruise on makes me pay more attention to my car and the environment around me, which is a Good Thing™

I keep tweaking my personal rules for driving to try to make things better for me and for the people around me, but there's only so much I can do.

Posted by mike at 06:15 PM Central | Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 30, 2003

Damn Lies

Still no paycheck gracing my mailbox. Whee.

So, I'm mildly obsessed with road safety versus speed these days. I come across websites advocating speed, and others advocating speed limits. On both sides, they really hit my bullshit-o-meter hard. I don't need to quote Mark Twain for you.

Only very rarely have I driven my car at speeds greatly in excess of the speed limit. I try to follow the rules, what can I say? I get the feeling that many Minnesotans behave similarly, as most traffic on the highway (well, outside the beltway, at least) travels within a few MPH of me.

The speed camp seems to indicate that most people pick a speed to drive, independent of what the posted limit is. While I know most people generally don't respect speed limits, they certainly seem to factor them in.

Still, the logic goes, increasing or removing high speed limits only brings the total traffic speed up by a few MPH. I would have to think that this varies from region to region, depending on driving customs as well as road quality.

The limit camp likes to quote large numbers for “speed related” crashes. However, the numbers they use tend to be overall numbers that include surface streets and uncontrolled highways as well as limited-access freeways, and sometimes the numbers include crashes that had more to do with aggressive driving and underspeed situations than overspeed.

Few statistics that I have seen are put together in a way that I would consider to be reasonable, directly comparable data. You can say that x people died on the Interstate and y people died on city streets, but there is important information missing. How many miles of city streets are there versus the Interstates? How much traffic runs on one set of streets versus the other?

Well, I suppose I'm just going to end up talking myself in circles. Time to go to bed.

For anyone who has nothing better to read, check out Minnesota's traffic laws. Apparently we do have a “keep right” law of sorts (look at Subdivision 10).

I didn't know that. Why didn't I know that?

I knew it was an advised practice, but I had no idea it was codified into law. Of course, the rules are somewhat loose, as it just says cars moving “less than the normal speed of traffic” need to move right. I've even seen signs in Minnesota for this, but I've really only seen them strategically located on hills.

Anywho, time for bed.

Posted by mike at 12:30 AM Central | Car , Work | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

August 11, 2003

Keep Your Eyes on the Road

There were five or six vehicles pulled over to the side of the road this evening when I drove home. That's quite a few. And people seemed to be driving strangely too. Must be the heat.

My car seemed to act funny at a spot or two, but I think it may have been the wind more than anything.

I was getting a bit freaked out over the weekend, as I was worrying that I was destroying the transmission. When I went to get the oil changed two weeks ago, the guy said that I needed a new “transmission fluid pan gasket” and that there was evidence of a fluid leak. I thought I'd measured the fluid level a while before, and it seemed fine, but then again, I'd been measuring it completely wrong.

You cannot measure the transmission fluid level in my car when it is cold. Nor can you measure it when it is hot. The fluid must be warm. Gah.

Anyway, with the assistance of my dad and my brother, we ran the car for a few minutes, cycled through the different gear-select positions, and figured out that the transmission fluid was indeed properly topped off. I guess the procedure really wasn't too bad, but it just seemed to be more complicated than it should have been.

I had a strange experience at Chipotle today. After paying the cashier, I found a fortune from a fortune cookie in my hand. It said, “There's a chance of a romantic encounter soon.” It's one I got a year or two ago, but it just happened to fall out of my wallet.

So, is it a sign? Well, it definitely didn't point me toward the mexican cashier chick. I mean, I know I once mentioned to a person or two that I like Latin women, but I suppose that was just said in a flash of idiocy. I meant Salma Hayek/Jennifer Lopez Latin, not Juanita from down the street Latin—which is unattainable anyway, so I shouldn't even bother mentioning it.

OK, yeah, I'm evil.

Anyway, it would be nice if the fortune came true this time around. I mean, I'm only a few months from turning 25.

Dammit, I'm getting old.

Posted by mike at 08:36 PM Central | Car , Self | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 13, 2003

Modern English

The strange orangish-pink goo is collecting in my bathtub yet again. I feel like I need to call in The Ghostbusters, but for now bathroom cleaner must do.

I'm not exactly sure what it is, but it's slippery, so I need to clean it up every few weeks in the interest of safety. My best guess is that it's a combination of soap scum and rust from the water, but I don't really know.

I try to keep it from forming, but the faucet leaks a little bit, especially when there's a column of water standing in the pipe leading to the shower head. If I remember, I tap the thing that lets all the water flow out after I take a shower, but I usually forget, and it all drips out over the course of my workday.

Other than getting slimed, not much else is happening in my world. I've observed that the oft-shirtless guy living in my apartment building appears to have upgraded to a large Toyota SUV from his old purple Geo Metro. I just had to think, “People who still have Geo Metros are never going to give them up since they get great mileage,” and he went and got a new car.

So, I'm counter-controlling you all with my subconscious mind. Except I'm not. If I imagined myself as a bum, I'd be a millionaire or at least have a nice girlfriend. Yeah, think negative. That must be the ticket.

Oh, I'm also suffering from rebootitis (no, nothing to do with tits). It's a condition that affects long-time Linux users when they're forced into an environment that requires them to restart the computer whenever they install or uninstall anything. Mostly, the symptoms involve slightly erratic twitching, but it'll pass.

Posted by mike at 08:05 PM Central | Abode , Car , Software , Work | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 17, 2003

The House-Elf Liberation Front

Well, I'm halfway through Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, though I don't know when I'll get around to attacking the most recent book. Other than reading, today kind of just turned into another day.

I tried to drag myself out to do some stuff, but just ended up pacing around Best Buy a little, then going for a drive. It felt like a good day to get a bit lost, but it might have been more enjoyable if I'd turned on the A/C in my car. I ended up driving across the river on a bridge that has metal grating for the road surface. It's a bit creepy, since the grid seems to grab hold of the tires and wiggle the car from side to side.

Reminded me of something I saw on TV about the Mackinac Bridge, where the middle two lanes are metal grating. I've thought it might be fun to take a long weekend or a week to drive up to Duluth, through Wisconsin to Michigan, and then take the bridge south as I went through Detroit, then swung back to Minnesota by going through Chicago, Milwaukee, etc.

Though there are probably more exciting things I could do with my time ;-)

Posted by mike at 11:39 PM Central | Books , Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 19, 2003

Elvis Has Peed on Your Rug

The naming of Erin's cat reminded me of this image I saw

I imagine some G.I. must have done that, as the military is starting to call reports on the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein “Elvis sightings.”

Anyway, my mom called me at work today, asking about the buckled higway in Hudson. I guess someone on the radio said that the road had buckled yesterday, and they said that it was backing up traffic really badly. In reality, it appears to me that the road had buckled over the weekend, and had been quickly patched with some asphalt late Sunday or early Monday, since it was still rough when I was jolted awake by it that morning.

Today, a crew was out with the flashing lights and everything, but nothing had really started by the time I drove over the (now flattened) patch on my way to work. Over lunchtime, it looked like the work crew was putting down new concrete, which was probably slowing traffic a bit, but I doubt it was really significant.

It was a lot scarier coming home today, as I hit some pretty heavy rain not long after crossing back into Minnesota. I almost put on the hazard lights and stopped on the side of the road, but I figured that might be more dangerous than staying on the highway. I wouldn't want someone to follow me onto the shoulder if they wanted to stay on the road.

Anyway, the temperature swung quite a bit through my trip home, though. Pretty hot at work to fairly cool near the rain back to sweltering in Minneapolis. Don't you wish you drove 30 miles everyday?

Posted by mike at 07:49 PM Central | Car , Erin , Family , War | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 27, 2003

Use the Wand of Power

Got my package. Woo! Now I'll spend the next week trying out various antennae ;-)

Hopefully I'll be able to pick up at least one station. We'll see how that goes. According to AntennaWeb, most of the stations in the Twin Cities are 45-50° from north at my apartment. Not exactly the best angle.

I got my car checked out today. At my last oil change, a guy had suggested that I get a new gasket for the transmission fluid pan, since there was some seepage there. I'd also thought that I had felt the car acting strangely. But, I guess the guy was just trying to milk me for some money, as the repairman I talked to today couldn't stop saying what “beautiful” condition the car was in. He said that there was some seepage, like the other guy had said, but that's just a normal thing—especially for an older car like mine.

The most valuable thing was getting the mechanic's advice on what sorts of warning signs would actually exist if the fluid went low. One thing is that the fluid can change color—actually burning up a bit if the transmission starts slipping. Another consequence of the slippage would be having the engine rev up without making the car go any faster. That behavior would first be noticed when going around curves, as fluid would slosh to one side, making it hard for the sump to pull fluid out of the bottom of the transmission.

Now I feel better knowing for certain that the car is in good shape.

Watch me go out and hit a deer :-p

Posted by mike at 02:02 PM Central | Car , Hardware , TV | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 29, 2003

And I Just Had It Washed

Hopefully this one isn't Dan's mom's car ;-)

Actually, it's from a mudslide in Switzerland…

Posted by mike at 11:27 PM Central | Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 07, 2003

Considering the Options

Hmm… That's kind of a cool car. Sort of. Except it looks like a Geo Metro. Sort of. Well, the opportunity to actually get a new car probably won't come until next fall, so I've got time to mull things over.

I want a four-door car, so a Mini is kind of out of the question. I don't want a Honda, 'cuz, goddammit, everyone has a Honda. I'd like something fuel-efficient, but hybrids are a bit pricey (batteries are expensive).

I'm thinking of a Volkswagen TDI diesel, but they can be smelly and noisy. But they're way better than the diesel cars of 15-20 years ago, and fuels will have less sulfur in the coming years. Then again, the thought of accidentally having a high-volume diesel pump run too long and spill fuel all over me is not a pleasant thought.

Oh yeah—image stolen from VWVortex. But that's okay, it's a promotional image anyway.

Posted by mike at 04:29 PM Central | Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 10, 2003

'Cuz Stacy's Mom Has Got It Goin' On

Hey! I bought food today! I have stuff to eat! I even got some reasonable snackish stuff…

Anyway, the s00per s3kr1t project at work is progressing and taking up most of my time, but that will change over the next few days. They're still researching stuff in order to figure out what they're going to research. But, people are already saying “Wow,” which is good.

I'm hoping to get paid soon, but I'm debating whether or not to get going on my big PVR/TV project. Well, I'd mostly just like to get a new computer set up for TV recording, so my desktop's CPU doesn't get so pummeled all of the time.

Then again, it looks like my parents might start pushing for me to get a car (most likely used if anything has to happen in the near future).

Hmmph.

Posted by mike at 11:39 PM Central | Car , Food , Hardware , MythTV , TV , Work | Comments (188) | TrackBack (0)

September 12, 2003

Autobot

Since my life basically consists of driving and working these days, I hope youll forgive me for repeatedly bashing those topics into the ground.

Today, on the way to work, I had to deal with some slow traffic. This beat-up brown Chevy pickup was overloaded with old tires and other junk. As I get toward Snelling on I-94, I move to get out of the exit lane and pass him. Of course, this guy actually wanted to stay on 94. I slowly work my way past him, and then I see the driver stick his arm out the window.

Wait a minute! He's pointing! He's hand-signaling!

Jeesh.

So I scooted past him so he could take a place behind me ;-)

On Huron Ave just before it became 4th, I was behind an old Honda Civic hatchback that had a hilariously inappropriate bumper sticker: “Yeah, it's got a Hemi

And on Slashdot, I noticed that there's a discussion going on about hybrid electric vehicles, and some people mentioned the Volkswagen TDI cars. The detracting quality to the car is the fact that it spits out carcinogenic types of soot—very small particles smaller than 1 micron which are hard for the lungs to filter/remove.

But, other than being a cancer-mobile, people really seem to like them.

*sigh*

Posted by mike at 08:58 PM Central | Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 29, 2003

Monday Driver

After a quick lunch today, I went for a drive up to Stillwater and back. I had originally planned to go to Target, but I ended up getting on the highway. I got on the highway because I got a little distracted after seeing the truck in front of me collide with a car in front of it that didn't know how to make a left turn. I ended up making a left too early and got on the Interstate instead of the frontage road.

It was just as well, since I'd been thinking of taking a drive like that for quite a while anyway. I got off to take the main drag through Hudson proper, and just kept going for a while. I started to get worried after a while, since nothing seemed to be popping up, but I was experiencing the time dilation you feel when traveling somewhere for the first time. There was plenty of time left in my lunch hour to get lost, so I just kept going.

I ended up coming to an intersection where one of my options was Stillwater, meaning there must be a bridge between here and there. I went across the famous lift bridge there, and proceeded to start heading back south.

Stillwater seems like a really unique place, so I'll have to go back and visit sometime. I also discovered that Minnesota Highway 36 ends right there (it may in fact be the road that the bridge is on), so I might try taking that all the way back home someday.

Welp, better find something to do…

Posted by mike at 02:40 PM Central | Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 01, 2003

I2C Or Not I2C, That Is the Question

Looked at some documentation I probably have no right to see, and then tried to muck with code I probably have no right to fiddle with. Oh well, I still couldn't get it to work. I just hope I haven't burnt out anything…

A potential new job was outlined to me today. However, because it involves people currently employed by Adaptec, nothing can even start happening until November.

This requires debate.

My car's speedometer cable (I believe) is making squeaking and rubbing noises. The car made noise last winter, but I never did anything about it. The noise went away over the summer, but over the last month on days when it's been cold, the noise has returned. A little strategically placed grease should do the trick, but I'm not so sure I feel like dismantling a dashboard (though this really shouldn't be hard at all).

Posted by mike at 06:48 PM Central | Car , Software , Work | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 04, 2003

Stop! In the Name of the Law!

Beware of women in vans, though I suspect women in SUVs are close behind… Hah! 'cuz “close behind” is like tailgating!

Why the hell am I up this early?

Posted by mike at 09:08 AM Central | Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 10, 2003

Mean Carotene

Yesterday, I took the balance of my lunch hour to take the highway down to River Falls, both to take in some of the fall colors and just to answer the question of “how long does it take to get there?” It's barely ten minutes from my workplace, amazingly enough. I had so many friends go there for college, and I might have visited them if I knew it was so close (well, if I had a car at that time…)

I was driving along thinking, “Man, they make great roads in Wisconsin,” until I hit the city limits and felt the cheap asphalt buckling like crazy. Still, it's a pretty nice drive most of the way.

Today, I took a tour up to Stillwater and back again, to see the difference between the green trees a few weeks ago, and the colorized versions now. The traffic told me that I wasn't the only one with that idea ;-)

Hmm… It's been a while since I've seen some people who now have haircuts. Maybe I'll see them tonight.

Posted by mike at 02:19 PM Central | Car , Work | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 14, 2003

One Headlight (sort of)

I had a minor incident with my car yesterday. I was just a few blocks from home, driving down 4th St when I got stuck behind a moving van-style truck trying to turn onto the I-35W exit ramp. I guess the ramp lights must have been turned on, because he didn't go forward like I expected, and one of the posts hanging down in back of the truck clipped my headlamp and hood.

The damage is minor, but a quick glance at part prices on the Internet did not make me happy. Presumably, junkyard parts would be a lot cheaper (plus, I don't necessarily need to replace the hood, though it would be nice to have it look normal). Anyway, I'll get the car looked at on Thursday or Friday, and get the headlamp replaced as quickly as I can (though, amazingly, neither bulb broke—just the glass enclosure). I'm still thinking about what I want to do about the hood.

I brought my new computer to work today, just to see how well it works with a moderately good rooftop antenna. I could pick up a signal on every channel, though a few of them didn't always work very well. I'm not sure if that's due to a poor cable or what. I know that the analog channels had some pretty nasty junk pop up from time to time. Anyway, in a few days, I hope to bring the system down to my parents' place and see what sort of a signal I get there. On good days, they probably get as good or better reception than we have in Hudson (my parents have a bigger antenna and an amplifier), but it's hard to say how powerful the digital stations are in comparison…

Lots more stuff going into the dumpster today at work, although things seemed to have a lot more value today. A bunch of FibreChannel cards and other adapters that should probably be recycled rather than trashed (actually, the whole dumpster is largely paper and computer equipment). However, it looks like anyone looking to go dumpster diving will have to sift through a huge amount of stuff to get anything useful.

Oh, almost forgot. I plucked a copy of NeXTStep out of the stuff sliding down our makeshift chute today. I'll have to see if it is a full copy of a version appropriate for Dan's NeXT box.

Edit: Well, it turned out that the NeXT software was for i486/Pentium, so it went into the dumpster.

Posted by mike at 03:23 PM Central | Car , Dan , Family , Hardware , Software , TV , Work | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 17, 2003

You Cannot Corrupt Me!

I swapped video cards last night, putting my G400 in the new box I've been working with. The TV output seems to work great, although I have started to see an annoying “banding” effect indicating that the card was scaling video so the interlacing didn't line up properly. Ugh. But that seemed to only happen with some of the video I fed in, so hopefully there's just a bug with some particular display mode.

I should have done some stuff today—mostly looking for parts for my car—but it just didn't happen. I kept being drawn back to the computer to try slightly different things, and then about mid-afternoon my energy level dropped like a stone.

One of my “atomic” clocks has been off for two days straight in the morning. I know it had gotten reset at some point last night, so it managed to get corrupted information about the time two mornings in a row. Very strange. I hope it stops. I expect my clocks to be correct, dammit.

Well, I should go find some supper.

Posted by mike at 07:25 PM Central | Car , Food , Hardware , Software | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 20, 2003

Looking for My Free Lunch

I called home today, since I had missed a call from my parents yesterday and didn't notice until late last night. Turns out that my aunt out in Arizona had gone through some surgery to remove a (benign) tumor and repair damage done due to its presence (bad things happen when your intestines try to expel something that is attached to them). Anyway, she's recovering now, and my grandmother jetted off to help her through the next few weeks. My mom is planning to head down on Election Day to see her (heh, at least this is an off-year).

I also chatted with a friend of mine down in Rochester who knows a thing or two about cars. He's going to look into getting a replacement headlight for cheap, which is awesome. Of course, I just get the feeling that he'll see the damage and say, “Oh, that's nothing.”

Which is exactly why I'd like him to do it for/with me rather than paying an arm and a leg for some collision place to do it.

I decided to go RF hunting and found a good spot in my apartment to receive ABC, so I ended up recording Alias tonight. I was amazed at how grainy it looked in hi-def, but I guess that's not unexpected for such a low-light series… Even with a gamma-corrected display, it was hard to see anything through some parts of the episode.

Hm. It's late.

Posted by mike at 01:23 AM Central | Car , Family , TV | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 22, 2003

You Must Ask Yourself, “What Would Boy George Do?”

Got an E-vite to a Halloween party, but I'm not sure what to do with that. I'm not a Halloween person. I generally feel incompatible with costumes. The most creative idea I've had would be to do the Tom Hanks character in Castaway, but Mike and shirtless is not a good combination. Especially if it's cold out.

I picked at the car a bit today, removing some more broken glass from the headlight. The car really doesn't look too bad, but it's unfortunate that the hit had to happen. I'm pretty sure I had been thinking “this car is in great condition” not long before the accident happened. Unfortunately, as much as having a pristine hood would make me happy, the cost of fixing it outweighs the benefit by a pretty wide margin.

Anyway, I picked the glass away to discover that it was attached with a few small clips, along with some pretty hefty adhesive. Removing enough of the glass and to put on new glass without damaging the (fiberglass?) assembly would be nearly impossible.

I drove out intending to buy some food (but mostly some beverages), but ended up buying the Indiana Jones set (along with some beverages). Now I just need to reattach my monitor to my main system so I can actually watch the DVDs.

Hmm. I could just attach my laptop to the monitor.

Anyway, my monitor is missing because it's in my bedroom attached to the new machine so I can play with HDTV stuff. If I had a job, I might just get a new monitor (actually, more likely an HDTV), but I don't. Hmm. Motivation to look for a job.

Still slowly slogging through the process of decoding the MPEG stream my digital TV tuner card spits out. Late last night, I figured out how to decode the short channel names used by broadcasters (like “TPT Wx,” “KSTP-DT,” etc.), and today I worked on decoding some more similar information. I'm almost at the point where I can actually seek through a stream, pick out the “programs” (basically subchannels), and demultiplex the packets I actually want. Some of this stuff just seems to be way more complicated than it should be.

I guess this is being difficult for me because I'm trying to go for a 100% implementation of functionality. All you need to know to decode a stream and watch something is about 10%, but the other 90% is sometimes useful. In order to do things properly, I've been slogging through a good portion of the 90% in preparation for doing the 10%. Well, this doesn't mean that I'm 90% done, just that I've already got a better foundation than most of the other software I've found.

Of course, progress has slowed today as I bothered to turn on my TV to see what was on. I Love the 80s Strikes Back took up much of the evening.

I Love the 80s Addendum: Snausages.

Posted by mike at 11:04 PM Central | Car , Hardware , Movies , Software , TV , Work | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 31, 2003

40 Days and 40 Nights of Overcast Skies

Let's see. Viagra spammers should be put in jail, and have their cellmates force-fed the stuff. That should solve the problem.

It's been kind of dull around here lately, though I suppose the weather hasn't helped. The cold mixed with frequent light rain puts a damper on things. Strangely, the humidity is low enough for me to be getting severely chapped lips, and the occasional “geek problems.”

I wish the sky was clear, then I'd at least have a chance of seeing the Northern Lights. I don't think I've ever seen the aurora..

Looks like I'll be picking up a new headlight for my car next week unless my friend from back home calls me up today to say he has one. I had forgotten to call him about it before yesterday.

Microsoft has made a new command-line interface for Windows. It's called MSH, for Microsoft SHell—but the codename is “MONAD.” This just makes me wonder if the codename was the result of a bad Tupac Shakur joke (or Tupac Amaru, for that matter).

That just brought back some high school memories. It's been a long time…

Posted by mike at 10:59 AM Central | Car , Internet , School , Software , Weather | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 06, 2003

And We End Tonight with Nazis on Trampolines

I somewhat randomly came across car-part.com today. You can easily see who has parts, and what price they are. Sweet. It looks like the junkyard near my hometown has a headlight assembly for $20, which is a steal. However, there's a note that says it's off a Z24 convertible, which might be slightly different…

Around noon, I drove over to Midway and did the necessary bits to get my driver's license renewed. I was curious what the experience would be like, mostly because of the image I had in my head from movies and TV. Trips to the DMV are always portrayed as walks into hell, where citizens are tortured by infinitely long lines moving backwards. However, I've never had that experience. Things have always gone smoothly for me (well, except for those first trips where I failed at my driving exams).

Once again, I didn't have any trouble at all.

After that, I went to Borders to pick up David Sedaris' book, Me Talk Pretty One Day. This is yet another consequence of me listening to way too much NPR stuff. Anyway, I looked around for the book, since Borders' computers told me that it was in stock. In the end, I didn't find it on the shelves, but I was being lazy. I picked up another book instead, Naked, and brought it to the register.

Now, as I took it to the counter, I was thinking about what the cashier might say. A lot of this thinking centered around the fact that David Sedaris is gay, and I am not. This is just one of those annoying latent prejudices that pops up once in a while because I grew up in a small town where the population was 99.8% white, and I didn't know anyone who was “out.”

In the end, I decided it was stupid to worry about it, and the cashier probably wouldn't mumble anything more than a few grunts at me anyway.

“Find everything okay?” she parroted.

“Yep.” I wanted to say no. I nearly piped up and mentioned that I was really looking for the other book. However, I'd been lazy. It was all my own damn fault for not finding everything okay.

“Have you read Me Talk Pretty One Day?” she asked as I handed her my money. “I thought it was hilarious.”

Dammit. Dammit. Dammit. She figured me out, sort of. I almost said, “Uh, yeah, that was the book I was really looking for,” but that would just reveal my true plan. Obviously. I stammered something about planning to “get it soon.”

“It's great,” she replied as she handed me my change. “I even think it's better than this book”

Gah! The death blow. And the transaction was over. Oh well, at least she was cute.

I smiled and left.

Posted by mike at 04:46 PM Central | Books , Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 07, 2003

The Forbidden Junkyard

Got a headlamp part for $20. We'll see how the installation goes tomorrow.

I was shocked to discover that the junkyard I found online wasn't the one I thought it was. Turns out that there are two junkyards within about a mile of each other. The one I've driven past hundreds of times, and this other one I'd never seen before because it's on a back road…

Anyway, I made it there just in time to get the part pulled out of a junked car before before the guy helping me left for the day. I felt bad for the guy since it was his birthday, and almost gave him a tip for sticking around to help me out, but my mind drifted off when we got back up to the office.

I brought home the computer that has the HDTV receiver in it, just to see what reception is like at home. It works out that six of the Cities stations have good signal strength while another two have a marginal signal. There's one more that is too weak to be decoded. Some of the other stations in the region can be picked up when we turn the antenna. A channel down in Iowa came in alright, and we picked up a station in Menominee without too much trouble. We also picked up the local NBC station, and they have a strange subchannel that carries a live “skycam” shot of Rochester. Ooo. Thrilling.

Well, we proved that my family can get a digital receiver and actually pick up some channels, which is good. It's not quite as simple as the old analog system, since you can't really tell what's on channels that the antenna isn't pointed directly at. Therefore, it's not really possible to randomly come across something interesting on another channel and then move the antenna to improve reception. Oh well. I suppose the clarity of the video makes up for that…

Posted by mike at 09:30 PM Central | Car , TV | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 08, 2003

Zen and the Art of Car Repair

Replaced the headlight today. It's semi-aligned: my dad and I got it vertically lined up, but I think I should probably fiddle a bit to shift the beam a little more to the left. Then again, maybe having one light pointed more to the side of the road is the better way to go in deer season…

We also did a little work to bend the hood back towards it's original shape, though I'm not sure how successful we were. There's not much more that we amateurs could do.

Did some more HDTV signal testing today. Unfortunately, it looks like the reception is much poorer during the daytime.

Posted by mike at 04:44 PM Central | Car , TV | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 09, 2003

Border Bound

This morning, I watched a paid commercal program on an Iowa channel starring—wait for it—Howard Dean! Having lived in Minnesota all my life, I hadn't noticed the repercussions of being in one of those lucky states where they have Presidential primaries. Minnesota selects candidates through caucuses instead. (Heh. Caucus. Makes me think of the Simpsons episode where all of the kids get stuck at school because of snow.) I'd hate to have to sift through many half-hour paid ads…Hmm. Kind of reminds me of Ross Perot.

Coming back, I drove a different way to Minneapolis today. I usually go up some back roads to meet up with U.S. 52 to take me to St. Paul, but I had been reminded that there are some windmills just a few miles west of my hometown. Since I hadn't seen them yet, I went west on U.S. 14 toward Owatonna, where I'd take I-35 north.

I was expecting just a few windmills, thinking that the most I'd see would be about five. Amazingly enough, there were at least five times that many all out on this one stretch of flat farmland. I imagine it might be difficult to build too many more out there, since it's right next to a civil airport.

This morning, I read a story in the paper talking about the legislature changing the definitions of “renewable” energy sources. Apparently natural gas is a renewable resource now—not entirely false, since it can be captured from manure and garbage heaps, but still a pretty screwy concept. Coal is also considered to be “clean,” even though the best you could say of it is that it's “cleaner,” but it depends on what you're comparing…

Anyway, the story goes that we might not see new windmills and other “green” energy sources pop up as much, since the government support is getting whittled away.

Posted by mike at 06:33 PM Central | Car , Politics , TV | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 25, 2003

Time for Another “Good Idea/Bad Idea”

Today, I forgot about the pledge I'd made myself to avoid letting employees of oil change places do anything more than change the oil and do a few other things that don't require much mechanical know-how. The guy who talked to me mentioned that the serpentine belt was cracked, and I knew that this had been mentioned before by another service place in Rochester over a year ago. So, I had them replace it.

Bad idea.

They replaced the belt, and took a long-ass time to do it. When I got in my car to leave, I noticed a weird rattling when the engine first revved right after starting. As I left the parking lot, I thought I heard a squeaking noise over the radio. The car kept making little chirps and squeaks as I accelerated from stoplights and turned corners on my way home.

For some reason, I'm paranoid about the automatic transmission in that car, so my first thoughts were along the lines of, “what the hell, did they drain fluid from it?” However, as soon as I pulled into the apartment's parking lot and popped the hood, I could tell that the problem was much more fundamental—and much more logical.

The new serpentine belt was vibrating like crazy. I was pretty amazed that it didn't come flying off the engine. This seemed to be the problem, though I guess I was still giving the guys who worked on my car the benefit of the doubt for a while. However, I had the thought that I've heard about belts causing screeching noises, so I called my dad to confirm my suspicions. Actually, he seemed a tiny bit skeptical at first, but he convinced me to do what I was going to do anyway—go back and have them fix what they broke.

So, most of my afternoon ended up being spent at Jiffy Lube. Not the best day I could have asked for…

Posted by mike at 05:14 PM Central | Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 26, 2003

Consequences Shmonsequences

Home for Thanksgiving. I-94 sucked, but I suppose half an hour from Centennial Hall (where I picked up my brother) to Highway 52 isn't too bad. We have some snow falling now, have to see how that piles up. Anyway, I'm mostly putting something down because of an anecdote my mom had.

Back when IBM introduced a no-smoking policy at the Rochester plant, people were forced outdoors, like anywhere else. The funny thing is that with so many people milling around outside, there were more eyes on the big parking lots there, and car thefts went down. I suppose this is a well-known thing in smoker-dom, but it was news to me…

Posted by mike at 06:13 PM Central | Car , Family , Weather | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 28, 2003

It's Okay, I Had Subway

Wow. It's hard to track down real numbers, but these should be in the right ballpark:

250 to 500 gallons of ethanol can be produced per acre of corn, although 75% of that goes back into the production/refining/transport of the resulting fuel, so only 65 to 125 gallons end up as real output.

30 to 90 gallons of biodiesel can be produced per acre of soybeans, but only about 30% of that is used to actually produce the fuel, so you get 20 to 60 gallons of real output.

There are approximately 230 million cars in the U.S. I'm not sure how often they're driven, but if you assume 10,000 miles per year at 30 miles per gallon, 77 billon gallons of fuel would be used per year (that's low—we produced and imported 320 billion gallons in 2002, but that's mostly unrefined crude oil…).

If the farmers were all really lucky and got bumper crops of corn, then produced ethanol, 613 million acres would be needed, and 225 billion gallons would have been used in production.

There are only 932 million acres of farmland in this country.

Update: I haven't been able to find enough data to run numbers, but it appears that switching over to using sugar beets to produce ethanol in this area would be a beneficial move. It looks like more ethanol could be produced per acre with sugar beets, and the ratio seems to be something more like 60% used in production, leaving 40% net output.

In Brazil, which produces the most ethanol of any country, the fuel is produced from sugar cane, and the net energy output appears to be very good. Of course, sugar cane doesn't really grow up here :-p

Posted by mike at 06:25 PM Central | Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

February 14, 2004

Voyageurs

Watching Star Trek: Voyager at the moment. It's on a local WB station in Danville, Illinois. It's been a long time since I've seen Voyager. Kind of a sappy episode.

Dad and I left home at around 9:30, finally getting on the highway just before 10:00 (had to get gas, you know). I noticed that some parts of I-90 in southeast Minnesota seem to have been re-done. It's been a long time, but I once went along that road on a class trip. I sat in the back of the bus and pretty much got sick to my stomach. I'm pretty sure I was in the fourth grade, heading to Winona or La Crosse so I could go on a short train trip on Amtrak. I'm thinking that we only went between those two cities, but now I remember that we also visited James J. Hill's home at some point, so maybe we actually got to St. Paul. At any rate, we ran into a lot of trouble because the train was late...

I mentioned some stuff about trains to my dad and he talked about an idea he had for getting new rail lines between the Cities and Rochester. His idea was to run the track (mostly just one set of rails, except in stations, etc.) on pylons along I-35 and then U.S. Highway 52 from Owatonna to Rochester. It seemed like an odd route to me until he explained that most of the way, it could use existing highway rights-of-way. Also, heading to the Cities from that direction would bring the rail line straight to the Mall of America and the Airport (and soon, both places will be major stops on the light rail line). Plus, Owatonna is a fairly major shipping town, so light freight could potentially be moved along the way sometimes. Having two towns pushing for a new line instead of just one would also be pretty good.

Something I'd forgotten to take into account when I prepared for the weekend was the fact that Minnesota Public Radio pretty much doesn't exist outside of the state. Pretty much every other NPR station has a different schedule, so I missed out on most of Car Talk and all of some of the other shows I wanted to listen to today.

I was surprised by a slightly scary-looking thin median around the area where I-90 meets up with 94 and 39. If a car lost control, it would barely dip before landing on the other side. Dad mentioned that one of the best barriers is actually chain-link fence, since it usually manages to stop cars, but generally doesn't damage them too much.

Anyway, stopped at a Culver's since I'd never been there before. My first impression was, Long John Silvers plus burgers. I had a bacon cheeseburger, and was amazed at how wide the thing was, though it wasn't amazingly thick. I suppose they cook quicker that way.

We went south on 90/39 and had to pay a toll in Illinois. My dad had gone on a trip to Tennessee with Habitat for Humanity just last month, so he sort of knew what to expect, though I still had to remind him to not get in the I-Pass lane...

So, we took a route avoiding Chicago. It's so strange for me to think of it, but Interstates aren't fixtures of the landscape that have been there forever. It just seems like that for me. I-39 is a flat, boring road that goes right down the middle of Illinois. After a while, I took over driving.

We made pretty good time. My dad was thinking that we'd stop in Peru/La Salle, but we were there by mid-afternoon. Got down to Bloomington/Normal by 5:00, stopped at a Steak 'n' Shake in Champaign for dinner, then finally stopped in Danville, Illinois around 6:30 for the night. I would have been happy to keep going a while longer, but I guess there aren't any major stops between Danville and Indianapolis.

We ran into some construction zones I hadn't expected in Wisconsin and around Bloomington in Illinois, but there wasn't any active construction going on. The lanes were squeezed a bit, but we pretty much got through without trouble, except that I got a bit confused by the lane switching required around Bloomington. I-39 ends just north of the area, then we had to jog west a little way on I-55 to meet up with I-74 and go south around the city, then we started east once the two roads split. Kind of a mess, though I guess it's easier than what we would have dealt with around Chicago.

Hmm. One thing that popped into my head while we were driving was the idea of a diesel-electric semi tractor, but I suppose there are reasons why nobody's done that before. I imagine the maintenance for the electrical system would make them unappealing to truckers. Hard to say.

That's an odd thing to end on, but whatever. Hey, look at that, it's Law & Order. Heh.

Posted by mike at 08:33 PM Central | Car , Family , Kentucky 2004 , TV | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

February 15, 2004

Paint Stripper

The single most annoying thing about my dad is the fact that he snores loudly and continuously at night. This is obviously not an issue for most people, and is usually not something I have to worry about, except for when I am traveling and need to share a room with him. I have phased in and out of something resembling sleep tonight, but I've mostly been frustrated by being kept awake. I'm escaping for a while to the bathroom to try and alleviate the stress.

There are a few things I had forgotten to write down. In Wisconsin, after a Wisconsin Public Radio station had been tuned in and subsequently faded out within about 5 minutes, we tried switching to music. After scanning up and down the dial, I found something that seemed okay, playing some fairly new rather alternative-ish song that I'll naver be able to remember. Of course, that train wrecked into '80s evil popstar music when it was followed by something by another artist I can't remember, but who is in the class of Rod Stewart whoever that was that wrote “Born in the USA” (My memory of music artists is exceedingly awful). (hmm, that would be Bruce Springsteen, right?) Anyway, Dad started up a tape after a while. What song was playing? “Mr. Roboto”

Okay…

Something else I'd forgotten was the fact that my dad actually handed a guy the toll when we got to Illinois. I had been used to seeing the buckets used in the past—putting money directly in someone else's hand for a toll is not something I remember seeing when my family used to go on long road trips.

Oh. Valentine's Day. I was getting a bit concerned in the morning that we'd be overwhelmed by V-Day programming on the radio. I suppose we would have been if we'd bothered to try to find more NPR stations, but the radio DJs were restricted to only bringing it up once every hour or so. I had been starting to see the really sad side of the holiday that so many people complain about. I usually don't care one way or another about the day, but I don't like to be beaten over the head with it.

Before we left, I'd looked over the highway construction information on the various state DOTs' pages. I hadn't seen anything for any highway except I-65 in Indiana just north of the Kentucky border, which explains why I was surprised to see other construction areas (even if work has been suspended for the winter).

Well, my stress level has returned to normal, so I'll try to get to sleep. We'll see how that goes, since I can still hear my dad making noise through the door. I hope that I have my own room or something in Kentucky.

Posted by mike at 03:09 AM Central | Car , Family , Kentucky 2004 , Music | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Music Man

Well, we got to Louisville (actually, Taylorsville) around 1:30 or so, Eastern Time. We were amazed at the traffic on I-65 from Indianapolis to Louisville at 11 AM on a Sunday. I'd hate to see actual traffic on that road. Down at the south end of that stretch, 10 miles from the border (the Ohio River), we ran into some construction that has been going in fits and starts for most of my life. I don't know if we've ever been able to get over the bridge there at full speed. The roadway heading there is a mess, the roadway out is a mess (nicknamed “Spaghetti Junction,” though I think it may have been cleaned up somewhat over the years), and all of the other highways in the area are a mess. There are some stretches that are flat and smooth with gentle curves, but not anywhere near where those features would do the most good.

Anyway, Taylorsville is on the east side of Louisville, out kind of along the beltway I-265 (though we'd taken a side trip to drive by the older house that I had associated with my dad's parents when I was a kid). We managed to get where we wanted to go without making any significant U-turns (there was one intersection, but Dad just noticed he had to turn left, though he wasn't in the “middle” lane to be able to do that).

I had a hell of a time getting some sleep last night because of my dad's snoring. I guess he has a wedge-shaped pillow that he sometimes brings on trips that alleviates the problem, but we didn't bring it this trip. Sucks to be me. Anyway, I tossed and turned for about half an hour after I wrote the last entry, then finally decided that I wasn't going to be able to sleep at all unless I had something to cover up the noise. I pulled out my CD player, which fortunately has an FM tuner on it. Amazingly, the first station the channel-scanner found was a pretty good mixed classic-/modern-rock station. Kind of a weird combination, but it seemed to work well. In fact, I think that little station on the border of nowhere probably beats out 93X/KQRS for good programming by a large margin. There were some things I didn't like—some of the songs were a little too bluesy or conutry-y for my tastes, but those maladies were overcome by other excellent selections. I hope that the station broadcasts on the Internet.

Just to try and compete with the big boys in a small way, the station calls itself “K-Rock”, though the call letters are “WRHK” (wrahk?) I suppose stations east of the Mississippi have to pull the K- part out of their ass, while western stations have legitimate claim to the letter…

Still, I think the station should probably bribe the FCC to steal KROC's call letters from Rochester, MN. The Rochester station has been a top-40s station for ages, definitely not deserving of its call sign.

I listened to the station for about three and a half hours until the great programming was interrupted by The House of Blues Blues Hour or whatever it's called. I'm just not much of a blues person, at least not what Dan Aykroyd likes to call blues...

Fortunately, this was about time for me to get up anyway. I was rested enough, though lacking any actual sleep last night, I'm glad I didn't have to drive today.

Hmm. I should probably look up an Internet cafe or something so I can post these messages, though I'm a bit concerned about security in those places…

Posted by mike at 01:57 PM Central | Car , Family , Kentucky 2004 , Music | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

February 16, 2004

Chaos née Comfort

Had some lunch and then went to Lowe's and Wal-Mart. Lunch was simple but good. My grandpa had made vegetable beef soup yesterday. I'd never even realized that you could make the stuff on your own. Soup from cans has devastated that line of culinary expertise, I think. Of course, it probably wasn't totally from scratch, but I didn't see much of what was going on. In some ways, the culture here is to take things slowly. A roast for supper was already cooking when we ate…

As nonsensical as the Twin Cities area is in terms of roads, I think Louisville is worse. It's barely-controlled chaos in some places. Oh well, that may have something to do with the fact that Louisville has probably been settled for considerably longer. Roadways around here are often named after people, which I find to be even more confusing than numbers. Every once in a while, the names are more purposeful—the road to Taylorsville is coincidentally named Taylorsville Road, for instance, but that seems to be the exception to the rule. I suppose things are the same in the Cities, though I-494 isn't named after anyone as far as I know.

Work to do…

Posted by mike at 03:26 PM Central | Car , Family , Kentucky 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

February 21, 2004

Speed Demons

Sorry to everyone who still bothers to read my entries on LiveJournal. It sucks to be you right now because all of my entries for the past week have suddenly appeared on your friends pages. Sorry about that, but you can blame the LJ staff, since their software doesn't properly parse the timestamps in my entries :-p

If anyone wants to read my slideshow-esque recounting of the week's events, take a look at this category on my website.

Today, my dad and I managed to pull out of my grandparents' driveway around 8:20 AM (7:20 in this time zone). We didn't have too many stops, and managed to arrive in Byron at about 7:20 PM. 12 hours isn't too bad for 750 miles. It looked to me like some snow had melted along the way, but it's hard to say how much, exactly. All I know is, last night I heard motorbikes revving in the distance. Tonight, it's snowmobiles.

I drove probably about a third of the way, including the last stretch on the way home. The only time on the whole trip where you can legally go above 65 mph is in Minnesota, where the Interstate highway speed is 70 mph (well, you only get that high in rural areas, and nobody counts the stretch of I-94 from the Cities out to Hudson for some reason…) My dad pointed out to me that there was actually only one I-Pass–only lane in the center. The lanes to the left are the automatic buckets, and the lanes to the right have people in them to make change.

We had lunch in Urbana-Champaign, supper not far past Tomah (where I-90 and I-94 split in Wisconsin), and even got to listen to some NPR on the radio on the way. That Danville radio station I had liked on the way down has either changed formats to talk or had some strange program on while we came through before noon. Oh well.

I had a strange service provider pop up on my cell phone in Wisconsin. Einstein PCS? Never heard of them. Hopefully the call from my uncle I got won't give me any extra charges, since I was on that network at the time.

Last night, I didn't get to watch The Daily Show like I wanted. Supper was delayed, and we didn't even begin to eat until 7:00. But, my Dad and I stayed up until 10:00 to watch the episodef of Monk that was on USA. My parents are cable-impared, and miss out on that show since ABC is being idiotic about scheduling the show, since they aren't playing it very often. Dumbasses.

Now that I've rained the bits and bytes of hell upon everyone, it's time for me to check some e-mail, and probably go to bed early…

I should be heading back to Minneapolis tomorrow.

Posted by mike at 10:35 PM Central | Car , Kentucky 2004 , Music , TV | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 21, 2004

The Future Is Big, and Sometimes Small

My brother came back up to school today along with my dad. After they had dropped my brother's stuff off in his dorm room, we all got lunch at White Castle (and old favorite of Dad's), and then went to the auto show. Quite a lot of stuff there, mostly big stuff (at least when you look at the Big 3).

My main intention of going to the auto show (and I've been thinking about it for several months) was to check out the VW Golf, since I'd been thinking about purchasing the TDI version. The reason for TDI is that it's a fuel-efficient car, one of the best fuel economies for a non-hybrid vehicle. Still, it's a diesel, so that could make finding qualified maintenance people difficult. On the upside, it's a turbocharged direct-injection diesel (what the TDI stands for), which is a better type of engine than the old clickety-clackety diesels of the past.

Anyway, I had been impressed with the interior styling of the VW Beetle, so I figured I'd like the inside of the other VWs. However, my basic opinion is that the interiors are somewhat poor. So, I might go for a different type of car once I actually get money. Still, I'd like to try one on the road, just to see what it feels like. Er, if I have enough money when it comes time to buy a car. I might just have to swallow my pride and get a used car.

I was scarily impressed by a Kia I sat in. I think I'd have to avoid that brand, though. Losing your own job to someplace in southeast Asia has that sort of an effect on people.

There was a big crowd around the one Toyota Prius that was open for people to sit in. There were four sitting out in one of the entranceways, but they were all locked (they were there to say that the Prius was the “official car of the 2004 auto show” or whatever). The Mini Cooper was also a popular destination, though I'm sure most people were still spending the vast majority of their time looking at other cars.

We also looked at the Honda Civic Hybrid a little. But heck, what can you say about that? It's almost the same as a regular Civic except for the powerplant under the hood and the battery packs under the rear seat.

Hmm. Well, nothing else really jumps into my mind at the moment. It was interesting to see some of the new cars and the few concept vehicles that were there, and it was fun to sit in those cars that you could never afford, but there's only so much you can experience while in the middle of a convention center floor.

Anyway, I'm tired now. I wonder if The Simpsons is on tonight.

Posted by mike at 06:28 PM Central | Car , Family | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 23, 2004

Bah!

Heh. I scoffed at yesterday's news that Microsoft was getting a fine of $615 million or so, especially since that's only about one 80th of what they have in the bank. Still, I guess the European Union is putting other restrictions on the company that might turn out to be more costly.

Hmm. I was just about to scoff at people for blaming OPEC for gas price increases, but I didn't know that Venezuela had joined that cartel. I was under the impression that OPEC was only a Middle East thing, and only produced a relatively small fraction of the U.S.'s oil imports these days, but I guess the group may have changed. Still, I don't care. As far as I'm concerned, after 100 years of figuring out how to make it cheaper to produce fuel, every year should see a record-high price due to inflation.

Oh well, we should all start driving hybrids and moving to ethanol and biodiesel anyway.

Posted by mike at 11:55 AM Central | Car , Corporations , Politics | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

April 26, 2004

World in the Balance

I guess I haven't written anything for a while. I went home this weekend, so I could go to the dentist today. I was worried that they'd find something bad was happening to my rear molars on the bottom of my mouth. Every so often, I've had some pain back there. I guess it was nothing, though. The X-rays looked normal, and he said nothing looked out of the ordinary in the visual spectrum.

I'm a bit worried about my car. It's been vibrating quite a bit lately, though I'm not really sure if it's a problem or not. 1980s Cavaliers are known for putting out quite a bit of vibration. The problem might be that serpentine belt that Jiffy Lube never should have sold me. They didn't have the equipment to properly install and tension the belt. I figured I'd have a job by now and would have been able to take the car into a real service shop. I might just have to suck it up and go in sooner rather than later. There might also be some fluid deficiencies. The car is overdue for an oil change, so I may as well get that done.

I went to the bank and withdrew money for another month's worth of life in the Cities. I'd better deposit that tomorrow.

Posted by mike at 09:57 PM Central | Car , Money , Self | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 08, 2004

Tricky Dick

Heh. I just saw an ad on TV for Porsche's SUV. God, that's just wrong.

My dad, brother, and I saw it at the Twin Cities auto show. If my memory is right, the SUV got worse mileage than the cars (not surprising), but people who got the cars had to pay the gas-guzzler tax while buyers of the SUV didn't.

I'm also reminded that we saw a car by another manufacturer (I think it was Jaguar) that had stub seats in the rear. They were too small for even a baby to sit in, but had seat belts. My dad and brother figured it had to be a way of making the car qualify as a 4-seater for insurance purposes. I wonder if that would restrict the car from going in certain high-occupancy-vehicle lanes.

Posted by mike at 03:54 PM Central | Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 09, 2004

Branch Prediction

Well, I can't say that my car is the neatest thing since sliced bread, but at least I still barely break the $20 mark when filling up the tank. I guess if I was driving on fumes, it might hit $25, but I usually don't let it get that low. The tank is only 11 or 12 gallons, but it gets 30 mpg or so to compensate. Not bad for an '88. Of course, I pay for that in the fact that I can't pass worth shit, but hey ;-)

Anyway, I just found out today on Car Talk that GM's Chevy Silverado (aka GMC Sierra) hybrid gets really poor mileage, even considering the fact that its conventional counterpart doesn't do very well either. It only gets 16 mpg city/19 mpg highway in the 4WD version. That's pretty sad, only improving things by one or two miles per gallon. Even on a percentage basis, it's a poor improvement for a hybrid—you get a bigger difference in switching fuel or getting the 2WD version instead. I guess GM is too enamored with hydrogen power to play with hybrid technology very much. Oh well, I guess you can use the standard phrases: “It's better than nothing” and “They need to start somewhere.”

Ford's Escape hybrid has been on the drawing boards for a while, and it looks like that's going to be significantly better. The standard vehicle gets 20 mpg or so, and the hybrid versions will bring it up to 35 to 40 mpg. Definitely not bad, though Ford hasn't said what the cost is yet, I guess.

Today was Mother's Day, of course. I got Bowfinger for my mom, since she liked that movie (she's a fan of Steve Martin who hasn't given up on him yet, I guess ;-)

Anyway, we all went out to get a snack at Ben & Jerry's when my parents came up this afternoon. Took some time to find a parking spot, and we ended up just stopping in the Radisson ramp. My brother said that the Oak Street ramp was closed for construction—right on finals week, no less. Maybe he was misinformed, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised if the U decided that finals was the best time to start construction work.

My mom dragged us to Walter Library, where she'd heard that the ceiling was nice, and she figured it might provide good inspiration for quilts. In fact, I bet she's seen the ceiling before, back when I was touring campus and before the guts of the building got ripped out. Anyway, we got a few pictures of the ceiling. We'll see if anything comes of that.

We went out to Como Park, which was just about as busy as I expected it to be. It wasn't totally impossible to find a spot, but it was still pretty busy and took us several minutes. We saw the carousel, toured the conservatory, and then left before the weather started to roll in. The sirens were just starting to go off in Hennepin County as we got to my place, so we tried to check out what the weather people on TV were saying. It still seemed like a lot of chatter with little real useful information.

Anyway, we stayed at my place until the tornado warning expired. A little bit of stuff got blown around, plus a medium-sized chunk of tree across the street came down. We left to get over to Panera, and as we drove past the tree branches, my brother and I dragged them to the side of the road. We had some food, and then my parents headed out to drop my brother back at his dorm room.

So, a fairly typical family interaction. They had to deal with some moderately heavy weather as the went back home, but I guess it only delayed them a few minutes.

Posted by mike at 09:59 PM Central | Car , Family , Food , TV , Weather | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 12, 2004

Motörhead

Hmm. When the Environmental Protection Agency calculates MPG ratings for cars, they don't actually measure the amount of fuel consumed—they measure the emissions coming out of the tailpipe. Considering the fact that emissions regulations have meant that cars put out cleaner and cleaner exhaust these days, apparently the numbers are a bit out of whack. There's a Wired story about hybrids that explains this a bit.

I have serious doubts that large numbers of people are seeing really crappy numbers, but who knows. The Prius isn't a sportscar… The article talks about a guy who gets mileage in his Civic Hybrid comparable to a conventional version (and, well, my car).

Anyway, kind of makes me feel not so bad about thinking about getting a TDI Golf or other diesel VW. There are other fuel-efficient cars out there too, and many of them are pretty inexpensive (compared to the $25k+ that you need for a Prius or Civic Hybrid).

Posted by mike at 11:43 AM Central | Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 17, 2004

Pannekoeken!

Well, what a shiny, happy, sunny day (not). Yesterday was better, at least in the morning. I decided to try driving along the Grand Rounds, though the actual roadway isn't all that well-marked. I also didn't realize that the parkway (for cars) doesn't form a complete loop. Apparently there's a fairly well-defined path for bikes, but not cars. Oh well.

After a few false starts, I headed south from the dowtown area along the path, but I got sidetracked after just a few miles because of the AIDS walk that was going on. I had to detour, sometimes going around in circles and generally having to deal with traffic that I didn't want to. I finally got back on the right path around Minnehaha Park and kept going. I drove by the lakes, though almost got stuck going in circles around Lake of the Isles. Once I got going again, I found that hardly anybody cares about Cedar Lake, and I got a bit of a reprieve from the heavy traffic around all the other lakes.

I finally got lost again when I came across I-94 and a train going by. I'm not exactly sure where I was supposed to turn, but I suppose I would have gotten really confused if I got to the end of the parkway.

Anyway, I ended up driving south on Lyndale, then had to detour again because police had blocked off the roads near the flower shop where a guy got shot. I couldn't tell what was going on at all as I drove past, but I saw a news report later that explained what happened.

Hmm. Time to take a shower, and then I need to run some errands. I need to drop off some more applicant action forms at the U, get change for and then do my laundry, buy some food/beverages for when my brother visits tomorrow, and then probably some cleaning and a few other things.

Posted by mike at 09:48 AM Central | Car , Family , Weather , Work | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 20, 2004

Fuel My Fire

Erg. I'm was getting annoyed by the guy standing out at the front door (which happens to be right next to my apartment) and talking on his cell phone. I hope this doesn't become a regular occurrence. Kind of annoying.

Anyway, I drove out to Eagan for a job fair at their Civic Arena. Took me forever to find it, since I didn't notice when the highway I was supposed to follow split off again. I found it eventually, after I figured out where Pilot Knob Road was. Mapquest didn't really do a good job on this one, IMHO. It told me to go along highway 55. I guess there's no good way for their system to know that Hiawatha Ave sucks ass traffic-wise. I took I-35W down to the crosstown and then took 55 from there instead. However, since I barely ever drive down Hiawatha, I decided to take it back up so that I could see the progress on the light-rail line.

Well, taking the train down that road will definitely be faster than driving ;-) I'm not sure if they've got the stoplights set up properly yet, though. I'm always amazed at the extraordinarily long lights on that road, and today was no exception.

Hmm. Gas prices seem to be on their way back up—not that I have to care about it for a few weeks. I filled up yesterday for $1.999/gallon (pretty good for being in Minneapolis proper) at the Holiday station nearby, and it ended up being $22.77. Actually, the Holiday station prices seem to be somewhat better—might be due to the reformulated gas they sell. More likely, it's just my imagination.

Hmm. Either the tank in my car is pretty puny, or the gauge is off and I actually have a fair amount of fuel left when the indicator is nearly on ‘E’. Whatever.

Today, I saw unleaded gas at $2.199 at a SuperAmerica near Eagan. I laughed when I saw the Diesel price just below that was $1.689.

Posted by mike at 06:25 PM Central | Car , Work | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

June 02, 2004

'Alllo Guv

“British Gas Prices Top $5.79 a Gallon”

In Britain, the Automobile Association said the average cost of unleaded gasoline was about $5.79 a gallon Wednesday, an increase of 14 cents from Tuesday.

But some filling stations were charging more than $6.31 per gallon for unleaded fuel and one, Total Gas in west London, was selling super unleaded for $7.93.

Posted by mike at 05:54 PM Central | Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 16, 2004

What Would Dan Quayle Say About That?

Not a whole lot has been happening, mostly just watching TV and movies, and applying for jobs. Today I had to go pick up Erik at the airport, after he came back from an interview in Washington state. Sarah IMed me around 10:30 or 11:00, but the only info she had was the time he expected to be ready to be picked up (she couldn't do it because she was doing CPR training). He didn't respond to any phone calls, so he must have been in the air already by that time.

Well, I got down there alright, but it turned out that I was at the wrong terminal. He must have flown Sun Country or something, since he had to be picked up at the Humphrey Terminal rather than the Lindbergh Terminal. Oops. So, I swung through Lindbergh one more time, since I wasn't sure if there was a quick exit from there down to Humphrey (there may have been, but I don't know where it would have been). So, I got back on the highway and got off at the right exit, but I've never driven to Humphrey before, and I've only ever been there about three times in my whole life—sometimes late at night, so I had few spatial references. Anyway, I ended up messing up my maneuvers a few times just because I was anticipating having to do things before I really had to. Then, I accidentally took a turn toward Lindbergh again. No! I hate it when I'm forced to drive like I don't know where I'm going.

Anyway, I finally made it there, and it probably would have been a lot easier if I just hadn't tried so hard to be ready for the unexpected. Then, there was the escapade of getting back to Erik's place. Well, Sarah called asking for an update just a few minutes after we left the airport, and then I missed the turn I wanted to take just as I picked up the call (See!? Driving and cell phones don't mix—except when you're trying to get pic up someone who is at the wrong terminal ;-)

Well, I'm not even sure if you can get from northbound I-35E to westbound I-94 anyway. We ended up taking U.S. 52, since I know that road, but we had to wait as traffic was backed up at the point where that road essentially ends to become surface streets. Things went okay on 94, but I got off on 280 and then improperly took the Energy Park Drive exit. D'oh. So, back to Minneapolis and up to Como (which we wouldn't have had to do, if the traffic hadn't been so heavy on that road too). Oh well, I guess I gave Erik the grand tour, which will be good for posterity, just in case he gets that job in Washington.

I went out for an evening walk today around the St. Anthony Falls trail loop and Nicollet Island. It was really nice until the mosquitos started biting a bit, but they didn't show up much until I was about ready to be done anyway.

The walk was made a lot more enjoyable by the fact that I've indulged in watching some DVDs starring my favorite female celebrity. I've written before about how just seeing or hearing someone I find attractive can really calm me down and make me happier. I think I really needed that, at least now that I think about how low I was feeling last weekend. Still, it is and will remain as one of those intangible things, since this is a person I'll never meet.

She was in the war movie We Were Soldiers a little bit. Probably not enough time to justify if it was a crappy movie, but I thought it was good, even though there was no single concise message it tried to portray. It's mostly just a movie about a battle plus a little bit about the families the soldiers left behind. It's a good movie if you just want to see how things happened, but not so good if you want a movie that answers the “why”s of war.

Today, Netflix delivered the first disc of the TV show my favorite celebrity was on. I'd actually added this to my queue and pushed it near the top of the list over the weekend when I was feeling down, since I knew it would help in a weird way. It's emotionally wrenching and draining sometimes, but it's also good since it shows that at least someone else in TV land understands that good, honest, yet quiet people like myself actually exist. Well, not that I'd ever be picked out of a lineup for my good looks or anything…

Unfortunately, there are some semi-technical issues with the DVDs, so I guess I'm glad I didn't follow the impulse I had over the weekend to just go out and buy the first season or two. Some of the music was changed (though I might not notice—it may have been changed already in reruns, which is where I first watched the show) and the video was not telecined properly for DVD distribution to make most video frame progressive-scan. That's kind of dumb, since a telecined TV show can take up significantly less space on the disc, either allowing a higher per-frame bitrate, or more video on each disc. Oh well, fortunately my DVD playing software has a video filter that will clean it up for me and give me nice non-interlaced output.

Hmm. I guess I may as well mention that, while I was walking around this evening, the voice of Ira Glass of This American Life popped into my head. A second later I thought, “You know, I bet my favorite celebrity would like that radio show.” So, I got home and was randomly reading articles about said person, and found out that she indeed listens to the show. I've decided that I won't make anything of it other than say, “Heh. That's funny,” since, well, millions of people like that show.

Oh, also, my brother is living in a place owned by someone Erik knows (and I suspect that other people I know may also know her). On our screwed up drive around town, I pointed out the road my brother lives on, and Erik said that his friend Vanessa owned a place there. I think I may have met her way in the past too, but I can't really remember. She seemed familiar when we met.

Posted by mike at 11:24 PM Central | Car , Erik , Family , Movies , Sarah , TV , War | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 18, 2004

Wax On, Wax Off

So, there's a new washing machine in my apartment building, and the sticker on it says that it'll only cost $1.00. We'll see if it stays that way. The old washer left quite a pile of rust behind.

I figure that Steven Scott Management must have held off on buying a new washer since they knew they'd be selling the building. I think it just barely lasted long enough for that to work out. I guess I'll have to try the new one out soon.

I cleaned out my car yesterday, and also dug out a sheet with info regarding the muffler on the car. Well, sort of. The only useful thing I could find was the warranty number. Looking over Midas's website, it looks like the muffler itself might be under warranty (most of their deals on mufflers have a lifetime warranty), but the pipe going into the muffler (which appears to have already been replaced at least once) probably isn't. I imagine that the problem is probably in the pipe leading into the muffler, but I suppose I should bring the car in and have them check things out anyway.

I suspect they won't be open on the weekend, though, so I'll probably have to wait until Monday.

Posted by mike at 09:24 PM Central | Abode , Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 27, 2004

You're Going the Wrong Way

More light rail randomness:

At the Fort Snelling station, there was a guy from LEGO there with a version of one of their trains with the blocks colored to look like the Hiawatha Line.

After some more reading, it sounds like the signal problems along Hiawatha Avenue may be due to the transit people being overly cautious and activating the pre-emption system too often and too early while also preventing traffic from moving in any direction in some cases. It makes sense from their perspective, but backs things up pretty badly.

I took the Route 155 shuttle dow to the MoA today. One of the drivers I had was a bit of an asshole. 155 is a boring stub route with just three stops (I think), and he was being very insistent that he only went to Fort Snelling and not any farther, though he should have mentioned that a transfer to the train would go farther. Maybe he just doesn't like the train.

Oh, and my route to work (once work moves to Inver Grove Heights) is starting to look pretty convoluted. The simple way to go is to do University Ave to Huron to I-94 and then south on US 52, but I may end up doing University to I-35W to MN 55 to MN 110 to I-494 to US 52. I've only tried the routes in non-peak traffic so far, so it's hard to say how things will go. 55 and 110 aren't freeways by any stretch of the imagination, so there's a lot of area where I can get bogged down by traffic lights on that route, and if I have to deal with I-35W, that would suck. Then again, dealing with the US 52 to I-94 interchange is a mess since it involves the nearby I-35E.

The routes are nearly equal in travel time, which surprised me greatly. The 55/110 route actually took longer for me by about two minutes, but I didn't really know where I was going at the time and I could shave off another few minutes by doing the route properly. Almost actually makes me wish that they'd turned Hiawatha Ave into a freeway, but not really…

Posted by mike at 10:28 PM Central | Car , News , Work | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

July 24, 2004

The Excrement Is Palpable

I'm a little annoyed.

I tried doing some car maintenance, replacing the oxygen sensor because my car has had some hesitation/stuttering while cruising. I didn't find much of anything specific when searching online for my 1988 Chevy Cavalier, but a few other people mentioned having similar trouble on other cars. One guy mentioned that his car runs fine without the sensor connected, so I tried unplugging the existing sensor and running the car that way, and the problem went away. However, the “SERV. ENG. SOON” came on after the car warmed up, so it's hard to say if the ECM just went into a safe mode and covered up for some other problem with the car or if it just discarded the non-information coming in on that data port. It just might not be a valid test…

Anyway, I figured that at less than $30, it couldn't hurt to try a new sensor. Of course, lots of parts stores are closed on weekends. The NAPA store on East Hennepin was closed today, although they're supposed to be open on Saturdays. The other shops didn't have the primary part that you're supposed to use, but they reportedly had others. I ended up going to Midway to find parts there, since a call to the Lake Street store indicated they had something that would work. Apparently it was in a pile or something.

I should have just returned the part or looked it up on the Internet before trying to put it in. This sensor is bigger than the part my car already had. Well, “bigger” is a word that has to be used carefully. The part fit just fine into the screw hole, but only after the wire leading into the thing had been severed.

Yeah, the part of the sensor that stuck out of the exhaust manifold was too long, so it rubbed up against other parts of the car. It's a screw-in device, so the twisting motion caused the wire to wind up, and eventually break off as I got it to fit in.

So, now I'm trying to figure out what went wrong here, and I guess the lady who helped me at NAPA got the wrong part for me. She might have accidentally selected the 6 cylinder version of my car rather than the 4 cylinder. Or maybe she just forgot a digit somewhere. This particular part is Bosch BSA 12014. The one I should have gotten is 12013. However, she'd retrieved a different version previously for me to take a look at, and it was also the larger type. Possibly when she went back to find parts again, she was still looking for something big like that.

There are three different parts that come up when I did a search on NAPA's website. I suppose it's possible that they just didn't have any of them, but I think there was some human error on her part. So, I'm debating trying to return the part to their store and essentially blame her, but it would have been better if I hadn't, y'know, broken the thing first.

Anyway, I'm going to carry around a list of the parts that I know will fit (because I've seen images of them and they look like the existing part in my car), and try to find something tomorrow or Monday during my lunch break. Unfortunately, the actual part I need is generally more costly (probably since it's smaller), but not excessively so. I paid $21.99 + tax for this thing, and the proper part is only $25.99 or $26.99 (well, there's also one for like $38.95, but I'll just keep that one as a last resort).

Posted by mike at 07:23 PM Central | Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 25, 2004

We Be Trammin'

I saw The Bourne Supremacy, and it was good.

In my car, I replaced my O2 sensor finally, and it was better (I think).

In my room, there's a pile of dirty laundry, and that's not so good.

Now I'm debating whether to do laundry or go see Farenheit 9/11 finally. I think the movie is going to win.

Posted by mike at 06:21 PM Central | Abode , Car , Movies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 28, 2004

Drrty

Want to know why it rained today?

Because it's the day after the first time I ever washed my car.

Not that I'm actually complaining—it's just funny ;-)

Posted by mike at 06:59 PM Central | Car , Weather | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 06, 2004

Bicycle Race

Well, I'm still planning on doing a UML presentation at the TCLUG meeting on Saturday. At the moment, I'm looking at using the Prosper class for LATEX to make the presentation and build it for PDF output. I don't think I'll do anything really complex with it, though. Maybe load an image or two, but my LATEX skills haven't been exercised in a long time.

My car is still acting up. I guess I'm thinking the fuel pump is on its way out or has loose wiring or something. I just hope it doesn't conk out in the next few days. After I get paid next week, I plan to take it in to have it checked out, and I might try to borrow my brother's car (though that's a manual and I haven't driven one of those for quite a while—I'd have to practice driving around a bit before getting on the highway, I think).

But, heck, the number of possible things that could be causing the hesitation seems nearly endless. Could be a sensor, the computer, something messed up with the throttle body, trouble with the engine vacuum, and who knows what else.

However, since I replaced the O2 sensor, it seems to be using less fuel, so I guess that's good with new record unadjusted-for-inflation oil prices out there. I continue to seriously consider getting a TDI Volkswagen—if only there was a Biodiesel pump in Minneapolis (the fuel would be expensive in the short term, but as I see it with China and India using more gas, the price can only get more attractive—of course, I actually need money to get a car).

Posted by mike at 07:08 AM Central | Car , Software | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 17, 2004

Rubber Band Man

It took me a long time to get anywhere at work today. Well, anywhere that I actually wanted to go, at least. I'd upgraded my desktop machine's kernel yesterday afternoon. It turns out now that I'd pretty much gotten everything right the first or second time, but some problems with our Internet gateway box caused trouble. Turns out that the Linksys WRK54G doesn't handle TCP ECN packets properly. Oh, my favorite little networking bug…

Anyway, for the longest time I thought there was something fubared with my network driver. In the end it was just a simple little tweak to fix. Oh well, at least I brought the kernel from Red Hat's random 2.4.20-8 up to 2.4.26 and then 2.4.27. Now, the 2.6 kernel I have trouble with… 2.4 I can still wrap my head around.

The old kernel my system was using had all sorts of missing things that I wanted, so it was good to start over. The audio driver for the onboard sound was missing, so I haven't had any music for weeks while my coworkers have spent much of the day with their headphones on.

One big problem with the way my computer was set up was that the Serial ATA driver would sit there pondering its existence for about a minute each time the computer booted. This tended to take so long that when I'd reboot the computer (unfortunately something I have to do fairly often), I'd totally forget what I was doing by the time it finished. It's so much nicer without that delay.

I noticed that the processor I have in that machine seems to be a HyperThreading P4, but for some reason I couldn't get an SMP kernel to properly compile. I guess I can fiddle with that later, no that I've figured out the most pressing issues. However, the most annoying thing is that the video driver I use for the Radeon 9200 video card in the box requires a recompile for each different kernel, and it doesn't like switching between different versions at all. So, no graphics for me when I'm doing this testing. It wouldn't be so bad if it was at least a Debian box where I could easily download the text-mode packages I need.

At the end of the day I finally fixed a bug that I had actually almost tracked down yesterday (I must have gotten distracted then or something). Oh well, I guess I got some support done too.

My car still seems to be acting up a bit. Looks like the oil is starting to run low. Maybe I should add a quart, or maybe I should just get it in for service a bit early. Well, actually, with the driving I'm doing these days, I probably qualify for the 6000–7500 mile oil changes. However, it'll still be three months pretty quick here.

Now it's hard to say if I'll be able to get out of the parking lot tomorrow morning, as they're going to be removing a tree next door, and will have equipment in the way. Maybe I'll just have to go into work early.

This Dutch Elm disease is sure going crazy, though. A bunch of trees were taken down nearby earlier this summer, and a few have popped up since then. Of course, the thing that probably annoyed me the most so far was that somebody broke down one of the small saplings at the park that was put in place of an old tree that had been cut up. It's hard to say if they'll replace that one too or not.

Hmm. The weather definitely seemed weird on my way home. It was with the creepy hazy sky where nothing has any definition and you can hardly tell if there are actually clouds or if the whole world has just turned gray. There's just no texture to the sky, so it just feels ucky.

I got some music from the Best Buy. We'll see if my purchase was really the least objectionable or not. I also stopped into Target for some birthday cards for my aunt and grandmother. So now how should I pay the 80¢ postage? Two 47¢ stamps is not enough, but three is way too much. Well, considering the time and effort it would take to get proper stamps… Oh, also at Target, I got some 12-packs for $2 each. That was sweet.

Posted by mike at 08:20 PM Central | Car , Hardware , Internet , Software , Work | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 04, 2004

Congressional Medal of Idiot

On Wednesday, I went to the fair with my brother in the afternoon. I suppose neither of us are really party animals, so I guess it wasn't the most exciting thing ever. Had some decent food, though I was surprised that the chicken pita I ordered was cold, with a filling kind of along the lines of potato salad. Whatever.

We discovered that if you take the regular city bus to/from the fair, you get the shaft. It's much better to just drive to the U of M lot and take the shuttle from there. We had to wait ~15 minutes each way, and end up paying $3 in total for tickets ($1.25 there, $1.75 back because of rush hour—though we got $2 off on fair admission), but the shuttle was leaving at a rate of about once every 90 seconds. Other than that, the bus worked out pretty well, since he lives just off Como Ave.

So, I guess I'd propose that Metro Transit make the regular buses that go past the fair free too. Like that'll ever happen.

I don't remember Thursday at all, but, oh yeah, that's because I brought some work home. I shouldn't do that.

On Friday, I figured the most exciting thing I'd do would be to add some oil to my car. It's been low for a while, and the engine seems to have been running rough. It seemed a little happier with fresh oil added, but I should really get an oil change soon anyway. I should have just found a Jiffy Lube. I guess I want to wait until I get paid for the last two weeks.

My boss put in my time on Thursday. Fortunately, he changed the amount of time I had in the system up to 80 hours, but some of the other guys who don't have such consistent time sheets kind of got shafted for a day's work. I was thinking that I might get paid early, but with Labor Day on Monday, the money will probably still get transferred on Tuesday. I like that I get weekends off, but why can't other people work then? ;-)

Anyway, so after planning to do nothing other than possibly eat on Friday night, Adam called me and said he was moving out. So, I helped him move stuff over to Adam Nu's place, and then almost accidentally stole his laptop (or at least a black laptop-sized briefcase—I presume that was his laptop). It was in its black case, in the back of my car, in the dark, so it was kind of hard to see.

Kari is theoretically moving in with Erin once they find a place, so it's almost a wife-swapping type of deal. Er, or maybe nothing like that at all ;-)

Aha! I just found the little thing to tweak on my browser to get my fonts displaying correctly in Galeon again. For some reason, the mimimum font size was set to 4, but then there were two other settings that had been stuck at 14. That explains why I could never see any difference when people used <small></small> tags. Anyway, I just went to about:config (which works in any Mozilla/Gecko-based browser, I guess) and tweaked the setting. Conveniently, those two things were in bold, though I don't know why that would be…

Hmm. This might also let me finally fix the fact that pretty much all font sets except for Korean show up correctly (er, I think) in my browser. I just end up with these little rectangles with the Unicode character number in them instead of actual characters.

Posted by mike at 11:04 AM Central | Adam , Car , Erin , Family , Internet , Kari , Software , Work | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 13, 2004

Let Forever Be

Microsoft's newest MSN ads made in Flash have caused my browser to go south too many times, so I've decided to disable Flash altogether for now. We'll see how long that lasts, although there tend to be very few sites where I actually need Flash (Unfortunately, those few sites tend to be some of the most interesting… Oh well)

Not a whole lot happening. Almost crashed into a guy who wasn't paying attention yesterday morning, and because the road was covered with that tar/gravel stuff, my tires did not squeal in protest like I would have hoped. Probably added 50% to my stopping distance too, though it's hard to say.

Then, it turned out that I didn't even need to go that way because I had forgotten the paycheck I was going to cash. Things like that happen to me way too often. I'll lay something out in order to bring it along, but then it just gets left at home. *sigh*

Posted by mike at 09:30 AM Central | Car , Internet , Self , Software | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 28, 2004

Monsieur Incroyable!

Well, I'm back from Byron. At least the weather didn't impede our travel at all. Since Brian was in class through Wednesday afternoon, we headed up on Thursday. U.S. 52 was pretty busy both going there and coming back, but the major construction seems to have finished, so we didn't get slowed down very much. The highway folks have an inconsistency in their speed limits between Rosemount and Coates. Northbound, they raise the speed limit to 65 for a few miles, but it stays 60 southbound from the merge with highway 55 on south through Coates. Hard to say if they'll make the whole stretch 65 again, since 52 isn't limited access the whole way there, but it had been worse in the past…

We went to see The Incredibles (again, for my brother and me) on Friday, watched some Rocky and Bullwinkle and worked on a puzzle on Saturday, and went to the first Sunady in our church's new sanctuary. I wonder if they timed it to be done at the beginning of the church year (today is the First Sunday in Advent). Being Lutheran, it's nice, but not too nice.

We did my birthday today. I got a DVD and some money. Well, I guess my mom bought me some clothes on Friday that works out to be my Birthday gift this year (really not too bad, since I haven't felt financially stable enough to do much more than buy new socks for quite a while).

Well, I probably should have checked to see if any of my high school friends were in town, but I guess Thanksgiving is to be spent more with family than others. That and the fact that I'm just too nervous to call people.

Posted by mike at 06:27 PM Central | Car , Family | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 27, 2004

Middle Spunk Creek

I'm back from Fargo. I got a pretty good amount of stuff—better than last year, I think. We had a little difficulty traveling north. We detoured through St. Paul because I-494 is under construction, but U.S. 52 was totally backed up going over the Lafayette Bridge, so we got onto city streets and got a bit lost. We probably could have gotten onto I-35E pretty easily, but I was convinced that the turn we needed to make wasn't possible without jumping across three lanes of traffic in ¼ mile. Anyway, we ended up taking Jackson Street north for a while before getting back on the highway, and came across the Minnesota Transportation Museum's Jackson Street Roundhose by accident. Quite a few older rail cars over there, plus some old city buses.

Anyway, there's no snow through a big chunk of central Minnesota. Only a bit more than a dusting down in the south around Rochester, and perhaps a few inches near Fargo-Moorhead. That just doesn't seem right. At least the ice on the lakes has thickened up, so people feeling that the snow is lacking can still get their fishing huts out. Seemed to be a popular activity as we drove south today.

I saw The Life Aquatic. Not the best movie ever, but at least it was reasonably funny and felt like a story, rather than some junk I've seen in theaters. I'm still glad that I didn't end up getting roped into seeing The Polar Express.

The Loot:

  • Keen Eddie (TV series) on DVD (with music by Orbital—woo! ;-)
  • Palm Tungsten E (might return that to trade up or down, it needs research)
  • A book on Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!
  • Far Side month calendar and Dilbert day calendar
  • Fridge magnets
  • Family photos
  • A tiny solitaire electronic game
  • Money
And there's probably something I forgot…

I also read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, since I didn't run out and get the hardcover.

Posted by mike at 08:40 PM Central | Car , Family | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

February 22, 2005

PotUSA

This has probably been done, but...

Church Sign Generator: Don't step on the little people (they're squishy and make a mess)

I got the snow off of my car, and shoveled around it. Whee. However, I did notice that the long ice-scraper/brush/squeegee I had would definitely be a fun Jackie Chan-style martial arts weapon.

Posted by mike at 02:54 PM Central | Car | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

April 19, 2005

Oh, My Lack of God!

Hmm. Flipping through the channels and I come across Amy Pietz on some godforsaken show known as Rodney. I doubt the show will last, but I like her, so I'm glad she's getting some work (she was Annie on Caroline in the City way back when...)

I briefly turned on the A/C today to dissipate some of the humidity in my apartment (and to bring the temp down just a tad). At the moment, I'm not sure if it's better to turn it on again or open the windows. Well, we probably need the rain.

My car stalled yesterday at the end of I-394 (at a stoplight). I had to go the same way again today because I forgot to bring some application materials, and the car stalled again. Fortunately, after the car sat a little bit, I could get going again, but it's weird. Very probably related to the weird lurching it's been doing for a while now.

A total of four calls now for the few dozen applications I put in a week ago. I'd better put more effort into applying for other jobs I guess.

In order to print out my application materials, I had to get a new black ink cartridge for my printer. I tried out Cartridge World, which has a site a few blocks from my place. $13.90 for a cartridge filled while I waited. Seems to work, though it took a little convincing at first.

I should say that when I first saw "Cartridge World" plastered on that building a year or so ago, I thought it was a video game shop.

My tax return was rejected initially. This is because my previous year's Adjusted Gross Income was incorrect, according to the IRS's records. They had received a 1099-MISC from that contracting company I never talked to. Sure wish I'd gotten one. Well, I apparently paid taxes on $1000 more income last year than I had to. Oh well, fifteen minutes of waiting on the phone fixed that fairly easily.

Posted by mike at 09:10 PM Central | Car , Hardware , Money , TV , Weather , Work | Comments (0)

May 22, 2005

*gurgle* *thump*

When my parents came up to visit yesterday, my dad and I spent some time looking over the vacuum lines in my car in order to see if there was a leak. There's a rip in the line leading to the MAP sensor, and wiggling the line would open the gap and cause the engine to rev. Yeah, that's probably what's been causing my car to behave weird.

I tried a simple fix of using some electrical tape (well, getting the tape also involved a trek of its own, so my day went by pretty quickly). Since the tube is in such a cramped spot, it's impossible to get it clean, and very hard to get any tape on there. The car seemed to be somewhat happier when I took it out, but the engine still stalled when I came to a stop after getting off the highway. Not good enough, I guess.

So, now I have to pry off one end of the tube, figure out its diameter, put the tube back on, go buy a length of a foot or so, take off the tube at both ends, and put on a new tube. It shouldn't be complicated, but I know it's going to be difficult. I'm just worried that things will still be messed up after that, like maybe the transmission is the real problem when it comes to stopping at the end of the highway...

Posted by mike at 11:17 PM Central | Car | Comments (0)

May 24, 2005

Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned

Well, I've got a new vacuum tube in my car. It was easier to replace than I expected, but it didn't fix the problem I've been having. I suppose there might be another leak somewhere else, or it could be a different issue that is causing the car to act funny.

I'm also sick now, for the first time in who knows how long. I may have to ditch the volunteer training thing that is planned for tomorrow.

Posted by mike at 05:08 PM Central | Car | Comments (0)

June 04, 2005

King of Comedy

Well, I haven't updated for several days, so I suppose I should. It's all about my car and my phone. I went to see Revenge of the Sith last Sunday night at Block E. The movie was okay, not great. Visually stunning, but the script was pretty weak. I guess Hayden Christensen just doesn't hold my attention either...

Anyway, I went to the restroom after the movie let out, and realized that my phone was missing. I'd worn some shorts that I shouldn't have. The pockets were too small and they're out of style anyway. At any rate, I went back into the theater to look for my phone, but couldn't find it. I eventually left a note for folks at Block E to e-mail me if they found it (I had no phone, so leaving a number seemed silly).

When I got home, I sent myself a text message via e-mail just in case whoever found it hadn't turned it off and back on to see the convenient message I'd left as a welcome message. It would turn out that nobody bothered to read either my text messages or the welcome note. Anyway, I sent a second text message in the morning, then looked up the recent activity via the T-Mobile website. Uh oh—phone call to Ecuador. That only happens in movies! Sheesh.

So, hoping to prevent any more international dialing (nevermind that I was over my monthly minutes anyway) I went into downtown to try to find the T-Mobile store. I couldn't remember where it was, so it took some wandering before it was found at the IDS Center's Crystal Court. My phone was replaced for $42 and change and after just a few minutes of chit-chat. The new phone is a Nokia 6010, replacing a 3595.

Well, sort of. The new phone doesn't always display the time on the main screen, and I haven't been able to figure out how to change that. The new phone also wasn't working with GPRS, but that may have just been temporary (it's possible that I went over my 1MB of traffic per month, and they might just cut you off, though I'm not sure).

Of course, once whoever it was that found my phone realized that he couldn't make any more calls, it magically ended up in the office at Block E. I got an e-mail at about 5:45 PM. I think they may have had it for a few hours beforehand, since there were a few other call attempts around 2:30 PM, but then again they were mostly to women listed on my contact list. So nice that people want to terrorize people when they get a phone randomly landing in their lap (this is why I assume the person who stole it is a "he" rather than a "she").

Anyway, so I got the phone back after it became a dud to whoever found it. I'm actually using it now with the 6010's faceplate because of the aforementioned clock and data problems. Maybe I'll find the magic clock-enabling trick at some point and switch back to the new phone.

My car is finally repaired, at least enough so it won't stall anymore when leaving the highway. It's pretty straightforward—a solenoid in the torque converter that engages the internal "clutch" when traveling at highway speeds wasn't disengaging anymore. I was worried this would cost mondo cash, but $273 isn't too bad IMHO. It's not really clear if this helped the stuttering/jerking I've been feeling for a while—apparently that goes away when the air conditioner is turned on! Weird.

Well, I suppose I'll go to the TCLUG meeting tomorrow. It's about the SuSE distribution, owned by Novell these days. I don't know much about SuSE, so I may as well learn something about it.

Posted by mike at 12:18 AM Central | Car , Hardware , Movies | Comments (0)

June 26, 2005

Fumes

A curious thing I came across yesterday is that adding small amounts of acetone to gasoline and diesel fuel supposedly improves mileage. Something like 0.15% for diesel and 0.25% for gasoline gives the boost, reportedly. However, there doesn't seem to be any scientific testing of it. Heck, the acetone might simply clean the gunk out of the engine and make it run better (it's a major ingredient in many commercial products that do that). But, lots of folks have reported some fairly significant changes, and the effects go away (at least somewhat) when it is no longer used. I dunno, something to look at, I guess.

I also heard about water injection yesterday. Who knew that spraying water in along with your fuel can boost power? Maybe refineries shouldn't work so hard to get all of that water out of ethanol ;-) But it sounds like you might need mondo-super-turbo-charged engines for it to work anyway.

High octane sure is a weird concept. You might notice that ethanol has poorer fuel economy than gasoline. But, it has a higher octane rating and can therefore be used at higher compression. Saab is planning to introduce a flex-fuel turbo to take advantage of that.

And, did you know Minnesota has more E85 fueling stations than any other state? More than double the closest competitor, Illinois. I think we're also in the top three for biodiesel, though it's almost completely absent from the Twin Cities save for the Twin Cities Biodiesel Co-op, which appears to be based in the vicinity of Uptown.

Posted by mike at 12:14 AM Central | Car | Comments (0)

July 11, 2005

My Indicator Is Out of Order

Since I will soon be gainfully employed again, I have been looking at cars a little bit. My short list is currently: Golf TDI, Toyota Corolla LE, Honda Civic LX, Honda Civic Hybrid, and Toyota Prius. The Golf will probably win out because it has side indicators. That is a very major safety feature, in my opinion, and I'm baffled why it isn't required in the U.S. Y'know, it costs a whole $5...

Posted by mike at 10:47 PM Central | Car | Comments (0)

October 15, 2005

History

So, two weeks ago I went to IKEA over two days and bought some shelving for CDs (hmm, I really should get back to fiddling with that—I need at least one more notch between the shelves), some nestable coffee tables, one of those Poäng rocking chairs, a small kitchen table, a footstool and a storage cube with a lot of holes in it (I'm using it for laundry), plus some stuff that I want to try putting up in my kitchen to hang things from the wall. I also got some new shoes to replace the ones that were, oh five? six? years old...

Last weekend, I met with a few other Wikipedia contributors. One user, Angela, was in town to discuss Wikipedia and other related stuff like Wikicities. One guy who came was very gung-ho about explaining a software product he's developing that is based on the software that runs Wikipedia. Well, except all of the guts have been ripped out. It seemed interesting, but I shouldn't say much about it.

I've been feeling a bit odd this week, as though I'm sick but without coughing, sneezing, or really showing much of anything. I might have a fever, and I've been getting woozy spells, but I don't see much else for symptoms. My plan this weekend is to get out and walk around a fair amount to see if I jsut need some exercise.

I should go out and buy some more CDs, just to keep my wanted music list limited. Unfortunately, I spent a lot of money two weeks ago, and my secondary monitor at home finally keeled over last night, so I need to get a new one. Scary how hard it is to get anything better than 1280×1024 resolution, though since this was my second head anyway, it doesn't matter too much. I think I'll just get a CRT for now. Boy, do I wish I could get one of Apple's monster Cinema Displays, but that would require getting a new video card. I just don't have the money for that. Hopefully, prices will drop in the future, and a reasonably-priced CRT purchased today should be equal to or less than that future drop.

I still need a new computer desk too, so I need to think about that. Well, actually, I'm trying to stay on target for a down payment on a new car next year. I seem to be going through cash too quickly, though. If I felt more comfortable in my kitchen, I'd feel more comfortable cooking. If I was more comfortable cooking, then maybe I wouldn't eat out so much. Then I could save some money, maybe.

Well, I'd better get cleaned up so I can go out for my walk. And get a haircut. And get an oil change. And buy some dryer sheets. And a good baking pan. And all these other little things that I never remember.

Posted by mike at 11:41 AM Central | Abode , Car , Hardware , Internet , Money | Comments (0)

February 23, 2006

Stuffinator

Well, my company has moved from Roseville to St. Paul, and we're now situated in the triangle of land between MN-280, Energy Park Drive, and the University of Minnesota's transitway. Our first official day at the new site was on Monday, though the tech support group moved over the weekend.

I'm not completely enamored with the place, but I do think it is a significant step up. I generally like the color scheme—it's been described as "autumn," with green, yellow, orange, and other colors mixed together. Not so much brown, but that could be considered a good thing. I like our upstairs space a lot, since I can look out the windows and see downtown Minneapolis, the Witch's Hat water tower, KSTP's tower, plus the transitway and 280. We're also right between two heavily used rail lines, and it's just pretty cool to see some massive BNSF engines going by (heh, with the orangish paint scheme, they even match our building ;-)

Everyone is still figuring out the standard patterns of parking. I ended up pretty close to the middle, so I suppose it doesn't matter very much where I go. In theory the west side is the best option for me, but parking has been problematic there so far.

I like the lighting, which seems to be considerably more natural than what we had in the old building. I wandered around downtown St. Paul earlier this evening, and noticed that several buildings used the same light mounting scheme, where the lights are hung half a foot or so below the ceiling, with reflectors causing light to be diffused off the ceiling tiles. It definitely seems to make the light be distributed better, which I like. My whole work area is brighter, though it's also due to the fact that the sun comes in our windows pretty well.

There are some thermostat issues, so I'm not sure if the blinds will be open very much later on, so I might not get the view so much later. We'll have to see. I was lucky to catch a nice sunset this evening, though.

Anyway, after work, I ran to Target to get paper towels, kleenex, and toilet paper.. Somehow, I've pretty much run out of all three around the same time.

I got home and, after paying a stack of bills, was preparing to relax when I remembered that Dan, Erin, and friends were going to have their initial show as Milkbar at Station 4 in St. Paul. They produced a fairly industrial sound, which is not terribly surprising considering the folks that we've all intermingled with. It was a good first show. A few things hung in my mind, but I'll mull them over through the next few times I see them, and see how things progress. At any rate, they were probably much more acceptible to most folks than the group that came on next (oy, with the screaming and the yelling...).

Like I said earlier, I wandered around downtown St. Paul after that. I was primarily interested in looking at the construction progress on the Minnesota Public Radio studios. They have a big news ticker on the outside of the building. I'd heard a week or so ago that the folks at 89.3 vacated the broadcasting booth that they since the beginning of last year (which was taken over from the classical service). Anyway, it now looks like the addition to the MPR headquarters is done, so they're now gutting the old part of the building.

Well, the new part looks pretty nice, at any rate. Plenty of open space.

I liked wandering around downtown St. Paul. Somehow I think I like that area much more than downtown Minneapolis. I figure that I just don't like most of the new buildings that have been put up in Minneapolis since the big urban renewal project of the 1950s/1960s. St. Paul didn't mow down 40% of the downtown, so there are more relatively old buildings to add character. (Of course, much of what went down in Minneapolis was justifiably removed, but there was a lot that probably should have been kept). Other than that, the streets are narrower, and I imagine that contributes to the feel of the place.

Since a lot of folks at work are getting used to the new neighborhood, and trying to get some bearings (even though it's only 4 or 5 miles away from the old place), I've been thinking about how to get from point A to point B around there. After my St. Paul outing, I decided to try a route I'd pondered for getting between the airport and work. Not that I'll necessarily ever have to take the route, but it seemed like something good to figure out.

Anyway, in my mind, places near 280 are poorly situated for getting to the airport. You generally either have to loop around to the west or to the east. Probably the fastest route involves I-94 to Snelling, then taking the semi-secret Ayd Mill Road bypass to reach I-35E, then taking MN-5 to the airport. However, I practically get heartburn just thinking about the left turn from Snelling onto Selby Ave, just before sneaking onto Ayd Mill. Well, I suppose the three-rights-make-a-left rule might apply there..

So, I figured that one much less stressful solution would be to take Pelham Boulevard to Mississippi River Blvd, and that down to MN-5. I roughly timed it, and it ended up being just about 20 minutes, maybe a shade longer. I'll have to do an actual run at some point, but I think the I-94/Ayd Mill/I-35E/MN-5 route would only shave a few minutes off that time.

Ugh, it's late. Time for sleep.

Posted by mike at 01:24 AM Central | Car , Dan , Erin , Work | Comments (0)

March 11, 2006

Combustion of Elastic Hydrocarbon Polymer

I went to the Twin Cities Auto Show today. I mostly wanted to see if VW would finally get a version 5 Golf out in front of people. Apparently it was officially unveiled in the United States at the Chicago Auto Show last month.

I was surprised that it didn't have the "waterfall" grille that other VWs have (and which the Golf has in Europe). Not sure why that is. I thought it was a nice touch, though a lot of people don't like it for some reason. Whatever. I sat in the back seat, and felt like I had good headroom. The dashboard didn't do a whole lot for me, but it was a reasonable upgrade to the previous version, which I just did not like...

I didn't pay any attention to the mileage numbers they gave, since I'd only get a TDI version. I popped open the back seats to check cargo space. It turned out that was a good thing to think about, since one of my other big options—the Honda Civic Hybrid— has a battery pack behind the rear seat, meaning it can't be folded down.

I dunno. I suppose the Prius, Civic Hybrid, and Golf TDI are still my main choices. It basically comes down to which one will have the lowest total cost of ownership and/or least number of headaches when it comes to maintenance.

Now, if I land in a bunch of cash someday, I'd definitely take a shot in getting a Lotus Elise (or the hardtop version, the Exige). They're only $40,000 to $50,000, so I was wondering why they aren't more popular. And, of course, the answer is that they weren't street-legal for a long time (only about 60 people in the U.S. worked through all of the red tape to get them imported). Even the "federalized" version that is now being sold doesn't actually meet requirements—but I ask you, where would you put a bumper on such a nice car?

It's a tiny vehicle, though, so my main concern if I ever got one would be whether I'd fit inside it or not...

Speaking of roadsters, the Saturn Sky was getting plenty of attention. GM probably shouldn't have plopped it down on the carpet right next to the Pontiac Solstice, though. They're practically the same car! They use the same Kappa "platform", and have very similar body lines. I was really amazed to see a Solstice on the road a few months back, since it looked very good, but at the auto show I thought the Sky looked better.

GM brought their Camaro concept to the show, and Dodge had the Challenger there. They're both pretty giant cars, IMHO...

On a total tangent, did you know that John Denver lived in Edina back in the early 1970s? Wacky.

Posted by mike at 06:10 PM Central | Car | Comments (0)

April 28, 2006

Freckle Passed by a Hare

The Volkswagen Golf is no more. Sort of. The car known as the Golf to most of the world was marketed as the Rabbit in the U.S. in the late 1970s and early '80s before switching to the Golf name. When the new version is released in the U.S. this summer (it's been available in Europe for a year and a half), it'll go back to being called the Rabbit.

So far, it sounds like there won't be a TDI diesel option for this new model year, though it's hard to say for certain. I think that would be a pretty dumb move, considering how high gas prices are at the moment (diesel doesn't seem to be any cheaper, but you use less of it). But, they're also getting ready to start using a new common-rail injection design. And the new low-sulfur diesel fuel rules are supposed to go into effect later this year. So, I dunno... Everything's a big mess.

Posted by mike at 08:29 PM Central | Car | Comments (0)

June 30, 2006

Pimp Mein Auto

Well, I've pretty much decided that I'll get a Volkswagen Jetta TDI for a new car. For probably two years now, my list has been short and sweet: Golf or Jetta TDI, Honda Civic Hybrid, or Toyota Prius. Running the numbers on them, the Golf seemed like the best bet. Since then, there have been styling updates to consider, and new diesel regulations to deal with.

I like the new styling of the Volkswagens, and apparently I'm in the minority in liking the new chrome bumper. The Civic turned into a spaceship, which might have appealed to me ten years ago, but today it almost seems old. The Prius is still pretty much the same, I think, but I'm not a huge fan of the design. That mini-window at the bottom of the rear hatch doesn't really appeal to me.

On the technical side, there are a bunch of things to consider. The complexity of the hybrids is a bit of a detractor. Who knows how long I'll try to keep a new car—my family has a habit of holding on to vehicles for 15+ years. With that timeframe, I'd probably have to deal with replacing batteries at some point (though doesn't the Civic use ultracapacitors? I forget. Whatever they are, they prevent the rear seat from folding down...). The reduced complexity of the Volkswagen diesels is appealing.

Unfortunately, current engines are fairly unique too, with a "Pumpe Düse" (translates as "unit injector") design that is only being used for a few years until common-rail injection is worked into engines to improve emissions. But, it's probably better to get a car now rather than later since production will probably be limited in 2007. U.S. lawmakers had the brilliant idea to introduce cleaner diesel fuel in mid-2006, then require automakers to have cleaner-burning engines just six months later. Not quite enough phase-in time, in my opinion. I would have expected a window of ~2 years. Anyway, once common-rail injection comes around, it'll be a very good thing, improving both emissions and fuel economy at the same time. I think it's available on the one other diesel being sold in the U.S. today, a rather spendy Mercedes. VW didn't use it initially because of slight "not invented here" syndrome, but they're working on correcting it. Volkswagen just got stuck in a time window where they could either completely retool their Pumpe Düse engines for stricter emissions requirements, or just hold off on that and start from scratch with a common-rail design.

Then Volkswagen of America had the equally brilliant idea to delay introduction of the fifth-generation Golf for about two years (they wanted the new Jetta to appear first, since that's got broader appeal in the States). The GTI (a sporty version of the Golf) finally appeared early this year, and the new Golf is appearing, well, now. Unfortunately, the decision was made to not offer a diesel version of this new Golf at all until the new engines appear. But, in the end, I suppose it's okay for me since they dropped the chrome from the American Golf.

So, the only new Volkswagen available with a TDI is the Jetta. You can still get a fourth-generation Golf with a TDI, but the styling is very stale on that one in my opinion. The two main reasons I wanted the Golf were because of its relatively small size (I'll take any opportunity to improve my chances of getting a parallel parking space, aside from opting for a two-door), and the fact that the roofline meant slightly more headroom in the backseat (I hate bumping my head in the back, though I suppose most of my friends are shorter than me ;-) Oh, and I suppose the price was a couple thousand cheaper...

Well, since the TDI Golf just ain't gonna happen until probably 2008, I decided to take another look at the Jetta. It'll be more money than I really wanted to spend, but I'll be able to afford it (er, not all at once, but whatever ;-). I was pleased to see that the reviews are overwhelmingly positive, with many folks calling the interior the best in its price range (another reason why I really really really didn't want a fourth-generation Golf—the dashboard felt really cheap to me). I was feeling kind of bad about having to go with only 41 mpg on the highway (one of my big driving forces has been to one-up my mom's purchase of a 40-mpg Saturn SL1 back in 1996), but then I came across this fine article in Autoweek. Well, I guess I don't have to worry ;-)

I'm also pleased to learn of the good crash-test ratings for the car. 4 out of 5 for frontal impact, 5 out of 5 for side impact. I'm a little concerned about the whole turn signal design. I know it's silly, but I like to have very clear indication when someone plans to turn my way. With the fifth-generation makeover of the Golf and Jetta, the little side blinker moved from just behind the front wheel wells up to the rearview mirrors. I'm not sure I like that, but I'll have to give it a shot. The headlamp assembly is also lacking in yellow. As a frequent pedestrian, I hate the crystalline look of many headlamps these days, mostly since too much sunlight can glint off of them for me to see if the turn signal is actually on or not. I figure I've almost gotten run over a half-dozen times because of it. 1980s cars were much better about simply making forward turn signals visible (ignoring the side-mounted ones that have been required in Japan/Europe for some time). Car designers just have a disdain for that amber color these days, I guess. Well, maybe it's something I could improve later...

Agh, and I forgot to mention the biofuel conundrum. The Jetta can run on 100% biodiesel, which would really make me feel hoidy-toidy (at least until winter when that fuel solidifies into wax...). Unfortunately, Volkswagen doesn't trust biodiesel in any concentration greater than 5% yet. (C'mon, car manufacturers haven't worried about Ethanol up to 15% for ages!) Ah well, I either have to use higher concentrations but hope and pray that I don't have any engine trouble that could maybe remotely possibly be related to the fuel I used (since the warranty wouldn't cover repairs), or just stay at 5% or lower until the warranty runs out, which would mean I'd be dropping from the state-mandated 10% biofuel that you get in Minnesota gasoline.

Ah well, I suppose these things are relatively minor. The truth is that I'd probably be equally happy with the Jetta, Civic, or Prius. Simplicity and styling end up tipping the balance decidedly toward the Jetta.

So, I mailed in the paper I needed to get a credit report (I basically don't use credit enough to exist, which is somewhat disconcerting), and hopefully I'll get some info about that pretty soon. I'm two weeks away from having had my job for a full year. My bank account is, well, not quite where I wanted it to be at this point, but I've been compensating for being rather frugal for a few years after college. I'll still be able to put down 1/3rd of the cost comfortably, and I'm leaning toward doing a 36-month loan, though I should be able to pay that off early (I suppose there could be penalties for that, though).

Each of the three main VW dealerships in the Twin Cities has a dozen or so 2006 Jetta TDIs with manual transmissions on their lots (according to their web databases), so I'm planning to visit one tomorrow to see if my actual impression of the car is in line with what I've read. By the end of July, I suspect I'll have a new car.

Posted by mike at 09:42 PM Central | Car | Comments (0)

July 27, 2006

Rare Word Watch: Yare

Occasionally unusual words and phrases start popping up with unusual regularity in news articles, get used for a while, then fade. Vis--vis was popular back in my freshman year of college, for instance, but I haven't seen that for quite a while.

Here we have a Los Angeles Times article about the Tesla Roadster:

The event where Tesla was offering its first 100 "signature edition" cars for $100,000 apiece felt like automotive history, and I have the feeling that one day I'm going to be very glad I bothered to attend. The yare and sleek carbon-bodied sports car is, by my reckoning, the first plausible electric automobile of the 21st century. And, without electrics, the 22nd century is going to be very rocky indeed.
From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48 [gcide]:

  yare \yare\ (y[^a]r), a. [OE. yare, [yogh]aru, AS. gearu; akin
     to OS. garu, OHG. garo, G. gar, Icel. gerr perfect, g["o]rva
     quite, G. gerben to tan, to curry, OHG. garawen, garwen, to
     make ready. Cf. {Carouse}, {Garb} clothing, {Gear}, n.]
     Ready; dexterous; eager; lively; quick to move. [Obs.] "Be
     yare in thy preparation." --Shak.
     [1913 Webster]

           The lesser [ship] will come and go, leave or take, and
           is yare; whereas the greater is slow.    --Sir W.
                                                    Raleigh.
     [1913 Webster]

Well, someone was making use of their thesaurus...

Anyway, plenty has happened since I last posted. I got a new car. I sold an old car. My brother visited. My family and I saw art cars and visited the Guthrie (we saw Loni Anderson acting touristy). I watched F1 Powerboat racing on the Mississippi River. See my Flickr page if you don't believe me.

Posted by mike at 10:13 AM Central | Car , Family , News , TV | Comments (0)

August 25, 2006

Facets of Faucets

Wow, the rain was crazy last night. Extremely heavy—it made me think of the stories old classmates of mine told of being up in the Boundary Waters when it starts coming down in torrents so strong that you can't see your hand in front of your face. I was trying to drive, but could barely see the road and other cars aside from their lights.

Of course, the story starts earlier in the day when my fuel light finally decided to come on (it took over 550 miles for that to happen ;-) so I was on my way to fill my tank at the same place I'd used last time, up at Dale and County Road B. Of course, I tried to take MN-280 to MN-36 to get there, which I shouldn't have done because of all of the fair traffic. Eventually I made my way along County B2 to Dale, then headed south. The rain slowly got worse, but I was hoping to dodge the worst of it. I didn't.

Seconds after I started pumping fuel, the rain kicked up. I was under a big roof, but the wind meant that I had to shield myself with the pump. Well, no careful topping off the tank this time! Anyway, I grabbed the receipt and jumped in the car. I figured I could just waste some time by writing down the info I needed for future mileage calculations, but the rain was still pounding by the time I got done. Of course, the windows had fogged up by this time, and I was not having much luck remembering how the defoggers work...

Well, I got my windshield to start to clear up, and pulled out onto Dale. I started heading home, but I could barely see anything. I was only going 20 miles per hour since everything in front of me was just a gray blur. About half a mile later I found myself driving through a few inches of water that had collected in a dip, which was a surprise. I decided that I didn't want to drive into any more water I couldn't see, so I pulled over into someone's driveway and just sat listening to the radio for several minutes.

Finally, it began to let up, so I put the heater on full blast to clear the windshield and get going again. It was still raining fairly heavily until I got to Larpenteur, at which point things finally began to clear. I'm rather glad that I'd decided to pull over, though, since there was a lot of standing water on Larpenteur. Well, I just moved into the (higher) center lane and was able to get through without trouble, though I saw that another person in a minivan hadn't been so lucky earlier (they had apparently stalled, and the van was stopped just after making it through). I figured I'd better avoid taking the twisty Lexington Parkway through Como Park and decided to take Hamline south (since Snelling was probably a parking lot because of the fair and the rain. Fortunately Hamline is on relatively high ground so there weren't any troubles there.

Once I got home, it was pouring again, but not quite as bad as before. I made sure to park on high ground, even though it wasn't really necessary since the rain stopped a few minutes later. Anyway, definitely one of the hairiest experiences I've personally had when driving.

Well, I'm just very very very glad I wasn't in Northfield last night. Their community news site has a number of pictures of what happens when you get baseball-sized hail. Eek!

Posted by mike at 10:33 AM Central | Car , Weather | Comments (0)

September 06, 2006

Bull

I saw a Lamborghini Espada today.

Posted by mike at 12:20 PM Central | Car | Comments (0)

September 12, 2006

Number Five Is Alive!

I haven't seen video of it, but the transcript of Keith Olbermann's 9/11 rant is getting passed around by a lot of people.

Um. The weather was nice for a little while today. There were actual shadows while I was out to lunch. Too bad that the place I was walking to, Quizno's at University Village, has now closed. They always seemed busy enough to me, but I guess not. But then again, there's a new building going up across the street—maybe they got a better deal over there.

It was quite cool in the morning, though. I'm really glad that my car has an auxiliary heater—I can feel warm air within about 90 seconds, though my commute is still too short for the cabin to actually warm up. But hey, that's what the heated seats are for ;-)

Posted by mike at 04:05 PM Central | Car , Food , September 11th , TV , Weather | Comments (0)

September 13, 2006

A Million Miles

Oo. Did I mention my car has heated rear-view mirrors (defoggers)? They work!

Posted by mike at 09:02 AM Central | Car | Comments (0)

September 15, 2006

Not the Mama

Heh. Ever wonder what would happen if a Smart Car married a Unimog?

Smart ForFun2 monster car

That.

Posted by mike at 11:23 AM Central | Car | Comments (0)

September 18, 2006

As the Cheryl Crow Flies

I went to Fargo for the weekend to visit Grandma and show off my wheels. My car did well on the trip—it can get there with only half a tank. I filled up there, so and looks like I got a shade under 40 mpg for a combined cycle of about 40% city/60% highway for my trip up and the weeks preceding. The driving wasn't bad for the most part until I came back and had to wait in traffic while folks passed a road sign that was broken. Eh? That's nothing. Ah well, that spot is always bad anyway—just before I-94 gets three lanes in each direction.

Posted by mike at 02:26 PM Central | Car , Family , Weather | Comments (0)

September 19, 2006

Honk

Oo. I was wrong about my mileage—I actually got just over 41 mpg on my last tank. I think I was remembering 12.556 gallons, while I actually put in 12.155. Lifetime average so far is 39.11 mpg and climbing. I'm surprised to see that this is my cheapest fillup so far, since I only paid $2.529 per gallon. It looks kind of high, but it works out to just over 6¢ per mile.

Posted by mike at 12:12 PM Central | Car | Comments (0)

September 20, 2006

Short Shrift

Hammond's in a pickle.

Posted by mike at 06:25 PM Central | Car , TV | Comments (0)

January 10, 2007

Iliad and Odyssey

GM Chairman Bob Lutz with the Chevy VoltThe Chevrolet Volt concept seems to be causing the biggest stir among news coming out of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It's a series hybrid, which is a car design that some people have been wanting for decades now. Think diesel-electric train, but with batteries between the diesel part and the electric part to allow the engine to be smaller and yet still have the reserves to provide fast acceleration. The Volt also adds in a plug-in capability, so it can run off of electrical grid power.

Of course, there are people who have done this before. GM has just managed to make a big splash because it's a hot-rod design that they insist on calling an electric vehicle with an "EV range extender" rather than a hybrid. Of course, they're trying to make the obvious even more clear: The electric part doesn't care how the energy is generated. The show car has a 1-liter 3-cylinder engine that can run on gasoline or E85, but you could have a pure ethanol engine, a diesel engine, a turbine, or go ahead and scrap both the engine and generator and put in fuel cells instead. Well, if fuel cells ever cost less than megabucks, anyway...

I think I might start referring to this event as "The Big Duh" since it's a good way to bridge from current cars running only internal combustion engines toward cars that are either purely electric (that's where I'd put my bets) or running some sort of fuel cell (hydrogen or otherwise—I prefer otherwise). Given the troubles facing hydrogen transport and storage, using a car that uses batteries as the primary storage and hydrogen for secondary energy might be the best way to go. Of course, from watching a video of the "reveal," I could tell that GM still thinks that hydrogen will be the primary energy "source" eventually.

As I was saying, this type of vehicle has been envisioned before. However, for me personally, I've mostly been thinking of series hybrids by themselves, and haven't given the plug-in hybrid enthusiasts enough credit. GM did a good thing, whether they ultimately benefit from it or not, of promoting the concept of a vehicle that can run purely on electricity most of the time, and only switch over to being a hybrid when the grid-supplied power runs low.

That being said, there isn't much preventing GM from producing the car right away, albeit with a smaller battery pack. Doing some rough calculations, the Volt needs a 16 kilowatt-hour pack, about 30% of the size of the one in the Tesla Roadster. The Tesla Roadster costs about $90,000 for the base model, with a fully-loaded vehicle costing $100,000. Not all of that cost goes to the vehicle itself, as they openly state that they overprice it to gain funding for future projects. Subtract that and the cost of the Lotus Elise-based chassis and components, and you're still looking at tens of thousands of dollars for the batteries and other drivetrain bits.

Based on that, I presume the 16 kWh pack for the Volt would run in the $10,000+ range, which is quite a lot. But, if you cut that down to a tenth of its size, you've still got a good hybrid vehicle that runs mostly gasoline—Okay, you've pretty much got a sportier Prius, but you'd still get a 50mpg 4-seater with sportscar performance. With the way the battery pack is laid out on the thing (a column running along the centerline, right where a driveshaft would be in a RWD car), you could easily make it an option to get bigger pure electric range—$1,250 for every extra five miles, for instance. "I want my car with three electric bricks please!"

Well, anyway, I think the Volt looks very nice, even though a lot of the bits seem very impractical. The windshield is tiny, though I suppose that's not a big deal if it's fairly close to the driver. The whole side window arrangement with arched plastic bits to have a high "beltline" yet still allowing light in is interesting, but weird. And, well, even if the Volt never sees the light of day, the "E-Flex Propulsion System" will apparently live on in some form—GM says that a new vehicle platform due in 2009 will be designed to accept it, though who knows if anything will ever use it.

Posted by mike at 10:44 AM Central | Car | Comments (0)

February 07, 2007

Bzzzt

An unanticipated benefit of having faux-leather covering on the seats in my car is that I hardly ever have to deal with static electricity discharges when I get out of it. Well, either that or the heating elements in the seat provide some grounding to keep the static charges in balance... Anyway, I've never really been a fan of leather(-like) seating, but if it really prevents static buildup, I'll probably end up opting for it in future cars that I own.

Posted by mike at 02:36 PM Central | Car , Weather | Comments (0)

May 04, 2007

Zap

Randomly poking around the fueleconomy.gov website, I came across these eye-popping numbers for a 2000 Nissan Altra station wagon:

MPG (city)117
MPG (highway)130
MPG (combined)123
This Altra was, of course, an electric vehicle, so it's an MPG equivalent number, not actual number of gallons consumed.

Unfortunately It's not so easy to search the site for best MPG of past vehicles, so I'm not sure what the best-ever MPG was (I can't find any entry for the GM EV1, for instance, which probably would have gotten much better numbers due to its streamlined shape and small size). The forthcoming Tesla Roadster doesn't have numbers there yet, but they're estimating a value of 135 mpg in preliminary testing.

Posted by mike at 02:38 PM Central | Car | Comments (0)

May 12, 2007

Zapped

I'm not sure why I missed this earlier, but there's a really good article on the Tesla Roadster in May's edition of Vanity Fair, which does a good job of explaining the motivations behind the company founders. I wish they were able to start off with something less expensive, but they're attacking the market in the right way, in my opinion.

Posted by mike at 11:38 AM Central | Car | Comments (0)

May 14, 2007

Alternative to the Alternative

It appears that gas prices in the Twin Cities have hit record highs at this point, averaging about $3.23/gal in recent days. This might also be an all-time (for the last century, at least) inflation-adjusted high. National average prices hit today's equivalent of $3.22/gal in March 1981. Of course, adjusting for inflation is one of those black arts, so I can't say if it's really true or not. Certainly within the margin of error at this point, but very close at any rate.

I'm really suspicious of the reasons for the recent hikes. Gasoline is actually getting hit harder than diesel, apparently because of disruptions in the gasoline refining process. We really have no way of knowing right now, since nobody goes to refineries and actually checks to see if they're doing what they say they're doing. Are things really breaking down at refineries? If so, why are they primarily hitting gasoline refining? My conspiracy theory is that they want to hit your wallet, but not the wallets of businesses which primarily transport things using diesel fuel. Then again, that basically gets thrown out the window since diesel had been more expensive than gasoline for about a year and a half up until recent declines.

I've paid some attention to to technologies which improve fuel economy for a long time, and it's nice to see more of them getting closer to market. It was amazing when hybrids finally appeared, and they still have a lot of buzz. I still don't like the way Ford and GM are applying the technology at this point, primarily on huge SUVs, but... Actually, "but" nothing. They should have applied it to cars by now. There are some on the horizon, but they should have gotten the technology earlier.

A lot has been said about ethanol, so I'll just summarize some things. Does it really reduce the amount of pollution coming out of your tailpipe? I have my doubts. Doing some rudimentary chemical equations, it should be about 30% better than gasoline in that department. Unfortunately, it's also got 30% less energy per unit volume. It's pretty clear that current ethanol production does have a positive net energy balance, but it's nowhere near what I'd like to see. And energy balance is only part of the picture—ethanol production goes through a lot of water. I've also advocated moving away from corn as an initial source since there are other plants which are much better feedstocks, but the corn lobby is pretty entrenched...

Oh, and don't forget that ethanol is being used in vehicles that aren't taking full advantage of the fuel. It's practically a super-premium racing fuel, and it works best in engines which have high compression, so E85 vehicles really should be equipped with turbochargers. I'm not aware of any that are aside for a few non-U.S. cars from Saab using their "BioPower" engines.

There are efforts being made to improve the combustion of gasoline engines. Turbocharging and supercharging has helped a number of cars improve their numbers. Volkswagen and BMW have some of the most advanced setups, using either one supercharger and one turbocharger (the supercharger is only engaged at low revs) or two turbochargers. Combined with direct injection of fuel into the combustion chamber, this has boosted economy in the range of 10%.

A small contingent of "lean burn" engines have been around for probably 20 years at this point, and my understanding is that they essentially have diesel-like combustion under certain conditions. Today, several companies are working on homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI) engines, which take that idea a bit further. With modern computers, it's possible to run gasoline engines in a compression-ignition mode through a much wider operating range.

Of course, this creates other problems—exhaust begins to look a lot more like what comes out of a diesel engine! There are increased NOx levels and other problems. All this, and you only achieve the efficiency that diesels have inherently. Sheesh, why don't you just cut out the middleman? Diesel fuel has 15% more energy per gallon than gasoline, and because most modern diesels have turbochargers to make the best of this highly-compressible fuel, they get about 30% better fuel economy. Add in the fact that you're already off to a better start while standing at the fuel pump because it takes less energy to refine the fuel in the first place, and you can feel pretty green. Oh well, at least HCCI research is also leading toward better diesel engines too.

Honda is going to start leasing it's FCX hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in 2008 for $500 a month in an EV1-like program. When do they think they'll actually put it into regular production? 2018. GM also has a "Project Driveway" program which is getting fuel-cell vehicles into the hands of regular people, but they also have rather vague targets. Those cars are still an order of magnitude more expensive than even the high-end all-electric cars, so I have my doubts they'll ever make much impact. Besides, even the simple act of fueling the car ends up using a massive amount of energy, as the fuel in the tank needs to be compressed to levels of 5,000 to 10,000 psi. Crazy.

Considering the whole hydrogen infrastructure problem, I'd prefer they focused on methane fuel cells instead. In Minnesota at least, about 70% of homes already have natural gas lines, why not leverage those existing pipelines? In addition, methane can be captured from a number of natural and not-so-natural sources at very little cost.

Still, since I've personally got a diesel car, I'm most interested in what can be done there at this point. I'm disappointed that I don't have a friendly neighborhood biodiesel pump yet, but hopefully it won't be too long before that happens. Biodiesel seems to win out massively in the energy game, since two to three times as much energy comes out compared to what you put in versus ethanol. If we ever get algae-sourced biodiesel running on a large scale, I suspect we'll get the hydrocarbon equivalent of nuclear's old "power that's too cheap to meter" argument. Unfortunately, like nuclear, I see some trouble on the horizon. Many organizations are looking at using genetically-modified types of microalgae, which bothers me. You know that some of this stuff is going to escape, so do you really want some sort of "super-algae" clogging up waterways?

So, what do I want to see in the future? Well, probably all-electric and hybrid-electric cars like the Tesla WhiteStar (their successor to the Roadster) and Chevrolet Volt. Hopefully people running pure electrics would be able to either run off their own solar panels or sign up with their power provider to get into a program like Xcel Energy's Windsource where I pay a little more each month to get wind-generated electricity. I'd like to see the hybrid cars using diesels with HCCI improvements running on biodiesel or one of the currently rare biomass-to-liquid fuel types. Hopefully exhaust heat would also be recaptured to assist in generating electricity for the vehicle. Even with all of the costs involved, these cars would still probably be an order of magnitude cheaper than fuel cells, yet the efficiency could meet or exceed that of hydrogen cars, both in "(fueling) station-to-wheel" and (especially) in "well-to-wheel" numbers.

Too bad all of the numbers are still so fuzzy at this point, but hopefully the market will see this pretty clearly in the future. The Roadster is supposed to be delivered to customers by this fall, and the Volt and WhiteStar should both be on the road in 2010. Fuel cells will take much longer to appear.

Posted by mike at 02:24 PM Central | Car | Comments (0)

May 19, 2007

Voltage

Hmm. It appears that, after factoring in the energy it takes to fuel the whole process, one square mile of corn turned to ethanol with current processes will fuel ten cars as efficient as mine for a year. Soy biodiesel would fuel about 50 cars. Palm oil, the best biodiesel feedstock available at the moment, might fuel as many as 1,000 cars with one square mile of land. If algae biodiesel ever takes off, it may be able to power 10,000 cars with that much area. A square mile of boring old photovoltaic panels would power 50,000 cars.

Posted by mike at 01:19 AM Central | Car | Comments (0)

May 23, 2007

Floribbean

I'm visiting my company's office in Florida this week, in the infamous Broward County. Crazy how many expensive cars there are down here. It only took me about five minutes after leaving my hotel the first evening to see a Lamborghini Murciélago convertible. I saw a Piaggio MP3 scooter yesterday evening too. I'm not sure how expensive they are versus other scooters, but it was neat to see anyway...

Of course, if you have a nice car down here, you'd better have a garage. My rental car's been parked in a lot only a few hundred feet from the ocean, and it's getting a pretty heavy coating of salt...

Posted by mike at 10:29 AM Central | Car , Work | Comments (0)

July 19, 2007

DuckTales

Heh, my car is currently worth $2000 more than what I paid for it. Neat.

Except for the whole tax and loan interest thing...

Posted by mike at 09:10 AM Central | Car | Comments (0)

Horse

Oh, forgot to mention that I saw a "pickup" version of the ZAP Xebra in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul earlier this week (I think it was on Monday evening). Electric cars are coming, ever so slowly. Of course, it's a three-wheeler, so I believe it's classed as a motorcycle (which probably means horrendous crash results... sigh).

Posted by mike at 02:50 PM Central | Car | Comments (0)

July 28, 2007

Triton

Zuh?

Apparently I saw a Maserati Spyder today.

At Rosedale.

Posted by mike at 09:23 PM Central | Car | Comments (0)