The craziest thing about 1994 was that my understanding of auto maintenance went from zero to changing an entire engine in about a month, and not by choice.
I was a late bloomer, and didn't get my driver's license until the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, 1993. It was my college advisor that found this absurd, and since I had a lot of time that summer, he helped me get there. Then, toward the end of my junior year, I got my first commercial radio job, an hour away from home, so bumming rides for work was out of the question. My dad found me a beater of a 1987 Ford Escort, and with an unsecured loan of $1,200, the rusty mess became my first car.
I promptly drove it to Windsor, Ontario, for a beer run, ignored the oil warning light (because I just had an oil change), and the engine threw a rod on the Ohio Turnpike. It still ranks as one of the most stressful things I've ever endured.
I give Dad a lot of credit here, because he very matter-of-factly said I had to get a new engine and we would swap it out. I had a little money left over from the loan, so I was able to find an engine at a junk yard (an hour away, of course) for $125. The car was dropped by AAA in a K-Mart parking lot in Norwalk, and two days later, I strapped it to a rental trailer and towed it home with my parents' van. The car ran enough (spewing oil out of the hole in the side) to get it up on to the trailer, fortunately, because the only help I had was my mom.
Dad went over the basics of how a combustion engine worked, and how there were a bunch of plugs into with sensors that the computer used to optimize operation. Each one had a different kind of plug that went in one way, so we couldn't easily screw that up. So I rented a lift, and we wrestled the broken engine out of the car. Of course, because it was Ford, you needed a special wrench to get the belt pulley off or it wouldn't come out. I couldn't believe we got it out, because it was a tight fit. When we got the new engine in, I remember we took the head off, put in a new head gasket and cleaned up the valves and stuff. I don't recall how we got the timing belt right. At some point though, before all the plugs were reconnected, Dad left and encouraged me to put the rest back together.
So that's what I did. I got to the point of putting in the new air filter, and I was annoyed that I seemed to have misplaced the wing nut that secured the cover. I connected the battery, attempted to start it, and to my utter amazement, the car came to life. I tried to back it out, but the accelerator wouldn't go very far so it barely moved. I knew where the other end of the cable attached, near the intake, so I started looking around at how it worked. I pulled off the air filter and looked down into the intake, where I found the missing wing nut wedged into the valve. Had it found its way into the manifold, yikes, that would have been bad for the valves.
In the next week, I would endeavor to optimize some other things, including replacement front brakes, which I'll never do again because the car almost got away from me as the initial pressure was not adequate (fortunately I was in reverse and the hand brake worked). I leaked transmission fluid constantly, and eventually figured out the gasket on the pan had blown, so I replaced that. A year later, it was leaking gasoline pretty badly after a shop replaced the fuel pump (which died at 70 mph on the freeway, when we didn't have cell phones). The installation was fine, it was just the tank was so rusty that it was decaying. Lots of epoxy patched the leaks "enough." The car ran pretty well otherwise, getting almost 40 mpg most of the time. Finally, about 20 months in, it started leaking coolant from the heat exchanger behind the glove box, leaving a fragrant green puddle in the passenger foot well. That was it. I just started to work full-time at my second radio gig and did what every college grad does in their first job, and leased a Toyota Corolla for $223.25 a month.
With future cars, I changed my own oil when it was convenient until maybe 2006, but by that time, I felt like my time was worth more, I was too lazy to bring the used oil to recycling, and I kind of quit. In between, I recall replacing a radiator on Steph's Dodge Neon, and an a starter on a friend's car. I felt pretty good about all of that for a guy who was almost 20 when he got his license.
In 2014 we bought our first EV, and in 2015 our second, and we haven't had a gas car since. Maintenance has consisted of wiper replacement and adding wiper fluid, plus tire rotation now and then. There really isn't anything to maintain in electric cars. There are way fewer things to break. Oh, I had a 12V battery die in our Model 3 last summer, because Florida and non-use are still not good for those (it's ridiculous that any car is still using that ancient technology). Yesterday I rotated the tires on the 3, and after 22k miles and three year, the brakes are essentially like new because of the regenerative braking. The day before I replaced the cabin air filters and the wiper blades.
I was never a car guy. I bought a Toyota Camry when I booked my first contract gig for $52/hour, and only kept it two years in favor of my third Corolla, for better mileage and lower cost. After that, I had a couple of Prii, which are comfortable and practical, but not "car guy" cars. Then I was so enamored with the Tesla Model S that I was willing to spend four times as much on a car just to be part of this magical space car movement. That was cosmically stupid, but I don't regret it. The Model 3 was mercifully cheaper, and the Model Y was the same but better with more options and space. For six years now, we've had cars that have "full tanks" every morning and require no real maintenance. And they're among the safest cars in the world. They're getting cheaper, too.
Still not a car guy, but I've legitimately enjoyed driving the last few years as an activity that was more than just a practical thing.
For probably a year and change, our Model 3 was smelling not-quite-right when you first got into it. It got worse with all of the non-use through much of last summer. I try not to think about how maybe it was from driving through sewage early last year (some dude had an RV spilling his sewer load and I couldn't do anything to avoid driving over it). Then I happened to be reading through the owner's manual to the new Model Y... yes, I actually read it this time and learned all kinds of stuff... and one of the few things it mentions for scheduled maintenance is replacing the cabin air filter every two years. We're almost three years in, so...
There are a ton of videos about how to do it, and it's kind of a pain in the ass because you have to remove two panels and reach a screw in an inconvenient place, but I wouldn't characterize it as hard. All of the videos seem to recommend the same HEPA filters, and they all suggest using a can of foamy cleaner on the coils too, since you're already up in there. I'm happy to report that the improvement was dramatic and immediate, to the point that the interior of the car has no smell at all anymore. The old filters were in pretty bad shape.
This got me to thinking, gosh, every time that we've oscillated between AC and heat in our house this winter, the AC smells funny from the upstairs unit. I'm not saying it has irritated my allergies, which have been terrible, but I'm all for ruling out potential causes. I assumed that conceptually there probably wasn't any real difference in how you clean the coils in a home unit, so I ordered a couple more cans and cleaned those too. We ran the heat for an hour or so this weekend, and there was no stink when I switched to the AC.
And this is all cool (see what I did there?) because it's a bunch of simple tasks that I'm sure would cost hundreds of dollars to have someone else do it, so go me. Hopefully we'll be breathing easier.
I was amused by an article about boredom in the New York Times, because I've had an interesting relationship with it in the last year. If it weren't for boredom, I may not have created as much stuff as I have, and this seems like a recurring theme for a lot of folks that need to channel energy into something.
But boredom also can serve a useful function. I've always treasured the opportunity to be a little bored now and then, because it gives me time to be present and ponder life. I know some people desperately avoid this, filling up their lives with constant activity because being contemplative might make them uncomfortable. Not me. To sit by myself, and really see leaves blowing in the wind, hearing birds sing or some such shit... those are happy times for me.
There's certainly too much of a good thing in this case, because the things we did a year ago, you know, gather with other humans and do human stuff, we can't do in quite the same way, for now. I mean, even the basic tasks we did, not for social reasons, but practical reasons, like shopping, involve masks and plastic barriers and all kinds of weird shit. We keep seeing evidence that the pandemic is unnecessarily persistent because we're bored with all of this, all the while people are stockpiling money if they can work, and doing stuff that pushes the boundary of what they would ordinarily consider "meaningful." Even when mundane things don't work out, it hurts.
My anecdote about that came today. I've been concerned for some time that one of our cars smells funny because of the air conditioning. So I learned all about how you should change the cabin air filters, and it's a pain in the ass, but what a difference, and here are a dozen videos that show you how to do it. So I ordered the new filters and the foam to clean the coils, and they were supposed to arrive today. I was so excited about doing this when I ordered the stuff in the middle of the night two days ago. Well, the foam shipment apparently got lost or something, and I felt like my whole day was ruined because of it. That's what too much boredom does to you.
Don't get me wrong, work is super exciting. Unusually so, even. But the excitement is still part of a consistent routine, especially when you work in software and organize your work in two week blocks and have a rhythm of ceremonies and meetings. It's imperative in your off-time to break up the rhythm with a different kind of excitement. Like replacing the cabin air filters in your car.
Well, I'll have to be satisfied with a fairly thorough deep cleaning of the interior until that can of foam shows up. Then the car will smell fresh and clean and we can drive to... school. And maybe Chipotle if I'm feeling frisky.
It's hard to believe, but today we brought home our third generation of electric vehicles, a Tesla Model Y. We were planning to go this route in August, when the lease expired on the Nissan Leaf and the other car was paid off, but since the Leaf was totaled in an accident (Diana was fortunately OK), we had to move up the schedule a bit.
The Y is the cross-over/SUV-ish version of the 3, which is to say it's taller and opens wide in the back to carry stuff. It's only a couple of inches taller, wider and longer, but next to our 3, it looks enormous. Tesla doesn't really have model years, because the cars are constantly changing. In our case, your drivetrain options were regular and performance, both with all-wheel drive. Shortly after we ordered, they started selling a "standard range" model with 80 fewer miles, rear-wheel drive only, for about $9 less. I really wanted the AWD, because it's super fun to drive, and doesn't slide out hardly at all when you corner like a moron. We also got the red exterior, white interior and a tow hitch as upgrades. We may explore a camper rental. All things considered, it was the same price as our 3 was three years ago, but now you get the dual-motor (AWD) configuration and basic autopilot included in a bigger car.
There are some nice changes here and there compared to our 3, but also some things that they cheaped out on. Because of hatch trunk, there are no cross-members across the rest of the roof. It's just one big piece of glass, which is one of the reasons it feels so big in the back seat. The trunk is powered, which should be standard in any non-economy car. As I said, they include the basic autopilot now, which means it will steer itself in stop-and-go traffic, but that doesn't include lane changing and summon the way it did back when we had a Model S. They're using slightly nicer wheels as standard as well. The side windows are now double-pane, apparently to reduce noise. The center console phone cradles now do wireless charging, but we missed out on the refreshed, nicer center console by about two weeks. It was already in the current 3, and the Chinese Y, but just started to hit the US Y's. The biggest change is that it's not the "piano black" substance that looks terrible because it attracts dust and finger prints.
Mostly you get more for your money now, specifically out of the drive train and battery, so that's all good. However, they have become a little cheap in other areas. They don't include a NEMA 14-50 plug with the charger anymore, which is what you need at home to charge at 7.8 kW (with the proper service and plug, obviously), or ~31 miles per hour. They also don't include the Homelink module for free, which will typically open your garage doors (or gates, if you live in that kind of neighborhood) when you get close to them, automatically. That's a $300 upgrade you have to buy after delivery, which includes the cost of a mobile service appointment. The cost of connectivity isn't baked into the car forever either. First year is free, but if you want the streaming audio (Slacker and TuneIn), streaming video (Netflix, YouTube, Hulu access), traffic and web access after that, it's ten bucks a month. Also, and this one is super weird... this car has a $2,000 upgrade available that boosts your 0-60 time from 4.8 to 4.2 seconds. Self-driving, if it ever becomes widely available, is still an extra $10k, which may be worth it if it's truly autonomous and you can start autonomously letting the car Uber people around.
The fit and finish of the car is vastly better than the 3 was three years ago. It doesn't look bad, but if I look critically at the "old" car, I can see varying gaps in the body panels, and the trunk sometimes doesn't stick closed. The only misaligned thing I can find on the Y is one side of the trunk joint, which is not quite flush with the rest of the body. The rest of it is tip-top, with no weird seals not set right or carpet not tucked in right or the other kinds of things you used to find on some cars. The back half of the frame is a single cast piece, down from 70 pieces in the 3, which likely contributes to the precision. The paint is perfect, though I had no problems on our 3, despite some widespread complaints.
I've only driven it 35 miles so far, but it's mostly what I expect it to be, which is to say it feels a lot like the 3, only "tighter" because of the AWD. I drove it home specifically for a couple of turns I know I could take hard in our Model S (which was also AWD), and you just point the wheels where you wanna go, and that's where it goes. Launches from red lights are as giggle-inducing as ever.
Our first go around with EV's was a 2014 Nissan Leaf, more or less its first generation, and we stretched that lease to 4 years. The Model S came in 2015, which was obnoxiously expensive, but the only choice for long-distance road tripping at the time. In 2018, we sold the S for the Model 3, starting our second generation of EV's. Later that year, Nissan stopped letting us renew the Leaf lease, so we swapped it for another Leaf, the better, second generation with range of about 170 miles. It was another perfect commuter car, and it did a good job of protecting Diana in the accident. This Model Y feels like our third generation, and in terms of capability against price, it definitely is. We've come a long way since that first Leaf. That the standard range Model 3 now starts at $38k is closer to being mass-market, but until you can buy a long-range EV for $20k, we're not quite there yet.
Haven't had to visit a gas station (rentals aside) since 2015, and that's amazing. With solar, some of our "gas" comes from the sky. My hope is that we can avoid buying anymore cars for at least five years, which will be interesting because that would be eight on the Model 3. Other than replacing tires and adding washer fluid, I don't see why we can't get there.
I pretty vividly remember the first time I had serious allergies, in grade six. I was wheezing, sneezing and my eyes itched like crazy. My dad told me, "That's hay fever," and I asked when I would be over it, equating it to a regular fever. "Never," he said.
Obviously I learned more about allergies and the cause, and I remember my doctor indicating that a cold wet towel was ideal for helping with the itchy eyes (probably in part because it kept you from touching them). It became a ritual mostly contained to a couple of weeks in the spring, and if it was warm enough, I could keep it under control just by turning up the air conditioning. When I moved to Seattle, I had almost no allergies at all. Diana, who has far more severe allergies, even had some relief. I had a day here and there, but mostly, I knew life without allergies.
Florida moved the problem earlier in the year, as it seems to be certain kinds of tree pollen, and it comes early. Most year, again, it's fairly mild and I can roll with it. This year, it's really bad. Our car was coated in a film of pollen, which wouldn't be so odd if we didn't park it in the garage. The pollen levels have been high for almost a month straight, with the only reprieve being the five days we spent in a VRBO in Melbourne, on the coast. Medications usually work to an extent, but they haven't been that effective this time. Worse, even those that aren't supposed to make you drowsy make me drowsy. So I have to choose between having a head full of snot and sinus headaches to being in a fog. I usually defer to late afternoon, so after work I just sit around like a slug. The mind and spirit are willing to make things and engage with the world, but the body says, nah, I'll pass.
There has been a surprising side effect though. There's an increasing body of research that suggests that histamines are a producer and result of irritable bowel syndrome, likely tied to some kinds of foods, and taking an anti-histamine can actually ease the symptoms. I've had IBS for most of my adult life, but managing stress and diet has generally allowed me to control it. I know from experience that fried food is likely one of the big contributors, for whatever reason, but I've long theorized that spicy food is also a big driver. Regardless, because of the allergies, I've been consistently taking anti-histamines, and I've been symptom free for a month. It could be coincidence, but maybe it's not.
Hopefully we turn a corner on the pollen soon. Only three months until swamp-ass season!
Beyond the obvious misunderstanding of how free speech works on the Internet, there's a building voice of grievance that some people are being simply persecuted for their opinions and what they say. "It's cancel culture!" they say. While there is certainly a problematic thing happening where people try to out-woke each other on the Internet, there has to be some understanding that just because you can say something doesn't mean that you should.
As I described in the piece about speech on the Internet, free speech conceptually is centered around the prohibition of government preventing free speech, as described in the First Amendment. It doesn't say that there isn't consequence for expression. We have laws that hold you accountable if you literally shout fire in a theater that isn't on fire, and you can be held liable in a civil case for damaging things you say about someone that are untrue. This is true in your job as well, where you can't insult your boss or sexually harass your coworkers.
The fact is, even my 10-year-old with autism, who often struggles to adhere to social contracts, understands that there are consequences for swearing, for example. Everyone gets this.
That's why this emerging narrative that an aggrieved "conservative" bloc of voices is being silenced is a little ridiculous. Let's not confuse being "cancelled" or marginalized with a response to saying vile and heinous things. If you are attributing wildfires to "Jewish space lasers" or encouraging insurrection, the response to that isn't political or divisive... you said some nasty shit and there are consequences for that. This is the same social contract we have in our daily lives, as described above. It's not about silencing or disenfranchising anyone.
You can't have it both ways, suggesting that the free press is the "enemy of the people" for its reporting, and then turn around and say things that are actually destructive and play victim for the response.
While the mid-80's were definitely a different time, I can't even put into words the feelings I had when I had the opportunity to use a computer. In sixth grade, Benjamin Franklin Elementary school had a TRS-80 on an AV cart, which is to say the computer sat on the shelf while the TV was on top of it. If you were sitting in a chair in front of it, you had to crane your neck up to see what you were doing. But pecking in stuff like this blew my mind:
20 PRINT "WHAT'S YOU NAME?"
30 INPUT N$
40 PRINT "HELLO ";N$
That was magical. In grade seven, in middle school, I was able to get an extra period here and there in the computer lab, where we had a room full of IBM PC Jr.'s, and it was never enough time. The teacher suggested he would look into me getting one as a loaner for the summer, but it never happened. I would stare at the ads in computer magazines for hours wishing that I had one. Finally, the next year, my dad gave me an 8-bit Atari computer (with a cassette tape drive!) that he received for going to a time share presentation or something. Shortly thereafter I wrote my first program, a text-based Wheel of Fortune game.
Grownups mostly seemed to treat my strong desire to create things with computers as an inconvenience, and I'm still resentful about that. Now I'm a parent, and my son is in many ways like me. He can't get enough time. For awhile I was concerned about this because Simon was largely passive, playing games and sims by downloading things, but he has pivoted to use much of his time creating things. Games like Planet Coaster, Parkitect and Minecraft are inherently creative endeavors. So while he's not writing programs, he is being creative, and I think there's enormous value in that.
But the problem is that he spends too much time behind the screen, to the extent that it results in poor behavior when it's time to disengage. It does look like addict behavior, when he gets angry because he can't get just one more hit. It was becoming particularly problematic in the evenings before bed. There was always one more thing that he wanted to do, and it didn't take long before the shouting began.
We were not well aligned about the solution to this. Some of his challenge is that he struggles to transition between things, a very typical thing for ASD kids, so you try to mitigate that with timers and schedules and such. Diana wanted him to have some visual cues indicating his time was up. I wanted to take the blunt force approach, by making the Internet router simply turn off access for him at a certain time. I want him to be accountable and learn responsibility and not have guard rails for everything. Unsurprisingly, his therapist suggested we do both, and give him the warnings (we're telling him to set a timer) in the short term, and eventually let him own it without warnings.
Three nights in, this is working pretty well. He can't argue with the machine cutting off access, because the machine doesn't care. The positive is that he's owning it, with relatively little discomfort. The negative is that it feels crappy that when it's his human parents directing him, he resists and is often disrespectful about it. But whatever, it's not delaying bedtime activities, so it's a win.
I still want to make sure that he gets to exercise his creativity, because I see it's important to him, and I know what that feels like. I understand the intensity of his feelings. But I also want him to do other things, and I think we've got a path there now.
I've been thinking lately that I should try to unload some of my old camera gear. When I was thinking about Canon's change to the new lens mount, I was thinking that maybe I should let some of the older things go. I'm just not sure if what I have is really worth anything anymore.
My original Canon 5D (no mark) body is, uh, a "classic" for sure. I've taken thousands of photos with that thing, and it's almost 13-years-old. I see it for an asking price of $300, but I know I wouldn't pay that much for it. My old 7D body, which at least shoots video, looks like it goes for $200, typically, and that one I've had for a little more than 11 years. I've got extra batteries and stuff for them too.
The old video camera, a Panasonic AF100, has really depreciated. That makes me sad, because I captured some really nice memories with that. I bought that one in 2012. I've seen that go for about $250, but the lens I have routinely goes for $500. It's probably one of the best micro-4/3 lenses ever made, a 12-35mm f/2.8 zoom with OIS. I also have a speed booster EF to micro-4/3 adapter which not only let me use my Canon lenses on it, but it also added a stop. It effectively made my 24-105mm f/4L open up to f/2.8, which is why I could squeeze pretty decent low light out of that camera. I've got a 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens for that too, which made for some interesting results. That thing was $350 at the time and I barely used it.
Hopefully I can find a good home for some of this stuff. It's all in pretty good condition, and you can still make art with it.
I wrote recently about "feeling it," with "it" being the weight of the world. Along with those feelings, I feel as if I've been in the process of a very long exhale for weeks now. It's hard to describe.
After the chaos of the last year, it feels as though we're in a transition of sorts, toward something "better." There's a new administration in the White House, but obviously that doesn't mean a lot after two weeks beyond the fact that insane things are no longer dominating the news. White nationalists are still out there, racial injustice still exists, the pandemic still limits everything, the planet is still warming, but there are reasons to believe that these are can improve. On the home front, work has been awesome, I feel like we're getting somewhere with Simon's therapy, Diana is making sense of his future education like a boss, we're in the process of replacing the wrecked car.
Slowly, I'm feeling engaged again, as that week away felt like a transition. But it's really slow going. I get done from work, and in the evening I just kind of switch off. Same thing on the weekends. I'm finding little bits of inspiration, trying to engage more with Simon, look after Diana more (she had a rough migraine week). I posted another video, and I've got ideas for more. I'm feeling a little more like myself.
Isn't that a weird thing to consider? Not feeling like yourself? That's a pretty normal thing to experience already when you cross 40, but throw in everything else, especially a pandemic that largely limits your exploration of the world, and it's worse. Sometimes it's the little things, like wanting to not be on high alert when Diana drives somewhere (following the accident). Other times it's the big things, like wondering if you're impacting the world in a net-positive way.
I'm mildly amused that I just used a breathing metaphor during a pandemic.
It's amusing that celebrities all seem to have podcasts now. Diana has been listening to Smartless by Bateman/Arnett/Hayes (she found it particularly hilarious when they did an ad for Manscaped). I've been listening on and off to Dax Shepard's Armchair Expert, and sometimes Alec Baldwin's Here's The Thing. My old standby, of course is Leo Laporte's This Week In Tech, one of the oldest podcasts.
I first saw Leo on the old TechTV cable network, which back in its day was a wonderful niche network for nerds. It was unapologetically geeky, about computers and gadgets and video games and stuff. Comcast bought it in 2004, mostly for the distribution, to merge it with G4. They messed with Leo's contract, and he walked away, relying on his syndicated radio show and appearances on Regis. It was around that time that podcasting was "invented," which is to say someone augmented the RSS schema to include an "enclosure" payload. It had nothing to do with iPods, it was just a name (Apple didn't adopt the feed format for at least a year or two). Leo basically reinvented TechTV as a series of audio shows, and he eventually added video, creating an entire network of his own.
It was simple enough: If you could wire up a microphone to your computer and figure out Skype, you could record a show with your friends no matter where they were. There was free software to edit the audio, and you just needed a place to host the files. That's what made Leo's story so awesome, that he could leverage an existing audience without taking on investors or a working with a "media company."
Being an ex-radio guy, of course I thought that would be fun to do. In 2005, CoasterBuzz was only five-years-old, I was heading toward divorce and looking for things to do. I bought a little Mackie mixer (which is on my desk again, for the radio show I did last year), a phone patch, and was able to do a proper mix-minus to connect people via Skype or phone, so we could have guests. I could have faked some of this with limitation in software, but for a couple hundred bucks, it gave me a lot of flexibility. The CoasterBuzz Podcast debuted September 25, 2005.
Parenthood, changing priorities, and honestly just feeling like there wasn't much to say about the amusement industry news that hadn't been said, we were only doing about one show a month by 2011. After 211 shows, we kind of stopped late that year. We did one more a year later, then a reunion of sorts last year, because Covid. We had a fairly consistent audience, seeing around 10k downloads a week, which I guess was pretty solid at the time. We received a lot of feedback about not doing it anymore, but again, I think we all just felt like it had run its course.
And now, almost a decade later, everyone has a podcast. This Week In Tech has had over 800 shows. Big media companies are trying to work them into their mix of properties. Our car can literally suck a podcast out of the air from anywhere and play it just by searching for it. There was a bizarre article on The Verge about how jobs for podcast production required Pro Tools experience (which is wholly absurd that anyone would use for such a simple thing). It's all surprising because podcasting was another one of those democratizing things that anyone can do, and now it's literally a big production. I feel like I've earned some hipster cred or something that we did a podcast, and stopped doing it, before it was cool.