Corporate sincerity

Got a holiday card from one of the vendors at work today. The card says:

"With sincere wishes for the holiday season
and hopes for a happy and healthy new year."

"Sincere wishes" of what?

I personally hope that they are not sincerely wishing me to get sacked so that the new person will start buying from them.


Holiday parties

Was at two holiday parties Friday and Saturday.

First was my company's party, which got much much better as alcohol was consumed. I almost embarrassed a co-worker's wife.

Yours Truly (YT): "Hey, can you keep an eye on my purse while I go get some food and a drink?"

Wife (W): "Sure! But that's a big purse! Why'd you bring it?"

YT, patting myself on all the places pockets could have been: "Women's formal clothing does not offer pockets, where I could have put my stuff..."

W, pointing at her husband with bulging pockets across the room: "Oh, that's what men are for! Why didn't you bring yours?"

YT: "He's quite inconveniently away."

W: "You should have made him come!"

I set up to say: "I routinely do," but catch myself just in time to say: "I... tried."


Then last night I went to a much more fun party given by an artist friend of mine and her husband. They had a well-stocked bar in the basement, and I ended up spending what was left of the night in a spare bedroom, with a very friendly purry cat as bed-mate.

The main attraction of the party was the "Dirty Santa" game, in which I ended up winning a stretchable silicone "Magic Tube" which, so the packaging says, can be creatively used on fingers and other elongated objects, besides the obvious.

Turned out well that I did not have to get up at six to go to the autocross, so that I could actually drink and stay up late.


Autocross canceled

Bummer all round. Oh well, I'll have more time to shop for Xmas gifts for my friends in Virginia and New York.

And maybe finally give Bonnie a bath.



This morning before work I stopped by the shop to have my car's attending look at Bonnie to make sure everything was still fine.

It seemed to be :)

Harry showed me the bad parts--there weren't that many--and asked if I wanted to keep any of them. I picked: the timing belt inside pulley, the retaining disk, and the infamous woodruff key, which came in two pieces.

Exhibit 1. Inside pulley.

The inside edges were broken off while Harry tried to pry this pulley off the crankshaft, but look at the front! Pretty impressive. The sprockets on the pulley were bent, shaved off, or simply broken off. Harry said that he noticed metal shavings on the outside of the engine cover, and that's what made him look inside to find this mess.

Exhibit 2. Timing belt retaining disk.

The crankshaft screw became loose, allowing the parts to slip, and the woodruff key wore through the keyway on the retaining disk to almost twice its original width, causing further moving of the parts in relation to one another. The side shown is the one facing the timing belt pulley, with ridges ground in it by the sprockets.

Exhibit 3. Woodruff key.

It is bent, worn through, AND broken. So it looks like the failure was brewing for quite some time. First the loose bolt allowed the retaining disk to slip, and constant grinding bent and wore the key. Then eventually it broke, but not too recently, because the break surface is corroded.

Ashraf and I tightening the accessory belts put additional stress on the timing belt pulley, so it slipped 12.5 degrees and resulted in all the performance problems.

I will keep the two bigger parts on my desk. This adventure was way too exciting not to have anything to remind me of it.

Everybody, look at me!

Now with my THSCC forum account finally active, I found a picture of Bonnie and I on the course at the last event. (Only a portion of watermarked picture shown. See full picture here.)

With me in the car is Dustin who was kind enough to help me with advice. This was my second run, in the morning.

The two afternoon runs sucked for me, because my ankle, sprained just a week before the event, was throbbing after working the course between runs. My afternoon times were worse then the morning ones, plus I hit more cones, and got a DNF on one of the two runs.

Coming Sunday, there's a no-points event coming up, and I hope to improve my times. With fewer participants, there is also hope that we each will get more runs, which is always great :)



That's the first business book I actually enjoy reading.

The usual variety of business bestsellers like "Good to great" or "Seven habits" or even "First, break all the rules" begins to bore me after a couple of chapters (short attention span) by endlessly repeating and reaffirming the main thought of the book with countless anecdotes and generalizations.

Even if I can't agree with everything Peters writes, I enjoy the layout of the book and the way the thoughts are presented almost in hypertext. Actually, this is the closest functional approximation to hypertext in print I have read.

Natural Born Killers

Watched Natural Born Killers Director's Cut tonight, for the first time after seeing it at ZooPalast theater in Berlin when it first came out in Germany in October 1994.

The movie was "unter 18" and I was younger than that. I remember sneaking in using my older friend's student ID. Ticket in my hand, line at the door, they are checking everybody young-looking, but after a brief hesitation (felt like ages) the guy let me through.

Seeing the film again today, with more background knowledge about US culture and history, I expected it to feel different, less immediate, more intellectualized today. But it was just as powerful and visceral as I remembered it.

Kara Walker

I've got to say it, out of contemporary American artists, Kara Walker is definitely one of my favourites. Forgot to mention last time that Nasher has a few of her newer pieces on display, which comment on the African American experience of the Civil War. Powerful.


At l(e)ast she's running

They were able to take that pulley off the crankshaft, so I dodged the really big repairs bill.

The car runs better than ever--particularly noticeable with cold engine, and I expect better fuel efficiency now too. And of course, now I have the added benefit of having had pretty much all the car systems checked through and through, and knowing they all work well.

While they had the engine opened up, I went for a new timing belt and a thermostat, so that I won't need to have this sort of work done any time soon. Three years at least, if I continue to put 20,000 miles on the car each year.

Now I am looking forward to the autocross next weekend.


My car got me at last

So after two full days of searching for a reason for all the weirdness, they found it: The timing belt pulley inside the engine was loose, and was causing timing problems as well as broke off a (small) piece of the crankshaft.

As I type this, the pulley is not coming off the crankshaft, because the piece that was supposed to hold it in place on the crankshaft, the woodruff key, is rusted onto it, and won't let the pulley come off.

So my options now are, if the pulley comes off, get the few relatively inexpensive parts replaced, and get the missing piece in the crankshaft filled in with JB Weld, and pay for labor; if there is no way to get the pulley off, it will be cheaper to install a rebuilt engine.

The folks at the shop are really nice to me, so they will charge me a flat fee for labor in the first case. The second case, well, I try not to think too much ahead. I'll deal with it if and when I have to.

My car's "attending physician" picked me up at work to show me the damage. It was really sad to see Bonnie on the lift, with rags covering the valves and other parts they were not working on, with just the front part of the engine exposed, it looked almost like a body on an operating table.

Sad day.


My car is out to get me (or my money) Part 3

So I dropped Bonnie off at the shop this morning and they could hardly find anything really wrong with her.

The alternator/water pump belt was over-tightened, but nothing really to account for the cylinder misfires. It was a "random multiple cylinder misfire" code, which did not really help troubleshoot.

The attending did a lot of maintenance work, so Bonnie should not complain now that I spend no money on her. She got:
  • Alternator belt adjusted;
  • new spark plugs;
  • fuel filter;
  • fuel injector cleaner additive in tank;
  • missing bolt on intake bracket;
  • compression test (came out fine with all at 150);
  • front rotors and pads.
So all in all, I felt like I should have gotten some return on investment, but instead, Bonnie runs worse now. Pick-up on acceleration is gone, I can depress the pedal all the way to the floor and nothing happens. As in literally nothing.

The sound of the engine also changed, but I could live with that if everything else was working. Being beat off the line by old minivans is not something I am used to. Not since I got rid of the scooter.

So tomorrow morning, off we go to see the doctor again.

Provincial survival guide

You know how they publish all the urban survival guides for the rural and small city folk? Well, here's a provincial survival guide for the urban outcasts like me.

It is a mite reassuring though, that urban population (in its widest sense I presume) is predicted to be in the majority beginning next year.

Chapter one: Provincial survival essentials
  1. High-speed internet connection.
  2. Netflix or other DVD-by-mail rental subscription (you don't seriously expect all the cool movies to be available at a local Blockbuster, do you?)
    Oh, and let me tell you about Blockbuster--the fact that they censor their movie selection has put them on my "not if you were the last rental on earth" list.
  3. A well-stocked library.
  4. A time-consuming hobby that requires travel (I was lucky to find autocross, which gets me out of town at least once a month and keeps me occupied during the rest of the month, be it trying to figure out my car or meeting other gearheads).
  5. A reserve of wine and/or other alcoholic beverages, for when all else fails.


My car is out to get me (or my money) Part 2

One symptom down, one to go. The squeak is fixed.

Asked for advice and for help on the MSCCNC forum, and one of the guys volunteered to show me how to take the accessory belts off the car, so I could test the theory that it was indeed a belt squeak (see Part 1 for details).

He showed me all the bolts that hold the two belts in place, then he took off the belt that drives the air conditioner and power steering, and then I put that belt back on. Of course it was not that belt. But the other one, driving the water pump and alternator. One of the pulley bolts was loose, and after it and the tensioner were re-tightened, the squeak was gone.

To get to the first belt, we had to disconnect the air temperature sensor on the intake, and of course, even though the car was not running, the computer noticed that and registered this as an error code. Oh well, big deal, I thought, but stopped by a tire/alignment shop on the way home, and turns out, another error code was there--the cylinder misfire.


My attending mechanic was not happy that I had the misfire code cleared the last time, so he had nothing to go on, now he's got the code, and hopefully it's nothing serious.