2007-11-26

Ego emissions

I did love that "Low ego emissions" VW Passat ad when it first came out, and it rings true. I am by now proudly the smallest car on the road (as opposed to white-knuckles-terrified smallest car on the road I was in the first few months), as I valiantly steer my little Miata among the trucks, SUVs, and minivans that constitute the majority of traffic around where I live.

Just last evening on the way home something happened to me that I noticed quite frequently before. An SUV pulls up behind me on a 45-mph road. I'm going a bit over, with the rest of traffic. SUV passes me on the right and wedges itself into what I thought was a safe following distance from the car ahead of me.

Well, a'ight, wha'ever, I fall behind a few yards, but then another classic thing happens: the SUV slows down to 43, so now they are falling behind the car I was following, and force me to perform an unsafe pass on the right.

I guess it is not prestigious to be in a large vehicle behind an itty-bitty Miata.

Sigh.

Move on.

But this morning, a similar situation was brewing up. Red light. I'm the front car in the left lane, and a huge truck, something like Nissan Titan, pulls up to the line in the right lane next to me. Right lane becomes a turn-only lane just about 200 yards down the road.

Light changes, I accelerate, but then the truck accelerates harder, so it is clear it wants to cut me off and get in front of me. "I'll race you, fucker," I say and step on the gas. I'm still in third gear, at maybe 4500 RPMs, as the truck finally gives up and gets in the lane behind me, just before right lane ends.

I had to muster what little civility I had left not to give them any hand gestures, but man, did I enjoy watching the truck in my rear view mirror for the next ten minutes!

Don't know about death...

... but Wake county where I live, is making sure I get my share of taxes. Vehicle tax bill came last week. Now I got the property tax revaluation. Makes me "revaluate" my decision to become a homeowner.

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

I think my car has decided to get a holiday present from me, whether I like it or not. First, she gave me a cylinder misfire code ten days ago. This was reset and did not happen again. Dodged the bullet, I thought, but no! Three days ago, she started squeaking--most likely from a belt, but could be a water pump or some other part failing, for all I know.

Last year, just before Xmas, she made me buy her a new ignition coil pack, a crankshaft position sensor, and induction service, something I'd equal to a week-long spa retreat in the human world.

Now, holidays approach, and here she is again, demanding attention. I guess the used stock alloys weren't good enough to please my lady.

I need to mention to her that I fully intend to change the belts myself so she hopefully gets scared enough and stops the squealing (ha ha).

Back from "sanity leave"

I totally lucked out this Thanksgiving.

After some crazy shit at work (don't ask) I needed some time down and did not want to go anywhere, but I had three invitations.

There was this
one that I promised to go to, but the hostess forgot to send me directions, so I thought "Hey! I told everyone else I was going there already, so I don't have to go ANYwhere!" and bravely stayed home.

On Friday, I slept in, then went to Durham at about two in the afternoon. First to Nasher museum, where they had some post-communist conceptual art on display and a smattering of works by Oldenburg, Rauschenberg, Rothko and Kline (actually, more like, one of each but Oldenburg, whose there were two).

Then I went to Scrap Exchange for some art supplies, found some cool textured paper that I think I can use to play around with white gouache and ink.

After that I had a long long long dinner at Pop's with braised duck breast, 2 glasses of wine and a scotch for after-dinner drink. I was pretty inebriated after that, so I had to walk 25 minutes to the club that had a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band playing, called the Funky Monks.

I
spent about two hours there, maybe three, then walked back to the car. At this point I was sober enough to drive, so I did, arriving home at about one a.m.

The other three days I just walked in the park and ate and read and listened to music--haven't had so much time for myself in ages, feels like.

Finished "A short history of tractors in Ukrainian," which reminded me too much of my crazy Russian-German-Ukrainian family. The book's got a happy ending though, something I dare not hope for.

2007-11-18

At $5 a search, I think I'd rather keep my shoes on...

So I was booking a flight on Southwest, and they apparently are for full disclosure about fees and taxes and stuff that make my flight cost double what they say they'd have charged me. I casually glance over the table showing all the details, and words "September 11" catch my eye. Funny, I think, it is November now, and I am flying in December, what's September got to do with it?

Turns out, there is such a thing as a "September 11 Security Fee" which also Southwest says is government-imposed.

So not only do I get to enjoy taking my shoes off plus whatever TSA contractors consider "outerwear" (stripping down to my T-shirt sometimes), taking my laptop(s) out of the bags, complying with the ridiculous 100ml (3.5 oz) restriction on liquids and gels, and sometimes still being patted down and my bags searched--no!--I also get to pay for the pleasure.

You know, I'd rather keep my five bucks, thank you very much.

2007-11-15

Maybe I'm too German...

...but I just expect a different level of construction quality, and I pay every time I assume that. Like this morning.

Being for energy conservaton and shit, I try to keep the water temperature in my boiler at about 40C (104F), but it seems I did not get the setting quite right, and the water was closer to 37C, which felt fine when it was hot out, but started feeling a mite too cold on November mornings.

So I decide this morning before taking the shower, I need to finally fix that, and so I fearlessly approach the boiler with a screwdriver.

My assumptions were that the unit would be properly installed, which in my book means proper electrical insulation and grounding. Let's ignore the ease of control access for now (which is not present).

Based on my assumptions, I figured that it would not be necessary to disconnect the unit at the main breaker. Oh how wrong I was.

Not lethally wrong though, and the fact that I am typing this entry proves that. But I have to tell you, I did not enjoy the experience of 120V zapping through my body all too much. I found myself on the floor about half a meter (1.5 ft) away from the boiler, but was mostly fine.

Lesson learned.

2007-11-14

Joined THSCC tonight

Went to the monthly club meeting tonight, membership application form already printed out and signed :) The pizza joint where the meetings are held seems to be favoured by other groups too... When I first got there I assaulted some other people, who I did not recognize but thought could be Tarheels. They weren't, but they knew where to find them, and sent me to the back room, which by then was not very full, but filled rapidly within the next minutes.

Seems like many of the people at the meeting recognized me. Somebody told me that pictures from last weekend's autocross were posted on the forum, and there is one of me there, too. Finally! I will SO post it here when I get my hands on it :)

Too bad they did not have their cars (or at least pictures of their cars) in the meeting, because that's how I remembered them all :) I did recognize a few faces though, and even matched a couple with names. Dustin, the autocross VP was at my table, and Mark, the tire guy was there too, so all in all, I did not feel completely lost among total strangers.

The nice lady, owner of British racing green Mini, welcomed me quite warmly, and invited to join the LAD class. I am still contemplating... I have a whole season to run as a novice, in NOV class. Barring a miracle (me winning three times in a row) I will still be in NOV in a year.

What I'll do after I graduate out of NOV, I don't know. I have three options now: SCP (can't run Stock because of the aftermarket exhaust header); TIR (if I am cheap and keep buying street tires for autocross); and now LAD, which I have yet to warm up to. I mean, the ladies are nice and all, but if I want to be good, I want to be as good as anyone, not just "good for a girl." Not to say that's what LAD class is about, but I have not yet wrapped my mind around this notion.

Long story short, the Chair read the applicants' names, profiles, and reasons for joining out loud, and the members voted by Yeas and Nays. Tarheels have an interesting tradition that nobody ever gets accepted by a unanimous vote, so there is always at least one person voting Nay. I got a round of hearty applause for having listed a speeding ticket in my "Driving record" section, and was accepted with all Yeas and one Nay.

2007-11-12

Participation is everything... particularly if you don't come in last

Went to my second autocross event on Sunday, and automotive deities have heard me again! I came in one before last in final results! Being a bloody beginner, not finishing last was my only goal, so I guess I achieved that :)

It was my first time changing my own tires for the event, and it seems to have worked out fine. Actually, it went amazingly well for someone who has never changed a tire before. One note to self: before bleeding competition tires to lower (storage) pressure, it is best to take them off the car, or the jack won't fit under the car anymore...

I have taken a few shots of my car in the pits, while I was changing the tires, and just before I went to walk the course. There were a few people there shooting stills and video, just need to find out where they will publish them.

Besides from being a lot of fun, and an excellent workout, the event also helped me gain confidence in my car. It is a different feeling to drive a car I care for myself (at least to some extent). In a few months, when Bonnie needs new brake pads, I hope I will be able to change them myself.

2007-11-06

TSA plays it safe

Last week I was talking to a friend, and we got to talk about cars, a Porsche 911 he almost bought, and then I asked: "So do you say nine-one-one or nine-eleven when you talk about Porsche?"

He said, nine-eleven. And I said I didn't know what the right way was to say this, but that I could not hear nine-eleven anymore, because of all the "security" talk.

He laughed and told me this story.

Apparently, TSA has the same level of security checks for people entering their building as for people trying to board a plane at an airport. Whatever makes them happy, right?

So they check these guys, make them take their shoes off, take their laptops out of their bags, walk through metal detectors etc, etc. Then they give them their visitor badges and tell them that the people they came to see are actually in the other building, and -- get this -- to get there, they simply should exit the "secure" area, walk in the street to the other building and enter there without any further screening.

There are no visible video cameras or guards, not even a fence--they have to walk in the street, where they can potentially get any number of dangerous items from someone waiting outside, and carry them into the other building. Or they can give their badges to someone else, and there would be no-one to see.

A disclaimer: I did not verify the story, but knowing how government agencies of non-totalitarian states usually work, I do believe this to be true.

Aggressive friendliness

I don't know about you, but I shuddered when, looking for information on room service in the "Guest directory" at the Marriott Courtyard I was staying at in Arlington, the mission statement (one page long, no less--speaking of concise and actionable, hehe) told me that the staff saw it as their goal to "display aggressive friendliness" towards me, the guest. I tried to imagine how they would act on this.

Here's a little scenario.

Guest checks in, gets keys, heads to room.

Check-in clerk, with a smile and a baseball bat: "Have a good day! Or else!"

I dunno.

But too bad I did not think of taking that page with me.