Saturday, October 24, 2009


Here's a coupon, good for a 17% discount on all the gas you ever buy. It's good at every gas station on Earth. It's quite convenient. You don't have to show it to the gas station attendant. Since you keep it, you can reuse it forever. And you can use it even if you pay at the pump with a credit card. Did i mention that it's good for 17%? The coupon is free. Here it is:

But, i'm willing to bet that you won't use it. Here's how it works. Here in Michigan, the speed limit is 70 MPH (112 KPH). It's legal to drive at 62 MPH (100 KPH), but what people do is drive 75 or 80 (120 to 130 KPH), risking a speeding ticket. But i drive at 62 MPH. That's because there's a handy 100 KPH marking on my speedometer pointing straight up. And, my measurements show that the difference in fuel economy between driving at 70 MPH and 62 MPH is 17%. I ran these tests on four very different cars.

But you may find that you can't do it. There's a problem of the very worst kind. It's psychological. Despite the fact that in Michigan, trucks are never allowed to exceed 60 MPH, if you drive at 62, everyone passes you. I pass someone on the highway about once a month or less. So what i mean is, everyone passes you. And most people can't stand it. I drive my passengers crazy. You'll think that the other guy is "getting" something that you're not. They are. A higher gas bill.

My commute is 43 miles each way. It's almost all on the highway. If i could go 70 MPH, it would take 36.9 minutes to get to work. And at 62 MPH, it would take 41.6 minutes. So, 62 MPH is 4.7 minutes slower, right? Wrong. My record time is 56 minutes. I think of it as an hour, or an hour and a half if traffic is bad. But what i really mean is that traffic is always bad. But sometimes it's horrendous. So you might think that it takes five minutes longer, but the effect is not measurable. Except at the gas pump. I fill up less often, saving money and time.

I trained myself to drive at 62 MPH with my previous car. My Mazda has a cruise control. I'd set it for 62, and sit back and relax. I'd listen to some tunes, or a prerecorded radio show i'd downloaded from the web. It was really nice. I'm going slower, so i have the right of way. Everyone who wants to go faster must go around me. I don't have to disengage the cruise until i get where i'm going. Well, maybe sometimes. Like in Detroit where i have to take an exit just to stay on i75. Or in Troy, where despite four lanes, there's not enough room for all the cars. But now i'm trained, and that's that.

You can go to the Governator's web site and learn all about Eco Driving. You can buy expensive easy rolling tires and get maybe 2% fuel economy improvement. Or, you can go a bit slower - which costs you nothing - and get 17%. The coupon never expires. But there's no reason not to start today.

Friday, October 23, 2009


The other day, the phone rang. It was a sales call. I call it phone spam.

"Our records show that you do not have an extended warranty on your Saturn."

Interesting. I own a Saturn. It is true that there is no extended warranty on it. But I didn't buy it in Michigan. It's never been in the shop. So what records are these? Either the Department of Motor Vehicles sold or gave out this information, or my insurance company did. I have a good insurance company. They didn't do it. I'm liking my government less now.

"How many miles do you have on your car?"

I decided to tell the truth. It turned out to be the right answer, and it would have been even if it was a lie. So i said, "Two hundred and fifty one thousand".


"You aren't eligible for our extended warranty."

And that was that. They won't be calling back. I have a car that is in excellent condition and which is rock solid reliable. It gets great gas mileage, nearly 44 MPG, lifetime average. And they won't sell me a warranty that they'd push down anyone else's throat if they could. In the summer of 2008, it's Blue Book value went up by $2000, despite my having driven it an additional 70,000 miles. That's because gas prices went to $4 a gallon. Well, gas prices are going up again. I have a car whose value is increasing with age. It's been to the Moon (238,000), and it's showing every indication that it will make it back to Earth.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

FPS games

This is a quick start guide for first person shooter games. This isn't about any particular game. These games can be complicated, and may take a long time to master. Go for the easy things first. Easy things first works for learning the piano too.

You can't shoot without a weapon. You can't shoot without ammo.

Aim the weapon, then fire. Unless you have infinite ammo.

You can't shoot if you're dead. Try not to get shot. Jump and dodge. Weave. Move all the time. Standing still is a good way to get killed. There is no hiding. So learn to aim while moving.

Learn your weapons. Fast/slow rate of fire. High/low damage. Long/short distance. Small/large area of effect. Delayed effect. High/low amount of ammo. Some weapons may have more than one mode of use. Use the right weapon in the right mode at the right time. Even if you're left handed.

It's good to know where the enemy is. It's very good to know where an enemy will be. Is the enemy moving to some obvious goal? Conversely, don't let the enemy know where you are. If you and an enemy are moving to the same goal, consider letting them have it. Since you know where they're going, you can let them have it.

The terrain can be your friend. Get to know it. There may be places where it's hard to see the enemy. These may be good for you too.

As you learn the game, identify skills to practice. Aiming. Aiming while moving. Jump to high places. And so on. If there's a feature of the game, see if you can use it. If your game has a novice mode, don't be afraid to use it, and even lose a few games practicing some skill.

Have fun.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


I don't get headaches often. There's usually some identifiable cause. Dehydration. Nutrasweet (i seem to be allergic, and it causes what i call a migraine for about six hours. I say i seem to be allergic, but i've not gotten any such diagnosis. I say i call it a migraine, but how do i compare? Besides, the point is, with care (and increasing care at that), i can avoid it. I've been about a decade now since i was last poisoned.)

Well, here's an article that gives a reasonable overview of the subject. I doubt it's comprehensive. I don't agree with every word in it. I doubt an article could be written which covers everyone, since everyone is a bit different. But on the whole it's the best i've seen in ages - perhaps ever. And, it's out there for free. Can't beat that with a stick.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Jack failure

I thought i'd mentioned it in a previous post here, but can't find it. When jacking up the car to do maintenance, i always put something under the car, so that if the car falls off the jack, it's easier to jack it back up, and, by the way, nothing under the car get crushed. I'm thinking of myself, for example.

Well, i was changing my oil, and while pulling hard on the oil filter wrench (usually i can just twist it off with my fingers), the car rolled back six inches, falling off of the jack (closest to the tire). Fortunately, i had the jack stand set up. And, it held it. In fact, the car didn't even seem to drop any. I say fortunately, but it's the way i work. Always have a backup.

The picture is kind of odd. The right front tire is shown, jacked up completely off the ground.

In case it's not clear, i was indeed, under the car at the time.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Firefox and Thunderbird

I've used Thunderbird as my email client under Linux for quite a long time. I recall needing a gui email client because people (probably using Windows) were sending me stuff in styled text, mostly that could easily be sent as plain text. Anyway, it's been years.

But last Saturday morning, my main home machine rebooted. Twice. The logs showed nary a hint why. But afterwards, both Firefox and Thunderbird had an unacceptably small font, used for their menus and other dressings. The size of the content was easily changed. I'd never felt the need to change other font sizes. And there are three font sizes that matter. But only one had changed. I figured at first that i'd lost some font, and that these two applications needed it. But Google didn't seem to know where such files might be.

One of the suggestions was that the file userChrome.css could be modified. I ran "locate" to see where such a file might be. I didn't have one. A Ha! But, no, it's normal not to have one. And creating one didn't solve the problem.

There were other false leads.

What finally did it was to edit my /etc/X11/xorg.conf file, and in the "display" section for my nVidia card, i added the lines:
Option "UseEdidDpi" "FALSE"
Option "DPI" "100 x 100"

In particular, it sets my screen resolution to 100x100 dots per inch, rather than 75 dots per inch. And, i arrived at this result by measuring the screen, computing the resolution (in my head, despite having a computer in front of me that can perform a billion divides or so in a second).

No idea why a random reboot should cause this behavior. It'd been working for a decade at least. No idea why only those two applications should be affected. xorg.conf is supposed to affect everything. No idea why there seems to be a bunch of ways to address this issue. For example, userChrome.css made no difference at all. And, it was system wide, not user wide. I created a new user just to test this out.

I'm a Unix guru. But the complexity and rate of change has gotten so out of hand, that even i had huge problems getting this to work. We've totally lost focus. The documentation is out of date. There are multiple ways to do something, and only one works? This isn't Unix anymore.

But with this post, perhaps Goggle does know how to solve this problem now.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dollar Store humor

My local dollar store has the slogan:

"Nothing is more than a dollar".

This suggests that a dollar is less than nothing, right?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Alzheimer's cured in mice

"Alzheimer's disease is reversed in mice using caffeine".

One of the quotes from the article is this: That's important because caffeine is a safe drug for most people. Note that they don't say that it doesn't have side effects. I expect sleep disorder, arthritis, osteoperosis, and addiction. Personally, i'd accept a little pain to avoid Alzheimer's. And, for a change, i'm glad that caffeine is addictive. If i had to take medicine for Alzheimer's, i'd be afraid that i'd forget to take it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Seanachai

I've been listening to podcasts since they came out. At first, i'd download them, cut them to CDs, and listen to them on my way to work and back. Since that was 2+ hours of driving a day (37,000 miles a year), i could listen to quite a bit. Much better than listening to the traffic report - which mostly told me that my last half hour was due to an accident that happened yesterday. But now i have an mp3 player. Or maybe three of them. And i wear headphones 24/7.

Patrick E. McLean's shows started out as bite sized 5-7 minute stories with extraordinarily great production values. Not just a good script. Not just a good mike. Not just good sound effects. But the whole thing just sort of sucks you in.

Now, i just put

into my long list of stuff to download. And every now and then, there's this totally off the wall incredible show. It's like Christmas.

I'm not the only one who likes it. Someone out at Bitstrips likes it too.

But the best is yet to come. You really have to check out Patrick's novel is fabulous. I'm getting it daily at podiobooks. You can get it slower if you want.

But you should hop on over to the store and drop $12 for a subscription. I have no idea what you'll get. But it's worth it if you get nothing extra. In fact, it's too cheap by half.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Job Interviews

I recently wrote an extraordinarily brief summary of why i think job interviews are uniformly awful. I do computer programming, but it applies elsewhere. Here it is.

Programming is not a real time task or performance art. It's not a closed book test. Expect any such tests in interviews to fail. Worse, expect to miss great candidates because you've pissed them off, or they appeared less qualified.

Programmers need to have unusual skills. They often don't need to have common skills - such as being able to conduct themselves in an interview and sell themselves. Focus on what skills you need, and be prepared to accept that skills you don't need suck. Failure to follow this rule will prevent you from hiring the best talent.

Non technical managers have no way to evaluate technical candidates. IMO, they shouldn't be invited to interviews. In my experience, non-technical managers also have no way to evaluate productivity after hire. You can't do it on hours worked. And the non-technical manager doesn't have a clue how long a task should take, nor can they recognize quality (or lack of it).

The right way to hire a competent technical person is to have a competent technical person interview them. And that person much conduct the Turing Test. The Turing Test was devised as a test of artificial intelligence. The idea is that you can't define or describe intelligence, but if you are intelligent, you can recognize it in a machine. It sounds silly, but it's the best we have. And it works. Where i went to school (an engineering school) only one in four entering freshmen (all totally brilliant) graduated. And there didn't seem to be any way to tell who would make it. But of the 22 guys i hung out with starting in my freshman year, one transferred to another school and got his degree there, one had to do a summer session to get his degree, and one failed to graduate when his financial aid ran out. Four went on to get masters, and two got PhDs. And it's starting to become clear that some companies end up with uniformly high quality staff, and others don't. It's the conversation that does it.

Here's a sample poor conversation:

Q: Why did you leave your last position?
A: I was a contractor. The contract ended.
Q: How about before that?
A: I've been a contractor for twenty years. But in 1991, the company I was working for went out of business. It wasn't my fault.
(At this point I'm already thinking about my next interview. The question shouldn't have been why i had a run of short contracts, but rather why i worked one for six years. They assume it's due to not getting along with someone - typically a manager. But i could already tell that working for this guy wasn't going to be easy.)

When i was at Chrysler (and they were attempting to reduce staff), they sent out email with a list of questions you might be asked on your next interview, you know, to help you prepare. It was pages and pages of questions that you should never ask as an interviewer.

I have lots more on this topic. Perhaps i'll write a book.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


We're just a little closer to figuring out how life got started. It could be wrong, but it appears we're on the right track. This could be big.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Have you run without being chased?

The craziest questions get asked on Yahoo! Answers. I've no idea where this one was leading. But here's where i took it.

Oh sure.

In Jr. High, cross country races were a mile and a half, so practices were 5 miles, every day. And they introduced the idea of "wind sprints". You'd run all out from one telephone pole to the next. Then you'd jog to the pole after that before running all out again. This jogging was described as "rest by jogging".

In High School, the races were 2.5 to 3.0 miles. My own school's course was 2.7 miles, went through the woods, and over the only hill around. Practices were 10 miles every day. It takes over 500 miles of running a summer to be at all competitive. More is better.

In college, the races were 5.0 miles. I was very slow. Clearly, no one was chasing me. I took nearly 25 minutes to run 5 miles. Barely under five minutes a mile. Practices were fifteen (15) miles, twice a day. That's right. 30 miles of running a day, every day. Except race days. On race days, you got to sprint for just five miles. My estimate is that i ran 2100 miles in ten weeks. That's about the distance from New York City to Salt Lake, Utah.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


About a fifteen years ago, Dawn and i were driving from Tucson to LA. We'd just crossed the mountains. There was a wide open and fairly level prairie. Just this one huge tree. A simple fence ran along the road. There was a Bluebird on a fence post. I pulled over, went to the trunk, pulled out the 22x60 spotting scope and set it up. The Bluebird waited patiently for all this. And for maybe a minute sat there to let us get a look.

While Dawn was looking through the scope, the Bluebird took off and flew to the tree. In the mean time, i saw what looked like a gull flying down the mountain into the field. I said out loud, "What's a gull doing out here?" Dawn stood there unable to speak, and barely able to get binoculars up. It was a Swallow-tailed Kite.

no i didn't take this shotThe kite circled the tree once, then landed in it. Apparently, it didn't see the Blue bird. Apparently, being bright blue doesn't mean that you get eaten whenever a hungry kite comes by. The Bluebird didn't move. After a bit, the kite took to the air and decided to hunt for something on the ground. This was done by flying to what appeared to be an arbitrary spot to hover. And by hover, i mean that it appeared that it's head was somehow locked in an invisible vice maybe 40 feet in the air. The wings moved, other things moved, but the head did not. You could point the scope at the head. The tripod didn't move, and neither did the head. And after a bit, the kite would suddenly make a dramatic turn, and maybe 50 feet over, it would lock it's head there. What a show. Magnificent. After maybe twenty minutes, the kite went over the field, harassed a flock of Starlings, then flew back up and over the mountain.

Sunday, March 01, 2009


My wife teaches violin. This becomes important to this story later. She asked me if it was possible to make longer screws into shorter screws. "Sure", i said. But later it wasn't so clear.

In the mean time, the head board on the bed had come unglued, and the wood screws were stripped. Apparently, it had come apart before, stripping at least two of the screws, and it was put back together with glue and screws. One of the four didn't match the others. Clearly a substitution had been made. Now, two were stripped, and one of those two was bent. I did what i always do. I looked around the house for something that might work. In this case, it was a scrounge through my old wood screw collection. I found two screws that were slightly larger diameter. One was too long, and would poke through the other side of the head board. So i got out a hack saw and unceremoniously cut it shorter. With four screws that should work, i put it back together. It held for a couple days.

Clearly, what was needed was some sort of positive structure. Countersunk wood screws weren't going to do it. I went to the hardware store, bought four 2 inch 1/4-20 carriage bolts with nuts, for about $5. Now, 2 inch bolts are way too long. But the hardware store doesn't sell bolts exactly the length i need. So, i rummaged around the house for a way to cut them to length. I don't have a vice that will do it for me. I have a vice, but i don't really have a work bench. So i cobbled together this contraption. The idea is to cut them with the hack saw. There's a little overhang on the kitchen counter. A scrap 2x4 that i use as a back for drilling was clamped to it to keep the saw away from the counter. Vice grips could hold the screw. A big C clamp i use to fix wooden chairs holds this stack together.

I'm pictured here sawing with my left hand, and holding the end of the screw with my right. I'm right handed, so this doesn't really work. But what did work is to start sawing with my right hand on the saw, and as the screw is nearly cut through, i reach around with my left hand to keep the remaining bit of the screw straight. There's no way to get a picture of this. I should also note that the vice grip is clamped onto the little bit of the screw that i'm throwing out. The vice grip totally mashes the threads. It's very important that the final threads aren't mashed. And that's why my right hand had to do the saw. It's not that my right hand is oh-so-much better coordinated. It's that despite pushups and curls carefully matched for both arms for years, my right arm is stronger. When the saw catches, my right arm keeps moving, where my left doesn't.

After the screw is cut, there's a jagged end to it. I'm holding a file on the block of wood so it won't move, and moving the screw up and down the file. This de-burrs the screw, but also makes it so a nut can thread onto the end. And the result for the head board is that on the outside, the metal caps show. On the inside, the bolts barely stick out from the nuts. They have no way of sticking into the mattress.

Now, you might think that all this cutting and filing will heat up the screw, and possibly even burn your hand. Iron conducts heat quickly, right? But stainless steel does not. And oddly, i didn't learn this in Materials Science in school. I learned it from my brother the welder.

Back to the violin teacher. She gave me a bag of screws, with one dark one. "Could you cut these screws down to the length of the dark one?" So i used the contraption from the head board job. And now there's a bag of smaller screws. But an hour's worth of work was able to take a cheap bag of screws and make them into the custom screws that were desired. They're low quality because they're not very uniform. The heads are a little different than the master. The lengths are a little shorter or a little longer. But they may be good enough. And who knows where one might get the real McCoy?

But good enough for what? These are tuning screws. You screw them down, and they push a lever, which pulls on the violin string. There are tuning pegs that hold the other end of each string. And you use them to get the pitch of the string close. But they're not good enough to get the vibration frequency close enough. The tuning screws are what you use to get the frequency to that last few cents (hundredths of a half tone). And this exercise is all about having the sense to save a few cents.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I was sitting in my living room, and happened to see a bird that wasn't one i see every day out the window. I've not done much birding of late, but i picked up a handy pair of binoculars and looked. It's clearly a female Downy Woodpecker. And she went up and down the two crab apple trees in the median that divides my street. I went back upstairs and got the tripod. Then i went back up and got the camera. I took 187 pictures by holding the point and shoot camera to one eyepiece of the 10x50 binoculars, while sitting in my living room. So, i'm taking shots through the window glass. Usually, that's such a bad idea. Window glass is not what opticians call optic quality. There are all sorts of defects, which give you distortion. And you can get glare. And, the camera may attempt to focus on it. But the camera usually focused on branches if the shot was out of focus. Here's one of them.
You can tell that she's a female. The male has this unmistakable red spot on the back of his head. The view directly through the binoculars is much better than this picture. The detail is better. The color depth is better. The focus is way better. You're seeing the bird in this shot, dot for dot, cropped from the much bigger original image. All other shots are cropped and scaled smaller. This blog is only 400 pixels wide. You might think this shot was taken in the woods. But the background is in fact the neighbor's house. This is clear in the uncropped original shot. So you think you can't get wilderness shots here, but apparently, you can. She put on a great show, and i got this other shot.

This is at the top of the tree, with the gray sky behind her. She paused a bit, then flew to the other tree, where she then continued to put on a great show. Of course, that's my perspective. She was just looking for things to eat. She kept poking at the tree, though never seemed to do it any damage. It was an hour. She left after combing both trees. I hope she got something out of it. Maybe she'll come back. But she wasn't interested in the leftover fruit still hanging from the tree. The cardinals and squirrels eat it, and when there's snow on the ground, so do the robins. And there was a robin out too.

You can tell he's a male American Robin. His head is darker than the back and wings. The female would have the head the same shade as the back and wings. And he was digging in the dirt under this bush. He came out into the sunshine only a couple times. He'd hop up completely into the bush when someone would walk by, especially with a dog. Often the robins are wary but hang out in the middle of the lawn. The snow was melting, but the ground was probably still frozen. Robins around here migrate south if they can't find anything to eat. Many stay all year round.

I'm guessing that this is a female House Sparrow. I didn't snap this shot of her, per se. She appeared in this shot with the robin. I didn't see her through the binoculars with my eyeballs at all. Examination of all these shots reveals a bird nest i'd never noticed as well. European House Sparrows are not sparrows at all. Genetically, they're finches. They have that short finch like beak. But it's too late to rename it a House Finch. We already have a bird called a House Finch. House Sparrows are incredibly common around here. This one also seemed to be uncharacteristically shy. Didn't care one way or the other about the robin. Just unusually skittish. She didn't stay long.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sign this form

Instead of fax, a recruiter sent me a Word doc form to print, sign, scan and send. Easy. The way it should have been decades ago. I've been waiting a long time for this. Oh, sure, MS Word isn't an open standard, but OpenOffice reads it just fine.

But first, my printer's black ink sprays everywhere. The company logo was blue. It came out fine. So, blue works fine. So i set the font to blue, to get clean output. Printed it and signed it.

My scanner wasn't working. It's not new, i've had it for a decade or so. It's a UMAX Astra 1200S. I had to clear junk off of it, plug it in (the wall wart died years ago, so it gets very clean 12 volt DC power from the computer, so it's been on all this time. I needed to plug it into the SCSI interface), install a driver (well, user level scanning software), reboot, and tell my scripts where it is.

Then, after the scan, i converted it to black & white, increased the contrast to darken it, then converted it to jpeg for email. Piece of cake.

So, now i have a working scanner, right? Well, after i find a place for all that junk. I can't just throw it all out. Some of it is stuff i'm supposed to scan.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Valentine's day

The official joke for February is as follows:

Two antenna met on a roof top. (That's where they hang out.)

And they fell in love.

And they got married!

...Well, the wedding, frankly, wasn't very good.

But the reception was excellent!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


I changed the plugs and wires on this 1999 Subaru Forester. These are the tools i needed for this delicate job. Yes, that's a hammer next to the very long scissors on the right. The box in the middle had the new wires. The new wires are now on the car. The old wires are to the right of the box. The new spark plug boxes are red, and are to the upper right by the white phone. The bright orange handle belongs to my newest favorite tool. It's got a flexible shaft, and a very strong magnet at the end. My previous big job, changing the battery in my 2000 Saturn (pictured to the left), netted me some very expensive metric ratchets. One ratchet covers 8, 9, 10 and 12 mm bolts. And it came in handy for this job on the battery and the windshield washer reservoir. Very slick. I have an engineering degree. I would not have signed off on this design. These are spark plugs.

This is the passenger side of the engine. The thing with the robot arm is a spark plug wire. There are two on each side. So the other one on this side is behind, and difficult to spot. And they come directly out of the side of the engine. In fact, this 4 cylinder engine has the cylinders horizontal, facing away from each other. I'd call it a "flat four". It sounds good, but nobody seems to know if it's a real name or not.

It's hard to see in the picture, but the robot arm ends in this big black knob. If you pull on the knob, this long tube thing comes out of the engine. It's flexible and comes right out. It's maybe 6 or 7 inches long. No plug. Where's the spark plug? There's no room to put anything else into the hole.

That thing to the left marked "Subaru" is the air filter. To get at the plugs on this side, you have to remove the air filter. No problem. Two clips and it's off. Well, the cover is off. You remove the filter, which is brand new. Then you can see the two bolts that hold it down. I used a socket wrench and the 3/8" socket. Why it has an English bolt is pretty much beyond me. Most everything else is metric. Pop these two bolts out, and the whole air filter is out. Then you can get at the plugs, right?

So you put your 3/8" spark plug socket into the hole... where it disappears forever. You can't get your finger into the hole to get it out. So you run to the internet for instructions. You discover that you need some long needle nose pliers with a bend, you need a strong magnet on a stick, you need a 3" socket extender (have one), you need a 1 1/2" socket extender (never heard of one), you need a ratchet wrench that has a hinge by the head so it can flop around, and so on. The guys at the auto parts stores have never heard of a 1 1/2" socket extender. So you go to a dedicated tool store, and pick up a set of extenders, that happens to include one. It also has a 3". It turns out you need two 3" extenders and the 1 1/2" extender. The magnet on the flexible arm has the bright orange handle. Very cool. Dropped tools and bolts can be fished out without having to duck under the car, and without having to see where they fell. Even the heaviest of tools can be picked up off the driveway without bending over. The bright orange handle is hard to miss in the clutter of the engine. Amazing. I'll be using it again.

So, you fish out the socket. When it's most of the way into the hole, you add a 3" extender to it. You fish that most of the way into the hole and add the 1 1/2" extender. You fish that almost all the way into the hole and add your new flexible ratchet wrench. And you feel the socket latch onto something. You assume it's a spark plug, and unscrew it. It comes out. And you disassemble the train of extenders and stuff as you remove it. Use the nifty magnet to pull out a spark plug if you need to.

The driver's side plugs required that you first remove the battery and the windshield washer reservoir. The batter is two small corroded bolts on the hold down clamp, and each terminal had a bolt to remove. The plus (+) side has so much corrosion that you wonder why it still works. But there's a bolt a bit away that's easy to remove, and disconnects everything. And the windshiled washer reservoir comes off with two easy bolts. Don't have to disconnect the tubes and wires, just set it out of the way. Then the two spark plugs come out as before, only you use a second 3" extender instead of the 1 1/2". It has to do with how much room you have.

It may be hard to see, but there's a hammer, and a large pair of scissors. I used them both. The robot cover on the new spark plug wires was longer than the original, and needed to be cut. The hammer was needed for some chiseling near one of the battery terminals to see the nut that you don't need to remove. That's corrosion you're chiseling.

The car has 173,000 miles, and belongs to my wife. The plugs were not corroded. They were not fouled with oil. They were not covered in carbon. They were just worn down. Instead of a 0.045 gap, they had twice that. The center stub was nearly gone. Every evidence is that they'd never been changed before. The car was running rough, especially at highway speed, and now purrs like a kitten. Well, a kitten that can cruise at 70 MPH down the highway for hours.

My wife's mechanic quoted $383. $93 of that was plugs and wires. The plugs and wires i bought totaled $41. I also bought $10 of transmission fluid. So, we saved about $330. Or we would have, except that the plugs were very difficult to get to, and i end up buying $50 in tools. Now the mechanic's quote also included a fuel filter and a pcv valve, and of course, labor for all of the above. The car didn't turn out to need a fuel filter or pcv, so those expenses were not required.

It was roughly five hours of labor, including trips to stores, internet searches and such. It was 22 degrees out when i started, and 30 degrees when i finished. The weather was clear, except that as i finished, it started snowing. Was it worth it? I think it was. And not just for the sense of accomplishment. And not just for the savings. The savings were around $300. And for five hours of work, that's $60 per hour - tax free. But one of the things you don't get when you have the mechanic work on it is what the diagnosis was. It might have been the PCV or the fuel filter, and you'll never know. All you know is all this stuff got replaced, and it works now. You've no idea which part, if any, did it. It was, in fact, the 2nd spark plug. That's the one for cylinder number 3. And the plugs themselves don't show this. They're all very similar. So you'd want to replace them all at the same time, because this job would just come up for each of the others in turn real soon. And you replace the wires because you already bought them, and it was such a pain to get at them, you might as well do it. And, these wires have an active component. Right down there where they connect to the spark plug is a coil. That's right, a coil right on the spark plug wire. Never heard of such a thing. I'd be fascinated to learn what problem it solves.

Friday, January 30, 2009

How to stop procrastinating for tests??????

On Yahoo Answers (Y!A) the questioner asks for Real world, tried and true solutions please!!! My answer follows.

I was going to join the Entire World Procrastinator's Society (EWPS - pronounced "oops"), but haven't gotten around to it.

About studying and homework. Convince yourself that it's stuff you like, and it's exciting, and you can't wait to do it. Lie if you have to. Humans have amazing powers of self deception. After no time at all, you'll believe it. You can do this socially too. Get a bunch of your friends, as a running joke, or whatever, to talk about your classes and exams especially as being so much fun. Rowlings has some great ideas that she uses with Hermione in her books, if you need them.

I find that it's not the work, which i enjoy, but starting it that's painful. Once i get going, i don't want to stop. Part of that is fear of not finishing. So again, you can lie to yourself. In homework you can tell yourself that "I'll just do one problem". Or, "There's lots to study for this test, but just now, I'll tackle orbital mechanics in two dimensions". Then add scope (more stuff) as you get into it. Do one more thing.

A spoon full of sugar doesn't seem to work for me. It just makes me fatter. Julie Andrews is clearly responsible for the fattening of America, herself being so thin and all, could afford it. And i don't recall her taking any herself, now that i think of it. Evil, evil, evil.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

What part of computer science is easiest?

Some of computer science is pure math. I took a masters level operating systems course from a prominent professor. He'd done some great theoretical work involving page replacement, and gained a great reputation. But it wasn't at all obvious that he'd ever written anything, much less an operating system. The course was a disaster. But my point is that there are many things that are sort of part of computer science that have little to do with computers, and you can make a living at the highest levels of computer science without knowing a heck of a lot about computers.

I'd say of the bits of computer science i've done for a living, like building computers from parts, hardware troubleshooting, programming, requirements gathering, estimating, software architecture, software maintenance, testing, documentation, systems administration, teaching, database administration, network administration, web server administration, posting web content, and software repository administration that building computers from parts is easiest. Software maintenance is probably hardest, especially if you didn't write it.

I'm often asked what i do for a living. I answer "something with computers". I get blank stares. I like to be understood, and don't care for blank stares. But sometimes, i get the followup question: "What, specifically, do you do?". And i answer "Something. Anything. I do whatever they want me to do." If they continue again, i spit out a dozen unrelated industry keywords and ask if they know what they mean. If the answer is "yes", then i say that i do those things. My motto seems to be that my job is so secret, not even i know what i'm doing.