Archive for the 'Automotive Frustrations' Category

Olivia has new suspension!

26 June 2010 at 5:37 pm
by Berck

The 19-year old parts were so bad it probably wasn’t terribly safe. She looks a lot better sitting a little lower now, too:

British Racing Green!

30 April 2010 at 9:07 pm
by Berck

She’s all ours!

I’m in Florida.

31 March 2010 at 11:36 am
by Berck

I’m teaching my Uncle how to fly. He’s always wanted to learn to fly, and now turns out to be a good time for a lot of reasons. The best part is that he’s got an experienced flight instructor he can trust that’s otherwise unemployed.

The big downside for me is being away from Jonah. Additionally, I don’t much like Florida, but it’s nice to be able to visit my Mom as well. I flew down here on March 24, the day after Jonah’s birthday. It snowed about a foot that night, and the roads were pretty well snowed-over, with packed snow turning to pretty deep slush further north. Jonah dropped me off at DEN, and I played my role in the Transportation Security Theater, the first time I’ve done so without a crew badge in years.

How do you people tolerate it? I really could have driven down to Florida, and I was seriously regretting my decision to fly instead. The plane ticket was slightly cheaper than the gasoline, but flying is just awful.

As I got through security, I had a voicemail from Jonah:

You’ve got to love the vaguely up-beat, matter-of-fact tone voice as she relates the demise of the car my Dad bought new in 1991. This turned out to be a case of Google Voice’s transcription being totally worthless, though perhaps vaguely amusing:

Both and I’m okay, but the price not ready re bad rap. Yes I when you have a party there. But give me a call. Thanks.



It’s probably repairable, but from what Jonah said, one of the front wheels is badly bent, and the front subframe is probably bent as well. Additionally, “The engine makes bad noises.” Before the wreck, the car wasn’t worth a whole lot, now, I’m not sure. Fortunately, the Bremers are being kind enough to let the car live in their yard until I can get back and figure out what to do with it.

The flight was delayed about 45 minutes, which gave the obnoxious brats a few seats behind me enough time to practice screaming. I can understand that you can’t do a lot about infants crying, but they never do that long. Once your kid is old enough to talk, it’s also old enough to understand commands such as, “Shut the hell up!” If you can’t teach your kid not to scream for the entire 4 hour flight, then don’t put it on a flight. I wish that airlines would put the parents of screaming kids on a no-fly list for the benefit of the rest of us. These are the same people who only fly when they find a $79.99 round trip special anyway, and some customers are worth alienating.

So now I’m in Florida. The weather is surprisingly nice. It’s currently 71ºF, and I’m sitting out by the pool. I can deal with this. If it gets much hotter (high of 82ish for the rest of the week), I’m not going to be as content.

I’m teaching in an old (1968) Cessna 182. It’s been a long time since I’ve flown a single engine plane at all, and even longer since I’ve flown a Cessna. Instructing in this thing makes me miss the Diamond with it’s modern airplane manners. That said, the 182 is well-behaved beast and I haven’t seen anything that makes me question it. We started pounding it into the runway with practice landings for the first time today, and it seems solid.

I’ve forgotten how much work and and mental exhaustion results from flight instruction. After 1.5 hours at 8am this morning, I was ready to take a nap. All in all, though, it’s been good and I’m thrilled for the opportunity to work a little bit.

Alas, there was no beer.

23 May 2008 at 5:21 pm
by Berck

I just talked Wifey into picking up a Louie’s pizza and beer. I used to make a pizza every Friday night. Now I have Wifey pick it up. Despite all the raves about my pizza, it tastes better when someone else makes it. Other folks don’t tend to make potato pizza though. I’ve considered resurrecting Friday pizza’s after acquiring (thanks, Mom!) the best book on pizza ever, but it hasn’t happened yet. I wonder if I’ll be happy with my pizza by the time I’m 90. Not that I’ll live that long.

So we’re headed to Highlands, NC tomorrow. I presented Jonah with a list of choices. Her first pick was Istanbul, but she wasn’t willing to take today off work, and the flights were booked Saturday. Highlands was her next pick. Strange list. I would have preferred London. There are a couple flights with over a hundred empty seats from JFK-LHR. Probably because they’re at the wrong freaking time. You don’t go leave NY for Europe in the morning so you can get there late at night, it just doesn’t work. Anyway, Jonah wanted Highlands, which I’m sure will be cheaper, even with the car rental. So, it was my idea, but she’s very excited about it. I’m sure I’ll be more excited when I actually get there. Mostly I was really excited when I had the idea that Ben and Amanda could meet us there, but since I’m incapable of planning anything in advance, and they’re somewhat more normal people, that didn’t work out.

I was going to shave this morning, since I can’t ride in the cockpit with a beard. The whole oxygen mask thing, or so they say. I think it has more to do with appearance. And I don’t get that. As my sim partner pointed out, airline pilot’s uniforms and titles and such all came from the naval industry. And a crusty old ship’s captain is *supposed* to have a beard! Anyway, I forgot, and I still haven’t. I’m not sure if I will or not. This is my last chance to have a beard for a long time, but on the off chance that there’s one seat left in a plane for Jonah and one seat in the cockpit for me, I don’t want to get left behind. This scenario, though unlikely, is possible.

I wanted to write about my xkcd shirt that says “Science it works, Bitches”. At this point in my life, I only own three T-shirts that actually have something on them. That one, my 557th Flying Training Squadron shirt, and an EFF T-shirt. I’m not sure what’s become of the rest. Like my “got root?” shirt. I really got tired of explaining that one, though the misery was worth it for the time I ran into the chick at a free concert in Atlanta with a “Chix dig Unix” shirt. Mostly now I just wear plain black shirts, since I have 10 of them, that being what I wore underneath my flight suit. (Well, before that we wore yellow shirts, so I’ve got a half-dozen of those as well, but given the choice between black and yellow, I pick black.)

I’ve already mentioned what happened one of the last times I wore the shirt. [It seems that I did not actually mention it, I just thought I did. And in retrospect, I don’t even think that was the day.] Though I wanted to, I don’t think I mentioned the reaction the shirt got at the Arby’s in St. Louis. The black guy behind the counter just loved it. “Yeah, man, Science… it works, BITCHES! That’s great!” The girl who took my order was smiling about it as well. When I relayed to Jonah that it was, unexpectedly, a hit at Arby’s, I realized how out of touch I am with the world. Jonah’s claim is that geeks like the shirt because of the unexpected juxtaposition of “Science” with lay-speak “Bitches”. I’m not sure this is the case–I like it because there seems to be some doubt among the less educated about whether or not science works, and this gives me an opportunity to proselytize for science. Anyway, Jonah thinks the folks at Arby’s liked it for the same reason: the strange juxtaposition. A dorky white guy, with a shirt that’s talking about science, but it’s got “Bitches!” on the end, which they can relate to.

But, there’s more. See, I didn’t really think much about the fact that the shirt has the word “bitches” on it, but it really bothers Joanna. I figured in today’s world, “bitches” on a shirt is hardly outlandish. I think you can even say, “Science, it works, bitches!” on TV.

(A side note. Todd has pointed out that the shirt needs another comma. I think I agree, but the the fact that SCIENCE is in big letters on its own line makes it not as noticeable. I could attack it with a white-out pen, but I worry about the result. It is, after all, my current favorite shirt.)

But Jonah thinks you have to be a little ballsy to wear the shirt in public. (Here I thought you had to be a little ballsy to wear a shirt with “Fuck This Court” written on it in the Supreme Court. (oh, wow, I love the internet. One can buy a whole assortment of Fuck This Court gear. Though they do ask that you don’t actually wear it to court, unless you’re willing to get charged with contempt. Sissies. I somehow doubt anyone’s going to be buying me one of those.) Anyway, she’s further convinced that the shirt attracts a certain sort of girl. I’m not sure quite how she put it. That it attracts the sort of girl who likes misogynists and is likely to wind up in an abusive relationship. I have a few problems with this statement: First, that there’s a type of girl who likes misogynists. I’ve had plenty of girls accuse me of misogyny, and I’m sure none of them have liked me because of it. I’m also not sure how Jonah determines that the girl who worked at the photography museum in Manhattan likes misogynists, or was attracted to me, just because my shirt said “bitches”. Or that the term “bitches” in that context is even remotely misogynistic.

Anyway, I dutifully explain the back of the shirt and the Cosmic Background Explorer data to anyone who comments on it. They don’t seem interested, even though they should be. Ahh well. I like that the shirt controversial, even though I had no idea it would be. I was also considering the “Stand back while I try science” one, which without the word “bitches” must be less controversial.

I think that in the name of social science, maybe I’ll get a shirt that simply says “bitches” on it and see what happens.

Reflections on Italy: Driving

19 November 2007 at 2:47 pm
by Berck

Don’t believe anyone who says the Italians are bad drivers– they aren’t. In fact, they’re excellent drivers. They sit upright in their seats, they pay attention to their surroundings and are prepared for whatever the road might throw at them. They are active, not reactive drivers. Americans who say Italians drive poorly certainly shouldn’t be driving in Italy, and probably shouldn’t be driving anywhere. Now, the Italians certainly take risks, but they are generally calculated risks. When many of the streets are so narrow that a car and a truck cannot pass without carefully planned maneuvering, merely driving anywhere at all is something of a risk. Italians do not leave 500 feet of space in front of them, but they generally do leave enough space so that they can react as necessary. US drivers manuals are written with the idea that, “What if the car in front of you suddenly comes to a stop?” Instead, one should think about the realm of possibilities. If the car in front of you is similar, then they will not be able to stop so that you cannot stop behind them– you merely need to leave enough space for reaction time. But as long as you’re driving actively and the other drivers are reasonably predictable (they are in Italy), then there’s no need to waste space. And in a lot of ways– that’s it, things work in a predictable fashion. Unfortunately for me, it takes some time to get the hang of what’s predictable around here.

For instance, roundabouts with multiple entrance and exit lanes can be a bit confusing. If there are the same number of entrance and exit lanes, it’s not too much of an issue to enter from the left lane and exit from the left lane. But if you enter from the left lane and there’s only one exit lane (common), you’ll have to find space to merge in order to exit. Roundabouts took me some time to get used to, especially considering the constant flow of traffic. Entering and exiting a circle could take less than 10 seconds, even in a large one. In that time, it’s critical to know who has the right of way and who doesn’t. If you fly into a circle and you didn’t have a clear path (traffic in the circle has the right of way), you’ll clearly cause an accident (or at the very least get honked at). If you stop before entering a circle, you’ve lost precious momentum needed to get your 0.4 litre 60hp vehicle moving again and you’ll need a huge gap to enter, not to mention you’ve just missed the purpose of a roundabout. What’s hard to remember with all the fuss is that the only thing that matters is what’s to your left. Nothing on the right side matters unless you got in the wrong lane to begin with. You can’t take the first exit from the left lane, and you can’t take the second exit from from the left lane unless there’s two exits. Signaling would be immensely useful on a roundabout, and the Brits, for instance, are very good about it. Unfortunately, the Italians almost never signal on a roundabout, and when they do, it’s in a totally useless and/or incoherent manner. This is perhaps my biggest complaint, but I think it only bothers me because I haven’t learned to judge as easily by the line someone’s taking through the circle which exit they’re going to take, something that takes practice.

Driving slowly is rare, but generally acceptable as long as you make it as easy as possible for someone to pass you. In my 1,500km of driving here, I never saw someone in the left lane on a multi-lane road unless they were passing someone– it simply isn’t done. If you’re not passing, you get back over into the left lane. The autostrada seems to readily accommodate speeds from 35mph all the way up to 150mph or faster with little difficulty because people stay right. If someone behind them wants to go faster, they wait until the faster car passes before pulling out to pass. They’ll also pass with a reasonable speed differential– none of this passing someone doing 75mph at 76mph.

Lane usage takes all sorts of getting used to. In general, roads only have a center stripe if there’s enough room to ensure that the road is wide enough for two large vehicles to pass, which isn’t terribly often. The rest of the time, there’s no center stripe, which doesn’t mean that the road is one-way, it means that you can’t relax and be prepared to stop in case there’s not room to pass an oncoming vehicle, even though you may both be doing 60mph. There’s always time to stop assuming you take reasonable care, and you obviously slow down while making 90 degree turns around buildings.

Are they crazy? They are aggressive and will pass given the slightest opportunity. If you hesitate or leave too much space in front of you, expect to be passed. They generally won’t pass around a blind corner, but they will certainly pass at times that do incur a bit of risk which generally managed.

But then there’s the folks on the two-wheel motorized vehicles. The fast motorcyclists do, mostly, appear to be insane, lack good sense, or simply have no fear. On larger roads, they drive down the centerline, and some smaller ones they pass without an inch to spare in any direction. I never followed a two-wheeled vehicle, they are always off to one side or another, fitting in the spaces between the cars like some sort of puzzle.

I did, eventually, nearly take one out. I’d been driving around the town for a couple of hours, was tired, and desperately trying to find our hostel. I was on an empty road and decided to turn left somewhat spur of the moment. There was no one behind me as I braked and turned left. No one behind me because the motorcycle had just started to pass me, and as I turned left I brushed his rear wheel, which caused him to wobble a bit. He never stopped, just turned around and looked at me, and just kept on going. It was certainly my fault, and I’m glad that he wasn’t injured. I’m not sure why I never saw him approach behind me, and unfortunately the bike was way too quiet.

My only other incident while driving was just slightly scraping a hubcap along a wall while trying to hug the outside of a turn so as not to hit a motorcycle between me and oncoming traffic. All things considered, I can’t believe I didn’t scrape up the car any more. I was glad to have gotten the more expensive no-deductible insurance and would recommend that anyone else driving in Europe for the first time do so as well– we’re just not used to driving with this sort of proximity to other vehicles, walls, hedges, buildings…