Tactical Assault Compact Sedan

We are weird when it comes to being car consumers. When Jennifer and I started dating, I was driving my first car which was the 1983 Honda Civic Wagon that my parents had bought new, and Jennifer was driving a 1993 Ford Taurus. I wrecked the Civic and wound up buying another one almost just like it. The ‘new’ Civic was also a 1983 model, but it was in far better shape, and was an attractive silver instead of the metallic brown that my parents had passed down. We wanted to get out from under the payment on the Taurus before it was worth less than what we owed on it, so we sold it and purchased Jennifer a 1982 Datsun 280ZX 2+2. Her dad thought we were crazy. Heck, half the people we knew thought we were crazy. They may have been right, but we were having fun.

I wound up getting a 1982 Civic hatchback by a weird twist of events, which after some modifications, was running so hot that I couldn’t keep it in head gaskets any longer, so I swapped the motor out for a 1.8-liter from a 1979 Accord. It received a Weber carburetor, cowl induction hood scoop, and a very abbreviated exhaust system. It breathed fire, sounded like an angry hornet, and would spin the tires at 60-mph. The Wagon got put on the back burner when its clutch started slipping and the CV joints started clicking. I knew the syncros were worn and the rings were starting to leak, and I intended to do the work, but couldn’t at the time. It was joined by the hatchback for reasons that I can’t recall right now. We had other things going on and I couldn’t really give them the attention they needed at the time.

The Hondas eventually left my life. Jennifer’s 280 got T-boned by some idiot driving a brown Buick in the rain with no lights. We bought a 1991 BMW 318i convertible off the credit union’s repo lot. That car had 250,000-miles on it when we brought it home, and we put in excess of 100,000 additional miles on it before we passed it on. Shortly before we got rid of the BMW, we were shopping for something a little less used, that would be practical for our family. We wanted something with four doors that had more leg room in the back than our convertible. We wanted something with some pep. Understated looks would be good, with overstated gear under the sheet metal.

I was working at the Ford dealership at the time, and some guy had just traded in his 2004 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V in on a new pickup. It was black. I’ve always hated black cars. This is the little, unassuming Sentra body with the tuned version of the Altima’s engine shoehorned in, mated to a six-speed close ratio gearbox. I saw a technician driving it across the lot. It even had the optional Brembo four-piston brake calipers! So, I asked about it. The used car manager quoted me a price that was allegedly 10% over what they had in it. The mileage was low enough that it still had factory warranty, and the price was low enough that we could afford it. We consolidated some old credit card debt into the loan. I decided I could live with black.

Originally, I vowed to never fall behind on maintenance and always use synthetic fluids, and make this car last forever. That was before all of the accidents. We had most of the body damage fixed, but had an emergency come up that we wound up using insurance money on instead of bodywork. The car still ran good and we had just barely had to do anything mechanical in the 100,000-miles we’d had it. And just before the 150,000-mile mark, the engine blew.

As it turns out, Nissan had had problems with the ‘pre cat’ on this particular engine. In an attempt to make good even better, they had mounted an exhaust catalyst in the exhaust manifold, with the thought of it getting to temperature faster, thus increasing efficiency. Since this was the tuned-up version of the engine, the computer is programmed to run the fuel/air mix a little richer, thus the exhaust will pop and backfire from time to time. When it was popping into this forward-mounted catalyst, some particles of ceramic were blown back into the combustion chamber, and destroyed the rings in short order. I located the necessary parts to rebuild the engine in our driveway, committed a week off from my work, and borrowed Grandpa’s pickup.

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Everything came apart more easily than I was afraid it would, even if I did have to borrow an air compressor and impact wrench from a neighbor, who just seemed tickled that I’d ask to borrow such things from a total stranger.

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The timing marks were a mystery that I eventually unraveled, but there was some head-scratching first. It seems that not even the fanbois in the Sentra forums can make much sense out of them.

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That little sprocket with the chain on it is the balance shaft. I pulled that out and didn’t reinstall it. The Sentra kids on the internet say that it robs power and doesn’t help much with anything. I haven’t missed it.

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You might be a car guy (or gal) if this is a familiar sight. The weather was beautiful for most of the week.

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Not only are the main caps fully girdled, but the whole engine is glued together with gray silicone. There are literally like three or four actual gaskets in total under the hood. I was dubious, but it hasn’t leaked since the rebuild, so I guess it really does work.

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I honed out the cylinders, but nothing was in need of machining. Thank God! The head gasket came off cleanly enough that I probably could have reused it.

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The shop manuals say to separate the head and intake manifold. I didn’t find this to be necessary, so they stayed mated up.

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Teen Bot helped. I think he got bored at times, but it was a very educational experience for him. He thought reinstalling the pistons with the new rings and bearings was interesting.

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I said it would take a week, and it took a week. That’s the first time that has ever happened to me on any project. The car now has around 10,000 miles since the rebuild. It has more power now than it ever had before. There are a couple of things it still needs including a motor mount insert, a new radiator, and a muffler. With the many hours behind the wheel and many miles traveled in various cars with nothing but straight pipe, I finally actually got pulled over for the lack of muffler a few weeks ago.

On Tuesday, Jennifer called me and said that the car had done something strange. There was a pop, and an acrid smell, and the dash lights all went out for just a second. Hmmmm… She brought the car back and I poked around at it. Apparently, the alternator had gone out. This is a close-up of the side of the alternator, and you can see the stator windings inside of the case:

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Toward the right, you can see the wire is reddish and coppery in color like it’s supposed to be. Toward the left, it’s blackish and burned looking because it’s all burned up. That’s not good. The local parts houses could order an alternator to fit for around $200.00, but we found one online for more like $50.00. It hasn’t arrived yet, so I’ve been hooking the trickle charger to the battery overnight until I have the replacement part in hand. Jennifer called me again this morning to tell me that she was stranded with a car that would not run.

I arranged to borrow a spare car from my parents, retrieved Jennifer, pulled the battery, dropped Jennifer off at work and the battery at the auto parts store to have it charged on their commercial charger. My friend Sean called and offered to come and help (God bless him). We ultimately got the battery back, replaced the terminals which were badly corroded, and reinstalled it into the car. Upon arrival back at the house, I figured out what the most recent problem was. If you hook your trickle charger to your car battery, but mistakenly bump the control switch to “6V”, that battery will never charge. *facepalm* I figured I’d see the replacement alternator by now, but I’m nearly certain I’ll have it by this weekend. At any rate, the drama is getting a little old.

Glow Ball Warmening?

The weather has been weird this year. We have had our cold spells, and we even got a little snow on the ground. But, it’s been warm enough for the last few days that a coat hasn’t been necessary. That’s weird for January in Oklahoma. Although for a few years we had an odd neighbor who wore shorts all year, even in the snow. I didn’t think he even owned any long pants until he got all dressed up in his khakis and button down one day. Anyway, I don’t know that there’s any truth to global warming, but why should that keep us from doing our part to help save the planet? In the last year, we’ve made some ecologically smart changes in our life. Jennifer started using this special climate control shampoo.

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And then, she stepped it up a notch and recycled her hair.

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I’ve been trying renewable shaving with limited success.

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I switched to zero-emission hunting and we’ve been eating as much free range meat as we can.

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Please note my naturally cooling unbifurcated garment. We once posed in an electric car.

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And we’ve been using organic heaters.

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And, we even set Jay G on fire!

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Alright, so that last one didn’t really help the environment so much – it was mostly just for fun. Besides that, he made this face at me:

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Tell me you wouldn’t have set him on fire yourself! Yeah, that might have not really happened. Nerd beer was involved and the details get a little fuzzy.

At any rate, we were under a tornado watch this morning. That just doesn’t happen in January. We didn’t get blown away, but we did get a lot of much-needed rain. And, now you can see how hard we’ve been working to combat climate change. So, what are you doing to make the world a better place?

*No bloggers were actually harmed or set on fire in the composition of this post. We here at evylrobot.com do not condone violence against gun bloggers. Any likenesses to any characters, real or imaginary, might or might not be a weird coincidence. Also, squirrels are tasty.

And, on a Lighter Note…

Since I have no intention of this becoming a gloom-and-doom blog, I have been attempting to balance my enraging/disturbing/worrying entries with lighter hearted ones. To that end, my brother, Microcosm Overlord, has been selling everything that’s not nailed down lately. His wife works part time, and he is currently unemployed with no unemployment benefits. In order to pay the bills and have a little scratch left over, he started selling some surplus belongings on Craig’s List and ebay. Then, he got hooked. Now, he’s telling me that the water is fine, and there will be punch and pie if I join in. Maybe. Anyway, this new… *ahem* hobby of his has led to some hilarious interchanges, such as the following:

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Why he even thought to send that first pic is anybody’s guess, but bravo! I had to twist his arm to send me the image files so I could stitch them together and post the thread here. I hope this gives you a giggle, as it did me.

Water Dome 2.0

Years ago, when we were teaching the cat to use the toilet…

I’ll let you soak that in for a minute.

…yes, we taught the cat to do his business in the commode instead of a box of grit. See?

Anyway, at some point in time, he decided that the water in the water bowl wasn’t fresh enough for his taste. He started to find more creative places to do his business to keep his newly preferred water (toilet bowl) as clean as possible. We got to the point that we were changing out the cat water twice a day and he was still drinking from the john and pulling towels off the rack to pee on. Yuck! Something had to be done. So we bought The Water Dome.

This was a contraption that we found on clearance at the local franchise of whatever chain pet store we happened to be frequenting at the time. It cost something in the neighborhood of $15.00. I have been unable to find anything else quite like it, even in imagery only. It was a clear acrylic dome full of water that would trickle from the top, and dribble down into a shallow tray underneath. It worked like a charm. Emerson began drinking from the dome and using the toilet like clockwork.

Previously not having a care in the world where the water came from, so long as there was water, Ferrule discovered what he never knew he was missing in The Water Dome. He loved The Water Dome. Physically. Being half siamese and half bengal, Ferrule is an odd one. His mannerisms are not like many other cats you are likely to cross paths with. When he loves, he does so with grand gesture. And, he had a ritual when he took a drink. He would court The Water Dome and speak to it, informing it of his intentions. He would then rub against it affectionately. After he had buttered it up with his attentions, he would then take a sip of water. At that point, fairly well soaked, he would find Jennifer so he could sit in her lap and drip on her.

Needless to say, The Water Dome got clogged with cat hair and croaked after a few months’ use. And yet, it had been worth its weight in gold. We tried to clean it out, taking apart the pump to free it of all debris. But, its spirit had passed on. As precious as a pet water circulator had been to the household, we rushed straight out to purchase another. We never did find another one like The Water Dome, but we found a Petmate fountain for around $30 and took it straight home for the cats’ inspection. Ferrule never loved the fountain like he did The Water Dome, but they both accepted it as the utility that it was.

As we added our chihuahua, Heidi, and another cat, Chance; the little Petmate was strained in its duty. We topped it up when it ran low, and we cleaned it religiously to keep it running. But, it was never intended to support the load we had it under, and two days ago, after many years of service, the inevitable happened. The now mineral-stained Petmate finally gave up the ghost, and no amount of hair removal or swearing would bring it back.

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Believe it or not, all those colorful stains are from our hard water. I’ve chipped that crap off of that fountain before, and it likely had a hand in the destruction of the pump. In case you were wondering, the Mayans were predicting the end of our pet water fountain, not the world. I have spent the last couple of days looking at these things on Amazon and other sources. Years ago, we bought this unit for around $30. Years ago, I scoffed at paying upwards of two dollars per gallon for gas. Years ago, I purchased a one horsepower food waste disposer for around $90 that can’t be replaced for $300 today. Oddly, I do believe that we could get another pet fountain for around $30, but I’m not convinced that it would last.

But, I did have a spare water garden pump that I purchased at the koi shop to use in our rain barrels. As it turned out, it didn’t have nearly enough oomph to circulate water from the barrel. When I purchased this pump, it had been sitting on the shelf so long that I paid a fraction of the $65 scrawled on the yellowing cellophane in black marker. I didn’t have the heart to return the pump when it wasn’t going to work in the barrel. But, we had this extra pump. So, Teen Bot and I inspected the garden pump and compared it to the pump that came stock in the Petmate. The difference was shocking. We probably could install the water garden pump in the Petmate chassis, but it would be about like shoehorning a Chevy big block into a Volkswagen. Needless to say, it would have required some massive modification.

This morning, I woke up with inspiration! Once Teen Bot was up and around, we collected a disposable Rubbermaid dish, an empty one-gallon water jug, and some vinyl hose that I was going to use to pad a leather storage rack at one point in time. I wedged the hose onto the nipple on the pump and ran it into the top of the water bottle, so that it would overflow the jug and dribble out into the tray below. I trimmed it so that it would just go into the top of the handle. That way, if we lost power, it wouldn’t siphon the jug onto our bathroom floor. And I figure, if this setup gets too nasty with cat hair and mineral deposits, the pump is the most expensive component on the contraption. Everything else can be discarded and easily replaced. The entire system holds just over two gallons. I present to you Water Dome II:

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Magnificent, isn’t it?

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But, what will the water critic think of it? That’s the real measure of the success.

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“LOL! WTF is that supposed to be?”

No, really, Emerson. Give it a try!

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“YHGTBSM. You have finally lost your mind, hooman.”

Just try it please.

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“Well, it smells okay…”

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“Haz to make sure nobody’s looking when I try this silly thing…”

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*sip sip* “Hey, that’s not bad!”

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*slurp slurp slurp*

And, he likes it! I suspect he was waiting for a replacement, because he stayed like that at the trough for several minutes. So anyway, I was able to avoid spending money on a new pet water fountain, this thing will likely outlive a store-bought unit by a factor of ten, our picky cat approves of it, and if it gets too gross, we won’t feel too bad about pitching the whole thing. I’m calling this one a solid win.

Jumped. The. Shark.

I know I’ve been hitting the politics pretty hard and heavy recently. Let’s take a break from some of that, shall we? Teen Bot pointed me to this YouTube video, and I must say that it did induce some laughing out loud in a very literal sense. So, please do check it out. There are more than a couple of familiar faces in this little production. I hope it brings a smile to your face as well.

Srsly. I wish life could be more light hearted and silly.

Conversation with LawDog

I found myself in LawDog’s backyard, chatting with him about work and life and everything. It was a beautiful afternoon and I was probably on my second whiskey of the evening.

“You know what I’d really like to find?” I mused.

“What’s that?” LawDog asked.

“Strike anywhere matches,” I said, “I haven’t been able to find any of those things in years!”

LawDog took his turn to muse, “They can’t make them anymore.”

“Really?” I asked, “Where’d you hear that?”

“Well, I just imagine,” he posited, “with as litigious as our society is anymore, it’s probably too much of a liability.

“Oh,” I answered, “Good point. I’ve looked on the internet and at the grocery store and even in the camping sections at sporting goods stores. I don’t think they even exist anymore.”

LawDog nodded in understanding.

“Oh and,” I added, “I’m still going to tell the internet that your air conditioning came from the Dharma Initiative.”

And, why am I telling you this now? It’s because over the weekend, Jennifer and I wandered into a Westlake Hardware store for some supplies, and I found these babies:

I’m excited! I’m going to start so many fires with these!

…but, um… in a good way.

And at that, I miss my friends. :(

Friday Self Employment Observations

99% of all transactions go over without a hitch. The other 1% are fraught with numerous errors; either from my end, or my client’s end, or both. Usually both. And, most of these issues are incidental and not really because anybody did anything wrong. Example – if the belt came out the wrong size, the replacement belt will be the wrong color. Then, the replacement replacement belt will get lost under a pile of leather. When it could not be found, another belt was shipped in its stead, which inexplicably wound up in Zimbabwe, never to be heard from again. Once the previous belt is relocated in my studio and shipped, the mail truck will catch on fire because of faulty wiring. The replacement replacement replacement replacement belt will be checked, checked, and rechecked again, it will be packed in feathers and fleece, double boxed, insured, and sent overnight, handcuffed to the wrist of a private courier trained in ninjitsu. The profit margin on the sale is long since spent and the deal is in a severe deficit at this point. After several sleepless nights, the client will confirm that they received the belt, that it is perfect, and that it was totally worth that 18-month fiasco. All other belt orders in the same time period were shipped, received, and enjoyed within a few weeks’ time.

The clients who start their email with, “Sorry for the slow response,” are by far some of the easiest to work with and the easiest to please. By the same token, the clients who use the disclaimer, “Sorry to be such a PITA but…” are the complete antithesis of a pain to work with. I find them to be charming and understanding if anything. Often it’s the client who seems to think that this is really simple and obvious that are the truly the most painful to work with. Even so, I find that the kind of people who will order a custom leather holster are top-notch quality folks, the kind of people that I’d probably enjoy having over for a steak and a beer, and wouldn’t at all mind sharing a fence with. The worst experiences I’ve had in self employment have been better than any given day in my memory of working retail.

Every client is important. However, repeat clients are many times more valuable than single sales, even if the single sales constitute a bigger portion of assets. The simple explanation to this puzzling phenomenon is that I will have less time invested in making a repeat client happy on any given order since I pretty much already know them and their expectations. Starting cold takes a lot longer, because it necessitates getting to know and tailoring to a fresh client. Besides that, my repeat clients are cool. More often that not, I wind up regarding my repeats more as friends than as clients.

Sometimes there comes a point in time when it is clear that the client will never be happy. One needs to go no further than Amazon reviews to see this in action. In those times, it is often best to wash your hands of the situation and move on. Sometimes that means a refund. It’s best not to be afraid to do whatever needs to be done to protect the integrity of the brand. For the best products in the world, if you take a big enough sample group, there will be someone out there who swears that it is a total piece of crap. Don’t let that person define your brand. This is where a satisfaction guarantee protects not only your client, but you in fact.

September sucks. Get used to it. Put back money through the year so September won’t hurt so bad and focus on getting caught up. Run a sale or something maybe. Don’t get too desperate though. The sales will come back. In fact, in October and November, you’ll get inundated with Christmas orders just in time to make Santa late.

The people I know who know how to start a successful business tell me that it takes about two years to get established. That feels about right. They also tell me that it takes something between five and ten years to be profitable and for the business to largely run itself. I’m looking forward to that. I’m still under the opinion that people who start businesses have screws loose in the head – myself included. Why in the world would someone subject themselves to a decade of this when it’s so easy to go work for someone else and get a ‘guaranteed’ paycheck? Well, in all actuality it is the fact that we see through the mirage of the ‘guaranteed’ paycheck and have become disillusioned with a more traditional working experience, as I’ve written about before. Oh well. We’re having fun anyway!

Friday Pop

Feeling like I can’t do more involved content options justice today, I’ll leave you with some Korean pop music instead. And no, I’m not going to link gingham* style here. You’ve all already heard that, no doubt. However, I will link Kim Hyun-a, who has incidentally done work with Psy. Here’s her video “Bubble Pop”, which is every bit as light as the title implies, but it’s still fun:

In fact, let’s just stick with Korean girl pop for that matter. Here’s “Twinkle” by Girls’ Generation. I would have embedded the video here, but they aren’t letting that happen. It’s hard to blame them for limiting embedding on a 30-million view video, I suppose.

I’d say that pop singers in the western world should watch their backs! Have a good weekend everyone.

*Yes, I misspelled that deliberately. Not hating, just having some fun.

The Catsuit Video

During the Kilted To Kick Cancer drive, I may or may not have made certain promises involving Jennifer, a PVC catsuit, and a .50-caliber rifle. The funniest part is that I was more comfortable showing up dressed ridiculously and salaciously with this group of fine people than I would be in front of some people that I see everyday. Anyway, you people are awesome. There were two .50-caliber rifles available, so Jennifer shot both of them. The catsuit actually split open in the seat on Saturday night, so after about five Nerd Beers, I found myself with needle and thread in our quarters that evening, sipping a bloody mary and stitching the butt closed. I just knew it was going to look terrible. However, it seemed to do the job just fine. But, you’re probably not here to read my ramblings this time. No, you want to see this:

Not sure how we’ll top that for KTKC ’13, but we’ll think of something. I hope you enjoyed the video! Thanks again!