Innocence Lost

July 25th, 2009

I like Hondas. They go, don't fall apart, and their ergonomics fit me.

Our '88 Civic went 234,000 miles before we gave it away to family. Parts wore out, but it never left us stranded. I was able to do most of the work myself. I was impressed after a lifetime of crawling under/over/through Chevys, Fords, and Chryslers.

The first big dent in my regard for Honda has been the transmission on our '03 Odyssey.

The 2nd-generation Odyssey transmission is a failure in execution and design.

Friends had work done under warranty on their '02. Consumer Reports says "Transmission problems were evident during 1999 to 2003 model years." If you look at their famous ratings matrix, you see nothing but black balls for the transmission from '99 to '02. Honda recalled our Odyssey because of transmission problems, installing a ridiculous Band-Aid retrofit called the "Oil Jet Kit".

All this would be bad enough, but I hate the basic design of the transmission as well.

I'm used to dropping the pan on a traditional transmission like the Chevy Turbo-Hydramatic 400, changing the filter, buttoning everything up, and pouring in new fluid.

The Honda transmission has no pan and, shockingly, no filter to change. Changing the fluid involves jacking the car up, removing a front wheel, draining about 3 quarts, and pouring in 3 quarts.

The transmission holds 8.3 quarts. You can only drain 3 because the rest of the fluid is trapped in the torque converter. This doesn't sound right to me. It also doesn't sound right to a lot of Honda owners and Honda mechanics.

The Internet is full of forums explaining how to do four drain-and-fills. You use an entire case of fluid, 12 quarts. Of course, you should only use Honda fluid. Only Honda makes Honda fluid. The local Honda dealer want $12 a quart. Luckily, Carquest parts stores sell OEM Honda fluid for around $7 a quart. Thank goodness for minor miracles.

Some folks disconnect the transmission cooler lines and use the transmission to pump itself empty. Sounds iffy to me.

Add to all this fun the fact that the blasted "Oil Jet Kit" occupies the transmission fluid filler hole. The only way to get new fluid into the transmission is squirting it down the dipstick tube. Joy.

My solution? I bought a tool, a big vacuum tool called the "Mityvac 7201 Fluid Evacuator Plus" that sucks the used fluid through the dipstick tube.

Last night I used my über-evacuator to do four drain-and-fills standing in my driveway. No sweat. No mess. No jacking. No thoughts of being crushed under the car. Nothing but nice, cherry-red fluid and a transmission that now shifts noticeably better.

I can't wait to latch my Fluid Evacuator Plus on to the oil and brakes.

Dog Turd & Tonic

July 23rd, 2009

There's been a trend of adverts for fast food restaurants (Carls Jr., Pizza Hut, etc.) presenting their product as actual food in an actual restaurant and "fooling" patrons, catching their reactions à la Candid Camera/Punk'd.

What utter hogwash.

The ads assume that the average consumer can tell the difference between a restaurant burger and a dog turd. This is highly debatable considering what people actually buy and actually eat.

Also, studies have shown that price and context strongly influence how we perceive a meal. For example, see "Understanding consumer perception of food quality: the cases of shrimps and cheese" by Torben Hansen in British Food Journal, 2005, Vol. 107, #7, pages 500-525. From the abstract:

The positive effect of experienced eating quality on pleasure-feeling was stronger for respondents exposed to elegant physical surroundings than for respondents exposed to less elegant surroundings.

In other words, if you're served a dog turd at Wendy's then it's a dog turd. If you eat a dog turd at Spago then it's a daring culinary experience.

So you surprise someone who's just paid $30 for a plate of Pekingese Lawn Truffles in a Tiger Spray Reduction with Litter-Box Almond Roca, what do you think they're going to say when you put them on the spot?

A. "Wow! That's amazing! I couldn't tell the difference! This changes everything! I can't wait to consume more of your Pizza Hut pasta dishes because when I think 'Pizza Hut' I think 'fine dining'!"

B. "Huh. Yeah. I thought this tasted like ass, but I guess I'm just too timid and too stupid to speak up about it. Oh, and by the way, screw you for pulling this crap. To hell with Pizza Hut. And I'm never eating in this freaking restaurant again. Hey! Everyone! This place is serving Pizza Hut food tonight!"

Skin Deep

July 7th, 2009

A couple of years ago, my wife handed me a woodworking magazine. "Can you do this for our closet doors?" she asked, pointing to a beautiful frame-and-panel room screen with different, spectacular veneers in each panel.

Several thoughts popped into my head:

  1. My wife is interested in a woodworking project.
  2. The closet doors would look awesome.
  3. I'd get to purchase a frame-and-panel router bit set.
  4. I've never done veneer before and I'm a sucker for a challenge.
  5. I'll get to purchase wood and lots of pretty veneer.
  6. I'll need to reorganize the garage to do this project.

I've spent the intervening time gathering tools, searching out sources for veneer and veneering supplies, buying wood, and building a movable wood/tool rack to make some room in the garage.

Not many dealers are willing to sell interesting veneers a piece or two at a time. It's taken 18 months of searching and acquiring to meet my thin-wood needs.

A few weeks ago, those needs were met and all possible excuses and objections evaporated. I've spent nearly every spare moment squishing 8-1/2" x 17" panels of 1/4" MDF in my rudimentary veneer press. It's amazing what you can do with some 2x4s and some threaded rod.

I now have all 32 panels glued up and the results have been pretty stunning, even before applying any finish. This week I'll transition to milling the wood for the frames. I rough cut the blanks a few weeks ago so the individual pieces could acclimate and do their twisting and warping before I machine them. They've been laying in ordered stacks, taunting and titillating me with their potential.

While I'm working on the frames, I'll also be rubbing down the panels with polyurethane. My wonderful wife listened to me brainstorm some compact, secure way to store a bunch of panels as their finish dried. She watched as I sketched out a few ideas with pencil and paper. Then she dived into the playroom and stuck together a compact, secure, and expandable drying rack out of Duplo blocks.

If you can't wield genius yourself, I guess the next best thing is to marry it.


July 2nd, 2009

With any luck, I'm going to grow old.

I hereby solemnly promise that I will not be one of those silly old farts at the checkout counter fumbling with pennies from my coin purse to make exact change.

I can be a patient man. I stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. I've driven large trucks as part of my job, so I don't feel singled out when a truck blocks my lane as it turns out of a driveway. I hold doors open for anyone behind me, whether a strapping young punk or doddering matriarch inching along with her walker.

And this is where I draw the line between the aged who deserve my patience and those requiring a 2x4 to the occiput.

The old lady with the walker can't help it. Age has made her infirm. I can spare a few seconds to help make the remainder of her life a little easier.

The old pruned dipshit counting change, however, is just clueless and inconsiderate. The years have dimmed his sight and set his hands trembling with a mild palsy, transforming him into a change counting machine. Watch as the coins spill! Listen as he bickers with his wife! Good Christ.

If you can't crawl out of the primordial slime as far as the last decade of the 20th century and use a credit or debit card, hand over some paper and get change. If you're worried about being swindled, stand aside and count your change. If you fret over unspent change piling up, dump your coins into a Coinstar machine. If you can't stomach the 8.9% fee (and I wouldn't blame you), avoid the Coinstar fee and buy a gift card with your change. If all this is just too much, go to your bank, get a stack of paper sleeves, and roll your change yourself. This should appeal to your fiddly, anal nature. Just think of the hours and hours and hours of pleasure in the privacy of your own home far away from me just trying to buy a bottle of Worcestershire sauce.

These elderly coin-groping fiends are in league with the ancephalic fuckwits who stand in mouthbreathing stupor as the checker rings up a month's supply of Mountain Dew and pork rinds, waiting for the grand total to drift back into semiconsciousness and dig their checkbook out of their purse/pocket/asscrack. These oxygen thieves revel in their power. The checker is in their thrall. Everyone in line behind them must wait for the Grand Shopper who then wants a few scratchers... and some postage stamps... and a pack of cigarettes. They object loudly as their three boxes of soda fail to trigger a "buy 2 get 3 free" deal. Elementary addition is beyond their grasp, like astrophysics to a lungfish. So you'd like the special price? Rather then all of us waiting for you to amble through the store to get another couple of boxes, why don't you have the checker just scan a box a couple of times? Then you can settle up and retrieve the additional boxes at your leisure, and the line can move. Alternately, you can spontaneously combust into a pile of ashes that I can piss on while I purchase my parsnips and ice cream.

I need to spend more time with friends, because the rest of you are killing me.

Bringing in the Sheaves

July 2nd, 2009

I feel a little sheepish.

I just learned that what I thought was a pulley (a wheel with a grooved rim attached to a shaft for transmitting force to a belt) is more properly referred to as a sheave.

And it's pronounced "shiv".

One or more sheaves plus a belt, rope, or cable make a pulley, technically speaking.

I know all this now because the key in my jointer's cutter-head shaft is backing out, the key that keeps the sheave from simply spinning on the shaft. I thought I'd squirt in some wicking green Loctite 290 and set the wayward key in place.

Turns out that I'm missing three of four setscrews in the cutter-head and motor sheaves. One screw helps lock the sheave on the shaft and the other screw draws down on the key. The motor sheave is missing both screws, staying in place by the power of wishful thinking. No wonder my jointer started sounding a little loose. Time to get a bunch of 1/4-20 x 3/8 setscrews. And I just happen to have a bottle of green Loctite to make sure those damned screws don't work loose again.

I won't be using the term sheave in conversation. Folks will think me an insufferable prig who has done hard time. Shiv is derived from the thieves' cant word for knife.