Automotive Advice

April 7th, 2008

After years spent driving cars and working on them, my advice to you all is:

If you break down, do it within walking distance of good friends with a comfy couch and fresh coffee.

In the last few months, I've noticed my Accord starting rather sluggishly. Considering the age of the OEM battery, I kept telling myself I should get a new one as preventative maintenance, you know, before anything went wrong.

Like most of technology, batteries are the weakest link in your car's health.

When a lead-acid battery craps out, it can go from marginal to dead instantly, which is what happened to us in the Walgreens parking lot in deepest, darkest Sunnyvale on Sunday.

My wife and I climbed into the car, hands moving through the unconscious ritual of keys and safety belts, our brains already several steps ahead thinking of fueling up and shopping, when a sad, weak *wroarw*clickityclickityclickity* brought us up short.

One more try and I knew we were screwed. My wife insisted on a third try, just to be sure.

We sat in silence sifting through our options.

Strangely, AAA didn't even come to my mind.

We considered finding a pay phone to call my in-laws who live 15 minutes away. I knew my father-in-law would probably love the chance to play hero. That sounds a bit snide, but he really does like helping people and I'm perfectly willing to let him save our butts. They'd already eased the blow by watching our kids so we could shop unhindered.

Then my wife mentioned two sets of friends who live down the street from where we just ran aground. They're all busy folks, so they probably weren't at home, but it was worth a try and it was a beautiful afternoon for a walk.

After a brisk 10-minute walk that would've been more enjoyable but for my black attitude, our friends enveloped us in a cozy blanket of hospitality. Our breakdown turned into a congenial Sunday afternoon visit. And the coffee was wonderful. I don't agree with the wife's coffee philosophy (brown-tinged water), but the husband... I have a new respect for his coffee skilz.

We even got a chance to geek-out by putting the husband's multimeter across the battery. Sure enough, it showed 12.86 volts no-load and 14.01 volts charging, a typical car-battery failure: looks perfectly fine and runs all the accessories in the car, but under heavy load it just dies.

A quick jump start got us going and we zipped over to the in-laws', dropped in a new battery, and continued with our day.

Thank goodness for friends. In fact, this breakdown experience was so positive, I'm considering making some new friends up and down I-5, just in case. We already have good friends in Vancouver, WA. Now to hit places like Arbuckle, Artois, Corning, Weed, Roseburg, Woodburn, and Vader.

Heads Will Roll

April 3rd, 2008

I'm a technical writer.

I find my co-blogger's cavalier attitude towards heading capitalization personally offensive, professionally irresponsible, and morally repugnant.

Shame on you, Neal. You should know better.

Real tech writers know that proper capitalization means the difference between understanding and confusion, life and death. Real tech writers harbor strong allegiances to and resentments for font styles. Real tech writers argue at length the indispensable utility of the semicolon. Real tech writers can talk about their Wang without sniggering. Real tech writers know that the real holy war is not FrameMaker vs. Word, but Arbortext vs. Interleaf.

You just watch yourself, mister. If you continue with this debauchery, you'll be instructing users to enter their "login" and to "click the Apply button".

Hearts Exploding

April 2nd, 2008

Yesterday I watched a coworker sprinkle salt on his slice of bacon pizza.


Bacon=double plus salt.

I quailed.


March 19th, 2008

If people don't bear the costs of their actions, they impose a cost on society.

This quote in a recent San Jose Mercury News article called to the little Libertarian in me.

If you're a homosexual, more power to you. I don't care where you stick your penis as long as it's consensual and everyone is over the age of consent. However, if you go bareback with multiple anonymous partners, then I'm concerned about the affect your suicidal behavior will have on your partners, the incidence of AIDS, the further strain on the health system, and the safety of the blood supply.

If you regularly drink yourself to oblivion, I'm sorry. In the meantime, please be sharp when you're servicing the engine of the airliner I'll be flying in. And please don't expect to take the head of the line when your poor liver morphs into jerky.

If you pull down a 7- or 8-figure income, I would expect that your personal responsibility would be commensurate with your compensation. You fuck up big time, then you fry. Please don't ask me, my children, and my grandchildren to bail you out.

At least that was my first reaction.

We're likely all going to have a big hangover from the recent mortgage-backed securities and subprime excesses, but who should be bearing the costs of whose actions?

The captains of industry and finance who gambled the cash we handed to them in trust?

The brokers for writing dodgy loans?

Speculators for juicing the market?

Homebuyers for signing documents they didn't understand?

Bill Clinton for repealing the Glass-Steagall Act?

Should we be bailing out banks and skewing the basic principles of risk and reward? Or should we take the strong medicine and let some institutions implode?

In the spirit of full disclosure, the previous era of free-flowing credit enabled my wife and me to buy our house. My father-in-law wasn't in the mind to buy us a house to live in like he did his eldest son. My wife and I were young, childless, and not in the habit of lighting our Cohibas with Franklins, so we took a 4%-down first and wacky second mortgage on an old fixer-upper, tract-home rental. It still looks like crap after all these years and drives us nuts in a lot of ways, but as my wife noted, the best thing about the house is that we can afford it... and that we're not stuck in freaking Tracy or Stockton.

The Wrong Sort (of)

March 18th, 2008

I carved some time out of my wacky schedule to watch my son's first T-ball game. It was a blast. The term "game" applies only loosely. Kids in uniforms stood in the field and chased after balls hit by kids in different uniforms. Parents lined up along the foul lines and shouted encouragement. But no one kept score. Innings ended after both teams ran through a 5-person batting order. Coaches pitched to their own team and hauled out a tee when necessary. Assistant coaches stood in the field to remind players where shortstop is. At times, the kids were more interested in digging holes in the infield dirt with their cleats than anything having to do with a ball. We had a tantrum about Cheetos. And both groups of parents shouted out for everyone on the field. It doesn't really matter what color the kid is wearing, you just need to cheer when he finally notices the ball resting between his feet and throws in the general direction of second base almost in time for a force-out if the second baseman had been on the bag. So T-ball is fun, but I still suspect it's a matter of time before the true believers and competitors are separated from the merely enthusiastic.