“Al, at the wheel, his face purposeful, his whole body listening to the car, his restless eyes jumping from the road to the instrument panel. Al was one with his engine, every nerve listening for weaknesses, for the thumps or squeals, hums and chattering that indicate a change that may cause a breakdown. He had become the soul of the car. ”
-John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Driving an antique car is often an act of faith. Unless one is an ASE certified mechanic, every mile put on a historic vehicle is a leap into the unknown, carrying one further away from help and closer to an expensive problem. It forces one to become intimately familiar with all of the complicated moving parts that make things work, if for no other reason than to be able to tell a mechanic what to look at first.
Peer Pressure has spent the majority of the winter slumbering like a bear in her cave, waiting out fierce December winds and wet March snows. Winters are always hard when starting carbureted engines. I don’t have a trickle charger yet, which means I’ve got about five good tries in the battery before I have to bust out jumper cables. Usually I pour a little gas in the carburetor to get the fuel system moving, and that does the trick. Whenever the roads are dry and salt-free, I let her idle in the driveway for ten minutes, then get her out for a trip around the block to spin the tires and get fluids moving through everything. Then she goes right back in the garage.
Meanwhile, I’ve been driving modern, fuel injected vehicles which start instantly and glide over the road at lightning speeds. They have clean carpeting, clear glass, warm heat, and soundproofing. I’m removed from all of the smelly mechanical bits that make things work; modern cars have been engineered to make me forget there’s even an engine attached to the vehicle: This vehicle is powered by unicorn farts. They are appliances, and we take their very existence for granted. And we become ignorant of the clanking, whirring, gnashing machinery that makes it all possible.
When spring comes, I pull the Scout out onto the road, wind up the engine on longer trips and listen intently to multiple different noises. That tapping–are those lifters starving for oil? I gauge the familiar droning of Mud Terrains on pavement. I parse squeaks from the rear of the chassis. Is the exhaust sounding a newer, deeper note this year?
Other cues I pick up from the vibrations through my feet and hands. How does the clutch feel? Is that wobble a flat spot in the tire, or is that just an oscillation at speed? Is the engine straining above 50mph? The brakes are wearing unevenly. Does the shift point feel different this year? It feels like the steering is wandering more today.
All of these reactions change my relationship with the road. Every trip I take in the Scout at the beginning of the year is carefully considered. Do I have enough gas to make it there and back? Do I have a backup plan if I break down? What’s the number for towing and recovery? All of these questions make me appreciate the ride a lot more; I’m in tune with the machine and the road, instead of just gliding over it, there and back.
I bought my first Scout used, 20 years after it was built, and drove it 75+ miles home the same day, on faith that the seller was honest (he was) and the truck was in good shape (it was). One month later I drove it 2 miles down an empty beach at Assateague, an empty corner of the earth where AAA does not make house calls. It got me home. Ten years later I put even more faith in an older truck bought at auction with absolutely no provenance, using the 5-50-100 rule to shake out the kinks (500 miles is a long trip on those tires), and it’s run strongly ever since. I’ve had my issues, and it’s given me problems, but most of those were due to my own stupidity, and I’ve been able to make it home without calling in a tow truck.
I don’t know if Steinbeck had it right or not. Rarely do I feel like I’m the soul of the machine; more often I feel like my truck helps me rediscover my sense of adventure. Will I make it there and back? Maybe not, but it’ll sure be an interesting story.
Its sunny and in the 70s today. Perfect for a walk to the ice cream store.
On my way back from a retreat in downtown D.C. yesterday I came upon an abandoned pocket bible, open to this portentous section…
Well, the great circular wheel of sickness has made about five full revolutions in the last week, so that Finn was sick and then got well and now seems to be sick again. I’m still fighting off the cold that’s been keeping me coughing and blowing my nose for two weeks, but it hasn’t knocked me off my feet yet.
I’ve taken delivery of a beautiful new 13″ MacBook Pro at work, and I’m in love with the Retina display. It’s difficult to go back to a standard LCD after looking at it. The machine itself is a marvel of power and beauty in a tiny little package, and I’ll be happy to carry it to and from work instead of a larger and heavier 15″, although I still have to spring for a pricy Thunderbolt dongle to get a wired Ethernet connection.
The designer who was working with me at WRI celebrated his last day on Friday, so the search for a full-time replacement is in high gear. I’m still working out how to handle file sharing and storage with the new designer based in the D.C. office; I inherited a Dropbox account which holds all of our current files but there’s no method for sharing any of our legacy files. I do have several external hard drives with tons of other legacy files written by people who left years ago, but I’d like to find some kind of simple managed server solution. It may be that I have to cobble together a shared drive in the tower until I can justify the purchase of a server license or a Drobo.
It turned out that I didn’t need any scripting help to count weblog categories after all; WordPress offers a counter in the categories dashboard. I dropped the data into a graph to view the spread, and it’s pretty much what I imagined: not counting Shortlinks, which is the category I use for sidebar links, House comes in second, followed by Photo (which I use for every post that includes a picture), Housekeeping (posts that concern changes to the site and technical details) and Geek. I did think that Finn would rate higher, but she’s also working against eight years of posts that predate her.
Meanwhile, on my main website, I made the first major update to the homepage in something like seven years. It’s really simple right now, but I’ll be adding and tweaking and updating it over time. The big issue right now is trying to find a way to serve random images out of my Flickr feed without using Flash to display them. I first tried an old Flash based product to pull images from a subdirectory on the site, but it appears Flickr has disconnected its RSS feed for Sets, which destroys pretty much any good way of pulling curated images. So, I looked around some more and found a very simple jQuery plugin to grab tagged images and cycle through them. I have to work out some of the responsive breakpoints, but it’s live.
Mr. Scout dropped by on Friday night and dropped off my new Blichman kettle, which is about as hard-core a piece of equipment as I could ever own. It came with a layer of crud at the bottom from the last batch of wort, but five minutes with a scrub brush and some baking soda and the stainless was gleaming again. Now I just need to kick this fucking cold so I can brew a new batch.
Driving home from the Target today, I scrolled through radio stations with Finn in the back seat. It was one of those times when all the presets were carrying commercials–except one: the canned drum machine opening of “The Way You Make Me Feel” pumped through the speakers. I left it, concentrating on getting us out of the parking lot alive, when a small voice from the back seat asked, “Is this… Michael Jackson?”
This from the girl who, only six months ago, would ask, “Is this a boy or a girl singing?”
My birthday passed with quiet family fanfare, which was just what I wanted this year: dinner with my ladies at Chick-Fil-A. Before you scoff, the sandwiches are good, the shakes are better, and Finn loves the playroom. Jen and I watched as she immediately made friends and crawled through the tubes, laughing. I’m fighting off some kind of sore throat so a quiet evening was just fine with me–we were all in bed by 10PM. Today has been no better so I’ve been drinking gallons of decaf tea with lemon; they have boxes of the stuff stocked at work.
Other than that, it’s been very quiet this week.
Now that I’m working with scientists and data and shit, I tend to be looking at numbers and figures a lot more than I used to. I got to thinking about my own thirteen-year project, this weblog, and how I might be able to mine it for some data. Using a feature of the widget I use to build the post selector at the bottom of the page, I was able to get WordPress to spit out a post count for each month. Using some nimble search-and-replace skills, I got the data formatted, into Excel, and then copied that into Illustrator to build a pretty graph.
As you can see, there’s some serious variation in there. Sidebar posts are included in the count, so it’s a rough outline of activity peaking somewhere in 2006 and averaging about 24 per month. Of interest is the high count of 63 in April of 2006 and the low count of 1 in January 2002 when I lost the file in an FTP hiccup. It’s a lot steadier in the last five years than I thought it would be, though, which is nice.
Next, I’m going to see if I can get figures on each of the post categories. Maybe I can find out the percentage of posts with photos vs. without.
Some kind of crazy front is blowing through this evening, sending the temperatures down from an agreeable 65˚to somewhere in the low 30s. What the hell, man? Just when I was thinking I could leave my winter coat on the rack. We went from having the windows open to shutting the storms down to keep the heat inside. Oh, well.
Grandma and Renie are coming down this weekend to visit, which has us running around cleaning the house in preparation. It will be great to see them for the first time since Christmas, and I know Grandma is probably levitating off the floor with excitement. Hopefully the weather will warm back up so they don’t have to suffer a wet March weekend in Maryland.
The CR-V is at the shop with new ceramic brake pads waiting to be picked up tomorrow morning; I bought rotors and pads last weekend with the intention of changing them, but when I got the grindy side up on the jack, I couldn’t get the caliper to release the rotor. Instead of bashing it with a BFH, I wisely decided on calling in the pros, and they got it done today, no muss, no fuss. Certain things I’m willing to take on myself, but any monkey business with important systems like brakes I’ll happily farm out.
I kegged my latest batch of IPA, called Sinistral Warrior, on Sunday, and it’s carbing in the cooler this week. I’ve pulled two glasses from it so far, and it’s tasty–and strong. I have to remember to throttle back my intake because it tends to hit me rather quickly. Next up is getting some time to bottle the pumpkin, which has been sitting patiently since the end of December, and ordering a session IPA from Northern Brewer for the next batch. I also cut my 4″ shank down to 3″ last weekend. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be–maybe 5 seconds with a metal blade on the miter saw, and 2 minutes with a file to clean up the threads. Now, when I install tap handles in the front of the kegerator, the tubing and inlets won’t be in the way. Half the fun of owning a kegerator seems to be hose management.
I haven’t looked at Facebook in about two weeks. I popped on there this evening to answer a question (I get alerts in my mailbox, but rarely respond to them) and lost a half an hour; nothing much has changed. I talked about creating more and consuming less at the beginning of this year, and haven’t done much to change that yet. I could come up with lots of reasons why, but the truth is I just haven’t.
I have a lot of things to work on this spring; that is only one of them, and the least important.