Monday, January 18, 2010

Technology techniques

I've been working on the railroad, all the live-long day.

Or at least, I've been working on the cars that get us down the road to work each day. But that doesn't quite have the same rhythm.

One consequence of having the engineering background I mentioned yesterday is I have to fix my own stuff.

You might say, in response, "You don't have to. You can hire someone."

But I do have to. The biggest reason is the relative incompetence of the people you can find to hire. The other is the sheer expense.

So let's take the most important job just completed, the rear brakes on Aimee's truck. A rear brake job done properly is $120, more or less. But the emergency brake mechanism was rusted and frozen. Just the parts would have been $600, labor, well, who knows? Specialized Nissan emergency brakes are not the kind of thing our local mechanics do well, since they have to think hard to puzzle out any mechanism they haven't encountered before, and can easily get stuck, billing you for every minute. The dealership, on the other hand, might have charged us for six or seven hours, which is what the whole thing took me

Call it a cool $1,000. I managed to get it all working with new shoes for $22 and some new brake parts for about $100. There was another 99¢ for the bottle of Coca Cola I used for dissolving rust from the old parts. This is the only thing I like to use Coke for.

It certainly isn't good to drink, and it isn't good for you, but it does remove rust very well indeed. I'm not sure what this says about what it might do to your insides, but since I never use it for that, I don't particularly care.

So I have to fix our own cars, and in fact I fix all our own buildings and do all our own plumbing and wiring. And I have most necessary shop tools such as a full collection of spanners (wrenches) and screwdrivers, a trolley jack (floor jack), and a very decent arc welder thoughtfully given as a Christmas gift one year by the in-laws, and off course the impact driver needed to remove rear brake shoes, pictured.

And both cars are due for their great State O' Maine inspection soon. And so, to cut a long story short, I found myself under first the truck, then the car most of last weekend and most of this weekend.

The Escort wagon had developed a decided thunk in the rear after going over a bump, no doubt in protest at being made to carry all those construction tools to college last fall, where we built a barn for the college's animal programs. The Escort was a bit snotty about this. Her previous owner, a statistician, only made her carry a calculator to work, and he's a good 80 pounds lighter than me to boot.

I had actually taken this machine to a so-called professional, who had given it a very cursory glance and knowingly told me I needed a new sway bar link and new coil springs and shocks. Knowing this to be a small fortune in parts, if not in labor, I promptly and politely demurred. On personal investigation, I agreed with the sway bar link and allowed him to change that -- for just shy of $100, which I thought was still a tad high, it being a $20 part and a ten-minute job. But I decided to take the rest of the suspension apart myself to see of the shocks and springs were really needed. And of course, once I could see the whole works, all we needed was the strut mount, which is only a $50 part. So I did it myself.

Somewhere in there I found myself washing shit off the back end of a sick chicken over the kitchen sink. Don't ask. It's an interesting and varied life we lead.

Finally, to cap off a day in which I was feeling supremely confident of my technological prowess, wifie asked me to take a look at her exercise machine, whose electronics were on the blink. Hadn't worked since she began using it again after a hiatus involving a new work-out DVD, a new diet, and other strange things I never heard of called kettlebells. She'd even put in new batteries, to no avail.

I duly plodded up the stairs to her den, a strange small room into which I rarely venture, with a big carrier of tools and meters to troubleshoot the strange exerthingy, called an elliptical, I believe.

After a few minutes Aimee, obviously unable to restrain her curiosity and concern for the precious device, came up the stairs too, to see what how I was faring.

"Oooh, look at that!" she said. "It works."

"What was wrong with it?"

"The batteries were in upside down."

Another happy ending. However, wifie mine still does not accept that she put the new batteries in upside down.

I wonder how much we would have paid for a professional to tell us that the batteries were upside down? Or indeed, whether they would have been able to accurately figure it out?

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