g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
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Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Thursday, June 16, 2005
21:12 - Out of my way! I'm a motorist!

(top)
This is a continuation of the saga begun here and continued here. If I didn't know better, I'd think there might be a pattern starting to form.

The current cavalcade of whimsy began when I got my clutch replaced at Midas, last Thursday. In the process, they checked to see why the power outlet in the trunk wasn't working, and in so doing apparently yanked out the stereo from the dashboard, unplugged it, and crammed it back in, damaging it in the process so that the faceplate no longer fits on snugly and immovably. I guess they figured I'd never notice; who turns on their stereo system in this day and age, honestly?

So I then took it to the smog place to get the smog check done for the registration renewal. On the way home from work after that, I noticed that the Check Engine light was on. This, I discovered after having Bob Lewis (the dealership) look at it, was because of a faulty mass airflow sensor—something the smog check apparently didn't test for. (It gave me a perfect bill of health.) So Bob Lewis set about fixing it, for an estimated $450 all told, parts and labor. I can handle that. I can rationalize that. $450? Why, that's a mere three months of bandwidth, or a paltry four months of cable. I've still got lots of cash from the latest book. It's all good.

I should know better than to expect that the initial estimate will ever be the whole story, though. They called me up on Tuesday to tell me that in test-driving the Jetta around the auto mall after installing the new mass airflow sensor, they got more engine fault codes blipping up—which turned out to be misfires from the ignition coil unit. (Which, of course, reminds me of those aviation repair zingers: Problem—Number 3 engine missing. Solution—Engine found on right wing after brief search.) My new service advisor, "Matt", called me up and told me the unfortunate news: a new part that cost $500 would have to be ordered and shipped up from LA; I would have no use of my car until Thursday. Oh, and by the way, the stereo's fixed—Midas unplugged it and broke the faceplate, the morons. But the rear power outlet is fixed, at least—it was never plugged in by the factory, so it would seem.

I resigned myself to this new reality: not $450, but more like $950 plus a bunch of extra labor hours—call it $1200 and I'd be lucky to get out of there. I did some poking around, found an aftermarket VR6 ignition coil pack for $302, called Matt, told him about it, gave the okay to go with an aftermarket part if he could get a hold of it and it was cheaper. Taking whatever shortcuts I can glean, here.

I drove Lance's car to work on Wednesday. Then, this morning, I called Bob Lewis to verify that the car was done—it was—and had him drop me off at the dealership, where I finalized paperwork and paid the final bill: $968. Hey, less than four figures—a pleasant surprise! "Now, we did over eight hours of work on your car," Matt told me with a conspiratorial smile, "but we're only charging you for four. Well, three, actually, when you consider that we didn't charge you anything to investigate this window problem you reported or to fix the rattling thing in the armrest." I agreed, that certainly sounded like he was giving me few causes for complaint. I had them drive the car out so I could look at the stereo faceplate before I handed over my money; they amiably agreed, and I found that it was seated quite firmly—you could move it up and down a little, but just pressing buttons you'd never shift it. It was pretty clear to me at this point that Midas was wholly at fault for breaking the stereo, and I couldn't fault Bob Lewis for anything. At last! Out of all these service places, at least I can be sure that one has treated me right the whole time... or at least has only given me cause for suspicion and circumstantial evidence for failures that could just as easily have been one of the other place's fault, which I could never prove.

You see where I'm going with this, perhaps.

I got in the car and started it up. Sounded great. Shifted into gear nicely (I'm still basking in the joy of a new clutch). I pulled out onto the expressway, U-turned, got onto Guadalupe and then onto 85, and headed to work. I got off 85 at Stevens Creek and pulled up at the first stop light.

That's when I noticed that the idle speed was wrong.

It's supposed to be 700. On the Jetta, especially the silky VR6, 700 rpm is just about silent—I can barely tell the car is running and hasn't stalled out. It's a beauty at idle. But not today... because the car was idling at 1000 rpm. Which, coincidentally enough, happens to be the harmonic frequency of the VR6 engine block. So now it's noisy and wobbly and I feel the vibrations traveling up the gearshift lever into my forearms, and the needle is buffeted around the vicinity of the 1000 rpm mark as the vibrations kick up stronger and back off, batting the engine back and forth across the spine of the complementary waveforms.

I pulled in to the parking garage and went to my cubicle. I called up Matt and got his voicemail; I left a message noting that the idle speed seemed to be set too high. Was this because they'd reset the engine computer while installing the ignition coil pack, and it was now tuned for Jet-A fuel? Was it because they'd put on the wrong part, the one for the R32 or something? I didn't know, but it sure didn't seem right for the idle to be right on the harmonic frequency—there's no way they'd do that on purpose. Right?

No calls had arrived by lunchtime, and all the other guys decided to go to the Chinese place, so I was left behind to forage for myself. I got in the car and started it up. There was a slight hiccup as it started, but nothing to worry about, surely. I noticed, before leaving the garage, that the idle speed was back down to 700—oh good! So that's all taken care of, then. Jolly.

How charmingly naïve we can be sometimes, eh?

I drove down Bandley and up toward Stelling. After about three minutes I noticed with some consternation that the engine was idling at 1000 rpm again; apparently the gremlin of the ECU had not departed after all, and only required a certain amount of engine heat to prod him to liveliness. Ah well, so it's idling at 1000. Whatever.

But then I pulled into the drive-thru at Taco Bell. Sitting motionless in the line, waiting to give my order, shifter in neutral and clutch out, suddenly I notice that my instrument cluster was full of weird red shapes. Warning lights.

"Welcome to KFC/Taco Bell. May I take your order?"

"Uh, just a second. You seeing this?"

The seat belt light was on. The ABS light was on. The hell? I checked my belt; it was securely fastened. I checked the brakes; nothing happened to the light. My seatback was in the fully locked and upright position. All cigarettes were extinguished. And yet these mysterious lights were glaring at me. And, as I watched in numb silence, the ABS light began to blink on and off.

Then the seatbelt light went off. Then the ABS light went on solid again for a second, then started to blink faster than before, once or twice, then went off.

My car is haunted!

I bought the most occult-repellent items on the "Mexican-inspired" menu and picked them up at the window, staring at the instruments. No lights showed their faces; only the engine continued to judder and putt along at 1000 rpm. I drove back to work and parked.

Back in my cubicle, I talked to automotive necromancer CapLion, who told me to go back out to the garage and pop the hood and check a variety of possibly loose electrical connections. Unfortunately, the VR6, being crammed into the engine bay through the magic of Teutonic cylinder placement that lets you fit six cylinders into a hole made for four, exists under a carapace of plastic that pretty much obscures the entirety of the engine bay, eliminating any chance of even seeing such things as the wires leading from the radiator to the engine or from the battery to the alternator or the vacuum hoses leading to the throttle body, much less checking them for loose connections. All I could do, really, was poke at things with an index finger and note that they were hot. "Hmmm," I said to myself, rubbing my chin sagely.

I made a couple more calls to Bob Lewis, trying to get a hold of Matt and tell him of the new developments that had occurred, which would surely be of interest to him, especially considering that I am sort of planning on driving this car to San Diego on Friday afternoon, if he doesn't mind. But he hadn't called back in response to my initial message, and he was still away from his desk. I asked the service department receptionist to take down a message to have a service advisor—any service advisor—call me back pronto to tell me whether I should worry about the car abruptly dying on me somewhere in the middle of the Central Valley, most likely at Coalinga where the stench of cattleyards overpowers anyone not hermetically sealed into an air-conditioned car cabin.

Finally, just before 6:00, Matt called me back. I told him the whole story that had transpired at Taco Bell. He made clueless sorts of noises that belied his earlier seeming conversance with all things potentially odd in JettaWorld. "You say the seatbelt light was on. Was your seatbelt buckled up?" Uh, yes. "Sometimes when the engine needs to kick on certain systems, like the air conditioner, the revs can drop for a second or two, then come back up to speed." Well, true, but that's not what's happening—the engine is at a normal 700 rpm idle for the first three minutes of the drive, then shifts up to a 1000 rpm idle. "Ah. Hmm."

He advised me, in his expert opinion, to bring it in in the morning if I was really worried about it, but that it was probably okay to drive to San Diego. Well, phew. Now I can rest easy. And lo, it's 7:00 now. Time to go home.

I go out to the car and sit down in the driver's seat. I put in the key. I turn it. It goes COUGH... and stops. Nothing.

The battery is totally dead.

Now I am seriously unamused. I call up Bob Lewis—by this time of night there's only a single on-call person to take questions and appointments—and ask if it's okay to bring in my car and leave it there overnight, because if I get a jumpstart I'm not about to drive it home and go through this all again tomorrow morning, because there's clearly a short somewhere, or at least a gremlin that feeds on electrical energy and might escape from the car into my computer at home or something. She says that's totally fine. I get Kris to give me a jump, and I drive to Bob Lewis, high-revving the engine on every shift to make sure I don't kill the engine and strand myself on the side of the freeway with a dead battery. (Kris left the parking garage right after I did and tailed me all the way to the Guadalupe exit, for which I have no doubt he'll be rewarded with karma points or other valuable spiritual prizes.) I fill out a statement of My Royal Displeasure, write a big fat 0 in the "Amount approved for repair" space, seal my keys inside, and get ready to leave with Lance, who's met me there.

But who should still be there, burning the midnight oil, but Becky?

I couldn't resist. I went over to her desk, where she was chatting with the on-call person, whom I asked where I should turn in the night-owl envelope with my key in it. She pointed to the slot outside. And Becky took the bait: "I didn't expect to see you back here so soon!"

And I regaled her with a condensed version of the story. This time I could afford to be dismissive and a little magnanimous, because it was painfully clear that this time—instead of the first, where the brake fluid flush may in fact have been done as claimed, or the second, where maybe Bob Lewis broke the stereo faceplace or maybe Midas did—it was pretty damn cut-and-dried that whereas I had given Bob Lewis a working car with a working electrical system, what they'd given me back was a big sparking pile of crap. Becky's face was gray and wooden. There were no sneers of condescension this time. There was no attempt at passing of blame. It was all she could do to turn a wan smile in my direction and tiredly promise that if they found anything wrong—and I knew they would—I'd know by noon.

It's anybody's guess whether the car will be in any shape to drive to San Diego tomorrow. I'll call in the morning and see if there have been any developments. But in the meantime, I can't help but notice that this makes three consecutive car repair places that have, in the process of trying to fix or verify one thing, succeeded in breaking something else. I'm beginning to wonder what chance I'd even have if I knew what made all these mysterious car parts work together—they seem hell-bent on thwarting me at every turn, no matter how hard I work to head them off physically and psychologically. This game is just too intricate for the likes of me.

I'll stick to installing Windows 2000. It's less aggravation.


15:43 - Awful tasting medicine
http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html

(top)
Everybody's linking to this Stanford commencement speech simply because it's not just another obnoxiously political exhortation by some Hollywood figure for the graduates to Think For Themselves by always listening to NPR instead of Fox News. But it stands up well and is of keen interest on its own merits, and because it's by Steve Jobs.

It's his home turf, to be sure, so it was probably as receptive an audience as any of the fêted authors and actors taking the stage at other graduation ceremonies these days; but even if it weren't, it's good stuff. It's easy to smirk at Steve's mercuriality or to be horrified at his authoritarianism, but I think there's a lot to like in his biography, and a lot of lessons to be learned from it. I'm glad he's getting up there to dispense them.

And to think: my graduating class of Caltech, when nominating and voting for a commencement speaker, was in a three-way toss-up between Tom Brokaw, Al Gore, and a videotape of Marshall Applewhite.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005
02:06 - JS/UIX
http://www.masswerk.at/jsuix/

(top)
Wow. UNIX implemented in JavaScript.

Via evariste, who says, "Holy mackerel-he even has vi working! I'm giggling like a schoolgirl playing with this thing, it's unbelievable :-) cd / and check out the filesystem.".

No tab-completion, though. What a gyp!


01:32 - They don't make Hitlers like they used to
http://www.deanesmay.com/posts/1118894835.shtml

(top)
Dean, who has had a dog in the Terry Schiavo fight since before most of the rest of us had heard her name, has a good reaction piece to the autopsy results today that ostensibly prove that the position he took was "wrong". The point being that it's just a bit fatuous to be drawing "right" and "wrong" lines in a case like this, and the consequences of erring on the one side versus the other are anything but balanced, particularly depending on your individual moral/ethical compass.

But that's just background. What I wanted to note was this:

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the autopsy did nothing to change President Bush's position that Schiavo's feeding tube should not have been disconnected. He had signed a bill, rushed through by Congress in March, in a last-ditch effort to restore her feeding tube.

...And yet, somehow, the judicial arm of the government overrode him and brought his decree to naught.

Exactly what kind of Fuhrer is this? The kind that can be brought low by people working normally within the system? The kind who can't even intervene meaningfully in a life-or-death decison regarding a single citizen whose newsworthiness isn't even political?

Oh, but he's a Christian and a Republican, and you know what that means.


15:27 - Ours not to reason why
http://www.xbitlabs.com/news/cpu/display/20050609121500.html

(top)
Steven Den Beste sends this latest bit of analyst speculation (this time from those ca-razy Russians at Xbit Labs) upon the Apple/Intel deal. The gist is that IBM unceremoniously dumped Apple after making it clear that they just didn't want to make any more PowerPC chips. Like, at all.

“IBM no longer sells standard products – Apple’s processor was the last product. IBM’s exit from semiconductor products started several years ago and is now fully completed,” Mr. Petrov he added.

While this is a big deal for Apple to throw out IBM’s chips from its machines, significance of this business for IBM is not really evident from the revenue standpoint. Last quarter, according to some reports, Apple sold 1.07 million computers, which is not really a lot. Still, it could be important for IBM to provide Apple with PowerPC chips in order to leverage the influence of this architecture. For instance, all three next-generation game consoles from Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony will be powered by chips that use PowerPC architecture. Furthermore, IBM offers consumer electronics designers to design PowerPC derivative processors for their needs.

The Petrov Group analyst thinks that the Cell processor is important, but that is now done and over. However, Power architecture and Linux continue to be critical fuel to IBM’s corporate revenue growth – from $100 billion to $200 billion in the next ten years, according to Petrov Group.

So IBM is happy to continue making chips it's already completed designing—but as far as future chips go, it's not just that IBM's roadmap doesn't coincide with Apple's, it's that IBM does't have a roadmap. So all that fooferaw about multicore 970s and low-power 970s and country-fried 970s with a light dusting of powdered sugar were all just so much wishful thinking. This certainly goes along well with the theory that IBM wasn't prepared to make any mobile G5 processors because Apple would be the only buyer, which wouldn't justify the business case for the development of said chip; but it certainly seems to speak ill of IBM's ability to communicate its intentions to its partners. I mean, if IBM had no intention of developing any 970-based chips beyond the Cell and its game-console siblings, and instead wanted to focus solely on Power chips for Linux mainframes, shouldn't they maybe have told Apple about this at some point?

Hell, maybe they did, even as far back as the G5's introduction. You'd think, in that case, Steve would have refrained from promising that "Believe me, this architecture has legs" and that we'd have reached 3 GHz by summer 2004. (But then, people have been rumoring that phantom G5s "have legs" since before the 1GHz barrier had been breached.)

Maybe the G5, with its backward compatibility and its initial demo-friendly muscularity advantage, was always meant as a stop-gap... but that sure assumes a lot of scheming genius on Steve's part. Not that that makes it untrue, of course.

Though I'm not sure why Mr. Petrov is talking about IBM's "exit from semiconductor products" and then going on to confirm that they're dedicated to the Power architecture going forward. What, is Power a quantum-computing chip or something?

UPDATE: Boy, switchers still keep cropping up—in the darnedest places, too. This can't be a good sign for the Linux faithful. (Via J Greely.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005
22:21 - Down in front
http://www.washtimes.com/national/20050613-104823-1601r.htm

(top)
I saw part of this Dick Cheney's press conference yesterday morning when I was dropping off my car at Bob Lewis; it was being shown on the big TV in the waiting room, which was tuned to CNN. (Apparently it was only one brief period of the day when the coverage was not devoted exclusively to Michael Jackson, whom I would thank to please recuse himself from the public spotlight for a while so we can move on to the next celebrity scandal or tabloidy human-interest murder case to demand weeks on end of attention.)

Cheney explained, defensively, that the people being held in Gitmo are in fact terrorists—the real deal, the "20th hijacker" kinds of people—and that even so there was a definite process in place to determine whether each one posed specific threats to the United States or should be released. He then began to cite examples; he started by telling the story of one who had been picked up on the battlefields of Afghanistan, who had after seven months in Gitmo been determined not to be a threat to America's security, and was released to Afghanistan with a new Koran and several extra pounds around the waistline. Five months later, US forces killed him in a skirmish with Taliban forces in the mountains near Kandahar—because this released prisoner had immediately joined right back up with them and become the Taliban's regional commander.

Cheney began to recite the story of a second prisoner whose humane treatment and early release would seem to be unwarranted; but CNN chose that moment to cut away, and the anchor started talking over it, saying "Vice President Dick Cheney has been defending the conduct of guards at Guantanamo Bay, where interrogation practices have been criticized recently as "torture"; politicians on both sides of the aisle have called for Gitmo to be shut down." And then they cut away to more Michael Jackson crap.

Don't let the man talk, or anything. Don't let him make his case to the American people. Just shut off his microphone and remind us all that what he's defending is TORTURE CRITICIZED GITMO SHUT DOWN KORAN FLUSH URINE AAHHH! And then jump off in another direction before anyone has time to process what they've just seen. In the name of all that's secular, don't let the last impression in people's minds be what Cheney said.

I would wager that Cheney is more hated among the general public here and abroad than even Bush; nobody knows anything about Cheney except that he's a big grimacing evil bald corporate vulture, whereas at least Bush has a dumb innocent vacant look on his face. Why, just put up their pictures next to each other—you know who's running the show! —And yet if anybody actually listened to what either man says, in speech after speech, particularly off the cuff, so many of these preconceptions would just dissolve.

Not that CNN is about to let us make up our own minds or anything.


21:05 - Beep... beep... beep
http://quake.wr.usgs.gov/recenteqs/Quakes/usziae.html

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Just got word of a very large earthquake off the coast of Northern California, with a tsunami heading toward Eureka and Crescent City (the latter of which was severely damaged by the Alaska quake/tsunami in 1964). The quake seems to have been 7.0.

Just heard the Emergency Broadcast System beeping on the TV upstairs...

Monday, June 13, 2005
22:08 - Huh boy
http://www.cartoonbrew.com/archives/2005_06.html#001139

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Well, this is an unpleasant little blast from the past. Remember Loonatics?

Well, it's been redesigned, presumably in response to thunderous audience feedback. As I'm sure everyone remembers, the big problem was that everyone had sharp pointy red laser eyes and huge sharp teeth in a gnashing snarling expression. Also they weren't recognizable as whatever species they all were.

So ... their adjustments were to ditch the giant pointy sunglasses and give everyone bland "Have a Nice Day" smiley faces and anime eyes.



Perfect. That's just what it needed.

Urg.

(Via Steven Den Beste.)


13:22 - Service sucks

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There have been some intermittent downtimes of this server over the past few days. The machine is randomly crashing. The crashes appear to be hardware-related, since I haven't installed any new software on the machine lately, and they happen at seemingly random times of the day or night.

Managed.com doesn't have phone support; rather, they have this bizarre e-mail-to-web-forum system whereby you e-mail the support address, and a trouble ticket is opened automatically, and a message thread in the online ticket viewing system is begun. This would work great if it weren't for a few small problems: a) Follow-up e-mails sent in response to the messages that are e-mailed to you from the system don't seem to get added into the web system, so if they respond to your request for help via e-mail (which also goes onto the web thread), and you make the mistake of answering in e-mail, it just disappears into the ether never to be seen or responded to again; and b) During most of the day and night, if you try to use the web support forum to post followups, when you click "Submit" it takes more than ten minutes on average to process your response—so the browser invariably times out, and you have no way of knowing whether the message was posted or not.

If they only had a phone number you could call, there would be none of this "E-mail a message asking for help with the repeatedly crashing server; get a response asking for your password; reply, only to have the reply disappear and not get posted to the web forum, which is the only thing they read, and where they close a ticket every time they respond to it, and only if you reply does it get reopened; wait twelve hours before realizing that they never got your response; find the link to the web forum thread; repost your response into the web form; wait half an hour while the browser times out and you try in desperation to get back into the system while it spins and chokes; e-mail a new trouble ticket; repeat" nonsense. But nooooo.

So I'm stuck with sending reboot requests to the reboot request queue, which is apparently staffed by onsite "techs" who are trained in the art of pushing the little button on the front of the box, but not in the art of anything else (like, say, looking on the console to see if any telltale kernel panic messages have been echoed to it, or telling me accurately whether the server was down because it crashed or because it was "disconnected", no matter how many times I ask for this information); and they refer me back to the support forums, where the techs alternate between irritably telling me to send reboot requests if the server goes down, petulantly telling me that "Well, I can ping it, so your server seems to be fine" right after it gets rebooted after a crash, and passing my case from one tech to another, each of which must be briefed on the entire case history from day one and shows no knowledge of my previously submitted diagnostic profiles, even though they're posted right at the top of the support forum thread. (I strongly suspect that there's only one support guy in the entire company, and he just keeps changing his name and feigning amnesia whenever I send a new support request; this way they won't have to fix anything, and I'll take my troublesome demanding "I would like for my server not to crash all the time" business to some other company. Fix bad RAM or CPU/motherboard? Bah! Who do these customers think they are, anyway?)

So there's that. And also there's my car. See, here's the timeline:

Last Thursday I took my Jetta in to Midas to install my new clutch. (This part, at least, went dreamily; it now drives like a whole new car.) At the same time, I asked them to take a look at the power outlet in the trunk, where I would like to plug in a GPS unit for the Alaska trip; I tested it a couple of weeks ago and it seemed not to be working. So when I got the car back, Midas told me they agreed it was broken, but couldn't find any loose fuses or anything; I'd have to take it to the dealership. Fine, I can deal with that.

On the way back to work, though, I noticed that my stereo system wouldn't turn on. Not "came up in Safe mode," or "all my radio stations had been reset" or anything—wouldn't turn on. At all. Completely dead. Also my clock had been reset, and the power windows seemed not to be working properly (they have a one-touch feature where if you push the button and release it, the window goes up or down all the way; but that only occurs if the engine is running or if the engine has been shut off but the doors haven't been opened yet. Now, however, they seemed not to be one-touch-capable even in the engine-off-doors-still-closed case.) I talked to the service person at Bob Lewis, and she told me confidently that the readiness codes simply needed to be reset, and these—stereo, clock, windows—were all common symptoms of a tripped readiness code. Okay, fine. Sounds nice and cheap. I made an appointment for Monday (today).

The following day (Friday), I took the car to a local smog place on De Anza—little mom-and-pop place that has been in the same location since 1969, well respected and a community fixture. They gave me the smog check I needed to renew my car registration. I got the certificate; all readings looked fine.

Yet when I started up the car to drive home at the end of the day, the "Check Engine" light came on. You know, otherwise known as the "Please insert $125" light. Because that's how much it costs to get the dealership to take a look and find out what the hell it's doing on. Mind you, I have just come from the smog check place, one of the functions of which is to identify any conditions that might cause the engine light to come on in the near future; and they found nothing. Later that same day, the engine light comes on. What the shoes did they do to my car?!

Oh yeah, and over the weekend the engine hesitated on startup a couple of times. Which is real reassuring when I picture it happening at a remote campground somewhere between Whitehorse and Haines Junction. I figure it's another symptom of the electrical system being screwed, possibly coupled with having the smog check done; after all, my radio still won't come on, and the windows are still being a little unpredictable.

The car is now back in at Bob Lewis, where they're going to charge me a big wad of cash to fix something that apparently broke while I was getting the smog check done, possibly complicated by something that apparently broke while I was getting my clutch fixed and the fuses looked at. Seems like every time I get someone to fix my car, they break something else.

While it's in there, I'm also asking that they fix the little piece of plastic buried inside the latch mechanism of my armrest, which is dangling over a piece of wire and making a rattling and buzzing sound at highway speeds; also, if I'm lucky, they'll fix that rear power outlet that was the cause of all this in the first place. I'm sure it'll cost me the entire profits I've made from the latest book, and considering that I'm about to send in the Estimated Tax Payments on it to the state and fed, I'm going to end up owing money on balance. If they can't fix the armrest cheaply, I'm just going to drip some Elmer's glue in there.

What else? Oh yes: Cartoon Network has its audio all screwed up. None of the other channels. If I switch to Cartoon Network in the middle of the night, the right audio channel is cranked WAY UP LOUD to the point where it's clipping. I can turn the balance knob back and forth on my stereo and verify this: the left channel is barely audible at all, and the right channel is blaring and grating. I have verified that it happens on no other channels, and it happens on other TVs in the same house.

So I sent Comcast an e-mail through their handy little "Ask Comcast" e-mail gateway. (I'd tried their "24/7 Web Assistant" thing, which I discovered to my dismay was merely an AI bot designed to scan your questions for keywords and give out canned answers.) My hopes weren't high, but the notes on the e-mail gateway said that a technician would respond "usually within 24 hours", which said to me that an actual person would reply to my carefully explained problem, which outlined precisely the methods I'd used to isolate the behavior of the audio channel and verify that it was not in any way the fault of my equipment or configuration.

And—surprise, surprise—I got a canned response back explaining to me how to properly seat the coaxial F-connector for better reception and how to set up porn-blocking for my kids. And a little footnote at the bottom that said, "If you exhaust all of these options and are still experiencing poor reception, a tiling picture, a "One Moment please" message, or a communication error, please call Customer Care at 1-800-xxx-xxxx. A technician may need to visit your home to rectify the issue."

Boy, I sure hope someone got paid handsomely for setting up all these barricades between clueless customers like me and any hope of getting competent assistance.

Oh, and I'm not even going to get into how many bugs I've filed against Tiger Mail and its infuriating behaviors such as downloading and caching every single message in my Junk and Deleted folders when I come in on Monday, which after a typical weekend usually comes to some 10,000 messages or more, meaning that my computer is useless for about two hours while it keeps trying to grab thousands of messages at a time and cache them locally, while I stand there with my mouse posed over the Activity palette like a Whac-a-Mole game killing the sync processes every time they start.

And how my machine here at work seems to have got it into its head that I want my Keychain to lock itself automatically every time I step away from my desk, so I come back to find that all my apps have popped up cascades of "So-and-so wants access to your Keychain!" authentication dialog boxes which jumble up against each other and drag the system to a standstill.

I must be at some kind of karmic confluence of misfortune at the hands of all those who provide service to me on which I depend. Sounds like a perfect time to be driving merrily off into the Northern wilderness!


UPDATE: Kenny B. writes:

I imagine that at this point you might be considering a wagon, oxen, compass, map, and log book for this trip.

If you do, don't forget to bring a barrel of axle grease and a couple of extra wagon wheels. :)

I'll just stop off at Hiram's shop. If he can't sell me what I need, at least I'll be able to find solace of another kind.

UPDATE: Seems it was the mass airflow sensor that went out. A paltry $350, plus the cost of investigation labor and installation.

As for the stereo not turning on, Bob Lewis discovered that the reason was that the unit had been unplugged, in the back—it had been yanked out and unplugged when Midas checked for reasons why my trunk-mounted power outlet wasn't working. (BL also said that the stereo faceplate is now fitting loosely, like there was some damage to the unit. Funny, it was fine this morning.)

And the reason why the trunk-mounted power outlet wasn't working? It had been ... unplugged. Sometime between 1999 and now.

Moral of the story: don't ask Midas to check anything electrical, as they will apparently manhandle your stereo out of its socket, leave it unplugged, damage it, and then cram it back in and hope you don't notice that it's not working anymore.

And this also means that I somehow managed to pass the smog check with a bad airflow sensor, which I can only assume means that the smog check place is crappy.

There are fewer and fewer places around here that I feel I can trust with my car.

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© Brian Tiemann