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
Eric S. Raymond
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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Sunday, August 16, 2009
21:52 - Shut up, Brian

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Hey, look:



I think there was a South Park episode about this.


15:44 - Old and improved

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Due to one thing and another, I've had nearly zero opportunities to drive the Esprit lately, or indeed at all in the past year.

It's not all schedule-related, either. The fact is—as should not have come as a surprise to anyone, and indeed as it did not to me—it has suffered from a litany of mechanical gremlins since the day I drove it home. Long-time readers will remember what it took to get the damn thing smogged in California. And that was when it was running properly.

Since then, the first thing that has bedeviled me was the electrical system, where fuses would blow at random as I cruised down the highway; lacking any mechanical expertise at the time, or indeed any idea of what to look for, I pawed cluelessly through the engine bay, thumbing the little plastic fuel cutoff switch that's supposed to pop in a collision and keep the car from exploding in a fireball, and which could just as easily have popped of its own accord on my way back from a casual venture into the East Bay hills. Turns out I could have solved my problems with a 20-cent fuse, instead of flatbed truck fees and service labor charges at a dealership garage where the car shared bay space with Ferraris and Mercedes SLRs, but hey, at least they felt bad for me and detailed the thing before I picked it up.

Next on the hit parade was the O2 sensors, which kept going bad over and over despite my every attempt to isolate their neuroses. I went through three complete sets of the things—which, at $60 each, do not amount to chump change. And since the sensors would have cost a lot more if I didn't just create new ones by splicing generic Denso sensors onto the existing Lotus wiring harnesses, my soldering skills (or lack thereof) amounted to yet another obstacle. I had to ship sets of the damn things across country and back so that they could be soldered properly by someone who knew what he was doing. And even then, no long-term joy was to be had; inevitably the engine codes would come back, and I knew that my ability to keep the car registered in California—never mind running smoothly—was in dire jeopardy.

But none of that was problematic at all in comparison to the real slap in the face, which was the cooling system. Late in the summer of 2007, my first year of owning the car, I discovered that the car would overheat at the slightest provocation; going up the Highway 9 hill out of Saratoga one day after an exotic-car meet with a bunch of San Jose Ferrari/Lambo/Lotus/Porsche/etc. enthusiasts, I had to drop out in humiliation and rest on the shoulder while my coolant boiled away at 120°C.



Treating the coolant with Water Wetter didn't seem to help. Neither did replacing the thermostat (though it turns out that even if the thermostat were faulty, I wouldn't have noticed any change afterwards anyway, because the garage that did the work didn't, um, actually do the work, as we'll see later). And finally, attempting to flush the coolant to rid it of all impurities and eliminate all air bubbles through the use of an air lift vacuum system seemed to do no good either—largely because what happened as a result was that the decidedly fragile stock radiator couldn't take the vacuum pressure and exploded.



So that was pretty much that for the Esprit, at least until I was in New York and had ready access to the necessary expertise (what with being in the business and all) to give the poor car some much-needed attention.

So now it has a new radiator, a much bigger, fully welded aluminum unit instead of the flimsy stock one with plastic end tanks. And now there's nothing I can do to make that car overheat: I can drive it straight up hills all day long in the August heat and it won't climb over 80°C. It's the damnedest thing.

Much though it goes against all my prior-held predilections, I'm seeing the benefits of upgrading a car's parts when it seems prudent to do so. The Esprit is a prime candidate for such upgrades, because though it's a high-end car, it's also a low-volume one produced by a tiny factory, and so it doesn't exactly shy away from using third-party equipment.



And some of this equipment is... shall we say... less than top-drawer, in the interest of keeping costs under control. The Renault-sourced gearbox, for example, is perhaps the best known example, or so I'm led to believe; anyone trying to coax more power out of their Esprit finds himself running up against the torque-handling limitations of this gearbox in fairly quick order and has to replace it with something that won't explode. The radiator is another example. And yet another... is the ignition wire set.



Check out the way those coil packs are placed right in the middle of the engine block, right between the valve covers. The ignition wires lead from the coil packs out under the intake manifold and into the heads, attaching to the spark plugs at the end of those long pencil things. Being right in the middle of everything hot, they tend to get brittle and crack. And then you find that your cylinders start to miss.

(Oh, and in that second picture, notice the metal housing at right. That's where the thermostat is. That bit has never been opened. Those lying bastiches at the garage.)

So it's been pretty impossible to drive the car over the past few months; initially because the car was buried under ice:



...But later because the missing cylinder persisted into warmer weather. It would run fine for a few minutes, but then inevitably as it warmed up it would start going POP-POP-POP-POP-POP in rhythm with the crank as unburned fuel ejected from the (also newly re-engineered) exhaust, and it was clear that somewhere in there was a connection not being made. Pulling the engine apart, as we've done in the last couple of weeks, has confirmed the diagnosis.

It's no mystery what's going on when you try to unplug the wires from the coil packs and the wires fall apart in your hands.




Anyway, we've now finished converting the Esprit's ignition over to a coil-on-plug system, using wasted spark ignition and a 4-channel CDI ignition box driving the eight individual coil packs. The box is mounted in the luggage compartment, well away from the heat of the engine, and the spark plug leads (made of $3.25/foot hi-temp wire) are routed through nice cool parts of the body and into the coil packs, which fit quite well into the holes in the heads:



And it now runs very nicely.

Oh, and we've also torn the bumper off it:




That's to repair a compression fracture that's been there since I got the car. Finally we'll get this thing looking the way it deserves to.

And then maybe I'll be able to do something fun with it...

Friday, August 14, 2009
13:28 - Tip Or Die
http://www.thevortexbarandgrill.com/

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In keeping with the previous post's "let's all find ways to thumb our nose at modern notions of irresponsible eating", here's an Atlanta restaurant that really seems to have its 'tude in the right place: The Vortex Bar and Grill.

Unfortunately their site's text is all buried in a steaming mound of Restaurant Website Flash Anticopypasta, so I have to just point you to the "Rules" menu. I do love it when a company knows how to write entertainingly.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009
11:34 - That's a load of rich creamery butter
http://www.mcdonalds.co.jp/sales/new/mega_tamago/

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I never cease to be amused by those who maintain that McDonald's is an unrepentant bastion of the unalienable right to obesity in America.

This is because compared to McDonald's in other countries, where they don't have food police stalking the hallways looking for politicians to snitch to, what we have here is a pale ghostly shadow of its popularly ascribed image.

A domestic Big Mac, for instance, has a measly 576 calories. That's about as much as three Taco Bell tacos, or 2/3 as much as a chicken tostada salad at El Pollo Loco. Two Big Mac meals in a day will lead you to malnutrition, not obesity. I don't know how Morgan Spurlock got fat eating those things, unless he O.D'd on the fries at every sitting.

On the other hand, look what they get at Mickey D's across the pond:



McDonald’s Mega Tamago!

Evidently there are some places on Earth where they're not afraid to mass-market food that no sane person should want to eat except on a dare.

Via This Is Why You're Fat, which blog's title would be far more accurate if instead of freak-show once-in-a-blue-moon lark food it were to show lots of photos of people lounging in couches or computer chairs absently eating Doritos.

Monday, August 10, 2009
08:17 - What about our unreasonable demands?!
http://www.marco.org/159321665

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Boy, it's been a while since I've seen a nice crunchy fisking of a good old-fashioned unhinged Apple rant. This one by Marco Arment (via DF) will do quite nicely.

But that’s OK, reality doesn’t seem to apply to this article. His first main point is that Apple should open iTunes to media players from other manufacturers:

Another radical visionary, Steve Gillmor, has been hosting this discussion since Apple’s draconian iTunes updates led smart people to downgrade their software. Think about that mind bomb for a second: people downgrading their software to maintain their freedoms—is this a William Gibson novel?

Where are all of these “smart people” who are downgrading iTunes to maintain their freedoms? And which freedoms? The freedom to break Apple’s DRM? The freedom for Palm to violate the USB spec by identifying the Pre with a different vendor ID?

I didn't exactly have to read much farther than this to realize what we're up against here: one of those "infinite choice equals infinite happiness" people who have taken a concept that works admirably in the world of commodity products like dish detergent and soft drinks and applied it kicking and screaming to the world of software ecosystems. It's people like him we have to thank for the user-interface joys that are GNOME and KDE, and the playground of unfettered competition that thrives like a bacterial colony in one's typical Windows Registry.

On Planet Calacanis, as Arment describes it, it would be a better world if Apple were to "open" its products and release its monopolistic stranglehold on the product interaction chain. If they were to make iTunes play with other, non-iPod music players. If the iPhone would work on other (even multiple simultaneous!) networks. I don't think the piece states this explicitly, but it wouldn't surprise me if Calacanis also demands for Apple to license OS X for generic PC hardware, the favorite hobby-horse of those people who love to illustrate how often it is that the smallest part of the potential market—the part that would represent the least possible gain while costing the greatest possible compromise in product unity and vision—is invariably the loudest.

It's all sealed when the word "over-priced" crosses the screen. God, I haven't seen that one in years. I'd thought everyone had figured out by now what a bargain the iPod is. Not to understand that requires never having used any other MP3 players, or indeed examined the prices on any similarly-spec'd devices from companies such as Microsoft. People like Calacanis can't imagine how such a monolithic market as Apple's can have come into existence because of customer demand for it, not in spite of it; and so his assumption is that the market is now held captive by a not-so-benevolent dictator who is now ruthlessly jacking up prices now that nobody has any choice but to bow down. So the reality—that the prices of iPods have not materially changed since 2001, and indeed have decreased pretty dramatically considering the diversity of the product line nowadays; not to mention that the death of all the competition owes to the competition's crappy product and service offerings more than to any perceived but false value in Apple's or unfair lock-in to an inescapable black hole of an ecosystem—simply doesn't register. How do you suppose it is that Apple has managed to attain such an enviable position of power this decade without backing down from its premium price model that had so doomed it back in the 90s when the cheapo PC market was eating its lunch? It's not because of the inherent fallacy of the model, that's for sure; it just took the market a while to mature into it. Certainly Apple—even without Steve—sure looks like it knew what it was doing all along.

Once you've seen the word "over-priced", you're pretty sure you're dealing with a crank; and once he drops the bombshell that his shining vision of utopia is Akihabara, you know for certain. Yeah: that's what we all want, clearly. The reason the iPhone has succeeded so spectacularly is because it saved us from the morass of anonymous, interchangeable, price-depressed, feature-laden, godawful-UI gadgets that we waded through daily, grasping for BlackBerrys and Palms at the top end of the market because it was the only way to keep above the tidal wave. Japan's theme-park atmosphere and bewildering market of insane feature lists and razor-thin margins would have just been so much the worse. The reason people love the iPhone is that it finally makes sense of that hideous dreamscape, shuts out the clamor and the flashing lights and lets you just put it all in a nice smooth box, letting in just the features you need on your own terms. Hell, it's the reason I finally broke down and got one. It's so unlike a "cell phone" that it let me rethink the whole concept. For that I'm willing to pay for what amounts to another iPod. And so, from the look of things, are a whole lot of other people, who would just as soon not live in Neo-Tokyo.

These "information wants to be free, and so does the hardware it runs on" people are amusing as hell sometimes; one really does wonder what planet they could be living on that makes them so unhappy with the state of things today, so measurably better than they could otherwise be, and bringing such satisfaction to such large swaths of the market, while they stand outside the perimeter, sulking and prowling around looking for reasons to tell us all we're not as happy as we think we are.

But then, I think it's simple enough to tell what's going on, as soon as you see the picture at the top of Calacanis' treatise: the old 1984 ad girl, so recently repurposed by Apple itself with a CG-retrofitted iPod.


Ho ho, how clever. Apple's been turned against itself! How droll! Because, you see, now Steve Jobs is Big Brother. What delicious irony! Surely it takes a big man to take such daring advantage of such a journalistic opportunity; but sometimes, to paraphrase Jack Handey, it takes a bigger man to laugh at that man.

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© Brian Tiemann