Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Hard Truth About Hardware

Most of my nemeses can be found in any hardware store.
They lurk on the plumbing supplies aisle. There are also quite a few challengers on the electrical aisle. I have grudgingly accepted a cease fire from the nail bins, but the hardware store is not Brent-friendly.
Case in point—today I sought to change out a lighting fixture in our kitchen. Being moderately tech-savvy, and unapologetically cheap, I elected to light the new fixture with LED bulbs that will last beyond my life expectancy. I figured while I was at it, I’d install a dimmer switch on the fixture circuit. What could possibly go wrong?

I have a healthy respect for electricity. The first thing I did was turn off the power to that part of the house. I asked my wife to tell me when the light went off, as I headed for the garage. “It’s still on,” she said, as I approached the garage door.
Everyone’s a comedian.

Once I got the power off, I took down the existing fixture and noticed the brace in the ceiling to which it was anchored would not fit the hardware on the replacement fixture. Of course not. So off to the hardware store I headed, like a sheep to slaughter.

On my first trip to the store, I located a helpful associate in the electrical aisle and told him what I was going to do. He asked some very technical questions, like “is this light also controlled by another switch elsewhere?” (It is.) “Are you going to run LED bulbs in the fixture?” Another brilliantly insightful query. I felt confident as I returned home with $65 worth of hardware, a dimmer switch, and a box of high tech lightbulbs for my project.

With the able assistance of my Bride, for whom this entire ordeal was being borne, we got the new fixture installed with minimum trouble and use of colorful adjectives. I disconnected the old light switch, taking careful note of which colored wires were going where.

Instructional English grammar is a lost art form, especially in developing countries where inexpensive electrical parts—like dimmer switches, for instance—are manufactured. I was, therefore, not surprised when my first attempt at wiring the switch failed.
Not spectacularly so—there were no sparks or smoke.
It. Just. Didn’t. Work.

There are three wires plus a ground lead to be connected to this switch. That leaves 16-potential wiring combinations. Nine possible solutions, if you figure you’re pretty sure where the ground wire goes. After the first two wiring attempts ended in failure, I removed the wires, took a snapshot of the wiring box with my smartphone, and headed back to the hardware store. Not happily.

Chris, the helpful hardware man, looked at my wiring snapshot, looked at the switch, and unfurled the instructions for his own forensic analysis. We came up with two possible combinations involving the placement of one red wire, two black wires, and the copper ground. I returned home, cautiously optimistic. His solution matched neither of the wiring scenarios I’d tried before.

The next wiring combination I tried—Chris’s first suggestion--also failed. I was getting desperate. I forgot to turn off the power at the breaker, and the live wire reminded me of my mistake as I began to disconnect the wires (insert colorful euphemism here). On a hunch, I swapped the two black leads—the “traveler” and the black half of a twisted pair. 

Success! Sort of.

The light fixture sprang to life…the dimmer dimmed. But the second switch on the circuit had to be “on” in order for the dimmer switch to operate. Tough. The cover plate went back on the wall, and I rejoiced that I’d only had to make TWO trips to the hardware store to complete this chore.
For me, that’s a record.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Back to Blogging: A Nightmare on Main Street

(2:15am in the Master Suite) The nightmare awakens me as it releases its grip. Its paralyzing fear is deadline-based, a pounding inevitability that cannot be escaped without rousing. I am working against a clock.

I haven’t had a nightmare about school since…I left school, over 30-years ago. My recent return to the classroom, both as an instructor and a student, has apparently resurrected some old anxieties. This time their return comprises an interesting mix of phobias and infirmities compiled over six decades of life.

The month of May means graduation and freedom for the summer for students of all ages—at least until the summer sessions commence. May also means final exams, and tonight’s nightmarish scenario places me in a classroom in the midst of finals. The seat is agonizingly uncomfortable, built for the frame of a teenager, and its confining contours bind my body and my brain.

A former government professor is administering this course--some English Composition derivative in which I am certain I was enthused to enroll.  His cryptic and arcane instructions, however, are blurring before my eyes, and my hands will not obey my brain’s commands to commit to paper the answers to the test.

“Create your response in the ‘Lifestyle Narrative,’ describing blah-bluh blah-blah-blah,” the instructions drone across the page. My mind struggles to recall the chapter discussion on this particular style of prose, with its arcane textual properties and irregular sentence structures. Don't you remember the lectures? (I don't even know what that means--it’s a nightmare, remember?)

My brain infarction is double-teamed by an onset of crippling arthritis in both hands—something that’s not on the course syllabus. Each word is painfully inscribed on the test packet that is growing more rumpled by the minute.

“Indicate your satisfaction with the instructor by drawing a circle next to the word, ‘then.’” More instructions. “If you enjoyed a positive experience this semester, draw a green circle; if you did not have a good experience, draw a red circle.” 

College professors are on the hunt for feedback as they build their resumes and justification for tenure. I carefully draw a circle next to the word, and white ink comes out on the page. I scramble for a different colored pen as the classroom begins to sense the expiration of the test period. A low rumbling of tittering and shifting in chairs begins to stalk across the room. Students complete their tests and leave, one by one. I’m still struggling with Question Number One. And that red or green ink thing. My hands won’t work.

And suddenly, it’s over. 

The room is dark. I’m in my bed, our dog gently breathing between my wife and I. The test isn’t just over; it never happened.

Regular posts to this site have been suspended for the past few months, thanks to job changes and time shifts. And school. Watch this space for more regular and frequent submissions from the daily adventures of the human race.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Automotive Reporter Biz News for Wk of 11-9-15

This week’s column can be posted on your refrigerator as a hint for Santa this Christmas.
If you don’t get what you want this year, perhaps you can just print up a 3-D version of anything your heart desires.
It’s coming to that.

On display at the SEMA show in Las Vegas, the Local Motors’ LM3D Swim—which the company touts as the “latest rapid vehicle iteration leading to a fully homologated 3D-printed vehicle…”
Say what?

That’s a fancy way of saying the 3D-printed car will be approved for sale, and you can purchase one as early as next year. The LM3D-Swim is the first of a series of vehicles to be built using the Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM) process, which includes 3D printing. 

The design for the car by Local Motors’ community member, Kevin Lo, was selected by a judging panel that included Jay Leno and SEMA VP of Vehicle Technology, John Waraniak. Local Motors is now entering the car into the testing phase, including trials for highway safety and federal crash tests.  The company is constructing a microfactory in Knoxville, Tennessee, to produce the vehicles starting next year. MRSP will be around $53,000.
Colored ink is optional.

A few months ago I wrote about a problem created by trying to put the wrong tires on my MX-5 Miata. I learned the chassis for the Mazda utilizes the same geometry and design as a Lotus, and was in fact told that the Mazda two-seater is essentially a Japanese Lotus.

Pretty sure Lotus doesn’t tell everyone it’s a British Miata, but the similarities in proportional performance still exist. Behold, Lotus is now offering the 2017 Evora 400, which boasts 55-hp more oomph, 92-pounds less weight, and a plethora of advancements.  The company produced this promotional
video to show how much fun you can buy for $91,375.

The newest Evora is fitted with a mid-mounted supercharged 400-hp 3.5-Litre V-6 on a new aluminum chassis wrapped in a composite body.
Are you reading this, Santa?

If yon’t have $91k to plunk down on a Lotus, there’s always the Mazda Miata or Toyota’s Scion FR-S. Evo’s “Deadly Rivals” series pits the pair on a racetrack with Dan Prosser at the controls. He’s partial to one car, but cannot deny the superiority of the other. The video tells the tale of the tape.
This clip is also great for sharing with Santa.

We teased this news last week on the Automotive Reporter Radio Show: Hyundai is creating a separate division with its ‘Genesis’ brand to compete with the world’s leading luxury car nameplates. The company’s press release touts “human-centered” luxury with a half-dozen new models. 

Genesis will change its model designations to an alpha system, combining “G” with the numbers 90, 80, 0r 70. In your face, M-Series.

Hyundai is also retooling the Genesis winged badge emblem to create a more luxurious look. Back atcha, Bentley

This makes perfect business sense.
For a long time I have believed the Genesis series of automobiles to be among the best values on the road, blending manufacturing excellence with sexy design cues, and backed by Hyundai’s nearly interminable 100,000k warranty.

Dodge SRT is adopting the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving as the “official” driving school of the brand. When you purchase a new 2015 or ’16 SRT model, you receive one full-day session of high-performance driving, including track time and professional instruction.
Hotel and airfare not included.

The entire fleet of Bondurant trainers is being converted to Dodge SRT’sChargers, Challengers, and Vipers.

Bondurant says he’s been waiting for the right circumstances to launch the school and capitalize on his racing championship legacy. “The Dodge/SRT muscle cars provide me the perfect platform needed to thoroughly teach road racing,” he says.

The classes combine advanced street driving skills with proven racing techniques, plus hours of track time for vital hands-on experience behind the wheel. The course includes skid control, accident avoidance, line technique and a lead-and-follow session.
This would make a great stocking stuffer. Just sayin...

Following the legacy of its founder, Ford Motor Company is sharing the intellectual wealth by licensing robotic vehicle testing technology to other car makers. Working with Autonomous Solutions Inc, Ford has developed a turnkey test kit available directly from ASI. The package can save time and spare human drivers from the tedium of driving over curbs and through potholes in automobile endurance testing. Or they could just slap a GoPro on some of the bluehair drivers in Houston for that test.

The robotically driven vehicles will perform repetitive tests on torturous surfaces with names like Silver Creek, Power Hop Hill and Curb Your Enthusiasm, compressing ten years of daily driving abuse into courses just a few hundred yards long. 

They should come tryout Houston’s Monroe Drive near the Hobby Airport.
Same thing.

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