Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A tale of a Lexus and sudden, unintended lack of acceleration

dash lightsImage by Tony Kingdad via Flickr

Let me start my saying: "I AM OK!" :)

I was on my way home from work this afternoon, in my Lexus (1994 LS400), heading north on I-65 toward I-165, when it happened: the check engine light came on and I was suddenly thrust into a frightful situation: sudden, unintended lack of acceleration. Try as I might, regardless of how hard I pressed the accelerator, my car just would not accelerate. There was a slight, ever-so-hesitant increasing velocity (it could scarcely be called acceleration). The car would maintain interstate speed, but took a long, long time to achieve it. Fortunately, for me, I-65 in Mobile, despite its 65 mph speed limit, typically maintains a good, steady 27 mph pace (ok, that's slight exaggeration, but not much), but I was in a panic. What was I to do? I kept pressing the accelerator, harder and harder, but it just would not go any faster. I hit the brakes to let in a car from an on ramp, and that car quickly sped away as I struggled to get my Lexus back up to cruising speed. In a vain attempt, I rolled down the window, put out my head, looked back, and blew as hard as I could, but that did not help to accelerate the car.

I made the transition to the I-165 ramp and held my speed through the turn (fortunately it was not crowded with the usual traffic slowing to 14 mph around the 45 mph curve that I routinely take at, well, let's just say "more than 45"), so I was able to maintain my speed through the curve. I merged onto I-165 - well, I say "merged," but really it was more like staying in my lane since that's exactly what I did, as the lane that comes off I-65 is the same lane I need to be in to take the exit off I-165 to Bay Bridge Road. I managed to maintain my speed throughout this ordeal thus far, but this was just the beginning. At the bottom of the off ramp of I-165 is a stoplight, and numerous other stoplights dot the roadway between my exit off I-165 (which, actually, I don't own, despite calling it "my" exit) and home. With the car not wanting to accelerate, these stoplights could be deadly if the car behind me became impatient when the light turned green.

London Bridge (Tower Bridge) : Reflection on t...Image by Anirudh Koul via Flickr

Fortunately, an 18-wheeler was in front of me, thus justifying the unintended lack of acceleration from the Lexus. (Yes, I'd tried putting the car in neutral, turning it off, then turning it back on, but this did not cure the unintended lack of acceleration problem.) Actually, it may have been more than an 18-wheeler, as it was a double-trailer truck, but in the heat of the moment, under such duress as I was, I do not recall whether each smaller trailer had four or eight wheels (i.e., one or two axles). The next challenge was the Cochrane-Africatown Bridge (which does not look like this picture, but Zemanta won't give me a pic of that bridge even though there's a nice one at the Wiki article linked here), which has a fairly steep incline. Would the ailing Lexus and its unintended lack of acceleration be capable of climbing the menacing roadway? Fortune continued to smile, and we (the Lexus and I) made it up the bridge. (Down the other side was easy; gravity assisted there. And, once again, I tried the neutral-turn-off-and-restart procedure; once again it failed.) The 18(?)-wheeler continued to occupy the roadway in front of me and I continued to play the part of a person afraid to go around, instead accelerating extremely slowly, at the rate of an 18(?)-wheeler.

The multi-trailer semi stayed in front of me as I headed toward Spanish Fort on the Causeway (US 90/98), which fortunately is rather devoid of traffic lights. But again a decision had to be made in the midst of the strife of unintended lack of acceleration: once reaching Spanish Fort, there would be lights aplenty, along with (likely) cars stopping to turn left across traffic. All instances where unintended lack of acceleration could be a great bad thing. On the other hand, I could take I-10 into Spanish Fort and on toward the Malbis exit (and home), thus avoiding the lights, but presenting another challenge: the uprising on ramp and needing to attain interstate speed along the uphill slope. I watched the traffic on I-10, and it seemed there might be a good "merging spot" about the time I would expect to hit the interstate; I decided to try. The 18(?)-wheeler, though, decided to pull off the causeway not long before the onramp to I-10, and slowed in anticipation of his stop. Decision time: try to go around? or wait till he passes?

I decided to wait. Once he pulled off, I nailed the accelerator to the floor (not literally; I do have a lot of tools in the Lexus, from the recent door handle replacement, but nails and a hammer or nail gun are not among them), and waited as the car continued to fail to accelerate. Slowly, ever so slowly, the speedometer needle began to rise; fortunately there was no car in front of me as I reached the on ramp, so I was able to maintain my speed, such as it was, through the turn onto the on ramp, instead of slowing as most vehicles do. I had nearly attained 60 mph when I reached the top of the on-ramp, which I have now spelled three different ways in this discourse, and the anticipated break in traffic was marred only by one vehicle which, politely, moved to the other lane to let me in.

So far, so good. I tried the neutral-off-restart again (and noticed the car DIED when I put it in neutral), no change in the unintended lack of acceleration issue. No matter, I am now able to maintain nearly the speed limit, although the car now will not actually reach interstate speed (and, when I put it in neutral, it either dies or idles around 100-200 rpm). As I head into Spanish Fort, I consider the options and decide that I will take the Malbis exit (as planned), take the first right into the Sam's/Car Dealer/Gas Station/Lowe's/Food Places shopping-like area, park the car at Sam's, and see what can be done. Unfortunately, as I head toward the Malbis exit, I see that the off-ramp green light is turning yellow, meaning that I will not have a green when I arrive (fortunately, there will also be no traffic in front of me). As I remove my foot-nail from the accelerator, allowing the car to return to "idle-cruise" - it dies. It will not even stay running when in "D" at 40 mph.

This is a problem, as when the motor stops, so does the power steering. Now, I have had cars without power steering before (e.g., my 1978 Alfa Romeo Sport Sedan), but a car that is supposed to have power steering, when it doesn't, is a real beast to steer, and although I like steak, I don't like this situation. Fortunately, my manliness pays off and I am able to overcome the lack of power steering and avoid running into the cars that are trying to merge into the lane that I am not going to yield because I don't want to try to get this Lexus moving from a stop. I put the car into neutral, start, dies. Start, dies. Start, gas, keep the revs up, shift into drive, turn into the shopping area, foot off the gas, car dies, power steering is gone, car jerks, but I maintain a firm grip on the wheel and using my manliness keep the car in its lane. Neutral, start dies, start, rev, keep the revs up, drive, brake and gas simultaneously to keep the car from dying even though I'm slowing, no traffic, go.

Pull into a parking spot, gas and brake, off the gas, dies. Won't start - just spins the engine. Gas it while cranking and it will start, but won't stay running unless I keep the gas applied. Funny sounds, buzzy exhaust, lots of black smoke. Just for fun I pulled the mass airflow sensor plug and try to start it, but that accomplishes nothing.

Call my wife, she picks me up, and here I sit, lucky, fortunate not to have been in an accident from my Lexus unintended lack of acceleration problem, writing this, as the car waits on me to go see if it will run later tonight to bring it home.
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Monday, March 8, 2010

Writing on shaky ground...

(Pun intended in the topic; you'll have to read on to see if you get why.)

What do you call a nursing mother in an earthquake? Milkshake. (For those who don't get it, such as when retelling to younger children: what do you call a cow in an earthquake? Milkshake.) Yes, this post is on "recent events" regarding the richter scale. And a little Biblical tie in, from Matthew 24 (from the New International Version, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica):

3As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"

4Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. 5For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. 6You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are the beginning of birth pains.

So, what exactly is meant by the phrase, "earthquakes in various places" (actually, it's probably "famines and earthquakes in various places")? Consider The Message (Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson) translation:

3Later as he was sitting on Mount Olives, his disciples approached and asked him, "Tell us, when are these things going to happen? What will be the sign of your coming, that the time's up?"

4-8Jesus said, "Watch out for doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities, claiming, 'I am Christ, the Messiah.' They will deceive a lot of people. When reports come in of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don't panic. This is routine history; this is no sign of the end. Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Famines and earthquakes will occur in various places. This is nothing compared to what is coming.

That seems a little different; we are, after all, living in a fallen, dying (dead?) world.

Anyway, what I really wanted to get at is this:

quakes 7.0+ per decadeImage by Tony Kingdad via Flickr

Look at the chart (if you don't see it, you may have to go to the original blog post - click the pic to make it bigger if you can't see it very well, then press "back" on your browser to return here). What does it look like to you? The number of "major earthquakes" appears, based on data from the National Geophysical Data Center's Significant Earthquake Database (the specific search was for all quakes greater than 7.0 magnitude from year 1 to year 2010), to have been on the rise since, oh, the 1600s, and really on the rise since the 1800s or so. (As a note: I don't think we can really count "total number of earthquake detections" as 1) the number and dispersion of seismometers; 2) the sensitivity of seismometers; 3) the global communication necessary to report events worldwide have all been increasing, significantly, over the last century or so.) So, does this mean "we're nearing the end?" There are plenty of proponents of that (such as here). I'm not saying one way or the other; what I'm doing is offering data so that you can come to your own conclusion (although there may be some personal thoughts somewhere along the way). Jesus said (John 8:32, NIV), "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Note: I am NOT suggesting that what I'm saying is, or is equivalent to, the teaching of Jesus! I'm just offering data. When it comes to Christians trying to live as a witness to The Truth, that is, the Gospel, the Good News, the Love of God for a lost and fallen world, I think we do well to make sure that, as much as possible, we know the facts, get the facts straight, and don't offer views based on incomplete or incorrect data. Some will be turned off by such inaccuracies, lumping our knowledge of the Truth in with our knowledge of the facts, and thus we might turn away one who otherwise might have listened (and, again, I know it's God's spirit that does the convincing, but we're also to "study to shew thyself approved."

Anyway... so, the number of major earthquakes is on the rise. Or is it? Where do most major earthquakes happen? Pacific rim: western Americas, Pacific Asian nations. Yes, there are a few outside of that (Haiti & Turkey, for instance, although Turkey's recent quake was a 6.0, not a 7.0 or greater), but the majority occur somewhere along the Pacific plates (Pacific tectonic plates, not your fancy Pacific dishware). And, from a westerner's perspective, when did we start living in such places? Probably around that time frame, the 1800s. And around that time was also the invention of the telegraph, along with other increased communication methods, such as with the Pacific Asian nations.

So, to what would all this lead? Yep, an increase in the number of perceived major earthquakes. Not necessarily an increase in the number of earthquakes (unless all those new Californians suddenly took up the sport of synchronized jumping, which, knowing Californians, I wouldn't necessarily find totally unbelievable). Thus, the apparent number of major earthquakes just might increase significantly around that whole time frame (the 1600s? well, there was increased trade with the Asian nations around that time frame, right? hence increased spreading of "news" such as major earthquakes).

Now, all that being said, here's another question: if Jesus was, in fact, indicating an increase in the number of earthquakes - was that a literal number of earthquakes or the perception of earthquakes, which could stem from increased seismic monitoring, increased population and better communication, and increased large, man-made structures and roads that would be damaged by such quakes, leading to increased damage reports? Is there a distinction, and does it matter? Or, in fact, was Jesus just saying, "Guys, this 'stuff' all around you, it's only the beginning; it doesn't even compare to what's coming in the end!"?

In short, my point is simply: know the data, make up your mind, and then, when people ask you about the data, you'll already have some idea on how to answer.

Now I turn my attention to another viewpoint. I was talking (OK, chatting via Google Talk) with one of the wisest men I know, my dad, about this subject today. He said a few things that I think are worth repeating. First, he said, "What i'm pretty sure of is that our theology on the 2nd coming is at least as accurate as the Jews' was on the 1st coming." Ha, so true! So true. He also said, "I prefer the thief in the night concept; don't try to guess when, just be sure you're ready." My friend Christy said the same thing in her post: be sure you're ready. As she put it: "I can't wait! [for His second coming]" ('Cause, of course, then I won't have to "work" anymore, although at the time He returns I don't think that'll be anywhere NEAR my mind! More like, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.")

In the meantime, if you want to get away from earthquakes, there are a few places in the world that look pretty good: Africa, Antarctica, Greenland, and maybe Scandinavian areas (you know, northern Europe). (Personally, I think it'd be cool to live in Antarctica, no pun intended.)

Completely unrelated, my daughter just asked, "Why are the scissors magnetized? Is it from sitting near my laptop?" Could be. Interestingly, I noticed, when looking at the Fiskars website, the company is over 360 years old! They were founded in 1649. Wow. They are from Finland... no earthquakes there - so maybe it is related.

Anyway, there you go... comments welcome.

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Linky post

I think I like Old Spice commercials. Nearly as much as the Allstate rice krispy treat commercial (which I can't seem to find online).

Do you know what color alien plants are? NASA thinks they do. I wonder, though... is this what we're spending our space tax money on? Thinking about what color alien plants are?

In case you missed it, Hello From Earth has sent a radio message at a potentially life-supporting extra-solar planet. Only 19 years, 353 (or so) days (at the time of this blog post) till it arrives. Plus another 20 years for any return message. Isn't it exciting?

The iPod, it iMac, the iPhone, the iPad, the iShoe... why is "i" the new "e"? eMachines, etc. Talk about a selfish, self-centered, self-oriented society - we now equate everything "cool" with "i"...

Legally sold drugs, unknown manufacturer: K2. Don't let your kids have this! From the article: "Although the company manufacturing K2 is unknown, it is legally available for purchase in the U.S. by anyone, including minors." Really? Sounds fishy to me... and why would you buy something that you don't know who made it?

Think about this the next time you're getting ready to take off. What was this guy thinking? It wasn't even "take your kid to work day"!

This one may become a fuller post later, but for now, looks like the national parks of the US are the next Columbian highlands.

Finally: calling Dick Tracy! Calling Dick Tracy!

And now I've exhausted a lot of my recent "potential blog posts" Google Bookmarks. Hope you've enjoyed! Now I'm going to go eat while I'm watching the guys try to polish giraffe poop on Mythbusters. Fun.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Doom, gloom, and loss of sleep or productivity!

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! ...

wait, wrong story ...

The days are shorter! The days are shorter! Due to recent events in Chile, commonly referred to as "major earthquake" or "national disaster," the length of a day on earth is going to be 1.26 microseconds shorter! You know, how a figure skater who is spinning, when she pulls in her arms, she spins faster. Well, the Chilean earthquake has caused mother earth to pull in her arms a bit, speeding up her rotation. And when her rotation speeds up, the time to rotate decreases. Welcome to a much shorter day! Whatever are you going to do? You have 1.26 fewer microseconds with which to perform your daily activities... will you lose that amount in sleep? In work? In play time? Or will you split it across all your various daily activities?

This isn't the first time this has happened, of course; according to the article, the 2004 earthquake that cause a deadly tsunami shortened the earth's rotational period by 6.8 microseconds. That's nearly 10 microseconds in six years! I knew I was getting tired-er since 2004!

In an only semi-related (due to seismic activity) vein, Yellowstone may be getting ready to do its own major natural disaster thing. Yellowstone, in case you haven't heard, is part of a HUGE volcano, known as a "supervolcano" - that may be getting ready to cover the US in ash. Recently there have been a swarm of earthquakes in the area - there were over 1800 quakes (as reported by the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory) in the days between January 17 and February 11, 2010. If you're wanting to visit Yellowstone, I'd say do it soon before it blows its top. If you live near Yellowstone, I'd say move away. If you want to find an elephant, don't look in a mud cauldron, 'cause you probably won't find one there, but there might be one at your neighborhood zoo. If that zoo is near Yellowstone, try to get the elephant to move away; you can bring it to my house if you want, because I like elephants. If you live in the mid to eastern US, you might want to get a snow shovel (if you don't already have one due to the increasing winter storms from global warming) to help dig your way out of the ash layer that may soon cover your property, as well as picking up some high quality dust masks, bottling some water, and getting some non-perishable food supplies gathered for the potential chaos.

I hope I haven't caused great anguish to circumnavigate your thinking regions with this blog post, but it gets worse: the post office is considering doing away with Saturday deliveries. The cost of mailing things may go up as well, as the USPS is currently set to deliver a $238 billion loss over the next 10 years. What does this mean to you? The cool thing you bought on eBay may 1) cost more to ship; 2) not arrive until Monday whereas before you would've gotten it on Saturday.

Shorter days, ash-covered USA, and no Saturday mail deliveries of your favorite postal items... what's the world coming to? This, unfortunately (and I'll refrain from commenting on that at this time, although I expect some discussion in the comments from my 3 readers).
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