Monday, October 31, 2011

"...So I can winch things?"

So the last pictures of my truck's new bumper weren't super. So here are some great before and after shots! Also this is making me realize that maybe the 105-pound bumper and 90-pound winch squatted the suspension down a little more than I thought, so I will soon be going back in to lift it back up. Fun times!

I managed these pictures by driving in to the wildlife management area with the old bumper, taking pictures, driving out and putting the new bumper on, then driving back in, removing all the leaves from the trees. trying to get in the same spot as before, and taking another set of pictures. It was a hard day! Also, Lake Jocassee magically fell 40 feet.

OH NO the stickers give it away! Yeah, these were taken on different days, in different seasons. You got me. Bonus: On my way back to Tennessee some old guy mistook my truck for a racing vehicle of some sort because of all the stickers. That's a victory in my book.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


The key lesson here is easy so I'll get right to it: Disc brakes are much easier to work on than drum brakes. That being said, here are some highlights and before/after pictures from my recent brake job on the Dodge 1500. Maybe there'll be a lesson in here somewhere...

These are one set of front brake pads before replacement, showing obvious signs of wear.

These pictures are before and after having the rotors turned at O'Reilly. The drivers' side rotor was seized on the hub pretty solidly, it took about fifteen minutes of banging on it with my 3-pound dead-blow hammer before it finally popped off, just as I was about to give up. The rotor on the passenger's side came off after three good hits. There was plenty of thickness/life left in the rotors at only 64,000 miles, but they did have a slight warp to them which was causing the steering wheel to freak out (scientific term) whenever the brakes were applied. That has been fixed, and everything is ship-shape.

Brake pad before/after comparison. Not much left on the old ones.

Everything has been put back together on the front! Shiny, turned rotor and new pads. It took me about half an hour to figure out how the retaining springs on the pads went back on but I eventually got it. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of concentration, and the realization that it'll all fit back together just like puzzle pieces.

Time for the rear brakes!

I decided that the rear rotors looked pretty good, so I did not have them turned. Rear brakes on any vehicle usually only provide about 30% of the stopping power so the components are usually smaller and wear out slower. (On this particular truck, the front brakes have two pistons per caliper and the back brakes only have one.) I also didn't have the parking brake rebuilt or replaced, since the truck has such low mileage.

Old pads, still in the caliper assembly.

And a comparison of how much they had worn down, side by side with the new pads.

This also shows some of the corrosion that has occurred over the years. I think the truck may have been driven in a salty area.

Finished! Everything went smoothly, only minor speed bumps to this job. Everything is clean too! I went through a whole can of brake parts cleaner. Super! No real lesson here so I'll finish it off with an awesome picture of a breaker.

Talk about a smart grid! Har har.

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Toy...For A Little Bit

(A quick update on the last post: I forgot to mention I didn't drive out to or back from California. Google Maps isn't really intended for plane rides. The rest of the mess on the Eastern Seaboard was driving though.)

So when I flew out to California two weeks ago, there was an interesting film selection for the in-flight movie. The category is one I've always found interesting because if even one minor thing was changed in an otherwise formulaic storyline it would be the most interesting movie ever because it would have broken the "rules" of the Chick Flick.

For example, if for some reason the protagonist of whichever movie didn't end up with the right guy in the end. I think in real life this sometimes happens, because real life is rarely like the movies. I can't think of a single example of some couple I know that's together because the guy was overly persistent (see: When Harry Met Sally). Social norms aside, I'm also wildly attracted to movies and books with surprising endings, which are not necessarily "surprise" endings, although those are good too (Fight Club and The Sixth Sense spring to mind). Good examples include 2001: A Space Odyssey and 1984.

But any way, I thought about this later on in the trip when I had plenty of time (while I was putting a new starter and battery terminals in the Blue Bomber, our family's '96 Honda van with nearly 200k, in the picturesque and lovely town of New Haven, Connecticut) that maybe in real life when the girl doesn't end up with the right guy, or things don't work out between two people, that maybe this would just be cutting the movie off in the middle. There's still more life to get to before the end of the movie. So, maybe the otherwise superficial movies are relatable to real life, but end of the movie isn't obviously approaching.

Now comes my opportunity to tie this thought into a new project: I am currently in the care of a very large Dodge Ram. It's currently parked next to my Frontier. It's the 2005 Big Horn edition of the 1500, and the engine is approximately four thousand times larger than the V6 in my truck. I am taking care of it for a friend of mine while he's deployed in Iraq, and when I got it, it only needed the brakes rebuilt and an exhaust leak somewhere welded shut. Now it seems to have developed a problem with the EGR valve, which in my opinion shouldn't be built into cars at all, but once it's designed to be there, if it malfunctions it will kill the mileage on whatever vehicle it's on.

I've heard that a good way to fix a stuck EGR valve is to spray the inside off with carburetor cleaner and the plunger will magically spring back to life! So I took the air box out of the truck to give myself room to work:

Then I unclipped the wire from the top of the valve (the valve itself is the soda can-shaped thing to the left and slightly below the alternator, if you're looking at the engine from the front of the truck, which in these pictures is on the right). The next step was unbolting two 8mm bolts and two 10mm bolts holding the valve on the engine. The reason this is interesting is because it's a Dodge so I was expecting the bolts to be standard, not metric, but apparently Chrysler builds some of the Hemi engines in Mexico, where they use metric tools. Like the rest of the world except the United States. Frustratingly. Any way! This is not really surprising, as almost no cars are completely built in any single country any more regardless of brand name.

Once the valve is out (being careful not to lose the two thin seals attached to each side of the valve) I sprayed it excessively with carb cleaner and worked at it with a screwdriver to try and get it free. And apparently it worked!

(That says 22.3 mpg. It averaged 18 driving from Fredericksburg, VA to Manchester, TN.)

...for a little bit. After driving it around for a little bit getting amazing mileage (actually about 4 mpg better than my much smaller Nissan), the check engine light came back on and I started losing mileage, which I assume is the result of the (apparently unfixable) EGR valve. But! This repair is currently in the middle of the movie! The truck just needs a little bit more work, a little bit more persistence, to get to the end of the movie, which will most likely involve a brand new EGR valve.

And even though I like to talk about how working on cars makes me feel better because everything is right in front of you and makes sense and fits together in rational ways (unless it's the electric system on a British car), sometimes things just don't work out. But they will eventually! Once you make it to the end of the movie and get the new EGR valve. Or make it to any number of other things that this metaphor could potentially apply to...

(Hint: This metaphor was not originally thought of in regard to truck repair but it fits! And ironically, the check engine light came on while I was driving the final leg of my vacation. But! Now the truck has cleaned battery terminals and a battery, starter, and alternator that have all tested good. Plus fresh oil! And I've learned a lot already about Mopar engines, like how once you disconnect the battery and reconnect a new one, that the computer has the starter turn the engine over about a flobbidy jillion times so it can get the cam and/or crank sensors re-calibrated. Thankfully. I thought I had broken something.)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Minor Jobs

As cliché as it is for a blog to comment on how often it doesn't post, I actually have an excuse! Almost everything I've been working on for the past four months have either taken much, MUCH longer than I've hoped to finish, or have been failures, or has been interrupted by me traveling to South Carolina for a week, Germany for a week, and California/New England for two weeks. So far I usually don't post until after I've completed a project, unless it's a big project that I do in parts. But here's the run down on some minor stuff that I have done, and updates on what I haven't finished.

Before that though! I was just on vacation and here's where I went! If the link is short enough to fit here:

View Larger Map

If that's not working then here's a link to the map. Make sure to zoom in on New England! That was where half the adventure was.

Google Maps!

If that's not working then here's a condensed list of places I went: San Francisco, CA, Brattleboro, VT, Newport, RI, New Haven, CT (which I only stopped at to put a new starter in the van I was driving), and Washington, DC. I did a lot of visiting of friends in California and New England and also a lot of surfing in California and Rhode Island. That's 50% more states than I've surfed in to date! Also I saw this in the Haight-Ashbury part of San Francisco and I am extremely jealous:

One day I'll have a 280Z for my own. On to more tangible things now! Mostly because I'm terrible at taking pictures of my vacations. I have lots of good stories though.

The stereo amplifier, for some reason, keeps burning its voltage regulator out. I've rebuilt the power supply four times now (which is a hassle because it has a JB welded heat sink) and then I thought I realized one night what my problem was and I ripped the amplifier circuit out of the breadboard to start over, except I was in a questionable state of sobriety at the time I thought I figured it out (we were having a party and it was on the table in the kitchen), and I haven't quite figured out what I had figured out when I tore it apart. So I'm trying to reconstruct all that on my desk now. I need to get this finished because Sue's back on the road and she needs the head unit that's currently driving the speakers in my spare bedroom. So when this amp gets finished it'll drive the speakers here and Sue will have a head unit with an aux input.

I also spent about two months working on repurposing (government word) an old DirecTV satellite dish to transmit and receive Wi-Fi signals. In theory the antenna would have an 18 dB gain over a typical router antenna (and add an element of directionality). However, Wi-Fi is in the 2 GHz range, and I am used to working with radio waves that are two orders of magnitude larger. Larger waves are much, much less finicky. So whenever I feel patient, I'll go back and try and calibrate the biquad element that's attached to this big dish that's sitting in my spare bedroom next to my ironing board, mountain bike, and truck bumper. (More on the bumper later).

Next! There was one good day of wind this past summer and I went out on the windsurfer but the old joint that holds the mast to the board ripped. There was wind from the point of it breaking until the new one came in the mail. There hasn't been wind since even though we're several weeks into Fall, which should theoretically be when the wind starts to recover from the muggy, stagnant summertime. Haven't seen it yet.

One of the smaller jobs that is ongoing with my truck is trying to keep the paint from falling off. I think I have come up with a good (and pretty cheap) way to accomplish this:

This isn't the only spot on the truck that's starting to lose its paint, just the worst. It was obviously repainted before I bought it, and best guess is that whoever did it didn't know anything about the purpose of primer. Oh well, the truck was very, very inexpensive for me, and I beat it up when I take it off road, so there's no sense in it having a good paint job when it's just going to get run into a hedge or other obstacle. Special thanks to my parents for providing almost half of those stickers.

Speaking of paint, I painted Sue's wheels, which are sort of new! I found them on a 1998 Nissan 200SX SE-R (basically, what Nissan called the racing version of their Sentra Coupe in the late 90's). They needed TLC, and that's what they got. Except for Discount Tire breaking one of the center caps and losing another, and Nissan not stocking the center caps at any dealer any more, making it impossible for me to get replacements, they look much better now. In the future, I plan on putting on a very expensive suspension (Sue needs it, she's probably never had the shocks or springs replaced) and tinting the windows.

Also don't think I've forgotten about the Turing-Complete Slow Cooker. I'm just waiting for the winter when it gets dark too early to do anything productive outside after work.

On an unrelated note, this was a good day:

I am also wondering if my blog should be more personal and/or accessible/interesting to people/persons that aren't me. Maybe I'll give that a shot. Wish me luck!

Failures and the Truck's Bumper

Time to try something new! I just put a new bumper on my truck. And, since it was made out of steel instead of plastic and aluminum, I was obligated by natural law to put a winch on it. What started this project was an "altercation" offroading around the Tennessee/Alabama border in which my truck suffered from a minor case of getting its bumper ripped off. While this could be regarded as a "failure" of sorts, I would like to try to intersperse pictures of my new truck's bumper with some commentary on other types of failures! This may end up being very cheesy. But they are good pictures so it would theoretically be possible to just scroll through them. Problem solved!

That's the old bumper. Pre-ripping. It's currently in my spare bedroom.

Picked up the new bumper from a UPS semi in a vacant parking lot in Manchester since he couldn't get the truck to my apartment. Got a flat tire in the process by running over a piece of flashing and a screw. Live and learn I suppose.

I had an interview with an automotive company in South Carolina a little over a year ago. It was the worst interview of my life (it was six hours long and done in stages with horrible unsolvable interpersonal challenges, unless you are reading this and you are from said car company and you remember me from before, and you would like to hire me now, in which case the interview(s) was/were actually FANTASTIC, and I am just trying to illustrate a point now, in my blog). Despite my generally poor experience, they did ask me a very interesting question during the "standard" part of the interview that I have thought about extensively since then.

I added the green stickers for the usual reason: prevention of rust.

The usual interview question would have gone something like, "What are some of your weaknesses?" which is my least favorite question to answer in an interview but one that I am prepared to (hopefully) schmooze my way out of. It's an open-ended, fairly useless HR question and requires an answer that is just as meaningful as the question. Any way, the interviewers had a different take on the standard question, which was "What was your biggest failure?" I gave an answer so bad that I could easily answer it now with "The last time someone asked me that question."

I ended up having to hit the bumper mounts excessively hard with a hammer (read: one of the linemen from work used the hammer) but it went on. Those metal ridges on the top were getting in the way, it's like the front part of the frame is two pieces, with a cap on the top. It was about a quarter inch away from working. I think the truck was in a minor front-end collision before I bought it and so the frame was slightly bent. There was also evidence that the frame was welded post-assembly. This type of event would certainly be a good reason to re-paint a vehicle, which it looks like happened as well. It's like I'm a private detective in a murder mystery! Any way...

In retrospect I have determined the correct answer to this question, which is that there ARE NO FAILURES. As long as I learn from my mistakes, which, if this blog is any evidence, I do all the time. Recent failures I've learned from (I am not making any of these up) include using a propane torch on a wooden deck to solder an antenna together, making sure to unplug the dryer before fiddling with its wiring (yes, I am an electrical engineer, but I don't remember them teaching us any common sense), using the mast from my windsurfer to take a satellite dish off the roof of a house, and getting stuck on the New Jersey turnpike while being a Southerner who isn't used to having to pay tolls or the smell of Newark.

Whose awesome shadow is that? This guy, with the thumbs. Also, Sue says "Hi". The winch hasn't been installed yet. Wait until the next picture.

Even normal, run-of-the-mill failures are easy to learn from. I failed three exams (out of five) (in a row) in a class called ECE 427: Communications Systems, one of the hardest classes on the face of the planet and ALSO in a particular area of electrical engineering which I am neither A) good at or B) interested in even a little bit. I still made a C (almost a B actually) in the class because I learned how to... not fail the exams.

I think if this question is asked in the future I could always start off with a half-true joke: "Oh, you mean besides with women?" [Cue awkward laughter in interview room from people who are pretty much strangers...] Perhaps, maybe, that's not the right way to approach the question.

With winch installed. Truck power! Sorry about the low light, it was stormy today. There will be more pictures when I get to take it offroad, hopefully this weekend at Lake Jocassee, one of my favorite places in the entire world!

Long story short: Even though I seem to have come to very cheesy conclusion about life, it is still a good lesson to learn. There are no failures! Maybe a famous person said something more quaint about it. And now, as a bonus, my truck is more manly, awesome, and less prone to failure while on the trail. Maybe I'll even get to use the winch to help people get out of snow drifts this winter!

Also here is a CAKE song as a reward for reading this whole thing. It's one of my favorite songs.