Dime holding up a Dollar…

The proverbial dime.

The M Roadster is now getting old, so I’m having to dive in and tend to things. One of the bizarre weaknesses of this race-bred engine is this tiny little filter that is located in the VANOS Solenoid pressure relief valve. Apparently if clogged this thing can ruin your day, and your VERY EXPENSIVE engine along with it. Given the age and mileage, and the fact that I’m planning on a weekend trip, the time has come to attend to the task. Thankfully, it’s relatively simple.

Pop the unit out of the head, thankfully located in a very easy to reach spot at the front of the engine:

22mm wrench right there.
And… Remove.

The process at this point it to remove two old o-rings and the filter at the end of the unit. Mine did not look that bad. Very little in the way of clogs, but certainly worth a swap.

Old filter.

The o-rings were old and crusty and came right off with ease. The filter not so much. The plastic was very brittle and it basically disintegrated as soon as I tried to pull it off with needle nose pliers. I had to resort to a pick to remove the final, base ring.

New filter.
Reassembled unit, with old parts adjacent.

Popped back in the head and ready to go.

E24M Power Steering pump rebuild and reinstall.

Freshly rebuilt power steering pump.

When I drove this car home from its previous owner in Wisconsin I noted an odd, barely perceptible vibration when the steering wheel was anywhere right of TDC. It grew worse over the following year, to the point I stopped driving it. From the leaks I could tell that this pump was dying. Eventually all the fluid came out, even while parked.

I replaced the alternator soon after driving it home (its bushings had collapsed) so it’s not surprising that these thirty-plus year old seals had hardened to the point of uselessness. I also was a bit daunted by the pump’s location and what appears to be a complicated bracket setup. The alternator turned out to require removal of some radiator hoses, which didn’t happen this time, but it still wasn’t easy.

The PS pump has two hydraulic connections, and a multiple set of brackets on both front and back, along with a toothed adjustment bracket to set the belt tension.

It was tough to remove, mostly due to the difficulty in reaching the top hydraulic banjo bolt. Thankfully I had the car on the scissor lift and could find the sweet spot for reach while lying on a carpet remnant on the cold concrete of the shop floor. It took multiple attempts at multiple heights to get all seven or so regular bolts and the two banjo bolts undone. I then sent the pump off to a guy in California for the rebuilding.

A bit of hilarity ensued when he mixed up two pumps and sent each to the wrong clients. Thankfully he figured out quickly where each of them were and had us ship them to each other on his dime. I don’t mind some human error now and then, what matters is how it gets handled. Compared to our experiences with Dan Mooney of Classic Jaguar (which was a costly nightmare) this experience was smooth and I’m still a happy customer in the end. This car needs another pump rebuilt, and I’m very likely to send it to the same guy. He was fast, communicative, and swift to rectify his shipping error. The pump looks great (almost like new, only the “West Germany” label betrays its age!) and arrived pre-primed with fluid. So far I’m impressed.

Less impressive is my mechanical ineptitude as always. It required three attempts to get it back into the car properly. All due to me. 100%. On the second attempt I figured out that the hydraulics need to be attached FIRST since the hoses have to be “just so” in order to properly sink those banjo bolts into the right spots. Of course, they are not visible while you’re doing this and so you’re holding up the pump with one hand while reaching around to the top with the other to blindly turn a bolt, hose, and two washers (which always want to fall out and roll off to some dim, unlit corner of the shop!) into the right spot. After I figured that part out, I found that the adjuster bracket really needed to be installed on the bench prior to installation in the car:

Proper pre-installation of the adjustment bracket.

One more lap around the hydraulic hose install and then one fixed bracket bolt and THEN the adjustment bracket and finally all the other bolts and it is done.

I figure about the time I figure everything out, I’ll die.

But at least now I can get this car moving under its own power again, and off the lift so I can get back to swapping snow tires on and off cars. Winter has come!

Back in the car.
My chilly workshop.

Shocking development…

Well, not really shocking but certainly annoying. Perhaps some indication of my cognitive decline?

Last night I noted that our TV and amplifier (which drives our sound system, and serves as output for the TV, our Roku, AirPlay, and Bluetooth, etc… was off. It usually sits is a “sleep” state as modern electronics do, but they each have an LED somewhere that tells you they are still “on”. Well they were off. I had a look at the power strip behind the furniture where they plug in and toggled the switch. No juice. Went out the garage to check the breakers and sure enough, one has tripped. It is labeled “lights bedroom” which is unhelpful, so I went back in after resetting the breaker and everything was “on” again. I popped my head into the back bedroom which is now my office and the room where the wine collection is housed. Everything seemed fine. I stepped out and thought I’d poke at Netflix and see if something I’d been wanting to watch is available. I find the thing and it is doing that annoying Netflix thing where it auto-plays under the display screen and “pop” the TV & Amp (and Roku, AppleTV, et al) turn off again. I poke my head in my office and sure enough the light switch just flips. No light. OK, so the label is half right. Clearly the bedroom in the NW corner is on this circuit, but so is the wall it shares with the bedroom. My laptop is still running on battery but all the external HDDs have been unmounted because the power is out, so I know my nightly backups are going to fail if I allow this situation to continue.

I slip into troubleshooting mode.

This setup has been running just fine for over a year. I haven’t added any additional load to this circuit. Perhaps some component has a fault and is causing the breaker to open? That’s my theory so I first find some extension cords and power strips to run from other parts of the house to the items on this circuit. I head out the the garage and grab a few (I also stumble upon the power cord for my time-lapse rig in a box out there! Happy dance! I love little coincidences like that. I’ve been wracking my brain to locate that item for over a year!) I reset the breaker, which I note is a 15 amp one, and head in to start unloading the circuit. I start with the TV/multimedia setup. I run a power strip to relocate all of its plugs. Shortly after I power them all up the circuit breaker opens again. I know this because the bedroom light goes off and I hear the wine cooler shut off. A metaphorical light bulb goes on above my head and I think “maybe the compressor of the wine cooler has gone bad?” Thankfully it is closing in on Winter and my office is wine cellar temp anyway, so I wander in with a flashlight and pull the wine cooler’s plug, head out to the garage to reset the breaker. Back in my office I’m already starting to unplug all my external hard drives to get them off the circuit when the lights go out again. I’m getting frustrated. It takes a few trips back and forth from my office to the garage (at opposite ends of the house) to get the whole of my desk and its devices onto an extension cord coming from the bathroom.

Several attempts continue to the point where I’m CERTAIN there is nothing on this circuit but the ceiling light fixture, and the breaker continues to open at random times. Now I’m angry. Well, perhaps exasperated is a more accurate term. I finally give up, leaving the wine cooler unplugged and head to bed, now a full two to three hours later than I usually head to sleep.

This morning, after sleeping on it I’m mulling over in my head what might be going on. There is a sharpie mark right next to the 15 amp breaker in the garage so I’m starting to suspect that this breaker has a history with the previous owners of the house. Two other breakers have similar marks, so it’s turning into an “oh crap, I’m going to be hiring a professional electrician to sort this out at some point aren’t I?” scenarios. Ugh.

As I’m wrestling with all the data, troubleshooting, and theory around in my brain I’m making myself my morning hot cocoa. Linda walks in and tells me “The water for the red mares* is all frozen over this morning. The tank heater you installed yesterday isn’t working.”

OF COURSE! I used an extension cord from the water feature off our back patio out to there pasture where *Linda has been fostering two horses for a local animal rescue operation. They have been quarantined away from our barn and her other animals, so we have rigged up a temporary enclosure for them. It has been impossible to keep their water from freezing so I went to a hardware store and ran a cord from our backyard to run a tank heater. The tank heater is a borrowed one and it strong enough to keep our pond from freezing. Overkill for a 200g tank for sure, but what we had available.

I noted a 20 amp breaker in the panel in the garage labeled “water fountain & Xmas” which I assumed was you know… for THE WATER FOUNTAIN! (and some outlets under the eaves clearly for Christmas lights) Obviously the labels on our panel are a series of lies and misinformation! I step outside and sure enough, the water feature is silent and mostly frozen. I never thought to check it last night, because I foolishly believed what the labels on the panel said. Sigh.

I walk out and unplug the tank heater from the outlet that runs the water feature’s pump, then go close the breaker and of course the everything comes on again. The most important bottles of the wine collection are now safely resting in their temperature-controlled little world again.

Today my to-do list includes finding a lower-power-draw tank/bucket heater for our temporary equine residents. We only need one that pulls a few amps, as opposed to the borrowed one that can warm a pond.

And of course undo all my troubleshooting extension cord mess.

The very gates of hell…

Or at least, of purgatory. I bought an automatic gate opener for the front of our property last year. It serves as a barrier of last resort to keep the livestock from escaping. The gates existed before we bought the place, I just added the openers. It has turned into a project that never ends.

The main problems have been the proper operation of the various components involved. Last year when I first assembled it, the main problem was getting wiring under the driveway to the far gate. Since my end goal was to have a keypad on the driver’s side as you enter I put the whole system on the south side of the gate which would be that side. It came with a sensor to bury along the inside of the property to trigger opening as you drive out. I assembled the basic components and used an existing irrigation culvert under the driveway to route the wiring for the far gate. The distance through the culvert was too far for the stock wiring so I had to buy some sprinkler system wiring to extend it. The gate worked okay using the remotes, and winter arrived before I could assemble the keypad and exit sensor. This meant that we had to use the remote or an app on our phones to open the gates for anyone entering and leaving the property. This was fine for a while, but a bit of a pain.

In June I began putting the rest of the system together, starting with the exit sensor. Unfortunately when I connected it I noticed that the gate would open randomly, and sometimes often enough overnight to drain the system’s small 12v battery (which is charged by a small solar panel.) I also learned through this process that due to our latitude the solar panel was barely enough to run the system through a dozen or so open/close cycles a day. Thankfully you can daisy chain solar panels together to increase the rate of recharge, so I bought two more and arrayed them down the south side of the gate entrance. I called tech support about the random openings and narrowed the cause down to the proximity of the south pasture fence and it’s steel posts to the sensor. The only solution was to move the sensor to the other side of the driveway!

This meant disassembly of the entire system and relocation of the controller, sensor, and solar panels to the north side of the gate. Also I would need to reverse the two gate opening arms, meaning a re-running of the wiring through the irrigation culvert under the driveway. Doing the task the first time was by far the hardest part, and I wasn’t looking forward to the chore. This summer’s crazy wildfires and unbelievable smoke prevented me from ever getting to it until now, when once again I’m staring down the barrel of winter.

The new wire conduit route from the culvert to the control box, now on the north side of the gate.

When I installed it last year, I ran flexible conduit through the culvert. I figured it was time to replace that with something more permanent and sturdy. Everything was buried under dirt, rocks, and weeds, so finding it was going to be interesting. I used the loader of my tractor to gently scrape the surface back and forth until I unearthed the old conduit.

I asked my friend Brian over to help, as pulling fish tape, pull strings, and wire through conduit is much easier with some at either end. He informs me that there is a device that uses a garden hose and conduit to burrow under and through things like sidewalks and driveways. If I could burrow a straight shot it would vastly simplify the whole system and remove the need for extra wiring. We go to the hardware store and find the device, which is only about $5.

It (almost) worked. I was amazed at how swiftly it zoomed through the first quarter of the distance Sadly, it all ground to a complete halt about one-third of the way under the driveway. With daylight fading, we abandoned the idea and reverted to the original plan of re-running conduit through the culvert.

We rough together the conduit and fish a pull string through as dusk approaches.

The next good weather day I pull wire and re-build the entire system reversed from the original layout and of course the sensor continues it’s odd behavior of randomly opening the gate. I spend a while on hold and get nowhere with tech support, who focuses solely on providing proof of purchase to verify that it is still under warranty.

I dig through my history of the purchasing and find that this unit was bought fifty weeks previously. Yep, I’m two weeks inside of warranty! I call them again and finally get a guy who is motivated to solve my problem. He authorizes a return and ships me a new sensor ASAP.

I’m so close to finishing this project, yet still not quite done. And of course, winter is coming.

Go Home Facebook, You’re Drunk…

I’m freshly out of “facebook jail” about a thirty minutes ago. I haven’t been able to post, like, or comment on Facebook for three days. What heinous crime did I commit? Well, according to Facebook, I violated their community standards, specifically I engaged in “hate speech.”

I would imagine that most of you would be surprised. I don’t really participate in politics or political discussions, either in real life, or online. Why? I have always believed that a true key to a peaceful life and a polite society is to not discuss politics or religion. These are highly divisive topics. Likely over ninety percent of human conflicts have hinged on these topics, and by extension most of the death and destruction throughout human history. I have political and religious beliefs, but none of you know what they are because I keep them to myself. The world would be a better place if most folks lived this way. Sure, I vote, but nothing I see on Facebook is going to change how I vote, and I’m not so foolish as to believe I can influence how anyone else votes. So I don’t even participate in online political discussion.

So what did I do on Facebook that landed me in “hate speech” jail?

As some of you know, I worked at Facebook from 2010 until 2015. I helped build, and for a while managed Facebook’s very first self-built datacenter in Prineville, Oregon. Along the way I helped select and train the staff hired to build several subsequent datacenters, namely Forest City, NC, Lulea, Sweden, and Altoona, Iowa. I’ve remained friends with several of these folks, including a Swede named Daniel. Daniel and his family came to Oregon in early 2013, and we discovered that we shared some passions, namely datacenters, mechanical things, ice hockey, and skiing. I make silly comments on his posts now and then, including three days ago when he posted a photo of his lawn, covered in Canada geese:

Geese on Daniel's lawn

If you look closely you can see that I commented “Damn Canadians!”

After I posted that, I clicked on some other thing in my newsfeed (a video from the NHL) and it was interrupted a few seconds in by a pop-up box that said that I had violated FB’s community standards around “hate speech”… I took a screen shot of that, bounced back to Daniel’s goose pic and posted that as a comment figuring it would be even funnier than my original comment. It worked.

I then went on to scroll through my newsfeed of hockey stuff, car stuff, and friends’ posts. Within less than a minute however I was barraged by the automated Facebook AI Thought Police, who wanted to inform me of my (few, if any) rights and that I was going to be put in FB Jail for my clear crime against humanity. I dismissed the dialog box barrage as best I could and switched from my smartphone to my laptop as I know from experience that FB’s mobile UI is a suboptimal place for serious business (such as making jokes about birds.) I tried to appeal, but was only met with vague errors:


I really enjoyed my time working at Facebook (except the last 100 days, which were terrible, but a story for another time) and one of the things I appreciated about it was the level of focus evident at every level of the company. It was only 1500 people when I joined in 2010, and FB had just passed the 500 million active users mark. The impact of 1500 dedicated people building infrastructure to support half a billion users was an astounding thing to consider. I often described working at FB as the ultimate embodiment of Adam Smith’s concept of the division of labor: by hiring people for very specific skills and leveraging those skills as much as possible, a very few could create and maintain systems used by hundreds of millions, if not billions of people.

Less than a year after I joined, Facebook was faced with a true existential threat: Google, a company over 10X our size, was launching their own social network, “Google+”. I happened to be in Palo Alto at FB HQ the week it was revealed and our CEO, Mark Zuckerberg called an all-hands meeting. He described how the company had faced these challenges in the past, when the nascent social network business was a cluttered field, and the efforts that were successful in growing FB to meet those challenges each time. But Google was another thing entirely. They had 10X the staff, and rumor had it that they had more engineers dedicated to G+ than FB had people. Google’s infrastructure was well over 10X ours at the time as well. They had a global fleet of datacenters with likely more than a million servers, perhaps more than two million. Facebook had two leased wholesale datacenter groups in the Bay Area and Northern Virginia, and two self-built datacenter campuses, one that had just come online a couple of months before (and still being built), and another under construction and likely not to go live for many months. Server count was still well under an eighth of Google’s. Clearly Google had a huge leg up in terms of ability, and all FB had on our side was momentum.

Zuck outlined the plan for how we were going to counter that threat, finished with a story from Roman history, and a final exhortation: “Please guys: Don’t fuck this up!”

We, as a company, didn’t fuck that up, as Google+ sits now in the dustbin of history, but I’m telling you Facebook is fucking things up today. Not big things, but small ones that erode user trust. Such as using an algorithm to detect and take action on “hate speech” that fails to understand context, such as a funny comment about birds. But even more so when the user-prompted process to correct the error also utterly fails.

Oddly, I have avenues available to me that the vast majority of FB users can’t imagine. I used to work there and know plenty of people who still do. I reached out to several to try and sort this out, but ultimately none of them could spring me from FB Jail. So I had to wait until my sentence was up.

The one thing everyone who is still working there tells me is: “It isn’t like it was… it is much worse.” The company is now tens of thousands of employees. It is cursed by a complete lack of existential threats, and huge revenues. Why is this situation a curse? It deprives them of any real need to care. It deprives them of that focus that made it initially successful. Facebook will never truly address their real problems until they either start losing lots of money, or something comes along that truly poses them a threat to their existence. Meanwhile, they’re just stumbling, unfocused, from mistake to mistake without any corrective measure being taken, because their mistakes don’t hurt them. They only hurt their users.

Zuck, you are fucking up.

2020 Lewis & Clark Rally: Day One.

The car started fine this morning. That’s always a good way to start the day.

I knew the rally would be odd, given the pandemic, as so many aspects would change due to the requirement of “social distancing”… for example the rally check-in last night was a drive-through affair, rather than the usual cocktail party at the exotic car dealer. They did have an impromptu gathering, but it was in a freeway rest area off of I-5. We showed up and applied our rally number decal but left soon afterward. Our hotel room literally overlooks the rally start point, so we waited until very close to the last minute to head over. They had already been handing out rally route books before we showed up.

Route Book in hand.

We’re literally the last car in the TSD competition group, so the tour cars were leaving as we arrive for “breakfast” and last minute prep. We depart and head off on a freeway circumnavigation of the Portland metro area for an odometer calibration transit.

Leaving Ron Tonkin Grand Tourismo at the start.

Oddly, we’re heading northwest down the Columbia River which is the opposite direction of our destination, but that’s rallying for you.

The first regularity immediately separates the field as we see several cars clearly off-course. Stew and I don’t make any navigational errors but who’s to say how we’re doing time-wise (as it turns out, 34 seconds early).

On the second regularity we do make one wrong turn, but recover swiftly. (5 seconds late)

On the third stage we feel like we are doing really well (and are proven correct; 1 second early).

The fourth stage is REALLY difficult in terms of road conditions, with an average speed of 39 MPH but with a VERY rough road, where I’m dodging potholes and frost heaves while climbing and descending outrageous hills. (4 seconds early).

Lunch is at the site of the former Trojan Nuclear Power plant, which felt odd…

After lunch we have a transit that takes us over the Columbia at Longview, WA where I find a gas station that has non-Ethanol premium, and even a pump for 110 Octane Leaded fuel (if I had the E-type I’d be buying that!)

On the fifth stage I somehow find myself right up behind the car ahead of us, a ‘67 Mini Cooper and am convinced that they are late, rather than us being early. The reality is that I am wrong. (53 seconds early.)

On the next segment we are dead on, until we are suddenly stopped in “traffic” where a construction vehicle has blocked the road for what is clearly several minutes. Multiple rally cars are stopped dead in the road while this vehicle is navigating a very tight turn. Fortunately for us, it moves aside soon after we arrived, so we get underway again and I’m left trying to decide if it is worth it to try and calculate a time declaration for the segment. The thing is you have to make “decs” in 30 second increments and I think we are within that margin of error already. Sure enough the checkpoint is there just down the road and I decide to just keep going. (33 seconds late. Had I declared 30 seconds we’d have only had a 3 second penalty!)

The next segment feels off from the start. Again we catch up to the Mini, and I keep telling myself “run our own rally, don’t worry about others” but the whole time I have extreme doubt. (Somehow 1:08 early… facepalm).

The remaining segments are all backroads through the national forests around Mt. St. Helens. Deep forest. Winding roads. Minimal navigation. Just driving. There is a fair bit of traffic but the speeds are low, so I’m being “pushed” a bit by non-rally traffic. I pull over when I can to let them by. Lots of pothole and frost heave dodging in difficult lighting to round out the driving difficulty. (23 seconds early, and 3 seconds early subsequently).

A transit to the hotel traverses the very same roads that Christopher & I did in the 65E close to twenty years ago on our very first rally together (“The Run to the Gorge”)

View from the hotel in the Columbia Gorge
Provisional results. No podium finishes this year!

Hopefully we’ll do better tomorrow.