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April 30, 2018

Thoughts while driving home at sunset…

Filed under: life,Thoughts,Writing — chuck goolsbee @ 8:25 pm

Late today I had some errands in Bend, and did not get back on the road home until right around sunset. It has been rainy and grey all day, but just as the sun set behind the Cascades, a break in the clouds appears in the lee of the mountains and bathes Central Oregon’s high ground and low clouds with a reddish golden glow. My route from Bend to home is the Powell Butte Highway… a highway in name only. It is a narrow two-lane through Juniper and Sage. For some odd reason tonight it is utterly devoid of vehicular traffic, save me. Back in 2010-2013 this road was my daily commute, and after decades of Seattle’s stop-and-go it was a pleasant change of pace, and most of all I relished the drives home heading into the setting sun. Tonight takes me in the opposite direction, allowing me to soak in the light reflecting from the hills, the clouds, and most interestingly, from the windows of every home on the butte, including mine. These reflections were so strong as to appear to be very bright electric lights, as if every home was wearing its Christmas best finery.

Between the light show, and the absolute absence of any other cars on the roads the whole experience begins to take on a dreamlike quality. My mind starts wondering why I am so alone. Is something happening of global importance that I am blissfully unaware of?
But still, the amazing light show keeps me enthralled as I drive. Pulling through the penultimate corner and up the steep hill going up the butte I can see the light is no longer blazing off the windows and I put my foot into the accelerator to try and get home a few seconds faster to watch the last of the dying sunset…

That’s when the full-grown Mule Deer prances onto the asphalt about 15m in front of the car.

Reverie vanishes in an instant. Full on the brakes and horn simultaneously. The deer stops(!), rotates back around and bounds back to the right. Following it with my eyes, I see the inevitable herd (there is NEVER just ONE deer!) One of them is just off the road, just outside my passenger window.

I feel like an idiot for not seeing them earlier. The groceries (including a dozen eggs) are remarkably intact given that they launched off the seat, off the dash, and onto the floor.

Self-medicating with a vintage Bordeaux as we speak.

April 6, 2018

Scratch pad for a proposed car article…

Filed under: Cars,Creative Work,Review & Criticism,Writing — chuck goolsbee @ 7:27 pm

Just doing a pre-edit brain dump on an article I might submit about the BMW E21/320i. It’s status as an affordable classic. Feel free to comment, correct my typos and suggest edits. Likely need to shave about 200-350 words from here… also need to refine the wrap-up. Photos coming later… when the sun comes back.

————–

“Marsha, Marsha, MARSHA!”
Oh, the forever lament of the middle child. Ignored by the family for just being in that middle space between the over-achieving elder, and the darling youngest. The collector on a budget seeking hidden bargains often will find them in between their higher-valued siblings. One such example is the BMW 320i, also known as the E21. Slotted between two more often desired models, the 2002 and the E30, the humble E21 is an under-appreciated and affordable way into vintage BMW ownership.

BMW E21 320i
BMW E21 320i

That is, if you can find a good one. That is difficult, as many remain, but few remain original.

The E21 sold in huge volumes around the world, with more than 1.3 million built between 1975 and 1983. It was the car that launched the BMW 3-series, and cemented it in the mind of many, especially here in the USA, as “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” BMW started using that slogan in 1975 and stuck with it until 2006.

Sandwiched between the 2002 and the E30, the E21 just hasn’t yet lived up to the hotness of its siblings in terms of value, but there are signs that could be changing. The 2002 is a darling of enthusiasts. Light, nimble, modest production numbers, with a robust drivetrain and an elegant appearance compared to the boxy E21. The followup to the E21 was the sleeker E30, which enjoyed a fourteen year run with many variations of engines, fuels, and even the first official BMW Motorsport variant the M3. Values of 2002s and E30s have enjoyed some good runs over the past decade, whereas the middle-child E21 values have remained relatively flat. However that’s why we’re here in Affordable Classics, since much of what made its siblings great can be found in the E21, along with some potential value upside.

From the 2002 the E21 inherited a bullet-proof engine, the venerable BMW M10. This single-overhead cam four cylinder was produced from 1962 through 1988 and powered everything from big sedans to FormulaOne race cars. It is a simple, reliable powerplant available in varying displacements from 1.5 to 2 liters, both carbureted and fuel-injected. In Europe the E21 was available in 1.6L, 1.8L, and 2.0L displacements. They were named “316”, “318”, and “320” in predictable Germanic fashion. Besides badging, single headlights are identify the 316 & 318, and the 320 sports dual headlights. In North America only the Bosch K-Jetronic mechanical fuel-injected 2.0L version was offered initially, and the last three model years (’80-’83)it was downsized to 1.8L and fitted with a catalytic converter, but no matter the displacement all North American cars were badged “320i”. There was an “S-package” called the “320is” in the USA after 1980 which featured Recaro seats, a 5-speed gearbox, limited slip differential, and many other appearance, comfort, and performance additions that previously had to be special ordered. In Europe an E21 was offered starting in 1977 with the BMW M20 straight-six engine that eventually came to North America in the E30 3-series cars, but it was never offered in any North American E21. The US-Market 320i was available with A/C, but were also fitted with enormous “diving board” bumpers.

BMW E21 320i
BMW E21 320i

The origin of the 3-series
The BMW 3-series launched with the Paul Braq penned E21 in mid-1975, but it wasn’t until 1977 that you could buy one in the USA. With overall design cues from the E12 5-series sedans, the E21 was limited to two-door coupes only. (Coachbuilder Baur GmbH converted just under 5,000 E21s to their targa-roof “TopCabriolet” between 1978 and 1981.) The interior was lauded in the contemporary press, with very comfortable seats, U-boat-like red instrument illumination, and a dash that wrapped around, with the center console angled toward the driver – a feature that remained a mainstay of the BMW 3-series until very recently. In the early 80s the 320i was seen as a “Yuppie Car”, an aspirational lifestyle object for successful professionals, and garnered the sort of social commentary we see today reflected in cars like Tesla’s or the Toyota Prius – it defined the sort of person you appeared to be. It was a huge success for BMW and sales increased year over year, firmly establishing BMW in North America. Here was a car that looked conservative, but rewarded its driver with about as much fun as you could have up to the federally-mandated 55 MPH maximum. Rivals responded with similar compact executive cars, such as the Mercedes-Benz 190 (W201) aka “Baby Benz”.

Most have been driven, and modified
If you’ve been exposed to a wide variety of car people, you’ll note that some sub-groups LOVE to drive, and sometimes modify their cars. Vintage Bentley owners fall into this category, and don’t seem to mind driven, or non-original cars, so long as everything is well-documented. BMW people are like this too. It is rare to find low-miles, unmodified BMWs, and when you hang around people and their Bimmers the conversation inevitably gets around to what mods have been applied to their cars. They also drive them. Long journeys to BMWCCA meets and events are common (Ocktoberfest, Sharkfest, Z-fest, Festorics, et al.) So finding an original, low-miles E21 is going to be tough. Many have had 6-cylinder engines or other performance mods installed. Most have been just plain used up. However restoring them is relatively easy and parts remain widely available. A 320i is an excellent project car for the new collector with a modest budget. Weak points are few. The odometer, which can break if the trip odo is improperly reset. The hazard light switch, which fails to “on” and will drain your battery (ask me how I know.) Beyond those two things, standard cautions about rust, degraded rubber/plastics, and mechanical inspection apply. The M10 engine’s primary weakness is overheating, so check for leaks around the head. Avoid examples with leaks or that run above the halfway point of the temperature gauge.

Current Market
You’re not going to find an E21 crossing the block at Monterey anytime soon, so until that day happens your best bets to find yours are BMWCCA classifieds, and online auction sites. Prices range from $3,300 to $9,000, with a few outliers into low 5-digits. Originality, miles, and condition are going to drive the price. The pictured example was bought online for just over $6,000 and driven home a thousand miles without incident (beyond replacing headlights along the way.)

Future Market?
History may ultimately forget the BMW E21 as a middle child, and properly recognize it as the “Ur-Ultimate Driving Machine” – the true origin of the 3-series. The car that launched BMW from a niche player into the dominant maker of sports sedans, and lead to its amazing success in the US market. The tide already seems to be turning in Europe, where the Verband der Automobilindustrie (the German Automotive Industry Association) which among many other things lobbys for, and tracks the “oldtimer” market, noted that the BMW 320i gained more value (61.2%) in 2017 than any other make/model in Germany. This value increase was over 2x the car that came in second place, its cousin the E24 6-series coupes. Get one now, while they’re cheap, and have fun driving a very affordable bit of almost forgotten recent history.

December 31, 2016

A trip back in time… and missing RSS.

Filed under: Apple,Technology,Thoughts,Writing — chuck goolsbee @ 4:10 am

I took a trip back to 2012 yesterday morning. It was a very vivid and immediate vision because how I went there was via the resurrection of an old laptop that was last used in late summer 2012. How I got there was mundane: I had purchased a bit of older technology, an Apple Airport Express base station (I use a technology called AirPlay to direct music from my laptop/iPhone/iPad to various speaker systems all around my property, and needed another one to fill in an audio gap in the basement) but this “new” old tech which I had grabbed from eBay for literally the price of two hot cocoas from a fancy coffee shop had been reset to factory defaults and could not be managed from current software. For most folks this would be a technological Kobayashi Maru scenario. But not for me, I knew I had the ability to technologically time travel, and likely could connect to the device, manage it, apply firmware updates, etc, and get it running on my home network. My old laptop, a MacBook Pro from around 2009, was sitting in a box in my garage. A couple of days ago I brought it in the house, set it on the table, plugged it in, tapped the keyboard, and watched it come back to life.

It still had the strange screen defect that caused me to replace it in 2012. But it also came back exactly how I had last used it. Applications were still there with windows open and documents still in the state they were when I last used it in the summer of 2012. I wasn’t there to reminisce however, I was there to do a job. Sure enough the ancient version of Airport Utility recognized the Airport Express and let me configure it. Job done, I closed the laptop and went on with my day.

But yesterday morning I sat down for breakfast at the table next to that laptop and casually opened it to have a look. I opened the web browser Safari, and to my surprise I noted the RSS feed ticker in my bookmark bar updating itself. I started with digits around 30-something, but rapidly escalated to 600-something before my eyes. I had forgotten how critical RSS was to my web browsing lifestyle. It was something very close to that old “Knowledge Navigator” thing from the infamous John Sculley-era video, but FAR LESS INTRUSIVE. It was’t some over-arching in-my-face annoyingly friendly technology… it was just a tiny little robot that collected things from the Internet I liked to read and presented them in a very unobtrusive way, right in my web browser. I had my RSS feeds arranged by subjects; cars, friends, photography, ideas, Chile (from when Christopher was an exchange student there), etc.

I spent a morning I had planned to go skiing instead catching up with some “old friends” namely some websites I used to visit almost daily, and writers I like to read. I found out that Tomas Dinges had taken a voyage and was back in Chile, that Wayne Bernhardsen’s Malamute Malbec is still alive, though now old and slow, and the stuff at Curbside Classics is still great.

My old laptop
My old laptop

I eventually closed the lid after I had browsed through the entirety of my unread RSS feeds, and took off for Mt. Bachelor. As I was resting between runs on the Northwest Express Lift I thought about how Facebook had largely replaced RSS, but what had won out wasn’t quality, it was quantity. Instead of a trickle of great content it was a torrent of crap. Instead of thoughtful analysis of an old car parked on a roadside in Eugene, it was several hundred bad-quality “potato” shots of cars in V.I.S.I.T. Time is the most valuable commodity we have, and I’m starting to ponder how well I’ve been spending it…

I have no idea why Apple pulled RSS support out of Safari (ironically around the same time Google killed its RSS Reader) but it is certainly a feature I miss. Yes, I tried a dozen stand-alone RSS apps, but none of them were very good, and none of them made good browsers. Since that moment in time when that old laptop was retired my web browser has morphed from my window into the Internet, to a Facebook screen and where I pay my bills. I’m going to try to change that habit in the new year. Seek out quality content again.

Feel free to share how you find it in the comments.

November 5, 2016

BAT Success Story: Part 2, M6 from Wisconsin to Oregon

Filed under: Cars,Creative Work,Review & Criticism,Writing — chuck goolsbee @ 11:45 pm

This is part two of a two-part series. Part one is here.

Another M6 shows up on BAT
Another M6 shows up on BAT

Just about every E24 M6 that appears on BAT over the past year has drawn my attention. I’ve actively bid on several, including a few that I lost in the final minutes to a higher bidder. Most of my attention went to M6s that are not either Black or Red. I’ve owned a black car before and never liked how it shows every flaw. I’ve just never liked red cars. Sorry for all you red car lovers, but to me they look flat, completely lacking in depth. In my opinion the metallic blues are the best colors, as they have amazing depth and change in different lighting conditions. The week before this auction there was another M6 on BAT, upon which I was the high bidder, but it failed to meet reserve. I was having a few offline conversations with the seller, when this one appeared. Soon regular BAT commentators are calling me out by name:

You guys have my back. Love it!
You guys have my back. Love it!

I happen to be in Maui with my girlfriend (she has taken me there for my birthday) as the auction is coming to a close, so I set an alarm to get me off the beach and back to my laptop in time to make some bids. As with every BAT auction, the finale seems to end up like that final showdown scene in “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, with two or three bidders virtually staring at each other, and finding the courage to up their bid as the timer counts down again, and again… and again.

Turns out I am the last man standing.

(more…)

October 29, 2016

Proposed BAT “Success Story” post

Filed under: Cars,Review & Criticism,Writing — chuck goolsbee @ 8:39 pm

Working on some stories for the website Bring A Trailer. Feel free to comment/correct in the comments.

BAT Success Stories: Two almost flawless Arrive & Drives.

I’ve never owned a BMW until a few years ago, now I have a shop half-full of them; two of those are thanks to BAT. I’d never even driven a BMW until 2011 when I joined a 24 Hours of Lemons team who campaign a beater 1990 325i (E30). A few laps into my first race I fall in love with the little lightweight coupe and its perfect balance between power and handling. Thus begins an addiction.

I bought a used 2007 M Roadster (E85/S54) as my daily driver a year later, which is a pure joy to drive. Then, last summer while visiting Portland, Oregon for a week of business I tack on an SCCA Track Night and Portland International Raceway, and a BMW Club tour through the Oregon Wine Country. At PIR the only car in my advanced run group that out-runs the M Roadster is a race-prepped Mustang with 2X my horsepower, and I still managed to stick to his tail through the corners. Then the next day on the tour I find myself behind a late 80s E24 M6. The big coupe never fails to pull away from me on every straight. I’m dumfounded. How could this old car do that? I’d seen E24s for years but never really noticed them… even a good car-guy friend in Bellingham, WA has two “Sharks”… but I always look right past them at his E-type Jaguar.

But here this elegant and clearly luxurious machine is also now making me work to catch up to it in my, lightweight, fairly minimal roadster. And the sounds that it makes… GLORIOUS! At every rest stop I linger over the M6, looking at every angle. I decide I had to have one. Thus begins my hunt…

(more…)

February 21, 2010

The 7 Rules for Writing World Class Technical Documentation | SCALE 8x – 2010 Southern California Linux Expo

Filed under: Technology,Writing — chuck goolsbee @ 9:47 am

The 7 Rules for Writing World Class Technical Documentation | SCALE 8x – 2010 Southern California Linux Expo.

Saw these seven nuggets of wisdom from Bob Reselman via Twitter and my friend (and fellow speaker @ Macworld Expo) Dan O’Donnell.

Writing a technical document is hard. Reading a poorly written technical document is harder, and probably more painful than writing one. It takes a lot of work to create a clear, accurate, engaging piece of technical writing. Thus, in order to make life a little easier for all parties involved, I am going to share with you the 7 Rules that I follow when creating a piece of technical documentation.

The 7 Rules are:

1. Dry sucks
2. Before you start, be clear about what you want your reader to do after you end
3. Write to a well formed outline, always
4. Avoid ambiguous pronouns
5. clarity = illustrations + words
6. When dealing with concepts… logical illustration and example
7. Embrace revision

Wish I could attend the session in question.

January 6, 2010

Product Review: Harbor Freight Hydraulic Scissor Lift

Filed under: Cars,Review & Criticism,Writing — chuck goolsbee @ 12:28 pm

Note this is an article I’m developing for another website. Feel free to comment with suggestions, observations, or corrections.


Having lead a life of high adventure in my youth, scaling pinnacles of rocks and ice, I never imagined that I’d meet my end, flat on my back crushed beneath a falling car. My life was flashing before my eyes as I set a new land-speed record for butt-shoulder-shuffling my way out from under the creaking, swaying mass of steel in the form of a 1999 Volkswagen New Beetle suspended above my body on my tried, and until-that-moment trusted ramps and jack-stands. There I was, staring death in the face in the form of my wife’s “cute bug” looking like Damocles’ Sword, or Poe’s Pendulum, my garage floor playing the Pit. The tremor ceased as my head cleared the oil pan, and the Beetle had stopped making the horrific creaking noises as the jack-stands stopped wobbling. I cleared the bumper and leapt to my feet in a single motion, and relief swept over me like the expected post-quake tidal wave should. “Damn, I’m still alive!… in fact I’m completely unharmed!” Running into the house I yelled at the family: ‘Did you guys feel that?!” … only to be met with a non-chalant: “feel what?”

In retrospect the tremor which scared me out from under the car was only a barely-rattle-the-china 3.2 on the Richter Scale, but it drove home an indelible lesson to this DIY mechanic living in a region where three tectonic plates meet: I gotta get a lift!

The scene of my near-death experience almost a decade ago.
The scene of my near-death experience almost a decade ago.

With kids heading for college in a few years, the budget was tight, but the family’s financial committee agreed that my life and future earning power were worth an investment of about a thousand bucks or so. Armed with that vote of confidence I perused the web for advice and good deals on a better platform for the home mechanic to raise his car off the ground. Most of the work I do on my family’s cars involves basic maintenance: Fluid Changes. Tire Rotations. Brake Jobs. Occasionally tasks are a tad more involved, especially with my hobby car, a vintage British sports car, which always seems to have some little thing, and occasionally a big thing wrong with it. Major engine overhauls and complete restorations however are out of my league, so in reality the lift I required could be a light-duty model. Sure, I’d love a deluxe two- or four-post lift, but at the time I was shopping I really had no place to put one, and they were all priced out of my budget. Scissor lifts however seemed to be a good compromise: small, semi-portable, usable in a small garage, and far safer than ramps & jack-stands, while being reasonably priced.

The solution.
The solution.

At the suggestion of more than one like-minded cheapskate wrench-turner I settled upon the “US General” 6000lb Scissor Lift from Harbor Freight. (Item #46604) It is likely the lowest-price lift on the market. Using a Triple-Word-Score combination of coupons, online specials, and shipping discounts the total price came to about $850 in 2003. I live in the boonies 60-some miles out of Seattle and due to the size and weight (~750lbs) of the lift Harbor Freight would only use a freight forwarder for shipping. This meant I had to pick it up at a loading dock in Seattle in my battered old farm pickup. It arrived in two pieces: a large wooden crate, with a cardboard box containing the hydraulic control unit strapped to the top of it, which fit right into the short bed of the old Dodge. I borrowed a neighbor’s tractor with a backhoe to unload the bulky unit from the truck’s bed and set it on the concrete floor of my garage. A few months later I relocated it to our barn, which became my workshop after the last of the domestic livestock were moved to better accommodations elsewhere. Moving the whole unit around is unwieldy, yet once upon a concrete slab it is very easy for a single person to maneuver the lift around an open space due to the magic of leverage and physics. The Control unit is essentially designed as a wheeled lever, and the lift is equipped with sturdy rollers at one end, and a lever-eye at the other end.

The lift fully retracted.
The lift fully retracted.
The lift fully raised.
The lift fully raised.

First, the bad news: Two minor parts failed almost immediately. The original plastic wheels of the control unit are just not up to the task of holding the weight of the lift when used as a lever. They literally crumbled after a few tries moving the lift around. I replaced them with sturdier units from my local hardware store with actual bearings in them. Secondly the control unit is very top-heavy and with the broken wheels it tipped over, falling right onto the fitting for the hydraulic pipe, breaking it. At first I tried calling Harbor Freight’s customer service department to have the pipe replaced. Eventually I gave up that fruitless exercise and had a new pipe fabricated at my local NAPA store. Both repairs have held up for almost six years.

The lift's simple safety lock mechanism.
The lift's simple safety lock mechanism.
The hydraulic control unit, being used as a lever to move the entire unit around. Steel wheels are at the other end of the lift itself to facilitate movement. One person can pull or push the flat lift around on a concrete slab for repositioning or storage.
The hydraulic control unit, being used as a lever to move the entire unit around. Steel wheels are at the other end of the lift itself to facilitate movement. One person can pull or push the flat lift around on a concrete slab for repositioning or storage.

The good news: It is simple to operate, safe, and makes common automotive maintenance work a breeze. Low clearance cars such as my vintage Jaguar require help getting over the folded lift, so I have collected some long 4×4 & 4×6 lumber to arrange around the lift for that purpose. Vehicles with more ground clearance can just drive over it. Moveable arms with adjustable rubber-topped pads provide the lifting surfaces under the car. The pads are scored with right-angled grooves to mate up to the body work of cars like VW, who use flanges as lifting points. The lift has several pre-set ratcheting safety latch points as it goes up, providing safe, stable levels to perform work. To raise the car you operate the hydraulic pump, which runs from a standard household electrical outlet, with a push-button. To lower the car you must hold two levers, one retracting the safety-catch, the other slowly releasing the hydraulic fluid.

Works for all manner of vehicles, provided they are under 6000 pounds.
Works for all manner of vehicles, provided they are under 6000 pounds.

Oil changes, tire rotations, and brake work are now super-easy, and so much safer and faster when performed on the lift. Instead of spending lots of time raising, lowering and fiddling with jacks and stands, you can now get right to work. However, since the lift itself is positioned directly under the car working on things like transmissions or exhaust can be problematic depending upon the car. For these applications a traditional lift would be much better, but for the home mechanic on a budget this small lift is a wonderful luxury. I’ve used it countless times for oil and filter changes, and when it came time to sell the New Beetle I was able to do it right with numerous photos of every nook and cranny to put it on eBay Motors.

Had that tremor in 2003 bloomed into a genuine 6.0 or larger quake I might not be here today to enjoy life. Even if you don’t live in a “geological entertainment zone” like I do the peace of mind provided by such a simple and safe working platform is well worth the cost.

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