What were they thinking?

Engineering Idiocy. I know I’m late to this particular party, but I had not encountered this until today. Several years ago, after picking us up at the Houston airport, Linda was riding in the rear seat of my father’s BMW 535i, and casually said “Charlie, I love your car. If you ever think about selling it, I’ll buy it from you.”

Long story short, we bought the car from my mom not long after he passed away last summer. We drove it home last autumn, where it spent most of the winter parked in my shop as it isn’t really an ideal winter car. For that we drive her old Subaru.

This 5-series is several years old, but has very low miles. We literally doubled the odometer driving it from Texas to Oregon. It is likely overdue for an oil change in time more than distance. I looked up the oil required and bought two large jugs of it yesterday. I had stocked up on filters from BavAuto (R.I.P.) soon after we bought it. I opened the hood in the shop to be presented with…

NO DIPSTICK!

I recall lots of complaints in Roundel (the BMWCCA magazine) about this issue back when BMW started doing this, but I didn’t give it much thought.

So I was sort of stuck. The owners manual doesn’t list the engine oil capacity(!) and everything BMW presents you with basically says “bring it to the dealer for oil changes”… grrr.

I’ve been changing my own oil since I was a teenager. It was the first thing I learned about automotive maintenance. For me it is almost a therapeutic action. It is good for the car, it is good for me. I drive away with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. But now I’m just confused.

Thankfully I have the Internet. The Internet tells me I need 6.5 Liters of oil for this engine. Typical of how I’ve always done this I’ll fill it a bit short of what should be “full” and then top it off in small increments to avoid overfilling the engine.

However without a dipstick, there is no way to actually do this. To measure the engine oil you have to be in the car and use the onboard computer. Not only that, the car has to be on level ground, engine on, and UP TO OPERATING TEMPERATURE. ????

This is sort of stupid. I let the oil drain out overnight. The engine is cold. In fact it got below freezing last night, so the engine is about as cold as it will ever be. I feel stupid starting a cold engine with at least a half a liter short of the correct amount of oil… then letting it idle for long enough to warm it up.

The dipstick is a perfectly adequate tool for this task. It takes seconds to measure oil levels with a dipstick, and it poses ZERO risk to the engine to use it. While I’m not really scared of damaging this car, doing this for the first time ever does make me feel… mild trepidation mixed with annoyance for some engineers in Munich.

So here I KNOW I shorted the amount by 500ml, so I expect the car to tell me to add that after I perform the check…

…and…

Now I’m REALLY annoyed. How can I trust this thing? It’s like those temperature gauges they program to stay right in the middle unless something really bad is happening. I know I’m 500ml short, but the car tells me “I’m at 100%” (note the lack of actual measuring units).

I guess I’m going to have to check often to see if it changes.

So happy that all the other engines I care for have dipsticks.

Revamp completed.

OK, go ahead and pay attention to the man behind the curtain again.

I hope you like the new version of my website. Does anyone still read blogs anyway?

I had been using the original default WordPress theme here since day one. Sure, I had tweaked it just a bit to make for a wider main column, and a few other HTML/PHP/CSS tweaks to make things work around my preferred image widths and whatnot, but it had grown old and couldn’t support a lot of new WP features and some other things I like. So here we are.

An impromptu solo mini-cannonball. (Part Three, the actual Cannonball part)

Yesterday’s drive wore me out, and after a Mexican combo plate dinner weighing my gut down, I fall into a deep slumber instantly upon laying down in bed. Unfortunately, I bolt wide awake around 4 am. Sunrise is still hours away and I want to experience some daylight for the first stretch of road. US Highway 50 west of Delta, Utah into Nevada is a mind-blowing place. The very first time I drove it was on the aforementioned Cannonball Classic with my father in 1999. It is an enormous, austere, and desolate landscape unique to the American West. LONG stretches of arrow-straight asphalt, flying off to the distant horizon. Very little flora, and almost no fauna. Mountain ranges rising as if to block your path, and then the road rises directly into them, and snake through, over and down again into the expansive basins, only to resume the arrow-flight westwards. The experience is visceral and very visual. Driving there is a challenge and an adventure. I long to do it again, which is precisely why I chose this route. I could have continued north on US 6 and Utah 36, on to Tooele (a section that remains UN-highlighted in my atlas), but US Highway 50 is beckoning me back. Night driving is unsatisfying however. When your vision is limited to only what your headlights reveal your world shrinks to that minute speck. It is just asphalt, stripes, reflectors and roadsigns. Without those wide open vistas there is nothing at all special about any road, much less US 50.

Continue reading “An impromptu solo mini-cannonball. (Part Three, the actual Cannonball part)”

An impromptu solo mini-cannonball. (Part Two, the actual Cannonball part)

So I’m alone, in Albuquerque, with a nice car and no co-driver. Our plans have gone awry, and I have a few choices of what to do next. One is to just continue on to SoCal and visit friends. I’ve already seen the Grand Canyon, so no need for that side trip. Another option is to drive straight home by the most direct route. It’s between 1200 & 1400 miles, depending upon which “direct” route I choose. But here is where I have to admit a personal quirk: I like to drive on roads I’ve never driven on. I’ve been wandering all over this continent in a car since I was a kid, and it never ceases to amaze me at the wonders one can find by taking a road you’ve never been on before.

Continue reading “An impromptu solo mini-cannonball. (Part Two, the actual Cannonball part)”

An impromptu solo mini-cannonball. (Part One)

My brain is fogged. I’ve been driving for two days straight with minimal sleep, after two previous days of driving as well. I’m only ~250 miles from my journey’s end, but I really felt the need to get out of the car.

So here I am, sitting in a Burger King somewhere west of Boise, Idaho, sipping on a cold coke zero, munching on some terrible onion rings, and scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed to just give my brain a rest. How did I get here?

Continue reading “An impromptu solo mini-cannonball. (Part One)”

Thoughts while driving home at sunset…

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.

Imagine what we can do!

Perhaps the finest achievement of mankind, other than the chairlift of course, is the silicon transistor & integrated circuit. When you process it at a base layer we have taught rocks how to think.

I’ll say that again: WE HAVE TAUGHT ROCKS HOW TO THINK.

Place that now smarter rock into a powered device, with input/output systems, storage, memory, and a connection to all the other thinking rocks we’ve created and the potential is truly unlimited. I get very excited when I think about all we have created and my very small role in making it all happen.

Imagine what we can do!

Then I go out into the world and look around, only to see my fellow humans using these amazing devices…

…to play solitaire.