Wednesday, February 28, 2007

you say i can't park there eh?

When my car's decline began to accelerate a couple weeks ago, I stopped driving it and have been using various other vehicles to get to and from work. Apparently, I parked one of them in the wrong place one night and found a note taped to the windshield the following morning. The text is as follows:

"You have parked in space reserved for a tenant of Sunset House Apartment. Your vehicle license plate has been recorded. For future practices, please stop parking in the places reserved for tenants who pay rent. Visitor parking spaces are plainly marked on the south side parking lot in the front of the building. If you absolutely must park in tenant parking, then require your host or hostess to give up the parking space for which he or she pars rent allowing you to park in that particular space while he or she parks in visitor parking. Otherwise in the future, you will owe recompense to the individual who pays rent for this and any other spot. Thank you for your care and caution in this matter."

Is it me, or is that notice unusually hostile and about as well written as one of my blog entries? I've been mulling over how to reply to this. The prudent thing to do would be nothing. However, I have a feeling that this wasn't written by the building manager and that irks me a little bit. It makes me feel like some tenant is trying to bully me with empty threats. Again, I should do nothing, but part of me feels like going to the hardware store and picking up some roofing nails. Specifically, the ones with the big square heads. If you can't figure out where I'm going with this, you either don't know what these nails look like or you don't fully comprehend the petty vengeance that I wish to wreak on all sorts of people and things but never get a chance to. Alas. I guess I'll have to settle for spitting off an overpass though I am a three hour drive from the closest one.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

retroactive post extravaganza!

I cheated again and posted a slew of entries from the last two weeks all at once.

fusion test drive

I test drove a couple Ford Fusions today. I have decided that it will do. I'll mull it over for a couple more days before I place an order. I have some time to think it through before I put down a deposit since they place orders on Thursdays and a car with the features, let alone the color, I want isn't on the lot.

I drove a four cylinder version and then a six cylinder version. As expected, the 4-cylinder, 5-speed automatic model was competent and had enough power, but barely. Any additional load would have led to more lag than I care to put up with. It also had a tendency to down-shift very quickly and the top gear wasn't quite tall enough leading to high RPM cruising though that's no different than my now defunct 300E. The 6-cylinder, 6-speed automatic model benefited from the extra gear. It also had noticeably more power. The gear selector doesn't let you choose any forward gears except for drive and low which just locks out fifth and sixth gear. For a little bit, I sort of wished it had some sort of manumatic shifter that would let you bump up and down between gears. As I drove the car more, I got used to what inputs led to downshifts and upshifts and didn't feel the need to have control over the gear selection process anymore. It would still be nice to have some sort of manumatic system but I would probably rarely use it.

Steering was responsive and had enough resistance to remind me of my old car. The turning radius is somewhat big for a car this size, but that's probably partly due to its FWD and wider track than many cars in its class. Nonetheless, it turned well enough for anything I plan to do with it. While driving, I realized that the trunk line is a couple inches higher than the beltline and that limits the rear visibility. Good use of my side mirrors would take care of most of that and as long as no one on a mini-bike is tailgating me, it shouldn't be an issue. The other strange driving quirk was how high the turn signal stalk was. It's almost located at the 10-o-clock position instead of something closer to 0900 or 0930. I had no problem reached it from where I normally position my hands and I imagine I would get used to that in time. Thigh support would have been better if the seat bottom was an inch or two longer but I'm going to have that problem in any car of this size. However, the 6-way adjustable seat control let me tip the entire seat back (like the 300E) so that I could get my thigh at an angle that was supported by the seat while I drive. The tilt/telescoping steering wheel also let me get my arms where I wanted them independent of where my legs needed to be.

After the test drives, I poked around the car for a while and mostly liked what I saw. From the outside, once you know to look at it, it's quite clear that the trunk line is higher than the belt line along the bottom of the side windows. There's also some strange molding flange at the top corners of both side windows near the B-pillar that looks like a result of the manufacturing process. I saw the same thing on a Milan, which is the Mercury version of the Fusion, in the showroom. There were several storage compartments within reach of the driver's seat including many real cup holders. It seemed like the door could have been more fully-utilized for space but there's enough room in the compartment for what I would want to keep there. After I drove the car, I left the driver's seat in position and sat behind myself and my knees had plenty of room but again, there was limited thigh support in the rear unless I was able to put my feet much further forward. Since I don't have to sit back, it's not that big a deal. The 60/40 split rear seat back folds down flat very easily with accessible latches in the trunk.

All in all, a marked improvement over the 300E in several ways though that is mostly a result of features that have stopped working on the 300E rather than a lack of them. I'm so used to the way the 300E drives that it will take some time getting used to the intricacies of the Fusion's handling and transmission response. I guess that's about it for now. I have a couple days to make up my mind, but there's really not much left to decide. I feel surprisingly comfortable with the idea of getting this car.

Friday, February 23, 2007

roads still terrible

To follow up the post from the 12th of this month, there are drilling rigs in this area that haven't moved for two weeks due to road conditions. Spend money to fix roads or spend money to have a rig sit idle? Hmmm. It's pretty clear what one client has decided to do.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

my car has died

It finally happened. My car died. At least the spark plugs are in good shape.

After speaking at some length with some helpful people at Smythe European, which is the original dealership this car is from, it was concluded that the necessary repairs would be cost prohibitive. The time and parts needed to diagnose and repair whatever is wrong with the air intake and fuel injection system would run from a couple to several thousand dollars. (Apparently car warranties don't last 21 years.) And then there was the barely operational HVAC system, stuck window (it's closed), funky sunroof, cracked windshield, myriad fluid leaks, and a few known electrical bugbears along with future ones that I know were just lurking around the corner.

Aside from some tools, spare change, and a hood ornament, there's not much left to salvage from the car. That's right; the ornament is a keeper and possibly so is the license plate. I have no illusions about selling the car. It is destined for a scrap heap somewhere so I think keeping the license plate wouldn't be out of order. It sort of sucks that all four tires aren't even that old, but that's how these things go. At least it has less than a quarter tank of fuel. For a 21 year old car with just under 290,000 miles on it, I really couldn't ask for anything else.

After some quick browsing at car lots with my dad this afternoon, I see myself in the market for a mid-size sedan. I know, so boring sounding, but let's review. I'm probably leaning towards a new car, despite the pain that a miserly jerk like myself will experience knowing that in three years, over half the value of the car will have disappeared. A used car could be a much better value and there's a greater sense of freedom in what type of vehicle to get because it would be less committal. I could get something less practical and just get rid of it in a couple years and not have spent much money. But I'm not a man with committal issues and a new car would come with a known (meaning pristine) vehicle history, full warranty (never had that, but when the previous owner for the prior 12 years is your dad it's just as good), and that new car smell. This is a car that I would likely own for at least five, but probably several more, years (barring any move out of the country to somewhere other than Canada and why would I ever go there). Given my age, I would say this car should last until the time I have small children or some similar ragamuffins that are an integral part of my life.

A non-sedan would probably be more utility and/or pretension than I really care for. Until a few hours ago, I drove a mid-size sedan for nearly nine years and it's always been plenty good. An SUV, even a small one like a Ford Escape is just more space and size than I need. Perhaps when I have to constantly load and unload some child seat, I'll consider something that won't require me to bend over so much. Again, a 'crossover' vehicle would come with more space than I really want and it would still have me sitting higher than in a regular sedan. Pick-ups are way more utility than I need and I drive one for work and I can tell that I'm just not a truck kind of guy. Sports cars aren't enough utility. A mid-size sedan would be just about right. I don't need the size of a full-fledged large sedan and I know a small sedan wouldn't cut it. I rented a Ford Focus when I was in Denver last October for work and I had the seat all the way back and still wanted it to go back one more notch.

Of the mid-size sedans, I'm leaning towards a Ford Fusion. I like the styling, it has all the features I really want (though every well-equipped car does), and I get a pricing break through my employer. Since I work for a Ford fleet customer (we have a lot of F350s), they've worked out a deal for employees. The price usually comes out to just under dealer invoice and any additional rebates that are currently being offered still apply on top of that. This ends up leading to a good price and a haggle-free experience. The dealer just gets a transaction fee from Ford so they're not going to fight over every dollar.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


We went to Utah today. When I stop to count, I think it's only the fifth time that I have been on a job in Utah. Aside from some hitches leaving the yard this morning, it went very well. They have good roads up there. While driving policy technically limits our speed on dirt roads to 25 mph, I'm pretty sure that was a really dusty paved road we were on when we were going 50 mph.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

grand junction

I just got back from Grand Junction, CO where I've been for basically two days. Let's see, today is Thursday. I left on Tuesday afternoon, a day I had originally called in sick on. I wasn't really sick and I told them as much that morning. I just felt really worn out so I was going to burn a sick day and rest and get some chores done, but if they needed me, I was available. Well, they needed me. Our Grand Junction district was in a bind so they called to see if we could send a supervisor and a pump operator and they would send the cement and meet us at a rig. So around 1700 on Tuesday, one of our supervisors (who would drive and run the pump) and I went for a nice long drive that ended up taking over 10 hours due to some really terrible directions. That was nice of them.

All in all, the actual job was going really well until something really bad from a service quality perspective happened. I say it wasn't our fault simply because it really wasn't our fault. We recovered pretty well and managed to finish the job without the problem leading to serious consequences. By the time we left location, it was about 1700 on Wednesday. Oh, did I mention that while the company man had wanted the cement crew there at 2000 on Tuesday night and we didn't get there until 0500 on Wednesday morning, we still waited for five hours before the rig was ready. I feel like this is also the appropriate time to note that the Grand Junction district had us go to the weirdest client no one has ever heard of, using the most dysfunctional rig within several hundred miles, and that they had already spent 45 days on location to reach a point that most rigs would have reached in two weeks. Again, that was nice of them.

We managed to stumble to the Grand Junction yard around 1930 and were obviously in no shape to drive six hours back to Farmington. And that is why I stayed at a Holiday Inn last night. And while I had to wear the same socks today as I did yesterday, I knew that extra pair of underwear I always carry in my field bag would eventually come in handy.

Monday, February 12, 2007

warm weather = terrible roads

The warmer weather we have had here for the last week has been a mixed blessing. On one hand, it's not so bitterly cold and there's little chance of freezing up a pump truck. On the other hand, it rained a lot last night and it's now warm enough for the ground to be thawed out most of the time. The result is that it's an utter mess in the field.

The last time I was in California, I was jokingly told that if it got cold enough, the trucks would just be frozen to the ground and we wouldn't be able to work. (Well, I thought it was meant as a joke.) Not quite. If it's really cold, the brakes on the trucks can freeze to the drums. See, modern trucks have brakes that set and the truck needs to build up enough air pressure to release them. Many years ago, it was the other way around which led to the obvious problem of having no brakes if the air system failed. Now, if the air system fails, the brakes get set and that makes a lot more sense. Anyway, while the trucks don't freeze to the ground, the brake pads can freeze to the drums. The treatment for that problem is to crawl under the truck and pound on the edge of the pads and drums with a hammer to jar the ice off. Or you can just lurch the truck forward because it's usually not every wheel that is frozen. Now that it's warmer, this isn't much of a problem.

The problem is that instead of the ground being frozen for all night and about half the day, it's mushy almost all the time. By mushy, I mean muddy. The recent rain has only accelerated the snow melt and there are many places in the field where the road surface is lower than the adjacent fields. This means that most of the melted snow ends up flowing into the road. That end sup creating a muddy road base that really has no firm base and that leads to very rapid rut creation. It's actually kind of fun driving a pick-up in deep ruts because I don't even have to steer. Of course the ride is rough enough to just about rattle out your fillings. It takes a lot of effort to get out of the ruts if you can make it out at all so you kind of hope they're going to way you want to go. If you've ever been on an amusement park ride where the car follows a guide rail along a track, it's a lot like that. Try as you might to swerve the car over the rail, you just can't get enough speed and angle to make it. Oh well, at least you won't run off the road which means we ain't turning for any oncoming traffic.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

at the store

Seen being purchased by the man in front of me:
1 pack of 36 rolls of toilet paper
1 other pack, different brand, of 36 rolls of toilet paper
1 bottle of wine
1 bottle of Scotch (Chivas Regal)
2 bottles of whiskey, different brand than the above Scotch
1 bottle of multi-vitamins
1 container of peeled garlic, 3 lbs
2 pack of chocolate syrup, 48 oz. each
16 pairs of socks
1 blood pressure monitor

He was 30-something, well-dressed, clean-cut, with a wedding ring and was joined as he was leaving by a man I assumed to be his father. If you haven't figured it out yet, this was at a warehouse store, which in Farmington means it was at Sam's Club.

You obviously can't get a complete picture about what someone purchases in a typical run to the store based on seeing their cart one time. People make all sorts of random trips to pick up miscellaneous items, go to multiple stores, plan for parties, etc. Nonetheless, what caught my eye was the toilet paper. I'm down with the two 36-packs of toilet paper, maybe one was for his father, though I got the impression they lived at the same residence. But different brands? Despite what the commercials may have you think, toilet paper is toilet paper is toilet paper. There are only two kinds and only one is available for purchase in stores and that would be the good enough kind. The bad kind is found in college dorms and offices like mine and is only found in someone's home when the last bit of the over-sized roll is removed and placed on top of the dispenser and a new roll is put in and a person takes that remaining portion of a roll, which is still the equivalent of two regular rolls, home with them (which is not something I do, but someone I will always be affiliated with used to do that, but I'm pretty sure no longer does). Take that run-on police!

The other thing that caught my eye is that none of that was what non-vampire fearing people consider to be real food. Unless of course you make meals out of only chocolate syrup, garlic, vitamins, and maybe socks for texture.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

certify this!

I'm a member of ASME, though I don't explicitly take advantage of that fact. I suppose I'm still a card carrying member (oh yes, they give you a card) because I joined as a student and then some department at some school gave me some degree that now sits in my closet.

(Where else should I put my degree? Hanging it on a wall so I can admire my awesomeness would just be narcissistic. Besides, I have mirrors for that. The real point of this parenthetical aside is to explain something I want to do. If I ever reach a point where I am in a position where it is common for people in similar positions to hang degrees and certificates and accolades on their walls, I am going to do something different. Instead, I would hang things that looked like degrees and certificates on my wall, but they would be less than noteworthy or altogether made up. Things like participation certificates from math competitions (I really have those) or the one I was given for getting a perfect score on my states and capitals test in the fifth grade (if I still have it). My future 40-something self might not find this so amusing, but I'm sure we'll work out our differences over the next 20 years.)

Getting back to the very small point I originally wanted to bring up, I am a member of ASME so I was curious to see a sticker on the new urinal in the restroom at work that said that it complied with ASME standard A112.19.2. (Admit it, you didn't see that coming.) So what, pray tell, is ASME standard A112.19.2? It's apparently about "Vitreous China Plumbing Fixtures and Hydraulic Requirements for Water Closets and Urinals". And the circle of life is now complete.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Last week, I was on one of the most frustrating jobs I have ever been on. It felt like everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

It started around 1700 last Wednesday. It ended at midnight the next day. Suffice to say, a lot went wrong in the process of trying to push through six inches of fresh snow for 40 miles worth of dirt roads. It's a powerless feeling to see someone have to put a truck into a snow bank to keep it from sliding back down a hill and then having the trailer arc around into the same snow bank. And what did they send instead of a dozer to help pull us up the hill? That's right. They (the operator, meaning the client who is the one responsible for getting us help if we get stuck on the way to location because they don't maintain their lease roads) sent a blade, though he called it a "maintainer". That's because it's for maintaining the damn road, not for pulling a 75,000 pound truck up a hill. (Specifically, it was a 140H.) Of course we had chains on, but that means nothing if you were forced to put one side of the truck into a snow bank. What happens when you try to pull a truck up a hill when the pulling truck isn't powerful enough and the stuck truck is in a bind with the axles sitting in different planes is that something is bound to break. Like axles. They can break. In fact, you can break all four of them.

Now we had 75,000 lbs. of dead weight that we couldn't even help them pull up the hill. So, several more hours of fitful sleep later, our second helper truck arrived and this one had a really big winch on it. They put the blade in front, tied this second truck to it and let out the winch to the front bumper of our truck. Then they tried to use both trucks to pull our truck. Hahahahaha. Not a chance, not with that much weight with no possible assistance from us because of the broken axles. Instead, they anchored the blade into the ice, and started to retract the winch. Now we're in business. About 50 feet at a time. They ended up inch-worming the truck up to the top of the hill onto some flat land after about 30 minutes of letting the winch out, pulling up, reeling the winch in, and repeat. We were able to drop the trailer, have a tow truck take our lame tractor in, and get a new tractor under the trailer and be on our way. More or less.

When we got to location, we found out that something on our other truck was broken. I pretty much wanted to give up on the job at that point. We had been out for nearly 20 hours at that point and that was such a demoralizing blow. Sometimes, some days are like this. We got on the phone with the yard and got a new truck headed our the way and we would meet half-way and trade. From there on out, everything went fine, or as fine as could be expected. As we were driving back to location with the new truck, I had to let it all go. In my mind, everything that had happened didn't happen, or at least not to me on that day. This was a fresh start and a new job as far as I was concerned. Obsessing about the bad luck we had been struck with to that point wasn't going to help me. It would only distract me from the job I still needed to do. This was one of those gut check jobs. If I wanted to be able to call myself a professional, then I needed to act like one. As satisfying in the short-term as shouting and finger pointing and being a short-tempered jerk would have been, it wouldn't have helped. I sucked it up and did my job because I am a professional and I know I've earned the right to say that.

Monday, February 05, 2007

airfare, part duex

I didn't save a screenshot, but I found a plane ticket where the fees and taxes were greater than the base fare. It was about $220 for the base fare and $280 worth of fees and taxes. Not surprisingly, it was from the same airline as my screenshot from yesterday. I won't name the offending airline, but you get a hint. If you were flying from Houston to London and had a layover in Toronto, what kind of leaf would be plastered on the back of the airplane?

Sunday, February 04, 2007


What the hell is this?

I understand that airlines tack various taxes and fees onto ticket prices. But how can they add up to be over 80% of the base fare? Unfortunately, this particular airline did not give me the option of viewing a complete item-by-item breakdown of the taxes and fees. I suspect much of was related to the particular cities and countries that the itinerary went through and the subsequent security fees that now exist. The irony is that even with all the add-ons, it is a competitive price. However, it hasn't undercut the non-stop option I have with a different airline to justify the extra travel time and plane change.

Looking at where I plan to go this year, I have a moderate amount of flying in my future that isn't work-related. I'll probably be going various places, none of which is the Bay Area, in April, July, and September.