gadgets


fordHaving to take our 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid (with a whoppingly low 12,600 miles on the odometer) into the dealership for service this week, I’d been meaning to write about the odd temporary malfunction that prompted the visit and what was determined (more like “best guessed”) to be its strange cause — essentially a street-level variation on the principle as to why you’re not supposed to use your cellphone during flight.

So we were coming back from our Eastern Sierra vacation two Saturdays ago, southbound on the 14 Freeway in the HOV lane in Santa Clarita a few miles from the 5, when I went to accelerate into the lane to the right to get out from in front of a tailgater and encountered no response. I pressed on the pedal a little more and more until it was all the way to the floorboard, but nothing. All systems were operating: the engine was running, the A/C was blowing, but when I’d give the vehicle gas it wouldn’t respond. Noticing a “What the hell does that mean!?” wrench icon light was now illuminated on the dash, I let Susan know we had a problem and began carefully transitioning to the far outside lane in case everything suddenly quit. But since we were on a good downhill portion of the freeway we were able to continue with the flow of traffic. It was when we started to go up a slight incline and the car quickly its momentum that I knew we had to get off the freeway.

Exiting at Sand Canyon with the vehicle idling uncharacteristically high but the accelerator now a bit more responsive at low speeds, I crawled us into a service station and stopped. After a few moments of the engine still revving in park I decided to turn it off and let it rest for a spell. Starting it back up, she revved high again for about 10-20 interminable seconds before the electric motor kicked in and all ran silently. The wrench icon on the dash was now no longer lighted. Hmmmm.

Susan took Ranger for a leg-stretch down Soledad Canyon while I popped the hood just to make sure nothing looked wrong/broken/disconnected. And in fact other than making the surprise WTF discovery of  accumulations of old-ish looking rat poop in the wells where the front suspension/shocks bolt to the vehicle — proof that our garage rats had taken to nesting/resting there (perhaps moreso during the colder months) — everything else looked fine.

Not confident about getting back on the freeway, the decision was to plot a surface-street course home via “Gladys” (that’s what I call the GPS), cross our fingers and see if we can get there. At worst if the car quits, at least it’s in a safer, slower environment where we can pull over, call AAA, and get towed.

The good news is that it worked and we arrived home without further incident (and in the process I was happy to discover the long unknown street route between the San Fernando Valley and Santa Clarita (you know, in case I ever want to bike between the two places). The bad news is that we knew we had to get this curious incident examined.

So fast forward to this last Wednesday when I take the Ford to Sunrise Ford in North Hollywood, where I explained the above to the service manager, and in response he was curious of either my wife or myself have iPhones. I told him we both do, that my wifes iPhone5 is paired with the car via bluetooth and that at one extended point about 120 miles before the incident she was also using her iPad to surf the internet. He explained somewhat sheepishly that there’s apparently a conflict between the Apple devices and Ford Hybrids that can produce interference resulting in similar situations.

Seriously?

He explained that he’s personally seen cases involving the city of Burbank’s hybrids fail to start as a result of their operators packing iPhones. He added that Ford’s aware of the problem but so far there’s been no solution.

Huh.

In my looooong history with a variety of motorized vehicles, this was my first time hearing a powertrain problem caused by a possible “programming glitch.”

Brave new world.

Of course, he took the vehicle and put it through a panel of diagnostic tests, wherein he said he failed to recreate the loss of acceleration. The best he could do was recommend a series of software upgrades that may or may not eliminate future incidents and of course was not covered by any warranty. Oh, and by the way, I also needed a new A/C filter. Total estimate: $180. Sigh… sold.

I asked: Does the new software include a “pre-flight” warning to turn off all Apple devices prior to departure?

He chuckled.

I didn’t. And now basically all we can do is cross our fingers and hope it doesn’t happen again. That’s tolerable for short city trips. But you can bet during our next longer drive there’ll be some pins and needles in the driver’s seat I’ll be sitting on throughout the journey. NOT the way I like to roll.

A couple days ago, as I do on a basis sometimes more semi-regular than regular, I dumped all the photos accumulated on my iPhone onto my desktop’s iPhoto program. Except this time some of the image being imported weren’t my photos, namely those eight above that feature a passel of black-and-white kittens, taken Friday, May 11, specifically between 11:13 and 11:23 a.m.

No, seriously: I did not take those. I’ve never even seen those kitties or know anyone who is raising such a crew of cats. Most certainly I can assure you that I DO NOT paint my toenails as can be seen on the feet of perhaps the photo taker in that triplicated groupshot snap in the middle of the bunch.

Though Susan probably wouldn’t ever borrow my phone much less know how to take a picture with it, I asked her if they were her pics and she said they weren’t.

So how the hell did these snaps get on my iPhone? I do remember on the same day these pictures were taken, some status updates suddently started showing up on my Facebook page via my iPhone’s Facebook app that I didn’t do — odd two-letter combos like “Rw” — and I quickly reset my password. Could the two anomalies be connected?

This is krazee.

Preface: You are being duly warned that this is an odd rambling post about the throwback Citizen wristwatch I’m presently wearing, brought about by the sudden and surprise arrival of a 1988 photo of me — sent and taken by my friend Joel Ordesky (that he found while searching for other pics) — in which I happen to be wearing the first Citizen I ever owned. You should also prepare yourself before continuing beyond the jump for the mint-green sweaterlishousness I was wearing in said photo, plus the fact that I was once young with nary a gray hair on my wrinkle-free head that still sported a baby face some of whose original parts were lost six years later in my motorcycle accident:

(more…)

Susan and I have been lax this last month in our morning walks, but when I heard her alarm go off at 5:15 a.m. I was soon up and at ‘em for our local trek that runs about 1.25 miles. On the latter third of that, I found this mystery kitchen utensil just laying on some parkway grass that looked like it had never been used by whoever tossed it out:

After bringing it home, taking it apart and giving it a good cleaning, I googled any variety of “Suzuki/counter-mount/hand/manual/grinder/mill” but came up entirely empty.  And it’s no help that the small green label on its side is entirely in Japanese. As such, I have no clue what its meshed gears are supposed to munch on. Any ideas?

UPDATE (1:25 p.m.): Additional pics, from above and below.

 

UPDATE (4:45 p.m.): Jeez. So through my amazing powers of deduction, I finally looked at that little green label for a clue and all I could find among all those Japanese language characters was 0427 (59) 5571, which I hoped might be a phone number. So I googled it: nothing. Then I googled it with “Suzuki” and got a match via a directory page that had a link to the product’s webpage. The company name is Ration Suzuki Institute Inc in the city of Sagamihara, bordering Tokyo. What is it? It’s a juicer.

From a bad translation of its webpage:

Suzuki Juice Machine

Completely crushed cells of vegetables and fruits, because without waste to extract the active ingredient in many yield to make a delicious juice, less destruction of the vitamin.

First impression: Pain in the ass. Here’s a video snippet from the five minutes it took me to juice a pear.

 

The main hold-up to progressing El Naranja to completion is the installation of the headset cups into the bike’s headtube. Basically the cups secure the fork and also hold the bearings that enable the fork to turn smoove like dah buttah. But getting them in there isn’t just a matter of popping them into place. The end of the cup that goes into the tube is wider than the tube itself, so they gotta be wedged in — and not with a hammer or mallet, which will destroy the lips of the cups.

So my options were:

A) Spend as much or more money than I did on the new frame to get a triple-digit$ fancy-looking professional headset press tool and then wait until it arrives sometime next week

B) Take it to a bike shop and have them do it for $10-$15 pretty much right away

C) Wait until Saturday and take it the Bike Kitchen (closed on Fridays) to use their fancy-looking professional headset press tool for a minimal donation

Ooooooooooooor I could go with a fourth option: make my own single-digit$ unfancy-looking hardware store handset press tool.

So with a trip to Baller Hardware I did just that, for $8.06 worth of washers, a bolt and nuts (parts “recipe” itemized at end). And it looks a little unimpressively something like this:

Basically I placed the cups in their respective positions on the headtube, then I ran the bolt up through the head tube, adding the washers and nut onto the end coming out of the top. Then I made sure everything was straight and the washers had good and completely even contact on the cup lips. Next I held the lower nut firm in a pair of pliers and with a crescent wrench started cranking down the top nut, until the cups were exactly and beautifully and perfectly seated between them in the headtube. Look ma, I made a headtube sammich:

After a few reverse turns of the crescent wrench to loosen the top nut I spun it off the bolt and removed the washers, then slid the homebrewed contraption out through the bottom of the headtube and sat back for a little bit proudly marveling at my ingeniousity and its success:

With that important hurdle cleared so magnificently and inexpensively, I then of course got busy attaching the rest of the componentry, and by the time Susan got home, El Naranja was in the foyer ready to roll (give or take some adjustments to the seat, brakes and handlebar height):

That inaugural ride tomorrow will be interesting in that I changed up some key items from what 8Ball carried. The chainring is 52 teeth, up from 48, which’ll require more exertion getting up hills and going from complete stops, but will also allow me an extra mph or two when I have the urge to go all batouttahell on downhills or flats. And the cranks themselves are only 160 millimeters in length, down from the 165s I’ve used for the last four years. I also opted for the shortest possible chain circumference, which in turn brings the rear wheel into the frame with minimal clearance between its tire and the frame. The measurements may seem miniscule but they might take some some getting used to.

Recipe for my Hardware Store Headset Press Tool

Ingredients (your prices will vary):

1 – 1/2″ threaded (aka coil) rod* that’s longer than the length of your headtube (in my case, 12 inches), $2.49

2 – flanged nuts (regular nuts will probably work fine, but the flanges provide a little more contact area), $0.37 each

4- nylon washers (somewhat optional; used as cushion between nuts and metal washers), $0.49 each

6 – 2″ metal washers (aka “fender” washers; I got so many so the thickness would help distribute/transfer the pressure, but I probably only needed four), $0.37 each

*An alternative could be a suitably long threaded bolt (which would mean you’d only have to buy one flanged nut), but you want to make sure the bolt’s threads extend at least an inch below the end of the headtube.

Middle of last week there’s an email in my inbox from the Olympus camera company telling me about their PEN Ready Project and how they’re giving away more than 1,000 cameras to more than 1,000 folks and that “we think you’ll be a perfect addition.”

I have no idea how they came to such a conclusion since I’m not a blogger of any renown or one who’s prone to reviewing things (and even then it’s usually stuff I’ve bought), but if Olympus wanted to send me a $500 PEN E-PM1 camera that was mine to keep — especially when they added I was under no obligation to be anything but honest in my assessments and opinions of the device — who was I to say no?

So I emailed ‘em back and said hell yeah and they emailed me back and said cool along with a link to an online form to fill out that was full of waivers and rules (the main one being I have to post a minimum of 20 pictures to the PEN Ready website by October 31). After they received it they said hold tight we’ll get your free-to-keep camera out to you in a few days.

It arrived this afternoon. Say hi:

With its compact size, external flash and removable lens system it’s a unit that Olympus has positioned as an alternative to those in the market for a camera who want more than a point-and-shoot but aren’t ready to go the full DSLR route.

Being so well-versed and immersed among various Canon DSLR and point-and-shoot cameras these last few years, there will no doubt be a learning curve as I learn the language of its bells and whistles, but being not a total idiot, I was able to install its battery and start shooting with it right out of the box. Literally I swung my desk seat around and clicked snoozy Ranger (click for the bigger pictures):

Then I wandered out back and snapped a late-season cactus flower:

Me likey the results.

Being able to snap with it from the get-go is great, but another thing that will take getting used to is its size. It’s certainly compact and far smaller than my Canon Rebel, but the externally mounted (and interchangeable) lens (none others included) sticks out like a sore thumb when compared to my trusty Canon Powershot SD1100, that I can holster on my belt or backpack or keep in a pocket ready to point-and-shoot it on a moment’s notice.

I know: Oh boo hoo.

Trust me. I’m not griping. Just noting an adjustment regarding mobility. If I carry this cam with me on bike rides it’ll either be in my pack or around my neck if I wish it to be more readily accessible (and I’m decidedly an anti-strap guy). Because you know I’ll be carrying it with me on bike rides and other adventures.

So last week, a technician came out and restored our suddenly dead 2-month-old fridge to working order, by diagnosing the problem as a refrigerant leak and making the necessary repairs and refills.

All was cool, literally, until less than 24 hours later when the fridge started making this noise for extended periods of time:

Sometimes it would be louder, sometimes quieter. Sometimes it would continue for a few minutes, occasionally it would rattle for more than half an hour. Never was it not infuriating.

I called Samsung back and in the course of the understanding rep listen to me wax incredulous about how we bought the appliance for its ability to keep our food cold and  NOT for its potential as a random alarm clock, a new service appointment (with a different company) was scheduled for yesterday.

More than three near interminable hours after this repairman arrived the fix was in, but the first 2.5 hours involved him checking and replacing sensors and the refrigerator of course not making the noise with the tech really having no clue from my recording whether it was from something inside or outside of the compressor. Finally I got down there, pushed on the thing and voila: there was the noise, which it turned out was being caused by a copper tube from the compressor being too close to the nearby circulating fan, and when the tube would ice up enough contact with the blades and the frozen water would be made.

Part of the problem, the tech said, was that the previous repairman had overcharged the compressor with refrigerant, which in turn was causing the copper line from it to ice up when the compressor operated at its highest output. So he then reduced the amount of coolant and as an additional precaution moved the pipe away from the fan.

Now everything’s quiet and cool.

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