I added scans and more content to the review of The Plucker, but that's about it. I actually do have new stuff to write about, I just haven't found the time to put it all together yet. Soon.
Update 2: Feb 13, 2008
Nope, no new content. But I have fixed most of the biggest issues with the site for non-IE browsers (including the no-longer-broken sketch gallery, though I still haven't moved any of the newer drawrings in).
Update: Feb 10, 2008
I haven't added these to my (currently malfunctioning) sketch gallery yet, but here are a few recent scribblings.
I've never claimed to have any discernible talent.
Okay, I guess I've ignored you people long enough.
...wait, nobody noticed that I hadn't updated? No matter, I'll still update this beastie!
I've read a few books and have even seen a movie (ONE movie - how sad is that?) since the last time, so maybe I'll be a little more verbose today. We'll see. But first, the big news of the past few weeks (strap in tight, this could be a long one)...
What is it with Jettas and pumps?
Almost 3 years ago, the Jetta's water pump failed, which caused me lots of stress but didn't actually drain my bank account at all. The symptoms were clear and easily diagnosed by the VW dealer. Apparently, though, not all pump-failures are as easily diagnosed (or as coverable under the Jetta's power-train warranty).
About four weeks ago, the Jetta started behaving strangely. But I wasn't driving during these bouts of bad behavior, so I dealt with them as I do most things I don't want to deal with. I voiced skepticism of a real problem and hoped it would just go away.
Unfortunately, the Jetta didn't acquiesce to my wishes. The misbehaving only became more frequent until I had the misfortune to actually experience it - but only after driving the car for a few days on the Freeway and opining "You're nuts. There's nothing wrong with the car." Unlike the last pump failure, there were no warning light clues to help us with a self-diagnosis of the problem. The car would be driving along fine and then would lose power for a few seconds at a time, but would never actually stall. Or it would be running and then do a weird shuddering thing that would shake the whole car. Oddly, these problems only seemed to happen at lower speeds.
We took it to the local Firestone to be checked out and repaired as necessary (you'd think we would have learned our lesson about Firestone's diagnosis and repair capabilities of this thing after last time). As you might expect, they couldn't figure duplicate the problem or see anything wrong, so we paid their $20 diagnosis fee and took the car back. It seemed to be okay, for the most part, and I concluded - with my unrivaled knowledge of all things mechanical - that the problem was bad gas. Obviously, low quality gasoline was to blame for the car's strange behavior, so I took it to the local Chevron, filled it up with Super-duper Unleaded (the tank was only half-empty), and waited for the high-quality gas I'd used to work its magic as we drove throughout the week (this was about a week before Christmas). And for a while, it seemed that the better gas was helping.
Fast-forward to Christmas eve. Last minute Christmas shopping is the order of the day (on my second-to-last unpaid holiday day off) and we were leaving the local Borders en route to our Happy Christmas Home.
Unfortunately, this was the day that the Jetta decided it was ready to kick things up a notch. As we pulled out onto the busy roadway, it started convulsing like a WoW-addict with no Internet access (I never actually went into convulsions - it was a pretty clean break, really). But this time, in addition to seemingly convulsing a little more violently, there was a new wrinkle. The Check Engine light came on. And then began flashing.
I don't know about you, but I had never seen a Check Engine light flash before. And I suspected it wasn't flashing to alert me to good news about the state of my Junkka...er, Jetta. So I pulled over and turned the engine off as quickly as I could. After digging through the Owner's Manual, the only specific cause of a flashing check engine light was determined to be the failure of the catalytic converter. Uh-oh...that didn't sound good. I don't know jack about cars, but the more esoteric the name of the parts, the more expensive they seem to be to fix.
The Owner's Manual also stated that driving your vehicle with a damaged catalytic converter would be a really bad idea. Really bad. So I called good ol' USAA and arranged to have it towed to...and this is the part that's hard to believe...Firestone! You'd think I would have learned by now. Actually, the VW dealer was closed (this was Christmas Eve, after all), so my options were pretty limited.
I rode with the towtruck driver on the way to the dealer and learned some interesting facts about automobile reliability. Interesting and surprising facts.
Fact #1: German cars are bad bets for reliability. The worst, in fact, are BMWs. I'd always been led to believe by the BMW marketing department that BMWs are the most reliable cars on the road. They wouldn't lie to me, would they?
Fact #2: GM vehicles, especially Chevys, are the least reliable American car make. Not a huge surprise, but interesting nonetheless.
Fact #3: Saturns are quite often towed - but not because of engine problems. The big problem with Saturns? Their steering column. Apparently keys break off, get stuck or just do weird things. Thankfully, that's never happened with our Saturn (and it's going on 15 years).
Fact #4: Ford is actually the most reliable make of American vehicle. There are fewer problems with FOrds than all the other vehicle makes. Honda is the most reliable non-American vehicle make.
I guess my dad was right about his devotion to Fords. Who knew (surprisingly, his most recent car purchase was a Chevy. Sucker!)
Of course, these results were all based on the vehicles towed by this one towing company, so it could also be that there are a much higher ratio of German cars being driven in the area they serve, which would statistically increase the likelihood of towing a German car. So...take these "facts" with a grain of salt.
And now back to the exciting and action-packed story already in progress...
The Jetta stayed with the Firestone mechanics for a couple of days, undergoing a more expensive $100 engine-problem-diagnosis, during which they determined that the car's computer was telling them the problem was low gas. The mechanics suspected that I had somehow damaged the car by letting it run out of gas. But...I've run the Saturn out of gas many times (sad, but true - I don't learn) and it's never had this problem. And more importantly, the Jetta has never been run all the way to empty before (since slackmaster #1 isn't the primary driver).
Throwing their hands up in defeat, the Firestone mechanics admitted they didn't have any idea what the problem was. So I called good ol' USAA and arranged to have the car towed over to the VW dealer, Miramar Volkswagen. The driver for the ride to the dealer was less talkative, so I didn't gain any new insights into vehicle-dependability on this trip.
The dealer kept the Jetta over the weekend and struggled with the same uninformative computer diagnosis that the Firestone guys had. So I guess they're not the bunch of bumbling incompetents I've made them out to be - Volkswagen just isn't very good with self-diagnosing engine problems.
After a few days of...whatever it is they were doing, they announced that the problem was a malfunctioning fuel pump and would cost around $600-$700 to repair. I didn't really have any alternative, so I agreed to the costly repairs, figuring it was better than buying a new car.
The shiny new fuel pump was installed and ready to go by the next day, so a neighbor brought the little woman down to pick up the car. And the, on the way home, it happened again. Exactly as it had happened so many times before. The engine light wasn't flashing this time (what was with the "catalytic converter failure" warning in the Owner's Manual, anyway?), but it did turn on. So I called for a towtruck and the car was taken back to the dealer, who graciously arranged for a complimentary rental car until the Jetta could be repaired - a Suzuki sedan. A Suzuki? Maybe even the VW dealer knows better than to risk loaning a German car to a customer.
I received a call within a few hours and was told that a part on the shiny new fuel pump hadn't been installed correctly, but they had easily corrected this. They wanted to keep the car overnight to let one of their mechanics drive it home to be sure the problem was really solved. I warned them that the problem had never manifested while driving on the Freeway, but they assured me the car would see enough non-Freeway driving to determine if the problem had finally been corrected. And after putting 100 miles on the car, they were sure it had. So we picked up the car and drove it home. And it's been problem free for about a week.
But I can't help but wonder if the the original fuel pump was really okay and it was whatever they corrected the second time on the new pump that was actually the problem. Man, I should have taken auto-shop in High School and cut back on a math class or two. Who could have known back then?
Books, a movie and other stuff
I was going to say a thing or two about the National Treasure sequel we saw last weekend, but I'm not in the mood anymore. Remembering all the good times with the Jetta took a lot out of me. I will admit that I liked it. And that the comedy relief provided by Nick Cage's sidekick was the best part of the movie. To be honest, I think they could replace Nick Cage with just about any good actor and the movie would be as good. It's worth seeing in the theater, though. Maybe not as much as Beowulf was, but I don't want anyone to think it was bad. It wasn't.
I've read a few books, but the most memorable of those was sort of a children's story for adults called The Plucker. It was written and illustrated by a guy who goes by a Madonnaesque single moniker: Brom. I'd been eyeing the beautiful oversized, hard-cover book for a long time and finally decided to pick it up on a recent shopping trip to Borders (though not the one in which the Jetta decided to scare the willies out of me). The story can be best described as a cross between Disney's Toy Story and a more dark and creepy Corpse Bride. While it borrows a lot from the Toy Story storyline, it's not really much like Toy Story at all. And it's similarities to Corpse Bride are purely visual. The stories are in no way similar.
Ah then, so I've now told you absolutely nothing and have, in fact, made you less aware of what the book is.
So what is the book really about? In a nutshell, it's about a boy and his toys. It's set during World War II, though the glimpses of the adult world beyond the realm of the toys are few. The boy of this story is lonely as misses his parents as his father serves his country in the war and his mother serves her country by being involved in every charitable, patriotic endeavor she can find. His primary companion is an old, black woman who serves as the family's housekeeper/nanny.
Like the hero of Toy Story, Jack is a forgotten toy. Once a favorite, he one day finds himself a pariah passed off to the "underbed" - the last resting place of forgotten toys.
What the hell?
Jack pushed open the lid of his box and peered about the dark, dusty gloom. Where am I? Toys he hadn't seen in years lay scattered about like discarded rags. A cold terror seized him. Holy crap! I'm in the Underbed! Suddenly he recalled, with chilling clarity, Thomas calling him a little kid's toy.
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? But don't be fooled. Things take a dark turn when a gift from the boy's father ends up being every bot as evil as it looks. It's up to the boy's loyal toys to save the day as the boy's life is threatened.
The story isn't just full of pint-sized action heroes, there are sad and tragic sacrifices and maybe even a few lessons about what life is all about.
Little Bird drew her knife, let loose a war cry and slammed into the Red Knight. The knight's broadsword hissed past Jack and slashed into the web, sticking fast.
Little Bird sliced into the worms on the knight's head. They screamed and shrieked.
The knight abandoned his sword and grabbed Little Bird by the hair. He yanked her up in the air and slammer her onto the ground. Little bird felt something snap, saw stars. She tried to roll away, but the knight's foot came down on her stomach, then her head.
Her head bloomed with an explosion of bright, excruciating pain. Her vision blurred. When her head cleared she heard the worms bawling with delight. Saw the knight wrenching Jack's head back and forth. Saw Jack clawing at the knight's hands. Saw the red pin at Jack's side.
Despite the pain, she crawled to Jack. Struggling to her knees, she pulled the pin free. She held it a moment as she fought not to black out. It glistened with a faint red glow. With all her effort she staggered to her feet. The cavern swam hazily before her. She lunged, aiming the pin at the knight's neck.
Well-told and even better illustrated, this is a book worth adding to your library. Neil Gaiman would be proud. Keep it away from the little kiddies, though. Despite first appearances, this is no children's story.
There have been several other books, but none of them really stand out enough in memory to mention. I did like Tim Power's The Anubis Gates and I do recommend it to fans of Powers's other books and even those who've read and enjoyed Philip K Dick's books, but I just don't feel like talking about it right now.
I didn't want to, but since it's been the focus of my last few rants, I suppose I should mention the job situation. I'm no longer a benefit-less contractor. I've graduated to the rank of...drumroll...benefited contractor. But wait, it's not as bad as it sounds. I am a contractor, but I also have most of the benefits of a regular employee and do, in fact, receive a paycheck from Sempra. There are a few notable benefits I'm lacking: paid sick days, tuition reimbursement (no more UCSD courses for me), floating holidays, two weeks vacation (I get one), and I did take a paycut...but overall, I'm satisfied.
I've parted ways with Perfect Link, Inc. I definitely learned a thing or two about contracting and accepting a job offer without checking into the things I took for granted - like getting paid for holidays that my employer is closed on. Who woulda thunk you even need to ask about that?
Okay, that's probably enough ranting for one day. So until...oh, March or April, this is Mork, signing off. Nanoo-nanoo.