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Responses to this rant
bart   Wednesday, 2/13/2008 5:35 PM
You know it's Dan   Wednesday, 2/13/2008 9:56 AM
steve   Saturday, 2/16/2008 11:49 PM
bart   Monday, 2/18/2008 10:19 AM
Older rants
Nov 20, 2018   My cubicle revisited, really-old ComicCon stuff, Emeli's Art, More Disney Adventures, The Zoo and Safari Park
September 9, 2018   Perimeter - an eBook thriller
September 3, 2018   Take Back the Sky Starcraft Evolution
August 11, 2018   Idaho Dunes Awesome soda Ethanol-free gas an awesome Bald Guy card Our rough dig Harry Potter Interlude story
July 21, 2018   The Cup in the Shadows (The Forbidden Powers Book 1)
June 24, 2018   Jake, Lucid Dreamer
June 13, 2018   Troll-stalking
May 23, 2018   Another badbartopia email spoofer, A sunny-day Disney adventure, Raymond E Feist book signing
May 15, 2018   A rainy-day Disneyland trip The Bassoon King
Apr 28, 2018   Down and Out in Purgatory
Apr 13, 2018   Operation Hail Storm
Mar 4, 2018   American Exodus
Jan 22, 2018   Christmas, Didn't Get Frazzled, The Sea People, The Rooster Bar, Last Burial Night, Doctor Who and the Krikkit Men
Dec 15, 2017   Mistrial, City of Death and Disneyland
Nov 14, 2017   Grace Vanderwaal - Just the Beginning
Nov 11, 2017   Tim Powers Signing at Mysterious Galaxy for Down and Out in Purgatory
November 4, 2017   Return to Disneyland, Halloween at the office, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, The Long Cosmos Maximus One year After War Dogs, Killing Titan Daddy, Stop Talking
October 29, 2017   Bruce Campbell Signing, Hail to the Chin, Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor
October 20, 2017   Meg & Dia, Imagine Dragons in concert, 2 Years 8 months and 28 Nights
October 17, 2017   All Apologies
October 16, 2017   Thrawn
Septempber 7, 2017   The Rage of Dragons, The Lincoln Myth
August 10, 2017   The Molly Ringwalds, Dia Frampton Musical awesomeness, Beauty and the Feast
July 28, 2017   The IT Sweatshop revisited, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, American Gods and The Magicians, Rogue One, Camino Island
July 24, 2017   CRV glovebox difficulties, San Diego Comic Con rant
July 11, 2017   Beauty and the Beast at the Lyceum, Earthweeds, Sons of Neptune Book 1, Aftermath, Empire's End, If Chin's Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor
June 30, 2017   Eastwood: No Direction Home book 2
June 23, 2017   Excellent Adventures on the PCH (part 4/4) - The PCH family vacation tale concludes, my new record, record player, and Emeli's site is live!
Jun 14, 2017   A noteworthy eBook mention before I return to my vacation ranting - No Direction Home
June 9, 2017   Excellent Adventures on the PCH (part 3/4) - The PCH family vacation tale concludes...almost. More pictures of spooky old houses, trees, rocks, and other things that nobody cares about! Plus, Goonies stuff
June 2, 2017   Excellent Adventures on the PCH (part 2/4) - The PCH family vacation tale continues... And more pictures of trees and other things that nobody cares about!
May 31, 2017   Excellent Adventures on the PCH (part 1/4) - Way more detail than anyone wants about our vacation up the coast of California and Oregon. And lots of pictures of trees!
Apr 26, 2017   Resurrection America, Pizza Studio art, AmandaLynn, Emeli art, and Disney art, and Gifted
Apr 14, 2017   My San Fransisco OSI PI adventure & "Thanks for the Money: How to Use My Life Story to Become the Best Joel McHale You Can Be"
Apr 12, 2017   Neil Gaiman speaks, Norse Mythology, American Gods comic adaptation, The Magicians TV series, and Dirk Gently on TV
Feb 2, 2017   A trip to the ever-less-magical land of Disney, The Prince of Outcasts, the Whistler, and a brief mention of The Magicians.
Jan 21, 2017   An update to my nerd wall at work, Found out about Richard Thompson (Cul De Sac) being gone, A list of all the stuff (or most, anyway) I've given up to new homes, A review of Dave! and Warp, and a couple of new doodles.
Dec 23, 2016   My final visit to Potterland and a couple of doodles
Dec 11, 2016   Books and related comics, and free/cheap stuff. Not taco Bell Material, President Me, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, The Hedge Knight (comic), The Sworn Sword (comic) Ooma, Ringplus, Amazon prime and other money-saving stuff.
Dec 4, 2016   I'm sharing my sad doodles with the world again. They're not very good, but I'll bet they're better than your scribbles!
Nov 12, 2016   Yet another trip to The Wonderful World of Harry Potter!
Nov 7, 2016   Blathering on about a few of the books I've read recently - Spire, The Check, and Dangercide, Pirate Detective
Oct 7, 2016   Yet another Visit to Harry Potterland. Oh, and my lease-mileage calculator.
July 25, 2016   Another Visit to Harry Potterland, a new car, a new shirt, a new dog, and a whole lot of the same old complaining
May 17, 2016   Email spoofers, Phishing emails, and scammers galore!
Apr 30, 2016   Winter's Edge and a Management zombie attack
Apr 23, 2016   Harry Potter land re-visited
Apr 9, 2016   Xenia...again
Apr 2, 2016   Sing Street, Batman vs Superman, Craigslist griping
Mar 1, 2016   The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hollywood preview, fun at work, Xenia's new song, A Vanishing Glow, Our Fair Eden, Race Wars, The Force Awakens
Jan 27, 2016   Text Wars, Books I've read... Yup, that's pretty much it
Jul 30, 2015   Xenia Martinez news Still selling stuff on eBay, Hyperbole and a Half (the book), The Path Between the Seas, Trigger Warning, In Fifty years We'll all Be Chicks
Mar 17, 2015   Selling my treasures on eBay, Hyperbole and a Half, the Long Mars, Gray Mountain, Anathem, The Golden Princess, The Given Sacrifice
Mar 12, 2015   You'll be sorely missed, Sir Terry
Jan 21, 2015   More BBC 4 radio dramatizations by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett: The Amazing Maurice, Guards! Guards!, Neverwhere, Night Watch, Small Gods, Wyrd Sisters
Jan 10, 2015   JabberWocky, Neil Gaiman style!
Dec 24, 2014   The Good Omens BBC treatment
Aug 03, 2014   Every hobby has to end eventually, right?
Oct 8, 2013   Warning: Extreme Geekness ahead!
Oct 1, 2013   The Bloody Crown of iGoogle
Aug 26, 2013   Headphones at work
Aug 22, 2013   The guvmint is gonna getcha
June 25, 2013   Dweebs vs Big Bang vs IT Crowd
Jul 3, 2012   Xenia Martinez & Dia Frampton concert
Feb 24, 2012   Reading...just not much
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Being an idiot with Lev Grossman
Jan 7, 2012   If it ain't broke...
Aug 22, 2011   non-ComicCon report 2011
A Thousand Splendid Suns
An Act of Self Defense
May 5, 2011   On Stranger Tides
vs.
On Stranger Tides
March 2, 2011   I'm a gigantic slacker...
Ikariam
Wild Guns
Lord of Ultima
Metin 2
Lord of the Rings Online
Dec 15, 2010   Bring out your dead!
Aug 17, 2010   San DiegoComicCon 2010
August 11, 2010   I'm not dead yet...
May 3, 2010   Hero Comics
Liberty Comics
Dr Horrible
Neil Gaiman & Sam Keith in Batman
The Guild, Felicia Day
April 27, 2010   Mean Gene Wilder! Grrr!!!
April 24, 2010   If it's not one Jihad, it's another...
April 20, 2010   The Satanic Verses
March 15, 2010   Unseen Academicals
Feblueberry 8, 2010   The un-reading shelf (from most of 2009)
Feblueberry 2, 2010   Emily the Strange, the Lost Days...a novel
Nov 25, 2009   Happy Halloween, Mom!
Nov 18, 2009   Summer Vacation in Idaho
Aug 20, 2009   San Diego ComicCon 2009
Aug 12, 2009   I'm a big, fat slacker
June 05, 2009   The networks are helping me cut back on my TV viewing
June 04, 2009   Mandy Moore's Amanda Leigh,
Chris Isaak's Mr Lucky
and
My name is Bruce?
and Emmy Rossum? Where am I going with this?
May 21, 2009   Randy would have really liked Fanboys...sigh
May 3, 2009   The Spring reading shelf
Apr 21, 2009   Holidays On Ice (a little late for Christmas)
Apr 18, 2009   Leviticus Cross and other Hector Sevilla comic book stuff
Apr 16, 2009   The fantastically amazing and banal Badbartopia RSS Feed
Mar 31, 2009   Neil Gaiman's Blueberry Girl
Mar 30, 2009   My Amazon mis-order turns out to be not so annoying as previously expected...
(AKA the Dr Horrible soundtrack)
Mar 23, 2009   Stephan Pastis & Richard Thompson have me looking forward to the 2009 SD ComicCon
Mar 19, 2009   Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog,
The Guild
Mar 08, 2009   The Wonderful Wizard of Oz comic adaptation,
Neil Gaiman's Sandman: The Dream Hunters
Mar 04, 2009   Little Brother
Mar 1, 2009   Pete & Pickles
Feb 11, 2009   She & Him
Flakes
Pushing Daisies
Jan 26, 2009   The Scourge of God,
When You are Engulfed in Flames
Jan 14, 2009   On the Road = hippy nonsense
Jan 12, 2009   One-by-one, my fish have met their maker
Dec 26, 2008   My Azeroth-avoidance continues
Dec 23, 2008   Nothing to see...move along
Dec 15, 2008   New scribbles
Dec 10, 2008   The Oct-Nov-Dec reading shelf
Dec 1, 2008   Shalimar the Clown
the economic impact of the events in Mumbai
Nov 21, 2008   Star Wars: Allegiance
Nov 20, 2008   Daredevil Black Widow: Abattoir
Nov 17, 2008   Travel Team
Nov 16, 2008   A new comic adaptation of The Wizard of Oz
Nov 14, 2008   Berke's Books:
The Last Basselope
Edward Fudwupper Fibbed Big
Mars Needs Moms
Opus: 25 years
Nov 13, 2008   Return to Azeroth?
Nov 12, 2008   Goodbye, Opus
Oct 29, 2008   Halloween costumes of 2008
Project Superpowers
Marvels
Ruins
Oct 23, 2008   The Graveyard Book
Interworld
Oct 16, 2008   Nation
Oct 10, 2008   The Joy of Programming
My foray into Ajax
Oct 9, 2008   My Saturn Scare
Opus ends
Terry Pratchett's condition
Oct 3, 2008   The Hitchhiker's Guide, Book 6...by Eoin Colfer?
Oct 2, 2008   Media master - music online
Sony builds a "better" camera
Sept 24, 2008   The September reading shelf
Sept 17, 2008   Still missing Randall
The Fish tank...again
The Graveyard Book
Sept 15, 2008   Slacking...as usual
The Sasquatch Dumpling Gang
Sept 9, 2008   The dearth of Opus strips
yes, I meant to say "dearth"
Sept 8, 2008   A new monitor goes bad...but it all ends happily
Sept 3, 2008   A Boy and His Dog,
Richard Corben,
H.P. Lovecraft's Haunt of Horror
Sept 2, 2008   A slightly newish look
(aka "why I will never be a graphic designer")
Aug 11, 2008   Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in all its incarnations Mike Kunkel's re-imagining of Shazam
July 29, 2008   San Diego Comiccon 2008
July 24, 2008   Neil Gaiman
July 17, 2008   Chris Isaak!
June 30, 2008   The Woman Who Wouldn't
Legends II
Mouse Guard Fall 1152
the Jetta's latest round of repairs
fishtank overpopulation
June 10, 2008   The Reading Shelf
Fish tank jungle
Attack of the bees
June 3, 2008   Missing Randall
May 9, 2008   My French Whore
Apr 28, 2008   Fish tank fatality
Flight of the Conchords
The Dangerous Alphabet
Mar 5, 2008   Gene Wilder book signing at Borders
new fish tank
subpoenaed!
Jan 11, 2008   The Jetta Strikes back!
The Plucker
The Anubis Gates
National Treasure II
Nov 8, 2007   San Diego on Fire,
A clean break from WoW,
UCSD Extension Java I graduation (kinda)
Making Money
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Oct 2, 2007   Back to school, Java class at UCSD
AT&T's Uverse
new sketches
Blockbuster movie pass
August 28, 2007   Mandy Moore concert!
Aug 19, 2007   ComicCon 2007 - Neil Gaiman, Iron Man and all the usual suspects
May 22, 2007   World of Spamcraft (and other spamalicious topics), forum fun...gus, the woes of being a contractor and PIRATES!!
Apr 5, 2007   I'm a conservative - bite me!
Timbaland? Dumb!
Marie Antoinette - snaggle teeth and teasing glimpes. Sweet!
John Q - a lesson about fatherhood or a liberal-propoganda film?
Mar 30, 2007   Things that make me grumpy-er,
employed again at last,
Finn and assorted other ramblings
Feb 8, 2007   The search for employment continues..and the unemployment benefits are NOT pouring in!
Jan, 22, 2007   Freed from the bondage of employment, a very brief review of a few books and films
Dec 17, 2006   Sad excuses, The Innocent Man, 1776, THe Man in High Castle, Absolute Sandman, Wintersmith, garage sale treasures: Ghost in the Machine
Aug 20, 2006   Writers of the Future XXII/Tim Powers, more movie reivews
July 20, 2006   San Diego ComicCon 2006
July 15, 2006   Superman Returns, inconsiderate morons, Peewee's Playhouse returns, my plea for more pirate movies
July 8, 2006   Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Wild Animal Park critters, site remodeling
Jun 27, 2006   The good, the bad and the mediocre (a bunch of movie reviews in the new forum).
June 15, 2006   Because of Romek - A Holocaust Survivor's Memoir
May 21, 2006   The DaVinci Code, Aeon Flux, Everything You Want
May 12, 2006   World of Warcrack, the Office, Coraline, my apologies...
Jan 24, 2006   Christmas Vacation 2006, Syriana, Traveling Pants, Wish You Were Here
Dec 19, 2005   Festive Neighbors, the death of Olivia, Media Misinformation surrounding Brent Wilkes/ADCS, Make Love the bruce campbell way
Nov 15, 2005   Microsoft Technet 2005 launch party, Lexmark printer problem, a bad, bad day, changing dentists.
Oct 22, 2005   Thud!, Anansi Boys, Where's my cow
Oct 18, 2005   Terry Pratchet Thud! signing, Neil Gaiman Anansi Boys signing
Oct 15, 2005   A very, very late Comiccon 2005 report.
Jun 23, 2005   The black hole of Warcraft, The Years of Rice and Salt, After the Sunset, Madagascar, Mr and Mrs Smith, Taxi.
Jun 3, 2005   All is quiet on the PM Front, War of the Worlds (the novel), Kingdom of Heaven, Sahara, Star Wars Episode III, Flight of the Phoenix
May 9, 2005   The program managers strike again, More of my horrendous sketches, Spanglish, A Lot Like Love, Elektra, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the film)
Apr 9, 2005   Stuck in Corporate Hell, a few of my recent sketches, Miss Congeniality 2, Collateral
Mar 21, 2005   Revenge of the Jetta (car problems), a Newegg purchase, a few new drawings, more Opus
Feb 13, 2005   The Mail mystery solved, more of my crappy sketches, A few new photos of the girls, bill-bert (introducing the new Project Manager), sweet phone skills, Opus, Dungeons and Dragons, In Good Company
Jan 27, 2005   Mystery mail, new photos of my beautiful kids, some new sketches, an Episode 3 spoiler, Opus, Going Postal, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Ubik, Remember the Titans, Lemony Snicket`s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Dodgeball
Jan 7, 2005   Christmas 2004, Update to the site, Elf & King Arthur revisited, National Treasure, Opus, Blade Runner
Dec 18, 2004   A new Stephanie sketch, another Target web page goof, the SD Union Tribune confirms Greg Bear`s research for Vitals, Miramar VW proves my dealer service assertions wrong, neighborhood Christmas fun, Opus
Nov 24, 2004   More of my mediocre drawings, nw russian mail-order coins, Star Wars toys, a big green spider comes to visit, Opus, Dies the Fire, Digital fortress, The Incredibles, Twisted, Van Helsing
Nov 03, 2004   Some thoughts regarding the 2004 election, rants about the environment, a memory rebate update, new computer issues, Opus, The Lone Drow, Deception Point, Roswell season 2 on DVD
Oct 12, 2004   An interesting quiz, mal-in rebates, a parrot joke, my new computer, thoughts on frame removal, web logs, Opus, Vitals, Star Wars trilogy on DVD, Ladykillers
Sep 23, 2004   My "Heath" sketch for Mark Oakley, an update on my a PNY rebate check, the fictitious AWNA Act, Browser Issues with the site, Opus/Pickles, The DaVinci Code, Garden State (Natalie Portman), Man on Fire
Sep 11, 2004   A new drawing: "Stephanie", redneck wisdom, my salary to hourly reclassification, funny video: news from iraq, an update on my mail-in pny rebate, a new rebate through Costco, Ella Enchanted, Highlander Endgame, Princess of Thieves, The Whole Ten Yards
Aug 27, 2004   Fun with my VW Warranty, Opus, Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix, The Land of SokMunster, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Wedding, Napoleon Dynamite, Hidalgo, Chasing Liberty, Out of Time
Jul 23, 2004   San Diego ComicCon 2004, the family summer vacation, Bruce Campbell, Opus, Nanny Ogg`s Cookbook, Angels & Demons, Folk of the fringe, Bourne Supremacy, i robot, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, Cody Banks 2, Hellboy
Jul 19, 2004   *** PNY Rebate fun, IE Patch, Linux and socialism, liberal scum, Opus, BIM, timeline, master and commander, tad hamilton, stuck on you,cold mountain, 50 first dates, the terminal, spiderman 2, king arthur, a hat full of sky, the thousand orcs, meditations on middle earth
Jun 20, 2004   Memorial day pictures, Duplex, Mark Oakley/Heroes, Wild Animal Park Dinosaurs, B-52s concertman, Say After Tomorrow, Big Fish, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Eragon, A Hat Full of Sky, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
May 08, 2004   Pat Tillman, LOTR Toys, 13 Going on 30, Mean Girls, Tolkien Miscellany, Last Juror, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Pork Tornado
Apr 06, 2004   Roswell season 1 DVD and a some other mindless drivel
Feb 19, 2004   Highlander site contest results, new downloads, princess gallery updates, lord of the rings toys, harry potter, underworld. lost in translation, the hunted, a tolkien miscellany...
Feb 09, 2004   Murder at 1600, Radio, Cheaper by the Dozen, King Arthur, Spiderman 2, Van Helsing, Harry Potter, Tolkien Miscellany, Mark Oakley, massive snow in Idaho...
Jan 28, 2004   Swat, Uptown Girls, Somethings Gotta Give, Along Came Polly, Seabiscuit, Ashley Judd Marathon, Van Helsing, Harry Potter, Science Fiction Bok Club, Nanny Ogg`s Cookbook, RA Salvatore, Mythology (Alex Ross), Fastner & Larson, Best page in the universe, etc, etc...
Jan 07, 2004   Clint`s rules, X-Men 2, Holes, Pirates, Two Towers, Freaky Friday (Haley Hudson), new drawings, Thieves` World, Playskool Star Wars, new Interest section
Jan 02, 2004   nothing all that interesting...
Dec 21, 2003   Nemo, Highlander page, Christmas vacation 2003, star wars kid
Dec 12, 2003   E.T. (Erika Eleniak), new drawings, Opus, Santa Claus 2 (Elizabeth Mitchell), Legolas toy/pics, How to Deal (Mandy Moore), Myth update, Last Samurai
Nov 27, 2003   Another Fine Myth, Elf
Nov 22, 2003   Dude, Where`s Bill & Ted
Nov 18, 2003   Not much to say
Nov 15, 2003   Disneyland, Astronaut`s Wife, Dumer and Dumber-er, Monstrous Regiment
Nov 10, 2003   Terry Pratchett, Matrix Revolutions
110103   School of Rock, Terry Pratchett signing, Darth Vader MBNA bust, San Diego fires
Aug 17, 2003   Johnny English, San Diego Comic-Con
Jun 17, 2003   Assorted ramblings
May 28, 2003   Not much to say
May 24, 2003   Almost nothing of note
May 17, 2003   Matrix Reloaded, Pirates
Mar 23, 2003   The Police, Pirates, Lord of the Rings grievances part II
Mar 16, 2003   Lord of the Rings grievances part 1
Super auld stuff   A big list of old submissions with boat loads of broken links

Update 3: Mar 4, 2008

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.



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