the further adventures of

Mike Pirnat

a leaf on the wind

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On the Joys of Routine Automobile Maintenance

As if by some form of rapturous synchronicity, my car has started misbehaving just in time for its 25,000 mile scheduled maintenance. Today, hopefully, all shall be remedied and return to full automotive joyousness.

I've been witness lately to the intermittent but increasingly frequent return of the Naughty Traction Control Light. I had already scheduled the checkup when, this past Friday, the Engine Power Control light came on again during my drive home. (Thankfully, my new window regulators are still working like champs.) I hope that since the symptoms are identical to my past experience, that it will be a slam-dunk for the shop to fix again.

The really exciting part was a week ago, last Monday, as I drove my mother-in-law to the airport. As we approached the airport entrance, the lovely morning drive was punctuated by a piece of something falling from my sunroof and hitting me on the head. Luckily, the something in question was not the sunroof itself, but was instead a skinny piece of black plastic trim that looked like it had been ready to fall out for some time. While I was suprised and upset at the time to have bits of my car falling on my head, I am shockingly delighted to discover that the mysterious, unpredictable rattling noise that has been bothering me intermittently for over two years has suddenly ceased. Though this now allows me a deep sigh of relief, I am keeping my fingers crossed that the replacement of the part doesn't bring back that most infernal racket.

So, please, O mighty gods of the VW Service Department... Do only good things to my baby.

[Edit@19:00]All fixed, everything happy![/Edit]

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Monday, already in progress.

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License Plate Sightings

A spate of amusing and tragic vanity license plates have recently crossed my path:

  • XPENSIV on a little blue corporate drone conformity-mobile. A BMW I think. The guy may have paid a lot for this car, but apparently he couldn't afford the optional turn signal mechanism... I see him fairly often in traffic, driving like a complete jackass, and his license plate just begs for someone to key the bejeebers out of him.
  • NET JEDI on an SUV last week. I am not sure whether I should be amused by this, sad for the driver, jealous of the driver, or sad for myself that I am slightly jealous.
  • THE SUV on a Ford Explorer this morning. What? You're driving an SUV? How startling, I hadn't noticed!
  • TIMMAYY on a purple PT Cruiser last Friday. Brilliant! This plate inspired me to try on my best Timmy voice and giggle incessantly for several miles as I followed it through traffic on my way home from the airport.

The moral? Don't have a vanity plate that is stupid or that signals your willingness to exit the gene pool; choose wisely!

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My Life, Readers Digest Condensed Version

Good lord, but it's been a crazy week.

Had an utterly horrible meeting on Monday (half of which involved being yelled at, then being told "no one is yelling, everything is under control," and that also included the same person completely misrepresenting what I'd said in a previous meeting, to the point that it was nearly 180 degrees from the truth).

But on the other hand, the squirrel that decided to run across I-90 that morning made it to the far side alive. He waited in exactly the right place for me to drive over him at 77 (-ish) miles per hour, then darted forward a few more lanes, paused, and then arrived at his destination. Quite impressive for a critter with such a tiny brain; I guess all of our traffic-based efforts at breeding a smarter squirrel are starting to pay off!

Almost got killed on Monday afternoon as a bitch in a black Lexus (LEX 1857, in case you see this waste of skin driving around town) accelerated into the spot where I was supposed to be merging. I was in a situation where two lanes became one, and was about a car length ahead of Her Royal Recklessness when she decided that "oh, I drive a Lexus, I therefore have the right of way". And she had the nerve to lay on her horn at me, while I was just a scant moment away from having the oncoming traffic test out my airbags. Fucking piece of shit in her pre-owned yuppie crapbag of a car. But the guy who had been in front of me, who Bitch Queen got stuck behind, was going like 34, so I got a nice long look at her plates, then called the cops when I got home. They can't really do anything except call her and say that someone reported her for reckless driving... But at least I did everything I could.

It's been a busy week at work; I've finally started slinging some code for the huge project that I was supposed to have been able to start three weeks ago but couldn't until Tuesday afternoon. It's coming along. Hopefully I'll still manage to get things done on time, or at least approximately on time.

The kitchen continues apace; I'll follow up later on (tomorrow maybe) with new photos. Since my last update, we've had the new walls framed, the major electrical work completed, and in the last two days we've gotten our ceiling and the drywall has been hung! It's starting to look pretty impressive. It's going to be so great when it's done!

Liz had an event in Akron tonight, so we met up at Vaccaro's and had an excellent visit with Chef Pete. We keep meaning to visit the restaurant more often, and we keep not having a chance to get down there, so it was great to get a Pete fix. He's doing really well, the restaurant is rockin', and he's seeing a lady who sounds like she's just about perfect for him, and the shit-eating, ear-to-ear grin of his says that all the positive mojo I've been sending his way must have paid off. (Sure, I'll gladly take credit for it, what the hell!) We had a couple bottles of fabulous wine (more than I had planned on, which made the drive home in separate cars lots of fun), sampled from his extremely tasty menu, and had a great time catching up with a long-lost friend.

I'm sure there's more. But it can wait. I'll try to get some new photos posted tomorrow, I promise. (Though you can take a look here if you're impatient!)

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Learned My Lesson

This morning I had the overwhelming feeling that I should have just written off the day and gone back to bed. It turns out that my gut feeling was right, and I should really learn to listen to it more often.

Apparently I spent most of last night thrashing around in my sleep, as opposed to sleeping soundly. This, I believe, laid the groundwork for the rest of the day.

My right knee has been bugging me since Friday morning. Don't know why, it just feels like hurting. Tried a variety of different over-the-counter things for it, none of which help very much. Still hurts. I can walk okay, but stairs really kick my ass. Ouch.

I've got a huge pimple coming in, just in time to be a raging monstrosity before Andy's wedding (and the required umpty-thousand photos that will be taken). Sigh. Just when I thought my skin was deciding to behave.

Work was pretty much a wash too -- between Source Safe being down for half the day, and trying to deal with my various tasks, it was like beating my head into the wall all day long. I have two big projects that involve lots of tricky integration with different partner companies, and despite the need to Get Stuff Done, none of the technical contacts that I have seem terribly interested in Actually Doing the Stuff They're Supposed To. In fact, I can barely even get them to get back to me, let alone execute on things. Typical hurry up and wait.

Lunch tasted like ass, but apparently it wasn't as bad as what Liz ate.

Finally, I manged to accomplish a marginal amount of work toward my goals, and left the office at five, thinking that at least the day was over and I could go home and relax. About five minutes later, I was stopped at a light, and the person who rolled up next to me wanted to let me know that I had a flat tire.

Fuck.

I pulled into the nearest service station to take a look at the tire and maybe fill it with enough air to get me over to VW or to a tire place in Westlake. My driver's side rear tire was completely flat, and after looking at it for a minute or so, the chances of getting it across town look pretty dubious. Of course, it didn't help that I would've had to pay for air and didn't have any appropriate coinage (nor any appropriate cash) on hand. So, wussy software guy that I am, I phoned AAA to assess the damage and assist me with my spare tire. Thus I got to sit at the Marathon station on West 117 and ponder how my pleasant evening of leaving work early was about to completely disintegrate.

Once we put the spare on (props to the VW engineers for giving me a full-size spare; it's little details like that that make me love my car), it was too late to take it to the VW dealership, so off I went to Tire Kingdom over in Westlake. Of course, I still had to drive like I was on a spare, so I had to keep the car at about 50-55 mph on the highway; the car's sadness at not being driven the way it likes to be driven was palpable.

The Tire Kingdom guys took a look at the blown tire and quickly pronounced it thoroughly dead -- the nail puncture itself wouldn't have been a problem, but my nice big rims had pretty much ravaged the inside of the tire. The guy specced out a replacement tire at $193, which I thought was odd, since usually tires are supposed to be replaced in pairs. I said as much, and he said, "Yeah, we usually recommend installing new ones in pairs. Do you want us to install two, then?" I was a bit surprised that he hadn't come right out with that in his original quote, but I wasn't going to push my luck, and told him to go ahead and do two.

Time passed. I tried to watch a little of "The Daily Show" while I waited, but it was an episode that I'd already seen three times. I settled on CNN instead, which was almost as irritating -- their news was fresher, but they were still beating it to death.

More time passed.

Finally, they got done with my car and I got to deal with the paperwork. With tax and labor, I'm now out $410 for the repairs. At least they took Discover; there's nothing like getting a minuscule cash back bonus from one's misfortune. (I like to put visits to the dentist on the Discover too, for the same reason.)

The car drives fine now, and they seem to have done a good job with the alignment and so forth, but of course they didn't have the matching tires in stock, so I have to make do with two slightly different tires that don't look entirely right. At least they had the right size. I'll have to take the car back to the wash (just got it washed on Saturday) and get the rims done, since they're now covered in black crap from being removed and rotated.

So much for leaving work on-time/early -- I didn't get home until past 7:30.

Having now learned the lesson of when to give up before even getting started, I have decided to compensate for the day's bad fortunes by mixing up something cold and strong to drink, and to plan for the future by preparing a "Cranky" playlist in iTunes for the next time that the need for it arises.

Hopefully the week improves at some point... but I am not going to expect a whole lot. I prefer to be pleasantly surprised when things start looking up.

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Cars, Irony, Justice

Before we left for vacation, I had a weird experience with the fuel gauge in my car. I had filled it with a full tank of tasty 94-octane love, only to burn the first half of it in about 50 miles. Especially troubling was that the fuel gauge dipped a little over an eighth of a tank while I was idling at a red light. But the dashboard computer indicated that I was getting normal mileage, and after the weird dip reversed itself later in the day, it drove as expected for the rest of the tank.

Weird, I thought, and scheduled a service appointment. I was right at 15,000 miles, so it was time for an oil change anyway.

I dropped off the car at the dealership this morning, and Liz drove me in to work, and came to get me at the end of the day. She dropped me off at the dealership with the intention of meeting me over at the car wash in a few minutes, as both of our cars are desperate to be clean.

I filled out the paperwork, paid for the oil change, and they brought out my car. I set my bag in the car, sat down, buckled up, and noticed that they had rolled down the front windows, and that the A/C was also running. Well, I know better than to air condition the entire planet (my momma didn't raise no fool!), so I rolled up the driver's side window, and then rolled up the passenger's side window.

Or at least, that was what was supposed to happen.

The passenger window went up about half way and then, quite disobediently, rolled right back down again. I twiddled the button, and the window went up halfway again and stopped. I twiddled the button a second time, and that's when the window mechanism made a really neat noise and the window dropped into the door with a disturbing series of loud clunks.

Fuck, I thought. That's not supposed to work that way.

I hopped out of the car and walked right back into the service desk to hotly proclaim that my window regulator had just died a horrible and unglamorous death, completely unbefitting its status as part of such a beautiful and stylish vehicle. More paperwork. Called Liz to let her know I'd be late. Waited for the rental car guy to arrive with my means of getting home. More paperwork. Pleasant small talk. Finally, I drove home in my rental -- a silver Jetta, sadly a low-end model bereft of most of the goodies that I have grown accustomed to, but thankfully worlds better than the crappy Chevy Malibu that I got during the infamous Hubcap Incident.

Now, the first thing I do when I get home is to go check the mailbox to see if there's anything in there, and as Liz was still out running some errands, there was indeed new post to be retrieved. And what, pray tell, should be at the top of the pile of otherwise useless dead tree pulp?

A little white tri-fold piece of mail addressed to me...

...from someone named "VW Window Regulator Litigation."

Yes, kids, the part of my car that just broke is the subject of a class action lawsuit that's about to be settled, and they were letting me know that I'm part of it if I want to be.

Now, I can never remember if that's irony or coincidence, but it did have me laughing out loud as I stood at the mailbox. And really, that's about the best I could have hoped for given the circumstances.

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Recent Stuff, and Things

Good things:

  • Going to the beach with Liz to watch the sunset
  • Root beer floats
  • Liz taking my car to the shop on Friday
  • Car being under warranty; fixed for free!
  • Cooking with fresh herbs
  • A fresh coat of paint on the house
  • The Pianist
  • Planning the upcoming trip to San Francisco
  • Being happy for one's friend's happiness
  • Tinkering with Gentoo
  • Napping with Liz in the hammock
  • Bulmer's cider
  • Going for a walk at sunset, after the thunderstorm has passed, and all the world is wet and lush and green, and twilight reaches down to kiss every blade of grass goodnight
  • Staying up too late

Somewhat less good things:

  • Defective DVD of The Pianist
  • Trying to get work done at home when I don't want to work
  • Trying to get work done at work when I am beseiged by stupid things
  • Having one's Engine Power Control light come on while driving
  • Being worried about the well-being of one's friends
  • Being unfocused
  • Staying up too late

It looks like the good things are winning, at least for now. Let's hope it stays that way...

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Random Thoughts Continued

I can understand why traffic stinks when it's raining or snowing for the first time in months, but what is it about the arrival of clear spring days that causes the entire world's population to drive like the biggest idiots? Yesterday's drive home was miserable -- everyone was on everyone else's bumper, and no one wanted to go faster than about 52 miles per hour. And this morning Liz reports that there's a seven-car accident at the exit I usually take, followed by a three-car accident at the very next exit! Come on, people, it's not rocket science!!

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In Cars

Now, about the car weirdness... This is better as a list, so:

  1. Back in late November, my traction control light came on a couple of times while I was driving, and not in a good way. It came on in a way that says, "Hi, I'm your traction control system, and I'll be taking a little nap for awhile since I think I've been switched off, and there's not a goddamn thing you can do about it, mm-kay!" Since then, it's come on about every two or three weeks, staying lit and refusing to bow to my pressing of the little button on the dashboard. It usually seemed to come up shortly after I'd started up in the morning, or immediately as I started up, but it has come on a couple times while driving. It doesn't seem to depend on time, nor temperature, nor speed, nor any kind of variation in how I've turned the key, etc. But of course, since it's sporadic, it means the dealership can't figure it out.
  2. My driver's side windshield wiper sucks! It clears the crap off of everywhere except a 6 inch by 4 inch rectangle directly in front of where my eyes would look through the windshield. It's a good thing I at least remembered to buy new blades today when I was picking up my car from it's 10,000 mile scheduled maintenance. Maybe I'll even remember to install them, unlike the blades I got for my Saturn that sat in the back of my car for, what, a year?
  3. In the last month or so, it's sounded/felt like it's starting up kind of rough and wheezily in the mornings. Of course, it acted fine at the shop today.
  4. Yesterday when I was coming back from an errand, the engine was somewhat unwilling to start. It would mostly get there, then kind of cough and stop, and the angry little battery light lit up. It took me a few tries to get it to start cleanly, and even that required giving it a little gas to coax it along. Of course, it acted fine going to the shop today, at the shop today, and on the way home.

So the dealership probably thinks I'm crazy. The lady really jumped on me when I said, "I've been hearing a lot about the coilpack issues online, is there any chance that I might be seeing signs of that here?" She really let me have it about "the problem only affect[ing] the turbos" and that VW "is not doing a recall", so they wouldn't even consider it. This was despite the fact that the mechanic standing next to her at the time said, "The coils go bad on the VR6 too, but it's mostly on the turbos." Oh well. They are usually pretty nice over there in the service department, so I'll let it slide on account of how much shit their customers must be giving them about it. From what I have read online, it sounds like it's a corporate nightmare for VW right now.

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Whoopee, a Weekend! (And Post-Weekend Badness)

In rather stark contrast to the vibe I am feeling about this coming week (thanks to my addiction to Google News), the weekend was most excellent.

Friday, the weather started to flirt with being nice, and on Saturday it decided to capitulate and be full-blown fabulous. We're talking first-rate sunshine and blue skies here. Damn nice. It was only hampered by the fact that I was coming down with a head cold, and my lovely wife ordered me to stay in bed and rest. After half a a day of lolling around in bed, alternately reading Dealers of Lightning and watching Monsters, Inc.., watching everyone else having a good time out in the sun, I got fed up enough to get out of bed, get cleaned up, and gorge myself on nachos.

Feeling much better, I went out to run errands. The record store was out of the new Gary Numan CD, but I found a copy of the original two-disc Random (a cool Numan tribute) for $15, so that was a no-brainer. I also picked up a Peter Murphy CD that hadn't yet found its way to my collection, and I bought the new Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album, Nocturama. (I finally got the chance to start listening to these tonight, and so far Nocturama kicks ass. I thought I might be in the mood for Nick Cave, and it turns out I was right. Good stuff!) At the grocery store, I bought crackers for the evening's festivities. A quick stop at CompUSA procured an 802.11b bridge for the family room, to hopefully resolve Liz's flaky connections in that room. I rounded out the journey with a visit to the car wash, and now my baby is all shiny and beautiful again, much to my delight.

Saturday night we had our first wine tasting party. We lined up six glasses for each of us, and poured riesling, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon into each in turn. It was a really valuable and educational experience, quite interesting to taste and smell each wine in comparison to its neighbors. And we quite happily discovered that the small variety of cheeses and munchies in the house had specially magic combinations with particular wines, which was a delicious bonus to the evening.

The weather on Sunday was even better, so while Liz cleaned the garage, I fought off my congestion by raking leaves that had spent the winter frozen under heaps of snow and ice. I could very quickly feel a sigh of thanks from the lawn, so I consider it to be a satisfactory job. We ran around and did some errands, then to my surprise, Liz finally got me to admit that it would be a lovely day to buy me a bike. So we did. The only problem is that when the dealer installed her bike rack, they neglected to actually give her the keys necessary to attach a bike to it. So, my bike will be cooling its little bike jets for a day or two longer until we get that dealt with. [info]gieves told me today that I should just ride it home, but acquiesed when I told her how hard it has been for me to breathe today (stupid cold), and that I have only been on a bike twice in the last ten years. Besides, she drank too much on Saturday night, what does she know? (Just kidding, please don't hurt me.)

Today, very little happened at work, which has given me too much time to read the news as we slide recklessly into war. I think it will be all right in the short-term, that Saddam's army will be a relative pushover, and that something needs to happen to end the oppressive failure of the current containment/sanctions regime. My problem is that I read too much. I think too much. I think about the long-term effects of marching relentlessly into conflict with and indefinitely occupying an oil-rich nation in a part of the world that was uncomfortable with us just for daring to put MTV on air. I really fear that by walking around with a chip on our national shoulder, looking to pick a fight, the West has played directly into Bin Laden's hand, and that we risk polarizing the world into a greater conflict than any of us had bargained for.

Oh well. Time to just pretend that it will all be okay, and pray for us all.

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On the Road Again

Yay, it's my first live post from somewhere other than Cleveland -- hooray for laptops and wireless LANs! We're currently in Ann Arbor at Andy & Lauren's house. We drove up last night, and will probably stay tonight as well. I let Liz drive my car, since I was feeling like crap after my work week. It's always weird for me to be in the passenger seat of my own car; very strange. We crashed last night in what is certainly the warmest room in the house (since everything else feels pretty cold this morning!). Slept well. This afternoon we will see the RSC perform Coriolanus, which should be pretty cool. After that, I don't know... Maybe some tasty dinner, maybe a little visit to The Oasis, maybe driving back to Cleveland depending on what the weather wants to do.

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