Monday, January 28, 2008

PS on Cast Away

It turned out part of my previous post Cast Away was a pretty good 50-pages-extrapolation of the book I am currently reading "The Ingenuity Gap" by Thomas Homer-Dixon. So, after having proceeded these 50 pages, here is how the paragraph with the car's increasing complexity reads if one knows how to write:

"In fact, even most professional mechanics are little more than diagnosticians now. The modern car is trundled into the shop and hooked to computerized diagnostic systems, and faulty engine modules are replaced in their entirety. If the faulty modules are repaired at all - rather than simply junked - they are rarely fixed in the shop but instead shipped to specialized facilities with the specific expertise needed. As the complexity and sophistication of our cars have increased, we can no longer repair them in our backyards or in our own garage grease pits. Instead, we increasingly rely on distant expertise and knowledge. In short, the rising complexity of our machines has reduced our independence and self-sufficiency. It's ironic that as technology does its job better and empowers us in various ways, it leaves us with less control, power, and freedom in other ways."

In this spirit I have to trundle my not-so modern car into a shop now. Besides some minor bugs that it has developed over the last year - like something being fishy with the left front wheel and the adjustment mechanism of the driver's seat, or the red light in the dash panel that is asking for attention since last winter or so - I had to notice on Friday that the horn doesn't work. This, my friends, is simply intolerable. Wish me good luck that I have some money left in my bank account after this for a vacation.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

there is something devious that compells me to read every post here.
it's a sin,
best,
A.

Bee said...

That btw was the answer to question 4 in our Christmas quiz that Frank got stuck on.

Anonymous said...

yea, and also 'The Spirits that we called' invariably reminds on
http://www.waste.org/bauhaus/l/spirit.html
A.

Plato said...

Instead, we increasingly rely on distant expertise and knowledge. In short, the rising complexity of our machines has reduced our independence and self-sufficiency. It's ironic that as technology does its job better and empowers us in various ways, it leaves us with less control, power, and freedom in other ways."

"Out of necessity" the education can always continue?

I owned a Westphalia about 30 years ago. This is where I first learnt of the split crankcase, and the oil cooled engine. I was amazed at the ingenuity of the engine design.

It took me to the thoughts of the war between Germany and Russia and the cold.

Before rebuilding that engine, and again thusly amazed at its disassembly, I rebuilt an Gm product.

Out of necessity supporting a young family this is what one had to do.

You can buy the instruments that plug into the vehicle yourself and read the codes yourself. While I myself do not do this I always do preventive work to make sure my vehicles last a long time. That "option" again is there.

You seen the housebuilding? I am not a carpenter and neither is my son. There are inspectors that inspect the various stages. Out of thinking the mindset of buying a home and paying it off quickly,this is one method to accomplish that.

I made 110 thousand this year on donig this enterprise. My son move it one step closer.

Without electricity one can always be amazed at the historical context of the aqueducts? While today gravity can be used to help waste management on properties.

You have to learn not to be afraid to challenge yourself.

Bee said...

I on my behalf have been impressed by the Wankel-Spiders, though it seems the disadvantages weigh more than the advantages.

Just returned from the car store, turns out I need an appointment, feels like going to the doctor. Regarding the red light in the panel the guy said "We'll just plug it into our diagnose system and see what it says!". Then he tried very eloquently to convince me I need a service check for the automatic transmission before he noticed I don't have one.

John G said...

Plato mentioned people historically doing things without electricity. I'm not sure how well the technologically advanced societies of today could handle something like the Great Depression of the U.S. or the more recent collapse of the Soviet Union:

http://www.sott.net/articles/show/147683-Survival-in-Times-of-Uncertainty-Growing-Up-in-Russia-in-the-1990s

Rae Ann said...

If I allow myself to indulge in apocalyptic fears the thing that worries me most is the possibility of some electromagnetic thing that will wipe out all of our electronics, including cars. That would really suck.

Bee said...

isn't there a Stephen King novel on this apocalyptic scenario?

Unce Al said...

Have you attempted a perturbative solution?

michael said...

I owned a 1972 Fiat Spyder since 1972, in fact I still own just don't drive it. In 2002 I bought an Audi; the damn thing kept running the battery down; and I couldn't figure out why.

Then I suddenly realized the thing is full of computers that need always to be running.

Like Plato I once worked on my own cars and motorcycles. Now even motorcycles require very specialized equipment.

My first motorcycle, a BSA, I removed the motor brought into my apartment and worked on it. Broke it down put it back together. I even rewired it. Now I'd be very nervious.

Also, my Fiat cost $3.6k and my BSA $500 [used]; my Audi $38K and new Triumph Rocket $13+k.

I was awed in 1964 when Honda raced a 6 cylinder 250cc motorcycle - an absolutely amazing engineering accomplishment.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,


“Just returned from the car store, turns out I need an appointment, feels like going to the doctor. Regarding the red light in the panel the guy said "We'll just plug it into our diagnose system and see what it says!” Then he tried very eloquently to convince me I need a service check for the automatic transmission before he noticed I don't have one.”

If it is the service engine soon light, first try tightening your gas cap. Then if it still stays on several minutes after restarting try to buy a new gas cap before having that genius you mentioned have a go at it. Quite often this is related to a sensor that reacts to a drop in vacuum pressure and the gas cap not being tight (or gasket worn) is about 90%of the time what causes this.


Regards,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil:

Thanks for the advice! But it's not the service light. I think the service light is yellow, but this one is red. A guy in the liquor store told me it's about the airbags or something. Since its been on for more than a year it can't be too urgent.

Hi Uncle:

The perturbations (aka potholes) I believe to have caused the problem (with the front wheel). It seems possible, but very unlikely, to solve the problem the same way. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“Thanks for the advice! But it's not the service light. I think the service light is yellow, but this one is red. A guy in the liquor store told me it's about the airbags or something. Since its been on for more than a year it can't be too urgent.”

Sounds like the light displays a symbol instead of text. I wouldn’t be so sure that guy in the liquor store knew if this is the case. If you have an owner’s manual I’d give that a check. As to the light being on for a year this check engine soon light is very rarely a critical matter. It was one of those items mandated to be on cars in relation to exhaust emissions requirements. What had me concerned is when you said the mechanic didn’t even notice that your car was a manual transmission. This wouldn’t endear me into be convinced of his diagnostic abilities. Anyway, good luck.

For a little more on this red light and the gas cap business click the link I was able to find that says pretty much the same.


Regards,

Phil

Kaleberg said...

The car culture is still alive. I grew up on Northern Boulevard in Queens, one of the great gasoline alleys of North America. Even now, there is a thriving car culture. Engines are stripped, suspensions are upgraded, computer chips are reprogrammed, and cars are raced. (The races are on Queens Boulevard. Northern Boulevard at five lanes is too narrow).

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, the Iranian auto parts shops were the place to go to upgrade your cars software. There is all kinds of code and tables designed to balance fuel efficiency and performance, all the while protecting your engine. If you drop some of the fuel efficiency and don't worry about engine life, you can do some serious driving.

The guys, and it was mainly guys, who used to take their cars apart and rebuild them are still there. I was never into racing, so my repairs were repairs of necessity, but ever since the quality push of the 80s, my cars just don't need to be repaired all that often. When I remember what my father used to go through with his cars, and what I used to go through, I still find it kind of amazing.

Plato said...

Apocalyptic Fears! Nonsense.

For example, John G.

One of the exercises I wanted to put ourselves through was based on electricity. Loosing electricity a lot of times I wanted to make sure that this system would still work?

Although water was still a issue you can still use a bucket to fill the toilet when you needed too. My wife to this day knows to fill the tubs during stormy times.

No water well, what do you do?

Taking lessons from our forbears, spring run off can be captured, or through those rainy days, gutters that would collect water and fill storage.

If it was so cold here and there was enough wind, a turbine could have been supplied to send water help and let gravity filter down through your home?

Heat through winter? What to do? The quest always tests the imagination and improvising to help one through the next time.

The waste management system, was a succession of improvising to keep this process going. Unfortunately, specialization has driven the cost from 1500. in 1990, to 6000. in 1999, to 21000. in 2007.

Do we forget the lessons along the way? Of course not.

Plato said...

Michael:Broke it down put it back together. I even rewired it. Now I'd be very nervous.

Trial and errors?:) But yes, nervous, looking at it without the progress to that point, you look at a motor much differently?

Your ears are listening? Your mind is exploring, yes? Is everything in order when you go over everything you had done?

There is a sense of empowerment and confidence, when facing new challenges.

Rotary engines and Mazdas, I was always afraid to touch:)

Bee said...

Hi Plato:

Apocalyptic Fears! Nonsense.

One of the exercises I wanted to put ourselves through was based on electricity. Loosing electricity a lot of times I wanted to make sure that this system would still work?


That's very interesting, but I think you kind of miss the problem. The problem is not one person somewhere in a house who is cut off electricity. The problem are the large cities. And most people do live in large cities, think e.g. NYC. Millions of people living on an area that is almost completely paved and entirely dependend on external water and electricity supply. One person might be able to live from rainwater, but not millions of them living that close together. Besides that, water doesn't run into the 10th floor by itself.

If there was a longer lasting power outage in a city like NYC, it wouldn't take long before the whole city is a chaos of violence and desperation. To begin with, most of the emergency systems rely on people being able to recharge their phone batteries. TVs don't work, and those who listen radio streams online might want to sit in their cars and hear whats going on. Car's batteries don't last forever either. Unless it's a Diesel, if the battery is dead, they can't get out of the city. After 24 hours water starts running out of freezers, after 48 hours people begin to panic. Yes, I have enough faith in the ingenuity of the astonishingly stubbornly persisting human race to acknowledge they will come to manage the arising problems. The question is how many people, the weak, the young, the old, would suffer or die until then. Best,

B.

Arun said...

Dear Bee,

IMO, this car diagnostics situation is because of poor and unimaginative use of technology.

If a car maker made available a public interface specification of its onboard computers, then there would be a lot of freeware development, as in the Linux community, you'd have tools and gizmos to even watch your car while it is running on your laptop screen and so on. I'm sure such a car manufacturer would see a rise in the sales of its car models simply because people would be able to do so much with their cars.

It will take a Steve Jobs of the car industry to figure it out, just as Steve Jobs of Apple figured it out with online music.

Remember, just as the music industry was all against any kind of digital music that was not heavily copy-protected and controlled, the entrenched interests in the auto industry are against anything that would upset their apple-cart. So it will take a long time to happen.

But happen it will, because openness, adherence to publicly published standards greatly increases the utility of one's product and is a competitive advantage.

Best,
-Arun

Plato said...

Bee:Yes, I have enough faith in the ingenuity of the astonishingly stubbornly persisting human race to acknowledge they will come to manage the arising problems.

Yes a resiliency of the human spirit.

The last question one places in mind is usually the platform for further inspection. An incubator for further things that come to your mind.

Hence, the question about electricity. An interesting conversation piece is Clifford's post on I am Cranky.

Bee said...

Dear Arun:

That is an interesting future projection but it only addresses part of my frustration. It would surely be nicer if one could deal with the car's technology oneself (though there is the question how many people would actually do it). The problem remains however that potentially a bug in one of the more advanced features can render the more basic ones unusable. This is what I find so particularly annoying. I would expect any system should be set up such that in case of a failure in the more complex layers, one can fall back to the more basic ones. Perfect example: emergency exit doors that usually open automatically. They always have a handle to open them manually in case the system fails. I had a friend who couldn't close his driver's side window because the electric opener didn't work. That's no fun with rain on a highway, and certainly not beneficial to secure driving.

My car (above mentioned for Fiesta) was in pretty good shape. The only real problem I once had was that the device connecting the engine with the battery to recharge it was broken (it was not the belt, but I forgot the name of that part). I didn't notice for a while. Well, I noticed the radio didn't work, but the radio always had had some bugs, one had to kick it the right way to get it to work, so that didn't concern me much.

As a result, I was on the highway at 140 km/h when the battery was finally too low to provide an ignition spark, and the engine died producing a last black cloud. Neither the horn worked, nor the emergency light, nor the signal light. In addition, I didn't expect the steering and the brakes to suddenly have much more resistance (though in principle that knowledge was somewhere in my brain). The only reason why I didn't have a major accident and managed to pull to the right was that passing to the right isn't allowed on German highways (meaning everybody behind me braked or moved to my left). And I could open a window to give handsigns.

And that wasn't actually a high-technology bug, I am just telling that to say shit happens, and the possibility of failure has always to be taken into account. Imagine you're in high traffic and it's raining and your wipers stop working because your operating system just crashed down. I'm not saying that's a particularly realistic scenario, I'm just saying simplicity has its advantages. Best,

B.

Arun said...

Ah Bee, but if you could hook up to your laptop to your car and find out that your alternator is not working, long before your battery completely discharged... Then also, the stupid car computers should be monitoring that and telling you of the malfunction in plain English (or German as the case may be).

Anyway, I came here to say, you just have to look at the picture here:

http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/609229

Best,
-Arun

Bee said...

interesting. I'm not a huge fan of HDR though, one can overdo it. It completely distorts my senses about light and shadows, depths and color.

I was just reading this

Why Things Suck: Science

an as usually low-content Wired article that attempts to be witty but is just stupid, i.e. isn't worth the time reading.

Bee said...

oh, wait, I just read they had somebody with headlights throwing light on the rocks, sorry, so no HDR. Still confusing. Best,

B.

Kronprinz Rupprecht said...

"A guy in the liquor store told me it's about the airbags or something. "

Was he sober?

Krpnprinz Rupprecht said...

While we are complaining about modern cars, we should not forget how vastly better they are than even the cars of 10 years ago. My present rather modest [German!] car can, for example, easily outrun and outmanoeuvre a Ferrari from 15 years ago. It is also far more enjoyable to drive than any car made 10 years ago. Deutschland, Deutschland...

Arun said...

Dear Bee,
That photo of the night sky is simply a 30 second long exposure at ISO 3200 with a short focal length lens on a digital SLR. One of the ways in which complex technology makes life better and simpler. (It would be expensive to experiment thusly with film).
Best,
-Arun

Bee said...

plus "Two people running around with headlamps to paint in the foreground and Chimney Rock", which probably has roughly the same effect as taking two photos and overlaying them?

Arun said...

So you're against flash photography, too?

Bee said...

I am not 'against' anything. But in fact, I prefer pictures taken without flashlight because the fall of shadows usually is better defined. (Sometimes that's not an option of course. And the flash can have interesting effects on its own.). See, what disturbs me about the picture above is that the foreground/background relation becomes quite funny which gives the photo an artificial touch. To me it looks like one had taken a picture of the foreground, removed the sky, and pasted in a photo of the milkyway. That this is not the case makes the photo more interesting, but not prettier.

Bee said...

well, I guess I should have said I am against everything ;-)

@ Kronprinz: Was he sober? He tried to pick me up, so he can't have been sober.

Best,

B.

Arun said...

k, so I give you the bird

Santo D'Agostino said...

I recall a line of Shakespeare that goes something like

"...tis an ill wind that blows no good..."

and I have been waiting for many years for someone's car horn to malfunction so that I could say

"tis an ill horn that blows no good"

but, alas, nobody's car horn has ever malfunctioned in my presence.

Bee said...

it drives me nuts. since my horn is broken, there seems to be an increasing amount of Canadians who pleasantly sleep through the green phases of traffic lights while I wave my arms around and slap my forehead.

Arun said...

Maybe the bus driver that carefully stopped at green lights and merrily sailed through reds migrated to Canada. When asked why, it was because his brother drove on the cross-route.