Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Matter of Time

In vehicle ownership there always comes a time when you have to decide if its still worth it to fix your car. There is always that point of diminishing returns where you have to make tough choices. I think most people look forward to that day (buying new cars is fun), but with regard to my Landcruiser, I dread it. There are two main reasons for this. First, I don't want to pay for another truck, and second, (more important) I don't want to give up the one I have.

Landcruisers are iconic. Across the globe they are recognized as the quintessential backcountry workhorse. This is how I usually describe it: Landcruisers are to SUVs as Harleys are to motorcycles. When you own one its like joining the club. It is unique in its abilities and strengths. For many years Toyota has considered it their flagship line and the quality evident throughout its design and construction reflects this high opinion.

But it is still just a car.

Consumer Reports will tell you that a new one will likely run for 200,000 miles. That's pretty dang good, but it still only puts off that day of diminishing returns, and it comes at a steep price. Since its a flagship, it was built with the best components. The cost of these components does not depreciate with the cost of the truck. Actually, the opposite is usually true since parts availability declines through the years (especially due to the relatively low numbers of Landcruisers imported to the US thoughout the '90s).

So, even though it is likely to run great for many years, once things begin to go wrong you may reach that point of diminishing returns quicker. Indeed, if I was not knowledgeable about cars and able to work on it myself, we would have reached that point long ago. I think I have a higher tolerance for servicing cars than many people. Don't confuse that to mean I like driving a clunker. I mainly want to use my skill to maintain the vehicle in extremely good condition despite its age.

I fear the day because I can see it coming. My Landcruiser has about 201,700 miles and its 18 years old (built in January 1994). It feels right around the corner. When I bought it, it was my intention to own it for 10 years. This fall will be five, so I want to get five more.

Despite my expectation, whenever a new problem presents itself I can't help but wonder if this is the one that will tip the scales and put me over the point. I have recently put to bed some long outstanding problems, but there are more to come.

The two major issues scare me to death because I can't effectively troubleshoot them. They are tricky and intermittent, and both have potentially serious consequences. I won't go into the details; that isn't the point of this post.

I wish cars didn't get old. I prefer to have cars for many years. Next time I'm going to buy something newer, but I don't think I'll ever pony up the cash for a new car. I hope I can keep justifying fixing the Landcruiser. Cross your fingers for me.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The (Long Overdue) Admiral Pete

Check this out.

This is the Admiral Pete. As I said, Pete was long overdue. Last year in late summer Pete was taken out of service to be lengthened and upgraded. The plan was that it would get 15 more feet, two new hot rod diesel engines, and be able to carry about 120 people, up from about 80. It was to be out of service for about two and a half months and we would have our shiny new ferry. Well, here we are, it's almost the end of March, and finally, Pete is back in service.

I have looked forward to this since the Pete went out of service. The problem is that the smaller ferries are much less convenient for taking bikes across.

The next picture is the Carlisle II. This is the main ferry for the Port Orchard route. It's a relic of the Mosquito Fleet*. The Carlisle II is really interesting. It's got displays inside that call it a floating museum. There are all kinds of maps and old newspaper articles inside. The boat has been upgraded from time to time, but, it's still an old boat, and sometimes it needs some rest.

I'm glad the Pete is back, but I'm a little disappointed that more thought wasn't put into carrying bikes.

*Back in the late 19th century and early 20th century, the easiest way around Puget Sound was by boat. There were hundreds of small vessels operated by several transportation companies. You could get a boat to anywhere you want on Puget Sound. If you would like more history, you should check out the Wikipedia page on Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet. The Carlisle II is mentioned in that article.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Banjo Fitting


is a banjo fitting. A banjo fitting is used for pressurized hydraulic systems. I would bet you $1000 that there is at least one on your car (probably on the brakes). My car actually has more than that. The one I'm particularly interested in is the one on the power steering pump.

I've let my new power steering pump age long enough and it was finally ready to use. Luckily that coincided with a great day off work, so this morning I decided it was time. Of course, it's prudent to have all the parts you need prior to taking everything apart so I did a little checking. See those two little rings in the picture above? Those parts can't be reused (or shouldn't), so I had to see if they were available. The Toyota dealer didn't have any in stock, but could have them by tomorrow if I stopped in a ordered them by 11:00. I wanted them today so I check with Napa. that guy basically said, sure, we have tons of those. With that confidence I tore it open.

Since this was the third time I swapped this pump, I had it out in less than 45 minutes. I'm pretty much an expert at it. The next step was to get my new washers. No problem, quick trip to Napa.

When I got there, of course, I talked to somebody different. I held up the part and said, "I need one of these". I didn't get the response I expected. Basically "ooooo, I don't know". Well he was right. They didn't have one that fit right.


Not only did they not have the part, but now I couldn't get the one from the dealer by tomorrow since it was after 11.


At this point I consulted some friends about the danger of reusing the old washers. It turns out this was my best bet. The other option would be to wait for the parts until Tuesday night. Back to work I went.

The new pump went in easy. I figured it should since, as I said, I'm an expert at it now (third time and all). Now it's just a matter of hooking up the hoses. Now we're back to the banjo bolt. Being that this is in an inconvenient location and it's tricky because there are lots of parts involved, I was kind of endangering my expert status. Then, the banjo bolt and washers fell down. I heard them hit the ground. So, I got down under the car to get them. After 20 minutes of searching, I finally accepted the fact that one of them had disappeared.


I looked everywhere. On top of surfaces it could have landed on in the engine, under the car, around the car, under stuff around the car, everywhere. Everywhere.

So. Here are I am. I have ordered the parts I need from the dealer. Since I didn't get the order in early I have to wait until Tuesday for it. That means the Landcruiser is garage bound until Wednesday at the earliest.

Now would be a good time to do some other stuff that it needs.
I love working on cars. I don' t know why. It doesn't make sense, but it can be very therapeutic.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

You Calling Me Fat?! (or, Diet and Health)

Lately I've been researching diet and health a little bit. Lately I've tried to improve my health and lose some weight. Since Americans in general have very poor diets this is a common goal. So common, in fact, that I bet more than one of you rolled your eyes when you saw my title. Well I've come across some information that some have called controversial, but to me it's intriguing. I just wanted to share some tidbits.

First, the motivations. Last year I had reached my all-time high body weight of 240 lbs. I didn't feel good and my clothes weren't fitting well. I knew I needed to lose weight. The final straw came from the Boy Scouts of America. Recently the BSA revised their mother-of-all legal documents. It's a health form, talent release, if-you-die-it's-not-our-fault sheet, etc. all rolled into one 14-page document. As a part of that revision, BSA decided that it would determine eligibility for high adventure camps based solely on Body Mass Index (BMI). According to this I am definitely not eligible to go on high adventure camps unless I could grow 7 inches or lose 33 lbs. No matter how much knowledge or skill I worked to gain, it would be my eating habits that decided.

It is at this point that people begin to cry afoul of the BMI saying that it doesn't account for sex, body fat percentage, or other variables. "We cannot take such a simplistic view of such a complex topic", they will say. I for one have always hated the BMI since it has called me obese since the day I first heard of it. When I got home from Brazil I had lost enough weight that I had finally eeked under the obese line to be at the top end of the overweight scale. That lasted about a year, then the American diet overwhelmed me again. But as much as I dislike the BMI, there are other factors that I have discovered in my research. For example, the ratio of height to waist size. When I use this test it is as equally damning as the BMI. So, I could say that the BMI doesn't actually represent me, but when taken together with the height to waist ratio, I am forced to acknowledge that it, in fact, does.

So, I decided it was high time to put some actual effort into this. Fortunately for me, I'm married to Chelsea. She has much more discipline when it comes to eating right. She helped me identify some things that I could do differently (I only adopted a few) and I was able to lose 20 lbs over about four months. My two main strategies were:

1) Eliminate refined sugars as much as possible and
2) Meticulously track my caloric intake and keep it under a certain level (usually 2000-2200 calories)

When I adopted these strategies, I had already been cycling to work for about 8 months, which I kept up but didn't add any more exercise. Like I said, I was able to lose about 20 lbs over about four months. Then, at about 220 I totally flatlined. I have not been able to penetrate the 220 mark now for about another 6 months. During the holidays I ate poorly and rose to about 225 again, but I have since been able to check that increase and return to 220.

I'm now wondering what the next step will be. I recently watched a documentary called Forks Over Knives that outlined the virtues of whole foods plant based diets. Since then I have read Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease and The China Study. Both were written by advocates of plant based diets and I have to say I believe what they are saying. The message of the books and movie is that Americans are killing themselves with diet, but that those effects are almost entirely reversible by changing diet. They make compelling arguments as to why animal products should be reduced or eliminated from our diets. What makes me sit up and listen is their arguments are based in nutrition, not animal rights or religious views.

A less radical change would be to adopt the so-called Paleo Diet. This also advocates eating whole organic foods rather than processed foods. As far as I can tell the major differences are the Paleo diet calls for small amounts of lean meats and no bread/grain products and there should be a minimum amount of fat and protein consumed. The whole foods diet from above seeks to eliminate animal products entirely, substantially reduce fats, and maintain protein at about 10% of intake.

A more detailed comparison between these two is another blog for another day.

I'll end with eight principles that Colin Campbell outlines in chapter 11 of The China Study:

1. Nutrition represents the combined activities of countless food substances. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
2. Vitamin supplements are not a panacea for good health.
3. There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants.
4. Genes do not determine disease on their own. Genes function only by being activated, or expressed, and nutrition plays a critical role in determining which genes, good and bad, are expressed.
5. Nutrition can substantially control the adverse effects of noxious chemicals.
6. The same nutrition that prevents disease in its early stages (before diagnosis) can also halt or reverse disease in its later stages (after diagnosis).
7. Nutrition that is truly beneficial for one chronic disease will support health across the board.
8. Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence. All parts are interconnected.