Not for the weak minded.

Lessons Learned

March 31st, 2009 Smerfj

I really have no idea who reads this, but a year and a half ago I wrote this post about how a mud dobber caused about a day’s worth of trouble-shooting a non-functional compressor. This morning I got a call from my grandpa asking if I remembered what we did, because it was doing it again. The symptoms were the same, it would run for 2-3 minutes, then it would start knocking, make some groaning noises and coast to a stop.

When it stopped, you could tell something wasn’t right. The engine was under heavy compression, more than usual. It would shake to a violent halt, not coast to an easy stop. The effect is akin to putting a heavy weight on the rim of a bike tire, and spinning while holding it off the ground. It doesn’t coast to a stop, it gets to a point where the weight can’t make it around and yanks that part of the tire to the ground. Likewise, whatever pressure buildup was inside the engine was forcing it to stop in a particular spot. 

The problem before turned out to be a pressure relief hole, plugged up by a mud dobber. This is actually kind of a scary thought, since plugging that hole prevented activation of the pressure bypass. Basically it’s the safety to make it stop pumping when the tank gets to the set pressure. So what would happen is the pressure would build up so high that the compressor could not overcome it, and from what I can tell, it was blowing by the rings and pressurizing the crank case.

The reason I know it is pressurizing the crank case is that every time it stopped like this, there was a hissing noise that lasted a few minutes. I thought it would be a good idea to check the oil, and when I pulled the dipstick out, air started blowing out of the dipstick hole. So the engine was actually pressurizing the crank case, which is even more scary since the crank case is not designed to hold that much pressure. 

But an interesting phenomenon saves the day. The diesel engine piston shares the crank case and crankshaft with the compressor piston (one piston each) and because of this, as the crankcase pressure increases, the resistance that the engine saw tripled. This is because not only was the engine trying to pump on the compressor side, it was also trying to compress the air inside the crank case with every revolution. This extra work was too much for the single cylinder diesel to handle, so it starts to knock, then shuts down completely. 

Still, this is not good. There are a lot of dangers with this, but the good thing is that the engine was probably grossly over-designed to begin with. There was also no risk of tank rupture, because the pressure never got high enough to pop the safety valve on the tank. 

I guess where I was going with this is that if I hadn’t wrote that blog about the mud dobber, I don’t think I would have remembered exactly what happened, and my grandpa and the neighbors who help him out would be scratching their heads for another day or so.  So regardless of my near-non-existent reader base back then, that blog was worth writing. I’m glad I did it.

.223 Ammo Test and Review

March 25th, 2009 Smerfj
Federal Gold Medal .223

Federal Gold Medal .223

This past Sunday I went to my now-normal shooting destination and tested some ammunition for my AR15. I really don’t like to link to other posts, but I did write it, and I don’t feel like re-writing it here. So here’s the link:

Please check it out.

I can’t believe people are this stupid.

March 24th, 2009 Smerfj

I’ve seen some pretty clever “snake oil” products out on the market. I could spend hours on how ridiculous most of them are, however I’m going to focus just on those products related to the automotive field. Almost all of these products offer to boost your gas mileage by some crazy number. 

This is where I should clarify what I define as “snake oil”. Easy example:  cold air intakes are a performance part, the “tornado” swirl fan is snake oil. I use this example because on the snake oil scale, the “tornado” is probably the most legitimate of all. There is a little bit of science about why it works, but it falls in the snake oil category because it can’t possibly do what the advertisements claim. It’s like the “super fruit” juices these pyramid sales people try to pedal as the next miracle drink. I’ll agree that it is good for you, and healthy, but it’s not worth the $40/bottle and don’t even try to tell me it cured your cancer. 

What surprises me the most is that people actually believe these claims. This morning as I was going through the gadget daily deal sites I found something that is so off the wall that I had to write about it. The new Neo-Socket gas saver. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I didn’t just find one of these things either… I found this one, this one, this one, this one… tired of looking at links yet? If you’re not immediately repulsed by these, you should at least have little caution flags shooting up in your brain when you read the ads.

Now you should have laughed at those almost as hard as I did, but there are other items on the market that are much more convincing. What’s the easiest way to avoid buying snake oil? If the part didn’t come installed in your car from the factory, and isn’t replacing a part that the factory installed, it’s snake oil. It’s that easy.

Richard III

March 19th, 2009 Smerfj

Mostly I write blog posts for friends and family but this one is for the local folks.

Last night I went to see a local college production of Richard III. I rarely go to see live theater, but our friend Allen from the Shoreline Music Team is an actor and a few of us wanted to show up and support him. On the way to the theater Matt Menendez called me and I ended up meeting Evan and him at the door. Once we got inside we found Sam and Monica had come as well. It turns out that this was Sam’s first live theater experience, and he enjoyed it.

There were several other people who didn’t make it out, so I thought I’d give my honest opinion so they know what to expect. The play is an edited version of Shakespeare’s Richard III, cut down from 5 acts to 2 (still 3 hours long) and set in the future. Setting it in the future made for some very interesting visual devices, although apparently cell phones loose out to foot-messengers in another 100 years… 

I was never good at audible comprehension of Shakespearean language, so I found it a little rough in the beginning. It takes superb linguistic skill to speak Shakespearean while conveying complete ownership of a role- most of the actors fared ok, though only a handful (including our Allen) of the actors did this well. As the play went on I got a little better at understanding the actors; it was also a lot easier to tell who was who after most of the people were killed off…. In the second act  I could see most of the actors settling into their comfort zone and I think this is where the play really took off.  

Overall I thought it was a very well done production for a college, especially for an opening night. If you plan to see it, make sure to read through a synopsis of the full Richard III play. Even though it is cut down, there are still enough characters for a 5 act play but not enough time to develop them. It will really add to the performance if you are more familiar with the characters beforehand.

Allen did an excellent job as well and was one of the more prominent characters (also playing a few other supporting characters later in the play). Definitely go see it if you haven’t!

Grandpa’s Tour of Duty: Prelude

March 10th, 2009 Smerfj
This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Tour of Duty

Last week I took a day off of work and drove down to Zolfo Springs, Florida to attend an antique engine show. This show is put on by the Florida Flywheelers antique engine club, which I have been a member of since my grandpa signed me up at age 3. I was then the youngest member of the club and have been a member every year since. This particular meet is called “Pioneer Park Days” and I have been a participating member every year since 1990, making this the 19th year I have displayed.

The draw of this club to me is the vast array of technology at these shows. At first glance it appears only to be a bunch of cast iron beasts spinning their wheels and blowing out smoke, but on further inspection you will see the almost countless ingenious designs to convert burning fuel into rotating mechanical energy. This, however, is not what I want to talk about at the moment.

Every year that I go to the show I camp out with my grandpa. This year he didn’t set up his canopy outside his camper, so we sat inside to eat and the conversation tended to be a bit more personal. From college, to war, to how he met my grandma on a blind date, I think I learned more about his life’s events in the two nights we chatted over dinner than I have in the last 20+ years of working with him in his machine shop. He would always tell me stories of his life and his time in the war, but never in any particular order.

This weekend something led into talking about his time in the war, so I pulled out my camera and set it up on a tripod to try to capture some of his story. What I managed to get is the entire start-to-finish story of him in the war. ON VIDEO! I think I have in the neighborhood of 90 minutes worth. The only issue is that I started it late, so I didn’t catch the start of his tour at the start of the video, but I did manage to get him to tell the beginning of the story again at the end of the video.

This video is something that my family has wanted to try to get on tape or written down for years but never managed to do. The whole video takes place in his camper van with him under the shade of his tin foil covered reading light, which actually captures his character rather well. If you’ve never met him, he’s a brilliantly frugal man who’s lived more life than most of us can hope to. By the way, he turns 89 this year.

Over the next few weeks (hopefully…) I will be chopping the video down to manageable segments and uploading it. My goal is to post the video along with a map of his travels and any other history or supporting information that goes along with it. The only trouble is that I tend to start these sort of projects strong, then let them fall to the wayside. I think I will have enough people through family and friends that will want to see this that I can count on you all to prod me about it until it’s finished. So if you are reading this, and I don’t post anything for a week… give me a shout!