Monday, July 18, 2011

You don't need AWD/4x4 for a snow car.

Everyone that actually lives in the mountains zooms around in little rusty manual transmission Civics with snow tires, blowing past all the tourists in their SUVs.

While Outbacks are better, anything between about 2000-2004 has head gasket problems. The Legacy is the lower Outback and still does great in the snow. Anything 4WD or AWD is not cheap to maintain, if you must get one, get a car with a completely mechanical 4x4 or AWD system. I live down in the plains and drive up to ski, and we figured in my buddy's AWD wagon we were in conditions that actually required the AWD (not "was nice", required as in "we would otherwise die") perhaps 4% of the yearly mileage, and we got in 60 days each.

Consider a manual transmission FWD wagon with 4 good snow tires (Blizzaks, Hakkapelittas, Green Diamonds) on steel rims. (Why steel rims? Because in winter you're a lot more liable to slide into a curb and ding your alloy rims/affect your alignment. Because steel rims bend, they absorb some of the impact that would otherwise go into messing up your alignment).

In the snow, the order of on-road capability goes: AWD with chains > AWD with snow tires > 4x4 with chains > FWD with chains > 4x4 with snow tires > FWD with snow tires > AWD with all season tires > FWD with all season tires > 4x4 with all season tires.

On all season tires, 4x4s are the worst car to drive in winter because of their high centers of gravity, solid axles, and unsophisticated differentials. Offroad, a 4x4 will own anything but on a road at high speed they are unsafe.

Even an AWD on all-seasons will be all over the road compared to a FWD on good snow tires.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Marin Lombard 2011 review.

When disc brakes came out 15 years ago, I lusted after having a road bike with disc brakes.  I never got one - until now.  With a 30 mile roundtrip commute, my singlespeed track bike was painful to grunt up those hills.

You can read the specs at Marin's site here.  They don't list the weight but my LBS put my Large size on the scale for 25lb 11oz with the stock pedals.

There are a couple of things I love about it that other reviews don't talk about.  The seatpost is really nice and allows you to fine-tune the tilt of the seat to a degree not normally found in this pricepoint of bike.  The wheelbase is relatively long, giving good stability.  All of the hardpoints that you'd find on a touring bike are there and in the right places, so you can mount full fenders plus front and rear racks with no problem.  The fork, though not steel, resembles an MTB fork and gives a good strong mount point for the front disc brake plus it nicely dampens road vibration.  I would not be surprised if MTB tires fit nicely. The stock tires have relatively low rolling resistance but have good siping on the sides for cornering in the wet.  The seat tube and handlebars both have numbered lines so fine-tuning the bike's fit is easy, and they left you lots of head tube on the fork so you can chop it yourself.  The frame is neat, combining a high BB height, low CG, and more cross-like handlebar position.  They basically went right down the middle with the geometry between a dedicated road bike and a cross bike. Cyclocrossers will like the fact that the top tube has a crease running down its length on both sides, making it easy to pick up and shoulder over obstacles. The Tektro Lyra disc brakes are nice and will bring you to a screeching halt wet or dry.

The drivetrain is a little low in Shimano's lineup for my liking, but it's solid and any parts that I blow up will get replaced with nicer ones anyway.

I paid $720 at my LBS, and I think that's a damn good deal.

edit: I had a "clunk" going on with the rear disc brake when the brake was first applied (not a constant clicking, just a "thunk" as you engaged the brake). My LBS called Tektro directly and they suggested looking to see if the ball bearing that the disc actuator rides on had slipped, or if the return spring had popped out. It was the latter, the spring was out of it hole due to the bolt working a bit loose. They fixed that and it's been fine for 30 miles. I suggest locktiting the bolt that holds the spring in.

150 miles on the bike so far and no other complaints.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

"But I ran out of steam trying to find new ways to prepare swiss chard, kohlrabi, eggplant, and collard greens. "

This is a common reaction to CSAs. What most people don't realize is that if you're not getting it in your local CSA, it's generally not *possible* to grow the tomatoes, peppers, corn, etc. *with good yield* where you live. Sure, you can grow a couple Brandywines on your porch, but what about 30,000 plants in continuous production across seasonal variations in weather and in local soil? People think that "well, I put a plant in $3 of compost I bought from the store and *I* was able to get 3 tomatoes from it last year, so clearly the CSA should be able to give me a dozen tomatoes a week if they just planted enough! What idiots!"

The "swiss chard, kohlrabi, eggplant, and collard greens" that people whine about are the foods that actually *grow well* where they live, which is the whole intent of "eating local" in the first place. If you're not willing to eat the foods that actually grow well where you live, then admit that you really don't care about eating local in the first place and just want to be trendy.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Government power is fungible.

The problem is that people love government force and meddling when it gets them something they want, but are against it when it's something they don't want. They don't see that any money or power they give the government today to, say, enact mandatory recycling laws or mandate health coverage gets used the very next day to create restrictive building codes, eavesdrop on all their telephone or Internet use, or fly halfway around the world to drop bombs on children. Government power is fungible, and needs to be kept as small as possible – even if it means giving up things that you want the government to do for you.

What people don't know is that government power is not vested in the politicians. They come and go every couple years and don't have much of a chance to set up significant power structures. Political power is in the bureaucrats, and it is here that we find the true reason why *all* government power gets used for bad ends.

Bureaucratic "skill", such as it is, is simply the ability to read and zealously apply whatever rules you are charged to enforce, and as such a "skilled" bureaucrat can work at the EPA one week and the DHS, FDA, EPA or BATFE with a week of training.  Say you create a new government department and staff it entirely with a broad spectrum of people, from the nice people that don't seek power to budding petty tyrants.  Because being nice - taking special cases and making exceptions - takes longer than simply blindly enforcing rules and smashing flat those citizens that oppose you, the petty tyrants will be more efficient and take over the organization eventually.  Therefore, all government departments must eventually be staffed entirely by petty tyrants, even innocuous ones like the Patent Office and the Department of Education.

Now, how does the power you give a "nice" department like, say, the Department of Education get turned into the power of a "nasty" organization like, say, the BATFE or FBI?

One has to realize that the strength of an organization is in the number of bureaucrats that it commands.  Each bureaucrat is only capable of enforcing a fixed number of rules actions in their 5-hour workday, and it is the number of enforcement actions that determines their advancement, so they are incentivized to hand down as many enforcement actions as possible.  Again, this is a skill.  The greater the job market for bureaucrats, the better the competition for people with the bureaucrat's skill of zealously enforcing rules.  Therefore, the bureacrats within the system are incentivized to perform better and better the more bureaucrats are added to the system, *no matter where you add those bureaucrats*, as again they can work in the Department of Education just as easily as they can in the IRS or the FBI.  Of course, it is the frontline people that actually have useful skills in the area of science, law, medicine, or whatever, but it is the middle managers that determine where they go and what they do, and a middle manager is a middle manager no matter what department they work for.

Therefore, it's not possible to give certain "good" areas of government more power without making the other "bad" parts more powerful as well.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How to buy a car at a dealership.

Never talk price in a dealership at all. Inform them that you're just test-driving and all price negotiations will be over email. If they bring up price after you say this, remind them, walk, or ask to work with a different salesperson that will remember your requests better.

When you get to the point of buying send an email to all dealerships in your area: "I want X car, Y year, Z options. Options in excess of Z are nice but I will not pay extra for them. I will be taking bids for final out the door price until (date) and paying on (date) at (time) with a loan from my credit union, so I will not be financing with you. "

Get bids and then send out a second email, "The current low bid is $S. If you can beat that, please email me before (same date as before)." Be honest and not stupid with this step, if you say something made up, everyone will bail as they all know the real bottomline price.

Get the loan paperwork from your credit union and walk into the dealership. Fill out the paperwork and hand it to them, they will work with the credit union to finalize the purchase.

How to find a good mechanic.

Something that people always ask is "How do I find a good mechanic?"

Well, here's the answer.

Go to a bigbox store and buy one turkey baster, one bottle of DOT4 brake fluid, and some rubber gloves. Put on the gloves, go to your ABS reservoir and take out brake fluid until it's a mm or two below the "LOW" mark on the reservoir. The fluid is mildly corrosive so be careful. Don't go too much below this. Put the cap back on and start the car. The ABS light should go on.

This won't impact the car's driveability other than ABS won't work, normal braking will. Don't do this when you might actually need ABS, like during winter.

Spend a Saturday going around to different mechanics, saying "My ABS light is on and I don't know what's wrong." If what comes back is anything that sounds like "brake system", "ABS relay", "computer replacement", "caliper replacement", anything other than "fluid low and I filled it, no charge", RUN AWAY and go to the next guy.

At then end of the day, simply fill up your reservoir with brake fluid and go on your way.

If you really want to screw with their heads put in an overgapped spark plug and say "I'm getting bad gas mileage" but that's more work to do on your end especially if you have an engine with buried sparkplugs.