Monday, July 25, 2016

Vehicle Diagnostics, Parenting and Management

Several weeks ago my car, a 2002 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, began to shudder and then seemingly surge forward for a split second around 25 to 30 miles per hour. To make matters worse, it happened intermittently. Then, it started happening at least once each way on my 60 mile daily commute at around 70 miles per hour. And those surges at 70 miles per hour were accompanied by a jolt that felt like something had hit me from the behind.

Aside from that the car ran fine. Gas mileage was its usual and very good 24-26 mpg and when the car wasn't surging, shifts were as velvety as ever. All the research I did on the symptoms, though, pointed to a failing transmission pressure control module; a $30 part. However, that $30 part is buried deep inside the transmission and would require the complete removal of the transmission to replace it. That's a big bucks repair job. I mean, "we need to think about getting rid of the car" big bucks repair job. And no, I'm not going to attempt to do something like that myself.

To my surprise and delight, after taking my car to a service center with a diagnostic scanner, turns out the problem wasn't the transmission but a failing mass air flow sensor. A mass air flow sensor, or "MAF", measures the flow rate of air into modern, fuel injected engines. The information that a "MAF" accumulates enables the engine control until to balance and deliver the correct fuel mass to an engine. The shuddering and surging my car exhibited was a symptom of a bad "MAF" that to me, at least, was manifesting itself as a problem with my car's transmission.

I declined the service center's quote of more than $350 to replace the MAF and bought one at Autozone for $127. Two screws and a plug in later, voila, no more surging. Incidentally, the service center charged me $150 for the diagnosis. Steep, yes, but nothing compared to the thousands transmission work would have cost. 

Now, left to my own devices, I would have had the transmission out of the car and replaced the pressure solenoid only to find out that the car still had the same surging issues. Knowing what the problem was saved me time and most importantly, in the end, money. Lots of money.

Sure would be great if we could hook our kids and people who report to us up to diagnostic scanners. All too often we spend an inordinate amount of time reacting to what ultimately are symptoms of a problem as opposed to getting to the root cause of an issue. While it's easier, in theory, to get to that root of problems with our children than it is with our employees, still, knowing what is really going on with them puts us in a far better position to effectively parent and manage.

Behavior being a symptom, as managers we can't approach our employees with the same candor we do our children. If we did, we'd have a multitude of H.R. issues on our hands. Still, if we knew what was really going on, it would help us at least understand what someone is experiencing. Best we can do as managers is manage behavior whereas with children, it's best to get to the root cause of the behavior. The ability to get to the cause of a problem is the single biggest difference between management and parenting.

As handy as having "On Board Diagnostics" are, not having them, as is the case with my 1977 Corvette, is akin to going back to the stone ages in attempting to diagnose problems. For more on that, please click here. Going back to the stone ages with regards to automobile diagnostics or attempting to figure out what is going on with people.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Great Deck Project - Make Plans, God Laughs


For the first couple of years we lived in our house on Greater Cleveland's "west side", this circular patio looked just fine. However, after the "Polar Vortex" winters of 2014 and 2015, many of these bricks were pushed out of position by something underneath. I first thought  it was "frost heaving" and I figured the fix would be nothing more than my dismantling the patio, redoing the sand/gravel foundation and reinstalling the bricks. A loathsome, tiring process that I've over simplified but one that, with the help of two able bodied teenage sons, I could do myself and most importantly, do  very cost effectively. 

However, when I dismantled the patio I found that it was not "frost heaving" but a dense network of roots from that white birch that pushed the bricks up and out of position. Perhaps it was the freezing and thawing extremes that pushed the roots up but this whole mess had me wondering why there's a tree so close to a deck and patio; there's even another tree to the right of the circle. Incidentally, we're the third owners of this now twenty year old home. If you're not a home's original owner you inherit time bombs that previous owners had set years prior. And if you stay in a home you had built, you can lay times bombs that can go off on yourself years later too.

My first plan to fix the mess also included my grinding out the roots. However, landscapers and tree experts I (wisely) consulted with said that getting rid of the roots would kill the birch. One bricklayer suggested a foundation base over the roots and then we re-brick but in addition to the roots eventually destroying that too, I couldn't envision what it would look like. And if I can't "see something", it's probably not going to happen. The foundation over the roots would also be cost prohibitive. 

I came to the conclusion that the only thing we could do was to "deck over" the area where the circular patio was. Great idea, right? Well, couple of problems. First off, my wife was opposed to the idea; she wanted me to somehow, someway keep some semblance of a stone patio. Second, despite her dissent, I couldn't find anyone that would even give me a quote on such a small project of either building a deck or doing an abridged stone patio. Lastly, but not leastly, when considering doing the job myself, while I've done some fairly significant home improvement projects in the past that most people would think twice about doing, I'd never built a deck before.
Not knowing what I was doing has never stopped me in the past so why should a small deck be any trouble? Adhering to my mantra that you can't let not knowing what you're doing stop you from getting something done, I ventured forth on "The Great Deck Project". Ventured forth with no plan as to what I was going to do not to mention having no idea how to do whatever it was I was about to attempt to do. My trump card was that if I got into a foggy "zone of creativity", I was confident that I would come up with at least something memorable. Of course I did as much research as I could on decks and deck construction but that can only amount to so much.

As far as any formal plans go, I did have to have some sort of a rough outline but anything I planned on became useless because there are tree roots everywhere here. And not just roots from the birch but from that smaller tree to the left. Besides, you know what they say about what God does when you make plans.  Having improvised my entire life, this situation actually suited me just fine.
Throughout the process, though, my wife hovered over me constantly rejecting every design whim I came up with. My "whims" based in genuine concern that with, in essence, "the little deck" being little more than a big step over the old patio, anything built that didn't have any swag to it would result in a drab and uninspired slab of wood sticking out from the main deck. The wife was particularly vehement in her disapproval of this rounded part of the new deck that emulated the old stone circle.
This rounded part, which, incidentally, matches the circumference of the old patio, took most of a weekend to construct. For this, I enlisted the help of my (begrudging) wife and older son who are both far more mathematically and geometrically inclined than I am. I'm an artist, damn it, not a mathematitian.
After my son helped me figure out the radius and circumference of the semi circle he became inspired to further use his math skills and help me finish this thing. He loved that there was a practical application to his math knowledge and what's more, he gained the satisfaction of constructing something with your bare hands that only someone who's done so can appreciate. 

While he was less than happy with the shear physicality of the work, honestly, this is back breaking,  he loved the creative problem solving process. Of which there were many.

The weekends melted away in a fervor of sweat and muffled curse words as we struggled to make something, anything of what appeared many times to be nothing more than a shapeless blob of creaking, wobbling, pressure treated lumber. 

Then, suddenly, by sheer will, something memorable came together that even my wife had to admit without hesitation, "was really something". 

Just imagine what we could do if we had any idea what we were doing.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

1970 Chevelle Malibu - If The Brake Shoe Fits

At the run down little gym I go to here on Cleveland's "west side", I can almost count on running into something unusual and interesting enough for me to take the time to photograph and then write about it. Especially on summer weekends. And this 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu, most Chevelle's were Malibu's, might be not be that unusual but it's certainly the most interesting car I've seen here yet.

I have to imagine that these people spend the money they could have spent on a tonier gym by keeping their terrific cars alive and well. And believe me, these things can get expensive to maintain.

Like catchy hit songs and beautiful women, there's a simplicity to beautiful cars that makes me wonder why all cars aren't as emotionally compelling, to me at least, as the 1967-1972 Chevelles. Not to mention why all songs aren't catchy. And like catchy songs and beautiful women, there's quite the following for what I would have to consider to be the most perfect American car design ever. For the record, though, that would be for the coupes and wagons. The sedans are chunky, clunky and fairly uninspired looking. Car spotters please note, 1970 Chevelle's have dual headlights on either side of the front grill. 1969 Chevelle's also have dual headlights but the leading edge of the front fenders are tapered. 1971-72 Chevelle's have single headlights on either side.

I was slack jawed when I first saw this blue beauty last weekend but as I got closer to it to photograph it I saw that, much like my 1977 Corvette, she was a good ten footer - meaning she looks good from ten feet away. My iPhone6 does a great job of making everything look better than it actually is. Chevrolet's new for 1964 mid size models were actually the same size as Chevrolet's game changing 1955 models. These Chevelle's had a slightly shorter wheel base but were bit wider. They were popular because of their very manageable size, especially compared to "full size" cars of the day  and array of "modern" equipment like variable ratio power steering, power brakes, tilt steering column, rear window defroster and full seat belts.

This car's respray is way too thick and the color is not factory correct either; not sure why someone would go through the expense of a paint job on a Chevelle and not have a least a factory code paint job. Then again, who knows how old this paint job is. It's only recently that these non SS models have really started to appreciate in value. Someone may have just wanted to get the car painted cheaply. There's a rust bubble here and there and the interior could use a good scrubbing too. Good news here is that these colored keyed vinyl seats, which were new for 1970, are in fabulous shape. 

I could scoff at the little 307 but who's got a 1970 Chevelle and who doesn't? By the way, this Chevrolet 307, has the dubious distinction of being the least powerful V-8 engine ever developed by General Motors. Only available on 1968-1973 Chevrolet's. it's not to be confused with the Oldsmobile 307 V-8 made between 1980 and 1990.

Had the owner of the car come out when I was looking at their car I no doubt would have gushed enthusiastically about it with me going on and on about every last morsel of information I knew about Chevelle's. Of course, I would never ding the car out load for the fairly lousy paint job, rust bubbles, lack of rally rims and wimpy engine. But I noticed them myself and made enough note of them to write them down here.

And I say anything not positive about this lovely car at the risk that I might sound jealous. If the brake shoe fits, then I should wear it. 

Chevelle, literally a Chevrolet sub brand, was to become an entirely separate division from Chevrolet featuring smaller automobiles. Due to changing market dynamics, Chevrolet discontinued the brand after 1977. Beginning in 1978, Chevrolet intermediates were marketed as "Malibu".

Thursday, July 7, 2016

1971 Ford Thunderbird - Top of the Totem Pole

The Thunderbird is a mythological, supernatural being found most often in Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest. The thunderbird is said to convey power and strength and many tribes have it as the crest atop totem poles.  

Ford's 1971 Thunderbird sat atop  their metaphorical totem pole but did it convey power and strength? More like luxury and indulgence.

The original Ford Thunderbird was a two passenger automobile that debuted in 1955 and despite handily outselling the car that it was spiritually pitted against, the Chevrolet Corvette, Ford opted to make Thunderbird a four passenger automobile beginning in model year 1958. Seeing that the original Thunderbird was more of a two passenger luxury car than sports car to begin with, it wasn't that much a stretch for the public to accept that a somewhat lithe, sporty two seater was suddenly a full size luxury car. Sales, in fact, actually quadrupled and over night, whether they meant to or not, Ford created the personal luxury car niche.

Remarkably, it took General Motors five years to introduce a personal luxury car of their own; Ford was all but onto their third generation (or second generation four passenger) of Thunderbird by the time GM introduced the Buick Riviera in 1963. Our subject here is part of the fifth generation of Thunderbirds that debuted for 1967 in coupe, and even a "suicide" four door model which further stretched the boundaries of not only what a Thunderbird was, but where the Thunderbird existed,  literally, on Ford's totem pole.

A luxurious Ford sitting atop the Ford Motor Company's totem pole did no favors for Lincoln not to mention further muddying what ever prestigious image Mercury every had. Why Ford ever introduced this car as a Ford and not at least a Mercury is a question for Henry Ford II and his minions in that great boardroom in the sky. The Mercury Cougar of this vintage was based on the Ford Mustang chassis; Cougar not sharing chassis with Thunderbird until Thunderbird moved to Ford's intermediate chassis in 1976. Then, not only were we scratching out heads as to what a Thunderbird was, we had to figure out what a Cougar was supposed to be compared to what it once was.
Ford's pricing ladder was never as clearly defined as General Motor's ladder was, Fords have long crowded lanes that Mercury was in to say nothing of barging in on Lincoln's territory. GM suffered from similar ills particularly starting in the  mid 1960's where Chevrolet overlapped with more expensive makes and models at other divisions up to and including Cadillac. The attempt to push Lincoln to the top of Ford's totem pole could explain why beginning in 1972 and through 1975, Thunderbird was little more than a de-humped Lincoln Continental Mark IV. Pictured above is a 1972 Thunderbird.  Again, Thunderbird was a mid sized and quite tastefully styled personal luxury car from 1976-1979.
Of all the names of American automobiles none perhaps was as mellifluous as Thunderbird. Like someone given a regal sounding name at birth, no other American automobile nameplate came with as lofty an expectation to live up to either. Ford produced Thunderbirds, off and on, through 2005 and interestingly, when they did a retro Thunderbird from 2002-2005 they chose not to do something based on four passenger Thunderbirds but instead used the original two passenger Thunderbird from 1955-1957 as inspiration. Maybe after all those years the Ford Motor Company came to the realization that the two passenger Thunderbirds were arguably the only Thunderbirds worthy enough to labeled, "Thunderbird".