The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

Car is done

| May 31, 2009

Went out in the morning, hit Tractor supply, got the stuff we needed. Came home, compressed the springs in the struts, changed out the shock, kind of messed it up and bent the retaining ring, so I had to press it back into shape. Hit it again, got it right, did the second one, no issues. Got the passenger side partway back in, but was having trouble, so we had a go at the driver’s side which basically popped right in. It turns out that the alignment is really critical, and you need to have it just right, else it won’t go. Loosened and realigned the passenger’s side, and it went in quite easily. Tightened the crap out of everything, and we’re good.

If we were to do it again, it would take a lot less time.

  • Remove driver’s side strut – 20 mins (which was about how long it took)
  • Remove passenger’s side strut – 1 hour (actually took like 5, but now we know what we’re doing).
  • Change shocks – 15 mins each
  • Replace driver’s side strut – 20 mins
  • Replace passenger’s side strut – 30 mins

So, the two of us can probably do it in about 3 hours. One person would take longer.

The back is basically cake. Jack up the car about 6 inches to uncompress the shock a bit. Undo the top mount with an impact wrench, get on your belly on a creeper and undo the bottom bolt. Fiddle with the height of the car with the jack until you can pop it out (you don’t want to jack the car all the way up lest the spring fall out now that nothing is holding it in). Change the mount onto the new shock, put it all back in.

The only wrinkle was the driver’s side (again) because there’s this molded plastic enclosure which gets in the way of putting one bolt in straight. It took us like an hour on that side and 15 minutes on the other side. If we had to do it again, I’d be more careful on the bolt and it would likely only take us about half an hour to 45 minutes. (Which I expect it to when we do Liz’s next weekend. See, we did the fronts like 6 months ago, but never got to doing the backs until now.)

The new suspension is basically in the ballpark of “factory sport” stiffness, like in a GTI, which is vastly improved over stock. It’s no R32 suspension, but it was like $300, not $1200.

Lizzy contends that the old suspension wasn’t really actually blown, and even hadn’t softened up that much – it was that soft to begin with, I was just coming from American cars which drove like waterbeds, so it seemed stiff, and as I got more used to it, I wanted it more stiff. I tend to agree – checking the book and doing the procedure on the shocks I pulled out, they’re still technically good – slightly softer than new, but not really needing to be replaced for another 40k miles or so.

Oh, and the brakes have another 40k miles on them, at least, so I left them. I have the new brakes, and it’s not like they go bad, so when it needs it, I’ve got them.

Night folks.


| May 30, 2009

First, I love my wife. She’s awesome, and probably knows more about cars than I do. It’s fun to wrench on stuff together.

Anyway, I HATE the right side McPherson strut assembly on Jettas and Golfs. Anyone who has had to change one out knows what I mean.

The Bentley book says “unbolt the drive shaft from the transmission flange”.

Are… you.. serious?

Folks on the internet have found another couple of ways – either use a claw-type spring compressor (which I don’t have, because I got a nicer one.. which doesn’t work on stuff on the car) or loosen the subframe attachment bolts.

I ended up loosening the subframe bolts, and with a little persuasion (rubber mallet) down and over (rotating the steering knuckle a little bit) got it done.

Took me like five frikkin hours to get it undone. If I had to redo it, it probably would only be an hour, because I know what I’m doing. But still…

Meanwhile, it took me about half an hour to get the left side one undone (and that includes jacking up the car and pulling the wheel off).

Lessons learned:

  1. Impact wrenches rock.
  2. I’m sick of those silly “change a tire” jacks (I’ve been using them to jack up the car and put them up on blocks), and I’m going to get a proper jack. I was looking at a standard 2 ton wheelie floor jack, but then I saw these. We’re going to hit Tractor Supply tomorrow, and if they have any, I’ll get a pair. If not, I’ll just grab a regular floor jack.
  3. I also need a 1/2″ to 3/8″ bit adapter, because I have many 3/8″ drive sockets, but a 1/2″ drive impact wrench.

Aaanyway. So, the car is like half done.

The problem with alternative energy

| May 29, 2009

So, let’s say that our monthly electric bill is 1000 kwh, and for this we pay something like $2k/year. There are 600 hours in a month.

  1. Solar Panels seems to be something like $1000 per 100w panel. 17 panels will give you 1kw, so you’ll get 600kwh for $17k… in Arizona. On the other hand, in NY, efficiency is a lot (lot) less than that, so we’re talking about 1/5 or so from what the various estimators (which are from the solar industry, so I suppose they’re optimistic). So, figure at least 4 times the cost, so call it $50k easy, just for the panels.

    $50k is 30 years of power at current prices.

    Not worth it.

  2. Wind Turbines end up being like $6500 for a 3kw generator which, at peak, will give you 1800kwh.. at the peak efficiency of the unit. Problem is, this usually requires a decent amount of wind – more than I have. Wind maps say it’s like 10 mph, which (depending on the unit) will end up maybe producing half the rated power – if it’s constant. Figure it’s not, so maybe a quarter of the power – so 450kwh. So, wind is cheaper than solar, it if it pays for about half, it pays for itself in 5-10 years (you still need to add a tower and other miscellaneous stuff, which drives the cost up a bit).

    Marginally worth it.

  3. Hydro This requires a stream (which I have) and some amount of drop – ideally 2-3m (which I don’t, without some.. creative excavating). A 1kw unit will be about $3000, plus some extra bits, but, it’s more likely to work year round, as long as I can keep it from getting plugged up and reorient the stream.. and deal with the ecological permit issues and such. The problem is that I don’t have the 2m drop. I might be able to swing 1m, but that’s iffy. So, I’d need two generators to make it back up to 1kw.

    So, likely not possible, but if it is, it is on par with Wind.

So, here’s the problem – In order to pay for your alternative energy system, you need to front $6-$10k, some of which you will get back in tax credits (according to my research, it can be up to 80% between federal and NY state credits). But, you have to come up with that money ahead of time and, in the case of wind, it needs to be an approved system installed by a licensed installer – which means that the cost roughly doubles.

This also doesn’t even scratch any type of redundant power solution – batteries to store excess energy, etc. which will likely be cheaper to add to an existing system than a small generator, but the generator is cheaper than the system.

However, I suppose that if it was like $2k for a 10kw windmill setup, then everyone would be doing it, wouldn’t they?


| May 27, 2009

Great Ethanol Scam

Now, I don’t have a problem with biofuels. Hell, I don’t even have a problem with driving up the price of corn by making alcohol out of it (though I think we should stop with the federal mandates of minimum ethanol usage while subsidizing the farmers as well – but I also think we should cut subsidies for oil companies too).

I have a problem with messing with the fuel supply which has side effects of damage of older engines. I mean, when we banned lead in fuel, you could at least add lead additive to make old engines still work. Here, we’re just letting the engines cook themselves (and eat their fuel pumps, etc.). The extra heat is a problem with air cooled engines, and the alcohol eats various components. That and it has less energy density, takes lots of refinement, etc.

I still like biodiesel better.

Oh, and I was talking with my buddy Simon about chainsaws, and he was saying that he was talking to customer service for a weedwacker he bought which seized up after two uses. Apparently, the very candid answer is “run it rich”. They test and mix it to meet EPA regulations at 40:1, but if you want it to last, mix it at least 30:1 (or even more rich).

The 500 mile email

| May 27, 2009

This one was just awesome.

Closed source

| May 27, 2009

Don’t trust your freedom to closed source.

Or your life.

The latter is more scary because people were killed, and they managed to keep the code a secret, so a lot of it is just speculation.

Weekend events

| May 11, 2009

Liz and I cooked up a storm and had a nice mothers’ day brunch with my folks and my in-laws. My father was apparently bored, however, and didn’t want to leave the new chandelier in the box:

Crated up

Crated up

So, we dragged out the scaffolding and the ladder and hung it up:

New chandelier

New chandelier

It’s much easier with three people, and Liz didn’t have to listen to me whine about being up on the ladder and afraid of heights.

Full gallery:

Great article

| May 5, 2009

Somewhat apropos in regards to this post by emt-hawk, this article is quite good.

Jaunty is broken

| May 3, 2009

(well, aside from netbooks, which I’m using out of the box with no modifications)

  1. Xfce4 suffers from a very annoying window stacking bug, plus general flakiness
  2. The volume buttons on my laptop are broken
  3. KDE is too slow
  4. Gnome is not configurable enough.

I’m going back to intrepid. Maybe the XFCE guys will fix the WM.

I’m also considering CrunchBang, but I’ve spent too much time on this already. I’m reloading my laptop back to Intrepid, and will be trying others in VMs.

Actually, hell with it. I’m going to try going back to 8.04 and if that goes well, will be sticking with LTS releases from now on.