Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Animals you may not have seen before

Blob fish is ridiculous, link to unusual animal pics: here

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Death Valley and the Racetrack Playa

This weekend I headed out to Death Valley with some friends from work, and a few others who thought hanging out with my coworkers sounded like a fun time. Our plan was to meet up at Wildrose campground as our schedules allowed and then head into Death Valley and hopefully on to the Racetrack Playa.

tl;dr: yes you can make it out to Racetrack Playa in your family sedan. We made it fine with a Mazda 6, Prius, and Audi A4. We also saw a few Subarus and Toyota Carolla out there. Take extra precautions and pack extra supplies but don't let the hype scare you out of driving out there. Just go slowly. We had fun.

Friday night good times were had around the Campfire-In-A-Can. We were the most obnoxious group at the campground with our outbursts of laughter, but nobody actually yelled at us though so we must not have been that bad. Topics covered included how the tent 50 feet away looked like a Storm-Trooper, and that it would be cool if it sprouted mechanical spider legs and started moving around. Also for some reason unsavory internet memes from 3 years ago received unwarranted discussion. Anyway you get the idea, lots of laughs.

The Racetrack Playa, and specifically the drive out to the Racetrack Playa were debated ad nauseam. The road is rumored to be littered with razor rocks that will surely shred your tires.(tires were fine) Numerous web resources, and people within the park warn that you must have a high clearance 4x4,(not true) and that the washboard will break your suspension,(it didn't) and that the tow out is quite expensive due to AAA not covering you when you're off road. This discussion went around in circles for quite sometime. After making a compromise to leave some of our excess gear at Wildrose campground we headed out.

Link to map of our in park travels: google maps route

Video clip of the drive to Mosaic Canyon from wildrose (click to play):
From DeathValleyDrive

We hiked Mosiac Canyon and checked out some of the neat geology. We ate our picnic lunch at Stovepipe Wells and then went on to Scotty's Castle. We didn't take the tour at Scotty's Castle as we wanted to get on the road to the Playa before any more time passed. Doing it over again I wouldn't have hiked as far into Mosaic canyon and would have spent that time with an earlier start up to Scotty's Castle and the Racetrack. After one final debate about the road conditions we finally set out for the Racetrack Playa...

...and everything turned out better than expected. We took it slow, 5-25 mph averaging about 13mph. It took us a bit over 2 hours to cover the 27 miles on the way out. We were something of a motley crew as our carvan consisted of a Mazda 6 sedan, Prius, and my Audi A4 wagon. We were passed by several faster moving SUVs and jeeps, and Subaru WRX that wasn't concerned about taking it slow. But we plodded along at an even pace, and avoided the troublesome looking spots. The road is not that bad, really. Yes, if you go speeding along at 40mph you'll probably get a flat or break your suspension on the washboard sections. But if you can take your time you can even get a lowered Audi out there with just a few scraps along the floor boards as you pass over the higher rocks. I felt pretty comfortable about the drive esp after the first few miles, knowing that I had a full size spare, donut spare, full set of tools, and a tow strap helped as well. I also had the memories of what we did with our Oldsmobile station wagon in Baja back in the day, and the more recent memories of abusing Subaru's in the Walla Walla and Montana hills with cousin Brian. Normal cars can accomplish a lot if you're just a little bit careful with them.

Link to map of our in park travels: google maps route

We got to the Racetrack Playa and we all spread out in search of rocks with tracks. On the first attempt we didn't find anything too impressive. We had fun, walking around the lake bed, soaking in the setting, and then climbing on "the grandstand" rock formation in the middle of the playa. We drove to the south end of the playa and a guy there to do some serious photography told us that the rocks were way at the south end of the playa. By this time it was dark, and I only got a not so great picture of one of the rocks with a good trail with my flash on the point and shoot. Hopefully the others captured some good shots with their real cameras. We left a business card and granola bar for the photographer in hopes that he will email us some of his pics or maybe a link to his flickr profile. I was a little bit let down that I didn't get to see the rocks with good tracks in the light, but really just being out there and running around on the playa at night with all the stars out is a really fun time. Kevin and Missy cooked up an excellent spaghetti and broccoli dinner for all of us at the south end of the playa. Kevin has the foresight to bring a little extra food for dinner, and even after I foolishly attempted to talk him into cooking less of the spaghetti no body went hungry! Thanks again for handling the food Kevin!

We drove the 2 hours on the gravel road back out to Stovepipe Wells for gas, and then finally back to Wildrose Campground around 1:15am. Jeff and Mary split off to try a new campground out and then head to Badwater the next day. Thankfully the trip remained free of mechanical problems and everyone seemed to have a good time.

On Sunday morning we made some breakfast and my car headed home, while the others went on to hike Wildrose peak. Hopefully they had fun with that. It was a really fun trip, thanks to Jeff setting it in motion!

Frisbee on the Grandstand clip: here

Friday, April 9, 2010

Hard landing

When the airplane is flying really terribly probably good to just call it a day instead of trying to fly anyway. Oops.

Laptop Fan

Tonight I decided was a good night for unclogging my laptop fan. It had been increasingly apparent that the fan on my laptop was not at all effective. The fan would run and little to no air would come out the heat sink. Also the laptop was getting really hot. And no one likes hot keyboard sweaty palms. Tonight the do-something-productive-while-you-procrastinate program involved tearing into my laptop at 1AM. 70 minutes start to finish, not too bad and it still works when I put it back together. It runs cooler and the fan is only running when needed now!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010

Leaks and sparks

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The above shows a hose barely holding on to the water pump inlet. The hose clamps work better on the ends of the hose than the middle. It's no wonder it was leaking coolant (98% water by this point). This car keeps trying to teach me that one shouldn't put off fixes to nagging problems. I drove around for about 2 months with the hose barely hanging on. Granted I was keeping the driving in town for the most part because I knew there was a problem. But I got lucky that this didn't let lose on the freeway or somewhere inconvenient. Fix it right when you know something is wrong! The car is back together this time hopefully with all hose clamps in place and with the additional piece of mind that the radiator flanges are not cracked as I was lead to believe is common with the plastic radiator tanks. Perhaps the coolant leak gremlin has finally been slain?

Now I'm on to the intermittent missing problem. Occasionally, the Audi will misfire badly while driving under light to moderate load. Occasionally is once every 7-10 days or so. Going up a gentle hill, or even slowly accelerating on a flat stretch the engine misses with applied accelerator, and the check engine light blinks, indicating a misfire. I'm 90% certain that it is electrical, likely this means that it is a clogged fuel filter. It has some goofy 3 pronged spark plugs installed, that the previous owner was bragging about installing 2.5 years and 50k miles ago. (said previous owner is a rather ham-fisted mechanic however, and installed them 'real tight' with no anti-sieze, I was afraid the first one was going to come out with the treads attached ... not that I have much room to talk now that I go around leaving hose clamps off). I can't tell if these plugs are worn out or what. The gap isn't adjustable, but the gap seams very large, well over 0.032". Not sure how long they were supposed to last. The safe first step seems like replacing the spark plugs. Before replacing the $200 coil/pack ignition module combo. I went to Kragen with a spark plug part number from the audiforums scribbled down, and he told me that it was a $1.99 plug and 'not for my car' He said the recommended plugs were the Bosch Platinums that are $8.99 each. I should have just purchased them and been done with it. Now I'm being cheap. But. He got all "salesy" on me, and if there's one thing I hate it is a patronizing sales pitch. I have an irrational revulsion to being 'sold' anything, and he attempted to 'sell me' on the plugs. Proceeding to tell me how "These Audi engines aren't are your normal engine and that they need a hotter spark and a high performance plug and that you shouldn't just put cheap junk in there because it was a blah blah blah." He had to work on Easter and has to put up with jokers like me not wanting to pay and extra $20 for the spark plugs because they read some nonsense on a forum posted by some know-it-all college kid. That being said a poorly executed sales pitch keeps my wallet firmly in pocket, and apparently drives me to the internet to talk about it. Anyhow, moving on, I didn't buy any thing and now I need to figure out what spark plugs I really want / need. Again I'm sure the $8.99 would have been fine and I could have moved on to replacing the other components before I get around to changing that fuel filter that is likely the cause of these electrical problems.

At least one of the online suppliers shows that the installed plugs are same as what they sell as replacement plugs for my car. So maybe they really are the correct plug for the car. Ham-fisted or not the previous owner probably at a minimum purchased one of the recommended plugs and didn't just pick something at random.

Cylinder 1 picture below is what is reported by the computer as missing most frequently.

Cylinder 4 actually looks worse?

Friday, April 2, 2010

I'm Debt Free!

I paid off my student loan that I started accumulating approximately 11 years ago. Dave Ramsey would be so proud! I used to make the argument that I was doing better by putting the money in the savings account with a higher interest rate than the loan that only had a 1.85% rate. I think it has been well over a year since the savings accounts had anything near that 'high' of a return. Time to just pay it off and be done with it. Feels good I guess?