Monday, January 29, 2007

Feed Her Some Hungry Reggae

The weather has turned bitter cold, here in New Jersey.

Last Thursday, Julie took the truck out for an errand, and reported that the instrument lights were flickering and dying. The rheostat that controlled intensity didn't seem to work any more.

Friday morning, they blazed furiously for a few seconds, then died completely. I thought that the lamp burned out, it blew a fuse, or the knob finally gave it up.

This is one more petty annoyance to fulfill a month of petty annoyances.

The truck was collecting a number of odd failures. The CD changer behind my seat had stopped broadcasting in autumn, the motorized baffles in the climate control had stopped working (luckily stopping in a mode that was compatible with winter), and the service engine soon light was popping on.

I'm also thinking about new tires.

(Petty annoyances come in cycles, and they sum up.)

Drove to work without instrument lights. I've driven my little pickup for a couple of years now, so I wasn't too concerned about it. I stayed with the flow of traffic, and listened to the engine as I drove.

Everything seemed happy.

I was mainly worried about a meeting at work, so my mind was sort of occupied. I'd flick the headlights off at stoplights to see what time it was on the clock. The dimmer only controls the digital clock intensity when the headlights are on.

I ended up opening my door out of sequence when I got to work. There was a beeping noise from the instrument panel, which I somehow decided was because the keys were still in the ignition. I grabbed the keys and went.

I had lunch with a friend. She drove. I hate driving, because I don't get to talk as much if I want to avoid an accident. I'm funny that way.

Got out to the car that evening, and discovered that I had left the lights on all day.

The battery was dead, dead, dead. Not a sound when I tried to start the engine, not the clock coming on. Nothing.

I got a jump from a passing engineer. We had to hook his jumper cables to my car, and sit for fifteen minutes before the car would even feebly crank. Ten minutes later, it started right up.

I drove home via the 295. Its a bit longer, and can be brutal if there is any traffic, rather than the back roads that I usually take, but I wanted to run the engine as long as I could before turning it off.


I didn't drive the car on Saturday. I had a bit of a cough, and tried to stay inside as much as possible (with one excursion to sell Girl Scout Cookies at a local Acme market with Steph. Sold something like four boxes).

Sunday I decided to take the truck for an errand. If it wouldn't start, but there was power in the battery, I could bump start it down our steep and icy driveway (WAHOO!), or jump it off Julie's minivan if the battery was totally dead. I'd run and get the battery tested, and maybe buy a new one.

Luckily, it started right up, and didn't give me any trouble.

The clock would have to be reset at some point, and none of the presets worked on the radio. I had to dial in the NPR station.

So, this morning, I'm driving to work. I'm fiddling with the rheostat for the instrument lights, because I can't believe that the freakin' rheostat has suddenly decided to fail. I notice that, if I move it real fast, the instrument lights flicker on for a brief instant, then go out.

Sort of like a video game.

Its now a challenge.

I spend ten minutes of my morning commute flicking the knob back and forth, trying to stop it when the lights are on. Halfway to work, it happens: the instrument lights are functioning again.

I make a mental note to NEVER TOUCH THE KNOB AGAIN.

I have a pretty good day at work. One of my friends had to join my former team temporarily, and a spare chair in my office was a convenient spot for her to park for the day. It was nice to have a little company, and we got to chat a couple of times when we were both free.

Much work was done, and after too many hours at work, I got to go home.

Driving home in the truck. Decided to take the freeway. On a traffic free day, I can sail home on the freeway in less time then the back roads I usually drive, but its a little longer distance-wise.

I'm dialing in music stations, since W was getting a long interview on NPR. Couldn't find what I wanted, so my finger shot out to the instrument panel, beneath the lights, and turned on the CD changer.

The one that hasn't worked since fall.

Reflex. Go figure.

I realized what I had done, and watched as a CD loaded. Nothing too tricky, the player had always seemed to work, it just didn't seem to broadcast to the radio like it was supposed to.

Reached out to the radio, and started crawling across the dial.

Stopped when I heard the song.

Steely Dan, loud and clear. "FM".


Had a great drive home.


I think that the death of the battery had saved the CD changer (at some point in the near future, I had planned to replace it). When I was an undergrad, studying chip design, there was the concept of an 'unused state' in a circuit, that if your design tripped into it, couldn't get out unless the circuit was designed to get out.

Or someone hit the big reset button.

Let me try to explain:

Imagine that there are a series of states that a circuit could be in, and that they are all related to each other. There are rules for how and when to go from state to state. Imagine the circuit is in state A, which transitions to B, then goes to C, then back to A. You design the thing to cycle between these three happy states. Think of the states as things like 'loading a CD', 'playing a CD', and 'unloading a CD'.

Now imagine that something weird happens, and the system ends up in state NARWAHL. Now, there are no specific rules for ever transitioning out of state NARWAHL, so the circuit kind of sits there. Think of this state as 'look like everything works, but don't broadcast any music', since the rule to send out the music is only part of state C.

Old digital watches used to have this problem, when you would change the battery. The calender would get lost, since there was no rule on how many days were in the twenty-ninth month. There was usually a way to reset the IC in the watch to a known state, one of the correct states, and then things would work again.

I think that having the battery dead for a few hours caused the CD changer to fall back into a known state.


Good fortune comes in cycles, and it sums up.

I have to remember to check and see if the climate control is working in the morning.

Maybe I'll have new tires, too...


Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

I'm thinking this is a nuanced version of hitting the television on top with the flat of your hand and having the picture clear up.

I'm having some weird problems with the Subaru. Maybe I'll trying killing the battery.

Since the problems seem to be brakes, this probably won't help, but hell, it's cheap.

10:44 AM  
Blogger SquidgePa said...

Time is as much an issue as money.
I just don't have time for anything anymore. Six months ago, I would have thought nothing of dropping my truck off at the dealership to get it worked on; now I'm too busy running between facilities and I can't afford to be without a car for the day.umb

7:42 PM  

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