Wednesday, October 27, 2010

If you don't learn technology, you *will* be a victim

At least two of the liberal bloggers that I follow have now been cursed with car troubles that would be cheaply repaired if they had the slightest clue about that box on wheels that they get into every morning to go to work. As in, the parts to repair their vehicle cost less than $100, and if they went to Wal-Mart and bought the necessary tools they'd have a hard time getting above $50, yet they ended up paying over $500 to a garage to fix it. Not necessarily because the garage ripped them off, but because by the time you put a car up on the lift, remove a part, and replace it, you've used a lot of time and infrastructure that the garage could use to repair real problems, and they're going to charge you for it.

Look: The automobile is not magic. It's technology -- late 19th century technology, even. There isn't a single thing in my Jeep that a time traveler from 1920 could not fix with a few references to the service manual. He would not understand how the black boxes sparked the spark plugs and adjusted the fuel mixture, but he would know what they were doing, because there isn't a single principle underlying today's automobiles that was not known in 1920. He couldn't fix the black boxes, but he'd know to replace the black box that is attached to the spark plugs if he pulled a spark plug and didn't see a spark, even if he had no idea how that black box worked. Because spark plugs today are the same damned things they were in 1920, yo. Ain't nothin' new here that the time traveler from 1920 wouldn't figure out quickly, unlike, say, the latest personal computer attached to the Internet.

Yet I continue to read liberal bloggers who apparently haven't a clue. It doesn't take a frackin' genius to understand how cars work. All it takes is a couple of books from your local public library and a good look at the insides of your own car. By the time I was 10 years old I knew how a car worked... because I could read. Yes, read. Not because of magic. Not because I was somehow endowed with mystical powers of Mek. I *studied* it, just like I study anything else I want to learn. Because that's all it is -- learned skill. Not one I'm particularly good at (otherwise I'd have gone into the business, but I'm too darned slow at wrenching to make a living that way), but look. When my pitman arm boot got bummed up and let grease out of the tie rod end and it developed slop, I didn't pay a garage $500 to fix it. I unbolted the end at the steering box with a big crescent wrench ($10 at Wal-Mart), grabbed a big hammer ($5 at Wal-Mart), and went *WHACK*. I then loosened the nuts on the clamps that keep the tie rod end from turning in its socket, unscrewed it from its socket, screwed the new one back in to the same number of threads showing that the old one had shown, bolted everything back together, and that was that. I paid $80 for the OEM tie rod end, already had the crescent wrench, and that was all she wrote.

It doesn't take a genius to do the above, just a willingness to study the service manual to figure out how your car steers. I wasn't born knowing how a car steers, I studied it. And so I paid $80, when a garage would have charged me a minimum of $200 to do the same thing ($120 for the full retail for the part, $80 labor for the hour to whack it out and whack it back in and center the steering wheel again). Yet again and again, I see people who refuse to learn about the things they rely on in their everyday life, who insist upon making everything magic. And then they're shocked, shocked I say, when they get ripped off... but look. If you refuse to learn about the world, you will be victimized. That's just how it works. Ignorance is not an option unless you're a Republican -- and you're not a Republican, are you? Are you?!

-- Badtux the Knowledge-seeking Penguin


  1. Tux, ya nailed it.

    I would go one more, though, and say that there's an increasing set of things in our (modern Western) everyday lives that people apparently believe *should* be magic, as if the sprang whole cloth from the aether rather than being designed by an engineer, then built in a factory (manufacturing is an even darker art to most white collar people), shipped in a supply chain (logistics--the Dark Art that brings you Trucks in Traffic), and finally sold in a retail store.

    And that's just physical goods. As soon as it enters the realm of digital, people get angry at you before you can even try to explain what a "server," "router," "database" or "programming language" is.

    Fundamentally, I think that people are so overwhelmed by the volume of information that they are constantly searching for simplicity, whether they realize it or not (and whether or not it's the appropriate response to the information). Thus, any attempt to explain what was, prior to that, a simple concept, violates that search and provokes hostility.

    I think this also explains much of the appeal of "Good Ol' Days" thinking and anti-intellectualism that permeats the public discourse today. Any single issue is so complex that most poeple lack the education to understand it so they prefer to think that simple, blunt solutions are all that is needed--and if they didn't work, they just need to be tried more forcefully.

    If we can figure out how to break that mindset (I don't know how--they just get angry at me when I try to explain things from a Public Policy perspective or bring science into discussions) and you'll break the Right.

  2. And food just magically appears in grocery stores. Though some lefties (*and* righties) take it to a radical extreme and try to grow all their own food. But even my grandmother, who did subsistence farming in Louisiana out of necessity during the Great Depression to the point where she even grew her own sugar cane for sugar and molasses, did not take it to that extreme... sure, she took her own corn to the general store to be ground, but she bought her wheat flour with the few precious dollars they got from growing and selling cotton. Because wheat doesn't grow in Louisiana.

    Union soldiers writing home as they marched through Louisiana during the Civil War remarked on the horrible diet that resulted from the Union blockade that cut off anything not locally grown. The locals subsisted on a diet of corn mush, peas, turnip greens, and salt pork (salt being one of the things they did not have a shortage of, due to salt domes). They couldn't even cook proper cornbread for lack of wheat flour to soften it. That's "local eating" for you. Yet the notion that modern supply chain operation can result in a better diet and better health for most people (if you ignore all the processed crap designed for profit rather than health) gets you stares, because they "know" that modern technology is "evil"... the attitude that you describe exactly.

    I can understand the inability of people to comprehend abstract concepts like 'programming language', or 'database'. But when it comes to physical objects that you can touch, see, and feel, my understanding gets a bit... less. Sorry.

    - Badtux the Modern Penguin

  3. You are right there are a lot of obvious problems that can be attacked by using your eyes, ears and brain. But unfortunately Check Engine light is not one of them. The other issue is a lot of times you get to the it might be this or it might be that. If you had a another "this" to put in there you could figure it out but in most cases you don't.

    And finally you get to the "scrap pile problem". Till you get a quorum of bits and pieces lying around it's hard to fix a lot things, you're always having to go out shopping for parts. I fix farm equipment and have a relatively large stock pile of new bolts that make life so much easier. Break a bolt, just go to the stock bin and get another. Without that backup I'd never get done.

  4. 'Check Engine Light' is actually the easiest of all problems to solve -- take the car to your local autoparts store, and they'll plug in the scanner *FOR FREE* and tell you what that's all about. It'll tell you that you have a bad oxygen sensor, or that the throttle position sensor is bad, or that you have a vacuum leak at the evaporative system (what happens when you forget to put the gas cap back on), and if it's the last (the easiest of all to solve -- just put the gas cap back on!) you can have them clear the code right then and there. Most of the other problems that check engine light points out are equally easily solved... for example, changing the oxygen sensor might take fifteen minutes of labor, tops, and the part is available from that same auto parts store.

    There are things I won't do to a car because I don't have the tools or experience. For example, I am going to get my Jeep re-geared so I can run larger tires on it, I'm going to have someone do that. *BUT*: I read up on how to do it, and I know how it's done. I also know it requires a lot of fiddling for the gear setup (to get the correct mesh between ring gear and pinion) and bearing tension (which is set by spacers) that, if you haven't done it before, will end up with a lot of very expensive crush washers used up until you get it right and a lot of spacer washers left over at the end of the process, whereas someone who does it regularly can just "feel" his way into the correct gear setup and he has a use for any spacers left over.

    In other words, yes, there are things that are better to let experts handle. But if you don't know what the experts are doing, you're going to get reamed, up, down, left and right. And knowing what the experts are doing does *not* take a gift from the Great God Mek... all it takes is *READING*. And, if you're confused about what you're reading, popping the cover on whatever you're reading about and looking at the actual bits and pieces. Yeah, I've popped the cover on my diff and looked at how it all fits together, even though I have absolutely no intention of actually doing this job... but knowledge is power, and ignorance is strength only if you're wanting to be a peon in Orwell's world of 1984.

    - Badtux the Knowledge-seeking Penguin

  5. Some of us understand the "abstract concepts like 'programming language', or 'database," better than we deal with spacial reasoning, or the damned torque on the lug nuts. Not everyone has upper body, or wrist strength, or the slightest bit of mechanical ability. I have been tested for mechanical aptitude and it just isn't there. I can read the book, but I still have to have someone else do the work.

  6. I have all the "mechanical aptitude" of a flightless waterfowl (doh!), which is why I don't make it my business to fix things. Regarding upper body strength, with the right lever you can move the world (bonus points for who said that first, some 2500 or so years ago). To loosen lug nuts I use a 4 foot piece of steel pipe (bought at Home Depot for under $10) slid over the end of the wrench and sit my ass end on the thing, that gives me 4 times ass pounds worth of torque (figure minimum 400 foot-pounds of torque), which'll loosen anything, period. You can *snap* lug studs that way if the lug nut is frozen onto the stud, don't ask me how I know 'cause I ain't tellin' (heh!). Penguins ain't much on that whole upper body strength either, but a long enough lever will loosen *anything*, heh!

    That's all high school physics that I'm talkin' about here, mind you, not anything to do with "mechanical aptitude". Torque is a physics concept, not a "mechanical aptitude" concept. Friction is a physics concept, not a "mechanical aptitude" concept. Levers are a physics concept, not a "mechanical aptitude" concept. I may be unusual in that I appear to be one of the few people in the United States who not only took high school physics, but immediately grasped how it applies to the real world, but so it goes...

    - Badtux the Scientific Penguin

  7. I can do 99.9 percent of my own repairs and I don't like others working on my rigs anyway.

    But I sure wouldn't want to work on a lot of these newest rigs, it takes an hour just to get down to see the engine.

  8. There are things I won't do to a car because I don't have the tools or experience. For example, I am going to get my Jeep re-geared so I can run larger tires on it, I'm going to have someone do that.

    Actually, it's not hard to do at all. You can just shim it up 'loose' at first, meaning just enough shims to fit it together.

    You can reuse the crush sleeve a few times while doing that also, just put it over a heavy pipe or steel rod and smack it with a hammer working your way around it to expand it some.

    Once you get an okay looking gear pattern you can get the proper bearing preloads with a little more shim, shims, and the new crush sleeve.

    You may have to rent what is called a banjo spreader though. Or a housing spreader, depending on who you're talking to.

  9. I completely agree...out here in the Midwest, I frequently (at least once a day) see someone on the side of the highway with a flat tire. They call *someone else* to do it for them...guys and girls of all ages.

    My first month out here, I saw a female state trooper changing the tire of an able bodied 30 something man in the rain. He took the tire out of the back of his SUV and she changed it. It took me about an hour to stop talking about it.

    The same basic concept can apply to computers. Those who don't bother to understand how basic they are and simple they usually are to fix spend a LOT of money to have someone else do it. Granted, they're quite a myriad of 'potential' problems but they work the same way no matter the name on the outside.

    All of the 'creature comforts' we've grown accustomed to in the last two decades come at a price-and that usually rears its ugly head at repair time.

  10. BBC, it's a bit more involved than that for my Jeep because of the need for a 250-foot-pound torque wrench for the pinion nut (which must be torqued to 220 foot-lbs) and an extremely sensitive inch-pound torque wrench for the bearing preload. And yes, you need a case spreader to properly set the side bearing preload. My experience with simply removing the differential, replacing the spider gears with a locker, and placing it back in (without doing a new setup since it was put back in the same place) is that it takes me a *long* time to do anything with the differential. So yes, I could probably do it myself, but only by paying $300 for tools, another $300 on Dana-Spicer install kits, and spending three days of cursing to very slowly and carefully twiddle and tweak until the gear setup is correct. Or, I could pay a guy who does five of these a week, and it'll take him a few hours total to pull out the differential, replace the ring and pinion, and do a setup almost as fast as I can unbolt the friggin' differential cover because he knows that if he sees a particular pattern in his first attempt at setup (which will likely be pretty close simply because he knows his shit), shifting the differential a certain spacer left or right and moving the pinion a certain spacer in or out will get a virtually perfect pattern.

    BUT: I know what he's going to be doing, because I've researched what needs to be done, and I can talk to him intelligently because of that. And if he tries to rip me off or does a shoddy job, I'll know it. And he knows I'll know it. So it won't happen. Meanwhile, that moron who doesn't even know how to change a tire... sheesh! I get my tires rotated and balanced for free at the tire dealership where I bought them, but I rotated them once myself with the tools I'd have if I ever had a flat just to prove I could do it. I can't fathom someone who'd leave himself at the mercy of others for such a simple task... what would happen if he had broken down on a remote highway where nobody might pass for days? SHEESH!

    - Badtux the Handy Penguin

  11. BTW, that's how I know that the lug wrench that came with my Jeep is useless -- I tried to use it to rotate my tires. I can't even get it onto my lug nuts because I have oversized tires that stick out further than the lug wrench. That's why I carry a very large cross-shaped lug wrench that gives me lots of leverage (around 4 feet total) in my Jeep now. How many cars are going around on the highway with unusable lug wrenches and flat spare tires because the idiots who drive them aren't willing to protect their safety in even the simplest automotive task of all, being able to replace a flat tire? It's not someone else's job to protect your safety, it's *yours*... I might indeed call AAA to put on my spare, depending upon where I am and how dangerous it is there (if it's a freeway median, I want a big-ass tow truck behind me with its flashing lights on to keep the asswipes from wiping me out), but if I'm somewhere that cell phones don't work and there's nobody around, I *know* I can change my tire -- 'cause I've done it.

  12. Ok, last argument I'm putting across. I have had the same car for ten years and I've never been stranded because

    A) I bought a car that Consumer Reports said was a damn good car

    B) I take the damn thing in for preventive maintenance and it's worth $50 bucks to have someone else check it out for me.

    C) I prepare all the food here, and black greasy nails disgust me when I'm trying to make a salad. Too many years in foodservice I guess. I know about the leverage, I sat on a 2.5 ft long pipe wrench when I was learning some plumbing stuff. I also got infections in my hands from copper slivers, ouch. $16 bucks a year for towing service came in handy when the kid got in an accident. She wasn't allowed to drive the car until she learned how to check the fluids and could tell me many miles in between oil changes.

  13. BT
    There are people who should not be allowed to handle tools. I have know a few. None of them were stupid in any way shape or form, none of them had a clue as to what to do with their hands when force is necessary. They had other skills. Writers, programmers, doctors. But they all tried, and usually succeeded, but the amount of time required was amazing. And the stuff they broke... And some people just don't have the part of the brain working to see how things go together, even when they have taken them apart.
    That's why I didn't play professional sports, don't have the skill set. It's not the understanding it's the execution.

  14. This is a problem: Cars have been made such that even what was simple is not complex. Exhibit A.

    Changing the headlight bulb on my car involves about what that Lexus shows: The car has to go up on a lift, the tire has to come off and the inside of the wheel well removed to get at the bulb. This is the first car that I have ever owned which I could not easily replace the headlights.

    I have done my car work before. I can change oil, change tires and yes, if I read up on it, do more.

    But no, I am not going to get on the parking lot in my condo and try to replace a timing belt and water pump.

  15. Yeah, I saw that post by Da Fixer. It made me very glad that I own a Jeep, where everything's out in the open and there's no technology newer than 1964 in sight under the hood other than the black boxes for the fuel injection and electronic ignition (both of which I am very glad to have, given how troublesome yesteryear's carburetors and points were).

    Regarding the timing belt, my Jeep doesn't have a timing belt (it has a gear-driven camshaft with hydraulic lifters and pushrods, old school 1964 technology that just works, unlike the modern shit), but my mom's Honda certainly did. When it needed the timing belt changed... I told her to take it to the shop ;-). Sorry, some things are just too much hassle to deal with unless you have no choice. I.e., I know how to change a timing belt... but because you are working in such tight quarters under that crowded Honda hood and have to remove so much shit to get to it, I'll gladly pay someone to do it.

    -Badtux the Practical Penguin


Ground rules: Comments that consist solely of insults, fact-free talking points, are off-topic, or simply spam the same argument over and over will be deleted. The penguin is the only one allowed to be an ass here. All viewpoints, however, are welcomed, even if I disagree vehemently with you.

WARNING: You are entitled to create your own arguments, but you are NOT entitled to create your own facts. If you spew scientific denialism, or insist that the sky is purple, or otherwise insist that your made-up universe of pink unicorns and cotton candy trees is "real", well -- expect the banhammer.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.