Friday, March 24, 2017

Coffee Brake: Return of the Left Handed Spanner

The Left-Handed Spanner is a special feature column written by DT contributor Kaibeezy. Yesterday, I cooked up a pot of British greens (close as I can get to collards) on an induction hotplate I had picked up to pinch hit while we're waiting for our new cooker (stove) to be connected. You are probably aware these create a strong electromagnetic field that excites the iron atoms in the pan directly, rather than heating them indirectly via conduction from a hot surface or flame.

Mostly I've cooked eggs and sausages and the like, which slowly sizzle. But greens simmer in ham stock (which boils down to give us the magic of pot likker), and water near the boiling point is much more responsive to small changes in heat input. Which is how induction burners modulate the temperature setting.

Basically, they are binary, either on or off. So my greens kept going from wildly boiling to just sitting there, with varying cycle times as I reduced the setting. ^^^^^^^^ to ^_____^_____ .

Microwave ovens, I have noticed, do the same thing. Defrost cycle is full for a few seconds and then your frozen chicken just sits and spins for a while. I guess I understand this makes empirical sense, but I can't shake the notion these digital cookers are wasting my time.

The greens came out fine, objectively, but I was irritated by the process, which subverted my usual sense of carefully tending the situation.

A couple of days earlier, Vince had pinged me to relate a story about the (my) Roadmaster. Like many 90s cars, it has a resistor buried in the key, the value of which has to match what's wired into the column. There are maybe a dozen different resistances possible, with the theory this adds a complication to delay a would-be thief. With enough time it would be defeatable, but if you're trying to steal a Roadmaster in a hurry, you'd be borked.

This system is prone to failure as things get loosey-goosey over the decades. Vince had been experiencing intermittent warnings, which come with a 3-minute delay when triggered. Anyone who has met Vince knows that's plenty of time for him to write up several DT posts, re-lace his boxing boots, wax the Mustang, and also FaceTime me, which he did.

How to bypass it? At this fairly late date, the notion of anyone stealing a Roadmaster seems un-bloody-likely. He dug into it and found out he could wire the required resistance right into the lock mechanism. Total cost, about 12 cents. Total time, about 3 minutes. Excellent return on the marginal cost.

Try to do that (or whatever the approximate modern equivalent might be) with anything made in this century.

Which reminds me of the puzzled question I got a while back from a friend who had recently bought a 2007-ish 5-series. He was looking for the dipstick to check the oil. Couldn't find it. Since I am barely engaged with the modern world, I was like, whaaat? But sure enough, there isn't one. The car is smarter than you.

Looping back around to the binary cooker, it reminds me of a story you've probably heard about famous car guy Neil Young (who I believe is involved with music in some way). He is well known for detesting the loss of musical data inherent in common mass market low-bitrate audio formats. Neil is reported to have said something like: "If analog music is like being bathed in a warm mist of water, digital is like being blasted by a spray of tiny perfect ice cubes."

I wouldn't like that.

I don't like my induction hotplate and am really glad we opted for a semi-pro old school gas blaster. Over the summer, I think I might build a wood-fired brick oven out in the side yard. I've seen plans for a tandoor made from a couple of flowerpots, a steel trash can and a bag of vermiculite that gets to 900 degrees on 10 charcoal briquettes.

I don't like my friend's hands-off BMW. I do like the (my) Roadmaster and so does Vince. I knew it would grow on him.


  1. Roadmaster. A vehicle which always lived up to its name. The most perfect hauler of people, dogs, cats, beer kegs, car parts and junk ever made.

    1. hauler is right - my pal with the E39 M5 would sometimes swap me for the weekend so he could pick up a driveshaft or quarter panel for one of his historic rally cars - good deal for both of us - the Roadmaster is only 3 auto gears, but with NorCal coastal traffic it was rare i'd get to shift more than that in the M5, such a beast

  2. My head spins with the articulateness of your descriptions with less of an idea of what you actually said. Clearly I have a problem. On the matter of the dipstick-less Beemer, the other half possesses one also. Absolutely asinine. Trust the idiot light on the dash............right. Dipsticks fer sure.

    1. like a pot of spring greens, i'm happy to boil it down for you: we as a culture are losing something nice, which is the opportunity to understand stuff just by observing it, and then to futz with it

  3. I think this speaks to a larger problem in society today, the acceptance that everything is disposable. Companies are motivated (and financially rewarded) for making things so complex you are forced to pay them to fix it, and for making them fail in a relatively short period of time. After all, why should they want to make a car you can enjoy for 60 years if they can make one that falls apart in 10 and forces you to buy another? And since most Americans are convinced they need shiny new things, nobody bothers to question it. Except DT, which is one of many reasons I love this website. Keep up the good work.

    1. not only replace/repair, but basic maintenance pwned by the manufacturer - see:Why American Farmers Are Hacking Their Tractors With Ukrainian Firmware - basically John Deere has DRM-ed the entire environment

      ...a farmer and right-to-repair advocate in Nebraska, told me. "You want to replace a transmission and you take it to an independent mechanic -- he can put in the new transmission but the tractor can't drive out of the shop. Deere charges $230, plus $130 an hour for a technician to drive out and plug a connector into their USB port to authorize the part." "What you've got is technicians running around here with cracked Ukrainian John Deere software that they bought off the black market," he added.


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