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Papa Mitzvah | The Bleat.

I’m standing outside the Element, looking at it, and a nice lady walks past and says “how do you like your car?”

Most days I’d say I love it. But. Right now I am sitting in the deli department of Cub foods on a gorgeous day that is really, really going poorly. The most recent manifestation sits in the parking lot, a large, inert, green piece of metal and plastic that was formerly an automobile. It is not very mobile at the moment. Parked, ran in, got some stuff for dinner, then ran back to the car, put the key in:

Nothing.

Just nothing.

Obviously it worked before, since I’m here. Minutes before. But now it is dead. I called Triple A, and the tow’s on the way – but will it arrive before A) the ice cream completely liquifies, and B) I have to be home to let daughter in the house? FFS, what a day.

I know it worked earlier, because I seem to recall driving to a hazardous material drop-off point, where I unburdened myself of some old dead electronics and two computers that had seized up and developed fatal problems. One was an ancient iMac, and I’d been kept from turning it in because I couldn’t boot it to wipe the drive. Which I had to do because we all assume that someone along the line will take it out and look at it and hoover up your secrets. They can’t guarantee no one will. Isn’t that interesting? There’s the assumption someone will poke through your junk. But even if they guaranteed, no one would believe them. So they don’t.

Anyway: when I finally found the original software, it ate the disk and would not boot from that. Criminey. I despaired of doing anything, put it back in the closet, thought “I’ll figure this out later.” Later = half a decade. Why not just take the drive out? you ask. Well, I didn’t know I could. I though it was all sealed back there to keep you from touching the DEATH NODE, or capacitor, at the back of the CRT. So the matter remained for years, until, in a fit of get-rid-of-everything enthusiasm, I looked up instructions for removing the hard drive.

Hey, it could be done! Without a fatal shock, too. Began to take it apart, only to find that the instructions were for a different model. Mine was a rare rev-A slot-loading smoke-grey DV model with a gargantuan 6 GB hard drive, or something. If you’re thinking it’s sad I couldn’t turn it on for that time-machine moment, and see what my desktop looked like, what files I had –

I know. I have libraries of everything that’s ever been on my machines since 1996.

Got the drive out, but it’s some archaic interface I can’t use, so I can’t wipe it. Aw, to hell with it, throw it away. No! That’s wrong. Put it in front of a huge magnet! Where’s that ACME catalog? Oh, just put it in the storage closet, get to it later.

Thus is a bleat in 2016 set up. Stay tuned.

Loaded the damned thing in the car with the rest of the stuff and drove to the ‘burbs where they take your stuff and crush it to death. No, you can’t watch, don’t ask. No charge, at least not here; funded by county taxes. At least I pay county taxes, and expect a portion goes to this. On the way back I got stuck behind a train, of all things. In the city? A freight? Well, it was an industrial area. The train crept forward at the pace of a snail on hot asphalt, then blew its horn, stopped, blew it again, and began to creep backwards into it was just where it was before. Maybe it was a lesson for everyone to stop and smell the roses. There were no roses. Maybe people called up pictures of roses on their smartphones.

Then I went downtown to do some interviews for the column. Talked to a lot of police. Felt bad when I had to say “I’m with the newspaper,” because that just takes the fun out of everything. Plus, if you’re dumb, then you’re a dumb journalist, and if you’re interested and curious, you’re a cop groupie.

Then here. Then nowhere. The thing about your car going dead: you walk outside, look at it, go back in and try it again, as if something might have changed. Which it does. Then you pop the hood to see if there’s anything obviously wrong, but it’s just a solid mass of THINGS in there. I checked the battery to see if it was connected, and it was. Looks crusty, though.

So now I’m here, waiting, counting down the minutes. I have a funny column to write tonight – ha ha! – so if this is all there is, I apologize.

Oh, the real reason I’m out here: daughter needed some puffy letters for her science project. She’s doing an eleven-page book on the methods of scientific exploration, and she’s drawing all the pages with an ingenious set of characters she invented. But since the first five pages have puffy letters the rest have to have puffy letters, because otherwise it would look stupid. Or lame. I’m not sure which. But she had to have them, so I went to a place that looked like it would sell puffy letters.

Bought some googly eyes, just in case.

LATER

Well, the driver showed up, got out – tall rangy fellow, older than I expected, as if jumpin’s a young man’s game.

“First thing I gotta say,” he says, first, “I’m a big fan.”

And that just made a bad day a lot better. “My son’s a playwright,” he said. “Maybe you’ve heard of him. Lee Blessing.” Well, yes, I have. He looked at the battery, lifted up a plastic cap, and revealed some bright attractive crystals spilling out of the top.

“Can’t jump this,” he said. Da dada dum! Da Dum! Da Dum! Can’t jump this. But he had a battery in the van, so let’s slap that baby in. While he worked I googled his son, and his last play was “Heaven’s My Destination.” Huh – I remember that title from a very odd old paperback cover, and wasn’t it by Thornton Wilder? Googling . . . why yes.

The battery was replaced quickly, quatloos were deducted from my account, and I was off. Now I’m at a coffee shop while daughter goes AAAIIIEEE at karate. Would have written more, but it’s my day for fans; one came by to say nice things, and say he’d just heard another James speak – James Fallows of the Atlantic had talked at a gathering of Cirrus plane owners in Duluth. He was a Cirrus owner himself. The things you learn.

Unless you read this, that is.

UPDATE: Daughter didn’t use the puffy letters at all because they didn’t have sticky backs so she cut up other letters and used them.

Okay.

 

75 Responses to Papa Mitzvah

  1. Mr_Hat says:

    This is right up Our Genial Host’s alley. Apologies if he’s mentioned it and I’ve missed it.

    As to cleaning out old magnetic media. Know anyone who has an MRI machine?

  2. Neuf says:

    Wait a tic, the Oracle of Wikipedia says Lee Blessing is 61 years old! I know you said his father looked older than you expected, but still!

  3. Philip Scott Thomas says:

    I can’t believe it took me ’til now to twig the title of this Bleat. D’oh!

    Can you explain it to me, please? I appear to be having an EDD (Especially Dim Day).

  4. Chas C-Q says:

    @Philip Scott Thomas:

    * * * SPOILER WARNING! * * *

    It’s a reference to the name of the man who came to help OGH with his car. HTH.

  5. hpoulter says:

    “The naches that I’m feeling right now… ’cause your dad was like mishpoche to me. When I heard I got these ticket to the Folksmen, I let out a geshreeyeh, and I’m running with my friend… running around like a vilde chaye, right into the theater, in the front row! So we’ve got the schpilkes, ’cause we’re sittin’ right there… and it’s a mitzvah, what your dad did, and I want to try to give that back to you. Okeinhoreh, I say, and God bless him!”

    - Lars Olfen, A Mighty Wind

  6. “mitzvah” means blessing? I though it meant more like “ritual”.

    oy.

  7. swschrad says:

    @Mr Hat: MRI machines have the curious property of yanking off the arm holding the drive, to snatch it faster. thems is some big-ass magnets under the plastic hood. hams will be aware that the best source of mildly used but fiendishly costly amplifier tubes in the 3000-5000 watt class come from “medical pulls” — MRIs.

    there are multiple magnets driven by those amplifiers, to get multiple planes of beam detection set up. having made the introduction to one recently, I can tell you there were (by sound) at least a dozen different diag patterns run, at a minute or two each, for about a half hour. in resting periods, you could hear the cooling oil gurgle and bubble.

    @Phillip Scott Thomas: mitzvah. blessing. obviously the “new” battery was full of lox and matzhohs, instead of crystals.

  8. So, as in “Mighty Wind” example it is more like good deed or I assume “good thing that you are suppose to do” so, I can see “blessing” as in “God bless you”.

  9. swschrad says:

    the earliest CAT scanners used kit like 8-bit DG computers for control, and the RF deck for the single magnet drive used a pair of 4-1000s. looked like a single-band 40m linear deck. came across the rejects in an equipment room in the early 80s at a hospital.

  10. Thanks, Chas, I thought it was because today is New Year, and I couldn’t put it together somehow…

  11. Mr_Hat says:

    swschrad – I know a wee bit about MRI magnets. One of the best practical jokes I ever heard of involved one. An ex-jock salesman was pestering one of my colleagues at the hospital and constantly giving stories about his past athletic exploits, so the colleague said “I bet you a dinner that you can’t throw your wallet clean through the MRI opening”. The jock did, but of course he had to replace all his credit cards. Another colleague made the mistake of not clearing her pockets before entering the exam room. She had keys in one pocket.The pants got pretty well shredded as the keys flew through the front of her trousers toward the (fortunately idle) machine.

  12. hpoulter says:

    Well, Lars Olfen is probably not the most authoritative source for proper Yiddish usage, but I’m sure that’s what OGH had in mind.

  13. hpoulter says:

    I guess our resident expert is on Holiday (duh – it’s Rosh Hashanah).

  14. Gumpy Gus says:

    Worked once with an old-timer who could top any computer disk story.

    I had told the one about my first computer, where the disk drive was the size of about 8 stacked pizza bozes, and it held just a mite over two megabytes.

    He of course could top that. He’d worked in an R&D lab where the disk was bigger than the average closet, held 8 megabytes, cost over one MILLION dollars, and self-destructed into a pile of metal shavings the third week.

    See, no need for a sledge-hammer.

  15. When I worked at Seagate, some engineers had older hard drive as door stops. About the size of a desk top CPU and at least 40 lbs.

  16. RWH says:

    And speaking of drive destruction, I happened to get this link today:
    http://campustechnology.com/articles/2011/09/29/how-and-why-to-destroy-old-flash-drives.aspx

    Although what they describe seems like overkill.

  17. GardenStater says:

    I’ve always understood a mitzvah to be a good deed, not a blessing. But I guess it makes sense.

  18. Bob Lipton says:

    A mitzvah is a good deed. It can range from helping old ladies across the street to putting on t’fillin. If it’s a good thing to do, it’s a mitzvah.

    Bob

  19. Chas C-Q says:

    bgbear (roger h): “’mitzvah’ means blessing? I though it meant more like ‘ritual’.”

    I’m not Jewish, but I’ve studied some. If I’m wrong, I welcome correction.

    Unlike Christianity, Judaism does not have salvation by Grace; so, righteous behavior – from scrupulous daily observance to every small kindness – is the way to Heaven. “Blessing,” “ritual,” “good deed,” “obligation,” in some sense all mean the same thing.

  20. Philip Scott Thomas says:

    Ah. I get it now. Thank you,Chas C-Q. It seems I was indeed having an EDD. Quite obvious when it’s explaineded.

    On an entirely unrelated topic, these colour photos of NY in the 1940′s would seem to be right up OGH’s alley.

  21. Stephen Borchert says:

    My mom still asks me if I have enough quatloos. I think it’s going to be the new European currency.

  22. John says:

    @Philip: on the contrary, your link is not unrelated. To what I was saying, anyway. I observe my crack about Eastern European statuary was, at least by one commenter, wildly misconstrued; but not so deep within your reference was something like what I was talking about. I had been referring to images of stalwart Communists, but this derelict hardware will do nicely. By the way, each one is called a spomenik simply because that is the word, in Slovene and I think also in Serbo-Croatian, for “monument” or “memorial.”

    Anyway, great pix of NYC. Our host will be gratified.

  23. CaliforniaJeff says:

    It might be a bit late for James, but car batteries usually serve right up to their rated number of months, or a small margin longer. If you can see the date punched out on the battery, and know if it’s rated for 48 or 60 months, for example, you can make a pretty good inference that it’s an alternator problem if it quits early (assuming reasonable maintenance, if necessary).

    Without good alternator output, the car will be using up the battery’s capacity for its electrical needs, and you’ll be in the same situation a couple of days from now when it goes flat. It’d be cheaper to go to a shop now and get the alternator tested than to perform the test yourself, using the new battery as the guinea pig.

    That wasn’t too pedantic, was it?

  24. Gumpy Gus says:

    As for car batteries, the battery recyclers have a dirty secret– something like 60 to 70% of car batteries that are recycled test out just FINE.

    More common than battery failure is crud that builds up between the terminals and the posts. All it takes is one tiny hundredth of an ohm of resistance and the car won’t crank. But the towtruck and repair guys don’t make any money by using a wire-brush for ten seconds, so they replace the “dead” battery. That’s how a lot of GDP gets racked up.

  25. Ben says:

    I had an alternator fail recently, and the symptoms were way different than that of a failed battery. But of course, the nature of the failure determines the symptoms, so I’m not saying a bad alternator won’t result in sudden loss of starting power without warning… In the case of my alternator failure, I was driving on a rural road in the middle of the night, and I thought my vision was going bad because my headlights kept getting dimmer and dimmer. Then the engine died. Fortunately it was an RV, so I grabbed the house battery and threw it in the engine, managed to get most of the way home before that battery died. Walked the last 3 miles and came back the next morning with a 3rd battery to get the rest of the way home.

    Point being: if your alternator is dead, your battery will die very quickly, and I’m guessing we would have heard about it already. However, if the alternator is just partially bad, i.e. charges but not fast enough, it could be a slower failure that won’t show its face for a few more days. But in my experience, total alternator failure is more common than partial failure.

    Also, I have had more experience with bad voltage regulators than bad alternators. The symptoms are very similar, except the voltage regulator is cheaper and easier to replace (at least it was in that car).

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