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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Decision Made

Let me cut right to the chase and tell you that I won't be finishing the Auto Tech program. This was a really hard decision for me and I wavered back and forth many times before I finally decided to move on. In fact, I'm quite disappointed in the decision, but feel like it's the only way to go because:

1. Going from seeing Rain seven days a week down to just three is a little more than I can handle. I think I miss her more than she misses me, but I'm okay with that.

2. Let's face it. Fixin' cars just isn't exciting enough to me... Like I've said before, I enjoy the theory behind it, but I can do without the actual fixin' of stuff. And it's not the getting-dirty that dissuades me. It's just that I don't find it all that interesting.

Mr. Shado actually asked me to stay after class one night and I took that as my cue to tell him about my decision. Having children (and grandchildren) himself, he understands the family aspect of it. He also knows that I have a really good job that I can fall back on--that I don't need this education or the job that comes with it. He said that he's enjoyed having me as a student (sniff, sniff) and he might not make me take the final (score!!).

What this whole experience has taught me:

1. I'm a little closer to figuring out what I want to do with my life, if only minutely.

2. I'm no longer scared of what goes on in a car. It's not magic. I can figure it out.

3. I went into this whole experience knowing one definition of the word "tranny." Did you know it can mean "transmission" too?

4. It can be done. It's not very comfortable to do in extended periods of time, but this 16-week semester hasn't killed me. (I hope I didn't just jinx myself as I still have three weeks left of classes.) Granted, I'm exhausted by the end of the week, but somehow I came up with an extra 15 hours a week for classes. What else can I do with that time?

Well, I've been thinking a lot on that too.

-I enjoy writing the blog so I might take a class on novel-writing before I write The Great American (paranormal romance) Novel. Stop laughing. It's not that funny. I've always wanted to write a novel.

-My father-in-law gave me a very nice guitar a few years ago that I've been avoiding. I might take a class to help me learn how to play it. Too bad I'm tone deaf. But I can work around that--no one ever said I have to be good at playing it. I can sit out on my porch at night and make the dogs howl. I wonder how long it'll be before ThatGuy takes my guitar away from me.

-I seriously can't wait to get back to my SJK group on Friday nights. I've been missing my knitters so much. I didn't realize how much I counted on the hilarity of Friday nights to start my weekend off on the right foot.

-Of course, we're still in the midst of home improvements so I assume I'll be spending a lot of time working on painting, pulling up carpet and installing hardwood floors. We have 2,000 square feet to do, after all. Plus, I'd like to do this mural on our stair landing. As you can tell, it's a really rough first draft:

Those boxes represent pictures we can hang on the wall and the quote is from The Merchant of Venice: "The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils."

-The technical college has a few online classes on horticulture that have buzzed my ear. Online courses would be much easier to schedule around than campus courses.

-I'd also like to get back to sharing some quality time with my camera. I haven't taken a snapshot for no reason in ages.

-Finally, lord knows I need to get caught up on facebook, words with friends, goodreads and ravelry. And all those books on my TBR list aren't going to read themselves.

But I still have 2.5 weeks of classes left and I’ll be sharing those experiences with you guys, starting with a very embarrassing moment for me during last night's class in my next post.

P.S. Jiffy’s back!

Let's Catch Up.

Well, it's been ages. Let's catch up.

First: Class. We've been going over the various wiring systems in the car: windshield wipers, blowers, horns, stereos, lighting, etc. Not all that interesting to me. I find that the theory behind it all is more interesting than the actual placement of those systems in the cars. Learning how an alternator works is infinitely better than learning how to replace one in a car. And as has been discussed in class, we're learning a lot of things that won't need to be recalled in the shop. Mechanics replace parts; they don't try to fix diodes or stator windings. It's just not economically reasonable to do so. Yes, your alternator might just need one new $2.00 diode, but the labor hours it would take to disassemble your alternator, figure out and fix the problem, and then replace it in the vehicle would be more expensive than simply replacing the entire alternator. Now, if your own alternator breaks, you can take all the time you want to fix it yourself. But again, not many people do that.

Second: Sleepy and Silent Bob. Last night in class, we discussed decibel levels and how you should wear earplugs when working around loud equipment in the shop and even loud music can be harmful to your ears. Now, we all know this to be true. There have been studies that showed that listening to loud sounds is not good for your ears.

Mr. Shado: "Has anyone ever heard of Peter Townsend?"

Me: "Pete Townsend, the musician?"

Mr. Shado: "Yes. Does anyone know what band he was in?"

Silent Bob: "The Who." (At this point, the entire class erupted into laughter and even applause at hearing Silent Bob's voice. He, who normally only shrugs and does a vague hand gesture when asked a direct question, voluntarily opened his mouth and spoke two whole words: The Who.)

Mr. Shado: "That's right. The Who. And he's practically deaf now after listening to music at high decibels for all those years."

Sleepy: "I don't believe that to be true. I mean, I listen to my music at full volume and haven't noticed any difference in my hearing."

Me: "Well, that's because you're twelve." Which made the entire class light up again. And even later in private, Mr. Shado admitted that, while he would not be able to say it in class, it was completely true that he acts 12 most of the time.

Sleepy (in his haughtiest voice and not at all amused at having to speak over the laughter): "I'm actually twenty-two." Imagine the kid who wears these "jeans" to class looking down his nose at me. It goes beyond "stylishly broken in" to "dude, you should totally just throw those away."

Third: I got a new car! I've always loved mini coopers. Well, at least since they Americanized them. We happened to discuss mini coopers a few weeks ago in class.

The Bandit: "For such a small car, they're really great. You've got to get the turbo or you might as well not do it at all."

Me: "Really? I've got an 8-year-old in the backseat and I'm practically a soccer mom. Do I really need all that power?"

Every single guy in the class simultaneously: "Yes!"

The Amateur: "Seriously. When you need to pull ahead in traffic or merge quickly, the extra power really helps out."

So at the recommendation of my car boys, that's what I got. Please meet my Mini Cooper S:

Pretty, ain't she? I've become a serious fan of the turbo.

On a side note, it looks like Jiffy has dropped out of class all together. The last text I received from him said that he was having some family drama and he hasn't shown up since. Here's hoping all is okay in the land of Jif.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Feisty Mechanics

Of all the things that I thought would get my car boys all in a tizzy, I never would have guessed that feisty drama would come in the form of a discussion on dash lights. Yes, dashboard indicator lights. Those lights that tell you when you need to perform maintenance on your car, or when something is wrong, or when you have the ABS system turned on. You see, things never stay on the same topic with these boys. They go from one extreme to the other, following a flow of consciousness that defies my logic.

But first, at the beginning of class while we're patiently and quietly waiting for Mr. Shado to begin speaking, Kicks (so named because he came into class one evening with a sweet pair of green Converse on--I haven't written of him before) got a new text message. We know this because through the silence came his loud text message notification: "You got another fucking text message." I can't help but wonder if his momma knows about his cell phone's proclivity for profanity.

Ah, dash lights. Dash lights led to a discussion on how often you need to change your oil. Mr. Shado offered every 5-6,000 miles, to which The Bandit doubtfully groaned, “I don’t know about that, man. I’d do it more than that.” Which led to a discussion on owner’s manuals (and how I happen to still have mine in my bag from a previous exercise—they all thought I carried it around with me all the time) and how even if your owner’s manual says to change it every 5,000 miles, many of the boys agreed that you should still do it every 3,000. In the end, no resolution was agreed upon and the discussion meandered to how long people have gone without oil changes and all the guys who work in shops compared stories for a while. The longest time between oil changes was 22,000 miles. Seriously. Twenty-Two Thousand Miles. Even I know it should be changed more often than that.

Dash lights then led to a discussion on the high-end vehicle components, like the Heads Up Display that will show your MPH on the windshield as you drive, or the new night vision technology that will project a night vision display onto the windshield on top of the view from the headlights.

All-American: “Yeah, cop cars are being equipped with that these days.”
The Amateur: “I don’t know, man. Every time I’ve been arrested, there wasn’t a night vision camera on the cop car. I mean, they have the front end camera and the GPS and the lap top and the handcuffs. But no night vision camera.”

Later, Boom Box (as he is wont to do) asked Mr. Shado a random question about engines as we were coming back from break:

Boom Box: "Hey Mr. Shado. Do you think they'll ever make a 2 stroke/V8 engine?" (Now, please note that I have no idea what a stroke is in relation to the cylinders in an engine, but there wasn't an opportunity for me to ask as the room erupted into heated discussion. I may get some of the conversation wrong here--there were so many stroke/cylinder combinations coming by in a flurry that I couldn't get it all straight in my head.)
Mr. Shado: "No, I don't think so."
All-American: “Aren’t some aircraft engines made like that?”
Boom Box: "If someone wanted to make one, could he?"
The Bandit: "Well, they have 2 stroke/4 cylinder engines in lawn mowers and stuff."
The Amateur: "I have a 4 stroke/4 cylinder blower that's the most powerful blower on the market." (Many groans of disbelief.) "Seriously, I have a lawn maintenance business and I'm tell you--"
All-American: "So do I and I don't think---"
The Bandit: "My weed whacker has a cord that plugs into the wall, dude."
The Amateur: "You need to get more power, dude. Seriously. I'm telling you. You can't get a more powerful blower than the one I have."
The Bandit: "Oh yes you can. Her name's Alyssa and she's at home."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Rest Easy. All is Well. Even the Tests.

Be at ease. The Mumbler met me before class with a reassuring hug and told me he wouldn't tell anyone about the blog, even though he thought most of them would get a kick out of it. He thought it was quite funny, which is cool.


Yesterday's class was reassuring in more ways than one. I went into this endeavor hoping to get an education out of it which, historically for me, is closely tied to the final grade. It is very hard for me to differentiate between the "must get an A" mentality and the "must get an education" mentality. Back in college, after a miserable start in Microbiology and meeting ThatGuy in Chemistry (Ah, young love. I don't think either one of us passed that class), I figured that area of study was probably not my forte and switched to the ambiguous English degree (15 years later, I can't quite recall my specific area of concentration of English literature). Even with that rough start and having to struggle through three French classes (such a beautiful, lilting language--too bad I retained absolutely none of it), I still graduated with a 3.87, of which I am proud.

For me, success comes in pessimistic degrees. You only succeed if you get an A. A B is simply acceptable and only considered a full success if it's French class. If you get a C, you may have passed the class, but you're only halfway successful. A D is a completely fail and will haunt you for the rest of your life. I still remember that horrible Organic Chemistry debacle.

ThatGuy has told me that the purpose of this whole exercise is to learn something--not to get an A to keep my GPA up. So my new mantras have become: "My final grade may or may not reflect my end knowledge" and "I do not need to be proficient in every aspect of class in order to succeed." It helps me keep priorities in perspective. Should I study all day or spend some time with Rain and study the rest of the time? Do I have time to goof off with Nanook and ThatGuy, or do I need to sequester myself with my 82-lb textbook for hours on end?

So, back to why yesterday's class was reassuring. On Tuesday night, Mr. Shado told us that we were going to have a quiz on the two chapters on alternators the next night. I did not immediately freak out and start typing up notes from the textbook. I did not even take my text book out of my car that night, nor did I take it into work the next day.

I did not want to study for the quiz so I did not study.

You have no idea how hard that sentence was to write. I resisted the urge to study anyway and trusted in the knowledge that I learned in class to make a good (enough) grade on the exam. And it was. In fact, I got 20 out of 25 correct (which, oddly enough, computed to a total grade of 100%), which pleased me greatly. Those 5 incorrect answers did not disturb me nearly as much as I thought they would.

Plus, I know how an alternator works. And I call that a complete success.

In closing, here's a t-shirt that All-American wore the other night and I found myself relating to it. Aren't we always on a search for ourselves? If you think you've found me, please let me know. You might be right.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Batteries, Alternators and Facebook Makes Me Foolish

For the past week or so we've been going over batteries and alternators. We all know how a battery works (in general): it's a case that has stored electricity. You hook it up to something and it'll provide electricity until it dies. Your car's battery doesn't die because your car's alternator feeds electricity back to it to keep it charged. Your battery's main goal in life is simply to start your car. After that, the alternator feeds the "hungry little bears" (as Mr. Shado would say) that make up all the components of your car.

One of the most interesting things I've learned in the past 10 weeks (interesting to me, that is--this may be basic knowledge to most of you) is that magnetism plays a huge role in the creation of electricity. I never realized this; I guess I never even thought about how electricity was created. If you move a wire over a magnetic field, current is created inside the wire. Current running through a wire creates a magnetic field over the wire. This is why a compass will change its direction when moved closer to a wire.

So you have a battery that needs help to maintain a charge, and you have an alternator that uses a little bit of the battery's charge to create a magnetic field that creates a whole lot of juice that feeds both the battery and the rest of the car components. Make sense? 3-5 amps of current going into the alternator can become 100 amps coming out of it.

Call me weird, but I think that's pretty cool.

Finally, The Mumbler has found me out. I blame it all on Facebook and The Mumbler's step-daughter. You see, he's shown me pictures of artwork his step-daughter has done that is quite impressive and pretty. I wanted to show it to my cell-mate at work because her daughter is also a really good artist and thought she would enjoy seeing it. He also asked me about some pictures I took from our Disney trip a few years ago and I offered to share those with him. So fast Facebook friends we became.

It didn't register to me that I post blog updates to Facebook and that I might want to continue my incognito journey for a while longer, until I got an email notification of a new comment on my post Dangers, New Players and I'm Found Out (Kinda):

My initial reaction was that it was a fluke. Someone's just playing a prank. But then I thought a little more about it and realized exactly how I outted myself. Stupid Facebook. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. My next thought, of course, was of damage control. Will he out me to everyone in the class? Should I backtrack and revise anything in the blog before I get crucified tonight? Not that I've said anything bad or evil or untrue--it's just that people don't like to find themselves the topic of conversations without their knowledge, and I can understand that.

The last place I want to find myself is having to defend something I've said online to these boys, but I'm not going to make any changes. I'm going to play it very cool tonight. Maybe it was just a prank. Maybe The Mumbler doesn't go on Facebook very often and my posts are always on the bottom of his update list. Yeah, right.

Having said that, if I could change anything, it would be the player names, especially The Amateur. The name I gave him doesn't really fit him, but I really wanted to write about him and wit wasn't something I was blessed with that day. I still don't know what I would call him. His true and proper nickname eludes me still.

But for tonight, please cross your fingers that all goes well. I'll report tomorrow on what happens (or doesn't happen). If you don't hear from me, you should probably worry. Those boys have lots of guns. And let's not forget about Jiffy's leaf-spring bow.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

MBTI Test Results

As part of my very first semester at school, while waiting for the auto tech program to have a spot open for me, I took EMPL1000 Interpersonal Relations, which was a required course and I likened it to "Hey! Congratulations! You just graduated from high school and here's how you work well with others and get a job!" Part of that class was taking the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, which is a personality test to determine your tendencies for extraversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, judging/perceiving. Once they determine those levels, they can give you a list of professions that should most complement your personality traits. The results were quite interesting. Please bear with me while I give you my results. Jobs were scored on 100 points, with 100 being the most attractive job. I've bolded the professions that I've considered in the past. Please note where mechanic fits into the list...

Most attractive jobs
100-school teacher, librarian, school administrator, university faculty
93-artist, coach, musician, reporter
82-community service manager, career counselor, clergy, social worker
72-pediatrician, dentist, physical therapist, lab technician
70-biologist, chemist, economist, psychologist
67-gardener, tree trimmer, housekeeping, lawn service supervisor
Moderately attractive jobs
59-bank teller, receptionist, clerical services, legal secretary (this is what I currently do)
56-lawyer, arbitrator, paralegal, court reporter
53-personal trainer, hairdresser, child care provider
51-farmer, agricultural inspector
44-chef, bartender, programmer, database administrator, mathematician
41-marketing, human resources, finance
39-veterinary assistant, nurse's aide
39-real estate agent, insurance agent
34-architect, mechanical engineer
Least attractive jobs
28-military (infantry member, air crew officer, radar operator)
24-cabinetmaker, power plant operator, machinist
22-carpenter, plumber, electrician, stonemason
20-pilot, air traffic controller
18-firefighter, police officer, mechanic

That's the end of the list. The very bottom. It doesn't go any lower than 18. This doesn't mean that I can't become a good mechanic. It simply means that if I truly want to be a mechanic, I'll have to put forth extra effort and work really hard to do it. The question becomes, how hard do I want to fight against my nature to achieve the results?

The answer is that I still don't know.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Getting Dirty and Lessons Learned in the Process

Last night was our general automotive class. Before Spring Break, we were instructed to bring oil and an oil filter if we wanted to change our oil during lab so, knowing my car desperately needed an oil change, I was sure to buy all the right things before class yesterday.

I admit I was quite excited to get my car up on the lift to get a good look at the underside and finally learn how to do something on my own car, even if it was something as simple as an oil change. But part of a proper oil change is an inspection of your vehicle and I was really more interested in getting to know the ins and outs of my particular car. The following should be checked during routine oil changes: air filter, cabin air filter, tires/tire pressure, rotation/balance of tires (and if off balance, check the brakes for reasons why), fluids (brake, transmission, power steering, antifreeze), lights, hoses, steering/suspension (bounce test), and a general visual inspection for leaks. It's also nice to know the past service history of the vehicle so you can determine when rotors, belts and other things were changed. The Amateur commented that the vast majority of people did not know any of these things and I believe he's right; I don't remember the last time my timing belt or rotors were changed/serviced. Apparently, I don't even know how many miles are on my car (see below).

Mr. Forrest is very pragmatic about the realities of working in a shop so he was sure to say that not every mechanic will inspect all of these, but a good mechanic will not only inspect these items, but also check service information to see what routine maintenance is recommended for the specific mileage of your vehicle (if only to upsale the oil change into additional work).

Before we headed out to lab, I was already learning stuff about my car. Or, rather, I was learning what I did not know about my car. Specifically, I had no idea my car had 120,000 miles on it (I guessed around 85,000), or that it was an Elantra GT instead of an Elantra GLS. Lesson one: These are things you need to know in order to look up accurate service information about the suggested manufacturer's maintenance schedule.

When I drove my car up to the lift machine, we started our inspection. Everyone was crowded around the car and Mr. Forrest was in front of the hood. "OK, Holly. Pop the hood." I popped it. People were talking and goofing off so a few seconds later, he said again, "You can pop the hood, Holly." I popped it again. Twice even. He still couldn't get it up. And then I hear The Amateur's voice coming from the back of the car: "Holly, you're popping the trunk!" followed by a lot of laughing and head-shaking from the whole group. I don't think I'll ever live that down. Lesson two: Know the difference between popping the hood and popping the trunk before you attempt to do anything in front of a dozen car-boys.

Visual inspection showed that I needed two lights (left rear brake and front left side blinker), power steering and antifreeze top-offs, and a hold down mechanism for my battery. My cabin air filter was missing entirely and my tires looked awesome but needed some air. And so began my oil change. Lesson three: Oil can be very hot when it comes out of the oil pan so care needs to be taken to avoid burns. It's also a very, very messy affair.

All-American toted me to the car store to purchase the extra stuff. I was glad to have experienced help in locating the items until I realized five seconds into the store that I was going it alone when All-American spoke to the guy behind the counter. "Hey, Eric. How's the Mustang coming along?" I politely interjected my questions around pictures of tires and engines and discussions of other car-related things that have no meaning to me but clearly enthralled All-American and Eric for quite a while. Eventually I learned lesson four: There are two types of antifreeze that you can buy: pure antifreeze and 50/50 blend. Always buy the pure antifreeze as the blend is simply 50% antifreeze and 50% water and you can mix it yourself at home. The price difference is staggering.

At the end of the night, I felt like I knew my way around my car much better than before and left with a renewed belief that the education I'm learning is beneficial in its own right.

But I admit I was quite wary driving down the interstate and half-way expected something I touched during the lab to pop off and cause a big accident with great bodily damage. Lesson five: I'm not extremely confident of my car-prowess just yet but hopefully it'll come with time and experience.