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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.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Decision-Making Time

I have really thought hard about this post. I have Spring Break this week and since none of my young and crazy classmates invited me to Panama City Beach for the week, I'm stuck at home. Well, I would probably be stuck at home even if they did invite me to PCB, but honestly, as a whole they seem less the PCB-type than the why-go-somewhere-when-you're-only-going-to-drink-beer-on-the-couch-type. That might be stereotyping, but I've never been known for my tact.

This Spring Break marks a great turning point for my schooling. We've been instructed to register for the next two classes in our diploma program: Steering & Suspensions and Automatic Transmissions. Now is the time for me to decide whether or not I'll continue with the program. So, after a lot of thought and if I'm completely honest with myself (and you), here a few things I've learned in the past 8 weeks:

  1. I like the idea of getting my hands dirty, but haven't really had the chance to test this idea. We haven't done much car work. But let's face it: I've had many opportunities to go investigate my own tires after learning about them in class, but I never did. I'd rather stay inside reading or goofing off than look at my car.

  2. I don't understand it as well as I thought I would. That's not to say that I thought it wouldn't be difficult--I did. I just thought it would all make more sense in my head than it does. What I'm finding is that my brain doesn't work very well in the mechanical field. To say that invisible magnetic fields create electricity sounds easy enough, but my brain hears it, acknowledges it as truth, and then promptly forgets it. There's no flow of thought or reasoning behind it (at least to my brain). I'm much more of a persuasive thinker and not a factual thinker, if that makes sense.

  3. I enjoy my classmates. But I dislike them at times as well. Like when they start telling dirty jokes (and not dirty jokes that you might hear on The Tonight Show, but seriously dirty, nasty jokes), or like when Jiffy said a rhyme to help remember the colors on a fuse that talked about raping girls. Things that I really object to (and I don't object to much).

  4. I really enjoy writing about them, though. In fact, the blog has been a really nice result from my schooling. I enjoy writing and talking with everyone about it.

  5. I miss my family more than I thought I would, and Rain hasn't adjusted as well as I would have liked. I call her every night during my breaks, but I don't think it's enough for her. It's not that we did very much during the week before school started, but the simple fact that we're not able to do anything now upsets her.

  6. I still have moments when I get discouraged with my day job, but I don't see myself pursuing auto tech as a profession once I get my diploma. But at the same time, that doesn't affect my decision on whether I will continue in the program; I think it's time well-spent in itself.

  7. I desperately miss my free time. I haven't picked up knitting needles in weeks and I haven't checked out my forums on in even longer. I miss my Friday night knitting group!

  8. Things may become even more chaotic in our household. Nanook is waiting to hear about her acceptance into a Physician Assistant program and once that starts, she'll no longer be at home during the day to take care of homework and dinner before ThatGuy gets home.

Having said all of that, I have a few weeks before I have to register for next semester. I'm still on the fence about it. I've enjoyed my time, but should I move on? Should I stick with the program for another semester? Should I register for a different diploma program and start all over? Should I bow out and accept that the knowledge I've gained as enough?
I'll let us both know when I figure it out.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Package Shows Up and The Amateur's Dark Past

The missing package showed up Monday with no real answers to the conundrum of its recent whereabouts. See that mark by "Express Plus"? That was me. See that mark by "Standard"? I don't remember doing that. Now, I'm not denying the possibility of a psychotic lapse in judgment or momentary black-out, and I admit that I don't have the best of memories and I've found myself doing stupid stuff occasionally that I don't remember (especially since the appearance of Rain eight years ago), but I don't think I made that X next to "Standard" and I certainly wouldn't have done such a sloppy job of it. But who did? Maybe the person sending it to us. Maybe the store where he dropped it off for shipment. Maybe the UPS driver didn't see my X and thought it should go ground? The only thing I'm confident of is I'm going to hold tight to the lessons learned and let the rest fall behind. The deal closed on time. Signatures were sent and received. My boss did not kill me.

So, in the interest of moving on, I thought I would share a story that The Amateur (who's not really an amateur now since he got a job at a real shop) related to us the other night. He doesn't always have the best of luck (do you remember the story about his snapping off the door of a vehicle because he forgot to close the door before he backed it out of a garage?). It turns out that he has some history with the law. And with his luck being as it is, a good plan can turn south really quickly. For this story, his lawyer worked really hard to negotiate down his jail sentence to only a week. He knew beforehand which week he was going to the pokey so he simply took a week off work, told them he was going way out of town and wouldn't be available at all, and they all wished him a happy vacation.

Then the paper publishes the mug shots of the people going to jail and his job sees his happy mug staring at the camera (well, I'm sure he didn't actually smile for his mug shot but he did feel some measure of satisfaction in maneuvering to keep his jail time secret). Needless to say (given his luck), his job sees his mug and they fire him, which sucked. I feel bad for the guy. He did his time and still got fired.

This week we're continuing our discussion on starter motors and then have a mid-term exam Thursday night. Wish me luck! We're also getting a new roof on Thursday. Busy day!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Networking Night

Last night we had a "networking night" for the automotive classes. It was the first of its kind so there was bound to be a little incongruity as we didn't know what to expect from the speakers and the speakers didn't know what was expected of them and the organizers didn't seem to guide anyone into a particular direction. I thought the first speaker was appropriate. He was the general manager of Setco, which is a spindle company (for use on grinders and other shop equipment). He wants to set up a co-op program within his company and invited those mechanically-inclined in the room to apply. The most interesting part of his spiel was his list of requirements for applicants. First on the list was a mechanical ability, but the rest dealt with personality: works well with others, sense of humor, positive attitude. He said that they can train you how to do the job, but you would have work well with the other employees in order to have and keep the job. Which I think is entirely true.

The second speaker was more of an inspirational speaker without the inspiration. He went through his history and how he got to where he is and everything he's been through to get there. But it wasn't very inspiration or helpful. In fact, he was in the military at one point and worked on a tank/truck that The Mumbler also worked on in his stint in the military and The Mumbler really called the speaker out as an idiot when we got back into the classroom. Even Mr. Shado didn't have complimentary things to say about him. The man loved to hear himself talk. And talk he did. For entirely too long. At one point, the speaker was talking about Syria and a river in South America (I can't remember which one) and The Mumbler said afterwards, "I might not be a geographer. Or a topographer. Or even own a globe. But I know those two places are halfway around the world from each other." I thought the most revealing thing he said was that on Friday nights, he treats himself to five straight hours specifically to get lost on wikipedia, which allows me to deem him officially boring. Everyone knows you're supposed to get lost on wikipedia during working hours.

TGIF, everyone. My weekend is going to be spent interviewing roofing companies, helping Rain with her multiplication tables and division homework, reading my automotive textbook and doing chapter review questions, and sleeping. Hopefully a lot of sleeping.

This was one of the reasons I took up auto tech school in the beginning:

Have a good one.
P.S. The missing package is still missing.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Jiffy and the Po-Po, New Tools and Lost Kitties

Jiffy almost got arrested yesterday. He finally finished his leaf spring bow and arrow set and had gone out with his friends a few times to the high tension power lines area (for a long, open space) to do some test runs. (here's wiki on leaf springs) The first time went off without a hitch. The arrow traveled 300 yards and made some notes on what adjustments needed to be made to the arrow (steel tubing instead of rebar and adjustments to the counterweights). Yesterday when they went out, someone called the police saying that they were shooting off a cannon. So the police showed up, cuffed everyone and kept asking where their cannon was and wouldn't believe any of them when they denied having a cannon. Four hours later, the police finally believe them and they're uncuffed and dismissed just in time for Jiffy to get to class.

ThatGuy bought me some mechanic's tools! My friend Blondie at work thinks I need to paint it pink. In fact, she insists I do so and I probably will. The boys in my class would love it. Either that or they wouldn't care at all. It's impossible to tell with them. I tried to show Jiffy a picture that Rain drew and he did not oohh and aahh like the ladies at work. He did not show the proper respect for an 8-year-old's drawings. He actually showed more interest when I showed him a picture of my cat. I can't figure these boys out.

And speaking of cats, SciFi took hold of my comments yesterday about welcoming kitties with open arms and threatened to drop off a basket of kitties at my house one night while I'm sleeping. You see, SciFi has a problem. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" belongs on SciFi's front door instead of the Statue of Liberty. The neighborhood kitties have probably pissed a sign on her front stoop that announces that the hotel is open for business--SciFi just can't see it. Is it cold and rainy? SciFi will crack her garage door for you. Hungry? SciFi will not only feed you a can of kitty food, but will sprinkle little appetizer treats on it when it's especially cold or rainy and you need a little extra love. If you act real sick, she'll probably even take you to the vet and deny that you're her kitty, but if you look at her just right, before you know it, you have a new name and a new home. One set of my in-laws is like this, only with dogs. They're unable to walk away from a puppy in pain and since my father-in-law reads meters, he walks a lot of neighborhoods. Animals recognize a kindred spirit when they see him and he's unable to refuse.

But what would the world do without the SciFi's and In-Laws out there? My hope is that for every idiot ass who terrorizes or abandons or mistreats an animal, there's at least one SciFi or In-Lawa out there with hearts large enough to feed and pamper the rejected animals. Who knows what situations these little creatures escaped from? SciFi and In-Laws are far from those crazy hoarders who can't take of their animals; they keep them clean and healthy and fed and happy. So thank you, SciFi and In-Laws. You make the animal world a safer and happier place. Just don't bring any of them to my house in the middle of the night!

Finally, the missing package still hasn't shown up. I'm ignoring its entire existence and hope it has jumped off the roof of some tall building never to show its face again.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Stress at Work; Stress at School

Yesterday was one of those days that makes you want to dig your head down into the sand until the sun goes down and then drink a few beers to help give you the courage to get up in the morning and start all over again.

At my day job, we’ve been working really hard on getting a certain deal to close. Last Friday we sent out big packages by overnight delivery with documents for people to sign and then overnight back to us. To make everything simpler, we included a return UPS slip that I had already filled out with our information. All the people had to do was sign the pages and slip them back into the package and, zoom, off it would go only to show up first thing in the morning on our doorstep like a little lost kitten wanting to find a home. And we would smile and welcome it with open arms.

But when neither package had shown up by 9:30, I started to sweat. Neither package showing up implied that the return UPS slips were wrong. And that meant, worst case scenario, I could have delayed closing a day or more, every one of the 50 documents would have to be re-dated to a new March date, our clients would have to regroup and sign everything again, the other side would have to regroup (from different states, no less) and sign everything again. And not just everything – 4 copies of everything. All because I probably forgot to put a little tiny X somewhere in a little tiny box on a UPS slip.

What’s worse is that I forgot to save the tracking numbers for the return packages. And the recipients didn’t save them either. My boss (bless her little heart) could see that I was on the verge of hysteria so she did her best not to say “Why the hell didn’t you keep the tracking numbers?!? A lesson was learned here today!” but I could see it. Hell, I was saying it. 10:30 rolled around and one package showed up. I barely refrained myself from reaching out and embracing the guy from the mailroom and laying a good one right on his lips. He took half of my troubles away.

At noon, we decided to go to Plan B, which was to .pdf all the signature pages, email them to the lawyer on the other side and ask his clients to re-sign all the documents before the final call in the morning at 9:30. They would have to email back their signatures and put the originals in overnight mail to us. Simply accepting that the other package was not going to show up and moving on to Plan B helped calm me even more. But there was a rush to get it all emailed out so I could leave on time to get to my class. As of this writing, the second package still hasn’t come in and I’m still stressed on whether there will be a little box missing its X and all eyes will fall on me again.

After a stressful day at work, class was also stressful. Mr. Shado walked in and said “So, does anyone have any questions on how a DC motor works?” What? Huh? DC Motor? Oh, yeah, I remembered, I forgot to read the chapters I was supposed to read. The ones on the cranking system. Great. After a lengthy and confusing discussion on motors, our homework was to write a short paragraph on how the DC motor works, so I thought I would do it here:

A motor is a way to convert electricity into mechanical power—how you get a battery to create physical motion. It all has to do with magnetic fields. You have a moveable armature that you surround with magnets. When you hook up current to the armature, it magnetizes the armature to where one side is attracted to the magnet on the other side of the motor so it moves towards it. By the time it gets to where it’s going, there’s a break in the current and the other side of the armature gets attraction that makes it also move and the inertia pushes the first part of the armature away from its magnet, which becomes attracted to the other side of the motor. And round and round it goes.

For someone who has never thought about the inner workings of mechanical things, this concept was hard for me to understand. But it eventually sunk in. During class I asked if we could make these simple DC motors at home and Mr. Shado commented that he made one when he was a kid out of a Cub Scout book and now I can too! Jiffy volunteered to go to Hobby Lobby to pick up a kid’s motor kit so this 35-year-old woman can understand how it works. Maybe we should just snag a 5-year-old Cub Scout to teach me. On the way out, Mr. Shado commented, “Holly? Do you get it? Are you beginning to understand? Because if you can understand it, I think the others in the class can too. You know, since you’re starting from zero and all.”

Didn’t that just make me feel like the smartest tool in the shed. I went home and enjoyed my two well-earned beers before bed. If that package ever comes in and has a missing X, I claim the rest of the 6-pack.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tests, Nightmares and Waiting for Number Three

Last Thursday night I bugged off class in order to attend Rain's Black History Month musical at her elementary school, and I'm really glad I did because she played the pivotal role as a narrator and was at the front of the stage the entire night. She did wonderfully and made me proud. I told Mr. Shado the week before that I would need to be out, but he still assigned a test for the night anyway. I panicked for a moment until he told me he would email it to me and I could just turn it in the next week. We were busy all day Saturday so when I sat down on Sunday to study before the test, I kept studying. And studying and studying. I knew it was closed-book and I had to take the test that night, but I kept putting it off to look over a few more notes or quickly go over a certain chapter before I deemed myself ready to take the test. After about seven hours of this, I gave it up and took the test (in pen, to help keep me honest). It was a book-generated test which pulls out random information that no mechanic would really need to be able to pull out of her head on a moment's notice, like when you use a scan tool to check your vehicle's computer, which terminal in the data link connector leads to the automatic seat warmers in a 2010 Honda. There's no way I can remember that. Well, I guess I could remember that, but not that plus terminal numbers for every other computer module in that Honda plus Toyotas and Chryslers and General Motors vehicles. And I don't think Mr. Shado expects us to memorize all of that information--it was just on the test because it was book-generated and I hope Mr. Shado alters the results to account for that. Otherwise, I think I did ok (probably a B... I'll let you all know when I get the final grade).

Monday nights have become our lab nights and I have to start bringing some jeans and t-shirts to change into; I got grease all over a pretty black and white flowered top last night. (I don't have enough daytime work clothes as it is and now I go destroying the ones I do...) We were to perform vehicle inspections and Mr. Forrest offered to have a couple of our cars inspected as part of the lab. I really wish my car was clean enough to show to the rest of the students, but there's random flotsam and jetsam that ends up in cars when you drive as much as I do and carry around kids: coke bottles, granola bar wrappers, one of SugarFoot's shoes, several sweaters of Rain's, and books and papers scattered helter-skelter throughout the interior. I was too embarrassed to offer it up for inspection even though I really could have used one. Instead, we inspected Jiffy's car and found a few oil leaks and air pressure issues in his tires among other things, all of which he already knew about.

Little Rain had a nightmare last night. I assume all 8-year-olds have nightmares on occasion, but she has about one a month that really distress her. She usually doesn't want to talk about them--just wants to be cuddled and reassured for several minutes and then have someone change the subject so she can move on with her day, which happens rather quickly in our chaotic household. But last night's dream was about my 88-year-old grandmother who was performing a magic trick and laid down on her bed and lit herself on fire. She was unhurt, but then started biting Rain with really sharp teeth. says "To dream that you are being bitten represents your vulnerability regarding some unresolved issues or emotions. You may be pestered by a problem or obstacle. The dream may also be a metaphor indicating that you have bitten off more than you chew. Perhaps you have too much to handle." If this is true and my 8-year-old daughter has bitten off more than she can chew, she may be headed for stomach ulcers as we get closer to her tumultuous teenage years. She's always been a little perfectionist (a strong Virgo) and rather high-strung at times.

Back at the homestead, we've had a run of bad luck lately. First, we discovered a water heater leak that had been leaking for some time and damaged the subfloor below it. Then our oven went out. Now, we're impatiently and anxiously waiting for number three. I had to jump off ThatGuy's car the other morning and thought perhaps that would be our third and final problem, but it's been acting fine since then--just a scare. Cross your fingers that it's easily (and cheaply) fixable.

With our three adults, two kids, two dogs and one cat household, we've decided to keep this Halloween decoration up all year on our front door:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jiffy's Still Alive and Household Experts

I walked into class a few days ago to find All-American and Jiffy sitting at the computer looking at pictures and what I saw was quite disturbing. It was a picture of a teenage boy on a motorcycle riding down a residential street, one hand on the handlebar and the other holding a gas-powered chainsaw. And the chainsaw was running. Seriously. The more I get to know Jiffy, the more I'm surprised he's still alive. It wasn't him in the picture, but I get the feeling he's usually right in the thick of things. Another example is that he's currently in the process of making a bow out of a leaf spring from a truck (long flat slightly curved metal that's used in suspension assemblies) with an arrow made out of steel rebar. He's having to create a pneumatic arm that can actually cock the arrow in the bow because regular humans aren't strong enough. When I asked him what he intends to shoot with it, he shrugged his shoulders, which I took to mean "I'm sure I'll come up with something." But what I've come to realize, and this is the part of the beauty of Jiffy, is that it's not about the end product so much as it is about the journey. Simply figuring out how to make the bow and successfully putting it together is an accomplishment; it doesn't matter what he ends up doing with it. It also doesn't matter how many times he gets it wrong before he figures it out. Because he will figure it out. Eventually.

At 15 years his senior, I'm just now starting to learn how to do this. In the past, I've always done things because the journey was only significant in that it helped me get to the goal, which was clear and purposeful. I really thought that there's no reason to start a journey until you have a clear idea of what your goal is. It wasn't until I signed up for this auto mechanics course that I realized I have no idea what the destination looks like and the journey is changing every day. It's kinda fun.

In class, we've transitioned from learning the basics of electronics into how electricity works in a vehicle, starting with batteries. And batteries are kind of boring.

Yesterday, Nanook was teaching Rain how to cut a mango and Rain started talking about our household experts. It was quite enlightening to see how Rain views our roles in the household. We each had two areas of expertise: SugarFoot's was in not eating dinner very well and being a 3 year old; Nanook's was in cooking and growing things; ThatGuy's was in doing nothing and computers; and my expertise was in reading and coffee. Interestingly, Rain's expertise was in cutting things and drawing (Alternatively, I would deem Rain's expertise is watching TV and complaining about SugarFoot touching her stuff). I noticed that no one's expertise was in cleaning (my mom would be quite disturbed and very disappointed). So what does this say about our household? Well, obviously, she thinks we should be doing more stuff. At least, ThatGuy and I should. In my defense, I just can't bring myself to sit with her and actually watch what she prefers to watch on TV so I pick up my nook and read in the living room while she watches TV. When ThatGuy's on the computer or in his office, she doesn't see what he does so she deems it nothing when really, he's doing something worthwhile. I'm sure of it, although I also don't know what he's doing...

The Mumbler came in with this t-shirt on last night. Again, his 17-year-old stepdaughter picked it out, which I think is awesome.
Have a nice day.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Slothville, Circuitry and Good Friends

I spent the weekend in Slothville. I was off from the day job on Friday and Monday and the kids were both out of town with their grandparents so we had a very quiet house. We didn't watch The Disney Channel at any point the entire weekend. And at our house, that's an accomplishment. With a 3-year-old and 8-year-old, I end up having annoying theme songs to stupid Disney shows stuck in my head all day long.

I did play a little with my new electronics toy from RadioShack. It took me a little while to decipher what I needed to do, but eventually I ended up with this:

See that little LED light? It blinked when it was supposed to, which is totally awesome. There's a capacitor in there, an integrated circuit, three resistors and lots of wires. I was really proud of myself. At least, I was until Rain came home from my parents' house and we attempted a more complicated circuit together and couldn't get it to work. But fear not, I can be a stubborn little wench when I need to be and plan to try and try again until the damn speaker beeps when it's supposed to. I'll keep you posted.

On Saturday night our good friend Rocky came down from the boondocks and we indulged ourselves with a rare dinner out. Steaks and burgers and beer and margaritas with all the fixins. It felt great to go out with friends (and without kids) with nowhere to be afterwards so we could take our time and just enjoy each other's company. I found myself sitting around a table with my husband of 15 years and two girlfriends I've known for longer than that and I realized that I've known and loved these people for half my life. We have a solid history together. Through divorces and addictions and financial problems, we've always had each other with no judgments or accusations or drama. Rocky lived with us for a while a long time ago and Nanook currently lives with us, so we've all grown accustomed to each other and to say that dinner was relaxing is an understatement. It was just what I needed to rejuvenate myself from the stress of work, school and life in general. I'm sure those of you out there who have friends like these would agree that it's a special kind of blessing.

Rocky's an awesome girl. She's offered her ex-girlfriend's car that's currently dead in Rocky's driveway to me as a project car (a '94 Honda Prelude) and I'm really thinking about taking her up on it. Plus, she came over Saturday with her hands all busted up from changing her own ignition coil, spark plugs and wiring in her truck. It didn't solve her problem, but still. She did it herself and that's a little bit of wonderful. I want to be like Rocky one day. Well, except for the gay part since I'm married to a man and all.

In Monday night's class, we went to the lab and I created this little piece of awesomeness:

That's a 1.5" square piece of metal that I hacked off from a larger piece of metal (with a hacksaw, no less. It might have taken me a really long time, but I kicked that metal's ass eventually). That's also a 2" long 1/4" diameter metal post that I threaded myself with a die set. I ran out of time (did I mention that it took me a long time to hack through that metal?), but next Monday I'll drill a hole into the middle of the block and tap threads into it so that my new fancy bolt can screw into the block. Mr. Forrest called it quits right after I'd tapped "H O" into my block and I was seriously tempted to leave it like that so I could go around showing off my "HO" block, but The Mumbler finished it off for me.

Brooklyn (the guy who sits to my left) came into class on Monday with an awesome "How to Avoid Getting a Job" t-shirt that I now can't find anywhere on the internet. So I'm reminded of one of Rocky's old t-shirts that I always loved and thought I would share it with you guys:

I don't give a rat's ass.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Basic Review, Moonshine and Stress

Class Wednesday night was a fast one. Mr. Shado came in with packets of paper labeled BASIC REVIEW QUESTIONS (which I took to mean, "You should all know this by now") and sent us home to do them ourselves. I walked out with All-American and Jiffy and our conversation went something like this:

AA: "Wow. The sun. I can't believe we can see the sun. I don't know what to do with myself."
Me: "Well, I'm going home to eat dinner with my family for once."
Jiffy: "Is that an invitation?"
Me: "Sure! We're having stuffed chicken and it's going to be delicious."
Jiffy: "Well, no work tomorrow and no school tonight and I've got a gallon of moonshine in my car."
Me: "Party hard, huh?"
Jiffy: "Well, there's I'm having a great time drunk and then there's puking on a cop car drunk, and I don't want to go back there. Cops don't like it when you puke on their cars."

So we all went our separate ways and I got to do my BASIC REVIEW QUESTIONS in the comfy chair in my living room. It was open-book, but I attempted all the questions by myself first and the results weren't too promising. I would have gotten a C (and barely a C at that).

SciFi (she's my BFF at work) gave me some girl scout cookies on Thursday that I took to class for everyone to enjoy. All-American accused me of trying to bribe my way to an A, which just encouraged Mr. Shado to go on and on about how he knew I would get an A because I did the work and always wrote stuff down in my notebook (apparently, not many other people take actual notes in the class). And since Mr. Shado reminds me more and more of my own papa, I want to make him proud of me. So the pressure is seriously on, yo.

I dreamed last night. I don't remember exactly what it was about, but I know it had something to do with electronics and tests and class. According to ThatGuy, I've been grinding my teeth at night which attests to the added stress I'm under. And I'm not the only one in the family with added stress. ThatGuy's company just got acquired (very stressful in terms of job security, but everything went well), Nanook's waiting to hear if she got into a very exclusive program at Emory University (she'll find out mid-March), and Rain has a speaking part in her school's Black History Month musical next Thursday (she's a little nervous) and she's also waiting to hear about whether or not she got into the school's gifted program. (SugarFoot is the only one who's not pulling his hair out and I'm convinced it's because he lives in the blissful world of three year olds. Plus, he's been out with his grandparents for the past week so I'm confident his every whim has been lushly fulfilled).

Plus, I think mommas in general try to take on a little piece of everyone else's stress to add to their own. It's like we have to do everything--have our hands in everyone's pies to make sure they all taste good enough. And if they don't taste good enough, mommas try to take some of the blame for that too. I'm not surprised that all the stress has run over into my dreams. Rain went to my parents' last night and SugarFoot is still with his grandparents, so this weekend is a good opportunity for restful recuperation. I intend to catch up with my knit girls and work on a lace shawl for at least a few hours tonight. And then back to the electronics tomorrow.

Jiffy didn't show up on Thursday night so I texted him after class to see if he was alive or if the moonshine did him in. His response was just that he was sick and throwing up, which I took to mean the moonshine did him in. At least we know he's alive.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Removing Batteries, Changing Tires and Rubbing Nuts

Last night we performed two of the mandatory tasks that are required in order to pass the class: change a tire and remove and reinstall a battery. We'll also have to do an oil change, but we haven't gotten to that yet.

Before last night, I had never touched a tire before. What's more, I had never used a ratchet or torque wrench either. While I had touched a battery (to get it out of the way so that I could replace my headlight--that was before I knew that you shouldn't tilt your battery), I had never removed one before. Let me tell you, you've never been under the gun if you've never had a dozen boys stand around telling you how to use a ratchet all at the same time. And of course all that pressure made me very nervous so I immediately forgot how to use it so they had to tell me again. And then again when I was loosening instead of tightening. I was rushing too, trying to make sure I wasn't the slowest in the class, but wonderfully, when I was done The Ex smiled and said that I did it faster than some of the others before me, which made me happy. For the tire, we had to take off the lug nuts, remove the tire and put it on the floor, visually inspect the tire, replace it and then torque the nuts to 100 ft. lbs.

By the way, if you are installing two new tires and keeping two old ones, the new tires should be installed on the back of the car regardless of whether you have a front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive. If you don't believe me (and ThatGuy doesn't), see this information from Michelin for an explanation.

We were allowed to go home once we finished the assignment and The Mumbler went first but didn't go home (his wife was "talking to" the kids tonight so he figured he would be better off just staying away for another little while to see if he could avoid the drama). So The Mumbler was close by when I started working on my tire and was very helpful (I was supposed to do it all by myself, but I think Mr. Forrest gave me a little leeway in that regard). The Mumbler helped me hold the tire on while I was taking off the lug nuts and when I was reaching to pick the tire up off the floor, he leaned down and asked if it was too heavy for me. Which was very chivalrous and appreciated, but at the same time, I've got to learn it all for myself so I politely declined. And then my feet got caught on my own Birkenstocks and I almost fell down. Such is life. At least I didn't fall down on my ass.

And speaking of lug nuts, The Mumbler came in wearing this shirt last night:

Apparently, his wife and 17-year-old step-daughter found this shirt at the local Goodwill and told him he needed to wear it to class last night. He later apologized if I was offended; he told his wife and daughter that he would wear it before remembering that there was a "lady" in the class who might be offended. I wasn't offended by his shirt (I found it quite funny actually) and his chivalry of the evening was refreshing. And he's not the only chivalrous guy in the group either. Pitbull told me that he wouldn't want his wife stranded without assistance so he offers his assistance to other stranded women whenever he can.

This is important, gentlemen. Every damsel in distress doesn't need to be saved, but it's thoughtful to offer assistance. And the ultra-feminists out there who might be offended need to understand that not every man offers his help to a woman out of pity for the "little lost girl who can't do anything for herself." If you turn him down, all you've done is refuse help lifting that tire. And dude, tires are heavy. I think about my mom who I’m sure knows how to change a tire in theory, but she probably doesn’t have the physical strength to do it herself. If any of you see her on the side of the road, please stop and help her. I’m sure she would appreciate it.

But my highlight of the night was when Pitbull caught me in the classroom before I left and asked me what "my secret" was to learning all of this stuff. Apparently, I come off as a quick learner (at least to him). Pitbull has been a technician (of some non-auto related industry) for 12 years and told his wife that this girl in his class who's never touched a car was learning all this stuff easier than he was and he was a little intimidated.

Intimidated. Can you hear the sound of my awesomeness coming through the computer? Probably not, because I'm struggling with the information (and told Pitbull that I appreciated the sentiment but I'm probably the most lost person in the class). I picked up this Electronics Learning Lab from RadioShack over the weekend, but haven't figured out enough about it to even start playing yet. Diodes and potentiometers and transistors and transformers and LEDs and P-type material and N-type material and zener diodes and all other kinds of crap that I seriously have to figure out, and really soon. I made index cards over the weekend; maybe that'll help.

We go back to electronics class tonight so, unfortunately, probably more confusion to come.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Dangers, New Players and I'm Found Out (Kinda)

Airbags are dangerous! We watched this youtube video over and over again on the projector screen as a demonstration of how dangerous airbags can be. I’ve never heard such raucous laughter from my classmates before. We must have watched in a dozen times. Watch and you’ll see why.

Let’s meet some new people!

After-market upgrades can be dangerous! When having electrical components installed, please go to competent technicians. Meet The Jock. He’s buff. And wears very stylish glasses. Who was that American Idol candidate who ended up with his own line of eyeglass designs? The Jock could totally do that. Anyway, his brother wanted to upgrade his audio system so he had a tricked out system installed on the cheap. They didn’t add the proper fuses and a few days later, his car burned to the ground. Many insurance policies won’t pay for after-market upgrades and he signed a waiver about the system before the installation (another hint that it might not be on the up-and-up). So dude was up you-know-what creek without a paddle. Lesson: You sometimes get what you pay for.

Amateur Technicians can be dangerous! Meet The Amateur. He fixes cars in his down time, and it seems like he keeps pretty busy doing it. But he’s not always so good at it. Let’s call him a work-in-progress. Everyone knows (hey--even I can tell this is a good idea) that you should close all the doors of a vehicle before backing it out of the garage. Well, an afternoon brake job turned into a two-week debacle when he ripped off the driver’s side door of a car. His customer was not a happy camper. But, hey--he tries. Just remember: paying your neighbor to fix your brakes on the cheap won’t always work out in your favor.

The Bandit.
He works at Express Oil Change during the day and his hands are always dirty. I’ve been deliberating on his Buxom Wrench name and it wasn’t until he came to class with a red bandanna around his neck like he just came in from a train heist that I figured it should be The Bandit. He’s another very knowledgeable car guy, but heartily disagreed with Jiffy and Boom-Box about whether it’s better to super-charge a racecar or install a twin-turbo. Whew! It was a close few minutes in the class--I was starting to think it would come down to fisticuffs.

Silent Bob.
It took 13 class days before I heard him say anything other than “here” during roll call. That’s thirteen 4-hour classes. 52 total hours of almost complete silence. And he only broke the streak when The Amateur accosted him during one of our breaks and accused him of being antisocial. He denied it; he just prefers to listen to everyone else and not say anything during class. And then I borrowed a dime from him so I could buy a Diet Coke from the vending machine.

We’ve lost The Kid. He was the one who graduated from the tech high school. Maybe he was more advanced than us and decided to drop the class.

The Mumbler found me out! The thing about the Mumbler is that, even though his resting position is with his head tilted slightly and his mouth agape, he notices more than I think he does. He knows that I talk about all my classmates to my friends and has seen me writing in my little blue notebook (I take class notes in it too). He came over to visit me during one of our breaks and our conversation went something like this:

The Mumbler: “Is that your little blue book where you write down everything about us?”
Me (suspiciously): “Um, yeah...”
The Mumbler: “Did you write down that I’m fat?”
Me: “No!”
The Mumbler: “Did you write down that I’m ugly?”
Me: “No!”
The Mumbler: “Well, then you’re telling lies.”
I simply smiled at him.
The Mumbler: “I bet you have a website and one of those blogs, don’t you?”

Uh oh. If my boys find out about this blog I might have to quit class! I have a feeling that my status as the class pet only gives me a limited amount of leeway.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Touching Cars, Girl Trouble and Queen of the Small Screen

We touched cars last night! And I have information overload. My main takeaway from last night’s foray into mechanics is that each and every car is very different. Trying to find out whether it’s a body-on-frame or a unit body, or 4-wheel drive or 2-wheel drive, or V6 or V8 or straight 6 or 4-cylinder, transmissions, trans-axles and differentials -- it’s all so confusing. Mr. Forrest went through several cars showing us the various parts of each car. By the end of the lab, I just followed him around like a little duckling trying to absorb any information he could give. “What this?” and “What’s that?” and “Tell me again what the difference is between... and “What’s a transmission, again?” Bless his little heart, he never grew tired of me.

And then there were all of his “helpers” who thought they were doing good deeds by adding to the information Mr. Forrest was doling out. All-American, especially. He’s just so excited about all of his car knowledge that when he started describing how a CV (constant velocity) something-or-other works, I had to stop him in the middle to say, “Wait. What are we talking about again?” And I can’t get mad at him--his big smile and passion is quite contagious. And he should be passionate. All-American is a 23-year old (or, as he would say it, an “almost 24-year-old”) with an Associate’s degree in business and a double-major Bachelors' with some other kind of business degree. This mechanics degree is his “fun” degree. We should bless his little heart, as well.

Jiffy was also in an extremely good mood last night. When I acted like I was going to whop him over the head with this huge tool thing that Mr. Forrest was passing around, he said that I should just go ahead and hit him--it still wouldn’t bring him down. He’s normally such a reserved guy so I had to question him. See, there was this ex-girlfriend he was having a hard time getting over. She called him last Friday night to get together, but then he found out it was just so she could make her current boyfriend jealous. This episode helped him realize that he didn’t want her anyway so he sent her a nasty text telling her to bugger off and now he gets the closure he needed to move on with his life. That made him happy and since I like to see him happy, I get to be happy too.

And finally, little Rain has made her small screen debut on HBTV, the morning TV news program at her elementary school. She’s been a news anchor for the past two mornings. When I asked her how it went, she said she was “shaking like a bare naked Chihuahua!” I’m really proud of her (and told her so). Another example of how it’s good to step outside your comfort zone every once in a while. Not that she's incredibly shy in general, but this is a situation that made her very uncomfortable. Right now she’s a back-up in case someone is late or doesn’t show up, so here’s hoping that she gets a permanent position soon.

In class, we also discussed hazardous materials and their disposal. Did you know that one gallon of oil can make one million gallons of water undrinkable?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Soldering, Missing Family and the Police Show Up!

Mr. Shado brought some wire and a soldering gun and some solder for us to learn how to solder last night! Well, most everyone had already soldered something before; there were only a few of us virgin solders. Virgin Solderer no longer! By the way, that’s pronounced “sodder” and not “solder.” It took me a few minutes to figure that out.

Here’s a picture of my first solder! Wouldn’t you know it, I made a bracelet. At first it was going to be for me, but then I talked to Rain on one of my breaks and she teared up with sadness because she hadn’t seen me practically at all the whole week. I told her I had a surprise for her and plan to put it on top of her glasses tonight so she can get it first thing in the morning. On the way home I started thinking of all the different kinds of jewelry these electronics could make. Bracelets and necklaces. I need to give that some serious thought. They have a bunch of different colors of wire that would make an awesome choker all put together.

That’s the really hard part of working during the day and going back to school at night: I hardly get to see my family anymore. I’ve learned that a few minutes of shared time with friends and family can make or break you. Just a little connection at night with ThatGuy and Nanook brings me back down to earth and refocus my energies, and seeing Rain in the mornings before I leave for work is the only time I get to love on her. Hearing her cry on the phone out of frustration because we kept missing each other's phone calls just broke my heart (she was in tae kwan do during my break and I was back in class when she returned my call). She said she wished I wasn't in school at all, which totally depressed me because I think school is a good thing for me: I get to learn something new that challenges me and makes me step way outside my comfort zone. That can only improve my perspective of the rest of the world and I'm trying to teach her that it's a good thing to do that. I also miss my Friday night meet-ups with my Knitting Girls, but at least I can catch up with them on the forums during the weekday while I’m at work. By the time 8:00 rolls around on Friday nights, I can't keep my eyes open anymore. I’d still like to see their faces, though--we're quite a close group.

Back in class: It turns out that Sleepy is quite the little delinquent, which doesn’t really surprise me. He’s heroin-skinny and walks around with his pants really low and doesn’t make sense most of the time. Whenever Sleepy says anything in class, Jiffy turns to me and says something like “that dude totally freaks me out.” Sleepy just gives off that weird vibe. So when the police show up at the beginning of class, I wasn’t too shocked to see it was for Sleepy. The cop asked him to step outside the class (and to pull his pants up while he was at it, which I thought was awesome). So Sleepy left with the nice officer and everyone pretended not to notice. I leaned over to Jiffy and said, “Are you surprised by that?” He replied, “Nope.” But Sleepy came back in a few minutes later and all progressed normally for the rest of the night.

We’re currently studying wiring and wiring diagrams and all that goes along with it. They have this really cool Toyota wiring structure they use for teaching the Toyota students. I had to take a picture of it to share with you all. It's awesome.
Mr. Forrest promised a trip to the garage on Monday so maybe (finally!) I’ll be able to touch a car.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Snap-On Tools, The Mumbler and Project Cars

I was bombarded with the Angelic Chorus as I walked into class last night to see the Snap-On Tools guy in residence. Now, ask any technician you know and they’ll say that Snap-On Tools are the bomb. Expensive, but you can’t get any better. How expensive, you ask? Well, ladies, you know how you can’t afford any of the clothes when there are no price tags in the store? You got it. No prices anywhere on Snap-On Tools. They have these awesome beginner tool sets that are made for baby mechanics and I think I’d love to have me a set of those. Um, no. With the 50% student discount, the price is $1700-1800. They even have an mini-baby beginner mechanic tool set that is slightly less awesome, but with the student discount, even that is $900-1000. Jeez Louise.

Oscilloscopes and Attention Spans
I worked with Jiffy and All-American on our circuitry lab (which we didn’t finish because those damn boys kept getting off task). Unfortunately, our circuit set was right next to the front desk where Mr. Shado was playing with a Snap-On Tools oscilloscope (which is a scan tool that measures voltage over time so it has a fancy screen that shows fancy graphs, and is complete with a very fancy price). It was so enthralling that I could have taken off all my clothes and danced naked to the cheesy synthesized music from my cell phone and Jiffy and All-American would have simply asked me to hold it down so they could focus on what Mr. Shado was doing with his fancy toy. Seriously.

After not finishing our lab, we still had to sit through another 1.5 hours of lecture on wires, wire gauges, oscilloscopes, wiring diagrams and such. As we walked out, The Mumbler caught up to me and handed me a sheet of suggestions for tools because he didn’t want me to get all caught up on the tool issue as a baby mechanic. So I thought I would share those with you:

Good tool brands: Craftsman, Robalt, Husky, Easco, KD, SK, Napa, Stanley, Klein, Dewalt, Milwaukee, Ryobi, Starrett, Popular Mechanics (lower end of decent tools; buy only if very low price)
Places to get good prices: pawn shops, yard/garage sales, flea markets, consignment shops, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Harbor Freight Tools (very cheap prices -- must know how to judge a good quality tool to get a good buy)
Tips: Don’t buy anything without a name stamped on it. Look for quality in manufacturing: smooth grinding, crisp lettering, straight edges, clarity in gauges. Signs of bad tools: excessively thick heads, non-uniform grinding marks, bubbles in handles, uneven grinds on bit tips, no brand name on tool, uneven stamping on letters, non-symmetrical components (handles, drive heads, etc.), looseness between components (i.e., screwdriver blades and handles)

I don’t know much about these brands or his tips, so I didn’t question him on anything. I’m becoming his pet too, and I’m cool with that. I’m beginning to think of all the guys in the class as “my boys” anyway.

Finally, apparently I need a Project Car. Everyone else in the class is working on a 1978 This or a 1989 That or a 2003 Somethingorother. Mr. Forrest suggested a nice Honda for me. Jiffy said I had to get a 1989-1993 Ford Mustang. I said I thought a VW beetle or bus would be awesome, which was quickly and completely dismissed because they have all the wrong parts for what we’re learning in the class and I need to start out a little easier. Mr. Forrest reiterated his Honda suggestion, to which I said that Hondas have no flash. Jiffy said that I didn’t need any flash, which I took to mean “girl, you wouldn’t know what to do with flash if you had any,” which I don’t necessarily disagree with.

So I'm still on the hunt for a good Project Car. Any suggestions?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Circuitry, Clarinets and More Guns

I’m proud to say that I’m the only one who got all of the circuitry questions right on our homework assignment from last week! At least for one night, it went from “Holly? You have a funny look on your face. Do you understand?” to “Holly, why don’t you tell everyone the answers.” And while I’m really happy that I understand the concepts of voltage, amperage and resistors, I’m not counting my chickens or anything. I still don’t know how a car works--what happens when you put the key in the ignition. But the circuitry works for me. I understand the formulas used to work the problems and it’s a matter of plugging in numbers where they belong.

I understand it like I understood playing the clarinet in middle and high school: I was good at it--I knew how to sight-read and where to put my fingers and how long to hold each note. But what I couldn’t do is make my own music without notes on paper to show me how--to create music from scratch. The jump from notes to art just didn’t work. In doing my circuitry homework over the weekend, there’s a fault somewhere in my jump from drawings on paper to questions like: “A vehicle has four parking lights all connected in parallel and one of the bulbs burns out. Technician A says that this could cause the parking light circuit fuse to blow (open). Technician B says that it would decrease the current in the circuit. Which technician is correct?” These questions require me to transfer something I’m confident of on paper into a weird, unknown universe where I’m not sure what I’m doing.

So, darlings, I got a lot more to learn.

More conversations in the classroom
The Mumbler: “Here comes Holly with her favorite sweater.”
Me: “Hey -- I made this sweater!” I’m very proud of my sweater.
The Mumbler: “I would never have the patience to do something like that.”
All-American: “What’s that?”
Me: “Knitting?”
All-American: “No, patience. What’s patience?”
Jiffy: “Patience is not getting frustrated and getting out your shotgun when you’re fishing.”

I can’t make this stuff up.