Notice I don't call it "vacation," and here's why. On the other hand, it sure was a nice break to not have to be "on" for classes all week!
  • I've been writing several mornings, every week since mid-December. Completely revised the opening scenes of The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella, completely re-envisioned how I'm handling POV (which means significantly rewriting every single other scene, too), wrote many more notes for future scenes, and cut thousands of words while writing thousands more... I've passed a total of 44k words, which means it's more than half-way done (based on a projected 70k)!

  • Finished updating all three syllabi and Blackboard sites (that's the web interface for KU courses) for my spring semester classes. Sent all the students links to where their syllabi live online. HOORAY! Good lord, is it just me or does it take everyone most of a day to do this for each course?

  • Worked a bunch on the hot-rod Newport, including rebuilding the broken valvetrain; finishing installing the new fuel-injection system; installing half the custom exhaust (with electric cut-outs for added raucousness on demand!); designing a crankcase-ventilation system that won't put so much smoke into the intake and getting started installing that; and finding a great deal on a new front-drive system that'll upgrade the alternator to handle fuel-injection duties, the A/C and power-steering pump to something that works, and convert it to a simpler serpentine-belt system that'll make it more reliable and more efficient - oh, and it's all polished aluminum, so it's much lighter and really pretty, too. ETA for street duty: a week or two! Assuming something else doesn't blow up....

  • Did a bit of work on the Chevelle, but I want to get the Newport mobile, washed, waxed, and covered before really diving into this project; picked up some more parts I'll need, though. ETA for street duty: Late spring.

  • Rewired a cool vintage ceramic lamp and installed it in the ceiling of my living room. MUCH nicer than the old (light-free) ceiling fan that used to clutter up the space:

  • Did a bunch of updates on the Center for the Study of Science Fiction's website, and planned much more. Oh, and we're working with a major donor right now who's intending to support not only a full-ride scholarship for the summer Workshops, but also something even bigger for a student coming to study SF during the regular semester. Details to come....

  • Started reading for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel. Loving everything so far, which is great, but could also be trouble come decision time....

  • Got back into astronomy, with a new (to me) 100mm f/9 apochromatic refractor. WOWEE, does it provide gorgeous images! This is my first apochromat, a type of refractor that uses varying types of rare-earth glass to produce lovely, sharp, and color-free images. On a really nice German equatorial mount with dual-axis drives and a handy through-the-polar-axis North Star finder:

  • Resumed a regular, hardcore workout schedule at the gym. Tried the beautiful-but-useless fancy fitness center here at KU (Ambler), because it was free to staff & faculty last week; we usually use beat-up, old, and dingy - but free - Robinson, because of its really useful and large free-weights room, and only visited crowded Ambler that once.

  • Oh, and on a related note: Not to sound braggy or anything, but over Break the awesome Clevermanka started giving me regular, multi-hour massages at least once a week, sometimes EVERY DAY. OMG, I am so lucky.

Other stuff, too, like watching the new BBC Sherlock series! (Which starts on PBS tonight.) LOVE IT SO MUCH.

What did you do over the past month, whether or not you got a break?

mckitterick: At NASA's Moon-rock exhibit when it came to KU. (NASA Chris)
( Dec. 10th, 2013 01:35 pm)
I've been a big baby about the temperatures lately, so haven't yet tried to start the Hot-Rod Newport since rebuilding the valvetrain. With temps in the teens and single digits, MY digits simply don't want to hold metal tools and parts outside... where the car rests beneath its carport. Last week, though, I made some progress: Finished pulling apart the valvetrain, replaced a total of three pushrods, replaced one pair of roller lifters, ground smooth two banged-up rocker arms, adjusted every single lifter-pushrod-rocker team to 1/4-turn of preload (the best I could identify for how my Comp Cams roller lifters should be adjusted), reinstalled a new valley-pan and intake manifold and associated hoses and wires, and replaced the valve covers. ALMOST READY TO START. Here's some of the carnage (those pushrods should be straight, and the loose bits should be attached):

Aaargh, it's painful being so close, yet.... Oh, and I bought a really nice-looking, waterproof, fleece-lined, 7-layer car cover to protect the machine until spring... assuming I can get the thing started, drive it to the car-wash, wax the hell out of it, then drive it home (I really don't want to turn my driveway into an ice-rink). Soon, soon.

Now to put "cold" into perspective: Check out the coldest place on Earth, a ridge high atop Antarctica's East Plateau, where temperatures can dip below -133° F (-92° C) on a clear winter night. Yes, that's NEGATIVE ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-THREE DEGREES, aka NEARLY ONE HUNDRED DEGREES BELOW FREEZING in either temp scale:

Of course, that's a balmy-sounding 181° Kelvin. Which would make me sweat just thinking about it. IF MY FINGERTIPS WEREN'T FREEZING OFF.

Maybe this place is what Dante was thinking about when he planted ol' Lucifer in ice he couldn't escape.

Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center made the discovery while analyzing the most-detailed global surface temperature maps to date, gathered using remote-sensing satellites like NASA's Aqua satellite and Landsat 8.

They need to use this level of sensor equipment because thermometers won't even work at such temperatures.

Neither do human beings. Heck, I bet even ice falls apart at temps like that.

Speaking of cold humans, a plug for [personal profile] clevermanka's Etsy shop:

Are you or those you love suffering from chilly legs during this cold snap? Looking for the perfect Xmas gift for your skirt- (or kilt!) wearing friends? Then check out the Bloomershop Etsy shop, which is having a 20% off sale right now! Use the code "TOASTIES" to get the special discount. Lydia makes custom bloomers, too, if you prefer different fabric or trim, or need a special size. Support independent makers for your gifting needs! Plus they're just plain fun.

Unfortunate news for getting the Newport ready by Saturday's "Rev It Up" car show: This morning I tore into the valvetrain on the affected side (where I had discovered the bent pushrod), and got some news:
  • Turns out not one but two pushrods were bent (both on the affected cylinder) - not surprising, what with nowhere for the expanding gases to go when the exhaust valve wasn't opening. (This would explain why I was getting low temperature readings on that part of the exhaust header, as well... more on that in a moment.) But it is surprising when assuming the bending happened while trying to get the new digital MSD setup to fire. My oh my am I glad that I purchased a full set of new pushrods instead of just one. The intake pushrod on the #7 cylinder was bent into such a curve that I had to use a Vice Grip to straighten it enough to remove. Yowza. And as soon as I pulled it out, the ball-end that sits in the lifter just dropped out onto the floor. Thank the Gods of Internal Combustion that it didn't fall off inside the engine when it was running, or this would be a tragic post.
  • I removed the full rocker-arm assembly, so I could check the other cylinders' valvetrain, as well. Thanks again that they're all fine.
  • The little balls on the ends of the roller-rocker arms (where the cup-ends of the pushrods fit) were pretty galled up, so I had to grind them smooth. The underside of the aluminum rocker for the exhaust valve was really marred, too, but the bearings appear unharmed. Clearly, now, evidence pointed to the engine having run with bent pushrods for a good long time. Eep. (On the plus side, I can't wait to see what kind of power it puts down with 8/8 of the engine running instead of 7/8.)
  • I put everything back together, properly assembly-lubed and anti-seize-lubed as appropriate, then torqued as appropriate. Then I went through each rocker-arm assembly and individually set the lash at "pushrod just barely spins when tightened down," as directed for a hydraulic lifter setup.
  • With everything buttoned up, I manually rotated the engine through a full 360°, so I could double-check the valve lash before sealing up that valve cover - never assume everything is correctly adjusted after just one set of tests.
  • Surprise! The exhaust pushrod on our friendly #7 cylinder? It was sitting loose in the head. How could this be, as I had carefully adjusted it? Well, I loosened the lock-nut, then turned the ball-stud bolt where the pushrod rests on the rocker-arm... and discovered that it wanted another half-inch of adjustment. Now, I may not be perfect at adjusting everything the first time, but a half-inch off? It had just the right amount of rotation when I locked down the nut just a few minutes prior. So I checked the pushrod length, and it's not a half-inch shorter than the others.
  • What does that leave? Collapsed lifter is what.
I sincerely doubt I could have destroyed a lifter with a couple of backfires while trying to start the car in my driveway. The (new!) lifter must have been collapsed all along. That would explain why:
  1. The rocker-arm could be so badly chewed up.
  2. Early tests with a temperature-gun showed #7 to be running cool: Non-firing cylinders don't get hot.
  3. The engine always ran a little ragged - I had assumed it was just the semi-radical cam.
  4. The timing was so hard to get right.

The first sign something was wrong....

So the car will not be ready for Saturday's car show. Sadness. On the plus side, the broken lifter won't cost much to replace, just a huge amount of time: This task requires pulling off the AC unit, the intake manifold, the valley pan, plus all associated hoses, wires, throttle cables, and so forth. Not a one-day job. On the other plus side, forecasters tell of guaranteed rain on Saturday, so the show might be a bust, anyhow.

Now, off to class. More later -

Over the past few days, I've spent a bit more time trying to start the newly fuel-injected, digitally programmed, updated Newport than I'd care to admit. No luck. Got a few nice misfires, but nothing remotely resembling "running." Yesterday, my buddy MadMattMax came over to help get it fired up, as I thought I'd reached the point where it'll happen. I'd set all the initial parameters in the MSD computer, I'd customized the ignition-timing curve, and the distributor was clocked correctly with the camshaft. When cranked, however, the engine disagreed. Turns out that the instructions in the MSD manual are wrong... well, wrong if you don't follow their suggestion to not use MSD computer control of ignition timing until you get the engine running. Well, my distributor was locked out, so I have to do it that way. So I was initially off on the timing by at least 20 degrees. That might not seem like a lot, if you consider a 4-stroke engine has a total of 720 degrees of rotation per cylinder's power-stroke; actually, though, it's more than enough to prevent the car from starting. I spent some time on the online forums and found my answer, we pulled the distributor and re-clocked it against the cam gear, and all seemed right in the world.

Oh, and even here I had to do custom work, like everything else on the Newport, this time a special, custom-ground distributor cap. Yep, to make the new MSD digital distributor's cap fit (and so I can rotate it as needed for tuning), I've had to grind it a bit:

It's a tricky balancing act, because I don't want to remove too much material to make it weak, but it won't fit right or work correctly if I don't remove just enough....

Anyhow, back in it went with the new timing adjustment, but of course by then we had cranked the engine a lot of times, and the fuel injection dutifully kept squirting in more gasoline the whole time. So we flooded it. The spark plugs were pretty much dripping gasoline. Time to let it sit and dry out.

This morning I went to the parts store and picked up a new set of spark plugs, because the soaked one also looked fairly filthy from previously running on a carburetor and poor ignition timing. I put the plug back in, then continued along to piston number 1 (the magical cylinder where one sets one's timing). Just to be safe, I decided to pull the valve-cover to make sure I had inserted the new distributor at TDC (top-dead-center, when the piston rests at the top of the cylinder, half-way between the up-stroke and down-stroke), which is when the spark should fire and create the power-stroke, rather than at the anti-TDC (same as normal TDC, only when the valves are open to let the exhaust out and the fresh charge is starting to pour in). I got a little surprise when I pulled the cover.

I guess this explains at least part of the difficulty I'm having in starting the car:

See that curved gray tube near the right-center of the photo, just below the cork gasket on the right side of the head? That's the end of a pushrod (minus its little cup-end, which had fallen off entirely - but thankfully didn't drop into the bottom of the engine). It should look like its sibling, the straight rod just to its left, resting against a ball on the bottom of an adjustable black nut on top of the valve's rocker arm.

Time to order a new pushrod. I guess I had better check the other side, too, just in case. Engines don't run well when they can't open valves.

In writing news, I'm coming along on The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella - just had a few breakthroughs in understanding Jack and Stella and their personal character arcs. Hooray! Also making more progress on a new SF story.

In teaching news, just started diving in to the final projects for my summer Intensive Science Fiction Institute course. Had to deal with a really annoying and slow new version of Blackboard to do so, bless the little hearts of the Blackboard programmers; can't wait to figure out how to turn off all the new crap that gets in the way of doing my job.

That's all for now. If you live around these parts, I hope you're enjoying our new Fall-Like Summer in Kansas! (Seriously, weather? Temps in the 60s and all-day thunderstorms? *sigh*)

mckitterick: aboard the New Orleans trolley (just Chris)
( Jul. 19th, 2013 02:20 pm)
I realize that, like many, I've grown lazy about posting cool stuff I find on the internets, using the quick-and-easy Facebook method of sharing instead of posting a proper entry here. So here are a few recent links:

First up: Next Tuesday at 7:30pm in Lawrence's Free State Brewery, I'll be leading a conversation on "Science Fiction: Mythologies for a Changing Age." If you'd like to attend AND eat dinner, I encourage you to get there a bunch early, because the place usually fills up for these events, leaving standing-room only for those who arrive on time. If you just want to hang out and drink one of Free State's fantastic beers, well, come on down when we get started. Details here.

Today, between 4:27 and 4:42, the Cassini spacecraft out at Saturn will take the second-ever photo of Earth from beyond the Earth-Moon system. (The first was the famous "Pale, Blue Dot" shot that Voyager snapped.) The Americas, mid-Atlantic Ocean, and parts of Western Africa will be in the shot. Sure, it'll only be about a pixel wide, so your pretty face will be, um, rather tiny, but this is HISTORY! Get outside and wave at Cassini and Saturn today!

Gunn's upcoming (August 2013) novel Transcendental just got a starred review from Kirkus Reviews that calls it "Gunn's best in years - quite possibly his best ever." What a nice birthday present, wouldn't you say? Beyond being Author Guest of Honor at this year's WorldCon, he just had a collection of essays published, was Guest of Honor at the 2013 SFRA/Eaton Conference, and will see at least two more books published before his next birthday. If only the rest of us could be so awesome at any age.

Earlier this week, I submitted the fourth essay due to various people this summer. This frees me up to write, y'know, MY OWN stuff! Of course, mostly I've been recuperating from the month-long Science Fiction Summer program here at KU - which, don't get me wrong, I love, but being a residential thang where a guy needs to be "on" about 18 hours a day, sucks up a ton of creative juices. Even so, The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella - still planning to get it and my previous novel out to the agent later this month.

In related news, I've nearly finished updating my Hot-Rod Newport to using a complete MSD electronics package, including Atomic fuel-injection system, digital distributor, and capacitive-discharge ignition. I'm setting it up to be able to digitally control not only the fuel and spark, but also the timing. This afternoon, I hope to give it a try... *fingers crossed*

This makes me SO HAPPY: Pizza in Space video. Ad astra, little pizza slice!

Today's moment of nostalgia: Pac-Man as existential horror story, by the online comic, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

And I leave you with this, me wearing my new scooter helmet (full description of safety mods to come):

Have a great weekend!

Okay, so it's 88 degrees Fahrenheit up here in my writing office, so I decided to go work on the Newport a bit. I mean, if you're already boiling to death and can't think straight to write, you might as well go outside where it's even hotter and do some manual labor, right? I think my reasoning went something like that.

I have a wonderful air-conditioner-slash-dehumifier in the garage, and it displays a temperature readout. Normally - that is, in temps below 100 - it does a great job cooling the garage, and even allows me to cool my back with the door open. But not today. Here's what it looked like just a few minutes after opening the garage door:

It's so hot outside right now that I watched a grackle hide in the shade of a lawn chair, mouth gaping, as it occasionally took a dip in the birdbath. In case you're wondering, I've given up on working outside. Thus this post instead of actually making more progress.

Here's what I finished installing - the new EFI fuel pump with pre- and post-filters, high-pressure fuel line, and wiring to fill the new MSD Atomic EFI system:

Yes, it's still in my driveway. Foolish me, I pulled the carburetor, old distributor, and associated parts a while back, WHILE IT WAS STILL OUTSIDE. In the lovely spring weather, that seemed like a good idea. And I thought I'd have the EFI system installed before the start of the Science Fiction Summer program. Ha. I should always remember the formula for how long something takes to do compared to the estimated time: "Double it and add 30." Now I'm dehydrated, dying of heat, covered in mosquito bites, and bruised from lying on pebbled in the driveway. Someone please remind me that I like to do this stuff.

Other under-car hijinks included installing this collector-reducer onto the header. Note the newly installed oxygen sensor that tells the EFI system how much oxygen and unburned gasoline is in the exhaust:

Here's the injector setup mostly installed on the engine; the sensor array and computer reside beneath the finned cover that says MSD. You can also see the primary computer installed on the far side of the engine compartment, the red box near the top of the photo. The new digitally controlled distributor is the red part on the right with red spark-plug wires coming out of it:

From the driver's side; nice-looking machine, isn't it? The red cylinder in front of it is the high-energy coil, and you can see the newly installed distributor behind it. The distributor is necessary because the old one kept losing timing, even with the old optical sensor; on top of that, it'll also be awesome because now I'll be able to plot a digital ignition curve via the MSD computer interface: No more crappy idling, pinging, or sluggishness!

Why EFI? Because a carburetor is nothing but irritation is why. If you haven't had to deal with one, congratulations! After - what, two years? - of poor starts, regular adjustments, and other tinkering, I got fed up with the carb. EFI provides better fuel mileage, easy starting, better throttle response, precision tuning, usually more horsepower and torque, and many more benefits. I hope to let you know how it runs in a week or two!

mckitterick: The ale tasting at the 2009 Kansas City Renaissance Festival. (RenFaire Chris)
( Sep. 6th, 2012 12:30 pm)
I did not end up going to WorldCon this year, despite initially having planned to do so; the educational track didn't come together as hoped, so I saved my pennies and simplified the start of the semester by not heading to Chicago for the weekend. Which is too bad, because on Sunday night new KU creative-writing prof Kij Johnson won the Hugo Award for best novella for "The Man Who Bridged the Mist"! This is the same story that also recently won the Nebula Award. That's what I call starting one's teaching career with a bang.

Instead, I had a real vacation weekend. This included writing, of course (further progress on The Adventures of Jack and Stella), tinkering with the vehicles, reading (right now it's the first book of the Harry Potter series and something called, Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes On the Cosmos), hanging out with friends, and two more events.

The first, on Saturday, was this year's Greaserama. For the first time at this punk-car-culture event (and its second car-show ever), I drove the hot-rod Newport. Friends Matt and AJ drove over with me. Here we are at the show:

Lots of photos from the show on my website (let me know if you have issues with the gallery - experimenting). At nightfall, we watched a double feature at the Boulevard Drive-in theater where the event is held: "Boulevard Nights" followed by "The Warriors," both circa 1979. Just as the first movie was about to start, everyone fired up their rods' engines and made as much noise as possible. It's not just parental pride when I say it was the loudest bastard out there on Saturday. How do I know? Because not only did Matt and AJ have to back away while I revved the hell out of it, but the roar was actually painful enough that it forced me to cover my ears, and afterward I could hear nothing but a muffled hum for a while: 747s on takeoff have nothing on this beast! Also, one of the car-club members who runs the event, "Weirdo Harold," fell in love with it and invited us to park in their row.

A beautiful (after the rain broke) day out with good friends, awesome cars and bikes, turkey legs and corn dogs, delicious tequila at a double feature in an old-school drive-in... happy-making.

On Sunday, after getting a bunch of work done, I got together with a bunch of friends to celebrate a birthday. Said friends then headed over to the Kansas City Renaissance Festival on Monday, where we practiced archery (only Matt hit the bullseye in 7 shots):

And tested our Mjolnir skills (I rang the bell!):

Then we went to everyone's favorite event at Faire: The Royal Smoker, where ten bucks gets you two drinks, a cigar (or soda), finger-food, and entertainment ranging from baudy humor and music to belly-dance (courtesy Chernobylred). Super-fun weekend!

Yesterday saw another cluster of meetings at work plus class, and same for today. This weekend? I'm going to get SO MUCH WRITING DONE on The Adventures of Jack and Stella, I tell you what!

What'd you do on Labor Day weekend?

Okay, people have wanted to hear the mechanical music of the two hot-rods dwelling in my garage, so here they are! I apologize for the non-scripted narrations and noise-protection sticking out from my ears; I make no claim to being a pro film-maker. You can hear 'em start up at the end of each vid.

First up, the 1968 Chevelle SS396 drag-racin', corner-carvin' machine of doom <-- click that link if the video below doesn't load - it's not playing nice with my IE9:

Forgot to mention a few other mods: Also has ported heads and will soon be getting a 6-speed transplant plus A/C.

And the 1966 Chrysler Newport hot-rod Town Sedan:behind the cut )

The rush of paper-critiquing before Finals Week has meant I haven't been online much (well, I've been online ALL THE TIME with grading software), so I'm behind on Crossfit reports. On the plus side, I'm fully caught up on grading BEFORE finals start pouring in. *ROCK*

Here's Monday's workout:
  • Warmup: Lunges, then jumping lunges. This means take the biggest step you can (3-4 feet for my height), keeping your back-leg knee off the mat, then jump forward, switching which leg is front and which is at the back. Cross the gym, then back again.
  • Rowing machine. Just "a quick 500 meters," sez the coach.
  • Shrug-kettlebell-lifts. Pick up the kettlebell between your feet and, as fast as you can, pull it up to your chin. Your glutes and thighs should do most of the work ("Squeeze those glutes!"), and shrug your traps to pull up the kettlebell.
  • Barbell thrusts. Start with your wrists as flat back as they can go with the barbell just resting on your collar-bone and shoulders, elbows forward, and then THRUST the bar up until your elbows lock, as fast as you can.
  • Now add a drop-thrust; that is, as you push up, pretend the weight is really heavy and drop by bending your knees as you launch the bar upward, then stand after it's all the way up. This one sucked for my shoulder; I'm going to substitute something that works those muscles without causing so much rub between clavicle and acromian.
  • Box-jumps. The coach gave me a 22-inch wooden box to jump onto; swinging your arms and using your glutes and thighs, LAUNCH up onto the box, brining your knees as high as possible to avoid hitting your shins on the box. Immediately jump backwards, down. Repeat a whole lotta times.
  • Fully warmed up and form is good? Now do the WoD:
    • Box-jumps and shrug-kettlebell-lifts.
    • Just three sets: 21 of each, 15 of each, 9 of each, as fast as possible.
    • GO!
    • I can't remember my time, but OMG I was dying during the second set. Interestingly, the third set was easiest.
  • Oh, and of course a bunch of warm-down roll-outs using various equipment to stretch the muscle fascia.
  • For the first time since I started this insane program, I went home NOT SORE. Whoah, it really does get easier!

So that was Monday. Today's (Wednesday) workout was pretty much the same as Friday's, only with the added complication - after doing tripod-headstands (hands and head support you as you lift your legs) - of trying to do handstands (free-standing with locked elbows holding up your body, toes pointed toward ceiling).


Despite my frakked-up shoulder.

Last time I did handstands was DURING THE 1980s. NO, REALLY.

Oh, and I finished the WoD (burpees and situps) at least one, maybe two, minutes faster than on Friday.

Oh, and when I came home, I totally banged out a couple sets of pullups using a different grip than I normally use, because the bars at the Lawrence Crossfit gym are straight, and I don't want to embarrass myself with something I can actually do *g*

OH! And we took the Newport, because the guys who run the place are total gearheads. It was much appreciated! They all came pouring out of the gym to see it when we pulled up, and of course the first thing the coach wanted to see was the engine compartment :-D

Now I'm going to have a mimosa and watch a bit of the Dean & Sam Show™ (that would be Supernatural to the uninitiated).

This might not seem like a big deal if you haven't been in my garage before, but if you have you know how much work it was to make room for the new baby. Suffice to say it took a whole weekend's work - and building a shed to store some things - to carve out a spot to work on the new car. Here I'm standing on the workbench at the front of the garage:

To the left is the workbench where the drill-press, vise, grinder, and hardware all live; to the right are (temporarily) my telescopes... until I finally bite the bullet and build an observatory on the roof of the house.

This shot shows a bunch of new shelving along the far wall, soon to be filled with Chevelle parts. There's actually plenty of room between the telescopes and the toolchest (and workbenches) in front of the Newport, but not as much as I'd like. This shot is taken from the doorway:

Wow, is the Chevelle smaller than the Newport, in every dimension.

And finally the rear view, standing on some scrap wood at the (rear? but it's the main door...) corner of the garage. Notice the nice, big expanse of pegboard above the workbench in front of the Chevelle (past the ladder). Woohoo! More organization!

I'm hoping to do a bit more juggling of stuff from the shed onto the new garage shelves, then from the garage back into the shed. And starting this weekend: Off with the Chevelle's suspension!

mckitterick: The ale tasting at the 2009 Kansas City Renaissance Festival. (RenFaire Chris)
( Mar. 20th, 2012 11:59 pm)
It's been lovely so far! Man, I needed a vacation.

First, kicked it off with a visit from a friend I haven't seen in far too long (hi Thomas!) on Thursday evening. Great to see you, man! Miss you!

Just beforehand, my "Science, Technology, and Society" class talked about robots, and the author of one of the stories (Robin Wayne Bailey, plus his wife Diana) paid a visit. The students really enjoyed his being there, and it was a great discussion. As a thank-you, I took them out to dinner at one of my favorite local restaurants, Ingredient, then bid them adieu before joining the Thursday-night crew at Harbour Lights, Lawrence's oldest bar (in continuous operation since the end of Prohibition). Ended the evening with some adventures with a friend who's always up for adventures. Lovely evening.

Spent a fair sum ordering parts for the Chevelle. It's going to be awesome! If only the people from Keisler Engineering get on the ball and update my 6-speed transmission quote so I can get that thing ASAP.

Also worked a bit on the Newport: made an anti-drainback valve for the fuel system in hopes of keeping the gas from running out of the carb back into the tank, so it'll start easier between runnings. If all goes well (haven't been able to test it, as we're enduring 40 days and nights of deluge here in Larryville), I'll put together a little tutorial for how to make one for yourself, saving tons of money if you can even find something that works for a carbureted engine.

The Lawrence St. Patty's Day Parade is always charming, with pretty much everyone in town participating, either by watching or driving in it: If you have a convertible, you're in. And if you ever won a beauty pageant within the past few century or two? Sit in the back of one of those converts! That part was a little weird. It was a beautiful, cool-but-pleasant day, and we sat outside most of the time enjoying good company and conversation. Ended the evening at Matt's place playing old Atari and Nintendo games (remember The Adventures of Link?) on his Wii. Also had a drunken push-up contest - turns out I can do 7 one-armed push-ups with each arm (yes, even with the damaged side) after blasting out 30-odd nose-to-floor knuckle push-ups. Absinthe is a curative. 'Twas a blast.

Got caught up with the current BBC Sherlock series. Wow, but is it amazing: great acting, great actor chemistry, great filming, great writing... just all-around fantastic. LOVE IT.

Also finished Season 2 and started Season 3 of Due South, which is even better with the addition of Callum Keith Rennie. He and Paul Gross (RCMP Constable Benton Fraser) have PERFECT timing. At a few points in their first episode together, I was laughing so hard we had to pause and rewind to hear the dialogue. LOVE IT - how did I miss this series before now? Thank you for introducing me to this often-surreal series, CR!

Getting caught up with reading through more of the mountain of nominations for the Campbell Award. Really loving Ernest Cline's Ready Player One right now: It's well-written, well-conceived, funny, serious, and meaningful. Hope it gets even better; if so, it's probably my favorite book of 2011.

Earlier today, bought my first pair of running shoes since high school, New Balance Minimus MR10 trainers in an astounding green-and-blue color combo. They weigh less than the box they came in! Also got a pair of exercise shorts from Sears at 50% off (yes, Lawrence is losing our Sears *sadness*). I couldn't buy a pair of Nike or New Balance or other corporate-logo shorts. Can't do it.

Why did I need this equipment? Well, right now I'm recovering from the introductory session of CrossFit. WOW, but I'm beat. And I'm beginning to get hints of how sore I'll be tomorrow. I thought I was in decent shape with my regular exercise (weights, pull-ups and push-ups with 25-lb weight vest, heavy bag-work, stair-running, and so on), but boy was I WRONG. They say, "Expect to have a challenging, but short workout that might give you a little reality check on your fitness level." Reality check? CHECK: Kettle ball swings up over the head, lunges, box-leaps, sit-ups, running while carrying a medicine-ball, hardcore stretching... I just about died. Even so, we both decided to sign up for the next step: a 10-session "Elements" punch-card that includes several one-on-one sessions with a personal trainer. Seems like a great workout; can't wait for the next one! (Did I really just write that?)
trimmed for my most-recent fitness-tracking photos )
I'm in a little better shape right now, but not significantly - that's why I bought the 25-pound weight vest for pull-ups and push-ups and part of why I decided to do CrossFit, because I've been kicking ass for a long time without significant results. I'll take another set of shots after CrossFit to see how this program improves things!

Okay, and now I need to get back to finishing my little 7-questions response for Weaselmom....

Drove the hot-rod Newport to physical therapy today, on request of my therapist, self-diagnosed gearhead. I gave it a little rev or two in the lot right outside his window, and he loved it! When I left, he lifted his blinds to watch me drive away. Driving that machine always makes me smile. Speaking of which, here's a photo from the Newport's (and my) first car show, Rev It Up! here in Lawrence, KS, a few weeks ago:

Look at that: Shorts! Ah, Kansas weather, you are a fickle sonofagun.

Therapist Rob continued to work on the tendon stiffness in my elbow and gave me stretches to deal with growing abdominal/rib soreness - turns out it's just more tendon issues. I'm supposed to do backward and side stretches on the big ball after workouts on the punching bag or anything else that really works the abs.

He also gave me a rule of thumb for rest after a workout that causes muscle soreness: Wait 36 hours before repeating the exercise to allow the muscles to heal up and get stronger; that soreness is actually little tears in the muscle, and the body deposits new proteins to heal them, which makes 'em stronger. One can do light workouts or work other muscle groups the next day, but give a break to the sore muscles.

Oh, and to my question, "Why do I keep encountering this kind of tendon issue?" he said, "How old are you?" I told him, and he smiled. "Guys like us who choose to stay active at our age just have to deal with discomfort like this."


He went on: "You make the choice to live with tendon and muscle soreness or get diabetes and heart disease. I'd rather have the occasional ache than let my body fall apart and die young."


Which reminds me: I meant to take new fitness-tracking photos over the weekend, but alas. Next weekend.

Something just came to me: Perhaps one of the (subconscious?) reasons I get such pleasure from hot-rodding the Newport is that I transformed a not-so-special late-'60s vehicle into something much more powerful and spry than it ever was before... much as I'm doing my best to transform this late-'60s Middle American into the fittest I've ever been, too, to hell with age. Both of us can get a little creaky, but we can still show the younger whippersnappers a thing or two. Hm. Something to ponder.

Hope you're doing well. Now I'm back to the (never-ending) grading. Who assigns them all this stuff that I have to grade? Oh, right.

1) Generation X tells the Boomers and kids today to stop their whining. A great article that would be funnier if it weren't so uncomfortably honest.

2) KU tops the International Quidditch Association standings. No, seriously. KU has a Quidditch team, and it's #1 in the world.

3) Last weekend, six of us took a trip out to the Corn Maze of Dooooom, about half an hour from Lawrence, KS. Here's how we got there - and, happily, back! Yes, all of us fit comfortably in the hot-rod Newport! Video proof:
Video courtesy of our documentarian, Alexander Hall.

4) A group at Tel Aviv University using "Quantum Trapping" to produce not only the highest recorded levitation but also DOUBLE levitation. COOOL!

5) Giant prehistoric krakens. Sculpting self-portraits. Using icthyosaur bones. I'M JUST SAYIN'.

Click the image to see the I09 story.

Have a great weekend!

Aw, yeah. On the street across from my house:

It'll be at Lawrence, KS Rev It Up! car show tomorrow. It's a benefit for Big Brothers, Big Sisters in town, and it's free! Starts at 10:00am and goes until 6:00pm in South Park, downtown - across the street from the Lawrence branch of the Occupy Wall Street march, which starts at noon. More details on their website.

Everything worked great last night for the 10 or so miles the Newport roared around town. So today I re-torqued the exhaust headers, drained and examined the oil (looks better than expected for a new rebuild!), installed a new K&N oil filter, poured in new synthetic oil, topped off the other fluids, and then fired 'er up to listen through a mechanic's stethoscope for untoward noises. Valves and rockers sound smooth, as do the lifters, and the same with the bottom end.

Doctor says she's ready to roll!

I take a surprising amount of pleasure from just driving around in the machine I designed and built myself, all pretty and rumbly and roar-ey, fast and smooth, vintage and comfy, chrome and black and bronze, elegant and antisocial.

What fun! And the cops didn't even pull me over to complain about the exhaust note. Which, I might mention, is FRAKKIN' SEXY music.

I want to drive more now! My compatriots seemed to enjoy it, too.

I am pleased and proud of how things turned out.


JUST TOOK THE NEWPORT OUT FOR A SPIN! Woohoo! I flushed and bled the brakes, so now she stops, too (that didn't happen last night during an aborted attempt...).

You need proof? Here you go, parked under the carport after a quick run downtown:

And she kicks ass!


Troubleshooting inch-by-inch revealed a very simple issue: The prior owner had installed a Crane Cams XR700 (opens .pdf instruction manual) electronic ignition module BACKWARDS in the distributor. Which explains why the wires (upon closer inspection of a pre-teardown photo) were installed 180° off. I swung it around 180° to where it's supposed to be, went through the plug wires again to put them where they're supposed to be when the optical sensor in the distributor is correctly positioned, reinstalled the distributor, rechecked the timing, and stepped into the car to give it another try.

I'll allow this video to explain how things proceeded:

WOOHOO! So glad I tore down the coolant hoses today to fix a few leaks.

Ready to ROCK! Now if only it weren't so late and the unmuffled exhaust so loud I'd go for a cruise. Alas, I don't want to encourage the neighbors to assault the house with pitchforks and torches. When I gave it a little rev (and WOW is she rev-happy!), the pressure waves from the exhaust knocked a box from the garage attic onto the floor. So methinks I'll wait for light of day to take it for a spin.

But she runs!


For those of you waiting with bated breath for news that the car is up and running - alas, no. Here she sits in the garage right now, all put together but not quite ready to go:

However, she's cooking along and all but ready to drive... except she won't start. Massive amounts of troubleshooting ensued:

Last night I pulled all the plugs to dry out the (flooded) cylinders, and today I compression-checked everything: All cylinders read almost exactly 145 psi compression, even with the big-overlap camp, with no noticeable leakdown (that's better than stock). Got a new coil and assembled the new ceramic plug wires (necessary because some plug boots touch the headers), and getting great spark now. A quick aside about assembling spark-plug wires: The difference between things going smoothly and your emitting great strings of profanity is all about using lots of silicone lubricant on the wire end before trying to push it through the boot. IT WILL NOT GO if you don't use the lube. Trust me. Then wipe it off before folding over the core and crimping on the electrode attachment.

The engine's definitely getting gas, as evidenced by the wet plugs. I even added 10 gallons of new, high-octane gas, in case the 2-year-old stuff in there went bad and was causing trouble - though I did treat it with fuel stabilizer. Some nice explosions out the carb, with attendant fire that needed to be put out, so the gas is burning ;-) Also good news is that it produces nice oil pressure when cranked over the impressively powerful new high-torque mini-starter.

Here's the engine compartment, all assembled. Notice the huge A/C unit up front. That thing weighs a little over 40 pounds, and to get it to fit required my lugging that thing over to the grinder, removing cast iron notches, and repeatedly test-fitting for a couple of hours during last Thursday's thrash to finish for Greaserama. That was a lot of fun. I could barely make a fist the next day!

A few days ago, I pulled a valve cover to test that I had not, in fact, put in the cam 180 degrees off, and it's installed correctly. *whew* I set timing about 10° advanced. Oh, and I tracked down and fixed a few liquid and vacuum leaks - better now than on the road.

Just now went out to test an idea: Maybe advancing the timing a bit more would help. Not so much. *sigh*

Why won't you fire up? Gah! Ideas? Suggestions?

No new photos tonight, but made more progress since my pre-class post:
  • Cleaned and painted driver's-side rear brake drum, then installed that wheel.

  • Cleaned and painted driver's-side front brake drum; it's drying now.

  • Cleaned and painted A/C unit.

  • Cut and installed heater hoses.

  • Cut and installed and primed fuel line from fuel pump to carburetor (primed carb, too).

  • Created and installed heat shield for starter (driver's-side header was almost touching there, too). Of course, this meant loosening the header from the head and re-torquing same.

  • Moved coil from firewall to stock position on intake manifold (don't ask).

  • Installed vacuum lines for PCV breather, power brakes, vacuum advance, and something that sucks from the dash.

  • Installed driver's-side exhaust.

  • Set up for block coolant-flush tomorrow.

  • Attached misc. wires (and repaired a couple that had been mouse-gnawed).

  • Sealed oil dipstick where it mounts into engine block. I was concerned about the odd fit.

  • Went through many bolts and clamps, tightening - and discovered a couple of loose ones and one nut that was completely missing.

  • Yoinked the old exhaust out from under the car - which meant Sawzall time!

Tomorrow: Flush the block to rid it of the cruddy, most likely rusty, coolant; cut to fit and install the spark-plug wires (ceramic-tipped to protect from where they'll touch the headers); install main power to the starter (which has been a PITA, requiring cutting and such); install the oil-pressure and water-temperature gauges... and light 'er up!

...which will likely lead to a quick shut-down to fix leaks. Then fire 'er back up again and set the timing. Hopefully (OH PLEASE) it won't need a valve adjustment or any major surgery. Then I just cross my fingers that the front-wheel spacers arrive in time to bolt 'em on before the
11th annual Kowtown Custom Greaserama show!

Now I'm freakin' tired and need to eat.



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