Tag Archives: gasoline

Carburetors are Black Magic

For those of you not familiar with history there was a time when gasoline powered engines of all stripes did not easily start on the first attempt and, depending on the weather, required a particular dance to maintain a smooth idle.  Before electronic fuel injection made our lives easier by eliminating carburetors from our lexicon we were forced to adjust chokes to fine tune a fuel air mixture and worry about things like jets getting gummed up with deposits from gasoline.

Anyone who waxes nostalgic for the days of carburetors is either lying, has no idea what a carburetor actually does, or enjoys spending afternoons swearing at small brass tubes with small holes punctured in them.  I am going to posit that most people are in the first group.

Carburetors are like black magic.  Somehow this crude assemblage of bulbs, floats, jets, needles, and what not is capable of mixing fuel and air into the appropriate ration to ensure combustion in our small engines.  On most modern small engines the manual choke has been eliminated in favor of automatic chokes using a variety of bi-metal arms to ensure operation.

When it is spring time and you wander out to garage and the mower does not start.  Is it the spark plug?  Maybe, considering my spark plug looked like this compared to a brand new spark plug:

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A few minutes with a 5/8” socket yielded…nothing.  The same sad burble as before.  Maybe the engine was not getting any air?  Given the condition of my old air filter that would not be unthinkable:

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Less than thirty seconds later I got…nothing.  This is the point when most people give up and load the mower for a trip to the small engine shop.  I come at this from a slightly different school of thought that says, “If you can’t fix it, you do not really own it.”  Some take that to mean that you have the option of having the item repaired by a professional as opposed to the item being essentially disposable.  While this is a laudable goal for all products, I want to control a little bit more of my destiny.

When your mower will not “turn over” in the spring try this trick.  Remove the air filter and spray some starter fluid directly into the air intake.  If your mower starts, but dies after a few turns of the crank it likely means that there is a problem with your carburetor.  This, dear friends, is within the skill set of a decently mechanical person, especially given excellent videos like this one on YouTube.

Here’s the deal.  I do not really understand how carburetors work, but I can take the thing apart, clean out some gunk, and put it all back together again.  I do not need to understand the method of operation very well to complete that task.  It’s still black magic to me.  The carburetor in my mower was covered in all kinds of filth.  The bulb where the gasoline goes before being mixed with air looked like the inside of a forgotten Brita filter.  The jets were clogged with a residue reminiscent of Slimer.  No wonder the mower refused to work.

Less than twenty minutes of time with a 10mm socket, a Torx set, and a can of carburetor cleaner left me with hands that smelled of various petrochemicals, a serious mountain of dirty paper towels, and a mower that fired up on the first try.  I have not touched the inner workings of a small engine since my senior year of high school, which was more than twenty years ago.

I detail this not to beat my chest—okay a little chest beating is in order—but to suggest that the skills and knowledge to repair a lot of the stuff in our lives is well within our reach.  We do not to call someone to repair everything that breaks and we do not need to buy new things every time something breaks.  We bought it, so if we break it we should learn how to repair it.

Friday Linkage 10/29/2012

Two solid days of rain this past weekend and two more this week have really changed the drought landscape in eastern Iowa.  More than twelve percent of the state was classified out of the “severe” drought category this week.  That is a good thing looking forward to the 2013 growing season because a lot can depend on the soil moisture before winter sets in.  Here is to hoping that the forecast that calls for rain continues to be accurate.  Even if it makes for a miserable night game against Penn State on Saturday.

On to the links…

Ten Charts that Show the Planet is Warming—As if anyone needed any more proof about human driven climate change…oh wait, is that the crickets I hear chirping when looking for major political parties’ stance on climate change?  Yep.

Larry Ellison Plans to Turn Lanai into an Eco-Lab—I have always wondered why Hawaii is not even further down the road to energy independence through renewables.  The state has an isolated electrical grid.  The electricity rates are some of the highest in the nation.  Most of the power is generated from imported oil that is an accident waiting to happen.  Maybe good ol’ Larry Ellison can make some things happen.

The Great White Whale of American Cheesemaking—This is an interesting profile on someone trying to recreate Italy’s buffalo mozzarella in the United States.  No easy task.  The entire set of articles in the food centric article of the New York Times Magazine are pretty excellent.  Take a moment to read them all.

Eat the Goats to Save the Goats—It may seem counter intuitive, but when goats are raised as a dairy animal approximately 50% of the goats born in an operation will be of no use, i.e. the newborn goats are male.  With little economic value in the U.S. because there is a limited market for goat meat these animals are frequently euthanized.  What a waste!

Is the Search for the Perfect Aquaculture Fish Over?—I remember reading about barramundi in Paul Greenberg’s Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food.  Oh snap, I said people should also read his book.  The moral of the story is that instead of trying to engineer or breed a fish for aquaculture systems, maybe we should find a fish that does well in aquaculture.

Seed Diversity In Pictures—Farmers breed resilience into the system because they understand at the lowest level what resilience means for their own survival.  The more varieties of plants that we lose to neglect because Monsanto and their ilk are successful in destroying these systems the greater the chance for an epic collapse of a particular crop.

Inside Google’s Kitchen—All you have to do is move the M&M’s into the dark corners of your cafeteria and maybe your employees will eat better.  Or they will turn into characters in a zombie survival movie hunting down the last Twinkie on Earth.  Just saying.

By the Numbers, the Facts about Gasoline Prices—Mitt Romney is a serial liar.  Think Progress did a great piece running down the numbers about gasoline prices, oil production, and Mittens’ attempts to obscure the truth.  Or was he trying to disguise the fact that he has no plan?  I get so confused.

The Failure of “Drill, Baby Drill” as a Policy—Oil is a global commodity thus prices are the result of global supply and demand. I know this is hard for the sound bite portion of the Republican Party to understand, but merely increasing U.S. production will not necessarily provide price relief although it will enrich their donors.  What is the real game here?

Hybrid and EV Sales are Up—Each year brings more news about the success of hybrid and electric vehicles in the market place.  As these vehicles become more spread out across vehicle types and manufacturers the growth is only sure to continue.

Will Algae Ever Power Cars—Along with hydrogen, fuel from algae seems like the Holy Grail of transportation fuels in the United States and, perhaps, the rest of the world.  But will we ever actually fill our gas tanks with bio-diesel made from algae?  Good question.

Friday Linkage 9/7/2012

Back from vacation and I am ready to go…okay not so much.  Thankfully, it was a short week due to Labor Day and with direct flights home from Denver I no longer had to endure the drive across Nebraska.  It’s a lovely state, but no one needs to experience over 450 miles of I-80.  Ever.

On to the links…

New Zealand Grants Personhood to a River—Well, I guess if a corporation can have the rights of a person, why can’t a river.  I am sure Mitt “Corporations are people too my friend” Romney would find a way to disagree because he is a corporate shill robot.

Why Have We Fallen out of Love with Organic Food—It seems like the press is loving to sound the death knell for organic food because some studies have shown it is not healthier for you.  The goal of organic food, however, was to produce food in a system that was healthier for the consumer, the producer, and the planet.  It’s about more than just the nutrients in the end product.

Why do We Hold Renewables to a Different Standard—I am sure this has something to do with the fact that a large swath of our political space is essentially owned by the fossil fuel industry, but it seems silly.  Considering the amazing amount of externalities that would negatively impact fossil fuels if accurately priced into the products, why do we offer any subsidies?  Oh wait, these companies own politicians.  My bad.

How Americans are Subsidizing Pro Sports—It’s amazing when multi-millionaire or even billionaire sports team owners cry poverty and hold the gun of leaving against the heads of cities and states.  It makes me glad that Iowa does not have a major pro sports team located in state.

Oil Washing up on Coast after Hurricane Isaac—Speaking of externalities, it looks like the oil that spewed from the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon did not just magically disappear.  It just took a hurricane to stir things up on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and…presto…tar balls!

Renewable Gasoline, Diesel Right Around the Corner—I know we have heard this story before with biofuels, but there appears to be some real progress away from the first generation fuels, e.g. ethanol, toward better second generation biofuels that do not fall prey to the food versus fuel debate.

Who’s Afraid of Solar PV—This is a great look at the impact of solar photovoltaic on the energy situation in Australia.  Check out the charts and see what distributed solar is doing to the demand seen at power stations during peak load periods.  Amazing.

Destroying Precious Land for Gas—When will we stop destroying every piece of land in pursuit of fossil fuels?  Hopefully it will be someday soon.

Liberia has Sold One Quarter of its Land to Logging Companies—At least the oil and gas companies do not own one quarter of the land in the U.S.  It is unfathomable the degree to which private multinational corporations have been buying up huge chunks of Africa over the past decade.

Copenhagen Bicycle Culture—Here is Copenhagen’s bicycle culture in an infographic:

More and More Baby Boomers going Vegetarian—I have seen my father, right at the beginning of the baby boom, become a vegan in his sixties.  Usually when I talk about the baby boomers it is negative.

It’s not Just Young People Giving up Ownerhship—Are we turning the corner on our obsession to own everything?  It’s one thing when hipsters choose not to own.  But when middle class suburbanites pull the trigger you know there is some serious momentum.  Bring the car sharing to Cedar Rapids baby!

Blue Zones Offer Lessons in Longevity—So-called Blue Zones, where people tend to live longer and healthier lives, are getting a lot of play recently.  The concepts behind why these people live longer and healthier seem so simple when presented as fact.

And remember:

Friday Linkage 5/4/2012

It’s time for that great Iowa weather.  If you do not like it…wait five minutes.  Yesterday it went from clear and sunny to hard rain, lightning, and dropping hail.  If this is a harbinger of my microclimate changing with global climate change the future is going to suck.

It’s a light week of links due to some pretty crazy days and nights at work and home.  It’s amazing how fast some weeks can go while at the same time taking forever.

Enough negativity, on to the links…

T. Boone Pickens Pretty Much Lays it Out–If it weren’t for the Koch brothers is going to be the start of a lot of stories about the last few years.  Perhaps the machinations of these two clowns will swing the pendelum in favor of causes that they oppose like decent rights for every worker, woman, and non-1% person in the U.S.  Is that too much to ask?

ALEC’s Top 5 Anti-Environmental Model Laws–If it is not the Koch brothers it is the American Legislative Exchange Council.  His friends call him ALEC.   Here are the top 5 anti-environmental model laws being pushed by this horrible organization.

Today’s Microcar versus Yesterday’s Highway Barge–If someone needed proof that cars are designed much better today check out the comparison between the new Chevrolet Spark and the average full size car in the 1973 model year:

Obesity Costs One Billion Gallons of Gas per Year–Yep, our fat asses our costing us at the gas pump as well as at the doctor and everywhere else.  Joy.

Superweed Evolution–It’s like a treadmill.  Scientists develop a new herbicide and weeds evolve.  Scientists develop genetically modified crops and the weeds evolve.  At what point do we rethink the system?

Unused Public Spaces in NYC Get New Purpose–A group in Brooklyn has figured that there are almost 600 acres of publicly owned land in the city that is sitting idle.  Wow!  Granted a lot of these parcels are little slivers or triangles in odd places, but those places are perfect for little gardens or trees or something just a little green.

The Price of Gas Chimera

Recently, Newt Gingrich—desperate to reverse his political fortunes now that he is looking up at both Mitt “My wife drives a couple of Cadillacs” Romney and Rick “Really, please don’t Google me” Santorum—is trotting out the Sarah Palin approved attack of gas prices.  It’s not the Rent is Too Damned High Party, it’s the Gas is Too Damned High Unless it’s Our Guy Party.

For the party that claims to be business minded—witness George W. Bush tanking the value of an MBA degree by claiming to be the first president with such a degree to hold office—one would think that the simple concept of supply and demand would not escape cognition.  However, when it comes to electoral politics nothing is easy and even the most accepted of facts suddenly become political footballs.

The price of gasoline in the U.S. is less a function of domestic production—the “drill, baby, drill” solution—than it is a function of total world production and total world demand.  It does not matter how much the U.S. produces because China or India or Brazil or Djibouti are going to be demanding oil on the world market at a pace that is growing faster than production.  Therefore, price will rise.

The price of a gallon of gasoline is even more complex still because gasoline is a product refined from crude oil.  Refinery capacity, blending requirements, transportation load factors, seasonal demand…and more are all factors that drive the price of a gallon of gas up or down independently of the price of crude oil.

Using data available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration one can spend hours creating relationships between the price of oil and the price of a gallon of gas or diesel or ethanol or whatever.  Just to give you an idea.  In January of 2001 the price of a gallon of gasoline nationwide was $1.43 on average and a barrel of oil was $27.44 on average—the gallon of gasoline being 5.19% of the barrel of oil.  In February of 2012 the price of a gallon of gasoline nationwide was $3.59 on average and a barrel of oil was $105.88 on average—the gallon of gasoline being 3.39% of the barrel of oil.

The common complaint that one hears from the Sarah Palins, Glenn Becks, and Newt Gingrichs of the world is that the price of a gallon of gasoline before President Obama took office was $1.65 a gallon and its $3.59 now.  Okay, but that $1.65 a gallon price was the result of near historic demand destruction in the United States following the onset of the financial crisis and not related to domestic production of oil.  In July of 2008 the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. was $4.11.  So, in approximately six months the price of a gallon of gas declined by almost 60%.  Furthermore, the highest prices seen during the oil friendly George W. Bush administration have not been matched by the current administration.  Just look at the dramatic decline graphically:

The red line represents a simple trendline to show that the current price is not out of the historical norm for the increase in the price of a gallon of gasoline going back to the beginning of the George W. Bush Administration.

Going back to August of 1990—when the data set I was using ends—one can see that the period prior to about 2002 was one of price stability:

What to take away from all of this?  A lot of people who get their faces in front of cameras have absolutely no idea what they are talking about, select facts to fit their narrative, and conveniently ignore the truth.  Sounds like a night of Fox News programming.

Too bad for the Republican harpies that there is little correlation between the price of a gallon of gasoline and electoral success.  There’s always the culture wars.  Or Allen West filling up his Hummer.

Friday Linkage 10/14/2011

My mind is already on vacation, but my body is still at work.  I may or may not post anything during the coming week while I enjoy the mountains of Colorado.  It is all going to depend on how motivated I am while taking in the scenery and enjoying the first bottle of my new organic light beer.  See everyone next week!

Governor Brown Signs Shark Fin Ban into Law—Finally, the shark fin ban in California is law making the U.S. Pacific seaboard, minus Alaska, a no go for this brutal practice that is depleting our ocean of sharks.  Now if only the federal government would move on a nationwide ban.

Target to Source 100% “Sustainable” and “Traceable Seafood by 2015—Apparently Target is not completely deaf to the demands that retailers start worrying about the sustainability of their products, particularly seafood.  The interesting part of this goal is that traceability has not been something that any major nationwide retailer has attempted.  Like Michelle Bachmann says, the devil is in the details.

All U.S. Power Could be Renewable by 2026—I am sure that this is quite possible, save for obstructionist politicians beholden to industries diametrically opposed to renewable energy.  Too bad.

U.S. Demand for Gasoline Falls for 29th Consecutive Week—This is getting to be a broken record, but the U.S. is using a lot less gasoline for transportation.  I do not know if it is a result of Cash for Clunkers, more fuel efficient cars, or people just driving less.  Probably a combination of those three factors and a hundred others.

Lightbulb Wars—I would like to think that I could do a better job reviewing the myriad light bulbs that are competing for our dollars, but I have been beaten to the punch by several sites.  This is one of the better series.

Ten Tips for Growing Fruit Trees—Gardens of annual vegetables are nice, but I cannot wait until next year when I plant apple tree on my property to provide years of local fruit.  This slideshow is just a tease until springtime.

How to Capture Rain—Some interesting ideas from the dry southern California climate.  I particularly love the calling out of a 55 gallon rain barrel as a demitasse of capacity relative to the downpour.  I want to install a rainwater harvesting system, but have the same concern about how much I am really doing in comparison to the effort.  Are there better ways to trap rainwater?

Winery Wastewater Becomes Fruit of their Labor—The production of wine can be a huge consumer of water.  Even at its most efficient, a gallon of wine represents six gallons of wastewater.  Turning this waste stream into a resource is a challenge as well as an opportunity.

Friday Linkage 8/26/2011

An unexpected death in the family and a road trip from Iowa to Ohio means that all the stuff I had planned to write about will get shifted until next week at the earliest.  This assumes that I do not spend the weekend laid up in bed with some mystery illness or a project I think will take an hour ends up consuming an entire Sunday.  The joys of being an adult homeowner.

At Vacant Homes, Foraging for Fruit—Imagine all the potential of all those vacant lots producing food.  Sometimes, it is already there waiting to be picked by an enterprising individual.

Fox News’ The Five Is Full of Clean Energy Errors—Imagine that, Fox News peddles distortions, myths, and outright lies about clean energy.  Imagine that coming from an organization owned by a media conglomerate implicated in phone hacking and general malfeasance globally.

Gasoline Demand Drops to Decade Low—Demand for gasoline in the United States in July was the lowest for that month in a decade.  Previous declines in U.S. gas consumption had been blamed on a variety of economic factors, but none of those trends are consistent with the most recent decline.  The unemployment rate is lower, economic activity is higher, etc.  Interesting.

Share a Car, Save the Planet—Car sharing uses fewer resources?  No way.  I just wish I had access to a car sharing service in my town.  Some day…

Mazda Harvest Old Cars for New—On one of my bike routes around town I pass an automobile graveyard.  The vehicles are in various states of disrepair and disassembly.  I always wonder about the ability of industry to recycle these vehicles into new vehicles.  It is encouraging to see that some companies are taking steps to consider how to recycle a car when the car is designed.

North Hollywood Community Garden—The latest entry in a series about community gardens in the Los Angeles area highlights a garden in North Hollywood.  It’s just an interesting snapshot of a community in development.