Tag Archives: repair

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:

IMG_1023

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:

IMG_1022

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.

Shimano Total Replacement

I was given a new bike recently—a story for another day—that came equipped with Shimano 105 components, which are generally regarded to be a good performing value component group.

After tightening the various bolts and adjusting various angles I noticed that the downshift paddle on the rear shifter was broken:

Lever Broke

These shifters are Shimano Total Integration models that incorporate the shifting and breaking into a single lever.  Everything is close at hand and once can shift or break from a multitude of hand placements on the drop bars.

In this case a little plastic piece covering the metal of the downshift paddle broke away completely.  I am talking about a few grams of plastic.  Maybe a nickel’s worth of material.

The “good” news came when I asked about a replacement piece of plastic at the local bike shop.  I was given one of those looks that says, “Silly cyclist, that was not in Shimano’s plan.”

What was in Shimano’s plan?  A complete replacement lever to fix a tiny piece of broken plastic.  Planned obsolescence and lack of user serviceable parts has bedeviled cyclists for decades, but this seemed extreme.  I had to disassemble the right side of my handlebars and remove the cabling all to repair a simple piece of plastic.  One option would have been to continue shifting with the broken paddle but that was like getting a slice of wood jammed into my finger every time I wanted to drop a cog.

So, it’s really Shimano Total Replacement.  What a joke.  I suppose that this will just force me to switch out the shifters sooner rather than later.  The object of my desire?  Some Retroshifts.  Any company that uses a goat as a logo is cool.

Friday Linkage 1/3/2014

Man, writing 2014 is a trip.  It happens every year, but the first few weeks of putting down a new year always throws me for a loop.  I digress.

On to the links…

California Installed More Rooftop Solar In 2013 Than Previous 30 Years Combined—What do you follow that up with?  Think about the acceleration of rooftop photovoltaics over the past couple of years.  Even better, think about what this means in cumulative terms as more PV arrays come on line in 2014.

Massive Minnesota Solar Project gets Legal Boost—It’s important to remember that solar is not just important in California.  In Minnesota, not exactly known for sunny days on end, solar is getting to be a big deal.

Fossil Fuel Industry and Koch Brothers Align to Kill Extension of Wind Energy Tax Credits—Anytime you read a story about some group opposed to renewables it always seems to come back around to the Koch Brothers.  Do these guys like anything besides money and Fox News?  Heck, they probably do not even like Fox News that much.  Just money.

We Want You for the Repair Resolution—Repairing things has become a lost art and skill in our modern society.  Devices become “obsolete” so quickly that replacement just seems like a better option.  It’s a pretty tired story, but committing to repair is maybe the greenest thing you could do in 2014.

World’s Smallest Laptop Adapter could Lead to More Efficient Electronics— How many laptops are out there sucking electricity right now through under-engineered power bricks?  Millions?  Tens of millions?  More?  Like inefficient cable boxes this is one of those unseen vampires of power.

The United Watershed States of America—I love alternative maps that do away with current political boundaries.  We are so wedded to the boundaries of states in our minds that it colors our decisions on issues that have absolutely no regard for where people in Washington D.C. though borders should be.

California Gripped By Driest Year Ever—Drought is just nasty because it is so persistent.  Granted, any historian of the American west will tell you that California is a state defined by extreme weather and natural events so to judge anything over a short period of time is just asking for trouble.  Nonetheless, I do not want to be someone counting on rain in the Golden State.

Hawaiian Garden Being Brought Back to Paradise—Hawaii is a strange place botanically.  A lot of the plants that we identify with the islands are non-native and/or invasive.  A vision of a pre-invasive species Hawaii is interesting.

The Easiest Way to Tell if You Have Healthy Soil—Sometimes we become too enamored with fancy tests.  Just open your eyes and nature may provide you the answers in a relatively easy to understand format.

Millions Of Acres Of Chinese Farmland Too Polluted To Grow Food—China’s list of problems keeps growing and many of them are self-inflicted.  The air is just awful.  The land is so polluted in some spots that it is no longer capable of growing food safely.  If there is a place headed for a nasty ecological crash, it has to be China.

The Mysterious Story of the Battery Startup that Promised GM a 200-mile EV—This story is just fascinating and as it made the rounds over the break everyone said it should be used as a primer on startups.  I think it speaks to a lot of issues involving startups, mature industries, the government, etc.  Enjoy it.

Friday Linkage 6/28/2013

I want to apologize for missing last week’s Friday Linkage post.  There was a sudden death in my family and we ended up making a trip to central Ohio for the funeral services.  It’s amazing how “busy” you can be during the couple of days that funeral services happen without actually doing anything.  Wow!

On to the links…

Gagged by Big Ag—Ag gag laws, pushed by big ag, are an abomination.  Nothing says I am doing something wrong than lobbying for laws to make it illegal to expose what you are doing.  I think it will be interesting to see the legal boundaries pushed when someone finally brings a person to court under one of these laws.  I am guessing that it will work its way to the Supreme Court as a constitutional issue.

Food Miles are a Distraction.  Local Food is Not.—Food miles are easy because we are programmed to think about things in terms of miles—speed in our cars, length of a trip, frequent flier points, etc.  The distraction is that the distance which food travels tells only a small part of the food’s story.

Michael Pollan and Ruth Reichl Hash out the Food Revolution—I do not know if I would go so far as to say that these two titans of the food movement “hash” it out, but there are some interesting tidbits.

Bloomberg Plan Aims to Require Food Composting—How is this not a “win win” for everyone involved?  It reduces the amount of material going into the landfill, which when decomposing would release methane gas, and gardener’s gold—i.e. compost—gets produced as an end product.  Dig it.

16 Foods You can Regrow from Kitchen Scraps—If I can regrow the plant from the “scraps” does that change the meaning of the word scrap?  Just sayin’.

How Much Sugar is Really in Your Food—Watch this video and be amazed at just how much sugar we eat in our food.  Reminds me of Fast Food Nation when Eric Schlosser writes that there is only one menu item at McDonald’s that does not contain added sugar.  WTF?

An Arid Arizona City Manages its Thirst—I think this article is a little light on Phoenix.  Maybe a better term would be the Phoenix metro area because I remember cities outside of the actual city of Phoenix being blanketed in green lawns.  Those retirees in Del Webb’s Sun City would not want to give up that patch of Kentucky bluegrass like back home.

Consumer Reports says New CAFÉ Standards will Save Car Buyers $4,600—So, all those horror stories about the cars costing so much more money for consumers was really just short sighted scare mongering.  Amazing.

We Need a Fixer (not Just a Maker) Movement—For too long, we have allowed the culture of repair to die on the vine in the name of the latest and greatest.  It’s amazing how easily and cheaply some things can be fixed, but which usually result in the purchase of something new.  Bring on the fixers.

Pentagon Bracing for Public Dissent over Climate and Energy Shocks—It reads a little conspiracy theory like, but the bones are there to confirm that the Pentagon is worried about the disturbance that could be caused by public dissatisfaction over future climate and energy shocks.  I wonder what the black helicopter crowd thinks about this story?

Climate Change in Your Community—Plug in your zip code and see what climate change is likely to do in your area.  Now you know what to be upset about.

Huge Alberta Pipeline Spill raises Questions as Keystone XL Decision Looms—  The wicket for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline seems to have moved from one of safety to climate impact with the President’s speech on Tuesday.  However, safety cannot be ignored especially in light of the recent spills of tar sands derived liquid petroleum.

Price of Photovoltaic Panels to Drop to $0.36 per Watt by 2017—It was not that long ago that producing panels for approximately $1 per watt was considered the holy grail of solar.  Now we are looking at a price that is nearly two-thirds less.  Cover the world’s rooftops in solar, baby!

Friday Linkage 10/5/2012

October is here!  It’s really not a lot different than the last week of September, but the turning of another calendar page makes it seem different.  Casseroles in the oven, apple pie scents wafting through the house, my daughter sneaking an extra marshmallow for her hot cocoa…

The next couple of nights are supposed to bring temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit for eastern Iowa.  Yippee!  A lot of people do not appreciate the changing of the seasons—hoping for the mind numbingly consistent weather of the sunbelt.  There is something about the change of the seasons that is revitalizing to the soul.  Break out the fleece!

On to the links…

Debunking the Supposed Decline in Clean Energy—Republicans and their media minions—yes, I am looking at you Fox News—have never let the facts about clean energy get in the way of a good sound bite.  It’s all Solyndra, all the time.

Solyndra Hypocrisy Illustrated—Speaking of Solyndra, just take a look at the relative magnitude of the loss that the loan program endured:

Clean Energy Showdown in Arizona—Why Arizona has not whole heartedly embraced solar photovoltaics is beyond me.  Why it is even a discussion is beyond me.

How CAFE Killed Compact Pickups and Station Wagons—The guys over at The Truth About Cars have done an excellent job showing how the complicated mechanics behind the CAFE rules have killed entire classes of vehicles.

Mississippi River at its Healthiest in a Generation—Success stories like this need to get more publicity.  When I was a small child growing up near the Mississippi River we treated it like it was a Superfund site.  You did not swim near the river.  You did not eat fish from the river.  Heck, you felt scared to even look at the river for fear of some toxic river monster leaping out to grab you.  Not so much anymore.

How Food Justice Starts at Home—The intersection of environmental and social justice is best exemplified in any movement to improve our food—including the quality of the food and the conditions under which it is produced.

“Pink Slime” Lawsuit May be Frivolous, but it Could Chill Speech—The people behind everyone’s favorite gross meat additive are suing ABC News for airing a story about pink slime.  Never mind that the specifics had been in the press for years and it was just a moment of cultural zeitgeist that propelled the issue to the forefront.  Nope, these guys are going to court.  Good luck.

New Breed of Hunter Shoots, Eats, and Tells—It’s funny that this is a new trend because I knew people growing up in southeastern Minnesota who had freezers full of meat that they had personally “harvested” from the woods.  I guess if Mark Zuckerberg does it, it’s a trend.

Repair Still Rules in India, Can America Bring it Back?—Repairing things in the U.S. is a non-starter.  You can barely find parts to repair something, let alone find someone to actually do the repair if you are not so inclined.  When my stove broke a few years ago all it took to complete the repair was a new heating element, a Phillips screwdriver, and about fifteen minutes of time, most of which was spent unscrewing the plate that hid the heating element.  Cost?  $50.  Friends were shocked that I did the repair rather than looking for a new stove.  Huh?

Greenest College Campuses—Because I cannot get enough of infographics:

Friday Linkage 6/29/2012

Wildfires are abstract concepts to someone living in Iowa.  Sure, we see fields that catch fire now and again but rarely is anything more than an old barn or single farmstead truly threatened.

However, close friends in Colorado Springs were evacuated from the path of the ongoing Waldo Canyon Fire and are now homeless.  As of this morning they do not know the condition of their house or when they will be allowed to even go back to see what, if anything, remains.  Everyone in their family is safe, but there is just a pit in the bottom of your stomach when you think about the situation.

Sorry for the depressing tone, but thoughts about the wildfire have sort of consumed my waking hours lately as I tried to imagine the combination of horror, anger, and unknown.

On to the links…

Midwestern Drought Intensifies—Shades of the 1988 drought are beginning to appear as the Midwest is increasingly dry and the hot conditions of high summer are starting to bear down.  This week it was close to 100 degrees in Eastern Iowa with hot winds to match.

How Big Meat is Taking Over the Midwest—The forces of big meat, represented by the increase in confined animal feedlot operations (CAFOs), are slowly taking over the remaining pockets of livestock production that they do not own in the Midwest.  A quick drive through rural Iowa will put you in contact with the foul smell of these modern hell holes.  Don’t believe these places are hell on Earth?  Just try and walk up to one without tearing up, vomiting, or giving up because of the smell.  Now imagine eating meat that comes from one of these operations.

We Evolved to Eat Meat, But How Much is Too Much?—It is not that meat, in and of itself, is a bad thing.  It is just that Americans in general and, increasingly, the rest of the world eats too much of the stuff and it is produced in deplorable conditions.

Visualizing a Nation of Meat Eaters—A series of very interesting charts and graphs that visually display the evolution of meat consumption in the U.S.

Too Big to Chug—In America we love us some big drinks:

Think about the fact that the McDonald’s kid size drink is 5 ounces larger than the original fountain drink size for the chain in 1955.  Think that is scary?  During my son’s one year checkup, the pediatrician was asking questions about his eating habits when he said “Do you try to limit juice and soda intake?”  Huh?  Soda intake for a one year old?  Why is that even a question?

How Clean is Your Beach?—Every year, the Natural Resources Defense Council releases a report on the water quality and public notification of beaches in the United States.  Check it out to see if your favorite beach is on the list and how it did.  Is it safe to go back into the water?

Fear Accompany Fisherman in Japanese Disaster Region—Fisherman are starting to make their way back into the sea in the area near the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.  Given the reports of potentially irradiated tuna making their way to California earlier, I would think that people would be more than hesitant to wrap their fingers around some calamari from these waters.

The Curse of the Lead Bullet—The California condor’s recovery is one the greatest success stories of the modern wildlife conservation movement.  Even though the majestic bird was brought back from the precipice of extinction, threats to its long term viability remain.  One of those is the lead shot used in hunting loads.    Why are we still using a toxic metal for recreational hunting?  In Iowa this year this same issue was brought forward by the Department of Natural Resources, but our tone deaf governor chose to make some kind of misguided ideological stand in opposing the ban of lead hunting loads.  Why?

Have Sledgehammer Will Farm—Breaking up asphalt and concrete is brutal and backbreaking work, but considering how much of our landscape is covered in the materials it is almost inevitable that spaces will have to be reclaimed.  Bit by bit we can replace the hard edges of the modern world with the softer edges of a better future.

Edible Weeds in the Garden—It may be a weed, but that does mean it lacks culinary value.  Like the non-marketable cuts of meat or offal, we too often think of food in terms of very narrowly defined items.  So, don’t just pull those weeds.  Saute them!

Simple Sheet of Paper Keeps Produce Fresh Four Times Longer—This is one of those little things that you smack your head when you see it and say, “Why didn’t someone think of this earlier?”  Probably because you don’t worry about the shelf life of food when you do not think about the cost.

Unfixable Computers—We have entered an age where a computer is a disposable item.  Think about that for a moment.  I remember when computers were something of a centerpiece of a family’s home, cared for like cars, but now these items have become merely electronic waste when the time comes to make even the simplest of repairs.  It is not forward progress at all.

BioLite Stove—This thing is just cool.  The BioLite stove seems like the perfect disaster stove because it can also provide a small amount of electricity for phones or lights.  Hmmm…