Tag Archives: spring

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:


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:


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.


Spring Suffering

Suffering comes in two flavors during the spring: end of season suffering for skiers and beginning of season suffering for cyclists.  Unfortunately, I find myself suffering on both ends of those seasons.  Damn.

Spring skiing sounds like fun, right?  Warmer temperatures, laid back crowds, decent base…blah, blah, blah.  For the first couple of hours everything holds true.  The runs are great and the kids are happy.  Sometime around noon as the sun bakes off any cloud cover you slowly descend into a slushy hell known as the last run of the day.

The crowds wake up from their jaeger bomb comas for the two runs they will do for the day before going back to an après scene focused on even more jaeger bombs, but not before completely chewing up all of the decent runs and clogging the lift lines.  Seriously bro, do you even lift?  Sorry, I could not help myself.

Spring skiing starts off with so much potential and ends up being a sufferfest of slogging through snow more reminiscent of mashed potatoes than anything else.  At least my kids do not complain about cold fingers and toes.  So I have that going for me.

Spring biking is never meant to be fun and no one is really going to try and convince you otherwise.  The weather is usually leaning toward cold and wet.  The wind is never blowing less than ten to fifteen miles an hour with gusts of double those numbers.  And your legs are somehow not prepared for even a light day despite a winter of working out and skiing.

You spend the first few rides wiping snot every five minutes, huffing cold air like an asthmatic weed smoker, and generally struggling to push a gear that would be light in the middle of July.  What the hell spring?  At some point during every early spring ride you ask yourself why you do this and why aren’t you inside watching Netflix?

Why?  Because we are masochists who need to suffer in order to feel alive.  None of this activity is necessary to our living yet it is essential to our happiness.  We are smug in looking across the bar at a fellow skier with sun burnt cheeks and a wiped out thousand yard stare at the end of a long day plowing through snow cone conditions.  We are a member of that tribe.  We wave stealthily to the other hardy cyclists out in these early days of spring knowing that their lungs are struggling to suck down air just like us.  We are bonded in our suffering.

It is easy to go out when the skies are clear, the temps are in the teens, and there is an inch of fresh snow on the front side of the mountain.   It is easy to get in the saddle when the sun is out, the wind is mild, and your neighbors are out mowing their lawns.  What defines us as members of a different tribe is when we commit to the suffering willingly.

Taking Stock of Winter’s Losses

This past winter was harsh. There were long stretches of frigid temperatures. Snow and ice clung on longer than I can remember in a while. And the landscape has paid a price.

Granted, it did not really warm up until this week with temperatures last week falling to near freezing at night. With some heat, humidity, and rain it is time to take stock of what damage the weather caused. It is not pretty.

I was really excited when I planted my dawn redwood. Now it is dead:

Dead Dawn Redwood

This is a great spot for a tree, but it obviously needs to be something hardier if climate change means we are going to end up with harsher winters. Or wetter springs. Or drier summers. Who knows?

The loss of the butterfly bushes was not so surprising since I lost one of the bushes last year as well:

Dead Butterfly Bushes

I am kind of bummed out because this was going to be my pollinator garden. I keep thinking that this might be the perfect spot for a hop trellis. I figure that I can fit four to five vines in the space that should provide enough fresh hops for a couple of batches of wet hopped beer. If you have ever had a well-made wet hopped beer it is a treat because the flavor is so distinct. To avoid winter kill, I could bring the rhizomes in once they have gone dormant and store them in my keezer, which stays a cool 38 degrees all the time.

What really surprised me was how bad the lilacs got brutalized:

Hurt Lilac

Normally, these are some very hardy plants but this exemplar is struggling to fully leaf out. Granted, it is alive where other plants have died so I have to cut it some slack.

Much to my wife’s chagrin this means I am going to be spending some time at the garden center this Memorial Day weekend. Any suggestions on plants?

Friday Linkage 5/16/2014

So, every time you hear a proponent of Keystone XL talk about the safety of oil pipelines witness the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale. In the wee hours of Thursday morning a pipeline burst sending tens of thousands of crude into the city streets. Yep, great safety record for those pipelines.

On to the links…

America’s Oil And Gas Industry Averaged At Least 20 Spills Per Day In 2013—Think about that average for a moment. It is stunning. There is no such thing as truly safe oil and gas drilling and transportation. It is inherently susceptible to spills and accidents.

This Is Your Country With 10 Feet Of Sea Level Rise—It looks like I am safe in eastern Iowa, but large portions of very populous cities in the U.S. are not so lucky.

Slow Exit of the Midwest’s Winter Buries Gardens in a Deep Freeze—The past winter was brutal and as those of us in the Midwest take stock in the spring it is not any prettier. At the moment I am down two trees, three butterfly bushes, and a shrub. Plus, the plants that did survive are slow to leaf out and bloom.

The Toxic Brew in Our Yards—It is a spring and summer ritual where I live to see the chemical trucks spraying lawns and leaving little signs that might as well say, “Toxic waste dump. Stay off the grass!”

How Large-Scale Solar Power Can Reduce Pressure On Farm Land—Just some interesting ideas about how to marry large scale solar with other land use. Anything that moves solar PV forward is a good thing in my book.

Pakistan’s First Solar Project Is One Of The World’s Largest—Damn, this is a big solar project. When a country like Pakistan is getting on board with solar you know that things are happening for the technology.

Germany Sets New Record, Generating 74 Percent Of Power Needs From Renewable Energy—Hot damn that is impressive. Just take a moment and think about what that would mean if every country were as committed to large scale renewables. Pretty sight indeed.

A Whale And A Cruise Ship Collided In New York Harbor—I kind of wondered about this possibility the one time I took a cruise. These boats are massive and there is no way for these boats to avoid whales if they cross paths. Ugh.

Friday Linkage 4/4/2014

I want to apologize for being “off the grid” the past few weeks. It’s amazing how many things can get in the way of writing about things you enjoy: vacation (yay!), health (ugh!), kids (yay or ugh depending upon the day), and just the general flotsam and jetsam of life.

I promise to get off the schneid and put some posts out here very soon.

On to the links…

Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk: Worst Is Yet to Come—There has been a lot of reporting on the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and it is important. Very important. Moral of this story is that we need to get ready for an angry Earth.

Minnesota’s Largest Ever Solar Project gets Tentative Regulator Approval—Man, if Minnesota can deploy $250M of solar projects through the state’s primary utility than I think that almost any state in the union should be capable of something similar. It’s not like anyone heads up to Minnesota for lots of sunny days.

Ground Broken At First Utility-Scale Solar Project On Tribal Land—The obituary for utility scale solar was being written a few weeks back after the opening of the Ivanpah facility, but there seems to be some life left in the concept.

Wind Reaches Its Highest Generation Level Ever In Texas, Heralding A Challenge To Natural Gas—Texas may suck at a lot of things, but the state does have a lot of wind. Some of which does not come from Rick Perry bloviating. The wind power coming from ERCOT passed the 10,000 megawatt mark recently.

The Artificial Leaf Is Here. Again.—Like nuclear fusion that does not obliterate cities, the artificial leaf is one of those holy grails of next generation power production. Maybe this time we are on the cusp of a revolution.

13 Unexpected Sources of Energy that Could Save the World—If you thought an artificial leaf was out there, just wait until you check out this list. What, no giant hamster wheels? Damn.

EVs, Plug-Ins Already Saving 45 Million Gallons of Fuel per Year in the U.S.—Even with a small fleet currently deployed there is a measurable impact. Think about what the numbers will look like as the technologies mature and proliferate.

Koch Brothers Quietly Seek To Ban New Mass Transit In Tennessee—It would not be a week without an article about the ass clown Kochs getting involved in a local issue. Do these guys like anything other than money and oil? Maybe chemicals and cutting down trees, but that is about it.

Plastic Soup Of Ocean Garbage Obscures Search For Malaysia Plane Debris—Basically, there is so much junk in the ocean that it impedes the ability of sensors to determine what is debris from a missing airplane and what is just crap. Great job human race.

Program Looks to Give Bees a Leg (or Six) Up—We need to do everything that we can to help pollinators because these little guys are so vital to our food production.

10 Edible Spring Weeds—Weeds get a bad rap because we have been conditioned by the chemical industry to view them as interlopers. Sorry, but these little plants can be a nutritious addition to your diet. Foraging anyone?

Selling Out Organic to Protect Five Factory Farms—Is anyone surprised that the USDA has the best interests of factory farms and industrial agriculture in mind when it operates? No one should be since this has been standard operating procedure for decades.

Behind the Scenes at Greens & Gills’ Aquaponic Farm in Chicago—Aquaponics is an interesting concept. I would love to see someone do a lifecycle analysis to determine how sustainable the model really is.

Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods—This may be one of life’s most important questions:


Thank you Washington Post.

These Sad Photos Show NYC Gentrification where Chain Stores replace Local Businesses—Really, does the world need another Subway or Verizon store?

Pre-Summer Beer Thoughts

It feels like summer might never actually get here.  Iowa received a record 17.66 inches of rain during the spring, triggering flooding, and leading to a general soggy feeling.  It’s a good thing that I have not bottled any “lawnmower beers” because I might be craving stouts if the cool temperatures and overcast skies continue much longer.

Chinook IPA

Single hop beers are taking off as brewers, both of the home variety and commercial craft type, are seeking to make beers that stand out.  A plethora of hop options also makes this possible, as do techniques like dry hopping or using freshly harvested hops.

I jumped on the bandwagon by brewing up the Chinook IPA recipe from Northern Brewer:

Chinook IPA

According to the calculations in iBrewmaster the Chinook IPA was going to clock in at ~52 IBU and ~4.9% ABV.   The bitterness was lower than the recipe called for because I reduced the boil time of the initial 1 ounce of hops to get to around the ~52 IBU, which I am beginning to think is the optimal point of bitterness.

Single hopped beers are supposed to accentuate the particular hop profile of the chosen hop.  I am not familiar enough with the Chinook variety to tell if anyone particular flavor or note was accentuated compared with a beer that has a blend of hops.  The beer did lack some of the earthy or “piney” notes of IPAs that use Cascade or Willamette hops.

The first bottle came out a little flat.  I do not know if it is the “magic” or “voodoo” of bottle conditioning, but some bottles come out less carbonated than others.  Maybe that’s another reason to make the transition to kegs and forced carbonation.  Never mind the two to three weeks cut in production time.

Next up into bottles is a recipe called Synchronicity, which should prove interesting given the use of sweet orange peel and lemongrass.

Innovation?  Really?

AB-InBev, the corporate monster behind Bud Light and about half of the world’s beer it seems, is truly showing its corporate colors lately.  Unable to innovate in terms of products, because as one commentator put it there is not much you can do to Bud Light besides add a little lime flavoring, the behemoth is turning to packaging.  Two things caught my eye recently, the so-called “bow tie” can and the new punch top.

Punch tops, vented cans, wide mouth openings…whatever is next make me laugh.  The brewer is saying to the customer, “Please pour this swill down your throat as fast as possible so that you cannot actually taste anything and you come back to the liquor store to buy more.”  In the case of Coors Light the can actually signals when it is so cold that the beer cannot taste like much more than grain steeped water.  That is the idea I guess.

AB-InBev now has aped SABMiller’s “punch top” can with a pop top that also punches a whole in the can for faster guzzling.  You see, SABMiller’s version required you use an accessory.  Granted, that accessory could be a spark plug, drumstick of the musical variety, car key, or properly branded use-specific tool.  AB-InBev has done them one better by doing away with the accessory and including the power to vent the can right there on top of the can itself.  Damn, that is innovation.

Well, if you thought that a punch top copy was ridiculous wait until you get a load of the “bow-tie” can.  Yep, AB-InBev is packaging Budweiser in a can that is said to evoke the classic inconagprahy of the Budweiser bow tie.  Huh?  Was anyone actually asking for a specially shaped can?  Does anyone actually care?  Never mind that the can actually holds 11.3 ounces of beer versus a traditional can’s 12 ounces.  Oh, and it comes in a new packaging quantity…wait for it…the 8-pack.  I cannot wait to check out the variety of packaging available for summer with the introduction of the 8-pack.

What’s next?

We’re Outta’ Here!

It’s official.  Linn County, where I live in eastern Iowa, is no longer in a state of drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor:

IA_dm_130409The areas in white are considered to be “free” of drought.  How free is another question considering how persistent drought can be.

This picture will probably get better as Tuesday was the cutoff for data samples and it has rained across much of the state for the entire week.

The turnaround has been quite nice over the past few weeks as actual rain has fallen with a steady drumbeat.  Granted, the rain has also been accompanied by low temperatures so it is making for some miserable days.  Take the good with the bad and all.

Actually, I think the cooler temperatures are at play in helping us get out of drought because the soil does not dry out as fast when it is forty degrees versus seventy degrees.  Last spring it was ridiculously warm and sunny in March and April.  I am talking about seventy degrees and full sun almost every day it seemed like.

That weather trend continued into the summer where it was hot and sunny for many days on end.  It ended up that we just baked all summer because the rains did not come.