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   vehicular electrical problem hell
Friday, October 10 2003
I had a dream last night that I was out driving around in the truck getting the things I needed to get its rear lights working. The dashboard clock said it was 2:00, so I had plenty of time to get everything done by the end of the business day. But then my plan began disintegrating. For some reason I was in Woodstock, and all the stores were closed. It turned out the time was three minutes until 5:00pm, not 2:00pm. Suddenly it was unlikely I'd be unable to make the deadline. At that point I woke up.
This dream showcased the anxiety I was having about correcting my truck's tail light problem. Getting pulled over by cops is a profoundly unpleasant experience, and I wanted it to never happen again.
So I made myself a pot of coffee and began debugging my truck's electrical problem. Before long I'd tracked down a secondary block of fuses I hadn't even known about, and I'd managed to find one of these had blown. Not surprisingly, the English and Japanese label indicated that this was the fuse for the tail lights. I put in a replacement, but it immediately blew, indicating that a short was still present in that circuit.
I spent the rest of the morning and some of the afternoon trying to track down that short. At first I assumed there was a problem in the wires behind the new stereo and CB radio, since that was where I'd been mucking around before the fuse blew. But everything looked fine back there, and no matter what angle I viewed it from, there was no evidence of the sort of damage that would result in a short. So I tried unplugging parts of the circuit throughout the truck to see if I could isolate the problem, but I couldn't. It was somewhere in the main trunk, buried deep within the rust-encrusted underbelly. As I grew increasingly frustrated with this situation, I came to see it as some sort of IQ test I was failing. "Come on, Gus, think! What could be the problem?" I asked myself, out loud.
Last night's dream had provided a warning - with the onset of afternoon, I knew I had to take some sort of action to correct the problem. By then it was too late to fall back on a garage, even if I said it was an emergency. The only solution at this point was an improvised one. I could get those lights to work, but it wasn't going to be a pretty. I tore the rear lights fixtures apart (they're held on by six screws each), cut the rear running lights from their shorted circuit, and soldered in a piece of speaker wire, which I ran up into the truck bed and then across to the cab, through the rear window, and then down to an electromechanical relay controlling the circuit. Doing this, I was able to get the rear lights working, but the dashboard lights were still dead.
As I worked, a huge semi tractor trailer that had passed an hour before headed back down Dug Hill Road. Just after he passed the house, I heard the lingering sound of slowly crumpling sheet metal. At first I thought it was the shifting of contents in the back of the semi as it rounded the tight curve, but then I noticed that the semi had stopped and that the telephone wires were bouncing up and down. A few cars came up behind him and were forced to turn around and head back the way they'd come. Evidently some sort of accident had just happened and Dug Hill Road was blocked. This was at least the second accident that had happened in front of the house in the past year. (Judging from the scattered car parts and injured trees in various stages of healing, over the years there have been many more.)
I talked to the truck driver when he came up past the driveway putting down orange reflective triangles. His story was that somehow the telephone wire had been hooked by his semi on the way up Dug Hill Road and har pulled it down just enough that he ran into it full-on when came back through. In the process he snapped off a utility pole which smashed into his truck.
I was in a hurry because of my truck's rear light situation, but I did managed to make one selfless contribution to the safety of drivers on Dug Hill Road. I put up a cardboard sign on the red wheel barrow and parked it on the side of the road some distance from the accident. The sign clearly read "Stop Ahead," although I saw at least one SUV drive past it without slowing.
To finish the rehabilitation of my truck and have it inspected at the Hurley State Trooper barracks, I needed to somehow get to Kingston, but the most obvious way there was blocked. So I had to drive all the way up Dug Hill Road the other way towards Woodstock (just like in my dream!) and then take 28A and 28 into town, a much longer drive.
First I went to the auto parts place in the Uptown Plaza just to buy replacement fuses for the half dozen I'd destroyed in my fruitless debugging attempt. The only thing I'd eaten today was miserable piece of bread, not even the kind I particularly like. As I stood there waiting for the employees to serve me, I found their usual leisurely pace an incredible torture. My phenomenally low blood sugar was causing my entire body to hurt. I thought I might either fall over or start screaming. Once I'd made the transaction, though, I bid the employee who had served me a friendly good day.
On the way out to Hurley, I stopped at the Citgo for a big bag of Cooler Ranch Dorito Chips. I might have picked something else, but I had to act fast in order to avoid being second in line, a wait that would have been even more miserable than the one in the auto parts place.
I stuffed the chips in my mouth as I drove to the Hurley State Trooper Barracks. Eleanor was in the seat beside me (I couldn't risk her hanging out with the semi tow truck people back on Dug Hill Road), and I offered her a chip, which she accepted.
I was astounded by how quickly the State Trooper inspection went. I showed up, a State Police Investigations officer came out to look at my truck, I turned on the lights and hit the brakes, and that was all. It took all of three minutes. The only complication was when Eleanor jumped out and started running around in the grass, making me worry she'd dash into US 209 as an impulsive demonstration of her command of free will. I think her little performance may have actually been helpful in that it distracted the inspector from poking around too carefully. He didn't notice, for example, that I had a speaker wire hooked into my tail lights and that my dashboard was still completely ripped open, with the lights and gas gauge in a nonfunctional state.
The court clerk in Hurley wasn't in, so I headed back home down Hurley Mountain Road and up Dug Hill Road in the usual way, only to be stopped a couple hundred feet below my driveway. The semi was still stuck, and the State Trooper on the scene said the road would be closed for another hour. I would have just parked in the driveway of the downhill neighbors, but the trooper said there were down wires and it wasn't safe to walk through. This meant I had to take a twenty mile detour.
So I drove around "the block" counter-clockwise. First I drove down to Hurley Mountain Road and took it southwestward, stopping at Gill's roadside produce stand for apple cider (it was the only "drink vendor" along my route). Then I headed into totally unexplored territory to the west on Johnson Hill Road to Lapla Road, which I took north past a string of wide ponds along Stony Creek. There were Red Maples growing well out into the water, and at this time of year they glowed a bright maroon.
Lapla took me up to Spillway Road, which turned northeastward and eventually led to 28A and then back to Dug Hill Road southbound, which constituted my last four miles.
The whole way I was wondering why my gas gauge wasn't working and pondering what lifstyle changes I'd have to make if it turned out I could never get it working again. (As it turned out, I'd simply disconnected it in my frenzy of circuit debugging.)
Back home, the semi still hadn't been pulled free, but Gretchen was home even if her car wasn't; unlike me and Eleanor, she and Sally had been allowed to park the car and walk through.
I spent another hour or so working on my truck, mostly getting the dashboard lights to work. Evidently they belonged to the tailight circuit I was abandoning. Interestingly, once you've decided to abandon the bad part of a shorted automotive circuit, it isn't hard to simply replace it with new wire. The big lesson today was that it doesn't pay to spend more than a few minutes debugging a shorted circuit at all when replacing it is so much easier.

Gretchen and I watched Men In Black II on satellite teevee tonight. For whatever reason, I didn't especially like Men In Black I, and there's something about Men In Black II that vaguely annoyed me. I think the basic comic foundation of the movie is at odds with my personal æsthetic, in a way that other funny movies haven't been. That said, there are some comic details in this movie which are spleen-rupturingly hilarious. I was particularly entertained by scenes involving micro-aliens or entire alien worlds in tiny self-contained objects. When one of the Men in Black puts his finger into a glowing plasma ball ands the scene shifts to a tiny world where someone is crying "All is lost!" - now that was my kind of funny.

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