Another attempt

Tag Archives: maintenance

You Shall Be Known By Your Stars

A while ago, I had read a post online by a music collector where he had just completed a goal of listening to and rating every song in his library.  It only took him five years to do it.  Bravo for that level of effort.  The consideration of doing something similar for myself led me to attempt to define what a rating system would look like for me.

The “for me” thing is the most important part.  Ratings are entirely subjective, and still at the same time, they must be well-defined and rigid.  That feels weird to me, “this is precisely how it must be… for me.”  But weird or not, in order to begin rating my albums (and/or songs), I need to have a stick to measure with.

In my consideration of rating my music, I determined that there’s two levels of ratings, at the song level and at the higher album level.  These two ratings more or less correspond with the way I would listen to the music, either absorbing an entire album at a time, for example, playing a CD while driving, or, listening to a playlist while sitting at a computer or through the Plex server.  So, having the two different types of ratings is moderately important.

A 5-star rating applied to a song is pretty straightforward.  How much do I like the song?  That’s an important question because the question is not, how good is the song? That open-ended question carries with it every sub-question imaginable, summed up as, how good is it by what metric?  So, every song would start at 3 stars, being neutral, and the likelihood I’d want to hear it again adds or subtracts one or two stars.  But, I don’t plan on rating every one of my songs in any near future, so I don’t feel concerned with this scheme.

Albums, though, would get rated on a totally different scale and I thought hard on this.  The answer lies in the composition of the songs on the album.  My scale is as such:

5 – A top-notch album.  Any song could be played individually in a playlist and the album would be enjoyed played beginning to end.

4 – An excellent album. Most songs could be included in playlists, but the album is stronger than the individual tracks.

3 – A good album.  Some songs could be included in playlists, and the album could be played beginning to end without feeling the need to skip any tracks.

2 – An album with some good songs.  A few songs could be included in playlists and some songs would be skipped when playing as an album.

1 – Few to no good songs.  Very unlikely the album would be played except to hear the good songs (if any).  It might be a curiosity or kept for completist reasons.

Here’s the problem with rating things.  People want to love things more than they really do.  They tend to ignore the flaws and focus on the good.  That’s great in the world of human relations (although it’s just as unsustainable as in any other application).  So, in rating my music, it was important to have a clearly-defined way to avoid excessive 5-star ratings.  Once it was absolutely clear that 5 stars was highly-rarified territory, and that it wasn’t through any fault of the artist, the pressure of saying an album is “the best of the best” subsides.

To explain, consider an album that has some segue between songs, presented as another track.  It’s unlikely you would include the short 30 second clip in a playlist, thus – excluded.  4-star max.  Or you have an album like Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick, which has two 20-some minute tracks.  It’s not likely you want your playlist to be stalled for 20 minutes.  Same for Rush’s 2112.  Alternately, maybe a long song is chopped up into multiple tracks.  The song would make no sense played on shuffle in a playlist.  These examples explain the emphasis on “album” for the 4-star rating.  The album is designed as a linear experience, and there should be no shame that it is capped at 4 stars.

The interesting aspect about that rating system is that mediocre albums can be 5-star.  If there’s an album – I can think of a couple of jazzy instrumental albums – where every song stands on its own and could be played individually, but it’s not an album that particularly excites me.  So all the songs would be rated as 3 stars, but the album itself would be 5 stars.  These would be cases where I would add an entire album to a playlist instead of individual songs.

Along with the stress of wanting to rate albums higher than they belong is the admission that an album is not strong as you want it to be.  Tastes change, so that shouldn’t be an issue, but you know, I used to play that album all the time!  I am curious to see how many low-rated albums I really have.  I would guess it’s probably higher than I would expect, because I have been branching out into lots of different artists simply because it’s so cheap to buy CDs.

But the bottom line is, the baseline rating is 3 stars.  Would I put the CD in the car and listen to it all the way through?  If I would skip tracks, it drops to 2 stars.  I probably wouldn’t even take a 1-star album in the car. *cough* Spin Doctors *cough*


How’s It Going Down There?

If you haven’t noticed, it’s cold.  Fucking cold.  In fact, it’s so cold, we need a song for it.

Oh, the weather outside is bullshit
Too crappy for even a fire pit
And going outside is on hold
It’s fucking cold, fucking cold, fucking cold

So where I’m at, we’re going to have lows in the 30’s and highs only in the 50’s.  That is totally unacceptable.  I chose to leave the wasteland to come here and I don’t need the weather following me.  I’m just a little bit sensitive to this whole temperature thing right now and I think I have a good reason.

There is no heat in my goddamn house.

Yup, the HVAC unit that failed on me a few times this year and let me broil (I guess bake is a more appropriate cooking metaphor) in my house over the summer has now fucked me from the other direction.  And being a guy, that’s an undesirable situation.  Uh, a straight guy, I guess I need to clarify.

So, if you hadn’t guessed, it’s cold in here.  Not as cold as it is out there, but it’s in the mid 60’s.  Let me check… Current temp 66 degrees, feels like 40 degrees.  So, similar to how I went into emergency mode when the cooling went out, I’ve done the same for my heating crisis.  I closed all the rooms off and I’m heating the bedroom with a tiny little space heater.


This exact one, from the 80’s, shown almost actual size.

So my plan tonight is to not get hypothermia, put every blanket I have on the bed, and call the A/C people tomorrow.  Will it be a $50 fuse or a $5000 replacement?  Who knows?  Can’t wait to find out.

Nickeled And Dimed

My car is seven years old.  It was purchased in May, 2010 with 10 miles on the odometer.  Now, my car has 253,000 miles on the odometer.  It’s been a long, fun trip.  And now it’s time to pay up.

The shocks on the car really need replaced.  Really.  The car bottoms out on many bumps, which is hard to bear.  So, in my research of replacement shocks, I was entirely overwhelmed with options.  Since my car is a sports car, you have the basic replacement option, then you have somewhere on the order of a thousand “performance” options.  There’s another issue as well.  One that I know because it’s not the first time I’ve had shocks changed on a car. 

The first time I had the shocks changed on a previous car, I was wowed for a couple of days.  The car rode like brand new!  But then, it faded and the ride became just ok.  So the next car, which was a beater, I had the springs and the shocks replaced at the same time.  It’s kind of dumb to put almost 50% of the purchase price of the car into an upgrade, right?  The new car sensation lasted a bit longer, but eventually faded again.  Maybe I wasn’t buying high-quality parts, I don’t know.  But it’s not something you can just experiment with.  It’s fucking expensive.

So, in my research, it looks like I can spend about $600 for front and rear shocks that should be the same as OEM, or I can go wild with an adjustable $1500 system.  Regardless, $600 plus installation isn’t penny change.  I’m undecided as to whether to attempt the installation myself or utilize my neighbor or go to a shop.

Along with that issue, I have a headlight burned out right now.  That doesn’t sound like a big deal, right?  Go to AutoZone and they’ll install it for you?  You don’t know my car.  To change a headlight, you have to take the wheels off and remove the wheel well liner to access the headlight mount.  It’s a multi-hour process.  It is something I can do myself and I hate doing it every single time.  I’ve changed headlights at least 3 times.

When you’re taking out the fender liner, there are plastic fasteners that hold the liner in place.  These plastic pieces naturally become brittle over time and crack and fail.  I purchased a bunch of similar pieces and have used them in the past, but they’re not exactly like the originals and don’t fit very well.  And they crack even easier.  So I should buy new ones.  Those fasteners aren’t cheap either.  They’re over $1 each and I’ll probably need a couple dozen.  That and the light bulbs.

But that’s not all.  The headlight lenses are completely fogged over.  This condition started after the car was flooded many years ago.  And unlike the condition all the self-polishing kits attempt to remedy, my fogging is in the inside of the lenses, where it can’t be polished out.  So what’s the recourse?  Replacement.  When I did some research on replacements, I was floored by the prices.  Almost $1200 to replace both (in just parts).  And you know replacement would involve removing the entire bumper, which I might be able to do myself.  A later search revealed I was looking at the HID headlight lenses, which I don’t have.  That brought my parts cost down to about $800.  That’s still a hard pill to swallow, but more manageable.

So let’s tally up the whole renovation.  $600 for new shocks, maybe $50 for lights and fasteners, and $800 for headlight lenses.  Let’s just say $1500 in parts.  If I really wanted to make the car like-new, I’d need it repainted.  I’m not going to even entertain that right now.  The car itself has a blue book value of probably $4000, and with a flood on its history, it’s probably less.  So, I’m looking at spending almost half the car’s value to get it back up to standard usability.  That’s dumb, right?  But, to put the cost in perspective, I haven’t had a car payment in many, many, many months.  And this large expense is really only a few months of car payments, so I’m actually ahead of the game.

Renewed Vigor

I’ve had my car, a Mazda MX-5, for almost six years now.  In that time, I’ve raced it in autocrosses, driven it in rallies, and destroyed the engine in a flooded street.  Since that flooding event, I’ve given up on the hard-driving autocrosses, but it hasn’t slowed down much at all.  I still put about 30k miles a year on it.  The body and transmission have 174k miles.  The engine, a little less at 100k.

Lately, it seems like I’ve been having to work harder at keeping the system running well.  I was having a problem with cold starts on cooler mornings.  This was cleared up by cleaning the IAC valve – the Idle Air Control valve.  It’s a simple procedure involving unscrewing something and dousing it with cleaning fluid.  You should do it each time you change the air filter, but I seemed to have to do it more frequently than that.

Then I started having problems with the engine bogging down when I decelerate to a stop.  This was solved by cleaning the throttle body.  That’s a slightly more involved procedure involving unbolting a part and dousing it with cleaning fluid, then wiping off the carbon buildup.  I had to do it twice because I wasn’t thorough enough the first time.

Lately, things just didn’t feel quite right.  I knew I needed some critical safety maintenance, like brakes and tires, so I got both of those taken care of.  That made the ride much more smooth and quiet, but something was still off.  The engine seemed like it was struggling and the shifting was rough.  So I planned on doing some internal cleaning.

I stopped at AutoZone and picked up some Seafoam.  I’ve used Seafoam on my cars for a while and each time I do, I am surprised by the results.  There is a great argument as to whether it really does anything at all or whether it’s all in your head, but I am a believer.

I added a full can to my half-tank of gas yesterday when I got home.  When I started the car up and drove it this morning, it was immediately noticeable that something was better.  The engine was smoother, the acceleration was better, the shifts weren’t clunky anymore.

The weirdest thing was the accelerator.  My car is drive-by-wire, so there’s no cable literally pulling on the throttle body.  Yet somehow, the pedal was more responsive.  I didn’t have the previous sensation of one position having too little power and with a slight pressure change, suddenly having too much power.  That was causing me to surge in my driving, and I would spend a lot of time speeding up and slowing down.  Now, I could hold a position exactly where I wanted.

When I noticed that the car was running smoother, I reset my MPG sensor.  From almost six years of ownership, I know that my highway drive to work after resetting the computer would show about 34 MPG, and then it would drop as my city driving would factor in.  Getting to work today, the MPG read 36.8.  That has to account for something, right?

But I’m still not done.  I’ll also be adding Seafoam to the intake line this weekend.  Then I should be caught up on that level of maintenance.  Cheap and easy fixes are the best.