Friday, May 27, 2016

Perfection at 'Experiencing a Book'

Perfection has never been my ideal. Not everybody thinks like that. Many people may remember Curly's (Jack Palance's) speech about the beautiful woman backlit by the sun, in "City Slickers". Or consider the climax of "The Red Violin". There are other examples of worshiping perfection as an ideal from the days of chivalry, religious devotion, or military courage.

All I can say is, they are welcome to it, if that is what they want. For my part, I will continue to believe in the semi-universal S-shaped curve for Benefits versus Costs. (Notice the 'semi'.)

But it is always fun to make an exception. My recent problems with a broken leaf spring on my trailer resulted in a perfect experience of a certain type.

It was so easy to admire the competence and usefulness of the mechanic who drove the tow truck to my trailer, and then repaired it. He knew where to get the replacement part quickly, whereas I would have bounced around on the internet for hours, spending most of that time reading half-truths and advertisements. 

He managed to get the trailer onto the flat bed of the trailer, with one inch of space on the side of the trailer's wheels. (Recall, it has outboard wheel wells.)

He was not chatty, but neither was he grumpy. He was simply taciturn in a professional sort of way.

In contrast, consider the dispatcher at the towing service, Coachnet. Both the service and the young man dispatcher were excellent at their jobs. But why so much extraneous information? Is that all the world amounts to anymore: a bunch of cubicle-thralls entering unnecessary information into a computer system? 

The dispatcher's job was somewhat squishy and subjective, whereas the mechanic's job had more objective criteria. There is no guessing about whether he succeeded or not.

The dispatcher was a bit better spoken. Was he a college boy? Is his job an example of a 'knowledge worker', of the type that our service economy is supposed to need? The dispatcher was not wearing grease-stained coveralls as the mechanic was. So he is a 'white collar' worker.

Do you really believe that the dispatcher is as skilled as the mechanic?

This is the perfect example of what Matthew Crawford was writing about in "...Working with Your Hands...", a book that I had just finished before this leaf spring problem happened.

One more thing: the young mechanic might end up owning the auto garage someday. It is the only one in town. The dispatcher will never own Coachnet.  He will spend his whole life in fear of downsizing. But since insurance companies don't really compete with Chinese labor -- and why don't they? -- he may survive. He might even become a manager there someday. Whoopee.

Perhaps I should collect some of Crawford's juicy quotes, which encourage a more favorable view towards skilled professionals who work with their hands, instead of automatically assuming the superiority of white collar, college-educated Nobodies, who are really nothing more than petty clerks.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Can I Benefit from a Setback with my Trailer?

Care is needed in writing about a practical problem. But it can be an enjoyable challenge to the writer, who must keep thinking about the general reader, and avoid too many messy, picayune details.

The broken main leaf on my trailer, in the center of photo. The axle and wheel are to the left; the bow is to the right. The break is 3.5" aft of the fore shackle (in "front" of the wheel). Ignore the horizontal steel bar along the bottom --it is tow truck hardware.

The main top leaf broke at the point where leaf #2 touches it from underneath.  The bow of the trailer is towards the right in the photo.

One of the leaf springs broke on my single-axle trailer. Fortunately this occurred at walking speed, after bumping into a partially submerged rock. So no damage was done to me or the frame or axle.

But what if this happened to a single axle trailer at high speeds? I always worried about single axle trailers just for this reason. Perhaps I was right all along.

One could argue that it would be preferable to have rubber torsion axles that don't have leaf springs, and therefore don't break. From experience I know that you can permanently bend rubber torsion axles (such as the Dexter "Torflex"). But that's a lot better than breaking something loose; you can still drive the trailer to a repair shop. On the other hand repairs are more expensive than for leaf springs.

So once I get back on the road, what shall I do to ensure this doesn't happen again?  When I bent the rubber torsion axles of my first trailer, I replaced them with heavier duty axles/springs. The problem never happened again. Should I try this for my current trailer with its leaf springs?


How can this setback be used to advantage?  Clearly, I need to take some weight out of trailer, even though it is just under the nominal rating. [1] You can't remove significant weight by winnowing the socks or underwear drawer. You must attack water, canned goods, books, tools, and BATTERIES.

Nothing shakes up the slovenly habits of daily life like reducing the number of batteries. I will probably reduce the four batteries to two, for a weight reduction of 150 pounds. After all, computers and LED lights use less energy today than years ago, when I resigned myself to needing four batteries. 

Indeed, this experiment is turning positive. I had gotten into the terrible habit of watching DVDs at night, and during the night, as a sleeping pill. I have switched to soothing background music as my sleeping pill, because it uses less electrical power, and even better, I wake up in the morning feeling more refreshed.

Of course, the biggest energy draw is the DC compressor refrigerator. The best way to reduce its energy draw at night is to keep it full of water, and turn it down to near freezing in the late afternoon, before the solar panels shut down. I will also experiment with raising the temperature set-point at night.

[1] The trailer with all my stuff in it weighs 2900 pounds. The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is 3000 pounds. But that is with the 4" drop axle from the factory. I had that axle replaced with a straight axle.