It’s snowing outside. It’s March 20. This is a condition I’ve gotten used to, living in the mid-Atlantic region, and I’ve developed a corollary theory about it: the chance of getting snow the week after my birthday increases in proportion to the rise in temperature the week preceding it.

I decided to get the Scout running before it got snowed in again, so we put Finn to bed and I ran out to do some errands. She started right up and idled happily, and the new seats make a huge difference in driving position and feel. The truck doesn’t drive any better, but I’d swear it feels like it does, because the seats are sturdy and firm where the old Shelby seats were limp and doughy. They have more fine adjustment both horizontally and vertically, which is nice. And my biggest fear–that the steering wheel would be too close to my legs (these seats are about 1-2″ higher than the Shelby or stock Scout seats) is pretty much a non-issue.

Date posted: March 20, 2015 | Filed under general | Leave a Comment »

I stumbled across a link to an article on Metafilter written by a former MFA writing teacher, called Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One. What I took as basically a pretty generic list of common-sense points turned out to be a pretty polarizing and offensive attack to others, which made me reconsider my initial take. Things like It’s not important that people think you’re smart, or If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out sound pretty harsh, but I think there’s an element of truth there.

Writers are born with talent is one that I go back and forth on, but I generally agree with. In my college experience, I met a bunch of people who could do incredible things with oils, pencil, and color the first day of their freshman year. True, some of them had come from magnet or specialized art high schools, where they were exposed to this stuff a lot earlier than I was, but I knew people who were just good at everything. I could do one thing: I could draw. It took a lot of practice, and it annoyed the shit out of my grade-school teachers because I was always drawing in class. I started with some natural ability, but it was constant practice and pursuit of my craft that got me into art school, and later into multiple careers.

Date posted: March 17, 2015 | Filed under general | Leave a Comment »

To recap: In early January, I pulled two gray cloth seats from a junkyard 2004 PT Cruiser. All it took was a 13 and 11mm box wrench, and one disconnect for the seatbelt sensor. They aren’t light, but they’re lighter than seats from a 2001 model, which had integrated side airbags.

PT Cruiser seats

These have built-in side armrests that fold up out of the way. They interfere with the placement of my Tuffy console, so I’ll be removing them. The female side of the seatbelt is integrated into the side of the seat, so that will need to come off as well.

The slider rails are held together with a plate in the back. They are longer than stock Scout bases, but the width of the rails is perfect. Originally, I thought I was going to have to build extender plates for each of the bases to reach the front mount points because I was sure I wouldn’t be able to get bolts to fit in between the slider rails. When I really looked it over, though, I realized I was going to have to drill a hole for a bolt between the rails anyway. I picked up some grade 8 stock and test fit everything to check the clearances, and it worked perfectly.

Side plastic

Here’s where the plastic comes off. a T50 Torx bit will remove the seatbelt anchor.


On the side, pry the cap off with a flathead screwdriver. A T45 bit will take off the armrest and a standoff that locks the arm into place. The driver’s side is backed with plastic, so the seat doesn’t look bad with the armrest gone. The passenger’s side doesn’t have it.


I’ve been using a spare set of bases to mock things up on, but they are both rusted at the bottoms enough that I wouldn’t put them back in service without welding in some serious support. I took a second look at the bases I had, with tracks welded to the top, and decided to try a little surgery with an angle grinder.


IMG_0130 IMG_0140

After some careful cutting I got the tracks off and ground the edges off to a smooth surface, then sanded all surface rust and scale off. Then I wiped everything down with acetone to clean off any oil or grease.


To attach the bases to the tracks, I used the stock bolts from the seat in the rear. There are two threaded bolt holes in the back. I used the one closest to the front, then marked the holes for the front bolts and drilled them. Then I used a set of 3/8″ x 1″ Grade 8 bolts threaded in from above to attach the front of the seats to the tracks. The seats slide cleanly.




The project got sidelined for a week while I waited for Eastwood to send me rust converter. I used a brush to put it on, but the next time I’m at Target I’m going to pick up a cheap spray bottle for application–it’s much easier that way. I hit everything I could see and let it sit for 48 hours.


Then all the bare metal got a coat of etching primer and two coats of Rustoleum satin black.


Then I attached the seats back on the bases and put the bases back into my Scout. Compared to 30-year-old Chrysler seats, 10-year-old Chrysler seats feel like they just rolled off the factory floor, even if they don’t exactly match the rest of the truck–but then, nothing matches on this truck.

→ This is a syndicated post from my Scout weblog. More info here.

Date posted: March 15, 2015 | Filed under Scout, Seats | Comments Off on Project: PT Cruiser Seats

Just when I was getting used to waking up with a little bit of sunrise on class days, Daylight Savings kicked in and yanked it away. I’ve got next week off from UMBC for the break, which is a welcome pause. The last couple of weeks have been pretty rough in terms of schedule, work, and personal life, so a week of normal routine will be a wonderful change. I got home from class yesterday and I was dragging ass. One bright spot is the weather, which suddenly zoomed up into the 50s from the low teens, taking all of the snow with it. I’m normally pretty cold all the time, but these days 40˚ feels like balmy shorts weather.

Class has been going pretty well. The first half of the syllabus is almost to an end, so my students will be presenting their final pieces for this half the week after break. I’ve been trying to shepherd along a couple of people who haven’t quite grasped the idea of concept yet, and on Wednesday I think I may have had a breakthrough with a few of them. I hope my instincts are correct, and they prove me right.

I’ve heard rumors of a celebration for my grandfather’s 100th birthday at the end of April. I’m thinking about taking a few days off to get up there, help my folks sort through the house, get things moved/packed/pitched, and be there for his party. 100 years old! The family sent his information in to Willard Scott, so hopefully that fat old fossil will mention him on the air. My initial plan is to buy a seat on the train to my sister’s place in Syracuse, and then pick up a Budget truck to drive down to my folks’. I have no idea how much stuff I might be packing for the ride home, but I figure I’ll come prepared to haul it. Plus, there’s more barn wood up at the farm I’d like to salvage before it gets bulldozed back up into the treeline.

Today I brought my camera to work for the first time in months. This winter didn’t lend itself to photography, so my Flickr feed has been quiet, but I’m itching to get back out and start shooting again. On my way to class on Wednesday I passed the run-down motorcycle shop in Arbutus and noticed a beautiful pre-war bike parked out front. I then broke one of my cardinal rules: stop and take a picture. I didn’t, and continued on to my class. Of course, the bike wasn’t there thursday afternoon. That’ll teach me. I didn’t shoot a single frame all day. I have wrapped three video projects at work this year, with another two coming up quickly-I’m planning on shooting an interview outside the Capitol building in a week or two, which should be challenging.


Date posted: March 13, 2015 | Filed under general | Leave a Comment »

Once I hit on a tiger, of course, it was great—cats and I have a certain rapport, so this was a very natural fit for me. Maybe Hobbes could have been some other animal, but he arrived as a big cat, and that expanded my connection with him. Hobbes was as much my alter-ego as Calvin was.

Bill Watterson gave a rare interview as part of a career retrospective, and apparently it’s only available in bound print. The The Washington Post has a brief excerpt, though.

Date posted: March 12, 2015 | Filed under art/design, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

This post is one in a series based on a format at another website; like music albums, I can measure periods in my adult life with the cars I’ve driven.

By about 1998 or so, my trusty CRX was getting long in the tooth. It was beginning to blow lots of oil through the tailpipe, to the point where whenever I got on the gas I left blue haze in my wake. The A/C was inoperable, and it began to overheat in traffic, which made it unusable in the city (which was where I lived at the time). I was dealing with two vehicles that needed constant mechanical attention: I had a ’78 Scout that started up and ran whenever I asked it to, but was really only meant as a semi-occasional driver and not a full-time commuter (14mpg and a 4-speed stick in Beltway traffic kind of sucks). Something had to give.

By chance, my mother was shopping for a new vehicle, and we came up with a plan. She was planning on trading in her Taurus for a new Subaru, but knew I was looking, and graciously offered it to me.

She had an LX model with a 3.0L V6, which was a nice upgrade from my wheezy but thrifty 1.3L 4-banger.  This was the second generation, the one that sold like hotcakes before they redesigned it with the fishbowl windows. As the luxury model, it came with electric windows and locks. It had a bench seat (technically a split 60/40 with armrests, but a bench seat). It was a dull shade of gray with a gray interior, which made it invisible to the naked eye, but it was easy to park in the city and got decent gas mileage. Sadly, it was a column-shift automatic.

Not my car–image yanked from the Internet. Same color and wheel covers though. If you squint, it’s almost like it’s not there…

I sold the CRX to a guy who had plans to autocross it and took delivery of the Taurus, driving it home from Upstate New York in the fall. Over the next five years, it served me (and my future wife) well, if not anonymously. Even though it was almost double the curb weight of the Honda, it would move when I got on the gas. It was a decent highway cruiser, but lacked any kind of lumbar support for drives over 2 hours in length. The interior fittings were typical of that era: Ford’s idiot-sized buttons were laughably larger than the Honda controls I was used to. And even though it was a 4-door, I found that it was surprisingly less accommodating than the CRX’s hatchback for things like bikes, oversized furniture, or drywall. Having a trunk was nice, though, even though there was no passthrough.

The year I bought the car, I’d been laid off from my job, so I set about finding a new one and keeping busy. I rehabbed the bathroom in my rowhome, which required several loads of drywall. I picked up an inexpensive crossbar rack from somewhere and became skilled at driving sheets of plywood home strapped to the roof. Then I heard about a warehouse close by in my neighborhood that was being knocked down. I stopped over and asked if I could reclaim some of the brick they were hauling away, and they let me take as much as I wanted. I made several trips with the trunk loaded down to the alley behind my house where I could drop it off. This saved me a lot of money on raw materials but blew out both rear shocks. I never replaced them.

I had few problems with it in the first few years, but as it reached the 10-year-mark, expensive things started breaking down. It began to have overheating issues, something I thought I’d sold off with the CRX, that manifested the exact same way: Sitting in traffic, the temp gauge would begin to creep upward, then suddenly zoom into the redline. My mechanic looked things over but found nothing wrong with the cooling system; even after leaving the car running by itself for an hour, he couldn’t replicate the issue. This seemed to be an issue with the Vulcan V6.

I continued to have inconsistent, nagging problems with overheating, negating use of the A/C, and then the transmission began slipping. It would suddenly clunk out of gear completely, usually as I was cornering at speed, which got tricky when I was on the Beltway. Or, it just plain refused to shift upwards out of second, leaving me screaming at 5,000RPM in the slow lane trying to make it to the next offramp.

The last straw came as I was driving to pick up the catering for our rehearsal dinner. At this point the Scout was out of commission–the exhaust was missing behind the headers–so the Tortoise it was. With delicious barbecue for 30 loaded in the trunk, I started back to the house but got bogged down in Beltway traffic, and the temp gauge started climbing. I pulled over to the shoulder and let it cool down for a half an hour, and then continued down the road–for a half a mile. This on-again, off-again voyage continued for three more hours until I was able to get it home, where I parked it, unloaded it, and probably kicked it.

After we returned from our honeymoon, I spied a For Sale sign on a car in our neighborhood, and gave the owner a call. Once that deal was done, I called up and donated the Tortoise to our local NPR station for a tax writeoff.

Other entries in this series:
’86 Honda CRX
’84 Subaru GL Wagon
’86 Mazda B2000
’73 Volkswagen Camper Bus

Date posted: March 9, 2015 | Filed under cars | Leave a Comment »

A question for the ages. I’ve got an entire truck that needs rust prevention, so what best to use? I watched a friend use Eastwood products on his Sprite (English sportscars of the 60’s rival US vehicles of the 70’s for their ability to spontaneously dissolve), and thought they worked pretty well. After some basic research, my original thought was to use Encapsulator in an aerosol can, but as I dug into the online materials a little more, I came to understand that Converter was better suited to my needs. Converter is a two-part acidic paint that converts rust to an inert oxide, while Encapsulator seals rust off and keeps it from spreading. Yes, I need to seal it off, but Eastwood says Converter is better for heavy rust, which is what I’ve got. Then, as I hovered over the Add To Cart button, I saw that they offer a quart bottle for only $6 more than a 12oz. aerosol can. Such a bargain!

→ This is a syndicated post from my Scout weblog. More info here.

Date posted: March 5, 2015 | Filed under Purchasing, Repairs, Scout | Comments Off on Encapsulate or Convert?

After sixteen years, Matt Haughey steps back from Metafilter. It’s one of the original content aggregators from Back In The Day, and though I don’t visit or participate as much as I used to, it’s still a valuable go-to site for interesting stuff. Many have learned from how Haughey developed his community, which has always been a model of polite, informative, inspirational, and human discourse. Also, site finances have improved, meaning it’s not going anywhere. Good news all the way around.

Date posted: March 5, 2015 | Filed under geek, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

I kegged the Conundrum IPA about a week and a half ago, and I’m very happy with the way it came out. It’s got a lot of flavor (with 5 oz. of hops, it had better) but it still finishes light–the perfect session beer. I think I’m going to have to brew this one again. In the meantime, though, I’ve got a Hefeweizen kit to brew next, in preparation for spring weather and sunshine. I figure by the time it’s ready to go I’ll have killed the IPA.

Work is going full steam ahead, and I’ve got a new designer starting on Monday. We’re doing some shifting around of computers, and we’re going to have to sort out some kind of workflow to make things run smoother day-to-day. We’ve played with Flow a bit, and we’ve used Basecamp, but neither really stuck. Slack looks cool but might be overkill for our needs.

Work is progressing on Scout seats, but I’m at a stopping point until I get some rust encapsulator delivered. In the process of cutting the seats off my old bases last weekend, my angle grinder crapped out so I had to buy a new one. Once that happened, I got the passenger side base cleaned up and ready for paint. Now I just need to wait for some warmer weather to pull the drivers’ side seat out and cut that apart.

Other than that, we’ve been keeping our heads down and trying to stay warm. This winter can’t be over fast enough.

Date posted: March 3, 2015 | Filed under brewing | Leave a Comment »


Date posted: March 1, 2015 | Filed under finn, photo | Leave a Comment »