Friday, December 31, 2010

Local Motors Rally Fighter: Cool car, cool company

This afternoon, I went to the Local Motors micro-factory. I was reading about their car, the Rally Fighter, on a car blog and got to clicking on their site. Lo and behold, Local Motors happens to be located in Phoenix, where I am vacationing for Christmas with the Thompson extended family. Sweet. I dispatched an email regarding a tour and got a phone call yesterday that a tour could be done today. Rock on!

Let me introduce you a bit to Local Motors. This company seeks to fill niches in the automotive market with vehicles designed by a collaborative community and fabricated in a local micro-factory, partly with the owner-to-be's labor. Local Motors is a startup, and they are now rolling the first production-spec models out of their factory. Cars are aimed at the local market, meaning they have special appeal to the region in which they are produced. Their first car is an offroad rally design for desert racing, and it's called the Rally Fighter. Feast your eyes on this:

Take another look:

It's a 430 horsepower, 20-inch suspension travel, 3500lb... er, what is it? Well, a monster, but it looks like someone popped the body off of a sports car and popped it on an offroad truck frame for giggles. No wait, that would be these rednecks from Manti: 

Not quite the same effect. (I mean, cool... but I like the Rally Fighter better) Back the task of defining the RF. What is it? Well, it doesn't fit into any existing car market, and that's exactly the point- it fills a gap in the auto market that's too small for any of the large automakers to feasibly target, but which has enough demand to make people like me drool over their product. Local Motors isn't a desert racing vehicle company, it just so happens that their first product is a desert racer. They've got designs on the table for sports cars, electric vehicles, and tiny city-dweller transportation. As the company grows, it will pop up other micro-factories in markets suitable for their newest designs.

Let's get back to the Rally Fighter. It starts out as a tube-steel chassis:

Then they add a glorious 430HP GM LS3 V8 engine:

...and some enormously huge rear shocks,
(it's hard to judge the size of these in the picture- they're about 48" long)

Next they stir in some body panels, bumpers, steering column, axles, and other goodies:

Better get the wiring harness in there:

Got to make sure they get something sweet in there as well:

A whole lot more goes into it as well. We got to take a look at the back area where they fabricate the chassis and other parts as well. LM is a pretty small operation right now, and they are able to pound all the cars they are producing right now out of a single jig, which looks like a jungle of steel and vice grips.

Local Motors is growing fast. They actually only have five of these vehicles produced right now, but they have  132 on backorder with deposits paid. Dadgum. By this time next year, the engineer I spoke with says he thinks they could have all of them out the doors. LM is only producing 2000 of these, so they'll be something of a collectible as well. 

I joked about moving to Phoenix a week ago when I arrived and saw five sportbikes in two minutes at a gas station. The climate is pretty boss (except for the past few days) and now there's a sweet small car company looking to explode right here. I could see that happening. I could also see it not happening, but you know. 

Here's a slideshow of all the pics I took... I always kick myself for not taking more (and better-framed) pictures, and this set isn't an exception.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Have a nephew? Save the world. (Works for sons, daughters, grandkids, etc)

I know that as soon as I get the point, you'll think me horribly biased and prejudiced. However, I believe I have a point (if I didn't I probably wouldn't be writing... probably). Okay, the long and short of it is that I believe that a world with more engineers is a better world. Why are engineers so highly paid? There are two primary reasons- because the work they do is generally very valuable, and also because there just aren't that many of them. Not a lot of young people want to be engineers, and even fewer of those follow through with their ambitions. I'm not just making this up- engineering schools across the US have noted a disturbing trend in the last decade towards both declining enrollment and failure to graduate (either from dropping out or switching majors). This isn't just a pet problem with one sector of the world which will recover in time, it's a real issue that hasn't yet reached the limelight.

Very often you'll hear about something being so essential that the world can't exist without it. This is frequently employed to lend creedence to some argument or add awe to something. You'll hear about how without sunlight, the world couldn't possibly exist, or without the nitrogen cycle, plants could never go, or "Without Trucks- America Stops". Whatever it is, it's always essential. The implication here is that whatever is being argued for is the most important thing... IN THE WORLD. This happens so much that I believe that the American populace is becoming immune to being told that something is important. I say this because I don't want you, my reader, to underestimate the gravitas of this issue. I don't argue that this is the most important issue in the world- it's obviously not- but it can be corrected relatively easily and does have a significant impact on the world.

First, why is engineering important? The first and most obvious thing is what engineering creates. If you look back at our world as it was in the Bible times, you can note a lot of differences. It wouldn't be hard to argue that things are better now than they were then. People live longer, in greater comfort, with more leisure time and less oppression and greater freedom. All these improvements can be linked to advances in some field- civics, art, philosophy, medicine, politics... and engineering. I won't pull the typical 'look around the room, now notice that everything you saw was made by an engineer' tactic because that's cliché. (But it's true) We can thank engineering for almost all of our modern conveniences. More importantly, though, we can thank engineering for most of the significant advances that actually make a difference in the world- modern sanitation leads to greatly reduced disease and thus fewer people dying early deaths. The invention of the printing press made the printed word, and thus education and knowledge (not to mention God's word) available to the masses. The textile mill means that your mom didn't have to stay up late with an oil-lamp crocheting your underwear. All of these things- significant and insignificant, would still be problems in the world if someone didn't employ the design process to solve a problem.

My proposition for you is this- if there are young people in your life, give them two things: a curiosity about how things work and a strong desire to make the world better. The former will give them the inclination to design better things, and the former will motivate them to put those inclinations to a meaningful use (the world needs appropriate technology more than it needs better iPhones). I need to leave the better-world part up to you, as a single 23-year old non-father, I have no idea how to make kids into better people. When it comes to curiousity about how things work... now that's something I'm familiar with.

The best way that I know of to foster curiosity (and the creativity that will follow) is to explore the world's wonders with your son/daughter/nephew/niece/grandkids. God made an amazing world and offers endless entertainment for those who endeavor to explore it. Don't force any young person to fit a mold- but make the mold available to them if they want to crawl into it. One reason, perhaps, that engineering has been less popular is that it's viewed as an honorable but eccentric trade. The remedy to this, probably, is to get a life-size cardboard cutout of Werner VonBraun to put in his/her room and venerate him as a hero at every family meal.

Provide resources for kiddo to explore. When I was a kid, we had a cutaway book which showed cutaway views of different things like jumbo jets, oceanliners, and tanks. Even though I'd looked at each of the diagrams already, I loved to look at them all to see how everything fit together and wonder how it all worked.  LEGOs are great, but get them the ones where they actually build stuff instead of just assemble their own figurines. Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, K'nex, pencil and paper, aluminum and a bandsaw, whatever. Stuff like this is great:

Check out the whole site- it's great.

Anything to get kiddo's brain stimulated in a constructive and creative way (preferably towards making something practical and useful) is good. There's more to being an engineer than just analysis and computation- get kiddo familiar with a ratchet and box-end wrench as well.

Shucks, I ran out of creative juice. Turn all the kids you know into engineers. Fin.

Monday, December 27, 2010

If I've made a pilgrimage to Zion, does that make a me a Zionist?

Here's your promised tale of adventure from On Distant Shores™, the official blog of Ned Funnell. With the parade in the dust, it was time to move on to bigger and better things. We had a new intern join us for a short one-month stay this fall, John Clark: 

John is an outdoorsman and is on a mission to visit and hike/camp/explore every National Park... IN THE WORLD. (Maybe not. But he goes to a lot of them.) John invited me to go visit Zion National Park with him, which is a golden opportunity.We backpacked, meaning we carried everything we'd need for the two-night trip in backpacks. I'd never been backpacking before, just close-to-the-car camping. Having to carry all your stuff miles and miles makes packing a different story! We hiked into Kolob Canyon the first day. (Mormons believe their god came from a planet called Kolob, hence the name)

As everyone who's backpacked knows, proper footwear is the most important element to a successful backpacking trip. That's why I selected some random shoes I'd bought for six bucks at a thrift store. Although I thought this plan was failsafe, it turned out to be flawed. I got enormo-huge blisters on both my feet after the first few miles, which made the next dozen all the more exciting. As everyone knows, the best thing for blisters is swimming in frigid water.

I was amused in this picture, but I was less amused a few minutes later when some people came around the bend in the river doing a study on the aquaculture. My swimwear would not have been approved by 9 out of 10 dentists. The one-way hike was only 6.5 miles or so in and we made camp with plenty of time to spare, much to the enjoyment of the local mosquitoes.  The next morning we woke up and were greeted by some wild turkeys:

After a backpacking-friendly breakfast (Goober PBJ on a tortilla with extra peanuts inside) we hiked another 1.5 miles to see Kolob Arch, which is pretty neat. We wanted to get a good picture of one of us with the arch, but unfortunately the best/only view of the arch is up through some trees:

The natural solution to the problem was to throw a loop of rope over the branch of a tree and pull it tight so that it couldn't be gotten down again without an hour and a half of devising and attempting rescue. It worked great! John was able to walk up the tree with the rope, but the branch was on the wrong side to get into the frame with the Arch:

He did get into the frame with a different rope trick, though:

Then there was the ordeal of getting the rope out of the tree- whoops! We threw one end of the rope over the tree branch, then tied a loop in it and put the other end through and pulled it tight. Immediately after, we thought something like "Gee, how are we going to get that down?" An hour and a half of failed experimenting later, we succeeded with John standing on my shoulders with a long branch with an improvised hook lashed to the end. In the meantime, we met two guys that had made it a day hike out to the arch. One of the guys was an engineer from Detroit working at a Tier II manufacturer. Neat. They took a video of us getting the rope out of the tree- they said they'd email it to us, but no such luck at this time.

Our original plan was to hike around that day and stay the night again at the same site, then hike out the next day and spent the morning seeing some stuff down at the main part of the park before we headed back. However, we'd seen the main attraction in the northwest part of the park. We could hike more on the trail, but we'd really just hike as far as we felt like walking back and then turn around. Not very exciting. In contrast, there was a lot to see down in the southern part of the park. We hiked out. Hey look, a tarantula!

John snapped a pic of me coming up the trail:

I don't remember where this picture was taken, but it's not as impressive as one you'll see later:

We drove from the north part of the park to the south and brainstormed about where to stay that night. John had been to Zion NP before and had some ideas. We also took the opportunity to have some hot food at a Jack in the Box. We started with driving the park road, which includes a neat tunnel carved through the rock in the 1930s. We also rode the shuttle up and down the park road and looked at all the neat sights. Most of the features of Zion are along one main road and we were able to get a lazy-man's tour of the place on the shuttle. Our morning had been spent getting out from our campsite neat Kolob and we'd driven an hour, plus an hour or so on the shuttle... not much time before sunset.

John knew of a free campground not far out from the park's borders that we might be able to get a spot at that night. We found it to be quite busy, even though it is entirely unadvertised and unmarked from the road. It's true that they say- word of mouth is the best advertising. We walked around and tried to meet some other people but most were not so amenable to the idea. We did wander over and join a group of young people who were coming to climb the rock faces of Zion. They were slack-lining, which is an like tightrope walking, only you use a ratchetstrap or some webbing and you sling it two feet over the ground between two trees. It's a skill. I tried it and almost biffed it both times so I called that my college try and let the Serious People have their go. I struck up a conversation with a fellow who was all about natural remedies and solutions, who seemed to use a tincture of basil for everything from deodorant and disinfectant. How 'bout that. One of my goals in life is to be able to talk intelligently about any topic, so I took the opportunity to educate myself a bit more on natural medicine. 

We slept well enough and set out the next morning back to Zion. We had only this morning remaining on our trip and wanted to make the most of it. Since John had been here before, I relied on his expertise when we chose what to do. We decided on Angel's Landing, which is a short hike (around five miles round trip) but with a lot of elevation change. It ends up on the tippety top of a big rock. Sweet. I've got to say, for a short hike, this one exhausted me. The blisters didn't help either. We took a bunch of water and I drank like a sieve. The hike is pretty standard, up the side of the mountain, for the first half or so. Then you hit the back of a big rock and climb several hundred vertical feet in short, steep switchbacks. When you hit the top of that rock, you walk along a narrow ridge with an 800-foot drop on one side and 1000-foot on another. For a short section, it's only three feet wide. Sweet action. Don't look down: 

I met one lady on the trail who was conquering her fear of heights. I'd say this would be a good test! The last section is along a ridge and is moderately treacherous. Although I saw all sorts of people at the top, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as a hike for general consumption. There have been nine fatal falls from the trail since 1987. If you're in decent health, though, don't let my warning stop you- there are chains anchored into the rock at all the tricky points for you to hold onto. Just don't do anything stupid. We made it to the top:

John's on the highest point of Angel's Landing there. Note the astonished hiker below. He's wearing pants. If you go in the warm months, don't wear pants. (Wear shorts) I wore my double-layer canvas pants, which are thick and heavy and made for chainsawing in. Don't do that either. And bring lots of water. Better to arrive back at the base station with water to spare and have carried a little extra weight than to run out or have to ration your water and dehydrate yourself. 

The trip back down, predictably, was much easier than the trip up. Once we made it back down into the valley, John and I elected to dip our heads in the cool river water, which was excellent and comes highly recommended to others returning from that trip. After that hike, I was exhausted and not sure that my feet could take much more. Angel's landing is the greatest view in the park which is available to tourists who are not specifically prepared for an expedition. We could have gone on several lesser hikes, but we opted to let that be a suitable 'finish with a bang' to our trip and headed home. 

It's always a bonus to end blog posts with a bang, so here's Shane looking funny:

Image credit for all photos except Shane goes to John Clark.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Buried alive!

We've got TONS of snow here! Yesterday afternoon a snow-laden branch broke off of a tree outside the college house and fell nearly on the man van. Zach, Chip, and I went out to move it out of the neighbor's driveway. Just as we got it into the yard, there was a crack and a snap above us! A branch snapped right off of the other tree were now under. I didn't see it, only heard the shouted warning- I tried to run out from under the tree but slipped and fell on the snow, then hands-and-knees crawled away from the tree and the still-unseen falling branch. Once in the clear I turned and saw the sizable branch laying where Zach had been standing- fortunately, Zach is quick on his feet and got out of the way with time to spare. It scared me, though- the branch could have just as easily have been the one above me.

That night I was over at Flic and Amanda's place last night playing sweet Wii games like Wii Sports Resort, which somebody needs to donate to the ministry. Zach and I left pretty late, around 1AM- and as we walked out the door, the lights went out! Power outage. Ephraim has short outages and flickers pretty frequently, and usually power comes back on within a few minutes. Not so this time. Power was out for a few hours at least. When I drove over, I'd cleared 4-5" of snow off the Camry, and now it had 8" or so on it, just from the few hours I was Wiiing. We went drifting in the Race Camry and didn't get arrested. It was kind of eerie to be drifting around a corner and the whole town is completely dark and unlit. No lights on main street, nothing. Cool, though.

When we got back, we naturally returned to a dark house. I'd left my lighter over at the Thompsons during the week or so I lived there (while my floor was getting done). So, no candles. Fortunately, I am an engineering student. More than that, I am certified and Applied and Practical Nerdery. By this time the power had been out for 30-40 minutes, so who knew when it would come back on again. The first order of business is light, which was provided by a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) and a reading lamp, which thankfully has a very long cord:

Of course I could have used the flash to take a decent picture, but then you wouldn't have gotten the idea.

I didn't want my cell phone to be dead the next day if this power outage was for reals, so I rigged my car charger up to an SLA (Sealed Lead Acid [battery]).
I know, scotch tape is not appropriate for electrical use. Just call it Field Expedient Electrical Tape.

It's silly, I know- but the power outage got me thinking, lying there in bed. What if the light don't come on tomorrow? Am I prepared for that? As the maintenance guy for Trigrace, is the cafe ready for that? We're prepared for short term 'blips' of power with a UPS on the computer system, but the furnace doesn't work without power. Neither do the fridges. (Although I just put the potato soup out on the back porch.) The fireplaces in this house have long since been decommissioned. I don't know why this next thought came into my head, but what if the sun didn't come up tomorrow? What if this insignificant power outage was to be how the end times begin for me? Am I ready for that spiritually? Could I handle what that might bring mentally and physically? Sobering. 

Well, the sun did come up this morning, and so did the power, at least for a little while. I was awoken by a call from Chip soliciting help with snow removal. I saw also a text from him earlier saying only "HELP", which probably would have been disconcerting had I not received the call first. Anyway, I prepared myself for the cold, including my waterproof over-socks (read: walmart bags). When I got outside, boy howdy was there snow!

Dadgum. We had a fun time clearing it all. That's not sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek either. We had the proper tools (read: Dingo) and no time crunch. I didn't have to actually manually shovel much because I spent half my time on chainsaw duty. It was mildly disheartening to watch snow continue to fall and accumulate on the surfaces you'd just cleared, but with a lot more of this still to come, we couldn't afford not to clear it. To my great satisfaction, Jamie made breakfast for us (on her gas stove, no power needed). Everyone had a good laugh that I'd freaked myself out wondering if the sun was going to come up this morning. 

Side note: I offered to charge Chip's cell phone from my SLA the same way I did mine. I saw it took the same connector as my phone so I left his car charger there and figured I could just plug it into mine. Well, not so, because the software engineers at VZW are a bunch of jerkfaces. Turns out you can't use any charger but the ones they sell you. I got a screen on the phone saying "UNAUTHORIZED CHARGER" when I tried to use mine. Come on, VZW, five volts is FIVE VOLTS. I went back and got his likely-overpriced VZW car charger and it worked great. Doesn't matter too much, though, 'cos power came back on before it finished.

We always try to help out our neighbors with snow whenever we are able. We had the Dingo taking care of most of our heavy snow, so we could afford to go to a few other houses and clear snow. I spotted a branch fallen across the driveway of our two-doors-down neighbors and grabbed Chip's chainsaw to take care of it. It was still attached quite a ways up, so I was only really able to chop up the lower parts of the branch for easy removal. I discovered halfway through the nobody lives there (it's a history site- Brigham Young or someone stayed the night there once) so I left the chopped pieces for the city to clear. I also cut up a branch that'd fallen next to the LDS missionaries' driveway

Looking farther down the street I spied another downed branch across the sidewalk and walked down to take care of it. Turns out it was also leaning against a police cruiser, but precariously held aloft by a still-attached branch. I carefully cut on the side I wanted it to fall towards and was able to get it all down. The guy who lived in the house next door came out, and it turned out he actually was the officer to whom the cruiser belonged. He was surprised to find out I wasn't a city worker, and was thankful to have his cruiser freed. I discovered that he is also the owner of the possibly-race-prepped-but-at-least-dope-looking Impreza that I see parked on the street there. I left the chopped up bits of tree there for the city again. The guy said his landlord was crazy about firewood so maybe he'll end up with it. He and a young lady that also lives there snapped some pics of the process and kindly sent one to me:

Because of this, I assume that I'm now Totally In with the police in Ephraim, which means I can commit crimes like crazy and get away with it. I'm pretty sure that would only ever apply to snow drifting in the Race Camry, which I'm pretty sure isn't illegal anyway. It's just turning with gusto. 

I returned and we cleared snow some more. I manned the snowblower for a while, which has a ritzy electrically-adjustable snow chute. Fancy. Our old one growing back in MA had a steel rod and a leadscrew.  I hacked up some more trees on our property and finally figured out how the bar lock on a Stihl 034 chainsaw works. 

That's all, you can stop reading now.

P.S. FORGET YOU, SNOWSTORM! You totally ruined any chance of seeing the lunar eclipse last night.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ned's Totally Bombski Potato Etc Soup

Don't worry, if I have this stuff, you do too.

Start by wanting to use the old potatoes you have. Peel and quarter about 4lb of potatoes to the Seatbelts on MP3 player, place in plastic bowl and microwave for a long time. Fetch pot from upstairs kitchen, while upstairs realize the music played in basement is almost as audible upstairs as down. Add a big dollop of Blue Bonnet margarine and some milk to potand turn burner on '2'. Press 'add minute' on microwave several times. Run over to the Thompsons and get onions from 50lb bag in their garage. Take three, then decide a fourth is in order. Return to kitchen and peel and halve onions LENGTHWISE, WITH THE LINES ON THE ONION. Dice according to this technique:

Put diced onions in smaller pot with water and turn burner to HI. Notice burning smell and wonder if it is dust on seldom-used small burner burning off, or microwave frying itself from grossly exceeded unpublished duty cycle. Smell microwave and continue if not smoking. Use a whisk to stir the milk/margarine in larger pot. Run over to MP3 player and turn on Section Quartet to increased cooking tempo. (Seatbelts were too slow) Add random amount of flour to milk/butter mixture directly from the bag and stir for form a roux. DO NOT BURN THE ROUX. Stir frequently and maintain low heat. Once flour is absorbed into roux, add a whole lot more and make it way too thick. Fix problem by pouring some of the now-boiling onion water into roux using whisk to strain out onions. Double win: onions were about to boil over and removing water fixed problem. Stir both roux and onions with arms crossed.

Realize you intended to put celery in this shebang and get celery from fridge. Realize that celery is not very crisp at all, floppy in fact. Use remainder of celery anyway, about five stalks. Chop and add to onion, making smaller pot very very full. The roux will now be simmering, try to stir it continually with one hand while doing whatever else with the other. Add Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning to both pots using large opening. Look in microwave and discover that potatoes are drying out, pull out of nuker and add hot water almost to cover potatoes. Return to microwave and press add minute many times.

Look in fridge for Bonus Ingredients and add what seems right. Example: about 1/5 jar of  sliced jalapeños. Add directly to already-brimming smaller pot. Do dishes while waiting for vegetables in small pot to cook. Peel thift store price sticker off of strainer and wonder how many use/wash cycles that brave sticker has survived. When celery and onions looks like they're kind of cooked, sort of, add entire contents of pot to larger roux pot. Stir vigorously and wonder if pot will be large enough to hold potatoes and their water.

Poke potatoes in microwave with fork to check for doneness. Neglect results. Pour some of the potato water into the pot, then strain the potatoes, discarding remaining water, and add mostly-uncooked but hot potatoes to large pot. Attempt to mash potatoes (and rest of pot contents) with potato masher, but withdraw masher from pot strewn with partially-impaled uncooked potatoes. Stir again and remark how full pot is, resolve to plan better next time. Leave to simmer on medium-low heat and go write blog post while waiting to cook, deem soup 'bombski' before it's even done cooking.

Serves one for a week.

Update: I realized I hadn't included any meat in the soup. Gareth's rule #52 is: "If there's no meat, it's just a snack." I couldn't bear to have my soup relegated to snack status, so I chopped up some breakfast sausage patties and threw those in there. I will update again when the Deliciousness Index of the soup is established.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The ghost of Christmas yet to come

Last episode, I had been to general conference, gone to Texas, made T-shirts, and painted a stripe on my car. I'm glad to report that I still have my T-shirt, the Camry still has its stripe, and I've still been to general conference and Texas. But wait- THERE'S MORE! Here's a preview of what you'll get in the next few action packed episodes of On Distant Shores™, the official blog of Ned Funnell: 

(for maximum effect, read in the voice of a monster-truck-show announcer)

  • Solid Rock appears in the Snow College Homecoming PARADE with a tie-dye themed float!
  • I go backpacking in ZION!
  • Sarah Smith returns from distant shores with tales of ADVENTURE and loci!
  • I do well in the Chili Cookoff with the help of TONY CHACHERE'S CREOLE SEASONING!
    • (There is NO finer seasoning. Use it on everything!)
  • I create a VOLCANO inside Ephraim Church of the Bible!
  • Some friends go out the CHINESE RESTAURANT!
  • I make COFFEE!
  • Solid Rock celebrates Martin Luther's REFORMATION!
  • I make CORNBREAD!
  • A YWAM team comes and we learn a NEATO Indian song from them!
    • Also, we climbed ROCKS!
  • Internationally-renowned musical group SIXTEEN CITIES plays EPHRAIM!
  • Everyone loves grandpa DAVE THOMPSON!
  • I become a DAD!
  • I mourn the loss of my BELOVED Logitech MX620 mouse. :(
  • I bring the TIM-TAM SLAM to America!
  • I celebrate THANKSGIVING with my Ephraim peeps!
  • There is SNOW and DRIFTING in Ephraim! 
  • Ephraim Church of the Bible is in a PARADE!
  • Ephraim Church of the Bible is in ANOTHER PARADE!
  • I start a SIDE BUSINESS!
  • I make a geodesic dome out of an IMPROBABLE MATERIAL!
  • Work begins on my FLOOR!
  • Work finishes on my FLOOR!
  • I make a ten-foot long DESK!
BAM! You'd better strap in for all that EXCITEMENT! 

Okay, enough with the caps and monster truck announcing. I'll bring these adventures to you, a few per post, and hopefully in rapid sequence, over the next week or so. Today's installment brings you bullet point #1. 

Just after my last post, work started on making a parade float for the Snow College Homecoming parade. We always make a point to enter a float in parades as a way to keep the public informed that we are here and active- of course, not all of the community likes the idea of us being here (much less active), so the response isn't always outstanding- but anything that confronts people with Christianity can be used of God. 

The theme of the parade was love, and we had a tie-dye event while we were planning this whole shebang- the natural result is a giant tie-dye heart:

...and also some goofy getups, once the costume box has been unearthed.

Shane and Kim (or is it?) looking festive.

Clarification: I'm not in love with Jamie, just her cooking.


The parade was a success. My part in the float construction was to find a quiet power source for the sound system- although we looked for one of those sweet Honda EU2000i super-quiet generators, what we ended up with a standard loud generator in a box. I made a box out of MDF (particleboard) and put it over the top of the generator. It hardly did anything- you still had to yell to have a conversation. When I lined the inside with fiberglass insulation, though, one could have a conversation only a few feet away with an only slightly raised voice. Success! We could have our (obnoxiously repetitive) music!

The parade was a success. We danced, we waved, we hucked candy and bouncy balls at little kids- all the way through E-town, then back through side streets to get back to the college house to dismantle the float. To get a feeling of what the parade was like, listen to these two twenty times, only skip everything but the choruses: 

I count it a success, but not only in the sense of having made a cool float, chucking candy, and making fools of ourselves. I also call it a success in bringing God glory and reaching the people of Utah. The entire theme of our float was directed at God's love and loving God. Furthermore, we confronted people with the cross. That's significant in Utah in a way that it is not in the rest of the continent. LDS people do not use the cross, it is not their symbol. They don't like it. When my friend Steve received Christ and bought a cross necklace, his then-Mormon wife flipped her lid when she saw it on him. The cross is not a welcome symbol here. By displaying it proudly, we confront people. From my experience, LDS people in Utah are happy to live in a 'bubble', surrounded by Mormons and enjoying the isolation of being surrounded by like-minded people. This existence is not one that will typically generate spontaneous contemplation of truth and eternity. The Holy Spirit can use little things like being startled (and possibly offended) by a giant cross in the parade to work on people.

That's all for now. Stay tuned for the next episode of On Distant Shores™, the official blog of Ned Funnell. (Hopefully tomorrow)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Twenty-dollar beater: How to make your boring car more fun

There are some things that happen in life that are too stupendous to wait for the next semi-regular update. This is one of those times. Without further adieu, I bring you On Distant Shores: More Frequent Than Usual Update Bonus Edition.

I can't describe exactly how it started, but since I got the Camry I currently drive, I've felt the urge to spice it up a little bit. It was essentially given to me by my generous friend Caleb Reinking and his wife- we exchange $20 to have something to put on the tax forms. I had to spend three days under the car to get it roadworthy, and it suffers from significant rust issues and semi-high mileage. It's not a fabulous car. It's golden years are behind it, but it is still quasi-reliable transportation and useful. I really don't have any problems with it, and I'm grateful to have it.

If I have one qualm with the Camry, though, it's that it is a boring car. It has no character. It is common. There have been more Camries (Camrys?) produced since the car's introduction in 1980 than there are people in South America*. I don't like driving a car without character. I'd rather drive something unique, something that puts a smile on my face. Something with a story behind it (although the Camry does) or at least that doesn't scream 'typical broke college student wheels'.

Perhaps this anti-boring-car sentiment has been percolating since May. Perhaps I was inspired by the episode of Top Gear which I watched with Travis last night, in which Jeremy Clarkson hilariously tosses a three-wheeled Reliant Robin around the roads of Britain with admirable panache. Or perhaps I just wanted to do something fun and productive (well, sort of) rather than entertaining myself with tiny blinking lights on one screen or another.

Ideas for un-boring-ing my car have mainly consisted of three camps: the utterly ridiculous, the silly, and the ridiculous but could be momentarily mistaken for serious. The leading contender in the utterly ridiculous camp was the idea of converting the Camry into a Camrymino. That is, to chop up the trunk and rear seats an add a bed, El Camino style, like this:

I also considered making over the car as something entertaining, like a shark. The silver/gray color of the Camry would have lent itself to this well. I toyed with the idea of adding a shark fin on top and painting teeth on the front fenders in the style of WWII war planes:

I opted against both of those options though. I realize that the Camry was a blessing to me provided by God, and to ruin it by cutting its butt off or disfiguring its appearance would not be good stewardship. (For the sake of argument I'm using everyone else's definition of  "ruin" and not my own) At the same time, the Camry it at the ends of its useful life- the residual value in it will likely be expended while I'm still its owner, and if I sell it (as opposed to junking it) the person I sell it to will probably be like-minded and won't mind some tasteful re-styling. (Now I'm using my own definition of "tasteful") I decided today that the third category didn't constitute poor stewardship as long as it was either "tasteful" or reversible. I also decided that my life was too boring and that it isn't wrong to enjoy oneself when the opportunity presents itself so long as moderation and wisdom are employed. 

With that in mind, I settled on the goal of plastering my car in random racing stickers and doing it up like a rally car. I felt that the way to go about this was to make it look like some people could wonder (for about four seconds) if it was actually a race-driven car. It would be critical to avoid the obnoxious, distasteful, ubiquitously poorly-implemented The Fast and the Furious imitator style agreeably mocked by VW:

I didn't want to spend more than a pittance on this goal, however, so I broke out my oft-used scrooge skills. I knew some places would send you free stickers if you sent them a SASE(self-addressed stamped envelope) so I looked for those and made up some SASEs. However, I soon discovered that some companies didn't even require a SASE, they would just send you stickers for free if you emailed them. Hey, free advertising, right? I sent off no fewer than 36 requests for free stickers from racing companies online, most of which don't even make performance parts for the Camry, or even any car. I also bid on a handful of one-cent-and-free-shipping car-decal auctions on eBay. Wanting to give my re-styling job a professional touch, I also decided to drop $4.50 on having "N FUNNELL" cut out of vinyl lettering to be applied under the driver's window, along with a $0.49-and-free-shipping American flag decal. Driver identification is all the rage in all the cool international racing series.

Stickers don't come for days or weeks, though- and I wanted to actually do something, though. I knew instinctively, though, what any faux-racing-car needs: a racing stripe. Vinyl stick-on racing stripes can be had for $20 or so, but that was how much I paid for the car. I turned to my old ally. Some know them as spraybombs or rattlecans, but to your average joe, it's spraypaint. Now, spraypaint has a bad rap. It's the weapon of choice for graffiti-writing hooligans and many atrocities against style have been committed with spraypaint. Nonetheless, it remains a legitimate tool for the well-informed artisan. With a little bit of technique, patience, and masking tape, wonderful things can be done with spraypaint. 

"Hey Travis, want to put some racing stripes on my car?"
A smile. "Where are they?"
"No, spraypaint."
"Right now?"
A mutual smile. 

All we needed now were the supplies and the design. I was partial to the offbeat and aggressive offset double stripe of the Ascari A10:

I also considered the centered double stripe so often seen on the late Dodge Viper. My uncle gave me a blue Viper model car that decorated my room until I move out of the house. Although the centered-double stripe is somewhat common, it would also have injected an element of the familiar.

I also considered the unequal-width off-center stripe favored by BMW enthusiasts and briefly gave thought to doing an elaborate set of stripes transitioning from the hood to the sides, which would be more rally-authentic, but which was a bit over-the-top. Travis and I also went back and forth on black vs. white, but when we looked over the car before going to Walmart to get supplies, the correct styling became obvious. It would be a white stripe, centered and following the contour lines on the hood, and I am sure you will concur based on this "before" picture: 

You also have a chance to reflect on the comical nature of restyling my car as a rally car. With the rust holes over the wheel arches, nobody can take it seriously as racer. As the old Nordic proverb goes: "If you're going to drive a cheap beater, you might as well have fun with it, right?" 

Normally for a fun-and-useless project like this, I'd grab the El-cheapo Walmart-brand spraypaint for a buck a pop and whatever the cheapest masking tape is. While being sensitive to cost, this endeavor would be fruitless if the paint started to fade/crackle/peel after two months of high-elevation Utah sun. It may be ridiculous, but if it's worth doing at all, it's worth doing it right. After all- eventually I may sell this car to some poor misguided high school student who actually thinks the stripe is cool based on its own merit, rather than for its comedy factor. For these reasons, I reached for the Krylon gloss white (and clear coat!) and the 3M blue Clean Release painter's tape. 

Supplies in hand, there was nothing left to do but to do it. I was waiting on Trav to come back from his house with newspaper so we could mask properly, but I decided to commit to the project by applying the chosen 600-grit sandpaper to my still-good paintjob. And so it was. A bit later we had the first part of the stripe carefully masked off (we even used a ruler), the glossy Toyota clear-coat knocked off (paint applied directly on gloss will peel), and cleaned with 409. We didn't bother with primer because, hey, it was primered in Japan 20 years ago. Primer is only really needed on wood or bare metal anyway. 

The first layer of paint went on:

Note the handprint on my pants above.

After two hours or so and a run to Walmart for an extra can of Glossy White, the deed was done. I learned one important lesson that I would be remiss if I didn't pass on. This was my first time to paint a large flat area with spraypaint, and I discovered that you need to carefully alternate the pattern in which you spray- this way, you won't see horizontal lines (or whatever) in the finished product. The patterns cover each other up. I had luck with horizontal, then vertical, then diagonal both ways. We used four or more light coats on each of the sections painted.

Finally, the finished product! It's pretty boss, no?

I don't normally wear heart-pattern tie-dye shirts, but this morning the Solid Rock Christian Club was in the homecoming parade, the theme of which was "A Little Thing Called Love". Our float was pretty rockin', but I'll write that up in the next Semi-Regular Blog Post (SRBP).

The future plans for the Camry are to stick all the stickers on when they come. This ought to be done in a racing style, though, not like bumper stickers. The stickers will go on the rear quarter panel and extend on to the rear doors if additional space is needed. On race cars, the stickers always go on the rear because you're moving so fast that by the time the photographer snaps a shot, all you can see is the rear of the car. Because photographers are on the side of the track, they see the rear quarter panel and not the rear bumper, really. I may also go with a single line of stickers along the bottom of the rear window, just so that people tailgating me get to know that I'm an idiot too. I also want to do enormous car numbers on both sides (as is befitting of a proper racecar), but those can't easily be masked off an sprayed like a stripe, and vinyl ones would be prohibitively expensive. I'd also really like to do a logo on the side with the Solid Rock Cafe logo, because we have a sweet skyline-cutout logo that is bombski. The difference would be that the subscript would say 'RACING' instead of 'cafe'. It'll definitely have to be in italics because italic writing looks faster than boring straight-up-and-down writing. Both of these may be projects for an Inconviently Complex Stencil (ICS). Spraying on the number and logo would violate my goal of being either tasteful or reversible, though, because while the logo would be tasteful for me, it wouldn't be so much for the poor high school student who may end up with this car. 

The last matter to be settled is what number to go for. On my 2A shirts I always get the greek symbol λ (lambda), and I know a guy who actually races his car and uses π (pi). To stay with the goal of getting the response of "Hey, is that actually a race car? It's all... wait, no, that's ridiculous", though the numbers must be Serious Business, and that means no greek symbols. With that in mind, I ask my diligent readers for number suggestions. Yes, I know, 42 is good, but I'm just not sure. Leave it in the comments!

*I made this up. Who knows if it's true.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The return trip, child-wrangling, 'heroic' wrenching, and a good hot shower

If any of my faithful followers rely solely on my blog to keep track of me, then you can stop holding your breath- I did in fact make it back from my Texas trip. I'd like to extend a big warm "Thank you!" to all of the people who helped me out along the way- my hosts on the road and in TX, all those I visited with on the trip, and to Kentucky for letting me put 2600 miles on his truck. The return trip saw me stop in with the Hutchens in Dallas:

I spent a fun evening with the Hutchens. We made a pizza, played a little Wii, and just hung out and visited. They got some hamsters, which I put on my head:

I departed in the morning for Albuquerque. I experienced a short unintentional detour courtesy of a cheap
Magellan GPS which though that the shortest way from Dallas to Albuquerque involved going through Oklahoma city. Not likely. After a common-sense 'why am I headed North' reality check and a minor temper flare at the Magellan engineer who programmed the unit, I got directed onto a better (but still sub-ideal) route to ABQ. I wasn't actually sure of where I was going in ABQ, just that my parents knew a guy (Peter) who lived there whose wife I had met once and who had emailed me that it was cool to stay with him. I didn't actually get his address, though, an oversight I realized about noon. This led a brief afternoon semi-crisis due to my inability to get a hold of him. I was lulled into complacence by the soothing voice of Edward Herrman reading the military-political thriller Executive Orders, by Tom Clancy.

About an hour out, though, I got in touch with Peter and the crisit was abated. Peter stands unique among the people I've stayed with before because he's Air Force Special Ops. While I was there he was training for some kind of crazy rescue stuff. I don't think anything he told me is terribly secret, but I'll assume it is and avoid violating his privacy. Peter was a great host, and an early riser. He planned to get out of the house by 6:10 AM, and while I wouldn't have picked that particular time myself, I decided to leave with him both because it would make life easier for both of us and because no time is too early to get on the road on a road trip.

The next day's drive was generally uneventful, except that about three hours outside Ephraim my butt was so
miserably sore that I opted to take a non-fuel stop (GASP) at a rest area. This decision was also motivated by the neat-o scenery:

Being a dork, I was also interested in the solar-powered streetlights:

I got back into Ephraim too soon, though- the chinzy Magellan GPS was also incredibly unoptimistic with estimated arrival times which made me arrive everywhere earlier than I thought. That's generally a mental boost ("Hey, I madegood time!") but it also misled Kim and others who were making a huge "WELCOME BACK NEDLY" banner for me. That made me feel loved and appreciated, but also somewhat bad for having arrived too soon for them to finish. I ran through it football-opening-game-day style. Or at least that's what I think the style was. I don't watch football. Sidenote: Somehow, the nickname "Dear Old Nedly" had caught on here. It's even programmed into the cafe cash register that way. I went to sign my name on the signature wall in the cafe, and shortly after someone added 'dley' after my name:

It was (and is) good to be back in Ephraim. As I mentioned in my last post, Ephraim has become home to me now. LETU no longer is, and although the visit was good, it was good to be home, a feeling not diminished by its short tenure. I've taken on my assistant staff responsibilities in earnest since I got back, mainly as the guys dorm advisor. I'm the go-to guy for problems and for keeping the peace and order up there. I've said it before and it's still true- I hate telling people what to do with any kind of authority, but God seems to keep placing me in positions that entail that so I guess I'd better get used to it. After all, I'm going to have kids someday and I've got to be competent at laying down the law when necessary.

On the topic of being a dad someday, I've siezed the opportunity this summer to work with kids a bit. I realize
that the chances are high that sometime in the next decade I'll have little Ned and Nedettes running around and needing raising, so I figured it's high time to gain some child-wrangling skills. My pastor and his wife have six young kids who are well-behaved and fun, so I figure that making friends with them is a good step. I made general statements at the beginning of the summer that I'm not really good with kids- I tell people that I went straight from infancy to adulthood and spent the time inbetween in a robot chrysalis stage. I also have no younger siblings. As a result, I regretably have little ability to empathize with kids, so I've gotta be a quick study. Kim noted during VBS that although I stated I wasn't good with kids, they tended to flock to me. Probably because I take a free-range attitude toward kids and go with the 'yes, and?' approach that oddly ends up with them climbing all over me and going nuts:

I figured that'd be no way to raise a kid exclusively so I determined I'd learn to child-wrangle. As with most
things, there's no way to do it except just to do it, so I started talking with kids and picking them up and
horsing around and generally getting my feet wet. Now Pastor Z's girls come to me during/after church for piggyback rides and hide-and-go-seek etc which I go along with. It's pretty fun. However, Kim et al have observed the fact that I now pick kids up (and they don't cry or hit me in the face) and assume that I have mastered the art of child-wrangling. I think that's very untrue. I've become competent at keeping already-happy kids entertained for a short time. There's a lot more to learn, I know. Stinky diaper? I don't know. Check the yellow pages. I'm about as likely to be able to make a baby stop crying as I am to lay a golden egg. There is much to learn yet.

Some of the more eventful things since I've returned have a been a little bit more ragged than child-wrangling,
though. This summer the ministry received a donation of a Ford conversion van which crapped out on an inbound mission team. It required a transmission replacement, which they were not in a position to wait or pay for, so the gave it to us free, but needing a new transmission. Before I left for TX I located and the ministry bought a replacement transmission. We got a killer deal on it- $150. To have the transmission pulled and rebuilt was in the $1800 - $2300 range. Why so cheap? The scrapyard had noooo idea if it worked or not, didn't know the mileage, anything. It was a great big question mark. We got a cheap transmission, but with no assurance that it would actually work. Half the reason the ministry keeps me around is because I'm the mechanically-inclined guy, so the job of managing this transmission replacement fell to me.

I have no formal training on auto repair or mechanical work of any kind. I've always just wanted to make or repair stuff so I've looked up and figured out how to do and had success some of the time. Over the years I've acquired some modicum of knowledge and skill in car repair. It also helps to have an attitude of willingness to take a shot at something and hope it works but contentment with knowing that if might not but you'll still have gained some experience for how to do it right the next time. That's how the Camry brakes got fixed when I needed to come out here, and that's how the transmission repair would have to be. I'd never replaced a transmission before, nor any other major driveline component. Ever. The ministry encouraged me to give it a shot, though, and so I read up on the procedure and got under there and started to get dirty.

One factor that worked hugely in my favor was the van's origin- California. Completely rust-free and well-preserved underneath. Most of the cars I've owned before have been heavily rusted and seemed to take some kind of perverse non-sentient pleasure at flaking rust off into your eyes while I've been underneath them. Safety glasses, kids- they may not seem like they're cool, but they're a heck of a lot cooler than wearing an eyepatch over an empty eyesocket for the rest of your life. The factor that worked against me was that the van was a van. Vans are some sadistic miscreant's idea of cramming all the components needed for a truck under an oversized and low body and pushing the engine so far back into the vehicle that you can't actually reach anything from under the hood. The engine block STARTS at the firewall. That's messed up. I say that to say that absolutely everything on a van is hard to reach. I have big hands. Wonderful.

Eventually I got the process started and found a likely cause of failure. The transmission tailshaft housing casting was actually cracked. That's not something that's supposed to happen. The only way I could imagine it
happening is if the driver reversed into a curb at high speed and the wheels hit hard enough to force the driveshaft into the transmission and impact the casting. That didn't happen though. The other factor of failure was that the transmission was as thoroughly cooked as a 20-minute egg. Automatic transmission fluid is normally crimson red. The stuff that came out of this transmission was opaque black and smelled terribly like burned popcorn. Gross.

It also spilled all over me while I was undoing the cooler lines. Crawling underneath a greasy van isn't conducive to staying clean. Sarah commented that while she was in the cafe all day working on the computer, making phone calls, etc, I would come into the cafe periodically and be dirtier and dirtier every time. I guess our jobs are a wee bit different. I got thoroughly filthy, and I wish I had a picture of myself- I chose to wear a yellow shirt the first day, which contrasted well with the black grease and ATF stains. Here's a picture of what it looks like AFTER washing- now picture it about twice as dirty, and me with a similar amount of soil on my face and my hands and forearms completely blackened.

The first real day of wrenching saw me get the transmission out. That is something to be excited about, but also a bit forboding. It's not hard to take something apart. That's just increasing entropy. To put something back together- and actually have it WORK at the end is quite different. It's also at the point where you can't really back away from the project. Who's going to take a transmission-less van to an auto shop and say "Hey, I kind of got lost on this whole procedure... could you finish it up for me?" Nope. It's all or nothing now. I also reflected on the unknown nature of the replacement transmission. I would be more than a bit chagrined if the replacement went in and didn't work. I'd just have to smile at myself internally and repeat the procedure.

One thing I remember about this job is that I probably gave myself a predilection for respiratory illness when I
flushed the cooler lines. I knew that there was still going to be some of that nasty burnt-popcorn fluid in the
hoses that ran forward to the cooler, so I needed to flush it out. Fortunately, there exists a product specifically
for this need. AutoZone, unfortunately, doesn't carry it. The next best thing, I was told, it carburator cleaner.

Carb cleaner is a powerful aerosol solvent which is designed to dissolve nearly any substance off of metal. Remember high school science when the teacher swabbed some rubbing alcohol onto your hand and you could feel the slight coolness as it evaporated off of your hand? This stuff is like that except that it's so volatile it evaporates within seconds and leaves your skin completely dried out and with a strange white appearance. Anyway, I got under the van and sprayed a whole bunch of that into one end of the cooler lines and blew compressed air through to push the concoction of burnt-popcorn ATF and skin-destroying carb cleaner through. I had a pan to catch the discharge, but the pipe was horizontal and the stuff blew out at high velocity. My solition was to put a Wal-mart bag over it which would catch it. It didn't catch, howvever, the large amounts of vaporized carb cleaner which soon filled the entire under-van atmosphere to the point that I was breathing probably half air and half carb cleaner fumes. Wonderful. A smart person would have at this point gotten out from under the van, breathed some fresh air, allowed the under-van area to ventilate, and have purchased an OSHA-approved full-face respirator certified for organic solvent vapors before continuing the job. I was not so inclined, so I put my grease-sodden t-shirt over my mouth and nose and repeated the procedure a half-dozen times. Life is a carcinogen.

Anyway, after much knuckle-bustery and hefting and reaching and ratcheting and grunting and reference-consulting and aligning and lifting and smacking and muttering, the 'new' transmission was physically in the van. I was about right with my estimate that something that took one day to undo would take two days to redo. The 30-day warranty on the transmission was running short since it was ticking away the whole time I was in TX. I couldn't afford to dally much with the installation because we wanted to have some time to test the thing out before the 30 days ran out.

Only a few more tasks remained before the moment of truth would arrive. I reattached the starter. I am surprised that the van actually started before, because I discovered that nothing was holding the starter solenoid in place. It was physically there and in its proper location, but both of the machine screws holding it in place were fully vibrated out. I think one big bump would have knocked it out of position, and bam- no more starting. Got that wrapped up. I had to guess at the level of ATF in the 'new' transmission because the old one actually got SO hot when it cooked itself that the plastic end of the dipstick completely melted. Dadgum. After another few hours of putting stuff back in order, the time came to start the van back up. It could go one of two ways. If I had improperly aligned the torque converter, I would hear a terribly clanging/grinding noise and in a worst-case scenario it would violently break everything it was attached to, then forcefully fly out of the transmission and through my upper legs, propelled by the raw power for 5.8 liters of American iron. I didn't think that was terribly likely, though, or I would have told Kentucky that I'd give him the first honor of starting the engine. Although I would find out immediately if I had botched that aspect of the install, I still needed to wait on the process of filling the transmission before I could find out if the thing actually worked or not. The engine needs to be running for it to force fluid through all the passages and solenoids and clutches etc.

Sometimes I am boggled at how incredibly consistently the mind-bogglingly complex contraptions we make actually work. Just think about it- the computer you're reading this on has millions of pixels being controlled by tens of millions of transistors, reading data from probably dozens of much more complex contraptions halfway across the world. I could elaborate on just how incredibly unlikely it is that such a contraption would ever work properly in the first place, much less to do it for years on end. (Okay, I know computers don't work perfectly all the time, but that's almost always a failure of the guy who programmed it, not a physical failure) The automatic transmission is no different. I honestly don't know fully how one works. I know there's a lot of complex junk going on in there and in general the only people that shoud mess with the inside of an automatic transmission are Germans and witch doctors. It's on the same level as the Saturn-V rocket and the female mind. You just trust the creator to have made it properly and try not to mess things up as the end user. The likelyhood of this abused, grease-covered mystery black-magic transmission from a junkyard actually working seemed slim.

I got the transmission filled, going more by counting quarts poured in than by the dipstick, and the moment of
truth came. The van was still up on jacks, but the sound and sensation of a transmission engaging the wheels is
familiar and distinct. I cycled the transmission through the gears after putting in the last quart, halfway expecting absolutely nothing. Instead, I was rewarded with a definite thud and a slight lurch when I threw it in
reverse. Wow. Okay, so the black-magic box transmits torque to the wheels, at least in reverse. I couldn't really tell if I was feeling a lurch in drive, but it wouldn't be terribly unexpected if I wasn't- the drive ratios for first gear and reverse mean that it could still be okay if I didn't. Time for final testing. Just like I said with little kids above, there's nothing to do but just to do it. We tool the jackstands down and I insisted that we hold a prayer meeting before the test drive.

We prayed that the van would work, and for my soul if it didn't. With three days of hard work invested, I really, really wanted it to work. Chip and I climbed into the van, with a crowd of onlookers on the other side of the driveway. It started. Good. No reason why it shouldn't, but the onlookers appreciated that with applause anyway. It went into reverse and moved backwards down the driveway. Woohoo! If nothing else, the college kids could drive backward to work and the grocery store. We got out of the driveway and pointed down the street. The moment of truth- did the forward gears work? I shifted and took my foot off of the brake- and the van rolled forward. That's a good sign. A little gas, and the van complied with acceleration. Very nice. Up the street at about 20mph, and a shift into second! That's a very good sign. A little more speed got us third. Nice. All systems go so far. A U-turn back towards the college house, and the highway where we could get up to speed and see what would happen. I fumbled for the horn on the unfamiliar steering wheel and got off a late celebratory horn-toot as we passed the onlookers. On to the main drag and the highway we went. I gave it a firm right foot to make sure it was a fair test as we got out of town. We had clean, firm shifts into second, third, and fourth, and a solid lockup at cruising speed. No slippage with sudden acceleration. WIN! God provided us with a working van for just a few hundred bucks of input and three days of wrenching. Sweet!

I'm glad to have some significant material thing that I did for the ministry that I can point at as an example of
something useful I did. It seems that I spend most of my time chasing down little things that surely need to be
done, but which don't make a very impressive list of accomplishments. Having a real, positive, significant contribution to the ministry is nice. It helps that I received plenty of back-patting for it: Chip said he was
'thoroughly impressed' and Sarah for some reason felt compelled to call me a hero. Hey, why not? I'm not opposed to a little bit of hyperbole now and then.

After that bit of glory, though, I feel I need to record for posterity the half-day I spent over at Pastor Z's
house helping snake plumbing. He had some water back up into his basement and needed help mending the situation.  I thought this might entail bucket-brigading water out of the basement, but what actually needed doing was to use a plumbing snake to clear the clogged pipes. After getting Pastor Z's done, we'd also do the neighbors, who had a chronic problem with their pipes and needed their snaked about yearly. For the uninformed,a plumbing snake is a long flexible metal coil that you shove down the drain and is spun by a motor or hand crank. You can put attachments on the end of the snake to clear whatever blockage is there. Most of the time this is tree roots that have gotten into the pipe. I didn't have much to do with the snaking of Pastor Z's house- Pastor Z himself was the gloved bandit shoving the unruly beast down into the pipe and Shane was handing turning the machine on and off as needed. I just stood there and kept the youngest Zedicher daughter out of the line of sewage spray. Mrs. Z came out to encourage us, and I remarked that I wasn't doing anything but keeping Aliyah out of trouble. Mrs. Z thought that was just wonderful, so that took that as my cue to be useful by continueing to do that. The snaking moved on to the basement and I kept Aliyah out of trouble, eventually devolving to reading books to her. I felt slightly guilty about sitting on the comfortable couch with a toddler while the other two men on the job were getting stuff done and good and dirty. But hey, somebody's got to keep the toddler away from the sewage-covered snake, and I was working on my child-wrangling skills.

Eventually, though, the call came for assistance and I knew my time had come to get a dose of sewage myself. The work was now on the neighbors's house, which turned out to be a bit more problematic than Pastor Z's. The distance between the snake machine and the pipe entrance made this job harder and I was placed as the second man on the snake, and closest to the pipe, the one to shove the snake in there. This ended up being an opportune time to exercise some good humor in the face of unpleasant work. Sure, we were all getting covered in the sewage that was getting slung around by the writhing snake- but why should that stop us from having some laughs? It took a while to get the roots that were blocking the circuitous pipe cleared, and by the end I was sufficiently sprayed with yuck to merit riding in the back of the truck on the way home, even after a hose treatment. There wasn't much glory at the end of that job. Just agood hot shower. I think reading to Aliyah was better.

This last Saturday a group of us went up to the LDS church General Conference in Salt Lake City. I like to get out and do outreach events like this. Because I'm in a support position in the ministry, I often feel quite removed from the actual purpose of the ministry here, which is the share the love of Jesus Christ with the Mormon people of Utah. I spend my time making that goal possible for others in the ministry, but my tasks are indirectly related to that goal. It is intimidating to go out on the street and witness to people, but that is the direct act of what we are here for- if I'm not willing to be the one sharing the good news, then I tend to think that something is wrong.

General Conference draws a lot of LDS people into the Temple Square area of Salt Lake, and my group took that opportunity to go out and talk with people about God. Chip, the ministry director, has been developing a witnessing tool over the past year called the Jesus Survey. It's a survey which questions people about the teachings of Jesus in a way that is not combative or overtly contrary, but which prompts people to think about the things he taught. The questions are aimed to highlight the contradictions between what Jesus taught and what the LDS church teaches. LDS people who take this survey often get only a few out of the 15 questions right. If they were well versed in LDS church teachings and answered the questions forthrightly, they couldn't honestly answer any of the questions according to the answer in scripture. That's because each of the 15 questions is on a topic on which the LDS church teaches a doctrine that is contrary to what Jesus actually taught. The idea is to get people to think about what Jesus actually taught and let the Holy Spirit take over from there, being available to provide dialog if needed. The survey does that in a way that generally doesn't offend people, because we're not coming out and saying 'You! There in the red shirt! Your doctrine is WRONG and I can prove it!'. Approaches like that are rarely conducive to getting people to actually listen to your message. The fact is that the message of the gospel IS offensive to many- but the less that we can be needlessly offensive when preaching it, the more likely it is that the people who hear it are to listen and open their hearts to the Holy Spirit. That openness is what we want to get people to do. The LDS Church teaches its members to be closed to any outside ideas or examination of their faith- but what kind of faith can it be if its church is afraid to let its members examine it for themselves? Too often people approach their faith with a motive to confirm what they already believe rather than to seek the plain truth. If ones faith really is true, then examination will only strengthen your knowledge of it, not cast doubt and shadow on it. The survey shows people that this doubt exists, and a person who is being honest with themself will study it out and find the real answers- the truth of what Jesus Christ taught, without manipulation by any outside source.

I was able to do eight or nine surveys throughout the morning, and had some people who were very interested in it. It is great to get into the theological discussion on the street, but I think that this method can be even more effective in some cases. If someone is thinking back on a stressed-out discussion they had with a stranger on a busy street, it can be easy to rationalize that the person what being confusing, or not telling the complete truth, or what have you. When we give then an answer sheet and they take it home and study it to find out why they did so poorly on the survey, then they have only the words of Jesus to contend with. I sent eight or nine answer sheets home with a dozen people (there were couples). I will almost certainly never know what effect I had- but I know that God can take a dozen people honestly studying his word over that yellow sheet of paper, work through their open hearts, and reclaim them from the enemy's camp.

The street during General Conference aren't 100% peaceful. I take a very unobstrusive approach. I dressed up in a suit and tie and asked people if they wanted to do the survey as they passed. Other Christians, though, take on more of a role of 'protestor' and hang signs with some pretty intense and offensive messages on them. They are true, but tactless and blunt. I want to condemn the preachers who shout offensive messages and are rude with people. It's not nice. But if you read the prophets's deeds in the Bible, they weren't nice either. They got offensive and rude. They weren't afraid to get loud with the message God had given them to give. I can't say that God didn't give the loud preachers their message, although I don't feel called to do what they do.

One street preacher through actually started his shouting with me. He was following a couple down the street,
shouting behind them, and as he passed me he threw a few accusations my way as well, which I responded to as politely as I could. After a few denied accusations he figured out that I wasn't a Mormon, but a Christian
missionary, and then got offended with me that I wasn't out shouting at people as well. He was actually ticked that I was taking a gentle approach. Weird. I don't think that guy was in the right.

My time on the street wasn't the full day because I got the opportunity to actually attend the second session of
General Conference, which took up the afternoon. The presentation and organization was superb, and the conference center is an engineering marvel. The content of the conference wasn't much different than what you'd hear on Sunday morning at an LDS church. I think sometimes at GC they announce some significant stuff, but this year nothing stood out as huge news. A lot of encouragement to refrain from wordly ways and be faithful. It was a mostly unoffensive message, but after having been in the culture for a while and trained to understand the differences, I can hear what they're saying an recognize that everything has a little bit of a slant on it to suggest to people that they support the church, be peaceful, and trust the leadership. Again, all good things- but it leads people to focus on the church, not on God.

That's the major stuff that's gone on since I reported last, but not everything. Plenty of other neat things have gone on as well. I've been getting my apartment set up more with the stuff I brought back from TX. I scored a projector at the LETU IT yard sale last year for $40, then the ladies found me a $5 projector screen at a thrift store. I installed the two in my room last week and coupled that with a free-but-slightly broken stereo and a $4.50 input cord for a very cheap entertainment system. Right now the project on my apartment is the kitchen floor, which is concrete and will receive an attractive and functional stain-and-seal treatment. That means, though, that everything needs to be out, and that my stove and fridge currently reside in my bedroom:

The fridge and microwave are functional, but as comical as it would be to make quesadillas next to my dresser, the stove is not hooked up. It only ought to last a week while we clean/stain/seal the floor.

We had a tie-dye event at the College house, for which we made posters:

My brother Jake sent me a birthday card which got very delayed by international mail. It had some sweet Australian temporary tattoos, which I applied to my wrists:

I don't have a dish drying rack, so I took the bachelor approach when I recently did a sinkful of dishes:

I made some ridiculous and impractical stilts hoping to promote events on campus:

Finally, actually an old pic- I didn't show it last time because the shirts depicted were a surprise yet to be sprung at the time of posting. They're souveniours for staff from the TX trip. All the shirts except for mine say "NED WENT TO TEXAS" and were spraypainted over scotch tape negative-stenciling.

Thanks for having the interest to read, folks. I would ask for your support in prayer as I'm continuing in my work here. I've highlighted a lot of the fun and light-spirited things in my life, but enemy doesn't like what the ministry here is up do and he tries to attack us all the time. Your prayers for me and the ministry are the most important thing you could do for us. This is also the time of year that the ministry is seeking to bolster the fund that allows me to eat and buy socks, so if you like for me (and Sarah) to be able to eat and buy socks and are interested in supporting us financially, drop me a line. Thank you!