Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Car Part Edition

Much like the Plumbing Edition of Stuff I Learned This Year, this is a lesson I’d have been happy not having learned. It all started on my drive home from work on Friday – I was slowing down for a red light on Stewardson Way and my car jerked (sort of like it would if you were driving a manual transmission car and accidentally put it in the wrong gear) twice, and then as I stopped at the red light, it died. Like, it would not start. And I was on a busy road during rush hour! I put on my four-way flashers and called BCAA to get some emergency roadside assistance. Pretty soon, a couple of women came up to my car and asked if I need some help: “We can push your car around the corner and into this parking lot”. A guy from the business whose parking lot they were referring to, Kirmac Collision1, also came out to help push. Since I drive a Smart car, they were very amused at how light it was to push! I was so thankful that they took the time to stop and help me – no one wants to be the car that they talk about on the traffic report: “A stall on Stewardson Way is blocking the right lane, so there’s only one lane getting through eastbound and everyone just wants to be home already!”

The BCAA tow truck driver showed up in about 20 minutes, which is exactly the time the BCAA dispatcher had estimated (and was more than enough time for me to take over the Pokemon Gym that was there), and he was super nice. Here was where I learned the first thing of this adventure: the location of the battery in my car! Now, lots of things in Smart cars are not where they are in other cars – the engine is in the back and the ignition is in between the driver’s seat and the passenger seat, near the gear shifter, for example. Well, it turns out that the battery is located under the foot well on the passenger side! Also there was the tow hook for the car! I’ve never needed to check my battery before – it’s never been a problem. And the only other time I had it towed was when I had a flat tire and that time it was still under warranty, so I had Smart Car roadside assistance still, and they just took care of it. I knew the battery was working, as I could still roll up my windows and the radio was still working, but the tow truck guy tested it, and decided that I would indeed have to get it towed somewhere, because whatever was making the car not start wasn’t something he could diagnosis on the spot.

Now, I’ve never had any trouble with my car before and I’d only ever taken it to the dealership for its regular maintenance (while it was under warranty I had to take it there or else the warranty would be void and once the warranty was up, I just kept going there out of habit/being too lazy to find an alternative). Smart cars are sold at Mercedes dealerships, so you know that there is going to be a bit of a premium on their prices. But I really wasn’t prepared for how bad it would be!

First, when I called the dealership to say I was going to have my car towed there, they said it was no problem even though they would be closed for the night, the driver could just drop off the car and put the keys in an envelope with my name and number on it through the drop spot they have for just such occasions. However, the next day when the service guy contacted me, he was all “We have 68 cars with appointments ahead of you, so we can’t even look at it until Monday and I won’t do anything until you approve the $200 minimum fee to diagnosis it. Plus it is due for a major service appointment (replace spark plugs, belts, oil, etc.) and that costs $970. So with have halted everything until you approve the fees”. My first thought is “why is he making a big deal that other cars have appointments. My car died with no warning. Sorry I didn’t make an appointment for that!” And my second thought was “why would I approve $1000 of maintenance if I don’t know what is wrong the car? What if it isn’t even fixable and they just do all that maintenance on a car I’m going to throw away?” So I said I’d pay the $200 diagnostic fee, but not approve the maintenance before I knew what was wrong with the car.

IMG_4775On Monday, they contacted me with a diagnosis – the clutch actuator motor had died – and an estimate – $900 for the part, $800 for labour (including the $200 diagnosis fee). So in total they wanted $2700 + tax to fix my car, which is 8 years old and only worth about $4000 (if it weren’t broken!). So this made me an unhappy camper because I have a lot of more exciting things that I would want to spend $2700 + tax on, such as anything else. I would rather spend that much on pretty much anything else. Also, they would have to order the part of Toronto and it wouldn’t arrive until Friday, and that’s only if they placed the order that day (i.e., trying to pressure me to make a quick decision!).

So this is the major car part thing that I learned: what the heck is a clutch actuator motor? I knew what a clutch was from my years of driving manual transmission. When you drive manual, you step on a clutch pedal, which allows you to shift gears (or to start the car moving from a stationary position) – basically, stepping on the clutch pedal disconnects the running engine from the turning of the wheels so that you can shift gears; then you release the clutch pedal, which allows the engine to continue turning the wheels with the car in the new gear you’ve just selected2. However, Smart cars don’t have manual transmissions – they have something called a Tiptronic – with this type of transmission, you can shift the gears yourself, but you don’t need to step on a clutch pedal and if you fail to shift correctly, the car will just shift it for you so that the car doesn’t stall. In the photo above, you see that there is Park, Reverse, Neutral, and Drive, which in an automatic car and you can just drive your Smart as an automatic using those. If you want to do the shifting yourself, when in Drive, you push the stick over to the left (where the + and – are) and then you push up (towards +) and release to shift up or down (towards -) and release to shift down. I did this when I first got my car, but it just wasn’t as satisfying as driving a real manual, so I’ve driven it as an automatic after about the first month of owning. Anyway, the clutch actuator is a part that basically takes the place of the clutch pedal that you would step on to change gears in a manual transmission car. So, the fact that the clutch actuator died and was making my car not work was like insult to injury –  it’s a part that my car has because of a feature I don’t even use!

Anyway, I called a friend of mine who is into cars for advice and he said, “They are likely charging you a Mercedes tax. I know this other shop run by a good guy – they know their stuff and they are straightforward and charge fair prices.” So we contacted them and they gave me an estimate for all the same work (replace the clutch actuator and do the full maintenance service): $1200 + tax! So basically Mercedes was trying to fleece me out of $1500! So I called them back and said I would not be having them do anything more with my car – I would pay their $200 diagnosis fee and then have a tow truck come to take it away. He said it would take some time to put my car back together and he’d call me when it was ready. And then he called me back shortly after, said he’d talked to his manager, and since I’ve been such a good customer, they wanted to know what I was planning to do with the car3. I said that I was taking it somewhere else to get it fixed, where they are charging me a reasonable price and where they can get the part tomorrow, not Friday. He asked what the other place was going to charge me and when I told him, the guy says that because I’ve such a good customer4, they can match the price for replacing the clutch actuator ($1000 for parts & labour, instead of $1700), but he didn’t believe that the quote of $200 for maintenance (vs. Mercedes charging $970) could be right. “Are you sure it’s a full maintenance, with spark plugs and belts and everything? Are you sure it’s not just an oil change?” And I was sure, because I’d sent the shop the list of what was included in the list of things for maintenance. But he was all “nope, we can’t drop the price on that”5. And then he also dropped in that “We’ve found the part locally, so we can have it by today instead of 5 days from now”. At this point, I was just pissed off, and I said, “Well, if you can drop the price of replacing the clutch actuator almost in half, just like that, now I just feel like you were trying to fleece me! And that’s a very interesting coincidence that all of a sudden you found the part locally, once I told you that I taking it to another shop! I’m taking my car – please tell me when you have it reassembled so I can tell my tow truck driver it’s ready.”6

So that was Monday. They didn’t have my car reassembled until the next morning, but I got a tow truck to take it to Deckers Auto in Burnaby, who had the car fixed and all the maintenance done in about 24 hours, and the cost was right on what they’d estimated! And to put a cherry on top, when I got there, the guy was super friendly and helpful, he showed me the parts that had been replaced and explained what was wrong with them, and basically treated me like I was a person capable of understanding information about cars (which many mechanics do not do when they speak to women.). He also told me that my car is in great shape, so I shouldn’t have to worry about it for quite some time! I was just so pleased with their service and I will be definitely going back to them for all my maintenance from now on. If you are ever looking for a great auto shop, I highly recommend them!

Reflecting back, I have a lot of people to thank for helping me out in this situation:

  • the two lovely women who stopped to help me out when I was stalled in traffic, along with the lovely gentleman from Kirmac who helped them push my car. Also, the other nice guy from Kirmac who came out while I was waiting for my tow truck to make sure I was OK
  • the friendly and professional BCAA driver who came for emergency roadside assistance
  • my friend Tig who gave me a ride to our hockey game that night!
  • my friend Randy who recommended Deckers Auto and who talked with me through my options
  • the amazing mechanics at Deckers Auto who treated me fairly and professionally and who charged me a fair price for the work they did
  • my Dad, for teaching me about how cars work
  • my sister, for pointing out that my Dad’s legacy lives on through our tendency to call people out on their bullshit

Here’s a video of how a manual transmission works, in case you are interested:

Image Credits:

  • Cross section of Smart car showing engine location is from Wikimedia Commons shared with a Creative Commons license.
  • Gear shifter in my Smart car photo was taken by me!

Footnotes:

  1. Those of you from New West may be noting that Kirmac just so happens to be right next to New West’s craft brewery, Steel & Oak. And if I didn’t have a hockey game to play later that evening, I definitely would have meandered into S&O’s tasting room for a pint after the tow truck took my car away! []
  2. Here’s a simple explanation, if you are interested: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/clutch.htm []
  3. At this point, I was assuming he was going to try to sell me a Merc. []
  4. Interesting that they didn’t seem to care that I’d been such a good customer until I was threatening to leave! []
  5. Of course, he couldn’t drop the price on that because then if I came back for my next service appointment, they wouldn’t be able to charge me the hundreds of extra dollars anymore! []
  6. I was telling my sister this story and said that I wished Dad was here to help me deal with this car stuff – he is the one who taught me all the things I know about cars – and she said “It seems like he is. What you said to them was such a Dad thing to say!” I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! []

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Stuff I’m Learning This Year: Politics edition

I started this posting ages ago, but haven’t gotten around to finishing it until now. So it’s pretty old news at this point, but I am posting it as part of my chronicling of the stuff I’m learning this year. #YouHeardItHereLast

So eighty billion years ago, we had a provincial election in BC. Politics in BC tend to be weird, and I think we may have outdone ourselves on the weirdness front this time. There are a number of things that I already knew about how our government worked, but the weird situation provided the opportunity for me to learn a few new things!

The BC provincial legislature has a total of 87 seats, which means in order to have a majority, a party needs to win 44 of those seats. On election night, the results ended up being:

  • 43 BC “Liberals”1
  • 41 BC NDP
  • 3 Green Party

BC LegislatureThis meant that no one had a majority and this situation is referred to as a “hung legislature” (this term is the first (#1) thing I learned). But there was an additional weird thing at play – after the votes were counted on election night, there were several very close ridings, including one where the BC NDP won the riding by only 9 votes! But any absentee ballots and ballots cast in the advanced polls are not counted on election night, and with thousands of those ballots outstanding, it was entirely possible that the numbers of ridings could change. If that riding with a 9-vote margin were to end up going to the BC Liberals after the final count, they would have the 44 seats needed for a majority. But if other close ridings changed, it was theoretically possible that the NDP could gain a few seats and end up with a majority (although the odds of that were slim, as the other close ridings weren’t nearly as close as 9 votes). To add even more weirdness, the riding with the 9-vote margin includes a military base (and any deployed personnel would have had to have cast absentee ballots) and the BC “Liberal” candidate in that riding was the former boss of that military base. As one TV commentator put it on election night, the election could end up being decided by whether or not this group of people liked their boss.

IMG_4772At any rate, we then had to wait two weeks for the absentee ballots were counted. This leads to the second (#2) thing that I learned – why it takes so long to count these ballots! When I heard it would take two weeks, I thought, “It’s only ~180,000 ballots. Get a team of volunteers and you could count those up in a day!” But what I didn’t know, and only later learned, was that every advanced poll and absentee ballot has to be sent to its riding (e.g., if you live in Vancouver, but happened to be miles away in another town during the election and voted in a poll there, your ballot would have to be sent to your riding in Vancouver!), where it is counted and then checked manually against the records to make sure that no one voted twice. Because you could imagine a situation where someone votes in by absentee ballot and then shows up at their own polling station on election day and votes again. Hence the manually checking.

After all the ballots were counted – and in some ridings, recounted – the results stayed the same with a hung legislature. What happens in this situation – and this is something that I already knew – is that the Lieutenant Governor (LG) (who represents the Queen of England, who is the head of state in Canada) asks the leader of the party with the most seats if they will be able to maintain the confidence of the house – i.e., will they be able to get enough votes to pass legislation, including budgets, and win votes of non-confidence (where someone in the legislature basically says “I don’t have confidence in this government, who is with me??” and then the legislature votes and if there are a majority of votes in favour of “no confidence”, the government falls. If that leader feels they can get enough votes from the other party/ies, the can say “Yes I can!” and then they can try to govern and thus test out that theory. If they don’t think they can get the other side to vote with them, they can say “No, I can’t” and basically resign, which can either end up as the LG asking another party leader if they can govern or the calling of an election. So the LG asked the leader of the BC “Liberals”, Christy Clark, if she will be able to maintain the confidence of the house. During the time where all the votes were being counted, both the BC “Liberals” and the BC NDP were negotiating with the BC Green Party to see if they could strike a deal to get their support. If the BC “Liberals” could get the Greens to support them, they would have the majority of votes (43 + 3 = 46) and if the BC NDP could get the Greens’ support, they would have the majority of votes (41 + 3 = 44). After negotiating with both sides, the Green Party agreed to a “confidence and supply agreement” with the BC NDP. What is a “confidence and supply agreement” you ask? That is what I asked as well, and it is thing #3 that I learned – a “confidence and supply agreement” is where a party (or individuals) strike an agreement with a governing party (or, in this case, a party that will become government) to vote in the government’s favour on votes of non-confidence and on budgets, ensuring that the government will be able to continuing governing. This other party (or individuals), don’t become a part of the governing party, nor are they in a coalition with the government. They merely agree to vote to keep the governing party in power. In exchange for this agreement, the governing power agrees to stuff that the other party (or individuals) want. So by entering into this agreement, the Green Party effectively demonstrated that the BC “Liberals” would not have the confidence of the house and the BC NDP did. So when the LG asked the leader of the BC “Liberals” if she could govern, she should have said “no” since she knew she would lose the vote 44-432 (and she herself admitted she knew she would lose a vote of non-confidence), but instead she said “yes”, waited a while before she called the legislature into session, and then called the legislature where she lost the vote of non-confidence. She then had to go to the LG’s house to say “My party does not have the confidence of the house so I can’t govern”. She is then supposed to make a recommendation – either that the LG ask the party with the next most seats (i.e., the BC NDP) if they can govern or to call a new election. She went to the LG’s house insisting that she would not make any recommendation because she was not going to ask for a new election and that the LG should decide for herself. The LG told her she *had* to make a recommendation so she recommended a new election, but the LG asked the BC NDP if they could govern and they said “yes” and now we have a BC NDP Premier. Of course, he has a slim one seat majority of votes, but another wrinkle to the whole situation is that one of the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) has to be a speaker of the house and thus doesn’t vote unless as a tie breaker  (thing #4 that I learned – I didn’t realize that the speaker of the house doesn’t vote3 – I feel like I’d be upset if I voted for an MLA to represent me and then they didn’t get to vote on stuff!) and traditionally when they do the tie breaking vote, they vote to continue debate up until the last vote, at which time they vote to “keep the status quo” (or vote against proposed new legislation). So effectively you’ve got a government that has 43 votes in favour and 43 votes against. This, of course, assumes that no one is sick, away, has to resign due to a scandal, chooses to resign to run in an election in a different level of government, or any of a myriad of other possible reasons for being absent. Since the new NDP government has been sworn in, they’ve been busy working on a number of things, but the legislature won’t sit until the fall. Should be interesting times!

Image Credit: Photo of the BC Legislature building was posted by David Gasson on Flickr with a Creative Commons license. The “voting place” sign photo is my own.

  1. For the uninitiated, the “BC Liberal” party has nothing to do with the federal Liberal party, nor are they liberal. They are actually conservative. There is a BC Conservative party, but they run few candidates and don’t win anything. []
  2. Assuming all members of the legislature were present to vote []
  3. I feel like this is something that I should have known. []

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Stuff I’m Learning This Year: Strength Training Edition

As you know, one of my goals for 2017 was to learn 12 new things – an average of one per month. First, I learned some basic toilet repair. Then I learned how to fold a fitted sheet. In that second posting, I alluded to the fact that I’m learning something else that required a bigger blog posting – well, this is that blog posting!

This goes back to the old time-y days of 2016, when I was injured so bad with bursitis that I had to walk with a cane for 2 weeks and I had to spend all of the dollars on physiotherapy for months so that I could walk again and I haven’t been running since then. When I was walking with a cane, one of my work colleagues told me that the best thing she ever did was after she got injured, when her physiotherapy was completed, she got a personal trainer. A personal trainer was able to help determine which of her muscles were weak and which were compensating for the weak ones and was able to give her an interesting exercise routine (as opposed to the super boring stretches you have to do when rehabbing an injury) that helped her get stronger so she wouldn’t get re-injured. And while I had made doing regular strength training one of my 2017 goals *and* I have a weight room in building in which to do said strength training, I spent the first two months of 2017 never lifting a single weight. And then I remembered that I suck at weight training because I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing when I walk into a gym – I need someone to tell me what to do1. And then I remembered that I don’t really do any exercise unless I have some external motivator2. And I also remembered that I dislike doing exercise if it takes much more than walking out of my front door to do it because I begrudge the time it takes to drive to a place to exercise and then drive back afterwards3 – it’s one of the reasons I like running! So I joined a gym with personal trainers that is about a block from my place. It meets my needs of being super-conveniently located, it has someone telling me what to do, and I’m externally motivated because I’m paying money for it (and I have to show up 3 days a week to follow my plan!). The place is called Strong Side Conditioning4

Strong Side ConditioningBut it wasn’t just the super-convenient location that convinced me to go to this place. I did a free assessment there where I got to learn about the gym and their business model, to go through an assessment and hear what a plan for me would be like, and to meet some of the staff5. The business model of the gym is that it’s sort of halfway between a gym membership and a personal trainer. With a regular gym membership, you would pay less but not have assistance in creating a plan or assistance with your training (like making sure your form is correct or helping you decide when to go up in weight or number of reps). With a regular personal trainer, you get all 1-on-1 training sessions and pay by the hour (and then maybe do some other training sessions totally on your own, following the plan they’ve created for you) – and the hourly rate is not cheap. At Strong Side, they come up with a training plan for you each month and at the start of the month, you get a week’s worth of 1-on-1 sessions to learn your exercises (in my case, I chose 3 days a week, so I got 3 training session to learn my 3 workouts) and after that you have 3 weeks where you drop into the gym at your convenience to do your workouts, but there are a bunch of trainers circulating to help you if needed. You record your workouts and the trainers can see how you are progressing and then they make up a new training plan for the next month and repeat.

I started on March 3, and so far I’ve had my three training sessions, and done four solo sessions. My assessment had shown that I basically use my diaphragm and my quads for everything and all my other muscles don’t do anything. So I’m working on releasing the tension in my ribs and quads and strengthening my everything else so that my everything else will stop being such a bunch of freeloaders. I do exercises with a variety of resistance bands, free weights, kettle bells, machines, risers, sliding thingys, and more, so I’m learning the proper form for all kinds of exercises and what muscles should be doing stuff during those exercises. There are always plenty of trainers around watching during my solos sessions to tell me if my form is right or needs adjusting and I’m already seeing some improvements (in that I can do more reps of some things and squat lower than I could two weeks ago). And the trainers I’ve met, which I think is most of them by now, are all really friendly and helpful and down-to-earth.

The only thing that I can say that I don’t like is that I wish they had longer hours – they open at 6:30 am on weekdays, so if I want to do a morning workout, by the time I get through my workout, go home and shower and get ready, and then head into Vancouver, I’m not getting to my office until about 9:30 am, which is a bit later than I’d like (and on many days, too late as I have meetings at 8 or 9 am). Similarly, they close at 9 pm on weekdays, which means that if I don’t want to have to rush through my workout, I have to get there by 7:30 pm, which can sometimes be difficult for me on a busy day. I get that the hours of operation are constrained by the need to have enough trainers around and it doesn’t make any business sense to have the gym open at 5:30 am and close at 11 pm on the off chance that I might want to be there extra early or extra late once in a while. All in all, having to get to the gym within their set hours is a small price to pay for what I’m getting out of my membership!

Anyhoo, so far so good. I’m sure I’ll blog more about my exciting strength training adventures as the year goes on!

Strong Side Conditioning

  1. Similarly, when I’m running, I always have to be training for a race, because I need a plan to follow as without one, I can’t seem to make a simple decision, like how often I should run or how far should I run on a given day. []
  2. Unless it’s hockey, but that doesn’t count because it’s so fun in and of itself that I don’t even think of it as exercise. []
  3. Again, hockey excepted. []
  4. As always, I haven’t been paid to blog about them, nor have I even talked to them about the fact that I’m writing a blog posting – I am blogging about them because I like them! I’m actually paying lots of money to go there! lol! []
  5. I also did a free assessment with a personal trainer whose gym is literally across the street from my office (Did I mention I need something conveniently located?). He seemed nice and all, but he charges by the hour for training sessions, so it would work out to a lot more than Strong Side (though in the end I’d get less service) – I liked the business model of Strong Side better and I clicked more with the staff. Also, the trainer near my work said he was a Philadelphia Flyers fan and said “I have to have a Canadian team too, so I’m a Leafs fan.” I’m not saying that I decided I couldn’t work with a Flyers/Leafs fan – but I’m not saying that I could. []