The horse I ride in on is a 14-year-old Honda Civic with 147,000 miles. It is completely bought and paid for, and completely mine. And it has problems: old mare problems.

I’ve been having issues where my transmission was taking too long to shift between gears when the engine is cold. For a year, I played ostrich and pretended it was an easy fix. But with the cold weather this past month, that was no longer the case; it was just refusing to get in gear. Found myself staying home instead of taking the risk. So I bought the materials to jack up my car and flush the transmission fluid. That effort and expense proved fruitless; performance didn’t improve. So that following Monday I took the car to some shops for quotes.

On the way back home, my transmission practically refused to shift into 3rd gear and threw a code, so my hand was forced: I reached home, moved some of my remaining money around, and went back to the shop. $475 was the quote to pull the transmission and take a look. Two days later, $2260 was the final determined cost to completely rebuild the unit. At that point, I couldn’t say no unless I wanted to tow the car elsewhere.

“You should have your car back on Friday,” they said. So my only transportation for the week was bicycle and foot. Damn, am I out of shape.

Friday came and the shop called. “Well, the rebuilt torque convertor we put on there doesn’t work; we’ll have to source another one and install it. You’ll have your car on Monday.”

“Monday? Can you at least knock a couple hundred off the cost?”

“Uh, we’ll see what we can do,” he covered.

I got a call on Saturday that my car was ready. Good, good. I walked over, paid, and felt like I got punched in the gut. Manager gave me the key and receipt, and mentioned that he was hearing a noise coming out of my front left wheel, asked if I’d heard of it. I didn’t, in fact. So I drove off and took a test drive around town. After exiting the highway back to my neighborhood, I heard the noise: a grinding, scraping noise that happened only when I turned the steering wheel while driving. Something in my brakes was going bad. Dammit, dammit.

I pulled into a parking lot, lifted the car, and removed the tire. What I found was a scored brake rotor and a little stamped metal clip that was getting pinched between the brake caliper frame and the rotor. This is, as you can expect, not supposed to happen. So I limped out of there, picked up a new pair of clips, installed them at home, and took another test drive. It was still grinding, so the new clips got damaged as well. Something was drastically wrong with the wheel.

Sunday, I took it to the brake shop. The mechanics typically remove all four tires to inspect the brakes; this time, they left the bad wheel mounted because they didn’t feel comfortable with removing it. The damn thing was about to fall off. The problem, they said, was that the CV axle was damaged and had to be replaced. This is probably related to the damaged strut that I had to replace back in November. They rocked the wheel back and forth to show me the amount of play in the wheel. So, already hurting from the expense of the transmission, I had no choice but to agree to the repair. $350.

After a few hours, I sulked out with a functioning car. But it’s not over yet. During my test drive, I heard a new noise out of my right rear wheel, a clicking that happened once per revolution. Just great. So I went back to the brake shop to make them fix it. The problem was that the mechanic accidentally moved the adjustment that controls the clearance between the brake shoes and the drum, so everything was too tight and rubbing against the drum. An easy fix, for once.

Now I have a usable car. Damn.

It’s funny to me just how many people have an opinion to voice when I have a train of problems like this. “You should’ve done this.” “You should’ve done that.” “You should get a new car.” “You should’ve done regular maintenance.” “You should sell your car and only ride your bike.” It’s like their own philosophical vanity is at stake, and here I am, the one directly affected by the problem, deciding that paying for repairs as they come is a hell of a lot cheaper than taking on new car payments. I still have plenty of good years left in this horse, and I’m not ready to send it out to pasture just yet. When that time comes, I hope it’s a well-earned life.


Now here’s a pleasant surprise: Amazon Instant has a copy of the Georges Méliès 1902 classic film “A Trip to the Moon” fully restored with special soundtrack by the French electronic music duo Air.

This 16-minute film was shot in black and white in Méliès’ studio with practical effects, intricately detailed sets, doubled film exposure, and cutting during the scenes, really pushing the envelope of creative cinema for its era. Before distribution, some of the film strips were hand-colored; only a few of those copies survive to today. The restoration uses modern film technologies to clean up the ancient print and restore lost frames from B&W film stock. The result is a lot better than before, and the Air soundtrack adds to the ambiance of this ancient piece of pre-space-age science fiction.

Work was performed by the Technicolor Foundation.

Decade of Breath

Cold Turkey: When Moderation Fails

I am ten years old.

A decade ago this month, I set out to quit smoking for the second and final time. My first attempt in October of 2003 failed miserably when I tried to go cold turkey. To soften the blow of being completely off of nicotine during that attempt, I gave myself congratulatory cigarettes. That, as you can expect, was a dumb move. After two weeks, I gave in and started smoking again.

Finally, in February 2004, after another case of chronic bronchitis that became part and parcel of my life here in Austin with all the mold and pollen, I decided that I really, really needed to quit smoking again. So I went on the patch. Since the drugstore didn’t have the high-dose patches in stock, I used the mid-dose patches and continued smoking for the first week, but with light puffs and low intake — down from 25 smokes a day to about 3 or 4 with plenty of guilt. By the time a week or so had passed, I continued the mid-dose patches without smoking, stepping down to the low-dose patches later. By the end of March, after six weeks, I removed my final patch and adapted to my new lifestyle.

I look back on parts of the habit fondly, but overall I regret ever starting. It was a self-destructive act that I began in ’95; when I was 23, I was obviously immortal and didn’t care. By 33, I started caring greatly. By and large, the only way I’ve stayed quit for 10 years is by following this dictum: I can’t start smoking again if I don’t put another cigarette in my mouth. This teetotaler attitude has served me well.


Do you know what I miss? I miss the headspace I could afford without a screen constantly in front of my face. Sometimes i remember my early 20’s before always-on communications, when I could sit in my room for hours and write, read, build, craft, think, dream the big dreams. The world outside was just over the horizon, calling to me to consider it. I felt it in my soul. Made plans to go out to it (instead of having it barge in on me). I’d visualize it like radio waves reflecting off the ionosphere, like a dome of light from a nearby town at night. Thoughts as deep as clouds are high.

Now, shallow thoughts, distracted thoughts. In my opinion, less a factor of age and more a factor of scattered attention. There’s a red flag on my screen with a number inside. There’s a tab with “(2)” on it. There’s a notification on my phone. There’s always something to answer.

It’s getting awfully crowded in this headspace. Not enough room for this addiction to confirmation, for this empty stand-in for real connection and friendship. When I turn face from the screen to do something with my time, the world moves on and I feel lost in a game of Catch-Up when I finally come back to the screen. That desperate emptiness kills me. So what is the solution?

Detect Traps

As useful as it is, it is a slightly hazardous thing to post a catalog of my music collection or to have my playlist tracked while I listen to music. Several times in the past — most recently this weekend — I’ve gotten requests from complete strangers to send them a copy of something in my collection. Case in point is this weekend’s request from another user of


I’m very sorry to bother you, but as I see you’ve been listening to lo-bat quite a lot a thought you might be able to help me. So, the thing is, my hard drive crashed a while ago, resulting in a total loss of all my music, including all of lo-bat’s music. However, I have been able to retrieve some of it from various sources, but as his website is down, not all of it. Specifically it’s two tracks that i’m missing: Barbara listen to this and Kinderkopkes. Which leads me to my question: I see that you’ve been scroobling these two tracks before; do you still have them? And if yes, would you be so kind to consider sending them to me in some way?

Thanks in advance!


See, as an occasional fellow listener of Lo-Bat. and his frantic 8-bit chiptunes, I have also noticed that his website has had problems in the past, and I’ve made a good job of finding what collection I have. I understand this stranger’s pain, I do. But here is the problem: who is this guy?

If I provide him with the two tracks he’s requested, do you know what I will have done? I would’ve broken US federal law, and potentially international law. Giving him these songs goes against the “Making Available” clause of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and would incur all manner of penalties and/or incarceration if I am found guilty. In all likelihood, it is a trap. I just can’t give this stranger the benefit of the doubt.

Before I can even consider sending these two files, I would have to do my own due diligence to track down the copyright of each song and determine if Lo-Bat himself is under signed contract with a record label or if copyright has been assigned to ASCAP, BMI, SESAC or any other agency to be enforced. That’s just too much work. Sorry, pal.

My advice in these situations is to decline the request. Protect yourself; there are entrapment trolls about, private companies who are paid by the copyright holders (usually the major labels) to go out onto the Internet, ferret out lawbreakers, and bring them to justice. With enough gullible suckers on the Net, it is a very profitable business. Believe it. So don’t be an RIAA show case; you can’t afford the help they’re demanding.