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Blog Archives for September 2008

Jeep Fuel Problems

Friday, September 26th, 2008 - Comments (9) in Cars, Life, Rants

My Cherokee ended up needing a new fuel pump recently and the whole situation was rather inconvenient.

Back in August it failed to start for the first time ever when I went to drive home after work. It would just crank and crank. I poked around for a little while and figured the problem was fuel related. I had compression because the engine was cranking at its usual speed and I had spark because I pulled a plug wire off to test it (shocking the hell out of myself in the process). The only other thing required for that car to run is fuel. When you first turn the key to the on position the fuel pump is supposed to turn on for about one second and then turn off. I couldn't hear it turning on at all when turning the key. I took a look at the wiring, which all looked ok and checked the fuel pump relay which seemed to function properly, so logically it was a fuel pump. Since I was in Harley's parking lot on a hill I really didn't want to get into changing this part myself. The pump is inside the gas tank and not very easy to get at, especially with an almost full tank of gas.

I had the car towed to a shop I've used before for them to fix it. The next day they went to check out the car and it started right up! I talked to my dad who said from his experience fuel pumps tend to start getting weak and not able to keep up under high demand, like going up hill on the highway. He also said he didn't think they would start working again if they fail. So instead of spending $400 to replace a pump that was working at the time I took the car home.

Fast-forward to last week: I was driving home from work on 31F and just as I was passing the Wegmans in East Rochester my car seemed to lose some steam for a second and then came back. I kept going, but just as I crossed the canal entering Fairport the engine died completely. I can think of worse places to break down, but Church Street in Fairport is a busy road and at rush hour is even worse! Again I sniffed around for while and couldn't hear the pump turning on. I could hear the relay clicking on and off though, so I knew it was getting power. I climbed under the car and banged on the gas tank a bunch of times hopefully trying to shock the pump into working again. No dice. I had it towed to a local shop to replace the pump.

The next day when the shop went to look at the car, it started right up (surprise, surprise). I talked to the guy and told him all the diagnosing I did, and he said it sounds like a pump, but they couldn't guaranty that since they couldn't reproduce the problem. They ordered the pump from the Jeep dealer and four days later when it arrived it was the wrong pump! The dealer only had a listing for a mechanical pump and my car has an electric pump. Since the dealer didn't have a part, they got a cheap aftermarket one from a local parts place. They put it in and it died about 5 seconds after the car started. Then they put in a much more expensive Bosch pump which worked fine.

It kills me to spend this kind of money for something that I'm not 100% sure will fix it, but what choice do I really have? I can't keep driving it until it fails on the road leaving me stranded. With my luck it'll do that in some deserted area in the middle of a blizzard. I'm really going to be pissed if that thing dies on me again with the same symptoms. At least the shop that did it has a 1 year warranty on the part and the labor if it fails again.

I have the old pump and plan on taking it apart to see why it failed, I just haven't had time yet.

broken down on W Church St.

My poor jeep stuck on the side of the road :(

Home Theater PC Upgrade

Thursday, September 18th, 2008 - Comments (0) in Home Theater PC, Life, Nerd Stuff, Projects

Last weekend I had the house to myself and one of the many (lame) things I did with my time was upgraded my home theater pc. I'm a huge proponent of not messing with things that are working fine, so it had been many years since I last touched it.

The biggest thing motivating me to upgrade was getting tv guide data. Back when I originally set this up there was a free service from DataDirect that interfaced with MythTV. This service was discontinued last September due to abuse when private companies were charging money for software that used the free service. For a few months I had to use a script I wrote to scrape the listings off of Time Warner's website. This was annoying and incomplete. Then a service called Schedules Direct surfaced and when their price dropped to a reasonable amount I signed up. This solved the incomplete problem, but it was still annoying. The new version has an internal grabber for Schedules Direct that takes care of everything automagically.

The first time I installed MythTV and its rats nest of dependencies by hand. That was another reason I didn't want to have to upgrade, getting all that to play nice together was a pain. This time I downloaded a special Linux distribution call MythDora that is designed especially for home theater pcs; it set everything up for me. Everything from the auto-login so MythFrontend would just start when it boots to preventing the screen from blanking or a screen saver popping up when it goes idle. 

First Week Dell Problems

Monday, September 15th, 2008 - Comments (0) in Computers, Life, Rants, Work

The first week of school is always crazy. Teachers show up after being MIA the entire summer and suddenly find all sorts of problems that they need fixed that second. One and half weeks ago was the first day of school for Harley and was no exception.

There was the usual "help, my printer doesn't work" and "my password doesn't work!!!", but I got quite a few messages about computers not turning on. Usually this is just them being unplugged or powerstrip switches being off, but sure enough some weren't working. Lights would turn on when I hit the power button, but no drives spun or fans blew. This was actually a well known problem with certain Dell models that relates back to bad capacitors used on the mainboards. This was an easy diagnosis and fix; you just needed a new mainboard. The annoying part was that I had 7 of these systems (Optiplex SX280) all fail at the same time with the same problem and all about 1 month after the warranty ran out.

Bulging capacitor

You can see the top of the left capacitor is bulging compared to the two on its right. Sometimes this is enough to cause the board to fail. Sometimes they'll run for a while with a bulging cap, but eventually they'll explode:

Leaking Capacitor

This one went one step past bulging and started leaking.

I called Dell to see if I could complain my way into some free mainboard replacements. After all, this is a manufacturing defect on their part and I personally feel they should have fixed the problem at their cost. My complaining didn't go as well as I had hoped. First I spoke with a lovely Indian in their out-of-warranty service department. She wasn't all that sympathetic and really didn't understand what I wanted. She said those boards are $280 each! So I pressed on and asked about getting a limited warranty extension. Again she didn't get it and quoted me $195 (each) for a 1 year warranty extension. Finally I just told her flat out, "I want these boards for free, it's your companies fault they failed." She told me I'd have to speak to general support for that. She transferred me there and I went through the same thing finally have to just spell it out for the guy. He put me on hold and talked to his supervisor who said no. I asked to talk to this supervisor who told me that Dell "took a stand" on this problem and decided to not cover any more claims after January 2008. I informed him that over years Harley has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with Dell and I thought they should cover $1800 in parts; he disagreed.

In the end I had to buy the boards from Partstock who gave me a more reasonable price. After I replaced all the boards I ended up stripping one of the dead boards of all its capacitors and used those to replace the single bulging or leaking cap on the rest of the boards. Assuming that worked, I now have 6 spare mainboards for when more of them fail (which they will eventually).

I also had another problem with one of the same models: it would halt on boot complaining about not being able to detect a heat sink. I had no idea these things were smart enough to know if the heatsink was present or not. After opening it up and taking out all the parts (these are very small machines with a lot of parts crammed in) I saw this:

Normal heatsink anchor

This is the one side that was fine. Apparently that anchor is not just structural, but allows for a continuity check across the heatsink.

Broken heatsink anchor

This was the other end. Either the machine got smacked around or just had some bad soldering, the anchor ripped right out of the board. I soldered it back down which ended up being surprisingly difficult. You can't remove the z-clip in between the two anchors, it had to be soldered down with the tension of the clip on it.

Nags Head

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008 - Comments (5) in Life, Vacation

Last week Rachelle and I went on vacation with my parents and sister to the Outer Banks. I was pleasantly surprised that we had a great house, great weather (for the most part) and no disasters. It's been many years (15+) since my family went down the shore for a week and when we did it usually rained the entire time or we encountered a hurricane or nor'easter.

My parents drove all the way from NJ down to Nags Head, but I couldn't handle a road trip like that, so we flew from Rochester to Richmond where my sister lives. Once in Richmond we would drive down the 4 hours in my sister's car. A few days before we were to leave Rachelle looked on Continental's website and found that they had changed our returning flights! We purposely picked a 5pm flight departing RIC because we had a 4 hour drive before it. They apparently cancelled that flight because it was under-booked and took it upon themselves to put us on the 12pm flight and not notify us! We called to raise some hell and they said they tried to email and call, but they weren't able to reach anyone. Bullshit! Rachelle asked what address and number they tried and they gave the correct ones. I run my own email server; I can tell if you tried to email me. And I never got a missed call or voicemail from them. So I called back later saying I wanted to cancel that part of our flight since they didn't have anything to accommodate us and Delta did. Once they heard that they put us on that Delta flight when the day before there was "nothing they could do."

On the drive down we saw some guy in a Corvette driving sort of erratically and we watched him drift into the left lane and right into an SUV. This guy was obviously drunk or under the influence of something. That was the first time I'd ever seen such a slow-mo accident. At least the guy pulled over and didn't just keep going.

The house was awesome! It had 2.5 bathrooms and 4 bedrooms. All of the rooms had queen beds except for one room which had two sets of bunk-beds, so the whole place could've slept 10. The top floor was a wide open common area with some great views. The downstairs was where all the bedrooms were. The best part was the 7 person hot tub on the top deck. I didn't care if it rained the whole time because I'd sit in the hot tub in the rain. I actually did on one of the days it did rain.

The house was just a few doors down from the beach which was great for dragging all the stuff you need. My dad borrowed one of those tent things (basically just a roof) from a neighbor for shade and it was great. I would've looked like a big lobster if I didn't have adequate shade, and I didn't get sunburned at all. We left the tent on the beach the whole week so we didn't have to keep lugging it around.

The beach was also amazing; it was so clean and was not crowded at all. The Jersey shore was always mobbed and full of crap. I remember one summer medical waste was washing up on beach. One of the days a bunch of dolphins swam really close to the shore and scared the shit out the poor guy who was farthest out in the surf since they looked like sharks at first. Once everyone realized they were dolphins they all ran into the water. I guess nobody though about the fact that big sharks eat dolphins and they could've been there because they were running away from a shark.

the finger lakes

The finger lakes (I don't know which ones) as we flew to Richmond.

in the plane

I don't know where we are here, but I thought it was a good pic.

me in my cool hat

This was my usual get-up for the whole week. My sister kept trying to steal my hat because it matched her bathing suit and it's the coolest hat ever!

beautiful beach

Empty beach on a beautiful day. It was like this most of the time.


Me getting my ass handed to me by the ocean. Note the ridiculous farmer tan.

rachelle and I

I thought this was a funny picture...


Right in the middle of this pic are a couple of those dolphins.

open beach

My mom (in the chair) and my dad (standing in the surf)


This is Maya, my sister's dog. She is deathly afraid of cameras which is why she's facing the other way. Most of these rental houses don't allow dogs, so we really lucked out with that amazing house that allowed pets.


Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008 - Comments (5) in Life

I finally got a new cell phone! I've had a Motorola Razr since late 2005 and although I loved that phone, it was time for something new. The original battery was toast a long time ago. I bought a replacement maybe 1.5 years ago and that battery is now toast. I had to charge it every night and if I made more than a few quick calls (less than 5 minutes each) the battery would be dead by dinner time.

After looking around at the Verizon store I decided to get the LG enV2. I generally like to get flip phones to protect the screen and buttons, but all the flip phones now have huge screens on the outside anyway. The enV2 has a small screen on the outside and big buttons which are perfect for my fat fingers.

env2 env2

I was also not thrilled with the idea of getting a phone physically bigger than my Razr. The thing is going to spend practically its entire life in my pocket so the less room it takes up the better. By itself it looks much bigger, but the enV2 is actually just a snitch bigger than the Razr.

Biggest pro so far: flip speaker phone. When you're talking on the phone you can just flip it open and it automatically switches to speaker phone. Very handy.

Biggest con so far: non-standard USB connection. I was under the impression most portable electronics were moving to the standard small USB connection for charging/data, I was way off. It was handy being able to pack one charger for both my phones and Rachelle's phone when we travel, but now I have to pack the one specific to this phone.