Monday, May 2, 2016

Vehicle Safety Report

Only nine students showed up with their vehicles due to a change of venue from the usual spot in front of the activities building. This was disappointing. Usually we get around thirty to forty vehicles total on Vehicle Safety Day.

Although on dry days we will continue to held Vehicle Safety Day at the Activities Building, our vehicle safety team will be exploring ways to get better custom during rainy days at the Unity House garage, since clearly at least twenty vehicles that should otherwise have been checked were not. Hopefully no-one gets hurt as a result.

If you planned to get your vehicle checked and were not able to because of the change of venue, email and ask for an appointment.

Most safety checks were routine. The following specific problems were noted and are reported here so other vehicle owners can learn from them:
  1. One vehicle had an oil leak and was probably also burning oil. The vehicle was two quarts low. The leak could not be seen with the equipment we had available, but a small spot of oil was left on the driveway once the vehicle departed, and the low oil level indicated a leak, although with over 100,000 miles on the clock (and an older Chrysler product to boot), the car may easily be leaking and burning oil at the same time. The owner had also been told by a "professional" mechanic, erroneously as it turned out, that she had a coolant leak. We were able to rule out a coolant leak because the radiator was brim full. The level in the coolant overflow reservoir was slightly low, but just because the level in the coolant overflow reservoir is low, doesn't mean you have a coolant leak. The overflow reservoir is to allow for expansion and contraction of the coolant in the system due to hot or cold weather, variation in air pressure, or hotter and colder engine operation. The actual coolant level is best checked at the radiator cap, but only when the vehicle is cold. Never open a radiator cap on a hot engine. If there is an actual leak, the overflow reservoir will be empty and the radiator level low. (It also goes to show that not all "professional" mechanics know what they are talking about.)
  2. One vehicle had a loose, noisy muffler. It's usually best to fix this right away because otherwise large exhaust parts can fall off, creating a road hazard. In some states drivers are responsible for damages from road hazards they create.
  3. One vehicle that presented with uneven tire pressures also had a tire worn away on one edge. This vehicle needs an alignment, and will probably not handle well or safely as a result. However, the vehicle was older, and so may not be worth the investment of an alignment.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Vehicle Safety Checks Monday

 Zombie mechanic eats brains and oil!

Dear students:

Please consider taking advantage of free vehicle check-outs this Monday afternoon May 2nd, 12.30 – 4pm, in front of the Activities Building.

Is your vehicle’s mechanical-genetic code complete and fit for purpose? Is it being out-competed on the great Road of Life by all the swanky new hybrids? Or has it turned down an evolutionary dead-end already? Does it need protection under the Endangered Species Act? Does it need to go to the great Outdoor Backyard Non-Running Vehicle and Oil-Tolerant Wildlife Sanctuary that composes a significant amount of Maine’s acreage, including my own? Or should we just ask one of our CommUnity Firearms Safety experts to put the old dog out of its misery?

In any case, don’t miss the opportunity Monday to have the old junker checked out thoroughly. In particular, don’t risk being stranded someplace remote, dangerous, or worst of all, without cell phone service!

Before you get in your olde ruste bucket and drive off into the wild blue yonder for a fine non-academic summer, let the experienced mechanics and other techy-geeky students of this year’s team of volunteers check the poor beast out.

We will check your tire pressures and pump them up if necessary, check and top off the oil and other fluids, and finally and perhaps most usefully, if your CHECK ENGINE light is on, we will use our computer reader to “pull” your trouble codes so you can finally know just what it is that your poor neglected automobile has been trying to tell you all these months.

(Did you know you can save lots of gas by keeping your car’s tires at the proper pressures? And that tire pressure changes as the weather warms and cools with the seasons, so you have to check them regularly! Did you know that a blown oxygen sensor is easy to fix and can save on gas too? Did you know that low oil level can kill your car’s engine? Well, now you know.)

Each participant will receive a written report on the serviceability of their vehicle, with details of any trouble codes and what they mean.

The college accepts no responsibility for the use or misuse of any of the information we give you about your vehicle, or for your car’s safety after you leave the campus, but we do suggest that it’s always better to know than not to know. In most cases.

(Employees are welcome too. Thanks to the Maintenance and Student Affairs departments for aid in providing this service.)

Be safe, drive safe.

Mick Womersley
Professor and Head Grease Monkey
(not necessarily in that order)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A moment of Zen

From "Bird and Moon Comics."

Click to enlarge.

GL 4003 Practice Exam

Biomass energy field trip

Students in PS3003 Sustainable Energy, including famous SEM students Michelle, Mac, Steven, Jared, and Sly, all visited former US Navy Commander Rick Holt's seven hundred acre working forest in Dixmont Maine, where we learned about forest management, with an emphasis on how biomass extraction for firewood, pellet, and chip is used as an adjunct to tree stand improvement practices.

Ricky first demonstrated the used of the "Biltmore" stick to estimate board feet content of a sawlog.

We then took about a mile and a half walking tour of the forest, inspecting tree stands in various stages of management. This is an area where future maple sawlogs and veneer logs are being encouraged by selective cutting of lower value, damaged, diseased, and otherwise competing trees, which are then used for firewood. Ricky explained that it helps when making a veneer log to increase the light availability of the target tree only slowly, or sprouts will appear on the trunk, leading to knots, which reduce the value.

This was a tree cut to stop the spread of the sugar maple borer, a pest of maple trees. The road in the background is one of several Rick has built over the years to facilitate forest management and timber extraction. Rick was able to show us very clearly how the new roads, with proper culverts and water-splashes or "rock fords" are a great improvement on the old skid roads and trails. Eroded skid trails from former harvest areas are easy to see on the landscape, even though it's been forty-five years since the harvesting was done.

Here's the view from the dam on Ricky's pond.

The landscape we see here is quite new, since the whole area was logged off and used for extensive sheep farming in the 1800s. Ricky has a map showing the names of some of the settlers. Most of the names are north British, which is not surprising, considering that extensive sheep farming of very similar upland ranges was developed in Britain. The settlers would have known how to manage the landscape and climate for sheep. Americans used more woolen clothing and ate more lamb and mutton back then, so there would have been a better market for the products than there is now.

Many thanks to Ricky for being willing to share his knowledge and his land with our students. Ricky is a great forester, but he's also a very good teacher, so the field trip was especially worthwhile.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Intergenerational design criteria

Proposed by sustainability economics author and commentator Andrew Simms, published today in The Guardian (here):

  • Employment and broader economic return on investment - how much value to the broader economy does investment in different technologies bring; in other words, what is its economic multiplier effect?
  • Environmental return on investment - how efficiently does an investment lower carbon emissions and minimise other toxic pollutants and contribute to a healthy environment?
  • Energy return on investment - how much energy is generated for the amount of money invested to produce that energy?
  • Security return on investment - how much does the technology contribute to domestic energy security and what other security risks does it carry?
  • Transition return on investment - how does it contribute, comparatively to the speed and scale of deployment of low carbon energy generating capacity?
  • Conviviality return on investment - the degree to which a technology can be responsive to and supportive of a society’s or a community’s own vision and pathway for its development, and that of future generations.