Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Materials for GL4003 today: Last class!

Today is our last class and thus the day in which, as a professor, I finally get to "profess" my own point of view on climate change. Up to this point, we've been going on other people's books and papers.

I'm a full professor, so you get a full-on "profession."

Here are the materials we'll use.

1). A summary article.

2). A video,

2). A more journalistic article,

3). And finally, another short, semi-autobiographical piece soon to be published in a new military news magazine, Task and Purpose,

Don't forward the last one. I'll be taking the link down as soon as the exam is over. Eventually, once it's properly published, you'll be able to find it online.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Vehicle Safety Report

Ten students from PS 3003 Sustainable Energy and two instructors ran the twice-yearly Vehicle Safety Day on Friday April 20th between 12.30 and 4.00 pm at the workshop in the Unity House garage. Twenty eight vehicles were examined, a relatively low number. (Over fifty were examined last fall.)

If you planned to get your vehicle checked and were not able to because of the change of venue or some other reason, email mwomersley@unity.edu and ask for an appointment. Please don't drive off for the summer in an unchecked vehicle. The college does care about you and your safety and the checks are free.

Most safety checks were routine. The following specific problems were noted and are reported here so other vehicle owners can learn from them:
  1. Several vehicles had trouble codes, which were "pulled" and recorded for the owners to seek further help. Some trouble codes can be more or less safely ignored, but not all or even most. Even if you choose to ignore one, it's best to check it periodically to make sure a second code has not been triggered.
  2. One vehicle was consuming coolant, most likely via a bad head gasket. This was identified from oil foam in the radiator and rocker cover. This is usually a very positive diagnosis, unless someone has been careless enough to put windshield washer coolant in the oil filler, a mistake we were pretty certain had not been made. This vehicle needs an immediate repair, which may or may not be cost-effective. At 170,000 plus miles, and not a brand and model known for longevity, this is probably "the end of the road" for this particular car. Considering the car had just been purchased, the owner was upset. The best way to avoid such disappointments is to have second-hand cars checked out by a mechanic before handing over any dough. Make sure the mechanic is competent (get references), and that they do a compression test, check the oil pressure, using an external gauge if there is not one on the dash, and do a coolant pressure test. These are the three primary indicators of engine health. (See # 4 below.)
  3. One vehicle was examined for a front wheel noise while driving. Loose shock mount nuts and a loose wheel bearing locknut were found. This is potentially very dangerous, and the loose locknut will eventually result in a worn bearing (if it hasn't already in this case). The owner was instructed to get it towed, or to drive it very, very slowly to the nearest garage. Get all mechanical noises checked out right away, especially if they come from the wheels or suspension. If the noise increases and decreases with vehicle speed, it's a good bet it's something to do with the wheels or brakes, and therefore dangerous. Keeping the wheels on the vehicle is a primary safety issue. (Just ask Dr. Phillippi!)
  4. One vehicle had low oil pressure as determined by the oil pressure light coming on, and by a local garage by "slaving" in an external pressure gauge to further diagnose the problem. Low oil pressure in a high mileage car means bad main (crankshaft) bearings, overheating, and possibly a "blown" or seized engine in your future soon. However, in this case the light did not exhibit the usual behavior of such in a car with low oil pressure. It came on at seemingly random times while driving, instead of at low RPM or idle. The owner had correlated it to filling the gas tank, which seems unrelated, but demonstrates the stochastic and confusing nature of the symptom. The local garage had told the owner to, essentially, write off the car. This is a worrying diagnosis, but also suspect. Why does the oil pressure light come on randomly and not at idle or low RPM? Possible reasons include a bad oil pump, some blockage in oil passages, or a bad oil pressure sensor or wiring connection, all of which are a lot less expensive than a replacement car. The car had high miles but was of a brand and model known for giving long service, so this is a bit of a mystery yet, and possibly an expensive one if not the facts are not nailed down.
  5. Two vehicles had broken windshield washer hoses. One was easily accessible and fixed on the spot. The other required the removal of a rear airfoil for access. The owner expressed an interest in making this repair herself and was given some pointers on how to do so.
Thanks to all the students who assisted with this activity, as well as the Student Affairs and Maintenance Departments.

Drive safely,
Mick Womersley
Professor of Human Ecology
Head Grease Monkey