Horse (thanks peppermintrose)

Yūki's First Bath

Poor kitty. Yūki got his first bath today. It went something like this.

A few days ago, I noticed a clearly-litterbox-related smear on one of Yūki's hind feet and his tail. I figured I'd give him some time to clean in off himself… Today, as we're sitting on the couch, Yūki has his rear feet aimed right at me. I see the other foot is now dirty, and the first one hasn't been cleaned. I can also smell kitty poo. nugget commented, "Yūki needs a bath." At first I thought he'd just farted… but… well, he'd had a few days to clean off that foot himself and he never did.

If you can't clean yourself properly…

So I go upstairs and find the No More Tears shampoo. I come back to the downstairs bathroom and start drawing a bath for Yūki. Yūki generally isn't allowed in this bathroom, so he's very interested in the process (he likes to eat the toilet paper). Right as I get both the water temperature and the water level where I want it, Yūki steps up on the edge of the tub and sniffs at the water. I'm hopeful… Maybe this cat won't hate the water. He turns to walk away. *sigh* No such luck. I pick him up and carry him to the tub, and he's clearly apprehensive. I was considering trying to wash him from outside the tub (just him getting soaked)… and I quickly realised I didn't have a chance. So I gave in to his wishes and stepped into the tub myself. Oddly enough, even though Yūki was directly over the water, he didn't seem to mind this so much. I lowered both of us toward the water, and things were still ok. I moved him down, toward the water, away from me, and things weren't quite so ok anymore. Yūki started howling his protests. "Too bad, you're dirty," I thought as I lowered him in. He hissed his response.

As this was just a cleaning bath, and not a flea bath, I wasn't as careful as I sometimes am. I dunked Yūki, letting his face stay dry, and lifted him out. I squatted in the tub in a way that would keep my thighs above the water and allow them to be a flat platform. I let Yūki's body rest on my thighs as my hand held his front legs securely. One hand lathered up poor Yūki as the other restrained him. Through this process, I discovered Yūki was the most comfortable when he was pressed up against my body. He even wanted my head near his for comfort. Normally, when I'm bathing a cat, I'll keep my face far away, but Yūki found me a calming influence, and as long as our bodies were close, he tolerated the bath, with howls as his only protest. Occasionally I'd find a spot on Yūki that I failed to wet sufficiently, and I'd toss some water on him with my hand. He didn't seem to mind this so much (he was already wet, and the water was right around body temperature). I got him well lathered, and then came more super-torture. He was dunked into the water again. This was too much, and Yūki's head turned down to the hand that was holding his front legs. He bit. "I know, baby, I'm sorry," I said as I pulled his head away from my hand. His rear legs were unrestrained, but he didn't use them against me. He stopped his struggle and tolerated.

I decided this rinse didn't get enough of the shampoo off of him. I wanted to rinse him with fresh water, but I was worried turning on the tap would be the final straw. The extra noise of the running water would surely set him off, and that'd be that, right? I pull him tight against my chest and reach for the hot water. I gently turn on a slow stream… and Yūki doesn't react at all. I turn on the cold, and mix to get a good flow and proper temperature. I move his body under the water, but this means he's moved away from my body again. He didn't like this. I held him close for a bit, and then rinsed his other side.

He was done.

We wrapped him in a towel and brought him out of the bathroom. I rubbed him with the towel a bit and held him close as I sat down. I put him down, in the towel in my lap, and he… just stayed there. He started enthusiastically licking himself dry… sitting there, huddled in my lap.

I have never in my life had a cat stay with me after a bath. They always want to be alone to recover their dignity. But not Yūki. Soon after, I shifted. He got out of my lap, and I went upstairs and showered the cat-bath off of me. I came back down, and as I finish typing this post, Yūki has positioned himself firmly in my lap.

Yūki, you are a special cat and we love you.

First Wet Commute

Today was my first commute on the motorcycle with any amount precipitation. On the way in, it was just a spotty drizzle, but there was a strong drizzle/light shower on the way home. Frankly, I'm terrified. I've only lost traction on the bike a couple of times in the dry, and I'm terrified that even a slight loss of traction in the wet will mean going down. Before I had the bike, I had this feeling in the back of my mind that leaning would mean the bike would fall... even in a corner. Logically, I know this isn't the case. I understand the physics of why the bike leans. But I still had an irrational fear. I'm working through this fear bit by bit, gradually cornering faster and leaning more. In the dry, I no longer have this irrational fear. It's true that I don't corner quickly and don't lean significantly as a result, but I'm not silly-slow in the corner anymore. Pushing dry cornering can be saved for the track.

But today it was wet. And I truly do not understand how much grip this bike, on these tires, has to offer in the wet. My knowledge, my certainty that the bike can handle significant speed and significant lean doesn't exist in the wet. As a result, I'm back to the "lean is scary" perspective. I took things slow and easy, giving smooth inputs and staying far from the limits. I didn't have any slip, but I was a bit slow through the bends.

I also found the control for the grip warmers on the bike. Yes, it has grip warmers. Yes, I'm a pansy. No, I didn't install the grip warmers, but since they're there, I'm sure going to use them! My jacket got a bit wet, but the wet liner was in it, so I stayed dry. There wasn't enough precipitation for me to need the wet liner on the pants. I arrived dry, both on my way to and from work. All in all, it was a relatively mild introduction to wet riding.

Suzuki SV650

Well, I've gone and done it.

Today I bought a Suzuki SV650. I copied the craigslist ad to my server (minus contact info, etc.). I love the mirrors on it. Great visibility, well positioned, very nice. The bike sounds great, too. After Adam (a biker friend in town) rode the bike home for me, we went driving around the neighborhood practicing. I probably spent about 3 hours on the bike, and successfully navigated the area streets, including Richmond and Shepherd. Low speed is still a bit iffy - the bike's a bit tall for me, so I'm stretching to reach the ground. I can make do, but I'd be more stable with the bike lowered a bit. I also need more time in corners. The bike is pretty twitchy, so corners are still intimidating to me. Road humps (the ~20mph kind) are an absolute blast on the bike, though.

A few more pictures of the bike (some with my helmet) are in my gallery.

MSF Course Day 1

Well, I'm home from the first day of the MSF course.

The classroom session was, well, classroom stuff. We basically went over the stuff in the book. We spent the morning in the classroom, and then had a break for lunch. After lunch we started at the "range" - outside in a larger parking lot with the motorcycles. They introduced us to the machines slowly, starting with some exercises with the motorcycles off, then "power walks" - clutch partially out as the engine pushes the motorcycle and we walk along with it. We did various exercises throughout the day, getting fast enough to use third gear, practicing quick stops, and working on low speed maneuvering. I started off absolutely horrible at the low speed maneuvering, but once I relaxed and learned to trust the motorcycle, I got "not too bad." Though I never made it to "graceful" at low speed, I did manage to place the bike exactly where I wanted regularly. I also managed some nice rev-matched downshifts on the 2 -> 3 -> 2 exercise. We'll see how much of it stuck with me when we head back out tomorrow.

Quite a few of the people in the course already had at least some motorcycle experience, but one of us not only had no motorcycle experience, she also had no manual transmission experience. Our first shifting was done with the engines off and the bikes stationary, and she did take a bit longer to catch onto that than the rest of us. But she transitioned from that to "shifting while moving" very well.

We were expected to turn the bikes at speed using countersteering - by pushing on the handlebar on the side we wanted to turn toward (so to turn right, push the right handlebar forward). While that turns the front wheel left, it causes the bike to lean right, which causes it to turn right. I never managed to figure this out. I wasn't really trying to steer with the handlebars at all. I just looked around the corner, shifted my weight, and the bike went that way.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow, and to looking for a bike of my own.

Mmmm, Oily!

Today I changed the engine oil in the MX-5. Believe it or not, I'd never done that before. Back in Austin, the sponsorship with Automotive Specialist meant they did the oil changes quite cheaply, so... Why should I bother? Here in Houston, they're a bit far away. I'd been putting off changing the oil in car. Finally, I decided I'd put it off long enough. I'm trying to learn more about working on the cars myself. I "helped" Bo change the oil in the TR7 (really, I just watched and provided a set of eyes that could read fine print), and decided that was something well within my ability to do.

I conveniently forgot that the Triumph had all the extra stuff stripped off of it, and reaching the oil filter in my NC would be a bit more challenging.

Still, this morning, I went to the local AutoZone. Rain was threatening, so even though it was a Saturday morning, the place was empty. Immediately, I was asked if I needed any help. I responded, "Well, sort of. I need to change my oil, and I haven't ever before." She showed me to the drain pans, helped me find the oil and filter, recommended a funnel, and tried to find a filter wrench that would work for the filter. Some of the filter wrenches fit over the end of the filter case, like a socket over a bolt. Something like this. In theory, at least, this would be the easiest to use, as it just becomes an oversize socket wrench. But none of this style fit on the filter case. So I got the style of "filter wrench" that's basically an oversized pipe wrench.

I get home with all the parts and pieces and get to work. A very light rain had started, so I put the car in the lean-to garage, at an angle, and put the front up on the jackstands. Under the car I crawl and I start bumbling around with the filter wrench. As I'm doing this, a thought occurs to me. I actually have no idea where the drain bolt is. I step inside to look at the guide I had looked at to see if it pointed out the appropriate bolt. It didn't. So I grabbed a flashlight (garage + clouds + under car = dim) and looked around. Finding the appropriate bolt was easy. So I went back to bumbling around with the filter wrench to see if I could loosen the filter. After a bit of trial, I refined my use of the wrench and managed to get the filter to turn. Yay, I'll be able to get that thing off. Time to drain out that old gunky oil! I grab the drain pan and set it so that one edge is directly under the bolt, with the rest of the pan out in the direction the oil will arc. I get the socket and start to loosen the bolt. I was surprised at how long the bolt managed to hold the oil in the car, but when the oil finally started to flow, it flowed. I was fairly quick with it, so I only got a bit of oil on my hand. I left it to drain for a bit. The stream eventually narrowed, and then turned to a dribble. At first, I figured I could be patient and just let it drip for a while. It wasn't long before I lost my patience and put the drain plug back in.

And then it was time for the filter. I wasn't looking forward to this. Yeah, I'd loosened the filter, but I was still a bit worried I wouldn't get it off. I was also worried I'd manage to get oil everywhere as I tried to get the filter out. Well, I got the filter off. It wasn't "easy," per se, but it worked. But oil started spewing before the filter was loose. The oil did get everywhere. I was up to my elbows in old engine oil. Yet again, I wandered off and let the oil drip for a bit. I eventually put the new oil filter on (putting some oil on the seal) and started wiping up the spilled oil. It was EVERYWHERE (on the car, only a few drops on the floor of the garage). I wiped it off of the various car parts. And I wiped it off the car. And I wiped it off the car. That stuff was EVERYWHERE. I'm sure there's still some on there. Still, I got enough off to allow me to find a leak around the oil filter, if one appeared. After making sure everything was tight, I poured in the engine oil. I still can't read the dip stick on this car, but I put in "less than 5 quarts" (5 quart jug) and there's definitely oil on the dipstick, so I figure it's within the "safe" range. I let the car sit for a bit and checked for leaks around the drain plug and the filter. I didn't find anything, so I put the car down and let it idle for a bit as I cleaned up. I checked for leaks again, and still didn't find anything. So I loaded the old oil up into the trunk (in that wonderful drain pan) and headed back to the AutoZone. I figured taking the oil back and picking up some lunch for me would make a good shake-down cruise. Drove the car gently at first, and gradually let myself drive it harder and harder, and all still seems well.

So that is that. Oil changed. One more maintenance activity done on my own car.

Brakes Just Slow Me Down!

Oh, my brakes.

Yet again, my poor NC needs new brakes. This time, I'm putting on Hawk HP+. Since I'm changing pad type, the rotor surface needs to change too, and these rotors have already been turned, so I ordered new ones. The various parts arrived by Wednesday. I need the new brakes on and the car in Austin, ready to track, by Saturday morning. So this morning I went to change the front brakes and rotors.

I started with the right front brakes, as these are the worst. This side was definitely digging in to the rotor (I waited a bit long to change). I jack up the car and take off the wheel. I pull off the caliper and loosen the screws holding on the caliper's support. I swing this support away from the rotor so I can get to the pads. The pad on the outside is pretty worn, but not COMPLETELY gone. However, the pad on the inside? Not only is the pad COMPLETELY gone, a lot of the metal is. And a lot of the metal on the rotor is gone.

Now, remember, I knew this was happening. I am not surprised. If anything, I'm impressed with the degredation of the rotor. It was pretty nice gouge.

I pull the caliper support the rest of the way off and set it next to the car.

On this particular rotor, there are two screws holding the rotor to the hub. These screws are... Not exactly necessary. See, when the wheel is on the car, the wheel holds the rotor to the hub. When you take off the wheel, if those screws weren't there, the rotor could move (relative to the hub). If you are careful, that's not a big deal. But if you're careless, that could cause problems. So Mazda puts the screws on, so people don't have to be careful when changing tires.

I find a screwdriver and manage to unscrew one of the screws. It was kinda tight, but doable. I go to work on the other screw, and the screwdriver flips out. It's phillips head... I hate phillips head. So I find a bigger phillips head screwdriver so it can better apply torque. I push and push, and don't get anywhere. I get some vise grips (I'm getting more resourceful). I attached the vice grips perpendicular to the direction of the screwdriver, so that they'd be like the handle of a wrench. I pushed and pushed. I pushed and pushed and pushed. It wouldn't go anywhere. At this point, I'm kinda deforming the screw.

I called up Nugget. "Help... What can I do?" "I dunno." Bah. So I call up Bo, one of the track guys. For once in his life, Bo actually answers when I call. "Help me!" "With what?" "The screw's stuck in the rotor." "Oh, use an impact wrench." "Bo, I'm a nerd. I'm dating a nerd. We don't have one." "Oh. Then you won't have X, Y, or Z either." (I forget what they were. Oh well). Bo says, "You have a normal screw driver?" (I take this to mean flat head) "Yeah". "Wedge it in one side of the hatches for the Phillips head and hammer it in. Make a good gouge for it. Then angle it so it'll apply some counter clockwise force and hammer on it. That'll be kind of like the impact wrench. Not as effective, but it tends to be enough." By this point I had found the hammer. "Oh, look, the nerds actually managed to have a hammer."

So we hang up and I get to banging. I spent a good 20 minutes banging. Banging and banging and banging. By this point I've thoroughly mangled the screw head and my hand hurts. I couldn't fully straighten my right hand anymore. I was working HARD. And it was 10:00AM. I have to leave for work at 11, and I still have to put my car back together so I can put it in the garage so Nugget has somewhere to put his car. And I have to GET DRESSED - I'm not wearing jeans with holes in them covered in brake dust, car grease, and rotor rust to work. So I give up. I put the new pads in the caliper support and put everything back together, on the old, torn up rotors (which'll be very, very bad for those shiny new pads. *sigh*).

I called up Bo and told him I gave up. Bo tried to come up with other ideas, but... with my work schedule, I just don't have the time to involve someone else in this. Bo says he'll get to the track early on Saturday and he'll get that screw out then. I get ready for work and make it on time.

On the bus ride, I got to thinking.

There's a race shop here in Houston. They did a track inspection on my car. They could get the screw out. I'd need to pay them, but I can live with that. I called them. They're pretty busy tomorrow, but they can drill the screw out for me if I show up at 8AM.

Perfect. I'll get there by 8AM, let them drill out that screw, then I'll replace the other brakes (in their parking lot, if they'll let me, so that if another screw is stuck I can get their help). And it'll all be good! I hope.
Miata Smile

Vroom *sputter* Vroom

Yesterday was the second day of "Gator-O-Rama 2010," the first Houston 24 Hours of Lemons race of the year. I was driving a 1978 Triumph TR7. Yes, we took a British Leyland vehicle to an endurance race and expected to finish!

Everyone on the team except for me had raced before, so the team was experienced. They did a great job taking care of me - helping me figure out what on earth I was supposed to be doing at any given moment. I drove the second stint on the first day. It was dry out there which meant I could move pretty quickly. I did a 2:06 - the fastest time any of us managed in the Triumph that weekend. I also had... er... troubles controlling my aggression when it came to passing. The Triumph had little power but a lot of handling, and I kept trying passes in corners that were a bit too daring. I ended up getting hit (hitting someone according to the Lemons judges, but the paint traded was down the entire side of the car, so I claim we hit each other) and spinning in one half of one lap. This, of course, got me black flagged. I was put in the doghouse for my transgressions. When I got out of the car, I was red and shaking, so I think the judges took pity on me. They watched me head into the doghouse and suddenly disappear! Their complaint? "She's so small, she can hide in the back! That's not nearly humiliating enough!" I was a good sport and stuck my head out for pictures, though.

The team was back out and racing before long. I had only been out for about an hour that day, and we were supposed to do 2 hours each, so I went out again in the afternoon. I had the last stint of the day and the car had taken a bit of damage during one of the other team's running. Bo, our mechanic, told me not to worry about the clunk or, well, really, just don't come in unless it dies. The car didn't really clunk that much, but it had a bad backfire. It also felt a bit down on power. And, thanks to my earlier transgressions, I was very timid about passing. The great handling of the car still allowed me to pass through some of the sweepers, but I did a lot more getting out of the way and a lot less trying to make others get out of my way. With about 15 minutes left in the day, the car was badly down on power as I came into the last corner before the pit entrance. As I went through the sweeper, I tried a few different gears. The car sounded odd and would not accelerate, so I dove into pit. Suddenly, the car was driving perfectly (well, for it), so I went back up pit lane and headed back out. The next time I reached the sweeper, the car wouldn't accelerate again, and as I headed down pit lane, it stalled. I turned out of the pits and the guys pushed the car back to our spot in the paddock. I pulled myself out of the car, turned to Bo, and said, "I told you I wouldn't bring it in until it died." His response? "You did perfectly, didn't come of until it died but didn't need a tow." Yeah, well, I suspect that was more luck than talent, but I'll take it!

Day 2 started off damp thanks to fog. Philip, our team captain, wanted me to go out first. I told him absolutely no way - I am not going to risk my uncontrolled aggression damaging the car before others get their chance to drive. Philip gave me some crap about women having to dictate things, and went out first. He kept the car clean and safe, and then Chris drove. We had a problem with backfires and loss of power. It turned out to be a combination of the gasket between the carbs and the engine (soft rubber that can't handle our cornering Gs) and an exhaust header that wasn't bolted on properly. We re-bolted on the exhaust header with the help of the mechanics from another team and got the car back out. It had been sprinkling off and on, just enough to keep the track wet. Chris finished his session cleanly (yay), and it was my turn in the car. I got lectured about keeping my nose clean, and in the wet? Yeah, I drove carefully. It's a real challenge to stay on that knife's edge between "going quickly" and "losing it" in the wet, but I managed to avoid the "losing it." Bo built a fantastically handling car, and slip only resulted in a heavy drift for me once. I was even able to avoid others' drifts. It stopped raining fairly early in my session, but the track was very wet and people kept going off. This kept the track slick for some time. As it eventually did start to dry out, I was able to figure out exactly how much traction I had more effectively than most drivers. This meant I did a lot of dive-bombing. I could brake in about half the distance other drivers were using, so I'd tuck myself on their inside and brake late. I'd end up either 3/4 of the way in front of them or completely in front of them by corner entrance. Pass done! The track was pretty much completely dry by the time I handed the car off to Steve for the last session of the race.

Overall, it was a great weekend and a lot of fun. A big thank you to the guys on the team for having me!