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Appliance Repair

Sunday, May 22, 2011
So it came to pass that, in the past few weeks, my oven stopped worked. I have a Whirlpool Accubake SF362LXSS0 gas oven and, when it should have been making heat, wasn't doing anything. Symptomatically, I'd turn it on and, five seconds later, hear the release of gas inside the oven, hear the igniter click 5 times, then... nothing. No heat, no reaction, nothing. The oven would periodically try again. Every once in a while it would manage to ignite, but it wasn't consistent. Furthermore, it wouldn't always re-light when it was on - it would turn off once at the right temperature and wouldn't be able to turn itself back on.

This, of course, bothered me. I'm not the world's greatest cook, not by a long shot. While I consider myself above average in many areas, "ability to cook" isn't anywhere close to that list. Still, not being able to use the over was hampering me.

Determined that this was something I could probably diagnose and fix myself, I started doing my research. First, I took my oven apart to find a few facts. I found that the igniter was sparking - I could see it - and I was getting gas. A friend once advised me that there could really be three problems in a situation like this: fuel, air, or spark. Air wasn't a problem, spark was present, so it seemed to be a gas problem, though I could smell the gas.

Armed with this diagnostic information, I eventually found myself at the forums of AppliancePartsPros.com and started reading post by other people who had similar issues. Most resolutions centered around the gas regulator, and I thought that might be my issue, too.

Because it's just down the street from me, however, I decided to stop by E & M Maytag Home Appliance to see what some of the parts might cost. Armed with the part numbers I might need, I went in and started talking to them. Eventually, I ended up talking to a service guy who said, "You know, you're getting a spark, but it just might not be very strong. Before replacing anything, why don't you take the igniter off, clean it with a wire brush, and see if that helps?"

Whirlpool oven igniter

Curious, I went back home. Then I tried turning on the oven with the igniter removed but an extended lighter held on it its place. When the gas kicked on, it ignited immediately. I tested it several times, and it appeared that the E & M Maytag folks were right: the spark wasn't strong enough.

I then took a wire brush and cleaned the ignitor. I put it back in, hooked it up, and gas ignited immediately when the igniter sparked. Problem solved, and with little more than a screwdriver, a flashlight, and a wire brush!

So I finished reassembing the oven and baked myself a pizza in celebration.

A Breakneck Speed of 15 MPH

Saturday, May 14, 2011
Today I had the distinct pleasure of taking a Skid Car course from Pro Drive. What is a skid car course? It's a special class designed to teach driving in low traction conditions. The on-pavement part of the class is held in a 1994 Toyota Camry that's on a hydraulically lifted which is mounted on wheels. The contact the car has with the pavement is reduced, simulating driving on snow or ice.

There were three of us in this class: my adventure buddy, his 16-year old nephew, and me. We started with an hour in the classroom, covering the basics of traction, how control input can shift the weight around in a car, and how to recover from a front-wheel skid (understeer) or a rear-wheel skid (oversteer). The basics are this: in an understeer situation, reduce the steering angle while slowing slightly until the car starts to turn, and in an oversteer situation, countersteer and apply gentle throttle. What was most fascinating was that, aside from the actual skidding, the concepts I was hearing were almost exactly what I teach as a Team Oregon instructor. Turn your head to look toward where you want to go and you'll instinctively steer there, maintain a safe following distance in low-traction situations, brake before the turn, and remember to have smooth control inputs.

Me & the skid car

Getting in the car was a chance to apply what we'd learned. With three of us plus the instructor, I had roughly 30-45 minutes of actual driving time, all of which as awesome. We started with a simple figure-eight move around cones with low traction in the front. That is, every time we'd go around a turn, the car would naturally try to go straight and we'd have to work to get the front end of the vehicle around. I'll be honest and confess that I didn't do so well on this one. I was working on the habit of turning my head, which, while natural on my motorcycle, felt foreign in the car, and getting the feel for the vehicle. It could have gone better.

Second lesson was understeer. The front end was dropped, the rear of the car was raised, and now the back of the car would tend to swing around as we cornered. This was significantly more fun. While my unofficial "lap times" were still not very good (somehow my adventure buddy and I found ourselves competing on this point) I was having significantly more fun using the gas to recover. The back end would slip out and just the right amount of throttle would get the car pointed right back where I wanted it. This was where the fun started.

Finally, we switched to a more complicated course. We kept the figure-eight but added a exit into a larger-radius turn and a straightaway where speeds could reach up to - and possibly over - 20 mph. It may not sound fast, but it was the perfect speed for learning control. Additionally, the front and rear of the car were both lifted, so there wasn't a lot of traction to be had. My results, at first, weren't so great. I spent an inordinate amount of time with the car facing the wrong way. Part of this was, for me, the learning process. I was finding the boundaries, and, in a safe environment, figuring out what worked and what didn't. My speed was increasing and my lap times were coming down, but it still wasn't very smooth. We ran this set-up and the reverse of it for a majority of the outdoor time. Finally, by the end of the class, I got serious and my times improved to within a tenth of a second of the fastest time in the car and the ride was much smoother and more controlled. It felt awesome.

Skid Car Completion Certificate

What did I learn from this class? First, that low-traction driving doesn't have to be scary. Secondly, I learned to look more where I wanted the vehicle to go. Finally, I learned that I had some bad habits I needed to break to be a better driver. Am I glad I took this class? Absolutely, it was worth every dollar I paid. But more than that, I recommend that every parent out there with a driving-age child send them to this. It'll make them a much better, much safer driver - and who can place a value on that?

Olympia Dragon Boat Race 2011

Sunday, May 01, 2011
Well, I was just up in Olympia, WA for a day to attend the Saint Martin's University Dragon Boat Festival and participate in the races there. Astute readers might recall that, toward the end of 2010, I started Dragonboating and joined Team Shibumi - I even, after just two practices, participated in the Row for the Cure.

This year it's different. Having been practicing for months now, I'm in a much better position to be able to sit on the boat and have an idea of what I'm supposed to do. I wouldn't necessarily say that I'm good at it, but, with the practice I've had, I'm not bad at it.

With that said, I was looking forward to the race in Olympia, our first official race of the season. The races were to be 250 meters long; short and fast, with no time for mid-race corrections. In the first race, the preliminary heat, our time wasn't bad, falling in around 1:22 or so. It was over before I even realized it had began. After the bullhorn, we all paddled furiously but, given unfamiliarity with the location and a different type of boat, we placed 3rd. With only eight teams in our division, and with the other heat going slower than us, 3rd wasn't bad.

That's our Dragon Boat.  Thanks, Wendy!

I should talk at some point about the differences between the race in Olympia and the practice in Portland. First the boats are different. The boats up there are smaller, narrower, sit very low to the water, and tend to want to tip easily when the boat's not moving quickly. Water spilled in over the side of the boat more than once during pre and post-race maneuvering. Secondly, we're at the southern end of the Puget Sound, which is a salt-water body, not a fresh-water body (sort of) like the Willamette River, which makes a difference. Finally, there were tides, which affected the race times depending on the time of day. For our first race of the season with several new people on the boat, the time wasn't bad.

In the second heat, we placed third again. Our time improved by 4-5 seconds to 1:18-ish or so, but that wasn't much compared to some of the other teams, one of which had knocked 29 seconds off its initial race time! We were anxiously checking the posted time for our division, to see if we held our place in the top 4. After some calculations and deliberating, we found that we'd just barely made it, and were the fourth boat in our division championship.

Medals are cool.

The championship race was rough. Our starts were getting better, but the races are still short and there's no room to make up for a mis-step. We paddled hard and stayed focus, but alas, we still came in fourth, several seconds behind the other three boats, who had finished in a neck-and-neck race. Funny thing: after the first two races I was fine, but after the last race I was tired. We docked the boat and climbed out.

As we were packing up, while we weren't on the podium for our fourth-place finish, we still earned a championship medal, which, in all honesty, was good enough for me. Time to start practicing for the next one!



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