Archive for April, 2012

Sunday in the Park… With Whom?

Written by mitch. Posted in Uncategorized

Every so often… Actually, more like two or three times a year, my wife gets an uncontrollable urge to visit the Descanso Gardens in La Canada/Flintridgem, just off the 210 Freeway.

If you’re from this part of Southern California you are probably already familiar with the Gardens. If you aren’t, you should be.

If you aren’t from Southern California, it’s probably someplace you should visit if you ever find yourself out this way and you have the time. Once the private estate of a wealthy businessman, it’s a magical place now open to the public.

I say it’s magical for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is one of the few places my wife can drag me where the show of resistance is pretty much just that… a show. The Gardens sprawl over acres and acres of what was at one time California chaparral and as much of a forest as you will ever find out here.

Now, there are formal gardens  everywhere: Roses, Irises , Chrysanthemums, Lilacs… Koi Ponds, a formal Japanese Garden, a new gallery, just about the only Gift Shop I will ever enter willingly, and much more.

It’s magical for another reason and that is, if the gardeners and horticulturists at Descanso can’t find a way to make it grow, no one else will and you aren’t likely to find it anywhere else!

Frankly, I’m not muchof a “flower” or “garden” kind of a guy. It is not the way I would choose to spend a Sunday afternoon. Certainly, not a Sunday afternoon during the Stanley Cup Playoff’s!

It doesn’t matter how incredible someone’s mansion might be, either. And, this one is really quite amazing – the fact of the matter is, you can only wander through a house like that so many times before you’ve seen just about everything there is to see. So, that isn’t what allows Lesley to “win” every time she decides to drag me down the Freeway to commune with nature for an afternoon.

It isn’t the Snack Shop, even thought it’s run by one of L.A.’s better restaurant groups. It’s the fact my blood pressure drops more than a dozen points the minute I clear the driveway. It’s the families you find yourself surrounded by, speaking more languages than you can recognize, enjoying the same fresh air, the same delicate beauty, the same quiet peace. It’s the little kids chasing butterflies or reaching out to touch a flower or looking down into a pond to stare at a giant Carp staring right back at them.

Today, was Earth Day and the Gardens were celebrating – something I wasn’t even aware of when we left the house. There was entertainment all afternoon, along with a barbeque. The band was fun and the constant flow of music: music that never stopped all the time we were there, ranged from Country, to Folk-Rock, to Country-Rock, to Blue Grass, to Classic Rock, and then some.

The sun was shinning. The weather was good. The breeze was light. The sun was out. The Gardens were magnificent. And, the shop with all it’s challenges and mysteries disappeared from my thoughts, if only for an afternoon.

It was the music and the grounds, the flowers and the people, and Lesley and me holding hands and walking the trails. It was peaceful and quiet and introspective and spiritual: all the things the work week generally isn’t!

It was one of those rare experiences where the sum of the parts really was greater than the whole: where a few hours at Descanso actually equalled more than an entire weekend of ‘time off.’

Sure, it was a Sunday in the park with Lesley… And, with everyone else who might have been there. But, even with all the help of an army of groundskeepers, gardeners and horticulturists, it was more. It was an afternoon in the park with something greater, something that could actually force you to stop the rushing and the racing around long enough to admit that there is something special at work all around us all the time, and whatever you choose to call it: whether you call that something special God or Nature or whatever else you can think of, whatever it is, it’s pretty spectacular!

So, my prescription for a weary spirit or a heavy heart: my prescription for a week like last week or a year like last year, is at least two hours at Descanso Gardens – or, a place near you very much like it, taken at least twice a year.

And, if that doesn’t do it… call me in the morning.


Written by mitch. Posted in Uncategorized

 Fire… Water… Earth… Wind… Metal…
Not necessarily something you would expect to find in an article dealing with vehicle care, wear, damage, service and the need for periodic scheduled maintenance.
Nevertheless, here we are…
Why? Because believe it or not, it seems like the easiest and best way to make the case for regularly scheduled service.
Let’s start with Fire.

The natural enemy of all things mechanical is thermal damage and heat. If your vehicle is powered by fossil fuels: if it is either diesel powered or powered by an internal combustion engine, it has moving parts and depends upon combustion – an explosion and controlled burn – to generate the energy necessary to power that vehicle down the road.
Regardless of how well lubricated or how efficient the cooling system, the result of both is high temperature: intense heat. Uncontrolled, high temperature is both dangerous and costly

As long as we’re talking about Cooling Systems… Most vehicles today are “Water Cooled:” engine temperatures are controlled (reduced) by circulating liquid through passageways in the engine block and cylinder head.

Plain water – even distilled water – is insufficient. Contemporary engine temperatures are far too high, even when operating within normal ranges and the boiling point of water is far too low. To raise boiling points high enough to accommodate contemporary engine designs manufacturers began adding chemicals specifically designed to accomplish that one goal by raising the boiling point of the liquid in the system.
Because of the increased use of dissimilar metals in engines and cooling systems today and the functional properties of a liquid rushing through the engine under pressure (cooling system boiling points are raised approximately 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit for every additional pound of pressure) and at relatively high speed demanded the introduction of a palette of chemical compositions and colors reminiscent of a rainbow. Each is different and many are vehicle or manufacturer specific.
There are all kinds of different chemical additives used in coolant compositions today, but the most important thing you can do is be sure the ‘right’ coolant finds its way into the right vehicle!
The most important thing for us to recognize is that heat (temperature) and oxygen (air) are the cooling system’s mortal enemies and that over time the quality, composition, integrity and performance of the coolant and the cooling system will degrade (We can talk about electrolysis another time).
I guess you can translate this any way you want to, but “Earth” to me is synonymous with “dirt” and dirt and engines – or, anything constantly in motion  – don’t go well together.

Engines today are clearanced – built to exacting design specifications – to ensure the highest performance, greatest economy and longest service life. That is, of course, if they are ‘properly maintained,’ which is what this series of Counter-Intuitive articles is all about.
That’s a long way around the barn to say they are “tight:” built with just enough clearance to accommodate the lubricants that help reduce friction and prevent the engine from burning itself up. Introduce contaminants into the crankcase and allow them to build up over time and you will find yourself confronted with unnecessary and potentially catastrophic repair bills.
Today’s lubricants are highly effective. They have enhanced friction reducing capabilities and film strength enhancing additives to fight the effects of high temperature operation and oxidation. But, they still must be drained and refilled on a regular basis in order to remove contaminants that will inhibit performance, cause premature wear and ultimately cause failure. It’s a simple fix that can and will extend the vehicle’s service life while reducing overall cost of operation.
Wind… (Oxygen)

Oxygenation, in conjunction with temperature and all the other chemicals, minerals, liquids and metals in the engine and cooling system, is a real problem – not necessarily in and of itself – but, in the way it interacts with every other element accelerating performance degradation.

If you’re not convinced, take any untreated metal and expose it to the elements – air included – and, watch what happens. Introduce temperature and untreated liquids and the recipe for failure and consequential damage and expense increases exponentially.
Low oil level in the crankcase – too much air, not enough lubricant – can cause a laundry list of problems all related to lack of lubrication. Too much oil in crankcase – not enough air – causes churning, foaming and lack of lubrication.
Too much air drawn into the engine in relation to the amount of fuel – often referred to as a “Lean” Condition – can cause higher temperatures, poor performance, low fuel economy and misfiring. Not enough air – known as a “Rich” Condition – can cause problems of a different sort equally as difficult and challenging.
Too much air in your tires can cause a harsh ride, lack of control and uneven tire wear. Not enough will cause reduced fuel economy, a different kind of uneven tire wear and a host of other problems.
Like all things in life balance is the key!
And, finally…
It should go without saying that even with the introduction of lightweight, space age plastics, cars and trucks are mostly metal of one kind or another.
It’s the “one kind or another” that gets you!
Dissimilar metals used in conjunction with each other: an aluminum engine block, steel crankshaft; copper and brass used in gaskets, seals and additional components; compound alloys, etc. can lead to all kinds of problems, especially when liquids are involved.
The first battery was made up of two different metals immersed in salt water.
Add the natural occurrence of metal fatigue, wear, oxidation, particulate matter, contamination, and you have the potential for chaos in your driveway.
The answer is care, maintenance and periodic inspection. It’s all the insurance you will ever need provided the vehicle you are driving was engineered intelligently and manufactured carefully.
We will talk more about each one of these elements and the many and different ways they interact and work together as the series continues…

Photo Credits: Bosch, Airtex and Schneider’s Automotive