All posts by Rick

I'm living in rural Florida (USA) with my wife, son, two cats, and quite a few computers. I actively work in several areas of interest but still find time to manage several websites, execute home improvements, ride the Harleys, and play with cool toys. I'm reasonably fit for an Old Guy, equally comfortable wielding a keyboard, torque wrench, or spatula. I've got a scary-low tolerance for bullshit.

Lifting My Dyna’s a Pain in the Ass

Lifting my Dyna’s a pain in the ass.

On most bikes you simply lift from under the parallel frame members and get to work. But in this case three of four contact points are at one height and one is a fair bit lower.

Service Lift Adapter. Click for larger image.

Sure, you can cut up some 2×4 blocks to fit. But when I bought the bike I took the easy way out and bought the gen-you-wine H-D Service Lift Adapter. WTF, it was only $25 or so and offered some distinct advantages over crude wood blocks. See image.

So where am I going? Oh, yeah, the night before Biketoberfest I needed to change out a rear tire. When I finished I dropped the bike to the floor, kicked the tools aside, and went inside to eat. This tire change was unscheduled work and I – along with Pam and the kid – were hungry. The burgers off the grill tasted oh, so good.

The next morning we were off and a fine weekend was had by all.

Some days later I was cleaning up the tools and discovered that two of the four Lift Adapter parts were missing. I scoured the shop – nope, they were gone. I was about to give up when Pam suggested checking the bike. “Uh huh, yeah, right,” I thought, “it’s been hundreds and hundreds of miles, if I’d left ’em in place they’d have fallen off,  long gone fer sure.” But I looked anyway and waddya know, there they were!

So, it’s product endorsement time. Service Lift Adapter # 98965-99 is easy to place, exactly the right size for the job, and grips the frame members well enough that they’re hard to lose. Not that I’d recommend ridin’ with ’em in place. But if you do, perhaps after the stress of some unscheduled work, they probably won’t fall off at the wrong moment, maybe hurting you in the process. Two thumbs up.

[Tip o’ the ol’ lid to Marjorie over at Thunder Press for catchin’ my transposition of a couple o’ digits in the part number!]

Motorcycle Parking

For the longest time I simply wheeled the bikes into the garage and dropped the side-stands on plywood squares. Easy and cheap, but it wastes space and… well, we’ll just leave out the story of the rainy day and too much front brake as the tire rolled over the plywood. Gravity’s a harsh mistress.

Enter chocks. Chocks  aren’t only for your trailer, they can go a long way toward neatening up your garage and making bike parking a breeze.

I’ve got 4 of these (Harbor Freight #61670) bolted to the garage floor.

There’s not a lot that can go wrong. The first thing that I usually recommend for stuff from Harbor Freight is replacing the hardware (fasteners like bolts, nuts, etc.) with a better grade. But that doesn’t seem necessary in this case. The hardware isn’t great but it seems adequate for the forces involved. Just don’t over-torque the support arm bolts on assembly.

The support parts attach to the frame with through-shafts secured by spring retainers. The pivoting cradle (left side of image) locates front or back in the frame to accommodate wheel diameter differences.

Manufacturing tolerances for the support parts within the frame are another matter – they’re awful. Without modification they’ll can shift laterally which could cause a bike to drop, probably ruining a wheel. You must eliminate this lateral movement and align the pivoting cradle behind the front support to solve the problem. I used the lathe to fashion custom spacers from spare stock but a stack of washers would do just fine. Measure each of the four locations to suit your specific unit – the measurements will vary greatly. My four chocks ranged from about a quarter-inch to over an inch!

I turned some custom spacers to make up for poor manufacturing tolerances. A stack of washers would do the trick, too.

The chock is designed to accommodate fairly thick tires. It’s a perfect fit for a Dunlop D402F MT90B16 72H. But a narrower tire like a Dunlop MH90-21 54H isn’t thick enough to give solid support. For my bikes with narrower front tires I built up the tire contact areas with two pieces of quarter-inch plate, using machine screws (countersunk to avoid tire contact) to fasten them to the front support. I used Everbilt flat head Phillips #10-24 x 3/4″ screws. I drew a template for when I need to make more in the future.

Build-up to accommodate narrower tires/wheels.

After double-checking for proper placement, bolt the unit to the floor with concrete anchors – the Red Head 3/8″ x 1-7/8″ sleeve anchors (part # 50114) worked great for me.

The additional fasteners I used.

One last thing. If you plan to strap your bikes down for extended periods then I strongly suggest another anchor at each end of the arm with the eye-bolts. Those arms are thin-walled rectangular tubing that don’t take much strap tension to deform. In fact, I’d use flush anchors beneath the unit and run the eye-bolts right through the tubing into the anchors. That way the straps would anchor directly to concrete for greatest support.

Watch the coupons and sales. You can often get these chocks item for well under the regular price.

Safe, convenient motorcycle parking. Bonus – this arrangement provides easy access to battery tender cables and can even help with maintenance chores!

In the time between this post being written and the post date I sold the two motorcycles furthest from the viewer in the illustration above. In their place is a trike – no chock needed. I uninstalled the year-old chocks and posted them to Craigslist where they sold within a couple of days for a price near to their original (discounted) cost.

Premature Flip-flop Failure

Flip-flops are pretty much de rigueur footwear for Florida. There are exceptions, of course: work boots for lawn work, riding boots for motorcycling, sneaks for walking/running  are good examples that come to mind. But I take my flip flops kinda seriously.

Back in July of 2014 I wrote about the de-lamination failure of a pair of favorite flip-flops. The gist of the article lamented how the Florida environment seems to destroy just about everything. The failed footwear had lasted about eight years before succumbing, and Pam ordered replacements which arrived that day. I expected ’em to last a similar amount of time.

Flipflop failure. Inset shows failure point, earlier duct tape hack for comfort.

They didn’t.

July 27 they fully died. I say fully because the between-the-toes part of the right foot stretched had some and became uncomfortable sometime last winter. Pam addressed that emergency with a commodity plastic pair – I think she spent a dollar. (Still, I wrapped the stretched between-the-toes part with a bit of duct tape, which helped the comfort just a little bit.  Then I dedicated them to poolside use – they were too new to throw away.)

So, let’s see… Retail cost was $59, on sale for $29.99. Sales tax, Land’s end has nexus in Florida, $2.28. Shipping was $8. Total cost was $40.27. They arrived July 16, 2014 and, setting aside my duck tape crutch, they totally failed July 27, 2017 – that’s 3 years and 11 days. That brings the cost-of-ownership for those suckers to a whopping twenty-five and a half cents per week!

Contrast that to the earlier pair, which were $30.95 (with tax and shipping) and lasted 7 years, 11 months and 10 days. Only 7 and a half cents per week.

Lets put that into perspective, you bought a new Harley for thirty large in 2006. Eight years later you bought the same bike and the cost had jumped to a hundred. And the motor blew up three years later.

Planned obsolescence? Degradation of quality of manufactured goods over time? Product abuse? Or just Florida killing stuff?

You decide.


This is a story about Hydra. Hydra’s a box, a computer, that up and died the death that old machines sometimes do.

Hydra, dead, stripped of all innards save the CPU and motherboard, awaiting transport to the parts shelf. Click for full-size image in a new tab.

I’m not 100% certain why Hydra’s dead, but pulling everything except the CPU still won’t elicit so much as a measly POST beep from the aged motherboard. I meter-tested the power supply. (I had another box on the bench for a PSU replacement, so I briefly stuffed the new PSU into Hydra just to make sure.) There’s nothing left to die except the mobo or CPU!

“So what,” I hear you thinkin’, “who TF cares about yer old box?”

Well, I do.

See, Hydra’s served the house in various capacities for a long, long time before retiring to the un-insulated sun room by the pool deck – most definitely an unfriendly environment for computers. The moisture, for one: Florida’s humid. The there are the temperature swings; in winter it can drop to near freezing and closed up in the summer it might reach 115F – or more. Environmental extremes have been the story of Hydra’s life. Finally, Hydra’s kinda remarkable in that it’s one of the oldest processors that Windows 10 will run on: the AMD Athlon 64 3200+.

So yeah, it’s worth taking a few minutes to write  about little Hydra’s uncomfortable life.

Dex (left) & Reptar, circa 2002, about four years before Hydra.

For that we have to go back to Monday, October 16, 2006. That’s the day I walked into a local Comp-USA (remember that name?) with the idea of upgrading the house servers. At that time there were two. A more-than-10-year-old Pentium Pro box named Dex running Win2K Server, and a slightly newer Pentium II box named Reptar doing file server duty. Dex and Reptar were simply running out of gas.

I wanted a 64-bit CPU, a couple of GB of RAM with room for some future expansion. Remember, memory was considerably more expensive than it is today. I wanted the ability to use my existing IDE drives plus some SATA ports for later. I wanted a PCI bus. Overall, just something a bit more modern, something that would run VMware so I could segment the family’s workload.

I walked out with basically this:

Plus assorted support stuff like a cheap case, power supply, optical drive, and so on. Came to about six hundred bucks. Sure, I could have done better online but WTF, that’s what retail’s all about; getting it now. I assembled and IPLed the box that very afternoon and Hydra took up residence in the dusty, dark basement. Right next to the furnace. So Hydra’s twenty-four seven life began.

Hydra survived much abuse. The second phase of the basement refinishing project comes to mind. The drywall work deposited a coating of dust on Hydra’s innards that called for a weekly blowout to keep it from burning up. The un-insulated NJ basement was a harsh home.

Over the years came more memory, a couple of hardware RAID cards, more drives, and still more drives. That little case became dense and heavy. And ugly, as I cut more holes for fans. Yeah, it got loud, too, but in the basement it didn’t matter.

Win2K Server gave way to a bare-metal hypervisor for a while. Fast like shit through a goose, but tricky to administer. Bare-metal gave way to Linux. Hardware RAID gave way to software. The years passed.

In December 2012 we moved to Florida. We unceremoniously tossed Hydra into a U-Haul trailer with the rest of the stuff we didn’t trust the movers to handle and pulled to its new home.

Environmentally the new network closet was a decided step up. But Hydra screamed like a jet on full afterburners with all those drives and fans. In the old basement it didn’t matter but the closet’s just off the office, quite distracting…

By the end of the first quarter of 2013 Hydra entered a much-needed semi-retirement. The replacement, named dbox, was a quad-core box from the parts shelf, with way more memory and fewer, but higher capacity drives. By then all the server roles were running as virtual machine guests. The migration was super-fast and super-easy after creating the VM host environment.

In the garage, Hydra rested on the parts shelf before being called upon to support a Facebook project Pam had launched. I don’t really remember exactly when that began. Hydra was much quieter, stripped to a single drive running Windows 7. We shoved the headless case under the workbench near the door and Pam ran her project logged on using the Remote Desktop Connection tool from her Windows desktop. It wasn’t the highest performance configuration in the world but it got the job done.

Without the benefit of a proper UPS poor Hydra suffered a new peril: power glitches. We got used to looking for the power light under the workbench as we passed. If it was dark you’d thumb the power button and go about your business.

That arrangement lasted about a year. Pam’s project wound down and Hydra went back into retirement.

Meanwhile, in the real world Windows 10 was getting legs. I’d come to like the Tune In Radio app. One can only take so much country and classic rock from the local stations and I’d had my fill. I wondered… could a Windows 10 box and Tune In Radio bring superior tunes to the pool deck? Was there any spare hardware around that could run Win10? Microsoft took great pains to exclude older hardware, even while offering free upgrades. Would Win10 run on Hydra’s CPU, now approaching twelve years since its introduction?

It turns out the answer was yes! Well, there were issues to overcome along the way, but yes.

A Win10 license costs more than the budget for this venture, which was exactly zero. Microsoft was still offering free upgrades from Win7 so the plan was to follow that path. Hydra had a Win7 Pro 64-bit OS from Pam’s project so we got that upgrade started. The several-gigabyte download took forever over the crappy ADSL connection. Then the upgrade failed.

That’s how I learned that Hydra’s Athlon 64 CPU doesn’t support the CMPXCHG16B instruction. This instruction, commonly called CompareExchange128, performs an atomic
compare-and-exchange between 16-byte values. And 64-bit Win10 (and 64-bit Windows 8.1) requires this instruction.

CMPXCHG16B isn’t required by a 32-bit Win10. The path became clear. Install a 32-bit Windows 7. This meant giving up any installed memory over the 3.5 GB mark. Fine. Get Windows 7 activated. Install all the service packs and patches. Finally, upgrade it to Win10. Remember that crappy little error-prone ADSL connection? That, along with the lengthy downloads and general slowness of the ancient hardware… there went a couple of days. Thankfully it didn’t need much attention.

But it worked!

And that’s where Hydra lived out its days. Providing great radio out on the pool deck. Enduring temperatures from near-freezing to well over a hundred degrees.

The evening of May 15, 2017, I attempted to kick Hydra to life to collect the latest Win10 updates. I thumbed the power button, and heard it starting up as I walked away. Later I noticed it had gone down. Hydra never booted again.

A few interesting observations…

  • Hydra began and ended life on a Monday. (Watch out for Mondays.)
  • Hydra ran ten years and seven months. 10-7. If you remember the old 10-codes the cops and CBers used to use, 10-7 means “out of service”.
  • Hydra ran 24/7 for most of its life. If we assume about 9 years of total running life, that works out to about three-quarters of a cent per hour against its original installed cost. Absolutely worth every nickel.
  • Hydra died on its side, on the floor, in an overheated room, alone, behind the bar.

And that’s where today’s story ends.

Maybe you’ve got an old AMD Athlon 64 3200+ floating around in your parts bin? Maybe you’d like to give it a new home? If it resurrects Hydra then it’s mine and I’ll give you a nice, fat mention in this story AND a link in the sidebar. If not, I’ll send the chip back to you with my thanks for a noble effort.

But wait! What about the tunes out on the deck? It just might be resolved. Well, at least some preliminary testing seems to show that it can be resolved with a little bit of creativity.

So that part of the story needs to wait. But I can promise you that if this scheme works it’ll be even weirder.

Drugging My Cat – An Update

It’s been more than three-quarters of a year since I wrote about medicating one of our resident felines. Yes, Wiley’s done well and continues act like his old self – thanks for asking! His weight’s dropped about a quarter pound from a year ago. Our vet raised an eyebrow at that change, “cats his age usually gain and gain,” but I think it’s because he’s much more relaxed. That, and the two-year-old almost-kitten gives him a run for his money. Wiley recently turned ten.

Anyway, I ran into a situation the other day that calls for some comment.

It was time to renew Wiley’s prescription. I buy a 30-tablet bottle – the quarter-tablet doses last 120 days. But when I cracked the seal something was different: these tablets were noticeably smaller and lacked the usual blue coating.

I first checked the veterinarian’s label. It was correct. I needed to see the manufacturer’s label beneath. Over-labels are notoriously difficult to remove, I suppose to prevent abuse, but with patience I was able to peel back label to see what I needed.

I learned that the origin of this latest bottle was India and not the usual Israel. (The cost was $2.10 less, too.)

The label told me that per-tablet dose hadn’t changed. But the tablet mass was clearly different. Now I needed to re-weigh and re-calculate my capsule fills. Here’s where it got weird.

I won’t bore you with the 30-tablet list, but the variance between tablets quickly became clear. The smallest and largest measurements were 0.099 g and 0.107 g! Tablets from Israel were way more consistent, tablet-to-tablet.

The average worked out to 0.1023 g, yielding a quarter-tablet dose of 0.0256 g. This would be near the lower end of the capabilities of my scale: 20 grams with milligram resolution.

I’m pleased to report that my first 12-day compounding run worked out perfectly. Finished capsules are less full than usual, naturally.

But I’ll still be bringing my feedback to the vet with my next refill.

Wiley’s only been using the new batch for a few days now so it’s too early to tell if this change will have any effect on him. It should not, but you never know.

Shifty Business – Another F-150 Failure

Pam and I had gone to the local pizza place for some takeout. In typical “I’ll buy, you fly” mode, Pam drove the F-150 with me in the passenger seat. She parked head-on by the front door and waited while I ran in for the goods.

It was just past closing time. Staffers killed the lights and ran out the door behind me.

Pam selected reverse and backed out, then pulled the lever for drive, hit the gas – AND THE TRUCK SURGED BACKWARD!

There wasn’t much room in the lot so she maneuvered to the curb, occupying about three marked spaces, and killed the engine.

It’s dark, beginning to rain, maybe three or so miles from home, hot food in the back seat, and we’re hungry. I called the kid for a lift home. We’d eat and think, then come back. Maybe the rain would pass.

The console lever felt sloppy, disconnected, I suspected a mechanical issue like a linkage or cable had worked its way loose. The console lever has a history.  I removed the plastic shroud and felt around as best I could in the darkened cab; nothing felt out-of-place and my earlier hack/repair felt intact.

Then the kid soon arrived. We locked up and left to eat.

Sure enough, a bit of Internet searching turned up lots of similar failures! The most common issue came down to the cable-end detaching from the transmission lever. We returned to the truck armed with a good flashlight and I crawled under for a look. Before you ask, yes, the rainwater had pooled underneath…

Now it was clear that the cable-end was no longer attached. By manipulating the console and transmission levers it was possible to reattach, but when the console lever moved the cable end fell right off. The press-fit retention was no longer retaining!

I figured we could get the truck home, though. That’d free up parking for the restaurant and make for more comfortable work. The safety interlock only allow the truck to start in park and I could manipulate the levers to do that from beneath. With the truck started I could move the transmission lever into drive while Pam applied the brake. Then I’d crawl out she could drive home.

Pam was less than thrilled with the idea. But she did it. She probably pressed that brake pedal almost through the floorboard while I was under the truck fiddling with the transmission lever, engine running!

Cable end at top, transmission lever at bottom. The white plastic bit captures that knob.

The Root Cause
The cable end is a roundish half-bowl of plastic molded onto the semi-flexible metal rod that extends from its sleeve. In the picture you can see a white plastic insert fitting in the black bowl. The transmission lever has a protruding machined knob that’s captured by that bit of white plastic.

Failure occurs when the white plastic insert no longer captures the knob.

The cable assembly is not adjustable. The length is exactly what it is. That’s important because…

When the console lever’s placed in park – that’s how the truck spends much of its time since being manufactured – there’s much linear force being applied against the transmission lever. By that I mean if you select park and slip the cable end free of the transmission lever (easy to do, now that the part’s failed), the cable end springs out extend a good 3/8″ past the transmission lever. You cannot put it back in place without manipulating the console lever positions, the end-to-knob alignment is that far off. So of course that 29-cent bit of plastic will fail eventually! It’s designed to fail!

The Repair
The cable assembly – part number 4L3Z-7E395-CA for my 2004 unit – is available on Amazon for about $48. I don’t have a shop manual – that’s another story for another time – but it looks like it could be replaced in a couple of hours. Beer optional.

Obviously, a dealership could handle the repair. I heard that runs around $300-$350, including parts.

Ascension Engineering’s current location, under construction when Google Earth grabbed this shot.

But let me introduce you  to Ascension Engineering. They produce a line of replacements for those little white pieces of plastic – apparently it’s a common failure mode across a wide variety vehicles, not merely Fords. The parts sell through their website, And business is apparently pretty damned good – Ascension Engineering’s principal relocated to some considerably nicer digs between May 2015 and March of 2016…

Shipping origin. Click for detail.

Y’know, $25 is a lot of money for a bitty bit of plastic. (Update: I learned, when sending a link to this article to the manufacturer for review, that the price is now reduced. My luck, right?) Okay, there’s design, tooling costs, manufacturing, but any number of Chinese outfits will do all that. Probably including the engineering design, too. It seems likely that they already manufacture those little bushings for the auto manufacturers.  That Mr. Smith, he’s one smart cookie!

Screw it. I ordered a kit. There was sales tax, we’re both in  Florida. And shipping was, I thought, a little high at just under $6 for USPS. The total cost was $32.29. I showed up at my door in a few days, shipped from Charlotte, North Carolina.

The cage-hack. See text for features. Click to enlarge for detail.

But First, An Interim Hack
A couple of weeks before the order and permanent repair, a simple hack was necessary to keep the truck on the road. A truck’s a useful tool here in rural Florida. There’s trash and recycling to haul, stuff like that.

I hacked up a little cage from (what else?) coat-hang wire – easy to work with, yet stiff enough to enclose the cable end.

It’s got some nifty features. First, it’s a cage. It’s solidly attached to the transmission’s shift lever and doesn’t contact the cable or its end except where it absolutely must, to prevent the thing from slipping off the knob. That contact is minimized by a custom thrust plate constructed of softer plastic. (Don’t be fooled, the thrust plate is from a plastic storage bin. We use the bins as high-walled litter boxes for our feline residents, and this is the material cut out to form a door.) Notice the bend in the thrust plate, and the cutouts so the cage retains it.

The hack would likely outlast the truck. But a replacement part was on the way.

The Replacement Bushing
It arrived in about a week. Here’s what $32.29 bought me:

The package, as received, followed by the individual parts and instructions. It’s actually well-thought out and about as foolproof as it gets. Click for a larger image.

Three bits of plastic: the bushing itself plus two more that served as press-blocks. Click to enlarge the image and see the instructions. Leaning way towards foolproof, I’ve gotta say. It took me longer to remove my hack than it did to install the replacement.

Debris in my cable-end cup. The rear of the truck is the right side of the image. The cable presses rearward when the transmission is in park. Click to enlarge.

Part of the install involves digging out any old bushing parts from the cable end cup. I used a carbide-tipped scribe and it cleaned up in a few seconds. Here’s a shot of what was left in my cup before that step. Pretty disgusting. But what’s clear as an unmuddy lake is how the linear force of sitting in Park had basically ruined one side while the other remained basically unworn. Ford’s non-adjustable setup is designed to fail. It’s only a matter of time.

Bushing installed. Click to enlarge.

I assembled the sandwich of plastic bits and used a pair of Channellock pliers to give it a squeeze. I chose the Channellocks because of the  adjustable jaws but I think a pair of ordinary pliers like those found in the average person’s tool bag would have done the job just as well. You’d need pliers, though, it’s a bit much for fingers alone.

Repair complete. Click to enlarge.

The rejuvenated cable end mated to the transmission lever with a satisfying click. Then I exercised the console lever. It felt great.

Notice in the completed repair image that there’s a slight gap between the cable-end cup and the transmission shift lever. This tells me that the replacement bushing is the proper size for the job. If the knob sat too deep then the two parts would rub, wearing the cable-end cup.

So How’s It Holding Up?
It’s been a few months since all this went down and so far, so good.

No issues, no complaints, the repair feels as tight as ever. How long will it last? Hard to say. Ford’s designed-to-fail assembly of the subsystem remains unchanged. What’s a worse environment? New Jersey winters or the Florida heat? Time will tell.

The Gallery’s Moved

A long time ago having one’s own photo gallery running on the web was a thing, it’s not so important today. Mine was on the old Gallery3 platform but that hasn’t been supported for several years now.
I finally got around to moving it to Coppermine, software that’s still supported.

On the way I purged a bunch of albums. [shrug] The remaining stuff is mostly nostalgia and inertia. You can have a look if you want.

I can only think of one good reason to maintain a personal gallery these days. It’s for those times when you need a permanent URL to an image for one reason or another, and want to manage those images efficiently. It seems likely that I’ll move most of mine somewhere else eventually. But you know how that word – “eventually” – tends to work.

Skull Rings

I picked up this skull ring in a New Hope, PA shop in August 2005 and I’ve worn it daily ever since. It’s an attention-getter with mass and warmth that only solid chunk of silver can deliver.

Skull ring on my gnarly meathook. It stares at me. I’ve worn this for almost twelve years now, the little dings give it character. Click to enlarge in a new window or tab.

This sucker weighs a ton. I’ve got take care for my desktop is glass and yes, I’ve already chipped the glass.

The ring originated in Hamburg, Germany. I’m told that it’s identical to the ring Keith Richards has been famously wearing pretty much forever. Here are a couple of shots – decide for yourself.

Looks pretty darned close to me, but I’m not makin’ any claims!

I have another skull ring that’s been with me even longer. (If you know me at all then you know that if something works I tend to stick with it.) I can’t remember exactly how long I’ve had the ring. But I do clearly remember the motorcycle I was riding at the time and that dates it solidly from the summer of 1980.

My oldest skull ring, acquired in 1980. It was definitely not new when I found it at the famous Englishtown (NJ) flea market. I’ve never, ever seen another like it. Click to enlarge the image in a new window or tab.

The ring was already old when I bought it. Didn’t matter, it was solid silver and fit perfectly.

In the 37 years I’ve worn this one I’ve never seen another like it. The nearest I’ve come to any kind of story is through a nurse that worked at a gym I joined in 1986. She commented that the ring looked exactly like one worn by her father when she was a little girl in California.

Go ahead, click the image for a much-enlarged look. Have you seen another ring like it? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

F-150 R203 Relay Failures Revisited

Back in 2013 I wrote about how my 2004 F-150 stranded me with an R203 relay failure. Since then I haven’t gotten any closer to a cause or solution. I’ve periodically replaced the relay as needed. But I’ve got a few more observations to add.

  • The DTC codes reported by the in-dash diagnostics (Engineering Mode) have meaningless meanings. D900 is just a general communication fault, not helpful, like “syntax error”.  D950 is apparently an instrument cluster issue. Both make sense. No power to the PCM will tend to inhibit communications. No PCM data means the instrument cluster will be data-starved despite being powered up. Duh.
  • When running, the R203 relay runs HOT. You can hardly keep a finger on it.
  • It’s not necessary to replace the R203 relay as soon as it balks. In the beginning, simply removing and replacing it will often get it working again. After a while, stronger ‘persuasion’ is needed. I’ve gotten good at pulling the relay, giving it a couple of raps on the pillar, and jamming it home – even in the dark. Eventually the relay requires replacement.
  • The part of the relay that fails is energizing circuit. A completely failed relay seems physically distorted by the heat over time. I haven’t been able to correlate this to long trips – we don’t use the truck that much – but it wouldn’t surprise me. A cross-country trip involving all-day use might be troublesome. Conclusion: there’s a high current draw on that circuit somewhere. I doubt it’s the relay itself, too many parts have been in there. Maybe the fuse panel itself?
  • Ambient heat worsens the problem. In winter (like Florida has a ‘winter’, right?) the failure doesn’t happen as often. Leaving the kickpanel off helps extend life.  I’ve considered sandwiching the relay with Peltier devices, maybe something like this. Yeah, that’s fixing the symptom and not the cause, but WTF.

That’s about all I’ve got.

Maybe someone out there has the Ford shop manual pages for the fuse/relay panel? And/or the wiring diagram page(s) for the PCM power relay circuit? (2004 Ford F-150, SuperCrew, 5.4L V8, automatic transmission.)

Thanks, you great, big, wonderful Internet, you.

Gone Missing

Whoa! Not sure how it happened, but a key file went missing – or, more precisely, became empty – the other day. The problem rendered all but the front page inoperable.

It’s fixed. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Drugging My Cat

Wiley lounging on my Dyna.
Wiley lounging on my Dyna.

Imperial Star Wiley Raz-Ma-Taz, our flame-point Siamese, was born April 21, 2007. I think he’s had a pretty good life so far but, poor guy, he’s been having some trouble coping lately. Maybe he’s been watching the news too much… Whatever, we set out to help him.

I won’t bore you with the details. But over the course of a month or so working with a local veterinarian we settled on a successful drug regimen. The miracle drug? Fluoxetine, better known as Prozac. Yeah, this is an off-label use of the drug. I’ve since learned that it’s more common than one might think.

Wiley’s always been an easy cat to pill. Maybe it’s a trust thing. Sometimes he appears to look forward to his next dose, perhaps he somehow knows that it brings comfort.

Unfortunately his dosage requires that the 10 milligram tablet be quartered. That breaches the coating and that means it tastes awful! It’s bitter (self-tested) as all get-out. Mixed with saliva from an angry cat it foams and dribbles and… well, you get the idea.

Never underestimate the fury of an unhappy feline – especially when you’re working near its mouth!

Medication time quickly turned into a nightmare to which none of us looked forward. Even though the drugs helped Wiley this was putting a serious hurt on our relationship!

Pam found a place in China to buy unfilled gel-caps online and ordered some.

Size-5 gel-caps, sourced from China.
A thousand size-5 gel-caps, sourced from China. They were cheap, too. The estimated ship estimate spanned the better part of a month, which was a little scary, but they actually showed up in a week or so. You can click this or any other image in this article for a larger view which will appear in a new window or tab.

The quartered tablet fragments fit pretty well into the gel-caps. Life started to improve. Still, the quartering process troubled me. No matter how careful, no matter how sharp the razor blade, the size of the quarters varied and sometimes even became damaged beyond being useful.

Imprecise dosage and waste: there were still two problems to solve!

Back to Amazon… And in a couple of  days I had what I needed:

  • mortar & pestle  [ link ]
  • spatula  [ link ]
  • milligram scale  [ link ]

I had a few tablets on hand because I had just stocked up so I began by weighing each of them. There was a slight variation – just a couple of milligrams. I averaged the weights and divided the result by four – my quarter-tablet goal. Then I went to work.

Ready for crushing.
Two 10 milligram tablets are ready for crushing. 10 mg is, of course, the amount of the drug and not the weight of the tablets!


Tablets crushed to a powder.
In a few seconds I’d reduced the tablets to powder. If you look closely you can still see some flecks of the tablet coating. It’s kind of like the candy coating a plain M&M, but much thinner, very hard and brittle.


The weighing.
I’ve used the spatula to transfer 53 milligrams of pulverized tablet to a small square of waxed paper sitting in the weigh pan. They make anti-static squares for this purpose but I guessed that the Florida humidity would keep static under control. I guessed right. I creased the waxed paper to make filling the gel-cap easier. Needless to say, the scale is zeroed with the waxed paper in the weigh pan before adding product.


The setup and work product.
Here’s the setup and the finished work product. The hardest part is dumping the weighed powder into the size-5 gel-caps; it takes a steady hand and a good eye, but it gets easier with practice. Notice, there’s very little residue on either the waxed paper or the spatula, indicating that my static is under control.

The final result? Worth every nickel of cost and every moment of work!

That the evil, bitter taste is now gone is a clear win. And I’m convinced that consistent, accurate dosing is exactly what Wiley needs. He’s back to his old self! Our relationship is back on track, too.


Lit Up!

The other day I learned something about Florida traffic law. The fine for “obscuring your license plate” is eleven hundred and fifty bucks!

The short story goes something like this. My barhopper’s plate holder’s pivoted. It can fold flat against the bike, out of the way. I’d been working in the battery box the day before and had the thing pivoted backward. I’ve scraped my calf a couple of times on the damned thing. Before hittin’ the street I completed the usual first-ride-of-the-day checks as the engine warmed – lighting, control operation, etc. – like I always do. But the plate’s position just didn’t register.

I guess I made it about fifteen miles or so before I got lit up.

Considering the LEO commented “I could have sworn there was no tag at all” when I explained, the stop went well. I wasn’t ticketed and I learned something. Turns out the fine is steep from folks running tolls, covering their plates to avoid the cameras.

Tension eased, I took the opportunity to ask after something mentioned to me a while back, that vertically-oriented plates were illegal here. They’re not illegal, and the other LEO (yeah, by then another patrol car had joined us) concurred. I may remount the plate for a cleaner look – and to avoid another mishap.

In a few minutes I was back on the road. As I donned my lid one smiled and said “Try to stay under a hundred, okay?” “And keep the front wheel on the ground,” the other added.

“I’ll try.”


Typical cartridge filter.

Owning a swimming pool is practically a requirement in Florida. Our pool, like many, uses a replaceable cartridge-type filter. The filtration system is simple, works well, and it’s easy to keep up. The trade-off for that convenience is the cost of the filter media.

In case you’re not familiar with these things I’ve included an image of a typical filter cartridge. It’s remarkably similar to an aquarium filter, but larger. Mine is about 2 feet tall and maybe around 10 or 11 inches in diameter. It’s basically a perforated plastic tube wrapped with a deeply pleated fiber media, with some support rings at either end. Situated vertically, water flows from the outside in, through the perforated tube, exiting through the bottom of the perforated tube. Any debris not caught by the skimmer basket and pump screen becomes trapped within the pleats.

A top-quality, name-brand filter cartridge costs around a hundred bucks.

My contractor suggested that frequent cleaning would extend the life of the media. It made sense. Cleaning is theoretically simple: direct a spray from a garden hose at the outside; work your way around the unit, letting gravity carry away any debris. In practice, the pleats make this a time-consuming task. And after a while, crouching on the ground with a spraying hose in one hand and stabilizing/positioning the cartridge with the other hand makes every minute feel like an hour.

I quickly learned that having spare cartridge on hand is a good idea. Swapping cartridges handling the rest of the maintenance to bring the filter system back online only takes several minutes, leaving one free to concentrate on the cartridge.

Filter Flosser
Filter Flosser. Quality made from aluminum, but not very effective. Click the image for an enlarged view and you’ll see why.

Over the years I’ve tried several tools and tricks. I first rigged a stand from PVC tubing to orient and support the cartridge at a comfortable height and angle. (It doubles as a towel rack poolside. Or maybe the towel rack doubles as the work stand?) Water everywhere! Cleaning was much more effective because it freed a hand to spread the pleats. But there sure are a lot of pleats and by the end of the job my fingers were raw! The media, it turns out, is kind of abrasive. I tried a tool called the Filter Flosser (inset), designed to concentrate a water blast between the pleats . That’s a pricey tool that’s not very effective. I even tried letting the media dry out, cleaning it with a jet of air from my shop compressor. That beat my fingers up even worse, took about as long as the garden hose and wasn’t as effective.

Enter the Aqua•Comb!


This awesome little unit caught my eye at the local Pinch-A-Penny, where I pick up chemicals and what have you. The guy behind the counter (who happens to own the store) told me that he bought one for himself and it works great.

I thought the price was somewhat high for plastic. But it really does work, saves a ton of time, uses less water, and makes way less mess. Okay, the tag says “…as little as 5 minutes” so it could be more – and it is. But still, nowhere near the time it took by hand. The bottom line? Worth it!

Why? The comb teeth, for one. They get between the pleats, way down deep, and they save your fingers. The water jets are fewer and, thus, more powerful. It’s easy to direct the jets down for optimal water flow as the comb teeth provide access between the pleats. For complete coverage you do need to follow the instructions, but overall it’s so fast that what reads like repeat work really isn’t.

This tool – along with its derivative products – is going to make the inventor a well-deserved bundle of cash! What’s more, it’s an American company, making products from USA sourced material with American labor. Which is more than Harley-Davidson can say.

Here’s their website, go see for yourself. If you have a pool or spa using cartridge filters – or a horse or dog (use your imagination!) – and you do your own labor then you probably need this product.

Thor is Dead – Well, Maybe Not

Way back in 2008 Pam​ was outgrowing her computer, a P4-based HP laptop. Yeah, right. Remember those ‘desktop replacement’ laptops? Lots of power (well, for its day) but it must’ve weighed ten pounds. With a power brick that was about the size of a real brick. Yeah, you remember.

So I built her a desktop. Kick-ass (well, for its day) dual core Intel processor, three huge hard drives, gobs of memory, rockin’ graphics card to drive the bleedin’ edge HP monitor she saw at a Digital Life show… She named it Thor, and it was good.

Over the years Thor got his share of tweaks and minor upgrades. New drives here, more and faster memory there, but substantially the same old box. Fast-forward to today.

hqdefaultThor’s been feelin’ the weight of the ages, actin’ flakey, a little unstable.

The guy in the brown truck brought some stuff yesterday afternoon. Motherboard, CPU, memory, power supply rated for the Intel Haswell chips… Almost a quarter of the cost was covered by rebates and other incentives. Free shipping. No sales tax.

Pam named it Kermit.

Kermit’s just burning in now. In a couple of weeks I’ll start messing around. Clocks, timings, and so on, tuning for performance. But for now, so far, so good.

So where’s my geek hat… Windows 10 activation/licensing was an issue, for a while. I was a little worried going in. Thor was on Windows 7, caught the free upgrade to Windows 10 back in July. No Key. What was gonna happen when the box booted? Kermit booted to a non-activated state and subsequent boots loading drivers and such remained non-activated. But after loading chipset drivers – the motherboard was WAY different – Windows 10 came up fully activated once again. Symantec activation and licensing was another hurdle. (Disclosure: We run their security product on our Windows desktops here, I recommend ’em and buy OEM licenses in bulk.) What happened was the existing license pretty much evaporated and jumped to an unused license in my pool of unused seats. I had a conversation with the folks at Symantec (online chat with ‘Ace’, actually – ‘Ace’ probably has too many consonants in his real name) and put the licensing right. No other gotchas so far.

So, what of Thor? Probably… clean him up a little, pull a chassis out of the back, stuff in some drives, install a Linux server image, and put him to work. No rest for the weary here; earn yer fuckin’ keep!

Dodge Dart

When I was in my twenties I went through one of my car-less periods, only a motorcycle for basic transport. Rain or shine, winter or summer, I rode. Jerry, a guy I knew, felt bad for me one wintry day. He gave me a car.

I don't recall the year, but it may have looked something like this. Certainly not as clean.
I don’t recall the year, but it may have looked something like this. Certainly not as clean.

It was an old Dodge Dart. I don’t recall the year. If you’re anywhere near my age you’ve probably seen thousands upon thousands of these old Dodge Darts on the road. They were bulletproof: slant-six engine; three-speed on the column; torsion-bar suspension; bench seats complete with the saggy back rest. This one was blue. The interior was all musty from sitting in Jerry’s mom’s backyard for months and months. (She may have pressured him to get it out of there, helping lead to my good fortune.)

I remember when Jerry bought the Dodge. He wasn’t much of a mechanic and he had asked for my help with its assessment. “The clutch is slipping some,  you’ll need to replace it eventually. But otherwise it’s reasonable.” I think he paid a couple hundred for it.

When I got my hands on that old Dodge the clutch was still slipping some. The engine had two operating temperatures: hotter than hell, and hotter than hotter than hell. Coolant boiled out regularly; the water jugs in the backseat were a permanent fixture. But that ol’ engine never faltered, not once. In fact, it always delivered excellent heat. And judging by the sludge in the crankcase I don’t think Jerry ever got around to changing the oil in the couple of years he had it. I know I didn’t.

I used to have fun with that slippery clutch! I knew a new friction plate would be cheap and easy to install. It became something of a game to see how much abuse the poor little clutch could take. I’d wind that little engine for all it was worth and sidestep the pedal just to catch a whiff of the burning plate.

I was using that very technique to enter the highway, pulling out of a local titty bar one afternoon, when the clutch signalled it had finally had just about enough. The sound was odd and clunky – not good at all. A bit of friction remained, though, and the car lurched ahead. I didn’t dare touch the pedal during the short ride home.

The decision had been a sound one. The very next pedal depression was its last. Oh, the pedal would move alright, but it no longer mattered. Engine on or off, pedal or not, any gear could be selected at will while the car no longer moved on its own.

So the next weekend I picked up a friction plate, release bearing, and other assorted parts and set to work. The drivetrain and transmission came out easy enough. But what remained of that poor clutch was a sight to behold. Some dust and shredded friction material along with some broken metal fell out of the housing to the asphalt. It was one of those moments that fairly begged for a digital camera. But this was WAY before that technology became ubiquitous. In short order the new clutch was again transferring engine power to the transmission!

I was working in Bridgeport, Connecticut at the time and Monday morning I set out from my New Jersey home with confidence. With a week’s worth of clothing (and several water jugs) in the backseat, all was well with the world and the ride up Route 95 went without incident. But as I reached the job site there was a mighty clunk from the front end as the left front quarter sagged nearly to the ground. A quick look confirmed my suspicion: the torsion bar had broken free, its mount in the frame rusted out.

At the end of the day, before I checked into my hotel, I found a salvage yard and limped the old Dodge to its final resting place.

The yard operator paid me just about enough to cover my clutch parts.