Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Auto Attack: When Good Cars Go Bad


Dios mio, dios mio, porque me has abandonado?
- attributed to J.C.

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

- Murphy's Law

I must have done something terrible to piss off the patron saint of cars, if there is such a creature. Maybe I offended Michelinaeus, the Greek goddess of tires as well. Whatever it was, I must be working off some hellified "carma", because my relationship with my former automotive ally has turned very ugly of late.

Now, I drive a jalopy. There's just no way to sugar coat it. I pilot a '96 Plymouth Voyager with just under 157K on it. My pal Sarah tells me that I'm living on borrowed time with this thing, and I know she's right. And, as they say in Hollywood, she's had a little work done in recent years (the van, not Sarah). The upside is that I pay under $40 in monthly liability insurance and I haven't had to make car payments for several years. The downside is that sometimes I run into a spate of bad luck - like right now, for instance.

It all started a couple of weeks ago when I was on my merry way to a Labor Day picnic. Just after pulling out of my garage I heard a wicked whump from the rear end of the car. It sounded like I had just deposited the rump of the vehicle on the other side of a speed bump. I pulled over and saw that my right rear tire was not only flat but had come entirely off of the rim.

I whipped out a handy can of Fix A Flat, that nasty chemical crap in a can that will allegedly re-inflate a moribund tire. The tire was in such bad shape that the fluid came squirting out of the tire faster than I could pump it in there. So I put the old donut spare on and limped over to my local tire shop.

Then, less than a week later, after playing three gigs on a Sunday, automotive lightning struck twice in the same exact spot, which I thought was impossible. The same tire (actually the new replacement tire) was DOA in my parking spot. By now you know the drill: The Fix A Flat did absolutely nothing (except elicit an admonishment from my tire dude not to use it) and I had to throw the old spare back on there. When I was finished I looked like I had just stepped out of a coal mine.

I had the tire replaced (again) and was driving downtown the following afternoon when I heard a loud flappada-flappada sound coming from the front end of the car. Shit, I couldn't possibly have another flat, could I? I pulled onto the shoulder of the highway, got out and walked around the van. No tire damage. I started to drive back into traffic when I realized that my power steering had gone out. The sound I had heard must have been the belt snapping under the hood. (This would be the third time I've had broken belts in the last six months, possibly a new world record).

The next day I had to drop my daughter off at the el to get to school. Besides the upper body workout I was getting from steering manually everything seemed alright. I dropped her off and then made the fatal mistake of stopping at the bank before going back to the 'hood to drop off the car. I parked in the lot by my Chase branch, did my biz, and came back to discover that the car would not start...in that dead battery kind of way.

With great trepidation, I opened the hood and peered inside. Right away I saw that there were no belts of any kind attached to any of the pulleys. So I called the motor club and eventually got the car towed to my second home (aka the local mechanic). He was very surprised to see me back so soon after we had changed the belts. Something was causing this to keep happening, but it was unclear what it could be.

Fast forward another week or so. I took the car to my local Jiffy Lube for an overdue oil change. While they were working I noticed that the ever-present clacking noise in the engine had become significantly worse. I'd been so preoccupied with other maladies that I hadn't observed this change. Man, it was scary loud. I'd been told that I would sooner or later need the dreaded "ring job" because the noise was most likely an indication of an essentially worn out motor.

There comes a time in the life of every vehicle when enough is enough. The horrifying sound of the engine combined with its rusting body, leaking oil, dead AC and slipping transmission has convinced me that it is time to punt.

Next: New Car Blues

Friday, October 17, 2008

Obama Video Says it All

Are you the same or have you changed?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Almost Caught in the Web: Chinese Domain Name Scam

A few days ago I received a rather disturbing email about my jazz website, the full text of which appears below:

Dear CEO,
We are the department of registration service in China. we have something need to confirm with you. We formally received an application on Octomber 10, 2008, One company which self-styled "Tenderich Technologies Limited" are applying to register "playjazznow" as internet brand and CN domain names as below :


After our initial examination, we found that the internet brand applied for registration are as same as your company's name and trademark. These days we are dealing with it, hope to get the affirmation from your company. If your company has not authorized the aforesaid company to register these, Please contact us as soon as possible.
In addition, we hereby affirm that our time limit for dissent application is ten days. If your company files no dissent within the time limit, we will unconditionally approve the application submitted by "Tenderich Technologies Limited".

Best Regards,
John Wang
Senior consultant

This very sincere sounding email turns out to be a scam; one which I almost fell for. I corresponded with "Mr. Wang" for a couple of days and discovered that the only way I could prevent my trademark from being essentially hijacked would be to purchase the domain names myself. The implication in the original email was that his company would not approve the application submitted by "Tenderich Technologies" if PlayJazzNow.com was in fact registered to me, which, of course, it is.

I started to get suspicious and decided to do a little googling to see if anyone else had any experience with this type of thing. I wound up at this blog, which had a nearly word for word replication of the message I'd received. This is one of the great things about the internet. I realized instantly that I was but one of many people who have been contacted in this manner by some allegedly Chinese company. This company, China Public Domain, does have a legitimate looking website. So perhaps this is a not so subtle marketing tool. When I tooled around the site I did notice that there aren't any prices listed for anything, among other oddities.

In the future I will be even more wary than I already was with regard to the effluvia that winds up in my inbox. I've known for a long time that if something sounds too good to be true it probably isn't. The same might be said for things that sound too dire to be true as well.