07 August 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project


Evolution in Stasis

A large portion of the USA has been having a major heat wave for the past week.  Northern New Jersey has been a beneficiary of this solar largesse to no small degree.  How hot is it? 

Hot enough for me to have charitable thoughts about winter.  Hot enough for my alleged brain to reach a state of indifference to embarrassment.  Hot enough to talk about the "Darwin Awards" using "I" instead of "they" when referring to candidate recipients.

It was the depth of winter and the depths of snow.  A modest blizzard had completed its depredations, leaving my snow blower as my companion in homebound misery.  It is a bright orange contraption purchased two years previously from the same Pete who helped me with the Prius reconstruction, and it exhibits the same cantankerous behavior as you would if nobody changed your oil regularly.  Nonetheless, it had proven helpful and robust, to the extent of clearing many driveways worth of snow, and providing my housemate with numerous episodes of hilarity after I have come inside covered with snow after a bout with the shifting winds.  This snow blower has a very useful feature:  In addition to the pull-cord starter, it has an electric motor applique that allows it to be started by pushing a button when it is near an electric outlet.  This is a great boon when first starting it.  Restarting after a stall using the pull-cord is usually less of a challenge.

Back to the blizzard:  I plugged in the snow blower, adjusted the choke, opened the gas feed, pressed the button, and listened to the whir, whir, whir.   And listened some more.  After a period of non starting, I decided to attempt to diagnose the problem.  (Being trapped by the snow, I had little else to do at the moment.)  To make a short story even shorter, the first thing I checked was the fuel feed, and it was clear that no gas was getting to the motor.  Since there was gas in the tank, this implied (to me, at least) that there was some ice blocking the fuel.  How do you get rid of the ice?  Well, you could drag the snow blower into the sunlight and wait for it to melt.  Or, you could search high and low in the kitchen cabinets for the crme brle kit of recent acquisition, remove the blow torch from same, and try to use it to thwart the blockage in a more localized manner.

Raise your hand if you're not 'way ahead of me.  One hand raised?  OK, I'll 'splain:

Gasoline is flammable.  It can, under the correct circumstances, form an explosive mixture with the air, which can detonate to deadly effect.  Furthermore, and not mentioned above, I had recently filled the snow blower gas tank, which engendered the usual modest spill which coated the parts of the gas tank, the ground, and my gloves, which I was wearing at the time.  In other words, I knew that there was liquid gasoline and the possibility of gasoline vapor in the vicinity of the task I was about to perform with the blowtorch.  Nonetheless, I lit the blowtorch, applied it to the area of the gas tank where I thought the blockage had formed, and continued doing this unit the engine didn't start for long enough that I finally gave up.

I didn't die.  There were no explosions or immolations.  Eventually I got the snow blower started by dragging it into the sunlight and waiting for the ice to melt.  If it's any consolation, I did manage to slightly burn the tip of one finger, but it healed shortly thereafter without sequelae.

How stupid was this?  Clearly not terminally so, at least in this instance.  What can I say in my own defense?  Precious little:  I knew it was stupid while I was doing it, and I didn't stop!  Will I do it again?  Almost certainly not.  It would be doubly embarrassing to die by crme brle blowtorch after having written that I didn't.  Besides, that trick never works.  Will this orgy of self criticism prevent me from doing something else equally dangerous.  Sadly, probably not.

Responsible bloggingTM

I am hardly the only person I know who has done stupid, dangerous stuff under conditions of normal chemical equilibrium, and while fully aware that what was being done was stupid and dangerous.  Almost certainly you, too, are such a person whether I know you or not.  Although I and most others try very hard to avoid this type of behavior, somehow a sense of mission overcomes our sense of self preservation. 

I have ended a number of blogitems with the admonition: "Be Careful!"  As demonstrated above, that is sometimes insufficient.  So I'll add another:  Be Lucky!

Richard Factor