Archive for May, 2010

Don’t step on the flaming bag!

May 20, 2010

Today at work I had my first trip up to the ‘high site”.  This is the final installation site of all the telescopes we are working at.  Elevation is 5,000 meters, or around 16,400 feet!  Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States, is 14,500 feet.  Plus, we get to drive up to the site.

The views were beautiful, we even saw some wild donkeys on the way up.  We got out of our truck, and I was worried about having enough air to breathe, but it really wasn’t too bad.  I don’t think I could run up there, or even go for a brisk walk, but for what we had to do I was fine.  Regulations require us to carry oxygen and check our O2 levels, but we weren’t up there long enough to be affected.  I could see how being up there all day would really affect you though.

There is a building that houses equipment and has some small offices.  It is heated and has oxygen pumped into, so it made for a nice place to take a break.  And thats when I saw a most fascinating device:

Fire Toilet

Yes folks, due to the lack of a proper sewage system at high altitudes, they installed an Incinerating Toilet.  Just how does it work?  Well, you put a paper bag into the toilet looking thing, sit down and poop in the bag, and then press a button and the toilet destroys your poop in a fiery blaze!  I have never before desired a bowel movement so much….but sadly it just wasn’t my time.   I actually looked up Incinerating Toilets on Wikipedia, one of the companies advertises their toilets as “The toilet that works like a self cleaning oven!”  Hmmmm….kind of turned me off to self cleaning ovens.

It was hard for the rest of the high site to live up to the flaming poop machine, but I still liked it.  We soon finished our task and made our way down (a 41 km drive, I think)  I was expecting to be full of energy when I came back down to the “low site” (only 10,000 feet) due to a rush of oxygen, but I just felt mildly better.  Oh well.  Next trip up I’m going to devour a sack of prunes and put that machine to work!

(I sincerely apoligize for all the poop talk, it most likely won’t happen again.)

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Old cars and grievances.

May 15, 2010

So this post will be part adventures in car shopping and part whine about how much I’m hating Santiago right now.

First, the car.

Get on the bus!

I’ve always had a soft spot for old VW busses.  Back in my younger days at Michigan Tech I even dragged a few rusted relics out of the woods with ideas of restoration, but it never got far.  Flash forward to South America, where VW still sells their old bus, albiet now with a water cooled modern engine.  Still, there is a good supply of busses around.  Plus, if I buy one that is older than 25 years, I can legally bring it back to the USA.  So the plan was to get an old bus, work on getting it completely reliable, then drive it back through South and Central America when my time here is done.

The adventure begins with me finding a bus online and Alina and I taking the metro to meet the seller at a Sodimac (Chile’s answer to Home Depot).  I liked this example because its a double cab (half truck, half bus) and it looked in pretty good shape.

1988 VW Kombi Double Cab

And everything checked out pretty good.  It had very little rust and everything looked repairable.  Then I took it for a drive.  Not good.  Granted, it was cold and raining, but the bus wouldn’t idle at all.  I drove it around the parking lot for some time hoping to warm it up, but every time I took my foot off the gas it died.  I tried clutching, braking, and stabbing the gas all at the same time (I’ve only got two feet!), but it worked about 1/3 the time.  I decided to chance going out into traffic.  My first mistake was trying to use the exit where there where some Cabinero’s (police) camped out.  Nope..vehicle isn’t registered, use the other exit.  OK.  I found a secret exit and ventured out into Friday night rush hour traffic…awesome.  It actually wasnt that bad though.  I mean, the truck was horrible, but the people that got stuck behind me didn’t honk an obnoxious amount.  The worst part was of course the continuous stalling.  Stalling between 2nd and 3rd gear was worst, the transmission would make the most horrible grinding noise.  I would have to find neutral (not easy), restart the car, and shift it back into second.  The whole time the seller is sitting next to me extolling the virtues of the car (in spanish, which i don’t yet comprehend), yelling over the stereo he felt compelled to blast.  I thought it was kind of fun actually, I hope Alina didn’t mind so much though.  Eventually we reached a gas station and I pulled in.  Alina didn’t live too far and there was a subway station I could take home.  I thanked the owner and went home to think about it.

Unfortunately, I think I will pass on this one.  If I where back home, I would buy it without further thought.  But here in Santiago…no.  Part of the problem is there are no parts stores to buy spare parts at.  I wouldn’t even know where to buy hand degreaser, let alone a car jack or specialized aircooled VW parts.  I have been thinking of bringing parts back from the US in my airline luggage (an entire engine is easily do-able), but this bus just needs too much.  Of course, I am fond of impossibly stupid projects, so there is hope yet.

And on to the whine…I hate my apartment.  I pay a ridiculous amount of rent for this place, my reasons for getting it were that it is safe and a nice place to relax on my time off.  Unfortunately, my douche-bag neighbors (and everyone in my building fits into this category) see fit to smoke, drink, party, scream, and test their stereos max sound capability until all hours of the morning.  Usually this is left for the weekends, but not always.  The front desk guys are supposed to keep things civilized, but they half ass that job just like everything else.  I guess I can half ass their salary too, its not like my credit ratings extend to down here.  Screw you too, Chile!!!