Friday, October 1, 2010

Where The Fork Did My Week Go?


Let's see. The car spat the dummy on Monday, big-time. Wouldn't start any more. We still figured it to be the engine immobiliser, but a call to the service people disabused us of that: apparently when the engine immobiliser is running, even the starter motor does nothing. And that was definitely not the case here.

After any amount of screwing about down in Scottsdale with a dead car, I managed to get it going long enough to take it to Jeff French, our local miracle worker. Of course, with the car being under warranty, he couldn't actually work any miracles. But he could and did hook up a diagnostic computer, which confirmed what one of the savvier service-people had said on the phone: sensor troubles.

Shiny new cars run on computers. Computers need information. Information comes from sensors. If your sensors go to shit, your car computer gets shitty information, and the car stops running. Thus, because a cam-shaft sensor has become heat-sensitive, the car will no longer start when it is warm. You have to wait an hour or so for the engine to cool down before it will actually start again -- and it's getting sketchier about that, too.

Some time ago, I had a long and growly online argument with the eejits who profess themselves to be in love with fuel-injection at the expense of the carburettor. They told me at length how wonderful fuel-injection is: how efficient, how clean, how it would tuck me in at night and blow me to sleep.

At that time, I said: I'm sure fuel injection is very fucking shiny, yes. But the thing about carburettors is that they keep on working. And if they fuck up, you can fix them. Right there. By the roadside. Because they are simple, elegant, functional, effective technology. They may not run perfectly. They may not produce world-beating crepes. They may not write home to their parents. But they run. And they keep on running.

Unlike my present, fuel-injected vehicle. And so, some four years after that discussion, I hereby conclude my case with a raised middle finger and a gentle 'screw you!' to the crowd who dissed my simple, screwdriver-and-spanner approach.

Of course, that fucked up Thursday for me, because I had to drive the car in to Launceston to the service people, then wait about four hours while they fritzed around with it. And of course, at the end of that time, the car was not fixed. Why? Because they don't have the parts. They're coming, naturally. Should be in by Monday, yep.

Now, this is a very big dealership. And when I described the problem over the phone, the competent service-blokes were quite excitable: textbook case of sensor failure, no mistaking it. This implies, of course, that sensor failure is not an uncommon situation. Which begs the question: why doesn't this large dealership have spares for something which is a known failure issue?

Who the hell knows? Not me.

I killed the time by trekking out to the university and putting in the paperwork on my Master's degree application. Slow, weary process, but it's almost entirely in place. Then I made it back to Launceston, and ran a bunch of errands for Natalie. Finally, I went to the library, grabbed a computer, and did some writing for a couple hours. Not anything useful, mind you: a simple script for Younger Son to read and record.

And why was I doing this? Because quid pro quo hath raised its head. The children were allowed to take a couple weeks off school to go to Borneo. This isn't kosher by Dept Ed standards, but of course, the kids learned more in those few weeks than they have done in an entire year of school -- and the school people know that, so they didn't put up a fuss. However, it's only reasonable that we now put back a little of that goodwill, right?

Thus, yesterday I found myself cooking chili tamarind chicken with turmeric rice (followed by a very passable ais kacang, or ABC dessert) for twenty kids of Younger Son's grade. But before that, we viewed a seven minute video on "Malaysian Food", narrated by Younger Son.

And of course, in order to create this seven minute miracle, yours truly spent four hours the previous night figuring the ins and outs of a video editing software suite.

Since Windows 7 has (wisely!) abandoned 'Moviemaker', I'm using MAGIX Movie Edit Pro. I'm sure everyone has their own favourite bit of gear for this sort of thing, but I have to say: once I got past the totally fucking crap instructions and worked out that pretty much everything you want to do is done in the 'edit' screen, it worked quite well. Nice things: you can control sound levels on video clips, allowing you to add extra soundtracks, music, narration, etc, and you can mix them nicely.

My only real problem: I wish to fuck I could find a simple 'fade' transition. It does every kind of jackass home-movie wipe you could want: all those Batman scene-spinning changes, all those 'page turns', 'doors opening'... wipes to the left, the right, up and down; fades through Venetian Blinds blah blah blah - but can I get it simply to fade to black?

The fuck I can.

Never mind. So, yeah: four hours work to create a wonky seven minute DVD. Happily, the class enjoyed it - probably because of the footage of Younger Son trying a couple of really dodgy tropical fruits (including a close relative of the dreaded Durian. His impression of vomiting afterwards was dangerously close to the real thing...)

The actual cooking and feeding went surprisingly well. The kids responded far better than I had expected to spicy, unusually flavoured food. Admittedly, I kept the chili to a barely-detectable minimum, but I should point out that not one of them had ever even heard of tamarind; that they were almost all terrified by chili; that they were amazed by garam masala, and that (naturally) I incorporated a whole bunch of very lightly cooked vegetables in the dish -- pak choy, green beans, capsicum, and bean sprouts.

They went bughouse berserk. Ate their way through the entire metric shitload. Most of 'em even finished their vegetables. I had to encourage a couple of 'em to try vegetables they normally claimed to dislike - but the sweet-sour tamarind/kecap manis flavour, with the depth from the fish sauce (couldn't get shrimp paste!) and the zing from the chili, garlic, ginger, onion and garam masala got their enthusiasm pumped up, and in most cases, once they wrapped their heads around the fact that they were eating vegetables but the veges were crunchy and tasted really good, they didn't look back for an instant.

The shaved-ice thing didn't do so well, but I didn't expect it to. If you know Ais Kacang or ABC, so much the better. If you don't -- well, get shaved ice. Add bunches of weird bits of jelly in a range of demented colours. Include spoonfuls of red beans and sweet corn, maybe some green coconut flesh. Now pour red-coloured, hypersweet palm sugar syrup over the lot, and add a generous splash of evaporated milk. Eat with a spoon and considerable trepidation...

The kids liked the palm sugar syrup. And the ice. And... some of the jelly. (But not the blue coconut cream jelly. No.) The corn and beans kinda freaked 'em out - but that was the point, really. That 'authentic Malay experience' thing.

It took about two hours, all told. Two hours of face time with the littlies, that is. Actual cooking, even on a rather dodgy cast-iron camp stove I bought for the wok, was only about twenty minutes. There was a lot of preparation, of course -- I had jelly to make, and stuff. And lots of carrying and setting up. But on the whole, it was remarkably successful -- if exceptionally tiring.

Of course, I had to risk using the Terracan for the job. Couldn't pack all the shite into Nat's Honda. Happily, I started it okay when it came time to leave the school, but I had quite a scare about an hour later, when I tried to start it again outside the supermarket. Bastard thing. I just hope it will start Monday morning. I'm having nothing to do with it again until then...

And how did I finish my day? Cooking again, sure. Polenta-crusted salmon on a bed of crispy-fried potato shavings with a green salad. Popcorn. A movie with the kids. And rum and lime, dammit, because I fucking earned it...