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Thursday, August 24, 2006


Technology marches on

The AWChain swings back around for Round Five. The previous link had D.T. Kelly talking about what things have disappeared from life as technology marches on. He mentions a lot of items from bygone eras - Zork, rotary dial phones, and that obnoxious, weird whistling sound a modem makes.

Technology has definitely marched on with cars, too, and the original point of this blog was just to be a diary for my efforts to apply modern technology to my '66 Dodge Dart. I've got somewhat mixed feelings about the "progress" of technology as it applies to cars. Sure, I'm working on a turbocharged, fuel injected motor, so you can tell there's a lot I like about technology. But it's not in a Supra or new Honda Civic, either. There is a lot to be said for the old ways.

The carburetor is a perfect example of the ambiguity of technology. In one way, it's simpler than the fuel injection I have. You've just got a mechanical fuel pump, a few fuel lines, and that metal gadget sitting atop your engine. No regulators, no computers, no surge tanks, no multi-pump systems - it's all very simple.

Or is it? If the carburetor happens to be tuned for your engine, it seems simple enough. But in the 1960's, trying to get one in tune on your hot rod was considered something of a black art. You would swap jets or metering rods, change the accelerator pump linkage, and tinker with a bunch of tiny mechanical components. A single change may be just right for when you give it the gas at 1,500 RPM but make it run worse when cruising at 3,000 under light throttle. And the only feedback you would get would be the seat of the pants feel and the color of your spark plugs. And if you had a turbo on your car, tuning could grow to be an even bigger nightmare. Hugh MacInnes lists quite a few mods that would try to let a carburetor add more fuel as the boost goes up, none of which really could keep things accurate at every level of boost.

Whereas once I get the fuel injection running, I have a lambda sensor in the exhaust that tells me just where my air/fuel ratio is. I can open up my laptop and tell it to take out more fuel just at this particular RPM and vacuum setting, or add more fuel at this specific boost level. And I can do this while sitting in the front seat without even opening the hood. But, well, if you've read this blog for any length of time, you will know just how much wrenching I needed to get there.

It's the same way in many other areas of cars, technology being both a blessing and a curse. Many cars from the 1960's had drum brakes that would not so much stop the car as much as suggest to the wheels that it might be a good idea to slow down. On the other hand, cars have grown so large now that you are not going to see anything like a feather-weight Datsun 510, certainly not one with seating for four. Cars now seem to grow larger and heavier with each generation. Honda has had to bring out the Fit to replace the Civic as the Civic has grown larger and the Fit is now about the size of a Civic 15 years ago. The Honda Accord - a very small car in the '70s - has grown until the modern version is almost as large as my Dodge Dart. (Then again, that Dart was considered a compact car in the '60s!)

And there's the issue of "personality." Some older cars feel a lot more elementaly, less disconnected. They don't have the same sound insulation and power everything that isolates you from the driving experience. Then again, the power steering on my Dart is probably the most disconnected feeling steering you will ever touch. It feels more like a joystick than a steering wheel. Meanwhile, some Miata owners argue they could do without a lot of the "personality" in little British cars. Like the way the Triumph Spitfire I had caught on fire. Interestingly, one of the reasons the Spitfire caught fire was because it lacked a headlight circuit breaker that is present in virtually every modern car - and my Dart, built thirteen years before the Spitfire.

Sometimes I wish they would build a car that had the best of worlds. Like old cars, it would be light, easy to work on, and dripping with character. At the same time, I'd like it to have the reliability and environmental friendliness of a modern car. Sort of like a Toyota AE86 Corolla. Only those, too, are now over 20 years old.

What sort of things do you wish hadn't been abandoned as technology moves on?

Next blogger in the chain is Gillian.

And the complete list of participating blogs for this round:
A View From the Waterfront
Curiouser and curiouser
South Asia Biz
The Road Less Travelled
Fireflies in the Cloud
Infinite Vanity
The Secret Government EGGO Project
Mad Scientist Matt's Lair
Even in a Little Thing
Beyond the Great Chimney Production Log
Kappa no He
Tiffany's Smorgasbord
Just a Small town girl
At Home, Writing
Southern Expressions
Writing From Within
Sounds of Serenity in Mayhem

" Cars now seem to grow larger and heavier with each generation."
Well, in South Asia, the only thing that is happening is that cars are getting chepaer. Car companies are making cheaper cars to capture the huge untapped market.
How do you do it? Nice entry, Matt.
I think what I miss most is the simplicity that our lifestyle used to have when we were younger. Not to knock technology, but the more advanced we get, more gadets are introduced that we think we "have to have" and "can't live without".

Families rarely see each other, let alone sit down for a meal together or share quality time -
"family night". Everyone is either sitting in front of their laptops, lost in the sounds of their iPods or video games, etc. And that's when they're not running around for work just to pay for a house that they seldom get to enjoy.

Life that our parents or grandparents experienced might have been physically harder but they were able to enjoy and share quality time with their families "doing" things together.

JMHO :-)

Nice post by the way Matt
I am so glad the chevy spectrum wasn't any heavier than it was! I was always having to pop the clutch on that thing, up hill, while pregnate. :)
One of my new favorite shows is on the Discovery Channel, all these Top Ten Sportscars of all time or Top Ten Jeeps of All Time.

The other day they had a Skyline GTR and showed the guys sitting with their laptop tweaking it and so forth. I kept asking my husband...they can DO That??? They can DO that???

Anyways, I think you should invent that car. Think how famous you'd be, how rich! You could name it a Mad Matt!
I don't know if it's one thing that I wish wasn't left behind. I have an old Ford truck and I know how everything works under the hood. I have a new car than defies someone from outside of the dealer working on it. The newer car is probably more relible, but harder to repair.
I admit I know practically nothing about cars. I watch Pimp My Ride every once in a while on MTV. I like the fact they take someones piece of junk car and give it an upgrade to match the owners interests.

However, I wouldn't be surprised if someone got in wreck after having their car restored by them because they sure know how to put a lot of technological distractions in the car. It's almost like they want you to do everything but drive the car.
I am with Andrea. Know practically nothing about cars. What I do know is the charm of vintage cars is something technology has failed to imbibe. Personality wise, the older generation of automobiles wins the race any day.
Um, Matt, the blogchain list you're using isn't, um, quite accurate. We modified it so that I didn't start the chain...

On to other things...

What Razib isn't telling you is that, in South Asia, there are also trishaws. One wheel for steering, two wheels in the back, a 2 or 4 stroke motorcycle engine, and tin can for body, which is fairly small anyway. The ones in Sri Lanka are about five feet long and three and a half feet wide, although in Thailand they get longer. It's light enough that two people can easily carry it over their heads if needed. Because of the one wheel in the front, it can turn in incredibly tight spaces, which makes it great for bad traffic, which South Asia has in spades.

And actually, you can see a great high-speed trishaw chase scene in Ong-Bak, a Thai movie. The chase scene is hilarious, and the movie's entertaining as all heck anyway. :D
'65 Corvette Stingray. Black exterior, burgandy interior.

'Nuff said.
Some of that was like another language to me.

But yeah, it almost seems like the easier it is to get in touch, the more out of touch we are.
It's so much easier to say "Hey wassup" in an e-mail than write a longer, more detailed letter. So much easier to drop by for a visit in a spiffy new car, than to have to take a horse and carriage or something and have to stay and actually socialize for some days. Although that's probably a good thing! :)
Great post.

We need to give you a real challenge, Matt. Next time we'll put you after some chick-lit writing romance person in the chain.
Laurie: Thanks for catching that. Fixed it now.

Matt D: Maybe I should enter my other blog in the next blogchain if I wanted to really show off shoehorning a theme blog into the chain. :)
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