atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#1135: Brocktoon

Tom Hanks has had an enviable career in Hollywood, and as one of today's biggest names I have to wonder about his efforts to prevent an actors' strike.

As for me, I think there should be some kind of strike in Hollywood for about three months out of every year. Maybe more. Bad for them; good for the rest of us.

But Tom Hanks is a big name so I don't know that he really remembers what it's like to be a nobody who's struggling to make it.

I would wager that Tom Hanks' first TV appearance was on an episode of Happy Days. He played a guy who was a karate expert, who--for some reason--was going to fight the Fonz. OMGWTFBBQ, here's someone who might actually be able to beat up the Fonz!

It was Tom Hanks in a gi, jumping around waving his arms in obviously fake karate moves, making pseudo-karate noises like in the movies. It was almost perfectly ridiculous, which was precision-machined for a 1970s sitcom.

If I were Hanks' agent, I would keep that scene on a videotape or DVD in my office to remind myself--and him--that humility is never a bad thing.

Okay, so why "Brocktoon"? Read the transcript. I only saw this sketch once, but it was very memorable, not the least of which because there are people out there like that.

* * *

Life on the fringes of U.S. suburbia becomes untenable with rising gas costs, asserts the headline of this article.

Not if you don't drive a gas-guzzling tank.

The article starts out by discussing the troubles of one Phil Boyle. "Boyle and his wife must drive nearly an hour to their jobs in the high-tech corridor of southern Denver. With gasoline at more than $4 a gallon, Boyle recently paid $121 to fill his pickup truck with diesel."

Let's see. Diesel is running about $0.30 more or so per gallon than gasoline. Let's figure he paid $4.50 per gallon. That means he dumped about 27 gallons of fuel into his truck.

Okay? Pickup truck. Not "car", not even "SUV". Truck.

The guy works in the "high-tech corridor of southern Denver" so why the hell does he need a pickup truck to commute to work?

Take a look at which pickup trucks use diesel. (Hint: it is not the small ones.) It is the big, heavy trucks that are made for hauling stuff and towing big trailers. They're emphatically not fuel-efficient, regardless of what you use them for.

The article does not explain why Mr. Boyle has a huge gas-guzzling truck. It might be that he has a hobby which requires it, such as boating or something.

...but he's living in a yuppie mansion ("McMansion") and other houses in the article are quoted at around $400,000; if you can afford to live in a $400,000 house, can't you afford to go find a used econobox and drive that?

Regardless of circumstances I don't really feel all that sorry for this guy. It's another case of, "Gas is cheap so I'll buy a big-ass truck!" ...and then they're upset when gas gets expensive.

* * *

Diesel got a bad rap in America, I'm sad to say. It's really a pity, because diesel engines provide the kind of torque that Americans want. We tend to like tractor motors in our cars.

Eh? "Torque is acceleration; horsepower is speed." "Horsepower sells cars, but torque wins races." Etc. Diesel engines are torque monsters, and Americans want acceleration most of all. Think of all the "fast" cars that people love, and you'll be thinking of muscle cars: cars with big and/or powerful engines. Engines which produce stump-pulling torque and which enable the cars to accelerate very fast.

Nobody thinks of a car which handles very well as a "fast" car unless it accelerates fast as well. I can take the turn from Exchange to Crete road at 35 MPH in my Escort without squealing the tires, but my Escort is not a "fast" car; oh no, because it goes 0-60 in 9.5 seconds.

Diesel engines become more efficient as you increase the pressure at the intake. Most diesel engines are turbocharged because of this; and up to a point a diesel engine will take whatever you throw at it. With a gasoline engine you have to be careful about boost, less predetonation blow your engine to bits; but with diesel, the only thing you have to worry about is your exhaust gas temperature going high enough to melt the turbo. Avoid that, and you're golden.

Diesel engines--having high compression ratios and long strokes--make torque a lot better than they make horsepower. And they last.

Dodge: We want to put a Cummins diesel engine in our truck, and we want to offer a 100,000 mile warranty on it.
Cummins: (chuckle) That short?

Noisier than gas? Yeah. Stinky? A bit. But Volkswagen was getting 50 MPG with diesel engines in the freaking 1970s, and they're doing about as well today as they were then--and the cars accelerate faster and run cleaner than they did 30 years ago to boot.

The only real disadvantage that diesel has over gasoline is cold weather starting. Diesel tends to thicken at low temperatures, and when the engine is cold it's harder for compression to heat the air in the cylinder to ignition temperatures. None of this is insolvable, and there are plenty of ways around the problem anyway.

The higher price of diesel, these days, reflects two issues. First off, diesel contains more chemical energy than gasoline does. Second, diesel now must be "low sulfur". The latter means more processing at the refinery.

But it's still a no-brainer. If a diesel car gets 44 MPG and its gas equivalent gets 36, the diesel wins hands down. To go 44 miles in the gasoline car, you buy 1.2 gallons of gas; at $4 per gallon, that's $4.88. To go 44 miles in the diesel car, it's one gallon; at $4.50 per gallon, you've just saved $0.38.

Eh? To go only 36 miles, the gas car costs $4. The diesel car costs $3.68. You've saved $0.32.

Over the life of the car--particularly if fuel prices stay high--you end up saving money every step of the way. And diesels require no more maintenance than gasoline cars do. In fact, they require less, because there are no spark plugs, wires, or coils to worry about. Change the oil regularly, change the fuel filter regularly, and you're fine.

* * *

BTW, I'm talking about proper diesel engines here, not GM's miserable junk-ass crap "let's just convert a gas engine to a diesel engine! They're the same, right?" bean-counter bullshit V8 diesels of the late 1970s. That wasn't engineering; that was accountants thinking they were engineers.

If you take an engine block designed for gasoline, and subject it to the stresses of diesel combustion, it's going to fail. The metallurgy is wrong, for one thing; the design of the cylinder bores and the internal webbing and all the other myriad factors are just flat-out wrong, and I would wager there were plenty of engineers at GM who said, "Okay, this is stupid, this is not going to work, but since I like having a job, I guess I'd better go ahead and do my best with this shit."

Not that GM cared; at the time, it was purposely designing cars to fall apart. They did it on purpose. "Planned obsolescence" was the buzzword. I had one of those cars--a 1977 Chevy Impala with a 4.3 V8 and the horrible Metric 200 transmission. The engine was perfect; but the transmission went on the damn thing while I owned it, requiring a $500 rebuild. I sold it to my then-girlfriend, and about a year later the trans started going out again. If I had that car now, I'd yank out that shit transmission and put in a TH-350, or maybe get an overdrive transmission.

...then came the Japanese. For all the damage they inflicted on the American auto industry, they really did us a favor. Otherwise God alone knows what kind of shit we'd have to drive.

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