Monthly Archives: June 2016

Misleading Economics and Reporting

Here’s an example of poor reporting: misleading statements based on mistaken assumptions arising from economic ignorance, that tends to stoke groundless class envy:

http://money.cnn.com/2016/06/16/news/economy/top-1/index.html

Correcting and re-wording statements in the video completely changes the tone:

“The world’s millionaires control 47% of the world’s wealth” –> People can only control wealth they created, so we can say: “The world’s millionaires created more than half the world’s wealth, a fraction of which they control themselves, the rest enjoyed by consumers – or captured by governments as taxes, which ostensibly benefits the people.”

“Millionaires are growing their money at 6.3%, while lower income earners saw their wealth grow 4.3%” –> All income brackets are getting wealthier, which is healthy. Yet this analysis follows income brackets, not individual people or families, who move up and down between brackets, so it doesn’t imply that poor individuals or families are advancing slower than rich individuals or families. Indeed, mathematical variance would cause the brackets to diverge even if individuals were shifting brackets and moving closer together. More detail here:
http://blog.philbirnbaum.com/2014/09/income-inequality-and-fed-report.html

“It is the up-and-comers creating most of this wealth” –> “Economic distinctions are dynamic, not static, which is a healthy sign that anyone with the right combination of ideas, work and luck can become wealthy. And successful people who don’t continue to work work hard lose their wealth and fall back into lower income brackets”.

The Amazing Audeze LCD-2 (rev 2 Fazor)

A couple years ago I bought a pair of Audeze LCD-2 headphones. I’ve listened to many headphones over the years and they are the best headphones I’ve ever heard. This is what I had to say about them.

But, like all things created by mankind, they’re not perfect. Their near-perfect frequency response has a small dip between 2 kHz and 9 kHz. It’s linear and smooth, so subjectively is barely noticeable. Yet it slightly subdues the sound, as if you’re sitting a few rows back from the 1st row.

Since I recently got a digital signal processor, I figured I’d try it out on the headphones. I put a single parametric EQ, +3 dB, centered at 4,600 Hz, 2 octaves wide (slope 3 dB / octave, or Q=0.67), so it has effect between 2,300 and 9,200 Hz. To my ears, this made the LCD-2 absolutely perfect. It’s subtle yet definitely noticeable (I blind tested it on a variety of recordings), and shifts you back to the 1st row of the audience.

I tried +4 dB and it was good, though a bit more than needed. +2 was not quite enough; +3 was perfect. And I tried shifting the frequency up and down a bit, but 4,600 Hz sounded perfect.

From what I can see in specs, this makes the LCD-2 sound closer to the LCD-X, taking it from slightly warm or rounded, to neutral. The LCD-2 still sounds yummy, yet realistic – yet now it’s a touch more detailed. This EQ doesn’t change the character of the sound, it just makes that dip shallower giving a bit more upper midrange and treble detail. It’s about as close to perfect sound as human engineering can achieve in a headphone.

I’ve considered getting the LCD-X but this change nixed that entirely, making the LCD-2F near enough perfection to keep for a long time.

Fixing Intermittent Car Problems

A few months ago Michelle’s car (2004 Subaru Forester), which has been solid & reliable since we bought it new almost 13 years ago, acquired an intermittent problem: it would not start when warm. Cold starts were always good, but after you drive it 5-10 miles, just enough for the engine to warm up, then turn it off, then come back 15-30 mins later, it would not start. The problem was intermittent, happening only about 10-20% of the time. When it did fail to warm start, remove the key from the ignition and try again. It would almost always start the 2nd try. The start failure was: engine would crank like normal, but would not actually start. If you modulate the gas pedal it would start and run smoothly but it wouldn’t idle. No check engine light, and no OBD-II codes were ever thrown – not even when it was refusing to start. When the problem started, the car was about 12 years old with about 78,000 miles. It had always been well maintained – oil changes, air filter, clutch, tranny, brake & diff fluids, belt tension, etc. and was still getting about 20 mpg in around town driving, same as when it was new.

I do all our car maintenance because it’s fun problem solving, I trust myself to take the time and do the job right, and it saves a lot of money. Intermittent problems can be frustrating, but the challenge to fix them can be fun.

Since the problem only affected idle, and was electronic and intermittent, the obvious culprit was the Idle Air Control Valve (IACV). But this is a $350 part, and if it fails the engine is supposed to throw codes – but it wasn’t. There are several far less expensive parts that could be causing the problem, and I’d feel like an idiot replacing a $350 part only to find that the real problem was an $8 set of spark plugs or a $25 sensor.

Here’s what I did, in order… after each step I gave it a week or so to see if it had any effect.

  • Replace the front O2 sensor (the rear ones had been replaced a few years ago).
  • Replace the spark plugs (new ones gapped to spec). The old ones were clean but gap was about 4 times higher than spec. It ran smoother but didn’t fix the problem.
  • Re-teach the ECU idle (disconnect battery, ignition OFF then ON pattern, etc.). This improved the idle but didn’t fix the problem.
  • Clean the IACV – idle air control valve. It was pretty clean to start with, but cleaned it anyway. Also tested its function – OK.
  • Check & clean the crankshaft & camshaft position sensor. Upon removal they were surprisingly clean, but I measured the proper impedance, cleaned & re-installed them anyway.

That last item is what fixed it.

Correction: Dec 2016 – no it didn’t fix it – problem returned!

Since the sensors were operational, I can only surmise that the problem was an intermittent or poor electrical connection to the sensor, that got cleaned when I removed & reinstalled it.

Since the problem came back – next steps on my list below. Since the engine has never thrown a code or lit up check engine light, I wondered if the OBD-II system was even working. When testing the IACV I unplugged it while the engine was running. It immediately threw 4 codes, one for each wire pin. So the OBD-II system and my code reader are both working.

  • Replace the fuel pump relay: sometimes with age, the point contacts get corroded and don’t provide enough power to the fuel pump. When my 15-year old Honda Civic developed a similar problem, this was the root cause.
    • Replaced in Nov – did not fix the problem.
  • Main relay: probably not the problem; everything else on the car works fine – radio, headlights, etc.
  • Clean throttle body: no. A dirty throttle body would cause problems all the time.
  • Clean/replace the MAF: this engine – 2004 2.5 liter Subaru flat 4 – has no MAF.
    • It has a TPS – throttle position sensor
      • Inspected OK – operates smoothly and measures 190 Ohm – 5 kOhm
    • It has a MAP – manifold pressure/vacuum sensor

Update: Jan 2017

Finally, I decided to do what the original symptoms suggested: replace the IACV. By this time I had replaced every other cheaper part that could be causing the problem, to no avail. I found an IACV on Amazon for $250, which is still ridiculous but about $100 cheaper than the local parts place wanted, has a warranty, and is probably the exact same part from the same manufacturer. Took all of 10 minutes to install it, and the difference was instantaneous and obvious. First start-up, engine spun up to 2,700 RPM (which is unusual but this is a brand-new sensor the computer is learning how to control) then slowly ramped down to a normal idle speed. Next morning’s cold start (ambient temp 31* F) engine fired right up, spun initially to 1,700 RPM then slowly ramped down to 750 as it warmed up.

Ah, give me the good old days when an engine’s idle was adjusted by cracking the throttle open a smidge with a simple set screw. There’s a reason airplane engines don’t use all these electronic controls.