Double-Edged Sword - Dr. Vern

Clichés aside, technology really is a double-edged sword.

Dr VernWriter

It’s time to fire up the cliché dispenser for this month’s subject: technology. Is it a double-edged sword or a love/hate relationship? Whatever I call it, you’ve probably already heard it before, so please don’t yell “Bingo!”

Clichés aside, technology really is a double-edged sword. This struck me on a recent winter’s day in my chilly garage while dealing with a flaw in one of my latest feats of engineering. When my little gray cells shrugged and gave up over this temperature-related problem, I started missing warm Jeep weather. Momentarily forgetting problem A, the only cure for problem B was to hop in my Jeep, grab the steering wheel, and pretend I was on a trail. That’s all I’m admitting, even though it did sound like somebody in the vicinity was making engine noises.

While navigating one of the gnarliest trails ever found within the confines of a garage, I noticed something sticking out from under the passenger seat. Lo and behold, it was the case holding my maps, but I couldn’t remember when I’d last used them. It had been a while, because technology had relegated my paper maps to an inglorious backup role.

This isn’t about to turn into some maudlin rant about how old-school is better. Au contraire, modern technology wins hands down. Over the years, I had added many tiny symbols and notes on my paper maps in some long-forgotten shorthand. Did those smudged chicken scratches offer a clue about how to find a hidden trail? Or was I reminding myself it was closed?

In contrast, I have virtually unlimited capability to add notes to the topo maps stored on my trusty GPS-equipped smartphone. I can add all the extra details I want, such as “Turn off 50 feet west of bridge” or “Trail leads to scenic overlook above nudist camp.” This reminds me, you can’t take pictures with a paper map, either. That’s one more point for technology.

Yeah, I know, I’ve wandered off track again. Back to that first problem and why I was in the garage that day. It all dates back to a brainstorm I had a couple of years ago. You see, my Jeep resides in a detached garage that is rarely a comfortable temperature. Come winter, the place can be bone-chillingly cold. In the summer, because the garage could easily double as a sauna, a concerned group of neighbors has asked if I would please not dress as if it was, or failing that, to at least build my privacy fence a few feet higher. In addition, there isn’t much elbow room out there, so I’ve set up my main shop area in the basement of the house. With a carb rebuild, for example, I might spend a little time out in the garage for removal or installation, but I can do the bulk of work in my comfy basement workshop.

Here’s where technology enters the picture, as I have a big air compressor in the garage with lines plumbed all the way to the basement. If allowed to know only one thing about me, please understand that I’m lazy. I can make a sloth seem like a go-getter. On a cold winter’s night, the last thing I’d want to do was go out to the garage to turn on the air compressor. And then I’d usually forget to turn it off, only to awake when it kicked back on during the middle of an otherwise silent night. Without doing an expensive rewiring job between the house and garage (OK, two things -- I’m lazy and cheap), I needed a way to control the compressor from inside the house and have it turn off automatically at night.

Enter the Wi-Fi remote control switch, an amazing invention. Combined with my existing household Wi-Fi and an app on my smartphone, I no longer have to leave the house. I mean to control the compressor, that is. I still leave the house for everyday things like work, shopping, yelling at neighborhood kids, etc. Also, at night the compressor is now set to automatically turn off, so my forgetfulness is never, um, what were we talking about?

Not content with having just a space-age control system, I wanted to keep the air dry, too. The trick is to cool the compressor output for maximum condensation before reaching the water separator. Had I ended my column here, I’d have looked like a hero. Leave on a high note, right?

Let’s just say that if laying out a compressed air system, there’s a slight issue with the various guides showing how to plumb for maximum cooling before reaching the water separator. Those charts are based on a standard ambient temperature. Not the booger-freezing temps found inside my unheated garage during a recent cold snap. The system did its job all too well, and the wet air froze and plugged the line before reaching the water separator.

So there I was with some perplexing plumbing issues (still talking about the pipes in the garage, not me personally), but at least the ongoing debate about technology was finally settled. I shut off the compressor and went back in the warm house. Armed with my smartphone from the future, for the next few days I spent all my free time in an easy chair by the wood stove, surfing Jeep porn until the weather warmed up again and the pipes thawed. Problem solved, all thanks to the wonders of modern technology. Well, that and my laziness….