I’ve driven many Toyotas and Volvos for extended mileage without changing an ignition coil, but for some reason my ’04 Porsche Cayenne has a real taste for them.  Perhaps it began when the first one failed.  I thought it was the driveshaft because the vibration in the car was so extreme.  So of course I fixed the driveshaft.  That didn’t help Ruby’s drivability.

Eventually the check engine light came on and informed me that cylinder #7 was misfiring.  A single coil cost about 80 USD plus shipping, and I found that I could buy a set of eight on Amazon.ca for 260 CDN.  A vendor on Vancouver Island sent them along in short order.  I replaced the #7 coil and Ruby was whole again.

For well over a year the remaining coils sat in the shop in their package until Ruby started to miss a little.  I bought a set of spark plugs and resolved to do a tune up.  It turned out that #7 is the easiest coil to change on the whole car.

The other bank of cylinders has less room to work.  #2 is the worst because of an engine mount which forms a sort of flying buttress from the right fender to keep the engine from twisting under load.  The coil fits inside the H-shaped mount, and the electrical lead must thread through it.  A critical ground wire anchors to this cast aluminum device, as well.

After her tune-up, Ruby ran very well.  Then came little hesitations when accelerating from 1600 rpm to 2000.  These occurred primarily in heavy traffic, so I learned to use the fingertip shifting paddles to drop a gear and use the higher revolutions to get over the rough spot on the engine’s torque band.

The big annoyance about a misfiring coil is that it is maddeningly difficult to tell which one of the eight is the problem, because a coil appears only to misfire after it is hot, and only when accelerating after a slight slowdown, and the check engine light only comes on if there is a 2% or higher interruption in the firing process.   The oxygen sensor is much more alert than the CEL, though, and leans out the fuel rail on that side of the engine almost instantly to protect itself from an overly-rich mixture.  So a single miss creates an engine firing on only four cylinders.

Last April the problem had gradually grown worse until I had trained myself to downshift in anticipation of the misses.  Then finally, blessedly, the CEL came on in city traffic.  I pulled into a service station parking lot, clapped on the tester, determined that the code was P0302, and scooted home to fix it.  Two hours later, Ruby was fine.

Then the miss returned.  I pleaded for advice online, but received only a blanket condemnation of Asian aftermarket coils from the moderator.

But then came one of those family emergencies where schedules required that I tow a borrowed covered trailer loaded with a sofa twenty miles down the highway.  The increased wind resistance was all it took to cause Ruby’s CEL to pop another Code P0302.  That was the  newest coil in the car, the one I had “just” replaced.  Once I had the information, the repair was simple and Ruby’s drivability was restored.

A Cayenne S is a marvellous car to drive when firing properly.

My take-away from Ruby’s coil troubles so far?

1.  Buy the best coils, whether or not you can afford them.  This is no place for cost-cutting.

2.  When in doubt, replace the coil you put in  most recently.

3.  Check the tightness of the spark plug when the coil is out.  Six months ago the plug had worked itself loose even though I had carefully torqued it.  This time it was fine.


C & W Roofing have been at work for several days on the roof of the front wing of the house on our farm in Young’s Hill.  It has been a massive job arranging the ladders to gain access to the roof surfaces, let alone removing the shingles.

It turns out that the sheeting is intact under the layers of shingles, some of which were badly eroded by the concentrated exposure to the sun of a very steep, southwest-facing roof surface.  The front dormer is extremely steep, and the south side of it hides behind a chimney rebuilt in the seventies. The fireplace under the old chimney drew well, but zig-zagged its way up over forty feet to clear the roof line.  The furnace also had a flue.  There’s no way to clean one of those chimneys.  Eventually the soot erupted and after a hairy evening Dad decided it had to come down.  The replacement bricks started to deteriorate soon after the new chimney was completed, and the thing had been abandoned for years.

The crew worked their way around to the south side of the dormer yesterday morning, and Paul Peters  told me that the chimney was too dangerous to work around, so I offered to take it down with the winch.  That sounded o.k. to the crew.  Paul asked for a couple of planks to put against the back side so that the cable’s pull would be distributed over the entire height, rather than risking cutting through the chimney and having the top half fall over on the roof.

It was quite a job lifting two scaffold planks up there and standing them up against the chimney, then pulling the winch cable up, but there were lots of hands.  That makes a big difference on a project like this one.  Derek Simpson shot a video of the pull, but it’s only accessible to his Facebook friends at the moment.
Anyway, I had the tractor at idle as we tightened the cable, but the tall brick monolith didn’t move.  I speeded up the engine, another hard pull on the clutch rope, and then the whole thing let go, twisted slightly on its axis in response to the hook’s eventual placement at the southeast edge of the chimney, and plummeted like a ton of bricks. It landed precisely where I had planned, with not a brick out of place.  Most of the rotten masonry turned to dust on arrival.
Crew members gradually emerged from cover.  Everyone was truly impressed by the smash.  C&W Roofing owner Rick Warriner and superintendent Greg Cournyea drifted in the driveway just in time to see Derek’s video of the demolition.
I put the winch in gear to extract the cable from the rubble, raised the blade, and put the tractor away.  Job done.
Then Paul went to work from a 40′ ladder with hammer and chisel to cut the remaining stub of masonry down below the new roof line.  This took several hours of awkward work.  The big problem was the heavy flashing around the old chimney, which had been installed above the original steel shingles on the roof.  Two layers of shingles above the steel had ensured that no leaks occurred.
When he was ready I cut four 17 1/2″ boards, 12″ wide and 1″ thick, and he screwed them into place.  The waterproof membrane stuck down over the fresh wood, and the landmark chimney was no more.

Ruby, our 2004 Porsche Cayenne S, requires fairly frequent oil changes to protect her cylinder walls from ring-scraping.  Her previous owner didn’t go over 5,000 km between oil changes, but he drove very limited amounts in downtown Vancouver traffic.  I drive on the highway almost exclusively, so a 10,000 km interval seems more reasonable.  The only time Ruby has used oil was the time I forgot a washer and didn’t torque one of the two drain plugs to the full 37 foot-pounds.  That spilled a litre over 8,000 km.

But the regular oil change requires nine litres of 0W40 Mobil 1 European Auto Formula.  It says so in the engine compartment as well as in the manual.  That’s two jugs of oil, normally priced at a bit over $50.00 each:  double the cost of a normal oil change, just for the oil.

Canadian Tire fortunately has put that particular oil on sale on a regular basis, and my son, Tony and I have been stockpiling it to meet the needs of our various Porsches.

Last Thursday Tony sent a message that CTC had the oil on special again.  Then he tried in Smiths Falls and reported that it was no longer offered.  I checked the Internet.  Nobody seemed to have it except the Division Street store in Kingston.  I called and attempted to order six jugs and pay online.  Yes, they have 22 jugs of product #028-9441-2, but I have to have a Canadian Tire card in order to buy it online.  My moans had no positive effect, so I resolved to drive to the store at first opportunity and make the purchase in the good old-fashioned way, with my bank card.

Sunday morning at 9:00 I was one of the three or four eager souls admitted through the auto parts door.  On the oil wall I found three jugs of euro blend, but they were 4.7 litres rather than 4.4, and the price was a bit north of $51.00.  The clerk at the auto desk spoke politely to me and then made me wait fifteen minutes while she answered a series of telephone calls.  Then she assured me that her store has only three jugs of euro blend and its price is $51.xx, but the Cataraqui store has 22.  She implied that I must be mistaken, and she wrote down the number of the auto parts department at the other store.

A friendly guy answered, listened carefully, then put me on hold while he ran out to check his oil wall.  He did not return.  Fifteen minutes later I ended the call to save on cell expenses, if nothing else.

On my retreat from the Division Street store a sympathetic clerk asked me if she could help.  Then she directed me to the customer service desk where the woman in charge gave me access to the Internet.  I promptly located the ad, gave her the product number, which enabled her to call Penny and send her to the warehouse for the six jugs of oil.

The unrepentant Penny brought them out and I made sure that the correct price went through at the check-out.  I left the store at 10:00 a.m.

What could have been a wild goose chase had been saved by a couple of alert staff at the Division Street CTC.  The lesson from this:  Don’t try to buy anything on sale at CTC if you don’t have at hand the product number in the ad.  Store computers don’t have access to the online ads, and you’ll look like a fool to the Penny’s who also work there.




September 14, 2018

I just ran across a brilliant idea in a comment on Quora.  This guy said that during campus voting his university always included a final choice:  Reopen Nominations!  In the case of a plurality of RON votes, I guess the election was quashed and re-run.

In a world where Proportional Representation has proven to break down quickly and give rise to authoritarian rule, the RON option might be a satisfying way to bring in the appearance of electoral reform.

Field mushroom season

August 27, 2018


Agaricus Campestris or meadow mushroom

These are the mushrooms both my grandmothers taught me to find and bring to their tables, so in spite of my wife’s misgivings I regularly pick and cook them. Today I learned a new rule of mycology, though: don’t hunt from a lawn mower.

I accepted that I had to remove a lot of green chaff from the caps. What threw me a bit was the quantity of sand the gills had collected from a single pass by the Kubota. I guess those brown folds work very like an air cleaner. They not only hold spores. They also do a wonderful job of trap trapping airborne sand.

I told myself that it was the sea salt in the omelette, but my molars were unconvinced. Great aroma, though.

A Quora questioner asked me to tell the story of the weirdest piece of driving on a public road I have ever seen.  There were a number of examples from that summer of 1970, not all of them my own creation, but this is the one I chose to recount.

It was 5:30 in the afternoon on a very hot day in August of 1970. The place was a highway overpass on the 401, the major highway through Ontario. I was working on an asphalt crew just outside Kingston, and as the sun got higher, the drivers grew sillier. The speed limit on the 401 at that time was 70 mph. We knew from experience to watch out for light green license plates from neighbouring Quebec. Ontario Place had opened that summer, so a lot of tourist traffic was making its way up and down the 401.

We had the traffic forced over into the centre lane, five or six trucks lined up ahead of the paver and the three rollers strung back at intervals over a half mile behind it on the right-hand lane.  Three flagmen and a few cones had the job of swinging the oncoming traffic into a single lane on the left.

All of the sudden a lime-green Mustang Mach-1 with a Quebec license plate appeared on the wrong side of the back roller, then slalomed around the other two rollers inside the cones before the driver realized that he was on soft asphalt and he had to get rid of some speed right then! He threw the Mustang sideways, or maybe the brakes weren’t balanced. Anyway, we weren’t quite over the driving lanes below, so those of us who could jumped off and dove under the guard rail.  The Mustang slid sideways until it stopped against the back ledge of the paver with a thump.

Hot asphalt had sprayed everywhere. The car was pretty messy, but drivable, so they took the guy’s insurance details and got him out of there. Traffic was heavy, eh?

There was no saving 100 yards of pavement. The only thing was to bring in loaders, pick it up, and send it back to the plant for re-manufacture.

Glen Lawrence, the company owner, swore that the Division Street Bridge was jinxed. Two previous times that summer he had to pick up the asphalt on that stretch. Once it was jammed electronics on a paver, another time the mix got too cold to roll properly and the inspector rejected it, and then this yob from Quebec slid through it sideways.

I wonder what sort of story the driver told his pals to account for his new car covered with asphalt?

A brief tree-hug

July 8, 2018


Then there’s the little white mulberry in my garden.  It came up as a weed and I drove over it with the mower but somehow the blades missed.  It bent over and avoided them.  I backed up and tried again.  Again I missed.  So I forgot about it and went on cutting weeds around the garden.  The next year it had righted itself and shot up into a little tree, though the trunk bore the scars of incredible abuse.  I mowed around it.  The year after that it offered a few amazingly sweet mauve mulberries to bribe me not to cut it down.  O.K.  Each year it has grown, self-repaired its shape, and produced more of the finest mulberries I have ever tasted.  Now the garden is gone but the tree remains a source of shade and comfort.

 A mulberry tree is God’s way of telling you to slow down and enjoy a hot day.  You get to stand in its shade and eat your fill.
Update:  July 24, 2018
The tree is still bearing away, but I hardly ever get a berry because of the tree’s overwhelming popularity with the local bird population.  At first there were just three cedar waxwings who could tell that these light mauve berries were sweeter than the tart-but- black fruit of the red mulberry trees around the garden.  Then one morning I flushed 13 goldfinches from the tree.  The robins caught on, and since then it has been an all-you-can-eat free-for-all.
I happened upon the tree at daylight this morning and savoured a dozen sweet, succulent fruit.  The early bird, and all that.