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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Dinosaur in the Driveway

(Shift yourself into a new frame of mind!

That’s a clever wordplaying way to introduce the latest post over at Secondhand SCIENCE, all about frameshift mutations.

There’s wordplay over there, too. But also science. Clever, clever science.)

There’s a fine line — or so I’m told — in deciding when your car isn’t worth keeping up or fixing, and buying another one instead.

Mostly, this fine line has nothing to do with the car, and everything to do with money. If you’re a big bank CEO or sultan of some sweaty desert nation, you can buy a new car the first time some random bird turd-bombs your windshield.

(In fairness, I don’t know how many birds live in those desert countries. Maybe there, it’s more of a problem with camels shitting on your whitewalls. That would suck.)

Of course, there’s the other end of the spectrum, where either money’s so tight or you’re just that clingy with your ride that you can not swap cars, under any circumstances. Then you keep the old jalopy limping along with cracked pistons and busted gauges and a door that maybe isn’t attached so much to the frame any more. You spend more on duct tape for the thing than Donald Trump spends on Aqua Net for the chinchilla on his head. “New car” is not a phrase in your vocabulary.

For the rest of us, the answer is somewhere in between. But where, exactly, and how do you know? Do you tally up maintenance and repair costs, and when they equal the purchase price, you cut the cord? Do you wait a certain number of miles, out of respect? Where does the Blue’s Clues Book value come into it, anyway? Is that a thing? I don’t know cars so much.

“Let’s keep this conversation vehicular, sparky. My headlights are up here.”

What I do know is that I’m in the ballpark for a new ride. Not yet the market. But the ballpark. My car’s pushing ten years old, the brakes have worn repeatedly, some electronics have fritzed, certain bits have rusted, and I just had the front shocks replaced.

I mean, sure. That also sounds like the results of my last physical, but we’re not talking about me here. Let’s keep this conversation vehicular, sparky. My headlights are up here.

Worse for me and my particular peccadilloes, though, is the car’s profound out-of-dateness. I’m not a fancy guy, nor looking to drive a penis extension. I don’t need a Mercedes-Bonz or a Koenigswangg or one of those Masturberatis.

(Let’s hope that last one is a convertible. I’m just saying.)

What I do like, though, are gadgets. I’m a programmer; I can’t help it. Anything that connects or plays music or lights up or plays holograms of Obi-Wan Kenobi giving me directions to a sushi place out in the suburbs, I’m in. And my car does a little of that, barely. But so much capability is missing. I mean, do you even Bluetooth, car?

(You do, technically. But only to connect with the phone to pick up calls. If I want to play music from my phone, I’ve got to pair it to another device that shoots the signal to your FM radio, of all the 19th century places. And that other device?

It plugs into your cigarette lighter. Holy embarrassing Edsels, already. The lighter plug is a holdover from, like, the Model T. Get it together, man.)

Automotive engineers — and millennial automotive engineers, sometimes, probably — have had nearly a decade to figure out cool gadgety crap to cram into a car, and I want it all. YouTube on the dashboard console. Fingerprint sensors on the glove box. A gearshift that doubles as a selfie stick. And an automatic ignition starter embedded in a chip planted behind my shoulder blade, like some sort of Jason-Bourne-meets-Helio-Castroneves superhero. Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme.

I’ve got none of that right now. Not even close. I’ve got a fob to unlock the thing, yes. And an in-dash GPS, with directions apparently programmed by blindfolded hyperactive monkeys. And that far-far-too-phallic prong shoved into the cigarette lighter, so I can hear Not Shakespeare and Masaladosa any time I’m driving.

But it’s all pretty cheesy by modern standards. I mean, I’m using a key — an honest-to-god key — to start the engine, like a caveman. There’s no self-driving, self-parking, self-washing or self-respecting feature anywhere. And the stereo has a slot where you’re supposed to insert something called a cee-dee. I don’t even know if I’m saying that right. Is it pronounced “k’d”? What prehistoric nonsense is this?

So the car is old, in the same way your Luddite Aunt Carol is “old” and uncool and thinks Instagram is a fast-delivery system for dessert crackers. But since I only drive the thing — that’s the car, not your Aunt Carol, by the way — maybe twenty miles a week on average, it’s not quite fallen apart enough to warrant replacement.

Oh, it’s close. Another brake rehaul or a misaligned frame might do it. Hell, a flat tire might do it at this point. But the truth is, right now, as we net-speak — there’s nothing wrong with the vehicle. Debilitating out-of-touchness with the new millennium and the internet of things age, notwithstanding. Obviously.

Now I come back to my calculus question of: when to drive it, and when to dump it? As much as I might be ready for a bunch of new gadgets — and the motor, comfortable seats, ample trunk space and impressive safety rating that would of course come along with them — my old pile is still, in a manner of speaking, doing the job. Barely. And it’ll take a fairly significant problem to justify trading the old girl in for a shiny (and wirelessy and multimediay and augmented reality-y) new one.

So I suppose my real question should be:

Who’s got a screwdriver I can borrow to loosen a few important bolts? Or maybe gouge a brake line? I promise I’ll return it, quick.

Just as soon as Obi-Wan tells me how to find your house.

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30 Facts: Alton Brown
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A Hallmark Moment
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Eight Your 5-Hole?
El Classo de Espanol
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Grammar, Charlie-Style
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How I Feel About Hippos
How I Feel About Pinatas
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  09/06/04: Connection

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