Sunday, November 16, 2003

Following Up: A couple of follow ups to previous posts.

First, it's clear the folks at USA Today are loyal readers of a dam site as evidenced by this article verifying my comments about the inanity of the check engine light and subsequent discoveries, and my general disapprobation of auto industry for its obsession with high tech gadgetry:
Thanks to the latest electronics, cars can tell you the pressure in each tire, display stock quotes or give directions to the nearest Italian restaurant. But the complex computer systems required to do all that have broken down on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of luxury vehicles, wreaking havoc on the lives of their owners.

And most tellingly:

"Engine lights come on so easily, and many times they can only be reset by a dealer even if there is nothing wrong," says Dave Hurt, president of Certified Car Care, a company that sells extended warranties. "Diagnosis of problems is a lot more complicated these days because of the amount of electronics in a car."


Emission control systems that have been setting off "check engine" dashboard lights since the 1996 model year now have about 700 possible trouble codes. A problem as simple as a loose gas cap can prompt a warning light.

A dead battery can wipe out the trouble codes, making it impossible to perform state-ordered emissions testing on a car. The owner may have to drive the car for a few days to replenish the codes, then return for the test.

The principle lesson here (not worth pursuing at the moment) is that mechanical design skills and technological design skills are two completely different animals and high tech is not synonymous with design quality.

Second, from the realm of the surreal, last time out I linked to a story about a panic in Khartoum over fears of foreigners who could shrivel a fellow's manlihood (the previous linkapalooza, second from the end). Well it turns out – and this is the surreal part -- there is a syndrome for that. It's called Genital Retraction Syndrome (colloquially: shrinkage). I am anxiously awaiting on a 20/20 expose and a cautionary thriller from Michael Crichton. Select quotes:

The individual afflicted with genital retraction syndrome believes that his or her genitals (or in the case of women, breasts and/or genitals) are retracting into the body. Such a belief would be frightening enough, but local tradition adds the warning that such an occurrence is usually fatal. The majority of persons with GRS are male; cases are reported to occur in women, at least in the Malaysian version, but are much more rare. A typical episode will occur when a man goes to urinate in the cold or while emotionally upset (often due to guilt over masturbation or frequenting prostitutes, while concerned about his sexual performance, or after a fight with his wife) and observes that his penis is becoming smaller, a condition known medically as hyperinvolution. Remembering the dangers of a shrinking penis, the man grabs his genitals before they can retract into his body, and calls for help. If no one is around to help hold onto his penis, the individual may use mechanical devices to keep the penis from retracting, including cords, chopsticks, clamps, or small weights. Episodes of GRS may strike the same indvidual repeatedly, and epidemics of GRS have been noted, most famously the great koro epidemic in Singapore in 1967.

Who can forget the great koro epidemic of '67? The mind reels. Here's the full monty, such as it is. Fear not, there are no pictures.