Saturday, November 18, 2006

Science Fiction

Allowing a bit of tom-foolery on the Transporter list on Fridays has become something of a tradition, even though the list(s) have only been around a couple of years. Traditions happen fast in America :-) Reading the recent pro’s and con’s of fuel injection versus carburetion triggered a flashback. The war was over, the town suddenly flooded with veterans. My dad and I went to the barbershop, which happened to be attached to a garage on one side and a gas station on the other. It was a popular hangout for returning veterans.

The flashback involved an argument between some of the vets at the barber shop about the superiority of American weapons versus German weapons, especially aircraft and their engines. The fact the Daimler-Benz engine in the Messerschmitt Me-109 -- and other German aircraft -- used fuel injection was cited by one of the men as a principle reason for our victory -- carburetors were better than the ‘new-fangled stuff’. The conversation didn’t stop there. It touched on the merits of self-starters on cars, elevators versus stairs and a host of other topics, all stressing the superiority of well-proven, old-fashioned technology over the hazards of all this new-fangled stuff. My dad didn’t join in the discussion other than to nod now and then.

Walking home with my dad I asked if that’s why we won the war --because the German’s used fuel-injected aircraft engines. He laughed and told me that wasn’t really what they were talking about. The German engine was at least as good as the Allison or Rolls-Royce. That astounded me. It sounded vaguely disloyal but I knew him to be a wizard mechanic -- if he said a thing was so, you could take it to the bank.

What they were talking about, he said, was wanting to come home and find everything the same. But everything had changed. It was the changes that made them talk like that.

I didn’t understand. Later in life I came to understand a good deal about engines. But my dad was talking about people, a subject I’ve yet to master.

Change is a constant. For the young, without a frame of reference, change is the normal state and is readily accepted as such -- whatever is new is inherently better than whatever is old -- new things and new ideas, at least new to youth, are quickly adopted by the young as their reality. But after we’ve lived for a time -- once we’ve established a frame of reference -- we begin to see that many changes are not new things but merely old things wearing a new coat of paint -- someone keeps stirring the pot, the same old. potatoes come to the top and sink again. Old potatoes are always ‘New!’ or ‘Improved!’ according to the people who sell them, and eagerly gobbled up by the kiddies because of it.

In time, we come to realize another constant in our lives is people trying to sell us old potatoes. Discovering we’ve been duped often leaves us bitter. When we reach that point we begin to view new things -- and all forms of change -- with suspicion. We cleave to what we know. What was shining and new and instantly embraced in our youth becomes the good, old-fashioned stuff of middle-age. It is our security blanket, a bulletproof vest against the missiles of a changing world. It is also the seed from which grows the tree of ignorance.

The wiser course is to test new things against our store of experience, adopting what is good, discarding what is bad but always with tolerance. Some bad things will always be wildly popular among our youth simply because they lack the frame of reference defining those particular evils. Merely telling them something is bad does little good -- it lumps us with the sellers of old potatoes. There are some lessons each generation must learn on their own, a Rite of Passage between childish play and adult responsibility. Each generation must eat its share of old potatoes.

So what does all this have to do with fuel injection? Not a lot. But it has much to do with Fridays and this list and keeping our wits about us as we edge along the cliff of life.


By their nature, carburetors are a compromise, providing the optimum fuel/air ratio across only a narrow range of air-flow and manifold pressure. Attempts to resolve this problem lead to carburetors of blinding mechanical complexity.

From an engineering standpoint, when it comes to internal combustion, gasoline fueled engines, the ideal is one carburetor per cylinder. Fuel injection advances you toward that goal. Fuel injection utilizing electronic controls capable of sensing the engine’s state and feeding-back that data to the fuel-injection controller comes very close satisfying the requirements for optimum engine efficiency and performance.

As for the Science Fiction part of the title, that’s just an old potato I threw into the pot :-)

-Bob Hoover

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