VW Passat coil packs: How not to get return customers

I was driving my 2003 Passat home from the office on Tuesday when something weird happened: the car started idling very rough at a stoplight. I haven’t had a car run that rough since the days when I was driving my 1977 MGB. I thought that perhaps I needed to get a tuneup. I did what I used to do on the MG: put the car in neutral and bring the engine speed up. That calmed the idle a little bit, but when I started driving it past the light the problem came back. Then the check engine light came on. And started flashing.

At that point, I should have pulled over and turned off the car, but I was less than a mile from home so I nursed it there and parked it. Then restrained myself from kicking the car.

The rough running turned out to be caused by misfires in two of my four cylinders; when I got the car home I was only running on two cylinders. I was without the car for two days while the dealer replaced two ignition coil packs that had failed and reprogrammed the car’s computer. To my relief the bill wasn’t exorbitant, but it makes me wonder whether the other two coils are due to go too.

The capper is that I happened to look up Volkswagen Passat in Wikipedia, and found this lovely piece of text for the Mark 5 version:

A common problem that arose along with the introduction of the 2001.5 “B5.5” models was a common failure of ignition coil packs. This problem applied only to owners with the 4 cylinder 1.8T engine, whose coil packs are marked with the part number “06B 905 115H”. The solution is a simple swap of the coil pack for a newer version, a minor repair in both time and cost.

The article even cites a very detailed page on MyLemon.com about the problem, which apparently mostly affects late 2002 and early 2003 models. My car was one of the first 2003s.

So the question is: why hasn’t Volkswagen issued a recall of these cars?

Happy New Year

I have a bellyful of lentils and zampone, and I’m watching Virginia in the Gator Bowl. So far, a pretty good start to 2008. It’s snowing again, of course, but you can’t have everything.

I downloaded Dave Winer’s new FlickrFan yesterday, which is worth a look if you are a Mac user—a quick and easy way to put other people’s photos on your screensaver, and as Dave says particularly good for putting content on your HD TV. I don’t currently have a Mac hooked up to our 32″ LCD, so right now it’s driving my screensaver. I think the biggest stroke of genius in the thing is the default inclusion of the AP Photos RSS feed—absolutely brilliant to see totally world class photos of events almost as they happen.

Merry Christmas, several days late

When you think your coolest Christmas gift is an 11″ AllClad skillet, it can safely be said that you are a culinary geek. Especially when you then make up an excuse to use it in the preparation of the Christmas dinner.

Since I got the iPhone around the time of my birthday, my Christmas gifts were pretty moderate, though I was very grateful for my gifts: the skillet, a new pair of slippers (badly needed), and a set of brass collar stays (a gift I didn’t know I needed until I started doing a lot of traveling and our otherwise superb dry cleaner systematically ate all my plastic ones). We’ve had a quiet day just decompressing; tomorrow, with a visit to my family in Pennsylvania, it should be a lot less quiet (and a lot more driving).


No, not the actual candidates; more the realization that today I am of the age where nothing could stop me if I were to decide to run for the highest office in the land.

No, not American Idol judge.

A nice day—got a fair amount of house cleaning done. Amazing how being a little domestic feels really good from time to time. Also had Niall and his fiancée Julia over along with our next-door neighbors Ross and Heide, which was fun.

The big news, of course, is that I’m now within striking distance of getting an iPhone. And at this point I have to be honest: I’m more excited about getting rid of the old Sony Ericsson right now, which is a total boat anchor.

Post-turkey haze

I’d love to be able to blame a caloric coma on my posting drought, but of course that would only explain yesterday and today, and not Tuesday or Wednesday. What can I say: work, like sand, piles up against the breakwater of a vacation as though it is determined to fit the same volume of labor in half the time.

We have had a nice holiday with Lisa’s folks. The meal (turkey a la Alton with brown gravy, sausage and apple stuffing, mashed potatoes, Swiss chard smothered with onion and bacon, green beans with a little olive oil and sea salt, and the requisite cranberry sauce) is by now approaching familiarity, which is by no means bad. For instance: this year the stuffing wasn’t bone dry!

So, what am I thankful for? Many things which I will not list in this space, and some I will:

  • That our forebears had the first Thanksgiving feast in the new world 388 years ago, in Virginia (take that, Plymouth!)
  • That a more perfect cell phone has been created, even if I don’t own one yet
  • That the Democrats control Congress, and, even if they can’t scrape up enough political courage among themselves to pass gas without fear of the President, that at least they are better than the clowns who were in there before, and that none of them have been indicted yet
  • That I’m slowly learning not to eat everything on the table at Thanksgiving

There are more things, but that will do for now.

I can always tell when fall arrives…

…because the Black Dog starts sniffing around the door.

So far, it’s not much more than a sniff. But here I am in New York, ready to go on stage at Carnegie Hall for the first time in my life, and I’m feeling a little blah about it. Well, terrified would be more accurate—not about going on stage, but about leaving the hotel room.

The good news is that after all this time I can recognize my apparent agoraphobia for what it is—mild depression waiting until I drop my guard to spin up into a full fugue. And I think that I might be able to keep it at bay tonight, for I have a secret weapon. It’s called dinner in New York City, provided I can find some people to go with me.


I had one of those dreams last night, the kind I almost never have: I dreamed about an ex-girlfriend. No, not that kind of dream. I don’t, as a rule, dream of ex-girlfriends; as Lou Reed once sang, “when things/end for me, they end.” But last night I did. In this dream, I was at my office, and headed for the door when she came in. We haven’t seen each other for 13 years, so there was a brief greeting and a comparison of notes.

In the dream, she told me about driving up to Boston from Virginia and about her mansion in DC that had to be subdivided to sell. I told her about work, about the things that I do, about life when I was at Microsoft.

In the end, I told her it had been nice to see her and she agreed. Then she said, “Let me know when you’re hiring.” I was puzzled—software isn’t her field. She continued, “You are so passionate about your work, you care so much, that I can’t help but want to work here.”

Then I woke up.

But honestly, the dream couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s been very mixed at work, a lot of challenges and trials, but also some exciting things just around the corner. And sometimes in the thick of things it’s hard to remember that I’m doing what I love to do. I think I needed to hear an affirmation, and dream ex provided it. Thanks, dream ex!


Let me count the ways:

  1. Trying to track down the authors of a Microsoft code sample which essentially disappeared when Microsoft pulled down the GotDotNet community site.
  2. Being gobsmacked by this article about “Conception Day” in Russia—a state holiday set aside to reverse the population decline, for exactly the purpose that you might imagine. Gotta be a hoax…
  3. Watching the WSJ try to find new angles to cover in Wikipedia. The real fun is in the discussions, huh? Wait until they start covering watched articles and user pages…
  4. Trying hard not to laugh at the description of Giuliani journalistic chronicler Wayne Barrett as “a sort of dark Boswell to Rudy’s
    …in a note about Giuliani’s philandering.



I posted a whole bunch of photos to Flickr last night from this weekend’s trip to Richmond to see Esta graduate. Many many things at which to marvel, including a sea of academic regalia, some pretty great party faces, Richmond’s very own Art Deco movie theatre and SR-71 reconnaissance plane, and others.

I also posted some foliage shots. The iris bulbs that my dad sent me from my grandmother’s garden in North Carolina finally produced flowers this year, and they are extraordinary. I spent much of the morning and afternoon yesterday putting down mulch in our flower beds and it was nice to be out in nature again. It was also nice to contemplate a reduction in weeds. We’ve stayed away from mulch after our experiences in Kirkland, where the weeds seemed to be able to grow in anything thanks to all the rain, but last summer’s barrage of uninvited guests convinced me to give the mechanical strategy of protecting the soil another try.

Holiday meme

Yep. When there’s no room in the brain for anything else, try a meme. As seen on Isis:

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate?

The nog, but only if I make it. True story: we used to do team Christmas parties in my first job, and we were all supposed to bring refreshments. I brought eggnog, and not knowing any better decided I was going to bring real eggnog. This one had a fifth of whiskey in it, and the whole team was pretty darned unproductive the rest of the afternoon.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?

Actually, Santa wraps presents then sets them under the tree. Yes, Virginia, Santa Claus is a grammar Nazi.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?

Growing up I was always a white lights on tree, no lights on house kid. These days it’s colored lights on the tree and while we haven’t done any exterior decorations, one of these years…

4. Do you hang mistletoe?

Never did. I was always a weird, no touch kid and never wanted that stuff. Now, I may have to find a way to sneak some into the house.

5. When do you put your decorations up?

Late. This year, very late. I might get a tree up by Christmas.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?

The quail risotto that I made a few Christmases ago in Pennsylvania with quail my Uncle shot. Including plucking the shot out of the quail as I prepared it.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child?

Christmas Eve services in my home church. There would always be an organ recital at 10:30 pm and our organist was into moody minor key modern arrangements. I can’t remember the composer who did the Greensleeves arrangement that we heard year after year but it’s stuck with me.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?

I don’t remember but my Mom probably does. Maybe I just figured it out.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?

I’ve always kept away from spoiling the surprise, but my wife’s family believes in opening presents early.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?

Tree is artificial and pre-lighted, so sets of balls and ornaments that match are first—balancing the colors around the tree. Then heirloom ornaments. Finally the star, which I optimistically bought one year out of college and have been storing and using ever since, which has been challenging considering it’s blown glass.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it?

Both. Love it when it’s falling and it’s cold, dread it when it’s four months old and everywhere.

12. Can you ice skate?

Yes, but I haven’t tried in years.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?

Maybe my first iPod, in 2001 when I was a grad student and we were living on a fixed income. It was a gift from Lisa.

14. What’s the most important thing about the holidays for you?

Thoughtful and watchful anticipation of the coming of Christ and meditating on the meaning of forgiveness. Followed closely by not killing people at shopping malls.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?

My mom’s chocolate covered candied orange peel.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?

Tie: Being together with my parents and sister on Christmas Day, and my wife’s traditional Christmas Eve dinner of seven (or at least multiple) fishes.

17. What tops your tree?

See answer to #10.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving?

When I’m feeling depressed and self effacing, giving. When I’m feeling strong and honest, receiving.

19. What is your favorite Christmas song?

Right now, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

20. Candy canes?

Oh yeah, preferably with a good book.

21. Favorite Christmas movie?

A Charlie Brown Christmas. Though I still get hysterical giggles when I think about the scene in the mid-90s Charlie Brown Christmas special when Peppermint Patty falls off the curb, and Marcie asks, “Slouching toward Bethlehem, sir?”

22. What do you leave for Santa?

Whiskey. Or holiday ale.

Tagging: Zalm, Small Cafe.

A holiday hint

ThinkChristian.net: Protest or Celebrate?. A nicely done tweak at those who protest the lack of publicly endorsed Nativity scenes and insist “It’s Christmas, dammit” when you wish them Happy Holidays, in the form of a letter from the Big Guy himself:

How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don’t care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth just, GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Now, having said that let Me go on.

If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn’t allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small Nativity scene on your own front lawn. If all My followers did that there wouldn’t be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.

Also see this post on Universal Hub about the aforementioned anti-Happy Holidays crazies.

It was 17 years ago today (er, yesterday)…

At perhaps my strangest birthday, in 1989, I had friends and family together at my house. One friend (who I’ve lost touch with—where are you, Jenny Choi?) bought me a copy of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses—hot on the controversy tip, and just prior to the fatwa. My family got me a copy of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—the first time I had heard most of that album.

And a couple of my friends decided to get me a belly dancer. Yep, at my house. I was so mortified I didn’t even know where to look—which was, perhaps, the point. I still don’t know whether to thank Jim and Andrew or throttle them.

And what’s most astonishing to me is that that particular memory is almost old enough to be drafted. Half a life ago.