Yvonne Carts-Powell

I want to be Micah (or: "Hacking the Prius")

In science fiction on November 30, 2008 at 11:54 pm

I own a 2001 Prius.

Stop that. Don’t judge me.

As I said, I own a seven-year old car that integrates a whole lot of electronics, a network, and some technology that was close to the cutting edge, when it was manufactured.

Soothing the ruffled chrome-plated feathers of my Prius.

The car has served me faithfully and well for the years I’ve owned it, although we’ve had our ups and downs, like any relationship. But it is showing its age, getting somewhat cranky, occasionally dripping fluids, and developing quirks. That’s fair enough, since I am doing much the same things as I age. Nevertheless, my job is writing, and it’s job is transporting me, and when one of us falls down on the job, it’s time to get help.

The check engine light went on and we had exhausted our usual resources for turning it off.*

This is where I’d love to be Micah, and just sit down and have a non-technology-mediated heart-to-heart: “Prius, baby, what’s bothering you?” Now, admitted I spent some happy hours in my childhood sitting inside the engine compartment of an International Harvester truck, but these days talking to a car is more of an IT issue than a mechanical one.

Luckily, I have a friend, Hobbit, who is a Prius hacker extraordinaire. This is sort of like having the world’s best marriage counsellor as a family friend, when your marriage begins to go south. Which is sort of what this “engine light” issue felt like. He stopped by, and we spent a portion of the day playing with the Prius, musing over the vibrations from different pumps under the hood, checking liquid levels and deciding not to look down the carb (since we’ve done that before and besides, it was sleeting), reading diagnostic codes, re-charging the starter battery when I ran it down (Hobbit jumped the battery from a UPS. How cool is that?), and generally soothing it’s ruffled chrome-plated feathers.

Crossing my fingers and hoping that the relationship stays copacetic through the stressful holiday season.

* The Watertown MA Toyota dealership mechanic swore ignorance. Not of the problem, no. The dealership mechanic claimed he didn’t know how to turn off the “check engine” light. (In case you know nothing about cars, this is exceedingly bogus. Turning off the light is a one-click operation from a machine that you can buy for $50 at an autoparts store.) Yeah, we won’t be visiting that dealership again.


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