Wednesday, August 2, 2017


Last night, I happened to read Les Murray's poem "Upright Clear Across", about floods that would cover the Pacific Highway when he was a boy. The children would earn pocket money guiding motorists across causeways then flooded:
Every landing brought us ten bobs and silver
and a facing lot with a bag on their motor
wanting us to prove again what we
had just proved, that the causeway was still there.
Today, I heard from a co-worker of difficulties during her recent vacation at the shore. They began when her sister's car was flooded during heavy rains a couple of weeks ago. The local mechanic told them that the insurance company would write the car off as a total loss, for the electronics in modern cars don't tolerate flooding. He mentioned among the possible consequences the sudden deployment of an air bag. And in fact, the insurance company did write off the sister's car. Insurance companies will presumably have to write off some rental cars as well, for the car the sister rented to go home in sloshed on starting and stopping. The sisters returned it, and returned in a tightly packed car.

I  am grateful for many of the electronics in modern cars. I would not care to go back to the days before there were air bags. But cars did once stand more abuse. Every summer in Denver, thunderstorms would flood I-25, otherwise the Valley Highway, and some cars would get water on their spark plugs and stall. They started well enough when the plugs were dried off, or so I remember it. And evidently the cars Murray wrote off tolerated a bit of water, maybe with some salt in it.


  1. Progress isn't always progress, is it?

    1. It comes with drawbacks. Yet on the whole I'd rather have a modern car with reliable airbags, and just try to park it out of the way of floods.

  2. Someone in Hungary was describing her father's Trabant, in which she learned to drive. She said it was slow & uncomfortable but, unlike modern cars, which rely so much on electronics & programming, it was very reliable & on the rare occasions when it did break down there was no part of it that even an uninstructed idiot, provided they had strong enough hands to turn a spanner, could not work out how to mend.

    1. I think that in fact modern cars are more reliable than one thinks, and that the old ones were less reliable than one remembers. In the computer business, the speak of field-replaceable units (FRUs); with cars as with computers, the FRU may get larger--from the tube or chip to the board--and then vanish. But over what is approaching forty-five years of experience with computers, on and off, I have to say that they are much more reliable now, even if I'm not prepared to swap boards or crimp cables.

      The International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, had a Trabant parade a while ago--last fall or the fall before.