Combustion Engines and Reflection


I don’t consider that I am a difficult person to buy presents for. I have several hobbies, I read, I’ll eat pretty much any kind of chocolate.  Still every year before Christmas my Mum usually asks me what I want. I guess she  doesn’t feel confident enough to buy me fabric or wool or anything like that, but it still peeves me a little because for me, part of getting someone a gift is showing that you actually know something about them, that you’ve thought about them. So in response to being asked what I want I usually say “surprise me”. This strategy has led to a lot of awkward present openings where I say “Oh, you got me one of those”, while I try to figure out what it actually is. And then I feel really bad about being ungrateful, because really I should be happy that someone got me a present at all.

This year, I am at the shopping centre a couple of weeks before Christmas with my parents and I get the “what do you want?” question. So instead of my usual “surprise me”, I blurt out instead “you can buy me a model of a combustion engine from the Australian Geographic shop, either that or a telescope, but a telescope is probably too expensive, so get a model of a combustion engine.” Then my Dad went and bought it, before anyone had a chance to change their minds.

Why a model of a combustion engine you ask? Well, I kind of think that if I am going to spend all day driving around sitting nearly on top of one then I should probably know how it works. Which is great, but after putting the model together last week I still don’t really know how a combustion engine works. Plus it doesn’t work. At least I think it doesn’t work. The manual says when you press the start button the engine should run for 5 seconds and when I press the ignition button it makes this grr sound for 5 seconds and that’s it. But maybe that is all its meant to do. However, I think if you are going to include a propeller that sticks on the front, it should at least turn round when the engine is running. Possibly the problem has something to do with timings, there was something about that in the book at the step when I was installing the alternator. Or it could just be that I didn’t oil it. It said at the start that you should oil the bearings, but since there weren’t any parts on the parts list called bearings so I didn’t oil anything. I probably should have done the opposite and oiled everything. I have however learnt much from this experiment, for a start I now know that engines are incredibly complicated and I will celebrate appropriately whenever my car starts. Plus now I have the joy of being able to tinker with it endlessly until it does actually work.

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At the end of my last blog I said I was going to read the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin to find out about his system for self-improvement. Which I have done. It was quite interesting. Essentially what he did was define his key values and then he set up a table with the values down one side, days of the week across the top. At the end of each day he would reflect on his actions and put a mark in his table when he had done something that contradicted one of his values. He would focus on one value each week and try to make sure that week his table remained unmarked against that value. It has a lot of merit, though probably not in the way that I originally thought that it might. For me it’s not the table, or even the fact that he has a clear idea of his values, but the fact that he is spending time every day in reflection. That act of thinking about your day and what you should have done differently would make a difference even if you didn’t have a table or a clear idea of your values. Though I guess both of those wouldn’t hurt, and the table gives you a tool to focus your thinking, because if you just had to make time to reflect you probably wouldn’t. At least I wouldn’t anyway.

2 responses »

  1. That’s a cool model. I like how it’s all blue. I have no understanding of the mechanical principles of an internal combustion engine, but I have a reasonable grasp of the thermodynamic principles (look up ‘otto cycle’ if you are interested) and I figure that will do me.

    • yeah, I’m not sure why it is blue but it does look pretty cool. And all the wires sticking out of it make it look like its going to work

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