Deflategate and your car


Whether you are a football fan or not, you’ve probably heard about the accusations that the New England Patriots under-inflated their footballs to gain an advantage in a cold, rainy AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Dubbed ‘DeflateGate’, the controversy swelled in the leadup to the Super Bowl on February 1st (which the Patriots happened to win).

We won’t delve into every detail of that controversy here (for that, we suggest checking out the Deflategate entry on Wikipedia to start).

Instead, we’ll provide a brief overview and then focus on one particular aspect of Deflategate which relates directly to problems we see here at the shop.

In the NFL, each team is allowed to ‘work in’ the footballs they use on the field. Each team provided 12 footballs for the game. Equipment managers are allowed to rub and scuff the surface of each football for their team so that it is easier to grip. (New football surfaces can be too slick.) The equipment managers are also allowed to inflate the footballs to between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch (PSI – a measure of air pressure). Then, they bring the footballs from the locker room to the field for the game.

During the game, one of the Colts players noticed that one of the Patriots’ footballs seemed underinflated. After league officials measured the pressure in the other Patriots footballs, they noted that most of them were under the 12.5 PSI minimum threshold. The one that the Colts player noticed was underinflated by almost 2 pounds.

Much of the initial media coverage focused on possible wrongdoing by the Patriots.

But here at Lowell’s, we recognized the underinflation as something we see quite often – only with cars.

Whenever the temperature drops, our customers come into the shop because the tire pressure light on their dash came on. They are often worried about leaks.

In most cases, however, they aren’t losing any air. Instead, the air in their tires has cooled, and has lost energy in the process. And with lower energy, the pressure inside the tires drops.

Toyota has a service bulletin (see Figure 1, below) which addresses this very issue. When the temperature in the repair shop is significantly higher than the weather outside, Toyota recommends over-inflating the tires in the shop to get the right tire pressures when you go back outside.

Tire Pressure Chart

On a very cold winter day, for example, we may inflate your tires to 38 PSI inside our warm shop, so that you get the proper 32 PSI when you are driving outside.

If we inflated to the correct pressure while inside the shop, your tire pressure would fall well below specifications when you left.

And here, we see the direct analogy to Deflategate. If the Patriots equipment manager inflated the footballs properly in a relatively warm locker room, and then brought them to a cold, rainy field for a couple of hours, we should expect the pressures to drop substantially.

Did the Patriots try to cheat by underinflating their footballs? We don’t know.

From our experience with tire inflation, however, we aren’t too surprised to see football pressures fall given the drop in temperatures that day.

If your tire pressure light comes on when the temperature drops, bring your vehicle in to Lowell’s. We’ll be happy to top off your tire pressures at no charge.


Deflategate Analysis from Khan Academy – watch this video from Sal Khan for a much more comprehensive and scientific analysis of how temperature drops may have played a role in the underinflation of the footballs for the AFC Championship.

Extra Table: Recommended tire pressure levels at different outdoor temperatures.

Mmmmm. Candy.

There are two non-car-related questions we get most often here at Lowell’s.

The first is, “How can you afford to sell Cokes for just a nickel?” (We’ll keep that a secret for now…)

The second is, “Where do you get these delicious candies (and how can I get some)?”

Since holiday entertaining season is here, we’ve decided to let you in on our secret – just in case you needed ideas for a nice surprise for your guests.

I love chocolate. And I love sharing chocolate with customers. So whenever the weather allows us to, we try to keep a generous supply of fine chocolate truffles on hand.


Dilettante (Chocolates)

Our favorite source of these chocolate treats is Dilettante, a wonderful chocolatier based near Seattle.

We usually order peppermint, toffee, raspberry, latte, mocha, and espresso truffles for the shop. As a dark chocolate lover, my favorite flavor is Ephemere, a delicious dark chocolate truffle.

In addition to the truffles we order for the shop, Dilettante offers a wide variety of gift boxes and bags, chocolate-covered fruits, and other delicious treats.

When the weather gets warmer, those chocolates don’t hold up so well to the heat (Think: puddles). That’s when we switch to caramels.

We have two great sources of fine flavored caramels, and we recommend both.


AvenueSweets (Caramels)

AvenueSweets is a confectioner based in Utah. We usually order chocolate, Dutch apple, sea salt, and Irish cream caramels, and can’t resist getting some of their almond nougat as well. My personal favorite flavor from AvenueSweets is their butter rum caramels.


Béquet (Caramels)

Béquet Confections is based in Montana and makes eleven incredible varieties of caramels. My favorites: cinnamon swirl and chipotle (which is both sweet and spicy).

In my experience, AvenueSweets often arrives with smoother textures and richer flavors than Béquet. Béquet tends to be more consistent and ‘shelf-stable’ than AvenueSweets, whose smoothness tends to break down if you keep them for longer than a couple of months.

If you think you might keep your caramels around for few months or more, consider Béquet. If you and your guests will go through them quickly, consider AvenueSweets. But, really, you can’t go wrong here. Both are delicious options for gourmet caramels.

Dilettante truffles used to be available in local grocery stores in the specialty chocolates areas. Lately, I’ve not seen them in local stores. I’ve not seen AvenueSweets or Béquet available in gift boxes in Lexington retailers. A few local shops sell Béquet a piece at a time.

If you really like these candies, I’d recommend going directly to their makers to get higher volumes. This time of year, they often have sales and/or discounted shipping available.

Your mechanic on Mechanic Street

Lowell’s is Lexington’s only mechanic on Mechanic Street.

Mechanic StreetMany of you know that Lowell’s has been serving Lexington for more than 30 years from the same location at 111 Mechanic Street. We love being your mechanic on Mechanic!

While we like to joke that the street was named for Lowell’s, we’ve long been curious about where the name came from.  “Mechanic” seems like a pretty new term, and we wondered if the street was relatively new or if the name had been changed from something else.

So we were surprised to learn that it has been called Mechanic Street for nearly 200 years!

Today, “mechanic” is commonly used to refer to someone who works on machinery.  Back then, it had a somewhat different usage: “mechanic” referred to a variety of skilled tradesmen.  Essentially, “mechanic” was used in the same sense that we use “artisan” today.

Records from an 1818 directory of Lexington show an Elisha Babcock as Mechanic Street’s only resident. In that directory, Babcock was listed as a “carriage maker”.

200 years later, we’d like to think that we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping up Mr. Babcock’s legacy of helping Lexington move forward!

If you’re curious about the data, Richard E. Stevens of the University of Delaware compiled historical datasets from many U.S. cities.  I found Elisha Babcock in the 1818 Lexington Directory (Excel file) and 1818 tax rolls (DBF file – can be opened with Excel).  I also found RootsWeb’s Fayette County resources and maps to be useful in my research.  Access Geneology lists many other Kentucky directories, as well.  

“What is that thing?!?”

Lowell’s customers and pedestrians on Mechanic Street have noticed that we have a strange vehicle in our garage which is most definitely not a Toyota.

Some folks giggle when they see it.  Some just shake their heads.  Most smile.  Everyone wants to know, “What is that thing?!?”

It is a wildly-colorful, whimsical, bicycle-powered, musical, and Seuss-ical contraption known as “PRESTO: The People-Powered Pianobike”.

Prestoside3What’s a people-powered pianobike?  It is pulled by two bikes.  It is powered by a third bike.  It is an electronic keyboard with amp.  It is a community work of art utilizing recycled materials and musical instruments.  It is a celebration of music, fitness, recycling, and fun.  And we keep it here at Lowell’s.

PRESTO is the brainchild of Debra Hensley (that’s her on the right) of Debra’s Social $timulus, and it will be making appearances at public events all over Lexington.

On Memorial Day, PRESTO led 3,000 bicyclists through downtown Lexington for Bike Lexington‘s Family Fun Ride.

In conjunction with Debra’s Social $timulus, Lowell’s is storing PRESTO here at the shop.  We’ve already had several passersby interact with PRESTO, including a swarm of kids honking PRESTO’s many horns.

We think PRESTO is a lot of fun.  If you come by the shop, be sure to look it over.  And smile.

Get Your Blue On!

The Blue is Back!If you’re like us, you’re pretty excited about how well Kentucky is doing this season.  New coach, new style, new successes – the Cats are finally back.

If you’re a Cats fan, we’ve created something just for you.

A 4×6″ Kentucky blue oval car magnet inscribed with “The Blue is Back, Baby!”, it is designed to help you cheer the Cats to victory.

They’re free to Lowell’s customers.  You can get extras for $5 per magnet, with all proceeds going to the American Red Cross for earthquake relief in Haiti and Chile.


Show your pride in your team.  Pick one up at Lowell’s today!

Announcing Lowell’s Community Service

AceLogoWe are very pleased that you have chosen Lowell’s as Lexington’s “Best Honest Mechanic” in Ace Weekly’s Best of Lex 2009 readers’ poll.  This is the eighth year you have voted us Ace’s best mechanic, and we are deeply grateful that you have honored us once again.

On October 2nd, Lowell’s will also celebrate its 30th anniversary (For more on the founding of Lowell’s [the company] see this history, written by Lowell [the man], our founder and advisor).  In honor of that occasion, and in gratitude for your enthusiasm and loyalty over the past 30 years, we’re going to do something special.

We’re giving back.

Beginning in October and continuing through the end of 2009, we’ll provide our full service oil change – FOR FREE.  We call it Lowell’s Community Service.

And “free” means free: No Strings. No Catches. No Charge.

We do ask that you make an appointment, so that we may properly balance our workload and provide prompt service.

Regular oil and filter changes are the single most effective way to keep your vehicle running well.  So, for a limited time, every lube, oil, filter change, and multi-point inspection for your Toyota, Lexus, or Scion at Lowell’s will be absolutely, positively free.  (And, just in case you’re wondering, our prices for other maintenance and repair will remain the same.)

With the Lowell’s Community Service program, we hope to give back a little of what you’ve given to us over the past 30 years.  And since you have read this post, you can take advantage of Community Service right now.  Just mention Community Service when you schedule your appointment, and you can get our October surprise in September!

Thanks so much for supporting us,
Rob, Suzanne, and your friends at Lowell’s



The Spotlight Effect

There’s an old saw in business: “That which gets measured gets results”. 

I have to admit I’ve always been a bit dismissive of that saying (usually attributed to the late business guru Peter Drucker).  In corporate life, I saw plenty of things that were measured which didn’t get results.  The mere act of measuring something accomplishes nothing if effort doesn’t also go into improving that ‘something’.

But a couple of events over the past few weeks has me thinking about what does get results. 

Newtown Pike Extension
The first event was the much-acclaimed burial of utility lines along Lexington’s Newtown Pike extension.  After Graham and Clive Pohl (of Pohl Rosa Pohl Architects) highlighted the discrepancy between the pretty artists’ renderings of the extension and the actual plans for the construction that was about to begin.  Instead of the beautiful, pristine streets promised in the renderings, the extension would have been littered with utility poles and power lines.

LFUCG engineers cited the high relative cost of burying the utilities, estimating that putting them underground would add nearly $900,000 to the project’s cost.

Since the extension will be a kind of “gateway” into Lexington, there was an outcry from many on the Urban County Council about how important it was for us to look good for visitors.  Our Vice Mayor was quoted as saying “We’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  Local columnists and Lexington’s online community jumped on the issue as well, and it snowballed.

Within a couple of weeks, city leaders lined up with Kentucky’s Governor to announce that they had found the extra funds to put the utilities underground in the Governor’s contingency fund.

IMG_2545 I have to admit, I support putting utilities underground, but am dubious of the “first impression” argument.  The utilities are currently slated to go underground only on the Newtown Pike Extension.  The existing stretch of Newtown will still have above-ground utilities.  So a visitor’s true first impression will still be filled with wires and poles from I-75 to Main Street, as seen in this shot of Newtown from this afternoon.

The Treeds Experiment
The second event was a little closer to home.  In the Treeds Experiment, I decided take up a challenge from an Urban County Councilmember to see how long it took to get a response from LFUCG’s Division of Code Enforcement.  So, last Friday – just before the holiday weekend – I sent an email to Code Enforcement about a lot next to our main building which had become overgrown with tree-weeds, or “treeds”.  

At the same time I sent the email, I posted an outline of the experiment on my blog, along with pictures of the overgrowth.  And I pledged to chronicle the responses I got from the city. 

IMG_2531 This past Tuesday, the city’s contractors showed up to clear the lot – less than one business day after my email and post.  Pretty impressive by any measure.  Code Enforcement hasn’t addressed all of the concerns I outlined (the main drain in the lot is still clogged).  But, to be fair, they have addressed most of the public safety issues which accompanied the blight in that lot.

On Twitter, a couple of folks brought up valid points.  Russell and Ann both pointed out that Treeds had an unfair advantage – because I talked about it publicly, that may have helped artificially accelerate the responsiveness of the city.  (Indeed, within hours of my initial Treeds post, a city employee commented that the experiment would ‘fail’.)

The Spotlight Effect
These two events both benefited from the “spotlight effect”: When the public’s spotlight turns to a particular issue, and that spotlight begins burning intensely, ‘normal’ reactions and ‘normal’ timelines are no longer acceptable.

Russell and Ann were right: my experiment wasn’t ‘normal’, and the average citizen shouldn’t expect that kind of responsiveness.

And others would point out that the Newtown Pike Extension wasn’t ‘normal’ either – it was a one-time event which utilized one-time funds.  We shouldn’t expect city officials to move that quickly to fix an oversight or mistake.

But we should. 

Everyone should get prompt action on valid complaints.  Everyone should expect city leaders to fix their mistakes, to do the right things, and to do them quickly.

But we can’t wait for our leaders to do the right thing.  We need to push them.  We need to build bigger, brighter spotlights, and we need to shine those spotlights on the things that matter. 

It is up to us.

Building a Spotlight
What does it take to build an effective spotlight?  I can’t claim to be an expert, but here are some of my thoughts culled from the past few days and weeks (feel free to contribute your own in the comments below):

  • We must be more vocal.  We tend to be indirect folks here in Lexington.  It is awkward and impolite to complain; it is much better for the other person to do what they should.  But they don’t.  And we stew.  And nothing much changes.  

It is time for that to change.  As out-of-character as it may be for many of us, we need to become much more vocal about what is wrong and what we expect.  Only then can things improve.

  • We must join our voices.  When one person calls a city department, they are a complainer.  When several people call – and are joined by bloggers, columnists, and media – that’s a movement. 

And a movement is what dislodged the status quo of the Newtown Pike Extension.  We need more movements in Lexington with more voices working in concert.  We need to utilize our public platforms – Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and papers – to draw others to our cause.

  • We must be more visible
    When one person calls one other person at LFUCG, there’s no spotlight. 
    No one else knows about the call, and no one else can amplify the
    sentiments expressed there. 

One of the reasons that Treeds got such a rapid response was probably
the ‘publicness’ of the experiment.  That visibility helped the amplify
the spotlight and, in all likelihood, accelerated the response.

  • We must measure.  This statement isn’t about micro-measuring every detail of every issue.  It is about documenting who we talked with and what they said, and holding them accountable for their actions (or lack thereof). 

Any regular reader of my posts knows that I’m not shy.  They know
that I’m not afraid to use my platforms to try to build a movement.  In
the past few months, my blogging and writing has become fairly
visible.  (And, for what it is worth, I’ve got some like-minded

So if you need a spotlight, let me help you.  If you see blight around campus or around downtown, let me know.  If
your business is suffering from the South Limestone road closure, let
me know.  If you have a great idea for our city, let me know.  If you
see a problem which needs fixing, let me know.

Together, let’s be more vocal.  Let’s join our
voices with others who agree.  Let’s be more visible.  And, then, let’s
hold people accountable.

I want a better Lexington.  One where businesses aren’t squeezed out of their locations by poorly-planned year-long road closures.  One where our government operates much more transparently.  One where blight is quickly and effectively addressed.  One which has a real (and realistic) urban development plan for downtown.  One which has a thriving arts and business community.  One which leverages its past to build a brighter future.  One which will make my son homesick if he ever leaves.

If you want that too, then join me – or rather, have me join you.  Tell me
what matters. 

And I’ll do my best to help you build a spotlight.  Let’s make a better, faster Lexington.


I’m going to jail. For good.

Noooo, it’s not because of what I’ve been writing here on the blog (yet).  

Don’t worry, it is all in good fun.  But it is also for a good cause.

MDALogo_TaglineI’m asking you to help me raise ‘bail’ to support Jerry’s Kids and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.  

Next Thursday morning (September 17th), I’ll be carted away from Lowell’s to a mysterious destination a few blocks away, and the nice folks at MDA won’t let me out until I’ve raised $2,000.  That’s enough to help a child with a wheelchair or leg braces.

JerryI’ve never tried fund-raising before, so this is a brand-new experience for me.  And $2,000 sounds like an awful lot to raise.  And I have procrastinated because I wasn’t sure how to ask for your help. 

All of which means you will earn my eternal respect and gratitude if you can help me raise the necessary funds to get out of jail.

If you are interested and able, I’d sure appreciate your contribution at my MDA Lock-up page.  Any amount will help.  And if, in these tough times, you feel that you can’t donate, that’s OK — please help me by spreading the word through Twitter, Facebook, and email.

Thank you so much for your support of a great cause.



The Treeds Experiment

Back in May, I blogged about the abandoned properties next to our shop, and about what to do about blight in our city. 

In this week’s Urban County Council meetings, residents of several neighborhoods surrounding the University of Kentucky campus registered their concerns about the changes taking place in their communities. 

The biggest concerns surrounded how some property owners were effectively converting single-family homes into makeshift dormitories / frat houses / flop houses to take advantage of the burgeoning student population at UK.  The complaints centered not only on the creation of multi-unit apartments and the paving of lawns for parking, but also on the often-destructive behavior of the residents who move in.

Some on the council wished to impose a moratorium on these kinds of conversions while the city figures out how to accommodate growth at UK. 

Last night, the council rejected the proposed moratorium, to the disappointment of many of the residents.  At one point, Councilmember Lane suggested that neighbors should simply “file a complaint on property owners you feel are in violation of zoning ordinance, see if our government can apply the laws we have on the books,” to which citizen Janet Cowan responded “I know all of the numbers, Mr. Lane.  I have them on speed dial.” 

So, how well can the government apply the laws we have on the books?  It is time to see. 

The Treeds Experiment
What happened after openly blogging about the properties surrounding Lowell’s back in May? 


Well, not nothing, exactly..  The 8-foot tall tree-weeds (“treeds”) I talked about then have now grown to some 16- to 18-feet tall, dwarfing the hedges that they have grown through.


The treeds now spill out over the sidewalks, making them impossible to navigate without a machete.  Some pedestrians step into the street rather than navigate the mess on the sidewalks.


The grass growing next to our building has now grown to 7 1/2 feet tall (That’s me back there earlier this afternoon, risking chiggers and other man-eating varmints. I’m 6 1/2 feet tall…). 


And, finally, the only drain on the lot is completely crusted over.  So, during heavy rains, the lot drains straight into Mechanic Street, contributing to an occasional “Lake Mechanic”.


All of which sets the stage for what I’m calling “The Treeds Experiment”.  The Treeds Experiment is a test — wherein I plan to take up Councilmember Lane’s suggestion — and learn just how long and how well our government takes to apply the laws that we already have on the books.

Simultaneous with this blog post on the afternoon before a holiday weekend, I am sending an email to requesting that they take remedial action upon this lot and its owners.

I will chronicle the communication (and, I anticipate, the non-communication) I get from the Code Enforcement folks and other city officials in updates to this post and on Twitter.  I will not tell them that I am doing so (so that they will not artificially accelerate their actions).

But I am telling you.

Should be interesting.  Look for updates here as the weeks and months progress.


Note: Many thanks to AceWeekly for chronicling the LFUCG meetings and civic discussions.  Ace captured the quotes I used above.

Pat Gerhard at Third Street Stuff has recently contacted the Downtown Development Authority about the lot.  We agreed a month or so ago that I would contact Code Enforcement.  (Sorry for the delay, Pat.)

9/4/2009, 3:46 PM: Sent initial email to LFUCG Code Enforcement, while publishing this post.

To whom it may concern:

I am the owner of Lowell’s, an auto
repair shop at 111 Mechanic Street.  There is a lot at the North corner
of North Limestone and Mechanic which appears to be abandoned, as no
maintenance has been done by the owners for over 2 years. 

There are now large tree-weeds growing through the hedges
surrounding the lot, making progress on sidewalks very difficult.  The
only drain on the lot is clogged, and the lot drains into Mechanic
Street, contributing to flooding during heavy rains.  There is a large
clump of grass which is now approaching 8 feet in height which is
growing next to our main building.  Many customers assume that the lot
is ours (since it borders our building), and a few have asked us to
clean it up.

Can you take remedial action on this property and update me on your progress in addressing these issues? 

Thank you,
Rob Morris

9/4/2009, 6:18 PM: Blog comment from the Lexington Streetweeper (written by an LFUCG employee) on how the Treeds Experiment is “destined to fail”.

9/4/2009, 9:28 PM: I reply that failure really isn’t possible.

9/7/2009, 10:50 AM: During torrential downpours, Lake Mechanic forms again as Mechanic Street is completely flooded, due in part to runoff from the Treeds lot with a clogged drain.

9/8/2009, 10:45 AM: I receive an email from David Jarvis, Director of Code Enforcement:

I will have Calvin Powell assign an Inspector.  Thank You.

9/8/2009, 1:25 PM: I respond:

Thank you.  I look forward to your updates.


9/8/2009, 2:19 PM: David Jarvis sends me another email:

Property will be cited (14 day time limit) and the limbs will be cleared back off the sidewalk as soon as we can get our contractor there.

As I read that email (and post this update) the contractors arrive with weed-eaters and loppers in hand:



Buh-bye treeds!  But where will the varmints live now?

9/8/2009, 2:45 PM: Taylor Shelton and 10th District Councilmember Doug Martin post responses on the blog.  Councilmember Martin mentions that Code Enforcement is particularly short-handed and suggests that citizens use LexCall 311 with details of their similar complaints.

9/8/2009, 6:31 PM: I came back to Lowell’s after being out since about 3:30 PM, and most of the debris was removed.  Still a couple of piles which couldn’t fit into the contractor’s truck.


9/9/2009, 9:15 AM: Contractors cleaning up remaining debris from lot next to Lowell’s main building.


9/9/2009, 10:14 AM: The lot’s only drain is still clogged.  Not sure whether that is a Code Enforcement issue or not.  Sent a response to David Jarvis and Calvin Powell:

Thank you for your quick actions in getting this lot cleared. 

Is the clogged drain in the lot something under the purview of Code
Enforcement, or would there be another department which handles that
drainage issue?



IMG_2540 IMG_2541 IMG_2542