what I did today

It’s been over a year now and Pri and I knew where we’d be moving into, and that whole time I’ve been imagining a certain bike route.  When I worked downtown and lived on the west side, I had a route in my mind that was sort of the “long way home” route, about 12 miles, takes about an hour, and a nice way to get some exercise spontaneously.  Then I had a couple of other “after work” routes that I’d sometimes do, again about an hour, and focused on exercise.

I work at home now, so forget about the “long way home”.  But the “after work”, roughly-one-hour route should still be part of my repertoire.  And since the new house is on the south east side, there’s new side-streets to explore!  And although we only moved in last May, I never got around to this kind of thing last year.  :(  I mean, I was busy, but of course I wasn’t busy every single hour.  It should have happened.

But today, it did!  After a nicely productive afternoon and whiltling my inbox down to an amazingly small FIVE messages, I felt like doing something different before I dug back into more hopefully productive stuff this evening.  Well, remarkably, after some rather scary rainstorms this afternoon, the sun came out and it wasn’t even very windy…  It was 6:44, as I recall, but it still seemed light out.  “Oh right!!  Daylight Saving Time!”  So, I decided to celebrate the extra hour of evening sunlight with a spontaneous bike ride.  Finally!

And so, I present my first draft of the first south-east-side “after work” loop.  Only 8.5 miles, so I’ll probably try to have a “longer option” to go for a full hour, especially once I get used to where I’m going.  Today there was a heavy exploration factor, but I was still home about an hour after I had the original idea and got out the GPS, and all the other bike gear…

… and the new Heart Monitor that Pri and I purchased (thanks for the recommendation, Fiona! We love it!). According to it, I burned 627 Calories on the ride.  Based on that and another recent experiment, I’m starting to use 70 Calories per mile as my estimated fuel efficiency. I don’t know how that compares with other bikers, nor do I have extreme confidence in the data that the heart monitor puts out… But still, I’m sure it’s not completely crazy, certainly in the right order of magnitude…  And yeah, I had to pause and thing that when I do serious bike rides like the Hilly Hundred or the big bike ride to Indy I did with Erik years ago, I’m burning multiple thousands of calories. Multiple days of normal eating.  Wow.  No wonder I feel tired.

Not too tired after today’s run.  I should finish this up though so that I can still feel like the whole experience took less than 2 hours.  :)

So apparently some of my friends (traditional English-language definition) coordinated some kind of a campaign to become my friends (modern social-networking definition) on facebook.  I received some 15 friend requests in the 11am hour this morning, without having a facebook account.  I actually had to wonder if somehow someone had managed to make an account for me on facebook without my consent, although if they had it was pretty clearly good hearted.

They didn’t.  Or at least, I don’t think they did.  I don’t really know.  But I did go ahead and create an account. There?  Happy?

So far, it’s overwhelming… which I guess it to expected.  Within an hour of signing up, my inbox had basically only facebook notifications visible in it.  Two full screens of messages, about 35 facebook notifications, and two normal legitimate emails.  Most of these are friend confirmations, so presumably those will die down soon once the initial rush is over.  Let’s hope…

Meanwhile, I find the facebook interface easy enough to use (very impressive how quickly it identified all of these “friends” for me) but… overwhelming.  Right now it feels like 30 of my friends are having a party in the room while I’m trying to work.  Not that I can’t see the attraction, but, at the risk of seeming a 21st century high-tech grumpy old man, I’m closing the window for now.

Ok, it’s really cold.  I wanted to express my respect and good wishes to everyone who braved the cold on their bicycles today… most particularly, my Brazilian wife!  Very impressive!

The walk from my bedroom to my office was far less harrowing.  I did have to walk to the mailbox to send in my estimated tax payments though – Due today, don’t forget all you self-employed people out there!

Forgive me, reader, for I have sinned. It’s been one year and 23
days since my last post.

And my excuse? Well, I’ve been busy….

But really, it’s not exactly the “busy-ness” that wears on me. It’s
the feeling that there are things I SHOULD be doing that I’m not.
that’s something I realized recently as I was bemoaning the fact that
I didn’t have time to do more of the things that I want to do,
including writing in this blog. It’s not that I didn’t have time, per
se, it’s that I had open commitments that made me say “look, if you
have time to blog, you have time to do this other thing, which you
must admit is more of a priority than blogging”. Which, honestly, I
still do, but at least I’ve reached a point where something
substantial is happening with all of the remaining open commitments,
so I’m feeling a bit better, and being that I reached the one year
mark, I figured it was time to do something here too.. and I want to..

Now, I am someone who could probably dive into my memory and write
pretty extensive posts about most everything worth writing about from
this past year, pretty much as if it had just happened. I’d lose a
few details, but, basically, it could be there. However, I don’t want
to spend that much time writing, and I’m sure you don’t want to spend
that much time reading, so… we won’t do that. Rather, I’ll try to
be brief as I present this Year In Review…

I always feel bad complaining about feeling busy when much of what’s making me busy is fun. So, I won’t complain, but I have been busy for the past month and a half or more. From doing a lot of coordination of the Sugar Hill contradance weekend to attending two separate weddings on the west coast, every weekend seems to have something scheduled. And every busy weekend means time that I can’t keep up with my normal personal chores. And every day off work seems to result in a clump of emails demanding attention. Next thing you know, I’m feeling scattered, even though there’s plenty of rest and relaxation going on in my life.

Saturday I spent hours taming my inbox. As I discussed last November, I like to have 38 or fewer emails in my inbox at any given moment (because I can fit 37 on one screen), especially at the end of a work day. I marveled then at what an impact the out of control inbox seems to have on my psyche, and the marveling continues. And, when I feel scattered, I never feel like I have time to write to my blog.

This got me thinking: I could develop a Scattered-David index… something like the Index of Leading Economic Indicators, that takes things like how many emails are in my inbox, how long its been since I wrote to my blog, maybe somehow it could track my purchases of plane tickets…. anyway, take raw data like that and compute some “Scattered-David index” that would give friends and family some sense of what’s going on with me when I’m feeling to scattered to post to the blog or what have you. The essential thing would be that it’d have to work without me doing ANYTHING, so I’d have to write a program to see how many messages were in my inbox and stuff, and have these programs run automatically every day or whatever. Once I had the number I could do things like show graphs and stuff.

Fun to think about. If I felt like I had more time to play with things like that, I’d probably give it a try. But, hey, I have to get a lot of work done this week before leaving next weekend for Boston for yet another wedding. I’m hoping things will be pretty calm between my return from that and Thanksgiving. Maybe I’ll even renew my efforts to blog more often. But meanwhile, at least my responsibilities are mostly fun and rewarding!

Well, it took a couple of weeks of waiting, but this morning the people are here to remove this tree. My parents discovered that it was dead when they were here at the beginning of August. When the guy came to give an estimate, he immediately identified the type of tree, said that it was a native tree and as such “volunteered” itself quite simply. But he said that this species also lived for a while and then died. So, there ya go. It’s all part of life…

They’ve got a very impressive wood chipper. Remarkable to see the tree disappear almost as soon as it hits the ground.

An overview of where all we wentWell Hi! How are you? Great, glad to hear it! Me?? Oh, great great! Yeah, vacation was great, thanks for asking!

Those of you who also read Priscilla’s Blog have already seen the link to all of our pictures. We edited out about half of them, but there are still over 300. But, we’ve got them neatly arranged by place we were at, at there’s thumbnails and everything, so you can actually scoot through them pretty quickly if you, like me, have limited patience for looking at huge collections of photos.

Or you can just get the highlights here! First, that map there shows basically where we went. We flew into Denver, so if you want to follow along on the map (just click it if you want to) start on that side. You can zoom in and see the path with enough detail that you can use your inate-to-humans “snap to road” ability and pretty much know exactly where we went. Or, like I say, you can just look at the whole thing, it gives a pretty darn good overview, just not as cool (read: geeky). (Thanks once again to the amazing Gmaps Pedometer for making such things possible).
I’m not going to type a play-by-play of everything we did. But here’s a text overview, with quick reviews and links to photos:

  • Rocky Mountain National Park: We were more impressed than I expected us to be. If you go there, I highly recommend the Mill’s Lake Trail.
  • Snowy Range Road: We had a nice campground and a nice scenic drive, neither of which were in our original plans.
  • Grand Teton National Park: Amazing mountains, although not a lot of great trails or other things to do.
  • Yellowstone: Big and famous, but unlike anything else on Earth
  • Arches: From the mountains to the desert, and uncommonly beautiful desert at that
  • Canyonlands: It seems like it’s gotta be as big as the Grand Canyon. Probably not, but awe-inspiring and beautiful.
  • Manti-La Sal National Forest: Amazing campground on a mountain with amazing views of Canyonlands that sadly didn’t photograph very well.
  • Bryce: I can’t think of anything as closely linked to my sense of visual beauty as this park
  • Zion: Another home of yet another kind of rock formation. Also home to two unique hikes: Angel’s Landing and The Narrows.

Click to play with the google map overlayIn addition to all of those links to photos, I’ve also got just a couple of google map projections of GPS recordings of trails that we walked. My favorite is definitely this one of the Fiery Furnace in Arches. The rangers warned us that the GPS wouldn’t work in there, which was largely true… but apparently it got enough glimpses of GPS satellites to give a sense of where we went, although I bet a lot of these data points are pretty inaccurate. Still, despite its lack of precision, I love that aerial view of the furnace. And of course, you can zoom in and out and see the whole park from above, if you like.

I also have projections like this one of the Flattop Mountain Trail and the Mills Lake Trail (both in Rocky Mountain National Park) if you (like me) can’t get enough of this GPS/aerial photo stuff. (Thanks once again to GPS Visualizer for making this kind of thing so incredibly easy and so deeply satisfying). (Ok, and yes, thanks also to Google Maps. But unlike the other two things, everybody knows about Google…)
Anyway, as I hope is evident, we saw some amazing natural wonders, and we also had a great time. If all of this isn’t enough detail for you, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble convincing either of us to talk and talk and talk about it, so don’t hesitate to ask — at least, not for OUR sake. :)

Pri and I are getting ready for our vacation (very exciting). Yesterday we went to Campmor.com to do see if there was any camping equipment we should get before we go. There was. But one thing I thought of was a new filter for my water filtration system. (The language is confusing… both the high-tech piece of paper and the thing you insert it into are commonly called “filter”. I’ll call the paper “the filter” and the rest of it “the system”.)

Well, from everything I can tell, they no longer manufacture filters that go into my system. Rendering it essentially useless. This is distressing, since I guess I’ll now just throw away this perfectly functional product. At first, though, I thought that it was also unfortunate that I’d need to buy a new system, rather than just the inexpensive filters.

Well, apparently they also no longer make inexpensive filters. Looking at water filters and systems at REI and at Campmor it seems that the systems now cost only slightly more than their filters. For instance, I ended up ordering the Katadyn Hiker for $50. It’s filter is apparently good for about 200 gallons. If I’m worried that that won’t be enough, I can buy a replacement “cartridge” for it for about $40.

It seems, then, that the same thing has happened to these backwoods products as what happened to InkJet printers: the price of the systems has come down, with the manufacturers hoping to make their money on selling the filters. My joke about printers is: “Don’t think of it as buying a printer, think of it as buying an inkjet cartidge subscription”. For me, in the case of the filters, I can’t imagine paying $40 for the filter when I could pay $50 for a whole new unit. But, whatever the case, it seems lame to me. Maybe I don’t understand the economics of it… it’s perfectly possible that the 0.2 micron filters are more expensive to manufacture than the totally macro plastic casing pumps. So, maybe it makes sense. But, I’m more inclined to go with the other idea. If so, they might be pushing it too far. My brand loyalty is not going to be very strong if I can switch to another system for only $10 more than staying with the one I’m buying.

Would love to hear more about this if anyone out there knows anything…

All three of the vehicles When I called my insurance company to put the new car on, they explained that my best option was to transfer my existing coverage to my new car. But, by their rules, that means I have only 30 days to get rid of the old Saturn, or else start a new policy on it which would be expensive.

Meanwhile, there’s the van. The van was a gift from my parents, after it got old enough and of questionable enough reliability that they got a new one. It’s been very handy, helping me with several pickups of lumber, furniture, etc. It also helped countless friends of mine move.

But, during its last main job last fall, a scary thing happened. A big part of the suspension jetted up through the floor of the car. Eek! I asked some friends about it and most people thought it would be repairable. I took it to a garage, but they recommended a welder. I took it to the welder, but he said it might not be worth it, the van is old and rusty and it would cost at least a few hundred dollars to repair. I drove away to think about it.

Now, thinking is one of my favorite activities. :) I did some math in my head and calculated, after a while, that, for as little as I drive the van, it’d be cheaper for me to rent a U-Haul all of those times than to continue paying the insurance on it along with these repairs. Less convenient, sure, but still… My line to myself ended up being “if you used the van more often, it might be worth fixing, but since you don’t, it’s not worth it, at least not for you.”

The van's biggest problemSo, long and short, I had two motor vehicles to sell. And, just as I don’t have a great deal of experiene buying cars, I don’t have any experience selling them… The other two cars I’ve owned in my life were junked at the end of their times.

Again, it’s great that it’s so easy to use Kelley Blue Book and similar sites for things like this. The KBB value of my car was $1050-1250, depending on condition, and it definitely isn’t in top condition. So, I was gearing up to try to sell it for about $1000. Turns out that before I even listed it on line, I hear interest from two different friends, and ended up selling it to one of them for $925. Her other car is a pickup, and by our calculations, the Saturn will pay for itself in about 7 months in fuel savings for as much driving as she does. Wow.

But I did eventually get up my courage to list it online. I cleaned it up a bit on the inside (finding all sorts of things (especially cheap kids’ toys) that were apparently left in there when some friend was moving things). I figured I would try on Craigslist first, because it’s free and easy.

A tip for people thinking of listing something on Craigslist: do it when you have some free time ahead of you. Listing this old beast for $200 negotiable, I had two replies the next morning, both of whom very specifically made offers to pick it up THAT DAY. I actually had several meetings and stuff that day, so I had to work to fit one of them in. But, he was flexible, and we worked it out.

He worked as a professional welder in Columbus, IN, and apparently does welding in his spare time as well. So, I think the van is going to a good home. He drove over in his big pickup, pulling a trailer behind him.

I asked if we wanted to test drive it or anything. “Nah” he said “as long as I can drive it up on the trailer, that’s all I care about.” No problem there! So, up it went, he handed me the agreed upon $125, and a few signatures later, the van was gone. So simple.

The Van being Driven AwaySo, I’m a one car family again! :) I do like the new car, I’m happy about the whole experience. But, as a conclusion, rather than talk about the new car, I want to send a tribute to the old Saturn.

I have an approach to examining car expenses which is to look at the total cost of the car, including repairs (but not including gas or insurance) over the time that you owned the vehicle. I think you do pretty well if you can drive an economy car for $1000/year. So, if you buy a car for $13,000, never put any serious repairs on it, and it lasts for 13 years, you did well. If you buy an old car for $1000, put $2000 of repairs into it over three years, you did well. Or, if you buy a used car for $9000, drive it for two years with no repairs, and sell it for $7000, you did well.

Well, if I recall correctly, I bought the 1994 Saturn for $5500 in December, 1999. Over eight years later, I sold it for just over $900, so I my net expense was $4600. That car barely needed any maintenance. In fact, a year or so ago, I finally had a bunch of the preventive maintenance type stuff done on it, figuring that it had been at least seven years since it had any of that done. So, maybe I did $1000 of repairs over that eight years. Even at a full thousand, though, the total cost of ownership would be $5600 over eight years, an average of under $700 per year. And never once did it fail to get me where I wanted to go. That car served me extremely well, and it is just a bit sad to see it go. Of course, since I sold it to my friend, I’m hoping I can watch it continue to serve someone well for at least a few more years. Thanks, y’old Saturn…

(Note: If you haven’t already read Episode 1, you should read that first)

Before I left the dealership, I talked for quite a while with Maggie, who does all of their financial stuff. She’s also the daughter of the owner. I would guess that this place has only 6 full time employees. But I digress. Maggie was very helpful. I haven’t bought cars all that often in my life, so I was unsure about lots of things like whether I get the insurance first or the plates first, etc. She was very helpful, both giving official rules and friendly advice. This was nice.

It was curious, though, how we dealt with the deposit. I asked “How much should I leave for the deposit?” “Well, we really like at least $300, but we could go lower if you need. What’s comfortable for you?” Mercy. I explained that I just didn’t have $9000 sitting in my checking account, but that I could easily offer $1000, and wouldn’t that be a nice easy number? Needless to say, they were fine with that, and we ran $1000 on my debit card.

But in the spirit of asking questions, I also said “now, for the final payment, I should bring… what? a cashier’s check?” That was acceptable, she explained, but posed its own problems. If nothing else, they wouldn’t hand over the title to the vehicle until the cash was in their bank, so I’d either have to come back to pick it up, or they could mail it. “But the mail is not always as reliable as you’d like it to be.” She made it pretty clear that her preference would be for cash. But she certainly wasn’t insisting. But it did make sense to me to have the title and be done with the whole process. So, I figured I’d try to bring cash.

Now, it turns out that only a month or two before this, I actually did have over $9000 in my checking account. After a fair amount of deliberation and consultation with friends, I’d moved just a bit more than that from my checking account to a savings account with ING (4.5% on a plain savings account… I definitely recommend it). Of course, when I did that, I wasn’t thinking that I was about to buy a car. So, now I had to move it back. This is a simple enough process, but it does take a couple of business days. So, that was the real cause of the delay.

I paid the deposit on Monday. I arranged to pick up the car on Friday (Priscilla agreed to drive my old car back for me. Thanks, Pri!). But, I was getting closer and closer to having to face the prospect of dealing with that much cash.

I’m sure this is normal for some people. Even some people who aren’t gangsters. But it’s definitely not normal for me I learned. I was very anxious about it. I mean, I enjoyed it as an experiment. But the results of the experiment were definitely that I was anxious. I decided on Friday morning I should call the bank and make sure there were no special requirements to withdraw that much cash. The person who took my call did have to put me on hold and ask someone, but confirmed that yes, I could just go up to a teller, present them with a check made out to “Cash”, and they could give me the cash.

Ok. Naturally I wanted to do this right before we left. I didn’t want to have all that cash any longer than necessary. I walked through the process several times. I had a list in my brain of exactly what I would do. So, it was easy enough to do the mechanics of it, which allowed my brain to spin on things such as whether any hoodloms were taking note of what I was doing, ready to jump me between here and my car.

I entered the bank. I was glad it was cold, because I wore my winter coat that has a nice inside breast pocket. I walked up to the little work area with the plastic date-on-display and the pens-on-leashes. I took out my checkbook and wrote out the check for $8487.00. Eight Thousand Four Hundred Eighty Seven — DOLLARS. IN the memo field I wrote “I’m buying a car” in hopes that the teller and I wouldn’t have to talk very loudly about the amount.

I waited in line, thinking that at this point, I was still safe. Not only did I not have the cash yet, but someone would have had to have been snooping on me really closely to know that this wasn’t an every-day transaction. Then it was my turn. The tellers at my bank are invariably friendly, and so I wasn’t at all surprised by the warm greeting mine offered. “A rather special withdrawal today” I said as I cooly handed her the check. “OH! You’re buying a car!! Oh that’s great! What kind of car!!” So much for that idea. We chatted a bit about the whole thing. And then she explained that she’d need to meet with a bank manager and go back to the vault to get the money. Makes sense, I’ll wait in the lobby.$8487

As I type I realize that I’m probably just outing my naievety to the world, because I’m sure many people go through this kind of thing more often than I do, but whatever. After sweating for a few minutes (not wanting to remove my coat that would soon be holding so much value), I saw my teller return from the vaults. I met her back at the counter, and she started her work:

1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9- One Thousand

1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9- Two Thousand

The cash was wrapped in packages of $2000 each, so she counted out four of those (does it have to be so loud?), and then the remaining $487, which by that point seemed like pocket change. I had brought an empty plain brown envelope with me to carry this around in, so I put it all in there, and cautiously left the building.

My reasoning was that the walk from the teller to the car was the time to be most cautious. Once I’d driven away, someone would have to be following me to know what was going on. But here, anyone might have been able to overhear.

Well, naturally, nothing bad happened, I drove to the practice rooms at the School of Music to pick up Priscilla. I listened to her play through something on the harpsichord, sweating the whole time (not wanting to take off my coat).Me in the car

But, all that anxiety was either unnecessary or did its job, because nothing else unusual happened. Maggie at the car dealership was very comfortable dealing with all that cash, and of course, once they had it, I was just a few signatures away from driving away in my new car!!

And so I did. It was a nice day for a nice drive, and I greatly enjoyed cruise control and an open sun roof, both firsts for me on a car that I own. Woohoo!

So, is this the end? No! I now have three motor vehicles! I gotta deal with that fact and several other things. You will be able to read about it all in part three of Car: The Mini-series.

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