Tuesday, May 20, 2008

34.2 MPG

So if I religiously drive 55 (on cruise control) my 2005 Honda Accord 4 cylinder automatic gets 34.2 MPG. I've been mollified, so no need to go out and buy another auto. As a reward for the car, I had the oil, air filter, and cabin air filter changed for $140 at Jiffy Lube. I despise that place and usually change the oil and filter myself but have been too lazy lately. The guy at the counter knew I was one of those annoyed, cynical customers so he went through his laundry list of to-dos very gingerly as if to say, I'm just throwing this out there, buddy, cause my boss makes me, don't shoot the messenger. I could clearly see the cabin filter was legitimately filthy but recalled how offended I was when I spied one of the service men smudging an air filter I had replaced about one month earlier with an oily thumb and bringing it to me for inspection: Hey man, you should get this filter replaced, it's dirty. That was years ago and on some other car. It's moments like this I wish I could activate the imaginary trap door which chutes the moron into a lime pit in some Hostelesque sub basement.
I also lost my ID card -- looked everywhere for it -- and was lectured at the badge office about all manner of inanities that, had they been relevant, I wouldn't have been there in the first place. Things like, You really shouldn't lose your ID badge. I was supposed to reply to this, cause the subroutine went to sleep until I said, Yeah, I have to make sure I won't lose my badge again. Or, Is the badge lost or did you misplace it? There were some posters admonishing reckless employees opening the workplace to terrorism. Where do you keep your badge? was one poster. It had a photograph of a car dashboard with the ID badge and lanyard in plain sight among a gaggle of car lighter adapters by the shifter. "Keep it hidden when not at work but in plain sight while working" was another message.
This was at the new visitor center -- or users center -- I forget. I decided to get a Starbucks coffee, a tall latte, and the lone woman at the counter seemed annoyed to have been aroused from her reverie. The idea crossed my mind that a latte is the wrong sort of drink to get, maybe too effeminate, but then I remembered a whole queue of other folks that have likely gotten lattes there that are far more on the Apple, Volkswagen, tortoise shell glasses candyland than myself, and cancelled the notion. The woman had no makeup, was weathered, tan and lean with a mulletish cut. She was clad all in navy blue with well-ironed denim khakis, the kind of uniform a Getty serviceman would wear. There was a jar filled with change that with a note taped to it reading "Tips are GREATLY appreciated!". The latte cost $3.75 and when I handed over $4, the woman said, Thank you, and began helping the next customer, whom she spoke to familiarly. She turned her back to me and I could see she had no intention of giving me change. While pouring sugar at the self service table I heard my quarter fall into the tip jar.
Back at work, I discover that (2) more Thumpers need to be online by tomorrow. So that's 2 more systems that are going to be connected to this cheap, single point of failure 3com switch. Whatever. I'll put the entire storage cluster behind it if need be. It's clear that no one wants to wait for the Force10 gear to be set up. While I was out, the precedent was set for using this interim switch, and when I brought up my qualms, was made to feel too conservative or worse, a bottleneck to progress -- getting the job done -- which is certainly not the case. Put it this way, there are 2 main camps in my environment -- those who set a high standard and deploy services in a predictable, methodical way building on precedent in the spirit of a good court justice. The LF is an example of this. And those who will deploy anything, in any random order, just to live on the edge, to prove that it can be done, and done fast and in isolation. I like to think of myself as somewhere in between, ideally one that sticks to the former but is capable of the latter in a jam. But the latter all the time? I have kids, a family. If my work ends up a ganglia of bubble gum and bandaids then the cost is late nights and weekends. Given that my environment is not like wall street where these hours are mandatory by design, it blows my mind that some people would opt to force this upon themselves.
Anyway, the girls are asleep -- time to wake up my wife and coax her into watching something on BluRay with me. I bought this gorgeous 42" 1080p LCD and BluRay player, I have a ton of eye-candy flicks borrowed from my dad, and I've watched a total of 4 hours on it in the last month.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Funeral Today

My Uncle Johnny died a few days ago -- went to the funeral service today. We had to drop off the kids at day care and both take a personal day at work. Things were a bit manic while dropping off the kids and Swiss B. wanted to do a parent-teacher conference for S. so we ended up getting to the funeral late, slipping in the back right during the "sign of peace" ceremony (note to self: find out what the real title of this segment of the mass is called). The church was St Gerard Magela in Port Jefferson. The architect was going for a light organic earth-industrial tone with lots of textured cement blocks intended to pass for granite and huge wooden beams along the ceiling. A quick inspection of the beams revealed that they weren't a solid chunk of wood but long laminate slats. Why does this matter and who cares? One cool thing was the lack of kneelers -- the chairs were one grade above the metal folding type and connected at the feet. We were real hungry so I decided to take the Eucharist and make my way over to my parents. My dad had his fingers interlocked and clenched, his eyes were red and his whisper raspy -- I could tell he'd been crying a bit. My Uncle Johnny's death had impacted a lot of folks. I was solemn but didn't choke up at all or feel a need to cry. While at the wake on Saturday, I was pretty emotionless until I went up to the photo collages and then onto the casket and it was there that I broke down and sobbed for a bit. I was collecting myself by a small end table with a tissue box when my mother walked over, crying, and tried to lead me to my aunt. She was like, Come, come over to your aunt and feel the love -- I want her to see you. It was apparent that I had been scrutinized when I went over to my uncle, that my mother had been tensely watching to see if I'd show signs of being an emotional human, and she wanted to proudly parade me about before my eyes had time to dry. I declined.
Anyway, after the funeral, my cousins and their kids released a bunch of white balloons that had been sharpied with love and miss yous. The limo door was opened and some song specifically written for this exact ritual was playing. I was wondering how much money the artist had made with this creation and if he had a canon of works like this -- things like mother/son dances at weddings, etc., and how this sort of music is marketed. The voice didn't sound familiar and the song certainly lacked the hooks necessary for any radio play. Perhaps this is something all undertakers have on hand which they suggest as an afterthought to grieving clients as a tasteful enhancement. There was a light wind and it wasn't raining -- a good day for balloons, I guess. My wife leaned over and commented that the balloons weren't "green", something about birds eating them, I didn't really catch all of what she was saying. Oh, and before I forget, there was a very old man, a deacon perhaps, at the funeral that didn't blink at all -- like the fish people in Dagon.
At the cemetery, we each received a red carnation which we threw on the casket. The ceremony was marred by the constant din of ongoing construction of what looked like a new mausoleum. With the wind it was fairly brisk and my cousin T.'s kids were wearing short sleeves and skirts -- even the 10 month old. While everyone was heading back to their cars, my cousin's son, M., who is about 10 excitedly picked up an acorn and showed it to my Mom -- Look Tee-Tee, acorns for the squirrels! I didn't think anything special of this but noticed my cousin, his dad, was uncomfortable, glancing around both annoyedly and apologetically as if his son was acting inappropriately and in a shameful manner. I felt bad for the kid.
By this time it's already 2ish and we drive off to Ruby Tuesday for salad and mini-burgers. It's the first real meal I've had. I wondered why the hell all these people weren't at work. Afterward we stop off at Buybuybaby and ToysRUs for some impulse kid shopping -- "we need to get some sort of storage for the bath toys" and I actually convinced my wife to bless a visit to the Mini dealership for a test drive of the Clubman.
What a weird car, the Mini Clubman. Here is my assessment:
-Very cool looking car -- even brown works as an exterior color.
-Extremely snug and comfortable seats
-Nice shifting with the manual
-Funky interior with dip-switches and a huge center mounted speedometer
-Hugs the road
-37MPG on the highway
-Push button start (novelty)
-Completely useless storage capacity -- the ass is so narrow it would be impossible to fit a regular Graco style single stroller let alone the double tandem we have. Maybe (2) umbrella strollers would fit if placed in an oppossing X and angled up on the rear seat backs. No way a big single piece of luggage would fit.
-The cool center speedometer is impractical for real world use -- it's too big and you have to take your eyes off the road. You get used to it, the saleswoman told me.
-Big roof pillars by the suicide passenger-side door block the window view -- not good for my scenery watching daughter.
-The control stalk always returns to center so you don't really know where it's been all the time -- this goes for the directionals or wipers.
-Hard to get in and out off the back
-Premium fuel

I left feeling glad to be rid of this short-lived obsession with the Mini. Besides, my experiment always driving 55 on cruise control seems to be paying off -- already put on 400 miles with a 1/3 tank of gas left. I suspect when I fill up and calculate my mileage that I'll be over 30MPG. We'll see. If that's the case, I pamper the Accord until 2010 when the GM fuel cell comes out.

Picked up the girls at 5:20 and had a decent night. Thinking about work though. Work has been a cause for some stress. I feel every time I take a day off or am out for some reason (like the conference) something critical happens, where my input would have been valuable and decisions are made in my absence. Depending on the decision, it's not a big deal, but I don't like not being able to defend myself if some action is questioned and I *hate* being paraphrased or misquoted. It just shows a lack of character if someone waits for my absence to raise doubt. That's life.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Obsession with MPG

I've become obsessed with MPG. My 2005 Honda Accord 4 cylinder automatic gets ~25MPG. It's not enough. The cost of gas is outrageous. At $4/gallon coupled with a 45 mile commute to work in each direction, I'm spending $14.40 each day -- 2005 Honda Accord @ 25 mpg. Moving closer to work isn't an option. For one, since real estate prices have tanked and I bought my house at market peak, we'd likely lose money or gain little. Second, I like the proximity to the city since we go there often on a weekly basis.
So as a consequence, I've become obsessed with new cars -- buying a new car, fantasizing about a new car, I need a new car, right, because of the cost of gas? It's an excuse, really. I take my (2) kids with me to work everyday since daycare is on-site so a Smart fortwo is out of the question. A more realistic option would be a Toyota Prius or a Honda Civic Hybrid. A co-worker/friend has a new Prius. I rode in it -- seemed fairly nice albeit with acres of hard grey plastic interior. I liked the trip computer which constantly recalculated the MPG which would certainly sate my obsession. However, the government income tax credits have run out for Toyota since they've far exceeded the allotted 60k vehicles sold. The Honda Civic is better -- I'd see an $1100 credit if I purchased the vehicle before June 1st (afterward it drops to $600, I think). Either car would give me 45MPG on the highway (Prius posts better in the city but that doesn't impact me) but some research and first hand accounts from owners and mechanics confirm that the batteries need replacing typically between 80-100k miles. The batteries cost $3-5k ! Granted the prices should drop but what if they don't? A hybrid with current consumer battery technology would last a tad over 3 years before I'd need a new battery. I can't lease because my yearly mileage is too high. So that elimintates *all* of today's hybrids as a prudent option.
Next I began looking at small, traditional cars. At the top of my list were the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Scion xD, Mini Clubman, and Ford Focus. By far, the Yaris looks the handsomest -- the front grille is especially appealing. However, Consumer Reports pans this offering from the perspective of drivability. Crash test reports highlight poor rear crash results. Not good for the kids. The Honda Fit is nice -- kinda stout looking, almost a steep wedge -- doesn't really appeal to my aesthetic and a new 2009 model is forthcoming with an upgraded interior so best to wait. The Scion -- well, I don't even know why I put it down now. The Focus -- well, it'd be real nice to buy American. I know, I know -- it's not like Ford is All American anyway, I'd be naive to think otherwise -- but the Buy American propaganda of the '80s really stuck and it's hard to shake free. The Mini Clubman is my favorite but it's 1) comparatively expensive and 2) it requires premium fuel. I read all over trying to see if it was OK to put regular fuel in this thing but, well, it's compression ratio is geared for premium, period. Yes, the computer will detect knocks and compensate but faces the very real risk of engine damage over the long term. Besides, the fuel economy would be less with regular fuel. The problem is that with a price hike of ~$.35/gallon for premium fuel, I'm looking at ~$236/year extra for premium fuel assuming 25k miles/year @ 37 MPG. Not a big deal I suppose. Maybe I'll buy it.
I need to visit some dealerships with my 3 year old because she needs to be able to see out of the window while perched in her car seat. Remember, it's a long commute and I don't want to deprive her the opportunity for some free and abundant visual stimuli.

Then I read a column in a recentish Consumer Reports listing ways to eke the best fuel economy out of one's car. Top of the list was driving 55 on the highway. Seems the energy required to propel a car exponentially increases with velocity due to wind drag. As an example, they said a Toyota Camry lost 5MPG when moving from 55 to 65 mph. Geez, I go 70-75 the whole way. I made up my mind that for at least (2) tanks worth I would drive a maximum of 55 on the highway, increase speed gradually -- essentially drive like I had an open fish tank in the back seat.
Now I have to use cruise control since 55 feels SO slow and I have the tendency to subconsciously creep up to 75 no matter what. I have (4) lanes to choose from: HOV, left, middle, right. 55 in the HOV just doesn't seem fair since the drivers behind me a trapped without legal recourse. The left lane is for passing so I'm not going to be that cantankerous jerk one runs into now and then that plants themselves in the "passing" lane and crawls. The right seemed the best bet, but the speed turns out to be far too desultory for cruise control use with drivers getting off an on exits constantly. As a sidebar, it really peeves me when I set the cruise control and find I have to constantly abort because the car in front can't keep a consistent speed. The middle lane is really the best for this 55 mph experiment since I can plant myself with the cruise control and drivers have lots of options.
Being on the other side of the fence -- the non-aggressive driver -- is an interesting state on the LIE and I encourage folks to try it as a sociological experiment. For the most part, drivers creep right up to your rear bumper, hover there for a bit as a reminder, and then blinker their way around and back in front. Some give a wide berth and blinker in a generous distance ahead. There are the people that pause to assess you as they pass, typically a stone-faced, goateed youth with sunglasses, and annoyingly blinker in at a close car length ahead. I've seen drivers flash their brights and wildly swerve around and cut in front without blinkers. One chest-beater even tapped the brakes and slowed down after cutting in front until he lost interest. This aggravated me since I had to cancel cruise control. It's remarkable how riled up some people become when faced with a driver going 55 in the center lane. I was probably one of those people not so long ago.
It was also interesting to note how fast large SUV owners drive. I wonder if they know that the advertised 15mpg highway sticker on their truck is probably under 10 when driving 75-80. And why are there so many large SUVs on the road with only a single driver? I see this every day. What an incredible waste.