Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Car tales -- if it wasn't true, it wouldn't be funny.

Da set up.

My father had a beaten-down, 23 year old car that he did not want to part with. While my mother has a driver's license, she has not driven in the last 20 years. My sister who lives with them, flat out doesn't want to drive. Every time I talked to him about replacing it with a safer, modern car that was smaller, he'd say that this was his last car, since no one else in the household drove. I told him that his excuse was a poor one, because he could simply sell the newer vehicle if he stopped driving, or could keep it around for other members of the family to use when we came down to visit.

I call it da-unsafe-at-any-speed-car. 

For years, the car's suspension would bottom out, whenever driving through a curb ramp. That was somehow fixed, but then the shocks were extra-bouncy, making speed bumps more like a trampoline ride -- go over a bump and bounce for the next 10 seconds. This being Hawaii, there was rust everywhere, but to cover it up, my father simply bought a can of white spray paint and sprayed over the rust. So not only was there rust spreading everywhere, but because he spray-painted over it, you couldn't tell if some body part was marginally attached or not. Then there was the sagging roof upholstery that constantly sat on my head, the broken pieces of the interior, and the scratched up windshield.

Last December -- my previous trip back -- I'd noticed that the speedometer was way off. How far off, I don't know, but it was at least 10 MPH off. That made me wonder if the odometer was off, too, which would have made his mileage figures all wrong.

The rear view mirror was also loose, requiring an over-adjustment to compensate for the loose neck. The overdrive button cover had gone missing, the radio just plain stopped working, and something was definitely wrong with the rear wheels because I could hear and feel them wobbling around, but not like a balance problem, but more like an ABS issue.

But the worst part, considering that this was hot and humid Hawaii, was that the AC was no longer cold. We brought the car in to refill the refrigerant, only to find out that the AC compressor was about to fail and the fan wasn't working. We filled up on refrigerant, and it seemed that we bought a little bit of time. Two days later, while driving, I saw smoke coming out from the compressor's side, just as the AC stopped being cold, and I knew that the compressor had blown.

He finally seemed amenable to getting a new car, so I built a visual spreadsheet of about 8 different small vehicles, used and new, to choose from. He picked, as I expected, the Chevy Spark, among his top-3. I'd been talking about the Chevy Spark, back in December, even stopping at the dealer just to take a quick look at it while on the way from the grocery store, so he was familiar with it. The big selling point on it, was that it was the smallest 4-door, and would be easy to negotiate around narrow the driveway.

Da dealer sales fail.

We finally had an excuse to visit the dealer and take a closer look at the car. Amazingly, it took the front sales guy about 30 minutes to pull out a car for us to look at and test drive -- at times I thought that he'd abandoned us. They wanted to negotiate, despite my telling them that we were only interested if they offered us the median KBB price. Incredulously, they used the same sales tactics as I encountered 25 years ago. Just to get their best price, I had to stand up and pretend that I was leaving. His first best price was the face value of the MSRP, and then his final best price was the employee discount rate -- neither of which was within the median price buyers paid. So we walked.

I wasn't lying, after all, when I said that we were only interested in buying the KBB median. But the middle sales guy did lie to me, often. I nearly called him out when he insisted that the LS price listed by KBB was not the same as the LS1 package he was showing. All I needed to do was pull out his own sales brochure on the Spark, to show that there was no LS1. He even denied knowledge of dealer holdback. That he got into a little huff when I expressed disinterest in the employee price -- it was amusing theatrics, but I think the problem was that he just never could figure me out (most people can't ready me). I wasn't going to chase after the vehicle if he wasn't prepared to give me the KBB median.

Following our walk out of the dealer, my father then vacillated for the rest of the time that I was there, between buying a new car, a used car, or spending either $2,000 or $4,000 on repairing his old car.

Da tantrum.

There was a point where I thought that I had convinced him to get a 2-year old used Spark that a different dealer had available. The next day I drove him out to that dealer, and he went off on some tantrum about how the blue was lighter than the blue one we had test-driven the other day. I took offense that a man who required eye surgery, glasses, vitamins for his eyes, and can't drive at night, was telling someone who can discern 98% of the Munsell Hue Test, that the two colors weren't the same. But then I realized that it was his way of expressing displeasure about something else, and that the color was merely a convenient point to express his tantrum about something else. So naturally I printed the colors from the two different years, and inserted it into the Spark brochure so that he could see for himself that they were the same.

It was at this point, that he expressed certainty that he wasn't going to buy a car, and instead would spend $4,000 to fix up the old one. I figured this was yet another expression of a tantrum. But since I was leaving soon, I decided there was no point to reiterating the ridiculousness of his intention to spend $4,000 to fix a car worth maybe $500 at most.

Da punchline.

One week later, my sister, who'd gone back to continue to help take care of my parents, calls and tells me that he bought a used, white Spark.

5 Thoughts for May 5, 2015

  1. I bought ground meat, 93% lean, from Safeway, on sale at $3.99 / lb. The first thing I noticed was that the meat was saturated in water. While cooking, rather than fat (because it's very lean) coming out, I saw lots of water. It should be illegal to increase the weight of ground meat using water.
  2. Happy Cinco de Mayo. This being America, of course we would celebrate another country's victory in war, by drinking and over-eating. Sort of like non-Catholics partying on Fat Tuesday, like they were preparing for Lent, without participating in Lent, of course.
  3. The popular narrative of the Freddie Gray story is wrong. It isn't about racism, but about an illegal arrest with excessive use of force, followed up by a lack of human decency. Half of the six officers involved are black. With social media the way it is, people react to the news as though they know the whole story, minutes after the story has broken. Once that narrative was written, it couldn't be changed.
  4. I've been getting so many error messages with Yahoo Mail, it reminds me of why I do not use Yahoo Mail as my primary email. Just for fun, go to isitdownrightnow.com and look up the different websites for their response / ping times. You'll notice a big difference between Gmail and the other email services (Yahoo and Outlook / Hotmail). Speaking of email, I've tried it, multiple times and I just can't wrap my head around Google's Inbox. I really dig the tabs of Gmail, and Inbox removes the tab in favor of a single, inline grouping.
  5. TriMet's Orange Line is going to open, officially, on September 12 of this year, but you'll be able to go across it on August 9 as a part of Bridge Pedal. On August 22, there's going to be a fireworks show just for Tilicum Crossing. I'm going to have to talk to the folks at All Classical about getting a front-row seat.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

More photos from Hawai'i.

Still unloading photos. Learned some things along the way: Extension tubes for macro, even when you've gone minimum aperture (f/32), means that your range of focus is extremely narrow. I split my use between a macro lens and the extension tubes.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A quick word about Russia.

For some strange reason, there's been a massive boost in page views from Russia, and by massive, I'm talking hundreds of views over normal. So I thought I'd take a bit of time to talk about Russia-US.

Russia-US relations are truly weird

There is ongoing cooperation in various things, whether NASA-Roscosmos, or on easing Iran's nuclear program, while at the same time there are Ukrainian-related economic and targeted sanctions.

As the US restarts relations with Cuba, a continued ally of Russia, the US is cranking up sanctions against Argentina, a Russian ally.

We went at one point hearing US conservatives rant about rapprochement between Obama and Medvedev, to US conservatives cheering Putin's masculinity when he confronted Obama on a series of issues, despite these same conservatives demanding that Obama ramp up the confrontation with Putin.

The conservatives are all the same

Conservatives in both countries are totally against cooperation of any kind. They would rather crank up military might and speed up their military infrastructure buildups along the periphery, to create opportunities for direct confrontation and an expansion of influence.

In Russia you have old KGB members and former Soviet military who seem to find comfort in knowing that the US is an enemy. In the US we have old white men who continually push to spread US bases around the world and boost military spending (first by eliminating only that portion of the sequester cuts that affect the military budgets).

Conservatives in the US have to disguise their racism directed at Obama, while Russian conservatives have no social norms holding them back from attacking the skin color of Obama. This dichotomy is perfectly illustrated, here. In it, you'll note that the Russian MP clearly states that the image came from American friends -- I've noted before, if you're in the conservative email circle, you get all sorts of outrageously racist stuff.

Our nations have commonalities

Yeah, we all know about crony capitalism in Russia, but we have crony politics in the US. Koch money buying political influence is no different than Putin shakedown -- they're opposite sides of the coin.

Both countries continue to invest heavily in war machines that, unleashed, would destroy the Earth 10x over, even as both countries have mutually reduced their nuclear stockpiles over the last 30 years.

You think that Russia is hard on the press? The Obama Administration has gone after more than a few journalists, in search of leakers who've tried to shed light on US policies. It seems ironic that Russia is a refuge for Snowden, a guy who exposed a massive lie being propagated by some members of the US government, on domestic spying, and yet here we are.

These are, of course, all the wrong commonalities you'd want to share, but that's life.

Some photos from Hawai'i.

Just a handful of photos, for now. It takes time to convert to DNG, then import, make some color corrections, etc., and save them in the proper sizes. A couple of hibiscus, three plumeria and one palm photos.

5 Thoughts for April 26, 2015

  1. Someone really needs to do something about Trimet's Max schedule. Coming back from Hawaii, I took the Red Line into town. At the Gateway Transit Center, the line suddenly changed to a Blue Line. I reached the Rose Quarter Transit Center and got off to transfer to the Green Line -- as the announcement over the PA system on the train said. I got out, and damn, after 10 minutes of trying to figure out when the next Green Line is coming -- and mind you this is before midnight -- I suddenly realized that the reason why there was no listing for the Green Line, is because there were no more Green Lines coming. Having an automated PA announcement telling you to get off to transfer onto another Max train that isn't actually available, is dumb. I walked about 20 minutes home, in light rain, past midnight. Gee, thanks Trimet.
  2. A long time ago, I used to wear a variety of Swatch watches (I'm so late-80's / early-90's). Before then, I'd worn a stainless steel, self-powered watch, and Casio stainless steel digital watches. The thing most people who buy smart watches -- including the iWatch -- seem to be clueless about, is that stuff on your arms will get dinged around like crazy. By the time I'd stopped wearing my Swatch watches, the faces and edges were all scratched up, and in once case, cracked. The glass on my stainless steel watches had been scratched, too. If you're going to wear a watch, it's going to get damaged over time. 
  3. Life is like jazz -- you can either improvise and go with the flow, or keep playing the same old tune, the same way, while some who enjoy playing the same tune over and over again, will find a desire to mix it up just a little, and then start using this new tune to play over and over again. Not knowing what comes next, can be scary for most people; stability is highly coveted. People will say that they love unexpected surprises, but what they really mean to say is that they love the predictable, pleasant surprises, only.
  4. So, the parents have this oldish Mac which needed a new mouse. I can positively report, that using a Logitech wireless mouse with the two buttons and scroll, makes your experience a little bit closer to that of Windows, with the right-click. And it cost half the price of an Apple wired mouse, too. The problem with the oldish Mac, is that it has just 1GB of RAM, so you pretty much can't use most modern browsers with multiple tabs open. I saw the "spinning pinwheel of death" about once every five minutes, making it about as laggy as my old netbook from 2009. I'm going to place more effort into securing a Chromebook for them, for this year.
  5. Got a FedEx package coming, but you're going to be out of town? When you're tracking the package on FedEx's website, you can do what I did, and have the delivery changed to the closest FedEx location, and then call that location to request that they hold onto your package until you get back. This way, your package won't be stolen by unscrupulous folks in your apartment / condo.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A really good cup of coffee.

Okay, so I'll give up the name of the coffee I bought at the Farmer's Market at Blaisdell, earlier this week. It's from the Aikane Plantation in Ka'u, on the Big Island. (Don't get put off by their poorly-made website, or the lack of matching colors between their wares and their website -- I guess Pantone is not in their lexicon.) This coffee is as smooth if not smoother than Kona, which is to say that I haven't ever had Kona coffee this smooth, but there are a lot of Kona coffee producers with very expensive beans that I haven't tried.

Ka'u is not the same place I remember it to be when I visited, decades ago. Sugar used to dominate the state, and the Big Island in particular -- my mother's family grew up working in a sugar plantation and had in fact tried to grow coffee, but failed during the Depression, in Kona -- you can read about the changes from sugar to coffee, here and here. On Google Earth you can see massive agricultural plots, most of which seems dedicated to coffee growing.

A lot of credit to the Aikane Plantation for getting their stuff out there, and don't be surprised if Ka'u coffee is the next big thing in coffee. This stuff is really good.