Update on Lina the Mazda3, and reflections on What I Learn About Myself via Lina the Mazda3

In the beginning weeks of November… Lina the Mazda3 had two $500 problems that cropped up on Wednesdays.  The first problem was a sort of “Oh, well, she’s an old car”… but the second $500 problem was found to have caused the first and set me off into a small histrionic fit that had me hovering my hand over the big red button that said “TRADE IN”.

I did not trade her in, and two more Wednesday’s have gone by and the Check Engine Light has stayed off.  Also, I seem to be getting slightly better mileage and aside from a few “Some contents have shifted” cold weather rattles, Lina is pooting along as lovely as before.

I realize that had I rushed and traded in Lina it would have been a silly decision. Lina is paid off and still drives well and looks good (she is still getting the “wait… THAT’S A 2004!?” compliments.)  So she doesn’t flag under the “Doesn’t feel safe” or “Looks so old it makes you sad” criteria given to me by my parents.  She also only has one weird issue (“Oh, sometimes the A/C wigs out and turns itself off.  Just turn the fan off and back on and it’ll work again”) so she doesn’t meet the “If you can’t hand the keys over without a lecture or a pamphlet” criteria of my friends (Who I think got it from Car Talk).  Also, the cost of a cheap-ass new car or semi-nice used car would start at around $200 a month.  So financially, since Lina is safe and looks nice and they keys only come with one footnote… she has an unplanned maintenance allowance of $2400 a year.

So, going into my 3-ring binder of service history (Of course I have a 3 ring binder with receipts/service reports from every time maintenance was done.  Why don’t you?)  This year she had a coolant/transmission flush and a new engine mount in June for about $380 extra, new spark plugs in September for about $60 extra, The new fuel system check pump for $518, and the new magic plastic fuel tank disc for $512 in November.  So assuming Lina can hold it together and not have any issues that cost more than $930 to fix between now and Jan 1… it’s cheaper to keep ‘er.  And to be honest, the tune-up stuff (coolant/transmission/spark-plugs) shouldn’t really count.

Granted, it sucks to get suddenly have to pay a $1000 larger-than usual credit card bill… But really, I’ve gotten so on top of my financial game with YNAB that it wasn’t threatening “The Big financial responsibilities (in order of importance:  Taxes, mortgage, insurance, student-loan-and-car-payoff, retirement, groceries, drag-queens, restaurants)  it just meant I had to empty some of my smaller savings buckets (“new fan/chandelier for living room.” “Big, Shiny UPS that can actually tell all my computers to gracefully shut down in the case of a power outage”,  “New computer of some sort in two years or so.” “Fund to take down humongous pine trees sometime in the future”) and leave an IOU in them for the next 3 paycheck month (In January).

As an aside, I noticed a bunch of people sassing Eric for essentially doing what I’ve asked him to do very early-on in our relationship, which is help me on willpower saving throws against the shiny.

[A]s writer Charles Stross would put it, the ability to make a saving throw against the shiny; i.e., internalizing the idea that you don’t need every new thing just because it’s nice and pretty and can do one thing that thing you have like it can’t do. This is a tough one for me, I admit. I do so love the shiny, and sometimes I give in when I shouldn’t (as long as I have the money for it). But most of the time, I buy well, and buy to last — and then use it until it begs me to let it die. And then I use it for a year after that! Grandpa would be proud.  – Scalzi, whatever blog

I have a low genetic and imbued resistance to the shiny.  I grew up upper middle class and have a birthday right-opposite from Christmas.  Thus I grew up with the notion that I could get Whatever I Want about Twice A Year and would scan television trying to figure out what the best candidate for what that semi-annual shiny thing would be.  I’m also very smart and have amazing rationalization powers.  Luckily growing up I also had My Brother… who basically played bad-cop and warned me away from the dangers of bad-money-management right around the time I was getting to drive:

“Okay, we have Internet.  Get on the computer and research how much it is to Insure a 16-year-old male in North Carolina with a brand new car like that Dodge Neon you want.  Oh look!  It’s $300 a month!  That’s the same payment as the neon itself.  It’s like they’re expecting you to immediately run it into something! Now, look at how much it is to insure a 1988 Camry like the one mom is planning to give you… Oh look, $180 a month… way more reasonable… and if you keep it going… you can save up and get whatever car you want at a better rate”

He also warned me about credit cards.  And told me I would despite his warnings run up a huge bill and have to deal with it right after college, and he was completely right.  He is also the one who bought me YNAB for my birthday a few years ago.

Eric is my new bad cop.  He agreed to fight with me and shoot each of my rationalizations in the kneecaps and make me sleep on things to consider my want vs need of a thing.   I have been able to talk him into stuff (Miata, Wood Flooring, Cairo) but it took about a month per $3000 of discussion (two months per $4000 if it wasn’t something he really wanted as well).  Hence we’re always bickering about things I want and whether I really need them or whether it’s just another flight of fancy with whatever shiny thing that caught my fancy.  And we both sort of enjoy the bickering more than we let on.  And the bickering is directly proportional to how fascinated/mesmerized/immediate my fascination is.

So yeah, it wasn’t Lina’s time… and Eric was monumental in talking me away from the Candy-Apple-Red Trade-In button… and the fact that neither of us died wrongful deaths during that process is no small testament to our esteem for each other.

They Don’t Know #091: New Job, Old Cars, New love for Old Friends

Greetings everyone!  It’s nice talking to you again… I come out of a funk to discuss my new job, the havoc of a job change, and log all the little things that happened over nearly a year.

If you loved this episode (and I know you did) get in touch!  Ask us questions and leave sassy comments on the voicemail line ((774) 377-9386)!  Write us emails (epilonious@gmail.com)!  Tweet at us and shtuff!

http://www.epilonious.net
aim/yim/skype/twitter/: epilonious
voicemail: (774) 377-9386

Socially Speaking…

So, Facebook did something sort of silly around the beginning of September.  No, not the usual “Giving a bit too much of your info to people who would use it to try and sell you stuff” gaffe (they’ll continue to do that anyways, they are a public company now and every decision they make has to justify growth and profit to a bunch of shareholders who can be easily stereotyped as that rich great uncle nobody likes who tries to manipulate the family by rewriting the will every other week.)

No, they started going after people making fake profiles.  Worse, they started using really good algorithms to determine which profiles were fake and ended up nailing a good chunk of them rapidly over the span of a couple of weeks.

Now, as a programmer and a fan of social networks… I completely understand why Facebook did this.  They get two very important wins:  Real Profiles don’t grief other people (and if they are dumb enough to do so, they can be censored/censured much easier) and Real Profiles generate much more accurate marketing data (which is very important to that *ist rich uncle stockowner hoping to see Facebook stock value increase).

Unfortunately, they are alienating a subset of people who live mostly by their alias, the ones spoken-of the most are those who legitimately need to maintain a high degree of anonymity (seeking refuge from icky guardians, awful bosses, crazy exes and what-not) and persons undergoing transitions of gender or other aspects of their identity. The ones I HEAR from the most are a gaggle of drag queens whose names got caught in the really good fake-name finding algorithms.  Facebook pretty much whacked the hornets nest.

I am disappointed in Facebook and it’s programmers/planners for being so lazy.  Their answer to the fact that several folks legitimately want to have fake names or be sort-of-anonymous was to freak out and threaten drag queens with a banhammer while trying to force them to publicize themselves through pages (which are what you hand to a publicist so they can badger everyone who ever bothered to like you, and not at all intuitive).

Trying to force people into a model never works.  The prudent programmer allows flexibility in their data models to reflect and fit what people want to do while minimizing the ways people can accidentally or intentionally hurt each other.  I feel that when the dust settles from all this fracas Facebook is going to do what it should have done and allow not-a-real-name profiles where you check a little box saying “this is a pseudonym” and pops up a wizard that helps you set your permissions accordingly (“Are you trying to remain anonymous?  Are there folks you want to pre-block?  Would you like some tips in subtle aggrandization of your shows or dress-making business for $5.99?”).

Meanwhile, I am also sort of annoyed at all the drag queens.  I sympathize with the drag queens who spent years working on their profiles and loading them up with pictures and events and generally filling up the ‘book with all sorts of disruptive innovation.  But if using Facebook outside it’s terms of service was a cornerstone of your publicity empire than maybe that empire needed a disruptive innovation of its own.

I also sympathize with the anonymous folks the drag queens claim to speak for… But all the calls for boycotts and the repeated posting of their username on Ello… ugh Seriously?  Ello?  It’s the underwhelming love child of Twitter and LiveJournal.  It’s buggy and invite-only; you can’t run events or message people; it has no mobile presence;  and you can’t block people or deny friendships.  And you’re recommending this over facebook for all those near-oppressed souls who are trying to get away from evil parents, nosy bosses, and scary exes!?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just say “name yourself John/Jane Smith”?

Dietetics

Fatty is on a diet.

What I mean by “fatty” is:  “Hrm.  I seem to keep pinging 250 lbs… and while it’s nice that my semi-regular gym visits make me look feel like I am only 220 lbs… I should probably start trying to eat better and make those gym visits a bit more regular.”  What I mean by diet is: “instead of going out to eat for two meals a day, or having an entire frozen pizza for dinner, or having corn dogs for breakfast, or having a half pound of random taffy-esque office-candy for lunch, or [insert nutritionally suspect decision here]… I should focus on assembling things from ingredients that don’t come pre-mixed with preservatives and half-an-ocean’s worth of salt and corn syrup.”  I am going to focus on having a piece of fruit and a box of frozen veggies handy for grazing when I feel a bit peckish but don’t want to yet assemble some English Muffin Mini Pizza or make dinner for Eric and I to share.  Finally I’m starting to track what I’m eating for a few weeks to spot check whether certain things are way higher/lower in calories than I suspected… and which foods my body reacts-to as ‘hollow’.  Again.

The push today is because yesterday was particularly bad for my ego: I accidentally wore a shirt that was too tight around the middle on a day that was too warm for a jacket.  Thus I spent the entire day sucking in my gut and generally trying to not inflict my stretching-at-the-button sausage casing on coworkers and the dentist (who I am rather sure don’t give a shit) .  The day was spent eating better and drinking naught but water and going on a 5K treadmill run.  By 8:30 I was exhausted and had to skip out on a Ru Paul Viewing party, and this morning I was sore in the ribs from spending all day asking my diaphragm and abdominal muscles to haul all those pesky organs up into the rib cage.

I don’t wish for my glory days of being near 160 lbs… where I discovered DDR the same time I switched to diet coke and had a late 2 inch growth spurt… and everyone was a bit worried that I had an eating disorder. Instead I’m wishing for my glory days of being near 200 lbs, which at least had me on the top end of “normal” as opposed to pinging against “obese” using the CDC’s increasingly beleaguered BMI index.  Thus, I’m going to do the tracking and the better planning but avoid the “NO YOU CAN’T EAT THAT IT IS DEMON FOOD YOU FAT FAT FATTY FAT FAT” internal dialogue which seems counterproductive.  Especially since people (whether imaginary or real) screaming at me that I can’t do something sets off the precocious inner child who proudly dances around and goes “Just watch me, asshole”.

As I think more and more about diet in general (in terms of ‘eating better’ and not ‘panicky weight loss through fear’)… I notice this trend that there seems to be 400,000 articles out there that seem to say some combination of “I found this thing that worked for me… for as long as I could stand it before I fell off the wagon and went back to un-obsessive eating”  and only 200 of the articles seemed to end with “and it stayed off” and 150 of those were folks who still bike to work every day or are Los Angelino Personal Fitness Gurus.  The other 399,800 articles bemoan an inability to find things that were not low-grade psychological and physical torture and how much it sucks that weight watching in general creates a stress feedback loop designed to fight any mass change.

Cut to me listening to an episode of the Sawbones podcast discussing homeopathy and a prior article about how homeopathy works (and doesn’t)… and I get a little brainstorm to follow-up upon:  Homeopathy should totally be dedicated to diet and exercise.  Cue my rudimentary understanding of Homeopathy:

  • Homeopathic medical technician (HMT) interviews the crap out of you to see what you eat, how it makes you feel, what you do, gets medical history, history of ailments.  Way longer and deeper than general medical practitioners would… (this is basically therapy and generally tends to make people feel better just because they get an ally in understanding whatever is chronically bothering them)
  • HMT looks at an index of things that cause those symptoms given family history and medical studies to make diagnosis of condition(s).  (rather solid here)
  • HMT takes thing that causes those symptoms (willow-bark, arsenic, some other poison) and rather than giving you those poisons, puts that poison in water and dilutes that water 10,000 times so that the “aura” of the poison is in the water and has curative powers (that’s where it gets a bit hokey).

Now… a bacterial infection or cancer is probably still best handled ‘allopathically’ (IE, antibiotics, surgery, and chemotherapy to fight the things that ail you, as opposed water with the aura of something that is like a bacterial infection or your cancer symptoms)… but since diets always seem to fail unless they are painstakingly maintained… I feel like sitting down with someone who can get down to the basics of any food based issues you may have (“You tend to deal with anxiety by living in a house made of candy and not facing your feelings”, “oats make your stomach send acid envoys to your throat to burn out your esophagus”,  “Red Meat turns you into a gas furnace”,  “shrimp makes your gout flare up”, “citrus makes you swell up and die”, “tofu has you chasing the diarrhea dragon”)  and frankly, saying “cake poisons you and gives you massive heartburn, drink this cake-water instead, especially whenever you feel a bit nervous” seems like a good way to handle it.

I’ll get back to you later to see if the strawberry laffy-taffy water, nerd water, or tootsie-roll water helped.  Also, I feel like this is already an industry and has words like “toxin” and “chelating” attached to it a bunch.

They Don’t Know #090: Tooth Mirages

Greetings everyone!  It’s nice talking to you again… I reach out to talk about equilibrium in life, a fun cute little car that I am obsessed with, teeth, and how you need a budget.

If you loved this episode (and I know you did) get in touch!  Ask us questions and leave sassy comments on the voicemail line ((774) 377-9386)!  Write us emails (epilonious@gmail.com)!  Tweet at us and shtuff!

http://www.epilonious.net
aim/yim/skype/twitter/: epilonious
voicemail: (774) 377-9386

Buttoning up the cars for winter.

Yesterday was a bit of a full day…

  • walked dog
  • Took Amelia the Miata for an oil change, found she was due for a new air filter, manual transmission service, and diff service
  • ordered some chrismtas presents for friends
  • Got Mom Birthday/Christmas presents
  • Got new shoes as my old ones had a hole in the sole
  • Poured a half bottle of stabil into the tank of amelia, filled her as full of gas as I could, and then parked her in the garage.
  • Hooked Amelia’s battery to a float charger, plugged float charger into the wall
  • Decided to do the same button-up to Gerta the Merkur
  • Found that the cable for the hood release had snapped at the handle, triggered hood release using pliars.
  • Found that critters had eaten through a radiator hose
  • Detached radiator hose of Gerta, drained coolant
  • Drove to get new radiator hose, new coolant, and second fan belt.
  • Installed new radiator hose, filled with new coolant
  • Went to nearby gas station, put second half of bottle into tank, realized I misplaced my wallet
  • drove home, searched for wallet, could not find, called advance auto parts, tried to call gas station
  • drove back to gas station, found wallet in gas station trashcan, made other people pumping gas feel a bit weirded out when I told them how lucky I felt
  • filled merkur, drove home, attached float chargers
  • drove to friends place, helped friend sort through stacks and stacks of old stuff
  • drove home feeling really tired and achey and sniffly
  • walked dog
  • rubbed cayenne pepper on the Merkur’s heater hose (hopefully so critters don’t gnaw through it again), covered the hood vent with plastic wrap, covered the Merkur.

Today I slept in, bought some snacks-for and later went-to a lovely D&D game taking Cairo along, watched Requiem for a Dream (because my cold has me taking day-quil/ny-quil and what better time to watch that movie for the first time when you are sort of loopy on cold medicine).  Love me some jump cuts to string music.

Hope you all had a good weekend, or that your weekend is still on because of Veteran’s day.

Drag Queens and Drinkin’

Awesome things about yesterday:

  • A little “Hey, we should play DDR sometime” discussion morphed fully into a DDR event… one that shifted times and day about 4 times until it was right up against Dragnificent… but one where most everyone invited showed up… and one where I still managed to lose 5 lbs despite samosa and cheeseburger and fries. There will be more DDR Events. Let me know if you are interested.
  • Work has maintained it’s awesomeness… There’s just something magical about being handed a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet to play-with and attending staff meetings where folks talk about interactions with brilliant/powerful figures in computing and public health worlds without sounding name-droppey.
  • Dragnificent was wonderful despite name-dropping. It was worth staying out late on a school night (although if I seem reticent today, it’s because the lack of sleep means I have had to place my medium duty “DO NOT RESPOND WITH YOUR FIRST IMPULSE BECAUSE IT WILL BE OVERLY DEFENSIVE AND BITCHY AND NOT IN A FUN WAY” filter).   I also am still tickled that I have a ‘Drag Queens and Drinkin’ category for You Need A Budget.
  • I seemed to show up just at the right time for all the events in a very packed day, all while maintaining patience in traffic. Punctual Peter is Happy Peter.

Also, I am living for You Need A Budget, previously recommended by my friend Kim, and then re-recommended by my Brother, who bought it for me as a gift through steam.  Steam now shows off to the world how much time I spend tweaking numbers.  I am also living for Drag Queen terminology like “I am living for…” because it gives me life.

More Rotations

So, when we last left off I was gearing up for some downtime while I waited for the New Project that was going to be like a basket of kittens and muffins.  In the meantime, two people from the CDC I used to work with that I really enjoyed working-with and only stopped working-with because of politics way out of my control… apparently were in a position to hire someone-like-me and asked specifically-for-me.  I was asked to re-take a job that can be summed-up-as “research this cool thing, and write a blog post on whether it is, in fact, cool… and if so, curate it into a non-heuristic demo that will be presented at conferences and likely consumed by various universities and public-health-think tanks.”  The last time I was in this position I had a cool mash up that polled live data from Poison Control and coordinated it with Geodata to display a heatmap using google map widgets.  It got me co-authored in a paper and I got to present at a conference and display the demonstration to the head of the CDC at the time.

Thus, the basket of kittens and muffins from the universe was upgraded to a trailer full of unicorns and cake, and the several credit-card based checks from the bank of trouble were cashed in for a mortgage.  Being a good tauntalist (a religion based on the idea that there is a God, and she is essentially good but really likes messing with people that tend to freak out… which could be simplified as karma… as I cannot go a week without tickling those that hate being tickled and hugging those who don’t like to be hugged) I prepared for Some Crazy to come my way:  I was sure that while I was hitching up the trailer full of unicorns and cake to the Mazda, a tornado was picking up a dumptruck full of used anvils to make my drive to the unicorn stables and cake convention a bit less smooth.

The big one, of course, is the shutdown.  The whole thing happened right as everything was ramping-up and I was figuring out what new tech I should play-with.  I also feel awful for the awesome new folks I am looking forward to working-with because they aren’t getting paid as the shenanigans go on.  I’ll spare lots of political invective and simply say that I hope everything wraps up soon and will hope for bipartisan efforts to prevent such things from happening in the future.

In the meantime, I’m keeping a stiff upper lip.  I have some other things I can be doing, and I am still getting paid because I am insulated by my contracting company who is pretty much telling me to be back at the office within an hour of a budget breakthrough.  It’ll be great to see everyone working again.

Rotations

After about 2 years, the project I had at Gillem Enclave (South Atlanta, near the airport) is over .  Thus, my 70-85 mile daily commute during rush hour is also over.  My next project looks to have me mainly working-from-home with occasional travel to my company’s mother-ship in downtown Atlanta and even less occasional travel to the DC-area.  Today will be the first day I haven’t made the commute, and there is naturally some adjustment while I plan and deal.  A few things that that keep running through my head:

  • I am getting back roughly 2-3 hours a week-day, and $50 a week… I am also getting back emotional and willpower strength, as I will not have to concentrate really hard on being courteous in traffic
  • I am shifting from an application support role to an application research and develop role and stand in front of folks and be a smartypants showing off my research and development… which is ostensibly what I want and what I keep telling myself and others that I want.  The application I’ll be researching is also nifty, in one of my stronger tech bases, and has plenty of room for expansion and improvement.
  • I’ll get to work from home a bunch

Now.  These are both blessings and curses.  Blessings in the fact that they are humongous, lovely gifts from the universe and my job, which are often lucrative and satisfying… and curses in that they are things I’ve quietly been asking and hoping-for;  which are like gigantic credit-card-based checks from the Bank of Trouble. I am in a RuPaul’s Drag Race situation:  “Here Eppy!  It’s all the chances you’ve been wanting in a big shiny box with a humongous pretty bow, now go forth and build these opportunities into splendor and the satisfaction of your goals and dreams… and DON’T… Fuck it up.

Today has been very much about unpacking the box, opening the presents, inventorying all the parts, and skimming the instructions.  My goals are by Friday to have professional and personal plans about which things I want to start first prepared, committed to memory, and shared with appropriate parties.  If anything so we can laugh at them later.   Now, I not going to share my professional plans here one because I consider them BrainProduct owned by my company… and two because they would bore the living snot out of you.  If you really want to know, hit me up in comments or emails… and stick around as I’ll probably blather on about The Neat Thingy I Get To Play With and Make Better and Talk About To Other Smart People on future podcasts and rants.  But the private goals I do want to share with you, as I hope to share the benefits.

  • Most of the time and willpower I win back can be spent on Not Work Stuff.  That means more
    • Reading/Listening:  Of blogs, new blogs, podcasts, and new podcasts
    • Writing/Recording:  Of blogs and podcasts
    • Personal Betterment: Like going from hovering around 230 lbs to hovering around 200 lbs (which is simple enough by tracking what I eat so I am honest about when I’ve Had Enough for That Day… and going to the gym… which I have more time and willpower for).
    • Mild Home Improvement: which is less about bathroom renovation and more about keeping surfaces swept and/or scrubbed and presentable.  The goal is to keep the house up well enough that any Eric requests are actually going to be really helpful to him as opposed to just “If you’re going to be home all the time why don’t you clean up this mess”?
    • Presentation:  Of my house, of my baked goods, of movie nights and general gatherings.

Needless to say I’m kind of excited.

They Don’t Know Video #021; 2013 Mazda2 Touring Rental Car

In this video, I go over a 2013 (or maybe it was a 2012) Mazda2 Touring rental car my friend Mark got from a rent-a-car service.  The video was taken back in November, 2012 and I am just now getting around to editing, compressing and posting it.  I now remember why I might have procrastinated… poor little laptop from 2009 had to CHUG.

I have coveted the Mazda2 ever since it came to the states… namely because it reminds me of a car that I was imprinted-upon as a child as the coolest thing ever: the 1988 Geo Metro subcompact.  I think my love for a car that can otherwise be described as a cheap, gutless penalty box that looks like a shoe came from it’s massive utility envelope:  they were all hatchbacks with fold-down rear seats… meaning they could haul as much as most compact pickup trucks without exposing them to the elements… They could seat 4 people reasonably comfortably since the shoe-like styling gave them a high roof for bench seating… and they got ~53 mpg regardless of hills, highways, or stuffed to the gills with people and crap.  Some car rag had “we need to punish four new journalists so we’re going to make them all take a Geo Metro on a road trip” back in the day and the four journalists were like “well, it’s cheap and there’s tons of wind noise and we had to get some pillows to mock up lumbar support and the teeny, tiny, skinny tires mean you are told about every bump in the road… but we’ll be damned if it didn’t make 53 MPG even in the mountains and never gave us any problems”

Unfortunately, the geriatric drivetrain (1.6 through a 4-speed auto or 5-speed manual), Mazda’s tune for sportiness, and the added weight of safety mean that the Mazda2 really only gets about 36 MPG… which means that I would do better sneaking up to a Mazda3 SKYACTIV hatchback or a Mazda6 SKYACTIV Diesel… if I don’t find some way to fanagle my way into a electric car by the time I need to replace my main commuter.  But if they make a SKYACTIV Mazda2, it’s right back up on the top of the list.

epilonious@gmail.com
http://www.epilonious.net
aim/yim/skype: epilonious
voicemail: (774) 377-9386