Friday, December 01, 2006

Back home

Spent another Thanksgiving week in the Far East. The trip back took longer than norbal, in part due to Seattle weather. The kids fell asleep in the shuttle.

Reid slept this way the whole night.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

let's hear it for boobs!

It's a bit out of date now, but a couple weeks ago a woman was hassled on a plane because she was breastfeeding her child.

People are worried about what effect it will have on kids to see people breastfeeding. They don't worry about what effect it will have on kids to see people bottle feeding.

What effect does this have on kids? They learn that bottle feeding is normal, and that breastfeeding is not. Backwards!

Every time I think of someone saying "shame on you" for showing boobs, I want to say "shame on you" to someone for showing a baby bottle.

The article I linked above is sub-headed with "Files complaint saying she was being discreet, airline disagrees". I think that misses the point: discretion is counter-productive here.

Hey moms: if you're breastfeeding, don't hide it! Sure, I know you can do it discretely, but I encourage you to do the opposite. Make sure everyone can see what you are doing with your boobs.

When baby is hungry, don't whisper to your partner "honey, he's hungry". In a full voice, declare that you're going to feed your baby. Take your top & bra off before you latch on. Boldly demonstrate your technique. Sit in the middle of the room. On a stool. In the light.

Don't be ashamed of it, be proud! Make sure everyone knows how proud you are of what you are able to do for your child. Set an example for all the girls that see you ("Oh, I can do that when I'm a mom one day") and for the boys ("Oh, when I'm a dad one day, the mom of my child can do that"). You're doing them a great service.

Don't hide it, flaunt it!

With that in mind, here's a link to the Wikipedia article on breasts: I love the fact that Wikipedia doesn't self-censor around sex. That page is filled with boobs.

Let's hear it for boobs!

2 disclaimers are in order:

1) none of my 3 children were exclusively breastfed, but not for lack of trying. I can't attempt to take the holier-than-though attitude of saying that everyone should breastfeed, period. Instead, I know that it can be very hard, and may not always work out. But part of the reason is that as a breastfeeding mom you are isolated, shunned, and shamed, so it's hard to get the emotional and logistical support you need. If we celebrated & displayed breastfeeding, it would be easier to get that support.

2) I enjoy the appearance of breasts, and I do mean sexually. So I could just be saying this so I can see tits more often. It's nice when my various interests align.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Dylan takes a step; Zephyr stacks.

Moments ago Dylan took his first step.
When Reid started walking, he was very excited. He'd pull himself up and launch himself in the direction he wanted to go.  His face full of a huge smile, he'd take a few steps before he lost his balance, crashing to the floor in a fit of laughter.
Dylan has been balancing on two feet for over a month, and "cruising" for about as long.  (The term "cruising" describes the way babies will hold on to the edge of objects for balance while they get around on two feet).  Only a couple days after he started balancing with no hands he started crawling.  We had been worried he'd skip crawling all together, but instead he quickly became a speed-crawler, far outpacing his twin brother.  It was interesting how he learned two new skills in such quick succession.
Just a few minutes ago, Dylan was standing on two feet without holding on to anything, and decided he was facing the wrong direction.  He carefully shifted his balance, picked up one foot, and moved it.  Then he did it again, and again.  Then he decided he was done, and sat down to keep playing.  He didn't even seem to notice that he had taken his first steps.
In keeping with the 2 new skills pattern, he just started doing stairs, too.  We keep the stairs at home blocked off, so the babies don't get to practice.  But we're on vacation in a 3-story house at the beach.  Dylan discovered the stairs and now practices them regularly.  He will crawl from the ground floor to the loft above the 3rd floor without a pause.
Zephyr, weighing 5lbs more, gets an "A" for effort.  He sits at the bottom step and strains and makes a lot of noise and tries to get his feet in different position, but doesn't get very far. 
I don't want to give the impression that Zephyr isn't learning.  Last week he was putting a long toy block in an empty jar and figuring out why it wouldn't come out in certain positions.  Yesterday he found a set of coasters and started putting them away in their tray.  Today he started stacking things.  Right now he is looking at a rubber ducky that is trapped in an otherwise empty Animal Crackers tub, trying to figure out how to retrieve it.
Fun times.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Food in the large and in the small

An email about "The real cause of E. Coli in spinach" got me thinking, and I ended up writing this:
We should remember that as food production scales up, so does risk.  It's nearly impossible to ensure that every person involved in a large-scale process is careful and concientious about the work they do.  And when they make a mistake, the impact is likely to be wide-spread as well. 
When we turn to local, independent food producers (like I do with my milk), we reverse that equation.  We can get involved in our food sources.  I met the cows over the summer, which was awesome.  The food we get is fresher, more flavorful, and more nutritious.  It travels much less distance, is handled & processed less, and generates less polution.
It makes sense that large-scale food be regulated carefully by government.  At the same time, we need to be careful, as regulatory agencies can easily be co-opted by the revolving door, as regulations are never sufficient to guarantee safety (let alone quality!), and as rules can miss the relationship between risk, costs, and scale, thereby driving even more food production in to the less-safe realm of the multinational corporation.
I've been reading Sandor Ellix Katz' new book The Revolution will not be Microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movements, and am really enjoying it.  Every page I read gets me fired up.
I'm glad to be getting eggs, milk, cream, and butter via Stan the dairy farmer.  The power of the "share" model is incredible.  It makes direct-from-the-farmfood available to us, even in the face of regulations that don't fit, like a rule that says that it's dangerous to drink milk from a cow, unless it it first boiled, chilled, shipped, sold, shipped again, and sold again.  Weird.
What else can I get via shares?  I'd love some homemade sausages & bacon.  Mmm.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Carfree spaces

I think that I would enjoy living in a carfree area a great deal. I find these attributes very attractive:

  • cleaner air
  • less noise
  • closer-knit communities
  • safety, especially for children
  • better exercise for everyone
  • having less stress, and living around people with less stress
  • getting what we need locally (instead of from oil far away)
  • reduced dependence on government, major industry, and infrastructure

I saw this picture at, and found it beautiful:

Center of Groningen, The Netherlands
Part of the large nearly carfree center.

I read through the Wikipedia article List of car-free places with great interest, only to discover that the U.S. has very little to offer. Basically, Mackinac Island and Fire Island are your only real car-free options.

There is some mention of massive pedestrian shopping malls, but that's not what I'm looking for. It's not about shopping!

Why don't more cities have car-free spaces? Why doesn't each major city pick one district and make it car-free. Over time, some people will migrate in, and some will migrate out, depending on their taste. In 10 years, you'll know if you should grow it or shrink it.

For the Seattle, I propose Broadway on Capitol Hill.

How much can you do on a bike?

Bikes at Work has some impressive examples:

delivering 10 bags of groceries plus 15 rolls of paper towels and 70 packages of toilet paper

And I thought pulling 3 kids was a lot!  So now I'm all excited about how much I can do with a bike, instead of using the car.  If I can keep up the riding through the winter, then by spring I should be in good enough shape to start taking on a bit more.

What else can be done on a bike?

Bicycling a lot

Can it really be so long? 14 years?

When I was in high school, I started bicycling a lot. I rode to school every day. It was only 2 miles each way, but it made a difference. My dad & I would go for 30 mile rides each Wednesday, in the hilly Appalacians. A couple times we did the MS150, a fund-raiser ride for 150 miles in 2 days. I weight about 180lbs-190lbs, and didn't think about it at all.

Then I went to college, and stopped riding. I started smoking, made things worse a lot faster. I gained about 10lbs / year for a while.

Eventually I quit the smoking, but it was only this past spring that I really got any regular exercise. (a few summers ago I started doing a bit of exercise every day, mixing it up - swimming with my son, walking to/form work, in-line skates. I lost 15lbs from my peak of 280lbs, but the habit didn't stick when the weather changed).

However, for the last 6 months, I have been bicycling pretty regularly. I got a tandem attachment for my bike, and ride with my 5-year-old to school in the morning. I drop him & the tandem off, and then bike the rest of the way to work. I then pick up the tandem on the way home. It's a total of about 40 minutes of exercise each day.

I haven't lost much weight - maybe 4lbs in that time. But I can tell that I feel stronger, more able to move around. I am hopefull that as I continue to the biking habit I will continue to get fitter. I have 14 years to undo!

A couple weeks ago we picked up a kid trailer for the bike, too. One that can carry the twins. I attached it to the tandem trailer, so I now have a "bicycle" with 5 wheels! The trailer is way back there, so I bought a bunch of lights to make it a bit more visible. The seem to love the rides, which is a huge improvement over car rides, when they scream the whole time.

Last night the babies bike helmets arrived. They're a bit too big for their 8-month-old heads. Maybe I'll wait until the spring to take them out, when the weather is nicer and their heads have grown.In the meantime, I pull the trailer around whenever I ride with the tandem, so that I can build more strength and get some practice handling the rig.

I'm really enjoying it.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The money thing

So, I did end up creating a blog about my personal finances.  I couldn't really decide if it was important to be secret about my identity or not.  It bugs me that we have all these social rules about keeping secrets, mostly about sex & money, two things that seem to occupy our attention a lot of the time.
I didn't make it anonymous because I believe it's important to keep it secret.  I made it anonymous because I couldn't decide, but I know how to go from anonymous to onymous, but not the other way around.  That is, I took the "safe" bet.
If you are a reader of this blog, and would like a pointer to my money blog, drop me a line.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A very successful cheese

Last week I still had a 1/2-gallon of milk left over when the week's delivery of fresh milk arrived.  Remember that this is excellent raw milk that I get straight from the farmer.   This 1/2-gallon had gotten pretty sour, and no one was interested in drinking it.  But I didn't want to throw it out.  So, I decided to try an experiment.

I put the jar on the back of the stove, and left it.  After a few days it had "clabbered", or turned semi-solid.  Similar to yogurt.  As it continued to age, the acid that was produced by the naturally occuring bacteria caused it the clabbered curds to separate from the whey.

When the separation was significant (and when the babies gave me a chance to work on it), I moved the curds in to a cheesecloth, and hung it up to strain.  I left that for another day.

What I found inside was thicker than yogurt, but not as thick as store-bought cream cheese.  Close to the texture of chevre.  I added salt (which I should have done earlier, probably), and some powdered garlic.  It was in the middle of the night, because a baby had me up, and I didn't have a lot of light, and the cheese, garlic, and salt are all about the same color.  I have no idea how much I put in.

Mixed it up & tasted it.  Delicious! 

The other adults in the house loved it, too.  Last night I toasted some bread to make it crispy, and we spread it on.  Mmmm.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

An open wallet?

I have seen a couple interesting blogs where people talk in detail about their personal finances.  For example, My Open Wallet.
I think that my finances are slightly unusual (thanks to working at Microsoft), and my approach to managing it is sometimes unorthodox (just like everything else I do).
It's strange to me that the most secret of secrets is how much money you make. 
So, should I start writing about my finances publicly?
Should I do it anonymously?

Tips for living simply #3 - It's not about products

When I started down the path of simplifying my life, I decided to do some research on the internet to see if I could find some help.  One of the things I came across pretty quickly were web sites dedicated to simplicity.  What was disappointing about many of them was that they wanted me to buy products to simplify my life.

Yeah, that's right.  Got a problem with stuff in your life?  Here's some more stuff to help you out!

There's a pretty big industry for simplicity products.  That fact is quite telling about the nature of the society I live in.  And it's quite disturbing...

Even beyond the simplicity industry, many products offer to simplify your life. It's a common advertising ploy, but usually an absurd one.  Like a credit card or a vacation would solve the fact that you are in debt and don't have enough time to keep your home in order.

There's another issue with products, at least one that I'm deeply concerned with.  Things that are produced for the mass market seem to conflict with the dreams that I mentione before.  They are made with plastics, or in sweat shops, or have to be transported a long, long way.

Despite the message of advertising to the contrary, they're not produced to do me a favor. The purpose is to get some other guy rich.  He's not likely trying to help me and help himself at the same time, but trying to help himself, no matter what it might cost me.
So, watch out for products.  You probably don't need the one that you're looking at right now...

It's about time...

I had this thought:
"I'm in no rush to invent a time machine"

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Tips for living simply #2 - don't go too far

This is really a corollary of know your dreams. You could get rid of just about everything you own, and live in a practically empty space. Think of Jack's parent's home in Brokeback Mountain. Or you could get by with just enough to fit in a backpack.

Those are interesting possibilities, but for me they aren't realistic. (Maybe they are for you though. Tell us about your experience!)

Just remember that your goal isn't to get rid of everything in your life. It's to get things out of the way of achieving your dreams.

Tips for living simply #1 - know your dreams

A few years ago I realized that the stuff in my life was reducing my happiness.

I had 3 motorcycles, but only 2 of them worked. I didn't have time to fix the broken ones. I rarely rode the one that worked.

I had a large collection of tools that I aquired while working on the bikes. Some of the tools I had never used. Some of the tools I had never opened!

I had so many tools, that I couldn't remember what tools I had. So I would sometimes buy a second of a tool I had, because I didn't know I had it.

Similar patterns appeared in all of the stuff in my life.

When you turn your attention to simplifying your life, you will regularly hit some difficult question. When you can't clearly see the way through the choice, it helps to know what your dreams are.

I can't say that I have a clear, concrete description of my dreams, but I know parts of it:
- Be present with my family, giving them the best part of me
- Live in harmony with nature
- Bond with a community around my family, with deep, meaninful relationships
- Have lots and lots of fun
- Always be learning new things

The goal of living simply, when put in this perspective, starts to make more sense. I could get rid of all the things I own, except for what fits in a backpack. That might give me more opportunities for fun & learning, as I travel & meet people that I can form deep relationships with. It could easily enable me to live in harmony with nature, if I consume very few resources. However, it would interfere with the first item, as my family would like the comfort of a house with a kitchen, etc. I would also miss out on the fun of writing software, reading Wikipedia, playing Half-Life 2, and internet porn.

For now, I am keeping the basic things the same - I have a family, I own a house, I own a car (2 actually!), I work a regular job, I have computers and a TV. But around that I have gotten rid of tons of stuff. There's still a lot more to do, so I'll try to keep writing....

Monday, September 11, 2006

So much milk; let's make cottage cheese

Due to some changes in how I get my raw milk, I have suddenly found
myself with a surplus. Usually I get 3 gallons / week for my family,
and that's about how much we consume. But 2 weeks ago I got 4
gallons, and last week, got 4 gallons again. Then yesterday another
gallon found its way to me. That's a lot of milk!

2 of the gallons had been sitting in a cooler with ice & ice packs for
4 days, but the ice had all melted, so this milk wasn't going to stay
fresh for long. So I decided to make some cheese.

I started by making a gallon in to cottage cheese, as it's something
the twins like to eat. There are many ways to make it, but I used a
simple recipe that takes rennet this time:

0 skim the cream off 1 gallon of milk
1 warm milk to 80 degrees F.
2 mix 1/4 tsp liquid rennet with 1/4 c cool water
3 stir the milk while pouring in the rennet
4 raise the temperature to 110 over 20 minutes; curds will form
I think I let it sit like this for 15 minutes, but I can't remember
5 cut the curd
6 let the curd sit another 15 minutes, as it will release whey after being cut
7 pull out curds with your hands, cut them in to smaller bits, and let
them drain in a strainer
8 when done draining, break the curds in to small pieces
9 stir some of the cream back in

It was good, but not as good as the best cottage cheese I've had. I
think I warmed the curd up too quickly, which makes it form a tougher,
chewier curd, which is suitable for making an aged, hard cheese. I
also think I added too much cream back in, as the curds tasted quite
good by themselves.

I expect to have extra milk on a regular basis, so I want to get in to
a rhythm of making something like this every Sunday.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

my house is hot and cold

Seattle is certainly more temperate than most places in the world. Most of the winter the high is 45F, and rarely drops below 30F at night. The last few summers have been mostly highs around 80F. I can't think of a time when it went over 100F in the 10 years I've lived here, but it has probably happened at least once.

On hot days, my house gets pretty uncomfortable, and takes a long, long time to cool off. Part of the problem is that the upstairs only has 2 small windows, and they're on the north & south sides of the house, but the window mostly blows from the west.

There is a pretty good collection of tall pines around the house, and this summer I noticed something interesting. The pines keep the house in shade until about noon, and the house is quite comfortable until then. By 1pm, the house is hot. The sun stays steadily on the house until sunset. The room we tend to hang out in is on the south-west corner of the house, so we feel the heat.

When I can, I try to open the house in the evening, and close it up again the morning. Unforunately, the house gets very cold around 3-4am.

It seems like there should be some opportunities to make the house more comfortable in the summer, without turning on the heater in night, and without adding an air conditioner. If I plan carefully, I should be able to do it for very little money or other resources.

I could probably benefit by adding thermal mass and low awnings and improving insulation and airflow.

So now I need some information on how to improve these things in an existing house, for cheap.

Any favorites?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Bad reporting

I was just reading this article on Yahoo news: U of Texas-Austin tops party school list, and found this text:

Tests showed Phanta "Jack" Phoummarath's blood alcohol level was 0.50 percent,
more than six times the legal limit.

Six times the legal limit of what? In many states 0.8% is the limit of blood/alcohol content for driving. Not for sitting on a sofa with a plastic cup in your hand.

Last time I checked, there is no law limiting how much you can drink, only where you can do it, and some rules about what you can't do while drunk.

Writing it this way makes it sound like the poor kid (who died of alcohol poisoning) was doing something illegal, and that some kind of additional law enforcement would make the world a better place.

That's just bad reporting.

It's that time of year

I have had a bunch of ferments going over the last couple months. About a week ago, mold started growing on everything, at about the same time. Beet kvass, sauerkraut, sourdough starter, and lemonade all got it.

This is because it's late summer, and there are lots of mold spores in the air.

As the weather cools, the mold will back off.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

(NSFW) A funny memory

Today I was in the kitchen here at work, making a cup of tea. (STASH decaf vanilla nut creme tea, if you're curious). I noticed a box of miniature creamer cups, and decided to use one in my tea. Of course, if I put it in right away, it would cool the water & prevent the tea from steeping as well. As I reached to put it in my pocket, I suddenly had a memory...

I had just turned 15. (I turn 32 in a couple days, to put it in perspective.) I was at SUUSI for the first time. I had just met a girl, and we had eaten dinner at the cafeteria together.

On the way out, I saw some creamer cups, and decided to grab a couple as a snack for later.

We went back to my dorm room to chat. After a few minutes, we decided to kiss. (Yeah, I think we talkeed it over first.) She walked over & sat down on my lap. Just as we started to kiss, I realized something felt a little... odd.

The cream had burst in my pocket, leaving a wet, white splotch on my shorts.

I can guess what she thought when she saw it.

Today, as I moved to hold the cream in my other hand, I had to chuckle to myself.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Adventuress

Yesterday I had the special opportunity to take a "3-hour tour" on the Schooner Adventuress. What a blast!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Checking in

Gee, where has that bazuzi guy been?

Well, since the twins came, I've had my hands full. If you're thinking that twins might be a more efficient way to grow your family, let me tell you right now: you're wrong. Have those babies one at a time.

The first couple weeks were the hardest. We were absolutely exhausted from the birth. With newborn twins, mom is pretty much nursing continously, and that doesn't leave much opportunity for her to sleep.

To make it worse, we were dealing with a C-section birth and milk-supply issues. Because the babies weren't gaining, we started supplementing with formula, which adds a bunch more work (washing bottles, preparing formulat, etc.)

The babies are now 3 months old, and I am sad to say that we're still supplementing with formula. Still, I'm proud that we didn't give up breastfeeding entirely, and that we can continue this plan until they start solid foods in a few more months. Also, I'm glad that we were able to pick a formula that is a healthy choice for our babies, and we haven't given a penny to the formula companies (we make it ourselves).

We had found a nice routine. During the day Mom nurses both babies continously, taking a break at some point to fill them up with a bottle & give her a break. At night Mom sleeps with one baby, while Dad gets the other. Every 90 minutes my baby wakes up and we swap.

However, at 12 weeks I went back to work (new job!), and now it has become much harder again. I'm not around during the day to keep filling water bottles & deliver plates of food to mom, change & walk babies, etc. The babies often wake up around 4am, which ends my sleep for the night.

They're probably going through a growth spurt, which I hope will settle down soon, so we can get a little more rest.

In other news, my oldest son is now in pre-school. I never wanted to put him in a school, but the combination of work+twins has made it attractive. There he gets a chance to play with other kids, do art, learn a bit of academic stuff, and play outside. It gives Mom a break, too.

To make things interesting, I bought a tandem attachment for my bicycle, and we ride to school together. After dropping him off, I ride to work, where I get an opportunity to actually shower!

He insists that he doesn't want to go to school, but every time we pick him up, he says he loved every minute.

I haven't been fermenting much, but I did start a new batch of mead / T'ej, made wild cottage cheese and raw cream cheese. (Yes, I started a google group on Wild Fermentation.)

Today the Azure Standard truck is supposed to be coming to the house, which means lots of families dropping by to pick up their food, and hopefully to help. (Yes, please help!)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A frustrating night

Getting the family to bed this evening was pretty frustrating.

My 4 year old has been going to sleep at 1-2am. It's hard to get him to bed earlier, especially because our hands are full with the twins, and because we're too tired to engage him in a way that doesn't involve a TV or computer screen.

As a result, he wakes up at 11am-noon. By the time he has had breakfast and gotten dressed, there's not a lot of daylight left. I have to work hard to find 15 minutes to get him outside to run around. Sometimes a friend will pick him up & take him out to play (thank you!).

With sunset at 6pm, it means he goes a long time from active play until bedtime. That means that he is ready for more active play at 10pm, just when I want him to start to settle. Of course, we're too tired at 10pm to engage in active play with him. We often have sleeping babies in our arms, and would like to get some sleep as well, but can't because he is still up.

Shortly after he falls asleep, a baby wakes up & needs attention. He sleeps through it, while Mom & Dad get sleep in 1-2 hour increments through the night.

Today he didn't get to go outside even for a minute. I tried explaining the relationship between when he goes to sleep & when he wakes up, and he decided to go to bed at 9pm. However, he forgot about that once he got overtired/hyperactive in the evening.

Tonight was particularly bad for me. I have a cough from the dry air, and my throat gets very tired. He kept ignoring me, so I had to repeat myself to get the message across ("if you want to play outside in the light tomorrow, you need to go to bed now").

He also go violent, hitting & kicking me, and grabbing my legs. When he grabs my legs while I'm holding a baby, I feel very scared because I worry that I might fall & hurt the baby. Mom & I both find it very hard to treat him with respect when we're exhausted & he gets violent.

I would so like to just give him the information, and let him live with his own decisions. But it affects the rest of us. An under-rested child has a short fuse, just like an adult.

Finally I told my wife that "I needed a timeout", and went to sleep with the baby that I was holding. The 2 hours of sleep until that baby awoke was enough to help me function again.

I gave the baby to Mom to nurse, and slept for another hour. Then the other baby awoke, so I took to first one back & put him in the sling.

He fell asleep a little while ago, so I really should go to sleep, too.

Buying a car - the rest of the story

I had an idea of making a series of posts about my car buying experience. However, with the recent arrival of the twins, I don't see myself having a chance to work on it. So let me see if I can summarize the process.

After determining that a minivan was the right configuration for us, we looked at Consumer Reports. They ranked the Honda Oddessey and Toyota Sienna almost identically, and well above all other minivans. So it seemed like the right choice to get one of those.

A big question was how to configure the car. There are some pretty cool options; which to buy? Power sliding doors would be great when hands are full of babies & groceries. DVD player to pacify the kids on trips. Power 3rd-row windows make those windows much more useful.

In a moment of clarity, I realized that the right answer was to buy none of these things. Safety, reliability, comfort, gas milage, and room enough for the family are important. Spending money in the car on anything else is rarely worth it, for us.

The Honda was redesigned last year. In the process, they raised the bar, making a bunch of features standard, which were still optional on the Toyota. Sure, these features would be nice, but I wasn't interested in buying them. This put Honda at a disadvantage, price-wise.

It turns out that the lowest trimline on either model is almost impossible to find on dealer lots. There's much more money to be made on the upscale trimlines (especially this close to Microsoft), so the dealers just don't stock them.

My plan was to make the dealers compete against each other for my business, based on guides from the Motley Fool. However, if there were only 3 of my model in the whole Pacific Northwest, then there wouldn't be a lot of competition. I adjusted the Foolish approach to be a little less specific about exactly what I was buying (since there were no options that I required).

I used Edmunds' and Consumer Reports' pricing services to get an idea about what the price on the van might be. Note that both "MSRP" and "Invoice" are marketing numbers, and have little connection to the cost of the car, or even to what the dealer paid for the car. However, Invoice is a good starting point for figuring out what you might pay.

I then emailed a dozen dealerships. Most were close by, but I picked a few in the next county, and a couple that were 100 miles away. The mails I sent looked something like:
I plan to buy a [Sienna/Odyssey] in the next 2 weeks. I am interested in
the [CE/LX] trimline, with no additional options or accessories. Color is
not important. Over the next 3 days, I am taking bids from various
dealers. Please reply to this mail with your bid.

Some dealers replied with hard prices ("We will sell that to you for $22,734.") but others didn't, including "come on down", "we have a blue one in stock, is that OK?", "please call so we can talk about configuring it to meet your expectations", etc.

I entered a dealership early twice during the process, and regretted it both times. The second time, I made it very clear ahead of time that I was coming to the dealership to get a quote. The salesprick talked me in to a test drive, and then got out the "4 square worksheet" and tried to get me to start negotiating. I got pretty frustrated that he wouldn't just give me a quote. I walked out, annoyed that I had wasted 2 hours on that place.

One Honda dealership give a very good offer, only $800 over the best Toyota offer. I decided that $800 was probably worth the large feature gap between the two cars, and had felt good about my interactions with them so far. I showed up & we started to do paperwork. Half-way though, they discovered a "math error", raising the price by $1000.

I don't know what really happened. Was it a legitimate mistake, which the sales manager caught? Did the sales manager say "no way we can sell for the price you quoted; try claiming you made a math error"? Or was it their plan all along, to try to wrestle more money out of me?

I don't know, and it doesn't matter. At $1800 over the Toyota, I was no longer willing to buy the Honda. I also was unwilling to try to negotiate price in the dealership. So I packed up my stuff, and walked out.

Remember that when you're in the dealership, they have a huge advantage. Put yourself in a position of advantage when you negotiate. For me, that was at my desk, with 15 browser windows with car information.

I emailed the dealership with the best quote on the Toyota, clarifying the price. (I've heard of dealers stuffing in extra fees, so I asked them to disclose all numbers up front). I decided I was OK with the result, and told them they had won my business.

There was an annoying process where it took 4 days for the dealer to get the car from across the state. I kept making plans to take off from work to go get the car, and then had to cancel them.

Once I got to the dealership, it took 3 hours until I could drive away. A big chunk of that was waiting in line for the "finance manager", who took my check in 10 minutes. Luckily, I planned ahead and brought a book. I picked a comfortable looking vehicle in the showroom and sat in the passenger seat to read.

I didn't have a trade-in (keeping the old car for trips without the babies), and didn't finance (I had saved up money, but would have used my bank instead of dealer financing). This made the paperwork simpler, and made it harder for them to hide costs. It also meant that the dealership was making less money, so the quoted price was firmer.

Dealerships, like casinos, don't have clocks around. They don't want you to know how long you're spending there.
  • Negotiate remotely
  • Stay in control
  • Be ready to walk out of a dealership at any time
  • Be clear about your requirements ("I leave a 2pm, with or without a car")
  • Never buy "today"; tomorrow's deal will be fine

The Sienna is damn comfortable. I really enjoy the luxury of riding in the passenger seat. It also handles quite well, especially the very tight turning radius.

One day I want to install a PC in the van, which provides music, movies, and navigation. Synchronize the media with the home archive with wireless networking, etc. Some cool possibilities...

Now that the old car is somewhat redundant, I also intend to party on it a little bit. Not sure what, yet.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Guess what I got?

Last Thursday my wife gave birth to two twin boys. They're beautiful & amazing. They also like to sleep during the day.

The good news is that the in-laws come tomorrow.

Monday, January 30, 2006

A nue doo

Been really busy getting ready for the twins.

Realizing that I will get even less done once they come, I have selected a new, easier-to-maintain haircut.

Getting a good picture of it seemed hard, so I decided not to. Instead, here are these shots:

(See also my previous do).

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Buying a car - class

With the news of twins, I have been working on buying a car. I think that I did a reasonably good job of handling the process, so I'm going to describe what I did here. I hope it can be useful to others.

The first step was to decide if we needed a car at all. Thanks to folks who commented here, helpimg me figure that one out.

Then we looked at how little car we might be able to get away with. For example, could we buy a larger sedan? It was easy to do some measurements and see that we couldn't fit all 3 kids, in car seats / boosters, across the back row. However, what if we put the big kid in the front seat, and the twins in the back? This is fine as long as there is only one adult. I figured that most trips only have a portion of the family, so using 2 cars for whole-family trips would be tolerable. However, the law in WA state will change next summer to say that kids can't sit in the front seat. And it's safer in the back, too.

It didn't take long to eliminate station wagons, either, as they wouldn't fit the 3 kids across.

An SUV that could fit us all (think 3rd row) would probably have terrible fuel efficiency, and conserving fuel is important to me. I also want to spend less, and put less weight on the road.

So, that means a minivan.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

What have I done?

First they see this:

Then they do this:

It's all my fault.

Two different outlooks

I have this memory from my youth. I was probably 10-11 at the time. My brother would have been 4 or so.

My parents both worked to make sure I could go to a private school. The school didn't have bus service, like US public schools do, and it was on the other side of the city, in the expensive part of town (of course).

This particular day, my dad was driving the car, with all 4 of us in it. (I think my Mom's car was broken that day?). This is a city criss-crossed by interstate highways. We were approaching the point where you get to choose between highway or local streets. My parents started to argue about which way to go. The argument was about much more, however. It was about the way they thought about how to live life.

For my dad, the obvious choice was the highway. It was fast and efficient. Sure, the highway was ugly & ruined the natural lay of the land, but as long as it's there, you may as well use it. As he likes to say, you can take from the system what you want. He knew that his mission was to get to work, and start doing his job, providing for his family.

For my mom, the right choice was the local streets. They're more interesting. You get to see the different neighborhoods, and how people live in different part of the cities. Every day you can take a slightly different route, and you never know what you'll find. (My mom knew every thrift store in the city). It made the trip a valuable part of the day. It also was a way of saying "yes" to local, varied life instead of "yes" to the anonymous highway.

My dad rose to be president of the European subsidiary of a small software company. He figured out how to play the game of corporate life, and played it well. He is financially secure. He thinks of himself as a radical, though, because he doesn't take the game seriously, studies yoga and meditation, and only takes from the system what he wants, instead of doing what the system tells him.

My mom seemed to always take some of the most difficult nursing jobs available. Hospice, home care, etc. They never seemed to pay well. Every now and then a better paying job might come along, but even if she took it, she never adjusted her lifestyle to match. She never ate out. Her house was always small & cramped, and most of the work on it she did herself. This was all deliberate. Any time she didn't like the way things were done at a given job, she always knew she could just walk away. She could choose to do the most meaninful work she could find, without having to compromise for money.

I am a bit of both.

Yoga of Eating

I just finished reading The Yoga of Eating by Charles Eisenstein.

My first exposure to his writing was in his article, The Economics of Fermentation (a variation in Wise Traditions), mentioned in a previous post.

Something about his writing always seems to ring true with me. Perhaps he's saying things that I know but can't articulate yet. Or perhaps he has an attractive writing style. Or something else, I don't know.

There are some ideas in this book that have really got me thinking. I won't go in to detail now, just listing a few.

  • Changing one thing means changing every thing.
  • If you listen closely to your body, it will tell you what nutrition it needs. If you hear it saying "eat cake", then eat cake!
  • The way that our modern lives feel so busy, so hectic is not an unfortunate consequence of our lifestyle, but a central feature. In software we say "it's not a bug, it's a feature".

More to come.

Ginger soda - mixed results

This week I decided it was time to try the ginger soda I had started in December. Some mixed results that I don't fully understand, so I'm going to go in to a lot of detail here.

A friend had made a good batch of ginger soda & given me a bottle. After drinking most of it, I saved the sediment at the bottom in my fridge, for some months.

When I was ready, I mixed 1/2 of the sediment with water, grated ginger, and white sugar. (I wonder if the mineral content of rapdura would work better. Yeast needs nutrients.)

I keep my house pretty cool in the winter, at least by US standards -- 62deg F (17deg C). I've noticed that at this temperature many of my cultured foods go pretty slowly. To help the culture along, I put the jar in the oven with just the light on. Recently I measured with a thermometer, and it's probably about 80deg F in there.

Every day I added more ginger & sugar to feed the culture. As it grew, I split in to two jars to keep one in reserve.

Finally the big day came. I boiled 1.5gal filtered water w/ a stick of fresh ginger, grated. Then added sugar (don't remember how much, but it was sickly-sweet). Let it cool, which took a while.

First vessel was a 1gal apple cider jar. Poured in 2qts of the mix, through a plastic funnel. Added filtered water to 1/2in from the top. Put a latex balloon over the mouth to measure CO2 production and restrict oxygen exposure. There are special devices for this, but I didn't have one.

Then I juiced a few fresh, organic lemons and added to the mix (but not in the first vessel). A friend is allergic to citrus, and he loves ginger soda, so this one was for him.

Second vessel was another 1gal apple cider jar. Again, 2qts of mix, add water. Another balloon.

Third vessel was a 1.5L Grolsch bottle, with swing-top (aka bail-top) lid. This is the only one that isn't clear.

Forth vessel was a 1/2gal jar that Kevin bought me at IKEA. A thoughtful gift from a friend. It has a wide mouth with a swing top.

3 of the vessels have narrow mouths, so they're hard to clean. It's possible that the insides weren't spotless. I am sure I had rinsed them out very well, so I don't think there was much soap or anything, but maybe some dried-on stubborn matter was still there. They looked clean to the eye. I now own 2 bottle brushes that should work well in these containers, and an in-sink bottle washer.

The vessels went in to the guest room where they wouldn't be disturbed. (Why do I own an entire room that is only used for 2-4 weeks per year? Topic for another blog.) Every day or two I checked on them, and vented the balloons if they were full. Here's how it went.

Vessel #1 (no lemon) never produced a single bubble. After a full month, the balloon had been sucked in slightly. A bit of mould grew on the surface. Dumped down the drain.

Vessel #2 started bubbling very soon. It made the balloon stand erect 3-4 times. Then it went quiet. At one point I tried moving it to a warmer part of the house, but it never produced more gas.

Vessel #3 (Grolsch) showed no signs of fermentation for at least 2 weeks. Then it started to bubble, and was active for the last ~3 weeks.

Vessel #4 (jar) followed the same pattern as #3.

This week I opened #3 and tasted it. It was excellent, so I decided it was time to check the others.

#4 was also good. Moved it to smaller bottles & gave them to friends.

#2 was still way too sweet. Why would the culture go inactive, when there was still so much sugar available? I added a little bit of #3 to provide a healthy, active culture. Put the jar in the oven with the light on. It became somewhat active again, but not as much as I would have hoped. It's still sweeter than I'd like, but perhaps people who drink soda every day will enjoy it. (My taste for sugar is much more sensitive these days).

So, why these variable results? Why did #2 go dormant? Why did #1 never get going? Any ideas?
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