Sunday, June 01, 2014

Time for "Historic" plates

The VIN plate on the door of my first-year Miata says that it was built in May 1989.

Which means that it's now over 25 years old.

NYS DMV says that I can get "Historic" plates for it in the next calendar year: so, January 2015.  But it's already registered through March of 2016. (And "Historic" plates cost more.)

A quick Google doesn't turn up a VIN-decoder that will tell me the exact day it rolled off the line; but it seems to be around #4,0000 in the run.  (The last I knew, production-to-date was in the 900,000 ballpark.)

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

One thing leads to another

I recently read A Romance on Three Legs, about Glenn Gould's search for the Right piano.  

In passing, it mentioned that Gould's favorite of his own recordings was 1971's A Consort of Musicke Bye William Byrde & Orlando Gibbons.   

OK, I'm game: it's for sale, and for only $2.88! (plus $2.98 shipping, but still...).

And - sure enough -  it really IS terrific. (I think it's my favorite new-to-me album of 2012.)

OK, time to scour my shelves for more of this stuff:  hey, how about that - this spring I found a Hyperion disc of David Moroney playing keyboard music of Wm. Byrd.  ($1 at a library sale...)

Turns out, Moroney has done a seven-CD set of the complete Byrd keyboard music.

On the one hand, I mourn the loss of Tower Records at Lincoln Center; but, on the other hand, it's pretty nice to be able to find this stuff while sitting on the couch. 

Stuff like this was basically never available locally - I always needed to drive to NYC or Boston to find things.

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Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Bach Box

Last October -- here, in fact --   I was musing about how much I had saved by holding out for the stripped Honda Civic, and what I should do with that money:

Now I'm trying to think of something interesting to do with the money I saved. (Something more interesting than buying fuel oil for the winter, anyway....)

(For those just joining a story in progress: Simply declining the dealer-installed CAR RADIO and putting an after-market radio into the car myself had saved me about $675.)

Well, this spring I figured it out:  the obvious way to spend the money I saved on a car radio would be to spend it on MUSIC.

Now, clearly, the Age of the Compact Disc is ending.  And - if you look around - it's possible to download about any music one can think of.  And while I don't much object to the idea of  downloading something that is otherwise NOT FOR SALE AT ANY PRICE,  I'm old-school enough to feel uncomfortable about stealing music.

In March, Warner Brothers re-issued the 1999 Teldec "Bach 2000" set.  When it first came out in 1999, it listed for  $1120 (say, $1500 in today's money - and I think Tower Records would sell it to you for something like $800?); either way, it was too expensive for a guy with three small children. But this year - updated and re-issued as "The Complete Bach Edition" - it now lists for a much more reasonable $400.

$268 had it delivered to my door.  153 CDs of JS Bach,  a full week's worth of music.
Very roughly, it's about one-fourth of the original price back at the turn of the century.

Various friends and family think it's insane; and yet nobody would bat an eye if I simply gone ahead and had spent that very same money on a stupid car radio....

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Mission Debriefing

(As you can tell from my photo, I'm kinda big on the transit of Venus.  
I've been planning this one for months; back in April, I used the 
upcoming transit as my excuse to FINALLY buy a serious digital camera, 
one that I can use on my telescope. )
 Here's my report on how the day went


Thursday May 31st was clear and dry, a beautiful day.  
But the forecasts for June 5th were calling for clouds.
Over the weekend, I started checking regional forecasts: 
the nearest clear skies were west of Toledo.
I got up Tuesday, and the local forecast had actually deteriorated,
down to “cloudy with 50% chance of rain”.
At noon I was charging up the V1 and was dispiritedly planning 
to go down to my local astronomy club's viewing at the 
Schenectady Museum and stand around with them, 
and hope for a break in the clouds.

But then I was watching the local weather channels - and noticed 
that there were clear skies up on the St. Lawrence: a band of 
dry air was  pushing up the St. L valley, including the south side 
of Lake Ontario. Malone, Watertown are hopeless to get to; 
Plattsburgh was clear at noon, but looked like it would be first to 
cloud up again. 

But the noon forecast for Tuesday afternoon in Oswego was now “Sunny”.

Now, I’ve left the house and been on the State Fairgrounds 
in Syracuse in under 2 hours: 
Oswego can’t be 3 hours away:  I can DO this.
Or, more precisely: I HAVE to do this.
(By 2pm, the local forecast had actually improved, 
to “Mostly cloudy, 20% chance of rain”, 
but, hell: that still didn’t compete with “Sunny”.)

I threw my gear in the car: wheels up at 2:05pm.

(I used the new Civic because I had more gear than
would fit in the Red Menace; AND because I 
wanted to be reasonably certain that I'd get there.)

Bogen tripod; 
Gitzo tripod; 
V1 bag with camera and “F-mount-to-Nikon-One” adapter,
       Nikkor 300/4.5, TC-300 doubler.  
ETX telescope box with various solar filters.  
Pelican case with F90s and AF lenses;
Second Pelican case with my surviving F3s. 
(In my rush out the door I clean forgot spare Double-A batteries. 
Because over the weekend, I had lost hope, and didn’t rehearse.)
Note that I never did figure out how to run the intervalometer 
on the fancy new MF-26 control back on the N90s.

Life Lessons: 
Rehearse anyway.
Because: Things can change.
Know your gear.  
Which also means:
Don’t use new gear on a once-in-a-lifetime shot. 
And:  Have redundancy: have lots of back-ups.

Off the Thruway ($3.90) at I-481 at 4:00pm; into town, through 
the SUNY campus, looking for a view of the NW horizon.  
NOT A CLOUD IN THE SKY.  Ah, here we go:

 Bev's Dairy Treat: 
 43 County Route 89, 
 Oswego, NY 13126
 (315) 343-0839.
Two miles from Ground Zero (Bridge St., Oswego), right on the lake, 
just west of the college campus.*    
A beautiful spot, actually.   
 4:40pm, just about 160 miles out. Plenty of time to spare.

I asked if they minded if I set up in their parking lot - they were fine.  
At 4:45, the place was empty.
(...But at 6 o’clock sharp, every parent in Oswego  
brought their toddler out for soft-serve....)

In the course of the evening, I chatted with a few soft-serve 
consumers; one told me that there WAS a viewing up on campus.
But I had lacked enough spare time to find them.)

Observed weather, copied here for posterity:

Albany  June 05, 2012
19:51 N 3 10.00 Mostly Cloudy FEW040 SCT080 BKN090 62 49 65 61 62%  29.92 1013.1
18:51 Calm 10.00 Mostly Cloudy FEW030 BKN080 BKN100 62 49 62%  29.91 1012.8
17:51 NE 6 10.00 Mostly Cloudy FEW030 BKN080             63 49 60%  29.89 1012.3
16:51 NE 9 10.00 Mostly Cloudy FEW030 SCT050 BKN080 63 48 58%  29.90 1012.6
15:51 N 7 10.00 Mostly Cloudy FEW020 SCT035 BKN065 62 49 62%  29.91 1012.8

Oswego June 05, 2012
19:54 NW 10 10.00 Partly Cloudy SCT080 SCT090  60 49 70 60 67%  29.93 1013.3
18:54 NW 10 10.00 Fair CLR           63 50 63%  29.91 1013.0
17:54 NW 13 10.00 Fair CLR           66 49 54%  29.91 1012.8
16:54 N 14 G 17 10.00 Partly Cloudy SCT080 69 48 47%  29.91 1012.8
15:54 N 12   10.00 Mostly Cloudy BKN070 68 49 51%  29.92 1013.3

(The north view from the lakeshore was even clearer than 
the reported conditions back at the local reporting station:
from 16:40 until long past 19:54, the lakeview sky was still “Fair” for me.)

I had made the correct decision.  
(Yay, me. Yay, satellite real-time views of cloud cover.)

I was set up and ready to go shortly after 5:00pm.
I sat down with the manual and tried to figure out the 
multi-function back I had bought for the N90 - 
but it was new enough that I hadn't even confirmed that it 
was light-tight

 In theory, I could have set it up to start at 6:03:30
and take a frame every :30 or :40 seconds, 
right through second contact.
In practice, I wasn't even sure that I could keep 
the ETX on target for that long.  
So I decided to skip film photography.
6:03:53: the Transit of Venus begins, 
the last until the year 2117.

I watched from the start until about 8:30, which was 
(effectively) local sunset (a cloud bank on the far shore 
cut the show short by 10 minutes or so).

I saw it, but was under-rehearsed with my gear.
so I didn’t manage to get a good time for the entry, 
(as I was on the smaller lens), and I didn’t see it for
10 seconds or more after the predicted times.

We learn: 
timing the entry is somewhat harder than 
timing the exit (which is what I had seen in 2004).

The V1 kept losing focus, and kept reverting to high ISO settings.  
The ETX gave a lovely view - distinctly better seeing than I had 
for  the 2004 event, much better transparency  -  but I had trouble 
setting up cameras on the back port, and was too busy watching / 
using the V1 to futz with it much..
Still, I got some movies, and close to 250 digital pictures.
(Then again, giving up on the film cameras 
saved me $20-$40 on processing.)
I looked at but neglected to make a note of my GPS position - 
but that must be recorded in the EXIF data (or, hell, I could even 
go back out sometime and recover it if I had to.) 
To a few decimal places, I was near  43.451N, -76.556W, and say 280'

U.S. Naval Observatory  Astronomical Applications Department

 Oswego, NY, (long. W76.5, lat. N43.5):

        Tuesday 5 June 2012   Eastern Daylight Time          

        Begin civil twilight       4:51 a.m.                 
        Sunrise                    5:26 a.m.                 
        Sun transit                1:05 p.m.                 
        Sunset                     8:43 p.m.                 
        End civil twilight         9:19 p.m.                 

(Oswego - being further west - has sunset 12 minutes later than at home: 
I lost the sun behind the clouds at just about my home sunset time.)

All told,  I was surprisingly casual about 
a once-in-a-lifetime viewing opportunity:
I saw it, I got some images. 

I never even bothered setting up the V1 on the ETX.
What I DID remember to do was to switch the ETX to
high-powered eyepieces. 

It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. 
I decided to spend more of my limited time watching 
and less time fighting with photo gear.  Very few people have 
ever had a chance to see the Dark Side of Venus.

(My other regret is that my family was otherwise engaged and 
couldn't be pulled out of their various commitments to come with me.  
And having TWO scopes set up was decidedly overly-ambitious 
without someone along to assist.  My girls - back home 
under the clouds, but using the solar glasses - think they saw it 
for a few minutes through breaks in the clouds.)

About 8:30, the sun set into a cloud bank on the
far shore of Lake Ontario.  This was only about ten minutes 
before the theoretical local sunset. (This was less than four hours 
after my arrival on-station.)

Gear packed back in the car - I struck the ETX first 
as viewing deteriorated -  the first order of business now 
was to hunt for gas, as I had sailed into Oswego 
with only about 12 miles showing on the range meter, 
too nerve-wrackingly low to go back to the cheaper gas 
I had seen on Rt 481 ten miles back in Fulton.
(And it’s now night-time: lots of stations will close soon.)  
Out Route 104 West a couple of miles? No gas.
Rt. 104 East? No.  
Rt.-481South a mile? Yes.
Buy enough gas to get home:   
at 9:02pm  $20.00 @ 375.9 = 5.320g, at 168.8m trip

Back a mile into town for dinner at the Oswego Friendly’s:
(the usual, $9.04 senior (vs $12.74) + a $2 tip)
(This was much easier than finding/trying an alternative. 
“Friendly’s” was the best/most obvious choice I had seen coming in. 
AND they were open until midnight. Too bad they’re always so slow
No receipt, either.) 
Wheels up Oswego  ~10:05pm. 
(I checked out the 24hr TIM HORTON’S (!) - who knew they 
were now on the American side of the lake? - on 481-South, 
but they didn’t have anything good left at 10pm.)
Off the Thruway at Utica ($2.10) at 11:41pm,  
home via the old same route. (5S / 162 / 20)
Home:  ~1:10am, 330.3 miles round trip, with 
 41.0 mpg showing on the trip meter.
  (...'Lightfoot Bob', they called him....) 
The return leg was 161.5 miles: 
therefore,  probably about eight miles knocking around Oswego.
So: just over eleven hours round-trip.  About 3 1/2 hours of 
standing on the shore of Lake Ontario.

(“Back at the lodge, we toasted our adventure....”)

This trip cost $6.00 in tolls, $11.04 dinner, 
a theoretical 8.06g of gas (call it about $30); 
plus 330 miles of wear on the car.  
(On the other hand, I didn’t commute into work Tuesday
(saving at least 31m on the car); just going to the local viewing
would have been 18 miles or so.  The cost of the meal is also
negligible: I had to eat anyway - and I had to see the transit.)

All-in-all, this was much cheaper and easier than 
flying to Hawaii to see the entirety of the transit.

(You’re welcome, Mr. Halley.)

*Fun Facts about SUNY Oswego:
 Al Roker  B.A. Communications 1976.  
 Jerry Seinfeld attended but dropped out: 
 (Queens College CUNY,  B.A. in communications and theater, 1976.)

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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Cupholder Optional

Back in the fall of 'ought two, my family outgrew our '91 Civic Wagon, and I was forced to buy a minivan.

Horrible a prospect as this was, it meant that I could finally retire my sixteen-year-old '87 Civic, the 'Death Car' of its day.

As it happened, that same season a college chum of mine came back from several years of working in Germany with no family, no job, and no real base for American operations. He cheerfully took the Death Car off my hands (...and would soon drive it to Mexico, but that's another story...), which solved both of our problems.

It was a 4-door sedan, which he converted to a sleeper by ripping out the passenger seats, and building in a plywood sleeping platform. The conversion took place in my driveway (...with my tools...), so he drove off into the sunset and left me the passenger-side bucket seat.

The seat has lived in my storage shed ever since - nearly a decade now - until I finally got around to putting it to use.

This year, in preparing for the transit of Venus, I went to NEAF
and was inspired to FINALLY convert my old car seat to an astronomical viewing chair. It was seeing a $350 observing chair that sparked me into motion. (I have a picture somewhere.)
 Just binocular holders ran into three digits:
e.g., is $300
 here's a homebrew version:

Anyway, see:
 for examples of what I'm working toward.

 $5 in PVC pipe, $5 PVC fittings, a $13 Lazy-Susan bearing, $7 of SAE seat-mounting hardware, and I'm on my way. I probably have enough lumber on hand for most of this.

 (It should probably get some sort of feet to lift it off the damp ground, though adding an azimuth circle and GPS is probably overkill. (GoTo drive! Selsyn motors!) Come to think of it, red LED running lights might be needed.) So maybe another $20 for more fittings and hardware - cupholder optional - and then it'll be time for a decent pair of astro binoculars. (I have my eye on the Chinese-made Celestron 20x80s, $100.)

Dammit, back in 2002 I should have kept the seatbelt.....

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Will The Circle Be Unbroken?

I can remember being 15, 16 years old, and my mother being distinctly unimpressed with my taste in music - her reaction to my first Frank Zappa records ("We're Only In It for the Money", "Hot Rats", "Weasels Ripped My Flesh", etc.) standing out in memory.

I have MLK Day off, so I'm here at home this morning at my leisure, having a cuppa coffee and listening to Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire (a recent library-sale find, the London Sinfonietta on London)...

...and my 15-year-old wakes up and comes down stairs.

And as the circle turns, now it's my daughter's turn to be distinctly unimpressed with my choice of music.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

I feel so ...used

(Or: Wow, I'm Dumb.)

My new 2012 Civic takes 21st century motor oil.
OK, it IS the 21st century, I can adjust my thinking to this.

Nowhere in the owner's manual does it talk about a change interval.
But the car gives you a dashboard meter that tells you "Percentage of oil life left".

OK, "Everything's up to date in Kansas City" -
maybe there's some modern trick at work here.
Maybe they measure the viscosity, and the car calculates the oil life remaining.
Maybe they optically sense the opacity of the oil and calculate how dirty it is.
Maybe there's some modern µ-proc trick I'm not even thinking of.
Who knows where they get this "percentage life" number from?
We're living in the 21st century.

OK, I decide to TRUST the dashboard meter. Extrapolating,
it's telling me that the break-in oil is good for 10,000 miles.
Wow. It's great, living in the future.

So, the car rolls over 7000 miles, and soon after,
the dashboard meter decrements and says I've got 20%-of-oil-life left.

But I absolutely can't stand it, and go get an oil change.
Afterward, the kid tells me that he reset the meter for me:
which implies that it's simply odometer-driven.
The "Oil Life" meter may not actually be "measuring" ANYTHING.
Maybe it's just a reminder of your mileage since the last oil change.

*So maybe there's NO high-tech real-time measurement of the state of the oil, no, nothing at all.* [Whoops - see UPDATE, below]

Wow, am I an idiot.
[This remains a distinct possibility, however.]

On the other hand: the car specifies snythetic 0w-20 oil:
which IS better than dead-dinosaur oil,
and which does have nominally twice the lifespan.
(And: which costs fully twice as much.)

Even if they tell you there's no break-in required, and even if it's
not actually overdue for an oil change - the interval still FEELS over-long.

UPDATE: Hey, I was right the first time. Looking into the question, it seems that the car's CPU really DOES monitor some combination of oil temp, engine revs, time, mileage, etc. - - and really DOES calculate "oil life remaining". What it can't do is know that you've changed the oil - thus the need for the manual reset.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

2012 Civics

I had half a thought to swing into a dealership to try to pick the brains of a Honda service shop, but got distracted by a new shipment of Civics at Mohawk.

They had a dozen or more, including:

- LX (AT) at $19,425; to which they had added undercoating or something, to make it $19,804
- EX-L (AT) at $22,725 - with a dealer add-on bringing it to $23,104
- EX-L NAV at $24,225 (!)
and a version that I might actually consider, the
- Civic Hybrid at $26,020 (rated at 44/44/44mpg)

Still no sign of the chimeral HF edition.

Hybrid:DX is $26020:$16575
:: 56.98% more than the base model.
That's fully $9445 more - - plus 8% tax = a $10,200.60 price difference.

That's hard to justify just on the basis of gas savings. Even at tomorrow's $10/gallon, that's a thousand gallons of gas; at today's prices, that's not far from a decade of driving.

(I was actually going to ask them about replacement Smart Keys, and about synthetic oil changes, but didn't ever make it inside....)

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Sunday, November 06, 2011

The internet has again failed me

Turns out, there IS no clear source for the line:

Put your hands in air
and wave them around
like you just don't care

This was already a commonplace back in my college radio days in the '70s - Grandmaster Flash came close to saying it, I'm pretty sure Cameo said it - but who was FIRST to say it? Google won't tell me. (Apparently it's in at least 100 songs....)

A thought for the day

I was cooking breakfast this morning while listening to one of the Columbia/Legacy blues collections (the Son House 1965 session, as it happens...)

and I had the thought:

"Maybe I'd rather live in the alternate universe, the one where the first Monkees single had been called "Last Train to Clarksdale".

(To spell out the joke:) :
"The junction of Highway 61 and Highway 49 in Clarksdale is designated as the famous crossroads where, according to legend, Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for mastery of the blues."

And then I wiki'd it and learned that the pop song nearly HAD been called "Last Train to Clarksdale":

"Though the Clarksville in the song's title appears to refer to the city of Clarksville, Tennessee — and by implication to nearby Fort Campbell, Kentucky, which is home to the 101st Airborne Division — co-writer Bobby Hart states that this is a coincidence. "There's a little town in northern Arizona I used to go through in the summers on the way to Oak Creek Canyon called Clarkdale," said Hart.
"We were throwing out some names and then when we got to Clarkdale we stopped for a minute and thought that sounded pretty good. We thought maybe Clarksville would even be a little better. We didn't know at that time that there is an Army base near the town of Clarksville, Tennessee, which would have fit the bill fine."

On second thought, maybe that would actually be a pretty terrible alternate universe, one where Clarksdale, Mississippi was best known from a crappy pop song.

So - on further reflection - I decided I want to live in the alternate universe where the Monkees sang about a trip to the space station up in geosynchronous orbit:
"Last Train to Clarkesville"

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Our Story Thus Far V

V. Gas mileage.

The EPA SAYS their numbers are for the median driver: some will do better, some will do worse.
I can and already have gotten 40mpg out of this car. It's only rated 28city/36 highway/ 31 overall.
("Lightfoot Bob", they call me....)

The EPA says the automatic-transmission version actually gets slightly better mileage, which I find hard to believe. But the AT would be about $14.27 more per monthly payment; not enough to offset the theoretically lower gas bill, not until gas goes to $10/gallon or so. (Or unless I keep it another twenty years, which is now demographically unlikely. (I've already outlived my mother....))

The recent visit to Utica was definitely over 40-mpg, for 200+ miles. I need to keep "Leadfoot Maggie" away from the car if I hope to turn in a >40mpg tankful, though.

Oh, and the thing with "How can you live without A/C?"
It was 84F over Labor Day weekend, and we did fine with it. It won't be that warm again until April or May.
Hypothetical A/C would be nothing but useless dead weight - and probably close to $200 in car payments - until then.
For what I'm not spending on A/C, I could rent an air-conditioned car for the worst week of the summer.

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Our Story Thus Far IV

IV. The Radio

Being the stripped version, the car arrives with speakers - but no radio. I laughed when the salesman offered to sell me an $800 dealer-installed radio. I checked with the dealer's parts department: I could buy the factory radio over-the-counter myself for $430 + tax, install it in myself, and save over $330. They'd have to order the thing, but that should take only a few days. Or I could install my own after-market radio and save something over $600.

But, for a while there, it looked like I might have outwitted myself: neither Crutchfield nor Scoche, (nor the other brand whose name escapes me) has an installation kit available just yet for the brand-new Civic. (Oops.) I even called Crutchfield; they said they'd have a kit by the summer of 2012, nine months from now. Three local installers said they didn't have those parts. Best Buy said they'd certainly be able to do something - I even made an appointment with them - but when I went in, they wanted me to buy my own harness connector kits first. (Best Buy graciously gave me the Scoche parts numbers, which helped me figure out what I needed.)

My pal Aaron ran down an on-line forum where a guy posted pictures of his radio installation: by looking at those, I was able to confirm that the parts numbers that Best Buy provided me were correct. (The wiring harness is available because it's the very same as the one in a 2008 Accord - which makes it a perfect example of how these options move down-market after a few years.) I ordered the wiring harness and the antenna connector on-line; went to Walmart and bought a Sony head-end with radio/cd/ usb connector.

- Sony receiver: $79 + tax = $85.32.
(Which is sort of astonishingly cheap: 4ch x 50W, AM/FM/CD/ USB/aux)
- Wiring harness: $16 delivered
- Ant. connector: $22 delivered
- A bit of heatshrink and solder
...for a total of just about $125 - say, about $675 less than letting the dealer do it, a saving of fully $11/month on the car payment. That's a total saving of more than two car payments, 1/27 of the entire cost of the car.

I spent a very pleasant hour one recent Saturday afternoon (Oct. 8) soldering up the new wiring harness. So it took me 38 days to assemble the elements for this job, mostly because I couldn't believe that parts for such a common car weren't yet for sale SOMEWHERE, o I kept looking in ever-more-improbable places. (It also took me a few minutes to locate the right toolbox, the one with the soldering gear....)

Now I have a car stereo that's at least electrically connected - I'll mechanically finish the installation when those parts are available in the spring. (Probably another $25-40.) Right now, it's rattling around loose in the dash, propped up on some scrap wood. The Youngest Member and I took a lovely Sunday drive up to Curtis Lumber to shop their 'exotic wood' department, and came home with a $1 scrap of cherry to mask the opening in the dash.

The stock speakers aren't bad at all. The 21st century receiver has a basket full of annoyances - multiple menus, unlabeled controls, arbitrary and unmute-able beeps, etc. But despite that, it's a joy having a CD player / iPod player in the car. My family minivan has had a CD player since 2002; but my commuter cars haven't, not until now, in the year 2011.

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Our Story Thus Far III

III. Buying the Car

Was relatively painless. It had taken me a month or so of shopping to get serious, a while longer to email Honda to ask for their help in finding a stripper, and then a couple weeks for it to come in.

For the first time in my life, I didn't even bother to drive the thing beforehand, figuring that the ninth-generation Civic could offer me no surprises, certainly no surprises that would be a dealbreaker. As the Death Car shows, I'm reasonably accepting in what I can accommodate myself to driving. So, why even bother with the test-drive ritual?

The salesman was somewhat bemused by my car and by my deal: he noted that the CUSTOMER is allowed to call Honda and request a specific configuration of car, but the dealership is supposed to take what they're allocated.

They DID try to sell me a dealer-installed radio: $730, plus sales tax, plus financing. That was nearly 5% of the price of the car. I passed on that chance.

(ProTip: you can spot the DX at a hundred paces because the cheap version comes only in silver, and it has cheap black-plastic doorhandles; every other Civic on the road has door handles that match the paint job. And we quickly learned that a "four-door compact sedan in silver gray" is just about the most anonymous car on the road. It's like every tenth car matches this description.)

The deal itself was only a nominal 2% off sticker - but the sticker price was just about 15% below the MSRP of the standard LX version that they wanted me to buy, so I'm happy enough. Honda offered 0.9% / 60-month financing: a total cost of ~$410 for the loan, spread over five years. That's only about 27¢/day for the loan. Even my Credit Union was at 2.75%, fully a thousand bucks more. My payment is only $303.51. I see 4-year-old used Civics being sold for more than I paid. (Just for the record, I should look up the sticker prices of the top-end Civic, and of the hybrid Civic. Later: The top Civic (EX-L with Sat. Nav.) is a remarkable $24,225; the Hybrid is $24,050, and comes only with a CVT, and gets 44/44/44 mpg. Oh, and there's a 4dr Si for $24,675.)

Now I'm trying to think of something interesting to do with the money I saved. (Something more interesting than buying fuel oil for the winter, anyway....)

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Our Story Thus Far II

Part II. The email to Honda

In a flight of optimism, back in early July I had filled out Honda's "on-line quote generator", and asked the five local Honda dealers for a price on a stripped Civic. I learned that using the online quote requestor does nothing except to give their sales weasels your contact information and an excuse to annoy you.

Four of them ignored my request and tried to up-sell me on the standard-issue Civic. The stripper is $16750; the standard LX is $18,625 - but you'd have to special-order even that, as they all come through as $19,425 AT versions. That's fully $2675 more - $2889 with tax.

As in: "Pretty soon, you're talking real money."

Keeler Motors actually quoted me a price on the car I wanted. $16,275 on a $16,575 5-sp 4-door DX.

So I went in to talk to them - and they said that they could ORDER me one for fall delivery, call it three months: but only IF I gave them a $500 deposit. (And I would want to do this, why, exactly?)

So I went home somewhat dissatisfied; and, after a few days, I emailed Honda's VP of North American Sales and asked if HE could find me a Civic DX.
I was stunned when he replied almost immediately, asking for details. He basically told me "we're putting our best men on it. Our best men."

And somewhat to my surprise, twelve days later, he came up with a car: I got a somewhat bemused call from Keeler, that they had a car arrive with MY name on it. Built in Indiana, and re-directed from a Honda dealer in New Hampshire. By bypassing the local dealers, I got the car I wanted.

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Our Story Thus Far (Adventures with the New Car)

0. The End of The Death Car (see previous post). We came back from Cape Cod in time to give away the old Civic and turn in the plates.

I. Shopping for the new Civic
So, back in the spring of 2011 - recognizing that my 1991 Civic was becoming untenable - I started tuning in to the new-car market, and noticed that the 2012 Civic was already for sale, spotting it up at Mohawk Honda as early as April. By the time I was seriously shopping in the summertime, their initial allotment of 30-40 Civics was already gone.

I looked at the Smart Car, drove the new Fiat 500, drove a Mazda 3 (and Mazda PAID me $25 to do so...); considered the Fit, the Verso, a few others - including a 2006 $9000 Scion B - but determined that what I really wanted was the stripped Honda Civic.

Only to find that nobody would sell one to me. Rensselaer Honda explicitly told me that "We CANNOT sell a car in this market without air conditioning." Which makes me wonder: exactly how far north do you have to go before A/C isn't considered mandatory? Yes, we get a bit of hot and muggy weather here, but It hits 90F here on all of eight afternoons a year. Eight days, and that calls for A/C? Americans are wimps.

I don't much like or need A/C - and, at least until my Miata finally dies - this car is meant to be primarily a winter beater. In theory, at least, a winter beater should NEVER need A/C.

And the step from the stripped DX to the standard-equipment LX is at least $2000.
Honda asks $800 for an automatic transmission, too.
So the step up to go from from a stripped 5-speed DX to the standard-issue LX with A/C and an automatic transmission is fully $3000. (Maggie's first Civic was only $3400.) And as my father pointed out: "The parts you don't buy will never fail."

On its 20th birthday, the Death Car's registration expired -
and so rather than renew it - and buy new plates - instead, I took it off the road.
Which left us without a spare car. Which isn't a real problem, except my Miata is now solely a fair-weather driver, and the family minivan is the least reliable car I've ever owned. It was time to buy a replacement for the Death Car.

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

The End of an Era

New York State is switching license plates (again).

I've already blogged at length about my adventures with my current Death Car.*

Its registration expired yesterday (on its 20th birthday) - so, rather than go to the trouble of
- getting it inspected (...almost certainly not a trivial undertaking...),
- renewing the registration for the next two years,
- paying for and attaching new license plates
(which would involve the non-trivial question "Will the old plates come off?")

instead I gave it to my mechanic, turned in the plates, and canceled the insurance.

Gone. Twenty years of service.

It was the 2nd-best car we ever owned, but I was getting scared to drive it, and even more scared to carry my family around in it.

(Reference point for "What scares Bob in a car?": over the decades, I've driven at least four cars without brakes. (At least five, if you count the time I ripped the handbrake out of the floor in Maggie's first Civic.) But the Death Car scares me.)

For two? grand or so (a gas tank (no longer easily available), some exhaust work, the BUMPER), I could have kept it going in its current 'reserve' status for another year or two, but really, enough is enough: twenty years was not a bad run. It's been hard to calculate the mileage lately because the fill pipe had rusted free of the gas tank and so it leaked very badly (pints? quarts?) when you filled it - but it was still getting in the 35mpg ballpark right up to the end.

I guess the lesson here is that "Once MAJOR PARTS start falling off, a car's days are numbered." (The rear bumper rusted off 18 months ago...)

January 2010:

* This iteration of my "Death Car" (which is an Anne Beattie reference, you really should read Chilly Scenes of Winter) was the last (1991, fourth-generation) Honda Civic Wagon, purchased new in July of 1991 when my wife got shy of our previous Death Car, our high-mileage '87 Civic.

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Thursday, September 09, 2010


visited 31 states (62%)
Create your own visited map of The United States

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Dream Is Alive, And It Is Full Of Eels

For 11 weeks in the summer of 2004, there was a high-speed ferry from Rochester to Toronto.

It was a big, fast ship: on-board casino, duty-free shopping, 2:15 crossing times.
OF COURSE it went bust (...gas prices, for one thing...).

The City of Rochester took it over, and ran it a few times in the summer of 2005.

I missed it, I missed it both seasons. I had penciled it in for "Hmmm, I must try that some year."

Ever since it went bust, people have been kicking around the idea of reviving it.
This year, the Port of Toronto solicited proposals:

This particular business plan looks dubious; still, I would like to do this before I die.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Around the Lake Again in Twenty Ten

A couple of times when we were in college, M & I went camping around Lake Ontario. This year, it was finally time to take my daughters on a similar expedition.

Before we left, I looked into the Glenn Gould Tour of Toronto and found that his neighborhood diner up on St.Clair was now gone.

So Priceline gets us a pretty good hotel right in the middle of Toronto:

Monday afternoon we leave Niagara Falls, arrive in T about nightfall, find the hotel just steps from the Eaton Centre: but where is their parking?

Drive around the block: hey look, it's Massey Hall; oh look, that looks like a decent place to eat across the street. We go check in, get told where to park, stash the car, check out the neighborhood.

Time to eat: OK, let's try this "Fran's" we spotted just down the block.
We wound up eating there for dinner, breakfast the next day, and The Eldest and I wound up there a third time.

Come home and find that the place is actually a descendant of Gould's neighborhood diner: the original branch uptown is gone, but they opened on Victoria St. in 2004.'s_Restaurant

"Sometime between two and three every morning Gould would go to Fran's, a 24-hour diner a block away from his Toronto apartment, sit in the same booth and order the same meal of scrambled eggs."

Kinda funny how even though I didn't go up to GG's old neighborhood, I still *accidentally* managed to eat at his hangout anyway.

Small world.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Everybody Needs a Hobby

I bought a German rangefinder from about 1956, with a lovely little 48mm f/2, and a classic Synchro-Compur shutter. See:

It's actually something called an Iloca 'Rapid' from 1956, built in Hamburg and rebadged as the top-of-the-line Argus.

Rangefinder is in wonderful shape, photocell is dead, the shutter speeds sound 'off', but hey.

And I find myself seriously contemplating opening up the shutter to clean it. The front elements just unscrew; that in itself is some fraction of the way in...

Oh, and look - conveniently enough, the internets provide complete instructions:

I have a reasonable set of tools (check); my corner CVS stocks lighter fluid (check)...

...somebody needs to talk me out of this....

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