Posts belonging to Category Personal Life Stuff

Good News, Bad News

The good news?  I just scheduled the last payment on my 2004 Avalanche.

The bad news?  The extended warranty has now expired.

Over the past year I’d been considering whether to trade in the Avalanche on something else, but I dithered too long and the market for used SUVs (or SUV-like vehicles in the case of the Avalanche) collapsed, meaning that I wouldn’t get enough in trade to make it really worthwhile to go through the hassle (at the low point, the difference between what I owed and what I expected to get would have only been $2-$3K). 

While it’ll be nice to have the money to apply to other stuff, I worry about not having a warranty, especially given how expensive it is to repair even the simplest thing on these vehicles.  But regardless of that, in the current uncertain economic climate having a paid-off vehicle is not something to take for granted.  As for my desire to get a vehicle that would be more dog-friendly, I’ll probably take another look in the late spring or early summer to see what’s out there.  And rather than trade the Avalanche, if I get anything new, I’ll just lease or buy it separately.

On the upside of this, though, is that having the Avalanche means that anything new that I get could be smaller and/or less expensive, since the Av could handle any towing or hauling needs.  What I really want is something sort of van-like with an upright seating position and a rear loading floor that is as low to the ground as possible to allow for easy dog entry and egress (something of a cross between a Scion xB, a Honda Element, and the latest Chrysler minivans).  I’ve looked at the Ford Flex as well as the Chevy Traverse, and both have high rear bumpers with a drop down to the floor.  Why is it that everything these days has such a high rear entry (as well as that annoying “lip”)? 

On The Road Again…

I’ve got a work meeting in Minnesota next week.  My area typically does one of these meetings once per year, and mid to late September seems to have become the norm.  However, instead of flying I’m driving it this time.  It will cost me an extra day each way, but it has the advantage of not having to deal with the hassles of the TSA, lost luggage, flight delays, rude people, and canceled connection flights (the year before last I got to spend a night in Chicago O’Hare thanks to a late arrival combined with the cancellation of the American Eagle connecting flight).  The flying experience has been deteriorating over the years, but it wasn’t the bad service or increasing fees that finally pushed me over the edge; instead it was TSA’s installation of body scanners that did it for me.  It’s a strip search, just without bothering to remove your clothes.  I find it offensive and I will not use it.  And unless I have to fly overseas, I will be driving as long as those machines are in place.  Further, I won’t be flying overseas unless I have to do so for work.  I certainly won’t be taking any personal trips.

Anyhow, rather than leaving and returning directly from Keller, though, I will be basing the main body of the trip from my mother’s place in East Texas.  She has agreed to keep the dogs for me while I’m gone, which will save me a substantial amount of money in kennel fees (it would have been over $500 to kennel both of them for the entire time).  So today I will head for East Texas and I will begin the main part of the trip tomorrow, driving up through Oklahoma, Missouri, and Iowa on the way to Minnesota.  It’s about 920 miles so I will spread it over two days and spend Saturday night just north of Kansas City. 

I should be back late on Sunday the 28th, so if I don’t post again before then you’ll know why.


But not spindled, and only moderately mutilated…

I went to the dentist’s office yesterday afternoon for a cleaning and exam.  When the dentist when to adjust the chair for the exam part, it was like some sort of gremlin had infested its electronics, because it decided to recline me all the way back to horizontal (or perhaps further) and then it came back up and tried to bend me into a pretzel.  Eventually, the thing decided to return to normal and the dentist decided not to press any more buttons.  It was like some sort of comedy gag.

Good For Nothing

It looks like it’s going to be one of those kinds of days:

I’ve noticed a correlation between mold counts over 1500 and feeling like crap.  On days like this I don’t seem to get much done since my head seems to be floating somewhere around the orbit of Venus.

Update: As more proof, I offer the fact that when I went to get the mail at 11:00 I noticed that I’d forgotten to close the garage door after taking out the trash at 6:30 this morning.  I’m usually pretty religious about closing it to prevent anything from being pilfered.  Luckily, nothing seems to have been taken, although in my current state I could probably walk by a baby elephant and not realize it until 10 minutes later.


As was painfully obvious, I took some time off.  I had been feeling pretty run down towards the end of the year.  I’m not 100% sure what it was, but I suspect a combination of a nasty cold bug and allergies.  I started feeling a bit better towards the end of December as we finally got some cold weather and the allergen/fungus counts went down.  I was even able to stop taking Claritin-D, which helps a lot with my thought processes (pseudoephedrine gives me a floaty head). 

Interestingly, when I went to East Texas for a week over Christmas I felt a lot better.  I came back on Saturday and by Sunday afternoon was feeling somewhat stuffy again, so either there’s something different in the air in this part of the state or there’s something in the house (I probably need to have the ducts looked at and cleaned).  But, so far, I’ve been having good results with just a saline spray.

Anyway, I hope that this increased energy will continue and hope to have more frequent updates on this site.

Gone To The Dark Side: Major Time Sink

+ = Major waste of time

For a long time I was a die-hard PC gamer.  Not that I played much these days.  I got tired of the upgrade race and spending money on new video cards and rebuilding systems.  About a month ago I caught an ad for NFS:ProStreet and got a look at the graphics on the XBox 360 and decided to give it a try.  I’ve been really pleased with the graphics and game play, especially given the cost comparison to what I was spending on PC hardware.  At one point I spent about $300 on just a video card.  The XBox 360 bundle I bought was $349 (although I turned right around and spent more for the racing wheel, it was still less than any comparable PC platform).

Aside from racing games, my other favorite genre was flight simulation.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a version of MS Flight Simulator for the XBox 360.  This had been a sticking point for a while (one reason I resisted the XBox), but I finally gave in.

Not that I’ve spent every waking moment gaming this past month.  Far from it.  But after spending all day at work in front of the computer, I just haven’t felt up to taking the time for blogging (which means spending even more time in front of the computer).  Gaming provides a nice, brain-disconnected, end-of-day activity after a long day of work.

As time allows I will attempt to post more, but my work schedule, frankly, sucks between now and 12/21.  I’ve got 10 pounds of crap to stuff into a 5 pound sack.  If my stuffing is successful, though, then perhaps blog activity can resume at a more normal pace after Christmas.

Deep Purple

No, not the band, but my toe.  Not paying attention I somehow managed to smash my toe into the edge of a door last night.  Oddly, it wasn’t one of the usual ones that I smash into things (the big or little toe), but the fourth toe (the one next to the little toe).

At first I thought it might be broken, but upon palpation I could not detect any deformity (sorry, my first responder training kicked in for a second), and the toe retained sensation and circulation.  This doesn’t conclusively rule out a fracture, but I’m moderately certain it’s just a nasty bruise.  And it certainly turned a rather interesting shade of purple. 

Anyhow, I can still hobble around fairly well.  It doesn’t bother me too much unless I’m careless and flex my toes too much.  Time will tell if my diagnosis is correct.  If it doesn’t start clearing up in a day or two I suppose I’ll have to pop over to the local doc-in-a-box for an X-Ray to see what’s really going on with it.

I Can Has Break?

Things have been a bit busy these past couple of weeks, hence my observance of radio silence.  In addition to spending Tuesday nights (6:30-9:30) either teaching or assisting the teaching of the new CERT class, I’ve been taking First Responder training on Mondays and Wednesdays (6:00-10:00).  And we had a regular monthly CERT meeting last Thursday, so I managed to spend four of five week nights at the Fire-Admin building.  My days have generally followed the pattern of:  Work, Class, Home (clean up what the dogs have destroyed), Sleep, drag-ass out of bed back to Work, lather, rinse, repeat. 

I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel, though, since the last class will be this Saturday (unfortunately it’s all day on Saturday, starting at 8:00 am, but at least it’s the last one).

Travel Quickies

I’m currently writing from an undisclosed location in Minnesota, where I have meetings all week.  I flew through Chicago on American today, and thought I’d share a couple of observations/thoughts:

* Upon landing in Chicago the first order of business was finding the men’s room.  While there I couldn’t help but notice that the stall walls only have about a 2-inch gap at the bottom.  I like the idea, because it definitely feels more private.  It also keeps anyone from reaching under and stealing your stuff.  Finally, it doesn’t leave much room for toe-tapping shenanigans.

* As we were taxiing out from the gate at Chicago, I observed at least five American MD-80’s from behind.  What caught my eye was the fact that on each and every one the right engine nacelle was dirtier/sootier than the left one.  Is there something in the American pilot’s manual for the S80 that favors the right thrust reverser?

* Someone unleashed a stinkbomb from the depths of hell shortly after the takeoff roll on that little American Eagle jet.  Whoever your are, please note that the rest of us really, really weren’t interested in sharing.  Is it really too much to ask to lay off on the gassy stuff before flying?  The rest of us would definitely appreciate it.

Trust Issues and Space for Dogs

I’ve been idly contemplating ditching my Avalanche for something different.  The first thing that put this thought into my mind was last year’s blown transmission.  Since then it’s developed two annoying, but not fatal, problems.  First, at seemingly random intervals, the climate control system decides that the driver’s side needs full heat, despite being set in A/C mode.  Stopping and restarting the engine resets it, though.  Second, also at random intervals, it decides that it doesn’t want to unlock the rear doors.  What makes these problems especially frustrating, though, is that there is no way to force them to happen, so I haven’t bothered to take it into the dealer yet.  If it can’t be recreated, the dealer will just likely say to come back when it happens again. 

The other major factor in my mind is that the Avalanche is not optimal for carrying a dog.  Boots gets in and out well enough, but she’s still young enough to jump into the back seat (although I worry about the strain on her front legs from jumping down).  But she doesn’t fit in the seat very well.  She’s big enough that she can’t lay down without stretching out across the seat (which means that if there’s anyone in the back with her she generally ends up laying across their lap).  I’m thinking that some sort of regular SUV would be better than the Avalanche for her.  I could fold down one of the seats to give her access to the cargo area and put down some sort of bed there.  This should also keep all the dirt and fur out of the seats (right now I keep a cover on the back seats in the Avalanche).

When I bought this Avalanche I was intending it to be something that would last for a long time, hence the upgrades from the previous Avalanche (i.e. from cloth to leather, added a sunroof, premium sound, etc).  I was driving fewer miles and thought that would let me keep it well beyond when it was paid off.  Also in favor of getting the current one was the fact that the previous Avalanche had more than double the miles of this one and had ZERO mechanical issues.  All of this gives me a lingering doubt as to whether this Avalanche is a good idea in the long run.  I’m starting to think it’s better to dump it before the extended warranty runs out.  I’d hate to find myself having to get another transmission at that point (a $2K to $3K repair).

I did some checking online and found that mine is worth between $3K and $6K more than its payoff value (depending on how you evaluate it in the calculator; I factored in the mechanical issues into the lower estimate, thereby letting the dealer handle it for me, rather than having to deal with it before trade in; regardless of the small mechanical issues, the low mileage really helps).  With that amount of residual, I could use the trade as my down payment and not have to spend any money out-of-pocket.

So, that leads me to have to make some choices.  The first, and most important, is whether I give GM another chance or whether I go to Toyota (which seems to have the best reputation for reliability).  GM has some good deals on the 2007 Tahoe right now, and 0% on 2006 models.  Feature-for-feature, the Tahoe could be configured to most closely match what I have now on the Avalanche.  And combining the trade-in value with the specials I would end up paying less (overall and in monthly payments).  However, *ALL* of Chevroloet’s SUV’s and trucks use the same transmission as the Avalanche and also share the majority of the other systems (such as door locks and A/C).  That’s a big demerit against GM for me right now.

On the other side, Toyota has the best reliability ratings, but they don’t offer anything exactly comparable.  But for what I need, perhaps something like the 4Runner would fit the bill.  From a pure style perspective, I like the FJ Cruiser, although it might be a bit small.  Both the 4Runner and FJ Cruiser are listed as either the top or second most reliable mid-sized or small SUV’s (the 4Runner came in second to the Toyota Highlander Hybrid for 2007; interestingly, the Tahoe was fourth behind three Toyota models in the large SUV segment).  I suppose a test drive will be in order to see how well I fit into these SUVs as well as to see how they actually handle.

I’m not in a huge hurry, and I probably won’t even bother going to look at anything until late this month.  I’ve got a new CERT class starting this week and I’m traveling on business next week, all of which precludes fiddling with trade-ins and dealerships.  In the meantime, perhaps those with experience with any of the above-mentioned vehicles could comment. 

But note that buying used is not an option for me.  Seriously, I don’t play the used game.  For those that feel morally superior for buying used, step back for a second and think about where your used vehicles come from.  Someone had to buy them first.  I’m the one who supplies you with vehicles that have been well-maintained (I have all regularly scheduled maintenance done at the correct intervals) and that haven’t been dogged out all the time.  In this one instance I would feel a little bit bad about foisting off the Avalanche on the used market, but still, it’s low-mileage and hasn’t been abused, so perhaps it could find a good home with someone.