Zee's Jeep Bed

Posted: May 20, 2011 in General

I actually finished a project in less than a month, and an ambitious project at that. Zee’s Jeep Bed went from materials purchase to complete and in-place in four weeks.

I didn’t keep track of materials cost, but it was fairly inexpensive. Four sheets of MDF, Four 2x4s, about 12 feet of poplar hardwood, two router bits, two pints of paint and some other consumables.

I almost made it too big. Getting it out of the basement, and later into Zee’s room was a close call. The thing weighs a ton, probably 200+ pounds in total.

You can read my whole build report on the dedicated page for the project.

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In a followup to my complaint about MPG and how Hybrids don’t make financial sense, there’s an aspect to the argument that I didn’t cover which is environmental impact.

Of course our current “lineup” of vehicles is not great for the environment. Driving my Subaru 15k miles each year puts 9.3 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The Jeep is worse at 12.4 tons, and the Lotus is even worse at 13.3 tons (I drive the Jeep only about 500 miles a year, so my actual impact is closer to 0.4 tons, and the Lotus doesn’t drive right now, but would have a similar impact). Cara’s Corolla puts a meager 6.5 tons into the air (find your own car at http://www.fueleconomy.gov/). I care about the environment, and I know that my 9.3 tons is nothing compared to most SUVs and larger vehicles, but I’ll admit that 9.3 is pretty high (even though a newer WRX shaves about half a ton off of that).

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Statistically, according to the chart at http://www.ssa.gov/oact/STATS/table4c6.html, a 39 year old has just under 39 years of life remaining. If I were to have a crisis, now would be the time to do it.

On the up-side, we don’t simply subtract years off as we get older. Statistically our life expectancy extends as we live longer. My son, who is 2, has a life expectancy of about 76 total years (including the two he’s already lived). I, who am a few weeks from 39, have a total life expectancy of about 78 years. Just by living to 50 will add another year to my life expectancy, by 60 I will have added two more years (to 81 years), and 70 will add almost 3 more years to that.

So, there sobering thoughts based on these statistics like: The chances of me reaching 100 years old is pretty slim (0.8%). My chances of seeing the year 2050 are just under 60%.

Of course, the average life-expectancy is also increasing from around 70 in the 1960’s, to almost 80 today. Who knows, maybe living to 100 won’t be as amazing in 2070.

Last October, on my way into work, I was pulled over for “driving too fast for conditions”, a $127 fine. Instead of paying the fine I decided to fight it, because I thought that I was in the right. In the end, it really doesn’t matter.

I suppose anyone who decides to fight an infraction (or even anything larger) feels someone entitled. You’ve been wronged and you expect to be heard. I walked into court the first time, knowing that this was the preface to real court. I’d been here before, they offer a lower fine in the hope that you’ll plead guilty and leave. I didn’t. I held my ground, told them that “it wasn’t about the money”, especially since they offered to knock my fine down to $60. I left red faced (I don’t deal well with situations like that), and frustrated, but the writing was on the wall.

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I'm feeling gassy

Posted: May 2, 2011 in General

Today, after ringing up $62 filling up the Subaru I started to wonder how high gas prices would have to be to seriously consider buying a new car (and shudder a hybrid*). The Subaru has two strikes against it. First the AWD affects the gas milage quite a bit. If I do a lot of highway driving I might get 24MPG out of a tank, but 19-20 is closer to the reality. Second, it requires premium fuel (which is 91 or higher octane).

So I pulled open a spreadsheet and put together some quantitative analysis. Gas prices would have to reach about $7.50/gal for premium gas for a tank of gas to cost north of $100. I don’t think we’re far from that, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we get there by 2015. Since I drive almost exactly 15k miles each year, that’s about $5k dollars, I can see why public transportation could look pretty good. At that rate you’ll pay the cost of your car over five years (a typical auto loan).

It’s not as though things are a whole lot better right now. At current prices, I’m spending just north of $3k/year for gas. Cara’s Corolla is doing a bit better at about $2k/year.

So the question is, when does it make financial sense to purchase a new car? I’m going to make a few assumptions. Although a 40MPG car sounds pretty good, the reality is that it’s tough to actually find a good car that can achieve that. I set a target of 34MPG running on regular fuel. I jumped to the $7.50/gal premium fuel. My prospective car would cost just under $3k/year to operate. That’s a savings of almost $2k. Not bad, but not really worth the expense to purchase a new car (as a note, the 40MPG car only saves us $500 beyond that).

Skip forward to the dreaded $10/gal gas. My Subaru would now be running up a $7300/year tab. The potential replacement $4,400. Saving almost $3k. Across 5 years that’s $15k, that’s pretty good.

This brings to light one of the important things to remember about gas milage and figuring the cost. The cost of operation starts to level off. At $10/gal the difference between 15MPG and 16MPG (for a year of operation) is $625. The difference between 34MPG and 40MPG is $661. So 1 MPG difference if you have bad gas milage is equal to a 6MPG difference if you have good gas milage.

*Which brings me to hybrids. Toyota is pretty much the “gold standard” when it comes to Hybrids, so I’ll take the Camry as an example. The gasoline Camry is 22/33 the Hybrid is 31/35. I’m going to average the numbers to arrive at 28 for gas, 33 for hybrid. At our $10/gal gas, the gas Camry will cost us $5300, the hybrid $4500. So the hybrid is going to save a whopping $900. The hybrid does cost $7000 more, so you’d have to own the hybrid for almost 8 years and drive it 115,000 miles before it started to save you money.

A while back I posted about picking up a Fuji Finepix F30 and how great the camera was, even compared to newer cameras. I don’t know what happened, but the camera ended up broken and couldn’t be recovered. Although I was tempted to get another, instead I bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1. The Lumix is waterproof and was supposed to have excellent low-light capabilities.

Although on paper the camera does seem to be quite good, the photos just never look all that great. We still use it from time-to-time, but now that Cara and I have the iPhone 4, it’s rare that we need it. To be honest, even the Canon Rebel rarely gets used (and it takes great photos).

So recently I’ve started to think about finding a good low-light camera again (I know I’m a little daft about cameras). The fact is, the iPhone is decent, actually its quite good, but it’s not great. So I began my research again.

One of the issues with current cameras is that as the pixel density (i.e. the megapixels) has increased, the amount of light that each pixel receives is reduced. The F30 was only 6MP (which is actually fewer pixels than the iPhone4), but the sensor is more than 0.37″ (compared to the 0.18″ sensor for the iPhone). A large sensor means more area for the light to hit, which means better low light (for comparison the Canon Digital Rebel has just over a 1″ sensor so there’s no comparison there.).

A recent article I read heralds the Finepix F80 EXR as a nice successor to the F30 that I loved, and the best current-generation point-and-shoot for low light photography. At higher ISO the camera reduces its pixel density to capture more light, which sounds like a great feature. Unfortunately the quantitative results aren’t nearly as great. First off the sensor on the F80 is actually significantly smaller than the F30 (0.31″ which is about 80% of the size), and the real world examples bear out that if you look at something like f30 vs f80 comparison or this comparison.

So the long and the short of it is… the F30 is still the superior camera when it comes to shooting low light with a point-and-shoot camera. Not bad for a camera that was released half a decade ago.

Shortly after moving into our house my parents offered us a nice-sized butcher’s block from the house they were renovating. I don’t remember if we had an idea of what to do with it at the time, but we took it. In early 2009 we decided that we’d build a center island. As a test we finally took that butchers block and put it on sawhorses in the kitchen. I remember remarking that I didn’t want the sawhorses to be a permanent fixture. Alas, I am a creature of habit and it would be more than two years before those sawhorses would be replaced.

In the summer of 2009 I did take the butchers block and cut it down to fit the area a bit better shaving a few inches off both the width and the depth. Later in the fall I would actually begin the project in ernest. Although there was a bit of “biting off more than I can chew” (which seems to be my thing), and a few delays due to life, this weekend I was finally able to complete final assembly.

I did break down and buy drawer fronts and cabinet doors from FastCabinet.com, who I also used for the doors on the built-ins in the dining room. I also bought unfinished oak table legs, however they weren’t long enough so I did have to turn my own feet which came out pretty well. Other than those things (and hardware), everything else was built from scratch.

I didn’t take a lot of photos of the construction, but what I did take are available in my center island set on flickr.

Its not perfect, but I’m pretty happy with the result (and the thing weighs a ton, even without the butchers block, as Cara can attest to). I do have to finish up a few of the shelves, but I went ahead and started a new project today, a new bed for Zee. I’m going to try to make this a few week process, and not a few years.