Mixed Emotionsby Jim

19 Feb 2009
5:02 pm

wicked0606Last night was a difficult night for me.  Most of it was very enjoyable.  For our anniversary in December, I got two tickets to go see Wicked at the Orpheum theater in San Francisco.  As an additional surprise, I arranged to meet with some good friends at a restaurant near the theater.  Everything was wonderful.  We had a great dinner and the show was amazing.

When we went to see Phantom of the Opera in December with Dallyn, we parked across the street from the theater so we wouldn’t have to walk far.  We decided to park there again last night because of the convenience.  When we returned to our car, I was absolutely shocked to see that our car had been broken into.  The passenger side window had been completely smashed and our GPS and my cell phone were gone.  I had my cell phone out while driving and left it in the cup holder instead of putting it on my belt.  I forgot about it until we were already crossing the street to the theater and thought to myself, “it should be alright, the parking lot is well lit and attended.”  Looking back on the situation, I realize that was a very stupid thing to assume.  There is absolutely nothing the parking attendant is obligated to do if he were to witness a break-in.  There is a sign that says they aren’t responsible for valuables left in vehicles.  I was also parked at the far end of the lot, furthest from the booth and by a clear get-away path for a would-be criminal.

I was quite frustrated last night; I felt stupid and violated.  I felt bad for Angie and Jon who had to ride in a freezing cold car because the windows had been smashed in (especially Angie, who had to ride all the way back to Livermore with me).  Fortunately, they didn’t take our garage door opener, which was also in the car (along with a GPS that has “take me home” button — not to mention our address in my cell phone).

Things could certainly have been worse.  I could have been mugged, more damage could have been done to the car, I could have had sensitive identifying information on my cell phone, among other things.  I just hate making mistakes like this that make you feel so helpless and stupid.  What a way to ruin an otherwise wonderful evening.

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Checking Tire Pressure Under Pressureby Angie

7 Oct 2008
9:10 pm

My dad didn’t tinker with cars.  Perhaps it had something to do with having five daughters:  If he had had a son to hand him tools and acquire matching greasy fingernails, his free weekends may have been spent under the hood of the car.  Instead, he took his girls to movies and basketball games and built sets for my mom’s theatre productions.  However, I do remember him teaching me how to change a tire as a prerequisite to receiving my driver’s license.  I felt pretty impressed with my mechanical knowledge for a while, but – for better or for worse – I never actually had to change one.  Now that ten years have passed, the lesson is a distant memory and I’ll probably be a jellyfish if I ever have to do it on my own.

Recently, however, I had a new lesson in auto maintenance.  Our Mazda’s left back tire keeps riding low, so one day while Jim and I had stopped for gas, he showed me how to check and fill up the tires with the machine at the station.  He explained that it’s really important to get the PSI up to 35 (but not higher) and that I must be very careful not to loose the little valve cap that screws on to seal the tire when I’m done.  It was a simple lesson, but Jim made it enjoyable and I felt very informed and accomplished.  I could have gone on feeling like that – just as I had about changing a flat – except that this time my education was tested.

A week later, Jim was heading out the door for work and mentioned that the Mazda was low on gas (he rides his Riva to work), and that I should fill up before running my errands.  He added that it would be good to check the tire again – did I remember how to do it?  Yes, yes, I did, and I said I would.  Well, I didn’t – do it, that is.  Not that afternoon at least.  When I left for my errands, I was in a hurry and decided that I had enough gas to get things done.  That evening, though, I felt bad that I handn’t taken care of the tire after I said I would, so I decided to go before it got too late.

The sun was setting as I pulled into the gas station.  I stepped inside to ask for the code to work the air machine, then punched the numbers into the machine and got to work.  I decided to do the job thoroughly and check all the tires, and started at the front right: 35 – good.  Back right: 30 – I pulled out the nozzle and filled it up a bit.  That took care of the two tires that were next to the machine.  I decided that, rather than turning the car around, I’d just stretch out the hose to see if it would reach.  Awkwardly, it did.  I had to hang on to it with all the might of my left hand so it wouldn’t retract while I fumbled with the cap and the gauge in my right hand.

Suddenly, the air stopped.  I was afraid I had broken something, but I soon realized that the air worked on a timer and my time was up.  I entered the code again, dragged the hose back to its full length, and yanked it back around to the far side of the car to finish with the front left tire.  Soon, the gauge read 35 and I lugged the hose around to the back of the car to the last tire.  The PSI was less than 10, so I started filling, checking, filling, checking.  By this time I had realized that it was really stupid of me to venture on this project in shorts.

When the tire was full, I started to screw the valve cap on with my right hand.  Up to this moment, I had retained complete control over every one of the valve caps I had to remove and replace (which is quite a feat, considering I didn’t exactly have a free hand at the time – I had cradled each in my palm with my 4th and pinky fingers in the same hand that held the PSI gauge).  This cap, unfortunately, was rather rebellious.  He slipped out of my fingers and, rather than falling to the ground like a decent cap, dove straight into the wheel rim and disappeared.  Nervously, I felt around inside.  Since I was finished with the air hose, I let go so it could retract.  Twilight was falling and it was difficult to see anything in the shadows.  I felt around the inside of the rim with both hands.  Finally, I began to search around the tire and – lying flat on my stomach on the asphalt – I saw and reached the cap, which had rolled about two feet away from the wheel, deep under the car.

Thoroughly disgusted with the whole endeavor, I roughly screwed the cap on tight and climbed into the car.  As I started up the engine, I saw a man running toward the back of my car, waving his arms.  I froze for a second, not sure if I should turn off my car and get out with my hands up or just drive away as fast as I could.  Then I realized that he was bending down behind my car.  The hose had not retracted all the way to the machine as I thought it had.  It was wrapped around my back right tire and the nice man was unwinding it for me.  Now absolutely mortified, I waved a weak thank-you as he walked away.  With black, greasy hands and dust and grit on my shirt and knees, I drove home in shame.

The only good news is, the task was actually accomplished.

“It’s a rental…”by Angie

2 Jul 2008
6:07 pm

Our car was in bad shape, so it had to spend a couple of days in the shop.  In the mean-time, we decided to rent a car for Wednesday, since I needed to get to Concord and back.  With AAA, renting was a lot cheaper than we thought it would be, and Hertz gives a discount if your car is being repaired.  So, I got to drive a fancy-shmancy Mazda3 for the whole day!  It was light blue, like in the picture.  I felt so cool – like I was on vacation or something, driving a sleek automatic with that “new car” smell.  I thought it would make our car seem pathetic in comparison.  When I picked up our own little Mazda 626 at the shop, though, with a new water pump and tensioners rumbling along inside, I felt happy to be driving my own car again.

A Happy Storyby Angie

12 Jun 2008
9:06 am

Once upon a time, beyond the stormy mountains but this side of tomorrow, there lived a king and queen with five lovely daughters. All five grew up into beautiful ladies; when our story begins, two were already wed to handsome princes. Four of the five princesses lived within a day’s ride of their parents palace, but the second princess and her husband made their home far, far away, on the boarders of the great sea.

A great celebration was soon to take place, to honor the queen’s birthday (who, due to a fairy gift, only looked younger and more beautiful every year), but the youngest and loveliest princess noticed that her queen mother seemed very sad. This was because a dragon had attacked the kingdom of her second daughter several weeks before and, though the prince had defeated the dragon, the queen wished desperately to visit her daughter and help with repairing and restoring the kingdom.

The youngest princess had a magic mirror that could speak to another mirror at her sister princess’s castle. She called and told her sister that she wanted to use her magic to send their queen mother to the kingdom on the shores of the great sea to visit. What a wonderful surprise! The arrangements were soon made: The queen would be traveling in a great coach pulled by magical winged rabbits, who could fly the great distance in an hour. They would land in a forest of oak trees, where all such magical transportation landed: it was called the Oakland Hare-port.

Well, the great day of conveyance arrived and the queen kissed her husband, the king, and began her journey. The second princess and her handsome prince also set out from their castle in a carriage to meet the queen and bring her home from the hare-port. While the magnificent horses jogged along, the carriage passed the hovel of an evil, iron-nosed witch. This witch had been glad when the dragon attacked the kingdom because she hated the prince and princess. When the prince had defeated the dragon, the witch was disappointed, but at midnight she had sneaked to the dragon’s body and magically stolen his power to breathe fire, which spark was still alive, deep inside.

When the iron-nosed witch saw the royal carriage passing by, she grabbed her broomstick and rushed outside, mounted, and began to fly alongside. She made herself invisible to the prince and princess and planned to breathe hot fire on their horses so the steeds would overheat and fall down dead. That way, the royal couple would never reach their queen mother! The prince, however, was very wise and a good horseman. As the invisible witch began to breathe out her fire, the prince saw the horses shiver and begin to sweat. With her next big breath, he notice their wild eyes and tossing manes. As the witch prepared to take her largest and hottest breath of all, the prince suddenly steered the horses off the road and pulled the carriage to a stop, so he could tend to them and find out what was wrong. The witch, meantime, could not stop her broom very quickly and was so angry that she didn’t notice where she was going. She flew right into a sign-post and burst into a million pieces. The fire-breathing magic burst out of her as well, and landed in a little red brick oven in a village in the oak forest.

The wise prince and his princess waited for half an hour to let the horses cool down and rest, and brought them water from a magic well nearby to drink and be refreshed. Then they resumed their journey and arrived just in time to meet the beautiful queen at the hare-port, who hadn’t had to wait very long at all.   A great feast was held in the oak forest, where they ate pizza cooked in the red brick oven.  Finally, the royal family returned to their castle and there they are all living still, happily ever after.

Fortuitousby Jim

31 May 2008
12:05 pm

I apologize for the long post, but I really have a lot to say. (It seems whenever airports are involved, my posts quadruple in length…) Bear with me, I think it’ll be worth it.

A few days ago my dad asked me to do a little project for him which involved burning some video to a DVD. My computer had been having issues, and I had decided to reinstall windows to hopefully fix those issues. (It had been a really long time since I did a full reinstall.) I decided to give Windows Vista a try since I hadn’t yet and I wanted to give it a fair chance. There is so much opinion about Vista out there and I really shouldn’t say anything until I can form my own. So, last night I installed Vista. Everything went smoothly.

The video project my dad wanted me to do is 56 gigabytes, so I figured I should free up some space on my hard drives by removing my (no longer used) Linux partitions and resizing the NTFS partitions with the new unused space. Well, most other times, this operation took at most 20 minutes. This time, I had a 500 GB hard drive with a 366 GB partition to resize. The problem was the block size had to change because the drive was so big. Basically, there are only so many address spaces the drive can use and when I grew the whole drive, the individual address spaces had to each grow too (because I already was using the most number of address spaces I could). So, it took my computer about 7 hours to do the complete resize. When you edit the partitions, you DO NOT stop in the middle, unless you want to have corrupted data. There was really nothing I could do; my computer was tied up for several hours. Fortuitous event #1: A couple days ago I copied the entire 56 GB project to a network drive to free up some space for my new Operating System. Even though my computer was occupied for many hours, I could still get to the project my dad needed me to finish.

I forgot to mention that my mom needed to be brought to the airport for a 6 am flight this morning, which means we had to leave at about 4:30 am (so she could be an hour early at 5 am). I was in a little bit of a time crunch. After I realized that I wouldn’t be able to use my own computer to work on this project, Angie suggested that I use her computer. Fortuitous event #2: About 3 weeks ago, I bought Angie a new computer. I had noticed that her computer was nearly 8 years old and showing its age. Angie was so good to not complain about it and just be patient with it. So, as a surprise, I bought her a new computer which is faster than my own. There is no way I could have used her old computer to work on this project.

So, I installed Adobe Premier and Encore on Angie’s computer and got to work. It took about 90 minutes to copy the 56 GB project. Angie’s computer is the only one in the house not connected to the gigabit network, so the copy was slow. (I guess I should have bought a new network switch while I was upgrading her computer.) Once I got started, I ran into the same problem that prevented me from completing the project months ago. I found a solution from a google search and was able to finish the DVD just minutes before having to leave with Mom making fortuitous event #3. I would have liked to have more time, but Dad needed something and this was all I had.

We hopped in the car and started the drive out to the Oakland airport. Things were going just fine, but as we pulled off the freeway on 98th Ave., warning lights started flashing on my dashboard. I realized my power steering was gone, so I quickly got in the turn lane of the offramp and turned right on 98th Ave. and pulled over to the side. My car had overheated. Fortuitous event #4: My car had died 2.7 miles from the airport. I can’t say how glad I was my car died in a place where I could safely get off the road. We called AAA and had a tow truck there in 15 minutes. I only got 5 miles for free from the towing service, so I asked if he would take us to the airport. He seemed a little surprised, but took us there nonetheless. When we pulled up at the curb to drop Mom off, a security guard gave us a funny look as I jumped down from the truck to go get Mom’s suitcase out of the trunk of the car being towed. We must have looked very strange. Anyway, we only lost 30 minutes and so (fortuitous event #5:) Mom was able to make the flight!

I asked the serviceman to drop me off at the nearest gas station. He unhooked my car and I went inside to buy some coolant. He was kind enough not to charge me, even though I think I went over my 5 mile limit (probably only by a mile). I got the coolant and he even helped me put it in the car and get it running again. With the engine running, he noticed that I had thin streams of coolant squirting out of my overflow tank. I thanked him for his help and bid him farewell. I had brought the GPS, so I was looking for repair centers nearby and considering waking up Jon (my brother living in Emeryville a few miles away) to help me out when fortuitous event #6 happened: Dad called to check up on me. We talked about the car and he figured that by refilling the coolant, I would probably have enough to get home. We had poured nearly the entire container of coolant into the car, so it had been quite empty. With his assurance, I started the trek home.

Fortuitous event #7: The last couple days I have felt a cold coming on, so I have been getting to bed on time (a rarity for me). The last three nights I’ve gone to bed at times ranging from 8:30 to 10:30 pm and slept for at least 8 hours. I couldn’t afford being sick with so little sick leave after Angie’s surgery, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t get sick by doing whatever I could to keep my body strong. With such a good sleep pattern the last few days, I hardly felt tired driving home at 6 am even though I had been awake for over 24 hours (and I don’t feel sick anymore). I arrived home to find my wife and my cat peacefully sleeping in bed. I put on my pajamas and got under the covers and went to sleep.

The more I think about the events of the last 24 hours, the more I realize just how fortunate I was. Seemingly terrible things happened to me, but in the end, everything worked out just fine. My computer is in perfectly good shape, Mom made it on her flight, Dad got his DVD, and I got home safely. I really felt like these events were more than just luck. The Lord really does look out for us and answer our prayers. Days like this help you realize that.

Do-it-yourself Car Repairby Jim

30 Mar 2008
10:03 am

I’ve never done much in the way of fixing cars, but I’ve been interested in it for a few years now. Meaning that I’d really like to learn how to do some simple stuff to save me a few bucks. Besides, I think it is fun to take things apart and fix things up.

Spark PlugThis last month, with the encouragement of my friend and co-worker, Justin Bradley, I actually worked on my car in two different instances! I bought new speakers for our trip down to L.A. to see the Young Ambassadors and I changed my own spark plugs. It was a lot of fun. While we had the doors off to replace the speakers, we also fixed the locking mechanism for the passenger side door, which has been broken for some time. It felt really good to do something myself that would have cost me over a hundred dollars if I had brought it to a mechanic.

In order to get to the locking mechanism in the door, we had to peel back some plastic, which had been glued to the frame with some really nasty stuff. It looked like Venom from Spiderman 3 got stuck inside my door.  (Click for a larger view.)

Door Glue (small)

Here is a picture of the old speaker next to the new:

Old Speaker vs. New (small)

And yes, the new speakers sound loads better; the old ones had started buzzing, which was getting really annoying. I don’t know why I didn’t replace them earlier.

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Vroom…squeak!by Angie

12 Dec 2007
11:12 pm

Cars can be so exasperating.  We think our brakes need replacing pretty soon here and are trying to decide when and how to make it happen.  Jim and his friend Justin were looking them over this evening and it looks like they’ve got another couple of months on them.  With Justin’s help, Jim is thinking of replacing the brakes as a DIY project (it would save us hundreds of dollars – literally) …but just contemplating such a task made us both even more aware of how little we know about cars.

Justin has done home repairs before and worked on cars a lot with his dad when he was younger, but he doesn’t feel like an expert, either.  He said it seems like those who know tons about cars remind him of a club – if you’re not “in the know” early on, it’s really hard to be initiated later in life.  Where does a car-dumb grown-up with no mechanical savvy or spare car to take apart find herself some effective tools for figuring out how cars work, anyway?

The end.