Archive for September, 2005

Good to be back

Previously posted on September 29 at: http://spaces.msn.com/members/evandodds/Blog/cns!1phaOgcvNsBxzvBN9Zpx1vbQ!208.entry


I came to a realization as we were preparing Monday night to return to Seattle from our vacation. I really enjoyed the vacation, but I was quite contented to return back home. This is not something I’m particularly used to. In fact, over the years, I’ve often wished I could stay, or otherwise keep traveling rather than return home.
 
After some consideration, I attribute this to two things:
  1. I quite like Seattle, my current job, etc
  2. I enjoy finally living with Jodi

It’s good to be back!

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Home again, home again

Previously posted on September 28 at: http://spaces.msn.com/members/evandodds/Blog/cns!1phaOgcvNsBxzvBN9Zpx1vbQ!207.entry


Well, we’re back. We rounded out Monday going to the Red Rock Canyon, Hoover Dam, and Lake Mead. Lots of photos from throughout the entire trip are now posted at: http://www.doddsnet.com/Photos/2005/2005LasVegas/Default.htm

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Not our typical vacation

Previously posted on September 26 at: http://spaces.msn.com/members/evandodds/Blog/cns!1phaOgcvNsBxzvBN9Zpx1vbQ!206.entry


Yesterday we went to the spice buffet champagne brunch at the Aladdin (as planned). It was excellent. We ate WAY too much –  and yet, strangely, not enough. It’s never enough at that buffet.
 
I was momentarily distressed this morning to read that they’re converting the Aladdin into a Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino next year. Since the Aladdin is about my favorite casino on the strip (both for the buffet and for the fact that we’ve won some $$ there in each of these last two trips), I’ll be quite sad if it goes away and becomes something that looks like Hollywood (or a Planet Hollywood)… ick.
 
We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying a day off after our busy Saturday. We were zonked, and needed a good nap.
Rounded out the evening getting dinner with Matt and Amber, and then hung out a bit on the strip before heading back out to the hotel.

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Vacation Update

Previously posted on September 25 at: http://spaces.msn.com/members/evandodds/Blog/cns!1phaOgcvNsBxzvBN9Zpx1vbQ!203.entry


  • Friday night had dinner with Amber, Matt, Matt’s father and sister. Good times!
  • Saturday J&I went to the strip, and parked the car for the whole day at the Venetian (yay, free parking!)
  • We ate lunch at the Venetian and got lousy service (over an hour for a salad and a pizza). We were told by our server that the pizza had been burned the first time, but the manager separately explained that the server had forgotten to put the order in. Whoops.
  • Gambled a bit at the Aladdin – Jodi won a bit too (Evan’s advice came into play here — always do “max” bet or if you get a decent win it’ll be a sucky payout. We were doing max bet.)  πŸ™‚
  • We got 1/2 price tickets to the comedy club at the Riviera casino.
  • We had a buffet dinner at the Imperial Palace
  • We saw our comedy show
  • We walked back to the Venetian, just in time to see a bunch of “stars” arriving. It was actually a bit funny, because they had a bunch of people dressed up like Monks (even had little “bald” hair coverings on their heads) and each time some “famous” person would walk down the runway into the building they would bang a gong. They did not, however, get it on. We eventually got tired of waiting for anyone we actually recognized to arrive and came home. I was disappointed to not get any celebrity photos with my cool new camera, but I suppose that’s the price I pay for not recognizing any of the B-level celebrities.

Observation of the day: The best deals in Vegas are in the older/smaller/less-glitzy casinos. We asked about hotel prices at the Riviera, for instance, and it was about what we’re paying out in the Suburbs (and a small fraction of what they wanted for the newer places on the strip). And good luck finding some “inexpensive buffet” at the Venetian. πŸ™‚

 Tomorrow: Champagne Brunch Buffet at the Aladdin… Theme is “Remembering 2003”

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Evan and Jodi’s trip – LA

Previously posted on September 23 at: http://spaces.msn.com/members/evandodds/Blog/cns!1phaOgcvNsBxzvBN9Zpx1vbQ!201.entry


Our first few days of the trip:
  • Fly SEA->LAS, Get rental car (informed that they bill for rental days lost if anything happens to the car… ouch! let’s hope nothing happens or that’ll be a hassle!)
  • Drive from Las Vegas to Colton, CA (About 220 miles maybe? it sure took a looong time!)
  • Visit Josh!
  • We went to Huntington Beach, CA for dinner — probably a 1.5 hour drive from Colton (?), at least with the traffic we faced at that hour.
  • Thursday J&I went into LA (another 1.5 hour drive) — about this time we made the realization that it’s about 1.5 hours between any two random points “in LA”. Ouch, I could not live in LA.
  • We visited Hollywood and were suitably unimpressed. Lots of street characters and stuff to hassle us, and very little interesting stuff to see (or at least it seemed that way). Shame.
  • We visited Beverly Hills. This was a bit nicer, driving Rodeo Dr was less glamourous than we had expected, but still lots of beautiful people, fancy cars, etc. Drove around Bel Air, lots of big houses I suppose. Drove around UCLA. Lots of students and college buildings. Went to see Everything is Illuminated at the AMC14. Parked in Beverly Hills and had some dinner. Drove back to Colton.
  • Spent a little time on Friday morning with Josh, and then J&I headed 4.0 hours back to Las Vegas, stopping only for gas and for a little shopping trip at the Factory Mall in Primm, NV.
  • Checked into our hotel here in Las Vegas. Whew. And now we’re back up to date

My main observations about LA and the surrounding area:

  • It was really far to drive (and really complicated to try to plan trips by train — we tried) from anywhere to anywhere. Very much a car culture. Ick.
  • It was very smoggy as we drove into the city on I-10. Presumably because the mountains trap in the smog and there’s not much rain to clear the air. Still, it looked dirty and disgusting.
  • People in LA don’t care if you have a turn arrow *AND* you’re still in the intersection making your turn. When they feel it should be their turn to go, they’ll go and nearly hit you without even flinching.
  • It’s really sunny
  • I’d probably have been more impressed a few years ago, before I’d spent so much time visiting other large cities around the country and the world. As large cities go, in my (admittedly only one day and very limited experience with the whole of LA) opinion it was middle-of-the-pack.

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Everything is Illuminated

Previously posted on September 23 at: http://spaces.msn.com/members/evandodds/Blog/cns!1phaOgcvNsBxzvBN9Zpx1vbQ!201.entry


Jodi and I took a few hours out of our day on Thursday to go see the new movie Everything is Illuminated. This is the movie version of Jonathan Safran Foer’s best-selling book — a book that Jodi is a big fan of, and therefore that I “read” earlier in the summer. I quite liked the book, although, perhaps, not as much as his second book: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
 
This was particularly exciting, because the movie is not yet in general release around the US. In fact, were we still at home in Seattle, we wouldn’t have been able to see it until today (Friday). And were we in some po-dunk part of the country, it wouldn’t have released for another week or more! πŸ™‚
 
So, about the movie – I thought it was actually pretty darned good. I don’t think there’s any significant spoilers here (it’s not a particularly suspenseful book, in my opinion) but please don’t read the rest if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing.
 
They held to the book pretty well, getting many of the small details spot on. The character of Alex was VERY well translated, and Eugene Hutz was just perfect for the role. He nailed the ideosyncratic language exchanges and I was thrilled to see the interpretation of his self-image in the club scene toward the beginning of the film. Very funny!
 
I was disappointed to see the whole story of Brod and the history of the town excised out of the movie. I had been a little curious how they were going to make that flow without losing the viewer, since it was hard enough to follow some of the connections in the book… so I guess that’s the answer then. And truth-be-told, it didn’t really detract from the story — if you consider “Jonathan’s search” to be the core story in the book.
 
My only real complaint about the interpretation represented in the film was the significant change to the story that left Alex’s grandfather as a jew who was in the execution line-up and somehow (miraculously) survived rather than the guilty-conscience I took him for in the book after making a horrible-life-and-death decision about his close friend. When he later (and very obviously) took his life, it seemed much less subtle that he had killed himself, and yet much more unknown why he would have done this. I like the book version of this much better, as you understand why he felt so guilty but you could also empathize with the terrible choice he had to make. Perhaps it was considered too difficult to portray this in the film, but it really stands out as the weakest point in an otherwise excellent film.

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Posting

Previously posted on September 21 at: http://spaces.msn.com/members/evandodds/Blog/cns!1phaOgcvNsBxzvBN9Zpx1vbQ!199.entry


Wow, I’ve been slack this week in posting to the blog. All of my many eager readers are disappointed, I am sure. πŸ™‚
 
Anyways, brief summary:
  • Busy at work
  • Got a cool new digital camera (Nikon D70)
  • Had a fun dinner with Beth and Dennis
  • Very busy at work
  • Going to Las Vegas and LA for vacation
  • Went and voted in the WA primaries yesterday
  • VERY busy at work

And that’s about it. I still have a queue of about 10 items to  blog about when we get back, so perhaps I’ll be able to set aside some time to get it done. And maybe I’ll find some time to blog while we’re on the road too. Only time will tell.

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I-912 – Gas tax repeal comments

Previously posted on September 11 at: http://spaces.msn.com/members/evandodds/Blog/cns!1phaOgcvNsBxzvBN9Zpx1vbQ!197.entry


I’ve been chewing over what to post about the Washington State voter initiative I-912 for a few weeks. I have some very strong opinions on it. But when Katrina spun through the gulf coast and caused massive devastation due to the failure of underfunded infrastructure, it really hit home.
 
WE HAVE TO FUND OUR INFRASTRUCTURE HERE IN WASHINGTON STATE!
 
This cartoon was in this morning’s PI, and really makes the point:
 

 

So, why is the I-912 seemingly so likely to pass? I can think of at least three reasons:

1) It’s been framed as “Vote Yes on 912 and get rid  of this horrible gas tax you don’t need anyway”, and there hasn’t been much response on the other side

2) Gas prices are rising, so folks feel that the tax would be oppressive

3) There is much confusion about strategy opposing I-912, and strange bedfellows

 

Ok, let’s tackle these one at a time…

1) We really shouldn’t let this be framed in terms of “wow, it’s a big gas tax increase — vote yes on I-912”, but rather we should be doing what we can to reframe it as “fix our roads and traffic congestion — vote no on I-912”. Nobody likes paying taxes, but nobody likes having roads crumble in an earthquake or getting stuck in congested traffic for hours each day either.

Of course, even if you frame it that way, it’s possible some folks will still legitimately not support voting “no” on I-912. These people are either reasonable (they don’t have a car, they walk to work, etc) or they’re hypocritical (they don’t like to pay for the infrastructure but they want it to be fixed anyway).

And there’s those people who think they should vote “yes” on I-912 because they don’t live in Seattle. “I don’t care about the SR520 bridge or the viaduct”, they say. Well, have a look at the list of projects across the state! Or have a look at the county-by-county list. These seem to be sensible projects, and they will have an infrastructure effect ALL OVER the state!

 

2) Gas prices ARE rising. But if gas prices are rising, that means you’re going to pay more for gas… with or without the added gas tax. And, if gas gets more expensive, that makes the portion of the gallon cost eaten by this new tax very minimal (and the savings from removing the tax, not all that great).

A little background: The 2005 gas tax that I-912 proposes to repeal adds 3 cents per gallon as of July 2005 (approximately 1% of the total gallon cost of gasoline at 2.81/gallon). It adds an additional 3 cents per gallon in 2006, 2 cents per gallon in 2007, and 1.5 cents per gallon in 2008. This is a total of 9.5 cents per gallon in additional state tax. Let’s pretend that by 2008, when all 9.5 cents are applied, a gallon of gas still averages 2.81. To be judicious, we’ll even say that 2.81 includes all 9.5 cents of added tax to make the % seem as large as possible. That 9.5 cents will account for 3.3% of the total cost of a gallon of gas. In a 15 gallon fill-up, it will add $1.42 at the pump.

Compare that if gas goes up to an average of $3.00 per gallon by 2008, that same 15 gallon fill-up will cost you an additional ($0.19 * 15) = $2.85.. more than twice as much as the effect of the gas tax!

If you look at it that way, a better initiative might be to find a way to keep gas prices more manageable, rather than repealing the 2005 gas tax for much needed infrastructure improvements!

 

3) I’ve been following a lot of the chatter about the various transit initiatives around Seattle, and I have been dismayed to see some concerted efforts to support I-912 by those who should know better (and for the wrong reasons). There is some support for I-912 coming out of the transit groups — say, Monorail supporters — as a way of “sticking it to” the sheep in their cars. This is just plain stupid. If you’re “for transit”, you should be “for infrastructure”. Plain and simple. Yes, yes… we know you don’t like people driving their cars to work. We also all agree that you can’t just keep widening highways indefinitely to solve the “congestion problem”.

But COME ON! If you’re one of those people, do you really think that if I-912 passes and the tax is repealed, we’ll really “learn our lesson” without things first getting much worse (or perhaps even through a tragedy like an earthquake)?! Do you really think the rabid anti-tax crowd pushing for the tax repeal will follow up their I-912 work with a mass transit initiative?! We need mass transit. We also need updated roads and bridges. Period.

I don’t get some of the strange, informal partnerships that have developed around I-912. I find it disturbing, and I hope the I-912 opposition can get some momentum before it’s too late.

And most of all, I hope that those folks who *SHOULD* be opposing the I-912 initiative come to their senses soon. I can think of only one type of person who should be in favor of I-912: rigidly anti-tax people (who, presumably, don’t support any tax for infrastructure). Everyone else in the state of Washington stands to gain from this tax.

If I-912 passes and the tax is repealed, we all stand to lose! VOTE NO ON I-912!

 

Learn more about I-912 and the 2005 Gas Tax:

Municipal Research & Services Center of WA, I-912 page: http://www.mrsc.org/subjects/finance/912/I-912.aspx – Appears nonbiased, provides links to both supporters and opponents of I-912

Washington State Labor Council, I-912 Info page: http://www.wslc.org/cope/I-912.htm – Lots of good information, takes a “No” position on I-912

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Whew – updated gas mileage standards at last

Previously posted on September 11 at: http://spaces.msn.com/members/evandodds/Blog/cns!1phaOgcvNsBxzvBN9Zpx1vbQ!196.entry


<SARCASM>
In an effort to reduce our national dependence on foreign oil, the Bush administration took powerful steps the other week to implement new and effective higher-fuel-efficiency requirements for all road vehicles produced for sale in the US. The largest “guzzlers” will require dramatic improvements (a 0 mpg required improvement by 2011!!), and overall passenger cars will also see significant increases in efficiency (also 0 mpg improvement required by 2011!!). As if this wasn’t enough, our resplendent and sensible leaders propose to ensure the light-truck/mini-van market will improve an astounding and unbelievable 1.8mpg by 2011!!!! Is this even technologically possible? I have a hard time believe it can even be done within the bounds of hard science.
 
Read the CAFE reform propsal at the NHTSA site for more of these wonderful and glorious details. This speeds up the minor and incremental increases in efficiency we’ve seen over the past few years. We’re finally taking action to solve this looming and real problem.
</SARCASM>
 
Ok, enough of that. It’s disgusting how little we’re doing here. Perhaps we will see $4 and $5/gallon before things start to get fixed, although I wouldn’t have believed it a year or two ago. We can and should require better efficiency in our vehicles! We can and should invest more in mass transit solutions, realizing that it’s going to get worse before it can possibly get better. Article from MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9051613/, Sierra Club press release: http://www.sierraclub.com/pressroom/releases/pr2005-08-23.asp

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Evan’s Mazda Protege5 – 3 years in

Previously posted on September 11 at: http://spaces.msn.com/members/evandodds/Blog/cns!1phaOgcvNsBxzvBN9Zpx1vbQ!189.entry


 

As of some time mid-July, I’ve now had my Mazda Protege5 for a bit over three years. Protege5 is a 4-door “sport-wagon”, roughly similar to the Mazda3 that’s now marketed in the same space. It’s been quite a good little car for me during the several years I made the 200+ mile drive from Charlotte, NC <-> Charleston, SC on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Now that I’m out in Seattle, I drive it a lot less.
 
Proof that I’m a crazy data-hound, I’ve actually been keeping mileage and fill-up records all the way back to 2002 when I first bought the car. Since mid-2002, I’ve spent about $2500 on gasoline fill-ups and I’ve made a total of 146 gas-station/fill-up stops for a total of 1555 gallons used. Average MPG during this 3+ year period was just a hair under 29mpg (averaged across all 45000 miles driven, both city and highway).
 
Not enough data for you? How about these charts. πŸ™‚
 
Costs of Fillups + Trending:
 
Pr5-chart1
 
There are a couple of “low” spikes in this data because it wasn’t completely empty when I went to the gas station. Sure, I could plot the price/gallon without taking into account how much gas I actually pumped, but then I wouldn’t know the weighted cost of the gas I used. Oh, ok… fine.
 
Price/Gallon + Trending:
 
Pr5-chart2
 
So that one should be nearly identical to the last chart, except it doesn’t take into account the variations in how much gas was pumped at each price. The interesting thing to note is that we see two pretty significant bumps: (1) my move to Seattle, where gas costs more than in the Carolinas and (2) The large price hikes in summer of 2005 due to Iraq, Katrina, etc. But it’s also interesting to notice that apart from these two large “hikes”, it is actually trending fairly consistently.
 
MPG Trending:
 
Pr5-chart3
 
Ignore the big spike up then down in March. This was data from a non-fillup (I put in, say, 2 gallons or something and then later on did a complete fill-up — since the MPG data is trailing, it threw off the numbers).
 
This chart is the most interesting one to me. I had assumped that we’d see a drop-off over time in efficiency as the motor started to age, etc. I guess 45000 miles is still fairly new… but in fact, we’re actually seeing a slight INCREASE in gas mileage as time goes on. Perhaps it’s because I’m doing less highway driving now. The PR5 is not well-geared for 85-90mph highway driving (4000+ RPMs in 5th gear), so it tends to get more reliable numbers in consistent city driving and low-speed highway driving like the mess we have here in Seattle. πŸ™‚

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