Recently in Life Stories Category

You know you're a good parent when Homer Simpson makes a Spaceballs reference and your daughter gets it.

I love buying used books from Amazon for $0.01 each. Sure, most sellers charge $3.99 for shipping, but I can easily find 10 books from the same seller and combine the shipping costs. Here are the books and series that are currently in my cart:

After installing Windows 8.1 on my wife's laptop it would not connect to wifi or the internet. The computer kept saying "limited" connectivity and none of the built-in troubleshooters could fix the problem. I reset the router numerous times, rebooted the computer, updated everything, reset the TCP/IP stack, etc. In the end, the problem was that while installing 8.1 Microsoft removed my wireless adapter drivers and replaced them with a new Microsoft version! Argh!!!! What the hell?


Reverting back to the manufacturer's drivers solved the problem.

Another Christmas. This is the 30th-ish that I remember. I miss my dad and my family around the country, but I'm thankful for the family I've got with me tonight.

I suppose I could post something about Obamacare, but I went to the Lego store last night! Nothing arouses my covetous nature like the Lego Store. They had a Tower of Orthanc with 2500 pieces that stood 28 inches tall and came with a dozen awesome minifigs. There was an Ewok Village with all your favorites, and an awesome Millennium Falcon. There's no way I can justify buying any of them, alas.

Lego models make me nostalgic for my childhood, I guess. Why do I want to buy more when I have four huge boxes full of Legos in my basement?

I just received a notice in the mail from AT&T about two new advertising programs. Naturally the two new programs promise to "help [AT&T] and other businesses serve you better" by showing ads "more suited to my interests". The thing is, all I have with AT&T is a DSL account, so what ads is AT&T showing me anyway? Are they injecting ads into my data stream?

You can opt out of these two new programs, but check out the opt-out clause:


I have to opt out on each wireless device and every browser that I use? Screw you, AT&T! Why can't I opt out my entire account? What happens when I clear my cookies, do I have to opt out again?

I'm a paying customer, not a product for you to sell to advertisers! Argh.

I've been following a low-carb non-ketogenic diet for about a month now and I'm going to write a few posts on the effects I've observed. This post is about the effect I've seen on my ability to exercise.

My exercise regimen has two primary components.

  • Daily running 3-5 miles, 4-5 days per week.
  • Weight training every-other day, which usually comes out to 3 sessions per week.

Unfortunately I've been traveling a lot over the past month and my weight training has suffered. However I have been able to keep up with my running, and this is where I've noticed that my diet has had a significant effect.

Even though I'm overweight by BMI, up until I started my low-carb diet I could easily run 5 miles every day without straining. However, once I started eating low-carb I noticed quickly that my energy level was dropping. Running even 3 miles became an onerous trial, and my body felt weak and tired when I ran. It wasn't fun, and it was discouraging because I love to run.

I stuck with it for a while, but it became clear that the low-carb diet wasn't letting my body generate energy quickly enough when I needed it to run. So over the past weekend I started eating carbs before my run, and I noticed an immediate improvement. On Sunday morning I ate 45g of bread (180 calories) about 10 minutes before my run, and I felt fantastic. My run went great, and I had no trouble even pushing my daughter up and down the hills in my neighborhood -- hills that I had struggled to run up solo the day before.

I had heard of "carbo-loading" before, but it was only yesterday that I realized that before my low-carb diet I was living a life perpetually loaded with carbs. No wonder I had so much energy to run! However, I want to diet to be healthy, not just to follow some formula, and so I'm going to start eating carbs before I exercise. 180 calories of bread was enough to rocket me through a 4.5-mile run, and I'm going to experiment a bit to see how my body reacts to lesser amounts.

Low-Carb Diet Series:
Low-Carb Diet: What I Eat
Low-Carb Diet and">Low-Carb Diet and Exercise

I've been following a low-carb non-ketogenic diet for about a month now and I'm going to write a few posts about what I've learned. This first post is about what I'm eating.

First off, I'm not attempting an Atkins-style ketogenic diet. My goal is to drastically reduce my intake of carbohydrates while maintaining a varied and interesting diet. Here are the kinds of things I'm eating:

  • Lots of vegetables, including carrots even though they are considered "starchy" by many low-carb diets. I also eat a ton of spinach in salads and omelettes. I'll eat pretty much any vegetable except potatoes.
  • Fruit. Fruit has sugar, but I still eat it. I'll eat an apple a day, and I enjoy unsweetened berry smoothies. I've stopped eating bananas. I eat avocados, but without chips to eat with them I sometimes struggle to enjoy them as much as I used to.
  • Meat: more red meat than I have in the past. Lots of chicken. I have also been enjoying salami, ham, and bacon. My wife just bought a bunch of turkey bacon, which I don't care for.
  • I've also been eating a lot more dairy than I have in the past. Cheese in many forms, some butter. Low-ish-carb unsweetened Greek yogurt.
  • Nuts, seeds, and legumes, even though these are not acceptable in many low-carb diets. I eat peanuts and almonds, and lots of peanut butter. I eat beans when I eat Mexican food and substitute it for rice.

The things I've eliminated:

  • Crackers, chips, cookies. I miss them!
  • Bread. Don't miss it much.
  • Rice, potatoes, all the filler starches that go with meals. I don't miss these much either.
  • Almost all sweets. I'll still use chocolate chips when I make almond flour cookies. The only sweets I eat are home-made to be low-carb. There's practically nothing sweet that's suitable to eat at any restaurant or store.

I've lost about six pounds in the first month of eating this way. I'll tell you more about how I feel in my next post.

Low-Carb Diet Series:
Low-Carb Diet: What I Eat
Low-Carb Diet and Exercise

No matter how much or how little money you make each year, the date you'll be able to retire depends on only one number: the percentage of your take-home pay that you save. It's obvious, but the more you save now the less you're spending. Lower lifestyle expenses means that the amount you save will last you longer in your retirement. Mr. Money Mustache has a handy chart to help you calculate how many years you'll have to work based on your savings rate.

The key insight is worth repeating: frugality now gets you double benefits. If you spend less now you will save more now, and your cost of living will be lower when you retire because you'll be used to frugal living. Here's the chart:

retirement years.jpg

MMM saved 65% of his take-home pay and retired in around 10 years. I'm not doing that well, but looking at this chart sure inspires me to save more.

I want to paperless. No more filing paper, no more storing paper, no more paper cluttering my desk, no more paper anywhere! (Except the bathroom.) Just imagine.

Have any of you done this?

Ah, that was a nice break, but now we're back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

2012 was an amazing year... definitely one of the best of my life. It's hard to see how 2013 can possibly be as good, but I've got a new baby due in just a few months so things are looking good!

I hope you all had a great holiday season.

I just voted in suburban St. Charles, M (definitely a Republican stronghold). The line was longish, but I spent more time checking and re-checking my ballot than waiting. Someone needs to re-allocate the "line up by first letter of your last name" system... of the three lines, "P-Z" contained about 80% of the voters.

I just got a haircut over lunch and my brain decided to merge the experience with the stone age tools I saw while on my honeymoon in Ireland! The result: stone age haircut! I want to carve a stone knife and see what kind of hair style can be made with it.

John Tierney says that Advanced Placement classes and tests are a scam. These paragraphs stand out to me because they reflect my experience:

AP courses are not, in fact, remotely equivalent to the college-level courses they are said to approximate. Before teaching in a high school, I taught for almost 25 years at the college level, and almost every one of those years my responsibilities included some equivalent of an introductory American government course. The high-school AP course didn't begin to hold a candle to any of my college courses. My colleagues said the same was true in their subjects.

The traditional monetary argument for AP courses -- that they can enable an ambitious and hardworking student to avoid a semester or even a year of college tuition through the early accumulation of credits -- often no longer holds. Increasingly, students don't receive college credit for high scores on AP courses; they simply are allowed to opt out of the introductory sequence in a major. And more and more students say that's a bad idea, and that they're better off taking their department's courses.

I took eight AP courses in high school (if I'm remembering right) and passed all my AP tests. In 1995 I did receive credit for those courses at UCLA as well as being allowed to skip many introductory classes. Because of my AP chemistry test score I didn't have to take any chemistry classes at UCLA, even though I was an engineering student. (I was excited at the time, but now I regret missing exposure to college chemistry.)

At least two of these AP classes were harmful to me: Calculus AB and Calculus BC. Because I aced these AP tests I received credit for two introductory quarters of calculus and was skipped straight to the third calc class of the series. I struggled to make sense of the course content and was relieved to pass the class with a C-. The two AP calculus classes I had passed had left me completely unprepared for the material. I also received a C grade on my next math class before I figured out that I wasn't stupid, I was just way behind the other students. It took a lot of studying and make-up work for me to bring my grades and my comprehension up to an acceptable level.

Those were the only C grades I ever received in college, and I blame them on the Advanced Placement classes.

When I get grumpy it's this.

While my wife was having surgery my daughter and I spent the morning scouring nearby Targets for the My Little Pony Royal Ball at Canterlot Castle Set. Each successive Target swore that the one they were sending us to would have the toy in stock, and the third one finally did! After surgery I went to pick up my wife's prescriptions at... yes... a fourth Target. I'm sure this is some sort of world record.

My daughter loves the toy, but unfortunately she will probably outgrow them before she is obedient for enough days in a row to be allowed to open it.

Just got married over the weekend! Yay! What an awesome time with family and friends. I'll probably post a picture once I decide which one I like best.

And of course the blog decides to stop publishing properly just when I don't have time to fix it. Argh! Everything should be working again now. Sorry for the interruption.

Not enough blogging here for you recently? I blame SWTOR and a severe case of tonsillitis. Unfortunately the latter encouraged the former. But alas, I'm recovering now.

I'm training for the Rock 'n' Roll half-marathon and everything is going pretty well. I've been doing my weekly long runs, and 10 miles was a snap. Last week, though, my 11-mile run was hellish. Blah! What did I learn?

1. If I'm going to do a long run in the evening I shouldn't stand on my feet all day. At work I use a standing desk, but I should sit down as much as possible to prepare for my run, otherwise my feet really hurt.

2. Rest the day before. When I did 10 miles I hadn't run the day before, but when I did 11 miles I had run five miles on each of the previous two days.

I'm going a shorter long run tomorrow -- probably nine miles -- so I'm going to work from home to make sure my body is fresh.

I've driven my Barcelona Red RAV4 V6 4x4 more than 2000 miles since I received it, so it's time for a review! Here are RAV4 specs, but note that mine is the Base model and not the Limited, so it was a lot cheaper, has fewer gizmos, but has basically identical performance.

I'm not an experienced car reviewer -- these are just my impressions as a new RAV4 owner. My previous car was a 2000 Honda Civic EX, so keep that in mind.



The V6 is extremely fun to drive! Love it. When you hit the gas, the RAV4 leaps forward. There's plenty of power for passing even at high speeds, and you can get it over 90 MPH without even trying. Be careful!

The RAV4 handles well and corners tightly. Its turning radius isn't much worse than my Civic. The ride feels solid, and there are no vibrations or rattles of any kind. Even at high speed there is little road noise.


I like the interior, and it was very comfortable as both passenger and driver for a 1000-mile road trip. The controls are all intuitive. The front seats are comfortable and roomy. The back seat was huge for my two-year-old daughter in her car seat. I also had a chance to carry two adults in the back along with the car seat and they said that there was plenty of room.

The cargo area is gigantic. I recently had to buy a new dishwasher and it was easy to fit. If I had folded the back seats down I could have carried two dishwashers without any trouble. For the road trip, it was easy to carry suitcases for two adults and a child, along with a large stroller, a pack-and-play, and various other gear. It would be easy to fit luggage for five adults in the back without ever touching the roof rack.


Barcelona Red looks awesome, in my humble opinion. It wasn't my first color choice, but now I'm very glad I got it.

After the 1000-mile road trip there aren't any noticeable dings or dents in the hood or front area. There were a zillion bugs, but they cleaned off easily.

I have noticed that the rear end of the RAV4 gets much dirtier than the rest of the vehicle, probably because the flat surface creates some sort of dust vortex. When I got home from my trip, the front of the car was covered with bugs and the back of the car was covered with dirt.

Safety and Reliability

No problems at all, which shouldn't be a surprise for a new car.


I'm getting about 19.5 MPG during my daily commuting, which is a 50/50 mix of streets and highway. I could do better if I drove like a granny.

For the road trip, which was mostly highway driving, I got about 26 MPG and drove 80 MPH most of the time.

While experimenting, I was able to achieve a best of 33 MPG at 58 MPH, but who wants to drive that slow? You can also get similar mileage at around 40 MPH if you can keep the transmission in its top gear.

Note: The trip computer's reported mileage is consistently about 1.5 MPG higher than what I calculate with the odometer and gas station receipts.


I love my RAV4! When I drive it I feel like a superhero. I love the way it handles, I love the cargo space, and I love the comfort. I highly recommend the vehicle to anyone considering a small SUV.

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This page is a archive of recent entries in the Life Stories category.

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