Friday, December 19, 2014

What it's like to drive a 300,000+ mile car...

Sometime in the next week I will go over 322,000 miles on my 1993 Toyota Previa minivan. Every thousand miles is another little astonishment for me, because cars don't last to 322,000 miles! The engine should have siezed up years ago. The transmission should have broken. I should have at least rusted something apart in the last 21 winters.

If I had to categorize the experience of driving a 20+ year old vehicle in the rust belt every day with 300,000+ miles I could use two words thankful and fearful. I am thankful that it has come this far and fearful that tomorrow something is going to break and I will be stuck by the side of the road. Really neither should be surprising. This whole experience, driving this the last seven years, has shown me that people often buy new cars to really drive down that fear. We don't think of it that way, but certainly people buy new cars rather than used because the repair costs both in time and money will hopefully be less. It's true, as an engineer I know how things fail, and the newer you get it from the factory, statistically the less likely you are to have a major problem. 

The flip side of it is, we aren't as thankful for the new car in the way we are thankful for the old. When I see my van in the parking lot I smile sometimes because it just keeps on running! Oh sure, you can be thankful your new car smells new, has no problems, that you can afford it, etc. but you aren't thankful it still drives, because for the amount of money you paid for it, it had better work. 

Another highlight for me is that it gives me perspective on appearances. You can dent my van and I won't care. Also, I know that my value both intrinsic and economic has nothing to do with the car I drive. 

I have realized only recently how much this van has shaped my views on quality. Now that I have taken one vehicle over 300,000 miles I fully expect other vehicles to go the same distance with only minimal repairs. That, and I have no problem using zip ties and duct tape to keep it running. Some may view that as a low quality strategy, but they are economical and widely available. There are multiple levels of quality, but for most vehicles, getting safely from A to B at the desired speed trumps every other aspect

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I Bought a Car! ... over eBay.

Tuesday I was so stressed out after work I bought a car. Not exactly, but a little retail therapy usually helps in the moment. I'd like to get the car back to my garage before I tell the whole story. I will say, it's not a new car, and it gets better mileage than my minivan.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How Fast Language Fades

I took a Duolingo Spanish quiz to see where I stand. The results weren't exactly a confidence booster. Sure, I still managed to get quite a few things right, but there were doubts and uncertainties and errors. The truth is, I just don't flex my Spanish language muscle during my normal life. Every so often a couple times a year I have the chance, otherwise I just don't use it. 

When I was learning German in kindergarten I remember the teacher telling us that language is like a muscle and if you wanted to be strong like Arnold Schwarzenegger you had to practice (this was the early 1990s so terminator was big). Having studied Spanish for six years and spending two months in Costa Rica I feel my use of the language was pretty good, not having used it in years I am now rusty. The consolation I have is that it is easier to learn something the second time because you remember the difficult things to learn from the first time. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Only Person

If you have ever been part of a group and sooner or later find yourself doing something alone, for the benefit of the group, chance are you value to the group just went up. A couple examples:

  • The basketball player practicing free throws when no one else is around.
  • The CPA who combs through the finances and finds a discrepency after everyone else has left.
  • The engineer who redoes a calculation or measures the prototype part again and finds an error when no one else has noticed.
I don't encourage you to go off and do your own thing, but I do encourage you to do the things that other people are not doing. Whatever that fearful work is, and I don't know why people aren't doing this work, but they aren't and the group needs someone to do it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

I Live in Iowa: Week 182

Obviously a good week. I mean, a few days in Germany, that's hard to be bad. I still have more to say about Germany, for example, the autobahn, perhaps work trips in general. For now I will simply say, das ist gut.

I worked full days Thursday and Friday and actually got a lot done. This might have been one of my more productive weeks in some time. Certainly it was one of my most educational weeks in some time. While productivity and education are not the same, I do highly value learning new and practical things. Given the choice between the two, I would certainly try to pick a mix of both. 

Exercising was about nil. I did go rock climbing Saturday up in Madison at Boulders. The rating at that climbing gym are easily a grade harder than they suggest. Usually gyms are rated on the easy side, so you feel much better after climbing a 5.11, instead of failing on a 5.9, like I did. 

Saturday was the company Christmas party. I went for the first time since I have been here, and I had a really good time. It's nice to see everyone in a different light and meet their significant others. 

Yes, I will blog about Germany more later. I hope you had a good week!

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Benefits of Not Running

I have not run in about 10 days. That time has gone by so fast! I realized this morning there are benefits to not running:

  • I don't need to sleep more than 7 or maybe 7.5 hours.
  • Lots of free time available.
  • Walking up stairs is not tiring, and my legs don't generally ache.
  • I don't worry after having a bad run that something is wrong with me.
  • No little aches and pains
That's about all I can come up with. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

I Want to Learn German.

So, I will probably be returning to Germany in the future for work. Which means I have a business case, which means I have another reason. Plus, my family has roots in Germany, and I would like to visit the relatives at least once, and perferably in their multiple locations. Finally, I actually took a year of German in elementary school but transferred out of the school when my family moved. It is enough to say I have lost most of Muzzy the cartoon.

We'll see how serious I am over the coming months, but this seems like a better thing to do than watch tv and otherwise not grow. Besides as Duolingo has already taught me, German has verb conjugations just like Spanish, which might hopefully make the third language easier to understand than the second was.