Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Subaru Tire Replacement

Ten months in, I'm as happy as can be with my decision to buy a Subaru Forester. However...

So, Amber is in a few "mommy Facebook groups" where moms (and sometimes dads too) ask a wide range of questions. Usually it's about kids pooping in the bathtub or something like that, but there was a car question the other day to the effect of, "I want a small SUV. What should I get?" Amber responded "We like our Subaru!"*, but the author's response was that Subarus have high maintenance costs. We didn't follow up, so I don't know if they were just talking about the fact that the Forester requires synthetic oil instead of conventional (which makes oil changes quite a bit more expensive), or if there was more to it than that.

(* - By the way, almost EVERYONE will tell you that his or her car is the best.)

Well, here's something. All Subarus are All Wheel Drive cars. That's great, and I generally like having an AWD car. However, here's one problem with that: it is very important that all four tires be matched. If the circumference of one tire is longer or shorter than any of the others, because of the way the AWD works, it can break the transmission. And I don't just mean mixing/matching different types of tires; even if one tire is simply more worn than the others - if the difference in tread is 2/32 of an inch or more - that's enough of a difference to cause a huge problem, more so with Subarus than with other AWD cars (source). This doesn't seem to be a thing that car repair places are simply exaggerating for the sake of profit, either. It's a real thing.

The bottom line is this. If you have a Subaru with four partially used tires, and one of them gets punctured beyond repair and has to be replaced, that means you have to replace all four tires. Boo! With every car, there's always something that gets you, it seems.

So, yeah, I had a flat the other day. (Only took 10,000 miles to get my first flat with the Subaru!) Fortunately, it was patchable, so I didn't need a brand new tire...or four brand new tires.

Hopefully every flat I get over the life of the Subaru is a) patchable, and b) happens close to home, because driving on a spare - even a full size spare - for more than just a few miles can cause the same transmission issues as mismatched tires. How likely am I to get that lucky? Well, my Honda had three flat tires in 125,000 miles of driving; two of the flats were patchable, one was not. So...we'll see.

Because of the synthetic oil - and because I pretty much have to rotate the tires with every single oil change to keep the wear as even as possible - I've already resigned myself to the fact that I'll be paying more for maintenance with the Subaru than I did with the Honda. With the Honda, maintenance costs came out to around $500/year over 6½ years. (Most of that was spent on tire-related issues.) With the Subaru, if each oil change + tire rotation is already going to cost me a full $100 - that's how much the first one was, anyway; I may shop around some and see if I can get a better deal - then those costs are going to add up.

On the other hand, Consumer Reports says that Foresters are as reliable as any small SUV on the market (one big reason why I got one), so I am less likely to need major work down the road with the Subaru than with other small SUVs. As long as I keep the tires closely matched, of course.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

New Hope Church Road

Many roads in rural North Carolina are named after whatever church happens to be on that road. I don't know the official history behind all this, but the churches have been around for a while, so perhaps before the roads got their official names, that's just how people referred to the roads: "Take the road that goes by New Hope Church" became "Take the New Hope Church road", and then when road names became formalized, "New Hope Church Road" became the official name of the road. (That is 100% speculation on my part, by the way. I have done no research.)

There seem to be a lot of churches named "New Hope Church", and as such, there also seem to be a lot of roads named "New Hope Church Road". There are three in the Triangle area alone, and all of them are completely unrelated to each other (Raleigh, Orange County, NE Chatham County).

This got me thinking: how many "New Hope Church Roads" are there in the entire state? If there are three in the Triangle alone, might every single county in the state have their own "New Hope Church Road"?

Not quite. Via OpenStreetMap (which is actually better than Google Maps for doing this kind of search), here is (I think) the complete list of roads named New Hope Church Road in North Carolina, sorted by county name:

1) Allegheny County (near Laurel Springs)
2) Caswell County (Leasburg)
3) Chatham County (west of Cary / north of Apex)
4) Cumberland County (east of Fayetteville)
5) Edgecombe County (east of Rocky Mount)
6) Montgomery County (Star)
7) Orange County (between Chapel Hill and Hillsborough)
8) Randolph County (near Seagrove)
9) Sampson County (between Clinton and Warsaw)
10) Union County (Marshville, northeast of Monroe)
11) Wake County (Raleigh)

So, there are 11 roads named New Hope Church Road in North Carolina. Let's drive them all!

Now...not every church named "New Hope Church" is on a road named "New Hope Church Road". There appear to be many, many more New Hope Churches in North Carolina then there are New Hope Church Roads. There are also many more "New Hope Roads", or other things named "New Hope" something or other, such as the New Hope Commons shopping center in Durham. How many of those are there in North Carolina? That exercise is left for the reader.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Internet Based Television

Let's start with what's good about streaming television over the internet: I can watch more curling than I ever have before. And now that I have a Chromecast, I can even stream it directly to my television. It's pretty sweet.

Sure, the internet gives you more viewing options than ever before, but regardless, I'm not really a fan of this trend towards internet-based television. It used to be, you just had to pay your cable or satellite provider so much money per month, and you would have access to pretty much all of the television that's out there. Back then, all the best television shows were on widely-available television networks, either on cable or over-the-air. Today, if you want access to all of the best television shows that exist, you have to:
- Pay for a Netflix subscription
- Pay for an Amazon Prime subscription
- Pay for a super fast internet connection that allows you to stream high definition video
- Pay your cable/satellite provider more than you did 10 years ago, even though a much smaller share of the good content is available through cable/satellite compared to 10 years ago
- Pay extra on top of that for channels like HBO and Showtime, which used to just show movies, but now have a lot of very good original programming

So...who says we have to keep that cable/satellite subscription, anyway? Especially now that you can get an online HBO subscription separate from cable/satellite? Well, here are several reasons why cable/satellite is still the best way to watch television, compared to internet streaming...

You need to pay more for internet. I currently pay $30/month for a "basic" 6 Mbps internet connection. It's good enough for my purposes, but it's not quite good enough to stream a single consistent HD picture, let alone multiple HD pictures at once, in case you don't want to watch whatever your kids are watching. If you do a lot of internet streaming, you really need to pay at least twice that much for internet.

Picture quality through cable/satellite is still superior, and much more reliable. Even if you do have a super fast internet connection, video quality through cable/satellite is still superior to the internet, both in terms of picture quality, and reliability. Especially reliability. People complain about the DirecTV signal going out when it rains, but that happens very rarely for me, certainly much less often than when the online service you're streaming from goes down, or the internet in general goes down. Satellite television is actually extremely reliable in comparison.

Commercials. Internet streaming forces commercials on you, and you can't do anything about it like you can with a DVR.

Sports. If you like sports, you can't get by (legally) without a cable/satellite subscription. Many professional sports leagues offer internet-based subscriptions, but they're expensive, and only worth it compared to cable/satellite as sports viewing options if you were thinking of paying for MLB Extra Innings / NHL Center Ice / etc anyway in order to watch a non-local team.

About sports, which is what keeps many people from "cord cutting": it may not take that long - a decade? - for enough online streaming subscriptions to pop up for sports, which will cover the majority of the sports that are currently available on cable/satellite. When that happens, you'll probably start seeing even more "cord cutting"...but when we get to that point, are the cord cutters really going to be saving any money? People talk about the "a la carte" model, where you pay only for the channels you watch, but the general consensus is that if the TV industry went full "a la carte", most of us would end up paying more for television, not less. The online television marketplace is pretty much already "a la carte". It didn't seem like it at first when it was just Netflix, but now you have all these other companies trying to get their foot in the door, and it's only going to get more crowded, not to mention more fragmented. Before long, even the "cord cutters" will be paying over $100/month for television. Hopefully by then, internet streaming will be as reliable and crisp as cable/satellite.

I'm actually glad internet television exists and is growing, because somebody needs to keep the cable/satellite industry in check, but the growing number of shows you can only watch online bothers me. There may come a day when watching television through the internet is better than watching television through cable/satellite, and at that point, everything will be fine...but we're not there yet.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Carol Glover: 1928?-2015 (plus other less important topics)

Rather than write a bunch of different blog posts on a bunch of different topics, let's just cover

Last week, we made an unplanned trip to Toledo due to the death of Amber's grandmother, Carol Glover:

(By the way, they pronounce "Glover" so that it rhymes with "clover", as opposed to the way Danny Glover is pronounced.)

I'm pretty bad at writing sentimental stuff, so I generally try to avoid it, so I'll leave it at this: Amber and her grandmother were pretty close, as close as they could be given how far away we lived. Personally, I find it much easier to accept the death of someone who lived a long, productive life - when you make it past your 80th birthday, you've done well, and Carol made it to 86 years old*, just long enough to meet all of her great-grandchildren, assuming none of us have any "oopsies" down the road. (* - That's her official age - she was adopted, so we don't really know her actual date of birth, hence the question mark in the post title). Regardless, she'll certainly be missed.

Now, the not-awkward-at-all segue to other less important topics:

Road trip notes

And, last week wasn't a particularly fun week, even though we did get an extra road trip out of it. (By "extra" I mean it didn't cost me any vacation time, because company policy gives up to 5 days off if your grandmother-in-law dies and lives over 400 miles away.) I can't say we were really in the road trip mood, though: it's hard these days with the young'uns, and I just drove to Louisiana and back two weeks prior. But, we did learn a couple of things. Normally we start the Toledo drive (to and from) at 4 AM, but due to the suddenness of all this (and other factors such as weather), we started both drives around noon. Turns out, that's not such a bad time to leave, because after sunset, the kids fall asleep, and you can just keep driving as long as you need to. Problem is, you get there late, so I think the super late arrival is only doable if you're driving to somebody's house, rather than a hotel.

One more road trip statistical note, about county visitation: I've wondered how long it would take for Bruce to visit a county that Marla has NOT visited. Marla is older, and the kids always travel together, so Bruce's county map would always just be a subset of Marla's county map, right? Well...Bruce had a really, really hard time napping at Amber's parents' house, and so I took him in the car, without Marla, and drove around northwest Ohio for a couple of hours just so he could nap. (Parents: we've all done the "take the baby in the car because he/she refuses to nap at home" thing, right?) That drive took us to Henry County, Ohio, which Marla has yet to visit. So, congrats, Bruce! You've now visited a county Marla has not. (Marla still has a pretty big lead, of course: 532 to 85.) The next question is how long it will be before Bruce or Marla visit a county that I haven't been to. Somehow I don't see Marla taking a trip to Idaho without me anytime soon.

The weather

This wasn't the absolute worst time to make an emergency trip away from home, because one of the days we were gone, schools and day cares were closed due to 6" (give or take) of snow. We're pretty much over school / day care closings for this winter. On the other hand...we missed a major snowstorm! Oh well. Lots of people actually lost power due to the heavy, wet nature of the snow, which collected on trees and broke lots of branches and whatnot. We didn't actually lose power at our house, though. (I know that because the clocks on our microwaves were still correct when we got back home.) Missing snow is a bigger deal when you have kids, because then you miss a snowman / sledding opportunity, which we don't get too many of around here. We did get a round of sledding in the week before, though, with an inch of sleet-type substance. That stuff wasn't good for making snowmen, though. And of course, by the time we got back home, it had almost all melted, except for plowed piles of snow along the sides of streets and in parking lots.

But, Chris...I bet there was lots of snow in Toledo, right? Well, yes. There was a healthy 6" of snow cover at Amber's parents' house, and we got another few inches on top of that last Sunday. But it was also very cold (for us), so we didn't go outside and play in it or anything. I also passed on a chance to experience below zero temperatures, because I just didn't feel like going outside in it. Missed opportunity!

It's March now, so that means winter is over, right? NO. Last year, local schools had another two to four snow days from March 1st onwards. We may not get that many snow days again this March, but schools will probably be delayed Friday morning due to black ice, with closures possible if it's bad enough. Next week looks to be warm enough to preclude any wintry junk, but that doesn't mean we're in the clear for good. Last year's final snow day of the season wasn't until March 18th.

Did Amber's grandma leave us a huge inheritance?

Uh, no. But I did claim this:

Sadly, I can't get the printer to work.

Any road trip plans for March?

No way. We're staying put for a while.

When is that curling club going to open, anyway?

Hopefully, next week gives us the warm/dry weather we need in order to finish the construction of the Triangle Curling Club. The parking lot is the last major piece we need, and the last two weeks have basically been a complete loss due to all the snow. We're so close!

Speaking of curling, a funny thing happened. I've been watching so much curling - mostly the Canadian championships on ESPN3 - that the other night, given the choice between watching "curling" and watching "something other than curling", I chose "something other than curling". I thought that day would never come, but I think it's a good thing, because it means we've reached saturation in terms of the amount of curling available on TV and online (as least as far as I'm concerned).