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Month: November 2015




Usually, my investment timing is horrible. I have a long history of this. I bought a condo in January 2007. A year later I was under water by more than 50%. I even put a little money in the stock market this year, in May, right before the market began a “correction.”

In 2012, Sam and I bought a condo in the Cahuenga Pass. Prices were still struggling to rise after the crash. Things were just starting to heat up at that time, we had to go through six or so counter-offers, bringing the price up, before the seller agreed. However, these days there are NO counteroffers, there are just competing original offers from multiple buyers over asking. 3.5 years later, we’ve got hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity in this property as the market keeps rising, and our area is becoming popular. Universal is investing, the Ford is renovating, Hollywood Bowl is always popular, and Hollywood is expanding and putting up high rises.

However, since we have no plans to sell, none of that really means anything to us. What does mean something are the hidden perks in this purchase. After we bought we heard whispers every now and then of hiking paths up on the hill. Every time I tried to look for them I couldn’t really find anything. The HOA president sent me to our property manager as he knew where it was. The man pointed it out on the map for me, but I still couldn’t find it. Anything that once existed was completely overgrown. After about a year of this I got so frustrated I told them I’d dig the trail myself. The HOA president gave the go-ahead and the property manager gave me a gas powered brush cutter, shovels, axes, whatever I might need. The facilities manager and I hiked through the brush up the hill to find where a trail might best go.

For two days after that I cut through the brush and tried to dig out steps leading up the hill. I marked a possible trail and then gave up until the following weekend. To my surprise, the facilities management team took over and built the rest of the trial at lightning speed. Three weeks later they’d created a walkable trail with stones on either side that went up the hill and around the upper edge of the property line. Another week and they dug a trail going all the way up to the ridge. The ridge already has an old ridgeline trail that goes down to the Hollywood Reservoir on the north end, and the Ford Theater Cross on the other.

For months the facilities manager asked me if I’d gone up to see his handywork. Because of scheduling (like the Seattle trip) I didn’t have time until last weekend. The view is spectacular. A benefit for this condo complex that didn’t even exist when we bought, but now features stunning views of the hollywood sign and reservoir, downtown Los Angeles, and on clear days all the way down the coast. Often hawks and other birds circle in the updrafts around you, enjoying the same view. Helicopters buzz overhead, taking tourists on expensive photo-tours to the sign.

My next goal is to hike from our house all the way to the Griffith Park Observatory (I believe the reservoir and Griffith Park are connected). July 4th should also be fun from up there.

(Also, since this was the next day after my car died, it was a nice counterpoint to that immensely stressful day)

Often hawks and other birds circle in the updrafts around you, enjoying the same view.

Series Finale: “The Heat is on” in the Saga of the Most Beat up 141 Month Old Car in the World

Series Finale: “The Heat is on” in the Saga of the Most Beat up 141 Month Old Car in the World

R.I.P. 2-4-2004 to 11-14-2015

I used to put up these complaining posts about my car. It wasn’t because I hated my car. I loved my car, but hated what happened to it.

I picked out the car, the color (Sepang Green!), the options (well, most of them anyway). I washed it all the time and put on some cool (hey, it was 11 years ago and I was 22, shut up!) clear turning lights and an aftermarket grill. It was very sporty and fun to drive on the back roads of Ohio. I was younger and dumber and probably drove it harder and faster than it was designed to go or I was skilled enough to control. But, reckless as I was, all the damage came from other people. I still haven’t had an at-fault accident since I was driving my parents’ old car in high school (sorry, Mom. Sorry, Dad.). (Maybe I shouldn’t write that down… kind of begging karma to give me an accident now, huh?)

I drove the six months old car to California and things (literally) started falling apart. A truck hit it while it was parked in front of my apartment, causing an entire panel to be replaced, new tire, wheel and realignment. A year later a cold cat crawled into the engine bay and tore everything up when I tried to drive down the road. Rear ended on the 118 a year later. Rear ended on my way to my first date with Sam a year after that. Side-swiped by a young wanna-be rapper driving his parents car on the 118 onramp, days before I would start a new job and never have to make that drive again. And a lot more little CELs because of an extra fizzy battery clamp, loose gas cap, popped tires, freon leak, etc. over the last decade.

However, all said, there was never a major major problem with the car. No transmission replacement or anything like that. Nothing that cost more than the value of the car. Until Friday.

A few weeks ago I noticed the AC was gone again. I’d had the freon replaced about a year and a half ago and considered it good to go for a long time. The dealer said it would take $1,200 to fix the new leak. Apparently I “hit something in the road” which caused the whole pipe to need replacing.  A coworker advised she knew a private mechanic that could do much better. After sitting in his office for a whole Saturday morning I was informed it would take $400 more for him to fix it than the dealer, and 2 days instead of a morning. So, not believing the car was still worth that much, I resigned myself to live with the heat. A day later, winter arrived in Los Angeles, so I didn’t worry about it much after that.

Friday, less than a mile from home, I noticed a chugging noise. The engine temperature started to rise. I was already going downhill on Cahuenga West and tried to just drift the rest of the way home as much as I could. As I pulled up the little hill through our gate the car overheated and died. CEL and oil warning lights flashed. Luckily, we have parking spots right there, so it could just sit and rest.

I came back hours later and the car started up with a CEL, but normal engine temperature. No sputtering or anything abnormal. CELs are a common occurance on an old car, so I hoped it might not be a big deal. (At this point you’re probably saying “No, you idiot, overheating is a big deal and you should have towed it!”… I am not my dad, I do not fix my own car and do not know these things. If I haven’t experienced it myself on my own car, I probably don’t know about it, and this car never overheated before) I made an appointment at Mazda for the next day, knowing I may have to have it towed if it got hot again.

The next day I white-knuckled it to Glendale taking surface streets as slow as possible. A line of red lights  on San Fernando Road doomed me, though. I was forced to pull over three blocks from the dealership when the temperature gauge went all the way up.  After a ten minute cool down with the hood open I basically drifted the rest of the way to the dealership.

A few hours later the service manager said it would be $900 to fix the (honestly, I don’t remember what the part was at this point, it made more financial sense to buy a new car) and it would be another $230 to run a diagnostic on the engine, which may be shot since engine temps went up to 300 degrees.

Ironically, on Thursday the ambient temperature gauge on the car read: 361. A sign of what was to come, but I didn’t know (engine temp gauge was perfectly normal)…

So, that was it. The end of the saga. And, just like my dad before me, I drove a car into the ground and had to scramble to get a new one. I’m not necessarily disappointed with the new one, just that I had to do it at all. I was really hoping the old car would last until a cheaper all-electric or hybrid came out and/or the Google or Apple self-driving car.  I’m not looking forward to making payments again either.

However, it will be nice not to have maintenance issues hanging over my head for another five years (or more, hopefully), AC when it’s hot, a reliable ride (without leaning on Sam) when friends and family come to visit, etc.

Also, because my commute is so short, I should be able to keep this car in a much better state of repair and exterior finish (albeit parking under birds and sappy trees every night…).  I drive less than 3,000 miles a year now, and barely ever over 40mph.

Yes, it’s another Mazda. Sadly, not a Miata (I wish! They’re not actually that expensive, and my not-so-tall frame fits fine, but the dealer only had a white manual-shifter…blegh!). I now drive the same car my mom does, but no longer drive the same car my brother does.

Seattle 2015

Seattle 2015

Seattle Nov 2015

On the last Friday of October, I flew to Seattle after work for the Seattle Interactive Conference. The conference didn’t start until Tuesday, so I flew up early to spend some time with B. We went to the “short run conference” on Saturday and spent some time planning our book (don’t expect more details about that project for a long long time).

The short run conference wasn’t what I expected. I thought it would be like comic-con but for self-published stuff.  I didn’t really see many (or any?) books. It was all comic books, 35% obviously Crumb inspired and the rest a sort of hipster intentionally bad art scribbling (if you don’t know what this looks like, be glad). That’s not to say there wasn’t good art, but it was harder to find. Jim Woodring had a booth, as did Bruce Bickford. I recognized Bruce from the documentary I watched about his animation a many years ago. Although it wasn’t done by him, the crazy Grizzly Bear video for Ready, Able (a good song already) was clearly done to emulate his work.

The place was packed, so the market for this stuff must be thriving. However, half the attendees smelled like they hadn’t showered in a long time. It was better people-watching than anything else though I left unsure of how I fit in. At one time, I would have wanted my own booth. In high school I was part of this crowd (although the aesthetic was quite different back then). Now I feel like an elitist jerk for being unimpressed. If anything, I’m less scared now to try my own graphic novel at some point (another long-gestating project).

The conference had a VR demonstration that I didn’t get to try. Sam and I tried to check out the Samsun VR at best buy the weekend before, but it was broken. I’ve been wanting to try the VR sets for a long time, and have followed the development of Oculus from way before Facebook bought them. I think that this technology will eventually replace TV/Movies/Games, at least as the interface.

The inability to “talk shop” with other self-publishing book authors at the conference was a real disappointment.

Coincidentally B’s wife planned to bring him to a University of Washington football game that Saturday, so she generously got me a ticket as well. I’ve been to a few college football games before (Ohio Stadium three times and OSU at Cal Berkeley), but never gone to a beer garden.  They’ve got a lot more than beer at the UW garden and we spent more than a quarter of the game over there. Luckily it was a good game for UW and we saw many touchdowns from our seats a few rows back from the short side of the end zone.

It was a very different experience than the other games I’ve been to, if nothing else because I was free to down vodka and blackberry juice (the “purple haze” cocktail at UW) without having to worry about driving home. After talking to the fans, it was clear that they’re more interested in having a good time than seeing the team win. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Although it was fun to watch OSU go through the playoffs and win last year, maybe it’s more fun to be a fan of an average team – never all too concerned about a loss, and any win feels great.  Not that OSU games aren’t fun in their own way, but I didn’t hear any “aww, c’mon, get it together!” complaining when UW didn’t go up by 7 touchdowns in the first quarter. And I’m sure a ticket for a good seat at Husky Stadium doesn’t cost $1,000.

On Monday night, B and I went briefly around town to find night photography shots, which is where the farther away shots in the gallery above come from.

On Tuesday night after the conference, I walked down to the Columbia building and went up to the observation deck. Unfortunately, they keep the lights in there fairly bright, so it was exceedingly difficult to take night photography. I ended up grabbing napkins and trying to drape them between the lens and the glass windows. There’s no disappointment greater than taking a five-minute exposure and then seeing that you’ve got the lights of the observation cafe in the sky…

However, I was able to take many more shots than normal because of a trick that B showed me the night before. Sony DSLRs have a long-exposure noise reduction algorithm that runs after long shots, it can run for up to twice the amount of time you used on the shot. Over the years, Sam has been very patient waiting for me to take multiple shots at 5 minutes a piece (2 min shutter + 3 min noise reduction processing). B told me that removing the NR processing will give you instant access to take another shot.  I turned it off and did a few tests, seeing no difference. Why? Because I always try to shoot at 50 ISO for night shots (I hate noise!).  At 50 ISO, if you don’t move there’s not much noise to process out anyway with a full frame sensor… so all this time I’ve been wasting all that processing time.  At least now I know. That was probably more useful than anything I learned at either conference, although I feel kind of stupid for spending $1,500+ on a camera and not knowing how to use it.

At the conference the next day I was able to finally try out not one, but two of the VR headsets. I tried Oculus and another one. Unfortunately, the experience has a long way to go before I think the public will start giving them as christmas gifts. You’re quite obviously staring at pixels half an inch in front of your eyes. It became painful for me in under a minute. Also, the fact that none of them give a full peripheral view destroys the “immersive” experience. Instead, it’s more like snorkeling with bulky goggles on. Is it possible to pack pixels in an LED so tightly that you can’t distinguish them from a centimeter away? Until that happens I don’t think this technology will be adopted…