Archive for October 2011
October 2001: the week of midterms of my junior year at UNI. One morning, after an exam at Seerley Hall, I left campus, walked through the tunnel under University Avenue to the B lot by the Industrial Tech building, got in my car and drove to JDEW for my afternoon shift.
I headed west on University, turned left at the lights on Hudson, cruised along for a few miles (in those days Hudson wasn’t littered with stoplights) and then turned left onto Ridgeway. As I began ascending the hill on Ridgeway I pressed down on the accelerator but my car began to slow down and shutter. I pressed more and the car slowed down more. I crested the hill but had to pull over onto the shoulder by the entrance of the trailer park, just moments before the engine sputtered and quit on me.
That was my first car, the 1988 Pontiac 6000. When I turned 16 and spent a summer working construction to save up some money, I bought it from my grandmother. Grandpa took good care of that car, as retired mechanics tend to do. Its exterior was nearly flawless (gray with two thin red racing stripes), it had all the original hubcaps and floor mats, and the engine, while sporting a few replacement parts, worked like a finely-tuned clock.
Like most 16-year olds with their first car, I did not show it the care my grandfather had. This is not to say I drove recklessly (despite a few minor fender benders wherein no one was injured), but I knew nothing about engine maintenance or repair and was routinely mystified whenever the slightest problem arose. I did not have the oil changed as often as I should, nor did I give much thought to checking the transmission fluid or antifreeze levels. While I vaguely remembered how to change a flat tire, I had never been shown how to replace the battery or any of the engine belts. The logic behind rotating the tires was unknown to me.
Naturally, the condition of the 6000 deteriorated over the four years I owned it. The left rear quarter panel was punctured in when I errantly reversed into a parked car one wintry night in late 1997. One morning in college, after a night of light snowfall which had not yet been plowed, I was going downhill on Hudson and noticed the light at 12th St turned yellow. I braked harder than I should have (as unseasoned 16 year olds are prone to do), lost control and 540’d through the intersection. The only thing hit was the reflective pole in the median, which took a chunk out of the rear fender.
On numerous occasions the battery went dead, the tires went bad and the engine frequently overheated. I replaced the starter four times — thankfully the first replacement part came with a lifetime warranty, so the other three didn’t cost a cent.
One time, after a night of freezing rain, I couldn’t get the driver’s side door to open. I yanked on the door handle so badly that I damaged its internal workings, and from there on out the handle jiggled far more loosely than it should. I was perpetually ready for it to come loose in my grip every time I went to open the door. To prevent another hard-yank incident, I kept a pry bar on the floor between the front seats (but don’t ask me how it could be of any use if the doors were frozen shut).
In the fall of 1999, during my first semester of college, I drove down to Iowa City to visit Neeks and Katya at the U of Iowa for a weekend. One of the brake lines sprang a leak in the parking lot behind Mayflower. We called every shop in town, only to be told nothing could be done until the following Monday. So I resolved to top off the brake fluid and carefully drive back to CF on Sunday and take the car in on Monday morning to be fixed.
Incidentally, Neeks was to return with me to spend a week with his family in CF and I do not think he was pleased to be riding in a car with no functioning brakes. To say the drive along Interstate 380 was tense would be an understatement.
Also, the tape deck ate tapes. I learned this from experience.
When the 6000 died on Ridgeway on that October morning in 2001, I could tell it couldn’t be saved. The way it shuttered and failed on me felt very ominous. I locked the doors and walked the rest of the way to JDEW. In the mail room I was able to call for a tow at 4PM. I had it brought back to my parents’ house, where the remains were deposited at the curb, its fate yet to be determined.
For the remainder of the week I drove my grandfather’s backup Windstar. After work Dad and I would peruse used car lots in town in search of something reliable and reasonably priced – the holy grail of used cars.
He knew of a coworker who wanted to sell a relatively new Ford Taurus. We went to the coworker’s house to look it over. I did not care at all for the layout of the interior and I could not scoot the driver’s seat back far enough to my liking. No sale.
That week Grandpa eyed a ‘97 Dodge Intrepid in great condition in a used car lot in Ackley. Dad and I came over on Saturday afternoon to check it out. The dealer knew my grandfather and gave us the keys to try it out for the night. I drove it while following behind Dad and Grandpa on their way to Faulkner.
The car performed very well. It was comfortable, it accelerated rapidly and with ease, the engine was quiet and it had two things the 6000 didn’t: power windows and power locks (which worked!).
The Intrepid had only been owned once, by a retired couple that had taken it on numerous road trips to visit their son in college, somewhere in Maine, and had recently won a free car in a raffle, hence why they gave up a 4-year old car.
The vehicle had 88,000 miles and all its original parts, interior and under the hood, and had never been in an accident. The only notable downside was that the owners had been fiendish chain-smokers. A few cigarette burns could be seen in the passenger seat and the interior reeked of nicotine.
I decided to buy it. The price felt a bit high but it was within the range I had set. I had to take out nearly everything in my savings account as well as a $1,000 auto loan through JDCCU. But I was living at home at the time with almost no expenses, so my JDEW salary repaid the loan in only a couple months and soon I was building up my savings again.
Dad and I returned on Sunday to sign the paperwork and exchange the funds. I can’t remember the reason why I didn’t take the care home that day, but it stayed in Ackley until Monday, when Grandpa drove it to Cedar Falls to exchange for his Windstar.
I keep a pad of paper in the pocket of the driver side door. In it I jot down every fuel purchase: the date, number of gallons purchased, price per gallon, total sale and the trip odometer reading. This allows me to check my fuel efficiency as well as lament the ever increasing price of gasoline. There is an entry dated 18 December 2001, back when I bought my gas at the Amoco station on the corner of 1st and Hudson. Price per gallon: 98 cents. Ah, the good ole days!
The Intrepid was involved in its first and so far only accident a couple winters ago when a car pulled out in front of me at the bible campgrounds by the Cedar River. While neither of us was going more than 25 mph, neither of us could stop in time. My front left quarter panel was slightly creased. The other car suffered a broken tie rod to the front right tire. The officer declared it a no-fault accident due to the compact snow on the road. I did not have the damage to my car repaired as the damage was minimal and I would have had to cover the costs myself.
Ten years has taken its toll to the exterior. Small rust holes have formed in front of both rear tires and are slowly growing. The crease on the front left quarter panel sports a thin line of rust for a scar. The paint is fading from the roof. The radio does not pick up stations as well as it used to.
Aside from oil changes and a couple new batteries, I doubt I have sunk more than $1,000 into it. Last summer the driver side master switch broke, costing me a couple hundred to have it replaced. The car does need some love though: the front suspension is wearing out and there’s an odd grinding noise that comes and goes from the rear right tires — I suspect the brake drum for some inexplicable reason.
In ten years I’ve added approximately 100,000 miles to the odometer. That includes dozens of trips to/from Omaha NE and Oxford OH, and a few road trips to the east coast, one which took me through Canada. Nowadays it’s mostly just work and back five times a week. I haven’t driven it out of state since April 2010.
Micah once asked if I’d keep driving it until I hit a moonshot – about 239,000 miles, the average distance between the Earth and the moon. I’m 50,000 miles short of that mark. Ten years already feels like a long time to own and drive one car. I don’t know if it’ll reach that milestone, but I plan to hold onto it for at least another year or so, until I can afford its replacement
I’ve taken to reading quite a bit during the evenings in lieu of movies or writing. Hence the lack of updates. But I am working on a longer piece which should be ready in a few days. This week’s book: “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott.
I love my new phone! It makes me feel like Dean Stockwell in “Quantum Leap”, smacking Ziggy around to get it to compute some statistic for Sam on his latest exploit. The battery holds up reasonably well. I find I only need to charge it once every 2-3 days. And the quality of the photos is remarkable.
My previous cell phone, the Motorola ROKR, was obtained through Verizon in July 2007. The battery had diminished in capacity to the point where a five-minute phone call would kill it. Since I used the phone as my morning alarm clock, I had to plug it in every night lest it mysteriously go “dead” and I fail to awake on time (which has happened on more than one occasion).
Also, as I mentioned in my previous entry, my digital camera, obtained in November 2006, died on me in May. I’ve been relying on a bulky, AA-battery-powered Samsung dinosaur ever since.
So when Apple announced the iPhone 4S, I finally gave serious thought towards upgrading from a dumbphone to a smartphone. The built-in camera looks impressive – 8 megapixels with a backlit sensor and five-element lens – and I was able to order it at a considerable discount through Verizon as I’m far outside of my previous contract. Also, as an indirect Ally Financial employee, I receive a sizable discount on each month’s bill, reducing the nonsensical prices being charged for even the lowest voice/text/data plan.
It arrived Friday afternoon and I’ve been using it all weekend. I’m hooked. This is an incredibly nifty device! I haven’t set up the Email program or transferred bookmarks or any music/videos yet. I’ll tinker with those things later this week.
Don’t cry MacBook, I still love you… one of the big selling points for the iPhone over any of the Android-powered phones is the effortless syncing between the two devices.
So now I have a new toy to play with, and it assists my uncluttering efforts by not only replacing two things (the ROKR and the Samsung) with one thing, but by performing the tasks of each device in a far more superior manner.
I bought my first (and so far only) digital camera in November 2006, and since then I haven’t done much with my Pentax ZX 50. I loaded a roll of film into it some years ago and once in a while I think to take it out and snap a few pictures. The Canon ELPH broke back in May and I’ve been relying on a borrowed Samsung S630 for occasional pictures, but today I thought I’d finally use up the roll in the Pentax.
I went to take a picture of the fall colors outside my apartment and the camera made a strange noises, as though it were trying to spool the negatives. The display advanced to the next exposure but the viewfinder didn’t show anything. Something must have gone wrong with the shutter. After a few botched pictures I pressed the rewind button and removed the roll.
I went to CVS on 1st St to have the film developed. They offered 1-hour processed at a seemingly reasonable price, so I dropped off the rolll and picked up the prints after lunch. Some of the pictures shadowed over other pictures and several were out of focus. Apparently, some years ago, I tried to take a long-exposure shot of a full moon in the middle of winter, when full moons are usually brighter — only one picture was printed, and it was a blurry mess. There were a few pictures of one of the resident feral cats but they were miscolored. Suffice to say, the pictures were not impressive.
The camera bag has two unused rolls of film but I don’t think I’ll go through the effort of using them. The roll I had processed today will be my last roll of print film. Once my new cell phone arrives I’ll rely on that for all my picture-taking needs. If it weren’t for a number of scratches and black spots on the viewfinder I’d try selling the camera online. I’ll probably just donate it.
I also still have a Polaroid SX-70 but no time-zero film or flash bulbs to use. If the Impossible Project sold their makeshift film at a cheaper price I’d buy a package and put the camera to use. But as it is, I don’t think I’m ever going to use that camera again either. Such is the demise of print photography.
Andrew Sullivan on why Steve Jobs matters:
The reason he strikes such a huge chord with an entire generation lies, it seems to me, beyond his immense technical and business and design skills. It was because he became the bridge between the 1960s and the 1980s, the counter-culture and the counter-counter-culture. He was the hippie capitalist. He was the fusion of two great American forces – personal actualization and a free market. … He was a baby turned over for adoption by his biological parents. He dropped out of school. He was fired at the age of 30 by the very company he had founded. And in the face of early humbling, he focused on his own vision and his own passion – an individualist creed forged in the crucible of a sure knowledge of his own mortality, of his own death.
Think of Pixar. I remember during the darkest days after 9/11 feeling bleaker about the future than ever before in my life. And I went to see a Pixar movie. For some reason, I came out feeling better about the world and its prospects. If a civilization could produce that kind of genius conflation of the left and right sides of the brain, if it could also turn that into exquisite beauty and laughter and even sadness, then this civilization was a formidable force against its nihilist fundamentalist enemies at home and abroad. No politician – save Obama at his best – ever reassured in quite that comprehensive a way. And what was reassuring was that this had been rooted in a vision from an individual who took no-one else’s lead and had the courage to realize it, to his own exacting standards of perfection. That’s America at its best.
When I heard the news that Steve Jobs had died, my mind flashed back to 1985, when I began my love affair with computers. I was stationed in Moscow for The Associated Press and I ordered an Apple IIc — by Telex — from a department store in Helsinki, Finland. They express shipped it to me, a month later, by train.
The IIc was Apple’s first crack at a “portable” computer, which it sort of was if you didn’t mind a 7.5 pound weight, plus monitor, external floppy drive and all the cables. But it was sleek for its time, about the size of a loose leaf binder.
The K.G.B. officers at the Soviet customs desk at Leningrad Station were annoyed. “Where is the computer,” one asked. “Right here,” I said. He gave me that contemptuous look that border guards all seemed to have: “That is the keyboard. Show me the computer!”
I had no idea that Jobs was half-Arab — his biological father was Syrian:
“This might sound strange, though, but I am not prepared, even if either of us was on our deathbed, to pick up the phone to call him,” Jandali told the newspaper. “Steve will have to do that as the Syrian pride in me does not want him ever to think I am after his fortune. I am not. I have my own money. What I don’t have is my son … and that saddens me.”
Jobs’ biological mother, Joanne Schieble, and Jandali weren’t married when she became pregnant. They gave him up for adoption in San Francisco.
Steven Levy on Jobs’ legacy:
People who can claim credit for game-changing products — iconic inventions that become embedded in the culture and answers to Jeopardy questions decades later — are few and far between. But Jobs has had not one, not two, but six of these breakthroughs, any one of which would have made for a magnificent career. In order: the Apple II, the Macintosh, the movie studio Pixar, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. (This doesn’t even include the consistent, brilliant improvements to the Macintosh operating system, or the Apple retail store juggernaut.) Had he lived a natural lifespan, there would have almost certainly been more.
More on Jobs’ achievements here.
Brian Lam, whose Gizmoto scooped the iPhone 4 prototype, recalls a phone conversation with Jobs.
I was on sabbatical when Jason got his hands on the iPhone prototype.
An hour after the story went live, the phone rang and the number was from Apple HQ. I figured it was someone from the PR team. It was not.
“Hi, this is Steve. I really want my phone back.”
He wasn’t demanding. He was asking. And he was charming and he was funny. I was half-naked, just getting back from surfing, but I managed to keep my shit together.
“I appreciate you had your fun with our phone and I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the sales guy who lost it. But we need the phone back because we can’t let it fall into the wrong hands.”
I thought, maybe its already in the wrong hands?
He continued, “There are two ways we can do this. I can send someone to pick up the phone–”
Me: “I don’t have it”
“–But you know someone who does…or we can send someone with legal papers, and I don’t want to do that.”
He was giving us an easy way out.
I told him I had to talk to my dudes. Before he hung up, he asked me, “What do you think of it?”
I said, “It’s beautiful.”
Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography of Jobs will be released ahead of schedule: October 24th instead of November 21st. The Wall Street Journal reports that Isaacson last interviewed Jobs four weeks ago, at which time Jobs knew that he would die soon. The final interview will be included as a scene at the end of the book.
And finally, Jobs on how the computer is the most remarkable tool we’ve ever created:
Cancer ended his life after 56 years. I am genuinely saddened by his passing.
A quote from his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.