Fiscal Frivolity

It seems May has been a month of budget overages. I haven't run the sums yet, but I did make some big purchases that I hadn't quite expected:

  • A replacement projector bulb
  • A new motorcycle
  • Appropriate safety equipment for said motorcycle
  • A new mattress set to replace my 4th-hand set

The above purchases were made with funds I had saved ahead of time or financed at relatively good rates with no prepayment penalties (the motorcycle). I did better on the mattress than I could have - I had considered getting a new frame and switching to a platform bed but it just made more sense to get a nicer mattress set - which I comparison shopped for at 5 places and got a good deal on the one I eventually bought (1/2 MSRP). I don't regret any of the big purchases above, but I have also been eating out quite a bit lately. Maybe it's because I don't feel well and don't feel like fixing food at home. Or maybe it's that I know my budget is way out of whack and I just figure I'll start over in June. It's probably also partially my tendency to keep spending when I start. At any rate, the exact numbers will be known later this week when I get everything transferred to my spreadsheet and summed.

And I will start over in June - with fresh goals and fresh ideas. One of my goals for the month is to clean out my closet, my room, and my workshop of things that can be sold or donated which will both reduce clutter and either build my savings or pay off part of the bike.

Health Profundity

This weekend I was chatting with Pop and observed rather bitterly that I feel best when I wake up late and go motorcycling. He said, "well, why don't you do that?" So, I am going to start sleeping in later in the mornings and going in to work a bit later. The reason I have been getting up so early (6:00ish) is to "beat the traffic" to work and get a good parking spot in the garage. Neither of these is a concern - I can "filter through the queues" as the Britons say and motorcycle parking is hardly at a premium at work. I do feel much better when I wake up even an hour later and really don't like making myself go to bed at 9:30 when the rest of the family stays up until 11:00. Besides, it makes me sound like a wet blanket when I say "I'm going to bed, turn the theater down so it doesn't keep me awake." This arrangement should work better for all of us and on those rare occasions when I do have to drive the car, I'll just get up early on those days and it'll be a special treat to get home early.

On another note, I see my pulmonologist tomorrow and will ask him what his thoughts are on my excessive bronchial mucus production. I have been on antibiotics THREE weeks now and have noticed no statistically significant change for either better or worse. I must admit that I'm getting a little bit frustrated with the situation and am about ready to throw in the towel on this doctor. Hopefully he has something profound tomorrow but I have my doubts.

Memorial Day Weekend and an Apology

First of all, an apology to my readers: I have fallen behind lately and have been posting a couple days late and backdating. The backdating is not to be deceptive, but so that posts in the archive will fall in the proper order on the proper weekday. I'm going to try to work up a few posts in advance so I have a little buffer in the future.

Since this post was actually written on Tuesday (5/26), I'll cover all of Memorial Day weekend.

Friday was my day off work, so it was actually a 4-day weekend. I started off going to breakfast with Stevo on Friday at Creme de la Crepe in Redondo Beach. This place rules. It's authentic French food, French press coffee, and French waitresses. I got a custom crepe with Raclette cheese, turkey, tomatoes, and chardonnay creme sauce.

Saturday I got a haircut, took a motorcycle ride (on the BMW) with Stevo (on Daniel's scooter) around Palos Verdes peninsula with a pit stop for a snack at Malaga Cove Market. Later that night, I picked up Mom and Dad from LAX (which was insane) upon their return from St. Louis visiting Dad's mom. They brought back sandwiches from Amighetti's. St. Louis has some of the best food in the US.

Sunday involved church in the morning, Rudy's for brunch, and an afternoon of cleaning the garage. We got rid of a lot of stuff and did some reorganizing to make the available space and stuff more useful. Sunday night we watched The Day the Earth Stood Still - the new one with Keanu Reeves. I am a big fan of the original and was impressed with the new one. It's more of a re-imagining but they capture the essence and fear of the original while translating it into a modern setting.

Monday was taking stuff to Goodwill and another motorcycle ride around the peninsula - this time with Daniel and me on the BMW and dad on Daniel's scooter. We stopped at the yellow taco truck at Vermont and PCH - which has the best tacos around. Later in the evening we watched Ronin, a DeNiro film from 1998 with the best car chase scene in a movie that I have seen to date.

All in all it was a good weekend with lots of quality time with family and even some productivity.

Two Reviews: Ben Folds Concert and Star Trek

I guess this isn't STRICTLY a financial post, but they're both things of an entertainment nature that I spent money on after some consideration so it flies, albeit loosely.

Wednesday night (5/20) I went to a Ben Folds concert at the Hollywood Palladium. I took a friend who is a big Ben Folds fan for a belated birthday celebration. The venue was really cool. The Palladium is an art deco style relatively intimate venue with standing room (dance floor, balcony, VIP balcony) for about 4,000 people. The acoustics were excellent - we stood on the balcony about 45 degrees of the center of the stage. The concert itself was great. Four acapella groups opened with Ben Folds covers and the audience voted for their favorite by applause. Ben himself is an awesome pianist and singer. The band was also quite good - drum set drummer, miscellaneous percussionist, keyboardist, and bassist. I knew probably about half the songs - Ben did a fair bit of his newer stuff. For the encore, he brought out Josh Groban to sing for the first song and then did a Dr. Dre cover for a final closer. Final verdict: a great concert at a great venue - well worth it.

Thursday night (5/21) I went to see Star Trek in IMAX at The Bridge with my brothers and a couple friends. The IMAX experience is never disappointing and the film itself was quite good. The characters were well written and acted, and the first time Kirk plops down in the captain's chair it screams young Shatner. It's cool meet all the familiar people from The Original Series as young men and women. I don't want to give away any plot for those who haven't seen it, but I can heartily recommend it for experienced Trekkies and newbies alike.

John 1:1-14 Haiku

word: is/is with god
light coming - john proclaims first
word: flesh among us

Health Update 5/19/09

Note: This post has been date-adjusted to fall on schedule. It was actually composed on 5/21/09.

Not a whole lot to report from last week. My lungs still seem compromised - I cough up a lot of stuff in the morning but it calms down after a couple hours. Since I've been on this round of antibiotics for 2 weeks (and other stuff for quite a while before then) and nothing should have survived this long, I'm wondering if this might not be one of a few things:

  • My body is confused and the mucus production is an erratic immune response
  • The Oxymatrine is starting to have some effect and my body is attempting to rid itself of the virus that my infectious disease doctor believes I am harboring (and have been for some time)
  • The copious amount of goat/sheep dairy that I am consuming is actually more mucus-producing than I have been led to believe
  • Some combination of the above

I am not getting better by leaps and bounds but I am definitely not getting worse so there is some hope. I have been very busy the last week and haven't been to the gym since last Monday.

Riding my motorcycle is doing me some good. The psychological boost alone from doing something I had missed for the last year has been great. It gives me a time of tranquility and reflection every morning and afternoon. Also, my back and neck feel a bit more limber than usual.

Mark O'Connor Concert

My dad plays fiddle and is a huge fan of fiddle music. So my brother Stephen got tickets for a concert last Thursday at UCLA.

Thanks to a large grant from Herb Alpert (of The Tijuana Brass), UCLA majorly re-structured their music program and department for the recent school year. Mark O'Connor, a world-renowned fiddle player, was this year's Artist in Residence. He gave a phenomenal concert.

The concert primarily included Mr. O'Connor's own compositions, including a brass fanfare at the beginning and string combo, solo fiddle, and chamber string orchestra pieces. Aaron Copeland's Appalachian Spring was also performed, along with a duet playing "Satin Doll" with an incredible jazz guitarist whose name escapes me currently.

The music was excellent and varied and the musicians were incredibly talented. If a chance arises to see Mark O'Connor, I highly recommend making the effort to go. For string players, Mr. O'Connor holds a String Institute (formerly known as fiddle camp) every summer. This summer's Institute is being held at UCLA but is probably sold out.

A slight change of financial plans...

After a year of the Silverwing being non-operable and a week of consideration and logistics, I purchased a new motorcycle - a 2008 BMW F800ST (slightly used with only 2300 miles):

Although this will set back the repayment of my student loan by a couple years, I feel it was a good purchase - especially for my emotional health (which certainly impacts other health). I am still maxing my Roth IRA and contributing a healthy amount to my 403(b) at work. The bike will also reduce the amount I am paying for gas since it gets awesome mileage and will prolong the useful life of the Corolla since I'll only be using it occasionally. In addition, I was able to get full-coverage insurance on the BMW along with liability for the Silverwing and the scooter for only about $100 more annually than I had been paying for liability for the other two.

I'm very excited since I've missed motorcycling quite a lot - I didn't realize how much until I got back on this weekend. I'm already planning to take some weekend trips and will be sure to take the camera with.

Isaiah 38-39 sonnet

Oh woe is me; I'm at the point of death.
Isaiah's here; he says to sort my things.
I will not heal; there is not much time left.
It's heavy news for mighty Zion's king.

I'll pray Yahweh relieves this time of strife.
Isaiah's back with news from my appeal:
For fifteen years I will be spared my life.
The sun goes back ten steps to show the deal.

When I fell ill I was in quite the slump.
I knew my days were numbered in this world.
Isaiah came with figs to heal my bump.
I will be saved, play music to the LORD.

Hey look, the prince has blessed my newfound health!
I'll give a tour and show off all the wealth.

Return to the Gym

Well, I may finally be on the mend. I'm now on my third round of antibiotics for this nasty bronchial infection. I'm still congested and coughing, but not as much as before. I've taken a week of the drugs so far and have 2 weeks' worth left if I need that much.

I returned to the gym on Monday after two weeks away (give or take) and took it easy but had no trouble. I took a walk today at a brisk pace (for me anyway) and did pretty well. My resting heart rate is lower too, which makes me think I'm getting better oxygenated.

I saw my infectious disease doctor last week, who theorizes that my health problems and immune difficulties started long ago with an enterovirus (my doctor is author of reference #5). He recommended I start taking Oxymatrine, an alkaloid extract from the Sophora Flavescens root, long regarded as a healing herb in China. I've only taken about a week worth so I think it's too early to say anything decisive.

All I can do is hope, trust and pray that someone will come up with something that makes a difference.

Cool Web Application Found: Fuelly

I just discovered the coolest thing since sliced bread. It's this web page called Fuelly. You put all the pertinent numbers each time you fill up your gas tank and it keeps track of your mileage. Of course, being a geek, I already had a spreadsheet that does this. I signed up (for free) and put my Corolla in my "garage" anyway, which you can see here (I already put in the back information I had).

"Extended Warranty" Ridiculousness

Normally, I am not a person to purchase "add-ons" like extended warranties, service plans, cell phone insurance and the like. Most small electronics depreciate rapidly and will outlast the terms (even if just barely) and I take excellent care of what I own.

However, a couple years ago I purchased a projector from Broadway Photo. I was called soon after my online purchase by a sales representative attempting to sell me a "bulb replacement plan." DLP projectors and televisions use a very bright light bulb that bounces off tiny mirrors and shines through a color wheel to produce the images. These bulbs cost $300-$400 apiece and don't get cheaper as the projector ages. The "bulb replacement plan" was sold by a third party company called RepairTech, cost $200 and allowed for free replacement of up to two bulbs within three years for whatever reason, including end-of-life (3000 hours for my particular projector). After questioning the sales rep about all types of scenarios, I felt assured that it was worth it to pay $200 for up to $800 worth of bulbs.

Well, after 21 months (coincidentally, the gestation period of an elephant is the same period of time), the bulb finally reached end-of-life so I set the replacement process in action. Much to my chagrin, the toll-free number was disconnected and the website was blank. Some Googling brought me to discover that RepairTech had gone out of business sometime in the summer of 2008. People with extended warranties were finding it impossible to get them honored and had been struggling for months in some cases.

I also did some Googling on Broadway Photo and discovered that they too had some customer satisfaction issues. I suspected this when I had pulled out my invoice and saw that they had adjusted the price of the projector upward by $200 and listed the warranty as $0.

My last course of action was to call American Express since that is the card on which I originally bought the projector. While they offer an additional one year of coverage beyond the manufacturer's warranty, they will not extend third party warranties.

Since I was not interested in struggling for months with no probable results (and more importantly, no home theater), I finally ended up just purchasing an OEM bulb for $335. Generic are available but more Googling indicated that not only is build quality typically very low, the light output and lifetime are quite variable and nearly always considerably less than OEM.

I'm still not sure whether I can definitively say it was a bad idea to purchase the "bulb replacement plan" when I did. In retrospect, it was obviously the wrong choice in this particular instance thanks to all the circumstances involved. I do know I won't buy any third-party extended warranties in the future. $16 saved a month would pay for the bulb in full. My brother Daniel came up with the clever idea to have a change box in the theater and throw a dime in every time the projector is on for an hour. I think this is a great idea.

Isaiah 36-37 sonnet

King Hezekiah rules for fourteen years,
But then Assyria invades the land!
Jerusalem remains; the army nears.
Rabshakeh comes – Sennacherib’s right hand.

He speaks Hebrew to all the people there
And taunts them, says, “You soon will be undone!
If you make peace with us we will be fair
But if you fight the LORD cannot save one!”

Upon this news the king does mourn and pray.
Meanwhile Sennacherib stirs war in Cush.
Isaiah brings an oracle in days -
Yahweh has pledged Assyria to crush!

The army’s slain – an angel of the LORD.
Sennacherib’s sons kill him with the sword.

Health Status

Not really much good news. I'm back on antibiotics as of last Wednesday. My lungs don't seem to be doing much better - I'm still coughing up lots of stuff and get winded really easily. The antibiotic seems to be taking its toll on my digestive system as well. The daily kefir and yogurt are probably keeping this situation from getting too bad.

I did mostly OK over the weekend; I went on walks both days. However, I got to bed pretty late Sunday night and didn't sleep well so that gave me a bad start to the week. Add to that the fact that the climate control in my office is screwed up and it's 80ish in the afternoon and I haven't had a great couple days.

I was too tired last night to go to the gym and am busy tonight but am going to attempt to get enough sleep tonight and go tomorrow. How well my exercise goes at the gym is a pretty good metric of my bronchial health since the treadmill gives numbers and I generally know how things went last time.

New Corolla Seat Upholstery

As I mentioned in April Budget Summary, I just got my Corolla's seats re-upholstered.

The original fabric was getting pretty worn and the color had faded quite a bit. In fact, the fabric on the driver's side outside bolster was worn through and the underlying foam was starting to wear as well. Something definitely needed to be done. I ultimately decided on re-upholstery after considering a few options:

  • Seat covers: High quality ones are expensive and still look like covers. Most of the rest are junk, gaudy, or both.
  • Used seats from Japan: On the positive side, the driver's seat would be less worn (RHD in Japan). However, they're hard to find, expensive to buy and ship, still 20 years old, interior patterns don't match, and lumbar support is on the wrong seat.
  • New racing or sport seats: Quite expensive and definitely won't match existing interior. Comfort would probably be the best of all options.
  • Have existing seats re-upholstered: Can probably get fabric to match pretty close, seat style stays original, don't have to have anything bulky shipped. It's still expensive and I'd have to be without my car for a while.

Upon the recommendation of a friend from work, I went with:

AP Auto Interiors
Alberto Perez
2344 Lomita Blvd.
Lomita, CA 90717

...and I'm really glad that I did! Alberto did an excellent job at picking a fabric that matches the original tweed very closely and the upholstery job itself. Here are a couple pictures (click on each for full-size):

The passenger's seat:

Closeup of headrest (new material):

Closeup of door panel (old material):

In addition to his excellent craftsmanship, Alberto added a bit of padding to the seat and back to return it to a firmer feel but not enough to make it look puffy. As a final bonus, I simply had to drop off my passenger's seat a week ago and only had to leave my car for a few hours yesterday, when I didn't need it anyway.

Total cost was about $615, of which I estimate $150 was materials based on the tax. Money well spent in my opinion.

April budget summary

Only two overages this month:

  • Vehicle: I decided to get my front seats upholstered, to the tune of $600 (half of which I paid as a deposit in April, the rest of which I will pay tomorrow). I have been planning to do this for some time and simply hadn't explicitly placed it in the budget. The balance will be included in May's budget.
  • Medical: I had a filling that came out in March, so that obviously had to be taken care of. Insurance and billing took about a month to catch up.

Groceries for The Maker's Diet are more expensive than I had been eating. I spent more than the last couple months but my grocery/entertainment category still came out about $20 under budgeted.

I definitely need to set up a flexible spending account next year - all the medical expenses could be pre-tax if I had taken the time to do so.