There I fixed the TDI

Car batteries hate cold weather, and in my experience, it’s pretty much a given that they will give out on the first day with temperatures in the teens after the free replacement warranty period ends. Further, the battery will only die when it’s away from home.

Late last week this confluence of factors prompted me to replace the VW’s battery directly in front of the main entrance of my workplace. Given the nature of my workplace, there was a video camera watching the whole time.

battery replacement

The replacement went reasonably quickly this time around, given my numb fingers and the amount of stuff that needs to be shuffled around in order to make room to squeeze the battery in and out.

And, since something is never fixed without something else breaking to take its place, I snapped the plastic dipstick holder right off. Fortunately, I found a replacement dipstick tube online for about 1/5 of what the dealer probably would have charged. While it’s in transit, good old aluminum foil and a rubber band are doing a bang-up job of keeping stuff out of the hole.


Kill-A-Watt results I

41PwTUFlsYL._SS500_Adding up all our Christmas lights, indoors and out, our holiday cheer burns an extra 643 watts of electricity when we are at full tilt, according to my Kill-A-Watt meter. Our pre-lit tree alone clocks in at 286 W.

We only have two strands of LED lights, so I do not have much basis for comparison, but the LED strands do use remarkably less power. I have seen claims on boxes of 90% savings. That may or may not be pushing the truth, but it is clearly dramatic.

I am all for saving energy, but as with many new energy saving fads, claims about cost savings may be somewhat dubious. LED lights cost significantly more, and while they claim to last longer, the truth of these claims remains to be seen. From my observation, traditional lights have shown a correlation between purchase price and quality: better lights don’t flake out after the first couple of seasons. Only time will tell whether the same is true with the new technology. Throwing away old, inefficient lights and replacing them with new LED lights is (hopefully) obviously a waste of money and energy. Personally, I find it unlikely that LED light manufacturers are trying to sell us the last Christmas lights we’ll ever buy.

So, Clark Griswold, our 643 watts of Christmas lights, lit for 6 hours a day for the month of December, amount to 112 kWh of electricity use. That’s $12 in electricity cost, or less than the cost of one LED strand at this year’s prices.

Finding power hogs

41nMQyqE75L._SL500_AA280_My dad gave me a Kill-A-Watt meter for my birthday. It’s been interesting to see where our power hogs are. There are a lot of obvious ways to save power, so for me, using the Kill-A-Watt has been more of a fact finding mission. I have been surprised by devices using much more or less power than I had previously assumed. A product’s label is required to state its maximum power consumption, but that does not tell you the whole story of how much power it actually consumes under ordinary conditions. I will post some of the more interesting results in the future.

On first use, you can program the Kill-A-Watt with your electric rate. It makes sense to use your marginal rate, including fees and taxes for this, because you want to know what the cost is of using or not using this device. Our power company, Duke Energy, does not come out and directly state this, but it can be determined pretty easily by carefully looking at the details of the bill.rate details

Duke Energy charges a marginal rate of 6.7¢/kWh including fees and taxes during the winter months due to the way the rate tiers are defined. (Our power use is greatest in the winter because our house has an electric heat pump.) A snippet of a winter power bill is shown to the right. The last kWh was charged at $0.037794, but all the extra adjustments and fees, plus sales tax, bring the total to 6.7¢. In the summer, the marginal rate is 7.9¢/kWh. (I’ll save my opinion of why this sliding rate structure doesn’t make good sense for another post! Also, five significant figures in the rates?)

That said, I programmed the Kill-A-Watt for 10¢/kWh, for simplicity’s sake!

The U.S. Department of Energy maintains a list of average electricity costs by state. Indiana has the 13th-cheapest power in the country, by my quick count.

Indianapolis Monumental Marathon

IMMlogoNEW09Yesterday was the second running of the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. Emily and I were able to participate this year. While we were both successful in that we finished and are able to walk and negotiate stairs, neither of us was as prepared as we would have liked. Overall, this race was not our favorite, but it highlights how much organization goes into the majority of these events.

As much as we sincerely appreciate the many volunteers who make these events possible, it just seemed that in general, the Monumental Marathon volunteers did not receive enough training for this event. The race’s organizers are known for their professional production of other local events, but it just didn’t seem to come together this time. I did not attend the packet pickup, but Emily reports that it was not up to the level of what we’ve come to expect from the highly organized races that we have attended here and elsewhere. There was insufficient space available for the participants who were trying to pick up their materials, and the volunteers did not seem to have answers to some questions about the t‑shirts.

While it is a pleasant surprise when a race gives out a technical t‑shirt instead of a cotton one, it was a source of frustration this time. Cotton and technical shirts fit differently, so knowing what type of shirt will be offered usually has an influence on what size participants should request. Particularly so when the shirts are not only technical, but in men’s or women’s varieties too. The Monumental Marathon was one of these events where the shirts were a surprise upgrade. As a result, both Emily and I wound up with the wrong size shirt. The volunteers were unable to assist with shirt exchanges, and told participants to return after the race and attempt an exchange later. Not surprisingly, this turned out to be impossible because there were no leftover shirts after the race.

Saturday morning, we parked in the Circle Centre garage, directly above Steak & Shake. The overpowering smell of onion rings was strong temptation to just skip the whole event, and I don’t even like Steak & Shake. (As a side note, the only other location that truly smelled awesome during the race was Shapiro’s Deli. I haven’t been to Shapiro’s in many years, and while I thought it was okay, I have had no real need to go back. But for whatever reason, it smelled great on Saturday morning. This calls to mind a contrast with last year’s Marine Corps Marathon, in which miles 21–24 or so were through Crystal City, with dozens of TGI-McAppblebee’s type chains filling the air with fried smells. And at that point in that race, it was enough to turn my stomach.)

The race got off to a pretty good start. It was a bit chilly at the start — the good kind of chilly, since it always feels 20° warmer when you’re running. Despite the field size being about the same as for the Air Force Marathon, the start of this race was quite a bit more crowded due to the narrower city streets. Seeing the condition of the downtown streets up close after not having run or driven on them for a long time, they have really gone to pot. The streets are an absolute mess, which is concerning, since winter is right around the corner. Perhaps it was the streets that were chosen for this particular race course, but it seems like the course was threatening us at each turn, whether we were dodging construction barricades or potholes trying to twist our ankles. Much of the downtown section only had two lanes available to runners, so the squeezing and tripping continued for a disconcerting length of time.

Some other complaints that I need to get off my chest focus on the water tables.

  1. Again, we recognize that volunteers perform an essential role in making big events possible, and their gift of time is much appreciated. They usually are so good at doing things like passing out water that you really notice when they haven’t been trained how to do it effectively. At the worst water station, the volunteers were sitting in folding chairs behind the water table, expecting runners to stop and get their own cup of water. This is helpful how?
  2. Water tables can’t be secrets! They need to be marked in advance with signs or hollering volunteers so that runners can maneuver over to get their water or Gatorade in a more or less orderly fashion so nobody gets hurt. This race was large enough that water stations should be on both sides of the course, or at least the for first part of the course where the full and half marathons shared the same route. I inadvertently skipped three of the first four water stations because I did not see them until I was right on top of them. From the grumbles of other runners around me, I knew that I was not the only one. After missing so many, I actually exited the course and doubled back at one station on 38th street so I could finally get some water.
  3. Space them out! Having just one short table with water and Gatorade at each stop meant a lot of crowding and tripping. Concentrating all that traffic into the same area is pretty dangerous. By spacing out the fluids, it is easier to get out, get your cup, and get back into the flow safely.
  4. I absolutely do not mean to overgeneralize about inadequately-trained volunteers. There were numerous others who were not as taxed, and who were so helpful in cleaning up and directing traffic. I hope that other runners also make an attempt to thank as many volunteers as we can as we pass by.

Water table rants aside, things improved after the first few miles. Public safety officers were professional as always. It is a very helpful feeling to know that they are defending us against frustrated and inattentive drivers. It was neat running through neighborhoods that I have not visited for a long time, especially seeing the beautiful fall colors (or what remained of them) and impractically expensive houses on Pennsylvania and Washington Streets.

By mile 16, I was having my usual thoughts about how “I’m ready for this to be over.” The scenery around Butler was very nice, I am sure, but I started feeling myself fade by the time we reached the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The stretch along White River Parkway — miles 19 and 20 — were completely devoid of any spectators, whose presence I would have appreciated so much. There was nothing but a long line of angry traffic in the opposite lane. I did get a passive-aggressive boost by giving a cheer and a thumbs-up (just a thumb, no fingers) to one particular driver of a brown Buick who was leaning on her horn out of frustration for having chosen to drive in race traffic despite signs warning about Saturday morning traffic restrictions.

Ironic how the same folks that complain about Indy not being a world class city are also angry re: marathon traffic. Get out and walk.” — Neal Brown

Due to a combination of my own unpreparedness and to an absence of support from people cheering along the second half (to a marathoner, the last 6 miles is the second “half”), I decided at the point that we turned onto Fall Creek Parkway that I would allow myself a walk break starting just after the turn onto Meridian Street. My right foot had developed a wicked blister in the arch area, and my gait was suffering as a result. My left foot felt like I was starting to lose a toenail. Too much information? Sorry, suffice it to say that I was tired and hurting.

Having looked at the race course before hand, I thought I could stick it out for a few more minutes before taking a breather. Except Fall Creek Parkway kept slogging on. Finally, Meridian Street came, and I walked the next 2 ½ miles. I was so disappointed to have to give up, but I kept in mind that my goal was just to finish, since I was in no way prepared to set any personal records that day. It was enough to run a second marathon this year, making up for two years ago, when I skipped one. There were quite a few runners who stopped at about the same time I did, and I felt so bad for them, knowing they were in the same boat. They were doing so well, but running the whole way just wasn’t going to happen that day.

Initially I just thought I’d walk for a mile and then start running again. I tried just that, and literally after the first step I knew that was a bad idea, so I just kept walking. Another mile later, I tried again but the same thing happened. The wind had picked up also as the morning continued. By this point I was headed into the wind, which was gusting to 30 mph. This made walking surprisingly difficult in places, with the bank of the road, potholes, and my gimpy gait. Spectators had returned to the course along Meridian Street, such a welcome change. Even though I was trudging along at a relatively brisk walking pace, the spectators were cheerful and supportive. Thanks!

By the time I rounded Monument Circle, only the last half mile of the course remained, so I forced myself to start running, because by God I was going to be running across that finish line. Unfortunately I chose to start running just as an event photographer sprang up in front of me, so that photo is bound to have a nasty expression on my face! Yeah, I’ll be sure and spring $40 to get a copy of that one!

Oh, and about that last half mile! Again with the course complaints, I’m glad I was prepared for the last few turns. This was one of those courses where you get SOCLOSE to the finish, only to be forced into a turn that takes you some five blocks farther before turning back to the finish at the rear of the capitol building.

That stretch of walking added about 13 minutes to my time, according to my running pace just before and after the walking, but at least I didn’t seize up, and I could still move enough to rake leaves and mow the lawn later that day. Made it!

forerunner Race profile on Garmin Connect

kml Monumental Marathon in Google Earth (74 kB)

View 2009-11-07 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in a larger map

Typinator Greek character set

typinatorI like to avoid hunting through the Character Palette whenever I want to type a, so I created a Greek set. After you import the set file into Typinator, you can quickly insert Greek characters by typing a backslash and the name of the letter. For a capital letter, capitalize the first letter of the name, like this:

\alpha converts to α

\Gamma converts to Γ

Download Christopher’s Greek letters.tyset (8 KB)

Beaver attacks!

I’ve noticed evidence of some significant tree terrorism during my morning drive. This is no twig of a tree, and this damage was inflicted by no slouch of a beaver. The scratches go up about waist high. There are other trees with damage, but this is the worst in the area.


The stinkers are not concerned about hiding their handiwork, witness all the shavings on the ground. They have left a muddy streak leading up out of the pond bank straight to their favorite munching spot.


There are two lodges on the banks of the pond. Here is one.


Our assumption is that the offenders will be “humanely trapped and relocated” by agents of the property management company, but for now, I’m finding enjoyment in watching the beavers’ progress.


We like to use Adobe Lightroom to organize and archive photos. Lightroom uses SQLite 3 to store its internal catalog database. All the photos’ metadata are in the catalog database in one form or another. It’s not too hard to peer inside SQLite3 databases to see what information is stored and how, so I thought it would be interesting to poke around and see what I could learn.

Adobe has a Lightroom SDK available for download, but I’m not that interested in learning how to use the Lua scripting language. The SDK gives access to seemingly all the photos’ metadata, but it was enough for me just to extract information directly out of the SQLite3 database.

I learned a little about SQLite3 and started writing a Ruby script to extract some patterns about our photo habits: what kinds of cameras we’ve taken pictures from, what times of the year we take the most pictures, and how obvious are the “spikes” in photography around significant events in our lives.

I found a free tool called ImageReporter that already does a lot of this analysis, but not all. The author tallies up some results that I had not considered, but are interesting. For example, ImageReporter counts the number of pictures taken with various lenses, and for zoom lenses, what focal lengths they were set at. This could be really handy for someone who is considering purchasing a lens upgrade.

This is ImageReporter’s tally of the zoom settings on our most-used lens, a 17–85mm zoom.

	Count by Make, Model, and Lens
	Count by Focal Length (nearest 10mm)
	      8684	Canon / Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XT / 17.0-85.0 mm
		      1394    16%	 20mm
		      1324    15%	 30mm
		      1360    15%	 40mm
		       949    10%	 50mm
		       837     9%	 60mm
		       618     7%	 70mm
		       470     5%	 80mm
		      1732    19%	 90mm

We take the majority of our pictures in the wide-angle range of 20–50mm, so for the lens to get the most use, we should make sure we get something that covers that range.

Another interesting tally covers geocoded pictures. We have attached geographic information to a small number of our pictures, and here is an abridged list of some of the top hits. (Chesterton, Vertland, Wellington?!)

	Count by Make, Model, and Location
	       357	All Cameras /  
	       357	All Cameras /   /  /  
	     21007	All Cameras / [unknown]
	       306	All Cameras / United States
	       306	All Cameras / United States / Indiana
	         1	All Cameras / United States / Indiana / Broad Ripple
	         4	All Cameras / United States / Indiana / Carmel
	         4	All Cameras / United States / Indiana / Castleton
	        20	All Cameras / United States / Indiana / Chesterton
	         7	All Cameras / United States / Indiana / Vertland
	         6	All Cameras / United States / Indiana / Wellington
	       683	All Cameras / USA
	       678	All Cameras / USA / IN
	       241	All Cameras / USA / IN /  
	         3	All Cameras / USA / IN / Bloomington
	         1	All Cameras / USA / IN / Castleton
	        51	All Cameras / USA / IN / Fishers
	       116	All Cameras / USA / IN / Indianapolis
	       107	All Cameras / USA / IN / Muncie
	       159	All Cameras / USA / IN / Speedway
	         5	All Cameras / USA / WV
	         5	All Cameras / USA / WV / Charleston

The haphazard nature of the locations in the list expose the inconsistency in how I geocode photos and how the place names are tagged with different services.

Strangely, there is not a straightforward listing of all the camera makes and models in the catalog. The closest I could get required some massaging.

	Count by Make and Model
	       595	[unknown]
	     12690	Canon / Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XT
	        47	Canon / Canon PowerShot SX110 IS
	         5	FUJIFILM / FinePix 3800
	         1	FUJIFILM / MX-1700ZOOM
	       490	Motorola / ZN5
	         1	NIKON / E2200
	         6	NIKON / E990
	        13	OLYMPUS IMAGING CORP. / IR-500
	         4	OLYMPUS OPTICAL CO.,LTD / C3100Z,C3020Z
	       138	OLYMPUS OPTICAL CO.,LTD / C860L,D360L
	       433	Samsung Techwin / <VLUU L830  / Samsung L830>
	        17	SONY / CLIE
	      8113	SONY / CYBERSHOT
	         5	SONY / DCR-TRV340
	       329	SONY / FDMAVICA

Truck Awesomeness

Three things a three-year-old boy loves:

  1. Vehicles with flames
  2. Bucket trucks
  3. Tow trucks

Put them all in the same picture, and someone’s head is likely to explode from the awesomeness.

flame tow truck


Are we under H1N1 quarantine? Or are they just painting our building?

Posted via email from Christopher’s posterous

Time to wash the car?

Posted via email from Christopher’s posterous