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Idle Time - Tuesday, February 19, 2019
For the past few years, I've periodically been playing browser-based idle games. Cookie Clicker and AdVenture Capitalist were probably the first ones I tried. For me, the main appeal of idle games is that they more or less play themselves; grinding resources/power (arguably the most tedious part of games) happens automatically with little input from the user. It's gaming for busy people! Since I have my computer running most of the day, it's no real overhead to have an idle game running in a browser tab.

But the drawback of most idle games is that they never end. Events may continue to happen, but there's no overarching cohesive plot. It's just an auto-grind for eternity. After a while, the game feels monotonous and static. Numbers going up and up for their own sake.

But two idle games in particular stand out as being well-designed, fun to play, and having a definite end. Having a defined objective, for me, makes the game more enjoyable. Those games are Candy Box 2 and A Dark Room. I find myself replaying them every couple years; they have a lot of replay value. It's especially great how both games start with a minimal premise but gradually open up into an expanding world, often in ways that are unexpected. Nonetheless, both games feel a bit too short, especially Candy Box 2. But maybe that's the counter-idea to this whole genre. An idle game doesn't need to go on forever in order to be fun. Or maybe, more precisely, it can't.
A Single Blunder - Tuesday, February 12, 2019
Because I need expensive medication every month and because I'm on a high-deductible healthcare plan, I always end up paying a lot in the first few months of the year as I rack up medical expenses towards meeting my deductible. These expenses are typically offset since I can reimburse myself from my HSA (which my company contributes to), but the idea is that I manage my own money with which to pay for my healthcare expenses until my deductible is met.

Last month, I got a call from a pharmacist at the pharmacy where my prescription is filed, informing me of a manufacturer's coupon that I should try using. This coupon should've saved me a lot of money on one of my prescriptions, but it ended up not working for some reason. So the pharmacist instead scanned a courtesy SingleCare card that they had on hand. This knocked the price of my medication down by $100, so I thought great, I'll sign up for my own card (available for free) and start using it from now on.

SingleCare is a company that negotiates prices with drug companies, sometimes at cheaper prices than what an insurance company might get. SingleCare is not insurance. The thing is, SingleCare is not a way of getting a discount in addition to billing insurance. Getting drugs through SingleCare replaces getting them through insurance. I did not know this at the time, and only found out this month when I returned to refill my prescription, tried to show my SingleCare card, and the pharmacist (a different one) informed me that using SingleCare would mean that my insurance wouldn't be billed and thus the cost of the drug wouldn't go towards meeting my deductible. And sure enough, when checking my insurance company's site, I found that they had no record of the drug I purchased last month. A $500 purchase that won't go towards my deductible.

I think SingleCare (and companies like it) might be a decent option for people who don't have insurance, but for those with a high-deductible healthcare plan, it's probably not a good way to go. But they don't seem to make it clear how the program works and what the pitfalls are, and so consumers, and sometimes even pharmacists, may be none the wiser.

Edit: I went back to the pharmacy and they were able to reverse the billing to SingleCare and bill my insurance instead. I actually went in because I noticed that this month, both of my medications were billed to some company called OptumRx instead of my insurance company, so my large bill this month did not go towards my deductible at all. No idea how that happened. The pharmacy was able to correct that and bill my insurance correctly. I guess the moral of the story is to know what you're getting into when trying to change things, and when paying out of pocket for medication, look at your receipt carefully!
Freecycle - Thursday, January 24, 2019
In 2010 I joined a site called Freecycle at the recommendation of someone (I forget whom). This site is essentially a message board broken up into different neighborhoods, where members post offers or requests for household goods, electronics, furniture and more. The core tenet of the site is that everything has to be given for free. It's a great way to help find a new home for things that would otherwise be thrown away. Other sites/Facebook groups exist with the same purpose, but Freecycle is the one that I use almost exclusively.

In my 9 years of being on the site, I've responded to several offers but ended up getting three of those offerings: 2 pairs of ice skates, a Whirlpool washer bellow, and 4 spark plugs compatible with our Corollas. One of the pairs of ice skates I would later give away to someone else on Freecycle, and the other pair I wasn't able to find a taker for and then just donated to Goodwill.

When we moved into our house, there were a few things that the previous owner had left that I didn't want: wall art, decorative light switch covers, and a key hangar. I gave all of those away on Freecycle. In the past several months I've gotten really into decluttering, which has translated to an uptick in my postings. To date I've posted around 60 things. All with the exception of the following items were taken:
  • Broken rice cooker
  • Neoprene water bottle sleeve (one person contacted me but they were looking for a different size)
  • One of the pairs of ice skates
  • RC truck that is now sluggish and possibly needs a new motor (I got one reply but they ended up not taking it)
  • Hair gel (unused but several years old - yeah, no surprise that nobody wanted this)

And some highlights about the things I have given away:
  • Most expensive: Probably a three-way tie between an ASRock motherboard (mostly working but sometimes would crash), a Fitbit Charge HR (working but had a broken band), and a Moto 360 smartwatch (screen had some burn-in)
  • Least expensive: 2 college ruled notebooks and some colored paper (4 reusable bags and 4 rolls of wrapping paper were runners-up)
  • Smallest: A leather keychain from Florence, Italy
  • Most sentimental: 2000 Chuck E Cheese tickets (earned over several years of playing arcade games at Chuck E Cheese as a kid)
  • Had the most replies: 2 framed art pieces (got 4 replies)
  • Most unique: A stuffed plush pink letter 'A' that Priscilla had given me as a gag gift when we were dating
  • Most boring: 500 sheets of college ruled paper

Giving away stuff through Freecycle has been fun and liberating, and has been somewhat of an art for me. In my posts I include a detailed description and a photo. If the item is dusty, I'll try to clean it up first to make it more appealing. In the past I would keep the posting up until I had worked out pickup details with a person. This would often result in me getting replies from multiple people and having to tell the rest that the item was no longer available. Then I got smarter and realized that a person contacting me would almost always eventually show up to pick up the item, so I began taking down posts as soon as I got one reply. And originally I would have the person come by and get the item from me in person (perhaps partly because Priscilla and I lived in a quadplex where we had experienced some petty theft), but eventually I just started leaving the item outside for the person to pick up at their leisure (and having our own house helped allay concerns about theft).

Lately there's been one older lady who's taken several of the things that I've posted. Priscilla half-joked that we should let the lady walk through our house and pick out what she wants, since more often than not she's responded to each of my recent postings.

It's become somewhat of a hobby to give stuff away (I've also been throwing out things that don't seem usable), but it's become harder to do so since I've now gotten rid of most of what I can part with. But our place still feels cluttered, so the purging must go on!
Stuck with Comcast - Monday, January 21, 2019
Comcast was the only viable option for Internet when Priscilla and I were renting at the quadplex, and it remains the only viable option at our house now. We need high speeds because we and our renters stream media and download large files. The only other broadband providers here seem to be AT&T and Sonic, which are able to provide 1.5mbps down for $40 and 10mbps down for $50, respectively. Yeah, no thanks. Gotta love when a company has a monopoly.

Normally when my Comcast promo ends and the rate goes up, I call and threaten to cancel and they renew my promo for another year. But this time around, the rep didn't have a good deal for me. So I started looking around some more.

There are two companies in the area, Common Networks and Sail Internet, that provide a rooftop wireless service. They install a receiver on your roof, requiring line of sight to a relay. Common's website told me that there's currently no relay that can reach my home, while Sail's website told me that service was an option. But when I spoke with a Sail representative, she said that while there is a relay close by (atop a 4-story condo building on El Camino), line of sight might be blocked by a row of tall trees. She was able to have a technician come over a couple hours later, and he climbed on top of my roof with binoculars and confirmed that line of sight was blocked. He also found only a couple two-story buildings within line of sight of my roof. So it looks like we are still stuck with Comcast for the time being.

Sail's offerings are pretty impressive. 150mbps down and 50mbps up for residential customers, priced at $55 (which includes taxes and fees). Faster and cheaper than what I'm getting from Comcast. Meanwhile, relays get 300mbps down and 100mbps up and don't pay anything. A home is eligible to host a relay if it is two stories tall.

Common and Sail's coverage areas continue to grow as they add more relays. So I hope that it will be only a matter of time (the Sail rep estimated several months) before one of them can provide service to my home. I did my part in posting about Sail on Nextdoor; I just hope that people in my neighborhood ditch Comcast and get on board soon. I wonder if Common and Sail would be more viable if they were one larger company instead of two separate ones, but maybe it's not a bad thing to have some competition in this space for a change.
Moving - Sunday, December 30, 2018
Lots of changes this year, but for others in the family.

My mom had taken a job in Orange County and rented an apartment there to be closer to Aaron and Lauren in order to help with the baby. But just recently, Aaron and Lauren moved to the Valley in order for Lauren to be closer to her new job. Because of that and because long-distance marriages are hard, my mom moved back home to be with my dad. My parents had originally planned to sell their house and move to Orange County, and my dad was working hard to get the place fixed up, but now they intend to stay put. At least they have a house that looks nicer now!

On Priscilla's side, her parents sold their house so that they could move once and for all to the condo. They had 40 years worth of accumulated stuff that they had to pare down. This was hardest mostly for Priscilla's dad, who liked living in a house and having lots of things. But he finally acquiesced, likely due to much pressure from the family.

They initially explored the option of having some things (cracks in the walls, paint and carpet) fixed up before listing the house. The two realtors they consulted both thought that the place would sell for around $600,000 after $30,000 in repairs. But ultimately, her parents felt that it would be too much hassle to have the repairs done and get all their old stuff hauled away, so they opted for selling the place as-is (including junk left behind) to a cash buyer. The agent they decided to work with arranged to have one of his contacts buy the house, and Priscilla was able to get the price up to $520,000 after a few rounds of negotiation. After fees and the realtor's commission, Priscilla's parents walked away with $490,000. If I was in their shoes, I would've spent the money to fix the cosmetic issues so that the place could sell for a lot more, but it would've been a lot harder for them. It was worth it to them to get less money and avoid the many headaches. They should have enough to live a comfortable downsized life. They closed escrow on Christmas Eve, but they asked for the final moveout date to be three days later so that Priscilla and I could stay there one final time when we went down to LA for Christmas.

As for me and Priscilla, not much has changed this year. Lately I've been thinking about what I'm doing and what I want to do with my life, and I think I'm in a bit of an existential rut. I've been feeling like the writer of Ecclesiastes who wrote that everything is meaningless. But I think that rather than trying to find the meaning of life, we should be trying to find meaning in life. Like being grateful for what we have and the relationships we have. And of course as Christians, Christ should be the center of our lives and the root of our meaning. I guess I'm still trying to figure out what that looks like.
Pure Holiday Party - Monday, December 10, 2018
Last Friday was the Pure annual holiday party, this time at the Fairmont San Jose, a very swanky hotel in downtown SJ. I normally don't want to go to these things, but Priscilla likes free food and the event wasn't too far away (compared to being in SF last year), so we went.

We arrived at the start of the event (7:30) and claimed one of the reserved parking spots. Pure had pre-paid for 300 spots spanning two parking garages. Getting to and, later, leaving the garage was hectic, but the fun night more than made up for it.

The theme of the party was prom night. But in a cool way, not in a lame, ghetto high school way. I never bothered going to my high school prom, but there's no way it could've compared to prom Pure style.

We basically had an entire floor in one wing of the hotel reserved. There were food stations galore: Mexican, sashimi, liquid nitrogen ice cream, hot chocolate. There was a room set up with student desks and The Breakfast Club playing, and a blackboard on which somebody had written "I will not push a test killer during the holiday party" (engineering inside joke) many times. There was a room with a pool table. Another with karaoke. And another with a bunch of video games including two-player tetris, space invaders with a laser gun, DDR, mechanical pong and more. There was a silent disco where a DJ was playing songs and you could only hear them if you put on a pair of multi-colored flashing headphones.

In the main ballroom was a band that was really loud, people dancing, 4-way air hockey, and a 2-player basketball game. And a couple times during the night, a marching band made their way through the halls playing a song at full blast. So awesome.

We ran into four people from my team. But it was pretty loud everywhere and hard to hear people, so mostly it was just a night of food and fun activities. Compared to the holiday party two years ago at the Computer History Museum (which was not bad at all), I think the company really outdid itself and went over the top this year. Excited to see what they do for next year!
Goodbye Taurus - Thursday, December 6, 2018
Since I bought a new used car (see my last post), I decided to donate my 1990 Taurus to Habitat for Humanity. The company that handles donations on their behalf is known to return around 80% of the proceeds of vehicle sales to the respective charity, which is supposed to be a lot more than some other charities typically get, so this seemed like a good option.

The tow truck driver came this morning to pick up the Taurus and haul it away. It was a bittersweet experience, but in two halves. Yesterday I was feeling some sadness and regret, but today, watching the car being loaded on the truck and watching it being driven away, I felt mostly relief. Like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

My grandfather bought the car on May 12, 1990 at Vista Ford in Woodland Hills. The base price was $12,690 and the final cost after taxes and fees was $14,169.94, the latter which would be $27,416.72 today when adjusted for inflation. According to the receipt, $900 was paid by check and the rest by cash, though that probably was in the form of a debit card.

My grandparents had their house in Honolulu at that time, so he likely had the car shipped over there right after buying it. The car still has an old Hawaii registration sticker on the rear bumper. Not sure why he didn't just buy a car in Hawaii - perhaps it was cheaper to buy one in California and have it shipped over.

The car came with my grandparents when they moved to NorCal. And in the last few years of his life, I don't think my grandfather drove it much. Mainly just to the nearby grocery store and such. It had around 20,000 miles on it when he passed away in 2003. Then my uncle inherited it and it sat around for about a year until he gave it to my dad. Then it sat around on the dirt to the side of the driveway at my parents' place until Aaron started driving it. Finally, I started driving it in 2010. So this car has really been owned/operated at one point by every guy in the family.

When I started driving the car, it had around 30,000 miles on it. The final odometer reading was 63,427. That means I drove it about 3,700 miles a year, which is more than Aaron did but is still way less mileage than most people put on their cars. Guess we're all just a low mileage family. 63k miles is really low for a 28-year-old car.

The car had a couple major mechanical issues. There was a wheel bearing failure in 2011 which left me and Priscilla stranded 20 miles from home. And a gradual coolant leak spanning a year until one day in 2012, when the leak suddenly turned catastrophic and I had to drive the car, engine smoking, to my mechanic who was fortunately a mile away.

As mentioned in my last post, I've gotten more knowledgeable about vehicle maintenance in the last year and have tried to take better care of the car. But keeping it has not been worth the amount of effort involved in maintaining it. There's too much to fix, and gaskets that get replaced have started leaking again soon after. Yes, the car would probably be in better condition had it been driven more regularly and had I been more regular with maintenance intervals. And yes, the design makes it harder to work on. So in the end, I decided that my time was better spent elsewhere and that it was time to let go. I was hoping to get this car to age 30, but I suppose that 28 will have to do.

The Taurus was the first car I've really felt was mine. It was certainly the first car where my name was on the title. When I first moved to the Bay Area, my dad let me use the family Previa. But it was too big for my needs. I didn't really use it to haul things regularly or transport a lot of people. It was a lot of wasted space. The Taurus, while still bigger than some other cars, felt like the right amount of space. Not too big, not too small. The faux wood accent on the dash gave it some personality. The engine, though not overly powerful, felt responsive. I liked beating other cars when the light turned green. Beat by a 1990 Taurus. And not even an SHO model! I felt at home in this car. And it was more than just a car. It was heritage.

So Taurus, here's to you. Thank you for getting me and my family where we needed to go. I'm sorry that my grandfather put a small dent in you when he scraped the mailbox while backing up. And I'm sorry for adding another dent as I was turning around a parking structure column. I'm sorry that I didn't take better care of you for the longest time. But you've taught me a lot, and I promise to remember those lessons with the cars I own henceforth.
A New Used Car - Sunday, November 18, 2018
Two days ago I did something I'd hoped I would not have to do for many years to come. I bought a car.

For the last 8.5 years, I've been driving around in my grandfather's 1990 Taurus. It hasn't been a reliable car. Early on, I dealt with a massive coolant leak and a broken wheel bearing, the latter which left me and Priscilla stranded 20 miles from home at midnight when we were coming back from my company holiday party. Great way to make an impression on your girlfriend.

But it's been a sentimental car. And it's cheap to insure, so it appeals to my frugality. My original intent was to drive it to the ground. But in the past year, as I've learned more about vehicle maintenance, my goal has evolved into keeping the car running as long as practically possible. I fixed an issue with the wipers by replacing the multi-function switch. I solved a rough idle/stalling problem by cleaning the IAC (which apparently is called an Idle Speed Control valve on this car). I replaced the valve cover gaskets which were leaking. I had a mechanic use parts that I ordered to replace the transmission filter and the pan gasket that was leaking. And I even replaced the old rusty wheel covers to spruce up the look.

Part of the reason I've done all this work is because it's a lot cheaper than buying another car. And part of it is that the car is one of the few things I have from my grandfather, and I kind of think of it as my connection to him.

But lately, the work involved in maintaining this car has taken a mental toll. It's been only a few months and already the transmission pan gasket and one of the valve cover gaskets are leaking again. The design of the engine also makes it a pain to work on, unlike the Corolla. And the recurring coolant leak is caused by a flawed design where the timing cover gasket is too close to a Y-pipe, gets cooked and degrades, and then can go from a minor leak to a catastrophic leak very quickly. It's this leak that's been responsible for my car smoking a few times lately. And last Wednesday, after I parked at the gym and saw the engine smoking again, I decided that this ongoing maintenance wasn't worth it anymore. It's one thing to learn new things by fixing/maintaining a car, and another to continue pouring time and energy into fixing the same recurring issues.

So I started researching used cars. I wanted something not too expensive but reliable and easy to work on. So for me, that narrowed the choice down to Corollas and Civics. At my dad's suggestion, I signed up for a Consumer Reports membership so that I could see reliability metrics, and I noticed that Corollas generally had better scores than Civics, particularly in the early 2000s. And of course I was also biased towards Corollas since we had one already.

I didn't want to pony up for something too new. Too new also means more electronics, which are more complicated to diagnose and more expensive to fix. I found a 2006 Corolla CE with 105k miles being sold by a local BMW dealership (it was most likely a trade-in) that looked reasonable. Pretty bare bones and no cruise control, power windows or power locks. But it would be cheap to insure. And it was listed at $5292, which was apparently $428 below the Carfax value. CarGurus also said this was a good deal. The car was originally listed $700 or so higher a month ago, so it was clear that the dealer was having some trouble getting rid of it.

So I went to see the car on Friday. I had watched ChrisFix's videos on how to inspect a used car and had printed out the checklist, but I made the mistake of rushing and glossing over some details. Had I been thorough, I would've noticed a small crack in the windshield and that the paint on the front of the car had several small spots that were touched up crudely. But I did verify that all the electronics with the exception of the clock worked, that the underside looked sturdy and rust-free, that the brakes and wheels looked dry (the dealership repaired the rear wheel cylinders because they were leaking), that most of the engine was free of leaks, and that fluids looked the right color. My mistake was allowing myself to feel rushed. When the salesman brought me out to see the car and I told him I'd like to inspect it, he told me to test drive it first. I asked for time to inspect it, but by then I was in a hasty mindset. Very clever, those salesmen.

But the car drove smoothly. And it appeared to be in better condition than our existing Corolla. It had only one owner, who seemed to have taken care of it. For the given feature set, I felt like this particular car was a good choice. But I felt like the price was a bit high despite what Carfax and CarGurus said. NADA Guides gives this car a clean trade-in value of $3250 and clean retail value of $4975, which is the price a person would reasonably get when selling to a dealer and the price he'd pay when buying from a dealer, respectively. That's a $1725 spread. Not a shabby profit for the middleman!

The salesman initially said that the $5292 price was fixed. I told him I'd need time to think about it, so naturally he asked what price would get me to buy. I told him that this was the first car I've looked at and that I'd like to have a couple options, and that the most I'd be willing to pay at this time is $4800. He kept going out of his office to check with the manager and tried to get me down to $5200, $5000, and finally $4900. I kept reiterating that for more than $4800 I would need to think on it, but for $4800 I would take it right then. The salesman finally agreed to my price. It helped that this car hadn't been selling and that I wasn't desperate. I didn't entirely want to buy the car. Part of me was hoping that they would refuse my offer as maybe an omen that I should really try to stick it out with the Taurus.

So after paying DMV fees (the dealership will handle everything with the DMV, and I'll get my registration in the mail) and tax, my total came out to $5427. I think I bought a good car and I feel like the price was fair, though I wonder if I could've gotten another couple hundred off if I had noticed and mentioned the paintwork and the crack in the window.

But no matter. I'm happy with the car. The white and black color scheme and the gold stripes that were added make it look old, as does the worn faux leather steering wheel cover. Pretty sure nobody will be stealing this. Also, all the side windows had DIY tint on them, and it wasn't done very well. It was bubbling in some spots and some of the edges were cut haphazardly. The tint on the rear side windows was very dark and made it difficult to see out when driving, which was a safety hazard. So I pulled all the tint off. Fortunately it came right off and there was no glue. The dead clock is a known issue with older Corollas (we had the same problem with the first Corolla) and should be repairable. Other than that, the only problem I've found is that the valve cover gasket is leaking oil. But we had that problem on the first Corolla as well, and it should be easy enough to replace. My frugal self keeps telling me that I overspent, but I think the price was fair.

Part of me still wants to keep the Taurus running (heck, the registration is good for another year since I had recently renewed it). But I think I'm going to need to tell that part of me to let go. My time is better spent on improving myself, caring for my family and serving others. A car is a tool, and though our cars can often be quite sentimental, it shouldn't be the object, but rather the memories, in which the sentiment belongs. Sentimentality should not override practicality and the duty that I have to be a good steward of my time. If my grandfather were alive today, I think he would agree.
Tough Mudder Thrice - Sunday, November 4, 2018
Yesterday I did my third Tough Mudder, this time in Lake Elsinore. I opted for this one after the March SoCal event was cancelled due to excessive rain and mud (the irony).

So Friday night, we flew down to Santa Ana/Irvine, got our rental car, met up with Raymond at Pokenoya, walked around the Orange County Great Park (we wanted to get on the hot air balloon but it was shut down early due to wind conditions), and drove to our hotel in Lake Elsinore. The hotel was pretty ghetto but we chose it because it was 0.8 miles from the Lake Elsinore Diamond where the event was. So the next day, Priscilla just drove me down the street and dropped me off right at the venue.

After the event (which I'll elaborate on in a bit), we drove back to Irvine and checked into the Hilton by the airport. In the evening, Raymond picked us up and we went to Aaron and Lauren's place to hang out with them. But we didn't see the baby since she'd already gone to sleep. And finally on Sunday, we went to church at the Saddleback Irvine South location (we walked there from our hotel) before flying home. It was a pretty eventful weekend, so we hit the hay early.

So back to the SoCal Tough Mudder. Checkin and bag drop were pretty quick, though that was perhaps because I had an earlier wave time (9:00) and got there at 8:20, so it hadn't gotten too crowded yet. The format was pretty similar to the NorCal event a month ago, though the Full route here didn't involve doing two laps and repeating some obstacles. Unlike my previous two times, I ran this one solo (hard to find people crazy enough to sign up with me, especially if it involves travel). It was definitely more fun with a team, but since I was able to set my own pace, I chose to run most of the way and finished in just over 2.5 hours. But my legs started cramping at mile 8, and I'm not sure if that was due to the tight compression socks that I was wearing. On the positive side, the socks did prevent a lot of (though not all) grit from getting in.

There were 21 ostacles on the Full route. Like with NorCal, the first obstacle was Kiss of Mud 2.0, ensuring that everyone started off with their entire frontside covered with mud. On Hero Carry, I paired up with a big guy and it was challenging carrying him on my back, mostly because his damp legs (from the previous obstacle) kept slipping from my hands. So he started carrying me about 20 feet before the switch point.

Blockness Monster was again a lot of fun, though most people didn't turn around and grab the block on their way down, which reduced throughput by a lot. SoCal had one obstacle I've never done - Tower of Tire, where people had to climb over a wall made of giant tires stacked three layers high. Pretty easy.

Mud Mile 2.0 was easier than it was at NorCal. Most people were able to get over the first two sections without help. The remaining sections required minimal help - just one person giving one hand from above.

Having had experience from a month ago, I breezed through Kong Infinity and Funky Monkey, though my technique still could use work. Cage Crawl was again a bit vexing, but I was doing ok until near the end, when the cage got pretty close to the water and then my face had nowhere to go but under the water. I then started freaking out and pulled myself through as fast as possible while getting water up my nose and down my throat. I can see how this could be a dangerous obstacle - I honestly wonder if anybody's come close to drowning.

On the next obstacle, Just the Tip, I got further than I did at NorCal, making it past the knobs and pegs in the middle. But on the latter half, it was too painful to keep holding onto the wood edge, so I bailed. I actually ended up losing some skin on my palm here. The guy after me completed this obstacle pretty easily, and he said that the trick was to keep the arms hanging loose instead of doing the cat grip that I was doing. In keeping the arms loose, the grip would probably also be relaxed and rely mainly on the tip of the fingers, which explains the name of the obstacle.

Arctic Enema was pretty cold, but I really felt it after getting out. That's when the shock wears off, I guess. And speaking of shocks, Electroshock Therapy was the next obstacle. I tried to carefully weave through the wires but still got hit twice in the back. I crouched to get under some of the wires, and the announcer compared me to a baby bird crouching in a nest and said that somebody should come and put regurgitated food into my mouth. I think this was the same announcer who in 2014 commented about me making sweet love to the mud! At least I didn't crawl through the mud on all fours this time.

Immediately afterwards was the final obstacle, Happy Ending. People were really good about forming human ladders and didn't seem to have the trouble that people were having at NorCal. I was able to get up pretty quickly thanks to some heroes at the bottom. And with that, upon crossing the finish line, my third Tough Mudder was complete.

I had fun, and it was great to see everybody tackling the obstacles and giving it their all. But I'm probably not going to sign up for another one unless somebody asks me to run with them. I don't really enjoy getting dirty, the overhead of getting to the events is a bit much, and the nature of the obstacles lend themselves to completing them with people you know. I do still enjoy the obstacles and the athleticism, and I'd like to try Spartan Race, which is intended to be more individualistic and competitive. But that will have to wait since I have an ankle injury, wrist pain and a GI condition that I'm trying to recover from. My biggest obstacle, apparently, really is myself. But these are hurdles, and hurdles are meant to be conquered.
Positively Possum - Saturday, October 27, 2018
About a month ago, I started noticing animal droppings in the backyard in the gravel bed behind the house. It seemed like an animal had made our yard its latrine, so, trying to discourage this behavior, I cleaned up the poop and sprinkled chili powder on the gravel bed and even put chicken wire on top. This seemed to have a limited effect, as I found more poop there a couple days later, but then I also started finding poop in the other gravel bed on the side of the house as well as in random places around the yard.

I also noticed a small hole under the back fence and a hole under the shed. Every time I filled in these holes, I would find them opened up again the next day. So I reasoned that the animal was living under the shed and going out into the neighbor's yard at night.

Then one night, after hearing a noise outside, I went out with a flashlight and saw a skunk. Or at least what appeared to be a skunk at the time. It was caught on the other side of the house and kept pushing against the gate trying to get out. It did not attempt to climb the fence. This matched what I later read about skunks being good diggers but poor climbers. I didn't feel like getting sprayed, so I went back in the house and let the skunk disappear on its own.

I also read that skunks making their den on your property should be assumed to be raising baby skunks. So I sent a message to the county animal control, but after receiving no reply, I decided to enlist the help of a local company to trap the skunk. The guy came over and set a live trap and threw some food pellets inside, but the next morning, I found the trap sprung but no animal inside. So the guy came back and reset the trap and left a cup of food inside. The next morning, the cup was empty but the trap had not been sprung. It appeared that the animal was getting wise to what was going on.

Realizing that you need to be smarter than an animal in order to trap it, I took it upon myself to set a better trap, especially since the guy became increasingly nonspecific about when he could come over. I covered the bottom of the trap with dried grass and leaves and hung some Mandarin slices (from our tree in front) in a plastic bag and hung it in the rear of the cage. The idea, which I got from a forum post, was to make the animal work harder to get the food and let its guard down in the process. I was actually looking forward to catching something now; it had turned into a game of man vs animal. Well perhaps Mandarins weren't the most appealing bait or the bait looked too hard to reach, because it took four days for the trap to be sprung this time. But this time, I found a possum inside.

I discovered new poop in the gravel bed the same morning when I found the possum, and I did find one picture of possum poop online that resembled the kind that I was finding, so I found it plausible that the animal leaving poop in the yard and living under the shed was a possum all along. Possums are beneficial animals (for instance, they eat slugs, snails and cockroaches), so I didn't want to have it killed, but I didn't want this possum sticking around. California law says that if you do not release trapped animals on site, you're not allowed to relocate them. They have to be euthanized. I was really tempted to drive somewhere at night and release the possum, but I wasn't itching to break the law or have a wild animal in my trunk, so I decided to just have the guy come and take the possum away. It was $200 for the initial visit and $125 to remove the possum. Not cheap, but worth not having to pick up poop in the yard all the time.

The guy offered to set a new trap and I agreed. The new one had some sticky stuff smeared inside that had a strong odor, sure to get an animal's attention. It looked like Nutella but smelled way more pungent. Stuck to the rear wall of the trap were many food flakes; an animal would definitely need to walk in pretty far in order to eat any of it. It took another six days for an animal to be caught, and that animal turned out to be... another possum. But I didn't want to pay another $125 to have it removed, and I hadn't seen any new poop around the yard or evidence of digging underneath the shed, so I figured that this possum was just wandering through, possibly attracted to our yard by the smelly trap. So I decided to let it go and have the guy come back to take the trap away.

Things have remained ok - no more poop showing up. Priscilla notes that our problems began after I started an unenclosed compost pile in the backyard. The fact that I poured out the leftovers of fish porridge (with the fish removed, but still reeking of fish) one day probably exacerbated the problem. I've since stopped throwing food scraps in the backyard and have also been diligent about removing fallen pomegranates from the neighbor's tree that overhangs into our yard, which fall to the ground after squirrels start munching on them. So hopefully this will discourage animals from coming by regularly and making our yard their latrine.

I'm still pretty sure that I saw a skunk that night, though I could believe that it was actually the first possum. At any rate, I haven't seen a skunk since, and it does not appear that there are baby skunks (or baby possums) living under the shed. I don't know if the second possum will come back, having had a traumatic experience here. But if it does return, I would be glad for its visit. I'm just counting on it not getting too comfortable here.
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