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Terrain Race - Monday, June 10, 2019
This past Saturday I did Terrain Race with Tracy at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San Jose. This was where Priscilla and I did the Bubble Run last month. I was originally supposed to do Terrain Race with a coworker, but he later had plans to be out of town, so he let me have his registration. I normally wouldn't sign up for an easy event like this, but it cost only $17.09. It was touted as "free", but tacked on were mandatory insurance, a nominal donation to charity, and tax. Still quite a bargain compared to Tough Mudder or Spartan Race.

The pre-race bib pickup was last Friday at Sports Basement in Sunnyvale. It was supposed to be from 10am - 8pm, but I got there around 9:50am to try to beat the crowds. When I picked up our packets for the Bubble Run, there were maybe 200 people in line ahead of me and I waited for over an hour. I was determined to not make the same mistake with Terrain Race. Despite getting there early, there were still 50 or so people ahead of me, and it looked like the line was already moving before the announced start time. A note for the future.

On race day, we were in the first wave which started at 7:30am. This was the only free wave remaining when I signed up; otherwise I would've chosen a later one. So I woke up at 5:30, had a quick breakfast, Tracy came over to my place, and we started driving over at 6:30. We parked on the street nearby in order to avoid the $10 parking fee. We were one of the first cars to park on that street, and I soon found out that there was no additional checkin since we already had our bibs. So we had half an hour to kill before our wave started. The event email said to bring a signed waiver, but nobody was collecting those. And security was so lax that start times were not enforced. Pretty much anybody could just get in the start area and run with any wave!

The course was supposed to be 5k, but it felt a little short and my GPS measured 4.5k. We ended up walking most of the course because Tracy is not a runner. To be fair, I did spring Terrain Race on her at the last minute. She wants to do Spartan Race with some church people in November, so hopefully she'll train for that.

The obstacles on the course included 4ft walls, 6ft walls, giant tire flipping, tire on rope pulling, concrete block on chain dragging, sandbag carry, balance beams, hay bales, pipe crawl, and a cargo net crawl through a pool of mud. The cargo net crawl was the second-to-last obstacle and got everybody really muddy. A video from a couple years ago showed monkey bars and other obstacles that required upper-body strength, so I was saddened to not see any of those on the course.

The event was more enjoyable than not, but I would've liked more challenging obstacles. I don't think I'd do Terrain Race again. Even though it was dirt cheap, it's not worth the overhead of getting dirty. I think I'll stick to Tough Mudder and Spartan Race, though I'm still not planning on doing another Tough Mudder unless somebody else wants me to go with them. Running it solo isn't much fun. I'm glad I at least had a partner in crime to do Terrain Race with.
Barcelona - Monday, April 8, 2019
Priscilla and I took a vacation to Barcelona from February 23 to March 6. Why there? Mainly because she wanted to go somewhere international, and non-stop flights to Barcelona were pretty cheap ($350/person round trip on Google Flights with Iberia Airlines, contracted out to Level). So on Saturday, we boarded an 11-hour flight from SFO en route to BCN.

Day 1:
It was Sunday when we arrived. We took Aerobús to Plaça de Catalunya (the city centre), then walked to our Airbnb, a 6th floor apartment in a neighborhood close to La Rambla. Markets in the city are closed every Sunday, but restaurants are open. We ate dinner at a tapas place near our Airbnb, La Viena Blanca, which included patatas bravas (these are pretty common in Barcelona) and bombas picantes, the latter which we liked the most.

Day 2:
We first stopped by La Boqueria, the outdoor market, and bought zumo (fruit juice), an empanada, and a dish with potato and cheese. We bought groceries from Carrefour Market (we would end up visiting several times during our trip). We then joined five others at Foodie Experience Barcelona and learned how to make paella, sangria, and crema catalana from our welcoming host, Carmen. Each of us was given a different task, and mine was to make the sangria. We all got to cook our own crema catalana dish with a blowtorch. And then we got to eat everything! This was so fun and educational and was one of the highlights of our trip. We walked to Plaça de Catalunya for a free Gothic Quarter walking tour, but we were the only tourists there because it was not peak-season, so the guide canceled the tour. So we spent the rest of the day back at our Airbnb taking it easy.

Day 3:
We elected to start using our 3-day Barcelona Pass on this day and used it to visit 5 museums: Casa Batlló, Egyptian Museum of Barcelona, Casa de Les Punxes, Casa Milà, and the Museum of Modernism. So tiring! My favorites were Casa Batlló and Casa Milà, both designed by famed Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. His works are so creative and inspired, yet also thoughtfully functional.

Day 4:
We used our pass to see the city via the hop-on, hop-off bus (Barcelona BusTurístic). The first stop we got off at was Parc Güell, a park designed by Gaudí. We decided not to pay to see the buildings there, but walking around the park and admiring the viaducts was enjoyable and relaxing. Our next stop was Camp Nou (the home stadium of Futbol Club Barcelona), where we toured the stadium from the locker room inside to the press boxes up top. Very cool. Then we got off at Poble Espanyol, where we walked around the quaint village, saw a film about how people in different regions of Spain hold celebrations, and visited a modern art museum. The village was pretty quiet and a third of the shops were closed, not that we minded. Finally we walked over to the nearby Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC), which was closed for the day but had a really photogenic exterior.

Day 5:
The morning began with a 2.5-hour walking tour of the Old Town (I learned quite a bit about architecture), followed by L'Aquàrium Barcelona (they had a cool oceanarium but everything else was meh), Las Golondrinas for a boat tour of the city shoreline, and Museu de Cera (wax museum). All these were included with our Barcelona Pass. We definitely got our money's worth from that pass (it cost €116 and we used €226 worth of benefits).

Day 6:
We had originally planned to do a day trip to Sitges (a coastal town) on this day, but instead decided to take a rest day. And Priscilla's idea of a rest day is to eat, so we got tapas from Quimet & Quimet, pinchos from La Tasqueta de Blai and Blai 9, and finally chocolate con churros from La Churre. Each place was good in its own way, but we liked the quality of the food at Quimet & Quimet the most. Their signature dishes were the most enjoyable: mussels and caviar, and salmon with yogurt and truffled honey.

Day 7:
This was our day trip to Girona, another highlight. From Plaça de Catalunya, we rode a bus for a little over an hour to Girona, a city that feels like a mini Barcelona. Our guide Guillermo gave us a tour of the old part of the city including the outside of the Girona Cathedral and old Roman fortifications. Priscilla and I had time to explore on our own while most of the group headed out to another town (Figueres) on the optional part of the tour. We had seafood paella at Via Augusta (was ok) and explored everything from the city's distinctive bridges to walking atop the Roman wall. There's much to enjoy in the old part of the city, but the sweeping views from atop towers along the walls were probably my favorite. We ended our day trip by strolling through Parc de la Devesa before reuniting with the tour bus.

Day 8:
The day started with a couples photoshoot in the Gothic Quarter, from which we got some nice, professional-looking photos. Many museums in Barcelona are free to visit on the first Sunday of the month, and since this day was that, we visited MUHBA and enjoyed seeing the underground remains of the ancient Roman city of Barcino. Next, we tried to visit the Picasso Museum but found that tickets were sold out (they need to be reserved online ahead of time). So we consigned ourselves to finding lunch and settled on Taperia Princesa, where we had some decent tapas.

Day 9:
This was our day trip to Montserrat, which was my favorite part of the entire trip. Priscilla had purchased ToT Montserrat passes from Expedia which paid for everything: subway and train fare to get there, a cable car ride up the mountain, unlimited use of the funiculars, lunch (unfortunately the buffet place was closed, so we were only able to get selected items at the cafeteria), and admission to the Museo de Monserrat. Admission to the monastery is free, and there we enjoyed the grand architecture and saw the famous Virgin of Montserrat (La Moreneta) statue. We did the hardest hike up to the Sant Jeroni lookout point (and were rewarded with amazing panoramic views) and took a funicular back down to the village. We revisited the monastery towards the end of the day, after the tour busses had left, and were pleased to find the place almost empty. I enjoyed Montserrat for the hiking and architecture, both of which there are plenty of. If I could, I would stay overnight in a hostel here so that I could explore the area over the course of two days.

Day 10:
Priscilla liked Quimet & Quimet so much that we went back again for brunch. We had the two signature dishes again plus a few other things, but the signature dishes were still our favorites. Afterwards, we walked over to La Sagrada Familia for a pre-paid tour from a company called Visit Europa Today. Our guide Isaac had a deep knowledge of the place, but more importantly, his passion for the history and culture of La Sagrada Familia was evident. The tour was very helpful, as there's so much history that you would otherwise miss. My favorite part of the church was the polychromatic stained glass windows, which bathe the inside in a flood of multiple colors. The church was designed by Gaudí, who drew his inspiration from nature. Maybe that's why his works speak to me on a personal level. After La Sagrada Familia, we made an impromptu visit to the Arc de Triomf and Parc de la Ciutadella (I enjoyed the beautiful fountains at the latter) before eating at La Viena Blanca again.

Day 11:
This was the last day of our trip and consisted pretty much of walking to Plaça de Catalunya, taking Aerobús back to the airport, and a 12-hour flight back home. The end of the flight was pretty turbulent and made me nauseous, and I arrived home still dizzy on top of being extremely tired. There's no place like home!

Barcelona was really enjoyable; the fights there and back less so (I don't enjoy being cooped up on a plane). We went when it wasn't peak season, fearing that the weather would be a little chilly. But it turned out to be fairly comfortable. The city is unfortunately known for pickpockets, so Priscilla and I tried to travel light with our valuables in inner pockets. We left the suitcases at home and managed to fit everything inside of two backpacks, my laptop bag, and a tote bag for food. We brought a few day's worth of clothes, and Priscilla washed our clothes at the halfway point during the trip. It's surprising how much space you can save when you really try to avoid packing non-essentials.

Maybe more so than on past trips, we tried to incorporate rest time so that we wouldn't feel overwhelmed. I think that helped me enjoy the trip more. Also, Priscilla tirelessly cooked food almost every day (hence the reason we went to Carrefour so frequently), so that helped us save money. Our total cost for this trip was $2605, cheaper than our trips to Hawaii and Ireland. And after travel credits from credit cards, it was $2127. Which seems very reasonable, all things considered.

Barcelona is a polyglot city with Spanish, Catalan and English seeming to be the predominant languages. The people that we interacted with there generally seemed to understand English, but once we got out of the city, it seemed like a smaller percentage of people spoke it. Priscilla and I had tried to re-learn some Spanish leading up to the trip, but I felt that my vocabulary during the trip was pretty lacking. It was enough to get by, but only barely. Every day I would pick up a little bit more Spanish, and sometimes Catalan since some signs were only in Catalan. Trying to learn a new language is hard enough, let alone two new languages at the same time! Google Translate was an invaluable tool.

Would I want to live in Barcelona? Not really. The city is pretty dense (1.6 million within city limits, making it the second most populous city in Spain) and felt busy. I can only imagine that it would be even busier during the peak tourism season. There is also a lot of graffiti around the city, including on historic buildings. Apparently graffiti there is associated more with free expression and political dissent than gang activity, but it was still off-putting to see, especially on buildings of historical importance.

But would I want to live somewhere else in Spain? Somewhere smaller and quieter? Maybe for a short period of time. The weather during our trip was nice and the food was generally a little cheaper compared to back home. But the most appealing thing would be being immersed in a culture and having to pick up the language. I probably wouldn't want to live there long-term, but staying for a couple months learning to get by might be fun. It aligns with my desire to learn to do life better. I've been spending more time learning Spanish since the trip, and Priscilla is planning for us to take a cruise to Mexico early next year. Hopefully by then my vocabulary will extend past just the menu at a restaurant!
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.
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