Saturday, May 31, 2008

Noises are scary

A couple of months ago, my son developed an intense fear of unknown noises. Thunder. Clanks. Cars outside that he couldn't see. The scene in "Cars" where Lightning McQueen scares the tractor-cows.

For the longest time I thought it was all bogus, that someone had made him think he was afraid of those sounds by asking him if he was afraid of them.

Then he started telling us that he heard sounds at night, so we told him to talk to his monkey (who sleeps with him) whenever he heard the scary sounds. He tells me nightly that Monkey makes the noises go away, and it's just become part of our routine.

I thought my boy was getting kind of soft. Not any more. I hear the noise, and it's creepy as shit. And I can't find where it's coming from. But it's definitely in his room.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

That's a neat playground

Saturday morning, Family Amos went to the great evil: Toys'R'Us. We were shopping for ideas. Alastair loves to play outside, and he loves the playground at the church across the street. He loves it so much that he pitches the most horrid fits whenever it's time to leave.

We weren't necessarily going to buy one, but to investigate our options. There were way too many to choose from, so we enlisted an expert opinion: Alastair's. We showed him a few options and asked if he liked any of them -- of course he said no to all of them -- but then settled on the Step 2 Woodland Climber because of one feature: a steering wheel (Alastair's obsessed!).

We got it home after a false-start (the box was way too big for the CR-V, so daddy had to come back with the truck), and it was assembled in less than 10 minutes. After his nap, we brought Alastair straight outside for his first romp.

The look on his face as he saw it for the first time was priceless, almost like the people on Extreme Makeover Home Edition when the bus is pulled away, and his first words were "That's a neat playground!"

He's in love with it. There are steps, rock-wall sides, a sliding board, the afore-mentioned steering wheel, and a cave that he uses as a garage for his Radio Flyer car.

Saturday afternoon and Monday -- pretty much all day -- were spent outside at his new playground. Up and down, up and down, throwing balls up the sliding board and driving around it in his car.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A little rain must fall

Over the last month and a half, my capacity for emotion has been checked. I can't quite explain it, but it was sort of like watching my son being born: the situation was absolutely terrifying, but I was completely detached from it, almost like watching it on TV.

That's how I've felt throughout most of this ride: like it's a TV show. Amanda's not really sick: that woman on the show is sick.

But every once in a while the emotion freight-train comes through town, jumps the tracks, and hunts me down. It did so last night, and with good reason.

Amanda got bad news yesterday. By now you've probably read about it on her blog, but the genetics came back, and she has a chromosomal deficiency: -7. That's one of the big baddies, along with -5 and Q3, which, according to the all-knowing wikipedia, has a 5-year survival rate of 15% and a 78% chance of relapse. It's considered to be in the "adverse" category.

So last night, on our 8th anniversary, we were dealing with these emotions while watching the season finale of House. If you saw it, you know that Amber died. We were wrecked.

Here's how it breaks down for us right now:

Amanda will have biopsy #5 tomorrow. She'll then go in for a follow-up on Friday, and probably be re-admitted early next week. At that point she'll undergo chemo #2, the specific course of which will be determined by the results of tomorrow's biopsy.

Things are not good.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Manda's Sick - Furlough

Manda's Home! Manda's Home!

Ok, now what?

(More treatments, but she's home!)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Amos Family Fuel Economy

I had some time today, and remembered the wonderful EPA site for fuel economy. They've revised all their ratings for vehicles back to 1985 (although most of them are extrapolated, and not actually tested with the new methodology).

I put all of our vehicles in and verified the obvious: the MINI is tops! I'm actually averaging much higher than the site estimates, with my last tank running at 34.4mpg, and the one before it at 33mpg. I'd estimate that I'm averaging 33mpg for this year, with 31 or 32 / year prior to 2008 (I've started driving slower).

Actual miles / projected fuel usage / vehicle:

MINI Cooper (17000 miles / year @ 33mpg): 515.15 gallons @ $3.80 = $1957.58
Honda CR-V (~3500 miles / year @ 22mpg): 159.09 gallons @ $3.60 = $572.73

Total general fuel budget: 674.24 gallons, $2530.31

Racing (I pay for this outside of the family budget)
Ford F250 (~1800 miles / year @ 10mpg): 180 gallons @ $3.60 = $648.00
Mazda Miata (miles and mileage unknown): ~100 gallons @ $6.00 = $600.00

Total racing fuel budget: 280 gallons, $1248.00
Total Amos Family Fuel Budget: 954.24 gallons, $3778.31

All of this completely ignores external factors like repairs, general maintenance, insurance, payments (Amos family is loan-free!), titling, taxes, and other fees.

Interesting, especially as I start looking for new cars, I see that I can actually save $70 / year by getting a 2008 MINI Cooper S, but I'd spend almost an extra $900 / year fueling a MazdaSpeed 3.

If you're in the market for a new car, spend some time looking at that site!

By the way, there really was no point to this whole post.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Manda's Sick - One Month In

I just realized that tomorrow is the one-month-iversary of Amanda's incarceration. It was the afternoon of April 5 when we went to the St. Mary's Emergency Room, and now we're just waiting for her neutrophil counts to stabilize before she can come home. They might biopsy her hip one more time, just to make sure she remembers that she is, after all, still sick.

Of course, the way they've been dangling carrots and yanking them away, they might just surprise her tomorrow morning with a fresh round of chemo and 3 more weeks in lock-up.

Tomorrow is also her head-shaving appointment. Alastair and I will go and see her after it's done, and I can only hope he repeats one of his first ever complete sentences, uttered at 20 months to me the morning after one of my own head-shavings: "Daddy hair look funny."

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Hypermiling - If you do it, I swear to God I'll smack you

This article greeted me this morning in my round-up of the web. Interesting read. Interesting ideas. Only one of the ideas is a moderately good one: that of over-inflating your tires. The other ideas are REALLY REALLY BAD.
Among the other ideas were running low-viscosity oil, "drafting", and a curious technique that must be intended solely for hybrids called "pulse-and-glide".
I've come across others in the past, like accelerating to speed, briefly lifting, and then holding the accelerator very lightly, which supposedly leans out your fuel mixture. This, if true, would reduce the amount of fuel burned. But a lean fuel mixture runs much hotter than a stoichiometric (~12:1 air:gasoline) mixture, so engine-temps skyrocket. In front-rear mounted engine designs, the rear-most cylinder takes a beating from this type of driving, and over time that cylinder will lose compression, which means your engine will ultimately need expensive service. The lean mixture technique thus falls into the VERY BAD IDEA category.
Low-viscosity oil dovetails into the whole lean-mixture argument. As engine-mileage rises, greater tolerances are introduced. There's fatigue and scoring in the metals. Things wear down. Higher-viscosity oils tend to stay where they're supposed to, and help shore up weaknesses in older engines. They are highly recommended in higher-mileage trucks. Mine, for instance, is ticking. I've done a bunch of research on the issue, and most of the folks who've experienced mild engine trouble in high mileage trucks recommend switching from 5W30 to 10W30.
I have a coworker with a 200K-mile Toyota Avalon. He switched from 5W30 to 0W30 and picked up 2mpg. But at 200K miles, that motor is tired. It's never been over-bored or sleeved, so he's begging for blow-by, a condition where pressurized oil under the cylinders seeps (or sometimes blasts) up over the cylinder, filling the chamber and hampering combustion. This makes those beautiful blue-smoke clouds you see behind old Chevy Caprices and Novas.
Drafting is illegal. Period. It's stupid and dangerous, and as a result, it's illegal. Don't do it. If your fuel economy improves by 100% but your potential for a life-threatening accident increase by 1000%, you lose. Plain and simple.
Over-inflating tires is something I've experimented with. I've had marginal results, generally picking up a mile or two per gallon, but nothing amazing. There's a danger here, too: abnormal tire-wear. Over-inflating your tires can quickly lead to bald-spots on your tires, or if you inflate them to the maximum, you can wind up with bulges on the tire, which indicate that a moderate bump could explode the tire. I generally inflate to 10psi over the recommended cold pressure. The ride is a bit stiffer than normal, but that doesn't bother me too much, and the wear-patterns don't change.
But consider the "savings" of inflating to maximum versus the cost: if you inflate to save 2mpg, but run off 20K worth of potential mileage from your 50K-mile rated tires, then assume you'll need tires every 30K miles.
If your car generally gets 30mpg, then over 30K miles you're putting 1000 gallons in the tank. That's roughly $3,490 in today's prices. Improving that by 2mpg saves 62.5 gallons, so you'd spend $3271.88 on fuel. That's $218 in savings, or about half the price of a set of tires. Not worth it.
You'd have to gain a real improvement of 5mpg before you'd actually save money, and even then you'd have to keep your tires in good condition for at least 50% of their intended life-span. That's not going to happen.
Re-run the numbers with el-cheapo Pep Boys 80K-mile rated tires: in 60K miles, you'd put 2000 gallons in the tank at 30mpg: $6980. You'd put 1875 in at 32mpg, again using $3.49 as a standard gallon, you'd spend $6543.75. That's a fuel-savings of $436.25 (this number actually surprised me!). This time you come out about $100 ahead, but only if fuel prices remain constant. And it will have taken 3 - 5 years to have saved that $100.
Meanwhile, you can save $600 - $1800 / year by getting rid of cable TV. 4 times the savings in 1/5 the time!
I watch my fuel-economy on every single tank of gas that goes into the MINI. The on-board computer tells me that I generally get about 31.3 mpg. Quick back-of-the-napkin calculations tell me that the OBC is not always right: last night I got 10.008 gallons and had gone 330.1 miles. The OBC said 31.3, but it doesn't take a genius to realize that 330/10 = 33mpg. That's combined city & highway, and the car's rated 28/37 (32 combined)*, so it's right in line with what it should be.
A month ago, Amanda and I drove the MINI about 150 miles to and from the Northern Neck of VA, and keeping a constant speed of 64mph (engine turning at 3000rpm, a happy and fuel-efficient speed for the MINI) the OBC reported 39.8mpg average. I didn't get to finish that tank on highway driving, and it came down considerably, but at 39.8 (if accurate), I could have gone 517 miles. I suspect the economy was actually closer to 42mpg. Not bad. And the tires weren't even over-inflated.

*These numbers are based on the old EPA estimation method. Based on the new EPA ratings, the car is actually rated 25/33 (28 combined).

Edit: Evelyn didn't understand it, and I got distracted, so my conclusion was forgotten. Hypermiling is retarded and dangerous. It introduces unnecessary risk to your vehicle for the possibility of saving a few hundred dollars on gas. Those savings are lost in the replacement of other consumables and potentially monumental repair bills (and/or hospital bills). Just drive reasonably, stay in the slow-lane, take the more efficient vehicle if you have more than one and can choose, and do not, for the love of God, run fuel in your tank that's not intended for your motor. More tips:

1. Have a steep driveway? Back out with the car off and in Neutral.
2. Don't start the car until you're buckled in and ready to drive away.
3. Here's another surprise: accelerate quickly but reasonably to speed and then maintain speed. You'll burn more fuel accelerating, but for far less time than by driving like a grandma.
4. Use your cruise control; it's more stable than your foot.
5. Coast down hills.
6. Keep your speeds up on exit ramps. You'll save fuel by not having to accelerate into traffic, and it's fun!