Summer garden

Last year's garden was a success in that we had a good supply of tomatoes for salsa, and the peppers did finally deliver even though they weren't receiving enough sun. Despite the garden's southern exposure, I underestimated the amount of shade from trees on a neighbor's property from mid to late afternoon, not optimal for a vegetable garden.

So last summer I didn't lay sod on a plot of land in the northeast corner of the yard during the backyard renovation in order to dedicate this area as the new garden location. Since last summer I've spent countless hours digging out rocks/boulders and tilling in compost to prepare the soil. Late last month my wife and the girls planted 10 tomato plants, 15 strawberry plants, and assorted herbs and flowers from seed. The seeds have sprouted, and the garden is on its way to producing!


Hypermiling: Teaching an old dog new tricks

With gas approaching $4.00 per gallon, the economics of driving can no longer be ignored. I knew attitudes were changing when my Dad, who loves driving and commutes about 350 miles a week to work in a car that gets about 30 mpg, told me that he had started carpooling. Others are boarding commuter trains and bus service in record numbers to travel to and from work.

I'm cheap, so last year I read with interest an article about a guy getting over 50 mpg in a non-hybrid vehicle, but many of his methods were extreme (never using the air conditioner) and often dangerous (like taking a 25 mph turn at 50 or drafting directly behind a semi). With gas at $2.139 last February, these "hypermiling" tactics weren't worth it as I only fill up once or twice a month. Times have changed, and even though it cost over $75 at $3.769 per gallon, I was looking forward to filling up my '96 Ford Explorer (an automatic with all-wheel drive) this morning because I wanted to calculate its fuel mileage.

For the last month I've been utilizing several hypermiling techniques:

  1. Inflating my 35 psi-rated tires to 40 psi
  2. Removing excess weight (tools in the trunk)
  3. Eliminating jackrabbit starts by accelerating gradually
  4. When approaching a stop sign or red light, putting the car in neutral and coasting to a stop (known as forced auto stop)
  5. Turning off the ignition at long stop lights
  6. Using cruise control
  7. Maintaining a highway speed of 55-60 mph

Fortunately I was already in the habit of documenting mileage, gallons of gas, and price per gallon at each fill-up, so I was able to calculate my average gas mileage for 2007 at 15.6 mpg. My average cost of gas last year was $2.74 which correlates to 17.5¢ per mile (cost per gallon ÷ miles per gallon). Thus far in 2008 I was averaging 14.8 mpg at $3.13 per gallon or 21¢ per mile.

After utilizing the above hypermiling techniques, I am now averaging 17.3 mpg, an 11% improvement over 2007 and 17% better than my average this year! And while gas now costs 20% more than my 2008 average, the cost per mile remained steady at 21¢ per mile.

For additional information on hypermiling, visit this post on CleanMPG.


Never again: Self-storage rental

Reading a story about how the foreclosure crisis is impacting other industries reminded me that several years ago I made a thousand dollar mistake. That's right--I rented a self-storage unit for just a few months. And as anyone who has ever rented a self-storage unit can attest, a few months can quickly turn into a year or longer.

For reasons I believe involved an offer of a free month's rent as well as a plan to clear out part of our basement in preparation for an upcoming yard sale, my wife and I signed the paperwork to rent a unit for $99 a month and filled up our temporary garage. We moved furniture, full-size arcade games, unused equipment from my wife's former startup business, and building materials for our rental properties. I recall the warm and fuzzy feeling of being able to park a car in one bay of our drive-under garage. Of course we still had too much crap to be able to park both cars in the garage, but it was a start.

And then I'm sure that life just got in the way. A year later I moved whatever hadn't sold back into the basement, where I'm sure it is again collecting dust. There is no longer room to park a car in the garage, but one day I will reclaim the basement and the garage with the help of eBay and Craigslist. Soon, I hope!


Adrenaline rush at the airport

I was traveling this week on business. At my departure airport, on my way back to Atlanta, I arrived four hours early for my scheduled flight in hopes of catching an earlier one. Unfortunately the next flight was full, so I decided to enjoy my found time by writing some postcards and eating lunch.

It was while eating a Quizno's sandwich that I heard the thud behind me. I turned around to see an older man laying flat on his back, and so I rushed over to see if he was okay. The man, probably in his mid to late 70's, was out cold with his eyes rolled back into his head, and a woman came up and asked me if he had a pulse? I guess that would be a good thing to check, but I was in a complete state of shock that this was happening in front of me.

I put my fingers on his neck and told her that if he had one, it's too weak to feel. Only then did it hit me that this was serious. In the mean time, the man stopped breathing. So the woman took control (she later told me that she's a doctor) and directed me to give him chest compressions after she blew into him. She directed someone else to get the defibrillator and told another to call 911. After several series of breaths and chest compressions, the gentleman's lips and face started to turn red and then blue. The woman checked his pulse again, and there was nothing. He was dead. A few more series of breaths and chest compressions, and I opened up his shirt since the guy with the A.E.D. had returned. Someone read what the heck to do with this thing, and then they put it on his chest.

As this happened, though before he was shocked, his chest rose, and he opened his eyes. "What is your name?" someone asked. The man replied with his name. By then the paramedics had arrived, and I got the hell out of the way. The gentleman was stabilized and was taken to a nearby hospital.

It took me well over an hour for the adrenaline rush to subside. I was surprised and disappointed at my paralysis when confronted by the situation, and thank God that there was a doctor nearby who heard the man fall, was willing to get involved, and knew how to manage the situation. She saved a life today.