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Last week I was doing an overdue update to my iPod battery pack page. Traffic has trickled off lately to 150 visits per day whereas before I moved everything to iGirder I was getting about 300. Part of the reason may have been that I hadn’t updated the pages in a while, but the page just doesn’t rank very high (I did get a payoff almost immediately when someone bought one of the new iPhone battery packs I wrote about for $50 yielding $3 in commissions). Overall revenue from AdSense and Amazon is down to about a third of what it used to be.

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Zoom Zoom

I’m back from the dealer and am the proud owner of a Mazda 3! Everything went pretty smoothly. I got there at 7:00 and was out by 8:30. They didn’t push warranties real hard or even explain a whole lot. The only glitches were the price was wrong, but we tracked that down to the car they were originally going to get that had the spoiler on it. Another glitch in the price was that $500 of the discount was a rebate, so they had to charge me a price $500 higher than I thought. While they would take the $500 off at the end (the dealer will actually receive the rebate), it meant I had to pay 7% sales tax on the $500. So that cost me $35. The last glitch was I wrote the check for the full amount I had to pay, forgetting about the $1000 I had already put down. The finance guy said I wrote the check for $1000 too much and I thought he was kidding. Eventually he said “No, really, this check is for the wrong amount.” They said they could put a credit on my credit card, but I said I could just write a new check.

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Car Clay

When I bought my car in 1998 the salesman said that I should make sure I put a good coat of wax on it. I waited a while and then I got sap on it and the paint job was never the same. Even when I did wax it, there were bumps and rough spots. With a new car on the way (probably tomorrow) I wanted to see what I needed to do to keep the finish in good shape even though the car will be in the sun all the time.

The internet is full of people who are insane about taking care of their cars. There are all kinds of different products out there, but one new thing to me was the idea of claying a car. It consists of applying some kind of liquid to the car and then rubbing clay on it. The clay isn’t abrasive, but picks up specs of dirt that give a rough finish. It only picks up things that stick above the surface, so it isn’t intended to fix scratches. It seemed pretty extreme, but as I read about it, it started to intrigue me. There are How-To clay videos about how to do it on You Tube. Meguiar’s, a reputable “over the counter” car wax maker (as opposed to online only), sells a Smooth Surface Clay Kit that includes two blocks of clay (like modeling clay), the liquid, a buffing towel (it’s all microfiber these days, no chamois), and some cleaner wax. I wound up visiting AutoZone last night and picked up a kit for $18.

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Car Shopping Part 2

After looking closely at the Toyota Prius and Honda Civics in Part 1 I started looking very closely at the Mazda 3. The 3 comes in too many varieties to keep track of, but got good reviews in Consumer Reports with very good expected reliability. The mileage was just a mile per gallon or two less than the Civic, but it has more horsepower and therefore better acceleration. By choosing a manual transmission, the mileage should still be very good, around 27 mpg to the Civic’s 28. While the Civics were running around invoice price, the 3 is selling below invoice due to some dealer incentives. The guy at the dealer said via e-mail that his offer was for me to build any type of Mazda3 I wanted and he would take $2,000 off the MSRP, putting it below invoice. For about the same price as the Civic LX without a sunroof, I could get the 3 with a sunroof and a stereo that holds 6 CD’s (including MP3-encoded CD’s). Like with Honda, I could get 1.9% financing for up to 36 months. So I can finance $11,000 and pay about $320 a month. Then I only have to come up with $7,000 in cash.

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Bluejay Babies

In the last couple of weeks, any time I would let the dogs out in the backyard, a robin would start yelling at me. Also I saw a broken eggshell where a baby robin had hatched. So I was on the lookout for a nest. This morning I found one in the branches of my maple tree in the back. But the bird sitting on the nest was gray, not a robin. This afternoon I noticed the mother bird was gone so I got the camera and ladder and went up to check out what was there. The babies (3 or 4) opened their mouths when I came up. But before I could snap their pictures, their parents came around yelling at me. Bluejays! The father actually smacked into my head a couple of times. With them yelling the babies crouched down in the nest. I still got a picture:

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Here’s another one taken May 23, getting feathers:

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By May 29, the nest was empty but the parents were still hanging around and protective. I found a fledgling under the tree hidden in the ivy:

Car Shopping Part 1

Today I started car shopping seriously. One of the top cars on my list is the Toyota Prius. However, with gas prices having gone up so much lately, demand is much higher than it was a few months ago and dealers want full MSRP sticker price. In the Southeast all Toyota dealers will also charge a “doc fee” which is $599. I will also have to pay 7% in sales tax. The good news is that tag and title are only $21. As long as I order the car in advance I can get whatever color I want and avoid dealer add-ons like Toyoguard which add hundreds of dollars more (Toyoguard alone is $699 almost all of which is profit). But there is a 4-8 week wait. One dealer admitted they are asking $1995 over MSRP, but the norm seems to be right at MSRP. The Prius with Pkg 2 options then is $23,799 plus $599 doc fee, $1707.86 in taxes for a total of $26,126.

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Bridge Builders

This week is Public Employee Recognition Week. To celebrate, our management gave us ice cream and cake on Tuesday. Another event was to have a bridge building contest. They had a wooden bridge about 4 feet wide and 20 feet long that you could assemble like blocks and the contest was to see which team of 4 could disassemble and reassemble the bridge in the shortest amount of time. When they sent the sign-up sheet around I was surprised nobody in our office was participating, but I wanted to do it and three other people in my group were willing to do it too. Yesterday we watched as they unloaded the pieces and started thinking about the fastest way to assemble the bridge (which some people thought was cheating), but the bridge was in a courtyard, so a lot of people could see it from the windows.

This morning we watched a few of the early teams try it out and got a couple of good ideas. We thought of some more stuff and drew up diagrams of where people should stand and what parts they would be responsible for. Given that we design bridges, the expectations were much higher for us than, say, our contract administration office. We showed up in hard hats and vests and our plan in mind. When the whistle blew we worked very fast and it was over in what seemed like no time. I was actually breathing hard from the exertion even though it had only taken about a minute. Our co-workers watching from the offices above held up signs with “10” on them like in the Olympics. After lunch they tabulated all of the scores and we were the only team out of about 10 that had broken the one minute barrier: 57 seconds. Each of the team members got a $25 gift card, t-shirt with our logo, mouse pad, and a couple of other trinkets.

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Treasury Direct

After my attempt to buy Savings Bonds finally succeeded, my access card arrived. First they assigned me a long account number and let me pick out a password to access the account plus they asked three personal questions (I gave them fake answers). When you log in you enter the account number but the password can only be entered by clicking an onscreen keyboard with the letters placed at random (a new level of hunt and peck). But the card adds an entirely new layer of obscurity: Some people have called it a bingo card, where they will call out A4 like in Battleship and I have to type in the appropriate letter or number on the card (in this case, the letter A). I also have to supply the serial number on the card. I think there are a limited number of types of cards because my login asks me to choose from 3 different serial numbers. Here’s my card:

A B C D E F G H I J
1 6 S 7 S F S E 2 X 6
2 E H J H R L C M 6 K
3 C T A U C D Y T W 1
4 A 9 A 6 H 5 M Y Y M
5 E L N W X 8 D Y 2 8

This has to be one of the most ridiculous forms of security ever. There is no way you can memorize this so you pretty much have to take it wherever you go.