Breaking the 125,000 mile curse

I am, in my own words, a 125,000 mile curse.  Cars don't seem to stay with me longer than that.  They break down irreparably, or get totalled, or, in rare cases, are traded in.  But I'm about to break this losing streak:  I've committed to driving my current car, which has 125,000 miles on it, for another three years.
1993 Civic, T-boned at 125,000 miles by a little old lady
The Truth About Cars recently posted that the average car on American roads is 10.8 years old.  That's a 2001 model year car.  I was taken aback - I knew reliability had improved since my mother's cars were only designed to last 75,000 miles, but I assumed that most modern cars still weren't making it to their potential quarter million mile mark.  My car is a well maintained 2004--younger than average--so I guess I have no excuse for giving up on it.
1977 Oldsmobile Delta 88, transmission failed at 125,000 miles.  And, uh, me.
I like my car well enough, but trouble arrived.  Late last year it began making a deep throbbing rattle and vibration at certain times.  I have enough of a "feel" for mechanical things that I could tell it was bad news.  My fear was that it was the transmission or an axle.  I mentally capped the acceptable cost of repair at $2000 and took the car in.  Luckily, it only needed about $1000 worth of work, most of which was actually other repairs like brakes - the vibration was a failed motor mount which was easy to fix.  So I got my car back in good enough condition to put another three years of miles on it.
2002 BMW 3 series, traded in at 125,000 miles due to repair costs
I decided to reward myself by upgrading the stereo.  I just wasn't using it much.  It was too much of a pain to fool around with the FM transmitter to play music from my phone.  So I found an auxiliary input with a headphone plug on the end, and I had Tim Fulgham at Auto Sound & Security in Willoughby install it.  The hardware and installation together cost a little over $100 and it's made a world of difference.  I listen to music more, I don't have to deal with the roar of FM static I used to get when the transmitter was off, and it just plain sounds better.
2004 Mazda3, still running
So here's to making things last.  Cheers!

Livin' the dream - and only the dream?

We've all heard of those people who have a tremendous drive to follow their dream, who put a great deal of energy into accomplishing or experiencing a specific thing.  We may even know one or two - the olympic athletes, the entrepreneurs who build big businesses from the ground up.  It occurred to me today to wonder how well they handle the rest of their lives.

One of the themes of this blog has been that if you put effort into doing things that energize you, you'll have more energy, not less, to put into everything else.  And by "everything else" I mean difficult things like the Kafkaesque dealings with faceless bureaucracies, or handling conflicts at work.  But is it possible that some people's passions just provide respectable cover to hide from the difficulties of day to day life?  It's no mistake that the term "workaholic" was modeled after the word for a chemical addiction:  this lifestyle is often an escape, an excuse not to spend time on one's relationships or health or any of a number of other difficult but necessary things.  Those things get swept under the rug, using the socially acceptable excuse that work doesn't leave enough time to deal with them. 

I have only my own gut feeling to go on, but I'd guess that most of the people who are focused on their dreams sweep little under the rug.  But the possibility is there.  I could draw an analogy to evolutionary biology:  for every successful adaptation, there's a mimic that rides on the coattails of that success.  Monarch butterflies are poisonous to their predators, so viceroy butterflies adopted the same coloration pattern to cash in on the predators' aversion without having to go to the trouble of making themselves poisonous.  Here, people doing what they love usually deal very well with the problems everyone finds draining, but there are probably always a few workaholics and Olympic athletes who use their visible drive to allow their private lives to be a mess.

Former Cell Phone Alert Panic Syndrome

BE-DOOT BE-DOOT.  BE-DOOT BE-DOOT.  That's the default alert sound for one of my old cell phones or PDAs - probably the Palm or iPod Touch.  I heard it while I was walking around on a different floor of my office today and I momentarily freaked out.  What appointment was I missing???

I get a strange nostalgia when I hear the noises of electronic devices that I don't use anymore.

See also:  phantom cell phone vibrate syndrome.

Threaded commenting now available in Blogger

It was only last year that's programmers revamped the comment moderation system, along with the rest of the UI, for those of us who write Blogger blogs.  As of yesterday, they've added another great feature for busy blogs:  threaded commenting.

You've probably seen threaded comment sections even if you don't know what the term means off the top of your head.  Threading allows you to post a comment in reply to another comment, causing your comment to appear indented a bit and positioned below the one you were answering.  The old way was just a long chronological list of comments, forcing people to use the text of their comment to address it to a specific topic or fellow commenter.  That's fine when there are just a few comments, but after a dozen or so, it gets difficult to keep track of separate sub-conversations.  To see what it looks like on this blog, go to the comments on my post "Hello, 2012", where I replied to one of my own comments.

If you write a Blogger blog, the feature may already be up and running on your blog.  If you don't see it, click the link above and check the two settings they point out.  There may be some issues if you have custom HTML in your template, but if all you've done is customize the layout and options on a standard template like I did, it'll work.

Enjoy the conversation!

Isolation: a big fat metaphor

I was watching a Browns game the other day and one of the players got a penalty for making a rude gesture.  In the NFL, safety equipment and rules almost prevent players from hurting each other, and they definitely proscribe them from expressing themselves.  They're isolated.  (Unsportsmanlike conduct, my ass.  Sports is an emotional activity.  If I were down on that field, I'd be swearing the air blue.  Until I got a bone broken.)

Your commute to work in a car:  ditto.  We're in boxes, isolated, held apart by hardware and laws.  It's more than a little dehumanizing.  I find myself stereotyping and disrespecting my fellow drivers in ways I never would face-to-face.  The escalation of safety equipment in modern cars makes you feel invulnerable - my 2004 economy car has eight airbags.

Exception 1:  the experience of driving a small convertible.  You cannot help but be in touch with your surroundings.  A few months ago my wife bought a Miata, and driving it home from Michigan to Cleveland was a revelation.  The roar of a semi mere feet from a 2500-lb car is unforgettable.  To be honest, it made me feel alive.

Exception 2:  the Dutch experiment with removing all signs and markings from the roads of a town.  How would you feel about driving around without the safety net of speed limit signs and police cruisers to keep other drivers from endangering you?  It turns out that what happened in Holland was that drivers signaled their intentions, made eye contact, and generally watched out for each other and for pedestrians.  They negotiated their own rights of way.  Nobody got penalties for making rude gestures; there was no system to rebel against.  Everybody wants to get where they're going safely, and they made it happen.

(Bonus points:  what conclusion am I trying to get you to draw by not telling you the "moral of the story" in this post?)

People learn best what they figure out for themselves

The title of this post has been a piece of my "working wisdom" for so long that I've forgotten where I picked it up.  Many thanks to whatever thoughtful soul told me that in the mists of my past.  I know it's true - but why?

An easily understood example comes from the sensory experience of wine tasting.  You can be told that "corked" wine (a bad bottle) smells like wet cardboard.  Or you can be told that burgundy smells "barnyardy".  But you won't really get it until you smell it with your own nose in a wine that really shows it.  Many of the common descriptors in wine tasting were a mystery to me until I experienced really clear examples of them.

In teaching, there's a subtle difference between handing out conclusions and letting students draw their own.  (I haven't done much teaching, but I spent 12 years in college, so I think I'm qualified to talk about it at least a little.)  It's almost sleight of hand, a piece of verbal trickery designed to get people to draw a particular conclusion without saying it outright.  Being told, or taught, something directly is like being handed a map with two stars on it.  You may see where point A and point B are and how to get from one to the other, but you'll have a tough time making the trip without the map in hand.  Experience the trip, though, and the memories of the physical path will be burned into your neural pathways.  Your brain will remember the solved problem of how to get from A to B.

In his counseling circles, Parker Palmer makes a distinction between "open, honest" questions and leading questions.  In that context, there is no cut-and-dried factual answer, so to lead the learner is to impose your own interpretations and conclusions on their experiences.  That would be pernicious enough by itself.  But more insidiously, it narrows the field of inquiry, steering the learner away from interpretations that might be helpful.

What do I think about it?  I think that when you mentally process a new idea, you have to decide how worthy it is for space in your brain.  In the case of received wisdom, when someone else tells you what they learned, you can always make excuses and say you might have come to some other conclusion if you'd been there.  As a result, you don't feel a terribly strong need to remember it.  With direct experiences, it's harder to rationalize away your own observations.  And you remember - because you did the work yourself.

Hello, 2012

I took a break from posting here at the end of 2011 - my energies were directed elsewhere.  I plan to get back to this blog in 2012, and not only that, but my blogging group as well, the Lake Erie Moose Society.  I'd like to see more new members; I love talking to our regulars, but it's natural for people to come and go.  It helps everyone to have a variety of perspectives, and I always like to meet new people.  So I'm going to be a little more proactive in asking my fellow bloggers how Heidi and I can make the meetings more useful and fun, and I'm going to take some steps to bring the group some exposure to new crowds.

Here's to a better year.  Onwards and upwards, always.