Wiring, Wine, Salem, and Coincidences

It was a busy but fun grab-bag of a weekend, primarily with my sweetie.

First, of course I have wandered down to Sarah's basement... and I quickly noticed that if was going to organize things onto shelves, I would need some more light. So I spent half a day turning this:

Into this:

It went from 1 light -> 3 lights, plus a wall switch instead of a pull chain, and a convenience outlet. Also, I installed a bike hook--and her bike is now tuned up, and has lights!

She rewarded my efforts with a burrito from Anna's Taqueria, and a great big smooch. Heck--check it out, I was even wearing my BCD safety glasses at the time!

That evening went a bit more highbrow--a wine tasting at a friend's house in Framingham--Reds: Argentinia vs. Chile. For some reason, that sounds like a soccer match (GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!). I have to say that eight glasses per person make the table really hard (and nerve-wracking) to navigate.

Sunday was a day trip up to Salem (with sides trips to Home Depot and REI)--meeting up with Sarah's friends Jen, Marcey, Eliza, and baby Asa--we had a fun wander around town:

Also: strange coincidence #1. That evening, I received this message on Facebook, from Amie's friend Alexa:

Did my family nearly run you down on the sidewalk at the Friendship in Salem this afternoon? If so, I apologize for not stopping and chatting. It was running into dinner time. It was also Peter's first time out on a bike of any sort in over 7 years, let alone with a 5 year old on a trailer attached.

If not, there is someone running around the North Shore looking very much like you.

Hah--cool! Yes, I definitely remember a family with two tag-a-longs attached to two bikes, that I waved past our group. Very funny.

While browsing around the various tourist-trap stores in Salem, I found a store that sold wine and mixers, including this one:

Um, bottled simple syrup? As in sugar, water, and heat? Wow... seriously lame. I am not sufficient hard-core as a bartender to keep a supply at hand, but I can easily pop some water + sugar into the microwave to a boil/dissolve, then chill it down. Check out the ingredient list:

Ingredients: Triple Filtered Water, Cane Sugar, Lactic Acid

Anyway, a very nice wander around Salem.

Had a lovely dinner at Green Land Cafe, a new and classy place in Salem, with great food. Although we did go lowbrow, and our dishes included fried oysters and pork cracklins'.

Over dinner, I found out about odd coincidence #2--it's complicated enough that I'm putting it in diagram form:

Sarah -> [is friends with] -> Jen -> [who is sorta-dating] -> Jeff -> [who went to Grove City College, and took classes from] -> Big Bird's Dad (a.k.a. "Helfy" among the students). I've met Bird's folks a bunch of times, so it was funny to get an outside perspective--he has a reputation as a really hard grader.

A full and busy weekend.... and this upcoming weekend (Memorial Day) is NYC with Sarah--and she gets to meet my family. Yikes!


Bike to Work Week!

For those of you who don't know--it's Bike to Work Week this week!

The League of American Bicyclists is promoting Bike-to-Work Week 2010 from May 17-21 and Bike-to-Work Day on Friday, May 21.

Yes, this that means you haven't missed it--if it's a possibility, please bike to work this Friday! In the Boston area, the weather is supposed to be nice on that day (high of 70 F and clear). So far, I am batting 1.000 this week, including a grey, drizzly day (details below).

I had some bad information, and thought that it was bike to work day last week. On that day, I had to go to a client site in Concord, MA. Grr! Waitasec... got my coworker to put the testing equipment in her car. Then I did home -> Belmont Station via bike...

To Commuter Rail to Concord... (go Dahon folding bike!)

And then to the jobsite in Concord! And I caught a ride back to the office with my coworker; the folder fit in her back seat no problem.

Any post about bike commuting would be remiss if it didn't point people at MassBike--they are a great advocacy group, and I donate to them regularly. That link shows their advocacy history--they were pretty instrumental in getting the Minuteman Trail built.

Also, they have this great awareness campaign going on:

Same Roads, Same Rules is aimed at both bicyclists and motorists. It is about coexisting in a shared space, respecting each other as human beings, using common sense, and keeping yourself and others safe by following a common set of rules. As the number of cyclists has skyrocketed in recent years, the need for more information has become urgent, with many on the road, bicyclists and motorists alike, unsure how to safely interact with each other.

Everybody who drives a car should take a look at the motorist tips section; I was considering printing out those sections on index cards, and giving them to people who nearly squeeze me off the road, honk at me, or come close to dooring me (hey, check it out: $100 fine for hitting a cyclist with a car door--MGL chapter 90, section 14). Also, there are tips for cyclists as well--pedestrians go first, stop at red lights, dammit.

Oh yeah... in regards to that grey drizzly day... I took a photo when I got home, and my flash came on. It was useful to show just how much ScotchBrite I am wearing:

I recommend the ScotchBrite triangle--I saw somebody with one pinned on their backpack, and thought, "Wow... that's a great idea; 90% of my night biking is with this pack." Also, my tires apparently have that compound on the rim. Finally, my Novara Conversion Bike Jacket has reflective piping... good stuff. Of course, though, if you are riding at night, you still need lights, front and rear!

What's funny is that people sometimes have the reaction, "Wow... you're hard core at this stuff..." No, not really... my former coworker, who biked ~40 miles each way, every day, rain or shine--he was hard core. Me... I'm just a fat guy riding on fat tires (Schwalbe Big Apples, FTW!), who keeps on pedaling until he gets there. Sadly, my bike commute is probably the only significant exercise that I get. But hey... the fact that it makes it non-zero is a plus.


Buying vs. Renting

This post on buying vs. renting a place to live was prompted by (a) a recent New York Times column ("In Sour Home Market, Buying Often Beats Renting"), as well as (b) a few of the folks on my friends list have either recently bought, or are looking (congrats Q!). In addition, (c) I was looking into this during the past few months, when I thought that my living situation would be changing (actually not the case, now).

First of all, as background, if any of you haven't seen it, I described what I would ideally be looking for, back in 2008 ("The Most Tenuous of House Plans"). But moving on, specifically, to the New York Times article:

In much of the country, for much of the last decade, renting a home has usually been a better financial move than buying one. It’s been true in Southern California, San Francisco, Phoenix, Las Vegas and large parts of Florida, the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast.

Now, however, the situation is getting more complicated because the housing bust has been playing out unevenly across the country.


In some once bubbly markets, prices have fallen so far that buying a home appears to be a bargain, based on a New York Times analysis of prices and rents in 54 metropolitan areas. In South Florida, Phoenix and Las Vegas, house prices β€” relative to rents β€” are as low as in places that never experienced a bubble, like Indianapolis and St. Louis.

But in a handful of other areas, including San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Ore., house prices remain significantly higher than they were before the bubble began. People who buy a home in these areas will face higher monthly costs than if they rented, even after taking tax deductions into account. As a result, buyers are effectively betting that prices will rise enough in future years to cover the difference.

They offer up a simple lookup, to first figure out if buying or renting makes more sense:

A simple way to do the comparison is to look at something called the rent ratio: the purchase price of a house divided by the annual cost of renting a similar one. The number 20 provides a useful rule of thumb. When you do the math, you discover that a ratio above 20 means you should at least consider renting, especially if you may move again in the next five years or so. When the ratio is well below 20, the case for buying becomes a lot stronger.

Interesting. They have a table of Rent Ratios; it shows that Boston fell from 21.8 to 17.6, between 2005 and 2009. Promising... but it doesn't cover an individual's specific case. However, they have an interactive calculator, which lets you enter current rent, home price, down payment, interest rate, etc.. A typical plot looks like this: the tan portion shows the point at which buying makes more sense than renting:

Interesting. However, I know that I have really cheap digs, splitting a two bedroom place near Arlington Center with JMD. Also, when I was looking around for places, it seemed like one bedroom condos started out in the $300,000 range in Somerville/Arlington-ish, and two-bedrooms started around $350,000. Let's see what that graph looks like with those numbers:

Hrm. Wow. Yes, yes, I know... half of an apartment is not the same "real estate value" as whatever I would be buying into. But frankly, what I am interested in is something that fulfills the role of, "Keeps me under a roof, okay place, in a good location," which my current spot does in spades. Living below my means?... why yes, I'm good with that, thanks.

There are plenty of handles and tweaks in the calculator that I'm not playing with here (property tax rates, rent increases, etc.)--I left those at default levels. But still... to me, the takeaway lesson is that financially, I should hang on to my current location as long as it makes sense.

Finally, to get a bit philosophical, I really don't have any intrinsic real estate lust or nesting instinct... as discussed in that previous blog post. I'm afraid that I fall squarely into the demographic of developmentally-challenged guys described in a 2006 New York Times article ("For Men, a Fear of Commitment"):

Still, there seems to be a consensus among brokers and buyers who have witnessed the trend that single men, even those whose college diplomas are yellowed with age, gravitate to a lifestyle not unlike that enjoyed by fraternity brothers: relatively free of commitments and rife with male companionship.

They consider buying a home detrimental to their independence, as it tethers them to one location, squelching any youthful fantasy of a nomadic existence. Indeed, for many single men without children, buying a home is a commitment akin to getting married β€” and they are content to put it off.

Single women on the other hand seem more interested in establishing a sense of security, or "nesting," as several brokers and buyers put it. They consider buying a home an act of independence. It is an asset, a symbol of their financial strength and proof that they need not wait for a man of means to provide them with the security they crave.

If somebody told me that at age 60 or 70, I would still be living in a rental, I don't recoil in horror or anything. Of course, I'd want to know, "Um, is it in decent neighborhood? Do I have money in the bank all right? Do I still get to go out and do fun and interesting things? And we're not talking about a 400 sf chunk of retirement home out on 495, where I'm strapped to a bed, right?" If all these answers were okay, hey, it doesn't bother me.


Catchup Post: 961 Miles

I just had a lovely, quiet, catch-up-with-life weekend (mostly with my sweetie). However, that makes for lousy blog copy, frankly. But the reason why a quiet weekend was so welcome--the past two have been insanely busy and travel-filled: Washington DC (work plus seeing Beef & Laurel, then Squanto, Beth, and Fiona) one weekend, and Bangor ME + NYC the other weekend.

The reason for the trip to Maine, sadly, was to attend Sarah's grandfather's funeral service. It was a very sad reason to see all of her family, but I am glad that I made it up for all of the get-togethers, for whatever small support I could offer. And even at a time of such emotional distress, the family was incredibly gracious and full of hospitality.

On the way home, Sarah and I heard about the MWRA water emergency going on in the Greater Boston Area. Since we both live in affected zones, we decided to load up on drinking water while we were still in Maine:

But there was another event shoehorned into this weekend: Bird and I had bought tickets to see Peter Gabriel in concert in New York City on Monday--he only played three North American cities on this tour, so that was the closest. So we spent the night at Bird & Jen's, had a lovely dinner at Anneke Jans in Kittery.

On Monday, Bird and I road tripped down--a late lunch at Rein's New York Style Deli; in town by 5 PM. Then, over the course of the next ~16 hours, we packed it in:
  • Dinner at Momofuku Noodle Bar--many thanks to Perlick for turning me on to them. Steamed pork buns... oh so perfect and full of unctuous pork goodness... grilled ramps, and a great big bowl of kimchee stew. A fantastic dinner, in a casual, hip environment. Plus, we were seated right at the bar, so we could see the line cooks cranking away... "Hot, coming through!"

  • The Peter Gabriel Concert--a sold-out show at Radio City Music Hall (a gorgeous art deco masterpiece of a theater). Gabriel is looking older now (going bald, all white hair), but his voice is still kicking. The first half of his concert was going straight through his new album: Scratch My Back--covers of songs by a wide variety of folks--from Talking Heads to Regina Spektor to Lou Reed to Randy Newman to The Arcade Fire. Oh, and this is all done with an orchestral backing: no drums, no guitars. The second half was many of his older songs (albums from Security through Up), done with an orchestral backing. Oh yeah--Lou Reed doing a guest song after intermission! Peter Gabriel put on a tremendous show... if you're actually interested in detail, New York Times review here

    (Note: photo not my own--it's from a Flickr page).
  • Two rounds of Guinesses at a New York City bar with Bird, to 1 AM
  • Breakfast at a quintessential Greek diner... a new breakfast combination for me--an egg and gyro sandwich
  • Road trip back up during the day on Tuesday, and getting dropped off at work to put in half of a useful day.
So all told: the long weekend's trip of Somerville -> Littleton Commuter Rail -> Bangor -> Dover NH -> New York City -> Somerville was 966 miles. All done in other people's cars, although I did take turns driving and/or buying gas. A pretty exhausting weekend.