I’ve been mulling over a post like this for some time now, but with the purchase of a new (used) bike about a month ago, it got me thinking more seriously again about what sort of value I put on my transportation and what sort of costs are involved with each.

Since high school, I have owned only two automobiles. One was purchased for me by my parents at the start of my senior year (a used 1980 Volvo GLE), and the other is a co-owned car that I purchased with my wife (a used 2001 Honda Accord). With each of these vehicles there have been the associated costs of registration, insurance, taxes, maintenance/repairs, and fuel.

In that same amount of time, I’ve owned five bicycles, four of which are still in my possession. The price of these bikes has ranged from free (more on that in a little bit) to $670. With each, there have been associated maintenance/repair costs, some more than others.

In thinking about value that I place on my transportation, I inevitably arrived at the question of how much it was costing me per mile for each mode of transportation that I’ve had over the years.

Of course, there’s the sheer joy of driving on a nice day with the sunroof down or cruising along the bike path at a good clip with the wind at your back, but being a numbers person I’ve always wondered where the line crossed in my head when I felt that a purchase was truly worth its monetary investment.

In doing so, I’ve had to rely on my memory of numbers and distances and dollars in many cases, but due to many factors (one of which is somewhat obsessively keeping track of how many miles I’ve biked over the years) I feel that the estimates below are fairly correct. In all cases in which I couldn’t remember exactly, I’ve rounded down to the nearest close number. Of course, it’s impossible for me to remember how much I paid for gas with each car, so I’ve instead figured out how many miles were put on the car each year and then divided that by average miles per gallon and then totaled up how many gallons used at average cost at the pump that year.

First off, the automobiles…

1980 Volvo GLE – I’ve decided to exclude calculations on this car, mostly because my parents paid for it along with a couple of large repairs during the first few years of ownership.

2001 Honda Accord
Price paid: $12,000
Registration and taxes (for 4 years): $950
Insurance (for 4 years): $1,300
Maintenance costs, including oil changes (for 4 years): $3,000
Gas costs (approximately): $3,300
Total Costs: $20,550
Miles driven: 30,250
Dollars per mile: $0.68

Now, on to the bicycles…

1990 Trek 820 mountain bike
Price paid: $350
Maintenance costs, new tires/tubes/handgrips, cyclometer, tune-ups (for 6 years of ownership): $200
Total Costs: $550
Miles riden: 1,800
Dollars per mile: $0.305

1996 Specialized Rockhopper mountain bike
Price paid: $670
Maintenance costs, new tires/tubes/handgrips, bar-ends, tune-ups (for 13 years of ownership): $300
Total Costs: $970
Miles riden: 4,850
Dollars per mile: $0.20

1985 Fuji Espree road bike
Price paid: $5 (Thrift score! Thanks Tina!)
Maintenance costs, new tires/tubes/bell/seat (for 4 years of ownership): $75
Total Costs: $80
Miles riden: 1,070
Dollars per mile: $0.075

1982 Takara Deluxe 12 road bike
Price paid: Free! (Whee! Thanks Grauer!)
Rebuild costs, paint/chain/wheels/tires/tubes/grips/bell (for 8 months of ownership): $265
Total Costs: $265
Miles riden: 240
Dollars per mile: $1.105

1985 Trek 400 Series road bike
Price paid: $340
Maintenance costs, new tires/tubes/bottom bracket (for 3 weeks of ownership): $85
Total Costs: $425
Miles riden: 330
Dollars per mile: $1.29

In looking at the above numbers, I think we’ve already done pretty well in terms of our investment on the Accord. Over the years, I’ve found myself disliking the actual act of driving even more and more (mainly due to other drivers), but the convenience and speed of the car make it essential for both errands, commuting (sometimes), and longer trips. Unless it turns into a money pit of expenses (fingers crossed), I think that its cost per mile will just keep going down, and that’s a good thing.

As for my bikes, I feel like I’ve always managed to get my money’s worth. Both of the mountain bikes have long-since been retired, but both worked out for exercise and commuting during their times. I need to sell the Specialized, as I haven’t taken it out for years, and the Trek was sold many moons ago to another friend who rode it until the frame broke (so it had a good life).

The Fuji is obviously a major anomaly that will be hard to match again in terms of efficiency because the costs involved with it are so minimal. It also has a rack on the back with an expandable trunk pack, so I’ve made many jaunts to area hardware and grocery stores to retrieve items when it seems like a waste to drive the car (for the record, I’ve fit a half gallon of soy milk, a package of carrots, 6 bananas, and a block of cheese in that pack with room to spare).

The Takara was a winter project of mine and easily the least practical of the bikes that I’ve owned due to it only having one gear. It’s a heck of a lot of fun to ride (and eventually I’ll put more miles on it), but it’s at the same time too nice (I put a lot of work into it) to lock up somewhere and not nice enough (the gear ratio isn’t exactly long-distance friendly) for big rides.

The new (used) Trek road bike was bought mainly for exercise, since I’ve had some aggravated hip pain that has held me out of playing tennis (but has felt pretty good with the low-impact of bicycling). As with any sport I try out, I tend to get pretty engrossed, and 330 miles in just over 3 weeks is hopefully just the opening chapter on what will be a solid performer for me. I’ll probably get another bike at some point down the road, but the vintage steel rides like a dream, so I might be hooked.

Having said all of the above, it also seems somewhat logical to separate the miles on either forms of transportation into leisure and utility. Although I have been known to take somewhat meaningless drives for convenience’s sake, I can’t recall a time where I simply got in the car and drove for no particular reason. However, a large part of the miles put on my bikes have been for no other reason than to simply ride and exercise. Of course, there’s obviously health values in bicycling, but largely the miles put on my bikes are much less utilitarian in nature than the miles put on the cars.

Ultimately, the goal would be to reduce the overall cost per mile of transportation. To that end, the easy solution is to bicycle more. Fortunately, I live in a locale where a commute to work is very easy, and there are stores of just about every kind located within five miles or less (yes, I have on occasion been “that guy” you see with a grocery bag slung over each handle of his bicycle). Of course, hauling a shovel or a flat of plants home becomes a bit more precarious on a bicycle, but there are many drives that I take now that I could easily turn into bicycle trips (including picking up takeout from nearby restaurants). It’s also been shown that the 5 and 10 minute trips are the ones that do the most long-term damage to cars (due to containment build-up in the oil, etc), so replacing some of those trips with a bike ride might also possibly mean lower maintenance costs (and therefore more miles per dollar) on our automobile.

Fortunately, I enjoy biking a lot more than I do driving, so hopefully I can turn these numbers over just a bit more in the future.

In addition to a bathroom remodel, one of my winter projects over the course of the past couple months was taking an old road bike and tearing it apart, then rebuilding it from the ground up. I’d waffled back and forth on what sort of project I should tackle, but eventually decided on putting together a single-speed commuter.

I started out with a bike that looked almost exactly like this (unfortunately I didn’t take any “before” pictures, but this is exactly the same bicycle, just a different color)…

The first task was taking everything apart for stripping the frame. This was relatively easy, and after cleaning all the grease and dirt off, I started scraping paint by hand. Because I started the project in the dead middle of winter, I mostly used small tools to clean the frame (small dental-type scrapers to get around the fine joints and a wire brush) and fine sandpaper. Once I had the majority of the paint gone, I waited until we had a decently warm day and set upon it all with some harsher chemicals outside on a piece of cardboard in the driveway. With some fine toothbrush cleaning and a bit of mineral spirits, I got it down to the bare steel frame and fork.

Because it was still winter, actually priming and painting the bike again became a waiting game for days over 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I would dutifully everything out when we’d get rays of sun, then bring it into the house and fine-sand between coats, finishing everything up with five layers of enamel clear coat.

Putting all the parts (and believe me, there were quite a few of them) back together was surprisingly easy given my lack of experience in bicycle rebuilding, and aligning the back cog with the crank fell right into place with a little bit of tweaking. The end result is something I’m pretty happy with, and it’s incredibly fun (and fast) to ride as well.

If you’re interested, there are a few more photos in a Flickr photoset.

Just realizing things

Although basic hints of frustration showed over the course of the past few years, it was during the last six to nine months that I realized writing music reviews on my site had often become more of a chore than a joy. I started writing them on a whim in my first (very tiny) apartment many, many years ago, with no set time period for how long I would continue. Now a decade has passed along with several large life changes (almost all for the good, fortunately), and I feel like I’ve reached a good point to slow my output.

I didn’t come to this decision easily. I wrangled with it for a couple months, going back and forth between wondering how I would continue to discover music on the margins and even how my weekly schedule would change. Looking back, I can’t even really come up with some sort of way to quantify how much time I’ve spent doing music reviews, and if I could, it would probably just make me a bit depressed. In Malcom Gladwell’s new book Outliers, he makes the generalization that 10,000 hours spent practicing a skill will likely make someone a master at that skill. Over ten years, that averages out to only about 1000 hours a year (which I have easily reached if I include time spent listening critically to music), and I’m certainly no master, so perhaps that’s another sign it’s time to hang things up…

Because my brain is wired a certain way, it seems like I always go back to numbers, and in looking through the basic data on my review site, it makes me realize that I’ve been more than a little obsessive over the course of the past decade or so.

I dropped my first music review onto the internet back in late 1997, and since that time I’ve written over 2350 more. A couple years back, I started doing podcasts for my featured review each week, and have now done well over 200 of them. I’ve reviewed CDs by over 1535 different artists (not including various artist compilations) and very nearly 800 different record labels. The labels that I’ve written the most reviews for are Matador (68), Kranky (64), and Warp (60). The artist that I’ve reviewed the most is Squarepusher (9), with The Orb and Autechre coming in a close second (with 8 apiece).

Of course, this sheer quantity led to what I felt was a general degradation in the quality of my writing over the course of the past year or so, although some could certainly argue that it’s been lacking from the start. What I’ve come to realize is that it isn’t the simple act of writing reviews that has ground me down, it’s simply the quantity. I still love music and love writing about it, but to pour out 4-5, 500 word missives a week turns what originally seems like clever lines into cliches at a quick rate and unique adjectives into descriptors that wear out their potency from overuse. A thesaurus comes in handy for awhile, but at some point you feel like you’re saying the same thing over and over again about a CD that has some fine moments but doesn’t really move you as a whole. In fact, I think I’ve used that very line a couple times now. Sigh…

And that’s really where the burnout comes in. I still hear music on a fairly consistent basis that manages to really move me, and there’s no denying that (or even holding back my praise for it). At the same time, when a person listens to sometimes 10-20 different “new” releases a week, a fair majority of those are simply going to filter into a pile that’s either “good” or even worse. Heck, I’ve been in several bands now, and I’m completely used to being ignored. It’s good for your soul (or at least very humbling, or something) to find a CD you spent months (and in some cases, years) writing and recording selling for only a dollar online. As a writer, I don’t feel any particular joy in saying any of the aforementioned about someone’s hard work.

That latter sentence actually ties back into something that I’ve gotten a lot of good-natured (mostly, I think) ribbing about from friends. That is, of course, that my reviews tend to skew to the positive side of things. Going back to the numbers thing again, I even did up a little chart to show how the 2350 reviews on this site break down in terms of numerical rating…

Ratings Chart

Looking back at my output over the years, there are definitely releases that I would have to go back and change the rating based on not only changes in my music listening patterns, but also on how my level of critique has evolved. Essentially, I was even more of a softie when I started out, and that’s probably saying something considering I very, very rarely give anything under a 5 or so rating even nowadays. I think it’s safe to say that you can be even-handed and even somewhat nice in the review business, but the reviewers who get to be well-known are the ones who aren’t afraid to absolutely shred something.

Over the course of the years, I have done just that a couple times, but again it brings me no real joy, so there is that.

In the end, I just feel like I need a bit of a small change. I’m still going to continue to write, but now the focus will be only on things that I really enjoy. That may mean that I write one thing a week, and it may mean that I still write more, but instead of having to write about things that I don’t feel excited about, I’m just going to pour out the words over things that really do it for me. In addition to writing about music, I’ll write about books (occasionally) and other stuff if it strikes my fancy. I’ll also have commenting open and the reviews themselves will tend to be a bit more on the personal (and in-depth) side.

I’m also excited that I’ll finally have a little more time to start going back through my collection and re-listen to a lot of things that I haven’t heard in awhile, since I’ve been known to fret about that sort of thing.

If you’ve been a reader of my site, I thank you a ton for your patronage. Remember to swing by the new site, I think it will be fun.

Two weeks ago, I went to a work conference in Rochester, New York with four co-workers of mine to help present on a massive site redesign that I was but one small part off. Because I don’t discuss my job on this site, I will leave it at that, but feel like I need to document the story of our travel there for future reference.

Our journey to Rochester looked to be rather uneventful on paper, leaving the Omaha, Nebraska airport late morning, then arriving in Detroit early afternoon for a short layover before hitting the second leg to arrive in New York in the late afternoon or thereabouts.

Things were rough from the start in Omaha, as we got on the plane and proceeded to simply sit in place for nearly forty-five minutes without much of an explanation for why it was happening. Soon, the pilot came on and told us all that we were going to be waiting a bit longer because there was a repair that needed to be made on a door of the plane (something about a washer). So, we sat for quite a bit longer, and as I watched out the window of the plane, I saw pavement damp with rain slowly dry completely before another light shower came through and made small puddles again. After approximately an hour and a half on the ground, we finally rolled out onto the runway and took off without any issues.

About three-quarters of the way into the flight (after drinks and overpriced snacks had been served), the stewardess walked to the front of the cabin and picked up the phone to receive a call. Sitting in an aisle seat, I watched her as she talked and saw her eyes widen just slightly as it went on for a couple minutes. Within seconds of her hanging up the phone, the pilots voice came on over the intercom and laid out the scenario.

He stated that there was a minor problem with the plane, but just to be on the safe side we would be making an emergency landing in South Bend, Indiana. He said that there was nothing to be alarmed about, but that we should listen to the stewardess as she explained the procedures for said landing.

After he had finished, the stewardess was in the spotlight, and she became noticeably more nervous. We were told to remove our glasses if we were wearing them, take any pens or sharp objects out of our pockets, and to return seatbacks to their upright position and store everything we had under the seat in front of us. After she explained these things, she came back to the emergency exit rows (one of which was right in front of me) and removed the safety covers from the doors so that they could be removed in case of any issues. While explaining this to the people in the emergency row, she became increasingly excited and reminded them several times not to open the doors and thrown them out until she explicitly gave the order.

She then returned to the front of the plane and went through the proper crash-landing position for everyone on the plane. We were to hold our arms crossed on the seat in front of us while resting our heads on our forearms. Then she explained that if there were smoke or fire in the cabin, that the emergency exits and the paths to them would be lit. At this point, we were still twenty minutes or so from landing.

With everyone braced in their positions (a position that isn’t exactly easy to hold for fifteen minutes, I might add), the captain again came on over the intercom and repeated his words about the landing being more of a precautionary measure than a drastic one. There was a problem with one of the engines, so instead of risking things he was shutting it down and we were going to make a detour. He also told us that we shouldn’t be surprised or scared to see emergency vehicles on the runway when we land, as they were just there for precautionary measures.

With all this in my head, I tried to keep calm. I breathed in through my nose and out through my mouth while looking out the window and trying to gauge how long it would be until we were on the ground. I looked over at a co-worker of mine (who was buffered by another passenger I didn’t know) and made some lame joke about how I, “maybe should have ordered a rum and coke earlier” but nobody heard me and I was left to my own thoughts again while looking out the window and watching the ground get closer and closer.

Because of all the information that I had been given (and my own feeble deduction skills), I figured that the plane wasn’t going to simply fall out of the sky, but if anything happened, it would be when we landed. Thoughts in my head ranged from videos of planes skidding across runways on their belly’s to the scene in the movie Fearless where the plane breaks apart and catches fire. I thought about my wife and my family and my dogs and really just tried to stay calm. I could hear muffled voices saying prayers around me, and tried to listen for anything mechanically that sounded out of order.

With all this tension built up, I strayed from the crash position and looked out the window until we were several hundred feet off the ground, then finally turned my head away and braced myself with all my might for the moment of landing.

When it finally came, it was remarkably uneventful, albeit with a whole heck of a lot more wheel braking than engine thrust reverse (obviously). There was a split second where I imagined the wheels and landing gear ripping off due to sheer force, but they held and we eventually slowed down and taxied to the waiting emergency vehicles. Nervous laughter and sighs filled the cabin and there was a noticeable bit of euphoria in the air.

While waiting in the very small airport (which ended up turning into a saga unto itself), my co-workers and I watched as the flight crew (including the pilot and co-pilot) walked by us and we gave them a small round of applause. They were all very young (a quarter century or less by my guess), and they nodded a small acknowledgment and went on their way.

Personally, I wanted nothing more than to get in a car and simply drive home at that point, but we instead waited until the plane was fixed before finally making it to our initial destination (Detroit) nearly ten hours after we were originally scheduled to be there. The last legs of the journey were far less eventful, and despite the reality of a rather calm landing (and diversion), we became known by the end of the conference as “those guys whose plane just about crashed.”

It seems like this spring was rather mild in terms of the amount of severe weather that we got around these parts, but the past week or so has made up for things with an astounding blast of late summer storms. Monday night, we had massive gusts of wind that downed tree branches throughout the neighborhood, along with heavy rain and a portion of pea-sized hail. Last night, a massive, low-flying dark cloud turned things almost instantly from day to night when it rolled by, and I stood out in the backyard with a camera trying to capture the swirling edge of it with a camera as cracking lightning and instant downpours threatened.

Fortunately, the hail was not damaging to our garden or our property in general, and after a long three weeks of super-hot temperatures, everything seems to be going through a last-gasp of lush green before the heat tapers off and we head into fall (my favorite season).

the leading edge of the storm

There are times when I think that it would be best to sometimes cut myself off from the world and go live on a square of land somewhere with my wife and dogs and try to grow and hunt all my own food. For a variety of reasons, this past month has been one of those times, which is pretty much the major reason I haven’t posted anything here for over thirty days now.

I’m not the type of person to rant (okay, sometimes I do), but just in case I’m looking at my site about five years down the road and wonder what my problem was, here are just a few of the things that made me want to get off the grid…

  • Pet Food Recall – Fortunately we feed both of our dogs Canidae (which I highly recommend), but the fact that such a high-scale food contamination got through the system makes me think that the FDA doesn’t have very good controls in place. In the past couple days, they’ve expanded their probe and it seems that contaminated gluten may have made it into human food as well. Whee!
  • Virginia Tech Shooting – Anytime a shooting takes place, it bums me out, but as someone who works on a University campus, this one hit home a little closer. The news coverage (and how much attention was given to the murderers tapes) made me ill and hate our broadcast media even more. At least I rarely watch television.
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma – I’ll write more about this when I’m done reading it (which should be soon), but I will say that it’s the most enlightening (not always in a good way) book that I’ve read in some time. It’s already started to make me think even more about what I eat (when I already thought I ate well to begin with).
  • Kurt Vonnegut Jr. RIP – I think I can safely say that Vonnegut was one of my favorite authors. There are others at the top of the list that I love for different reasons, but there was something about how Vonnegut captured the joy and absurdity of the human condition that really made him unique. One of the only writer/musician/artist deaths that has truly made me really sad.

There are plenty of other things that haven’t exactly added to me wanting to embrace the world, but at the same time I haven’t exactly coiled up into a ball and been unproductive either. As has been the case for large parts of the past year, I’ve been working on music when I get the chance, and I’m closing in on review number 2000 over in my music review section. To celebrate, I’m doing some things over there that are kind of fun (including giving away music and putting up mixes for download), so please do check that out.

I’ll end this with one of my favorite Vonnegut quotes, and I will be back in less than a month.

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

As if it hasn’t been abundantly clear, I’m going through a period in my life where I’m feeling the need to say very little. My mind is busy with plenty of activities, and while I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like (still working on a historical book about WWII), this year (and really the past two months or so) have been spent staying on task pretty well. I’ve even managed to somewhat stick to my very loose resolution of wasting less time on the internet while I’m at home in the evenings.

Adding to this feeling has been a fairly cold snap in the weather that we’ve been having. The winter as a whole hasn’t been brutal by any large measure, but we’ve gotten just enough snow and cold that I’m especially inclined to want to sit at home in the evenings with dogs on my lap and a glass of wine beside me while I work on writing/mixing/etc.

I’ll snap out of it once the ice falls off my fingertips.

In the time since I last updated (which was many moons ago), I had a nice long holiday break in which I both relaxed and got a lot of things done. I thought about posting here a couple times, but didn’t really end up feeling like it.

One of the things that I did in the past three weeks was move my office/”studio” from the living room of our house into a room upstairs. We finished remodeling a room after a couple months of work, and I decided that an actual desk and chair would suit me better than sitting with my legs at awkward angles under the coffee table. The new space is very comfy, with hardwood floors (and rugs for sound dampening) and walls that are painted mocha with a faint blue-grey ceiling. It’s very cozy and seems to be working out much better than my cluttering sprawl in the living room.

I’ve had a record sleeve frame for some time now sitting in the basement with a Johnny Cash record in it, but figured that the new studio called for something new. I decided to let the patron saints of electronic pop music watch over me and in a completely unintended touch the artwork actually matches the walls nearly perfectly.

Oh, and music has been worked on. Yes it has.

New office and studio

So, I was tagged by Mr. Elastique a couple days back, and instead of being my usual curmudgeonly self, I decided I would do my first ever meme. Whoot! Or something. The theme of this one is apparently quite simply 6 things about myself that people might not know about me.

  1. My left-front top tooth is fake. I have a small titanium rod that goes up into my jawbone and this fake tooth gets much colder than all my other teeth in the winter. It’s a really odd sensation.
  2. During the summer before my senior year in college, I had a stretch where I worked 63 days in a row (two different jobs). At this same time, I was also heavily into running and in those 63 days managed to log just under 350 miles (and a sub 5-minute (4:46) mile on a bet with myself).
  3. During my junior year of college, my roommate and good friend and I ran for student body president and vice president on a write-in campaign. We started it out as a joke to make fun of the process, but actually got more serious about things and in only two weeks managed to come in second place (not too far behind the winners, and ahead of one ticket that was actually on the ballot).
  4. I’ve had 8 surgeries in my life (9 if you include the tooth implant), but have never broken a bone.
  5. I am more than kind of a sports nut (both participating and watching).
  6. I have a list of every book (165 and counting) I’ve read including page numbers (44960 and counting) since 1998.

In the true spirit of a meme, I’m going to tag Mouser and Brett. Whee!

At approximately 7:20 a.m. this morning, I turned 32 years old. I was still sleeping at that juncture, and would continue to sleep for approximately 1 hours and 20 minutes past that time, which was only one nice part of a very good day. After waking up, I did a bit of internet reading, then opened some presents from TG (books! books! books!) then played with the dogs in the backyard before TG and I met up with some friends at a local Indian restaurant for an all you can eat buffet. It’s one of my favorite meals in town.

After lunch, we went to an opening at the textile gallery that TG helped curate, then came home and went for a walk with the dogs, as the sun was already starting to retreat at 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon. We both got some writing done, then had some dinner and a bit of carrot cake (also one of my favorites). To close it all out, we watched a couple Kids In The Hall episodes (including the infamous “Sausages!” skit) and again did some writing. All in all, a great day. I look completely goofy in the accompanying photo, but I guess that’s part of having a birthday too.

32nd birthday cake

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