Sunday, January 27, 2008

Spring in SC?

Not quite spring yet, but it was quite pleasant today. Almost 60 F I think. Corey got the "urge to purge" as I call it, meaning she goes through stuff finding a bunch to get rid of. Like spring cleaning. Today's target: the kitchen cupboard. A whole bunch of things went flying out, once again filling up our garbage bins, meaning another trip to the dump. Luckily they don't charge for filling up the landfill here (at least not yet).

I decided to wash the car. Other than brake dust on the wheels, it wasn't too dirty, but it wasn't too cold, so it's nice to take advantage and wash the car without freezing. The dealer did an ok job prepping the car, but you could see a few places like the mirrors that needed to get cleaned. So after moving the bike's garage door receiver to the other garage door, installing a new battery and harness (on the bike), and plugging it in, I finally got around to giving the beamer a bath. Corey brought the other Harley around to inspect once I was done.

Another shot of the clean machine. Check out the engine—I don't think I've ever seen a cleaner powerplant. I'll try to maintain this level of cleanliness. At least the shiny black surfaces. Gotta keep the blue and white "propellers" of the Roundel nice and shiny anyway. Underneath is an inline 6 that puts out as much horsepower as my old V8.

Oh, about the bike: we stopped by the Harley dealer to see if they had a battery kill switch. They told me there wasn't one, but they suggested a battery harness and a recharger. I initially wanted a kill switch to stick out from under the seat, and the charger plug does this exactly in the place where I wanted the switch to sit. Easy install, just a couple of zip ties to hold the plug in place. So now the bike sits there plugged in to the wall. The charger keeps the battery fresh and is supposed to be smart enough to turn off when the battery's at full charge. I think this is even a better solution than the kill switch I wanted. I think if the weather stays nice like this I might have to take the bike to work, alternating between the beamer and hog. Corey feels the "urge to purge" but I feel the "need for speed".

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Winter in SC

Thought I'd post some pics from the previous couple of weeks. The first pic is of our typical (annual) "snow storm". The pics were taken after work so you can already see the snow melting somewhat. Meanwhile, this "blizzard" caused a two-hour delayed opening at work (the University didn't open till 11am). Not only that, but I'm sure most of the bread and milk was bought up from local grocery stores...the bread and milk hoarding is some kind of local tradition.

Meanwhile, back in our corner of the cul-de-sac, we were finishing up our forest walk with the cats. Sometimes we finish up by doing a garden tour around the house. Both cats seem to enjoy these walks, this time even though they had to trudge along on the snow. Some of their favorite fallen tree logs were covered in the snow, and it was a bit comical to see them slip and slide a bit, but they managed ok. In all the excitement with the beamer I'd forgotten to take a parting shot of the old firebird. I think in fact this is the last shot with the firebird in the garage.

The last two shots of the roll show my new wheels as I see it coming up to it after work and after a quick hop to the store. Today we took it on up to Greenville to do some more shopping. Good excuse to go for a ride. And recharge the battery. On Friday like a dufus I left the lights on. I was suprised to find the car would still start and that the battery wasn't drained. Either the car is smart enough to turn off the lights after it detects that the key fob is out of the car, or the battery is still fresh enough to hold its charge, or the lights (parking lights that I had on, not the Xenon headlights) don't draw too much. It could also be that the battery is just so huge that it can take a day's drain (it's the largest car battery I've seen). There was so much traffic in Greenville that we only managed to hit a couple of stores. Corey got some more clothes, I got a new gel battery for the Harley along with a battery harness and wall wart charger. Hopefully this will solve my battery discharge problem. I have a cheapo acid battery in there right now that drained itself pretty quickly during the couple of months of inactivity. That seems a little fast to me, maybe there's a short in the bike somewhere, I dunno. In any case, once I put the harness on I'll just plug the bike into the wall and that should do it, a fresh cranking battery every time, I hope :)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


The Ultimate Driving MachineTM. On 21 January (MLK day, a holiday for us state employees in SC) we drove up to Fletcher, NC, near Asheville, and picked up our new 2008 beamer (or bimmer, depending on your bias; some [purists maybe] say beamer is meant only for the bikes, and bimmer for cars, whatever...). The 2001 Firebird Formula was a good and fun car but after 63,700 miles it was time to upgrade.

Earlier that morning I drove up to check out what I'd found on the Fletcher dealer's web page (original dealer's pics are above). After several weeks (months?) of research, I'd finally decided on the BMW model and features that I wanted our next car to come equipped with (there are a lot to choose from). I wanted to find a 2007 CPO (Certified Pre-Owned) to save a few bucks, but there was only one in a 500 mile radius, and it sold just after I inquired about it (literally within 2-3 hours of my email). I guess I must have made up someone else's mind for them.

One of the main things I wanted was the xDrive. This is BMW's All-Wheel Drive (AWD) that (via computer) kicks in when it's needed. I know that we probably won't need it around here very often, but for the few days when it does ice over or rain heavy, our truck's 4WD has come in handy, and so I thought that it would be good to have on a car. Especially if you don't really have to think about engaging/disengaging it. I just had to test drive one to see whether it affected steering like the 4WD does on the truck, but it doesn't. If it weren't for that "x" on the trunk, you wouldn't know the car had it.

The other must-have was the iDrive. This is a somewhat controversial one-button interface to the car's computerized options and controls of climate, navigation, and entertainment. Wikipedia has a fair description of the system and the two main reasons for its fear and loathing: learning curve and distraction. With over 700 user-adjustable options (only 700?—when I read that somewhere I immediately knew I'd like it :), I suppose it may be a bit tricky to learn, and it's not something you want to learn while driving. But I suspect most people don't like the iDrive because they don't take the time to read the manual and learn the interface. After a day with it, I'm already feeling fairly comfortable with its use. For the most part it's fairly intuitive (mind you it is the 2nd generation; maybe most of the complaints pertained to the first version, when it was based on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system; perhaps things improved after it was replaced with a Unix-like real-time OS from VxWorks).

One other major consideration, beyond engine, xDrive, and iDrive, were the wheels. The 335 differs from the 328 (technically the E90 version of the car, with E92 designating the coupe) by its inclusion of the twin turbos and thus beefier 300 Hp output. The 335 is basically the 328's sportier sibling, and as a consequence, often comes equipped with the sports package. This includes sporty leather seats and 18" wheels. Since the newer BMWs run on run-flat tires, larger wheels mean a larger price tag (almost double!) for these "shoes", something I didn't relish (you can check out tire prices for the 18" wheels at Tire Rack; apparently one of the few places that sells 'em). Our beamer has the sports package but it has the 17" (Style 188–V Spoke) wheels that I prefer. In addition, the wheels came with Continental ContiProContact SSR (Grand Touring All-Season) tires (225/45R17 all around). From what I've read, these are better than the BF Goodriches that the beamers came with previously (there were several complaints about these, prompting BMW to respond with a Technical Service Bulletin, or TSB, offering a free replacement if under 10,000 miles).

Beyond the xDrive and iDrive, there are too many other features to list here so I'll mention just a few of the highlights (I'll probably add blogs about specific things later when I get more time). The car has Bluetooth, which means I can connect my cell phone and then use the car basically as a moving telephone booth. It has satellite radio (Sirius) that has good sound quality (via PAC compression, similar to MPEG's mp3, with bit rates up to 1024 kb/s for 5.1 surround format) with commercial-free content (right now I'm on the blues channel which is quite good). Finally, it also has a DVD-based navigation system integrated into the LCD panel so that you can see where you are (it's like having an atlas open and available to you continuously).

Those are the major items. The color is Arctic Metallic, which is a kind of neutral dark grey color that (due to its metallic content I guess) tends to shift color in different lighting conditions. I don't think Corey likes it very much, or at least objects to not having a choice in its selection. I like it just fine, and all of the above stuff was more important to me anyway. I don't think there were any other colors that were much better; I liked all the neutral ones including Platinum Bronze Metallic (kind of gold/copper), Titanium Silver Metallic (lighter than ours), Space Gray and Sparkling Graphite Metallic (both darker than ours), and Alpine White. Arctic Metallic is a darker hue than the silver, and I think it may show less dirt than the brighter paints. I think Corey thinks the interior (Cream Beige) is also too light and hence may get dirty quickly, but I'm thinking the seats will be much cooler in the summer—there was no way I was going to buy black interior, that's for sure. The only other option (for me) would have been the Gray leather interior, but then there'd be no contrast between exterior and interior (gray on gray). The pics at top show you what the car looks like, brand spankin' new. In the sunlight it looks fairly bright silvery (kinda like my old '86 Trans Am); today (cloudy) it looks a touch darker, but still nice, IMO. The pic at left shows the steering wheel with paddle shifters. With the Steptronic automatic tranny, I can shift the car into sport mode and semi-manually shift gears (just + or - via the stick or via the paddle shifters). I tried manually shifting my automatic '82 Camaro, but it just didn't like it. The paddle shifters basically invite you to do this. So is it fun to drive? You betcha!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Sailing log: Jan 6 2008

A couple of days ago (as early as Wednesday maybe?) I saw the following forecast for today on NOAA: Mostly sunny, with a high near 64. Southwest wind around 8 mph. When you see a high of 64 in January, with a gentle breeze to boot, that (to me) can only mean one thing: sailing! Saturday they had forecast only about a 5 mph breeze and almost 10 degrees colder if memory serves. So I knew we should wait till today, and I wasn't mistaken: an awesome day on Lake Keowee.

Yesterday we went down to Anderson to do more shopping. Those after-Christmas sales are still on and we managed to cash in on several good deals. Corey picked up three pairs of jeans for about $20 a piece, while I snagged 4 business-casual dress shirts for about $15 a pop and a blazer for $60! Those are pretty good deals. But all day long I thought about sailing today. And I wasn't the only one.

Once we got out on the lake today (about 13:36) we had to avoid a bunch of racers already there. We moved our sailboat to Lake Keowee just last summer so this was really only our second time out on this lake under sail. It's much closer to home (about a 5-10 minute drive vs. about 45 minutes to Big Water Marina on Lake Hartwell where we had the boat last), but it's a much smaller sail area, and, because of the sailing club that we belong to, much more traffic. was set sail and tack, tack, tack, to get out of the way of the racers.

We have a shallow keel boat so theoretically we can get in closer to the shore than the full keel boats, but still, even when we're skirting the shore to get out of their way we don't want to get too close. Finally, however, we got past the race course the club had set up, and shot the gap between two small islands. And so discovered Keowee's "big water" for us for the moment. It's not as big as Hartwell's big water, but on the other hand we get nicer views of the Blue Ridge mountains. And then it was time to put to shore. Our slip is at the far end of the Keowee Sailing Club marina, but that's ok with us. We just have to walk along the gangway a little farther, but then we have a fairly nice exit and entry into our slip. And being so close to home we still had time to enjoy the sunset on our own (swamped) dock with the cats.