Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Car Shopping

I'm not car-shopping at the moment, but wanted to compile a helpful document for someone whose research I admire, and has made my work more understandable and meaningful.

I often create a list or spreadsheet to help me make my bigger decisions. I’ve started a spreadsheet that can be weighted by prioritization during your search. For example, there’s a column for a unique quality that a particular model may possess that is very important to you, and this would be weighted heavily. Additionally, if a sunroof is a deal-breaker to you, it too could have a very high rating. I’ve included some of the aforementioned models, and left out those that my research wouldn’t allow me to recommend, or that I concluded would not be “relatively cheap.”

There are important decisions we make as consumers. As well, we become what we consume. These are times when the impact of our decisions on our planet, is on our minds more than ever. Should we go with an alternative energy source (hybrid is one example), or not?

Used vs. New? I recommend purchasing a used vehicle, and would consider a used one up to about 70,000 miles. I don’t know if buying a new car adds to the number of used cars that never get sold and end up as waste, but this recommendation is mainly for financial reasons.

Own vs. lease? I do not recommend leasing for most situations. If you were a traveling salesperson, I’ve read it can make sense for someone in that line of work to lease, but from what I’ve learned, leasing is never-to-rarely a good business decision.

I have a friend who tells me that she considers every dollar she spends to be a vote. One caveat, she’s a multi-millionaire and can afford to pay cash for her cars, and several more times over for organic food than non-organic. I also have friends who boycott the Walmart’s and Starbucks of the world for some of the same reasons, and some different. And there are others still, who favor the “Made In America” tag.

Should we purchase from Toyota after one might conclude they encouraged sexual harassment in the workplace (one might argue that by not taking their female employee complaints seriously, they were more than enabling the behavior, in fact encouraging it). They did finally take action, and I personally think that Honda and Toyota do deliver the best vehicle for the money.

Highway vs. City. The saying goes that “highway miles” are more desirable than city driving. I believe the thinking behind this is that the highway is often open road, whereas the city often has you starting and stopping, and especially if you have a manual transmission, can place more wear and tear on your vehicle (e.g., clutch, brakes, tires). A manual tranny will tend to yield a higher MPG if you don’t slam it!

Some of the Consumer Reports site is free, and I agree that it is of great value to subscribe. CSR writes to avoid the New Beetle 4-cylinder model, but I am not sure why or which exact year they mean by “New.”

I have some knowledge of the mechanics behind cars as I have done my own repairs for years on both cars and motorcycles, learning from my brother how to reseat valves, bore-out pistons, and pimp a carburetor. I’ll never forget walking into a Yamaha dealer holding part of my carburetor and asking if they could order it for me, I didn’t know the name, but knew I needed that part. The look on the clerk’s face was priceless. There was also the time I walked into a Harley dealership and asked if they could raise my foot-pegs because I like to lay the bike over on turns, but the pegs can throw you (and the bike!) if they hit the road hard enough and at the right angle. “Lady,” I was told, “You just need to slow the hell down!” But I digress.

Finally, it may simply come down to what one can afford, and finances may simply be the baseline that impacts all other choices. I would suggest finding your baseline, and moving from there. My research is far from exhaustive so feel free to alter the spreadsheet to your findings.

I’m hoping that this spreadsheet will aid you in getting to that place. I didn’t set any calculations into it, as I don’t have your priorities to weight it, and I’m not an Excel guru. Perhaps someone reading this might be able to tweak it for you.

I leave you with some helpful links that will guide you through the process-things like checking underneath for rust, and around the flooring and side-boards. Also, looking for puddles of fluid under the car that might suggest leaking. All of these and many more can be found at these links below. Let us know how you fare:

1) Mouse-over on all the major dealer sites for a quick look at suggested price (this can usually be haggled)

2) Used Car Checklists:





3) Car Buying Guides:




4) Car Pricing Guide:


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

House Hunting?

It's a buyer's market in the housing industry right now. I've even looked at a few places myself recently, but you really want to know what you're getting into. I read numerous articles, performed my own research online, read books, and talked with friends who are home-owners. You will want to do all that yourself, but here's one piece of information that I didn't learn until it was almost too late.

I was in the basement of a house in New Jersey that was for sale, with my broker. The place was vacant, and the electricity had been shut off, so we were nosing around with flashlights. By the way, seeing a vacant house where the electric's been shut off, is sort of like taking a used car for a test-drive with the dealer while they've got the radio cranked. I bought my first used car this way, unknowingly, but learned a hard lesson. The car needed repair, but I didn't hear the noises until driving it myself without the radio blaring. If you're looking at a house that's vacant, BYOF...Bring Your Own Flashlight!

So, we're in the basement of this vacant place, and my broker (who's luckily a personal friend) says to me, "Hey, you have any idea what this is?" Well, I hadn't. I'd never seen anything like it before, and this wasn't something that's written about in most home-buying guides. We were staring at a huge round cylindric-looking thing, sealed with lots of large nuts. My broker wondered if it might somehow be connected to the sewer system. I whipped out my cell phone and called my trusty handy-man friend. This guy guts brownstones in the city and restores them to their original lustre, he's truly amazing. I asked him if he had any idea what this contraption could be. That's when we nailed it. He told me to never buy a house that has a system like this.

Here's the skinny. This is one person's opinion, and there are valid reasons why this type of system exists, I simply don't want to invest in a house that has one-it's just one more thing to have to have repaired. Most cities have a public sewer system. Plumbing tends to work on gravity, so most houses are built such that the sewage can naturally flow downhill, and into the public septic system (which I think tends to run along the same path as the street in front of your house).

This particular house was nestled down a steep hill from the road. Not to mention, you might even need to have a 4WD vehicle just to get out of the driveway in the Winter, but I digress. The moral of this story was best described by my handy-man friend, ever so eloquently I might add, "No one wants to pump their **** and **** uphill! Plumbing was meant to work on gravity. What are you planning to do if the electric goes out?" Well, I really liked that house, but thought long and hard about this. I even considered putting a septic tank in the yard, but I am certain the town has ordinances against that sort of thing.

These systems are called Pressurized Sewers or Grinder Pumps, and you can read more about them by going to these links:

http://www.eone.com/sewer_systems/intro/index.htm (The video on this site gives me vertigo, but I'm amazed that anyone would take the time to produce this!)

Again, there are reasons why one might need the aforementioned type of contraption, but I'm wondering if composting toilets here, and here (photo above) aren't the best solution, but where do you empty them?! Even if you own your own land, I can just see the lawsuits from neighbors complaining of sewage leakage, but then again, it's legal to put cow and horse manure on your garden, isn't it? Can neighbors sue for that (odor, leakage)? Does anybody reading this have any thoughts?

I'd love to know what Ty Pennington of Extreme Home Makover would say about this? "Hey Busdriver, move that house!" I digress, but that show's reason enough to justify having an idiot box. I threw mine out years ago, but recently decided there's valuable content to be had on the blasted thing, you just need to search for it. Don't miss this show!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

NYC Food Bank Supply Scare

This past Sunday I was moved by one of our church's soup kitchen volunteers. She's a bundle of energy and teaches Broadway and film stars how to tap-dance when their roles require it. A group of us were having a light lunch after church at a nearby restaurant when she bounced up to our table and apologized for being late. She had the last-minute idea to let those poor souls in line dress up their chili themselves. Her words spoke volumes, "Yeah, I decided that when you're cooking an industrial-style meal like that, if you let those in line add their own dollop of sour cream and shredded cheese, it adds a feeling of "home" to the meal. Takes a bit longer this way, but it places a warm and personal touch to the meal."

Last week's New York Times and NY Daily News both reported on our current dwindling supply of food for the needy, juxtaposed with an increase in those needing assistance. These poor often hold full-time jobs, while remaining homeless. That's right, they work hard just like you, but don't even get paid enough to afford a studio apartment in a bad neighborhood.

There is something you can do. You can phone
our local NY representatives and tell them you support the 2007 Farm bill. But act now, because the bill expires October 31, 2007.

One other thing you can do is print out these tri-fold "Street Sheets" and keep them with you. So often we don't know how to really help the needy when they ask us. Giving them a buck or two seems fleeting. If you can take the time to stop and have a brief conversation with them, get to know their name and address them that way, they may tell you more specifically what some of their needs are. These sheets are broken up into food services, shelter, legal and other. I am working with a new initiative called Partners In Grace, to distribute these sheets more widely across the city. We'll be producing a seminar in January on "Ten Things You Can Do To Help Those In Need When They Approach You."

I Mennonited It!

I like to joke about how I "Mennonited It" when I fix something that's broken, or repurpose something instead of throwing it out. For example, I remember when we were kids and the muffler on our car would blow. Often it was due to the muffler piping, not the muffler itself, so we'd take a Campbell's Soup can, splice it, then place two of these hose-clamps around it and voila, our muffler would be good for another year or more. So this weekend when I woke up to find my coat hanger doubled-over, broken at the joint, I went to my local hardware store, bought a couple of these clamps and some piping, and my coat rack is as good as new.

This magazine, Ready Made, is chock-full of all sorts of "re-use-it" type of projects. Here's one I plan to try myself. Take an old inkjet printer and turn it into a tool chest. Check it out!

Papal Address To Mennonite Delegation

Here is a copy of the address Benedict XVI made to the delegation members of the Mennonite World Conference whom he received in audience last week.

Dear Friends,

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 1:2). I am happy to welcome you to Rome, where Peter and Paul bore witness to Christ by shedding their blood for the Gospel.

In the ecumenical spirit of recent times, we have begun to have contacts with each other after centuries of isolation. I am aware that leaders of the Mennonite World Conference accepted the invitation of my beloved predecessor, Pope John Paul II, to join him in Assisi both in 1986 and in 2002 to pray for world peace at a great gathering of leaders of Churches and Ecclesial Communities and other world religions. And I am pleased that officials of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity have responded to your invitations to attend your world assemblies in 1997 and 2003.

Since it is Christ himself who calls us to seek Christian unity, it is entirely right and fitting that Mennonites and Catholics have entered into dialogue in order to understand the reasons for the conflict that arose between us in the sixteenth century. To understand is to take the first step towards healing. I know that the report of that dialogue, published in 2003 and currently being studied in several countries, has placed special emphasis on healing of memories.

Mennonites are well known for their strong Christian witness to peace in the name of the Gospel, and here, despite centuries of division, the dialogue report "Called Together to be Peacemakers" has shown that we hold many convictions in common. We both emphasize that our work for peace is rooted in Jesus Christ "who is our peace, who has made us both one… making peace that he might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross (Eph 2:14-16)" (Report No. 174). We both understand that "reconciliation, nonviolence, and active peacemaking belong to the heart of the Gospel (cf. Mt 5:9; Rom 12:14-21; Eph 6:15)" (No. 179). Our continuing search for the unity of the Lord's disciples is of the utmost importance. Our witness will remain impaired as long as the world sees our divisions. Above all, what impels us to seek Christian unity is our Lord's prayer to the Father "that they may all be one… so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21).

It is my hope that your visit will be another step towards mutual understanding and reconciliation. May the peace and joy of Christ be with all of you and with your loved ones.

The Simpsons Were Mennonite?

Who knew?! Learn more here:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Stuff On My Cat

Gotta love this site! Pure fun! No animals were harmed in the making.

My nieces burst their buttons laughing at me trying not to awaken Ginger and Putty while having them "pose" for submittal to the site. They were recently chosen, and featured on the site. The title of this photo was "Cat-A-Tonic," pun intended!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Those Literary Lions

Photo Credit: Patty Nohara/New York City

Did you know that the two lions in front of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue each have a name? That's right, one is named Patience, and the other is called Fortitude. They were named in the 1930's by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, for the qualities he said New Yorkers would need to survive the economic depression. Learn more here: http://www.nypl.org/pr/lions.cfm

Friday, October 19, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Your Own Personal Swami

OK, I can't make this stuff up, folks. Can you believe this?! For only 75-grand, you too can have your own fake swami. I kid you not! Neiman Marcus just released its annual holiday catalog, and for a whopping $75,000.00 you can purchase this dud. That's right, you can ask this talking-head (with a microchip installed) a question, and he'll spit out a 'personalized' answer.

Tell you what, I'll make you a better offer. If anyone reading this wants to pay me a mere $60K, I'll give you my cell phone number, promise to keep it on 24-7, and will answer any questions you have for 6 months. Now that's a bargain. I give great advice!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Cousin Gathering

I was in Lancaster, PA again this weekend, this time to attend a cousin luncheon. This particular gathering was to commemorate my aunt's most recent painting that was a commissioned piece to honor the memory of the little Amish girls who had been brutally murdered one year ago. Our family knows and works with many of the Amish who were parents of these children, and my aunt had prints made for each of them.

The title of this piece is, Come Unto Me.

Below is more of her artwork. She only took up painting a few years ago, so is still building her portfolio. My camera decided to malfunction during the gathering, so I have no cousin photos to share from this trip.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Blessing Of The Animals

Today I attended a special service at Saint John The Divine Cathedral here in Manhattan. This space has got to be one of the most sacred in New York City. Its architecture is the closest to anything in Europe I've seen here in the states. My friend who was part of the service gave me a behind the scenes look inside the catacombs, and even downstairs where they are storing some of the art while they restore from a fire they had a year or more ago.

Once each year, this cathedral offers a Blessing Of The Animals service to mark the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and birds. They often showcase a few rare animals (to NYC) like porcupines, camels and monkeys, while interspersing amazing liturgical dance. If you've never seen worshipful dance, it is really something to see.

The animals in the service were from nearby shelters and farm sanctuaries, and there were representatives with tables of literature outside, offering information about animal rescue and proper treatment. After the service, anyone can bring their own animals to be blessed. People bring snakes, dogs, cats, hamsters, you name it.

Those who know me well, would tell you that my goal is to see an owl in the wild, so technically these from Sunday don't count ;)

Eagle Owl

Screech Owl and Spectacled Owl Respectfully!

Barred Owl

Lanner Falcon

Arctic Gyrfalcon

These birds above were all part of the service and were from a rescue organization called The Raptor Project. I'm always a little cautious when I see birds on a leash, but I'm told these would have died if left in the wild. Here is the organization's mission statement:

Many of the birds in The Raptor Project have permanent handicaps and have been donated to this project by crowded wildlife centers around the country because they were unable to be re-introduced to the wild. Some faced euthanizing and now have been tamed and trained to educate the public as charming ambassadors of their species and the environments they inhabit.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Security Bulletin Problem Creates Message Flood

Small article in The New York Times today about a government e-mail snafu that made it to the SANS Internet Storm Center. By the way, I'm registered for the next SANS Security BootCamp in New Orleans, anyone coming with me?

DHS 'Spam' List
Published: 2007-10-03,
Last Updated: 2007-10-03 20:26:37 UTC
by Marcus Sachs (Version: 3)
The US Department of Homeland Security sends out a daily Open Source Intelligence Report to a subscription list of hundreds, perhaps thousands of recipients. This morning a reader replied to the list address with a request for a change and his note got re-sent to all of the list subscribers. In the next hour or so, dozens of readers have replied, creating a mini-DDoS of sorts to the subscriber's inboxes. This points out an important point - if you maintain a broadcast mailing list make sure that the address will not reflect email from sources other than the owner of the list. Otherwise, you will become a training example for SANS.

While this is not a Cyber Security Awareness tip, it comes mighty close.

(DHS has been notified.)

Update #1

As of 1920UTC, about six hours into this event, over 275 emails were sent. Nearly one-half were either pleas to stop sending more replies or people demanding to be unsubscribed (in spite of the fact that unsubscribe instructions are at the bottom of the DHS daily reports.) Many of the posts were humorous, some offered jobs, at least one was a "vote for me" political advertisement, and many more offered their names and contact information in case somebody was looking to connect with their sector or region. While 275 is not even close to the millions of emails that get sent on a typical commercial spam run, it is a large number for a "flash crowd" or whatever this may eventually be called. It also revealed a nice cross-section of who subscribes to DHS daily publications and consider themselves part of the defensive security community. Most definitely do not have the Jack Bauer (character from the series "24") mentality of total seriousness and no-joking attitude.

We did a bit of investigating and this does not look like a typical Mailman or MajorDomo listserve administered by DHS. Instead, it appears to be an email address on a Lotus Domino Release 7.0.2FP1 server hosted by a government contractor that reflects email to a list of thousands of subscribers. It's not clear why a single email got reflected today and not in the many previous months this service has been available. Quite likely an email administrator either clicked a box last night, rebuilt the system, migrated it to a new server, or did something that un-set a setting designed to prevent this type of event. Regardless, the situation is still not fixed. As this diary is being written another email just came through. Sigh....

Update #2

The pain continues...in the past few minutes the CSC server has started spewing "attachment blocking notifications" in response to the emails sent in that had MIME formatted content. So now we brace for another round of spew.

A reader sent us an interesting idea - all it takes now is some wise-acre (or a BadGuy™) to send a zero-day PDF or Word attachment to the nearly 300 names now available and nail a few dozen gullible security professionals.

Marcus H. Sachs
Director, SANS Internet Storm Center

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Oh What A Beautiful Mornin'!

What a banner morning! I headed out with Howie and Anita on a week-day morning for a little extra punch in my week. I felt like I was in the Amazon Forest. There were multi-colors flying everywhere. I'm told the "bird season" here will wane soon, so I want to get in as many views as possible. Here's our list:

1 Black-and-white Warbler
1 Brown Thrasher
1 Cape May Warbler
1 Carolina Wren
1 Dove
Multiple Downy's
1 Eastern Towhee
1 Flicker
2 House Sparrows
1 Northern Parula
1 Red-Bellied Woodpecker
1 Red Start
3 Robins
Multiple Rock Doves
2 Sapsuckers
Multiple Sparrows
Multiple Squirrels

Monday, October 1, 2007

Cupcakes Anyone?

My friend Beth Feldman has been a very successful Publicity, Marketing and Communications maven. She recently made the bold leap of starting her own company, all the while promoting a new book and raising a family. If anyone is a RoleMommy, it's Beth. My best to her! Reading about her recent successes, I came across a funny story she tells about being snubbed at a school bake sale for bringing Dunkin' Donuts. What a shame. I so dislike when people think they are better than you. As an added plus, her story was posted on a really cool site all about cupcakes, you gotta check it out!