Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Las Vegas

The kids and I drove to visit mom and dad during their weeklong vacation in Las Vegas.  The trip seemed to revolve around food for us; including a visit to the M&M store, the Coke store, a buffet and dinner at Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak.















Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Immigration Ban A Bad Idea

President Trump’s executive order to ban individuals from certain predominantly Muslim countries is not in the best interest of the US.  Not only do we not have a large problem in the US with Islamic terrorism, the ban would have done little to save the lives of many of those who have been killed here by extremists.  It is also likely that the ban  and the surrounding rhetoric will make us less safe.    

My point here is not to discuss the morality of turning away refugees or the effect on religious liberty.   Nor am I going to discuss the possible economic costs of such a ban.  That is not to say that I don’t think such implications exist, but I want to focus on why this is objectively not necessary and could cause additional problems.

There are an estimated 3 million Muslims living in the US and over a million who visit yearly as tourists.  So it is fair to say that there are a substantial number of Muslims in the US.  More than enough to judge whether they pose a threat to our security.  If even a small percent of the Muslims here wish to do the US harm, it could be very costly.  We could have weekly or even daily terrorists attacks resulting in thousands of deaths a year.  Is that what is happening?  Fortunately, it is not.

There have been remarkably few terrorists attacks, deaths and injuries in the US since 9/11/01. Since 9/12/01, there have been 45 Islamic terrorist acts that killed 144 people and injured 393 others.  This averages out to about 3 incidents and 10 deaths a year.  The numbers that I used are from a website called thereligionofpeace.org.  This website describes itself as “ non-partisan, fact-based site which examines the ideological threat that Islam poses to human dignity and freedom.”  If you visit this website, it will become apparent that they are not a pro-Muslim website and are unlikely to exclude incidents to make the numbers look better.  While some may argue that this unfairly attributes deaths to Muslim terrorism, I wanted to give those who see this as a big problem the benefit of the doubt.   
The numbers clearly show that the US has been remarkably free from Islamic terrorism. Yes, it is tragic that 144 people have lost their lives,but we should put that in context.  In 2016 alone,  there were 5 times as many murders in Chicago (762) as deaths caused by Islamic extremists in 15 years.  The old cliche about lightning strikes is even applicable, as on average 4 times as many people die in the US from lightning strikes than from Islamic terrorism.  

What about those 144 lives?  Wouldn’t they all be alive today if we locked down our immigration policies?  The answer is no.  One third (53) of those deaths came at the hands of the Orlando nightclub shooter, Omar Mateen, who was born in the US.  No immigration ban would have stopped him.  Sixteen or seventeen of the deaths were attributed to the American born DC Beltway sniper.  Again, no immigration ban would have stopped him.  Thirteen more were the result of the Virginian born Ft. Hood shooter, and five from the New Jersey born Ft. Lauderdale airport shooter.  The ban would not have stopped any of them.

Not only does banning individuals solve a problem that doesn’t exist, it could very well create additional problems.  Creating an atmosphere where Muslim Americans feel marginalized and vilified could actually make it more difficult to identify those individuals who might want to do us harm.  

Muslim Americans will often be in a position to see a problem individual well before non-Muslims or authorities.  Members of an immigrant community are more likely to notice those with an extremist view in their community.  Behaviors and traits that outside members might not notice may be very apparent to an insider.  It is also more likely that an Islamic extremist will be less guarded around other Muslims than non-Muslims.  He might even confide or request help from members of the community, expecting that they might share his beliefs.  

If Muslims feel marginalized, as “less American”, they will be less likely to inform authorities and “say something” if they “see something”. This is not some crazy theory.  There are American communities today where many people do not cooperate with law enforcement because of distrust and a sense of marginalization.  

Another problem is that groups like ISIS will point to our ban on travel from these countries in their recruiting effort.  Part of their message is that the US and the West is waging a war on Islam, and this just feeds into that narrative.  Not only will this resonate in places where the US is already unpopular, but it could also have the effect of radicalizing people here, increasing the danger here.

Terrorist attacks make huge headlines. They have an impact far beyond their numbers.  The murder of someone in a convenient store robbery doesn’t strike the same fear in us as someone killed by a terrorist.  That is the point of the attack; to strike fear.  We need to remain vigilant, but we shouldn’t let that fear drive our policies.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

ebrianvogel.com

I decided to buy a domain, ebrianvogel.com I would have preferred brianvogel.com or vogel.com, but those were gone many years ago when I checked. The upside is that you can now get to this blog by typing ebrianvogel.com. I have plans to do something more, but we'll see how long my interest lasts.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Happy 12th


Happy 12th birthday to our youngest daughter Aleena (pictured left).  She is just getting to the point where she has lived half of her life in the U.S.  


Friday, February 26, 2016

101

Yesterday was the first day that we generated more power that we used.  Well, it is not technically the first time.  On some days when we were on vacation and not actively using power, we did out generate our use, but that doesn't really count.

This was the first day of the new billing cycle.  Last month's bill ended  up being $27.76.



Sunday, February 14, 2016

Cross Country - North South Style

One of the things that has floated around on my mental bucket list for a while is to drive across the country.  Originally my plan was to do a solo photographic adventure across the US.  As I thought about it more, I thought that this might be something that I could share with Jacob. I asked him if he was interested, and he immediately said yes.  Later still, I thought it would be great if my dad could join us.  For some reason I thought that he would hesitate to come, but I was definitely wrong as he enthusiastically expressed interest in the adventure.

Just who would come on the trip changed, so did the direction of our journey.  I had planned on flying to the east coast, rent a car and drive west.  After giving it a lot of thought and planning out routes, I decided that we should make the drive along the Pacific coast.  The new plan has several advantages,;  the trip a lot shorter,  the scenery is supposed to be gorgeous (no offense to the cornfields of the midwest), and I can take my own car.  

So far the plan looks something like this:
  • Drive from Irvine to Portland via I5.  We'll stop overnight somewhere (probably Medford, OR).  I know that I5 isn't the scenic route, but I just want to get north faster and we'll take in the sights on the way back.
  • Spend 4 days in Portland and the surrounding area, then drive to Seattle.
  • We'll spend 4 days in Seattle then head down the coast.
  • Take about 4 days driving along the Pacific Coast from Seattle (may be inland for the beginning of it) to San Francisco.
  • Spend 4 days in San Francisco.
  • Drive down the coast from San Francisco to Irvine in 4 or 5 days. 
If anyone has any recommendations or wants to try to get together when we are in town, let me know.
I plan on updating the blog with our plans as they develop.  

Apple

So, I had to go to the Apple store a couple of times of the last few weeks, and as always, it seems like a mixed bag.  I guess that overall the good outweighed the bad, so I shouldn't complain too much.

A few weeks ago I tried to hook an external monitor up to my iMac without success.  After going through a lot of trial and error with different fixes and using different cords, I managed to figure out that the system did not even see the thunderbolt ports (where I connect the external monitor).  It is a bit frustrating because while I am outside the warranty period, I don't know if these ports ever worked because I hadn't tried them before.

So I made my appointment to see the people at the genius bar.  The technician starts to run a diagnostic program and before he even gets to the thunderbolt ports tells me that my hard drive is starting to fail and that it will cost me about $250 to repair it.  I then learn that indeed the thunderbolt ports don't work, and that the fix requires the replacement of the logic board at over $750.  I told the guy that I would probably throw it in the garbage before I spent $1,000 on it.  After he went into the back to check something, I realized that continuing to use the iMac without the thunderbolt ports was a vastly superior option to spending the $750+ or chucking the thing in the trash.  When the tech returned, he informed me that Apple was repairing the hard drives for free even outside of the warranty.  

I thought that I had everything backed up (I run Time Machine), but apparently missed about 6 months of photos.  I have copies of most of them, but lost the originals.  Frustrating, but completely my fault.

This past week I visited my friends at the genius bar regarding my Macbook Pro.  The coating on the screen was worn out in places.  It wasn't terribly noticeable when the screen was on, particularly with a bright background.  When the screen was off, however, it was very obvious and made the screen look dirty.  I had talked to them about it before, but was told that it would cost over $200 to fix it, so I declined.  I did a bit of research on it, and found that Apple began repairing them for free starting in October, 2015, even for those out of warranty.   

When I arrived at the Apple store,  the tech didn't seem aware of the free replacement program, and asked me if I had read it on Apple's site.  Fortunately, when he entered the information into their system, it showed that my laptop was covered and they would replace the display for free.  They turned it around in two days which was better than the 3 to 5 day estimate, so well done Apple.  

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Seeing Green

Yesterday we generated 93% of our home's electric use from solar energy, the highest ever (except perhaps on days we were on vacation).  This is causing me to see green, not the environmental kind, but the sweet money kind.



All of the houses in our neighborhood were built with solar panels.  Six were included in the construction price and we paid extra to bring our total to 14.  These were supposed to provide up to 80% of the electric used, and with one of the nation's highest electric rates this was very attractive.

The way it works here is that any power generated by the solar panel is fed back into the grid and offsets our usage.  For example, if we use 20 kWh in a day and generate 16 kWh, we bring down 20, send up 16 for a net usage of 4. There is a website where we can monitor our usage.

For the first year, it was clear that we were getting less than 50% of our electricity from our solar panels. I really didn't think a whole lot about it, assuming that this was just another overhyped marketing promise and that we were probably using a little more than average.  At one point I even unplugged the ethernet monitor that allows me to monitor how much electricity we sell back the ride.  

What I didn't realize is that we actually used a lot of electricity.  In our first year we used about 12,000 kWh, nearly twice the California average of 6,700 kWh.  I realized that we weren't as energy efficient as we could be, but our home is larger than average and Tim and I are here a lot during the day.  
  


A little more than a week ago, I was changing a lightbulb and realized that we were still using the old incandescent bulbs.  I knew they were energy inefficient but didn't realize how much much energy they used compared to the LEDs.  Once I realized how much more energy these bulbs used, how the tier structure in California made electricity progressively more expensive, and the fact that at least two of my children seem incapable of turning off lights, I knew that it was time to do something.  I changed nearly every incandescent light bulb in the house with the exception of a handful.  At the same time, we bought a new washer and dryer, replacing the old (~1996) electric dryer with a gas replacement.

The change in power consumption because obvious very quickly.  Our energy consumption is about half of what it was.  On sunny days (which is very typical) we generated 70-90% of the power we use.  Since power at the highest tier (which we routinely hit) is twice as much as the lowest, this decrease could decrease our bill by much more than 50%.

Even with more solar power collected during summer months, it will probably be harder to maintain the 80% range in the summer on days that we run the AC.  Still, 93%!  Love the savings.






Sunday, January 17, 2016

What's in My Wallet

Right before moving back to the US, I decided to obtain credit card with better rewards, since we generally charge everything and pay off the bill at the end of the month.  We settled on a card and used it without incident, until a little over a week ago.

On the last day of my Austin trip, the bank denied my charge at a donut shop that I had already visited the past two days.  I paid the $6.54 with cash and left.  I received an email from the bank saying that there was suspicious activity on my account and asked me to call.  I called and confirmed that the two suspicious purchases were indeed mine and was informed that my card was fine.  

On the way to the airport, I stopped and tried to use my card for gas and the charge was denied.  When I got to the airport I called the bank's 800# again, and was informed that I needed to speak to a fraud specialist.  After 20 minutes on the phone, we reviewed a half dozen or more transactions, all of which were fine.  The agent told me that my card was available for use again.  Unfortunately, this did not turn out to be true.

During my layover in Houston, I tried to pay for a meal and once again the bank denied my charge.  When I called them this time, the message said that my bill was 3 days overdue.  Using my phone, I schedule the payment for the entire amount for that evening (as soon as possible).  I called back the bank and asked them to unfreeze my account because they could see I had a payment scheduled, I was only 3 days late, and I had been on the phone twice with them earlier that day and there had been no mention of it being late.  If they had told me the first time, I could have actually driven to a Capital One branch not far from where I was staying and make a payment.  Even if they had told me during the second call, I wouldn't have had the annoyance of the waitress telling me that my card was declined.  

I told them that if we couldn't unfreeze the account, that I was going to close it down.  After 30 minutes I was told that if we could do a 3 way call to my bank and get the payment done immediately, that they would unfreeze my account.  I told them to forget it, and decided that I would find other credit card and gradually spin this one down ( I need to spend all the remaining rewards and I used this card to charge the rental car that I drove when I was in the accident).  

The next morning I get a message that there was suspicious activities on my wife's card.  We have the same account, but she has a different credit card number.  The listed 4 transactions, 3 of which were the same amount from the same vendor.  Tim said that there should only be one of the 3 charges, so I clicked a link saying there was possible fraudulent activity.  I was instructed to call, so one again I am on the phone with the fraud department.

I asked the gentleman about the 3 identical charges, and he explained that no, there really weren't 3 charges.  The merchant had run it incorrectly, backed it out, and then corrected the charge.  Great, the email makes it look like there was a problem when there wasn't.  Okay, everything is fixed, right?  Well, maybe not.

Tim went out shopping several hours later, and when she returned she told me that the card was denied again.  At this point I am about to go apoplectic.  The agent from earlier didn't unfreeze the account.  I don't yell at the agent or curse her, but there is no mistaking that I am extremely angry about this.  She "gave me her word" that it was resolved and that there was no longer a problem with the card.  The next day they deny Tim's card again.  When I called back that day, it took a lot of restraint not to scream at the agent.  After 5 minutes with the agent, she tells me that this happened because I had indicated that there was potential fraud on the card.  She said that there was not record of me calling the previous day.  Unfortunately, I didn't have the names of the two previous agents.  

A few days later after filling out the customer survey (they didn't get high marks), I tried to find an email address to send a complaint.  They don't accept emails for that.  If I want to complain, I can pay for a stamp and send a letter.  

So I did some research and decided to apply for and was approved for a few new credit cards.  I was expecting them to come early next week.  This morning I got an email from one of the credit card companies with a message about suspicious transactions.  Since I hadn't gotten my card yet (it was sent by Fedex), I was pretty sure that this was legitimate fraud.  I called and spoke to their fraud department and it turns out that someone had already charged about $3k on the new card.   Fifteen hundred of that was a balance transfer of a Best Buy credit line.  They closed the account and are sending me a new card.  Someone must have either grabbed it somewhere within Fedex or grabbed it off my front doorstep.  I tend to believe the former, as there aren't a lot of people that walk down here.  




Sunday, January 10, 2016

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Texas Trip Part 1

The trip to Houston was a lot of fun.  I've been wanting to visit Al Williams for a while, but between my injury, the kids schedule and Tim traveling so much, things didn't work out until the beginning of this year.   In addition to seeing Al, I planned to have dinner with another friend, Derron, and then drive to Austin in a rental car to see my friends Anita and Daniel for a few days before flying back.

I flew out of Orange County directly to Houston on Friday the 1st.  Fortunately, Al had some upgrade certificates that were set to expire this month, so he generously upgraded my flight to Houston and the long leg on my trip back.  

We just relaxed on Friday night and picked up dinner at a Mexican restaurant.  Saturday was a lot of fun.  Al had to drop off some football tickets at a friend of Trinity's.  We then went to a retro-arcade when you paid $15 and could play all these old school video games and pinball machines.  I am not sure if I was always that bad at playing the games, but I was glad I wasn't feeding quarters into the machine.  We had dinner in the Woodlands that night and I had some good ribs.

Sunday was the big day, however, as Al had tickets to the corporate box.  I have to say that this is a pretty good way to watch a game.  The food in the box was absolutely first rate and since they didn't have any Scotch on hand, I was drinking Al's drink of vodka plus cranberry juice.  Unlike Al, I skipped the grapefruit.

The family of Trinity's friend also came up to the box.  It turns out the father is Tommy Miles, aka Nephew Tommy,  the nephew of comedian Steve Harvey, and the co-host of Steve Harvey's radio show.  Tommy was a really nice guy and had a great family.  His daughter had gone to the arcade with us the day before and had impressed me with her ability to give driving directions and amused me with her statement that she "disliked Walmart passionately".

One of the other guys in the box was the former Seattle Seahawks football player Michael Sinclair.  It turns out that he and Al had a connection.  Al's roommate in college went on to play pro football and had roomed with Michael Sinclair at the rookie combine.





If all that wasn't enough, the Texans cheerleaders came to the box for photos because it was also fan appreciation day.  Oh, and they played a football game as well, although the Texans manhandled the Jaguars.

On Monday I grabbed a rental car and saw the latest Star Wars before heading southwest to meet Derron for dinner.  Fortunately I had managed to remain spoiler free for the 2 or so weeks the movie had been out.  When I came out of the movies, Al was waiting for me.  He had copied some photos onto a flash drive for me, and Trinity had been unhappy that I had left before she had the chance to say goodbye. That was unexpected but nice.  I thought this was the last that I would see of Al for a while, but it turns out that I was wrong.

Texas Trip Part 2

After leaving Al and the Woodlands behind, I drove south to see an old friend named Derron Whitaker.  Derron and I knew each other from our time back in Cincinnati.  He and I were 2 of the 8 partners who started Acme Games back in 1996.  I left Acme after a year, while Derron hung around for a few more years until he moved to Texas.  We had not seen each other in more than 10 years, so I looked forward to catching up.

Derron and his son met me at a Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of Houston.  After dinner, his son had karate (or tae kwon do) practice so Derron and I visited a local liquor store where he showed me some of the liquors that he represents.  In addition to giving me a couple of bottles of moonshine, he told me about the Mexican liquor Horchata.  I bought a bottle of it and took it to Austin.  It was fantastic.

It was great to catch up with Derron.  His son is the same age as Aleena, plus he has two adult step-children who have provided him with grandkids.   He seems like he is really happy in Houston and loves what he does.


My plan had been to stay the night somewhere in Houston and drive to Austin in the morning, but since Derron and I parted around 7:45 p.m., I thought I could instead make the drive that night to avoid traffic.  I called Anita and confirmed that she and Daniel were okay with the plan, and I started the two plus hour trip.

Less than 45 minutes later I was involved in a 3 car accident caused by someone losing a load of hay on the highway.  My rental car was not drivable, but I was not hurt.  I think that one woman said she she was in pain, but it did not appear as if anyone was seriously hurt.  I was at the accident scene for the better part of two hours.  When I finally left the scene, it was in the cab of a tow truck hired by Enterprise to tow the car back to he Houston airport.  

In the tow truck I had called Al to ask if I could spend the night again.  Enterprise had another car waiting for me, but by the time I left it was 11:30 p.m.  I was still pretty wide awake, but was concerned that I would be too tired once the adrenaline wore off.  While I also thought about a hotel near the airport, I also wanted to see some friendly faces.

Al and Michele were of course extremely gracious hosts and made me feel welcome.  My family is really lucky to have them be part of our lives.  

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tricking Jacob

When we decided to spend this Christmas back in Cincinnati, Tim and I also decided that we were going to leave most of the presents behind to be opened when we came back on December 29th (today).  It just wasn't worth the hassle and excess luggage expense to bring them back.  Still, we wanted the kids to have some presents to open, so we brought two for each of them.

Jacob had wanted two video games this Christmas for the Xbox 360, Fallout 4 and Black Ops 3. Since I had decided to buy a PS4 for the family this year (yeah, I know, Jacob will get the most use followed by me), I bought those games for the PS4 instead of the Xbox.  These were the presents that we took to Cincinnati for Jacob.  He would see them before he knew we had a PS4, and I wanted to keep that a secret until we got back.  I explained the situation to Tim and told her how we would handle it.

When Jacob opened the first game, he immediately recognized that it was for the "wrong" system.  Immediately I asked Tim what she had done, how had she ordered the "wrong" game.  "You were supposed to order them for the XBOX!"  I acted even more exasperated when Jacob revealed the second game was for the "wrong" console.  

As I suspected, Jacob fell for the act. He was willing to believe that his mom didn't know the difference between game systems, while he knows that I do.  The next day he was laughing and told us how he couldn't wait to tell his friends how his parents had bought not one, but two games for a system we didn't own.

When we were opening presents at home, I decided to see how far I could push our luck by giving Jacob the extra PS4 controller before the PS4 system had been opened.  After opening the controller, he had a huge grin on his face and said that he had figured out what happened.  While my lame explanation that it was another mistaken order fell on unbelieving ears,. I had one more trick up my sleeve.  I had Aleena open a present that was roughly the size of a boxed PS4 system, telling them this family present was more tailored towards her and Nalin.  At this point, Jacob thought that he had me.  He boldly predicted that he already knew what it was as Aleena opened to reveal the Anki Overdrive starter kit.  He tried to pretend that this was what he expected, but it was clear that he was expecting a PS4.  

I let him off the hook a minute or two later and let them open the PS4.  I don't know how much enjoyment we will ultimately get out of it, but it is already off to a good start.  

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Trip

This year Tim and I decided to take the family back to Kentucky to visit family for Christmas.  We decided to save some money and spend our remaining frequent flyer miles instead of dollars to buy airline tickets.  I had enough to buy three tickets with mine, Tim enough to buy one, and Aleena to buy another.

The bad thing about Aleena buying a ticket in her name was that even though we called Delta to have them link her reservation to mine and Tim's, they would not let her check in online.  It appears as if she was an 11 year old traveling alone.  "Well you understand why we can't change the status via phone right?  We don't really know that you are traveling with her."  No, I do not understand that.  I understand that you won't change it via phone.  I also understand that before I called to link the accounts you might not have figured out we were flying together, but now I told you we are flying together, our seats are together, we have the same last name, and the reservations were made within minutes of each other.  It wasn't a huge deal though.  The lines were pretty long when we got there, but Tim was walking around, saw an Delta agent and convinced her to help us.

We had the chance to see how well the TSA Precheck works.  Jacob, Nalin, and Aleena were able to take advantage of my Precheck, while Tim was not.  We took all the bags with us since we wouldn't have to empty them. We zipped though the line extremely quickly while Tim emerged 50 minutes later.  Definitely worth the $85 for five years.

We didn't get the cold and white Christmas that we were hoping for.  The day after we arrived, the cousins came over to visit.  You can see from the photo below that the weather was warm enough for t-shirts and shorts.  Jacob slept all  day which is why he was absent from the photo below.

It is nice that although they are of different ages and don't see each other, they get along really well. Jacob usually ignores his cousins, but he did have a conversation with Ethan about Minecraft.