Tuesday, November 8, 2016


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


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.  


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.