Cheap Living: Driving a Turd

Here’s another way I keep my cost of living down: I drive a cheap car, which I researched with intensity and tenacity. And, when my wife’s VW Golf died, I got her one of these cars as well.

Hi, I’m Kaleb, and I drive a cheap car.

We drive these cars because they’re cheap to purchase, cheap to maintain, reliable, fuel efficient, and common enough that parts are easily available and repairs are well-documented.

Perhaps I should introduce the cars.

My car is a 2002 SL, which is the base model sedan. It’s manual everything except brakes and steering. Manual windows, locks, and transmission. We purchased my car in late 2011 and have put about 27k miles on it in 3 years.

The wife’s car is a 1998 SW2, a slightly more powerful wagon. My wife doesn’t like to drive stick, so hers is an automatic. Between the DOHC engine, the automatic transmission, and the extra weight of it being a wagon, fuel economy takes something of a hit, but it’s not too bad. Its  fuel economy is about 27 MPG (mostly city) over the span of our ownership (10k miles).

I do as much work as possible to my own cars. I always do my own oil changes. I’ve done a couple of tune-ups. Recently, I changed the automatic transmission fluid in the wife’s wagon.

You may chose a different car for yourself, but there are a few things I’ve learned from my car ownership which apply to anybody:

  • Research. It’s your own neck on the line. Learn as much about your car as you can.
  • Learn to change your own oil.
  • Watch videos on YouTube on how to do common maintenance and repairs.
  • Keep a spreadsheet of all maintenance, repairs, and gas. Here’s the one I use: car-work.xslx

Note: since I first wrote this, I sold my Saturn SL. I still love it. If the situation were appropriate, I would buy it back, no question about it. Ashlea still has the Saturn SW2.

The reason I sold my Saturn SL? I was looking at a business opportunity where I would require more space and hatch on the back. I got a screaming deal on a 2007 Ford Focus manual wagon. I still consider myself to solidly be in the “cheap car” bandwagon.

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The January Experiment, Week 3: Quiet

One big difference I’ve noticed is that the apartment is now quiet. My computer fans were a siren call to go spend time there. Now, I’m reminded of my first trip home from college. I went from a dorm where it maybe, finally, got quiet at 2 AM, to the basement of my known, loved, familiar, home.

It was quiet.
Still.
Peaceful.

Now, I haven’t mentioned it here, but my home is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The neighbors are not terribly near, nor are they populous. So when I say it was quiet, it was quiet. It was a quiet I’d bet most people have never experienced. I could hear the air moving inside my ears.

I’ve heard some say there comes a point where you can hear your heart beat and your organs working. That’s never happened, so I suspect there is a greater level of quiet yet.

But what I’ve noticed is that I seem to rest a little easier now. There’s nothing calling for my attention. Or at least there’s one fewer thing. Or a dozen fewer things.

This year, I wish for you to experience the peace of silence.

Especially you parents of young children.

The January Experiment, Week 1: The Question

During the month of January, my wife and I are running an experiment:

Can I work 60 hours a week?

You see, I’ve worked 60 hour weeks before, and it sucked. I hated it. But that was several years ago, times were different, and I wasn’t driving myself around. I had maybe an hour at the end of each day to do with as I pleased, and that’s why it sucked.

This is the end of the first week. I have committed myself to working 60 hours a week for the month of January. I may continue longer if all goes well.

The method is simple. Beyond my 40 hour a week job at the college, I have been working an additional 10 at a second job, two evenings and half a day Saturday . To increase my second job hours, I simply work five evenings instead of two.

So in a sense, I’m only increasing a little bit. In fact, my schedule should become more consistent.

There are a few things I am doing to facilitate this change. The computer is shut down. I am using a tablet for much of my computing needs, and some things are just being set aside. I think I’m spending more time with my wife and kid. The wife no longer tells me to shut off the monitor because she wants to sleep and it’s too bright.

Tuesday, I was tired. Monday was nothing, really. It was just like a usual day with evening work. Tuesday, I could feel it a little bit, but that may also have something to do with the half hour of shoveling I did first thing that morning.

Wednesday and Thursday, I was kind of just grinding it out a bit. Friday wasn’t too bad. It helps when I can sleep in Saturday morning.

So far, I know I can do one week. I feel comfortable doing a second week, and in fact, my whole outlook for the month is pretty good. However, I’m not sure how I feel about continuing this long term. I think, in the end, my wife’s input will weight heavily in that matter.

The Contradiction

I want to be a family man. The problem is, the desire seems to fight against itself. I want to provide for my family, but I need more income to do so. I already work 50 hours a week. How does working 60-70 hours a week make me a better father? I’m simply taking time from my kid(s) and using it to make money.

I need more money to provide, but I cannot sufficiently provide (love, spelled T-I-M-E), and provide (money) at the same time.

Heaven help me. It feels like no matter what I do, I must sin in some way.

And when I find a contradiction like this, I strongly suspect Satan is at work. With God, you may find contrarieties, things difficult to explain or fathom, but never a contradiction.

Be gone, devil.

My Unemployment Testimony

This blog post is a testimony I gave before my church on the 5th of October.

From November 2011 to May 2012, I was unemployed. Ashlea was a student at the time and earned $400 a month, but rent was $450, not to mention other expenses such as food, utilities, car expenses, etc. Nevertheless, during this seven month period, we experienced nearly $5,000 in income outside of Ashlea’s job, and this was no accident; it was the provision of God.

I think it could almost go without saying I was kind of depressed during this time, and both of us felt frustrated. I can infer this, mostly because my memories of the time are few and fuzzy. One thing I do recall feeling, though, is an amazement at how God was providing. Even if God chose some.. odd ways.

One day, I was driving around, applying for jobs. I was travelling south on 19, in a rather rural area, when a lady pulled out right in front of me. Instead of rear-ending her, I chose to slide into the ditch, and my car got banged up. Her insurance company paid $1,400 for the damage to the car, and we sold the car to my brother for $600, which was a blessing for him too (but that’s another story). We took the $2,000 and purchased the car I still have today, and it has proved to be a blessing in cost, and as a learning experience… like how to drive stick and turn a wrench.

Another time, I found a computer at a garage sale for $5. I bought it, kept it, still use it today, and sold the computer I was using for $300.

During this time, I sensed God was providing in some extraordinary ways, and so I kept a spreadsheet detailing the extra income. We never knew where the funds would come from next, but we were never disappointed. I think at one point, the bank account reached single digits, but I don’t recall paying a bill late.

The church community came around us at this point, both this church here and our small group. The encouragement helped to keep us moving and searching. I keenly felt the words of Hebrews 10, “Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

I kept track of where each piece of income came from, but if I thought about it and tried to find a deeper how or why behind the income or timing, the only clear answer was the provenance of God.

From this experience, I took away this lesson: Kaleb, hang your hat on God. Not because He took care of me this one time, but because of how this one time tells me about God’s character and person. Even when I don’t understand the action, I can believe in the great actor.

What Is Wrong With Our Economy?

What is wrong with our economy?

Last night, I participated in a discussion about raising fast food workers’ wages to $15. Later, as I lay in bed, the real problem (and solution) of the situation came to me.

The real problem? In the words of G. K. Chesterton, “I am.”

The fundamental issue is selfishness. In a panic, each looks strictly to his own interests. And I think you’ll find it across all levels: workers, management, government, unions, companies. Moving your company overseas so you can raise profits? That’s selfishness. Doing your job at a minimal level because you’re not paid enough? That’s selfishness.

I find at the heart of pretty much every single argument laid out is selfishness and fear. We have forgotten and laid aside the words of Philippians 2: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Of course, when G. K. Chesterton said those words, he wasn’t answering what’s wrong with our economy. He was answering a much bigger question: “What is wrong with the world?” And his answer was one of a man who understands the first step of the Gospel, the utter brokenness of self.

May we come to understand the Gospel in whole and seek to live it out, not only in our economy, but in this nation, and the world at large.

TinyMe

First, a brief history of TinyMe.

In 2005, I found an old computer sitting in the basement of our house. It was our first computer, an IBM Aptiva e26, with 288 MB of RAM and a 3.2 GB HD. We had purchased it at RadioShack in 1998 for $1000, and that was a steal at the time.

Problem was, I couldn’t find the Windows 95 installation disk. It was then that I remembered “Oh yeah, isn’t there this thing called Linux?” Some distro-hopping later, I settled on a distribution called PCLinuxOS. In 2007, PCLOS released a smaller edition called “MiniMe”, which was a 300MB ISO image. I jokingly said on the forums that it was too fat and we should make a 100MB ISO image. Well… I actually started to become serious about it, and one thing lead to another, and in 2008, I released a 200MB “TinyMe”. This edition contained minimal productivity tools, such as a word processor, text editor, terminals, web browser, etc. After a while, I released a 150MB edition (labeled 2008.1) which was “stripped, not equipped”.

In 2009, there was a split in the PCLinuxOS developer group, and I left with the fork. The fork eventually became a non-fork, re-basing on Mandriva, but ultimately, never achieved the stability I was looking for (Mandriva experienced its own instability during this period too). In July 2013, I finally closed up shop with TinyMe. I never achieved more than an alpha or beta release after departing PCLOS.

So was it a bad idea to fork from PCLOS? No, I don’t think so. In some ways, PCLOS is stuck behind the curve. I understand their choices, they’re trying to keep things stable, but at the same time, it makes upgrading just that much more painful. Also, at that time, Texstar, the lead PCLOS developer, was MIA for some time, only reappearing when the situation between developers was already irreparable.

If I were to start up TinyMe again today, what would I use? I think I would probably use Arch Linux. It’s rolling release, pretty stable, and has fantastic documentation. It does have a few downsides, such as lack of newbie friendliness and lack of configuration tools (the documentation is supposed to handle that). I think I would try to keep TinyMe light while filling in those gaps of newbie friendliness and configuration tools. I created a small configuration center for TinyMe 2008, and I think I could do it again.

So is there a chance TinyMe could be revived? I suppose there’s a Tiny chance (hee hee hee). I would love to see a TinyMe-esque distro for the RaspberryPi. PiBang comes close. PiBang is actually targeted to be heavier than TinyMe, but it ends up with a lot of the same applications. TinyMe takes what’s big and strips it down; PiBang takes what’s small and sees what you can pile on top, while maintaining a modicum of usability.

So if I were to create TinyMe today, here’s what it would look like:

  • Small, ~250MB ISO image
  • LiveCD
  • Boots to a usable desktop
  • Comes with Openbox, Abiword, SpaceFM, other lightweight applications
  • Comes with custom configuration tools
  • Available for the Raspberry Pi