Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas is near and...

my favorite blogger Lund Fisker decided to quit and took up a job.  He passed on the torch to Mr. Money Mustache and while at first I was skeptical and quite frankly disappointed I am now becoming really impressed with MMM!  I seem to be following a similar path to his except that my IT income has been MUCH lower than his and only for a short four years it approached something reasonable but still not anywhere close to what some software engineers make.  I love MMM's article on are you a complainypants :-).
So this post is very informal and kind of easy going as I will be on vacation in a couple of days.  The 2001 Golf has now 202,000 miles!  Until now I have never been to a mechanic with the Golf (except for tire installations and alignment) but despite my mechanical skills we are a one car household:  I am a bit "scared" of the clutch starting to slip within the next couple of years.  A local mechanic said he can change the clutch for $500 - but it's more than just about the money for me.  I have some ego invested in this car and I am afraid to be seen as  a "failure" if I let someone else do it :-).  I am half joking and I may need to swallow my pride at some point.  Other than that things seem reasonably smooth.  Rentals are at a 100% occupancy rate until February.  There are always projects to do on the rentals but most of the time it's fun.  The least fun aspect of repairs is locating the right replacement parts such as a bathtub spout I'm trying to locate now.
Other than that, Merry Christmas!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Check Engine Code P0170 & Vacuum Leaks

Code P0170 indicates a lean mixture condition.  Before replacing expensive components such as the Mass Airflow Sensor it is wise to check for vacuum leaks as this is the most likely culprit.  Shown here is a vacuum line that goes to the Fuel Pressure Regulator of my 1.8 turbo Golf:
As you can see the vacuum line is extreme frayed and air that is not accounted for by the computer is leaking into the intake manifold causing the lean mixture condition.  The line above is short and connects to the underside of the intake.  It's fairly easy to remove with some needle nosed pliers.  The new installed vacuum line is shown below:

Here is a picture of the old line, the pliers :-), and the new hose:

Both ends of the hose were completely frayed.  A useful tip is to install a longer hose on the underside of the intake to make sure you have enough length as you route it through the maze of other hoses.  You then cut the hose to the appropriate length.  If you cut it first you may run into difficulties.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

It's been a while...

since I posted.  Given that this blog is, among other things, about frugality I made the mistake of not sharing my favorite site.  Lund Fisker at is really the only blogger I mentally connect with.  What is interesting is that his background is in many ways similar to mine.  He is an immigrant albeit from a western country, he is a former physicist, and of course he enjoys the essence of life contrasted by quantity/bling.  Perhaps most importantly Lund is a very nice guy!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

HaywardEcon at CHS: Food Prices at Historical LOWS...Stop complaining and eat your Veggies!

I came across this blog entry rather randomly and decided to comment on Hayward's blog.  According to his graphs food prices in 2009 were 9.5% of disposable income while around 25% from 1930s to 1950s.  Just take a look at that graph - predictably it's an exponential fall-off.  It's worse than we had it 30 years ago?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Volkswagen's Autonomous Vehicle System

I predict that within 10 years or less autonomous vehicles will be here.  Nevada, lobbied by Google, has already passed laws directing their DMV to regulate autonomous vehicles.  The next great age will be the age of robotics.  Agriculture is currently about 2% of the US GDP - with AI robots it will go down to 0.2%.  Manufacturing is about 20-30% of the economy - robots will bring this down to 2%.  The service economy is currently close to 80% and it will be reduced to 8%.  The big question is what will fill the gap?  Perhaps human theater troops in every neighborhood.  Or simply bored, roman-like humans eating grapes while robots do all the work.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Blue Brain Project

This is one of my favorite singularity projects: it's an attempt to simulate the human brain at a cellular level.  The human brain isn't incapable of understanding itself.  Perhaps 20 years ago citing numbers such as 100 billion neurons in the human brain made the complexity daunting and surreal.  Currently that number of neurons multiplied by 10 thousand synapses per neuron is a value at home in our world of terabyte (1000 billion) hard drives.  Intelligent machines will be real in our lives and probably within 15 to 20 years.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Eternal Tax Code Arguments - Abolish the IRS!

Today I received the following E-mail from a friend:

Democrats have criticized Republicans for defending tax breaks that benefit corporate jets, yachts, races horses and other luxury items. Those breaks have a minimal impact on the budget but have high symbolic value.

Republicans said that closing those tax breaks would hurt businesses and the economic recovery.

Those yachts, corporate jets and race horses are really the engine of a lot of job growth, right?  

It is clear that the tax code chooses winners and losers.  It puts incentives for oil drilling, for solar panels, for people to buy houses, for students to get college degrees.  All of this was intended with something good in mind (I will ignore any cynical views).  Oil drilling because energy is vital to the country, solar panels because energy independence is a good goal, houses are good for people to own as investments and stakeholders, degrees create a smarter workforce.

We have seen what the tax code created: distortion.  Oil tax incentives have perhaps made oil slightly cheaper than it should be with some detrimental effect to competing energy sources.  Huge tax breaks for installing solar panels create the illusion of solving energy problems based on future economic hopes.  Housing policy including the tax code allowing interest deduction contributed the Great Recession.  Government subsidized and guaranteed student loans are still driving up the college cost bubble (and yes this bubble will burst as well so be prepared!).

What is then a fair tax?  A national sales tax which does not choose winners and losers.  Check out (I have NO affiliation with this site).

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Frugality and Car Selection

The standard vehicle advice on personal finance blogs is either don't purchase one at all or purchase a used inexpensive Japanese model (many of which are now made in the US).  Either advice is sound, but let me introduce you to the Rodent's twist: purchase a nice semi-luxury or even luxury vehicle, keep it for 15 to 20 years, and most importantly learn to maintain or repair it.  In my case this was a brand new VW Golf bought in May of 2001.  Ten years later with a 193 thousand miles it still feels just as luxurious as when it was new.  If I had to do it all over again I would have purchased a slightly used Golf.  Over it's lifetime I have never taken it to a mechanic with the exception of some recalls and tire mounting/balancing.  I don't have the equipment to mount and balance my own tires and I don't think it makes sense but I'd love to be proven wrong by a reader.  In our society there is tremendous pressure to consume, but not all is lost yet:  Driving a 1970s or 1980s diesel Mercedes is still considered "cool".  I am convinced that in 2020 when many cars will be electric and autonomous the VW Golf will be a slight head turner - look at this old timer and how cool the smelly exhaust is.  I am strongly convinced gasoline vehicles will have similar appeal as steam engines have currently.  In a future article I will talk about what basic tools I have used over the years.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why "Rodent"?

Many rodents are gatherers and builders.  They build dams to create a future habitat.  Squirrels gather nuts and hide them for the next spring or perhaps winter (I am not a squirrel expert).  Like most things in life there are dangers of crossing over into the wrong territory - the rat.  Rats will pick up and eat anything and everything they can find.  They don't specialize in some activities and are opportunists.  They are impatient and full of envy.
So the essence of this blog is the way of the good rodents: the ones who plan ahead and who build their dreams without being opportunistic rats.  In the frugality world this is what separates a frugal person from a miser.  The way of the beaver is not about deprivation and exploitation of others.  It is about persistent work, thrift, and sharing with others.

PS: As an aside when I was in middle school in the US I had to take a home economics class.  One of the projects was the dreaded sewing of stuffed animals.  Picking the lesser evil I chose to sew the smallest thing possible aside from a little ball which the teacher would not let me: a little baby beaver.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Honoring Reagan's 100th Birthday

From the mainstream media a good article about today's significance:

On behalf of all freedom loving Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, and all other nations freed from the tyranny of communism I say thank you President Reagan for all you have done so that I can write this without censorship.  I am also thankful that many of my western American friends have the wisdom to imagine a world with rationed food supplies and long lines to empty stores.  The "free" healthcare I remember included a dentist scolding me, a small kid in Poland, for "salivating too much".  Among doctors and nurses there were many good people but the system was very broken.

Thank you again President Reagan!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Welcome to Rodent's Corner

Rodent's corner is my first blog ever.  I have been on the internets for quite a while and started out with programs like telnet, gopher and ftp.  What will this blog be about?  I don't know - it's my first blog ever.  I have a lot to say and you can be the judge of whether I have anything interesting to say.  One thing I promise is that I will keep it real.  Why do I keep it real?  I'm stupid and naive by nature.  Let the blogging begin!