Archive for January, 2007

toy: Lego Highway Haulers

Everyone loves Legos. However, the classical problem with Legos (maybe this applies just to males, especially when more than one male’s hands are in the Lego bucket) is the shortage of wheels. However, help is available. Check out Lego Highway Haulers kit number 4891. One of my male kids spends hours with this kit in a single sitting. It has plans for multiple kinds of vehicles, and you can have some multiple simultaneous vehicles with lots of wheels. Don’t be misled by the picture on the cover, there are plans for about 8 different vehicles from this single kit. And at $10, it doesn’t cost much.

cool stuff that doesn't cost much marcelk 29 Jan 2007 No Comments

food: Soy Vay teriyaki sauce

If you like to cook chicken on the grill, try the Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki sauce. All our visitors who have eaten this really like it. It’s a combination of Jewish and Chinese spices that works really well. Works especially well for chicken breasts and chicken tenders on the grill. The company produces other flavors, but the teriyaki is my favorite. Expect to spend about $4.

cool stuff that doesn't cost much marcelk 19 Jan 2007 No Comments

movie: Little Manhattan

A relative recommended Little Manhattan to me. The title and the jacket were unimpressive, so I didn’t expect much. But when the closing credits rolled, I had a much different opinion. The idea of watching an 11-year old boy have his first crush may not sound appealing at first, but the dialogue and acting hit it spot on for an adult audience. It is funny and heartwarming without being stupid or sappy or too predictable. The part of the young boy, including the frequent narration, had great comedy acting while still being believable. I wanted my daughter to watch it so she could understand the anguish that young males go through as they have those feelings for the opposite gender, even through they leave a wake of destruction as they try to figure it out.

I definitely recommend this one.

entertainment marcelk 15 Jan 2007 No Comments

entertainment: Expectations

Let me first explain a bit. I am not your average entertainment consumer. I don’t watch R rated movies period. I’m selective about the PG13 movies I watch. I don’t want to pay money to be subjected to profanity, sexually explicit content, gore, etc. I like characters and a story line. I would rather rent a DVD for $4.50 than go to the movies for $20 not including popcorn. All the media I have at home is legally purchased, even though an increasing amount of the music is from iTunes. I don’t care what is popular, I like what I like. And yes, I’m a male and my favorite genre is romantic comedy.

Bottom line, this isn’t going to be the same comments you are likely to see somewhere else. But I suspect I’m not alone.

entertainment marcelk 15 Jan 2007 1 Comment

life: Forgiveness

[Note: the following post discusses some Christian principles and has religious references. I have respect for other beliefs and don’t want to offend anyone. If you are offended by Christian references, then you might consider skipping this post.]

Why would anyone want forgiveness?

I found myself each week in a meeting where tucked away on a shelf, not quite out of sight, was a plaque for someone I had known. The person had since moved out of our area, and for whatever reason, I suppose the plaque didn’t get to them in time before their departure. So there it stayed on the shelf. One time long ago I was with this person, just the two of us riding in a car. And there in the car was this uncomfortable silence that I wanted to fill. Not being a conversationalist, I always struggled to fill that silence that bothered me. During one such uncomfortable silence I scraped around in my brain for something to say, and out it came. As soon as it left my mouth I realized I had just inserted my foot, a confidence betrayed. I definitely didn’t have any intention to hurt, but I expected it would. It took a while to realize what I had done, the person never said anything, but I felt awful. That had been several years ago. Everytime I saw that plaque I was reminded of that experience in the car. It was haunting me. I wanted to make that feeling go away. I wanted to be forgiven.

Being human, each of us is going to screw something up, miss opportunities, and hurt people. It is inevitable. It is part of who we are, and part of life. As much as we want it to go away, it will be there, whether we try to ignore it or not.

What does it mean to get forgiveness?

There is a difference between forgiving someone for a wrong commited, versus that person reaping the consequences of their actions. For that person who breaks the law, the victim can forgive, but the perpetrator may still go to jail.

Even after a wrong has been committed, it usually isn’t possible to undo the wrong. Thefts may be returned, but it is not so easy to mend a broken trust, restore virtue or reputation. When I see a person who has just been caught in the wrong, I think “what is done is done. The question is: what are you going to do now?”

Seeking forgiveness is more than just saying you are sorry. Giving forgiveness is more than saying, “yeah, OK”.

How does forgiveness work?

I see it as two kinds of forgiveness: from the victim and from the Lord. I believe it is more than just confession, more than just accepting Christ as your savior. Both kinds have common elements, as described by Richard G Scott:

  • Remorse: honestly recognize that what you did was wrong. Feel remorse for what you did, not just for getting caught.
  • Abandonment: have a permanent resolve to not repeat the mistake. And don’t do it again.
  • Confession: own up to what you have done. You can’t hide it.
  • Restitution: fix what you can. It’s not always possible to put things back in their original condition, but do what is possible.
  • Obedience in all things: you need to get everything straightened out. You can’t relent on one topic, but still harbor ill will on another topic.
  • Recognition of the Savior: this is a time when you should draw closer to Christ. Forgiveness comes because of Christ. Remember the price He paid for this opportunity, and at least feel gratitude for that. Mistakes separate us from God, and repentence and forgiveness is how we get back in His presence.

For what can I be forgiven of?

To quote from an article by Spencer W Kimball:

A young woman approached me in a city far from my home and came under some pressure from her husband. She admitted to me that she had committed adultery. She was a bit hard and unyielding, and finally said: “I know what I have done. I have read the scriptures, and I know the consequences. I know that I am damned and can never be forgiven, and therefore why should I try now to repent?”

My reply to her was: “My dear sister, you do not know the scriptures. You do not know the power of God nor his goodness. You can be forgiven for this terrible sin, but it will take much sincere repentance to accomplish it.”

Then I quoted to her the cry of her Lord:

“Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” (Isa. 49:15.)

I reminded her of the Lord’s words in our dispensation to the effect that whoever repents and obeys God’s commandments will be forgiven. (See D&C 1:32.) My visitor looked bewildered but seemed to be yearning as though she wanted to believe it. I continued: “For all but the unpardonable sin forgiveness eventually will come to that transgressor who repents sorely enough, long enough, sincerely enough.”

She remonstrated again, though she was beginning to yield. She wanted so much to believe it. She said she had known all her life that adultery was unforgivable. And I turned again to the scriptures and read to her the oft-repeated statement of Jesus:

“All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.

“And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” (Matt. 12:31–32.)

She had forgotten that scripture. Her eyes lighted up. She reacted joyously to it, and asked, “Is that really true? Can I really be forgiven?”

Realizing that hope is the first requirement, I continued by reading many scriptures to her, to build up the hope that was now awakened within her.

How great the joy to feel and know that God will forgive sinners! Jesus declared in his Sermon on the Mount: “Your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matt. 6:14.) This is on certain conditions, of course.

In modern revelation the Lord has said to his prophet: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” (D&C 58:42.) Our Lord gave the same word through the prophet Jeremiah: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:34.) How gracious is the Lord!

On the occasion I am recalling, this woman, who was basically good, straightened up and looked me in the eye, and in her voice was a new power and resoluteness as she said: “Thank you, thank you! I believe you. I shall really repent and wash my filthy garments in the blood of the Lamb and obtain that forgiveness.”

Not long ago, she returned to my office a new person bright of eye, light of step, full of hope as she declared to me that, since that memorable day when hope had seen a star and had clung to it, she had never reverted to her sin nor any approaches to it.

It is important in all of this to forgive yourself. It is all too common that we seek forgiveness from the Lord, from the person we hurt, but fail to forgive ourselves. We should not forget the mistake that we made, so we can learn from it and not repeat the mistake, but we should not continue to punish ourselves after we have repented. To fail to forgive yourself is to mock the atonement of Christ. If Christ can atone for you because He loves you, and He can forgive your mistakes, you can forgive yourself.

So looking at that plaque on the shelf each week motivated me to do something. One night lying in bed I struggled to go to sleep, I was feeling compelled by a strong force to make it right, and do it now. So I resolved the next day to follow through. A search on the net turned up the person’s phone number in their new city. It had been several years, but I wanted a clear conscience. I picked up the phone and called. The person answered. Then a remarkable thing happened. He laughed when I announced my name. He said, “Just last night my wife and I were talking and somehow the conversation turned to you, the guy who lived down the street. I had forgotten your name, but my wife remembered it. Had you called before yesterday, I wouldn’t remember you.” Then I sheepishly started into my apology for what happened those years ago. He said, “I honestly don’t know what you are talking about. I don’t remember anything you offended me about.”

Giving Forgiveness

Not only will we find ourselves on the giving end of offense, but we will also be on the receiving side too. It is so easy to take that hurt that was inflicted upon you, keep it bottled up inside, constantly stirring and churning, until it ripens into bitterness and hatred and malice. It can be an acid that eats away at your character. It is playing out the victim to the nth degree. It almost seems human nature to do so. But what good does that do? It only hurts yourself. It doesn’t right the wrong. I have seen people who have been offended withdraw from the very things that they need the most because that other person is there, the one who hurt them once. Doing so serves only to punish yourself, not the other person. It doesn’t matter if that other person hurt you with intention or not.

The remarkable thing about receiving offense is that you will receive as much as you choose. This is a bold statement but I believe it to be true. You have control about how much offense you will receive. You can play as the fatally wounded animal, or it can be water rolling off a duck’s back. Sometimes from my children I hear about how a sibling did something wrong and “he/she made me mad”. I stop them right there and make a correction. No, they did not make you mad, you chose to be mad. You can choose how you react to any situation. If you find yourself mad, it is because you chose it. I’m not saying it is easy, it is difficult to control those feelings, but this is a true concept.

I guarantee that there will be frequent opportunities to receive offense. What you do in each of those opportunities is your choice.

At our core each of us wants peace. It is only through receiving and giving forgiveness that we can receive that peace.

The atonement is infinite. You can be forgiven and you can forgive. It isn’t easy, but it definitely is possible. If there is something you need to do, do it now.

life tips marcelk 15 Jan 2007 1 Comment

food: bread dipping spices

One of the treats I enjoy when eating at a restaurant was the good bread that has been dipped in olive oil. Some restaurants even offered some spices to mix in with the olive oil.

Some time ago we found the spices at a grocery store, and have been enjoying it at home. It is typically packaged in a clear plastic cylinder container that is segmented into 4 sections, with a different set of spices in each section. So one bottle has four flavors. One of the better brands I’ve tried is Delallo. They offer the dipping spices in a typical package. Basically it is salt, garlic, plus other ingredients for each section.

So get a plate, pour in some olive oil, add some dipping spices, let it rest for a few minutes for the spices to soak up the oil, then dip your bread. Yum! Expect to spend about $5.

cool stuff that doesn't cost much marcelk 13 Jan 2007 No Comments

cars: Acura RSX-S

This is a review of the 2004 Acura RSX S-Type.

[You may wonder why a car, an Acura, is in my “doesn’t cost much” category. $25k isn’t cheap by most standards, but perhaps what I really mean is that it is a good value. It is possible to spend a lot more money on a different car just as cool.]

It wasn’t until 13 years after graduating college that I got to go shopping for a nice car for myself. I’m still amazed at all the young people that spend a disproportionate amount of their income on vehicles too early in life. On the flip side, my insightful young daughter asked, “Dad, why is it that all the men who drive convertibles are bald?” My answer: “Because that is when they can finally afford one.”

So when I went shopping, I didn’t have a lot of money, but I did want something sporty. I don’t need a lot of gizmos, I just want a car that drives really well and I enjoy being behind the wheel. For me a car is not something to be seen in, it is something to do. Driving is fun. I was shooting for a used car in excellent state at $20k, or a new car in the $25-30k range. Purchase, not lease, because I take care of my vehicles and keep them for a long time, I don’t want to pay for someone else’s depreciation.

There were a number of different manufacturers I was looking at, and of course plowing through the editor reviews at Edmunds and Car And Driver. I highly recommend those sites for anyone shopping for an automobile.

In shopping malls you occasionally see a new vehicle on display, and it is always fun to peek at the sticker price so you can see your eyes bulge in your reflection in the window. Such was the experience when I saw an Acura RSX on display in a mall. I thought, that’s a nice car, but an Acura is outside my price range. So I peeked at the sticker but got a different reaction. Hey, that price starts with a 2 instead of a 3 or 4. And it is a low 2. Hey, I could afford this car!

Had it not been for that experience in the mall, I wouldn’t have even looked at this car and would own something else now.

I got a new RSX Type S. It was the first 2004 model off the truck at the dealership. I also got the protection package (mud flaps, trunk mat, wheel locks, door edge guard), fog lights, and a nose mask. That was 3 years and 30k miles ago. So I’ve had plenty of time to experience this vehicle.

I recommend the Type S over the base. For a $2k increase over the base model, you get a 6 speed manual, a few more horses under the hood, in dash CD changer, and subwoofer. It kind of boggles my mind why anyone would get this car with an automatic transmission. I guess I’m just from the old school where fun driving involves a hand on the shifter and a foot on the clutch.

Pros:

  • handling. I love the way this car handles. It goes exactly where I aim it. The car provides easy-to-read feedback from the road through all the controls, while providing ample comfort. This is a car for drivers. It is fun to drive, and it is ready to be driven fast. There are other performance coupes in this category that may be quicker to catch your eye, but this one feels good. Even the steering wheel feels just the right size, with a very nice feel as you turn it. It does provide a rough ride for anyone used to a sedan, but man does it get sticky in the corners. Acura suggests a tire pressure in the low 30’s, but the tires claim a max pressure of 51 PSI. I have found that the tires seem more sticky in corners with a 40 PSI pressure and they don’t squeal.
  • overall quality. Try moving the turn signal lever. Go on, give it a try. Feel how it moves solidly though its range, with a definite end of the range, and a confident and quiet notch to let you know it’s engaged. I’ve had my share of turn signal levers that felt like a piece of cheap plastic was going to break off in your hand if you breathed on it too hard. Everything is like this. It’s all real quality, all the designs are thought through as if the designers actually used them. It’s not flamboyant or fancy, and nothing seems cheap. It’s all well executed. It works well and you can count on it.
  • high redline. On my previous vehicle, if I ran it up to 4000RPM, it sounded like it was straining. 4000 RPM on this car is just getting started. You can run it up almost to 8000 RPM and it doesn’t sound painful. And the power just gets better the higher you go. Drop the hammer and let out the clutch. Above 4000 RPM it starts to get serious. Just above 6000 RPM and it actually gives another surge of power (that is the VTEC kicking in). Approach the redline in 2nd gear and you’re at 60 MPH. Yup, zero to sixty and I didn’t have to touch 3rd gear. It doesn’t have the throaty roar of a Ford Mustang, but it doesn’t have the artificial sound of a tricked-out sub-compact. It just goes, without putting on an auditory show.
  • no unnecessary gizmos. No power seats, touch-screen climate controls, satellite navigation, motorized liftgate, refrigerated picnic baskets, golf ball washers, etc. But I do have everything I’d expect in a modern car for safety and convenience. I didn’t want an SUV, I wanted a car that would be fun to drive, trading gizmos I don’t need for a decent sticker price, and I’m happy with what I got. It has the balance just right.
  • easy to read dash. I can see everything I need to quickly and easily. No weird digital stuff. Nice, elegant, analog gauges. At night, the dash goes through a transformation, with a red glow. The lighting is wonderfully uniform, everything has sharp edges and is easy to read. When a passenger gets into the vehicle at night, the first thing they do is look at the dash and say “Oooooh”.
  • value. This is probably what I’ve come to be most impressed after the first few months. I spent $25k for everything: this vehicle in top-of-the-line S type, decked out with accesories and taxes/fees/registration and everything. Compared to other vehicles, I think I got a lot of car for the money. I was talking to another friend that had spent $35k on an Infinity sedan, and I struggled to understand what they got for the extra $10k, besides a few more horses and more passenger room. I think the RSX is a real bargain. And I’m consistently getting 30MPG on my commute, which is a combination of urban and freeway speeds. I really like what Acura has done, providing a great quality car, aimed at people that like to drive, and not making it complicated.

Cons:

  • short test drive: I did take a couple of test drives before purchasing the vehicle. I did not get an appreciation of the driving characteristics of the vehicle during the test drive. Maybe it was because it was so different than my old vehicle, or perhaps I was too caught up in all the visual differences, or nervous because the dealer salesman and my father in law were in the car too. Or it could have been taking it easy during the test car’s 500 mile break in period, as requested by the dealer. But it wasn’t until I had my own vehicle in my possession for a few weeks (and beyond the break in period) that I began to really appreciate it. A few times to run up the RPMs, stick it in a corner, take a highway offramp that definitely exceeded the recommended limit, etc., then I began to understand how this car really drove.
  • lack of HID headlights: the current halogen headlights are adequate, but when driving on a curvy road at night, it needs better lighting. I’m always tempted to flip on the brights, except for all the oncoming traffic. I would suggest this is the one feature that is really missing.
  • rear set headroom: I’m 6’0″ tall, with an average torso size. When I sit up straight in the back seat my head is firmly pressed up against the cloth of the roof. If I lean back, my head is brushing up against the glass of the tailgate. If I hold still leaning back, or purposely slouch, then my head can barely squeak around. This may be tolerable if I’m driving some friends out to lunch, not it is not something I would want to subject passengers to for more than 15 minutes. To put it plainly, the back seat is not for adults. Leg room is what you would expect, but headroom is less. So think carefully if you expect to have more than one adult passenger in the car frequently for non-trivial amounts of time.
  • poor visibility out rear window when backing up. When I’m backing out of the driveway or parking place, there is precious little I can see while turning my head around and looking out the back window. The height of the lower edge of the tailgate window doesn’t allow me to see the ground behind me. My workaround is to look at my backup path before I get in the car, and then use the left and right side mirrors to see where I am going.
  • too low torque at idle. When moving from a dead stop, I have to tap the accelerator petal to get the RPMs up a bit before letting out the clutch. I’ve really been wondering (as perhaps you may be too) that perhaps I’m not as graceful with the clutch/accelerator interaction as I ought to be, but I think I’m doing a decent job. Most any engagement of the clutch at idle speed will come close to killing the engine. I’ve noticed that there seem to be two idle RPMs, it drops to a stable 1000RPM immediately after letting off the accelerator, then after a few more moments it drops down to about 600RPM. Engaging the clutch at the 600RPM level is borderline for stalling the engine. The dealer looked at it and says it is within spec. Additionally, when trying for a fast start it is slow to accelerate from idle. I guess this isn’t unexpected after looking at the graph of the RPM/torque power curve.
  • seats uncomfortable for long periods. I can’t speak a lot for this, since the longest single drive I’ve done in the car so far is 4 hours to a destination, and then 4 hours for the return trip on a different day. After about two hours I’m feeling a bit uncomforable. It could also be just me getting old, but I don’t have this problem while driving my wife’s Honda Odyssey. The RSX seat is low enough in relation to the pedals that my posterier gets sore after a couple hours. The seats are firm, but my legs are in a different position from my wife’s Oddysey that shifts my weight and wears in a different spot. However, everythingis just peachy for my daily commute.
  • sunroof opening is small. I’ve always wanted a vehicle with a sunroof. I like getting a little sunburn on my head on a nice day. Looking at the exterior of the roof, the sliding glass is a nice size, I assumed it would open most of that size. It doesn’t. Instead, take a look at the roof from the interior. Slide the non-glass screen back, estimate a few inches less than that, and now you’ll get an idea of how large the opening really is. I can assume there are design limitations with the bracket that holds the glass, slope of the roof, etc, but the glass really ought to slide back at least 30% more.
  • lack of sizzle in the stereo: if you can’t tell, I’m nitpicking the really small items by now, because there are so few complaints. Even with the S type Bose system playing CDs which sound great on my home stereo, the high frequencies just aren’t there. Cymbals sound dull. The subwoofer provides a nice bass, audible even at highway speeds with road noise. And the RSX stereo has a nice presence in the mid range. And even with the treble turned up a bit, the high frequencies just don’t seem to be there. I had seen other owners complain about the lack of volume, but the amp has plenty of power for me. The other minor compaint about the stereo is the lack of an input jack for my MP3 player. Since the CD changer is present in the S type, there doesn’t appear to be even an aftermarket way to connect an MP3 player into the stereo other than an FM transmitter (yuck) or a cassette adapter (not so bad).
  • heater blows cold air. With the climate controls set to “automatic”, the heater will blow cold air when the engine is cold. My wife’s Odyssey has this figured out: it waits a few minutes for the engine to warm up before the fan starts blowing. The workaround is to turn off the climate control and then turn it back on after the engine has run for a few minutes. It works fine when the engine is warm. I find it curious that a 2000 Honda can do it right but a 2004 Acura can’t. This is a very minor thing, but it also seems to be one that could be done right with very little effort.

I’m thinking about getting a vanity license plate that reads “WHEEE!”. That’s not to say it’s 100% perfect, but it is pretty darn close. If I had the chance to do it over, I’d do exactly the same.

If you are in the market for a performance coupe, go take a look at Acura.com for the RSX-S.

Postscript: Argh! I just discovered that Acura will stop making the RSX. Get one while you can! That is just another proof point that “good” does not necessarily equal “popular”.

cool stuff that doesn't cost much marcelk 13 Jan 2007 9 Comments