June 18, 2007 @ 4:30 PM – Cabo San Lucas and the story of the hat

Woke up in Cabo and had to reboot my computer to get the GPS stuff working again, but then I actually started getting a fix. YAY! No time to celebrate, though, because today is the first day to see something besides what’s on this ship. After being ferried ashore by a little boat, I quickly realized I might as well have been in Tijuana…typical shitty tourist trap. Blocks full of bars and people on the street haggling you to buy a necklace (“For you, almost free!”) every ten feet. And even though the shops sold all the same crap, Mom and I decided to browse through anyway.

The sun was fairly bright, and I was just slightly sweltering in my regulation black pants and jacket. I tried on a random hat off a table and asked the guy if he had a mirror. He dug around and found one, and I swear this hat was the most perfect hat ever. We united spirits in such a way as previously believed to be impossible between a human and a haberdash. The guy said the hat was $10, which was a completely fair price to pay for my hat equivalent of a soulmate. I handed the guy my credit card, but he frowned and said he only takes cash. I didn’t have a slip of paper money on me, so I decided to let it go. It’s just a hat, I thought. And besides, I never wear them anyway. I went on to buy a little black dress with yellow flowers and some fancy vanilla for Dan from some of the other vendors (one of which, I should note, also didn’t accept cards. But he had a friend who would charge it for a few extra bucks).

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June 17 – Second day at sea

Today was really less exciting as yesterday, unless you call “lounging on the sun deck with a martini watching the wake of the ship all afternoon” exciting.

I still have no idea if I’m pulling any valuable GPS data. I’m recording whatever I’m getting, but there are still gaps in even that. There’s only ONE electrical outlet in the whole room, so twice now I’ve forgotten to plug my laptop back in after doing my hair and the battery has ended up dead for several hours. And once I came back to find that Dave’s GPS uploading app had frozen up…but in his defense, another GPS utility I’m using was acting strangely, too (a reboot fixed everything). I unfortunately just don’t have time to be constantly troubleshooting my setup. Important lounging to be done and all that.

Tonight was the Captain’s Party where everyone gets all dressed up. I bought a long wrap in one of the shops to go with my dress, but I quickly learned it is impossible to carry a camera and clutch and try to manage one of those things. I eventually figured out that it’s much easier for me to just throw the wrap over my shoulder instead of draped over my arms, but at least I was able to get it right for the photos.


After the Captain’s Party and dinner (lobster, and to be honest an uneventful lobster at that), we were headed back to our room to freshen up a bit when mom saw a club that she wanted to check out. I like to dance, but I really shouldn’t do it in heels (else I’ll screw up the nerves in my feet even more to the point where I’d need surgery one day). Well…a couple songs won’t hurt, I thought. So I danced a bit, but the numbness in my toes quickly put me in my place and I had to sit down. Mom didn’t want me to sit alone, so she sat down with me and we were just watching people party like they’re 1000 miles away from home.

Cute girl in a cocktail dress sitting in a club with her mom…Maybe I left myself ripe for the picking? The first boy who came up was actually trying to get both of us to dance, but my mom said I didn’t want to because my feet hurt. Which…was true, but dammit, I wish she wouldn’t have said that. But this insistent little fucker kept trying to get us up and completely ignoring my constant “I can’t, but thank you” until I finally made up an excuse of having a medical condition and I promised I really, really couldn’t. Dammit, I guess it’s not even really made up, but I wish I didn’t have to go that far to get him to quit pestering us. He was really nice about it, though. And apparently he didn’t let it phase him, because 5 minutes later he was all over some skinny blonde girl on the dance floor.

Anyway, a few minutes later one of his friends comes and has a go at actually trying to chat me up a bit. I had been taking a few pictures of people dancing, and he came and sat next to me and mentioned he had the exact same camera.

“Oh really? You have a D80?” I was rather bored, so he definitely had my attention.

“No, it’s a D70.”

Hmm, the previous model. That’s ok, I suppose…beggars can’t be choosers. Until he continued…

“Hey, did you know you have to format your camera?”

Wait, what? Blank stare.

“Yeah, you have to format it or the memory gets corrupted or something.”

I continued to stare at him with obvious incredulousness, wondering if he was trying to see how gullible I was and erase all my pictures to get me back for not dancing with his friend, or if he was just plain ignorant.

Crap, how should I respond?

“I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp on my camera.” Cue snotty grin. I’m apparently good at those, because he stammered for a second and bid me a good night. I threw a thank you back at him as he walked away.

I felt really out of place being in the club after that. I mean, I was bitchy to him, but I think I did a lot better than the other reply I was considering which was “you’re full of shit”. I was tired and ready to head back to our stateroom anyway, so I guess it was no big loss.

Tomorrow starts with an early breakfast in bed before exploring Cabo San Lucas. We tried to buy a shore excursion to see “Cabo by Land and Sea”, but it was sold out before we even had a chance to ask about it. We’ve pre-ordered room service so we don’t have to get around just to eat breakfast, and I guess after that we’ll be playing it by ear.

I really wish I could get out tonight with my tripod after most people have gone to bed so I can get some extended exposure shots of one of the restaurants and the atrium that I haven’t been able to get without camera shake, but mom’s griping at me to go to bed like she used to when I still lived at home.

June 16 – First night at sea

[Ed. note: The next several entries I’ll be posting were actually from my cruise journal from last week.]

June 16, 2007 @ 10:26 PM
Ok, so…first night at sea. My initial impression is that all people do on cruises is eat and play bingo. None of the events scheduled really interest me, but laying on the deck with the cool ocean breeze is divine, so I’m ok with that. The evening shows were highly recommended by some of my co-workers, but considering that the last show for the day starts in four minutes and my mother and I are snuggly curled in bed, I’ll have to take Scott’s word for it for now.

Speaking of snuggly curled in bed (kindofish), my mother made it in this morning with plenty of time to spare, but she boldly decided to sleep in the terminal in Houston instead of getting a room. She hung out with another woman who was in a similar situation, and said woman coerced Continental to give her a stack of pillows and blankets, so I’d say that my mother lucked out considering the situation.

Tangent…this side of my blog is weird. I’m so unused to actually fleshing out thoughts instead of condensing them into 140 characters via twitter. I think I’m much better at the latter, but I’ll bravely forge through blogging about the rest of the day anyway.

The actual process of getting on the ship was uneventful, although quite different than I expected (based on movies and whatnot). There wasn’t a crowd of people bidding us bon voyage from the dock, and nobody on the boat was waving scarves and blowing kisses. (for the record, I think we were all trying to find the buffet). One think I did find interesting though is that there’s some crazy law that states everyone has to go through a life vest drill before the ship can disembark. This involves the pleasant British cruise director coming over the intercom (there’s an intercom in all rooms and public areas) and announcing that when the siren sounds, we’ve all gotta grab our life vests and gather in one of the 5 lounges to verify that we were all successfully able to grab our life vests. Life vests are itchy and make me quite claustrophobic and I hope I never have to use one (aside from the obvious reasons), but the photos I got of herds of people looking like they’ve been told to abandon ship almost makes up for the inconvenience.

So after all that got settled and we got back to the room, I pulled out my laptop and Dave’s GPS receiver and started working on getting my geotracking setup situated. I’m not able to get a GPS fix even though our room has a decently sized window, so I’m pretty disappointed. Dave’s uploader app says it was able to get a position though, so I’m going to trust it over the angrily blinking red light on the GPS device because it will help me sleep better at night. This whole geocasting plan kinda went to shit after I learned Internet access would cost .75/minute, so I’m honestly not surprised I’ve run into more problems. I’m hoping for the best, though.

Or when all else fails, you can always fudge the data. ^_^

After giving up on the GPS signal, we went to the main sundeck for a while. My mom’s just now past the point of being uncomfortable getting drunk around me, which is definitely interesting. Drunk Lisa’s mom giggles a lot and has an even worse sense of direction than usual (I swear she’d be lost on this damn boat without me), and also has a penchant for buying the $8.95 photographs that are constantly being taken of the guests. There’s a photographer for every 10 passengers, I swear.

Another tangent…my teeth grind more and in synchronization with my fingers when I type.

Nothing else has happened that I’ve found stupendously interesting. VERY relaxing, but “I laid out in the sun and had the best nap ever” doesn’t exactly make a great blog entry. I’m taking a TON of photos with the new Nikon D80 Dan got me. I’d really like to review them before tomorrow to make sure I’m not royally screwing something up, but the ship’s engines are so convincing at trying to lull me to sleep…


Fellow Californian and Twitterer “Adora” might agree. The self-described “web 2.0 voyeur” got onboard a couple of months ago and says, “I try to update with items of interest to everyone following me. Neat geeky things I do through my job and website, the wacky things that I catch myself doing . . . I recently cut my thumb in half with a butter knife (don’t ask) and after I pulled the knife out my first thought was ‘Oh man, I know I’m bleeding everywhere, but I just have to Twitter this.'”


$5000 crash course in BMW transmissions

Last Monday morning I got in my car to drive to work same as any morning, only to discover that my car wouldn’t go in reverse. I could feel it catch, but it wouldn’t actually go anywhere. I called my regular shop and told them I would be towing it in. They called me the next day and said the transmission was shot and would have to be replaced, and quoted me $6000 to do it.

Ok, so…I admit I learned a few months ago that in 1999, BMW started using GM transmissions in the 3-series. And that they’re all crap and mine would need to be replaced soon. But spending $6k on a car that’s worth $10,000 max is asinine, so I did some calling around to see if I could get a better price. Dave actually helped me out a lot here, too…he was able to find a used transmission in LA for $1300 (my shop was quoting me $4500 for the factory transmission alone). They said they’d be more than happy to install whatever transmission I brought in, but there would be no warranty whatsoever. I thought about this for a few more days (we’re talking about a lot of money here, and I absolutely hate spending money), then eventually decided to call some transmission places to see what they could do for me. I found a super nice place in San Marcos who quoted me $1600-$3500 to actually fix the problem instead of replace, so I had the car towed a second time over to them.

The transmission shop inspected the car and informed me that 1999 is a split year for the 323, and the first half of the year used a 4 speed transmission, and the 1999.5 through 2000 models used a 5 speed. Their quote was for the cheaper 4 speed model. The mechanic told me he’d worked on three of these in the past year, and those costs ranged from $3600-4800…but he’d have a better idea of what it would cost me after he pulled the transmission out and saw what actually had to be replaced. I also mentioned that I’d found a Consumer Affairs website on BMW transmissions, and casually commented that I was actually surprised that there hasn’t been a class action lawsuit against BMW. Anyway, end result of this call is me sucking it up and telling him to go ahead.

Here’s where I started really getting my education. Shop called me back this morning and said he COULD fix the transmission, but neither BMW or GM will sell him all the parts he needs to do it. BMW just doesn’t offer them (only whole transmissions), and GM won’t warranty the parts if they’re to be installed on a BMW. He said he would supplement with used parts and still guarantee the work since he has no other option, and I’m ok with that. He also said he’d done some research on my concerns with the 1999 transmission from the Consumer Affairs site, and that there were no technical service bulletins from BMW on it. There was a bulletin on the 2000 “ZL” model transmission but not on mine (which he said was a 5L40-e model), so he doesn’t think there’s a widespread problem with this transmission.

At this point, however, he’s done the worst thing any manufacturer could fear that he would do…he’s given me something to research.

BMW in fact did start using the 5L40-e transmission halfway through 1999 when they changed the 323 over from the e36 to the e46 chassis. And although there is a new complaint on the Consumer Affairs page almost daily regarding failure to go in reverse, BMW has not issued a single service bulletin. This same transmission, however, was also used in the 2003 Cadillac CTS, of which there are over 30 technical service bulletins regarding the transmission. TWO of these specifically mention failure in reverse.

According to the Consumer Affairs page, BMW denies any knowledge of known problems with this transmission when asked directly. But since it’s almost impossible for mechanics to get parts to fix them, most cars are repaired using a rebuilt transmission ordered from the factory. I expect that’s a fairly significant number of transmissions being rebuilt and shipped back out. SOMEBODY at BMW is keeping track of this number.

Why will Cadillac at least admit to the problem, but BMW makes no mention of it in a vehicle that’s been on the road four years longer? I know a bulletin won’t have any effect on my now $5000 repair bill, but I thought I had done my due diligence in researching the 1999 323i, e46’s, and BMW in general before I bought the damn thing. I knew repair bills wouldn’t be cheap if something did go wrong, but I believed BMW produced one of the best performing and longest lasting automobiles provided they are maintained properly. If I’d have known the transmission in this car was both non-serviceable and prone to failure, I’d have bought a Kia.

In some respects, I feel better now that I’m armed with knowledge. It’s a lot easier for me to accept something if I at least know why I have to accept it. Acceptance is not recourse, however, so I still feel screwed over. I’m certainly not powerful enough to take on BMW about my poor little used car, but I can at least provide my research for others to use to make a more well-informed decision. Disclaimer, though…I really am a car noob. Everything I’ve posted here was either told to me by my mechanics or found on google, and is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge. I highly advise anyone doing anything really really important to do their own fact checking (and please make me aware of any errors or omissions).

Edit 7/16/07 – I’ve been contacted by Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates. I’ll update if I get any new info.

Edit 10/8/08 – New comments have been trickling in to this post regarding other failed transmissions, but I haven’t heard anything new regarding a class action suit. I did, however, submit a complaint to the NHTSA. The more complaints they receive, the more likely they will initiate an investigation. Complaints themselves can also become public record, so I highly encourage everyone who has had a transmission failure to submit a report. My favorite site to check service bulletins and complaints is mycarstats.com.

I just checked in on the Consumer Affairs page for fun, and saw this tip by Charlotte of Linton, IN:

Concerning the 5L40E Transmission made by GM and used in several BMW automobiles. There are a couple of problems that this transmission has that can be fixed with a repair to the valve body that BMW is ignoring. BMW’s service department chooses to only replace the transmission thereby making it a huge expense to fix the vehicles. Please BMW owners who have this transmission in their vehicle who are having this reverse problem, there is a company called Sonnax that makes a kit to repair the valve body to fix this problem. The kit is several hundred dollars and the valve body can be removed and worked on without having to remove the entire transmission.

I found the company’s website and a list of parts she might have been talking about, but I can’t verify this claim is valid. Still, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to run this by your mechanic. If anyone has any more information, please update in the comments.

Remembering John

So I’m sitting here late at work, and I just got a phone call from Brittany. She’s a close friend I went to college with, but we don’t keep in touch like we should…so of course seeing her name flash across my screen gets my attention. Turns out that she was calling to inform me that John, another good friend of ours, passed away. He had been diagnosed with Leukemia over a year ago, and was waiting for a bone marrow transplant. He was back in the hospital, but Brittany informed me that one of our clanmembers was driving to go see him (which is a multi-hour trip). While he was on his way there, John called him and told him not to bother…his condition had worsened and he was no longer allowed to have visitors. By the time Chad got home, there was a message for him informing him that John had passed away.

At least that’s what I’ve been told so far. The details are still pretty sketchy.

John was actually the very first person I met at SAU. We were both enrolled in a pre-semester program called Leadership Academy, and he struck up a conversation with me while we were waiting in line at the signup table. Turns out we were in the same group, so we ended up getting a pretty good head start before the actual sessions started. We were inseparable during that week, and never much further apart the rest of the time I was at SAU. And although I didn’t know this until it was too late, he turned out to be the best friend of the guy I dated throughout most of my college years. Ha, and he still didn’t approve of my match! (Gene, if by some rare chance you decide to read this, I’m kidding)

The fondest memories I have of John are from “the cabin”. He and his father kept a little place so far east of Ashdown that we think at times we walked into Oklahoma. It was barely civilized enough to have electricity and may or may not have had running water. Wouldn’t have bothered us if there were neither, because we spent all our time outside next to the fire John kept going, and baths were verboten. Anyone who thought themselves too dirty was invited to take a swim in the creek that was a stone’s throw from the front door. Ah, the weeks we spent there! The most important daily objectives were cooking, followed very closely by drinking. John prided himself in his ability to stay roaringly drunk from the moment he got there until the moment he had to turn his key in the ignition to leave. I never could keep up with the drinking, but my cooking skills kept getting me invited back anyway. =]

John was one of the most countriest country boys I knew…which says a lot in southern Arkansas. For all the times I went with him to Mineral Springs to see his folks, I can’t recall if they kept a farm or not. But John could build anything you’d dream up, and even did side work as a contractor. Before he got sick, he was going to school for an Architecture degree. Farm or no, true southerners have a spirit to them that is simultaneously laid back almost to the point of non-concern, yet they have such an energy and pride about them that always makes the people around them feel taken care of. He’s one of the few people I’ve met in my life who I would say had a heart of gold.

I didn’t know John when he was sick, so these images of him are what I will keep with me forever. I did send him a letter shortly after he went in the hospital, but word got back to me that he didn’t remember who I was, so I didn’t follow up. I was startled at this but not surprised, as I had already moved to California and had been long out of touch. I can forgive such things for one who is struggling to live. I’ve never had anyone my age get seriously ill, so the situation was hard enough for me to deal with as it was. I haven’t decided yet if his failing memory was merciful or a curse that will eventually haunt me.

Rest in peace, John. You will not be forgotten.

HOWTO: Integrate Tumblr with WordPress

One of my absolute favorite things about Tumblr is that users are trusted with an extreme level of customization if they choose to take advantage of it, instead of having to settle with some other theme that ends up being totally disconnected from the rest of your website. Although an inexact science, It’s actually not too hard to create a custom Tumblr theme that looks just like your WordPress install (or any other blog system, really). All it takes is some CSS/HTML knowledge, the ability to identify different sections of your WordPress theme, and a basic understanding of how Tumblr formats its posts. The steps are as follows:

    1. Pick base theme
    2. Move Tumblr’s CSS to an external file (optional)
    3. Copy/paste header from WordPress
    4. Copy/paste Tumblr theme code
    5. Copy/paste footer from WordPress

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Improved Twitter RSS feed with Yahoo Pipes

I didn’t really like how my Twitter RSS feed looked, so I threw together a new one using Yahoo Pipes. This version is designed to be imported as an unattributed regular post without titles, but I’m working on another version that sets the title to be an approximation of the post date (which is working fine actually, as long as you’re on UTC). And on top of that, David and I are collaborating on adding the “in reply to” functionality from the site into the feed as well using the recently released Twitter API. Yahoo pipes don’t support authentication to get your friends’ updates, so you have to take care of that with some code on your own server. The pipe for that is done, I just gotta get Dave to tell me how he’s generating his XML file and coax him to liberate his code so I’m not annotating my feed with his updates. ^_^

Ach, I’m getting so far ahead of myself! Here’s a before and after of the version I’ve got published so far:


    Lisa: Processing etech pics from last night. Wondering if anyone else has used the tag chickenchickenchicken on flickr (via Twitter / Lisa)


    [Twitter] @viss: I’m fond of jUploadr. It isn’t cmdline, but you can drag and drop. BTW, with a free account, 200 images is all you get at one time.

Subtle difference, but the piped feed makes a bit more sense, imo. Anyway, here’s the link: Twitter for Tumblr

If anyone has any ideas of what else to do with the Twitter feed, by all means send them my way and I’ll try to make them happen. Also, if anyone wants help with Pipes (which is SERIOUSLY fun once you get the hang of it), I can help with that, too.

To do this St. Patrick’s Day: Mylanta Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

After reading about Blogjam’s hangover cure with Pepto Bismol ice cream, I knew it was the kind of thing that would be appreciated by all of my friends. Our parties are usually potluck-style events, so with St. Patrick’s Day approaching I’ve got the perfect venue to present something new. Pink isn’t very St. Patrick-y, though…I need to do something green. Mint chocolate chip is green, but what else could go in it that wouldn’t spoil the color or flavor? My friend Billy came up with the idea to use Mylanta, another tummy-taming crowd pleaser. White liquid with just a hint of mint aftertaste…yeah, I might be able to make this work.

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