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A simpler life

By January 4, 2008Uncategorized

One of the many things that Hurricane Katrina taught me was to keep life as simple as possible.  It’s easier to do that when you are forced to live a semi-nomadic life.  Last year I stepped up my resolve to minimize my possessions, or at least reconsider if my possessions were optimal for their task.  I had a nice house, a nice car, and some cool gadgets.  In 2007 I put my house up for sale, sold my SUV, and retooled my tech world.  Here is a list of the things I wound up with instead:

  • Condo (co-owned with my brother) – no lawn maintenance, great security.
  • Toyota Prius – hybrid car gets 50 mpg
  • GPS –  Garmin nuvi works decently, not great.
  • iPhone – marginally useful, mostly unreliable as a phone
  • Ashtanga Yoga – the best change
  • Satellite radio – amazing, simply amazing!
  • New scanner –  Fujitsu ScanSnap 510m works great

Here is a short blurb about each of these things, in case anyone is interested in the thought process that led to the change, and my impressions of how the change has been.

Condo (5 stars)
This wasn’t a ‘choice’ exactly.  My dad decided to give his condo to my brother.  That caused me to reflect on how much sense it made for me to keep my house, and the answer was it didn’t make sense.  Living in the condo is cheaper and, as it turns out, less stressful because there is less maintenance.  The building is very secure, and it’s right next to Audubon Park.  And it has a stunning view of the Mississippi River.  My office is much nicer, and there is a pool on the roof that I plan to make use of as soon as the weather gets nicer.

Toyota Prius (5 stars)
I had a BMW X5 and it was a great car, but it got about 15 mpg and was out of warranty.  It needed some repairs and was likely to need more.  None of the repairs were cheap.  As much as I liked driving it, I was glad to be rid of it.  I didn’t need an SUV, and I certainly didn’t need to be spending $70 to fill up my car with gas. 

The Prius gets 50 mpg and costs about $23 to fill up.  It has bluetooth and a ‘smartkey’ system so all I have to do is walk up to the car, get inside and then push the START button.  When I was looking to buy the dealer suggested that I get a GPS system, but I didn’t feel like paying over $1,000 for the installed unit.  I already had a Garmin unit, and found that it was better to have a portable unit that I could take with me when I traveled. (More about the GPS below).  Bottom line: I’m ecstatic with the Prius, and everyone who has ridden in it has been astonished with how quiet it is.

GPS (3 stars)
Originally I bought a Tom Tom unit, and I liked it very much.  The graphics were pleasant, and the voice commands were wonderful (Tom Tom let’s you choose from among a variety of voices, including celebrity voices such as John Cleese).  The problem with the Tom Tom was that it took a long time to acquire the satellites, to the point that I had to return it.  In retrospect, I think there was something wrong with that particular unit. 

When I took the GPS back to Radio Shack, I decided to try a Garmin because many techies were raving about the Nuvi 660.  The Garmin was much better at picking up the satellites, but the voice commands were issued in a robotic voice that mispronounced simple words and completely butchered many street names.  Also, the Garmin has had some occasional navigation flaws.  For example, it keeps trying to direct me to get off Interstate 10 when I go toward Baton Rouge.  I can’t imagine what would be in store foe me if I were stupid enough to follow its suggestion.  Still, it works pretty well and, now that I’ve gotten used to having GPS available I can say that it would be hard to travel in unfamiliar places without it.

On the other hand, I can say that it’s dangerous to be too reliant on GPS devices. When I drove to Charleston (with the Tom Tom) I had no idea how I had gotten there, which didn’t matter because the GPS was working fine.  When I was leaving Charleston the GPS had trouble picking up the satellite and I was put in the difficult position of trying to guess how to get to the major Interstate in a strange place.  This made me aware of the insidious danger of GPS. 

iPhone (1 star)
My old cellphone was a Treo and I was perfectly happy with it.  Except that I just couldn’t sync it with my Apple computer.  I knew that the iPhone would sync well, and so I got one as soon as they became available.  I loved the phone at first, but it had some tech problems that ultimately led to Apple replacing the phone.  The replacement worked well for about a week and then it too started getting quirky. 

The browser crashes regularly and so I avoid it like the plague.  I
miss the Treo’s ability to search across all my information at once.
The iPhone’s virtual keyboard takes awhile to get used to, and I
completely understand why many people don’t like it. I don’t mind the keyboard as much as the technical problems, which seemed to get worse when Apple found itself having to issue updates to keep the hackers from ‘unlocking’ the phone.

On the plus side, I love the photo display feature, and I like having music and audiobooks with me at all times.  The visual voice-mail is great (but I can’t realistically say that its worth the premium price).  And Google Maps is truly amazing;  I use it regularly to find local information, or directions.  In fact, it’s saved me a couple of times when my GPS failed me.

Frankly, though, I’m kind of disappointed with the iPhone.  It has too many technical problems for a device that’s primarily a vital communications tool.  I would rather have a smaller phone that works reliably and has GPS.  My brother has the Blackberry and he uses it pretty heavily to do email, which I find attractive.  I don’t use the email function much on my iPhone because the implementation of is just too awkward (no ability to mass delete emails, for example is one major problem).  In short, the iPhone is a disappointment but I’m stuck with it for now.  If it’s still shaky when my contract runs out I’ll ditch it in favor of something simpler and more reliable.

Ashtanga Yoga (5 stars)
For a couple of years I had been doing Bikram yoga (or ‘hot yoga’) and I enjoyed it very much.  The only thing that bothered me about Bikram yoga is that it isn’t something you can practice on your own, unless you have access to a space that you can heat up to 105 degrees.  Still, I liked the idea of a set routine that I could memorize and then work on improving. Then I found out about Ashtanga yoga, which is a practice that is designed for self-practice, and also includes a set series of poses.  At the end of your session, you transition into meditation and then into shavasana.


P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.
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