ZipCar Part I

January 30, 2009

Since we let our car go, I had been looking for a good chance to try out ZipCar. I wanted something low pressure, in case there were snags.

Today, Danielle had a playdate with one of her classmates, Eloise, after school. Eloise lives reasonably far from us. About a 20 minute walk or a couple stops on the subway. Eloise’s mother was picking them both up from school and I had to go get Danielle around 5:15. Danielle wasn’t going to have dinner there (she’s a picky eater) so I wanted to get her home fairly quickly for dinner.

I could do car service, but then I’d need to run in and grab her quickly while the car waited. Not likely with a six year old.

So I reserved a ZipCar from 5-6. I deliberately waited until today just to see if you can do ZipCar on the spur of the moment. Plenty of cars available. I try a Subaru Forrester (to see if it would be a good weekend getaway car). I could have gone for a BMW or a Mini Cooper. But I’m a practical kind of guy.

It couldn’t have been easier. I walk to the garage a few blocks from our place. I hand the guy at the garage my ZipCard and he gets my car. A ZipCar will only unlock and only start if you have the right ZipCard. It’s just a regular card like a credit card with a magnetic strip. But ZipCars have RFID readers in them. They get programmed remotely so they know who has them reserved. The car will only start and only unlock during my reservation with my ZipCard.

I can reserve cars from my Blackberry or my PC. ZipCar knows where I live so it defaults to the two garages closest to me.

Given that in Brooklyn you have to park your car in a garage a few blocks away anyway, the ZipCar experience was different from owning a car only in that you can’t leave anything in the car.

All in all a very successful first ZipCar experience

Crayon Physics Deluxe

January 23, 2009

Forget quantum physics, check out Crayon Physics Deluxe.

Quantum Physics Information Teleportation

January 23, 2009

OK, that’s not a title you read every day. If you are at all interested in quantum physics (what? some people aren’t?) the use of quantum physics for incredible calculations and for transmitting information instantaneously across distances is fascinating.

So here’s an article indicating that they’ve done it. Sort of. I must point out that if you don’t have a basic understanding of quantum physics you probably won’t understand the article.

My favorite quote is at the end,

the efficiency of the procedure is still too low to be useful. Currently, only about one out of every 100 million attempts results in a successful entanglement…

If only I could succeed at something one out of every 100 million tries and have them write an article about me…


January 22, 2009

The lease on our car just ended. For a long time I have debated the value of owning a car when you live in Brooklyn. It was a 42 month lease and the car had 18,000 miles on it. We probably drive it 2-3 a month on average.

Between the cost of the car, parking in a garage (a necessity in Brooklyn), insurance (expensive in Brooklyn) and miscellaneous costs, we probably spent $1000/month on the car. If you drive it twice a month, each one of those trips is effectively costing you $500. Crazy.

But not having a car seems a bit odd. Since I graduated from high school, I have always owned a car. Even while spending 9 months in Japan, or 6 months working on a cruise ship, my car would be parked at my parent’s house. I’ve just always had one.

Part of it is the freedom aspect. What if, on a whim, we decide to go visit my wife’s sister (about 60 miles away)? Or we need to get something out of our storage unit (about a mile away)?

Enter ZipCar. ZipCar is really designed for our case. People who need to drive occasionally but for whom owning a car is crazy. The cars are parked all over, in the same garages that I would use for my car if I owned one.  You can use them by the hour. Most cars run $11/hour ($17/hour for a BMW) which includes gas and insurance.

So we’re going to be trying it for a while. And living in the city there are always trains, taxis and car service. I predict we don’t spend more than $200/month getting around without the car.

Today I appreciated the change. I’ve gone to see a friend a few times up in Westchester. If you own a car, you might as well drive it. The drive is about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes with some highly annoying traffic (particularly getting out of the city). I do a lot of swearing as I drive. But if you already own the car, the incremental cost of the trip is just the gas.

I visited that friend today and took the subway to Grand Central and then the Metro North train. It took an hour and a half, door to door. It cost $20. I read the paper, worked on my computer, wrote this blog. Didn’t swear once.

I’ll blog later about my first ZipCar experience. Maybe I can get used to this…


January 9, 2009

I was checking out, partly to see how good it was and partly to check out the UI. The interface is nice and easy to use. The product itself seems great at first (if you are a Quicken user, like me, you initially still prefer Quicken but not at the price difference). Then you check out some of the details and you realize that Mint needs some good QA.

One recent example. I logged on to Mint and immediately saw an alert:

This month you spent $700 on gas. Normally you spend $50.

I like that Mint tries to analyze your spending to help you save money. But remember, I live in Brooklyn. I drive twice a month. I don’t spend $700 a year on gas. It turns out that the nearest bank to me (half a block) is Marathon Bank. Apparently Mint thinks this is a gas station (there are, after all, Marathon gas stations). I withdrew $700 this month at that ATM.

So Mint is nice, but clearly not perfect.

But my weekly Mint email had the following tip:

Three Principles of Personal Finance

Personal finance is simple.

  1. Spend less than you earn.
  2. Make the money you have work for you.
  3. Be prepared for the unexpected.

That’s really it. It’s not that complicated.

If you don’t have Quicken or Microsoft Money and don’t want to spend any money on personal finance software, check out Mint. It’s not perfect, but it is free and it’s pretty good.

My New Year’s Resolutions

January 4, 2009

Hmm. None. I really don’t believe in them. I think I’ve done this rant before, but the basic gist is that it’s an arbitrary calendar date. If you think something is important, start doing it. Don’t wait until January first.

I’m a runner and I typically slack off in the winter. I hate the treadmill and the cold and the dark tends to minimize my outdoor runs. This year I wanted to try to stay in shape. So I decided to start swimming. We have a family membership at our local YMCA which has a very nice pool. I’m not a particularly good swimmer, but I am stubborn. So I started swimming.

Did I start in January? Of course not. It was late October when I decided this would be a good thing to try. So that’s when I started.

My point is that for New Year’s, people look at the calendar and decide they need to make a change. That just doesn’t work. You should decide that you need to make a change just because you do, not because you are suddenly writing 2009 on your checks.

I love the people who decide to diet as a New Year’s resolution, but to totally indulge over the holidays. It’s one of the more common resolutions, but totally goofy in it’s execution. You decide that moderation in eating/drinking is something that is important for your life. So to prepare for this life change, you do the complete opposite for a month. Oh yeah, that will work.

Have you ever been around someone who quit smoking? How often did they quit on January 1st? Most of the time something just clicked in their life that it was time to quit. The truth is that most resolutions are a bit hard. You have to be committed. The fact that you bought a new calendar does not equal commitment.

Anyone who goes to the gym regularly will tell how much they hate January. Because it’s the month when the gym is jam packed with people who you know will not be there in February.

Be honest. How many New Year’s resolutions have you really kept? …