Thoughts on Car Buying

2000My sometimes hated (but mostly beloved) minivan is no longer in my possession. After a few days of car shopping, I traded it in for a used Toyota. The van, a Honda Odyssey, was sixteen years old, so I suppose it was time. Still, it ran beautifully on the way to the dealership, so that drive was bittersweet. On the way, I passed by a yard sale, offering bikes and other things I might have purchased, because having things to do at Grandma’s house is where I am in life, but I didn’t stop, knowing that those items would probably not fit in the trunk of the sedan I was planning to purchase.

Buying a car has changed since I bought my first vehicle, that’s for sure. Now, the first contact is often online. Whether one picks the “chat” function or sends an email, there will soon be a contact. The phone starts ringing. Go in for a test drive, and (in Athens, Georgia) there is a mandatory meeting with the “sales manager.” Then, a couple of times, I got an email to see if the salesman met my expectations.

After I finally said I might be interested in a used Honda, I got an offer of $500 for my old van. As it has been more truck than family vehicle for a while, with the typical bumps and scrapes associated with that duty, I wasn’t expecting much. But, that deal had me paying more than the maximum KBB value on the seller’s car, with half the typical auction estimate on mine. Really, that wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

Eventually, I ended up at a more rural dealership which didn’t use the “meet the manager” approach. I got $900 for my old van, which was still a very low number, and a newer car for less money. Oh, and I got to keep the new to me car overnight and take it for an inspection prior to purchase. The dealer even gassed it up for us before the extended test drive.

After I’ve had this vehicle for a while, I guess I will know if it was a good purchase. But, I can say that the pressure to buy was less out in the country. In the mean time, I guess I’ll be looking for some accessories for the “new to me” ride.

Wedding $

A while back, I was in Target, shopping for some trinkets for the kids, and I saw a couple of “bigger kids” who were obviously getting married. The young woman was trying to keep her groom to be under control as they went around the store, with a handheld bar code scanner, generating their wedding registry. In one way, it was sad, watching this guy scan games and other items which had no real place on a registry. To him, creating a wedding registry was obviously like making a list for Santa Claus—on steroids. The young lady seemed more interested in finding items that they might actually need. As I watched them, I chuckled, hopefully silently, watching this guy run around the store, trying to pack as many of his preferred items onto that list before his bride wrested the scanner away.

Today, however, there might be a better plan—Amazon. There are some great benefits to this program, including a huge selection of items, the ability to share with friends and family who might not live near a chosen brick and mortar store, free shipping, 180 day returns, and Amazon will even generate a “Thank you” list. And, yes, the groom can list his favorite video games as purchase options. Hopefully, with some time to think about it, the bride and groom can pick items that help them create a new household, without the wrestling match over the bar code scanner.

I’ve noticed that my own kids, who are now young adults, would much rather order anything online. My daughter will pore over the toppings offered by Pizza Hut, sometimes taking a quarter of an hour to build the perfect pie. Truly, I am amazed at the way the internet has altered the shopping experience. I live near a “Carvana” facility, and I simply can’t imagine buying a car without a test drive, but they will gladly bring a nicely detailed used car right to the customer’s door.

Weddings are bigger business now. Venues charge in the thousands for a few hours of their time, and catering and a d.j. are the norm. At least, with Amazon’s wedding registry, guests might be able to provide appropriate gifts, with a minimum of hassle.

Backup Camera and more!

AutoVoxx2If you have a newer car, it has a back up camera, courtesy of federal regulations. But, if you drive an older one, as I do, you might want to add that functionality. Sadly, I decided that I needed both forward and rear recording capabilities also. That’s sad, because no longer will the testimony of a sound witness hold up in court. In the age of security cameras, body cams, and cell phone videos, people (such as cops and juries) demand video and audio confirmation of actions and words. So, rather reluctantly, I opted to purchase a mirror/backup camera which also records my driving front and rear. Here’s a link to the current unit that I had installed in my ride: AUTO-VOX X2 Mirror Dash Cam and Backup Camera

Like any other purchase, there are pros and cons, but overall, I am quite pleased. The unit fits over the original rear view mirror, which is good—but it is considerably darker than my original mirror, which is not so good. When he drives the car, hubby just activates the rear camera, which is easy to see in the screen, which is actually slightly larger than my original mirror. As the screen is reflective, but dark, I mostly use the side mirrors for a rear view, however, the mirror does display very accurate speed via gps, so it is handy even when not being used as a screen for the rear camera. When I do back up, the unit provides a good view behind my car, making parking lot maneuvers much easier.

The dash cam has very good video resolution of the road in front of the car, and while the rear resolution is less than the front, it is acceptable. Until I reviewed some of the rear footage, I didn’t realize how much one misses while just driving. Sometimes that rear footage is funny, such as seeing the driver behind my car picking his nose when we were both stopped at a red light. I have also gotten video of deer crossing right in front of the car, which seemed a lot more dramatic when it happened than it did when I watched the recording. Fortunately, I haven’t had any accidents, but the camera is always on, just in case. Left alone, it will eventually record over previous footage, but it is easy to keep old recordings by transferring them to a computer.

A few months ago, I was stopped by the local gendarmes when driving home from church, and my rear camera captured the incident, both audio and video. Reviewing the recording convinced my husband that I deserved legal representation. I preserved the footage by simply popping out the mini SD card, and that way hubby could look at the video and hear what I said, as well as what the deputy said. Without that footage, I might have had to pay that ticket, so this camera has already helped me quite a bit. If you have an older car, check it out.

DeputyJ

Still shot taken from the video recorded by the rear camera of my AutoVox unit.

How to read Pamela J. Dodd’s books

ToT_cover_final_webLGI suppose there is a bit of a “duh” response to that title. Just buy them. Right? However, both Trinity on Tylos (the Whiskey Creek Press print book) and The Gift Horse (the Booklocker print book) are out of print, although some copies are still available from internet booksellers. Oh, and I have a few tucked into a box in the closet, and I would gladly sell them, but realistically, print is out of fashion these days. I seldom buy print books myself.

Instead of print, there are ways that modern readers can access my novels. Trinity on Tylos (the second, Kindle Direct version) is available for purchase or “free” for those who have a Kindle Unlimited reading subscription. The Gift Horse is available from the Kindle store as well as being available in ebook format from the original publisher.

And I am happy for readers to either buy or read via their Kindle subscription, because I get a bit of cash either way. Yes, my royalties for these are often in pennies, but I have zero expenses, which was certainly not the case when I had to buy books, drive to a venue, sit at a table and then hope someone would want to fork over $15 bucks for an autographed copy. Those were often money losing days!

My other author persona, Pilar Savage, makes more money, and she has never sat around hoping to sell her books, as they are only available as Kindle books via Amazon. The way to success as an author has certainly not changed—write something good enough that someone else will want to read it. But the method of delivery has changed quite a lot since I began publishing fiction.

Solo— a Star Wars Story

Solo posterOur son is a big time Star Wars fan, and he initially said he planned to skip this movie. Based on the box office stats, apparently a lot of folks felt the same way. However, a friend apparently convinced him to go see it, and he came back raving about how much better it is than Star Wars Episode VIII. Last evening, hubby and I went with him to our very small local theatre to see Solo- A Star Wars Story before it closes up and leaves for cable and the Red Box.

I did like it rather a lot. The cast is really great, from a decent likeness of the main character by Alden Ehrenreich to a fabulous supporting cast with veteran actors including Woody Harrelson and Paul Bettany, as well as modern favorites such as West World star Thandie Newton and Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke. The look and feel of the film, although a bit dark, is up to Disney and Star Wars standards, too. While I thought there was too much action (if such a thing is possible in a summertime blockbuster film) all of it was top notch.

For real fans of the series, there are some pluses and minuses of course. The film does a good job of filling in the small and big pieces of the original trilogy, especially those that occurred in the original film, Star Wars: A New Hope. Example: Han Solo proudly tells Obi Wan Kenobi that the Millennium Falcon made the Kessell run in 12 parsecs. How? When? And why was that important? Solo fills in all those blanks. How did Han and Chewy meet? Again, this film supplies some answers. Overall, the script writers (father and son Kasdan and Kasdan) performed a minor miracle in getting so much into two action packed hours.

Although I’ve read that it was a marketing problem, or a saturation problem—no one knows for sure why Star Wars fans have not embraced Solo. That’s too bad, because it is in many ways very similar to the much better received Rogue One: A Star Wars Story— it fills in blanks in the original film, gives us new characters to love and hate, and is a visual spectacle with a very good musical score.

Beat the summer heat and go see Solo—A Star Wars Story soon. Very soon, because it will be moving to video in a few short weeks.

A party in the car?

Hubby likes to watch YouTube videos of all sorts. One of his favorite YouTubers is a mechanic named Scotty. More than once, we have purchased items based on Scotty’s recommendation. However, I was really kinda surprised when we watched a video about this product and it ended up in our Amazon shopping cart. Ours arrived recently, and the reviewers are right. This is a very inexpensive way to have a party in your car!

Seriously, for readers who want a cool led light system which reacts with music, and with a remote control, check this out!

 

Some Science Behind My Science Fiction

Having just read an article in Popular Science online about what a”Generation Ship” might look like, I was gratified to see that some of the core concepts in my science fiction novel, Trinity on Tylos, are firmly rooted in science.

The article speculates about what challenges the multi-generation inhabitants of a colonizing venture (based on an extrapolation of current space technology) might face. Topics addressed include propulsion, medical issues, livestock, and robot workers.

In Trinity on Tylos, the alien captain of the Archeonite III has a big problem: his colony of survivors died out, but he has the ability to grow little Archeons from stored genetic material. He just needs some baby mamas, and my characters Venice Dylenski and Alathea Duke end up with the task. In the Popular Science article, We Could Move to Another Planet with a Spaceship Like This, the author mentions that “speculators say it’ll take 20,000 souls to start a healthy population on a new world. One space-­saving tip: Bring frozen embryos and people to diversify the gene pool upon arrival.” That’s right out of my novel, where Azareel and his android medical team design the embryos that Venice and Alathea gestate.

As in the Popular Science article, robots are probably going to be the grunt workers of the future. In my novel, the Archeons use robots (as they take the form of their makers, I call them androids) as workers. A limited but technologically proficient population would no doubt employ robotic workers, freeing the populace to supervise or take on  tasks that require a more creative mind.

Trinity on Tylos is a complex story, because it goes beyond being just a space opera and delves into human relationships, made more complicated by the limited number of people with whom the characters interact. Also, it is a story of surviving on a somewhat hostile planet, solving such issues as having enough water to irrigate crops. The Popular Science article mentions farming as one of the most necessary activities once the generation ship reaches a new planetary home. Indeed, when I wrote Trinity on Tylos, I remembered the words of William Bradford, a leader of the pilgrims who settled Massachusetts, who wrote “what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, fall [sic] of wild beasts and wild men—and what multitudes there might be of them they knew not.” Survival is not easy, and the Popular Science article, although very positive in outlook, does not ignore the difficulties that might face the future generations of humans whose journey began with some adventuresome ancestors.

Technological progress and science fiction often go hand in hand, because what writers dream up, engineers can (sometimes) make happen. However, the reverse is also true— when creating a science fiction story, there must be some science blended in with the fiction. Trinity on Tylos is science based fiction, and it is available for your Kindle reader or Kindle enabled device; just click on the cover art.

 

Kind of Amazing

I just bought a rechargeable Bluetooth speaker so I could more easily play music by the pool or on the porch. I have one, that is wired, in my “playroom” but it is rather large in size. This thing is small, but has lots more functionality than the older big guy that plugs into a wall outlet, such as being useful as a hands free calling device. I can see this being useful at a campsite, too. If you have an interest in portable sound, take a look:

What’s it about? A non-review of La La Land.

La La LandThe other evening, I told hubby that I wanted to see La La Land on HBO Go. Like many men, he is a direct, compartmental thinker, and he wanted a succinct description, like a phrase. Complex sentences and paragraphs are too much after a hard day at the office, so I said, “It’s a musical.” And he said, “What kind?” Based on the tone as well as the question, I was getting the drift that he didn’t want to try this one, so I said something like, “We’ll talk about it later.”

Today, weary of grading essays, I turned our sorta smart TV to HBOGo and found La La Land. Before the end of the opening number, a sort of modern fantasy about singing and dancing in traffic, I was already glad that I decided to forgo explaining the film to my husband. He is just not gonna go for this sort of film.

That’s not to say it is bad, for it certainly isn’t. But, this clever film is not going to be pigeon holed into a category, although HBO places it under “romance.” The film pays homage to Hollywood in particular and the entertainment industry more generally, and the characters certainly are passionate about their craft, but they struggle to pave a path to personal success. Work gets in the way of their relationship, but there are some seriously romantic scenes in this film. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have both moved up a few notches in my estimation, based solely on the way they conveyed emotion through song and dance and just looking at the camera.

As I was searching for an answer to “What sort of movie (or musical) is it?” I read several reviews. The one at RogerEbert.com comes the closest to explaining it, and I don’t want to spoil it or plagiarize, so I will merely provide the link. However, should hubby ask again, which I rather doubt, I have my answer: “It’s a different sort of musical.” Yep, it isn’t peculiar, nor avant gardé, nor off-beat. It is just different.

Project Day!

IMG_0725There is a hint of fall in the air here in northern Georgia, and most of summer’s heat seems to be gone. Yesterday, I used my big lawn-mower to crunch up the last of the leaves and twigs left by Tropical Storm Irma, so it is time to get some things done outside. This morning, I dragged out some big sheets of cardboard from the garage, grabbed some cans of spray paint, and went to work. The chairs pictured are really old resin chairs, but they have held up remarkably well, so I decided to give them some new life with a new coat of paint. Recently, I found a product that has made spray painting so much easier and better that I bought a couple of these: Rust-Oleum Spray Grip. When I first saw it, I thought it was a dorky idea, but my son tried it first, and he was a believer, so I got some for myself. The only downside is that you might need to buy more paint, because this thing makes painting a breeze, so you’ll end up doing more projects!

After I painted my rusty plant stands with Rust-Oleum Rust Reformer  and then a protective coat of black paint, I gave them some patina right out of a jar: Fusion Glaze.  This look isn’t for everyone, but if you like watching the folks on HGTV use “vintage” items in their decorating, you just might like adding some antiquing to your projects.