Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Prius Check Engine Light

Yesterday, on the hottest day so far this year, my Prius check engine light came on. It was still on in the morning, though it mysteriously turned itself off after another cycle or two. Then I plugged in the ODB analyzer, and here are the error codes it showed:

  • P1121: Accelerator pedal position sensor range/performance problem.
  • P0125: Insufficient coolant temp for closed loop fuel control.

I found a nice listing of DTC (Diagnostic Trouble Codes) here, but it wasn't much help beyond what I already found from the analyzer. I showed the codes to the Toyota Service people who recommend I take it in. So much for Toyota zero-defect engineering.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Local real estate prices

Trulia is another real estate site,  recently funded for $10M by Sequoia and based in Silicon Valley.  They have great up-to-date stats for Mercer Island, like this one for average price per square foot:

No. Bedrooms Oct-Dec '06 Jul-Sep '06 Oct-Dec '05 Oct-Dec '01 Compare to Jul-Sep06
1 bedroom $319 $252 $455 $188 0.664
2 bedrooms $502 $415 $311 $311 1.438
3 bedrooms $482 $525 $367 $231 1.318
4 bedrooms $406 $343 $368 $252 0.898
all $426 $395 $344 $242 1.076


overall I think Zillow, which is based on Virtual Earth maps, is better.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Most Practical Foreign Language

Ted sent me a whole bunch of reasons why I should have studied French. 

Did you know:

  • France has the sixth largest economy in the world after the U.S., Japan, Germany, China and England.  [of course a few years ago they were the 4th largest, but hey]
  • France is the world's third military power (after the US and Russia), and has the world's second largest defense industry (i.e. exocet missiles, radar technology.)
  • France is the fourth largest producer of automobiles in the world (Renault, Peugeot, Citro├źn) and the third largest exporter.
  • France is fourth in research among countries of the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (after Japan, Germany, and the US).

Here's the best quote of the article:

When deciding on a foreign language for work or school, consider that French is the language that will give you the most choices later on in your studies or your career.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Over the air HDTV

We turned off our Comcast subscription because we rarely watch TV, but now my daughter decided that we absolutely have to see the American Idol finale tonight and it's my job to get our TV working again.  So I headed to Best Buy and for $179 came out with this Samsung DTB-H260F external HDTV tuner:


It was surprisingly easy to get working with our HD-ready TV set. I set up a $35 over-the-air antenna right there in the living room and I'm able to get three channels in glorious HD quality: 

  • 16-2 KONG (NBC independent)
  • 22-2 KMYQ (listings)
  • 13-1 KCPQ (FOX)

Punch in your address to and it tells which direction you need to point the antenna to get various channels in your area, but these three stations came in without much fiddling of the rabbit ears.  I still haven't figured out how to get PBS (Channel 9), though I'm hoping that's just because I haven't tried hard enough yet.

How much am I saving over Comcast?  Well it appears that now Comcast offers limited cable service with all the over-the-air channels for $12.95/month plus $6.65 for the set to box, or $19 total per month.  The HD option is an additional $5/month (but waived for the first year).  There is also a $90 setup charge.  Bottom line is that my free over-the-air option (which, with taxes and antenna totalled about $220) will pay for itself in about 6 months.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Prius MPG update

I was a little disappointed in my initial gas mileage on my brand new 2007 Prius. For the first several months I had been getting in the low 40s -- not that much better than any reasonably fuel-efficient car. Everyone said I should be patient, because the car needs time to break in, and I should see an improvement once we hit warmer weather.

Sure enough, look at this display. I'm getting over 60MPG on my commute, which is the only number I really care about since that's the vast majority of my driving.

Since purchasing the car, I've filled it with a total of 85 gallons for an average of about 44 MPG. My most recent tank registered about 48 MPG, so the car is clearly getting better MPG as the weather warms, as the engine breaks in, and as I become more used to driving it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Better than Captain Underpants

My 7-year-old is just becoming interested in books and of course I want to encourage him, but lately he's been reading the truly awful Captain Underpants series on bathroom-humor.  The books are clearly aimed at kids (mostly boys) who otherwise wouldn't bother reading, probably on the theory that reading something is better than nothing. But they're full of deliberate misspellings ("Skool", "teechur") and lurid descriptions of pranks played on incompetent teachers and school officials. Do I really want my kids exposed to what is basically Beevus and Butthead for grade schoolers?

But Wired's Geek Dad has an alternative suggestion: Japanese manga.  How about this one, about a prodigy who plays the game of Go:

The books are all cheap (under $10) and, since they're Japanese translations, you get to learn about Japanese culture at the same time.

While you're at it, check out Does Anything Eat Wasps, Why Don't Penguins Feet Freeze, and other science-oriented titles (also recommended by Geekdad).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

All-you-can eat

Here's a great idea for those all-you-can-eat restaurants: charge a fixed price for the meal, but add a surcharge for any leftovers. That's what they're doing at Sushi Para II in Chicago. Something like $17 for as much as you want to eat, plus $1 for each piece you take but don't finish.

[via Freakonomics Blog]

Friday, May 04, 2007

Coffee roaster

I'm happy with Espresso Vivace, but if I ever decide to go the next step, Cooltools recommends this Coffee roaster from Sweet Marias:

Costs less than $100, and gives 1-person quantity of freshly-roasted beans in about 20 minutes.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Seattle Public Schools

A group of activists and parents has put together a fairly active blog to discuss Seattle Public Schools.  From their banner:

Joining together across Seattle to fight for high quality public schools that educate all students to become passionate, lifelong learners.

Not necessarily directly relevant if you live on Mercer Island, but interesting reading, and points to the type of content that would make a good similar effort for Mercer Island.  Anybody want to start one?  I'll host!