Hughes Family: November 12th, 2012 – November 25th, 2012

Whew! A blog post that encapsulates two weeks of the Hughes Family madness. Impossible you say? Consider this: We didn’t too much! Every year, around this same time, something called the “holidays” start. Many people spend time with their families and others relax and participate in the ritualistic festivities of the season. But here, in the retail world, we feel the need to capitalize on the frenzied deal seeker’s shopping rampage. We work day and night to bring sales to the hungry masses. We take the cash from their outstretched arms and give them “deals” and the “hot” items. There is no rest for us during the holidays. No, there is only tireless effort and piles of cash… (tiny piles, but we make them look bigger by putting larger denominations on the top). In all seriousness though, it’s quite exhausting.

This was the guys last get together of the year (ha ha… Tom will pull another one out of this magical last minute hat). We ate at Leatherby’s up in West Valley. The most memorable part of the evening was when we decided it just might be possible to win the iPad dangling in the Fancy Cutter II machine. Sadly we weren’t fancy enough.

A few days later it was off to Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 with the Sabins. I’m pretty sure Jason and I were the only guys present. The theater was packed from to to bottom with swooning women of all ages. The Estrogen was so thick that I could barely see the screen.  I just want to publicly thank Fran for going to see it with me (yeah, part of the estrogen was mine, what of it?). I thought the movie was a good conclusion to a fun series.

Anyone ever heard of Jillian Jiggs? Jillian, Jillian, Jillian jigs, it looks like your room has been lived in by pigs!” Jillian is an adorable little girl with a hyperactive imagination that leads to chaotic adventures. She loves boxes.  “I’m mad about boxes, boxes are fun! No one will guess who we are when we’re done.” And our kids love boxes too. Normally around this time of year our church has a drive in movie (the kids decorate boxes like cars and sit in them while they watch something). This year there was no drive in so the boxes we had set aside became tiny houses,  bobsleds (down the stairs), battle armor and eventually ended up as part of a giant fort. And, incidentally, our house sometimes looks like it’s been lived in by pigs.

My sister suggested seeing the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in SLC on Wednesday. We decided that would be a fun date and opted to bring Mike along.  More on that in a second. On the way to the Energy Solutions Arena (the event location) we stopped to eat at one of Fran’s favorite places, Hong Kong Tea House. I think this restaurant has actually made the blog before.While I have enjoyed other meals there immensely I felt like the food was only okay this time. Perhaps I was simply preoccupied by the fact that I had parked the minivan with three feet of the vehicle’s front extending past the actual parking zone. A few cars behind us another ride was enjoying it’s new boot for the same crime. However, we were able to escape unscathed.

Then it was on to the show! Quick Tip – if you’re going to anything at the Energy Solution Arena grab the six or seven dollar parking (just suck it up). It’s right across from the building and you will avoid almost all the traffic when you leave.
So anyway, in we went. The first few songs were fantastic and the accompanying light show was awesome. And then the show turned into a rock opera. Singing? I had no idea. I’m one of those guys who’s heard “Christmas / Sarajevo 12/24 (Instrumental)” and thought the whole show was going to be just like that. Ha. No. Personally I felt like most of the singing was mediocre, but the story was entertaining. And at the end they busted out a whole series of truly epic songs and all was well. My ears rang for a whole day.

Here’s a scene from the show. No one has ever filmed it before, so don’t bother looking on YouTube for something better (if you think I’m serious then my heart bleeds for you).

On Thursday we went to my family’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. Erin and her part of her family had come down for the Orchestra but they stayed for the food (and possibly for some of the company… though that seems unlikely).

There was a ton of delicious food. Turkey, ham, green bean casserole, potatoes, corn, stuffing and abut four pies. Dinner at the Hughes house doesn’t end when you’re full, it ends when your esophagus fills up.
After dinner everyone who could still move played a round of “Beyond Balderdash”. A great game and a good time for all. Maybe we’ll do it again next year. Maybe.

Later that night I ventured out with Mike to watch some of the Pre-Black Friday chaos. I had been down to the Provo Best Buy earlier in the week and snapped a picture of people who had already been camped there for days (silly nuts).  Our AF Best Buy had  a line that nearly wrapped around the whole building. Mike asked me what kind of deal could be so good that people would stand out in the cold for hours and hours. I didn’t know. I was one of these people last year. I didn’t buy anything. Awkward.
Black Friday creep pushed Walmart’s sale to eight and Target’s to nine.  Mike and I didn’t make it out until around ten. There was still a good deal of chaos but we had missed most of the great deals and maiden adrenaline fueled frenzy. We returned home empty handed. The highlight of my night: The line in front of Shoe Carnival.

Come to think of it I didn’t end up buying anything over the weekend. I was probably too tired from selling things. Ah well, I’ll get to my shopping sooner or later. There’s still plenty of time to Procrastinate.

Pioneer Avic Z1 Upgrade

My Pioneer Avic Z1 has been a great car stereo, with one tiny exception. Ever since the day I had my stereo installed I have a warning message pop up when the stereo turns on (“Warning! Improper parking brake connection detected”) and I am locked out of all the map and setting functionality on the unit if I’m moving.

To be fair, anyone with this unit is going to get locked out if the car is moving. It’s a “safety feature” of the unit. But it’s really stupid. If I can adjust all the controls on my music then why on earth shouldn’t I be allowed to adjust settings or enter destination addresses? Too dangerous? Okay, what if I have a passenger in the car with me? Why lock controls that a second person could use?

The solution to all my trouble? A bypass procedure and a software update. I’ve been planning to do this for three years or so and just never got around to it. A week or so ago I bought an upgraded hard drive on eBay. For only $80 I got  2012 maps, updated Gracenotes and way more space for music.

Yesterday I had my center console pulled apart to add insulation around the shifter so I figured that was a good time to tackle the project. Putting in the new drive was a cinch (pop out the old one, transfer the mounting bracket and then slide the new one in). The software is now up to date (I was still running the original 2006 version). Then it was time to tackle the bypass.

Pulling the Avic out is not a fun procedure. There are so many wires, modules, harnesses and cables that it makes me cringe. But I went for it. While I was digging around I noticed this weird relay contraption. I’d seen it before, but this time I decided to give it a closer look since it was hooked up the parking brake ground on the Avic. I think it was put in by the guys at Sound Warehouse when I had the deck installed (it might have been a bad attempt at a bypass & was probably the cause of my error message). Out it went. Ounces shaved off the car’s weight. Win.

Performing the bypass operation was fairly easy. Cramming all the stuff back into the console was hard. Here is a great video that shows bypass instruction for the Avic Z series (if it doesn’t play click the “watch on YouTube” button on the bottom right corner):

Problem solved! I got the bypass done, no more warning, and now I have access to all my controls even if I’m in motion. Rest assured people-  I’m not planning to use my new power to do anything reckless.  I guess only one question remains: Am I a crazy stereo bypassing criminal or a equal rights stereo control liberator?

Corvette: Breaking It In & Breaking It

As of a few days ago I have gone for several “real” drive around town (I’ve put about 200 miles on the car so far). I think all of my initial impressions were pretty spot on and I don’t think I have much to complain about.

I’m getting the hang of the clutch now (you have to engage it quickly at a higher RPM), but getting it rolling – especially when the car is cold – is still tricky.  I’m still impressed by how quiet it is compared to my last clutch. The pedal isn’t really an issue for me anymore- I’m getting used to it and I really like the lighter feel. Shifting is much quicker with the lighter flywheel.

The sound is definitely unbearable. Even cruising around town the drone is too much. I ordered a B&B Fusion exhaust so I can (hopefully) eliminate some of the drone on the quieter setting. Not cheap, but I’m think this will be a good upgrade.

Since it’s so cold out I haven’t really been able to floor it in lower gears, but in third and fourth I really think the car pulls harder than it did before. With the turbo upgrades I feel like power is more immediate.  Also – and this isn’t related to performance –  I can hear the turbos spool down when the car is shut off and it’s a really cool sound. I can’t wait to see how high we can boost. I can almost taste the 1000hp.

To be honest I am really surprised by how smoothly things are going so far. Of course it’s not perfect. When I flipped the methanol switch it blinked and then seemed to short out and then a few moments later the car began running really rough and the MIL illuminated. I limped the car home and pulled the codes (p0202, p0204, p0206, p0208). The passenger side injectors were all malfunctioning.

Turns out I had blown a fuse. Not a big deal, but it may mean there is a wiring issue. Quick reference below. Circled fuses. Left = odd injectors. Right = even injectors.

And when I test drove the car after replacing the fuse I got a P0455 code. I’m not sure if it was related to the injector issue, but I tightened my gas cap and cleared the code. Earlier today on a short errand I got the error again. There have been a couple of times when the gas cap wouldn’t screw on properly, so I went all in and bought a new one. After clearing the code a time and driving around a bit the MIL was still off. I even checked pending codes and so far so good. Hopefully the fix is that simple. [update: Solved! It wasn’t the gas cap – one of the engine hoses had been capped instead of vented back into the engine].

I’m really hoping I can finish breaking the car in and get the final tune done before the weather gets really bad. But if not I’ll probably survive (probably…). I know, I know… my life is so hard. I’ll shut up now.

Avoid Online Fraud

I don’t know why people browse for stuff they already own. Maybe it’s some kind of comparison-based compulsion. Anyway, not the point.

I see a lot of car fraud while I’m browsing, so I thought I’d point out some telltale signs (and this can apply to any online shopping). Sometimes it’s easy to spot, sometimes it’s harder. Here’s a quick example:

Here are some issues that you might notice right away:
• The listing says the car is a coupe. The picture shows a Z06 and no one listing a Z06 would forget to mention that.
• The location of the item is Los Angeles, California (KSL is mostly local stuff).
• The seller’s account was created in November (in other words, it’s brand new)
• The ad has been online for less than 24 hours (which KSL is helpful enough to point out).

Your radar might already be going off if you know what a good deal the car appears to be. If you took the time to Blue Book this Corvette you’d find this:

Not just a good deal, this car would be an amazing deal. We’ve all heard about that unhappy wife who sold her husband’s Lamborghini for a buck. That’s the kind of score we all dream about. But chances are that’s an urban legend. If you sport a deal that’s too good to be true then it probably is.

And of course the biggest tip off is the Carfax report which shows that the VIN is invalid:

All these things together make me pretty certain that this ad is fraud (I reported it to KSL, but so far the ad is still online), but someone else may not realize this. Let’s say this someone decided to call and talk to the seller. I think they’d find a few more suspicious things:

Chances are the car is not sold (if this was real that car would be long gone). You’re probably local so you can’t really look at it but if you said you wanted to come see it I’ll bet they wouldn’t let you. But really the most tell tale sign that this is fraud would be if they insist you send them a cashier’s check or wire payment for the car (or deposit). That’s a no-no. Once you do that you’re money is gone. Unrecoverable. You lose.

This is a car to stay away from, as is any car with similar signs of fraud. As much as I hope no one falls for this ad I bet someone, somewhere, will.

If you’re car shopping then buying locally is nice because you can actually go see the car for sale. If your’e shopping online eBay is a good bet. There is still some fraud, but they verify VIN numbers, offer car reports and you have the benefit of looking at seller feedback.

A car is a big important purchase, but the same rules still apply to other kind of products. Just last month I placed an order for some posters. The company didn’t seem shady, but I never got my products or even an email reply to my many order inquiries. In the end I had to dispute the charge. This is another good reminder to use some form of payment that protects the buyer in case there is a problem.

Stick with places you trust. Take my company for example- people know they can trust us. When you order from Blade HQ you get what you pay for and if there’s an issue we’ll take care of you. I’m not just tooting my own horn. We talk to people every day who’ve been burned by some fly by night operation. Me? I shop at Amazon because I know – for the most part- I can trust them. There is something to be said for feeling safe when you make a purchase.


Hughes Family: November 5th, 2012 – November 11th, 2012

Some text here… a bit here, and voila!  A blog post.

Mike’s bike is in a perpetual state of disrepair from constant abuse & neglect. It seems like every month we have to repair a flat or make some of kind adjustment. We used to drop his bike off at a repair shop, but that got expensive so we started doing repairs ourselves. This last time I had Michael help me (I think Fran told me this fulfilled a scouting requirement). He was a pretty good helper.

And then we voted. The line was excessively long- I waited almost two hours- but I didn’t mind (thank you iPhone!). I would have gone later in the evening, when it turned out there was no line, but had other plans.

I have a few thoughts on the election. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but I’m not particularly pleased with the outcome (though not surprised). I don’t feel like we accomplished much as a country in the last four years. Obviously I don’t put the blame completely on our president, but I think he shares some of the responsibility.

What really worries me for the time being are taxes. I don’t mind if the Bush-era tax cuts expire, or if some deductions are eliminated here and there, but I do mind a tax increase. President Obama has made it clear that he intends to raise taxes on the rich. Maybe that, in and of itself, isn’t a bad idea. But to Mr. Obama I look like a very wealthy citizen instead of a business. My company is a pass though S-corp which mean that on paper my income is the same as my company’s income. So, to clarify further, on paper I appear very wealthy.

I’m already in the highest tax bracket. Paying more taxes would simply hurt my company’s ability to grow. If we don’t grow then we don’t employ. It is the small businesses that drive the US economy. I feel like treating small business income like personal income is a mistake. In the next year I expect to pay nearly $100,000 of additional taxes. That’s money I could have used to increase inventory, expand, add employees or stimulate the economy.

I also worry about health care issues. This coming year companies with over fifty employees will be required to provide health care coverage to their full time employees. We already do this and it’s very expensive. Premiums keep rising. I worry that a mandatory health care program will drive prices up even more and eventually become a financial liability for us.

In the meantime many companies are hard at work cutting hours of full time employees so that they don’t have to provide insurance coverage to them. The net effect is that many of these workers end up with less money and they will now be required to purchase their own heath care (that’s a double whammy). Sometimes I feel like the laws that have been created to help have unintended harmful consequences.

Sure, I’m oversimplifying some things and the thoughts I’m sharing are comprised of a limited issue scope, but my point is that I’m worried. When a county reaches the point where the takers outnumber the givers there is an unsettling imbalance and the future seems bleak.

Since my Vette has been gone I have parked the Camaro in the garage. I ended up reorganizing things again so it could fit. The kids are getting older so I pulled out one of the shelves in front of the car and pushed the remaining shelf back a few feet. I know this will seem like a funny thing to say about a garage, but it really opened up the place. I had to do a lot of shifting though.

All the garden stuff and the tools had to go in the shed ( I put a shelf in there- it makes me so happy). So then I had to take some of the shed stuff that we don’t use often to a storage unit (we actually don’t have any storage room in our house so I caved and got this unit… I am sort of ashamed, but mostly happy).
And here’s a glimpse of my super secret project. But it’s not really super secret. We’re giving the home office a makeover. We’re in a month in at this point. Slow and steady.

A quick update on Fran’s foot (toe, technically): The healing is going slower that we had hoped. Apparently all the walking around she was doing made exacerbated the wound’s bad mood. No more walking! On Wednesday we finally picked up some crutches. Thanks to those of you who have wished her well and sent money (which is, of course, appropriate in this situation).

On Saturday night I took the kids to see Wreck-It Ralph while Fran took it easy at home. What a cool movie! Visually appealing, good plot and right up my alley (8/10). All the kiddos made it way though without falling asleep or using the bathroom (that I know of).

On Sunday we went to the Lott’s new home for dinner. Despite not having a kitchen it went smoothly. Fran made pecan pie and pumpkin crème brûlée. Hopefully there will be more of those in the future. When we got back I was secretly planning to have a giant pile of pecan pumpkin crème brûlée covered pie, but alas it was gone.

“But he has two sports cars! Surly he can pay more taxes!” You know what? If I really thought the government would take additional tax revenue and use it to to pay down the deficit then I might not feel so unhappy.

Corvette: First Drive

I picked up my car from Premier today and drove it back to Lehi. Right now the car has a fairly rough base tune. The idle is set high (about 950) and it’s running with zero degrees of timing (there is an issue with the knock sensors being too sensitive).

Noise: I thought the exhaust drone was loud before, but now it’s nearly unbearable on the freeway. I’m going to have to explore a new exhaust system and some sound proofing on the car’s interior (if needed). Don’t get me wrong- the car sounds amazing, but it may just be too much.

Clutch: The pedal feels a little loose when it’s disengaged (up, down and side to side play). Once it’s pressed it actually feel really good. Getting the car moving initially does seem to be an issue (aluminum flywheel), but I think that can be overcome with some practice. The clutch is pretty quiet (although there’s a lot of extra noise coming out of the console- I’ll need to pull that and see about deadening the sound).

Suspension / Drivebility: The car felt a lot different than I remember. I dropped it off at Vince’s to get an alignment done and to tweak some of the shock settings. The car felt a little bouncy and less stable than before. But some of the change probably comes from the added weight in the front of the car (engine). The clutch is going to take some getting used to. Shifting seemed to be good. [Update- it turns out that the one of the steering linkages was loose and this was causing the sloppy feel]

Power: Premier dynoed the car and it put out 630rwhp at 6 PSI (with no timing). That seems pretty good, considering that’s about what I had before with 8 PSI. Driving home I could tell there was a lot of untapped power. I didn’t do anything crazy, but the car pulled hard in 3rd and 4th. Seems to be on par with what I remember with a lot of room to grow.

The Vette needs a serious cleaning. It’s been sitting around for months at this point and the inside and outside are filthy. A dirty car always diminishes some of the enjoyment. Can’t wait to get her back, do some cleaning and get the break in miles (500) put on. Then I can have some real fun.

A Few Thoughts on Opportunity Cost

Right now I’m in the middle of a bunch of projects- car upgrades, garage reorganization, office makeover and a store expansion. There’s no question that these projects are taking time, resources and causing me more than my fair share of headaches. So the question floating around in my head lately is “Why?” Why am I doing all this stuff?

Clearly it’s because I must believe that after finishing these undertakings I will, ultimately, be better off than I was before. And then I started thinking about opportunity cost….

Obviously any money I put into my car (or any project) is unavailable for other uses. But what about intangibles? While my car is being overhauled I can’t drive it. What is the opportunity cost of three months of enjoyment? If a mathematical formula could be created, would it show that there is a net benefit with regard to my endeavors? Or is it possible that, when factoring things like utility, pleasure, peace of mind and finances I am actually running a deficit and I don’t even know it.

I do know this: On several occasions I have thought “I shouldn’t have done this- I should have left good enough alone.” But hope generally carried me through. I believe people are very good at creating the reality they want. Perhaps a mathematical analysis would be insufficient; how do you account for the illusion of desired outcome? Cognitive dissonance always wins in situations like these.

What could have been will always remain unknown.

Hughes Family: October 29th 2012 – November 4th, 2012

Yeesh… I have fallen behind this past week. Too much going on. Maybe I should write a post about that. Yes, take some time to write up a nice post about how little time I have because so much is going on.

I am a big fan of Chinese food. I don’t think fried  shrimp qualifies as Chinese food but I love them nonetheless. If you’re ever looking for some good buffet shrimp check out Asian Buffet in American Fork. You have to hit up the dinner (more expensive than lunch) but it’s well worth the cost. And their main courses are good  too. Anyway, that was my point- we went to dinner and I ate a lot of shrimp. That was a good day.

Halloween rolled around and Fran took the kids out while I manned the door. Well, to be more specific the kids took off and Fran spent an hour looking for them. The crowds didn’t seem as thick this year. I would guesstimate we had between 150-200 trick or treaters (last year I think we had about 300). I always find it awkward when parents yell stuff at me from the side walk. I usually have no idea who it is or what they are saying. So if it’s you then stop it.  
I had some fluid build up in my ears this week and I was experiencing pronounced ringing which was aggravated by loud sounds (especially voices). At one point during the night I heard a lot of murmuring outside before the bell rang. When I opened the door about twenty kids screamed “TRICK OR TREAT!” and I felt like someone kicked me in my ear drums. I tried to smile and as I handed out candy to my tiny costumed attackers.

The kids all had a fabulous time (how can you not have fun on Halloween?). They came back with their pumpkins filled to the brim. Michael typically sorts out his candy in preparation to trade, sell or eat.

Gabe tends to dig in right away and eat until he gets sick. Claire is usually pretty good about rationing, although this year Fran made a discovery in her bed. This will probably seem totally anti-Halloween, but we always offer to buy the candy from our kids. The amount of treats they end up with on Halloween is staggering (school parties have them on a sugar high long before they even go Trick or Treating). Only Gabe took us up on our offer this year. We pay well, so don’t feel too bad for the kids.

We like to play games, but it can be hard with Gabe and Chloe. The other night the two youngest went to bed early and so we played a few rounds of Jenga. For some reason that night I felt particularly impressed that we had made little people who could now play games with us. I don’t want our kids to grow up too fast, but it will be nice when all six of us can settle into a game together.

I hope one day my kids read these posts and go “They had fried shrimp?”