Hybridizing Our Ride


We’d been driving Jeeps for almost 22 years, until a month or so ago.  Actually, just two of them, a ’94 Cherokee and a ’10 Patriot.  The Cherokee, we essentially wore out, putting over one light-second on the odometer (300,000 km), and going through numerous windshields, a set of door hinges, grill, bumper, fender, hood, brakes, clutch, oil pump, power steering unit, several batteries, etc. over the 17 years we abused it.  Our second Jeep was a “buy what they have on the lot, ’cause we’re leaving on a long trip and don’t trust the old one to get us there and back” affair, with no selection of color or features, or even model, as the newer Cherokees had gotten more expensive, and the Patriot was cheaper, on sale.

The Patriot was OK, in some ways a step up, with leather heated power seats, sunroof, six-speed auto tranny, and satellite radio; in other ways not so much.  Despite a much smaller engine (2.7 l. versus 4.0 l.) it didn’t get much better fuel efficiency, though the old Jeep had dropped from a fuel burn of 9.8 l/100km to about  12.4 l/100km toward the end.  During the nearly 200,000km we put on the Patriot in only five years, efficiency varied from 11.25 to 9.8 l/100km, admittedly at higher speeds, as the speed limits have gone from 90km/hr in 1994 to 125km/hr in the open plains of the west in the 2010s.

Faced with the possibility of expensive repairs and decreasing reliability, we decided it was time to look at a bit greener solution to our automobile needs.  After a bit of research into hybrid gasoline/electric vehicles, we settled on the Ford C-Max, a “crossover” sized vehicle similar in capacity and form to our Jeeps–a five-door compact–but without 4-wheel drive.  The attraction is the promise of fuel consumption as low as 5.75 l/100km  and a range of 600-750km instead of 400-450km.  Of course, “recharge” is the usual 5-minute tank fill.

The goal of hybrid technology is to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.  At our current stage of energy economy, all-electric cars are not practical, as the battery technology, keeping the weight of the power train equivalent to the gasoline-powered designs, only provides less than 200km range, and requires several hours charging time, though higher-capacity batteries promise to increase range to 500km in some 2016 models.  Also, recharging off the power grid means that all-electric cars are essentially mostly coal-powered, so do not solve the carbon-pollution problem.

The hybrid, then, is fundamentally a gasoline-powered vehicle with a sophisticated energy-management system that employs a relatively small battery and an electrically-assisted power train.  The efficiency comes from using a relatively small gasoline engine that needs an assist for acceleration but is large enough to recharge the battery during low power demands.  The braking system and transmission also serve to recover the kinetic energy of speed as battery charge when slowing and stopping.  The engine shuts off when there is no power demand, i.e., when coasting downhill, and  there is  no  idling at stops or in stalled traffic.  While advanced computer software makes all of this possible, high efficiency is only feasible if the driver uses best operating practices.  To this end, the instrument cluster display helps teach efficient driving technique.

So it happens that we have become “road mopes,” accelerating ever so slowly and smoothly, slowing early for stop signs and signals, coasting to a stop, and generally avoiding rapid speed changes.  I’ve done some of those things all my life when I feel pinched for gas money: when we lived on Vashon Island in the late 1980s and I worked  in Poulsbo, a long commute, I  used to shut the engine off at the top of the last hill before the ferry dock on the way home and coast three miles to the toll booth.  So far, the techniques have paid off, with better than advertised highway mileage on the new car.  In town, however,  the steep hills of Shelton and the short distances we travel have not paid off.  Since waste heat is minimal, on cold days, the gasoline motor runs to heat water for the heater and to be more efficient when power is demanded, so the electric motor component sometimes never engages during short rides, dropping the efficiency from 5.8 l/100km to 15.75 l/100km.  We could have opted for the Energi model, with larger battery and plug-in recharge for better short-trip efficiency, but then, we have the problem of burning coal to recharge (though most of our power comes from Bonneville Power Hydro plants, which pose a different environmental issue) and the fuel cost of hauling the heavier battery on long trips.  Overall, in the first 1000km, we have achieved an average of 6.3 l/100km, slightly better than the Honda del Sol we had from 1996 to 2011.  On occasion, we’ve made it up our hill, albeit very slowly, on electric power, but the battery range under load is only a few hundred meters.  Of course, it recharges during the next downhill run, but at the expense of gasoline to reheat the engine if it is cold.

In many ways, driving a hybrid efficiently through conscious energy management techniques is a lot like riding our bicycle–to be able to go long distances, limit sprinting and fast starts to traffic necessity, minimize braking, coast when you can, and keep the rpm’s up to maximize power output from a meager source, whether old legs or a small-displacement engine.  Hybrids aren’t new, but weren’t practical until sufficient computing power was available in a small package to make the decisions necessary to run the engine only when needed for power or charging.  Early models, without intelligent control systems, and all-electric drive motors, were like a portable power generator used at a construction site–the gasoline motor ran all the time, throttling up when the load increased, which didn’t increase efficiency all that much, since it continued to run at idle and created a lot of noise.  Consequently, these kludges never made it to market.

So it goes.  We have purchased a new cartop rack to carry our bicycle racks, but haven’t installed it, waiting for a baseline average so we can see how much the air drag cuts into our efficiency and for a time when we will be bicycling regularly.  Unlike the Jeeps, we will not leave the rack installed for long trips when we don’t need it.  We’re getting good mileage, but we could have done nearly as well with the standard cars by manually switching the engine off at stops and being much more careful to not accelerate or brake unnecessarily.  But, those techniques don’t recover braking energy or promote shutting off the engine on downhill runs, so the hybrid, for now, is the most practical technology for optimal fuel efficiency.

But, we’ve also locked ourselves into another seven years of car payments in an age when  Congress doesn’t feel we deserve a cost-of-living increase, despite increases in housing and food costs, and increased medical costs with possibility of decreased Medicare coverage.  For now, fuel costs have dropped, again, but will inevitably rise as production of fossil fuels drops, as it must, to reduce carbon output.  Nevertheless, we want to set an example, however small, to the next generation that, in the face of irreversible man-caused climate change, we must try to avert total catastrophic runaway conditions.  It may be too late:  massive releases of methane from thawing hydrates in the Arctic tundra and ocean shallows are accelerating, compounding the rise in C02 levels. But, responsible carbon use can buy a little time, for possible, unknown technological solutions.

Cycling to 70 — and Beyond

For the past three years, we’ve been documenting our bicycling adventures with video clips from a handle-bar-mounted GoPro, and lots of still photos.  And, an adventure it has been.  Bicycle touring and recreational riding has become a popular activity for the senior set in the 21st century, so we are not unique, and certainly not the accomplished athletes that some are even into their 80s.  And, other survivors of heart disease have taken up bicycling as part of their rehabilitation, so our story is just one of many.

I’ve taken the 90-some short videos we’ve published over the years and put together clips from selected ones to tell the story, in less than an hour, of how we trained for a self-contained, unsupported bicycle tour on our own, through Michigan, the Upper Peninsula, and northern Wisconsin in 2013 and the setbacks we encountered with a life-threatening disease and the ensuing open heart surgery, followed by a pulmonary embolism that required a year of blood thinner therapy that led to a kidney problem.  After all that, with aggressively active walks and stationary bicycle training, we recovered enough to enjoy a limited bicycling season, combining car travel with trail riding.

So it goes: what follows are two 30-minute videos, the first covering our 2013 tour and preparations, and the second covering the realization that fitness and health aren’t the same thing, and the long trek back to fitness after surgery, rewarded with walks on scenic hiking trails around our local area and  fun rides on really great trails across the country.  The films are a celebration of the joy of bicycling as a life-long activity and the realization that modern medical intervention can not only save your life, but help you live it fully, if you have the determination and resolve to seize the day and take charge of your rehabilitation.

The early videos were fairly shaky, due to the instability of the camera mount, so we tried the YouTube enhancement feature to remove some of the jitters, at the expense of some sharpness.  There is a bit of voice-over narration in the beginning of each film, but mostly we let the scenery and the rides speak for themselves.  If you have the bandwidth, watch them in full-screen mode and turn up the volume.

These videos are on YouTube, which allows longer videos. The originals and others, taken along the trails and scenic byways of western Washington, can be found on Vimeo, at https://vimeo.com/user10747705

Maps, statistics, and elevation profiles of the routes shown in these videos can be found on RideWithGPS, at  http://ridewithgps.com/users/59643

Windows 10 Arrives at Last: Be Careful What You Wish For

The only reason we keep a copy of Microsoft Windows at Chaos Central is to run “must have” programs that are only published on the Microsoft platform (and, sometimes, OS/X, for which we don’t have a reliable machine).  Today was one of those days…  We have been getting warnings for some time about updating the GPS in our car.  We have avoided doing that because, until we got the refurbished Windows machine, we had to fire up XP in a virtual machine on Linux and assign a USB port to it.  Except, Garmin no longer supports Garmin Express on Windows XP.

I switched the big monitor from external display on my Linux laptop to the Windows 7 box and plugged in the GPS.  Of course, Garmin Express couldn’t find the GPS.  This is usually some Windows setting, but annoying to have to wade through the manual hardware detection.  Meanwhile, the Windows 10 upgrade agent, which, up until now, had steadfastly insisted we needed to buy a new machine, decided that the Nvidia graphics card I installed back in August was really present and functional, and started the upgrade, which pretty much put doing any useful work on hold until it completed.

But, while it was downloading, I was also downloading the Garmin utility, fighting with Firefox, which had caught an adware virus during configuration of the new machine.  As most Windows users are aware, adware viruses flood the screen with bogus warnings insisting you immediately purchase protective software to prevent the very thing it is doing, and will undoubtedly scale up the infection if you accept.  Other ads a flood in, opening new tabs and windows unbidden, faster than you can close them, if indeed you can close them safely.  So, I also downloaded an adware cleaner (???) but couldn’t run it while the Microsoft update was running.

By the way, none of this ever happens on Linux–adware and viruses just don’t happen.  yes, there are attacks that might install rootkits to allow unauthorized use of the machine, but these are relatively easy to avoid with good administrative practices, but rarely would a program be able to take over the machine or alter the operation of an existing program.


Soon, the machine completed downloading and preparing the upgrade, then started the process, during which the machine is unavailable. After a fairly long time, involving multiple reboots, the configuration process started, with a succession of “friendly” messages, along with the admonition to not turn of the machine (or, by inference, unplug it, and hope the power company doesn’t have an outage).


All this waiting is tedious, but the messages are hopeful, and then, after a while, refreshingly honest…  The admonition to not turn off the machine might indicate the upgrade process is not idempotent, i.e., that it might not succeed if restarted, a scary thought.  This one feature of Windows makes me extremely reluctant to ever consider using a Windows mobile system, on battery, or Windows anywhere without uninterruptible power.


Finally, the new system is ready for use, and detects the GPS immediately.  As much as I have denounced Microsoft and Windows over the years, I was as hopeful about moving from Windows XP to Windows 10 as I was about moving to Windows NT from Windows 3.1 back in the 1990s (NT was a “real” operating system; Windows 3.1 was a graphical user interface running on top of MS-DOS).  For the record, I had abandoned Windows 3.1 for IBM’s OS/2 (another “real” operating system, but which ran Windows 3 programs) early on, and had been a dedicated Unix user since MS-DOS 5 and  Windows 2.

Windows XP seemed an improvement over NT and 2000, which explains why it persists after 13 years, during which the embarrassingly dysfunctional Windows Vista spawned Windows 7, which was essentially Vista with an updated XP desktop, followed by the baffling Windows 8, which replaced the old desktop metaphor with a giant phone screen that didn’t make phone calls, with the tools locked in a secret compartment in the trunk, under the spare tire and the “Desktop” tiled with large “buttons” titled with incomprehensible icons. According to users (I never did use it), in operation, it was permanently wired in the “parental consent required” mode in a largely ineffective attempt to prevent users from inadvertently inviting malware into their systems.  The core system is still vulnerable to intrusion, and the monolithic application architecture is statistically prone to code bugs from sheer volume of code. (Unix architecture encourages a building-block approach to programming, leveraging existing bug-free code.)

The Windows 10 preview, released over a year ago, seemed to have promise: a fairly responsive system with a reasonable work surface modeled after the venerable desktop but with some updated graphics. Well, OK, usable–when you absolutely have to use it, but still Microsoft Windows. Still, Microsoft, under new leadership, (Nidella, replacing corporate plank owner Ballmer as CEO, represents a second generation of management, 35 years after the founding of the company), seems on the mend from a decade of missteps in their flagship operating system. Even though the usability factor seems improved, the cumbersome design concept legacy leaves the platform still more vulnerable to malware than the rival systems based on Unix system design principles, Apple’s OS/X on the desktop, and the Open Source GNU/Linux in the server room.


Microsoft’s next target is the computer in everyone’s pocket, the smart phone, but struggling from behind against Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms, the former based on the tried-and-true Apple desktop model and the latter built on the GNU/Linux core. Meanwhile, here we are, finally able to refresh our GPS maps on the Garmin (based, naturally, on GNU/Linux). Time to switch the display real estate back to Linux and get some work done.

Some Assembly (and/or Compiling) Required: Epson, Linux, and the ongoing quest for Windows 10


Despite being “mostly retired” here at Chaos Central, we are still heavily dependent on our computing resources.  Unfortunately, that also includes having at least one working copy of Microsoft Windows, in addition to a plethora of iOS devices  and the workhorse stable of Linux machines and servers.  Of course, the complete enterprise also includes a collection of paper-handling implements, like printers and scanners.

We’ve had a succession of laser printers since the early 1990s: an HP LaserJet2, replaced after 10 years with a LaserJet 1200, and in this century by a succession of Xerox Color Phaser printers.  The latest, a 6500, is on its 3rd set of cartridges.  A set of four “Genuine Xerox” high-capacity cartridges runs just slightly more than the retail price of a new printer, i.e., about $450.  As semi-retirees, that just won’t quite fit the budget, so we tried a 3rd-party set, priced at under $100, which has resulted in faded, muddy colors, absolutely unusable for business purposes, but more or less OK for printing recipes and mostly black-and white documents.  Lessons learned.

We also have gone through a progression of inkjet printers, mostly HP, a Lexmark or two, all with the same marketing principle: the ink costs more than a new printer.  Nevertheless, we keep feeding cartridges into them until they die or can’t color inside the lines anymore.  We currently have several in that condition: since most printers these days combine the functions of printer with scanner, copier, and FAX machine, we have long since consigned our dedicated scanners and FAX devices to the recycle pile.  We gave up our hard-wired telephone connection several years ago and second phone line with the demise of dial-up Internet access, so FAX, for us, is a relic of the 20th century, but the feature seems to come combined with the scanning function.

We do keep the old partially-broken devices around for scanning, though, and even bought a portable scanner to pack in the “on the road” system.  At the office, we used a Raspberry Pi as a scanner-server, to put one scanner on the network, accessible by other Linux systems.  The last of the inkjet printers failed, and with the laser printer quality not suitable for work, we were in the market for yet another inkjet.  Costco had an Epson multi-function system on sale, so it somehow slipped into our cart when we went shopping for bagels and dates, along with a book or two.

Out of the box, the new printer is our first wireless system, and the first Epson since the pin-feed dot-matrix days in the 1980s.  Setup was fairly straight-forward, and, since we have the Windows system we are trying to upgrade, we set that up first.  Despite taking “nearly forever,” that went fairly smoothly, and printed out a test page, because everything is designed to work with Windows: the install program comes on a CD in the box, after all.  The delays were certainly due to all of the updates being installed, not the least of these was the device driver for the new graphics card we hope will convince Microsoft to send us the Windows 10 update eventually–the upgrade status still says, “buy a new machine.”  We might have to wait another month for the update assessment to rerun and detect the driver and/or hardware–unless it has permanently written off our “new” old machine as hopeless.  But, I digress–back to the issue at hand, installing a new printer…

Linux was another issue:  manufacturers don’t publish drivers on their sites, but, thanks to the Common Unix Printing System (CUPS), used by Apple and all other Unix system vendors, Postscript Printer Description (PPD) files are available for almost every printer immediately after it goes on the market.  CUPS is Open Source, and the PPD files are essentially text files describing the printer features and settings (i.e., the “device driver,” a systems term that means the program or collection of functions that understands how to control the hardware device), so it is easy for Unix/Linux vendors to write their own setup systems, and for anyone familiar with the printer specifications to modify the driver to suit themselves, using setup programs they have written.  Of course, one can also modify the driver directly in a text editor, or via an existing setup program, and there lies the crux of our tale…

When I installed the Linux driver package (which essentially just installs the appropriate CUPS configuration file), the test pages and subsequent printouts were faint, with pale colors and grayed-out text.  Whoa!  I knew immediately that this was a function of the PPD file, because the Windows test page and the self-generated status printouts from the printer were normal, sharp, black on white.  A Google search quickly revealed a partial solution: set the print density to “High,” and gave a step-by-step procedure using the Gnome “system-config-printer” graphical printer administration tool.

On my primary system, I ended up opening the configuration file in a text editor (when you have the Source, use it) and selecting the “Normal” print density, rather than “High,” noting that whoever submitted the PPD file to the CUPS repository had left the print density setting in “Draft,” hence the faded appearance.  One could sympathize with the developer for testing in “Draft” mode to save ink, but the final step should be to reset to “Normal” and retest, as a courtesy to users who are not system developers or administrators, and to the Epson help desk, who won’t have a clue how to solve this problem.  In the Linux help forum article I found, the user had contacted Epson, with the usual ineffective “help” rendered to Linux users, which is usually less useful than the ineffective help rendered to users of closed systems like Windows, iOS, and OS/X–they were told to reinstall the driver, update the driver (i.e., download a fresh copy–of the one you just downloaded), and buy the special Epson paper. None of these “fixes” addressed the underlying problem: the driver default settings were simply not what most people wanted, and the settings were not intuitively obvious, but buried several layers deep in the configuration and used obscure descriptions.  Here’s what the file (the pertinent 9 lines out of 1200, anyway) and the graphical utility look like:

*OpenUI *MediaType/Media Type: PickOne
*OrderDependency: 20 AnySetup *MediaType
*DefaultMediaType: PLAIN_NORMAL
*MediaType PLAIN_HIGH/plain papers-High: "<>setpagedevice"
*MediaType PLAIN_NORMAL/plain papers-Standard-Vivid: "<>setpagedevice"
*MediaType PLAIN_DRAFT/plain papers-Standard: "<>setpagedevice"
*MediaType PLAIN_SUPERDRAFT/plain papers-Draft: "<>setpagedevice"
*MediaType LETTERHEAD_HIGH/Letterhead-High: "<>setpagedevice"
*MediaType LETTERHEAD_NORMAL/Letterhead-Standard-Vivid: "<>setpagedevice"

The original setting in the /etc/cups/ppd/WF-3640-Series.ppd file was “PLAIN_DRAFT.”

In the Gnome system-config-printer utility, the Media Type is set in the “Printer Options” screen, down in the middle of a menu, between what might be interpreted as “extremely advanced” and “void your warranty.”  Of course, “plain-papers-Standard-Vivid” doesn’t really translate to “NORMAL” in the minds of most users, unless they ignore the “Vivid” and assume “Standard” is what it means.  Programmers don’t often think about what gets presented to the user or how the users will interpret what they present.

system-config-printer "Printer Options" window on Linux Mint 17 MATE desktop
system-config-printer “Printer Options” window on Linux Mint 17 MATE desktop

The next issue is getting the scanner to work on Linux. For this, it appears, even though there is an iscan package available for “Network” connection, the printer/scanner itself does not support this: the device needs to be connected to a computer via the USB connection. Since our now preferred network appliance building tool is the Raspberry Pi computer, and the utilities and drivers are only packaged for RedHat-Fedora-CentOS and Debian-Ubuntu-LinuxMint variants, it is necessary to build the software from source. Of course, in both the binary packages and the source configuration files, some, but not all, the prerequisite packages and libraries are checked in the pre-processing, so the build process is a trial-and-error affair, tracking down and installing missing packages and header files (-dev or -devel packages for the libraries).

So far, an afternoon of trial builds has come up against a brick wall, finally, with at least one more library version to track down.  And, even if it does work, there is no guarantee that the Iscan system plays with the Xsane server software we currently use to provide network scanning services to all the Linux computers from one scanner.  However, the new Epson multi-function machine will scan directly to PDF and write onto a USB drive or SD memory card, which may be a better groupware solution than the user moving back and forth from the scanner to his or her workstation between pages.  The old HP scanner only produced image files (PNG or JPEG), which had to be embedded in a document file using LibreOffice or Scribus to convert to PDF.

So it goes, just another day at Chaos Central.   Always a new way to do old things, and problems to solve just to stay in one place.  After we got back from Idaho last week, the fan on my big laptop wouldn’t spin up, so it shut down from overheating.  I pulled the back off, spun the fan by hand, blew in it to see if it spun easily, wiggled the wires; did this a couple times, and it started working.  Naturally, we had to go out and buy something new to break in…

Tour 2015, Coda II — Wapato Point Transition Time

On the way from Montana to Lake Chelan,, we stopped in North Idaho over Labor Day weekend to visit with a friend who has a vacation house there: no phone service, no internet for the two days, during which we only left the house to walk around the area.  Monday, we traveled west: the GPS took us through the heart of the fire-blackened area east of the Columbia, where we passed a dump area of several hectares covered nearly a meter deep with apples.  At first, we thought these were from the fires, but a local resident told us that the warehouses are emptied of unsold apples from the previous year before this year’s crop is picked.

On the outskirts of Chelan stood the skeletons of several large fruit warehouses that had been directly in the path of the fire storm.  The fire blackened the entire north side of Chelan Butte, except for a few orchards, stark green squares in a field of black, but on closer examination, the outer rows of trees were turning brown.  Miraculously, the blackened areas stop at the edge of the lawns at the edge of town.  I had seen YouTube videos of a converted DC-10
slurry bomber laying a swath of red fire retardant at tree-top height behind the high school on the day the fire came to town.  Along WA 97A west of town, the brush and trees burned right down to the edge of the highway where there are no houses, but where there were houses, the buildings were intact.

Chelan Butte and the south side of the city of Chelan, charred down to the back yards of the homes on the edge of town.

At Manson, our destination, we were greeted by security guards at the entrance, a novelty for us.  We realized that, in the 20+ years we have owned a timeshare here, we have never come during the summer “peak season,” having traded our prime “red” weeks for longer stays elsewhere in the off seasons, or coming only during the winter “red” segment.  This week, with Labor Day at the start, is still classified as “red,” but, arriving on the last day of the holiday weekend, we found our condo complex nearly deserted.  There is no visible smoke in the air, and just a faint odor settled in after sunset, but I think a lot of tourists cancelled when the valley filled with smoke and was bracketed by flame in August.  The still-active fires surrounding the lake have quieted with the cooler weather and early September rain, but flared again with the return of warm weather later in the week.  Businesses have posted signs, “Yes, we are open,” but unless folks like us bother to look at the local conditions on the resort web cams and the wildfire information websites, the general impression is that the entire region is uninhabitable until covered by deep snow (which is a rare phenomena in the west in this century).

But, the emergency was real: locals related to us their days of no power, no phones or Internet, and even the local radio station went off the air during the height of the fire storm.  In Chelan, south-side residents feared for their homes, and say that, if not for the Wolverine Fire that had been burning uplake, from which air support and firefighting equipment was diverted, the entire town may have been lost.

Economically, the entire month of August was a dead loss for most of the residents whose livelihood depends on the short summer tourist season.  Meanwhile, the apple harvest is beginning, and the September tourists are here mostly on weekends.  Tuesday and Wednesday were quiet.

Sunrise at Wapato Point, from the balcony deck in our unit.

The process of downsizing for us includes divesting ourselves of not only the cabin in Montana, but the Lake Chelan timeshare as well: the reputation for summer wildfire and the slow economic recovery in general does not bode well for attracting buyers for resort property.  Right now, dozens of segments in our complex are for sale for less than the real estate fees, but still go unsold for years.  In many cases, the owners abandon the property, defaulting on the homeowner association fees, raising fees for everyone else, which makes the property even less attractive at any price.

We first came to Lake Chelan together in 1984, taking the Lady of the Lake ferry 90 km up the lake to Stehekin for a backpacking trip into the wilderness.  In 1989, we returned, taking our Santana tandem bike on the boat to Stehekin, staying at the horse ranch resort in a tent cabin and riding the road up the river nearly to the pass.  Naturally, the area was attractive to us as a vacation destination.

We have owned our timeshare unit at Wapato Point Resort since the early 1990s, when we thought it was a good idea to have our vacations scheduled for us, and thought that it would offer us cheap vacations in retirement if we owned a timeshare segment. Very soon, it became obvious that our schedules simply didn’t support that concept–we had to exchange weeks at least once during the Chapman University years, when my teaching schedule didn’t fit with our assigned week.  Our family obligations required us to take vacation to travel to them, so we spent some of our resort time as a non-vacation, telecommuting, a technically difficult feat when we had to make long-distance calls through the resort switchboard and then connect our modem before the answering computer aborted the connection. We brought FAX machines, when corporations didn’t yet have Internet email.  We brought sewing machines and looms, as those hobbies fit us better than water sports or fine dining.   We brought our bicycle several times and went riding in the hilly orchard and lake country around Manson, or ventured 20 km down the lake to Chelan.  Other times, we simply had to skip our vacation week, trying to rent the unit, or at least come for the weekend.  Having a Sunday-to-Sunday check-in week meant taking a Friday off at least to get more than a night in.

By 2000, we were able to “bank” our time with RCI (Resort Condominiums International) and use it to visit other resorts at our convenience.  However, even that didn’t always work out for us: we ended up skipping enough years while switching jobs so that our banked time was in danger of expiring.  For most of the 2000s, our vacations were primarily planned to consume “use or lose” time, with a 2-year limit on banked time.  Converting from a full-week schedule to “points,” that we could use to buy partial weeks helped, but each trip to a participating resort cost an exchange fee, plus annual membership in RCI.  Increasing maintenance fees from the homeowners association meant that the per-night cost of condominium vacations, ownership not withstanding, started to rise beyond our retirement budget.

We decided to sell our condo, but the economics of timeshare resale effectively lost the original investment in the condo unit, as prospective owners realized that the premise of economical luxury was a myth.  Meanwhile, we had become convinced that the “point” system and the “vacation club” model (for which we had purchased a partial share not long after we discovered the rotating week model wasn’t working well for us) was viable, as we could schedule off-season partial weeks to maximize the number of nights we could stay on our small share.  However, the value of those points in the shares continued to decline as demand increased the “price” of a night on one of the club’s properties, so that we were essentially forced to buy more points to be able to use what we had.  Of course, the vacation club also comes with annual maintenance fees, so with two plans, it is difficult to budget trips that don’t involve staying at one of the member resorts.

Selling the traditional timeshare means one less expense for our heirs to manage after we are gone, and less complication in liquidating our estate, since the timeshare comes with a deed to a share in the property.  Meanwhile, until the timeshare sells, we will continue to visit Chelan and Manson at the appointed times.  Next year, we have assigned weeks the first week in February and mid-October, which are more desirable for us than the summer season.  We’ve talked about going back to Stehekin someday, perhaps another bicycle expedition with camping, and, our other vacation club has a resort in downtown Chelan if we choose to vacation at the bottom end of the lake.

Musings on Unix, Bicycling, Quilting, Weaving, Old Houses, and other diversions

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