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Archive for the ‘travel & transportation’ Category

NPR? I Hardly Knew Her!

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NPR has saved my morning commute.

Ever since I started at my current job, I’ve had to endure an hour long commute.  Luckily, its against traffic, but still — an hour is an hour.  I’ve more or less been content with listening to my iPod during these drives, but after a while I feel like I’ve listened to all my favorite songs way too many times.  I don’t have the income to constantly buy new music to freshen up my drive.

This past week I started listening to NPR on my way to work.  Specifically, I’ve been listening to 88.5 WAMU, American University’s NPR broadcast.  During my morning trek I get to listen to Morning Edition and The Writer’s Almanac (hosted by A Prarie Home Companion’s Garrison Keillor).  In the afternoon, I catch All Things Considered.

NPR’s news stories feel more in depth than any of the news bites I hear on television or elsewhere on the radio.  I almost feel like I know absolutely nothing when I hear NPR go deep into the Middle East conflicts or critically analyze the current economic plight of our country.  But NPR has a way to educate while it reports, which makes me feel more in tune with what’s going on in the world.

Now I want to get a radio to keep in the house to listen their other great shows like Car Talk, This American Life, and A Prarie Home Companion on the weekends (I could just download the podcasts, but I rarely sync my iPod anymore).  I feel like I’m stepping backwards into a time when people listened and digested the news rather than just tasted news bites.


Written by Eric Spiegel

February 8, 2009 at 5:31 pm

Our Living Room is Now an Ikea Showroom

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New Couch and Coffee Table — In Use

Originally uploaded by fallenposters

Cheri and I took the plunge today and finally replaced our grimy old couch. We got the Ektorp loveseat from Ikea with the cover that matches our other chair (not pictured).

Yesterday we reserved a pick-up truck to rent from Avis to haul the couch from Ikea to our apartment. We did this because it was much cheaper than having the loveseat delivered ($80 versus $300).

We had made the reservation to pick up the truck this morning at 10 am. When we got there we were told that the truck was being brought in from another location and would be there shortly. Shortly translated to 90 minutes. We were easily upset since we wanted to return the truck the same day. When the truck finally arrived I asked for a discount and the Avis guy surprisingly gave me one. He knocked $30 off our rental. Cheri and I were pleased as we drove down to Ikea to pick up our new couch.

While we were down there we saw a coffee table we liked too that was on sale and went ahead and picked it up. As you can see from the picture its been put to good use.

Written by Eric Spiegel

June 15, 2008 at 7:55 pm


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Ever since my graduation, I’ve been taking lots of photos with my new Nikon D80. Here are some highlights from our recent camping trip to Heavenly Acres in Greene County, Virginia:

Water Over Rocks

This is a shot of the South River in Greene County, Virginia. We were out there camping and we stumbled across this small river while looking for some good places for pictures. I shot this in manual mode at 90 mm, 1/3 sec SS, f/22, ISO 100. I used my tripod and the time delay setting to avoid shaking the camera while taking the long exposure. I also took this at dusk so that the image didn’t over expose. I made sure to use a small aperture to allow for a large depth of field.


While we were driving around, my father-in-law’s GPS indicated we were near Greene Acres Lake. What we found was this. For this shot, I used manual at 55 mm, 1.3 sec SS, f/18, and ISO 100. Since this was at dusk and I used a long shutter speed, I set the camera on my tripod and used the time delay to avoid any shaking. The small aperture allowed me to get most of the photo in focus.

Sunset with Tree

This picture was taken at Big Meadows in the Shenandoah National Park. For this photo, I used shutter priority mode at 200 mm, 1/200 sec SS, f/29, and ISO 400. In order to get the silhouette of the tree I made sure to meter for the sky. I did this by aiming at the sky (with no tree or ground in view), pressed halfway down on my shutter button to determine the needed settings, then aimed down to get the tree and ground in view. This allowed the camera to get the sky exposed correctly while underexposing the ground to give me that silhouette.

Flight of the Bumblebee

While we were on a trail that paralleled the Rapidan River, I stumbled across an area that had a lot of bumblebees and other bugs flying around. So I crouched down, set my camera to shutter priority with a very high shutter speed (to try to freeze the motion of the flying insects), and set my camera to burst mode (to keep taking pictures as I held the shutter button down). This was one of the few shots that came out. Here I used (like I said) shutter priority, 200 mm, 1/2000 sec SS, f/8, and ISO 400. Since it was a bright day out, I also had my exposure compensation dial set to -2.

You can see the rest of the photos from our camping trip on my flickr page.

Written by Eric Spiegel

May 30, 2008 at 4:55 pm

Eric the Deer Slayer

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I guess I never got around to blogging about my first deer-hitting experience.

A few Mondays ago (March 31 to be exact), I was minding my own business — driving to work, my normal routine. My work hours are from 7 am to 3:30 pm, so it was pretty dark. I work on the Marine Corps Base in Quantico — a veritable venison buffet. I’m usually very careful when driving on base, since there are so many deer around and much of the base roads are not lit very well.

I was only about a mile away from my job when all of a sudden, there was a deer on my friggin’ hood. I was just driving along, rocking out to something on my iPod (P!nk, probably), and then WHAM — a doe went a flyin’. Obviously, I was really scared and freaked and worried. I wasn’t worried about the deer (which I’m pretty sure was dead), I was mainly worried about my car — a 2008 Honda Civic I just purchased in January.

[Sidenote: I was told by no less than THREE people that Virginia law states that I can keep the deer.]

I pulled over to the side of the road and called the police and then my insurance company (Progressive). I was able to get pictures taken by the police (which I don’t have, but I probably should request them for posterity’s sake). Luckily, my insurance company has a concierge service for when you need to make a claim. They were able to come tow my car, take it to a body shop/mechanic, and give me a rental. Since I have rental car coverage on my insurance, I didn’t have to pay for my rental.

I was called within 48 hours with an estimate for the damages. It turned out to be about $4000 worth of damage (the hood, headlights, bumper, panel, radiator, AC condenser, fan, plus a bunch of other little things). There was no damage to the frame of the car, so everything was replaceable. I only had to pay my $500 deductible. I got my car back this past Monday and you can’t even tell that it ever hit a deer.

Hopefully, this will be my last deer hitting experience.

Written by Eric Spiegel

April 19, 2008 at 9:15 pm

The New Car Smell

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Our New Honda Civic 04

Originally uploaded by fallenposters

Today, Cheri and I purchased our very first, brand new vehicle. We bought a 2008 Honda Civic LX Sedan.

Since I’ll be starting a new job down in Quantico a week from Monday, we realized that I would need a car to get down there (we live in Fairfax, and we only had one car — I previously used the Metro to get to work). For the past month or so, we did some researching and decided that the car we wanted was a new Honda Civic.

We decided this because Hondas are reliable, have little maintenance costs, and get great gas mileage (something I’ll need on my hour-long commute). Once we decided what kind of car we wanted, we went through and e-mailed a number of different dealers throughout the area asking for quotes for the 2008 LX Sedan model. I made the mistake of giving them my phone number and subsequently was hounded by dealers for at least two weeks.

After sorting through all the quotes, I found that Koon’s Honda in Manassas was offering the best price (almost two thousand less than we were budgeting for). So I e-mailed them and asked to set up an appointment to come in today around noon.

Before we decided to come to the dealership, we wanted to go to our credit union first to get pre-approved for a car loan. All the articles I’ve read online have recommended getting pre-approved from a credit union or a bank before going to a dealership. This typically will give you a better APR than the dealer will be able to offer — plus, you’ll already have the money before you go get the car, thus it gives you a maximum you’re willing to spend. Our credit union gave us a great deal, so we were now ready to head to the dealer.

When we arrived, we perused the cars on the lot before asking for the salesman that gave us the quote over the internet. He was a real nice guy (I would think he would need to be). We were shown the cars they had and we took the one I liked for a test drive (a nice dark blue model). The test drive went well (of course) and then we went inside to discuss the cost of the car. Our salesman immediately offered us the car at the quoted price. We were happy with that price, so we agreed and got the paper work started.

After filling out some paperwork and calling my insurance company to get us started with a new policy for the car, we were introduced to a couple of different people at the dealership. The first person was a woman (who’s name escapes me) that sat us down trying to sell us things like an extended warranty, undercoating, Teflon paint sealant, and a bunch of other crap we didn’t want nor need. We politely listened to her sales pitch and declined her immediately. Cheri and I could see on her face that she was pissed (she probably works mainly on commission). After we declined her offers, she said some snarky remark to us and left the table.

At this point, I think we should have left because we didn’t appreciate getting attitude from some over-tanned spinster. But we decided to let it slide and just cooled down before meeting the business manager. He tried to once again sell us an extended warranty and he tried to get us to finance through them instead of through the credit union. Once again we politely declined, but at least he was nice about it and let it go.

Finally, after all the bullcrap, we were able to write the dealer a check for the amount we agreed upon from our quote, and then we were out of there. Overall, the whole experience only took about 2 and a half hours.

We’re extremely happy with the car and look forward to taking it on plenty of trips along with taking my butt to work. The next step I think will be getting a new car for Cheri sometime in the next year. Now that we know how to buy a car, I think we’ll be much more comfortable with the process next time.

Written by Eric Spiegel

December 30, 2007 at 11:44 pm

A Very Merry Christmas Visit Home

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 Cheri and I in Chesapeake

Our annual Christmas excursion to Chesapeake is done.  This past Saturday, Cheri and I drove down to Chesapeake to visit our families for the holiday.  In order to avoid any traffic, we got up early on Saturday and left town around 6 am.  Getting up that early wasn’t difficult since we are both used to getting up that early for our jobs.

We were in town by around 10 am and had all day to spend with our families.  We went to lunch and did some mulling around the mall with Cheri’s parents and her brother and his girlfriend.  The mall was a madhouse, of course.  That evening we spent time hanging out at my parent’s house and eating dinner together.  By the end of dinner, I was about to pass out since I was exhausted from the day’s events.

We accidentally slept in on Sunday, so we missed going to church with Cheri’s parents.  So I took advantage of the time we had and I went to the mall to finish up some shopping (I needed a few more presents to get for Cheri).  The mall was surprisingly dead on Sunday morning.  I guess everyone decided to avoid the crowds that morning — better for me.

On Christmas Eve, I went to play golf at Bid-a-wee Golf Course in Portsmouth with my Dad, my father-in-law, and my brother-in-law (the ladies went to go see a chick flick).  We had a great time–the weather was perfect (50s, sunny, little wind).  I only threw two temper tantrums and lost only 3 golf balls.  It was one of my best games :).  My best shot of the day came when I chipped a shot in for par from about 60 yards away.  Those sessions at the driving range with Jason must have helped.

Later that night, after Cheri and I went to church, we went over to my parent’s house to open up presents with them (since we were staying at my in-laws).  I got a few books and a guitar DVD.  But the big present was a new 22″ wide screen monitor that was a present to both Cheri and I.  It is so much better than the 7 year-old CRT monitor I’ve had since college.  Next upgrade will hopefully be the video card (or maybe a whole new machine).

Painting of Grandpa

My Mom had commissioned my cousin Dana (link) to paint a portrait of my Dad’s father.  The painting came out awesome we were all impressed by it.  My Dad was really close to his father (who died about 10 years ago), so I know this painting means a lot to him.  I wish he would have lived longer so I could have gotten to know him better.

On Christmas morning, Cheri and I opened presents with her family.  We each got a ton of goodies.  In particular, I got a set of juggling balls, a bamboo cutting board, a new bible, and some board games.  Most of the morning was spent playing with our new toys, especially my father-in-law, Frenchie.

Frenchie enjoying his mp3 player

That afternoon, Cheri and I got together with her family and my parents and we all went out to eat at the Founders Inn for Christmas dinner/lunch.  They had a great buffet that had lots of good food (along with breakfast foods too!).  The only problem was that it was a bit too pricey and our waitress kept nagging us to fill out the stupid survey about our dining experience.  Next year I think we may try to find somewhere else to have our Christmas dinner/lunch.  Here’s a picture of Rob in front of a funny sign we saw while waiting for our table.

Rob likes muffins

Overall we had a great time visiting our families.  The trip was too short so we didn’t get to meet up with some of our friends while we were home, so we’ll just have to catch up next time.  I hope everyone had a great holiday!

My Mom is goofy

Written by Eric Spiegel

December 26, 2007 at 6:41 pm

No Motorcycles For Me, Please

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Yesterday morning, while waiting at the bus stop, I watched some dude wipe out hard on his motorcycle donorcycle. I was just standing at the stop, minding my own business, mildly irritated that someone didn’t pick up the present left by their dog at the stop. Then I looked up to my left and saw a guy on a yellow motorcycle (not a Harley Davidson, one of those speed demon type bikes) getting ready to take a left turn out of an apartment complex. The ground was a little wet from the previous night’s rain, but I wasn’t really thinking about that–and apparrantly neither was he.

As he began to make his left turn, he gave the bike a little too much gas. At first I thought he was just trying to show off, but then I watched as his bike swerved quickly back and forth followed by him falling on his right side with his bike landing on his right leg. I was mortified at the sight and didn’t really know what to do.

I ran over to where he was (he probably wasn’t more than 200 ft from where I was) to see if he was ok. By the time I got to him he was standing up on his own but limping and in some obvious pain. I was about to call an ambulance when a woman in scrubs pulled over to help. I didn’t speak to her but I assumed that she was either a doctor or a nurse and she began to examine him to see if he was alright.

I walked back to the bus stop, slightly shaken. I’ve seen in my forensic pathology course the kinds of injuries people sustain in motorcycle accidents, but it didn’t really phase me until I saw this guy eat the pavement. All I could really think of was that my father really really wants a motorcycle and he’ll probably buy one within the year. I hope he changes his mind.

Written by Eric Spiegel

May 18, 2007 at 12:16 pm

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