Flexcar, City Carshare, Zipcar and the winter blues

After being here for nearly 14 years, I still can’t believe how wet it can get during wintertime in Northern California. It’s been raining for three days, plus two weekend days off and on, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to end. And we have a motorcycle and a bicycle–no car.

Not to knock public transit, but that does take extra time. I’ve been careful not to plan too much stuff in my life such that taking an extra hour or two to get home and back causes strife, but, man I spend a lot of time on MUNI, BART, and just hoofing it. I’m enjoying being able to listen to music more, plus just seeing the sites I’ve missed out on by concentrating on driving. But now I’ve got an animal emergency that cannot be dealt with by two wheels or public transit.

Little Bear has been throwing up for the past two days and I’m not sure if she’s eating much because it’s mostly liquid that comes out. She’s lying around a lot and sleeping, very unlike her. Her sister bothers her, like usual, but instead of playing she lets out a moanful cry. So now we have to get her to the vet–what to do?

My wife got suddenly interested in Flexcar after seeing an ad for it in Berkeley the other day. I told her I’ve looked into these things before (last year) and car-sharing just isn’t cost effective, despite their urging. I mean, $0.44/mile and $35 application fee plus a $300 deposit is a lot, plus you have to fill it up when you’re done! I wasn’t convinced, until we agreed to look into it again a year later. I just thought, hey, $30/day is a rental–and no extra responsibility for milage, plus the rental agency is just two blocks away.

Nowadays, it’s looking a lot more financially sane to do the car share. And they are emulating the rental agencies. City Carshare is the non-profit one, and it’s deals and locations just aren’t as good for us, as we live pretty far out on the edge of SF, near Daly City. Bummer, I love non-profits. Then again, their prices are still pretty similar to last year’s schema. Zipcar is also an interesting choice, plus it has a better pay-plan (low montly fare, $50, plus cheaper fees), but no locations near our home. Flexcar, however, seems to be more expensive but they have locations near our home and near my work–bonus! They seem to have cleaned up the pricing structure ($9/hr, or $85/month for 10 hours/month) and have picked up the gas costs. The trouble? I just rented a car for an entire day for $30 from Enterprise! One thing that would beat out car rental agencies would be if I could drive the carshare car from one point to another, without having to return it to the “home” location. That would mean I could drive to work and drop the car off and be charged for a 1/2 hour there, then 1/2 hour back, but instead I’m being charged while the car is at work with me, so the rental is a better deal. On the other hand, if I need a car at work, I could just go over and take one of the carshare cars, then return to work when I’m done and that’s cheaper (as long as I’m not gone for more than 3 hours).

I’m still not sure I’m convinced, but having a quick, get-it, car which I can use for an hour or two would be great. But in a city, that time sure flies. Our visit to the vet would fit nicely into the Flexcar scheme, but we still need to sign up–or not?

Aronofsky and The Fountain

Don’t be fooled by the tagline “What if you could live forever?”–it’s a sappy catch into a transcendent movie. Aronofsky is known for Pi which, I felt, didn’t live up to the hype. The Fountain probes into a multi-layered vision of past-future-present in the life of a man (Hugh Jackman) and his love (Rachel Weiz). The story is far more complex and interwoven than Pi, and a blend of science, faith, and spiritual unity which exceeded my expectations. I worried often about how it would turn into a Reservoir Dogs moment, where the three stories would intersect and fall into a pedantic play on life itself being chaos with an established order, but instead it fell into a realm beyond this, somewhat like 2001: A Space Oddesey when the character finds himself in a house after being expelled from the spaceship–just when you think it’s over, it goes beyond expectations.

I don’t want to give too much away, as it’s just opened, but it reminded me of The Illusionist in it’s superseding the average with special effects that inspire awe and wonder rather than amazement or disbelief. It seems like these movies exceed the marketing team’s minds, as how they presented The Illusionist in the previews and trailers as some kind of superhero; I’m guessing they don’t have a niche to explain the combination of storylines and craft that went into The Fountain.

Shooting at your work site

So today there was a shooting at one of my work sites (I have three different ones, but this one is in the southeaset corner of SF in Bayview/Hunters Point). Fortunately, I don’t work there on Tuesdays, but apparently the guy entered the building after firing shots outside. The library is located on the 5th floor, so it’s not as though I would have been in danger, and the cops did show up, but the campus closed at 4:30pm. I’m mostly concerned about my co-workers who were there today. I have to call in tomorrow to see if I’ll be able to go in or not. Man, this sucks.

Linux in education

Okay, this is the re-new thing, using Linux. I tried this years ago, then again a year ago, and I’m, gulp, possibly going to try it again. According to Ed Moltzen’s article, Linux is back and raring for a slice of the education pie of profit…or not.  Linux is free, right? Unless it’s easy to use right out of the box.  In this case, he’s tried putting his 10-year old in front of a PC running Xandros Professional 4 (which happens to cost $99) and loaded the browser with her favorite email account as a homepage, plus added a Google Docs link, and let her go for 30 minutes. Upon returning, she’s still sitting there happy.

The nice part about this article is that he doesn’t recommend it to everyone in the education world. He just makes the point of how easy it is to use and understand–improved intuitive control (even a 10-year old can use it!). What he also says is that the reason we continue with Windows as adults is because a) it’s what we’re used to and b) we can get support from each other for it. I’d agree with that, not everyone is interested in solving problems by themselves, they just want to get their work done.

The leap for many of us is unfamiliarity. I can tell my mom that Linux is a hundred times more stable, will work on a basic machine, and do everything that Windows can do but it requires her to learn OpenOffice and Thunderbird. Where her Contacts list is and how the interface of Word looks is very important to her, and losing that is worth the extra $250 for her ease of use.

That’s another point…M$ has gone through incredible lengths to make its user experience the easiest and most integrated possible. I can pick any piece of software off the shelf or off the Internet and 99% will work on the M$ machine. Not true for Linux. Even though most major softwares have a Linux alternative (Photoshop for free = Gimp), they are not integrated to the point that they play well together (try setting up a Linux home network using Samba without knowing some code). And what about connecting those popular devices like iPods or the new PDA/cellphone?

But the generation gap here is worth mentioning–teaching our younger age folk using Linux at least presents the option of separation. I’m thinking the old Apple v. PC discussion here. It’s an educational opportunity and a way out of the box. Of course, having support and a teacher to help through the difficult times is the key to any education, so if either of those are absent, then ease of use and good old fashioned $$$ will do.