Saturday, May 6, 2017

Financial anatomy of a European vacation

This last week, Andrea and I returned from our first trip abroad after a very long time without any significant vacation. Aside from camping trips and weekend getaways with friends, our last vacation was before Jacob was born.

We decided on a trip to France, including Paris, Versailles, Marseille, and Normandy. Never before or during the vacation did we discuss any sort of holding back on our spending. Since this is the first vacation in a decade, we did what we wanted and we paid what we paid.

That said, I still kept decent documentation on our expenses because I'm a data geek, and I wanted to get an idea of what we can expect next time around. I started collecting receipts from coffee shops, restaurants, grocery stores (we did a fair amount of eating by way local groceries, which surely saved us a ton of money), museums, and so on. After returning home, I crunched the numbers in a Google Doc, cross-referencing with our credit union and my credit card.

In summary, our expenses were as follows:

conversion fee€29.19
Grand Total€6,430.12

Some notes:
  • For simplicity, I converted everything into euros since most expenses were in that currency to begin with.
  • Dollar values, when applicable, are converted at a rate of 1.09 dollars per euro. This rate was roughly the same across transactions that I linked up between point-of-sale and what posted to our bank account. (Bing indicates the exchange rate was a little lower at the beginning of our trip and climbed the whole time.)
  • All those conversions incurred some type of fee, which at a glance seemed to be about 1% of the dollar equivalent of the transaction for both ATM withdrawals and point-of-sale.
  • "Coffee" covers when we went out for coffee, beer, wine, smallish snacks, etc. - not quite a meal but also not something from a grocery store.

Untracked Expenses

Due to my poor record-keeping during the trip, I wasn't able to keep perfect sense of expenses. The majority of our transactions were in cash, and when I lost or failed to get a receipt, that money dropped into this abyss. Fortunately, I still knew exactly how much cash we got from the ATM throughout the trip (€1000), so it's all accounted for.

(Side note: European cash is awesome. My pocketful of coins was frequently around €10, more than enough for two drinks and two snacks. Also, no dealing with tipping or with taxes, which are baked into the final price.)


My parents were awesome and flew out to Seattle to watch our kids, house, and dog for the duration of our trip. We paid for their airfare and their expenses during their stay, which was a steal for us - even a reasonably short trip to Minnesota for us requires we board Shasta for $500-1000. In all, paying for gas, groceries, their airfare, and incidentals incurred a reasonably small bump in the overall cost.

To be fair, Mom and Dad waived some of the expenses under the excuse that they got to spoil their grandkids at their own expense. Win-win-win.


A friend advised us to take Le Bus Direct from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Paris. This cost us €34. Had we done our research, we would have discovered the awesome metro system that would have (likely) cost us about €3.50 and maybe even been faster. Lesson learned.

The majority (71%) of our expenses in the transportation category, though, come from renting a car, buying expensive gas (something like $6/gallon) and paying tolls on the autoroute.

Lesson: take the train.


During our time in Versailles, some newfound friends advised us against going to Marseille on account of it being spring break in France. All the students and families were heading down to the coast, making the high-speed train tickets expensive (almost $250 for the two of us) and aggravating the already terrible Marseillais traffic. So we decided at the last minute to head to Lille instead. This gave us the opportunity to also make a quick side trip to Bruges, Belgium.

However, because of this last-minute change, we had to forfeit the Airbnb that we had reserved. This cost us a couple hundred dollars, but was probably worth it.

Quick Take-Aways

After it all, it appears that our two week vacation to France cost us a hair over $7000, which, given a few minor hiccups, was pretty reasonable. Next time:
  • Better planning on lodging will avoid The Marseille Problem of throwing money away.
  • Travel, insofar as it can be done without a car, should be.
  • Looking at currency exchange trends and executing at the right time can save a little bit, but probably not enough to make it worth it.
  • Grocery stores will still save a ton of money versus eating out.
  • Tours, while not an insignificant cost, should still be done to a great extent.
  • At-cost baby-, house-, and dog-sitting will beat all other methods of saving by a huge margin.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Deux mots français, and laser etching knives

Aujourd'hui, j'ai appris qu'en français, les mots seconde et deuxième ont une petite différence : deuxième s'implique qu'il y a troisième. On ne dit pas deuxième guerre mondiale parce que il n'y a pas un troisème guerre mondiale (pas encore, de toute façon...), mais seconde guerre mondiale.

De la même façon, mon plus cadet fils est aussi mon second fils parce que je n'en ai plus.

In unrelated news, the Universal laser at The Garage is back up, so I etched the boys' names into their knives from Christmas.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

On se tutoie ?

Un jour, il y a plusieurs de mois, j'ai parlé avec un français en ligne, et j'ai voulu connaitre comment les francophones changer de vouvoyer à tutoyer. Parce que, en l'anglais, nous n'avons pas cette problème. Il m'a expliqué au moyen de les films.

En les rom-coms, l'homme rencontre la femme. Ils se vouvoient. Mais, bien sûr, à la fin, sûrement, ils se tutoieront ? Donc, quelque part dans le film, ils changent à utiliser tutoyer. Alors, il y a toujours une scène où un personnage principal « accidentellement » tutoye l'autre personnage, et il (ou elle) s'excuse pour l'impolitesse. Puis, elle (ou il) réponde, « Non, c'est bien. Tu peux me tutoye. » Voilà, la scène où on sait les personages sont amis au moins et pas simples connaissances.

J'ai pensé c'est très interessante, mais j'ai vu seulement environ cinq films, et je n'ai pas le vu encore. Hier soir, j'ai vu enfin une scène comme ça, dans la série Dix Pour Cent, sur Netflix comme Call My Agent!, quand deux personnages commencent être proches:

Voici comment je peux continuer à être excité de mon formation français - les petites découvertes de l'utilisation de la langue.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Beer with old friends is awesome

After work today, I had the good fortune to meet-up with an old friend from college in a nice little brewery just a block or so from Google's offices in Kirkland. (I really liked their porter. The red was decent.)

It had been 12 years since I saw him (and even then, it was at Andrea's and my wedding day), so catching up on how life has treated us was really spectacular: to chat with an old friend and to hear that your lives haven't played out so differently, that you are so alike and have such similar interests and philosophies is really pretty awesome.

After some rolls, nigiri and another beer at Sushi Joa, I hit the road for a beautiful late night ride home, thinking about how incredibly fortunate we are. Among all that we discussed, I think the subject that sticks out the most is regret.

Five years ago, I was offered a position at Amazon. Andrea and I decided that moving across the country wasn't the right decision for us at the time, so I turned it down. Over the following weeks and months, and indeed for the next year, I came to deeply regret the missed opportunity. After joining Amazon a year later, I hated the better part of my experience there, but at least I had the experience, and for that, I am very grateful. My life - and, I believe, that of our family - is so much richer for having gone through that change.

There's an article I like to cite from NPR entitled Does age quash our spirit of adventure?, and the core message I take from this is that we should strive to take (calculated) risks, to seek out new experiences. Enjoy what you have (without being reckless) while you still can.

Apparently the guy on the right is a well-known singer
Today is the 21st anniversary of my brother's death. I guess the death of someone close to you affects everyone differently. As for me, I suppose I have developed a mindset that keeping up with the Joneses is a bullshit way to live your life and, by extension, conforming to the others' expectations is similarly fruitless.

Sometimes its hard but not to think about what you could have done or said differently; to wonder what you'd do if you had more time.

I have no heartwarming way to wrap up this blog post, so I'll simply state, for the very small number of people that read this, that I hope you make the most out of the time you have left, be it 45 years or 80 or one. Don't just think about what's a priority in your life. Reflect on it - really reflect on it - and act on it. Because some day, someone you love will be mourning your death and reflecting on your absence years after you're gone.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Expensive popcorn must be sold

As part of our fundraising for our cub scout pack, we're doing three trips to downtown right before Seahawks games. This last Sunday was the first. We all met at the SODO Home Depot. It happened that Seattle Fire was there for a medical, and as we were getting ready to go out on a walk, the crew came up to us in dire need of some sweet and salty treats. Reed was able to make the first sale of the day:

After selling a few bags, they let the boys all check out the rigs for a while. I don't think I can stress enough how awesome SFD was in supporting the scouts and being incredibly friendly to the whole pack.

With a good start before we even left the parking lot, we got psyched for what would be a long morning of carnival-style barking at tailgaters.

Just a block from Home Depot, we walked past Starbucks HQ. The seemed to be closed - maybe because it was Sunday, but I choose to believe it's due to the beginning of Phase 2.

Once we were in the thick of the tailgating, we made a stop by some hardcore partygoers where we were lead to believe that we'd get a shout-out and some good donation/sales opportunities, though it didn't materialize. Nonetheless, Jake shows his support for 12 before we move on.

We kept walking up toward the stadiums. By this time, most people going to the Hawks game were funneling into CenturyLink, and most of our sales for the day were already made. (The astute observers will notice Andrea now sporting a green shirt. Some dude offered her a 12th Woman shirt for the heck of it.)

At this point, we continued north to Pioneer Square to hit up some parking lots. Unfortunately, we missed most of the tailgaters there and only made a couple more sales. Being a few hours into our site sale, most boys were physically and emotionally worn out. We wandered back south and hit up a Krispy Kreme for much needed carbs and sugar, which raised everyone's spirits. Finally, it was back to the cars to pack up the remaining inventory, then the caravan back to Renton.

After sales, a few of us gathered at one of the houses to watch the latter ~third of the Dolphins at Seahawks game. Strangely, power went out with only about four minutes of game time left. But luckily, John was able to bring up the game on his big screen phone until power returned to normal.

We cheered as the Seahawks beat the Dolphins, then we dispersed and relaxed at home for the dwindling hours of the day.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Making a thing: Phaedrus would likely not approve

A few months ago, I had the routine 12,000 mile maintenance done on my Ducati, part of which was replacing the sprockets and chain. I held onto them for some projects, and since I lack the proper tools, I hauled the sprocket out to Minnesota for our summer trip to complete one -- a set of bookends -- with Dad.

The first step was to quarter out the sprocket using Dad's chop saw.

I eyeballed the cuts, so the pieces weren't quite equal. After a little bit of grinding, they were about the right size. So I cleaned them up with some gas and soapy water. Many thousands of miles built up a bit of grime on this thing, but a couple minutes of elbow grease made quick work of it.

Dad always has a bit of scrap metal laying around, so I snagged a piece of 0.25" plate. Above, you can see the rust that's shown up. Below, it's halfway ground down.

The grinding, having been completed here, leaves the piece ready to section off.

I cut the steel plate into 5.25" sections and smoothed off the edges to be ready for welding.

Having done very little welding myself and being probably six or seven years out of practice, I enlisted Dad to refresh my memory. He tacked a couple of the pieces together and gave me some advice, at which point I took it from there, joining two pieces of steel then adding two sprocket quarters.

Here, the plate is tacked together, so I put the sprockets in-place. After the four pieces are solid, I completed the welds, scraped and ground away the slag, cleaned all the rough sections off, and let the result cool off.

I had originally planned on making two sets of bookends, but in designing this (and in no small part due to Dad's suggestion), I decided to make a single, larger pair. These things are solid and quite heavy, leaving me with no doubt that they'll stay in-place when we get them back home. It's just a question of whether I want to huck these into our checked bag on the return flight.

There's a lot of slag leftover that I can't remove easily. And by no means are these particularly good welds or a great overall design. However, I'm happy with the results.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Your ignorance of astronomy is dumbfounding

During last night's Tiger Scout meeting, I taught/went through the section on astronomy, talking about how damn cool the universe is, noting that just about every man to land on and walk on the moon was a scout, discussing what constellations are and what kinds of bodies you might find when you look up into the sky, and more. It was really fun.

What's more fun than talking about astronomy? Having really engaged kids that are as interested in it. I learned a few things, too. Did you know, for example, that there's a black hole at the center of our galaxy? And that our sun is actually a star and when it explodes, it'll create a million -- no, sorry, one million -- baby stars? Also, it's a white dwarf?

Further, when I politely correct an enthusiastic six-year-old that our star isn't actually a white dwarf, that, "well, your opinion is wrong."

Oh well. At least I did my best.