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July 19, 2007

The Duct Tape Fix

I had a friend in high school, Blake, who always said you can fix anything with duct tape. I never doubted that claim, having solved numerous problems with it and knowing the single thing that probably kept Apollo 13 from turning into a spectacular meteor shower was that very same adhesive of the gods. Never start a big job without duct tape.

Tonight, I had my own fantastic experience with duct tape.

Last night, when I pulled the condensation tank out of the air conditioner in my bedroom to empty it, I broke the sensor that determines whether the tank is full. If the tank is full, the air conditioner stops working so it doesn't overflow, and in breaking the sensor, I set it permanently in that mode.

The sensor is actually a metal lever that's connected to a sort of plastic button, and I somehow bent that lever. For the next 15 minutes, I tried furiously to bend the lever back into its original shape, using my other air conditioner's lever as a guideline, but I didn't have any luck with that. I tried so hard, I even got blood all over the condensation tank.

Eventually, I went to sleep with no air conditioning but with my ceiling fan switched to high. It was warm and humid, but at least the air was circulating.

Tonight, I had another go at solving the lever problem. With a little creative engineering and about three square inches of duct tape, I was able to force the lever into a position where it's always pressing the plastic button! That's right, the air conditioner will now always think the tank is less than full, even if it's overflowing. I'll just have to remember to empty it frequently. No problem.

Once again, duct tape to the rescue.

July 18, 2007

To Live in New Jersey: Part 3

When I woke up yesterday, in my hotel room in Secaucus, New Jersey, I was frustrated at my lack of progress in finding an apartment to rent. I headed to Starbucks as I had the previous morning, and with my now-usual tall four-shot americano and one of their tasty multi-grain doughnuts, I booted my laptop, put my engineer's pad on the table, and readied my pen.

Before I went to sleep the previous evening, I had scanned the listings at Apartment Guide for digs in the farther reaches of the suburbs, and they seemed to be worth checking out. So, that was the first place I looked.

Rather than finding seemingly good places in the 60+-minute-commute suburbs, however, some apartment complexes in Newark caught my eye. Upon further investigation, they all turned out to be in the nicer part of Newark, more than five miles north of the big, noisy, polluting Newark International Airport. For a distance comparison, the Robinson suburb of Pittsburgh, with all the chain restaurants and big box stores, is five miles from Pittsburgh International Airport. Houses there are relatively upscale, and there is virtually no airplane noise.

I settled on the northernmost of the three apartment complexes I considered in Newark. My new apartment is on the 12th floor and has a sweeping view of Manhattan and the hills to the north. On clear nights and days, that's going to be super-cool. You'll definitely see some pictures of my view, posted here on my blog.

After applying for a lease on that apartment and having the agent hold it for me, I headed to the Starbucks in downtown Newark, relieved that my search had finally ended and craving a congratulatory couple shots of espresso. For those of you who have spent time in Pittsburgh's east end, you may find it interesting that downtown Newark is like East Liberty but all grown up. And nicer and with lots more grass. The kind of grass you walk on.

Eight or nine hours later, I was back in Pittsburgh, tired and ready for bed.

What's the next step? To decide one of the following three things.

1. To call the apartment complex in Newark and ask for a two-bedroom apartment instead of a one-bedroom apartment so I can store all my stuff there.

2. To ask the big long-distance movers if they can store most of my stuff in a container for six months and only keep a single car-load of stuff at my new apartment.

3. To hire a portable storage company like PODS or SMARTBOX to handle the moving and the storage, again keeping only a car-load of stuff at my new apartment.

4. To rent a storage unit in Pittsburgh or Newark, to and from which two separate moves would be performed, again keeping only a car-load of stuff at my new apartment.

I'm leaning toward option 3, since it seems to balance economics and ease pretty well. Some of those portable storage companies will even pack the container for you! The only problem with those things is you normally have to get city permits to keep them on the street for any amount of time, and I'm sure that's a huge hassle. Then again, if they're professionally packed and unpacked, they wouldn't have to be on the street very long.

Ah, this whole moving process is just a pain. I'll be so incredibly relieved when it's all over!

July 16, 2007

To Live in New Jersey: Part 2

I spent today looking for apartments to rent in the Jersey City and Newport areas, across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Unfortunately, Jersey City is too trashy, and Newport is too expensive. One of the Newport high-rises I visited had one-bedroom apartments starting at $2,700. For a place where I'm just going to sleep at night for six months, I'm definitely not paying that much.

I also got terribly lost driving around Jersey City, ending up in a deserted rail yard and later in a really bad part of town. That problem was solved by calling my dad and asking him to figure out directions to the nearest Starbucks for me. Which worked wonderfully, except the Starbucks was closed due to a water main break at the weekend. No big deal, though, since their T-Mobile HotSpot was still active, and that's the real reason I wanted to go there, anyway.

I took a really cool picture of the marina adjacent to that Starbucks with the Manhattan skyline in the background. If I remember, I'll post it when I get back to Pittsburgh on Wednesday (or the wee hours of Thursday morning).

Now that I'm no longer under delusions that I can rent an inexpensive apartment in a nice neighborhood within spitting distance of Manhattan, I will travel to the farther reaches of suburban New York City tomorrow and look for apartments there. Originally, that was the plan, but I got side-tracked by mirages of being in the right place at the right time for some of the nicer properties and being able to swing a sweet deal.

Navigating this part of New Jersey is absolutely awful, and the weather people inside my cell phone say storms will show up tomorrow. That's going to be no fun at all, since I have no idea where I'm going most of the time. Hopefully, the outer suburbs will be somewhat more navigable than the mess of highways and potholes around Secaucus (pronounced SEE-kaw-kus by the locals, by the way).

I need to make a decision about somewhere to live in the next, oh, about 40 hours. Wish me luck tomorrow!

July 15, 2007

To Live in New Jersey: Part 1

Since I wrote here about my trip to New York City less than two weeks ago, I've flown to Massachusetts, back to Pittsburgh, and have now driven to New Jersey. I'm staying in something that resembles a motel but is, perhaps, about one step up from that, and it still costs around $100 per night. Ah, the economics of being near New York City.

I drove here from Pittsburgh today, through really bad rain in western Pennsylvania and again on the New Jersey Turnpike. Google said the trip would take about six hours, but despite driving over 90 mph on some of the straighter sections of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the total time I spent in transit was about six and a half hours. The rain and two brief stops, one for a wholesome Burger King breakfast at the crack of 5:00 this evening and one for gas, were probably the culprits.

I'm here for a few days to look at apartments, houses, condos, townhomes, and cardboard boxes to rent, since I'm going to be moving to this part of the country later in the month. Again, because this is the New York City area, everything is much more expensive than anywhere else I've lived. As a result, I'm trying to balance price against commute time, at least for the first six months I'm here, during which I may well be broke.

So far, I've contacted three landlords in Manhattan, another three or four in Queens, and about 20 in New Jersey. All look promising, and the sizes of the apartments range from a small studio in lower Manhattan to two-bedroom units in New Jersey. The only problem I've encountered at this point is the term of the lease: it seems some owners aren't too keen on leases for less than a year.

Tomorrow, the dirty work begins, as I use roads and rail to get around the NYC metro area to look at potential residences. As exciting as that is, I'm really looking forward to my first cup of coffee in the morning, which will probably be purchased at the Dunkin Donuts across the street.

Wish me luck! I'll try to update you with my findings each night I'm here.

July 07, 2007

New York City Photos

For your perusal, I have some mobile phone photos from this week's trip to New York City.


The Statue of Liberty, as seen from way above

The financial district in Lower Manhattan


Looking south along the east side of Manhattan

Midtown Manhattan


The famous Rikers Island prison (the island in the distance)

A sign along the runway at LaGuardia, welcoming me to the Big Apple


The Metlife building obscuring the Chrysler building

The Empire State Building, as seen from the top of the GE Building


The GE Building at Rockefeller Center

The General Assembly hall at the United Nations

July 06, 2007

Moving to New York?


Cell phone camera picture of the Empire State Building at dusk, from the top of the GE Building at Rockefeller Center
Yesterday, I returned from a four-day visit to New York City, where I spent some time at the company for which I may be working, toured some museums with my dad, ate wonderful food, and watched the amazing Macy's Independence Day fireworks show.

Before I make a final decision about moving to the New York City area, I just have a few loose ends to tie up. But, if everything goes well, which it should, I'll be on my way in under three weeks.

Now, I just have to figure out where I'm going to live. For the first six months, I'm going to try to live inexpensively somewhere outside of Manhattan and make my daily commute to the financial district on the extensive rail network around the city.

There are so many choices for places to live, and they all have their peculiar commute times, prices, noise activity, and so forth. I'm finding it incredibly difficult to narrow them down. I imagine I'll be back in New York soon enough, spending a couple days looking at possible places to live. It's exciting, but it is truly a pain to organize this whole endeavor.

If any of you have suggestions that may help, I'd be glad to hear them!