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Scott's Column
Espresso, Secondary PC, and More on Life 2.0

June 3, 2011
By Scott Lewis

This month I take another look at Life 2.0, my starting over from last year. I also continue work on my secondary PC, and look into espresso.

Current Topics:

Life 2.0 - The Journey Continues

Those of you that are long time readers of this site, and my blog, know that I separated from my wife last year. I called it Life 2.0. One year later I thought I would take this time to provide an update. Below are the key points to my starting over.

The Apartment & Finances

In my lack of wisdom I backed myself into a corner. When I moved out I took a significant amount of debt with me. I did this because it was not worth arguing over it, and my wife has been great about keeping child support to a reasonable level. Plus she did keep a sizable amount of debt herself. But my debt is there. I setup a monthly budget when I moved out that would allow me to save $200 a month. Unfortunately spending during the first few months in my apartment made it impossible to stick to this budget. Then I took my sons to Star Wars Celebration V (a 4 day convention) as well as 3 days at Universal Studios. Needless to say, I have full of debt and trying to get my financial life in order.

Then my lack of wisdom kicked me right in the teeth. I forgot to change my withholding status with Uncle Sam. I got hit with having to pay $5,300 in income taxes. Ouch. This is money I did not have. To pay this I had to "refresh" my debt consolidation loan. Basically I took it over again. The amount I had paid toward the balance since last year went toward my taxes. I rounded that out with some money I did manage to save and some money from a company bonus.

Paying the taxes was the easy part. The hard part was how to prevent it from happening next year. I changed my withholding status which lowered my paycheck by $460 a month. Now that really hurts. I thought I might just be able to tighten the belt enough to survive... then my company froze salaries. So I gave myself a $460 pay cut and did not get any more money.

When I fist moved into my apartment they offered me a one month free rent deal. I opted to have them spread that out over my lease. That meant that when I went to renew my lease my rent would be going up. In reality they only raised my rent $20 a month. But my budget was going to see an increase of about $148. Adding this to the $460 pay cut and my budget was completely ruined.

I was forced to move into a smaller (and cheaper) apartment. I moved into a 1 bedroom apartment. I was very worried when I first moved out that I would need two bedrooms so my apartment would be large enough when my two sons stayed with me. As it turns out I never put any furniture in the master bedroom. I did put a bed (given to me by a friend) in the spare bedroom. Because I could not afford a bed in the master bedroom I just slept in the spare bedroom. At first I thought I would just sleep on an air mattress when my sons came over. But that did not happen. My sons love sleeping in the living room in front of the TV.

My youngest son sleeps on the sleeper/sofa, and the oldest sleeps on an air mattress. During weeknights when I need to get rest for work, I will sleep in the spare room on the bed. On the weekends I sleep on the sleeper sofa with my son, or on the floor on a make-shift bedroll.

I really like my apartment complex, so I never thought about leaving the complex. I selected the one bedroom floor plan that had the largest living/dinning room. Since this is where we will spend most of our time. The only downside is closet space. Before I had four closets... now I have only two. Storage was not a problem before... now things need to be thought out before being stuffed into one of those two closets.

In the end I saved $112 off my rent. My budget is strictly based on 2 paychecks a month, but I get paid every two weeks. That means that there are two paychecks a year that are not in my budget. I am going to use the extra paycheck due in July to pay off my Lasik eye surgery. That is $145 a month. This will give me a total of $257 back into my budget to partially replace the $460 I removed. Essentially I will not be able to save money from month to month for a while. But at least I should not be going into the negative month after month.


Lifestyle Changes

I have yet to go out on a date since being separated. And I don't mind at all. I tell people there is a huge difference between being alone and being lonely. I am alone, but I am not lonely.

Now that my budget has been cut to the bone, I am hesitant to get involved with anyone. It seems unfair at my age to try and have a relationship with someone when I can't afford to take them out to dinner. At least that is how I think of it until I can settle into a new budget.

That being said... I am getting ready for getting involved with someone. I am learning to cook. That is a grand overstatement. I barely know how to cook. But I am trying to collect a series of recipes so I can eat better. And by better I do not mean more healthy. I mean a better selections of foods.

I have perfected a few recipes since moving out... and I am now getting into taking that further. Here are the recipes I have so far:

Baked Ziti w/ Sausage - This is currently my favorite dish. I make it about once a month. The only thing missing is... sauce made from scratch. But I am going to try and find a good, authentic Italian recipe for sauce.

Candied Sweet Potatoes - This is a holiday dish. I had the opportunity to make this for both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It was a hit... even with people that say they don't like sweet potatoes.

Pecan Pie - My ex-wife makes a great pecan pie. So I asked her for her recipe. And then I proceeded to change it to suit my own tastes. I am still tweaking on this one. Again, this one is mainly a holiday recipe. I made a total of 6 pies during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season.

Baked Macaroni & Cheese - What... just get a box of Kraft. No way. A friend made a home made Mac & Cheese many years ago. It had to be 20 years ago. I lost touch with the friend, but the taste of really good mac & cheese stuck in my head that I was determined to come up with a recipe. My current recipe calls for 5 cheeses. I am going to trim that down. I have made this twice so far (it is my most recent recipe). The first time I was afraid to over do the cheese, and when it baked there was no creaminess in the Mac & Cheese. I also used small elbows. So for the second try I used large elbows. I also accidentally overcooked the pasta and I think that had a negative impact. It tasted amazing the second time, but I still need to tweak the recipe. I have this recipe saved without any measurements... since I am still working it out.

What's next. I want to create something completely new. I once discussed this with my sister. She was a chef. Unfortunately she passed away 7 years ago, so she will not be able to provide assistance with this creation. I will start with a recipe she gave me... for Alfredo Sauce. The dish is called Seafood Lasagna. Instead of using meat balls and sausage and the like, my recipe will use scallops, shrimp & maybe clam meat. It will also use Alfredo Sauce instead of tomato sauce. I do not have any idea of how I am going to do this... and it may take a few tries to get it to a point where I would force others to taste it. We'll see. My biggest concern is that the only way I know how to make lasagna now is in a big 9 x 13 pan. I need to find a way to make this as a smaller dish. So I don't have to eat so much of it between "batches."

My next dessert is going to be a Cherry Pie. I want to try doing this with something different for the top crust. Instead of typical dough crust or lattice strips of crust... I want to try a brown sugar, cinnamon crumb topping. I am going to have to be concerned it will be too sweet and rich. Plus I have no idea how to do a crumb topping on a pie.

I bought Alton Brown's cook book. I love his style in his show, Good Eats. He takes a scientific approach to cooking. He explains why things should be done a certain way (something no one would ever tell be before... like it was some kind of secret). I also love how he is very precise with his cooking rituals. This appeals to my own anal personality.

Coffee & Espresso

Over the last few years I have gotten into the habit of researching to the Nth degree something I want. I did this after two Father's Day gifts from my ex-wife. She was completely correct in the gifts. But in the long run they did not work out. I can't blame her in the slightest. She did a wonderful job.

What were these two gifts. A telescope and a Beer Tender. We had a house built just outside the city limits. I thought it would be perfect for a telescope with less light pollution. My wife contacted my best friend (an astronomy buff) to get a recommendation for a telescope. He helped her pick out an affordable telescope that came with a Go To feature. It worked to find starts and planets, but it would not track them.

It would go to stars or planets without a hitch. Then the object would slowly drift out of view. I had to keep tapping the arrow key on the keypad to keep the object in view. This made it extremely difficult to let others look through the telescope, and would make any kind of photography impossible.

I realized just a couple of months ago that the telescope did not work correctly. I originally assumed the problem was due to the low cost of the telescope and a case of you get what you pay for. Because I can distinctly remember only having to nudge the telescope in one direction I now know that one of the motors that move the telescope was failing to track. If both motors (one for each axis) were not working I would have to make corrections in both directions. I became frustrated with the telescope and now it sits collecting dust.

I still want a better telescope. It's just that I know it will take a scope at a minimum of $1,000 to do what I want... and that's still be frugal.

The Beer Tender seemed like such a perfect device. Having draft beer at the ready any time you want. The mini "kegs" it takes are small enough that you don't have to become a lush to use it. Unfortunately the Krups Beer Tender only works with Heineken beer. I do not like Heineken beer. I tolerated it in the hopes that another brand would be supported. That never happened (In fact, if you Google this you will see it is still the number one issue with the Beer Tender... the restriction to Heineken beer). I also discovered that I am very much a social drinker. Unlike George Thoroughgood... I don't drink alone. Drinking alone just puts me to sleep. So, I hardly use the Beer Tender. I will pick up a Heineken mini keg once in a great while, but in the end the beer eventually goes bad long before I drink it.

What does this have to do with coffee and espresso... I am getting to that. I thought about getting an espresso machine. Then I saw Alton Brown's episode of Good Eats on espresso and I loved it. His precise methods play right into the ritual of making espresso... and my own detail oriented approach to... everything.

I decided to use the same zeal I used when selecting my Zune as my MP3 player, the same analytical research technique I used to select my Canon T2i for my DSLR camera, the same method I have used in the past to build computers or buy my Blu-Ray player & plasma TV. Even the same obsessive way I looked for my apartment... and for my car.

Each time I spent a significant amount of time researching these purchases I enjoyed them all the more. And I have not regretted any of those buying decisions.

When I decided to consider getting an espresso machine I knew nothing about espresso except three little facts. 1) Espresso is some kind of super concentrated coffee. 2) Starbucks puts shots of espresso into the drinks I get from them. 3) Someone at a Christmas dinner told me you want to get a pump based machine, and not a steam based machine.

So... if I am going to get an espresso machine I am going to research the crap out of it.

BTW... I stumbled upon Alton Brown when researching espresso machines. The Good Eats episode on espresso was mentioned in a forum posting. It was watching this episode that made me think I really wanted to do this... and learn how to cook better.

Unlike an aquarium, that over time I realized I liked the "idea" of an aquarium more than actually having an aquarium, in the case of an espresso machine I not only discovered this fed my meticulous nature... it would be ultimately rewarding. How good could I make an espresso, or espresso based drinks.

The search is on. I am going to get an espresso machine. Next month I am going to give you all the painful details I went through to pick the model I did.

Next month expect more info on espresso... and coffee itself. Stay tuned.

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Secondary PC Part II

We left off last month with a machine that could dual boot (by selecting which drive to boot from in the BIOS) between Windows XP Professional and Mac OSX Snow Leopard. We wanted to add booting to Linux to the mix, but we could not come up with a valid drive configuration. I need my IDE CD/DVD drive, and this computer can only have 2 IDE devices. That leaves one IDE drive for Windows, and nothing for Linux. BTW... Mac OSX is on the only SATA drive I have for this machine.

I thought about letting Linux install next to Windows on the same drive. This would have Linux install a boot loader on that drive that would present a menu to select which OS to boot when the machine was turned on.

This did not appeal to me. I really like the idea of controlling the boot process with the BIOS (the configuration screen that is part of the motherboard... before any OS loads). One drive to each OS is the safest way to multi-boot a computer. At the least, I could safely unplug drives and the remaining ones will still boot. In fact, that is how I did all the installs on this machine. I unplugged all drives except the one that was getting an OS. Once each OS was finished I would unplug its drive and plug in the next. I did this until all drives were configured then I plugged them all in and used the BIOS to chose which drive to boot from.

A friend showed my how to look for "Recertified" hard drives on NewEgg. I never knew of this before. I did a little poking around and I could get a 160 GB SATA drive for only $17. Wow. That would be perfect. I could plug that SATA drive in and load Linux on it.

Wait a minute. Linux is going to be the least used OS on this machine. Why should it get the best drive. Maybe I should put Windows on the new SATA drive. Then again... at these prices why not just get two drives and put all three OSs on SATA drives and save the 320 GB IDE drive as a data drive they could all share.

But wait... there's more. For just $4 more I can get 320 GB SATA drives. That's right, I can get 2 - 320 GB SATA drives for only $21 each. I did that. For $42 I have two 320 GB SATA drives and an old 100 GB SATA drive.

I installed Ubuntu 10.10 on the 100 GB SATA drive. Then I went back and installed OSX on one of the 320 GB SATA drives. And finally I installed Windows XP Pro on the other 320 GB SATA drive.

Now I have a computer that is multi-booting 3 operating systems. And each operating system lives on its own drive, so I can disconnect any drive at any time and still have a working computer.

In the long run I want to play around with OSX to see if I really like it and want to get a MacBook Air. I could skip this entire exercise if Samsung would lower the price of their Series 9 laptop. It is truly the closest thing to a MacBook Air for the Windows crowd. But it starts at $1,600. I can get a refurbished MacBook Air for $1,099. But I need to know if I can live with Snow Leopard.

Total outlay for building this PC from spare parts working as a Windows/Mac/Linux box is:

GT 240 video card                     $79
Roswell KVM switch                   $59
2 - 320 GB SATA hard drives   $42
Snow Leopard Retail DVD        $29
                                                      ---------
Total                                              $209

Keep in mind that the hard drives and the KVM switch were purely optional.

And don't think this is over. I am sure that as soon as enough people have worked it out I will try to install the next version of OSX... Lion.

Until then...

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Conclusion

Next month... more on espresso and a new printer.

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