Energy Bill Relief

Remember my A/C blower motor fiasco from a few weeks ago? Frost on the indoor part (evaporator) strongly suggested the outside unit (condenser) ran for days straight. This is the power-gulping part of an A/C system.

I calculated that I burned through $190 of electricity.

I got my electricity bill today. It is $143.39, a very normal August bill!

When you normally run an A/C, the compressor fights against the heat that the cold evaporator (the indoor part) absorbs from the air. With no indoor fan running, there is no air blowing across the evaporator, no heat being put into the refrigerant, and hence no load on the system. The compressor does the equivalent of freewheeling.

That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it!

Lesson learned: Aren would be an awful meter reader.

Jennifer’s Wood Badge

I don’t normally write much about my wife and child in this blog. I am not sure it’s fair to drag them into the limelight of my vast audience (both of you!).

This is an exception.

In Boy Scouts, the most advanced Council-level training is called Wood Badge. It’s an intensive course spanning 6 days, split over two weekend campouts (early Friday morning through late Sunday) or sometimes offered as a weeklong course. After this, you fulfill a “ticket,” which is five major projects related to Scouting.

My wife recently earned her Wood Badge. This is a rare accomplishment for a young female–our son can’t start Tiger Cubs for four more years. Most female Wood Badgers are mid-lifers.

This is her in the presentation ceremony, between the lady at the podium and the guy in the green shirt:

This is us after the ceremony:

Her Wood Badge award is symbolized by the salmon-colored neckerchief and the beads. You can more clearly see the beads on my shirt, hanging off center to the left (my right) of the buttons.

Congratulations, Jennifer!

Once Alec is old enough to start Tiger Cubs, Jennifer will be among the most experienced new Cub Scout leaders!

Alec made me take a picture of his cars while we were at the table:

Central Texas Musuem of Automotive History

The Central Texas Museum of Automotive History is bar none the most awesome auto museum I’ve ever visited. It’s a hidden gem just north of Rosanky, TX on TX 304. I estimate it to have at least 130 cars of many vintages. It also has all sorts of automotive memorabilia.

Typical view down one of the rows:

All these cars are in superb condition.

Stanley Steamer:

Stanley Steamer engine:

1949 Diamond T Pickup:

Oldsmobile Delta 88:

Some goofy Euro-like battery powered car:

Corvette:

Rolls Royce limo:

After touring, I asked the guy at front about a Boy Scout plaque I had seen last time I was there (around 1995?). It turns out that the museum director, Dick Burdick, is an International Commissioner for the Boy Scouts of America and has the Silver Beaver, Silver Antelope, and Silver Buffalo awards:

He is heading the committee planning the 2010 Jamboree.

The plaque I remembered was the 1989 Jamboree plaque, which is at top center:

It used to be in his front office.

Driving up on it, you would have no idea how magnificant the inside is:

I highly recommend this museum to anyone even slightly interested in automotive history.

Inn on the Riverwalk

While in San Antonio on our summer trip, we stayed four nights at the Inn on the Riverwalk, a large home right on the river. It was restored in the early ’90s. They were repainting and experimenting with colors while we were there:

Just to the left of this picture is a tall condo tower that I think was owned by Wyndham?

The place had quirkiness of an old converted house (tiny bathrooms, no A/C vent in the adjoining bedroom that Alec slept in). Those didn’t bother me, but the mediocre overall attention to detail–peeling paint in bathroom, deadbolt that didn’t latch unless you held the door just right, etc.–wasn’t impressive, albeit these details didn’t functionally detract from the stay.

Here’s the outside of our room:

It was room 11, and it had a nice view of the river.

I don’t know if it was just this place, but the concept of a bed and breakfast is kind of lost on me after this stay. I don’t see what bed and breakfasts offer that decent normal hotels can’t.

The mother of the inn’s owner, who apparently was the night contact and lived across the street in one of their cottages, was accompanied by a wolf dog. This bothered me. Wolf dogs are literally wolf-dog hybrids. These are dangerous animals, and I don’t think they have any place around strangers, especially in places that accommodate children.

The staff was quite friendly.

Considering that “normal” hotels adjacent to any part of the River Walk were more expensive, and considering the 10% (unadvertised) AAA discount, free breakfast, free parking, and location right next to the river (albeit a few blocks from the main part of the Riverwalk), I feel we got a fair deal.

2007 Summer Family Vacation

Our 2007 summer family vacation was to New Braunfels, San Antonio, and Houston, TX. Here are the highlights.

I-35

I-35 northbound was amazingly backlogged between Austin and Dallas. We found three places where wrecks shut down one or both lanes, resulting in miles of backups. I had never seen anything like that before. Fortunately, we were headed southbound.

This was a typical backup:

Those vehicles in the northbound lanes were almost parked.

Rumors of heavy truck traffic were exaggerated. Sure, there were plenty of trucks, but cars hugely outnumbered trucks. If this trip showed typical conditions, the problem with I-35 is just too much overall traffic.

Southbound wasn’t too bad, although we could rarely sustain speeds over 75 mph.

County Line Barbecue

We went to County Line Barbecue on Bee Cave Road in Austin the first night. Great place, great view. Food is good, albeit a little pricey. We enjoyed it so much we also ate at the San Antonio River Walk location a few nights later. We would have purchased dessert if they had any cobbler besides apple cobbler!

1909 Gruene Road Bridge

By total coincidence, we crossed over this historic bridge over the Guadalupe River the very day TxDOT finally decided to replace it.

There’s nothing terribly exciting about it. The day we were there, water was coming down both slopes to the bridge. I didn’t understand why unless there are natural springs emptying out on the road or water was being pumped out and let back down?

Gristmill Restaurant, Gruene, TX

The Gristmill Restaurant in Gruene is all outdoors and a neat stop. Good food, nice change of pace. The adjacent Gruene community is a tourist trap, though.

Schlitterbahn

Schlitterbahn was about as I remembered it from church youth group trips, albeit with a third park: Blastenhoff. The only disappointment was that our 3½ year old Alec could do almost no rides due to height and swimmer capability restrictions, so that $100 of entrance fees didn’t go very far. It would have made more sense with a large group, where some could watch the kids while others have fun.

My only real complaint about Schlitterbahn is the lengthy expanses of concrete. They tear up bare feet. The only real alternative are sandals or water socks, either of which rub feet raw after enough hours of water fun.

Natural Bridge Caverns

Natural Bridge Caverns is a privately-owned cave park. It’s named after this natural bridge that’s over the main cave entrance:

The caverns were phenomenal. We did both the Jaremy Room and the normal cavern tour.

The Jaremy Room was full of spectacular soda straw formations:

The North Cavern had equally spectacular sights. Recent heavy rains caused the Edwards Aquifer to rise unusually high, flooding low parts of the cavern. This is a submerged bench where you could have gone down many more feet to see a special room:

We saw a few bats:

The last part of the North Cavern tour was the most spectacular. Below are four long exposure shots I took of its largest room:

The tour guide said you could fit a whole football field in this room. I believe it.

To be clear, even though it’s privately owned, Natural Bridge Caverns is not a tourist trap. It’s well worth the expense.

San Antonio River Walk

The night after the cave tour, and two additional nights later on, we did the San Antonio River Walk.

I think San Antonio did a great job at capitalizing on this natural resource. It’s a nice, pleasant walk, and it gives easy access from many hotels to good local attractions.

This is a scene looking north from a Häagen-Daaz that stunk of an open sewer:

Here’s the River Walk closer to our hotel, which is south of the main part. Looking south from Woodward St.:

Looking north:

The waterfall/lock/dam, just about 1000 feet north of the hotel:

Walk a little further north, cross the street, descend again, and look under a bridge, and you see this:

Every day, they parked this city truck with the rear wheels in the water! They better hope the ramp isn’t slick!

Walk a little further north, and you see the corner to turn to get to the main part:

Take a corner to the right, and the lush part begins:

Towards the southeast corner of the Walk is a theater:

The seats, on the other bank, are grass:

This is one of several rosary bridges visible from the River Walk:

Casa Rio Restaurant

Casa Rio has an entrance from street level, and it has a lot of tables on the River Walk:

This is where we ate our first night. I heartily recommend this place. The prices were surprisingly inexpensive, the service and food were great, and the river view is nice.

Rio Rio Restaurant

We ate there our last night, and regretted it. Rio Rio sucks.

Don’t bother. Crap service, food wasn’t any better than the much less expensive Casa Rio Restaurant. It took so long just to get our food ordered that we almost just got up and left like at least two other tables that night.

Inn on the Riverwalk

Fair value. See my detail post on this place.

Sea World

We really enjoyed Sea World. Alec’s inability to do most rides didn’t detract from the overall experience. There was plenty to do despite that. It was also nice that all restaurants didn’t use any trans fat-laden oils.

Obligatory picture of Shamu (mmm, tasty fish):

We didn’t sit close enough to be splashed. Alec’s cousin got freaked out by being splashed when he was 3, so we didn’t want to risk it.

A tasty fish breaching the water at a different show:

Alec feeding a tasty fish to a tasty dolphin:

($5 for 4 little fishies!)

Halfway through the day, we got Alec measured to see which rides he can do:

Alec loved the Shamu roller coaster:

That and a teacup/ferris wheel ride were all he could do. Mommy and Daddy had enough after 8 hours at the park, so Alec “only” got to ride Shamu about 7 times.

Looking back, we would have done a few things differently:

  • Stayed at a nearby hotel at least the night before and the night after. Sea World takes all day and then some. There’s no point in staying downtown if you’re doing Sea World one day.
  • Take a nap during the middle of the day. Alec still needs a roughly 2 hour nap. He skipped his nap that day. While he was tolerable, it sure would have been nicer if we could have left during the middle of the day for a nap.
  • Get the bonus 2 day pass. We purchased tickets in advance, and we thought we saw an offer for 2 days for the price of 1 day. Had we stayed at a nearby hotel, we should have pursued this. We didn’t even get to touch the water park. We probably would have done that instead of Schlitterbahn had we realized how little we could do there.

We did Sea World the day after Natural Bridge Caverns. The cavern had a ton of steps, so Alec’s legs were sore when we started Sea World. Being a very mean Daddy, I made Alec walk anyway because I knew that they wouldn’t hurt once he really started walking. (I was right.) He retorted that his legs “are gonna break off.”

San Antonio Zoo

The San Antonio Zoo was acceptable. It doesn’t deserve acclaim, and it wasn’t particularly unique.

Alec enjoyed brushing a goat in the petting zoo section:

We enjoyed a train ride through Brackenridge Park afterwards.

Our enjoyment of the zoo and the park were tempered by sparse water fountains and oppressive heat.

The Alamo

I couldn’t find the basement!

Alec in front of the Alamo:

The Alamo was originally the first of several missions that are in…

San Antonio Missions National Historic Park

…the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. This “park” is really a set of 4 defunct missions on the south side of town. They are interesting historical artifacts and continue to have functioning Catholic parishes. They suggest what the Alamo compound was like in its mission days.

These missions weren’t intended to exist as missions indefinitely. The plan was apparently that once the population was sufficiently Christianized, the mission reverted to civil authority.

The missions seem to be in declining states of repair or prominence the further south they are from downtown.

Texas Transportation Museum

San Antonio’s Texas Transportation Museum is neat but run down. It’s a volunteer operation.

The staff were unexcited to have visitors, treating us as if opening up to the public is something they had to do, not something they wanted to do.

Central Texas Museum of Automotive History

Awesome. See my detail post.

Houston Arboretum and Nature Center

The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center was a complete waste of time unless you like walking through mosquito-infested undisturbed forest filled with non-notable flora. It was free, and I still felt ripped off.

Museum of Printing History

Houston’s Museum of Printing History was nice. Give yourself an hour just to read the stuff, longer if you want to take part in the exhibits.