News, Updates, and a Blog


2017 in Summary

2017 was an eventful year for us. In late March, we had multiple visitors to the Valley of the Sun, and right after they left, we went on a cruise! We sailed one-way from Sydney, Australia to Singapore. Along the way we got to snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef!

We had a few home improvements in the spring and summer - first was new carpet in the whole house. And then in July, a brand new air conditioner. Luckily, if you can say that, there were warning signs and we had prepared for it, so we didn't have to pay exorbitant prices for an emergency/last minute install. Because in July, in Gilbert, it's an emergency if your A/C goes out.

In September, Teri Ann's father moved to a memory care facility, and we inherited the family piano - a 1920 Remington upright, fully original and unrestored (but in need of one). Then in October I joined a bowling league, the first one I've done since about 2012. Spoiler alert, we came in third place!

For Thanksgiving, we booked a whirlwind 4-night trip to Berlin (with day trip to Potsdam). Aside from a mechanical delay eating up a whole morning, and a crazy security line leaving Tegel Airport, it was a great trip that we crammed full of activities! And, we flew 12,110 nautical miles round trip. Side note: Delta should have turkey and stuffing on Thanksgiving, how big a deal would that be for their catering group?

Unfortunately, December was not a great month. We lost both my Nana (age 96) and our dog Jake, right at the end of the year. Both were sweet, and loving, and will be missed dearly.


More travel

2016 brought us on multiple vacations. We started in Florida (with Teri Ann's dad) to see Kennedy Space Center and then took a cruise on Allure of the Seas - at the time the World's Largest Cruise Ship. It has since been usurped by Harmony of the Seas.

Then, we found a great deal on a trip to Vienna through AAVacations.com, which we used to catch a concert in Bratislava - 2Cellos for Teri Ann's birthday - and an overnight in Budapest (wonderful city!)

Still to come, a trip to Hawaii (Oahu and Big Island), and a visit to family back East.

Cruise photos here
Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest photos here


Trip of a Lifetime!

We had the Pyramids and Valley of the Kings nearly to ourselves in Egypt, and then took a 20 night cruise from Venice to Dubai! What an amazing 30 night vacation, our longest to date! A few hundred of the 3500 photos I took can be seen here: http://www.mikepirone.com/gallery/Vacation2015


New travel goal

After this year, we will have visited five of the seven continents - North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Thus, we have decided that by our 40th birthdays, we will endeavor to visit all seven. For Antarctica, there's only one way to really experience it, a National Geographic Expedition. At least, that's what the quarterly, full color brochures tell us! Any advice for Australia?


Back from the United Kingdom

We were in the United Kingdom. Some uppity Scots wanted to break away while we were there, but the presence of one scary American (me) reminded them that they were too weak and had too much oil to leave the Crown's protection.
Photos can be seen here


Home from South America

We are home after 15 nights cruising from Fort Lauderdale, FL, to Valparaiso (Santiago), Chile. We almost didn't make it there, with two flat tires on the airport shuttle, and flight cancellations due to weather in Dallas. But we stopped in Columbia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, transiting the Panama Canal to do so - that was a marvel!
Our photos are available in the gallery!


Top 11 Simpsons Episodes

These lists are all over the internet, but I don't usually agree with their choices, so I decided to make my own list (for others to disagree with ;-)). It's hard to narrow down over 500 episodes, but I did stop watching a while ago when it started declining which helped. Also, the best I could do is top 11, not top 10, because I wasn't sure how to order a few, so better to include one extra rather than leave one great one off. I tried to find a clip from each on Youtube and apologize that so many are so low quality. But without further ado, here's my list:


11. Homer The Great, better known as the Stonecutter episode, is great for mocking secret societies. We learn that Grandpa Simpson is a member of not only the Stonecutters, but also the Elks, Masons, and Communists. Grandpa is also the President of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance "for some reason".


10. Marge vs. The Monorail. Written by Conan O'Brien with Phil Hartman voicing Lyle Lanley, this episode contains a musical number in the style of The Music Man, and a giant doughnut saves the day.


9. Lisa the Vegetarian. Homer decides to throw a BBBQ (the extra B is for BYOBB. That extra B is a typo), around the same time Lisa decides she won't eat meat anymore. She ruins the party and some great scenes ensue.


8. You Only Move Twice. Homer is headhunted by Hank Scorpio, an unusual individual who created a whole town for his employees with automated homes and a Hammock District. He's also an evil scientist modeled after a Bond villain, although Scorpio is more successful.


7. Homer vs. the Eighteent Amendment. Everyone hates prohibition, but Rex Banner is on the case to find the mysterious "Beer Baron" who is supplying Moe's Pet Store (speakeasy) with liquor.


6. Homer's Enemy. Frank Grimes, or "Grimey" as he liked to be called, works his way from nothing and through great adversary to work at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. He's appalled by Homer's success, and is driven mad.


5. El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer. Homer, "The Dude with the Fireproof Stomach", indulges in some Guatemalan Insanity Peppers and has a hallucination that leads him on a search for his soulmate.


4. 22 Short Films About Springfield. Everyone gets to tell their story in this collection of shorts, except poor Professor Frink, who even had his own theme song. The highlight for me is Principal Skinner entertaining Superintendent Chalmers for some "steamed hams".


3. Treehouse of Horror V. This is my favorite Halloween episode due to its extensive homage to The Shining. Oh sorry, the "Shinning", since we don't want to get sued!


2. Homer Simpson vs the City of New York. Sadly, this one is almost never aired anymore because it features a scenes at the World Trade Center, where people are yelling between the Twin Towers like two tenement buildings. "Ignore him, they put all the jerks in Tower One!". But between the reference to Villanova, Homer dealing with a booted car, and another musical number about drug-addicted Hollywood stars, it's a classic.


1. King Size Homer. Homer decides that becoming disabled via obesity is a good idea, so he consults Doctor Nick for anti-diet advice. He struggles to conduct daily business, even being offered a "dialing-wand" from the phone company. He has to steal an ice cream truck to save the power plant after his work-from-home partner (a bobbing bird toy) lets him down. As Bart succinctly puts it at the end, "I find it ironic that for once dad's butt prevented the flow of toxic gas!"


So there you have it --- my favorite Simpsons moments. Hope you enjoyed it!


Tesla Mania

Test Drive Mania is back, and gets renamed for today's event. Tesla doesn't have dealerships, so you can't just show up and drive a car in AZ due to dealer-sponsored legislation to protect their industry.

I learned that Tesla is able to mitigate this with road shows, which you sign up for here, and is what I learned after seeing one at Costco, and subsequently a trip to the showroom. Today was my scheduled event, and although they were running almost 40 minutes late, I'm glad I stuck around to add this to my list. Even the 65 kWh base model, which is what I got "stuck in" (I found out later the P85 was available), is a very unique experience. There is no transmission, it is direct-drive from the motor to the rear wheels, so there is always instant and full torque of 317 lb-ft in the 65, and 443 lb-ft in the P85. Also, the regenerative braking has two modes, and on the more severe (and default) setting, getting off the gas causes a noticeable slowing - enough that the brake lights come on and it will bring you nearly to a halt even without ever applying the brake pedal.

Right now it's a no-go for us for a few reasons - primarily the cost of course, since the model we would want is over $100,000. But not only that, one of our favorite road trips is to Las Vegas, and even driving like a granny won't get you there from Phoenix without charging along the way. Currently Las Vegas doesn't have any high-speed charging, and who knows if casinos have it available. But even that doesn't matter until Telsa installs their "Supercharging" station in Kingman, AZ, because any charging at a Whole Foods (if even available) would more than double the trip time. Why buy a high-range electric car if you have to use the inefficient gas engine car for the road trips where you'd really benefit from having the electric?!

Have you ever driven a performance car? Part of the joy of driving them is the throaty growl an engine and exhaust system provide as you accelerate hard. There's nothing in a Telsa, except maybe a small, asthmatic whine and the radio. This means the speed catches you by surprise though, which is cool/dangerous.

Let's talk performance. In all of Tesla's promotional materials, range and trip calculators are based on a maximum outside temperature of 90 degrees, and a maximum speed of 65 MPH. Neither of these are realistic for us, and frankly how many people buy 300 horsepower cars to drive them 65 MPH and in ECO (aka Granny) mode. So in an unscientific test, using the car's trip odometer, we clocked Teri Ann using 1kWh driving 2.2 miles, which works out to a 187-mile range with the AC on max. This is short of the car's rated range of 230 miles, although it probably averages out on a longer drive. But we would have to be careful because it's hard to not drive this car the way we were driving it - that launch is addictive. The steering, despite being electric, is nicely responsive on normal road driving - I didn't have a chance of course to try hard cornering.

Your suspension and performance can be monitored and adjusted using the center console, which is a completely digital, 17-inch, touchscreen that you use to control everything. Aside from the car settings (down to headlights and door locks), radio, AC, panoramic sunroof, reverse camera, and Google Maps navigation. The car has its own 3G network (provider unspecified) for your mapping and internet radio, and even includes an internet browser! For now it's free, but that won't last and no mention of how much it may cost per month. But I certainly hope (without holding my breath) that there would be an offline maps option on a $3500 nav system if Garmin can do it for $199/lifetime!

Other than the 17" touchscreen, the driver's dash is another screen that shows your economy and speed in the center, but the left and right thirds can be customized with either nav, radio, more battery consumption statistics, and possibly more. The rest of the interior trim doesn't have the quality of other luxury vehicles in that price range or even lower - in a way, it's like how Hyundai is still trying to get their Genesis to the level of Lexus, except Hyundai is $20k less, not $40k more. For the price of a Telsa, the seats in the Mercedes S500 are still the most comfortable I've ever been in, possibly including furniture at home. The back bench gets special note, as it is split into three equal seats instead of the traditional 2 + 1, where the person in the middle gets squished and where an armrest is commonly available folded up. At least there is no driveshaft coming up into the floor, so legroom is improved, but not all adults will feel comfortable with their seatbelts buckled. There are two final seats as an option, and those are rear-facing childrens seats (75lb max). That does bring back memories of looking out the back of 1980s station wagons as a kid, but there are no airconditiong vents and a lot of glass, which might melt kids here in Arizona. The deep footwell can be covered when the seats aren't in use, or you can take advantage of that extra storage - the main trunk is actually under the hood, and it does have a spot that looks deep enough for golf clubs - necessary since that hatch doesn't allow for fold-down rear seats (WHY EVEN HAVE A HATCH?!?)

Finally, aestetically I give Telsa major props, for finally realizing that electric cars don't have to look ridiculous (C'mon Nissan, Toyota, and even Chevy). From the front it's aggressive with cool LED headlamps (sort of like Audi), the lines are sleek with some cool little touches like the door handles retracting completely when the car is locked. And by the way, the key fob is a mini Tesla (between Micro Machines and Matchbox Car size). Press the hood to open the hood, the trunk to open the trunk... You get the idea. The trunk is the only area where we are not fans, because as if by some unwritten rule, all hybrids need to be hatchbacks :-(

I thought I'd miss rowing through a manual transmission with this car, but really enjoyed the drive and for the first time think there may one day be room for an electric car in our garage.


San Francisco

Your eyes do not deceive you, I have finally updated my webpage, and consistent with the last two updates, it's just about our travel.

For the Fourth of July weekend we went to San Francisco, and it was the first time either of us had been there. We did the typical touristy things, like Alcatraz, Fisherman's Wharf, a trolley ride, Chinatown, and the Golden Gate Bridge. We were able to watch fireworks from the pier!
After a few nights there, we drove south to Hearst Castle to see William Hearst's beautiful homes (the Casa Grande, plus three guest cottages that were all fantastic). He loved art, and Italian and Spanish architecture, so that is what his homes were modeled after. The land today is still an active cattle ranch but the home was turned into a museum and donated to the state of California.

Pictures can be found here


Back from Alaska

We are back from our cruise and land tour of Alaska. We took the Celebrity Millennium northbound from Vancouver to Seward, stopping at Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point (Hoonah), Juneau, Skagway, and the Hubbard Glacier. After that, we took a train to Anchorage, and then a car to Denali National Park and Preserve. It was beautiful and I would encourage EVERYONE to visit Alaska and Denali in their lifetime. Especially outdoor people, because Denali is designed for you - hike just about anywhere, and there are lots of campsites and shuttle buses along the single Park Road.
And of course the part you've been waiting for: PHOTOS!!