More about Andy…

Andy at about 3 years old...
Cute little devil!
Andy at 43 years old...
Cranky old devil!

To the left is me when I was about 3 years old. I’m not sure, but I presume that my mother took this picture. I had it scanned recently at a local photo shop that specializes in digital imaging.

I can’t be absolutely sure, but I’ll bet I’m thinking something like “Hurry up, mom, I wanna change clothes and go play!”

To the right is me 40 years later. This picture was taken at a Christmas Party at a friend’s house in December of 2001. I scanned this one, so the poor quality is my fault!

In the years between the two photos, I: had a very happy childhood (thanks mom, dad, and Nana), got through High School and several part-time jobs, learned to drive a tractor-trailer (but never put that skill to any practical use), drove a forklift in a factory for a while, finally wised up and earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science from the University of Georgia, got a job doing something with computers (I’m still not quite sure how to describe what I do, but it is fun), and generally became a responsible, contributing member of society (again, thanks mom, dad, and Nana).

When I was growing up, I had a real fascination with mechanical and electrical things. Early on, this fascination manifested itself as a love of taking things apart. Unfortunately, I was a teenager before I was able to put things back together and have them still function properly.

As I got into my teens, my affinity for things mechanical developed into an intense interest in automobiles, and, by association, related activities such as driving, racing, and auto mechanics. Unfortunately, during my time in college and the first few years after graduation I had little time, and even less money, for such interests and they faded into the background but didn’t entirely disappear.

On the other hand, my interest in electrical gadgets really bloomed while I was in college, and led to my majoring in Computer Science. Actually, at first I was majoring in Chemistry, another interest from my childhood. So one quarter I needed to find a third class to fill my schedule, but nothing obvious presented itself. My advisor suggested taking a class in computer programming, since “computers probably aren’t going to go away” as he put it. I wasn’t completely convinced, but I signed up for the class anyway. In fact, I was so skeptical that I didn’t buy the book before the first day of classes. Well, the first day of that programming class (Introduction to FORTRAN to be precise) was pretty interesting. The second day was even better, so I went and bought the book. After the third day, I went to the administration building, changed my major, and never looked back. I haven’t regretted it so far.

As it turns out, I got my degree at exactly the right time. Demand for computer people has increased every year since then, and the demand is expected to exceed supply for some time to come. My first job after college brought me to the Washington, D.C., area. After a couple of years, I moved to my current job with a “Government Think-tank” located in Alexandria, VA. Great co-workers, excellent benefits, and a decent salary have convinced me to remain with my current employer until I retire or they kick me out.

Anyway, once life had settled into a comfortable routine and most things were cruising along on autopilot, my interest in all things automotive began to awaken (some might call it early-onset mid-life crisis, but I call it finally having some free time and discretionary income). I started watching some racing on TV. I attended a couple of high-performance driving schools at a local race track with a couple of similarly inclined friends. Then I joined the BMW Car Club of America (BMW CCA) and started helping with their local track events. I joined the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and got involved in scrutineering (technical inspection) at some of their local racing events. I was having fun, learning a lot, and making friends all at the same time.

A preview of life yet to come.

Then I decided that what I really needed was a project car. I began considering what type of car it should be, trying to narrow down a long list of cars I’d been interested in over the years. I first considered late 1960s muscle cars, but I remember how finicky cars with carburetors and breaker-point ignitions can be, so I decided that I wanted fuel injection and electronic ignition. Besides, muscle cars in anything resembling reasonable condition are fairly expensive these days. Then I considered some BMWs from the mid to late 1980s, but I barely had enough headroom in them even without a helmet (helmets are required for participation in high-performance driving events). I briefly considered some late-model front-wheel-drive Japanese imports, but quickly decided I really wanted a car with rear wheel drive. Independant rear suspension was also something I was pretty sure I wanted.

Well, one day I was browsing through a copy of AutoTrader, a magazine full of nothing but used car ads, from both individuals and dealerships. I was perusing the Asian imports section, and happened to notice an ad for a 1978 Datsun 280Z. I was certain I had found the type of car I wanted, but I needed to look at some to ensure I would have enough headroom with my helmet on. It turns out that the Datsun Z Cars were designed for reasonably tall drivers, so I had room for a helmet with a little to spare. All I had to do was decide on a model year and begin the search in earnest.

I still remember the very first Z Car I ever saw. It was the fall of 1972, and I was walking home from school and saw a 240Z parked on the side of the road. I don’t know if it was a 1970, 1971 or 1972 model, but it was the coolest car I’d ever seen (well, one of the coolest anyway – its hard to beat a Jaguar XKE or most of the 1960s Ferraris). From that moment, I wanted one of those cars, but they were always maddeningly just out of my financial reach. Even once I finished school and started making a decent living, the price of a new Z Car was still just out of reach. This trend continued until 1996, when Nissan stopped producing Z Cars, and the price had risen to well over $40,000. But I digress…

After much research I decided I wanted a 1982 or 1983 Datsun 280ZX Coupe with a 5-speed manual transmission. The search began, and I looked at a lot of cars that really should have been in junk yards. It turns out that unless they are in an arid climate, or are cared for extremely well, Z Cars from 1970 through about 1983 tend to rust pretty badly. I finally found one that was comparatively rust-free (the operative word being comparatively), had it checked out by a mechanic, made a reasonable offer, negotiated a slightly less-reasonable offer, and became the third owner of a 1983 280ZX coupe with a 5-speed. That was several years ago; I made the right decision.

Andy in his 1990 300ZX

In 1999, I purchased another Z car, a 1990 300ZX naturally aspirated (that is, non-turbo) coupe. I briefly considered the twin-turbo version, but they have some reliability and longevity issues, so I decided the non-turbo was the way to go. The 1990 models did not have airbags, not even on the driver’s side, so it has the very classic three spoke steering wheel, which I like. This car had been well cared for by a Z Car enthusiast, who also upgraded the suspension, brakes, and engine. I wouldn’t normally consider buying a modified car, but the previous owner is a guy I know from the Z Club, and the modifications he made are the same ones I’d have made eventually anyway.

Around the time I got my first Z Car (the ’83, which I bought in 1997), I joined the Z Car Club of Northern Virginia (ZCCNV), and have become more and more active with that club. Between three car clubs (the Z Club, the BMW Club, and the SCCA), a day job, some pleasure travel, personal computing (e.g., these web pages), reading, and salivating over all the cool techno-gadgets around these days, I stay pretty busy.

Update (November 2001): I let my BMW Club membership lapse after 1999 – I just didn’t have much in common with the other members, and I was getting more involved with the Z Club anyway. Speaking of the Z Club, I’m now the Secretary (have been since January of 2000), as well as publisher of the ZCCNV Newsletter, gaZette, and I’m currently the web master for the club web site (although I’ve fallen a bit behind on the web site – anyone wanna help?). Update to the update: my life changed dramatically in November of 2003 (see below), and soon after that I resigned as the ZCCNV Club Secretary and passed on the Newsletter and Website responsibilities as well.

I’ve also recently been taking a creative writing class (Fall Semester 2001) at Northern Virginia Community College, and enjoying it immensely (please don’t blame them for my poor spelling and grammar ;-).

Andy & Nancy on their wedding day
Nancy & me outside the church after our wedding

Update (March 2004): In March of 2003 (almost exactly a year ago as I write this) I met a woman through a Christian dating website ( Actually, I met several women through the site, and while they were all very nice, one in particular captured my heart. Her name is Nancy, and on November 22, 2003, she became my wife 🙂 She lived on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, in Salisbury, MD, and since the wedding I’ve moved in with her – sort of! I’m still working in Alexandria, VA, so I’ve kept my apartment there and stay there during the week. I spend most weekends in Salisbury, and Nancy occasionally travels to Alexandria for the weekend when something special is going on, for example when we have theater tickets or a ZCCNV event. It’s working out so far… I’ll have wedding and honeymoon pages on here soon, so check back often! The photo to the right was taken by Judy Lowe of Natural Bliss Photography of Salisbury, MD. We were well pleased with her work and highly recommend her if you are in need of a photographer. (Photo is copyright 2003 by Natural Bliss Photography and is used by permission.) Update: at the end of September (or was it October?) of 2006, I changed from full time staff at IDA to an off-site adjunct staff member. This changed allowed me to move to Salisbury full time, and only visit IDA in Alexandria as needed. Fortunately, the project I was working on at the time was totally unclassified, so I was able to do a lot of work at home.

On the last day of January, 2004, we bought a new Nissan 350Z Touring Model with 6-speed manual in Brickyard Red. Driving the 1990 300ZX in the often heavy traffic between Alexandria and Salisbury was getting to be a bit of hassle since it had a manual transmission, and I wasn’t going to be able to get it registered in Maryland anyway (due to the absurd and arbitrary Maryland inspection requirements). Also, Nancy’s minivan (a 1995 Ford Windstar LX in Dark Champagne with the 3.8 liter V-6) was getting near 100,000 miles, at which mileage many of Ford’s ’94, ’95, and ’96 3.8 liter V-6 engines have head gasket failure. (There was a recall for the ’94 and ’95 models, and Ford would have paid to have the dealer replace the head gaskets with improved versions. I actually found the letter from Ford – along with a note from the dealer in Salisbury – about this in the glove box, but this particular van never had the service and the time/mileage window has now expired. Hint: this was not Nancy’s fault!) Anyway, the point is that I didn’t want Nancy to be driving the van if (when?) the head gasket goes, so she drives the new 350Z, I drive the minivan, and we sold the 300ZX. You can see and read about all of the Z-Cars I’ve owned on this page.

Update on the Windstar, April 2004: the head gasket in the 1995 Ford Windstar LX minivan expired right on schedule – just over 100,000 miles. I was, in fact, driving it at the time and knew immediately what had happened. It was running very smoothly at the time – even after the head gasket let go – so there was no internal engine damage at this point. After checking with the closest Ford dealer, Jerry’s Ford in Annandale, VA, and finding that a head gasket replacement would cost around $1700, we decided to have the van fixed (there was nothing else wrong with it, and it had new tires and battery). I had AAA tow it to Jerry’s Ford and told the service writer that I needed a head gasket and also wanted to get the 100,000 mile service. Later in the day the service writer called me to tell me that “there was coolant in the oil pan and the mechanic recommends replacing the engine.” I asked him why the engine would need to be replace just because there was some coolant in the oil, and he went to “talk to the mechanic” again and came back and said that “there is an 80% to 90% chance that the bearings are damaged.” I asked him how much of the engine the mechanic had disassembled and he said “none.” I then asked how the mechanic knew that there was coolant in the oil, and, once again, he “went to talk to the mechanic.” When he returned to the phone, he said that “when the mechanic started the engine it sounded like a rod was bent” (I guess he totally missed the reason why I had the van towed in. Incredulously, I asked “why in the world would anyone start an engine that they knew had a failed head gasket?” His reply – “how else would they get it into the shop?” At this point I realized that I had made a grave error in trusting both Jerry’s Ford in general, and this service writer in particular. My response was that they should have pushed it into the shop (which, as it turns out, is how they got it out of their back lot so I could have it towed home; if they had just pushed it into the shop and replaced the head gasket – as I had asked – then I’d probably still be driving the minivan). When I went to pick up the minivan I got to see a copy of the order that the service writer had created. Instead of writing “replace head gasket” he wrote “customer states that engine smokes and runs rough.” Well, I guess I did mention to him when I dropped the minivan off that there had been large clouds of puffy white smoke from the exhaust when the head gasket failed. Everyone else that knows anything about car engines that I’ve mentioned that to has immediately said “oh wow, major head gasket failure,” but this “service writer” at a major Ford dealer evidently didn’t make that connection – even after I toldhim the head gasket had failed. I wonder how long he’d been working for Jerry’s at that point, and what he’d been doing before that! (Additional info on the “service writer”: he didn’t know what the 100,000 mile service entailed, either, and askedme what they needed to do!)

The upshot is that I am fully convinced that the engine damage was done when the mechanic started the engine to drive the minivan into the shop. I spoke briefly to the mechanic when I pickup it up, and he told me that it started right up and then hydalocked and bent a connecting rod. Well DUH! As it sat for a couple of days before I could get it towed to Jerry’s, coolant had leaked into one of the cylinders through the gap in the failed head gasket. When the engine started, it forced the piston in that cylinder up toward the top and, since water is not compressible, bent the connecting rod for that piston. I don’t blame the mechanic; he had no way of knowing that I had told the service writer that the head gasket had failed. But in my opinion, Jerry’s Ford in Annandale, VA, is directly and completely responsible for ruining the engine in our 1995 Ford Windstar LX minivan. (In case you’re wondering, I’ve included the name of the dealership and the complete make and model description a few times in the hopes that Google and other fine seach engines will catalog this page so that others might be saved some grief.)

When all was said and done, it was going to cost over $5000 to put a new engine in the minivan. I did speak to the service manager at Jerry’s, in person, and he basically called me a liar to my face (he didn’t use exactly those words, but it was pretty clear what he meant) about what had transpired. So we decided to donate the Windstar to one of the charities that would come and tow it away for free, and we bought a used 1998 Nissan Sentra GXE, which has been a great commuter car so far. We will never, ever, deal with Jerry’s Ford in Annandale, VA, again, and it is very, very unlikely that we will ever own another Ford Motor Company product.

Also, at the end of 2002 I declined to run for re-election to the Secretary’s position with the Z Club – there was just too much to do. I’m still the webmaster, and still as involved as I can be with club events. However, with a new wife, commuting to Salisbury on the weekends, a day job, and trying to keep up with computer security and web development trends, I still keep pretty busy!

In November 2005 I finally started my own small business – Small Forest Computing Services, LLC. I figured as long as I was fixing all of my friends’ and relatives’ computers I might as find out if I could parlay that into a living. I have made a profit every year except the first year, which only consisted of about 6 weeks at the end of 2005 so it’s not really fair to include that. Those profits have thus far been small, however, and have not been sufficient to provide a living for Nancy and me.

In September 2006 I finally got so tired of the Monday-morning-commute-to-Alexandria and the Thursday-evening-commute-back-to-Salisbury that I petitioned IDA to allow be to become an Off-site Adjunct Employee. They agreed, and beginning in October 2006 I moved to Salisbury, MD, full time. I continue to work for IDA on what is essentially a part-time basis – no benefits, no sick days, no paid vacation, and no medical insurance. While I’m working fewer hours, I also don’t have either the commuting expense or the expense of maintaining an apartment in Alexandria, VA, so it’s evening out. There is some risk: if IDA does not have any work for me to do, I don’t do any work for them, and, subsequently, they don’t pay me. Hopefully by the time that happens my small business will be providing enough income for us to live on. We’ll see…

September 2009: an urge that I have been suppressing for quite a while (about 25 years give or take) asserted itself and would no longer be denied. So I told Nancy that I was going to sign up for a MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) Rider Safety Class in the spring of 2010 and that I was going to begin looking for a used motorcycle. As an aside and interestingly enough, when I told Richard Thurman about this and asked him to be on the lookout for any good used bikes (Richard owns a transmission repair shop and sees and hears about a lot of used vehicles), he said that he was planning to get another motorcycle, too! We had both had bikes when we were much younger but had given them up for various reasons, and now we both wanted to ride again. Stay tuned for the continuing saga.

2002 Yamaha FZ-1
Me on my 2002 Yamaha FZ1

The weekend of April 9 – 11, 2010, I attended and completed the MSF Rider Safety Class at Wor-Wic Community College. On Tuesday, April 13, 2010, I went to Cambridge Motorsports to look at a used 2002 model year Yamaha FZ1. The FZ1 is a close cousin of the Yamaha R1, an infamous race-bred 1000cc motorcycle, and has a similar 1000cc, inline 4 cylinder engine and 6-speed transmission. While it maintains a sporty “toe-down” riding position, the handlebars are not dropped down as they are on the R1 and other manufacturers’ sport bikes, which makes it much more comfortable to ride for the, ahem, more mature rider. I’ve been having a blast with it, but have yet to ride with Richard; the used bike that he wanted needs some carburetor work – among other tweaks – before it will be really ridable.

My 2012 Honda ST1300A

August 2018: Because Nancy and I are getting older, and her back has gotten to the point where she can no longer comfortably ride on the FZ1, I bought a 2012 Honda ST1300A. It has a larger and more comfortable seat, and saddle bags so we can take stuff with us if we want to do a day trip to somewhere local. Also, it has a fuel-injected engine (so I don’t have to use ethanol-free gas) and shaft drive (so there is no more chain maintenance). I bought the Honda from SRK Cycles in Landsville, PA. They’re a great bunch of guys to deal with, I did the entire transaction via email and text message, they delivered the bike and picked up the FZ1 (for which they gave me a reasonable trade-in). If you’re looking for a used bike, check them out!

Life is a journey, enjoy the ride.