Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My car is better...and better than ever

I've had a lot of work done on my 1999 VW Golf GLS lately.

I had my front struts replaced, which shouldn't be unusual over 120,000 miles.

A part in the ignition lock cylinder broke and had to be replaced.  Of course, this required the steering wheel, air bag, and steering column to be disassembled.  The air bag idiot light is on and I've notified the people who did the work.  If I'm in a wreck, does the air bag not deploy?  I almost got the answer in the last week.

The oil dipstick holder fell apart and had to be replaced, but couldn't be replaced by the local people, so I went to a VW dealer.  The VW dealer knew exactly how much to charge for the holder, so it must be a common problem.

While I was there, I had them run a diagnostic.  They mentioned the evap valve and a brake pressure hose that showed up on the diagnostic.  They also mentioned the serpentine belt, which had minor cracks and the radio antenna, of which the cover is falling apart and the internal wire coil is rusted.  I took it off for the previous car wash and hadn't replaced it yet.    They somehow missed the hanging side marker light, which should have been obvious.  I can't get it to stay put.

They ordered the brake hose, as they didn't have such parts in stock.  Seriously?  They don't stock safety parts?

The next day, on an overnight trip, 2 brake hoses split, thankfully while it was parked.  The mechanic was ingenious enough to do what a mechanic from 30 years ago would do.  He fashioned the parts from regular brake hose.  A few days later the brake hose arrived at the VW dealer and I made an appointment for the following week.

They replaced the brake hose without comment.  They replaced the evap valve and did a smoke test to check for leaks and found none.  They replaced the serpentine belt without incident.  As they were trying to back out, reverse would not engage.  This sounded a bit convenient, but they worked it around so that it wasn't costing me much more.  At nearly $700 total, it was plenty already.  Having had multiple bad experiences with Jimmy Bryan Mazda in Winter Park, FL, I was suspicious about sudden problems at the dealership.

As I drove away from the dealership, muttering choice words, I noticed that the car had more power with the air conditioning running, more than I'd ever remembered.  I gave it more than a week, and took a trip to Philadelphia and back, and noticed that it continued to supply more power, and fuel economy.  I haven't had a tune up for a number of years, although that would mostly be a set of spark plugs.

In the good days, the car would rarely give me over 25 mpg with the air conditioning running and it was a serious power drain, to the point that I didn't like to use it.  It seemed expected, though, and it had worked this way from the start.  Over the trip, I was getting 30-32 mpg with air conditioning, except for an extended period in Center City Philadelphia while police had us (practically) driving in circles, and that was 28+ mpg, not as low as 25.

I'm sure the car still needs work, but could certain parts have been defective from the factory and no one bothered?  The window regulator clips certainly proved that.  I made 30+ visits to the dealer to have those replaced, though VW of America denied the problem.

A little more work and it may be as good as new--or better than new.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Photokina 2012 and micro Four-Thirds

September 18 (my birthday!) to the 23 this 2012, Photokina will be happening in Köln/Cologne Germany.  It's probably the better world show for photographic equipment.  For some reason, I feel the Germans take the shows more seriously and less like a media circus.  That may be a mistaken assumption of mine.

Usually, Olympus announces their new products the Sunday before the show starts.  I'm expecting 2 new models to replace the current 3 Pen models.  There should also be a new OM-D series body, but knowing how Olympus can be slow about such things, it will probably be an announcement and the body will arrive around March of 2013.

I also expect that Panasonic will introduce their DMC-GH3 there with a few goodies and most likely, a new professional Four-Thirds video camera/camcorder.

During the show, Zeiss will likely introduce another new lens for micro Four-Thirds for later availability in 2013.

Strangely, I expect there to be a contingent of iPhone-ography accessories.  It's about this time that Apple will be introducing their new models, so it could be difficult timing if cases have to be revised to hold the accessory lenses.

I'm mostly interested in Olympus' new OM-D series model and Panasonic's GH3, as they're both to be aimed at a more professional market than previous mirror-less system cameras have been.  I suspect that they'll be a bit bigger to accomodate larger, heavier lenses, and bigger hands.  That doesn't mean they'll be as big as the Nikon D7000 but likely somewhere in between that and where the current models are now.

Olympus would do well to create a model that's like a slightly smaller E-1, rather than a somewhat bigger OM-4Ti.  As I learnt in the past, the OM-1N was rather slippery and heavy lenses were a problem but their IS-1 was quite manageable, and also the E-10/E-20 models.

As far as Panasonic goes, the GH3 can't help but be better.  They'd hired the firmware hacker that had been enhancing the GH2's firmware, so maximum performance should be expected.  Hopefully, they'll make it so that the GH1 and GH2 users would have no regrets in upgrading and the Canon 5D MkIII users will have more than a little video envy.

There should also be a surprise, but who knows if anyone will see anything out in public.

Update this week: the person in charge at Olympus has stated that they're working on a (not micro) Four-Thirds body to replace the E-5, to get the most out of those lovely HG and SHG optics that are too cumbersome to be used on the E-M5 and Pen series.  That's welcome news.  Hopefully, the body will be announced before or at Photokina and be available in spring 2013 at the latest.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Love/Hate Sprint

Why do some people just not care?

Thursday, I called customer service because, after weeks of poor data connections, everything was failing.  I could not use my data connection on the mobile hotspot or on the phone, and even voice calls were distorted.

The person was remarkably interested and was working to help me.  He said that they had tower problems in the area (a first! well, the admission, anyway) and that engineers were working to resolve the situation within 72 hours, though those were working week hours.  (If you have problems on the weekend, there is no problem?)  I was really having trouble understanding the conversation because it was distorted but we got through it.

This person called several days in a row, asking about my connection and last night, another person called.  She mentioned that the work on the tower had been completed and wondered how things were.  I mentioned that it was mostly back to the way it was a week ago, but with some distortion during the phone call.  I mentioned that things had taken a turn for the worse about 6 weeks ago, so she looked into the tower information further.  She was seeing a lot of problems with requests being rejected and proceeded to open another ticket for that matter.

I got a call this morning and this third person wanted nothing more than to close the ticket.  Nothing I said mattered and she wanted yes/no answers to everything, as though asking "does this fit into our easily-achievable brand of marketing happiness?" actually works for people subscribing to their services.

After my recent trials of AT&T and Verizon, I know I'm better off with Sprint.  I just have to wonder how some people keep their jobs.

For a while, I've been in contact with another Sprint customer service representative, this time from the social media team.  He responded to an e-mail from a few days ago, and I updated him on the situation with "go-away-girl" from this morning.  He called later, apologized and said that her supervisor would be noted on the situation, and that he was able to see the outstanding problems and that there was an internal ticket open on the situation, but that the tower is due for at least one capacity upgrade on August 4th.  That goes with what I was already told the previous evening.  I can only hope that things come together.  When I joked that they could just drop in LTE connectivity, he didn't laugh, but said that they had a strict roll-out plan.

The company's ticket on my most-used tower must still be open.  Some of the day time speed is up there again, but Sunday/Sunday night/Monday morning, it was unusable again.

Update: I'm in the Philadelphia, PA area and I'm trying WiMAX, their original 4G technology.  It's used extensively in South Korea, Taiwan, Russia, and parts of Japan.  The trouble with Sprint's WiMAX is that it's in a higher frequency that makes it difficult to penetrate buildings.

So, I tried it in York, PA and it connected but that's all.  It didn't really work in the motel room, next to the window on the second floor.  Here I am now in Christiana, Delaware and it's working better than the 3G/EVDO or the motel's WiFi connection.  It's only registering average download speeds of about 2.8 Mbps but I just got 4.65 Mbps down with only 0.56 Mbps up and that's higher than the previous test.  I get that much from EVDO on the upload and I've exceeded 2.8 Mbps on download.  4.65 is almost as good as I was getting from Verizon's LTE in West Carrollton, OH and they're supposed to be sooooo amazing, right?

I haven't heard anything from Sprint, so I assume that they finished and my "it's working okay but not as great as it was" was enough to say goodbye.  Okay, whatever.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Yahoo! Messenger for Mac Miracles!

Apple brought out the Mac OS X public beta around September 2000.  Back then, the Carbon application library and compatibility layer didn't function well, so they allowed a lot of the old Mac OS software to work on Mac OS X.

Yahoo! Messenger was one of those and I ran version 2.8.3 for the longest time.  Around 2005, Yahoo! announced the version 3 development project and the first two beta versions were rolled out that year.  After the second version release, I joked that they would finish in 2011.

There were two each year until 2009, when they released four beta versions.  I believe the same year, they increased the version number to 3.0.1, probably to make someone feel good, while they were popping out iOS versions right and left.  (Who says that Mac OS X and iOS are related?)

Just a few minutes ago, I saw Yahoo! Messenger version 3.0.2 (no beta!) show up and I'm running it now.  It looks very much the same, and really isn't that much different than 2.8.3 but we can hook up with MSN Messenger users--something else that's been somewhat neglected.  Besides that, the Buzz! feature has been working since 2005.  It's historic, or at least, hysterical!

Well done, Yahoo!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Viacom vs DirecTV -- 30 %?

I (don't) want my MTV!

Viacom, owner of MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, SpikeTV, etc. want a 30 % increase from DirecTV and their customers.  That's outrageous.  Mostly, they produce a lot of rubbish and they want the customers to pay for that.  The Nick channels are probably the only decent channels at this point, so they could charge a 3 % rate hike for those and the rest of their rubbish could fall off the channel guide.

There was a time when I would have wanted MTV et al. but it isn't the 1980s and I think they haven't noticed that I can use my phone to watch music videos and find content that's just as good as theirs elsewhere.  They ran some huge rate increase advertising back in the 1980s and probably, the 1990s as well.  This time, I don't think it should be effective.

Viacom, you're a dinosaur.  It's time for you to become a fossil.

They settled on 20%, different parameters for the EpiX premium channel, and some options for streaming anywhere.  Things are supposedly back to normal, but a lot of people are probably still angry.  If the price goes up in January/February, more will be angry, even if it's only $1.50 each month since it will be the second year in a row.  That will make it feel like I'm back with Time-Warner or BrightHouse Cable.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cars can be such a nightmare

In my early years, when I could stand, my adoptive dad had me in the driver's seat, so I seem to be pre-disposed to driving a car.  My parents owned several, including a few new vehicles.  I've mostly had new vehicles.  I'm not one to buy appliance cars--like Honda and Toyota make, although they've made some interesting cars from time to time.  However, the interesting cars always seem to go wrong, and require more maintenance.

Here is a list of the cars I've had, in order:
  • 1967 Pontiac Firebird, 3.8litre engine 1 barrel carb.
  • 1974 Mazda RX-3, 1.1 litre rotary engine, 4 barrel carb. (new for Dad)
  • 1980 Ford Mustang, 2.3 litre turbocharged engine with 2 barrel carb. (new)
  • 1985 VW (Golf) GTI, 1.8 litre with mechanical fuel injection (new)
  • 1986 VW (Golf) GTI, 1.8 litre with mechanical fuel injection, missing weld (new)
  • 1990 VW Corrado, 1.8 litre with supercharger and fuel injection (new)
  • 1985 Mazda RX-7 GS, 1.1 litre rotary engine with 4 barrel carb.
  • 1999 VW Golf GLS, 2.0 litre with fuel injection (new)
  • 2012 VW Golf TDI with DSG automatic Tiptronic

Four VWs, 2 Mazdas, 1 Ford, and 1 Pontiac.  The only reason I would consider another U.S. vehicle is because I like Chrysler/Dodge minivans, as my parents' Plymouth Voyager proved reliable--like an appliance.

Volkswagen is on my negative list, for various reasons.  I've replaced a number of their alloy wheels because they bent easily.  Their fuel systems weren't modified for U.S. fuel and had major problems with vapor lock.  Their brakes didn't last very long.  In other words, they were high maintenance.  I can say that the 1999 has proven that a lot of things have changed for the positive.  In exchange, I had 30 or so visits for the power window regulator clips, where the window would go down but would not go up.  The interior has had wardrobe malfunctions where the fabric pulled away and the centre arm rest came apart.  If these things had happened on a 13 year old car, I'd not have a problem with it.  That they happened on a 3 year old car--that's the problem.  The car now has 132,000+ miles on it and is enduring, though it doesn't seem happy at the moment.  U.S. cars just seem to go whether they have maintenance or not.  VWs don't do that very well.

Equally, the 1974 RX-3 had a problem with the rear main oil seal leaking and the car was dead but under warranty.  The engine was replaced at some point in time, but it took the proverbial forever.  On the other hand, I bought the 1985 RX-7 with 102,000+ miles on it and ran it until 156,000+ miles with almost no trouble.  I have little doubt that the engine is working quite smoothly still.  It was also a source of amusement at the Mobil Oil change place, as the salesperson told me how their product would lubricate the valves, the crankshaft, the camshaft, the lifters, etc.--all parts a Wankel rotary engine does not have.

I'm looking again for a new vehicle and I'm not sure what is good for me.  In the long term, I'm not sure where I'll be and I think I should be buying in California to make sure I don't have to switch cars, if I move there.  I thought to buy a Subaru Outback because of the all-wheel drive, if I stay in a snowy area.  I considered a Suzuki SX Crossover/station wagon for the same reason.  I don't want a bigger vehicle, so a Mazda 2 with 4 wheel disc brakes would be convenient, but they don't make such a car and the bigger Mazda 3 might have to do.  A Dodge minivan has been on the list occasionally, but the new Alfa Romeo (inspired) Dodge Dart seems more like my kind of vehicle.

If you haven't guessed, I'm slow to cross the US$20,000 barrier.  That mainly puts VWs and South Korean cars in my sights, both of which are not high on my list.  Kia and Hyundai produce a car or two that seem okay, but driving a long distance, where are the dealerships?  I drove my VW Golf GLS across the country and I asked myself the same question then.  It was rare to see a VW, KIA, or Hyundai dealership.  Dodge, Mazda, and Subaru seem to be everywhere, and Suzuki is many places.  Being that Suzuki is a GM affiliate, Chevrolet dealerships might be able to help.

In any case, I'm due to have the oil dipstick holder replaced today.  Yes, it fell apart.  132,000+ miles and it fell apart.  That was a first for me but the clutch is still original and I only just replaced the front struts, so touch wood/knock on wood, it will continue to function well.  Oh, and there was that ignition switch failure where the car was on but not on--all night.  They removed the steering wheel, and the air bag warning lamp is still lit, just to get to some tiny parts.  That was major money that could have been put toward a tune up.  Then, there were the three under-body air management plastic pieces that fell apart and were dragging.  What do you bet they will be $1000 to replace?  I almost wish I was back in Philly and able to take public transportation.

Update: At the dealership, I requested a diagnostic.  They found a hydraulic hose needed to be changed, as well as an evaporation valve.  I agreed that the hydraulic hose should be ordered and they would call me when they got it.  I took a trip further east of there, along the Ohio River.  Part way through the day, that hydraulic hose, and another, split, taking away all the hydraulic pressure in the braking system.  Somehow, it happened when I was stopped and it had been sitting in the parking lot rather than out on the road going 70 mph.  There happened to be a tire place in the same lot and they took generic brake hose and replaced both split sections and the car is going again.  That's a bad coincidence that it was noticed one day and failed the next.  Also, the dealership noticed that the radio antenna was gone, but they didn't notice the side marker light just hanging.  I'm giving them a positive rating for now, but that could change in an instant, especially, if they knew how bad the hose was.

Update 2: Back at the dealership, they replaced the sections of hose that failed with the specific VW part.  They didn't mention a thing, as if there was no problem, but I was already suspicious.  They did a smoke test and found no leaks.  As well, they replaced the serpentine belt without incident.  As they were backing out to do a road test, the gear would not engage.  The service advisor comes to me and gives me the spiel that it's about $150 extra, but the car isn't going anywhere.

After the door closed, I asked aloud "Did they just break it?" and someone in the waiting room replied "I was just thinking the same thing."  I didn't want to start something but it felt too coincidental.  Two visits, two rather major problems.  The service advisor talked to me later and said that they pared down the prices so it cost me about the same as the original estimate, which was also stretching me a bit from what they told me the previous visit.

The car runs better and more powerfully than I remember but no more VWs.

Update 3: I had other issues with the car since July, including a broken ignition switch, which left the car completely disabled and required a disassembly of the steering column at quite a cost, plus a coolant distribution point broke on one of the coldest days possible, disabling the car.  After several thousand dollars, I bought a new (demonstrator) 2012 VW Golf TDI.  It was around US$27,000 new but there were discounts because it was last year's model and had some 5000+ miles on it.  I broke above the US$20,000 mark.  It's better at 10,000 miles than the 1999 was at any mileage.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

7 inch tablets and the Google Nexus 7

Google announced an 8GB tablet this week for the excellent price of US$199.  It's a re-work of an earlier ASUS tablet and that's a good thing.  The tablet includes the nVidia Tegra 3 System-on-a-Chip and a 1280x800 resolution IPS display.  That's a lot for the price.

There is a rather huge drawback: 5.92 GB is all that's available from the 8 GB of storage.  Additionally, there is no microSD slot to hold your images and music.  Update: I almost bought the 16 GB version at Sam's Club for US$246 and change.  I held the ticket in my hand for quite a while to think about it.  In the end, I couldn't justify being early, especially when ASUS has a variable track record and Google isn't all that reliable in my eyes, either.  Besides, there would be some fanatic who would get there late and wouldn't be able to buy one since I took the last ticket.  I hope he/she enjoys it.

As someone who struggled with the LG Optimus and its paltry 170 MB of user available storage (and the numerous low storage warnings, even with the microSD card), I think those who buy the 8GB version of the Nexus 7 tablet will be returning it for the 16GB version.  I would.

I'm all for such a tablet and the extra US$50 won't really be that much, considering that not so long ago, it would cost US$100 to go from 8GB to 16GB of storage.

What holds me back is the 16:9 format of the tablet.  I was really hoping for a 7.75-7.85 inch tablet in the 4:3 format, as the current 7 inch (and 10 inch) tablets in 16:9 format are just uncomfortable.  Sure, they're made specifically to display movies well, but I won't be watching movies that much.  Ever see the digital copy for Google in the Blu-Ray/DVD package with digital copy?

I think the Nexus 7 is a good attempt at the first tablet and it obviously attacks Amazon.com's Kindle Fire and the Amazon App Store, which is probably more of a problem for Google than it is for Amazon.com.  Jeff Bezos was likely yelling at people this week but Amazon.com acts quickly and they'll likely get their act together and smack Google for what they've done.

I suspect the Kindle Fire will be revised quickly and better than ever.  Since Amazon.com already have stores in various countries other than the U.S.A., I can't imagine why they haven't managed to be more in electronic publishing of books, movies, music elsewhere.

If anyone is a loser in all of this, it's Acer.  They can't seem to design good products to save themselves.  Lenovo will probably overtake them.  Of course, if Apple announces a 7.75-7.85 inch tablet in September, Google and ASUS may be hurting, as well.