Thursday, January 31, 2013

The fifth Volkswagen -- Golf TDI

It was with a bit of trepidation that I chose a new VW.

I've had four previously:

1985 (Golf) GTI
1986 (Golf) GTI
1990 Corrado
1999 Golf GLS

Each have had a wide array of entertaining problems.

The 1985 had vapour lock every summer, as though it was not ready for the gasoline/petrol sold in the U.S.A.  Then, there was the clutch problem, and the pathetic Goodyear tires.  One of the allow wheels was bent by a pothole.

The 1986 seemed to be unfinished as apparently someone working in the Pennsylvania assembly plant forgot to weld something, which ruined one of my cameras with water damage.  All 4 disc rotors wore out in 30,000 miles.  Another allow wheel bent on this one.

The 1990 had problems with the clutch, but overall, it was consistently good, until someone ran into it and made it impossible to use again.  Within the first few weeks of owning it, a pothole bent one of the extremely light allow wheels, and I ended up switching to something more durable but detrimental to the light and lithe feeling of the car.

The 1999 was a much more conservative choice--no sport anything.  I spent 30+ visits to the dealership while waiting for the window regulator clips to be replaced.  The windows would not return to the closed position in the darker (black, dark blue, dark green) cars.  The door trip loosened early and the electricals were faulty all along.  The security system would suddenly decide with the door open that the car was locked and secured and the alarm would be activated.  Of course, since it couldn't tell whether the door was open or closed, interior lights did not work properly.  In order to see on arrival, I sometimes, turned on a light and forgot to turn it off, leaving the battery in trouble.  The alarm for the headlights didn't work, and of course, the daytime running lights needed to be replaced frequently but only one side was easily accessible.  Later in life, all sorts of problems arose, but it's not unusual at that point.

So, as a fifth VW was (barely) on my list of cars to buy, I had major doubts about another.  In fact, the Subaru Impreza Sport had the top spot.  What changed everything for me was the emissions control compliance and the ability to register the car in California.  I was holding the 1999 Golf too long for that same reason.  Who cares if I lose a US$500 car but who could trade a US$22,000 car so easily?  What is the environmental impact?  Is a clean diesel the best alternative?  I believe it is.  The ULEV II compliance means a lot to me.  You'd think that hybrid vehicles would be a better match for the environment, but the environmental impact of the batteries is a huge drawback.  Had it been a diesel hybrid with 75 mpg tops, instead of 42, I think it wouldn't be a difficult decision at all.

After the first 2.5 days, I feel that I made a good choice, thankfully.  I'm still not quite at home with it, but it's still a bit foreign.  I've never bought a vehicle with an automatic transmission, though I've driven one occasionally.  This one incorporates their ecological idealism (Think Blue) and the feeling at 1500 rpm isn't 100 % comfortable, even though the engine has plenty of power.  Given the winter weather, I'm not likely to push the car much.

I'm surprised at how much wider the car feels and overall, it feels more grown up.  I would say that it feels like the Corrado but it doesn't have that light feeling to it and it's probably because of the electrically-powered steering and the extra 300 pounds.  You can also thank the winter weather for somewhat dampening my desire to try the car's capabilities.  The salesperson mentioned that it shares the platform with certain Audi vehicles, and it's not surprising and that's nothing new.  It feels more upscale than the Golf GLS I had, even though the equipment would probably be similar with a similar age.

Of course, the look is completely the same while being almost completely different in the details.  e.g., the bonnet/hood is almost difficult to see at all.  Looking through the side mirrors, the back seems much taller and the contours more angular, like the Corrado.  I believe the amber turn signals are gone from the rear of the car and the mirrors now have integrated turn signal lamps now.

Is it better?  I hope so, but a couple of days won't reveal much.  I don't even know the fuel consumption yet.  The car started with over 5000 miles, so it is past the break-in period, yet they want me back in 45 days.

Update: It's not been a week yet, and I took a short trip for some shopping--about 90 miles round trip--and the car seems amazing.  I suppose it's just that I'm becoming accustomed to it and getting things set for me.  I'm amused at the instant fuel economy display.  I'll take my foot off the pedal and it will read "---" but the slightest pressure will show 200 mpg.  Travelling down I-70 into a valley, it was displaying about 75 mpg but on the way back up, it was only displaying around 25 mpg.  It's a bit amusing that I played VW's Think Blue game where you try to drive smoothly and make the most of your fuel.  Now, that game seems to be reality with this car.

The electrically-operated steering is growing on me but the all-season tires are not so handy with snow and slush on the ground, compared to the snow tires on my previous car.  I don't really care for Continental brand tires, anyway.  I prefer Dunlop brand.  Last weekend, I was photographing a couple of basketball games and the bun warmers (heated seats) were great, given that it was around 11 degrees F outside.  I only dislike the placement on the switches, as it's difficult to see the position of the heat/air conditioning distribution dial since the little icons are hidden.  Acclimation will help.  The sound system seems okay, but unintuitive.  In fact, a lot of things seem less Volkswagen than in the past.  They're trying to sell to Americans, I suppose, and just like the Chinese restaurant owner told me "we have to make it that way or they won't accept it".

Update 2017.01.06: For over a year, the company has been in court over cheating on their diesel emissions output.  Apparently, the real life results are much higher.  My car went back to the company December 17, 2016, and several days later, I got money for it, and bought a Hyundai made for California.  So endeth my time with Volkswagen.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Buying a new car

2012 was a lousy year for my 1999 VW Golf GLS.  A lot of things went wrong and needed repair and replacement.  I've probably spent near $5000 with all the things that had to be handled.  Since my mum's house sold, I have the money to do something all at once.

The latest problem happened in the last week where a plastic coolant junction broke.  This reminds me of the stinking news that a Mr./Hr./Sr. Lopez was at VW for cost-cutting reasons.  There was a huge clamour about it.  It showed up in so many ways on my car, including the 30+ visits for the window regulator clips.  It showed up in the armrest fabric that pulled away or the door sensor that doesn't know whether the driver's door is open or closed and when the security alarm decides to activate while the door is open.  I was told that Lucas Electrics were used in the car, which is ridiculous since most cars built in the UK went to Bosch to get away from being stranded on the side of the road.

I've been considering cars from Suzuki, Mazda, Subaru, and mostly avoiding the thought of another Volkswagen.  I have plenty of reasons to avoid VW but the worst was the person on the toll-free hotline who told me that there was no problem with the power window regulators.  I was there for maybe the 14th time already and there were three other customers in the waiting room for the same problem, that apparently didn't exist.

The Suzuki SX4 Crossover AWD is quite nice.  It's more of a wagon than an SUV/Crossover and the price is right.  Unfortunately, Suzuki is to stop selling cars (but not SUVs) in the U.S.A.

The Mazda 3 has been on my list, more-or-less since I first had a Mazda RX-3 and drove my co-workers Mazda GLC/323.  I liked the joy that seemed to come with the cars and the 3 is much sharper than either of those were.  I only wish for a rotary engine getting 30 mpg in city driving, as well as one having low emissions.

Subaru's Legacy was on my list but the price continues to escalate.  The Impreza seems more in my preferred range but it's big on the outside, small on the inside, like most Japanese cars.

Given my druthers, I'd prefer a Mazda 2/Toyota Yaris/Nissan Versa/Honda Fit-sized vehicle like my 1999 Golf GLS with 4-wheel disc brakes.  They're not to be had, and from my experience driving in Florida's storms, I'd never again suffer drum brakes.  Besides that, the cars really don't have that Volkswagen space efficiency and upscale feel.

Enter the VW Golf mk. VI (isn't it the 6th generation?), which is larger than the one I have, as two generations have passed, and it's about 300 pounds heavier which seems reasonable and fat.  I hope they used more sound insulation.  Despite what people say about the price of the Golf, it's a huge bargain.  You get a lot for your money, especially in the upper models.  Of course, the diesel version, TDI, has a substantial price premium, which you should be able to recover more quickly than with a hybrid.

Locally, the Mazda dealers seem to be jerks or clowns, playing games with the prices.  I don't see anyone I feel I could trust.  Obviously, when they have a lot of money for television-based advertising, it's coming out of your pocket.  When they won't tell you their price, you're in for games, and you'd better play your part well or they will walk all over you.

The Subaru dealers seem to change their inventory very, very, very frequently.  Given that it's winter and we just had a minor but not really minor snow, I suspect All-Wheel Drive is in demand, especially when you can get it in the low $20s.  I suspect you can't order extras unless you order them through the parts department to be installed after your receive your new car.

I checked the web site for the VW dealer I already use and they had 2 Golf TDI models from 2012.  Since they're last year's models, they're discounted.  The manual is more expensive than the DSG Automatic.  There should be an equipment difference but the web site is not properly informed.  White cars with dirty snow (the manual) on them look horrible but I would think that red cars (the DSG Auto) would look almost equally bad, and be police bait.

After reading the review from a former Mazdaspeed 3 owner, I think there is no huge question but to buy one of the TDI models.  My concerns about reliability seem to be unjustified, as this generation, introduced in 2010, seems to be better than my four generation model.  Of course, the Subaru Impreza Sport Premium still looks a good option, but reviews call it rather utilitarian, instead of inspired.  Plus, the ULEV II-compliance of the Golf TDI looks better than the PZEV-compliance of the Impreza.

I punted and drove both of the Golf TDI models.  I've never owned a car with an automatic transmission and which car gave me the trouble--the manual.  I killed it twice during the test drive.  I couldn't get the seat in a great position.  The automatic had over 5000 demonstrator miles but was sold as new with full warranty.  I like refurbished electronics so it was perfect for me.  I was so nervous, but I think it worked out well, and my bank was directly across the street--even the driveways met.  I just hope people will leave it alone.  I already had a few close calls.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

More amusement from "anal"ysts of Apple

I was amused this morning to see a contributor to Forbes write that Jony Ive (as if he knows him that well), should replace Tim Cook as the CEO of Apple.

My experience would suggest that putting a creative person in charge of a company without some incredible people doing all the work would be suicidal.  Creative people are rarely organized and often emotional.  "There is a fine line between genius and madness." and I've tripped over that line a few times, as have most creative people.  :-D

Besides that, pulling your chief idea maker/director away from creative projects to run a company means that you won't have those ideas flowing because someone is managing people, products, and the company's direction in as little or as much detail as they care to handle.

It is interesting to see how much Apple's stock price and value "on paper" has fallen.  They're around US$500 instead of US$700 per share.  That's huge.  People might compare them to Google, but Google started at US$500 per share.  I saw another analyst dropped their target price from US$700 to US$650, but I don't see Apple going that high for a while, especially with the earnings disclosure almost here.

When they have their quarterly financial conference call, they won't likely satisfy analysts who have already decided that perfection isn't enough, so anything less will be considered a bargain basement stock, and they will lower expectations, regardless of records.  It's just silly.

I'm looking forward to an upgraded iPad mini and iPad in the next few months.  Even though I knew the specifications of the iPad mini for a while, I was disappointed.  When the rumors started, prior to the second generation iPad, those specifications weren't a problem.  The market changed radically since then.  A "Retina" display and processor to handle the graphics capably will put things right.  I know that they won't put the fastest processor in it, but they'll put something capable of displaying the graphics without a slowdown.  (They made a huge mistake with the iPhone 4, as its performance was slowed, compared to the 3G S.) I spent quite a lot of time with the Google Nexus 7, having had 2 of them before I returned them, and the herky-jerky performance was faster but it wasn't pleasant.

Someone decided to give us specifications of the iPhone 5S, supposedly a much bigger phone between 4.7 and 5.0 inches in the display.  I'm thinking a lot of people will believe that's going to happen, but it's unlikely.  While Apple is (finally) accelerating their mobile products development, they're not about to throw physical designs out and eat the costs, instead of recovering them.  They are the profit leader in the industry.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sprint LTE seems to work

I was in the Indianapolis area today, and as I had checked the Sprint coverage page last night, saw that they had gone live with LTE.  The funny thing about their data maps, unlike their voice maps, is that they don't show relative signal strength.  It's all covered in orange, when in reality, it might not be covered at all.

My current home coverage is like that.  It' shows up as a blanket of 3G goodness when, in fact, I often get unusable service.  The voice coverage shows me on the edge of great voice signal strength.

I took my mobile hotspot (Sierra Wireless Tri-Fi, as they call it), into the pizza place where I went to eat lunch, along with my laptop computer.  It connected slowly, then disconnected, then connected again.  As I was trying to actually use the connection, the hotspot disconnected from the computer.  C-R-A-P.  This is the second device, as the first one was confused about whether it was fully charged or not, and disconnected regularly.

My guess is that the disconnections happen when the towers are overloaded.  Despite their assurances, I think their capacity upgrades only minimized the horror and they needed 6 or 7 more to put things back to where they were before they started selling Apple's iPhone.  They've been selling smart phones like crazy.  Apparently, nearly half of people in the U.S.A. are using smart phones.  I saw almost great speeds on Christmas Day, so it makes sense.

There was a handy Sprint store around the corner, so I stopped to talk.  I casually asked why it wouldn't connect to LTE and the representative told me that the towers were only about 30 % of the buildout.  That seems consistent with Verizon and AT&T boasting LTE coverage when there wasn't much.  Sad, isn't it?  Still, some is better than none, as long as it works.

After I'd finished my regular shopping, I headed to Sam's Club for gasoline and to see if there was anything else I desperately needed.  $3.079 wasn't bad for regular, since I'd seen up to $3.219 on the way there.

I tried the mobile hotspot again, and it showed the 4G symbol.  Since I knew Indianapolis didn't have WiMAX, I was quite pleased to be connected to LTE for the first time with the device.  I'll upload the screenshot but the PING came back as 70 ms, with a download speed of 4.65 Mbps, and an upload speed of 3.81 Mbps.  Considering the technology, it's slow, but if I'd checked my 3G connection, the LTE speed would look wonderful.  I'm hoping to see much better.  I tried Verizon's LTE in West Carrollton, Ohio and the download speed at that time was ~5.8 Mbps but it was a more mature buildout by that time.  I considered it too slow for the money Verizon charged, and considering that I had minimal coverage in my own town at the time, it didn't make sense.  Since then, they added LTE but it's only good if you happen to be where it works.

Now, I'm thinking that Sprint may try to compete with Verizon since the two have this town sewn up.  T-Mobile doesn't even have 3G service here and there is no MetroPCS or Cricket.  AT&T has 3G service but that could collapse at any moment once their customers upgrade to 3G data phones.  It's not likely they'll have LTE here until the end of the century.  I don't even think that they had EDGE here until 2006 or 2007.

If nothing else, the pizza and breadsticks were good.

Update 2013.11.11: It's going on 10 months since I wrote this.  I see Sprint covering more of the state of Indiana, but service in Indianapolis is anything but exemplary.  Downtown, near where they showcased LTE for the SuperBowl, I've seen service as low as 0.75 Mbps and the other day, it was running at 1.0 Mbps down.  I also got 2.88 Mbps in the suburbs where the buildout didn't seem to be finished.  However, service in the mall was better near the Sprint kiosk, and often dropped to 1xRTT elsewhere.

I'm on my third hotspot now, and this one doesn't seem to be better.  Why doesn't the equipment for their towers work well?

I'm interested to see how Verizon is doing.  About a year ago, I went to visit someone in a small town to deliver a few things.  She was showing me her Verizon Samsung Galaxy S III and I noticed that LTE was lit.  She tried to look up something and it paused for over 1 minute, switched to 3G/EVDO, and returned results finally.  So much for more coverage.  Putting LTE on one tower just doesn't do more than stake a claim.  It has to work.

Oh, and I just had pizza and breadsticks there again the other day.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The dark underbelly of Yelp

I've been on Yelp just over 1 year now.  I've posted reviews of more than 300 businesses and uploaded more than 500 photos.  I've also reported hundreds of false reviews, and corrected a huge number of businesses' information.

I keep seeing information about how Yelp messes with businesses.  Until the other day, I had yet to see anything happen.  There was a certain pizza place in New Jersey that was bookmarked by a friend.  As I read the reviews, they didn't make sense to me.  What's more, I trust this friend to have similar taste in food, given that her family was running a local restaurant where I had eaten a few dozen times.

This pizza place either had really good ratings or really bad ratings, but rarely was anything on the bad side to do with the food.  One of the bad reviews came from someone who had given a 5 star review to another place in the same town.  I don't believe that any two places in Jersey were so divergent that you would be polarized completely.  I call bullshit.

I can appreciate that Yelp is a business and that they want advertising.  Indeed, I had a check-in deal with Hastings books and video store.  I had waited a very long time and kept forgetting to use it.  When I remembered in late November 2012, Yelp said that it had expired and Hastings said that it expired two months earlier than the Yelp date.  It was probably something to do with their advertising contract expiring.  I don't have a good feeling about Hastings anyway.  I started getting their corporate e-mails with my name misspelled and when I tried to correct it online, it told me that my rental card was invalid.  I returned to the store and they told me that they are connected to the company or some such.  If they're not connected, how did they get my e-mail address?

In any case, I've seen people proclaim that they'd been approached by Yelp to provide positive reviews of a business.  I can imagine that it's possible but I wonder why I haven't been approached.  I'm not going to lie for anyone, but still, you'd think if it was that important, I would be contacted.  As far as I know, people who mention it now, without proof, might be working for someone else, trying to discredit Yelp.  I asked someone to provide the text but never even got a response of any sort. The only evidence of any weirdness is that a gas station which I frequented was suddenly gone from Yelp.

As Apple had made a deal with Yelp, I was somewhat pleased to see my reviews and photos show up on Apple's currently-broken Maps application.  I had a similar smile when Google bought Panoramio, and my photos started to shop up on Google's maps years ago.

Am I up for bullshit?  Yel, err, Hell No!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy 2013!

So, we're still here, and the U.S.A. is more-or-less over the fiscal cliff because the Congress was too busy the last two years.

I noticed that gasoline prices were increased about $0.20 per gallon in just a few days.  I expect refinery executives needed extra party money for New Year's Eve.  Perhaps, they'll drop a bit but given the cold here, I expect that the prices will continue.  Thankfully, I use natural gas to heat.

Since the world didn't come to an end, I hope people have a plan to pay for Christmas gifts.  I would imagine that credit cards have been increasing their rates, so it's infeasible to carry a balance.  In many states, credit is barely regulated.  I wonder how many lost their cars to title loans, while trying to afford Christmas gifts.  I'm so cynical but it always seems that there are people to take advantage of other people.  I suspect 300 years from now, there will still be a few people taking advantage.  Congress will have reformed by then, I hope.

Technology is continuing to advance.  I noticed recently that Samsung et al. were fined for price fixing of some components.  I'm not sure how they can continue to do this and not be banned from the market for a period of time, but it probably has something to do with consumer demand needing to continue.  For all the demand, has anyone's economy improved since 2008?

I noticed DPReview's Camera of 2012 poll has finished:

  1. Olympus OM-D E-M5
  2. Nikon D800
  3. Canon 5D MkIII

The results were rather surprising, considering that DPReview has been rather anti-Olympus past the E-1.  I'm not exactly as thrilled with Olympus as I was in 2004, but everything changes.  Nikon and Canon have definitely become better than they were in 2004 and Olympus is, for the most part, worse.  The E-M5 (E-PM2 and E-PL5) has certainly changed opinions with its image quality.  I'd say that people who voted recognized this, as it takes a 135 format frame sensor to produce clearly noticeable differences.

The rumor is that Olympus will produce a replacement for the E-5 by the end of 2013.  That seems reasonable--it's been three years.  The body is apparently not a Four-Thirds body but micro Four-Thirds with a smarter adapter to enable Four-Thirds lenses to operate at full capability.  My only concern is that they'll provide an OM-D series body that is far too small and slippery.  If the adapter works on the Panasonic GH3, I'd be much more happy, especially if the adapter is ready (and available) ahead of the new body.  Of course, if Olympus produce a body like the E-1, I'd be at home.

I saw that Volkswagen have given in and are selling hybrid vehicles now.  The Jetta and Touareg (I saw a news report that the Tuareg people were fighting.  Does that sell vehicles?)  have hybrid versions.  It's amusing that a vehicle with 380 horsepower (what is that in reindeer power?) should be focused on economy or that 24 mpg highway would be an accomplishment.  Don't people with US$50,000 have unlimited fuel supplies?  I was hoping for diesel hybrids but I suppose that would take much more time since no one else is doing it.  Many people comment that hybrids produce a herky-jerky mobility that's an unhappy compromise.  I can't imagine that so many bought such a vehicle.  Of course, I didn't realize at the dealership that my 1999 Golf would be a constant source of trouble.

I'm so glad I bought snow tires, but I haven't been through the fallen snow so much, as the scraped road that still has snow and ice.  The tires perform well, but what works really well on ice, a tank?  I'm really loath to go into the cold anyway, but I can't hibernate forever.

I had considered driving to Los Angeles, California for Christmas to enjoy something different, and my buddy the singer-songwriter replied to me that he was possibly going to be out on tour with someone until the 22nd.  I guess Christmas Day is not on the 25th in Los Angeles.  I would have missed all the lovely weather here anyway.  Prior to the 31st of December, we'd had nearly half of 2012's snowfall in one week's time.  The 31st's snowfall was lovely indeed, but I'm sure we're going to have a covering every week until April.  It's a great thing, despite my dislike for winter--we need the moisture in the ground.  Having brown lawns as early as July just isn't good.

I hope that 2013 will be an incredibly wonderful year for all.  I don't need surprises but a steady decrease in problems would be appreciated.  Being able to go where I want would be a wonderful advantage.