Blog

Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

Quality is worth paying for

I’m in the camp of hobbyist photographers who seldom do actual prints. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that the initial investment to procure the necessary equipment is relatively enormous. Why spend thousands on proper photo printer and paper when I can put that towards a new lens instead? Therefore the scant few times I needed to print something out, I outsource to the typical online printing platform (I use Mpix).

Tangent: now that Apple have shuttered their printing service, I’ll need to find another place to print my annual photo Calendars.

I recently went on a family trip, and we took a rather lovely group photo together. Figured it’d be wonderful to hang in the living room, I went on Mpix to order a framed 8x10 print. Even without going too crazy on the options (standard mat board and glass, cheapest frame material), the total price for the single photograph came to around $50, not including shipping. For some reason, I was surprised at how expensive this is.

Me, a photographer, can’t appreciate that a custom framed print ought to cost more than, say, 10 dollars. For shame; I should to be banished from ever selling prints of my own.

Perhaps the low prices of online retailers like Amazon have indoctrinated me to expect things to not cost a lot of money. It has certainly done so to the price of shipping, as in there shouldn’t be any. Adding to my frustration with the price of the print was that I had to pay another 13 dollars to have it delivered. I’ve been so acclimatized to not paying for shipping - and items arriving within two business days guaranteed - that honestly I had second thoughts about completing the purchase, on principle.

As I’ve written before: free shipping is not free, because there is no free lunch.

So I did end up buying the framed photo, because items of quality and craftsmanship are worth paying for. As an artist myself, that is the kind of sentiment I hope everybody carries with them. A race to the price bottom hurts everyone: ask musicians for their thoughts on streaming services. We must fight against the desensitization of online shopping and easy price comparisons, because more often than not, we indeed get what we pay for.

 Now  this  is my kind of tranquil living.

Now this is my kind of tranquil living.

There's always more to do

A conundrum I’ve been grappling with lately: if I get done early with the day’s schedules, should I take a break until the next day, or attack what’s to come and keep piling it on?

On a theoretical level, I think it’s healthy to take a breather, especially after I’ve already executed everything on the day’s docket. Why shouldn’t I take advantage of the well-earned leisure time? Go on; open up Youtube and drown myself in automotive-related videos. Rinse and repeat when tomorrow arrives.

The problem is that often during those downtime, the utter lack of productivity leaves me with a sense of anxiety. Perhaps my daily checklist isn’t rigorous enough, and that’s the reason I even have time leftover to begin with. Or perhaps I should get a head start on the following day’s schedules: the faster I finish, the more I can do and learn.

I’ve become so preoccupied with maximizing learning that I can’t allow myself to have satisfactory moments of mindless activity. That’s now how it’s suppose to work! I set goals for what’s to be accomplished for the day, and when those are done, that should be it: no fretting, no anxiety of inadequacy.

Think back to school days: when I got done with the night’s homework, I didn’t yearn for more or agonize over whether or not it was enough; I was only ecstatic at being able to turn on the Playstation for some Grand Theft Auto action. As far as I was concerned, the goal of homework wasn’t to reinforce learning (even though it did), but rather it was to finish as quickly as possible so that I can have free time to play games.

Why can’t I replicate that now? When I get done with the day’s task I feel like I should be doing more instead. Already studied Korean for an hour? How about another more: I’m need to study again the next day anyways, so might as well get ahead on it.

Perhaps that’s the price to pay for progression; I understand taking breaks are important, but these days I absolutely detest idle time. It’ll be a rough road, but I think I need to gradually reacclimate myself with the notion of being perfectly fine with not doing anything productive.

Shudders.

 The many faces of San Francisco Chinatown.

The many faces of San Francisco Chinatown.

The combustion engine is here to stay

The internal-combustion engine is forever… at least until the electric motor proliferates fully and take over the automotive landscape. For now, like fervent NRA gun owners, you will take the gasoline engine from my cold and dead body.

An enormous factor to driving enjoyment is the sweet sounds emanating from the engine bay (preferably from a natural-aspirated motor), and as we all know, the electric motor merely hums; it’s so quiet that the government have to implement in sound regulations just so blind persons on a sidewalk are able to detect an oncoming vehicle.

The lack of noise is not a knock against electric cars: having ridden in a Tesla I think they are fantastic, and crucially far kinder to the fragile environment. For a car enthusiasts however, electric is a bit of a one trick pony: its accelerative properties are face-tearing and world-beating indeed, but in terms of driving fun, that’s really about it. Until they’ve engineered more energy density into the batteries, these two-ton electric cars can’t possible dream of handling like a traditional sports car.

Not that that matters to the general public. It’s been reported that in the last quarter, Tesla outsold the venerable Mercedes-Benz in America, so there’s proper appetite for these lumbering electric barges. Mercedes-Benz have taken notice, and will soon produce the EQC, the company’s first ever completely electric car. Audi will be entering the market as well with the e-tron SUV. BMW isn’t likely to delay much longer in delivering an electric SUV in its “i” family of vehicles.

Jaguar is wondering why isn’t anybody noticing their all-electric I-PACE that’s on sale now.

No surprise the big three German luxury automakers have elected the SUV as platform of choice for their respective EVs. It’s a smart move: sports-utilities of all shapes and sizes are flying off dealer lots, leaving the traditional sedans in the rear-view. Also important is that Tesla currently hasn’t got an SUV in its lineup (the Model X is a glorified minivan), so that’s a market opportunity to capitalize on.

With mainstream auto manufacturers joining the Tesla market, does this signal the beginning of the mass proliferation of electric-vehicles? Will the combustion engine soon be relegated to the halls of automotive museums? I reckon it is indeed the beginning of the shift, but the trajectory will be immensely long. The technology and infrastructure is not yet competitive against the typical gas station. Until a car can be fully charged from empty in less than 10 minutes, and one doesn’t need to strategically plan just to find a station, the electric car will remain a very nice novelty.

Because there’s also the matter of entry cost: the current crop of electric cars capable of going beyond 200 miles on a single “tank” (sorry, Nissan Leaf) are beyond the reach of the typical customer. Over 17 million cars are sold in America each year; it’ll take quite some time and effort before electric-vehicles will show up on the pie-chart.

My beloved internal-combustion engine will be here to stay for a long time.

 Weekend recreation.

Weekend recreation.

Is the correction coming?

Of course it is. It’s just that none of us know when that is going to be. I’m actually looking forward to the upcoming correction because it means things (stocks or otherwise) can be bought at huge undervalue.

That’s assuming I keep my job through the next recession.

Yesterday the stock markets took a huge dump on us investors: both the Dow and S&P plunged over 3%. Nothing to really panic over (yet) seeing as the S&P merely returned to August (of this year) levels, and the index is still up 9% year-to-date. Smart people advises one shouldn’t pay attention to the daily fluctuations of the stock market anyways; given a long enough time horizon, all the ups and downs aggregate out to constant growth over decades.

Should your time horizon be short, then that money shouldn’t be in the equities market. The yield on savings accounts have finally crept back into respectable levels (my Ally account just got bumped up to 1.9%), so it’s a wonderful time to store funds there risk free (up to the $250,000 FDIC limit anyways). Readers of this blog know I’m planning to buy a car soon, so that allocation of capital is safely in my savings. The precipitous drop of yesterday’s stock market didn’t register there at all.

Where it did register was on the recent deposits into my investment accounts. The money I put in these past few months have completely taken a bath due to yesterday’s shenanigans, and as I’m typing these words it isn’t looking too spectacular today, either. Yes it’ll all even out eventually, but it still hurts on a surface level. I’m optimistic the remainder of this year will round out positively, and ultimately none of this matters much as my time horizon is quite long indeed.

So I shouldn’t be looking at the market’s daily machinations, but my human nature prevents me; stocks are simply too intriguing to not follow. It’s super fun when it’s up, and utterly dreadful when it’s down massively like yesterday.

 I found Santa Cruz street in Santa Cruz. Oh and a supremely clean NA Miata as well.

I found Santa Cruz street in Santa Cruz. Oh and a supremely clean NA Miata as well.

Limousines are not safe

The horrific news from this past weekend of the limo crash in NY that killed 20 people keeps sticking in my mind. The stretched Ford Excursion allegedly blew a stop sign, then ran right into a tree, killing all 18 onboard and two innocent pedestrian bystanders. What an awful, Final Destination-like way to die. Most of the deceased where young adults in their early 30s, so it’s doubly tragic that a whole chunk of productivity and promise gets removed from the population.

When I was a kid I used to think limousines were some of the coolest vehicles on the planet. There’s something awesome about taking a typical passenger car, split it into two separate pieces, and then rejoin them with a body extension. I’ve always wanted to ride in a limo, and figured that as I became an adult I’d get the opportunity. However to this day I’ve yet to tick that box on the list, but having read about this tragedy in New York, I’m not sure I ever want to now.

It never once crossed my mind how dangerous limousines can be: essentially a structurally compromised vehicle that was never engineered for such extreme modifications. Ford didn’t produce the Excursion with limousine duty in mind: it’s raison d'être is to be an all-capable, absolutely massive sports-utility vehicle. What is the likelihood the companies in charge of hacking it into a limousines have the same battery of engineers and crash-testing methodology as an auto manufacturer?

None, that’s what. I’m not sure a single thought have been given to passenger safety when stretching standard cars into limousines. Comfort is first and foremost, isn’t it? The utter lack of safety belts and proper crash-tested seating was probably a huge factor contributing to the death of the people sat inside that Ford Excursion. What a stomach-turning sight it must have been for the first-responders: 17 bodies mashed together and piled up at the front. Surely a day that makes the job almost not worth it.

It’s been reported the particular Excursion limousine was deemed not road-ready during its most recent inspection, but the rental company flaunted that decision and operated it anyways. There’s also the lack of clarity on whether or not the driver was properly licensed to commandeer a vehicle of such mass and length. The myriad of lawsuits to to come out of this will be most interesting indeed.

The main lesson to take from this is to not get into a “limousine” ever, unless it’s a vehicle that’s meant for such capacitive duty such as a bus. Also, if your personal car isn’t road-worthy (like having super old tires), don’t tempt fate; you’re seriously endangering yourself and others on the road.

 Heading out to the surf in Santa Cruz.

Heading out to the surf in Santa Cruz.

I won't buy an A90 Supra without a manual

After seemingly the longest gestation period since the new Honda NSX, the return of the legendary Toyota Supra is set for early 2019. What is with Japanese manufacturers and these long teased-out development periods? Too many concept cars, not enough substance. By the time the NSX went on sale, the car enthusiast public was already bored with it. If I were Toyota I’d hide the new Supra until it’s ready for public consumption, otherwise risking it to the same fate.

Over-saturation risks didn’t stop Toyota from recently allowing motoring journalists to have a go in heavily camouflaged test mules. The early impressions are good: the chassis code A90 Supra is lithe and agile, with adequate power to give Porsche 718 owners and potential buyers a serious second thought. Co-developed in conjunction with the new BMW Z4 - because nobody makes money building sports cars these days unless you’re from Zuffenhausen, the A90 may share an inordinate amount of parts with the German car, but it reads to me the driving dynamics will be disparate and unique.

The new Supra will be pure sports car.

Except in the transmission department. Sharing the same BMW turbocharged straight-six power-plant with the Z4, the A90 Supra is expected to have horsepower figures in the upper 300s. I think that level of engine power does not warrant the necessity to pair it with an automatic transmission. A high-strung Porsche GT car absolutely demands a dual-clutch PDK gearbox for the full experience; the same can’t be said for a car with an estimated 0-60 time in the mid 4’s.

I’m far from an automatic gearbox hater - the ZF 8-speed going into the new Supra is one of the best ever made: in the appropriate setting they are superior to stick-shifts. The A90 is not one of those settings. The car really needs a manual gearbox, especially if it were to ever get my business. For all the talk of honoring tradition, how Chief Engineer Tetsuya Tada made sure the A90 would feature turbo inline-six engine and rear-wheel drive just like Supras of old, the one glaring omission in the nostalgia fest is the six-speed manual.

It’s not as if BMW haven’t got a manual gearbox from which Toyota can easily use: there’s perfectly fine units currently doing service in the M240i, M2, M3, and M4. It’d take relatively zero engineering muscle to implement any those six-speeds into the A90 Supra.

Rumors has it that Toyota will indeed produce a manual-spec Supra sometime after initial launch. I certainly hope it’s true: not only would I not buy one without a manual gearbox, the return of the legend isn’t complete without it.

 Much camo, such wow.  Credit: Toyota

Much camo, such wow.

Credit: Toyota

I now see why SUVs are so popular

Sport-utility vehicles (SUV) are popular as ever; if an automaker wishes to print money, produce an SUV. Porsche was highly prescient over a decade and a half ago introducing the Cayenne SUV; that car made the company so much money that they were then able to invest it back into sports cars. The likes of Lamborghini and Bentley have followed suit, and Ferrari will soon join the fray. These historic nameplates, far removed from the idea of an SUV, simply can’t resist the money prospective.

Full-line manufacturers have long ago latched on to the SUV money train, even if some are later to the party than others (looking at you, Volkswagen). Particularly, Subaru proved that consumers will buy anything resembling an SUV: they simply raised the Impreza hatchback on stilts, call it the ‘Crosstrek’, and the result is mega profits. The buyers are none the wiser that it’s merely a wagon sat higher from the ground.

SUV sales are doing so well and consequently traditional sedans are not (even the vaunted Honda Accord and Toyota Camry is down in sales) that Ford will be jettisoning its entirely sedan lineup in favor of SUVs. Of course, nowhere in the announcement is an admission that Ford’s current sedan portfolio is desperately outdated and behind on the competition.

As a car enthusiast I used to be utterly against SUVs. Wagons and hatchbacks offers the same utility, and if I were inclined to venture truly off-road, I’d buy a proper body-on-frame bruiser like a Toyota 4Runner or a Jeep Wrangler. The way I see it, the typical unibody SUV needlessly sacrifice fuel economy for the sake of a tall seating position and commanding view.

Keyword is I used to. My family recently bought an SUV - Hyundai Tucson, and having driven it around and on a few long trips, my mind has completely changed. There is indeed something magical, and more importantly comfortable, about the elevated seating position: ingress and egress is tremendously easy, and unlike a sedan your body is not hunkered down in a contorted position (especially if you’re on the taller side like I am). An SUV is also much easier to park, it being significantly shorter in the length than the typical four-door.

Sports cars remains the zenith in my heart, but for the regular commute and long journeys, I can understand why SUVs have become so incredibly popular.

 The iPhone XS Max’s camera is a low-light monster.

The iPhone XS Max’s camera is a low-light monster.