Blog

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

Audi RS6 Avant is coming to America

Photo credit: Audi

Fast wagons are awesome. They retain the handling sensibilities of a sports sedan, but offers up the cargo capabilities of a sports utility vehicle. They are the prototypical ‘one car to do everything’; provided you don’t go off-road.

But there’s a problem: fast wagons don’t sell well in America. In fact, wagons of any speed sell horribly here in the States, especially if it isn’t a Subaru Outback. The Cadillac CTS-V Wagon was a sales failure, and the Jaguar XF Sportbrake S can currently be found on a dealer lot for many tens of thousands off sticker. Car enthusiast professes undying love for the long-roof, but we tend to buy them used. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle where we clamor for wagons, automakers make them available, but then we wait to buy them used, which does the manufacturers no good, so they stop selling.

Which explains why samples of a fast wagon like the CTS-V can fetch decent sums in the used market: there simply weren’t that many of them made.

One manufacturer seems to buck the trend, despite the negative headwinds against wagons: Mercedes Benz. The German automaker have continued to produce the E63 AMG wagon and made it available here in America. Apparently, sales are relatively solid: my local dealership has rows of them on the lot, and those cars wouldn’t be taking up precious floor-plan if they couldn’t sell quickly. The E63 AMG wagon and the Volvo’s excellent V90 wagon are just about the only two fast wagon options on this side of the pond; the latter of which sells in such small number, that it’s special order only.

Audi, arguably the originator of properly fast wagons (see the Porsche-developed RS2), have notoriously resisted bringing their RS-badged long-roof wonders to America. We never got the RS6 or the RS4 in Avant (Audi-speak for wagon) form, and I honestly don’t blame Audi: there’s no business case for such a superbly low-volume segment.

Until now. It seems Audi wants a piece of the fast wagon pie Mercedes is eating, so the forthcoming 2020 Audi RS6 Avant will (finally) be available for the American market. It is great news indeed, and to all you petrol-heads that claimed you’d buy an RS Avant immediately if Audi brought it here: time to put up your money.

At first glance, the new RS6 Avant looks rightfully angry, with crazy aero bits flanking the lower region on all four sides. There’s the prerequisite bulging box fender flares as well. A Q-ship this is not, though I’d contend fast Audis were never the visually understated weapons that Mercedes AMG cars are. It’s not the extroversion of a Lamborghini, but Audi RS cars definitely make their presence felt. If I were buying this RS6, however, I’d opt for the black-out trim just to tone down the exterior a tad.

What was immediately striking to me about the new RS6 Avant is how enormous the wheels are: 22 inches in diameter on the options (as pictured), and 21 inches as standard. Indeed the set looks spectacular, but I’m skeptical of its function in actual use. Super grippy low-profile tires in that sizing are horrendously expensive, and in America’s pothole-ridden streets, potential owners better opt for the wheel and tire insurance. Wheels on modern fast cars have simply grown too huge: I think the 20 inch set on my GT3 is already overkill. I’d rather have a smaller diameter wheel with a cushier sidewall tire.

It’s a good thing then the new RS6 Avant comes standard with air suspension, because those thin tires certainly won’t help ride comfort at all.

No need to look at the stats: surely the RS6 Avant will be more than adequately fast, nimble, and comfortable akin to its competition the Mercedes-Benz E63 wagon. The single most important question that Audi will need answered, is will this fast wagon sell in an appropriate amount here in America. Don’t let us down, rich people.

Post-travel depression

I don’t really get post-travel depression; not even for Korea, a country I finally visited in 2017 and was highly anticipated I literally ticked off days on the calendar. But after this recent trip, it’s quite serious.

I really miss Japan.

It’s been more than three weeks since I’ve return to the States, and I’m still hankering to be back in that wonderful country. Undergoing the process of editing all the photographs I took certainly hasn’t help: every new picture is a stark reminder that I am no longer there, and instead, back to the reality of my regular everyday life.

Not to say my life sucks; far from it. This isn’t the typical sort of post-travel depression where the person who returns from vacation cannot bear the mundane grind of his life, that the travel destination is so awesome and spectacular that regular life becomes comparatively worse. Then the person struggles through it, holding back the anguish long enough to make it to the checkpoint of the next vacation, and the cycle begins again. That is indeed a stressful way to live, and if you so dislike your job and/or life, you really should make a change. Let the sadness be the catalyst.

In my particular case of post-travel sadness, it is because the culture of Japan fits me so absolutely well. No other place I’ve been to have I felt so familiar and at-ease, where the surroundings feels just right, and the mechanics of life there super in-tune with my personality. I concede that recency bias may be playing its usual tricks, but honestly I can say that perhaps in another life, I’d be living in Japan full-time. It is that special of a place.

A subject I shall greatly expand upon in the dedicated photo stories article on the entire 9-day Japan trip, an article I’m very looking forward to writing. Stay tuned.

A sight you definitely won’t ever see back in the States.

The kids are back in school

Today marks the first day of Fall semester for the K through 12 kids, so naturally the bus I take to go to work were full of the young ones, and for some, their parents also. What was for the past few months a sparsely ridden bus route returned to being a jam-packed slog, with each subsequent stop filled with hopefuls looking to squeeze in just beyond the closing doors. Today’s commute was easily 10 minutes longer than usual, though I didn’t mind it because I simply listen to podcasts until it’s my stop to alight.

The return of the pre-college kids on public transport is my specific signal that Summer is indeed over, and it’s back to the normal grind of the regular school schedule. Of course, I am sensitive to this because I work at a university, and we go back to our particular scheduled programming in a week’s time. As someone who prefers peace and quiet, I’m oddly looking forward to campus starting back up; the atmosphere of learning can be very contagious indeed.

The crowded bus today made me reminisce of the trip to Japan back in July, and how glorious public transport in that country is. Despite the enormous population density, the system there is super efficient, and has the adequate capacity to deal with the sheer number of people. Most importantly, everything is always on time, so schedules are completely dependable. I fondly remember taking the local train during rush hour, and despite the sea of humanity, there was a train every two minutes on the dot, so getting on wasn’t an issue at all.

Contrast that with my experience today, where my usual bus passed by our station with a ‘not in service’ sign, leaving the following bus even more packed that it had to be. The morning commute on the first day of school maybe isn’t the best time for that, SF Muni.

The dark side is the best side.

The dark side is the best side.

Downsizing on screen real-estate

For the longest time, I’ve only edited photographs on large screens, and by large screens, I mean monitors above 24 inches. It just seemed natural, you know? To have the largest canvas possible, so I can see more of the image in detail, like an architect and his drafting table. Besides, with modern cameras capable of outputting super high resolutions (my trusty Sony A7R2 does 42 megapixels), a screen of commensurate size seems almost prerequisite.

Naturally, I never quite understood how some photographers are able to do editing work solely on their laptops. Isn’t it all a bit cramped? You’d have to hide all the ancillary controls just to get the image to appear large enough, and at the proper 1:1 view, it’s way too zoomed in because the screen simply don’t have enough resolution to show more. I’ve owned many laptops of varying sizes, and as much as possible I avoided editing pictures on them, and instead waited until I get home in front of the 30-inch monitor, or what was the 27-inch iMac.

Indeed, the iMac is no more, due to life circumstances. I now have a 15-inch Macbook Pro as my sole computing device, which means I have no other choice but to run Lightroom and Photoshop on it. Perhaps its the bias of having dropped over $2,000 on the laptop, but I have to say it’s been quite okay doing photo work on essentially half the screen real-estate I used to have. The biggest reason for this is most the latest laptops have intensely high resolution displays, so the issue of not being able to see enough of a photography is mitigated. With the Macbook Pro, I still have to hide all the controls in Lightroom, but once having done so, there’s sufficient space.

Another benefit of sizing down on the screen, one that I hadn’t realize, is the increase in speed. With far fewer pixels to draw compared to the 5K display of the iMac, the graphic system is less taxed on the Macbook Pro. Therefore, making adjustments to a photo returns a more immediate response; there’s no longer that slight pause before the picture reflects the change I just made. It’s a pleasant and welcomed surprise, because more so than screen real-estate, speed is the ultimate productivity assistance.

All things being equal, though, I think I’d still prefer having a large screen. That said, it’s reassuring that doing photo work on a laptop is not the penalty box I’d thought it would be; it’s rather great.

The legendary Shinkansen bullet train.

No phone for a week

The modern smartphone has become an indispensable part of our lives. From the moment we wake to the seconds before we fall asleep, we are practically glued to our smartphones, constantly on the search for the next dopamine hit of news, memes, or image of hot women on instagram. Sometimes I wonder what I’d do if I didn’t have my phone for a period of time. Would I go crazy? Or to the contrary, would I actually be better off?

Due to life’s circumstances, I got the opportunity to test out the hypothesis. For a solid week earlier this month, I was without my iPhone XS, and it turns out, life goes on just the same. I was fine.

First it must be said that I of course still had access to a computer and the Internet at home and at work, so I wasn’t completely out of the loop. The absence of my phone simply made it so I was unable to access information at anytime, anywhere. I can’t check twitter while waiting for the bus, or look up a certain items immediately after inspiration strikes me; it all had to wait. During those times where I would otherwise be entertained via my phone, I was forced to be in my own head. There were no music or podcasts to listen to; I had to get comfortable with stewing amongst the thoughts in my head, and I have to say, it was surprisingly meditative.

Not having my phone also forced me to concentrate on my tasks at hand, increasing my intentionality. I couldn’t check the latest news every 10 minutes, or see if my friends have texted me over chat. It’s confirmation that I definitely have been distracted from my work by my smartphone, and that it’s quite the time sink. Waking up and not having the ability to check twitter for half an hour in bed was oddly liberating, not in the mere action of reclaiming those minutes, but rather, starting my day with the right intention.

Of course, there were negatives: I lost active contact with my friends for a week; I couldn’t check when the nexts bus is due to arrive; and in the event of an emergency, I’m unable to contact anyone, and vice versa. The biggest challenge though in not having the phone with me is the lost of the camera: no device to capture the beautiful or peculiar scenes I encounter throughout my day. Truly, the best camera is the one you have with you, and I lost mine for a week.

Now that I’ve got a phone again, I’m going to take the positives points of better focus and wasting less time, and apply them going forward. It’s definitely nice to have my phone back, but perhaps I’ll be more cognizant of precisely when do I pick it up from the desk.

Always.

Why do I bother

My main passion is automobiles, and I’ve been ensconced in the car culture for over two decades now. People around me know this, so I sometimes get asked for my advice on purchasing. The problem is, and this is shared with many people who are into cars, my recommendations often get ignored, and the person asking ends up going with a counter option. Not that I’m so high up into my ego that I get hurt when people don’t listen to what I say, mind you. The bottom line is that car buying is highly emotional, so the logical minds of car enthusiasts like me don’t quite fit that mold.

I still continue to give advice, though, because that’s called being nice.

The latest such episode is when my cousin asked me what car he should buy. His criteria is a sedan that’s reliable, and something he can own for at least the next 10 years reliably. He doesn’t care about driving dynamics; just a decent runabout for city driving.

For me, the solution for such criteria is obvious: buy a sedan from either Honda or Toyota, the two Japanese brands famous for utmost reliability and super low cost of ownership. To drill down further, I recommended to my cousin the latest Toyota Corolla Hybrid, a fabulous compact sedan that gets 50 miles to the gallon, all for the going price of low $20,000s. It’s a lot of car for the money, and on sheer reputation alone, the new Corolla will run easily run trouble free for the next decade. Plus, the first two years’ maintenance is free.

Whenever someone is looking to buy a car to keep for a very long time, my suggestion is always to buy new. Not only do you get to fart in the seats before anyone else, but more importantly, you get the peace of mind from knowing the entire history of the car, something you can’t say for certain when buying used.

So what does my cousin do? Of course he ignored my advice, and instead bought a slightly used Mazda 3 sedan, for a savings of $6,000 compared to buying the Corolla Hybrid new. No arguments from me; he’s free to do what makes him happy.

A beautiful dark green-colored Suzuki Jimny; unobtanium here in the States.

USB-C dongle life

Due to life circumstances, my trusty 5K iMac (2017 edition) got removed from my possession, and needing a replacement device to do all my creative stuff, I recently acquired a 2019 15-inch Macbook Pro. I’ve gone mobile again, after five years of running desktop macs of varying style. The immediate reaction isn’t from the nearly half-size reduction on screen real estate, but rather the sheer advancement in computing power in only two years’ time.

The 5K iMac remains a beast of a machine: 3.4GHz quad core chip, 40 gigabytes of ram, and 512 gigabytes of super fast storage. It handled everything I needed to do creatively, so of course I had zero plans to replace it anytime soon; unfortunately, other plans got in the way. Armed with a 9th-generation Intel processor with six cores, my new Macbook Pro absolutely chews through 85 MB RAW files as if they were iPhone jpegs. Making adjustments to photos is incredibly immediate, with no discernible lag; it makes the 5K iMac feel rather stilted in comparison, a difference I didn’t even know existed.

Latest Apple computer is fast. News at 11!

Ever since the latest restyle of the Macbook Pro was introduced back in 2016, the constant joke is that owners have to live the ‘dongle life’. In the constant pursuit of forcing users to buy high-margin accessories, Apple engineered the Macbook Pro with only four USB-C ports as IO. USB-C was relatively nascent technology back in 2016, and three years later, the landscape hasn’t exactly improved. Other than a GoPro 7, none of my other peripherals and electronic devices offers a USB-C connection, so in order to use this new Macbook Pro, I am indeed living the dongle life.

It’s absolutely absurd that fresh out of their respective retail boxes, the latest iPhone is (still) unable to connect directly to the latest Macbook Pro.

But there’s another problem: official dongles made by Apple are not exactly cheap. For a basic USB-C to SD card adapter - replicating the SD card slot that’s built-in to the iMac, Apple charges $39. An external display adapter is even worse: $69 if you wish to plug your Macbook Pro into a TV.

Seeing that I just dropped over $2000 on the laptop itself, I am actively fighting having to spend additionally on extra dongles. Thankfully, I actually do have USB-C to USB-A adapter, so I’ve been using that for everything. The process can be somewhat cumbersome: what was once a simple motion of taking the SD out of the camera and plugging it in to iMac, is now a multi-step challenge involving the camera itself, a USB cable, and the aforementioned USB-C adapter. Transfer over camera USB is much slower than the card straight in, too, so that’s quite a pain when dealing with many gigabytes of photos.

I think soon I just might give in and get a small docking station, with all the IO I’ll ever need.

Now this is a sort of commute I want.