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

Making of the calendars

It’s getting to be that time of the year when people agonize over what presents to buy to gift to friends and family. It’s also that time of the year when people procrastinate until the very final Friday before Christmas. It’s why I never visit malls - or even go outside - on that particular weekend: too much frantic, too much mayhem. The danger of an unsuspecting driver too worried about finishing his errands crashing into my car in a parking structure is immensely high.

Best to avoid all that.

In fact I avoid holiday shopping entirely by getting (making) the same present for everyone: a bespoke calendar for the following year, using the photographs I’ve taken in the current year. My friends receive something uniquely special and useful, and I save lots of money because each calendar only costs 20 bucks.

In the past fews years I’ve done this through Apple’s Photos app, utilizing their official printing service. The results are typically Apple, which is to say amazing and proper quality. Unfortunately, this year there’s a bit of hiccup: Apple for some reason have decided to end its photo printing products operation. What a shame; I guess the scale wasn’t enough for a company that sells iPhones in the billions of dollars.

So for those dozens (?) of users, we are relegated to using third-party companies. Two of those - Mimeo and Motif - provide an extension that integrates with the Photos app and offers a convincing facsimile of the discontinued official product. To produce my calendars this year I chose Mimeo, primarily because for first time users there’s a 20% discount. I’m actively saving up for an 911 so every single cent counts massively.

Having since received the calendars, I have to say the quality is surprisingly good. It’s not to the levels of Apple where the font design and layout of the dates is more clean and carries a simplicity, but where it counts the most - the pictures, Mimeo does the job well.

I do still miss the Apple version, but I’m glad there’s viable replacements readily available.

 A study in uniformity and scale.

A study in uniformity and scale.

It's my birthday

You know, once you’ve crossed the line pass 30 years of age, it’s not so bad. All the anxiety and dread that came before that, however artificially drummed up they may be, simply goes away.

At least it did for me.

I am turning 31 today, and honestly I nearly forgotten about it if not for kind relatives wishing me a good one on the messaging apps. I’ve been so focused on my learning and tasks that it was too easy to forget about milestones like this, especially when its significance is far from that of the 30th birthday.

Today is just another day, really.

Indeed I am supremely grateful for yet another year on this earth, and I think this coming one will be the best yet, mostly because the fourth Avengers movie will be released. Isn’t that the whole point: to improve and get better year by year? For sure there are downs to go with the ups but as long as it’s a net positive at the end, then it’s a good year.

It’s about the long game, and the powers of compounding.

I can say I’m truly at a good place right now, though I did spend a large portion of 30 trying to find the right groove to fit into. I wouldn’t categorize it as anything tumultuous; I merely wanted to find something to latch onto in the coming few years. Steady as I was in my studies and work (and immensely gratefully so), I needed some sort of grand project to put my time and creativity into (not to mention, money).

And I found it in one of my very first loves: cars. Earlier this year I sold my Miata and went car-less, and somewhat paradoxically it rekindled my interesting in the automobile. Something about taking things for granted and having it stripped from you to realize it. These days I really miss having a car to mess around with, to go places and indulge in my other hobby of photography.

So I spent the latter half of 30 implementing severe austerity in order to save money for an 911, and I’m oh so very close to pulling the trigger. The calendar will have to turn over to 2019 before that happens, though.

In the meantime it’s simply day by day. It’s great to be alive, and I’m thankfully to have done it for 31 years. Cheers to many more to come.

 People watching is one of my favorite sports.

People watching is one of my favorite sports.

Apple CarPlay is a must-have

As a proper enthusiast of on the car variety, a vehicle’s infotainment is near the bottom of my concerns. How much power a car has got and how it handles into a corner is the primary interest. It’s the oily bits that counts; a car could have the crappiest stereo system in the world and I wouldn’t have cared less. Who needs amazing music when the song from the engine is ever so melodious.

That was then; as I’ve grown older I’ve come to appreciate a nicely done car stereo. When leasing the Hyundai Tucson for my family a few months ago I elected to get the trim with the upgraded stereo, and every time I’m in the car I marvel at how awesome the sound is. Of course, an SUV isn’t the type of car to offer any driving enjoyment, therefore the quality of the interior is further up on the importance scale. Nevertheless I got spoiled; in my next car(s) I definitely will tick the better sound system option.

Along with that there’s one killer app that is an absolute must-have: Apple CarPlay. I’ve been an iPhone user since the 4 came out on Verizon, and having used CarPlay in various cars of not my owning, it’s simply amazing. CarPlay the most easiest and best possible way to integrate the data from an iPhone to car: music, maps, contacts; all it takes is a singular USB cable. Honestly all automakers have to do is provide a quality touchscreen screen in an appropriate size.

And they have: thanks to Tesla outfitting the Model S with a 17-inch display on center console to control just about everything, established manufacturers have hurried to copy. The latest Audi cars is almost entirely screen: the instrument cluster is a screen, the infotainment is a screen, and the climate controls are on a screen. Thanks to Tesla, physical buttons appears to be a thing of the past in new luxury cars. Even most mainstream cars have at least a 7-inch touch display at the center.

What automakers haven’t been so good at is actually offering Apply CarPlay, and I’m primarily talking to you, Toyota and Mazda. (And somewhat you too, BMW: charging a subscription to use CarPlay? Get the F out of here.) I would be bombing the backwoods in a Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro for years now had Toyota simply implemented CarPlay in the venerable SUV. It’s only this year that Toyota and Mazda have started implementing the function in their respective new cars.

A word to automakers: I’m not buying a car from you if it hasn’t got Apply CarPlay ability. Full stop.

 All screen everything

All screen everything

Dash-cam videos of car crashes are fun

As one does I spent a significant part of this weekend sleuthing on Youtube. What took me down the endless rabbit hole this time were dash-cam videos of bad driving and car accidents. As someone who haven’t driven regularly for over seven months now, the wonton idiocy and incompetence of other drivers is something I do not miss. That said, I shall be back on the road sometime next year so those compilations videos are a stark reminder of the potential dangers.

In my previous cars I ran a GoPro as a dash-cam as a sort of insurance policy against possible accidents, ensuring zero ambiguity as to whose fault it was that caused it (unless it’s me?). Luckily in those four years I never had to use it for that specific purpose; the GoPro primarily served to capture stupid drivers on the road and for me to look at the footage later and have a laugh.

It’s interesting to see the dash-cam movement catching on here in America: there’s even dedicated websites and storefronts to the cause now. We’ve all seen the crazy Russian dash-cam footages on Youtube, and in Asia almost all cars (that I’ve been in and I can see) has them installed and running. In supremely litigious United States it was only a matter of time before it absolutely proliferated here. I think it’s a hugely missed opportunity that automakers don’t fit these cameras as standard in cars.

I think in my forthcoming 911 I will bite the bullet and hard-wire a dash-cam unit in so I don’t have to screw and unscrew a GoPro every single time I get into the car.

Perhaps a bit arrogant on my part to say, but from what I can analyze of the dash-cam videos I watched this weekend, much of the accidents can be easily avoided. It’s incredibly easy for our egos to get inflated sat inside a 3000 plus pound rolling missile, and the key is tame that down. Be on a constant alert for bad drivers, and be ready to react when they encroach onto my space. Many of the collisions I saw were the unwillingness of the aggrieved party to acquiesce to the terrible driving of the other.

If another cars wants to cut me off, jump a line, make an illegal turn, go super slowly on a 65 mile-an-hour highway: I let them. The goal is to not play cop and challenge these drivers, but rather extricate myself and my precious car from the situation as soon as possible. The reward of a victorious ego from righting a wrong that ends up in a mangled car is pyrrhic indeed.

But it does make for entertaining videos on Youtube.

 There was a time when appendages like these on a car would excite me to no end.

There was a time when appendages like these on a car would excite me to no end.

Priorities change

In a few weeks’ time I will be once again traveling back home to Hong Kong, performing the annual pilgrimage to visit family on my dad’s side. These past few years I’ve been on quite the travel binge, and the trip back home at the end of December crossing over into January marks the culmination and the beginning of a year’s worth of journeys. I’ve said to my friends that my favorite spot in San Francisco is the airport’s international terminal, where anticipation and excitement for the trips ahead is at its most palpable.

I have to say the feeling is surprisingly different this year. No question I am happy to spend time with family, especially those whom I only see once a year, but the run up to this year’s return home has a slight bit of dread to it. I found out the reason why when I started doing my usual preparation of buying necessary supplies and moving money to travel accounts: this trip to Hong Kong will cost money.

What a stupid thing to say; traveling inherently costs money, doesn’t it? Why am I loathing to spend when this trip has been booked since January (got to lock down those cheap airfare prices). Just the past few years alone I’ve spent easily into the five figures on travel, so what’s the problem now?

Right, I’m saving up for a 911.

As they say, priorities change. Since 2014 I’ve been on a bent to maximize travel opportunities, so most of my discretionary income was allocated towards that. Partly why I switched from a Subaru WRX STI to a Mazda MX-5 in 2015 was because the latter was cheaper to run and maintain, therefore more money towards trips. Now, the situation has reversed: austerity measures were put on traveling (I haven’t taken one single trip this year), and the growing cash reserves is earmarked towards cars.

The Hong Kong trip this year is going set me back a bit on those cash reserves, which I think is why I’ve been ambivalent about it rather than pure delight of years past. I’ve had a good run in seeing the world these past couple of years, but it’s time to switch primary focus back to another love of mine: cars. For sure I still love traveling, and there’s still many places I haven’t been (not one foot in European soil yet); surely I’ll get back on that train in a few years’ time.

For now, it’s 911 or bust.

 The best colors for an instrument dial: black face, white letters, red needle.

The best colors for an instrument dial: black face, white letters, red needle.

Buying a used car for the first time

Thus far I’ve been supremely fortunate to only ever had brand new cars. My parents didn’t believe in used cars on the virtue of you never know what the owner before you did to it, so it’s worth paying extra to be the first person to fart in the seats. Therefore even my very first car, which my parents lovingly purchased for me, was factory fresh. It was a testament to my parents’ sheer tenacity: raising two kids with not that high of an income, yet still able to save enough money for such a kingly gift.

Following from that ethos, when it came time to upgrade to faster car using my own money, buying used wasn’t even remotely on the radar. The car was a Subaru WRX STI, a sporting all-wheel drive performance sedan; I couldn’t risk buying a second-hand version where the previous owner might have driven it with reckless abandon, leaving my wallet to salvage the pieces.

Back then I was obsessed with buying a car new and keeping it as new as possible, a Sisyphean task in hindsight. I remember getting special cleaner and sealant just for the already super expensive paint protection film I had installed on the STI’s entire front-end, which was really stupid because that’s like getting a case for my phone and then agonize over keeping that perfect.

Indeed it’s the ignorance of youth, and it’s cost quite a bit of money. I was completely unfamiliar with the used car buying process, especially pertaining to performance cars like the Subaru. I didn’t know pre-purchase inspection was a thing; a detailed once-over of a car by a certified mechanic, informing potential buyers before plopping down hard-earned cash whether the car is a suitable sample worthy of purchase, or a neglected pile of junk best avoided. Turns out buying used isn’t akin to gambling, as what my parents had me believe, as long as I perform the proper due diligence.

However none of that factored into the car I bought after the STI, because there weren’t any used ones to be had. The 2016 Mazda MX-5 was completely redesigned from the ground up, so my only option was a fresh unit shipped from the factory in Japan. Had that not been the case I would’ve purchased a used version to save on the not unsubstantial depreciation. Case in point I bought the car for nearly $25K in late 2015, and two and a half years later I sold it for $16K. That’s quite a steep drop, a significant saving that I could’ve leveraged had the opportunity existed.

The opportunity will exist In the next car I’m going to purchase - 911 GT3, and I’m planning to maximize the depreciation savings and let the first owner take the brunt. I’m buying a used GT3 mainly because I can’t remotely afford to purchase a GT3 brand new, so slightly used 2015 models are what I’m relegated to. I shall be buying a used car for the first time, and it’s all quite exciting. Stay tuned.

 Everybody’s gathering around.

Everybody’s gathering around.

Touch your cars

Due to the hazardous smog from the wildfires, I wasn’t able to go outside much during the Thanksgiving week break. Despite threat to lungs however I did make it out to the annual San Francisco auto show at the Moscone Center. It thankfully rained on that Wednesday so the air quality wasn’t too awful, but it rendered the manufacturer test drives a bit moot. A Jaguar F-Type is nice and all, but being stuck in downtown traffic in the wet isn’t the best representation of a driving a proper sports car.

Shame; I really wanted to try the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

Nevertheless it’s been a few years since I’ve last gone to show, and combined with the fact I’ve been car-less since May, I was decidedly eager to be around automobiles again. New car smell may be poisonous but it’s intoxicating all the same.

I was most looking forward to touching the surfaces: the various contours on the outside, and the materials on the inside. The 10 years ago me would’ve been aghast at the thought of laying a finger on any part of a car that doesn’t involve actual operation; can’t risk scratching the paint or leaving oil marks on interior panels. I was obsessively compulsive like that, though that has changed. These days I highly encourage the tactile pleasure from interacting with the materials of a car: the smoothness of the paint, the industrial cold of metal trim, or the soft warmth of leather.

Because why rob myself of that experience simply because I want to preserve that last bit of perfection, which itself is a Sisyphean task short of placing a car in a hermetically sealed, climate-controlled box. Cars are meant to be driven and used, and the patina that comes from wear is to be honored and displayed proudly.

So I attacked all the surfaces presented to me at the auto show, and I came away with a one big realization: I can’t buy a car that isn’t from a premium or luxury brand any longer. The interior experience offered by brands like Audi or Mercedes Benz is leagues above mainstream marques like Ford or Toyota. The difference in quality of materials and how it feels to the hand is stark. You are pampered in a Range Rover, compared to merely functional inside a Honda Pilot.

Of course one would pay dearly for that privilege, but I think it’s well worth the price premium. The inside of a car is the part you interact with the most (as you sit for hours in traffic) so why not make that time spent as best as possible. Pay up for that open-pore wood trim, the Alcantara headliner, and the sound system with too many speakers.

Willing to pay for superfluous and vane extras in car? I am indeed getting old.

 Except for you; you can touch me.

Except for you; you can touch me.