Blog

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

You've lost me on cars as investments

Perhaps it’s my wealth level's (or lack thereof) inability to provide the proper perspective, but I don't understand people that treat cars as investments. 

Obviously I’m referring to the ultra rich that buy super expensive cars and then park them in climate-controlled garages, all in hopes of gaining significant profit some times in the future. The common Honda Accord us plebs buy is not an investment ever. 

I am speaking to the sort of well-heeled car enthusiasts that buy a limited-edition Porsche 911R for around $250K then promptly garage it. And why wouldn’t they? A delivery-mileage sample fetches $500K now; no telling how much that’ll go up given enough years. Naturally-aspirated 911s with a stick are a dying breed. 

My contention with cars as investment isn’t that it’s driving up prices: capitalism is the best economic system ever and the price anything rightfully ought to be what the market will bear. I complain about the same mechanism going on in housing speculation but unlike houses where you can always build more, there’s only so many Toyota 2000GTs rolling around. 

The issue I have is the utter lack of driving these cars. The point of ownership is completely lost to me once these investors lock them up to preserve miles. Can these people even call themselves car enthusiasts? A car isn’t a car unless I can drive it, and often. 

I respect the heck out of enthusiasts like Nick Mason who continues to drive his unobtanium Ferrari 250 GTO even though it’s worth deep into the eight figures. Car guys like Jay Leno who’s got a large collection but he drives each and every one, irrespective of what it’ll sell for down the road. 

If you're going to buy a car and just park it, why not invest in paintings or sculptures instead? At least those items would be serving its innate function. An automobile's innate function is to be driven and be on the open road. 

 Congratulations, Tinder: you've made OkCupid embrace casual hookup sex. 

Congratulations, Tinder: you've made OkCupid embrace casual hookup sex. 

Once you have success, you will be hated

Piggybacking on yesterday’s post, particularly about Jeff Bezos’ multiple billions of dollars in net worth. Why does the general public shame people with money? Is it jealousy? It’s got to be jealousy, right? Underneath reports of Bezos’ immense wealth are be comments and tweets about how being a billionaire is immoral and ought to be illegal, and how could Bezos hoard this massive money while there are people suffering. 

Another example is Elon Musk. He gets pilloried on the daily simply for being a billionaire that dared to start an (electric) car company from scratch. The have-nots and non-doers hating on those that actually produce and changing people’s lives. 

And should’ve they get rewarded for it? Think of how indispensable is Amazon to each of our lives; I do as much of my shopping possible through it. Tesla is the absolute vanguard of the electric car evolution; mainstream automakers would not be jumping onboard now had Tesla not shown its viability

It seems once a person have achieved great financial success they get magically transferred over to the villain category, and their idiosyncrasies and eccentricities become no longer endearing but the stuff of scorn. Elon Musk’s preference to date girls many decades his junior? That’s just pure evil! Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post is surely a move to push his corrupt agenda! 

A few years back I read about the ‘stealth wealth’ movement, that people with money are purposely hiding the fact from the general public, precisely due to the jealousy and rage factor. Think of the legions of tech-bros blending in with plain shirts and jeans, and the protestors blocking and vandalizing tech company charter buses.

Mustn’t be conspicuous or else risk the wrath of someone keying your nice Porsche car. Never mind the hard work done to buy that Porsche; nobody cares about that. They just see a spoiled 1%’er and his superfluous toy. 

Only the ridiculously rich can afford to be outwardly ostentatious, what with their protected neighborhoods, vast estates, and ultra exclusive gatherings. But if you’re a public figure like Bezos and Musk, the clamor and anger from the cheap seats is a fact of life. 

 A rare sight in San Francisco: free-flowing traffic on the highway. 

A rare sight in San Francisco: free-flowing traffic on the highway. 

People don't want the daily grind

Few days ago this piece of advice popped onto my twitter feed:

This reads super familiar because it is precisely what I do. Everyday I've got a checklist of things to accomplish and it's the process of doing them for a prolonged period of time that personal progress materializes. It's hard to believe it's been two years since I've started studying Korean. The daily grind of hitting the books really escapes me from the macro view. 

Read the last (only) sentence of that tweet. For most people doing an hour of each of those three items isn't a problem; it's the need to continuously get after it for three years that proves to be an impenetrable barrier. In our modern times of instant gratification and constantly chasing dopamine hits (hello, Instagram), where promises of fast weight-loss diets still get bought, and short cuts and life-hack articles get tons of clicks, three years might as well be an eternity. 

They want the baby but not the labor pains. 

I can empathize with such sentiment. Indeed some days are difficult when the pay-off (so to speak) is years away. There are days I'd really rather not write on this blog, and I have to fight against all counter momentum just to put down some words - any words. Because not doing so stunts the progress, however micro it may be. 

I'm currently saving up for my next car. I'd be lying if I say the process isn't at moments excruciating. 

Success takes a bloody long time. The public only see the veneers of victory and not the hard battle fought for it. Jeff Bezos is in the news for being the richest man on the face of the planet, but lost in the commotion is the fact he spent multiple decades toiling at Amazon to achieve that status. 

So get after it. Every day. It'll be tough, and the rewards won't be for many years, but it's the only way. 

 Perks of being a wallflower. 

Perks of being a wallflower. 

Apple's sneaky fix for its butterfly keyboard

Last week Apple (finally) updated the internals of their Macbook Pro line with the latest Intel processors, among other improvements (optional 32GB of ram!). The news however was overshadowed because all focus was on whether or not Apple has fixed the issues with their butterfly-switch keyboards. The greatest laptop in the world would be quite useless if mere grains of sand can render keys wholly inoperative. Bold move indeed if Apple kept the same keyboard in the new refresh. 

The good news is Apple did update the keyboard in the new Macbook Pros, calling it their third generation butterfly mechanism. Missing from the PR literature however is any mention of fix for sticking and unresponsive keys. With multiple lawsuits in preparation against it, Apple is likely not at liberty to openly admit any faults innate to prior generation butterfly keyboards. Therefore the official company line is that the gen-three butterfly keys are quieter than the previous versions. 

Journalists who’ve had a first-hand look have found this to be true.   

The team at iFixit did their usual diligence and tore open a brand new 2018 Macbook Pro. They found that underneath each key-cap is a silicone membrane/gasket covering the butterfly mechanism. The new part appears to be what’s damping the clicking noise (ergo quieter as Apple says), though it also functions to prevent small dust particles from seeping in further underneath the key-caps - a de-facto remedy for the malfunctioning keys problem. 

So it seems Apple did fix the issues of the old butterfly keyboards; they just won’t say so officially, again probably due to the pending lawsuits. A PR move dictated by the needs of the lawyering brigade.

Nevertheless, owners of Mac laptops outfitted with the first or second generation butterfly mechanism ought to demand that Apple retrofit this rubber gasket solution onto their Macbooks. On the other hand I wouldn’t buy a Mac laptop that hasn’t got the gen-three butterfly keys; Apple needs to update the rest of its laptop lineup quickly.  

 Apple should also continue to work on its 'Portrait Mode' algorithms. The blur on the stem as it meets the flower head is horrendous. 

Apple should also continue to work on its 'Portrait Mode' algorithms. The blur on the stem as it meets the flower head is horrendous. 

I won't be saving the manuals?

There’s a solid chance my next car will not have a manual transmission. 

A few years ago I would’ve call that an unimaginably frightening prospect. All the cars I’ve owned thus far have had a stick, and I wasn’t planning on deviating from that for the next one. However, the price level of sports cars I can now afford have changed, and along with that the gearbox situation as well. 

First I must say I continue to adore the manual gearbox: it provides an analog and tactile connection to the driving dynamics that’s utterly lacking in an automatic, no matter how good of a dual-clutch transmission it may be. The beautiful euphoria and sense of accomplishment in executing a perfectly timed heel-toe downshift is incomparable and irreplaceable. 

As all car enthusiasts know, the manual gearbox is being left behind by manufacturers. People aren’t buying stick-shift cars therefore automakers aren’t incentivized to continue development. Often in high-power sports cars the manual transmission - if offered at all - seems to be an after-thought and not nearly as good as the automatic version. In the C7 Corvette for example it’s painfully obvious much of development money is spent on the slushbox. Chevy engineers have actually told journalists the Corvette with the auto is the spec to buy. 

Worse, once you start looking at sports cars into the six-figures, the landscape is almost barren for the manual transmission. 

Putting the lack of demand side, from a technical perspective it makes zero sense for manufacturers to engineer a stick-shift ‘box: modern automatics have gotten tremendously good. A proper dual-clutch unit can shift faster than any human ever and never miss a rev-match downshift. 

But what I most appreciate is the improved gearing: in chasing fuel-economy and top-speed figures, automakers have spaced gear ratios in cars super wide, making life difficult for the standard six-cog manuals. The latest automatics have higher gear counts so the engine’s power-band is better utilized - it's always in the sweet-spot. Driving the latest Golf GTI with a manual was very frustrating because by the end of second-gear the car’s already traveling beyond 70mph. Sacrilege it may be but I'd tick the option box for the 7-speed DSG. 

Due to these factors and the fact I will be looking at used sports cars in the low $100,000s, the manual transmission will likely be eluding me for the forseeable future. 

 Daybreak clouds this morning. 

Daybreak clouds this morning. 

How good are the typical autobody shops?

On my bus commute to work everyday I pass by an auto-body repair shop that's constantly teeming with cars. I guess it’s always good business in that line of work due to law of large numbers dictating an adequate amount of vehicle accidents (the sheer number of cars in our little 7 by 7 mile peninsula never ceases to amaze). Like a well-oil assembly factory the particular shop takes in mangled metal and repair it to original condition in at most a few week's time. 

This is interesting to me because it brings me back to the last time I had a car accident and had to bring it in to a bodyshop. Thankfully that was almost a decade ago and fortune have since been kind to me in that regard. It wasn’t a particularly bad experience per se but the shop, in an effort to process as many cars a possible, definitely cut some corners in the repair. Outwardly the finished car looked fine, which is the most important part I guess? But the innards behind the repair wasn’t as lovely. 

I don’t suppose people would care about such minutiae as long as the car looks good and it drives straight. Can we rightly expect perfection when pressure is on the shop to perform the repair quickly so that we can get back on the road? Most drivers rely on their vehicles to get to work so after an accident it’s difficult to be without a car for an extended period. I’m sure repair shops get phoned many times from customers inquiring about progress.

Proper auto-body repair takes significant amount of time. Just look at Youtube videos of restoration shops putting in many thousand hours on a single car to get it back to showroom condition. Videos of DIY repair guys buying a body-damaged car and taking months to fix it themselves. No matter the skill-level of the repairer the time required to perform a stellar job is massive. 

Therefor I have no confidence in the typical auto-body shop "factories" where lead-time is measured in weeks and the aim is to get through as many customer cars as possible. I’ve experience with those results and while it may pass for the common driver, it’s utterly substandard for me. 

Think of why a car’s value is decreased after an accident; perhaps it’s tacitly understood the typical repair job won’t be perfect and there will be residual issues during the rest of the vehicle’s useful life. Compared that to say a properly restored vintage Porsche: no one would argue its former decrepit state decreases its value absolutely and permanently. 

If I am unlucky to get into a car accident in the future, I’ll take the car a shop that isn’t about chasing quantity but instead will take the appropriate time to do the job fully and correctly. It’ll likely take a few months for the repair but I can stomach that because my next car will not be a daily-driver so I can afford to let it sit. 

 You would not believe your eyes, If ten million fireflies...

You would not believe your eyes, If ten million fireflies...

Why would you want to move here?

My work is hiring and I got selected to be on the search committee, therefore I get the pleasure of sorting through all the incoming resumes. It’s always surprising when I get an applicant that isn’t from the Bay Area, because the immediate question becomes:

Why do you want to move here?

Here, to San Francisco, which by many measures is the richest city in the world and has the most expensive housing cost in these United States. A metropolitan area where countless hours of productivity gets utterly forsaken due to endless traffic. The minimum wage just went up in July to $15 so that gourmet non-GMO grass-fed burger is going to cost a pretty penny. 

And you want to move here

I hope these applicants have read the job description thoroughly and understands that as an employee of the State of California you are not going to be paid anywhere near sufficient to live in San Francisco. I most certainly don’t. I am however native to the area so that allows me to offset the absurd rental prices by not paying them at all and instead live with my parents.

Needless to say I am fortunate to be of a culture that don’t tend to kick offsprings out of the house once they’ve matured into adulthood. 

Because housing cost is the crux of the affordability issue. If rents were at sane levels I would’ve move out long ago, and I wouldn’t be questioning why someone would want to move here whose job prospect isn’t with a tech company with salary deep into six figures. 

If I didn’t live here already and were choosing a city to move to, San Francisco Bay Area wouldn’t even be on the list. 

 Two methods of emergency escape. 

Two methods of emergency escape.