Blog

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

Spring final exams are here

It’s the time of final exams around these parts, so the university library where I work at is teeming with students looking to cram in that last bit of studying, or project finishing (perhaps starting?). Look at all these people who’s got perfectly fine desks at home but choose the library instead. Whatever it takes to get the job done, obviously, but it’s a phenomenon I can’t understand.

Why give up the peace and tranquility of the home for the bustle and noise of a crowded study lab during finals weeks? How are these people able to concentrate better at a place with more auditory distractions?

I’d really like to know.  

Some would surely argue there are other items around the home more distracting than the din of fellow students, such as a gaming system, or an over-talkative roommate. I would counter that it may be true before the first iPhone was invented, but nowadays we carry around with us the biggest time-sucking device ever created: the smartphone. I don’t suppose any of these students doing work in the library have left their phones elsewhere.

One scant peek at twitter and it could easily be an hour lost into the abyss. Don’t ask me how I know.

Again, however a student chooses to finish his or her studies is not for me to criticize, but for me, I absolutely need a place of silence and solitude. I do my best work when there’s nothing to disturb me for a solid period of time, and the studying halls of the university library is not it.

That said, good luck to all who are amidst final exams these few weeks; it’ll soon be over.

Duly noted.

The new Supra is worth celebrating

The arrival of the fifth-generation Toyota Supra is imminent, and we should all rejoice when there are new/returning entries into the sports car market. The modern automotive business is fantastically hostile to pure sports cars – unless you are Porsche, so any new product is worth celebrating.

Sadly, the Internet is wont to complain about things, and since the embargo on driving impressions by journalists were lifted this previous Sunday, the discussion online isn’t on how superbly well the new Supra drives, but rather that it’s made nearly entirely of BMW parts. Indeed, there are (crazy) enthusiasts out there who would not entertain purchasing the GR Supra simply because it shares platform and components with the equally new BMW Z4 convertible. 

Never mind the consensus opinion by those who’s driven it is that the new Supra is a brilliant machine; Toyota’s mandate of competing with a Porsche Cayman on dynamics is utterly achieved.  

Nope, people are whining about how the car is largely a BMW product, with only a few Toyota fixings sprinkled on top. As halo vehicle to follow the legendary fourth-generation Supra, the lack of “pure Toyota” in the GR Supra is seen as sacrilege. Again, mistakenly ignoring how great the new car drives, and that BMW isn’t exactly known for making terrible sports cars throughout its history.

Hilarious the hills some petrol-heads choose to die on. Toyota’s already got a product for the people hankering for a 100% Toyota-produced successor to the Supra: it’s called the Lexus LC500. Adjusting for inflation, it costs nearly the same as the MK4 Supra did, and in terms of handling philosophy, it’s more in tune with the old coupe’s grand touring-leaning appeal anyways. The LC500’s atmospheric V8 is quite the party piece, too. Why aren’t the people complaining about the GR Supra’s BMW underpinnings buying the Lexus instead?

Because it costs too much; they want their cake and eat it as well, but a brand new Supra engineered from the ground up by Toyota would have been far more expensive than the mid-50K price of the GR Supra, and taken even longer to materialize. There’s simply no business case for Toyota to be in the upper 70K to low 80K price segment, not least of which they know from history: the previous Supra (again, adjusting for inflation) did not sell well at all.

Have I mentioned the new Supra – according to reviews – drives really great? It seems Toyota have made a worthy sports car for 2019, and that’s all that should matter. For those looking for a bit more Japanese soul, well, there’s always the LC500, or better yet, the LFA.

Be like seals: chill and have no worries in the world.

Depreciation really hurts

I’ll be the first to say that car enthusiasts shouldn’t give a single care about depreciation, and that we should simply drive and enjoy our cars. This is especially so after the car is already bought. Obviously, before signing on the dotted line you should take depreciation into consideration, so if a particular car is hellish on retaining value, you’d want to buy that car used.

However, buying sports cars with abnormal depreciation curves – like my GT3 – used, can be tricky. Special trim 911s are known to keep value superbly well, but one can never be sure if some future events or variables will dramatically affect the price. On the whims of market forces, a 911 GT car – or any high dollar sports car, really -  can easily fluctuate downwards in value in mere months.

I know this, because I’ve seen it with my GT3. Between January and now, the value of my car have dropped nearly $15,000, which is absolutely eye-watering, even if it’s an abstract, hypothetical number since I don’t plan to sell the Porsche ever. Sadly, my human mind doesn’t work like that, and often times I’ve been agonizing at the lost opportunity to save a significant chunk of money, if only I could have waited a few months to buy.

Yes, we shouldn’t care about depreciation, but it seems that’s easily declared than done.

Of course, I would say the joy of owning the GT3 for three months far outweighs any potential financial savings from delaying the purchase. I wouldn’t trade the more than 3,000 miles I’ve put on the car since January for having more money in my savings account. Honestly, I wouldn’t have bought the 911 if making sound monetary decisions were a top factor.

The GT3 is an emotional purchase, predicated on a life-long love of cars, and the mentality that if there’s something I want to do and I have the capability to do it, I should execute as quickly as possible; because tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Deprecation hurts, but I don’t think it’s nearly as much as regret.

Sunny afternoons on campus. Or what passes for sunny in San Francisco anyways.

BMW M cars will have adjustable brakes?

During my daily perusing of automotive news today (not during work, obviously), I ran into this article from Jalopnik, stating the upcoming BMW M8 and M8 Competition will feature adjustable braking. By toggling a setting within the infotainment screen, the driver is able to select the amount of braking effort required between two settings: Comfort and Sport.

I cannot believe this is now a thing, and this isn’t even the good sort of adjustable braking: brake bias. All the system in the BMW does is vary how hard you need to stomp on the pedal to achieve the same level of braking pressure. This is in addition to the already myriad of adjustments available for things like steering, transmission, suspension, and throttle, offering an absolutely dizzying array of possible combinations.

I do miss the days of sports cars coming out of the factory with one setting only for everything. Parameters were set by the engineers, who would formulate a singularly best dynamic configuration to extract the maximum out of a car. Automotive engineers are highly paid and highly skilled; I want them to decide and set the optimal mode, rather than letting me figure out which permutation of modes feel most definitive to my grubby fingers and my uncalibrated rear-end.

M cars of old like the E46 BMW M3 offers zero adjustments, and it was and still is a brilliant car.

I’m glad my 911 GT3 offers “only” two adjustments: sport modes for the PDK transmission and the suspension. Both are practically useless on public roads – sport suspension is way too stiff, and PDK Sport is far too aggressive, so the car is de facto setup as is from Zuffenhausen as intended by Porsche engineers. The steering has one ratio with no adjustments to effort, the sharp throttle response cannot be changed, and sure as hell the brakes has but one setting: immense.

Keep it simple, sports car manufacturers.

Have a seat.

Uber and Lyft drivers go on strike

In major U.S. cities today, Uber and Lyft drivers went on strike in protest of their low pay and terrible working conditions. Frequent users of those ride-sharing services are advised to find alternate methods, such as (ironically) the standard taxi, or public transportation. Well, jokes on them because I always take the bus to work so, you’re welcome, Uber and Lyft drivers: I’ve joined in honoring your protest through no change in my commuting habit.

Jokes aside, I am completely behind those drivers fighting for a decent wage and other ancillary benefits for their job. However, from a macro perspective I’m not sure how Uber and Lyft can provide what they are asking for – profitably, anyways. Indeed, Lyft has recently gone public, and Uber will be doing so this coming Friday; according to each respective company’s S1s, both of them have yet to make a single dime of profit since inception, with the possibility they might never make a profit.

How is Uber and Lyft going to pay their drivers better when they are already deeply in the red, to the tune of over a billion dollars a year in Uber’s case. Surely both companies are seeking to achieve profitability as soon as possible (if you’re not cynical), so an increase in labor costs is not exactly friendly to those ambitions.

Paying drivers more money would mean the prices of rides will have to go up as well, because Uber and Lyft aren’t simply going to eat that cost – again, neither company is currently profitable. Higher ride costs will deter people from hailing a car; the main attraction for ride-sharing on the customer side is it’s less expensive than a cab and only slightly more expensive than public transportation so that the comfort of a private car is worth the extra cost. That equilibrium falls apart if price of a ride creeps to par or beyond a taxi.

So what we have here is a stalemate of sorts, and sadly I think ultimately the loser will the drivers. I am a big fan of ride-sharing; I think it has done a positive service to bring mobility to people that were underserved by traditional taxi companies. Uber and Lyft have forced them to step up their game, and despite the cab driver suicides and low wages for ride-share drivers, both companies have been a net positive to society.

It’s just too bad they can’t make money, other than the initial IPO bonanza for their investors and founding members.

It’s a shame I can’t eat this entire ensemble in one sitting anymore. Not comfortably, anyways.

It's not all that precious

It’s expectedly strange to drive around in a car costing six-figures: the price-tag never really leaves the back of your mind. Every peculiar sound the car makes, loud or faint, causes an immediate reaction, questioning whether this will be the hour the car crumbles, costing to the tune of thousands of dollars.

It doesn’t help the GT3 is a manufactured in Germany, and we’re quite familiar with German automobiles’ reputation for reliability, which is to say, not good at all.

Alas this is what happens when you buy a car in that high of a price category, but you yourself am not sufficiently endowed monetarily as the typical owner (I don’t even make the price of the GT3 in salary annually). Surely those people have no issues dropping the occasional hundreds or thousands on an errant bent wheel or coil-pack failure, but I definitely do. I’m somewhat stretching it just to afford the 911 as it comes, so surprise repair bills are not welcomed sights.

Obviously, the prudent option would’ve been to buy not so nice of a car, but as the kids say these days, you only live once, and indeed I can pay for the GT3 and its associated running costs; it’s just that when things go wrong in a Porsche, the fix is usually spectacularly expensive (hello, Porsche tax!). Therefore I end up treating the car as if it’s the most fragile object in the world, like dodging even the smallest of road debris, or thinking it’s irreparably ruined at the first hint of any weird noises.   

Often times I have to remind myself the Porsche 911 is known for its robustness, a supreme legacy of reliably fun motoring for nearly six decades. It features some of the finest German engineering to exist, and ergo I shouldn’t be so apprehensive about driving it as I would any other car (within reason). The components that interacts with the ground are all motorsport focused, so the typical pothole isn’t going to do any damage. The engine is meant for heavy track abuse, so my putting around town and the occasional mountain road isn’t hurting a thing.

I have to train myself to let go of the GT3’s preciousness, and treat it as it’s meant to be: a superbly fast and immensely sporting transpiration device. Unexpected costs should be dealt with as they come unexpectedly, rather than keeping it constantly in mind. I bought the car for a sole reason, and that is to drive, unreservedly.

Lens flare to make JJ Abrams proud.

Want to go faster? Buy a faster car

Car enthusiasts modify their cars to stand out, to show off their personality. Unless they’ve got a super rare, practically one-of-a-kind vehicle (no one’s driving around a 250 GTO every day, I’m fairly certain), people will seek methods to make their car easily identifiable inside a parking structure. Even drivers of mundane grocery getters like a Toyota Corolla are wont to spend money to make it cooler than it really is. I know this, because I had one.

More importantly, car modifications are done in search of more speed and better performance. On one hand it makes perfect sense because who doesn’t want faster straight-line speeds and quicker cornering numbers? On the other hand, if you count all of the money spent to improve a particular car’s performance (and looks), wouldn’t it be more prudent to, combined it together with the car’s original price, buy a different model that’s simply faster?

Then again, I would argue most of anything related to the automobile is based emotionally, rather than logically. How many times have someone asked us for car purchasing advice only to go and not buy the one we recommended? Look at the popularity of heavy sports utility vehicles and pickup trucks: how often are those drivers hauling around enough people and gear to justify the extra volume?

Obviously, purchasing decisions aren’t logical, and therefore I don’t expect car modifications to be, on the contrary, completely utilitarian. The ‘Hellaflush’ and ‘StanceNation’ styling trend that’s been with us for a decade now (and don’t seem to be abating anytime soon) - I totally understand it, even if it’s far from my cup of coffee.

I’m known for my pragmatism amongst my friends, so it’s no surprise that I’ve gotten away from vehicle modifying since moving on from the Corolla. Admittedly, the Toyota was much too plain and unsightly for me to not invest some funds to lessen the enormous wheel-gap and give it a proper set of wheels - among other items. Since then, my motto has been if I want to go faster, I buy a faster car. Granted, my subsequent cars are built on decidedly sporting platforms, so there wasn’t any immediate impetus to improve on things.

Presently I own a 911 GT3, one of the best race-car-for-the-road platforms in existence; because honestly, we’re simply chasing after that race car aesthetic anyways. Cars slammed to the ground, body kits, wheels tucked neatly within a wheel-well, and adding horsepower: these are all inspired by motorsport, the look and sound of pure-bred racing machines (that’s why we like loud exhausts).

Instead of modifying the WRX STI and then the MX-5 to chase that aesthetic, I bought an entire car instead. Problem solved.

No shots were thrown away today.