Blog

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

A billionaire pays off some students' loans

A notable bit of news out of this past weekend was the Morehouse college commencement speaker announcing to the graduating class he’s going to pay off the entirety of their student loans. The final bill is estimated to be around 40 million dollars for the nearly 400 students, a princely sum that’s but a drop in the bucket for the billionaire Robert Smith, not to mention it’s likely tax-deductible.

A grand gesture, nonetheless, and for the 2019 Morehouse graduating class, the most welcome of reprieves as they embark on the next stage of their lives.

How much are you kicking yourself if you’re the Morehouse student who missed graduating this year by a few units, or busted your ass to graduate a year early and missed the opportunity at this tremendous gift? Also, whoever’s commencement speaker for the college next year is going to be put in a very tough position (“Sorry, class, I am not going to pay off your loans. Good day!”). Indeed, not just anybody can hand out eight-figure sums with relative impunity.

Someone ought to do a study of these lucky graduates on how this loan forgiveness will impact their future success compared to previous classes that aren’t as fortunate to receive such largess. I’d bet the blank state would prove quite significant a factor.  

Anyways, a billionaire paying off student loans: isn’t this exactly what’s being bandied about by the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, only on a grander scale? Tax the billionaires to raise revenue and forgive all of the outstanding student loan debt. I do wonder what the Venn diagram look like of people who are applauding Smith’s actions and people who are against the federal government – via taxing the ultra-rich – paying out student loans.

My position on this is the government can do what it wants as long as it’s not using my particular tax money, though I wouldn’t necessary vote for the affirmative on student loan forgiveness; I literally have zero skin in the game. I never had student loans, and I’m definitely not in the tax bracket to be affected by the tax increase.  

But that raises a question: if people with student loans are getting bailed out, shouldn’t people like me who graduated college without being saddle with them get something as well? I mean, I could’ve taken out loans as well; and had I known beforehand it’d be forgiven a decade down the road, I’d most certainly would have. I think it’s only fair the government forgive my other types of loans, like the car note on the 911…

The hottest new item at Trader Joes.

The lone problem with the GR Supra

I’ve already written previously on how the new Toyota GR Supra is an important entrant to the sports car segment due to how rarely we see brand new, relatively affordable sports cars in an overall market heavily biased towards sport utility vehicles. It’s an achievement worth celebrating, even if Toyota had to partner up with BMW to turn the dream into fruition.

By all accounts the new Supra is a brilliant car to drive, and us car enthusiasts should buy one in support of their efforts. Only by showing up with our wallets at the dealerships will manufacturers continue to put in development money on such delightful cars, a segment so small it might as well be a niche (unless you’re Porsche).  

But there’s a problem: I don’t think this iteration of the GR Supra is the one to buy.

As is the wont of Japan-made sports cars, each subsequent model year will have increment improvements, leading up to significant mid-model refreshes after a few years. Just look at the R35 generation Nissan GT-R: the 2012 model year got such an update it rendered the 2008 to 2011 cars to second-class citizenry. I’ve no doubts the GR Supra will follow the same production trajectory, therefore if I were buying one, I’d wait for the forthcoming refresh or special edition models.

There’s already points of improvement easily apparent in the new Supra. First there’s the power level: The same B58 inline-six has a higher level of tune in the BMW Z4 sister car, so it’d be no effort at all for Toyota to bump horsepower to that level, if not further. Second is the gearbox: the GR Supra simply begs for a manual transmission, and Toyota have heard all the clamoring for it. The BMW parts-bin do have a manual gearbox available – the unit currently providing service in the M2 and M3 – and I’d put money that a do-it-yourself stick version of the Supra will happen.

Those two key components, coupled with various upgrades to the suspension and body panels, and avoiding first model-year gremlins, makes it worth the patience to wait for the refresh.  

Of course, if you’re so infused with cash you can buy the 2020 GR Supra now and trade that in when invariably a hotter version comes out in a few years. Good for you indeed if you are able to do that.

Bright lights in the morning.

Grace for myself

In my seemingly never-ending quest to optimize my sleep – because proper slumber is foundational for everything else in life – one of the weak points I found that’s preventing me from falling asleep quickly is the tendency to think and agonize over the mistakes made on that particular day. For sure some days are better than others, but when it’s really bad, I can be awake in thought for hours before finding reprieve.

It’s easier said than done, but I have to let the mistakes of the day go. I cannot mentally beat myself up over with whatever I wasn’t satisfied with during the day, not in the least because it’s robbing me of precious sleep time.

The only thing we can do each day is try our best.

As long as I can answer in the affirmative to the question of “did I try my best today?”, then that is good enough. Mistakes are going to happen: no one is perfect, and as we go through our days there will be words we should’ve said or action we should not have done. The perverse beauty of it all is that we can’t go back to change any of it; what’s done is done, and reflecting on it in bed whilst staring at the ceiling is not going to alter any outcomes.

Not to say we shouldn’t review the contents of our day and how we can make improvements, but the time for that is not the moments just after you get into bed. Do it perhaps on the commute home, or in the shower; there ought to be a demarcation line in the evening where you resolve to change whatever needs changing for the future, and will then cease thinking about it.  

Have a bookend to the day: I am thankful for what it was, and shall give grace to myself for the things I’ve done wrongly. After that, the best course of action is to receive enough recovery from a good night’s sleep, and then attack the next day.

You may not know that may be all I'll need…

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.