Long-form blog posts and editorials. Topics cover both personal and the world at large. 

Don't you wait no more - 10 things I think


1. So the great Volkswagen automotive empire is in grave trouble after the EPA found its four-cylinder diesel products to have cheated the emission regulations. In what can only be described as a deception of the most wonton, it’s near unimaginable that a company of VW’s stature (currently the largest automobile manufacturer on the planet) needed to hide special software in its diesel cars to pass stringent pollution standards. Over half a million vehicles in the United States alone, and magnitudes more in Europe; surely they’ve got the engineering might to avoid such silliness?

We learned today that VW Group CEO Martin Winterkorn has resigned (at the same time somewhere, Ferdinand Piech lit up a cigar), though in statement he claims he was personally unaware of any wrongdoing (sure…). It’ll be interesting to see just who within the company will indeed be thrown to the proverbial wolves, though a scandal of this scale (the company has set aside over 7 billion dollars to cover potential fines, fixes, and lawsuits) most certainly isn’t the act of one person.

German news sources have indicated that Volkswagen may not be the lone manufacturer to have cheated the emission systems, and if that’s true, the era of diesel engines in passenger cars may well and truly be done. Oil-burning cars have proliferated in Europe (and in America to a much smaller extent) with the promise of excellent fuel mileage and low emissions. However, the VW scandal has showed that perhaps diesel engines simply cannot be made clean if large number of automakers has to resort to cheating the tests.

Dirty diesel engines are unacceptable for use when the modern petrol equivalent (not to mention hybrids and pure electric) is vastly more advanced, cleaner, and in the case of hybrids, equally excellent on gas.

Criminal and congressional hearings are pending so the proceedings will get juicier yet. Pass the popcorn, Dr. Piech.

2. It’s barely two weeks old, but I have to say The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is absolutely brilliant. As an avid fan of his all through his Colbert Report years, I already had great expectations when it was announced that Stephen Colbert would replace the legendary David Letterman on the Late Show desk. I’ve watched every episode thus far, and those expectations have very much been met.

It’s great to see elements of Colbert Report carryover to the Late Show, likely bolstered by the fact we are deep amongst presidential primary season. Stephen forgoes the typical lengthy opening monologue that’s signature to late night talk shows. Instead, he says a few jokes, then transitions quickly to the desk and spends a few segments discussing current event, with graphic overlays on the screen. Fans of the Report will immediately recognize the similarity. It’s no surprise: the writing and production team (and Colbert himself!) is largely the same people transplanted from the old program to the new. I sincerely hope Colbert continues what is indeed his signature; leave all the goofs and role-play shenanigans to Fallon and Conan.

Colbert has shown to be an excellent interviewer as well, which should be of no surprise yet somehow it was still a bit of a shock to me. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the interviews he has done the past decade, Colbert did it in his conservative political pundit character. Now that he has ask questions of celebrities and dignitaries as his true self, it’s definitely weird to see at first, but Colbert is indeed a natural. His command of the floor, the interviewee, and the audience is impeccable.

3. During the Labor Day holiday weekend, I made a trip to visit my friend in Dallas, Texas (thanks, Southwest, for the cheap flight). It turned out to be a massive mistake to choose that particular weekend, because it was absolutely boiling hot (the weekend after was some 15 degrees cooler). A person from San Francisco like me simply isn’t cut out for constant 100 degrees weather. The worst part is it never cools down; incredulous I was to come out of a movie theatre at two in the morning and the outside temperature was still a healthy 96 F. Shouldn’t it cool down more than that once the sun has disappeared from the horizon? Astrophysicists have got some explanation to do.

Okay, the heat wasn’t so bad really, partly because anywhere I went that’s indoors, there’s that lovely manmade invention called air conditioning. I think the reason San Franciscans can’t tolerate hot weather is because almost none of us have air conditioning, so when its hot, its hot everywhere - inside or out. That said, due to complications from climate change and the ongoing drought, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more and more Bay Area folks install AC in their homes. I certainly pine for a unit during these few weeks of Indian summer.

Anyways, the places and people of the Dallas area were lovely indeed. Once you get over (or used to) how incredibly hot it is, I can definitely see living there being a viability. One thing for sure that will keep me from doing so is how incredibly flat the area is. There’s no elevation or mountains in any direction the eyes can see. As someone who’s grown up on the coast with mountains everywhere, it was a bit disconcerting and disorientating. I literally could not have told you where north was. I wouldn’t dare look to the sun for direction because I would’ve burned to a crisp.

Of all the cities I’ve been to this year, nothing has yet to beat the sublime of Seattle. I may have to go back sooner than I thought.

4. After two years with my beloved iPhone 5S, I will bid adieu to it this Friday when I pick up the new iPhone 6S Plus. Long have I suffered from the constraints of a four-inch screen, so it’s quite exciting to go from that to a positively gargantuan (for a phone) 5.5-inch of the 6S Plus. Certainly won’t be able to put it in my pants pocket, that’s for sure (I’m patiently waiting for the fashion word to leave behind the skinny jean and embrace once more the baggy-style pants).

As a hobbyist photographer, more so than screen real estate I’m most anticipating the vastly improved camera (compared to the 5S). They say the best camera is the one you’ve got with you, and like most people I always carry my phone. Nobody does mobile camera quite like Apple: the quality and ease-of-use is unmatched. The 6S Plus has finally pushed the iPhone pass the 10MP threshold (12MP), which means I can now comfortably use it in place of my micro-four-thirds Sony NEX without worrying about pixel count (yes, I’m a pixel whore).

With Apple’s new upgrade program introduced for the iPhone 6S line, my soon-to-be 6S Plus will be carrier agnostic, which will make it massively easy to travel out of the country: all I’ll have to do is purchase a local sim-card and plug it in. AppleCare is included in the price so I’ll be covered if I ever feel impelled to angrily throw my phone in disgust or run the device over with my car.

5. Lots of discussion going round about who will succeed Daniel Craig as the new James Bond, even though Craig is signed for one more film after Spectre. Idris Elba seems to have received the most mention, while I’ve read recently that Tom Hardy might also be a candidate. Personally I would be fine with either of those two; both would bring a much-needed “bad-boy” edge to the role, in contrast to the clean-cut image of Daniel Craig and his predecessor Pierce Brosnan. I don’t think anybody will do “disdain for the suit” quite like Tom Hardy.

To me, Daniel Craig is the second best Bond only to the great Sean Connery. Craig’s slew of Bond films has put a more humanized spin to the spy, one that was previously made to look invincible by the likes of Brosnan (credit to the writers and producers as well, obviously). The same sort of connection to realism is what made Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy so endearing (and some of my favorite films).

6. Given the option to pick between rice or noodles as staple food for the rest of my life, I would pick noodles in a heartbeat. I may have grown up eating rice everyday, but as an independent adult, I’ve found I desire the taste of noodles that much more. Whether it is ramen, pho, or chow-fun: I would happily pick those options over rice any day.

Except for spaghetti. I’m just not a fan of Italian noodles.

7. Apple is often not the first to market with a particular technology (people like to think iPhone as the first smartphone, but it most certainly wasn’t), but when it does release a product, the company usually nails it like no other. Look at the newly introduced iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil for example: it’s an absolute game-changer for digital creatives that draw. Other companies have produced large tablets and styluses before, but none on paper has combined hardware and software so beautifully like Apple did with the iPad Pro.

The key, is the Apple Pencil. We knew from previous iPad products that Apple would have no issues engineering a proper slate of glass, and the iPad Pro looks very much to continue that excellence. Clearly, Apple has given thought to just what consumers can do with all that extra tablet real estate. The Apple Pencil and the iPad Pro represent (on specs at least) the complete digitization of the drawing fundamentals. How the basic pencil interacts with the paper surface, the nuances of force, and the angle of attack - the Apple Pencil offers the closest digital facsimile. If I like to draw or am otherwise proficient at it in the slightest, the iPad Pro would be top on my Christmas wish list.

The Wacom is obsolete now.

8. Lost amidst the diesel emission scandal is the strong rumor that the Volkswagen Group will takeover the Red Bull Racing Formula One team, with the Audi marque as the team name, and Red Bull staying on as the title sponsor. It’s a delicious rumor indeed, especially for fans like me that want more major manufacturers participating in the sport. Audi has utterly dominated Le Mans the past decade so they’ve got nothing more to prove in that arena; F1 is the logical next challenge.  

Prospects of the much-missed (by me, if not others) Stefano Domenicali being back in the paddock are also welcomed. Let’s hope Audi engineers can conjure up a better power-unit than the wretched job Honda and Renault has done thus far.

With the enormous scandal looming over the Volkswagen, chances are good the rumors of the takeover will stay just that. I don’t think the governing board will approve of such frivolous spending (as the saying goes, to amass a small fortune in motor racing, one must start with a bigger fortune) whilst it’s staring down a multi-billion dollar hole.

The timing really sucks.

9. I was reading about a shortage of teachers in the San Francisco public school district due to the high housing cost and the average teachers salary not coming anywhere close to being able to afford it. It’s satisfying to see these societal consequences of the tech-boom and subsequent real estate bubble finally manifest, because hopefully then the local politicians will take notice and finally do something to alleviate the glaring cost issues that plague San Francisco.

As a product of the same public school system, the service is immensely essential, and not having enough teachers is a serious matter that will affect the next generation of kids. Not everyone in San Francisco is wealthy enough to send their kids to private school, and even if San Francisco does become the Manhattan of the West (it’s fast getting there), there aren’t enough nor can the city build enough private schools to accommodate all the rich persons’ kids.

San Francisco needs to massively increase its new housing construction to bring balance to the market so the middle class can afford to live in it. Otherwise, public services like schools and parks will only continue to deteriorate.

10. Rest in peace to Yogi Berra, one of the most enigmatic (his many quotes are famous and they are baffling) yet beloved sports figures of our time. 90 years is a long life lived indeed, and I’d be so lucky to live as long and fulfilling an existence as he did. He was a hero of the Second World War as well; Yogi’s life is definitely one worthy of great celebration.