Thursday, May 12, 2005
by Blob

I knew this would happen.

See, I haven't posted in a month because I didn't want to get ahead of myself. I still need to do my vacation write-up and my new car post. Plus, I recently got Forza Motorsport for the XBox and it has consumed my soul. I should post about that.

But I guess I'll never get around to it, so here's the summary:

We went to Las Vegas for our fourteenth anniversary. We stayed with Di, Sara, Matt and Julie. They were wonderful hosts, but busy, so we didn't get to spend as much time with them as we'd have liked. I played in a Texas Hold'em tournament; lasted only two hands. We ate well, including the nigh-traditional anniversary dinner at the Voodoo Lounge Cafe atop the Rio which was followed with a viewing of Penn & Teller's show, which rocked, after which I got to share a few words with Mr. Gillette and grab a picture. We met up wtih my cousin, Janet, who was in town for a conference and had dinner in Paris. We rented a Sebring convertible and drove around the desert, including Red Rock, Valley of Fire, and Lake Meade. We took the dam tour at the Hoover Dam. We drove to Los Angeles on our last day to pay short visits to Kieu and Sheryl. On the way, the Sebring broke down. Fortunately, we were near a Hertz location and were back on our way (albeit in a Buick Century, yuck!) in about half an hour. And then we flew back. Flying blows, by the way, particularly if you're of exceptional size. I know everyone bitches about sitting next to the fleshy flier, but trust me, it's much worse to be him.

We bought a new(ish) car! After much trial and tribulation, we settled on a car we hadn't even considered. It's a 2002 BMW 325i sedan, black, sandalwood (tan) leatherette (fancy vinyl) interior, manual transmission. It had just over 40,000 miles when we picked it up. I'm paying $100/month less than I did on my Kia. Assuming it holds up for a few years, that's a pretty sweet deal. We'll see how it goes. If I can keep it in good shape, I should break even on the loan in 2.5 - 3 years, so I can trade up to the Z4!

Forza Motorsport owns my soul. I really didn't want to like this game too much. I'm quite the opposite of a Microsoft fanboy, and I'm a long-time Gran Turismo fan. Trouble is, this game rocks. It's not easy, by any stretch of the imagination. It's much more sim than arcade. You have to be very careful with the brakes and gas. The XBox live support is what does it. That and the car customization. So much fun.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005
by Blob

We got the check from the loan company last Friday, one day too late. We'd hoped to go and see about buying the car that Thursday, when the dealers were open late. At our first opportunity since then, Monday the 4th of April, we went back to Toyota of Bedford. We waited a few minutes for the salesperson who'd helped us the first time around, got some keys, a dealer plate, handed over Renee's driver's license, and took it for another spin, just to be sure.

I'm not sure what happened between the first time I went out shopping and the last two weeks, but I wasn't able to find a good seating position in the Scion, either. The clearance of the wheel over my right leg isn't dangerous, but it isn't good, either, and if I don't sit just so, I bump my head on the ceiling. Maybe I just need to get used to leaning back one more notch than was comfortable.

By the time we got back, I was feeling much more ambivalent about the purchase than before the second drive. As if this wasn't bad enough, we found out that our salesperson had misplaced Renee's license. Now, we're supposed to be getting on a plane in two days and that's difficult to do without I.D. nowadays.

A frantic half-hour search by half the dealership staff and ourselves ensued. Eventually, Renee found it in the drawer that held the keys for their inventory after no fewer than 3 members of the dealership staff had looked there.

Despite the hassle (and expecting it to help with the negotiations), we decided to carry on anyway. None of the other cars we tested were any better in terms of my comfort and most of them were not as much fun to drive. So we went in to talk money.

Apparently, there's not much to talk about. He was unwilling to budge at all. The price listed is the price everyone pays. Period. He went so far as to say that Toyota audits the deals and penalizes dealers that break the rule. I can't think of anyway to verify this, myself. But considering that he was obviously losing the sale over a fairly paltry difference, it's feasible.

Naturally, they didn't have the color I want in stock. Most of the options are dealer-installed accessories, so that doesn't really matter. So, we left with the salesman planning to find other dealers in the area willing to swap and he was going to get prices on the accessories which can apparently be installed less expensively after the sale.

It's wait and see time, I guess. We definitely won't have a car until after the trip.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005
by Blob

I gave up caffeine last December. It was hard, but it's been good for me, both in terms of my health and in helping me to find some discipline. I had a cup of coffee on Valentine's Day with dessert, but other than that I've been clean for three and a half months. Until last Saturday. I went to a LAN party at BigDawg's place up in Concord after having had to be up early to take cats to the vet. Mix in some daylight savings time and you've got me going home after a really, really long day. So, I grabbed a Code Red, knowing that I would have trouble staying awake for the drive and suspecting that the roads were terrible.

They were. Old Man Winter decided to throw one last storm at us. I was driving about 45 MPH down the I-271 express lanes, got the 4WD on, doing alright riding in someone's wheel ruts. I got wicked sleepy, so I cracked open the Code Red. While I've got the drink in my right hand, a gust of wind pushes my left wheels out of the rut and into the deeper snow. This causes the vehicle to yaw left. With one hand, I attempted to correct and in the process I overcorrect. Now I'm going right and it's too late to fix it. I slid sideways off the road and into the median where my tires finally find some resistance and threatened to tip the truck over. Fortunately, it didn't. It stopped and settled back down on all four wheels in a difficult position but otherwise unscathed.

Well, shit, said I. At least I've got four wheel drive, right? So I put it in 4 Low, and started to try to move the vehicle. I managed to go back and forth until I'd backed up about five feet, but it won't go any more. So, I made a brilliant decision. I'd just use that five feet to get up some speed and blast across the other side and into the local lanes. The ditch had other ideas. I made it about three feet farther than I'd been, but I then slid sideways into the swamp. No amount of rocking, digging out snow with my foot, or anything else short of external assistance was going to dislodge me now.

At least I've got AAA, right? So I called AAA and waited about 20 minutes on hold watching nervously as my cell battery drained. I've got no car charger. Well, I do now, I just didn't then. As I was on hold, a friendly Highland Hills police officer pulled up and takes my license. Now I'm thinking I'm going to get a ticket for failure to control or something. Fortunately, that wasn't the case. He just checked me out, set out some flares for me, made sure I had heat in the car and that help was on the way and then left to help the next hapless soul.

Eventually AAA did answer the phone, and they prepared me to wait for up to an hour and a half for a tow truck to winch me out of the ditch. Fortunately, it didn't take that long. I happened to be near one of the towing company's recent stops and I only waited about half an hour. They winched me out and the rest of the trip was fairly uneventful.

So what did I learn from this experience? No more cheating on the caffeine. :)

Friday, April 1, 2005
Stuff >
by Blob
To the asshole(s) who keep(s) using my email address as the from: header for (his/her/their) spam.

You suck. Please stop.


Tuesday, March 29, 2005
by Blob

As it turns out, I can't actually fit in a Porsche Boxster as well as I'd thought. I'm not sure what was different between the '05 and '97 models I sat in at the Fred Baker Porsche-Audi and the '99 (with 27,000 miles) I found at Legendary Motorcars that I was hoping to buy. Perhaps I didn't put my feet on the pedals to simulate actual driving. Maybe the seats were different; they felt different to my memory, but I tried an '01 they had as well and it wasn't any better. It'd be impossible for me to drive this car for any length of time. I took it out for a test drive anyway, of course, but during the course of it, I realized that it simply wasn't to be.

It's unfortunate, too. It was a blast to drive. I'd done a lot of research, arranged financing, etc. I was ready to buy this car if it was in good shape and we could agree on a reasonable price.

Actually, it's probably better this way. I shouldn't be spending upwards of $25,000 on a used car, particularly one that's six years old, even if it is low mileage. And there were some mechanical quirks on the '99 that gave me pause. And maintaining a Porsche isn't cheap. Isn't justification wonderful?

Thus we're back to a car that I'll be settling for, rather than one that I want. There's nothing really wrong with the Scion tC. I was very impressed by it, actually, but I really, really miss my convertible. There's just something about driving with the top down that really lights up my spirit.

A lot of things have changed since those days, of course: New jobs, new responsibilities, wars and terrorism, financial recession, church and state merging, so on and so on. But it's a curious coincidence that I haven't really been as happy as when I could drop the top and go for a ride in the sunshine.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005
by Blob

I'm told that it's good to eat breakfast. That this starts your body burning fuel for the day and can actually help you to store less of what you eat around your middle. So, I've got some Grape Nuts and I've had a bowl on each of the previous two mornings at about 7:25. By 11:00, I've been starving. Well, not literally starving. Obviously. But I've been feeling very, very hungry. My stomach's in knots and begging for more. Perhaps I'm actually metabolizing for a change. Who knows? It's weird that I could go all day if I didn't eat breakfast and not feel a twinge until dinner time, though.

Ah well. At least I had a Nutrigrain bar handy. I feel great!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005
by Blob

We went to look at a few more vehicles on Monday evening after my drum lesson. (I finally nailed Nothing Else Matters all the way through. Woot!). Ellacott Shaker Volkswagen and Subaru has two vehicles I was interested in.

The Subaru WRX is priced a little bit higher than the Scion or the Mazda 3, but it packs a 2.5 liter turbocharged flat four that boasts 227 horsepower and coupled with all-wheel drive, a pretty wise choice for Cleveland winters, it pushes you right back in the seat. This one was a blast to drive. I threw it around a couple of corners as hard as I could (at city driving speeds) and the tires didn't so much as squeak. We were driving a manager's demo model with 4,000 miles and a little bit of body damage that was priced at around $21,000. In addition to the price, there were a few other drawbacks. Interior room. Ingress/egress is troublesome for me and while inside, the shoulder room is very tight. There's no moonroof. This may sound like an idiotic objection, and it is, but dammit, I started out looking for a convertible. Still, the performance was grin-inducing enough that it's right near the top of the list.

I was also curious about the Volkswagen Jetta. The price:performance ratio is a bit higher than the Subaru's, there's no AWD, and they uglified the car for 2005. And while talking up the Subaru for us, the salesperson wound up talking down the reliability of the Volkswagens, so we opted not to even take one for a spin.

After that, we went over to Saturn of Chagrin. I didn't know much about Saturn's current line-up, so we just went to see if they had anything interesting. We wound up trying the Ion "Quad Coupe", which has a pair of suicide doors that can open only when the primary doors are open. They didn't have a manual shifter handy so we drove the automatic. The performance was bland, at best, and there's no headroom with a moonroof; barely enough without. And this car is priced very similarly to the Scion. Tough choice. Now, apparently there's a supercharged 200-something-ish HP version with a five speed at another dealership that might make the performance more interesting, so I agreed to call 'em on Thursday to take that one for a spin. Oh! And the instrument panel is in the middle of the dash. It's very strange to drive at night and not have the dashboard lights in your face and it's also a bit awkward to look down and right to see the guages.

Unfortunately, I don't think I can wait for it, but apparently Saturn has a roadster on the way in 2006. Expected to sell for under $25,000 and with 172hp, it might just be the car for me. The salesperson assured me that there's ample room for the driver, too. Ah well, maybe next time.

After all was said and done, I think the WRX may be in a very close race with the Scion. I really enjoyed the performance and AWD is a nice feature, but the cramped quarters and the price just about offset the advantages. Much pondering ensues.

Monday, March 21, 2005
Stuff >
by Blob

I should have bought myself a domain name years ago, but I didn't. And now they're all taken, either by a legitimate site or by a squatter. I can't really think of anything good. I've been piggybacking off my friend Jason's domain forever and that's a pain in the ass for several reasons, not least of which is that name@machine.domain.tld email addresses aren't accepted everywhere.

So, I'm open to suggestion. If you think of anything that would sensibly describe me or my approach to teh intarweb, please pass it along.

Monday, March 21, 2005
by Blob

If you know me, you may well be aware of the love/hate relationship I have with cars. I love cars. I love driving cars. I occasionally enjoy working on cars. I love going places in cars. Cars, however, don't really like me much. I've had very few car ownership experiences that I'd consider positive. But that's at least partially my fault. I don't know how to take proper care of them and I tend to push them rather hard.

My most recent debacle was the 1999 Kia Sportage. This vehicle has been nothing but trouble since the day I bought it. It was my first new car which makes it even more depressing. I've had troublesome used cars that were easier to own. But it's now paid off, having served its primary purpose: survive until the loan was paid (the loan which included negative equity from the previous vehicle).

Her inevitable demise has seemed imminent for over a year, now, and she keeps going. I can't open the rear doors at all and I have to give the tailgate a sharp rap with the side of my hand in order to get it to open. The four-wheel-drive, which didn't work for the entire warranty period, despite repeated attempts to repair it (and those usually after finding it didn't work again while being stuck in the mud somewhere) was finally "fixed" in December of 2002, but the car feels like it's going to tear itself apart when it's engaged. It's had a wide variety of electrical problems; most recently, the moon roof button decided not to work (fortunately it was closed, and has since resumed functioning). Etcetera, etcetera.

So, this past weekend, we began the exciting journey towards the purchase of our next vehicle. I'd like to get a new roadster. My '93 Mercury Capri XR2 was a ton of fun. It wasn't technically a roadster itself, having front-wheel drive and a shelf that they called a back seat, but it was close. It always put a smile on my face to drive that car with the top down, my $9,000 attitude adjustment. Unfortunately, they don't make them any longer, so I'm looking for something similar, which will be difficult because I'm so frickin' huge. At 6'5", there aren't many sedans I can drive, let alone the kinds of cars I want.

It was very nice when we set out early Saturday afternoon, 56 degrees and overcast. By Saturday afternoon (when I finally found a convertible I could drive), it was 36 and windy. When we finished on Sunday, it was 28 and snowing.

We began at Jay Honda. Now, I'd never buy from Jay, because they're the ones who sold me the Kia, didn't ever properly repair it, and went out of business before the warranty even expired, forcing me to drive across town for the on-going service visits. However, they're conveniently close to home and I wanted to check out my current almost-affordable dream car: the Honda S2000. I mostly wanted to see if I could fit inside one, since I'd have to buy a two-or-three year old model in order to make the payments. They didn't have any. New or used. It later turns out that that was just the used car dealership, the new car dealership was around the corner and they had one in stock, but it was actually on the used dealership's lot. You'd think the salesguy would have told us that. When he didn't have the car I wanted, he tried to sell me a bunch of cars I don't want. Well-played, Jay Honda.

So, it's across the street to Toyota of Bedford, where they have my #2 choice, the MR2 Spyder. I climb into the Spyder and it's much as I recall from the auto show a few years back, I can't turn the wheel 90 degrees without taking my hands off of it, making it unsafe to drive, let alone comfortable.

They also sell Toyota's new "aiming for the slightly younger than me market" brand, Scion, from this showroom, and I've been marginally curious about the tC since I first heard about Scion, last year. So, we take the tC for a cruise and are quite impressed. This is a fairly inexpensive coupe/hatchback at about $16,000, but its performance and comfort are quite a bit better than I'd expect at that price. It's got a 160hp 4 cylinder and weighs less than 3,000 pounds. The handling is excellent, I can sit comfortably in it. People under 6 feet can sit comfortably in the back and it's got enormous cargo capacity. Plus, it's got moon roofs front and rear, with the front opening quite wide. It's certainly not what I had gone looking for, but it's now the number one contender for my next car. I'd like to see a longer bumper-to-bumper warranty, this only has 36 months/36,000 miles, but Toyota's build quality is legendary, and it probably doesn't need much more than that.

Next stop is Mazda/Saab of Bedford. They've got the Miata. It's quite literally the car that brought roadsters back, and my #3 choice. It's #3 precisely because this visit confirmed what I already knew: I'm way too tall for it. There is no chance of driving this thing. At least with the S2000 and MR2, I could install a smaller-diameter steering wheel and get by. Not so with the Miata. It's a shame, too, because it shares a bit of heritage with my Capri, which was a rebadged Mazda itself.

Facing the reality that I'm not going to get the car that I want, I turn to the Mazda 3, an economy car that doesn't really look like an economy car. When I'd first seen them, I'd been intrigued. So we took it for a spin instead of the Miata. I'd have to say that if I hadn't already driven the Scion, this would be the main contender. It handles very well, but it's a little short on power relative to the Scion. The seating position is adequate, but I'd bump my head frequently. It does have a couple of advantages over the Scion: four doors and a longer warranty.

Well, if I can't have a proper roadster, how about a fun convertible? The Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder theoretically fits the bill, so we head over to Rick Case Mitsubishi. Now, first off, they don't have any new cars with a manual transmission, so they send me off in a 2003 model. Strike one. The windshield header is right about at eye level, so while I can see the taillights of the cars ahead of me, I can't see their roofs, nor can I see anything else at eye level. Strike two. Performance? Meh. It's heavy, sloppy, but reasonably powerful. Strike three. Nothing else Mitsubishi currently sells has any interest for me, so we're out of there pretty quickly.

Since we hadn't really been making a coordinated assault on the Bedford Auto Mile, we kept driving back and forth past Fred Baker Porsche Audi and Renee would comment every time about how nice the red Boxster out front looks and how she'd bet I can fit in it. To assuage my depression over losing the cars I wanted, I stopped there to see if they'd let me sit in a Boxster (or indeed laugh me out of the showroom). None of the salespeople were terribly interested in us at first, but after a few minutes we did manage to find some courteous help. Sure enough, I can safely and comfortably drive the Boxster, top up or down. We didn't take one for a spin, but he happened to mention a 1997 Boxster with 60,000 miles that they'd warranty up to 100,000 and sell for $22,000. That's actually at the top end of my price range. It was a tense few moments that I actually considered the thing. It's a beautiful car and one I'd love to drive, I'm sure, but the practicality is that I can't spend that much on a car whose life is half over. I'd need to get another 100,000 out of it to make it worthwhile and that's unlikely. I wasn't able to test drive it, since it was on display behind the showroom for a Porsche owners event they were having that evening. (Along with a Carrera GT, a supercar that I'd never expected to lay eyes on in person) However, I might take the salesperson up on the offer to turn a wheel later this week.

Flush with victory at finally finding a car I desire and could, in theory, drive and short on time before dealers would close up, we decided to hit BMW of Solon. After all, if there's a Porsche I could seriously consider, why not a Z4? Would you believe that they have a 2003 Z4 3.0i with 15,000 miles that they're willing to let go for the low, low price of $34,900? And that puppy would be warranted up to 100,000 miles? Since the '03 was inside the showroom and they were preparing to close up, they were understandably reluctant to take it outside and let me tool around in it, just to have to clean it up again before returning it to the showroom. However, they gleefully handed me the keys to an '05. Oh. My. God. This is the first reasonably high-performance vehicle I've ever had the opportunity to drive, and so I may be overreacting. It's possible that other high-performance cars would shame it. However, it was magnificent. And when I say magnificent, I mean incredible. And when I say incredible, I mean Oh. My. God. Two days later, I'm still daydreaming about the thing, running scenarios through my head on how to make a $650 car payment.

Back to reality on Sunday afternoon, we pay a visit to Liberty Ford. I really love the styling of the new Mustang, but I'm not that fond of American cars. The American car buyer wants a completely different kind of car than I do, and the American manufacturers cater to that market much more so than the imports. Americans like to ride rather than drive. They want to shift into drive and point the thing and not be bothered by bumps or any other useful information that might get through the suspension. And so it was with the Mustang. At over 4,100 pounds, this is a lot of car for its size. It was comfortable to sit in and nicely built and had a considerable amount of power even in V6 trim. But it's just not my thing. They didn't have a convertible to see if I could fit in it, but we left with the agreement that the salesperson would call me when he got one in. This morning, he called to tell us that we'd have to put money down first if they were going to go to the trouble of getting in a convertible. Right. I wasn't asking you to order one, I was asking to drive one when you had one available. There's now zero chance of you selling me a car.

We eventually found the new car department of Jay Honda and went over to check out the S2000. As expected, I can't fit. Yay. They've also got a new truck, called the Ridgeline, that I was curious about, but it's a $30,000 contraption and if I was going to spend that kind of money, I'd get the Z4.

And that was it. Most places were closed on Sunday and looking around lots didn't stir up any other interesting alternatives

I decided to get some insurance quotes and learned two interesting things. One, my driving record has cleared up and I can now get much more affordable policies, so regardless of what we do car-wise, it's time to change insurance companies. Two, I can afford to insure the Z4 and the Boxster. That was quite a surprise. Progressive quotes me $430 for the Scion and $490 for the Boxster, the bottom and top ends, respectively (quotes are for six months and include liability coverage on the Sportage). Astonishing.

So, right now, we're looking at the Scion tC first and the Mazda 3 second and the BMW Z4 if I should come into a large sum of money. Later this week or next weekend, we're going to go check out the Volkswagen Jetta and see if there are any Saturns of interest.

Wish me luck!

Friday, March 18, 2005
News >
by Blob

It's about time I had a proper main page for this site.

So, I decided to give CSS layout a shot, about five years later than I should have. I've been using HTML tables to position things the way a junkie uses heroin to feel good.

I'm also a big fan of reinventing the wheel, so I'm making my own blogging software as I go. There's no comment ability yet, so let me know what you think via email. [Edit: Comments enablex0r3d!]