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October 23, 2003

The dance begins...

Somebody posted today with links to two stories on buying a new car, one from Kuro5hin, and one from Edmunds.com.

The Kuro5hin.org story was by a tech layoff who decided he would sell cars until he could get a "real job" again. The Edmunds story was an undercover assignment by an Edmunds staff writer, who spent 10 weeks selling at 2 dealerships (one "high-pressure Japanese", one "no-haggle American").

When we bought the Odyssey, we took the time to play dealers off against each other, and got what I thought was a pretty good deal on an in-demand vehicle and worked the loan through a credit union. (As I remember, we were something like $600-$1000 off MSRP, but on a vehicle where some local dealers were adding "additional dealer markup".)

I'm going to try a similar strategy this time around, but I've hit a couple of roadblocks. The Honda and Acura corporate websites both claim to offer price quotes, but after you go through the trouble of specifying a model and options, I get to the screen where I should select a dealer I would like to send me a quote, and am presented an empty list, and the admonition "You must go through an Internet Certified Dealer." Thanks -- maybe you could show me a list of them?

Anyway, most of the dealers have their own web pages now, and you can go through them for quotes. I'm not sure they're entirely independent; the forms in particular are very similar, and I wouldn't be surprised if the manufacturers were trying to centralize internet sales so that it's harder to play dealers off by e-mail. That's certainly what I'm hoping to do. I've got requests out to 3 local dealers, two via their websites, and one through CarsDirect.

October 23, 2003 in Cars | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 21, 2003

What would Frank drive?

So I'm closing in on replacing my 1994 Jetta GLS.

I'm a car guy at heart. I've been reading Car and Driver since I turned 16, and still fondly remember the time I got to drive a friend's Porsche Boxster.

I'm finding my car search doesn't follow what I would consider to be a normal process. When we bought the Odyssey, we knew we were going to switch from sport-ute (an Isuzu Trooper) to a minivan, so we were shopping all the minivans. This time around, we don't have quite the focus on a particular style.

It seems like I'm interested in cars that are, well, a little off. My favorite car that I've driven regularly was a 1983 Rabbit GTI, totalled by a Cadillac driver on Atlanta Highway in Athens. We replaced it with a 1987 Golf GTI 16v, a better car in every objective measure than the '83, but not nearly as much fun. The cars I'm interested in (as a rule) don't drive the beaten path, but they all take some chances and express a unique personality.

Ninety percent of the new car's driving will be commuting to work and back. The biggest thing I need to carry regularly is a bike, and being able to carry one inside is an advantage, since I sometimes ride before work, then drive in, and sometime work, then drive straight to a ride.

I've nearly finalized my short list:

Not entirely off the list: the New Beetle Convertible, the PT Cruiser GT. "Safety car": Honda Accord. If I'm unable to decide on a car, I will be forced to buy the Accord, secure in the knowledge that it will do a good job reliably.

The only thing these cars have in common is that they're all available for the average cost of a new car or less, and they'll hold my whole family if the van is in the shop.

A quick rundown of my attitudes and issues:

Honda Element. The cheapest new car I find at all appealing. Christy likes it a lot. Honda's Jeep, the Element is a chunky small sport-ute with styling reminiscent of the original Toyota Land Cruiser, no b-pillars (the rear doors are rear-hinged) and clever rear seats that fold up flat against the side walls. Pros: practical for hauling things I wouldn't want to haul in the Odyssey, inexpensive, auxiliary in for the iPod. Cons: Ugly duckling styling, lowest gas mileage on the list.

Mini Cooper S. My personal favorite. It reminds me of the GTI I liked so much, with reasonable power and great handling. It corners like the center of gravity is a foot below the road surface, like a go-kart. Pros: Styling, community, handling. Cons: Don't think it will pass the bike test, availability (don't know if they're selling from stock yet, or still running a waiting list), tough back-seat access for putting the occasional kid in the occasional car seat.

Acura TSX. Priciest entry on the list. Kind of a 4-door Prelude, the TSX is built off the Euro-spec Accord (we get a US-only bigger Accord). Pros: Acura-level amenities, sharp handling, BMW-esque styling. Cons: Most expensive on my list, second-least cargo capacity (to the Mini). I have a brother-in-law-in-law (Christy's sister's husband) who works for Acura, so might be able to get a deal on a demo.

2004 Toyota Prius. The Prius officially launched on Oct. 17th. It's Toyota's next take on hybrid gas-electric cars. A small (1.5-liter) gas engine augments an electric motor, and the engine and regenerative braking charge the car's batteries. Pros: 60 miles to the gallon IN THE CITY, gadgets out the wazoo (keyless entry and start, Bluetooth hands-free, navigation system), 5-door configuration second only to the Element for hauling bikes, etc. Cons: None of the dealers in Atlanta have one yet, and there are reports that people are being told current orders will be filled in April, corresponding "additional dealer markup."

I've driven the Mini, been in the Element, seen the TSX, and read about the Prius. I'm trying to drive the Element and the TSX, and find a Prius.

So I welcome feedback on these cars, or any others that you think I should give consideration.

October 21, 2003 in Cars | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 17, 2003

More reasons I love my phone

My phone is just getting better and better. I have the Nokia 3650, with service through T-Mobile, and recommend it highly.

On a recent business trip, I used the phone's built-in mail client to read my personal and work e-mails (no spam filter, however). My car is in the shop right now, so I'm entertaining myself on the train with the web browser. Here's an example of how well that can work on the small screen:


Yesterday, while I was waiting to be picked up from the MARTA station, I Googled a number of car dealers and called to check availability of the new Prius, one of the cars I'm considering.

October 17, 2003 in Phone tech | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Atkins update -- down 37, again

I haven't posted about Atkins in a while, but I feel like I'm still learning.

My lowest weight achieved in the 11 months since I started Atkins was 220-222, in early to mid-July. I binged for 2 weeks on vacation, and gained 13 pounds, then got back to 222, when I decided I would start to wean myself from the program, but I set a threshold weight, 230, that would trigger full Atkins.

For a month or more, I found a pretty good equilibrium. I might have a Coke every couple of days, or have pizza at lunch with a friend, but my weight stayed down. Most of the carbs I was taking in were of the healthy, high-fiber variety, like whole wheat Total for breakfast.

As October started, I had a lot of changes that led me off the path. I had new employees to have lunch with, I traveled some, and I wasn't exercising, so when I got on the scale sometime last week, and found myself at 234, I wasn't too surprised.

So I'm back on induction, and am already down about 3 pounds. I'm going to try to ride this down below 225, then go back to more normal fare. I think this will work well for me, since the Atkins periods will serve as negative reinforcement, encouraging me to behave when I'm not on it.

October 17, 2003 in Atkins Diet | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 16, 2003

Startup mode

So I'm back in startup mode. My latest company is about to start a long-awaited installation in Cleveland, we've recently gotten the go-ahead from another full-installation client, and we're working on a pilot project for a third client.

That's the great news; after my six-month-plus hiatus in 2002, it's good to have a stable position with a company with good prospects. So for this I'm thankful. But there's also a part of me that's just glad to be back in the ramping-up process. Sometimes it seems I've been ramping up since I was 12.

What do I mean? Well, when my family came to Atlanta in 1978, the area we moved into was in the middle of a boom that made it for a time the fastest-growing county in the United States. The county was throwing up schools as fast as it could, and typically bringing in trailers about the second or third year. I started middle school in a brand-new school (in fact, since it was behind schedule, our middle school shared space with a nearby high school). I then started high school in a brand-new school, which had no organizations, no traditions or legends, no history of any sort.

Off to college, and I joined the student newspaper, which cycled the entire staff every quarter. Startup, teardown, startup, teardown...Took a job with University Computing, a well-established campus organization, but in their first public-access Mac lab, and helped set up a number of other campus labs.

After that, I had my only completely non-startup job, at Coke. That was a blast, in many ways, as this was when Coke was fat and sassy, with a specialist for everything, so the workload was great -- not too heavy, not so light as to get boring.

From there, off to CNN Interactive, where there were 50 or so employees when I started, and 425 when I left. We were buying equipment, building out space, and launching new products like you wouldn't believe.

And I like that time in a company's life. Nobody can say, "We don't do it that way" in the "just because we don't do it that way" sense. You can generally see the results of what you're doing, and you certainly feel like an essential cog in the machine.

On the other hand, there's not usually a lot of time for contemplation during startup mode. Over the next three months, I expect we'll hire 4-6 more people, roll out in one full-production and one pilot market, move into a new office, finally launch a website, and finish completely reengineering and redeveloping our product from the prototypes we launched at a different company 3 years ago.

Beats the heck out of what I was doing a year ago.

October 16, 2003 in Work | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 15, 2003

Yes, you will notice the missing 333 mhz

MacMegasite - 10.2.8 Reducing Processor Speed?

I had this happen to me. I thought it was odd that I was maxing the processor so frequently, and that the 500-megahertz TiBook seemed almost as fast as the miniBook.

The page above suggests that a PRAM reset (Command-Option-P-R on startup) will straighten everything out, but that wasn't enough on my PowerBook. I had to also reset the Power Management Unit: With the machine off, press and release Shift-Control-Option-Power On at the same time. Nothing will happen, but wait at least 5 seconds. Power up, and check that you're back to normal.

You can verify that you're fixed with Xbench, or with the shell command 'sysctl hw.cpufrequency'.

Update: I rebooted today after installing QuickTime 6.4 and iTunes 4.1, and afterward, my CPU frequency was back at 533 mhz. Resetting the PMU (and only the PMU) straightened it out.

October 15, 2003 in Apple - PowerBooks | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack


I downloaded and installed The IconFactory's iPulse after reading about version 2, released last week.

I've never been one for system monitor applications or applets, but something about this one attracted me. I think it's that in a fairly small (Konfabulator-like) floater, you can track instantaneous CPU load, load over the last hour, memory swaps, battery and wireless signal levels, network traffic, disk activity, and more, more, more. If you always leave your dock visible, the iPulse icon shows all the detail from the full-size floater.

The bad news about iPulse is that I'm seeing that I occasionally blast my machine, leading to memory paging and heavy CPU load. Instead of the very reasonable $12.95, iPulse could wind up costing me a dual-2.0 G5.

Iconfactory maintains a download page for alternate iPulse skins, and Railhead Design has posted a few others.

October 15, 2003 in Apple - Software | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Reviews: Why Bush must go

I've been working through a few books lately, and a few of them fall into a single category, so I thought I would do a quick combined review, for anyone who might be considering reading one or more of them.

The Franken and Alterman books are very much on the same topic: Whether the press can fairly be said to have the legendary "liberal bias" in light of the coverage of Monicagate, the Bush-Gore campaign and the bad craziness in Florida and the U.S. Supreme Court, and a variety of other issues.

The Alterman book reads like a graduate thesis. It's meticulously documented, offering dozens of examples of stories presented in a pro-business, pro-Republican, or pro-Bush way. Alterman also presents quite a bit of "inside baseball" reporting on the way American media works. For many, Alterman's book may be a little too inside.

Franken's book, on the other hand, reads like the class notes of the smartass in the back of Professor Alterman's class. If you read this book in public, you will embarrass yourself. The last few years have offered increasingly surreal setups for gags, and Franken is not one to pass up a good straight line. He's previewed many of the book's best lines during his press tour for the book, and his many appearances resulting from the recent Fox News lawsuit.

Franken looks at the windbags who provide the most public face for modern conservatism: Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, and Sean Hannity, with appearances from the Republican apparatchiks, President Bush, and even Supply Side Jesus.

Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America focuses not on the media, but on George W. Bush's record as governor of Texas, what overall effect he had on the state, and the parallels between Bush-as-governor and Bush-as-president.

If Alterman's book is a little too wonky, and Franken's book a little too snarky, Ivins and Dubose have written a book that's just right. It would be difficult to finish this book and still identify yourself as a likely Bush voter. Bushwhacked goes into the dirty details of Harken Oil, exactly how right-wing have been some of Bush's nominees to the federal bench, how the leading opponent of ergonomics regulation (there are opponents?) became Solicitor of Labor, how the EPA is allowing methane-gas drillers to throw up thousands of wells on previously protected lands, how No Child Left Behind failed in Texas, and dozens of other facts about Bush's governorship that shed a lot of light on the Bush presidency and its goals.

The tone of the book is by turns hilarious and outraged, street-smart and erudite. Dubose and Ivins, as Texans, are particularly experienced in Bush's politics, cronies, and policies, but to me (admittedly not value-neutral on the question), they don't seem to have an axe to grind, as Franken sometimes does, and as many of the folks who have written on the Clinton administration have.

October 15, 2003 in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 14, 2003

New Mac weblog/wiki

There's a terrific new tech weblog/wiki over at Tao of Mac (not to be confused with the breakout 1994 hit book The Tao of Applescript).

It's hosted out of Portugal, and includes commentary on phone tech, using the Mac with Pocket PCs, and other geekery. The site is part weblog and part wiki.

October 14, 2003 in Seen browsing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 03, 2003

No-cat dialup (apologies to Einstein)

raelity bytes :: OSX to Bluetooth to 3650 to T-Mobile GPRS to the Net

Rael Dornfest provides a good guide to using the 3650's modem via Bluetooth. I had been using directions I found elsewhere, but I don't think they were using the data connection correctly. I think Rael's way is a bit faster.

The phone continues to ROCK! Recent additions include Doris Browser and Agile Messenger (a chat client -- I haven't yet had it fired up when there was someone with whom I wanted to chat).

On a recent work trip to Boston, I was able to grab my miniBook out of my bag and check e-mail while my boss checked into his hotel, without fishing for cables, or even removing my phone from its bag. The browser has trouble with some pages, but does a better job on weblogs than the Sidekick browser, and color photos render beautifully. After Dany Heatley crashed his Ferrari the other day, I checked out the story on ajc.com with my phone, and the photos were very clear.

I've also opened up the phone and cut the missing speaker holes in the back. Some of the 3650s have shipped without the three triangular holes about an inch below the top edge; only the outline where the holes should be is there. DON'T TRY TO CUT THE HOLES FROM THE OUTSIDE, as there's a speaker behind the case there.

October 3, 2003 in Phone tech | Permalink | Comments (0)