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17
Jan 14

Daytime Running Lights are going to kill somebody.

DRL’s are intended to make cars more visible in twilight conditions. When active, the taillights and side markers are off. This Civic uses the headlights as DRL’s, which can mislead the driver.

About once a week on my evening commute, I see a late model car hurtling down 280 with lights off. Almost always, this is a late model car with daytime running lights. This is super dangerous as these cars are much harder to see without any rear lights on, and flashing your headlights at an SUV with a tiny Miata doesn’t really get noticed all that well.

Daytime Running Lights (DRL’s) were introduced in Scandinavia where it is very dark during the winter months. Their goal is to increase visibility to other drivers, but they are not meant to used to illuminate the road. These worked fairly well in Europe and quickly got adopted in Canada, which is similarly afflicted with darkness. European DRL’s are independent units and run at a low brightness. In contrast, Canadian DRL’s can be nothing more than headlights run at reduced intensity. Despite this, they are up to five times brighter than the European standards allow and can fool the driver into thinking their lights are on. Since they are not separate from the headlights, they do a fine job of lighting the road- and can confuse a driver into thinking they’ve turned on all their lights.

European laws mandate lower intensity DRL’s which are separate from the headlights. These are much less likely to fool a driver.

So we have the fairly bright lights on some cars that can cause glare issues, but more importantly they can introduce driver confusion on whether or not their lights are actually on. This is compounded by the prevalence of always on illumination on gauges. For instance, Acuras and Fords have bright DRL’s on their cars and gauges that are always lit up. It used to be that when your lights were off, you couldn’t see the gauges at night, a useful cue to turn on the lights. Now this cue doesn’t exist and it’s easier to drive without lights on with precious little to remind you that you are practically invisible from behind at night.

Modern instrument panels, like Ford’s SmartGauge, are always illuminated regardless of whether or not the exterior lighting is on.

I feel that the solution here is to either remove DRL’s from US market automobiles, mandate automatic lighting based on ambient light conditions, or adopt European standards for lighting. My preference is to do this right or not at all- in the meantime, please make sure your lights are on at night!


14
May 13

Introducing Walmart’s newest associate: me!

walmart-logo

I have to admit, I never really thought I’d end up working for the world’s largest retailer as an associate. This all changed when I reconnected with Ben and Dion, former colleagues from Mozilla who joined Walmart a couple years ago and have had a huge impact ever since.

Impact. Impact on the world, and most importantly, positive impact on the lives of ordinary people is something that every Product Manager worth their salt hopes to have. Walmart directly affects the lives of hundreds of millions of people by helping them clothe, feed, and supply their families with the things they need at a price that they can afford. In terms of scale and impact, Walmart’s impact can be meaningfully expressed as a fraction of the global population.

When Walmart approached us to talk about possible roles at the company, I suggested that there was an opportunity for intersecting the growing smartphone market with the huge number of in store shoppers that visit a Walmart every week. As e-commerce and retail evolve, it is easy to forget that at the end of the day, they are both about getting goods to customers at a fair price. As smartphones increasingly become the primary way to access the internet, there’s an amazing opportunity to use mobile technology to help shoppers save time and money, as well as blend the best of online and retail experiences.

It speaks volumes about the organization that they listened and helped me create that role. As the lead PM for the Mobile In Store products, I’ll be working to build the best experiences for a customer base that spans the globe and is becoming increasingly mobile over time. It’s a job that I’m extremely excited about at a place that I never thought about working for, but I’m extremely glad that the team reached out to me.

9/16/2013: In the five months since I’ve joined Walmart, lots has happened. I’ve gotten to fly on the company jet, watched live performances from Elton John and Hugh Jackman, and had wonderful meals at the Portland office. Beyond the glamour, there’s also lots of hard work to do. Over the next few months we’re going to ship some amazing products that will make a meaningful difference for our customers, who rely on us for the things they need at a price that they can afford.


14
Apr 13

The enthusiast’s case for buying a Prius

Today, I bought a 2006 Prius with all the goodies (nav, leather, xenons) and 107,000 miles for $10K. I am also a big car enthusiast. Why would I do this?

Fuel and Safety

In about a week, I’ll have a hundred mile daily commute, and my two cars are an Evo X and a NA Miata. The Evo is safe but thirsty. The Miata is fun but not the safest car to commute in over long distances.

Looking at $5/gal gasoline as a model, in the Evo I was averaging about 20 mpg. With a 100 mile daily commute, this equates to $25/day in fuel, or $6500 a year, assuming a 260 day work year. The Prius will get about 50 mpg, which is $10/day in fuel. So I’d be spending $2600/year in fuel. In fuel costs alone, I will almost completely pay for the Prius in under four years. But that’s not the only part of the equation.

With six airbags, my Prius has high crash test ratings across the board. Since my chance of getting in an accident is related to my time in the car, it was important to me to get a modern car with excellent crash safety. With standard ABS and stability control, I also have a degree of active safety where I can avoid accidents in the first place.

Depreciation

Over each year, I will put about 26,000 miles on a car. My Lancer Evolution X MR with 40,000 miles is worth almost $30,000, according to Kelley Blue Book. Its value has remained steady year over year, so let’s see what happens when I add 26,000 miles to it.

Oof. A 66,000 mile Lancer Evolution is worth about $26,000. That 26,000 miles removed about $4K of value alone from my car. Adding another 26,000 miles for the next commuter year drops my car to $22,000. So between the fuel savings and the reduced depreciation on my Evo, the break even on the Prius is under two years.

This assumes that after 2 years my Prius is worthless, which it won’t be. In fact, adding 26,000 miles to my Prius removes only about a thousand dollars from its resale value. So depreciation is four cents a mile, as opposed to twelve on the Evo. Each mile in the Prius costs ten cents in fuel, as opposed to twenty five cents on the Evo.

So I’m paying $.37 a mile to drive the Evo, and $.14 a mile to drive in the Prius.

Reliability and Maintenance

I have nothing bad to say about the durability of my Evo. It’s the third I’ve had and the previous two were the most reliable cars I’ve ever owned. These cars are bulletproof- as long as you do the maintenance. The Evo is a complex machine. The transmission has dual wet clutches, and six speeds. The rear and center differentials contain three clutches for torque vectoring. All this stuff needs TLC, and between fluid changes, brake pads, and tires, a year of commuting can cost a couple thousand dollars.

The Prius, on the other hand, is actually much simpler mechanically than most cars. Despite the clever Hybrid Synergy Drive, the transmission is a simple planetary differential. Six gears and two brushless AC motors combine with the internal combustion engine to give you all the ratios you need. There are no clutches or torque converters to wear or break. The mechanical brakes only operate in panic stops and under 7 mph, and last hundreds of thousands of miles.

The battery, which is the source of lots of fear and unwarranted depreciation, is a Matsushita prismatic NiMH pack that has a ten year/150K mile warranty in CA. This warranty is rarely used- Consumer Reports tested two 200K mile Priuses and found virtually no difference in performance and efficiency from new. The market for replacement packs is nil- a used pack in perfect operating condition costs only $500. Even assuming the worst, a $3000 replacement pack, I’m still ahead.

Even the electronic systems are easy to source and plentiful- Toyota has sold almost over 2 million Priuses to date, and most of them are the second generation model I purchased.

They are cheap

So I’m of the belief that a Prius will last forever, yet they depreciate as much as any normal car. I’ll be the first person to say that $25K on a hybrid doesn’t make much financial sense, even at $5/gallon. $10K for a durable car that gets 50 mpg makes a lot more sense.

They are interesting

The fact that the Prius is so normal to drive while being so radically different speaks to its purity of intent. Reading “The Prius That Shook The World“, I learned of a surprisingly ambitious Toyota reinventing major technologies time and time again to build a viable parallel hybrid at a reasonable price. The Prius was not engineered to be a drivers’ car, but to be a reliable and efficient car for the 21st century. From its Kammback design to the power split device and motor generators, this is a car that was designed from the ground up as a hybrid car for the future. In ingenuity and imagination, it reminds me of the first generation Mazda Miata in how it represents a singular vision of brilliant engineering.

The Prius was Toyota’s Lexus moonshot of the late 1990′s. Just like the Lexus LS400 of 1990 was overengineered to create a luxury market for Japanese cars in the US, the second generation Prius was designed to create a market for efficient and reliable hybrids. It’s a car that was created to move a market, and it shows. In 2006, a $25K car with DVD navigation, bluetooth, keyless entry, rearview cam, and HID headlights is not a car that was earning lots of cash for its maker.

Final note

If I were to be completely rational, I would sell the Evo and Miata and just motor forever in my Prius for fourteen cents a mile. But I’m not. I’m a car nut. The Prius appeals to my rational brain, but having a tiny understanding of the witchcraft that gives me 50 mpg also makes me giggle. But I want a car for the track, and a car that I can drive down the coast with the top down. The Prius lets me have a comfortable, cheap, and reliable travel pod that also happens to ooze with brilliant engineering and technology. On the weekends, I’ll be enjoying my pristine Evo and Miata, thanks to the Prius.


30
Mar 13

A synthetic diamond is forever(tm)

IMG_1138

I proposed to Nora today, and she said yes! I look forward to many, many happy days ahead. But today’s post is not about my engagement, but rather about how I chose an engagement ring. This is a deeply personal choice that people need to make for themselves, and I offer my story only in the hope that it will help out some nameless stranger in the future.

I chose to propose with an engagement ring because I’m sentimental and I thought a ring with a diamond on it was a nice symbol of our commitment to each other. Most importantly, I had intuited that Nora was also ok with it. If she wasn’t, that would be no big deal, and no ring would be offered. Tradition or otherwise, it’s important that your mate is cool with your decision. What I also firmly believe is that there are many ways to express your commitment to your partner, and a ring is just one way, no more or less valid than any other.

Having said that, i was also aware that mined diamonds can be of dubious and bloody origin, and in all cases the cost of production is far lower than the cost to consumers. Bain (consulting, not private equity) created a great report about the global diamond industry which said that a 1 carat diamond that sells for thousands costs no more than $60 to produce. DeBeers, who controls 40% of the world’s diamond production, created the very idea of the diamond engagement ring and coined the phrase “A Diamond is Forever” and the three months salary guideline. The world’s most popular setting is the Tiffany Setting, created in 1886 with virtually no change over more than a century. To give you an idea of how much marketing money is being spent on selling diamonds, simply do a Google search for “Diamond”. There is so much paid inclusion manipulating the results, that the Wikipedia entry for diamonds is near the bottom.

To be honest, I’m not bothered at all by the use of marketing to drive up demand for a product- I would stand on a slippery slope if I refused to buy things that I wanted more because I was exposed to a marketing campaign.  What I am bothered by is the lack of innovation in these industries. Good businesses reinvest their profits into growth and innovation, which is why I decided to buy a synthetic diamond.

Synthetic diamonds are diamonds, but instead of mined by a worker, they are grown in a lab. Industrial synthetic diamonds have existed for many years, but the the process to create them results in colored diamonds, and only recently have colorless diamonds in gem quality become available. Where a mined diamond costs $60 to produce, a colorless lab grown diamond costs upwards of $2500. Despite this, the retail price of a lab grown diamond is still significantly less than a mined diamond of the same quality because of the close to 100x markup on a mined diamond.

For now, there’s a pretty significant floor for breakeven pricing on synthetic diamonds, and the $100 carat is still a long way off. But I have no doubt that the synthetic diamond industry wants to radically reduce the cost of gems. The diamond industry is aware of this, and I expect that millions will be spent to cast synthetic diamonds as something more akin to Cubic Zirconia or Moissanite. They are neither of these things, but real diamonds created by scientists, technicians and engineers who are trying to disrupt an industry that is long overdue for disruption. Like an early Tesla adopter who knows that they are financing the development of better and cheaper future products, I’m happy to spend money on a synthetic diamond of known non-dubious origin.

I bought my synthetic diamond from Gemesis, who sell directly to consumers, and I got a beautiful diamond for about 30% less than what Blue Nile would charge for the same grade. I was gullible and signed up for their mailing list, but instead of spam I got a 10% off coupon, and every little bit helps. The diamond arrived in a nondescript FedEx box with nothing that says “Gemesis” on it- in case you are worried about package interceptions. I told Nora the box was filled with RC car parts, and given the things I buy on eBay, there was nothing suspicious about this at all.

I really do like the look of the Tiffany setting, but Tiffany won’t sell the setting without their diamond on it, so I found a local jeweler who could do an elegant six prong setting in platinum, and Nora and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. The ring was pretty nice, too, and for $6500 total it was significantly cheaper than a name brand ring with a mined diamond.


27
Mar 13

JD Power is bullshit

Someone recently asked me about JD Power, the company behind the customer satisfaction surveys on just about everything you can buy our use. A part of their business is aggregating user ratings for car dealerships.

In 2003, I bought a Mitsubishi Evolution from Maxwell Mitsubishi in Austin. The transaction went fine, but towards the end my salesman told me that I’d be receiving a survey from JD Power, and if I returned it to them blank, I would get a free oil change. They were gaming the system.

When I got home, I emailed JD Power’s customer service from my personal email to let them know this was happening. A day later I get a phone call from my salesman because JD Power had forwarded my email, name and email address attached to the dealer. This resulted in a confrontation on the phone and a lifelong hatred and distrust for JD Power and Associates.

I would not trust anything they say about anything- as it’s clear from my experience that they are more interested in colluding with companies than they are with actual research.


19
Mar 13

Cool used car #4: 2001-2005 Lexus IS300

When Toyota launched Lexus in 1990, they had their flagship LS and a tarted up Camry called the ES. Nonetheless, for the low, low price of $35K ($62K in today’s dollars) you had a luxury sedan that was paradoxically both technically ambitious and conceptually conservative. It turns out there was a huge market for a luxury car that combined Japanese reliability and technology with German luxury.

By 2000, Lexus had the GS, LS, RX, ES, SC, and LX lines. It had virtually the entire luxury market mapped out, but they didn’t have a 3 series competitor, right when the Audi A4 and BMW 3-series were snapping up coveted young professionals. Toyota looked at their product portfolio and decided to rebrand the Japanese market Altezza as a Lexus. But where Lexus had a reputation for restrained luxury and comfort, the Altezza was an altogether different beast.

You see, the Altezza’s chief engineer was none other than Nobuaki Katayama, who was also the mastermind behind the RWD Corolla GT-S, also known as the AE86. The AE86 became legendary for its combination of light weight and handling, and was immortalized by the Initial-D manga and anime. With a higher budget than with the Corolla, the Altezza had double wishbones all around, just like the Supra. It also was available with the legendary 2JZ-GE inline six from the Supra. With lots of room in the engine bay any powertrain from the Supra will also fit in an IS.

Unlike other Lexus models, the IS300 was not designed with North America in mind, but instead for Japanese enthusiasts. As a result, the car’s design reflects much of the home market’s tastes in the late 1990′s. The stereo is a straightforward 2DIN design, easily replaced with an aftermarket unit. The pedals are drilled aluminum. The taillights are dipped in chrome and spawned many imitations in the aftermarket. The shifter is a giant chrome ball. And most noticeably, the instrument cluster looks like a Breitling chronometer.

Unlike the E46 BMW, the Lexus IS is a Toyota, and therefore extremely reliable. The engine is overbuilt at the modest 215hp power level. Also unlike any BMW short of an M3, an LSD is available on all model years except for 2005. While the reviews of the time place the IS slightly behind its contemporary BMW, the suspension has more potential and takes well to aftermarket dampers, springs, and sway bars.

If you want an IS, the 2002-2004 models are best, since they have side curtain airbags, and an available five speed manual. 2005 models lost the optional LSD, which was a bargain at $600. Also, from 2002 there is a rare wagon variant, the Sportcross, which was only available with a 5 speed automatic. Automatics drive fine and many well kept examples are easy to find. The LSD option is rare- look in the driver’s door jamb at the sticker with the VIN and manufacturer’s date. If it says B02A, it doesn’t have an LSD. The B02B and B02C variants have LSD. Also, all models with VSC have LSD, but VSC is non defeatable and only available on automatics.

Most of the manual transmission IS300′s I’ve seen have the LSD option, but they also seem more likely to be modified and/or abused. In general I don’t put a lot of value in “never tracked” because my experience tells me that many track drivers are meticulous about maintenance, and you can wear out your car plenty by thrashing your car on public roads without proper care. Still, a 5 speed IS300 with the LSD is the one to get. Navigation is primitive and not worth paying extra for. There are also two optional interiors, a Leather/Alcantara (Ecsaine) combo and a full leather option. The former is much grippier than the latter.

As for pricing in March 2013, good cars seem to range from $10-$15K with the top end getting low mileage cars with all the options. These cars are also modern enough to get the full complement of contemporary safety features and would make for fine daily drivers, so an excellent choice for an enthusiast contemplating the purchase of a Nissan Versa.

In 2006 the IS was updated as a proper Lexus. It gained all the refinement and luxury that it predecessor lacked, but lost the edginess of the original car. It was a huge success. If you’re a fan of small sedans with sports car suspensions, the Lexus IS300 is an unusual example of a Japanese home market car coming to the US with very little lost in translation.


01
Feb 13

Engines

Styling draws us to the cars that we dream of owning, but the majority of time spent by engineers is on the oily bits. With cars becoming ever more reliable, the occasion to look under the hood for the average car owner is rapidly becoming something that we’ll speak wistfully of to the generations that follow.

Still, looking under the hood can say a lot about the intent of the engineers, designers, and product planners who make different cars for different people. Let’s look at full size luxury sedans to get a sense of how an engine compartment can telegraph the intent of an automaker.

This is the engine compartment for the Lexus LS 460. It’s completely encapsulated, as if to tell you that yes, this vehicle is powered by an engine and not the undocumented workers that will cause you problems in your reelection campaign. There’s a dipstick and a brake reservoir cap, and that’s it. Of course, both of those things are monitored by computers, so I’m sure the car will let you know when it’s time to roll in to your service concierge. We can see from looking at the badge on the plastic cover of the engine that it’s a V8. This car is for someone who desires a lifetime of quiet, trouble-free service and has no interest in how that service is achieved, only that it is achieved in the end.

This is the twin turbocharged V8 engine from the BMW 750i.  There’s more to see here, like the beautiful castings for the top of the shock towers, and molded plastic implies 8 intake runners and 8 cylinders. It’s a turbo because, well, it says it right on the plastic cover. The tubular steel braces here seem a bit crude for a $100K sedan, almost like a last minute  patch to add rigidity to a frozen design. BMW makes great engines, technically innovative and with every modern feature extant, but they are not that great to look at. This is an engine for the brochure reading car fan, someone who knows specs but not the fundamentals of how an engine works. This engine says that it’s expensive and high tech (hey! my car is powered by a Predator head!) and very little else.

This is the 4.2L V8 engine from the Audi A8. You can tell it has 8 cylinders because you can see the intake runners on top of the engines, as well as the ignition coils on top of each cylinder. You can tell the car has direct injection from the enormous bulges that cover the fuel rails. This luxury sedan has an engine that would look at home under a glass cover, and it’s something that 99% of owners will never see. Even the hoses and fuel pressure regulators are thoughtfully routed and look like something you’d see in a jet fighter. Audi fans are unusually technically oriented, and the DIY community around these cars is amazing. This is an engine for someone who really wants to see an engine.

This is the twin turbocharged engine from a Mercedes S550. While there is a fair amount of cladding on top of the engine, you can tell from looking at it that it’s twin turbocharged by looking at the intake piping, particular the aluminum pipes leading from the intercoolers. The exposed heat sink for the ignition module on top of the engine is also a nice touch.  Mercedes has a long history of making great engines and racing them, and you can see their pride here. This one is interesting- Mercedes S-Class owners do not care a whole lot about how their engines look, if the difficulty I had in securing a photo of the engine is any indication. This says to me that the engineers at Daimler-Benz, who also work on some of the most successful racing engines in the world, are simply proud of the work they do.

Clearly, I’m having a little fun here with my wild-assed speculation here, and I’m not trying to drive a direct relationship between the appearance of the engine and the quality of the engineering that went into a car’s design. However, looking at these engines does beg the question: if the design of an engine shows a lavish amount of attention and care, what does that say for the rest of the car?

 

 


16
Jan 13

2014 Kia Rio SX

I took the press release for the 2014 Corvette Stingray and made some changes. Hilarity ensues.

DETROIT – Kia is redefining modern performance with today’s debut of the all-new Rio SX. And only a Rio with the perfect balance of technology, design and performance can wear the iconic SX designation.

The 2014 Rio SX is the most powerful standard model ever, with an estimated 450 horsepower (335 kW) and 450 lb.-ft. of torque (610 Nm). It is also the most capable standard model ever, able to accelerate from 0-60 in less than four seconds and achieve more than 1g in cornering grip. It is expected to be the most fuel-efficient Rio, exceeding the EPA-estimated 26 mpg of the current model.

“Like the ’63 Rio, the best Rios embodied performance leadership, delivering cutting-edge technologies, breathtaking design and awe-inspiring driving experiences,” said Kia North America President Mark Reuss. “The all-new Rio goes farther than ever, thanks to today’s advancements in design, technology and engineering.”

The all-new Rio SX shares only two parts with the previous generation Rio. It incorporates an all-new frame structure and chassis, a new powertrain and supporting technologies, as well as completely new exterior and interior designs. Highlights include:

  • An interior that includes real carbon fiber, aluminum and hand-wrapped leather materials, two new seat choices – each featuring a lightweight magnesium frame for exceptional support – and dual eight-inch configurable driver/infotainment screens
  • Advanced driver technologies, including a five-position Drive Mode Selector that tailors 12 vehicle attributes to the fit the driver’s environment and a new seven-speed manual transmission with Active Rev Matching that anticipates gear selections and matches engine speed for perfect shifts every time
  • An all-new 6.2L LT1 V-8 engine combines advanced technologies, including direct injection, Active Fuel Management, continuously variable valve timing and an advanced combustion system that delivers more power while using less fuel
  • Lightweight materials, including a carbon fiber hood and removable roof panel; composite fenders, doors and rear quarter panels; carbon-nano composite underbody panels and a new aluminum frame help shift weight rearward for an optimal 50/50 weight balance that supports a world-class power-to-weight ratio
  • A sculptured exterior features advanced high-intensity discharge and light-emitting diode lighting and racing-proven aerodynamics that balance low drag for efficiency and performance elements for improved stability and track capability
  • Track-capable Z51 Performance Package including: an electronic limited-slip differential, dry-sump oiling system, integral brake, differential and transmission cooling, as well as a unique aero package that further improves high-speed stability.

“SX is one of the hallowed names in automotive history,” said Ed Welburn, Hyundai Kia Automotive Group vice president of global design. “We knew we couldn’t use the SX name unless the new car truly lived up to the legacy. The result is a new Rio SX that breaks from tradition, while remaining instantly recognizable as a Rio the world over.”

The new Rio SX will be built at Hyundai Kia Automotive Group’s Bowling Green, Ky., assembly plant, which underwent a $131-million upgrade, including approximately $52 million for a new body shop to manufacture the aluminum frame in-house for the first time.

“We believe the Rio represents the future of modern performance cars because it delivers more power, more driving excitement and better fuel efficiency,” said Tadge Juechter, Rio chief engineer. “The result is better performance by every measure. The 2014 Rio delivers the fastest acceleration, the most cornering grip, the most track capability, the best braking performance and what we expect to be the best fuel economy ever for a standard Rio.”

The 2014 Rio SX coupe goes on sale in the third quarter of 2013.

Founded in 1911 in Seoul, Kia is now one of the world’s largest car brands, doing business in more than 140 countries and selling more than 4 million cars and trucks a year. Kia provides customers with fuel-efficient vehicles that feature spirited performance, expressive design and high quality. More information on Kia models can be found at www.kia.com.


22
Dec 12

Clarion CZ401 Review: a lot of car stereo for $90

http://www.crutchfield.com/p_020CZ401/Clarion-CZ401.html?tp=5684#details-tab

A couple weeks ago, the volume control on the factory stereo in my 1996 Miata finally gave up the ghost. I had already put a fair bit of sweat equity into fixing my stereo, even soldering in new bulbs when the display failed to illuminate.

Tired of cassette adapters and wonky volume controls, I went to Crutchfield, where I usually go to research car audio before going to eBay to get a better deal.  My needs were basic- I wanted a name brand head unit with auxiliary input for my iPhone, since I listen almost exclusively to my iPhone when driving. Bluetooth would be a cruel joke in the Miata, and satellite radio was obviated by my use of Rhapsody with an unlimited data plan. Although CD players are on their way out of cars, I did want a CD player for nostalgic reasons. I suspect they’re the 8 track players of Generation X.

On Crutchfield, I was shocked to see a Clarion head unit for $90 with free shipping.  The CZ401 looked like it hit all the marks, with nice extras like HD Radio and a USB interface for the iPhone. My experience with iPhone interfaces has been mixed, as I’ve seen them disable the UI on the phone, locking out Rhapsody, TomTom, and any number of apps that I like playing through the stereo.  Still, with an aux input, the USB interface was at worst superfluous.

I did a quick gut-check on eBay, where the same unit was $180 and pulled the trigger on Crutchfield, especially since they include an install kit and personalized instructions with every order.  I added a $10 DIN pocket to add storage under the stereo, bringing my total to $100.

The stereo arrived about a week later, and it was packed well in those dissolving foam peanuts. An install kit was included, but a nice bonus was also a wire stripper to add to my collection of low-quality wire strippers. Since this wasn’t my first install, Nora and I soldered the harness together and I installed the stereo.

It was perfect. While it didn’t have the integrated look of the OEM stereo, being about half as tall, the new pocket under the stereo added much needed storage to my car.   It worked great, and the amplifiers were certainly better than what I had before. HD Radio is just like normal radio, as it’s a digital stream embedded in the FM Radio signal. All stations broadcast analog, and the ones that support HD seamlessly switch to digital about 5 seconds after tuning. This is either barely noticeable or huge as marginal stations lose all static upon the switch. HD Radio also supports iTunes tagging, so I can press ‘tag’ while a song is playing to save it on my iPhone for later purchase.

After this, I hooked up my iPhone to the Clarion using a standard Apple USB cable. As expected, the stereo took over my Music app UI, expecting me to pick tracks from the stereo. After a glance at the manual, I was happy to see that there’s a mode called S-CTRL that restores control to the iPhone. In S-CTRL I can use my iPhone for UI and it plays through the stereo. For apps that support it (most music apps), you can still skip tracks and display track info on the stereo itself. Most importantly- S-CTRL includes a DAC bypass, so the music is streamed in digital format over USB and sent to the onboard DAC on the stereo, reducing static and noise, especially common in phones that charge through the 12v plug on the car.

The USB interface was much cleaner than the auxiliary input, and I was very pleasantly surprised with how much stuff I got for my $90. Would buy again.


17
Oct 12

Asymmetric warfare

I found this great article in New York Magazine which had this not so great quote:

But a Republican win offers by far the more likely prospects for immediate Keynesian stimulus, partly because Democrats in Congress have shown no taste for the kind of economic sabotage that the Republican caucus has engaged in.

In other words, the Democrats will never match the Republicans in terms of their Rules of Engagement. When Republicans openly admit that their top goal is to defeat the president and engage in voter suppression to accomplish their goals, it becomes clear to me that their endgame is winning, not helping the American people.

This is a war that the Democrats don’t have the stomach to win, because for all their faults, missed promises, and outright lies, there is a level that they won’t stoop to.

When we talk about bipartisan support in the last decade, it is Democrats who have supported Republicans, for better or worse, on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, TARP, campaign finance, and more.  In return, the Democrats get stonewalled by Republicans who are fearful of unelected personalities like Grover Norquist and Rush Limbaugh.

This is smart for the GOP if the goal is winning. Consciously or subconsciously, either we vote for Democrats who won’t get anything done, or vote for Republicans who will have the ability to get stuff done. That stuff is likely to include many of the ideas that Democrats have been pushing, or something completely different- there is no way to know for sure. Either way, we can be sure the Republicans will take credit for any success they have. If that success is best for the American people, is it worth the cost of voting for the GOP?