What I want from All The Tech Companies Q4-2016. The fall of the Computer | Tablet-Phone wall.

First let me start off by saying I’m a tech geek… and therefore I most likely do not want what you want, and that’s okay. Most people just want a phone that works to do phone stuff and gives off lots of clear warnings when it is about to not work. I want a phone that works okay as a phone but does a billion other things and I’m okay with needing a battery pack and a screwdriver in my huge gramma-purse because the battery died when I was trying to do something dumb but still need to text Eric. I want the technological equivalent of a Federation Starship: Something just crammed full of technology so bleeding edge that it plods through space-time with the engineering staff faking that they know what’s going-on… while the Klingons and Romulans and Vulcans admire/hate the fact that the Hyoo-mons seem to science-bullshit their way into winning every fight because the fact that it’s a really bad idea to hook the warp core to the deflector dish that way doesn’t stop ’em.

Right now what I want is the wall between “Computers” and “Phones” to fall. Right now there is a very deliberately articulated border between smartphones and computers: Computers are desktops and laptops and have mice and trackpads and keyboards and occasionally touchscreens and fully customizable Operating systems like MacOS and Windows 10 and Linux and you can download programs from the internet and install them on your computer and develop for the very computer you are working-on. Phones (and tablets) have touchscreens and cellular modems and occasionally keyboards and run energy-conscious, barely multitasking, incoming-call-defeats-and-pauses-everything Operating Systems that will only install things from a store where apps have been coded Just So and submitted Just So and Approved… and if you ever want to change that you have to go deep into the settings if not completely routing the operating system. It was a wall that made a lot of sense in 2007 because phones were rather addlepated… but frankly I don’t think it needs to be there anymore.

Apple and Google have Released Their Things right on schedule and they are pretty and fancy and totally not what I want. The iPhone 7 is a perfunctory evolution that adds speed and battery life and a long-overdue base-capacity increase while removing the standard 3.5mm headphone jack it has deemed “old and size-consuming and annoying”. Meanwhile the rest of the savvy tech folks also noted “the 3.5mm headphone jack, while ubiquitous, was not invented by us so it won’t make us licensing money”. This upsets and saddens me. If we’re going to tell all the companies that make device-to-noise things (speakers, headphones, car audio systems), and tell all the people who buy device-to-noise things that the bit on the end has to change, the logical upgrade is USB-C: it’s tiny, easy to waterproof, impossible to plug in ‘backwards’, and comes with a buttload of protocols for video, audio, serial, charging, and I’m pretty sure detection of gravitational waves with a firmware upgrade. It’s also an international standard that was worked-on by several companies, _including Apple_. So for Apple to make a device that requires a special dongle or for device-to-noise things Just for iPhone 7’s is… shitty.

Google has released the Pixel which means they are no longer ‘suggesting’ how other companies should build an Android phone, but are instead building an Android phone as close to their Socratic ideal as tech will allow… and that Android phone is basically an iPhone 7… and iPhone 7 that keeps the headphone jack with incrementally better battery life and camera and Assistant which shall put Siri to shame (especially once it gets way better App integration). They also carrier locked the Pixel to Verizon and Google Fi which means I’ll have the same reaction to it that I had with the first wave of iPhones being AT&T and later Verizon for so long: I’ll go “that’s nice, but not nice enough for me to give up my $200 a year savings by staying with Sprint”… so I’ll likely just get Some Other Android Phone while I wait for what I really want.

The last hope I have at this point, and it’s as desperate and as much of a long shot as Obi-Wan, is Microsoft. They’ve been hinting at a “Surface Phone” for a while now. A phone that runs Windows 10. Not Windows phone 10. But regular Windows 10… or at least a future version of it that can re-orient itself into super-battery-save mode and interrupt itself when the cell-modem detects a call. This is what I dream of. Something that can sit in my pocket most of the day, but when I get home I USB-C it into a dock with a Monitor (or two), Bigass Hard Drive, Ethernet Cable, Keyboard/Mouse and Power Supply attached and it becomes “My Desktop”.

“But what about video performance!?” there can be external video cards between the monitor and the hub (hell, just strap it to the back of the monitor). USB-C is the connector/bus for Thunderbolt 3 and there are already booster GPUs as A Thing out there. “But what if I don’t want to interrupt WOW if the parents call?” That’s just a software trick based on knowing whether the phone is hubbed or not (and Windows 10 is already pretty good at that). I mean, there are probably bunches of things that I am not thinking-of, but I feel like “Phone hardware isn’t strong enough to run desktop-style apps” is no longer one of them and that was the biggest reason for the wall in the first place.

Heck, once that wall falls people who don’t mind carrying a bag all the time can forgo getting a phone altogether and instead just use a Bluetooth headset with a Cell-Modemed Surface or similar tablet to make calls. Or their watch like Dick Tracy.

Microsoft’s Event is near Halloween. I hope they do something like this. You know, so that Apple and Alphabet can rip it off in two years and act like they invented it.

My weeks leading up-to and with the new (to me) Volt.

Around Monday or Tuesday, Feb 1-2, My brother called and said “I found a buyer for my car, which means I’ll need to take ownership of your car (Lina, the Mazda3) on Thursday (Feb 4th)if possible”. I told him it was probably possible, checked with Work and Eric to make sure I was not needed in any beyond-phone capacity on Thursday… and planned to leave Atlanta early on Thursday morning, packing up my 3-ring binder of service history (of course I keep all records of my sedulous maintenance, don’t you?). A pleasant trip later (shout out to family for a lovely brunch and double shout-out to brother for knowing all the steps and having them ready), I was dropping off a late-model Hyundai Elantra at the ATL airport rental car center having driven it from the CLT airport rental car center.

Eric kindly picked me up from the rental car center, which has a tiny, tiny visitor lot that was triple-parked full… so I ended up ducking into the backseat (almost sitting on Cairo whom he also brought) while he pulled over on the side of the road. We drove home and discussed the cars we were both poring-over in the preceding weeks and came to a quick agreement that the 2-year-old Chevrolet Volts were both sufficently nifty and priced into “a steal” category by being American and having lots of lease/fleet vehicles. At one point he sighed and said “do you just want to go ahead and buy the high-miles Topaz one off Carvana that you’ve been lusting after for 3 days?” and I said “Yes” without blinking… and thus we went about buying a car over the Internet which was really way easier than it should have been. Carvana has two delivery options… the first being “Deliver it to my home/workplace” and the second being “Come pick it up at our vending machine” and I opted for the second… scheduled a pickup for Lunchtime on February 8th… and planned to carpool with Eric that Monday.

Eric asked me to not blather on facebook about the new car, as we did not have it yet, which I agreed-to. He also asked me not to blather about it at work, which I did not agree too, as I wanted to ask the couple of LEAF owners I work with about the at-work charging stations and their network and how I get access and all that. Friday went by in a bit of a blur, with a Carvana Agent basically calling up and confirming that there was a person at the other end of the transaction and emailing me details of my pickup, Saturday I cleaned house with Eric and helped Merkur-co-owner Jeff (Who incidentally rekindled my interest in Volts when he let me play with a 2015 Volt he had for a bit through his work) fix the leaky caliper and bleed the brakes on the Merkur.

Monday arrived, and I drove Eric’s Ford Fusion to Eric’s work, dropped him off, and drove to my work. Around 11:30 I left work to nab Eric, and drove him to the Carvana vending machine in West Midtown. We arrived around 11:55. I walked up to bay one, saw a car in it… and typed the code that I was emailed into the keypad and… nothing happened. I figured “Oh, it’s not noon yet”. Cellphone rolled over to noon two minutes later… tried again… nothing happened. So we decided to try the door next to the garage bay and I was able to get into the garage after walking through a little hallway. I saw all the paperwork, a gift bag, and some keys on a desk and started squeeing over the new shiny when the garage suddenly opened, the screen at the back of the garage switched to “Welcome Peter” and two lovely people appeared out of the back offices up to invite us to take it on a test drive and make sure it was what we wanted.

I got in, hit the power button, noticed that the battery was completely drained and the gas tank was completely full. Otherwise, other than a few little nicks and scuffs that were already pointed out in Carvana’s Walk-Around video, everything seemed copacetic. I came back, signed a few of the things I had to sign-for in-person, asked the lovely people about transferring my Simpsons-inspired license plate, was given a $25 gift card because they were unable to transfer the plate and I’d probably have to re-apply (kind of them), and was told that I had until 5:00 PM Sunday to return it for a refund. I have driven it every day, and made the first car-payment on Thursday… I don’t anticipate returning it.

Now, a few words about my relationship with The Volt as a philosophical concept… because I am a huge pedagogue.

The sell behind the Volt is “We give you one gallon of electric gas that will let you go between 35 and 45 miles for pennies without polluting, and we give you an 8 gallon gas tank in case you have/want to drive more than that.” Thus you can get your nifty green electric car for commuting to work, but have a gasoline car to go to Grandma’s/Charleston/That-Chip-Shop-In-Your-Hometown/Road-Trip-Destination without the bummer of getting a rental and getting screwed by the attendant charging you for not filling the gas tank (Ahem, Avis). The reality of the Volt is that to do this, General Motors had to make a car that was a bundle of compromises that come about when you merge a Spark EV and a Chevy Cruze Eco. The first compromise is on efficiency: It only ekes about 40 miles of guaranteed EV range out of 10 kWh of usable battery that takes most people 12-15 hours to refill (8-amp on a 110 volt garage outlet), and makes only about 45 mpg as a hybrid. This is mostly because it is running two drivetrains that make it heavy: it’s hauling around an extra gasoline engine in EV mode with the gas tank and the cooling system; and hauling around a whole bunch of extra depleted battery in gasoline hybrid mode. Another compromise is that the Volt small: It only seats 4 with a low roof and rear passengers heads sneaking under the hatchback glass in a weird mix of four-door coupe with a Kammback (Prius) butt. The third compromise is that it’s expensive. Volts were pretty much $40,000 when new in 2011, there were tax credits that made it feel more like $32,000 but it was a tough sell for people to buy a $32K Chevrolet that was the size of a Cruze and barely sat 4 adults, right after their parent company went through a big bankruptcy for behaving more like a bank and contract-management organization than a car-designer/manufacturer.

I was disappointed in the Volt when it was new. I was looking forward to a Prius-beater coming out of the Pheonix that was new-GM, conspicuously convinced that series-hybrids were magically more efficient in car-sized applications (“Trains and cruise ships let their huge electric motors be the only thing that connects to the wheels/prop… why does a car need a physical connection between the wheels and the gas engine” I opined frequently, not acknowledging my own blather…) and was duly upset that the Volt allowed the gasoline motor to connect to the transmission and power the wheels should the car go faster than 80 or was in battery-depleted-hybrid-mode. In retrospect, telling people that the Volt can’t go faster that 80 or that the hybrid efficiency was 30 mpg because some car nerd was in love with the philosophical ideal of a series-hybrid would have been way dumber. Either way, the 40-grand entry price and the fact that a volt still has a gas engine requiring gas-engine maintenance (a HUGE selling point of pure EVs is that they basically only need occasional tire rotation and yearly battery checks) irked me. There was also the bad history GM had with experimental drivetrains (look up “Who Killed the Electric Car”. Spoiler: GM, apparently)

Come 2014, I saw a lot of $200/mo leases which warmed me to the Volt, as it looked like GM (Like Toyota before) knew their new technology was rather cool and they were willing to take a bit of a haircut to get them moving and show their commitment. Come 2015, I started to notice a lot of these cars coming off lease were more like $18-20K, a full half of what they cost brand new… right about the same time electric vehicle charging stations were going up in our parking garage. My aforementioned merkur-co-owner friend Jeff also let me play with a 2015 model letting me see all the nifty things that come with a volt standard. Come 2016, by the time my brother wanted my commuter, after a huge tank in gas prices, suddenly 2013 volts were going for $14-16K. So suddenly it started pinging hard on the “Get THIS as your next car”. It even won over Eric as a solid commuter. So I got one.

Now, a few words about my relationship with My volt… because I am a huge car nerd.

I love her! Her name is Marcia after Marcia Griffiths who sang Electric Boogie (and now that song is stuck in YOUR head). She’s a light, shimmery blue that GM dubbed “Silver Topaz Metallic” and that I lovingly call “Blue Rinse”. She has a few stone chips on the nose and a ding in the driver’s door and a scuff on the shifter… but that relieves me of needing to be obsessed with keeping her “Perfect” and as my friend-née-boss Brian says “Oh, it’s pre-distressed. You’d pay extra for that at Restoration Hardware…”. She has two LCD screens. One where the speedometer would normally go that now tells you speed and all sorts of cool car info about efficiency, and one in the usual infotainment/telematics spot. She has rugged seats with seat heaters… and that ended up being one of the “GOTTA GET HER NOW” motives for nabbing this particular one from Carvana: having factory heated seats but not the leather upholstery and other trim upgrades I didn’t want to pay-for. The general look-and-feel is “This is way nicer than I am used-to for Chevrolet” so the idea of the Volt as a showcase for cool things GM can do is holding up. The telematics system is a bit “Wait, why do I have to hit this and this to go there?” but doesn’t seem like it’s going to break or wig-out on me. I did pay for a 2-year warranty from Carvana because, well, new GM drivetrain with a lot of electronic whizbangery.

In electric mode, Marcia the Volt is ridiculously quiet. I love playing “The Hybrid Game” where I essentially try to eek every mile out of that one gallon of electric gas. The usual hybrid game tactics apply: Don’t accelerate hard, don’t brake hard, turn off all climate control if possible. The volt helps in two ways: The first is a little Driving Style Meter that has three spinning leaves inside a sphere. If you stomp on the gas, the little sphere moves off the spinning leaves and turns tiny and yellow in the “accel” section. If you stomp on the brake, the little sphere plummets off the leaves into the “brake” section and turns tiny and yellow. I’ve noticed that when I start going 75 on the highway, the sphere hovers above the efficiency zone, even when you take your foot off the gas almost as if the car is admonishing me: “slow down on the highway, it saves gas, kids.” The other thing the volt does to help, is the “L” transmission setting. “L” simulates an automatic in low gear. Several other hybrids and cars with CVT’s sometimes have it listed as “B” (for “Engine Brake”). The magic is that you take your foot off the gas, the regen braking kicks in and the car slows down as if you were driving a manual in second. Thus, in the stop-n-go, slow-n-go traffic that I was constantly rowing through the gears in my Mazdas, putting it in a high gear to accelerate without burning too much gas, then putting the car in a low gear to engine brake so I don’t have to use brake pads… I can now “Single Pedal”. I put my foot gently on the gas to accelerate without using too much energy, and then take my foot off the gas to engine brake and dump energy back into the batteries. Much less fancy footwork and more electric range to boot.

Eventually that magical electric gallon has to run out. The engine sort of buzzes to life elegantly when my 10kWh is used up. It will occasionally sort tumble between idle, 2000 rpm, and 4000 rpm depending on what you’re doing… and for this past week was an indication of losing the hybrid game and I’ve been desperately trying to keep The Electric Gallon topped off. While I do have at-work charging stations, they are not free… charging $0.85 per hour for 3 hours and then $5 per hour for any additional hour (read: “This is not a parking spot You should be able to get-home after 3 hours of charging no matter what EV you drive, now move”). They can charge the Volt from empty to full in about 3.5 hours. This first week of ownership I gleefully signed up for chargepoint and topped off every chance I got (because whee, electric car, electric mode nifty, keep that sumbitch topped-up). Looking back, and running a bunch of numbers through an excel sheet… charging up fully at my house is $1. It also looks like I might be able to save even more at my house if we switch the rate plan with our power company by charging during off-peak and super-off-peak hours. Otherwise, charging up fully at work is about $2.55 – $3, so until gas gets more expensive, looks like charging at my house or at free charging stations is the way to go.

But yeah. I have a new car, it is nifty and I like playing with it. Now to figure out how to configure favorites on this crazy thing. If you still want to read fun articles about volts: Gene Weingarten wrote this article which is one I will always love.

Phone-connected Clouds, as rated by Andy Sachs from Devil Wears Prada

Apple iCloud: The Andy Sachs from the beginning of the movie. Inept, loses everything, annoying and out of tune with everyone around her. Won’t be able to get you out of Miami in time for your Daughter’s Piano recital. Desperately needs a makeover with the help of Stanley Tucci. Literally just The Worst. I call iCloud “Emily”.

Google Drive: Andy after a makeover with the help of Stanley Tucci. Super competent. A massive force of efficiency and intuition. Could probably get you an unpublished Harry Potter manuscript. Unfortunately butts into your private life a bit more than you’d like, and has suddenly gotten sort of vicious, throwing DropBox under the bus to go to Paris and making out with creepy writer dudes in the corner.

Microsoft OneCloud: Andy after she quits Runway, refinds her ethical center, and starts doing the stuff she always wanted. Still competent, but now with a bunch of experience doing things that will help careers… Not hindered by dealing with random tasks assigned by a micromanaging sociopath.  Magically get things working without making a big fuss about it, does things that make sense that you never thought-of.  Probably loves cheese.


They Don’t Know #092: Totino’s Pizza Roll Power Hour

Haaaaaay everybody.

It’s been a while, but I spent the morning with an awesome lady named Katie who is about to exit her 20’s getting coke-bottle-green nail polish… The afternoon tubing.. and the evening aping something ill-advised that My Brother, My Brother, and Me did with the Totino’s Pizza Roll Power HourPizza Rollllllls

If you loved this episode (and I know you did) get in touch!  Ask us questions and leave sassy comments on the voicemail line ((774) 377-9386)!  Write us emails (epilonious@gmail.com)!  Tweet at us and shtuff!

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Dammit, leg…

Please be forwarned: This post is likely more whiney and whingey than usual.  I already know and accept this, and if you can’t fathom or stand such things, skip over it.

On June 7th, 2015, around 10:00 PM, I broke my right ankle.  I was faffing about in a 6-inch stiletto heel on a 2″ platform (Delight-662 by Pleasers) and the center of gravity went to the right of my ankle… thus the shoe and my heel became a 9″ lever to a 250-lbs of gravity forced clockwise rotation.  It twisted so hard that I snapped my Lateral Malleolus, which is the bit of my fibula (the smaller lower leg bone) right net to my ankle.

I don’t remember quite how it happened…  I’ve told people I was trying to balance and put on the other shoe… I may very well have been doing the “one shoe on, one shoe off” clomp-squish game that’s always fun, all I know is that I felt the shoe slip out from under me and was on the ground before I could say “Oh Shit”… and my ankle was hurting and I was nauseated from the adrenaline rush.

I remember there had been a snapping noise.  I thought it might have been the teeny little strap coming out of the back of the shoe, but more than likely it was my bone. Needless to say, I had Eric help me wrap it up with an ice-pack and help me to bed where I elevated it.  The next morning I planned on working from home, posted to facebook about my swelling and inability to support weight, and most everyone commented “See a doctor”, so I had a neighbor drop me off at urgent care, got an x-ray, saw the break, and was scheduled with an orthopedist on Wednesday and sent out with crutches. The orthopedist deemed the break not-awful, gave me a boot and told me I was allowed to put weight on the foot in the boot as pain allowed and sleep outside the boot with foot elevated to help reduce some swelling. The ortho also told me not to use NSAIDs like Ibuprofin or Aspirin while the bone was healing as the swelling is good for the healing response. I get to go back on June 24th to do another x-ray to see how the bone is doing.

A little over a week later, the foot is hit-or-miss and seems entirely mood dependent. The worst time is the morning, Everything that had calmed down to “A bit irritated” the night before is flared up into full “Don’t touch me!” Mode. This includes my ankle, my armpits, and my hands (stupid crutches). This of course means I grump a bit (especially if I feel like I am running late for something) and earns immediate scolding from Eric in the form of “You shouldn’t have [anything other than stay home in bed with the foot elevated]!” The solution actually seems to be “Get as much done the night before as possible, so when you’re barely awake and groggy and everything hurts… you don’t have to move as much.” This is probably a good philosophy for life, and a good justification for Wallace-and-Grommet-Pee-Wee-Herman-Rube-Goldberg style wakeup systems that combine a carwash-for-humans with an outfit applyer and an automatic breakfast manufacturer.

There, I know I’m getting better. I’m imagining hairbrained systems that’ll drive Eric nuts.

It’s not my car anymore…

So, Lina the Mazda3 stranded me and dropped another $500, and was close enough to needing new tires that she essentially ate all the leftovers from Christmas.  I posted a few bits on Facebook if you wish to go read the drama at the time of occurrence.  Needless to say, the several rules sort of coagulated into me going “Time to retire Lina” because she is just too close to two of the thresholds (Costs more than financing a cheap new car with a warranty to keep going, doesn’t bring me joy) and irony suggests she’ll cross both at the same time.

I started quietly shopping her around and a family member who gets right of first refusal suggested a me-financed solution that I am okay-with which basically boils down to me getting the private-sale, excellent-condition car value plus about $800, and when a huge part breaks (The clutch is original with 195,000 on it and tends to run about $800) I’ll pay for it.  Also, because said family member is waiting for an incontinent dog or a generation-older hand-me-down car to die… I’ll hold onto Lina the Mazda3 and keep her in good condition until one of them passes (probably later this year).

Thus the phase I have with Lina is a somber “You’re not my car anymore”.  Which is sort of sad… but after some discussions with Eric who helps me steward such decisions, I’m going finish-paying-off Amelia the Miata, daily drive her when Lina moves… and I’ll likely start searching for a new Daily Commuter.  *Has that “I’m single again, baby, YEAH!” moment from Austin Power, The Spy who Shagged Me*

Now, this of course means the rolling slot machine of cars worth purchasing comes to a stop… and I found that my take one which car I want next is turning out like a Frosted Mini Wheat’s commercial:

I'm full of moral fiber!  I'll help you poop!
2012 Chevrolet Volt in All-Bran White

The adult in me is looking at the Volt.  While it’s Not Quite A Leaf (only goes 40 Miles on a charge, can’t do over 80 without getting the gas engine involved, still requires oil changes and fuel system stuff and and and) and not quite a Prius (only gets 35 MPG once the battery is depleted, costs way more than a regular hybrid because the battery pack is so damn beefy, only seats 4 people…) it’s perfect for me as a commuter as my job is only 15 miles away and unless I wake up really early I tend to average about 45 MPH in stop-n-go, slow-n-go traffic… and I can still take those semi monthly road trips to Charlotte/Charleston and Yearly road trips to Austin/DC/Orlando/What-Have-You.  I also know I can buy a 2-year-old fully loaded one for about 20 grand from CPO or Carmax… and if I just have to have a new one, the dealers will be anxious to get rid of the 2015 models on the lot in Sept/Oct/Nov when I go shopping to make room for the shiny new 2016 Volt that goes farther and has better mileage and more seats and looks less weird. So I might be able to swing an insane deal on a new one.

I just want to hug it
Mitsubishi Mirage in Kiwi Green

Meanwhile, the kid in me still is obsessed with the Mitsubishi Mirage.  I swear to Goodness, every time I see one in the wild I squeal with glee.  I know it’s a weird pug-ugly little thing and auto journalists hate it, but every review I’ve read NOT by auto journalists seems to say “This is a great little car for the $10-13,000 I ended up paying for it!  Hasn’t had any problems, gets the advertised 41MPG, is adequately powered, actually rides pretty nicely and quietly, holds acres of stuff despite being tiny.. and the steering and handling are fine for something to toot back and forth to work and on errands.  Those Auto Journalists have their head up their ass about what most Americans do with their cars:  Sit in them for maybe an hour and a half each day driving around on autopilot.”  I think it settles my lust for a French car that we can’t get in the states:  Weirdly Perfect, Perfectly Weird.

Of course, I don’t know what I’ll get until I’ve gotten it.  I may just decide to daily-drive the Miata. Or I might give up the whole bowl of frosted mini wheats if Mazda doesn’t take forever to release a decent…

This will help you poop in different ways
2016 Mazda2 in BooBerry/Cap’nCruch oops all berries Red

The Mazda2… if these come out near the end of 2015… and they have a skyactiv-G drivetrain that gets ~45+ mpg and they don’t trade too much style for usability (IE, I can sneak Cairo’s folded crate into the back without having to put seats down or remove the folded tonneau cover)  I’ll consider it heavily.  I already love/trust Mazda and I like the tech they’ve been putting in their cars… and I would love it if they applied it to a car the size of the 2.  There are even rumors that Mazda is working on an electric mazda2 with a wankel range extender.  My fear is that MazdaUSA has found a groove that is making them money and they’re gonna get stuck in it like they did back in the 60’s with Rotary engines: They’ll keep selling the Skyactiv-G in the 3/6 and the CX-5/9 and the MX-5 until they are woefully out of date…. and spend all their new money chasing after dumb, trendy markets like super compact CUVs (“Hey, we won’t sell you the 2, but we’ll sell you the CX-3 which is like a jacked-up, heavy 2 with crappy gas mileage and AWD!”).  Then when no-one wants to buy their stuff because they want electric drivetrains, Ford will buy them again and go “oh, no, Mazda… you make small car platforms and fun drivetrains we can rebrand and we’ll keep you from going bankrupt.  Again”.

We’ll see by the end of the year, but I’m worried Mazda USA is going to just give the Mazda2 to Toyota to be sold as the next Yaris which Toyota will make sure will have no personality.  Meanwhile, I’ve already driven the 2015 mazda3 and, well, it’s not my car: It’s a shrunk-down 6 that basically handles a bit better but isn’t that much lighter and doesn’t get better mileage and holds less stuff.

Update on Lina the Mazda3, and reflections on What I Learn About Myself via Lina the Mazda3

In the beginning weeks of November… Lina the Mazda3 had two $500 problems that cropped up on Wednesdays.  The first problem was a sort of “Oh, well, she’s an old car”… but the second $500 problem was found to have caused the first and set me off into a small histrionic fit that had me hovering my hand over the big red button that said “TRADE IN”.

I did not trade her in, and two more Wednesday’s have gone by and the Check Engine Light has stayed off.  Also, I seem to be getting slightly better mileage and aside from a few “Some contents have shifted” cold weather rattles, Lina is pooting along as lovely as before.

I realize that had I rushed and traded in Lina it would have been a silly decision. Lina is paid off and still drives well and looks good (she is still getting the “wait… THAT’S A 2004!?” compliments.)  So she doesn’t flag under the “Doesn’t feel safe” or “Looks so old it makes you sad” criteria given to me by my parents.  She also only has one weird issue (“Oh, sometimes the A/C wigs out and turns itself off.  Just turn the fan off and back on and it’ll work again”) so she doesn’t meet the “If you can’t hand the keys over without a lecture or a pamphlet” criteria of my friends (Who I think got it from Car Talk).  Also, the cost of a cheap-ass new car or semi-nice used car would start at around $200 a month.  So financially, since Lina is safe and looks nice and they keys only come with one footnote… she has an unplanned maintenance allowance of $2400 a year.

So, going into my 3-ring binder of service history (Of course I have a 3 ring binder with receipts/service reports from every time maintenance was done.  Why don’t you?)  This year she had a coolant/transmission flush and a new engine mount in June for about $380 extra, new spark plugs in September for about $60 extra, The new fuel system check pump for $518, and the new magic plastic fuel tank disc for $512 in November.  So assuming Lina can hold it together and not have any issues that cost more than $930 to fix between now and Jan 1… it’s cheaper to keep ‘er.  And to be honest, the tune-up stuff (coolant/transmission/spark-plugs) shouldn’t really count.

Granted, it sucks to get suddenly have to pay a $1000 larger-than usual credit card bill… But really, I’ve gotten so on top of my financial game with YNAB that it wasn’t threatening “The Big financial responsibilities (in order of importance:  Taxes, mortgage, insurance, student-loan-and-car-payoff, retirement, groceries, drag-queens, restaurants)  it just meant I had to empty some of my smaller savings buckets (“new fan/chandelier for living room.” “Big, Shiny UPS that can actually tell all my computers to gracefully shut down in the case of a power outage”,  “New computer of some sort in two years or so.” “Fund to take down humongous pine trees sometime in the future”) and leave an IOU in them for the next 3 paycheck month (In January).

As an aside, I noticed a bunch of people sassing Eric for essentially doing what I’ve asked him to do very early-on in our relationship, which is help me on willpower saving throws against the shiny.

[A]s writer Charles Stross would put it, the ability to make a saving throw against the shiny; i.e., internalizing the idea that you don’t need every new thing just because it’s nice and pretty and can do one thing that thing you have like it can’t do. This is a tough one for me, I admit. I do so love the shiny, and sometimes I give in when I shouldn’t (as long as I have the money for it). But most of the time, I buy well, and buy to last — and then use it until it begs me to let it die. And then I use it for a year after that! Grandpa would be proud.  – Scalzi, whatever blog

I have a low genetic and imbued resistance to the shiny.  I grew up upper middle class and have a birthday right-opposite from Christmas.  Thus I grew up with the notion that I could get Whatever I Want about Twice A Year and would scan television trying to figure out what the best candidate for what that semi-annual shiny thing would be.  I’m also very smart and have amazing rationalization powers.  Luckily growing up I also had My Brother… who basically played bad-cop and warned me away from the dangers of bad-money-management right around the time I was getting to drive:

“Okay, we have Internet.  Get on the computer and research how much it is to Insure a 16-year-old male in North Carolina with a brand new car like that Dodge Neon you want.  Oh look!  It’s $300 a month!  That’s the same payment as the neon itself.  It’s like they’re expecting you to immediately run it into something! Now, look at how much it is to insure a 1988 Camry like the one mom is planning to give you… Oh look, $180 a month… way more reasonable… and if you keep it going… you can save up and get whatever car you want at a better rate”

He also warned me about credit cards.  And told me I would despite his warnings run up a huge bill and have to deal with it right after college, and he was completely right.  He is also the one who bought me YNAB for my birthday a few years ago.

Eric is my new bad cop.  He agreed to fight with me and shoot each of my rationalizations in the kneecaps and make me sleep on things to consider my want vs need of a thing.   I have been able to talk him into stuff (Miata, Wood Flooring, Cairo) but it took about a month per $3000 of discussion (two months per $4000 if it wasn’t something he really wanted as well).  Hence we’re always bickering about things I want and whether I really need them or whether it’s just another flight of fancy with whatever shiny thing that caught my fancy.  And we both sort of enjoy the bickering more than we let on.  And the bickering is directly proportional to how fascinated/mesmerized/immediate my fascination is.

So yeah, it wasn’t Lina’s time… and Eric was monumental in talking me away from the Candy-Apple-Red Trade-In button… and the fact that neither of us died wrongful deaths during that process is no small testament to our esteem for each other.

They Don’t Know #091: New Job, Old Cars, New love for Old Friends

Greetings everyone!  It’s nice talking to you again… I come out of a funk to discuss my new job, the havoc of a job change, and log all the little things that happened over nearly a year.

If you loved this episode (and I know you did) get in touch!  Ask us questions and leave sassy comments on the voicemail line ((774) 377-9386)!  Write us emails (epilonious@gmail.com)!  Tweet at us and shtuff!

aim/yim/skype/twitter/: epilonious
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Socially Speaking…

So, Facebook did something sort of silly around the beginning of September.  No, not the usual “Giving a bit too much of your info to people who would use it to try and sell you stuff” gaffe (they’ll continue to do that anyways, they are a public company now and every decision they make has to justify growth and profit to a bunch of shareholders who can be easily stereotyped as that rich great uncle nobody likes who tries to manipulate the family by rewriting the will every other week.)

No, they started going after people making fake profiles.  Worse, they started using really good algorithms to determine which profiles were fake and ended up nailing a good chunk of them rapidly over the span of a couple of weeks.

Now, as a programmer and a fan of social networks… I completely understand why Facebook did this.  They get two very important wins:  Real Profiles don’t grief other people (and if they are dumb enough to do so, they can be censored/censured much easier) and Real Profiles generate much more accurate marketing data (which is very important to that *ist rich uncle stockowner hoping to see Facebook stock value increase).

Unfortunately, they are alienating a subset of people who live mostly by their alias, the ones spoken-of the most are those who legitimately need to maintain a high degree of anonymity (seeking refuge from icky guardians, awful bosses, crazy exes and what-not) and persons undergoing transitions of gender or other aspects of their identity. The ones I HEAR from the most are a gaggle of drag queens whose names got caught in the really good fake-name finding algorithms.  Facebook pretty much whacked the hornets nest.

I am disappointed in Facebook and it’s programmers/planners for being so lazy.  Their answer to the fact that several folks legitimately want to have fake names or be sort-of-anonymous was to freak out and threaten drag queens with a banhammer while trying to force them to publicize themselves through pages (which are what you hand to a publicist so they can badger everyone who ever bothered to like you, and not at all intuitive).

Trying to force people into a model never works.  The prudent programmer allows flexibility in their data models to reflect and fit what people want to do while minimizing the ways people can accidentally or intentionally hurt each other.  I feel that when the dust settles from all this fracas Facebook is going to do what it should have done and allow not-a-real-name profiles where you check a little box saying “this is a pseudonym” and pops up a wizard that helps you set your permissions accordingly (“Are you trying to remain anonymous?  Are there folks you want to pre-block?  Would you like some tips in subtle aggrandization of your shows or dress-making business for $5.99?”).

Meanwhile, I am also sort of annoyed at all the drag queens.  I sympathize with the drag queens who spent years working on their profiles and loading them up with pictures and events and generally filling up the ‘book with all sorts of disruptive innovation.  But if using Facebook outside it’s terms of service was a cornerstone of your publicity empire than maybe that empire needed a disruptive innovation of its own.

I also sympathize with the anonymous folks the drag queens claim to speak for… But all the calls for boycotts and the repeated posting of their username on Ello… ugh Seriously?  Ello?  It’s the underwhelming love child of Twitter and LiveJournal.  It’s buggy and invite-only; you can’t run events or message people; it has no mobile presence;  and you can’t block people or deny friendships.  And you’re recommending this over facebook for all those near-oppressed souls who are trying to get away from evil parents, nosy bosses, and scary exes!?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just say “name yourself John/Jane Smith”?


Fatty is on a diet.

What I mean by “fatty” is:  “Hrm.  I seem to keep pinging 250 lbs… and while it’s nice that my semi-regular gym visits make me look feel like I am only 220 lbs… I should probably start trying to eat better and make those gym visits a bit more regular.”  What I mean by diet is: “instead of going out to eat for two meals a day, or having an entire frozen pizza for dinner, or having corn dogs for breakfast, or having a half pound of random taffy-esque office-candy for lunch, or [insert nutritionally suspect decision here]… I should focus on assembling things from ingredients that don’t come pre-mixed with preservatives and half-an-ocean’s worth of salt and corn syrup.”  I am going to focus on having a piece of fruit and a box of frozen veggies handy for grazing when I feel a bit peckish but don’t want to yet assemble some English Muffin Mini Pizza or make dinner for Eric and I to share.  Finally I’m starting to track what I’m eating for a few weeks to spot check whether certain things are way higher/lower in calories than I suspected… and which foods my body reacts-to as ‘hollow’.  Again.

The push today is because yesterday was particularly bad for my ego: I accidentally wore a shirt that was too tight around the middle on a day that was too warm for a jacket.  Thus I spent the entire day sucking in my gut and generally trying to not inflict my stretching-at-the-button sausage casing on coworkers and the dentist (who I am rather sure don’t give a shit) .  The day was spent eating better and drinking naught but water and going on a 5K treadmill run.  By 8:30 I was exhausted and had to skip out on a Ru Paul Viewing party, and this morning I was sore in the ribs from spending all day asking my diaphragm and abdominal muscles to haul all those pesky organs up into the rib cage.

I don’t wish for my glory days of being near 160 lbs… where I discovered DDR the same time I switched to diet coke and had a late 2 inch growth spurt… and everyone was a bit worried that I had an eating disorder. Instead I’m wishing for my glory days of being near 200 lbs, which at least had me on the top end of “normal” as opposed to pinging against “obese” using the CDC’s increasingly beleaguered BMI index.  Thus, I’m going to do the tracking and the better planning but avoid the “NO YOU CAN’T EAT THAT IT IS DEMON FOOD YOU FAT FAT FATTY FAT FAT” internal dialogue which seems counterproductive.  Especially since people (whether imaginary or real) screaming at me that I can’t do something sets off the precocious inner child who proudly dances around and goes “Just watch me, asshole”.

As I think more and more about diet in general (in terms of ‘eating better’ and not ‘panicky weight loss through fear’)… I notice this trend that there seems to be 400,000 articles out there that seem to say some combination of “I found this thing that worked for me… for as long as I could stand it before I fell off the wagon and went back to un-obsessive eating”  and only 200 of the articles seemed to end with “and it stayed off” and 150 of those were folks who still bike to work every day or are Los Angelino Personal Fitness Gurus.  The other 399,800 articles bemoan an inability to find things that were not low-grade psychological and physical torture and how much it sucks that weight watching in general creates a stress feedback loop designed to fight any mass change.

Cut to me listening to an episode of the Sawbones podcast discussing homeopathy and a prior article about how homeopathy works (and doesn’t)… and I get a little brainstorm to follow-up upon:  Homeopathy should totally be dedicated to diet and exercise.  Cue my rudimentary understanding of Homeopathy:

  • Homeopathic medical technician (HMT) interviews the crap out of you to see what you eat, how it makes you feel, what you do, gets medical history, history of ailments.  Way longer and deeper than general medical practitioners would… (this is basically therapy and generally tends to make people feel better just because they get an ally in understanding whatever is chronically bothering them)
  • HMT looks at an index of things that cause those symptoms given family history and medical studies to make diagnosis of condition(s).  (rather solid here)
  • HMT takes thing that causes those symptoms (willow-bark, arsenic, some other poison) and rather than giving you those poisons, puts that poison in water and dilutes that water 10,000 times so that the “aura” of the poison is in the water and has curative powers (that’s where it gets a bit hokey).

Now… a bacterial infection or cancer is probably still best handled ‘allopathically’ (IE, antibiotics, surgery, and chemotherapy to fight the things that ail you, as opposed water with the aura of something that is like a bacterial infection or your cancer symptoms)… but since diets always seem to fail unless they are painstakingly maintained… I feel like sitting down with someone who can get down to the basics of any food based issues you may have (“You tend to deal with anxiety by living in a house made of candy and not facing your feelings”, “oats make your stomach send acid envoys to your throat to burn out your esophagus”,  “Red Meat turns you into a gas furnace”,  “shrimp makes your gout flare up”, “citrus makes you swell up and die”, “tofu has you chasing the diarrhea dragon”)  and frankly, saying “cake poisons you and gives you massive heartburn, drink this cake-water instead, especially whenever you feel a bit nervous” seems like a good way to handle it.

I’ll get back to you later to see if the strawberry laffy-taffy water, nerd water, or tootsie-roll water helped.  Also, I feel like this is already an industry and has words like “toxin” and “chelating” attached to it a bunch.