When I first started IT Consulting in August 1999 I encouraged clients to keep dynamic content on websites to drive traffic. I tried to follow my own advice by writing daily journal entries until 2002. Over time my "blog" entries became less frequent collection of thoughts while traveling for work.
Upcoming Shows and Concerts:
Thursday, 30th of November, 2023, 4-6pm, Jazz Jam at The Ragtime Oriole, Marble Falls
Friday, 1st of December, 2023, 7pm-9:30pm, Elf in Concert at Majestic Theatre, San Antonio
Sunday, 3rd of December, 2023, 2pm, Heart of Texas Orchestra Concert, Llano
Thursday, 7th of December, 2023, 4-6pm, Jazz Jam at The Ragtime Oriole, Marble Falls
Sunday, 10th of December, 2023, 11am, Cantata at Church at Horseshoe Bay
Saturday, 16th of December, 2023, 7pm, A Candlelight Christmas Concert, Mountain Home
Sunday, 17th of December, 2023, 3pm, Heart of Texas Orchestra Concert at Church at Horseshoe Bay
Tuesday, 19th of December 2023, 7pm, San Antonio Community Orchestra Concert at Coker Methodist Church, San Antonio
Good For: Mazda goes upmarket. Mazda opted not to bring the 3rd generation of the sub compact Mazda 2 to the US market, and instead went upmarket and turned it into the CX-3 crossover. The taller roofline does make it feel roomy for a subcompact. The CX-3 can also can be loaded with nice features. The rental I drove had heads up display, adaptive cruise control, sunroof, and Bose audio. Interior switchgear layout is straight out of the luxury car playbook, with volume and infotainment controls in the middle console by the shifter. The gauge layout reminds me of a motorcycle, with the only gauge being a big tach in the center, and the speed displayed in digits in the corner of the gauge. The stiching and mixture of materials all over the dashboard round off the more upscale, sporty feeling of the interior.
Compromises: Upscale also means up weight. The short wheelbase gives it pretty good zoom zoom handling but it is not a race car. The real Mazda 2 ended up being rebadged as a Toyota in the US market as the Scion iA and Yaris.
Overall reaction - Thumb down: Toyota also gave up on the cheap hatchback race and discontinued the Yaris in the US market in 2020. One might say that Mazda made the right play with the CX-3, but it seems to have just joined a huge field of different $30k subcompact crossovers in the market.
Good For: Mobile office. When I saw the F-150 SuperCrew towering over the other car selections in the Hertz Gold aisle, I went straight for it. But this size is standard in the full sized truck market now, and they make great mobile offices. Everything is where it should be. The middle section of the front bench seat folds down to make a nice working surface. The shifter is mounted on the column, the ignition has a physical key to turn, and all the windows roll all the way down past the massive two-tier door pockets. It's nice to see that in 2023, not all vehicles have been ruined.
Compromises: Unfortunately, electronic parking brakes are the standard now, but that one complaint doens't ruin the truck.
Overall reaction - Two thumbs Up: The tachometer displays a tower of gears vertically ascending from 1 to 10 like a downtown office elevator. Other amusing touches include the truck silhouette on the HVAC recirc button. But what is most delightful is the Coyote 5.0L V8, which sounds like it is straight out of a 5.0 Mustang. The torquey V8 is the way trucks should be, effortlessly climbing up hills without having to shift out of the 10th floor penthouse gear.
Monday, 24th of July, 2023
Good For: Less is more. Mitsubishi's lineup is no longer an enthusiast's dream, and the skinny selection in the US market might have one wondering if they are about to waste away. The Outlander Sport is still based on the same old GS platform. But that platform served the potent Lancer well, and perhaps there is no need to re-invent the wheel. The car is refreshingly straightforward, with the handbrake where it belongs, and CVT modes that don't pretend to simulate gears. D is the most efficient selection, taking every opportunity to use the sub-2000 rpm band, and D-Sport constantly keeps the engine well above 3k and ready for action. It's so simple, and it actually makes it the most enjoyable CVT I have driven, because I actually feel like I am in control, rather than fighting some complex logic.
Compromises: Like other boxy crossovers, the Outlander Sport has the footprint of small car but maximizes utility. This is close to being a really good 5-door, but if you are running a barebones lineup the tall crossover market is the one to grab.
Overall reaction - Thumb up: Even the price is less than the rest of the market. It's nice to see that Mitsubishi is still a good player and staying in the cheap AWD car game.
Sunday, 9th of July, 2023
Good For: Forward looking interior design. VW/Audi interiors have historically been a reliable source of forward-thinking and effective interior designs that then get imitated by other brands. In this A4, the control to pay attention to is the cruise control stalk, which has two notches of up and down, making it easy to increase and decrease the set speed in 5 mph increments. More generally, all controls are well-placed physical controls that help the driver stay focused on drivin the car forward.
Compromises: While the controls are progressive, the A4's overall cabin reflects a very traditional compact luxury car layout. The car's exterior dimensions are larger than my Subaru Legacy, but the interior is relatively cozy. The transmission tunnel is most enormmous, turning the back seat's middle position into child-seat only, and there is almost no center console storage. Also, interior materials do not feel as high quality as Audis in the past.
Overall reaction - Thumb down: Aside from minor creature comfort improvements, the overall driving experience is just a significant step down. The Quattro AWD is not what it used to be, and it wasn't even included in this base spec rental. The 7-speed dual clutch automatic takes its time to find gears, even in S mode, and there is no manual transmission available. The turbo 4 motor gets up to speed nicely, but that is to be expected from the ubiquitous VW powerplant. It also happens to be quite efficient, making the premium gasoline requirement painless.
1. You can feel the mechanical coupling. When the two manuals are coupled, the resistance on the keys doubles, and there is this halfway point at which only one manual sounds because the key has not opened both manuals. When the pedal is coupled, I can feel the corresponding keys moving underneath my left hand! For me, the feedback adds a little confidence to playing.
2. When playing a sustained note, if you add other notes to the chord while sustaining, the original sustained note sometimes bends pitch because of the change to air pressure caused by the opening of other notes. It makes the whole experience more organic than playing a digital instrument with "perfect" pitch.
3. Physical placement of pipes is wild. The order of the lowest pipes in the first rank starting from the left to center is C2, D2, E2, F#2, G#2, A#2, an so on. From the right to center it is C#2, D#2, F, G, A, B, and so on. Even playing within the same octave, notes come dancing in from the extreme left and right from specific places in the "orchestra" in front of you. When there are modulations that call for new notes, they enter like a new instrument that has been resting the whole time, coming from a new source in the rank.
Good For: Cadillac Minivan. The XT6 features all the room and practicality of the Chevrolet Traverse that it is based on, but with an appropriate touch of Cadillac luxury. The interior is well thought out, with an open storage area under the center console and wireless phone charging. The volume knobs and control are on the middle console between the front seats, which is more comfortable than reaching for the dashboard or trying to find buttons on the steering wheel. The big sunroof was great for my drive through the California mountains.
Compromises: The GM 3.6L V6 is a familiar engine that gets the job done, but the torque steer makes this Cadillac driving experience below par.
Overall Reaction - Thumb down: The XT6 is the product of successful badge engineering, as we would never mistaken it for a Buick. But with the GM C1XX platform underneath, it's clearly the aiming lower than the higher end crossovers offered by the German luxury brands.
4th verse of O Come, All Ye Faithful, with some memorable notes from the Willcocks arrangement, of course:
Good For: Little dirt devil. One would think that it's bad business in the car industry to roll with design elements associated with death. But the Renegade's distinctive "X" tail lights had always reminded me of X eyes in dead cartoon characters. And now that I have driven the Renegade I see elements of mischief everywhere. From the driver's seat, the washer nozzles perched on the prominent power dome on the hood remind me of devil horns. The center cabin air vents splay out like nostrils that could breath fire into the cabin. The thick bezel around the infotainment screen right below look like lips and an open mouth about to scream and play death metal. The overspeed area on the tachometer is a splash of dirt that looks just like the spots on those jeans you keep wearing instead of doing laundry. I suppose all this fits with Jeep's overall rebel image. The way the little Renegade drives off road fits too, with a lot of suspension travel to soak up off road terrain. It rolls over the trails more naturally than the average car-based crossover, and the short wheelbase hops around like an ATV.
Compromises: The bouncy ATV feel continues when you get back on the highway. The longer the road trip, the louder the reminder that the Renegade is out of its element. The base sound system's dash and door speakers are in great locations for the sound stage, but it can't keep up with the road noise. The tall cabin makes for great seating accommodations for a small car, but there isn't much room behind the seats for luggage and gear.
Overall reaction - Thumb down: Jeep managed to adapt a front wheel drive Fiat platform to a little off roader worthy of the Jeep image, but that's about it. It's a small $30k car that is not practical, not luxurious, not sporty, and not efficient. It seems to be fine off road, but at this price point you can get a "real" Jeep. Like all other 4-cylinder Jeep cars I have driven it takes a bit of coaxing to get going in traffic. Though every time I cracked the whip in this MY2018 rental the 2.4L Tigershark happily spins up and delivers without drama beyond the expected torque steer, because it doesn't have enough power to say much else. The downkick to 3rd summons a double-rev that sounds like a double-check procedure which is kind of entertaining, but there is no manual transmission option.
Wednesday, 23rd of November, 2022
Thursday, 24th of November, 2022
BMW G26 i4 M50: Electric is the new normal. I have never driven an EV-only car, but BMW nailed what it would take to get me behind the wheel of one. They set up an autocross course, and we drove a half dozen hot laps with an instructor. In short, driving an EV can be just as fun as a combustion car. Everyone talks about how great the instant torque is, but the way an EV car launches is just not that earth shattering to me. It was at the chicane after the launch that I started becoming impressed. The i4 moves like a proper sports car, with lots of grip and very little body roll. I don't own any cars with modern overboosted electric steering, and the pedals don't give much feedback either, so it took me a while to figure out how to give the vehicle smooth inputs and discover where the car's subtle feedback can be found. But this kind of electronic experience has been normal in combustion powered luxury sports sedans for a while now.
BMW G14 M850i xDrive Convertible: AWD convertible. Right after my first experience driving an EV, I tried to find the antithesis in BMW's street drive fleet for comparison. Now this is proper exclusive motoring. AWD convertibles have always been a unicorn, associated with exotics like the Porsche 911 and Lamborghinis. While the soft top is not the ideal track car configuration, I enjoyed driving under the summer sky with commercial jets roaring overhead in the final approach over COTA. In a convertible, the front windshield seems like such a small portal to have been confined to before opening the roof up to the real world. Also, top down is the best way to enjoy the wonderful sound of the good old twin turbo V8. But they should have let the engine speak for itself. I'm sure the exhaust can sound great without having to generate electronic noises. These pops and crackles are fake, I've driven cars with no cats before...
BMW G06 X6 M50i: Twin turbo V8 crossover. The study of contrasts continues, switching now from the low slung view of the open sky to the raised commanding view of the road from the X6. When "4 door coupe" body designs first came out on sedans I failed to see the point, but I like how it works on crossovers. Cars like the X6 are finding that perfect balance between adding a little off road capability without dragging around a tall, top-heavy boxy greenhouse. If I only had a 1 car garage, the X6 would work as a do-it-all vehicle. It has a hatchback, the rear seats are still more comfortable than many sedans, and it handles like a sports car, with the same twin turbo V8 drivetrain from the M850i.
BMW G07 X7 M50i: BMW crossover success. Some of the continuity in the X7's design from the original E53 X5 that launched the entire X-series in 2000 proves how much BMW got right the first time. The rear hatch is still split, with a bottom tailgate opening down like an old Buick Roadmaster wagon. This is superior for the same reason that pickup truck tailgates have been so useful for a whole century. It brings your loading platform down and towards you, making it easier for loading, should you decide to load anything into your luxury SUV. More importantly, it provides a much better seating surface than the various protrusions of weather stripping and latches that you usually find there. BMW's nomenclature can be unreliable but in this case it correctly identifies the same twin turbo V8 as the other cars I have driven, which is also welcome. Even the X7's size increase in over the X5 are modest, and within the original spirit of the BMW crossover. It still feels like a cozy car that I can maneuver and reach around in, rather than a volumous room on wheels.
BMW I20 iX: Room on wheels. BMW's first electric X-series, on the other hand, is quite the different. While the i4 is for people who want a normal car that happens to be electric powered, the iX shares Tesla's approach of departing from familiarity. I like the open area between the front seats, which is historically the way cars were built for moving lots of people. Since there are no transmission or exhaust tunnels, this seems like a no-brainer to me, and it offers some hope that one day the front bench seat will find its way back into cars. The front seats have so little side bolster that one test driver asked if there was a way to adjust it. There is no "fronk" for storage in the front, probably because the cabin is already so far forward and the EV components use up all the space under the hood. The bezels surrounding the instrument screens are gone, which further opens up the inside space to feel more roomy. The single wide screen that remains feels more authentic, versus an instrument cluster display with fake gauges that so many cars now have. Overall, the volume of the iX is not an illusion, and it weighs more than the X7. 4-wheel steering helps with maneuverability, which was highlighted in the tight closed course that BMW set up for the iX in addition to the street drive.
BMW G11 745e: Plug-ins becoming standard. The 7-series in the street drive fleet was a plug-in hybrid, which is a most sensible configuration. Luxury cars are now packed with so many complex features that adding plug-in hybrid functionality is starting to feel as routine as adding a feature package. The 745e is a relatively small price increase over the 740i, and the added convenience of taking short trips without starting the combustion engine is arguably cooler than any set of creature comforts. BMW set the plug-in hybrid trims this way on all their electrified models. Configuring a base model without the plug-in hybrid now feels as wrong to me as leaving heated seats off of the build sheet.
Overall reaction: Two thumbs up to BMW on their approach to electrification. The mix of internal combustion, plug-in hybrid, and pure EV powerplants has made BMW's lineup the most interesting of any car brand. The top of the line M models are still gas-burning enthusiast machines, and the X-series continue to nail the definition of a crossover sports car. Below M models, electrification has been implemented well. I feel like most of the modern BMW driving experience has already become so electronic that it hardly matters what is actually propelling the car anyway. Every basic aspect of driving the car, like steering, shifting, and braking, are now so computerized that using an EV motor actually feels more authentic than firing up a gasoline motor that is now hooked up to complex life support systems with fake noise to remind you it is beating.
Sunday, 5th of June, 2022
Thursday, 19th of May, 2022
Good For: Yoga, meet X1. I have been using Thinkpad Yogas as my primary machine for over 6 years now. This year, our IT department has switched us to the higher end X1 version of the Yoga form factor. The X1 difference is immediately noticeable, with a higher definition 14" touch screen that runs much closer to the edge, offering more screen space without increasing the unit's overall size. I've never enjoyed watching videos on a laptop this much. Thinkpads have had a high standard of durability over the years, and I anticipate that the newer aluminum housing found in the X1 will continue that tradition, but with a more premium feeling to it.
Compromises: The built-in SD card reader has been removed in the X1, but the cheaper X13 Yoga still has it. This is relatively insignificant compared to the other X1 upgrades, however. The Insert key has been re-inserted into the keyboard, but this is a chanage that I've dealt with before.
Overall reaction - Two thumbs Up: Lenovo has done a good job of keeping the Yoga updated. Many of the improvements over the old Yoga 260 this replaces are shared across the entire Yoga line, such as the physical camera shutter and the USB-C power adapter. The speakers have great stereo projection, and are noticeably louder and should handle noisy environments better, but they still have the narrow response range that you find in almost all laptops.
Good For: Small empty box on wheels. Compared to a passenger car, the function of a cargo van lies not with what has, but what it doesn't have. Mechanically the drivetrain and two seats up front resemble a normal car, but behind the seats everything has been stripped out to a hollow box of empty space. There are no windows, sound deadening, or carpeting. The NV200 is a narrow city vehicle, but the cargo area extends almost 7 feet long. The car chassis has a low floor, so you can pile quite a bit of stuff into it from floor to ceiling. Hooks are built into the exposed, bare metal chassis, allowing you to strap things down. I didn't fully appreciate how tall this van is until I started backing it into the garage, and found myself getting out to double-check that it would clear the garage door. It's sits almost as tall as full-size SUVs. But the cargo doors swing out, which work well in tight spaces, and you don't have worry about the hatch colliding with garage doors.
Compromises: Despite being a purpose-built work vehicle, the NV200 seems to lack consideration that a person might spend all day working out of it. While the Ford Transit Connect has the thoughtful overhead storage area, the NV200's storage slots are few and slim, and the overall driving experience resembles a base Versa. Seat comfort is austere, and while the standard audio system has USB ports, the speakers have poorer range than my 24 year old truck.
Overall reaction - Thumb down: Compact van heaven would be a useful mix of big cargo capacity with the civility of a car-like driving experience, serving the function of a super versatile wagon. Vans like the Ford Transit Connect seem to nail this. But the NV200 messed up the recipe, and feels like a 7/8th scale alley van missing any car features that make it tolerable as a daily driver.
Good For: Outback Impreza. When Subaru started the "Crossover" trend in the 1990s with the Outback, they didn't just do it with the Legacy wagon. They also offered an Outback "Sport" which shared the body of the smaller Impreza, rather than the Legacy. Today, that offering is the Crosstrek, which shares the same body dimensions as an Impreza, but the packaging is now a bit more exclusive than just the cosmetic upgrades that we got 25 years ago. The Crosstrek itself now has its own pallete of trims, with the very fancy Hybrid Touring at the top, which is the one I drove. In addition to all the nice things like leather, sunroof, and navigation, it has the distinction of being the only Subaru offered with a hybrid powertrain. In the first generation Crosstrek the hybrid is a mild "parallel" system that gains extra efficiency in city driving with regenerative braking and shutting off the gasoline engine at traffic lights. The newer, current generaton hybrid advances into plug-in charging capabilities and sustained electric-mode driving.
Compromises: The crossover market boomed, and like the Outback, Subaru marketing spun the Crosstrek off as a separate model, where it outsells the Impreza by at least 2:1. But between these two 5-doors that share the same dimensions, I'll just take the Impreza with the 5-speed manual in Sport trim.
Overall reaction - Thumb up: Among Subaru's current offerings, the Impreza platform is the one that feels most like the fun, rally-inspired cars that I've grown to love in the brand. The Crosstrek doesn't have all the turbo rally equipment that the STi does, but the spirit of the Impreza's size and handling can be felt while driving the Crosstrek. The mild suspension lift over the Impreza is true to the original spirit of the crossover, applying some of that rally heritage towards practical utility for when you want to do a little exploring off of pavement. The Outback Sport lives on, in the form of the Crosstrek.
Nissan Pathfinder (4th generation R52)
Good For: Crossing paths with minivans. Nissan has historically done a fairly good job of not confusing the SUV with the crossover, giving us solid truck-based off-road offerings like the Xterra and Pathfinder, while the Murano and Rogue were created for those that wanted a more car-like driving experience. However, for the 4th generation, the Pathfinder took a turn off of the 4x4 route and was redesigned as a unibody crossover. The advantages of this path for growing families are obvious when you get inside, as the low floor provides a lot more room on the inside for all 3 rows, and it generally feels like sitting in a minivan. The front-wheel-drive-based CVT drivetrain is also impressively efficient for such a large vehicle, beating out minivans, while retaining the solid sounding VQ35 V6. It is no wonder that the Quest was discontinued, as the Pathfinder is a clear replacement for it.
Compromises: By turning the mid-sized 3-row SUV into a minivan, Nissan has joined other manufacturers in forcing those that want a true 4x4 into their larger, more expensive offering, the Armada. But the market is now trending back towards rugged SUVs, and while the new 2022 Pathfinder has squared off styling, underneath it is still this same crossover that I drove.
Overall reaction - Thumb down to Nissan for essentially killing off their 4x4 offerings, and turning the Pathfinder into a minivan.
Monday, 5th of July, 2021
Thursday, 1st of July, 2021
Friday, 11th of June, 2021
Monday, 4th of January, 2021
Tuesday, 15th of December, 2020
Saturday, 12th of December, 2020
Tuesday, 15th of September, 2020
I used to have a preference for San Antonio because you can walk right in from the covered intermediate parking garage, and having 2 separate terminals gave it less of a “big airport” feel while still serving the same destinations. Austin just completed a nice new daily/intermediate parking garage, so both airports have that perk now, plus AUS rental car facilities are on site vs the off site shuttle ride for SAT.
Over the last 10 years AUS has built up a lot more destinations and increased frequency of flights - it used to be not such a difference from SAT. SAT also used to be generally cheaper, but because of the expansion at AUS with new carriers the competition has really driven down prices as they jockey for certain routes.
Based on price and schedule I usually fly out of AUS now. Also, the fuller flight schedule is an advantage if you encounter delays or cancellations, because it gives you more alternative flight options. Once my SAT morning flight got cancelled and everyone got rebooked for the next day because that was the only flight of the day. Before Covid-19 changes, AUS was on track to be like the best airport ever. I loved the direct flight to London.
Tuesday, 8th of September, 2020
Sunday, 6th of September, 2020
Friday, 4th of September, 2020
Thursday, 3rd of September, 2020
Wednesday, 2nd of September, 2020
Tuesday, 1st of September, 2020
Youtube Video - We took the fast track north through Fort Worth - Chisholm Trail Parkway to the I-35W express lane. A bunch of UP locomotives are still sitting in a line at the rail yard.
Friday, 17th of July, 2020
Tuesday, 10th of December, 2019
Monday, 9th of December, 2019
Sunday, 8th of December, 2019
Saturday, 7th of December, 2019