Sunday, May 24, 2015

Audi, round one

I started the car search today with two test drives.   I stopped off at Audi of Tyson's Corner.   Amusingly, the moment I parked, a salesman swooped in on me.   I told him I had never looked at Audi before, so wanted to look at some cars, noting the A3, A4, S3 and S5 as ones to start with.  

He led me around the lot, and frankly wasn't that great - he pointed me at specific (used) cars on the lot, walking me around, but ultimately not answering my questions well.  The 2013 S5 he showed me - but I didn't drive - was closest to what I might like.  After a stop inside at the computer to look at stock, when I started asking about leases, he finally took me to the new car sales people - and I realized he was a used sales person, and couldn't do the new ones.   (A frustrating note - I wanted to see cars, and he was fixated on price, using high end ones to discover my limits.   I didn't like him much)

Thankfully, my new sales person was much better.   After a bit of discussion, we got to a bit of a comparison - I would compare an A5 and a S3.

I drove the A5 first.    After a briefing on the tech, I took it out for a spin.   It did feel tight in driving it, with good acceleration.   The accelerator felt like it had between 3 and 4 speeds.   The dash was impressive - felt like a hi tech car should.   It's notable that the roof doesn't open, just pops up.

Next, the S3.   Very similar tech, but the dash is totally different.   A pop up display, and circular vents made it look rather like a classic Mustang interior with a screen bolted in.   This sucker took off - I could tell the engine had that 70+ more horsepower, and the options for controls (comfort versus dynamic) made the steering and control a lot different.  

Comparable prices.   My ideal lease payment is $400/month with 10k in miles, and I suspect I can get the S3 in this.  It was Memorial Day, and so they were looking to make a deal, but knew we were a bit off.   Super kudos to my sales guy, AJ Pinnamraju, who was not high pressure here.   We discussed what I wanted, my timeline, the fact I wanted to compare, and while he distinctly tried to get something going, was very reasonable about the process and next steps.   He clearly redeemed the first guy, and the dealership.

S3 preferred on these, and it feels better and cooler and more tech than the Acura TLX I drove back in January.   The A5 is nice, but not nearly as much fun.  

Both have nice tech packages - I'm amused by Audi Connect, which apparently makes the car a hot spot.   Apparently it's 4G LTE - powered by AT&T.   I wonder if I can use my T-Mobile plan.   Worth understanding more here.  Streaming music this way is super cool.   I love the idea of streaming from my car rather than my iPhone.   

Pending my schedule, BMW next.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Let the car search begin!

I’ve started a bit of a car search, and I turned to the interwebs to do the search.   Amusingly, my efforts produced quite a starting list of vehicles.     Based on the response on Facebook, I’m going to try and do some blogs on it.  

The basic premise is this.   I have 4 more payments on my lease of a 2013 Acura ILX, a car which I’m not particularly pleased with.  After owning a 2005 Acura TL and then a 2010 Acura TSX, both of which I liked, the ILX is underpowered and feels cheap.   I’m determined to do better this time around, and so I’m being much more deliberate in my search.

In January, I test drove an 2015 Acura TLX — a perfectly reasonable car.   It was better than the ILX by a lot, but felt a bit “big”.   So, here I go on the search. 

Scott Lepre messaged me after my Facebook post, and asked some very reasonable questions.  Here’s his questions — and my answers.

1. What's most important: power (ie, speed, accleration) or handing/feel. There are many options for power but "feel" is something you really only appreciate once you've had a car with it.

Tough question!   I think I’d have to say feel, although it’s been a while since i had that.   One of my measurements of fun of a car is that moment when you’re at a stop light — does the accelerator cause the vehicle to take off, or is there a delay?  Does the accelerator have more than two modes — moving and really moving — which is what the ILX has, or do I feel like I can precisely control the acceleration, the way I could with the TL or the TSX.




2. Do you care about all wheel drive vs. front or real wheel drive. I always like awd but it does limit your choices. I also need to be able to get to work regardless of snow so I need awd.


I’ve never had AWD. I don’t care about weather that much — if it’s snowy and I don’t want to go out, I won’t. I work from home, so this isn’t a “need to get to the office” or “need to get the kids” kind of car. If it’s nasty out, I stay home. I want the car to handle well, and if AWD gets me that, great, else, well, whatever is most fun.

3. Do you care about 2 door vs. 4 doors.

Not really. My family is Sharon, myself, and our two cats. In my ILX, I can likely count on one (maybe two) hands the number of times I need the back seats for passengers. It needs to fit Sharon and I and a weekend of luggage, or my own bags for a week or two of travel to the airport, and that’s probably it.


4. What is your target price range?

Ah, price. I actually don’t look at cars as a “how much am I paying for the vehicle”. I look at how much the monthly payment is, and does it get what I want. I paid $425 a month for the TL. I paid $452 a month for the TSX. I pay $395 a month for the ILX. I anticipate I could probably put down about $3K or $4K for my new lease, and I’d like to keep the monthly payments the same. Or, I could always buy the car and get a 1.99% type APR, but I anticipate I’m going to want a new one in about 3 years anyway (the Tesla Model III comes out then!), so I’d be selling it at that point, so the goal is enough value in the car to get rid of it then. Thus, the goal isn’t price as much as monthly budget. From basic research, without looking at a specific price, it seems that cars in the $35K - $45K are all doable on a lease of about $400/$450 a month. I’m happier at $400, slightly less at $450, but we’re looking to land in this range.

The current list of vehicles on the “To Test Drive” list.

Audi: S3, S5, A4, A5, TT
MW: 235i (or possible 3/4 series)
Mercedes B
enz: C-350, E350
Lexus: RC 350
Ford: Fusion, Mustang

I'm eliminating the following:

Lincoln MKS - just don't like the look.
Chevy Volt -- look, plus if I'm doing electric, I'm going to buy a Tesla.  I’d need to do an electric hookup at the house, which isn’t standard on the townhouse, and so that’s a fight for another year.   

I'm also eliminating the Hot Hatch category, more just because while I get it, I'm not a huge fan. The Mini Cooper, Volkswagan MKVII GTI and Ford Focus ST Ecoboost are all nice vehicles, but just not for me.

The target is to get the new vehicle around late July / August, and I figure considering how much research and test drives I have to do, I’m going to need the time.   Finance deals from the dealer matter  if they make it easier, thats an influence.  While my lease expires in August, Virginia state law says I can go month-to-month for up to two years, so I’m not under time pressure.

I’m currently thinking I’ll blog it all — why not!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Am I missing the boat on Blu-Ray?

I'm a media junkie, I admit it.

I love all kinds of movies, TV shows, music, video games, and the like.    I'm also a wanna be audio and , , videophile -- I wish I was into super high quality, but ultimately, I like a bit of convenience instead, and will sacrifice a touch of that "perfection" because in the end... I don't think I can tell the difference.

A great example of that is something with my love of Sonos.   I love Sonos devices, and I have them all over my house.   I recently replaced my Bose surround sound system in the living room, which delivered 5.1 Dolby Surround sound, with the Sonos kit, knowing that the Sonos stuff is delivering a "faux" 5.1 experience, only in that my TV doesn't do the 5.1 pass through on the digital audio line, meaning that my Sonos is actually doing upscaling or some voodoo to make the 5.1 surround I hear.  It doesn't really matter to me, tho, as it sounds good and I like the additional features I get in favor of sacrificing this.

And so I've been thinking about Blu-Ray recently.   I own a pile of DVDs -- collected over the years -- and when the shift to HD happened, I resisted buying all my content again.   Frankly, I didn't want to spend the money.. again.  

But slowly I've been collecting HD movies... by buying them on iTunes.   It's because it's easy -- i have Apple TVs all over the house, I have my iPad for watching on the go -- and the content is easily available wherever I want to watch it, including just on my desktop in a window in the corner.   Since Sharon isn't a "movie buff" in the way that I am, I tend to see movies for the first time on the big screen, and only on occasion do we sit down to watch one together.    My movie watching is more about seeing the story again than it is about a first time cinema experience.

So I skipped Blu-Ray.    More discs didn't seem like the solution.

This morning, in doing my morning blog reading, I read about the demise of Blockbuster and there was some commentary on how streaming really can't replace stores yet, mostly because not everything is available.  (And they are right -- things like Star Wars aren't available yet on HD Streaming, or even on iTunes).

Am I missing the boat here on Blu-Ray?  Can it be part of my portable movie experience?  Should I consider a short list of "must have" DVDs, and not try and recreate my collection?   Is the quality that much better that I'll actually notice?  

I might end up with a Blu-Ray player.  I have my eye on an original PS3, because the retro gamer in me wants the ability to play PS1, PS2, and PS3 games on a single console, and so I could end up with a single player in the house.  

Am I missing something?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

What I learned when my wife lost her passport. AKA: Dave's new prep list

Sharon had her passport stolen.

Despite all our normal planning, we fell victim to theft, and her purse, containing everything about her, was taken from a bar in Barcelona.  I'm not going to recount the crime itself, but what I learned as even a seasoned traveler like myself could take away from the experience.  Finding a printer was a hassle, finding pictures was a hassle, getting cash was hard... there was so much about it that was a pain.

Let's assume for a moment you are left without any stuff.  No passport, no phone, none of your credit cards, etc.   What do you wish you had done prior that would have made the process entirely easier?

- carry two forms with you, both easily available.   These are the DS-11 and the DS-64 (available here).    Don't fill them out at all, and when something happens, don't sign it until you are told to when at the embassy and the consulate.

- print your backups of your passport.   I scan everything so I have copies -- but realized I'd be spending a bunch of time printing it, since it took us over an hour to get everything and then print it for Sharon.

- carry a backup credit card.  And if traveling with someone else, swap one credit card.    I'm going to get an additional card and put it in my travel stuff with those forms I just referenced.

- and make one of your cards an American Express card.  Sharon got into a touch of cash trouble at the consulate, and discovered that AmEx holders can get money sent via Western Union for this kind of emergency.

- Seal it all in an envelope that you then sign, so you know if it's been tampered with.  This stays in the hotel safe during your stay.

Lessons learned.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Business Model for Comic Books

I let my geek flag fly a bit this weekend.    My birthday was Thursday of last week, and Sharon indulged me by letting me pick the plans for the weekend, and so running the Electric Run at National Harbor on Friday made the list, and going up to Baltimore Comic Con was the plan for the weekend, mostly Saturday with a bit of overflow to Sunday.

I've been reading comics since I was 10.   I actually have every book I've ever bought (or been given), and my first two comic books were gifts from my sister to read on the day we moved to London.   (For fellow nerds, I actually remember the two issues… GI Joe Number 10 and Transformers Number 5, and yes, I have them both).


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I've been buying comics a very long time.   I'm not going to focus on the con as much as some thoughts on comic purchasing as it's changed, and how I think it should consider moving forward.   

I've almost always bought my comics from small local dealers.   When we lived in the UK, I either bought my comics from the "Stars and Stripes", which were the bookstores on US bases that imported books, magazines and comics, or I went into London proper and visited Forbidden Planet, where I would buy my comics and fill in back issues.  When we moved back the the US, I switched to using comic shops in the US.  When I went to college, I actually took about three years off from collecting, and about my senior year of college, started back up again, and to this day, I have the same comic book shop that I use, ordering from "The Comic Cubicle" in Williamsburg, where my books get shipped up on a monthly basis.

Most of my friends that I know that read comic books also still go to comic book shops to buy comics.  (It does make you wonder how kids today would get into comics at all, but I stopped into a Toys R Us today, and discovered a section of well placed comic books right in the middle of the action figures, so I guess that's how you'd buy them now).    For most, at some point if you start trying to collect comic books on a regular basis, you'll find a comic shop.

This is important as I think about digital comics.   I will say, I love the idea of digital comics.  I love the idea of having copies of anything that I read available on my iPad when I want it.    Like most, I've switched to this for music a while ago, with all my music long having been digitized, and thus available all over my house and on all my devices.   I've started switching all my media purchases to the same model, forgoing Blu-Ray in favor of HD downloads, wanting to have my media available in all the ways I might consume it.  In response, I've seen the new "Combo Packs" come out, where Blu-Ray, DVD, and digital download are bundled together.  Perfect.  

Even my books are moving this way.  I'm very pleased at Amazon's recent announcements of Kindle Matchbook, where Amazon is going to make available books I've previously purchased either for free or for a small fee.   This is ideal -- I don't like rebuying things, and so it's fantastic that I don't have to.

And thus, we get brought to comics.    Comics are in desperate need of a solution here.    Marvel has tried to offer codes in each comic, where you can peel back a sticker and enter a code and download the issue.   This has two flaws -- first, I don't want to have to sit and enter a code for each of a stack of comics, and second, it's not all publishers, so this would help with my Marvel books, but not my DC, Dynamite, or independent publishers.

Borrowing a bit from my own industry, that makes me think about distribution.   Amazon and iTunes both have latched onto being a distributor.   In IT, we have the same model, and many cloud services are being delivered the same way.   So it seems, in a world where comic dealers are looking for ways to be more "relevant", it seems like using the dealers as a way to sell me this service would be rather simple.

I have a "subscription box" at my dealer now.   He knows what I purchase, and tracks it for me.  It could easily be part of the service for  comic dealers to add the digital portion to (for example) my Comixology account, and make those issues I purchase available for me. I'd even pay for this -- it could be a per issue charge, or it could be a "subscription" service on a monthly basis.   

I'm not sure about the older issues -- this seems like an area of opportunity to explore.   With this many years of backissues in my collection, paying for each one isn't likely to happen -- but it would be nice to have a way to purchase some at "less than cover" prices.  I've seen classic issues going for near retail pricing online, and that's just not going to happen.

Digital comics are great -- but unlike my other music and movies, I actually want this to follow more like what Amazon is doing.  I want BOTH a physical and a digital copy…. but I don't want to pay full price twice for the same content.  This has to be doable.







Thursday, September 5, 2013

What do you want to hear about?

I have the writing bug again.

Last time I started thinking about the writing bug, I was encouraged by Erick Simpson and Karl Palachuk to write about virtualization, and started cranking out blogs, which eventually became my book.  (Which, FYI, I just released on Kindle).

I've also had a long list of article requests for things that I wrote for other publications, which I usually throw up on my Facebook page to share.  (Which reminds me, I have to put them on my MVP Profile…)

And now, I've been thinking about firing it up again and tackling something.   But the question is… what?

I could tackle managed services again, or cloud, or something else… but what is the question?   What does the channel want more on?   

I have motivation and interest, but no great topic.    So I thought I'd ask… what are you wondering about?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Security paranoia in a location aware world

I know I'm super paranoid about security.  

My wife still gives me hell because she doesn't have access to my computers or phones, and has no password access to any of my stuff.   I carefully manage audit trails of my things, so I can ensure the best possible security for my identity.  (In fact, I couldn't use the blogger app on my ipad for this post, because two-factor authentication is setup on my google account to my US cell phone, and I'm using my UK one while traveling.   So I used the web interface instead)

However, I wondered today about the use of certain data from a corporate espionage perspective today as I was considering a Foursquare checkin.   I'm a fan of collecting check-ins these days, and a new stop in a new city is a great way to remember it when viewing my travel log.    As my thumb hovered over the check in, I realized.... "hey, wait... I'm going to a meeting to discuss a potential deal.     That deal isn't out.   Could someone figure out what I was doing just based on where I was?"

I think the answer is no in this case - this is a big city with lots of reasons to be here, and so I moved on.   But is this something to think about in the future?   Will companies use social media information to make competitive decisions?   Can it reveal more about what's going to happen rather that what has or is happening?

Checking in at the office of the deal is stupid - but can you read into the broader location?

Something to consider.