2014-11-22

10,000 Miles With a Dream Car

That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

The cars in the wall posters in the bedrooms of adolescents usually don't have a badge with 6 stars on it. If I'm honest, mine didn't either, until much later in life. And I'm talking metaphorically, so don't start thinking this is getting weird. With international feeds of TV hard to come by, and a complete lack of cable in my household when I was younger, it wasn't until the late 90's when I found Formula 1 and the World Rally Championship. I was wholly familiar with all of the players in F1, but there was a lot about the manufacturers in WRC that intrigued me. Most of all, that the makers of that junked up Brat down the street were involved, and their car was just plain FAST! Consider my curiosity piqued. The more I dug, and the more I learned, the broader my fascination with Subaru grew, and the bigger a fan I became of both Subaru, and what they were doing, as well as their prodigy Colin McRae as a driver - if it had wheels, he could drive it faster, and better, and cleaner, and with less effort than anyone. You can keep your José Canseco and Joe Montana - Colin was my hero; this guy can DRIVE!

Sadly, at the time, there wasn't a whole lot of performance at the dealerships in the U.S. from Subaru. Until 1998. Car & Driver, which I was an avid fan of at the time ran an article about this new "Impreza" that Subaru was going to be bringing to the States very soon, and it was pretty decent looking for a converted econo-box; its performance numbers were really stout. The Impreza 2.5RS had clean lines, and aggressive styling for the time. Above that, it was affordable. It took me two years before I could make fiscal sense of cashing in my chips (an '87 Nissan D-21) for a 2000 2.5RS Impreza, but when I did, it became instantly worth it. It was a very enjoyable car, and had the right mix of economy and performance, size and capacity, style and function. Still, it lacked... something. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. 

Then, I learned about what they were selling in Japan - turbocharged versions of my car. Their styling was even more aggressive, and boy, they were sexy! There were many versions of the same thing, as the Japanese were fond of doing at the time, and there was one in particular that is still on my top 3 list: The Impreza 22B. A monster of a car with a 2.2 liter opposed four pumping out 280HP (limited to that in Japan, but was capable of well over 350) with flared fenders, an adjustable wing, a unique hood, and upgraded suspension. It was built to celebrate Subaru's 3rd WRC Championship claim, but it might as well have been built to hang on a poster on my wall - I had a new dream car. The pursuit for the turbo-powered Impreza began.

Forced Decision

Since getting my 2000, there wasn't a time that I didn't want an Impreza. Unfortunately, I lost my first one. I had to settle for a couple of other cars in the interim, but it finally came to a head shortly after the 2004 models were released. I was having mechanical issues with my Eclipse that were going to be expensive to fix, so I decided to sell it. To replace it, I followed my heart, and picked up a 2004 WRX. I couldn't afford the STi, or the insurance for it at the time, delightful as it may have been, I'm sure, but I just couldn't swing it. But I was happy with my purchase, and it treated me really well. I spent a long time with that car, and was really happy with it. I spent a lot of time and effort in making a number of tweaks to make it just right for me, but even off the showroom floor, it was really satisfying to drive.

To Every Thing, Mod, Mod, Mod

Besides being a pleasure to drive, the car was just plain comfy. But if you spend any amount of time in a particular place, particularly during a commute, where you have lots of little bits of free time to absorb completely, your surroundings, you can begin to nitpick. Well, I did. First off, I don't think that one should modify things just for the sake of modifying things. So, the first question that is typically asked of the owner of a car like this is, "You got any mods?" Yes. But they were slow in coming, and carefully considered. I typically didn't replace parts unless they were broken, or worn out, or if by doing so, I would be improving the behavior or comfort of the car in a marked and intentional manner. Lowered springs was the first thing I changed, which improved the ride resolution and performance. Seventeen inch wheels and tires. Slotted brake rotors in front and back to go along with the more grippy brake pads. When I changed the clutch, I also changed to a lightweight flywheel. When the struts gave out, I upgraded those too. The radiator started to leak, so I got an aluminum one. The battery died, so I replaced it with an Optima Red Top.

But there were a slew of other things that I did for my own comfort. All of the interior lighting on the dials was initially green - a horrible choice if you do any amount of driving at night. So, I changed all of the lighting to red. Even the "AUTO" on the driver's power window switch had to be changed from one green LED to two red LEDs. I changed the LCD of the radio, and inverted the LCD for the odometer, and filtered their light as well. The bulb covers that I initially used eventually wore out, and turned pink if they didn't just simply break, and they also made the needles very dull because the light was filtered twice, so I eventually switched to stage lighting gels which restored the needles, and gave a much more consistent color. I made the passenger's map light red so they could look at a map without destroying my night vision. The clock was also green, so that had to be changed. I searched for a long time to find a clock that would work to no avail, so I began looking instead, for one that I could make. Once I found one, I designed a circuit for it, and decided to relocate the clock, because the spot where the clock was would make a perfect place for the data logger that I had. The new location of the clock required a mount to place it correctly, and that meant that the interior panel that it was going to attach to was going to have to be refinished, so I sanded the glossy pewter metallic color off of it, and painted it flat black. I also did this to all of the matching plastic bits in the interior, which included the radio and HVAC bezel, the bezels on the HVAC ducts, and even the rings around the gauges in the dash board. Eventually, I decided to do this to the head unit as well, and it turned out quite nicely when I reassembled the faceplate, and laser-etched all of the numbers and letters back into the face plate. I added a 110V A/C power supply driven by the alternator, with a switch to turn it off and on, and an ignition relay so it couldn't be left on while the car wasn't running. I mounted three plugs for it in the knee well on the passenger's side. Having to cut into that plastic bit, I had to re-finish that, so I wrapped it in micro-suede, along with the rest of the surrounding interior bits. The shift boot didn't match, so I made one out of the same material, and stitched it with thick red carpet thread. I wanted to be able to play mp3s in the car, and was very heavily against iDevices, so I found a guy that had made this piggy-back device that you splice into the data line for the CD player, which required you to have a silent CD (not to be confused with blank) in your player, and then allowed you to plug any audio source you wanted into the stereo pair of RCA jacks on the back. I hacked up a 12v to USB converter, and included it in a junction box so that with one plug I could charge, and pull audio from my mp3 player. Many years later, this turned out to be really easy to accomplish with an iPod and a lightning connector. Even my tint was custom - the strip across the top, I had to have them do a second time to get it right, but it blocked the setting sun, and still allowed visibility of traffic signals.

In the end, everything was _just_ the way I wanted it.

A Sad Farewell

It wasn't until the middle of June, nearly 8 years after the initial purchase date, as a result of perhaps poor life choices, but certainly with a little bit of luck, and sometimes, only with a hope and a prayer, that I finally got it paid off. Perhaps it's a little sad, but at this point in my life, my 2004 WRX was my best friend.

But things were looking up. A couple of things in my life turned around, and the future was looking very promising. My WRXy was less than 1000 miles from the 200k mark, and I was looking into seeing what I could do to replace him. 200k was my goal before I got rid of him. And I drove all but maybe 15 miles. He was a great car, and gave me no significant problems, but he was starting to show his age. In the ten years that I'd owned him, we'd been all over together, including a cross-country trip from Southern California to Florida, and back through Georgia, and Alabama. He'd been to every state I have, save three. He dipped his toes in the Atlantic before I did. And he'd happily cruise along at 80+ through Texas for over 12 hours without complaint. He was a GREAT car. WRXy had plenty of power, and was so much fun to drive; I never got out of him without a smile on my face. I performed as much of my own maintenance as I possibly could. Save for rebuilding the gearbox when the center diff snap-ring let go, and was eaten by the transfer gears, and the occasional oil change that I didn't have the time or facilities to perform, all of the work was mine. If conditions were right, I was down to 12 minutes to do my own oil change, without even jacking him up. His personality meshed well with mine. He did everything that I asked of him, and even managed to keep my ego in check now and then, reminding me that while he will do what I ask, he is bigger than I am - gently, and graciously. I was REALLY looking forward to 200k. What could be next?

I had gotten a new job, and on the way home from work one day, on my way home to change clothes before school. The exit from the freeway by my house is a little weird; It's two streets in one. There's a frontage road next to the freeway that connects one street to the other, and to get to the second street, you have to get off the freeway, and cross the first street on this frontage road. I was first in line in my lane, and I watched two lanes of the southbound traffic on the first street come to a stop, indicating they had a red light, and my green was up next. I got my green, and took off across the first street, noticing out of the corner of my eye a vehicle that didn't appear to be slowing down in the number 3 lane of the first street. I wouldn't have been able to stop in time, so my only option was to let him hit me, or give it the beans. The time it took for him to cross the limit line, and reach my rear quarter seemed like forever, but in reality was some small fraction of a second. I got spun around a bit more than 180°, but still had my wheel turned left to counter the hit, so I rolled backwards up the curb and off the street, stopping just pressed up against a guardrail over a 35' drop. Lucky? Maybe. I knew as soon as I got out to inspect the damage that he was a goner. My insurance offered me a gracious buy-out, and I called the Subaru dealer. I had just gone to look at the first arrival of the 2015 WRX the week prior, and was waiting to hear that they'd gotten an STi in, so I could drive it, and compare it to the WRX before I made my decision. Still, I would have to say goodbye to my beloved friend - that was a sad day indeed.

It Figures

I have to be honest here. I loved the body style of the 2004-2005 Impreza. There are elements of the 2006-2007 that I liked even more. It seemed like they just kept getting better and better. Then came the 2008s. A 4-door hatchback made no sense to me, and despite the commonality of parts, and the slight bump in power, the styling didn't impress me one bit. I knew that at some point, I was going to want to replace my 2004, and I hoped that the styling guys at Subaru undid the ugly that they had made of the 2008s at some point in the near future because I didn't know just when I was going to be able to or when I would need to replace WRXy. For a while, I was even keeping my eyes open for an older 2.5RS like I had before, just to keep my options open. And then, I saw the concept drawings for the 2015, and holy crap, that car was gorgeous. The concept car that debuted at the 2013 New York Auto Show was even better. It was clean, and tidy, with really aggressive styling. All of the information that I was hearing about it was checking all of the right boxes for me. I was really looking forward to seeing the released version. I'm telling you, they could have released the concept as-is, and it would have worked like a charm. It was beautiful.

What was eventually released was.. muted. There are still plenty of aggressive styling nuances, but it still shares sheet metal with the econo-box Impreza, and you can tell. Don't get me wrong, it's not an unattractive car, and I don't dislike its looks, but after the tease that the concept car was, I couldn't envision anything but the straight release of the concept car as anything but a disappointment. That took m a while to get over. Even looking at photos of the concept now, I'm still really disappointed that they didn't simply release _that_ car. A couple of weeks before I was hit in my 2004, I called the dealer that I bought it from to ask if they had any 2015s that could be driven to see what all the fuss was about. They invited me for a test drive.

There were two trim levels that I had any interest in; the WRX, and the STi. Understanding the difference between them is a bit challenging, but if you'll indulge me, I'll see if I can make sense of it. My 2004 WRX was powered by a 2.0 liter horizontally opposed 4 cylinder engine that used forced induction via a turbo to increase power output to 227hp & 220lb/ft of torque. It was mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox, which powered all four wheels via Subaru's symmetrical all wheel drive system. The suspension was coil springs over MacPherson type struts with a lower control arm in the front, and a multi-link setup in the rear. The body shell is identical between the two, but there are minor styling features that distinguish one from the other, including the large wing that most people notice on the STi. This was powered by a 2.5 liter horizontally opposed 3 cylinder engine that used forced induction to reach 305hp and 300lb/ft of torque. It put the power down through a 6 speed manual gearbox with an electronically controlled center differential which altered its handling characteristics when desired. The suspension was more perfomance-oriented, with stiffer springs, shorter stroke, and more robust performance dampers. It also got several interior features that weren't available in the WRX.

For 2015, there were a couple of major differences, to set them apart. The biggest of which, is the use of a completely different drive train in the WRX - gone are the unequal length headers that fed the turbo, which is responsible for that signature Subaru burble that the exhaust made. The STi drive train was a carry-over from the previous generation, however on both vehicles, the 2015 suspension was vastly improved over the previous year, as was the chassis, chassis stiffness, and its roll properties. The WRX was available with a CVT transmission to go with its new engine, which I'll talk more about in a bit. The only exterior styling cue, other than the wheels, and badges to tell the WRX from the STi is the (functional) spoiler in the back. The STi also got LED headlights, and a couple of interior options that are not available in the WRX.

Rush to Judgment

I arrived at the dealer ready to be thrilled. There were only two WRXs on the lot, and one was already spoken for. The model that was available to drive was equipped with the CVT. I had heard about this legendary handling that these new cars were given, and I wanted to feel the difference between the STi and the WRX myself - I had never driven an older STi, so before I placed my order, or got my heart set on one thing or another,I wanted to be sure that it was tolerable, that the wife would like it, and that it wasn't too much of a sacrifice on comfort for performance. The test drive was good, and I was really impressed with the car overall - they had really matured in the last 10 years since I bought mine. Fit and finish is nice, and the interior was quite a comfortable place to be. I suppose the new 2.0 liter engine isn't horrible, but I have to say, that it's missing that 'Subaru-ness' that is the "boxer rumble". That signature sound is part of its character; part of what made a Subaru distinctive. Without it, it's that much closer to being just another import. The suspension feel was incredible. But the transmission was terrible. I completely understand if you're the kind of person that wants to just get in the car and drive, and tactile feedback and the sensation of it all makes no never mind to you, but for me, I want to feel connected - part of the process of driving. I love the feel of it, and the feedback that the car gives to communicate to you what you can and cannot do. The CVT, even with it's "manual" mode just wasn't. It wasn't manual. It wasn't responsive. It wasn't connected. I didn't feel like I had any control over it at all. The slush-box in my 87 Nissan pickup was more responsive. Overall, I walked away thinking that I would probably be satisfied if I were to get the 6-speed WRX, but I still wanted to give the STi a drive.

And then the accident came.

And I HAD to get another car. I had no doubt that I wanted to get a Subaru. Impreza was nearly a foregone conclusion. The choice was WRX or STi. I called up the dealer again, seeing if they had an STi in yet that I could drive. It was a day or two before they said that one was available. I got there as soon as I could to come see it. I felt special, because the internet sales manager said he hadn't even gotten a chance to drive one yet, so he was excited to see what they could do. The test drive was bliss. It was everything I wanted. The seats were comfortable. the ride was firm, and responsive, but not abusive. The wheel felt good in my hands, and the gearbox was slick to shift. The clutch was a different feel, and would take some getting used to, but that's no big deal. Visibility was great, and there was lots of power, and plenty of untapped ability waiting to be unleashed. Of course, I didn't really know what it could do yet, so I was overly cautious on the test drive. The Sales Manager seemed to enjoy the ride as well, which was a relief. In the end, I don't think it was really a choice. With the WRX losing the unequal length headers, and that CVT just simply ruining the drive for me, I couldn't see an answer other than the STi. I thought about affordability, and compatibility with starting a family, and would I still want to be driving this car in ten years?

Yes.

Okay then, let's do it.

First Thoughts

I have to give a quick thanks to the folks at Timmons Subaru of Long Beach. this is the second car that I have purchased from them, and I was happy to go back, even though there is a Subaru dealer less than a mile from my house. Russel and Jennifer really did me well in lining everything up for me, and 90% of my deal was done either over the phone or through email. I only needed to be present to be able to sign papers, and pick up the car. If you are in the market for a Subaru or a Volkswagen, and are anywhere nearby, look them up, and give them a chance to shine for you as well.

I placed my order, and then had to wait for my car to be delivered. Like Bill Cosby waiting for his Cobra in his bit "200 M.P.H." I finally got the call, and headed to the dealer to pick up my new car. I signed some paperwork, and was then presented with the keys. I was given a quick walk-thru of some of the creature comfort features of the car (even though I'd already read thru the owner's manual). It took some getting used to, trying to not lose my tail, who was nice enough to drive my rental car back from the dealer, getting used to the car. I was trying really hard to take it easy for the break-in period, I was. I swear.

Now that it is mine, and everything about it is my responsibility, I was able to scrutinize it a bit more. I really like this car, and I like it more and more with each drive. The seating position is comfortable; supple. It is easy to get into, and get situated in just the right place. I do find that the side bolsters are not quite as pronounced as they were on my 2004, and I tend to move around a bit more when I turn hard. With the rearranged interior, I had to find a different position to drive in - some of the interior features that I used to use to brace myself against in my old car are no longer present. Initially, it was a bit strange, with the cup-holder above the radio in my old car no longer there, but I'm sure that's a good thing considering the amount of soda, water and tea I've spilled into my radio over the years. Now, the main cup holder is just aft of the shift lever between the two front seats. There's a second cup holder directly behind that, and even a divider to be able to reconfigure the compartment for larger storage, along with a little louvered door that slides forward to cover it all up. It works really well, and keeps drinks in place, and prevents them from spilling during spirited driving. One of my favorite things about the new car is the fact that the radio is connected to a USB port in the center console box. Since I finally broke down and bought an iPod, all I had to do was plug its lightning cable into this port, and the iPod is connected to the radio, and the head unit is smart enough to be able to control the iPod, as well as display song information. Also, the steering wheel (despite other gripes with it) has buttons in it to control volume and track, in addition to Bluetooth connected call features, voice dialing, and cruise control. That's pretty sweet. I think I only touch the radio to turn it on and off - everything else is controlled from the steering wheel.

The STi branded floor mats that came with the car have never been installed. Instead, I stuck with the all-weather mats that were part of the options for this car. They are pretty impressive in that they actually stay in place, unlike the regular floor mats in my old car. Part of my routine used to be to adjust the floor mat every time I got into my old car to prevent the mat from bunching under the gas or clutch pedals - which had happened on multiple occasions in the past. Currently, I don't have to worry about it. The passenger one seems to move around just a bit, but it's only a minor annoyance to the passenger. I love the 60/40 rear fold-down seats. To protect the seats from wear, any time I need to carry something that doesn't quite fit in the trunk, I fold the seats down, which takes about 30 seconds, and load up. The carpet on the back appears to be quite durable, and hasn't given me any trouble thus far. I also like that the trunk is lined in this model, with covers for the trunk hinges, and the underside of the rear deck. All of this was exposed in previous versions, and I can't tell you how many times I've loaded up the trunk, and gone to close it, only to find that I was going to (or already did) pinch something under the hinge that would have prevented it from closing properly. The headlights being LEDs is something I am really enjoying. I kind of wish that they extended the use of LEDs throughout the entire car, eliminating filament bulbs wherever possible, but I guess that's an easy enough fix to do on my own over time. The brake lights are LED as well, which I really like, because there is a much quicker response from them when you step on the brake - it always seems like incandescent bulbs have to "warm up" before they reach maximum brightness, and when you put them next to LEDs, the time difference is really evident. I do love having a compass in the rear view mirror, as well as the garage door opener buttons integrated into it. That's one less thing I have to keep in my car floating or rattling around.

The dash board, for me, is a mixed bag. I do appreciate the multi-function display in the center, but there are a large number of things that I would love to see it do, that it doesn't seem to have the capability to do. Maybe there's a modder market there? It's certainly above my head. Layout of the gauges for my 6' frame, who likes the steering wheel as low in my lap as possible makes visibility of the essential parts of the gauges poor - as it was on my '04, to be fair. Beyond that, I like what's available in the gauge cluster overall.

Settling In

Once I got it broken in, I very slowly began to push the limits and feel what it is capable of. There is a knob on the center console with which you can select one of the three "modes" for driving - basically, "I" is your average, everyday mode - it doesn't really seem docile, as most cars go, but for this car, I assure you, it is maybe a 6 on the volume knob. A turn to the left puts you in sport, or "S" mode. Throttle response is much quicker, and I'm sure there are some other changes elsewhere in the car that I haven't researched, but if you were to measure it, I would guess it's about an 8 on the dial. With a flip to the right, you reach 11. Sport Sharp "S#" mode. This car is schizophrenic. In this mode, you better be on your game, because when you point and squeeze, it's going. I've seen several videos on youtube measure 0-60 acceleration in this car, and the best number I've seen is 4.7 seconds, and I believe every bit of it, even if I don't have the practice or desire to pull it off. There is no lack of power up high, but to get the best punch out of the corners, and to overcome the small amount of turbo lag that exists, you do have to select your gears wisely, even with the 6-speed. Still, even if you get it wrong, there is enough grunt to get you back on track, but with a little delay. Cornering at the limit is generous and predictable. The stock tires and 18" rims have a little less forgiveness than the wheels and tires that I had on my WRX, but correcting your mistakes is still the same procedure, and it is easily and quickly done when you pass the limit of what they can handle. None of the harrowing tales that I can tell you about my old WRX have happened in this; I haven't had any "moments", thankfully, but I have gone beyond the limits of the tires momentarily, and been able to reel it back in quickly and safely. The suspension is perhaps just a tad stiff for daily driving, having spent some time with it, and my pregnant fiance's bladder would tell you that it is MUCH too stiff, but even she admits, that aside from that, she really does enjoy rides in the car.

I usually drive it in "I" mode. It takes less finesse to shift smoothly, and leaving it in "S#" in traffic is just silly. That said, every now and then it does feel good to flick the knob to the right, and have a go. Long stretches aren't as terrible as I thought they might be with the stiffer suspension, which while it is quite taut, at speed, over most obstacles, soaks up all but the most revolting bumps with ease. What usually throws me, are the sudden drops, because boy, does it drop, and that's almost always followed by a bump or a rise; in unfamiliar territory, that's the only thing that really catches me by surprise. In familiar waters, however, there are plenty of opportunities to open her up a bit when you know what's coming. She tracks nice, even over rough roads, and again, at speed, the rough road turns into merely a rumble beneath the wheels. While I do love the silky sound of the exhaust with that Subaru burble mixed in there, but to some ears, it gets old. Turning heads as you drive up to populated places, however, never does.

The Daily Grind

This car is just as enjoyable a car to drive in traffic as a car can be, I think. Opportunities to pass, or change lanes are greater and shorter between than ever before, without spoiling your commuter relationship with the people around you. It can poke along in bumper to bumper along with the rest of them, and for my commute at least, the only place the really brings fatigue of any kind is the on ramp on my way home, making up the first five minutes of my commute. I've gotten compliments and nods from older gents and boy racers alike. The seats are comfortable enough for my typically hour long commute, providing I get a moment when I first get seated to settle myself, and situate everything. I like a tight seat belt, so, seeing as I haven't installed a 5-point harness, once situated, I cinch the belt up real good as I get into a bit of brisk acceleration, and I'm usually stuck in place for the next hour. I know that a lot of people don't like that, but it suits me just fine. I did it in my WRX, and I do it in the passenger's seat in your car too, so it's not unique to this car.

My demo period of Sirius XM Radio was a cool bonus that I wasn't expecting. The head unit is fully capable, and comes with receivers for HD radio as well, which, I haven't even played with, really. I think there was a week in the beginning where I programmed all of my old presets into the radio, and switched between them, but since the demo period for XM ran out, I've been listening to mp3s via my iPod almost exclusively. The controls on the steering wheel are quite handy, and there is a mode in the multi-function display to show track information, which isn't incredibly useful, because it only shows like the first 15 characters, and won't scroll longer titles. You can, however, select songs or playlists through the head unit, or the multi-function display (both of which suffer from the same truncation issue) and the wheel/button on the right of the head unit.

There are seven modes in the multi-function display, which you can cycle through using the selector on the dash beneath the hazard button. It can be mildly customized, but I wish that there was more that it could do. I wish it gave you access to more of the information that the car's engine transmission and system sensors collected, and more ways to organize and display them. I had a data logger in my old WRX, and it offered the display of four different bits of information at any one time gleaned from the ODBII port on the car, and you were able to select from any of the available data sources to display in any of these four slots on the display. I grant you, it was just data, and nothing pretty or visual, but it was still nice to be able to select your source, and its location on the display. Additionally, you could change the color of the LCD's back light to suit your need as well. Being used to that in my old car, I still wished for some of that functionality in the new car - it's certainly not new tech, it would just require some more user interface, and perhaps, a bit more programming to make it happen. The most popular of the seven displays seems to be the boost gauge, but I see utility in at least four of the others, so there is plenty to choose from, and there are several configurations for several of the displays, so there should be something in there for everyone.

Trust Me, I'm A Pro

There are many good things about this car:
• Slick, aggressive looks.
• This car is wicked quick.
• Familiar drive train means aftermarket that parts and mods are already readily available, tested, and proven.
• Subaru Burble comes standard.
• Comfortable cabin.
• Lots of data available to monitor.
• Supple, responsive, but not abusive ride.
• Lots of creature comforts come standard.
• Superb traction and handling.
• Excellent steering response.
• Large trunk, fold-down rear seats; plenty of room for cargo.

Don't Call Me A Con Man

However, there are a number of things about this car that I would consider negatives:
• Configurations of data in multi-function display are limited.
• Fuel economy is not great.
• Corner Apex visibility limited.
• Rear-view mirror sits low, and blocks forward-right view. (I'm tall)
• Access to engine oil filter requires the removal of the under-tray (3 bolts, and 6 clips)
• The hands free microphone is terrible.

Quibbles, Quibbles, Everywhere!

Because I drive it daily, I also get a lot of time in it where I'm mostly just sitting there, absorbing the interior. As with any space you spend a decent amount of time in, you can usually think of things that can be done to improve your experience. Think of your desk at work - What if your mouse pad was on the other side of the keyboard? At your desk, you can just move it. In this office, it's a little different. There are a number of things about this car that I would love to be able to somehow change:

• Inconvenient Oil Filter - I love doing my own maintenance on my cars, as much as I can. I changed the timing belt on my 2004 after someone else had already screwed up the job, and neglected to replace the idler pulley, which exploded about 20k mi after the original work. I did my research, and figured out what I needed to do, what parts I needed, and what tools I would need to pull the job off. After 8 hours of work, I was able to start the car again, and that timing belt lasted about 50% longer than I should have let it; my WRX was due for another timing belt when I was thinking of getting rid of it - before it got totaled. Oil changes on my 2004 were VERY simple. As a result of a minor accident that I had gotten into in July of 2007, the under-tray was no longer in place, and I never replaced it. Because of this, I was able to reach up and grab the oil filter without jacking the car up. In fact, I was able to change the oil without jacking the car up in no more than 12 minutes from start to finish. It became quite convenient to not have that under-tray there. I've done one oil change on my 2015, and it was a pain, because at the very least, I needed ramps to get the front end of the car up high enough for me to see under it, and to be able to reach the three bolts, and 6 clips that it takes to be able to remove the under tray. Then you have to scoot that somewhere, and it's not just flat, nor is it much narrower than the inside of the car's front wheels. In all of their brilliance, thankfully, Subaru did mount the filter vertically, so that when filled, you can still hoist it into place and tighten it, however, that means that when it is being removed, it is sure to spill over a large swath of your clean driveway. If the filter were somehow easier to remove, and didn't require that you remove the under-tray, that would be awesome - even if it still required tools to be able to get to it.

• Unify fonts throughout the cabin - The dash, the door, the center console, and the muti-function display all have text (most of which lights up with the headlight switch) that describes what it is, or that make up the numbers that indicate the value it is trying to display. There are a number of different fonts used in different places. On the stereo head unit, the multi-function display, its controls, and the door, they are all the same font. However, the numbers on the speedometer and tachometer, and all of the text that is in the instrument cluster, including the display menu, the timer, and map selector display in the center of the gauge are all a different font. In fact, I think there are even two or three different fonts within that selection. It would be nice if they were all the same. Any of the fonts that currently exist in the car would be fine, though I would prefer what the head unit uses, which looks like some clone or similar font to Futura.

• Integrated Stopwatch - The steering wheel has controls for the center display between the speedometer and tachometer. This display has a timer integrated into it. I wish that this timer, and these controls could be used as a stop watch.

• Scrolling Media Information - Both the head unit, and the multi-function display show track, title or album names, depending on which you choose to display. But they only display the first fifteen characters of the information you request. I don't see any reason this information can't scroll. I think it should.

• Custom greeting image - The multi-function display greets you with a giant Subaru logo when you start the car. I have no problem with that, but it seems like it would be cool to be able to customize this image with your own logo, or image. It can't be that difficult to do. I would also love to be able to change the theme colors, and even select a night theme and a day theme, so that the display is less distracting at night.

• More screen configurations - This is where I almost wish the multi-function display was kind of open source, or some sort of building blocks, as it were. Here is a list of all of the data that you can access, and a number of methods of displaying that data. You have 5 screens. Build your own.

• Better hands-free mic - The hands-free mic in the car is terrible. It works alright if you are not moving, and the car is off, but when you are driving, there is too much engine and road noise, and it pick up all of it, and you can't be heard by the person on the other end. Being that it is a sports car, and road noise, harshness and vibration is expected, they should have done a much better job of selecting a decent microphone to use for the hands-free system, and they should have mounted it such that it doesn't pick up everything in the cabin.

• Engine Maps - There is a selector knob on the center console to be able to switch between the three engine maps that come with the car. "I" is docile, and for everyday driving, "S" is Sport, and is a bit peppier. "S#" is what I refer to as "Angry Mode" - it's like you really upset the car, and it wants revenge right now - along with someone's spleen. I love "S#" from time to time, but I usually drive in "I" for the fuel efficiency, and ease of operation. I think that "S" should swap places with "I" as far as performance, and should be changed to "E" for efficiency, where you reduce throttle sensitivity, limit RPMs to 4200, limit boost to 7psi, and change timing and fuel maps to glean the best efficiency possible out of this 2.5 liter power plant. I don't see any reason that this car shouldn't, with the driver's discretion, and feather-footed driving, be able to get 30-35+mpg. With my normal commute, I can work out about 18.9 mpg at best, but on longer stretches, I've gotten nearly 25 mpg on the trip (but didn't drive far enough for that to be a tank full) or better.

• Climate Control - This car is equipped with a "FULL AUTO" mode for climate control, and it even has dual temperature zones - though I'm not sure how effective that actually is. Here's my gripe. I guarantee, that when you hit the FULL AUTO button, the A/C will turn on. The whole time. Why? It is perfectly reasonable to think that you'd want to reach the set temperature as soon as possible, and most of the time in Southern California, this makes sense. But when it's 68° F outside, and your cabin temp is set for 72°, we don't need the A/C to maintain that. I understand, completely, the desire to make the occupants comfortable, but this FULL AUTO should have enough logic in it to be able to operate without the A/C for anything but the most demanding of temperature differences.

• Auto Up/Down on all windows -  Pretty self-explanatory. While I love the auto down, and new (since my 2004) auto up window control for the driver's window, I would really love it if that functionality was added to the rest of the windows as well. If I'm driving with all of the windows down, and I stop and have to lock up my car, the auto up on the driver's window isn't doing me any favors, because I still have to hold the other three buttons until all of the windows are up. I know that there are modules available, for example, that will roll all of your windows up when you turn the ignition off, and I may consider that, but it is much nicer when it is integrated into the car from the factory.

• Gearing - Let's talk gearing for a moment. Historically, Impreza gearing hasn't been very "long". By this, I mean, that while they have always been pretty quick accelerating cars, they run out of steam early. There's not a whole lot of top speed available when you compare it to cars that have similar 0-60 times. It is often limited, but even when it's not you're on the high side of the tachometer in your top gear very shortly after you set off. I'm loving my 6 speed, for the most part, but it has some quirks about it that I am not in favor of. Even with my 5 speed, I would have loved a bit taller gear to get cruise speed RPM down a couple hundred. Theoretically, this car is still capable of nearly 170 mph with this gearing, but here is my problem with it: At cruising speed, the RPMs are too high. Fifth gear is already slightly less than 1:1, so it's already an overdrive gear. Sixth gear is too short. I can comfortably pull out of 40 mph in 6th, but driving 70 mph gives me 2700 RPM, and 75 is 2900. Eighty mph resolves to 3100 RPM, which I think is too high for a cruising speed. Seeing as you can easily wind 5th out to 130 mph, and when you pick up 6th, you would be around 5000 RPM, in a closed environment, there is still plenty of room to make 6th taller, and reduce the cruising speed RPM, and improve fuel efficiency quite a bit. Even if you reduced power output in "I" mode, you could easily drop a couple hundred RPM, and not have problems.

If you "feel out" the gears, but aren't thoroughly flogging the car, shifting from 4th to 5th just feels odd - it's like a half-step. And then 5th to 6th, again, is weird, like another half step. Once I noticed that, I drove without 5th gear entirely, and didn't ever feel like I was missing something. If all of the lower gears were just a bit shorter, and you left 5th, and stepped 6th up just a little bit, I think it would be a wonderful transmission, and would have a much better feel. On the other hand, if you made 4th where 5th is, and made everything below that taller, you might actually get to 60 mph quicker because you wouldn't have to shift to 3rd to reach it. Then you make 5th and 6th taller, and it accomplishes the same thing.

And of course, all of this becomes quite irrelevant when you really start racing because you would have different gear ratios that you could swap out, so the logic that "it's that way for the track" if flawed in that respect.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I really do love this car. It is comfortable to drive, and offers a lot of fun, and everything I really want in a car. There is plenty of room for people and gear, and it really looks good, and performs better than it looks. The few quibbles that I have with it aren't anything that I would consider deal-breakers, nor does the list as a whole amount to reason enough to not love this car, because I really do. Ten thousand miles is just the beginning, and I am really looking forward to all of the adventures that I'm going to have with an in this car.

2014-04-20

A friend of mine wrote this on Facebook, and I think it's an idea worth sharing.

     "There is a staggering lack of understanding regarding even the most basic of concepts in our populace.

     I used to get in trouble all the time, starting in pre-school, for asking the "wrong questions". Asking questions that didn't follow the lesson plan, that the teacher didn't know or didn't want to answer. I got singled out, punished for "insubordination", had my parents called for parent-teacher conferences.

Teacher:"Well it seems young Geoffrey has a problem with authority..."
Dad:"No he doesn't."
Teacher:"Well he does things differently from the class and asks lots of questions..."
Mom:"Is he being disrespectful? Is he speaking out of turn? Has he said anything inappropriate?"
Teacher:"Well, no..."
Mom:"Then I don't see the problem here, he's actually engaging in the learning process and he is doing everything we raised him to do, unless there is anything else I think we are done." (Thanks Mom and Dad)

     My point in illustrating this is that it seems I was either at the beginning or the middle of this "Gimme" generation. This society is consistently catering to the lowest common denominator, restructuring ourselves so that we "don't leave anyone behind". What we are doing is dumbing and watering ourselves down. We are groomed to believe whatever information "They" force feed us.

     And do you want to know the horrible truth? There is no "They". There's only us. Like some 70s robot dystopian film they make fun of on Family Guy, we are our own worst enemies. There is no massive conspiracy. All of the problems we have as a nation come from the fact that it is a nation governed by people. Slow, lazy, manipulative, self-centered people. Catering to and providing short term easy answers to slow, lazy, manipulative, self-centered people...and on and on the cycle goes.

     Most people want to be chiefs but very few want to be the Indians. And that's just not how it works. The entire focus of our education system is to get us used to working in a post-industrial, service based economy, to expect someone else to do it for you. How can one expect to be a leader and also be provided for. Yet that is what most of our young people (and older people) want.

     When I grew up, my parents said I could do anything I wanted to do with my life, as I'm sure most of yours did. My mother was hoping that I would grow up to want to be a scientist or a great artist, philosopher, professional intellectual, what have you. Sounds great on paper, but that's just not me. My dad always said it doesn't matter what you do, just do it well and be happy doing it. The world needs ditch-diggers, he always said. He never expounded but what he was saying was not everyone is going to be the CEO, not everyone is going to own a company, sometimes at the end of the day all you're going to have is the sweat on your brow and possibly the fruits of your labor. And that's okay. That's a good life, one well worth living, as long as you are happy doing it. Life is short, brutal, and inherently not fair...unless you choose to have some fun with it and be happy with who and what you are.

     I'm constantly hearing the people around me ask themselves and one another what we are going to do. More precisely, ask what someone else is going to do about all the troubles we are in. You're going to get a thousand different answers and most of them aren't really going to be answers at all, it will be someone vomiting a world view that they think is the "right path".

     I don't subscribe to any political views. I think if you start doing that you're missing the point entirely. But I do have two suggestions that I think would fundamentally change the world that we live in over time. There are no easy answers, anything that happens to us is going to be hard on us, but maybe with some hard work on the front end we can make our lives easier in generations to come (it's not going to happen but a guy can hope).

     1) Ask "why?". Take a couple of extra seconds and actually think about every thing that people tell you. Why are they saying this, what do they have to gain from this, is what they are saying true, could there be something more to this, is this the best course of action, who will ultimately benefit from this, WHY DO THEY NEED MY HELP OR MY COMPLICITY IN THIS?

     2) Don't be afraid to work hard.

     As you start to question and stumble over finding the answers, there is your answer right there...oh wait, maybe this is flawed, what can we do about this? Then don't be afraid to work on it. Not every person can, needs to be, or wants to be an activist. It can be just as simple as creating change in the people around you by challenging them to ask questions. Fairly soon, with more and more people asking questions, you have a ton of people asking questions that are not getting answered, and hopefully a ton of people not afraid to work hard. Then what do you have?

     A revolution."

     (This message brought to you by me being tired of seeing political, moral, social, and cultural memes and "news" articles all over the damn place)

     - Police Officer Geoff Betchel

I'd love to hear what you think. Maybe you think it's a worthy idea. Maybe you hate it. Maybe you want to share it, and spread it around. I think it's a fantastic idea, and I think it deserves to spread.

2013-11-05

Disneyland Dream Suite Tour: Part 1

A fantastic opportunity came up for me that I just couldn't pass up.

Thanks to a Facebook repost from Cariann Higginbotham of a Disney Parks Blog entry, which allowed me to enter my name for a drawing to be one of 25 people on a number of different days to be able to go to Disneyland, and take a tour inside the Disneyland Dream Suite located above Pirates of the Caribbean in New Orleans Square.

What is it?

If you've been to Disneyland, you've seen it, even if you didn't know where it was, or what it was all about. That green balcony located above the Pirates of the Caribbean entrance, with the bread bowl walk-up window beneath it? That's it.

When Walt Disney was building Disneyland, he constructed for himself and his family, a little apartment above the firehouse that he could stay in. The appointments weren't lavish, but they sufficed. The apartment isn't very big either - it didn't need to be.

As the park grew, as did his kids, and his desires to bring them in to visit the park, so did his vision for creating a visit that they would never forget. He envisioned this apartment as a way to allow them to visit, yet still have that at home feel.

At some point in its history, what was the apartment, became the Disney Gallery. I recall visiting it once, and was fascinated by it then, even though what it was had been completely disfigured. Bathrooms turned into offices, and bedrooms became sales shelves. When the gallery closed, I was slightly saddened by not being able to visit it again, and pick out the pieces that had remained untouched, and still retained that vintage feel of it being Walt's guest apartment.

Not too long after that, Disneyland revealed that they had this Dream Suite. Not a place you could arrange to stay if you had the money to do so, but as a way to surprise their guests with something truly special. They would venture out into the park, and select a guest at random (one Imagineer said, for example, they would pick the third guest in line for Peter Pan at 11:36 in the morning, for example) and offer the room to them for the night. During their stay, guests were treated like royalty, and the staff would do anything they could within reason to make their visit memorable. Quite often, it was something lavish, given to a faimly that happened to be having a string of bad luck, or have been going through some tough times. Truly a gift, and something positive, the memories of which they will cherish forever. But never something they could buy.

This, I think was a fantastic program offered by Disneyland, and one of the reasons I am such a fan of the park.

So.. a chance to come see what's inside the Dream Suite? Sign me up!

I'm going to apologize in advance for some of the photos - They're from my cell phone, as that was all I had access to on short notice. Also, the videos aren't of the greatest quality, and in fact, one of them switches from portrait to landscape mid-action, so I am sorry. That said, I hope that you enjoy the tour.

Granted access.

As if in some secret club, we were instructed to wait outside the main gate, near Guest Services at 9:30. I was one of the first ones there, and as the park began to open, you could tell that a couple of stragglers seemed to be there for the same discrete rendezvous as you. I kind of felt like I was in a secret club with a secret handshake or something. We were greeted by Disneyland staff at 9:30, who checked us in, and distributed a one-day, one-park ticket (that we were instructed we could not keep if we had an annual pass), and we reconvened inside the gate right at 10:00. As unceremoniously as being walked to the Principal's office, we filed through the park to the base of Tarzan's tree house, and were allowed behind the chains secured by the Pirate's entrance bridge.

Little-known fact - there is an elevator tucked back in the corner there between the tree house, and the queue for Pirates. If you've ever been in that line when it is really busy, I'm sure you saw it, but you may not have known what it was, or where it leads. I've known it was there for some time, but have suspected it to be for access to Club 33. While you can enter Club 33 through the Dream Suite, they have their own elevator, but I have heard that their elevator is not ADA compliant, so those guests requiring as such would probably need to use this elevator instead of the fancy one in the foyer of 33. 

Just a hint of the opulence that awaits, the ceiling of the elevator is beautifully crafted wood. The rest of the elevator is pretty standard fare - it has buttons. But it's a nice elevator.

Crossing the walkway from the elevator to the Dream Suite entrance, the exterior matches the Pirates motif presented as New Orleans Square from the outside. I know the exterior walls to be original, even if they were redecorated at some point, but it kind of just looks like an entry way to a house in New Orleans, with a slightly fancier porch light. As we walked into the entry hallway, the Imagineer giving the tour stated that what we are about to see was meant to have the Disney touch, without being "Disney". I've always maintained that what makes Disneyland feel different from every other theme park, is that everywhere you look is filled with minuscule touches that collaborate to completely submerge you into a theme. Yeah, there's lots to nitpick with in many of their more recent ventures, and there's issues with many things here and there, but there's always that high attention to detail to make you feel like you are really somewhere else.

We were greeted by one of the Imagineers that worked on making the Dream Suite what it is today, and these prints of the original water color concept paintings for what the interior of the apartment was going to look like.

The main sitting room painting looked like it would be a wonderful place to sit and relax after a long day at the park. I have to be honest, if I ever got a chance to stay there, I would spend all of my time in the suite - I've been to the park a hundred times. This year. But being able to spend time in this suite is really something special - it's like an invite to 33; you don't say no, and you soak in as much as you can while it lasts. If you want a hint of the feel of this space, arrive at the park early in the morning, and go to the Main Street Station and ask to ride in the Lilly Belle - the last remaining enclosed car - and feel what it is like to get that "Disney, but not Disney" attention to detail that exists throughout everything I was now able to see.

I was unable to identify all of the rooms from the paintings as we worked our way through the tour, but that's probably because the entire thing has been redone since they closed the gallery. We were told that they managed to start with a completely blank canvas as far as the floorplan goes - they removed all of the interior walls, and built it up from scratch.

Another thing you will see a lot of photos of is light fixtures. I'm kind of like the author of Daveland blog in that respect - I love light fixtures. There are so many ways to attach a light to a wall, and I really like it when it's not boring. All of the lighting fixtures throughout the suite were exquisitely detailed, and made to match the rest of the decor. Many of them had a slight Victorian feel to them, but all of them had enough details in them to be able to sit and stare at them with wonder and fascination for at least a couple of minutes.

Other touches, like the furnishings were really impressive. Clearly, you come to a place like this, and you expect there to be some nice furniture, but the beauty of the pieces that were placed throughout the suite is something that even photos don't do justice. Decorations were well chosen, and could even be argued to have ties to Disney films, like these Dalmation statues on the lower shelf of the hutch in the entry hallway. Very "Disney but not Disney".

Rather than boring, straight walls, there were raised pillars that broke up the walls a bit, and framed areas of interest. Highly detailed, and painted white with accents of forest green and what I could only imagine to be gold leaf made even these columns a work of art in their own right.

One of the watercolor paintings had what looked like a pirate climbing up over the balcony railing, joked Joe, the Imagineer giving us the tour. And it really did look like it. I'm not sure if that was intended by the artist or not, but that is really what it looked like.

A cut-crystal candy dish sat on the entry hall hutch. Looks like that one that your grandmother used to have on her coffee table. It was somehow special, but not extravagant. The hutch was full of carved-wood details that look like it must have taken ages to make. I'm sure that the furniture here has a story all its own, but for most of the pieces, they just blend into the scenery, and contribute to that level of detail that transports you to another place entirely. This isn't Anaheim, outside of Los Angeles, in California - it's Disneyland - or what, I think, Disneyland used to strive to be. Beautiful stains and finishes everywhere you looked. The furniture was looked after, but wasn't a museum piece. Sure was gorgeous though.

There was a small bench at the far end of the hallway that had end pieces that resembled harps. So intricate and detailed, I was almost afraid to touch it. Beautifully finished, and of course, it just fit right in here. The appointments, and decorations weren't a surprise to me in the slightest. But they felt like they were. Maybe the surprise is that I was there.

While I am sure everything was up to code, you couldn't see anything that resembles the drab accoutrements that we expect a commercial facility to have these days - fire sprinklers, and emergency lighting. The ceilings were not just flat planes of nothingness that hung above your head - they added to the fantasy, and atmosphere as much as anything else. Now, I can't say it was Sistine Chapel, but beautiful details for sure. A lighting fixture attached to the ceiling wasn't an addition, it was a point of focus - something to be celebrated, and admired. It was meant to go there. Right there. Not an afterthought, or a selection from one of many that could have been used, but THAT fixture was meant to be hung RIGHT THERE.

At the end of the hallway, there was a door that led out onto the private patio straight ahead, to Club 33 to the left, and to the right was the main hallway. The marble floors here meshed perfectly with the stained glass bordering the door to the patio, that itself was a large stained glass feature with a large Disneyland "D" right in the center. Beautifully polished brass fixtures on the door just begged for you to fling open the door and sing "The Hills Are Alive...". Opened with windows on the left of this hallway, it felt like a bird sanctuary. There hung in several locations cages with bird statues in them adding to the theme. Wait - all I did was turn the corner, and I go from a Victorian-modern hallway to a bird sanctuary? The chandelier that hung in the middle of this hallway looks like what a bird would have made for a nest if given enough brass and some light shades. The ceiling was wood planks, tongue and grooved, and painted white - not a seam to be found. Shuttered windows to the right added to the menagerie feel. As you approach an alcove on the right, you realize that it is the doorway to the master bedroom, and above the door is a beautiful stained glass piece depicting butterflies swirling around the door.

You enter the master bedroom, and your breath is immediately taken away by a magnificent four-poster bed. The head board is high and proud, and the pile of pillows at the head doesn't leave much room to lie down, but it appears to be a full King. You start to notice some of the tasteful decorations in this room, and it sort of carries the menagerie theme here as well, but then it starts to blend into what is nearby: Tarzan's tree house. Like this is some Victorian refuge from the jungle. Mosquito nets hang deliciously from the four posts - not as utility, but for theme and ambiance. An carved armoire stands century on the left, topped with a parrot statue, almost as if a nod to the Tiki Room.

There is a beautiful vanity on the far side of the room, and a chaise lounge sits in front of the window to your right. There is a beautifully carved wicker bench at the foot of the bed, and the night stands frame the bed on either side. The only modern touch that you can see in here at first glance is the alarm clock. Again with the lighting fixtures. There is one on either side of the bed, with a proper lamp shade, topped with a small bird. The stem of the lamp attached to the wall appears to be a tree branch growing out of a brass broach mounted to the wall. On each night stand is a gorgeous lamp depicting a bird perched on the lamp, holding a smaller lamp. I'm sure there is some smart detail about this that makes the smaller lamp into a night light, but I didn't dare fiddle with it under the watchful eyes of our escorts. The carpet is a pattern of green leaves, with blue blossoms. The pattern isn't readily apparent - as with a good carpet, and the detail in it is enough to wander through for hours.

The details in the ceiling, again frame a stained glass lamp hanging at the foot of the bed, just clear of its canopy - which extends vertically to nearly touch the ceiling. The vanity has a jewel of a lamp; a decorative take on a banker's lamp, the bronze stem of which is a cat tail rising out of a pond, around which two colorful butterflies flit - one seems to hover in air, and the other has landed on the shade. The light from it exposes the beautiful carved details in the vanity, and the deep straight grain of the wood it is made from.

One thing that I was not able to capture effectively, was what happens when you're ready to go to bed.

In three of the rooms in the suite, Disney has added what they call a "Goodnight Kiss". An audio-visual lullaby that is built into the room itself. It was really impressive, looking around the room, trying to find the technology, but it was extremely well hidden. When the discrete button on the wall is pushed, the lights in the room dim, "Jungle Beat" from The Jungle Book plays, and a projection of winds across the water is shown on the walls. The painting above the bed comes to life with flowing water, and stars appear in the ceiling. Next to the bed, on the wall, is projected Peter Pan's cloud pirate ship in a full moon that wafts away with the end of the song.

It was such a beautiful place to be, but the tour didn't stop there. Next up, the gorgeous master bath, the sitting room, the kid's room, and the balcony overlooking the Rivers of America.. Stay tuned!





2013-02-27

Reorganization

There are a number of events in one's life that will let you know just how much things in your life aren't working.

I've recently found myself in one of these life-changing moments, and am realizing that despite my ability to do so, and my love of being, or even becoming organized.. many aspects of my life are a mess. Layer upon layer of mess strewn over mess. This will not do.

From the very surface, organization is neat and tidy. I'm not so daft as to think that life is, or should be, or even can be put into a number of index cards, and shuffled about, or even with modern technology, stuffed into a database, all searchable, and indexed. However, I think many aspects of it can be. The challenge is figuring out how; the rules of how you categorize the things in your house or apartment, the tasks that you have to deal with on a regular basis, even the friends that you want to get together with for a drink, or to write a consoling letter. I think this is part of the thing that wasn't working for me.

I've cataloged my music at some great cost of time and energy. It's not hard to file papers, it just takes time. Even cleaning a house from top to bottom isn't tough, it takes a bit of muscle, and time, but it's not hard. The difficult thing is not the work, or even finding time to do it in, it's planning howto do it, and what to do with it. I have a system that's worked fairly well over the years for my music, and it takes some work, but again, it's worked for me. But I didn't just do it. I planned it. Perhaps the most frustrating part is trying to stick to it. Converting this into that, and cataloging it properly is a pain. But I can find what I want to when I want to without much searching. That's the payoff.

So, I wonder. If I can define a set of rules for many of the other things in my life, can I organize them much in the same way? Can I sort out the layers of mess, and make sense of it all? Is it worth it? Or is there something else more worthy of my time and attention?

2012-10-28

Backgrounds!

So... I've hinted at it, and talked about it, but have never put forth an effort to really quantify it in many respects. Here, now, is a capture of my current 926 background images that I have set to rotate every 10 minutes on my computer. 

These images have been shamelessly stolen from around the interwebs, and photo collections of friends. I've had some people curious about it, and haven't wanted to think about how to post 1.64GB of images for the curious - so: thumbnails. The original size of this thumbnail image is 3884 x 7018, and all of the images are 4096 x 1152.

2012-10-16

Parking lottery

Parking lot repaving: I was required a couple of weeks ago, to vacate the parking spot in my apartment complex by 6:45am, and was asked not to return until 7:00pm. Again, a couple of days later, the same thing. 24 hours out of the lot. In both notices, posted in my parking stall, there was a start time, and an end time. Yesterday, I was asked to vacate by 6:45am again. I came home to a closed gate, and driveways were taped off. I went to the grocery store on foot after parking my car in the remote lot that they suggested we use. I walk back with two arms full of groceries after 7:00pm to find that the gates were open, the tape was gone, and cars were parked inside. So I moved my car into my stall.

This morning I get a note, that I entered prematurely, and I am to be held partially responsible for any damage to the new paving job. o_O There was no return time posted on the last notice. I didn't open the gate, or move the tape, nor was I the first car back in the lot. How is this my fault?

2012-09-11

We're Going To Have To Deal With This For The Rest Of Our Lives

You don't have to believe it, but on July 20th, 1969, humans took a step on the moon. There is scientific evidence the prove it, samples brought back to confirm it, and hours upon hours of video, and film from still-photography from the moon. We just lost the first man to step on the moon, Neil Armstrong, to complications from heart surgery, but tell his friend Buzz that the moon landing was a hoax, and he'll punch you in the face. There are a gazillion ways to prove it, but for some reason, there still exist a sub-set of the population that still thinks that the United States Government is capable of keeping a secret for longer than five seconds. If you want to be that... diluted, I don't guess there's anything I can do about it but lead you to water in hopes that you switch to that from whatever Kool-Aid you're on.

But aside from what I guess I would classify as... passion?; there's really no harm in the Moon Hoax theories. Nobody died on the moon. Nobody died on the way there, or on the way back, though we did nearly lose a crew on Apollo 13, but that crew, at the moment is still alive. We must remember Grissom, Chaffee and White who were killed in an oxygen fire in their capsule during a dress rehearsal for the launch of Apollo 1, but they are rarely brought into the moon hoax discussions.

So, I was running through my Twitter timeline the other day, and someone was posting a conversation that they were having with a friend about the conspiracy theories surrounding the September 11th 2001 attacks on the WTC, the Pentagon and Flight 93, and it just plain angered me.

For every tragic event, the generation that experiences it, that event is cruelly burnt into their memory. My wife's Grandmother recalled not too long ago where she was and what she was doing when she heard the news that WWII was over. I bet she can give you even more detail about where she was on December 7th 1941.

I will forever remember exactly what I was doing, exactly where I was, and exactly what happened that morning. It only takes a moment of reflection for me to become enveloped in the pain and uncertainty of the day, and feel scared and isolated all over again, and I was on the West coast - nowhere near New York, and no one that I knew at the time were anywhere near New York that I knew of. I really didn't have any reason to be concerned for what was going on over there, other than the fact that I try to be a generally decent human being, and I kinda don't like it when tens--or hundreds of thousands of people lose their beloved mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son, uncle, aunt, husband, wife or best friend. The fact that these people were simply removed from humanity in an instant is not something that should be made light of. Like in Star Wars when Ben Kenobi felt the pain of the people of Alderan crying out as their planet was destroyed, we all felt some sense of loss that day. We all know someone who was directly affected by the events of the day - someone who dropped their life to enlist in the military, or to go dig up rubble in New York. So, it makes no sense to me to mock this event with theories of conspiracy. It is insensitive, disrespectful, and inhumane.

But somewhere deep inside, I know that we're going to have to deal with this for the rest of our lives. There will always be someone, somewhere, that will find what they believe to be some nugget of truth in one of these fabrications because of their ignorance or some other infliction, and these ridiculous theories will somehow live on. If you are one of these people, and you want to live in denial, feel free; but do us all a favor, and for one day, put it to rest. You can have your arguments throughout the year if you so choose, but do this - on September 11th, simply remember. Be somber, and respectful of those who lost something that day. Have a moment of silence along with the decent people of the world, and remember the feelings of their families and friends - most of all, be respectful. Because no matter the reason, the loss is real, and it will forever hurt those that it has affected.

To not end this on a sour note, I thought it might be appropriate to share how I have chosen to remember since 2002:

It might help first, to know where I was and what I was doing. I was on my way to work from Rowland Heights to Glendale - I was on the 605N, just entering the transition road to the 210W. My routine was to listen to the local Alternative Rock radio station - 106.7 FM KROQ. That week, the personalities were on vacation, and they were re-running past shows. Their News man, Producer, and Showbiz reporter/man-at-hand were in studio to make sure everything ran smoothly, and they broke in on a commercial to inform their listeners what had happened, and what was happening.

Through Kevin and Bean weren't in the studio when it happened, on the anniversary, Kevin Ryder put together a clip montage to remember, and generously made it available for download to listeners. Since then, I have made it my memorial. Regardless of how I feel leading up to it, whenever I listen to it - well, it gets me every time.


I remember.

Do you?

NROL-36 Launch Viewing

This Thursday, September 13th, Vandenberg AFB is again attempting to launch the Atlas V carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Once again, we are going to attempt to drive up and view the launch from a location that is about as close as we can legally get.

I'm not going to tell you where I am going to be, and I can't promise that I'll get any media out of it, but I will try.

I am excited! This will be my first Atlas launch, and it will be the closest that I will have ever been to a real rocket launching.

Are you going to watch it? From where?

More info:
http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2012/08/uatlas-v-launch-nrol-36-vandenberg/

NASA TV:
http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html

2012-09-05

Okay, SERIOUSLY people - STOP IT WITH THE TREES!

YES, the California Science Center is uprooting about 400 trees along the 12 mile route from LAX to Exposition Park where Endeavour will spend the rest of its life. But they are re-planting more than twice that after the fact. News media is hyping this like crazy - to what end, I don't know, and they always miss the last part - THEY'RE REPLANTING MORE THAN 800 TREES WHEN THEY ARE DONE!

Understand what's going on here:

First off, it's only a 78' swatch down three major streets in the greater L.A. area, so they're not running into parks or apartment complexes to uproot random trees all across L.A.. Most of what will be cut down or removed are trees that reside in the MEDIAN OF THE STREET - surely you don't propose that these are great trees for shade, recreation, and having a nap under - at best, they dampen some sound. I have also learned that several areas along the route are sue to be construction zones soon, and many of these trees were to be uprooted anyway. Additionally, the city of Inglewood is not in favor of keeping the species that is currently planted, and when the trees are replaced, they will be replaced with a different species. I have heard that only 10% of the trees being uprooted are actually being destroyed. Take a look at the route, seriously, there's three major streets that this thing is traveling down, and all three of them at some point have a median that has trees planted in it - all but maybe 5-6 trees are relatively small, and relatively young anyway - it's really not as big a deal as news sources seem to be making it out to be.

Dis-assembly of the shuttle is prohibited by the terms laid out by NASA in the acquisition process of the disused Shuttles. It would also be nearly impossible to reassemble the Shuttle once it is taken apart, and ensure its structural stability for the rest of its life. When I was at the California Science Center, they said that they intend for the permanent installment of the Shuttle to be structurally sound for the next 250 years. It is the responsibility of the organization awarded the Shuttle to arrange for transportation and storage - which has to be environmentally controlled - which, for example, is why Enterprise, on the deck of the USS Intrepid in New York is in a blow-up cocoon rather than just being out in the open - even though it is a temporary storage location. The same is true with Endeavour at the California Science Center; a temporary shelter was constructed from the ground-up, at considerable expense, which is to be climate controlled--which is expensive; it protects the orbiter from rain, and sun. And when the final display facility is constructed, and Endeavour is moved to that location, there will have to be sacrifices made there as well. Endeavour is going to be displayed in its launch configuration with two Shuttle SRBs that have already been moved from Florida to Edwards AFB for temporary storage, and an External Tank that the science center is going to have made specifically for display purposes (probably with some interior space for displays or education).

From the California Science Center's website regarding dis-assembly:

"Is Endeavour going to be moved from Lax to the Science Center in one piece?

"Yes, we want Endeavour to be as close as possible to its post-flight condition immediately following touchdown from its last mission. Removing either the wings or the tail would destroy the protective tiles on the vehicle as these are very fragile. Even if the tiles could be removed and replaced, NASA cannot safely separate and reattach the wings or the tail without the infrastructure that is provided in the orbiter processing facility, meaning that the vehicle could not be reassembled if it were taken apart."

http://www.californiasciencecenter.org/Exhibits/AirAndSpace/endeavour/Mission26/Mission26.php

The media seriously needs to stop with the headline sensationalism, and present the whole story - and when you see something that upsets you - go dig a little, and see if it really is what you think. Better yet - stand up to the incorrect source and hold them accountable for their misinformation.