Sunday, February 19, 2006

House/town pictur.... AUUUUUUUGH!

So yeah, I got another dump of Ikea furniture today. Spent the morning assembling. Looked outside, beautiful day. Blue sky, thin wisps of clouds, and just barely warm enough for a t-shirt. So I though - what a good day to go give you blog readers a walking tour of my awesome town, all while seeking lunch food. I could then go back, clean up, and show you the apartment.

I head out, take a half-dozen pictures. Crunch-crunch-crunch-beep. Hummmm? Lets try turning it off, see if that helps. Crunch-crunch-crunch-beep-BEEP! Lens still out. Camera off. Cautious shake: rattle rattle.


Lens actuator is teh fuxxored - no zoom, no focus. Basically, unless I can repair it myself, the camera is dead weight.

So, I need a new camera. Here is my official CFP (call for proposals) specs. This is a wishlist obviously, but the more points you can satisfy, the better.

  • Under $500 US. Preferably far under.
  • At least 2.4 MPixel. Preferably 3. Even 4 if it's cheap. 6 may be overkill, but of course more is always better.
  • At least 3x optical zoom.
  • Modes: timed ("bulb") exposure, timer shots, basic white-balance and light-type filtering. Flash control. Night shots.
  • Medium size (but smaller is better). Does not need to fit in my pocket, but it should be small enough to ride comfortably on my hip.
  • Should fit standard tripods.
  • Uses SD for storage, and includes a USB interface to the camera to access it.
  • Stores images as JPEGs. No bullshit internal formats I'll have to use their proprietary crappy software to convert.
  • Removable rechargable battery with good capacity, and something that'll hold it's charge over a decent length of time (NiMH or Li+??)
  • Focusing should be perfect - if I see anything even a little blurry at my focal length, it's not good enough. A macro mode (special close-up focusing) is always nice, but not critical.
  • Marginal speckling in low-light. I should be able to take an indoor shot with a flash and not have to worry about despeckling my image.

So, if you have some good ideas, post a comment. MS people - if you know of an internal EPP for your suggested camera, mention it exists, but please don't post details about the EPP offer in the comment.

Back to furniture assembly.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Rogers Wireless is great!

I figured today, having officially given my 30 days notice of cancellation, would be a good day to review my time with Rogers Wireless.

I love them. Adore them. If Rogers was a donkey... ummm... lets leave that one.

I love them doubly, because they're not Bell Mobility. I hate Bell Mobility. They made things difficult at every turn. Every phone I ever got from them had serious design defects that made them so bad as to be unusuable. They kept locking me into contracts. Even when I *wasn't* locked into a contract, they tried to penalize me as if I was, and made me jump through hoops to revert the charges. Their billing system was entirely broken for six full months - bills being delayed up to 3 months from issue date (and wasn't all that great even when it did work). When I tried to quit, I got hassled. When I called for questions, I always had to wait ages on hold. My refund took months. Finally, their coverage and prices.... you'd think they'd be cheaper for sucking, but no, they're pricey and have only average coverage.

Conclusion 1: Bell Mobility BAD.

Now Rogers Wireless, totally different. From the get-go, the experience was totally different. Got a phone which was decent for a good price, and they gave plenty of contract length options vs. phone price. Phone isn't perfect, but it works pretty well (and wow has it survived a lot of abuse!). I called up about my first bill, rather confused that I had paid less than my friend Jae. "Oh, there was a special promotion on, so we gave you a discount. Didn't your friend get it? Oh, put him on!" Bing! Jae's got the same deal. Marginal time on hold. Changing address, equally painless. I never had a billing problem with them. When I most recently quit, they helped me find the cheapest option, and they have a $20/mo contract breaking option, which while not as cheap as a Bell suspension option, was very convenient and fair. The lady understood and did not give me any attitude. And, after all this, their plans were cheaper and better than Bell's. I've never had a serious coverage issue with my phone, but as a quad-mode phone, I wouldn't expect to.

Conclusion 2: Rogers Wireless GOOD!

Now, those who know Rogers would expect different. After all, anyone who's ever dealt with Rogers Cable or Rogers High Speed knows just how terribly Rogers can treat their customers. But hey, I guess that's what happens when your corporate branches are sufficiently isolated. And to be fair, all branches of Bell equally shaft their customers. What a crappy corporation Bell is.

Of course, there's another key difference: Bell is CDMA, and Rogers is moving to exclusively GSM. This makes a difference - CDMA WILL DIE in the long run, and only survives since major US companies have a stake in CDMA technology. GSM works worldwide. Plus, GSM SIM cards are great -pop in a new one, and you're on a new network! This had me up and running with Cingular in theUS in about 5 minutes, and I can make my phone a Rogers phone again simply by switching the old SIM card back in. Note, you'll have to bypass the SIM lock on your phone, see my previous post on this subject.

If you're in Canada, Get Rogers. Or at least don't get Bell. That is all.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Review: 2006 Scion tC

It's been a long time coming, but I think it's finally time I talked about my new car.

First off, it's a 2006 Scion tC in Natuical Blue - a 2DR hatchback. Base model, except for the small lip spoiler on the back.
See pictures of my car!

Cost: $18070, including the lip spoiler and handling fees. Add to that a ton of extended warranty and service contracts. Finance through Toyota Finance over five years, using their speciality "New Grad" deal: 6.5%. Long story short, $417.47 a month for five years. Which may sound like a lot, but believe me, for a new car (and NO credit in the US), it's quite a reasonable number considering that every conceivable expense on the car except gas is covered.

I've given the car a good work in, I think (about 700 miles - I bought it at 16). So, lets talk.

One of the key upsides of this car: getting it is painless. Their "mono-spec" concept means that there's no wierd acronyms referring to 100 different option sets - there is just ONE tC - and things like power windows/locks, keyless, cruise, moonroof, etc. are all base. Scion also has a solid list of additional options that are normally aftermarket - larger rims, ground effects, interior lightkits, lip or wing spoilers, and tons of others - and you can choose them piecemeal. With the exception of the side airbags, all of these options can be dealer-installed. This holds in the future too - if you come back a year later and say "I wish I'd gotten the ricer wing spoiler and skirts", then you just go back to the dealer, and they'll do it at the exact same price as it would have cost if you'd bought it that way.

The "pure-price" concept prevents negotiation, both on the price, and on the options. While this means the dealer could artifically set their prices high, most dealers interpret this as meaning they must stick with MSRP, which in this fairly well-off region, isn't a bad thing. They literally printed off my final sales price off the car builder.

I, personally, bought mine at Michael's Toyota, from "JJ" John Jorgenson. I was pleased with the experience, so if you're looking for a Scion, give them a try.

Now, the good points about the car.
  • Price can't be beat. At under $17k USD, you have a value proposition over all the other comparable cars in its class ($20k+). Furthermore, the base specs are like a fully-loaded version of the other cars.
  • Looks awesome, especially in the blue. Sure, you may not quite get looks as if you were in an MR2, but at the same time, you're not going to look like every other Corolla (okay, more like every SUV around here) on the road. The rims are sweet, and they're not even the upgrades.
  • Peppy. 160HP at just under 3000lb. (note: not a word, Irishman!). This is roughly comparable to the other cars in its class that I drove, and it feels like it accelerates far better than any of them. It's the perfect balance for someone for whom a Civic won't be anywhere near enough, but isn't quite ready to go for the more powerful acceleration of a V6. It'll handily handle any non-racing situation you find yourself in, including the hillcliming standard all over North Vancouver.
  • Amazingly roomy. The front is spacious, and the back is very spacious for this class of car. I'll have no problem taking passengers. While the trunk is a little small, both back seats fold down (2/3 - 1/3), to give you extra room.
  • MP3 player stock, with a line in (and power) under the driver armrest for connecting MP3 players. With an optional upgrade, it'll actually connect to an ipod or other player such that you can actually use the wheel controls to control it. The digital sound processing abilities allow you to choose three modes: neutral (ie. flat), hear (boost lows, highs), feel (enhanced bass) to tweak how you want to listen to your music.
  • Climate control is great. Windows (including blowers for the side windows) defog almost instantly when you tell them to.
  • It's a Toyota. So Toyota service, Toyota warranty, and the legendary ability for Toyotas to hold their value over time.

I must mention, this car isn't perfect. These are mostly minor points, but they subtract from it being a perfect car.
  • Fuel economy is average for its class, but by no means impressive. It's meant to be 22/29 MPG. My last tank (commuting, and a bit of highway driving) was 21.5. Meh - if I wanted economy, I'd get a Civic hybrid - but the engine on them is just too weak even for me.
  • It's a stiff ride. While that can be fun, combined with the thin tires, you feel everything on the road. Driving to Vancouver was genuinely unpleasant in some places as you bounce and shake. An interesting observation by Matt though: it's not just the car - lots of the highways around here really suck! I'd have to agree - once across the border to Canada, it was smooth sailing.
  • It doesn't maneuver as well as I thought it would at parking speeds. While I can take an on-ramp loop at ridiculous speed without so much as blinking, I can't park the damned thing for the life of me. Again, partially Seattle's fault - most of their parking is designed for midgets on bicycles. Don't expect it to slip into tiny spots like an Echo.
  • The car is a bit TOO helpful, to the point of nagging. For example, if you don't wear your seatbelt and accelerate, it starts beeping. If you still don't put it on, it beeps faster. For those 30-second "I need to move the car across the street" kinda use, it's annoying as hell. The lights aren't automatic (doesn't even seem to be daytime running lights). They'll also turn themselves off if the engine is off and door is open. This is good, since you can never leave your lights on, but I don't trust any system I can't override.
  • No rear wiper. With the angle of the hatch, it'd be nice to have. Especially in Seattle.
  • Keyless entry doesn't honk - makes it harder to find your car.
And finally, the general observations. Not good, not bad. Just comments.
  • The worst issue most people complain about is rattle. While I've gotten some rattle for a bit after I shut the hatch a bit too aggressively, I've yet to hit any persistent rattle issues.
  • People also complain about blind spots. It's true, the driver's side spot is a bit obscured, but really, it teaches you to use your mirrors properly! If you've checked your left wing mirror, there's only a small area it could hide in, and if it's there, no post is going to hide the fact that there's a car right beside you.
  • The stereo has great specs, but when starting it up, it sounded... well... muffled. Downright disappointing in fact. I'd call this a bug. One of the service coordinators at Scion showed me a trick to fix it. The sound processing is tuned for each model of car, presumably to direct certain frequencies and power towards speakers that can best make use of them. However, since it'd be expensive to make three models of stereo, it's an option you can change! Hold down the SSP button until it beeps, use the volume knob to change the mode to xA (the Scion version of the Matrix) for a far clearer sound, or xB (the ugly-ass "box") for a richer sound. I've been using xB's feel mode - while I wonder if I'm getting the most out of my system by tuning to a sound mode for a car so different from mine, the tC mode is just too sucky to use.

Well, there you have it. Overall, I give the car a 9 on the Mike's money well spent scale. It's not quite perfect, but out of everything I've considered, it certainly was the best choice for me by a fair margin.

Oh yeah, and you can get, from the DEALER (at least in theory), a supercharger that will boost the HP by 40 for about $3500. That would be just nutsy cool, but it's only available in stick. Having said that, if I start talking about a stick shift in that performance range, there's other options worth considering more.
I did briefly consider the Civic Si even for this purchase, but it's hard to find a dealer that actually has one, and a car doesn't even hit my radar until I've been behind the wheel of it. Plus I'm fairly anti-Civic - it comes from the mental association with my high school full of HKers with rice rockets, rather than any real objection to the brand.

Right, enough rambling. Still up, an MS blog and a house blog. The latter will have to wait until I clean up enough for pictures.