Archive for the whining and complaining Category

Over the weekend, over some good homemade Mozza-recipe pizza and Belgian beer, we happened upon the Toyota Solara. This is a car I’ve long despised, but I thought that I was alone in my specific hatred of its design. It turns out that there are other quite aesthetically enlightened members of my family who have also noticed the bland styling of this bastardized Camry.

#1: The Toyota Solara

#1 Ugly: Toyota Solara

Why anyone would choose this car is beside me. It’s not sporty and it’s not practical. It’s not especially cheap or economical. And it’s typically driven by brown-cigarette-smoking ladies of a certain age whose frou-frou pooches ride shotgun. But, this car has also been spotted piloted my straight men in Phoenix, and a certain rabbi in Orange County.

OK, let’s be honest here. Toyota has never really been a leader in the looks department. In fact, this mobile does seem like an evolution of their also-ugly, also bastardized-sedan, Acura Legend.


Solara's Father? Acura Legend Coupe

#2: Mercedes Coupes

The Solara is a tough act to follow – it distances itself from the pack by having no useful purpose whatsoever. But for the ladies with little Snookums with a bow in his hair who need something that shows that their first husband had a little cash, there’s the Mercedes S-class coupe.

Clearly a car where all design was poured into the sedan, and then a butcher modified it remove two doors and appeal to another demographic: the blind.


Coupe d'Ugly

The same staff butcher over at Daimler also had his way with the C-class. Witnesseth:


Daimler Butcher, take two

Good German People! Did you look at these things?

#3 BMW 3-Series

I’m sure I’ll get some pushback on this one, and I agree that the sedan, and even the wagon, of this line are pretty decent looking cars. But, like Benz boys, that coupe is just tooooo looooong. When you cut the doors, cut the length! If people want two doors only – hey? – maybe they don’t have kids? Maybe they rarely use the backseat? Then, you ask, why not get a true sports car? That’s the question of the ages.

Weirdly long lookin

Now, I have to give BMW credit for stealing an old and great American car company idea. They’ve got one line (the 3 series) that comes in convertible, coupe, sedan, and wagon. It’s like a Bayerische Malibu family. Of course, at one point, that Malibu front end was mated to a pickup backend – but don’t even get me started on the lovely El Camino.

#4 Honda Accord Coupe

You’ve gotta give Honda some credit. The Accord coupe looks pretty different than the sedan. They really did redesign it. But you’ve got to take that credit away when you look at the thing.


Enough Said?

You might look at this and think “blah blah blah, whatever.” That’s why Honda added the tail wing as an option! Oh, brother.

#5 Volvo 780 Bertone

This car was truly an enigma. Nothing at all like the sporty Volvo coupes that preceded it, this beast was the province of a certain pre-Eurotrash Euroman who wore windowpane blazers and ascots.

I can’t imagine what the good uomos at Bertone were thinking when they let this project see daylight, but I guess Lotus worked with Isuzu, and Rover with Honda, among other collaborations, so this is par for the course.


Bertone for Tony

This whole discourse makes me think of the pathetic Saab tagline “born from jets.” These coupes are all “born from sedans.” It also make me think, you know what? Those Saab coupes weren’t too bad looking . . .


Generally a big fan of the NY Times Sunday Business section, I was especially interested in this article in today’s paper:

A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web

Many, many good points were brought up in this article, and as both a consumer and an e-tailer, I found myself thinking seriously about several issues here.

The overwhelming theme of the article is that Google ranks websites largely on the basis of links from other sites, especially sites that themselves have lots of other links. So a link from is worth more to a site than a link from here. Obvious perhaps, at this point in the evolution of the internet. What isn’t so obvious is that getting links is important, and bad links may be just important.

It’s hard to get good links. Very hard. It took us years to get a good link on TiVo’s website. And it’s valuable, probably.

But it’s a lot easier to get bad links, as the subject of the article demonstrates. And even the “bad” links can lead to links in places like Since Google isn’t ranking on the positives or negatives of a company, but just the popularity of links largely, all links help. Very enlightening.

We had a DDoS attack on our website about seven years ago. Initially, we just hoped we’d be able to continue in business, which we were fortunately able to do. But after the devastation wore off, we hoped we’d at least get some good links from the bad press. Of course, we also worried that we’d get a bad reputation with people mistakenly thinking that our website had been hacked, which it hadn’t been. But the difference between being attacked and being hacked is a little obscure.

We did manage to make it to the front page of the Wall Street Journal, amazingly. So we probably did get some Google juice out of the whole nightmare. Overall, though, we surely lost. I’d never go through that again.

But this guy, the subject of the article, relishes the problems, and specifically infuriates customers to create bad press, which, as the old saying goes, is still news.

The problem is that just searching on Google and locating a vendor for a product really isn’t enough research. It’s not as good as a personal recommendation – not even close. If you are about to deal with a site you’ve never heard of, it makes sense to take some precautions, like using sites like epinions or ResellerRatings to see if the company is legit. I also often use a ShopSafe credit card number (a service for making temporary cc numbers based on B of A credit cards) and my business address with unknown websites, just to limit the possible consequences of making a mistake.

Finally, I was intrigued that this guy (and I’m not linking to him or even typing his name on purpose) does actually get wound up by the nonsense that he spews. If I get a few tough customer service phone calls in one day, they can really torpedo the day for me. It’s emotionally grueling. Granted, he’s essentially on the other side, being the provoker, but it still can’t be fun. Yet, I do have to agree with him on the “customer is always right” front. Where did that come from? Why can’t a merchant be right? Maybe not him, but an honest one, anyway.

I have a 2007 Audi A4 wagon that’s nearing the end of its lease. As I figure out what car to get next, I’ve been thinking about the problems with this car. Maybe I’m more critical about it since it’s the most expensive car I’ve had, but I think that’s OK. If I’m paying more, I should get more. I’m not sure that I did, and I definitely won’t be spending this much on my next car. Based on this experience, I’m just not sure that there’s a big enough benefit.

Many of the faults of this Audi A4 (it’s a 2007, by the way) stem from the on-board computer system, the RNS-E. This is what you get if you opt for the navigation (about $2000). But it takes on tasks like the radio, and the Bluetooth phone, and it doesn’t absorb these functions well at all.

OK – here’s the list:

  1. Turbo Lag – Wow. Is that really the way this is supposed to be? I don’t need zero-to-60 in under 7 seconds. What I need is zero-to-10. Sometime. Today. I’ve become gutless about pulling out into traffic.
  2. Lack of Driver Memory – Basic memory including seat position and mirror position is all I’m asking for. Most cars with power seats have this. How can this $40,000 car not have this? Ah, but it does have memory in one regard: the heat and AC system. That’s right. When my wife puts her key in, it remembers what temperature she likes. Very useful. Also, my valets can have their own temperature setting. Great. What brilliant mind came up with this?
  3. The Bluetooth Noises, take 1 – Each time I get in the car, when I’m listening to the radio (no choice on that – see below) the sound gets interrupted about five seconds later with a “brring” noise to tell me that my phone has been connected to the car via Bluetooth. Every time. No way to turn this off. Typically, I’m listening to a news story, and I miss something. No way to rewind, of course. And some mind at Audi decided that the icon on the screen showing that the phone is connected isn’t good enough. You also need an audible, non-cancelable alert. Thanks for that.
  4. The Bluetooth Noises, take 2 – Each time I place a call, I get a very, very loud buzz for a few seconds. This happens with three different phones my family uses with this car (all iPhones, to be sure, but I doubt that’s it). It’s so irritating. I grit my teeth each time this happens.
  5. Radio Presets – Presets are there to save time, right? To make changing stations more convenient, right? So I thought. In this car, each time I start the car again, I have to switch to the FM/AM mode on the computer, and then hit memory, and then go back to wherever I was, just to get the preset buttons to work the presets. Turn off the car, and I start from scratch. Otherwise, the preset buttons go through each station on the dial. Yeah, now that’s useful.
  6. Navigation Default – Has anyone ever, ever seen a navigation system in a car that doesn’t default to a ‘map’ view? Well, I’ve got one for ya! This RNS-E defaults to a screen where you can enter an address or do a search or whatever. Changing to the map is another click away. No way to change this default. Is Audi ahead of the curve on this one, and every other car navigation manufacturer on the planet will soon default to a text view? I think not.
  7. MP3 CDs – This car has a six disc changer in the glove compartment. But, for some reason, this will only play CDs in the old audio format. Not MP3s. But you can play an MP3 CD in the navigation system. To do that, you just have to take out the navigation DVD. So then you don’t have navigation. Something’s wrong here if the technology is actually in the car, but not used in both places. Also, the SD slots can play MP3s off SD cards. Don’t even get me started on how complex that is, but suffice it to say it defaults to a track in a subdirectory, until you press the “return” button to move up a directory. It’s always just one click away, with this thing. But why?
  8. The Cup Holder Under the Armrest – I know, it’s a relatively small car. But I think this could have been designed better, somehow. The shifter could be further forward, or the cup holder could be beside it. I’m pretty sure there’s a better answer out there, beyond having to ditch the armrest to put a second cup of coffee in there.
  9. Premium Gas – Given the performance of this car, it should be fine with regular gas. But it gets even worse without the expensive stuff.
  10. Brake Noise – Of course, the dealer blames this on not being able to use asbestos. And they tell me that my brakes are fine and that I just need to jam them hard every now and then to loosen the particles that make the squeak. Again, on a $40,000 car? They need to figure this one out.

When I’m in a better mood about this thing, maybe I’ll write up the top ten things like I like about it. There are certainly some plusses. But, years later, I still have buyer’s remorse. For $10K less, I’ll probably end up with a Passat.

Dregs on a Gift Card

So I have an American Express gift card with exactly $.67 of value left on it. That’s not dollars – that’s cents. So what do I do with it?

I really doubt I can walk into Whole Foods and ask them to take 67 cents off this card toward my next purchase. Any time I’ve tried to get them to help me drain a gift card in the past, they round down to the nearest dollar.

Of course, I do have a few merchant accounts for my businesses, so I could just charge it that way, but then a) it’s taxable and b) I pay probably half the value in transaction fees.

The real winner here is, obviously, American Express. Not only do they get an upfront fee on the card (it looks like it’s $4.95) but they probably get the leftover dregs maybe half the time. I’ll bet that adds up to some serious money. It’s a business I’d like to be in.

I wish some charity or some group that is somehow immune to transaction charges could collect this.

Let me start here: have you tried Shazam on your iPhone? It’s amazing. It listens to music playing anywhere, somehow sends the data up to its home server (works over WiFi or cell networks) then tells you what the song is (artist, song title, album, etc.). They try to make money by selling you the song with affiliate links. It’s great for those times where you’re in your car thinking, “who sings this song, anyway?”

So here’s how it works: you click the button “tag now.” That’s it. It listens, and uploads the audio. It never asks your permission.

This made me think: could any app on the iPhone, while running, record ambient audio and upload it? As far as I can tell, the answer is “yes.”

Interestingly, Apple has been careful to include a warning when apps ask to determine your location on the iPhone. That’s a nice privacy control. But any app can listen in when it’s open. Seems like a hole waiting to be exploited.

We were up at Tenaya Lodge near the south entrance to Yosemite this weekend. The area around the place is beautiful, but some architect made some really bad decisions at this place.

Essentially, unless you book very, very early, this is the only place around that will have rooms available. There’s a reason for this: it’s pretty expensive, and not that nice.

The setting is a hill in the mountains, totally denuded of trees (in a very, very dense forest). The building takes no awareness of the land into account – no views, no tucked-in parts, nothing. Just a big building surrounded by parking lots.

I could complain forever, but I should say that for $320 a night, you’d expect a room to be ready for you during normal check-in times (it wasn’t), or that the staff would be nice about it (they told us to go walk around and come back to see when our room would be ready). You’d also expect not to be nickle-and-dimed for things like WiFi ($9.95 per device, not room, so be careful on your iPhone) and games ($6.95/hour for the Lodgenet nonsense on the CRT TV). But, strangely, valet parking is free.

The indoor pool was totally sterile (really just plain ugly), and at the outdoor pool you have to withstand blaring Muzak. It’s really, really loud.

Anyway, the one saving grace was a great running trail. I found it by running south on the highway and ducking in the next road below the place, but there’s also a road out the backside of Tenaya that gets you there. Most signs highlight the horseback riding a mile down – if you see that, you’re in the right place. It’s a dirt road that goes, I think, 13 miles. I didn’t go all the way down. But it’s rolling, and gorgeous, so if you’re looking for a run in those parts, it’s a good place to hit.

This guy really nailed it – you’ve gotta check out his post (and the pictures are pretty good too). I don’t think I’ll be able to keep from laughing next time I’m there . . .

We just got a letter from Freedom Financial Partners. I thought it was a routine “Do we have a new loan for you!” letter, and I tossed it. But my wife had seen it first and was worried that it said our house was in jeopardy due to a loan default.

So I fished it out of the recycling, and sure enough, she was right – the letter did say that.

OK – first, some background info on the wonderful Freedom Financial. Their website seems to be here. Note the link to the BBB. I’m really not a big fan of the BBB. As a business owner myself, I feel like they extort a yearly fee in exchange for a good review of your business. But click the Freedom Financial BBB link. Nada. No reviews. But they link there. Pathetic.

Next, the ways to contact them. On their website, they have a email address. On the letter, it’s a gmail address. For a company with a domain name and a website, this seems a bit strange. Is it operated on public computers where they need webmail?

As for physical location, their area code (724) puts them in Pennsylvania. But their BBB info puts them in Utah. Their whois info is hidden. You guys really know how to gain the trust of your customers.

Here’s the key line from the letter: If none of this is true, I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you by sending this letter. Wow. So if you’ve scared perfectly mortgage-paying homeowners into wasting their time, and possibly calling you, you’re sorry. Even in Stockton, California (with its 10% foreclosure rate – reportedly the highest in the country) you’d only be right up to 10% of the time, so you’d be wrong 90% of the time. In the rest of the country, you’d be wrong 90%+ of the time. Truly pathetic.

Freedom Financial Partners: Please! Have some personal integrity! Do the right thing here! Does scaring people into contacting you ever work?

OK – my fourth post on my blog, and the pet peeves start coming out.

I’m really sick of the amount of noise these Infinitis make. These two models (the G35 and FX35 in particular) make a really loud rumble, especially with acceleration. Considering that these cars could make almost no noise with current technology, Infiniti clearly engineered this rumble. But for whom? The owners? For those of us who live on busy streets or who like to walk, these cars are a real nuisance. They may not be as loud as Porsches, but there are a lot more of them out there.

And here’s how I know I’m a real kook: I dug around for other people complaining about the noise of these cars, and I just can’t find anything. Anyone see anything? Anyone agree?

I guess all I can do is to vote with my wallet; I’ll never buy an Infiniti.


Environmentalists for Barack

OK – now, granted, I was in Orange County for this one (yes, the OC). So maybe I have to recalibrate a bit. And, furthermore, this truck is an out-of-state-mobile – Nevada plates. But it does have that NB sticker on there for Newport Beach; I’m assuming the driver hauls all these tons of energy efficient metal back and forth across the Mojave on a regular basis.

Further, I understand that driving has a smaller carbon footprint that flying. So maybe this guy really is an environmentalist. But, seriously? Environmentalists for Barack on a Cadillac Escalade? Somehow getting 12 miles per gallon gives you a ticket into that club? This road beast makes a Jeep look like a Prius.

WWOD? (that’s what would Obama drive?)