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.

Moved my blog . . . and now fixed it

So I moved my blog from my pokey home server (Mac Mini) to Dreamhost. Much faster. Much more stable. And hopefully my DSL will speed up a bit since the huge amount of traffic I get here won’t slow my home link down.

Of course, I blew it in many ways when I moved the blog. So lots of links and pictures weren’t working for a few weeks until I realized what I had done. Sorry. But I think it’s all back to normal now. Until I update to 2.7. . .

Renovation Update: More Demo

I had thought that the demo was largely done when I posted the last set of pictures, but that was not so. They’ve pulled out lots more, and they still haven’t yanked most of the windows. But in the meantime, they’ve done some framing and a lot of plumbing, so we’re making some good progress.

Now that the framing is in, we can see how the new layout will work. It’s not vastly different from what came before, but the tweaks are nice.

Started the Upstairs Renovation

Yes, yes, not the best of times to undertake a major home renovation, but we’ve been saving for it for years, and hopefully Christina’s job, at least, is relatively recession-proof. Plus, the contractors and subs want the work now, where two years ago, we’d have to wait in line.

So it’s happening. We’re now three days into demo, and as far as I can tell, 95% of what has to go away is gone. Some floor has to go, and the windows will go once the new ones arrive. But is pretty empty up there.

Here are the before pics and the first demo pics (from yesterday – even more is gone now):

Hopefully, I’ll have some pictures of the construction process soon. That, of course, will be 20x slower.

Apple Farm in San Luis Obispo

So for the first night of our Thanksgiving week trip, we’re in SLO at the unbelievably cutesy Apple Farm.

Given that we got a ‘family suite’ we’re in the outbuilding beside the freeway. Pretty awesome. Maybe they figure that family=kids=noise so they stick you as far away as possible.

One upside is that they do have lemon bar soap – see the pic.

The town is actually really nice, comfortable, dense, and has plenty of history in and among the nationwide chain stores. We ate at what many seem to claim as the best restaurant in town: Buona Tavola. It was certainly fine, but nothing I’d rush back to.

Anyway, I’m writing from my iPhone here, and this post has disappeared three times now, so this is my last attempt.

(can’t find my lemon bar soap pic, so please accept this pic I got while running instead)

OK – this isn’t the greatest pic, but I think you can see what’s up. This is from the dinner I had at Rustic Canyon that I’m still dreaming about.

The descriptions are pretty much right on.

Last night, we ate at Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica. We don’t generally like to go out on Monday nights, but this was the night Rustic Canyon was having their seasonal beer pairing dinner. And it was worth it.

The dinner pairs six beers with four savory courses and a dessert. Here’s the set menu.

The first beer was basically a lambic, but brewed in the US, and without fruit: Jolly Pumpkin from Oro de Calabasa. Despite the name of the beer and the brewery, there was, thankfully, no squash involved. It was light, and served alone. This was pretty good – nice and fresh, and, as described by the beer sommelier, Christina, a good palate cleanser.

Then the food started. The bacon en croute looked very small and unassuming. But biting in made all the difference. Imagine a juicy chunk of soft bacon surrounded with flaky, moist dough, with rough salt on top. My friend Joe likened it to a high-end pig in a blanket. It was basically a juicy bite of bacon goodness. I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture.

The bacon en croute was served with Black Orchard Wit from The Bruery. This was a dark wheat beer apparently, brewed in Upland. Frankly, although I like other beers from The Bruery, this one didn’t really do anything for me. It did a nice job of standing up to the saltiness and smokiness of the bacon without competing, but I’m not sure I’d go out of my way for it. I’d had the Orchard White before (at Father’s Office) and I liked it a lot, so I’m game for more from the Bruery – I might need to take a field trip down there.

The second food course was the persimmon, fig and fennel salad. I’m just recently starting to like persimmon, but this wasn’t like anything I’d had before. It was sliced thin and it was crunchy, almost like a green papaya salad at a Thai restaurant. In any event, the salad was very unexpected and delicious. But even better, the beer with this was from Browerij Bosteels in Belgium. It was their Tripel Karmeliet, and the information from Rustic Canyon said it was voted the best ale in some London tasting recently. It was amazing. I had three glasses. Monks don’t brew it anymore, apparently, but the recipe is 400 years old. This was the best beer of the bunch – similar to a Chimay Tripel (which seems to be part of the same brewery, maybe?) but better.

Then came the pumpkin ravioli, bathed in a brown butter sage sauce. Heavenly. And pretty good with the beer, even though the beer was, frankly, a little one dimensional. The Green Flash Nut Brown Ale was better than, say, Newcastle, but in the same ballpark. For this course, it was all about the pasta. For homemade dough, it was surprisingly rigid and really kept its form and had a nice bite. And it’s hard to not like pasta swimming in good butter.

So then came the main course – the duck confit. Crispy skin, juicy, fatty meat. Really incredible. I had a duck confit over at Comme Ca recently and it didn’t hold a candle to this. The veggies with it were fine, but the duck itself here was sensational. And the beer with this course was a winner also: Reserve, from Abbaye Binchoise (can’t find a link for the brewery). So maybe I have a weakness for Belgian beer, but this was another great one.

OK, so how do you finish a beer pairing menu with a dessert beer? You might think a chocolate beer would be the ticket, but Rustic Canyon went a different direction and finished with a chocolate cake, a plate of cookies (really good ones – gingerbread, shortbread, and lemon squares) and a beer that was finished in Jim Beam casks to give it a whisky-like flavor. That worked surprisingly well – and I had doubles of this one. The beer was Curieux from a brewery in Maine called Allagash.

I’m trying to figure out where to buy some of these beers in LA. The three I’m interested in are the two Belgians and the Allagash. They really floored me.

So after eating lots of wine pairing menus over the years, I finally found a beer menu. As much as I like wine, I’m not generally bowled over by how well it pairs with certain foods, nor am I really able to identify flavors as carefully as many. It’s not that I don’t like wine with food – quite the contrary – it’s just that I don’t usually recognize as much of a symbiosis between wine and food as I did last night with beer and food. And I feel like the range of wines typical in pairings like this just doesn’t go nearly as far as this went. Usually, you get some white, some red, and some sparkling wine. The breadth of different flavors in these beers just went further – and clearly, there are a lot more possibilities out there. And one of my least favorite types of beer – IPA – was totally absent.

I’ll definitely be going back to Rustic Canyon for another beer pairing menu. It sounds like they have one each season, but the winter one might be a bit late since the woman in charge, Christina, has a book coming out, and that’s taking up her time. But, if I can get four of these a year, one in each season, I’ll be there.

From the vantage point of four days after my half-marathon in Long Beach, certain thoughts have been recurring in my mind about the run. There are always several situations in which you wish you’d performed differently, figuring that a different action would have produced a different result. I don’t really consider myself a competitive person, but my time was slower than a previous time of mine, and I’ve been thinking about why.

One concrete mistake we made that day was in arriving a little too late. By the time you get through traffic (yes, the 710 freeway to Long Beach was completely stopped at 6:30 AM on a Sunday due to the race traffic), then get a parking spot, then wait for the bathroom line, and then enter the crush, you are nowhere near the front. In our case, our times put us in Corral A, up near the front of the pack. They space runners by expected finishing time to try to keep the traffic spreading out over the length of the run, rather than compressing, or forcing runners to pass each other. But we started too far back, so we spent a lot of time (and some energy) passing other runners, or being constrained to running slower than we would have liked. You could argue that running slower saved us energy that we could use later on, but I don’t think it’s a zero-sum situation. I’d have been better off running a bit faster in the beginning, rather than shaving almost a minute off my per-mile time for the second half.

So starting the race at essentially the four minute mark meant that I would need to pass a lot of runners in front of me who intended to run more slowly.

The image that struck me the most during the run was of a man about halfway through the race. As mentioned, I was passing a great deal of people who had stared in front of me. This one man in particular was probably about 60, and he was absolutely drenched with sweat. People definitely sweat different amounts, so this wasn’t surprising – he was probably just the type to sweat more. But as I got closer, I heard him huffing and puffing. When I got a look at his face, it was clear to me that he was operating at peak capacity – really pushing himself. By comparison, this made me realize that I was, in a sense, just phoning it in. If I were to run that hard, I’d have a much better finishing time, and I’d be totally wiped. I’d also get a much better work out. But I just don’t think I have it in me to go at peak capacity like that.

As always, I could have trained more, gotten more sleep the night before, carb-loaded more carefully, etc. But I’m pretty happy with my time. And I had felt that this would be my last run for a while, but, actually, it reinvigorated me, and so I’m ready to go again.

Missed it by *That* Much

I ran the Long Beach half marathon on Sunday, and, while I did much better than my time last year, I didn’t quite get under the two hour mark. Of course, had I known I’d miss it by two seconds, I’m guessing I could have powered out a few steps to pull it off.

I always say that next time I’ll train better, or carbo load better, or get more sleep, or something. In the end, I felt like I phoned in the prep work, but I really did fine. So maybe that’s the way to go: don’t prepare at all, and just go out and run.

I also claimed this would be my last run for a while, but I had a great time running with friends, and I wasn’t totally wiped afterward, so I think I’ll go again, when the time comes. I keep dreaming of getting under 1:50, but once I calculate it out, that seems wildly impossible. So I’m content, and next time I’ll shave 10 seconds off this.

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.