Author Archives: David Nguyen

Slaying the Garage Dragon, Part 2

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During the initial drywall and paint phase of my garage makeover I moved most of the stuff to the basement, leaving the big stuff like a cabinet and bicycles in the garage since they could be moved as needed. There was a lot of back and forth carrying all those knickknacks down the stairs. It also made me feel like I was a hoarder every time I set foot in the basement.

Garage Door Openers

Once the garage was mostly cleared the next phase involved installing garage door openers and finishing the floor. Yes, the elusive clean and bright floor most garages sorely lack. But first there was the matter of clearing everything else out. Not only did I become a craigslist jockey for an afternoon to sell random junk I’d never need again, I also got to truly decorate my basement in what’s best described as modern hoarder-style.

In keeping with the concept of starting at the top and working my way down – the opposite of a career path I suppose – the next step involved ordering garage door openers from my local Home Depot. As with my electric go kart, I went with beltdrive for the 1/2 horsepower openers that are less noisy than chain drive units. After I picked out the units I scheduled the installation, which went really well. The installer exceeded my expectations.

The only thing I may have done differently had I known is that the wall panel for controlling the doors is not wireless, as I had been led to believe by the rep at the store, and I would have had installation occur before the new drywall went in since it requires a hole to be cut into the wall and wires to be run to each of the motors. Continue reading “Slaying the Garage Dragon, Part 2” »

Slaying the Garage Dragon, Part 1

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For ten years I had been dragging my feet, all talk and no walk, about finishing my garage. Yes, I watched the house get built and I dreamed about the garage but never did much to get going on it. Oh, I knew what I wanted but never really seemed to be able to take some definitive action toward the goal.

Two manual garage doors, each with a rope to pull it up and down, the bare, unfinished drywall, the lone 40 Watt bulb casting a dingy shadow over the concrete floor that absorbed and duly displayed every drop of oil or whatever else you could spill on it, all conspired to keep me down. Continue reading “Slaying the Garage Dragon, Part 1” »

A Piece of Ferrari

Ferrari California T convertible

Ferrari California T

A few weeks ago Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), majority owner of Ferrari, announced it would spin-off the fabled Italian marque next year by floating 10% of the shares on a stock exchange and distributing another 80% to its shareholders.

While details explaining exactly how FCA will go about doing so have yet to be announced, reports indicate that one would have to buy them on the market or be an existing shareholder. How I understood it is if you want to get your mitts on a piece of Ferrari you will probably do better to buy Fiat Chrysler shares than wait to buy Ferrari shares next year, even if it means having to buy convertible debt.

Why Is Fiat Chrysler Floating Ferrari?

Basically they are borrowing on Ferrari’s good name because FCA needs to raise some $60 billion to fund product development through 2018. Various estimates have pegged Ferrari’s value at around $7 billion while FCA’s entire market cap (including Ferrari) is only about $18 billion. No wonder FCA wants to spin off the Prancing Horse.

Ferrari is worth more standing on its own than under the Fiat Chrysler umbrella. So separating Ferrari will more accurately reflect the value of the brand, increasing the amount against which FCA can borrow for product development.

So early last week I bought some FCA shares (stock ticker FCAU) not only because I’m a Ferrari fan – which is a terrible reason to buy stock – but also because I think it’s a good long term investment (even if I don’t view FCA in the same light). Here’s why.

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When the Ceiling Caves In

Ceiling collapses after drywall nails fail.

When the ceiling caves in…

It was a late summer evening, a Friday night at around 8 o’clock. The phone rang. It was Lorraine. There was a hesitation in her voice, like she was going to deliver bad news and she didn’t want to make it sound like bad news.

But I already knew. After all, as far as I could remember she had never called before. Ever. All of our exchanges had been via email. She worked for a property management company. I was one of their clients. Until that point all of our exchanges were rather mundane. Taxes needed to be paid, the additional parties added to the insurance policies and the property inspections conducted. All routine activities.

To receive a call at that hour, it couldn’t have been good. This time it was about a ceiling in a rental property. Specifically, the ceiling had come crashing down for no obvious reason.

“Was anyone hurt?”, I asked.

“No one was home”, came the reply.

A sigh of relief. It was in a little girl’s bedroom. As one can see from the photo above, the entire ceiling of the room ended up on the floor, exposing the rafters in the attic. As many people can attest, owning rental property isn’t always a bed of roses.

Lorraine wanted to know what I wanted them to do. I asked if they had ever had this happen with other properties under management. Somewhat surprisingly, it had happened a couple of times among their 650 homes. So what did they do about it?

Stuff Happens

The ceiling caving in is a problem. But it’s not the only problem. Things fail all the time, some times catastrophically. Cars breakdown. Buildings fail. People of off the deep end. Entire societies can breakdown. I’m not apocalyptic but the reality is it takes vigilance to prevent or at least counter the chaotic nature of the world.
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Ferrari California Dreamin’

Ferrari California. Photo courtesy Ferrari

Ferrari California

Whether through foresight or serendipity, the introduction of the Ferrari California – the Prancing Horse’s least expensive model – at the 2008 Paris auto show coincided with the start of the Great Recession.

What better way for the exotic car maker to expand its business than to launch an entry level model when most people were losing (or worried about losing) their shirt? Actually, the target market was certainly more likely people who weren’t worried about said shirt loss, but perhaps may not have wanted to rub it (as much) into the faces of those who were.

So it was that more than 50 years after the original Italian sports car named after a U.S. state arrived on our shores, the 2009 model followed, value-priced and packed with Maranello’s latest technology. Whereas the Ferrari lineup had previously consisted of front engine V12 Gran Turismo (GT) and mid-engine V8 sports cars, with a flagship supercar thrown in every seven to 10 years (e.g. F40, F50, Enzo), the California was the first ever front engine V8 Ferrari.

Described as a retractable hardtop two seat GT with optional 2+2 seating – the rear two passengers usually preferring the seats of the front two – it became one of the company’s volume models.

V12 x 2/3 = Engine

At the heart of it lay a variant of the Ferrari F430 engine, an aluminum 4.3 liter V8. But this was the first Ferrari to have direct injection. Churning out 453 hp, it produced less power than the unit in the F430 but more torque on its way to a redline near 8,000 rpm.

Power was directed to a rear mounted dual-clutch semi-automatic transmission featuring seven speeds. This partly explains why only 46% of the car’s hefty 3,900 lb. mass rides on the front wheels. Later an optional six speed manual version became available. But rumor has it that pretty much none were sold, making it nearly as rare as unicorns.

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First Ever Formula E Race

Takuma Sato driving in Formula E

Takuma Sato at the wheel of the Amlin Aguri Formula E car

The inaugural Formula E race took place in Beijing this past weekend. A few short years ago it was just an idea. Now it has opened an exciting new chapter in the world of racing bringing a fresh approach and solid talent pool to the mix.

Electric Racing

The main idea behind Formula E is that of a global electric racing championship focused on high performance and energy efficiency, which are really two sides of the same coin (though performance is much more exciting to watch than efficiency). By using quiet electric race cars and packing all the sessions into one day, the organizers are able to bring the action and the glamour to the masses in ten urban centers around the world in this season’s championship.

While it is said to have cost $100m to launch the series, that’s comparatively inexpensive considering it costs more each year to run a mid-field Formula 1 (F1) team. Though racing is not inexpensive, this could well turn out to be a great investment for founder Alejandro Agag and his backers.

Cars By Consortium

The cars are all-electric and built by Spark Racing Technology, incorporating components and systems from big names such as Dallara, McLaren, Williams, Renault and Michelin. Powered by 150 kilowatt (kW) motors (201 hp), they can reach modest top speeds of about 140 mph.

While power is nominal, torque is undoubtedly prodigious and instantaneous. Acceleration is quick. Battery capacity is still very limited, so the races are a brief 45 minutes, with each driver using two cars. Even then getting to the finish is really tight; drivers eke across the finish line with barely any charge left.

The cars use fairly flat, low downforce front and rear wings because there isn’t enough energy available to overcome the extra aerodynamic drag of high downforce wings commonly seen on cars on street circuits.

Compared to F1 cars the relatively low speed and low drag/downforce design makes the Formula E cars less aerodynamically sensitive. Because of that they should be able to race much closer together.

The big concern about the lack of loud engine noise is, in my opinion, unfounded. While certainly less noisy, electric cars at speed are not silent simply because there are other sounds present such as tire and wind noise. At speed they emit a pleasant high-pitched whir. Somewhat surprisingly, the Formula E car uses treaded tires that are closer in size to those of street cars. This is likely to negate the need for rain tires.

Despite its modest performance and somewhat odd appearance, particularly due to the fairings in front of each tire, the Formula E car is a great platform from which to develop further technology. There is little doubt it will continue to improve in performance in the coming seasons.

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Porsche Cayman Wizardry and Lizardry

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My first step in publishing each post is to write utter garbage. Whatever you may think of the final product, I just spill all my words out into something tangible – enough so that I can show it to someone else and have them tell me it’s crap.

Then after inhaling the waft of my printer burning toner or whatever it does while coughing up multiple drafts and revisions, I’ll arrive at something I am only slightly discontented with and ready to post, though not without trepidation. Typing up a first draft that’s polished enough to call a final product is not how I roll.

Perhaps some car companies operate the same way. They throw something together based on a concept and keep refining it until it finds its niche in the world or the scrap pile.

The process of launching a car involves a lot of trial and error, prototypes and fixing myriad problems. Possibly all because a couple of engineers debated the merits of one way or another of doing something while chowing down burgers, schnitzel, sushi or pasta during their lunch hours.

Then someone, after perhaps many sips (or gulps) of some inebriating beverage says, “Hey, why don’t we try that?”, and the others at the table nod in agreement. Or seem to nod because they’re plastered.

I mean, how else do you explain putting six cylinders without a radiator on the backside of something akin to an upside down bathtub that shared a bunch of parts with a VW Beetle and calling it a sports car?  Then, many brew addled lunches later turbocharging some version of it, slapping a giant wing on it and pretty much kicking the entire world’s collective sports car racing ass?

Anyway, my point is that if you want to get started doing anything, just throw something together and see if it seems like a good direction. Then keep polishing. That’s my theory on how the Porsche 911 became one of the world’s most, if not the most, iconic sports cars.

But this piece isn’t actually about that car. It’s about something that happened a generation after its debut, where perhaps another group of engineers may have revisited the rear-engine vs. mid-engine debate. One thing led to another and, hopefully without fisticuffs in the biergarten, they wanted to put things to the test and came up with the Porsche Boxster.
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Anatomy of Great Races

BMW Z4 race car at Virginia International Raceway (VIR)

BMW Z4 racing in the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship

Many elements play a part in the making of a classic race. Since the beginning of auto racing, the great races tend to contain a number of common traits. First and foremost, racing is a battle of drivers. The cars, teams, series and tracks are there to provide the platform upon which drivers compete.

High tech for its own sake isn’t of much entertainment value. Racing is a human contest, not a science fair. So let’s not get all geeked out on technical minutia and rules that may or may not improve performance, probably won’t appreciably improve the show, will likely stir up controversies and penalties and definitely drive up costs.

A race can be viewed as the sum of three distinct phases. Similar to chess it can be viewed as having opening, middle and end stages – mixed in with a high rate of speed.

Most races have exciting opening phases. That’s often the best part of an event because all the cars are close together and anything can happen, good…

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The Bugatti Veyron Is Twice the Car

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The Bugatti Veyron 16.4 is a car unlike any that has come before. Sure there have always been fast, luxurious cars. But the Veyron takes it to another level not just in terms of speed but in terms of, well, just about everything.

It was named after a relatively unknown Bugatti test driver named Pierre Veyron who teamed with Jean-Pierre Wimille to win the 1939 24 Hours of Le Mans driving a Bugatti Type 57C. While the Veyron bears the name of the company founded by Ettore Bugatti and is produced at the site of the company’s original works in Molsheim, France, the driving force behind its creation was Volkswagen Group and its chairman, the indomitable Dr. Ferdinand Piëch.

Dr. Piëch, grandson of Porsche founder Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, played a key role in a number of automotive developments including the Porsche 917 race car and the Audi Quattro all-wheel drive groundbreaking drivetrain. He was also voted “Car Executive of the Century” in 1999.

His goal with the acquisition of Bugatti was nothing short of the creation of the ultimate car. Following a series of concepts sporting a whole lot of cylinders and four digit power figures, the Veyron concept was initially shown at the 2003 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

The production Veyron arrived in 2006 with a price tag of about $1.2m, depending on exchange rates. Since then prices have edged as far as the $2m-$3m range. Yes, in the world of super cars inflation is real, and the sales tax alone can amount to the price of a very nice car.

Engine

At the heart of the Veyron is, of course, its engine. This engine is very different from any other. For one its displacement is 8.0 liters. Okay, so an SRT Viper has a larger engine. But the Veyron has four turbochargers. Okay, so the Bugatti EB110 had four turbos. But the Veyron has sixteen (!) cylinders. Okay, so the 1932 Cadillac Phaeton had sixteen cylinders.

But no other car has combined all of those attributes into one engine: Giant displacement, lots of turbos and lots of cylinders. Oh, and the cylinders are arranged in a W-pattern rather than a typical V-pattern. It’s a quad-turbocharged 8.0 liter W-16 engine that just happens to produce over 1,000 metric horsepower (987 SAE hp) and 950 lb-ft of torque. Those are the official ratings, which are rumored to be quite conservative.

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Do Shantytowns Have Condo Fees?

Shantytown

Of shantytowns and homeowners associations.

There’s usually a sizable difference in the purchase price of single family homes and condominiums of similar grade. Adjusting for differences in square footage and certain amenities, the required condo fees are usually higher than single family homeowner association (HOA) fees.

Could that difference in fees make up for the difference in purchase prices? How much more property could you buy if, instead of acquiring a property with a condo fee, you bought one without? Here’s one way to look at it.

I have a condo where the fee is over $300 per month. That includes trash service, water and electricity, as well as maintenance of common areas and all that good stuff. But let’s suppose I had instead bought a home nearby that didn’t have a homeowner association. How much more home would that $300 condo fee buy?

First, realistically it would be more like a $200 difference since I would have to pay for utilities and such any way. Assuming a 30 year mortgage and 5% annual interest, that extra $200 per month works out to a little more than $37,000 – an amount that will, unlike fee increases, appreciate in the owner’s favor.

In other words, if I had put that extra $200 per month toward buying a bigger property, I could have bought a home that cost about $37,000 more. Would that have been likely in that area? No. But that doesn’t mean that’s always the case.
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