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” »

Why I Hate Quickbooks

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I spent a recent Sunday afternoon – and I’m still not done – suffering through one of man’s worst acts of intellectual barbarism. Yes, I suffered through another bout of doing the books for the year. It was a timesink beyond belief, and I mostly have myself to blame for not putting in place better methods from the year before.

Despite bemoaning this self-inflicted predicament, I have repeated this sadistic ritual annually without fail. But I promise this year is going to be different because I just can’t take it any more.

Afflicted With Quickbooks

Having thought about this, the problem is actually twofold. First, much to the chagrin of every accountant I have worked with, I absolutely detest Quickbooks. Every version on every computer I’ve ever used has been utter garbage.

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F1 In Crisis – 2015 Season Preview

2015 Red Bull RB11 cars.

2015 Red Bull RB11 race car ready for testing…

Let’s not beat around the bush. Formula 1 is in crisis. One reason this season preview is so last minute is because there are so many stories of ongoing problems. I wanted to capture as much of it as possible.

F1 is becoming a less attractive business proposition for sponsors because they are not getting the ROI that they expect. Simply put the exposure F1 provides is declining while the costs continue to rise (alarmingly).

Not only are costs continuing to spiral out of control, the audience is decreasing. Part of the reason is because of pay TV. If people have to pay to watch it on television there will be fewer watching than if it were free. Since branding and exposure is the name of the game for sponsors, this is a worrying trend.

As a result we have more and more crises as more teams struggle to survive and have to take on pay drivers able to bring ridiculous amounts of money. There may be more driver contract disputes now than cars on the grid. Moreover the caliber of skill is not as high as it could be, with many underfunded yet exceptionally talented drivers not getting a shot at the sport. It’s sad.

The grid is also made up of less reliable, ugly, poor sounding cars. And they are slower than before. I believe this is all the result of greenwashing with hybrid technology and it has done nothing to improve the sport. Plus the environmental benefits are questionable at best.

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The Other Side of Mulholland Drive


A college buddy of mine, we’ll call him B-Dogg because that was his moniker, said to me during our undergraduate days he was going to do three things:

(1)   Get his PhD
(2)   Move to Hollywood
(3)   Drive a silver Porsche

At least that was the part of the conversation I remember most. The rest of it was about some homework assignment that I may not or may not have completed satisfactorily (that’s not a typo).

Fast forward a few years and he duly accomplished the three things he had enumerated. Since then I’ve come to visit on occasion when I’m in LA.

We’ve also been to a number of other places but they usually involve nondescript rental cars (a Hyundai i10 on St. Maarten’s twisties was a real gem) driven with reckless abandon. And strip clubs. B-Dogg loves his strip clubs.

In fact, there’s this strip club somewhere outside of Miami that’s nearly the size of a CostCo, containing a larger quantity of women and stages than one’s two eyes can see in an hour. Or three. But I digress.

Even though I had known about it since I was a kid, it wasn’t until last March that I sought out Mulholland Drive, that sinewy mountain road that winds through the Hollywood Hills.

I was there again recently, and instead of thrashing a rental, we took B-Dogg’s silver 2013 Porsche Boxster S (Type 981) for a brief Sunday excursion on Mulholland Drive with the top down before afternoon plans with his wife and some friends. Continue reading “The Other Side of Mulholland Drive” »

2014 F1 Season Review

Red Bull Formula 1 in Singapore GP

Red Bulls in Singapore F1 race

Okay so I’m a bit behind on this recap but I did watch the race the same day it took place. Not that that makes this post any more current.

Mercedes duly clinched the Constructors’ Championship in Russia, the 16th of 19 races – their first ever as a constructor – but not without a season full of drama. It was inevitable because they let their two drivers race each other and stuck by that policy, even when it seemed to go pear shaped after they collided on track at the start of the Belgian grand prix at Spa. So kudos to them for doing so.

Lewis Hamilton won the race and his second World Championship while teammate Nico Rosberg finished 14th in the race and second in the championship in what could only be described as a letdown in the final race at Abu Dhabi due to Rosberg’s KERS system failing.

However, that doesn’t take away from Hamilton’s 11 victories out of 19 races. He finally earned his second title, though he almost certainly would have won more titles by now had he been less of a celebrity prima donna earlier in his career.

Since his 2007 F1 debut he has become more focused and mature. But he some times still displays appallingly petulant behavior as during the Monaco race weekend when he refused to acknowledge his teammate on the podium after Rosberg’s victory. (Hamilton had accused Rosberg of cheating in qualifying by backing up the escape road during his best lap, causing the session to be red flagged and nullifying Hamilton’s best lap time.)

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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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