2009-06-29

Making myself at home in CA

One would think that in the 21st century one would have no trouble getting hands on one's own money in order to make a security deposit and first rent payment for the new apartment. Not so fast!

Anyways, after several trips to the ATM, each exhausting the daily withdrawal limit, I had collected enough cash to cover the payment, got money orders done at the post office, and was able to go sign the lease today.

Moving in on the 7th. Yay!

The new place is a mere 10-minute walk from the office, and I will also be able to walk to several grocery stores, drug store, post office, and a bunch of bars and restaurants. For my car, there is a coin car wash across the street, and a storage closet big enough to hold my competition tires built into the wall of the parking shed.


I definitely like the kitchen and bathroom fixtures and stainless steel appliances, though they might not see enough use what with me eating out a lot. The $16 pizza I had for lunch made me contemplate cooking more. Or eating less. Who knows. LOL

To maximize the time before I start working 90-hour weeks learning the ropes at the new job, I am trying to get as many items checked off the moving list as humanly possible. So today I changed the mailing address with the USPS, scheduled container delivery, canceled utilities at the NC condo, and had the car inspected.

Needless to say, the car passed with flying colors. The mechanic said that it is a California-spec car, just as I expected it would be. They did not make enough of these cars to justify separate models for different states.

Still to be done: car registration, California driver license, address change for all the services like Netflix and banks, utility activation for the new apartment, etc. etc.

My hope is to have my competition tires by Sunday and to find an autocross I can attend. I am on serious withdrawal.

2009-06-23

Road trip day 3: Oklahoma City-Flagstaff AZ


Here's how far we've got in three days. Not bad. Actually beat my estimate by full 24 hours by now, and we're not really driving hard.

I was fairly impressed by the size of the 72-oz steak they have on display there, but went for a modest 10-oz version myself.

Driving through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona was less boring than I expected. Particularly when the sun began to set.

It was my shift to drive smack into the sunset, and that part I could have easily done without. But we survived.

Today will be a lazy day. We'll go to the Grand Canyon, and spend as much time there as we want, then drive in general direction of Las Vegas.

I would like it if we actually made it to Vegas tonight (it's less than 4 hours away from the Canyon). I heard so much about the city's neon glow rising from the darkness of the desert surrounding it.

2009-06-21

From Graceland with love

Big wow to the industrialized museums. Get your food, drink, trinkets, and a dose of sentimentality all in one place, from the comfort of air-conditioned spaces.

Here is my dad and I at the "Private Elvis" exhibit souvenir shop. In case you wondered, there is one attached to every exhibit, and some extra ones, just so. Extremely effective at parting people with their money in exchange for memories and keepsakes.

We left there at about 11:30 and made good time, so that it became clear that we'll be getting to Fort Smith, where I booked a hotel for the night, with another four to five hours of daylight to spare.

I decided to eat the Hotwire-booked non-refundable room charge and keep going. Was very surprised that the hotel I picked for the night in Oklahoma City was part of the same chain (even though it was named differently) and they were able to transfer the booked room to this other property.

Big kudos to the General Manager of the hotel who went the extra mile to make sure that we could use the reservation we had!

2009-06-20

Road trip day 1: RDU-Memphis

Thirteen hours after leaving the hotel in RDU, we arrived at the hotel in Memphis. Nothing fancy, but has free wi-fi and is close to Graceland, that's all we need.

That, and running hot and cold water :)

Driving in the mountains around Asheville was fun, and I had a blast taking these curves at a little higher speeds than my gut would tell me was prudent. Kept me alert :)

Dad drove two shifts, for a total of 5 hours or so, and I drove the rest of the time. He's still getting used to the S2K. He's more of a Merc type, likes his cars smooth and quiet, while this car is the exact opposite: stiff, loud, but very precise and responsive. The handling and responsiveness part he liked :)

Finally got to Memphis around 9pm local time. Had dinner at the hotel restaurant because we were too tired of driving and did not want to drive anywhere for better food.

Tomorrow, we'll take a tour of Graceland and head on to Ozark AR after that.

2009-06-19

Operation "Pick up Dad"

My father is joining me on the epic trip westward, and yesterday night he was scheduled to arrive at the RDU airport.

I got a call from him early evening, saying that his flight to RDU was canceled, and all Delta could do for him was to put him on a flight to Atlanta at 11 am the next morning and get him to RDU from there with a 4 pm flight!

My father's English is limited, so I gave him a couple sentences to use and ask to be flown to Charlotte that same night. He said he'd call me back in 40 minutes, but I never got the call.

Later, I checked his flight status online and saw him showing as on "stand-by" for the Charlotte flight. The flight however has been in the air for a while at that point. I called Delta and they confirmed that indeed my father was on that flight, arriving around 10 pm.

I immediately hopped into the car and drove to CLT airport, making it there about 1.5 hours after my dad's arrival.

We got back to Raleigh by 2am. I had us already checked in at a hotel, since there is no furniture in my condo anymore, and so in a little bit we both were happily conked out for the night.

2009-06-13

Towering boxes

By my estimate, I should be about 75 percent done with packing. But like Robin poignantly said yesterday, "There's always more packing than you think." So maybe I am not even close.

I want to use this opportunity to thank everyone who helped by donating and/or transporting the packing materials for me when I ran out of the purchased ones:

  • Brian B.
  • Will C.
  • Stan C.
  • Gerry R.
  • David S.
  • Casey D.
  • Whoever I am blanking on right now

I will miss working at a company where I have almost as many friends as I have colleagues!

2009-06-09

Supercar autocross at ZMax

So here's the promised detailed report on my "Supercar Sensation" autocross at the ZMax Dragway.

A few weeks ago I read on autoblog.com about a local company that offered a supercar experience at a very competitive price point. Plus, they went beyond the usual boring leisurely tour on public roads, and created an autocross program. Now, that sounded like something I would really enjoy. So, last week, I just went and booked a VIP Track package with Supercar Sensation.

After I began autocrossing and caught the going fast bug, I have made a rule, not to lust after, nor buy, cars that I would not enjoy playing with on weekends. So this was an ideal opportunity for me to figure out what the next car of my dreams could be.

As a background, let it be known that at that point I believed to own a streetable car as close to perfect for autocross as was ever built. Let's see if my opinion has changed.

My first ride of the day was in a Mercedes C63 AMG. Basic stats:

  • 6.3L V8 RWD
  • 7 spd Paddles
  • 0-60: 4.3 sec
  • Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)
  • 1/4 mile: 12.5
I have to say, this was my least favourite car of all I got to try that day. Very soft suspension, coupled with very minivan-like steering made the car feel like a boat. Brakes were near impossible to modulate. The car did not push all that much, but excessive body roll and constantly chirping tires reminded me of a 1970s movie car chase.

The car gets points for good user interface. Without any help from the instructor, I could find the seat adjustment controls and figure out the paddle shifters. Verdict: 1 star.

My next car was BMW M3. Stats:

  • 4.0L V8 RWD
  • Dual Clutch Paddles
  • 0-60: 4.5 sec
  • Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)
  • 1/4 mile: 12.7
This was the car I ran my best time in. Its automatic transmission actually did deliver on the promise to shift more aggressively in "sport" mode, and acceleration and throttle response were decent. The famed iDrive interface never came into play, but I needed help figuring out how to put the car into manual shift mode. Seat position controls were where one would expect them and fairly intuitive to use. I liked the steering response and the stiffer suspension, combining to help the driver position the car precisely on the course. Verdict: 4 stars.

When you think about it, Porsche 911 Turbo was rather underserved by a short, tight, and highly technical course. It felt almost too big for it, but given some time, I could get used to it.

  • 3.6L H6 AWD
  • Tiptronic
  • 0-60: 3.7 sec
  • Top Speed: 193 mph
  • 1/4 mile: 11.6
Needless to say, the steering and handling were impeccable. I loved the little neat trick they did with the throttle: If you depressed the pedal normally, you would hit a stop that you'd have to put extra effort to overcome. Then would come a little click, and you'd feel the pedal go to the floor and the turbos spooling up. Zoooom! Gotta say, I loved that one. Verdict: 4.5 stars, only because I have to give the Lambo 5.

If you spent any time talking to me about cars, you'd know that I am not impressed by the Nissan GT-R. The autocross did little to improve that situation.

  • 3.8L TwinTurbo V6
  • 6 spd Dual Clutch Automatic
  • 0-60: 3.2 sec
  • Top Speed: 193 mph
  • 1/4 mile: 11.6
Again, the tight course did not help, but I was mainly not happy with the feeling of disconnectedness from the road and sluggish steering. On the positive side, you could modulate the throttle nicely, and the transmission put the torque down just as you told it to. Head and shoulders above regular automatic transmissions.

Guess the main appeal of this car is that at less than half the price of the 911 it gives you almost all of the thrills, but the key word is almost. While the Porsche exudes the famous Qualität aus Deutschland, the Nissan looks and feels just like any regular car would. In a 100K car, that is kinda meh. But then again, you're saving upwards of 100K compared to competition, so guess you should not complain. Overall rating: 3.5 stars.

As part of the VIP Package, I also got three fun runs on a separate course in two more cars. I have to admit, I must be a total ignoramus, but I could not see what's supposed to make Aston Martin Vantage so special.

  • 4.3L V8 RWD
  • Sportshift Paddles
  • 0-60: 4.7 sec
  • Top Speed: 175 mph
  • 1/4 mile: 13.8
The soft boat-like suspension rivaled that of a Buick, the laggardly automatic transmission smacked of minivan, and slow steering coupled with imprecise handling just killed the last of the joy of driving this car. If you closed your eyes (not recommended while operating a vehicle), you'd feel like you were driving a Chrysler Sebring. User interface was inconsistent and confusing. It took two guys five minutes to figure out how to put this thing in gear. Luxury interior material and double-O-seven mythology add some points, just enough to get the Vantage 2.5 stars.

Lamborghini Gallardo

  • 5.0L V10 AWD
  • 6 spd Sequential Gearbox Paddles
  • 0-60: 4.1 sec
  • Top Speed: 192 mph
  • 1/4 mile: 12.4
Well, this car I could get used to. The user interface was fairly confusing. Getting into reverse required nothing short of an advanced Kama-Sutra position, and the whole overheating thing and the smell of burnt oil it left in its wake remind you that this car never was intended to be a daily driver. But if you can afford this car, you probably don't have a 9-5 job anyways.

Everything else was beyond reproach. Quick and precise handling and brakes, suspension that allowed the Lambo to slalom effortlessly and go "What? We're done already?" after 5 cones at mild acceleration. The car would benefit greatly from sticky tires, to match the engine and the brakes, but other than that, it was a pure joy to drive. Noisy as you-don't-know-what when you are outside, it was remarkably quiet inside. For a sports car, that is. My verdict: 5 stars, hands down.

Now, back to reality, where I can't afford to hire a stable of mechanics to overhaul my Lambo after each weekend racing... After all was said and done, I caught myself thinking that if someone for some strange reason came up to me and said "Take any of these cars and drive off, in exchange for your S2000." I would have had to say No.

The really fun cars would not do well as daily drivers, Porsche due to its fuel economy and impossible insurance rates, and Lambo because of the same PLUS its high-strung nature that would require a lot of maintenance. For much much less money, my S is precise and responsive, a honest-to-god sports car made to autocross, and when not flogged, a docile reliable Honda which gets up to 30 mpg.

I love you, yellow beast!

2009-06-07

Packing stuff

Spent most of the day packing today. Okay, maybe not MOST of the day, but a good 3-4 hours. All the small stuff from the studio is now boxed up.

Got a migraine from the sheer daunting-ness of the move. Keep saying to myself that I moved in here, and I will move out of here, no biggie. Have yet to see the effects.

But as always, the day will come, and the movers will show up and everything will be ready, as if by magic.

Gotta keep thinking about that and marching on :)

2009-06-05

2009-06-03

Great driving soundtrack by Bertycox

  
Just found this album on Jamendo called Freeclimb. These songs would make for a great soundtrack to top-down driving on winding back roads.