2009-10-23

Golden Gate Lotus Club autoX 17 October 2009

Last weekend I attended an event hosted by a local Lotus club, and had a blast. The course, though a bit cone-heavy, was a right mix of fast and technical elements, and had a flow to it, so that after the first run I had a pretty good idea where it went.

Here are the raw results by class.

We had a ton of runs, and a wonderful catered lunch, with several dishes, dessert and fruit. All in all, a great way to spend a Saturday.

I was trying to squeeze a few tenths of a second out of my car, to break into 50.xxx, but missed it by less than 0.2 seconds on my last and fastest run.

Got to ride in a supercharged Lotus Elise driven in anger, and even though I expected spectacular performance, I was still very very impressed by handling and sheer willpower of this car to stick to the pavement.

Photo courtesy of Ovidiu. Click on it to see more.

2009-10-15

Consumer blues: A click that cost $128

Ten days ago, I messed up when paying my credit card bill online. I selected a wrong checking account from which to draft the funds in the drop-down menu. This morning, I woke up to discover that this misclick has just cost me $128 in an assortment of bank fees.

  • First, my bank dinged me for $30 to try and draft funds from an account that had none (this checking account has been lying dormant for a while).
  • Then, American express has dinged me for $38 for a returned payment.
  • Then, American Express system has tried drafting the funds from the zero-balance account for a second (-$30) and third (-$30) time. Kaching!

What really perplexes me is that it was two computer systems talking, and the operational cost to either financial institution to deny the payment and to cancel it might not even amount to a $0.01 per transaction.

The fees imposed on me for one small mistake are clearly designed to maximize the financial institutions' profits, not offset the costs caused by my mistake.

So this morning I set about talking my way out of these fees. I started with Amex.

The customer support agent (CSA) picked up almost immediately and asked "who he had the pleasure speaking with." I introduced myself, and without further ado explained what the problem was. I was able to state the exact amount of the transaction in question, so David did not ask me for any additional identification. (The phone system before him did some additional authentication stuff, so this was reasonably secure.)

After looking at my account and seeing that in the many years I have had it, it was in good standing, with never as much as a late payment, David has removed the $38 penalty from my account. I thanked him profusely and considered this to be a good start.

Next was my bank. Coastal Federal Credit Union, which was a much less polished customer experience. The agent sounded sleepy and grumpy and did not make any attempts to make me feel like I was welcome. I did not catch the agent's name, mostly due to the sloppy way she spoke. After hearing me out, she placed me on hold to look up the transaction in question, something that took a surprising amount of time, to the tune of 3-4 minutes.

When the Coastal CSA came back, she said she would remove the last two $30 fees (a total of $60), but would not be able to do anything about the first $30. Considering that I have been with this credit union for more than five years and this was my first slip with them in all this time, and also taking into account that I have just paid off their car loan, I hoped to be cut some slack. Apparently not.

2009-10-14

Gender profiling... There's no way to do it right

So I signed up for a "Corporate Perks" program through the benefits provided by my employer. They said if I signed up today, I may win a Kindle.

Anyways, I went in there, and here's how they present the "Everyday Savings" screen. Some categories are highlighted in bold type, and some aren't. Just so you know, the non-bolded categories also contain special offers. I even selected one of those to take the screenshot for ya, peeps. You see anything funny about what categories got highlighted?

  • Beauty & Fragrance
  • Flowers & Gifts
  • Food & Wine
  • Health & Wellness.

Notice a pattern there?

No?

The pattern I notice is that stereotypically female "interests" are highlighted for me. I tried finding different reasons to explain this selection, but could not. So this is my story and I am sticking to it.

Oh, and just to be clear: I don't care for being profiled. Be it by my gender, age, nationality, race, or profession. It's never fun.

2009-10-11

Shopping in SF


Went shopping with Carlota and Sue yesterday in San Francisco, and returned home with this amazing find! It's custom-made, and has been ordered by someone about a year and a half ago and never picked up. I got it for half-price, and it fits me, like it was made for my figure! That's pretty astonishing.

I had no idea how much my waist can compress, either.

Looking forward to a Halloween party or a costume fest to wear this to!

On a side note, I almost bought a Kawasaki Ninja, in a beautiful metallic blue with yellow stripes. Five or so years old, with less than a thousand miles on it. I'm still thinking about it, but it's hard to justify buying a second vehicle when my existing one only sees use on weekends.

2009-10-10

Smile! You're in public

I wasn't going to post about this clueless encounter originally, but changed my mind after posting a picture on FaceBook in which I dared to not smile, thus causing an outcry about how I looked "sad," "pissed," "upset," or "disappointed." All just because my face was at rest in this picture.

So what happened to me before the public outcry that I please put a pleasing facial expression on when observed, was that I was enjoying a nice seafood dinner and a drink in Halfmoon Bay. The bartender and I were bantering all the while, and when I was ready to pay, I was in a very good mood. I signed my check and was putting my wallet away as the guy sitting in a chair one over from me, who has so far not made any attempts at communication, demanded "Smile! It's Saturday night!"

I experienced a weird mix of emotions as a result.

  • The sentence seemed to indicate that the mood he was reading from my face was somehow unfitting for a Saturday night, yet I was perfectly happy after a great meal and a nice conversation with the barkeeper.
  • His remark also seemed fairly impolite in the context of our previous lack of communication.
  • Finally, I felt like he was intruding on me, demanding that I arrange my facial features in a certain way, regardless of how I was feeling. Assuming for a moment that his interpretation of my facial expression was correct, and I was unhappy for some reason, his demand for a smile seems callous.

I remembered reading about the phenomenon of strangers demanding smiles from women at some point in the past, so I googled it, and here's what I came up with.

This passage is found on Page 247 of Sex differences and similarities in communication by Kathryn Dindia and Daniel J. Canary.

So women are expected to smile more, and when they don't they are assumed to be grumpy. Nice. At least we now know why the guy at the bar took it upon him to heroically brighten my mood.

Now if we could only know what women themselves think about this! Oh wait! We can! They find it just as annoying as I did.

Surprised? Incredulous? Here's more, from Alas! blog. And another Alas! article.

You may be asking, why does what some may see as an innocent attempt to be friendly even merit all this research and thought. I could not put it into words better than Lucia in the second Alas article, so I would like to end my post with her quote:

"Of course, we all know why this issue is a feminist one: Some people don’t believe women have a right to boundaries. Women do."

2009-10-05

AAS-Autocross-2009-10-04

This morning - @lxmaier at the autocross event in Santa Clara. on TwitpicWent to AAS round 10 at Great America Park on Sunday. Results have not yet been posted, but I know that I did not run my best at this event. When they post, the results will be here: Best OA | Best Indexed

American Autocross Series caters to muscle cars and their courses tend to be wider, and less technical, consisting mostly of sweeping turns of varying radii. For some reason, I find it hard to remember where the course goes when it is a succession of turns with a few technical elements, and so yesterday I spent most of the time driving cone-to-cone, and being surprised by the turns, never setting up right for them.

Being lost on a course all the time contributed to frustration, and I pretty much blew my last run while trying to shave off another second from my fastest time. I left at least two seconds on the course, and I know the car was not the limiting factor in this one.

... with Thierry riding shotgun.  on Twitpic

I prefer SCCA-style technical "house of pain" courses, with tight slaloms, offsets, Chicago boxes and lane changes all over the place, and do much much better on courses like that. To a degree, it's a matter of taste, and I doubt I will ever fall in love with never-ending sweepers, but it's also something to work on. I have to learn to deal with courses of any type eventually if I want to post consistent results.

On a positive note, two of my friends came out to watch the event, and one of them, Thierry, rode with me on four out of five runs. I may have succeeded in getting them interested enough in the sport to give it a try.

It was a lot of fun (and helped me concentrate) to explain the techniques and the physics of driving to Thierry.

I hope to see him and Ludger at one of the upcoming autocrosses soon!