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November 28, 2008

Another Round of Test Drives

As the lease came do on my Accord it was time to start shopping for a replacement. I really liked my Accord so I looked at the new Accord and while it's been "completely redesigned" it seems like a pretty incremental improvement. The interior however is a huge disappointment, I'm pretty much repelled by it. Seeing that my current Accord's interior was a big selling point, it's certainly gone backwards with button overload, poor design and cheap looking plastic components. I started looking at some of the alternatives.

A diesel is something I was keenly interested in. I drove the 2009 Jetta TDI with DSG transmission and loved it. Felt very powerful, excellent handling and pretty full of features. However a couple things made me hesitant. First you can't order it with power seats or auto-climate control, second the price was quite high and nearly the same as a fully loaded Accord. High demand for the new model meant the price is pretty non-negotiable. The projected fuel savings would be about $1000/year though. I looked at purchasing it in the US to knock the price down, the retreat of the Canadian dollar put the final nail in that coffin.

I drove a Ford Fusion, mainly because you can get it very well loaded with SYNC and AWD, it was pretty bland all around and a new model was on the way. I tried a Nissan Altima, very nice car, don't like the CVT transmission. That ruled out any hybrid options. The economy dropped the option of leasing or financing many cars, that was the death blow to the Malibu. I looked at the Toyota Camry too, pretty good, but nothing really makes it stands out, I would probably stick with the Accord over the Camry. Drove a Toyota RAV4, it has a rated economy similar to the Accord. It drove quite nicely and would be a nice vehicle, but just wasn't really interesting or the right fit.

Next, I tried the new revision of the Mazda 6. I really liked the previous Mazda 6, it was my second choice to the Accord so I had high hopes for this major redesign. It started looking bad as the details emerged, larger engine, larger car, both opposite of what I'd really like. I went over to the dealership I had good luck at the last time. I could not get service. Stood around, walked around, looked at each and every salesman and person there, nothing. Asked the receptionist for help, she called for someone, no-one came. The manager eventually came out to help, but he was new and could do nothing, so he gave me the keys and let me sit in the car alone. After another long wait a salesman finally was free and gave me a plate to drive the car. He took the time to explain the features like the auto-unlocking door, but not how to start the car or put it into gear, both things I found extremely difficult to figure out. The end result, nice enough car, has some draw backs though. Those fancy electronic features don't seem to work that well or at all and simple refinements are lacking. The one memorable downside, a huge trunk, but tiny opening, good luck getting anything in there.

I looked at some used cars from Lexus, Acura, Infiniti and the like, nothing really stood out as something I wanted. Subaru's vehicles looked interesting but the price jumps exponentially with options. Starting looking at the VW options a little more since I liked the Jetta so much. The Tiguan looked nice, but not quite right. The Passat looked very nice. You can get it with AWD and its very similar to the Jetta, about a foot longer, but the same in most other dimension, mechanics and options, just dressed up a little nicer. Went over to the dealer to drive one, they didn't have much in stock but they had a used V6 for me to drive, or so I thought. Somehow that V6 model ended up being a 2.0T model. It was a happy accident as I really enjoyed the smaller engine, plenty of pep and pull with the 6 speed tiptronic transmission. That made the Passat stick out a lot more as pretty much every configuration was now acceptable on my list. So I started looking through the used listings. Eventually I ended up narrowing down the acceptable configurations to not very many, but just enough to find what I was looking for.

I started with 2006-2009 Passat. Then added avoidance of 2006 V6 models due to engine oil pump issue and eventually avoidance of all 2006 models due to increased issues on the new model. The option set on the Canadian Passats meant that I was now limited to 2008-2009 Passats in 2.0T. Pricing also limited V6 options to pretty much just 2007. AWD models pretty much dropped completely off the list due to pricing. US options and pricing meant more selection, but the Canadian dollar shut the door on those options in the end. Availability and pricing was the final determination.

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The Perfect Shoelace?

It seems to me that by now we should have perfected a simple technology like shoelaces. Sure Velcro is supposed to be the replacement, but who wants that. Why is it that it is still hit and miss to get shoelaces that work great. Ones that hold, don't need constant re-tying, that don't break or fray. You get a pair of shoes with laces work just great and then the next pair of shoes has something completely useless again, what gives?

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November 14, 2008

Soft Failures

Modern design has made products much more robust and adaptable to failure and error conditions. This includes soft failure modes that maintain some form of operation even after some component or process has failed and various error handling and correction methods. This is all very very good, however an insidious down side has emerged. Since these products are so robust when presented with failure, they keep on functioning even when broken, detecting a broken device becomes much more difficult. It often seems to me that some of theses devices are significantly broken for long periods of time before being repaired. This can certainly lead to much more catastrophic failures and wide spread performance degradation. The big issue in my mind is that there aren't sufficient monitoring or alerting utilities added to the product to let people know they are experiencing issues. Some examples of products that exhibit these traits: disk storage products, RAID arrays, traffic control systems. Modern hard disks correct media errors and communication errors automatically on their own. In the vast majority of cases however, there is absolutely no report of errors generated. RAID arrays offer enhanced data security with redundant disks, when a disk fails however, it is frequently not communicated effectively. Locally I have noticed several traffic light control systems that exhibit failures of their vehicle detection loops, they appear to fail in an ON state and the error is not detected at all. Further to that, it appears many of the local traffic lights continue to operate on the old daylight savings time standard.

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