02 March 2016

Old Car, New Car: Buying Pre-Reg and Selling Used

We bought a new car last week. Our old car we bought used in 2004 (2001 model) so got plenty of use out of it. We were again going to buy a used car so didn't look at anything new (in nearly 30 years of owning cars I've never bought a new one), just set a budget and figured out what we'd like. For years we'd been assuming our next car would be a VW but since they've gone evil we ruled them out and decided on BMW 1-series 5-dr hatchback.

We ended up buying what is essentially an actually new car. Looking at used cars I was a bit confused to see very low mileage cars in newest vintage that weren't demos. I hadn't heard of "pre-reg" ("pre registration"). Apparently it's a thing! At the end of the year, dealers can find themselves in a situation in which they are short a manufacturer's quota but can net themselves profit by buying their own inventory just to the point of hitting the quotas and getting their bonus from the manufacturer even if they then are obligated to sell those new cars as technically used and thus at a discount.

The dealer we went to explained that some years they have none, this year they had five. The price actually dropped several times by the time we bought ours. How big a discount? Well, the list price of it new was about 20% above dealer cost, and we bought it for about 7% below dealer cost (about 23% below list). I was still skeptical until the moment we got it. 10 miles on the odometer. Hadn't even been on the lot, still wrapped and in the distribution centre.

So I'm now a fan of pre-reg!

Then we sold the old car. I thought we'd try webuyanycar.com to see how it went and it went... surprisingly well! You give registration and put in as many details as possible and the site spits out a quote that's good for 7 days, pending an in-person check. They buy then sell on only through trade auctions. They've got kiosks all over the place. The nearest to us was a 14-minute drive away. The guy was really nice and marked down for some external damage, which was entirely reasonable, and the adjusted quote was well within our "yes we would sell it for this and not at all feel ripped off" range. A very simple and painless transaction all around. Would use again.

17 February 2016

Oh, Joan, No

manufacturing outrage....

Killer Mike introduced Bernie Sanders at a rally at Morehouse. Part of his speech (it's only a few minutes, go on, give it a listen) was the following:
And then [HRC] get good. She have your own momma come to you, your momma sit down and say, "Well, you're a woman." But I talked to Jane Elliott a few weeks ago, and Jane said, "Michael, a uterus doesn't qualify you to be president of the United States. You have to be... you have to have policy that's reflective of social justice."
Naturally part of this was immediately quoted out of context:  "Killer Mike: 'a uterus doesn't qualify you to be president of the United States'!"

Killer Mike responded as expected [i.e. brilliantly] to critiques.

"Nor does having a penis?" Killer Mike: "I agree. Let's elect E Warren"
"He should have condemned the comment." Killer Mike: "being black ain't enuff to make u pres that why I don't vote Herman Caine. I cannot condemn"

But unfortunately Joan Walsh felt the need to drum up some rage and tweet [I cringe just having to read this again]:
Let's extend some kindness to Killer Mike, and ask why the @SenSanders campaign didn't prep him better, as it should surrogates.
Wow. Joan. Seriously?

15 September 2015

Greyhound Facts: All 110% True

Greyhounds are the fartiest breed of dog. It was believed this added propulsive boost. Currently 0.03% of greenhouse gases are produced by greyhounds.

Greyhounds are a type of sitehound. Sitehounds were bred by the Romans to protect building sites, especially wooden fortresses, from beavers and chipmunks. At the time, the now-extinct Eurasian Brindle Beaver (castor fiber celeritas) could run at speeds up to 37mph in open fields. With a top speed around 45mph, greyhounds were highly effective at varmint clearing, at least when they weren't napping.

Roman attempts to train greyhounds for battle failed first by the battledog squad spotting a squirrel half a mile from the battle site. Later attempts were foiled by enemies surrounding themselves with staircases.

Greyhounds can poop more mass than they take in, due to quantum effects that are not yet fully understood. NASA is studying this phenomenon as it may yield the basis for a form of low-mass space propulsion.

In Welsh fortresses, greyhounds were trained to sleep in hallways to trip intruders.

12 July 2015


Why does the AI engineer need to ask the CEO to run a test?
Why does the CEO not see the potential monetization of an AI breakthrough?
Why does the Hugh Jackman character, an engineer at a robotics company, wear a sidearm?
Chappie displays a childlike wonder and curiosity until he's dumped by the first black people he's encountered, at which point he's immediately afraid. Why?
Why does he stand still and take a beating when he could just run away?
Why does he refer to himself in the third person?
Why can't they just recharge the battery?
If the robots can't be updated without the single "guard key" plugged into each one's physical port, how was the remote simultaneous firmware upgrade possible?

Neil, we hear you want to make a new version of Robocop. What are you going to do with the satire and cynical humour?
 -- Replace it with cloying schmaltz.
Great! Robocop was a sympathetic character. What are you going to do to fix that?
 -- Our robot will be super annoying, babble constantly, and refer to himself in the third person.

Who's doing the soundtrack? 
 -- Die Antwoord. 
Cool. Can Ninja and Yo-Landi also act? 
 -- Not at all.
What if they just play themselves?
 -- Even then, still not at all.
Fantastic, let's have them star.

Neil, the first hour of District 9 was really good before it got kind of bad. Then only the first 15 minutes of Elysium was good before the lousy set in. Can you do better for Chappie?
 -- You mean make the entire movie bad from the beginning? Can do!

11 July 2015

CO2 production for Teslas

I was curious about the marginal g CO2 per km for average case of a Tesla here in the UK. 100 g/km is the threshold below which you pay no road tax. A midrange VW Golf petrol puts out about 110 g/km. The lowest-emitting (and also slowest) BMW 5-series sedan puts out 109 g/km. Neither of these are as roomy or as performant as a Tesla (not even close).

The biggest battery available on the Tesla is 85 kWh. The NEDC range estimate yields 5.9 km/kWh. That's pretty generous. The more conservative EPA estimate is 5 km/kWh. In the UK, the power generation mix has shown coal declining (predictably, but still good to see). In 1Q15 the mix was 22.3% renewables, 31.3% coal, 25.0% gas, 19.1% nuclear, and the remainder "oil and other".

For those, the blended rate of emissions for UK suppliers shows, for CO2, 910 g/kWh, 390 for gas, 590 for other, 0, obviously, for renewables and nuclear. Thus using a blended rate and the more conservative EPA range estimate the Tesla Model S would be putting out 80g/km CO2. Given the size and performance of that car, that's pretty impressive. Also this is contingent upon supply. So any reduction in CO2 output from electricity suppliers affects this number. Likewise if you charge your Tesla from homegrown solar or badger wheels, your nominal rate of CO2 production will be accordingly lower.

14 May 2015

CGI In Moderation

Heartened to see what I hope's a trend of the return of practical effects and the more judicious use of CGI.

In 2008, Roget Ebert said of the ambitiously no-CGI film The Fall, "There will never be another like it."

Hopefully not true, but since then the action/adventure film-making crowd has gone bonkers with CGI, with poor results, even for huge budget movies. Here's a nice rundown of complaints: http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-reasons-expensive-films-end-up-with-crappy-special-effects/

The best answer to overuse of CGI is to make better movies without [so much of] it. JJ Abrams is going for lots of practical effects in the new Star Wars. And the love for Mad Max Fury Road is just warming up. After reading about how they filmed it with almost no CGI  and about all the cars, I can't wait to see it myself.

08 May 2015

UK Election Results 2015

The results are mostly in. Electing the UK parliament is done via what's the known as the "First Past The Post" [FPTP] voting scheme. The naming of this scheme enrages me out of proportion. It is a terrible name. The voting scheme should simply be called "Most Votes Wins" [MVW], which would be fewer syllables and also accurate. FPTP makes zero sense. What post? There is no post. A post is a fixed object. Majority is not necessary in FPTP voting, a simple plurality is all that it takes. And "first"? First what? First implies there can be second past the post. In a horse race, most or all of the horses pass the post. In the absence of time bonuses or penalties, the horse first past the post wins. This is nothing like a Most Votes Wins election. It drives me crazy. Seriously. I want to go to an alternate voting scheme just to get rid of that name.

Anyway, here are the headline results

party seats     votes  vote                   share seat share votes/seat
CON 331  11,334,920 36.9% 50.9%  34,244
LAB 232  9,347,326 30.4% 35.7%  40,290
SNP 56  1,454,436 4.7% 8.6%  25,972
LD 8  2,415,888 7.9% 1.2%  301,986
UKIP 1  3,881,129 12.6% 0.2%  3,881,129
Green 1  1,157,613 3.8% 0.2%  1,157,613

SNP gets a fantastic bargain with the lowest votes per seat. UKIP has the most to complain about on this count. Looks obvious that none of CON, LAB, or SNP would benefit from alternate voting so unlikely the voting scheme will change anytime soon.

21 December 2014


Saw the third Hobbit movie today. Wow was it awful. But not quite bad enough to be comical. Just boring.

Takes real... vision? to make a "Hobbit" trilogy and leave the main character out of the finale. Almost, anyway. The very few scenes with Bilbo actually in them were the highlights of the movie. None of the rest made much sense, including the 15-hour battle scene that my youngest aptly described as "like a 6-yr-old playing with miniatures."

I'm not actually bent out of shape that it differed from the book. I got over that after the first movie. I might be the only viewer who liked the long, slow start of the first movie, where the dwarves eat a lot and have some fun at Bilbo's expense. It kind of went off the rails after that.

I quite liked the second film. I fully accepted it as not at all the book and found it to be pretty fun -- a good adventure.

But this one. No fun at all. Just tedium. And for as long as the battle lasted (i.e. forever), including some interminable individual fight scenes, none of it made much sense.

(I also wondered where all the other mountains came from -- when we were approaching this thing for the previous 6 hours of film, "The Lonely Mountain" was a single mountain surrounded by plains,  but for the final battle, suddenly it was surrounded by additional mountains, including one that had towers and a frozen lake for some reason. Later they go back to drawing it as a solitary mountain in the middle of plains.)

(Also, how tall are orcs supposed to be, actually? Some are 5-ft tall. A few are 8-ft tall. What about trolls? Some are about 10 ft tall. Others are 30 ft tall. Inconsistent scale bothers me. Have a flying squid-orc-wombat-fungus-chicken hybrid monster for all I care, but it shouldn't change size from scene to scene.)

Ok, the forbidden love between elf and dwarf was (unintentionally) comical. Billy Connolly playing a dwarf leader as a Scottish bar brawler was entertaining. I liked his battle pig as well. And his beard. Martin Freeman was great in his 90 seconds of screen time. Not sure if there were any other bright spots.

Although I'd given up on it being in any way an adaptation of the book, the sad thing is that the book is a short and charming little adventure story, with just enough sadness and death at the end to make it a truly good children's tale.

Oh well.

22 November 2014

iPhone 5 Connector Problems? Clean Your Ports!

I started having problems with my earphones for my iPhone 5 -- the controls on them stopped working even though they still worked fine on other devices. Around the same time, charging with the lightning connector started to get dodgy. It would seem to flip on and off at random. Baffled me for a while until I tried cleaning the ports out with a toothpick.

The amount of lint I pulled out of each was unbelievable. They must not have been seating well in there. It took longer than I would have expected before I was not getting any more lint out with the toothpick, then switched to the air duster. Everything working perfectly after that.

31 August 2014

Financial Press: Mostly For Entertainment Purposes Only

One of the fun things about looking at stock prices on Google Finance is the scroll of related "news" items on the right. Most of these should really be ignored. Here's an example of my favourite perpetrator of uselessness, Motley Fool UK, and their "coverage" of HSBC for only a single month:

SELL!  aug 1st: The Risks Of Investing In HSBC Holdings plc
BUY!   aug 4th: Better-Than-Expected Results Boost HSBC Holdings plc
BUY!   aug 6th: The 3 FTSE 100 Shares I'd Buy First: HSBC Holdings plc, GlaxoSmithKline p...
BUY!   aug 7th: The FTSE 100′s Hottest Dividend Picks: HSBC Holdings plc
SELL!  aug 7th: Standard Chartered PLC And HSBC Holdings plc Struggle In Asia
BUY!   aug 8th: HSBC Holdings plc: The FTSE 100's Best Bank?
BUY!   aug 12th: Is Now The Right Time To Buy HSBC Holdings plc?
SELL!  aug 13th: Why HSBC Holdings plc Will Struggle To Move Higher [ed: HSBC has traded higher than the aug 13th close every day since this pronouncement]
BUY!   aug 15th: Why HSBC Holdings plc, GlaxoSmithKline plc, Royal Dutch Shell Plc And J Sainsbury plc Are Better Than Bonds
SELL!  aug 18th: Regulatory Pressure Will Prevent HSBC Holdings plc, Banco Santander SA And Lloyds Banking Group PLC From Pushing Higher
BUY!   aug 20th: 3 Neil Woodford Fast Earnings-Growers: HSBC Holdings plc, NEXT plc and ...
BUY!   aug 20th: 5 Key Reasons To Buy HSBC Holdings plc
BUY!   aug 22nd: Are Standard Chartered PLC & HSBC Holdings plc A Bargain Right Now?
SELL!  aug 26th: Could HSBC Holdings plc's Dividend Be Under Threat?
BUY!   aug 27th: The Benefits Of Investing In HSBC Holdings plc
???       aug 28th: HSBC Holdings plc, GlaxoSmithKline plc, BP plc & BHP Billiton plc Are Holding Back The FTSE 100

21 June 2014

Opera: Season 1 Done

I've gone apeshit for arias, bonkers for bel canto. After seeing my first-ever opera in September I ended up going to eight for the season at the ROH, and I've already booked a couple more missions for next season.

orchestra stalls --> stalls circle --> grand tier --> balcony --> AMPHITHEATRE WOOHOO!

I did get to sit all over the place as well. The front row of the amphitheatre, way way up there, had astoundingly good acoustics. Unbelievable. Like the singers were mixed straight out in front on a platter. Crystal clear.

The cheeriness of the crowd when I went to see Figaro was no fluke. The experience was uniformly festive. No stuffiness and everyone always seems really happy: we get to see an opera tonight! What's not to be cheerful about?

And yes, I did use the cloakroom on several occasions and it's true, the ROH cloakroom is an amazement. Free, fast, friendly, efficient -- qualities so foreign to any area of service in the UK that at first it seems like a scam of some sort. But no, just a really pleasant surprise.

For the season I ended up seeing:
Marriage of Figaro
La Fille du Regiment
La Traviata

For me, opera is not just the music. There's acting! And a story. And staging. And even some dancin' -- notably the gypsy dance on the card table in La Traviata, the over-the-top ballet sequence in Faust, and Elektra's insane death-dance were highlights.

For most operas I went in cold -- deliberately knowing nothing about them. I found this heightened enjoyment of the story. For Tosca I listened to the full opera, without knowing the story, a few times before the performance. That seemed to work out well but not strictly necessary.

I really enjoyed them all. Figaro I loved. Wozzeck I liked a lot more than I expected to. Likewise ElektraTurandot was probably my least favourite, although the staging and spectacle were quite impressive, as were the two leading ladies. But the story was pretty bad, and the leading man had a couple issues. One is that although he did a fine job as far as I could tell (I'm not sure I can tell yet, one way or another), the women were rattling the rafters and pretty much overpowering him. The second issue is Nessun Dorma, which is now known for Pavarotti's renditions. That's a hard act to follow.

But it carried a bit more emotional weight for me because I remember [and I hope this is not a false memory] Gramps really liking Pavarotti. All those years ago I recall not understanding it, and rolling my eyes at The Three Tenors. At the same time Gramps was rolling his eyes at my music, so fair play. But now I get it. While I'd never go see something like a Three Tenors concert, I get it now. Here they are hamming it up, charmingly, in the last minute of O Sole Mio.

Fortunately Dad is still around, and tickled that two more generations have gotten into opera. If Gramps were still with us he'd be mighty pleased as well.

22 May 2014

PaleoCat Life Plan

PaleoCat on Fridge: a performance-art piece offering an unironic, melancholic comment on obligatory subservience to industrialized technology as required by neolithic sustenance practices. Or trying to get to the catnip.

Our cat recently had to go in for surgery due to blocked urinary tract & bladder stones. I'd been feeding him what I thought was a decent dry food but with this problem we've put him exclusively on "wet" [meaning real meat] food. Best quality I can find.

He lost a lot of weight in the hospital. When he first adopted us he was half-starved. Greedy little guy plumped right up pretty quickly. Now he's at "ideal" weight according to the vet. He's been home for six weeks now but has still maintained the lean figure. He's also peppier and his eyes seem brighter and bigger somehow.

You might think the lesson from this would be that animals, including humans, do better on species-appropriate diets, but you'd be wrong. The real lesson is that we should all live just like this cat.

I'll go first. My day will consist of 22 hours of lying about, interspersed with wandering around looking for an even better place to sleep. Giant pile of socks? Sure. Comforter? Of course. Inside a suitcase? Maybe.

The remaining two hours each day will be spent eating, frolicking, and begging for drugs.