Posts in Cars & Driving
< View all categories
The worst thing about March is the pissy, wishy-washy weather. The best thing about it is that it's the beginning of the Formula One season! The Australian GP is Sunday morning, and I'll be recording it in HD for the first time ever! I'll have my fingers crossed for Jenson Button this season. Sure, I wouldn't mind seeing Mark Webber pick up a championship, but that's unlikely with Seb Vettel on that team (who, with the departure of Timo Glock, is now my least favorite F1 driver).
And while this season promises to be action-packed, I'm looking forward even more to next season, which marks the return of turbos to F1. That should seriously rock, although I hope the cars don't end up looking too odd. But considering the platypus noses of the '12 & '13 seasons, the cars are almost guaranteed to look better.
Aside from rooting for Button, I'll be interested in seeing how Hamilton does at Mercedes. While not my favorite driver, it'll be interesting to see him in a new team. I'll also be keeping an eye on Ferrari and Williams, who I really hope improve this season. And who can ignore Kimi at Lotus? Yeah, this season is gonna be a blast. :)
Now that our website redesign at work is nearing completion, I've started exploring some of the tags and functions in ColdFusion that I haven't ever gotten around to using. One in particular is <cfgrid>. This basically works to build a table straight from a database query, but it gives you the ability to do inline editing, which is pretty slick. It also seems like it might cut down on the amount of code used.
For example, consider this code:
<cfquery name="bikelist" datasource="mydsn">
<cfform name="biketable" action="bikes.cfm">
<cfgrid name="bikes" query="bikelist" colheaderbold="yes" format="html" selectmode="edit">
<cfgridcolumn name="bike_id" display="no">
<cfgridcolumn name="bike_type" header="Bike Type" select="yes" width="100" bold="no">
<cfgridcolumn name="bike_brand" header="Bike Brand" select="yes" width="100" bold="no">
<cfgridcolumn name="bike_name" header="Bike Name" select="yes" width="100" bold="no">
<cfinput type="submit" name="gridEntered" value="Submit" />
This builds a simple 3-column table, but each cell can be edited by double-clicking on it. Then on the processing page, you can have this:
<cfgridupdate grid="bikes" dataSource="mydsn" keyonly="true" tableName="bicycles">
Normally here we'd have an INSERT or UPDATE statement, but instead we just have this cool tag that does all the work. This isn't of course something I'd use on a public website, but for an admin page inside an application, it could make things go a whole lot quicker, especially if you had a ton of updates to do on a large table.
So far the only drawback seems to be when you have a lot of rows, in which case you get horizontal scrolling, but I suppose that could be worse. Another unfortunate feature is that all the widths seem to be in pixels, with no way of specifying % or EM.
That said, I still think it's worth some fiddling to see what use I can put to it, especially if I can apply some CSS styles to it. That would be pretty trick!
I think it's pretty well known that DC area drivers are among the worst. Sure, everyone probably says that about where they live, but I've driven in a lot of places, and honestly, we have some pretty bad habits that seem to be characteristic of the DC area. In fact, the town where I live has its own subset of crappy driving habits that are for some reason common to almost everyone in town. The two most prominent ones are:
- Using your turn signal as infrequently as possible, and...
- Never, ever, EVER stop for a stop sign unless you are 100% sure that you will not only be in an accident, but that you will most likely be KILLED in that accident. If you think you'll only be slightly injured in the accident, stopping is still optional.
As annoying as those two practices are, they're actually not what's got me irked this time 'round. Nope, what's annoying me right now is people's failure to plan ahead while driving.
Consider that you've arrived at an intersection, where there are two left turn lanes. You know that once you make your left turn, you will IMMEDIATELY have to turn right at the very next intersection that's less than 50 yards down the road. In fact, you'll arrive at this intersection pretty much immediately upon completing your turn. This gives you two choices:
- Get in the rightmost left turn lane, and easily make your right turn when it comes up, or...
- Get in the leftmost left turn lane, then immediately try to wedge your car in front of the people next to you, causing everyone behind you in both lanes to slam on their brakes, almost causing accidents, in order to make your turn.
Not only is choice #2 the most idiotic thing you can do, it's 100% voluntary. It's voluntary because you CHOSE to get in the wrong lane, knowing you were going to have to make an immediate right. Sure, maybe some people make the turn and only then realize they need to make a right, but the proper solution then becomes to proceed to the next intersection to make a U-turn (where legal) and return to make a left where you originally planned to make that right. There are many un-stupid options to the lazy stupidity of the bumper car solution that these people choose.
Normally I am a proponent of letting people (who signal) slip in front of me, but in the above case, I have no sympathy. Learn to plan ahead and avoid these problems. Everyone else on the road will appreciate it.
There seems to be some confusion over this rather simple rule, at least when it comes to DC area drivers. It's a simple rule, really, so let me explain.
- When approaching a red light, you MUST stop, even if you intend to turn right.
- Once you have come to a COMPLETE stop, and you have yielded the right of way to drivers who do not have a red light, you may then make a right turn once it's safe to do so.
That's it really.
Unfortunately, I've noticed more than a few unprincipled (i.e. shitty) drivers who have made what we'd call undesirable modifications to this rule, and I'd like to take this opportunity to clarify a few... misunderstandings.
- The fact that you are turning right does not in any way absolve you from having to stop
- And no, just taking your foot off the gas for a second is not good enough
- Neither is simply tapping the brake once.
- Or twice.
- Turning right does not excuse you from yielding the right of way to other drivers who do not have a red light, like the guy coming the other way who's making a left turn on a green arrow.
- Or the guy coming from your left who you're sure won't mind slamming on the brakes while you pull out in front of him.
- Or even that poor guy who's making a U-turn on a green, who you just blocked, and who is now sitting there with his stuff swinging in the breeze and about to be T-boned.
- And no, being in a hurry doesn't change anything either.
We people in the transportation biz have a phrase for all of those things. It's called "Running a red light". Please don't do it.
Why is it that the majority of the time people flip you off on the road, it's after THEY'VE done something completely and utterly stupid.
Last night Jess and I were on the road home from the Kennedy Center after seeing the Nutcracker. I got a bit turned around in DC, because they sent us out the wrong exit, but I finally found I-66 which takes us to the GW Parkway, then home. The ramp from I-66 to the Parkway is just a piece of elevated highway, designed to be taken at speed. It's a VERY gradual turn, that's banked, and could easily be taken at around 80 in most cars without breaking a sweat.
Last night there was a Toyota Prius in front of us. Everything was fine until we got to that ramp, at which point he dropped down to the low 40's. I moved to the left to take a peek around him and see if there was anything in front of him that I should be worried about (debris, road damage, animal, etc) and noticed him slam on his brakes. I was following at a good distance, so I didn't even really have to take my foot off the gas. He's now down to about 35, and the brakes slam on again, this time harder. Again I was far enough back to be able to just coast and move my foot over the brake pedal, but didn't really need to use them.
By now we're in the high 20's, and I start to worry about someone rear-ending us on this high-speed ramp. We finally make it to the Parkway, and he FLOORs it, unleashing all 5 of his Briggs & Stratton horsepower (not a very green thing to do for a Prius driver). I decide that he's either drunk or texting, so decide to go around him. As we pass him, he shakes his middle finger at us frantically. I still have no clue what his problem was, unless the view out the back of that car makes everyone look like they're tailgating. As such, the incident calls for a few driving tips:
- If you can't drive, it's not my fault. Take lessons and remember, there's always public transportation.
- If you can't manage more than 35 on a ramp marked for 55, it's not my fault. Find a wet parking lot to practice in, or take lessons. Don't forget about the public transportation option.
- If you own a Prius and feel like everyone's tailgating you, have a friend follow you at a safe distance. If he looks like he's tailgating remember he's not, and neither were all those people you've been flipping off since you got the car. They probably think you need psychiatric help. If you just flipped off your friend, you probably do.
- Remember when you slam on your brakes going 35 in a 55, your action will accordion back through traffic. You could cause an accident and should probably stick to using public transportation. Road rage kills, and so might you.
- Also remember that flipping off someone else for your screw-up doesn't make your screw-up go away. It just means you screwed up twice.
Thanks for reading, and remember that what's going on in front of your car is always more important than what's going on behind it. Keep that finger where it belongs, and keep your foot on the gas.
I'm sure the greedy bastards will appeal now that their Cashcam bill was defeated in the MD Senate.
Here's a letter I just wrote to Gov O'Malley (who never fails to disappoint).
I'm a registered Democrat who lives in Montgomery County, and I voted for you last election. I plan to vote for you in the next election (assuming you decide to run), but I must say this nonsensical love affair you have for speed cameras is quickly changing my mind, as well as the minds of many of my fellow citizens.
Everyone wants safer roads, but if you honestly read some of the unbiased studies of speed cameras, especially those from the UK, the results are dubious at best. In many cases, accident rates have increased in camera locations.
Then there's the cost. If the cameras work and people slow down, who's going to pay for the cameras? The rest of us non-speeding taxpayers, that's who! And if people don't slow down and the cameras keep making money (as is probably the case now), is that not proof that they're not effective?
I know that you don't have to worry about driving yourself through rush-hour traffic, but your constituents do, and nothing snarls rush-hour traffic more than the accordion effect created by a single speed camera. Even people who are not speeding tend to slow sharply, and this ripple runs back through the line of traffic. Rush-hour traffic in camera locations (and I pass three cameras on the way to work) has increased by an order of magnitude. This stop-and-go traffic wastes gas and increases pollution.
Mr. Governor, the public sees these things as revenue generators, so no matter how much of a perceived safety improvement they provide, they're going to be poison at the polls. Please use the funds allotted for camera purchases to hire more human officers. They do a lot more than just police one 30-foot section of road.
I'm sure he'll send me back some horseshit form letter telling me how all our children will be killed if we don't allow him to put Cashcams at every street corner. Sort of like how Bush told us that we'll all be killed by terra-ists if we don't let him steal all Iraq's oil.
Whether it has a D or an R suffix, greed is greed and authoritarianism is authoritarianism.
I seriously love my Mini dealer. I just got my car back after getting a new clutch and transmission put in it, and I can safely say that the car has never, ever been this good, even when it was new.
I always hated the original shifter because whenever I would make and "pull back" shift (like 1-2, 3-4, or 5-6) the shifter would get caught whenever it passed neutral, especially when it was cold. The 2-3 and 4-5 shifts were fine, so I was always perplexed.
Well the new trans has none of that nonsense. All shifts are smooth as silk, and the car is so much nicer to drive. It's like getting a new Mini all over again!
Did I mention I love my dealer?
Back in 1995, I purchased my second new car; a 1995 Chevy Camaro Z28. It was a great driving car, and well designed, but not well built. Over the course of my 5 year warranty, the car was in the shop over a dozen times. Well over a dozen. In fact, the car was usually back to the dealer 3-4 times per year.
Every time I brought the car in for warranty service, a bill would be waiting for me when I went to pick it up. Since the car was still well within the original warranty period (not to mention the extended warranty I purchased), I was understandably miffed about having a bill for repairs that were clearly warranty items. Each visit would inevitably lead to a shouting match between me and the service manager before I would finally get my car back without paying for something that I shouldn't have been paying for.
That's GM quality, and GM service.
Fast forward to 2006. I finally gave up the American V8 muscle cars and purchased a Mini Cooper Sport. The service and treatment by the dealership have been second to none. On top of the three years of free maintenance that's included with the car, you also get a free loaner whenever you leave your car in for service (and a Mini to boot). But that's not what this post is about.
The summer before last, I started hearing a noise from the transmission in 4th gear. Nothing horrible, and it would go away once the car warmed up, but I still noticed it. This past summer, I started noticing a random noise from the clutch when starting off in damp weather. Again, nothing that affected how the car ran, and it would vanish once the car was warm.
Just to be safe, I dropped the car off over the weekend to have it checked out. Today I got a call from the dealer. Imagine how nice the following was after being accustomed to fighting with my old Chevy dealer about a gushing oil leak not being covered under the drivetrain warranty, or after Chevy telling me that I needed to pay $287 for a new strut for my hatchback that failed when the car was 6 weeks old, sending the 150+ lb lid crashing down onto the back of my neck.
Here's Mini's response:
- They could not reproduce the clutch noise, so they're going to just go ahead and give me a brand new clutch, flywheel, and all related parts.
- They heard the transmission noise, but rather than try to repair it, they're going to go ahead and give me a brand new transmission instead.
- Oh, and they fixed the dashboard rattle that used to bug the hell out of me.
This is all on their dime, and being done while I drive their loaner car.
A few months ago I took the car to a local shop to have it aligned. They could not perform the alignment because the tie rod ends were seized. They wanted $150 ea plus labor to replace them. I called the dealer, and they told me to bring it in. They replaced both tie rod ends, then did the alignment. For free.
This is all on top of the fact that this is one of the best driving cars I've ever driven, and probably the best car I've ever owned. It's comfortable, fun to drive, and gets 30-something mileage even under the worse of conditions.
Why would I ever go back?
Hi, it's me. One of the languishing masses trapped in the parade behind you. Now, I know that all those Cashcam speed cameras that the county has been installing have got you scared senseless (don't worry, we all hate them too), but I couldn't help but notice that you don't seem to get how the whole system works. So, I thought I'd offer some pointers that will help you get through your drive a bit easier, and let the rest of us get to work before the next Presidential election. Please read carefully.
1. There is no extra credit.
The county has clearly stated that there is an 11mph grace area built into the cameras. This helps account for speedometer errors, camera calibration errors, etc. What this means to you is that in a 30mph zone for example, you can actually drive up to 40mph and be fine. That said, you do not get extra credit for going below the speed limit, nor is the county going to mail you a check for every mph that you drive below it. All you're really doing by driving 22mph is pissing off the 15 people trapped behind you. The people at the back of the line will start to accordion, and the chances of a rear-end collision increase considerably. So even if you're not going to slip past the camera at 35 like the rest of us, please at least drive the speed limit, ok?
2. The cameras do not have an infinite range
Once you've passed the camera, it's ok to relax a little. You don't have to keep crawling along at 22mph (see "no extra credit", item 1 above) for the next several miles. The camera cannot "see" you 5 miles away, over hill and dale (not to mention through the 20 people bunched up behind you). No one is saying you should "floor it", but it's probably ok to just drive a normal speed again. Not too fast though, because it's probably only a matter of time before the police realize that they can probably set up a trap right after the cam and nab all the people who take off like the space shuttle after passing it. After all, there's really no crime around here, so they don't really have anything else to do. But 37 or so in the 30 will be fine, and even the bored police man will ignore you.
3. The speed in the camera zone only applies to the camera zone
This is a tough one, I know, but I'll try my best to explain it, because it seems to be the one you have the most trouble with. Once you leave the camera zone, and the speed limit sign says 40, 45, or sometimes even 50, it really is ok to drive at that speed. No, I am not kidding. You can really drive at that speed. Driving 22 in any of those places is not helping anything (see "no extra credit", item 1 above), and can be downright dangerous, especially when there is a passing zone and the 25 people who are jammed up behind you all try to pass at once. No, that horn honking is not them just being friendly. See that thing stuck on the windshield? Yes, the mirror. That's not for picking caraway seeds out of your teeth at red lights, it's for seeing what's behind you. If you look closely, you will see all those people stuck back there. Notice the scowls and clenched teeth? Now just imagine how they're going to look if they have to, say, go to the bathroom while you're going 22 when the sign says 50.
4. When the camera on the opposite side of the road flashes, you not have to stop dead in your tracks
So you're driving, and there's a camera on the other side of the road that's spying on the people in the oncoming lane. Occasionally, one of them may be from out of town, or yakking on the cell phone, or for whatever reason do not notice the camera. Since people usually elevate to a safe and comfortable speed in the absence of any external factors, a few of those people might be going faster than the grace area. So the camera will take a picture of them. Of THEM. You, especially at 22mph, have NOTHING to worry about, so there is no need to slam on your brakes and stop dead in your tracks. In fact this may cause you, or one of the 30 people trapped behind you to have a rear-end collision. So lay off the brakes. The camera is worried about the people in the opposite lane, not you.
I know that's a lot to digest, but read it carefully and try to take at least some of the advice. The 35 people stuck behind you will thank you.
Someone recently pointed me to this HuffPost article, in which the author's dad kinda sorts blames the current state of General Motors on the UAW.
Funny how all right-wingers instantly blame the Unions for the fact that GM isn't building cars that people want to buy. I'll tell you what. When someone decides to buy a Toyota, they don't do it because of what their workers make per hour. They buy it because Toyota makes a product that appeals to them.
Last time I went to the Mini dealer for service, guess how many Minis they had on the new car lot. ZERO. Guess how many they had on the used car lot. ZERO. I asked one of the salespersons, and he said, "Yeah, with the gas prices like this, it's crazy. Our next three shipments (i.e. freighters from England) are completely spoken for. All we have right now are five cars - one copy of each version - for test-drives that we're not allowed to sell."
The BMW half of the dealership however, was facing tough times and I guarantee you that BMW doesn't have any different of a union arrangement than Mini. Mini just has the products that people want, and BMW doesn't.
Paying workers less will not fix anything if no one is buying your product. It just makes the hole in the side of the ship a bit smaller, so the ship takes longer to sink. But it'll still sink. Companies like GM are always quick to blame the unions, because if they didn't have to pay workers a fair wage, all those corporate CEOs would have more money to siphon. What's worse, a company that goes under after taking care of its employees, or a company that goes under and screws its employees but gives it's corporate brass billion-dollar golden parachutes? We've seen the latter quite a bit lately, eh?
On a side-note, I used to be a GM person. I bought GM cars even though they were for the most part garbage. But my last GM car was my LAST GM car, forever. They screwed me over by not honoring the warranty on my car. For the entire warranty period, things would break (things that were clearly warranty items) and I would bring the car in, the dealer would fix it, I'd go pick it up, and they'd try to bill me. And every time I would have to argue with the service manager and threaten legal action to get them to honor the warranty. Later one of the service techs admitted to me that GM gave the dealer "financial incentive" to keep the number of warranty claims low. Sorry, but if the cars break, they break, and the warranty needs to be honored.
One of my major problems with the car was oil somehow migrating into the antifreeze. This was a huge problem because over time motor oil destroys things like radiator hoses. So I would be sitting at a traffic light and WHOOSH! Split hose. And I'd have to get a tow (on my dime). Several times they said they fixed it, but it kept coming back. Each time it was supposedly something different - a seal, a gasket, but they were never really sure exactly what caused the oil problem.
Eventually, my extended warranty ran out, and the next time I brought the car in to have the pre-existing problem fixed, they said, "Well, we know exactly what's causing that. It's a crack in the block..." Funny how they didn't know the exact cause of the problem until the warranty was over and they were able to quote me a $6000 price to repair the car.
I tried to claim that since the problem started 20,000 miles ago, during the warranty period, that it should be covered. I called GMPP (the warranty division) but they refused to cover it. I told them that if the warranty wasn't honored, I'd never but another GM again. The response: "Your future purchasing decisions are not relevant to this case". Translation: "We don't care if you ever buy another GM again."
So I flushed the antifreeze, put new hoses on it, and traded it on another car. Problem solved. But I'm taking that rep's advice, and not ever buying another GM again, ever. And I'm supposed to believe it's the union's fault for their failure? Yeah, right.
Yes, I know... it's a ridiculous title for a blog entry, and the women are probably already rolling their eyes, but hold up for a sec. It's not what you think.
With the presidential primaries in full swing, and the headlines full of Sarah Palin, I've been thinking a lot about the conservative right's "abstinence only" position when it comes to sex. The point (I suppose) is that if you never have sex, you'll never have an unwanted pregnancy, and you'll never be at risk of contracting an STD. While this all makes perfect, logical sense, it seems to work better in theory than in practice, because of course you need to get people to comply, which is the problem.
Since voluntary compliance to a plan like the one above is so unlikely, it would make sense to have a Plan B, like maybe birth control (condoms? the pill?). But unfortunately, the conservative right isn't interested in a Plan B, because of course it would mean that people might still be having sex (which is what they actually want to prevent, rather than the consequence).
By now you're asking what this has to do with driving, so here we go.
People like sex. People also like to drive. Just as people have sex to make babies, they also have sex because they like sex. Likewise, just as people drive for basic transportation, they also drive for pleasure (and for the sake of this argument, we'll pretend that gas is not $4.50 a gallon). People with sports cars go off and find twisty roads to have fun on, and it has nothing to do with getting them to work, or to the store, or to their doctor's office.
But driving can be dangerous, as cars can be crashed into things like trees or other cars, or even people not in a car. There are countless things to be wary of when driving, such as deer darting out in front of you, or drunk people careening down the road. When people drive for pleasure, they're spending more time on the road, and they're exposing themselves to more chances to crash. So what's to be done?
The government has of course thought of this, and have responded by posting ridiculously low speed limits on all the roads. The next time you are putting along that road at 40mph, please consider the 25mph limit signs you're driving past. The idea is that if everyone crawled around at a snail's pace, fewer people would crash, because with cars going so slowly, you'd have hours to avoid the careening drunk, or the darting deer. Also, if you did still manage to crash, you'd be going so slowly that injury would be a lot less likely (and for this argument we will also ignore the fact that reducing speeds on roads has never been proven to decrease the accident rate, but that's another blog).
But, like the abstinence only thing, this works better in theory than in practice. People don't like to crawl around at a snail's pace, regardless of why they're driving. They gravitate to a speed they feel comfortable with, and just try to keep an eye out for that deer. The government knows that voluntary compliance is unlikely, so they have a Plan B, which is to equip cars with bumpers, seat belts, and air bags. They also require crash tests to make sure that if people do crash, they will have some sort of chance to survive.
Hopefully the point is starting to surface, and I haven't been typing for nothing.
Promoting abstinence only, with no consideration for a Plan B, is no different than putting up speed limit signs, then leaving all the safety features out of cars. It's just as irresponsible. If we care enough to put air bags in our cars, why can't we care enough to give condoms to our kids? I don't see why it has to be any more complicated than that. Sometimes you really do need a Plan B.
Montgomery County's automated speed enforcement & revenue generation program is the first in Maryland to enforce speed limits in residential areas and school zones with a speed limit of 35 mph or less. The program got underway March 12 with a 30-day warning period. During that time motorists will receive warning violations if they are photographed speeding in the enforcement zones. After the 30 day warning period, you're getting a ticket!!
No points though, because the county needs to keep you on the road so you can keep paying into the CashCam system.
Montgomery County CashCam Locations
DISTRICT 1 ROCKVILLE
Dufief Mill Road
Bells Mill Road
Quince Orchard Road
Stone Ridge View Drive
Glen Mill Road
DISTRICT 2 BETHESDA
Jones Bridge Lane
DISTRICT 3 SILVER SPRING
Piney Branch Road
Powder Mill Road
DISTRICT 4 WHEATON
Arcola Avenue ( Amherst Avenue to Orebaugh)
Randolph Road ( Georgia Avenue to Veirs Mill Road )
Bel Pre Road ( Geogia Avenue to Layhill Road )
Georgia Avenue North ( King William Drive to Spartan Road )
Georgia Avenue South ( Morningwood Drive to Hines Road )
Briggs Chaney Road ( New Hampshire to Good Hope Road )
DISTRICT 5 GERMANTOWN
Richter Farm Road
Woodfield Road- Route 124
DISTRICT 6 GAITHERSBURG
East Village Avenue
Once the trial run is over, expect the number of CashCams to be increased drastically, and also expect the fine to shoot up into the $100+ range. If the county gets tight on cash, expect either the speed limits to drop, or the acceptable overage to come down from 11mph to something like 6mph.
Montgomery County - Providing solutions to problems that never existed, and answers to questions that no one's ever asked.
Overnight we got a "wintery mix" (sounds like a bag of chips) of sleet, ice, and snow. This morning we had a 2-hr late arrival policy going at work, so I had time to get the car de-iced.
This was the first real test of the Mini in inclement weather, especially since my neighborhood (including the main road) wasn't plowed. Made it out of my development, up the hill, and down the rolling main road with no incidents, even having to drive around some stuck people and downed trees.
After a life of high hp, rwd cars, it's nice to be able to actually go somewhere in the snow for once.
Well, the good old Honda's days were coming to an end, and I decided it was no longer safe for Jessica to be driving. The brakes were getting funky, the speedo didn't work, and the transmission was shot, to name but a few things wrong with it.
Several weeks ago, I began scanning the want ads for used wagons, and the other night I ran across one for a 2000 Ford Focus wagon. I remembered reading that these had pretty good reliability ratings (Pat Goss raves about them), so we went to check it out.
Car was spotless (pics coming soon) and the price was right, so we decided to get it. They even gave us $100 in trade for the Honda! So now Jessica has something reliable to drive (and safe) and we have a wagon to haul mulch and trash in. It'll also keep some miles off the Mini.
Here's to cheap used cars.
View all categories >