Thursday, March 29, 2018

Change … in with the new; out with the old!

It never ceases to amaze Margo or me how quickly change can happen. After weeks of research on a number of cars, Margo walks onto a showroom floor to view a car not under any serious consideration and falls immediately in love with the color. The business of Pyalla Technologies continues to do well and Margo has found her niche as managing editor of the digital publication, NonStop Insider, we launched almost two years ago (with the help, of course, of our good friends in Scotland at TCM Solutions). If you have a technical inclination and perhaps more than a passing interest in what is happening today with NonStop Computers (formerly, Tandem Computers) then yes, check out the web site for NonStop Insider and page through a couple of Margo’s editorials. 

As of right now, however, a quick peek inside our garage will reveal that our trusty 2012 “Chilli Red” Mini Cooper S Roadster is no longer. In its place you will see a 2018 BMW M4 with the Competition package, of course. As for the color, well that’s a story all by itself. Turns out it isn’t a common request to order an M4 painted Ferrari Grigio Medio, but the M4 can come with the same paint you usually only ever see on a Ferrari 458 Italia – just like Quattroporte sounds so exotic in Italian (and a lot better than the English equivalent, four doors), Grigio Medio rolls off the tongue a whole lot better than “Medium Gray!”

Speaking of Quattroporte, yes, Maserati, our former Maserati GT-S, came in the same color as FCA paints Ferraris – what Maserati calls Giallo Modena. Just the name is a clue to its origins and again stirs the passions much faster than saying, yellow!  Having had a Maserati painted with Ferrari yellow and now a BMW painted Ferrari gray, all we really need next is a real Ferrari painted well, perhaps Corvette Blue! No, seriously, the color of Margo’s M4 is eye-catching to say the least, sometimes radiating a greenish tinge and under different lighting, more of a blue hue.  Needless to say, it’s a long way from being close to the eye-catching Chili Red of our Mini! On the other hand, we are getting closer to having red, white and blue in the garage!

For a family that has strong ties to GM, as we have moved from GMC to Cadillac to Pontiac and yes, Chevrolet Corvette with regularity over the years – two GMC Yukons and three Corvettes (there is still a Corvette parked in the garage) – seeing the M4 at rest alongside the i8 wasn’t something we expected. And yet, Margo has favored the marque for many years since she bought her first BMW in the early ‘90s – a BMW 540i. Here the story line shows a few twists – my first BMW was purchased during the years I spent in Canada and was a hot BMW 530i. Since then we have owned an M3, now an M4, two 7 series and yes, the i8. Who knew?

Speaking of the Corvette, we are awaiting the arrival of new catalytic converters at our front door after which it is a trip to the nearby Chevrolet service bay for them to be installed. Even as we prided ourselves on how few miles we have on our fifteen year old Z06, the lack of miles accelerated the demise of our cats – and no, they aren’t an inexpensive feature to replace. Our first indication we had a problem was the Check Engine light, but the cats weren’t the only problem that surfaced this month. That triple threat of Service ABS, Service Active Handling and yes, Service Traction Control appeared as well. Our friendly Corvette tech pulled a tech note from GM that highlighted we may have introduced this problem ourselves, as some time back we had swapped out rubber brake lines with stainless steel – appears they mess with the electronics so we are reverting to rubber.

Let’s see how this turns out as the number of times we have had the triple threat displayed on our console has been too many times to recall. The new cats were just delivered as I was writing this post so it will be off to the dealer for installation – and no, we aren’t going with the original Chevrolet Corvette parts ($3,500+) but rather after-market from Summit Racing ($750) on the advice of our good friend, Andy Green of A&A Corvette Performance, Oxnard California. If they are good enough for Andy then they are more than good enough for us. 

I wonder what they call these problems in Italian – probably a lot more exotic and yes, a lot more expensive, I suspect. The recent move to leasing BMWs hasn’t really come about by accident – keeping separate out private and company cars makes book-keeping so much easier (and cheaper) as we can account for our time in each more easily. As it now stands, we have the Jeep SRT and the Corvette Z06 for private use and the BMWs are for business where we see most of the miles tick over as we continue to drive to business events and meetings rather than fly – and you wouldn’t blame us, would you, with all that’s happening on planes these days. Margo still shudders at the time at LAX when I was threatened with arrest over such a silly act, standing in the security line.

After writing the previous post I was asked whether our Corvette Z06 would receive a franchise car endorsement. Well, as we were writing that post there was some debate going on as to whether we should swap the Corvette for a new model as our local Chevrolet dealer had the ideal Z06 car on their showroom floor – a 2017 7 speed manual with the Z07 performance options. Wow – and guess what; it was also painted Torch Red, the same as our current Z06. Turns out, smarter minds prevailed and as we own the Vette outright and have it set up as our track toy, it made little sense to buy one more.

We have kind of done the Corvette thing for now and unless the new ZR1 blows our doors off, we will be playing a wait-and-see game over the new C8 iteration that is promised to be mid-engine for the first time. So, yes, the Corvette is a franchise car in every way. For the time being, at least … 

The really big news fortunately is that our RV is about ready for pick up. Just a few weeks shy of having to return the RV for de-winterizing, it has spent many months in the shop being reworked. Mechanically, it’s all good with the only change needed was with two of the house batteries. As for the inside of the RV, we are waiting to see how the corrective measures taken to redo wallpaper, some fixtures and hardware  including items that have been on backorder for over a year. There were some Tiffin recalls to be attended to and just in general, many times to be given a once over as durability isn’t a strong point on even the finest of RVs. 

After all the incidents we lived through last year with what had to be replaced, add in what has now been done and theoretically, we should have close to a new RV to break in. With almost 60,000 miles on the odometer after six summers, we have certainly gotten good use from our company command center. Throughout the summer months it has been our go-to vehicle for driving to technology events and conferences across the country. It’s seen both coast lines and touched both the northern and southern borders. The way it is set up so that I can work from the onboard office means that my time away from our home office is every bit as productive and no matter where we park it, there are always clients who want to drop in even if for just an evening martini.

From a company marketing perspective, it has been the perfect tool helping us promote Pyalla Technologies and as the summer rolls around, we expect to be hitting the highways once again. Without the Mini it will be our track car, the Corvette, that will be doing double duty as our towed vehicle and that isn’t entirely a bad thing to have to accommodate. And thankfully, Chevrolet makes good air conditioners and on that score, the Corvette has never let us down. It’s always been such a cool car to drive! But for now, we can share one last photo of the Mini present in the garage only hours before it would become homeless. Oh well, no franchise tag for the Mini but who knows? 
Margo really loved that toy so you can never say never, now can you? On the other hand, “Arrivederci, Mini” – now that doesn’t sound so bad, does it!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

“Franchise Cars” and the mistakes we have made …

I am not sure if we have made a mistake or not, but after owning almost nothing but black cars it seems red is now the color. The occasion that triggered the lineup above, right outside our new Windsor home, was basic – the Corvette was off to the local Chevrolet service facility to have it’s serpentine (OK, fan) belt replaced after fifteen years, a clogged air filter swapped out for a new one and yes, for the second time in its history, a fresh replacement battery. Against the cobalt blue sky we saw this morning after a number of really cold days, it was in stark contrast to the cars – as for the color of the house, well it kind of blended in with the scenery. As for the BMW i8, being a color other than red, it simply didn’t make the cut this time around when the photo was taken – but it wasn’t our fault. No mistakes were made at the time of purchase as there wasn’t an option to purchase a red i8. 

Car and Driver columnist John Phillips wrote in the January 2018 issue of the magazine, “Car enthusiasts are defined by their vivid mistakes.” For several years now, at this time of year, when it looks like winter has left us and it is the time for flowers to push up past the winter debris, I have posted about the four or five cars we should consider having in the garage. These posts now are a walk down memory lane for Margo and me but at the time, living out of two homes well, a home and a condo, meant we did have five cars and for a brief period, six. And there were always two and for another brief period, three, motorcycles.

Today, however, we have fewer cars and motorcycles than we once had but we continue to maintain a big RV – our company command center – along with a Featherlite aluminum car trailer. This seems to meet our needs very well as across the portfolio we have the RV, the SUV, the track car, the supercar and yes, the Mini Roadster which is our round-about-town car particularly loved when springtime truly arrives and the ragtop can be lowered. Far removed from either our Corvette or Viper ragtop roadsters, the Mini is still a six-speed stick shift and for the opportunity to row-your-own gears, it is a delight to drive. And "very torquey" at that, with its turbo inline four cylinder engine meeting the tarmac via tires that really grip and there isn’t a traffic light derby we can recall ever losing – at least for the first hundred feet or so. But the real purpose of the trailer is to give us a means of transporting our red cars either to the track, or as more often is the case, to business meetings and corporate events as finding parking for the RV rig often leaves us far from where we need to be. And it won't be long before another track season begins for the 'Vette.

NFL football teams along with other professional sports programs I seem to recall have an opportunity to tag a good player and call them “franchise players!” The concept is that, baring exception circumstances, the team elects to keep this player no matter what state of affairs exist concerning his playing status – he simply is too good to lose to free agency or anything else. Like a whole lot more money. At this time of year, when all you can hear on television sports programs is the upcoming NFL player draft, and with the thoughts of the cars we have garaged at the house (and offsite now at our new heated storage facility) still very much on our mind, I have asked myself, why haven’t I declared some of the cars we have owned through the years, franchise cars! Never to be traded or sold, but rather, kept until their replacement parts supply dwindles to where you have to know a person who knows another person who is good friends with yet another person who just might be able to find that part you desperately need.

Back when we did have a majority of black cars, the local exotic car showroom unloaded a selection of them on our driveway as part of the initial sales effort working to sell our home in Niwot. We sure were surprised when the eighteen-wheeler showed up on our doorsteps early one morning and unloaded a nice selection of cars – all white. So it seemed like a good idea at the time to insert our own black vehicles in with the group, alternating black and white. I would like to say that the F-Type Jaguar was ours, but it wasn’t. On the other hand, the Nissan GT-R and the Dodge Viper ragtop roadster didn’t look out of place behind the Maserati and the Lamborghini Gallardo. Of all of the cars, on that day of hijinks, my drive was the Gallardo, as our architect had taken it to show to a nearby client and couldn’t engage first gear – so he called me. Of course, I jumped and engaged first and drove it back to our home much to the surprise of those attending the event. “Who are you?” came the refrain from those who watched me step out of car. On my own driveway …

There have been numerous posts to this blog written around this time of year that takes stock of the cars that are either lining our driveway or are sitting curbside in front of our home or even parked in the garage. And on occasion that has led me to ponder that great question of what cars we need to own and yes, how many. More often than not the answer came to five and while this may seem extreme, at the time it has made sense. That is, until we hit a rough patch when all five cars need new tires, but that’s another story for another time. Whether you think it’s important to have a get-around-town car, something that is better suited to winter mountain driving or that it is really important to know the difference between a track car, a sports car, a grand tourer and an exotic may not be the real question, but then again, it is completely un-American not to have as many cars as you have garages. Sometimes, more!

If you missed any of them, perhaps the ones that really stood out were those of 2011, 2014 and 2017. Some of them only make oblique references to the collection but if you scroll through them, sure enough you will come across the references to what really is required when living in a state that has such extremes of weather. If you want to follow these links, you will get the picture, so as to speak:

March 13, 2017

February 15, 2014

Sunday, December 25, 2011

But here is the thing. If we could declare some cars as franchise cars, after all these years which ones would Margo and I choose? Well, to start with, we don’t have pictures of some of them, but the second Mazda RX7 I ever owned, the 1994 model that we called “the glove”, as it was a car that surrounded its occupants in a manner that was more akin to being swaddled than anything else. This was a car we should have kept and even today, as we turn up at road courses around the west, there are still a lot of these cars in the hands of bona-fide racers! But another car of the same vintage also is one that I know Margo will always cherish – her BMW 540i. Remember it? Before there was an M5, BMW responded to the inroads that Lexus and later Infiniti were making into the German Lux business by releasing “the Tiger!” Slamming a quad cam 32 valve 4 liter engine into the much lighter 5 series body while not having quite the impact that was made by Mercedes Benz when then independent AMG released “the Hammer” a hot-rod E-Class variant, but all the same, the Tiger was a whole lot of fun to drive and we kept it for more than a decade.

If the mighty 1994 RX7 was a glove then what could you call the 2008 Gen IV Viper SRT/10? It too quickly earned the glove tag as it was an even tighter fit when seated than the RX7. But when we consolidated homes and brought back to Colorado those cars we had in California, we faced the somewhat ridiculous situation of having more cars and motorcycles than we had room for – something just had to give. At the time we had two Corvettes, the Viper and a Nissan GT-R and the Cadillac Escalade. The Vettes were our track car but then it kind of got a little silly – the GT-R was our grand-tourer, the Viper our sports car and well yes, the Escalade was our around-town, all-season, SUV. But if the Viper was a candidate for being a keeper under the franchise banner then it was a car of a completely different color that really hit the mark.

From the time we first saw this Maserati it was controversial. It wasn’t immediately “love at first sight” – it was bright yellow, for crying out loud. As one Maserati enthusiastic suggested to us much later and after we brought it home, “you have to be very confident to drive yellow!” Over time it really grew on us and make no mistake about it, Maserati has the best exhaust note of any car we have ever owned and as best as we can tell it was a completely natural sound, not subject to synthesized augmentation as is often the case today with newer cars. We drove it everywhere – to Toronto and back, through the Canyon Lands and Natural Arches parks in Utah on down through Telluride. We drove it all over the west coast but as much as we were tempted, we never took it on track, although the only other yellow Maserati GT-S we ever saw was trackside, Sonoma, where a serious racer was indeed tracking it. 

So here we have it. Just the RX7, the BMW 540i, the Viper and the Maserati were cars we should have tacked on the franchise label. What of the Nissan GT-R? We had two GT-Rs, a 2010 and a 2013 and boy, were they fast. Wickedly quick under all conditions that gave us our first ever experience with a double-clutch automated manual gearbox. Diving into a turn and being able to pull back the levers and drop three gears in an instant – wow! But it wasn’t a car that you warmed to and after having had them in the garage for six or more years, we didn’t miss their absence even after a few days. And of course, the hole in the garage was soon plugged!  

It was on a weekend trip back from San Francisco, driving the Maserati, that we made the decision to buy the BMW i8. Well, to be truthful, not really. Margo and I faced a predicament. The day before we left for San Francisco we were shown a brand new Corvette Z06 in black, but with yellow double-stitching surrounding the plush leather interior along with yellow powder-coated brake calipers. The complete opposite color scheme to the Maserati. Why not buy the Z06 as a kind of complement to the GT-S, we thought? And then while on the road, our BMW salesman phoned us to inform us he had found the very i8 Margo had wanted and he was prepared to deal. Which car, we thought. As we pulled back up the driveway at the end of the trip, we had made the decision. We just liked Corvettes too much. But not everyone was convinced and on her way into the kitchen the following morning, Margo simply said, “we’re buying the i8!” 

Now that we have had the i8 for two years, does it earn the franchise tag? Well, no, actually. We love it and every time we drive it, we are impressed. But does it bring the same wide smile to our faces that the RX7 and Viper did all those years ago? And the answer is no, not quite! This may shock many car enthusiasts to hear, but what the i8 has kindled is an anxious wait for what’s next. This seems to us to be very much a case of work in progress and the fact that BMW didn’t want to sell the i8, just lease it, tells us that they want it back for some reason and we think we know why. The i8 is generating so much data about the car, and us, they want to run a whole bunch of analytics against its computers to see how it behaved under the stresses of daily life. However, it came oh so close to getting tagged with the franchise label. On the other hand, it was all pretty exciting the day we picked it up and it was left to Margo to make that all-important first drive home from our friendly BMW dealer.  

On the other hand, the i8 does represent the future but Margo and I aren’t really enthralled with all that we see. It may have looked right at home when we lined up all the black and white cars on the driveway as we had done only a short time before the i8 arrived. However, as one motoring journalist noted just this month, “We live in a time of unprecedented speed and power from even the most mundane new cars, but also a dwindling connection between driver and machine. New cars have grown heavier, more complex, and less engaging, their engineers seeking to eliminate the drawbacks of the average commute.” And we agree, wholeheartedly! “Performance has become less a metric for a company’s engineering skill than a solved-for-commodity, reliable and friendly.” Yuck; not a future for cars I am anticipating with anything close to the levels of enthusiasm I once enjoyed.   

Yes, car enthusiasts may very well be defined by their vivid mistakes and as we are car enthusiasts in every sense of the word, we have made many. We put on a lot of miles as we continue to cover a lot of territory ever since we elected to drive and not fly. And we love the journey a lot more than the destination and this has been true for us for decades. But even as we put a lot of miles on the cars and even as we adjust each time to the idiosyncrasies of the chosen car of the day, gloves or otherwise, we consider our mistakes and wonder. Could we ever live with just three vehicles? Or two, perhaps? At some point this is a conversation we have to have, but for as long as we are as young as we are today, that day is a long way off. And we are just itching to kick off our next trip and which car we take well, who knows. It just could be something entirely different, yet again!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Get on your bike, and ride!

This week, the weather warmed considerably and I was able to get back on my motorcycle – well to be truthful, Margo’s motorcycle – and drove it out of Windsor, Colorado down to Loveland, Colorado. We have leased a 1000 square foot heated facility where we can lockup all of our toys. The “shoes” we wrote about, in our last post, has seen new tires mounted to the wheels of the Corvette and along with the trailer the Corvette and motorcycle will welcome this facility as their new home. And it really is only a handful of miles away and is a vast improvement over where we had previously stored out RV and trailer. Oh yes, in time, the RV too will join the rest of the vehicles in this facility as soon as all the winter maintenance and repairs under way with the RV are completed. 

Getting back on the motorcycle and picking up once again from where I had left off last year, was enjoyable. I don’t what it is about riding a motorcycle but it certainly is outside of the ordinary. Helmet firmly tightened and my reinforced riding jacket and my much-loved boots brought back memories of so many rides over the past twenty years here in the US. Our sole motorcycle is a Yamaha V Star 1100 that is close to being the smallest motorcycle we have owned and yet as a middleweight cruiser, it is easy enough to maneuver and while down on power and weight, is proving to be a fun ride!  

There is a lot of history behind the photograph headlining this post and taken during the last months we spent residing in our former home in Niwot. The Honda and the Yamaha depicted – what are referred to as metric cruisers – have covered a lot of miles. As for the ride this week, properly attired as I was, getting back onto the saddle for a late winters day ride was not only enjoyable and memorable but having just celebrated another birthday, let me briefly relive my past in a way that surprised me. Someone once said you never forget how to ride a bike and for me, this seems so obvious. From my late teens into early adulthood, I have been riding motorcycles on two contents – on the left side of the road on one continent and on the right side for the other. Surprises? It was if years indeed decades just fell away!

Experience, they say, is everything. And in my early days, I learned a lot – whoever said, slow in, fast out, never gave me this message or taught me how to handle corners – and tore up a lot of clothing. I learnt the hard way and for a short period of time, riding in Sydney, I owned a Honda sports bike and a Yamaha moped (with the moped acting as my backup) but even so, there was a brief time where both modes of transportation were in the shop being straightened. So much for having a Plan B – ever tried taking off your glove while on a moped? Not recommended …

The big Honda depicted above was traded for the Mini Roadster just a few years ago. What a change – as a ragtop two seater and the smallest Mini on the road – we still enjoy the wind in our hair even as we have the A/C running and the satellite radio tuned to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville radio station. I loved that big, almost two-liter, Honda as my very first motorcycle had been that Honda sports bike although this model, a late 1960s “250cc” Honda CB72. Weighing almost nothing when compared with today’s sports bikes, it would barely be given a second glance by todays riders. And in the days when highways in Australia were not regulated or policed, I was able to pull 100 mph across on the top of Wollongong’s Mount Ousley Road. Yes, for two years, I commuted between my northern suburbs Sydney home and the steelworks in Wollongong where I was a “Computer Cadet” on a two year apprenticeship in technology. 

But those days ended when I took my first job in IT that had me working out of an office in the Sydney CBD. I sold that Honda after one really big shunt that had my father pull me aside to tell me, that’s enough! So, no more Honda CB72! Fast forward some thirty years and there I was, freshly married to perhaps the most adventurous young lady I have ever known who bluntly informed that if I was going to get another motorcycle then she would be getting one, too. Where we do we get lessons? This was all the way back in 1999 but we waited until late 2000 before we summoned enough courage for each of us to buy a motorcycle.

When you step onto a motorcycle and venture out onto America’s highways you immediately immerse yourself in an entirely different culture. The biggest, meanest, most-tattooed biker, coming towards you, will lift his hand from the handlebars and give you a friendly wave as he passes by. When it comes time to refill the gas tank, other bikers will wonder across for quick, “howdy,” oftentimes flash an even bigger smile as Margo removed her helmet, and ask quite politely (at times), what bike is that? Do you ride it?

Kitted out and all dressed up, as Margo had had her Yamaha customized to her taste, and dressed in full rider’s leathers as was he custom, they would ask, “do you really ride it?” Back in the early 2000s you rarely saw a woman riding a cruiser but today, they are everywhere you turn. So much for twenty years of riding as the lone, “lady of the lanes!” But just as it was when Margo took the Corvette on track, a day riding the bike was an opportunity to clear the head and distance yourself from the cares of the day! Once astride the motorcycle, staying alive was the sole order of the day!

Times are changing. We are now grandparents and there is a lot of time devoted to helping out with three youngsters under five. And with responsibilities comes caution and so the days of riding the Colorado front ranges are coming to an end even as still enjoy every ride I take no matter how long the road. Perhaps the Yamaha and the Mini are destined to be replaced by something that is a cross between both as we still keep a watchful eye on the Slingshot trikes that we often see touring the mountains. But it is still not a firm consideration at this point and until any decision is made on the front, I will keep taking advantage of any sunny days to go for a ride!

I recently read in Fortune Magazine of an executive of Adobe stating that “we are the CEOs of our own ideas” and I really warmed to this observation. In our daily lives, Margo and I continue to set an agenda that allows us both a lot of freedom. As a writer and do need to read and I do need to converse with others. And I do need to “take it all in,” as it were, as there really isn’t any other way to prepare to write – innovation takes many forms and creativity has many guises but it all takes work. And I have so many ideas …

We used to have a saying in technology about “garbage in / garbage out” and today I know it applies equally well to the work I do for my clients. Coming up with the story lines is always a challenge but getting out and about on America’s highways, no matter the mode of transportation, is by my reckoning the best formula for ensuring there is only minimal “garbage out.” One big idea I have is to make sure we see the West Coast from top to bottom and with a couple of business meetings coming up, this may just work out but no, the motorcycle will have to stay in storage for that trip.

On the other hand, we may not be covering as much distance as we did last year but even as we pull out the maps and begin to set plans in motion, I have my fingers crossed that there is still one more great ride to come! We have the Rockies just a stone’s throw away and there are still backcountry roads not ridden. And the Yamaha just needs a minor tune as winter transitions to spring but after that, well I hear the highway calling! With my atop the motorcycle and Margo behind the wheel of the Mini, roof retracted, we should make a fine pair. And yes, to my fellow riders, of course, for 2018 – ride safe!