Monday, December 2, 2019

On Moving to Natural Gas...

I called our gas company a few years ago about switching from home heating oil. Here's how the conversation went.

<Cheerful voice> "Hello, thank you for calling XXXXXX! How can I help you?"

"Hi, I'd like to switch to natural gas from home heating oil. Can you help me?"

"Yes sir, I'd be glad to! Please give me your address."

"1212 Anywhere Lane, Middletown CT"

"Thank you! Give me a moment here...<tap, tap, tap, tap, tap>...yes sir, I think we can help you! We'd be glad to have you as a customer!"

"Ok, I see you're advertising some specials, price reductions on boilers, etc...?"

"Yes sir! Let me get a total here...please stand by...Ok, we can switch you to natural gas and we'll sign you up, install the equipment, give you a state rebate for the switch, and give you a reduction for your first year's for annual delivery. How does that sound?"

"Excellent! So what's the cost to switch?"

"Ok, sir, stand by by for a moment...<tap, tap, tap, tap, tap>...OK, total initial investment will be $283,432.68."



"Did you say Two Hundred and Eighty Three THOUSAND dollars?? That's a joke, right?"

"Oh no sir! Thing is, we do not have a main going down your street, so we'd have to extend the main to your street. Fortunately, there's one just around the corner, so we'd do all the work, get the permitting, perform the street work, and then once that main is down your street we'd attach your house to it and now you're heating your home with efficient, less expensive natural gas!"

"So I'd have to pay for all the construction cost for installing a main down my street?"

"Yes sir! Would you like me to place the order now?"

"Um, no....but if I did, would I get a rebate or cut of the sales for all the other homeowners that then tap into the line I just paid to have installed?"

"No sir, sorry. Are you sure you don't want me to place the installation order now?"

"Um, yes, thanks."

"OK, sir, I understand, but if you change your mind please do call us at 1-800-XXXXXXX! Thanks for calling!"


Friday, March 29, 2019

On Driver's Schools

A buddy asks..."So you've driven 43 (or whatever) race many have you been upside down on?" And I reply, "TWO! What's the other one?"

The other one was...Hallett Motor Speedway.

I did my two driver's schools at Texas World Speedway in 1984 (1985?) so signed got off for the Regional license. But I learned that as long as you're on a Novice Permit they can't block you from a driver's school which is the best frackin' track/butt-time value on the planet...

So I entered the Hallett driver's school that next month. I don't remember the exact name of my instructor for that third school - I wish I did, 'cause I want to have a beer with him - but he knew I was signed off and he was just baby-sitting me and was all about having a good time and pushing me to go faster. At some point he convinced me - either he really believed it, or he thought I'd get the joke - that I could do Turn One (counterclockwise) - at Hallett flat out.

So, of course, being all piss and vineger, after a couple laps I tried Hallett Turn One flat out. Until I got halfway through Turn One, then decided I couldn't do Turn One flat out, and then bailed out, and then realized that wasn't gonna work either.

But yeah, too late. I ended up backwards, driver's door to tire wall at a good clip and the car popped up off the ground and began rotating, along with the view out of the windshield. I see sky, then grass , then sky, then tires, then THUMP I'm on my head. A couple more bumps and it settles down and gets mostly quiet. I'm confused, trying to figure out where I am...

I shake it off and realize the world isn't as I intended. I reach down to grab the lever to release the belts and the very instant after I move that lever I remember I'm upside down and the science of gravity takes over to move my...a-hem, midsection...into the solidity of the steering wheel and I remember getting hit there hurts...trying to scramble sideways out an open window while hoping there's no fire...some guy in whites, out of breath, runs up to me (huffing in between breaths "") while I'm still upside down, asking me if I'm okay...and there's this strange smell of fuel and hypoid gear oil (I still hate the smell of that stuff today...)

I'd just wrecked my ride home.

After some moments of time, which seemed like an hour but were more like 3 minutes, I'm watching some wrecker guys trying to roll over my primary (only) street car off a tire wall while I look up the hill at both my school instructor (on his scooter) and my then-girlfriend who came with me with her hands across her mouth...then I look to my right to some guy standing next to me, looking at my car all up against the tire wall.

I look over and give him the "hey" what's up eyebrow flash. He turns to me, points to the car, and says, "that you?" I look down at my driver's suit, then at the car, and then back at him and respond, cleverly, "yup".

He looks over to the car, then to the tire wall, then back at me, and says, "You know, no matter how far back I move that wall, you guys always seem to find a way to hit it."

Turns out he was the track owner.

I had no response.

Funny part is, if'n I'd not have bailed out in the middle of that turn, I probably actually coulda done Turn One at Hallett flat out...oh, well.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

2007 VIR 13

So here's my account of what happened. It's been 10+ years so who knows how much if this has been embellished but it's a good story, I reserve the right to embellish subject to corrections of fact, of course...anyway...

2007 VIR 13, we're running Pablo Deuce. We're pretty amped after the 24 Hours Nelson Ledges win, I'd won the ARRC the year before, the team was rocking. Team Boss (Knestis) was battling the flu so I was doing 2.5-3 hour stints and running a good pace all day. Think I did something like 6-7 hours of the 13 that year...

We'd worked up a multi-lap lead by the end of the night. As I was closing the event I came up on some clod in a Pontiac Solstice that just was out there with no clue. I'd come rolling up on him in the night like I was beamed down by the Starship Enterprise and pass him, but then he'd "assimilate" my speeds (and headlights) and rocket in front of me on the straights (after all, I had - what? - 100 wheel horsepower?) And then, because he was now in front, he'd park it in the friggin corners and I'd be all over his ass again. I'd eventually get some distance on him but inevitably we'd come up on traffic, I'd get balked, and he'd catch up. Time and time again, lap after lap, we'd have this argument where he'd pass me on the straights and then park me in the corners. I was getting pretty frustrated.

About 45 minutes or so from the end of the race, I thought I had enough distance on him out of Oak Tree (when there actually was an oak tree) and I'd be good for that lap, so I stayed mostly toward the right at the end of the straight to "discourage" him from passing. But he stuffed in a late, really bad pass into the right-hander at Roller Coaster and there he was again. By now I'd just flat had enough: as we came out of the right-hander, he'd gone wide left and I got a bumper on him to his right; he tried to move toward the right for the left-hander down the hill and I just didn't lift, kept my foot in it. I may have even made an ever-so-slightly early turn into the left-hander as he came across me (hard to say, no video, right?) and Mr Big Power Late Braker found himself "PITted" (I called it Tiddly-Winked) off driver's right and out of my life. Buh-bye, see ya.

Next 15 minutes of the race were of no consequence, I did my best to toss in some hot laps to finish the night. We were way ahead, let's bring it home.

Right about then, a small pack of various cars come up on me, and I started pointing them by. Coming out of NASCAR, some idiot Spec Miata driver broadsides the GTI! I'm all like "what the fuck, you idiot!", signal to him he's #1 (a fruitless nighttime gesture) and I just let him by. He slows out of Left Hook so I start to pass him and then he suddenly starts hammering the side of my car through Snake! WHAT THE HELL?? So I just maintain control of Pablo and hammer the throttle for the Esses and this idiot stays even with me and keeps hammering me side-by-side up through the Esses, trying to intentionally knock me off the track! Over a finger?? I'm on driver's left and I'm all like "Ok, you want this sonuvabitch? Let's go!" and we're side-by-side through South Bend where I make him earn it - shoulda put the idiot off the track right then and there - and then we go side-by-side through Oak Tree. I don't know how many dents we put in those cars on that lap but by the time we get down the back straight and to Roller Coaster IT'S FUCKING ON!!! Hog Pen, up the front straight, and by now I'm starting to think this is one seriously psychotic dude but I am NOT going to let this go. I beat him braking into Turn 1 - that's how motivated I was - and then as we go around Turn 2 toward NASCAR I pull over and PARK the car on the straight. And by "park" I mean I STOPPED THE CAR ON THE STRAIGHT driver's right, dead stopped, and this psycho pulls up and stops right behind me.

By now I'm on the radio, a bit rattled, trying to tell our crew guy Bill that there's some psycho motherfucker trying to kill me and someone needs to do something about it RIGHT the FUCK NOW. The response I get is along the lines of...

"Ooookay, Greg. Yeah, no problem. There's only fifteen or so minutes left, just take it easy and bring it home, 'kay?"

And I'm all like, "No, Bill, you don't get it. This guy is trying to DRIVE ME OFF THE TRACK!"

"Oookay, Greg, understand. Just bring it home."

I'm inconsolable. "Bill, you're a fucking idiot. We are STOPPED ON THE TRACK AT TURN TWO AND HE'S BEHIND ME STOPPED TOO."

"Ooookaaayyy, Greg..."


I don't know how long we sat there, seemed like forever but was probably only 30 seconds, but that game of chicken didn't last long before he pulled away from behind me and took off. And as hard as I tried I could not catch that fucking Miata to give him some Pablo Justice - I'd already mentally bought the car - so I stewed for the 15 or whatever minutes it was left in the race. I was ripped.

Race ends and I bring it into the pit lane and stop behind all the other cars lined up and I'm out of control. I start heading for the stewards much like Shuey did after Coulthard wrecked him in the rain. I had no idea who this fucking asshole idiot psycho was, but I was going to TAKE. HIM. DOWN as best I knew how, short of physical violence (it was probably best I didn't visually identify the car). I headed straight for the tower and looked for anyone that looked semi-important and made it abundantly clear we were going to settle this tonight. So while the team was drinking beer and enjoying the victory, I was being all Johnny Letter in the tower...

Stewards did the best they could to calm me down and handed me the forms. I'm still fuming but slowly winding down - but not wound down - as I'm writing up the protest and I hear some stewards the hallway outside the room discussing it. They're trying to figure out which car it was, and which driver it was, and at some point I hear them mutter "car #xx, Charles Espenlaub".

What? Are you fucking kidding me?? At that point I realized it wasn't some idiot psycho, it was a talented psycho, and I began to wonder what in the hell this was all about.

Wasn't too long after that we both got called to the Chief Steward and she was none too pleased with us. The Chief sits us both down side-by-side in folding chairs in the middle of a room and she's got a big frown on her face looking sternly at each of us and wants to know what all the metal-to-metal calls were from all over the track and then she informs me that Espenlaub's team has filed a protest against me. I'm pretty incredulous; what in the hell are they protesting me for? "For knocking their team car off the track", she says.

The Solstice.

I turn to Espenlaub and say, "is that what this is all about??" and he has a sheepish look on his face. I catch the eye of his team manager/owner Randy Hale and then it all makes sense. And it was at that point I realized I'd better keep my god-dammed mouth shut. Chief lets us both know that she's well aware of who we are and that we both have been around long enough to know better, and that if either of us opens our mouth to say anything at that moment it won't be good for either of us. And both of us have enough sense to know that we better just sit there, shut up, nod vigorously up-and down to everything she says, and agree that we both did bad. And then she tells us to shake hands, get over it, and that's exactly what we did.

And as we're walking out of the stewards room, Espenlaub gives me a big smile and says something like "good driving" and I mention I thought he was was some Spec Miata psycho but it was an interesting exchange and Randy Hale mentions something about I would have done good in World Challenge and then we all left to go to our paddock and drink a lot of beer that night.

And in the end, I kinda wish I'd known it was him because that shit could have gone on for several more interesting laps.

And I did apologize to Bill after for the radio comments, but he won't talk to me any more...

Racing. Yay.

Friday, June 8, 2018

On Anthony Bourdain

I will (shamefully) admit that the news three days ago of the suicide of Kate Spade had no affect on me. While I will lament any suicide, I had never heard of Kate Spade, so it simply became part of the regular churning news cycle.

Generally, I don't wax eloquent about celebrity anything, even their deaths. But today is different. I don't fully understand why this one is different, but it is.

Anthony Bourdain was not one of those faceless celebrity names, one we can put aside. Anthony Bourdain was a regular houseguest in my home, a vicarious friend, maybe even a mentor. He was more than a travel show, more than mindless entertainment. In point of fact, while certainly entertaining, Anthony leveraged our short entertainment attention span to actually teach us something about the rest of the world.

Rather than just being bland shows about interesting (or at times shocking) foods, Bourdain's adventures leveraged our entertainment and pseudo-food interests to broaden our horizons to the ecosystems, the geography, and the cultures that spawned those foods. He taught us to take chances to expand our culinary horizons, challenging our little food/culture/geography enclosures, but more importantly he taught us about the rest of the world outside our little boxes.

Unconsciously to us, we actually learned something important from him while we just figured we were being entertained.

Anthony introduced us to new people, new countries, and especially new cultures, consistently challenging our core beliefs and understandings of those cultures, all while we witnessed challenges to his very own beliefs more often than not. We didn’t necessarily agree with his beliefs - and never felt the requirement to - but we sincerely respected them, because we recognized that he sincerely respected our beliefs. We were proud to have him be our statesman, our ambassador, our antithesis of the “Ugly American”.

Thanks to Anthony, I occasionally look for restaurants and items on menus for something new that I’ve never tried before. Contrary to today’s obsession with them, I can directly attribute my initial “bravery” of trying something from a food truck - some old square truck with food! - directly to Anthony Bourdain. He had me try pho - and I liked it. And he had almost – almost! – gotten me to try blood sausage…maybe it’s time.

Anthony also taught us more about the unsavory side of the food preparation industry, far more than we wanted to know. He taught us to be tolerant of an industry seems to be such as easy thing to do, maybe something fun to do, yet we now realize it is neither.

He also, ironically and sadly, ultimately taught us of the demons that can haunt the human condition. “There but by the grace of God…” And his internal conflicts between an obvious love of animals versus a strong appetite for “meat on the stick” was something we can all relate to.

In the end, Anthony Bourdain allowed us to vicariously – and enviously – tag along and see new places, eat new foods, meet new people, sharing a meal in the restaurants and even private homes of the seemingly-mundane but truly spectacular, things and people and places and stuff that we all know deep down we’ll never get to do ourselves. We’ll miss that.

I mourn the untimely death of Anthony Bourdain, but more so I mourn the fate of those of us that have been left behind, those of us that will continue on without him. Because we are all a little bit lesser now. I certainly am.

Words have no truer meaning: Rest In Peace, Anthony Bourdain. I’m glad we knew you; I truly hope your demons have now been exorcised.

And I promise I’ll always remember to “respect the pig”.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

When Will We Learn...?

We used Executive Orders to subvert the legislative process, and now we're worried we'll use Executive Orders to subvert the legislative process.

We said it was "OK" to have all this surveillance, because we trusted those in charge of the information. Now we're worried about all this surveillance because those in charge of the information.

We quashed the fillibuster with the "nuclear option" to grunt through legislation, and now we're worried we'll quash the fillibuster with the "nuclear option" to grunt through legislation.

We pushed through legislation without any bipartisan support, and now we're worried that we'll push through legislation without any bipartisan support.

We tried "Faithless Electors" to over-ride the results of a Presidential election. We talked about abolishing the Electoral College. Then it was The Logan Act. 25th Amendment. Emoluments Clause. Russia Collusion, Operation Crossfire Hurricane, Comey memos, the “Resistance” efforts, campaign finance violations accusations, Stormy/Avenatti, tax returns, whistleblowers, leakers, Russia. Ukraine. Quid Pro Quo Impeachment. Bribery Impeachment. Hell, using impeachment as a method to remove someone from office that you just don't like.

Do we really believe these new standards and tactics will end with a change in office? That everything will "just go back to normal"?

When will we ever learn? short-sighted example among many...

On the Supreme Court, Democrats finally get their just deserts 31 years later 
by Noemie Emery
 | September 11, 2018 12:00 AM
Are you happy now, Teddy Kennedy? Are you happy, Joe Biden? Are you happy now, Harry Reid? It’s due to the things that you did and said that Donald J. Trump is now naming his second Supreme Court justice in under two years in office. It is your fault that the once courtly process of Supreme Court appointments turned into the blood-and-thunder-eye-gouging drama that we hate and we live through today.
It was 31 years ago, in 1987, that Edward M. Kennedy burst on the floor of the Senate to tell us all that with Robert Bork on the Supreme Court, “women would be forced Into back-alley abortions,” blacks would eat at segregated lunch counters, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the government, and the freedom of millions would hang by a thread.
Before it was over, liberals would raise and spend over $10 million in negative ads (quite a sum at the time) and in lobbying efforts. They would threaten black witnesses with career-ending reprisals and seize and search records of video rentals for signs of blue movies that were never found.
As Steve Hayward says, “The demagogic nature of the public campaign against him made it a watershed moment in American politics, permanently deforming the nomination process as for the judiciary, with ideological battles now extending to the lower federal courts as well.” How true this was proven in 1991, when Kennedy’s office unleashed Anita Hill upon Clarence Thomas, though with less success.
And in 1992, Biden averred that if a vacancy occurred in the Supreme Court before the presidential election, the Democratic Senate should refuse to let Republican President George H.W. Bush fill it until the election was over, so that the new president (who would be Bill Clinton) could decide.
Twenty-four years later, in 2016, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died of a heart attack, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took this advice. He refused to allow a vote on a nominee picked by an exiting Democrat. Democrats fumed, but, as they expected a President Hillary Clinton, they bided their time.
Picture their rage when Trump was elected, bringing not only himself but a procession of judges whom a Republican Senate would rush to confirm. The first pick, Neil Gorsuch, did not change the court’s balance, and Democrats would have done better to put up a fight on the second one, which would. But their anger and shock knew no bounds.
In 2013, in a fit of pique at GOP opposition, Majority Leader Harry Reid had blown up the 60-vote rule for non-Supreme Court nominations, reducing the threshold to a simple majority vote. “You will regret this,” McConnell had said at the time, and he would be prescient. Democrats went to war, and McConnell went nuclear, later blowing up the 60 vote rule for Supreme Court nominations — just as Hillary Clinton’s running mate had promised to do after she won in 2016.
Now Democrats need that judicial filibuster, and it’s no longer there for them, lost in the rubble they helped to create.
Pity the Democrats. Thirty-one years of blood, sweat, and tears in which they sacrificed all to the abortion rights movement, uprooting rule after rule and norm after norm, laying waste to the rules of Supreme Court selection in the interests of what remains a fringe issue.
All that, and they ended up even further behind than they were when they started, with Trump and Mike Pence in positions of power, about to cement a conservative Supreme Court majority for who knows how many more years. One could feel sorry for them, if only they didn't so richly deserve this comeuppance.
Do you feel better, Robert Bork, now that justice has triumphed? Happy now, Kennedy; and Biden, and Reid? 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

On the VW TDI "Scandal"...

By now you are well aware of the Volkswagen “TDI Scandal”: In September 2015 VW got caught by a West Virginia University lab[1] cheating on its emissions testing procedures for 2009 – 2015 VW 2.0L TDI-equipped cars. Simply put, the EPA accused VW of putting code in its ECU to recognize that the car was being officially tested by the EPA and adjust the engine appropriately to pass the tests[2]. However, when the car was being driven normally by the consumer, the ECU code would revert to different emissions levels to improve drivability and fuel economy.[3] The result was increased emissions of NOx, claimed by the EPA to be “of 10 to 40 times above EPA compliant levels”.

VW could have addressed this by the addition of “selective catalytic reduction”, or SCR, which involves injecting urea into the exhaust; this is what they did on 2016 and later models. However, doing so affects the packaging of the components (tank, heater, mixer) in the smaller vehicle and around the suspension components and that, of course, costs extra money and intrudes into interior space. Instead, in the mid-2000s VW worked on an alternative called “lean NOx trap” or LNT, which uses a catalyst to absorb and store NOx so it doesn’t escape into the atmosphere[4]. It costs less and uses less space, but the downside is reduced fuel economy. VW apparently didn’t initially get it right and delayed delivery of TDI  cars through the summer of 2008. But VW finally announced that they figured it out and the 2009 cars were eventually released. Now we know how they did it.

One can debate the final source of that decision – VW managers are pointing fingers at “rogue engineers” and vice versa – but ultimately that die was cast, placing Volkswagen in its current situation.

This past September a resolution was agreed to in Federal court: an estimated $14.7 billion in buybacks, repairs, fines, and punitive damages. Volkswagen has agreed to either buy back or repair all affected VW TDIs; buybacks will be at the wholesale value as of immediately prior to the public release of the  find (values of TDIs plummeted on the news) plus $5100.[5] As of yet there is no approved “fix” for the emissions issue but if one is found and the owner chooses that option, they will receive a $5100 “we’re sorry” check.

While no one is debating whether VW cheated the tests – they clearly did – missing in the discussion is discussion of the regulatory limits to which they’re tested: are these limits reasonable to begin with? I've yet to find any supporting evidence that the 2009 and later Environmental Protection Agency regulations for which VW did an end-run are actually effective in, well, protecting the environment. These same cars meet the emissions regs in other parts of the world; EU regs, for example, are much more focused on big-picture environmental goals. Their standards push fuel efficiency and limit CO2 emissions; in the USA it's all about acid rain (NOx), smog, and health impacts, which hurts fuel efficiency.[6] VW’s cheat “resolved” the NOx problem.

As Eric Peters wrote in his blog last June:
It is not enough that the “affected” VW cars would have easily met all the standards in place circa five years ago – standards that were already extremely strict. Most people are not aware of the fact that since the 1990s, harmful exhaust emissions have been reduced to almost nothing; that for the past ten years at least, EPA has been chasing fractions of the remaining 3 or so percent of what comes out of a new car’s tailpipe that’s potentially an issue, air-quality or health-wise.
At some point – and we’ve arguably passed it – we’ll either have to accept that internal combustion will never be 100 percent ‘clean’ but that 97.5 percent’“clean’ is clean enough – or internal combustion will have to be outlawed.[7]

Are our laws tainted with political bias with the implied intent to limit diesels (and other internal-combustion engines) in the passenger market? That theory is supported further by secondary requirement of the Federally-approved VW resolution: as part of the decree, VW is mandated to "direct $2 billion of investments over a period of up to 10 years into actions that will support increased use of zero emission vehicle (“ZEV”) technology in the United States, including, but not limited to, the development, construction, and maintenance of zero emission vehicle-related infrastructure."[8]

So, in effect, as part of VW’s penance, the Feds are mandating that (one of?) the largest automakers in the world "invest" billions of dollars into EV technology. Any guess how that's gonna work out for all the others that have to compete against this worldwide automotive Goliath? Expect Volkswagen to tout its new religion of “clean electric technology” at a dealership near you.

Another environmental concern with the Federal decree is disposition of the bought-back vehicles. Obviously, these vehicles cannot be re-sold until they are fixed, assuming a fix is ever found (I don’t expect VW can fix these engines to the Feds’ and CARB’s satisfaction in a reasonably economical manner without significantly hurting performance, economy, and interior space. And even if it happens the “fix” will be expensive and may not even resolve the issue.[9]) More troubling, the Feds will not even allow VW to export ‘un-fixed’ cars to a market where they do meet the emissions regulations! I find that ridiculous, given how clean these engines actually are; why not force VW to do a “Cash for Clunkers” swap in Delhi or Mexico City where old-vehicle-diesel pollution is killing people, and in the process improve air quality in both locations?[10] I‘d not be surprised if those vehicles actually cleaned the air as they drove around!

Instead, these ‘un-fixed’ returned vehicles are going to be scrapped; well, per the decree, “rendered inoperable by removing the vehicle’s Engine Control Unit (“ECU”) and may be, to the extent possible, recycled to the extent permitted by law.” At least they moved away from the proposed decree’s requirement of punching a 3” hole in the side of the engine blocks and bisecting the frames in at least two locations…but consider the environmental damage of these buyback/salvage cars: the environmental costs of delivery to dealership, from dealerships to staging areas, drainage and storage of fluids, crushing, sorting, recycling, and landfills. And then there’s the environmental cost of producing all the new replacement cars; it’s been said that the buyback might be environmentally worse than the crime.[11] Can’t we just leave the cars on the road to live a normal life cycle and plant a bunch of trees instead (and maybe give Al Gore a Tiguan)…? In aggregate, if it's worse for society than just letting them be then why are we doing that?

Why indeed: revenge? Vengeance? $14.7B for ‘crimes against the environment’ (compare that to fines given to Takata (airbags), Toyota (accusations of unintended acceleration), and GM (key/ignition failures), things that actually killed people). You can (and should) crush VW's lawlessness – and send a message to the industry – through forcing compliance and significant fines. But if you crush vehicles and thus overall societal and environmental value in the process you have failed in the overall endeavor. I don't think that’s supposed to be the intent, but don’t I expect our "leadership" to take that into consideration.

So what now? Well, I suggest VW will eventually make situation this whole for the majority of affected TDI owners. In December 2015 VW offered a $1000 TDI Goodwill Program ($500 VISA gift card, $500 VW dealership credit, 3 years roadside coverage). It has agreed to buy back all affected vehicles at reasonable trade-in prices plus a $5100 “we’re sorry” check. Go to and to learn more. Alternatively, owners can wait for a fix to be developed at which point the car could be fixed and the owner will receive that $5100 compensation. Note that owners have until September 1, 2018 to make a decision.

As an owner of one of the affected vehicles – a 2010 Jetta TDI Sportwagen – my initial reaction upon learning of this was “whoa!” As a racer constantly looking for rules loopholes,I followed that up with a “hah, that’s clever!” As a citizen, I’m more concerned about the reality of these emissions regulations and environmental effects. In the end, it seems to me that these regulations, and the subsequent decree, are designed for a singular purpose: to get the oil-burners off the road and replace them with electric vehicles. As a diesel fan (I also have a Ford Excursion diesel), I am upset that Volkswagen pulled this end-run and has, in a lot of ways, walked right into a trap set for passenger car diesel specifically and internal combustion engines as a whole. Volkswagen has announced they will no longer sell diesel-powered vehicles in the United States and with limited exceptions other manufacturers have clearly decided this is not the market for their diesel options. This is unfortunate.

For our part, we are in no hurry to turn in our car. We enjoy the vehicle, it continues to serve us well (just did a 3500-mile roundtrip to visit family, swallowed everything we needed plus a large dog in a crate). Further, given VW’s agreement, as long as we do not put more than 1,042 miles per month on average on the car, the buyback offer will not decrease (and if we do, it’s at about $35/5000 miles) so it’s fully depreciated. Also, as long as the vehicle is “operable under its own 2L TDI power” it is eligible for buyback, so even if the vehicle is totaled by the insurance company but still drivable, we can get our full VW compensation (so maybe we save some money by dropping collision insurance?) Emissions are covered under extended warranty as are some key high-failure items (e.g., exhaust flap, high pressure fuel pump, others). Finally, this older vehicle is cheaper to insure and property taxes are significantly lower.

I suppose we could always decide to do nothing; after all, no one is going to come to our home and confiscate our car (right…?) However, it remains to be seen how states will handle emissions testing  and registration on affected vehicles (a table of all affected VINs has been provided by VW and released by the courts, so it’s possible that states with emissions testing may choose to not re-register TDIs unless provided proof of repair). Maybe there will be a burgeoning TDI market in Montana?

Finally, another part of the Federal decree is that VW must either repair or buyback 85% of the affected vehicles or it will face a fine of $85M per 1% of the fleet it misses, or about $17,500 per vehicle. I’m guessing at that point they’ll be “highly motivated” to cut some deals on new cars…you just never know.

So, overall, it just makes rational sense to continue driving it until September 2018. There's truly no downside other than you don't get to buy a new car. Maybe a “fix” will come, maybe it won’t. And if it doesn’t we’ll surrender the car back to Volkswagen in 2018 for a big check, and look into replacing it with one of their fuel-efficient turbo gasser wagons (it is highly unlikely to get replaced with an electric vehicle). Or, maybe we’ll pocket the check and I give my wife the GTI while I daily-drive my V8-diesel-powered Ford's that for unintended consequences/perverse incentives...?

One of the most important lessons I learned in B-school was not about spreadsheets or numbers, or forecasts or financial documents, it was that “corporate culture comes from the top”. We had many a conversation about failures of companies that resulted from the corporate culture that the leadership created, either intentionally or accidentally. Values and mission statements hung on the wall are nice, and look great in company documents, but how you live them day-to-day has a much greater affect. History will decide who/what/when this all came about; expect a movie starring Matt Damon soon.

I sure hope that works out for the rest of us.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Recollections of Something I Used To Be Able To Do Well...

...before Facebook...and before going back to motorsports...

I ended up flying home today. At noon when I left the customer's site, the forecast for BDR mid-afternoon was still for 800 feet, but BDR was reporting 1000. I looked at the reports for the last few hours and it was fairly consistent. I could see that some rain was working its way in from the southwest, but the stations under it were reporting 800-1000. I elected to go.

I started from ALB with full tanks, and was in between layers until around abeam BDL. Then the clouds and rain started. Odd stuff, as BDL was 1500 or better; the wx seemed isolated to the coastline and Long Island.

I called BDR FSS and re-checked the ATIS. The BDR ATIS was still calling 600 broken, 1000 overcast as I started to get vectors for the ILS. Right about then the rain started in earnest; I got into some Level 2 rain during the vector, and the controller thought he saw some Level 3; I asked to be vectored around that. In the end he lost the Level 3 and sent me around to STANE.

Right about then my VSI and altimeter started bouncing up and down; I guessed the static ports were getting blocked and unblocked by rain. I hit the alternate static and kept going. (I think I left it on...gotta  check it this weekend.)

The vector to the inbound course (2000 feet) was in full IMC, and he cleared me for the approach. I captured the localizer and engaged the autopilot, then caught the glideslope no prob. Still IMC. As I dropped under 800 feet I was still in the clouds and I mentally prepped for a miss.

I was flying the ILS, but I had the GPS loaded with the RNAV06 approach (same approach points, nice visual backup). Right before STANE the GPS called off my RNAV 06 approach due to lack of RAIM at STANE (I wonder if the rain was blocking the signal?) Unfortunately, I was counting on that box for my missed approach info, so I had to quickly dial in the BDR VOR on the stand-by freq (single VOR) and dialed in the miss radial (I know, shoulda had it there before...)

The rain got harder (and noisier) and I dropped through 500 feet in the clouds. I was planning the miss.

Right as I hit 400 feet I saw side glances of some "jaggies" under the airplane and right then I dropped out of the clouds and caught sight of RWY 06 (sure would be nice to have a rabbit there). The winds were 110 at 15, so I had a nice right crosswind; the tower wanted me to circle to RWY11 (circling minimums being 400-something feet) I told him to pound sand and I landed RWY 06; skidded a tad bit on the wet pavement from not enough aileron.

There was a nice driving rain going on at the field, and when I turned off and called him I got no response. I tried again several times, then tried Ground and Clearance. Just when I was about to taxi off on my own (3-4 minutes later) he popped on the freq and said someone was working on the radios and had turned off one his receivers!

ANYWAY, I taxied to the North Ramp and got soaked all the way through tying down the airplane and putting my luggage in the car and covering the airplane. Even bent one of my favorite umbrellas...

All in all, a fun, successful, learning experience! Total time, door-to-door, 2.5 hours. Same trip, prior week, driving the blue S4 -- 2.5 hours. Oh well.

Thanks for the advice. Didn't know why they had changed the minimums to RWY06; seems goofy to me. If you hit a truck shooting the ILS06, you weren't where you were supposed to be anyway...