Transposing the Matrix

userpic=matrixOn Tuesday, driving home from the North Hollywood Red Line station after spending the day judging projects at the California State Science Fair, I was rear-ended. To be specific, a 1996 Honda hit the drivers side rear of my 2006 Toyota Matrix in the far right lane of I-5 just S of Osborne, near the end of the Route 170/I-5 merge. We drove off the freeway, exchanged information, and I called for a tow because I was unsure about long-term drivability of my car. The end of the day saw me at home (pissed), and my car over at Schiros Collision in Chatsworth. Here are some photos:

Matrix Rear End DamageAs before (i.e., when my previous Honda Civic was tipped on its side), I thought the car was repairable. As before, the impact of putting low miles on a car does not offset its age, and the car was totalled. To be specific, the repair estimate on the car totals out at $6,263.17 for parts and labor (PDF),  and the KBB trade-in value maxed at $5,300 and the KBB purchase value was between $5,800 and $6,400, depending on how the condition was judged.

As before, I’ve been pissed at the inequality of it all: The person who inflicted the damage gets off with some minor repairs (his car was drivable). The innocent victim gets to replace a vehicle that was paid off with something newer, meaning the insurance proceeds won’t cover the replacement 100%. This means having car loans again, plus having higher registration costs and higher insurance due to a newer vehicle, none of which was planned for.

I have the fellow’s email, and I have the urge to vent at him, but I know it will do little good. This is the fault of the profit-driven nature of our insurance system, which seeks to minimize payouts to insureds.

As a result of all of this, we get to go car shopping. What I’m looking for is a car priced less than $24K, 2013 model year or later (ideally), certified pre-owned if used. I want a wagon or hatchback (because I haul boardgames), but I do not want an SUV. The 2006 Matrix, which this was replacing, was essentially a Toyota Carolla Hatchback. I’m used to smaller cars: the Matrix replaced the 1996 Civic Hatchback, which replaced a 1981 Nissan Stanza Hatchback.

I also wanted to ensure it would work with my iPod Classic, could support an AUX (3.5mm) input, had a rear backup camera, got gas milage equal to or better than the Matrix, and had sufficient cargo hauling capability.

The initial short list was based on recommendations from Consumers Reports, and consisted of the 2013 Toyota Prius V, 2013 Toyota Prius, 2013 Toyota Matrix, 2013 Honda Fit, and 2013 Subaru Impreza Hatchback. Second tier possibilities were the 2013 Scion xB or the 2012 Toyota Venza.

Last night, we went to the local Toyota dealer to do some test drives. Despite the Prius/Prius V being at the top of the list, a test drive eliminated them. The Prius didn’t have enough space. The Prius V did. However, the “get up and go” had gotten up and went, and the car had no pickup. We also did not like the display and control layout. We also drove a 2013 Venza, and that was a “yes”: it is essentially a Camry Wagon. Very comfortable, very nice drive, and loads of storage. However, it lacks a backup camera (until 2015, it wasn’t standard) and has worse gas milage than the Matrix. That’s not a surprise, it has a V6 engine.

Visiting the dealer also led to one unexpected find: the 2016 Scion iM [brochure] (which will become the Toyota Corolla iB in 2017). This is the current version of the Toyota Carollla Hatchback (Aurus in Europe), which means it is a sportier Matrix equivalent. It is new, which likely means a 0% financing deal (which beats the credit union), is priced under $20K before taxes, and gets service covered for two years. It also drives like or better than the Matrix, has similar space and storage, has an Aux port, has a backup camera. In short, it is an updated Matrix. Drawbacks? Being new, there will be the new car depreciation, plus higher registration fees and insurance fees.

Over the weekend, we’ll be test driving the 2013 Subaru Impreza Hatchback. We probably won’t drive the Honda Fit — we’re familiar with the car, but it is hard to find used, and doesn’t have the storage of the Matrix Scion iB. We may also test drive the 2014 Mazda5 Grand Touring and the 2014 Mazda3 5 Door Grand Touring. One last possibility is the Kia Soul, either new or used. For new, we’ll need to see the incentives.

I’ll be glad when this process is over. I’m still pissed; my wife’s car (2002 Honda CR-V) was the next one to be replaced — and now that’s going to be pushed back until the cash flow can support additional payments and a down payment is rebuilt.



I Hate Orangeburg

userpic=plumbingI hate Orangeburg. I hate plumbing. Today has been a day from hell.

OK, perhaps I should explain that outburst. Backspace. Rewind.

How come the plumbing always goes out when you have friends coming over? Tonight, a family we’ve met through Livejournal is coming to spend the night while they visit colleges in the area. This is a good thing — these are good folks who I’d like to get to know better. So, in preparation, last night I was cleaning the guest bathroom. I noticed the toilet was a bit sluggish, but was working. Later I was working at my desk when I hear “gurgle gurgle”. I investigated, and discovered that the toilet in my daughter’s bathroom was bubbling as she was taking a shower. Bad news. I was seeing similar bubbling from our toilet. What this meant was that the line was almost clogged, and pressure was pushing back air. We found a coupon for a rooter special, and made an appointment for this morning.

This morning the plumber came out and investigated. We had a major backup — so major that rooting could no longer fix the problem. Why? It turns out that most of the piping in our front yard is a product called “Orangeburg“. Orangeburg is fiber-conduit with walls made of ground cellulose (wood) fibres bound together with a special water resistant adhesive, and, thereafter, impregnated with liquefied coal tar pitch. It was used between 1860 and 1970. It is not great under pressure situations (e.g., as water pipes), but is great for gravity drainage (e.g., sewer pipes). It was made in inside diameters from 2 inches to 18 inches, and due to the materials involved, was able to be sealed without the usage of adhesives. It was lightweight, albeit brittle, and soft enough to be cut with a handsaw.

That’s the good news. The bad news is lack of strength causes pipes made of Orangeburg to fail more frequently than pipes made with other materials. The useful life for an Orangeburg pipe is about 50 years under ideal conditions. Our house was built in 1962, and has been through two major earthquakes. Do the math. You can see a picture of Orangeburg pipe here.

The plumbers suggestion was to repipe the master bath side of the house with polyethylene pipe from the cleanout installed a few years ago to the connection with the street.  The cost for that was $4,800. We agreed it had to be done, but insisted on it being done to code with proper permits. That adds $160.

But it doesn’t end there folks. Working on this, they discovered that the work we had done to install cleanouts had only done that — install cleanouts. We still had Orangeburg crap from the cleanout to the connection under the house. That all needed to be replaced as well. Reluctantly… add $1,800.

Of course, that still left the line to the guest bathroom and kitchen. That line is almost completely infused with roots. They cannot root it clear because… you guessed it… it is Orangeburg. They are temporarily fixing that and tomorrow… will replace that segment of line. Cost… you guessed it… another $1,800.

All told, we’re having an approximately (gulp) $10,000 repair. We have to do it, because to do anything else might mean full-on trenching if the Orangeburg collapse. Of course, this doesn’t solve all the problems, as the (city-owned) tree in the parkway has created problems for the (city-owned) piping under the street. We’re going to talk to the inspector to see what the city can do about it. If we eventually have to replace that, that’s probably another $5K. [ETA: It turns out it is less expensive to fix the line to the street since they’ve already dug the hole. We’re taking advantage of that — only $3,800 — for a grand total of $12,360 (possibly a bit more, if we decide to replace two toilets at the same time — what the hell, right?]

We’ll figure out how to pay for it somehow — no other choice. That’s why you have emergency savings. But that’s also why I hate plumbing. Sigh. I guess it could be worse.



Oh Joy. A Move Is In My Future.

userpic=stressedI just found out there was a reason there was a person walking around our bay at work from facilities yesterday. They were scouting space. I just found out that sometime before the end of the month I’ll need to move my office to the southern end of the building. They don’t know which office yet. Gee, I hope they tell me :-).

I don’t like moving. I moved into my present office (A3/2023A) shortly before A1 was torn down, back in 2009. Before that, I had 3 different offices in the lifespan of our department in A1 (we moved to A1 in 1990). Had only one office when our department was in A8.

Oh well. Time to start ordering boxes, packing books, and deciding what to throw away…


I Hate Plumbing

userpic=plumbingGrowing up, I have a vivid memory of a plumbing break at my parent’s old house in Kenter Canyon. It was under the slab, and involved ripping up the carpet and padding, and jack hammering out the pipe. A royal mess.

At our previous house in North Hills, we had continual water problems. It was either leaks in the roof due to bad flashing under the air conditioning plenum, or clogged sewer lines due to tree roots.

At our current house in Northridge, the sewer line problems have continued. Again, we have the city tree in the parkway creating root problems in 40 year old clay piping, which has collapsed in places (and is equally problematic under the street, which is our responsibility, evidently). About every 6 months to a year, we’ve had to root out some line. The last major rooting was in October just after Thanksgiving, on the line from the bedroom side of the house.

Lately, we’ve been having loads of problem on the guest side of the house. The kitchen sink backed up the day after Christmas. My wife had me check the trap, which ended up not solving the problem and exacerbating cracks in the under-sink piping. We had a plumber out to fix; he fixed the under-sink piping, and rooted from the kitchen cleanout to the guest bathroom. This morning, the sink backed up again. We had the plumber out (under warranty), and it turned out to be cloggage in the line from the sink to the cleanout. This is all muck built up in the brass lines in the slab or walls.

This evening, with a load of guests in the house, guess what happened? Yup. The guest bathroom toilet backed up, overflowing into the shower (meaning that the clog is somewhere downstream of the shower, but likely before the Y to the bedroom wing, as the cleanout cap hasn’t popped). The plumber has been called; hopefully we can get him out tomorrow.

What a way to start the year. Plumbing problems. Grrrrrrrr.

ETA: The plumber was here on time, as promised. The clog was roots about 1 foot before the Y junction under the driveway. Total cost for this rooting (as it wasn’t connected to the earlier problem): $135. His estimate to replace the main sewer line from the 3″ clean-out until the property line with ABS plastic pipe, including the Y-line and up to the guest bathroom side, with a 25-year warranty, is $3,000. That’s a possibility, in the future. Inlining the 6″ clay sewer line from the property line to the city connection under the street would add about $1,500. to that amount.


An Insidious Plot – A DirecTivo Update

A quick lunchtime update on the DirecTivo situation: Just heard back from my wife, who spoke to Weaknees. They ran diagnostics on our DirecTivo Samsung DVR, and there are no disk problems, no tuner problems, and presumably no power problems. So what is causing the system to reboot? Seems they have been getting lots of calls from original DirecTivo owners complaining of these reboots. I just took a look at the DBSTalk forums, and there are lots of folks having the same problem. It is also being reported in the Tivo Community Forums and in the DirecTV forums on the DirecTV website. I just wish I had discovered this before I paid the diagnosis fee, but at least we are ending up with a larger disk, programming and such transferred, and knowledge that the tuners are good. ETA 11/15: Weaknees has also posted a blog entry on the problem (h/t Carl K.).

What is the answer to the problem? That’s harder. I’ve seen one comment that it might be a problem in the Guide Data stream. Someone else noted that there was a very similar problem about 2 years ago, starting in late September/October and lasting about a month. That time, the problem was with the software and a patch was required. Yet another person surmised that they are removing advanced EPG stream by end of year, and they could testing for that, resulting in the reboots. A number of people think it is a plot by DirecTV to force people to the new HD Tivos. In general, the notion appears to be to call DirecTV and complain, complain, complain.

One person on the forums called DirecTV and got more information. They learned from DirecTV corporate that there is a software issue with the older TiVo’s and that they were waiting on enough complaints to institute a software upgrade.  As of 11/11, DirecTV was supposedly working on the software update; supposedly, if it does not work, they will replace those DVR’s with the software problem at no charge based upon what type of DVR you have (same for same). [Of course, that is useless for those with loads of saved programming and larger disks.] According to DirecTV, “If enough people with these TiVo’s complain about the reboots, a faster update will occur”

I hope DirecTV figures out the software fix. I’m annoyed enough that they forced me into a repair I didn’t need to make. I don’t want to lose the saved programs or have the upgraded disk capacity be for naught.

(ETA 11/14/12: I’ve submitted an email to DirecTV regarding this problem. Given I just paid almost $200 to repair/upgrade the Samsung, about the only offer I would accept would be a current DirecTivo, with no changes in fees (i.e., even if it is an HD Tivo, no HD fees as we don’t have an HDTV), and I would want to be able to keep the old Tivo until we watched all the programming stored on it.)


Transition Planning … Fail

<RANT> For the last month or so, my credit union has been sending me mail about the transition of their eBanking system. The new system went live yesterday. We all had to reregister our accounts; they’ve gone to a new system that not only uses a security image and password, but sends a verification code to your email or cell phone if you are on a non-trusted computer. A pain, but being involved with security, I understand why they are doing it.

However, what I don’t understand is why they didn’t sufficiently test the system before the transition.

Last night, I create my new account, and attempt to set up Quicken to download from the new service. Doesn’t work. It seems Quicken doesn’t yet know how to log into the new service. So I sign into the service to attempt to download into Quicken. There is no option to download Quicken files, only CSV. I contact their support team, and learn they are still working on Quicken download… perhaps the end of the week.

From work at lunch I login to the system. Still no Quicken download.

This evening I attempt to log in. Username, fine. Security picture, fine. It won’t take my password. I attempt to have it reset my password, only to get a system error. Call in… and they are dealing with a server crash.

One rule of transitioning to a new system is that you test it. You then test it again, under load. You bring in a bunch of school children, and let them pound on it to test it. You try it with all applications you think your users will use. When you are done doing this…. you test it again.

I’m getting the impression that the credit union failed to adequately test their system or prepare for the transition. Bad form, folks.



Dishwasher Woes

At the end of 2009, we replaced the incredibly old and noisy dishwasher that was in our house when we moved in with a new technically advanced model from Lowes, a Samsung DMR78. At the time, it had gotten good reviews. It was expensive (around $930), but we hoped for the best.

I would not buy a Samsung dishwasher again.

Since that purchase, I recall that we had at least one warranty repair, as well as a flow sensor failure and water valve failure in August 2011 (that cost almost $300 to repair!). The water values and processor board failed again last month, prompting another almost $200 repair. Last night, after we got home from the theatre, we discovered the unit hadn’t fully drained. So I tried to do a cancel/drain to drain the bottom. There was absolutely no response from the front panel. None. I checked the circuit breaker, and nothing had tripped.

We’ve put a call into the service-critters, but I can seem them still attempting to charge a service charge, blaming something else, and finding new broken parts. At this point, I don’t think it is worth getting it fixed. Based on the product reviews, this product has turned out to be a design lemon.

We’ve looked at Consumers Reports, and the “Best Buys” are a tossup between the Bosch Ascentia (which is on sale at Lowes this weekend for $539.10) and the Whirlpool Gold. A Whirlpool Gold got good reviews in CR, but it was a GU23/24 model, and all I can see at Lowes are a WDT710PAYM model (on sale for $494.10) and a WDF750PAYM model (on sale for $629.10). We still need to look into the differences between the models. One additional impetus is that Lowes is doing their regular financing sale, meaning we can do 0% for 18 months, as we would be spending more than $299). Usually Lowes does free delivery and installation.

My gut is leaning towards the Whirlpool, simply because of the impression of reliability (both Bosch and Whirlpool are reportedly reliable per CR; Samsung isn’t even on their list). On the Lowes website, the Whirlpool gets slightly higher ratings (4½ ★) than the Bosch (4 ★). But the trick is finding the right model.

[I’ll note that Sears is also an option: They are also doing 0% for purchases over $499. They have the WDF Whirlpool for $569.99, but charge for delivery, and a Bosch (unclear if it is the Ascentia) for $629.99, again with a delivery charge.]

[Additional data point: Best Buy has the Bosch Ascentia for $594.99, supposedly with free delivery and 0% financing. With respect to Whirlpool Gold, Best Buy only has the various WDT and WDF models.]

[I’ll also note there is the question of what to do with the old Dishwasher. The service critters are scheduled to come out Wednesday, supposedly for no charge… but I’m expecting they’ll find something else is wrong and need to order parts ($$). My wife thinks we should fix the Samsung if we can do it for free on their nickel and then sell it; my thought is just to write off the Samsung. I guess it depends on when Lowes can schedule installation vs. whether the service critters need to order parts.]

[ETA: We ended up going with the Bosch Ascentia, based primarily on the recommendation of Ray M., Consumers, and the fact that the Whirlpool models at Lowes were significantly lower rates (below the Samsung, even). We get free delivery, get to take advantage of the sale and 18 month 0% financing, and get a Visa rebate card for the basic installation. We did have to buy new hoses, pay for the city permit, and we bought the 4 year extended warranty (just given our experiences — we normally don’t — but a single repair will likely offset the $108 price). It should be delivered late next week; if they fix the old one for free before that, we’ll sell it on Craigslist.]