Coping: With a “Fixit” Trip – Driverless Cars

image(Shreveport, LA)  So, you’re wondering: What are George & Elaine doing in Shreveport?

Answer:  I have made a resolution to keep our old Lexomobile until the eventual arrival of “self-driving” cars.

We will also cover the world’s most convoluted accounting problem, too…but in due course.  It’s going to take a bit of explaining.

There is a piece from a while back (maybe a year?  One loses track of time at this stage of life) about how such machines will change the way we live.  By the time the analysis was done, it was almost too good to be true.  The only part that is not-so-good is the price.

Still, consider what it’s going to be like to have a car which…

    • Will find its own damn gas station with the cheapest price.
    • Will wash itself when it needs to be cleaned.
    • Will schedule and keep its own maintenance appointments
    • Will potentially END any concerns about drunk driving.
    • Will allow you to completely relax and watch the scenery go by…
    • And, in the twin bed version of the driverless, you can actually nap, snooze, or sleep all the way across the country on trips. 

    To be sure, the media has taken a kind of delish delight in reporting the occasional mishaps that the driverless Googmobiles and others have run into.

    Still, it smack of an “anti-future media” and what I mean by this is we have (as a country) lost some of our native ability in American to (language alert) make really cool shit.  Sure, some things like the silicon dolly voice come out of Cupertino, and elsewhere.  But the minute it hits production levels that make sense for the American market “Poof!!”  The manufacturing goes offshore and the money (in Apple’s case) that piles up from huge success hangs offshore too.  No point paying taxes on it, I suppose.

    Since we may only buy one more vehicle in our lifetime (assuming someone doesn’t offer me a trade for the old airplane that involves a 911 or Cayman), we sometimes have to leave Palestine, Texas and venture out into the noisy world in order to get certain things done.  For reasons that should be apparent to any free-market economist, the largest Lexus dealership in the world is not in Anderson County, although there’s a good Toyota dealership.

    The new dealership in town can’t make a Lexus key.  Lexus here in Shreveport can do so, but only barely.

    Lexuses (Lexi?) from the mid 2000’s had one weak spot in their key design.  The plastic that should protect everything has a weakness right where the key stem attaches to the plastic body holding the electronics.  For all we know, there may be a ham sandwich or bag of cat food inside there, too.

    Anyway, ours broke on the last long road trip and Elaine didn’t like my idea of repairs.  It involved an assortment of Duco Cement, Super Glue, model airplane cement, and electrical tape.  T’wasn’t pretty, but it did the job.  Until last month.

    I ordered a replacement key online – I thought with the push-buttons, but no,  I got the valet key instead.  It will do everything the “special key” will do…it’s just you can’t do it from across the street.

    Naturally, the valet key from online needed to be cut and “programmed.”  Which was done for $50-something.  But the dealership didn’t have our old-style key in stock.

    After a turn around the dance floor trying to figure out how to solve this, we noticed a display for something called an “Eternity Key.”  Basically, it lets the dealership take the old electronics and key stem and put it into this new “military grade plastic” housing. $117 and change.

    Don’t even ask what a military grade of plastic is.  In my short exposure to product design, we just used glass-reinforced injectable goo and it worked fine.  I suppose a stronger binder and a different ratio of glass filling has been assigned a “MIL-STD” but the display either didn’t mention which standard, or I was too dumb to find it.  Regardless, no one in the waiting area was able to inform us on point, either.

    After going through the chairs a while longer in the waiting room (1-hour 10 minutes and by now 4 pm) everything was done.  We had two keys that worked and look good. As opposed to a blank part  and one gob of goo with push-buttons when we walked in.

    Cost of the repair?  A shade over $187.  But with a “special” key, you really don’t have too much choice. None of the locksmiths in Tyler sounded promising.

    As we were wrapping up, Jay – the service writer – we were kidding around about about local Shreveport industry (gambling) and somehow he mentioned that “…you could go to one of the casinos up the street and win it back…”  (referring to the $187 and change dent in the plastic).

    Since it was getting on toward later, and there is nothing less fun than driving West at sunset with the sun in your eyes, I figured this to be a “Message from On High.”  Not to be confused with a Ted Cruz rally.

    So we checked into our favorite rest and play joint, Margaritaville.

    After a very pleasant time out, we got down to the business of following Jay’s suggestion. 

    I figure with all the research I’ve put into how statistics work IRL (in real life), I figured it should be a snap.  And you know what? 

    It was!!!.

    On the way out the door for home this morning (after a short re-nap) I will be cashing in a ticket for $200.06.

    And this gets me to the main problem of playing Mr. Fixit:  This is an accounting nightmare.

    OK, so I started with $20 bucks.  So I have a gain of about $180.

    The car dealership tab was $187.  Do I credit the winnings against this?  Or, do I put it against the hotel/dinner/breakfast bill? Is this trip partially expensable?  (I am writing this as a column…)  Or do I just hand it to Elaine and credit the Relationship Expense journal?

    Language note: The word  Expensable doesn’t seem to be in most dictionaries, but it is listed as legit in the Urban Dictionary.  go figure.

    You see the problem, right?  I like thorough accounting…and expense allocations that make sense are usually a lot more straight-forward.  But with tax time for current operations only 14 1/2-months off, one can’t be too careful.nor start too early.  Government thrives on such paranoia.

    Maybe the driverless cars will arrive before then, but it doesn’t seem likely.  When we get one, we’ll make sure the dealer includes a couple of extra sets of keys.

    A Personal Note to Jimmy Buffett

    Dear sir:

    We like your hotel.

    BUT you seem to have fallen into a “designer trap” that lots of hotels have over the past dozen, or so, years.

    Namely in the material selection for the small desk which each hotel room has.

    Not that pink and white granite isn’t pretty.  But here’s the thing: It is almost without contrast and it is highly reflective.  An optical mouse, which everyone on earth uses,  doesn’t get enough “optical traction” on the shiny granite so the mouse won’t work right.

    I’d bet for much less than a buck, you could put a fresh Jimmy mouse pad in each room.  You can get ‘em made in China in quantity for probably a dime, or two.  Hand ‘em  out at check-in on request.

    That way, people like Ure’s truly wouldn’t have to open the three ring binder to the front cover of the “guest services book” and use the palm tree picture there which offers a pretty good mouse ride.

    Perhaps other hoteliers could be shown the way on this issue, as well.  Millions of hapless travelers will thank you, including me.  If you’d like to send me an iPhone 6 so I can join the rest of the world living on a phone screen, that’d be fine, too. Seriously: When was the last time you wrote a few thousand words on a phone?

    Sincerely, or nearly so,  yada, yada…

    P.S. Thanks for the $200.06.  I’ll be donating it to my favorite charity.

    Me.

    Amazon Has Everything Dept.

    I can’t make this up: Frankly, I’m  not this clever:  IllumiBowl Toilet Night Light (Motion Activated).

    An d if that doesn’t turn your crank there’s the  GRDE Lavnav Modern LED Sensor Motion Activated Toilet Nightlight, White.

    Only in America,, huh?  Have we run out of non-problems to solve yet?

    Write when you break-even,

    George  george@ure.net

    Comments

    Coping: With a “Fixit” Trip – Driverless Cars — 17 Comments

    1. Similar dilemma, 86 year old Mom calls and says her water heater stopped working. Well it’s about 10 years old so I guess it’s due. Did you check the breaker? Yes. Are you sure? Yes, I’m not stupid! she said rather bluntly. OK the next morning I am loading up a new WH and whatever parts I (think) I’ll need for the swap and head to El Rancho de Chaos $500 lighter in the wallet. 2 hours later I arrive and start the process to make the switch. First step, turn off the breaker….no wait it’s blown. OK after the scolding from Mom that those breakers must be made wrong I had a decision to make. Leave it alone and make the 2 hour drive back to the assylum and go through the return process at Lowes or replace the aging WH and see what the CPA can do with the expense.

      Now there’s a WH carcass sitting in the workshop that I think is wanting to become a new woodstove and I have to call the CPA anyway.

    2. Forget about self drive cars. Im waiting for a decent sized drone that I can have transport me for a fee. Now thats living.

    3. Speaking of toilets . . . A toilet story: We were staying at the Hyatt on Kauai (Hawaii) and the toilet had a built-in bidet in the toilet seat!

      I thought I would never use something like that! Wash my butt, no way!

      Well, being curious I tried it. Low and behold! It worked like a charm and even had a dryer system in the seat that blew warm air! I sorta got hooked on using it! Crazy! . . . and who’d ever think I would miss the damn thing, but I do!

    4. The idea of chip keys is absolutely insane! The key for each of my vehicles used to cost 50 cents and now it’s almost two dollars. A solution to chip keys is to put the electronics and the wiring together separate from the keyswitch, so that any key will work. How many people are going to make an effort to steal any production car over 10 years old anyway? Just buy a club and use it. Anyone can steal any car with a shielded truck, ramps and a winch. I’d really like to hack the ECM/PCM to bypass the chip validation. It’s just a source of failure, and complexity is one main enemy of reliability. Cars need to be repairable in the post-consumer age.

    5. Home made bathroom nightlight: Two LEDs (back to back for AC feed), small capacitor on powerline (0.22 @ 250v), series resistor, and you can light the LEDs on the capacitor coupled AC.. for pulsed ‘leakage current’. I chose yellow LEDs as they were easier on the eyes than the White ones in the dark. It shines on the toilet area from the outlet across the room, even. Friends call it my “yellow pee light”. No parts on the toilet. Only visible at night. Miniscule electric usage.

    6. Years ago, Tim Cook, was asked about manufacturing in the USA. He said they considered it for the iPad, said it would have required a new facility and the hiring of 3,000 engineers. To do that in the USA, it would have taken at least 5 years and would have at minimum doubled the cost of the product, and quite likely it would have been impossible to find the personnel. Foxcon in China built the factory, staffed it and produced the product in less than one year. That’s about how long it took for approval to start building apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino.

      Take a look sometime at apple’s high end desktops, the Mac Pro, manufactured in Austin Texas. You don’t buy one of those babies unless you have a way for it to generate some revenue. They shipped 9 months late because they had manufacturing problems. It also has the lowest margin of any apple product.

      Two years ago Foxcon built a new factory for computer assembly, they assemble for Acer and others as well. They intended to hire 100,000 people to staff that factory. Americans can only dream of doing something like that.

      And mouse Pads! If you still use a mouse, you are in the dustbin of computer history. Ever heard of a trackpad? Trackpads are the equivalent of giving every device a touchscreen. I can execute at least a dozen commands from my trackpad, plus all four corners of the screen are programmable. One, two, three, four, finger gestures, swipes, clicks, corners etc. the Apple trackpad has it all.

      Multiple screens, my Mac comes with seven built into the OS. And I hate to tell you, touch screens/trackpads have obsoleted the Computer desktop. It’s why apps today are designed to go full screen or split screen. Fer chrissakes, George. Get yourself to an Apple Store and at least educate yourself into the 21st century. Those young Apple reps in the store love seeing the expression on the geezers face when they show them what they have. When we watch movies or TV shows, my iPhone becomes the remote for the device we watch it on.

      But be warned, a good trackpad is going to cost about as much as a car key. Amazing, but you are actually a foreigner in the computing ecosystem as well. (I just dictated this entire comment into my iPad.)

    7. Just don’t look on the internet at dealer prices of Lexus parts, and pray that you never have an ECU problem. The keys and the ecu are linked. You can not just replace an ecu, the keys somehow need to be programmed so that the 2 recognize each other. Programming? This is strickly a dealer gotch ya. ECU and replacement, once you actually determine conclusively your ecu is bad, can run $3,000 +.

    8. … and I drove said 911 all over east-of-Austin this last weekend, looking at rural properties to pile money into since the market has tanked out and looks to be in terminal tankage. :) Was tons of fun too. No runways needed. Well, not entirely true, a few spots I could have run with your mouseketeer but at a slightly lower altitude… :)

      Driverless car? Not for me, dear sir. Not for me.

    9. Will find its own damn gas station with the cheapest price.
      Will wash itself when it needs to be cleaned.
      Will schedule and keep its own maintenance appointments
      Will potentially END any concerns about drunk driving.
      Will allow you to completely relax and watch the scenery go by…
      And, in the twin bed version of the driverless, you can actually nap, snooze, or sleep all the way across the country on trips.

      We used to have most all of these benefits. Then we gave up horses for cars…..

    10. As you know, there is a difference between price and value. The price, $180, is fixed; for maximum value give it to Elaine.

    11. I would have used your key problem as the excuse to get the UV-curable glue they’re advertising now. At $40 for glue and light source, it doesn’t qualify as something to get just because it’s cool. Still the ad shows repaired temple bars for glasses, and even a multi-strand stainless steel cable glued together and turned into a tow rope pulling a heavy vehicle. Seems to be a version of the stuff dentists use to attach crowns to teeth.

      • Well we bought and tried some of that wonder glue glued a handle on a cup and lol then washed it and was left with just the handle in our hand,sure didn’t work like that boat they cut into then glued and motored on across the pond but then again its the old game of buyer beware.!!!!

    12. George – I think people are missing the point on the self-driving cars. The intent (eventually) is not for you to own them, but to utilize them. This is all part of the ‘mass transit’ industry which has already cannibalized rail and bus services, and is working on the rest. This article leaks some of that info between the lines.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/business/dealbook/davos-self-driving-cars-may-get-here-before-were-ready.html?_r=1

    13. Not that long ago you were talking about ‘virtual reality’, and how people were beginning to live most of their lives not in the physical world. Here, I think, are a couple of perfect examples where being ‘modern’ has run amok.

      Fifteen years ago and in need of a job, I figured that working as a customer service rep for a major auto company wouldn’t be too bad a position even though I’d never be able to afford a new car. I was surprised at some of the ‘features’ that were offered, including your fancy key system which also involved some security features that kept everything secure. Oh, and the keys – even then were very expensive – over one hundred dollars per copy, which shocked a lot of people. (‘But it’s only a key . . .’)

      And what do you say to the couple who thought it might be fun to ‘go exploring’ in their brand new car while parked in a dark garage, without keys, and sans clothes AND who manage to activate the security system by rocking car during activities . . . Luckily they had a communication system – not so lucky was the reality that as a group – me and the hapless – we couldn’t get the thing to unlock . . . “Hello emergency services? I have a customer with a problem . . .”

      Bet they didn’t do that again . . .

      As to the lighting in the bathroom – as one enters, how hard is it to ‘flip a switch’? And you can put in ‘subdued lighting’ if you wish . . .

      In both of these examples – one must be in contact with the product to actually use the product – being ‘virtual’ will never work . . .

    14. Wasn’t it Japan that all of the fascination with advanced toilet bowl technology ?? Although, I do like the idea of a seat heater…especially in winter !!