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January 30, 2018

Review: Using the ReachNow car sharing service…

Filed under: Cars,Review & Criticism,Technology — chuck goolsbee @ 1:26 pm

There is a lot of blather online about how the automotive industry is transforming into a “mobility” industry. From ride sharing to autonomous vehicles, we’re supposedly hurtling towards a very different future. Well, not really because as creatures of habit, we still drive our own cars, usually alone, about 99.999% of the time. But all the hype? It’s on self-driving cars.

I’ve written plenty elsewhere about how I’m very bearish on autonomous vehicles. I just don’t think it is a viable goal to be expending so damn much engineering focus and resources upon right now, given there are far greater problems to be solved. But becasue traffic in Silicon Valley, Seattle, and other technology hub cities, we have software people trying to engineer their way out of their miserable commutes… or at least allow them to spend more time on Snapchat and Netflix while they (don’t) drive to work – but somehow still do it in their own personal vehicles.

In the end the lawyers are likely to kill this baby in its crib.

Meanwhile however, the ways of getting around are changing, and mostly for the better. Ridesharing, which likely can trace it’s origins to the same traffic annoyances of yet another group of Silicon Valley software nerds… (“I bet we can use an app to optimize people into cars to reduce the number of cars that are slowing us all down.”) has effectively disrupted the entire taxi industry by making it a far better end-user experience. Traditional taxis, at least outside of places like London or Manhattan, have always been spotty, inconsistent, and in my experience, a frequently awful experience. Dirty cabs, often retired police vehicles, so you felt like a perp rather than a valued customer, and drivers who often lacked even basic communications skills. Add to that a largely cash-based transaction, or if they took credit cards it was far from frictionless. Apps like Uber and Lyft have made the transaction itself utterly seamless and swift.

I’ve mostly used ridesharing services while traveling, or to avoid the risk of getting a DUI. For the former it is now routine to use an app to get around in a city I am visting for a short time. For the latter it is a lifesaver in every sense of that word.

I don’t live in Portland, Oregon, I live about a three hour drive away from it, but I visit Portland often. In several of my recent visits I noticed various BMW vehicles scattered all around the city emblazoned with a “ReachNow” logo. Curious, I looked it up online and learned it was a sort of car sharing service. I downloaded the app, set up an account (which involves registering your Drivers License and a credit card), and… didn’t use it for months.

But last week Testa Rossa and I were in Portland for a family gathering and some appointments. Time to give ReachNow a try!

Default View
Default View

When you launch the ReachNow app the default view is a map view of your immediate surroundings, and an ability to sort vehicles by “All”, “BMW”, “MINI” and “BMW i”. BMW i is just i3 cars at this time, no i8s, sorry. But I imagine if they expand that product line more variety could become available. Initially it was the i3s I spotted with the ReachNow logos that piqued my curiosity. I can’t imagine buying one, but I’d like to give one a drive, but sadly in my week of using the app no i3 was ever nearby. Oh well. The MINIs all seem to be Clubman models, and the BMWs either 3-series sedans or X-series SUVs.

To grab a car you click on the nearest vehicle and it will tell you what sort of car it is, what it’s expected range available, and a few other details you might use to pick what works for you, such as how long it will take you to walk there. It also allows you to “reserve” it, which makes it not appear on other people’s searches. This gives you time to finish what ever your’re doing and start walking towards the car.

Car Reserved
Car Reserved
Walking to the car
Walking to the car

Once underway on your walk, the map updates live with your location and route. You’ll note on the app screen there are an array of buttons that include “Destination”, “Signal”, “Damage”, and “Unlock”. I’ll admit I never investigated the “Destination” function. The “Signal” button however I found invaluable. On every trip but one, it was after dark, and (shocking I know…) raining. When you press that button on screen, the lights of the car flash a few times, allowing you to see it from afar, or in our case in a dark and rainy night in Portland. I never used the damage button, again mostly because it was always very dark and I would not have been able to assess and report any damage anyway. The app does present you with a screen that points out an existing damage report, complete with a diagram of the car and damage called out. The unlock button is pretty self-explanatory. When you approach the car, it enables and you can see an LED in the windshield that changes color as your phone comes in range, and you press the Unlock to gain access to the car.

The first time I got in a ReachNow car (a 3-series BMW) it required a call to support to figure out how to start it. Normally the center console screen welcomes you, and you enter a PIN. Instead this car’s screen was stuck on something else. Thankfully support was able to clear the error and get me going pretty quickly.

After that first time however, I never had another issue starting the car. I was always greeted by the PIN enter screen. Billing doesnt start until you either start driving, or select “begin trip” from the main screen. Just like a rental car, it always seems like I get cars that were previously driven by somebody well under 5 feet tall, so oftentimes I couldn’t even get in the car without making significant seat adjustments, so like using rental cars I tend to spend a bit of time adjusting things like seats and mirrors before I even think about driving, so it is nice the billing doesn’t start until you’re underway.

Welome screen.
Welome screen.

Parking is odd. Basically they allow you to park anywhere on a street where parking is legal. No need to feed a meter if it is a paid parking area such as downtown. Just park, lock, and go. You can also park the car and “keep” it by not ending your trip. You pay a reduced rate per-minute to park it, but the car remains for your sole use until you end your trip. So you could park it in a store parking lot, and use it to haul your groceries home after you shop. I never did any of that, because our trips in Portland were all simple point-to-point affairs. For example, we drove to a movie. Once the movie ended, I opened the app and found a car two blocks from the theatre.

Once your trip concludes, you are presented with a receipt, and an opportunity to provide feedback. Pleasantly, I found that the cost per-trip was usually about 35%-50% less expensive than a comparable one with a ridesharing service such as Lyft or Uber.

Over the course of a week we took several trips, and other than the first trip we never really had any problems. The last trip’s car did reek of weed (shocking I know… Portland) and the car was complaining about low tire pressure in the right rear tire. If there is any real problem with the ReachNow service I could think of this is an example, in that there is a shared resource that may not be cared for equally by all members. While I doubt anyone smoked weed in the vehicle, it was clear they smoked a LOT of weed before they got in, so the odor was VERY strong. I reported this and the low tire via the feedback tool in the app, and I hope the car was collected and cleaned/maintained… but who knows?

I certainly appreciate having the ability to grab a car and drive it pretty much on-demand.On the final trip of the week we combined ReachNow with ridesharing to mitigate the risk of DUI, as we drove to a social event that involved drinking, and rode home in the back of a Lyft.

Life takes me to both Portland and Seattle often, cities that are covered by ReachNow. I’ll certainly be making more use of the service.

November 5, 2016

BAT Success Story: Part 2, M6 from Wisconsin to Oregon

Filed under: Cars,Creative Work,Review & Criticism,Writing — chuck goolsbee @ 11:45 pm

This is part two of a two-part series. Part one is here.

Another M6 shows up on BAT
Another M6 shows up on BAT

Just about every E24 M6 that appears on BAT over the past year has drawn my attention. I’ve actively bid on several, including a few that I lost in the final minutes to a higher bidder. Most of my attention went to M6s that are not either Black or Red. I’ve owned a black car before and never liked how it shows every flaw. I’ve just never liked red cars. Sorry for all you red car lovers, but to me they look flat, completely lacking in depth. In my opinion the metallic blues are the best colors, as they have amazing depth and change in different lighting conditions. The week before this auction there was another M6 on BAT, upon which I was the high bidder, but it failed to meet reserve. I was having a few offline conversations with the seller, when this one appeared. Soon regular BAT commentators are calling me out by name:

You guys have my back. Love it!
You guys have my back. Love it!

I happen to be in Maui with my girlfriend (she has taken me there for my birthday) as the auction is coming to a close, so I set an alarm to get me off the beach and back to my laptop in time to make some bids. As with every BAT auction, the finale seems to end up like that final showdown scene in “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, with two or three bidders virtually staring at each other, and finding the courage to up their bid as the timer counts down again, and again… and again.

Turns out I am the last man standing.

(more…)

October 29, 2016

Proposed BAT “Success Story” post

Filed under: Cars,Review & Criticism,Writing — chuck goolsbee @ 8:39 pm

Working on some stories for the website Bring A Trailer. Feel free to comment/correct in the comments.

BAT Success Stories: Two almost flawless Arrive & Drives.

I’ve never owned a BMW until a few years ago, now I have a shop half-full of them; two of those are thanks to BAT. I’d never even driven a BMW until 2011 when I joined a 24 Hours of Lemons team who campaign a beater 1990 325i (E30). A few laps into my first race I fall in love with the little lightweight coupe and its perfect balance between power and handling. Thus begins an addiction.

I bought a used 2007 M Roadster (E85/S54) as my daily driver a year later, which is a pure joy to drive. Then, last summer while visiting Portland, Oregon for a week of business I tack on an SCCA Track Night and Portland International Raceway, and a BMW Club tour through the Oregon Wine Country. At PIR the only car in my advanced run group that out-runs the M Roadster is a race-prepped Mustang with 2X my horsepower, and I still managed to stick to his tail through the corners. Then the next day on the tour I find myself behind a late 80s E24 M6. The big coupe never fails to pull away from me on every straight. I’m dumfounded. How could this old car do that? I’d seen E24s for years but never really noticed them… even a good car-guy friend in Bellingham, WA has two “Sharks”… but I always look right past them at his E-type Jaguar.

But here this elegant and clearly luxurious machine is also now making me work to catch up to it in my, lightweight, fairly minimal roadster. And the sounds that it makes… GLORIOUS! At every rest stop I linger over the M6, looking at every angle. I decide I had to have one. Thus begins my hunt…

(more…)

March 23, 2010

Farewell Aperture, for now.

Filed under: Apple,Photography,Review & Criticism — chuck goolsbee @ 6:51 pm
At least this houseguest cleans up after itself!
At least this houseguest cleans up after itself!

My 30-day Apple Aperture trial expired. I ended up deciding not to buy the software though. Why?

$199 seems steep for an application that runs like molasses on my fairly well-spec’ed machine; a MacBook Pro 2.53GHz with 4 GB of RAM. I like Aperture’s RAW editing features. Once I got the hang of them that is. But… damn this application is slow. This was with a library of less than 100 photos. I note that iPhoto bogs down once its library exceeds 5000 images. Aperture was dog slow right from the very first image.

Every once in a while I would see some moment of brilliance, and think I was falling in love with the software. Then it would smack me with a spinning cursor and drive me away. I would hope that a trial period would show you all the reasons to love a new product, but in this case it just drove me back to using iPhoto + Photoshop.

I’m open to being convinced otherwise, so feel free to chime in if you have a differing opinion.

February 27, 2010

A Truck Load of Salt

Filed under: life,Review & Criticism,Thoughts — chuck goolsbee @ 11:12 am

I took my son Nicholas to see his favorite musician, Jonathan Coulton play at the Moore Theater in Seattle last night. We drove down from Arlington, with a stop at Seattle institution Dicks for a bite:

Mmmmmmm. Says Nick. on Twitpic
Mmmmmmm. Says Nick. on Twitpic

The opening band was Paul & Storm:

(and yes, panties were thrown at the performance last night… seven of them in fact.)

Nick acquired a “Skullcrusher Mountain” T-shirt and stocked up on so many nerd hit points that I’m certain he’ll dominate the next D&D match he plays.

There was really only one downer for the whole night. A few rows behind us was seated a guy who was not only really loud, but also cracked wise at every pause in the show. Paul & Storm strongly encourage audience participation and this guy took the bit and ran with it… non-stop.

All.

Night.

Long.

Literally not a minute of the show went by without this guy hollering a punch line, or wisecrack, or just something stupid. One or two of his remarks/heckles/outbursts were quite funny. Three or four of them were picked up by the performers and made for funny moments. But the other eighty six of them were just tiresome, annoying, and several times threw the performers off their game. We ALL paid good money to see this, and more importantly HEAR this event, but at literally every quiet moment this yahoo became a bellowing distraction.

Like spice in a well-prepared dish a bit of audience participation is a wonderful thing. Had the audience last night all sat like cadavers, it would have been pretty dull (though one song demanded that we become zombies!) However too much is just too much. In this case a pinch of salt would have been perfect, and this one guy in the audience (let’s call him “Richard”, or “Dick” for short) arrived with a dump truck loaded with sodium chloride, backed up (beep… beep… beep… beep… ) into the auditorium, then dumped two tons of salt all over the show.

Really? Don’t be that guy.

January 17, 2010

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein

Filed under: Review & Criticism — chuck goolsbee @ 10:12 pm

When my boys were very young a near nightly ritual was for me to read to them. This occurred either on the living room couch, or at their bedside. We started with “kid books” such as Dr. Seuss’ One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (Christopher’s first non-parental related word was “fish”) and culminated with reading long literary classics such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings over a period of months. One book I read between those, when Chris was maybe three or four was Crow and Weasel by Barry Lopez. One particular quote, spoken by the character “Badger” from that story has stuck in my head since that reading almost two decades ago:

The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for themselves. One day you will be a good storytellers. Never forget these obligations.

There is so much truth to that bit of wisdom, since as human beings most of what we truly learn comes from what we hear, read, and are taught from others. For example, we take for granted the Thomas Jefferson’s authorship of the Declaration of Independence, and bonding of hydrogen and oxygen to make water, but how many of us have directly observed those facts? The ability to learn from secondary sources is in many ways what separates us from other species.

It is ironic then, that this particular story is told entirely from the perspective of a dog.

I’ve been aware of this book for a while, as it is has been endlessly pimped by the guys over at Cold Track Days, I just never bothered to pick it up as my reading tastes these days trend away from fiction. Sue on the other hand reads nothing but fiction, as her work-enforced reading is all facts, and all tragedy (she’s an attorney who works in cases where parental rights are being terminated.) She likes to read fiction and tears through books twice as fast as I do. I was surprised to find this one in her pile of completed books that she was returning to the friend she borrowed them from. I snagged it for myself and set aside the others I was reading to dive into it.

Well this is indeed a story to be given away when needed as Badger instructed Crow and Weasel. Filled with pathos, every character in the novel learns valuable lessons from life, and we learn right along with them. What I found refreshing was the specifically, and completely male perspective of the story, be it by man, or dog. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed the read so much more than Sue did.

But then, she doesn’t like to drive either.

It is an excellent, and well-told story, and plays out in a wonderful cinematic fashion, strictly however from the point of view of a mutt named Enzo. I’ve heard that it it being considered for a movie, but I can’t see how a visual re-telling will work from the canine perspective. We’ll see I guess. Certainly a challenge for a filmmaker!

The tale takes place right in my former hometown of Seattle, (in the mid 80s, until I met Sue and moved to Ballard I shared a house with two other guys in Mt. Baker near the old 1-90 Bridge) and so many of the places and names were as familiar and comfortable as an old pair of slippers. Leschi, the CD, Capitol Hill, downtown & Mercer Island. A wonderful scene takes place at Pacific Raceways in Kent, and is described by the narrating dog in such a perfect way to capture the essence of being at that track as a spectator. The contours and curves of the track described only as one hears it by exhaust note… very well done.

So if you’re a guy in need of a story more than food to stay alive, you might find this as enjoyable as I did. Give it a read (before Hollywood screws it up.)

www.goenzo.com

January 6, 2010

Product Review: Harbor Freight Hydraulic Scissor Lift

Filed under: Cars,Review & Criticism,Writing — chuck goolsbee @ 12:28 pm

Note this is an article I’m developing for another website. Feel free to comment with suggestions, observations, or corrections.


Having lead a life of high adventure in my youth, scaling pinnacles of rocks and ice, I never imagined that I’d meet my end, flat on my back crushed beneath a falling car. My life was flashing before my eyes as I set a new land-speed record for butt-shoulder-shuffling my way out from under the creaking, swaying mass of steel in the form of a 1999 Volkswagen New Beetle suspended above my body on my tried, and until-that-moment trusted ramps and jack-stands. There I was, staring death in the face in the form of my wife’s “cute bug” looking like Damocles’ Sword, or Poe’s Pendulum, my garage floor playing the Pit. The tremor ceased as my head cleared the oil pan, and the Beetle had stopped making the horrific creaking noises as the jack-stands stopped wobbling. I cleared the bumper and leapt to my feet in a single motion, and relief swept over me like the expected post-quake tidal wave should. “Damn, I’m still alive!… in fact I’m completely unharmed!” Running into the house I yelled at the family: ‘Did you guys feel that?!” … only to be met with a non-chalant: “feel what?”

In retrospect the tremor which scared me out from under the car was only a barely-rattle-the-china 3.2 on the Richter Scale, but it drove home an indelible lesson to this DIY mechanic living in a region where three tectonic plates meet: I gotta get a lift!

The scene of my near-death experience almost a decade ago.
The scene of my near-death experience almost a decade ago.

With kids heading for college in a few years, the budget was tight, but the family’s financial committee agreed that my life and future earning power were worth an investment of about a thousand bucks or so. Armed with that vote of confidence I perused the web for advice and good deals on a better platform for the home mechanic to raise his car off the ground. Most of the work I do on my family’s cars involves basic maintenance: Fluid Changes. Tire Rotations. Brake Jobs. Occasionally tasks are a tad more involved, especially with my hobby car, a vintage British sports car, which always seems to have some little thing, and occasionally a big thing wrong with it. Major engine overhauls and complete restorations however are out of my league, so in reality the lift I required could be a light-duty model. Sure, I’d love a deluxe two- or four-post lift, but at the time I was shopping I really had no place to put one, and they were all priced out of my budget. Scissor lifts however seemed to be a good compromise: small, semi-portable, usable in a small garage, and far safer than ramps & jack-stands, while being reasonably priced.

The solution.
The solution.

At the suggestion of more than one like-minded cheapskate wrench-turner I settled upon the “US General” 6000lb Scissor Lift from Harbor Freight. (Item #46604) It is likely the lowest-price lift on the market. Using a Triple-Word-Score combination of coupons, online specials, and shipping discounts the total price came to about $850 in 2003. I live in the boonies 60-some miles out of Seattle and due to the size and weight (~750lbs) of the lift Harbor Freight would only use a freight forwarder for shipping. This meant I had to pick it up at a loading dock in Seattle in my battered old farm pickup. It arrived in two pieces: a large wooden crate, with a cardboard box containing the hydraulic control unit strapped to the top of it, which fit right into the short bed of the old Dodge. I borrowed a neighbor’s tractor with a backhoe to unload the bulky unit from the truck’s bed and set it on the concrete floor of my garage. A few months later I relocated it to our barn, which became my workshop after the last of the domestic livestock were moved to better accommodations elsewhere. Moving the whole unit around is unwieldy, yet once upon a concrete slab it is very easy for a single person to maneuver the lift around an open space due to the magic of leverage and physics. The Control unit is essentially designed as a wheeled lever, and the lift is equipped with sturdy rollers at one end, and a lever-eye at the other end.

The lift fully retracted.
The lift fully retracted.
The lift fully raised.
The lift fully raised.

First, the bad news: Two minor parts failed almost immediately. The original plastic wheels of the control unit are just not up to the task of holding the weight of the lift when used as a lever. They literally crumbled after a few tries moving the lift around. I replaced them with sturdier units from my local hardware store with actual bearings in them. Secondly the control unit is very top-heavy and with the broken wheels it tipped over, falling right onto the fitting for the hydraulic pipe, breaking it. At first I tried calling Harbor Freight’s customer service department to have the pipe replaced. Eventually I gave up that fruitless exercise and had a new pipe fabricated at my local NAPA store. Both repairs have held up for almost six years.

The lift's simple safety lock mechanism.
The lift's simple safety lock mechanism.
The hydraulic control unit, being used as a lever to move the entire unit around. Steel wheels are at the other end of the lift itself to facilitate movement. One person can pull or push the flat lift around on a concrete slab for repositioning or storage.
The hydraulic control unit, being used as a lever to move the entire unit around. Steel wheels are at the other end of the lift itself to facilitate movement. One person can pull or push the flat lift around on a concrete slab for repositioning or storage.

The good news: It is simple to operate, safe, and makes common automotive maintenance work a breeze. Low clearance cars such as my vintage Jaguar require help getting over the folded lift, so I have collected some long 4×4 & 4×6 lumber to arrange around the lift for that purpose. Vehicles with more ground clearance can just drive over it. Moveable arms with adjustable rubber-topped pads provide the lifting surfaces under the car. The pads are scored with right-angled grooves to mate up to the body work of cars like VW, who use flanges as lifting points. The lift has several pre-set ratcheting safety latch points as it goes up, providing safe, stable levels to perform work. To raise the car you operate the hydraulic pump, which runs from a standard household electrical outlet, with a push-button. To lower the car you must hold two levers, one retracting the safety-catch, the other slowly releasing the hydraulic fluid.

Works for all manner of vehicles, provided they are under 6000 pounds.
Works for all manner of vehicles, provided they are under 6000 pounds.

Oil changes, tire rotations, and brake work are now super-easy, and so much safer and faster when performed on the lift. Instead of spending lots of time raising, lowering and fiddling with jacks and stands, you can now get right to work. However, since the lift itself is positioned directly under the car working on things like transmissions or exhaust can be problematic depending upon the car. For these applications a traditional lift would be much better, but for the home mechanic on a budget this small lift is a wonderful luxury. I’ve used it countless times for oil and filter changes, and when it came time to sell the New Beetle I was able to do it right with numerous photos of every nook and cranny to put it on eBay Motors.

Had that tremor in 2003 bloomed into a genuine 6.0 or larger quake I might not be here today to enjoy life. Even if you don’t live in a “geological entertainment zone” like I do the peace of mind provided by such a simple and safe working platform is well worth the cost.

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