Don’t expect a car to last more than 10 years or 150,000 miles

I was chatting with a senior engineer at a Detroit automaker. “We design the car to last 10 years or 150,000 miles,” he said. He explained that component manufacturers try to torture-test the components so as to meet the same standard and then the entire car is given an accelerated aging beating on a test track, e.g., with a road so bumpy that the car needs to be driven by a robot to avoid employees developing back problems. What about other car companies? “As far as I know, all of us use the same standard.”

So… don’t pay real money for an old or high mileage used car! Here’s an example of a car that is about ready for the boneyard and that will cost over $15,000 including taxes and fees:

The price for this 2012 Toyota with 204,000+ miles seems insane, but it aligns with KBB estimates in our inflation-free completely-affordable-for-the-working-class economy:

“Low Mileage”?!?

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Where’s the AI customer service dividend?

ChatGPT (launched November 2022) and similar LLMs were supposed to make customer service agents more efficient. Has this happened? From what I can tell, the opposite has occurred. If I call a company that is supposed to be providing service the inevitable greeting is “we are experiencing higher than normal call volume” (i.e., demand for service exceeds agent capacity, despite the agents now being augmented with AI). When an agent does pick up, he/she/ze/they immediately asks, “What is your phone number?” In other words, the smartest computer systems ever devised cannot use caller ID.

(If Trump gets elected this fall and then, as predicted by the New York Times and CNN, ends American democracy, I hope that he will issue a decree that companies aren’t allowed to announce “we are experiencing higher than normal call volume” more than 5 percent of the time.)

My favorite company for customer service is Hertz. They recently hit my credit card for $262.41 for a 24-hour 29-mile rental of a compact Ford Edge in El Paso. I never signed anything agreeing to pay $262 and their app was quoting $76 including all fees (I picked up the car at an FBO so there wasn’t the fully array of Hertz computer systems on site). When I called Hertz to try to figure out why they charged so much I learned that they’ve eliminated the option of talking to a human regarding any bill. A human will be happy to make a reservation, but not to answer questions about what could be a substantial credit card charge. Hertz funnels all questions about past rentals to a web form, which they say they will respond to within a few days. Of course, my first inquiry about the bill yielded no response. My second inquiry, a week later, yielded a “everything was done correctly” response. I finally pinged them on Twitter private message. They admitted that they had no signed paperwork with an agreement to pay $262 and issued a refund of about half the money.

Circling back to AI… if LLMs make customer service agents more efficient, why has Hertz needed to shut down phone customer service? And if LLMs are brilliant at handling text why isn’t Hertz able to respond to contact form inquiries quickly?

Here’s an example pitch from the AI hucksters:

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How is Intel able to sell CPUs if they’ve already told people that the current socket is obsolete?

Here’s a question at the intersection of marketing and electronics: who is buying Intel CPUs right now after Intel has told the world that they will render the current socket, and therefore all current motherboards, obsolete before the end of 2024?

“Intel’s next-gen desktop CPUs have reportedly leaked” (Tom’s Hardware):

Arrow Lake will reside on new Intel motherboards with LGA1851 sockets and 800-series chipsets. Although the upcoming socket has 9% more pins than the existing LGA1700 socket, the dimensions didn’t change, so you might be able to recycle your existing CPU cooler.

Intel hasn’t provided details on when Arrow Lake will hit the market. But we suspect it’ll be sometime in the fourth quarter of the year since AMD’s upcoming Zen 5 Ryzen processors are on track for launch before the year is over.

Especially given that AMD is not rendering its socket obsolete for another few years, I am having trouble figuring out why demand for Intel desktop CPUs, at least at the high end, doesn’t fall off a cliff.

The news about the socket is actually almost a year old at this point. A July 2023 article:

I guess it is tough to keep a secret when there are so many independent motherboard manufacturers, but shouldn’t we expect a demand collapse, massive price cuts for both CPUs and motherboards, etc. as the Arrow Lake release gets closer?

Is the explanation that anyone who cares about CPU/computer performance buys AMD? I think that Intel claims that their new chips have an onboard AI-optimized GPU.

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WaterGuru: pool monitor for a country where average IQ is falling

Average American IQ is falling (The Hill; note that this cannot be due to a massive increase in low-skill immigration from countries with a low average IQ because #Science proves that IQ is not heritable). Those who get jobs doing pool maintenance, a process that involves some chemistry, tend not to be the best and brightest within a labor pool whose overall trend is away from high intelligence.

We recently switched pool maintenance companies because our old one wasn’t answering texts and emails regarding how to recover from a coconut assault on the pool heater (cracked case; heater still works). To make sure that the new company was doing a good job, I invested in a WaterGuru Sense S2 that sits quietly in the skimmer:

Instead of buying two months of test strips from Amazon for $12 and suffering the indignity of interrupting your TV watching and Xbox-playing to put a strip in the water you pay these folks a higher price/test every day for the rest of your pool’s life. In return, you get notifications and recommendations from the app.

The new pool maintenance company sent out a young man who had only just gotten out of training. He was seemingly unable to keep the pH anywhere near where the WaterGuru thought it should be. After a few weeks, I asked him what his target was. He said that he was trying to keep the pH “above 8”. I said “Your test kit maxes out at 8. How can you target a value that is above the maximum range for your test?” This question hadn’t occurred to him, but he agreed to add some acid because the app said to do so. I asked “why does the acid bottle say the pH should be between 7.2 and 7.6?” He responded “I was trained to keep it above 8.” (I later talked to his managers who said, ‘He must have misunderstood the question because he is aware that 7.4-7.6 is the ideal range.”) If you’re trying to maintain the pool chemistry yourself, the app gives helpful recommendations and pitches for supplies to order:

The next dramatic event was that the pool monitor reported a normal level of chlorine (4.2 ppm of “free chlorine”) and the kid, based on his own test kit and I’m not sure what target chlorine level, decided to dump a bottle of chlorine into the pool (which has a continuous chlorine generator so it shouldn’t ever need a bottle). The monitor went nuts the next day, reporting chlorine at 10 ppm and only because that’s the top of its test range (an indoor pool with more than 5 ppm is illegal in Florida; the app says a good target is 3 ppm). A detail page showed the actual measurement at 13.5 ppm (24 hours after the chlorine addition). I bought some test strips at the local pool supply place and the chlorine level was somewhere between 10 and 20 ppm. I turned off the chlorine generator and the numbers came down gradually.

If you’ve created a society where humans aren’t smart it is nice to have robots like this one! (Once the chemistry is under control it is possible to reduce the frequency of the tests in order to save on the 28-day cartridges.)


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Monogram 36-inch gas range (versus Wolf)

Our house came with a 36-inch gas range made by Bertazzoni that sat flush to the counter/cabinets, which looked clean, but an inflexible and inappropriate-for-us set of burner sizes. The cooktop was also a little tight on space and it was sometimes tough to use more than two pans on the six burners. The most serious problem, however, was that the oven wouldn’t light reliably or stay lit. A Florida house is almost indestructible, but a range that fills it up with natural gas is risking an explosion test.

We couldn’t get the “leaks gas into kitchen” issue fixed, so we decided to replace the range. Without sacrificing a wall oven we didn’t have enough electric power to install an induction range and, in fact, didn’t really have enough electric power for the typical “dual fuel” range (a single 20-amp 240V circuit behind the range). Retrofitting wiring in a concrete Florida house with no basement or attic is not a simple proposition. Thus, the only reasonable choice was another all-gas range.

The choices quickly came down to Wolf and Monogram. The Wolf sits flush to the counter/cabinets, as the Bertazzoni had, but that means a little less space in the oven and on the cooktop. The Wolf GR366 also has wimpy burners compared to the Monogram: five at 15,000 BTU and one at 9,200 (compare to two 23,000 BTU burners, two 18,000, and two 15,000 for the Monogram).

Consumer Reports found that the 30-inch Wolf oven was dramatically inferior to the Monogram’s gas oven:

The 30-inch Monogram’s ratings:

The Monogram also has LED rings behind the burner controls to show at a glance whether a burner has been left on. (For even more peace of mind, the range talks to an app that can show whether any burners are on and that allows direct control of the oven.)

The Monogram was about $700 cheaper and came with a $1,500 discount on a GE Monogram Advantium wall oven that we wanted to buy. We got it at Best Buy and signed up for their credit card, which took another 10 percent off in the form of credits to spend at Best Buy. So it works out to nearly $3000 cheaper than the Wolf for a more capable machine. Here’s what the $7,100 ZGP366NTSS looks like sticking out beyond the cabinets:

The controls could be improved. The legends for which burner a knob corresponds to are unreadable when looking down at the knob from in front of the range. They should be above and to the right of each knob, not below. The screen is tiny. The massive rotary knob for controlling the oven is impressive, but it would have been much better if the range had a tilted-up touch screen for controlling the oven, timer, and other functions (and the confusing buttons underneath the screen would be gone). As the range is laid out, the numbers for the displayed time are half the height of what you’d find on a $99 microwave from Walmart. The best way to describe the design aesthetic is Derek Zoolander’s display meets Godzilla’s range.

We’re very happy with the range so far. We probably use 10 pans on the rangetop on an average day, though we seldom use the oven (the Breville super toaster oven is the go-to). An induction cooktop that could be wiped completely clean in 45 seconds would probably be better, but this range is more fun. The monster 23,000 BTU burners work great on the low setting, which lights up only an inner ring. Visitors to the house have remarked favorably on the appearance of the range and nobody has asked, “Why does it stick out?” Apparently, when the “pro-style range” craze began in the 1990s it was conventional for the ranges to be deeper than the counter. Sticking out, therefore, is an indicator that the kitchen owner is a rich douche (or at least a douche).

Another possibility if you want a range that sits flush is Bluestar. Their “culinary series” open burner range is about $5,000 and comes in huge range of colors. The burners are only 15,000 BTUs but supposedly act like hotter burners due to being open (I’m not sure that I believe this!).


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The Admin Fee at a restaurant

Happy Tax Day for those in the U.S. and also U.S. citizens who live abroad and get no services from the U.S. but still must pay taxes (consider the U.S. citizens held hostage by Gazans, for example).

How about a new 3 percent tax from a restaurant on the restaurant and kept by the restaurant, couched as an “Admin Fee” on the receipt?

One of my companions asked what it was for. The waiter responded, “It’s a fee that we incur to keep our prices competitive.”

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Why isn’t ChatGPT inside our refrigerators?

Some years ago people envisioned a refrigerator that would track contents via RFID and alert a consumer to being low on milk or whatever. Making this a reality would have required cooperation among all of the companies that make packaged food (to add the RFID tags) so of course it never happened.

A human can inventory a fridge. Anything a human can do ChatGPT can do better, or so we’re told. If a fridge costs $15,000 (see Sub-Zero refrigerator with R600a owner’s review) why can’t it use a handful of inexpensive video cameras to look at everything going in and out in detail? It can make some good guesses about quantities, e.g., every time the eggs are removed there will be three fewer eggs remaining in the carton (refine this guess after some experience in a household as to when the carton stops being returned to the fridge (assume this means the egg count is zero)). The in-the-fridge AI could email with a list of expired stuff to throw out and a list of stuff to buy. It could email at 3 pm every day with a suggestion for what to cook for dinner given the ingredients present in the fridge, adding critical items via an Instacart order if approved.

“New AI-powered fridge technology generates recipes based on diet, food on its shelves” (Deplorable Fox) describes a Samsung fridge introduced at CES 2024, but it turns out to be not that smart:

The fridge’s technology also reportedly enables users to add expiration dates for items purchased, and the refrigerator will alert them once that expiration date is near.

Why is it the human’s job to read expiration dates off the packages? Why can’t the brilliant AI do that? Let’s give some credit to Samsung, though, for including an epic 32-inch TV on the $4500 fridge:

So the Samsung fridge is missing the Instacart ordering support, I think, as well as the automation of ferreting out expired food.

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Using distilled water to wash exterior windows and avoid hard water spots

Episode #571 of how being a homeowner makes a person stupid and boring…

Our area of Florida is plagued with moderately hard tap water that is packed with dissolved solids. There are professional window washing services that charge about $700 to come over with a hose-fed flow-through reverse osmosis machine (around $4,000) and wash/rinse the windows with pure water that can be allowed to air dry without risk of deposits. The pros don’t like to use squeegees due to the risk of scratching the glass (replacing a hurricane-proof impact window is not simple or cheap!).

Nearly all of the windows and glass doors on our 5,400-square-foot house are readily accessible from the ground or a balcony. A Hungarian au pair across the street wanted to earn some cash for her end-of-year travels. We decided to see how many windows she could wash using distilled water.

The odyssey began at 9 pm in Walmart. Nearly all of the customers were speaking Spanish to each other. A prerecorded announcement in English urged shoppers to buy products from “Black-owned” companies. Distilled water was just $1.26 per gallon in the baby section (and, curiously, $1.34 in the bottled water section). I purchased 8 gallons. Our smaller Walmart doesn’t sell window-cleaning gear, so I stopped next at Home Depot and got a 14″ Unger microfiber scrubber and a dual-compartment Rubbermaid bucket wide enough for the scrubber.

Using a formula that I know is correct because I got it from the Internet (Floridian Bob Vila’s site, actually, so it is also approved by state-sponsored PBS), I mixed a gallon of distilled water with 2 cups of distilled vinegar and one tablespoon of Dawn dishwashing liquid. I filled the other side of the bucket with two gallons of distilled water for rinsing. It takes almost no time to wipe a glass door or big window with the scrubber, first with the cleaning solution and then after the scrubber is dipped in the rinse water (it might be smarter to have two scrubbers, one for each phase). The scrubber holds so much cleaning solution that you can wipe two or three glass doors before dipping into the rinse.

The pros certainly use a lot more water and do a much better job cleaning the dirt around the frames (they also have screen-cleaning brushes), but we were able to get all of the glass acceptably clean using only 6 gallons of distilled water total, without making any serious attempt to conserve (and this is for a 5,400′ house with a lot of glass!). If you don’t feel the need to get every last spot, this can be done in about 3 minutes per window or door.

It’s probably still worth having the professionals come periodically to clean the surrounding frames and screens thoroughly and/or having the “soft wash” people clean the entire house (they don’t use RO water, however, so probably it would make sense to then rinse with distilled water).

(We also cleaned the interior using microfiber cloths and ammonia-free Windex. That actually took longer than the exterior. The Hungarian gal was meticulous and noticed a fair number of places where the windows still had sticker residue left over from their 2021 installation. I removed these with a razor blade and, in some stubborn cases, Goo Gone.)

I’m writing this up because I’m still shocked at how little water was required!

Example machine that the pros use (1.5 gallons per minute):

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Microsoft keyboards back from the dead

For those of us whose hands and brains are accustomed to the Microsoft Sculpt ergonomic keyboard, which was discontinued in 2023, it looks as though there is hope. Microsoft has apparently made a deal with Incase, an established computer accessory company, to revive the Microsoft keyboard line (presumably coming out of the same factory in China).

If only Google would do this with Picasa! Open source it so that someone else can take care of the former customers.

The Microsoft product page is still live:

An Amazon seller has a used one for $369:

I paid $111 for this in March 2021. Adjusted for Bidenflation at the official rate, that’s supposedly about $130 today.

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ChatGPT for editing images

We have two Bertazzoni-brand wall ovens. One is a microwave that purportedly also works as a thermal oven, but is wildly inaccurate for temperature. The other is a big convection oven that is even worse for temperature control (if you set 350 you might get 310 or 400).

I’m trying to figure out if I can live my domestic dream of a GE Advantium microwave that can also broil via a halogen light and a wall oven that can inject steam into the cavity for roasting turkey without drying it out, a feature that we had on a KitchenAid range back in Maskachusetts. GE and its brother/sister/binary-resister brands Cafe and Monogram don’t make any full-height ovens with a steam feature. LG and Samsung are the reasonably-priced brands that do make full-size ovens with a steam kicker and they don’t offer Advantium. So I am trying to do a photo montage of the disparate brands to see which ones clash the least.

The LG oven photo comes with a huge red badge on it. I asked ChatGPT 4 to remove it:

I’d like you to edit this photo to remove the red badge at lower right and fill in the pixels to be symmetric:

Maybe readers will want to weigh in on this important decoration issue! Here are Monogram, Cafe (no logo!), and GE versions of the same 240V 30″ Advantium wall oven:

Here is the Samsung steam-capable oven:

(The LG is above.) Here’s another version of the LG:

The “Signature Kitchen Suite” product appears to be exactly the same oven internally, but costs about $2,000 more, maybe due to heavier and fancier faceplate and door, a three-year warranty, a dedicated service organization for the elite/stupid. etc.

I’m thinking that the Monogram+Samsung and Monogram+Signature are least likely to cause a visitor to the house to ask “What happened?” or “Who hurt your kitchen?”

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