Goodbye Acura RSX

In my last post I told you about the theft of my Acura RSX. It was stolen from our driveway in the early morning hours of Sunday, Sep 27. The police didn’t come out and collect any evidence, they just took a report over the phone. We did a little evidence collection on our own, finding a clipped wire, a plastic pop-rivet, and a pair of black latex gloves. If real life was like the CSI TV show, they’d just turn the gloves inside out and grabs some prints.

A few days later, my Acura RSX reappeared on the shoulder of 75 near Mockingbird Lane. It was stripped. The police had it towed to their impound lot but were otherwise uninterested in it. They didn’t check for finger prints or any other type of evidence. Their only concern was letting me know that I owed them a hefty storage fee that would increase by $20/day.

For now, I’m driving a Nissan Versa rental car paid for by State Farm insurance. State Farm picked up the car from the impound lot and moved it to a State Farm location yesterday. Before they picked it up, I made a trip over to the impound lot myself to check for any personal belongings the crooks might have left in the car. Oddly, I’m less annoyed by the loss of my car than by the loss of several hard to replace CDs, my prescription sunglasses, a Mega-Donkey t-shirt and an assortment of robot parts.

The Dallas Police impound lot is huge. It’s like a shopping mall parking lot but without the shopping mall. There are vans that transport people from the main office to the section of the lot where their car resides. Tow trucks are coming and going like cabs at the airport. It was an interesting experience. I brought my camera along and shot a few photos.

The woman who drove the van I was in described how to break into each of our cars. “Oh, on this model you pop off a panel and cross two wires to disable the alarm. On that one you use a jiggler key.” One of the other guys in the van had a club on his car. His car was stolen and the thieves left the club lying in his driveway. Our driver said, “Clubs are worthless. Just spray freon into the lock, tap it with a hammer and it opens right up”. She went on to describe how to overcome alarms, immobilizers, and all sorts of other things.

My RSX had an alarm plus an RFID-based immobilizer which is supposed to shut down the engine if it’s started without the encrypted key present. Yet, the thieves drove it away in seconds without even breaking the glass. Turns out you can buy a Honda/Acura jiggler key online for $30 that will open any Acura RSX easily. Once inside, it’s apparently trivial to disable the alarm and override the immobilizer. There are several methods of doing it that can be found online with a little googling. Brad Stone wrote a piece for Wired on the ease with which you can steal cars. Some methods are so easy they’re stupid – write down a vehicle’s VIN, visit the dealer and tell them you lost your key, use your new key to steal the car.

Yesterday, I spoke with the Irving Police detective about my case one last time. She was friendly and sorry about the theft. But at no point did the police send anyone out to the crime scene or the recovered car to look for evidence. When I described the black latex goves, she said they hadn’t heard of them being used but weren’t interested in investigating further. At the impound lot, I noticed my car was coated in a sticky substance similar to Cosmoline. I hypothesized this was to prevent or obscure finger prints. The detective said they’d never heard of this being done. I suggested it might be helpful to analyze the chemical and find out what it was. Perhaps it would offer a clue to where the chop shop was. She didn’t think it would be worthwhile. If my casual observation turned up two things the cops have never noticed, you have to wonder what a trained crime scene investigator might find.

I also noted that my car was found on a major freeway monitored by 24/7 traffic cams. I suggested it should be possible to check the traffic cam recordings to find the make and model of the vehicle which dumped my car there and perhaps even track it backwards to the point it entered the freeway, offering another clue to the chop shop location. She didn’t think it would be worthwhile to do all that work. I asked if anyone had thought of correlating the locations of theft vs the locations where cars are dumped. With dozens of cars stolen every day, you’d think that might be useful. She thought there was a “task force” somewhere that did stuff like that but it wasn’t her job to do anything like that. As far as the Irving and Dallas police are concerned, the case is closed.

News Cars, Old Cars, and Robots

It’s well past time that I get something new posted here! When I left off last I was explaining my list of possible new car choices and describing the test drives. I did finally get the new car and it did turn out to be the Acura RSX Type-S. I expect to get some photos of it up shortly. Actually, not just photos of my new car but my old ones as well.

When I was a youngster in high school and just beginning to drive, an older friend of mine used to talk about the strong emotional ties one can develop with a car. He said what he’d really like would be to keep all the cars he ever owned and just park them in a garage somewhere so he could look at them. Not having owned even one car at the time, this didn’t mean much to me. Now I understand his feelings a bit better and, while it’s still not practical to keep every car, it’s certainly possible to take some photos and build a web page. I’m trying scrounge up photos right now and will be sure to post a warning when my web shrine to great autos of the past goes online.

What else have I been up to you may ask? Well, I continue to make incremental progress in developing the site. It’s accumulated over 600 users in a very short time and continues to grow by 5 or 6 new users per day. On a related subject, Jim Brown and I have embarked on a crazy new robot project of our own. Jim’s daughter suffers from Cystic Fibrosis and each year Jim participates in Great Strides, the CFF 10k walk to help raise money for CF research. Our plan is to enter not Jim but a biped robot, named CF Walker, in the next walk which occurs in May of 2002. We hope to get companies and indivduals to sponser the robot and raise a nice pile of money for the CF Foundation. We are also happy to accept donations of hardware for the construction of the robot itself (hint, hint). We’ve already received some experimental solar panels developed by TI. Can we really build a large, biped robot in less than one year? Will it be able to walk 10km? Are we insane? Stay tuned.

Movies and Car Shopping

I’ve fallen a bit behind on my news lately. Most of July went by in a flash. We were very busy at NCC. I’ve gotten email from a couple of loyal readers asking what’s new, so I better try catch up on news for July.

One of our projects at NCC during July was building a new web site for Frames Per Second, a local video post facility. The web site update was planned to coincide with an open house event they were having. Susan and I attended and got to see quite few friends and acquaintances from the video world that we hadn’t seen since Susan got out of the business. After the open house we went with some friends to hear a Celtic band at The Tipperary Inn.

We also saw a couple of movies during July including AI, which was an unfortunate combination of the worst aspects of Spielberg and Kubrick with none of the good. After AI we saw Atlantis, an animated Disney film copied (surely not plagiarized?) from a 1990 anime series called Nadia: Secret of Blue Water. It was an okay film and much more anime-like than most Disney stuff. It also fulfilled the important role of making us forget about AI.

You may recall that I’ve been planning on getting a new car and to that end have been doing test drives of cars that made my short list based on acceptable mileage (they had to get at least 30mpg), good looks (obviously a subjective measurement), and reliability. I already posted my feelings on the test drive of the Honda Insight back in January (basically it’s really cool but I don’t want to buy one until the second generation comes out – maybe this will be Susan’s next car). During June and July, I test drove the remaining cars on my list, including the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Volkswagon Jetta, and the new Acura RSX. So anyway, here are the reviews:

The newest Mitsubishi Eclipse is a big improvement over prior versions but still not good enough for serious consideration. Like previous versions of the Eclipse, it’s a bit cramped inside. The radio had an overly complex system of soft-keys and up/down buttons rather than straighforward knobs, making it much too time consuming to use. It does look nice but doesn’t seem to rate as well for reliability as the other cars on my list. So, while possibly a fun car to drive, it’s off the list.

The Volkswagon Jetta was next. (I almost bought a Volkswagon GTI back in the early 1980’s but opted for a Honda CRX instead. I’ve never regretted that choice and that first CRX was my favorite of all the cars I’ve owned.) The new Jetta was one of the few cars that meets my gas mileage requirements but only in the 4 cylinder model. After a test drive, it became clear that the 4 cyclinder Jetta was too underpowered. I did a second test drive in the 6 cylinder Jetta and it, on the other hand, had plenty of power but got crummy gas mileage. The power/mileage dilemma was really my only serious complaint with the Jetta but was important enough that I couldn’t make this my first choice. I decided the V6 Jetta would be the runner-up if I couldn’t find anything better.

The 2002 Acura RSX was the last car to test drive. Like the Jetta this was really two test drives – one for the RSX and one for the RSX Type-S. The RSX Type-S was first and it was immediately apparent that this was likely to be the number one choice. The 4 cylinder engine got just over 30 mpg while still putting out 200hp, it looked good, had all the latest safety features like side airbags, and was definitely fun to drive. The regular RSX was almost as nice and got a few more miles per gallon at the cost of a few hp but had one serious flaw. The regular RSX doesn’t handle as well as the Type-S; particularly on curves at higher speeds.

So in the end I decided on the RSX. Problem is, it may be hard to get one. The RSX is both very new and highly anticipated so there’s a waiting list.

Shopping for New Cars

I’m likely to buy a new car this year and have been pondering the possibilities for a while. One option is to replace my aging Acura Integra with the 2002 Acura RS-X which is due out soon. The Integra is the last Acura to have its name taken away and replaced with random numbers or letters. Oh well. I can get used to the new name. It seems to get tolerable gas mileage and doesn’t look to bad. One thing I definitely don’t want is a gas guzzler (ie. anything less than 30mpg). I won’t be able see one in person or do a test drive until April though.

In the meantime, I test drove a Honda Insight recently. The Insight is Honda’s hybrid gas/electric vehicle. It gets 70mpg and the electric motor is powered by 120 Ni-MH D-cells. It had a suprising amount of power – I was expecting a sluggish electric-car feel but when you floor it the gas and electric motors both kick in and it takes off. It does all sorts of cool stuff to conserve power. The braking system recycles power into the batteries rather than just dissipating it all as heat. The gas engines shuts off when it’s not needed and restarts instantly when it is needed. The down side is that it’s a two seater and has very limited visibility. I drove a Honda CRX for years and but would prefer more than two seats these days.

Toyota has a hybrid too. I saw one at the auto pavillion at the 2000 Texas State Fair. It’s too expensive and not very cool looking at all – which is why it’s a Toyota I suppose.

Two Movies and a Blowout

I finally got around to posting a freshmeat update for the latest version of newslog. There are a couple of bug fixes and a few new features. It’s the first update in nearly a year.

Susan and I went to see Miss Congeniality last night. It was okay – definitely a see-once sort of movie but it was good for a few laughs. We saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon last week and I forgot to post a review – it was a good movie and worth seeing but has really, really cheesy fighting sequences. Apparently, anyone who possessed the magic green sword was able to fly (also anyone who previously possessed the sword, or knew someone who possessed it, or fought with someone who knew someone who possessed, etc…) and not just fly but sort of float as if they were full of helium. During at least one fight, people kept floating up in the air like balloons and had to be pulled back to Earth periodically to prevent them from drifting away before the fight was over. In other scenes they would swing back in forth over the house-tops as if hung from wires while pretending to run (even though their feet weren’t touching anything). At other times they flew more-or-less like Superman – arms outstreched and horizontal to the ground. There was never really any explanation – were they using the force? was it magic? One other minor complaint was that they used the fake-floating technique to compensate for lack of actual martial arts skills sometimes. There were several moves that I’ve seen actually done by humans under their own power in Jackie Chan movies that were faked in this movie by swinging people around on wires (such as ascending from ground level to roof top by bouncing between the walls of two adjacent buildings). Oh well, if you overlook the silly fighting it was actually a fairly interesting story and quite enjoyable to watch. Another see-once movie.

More interestingly, I had a blow-out in the right rear tire of my Integra on the way out to the movie theater last night. I put on that tiny little spare tire thing which most cars have in place of a real spare these days and it turned out to be flat (which is not suprising considering it’s been sitting in the trunk for 10 years). We stopped at a gas station and bought enough air to fill up the spare. Today we got some new tires. I’m planning on a buying a new car sometime this year. The Acura was great while it lasted but after 10 years the maintenance costs are getting high enough that I might as well just buy a new one.

One Year of Weblog Provided by Newslog

Today marks the 1st anniversary of my on-line news postings. I posted the first of these more-or-less daily news updates on May 5, 1999. That’s a lot of old news to read. Since I hacked some syndication code into newslog in early March, these news entries have been echoed to Advogato as well. I expected most of the embedded links in my old entries would have gone bad by now but a suprising number of them still work. Now, let’s see if I can keep it up for another year.

I had an interesting experience Wednesday. I got picked to be in a focus group doing some marketing research for Verio. If you’ve been following my exciting news regularly, you may remember that we’ve had T1 downtime problems, DNS support problems, dupicate billing problems, and even dial-up problems with Verio in the past. When I got called to take part in a Verio focus group, I figured it would be a great chance to tell them what I thought of them. Turned out that of 10 people in the focus group, all but one had come with a similar history of catastrophically bad service and a similar desire to tell everyone what they thought. Almost everyone there had been a customer of prior to the Verio buyout and without exception we all rated Onramp as one the best ISPs we’d every used and Verio as the worst. I don’t know if they found out anything useful from us be we enjoyed getting paid to sit around sharing Verio horror stories for couple of hours.

And I’m sure everyone would like to hear about my latest car repairs. ;-) As I pulled out of the driveway yesterday morning, my muffler broke loose on one side and started dragging behind the car making horrible scraping sounds. It had apparently become so rusted that the mounting hardware broke. This is the Midas lifetime warranty muffler that I got to the replace the rusted-out Acura muffler I bought sometime back to replace the rusted-out free replacement muffler installed by the Acura dealer to replace the rusted-out factory muffler. Well, I figured with my lifetime warranty and Midas just down the street, it would be no big deal. So, I drove a couple of blocks with the completely unmuffled engine sounding like an Indy race car (combined with the lovely sound of metal scraping on asphault). When I got to Midas, I learned that while the muffler itself has a lifetime warranty, I have to pay for labor, mounting hardware, a large assortment of exhaust pipes, and a variety of other stuff totaling about $200. And to make things worse, I had to wait in a room filled with nothing but Sports Illustrated magazines and a TV showing an old episode of Knight Rider. Fun.