Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dell Studio XPS 1340 Review ... and other hot stuff

Non-Car Affairs of the Car Czar ...
Grumpy notes on the week I changed all my tech

[Because self-appointed government cabinet employees have unlimited access to vast undocumented stimulus funds and get to spend 'em whenever we like on whatever we like, I bought a new computer, software, and printer this week. Next week I'm repainting the nose on my Gulfstream to look like one of those cool airliners that just hit Santa]

Dell's Studio XPS 1340: The Hottest Notebook on the Market

The Dell Studio XPS 1340 is a leather-bound aluminum-and-glass work of art that Dell surely designed back before we all had no money.

It's an over-the-top dream machine* with a magnesium substructure that houses an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, four gigs of fast DDR3 memory, a NVIDIA hybrid graphics subprocessor, and a 7,200 rpm 320-gig hard drive that rarely needs to spin thanks to all that early-Cray-Supercomputer-crushing throughput and headroom ... even when running a pig like 64-bit Vista.

Hook it all up to a super-bright LED-backlit screen and on-demand backlit keyboard; extend the use of aluminum to a pair of well-engineered two-inch screen hinges, and now you're packing all that heat in a tight, tough, elegant little package that would look right at home in the British Airways club lounge at Heathrow.

A really good fan would come in handy about now.

To help out with the heating issue, Dell engineers made certain that the beautiful hide-bound screen of the Studio XPS blocks exactly 25-percent of the primary heat exhaust grid when you raise the lid to use the computer.

You can't help but assume here that some right-brain Dell marketing geniuses won-out over some actual Dell engineering group that was just deemed angry. (The marketing geniuses will be long gone, probably off hyping teeth-whitening strips, by the time these machines start melting and Dell is faced with yet another class action suit that tanks their stock yet another 5o percent).

Your Unhumble Car Czar has made his contribution to the world population with two kids who have turned out great despite his best efforts. Those Y-chromosomed citizens who have not shot-for-record may want to keep the 1340 the hey off their collective laps and enjoy this remarkable machine as a really portable desktop.

Here's a hot tip on dealing with the heat from this hot book: run it in the high performance power management mode all the time. The fan runs the way it's supposed to, and the book runs cool. On battery you'll enjoy getting all your work done an hour earlier.

All true art is flawed, right?

Other Studio XPS Notes, all Beginning with "The"

The LED screen on the Studio XPS is outstanding --bright enough in full-throttle battery-eating mode to actually use in sunlight. Now strictly-posing on outdoor cafe patios is at your own discretion.

The battery life is not stellar, at three hours plus even in power-saving mode. Early 1340 builds experienced seize-ups when switching the NVIDIA graphics subprocessor off in power-saving mode, so later models like yours truly's have shipped with a bios that disables the power-saving hybrid features of the graphics chip. (You can download a bios version that restores the hybrid graphics feature if you want to get what you paid for and if you like a computer that seizes up).

The HD sound Dell advertises for this machine sounds just like being in a room with a symphony when you're not really in a room with a symphony, but listening through a string-tethered soup can from a block away. It's bad. Awful, even for a notebook. It sounds just great through external powered speakers, though.

The Studio XPS 1340 in power-saving mode is the quietest notebook you'll never hear this side of an SSD netbook, since the hard drive barely has to spin with all that memory, and since the fan isn't doing jack to cool the machine.

The Studio XPS is not the quietest notebook you'll ever hear when loading or unloading the CD/DVD slot drive, which sounds just like WALL-E hyperventilating over a grainy clip of Kristy McNichol in her Buddy Lawrence days.

The backlit keyboard rocks.

The glossy surface on the lid and keyboard esconcement is glossy until you touch it, and then it's smudgy for the rest of its life. Since the Glossy/Smudgy Thing has been around in trendy electronics since the days of the Motorola KRZR, you had to know better before you bought this thing, so no gripes.

The price Dell surely set when it realized that all of us have no money ... a mere grand ... is right. No MacBook or Vaio at twice the price is nearly so slick.

*Over-the-top dream machine for Q1, 2009. Moore's Law, Q2, 2009 motherboard meltdowns and all.


More for the Vista Sucks File

You'll need to spec Vista 64 to use the 4 gigs of screaming memory in your state-of-the-art Dell 1340, so kiss your 8- and 16-bit apps, like the word processor you've been happily using since the late 80s, goodbye. Kiss many of the functions in the 32-bit apps you never really liked from the late 90s goodbye while you're at it.

Plan on upgrading to a modern Microsoft Office suite which offers a just-swell version of Word that's been hacked by point-n-grunt Macintosh elves in the night. All the features that made Word just-swell are there, but descriptive menu choices have been turned into icons, period ... so you just go mousing over the less obvious icons to see what they do, and waste lots of time not getting your work done with the cool new look.

Plan on getting a new printer if yours is over a few years old. Chances are good there's a Vista driver that will allow your old printer to print, but good luck finding other previously-supported printer settings, like paper tray source, for instance.

My favorite part of Vista 64 is how every time I check-off the Identity Safe "Don't Ask Me Again" box (about 67 times as of this writing) the exercise means absolutely nothing.

Hey, Google. When is Cloud Computing going to be ready for prime time? (I ask because of this whole Vista fiasco, and because after a few weeks of using your Blogger software and seeing new rogue line breaks every time I save, I'm wondering).

Setting Up Dell's Bluetooth Wireless Headphones: Just Like Getting your 300 Baud Modem to Shake Hands with CompuServe in 1984, Only Harder

Here's the simple procedure to get Dell wireless Bluetooth headphones to work in Vista. (Make sure Media Player is not running when you do this).

1. Pair the headphones with your Bluetooth device (spring for the $20 option on your XPS).
2. Make certain the headphones are turned on and no longer in pairing mode.
3. Click the Bluetooth icon and select "Show Bluetooth Devices."
4. Select the Bluetooth headphone icon.
5. Click the "Audio" tab and select "Bluetooth Stereo Audio."
6. Click "Connect" to connect the headphones and enable Bluetooth audio.
7. Go to Start/Control Panel/Sound and select "Manage Audio Devices."
8. Highlight "Bluetooth Stereo Headphones" and set them to the default audio device.
9. Go to the Volume Control in the system tray.
10. Click "Mixer."
11. Click "Devices" and make certain "Bluetooth Stereo Headphones" is checked.
12. Launch Media Player and click "Play."
13. Sit back and enjoy hassle-free wireless Bluetooth stereo!

Always happy to help, TCC.

Photo Processing Lives! A Short HP C5580 Review

The three photo processing stores left on this planet cheered this week when your Unhumble Car Czar received his new Hewlett Packard C5580 Photosmart printer/scanner/copier and found that besides intelligent, flawless operation, impressive speed, and great scanning output, the file-print quality on HP Premium Plus photo paper is amatuerishly oversharpened regardless the settings used. Turn any C5580-produced photo slightly sideways in the light and you'll see the same shiny ink-haloed detail highlights that state-of-the-art 80s inkjets once produced.

You can almost live with the output when you consider Hewlett Packard kindly installs megabytes of browser-hijacking promotional crap on your computer even after you've opted out of the opt-outable crap during driver installation. Still, if you're not picky about prints, you can't beat this all-in-one machine for the price.



Boss O: America Invented the Automobile?

Was that an Al Gore Invented the Internet moment last Tuesday night? A George W. Bush OBGYNs Practicing their Love with Women moment?

Nope. Just a clever ruse to get Fox News to immediately credit the French and Germans with something.

That's my story.

Bobby Jindal's response to the President's Report to Congress

News Flash: President O. just happens to be young, ethnically-diverse, and Ivy League-educated. But he's way more than that, and these withering GOP attempts to mimic the Big O's charisma/demographic package with Mrs. Uses a Yahoo Account for State Business and Mr. Likes to Read Storybooks to Kindergartners on Prime Time Television are really, really embarrassing. Kind of like Madonna trying to be English ... or couth.

You folks are going to have to find your own Genuine Article from within your ranks for 2012. Every fake you put in front of the cameras before then makes life that much harder for the next Ronald Reagan. (Not that I'm complaining).


I'm not done yet. Next Week: World Premier Citroen GT Road Test

Saturday, February 21, 2009

On Sneering Lexus Kids and Dead Chimps

One perk I have as the nation's Car Czar is access to all kinds of classified intelligence, from CIA satellite data down to Patriot Act-authorized briefings of what you (yes, you) had for breakfast this morning (Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Not enough milk on your first spoonful so you inhaled all that cinnamon powder and had a coughing fit ... just what I wanted to see first thing in the morning).

The neatest files I have access to reside in the NSA's Office of Future Events, a non-descript cubicle staffed by the former personal assistant of Nancy Reagan's former White House astrologer and current close personal friend of new George Mason University Homecoming Queen Reann Ballslee.

I can report lots of good news for the future out of this office: the stock market is coming back (buy lots of ETFC ... it's irrationally in the tank this week) and Lance Armstrong will be the first guy over 60 to win the Tour de France (by doping on FRS Energy Drink. AFLD authorities will continue to miss all those web ads where Mr. Armstrong boldly brags about his habit).

There's nothing but bad news in the future files for several stars of automotive advertising, I'm not sorry to say.

You know the little snot who sneers at all his blizzard-stranded private school chums as his Botox mom drives him away from early dismissal in her better-and-more-capable-than-yours Lexus RX? Most private citizens are stuck viewing the little simp in the present, waiting for the day Smack-O-Vision is invented, but thanks to my invasive government purview I can happily give this great nation more information on mother and son, post-commercial.

Once Trixie makes it out of the school parking lot and on to the state highway, she and her snotty son inexplicably lock eyes in one of those snotty moments snotty people have when they're mutually noticing how much better they are than everyone else. It's a long moment ... the kind of long moment that only the self-absorbed snotty can enjoy without being bothered by the fact they're supposed to be semi-in-control of their own destiny in a speeding Lexus in a blizzard. Trixie never sees the snowplow.

Then there's that ad with the dashing fellow who gets out of his car on the freeway to pick up road debris he has just run over, savoring the fact he doesn't have to stop to change a flat tire thanks to the better-and-more-capable-than-yours run-flat tires on his BMW. He, of course, gets hit by a car during the un-aired, non-delusional part of that commercial, but the good news from the future that private-citizen television commercial watchers can't see is that it's a clean hit, and the BMW can be driven away from the scene. The last thing a new widow should have to worry about is paying for a flatbed tow.

Those kids out blasting up and down hills in a Jeep like it's the lead car on the Millennium Force? Called home by Darwin. Their parents are suing the ad agency.

The soulful, sensitive nature lovers who brought viewing audiences around the world the message that Hummer H2s are not gas-guzzling rolling chrome projections of manhood anxiety but noble high-perched chariots to pristine parts of the planet other vehicles can't reach? Well, after running through the 100 gallons of gasoline they stored in five-gallon jugs in the back of their H2 to get way out there ... hundreds of miles from any fuel source ... they're still out there.

(How the camera crew got out there and back, I'm kind of wondering about. Same deal with that Man vs. Wild guy. Sometimes my office misses important data and fails to follow-up on important information, and as a result my office is investigating itself on these matters).

The best news from the future is about that kid from the 2004 Olympics ad who tours a city by air in a flying Chevrolet Corvette while Jumpin' Jack Flash plays in the background. In 2004 the poor lad was grounded by parent groups who were outraged that the commercial might entice children to take Corvette flights. In the future, this kid gets to fly again, because he is, after all, way up in the air -- not down in traffic causing trouble.

Oh, and in the future you should see the egg on the faces of those parent groups who got the flying Corvette ad banned. Shortly after they learned that Chevrolet Corvettes are not really capable of sustained flight, they were all called away from their posts as the world's safety-in-advertising nannies with word that their real, can-actually-reach-the-pedals-of-a-car teen-aged children had been involved in incidents while pretending their Jeeps were roller coasters.

So please, don't get glum about nationalized banks and non-stop CNN iReports that are really nothing more than glorifed "I need a job" puff pieces. There's some good stuff coming down the pike.

This Week's Dead Chimp Cartoon
Your Unhumble Car Czar would like to notify all citizens who were milling around in front of the New York Post this week, up-in-arms over that publication's recent dead chimp cartoon, that the president doesn't write stimulus bills ... he signs stimulus bills. Please re-read the cartoon, or if this is your first time researching a topic for yourself, please read it for yourself. A little education goes a long way, and a little more education might have netted you folks a place to go for gainful employment (OK ... good luck with that) this week instead of another street-loitering I'm-a-victim sign-toting date with Al Sharpton.

Clowns like Al Sharpton are no different than clowns like Rush Limbaugh: time- and progress-wasting mass-media manipulators of this great nation's unbright. While you folks were marching with Always Affronted Al, the supposed target of this terrible cartoon slight was out there making this country a better place. Please take heed and take action.

I would be remiss in my public service duties without pointing out a bigger issue here: the dead chimp cartoon wasn't funny enough in its innocuous interpretation to deserve all this attention. This distraction has cost our nation dearly at a time it can ill-afford ... anything.

This Just In
President O. signaled this week that he would not appoint a formal Car Czar -- conceivably leaving your rogue, self-appointed web-blogging Unhumble Car Czar in absolute power indefinitely.

Eeeeeeeegsolent ...

I'm not done yet. Next Week: Non-car Affairs ... An Off-lap Review of Dell's Studio XPS 1340

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Six Dos and Don'ts of Car Buying in 2009 (and more)


There's no shortage of new car buying advice out there, so here's some more. Your Unhumble Car Czar's Six Dos and Don'ts of New Car Buying, which by the power vested in me by me supersede all previous, out-of-date new car buying advice:

1. Do ... Dealer Prep
Walking into a car dealership to get advice on which car to buy? Be prepared to be taken for a ride. Instead, spend some time on the internets, decide what you want, read the reviews, pore over the specs until three in the morning, and crunch the numbers over a good, hot, cup of black coffee the next morning. Take some test drives if you don't believe everything you read on the internet.

If you've decided on a Hemi Dodge Ram pickup with chrome wheels, a short, useless bed, and every other Stylin' ... not Workin' showboat option, congratulations: you can probably whack at least 15 grand off the sticker in 2009, the Chinese Year of the WTF? A Pickup Truck with 50-series Tires?

If you've decided on a new 72 mpg Honda Insight, congratulations: you're going to pay sticker plus ADM* Welcome back to the 80s.

Everything between clown trucks and trendy hybrids is still more negotiable than ever today. Use dealer invoice as your guide to fair new car prices, knowing that there's still all sorts of hidden dealer money like "holdback" and a few billion dollars previously ripped off from consumers in "advertising charges," "PremiumSeal Undercoating," and "DiamondCoat Paint Protectant" ... not to mention ADM*

2. Don't ... be one of those weenies who comes into the dealership waving-around "Hey Look! I Found the True Price on the Internet!" papers
You didn't find the true price on the internet. The dealer is always going to know more about the true price of a car than you will. Use web-sourced invoice prices as a guide, and be certain that the dealership will ultimately let you know whether you've made them an offer they can't refuse. Whatever you do, don't take the salesman's word for it. A good offer is one that gets you a car. A bad offer is one that doesn't.

3. Do: forget all the "car-buying expert" advice about refusing to say you have a trade-in until the last minute or refusing to negotiate payments instead of total price
These lame tactics are for people who can't do math and/or can't negotiate. They at best tell the salesfolk that you can't do math and/or can't negotiate.

Figure out what you want for your trade before you talk with a dealer. Figure out what you're offering on the new car, including the cost of financing, if needed ... do the 36-to-72-month conventional loan payment math on it, and discuss the numbers any way the salesman wants to shell-game them. Unless you like sitting around at a car dealership for hours on end playing games, all you care about is the total cost of the deal, period.

4. Don't ... take anyone with you, unless he/she is half of a great tag team
Leave your thinks-out-loud and/or gives-you-quizzical-looks friend or significant other in the paint color swatch aisle at Home Depot. How can you play poker with a third wheel? If you need a co-signer, call when the loan papers are on the desk.

5. Don't ... pick-up shiny things until the deal is done
Some salesmen may put your shiny new key fobs on the desk in front of you along with branded coffee mugs or umbrellas when they sense ye and thee reaching climax. Touch these baubles or so much as look lustfully upon them before the papers are signed and the price of your car goes up three percent. They've got cameras watching you for any sign of submission. Really.

6. Do ... be ready to buy
Car salesmen are trained to get you to "buy today," and they've mastered the pressure tactics to get you to close the deal quickly.

Why shouldn't you enjoy the ride?

You've done your research and have the numbers in your head. Get these guys excited, tell them you want the car, and make your more-than-fair lowball offer. The pressure is on them now. If they don't come close to your offer, thank them for their time and go get yourself a McDonald's Cappuccino ('Cause, remember: Better than *$ and Cheaper than *$. It's 2009 in America: Don't walk around with a *$ in your hand, looking like a tool).

One of two things will now happen: You will get a call from the salesman just as you're trying to order your McCap at the drive-through window (you really shouldn't have given him your cell) with news of a breakthrough reconsideration from his "sales manager" ... or your well-researched, more-than-fair lowball offer was so low that you'll get no call, and the salesman will stand around with other guys who aren't selling cars that day and laugh about it for the rest of the day, since you were the only sales prospect who walked in all day. (It's 2009 in America. Who's laughing now?).

Glad to be of help. --TCC

*ADM = Additional Dealer Markup. At least that's what it stood for back in the 80s, when only Honda and Toyota were making decent cars. When selling a popular car back in 1984 ... let's say, a Honda CRX ... the Honda dealer took the $5,800 sticker price, added $1,500 in dealer-installed PremiumSeal/DiamondCoat products (two $7 spray cans of who-knows-what), then ran out of time and imagination and just tacked-on another $1,200 of Additional Dealer Markup. Presto: the $5,800 car of your dreams really cost $8,500. It's 2009 in America. Don't forget to add ADM (Additional Dealer Markdown) into your new car price negotiations.

This Week's PTB WTF File ...
First, Rudy Guiliani complains that the dearth of bonuses for inept Wall Street managers will ruin New York's high-end restaurants and poodle spas. Now the mayor of Las Vegas demands a retraction from President O. for suggesting that corporate execs of failed banks not fly into Vegas on the taxpayers' dime.

Here's a thought from on-high: You aye-double-ess-holes still don't get it. It's 2009 in America.


This week's Car Czar blog brought to you by Earl's Hauling ... Now in Space!
Let me haul your old refrigerator, building materials, and asbestos. If you have fragged a satellite into thousands of tiny space commerce-threatening pieces, let me help haul it away in my new state-of-the-art super-orbital pickup truck. Now LARPing on Twitter.

I'm not done yet. Next week: Wiping the Smirk off that Kid in the Lexus RX Ads

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Car Dealers: Eat your Porky Options and We'll Buy Cars Again (and more)

A memo that didn't cross my desk this week: America's car dealers have a bunch of unsold cars on their lots.

Well, I am the Car Czar, I'm from the government, and ... well ... you know.

After the damage left by the Dancing Mortgage Girl* I can report that the automotive inventory landscape is indeed grim, but far from hopeless. I've figured out your problem, Detroit, Tokyo, scattered European and Korean cities, et al.

My boots-on-the-ground tour of MSRP Zero has confirmed what we've all known forever: you guys have been ordering cars loaded up with garbage nobody wants.

Sure, nobody has a job now and all of our houses are owned by banks that are now majority-owned by some busboy in Guangdong, but some consumers in this great nation would still be happy to take your parked inventory off your hands.

Problem is, you guys continue to order perfectly competitive 25k cars and put dumb stuff on them like light-sensing day/night rearview mirrors (because it's way too hard to flip that little mirror tab with your index finger) and electric trunk-closing motors (because we can't even lift our index fingers ... you think we're gonna lift our arms over our heads?), and by the time the cars hit your lots, we're talking 30 grand. You take perfectly competitive 30k cars and load 'em up to 40k.

Luckily, most of the alligator-loafered fellows who used to escort customers from car to car pretending that the $5,000 "Luxury Group" was the bee's knees are now delivering pizzas in heavily-depreciated, electrically-shorted off-lease Land Rovers and copping attitudes on suburban doorsteps across this great nation.

Now that your silver-tongued lot lizards have left their helium-ballooned arenas to hump pepperoni pies all over town, here's a Car Czar Reality Tweet: Any car that costs over 30k today should be pretty damned special, and at 40k should be really pretty damned special. By 50k, "PDS" stands for "pretty damned stupid."

If any car on your lot today bases at 25-percent less than the final sticker, it's not special at all, unless, of course, it includes the hot engine. Your days of selling 20k pickup trucks with covered beds and extra seating for 40k-80k are over, BTW ... at least until that TARP money starts flowing and we can all mortgage our house equity again.

This is still a free, capitalistic society, so anyone who wants a 50, 60, sky's-the-limit-grand car today should be able to buy one, but from now on, we're going to let those people put down a deposit and order, sparing the rest of us the trouble of needing to negotiate ourselves out of your porky sticker padding schemes on-location.

An in-dash navigation system for $2,000? Give us a break, folks.

The nice Verizon Navigator lady (who's always telling me to "make the next legal U-turn") lives right inside our little pocket phones. She's always up-to-date, and you can drop her and take up with her again on any kind of monthly basis you want.

Since some of us only need a nav system to find a Mickey Ds before breakfast ends on our way out of suburban Washington D.C. on a Sunday morning (where all of us will find that all of the Mickey Ds in suburban D.C. are in shopping malls that are closed until just after breakfast) what's not to like about an à la carte Nav Lady who hangs out in your pocket and does it all whenever you want for just 10 bucks a month?

In-car DVD and gaming for $3,000?

Our kids are already fat and alienated and babbling about 585 HP Pokey Mans and Princess Yues who like Long Fengs. It's time for this country to save bad parenting for the home, and to make our children look out the damned car window on trips and behold the wonders of our fruited fields of grain.

Lots of times, when you're rolling through Indiana, you can gaze upon front yard upon front yard of twisted steel displays of everything that wouldn't burn.

To those car dealers who are now stuck with bloated Monroneys I offer you government assistance by way of free advice.

All that garbage you ordered for the otherwise competitively-priced cars on your lot?

Eat it.


Forget you ever thought jacking-up the prices of your floor-planned cars with $1,000 paint options was the road to riches, and we'll forget we stopped buying them when the economy rolled over.

Give us those ridiculous over-priced profit-padding option packages for free and we'll roll in style through the post-ARM Apocalypse, blithely explaining that we didn't pay for the heated, massaging driver's seat ... the dealer threw it in along with the little electric motors that close the doors the rest of the way and the windshield that changes shades just like sunglasses (so that we don't -- you know -- have to reach up and flip down those visor thingies when we turn into the sun).

The only options cars should have, period, are leather seating surfaces (an off-Twitter Tweet shout-out to the PETA Cucumber Girl) and rain-sensing windshield wipers (I hate having to notice stuff outside my windshield when I drive. When do we get the pedestrian-sensing bumpers, anyway?).

I'm glad, as always to have been of assistance.

*Somebody Smack that Dancing Mortgage Girl

Hey CNN, Fox News, and everybody else who's still reporting on the world economy being in the dumps because a bunch of ignoramuses got in over their heads with easy mortgage terms:

Have you noticed that even in mid-February, four months into a bank panic induced by silly mortgage schemes, you guys are still running in-our-faces web advertising for silly mortgage schemes?

Please get rid of that manic-depressive, obsessive-compulsive JavaScript dancing girl (you know, the one wearing the hiphuggers, who doesn't even look old enough to afford a legitimate mortgage on a condo ... the one who is very clearly celebrating signing-away she's-not-sure-what for the keys to a house she's going to default on in a year) pronto.

We-the-people who actually read our mortgage papers and bought houses we could afford are quite sick of her.

AOL: Shoot that Old Horse, Already

Speaking of the web, hey ... Time Warner: You've had almost a decade and billions in lost shareholder value to figure out that AOL is not the web, just like all those poor newbies did by 1998 or so.

AOL isn't even an intellectual property. The only original idea these techboom charlatans ever had was putting sign-up platters everywhere, including in-between our bedsheets.

They're still using clipart from the 90s on their site, for goodness sake.

David Letterman Steps Down from Health and Human Services Secretary Consideration?

Well, it sure looked like Letterman.

Super Bowl XXXXIII's Pre-game Moment

A Car Czar thumbs-up to the producers of the 2009 Super Bowl pre-game. The collage of somber miens from Mr. Warner, Ms. Hudson, and Capt. Sullenberger, three souls who have had nothing handed to them lately, was unforgettable.

I'm not done yet. Next week: How to Buy a New Car ... Car-Czar Style