jason thurber's blog

globally-scoped ramblings

Almost done staging…

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After a frantic monday spent cleaning, touch-up painting, boxing up over half the kitchen, more cleaning, washing the windows (inside and out) and random boxing of clothes we’re just about ready for our open house weekend. We signed all the paperwork to list the house this Sunday (Easter), the realtor’s tour comes thru on Thursday, and hopefully the rain holds off this weekend! If you know anyone looking for a house in the South Bay please let me know (send email to jthurber at this domain name).

I took some pics of the house:

External View

Master Bedroom


Written by jthurber

April 18th, 2006 at 10:49 am

Posted in General

My Humor Litmus Test

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You’re probably familiar with the concept of a litmus test as it relates to politics.
Well, I have found my very own humor litmus test. It’s self explanatory, really. If you don’t think the following is one of the funniest things you’ve ever read, then we don’t have a compatible sense of humor (and you couldn’t serve on my Supreme Court):
My Humor Litmus Test

Written by jthurber

March 28th, 2006 at 2:32 pm

Posted in General

Upgraded site and time to start posting again…

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Updated my blog to take advantage of some security patches in the latest WordPress, and realized I haven’t posted in many months. I’ll need to start doing that again. Since my last post:

  • Built my big three section desk.
  • Sanded, stained and waxed section 1 of my big three section desk – this is called section alpha in the plans.
  • Realized I don’t have a spare 4 days to finish the remaining two sections before we move, so they’re going to live in the garage until they live in storage until they (and we) find a new place to live.

We’re in the process of staging our home to sell. For the unitiated; staging is the process by which you figure out that you have approximately 200 percent too much stuff. Having removed the 200 percent overage you come to the conclusion that the remainder doesn’t look right by itself, so you buy some new stuff, which means that after moving you have 250 percent too much stuff.

Written by jthurber

March 27th, 2006 at 10:27 pm

Posted in General

Back from Australia…

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We got back from Australia on Sunday the 1st at 9:30am. While the flight out was totally painless, the flight back was… umm… less painless. I had real trouble sleeping, so had probably gotten four hours of (poor) sleep when we landed at SFO. I carefully stayed up all Sunday, but then couldn’t go to sleep until 3am that night. My schedule’s still not right (as indicated by my posting this at nearly 3am).

High points from the trip:

  • Attending the second day of the “Boxing Day Test” between Australia and South Africa (this is a major Cricket game, 40,000 attendees). The crowd was extremely entertaining, and aside from spending all day in the sun and drinking a lot of good beer, it was a great day (actually, the beer didn’t make it a less great day until that evening).
  • Waratah Park Earth Sanctuary outside Sydney. My wife was able to pet a Koala, and we walked amongst (and petted) kangaroos, emus, wallabys and lots of other native animals. It’s a great alternative to the Zoo (however, both Sydney and Melbourne have excellent zoos).
  • Spending Christmas on a Sheep (Merino) and Cattle farm with our friend’s family. We got a superb tour of the farm, and had several great meals.

The wedding went well, although it was very hot. All in all: It was a great trip, I’m glad to be home, and I wish I could sleep…

Written by jthurber

January 4th, 2006 at 2:54 am

Posted in General

Just landed in Sydney

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We’re in Australia for Christmas, New Years and a friend’s Wedding. I’m sitting in the International Terminal after a painless flight (yea!) and a paying for wireless access (boo!). We left in the evening on Wednesday, slept for 10 hours during a 13+ hour flight and landed in the morning on Friday (not sure where that day went, but I understand they give it back on the return flight). This is my first time in Australia, and I’m looking forward to it…

Written by jthurber

December 15th, 2005 at 1:49 pm

Posted in General

My ongoing saga with Cingular…

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My Sprint Treo 650 dropped 5-calls on the way home from work. Then I needed to call 911 in South Lake Tahoe, and couldn’t get a signal (that’s a story for another time). Seeing as this all happened in the same weekend, I decided it was time for a change. My wife and I both decided to switch to Cingular, got Motorola Razr’s, a pretty reasonable shared minutes plan and thankfully didn’t transfer our numbers from our Sprint phones to Cingular. Things were ok until the first bill arrived (I suspected that if they could get the first bill right, everything else would work out fine). Our first bill… for less than 30 days of service… was $225.71.

I skimmed thru the bill, didn’t see anything obviously wrong (aside from the total) and called Cingular to ask “WTF?”. After several minutes of confusing “explanation” we determined that the problem was a) activation charges b) internet minutes when I was using my phone as a wireless modem weren’t considered part of my “unlimited data” plan ($19.99 with Cingular, $10 with Sprint… at least on my plan) c) we’d spanned a billing cycle, and were paying a month in advance. I asked if the wireless point were correct (I had called and sortof asked about this before and was told “unlimited means unlimited”), was now told “yes, using the phone as a modem isn’t part of your data plan”. At this point point I told the customer service rep to cancel my plan, I returned the phones to Fry’s (past 15 days, but within 30 days) and sat back to wait for the “adjusted final bill” which I’d been told to expect.

No “adjusted final bill” arrived, but another bill re-stating the $225.71 did, so I sent off a check and resigned myself to the fact that experimenting with technology can be expensive, and consoled myself with the fact that my Treo hadn’t dropped a call since I’d started using it again.

Then I got the bill for $530.79! Well, the good news was that they hadn’t applied the payment I’d sent, but the bad news was the unexpected $300! I called Cingular, got a “customer service agent” who was snippy with me, and said that I’d cancelled outside of my 30-day window and owed an early termination penalty. She asked me what date I’d cancelled on, at which point I realized she was being lazy as well as snippy, so I got (quietly, but obviously) pissed off, asked her if she really wanted me waste my time finding the dates in my records, or if she just wanted to look in the system to see when I’d cancelled. At this point she got much nicer, realized that Cingular had made a mistake, and submitted a request for a $300 refund. Hmm… ok, I was a bit worried at this point, but assumed that the worst was behind me.

Today I got a bill for $5.08. That’s right, five dollars and eight cents. The sheer smallness of it pushed me right over the edge! I called 800-330-0500 and spoke to Glenn Flood. He was (perhaps reasonably, I was really pissed) unwilling to refund the “late fee”, so I asked to be transferred to a supervisor. I then spoke with Cheron Smith, I tried to calm down a bit, but he was also unwilling to refund the “late fee”. He did notice that the original $225.71 should have been pro-rated for the days we didn’t use in our second month (which came out to about a $86.25 refund), but managed to do this while providing truly horrific customer service (talking over me and being unreasonable about the “I was told to wait for a final revised bill” aspect of my original call).

It’s difficult to characterize exactly what was so horrible about this whole call. I think it ultimately came down to the fact that I have had to initiate communication with Cingular on two occasions to resolve their book-keeping f’ups, they’re still sitting on $78.47 of my money, and they had the nerve to send me a bill for a $5.08 late fee. Then, when I called to ask what the hell was up with the late fee, they were entirely unwilling to entertain the idea of giving me what I’d asked for, but assured me that the adjustment would have happened without my calling, and since he’d said “I can’t refund the late charge”, was unwilling to listen to any arguments to the contrary. Basically, he couldn’t do what I was asking for, because I was asking for it.

So, now I sit, powerless, waiting for Cingular to send me their next communique. Will it be a refund, a random charge, a letter from a collections agency (I got a bit pissy with Cheron when he mentioned this being sent to a collections agency, he then indicated that “I wasn’t saying it would, I was just telling you what the possible scenarios were”). How much more time will I get to spend on the phone with these so-called “customer service” agents.

What can you do:
– If you can use a service other than Cingular in your area, and are somewhat dissatisfied yourself, please take the time to change (and let them know why when you call… they don’t care, but it’ll make up both feel better πŸ™‚ ).
– Hmm, that’s it actually…

What will I do:
– Call back next week and ask about a refund of my $5.08. If that doesn’t work I’ll just walk away from it, but I’d be surprised if it doesn’t.
– Encourage my family to change from Cingular to anything.
– Possibly write a letter to their Customer Service Dept, but I suspect that’s a waste of time. I’m no longer a customer, and I think the time I spent here will be more productive.

Written by jthurber

November 22nd, 2005 at 4:31 pm

Posted in major-rantings

Annual Birthday Post

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It’s that time of year again. The “second season” (more rain, less sun) is coming to the Bay Area, and I’m another year older. It’s really early for me, but I couldn’t sleep this morning. Maybe this is the start of that age-based insomnia… πŸ™‚

Written by jthurber

November 14th, 2005 at 5:26 am

Posted in General

Building a desk – PT I

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Well, after a false start last weekend, I’ve finally built the first section of my “ultimate desk”. I was planning to cut the wood myself, but ended up paying a bit more to have the hardware store cut it (that ended up being a VERY wise decision, it probably saved me 3+ hours and I can still count to 10 using just my fingers). Ultimately this will be a standing-height, 3-section, L-shaped desk that I hope will cost well under $500 when all is said and done. I’m hoping to improve my limited wood-working skills as I go… so the third section should be much better than the first πŸ™‚ I just need to put some edges on it, stain it and build the last two sections! (BTW – Those square sections in the front will ultimately be triangles, I just ran out of time and was eager to test drive it.)

Picture of the desk.

Written by jthurber

November 13th, 2005 at 8:32 pm

Posted in General

Thanksgiving: The Movie

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Jay Pinkerton’s: Thanksgiving – The Movie

Man, I haven’t laughed this hard since… well… probably an earlier post from Jay.

Written by jthurber

November 2nd, 2005 at 5:29 pm

Posted in humor

Feedlounge: Radio Silence has been broken!

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Alex and Scott have announced the alpha release of Feedlounge! Feedlounge is a “web-based RSS/Atom feed reader”… (at this point you may be thinking)… umm… cool!? Actually, it’s really cool:

  • If you’re an RSS-addict, you’re also probably someone that moves between computers on a regular basis. A web-based reader means that your feeds are always in sync, with any new subscriptions, read and un-read items in the state you left them, no matter which of your n computers you’re sitting in front of.
  • Feedlounge is the only app I’ve used that gives nothing away to a rich-client app. Your keyboard works exactly the way you expect. It actually leads to a bit of cognitive dissonance (in a good way πŸ˜‰ )when you press the arrow key in a web-app and it actually does the right thing. This is trademark Alex, the guy builds good web-app!

It’s been difficult not to talk about this since, well, since it’s conception almost a year ago. I’ve really enjoyed working with Alex, Scott and the rest of the Feedlounge development crew and I’m continually amazed by the Feedlounge app… it’s awesome.

Head over to the site and check it out!

Written by jthurber

June 9th, 2005 at 10:52 am

Even worse than I thought…

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Here I thought the only problems with my blog were a) some of my opinions b) comment spammers and c) a complete failure to update for the last few months. Now Bill sends me a screenshot showing that I’ve been blocked by some of the Censorware software (Thanks, Bill):

Photo of Sonicwall software indicating why I was blocked (Violence/Hate/Racism)

Who knew?! πŸ™‚

BTW – Another site had a similar problem here, and in their comments someone posted a link to this site where you can view current ratings, and request rating changes from Sonicwall. Mine is slated to be changed to “Web Communication”, unless this post makes them mad… πŸ˜‰

Written by jthurber

April 21st, 2005 at 7:10 am

Posted in General

Treo 650 – Everything you could want from a cell phone… almost

with 11 comments

Following several separate occasions on which I spent hours at a time unable to make calls from my Treo 600, I decided to upgrade to a Treo 650.

This was an unusual consumer experience, as I kept going from store to store trying to get a deal. I’d go to Fry’s to look at Sprint phones (got ’til October on the contract ya’ know), then I’d go to the Sprint store, then I’d come home to do research online. Every time I’d get home my wife would ask, “Did you buy a phone yet?”, and I’d say, “No, they either suck or are too expensive.” She was actually getting a bit pissed that I wouldn’t pull the trigger and buy something (anyone who knows my regular buying habits realizes this is a bit out of character for me). Finally I got sick of trying to save $100 or $50 or $150, went to the Sprint store and just bought the phone.

First impressions:
– The screen is awesome!
– Buttons are just different enough to confuse my Treo 600 muscle-memory (on which I could touch-type)
– Quick Launch/Phone screen is a major improvement
– Why did they have to change the connector?! Now I have to buy another retractable USB charging cable.

After using the phone for awhile:
– The NVFS file system isn’t a big deal
– Bluetooth is really awesome in unexpected ways, and lame in the way I thought it would be cool
– Amazing: bluetooth sync, dun and salling clicker!
– Lame: headsets are static’y
– Battery life is really excellent
– The screen is truly amazing

“Must have” list for the Treo 650:
Free 128mb SD Card from PalmOne to make up for the NVFS issues (NOTE: I waited long enough to post this that I’ve already received this card πŸ˜‰ ).
Salling Clicker – Perhaps the coolest thing you can do with tha’ ‘toof
iSync Palm Conduit
The Missing Sync – Allows hotsync via bluetooth and some other cool things
– How to get Bluetooth DUN working: http://vocaro.com/trevor/treo-dun/

My moment of Zen:
Riding in the car on the way to Sacramento, VPN’d into work on my Powerbook over bluetooth, Remote-Desktop’in to my work machine. It was totally usable! As I IM’d to Scott, ‘I’m living in the future!’.

Written by jthurber

January 20th, 2005 at 11:14 pm

Quick “Still Alive” Post

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– It would be safe to say that I’m not pleased with the results of the Presidential Election.
– I found the “alternative/explicit” versions of the wedding songs from the “Old School” sountrack at CafePress. It’s a travesty that these aren’t available from Amazon πŸ˜‰ BTW – My “Look at the Monkey” mugs are on sale for some reason, so I ordered one.

Ya’ know, that’s about it…

Oh yeah, it’s my birthday this Sunday. I’ll be officially too old to become a SEAL, which is sortof a bummer (see Stephenson’s thoughts on same here). I am planning to go ‘boarding in Tahoe tho’, which is good.

On the “posting follow-up” front: I’ve got mixed feelings about whcc.com (the online printers) which need to be documented and still need to write a follow up to the “buying a car” post, but I can’t get excited about that right now.

Written by jthurber

November 10th, 2004 at 5:54 pm

Posted in General,pointless

The Economics of Iraq

with 19 comments

A very interesting article, well worth reading the whole thing: n o l o g o . o r g

At the end of our meeting, I asked Mahmud what would happen if the plant was sold despite the workers” objections. “There are two choices,” he said, looking me in the eye and smiling kindly. “Either we will set the factory on fire and let the flames devour it to the ground, or we will blow ourselves up inside of it. But it will not be privatized.”

Found this on William Gibson’s blog.

Written by jthurber

October 26th, 2004 at 8:43 am

Posted in found-on-web

Hunting for the perfect online printers

with 17 comments

I’ve recently been asked to make a lot of 4×6 prints for family members. This is nice, and I know why everyone likes 4x6s, but they’re HUGELY time consuming on my Epson R300 (and have low ROI from my perspective, ’cause I really like 8x10s). I’ve tried Ofoto.com, and they’re nice and cheap, but their prints are sortof crappy. They’re dark and muddy and … well … cheap looking. They look like bad drugstore film prints.

Pictopia.com makes great prints (and I’ve sung their praises before), but they’re a bit pricey for 8x10s and don’t even offer smaller prints. Great for “fine art” prints, but not what I’m looking for in this case.

So, I spent a few quality hours with Google this weekend looking for the following things:

  • Great prints – This is obviously the most important one, because if I want crappy digital prints I can go to Costco or Walmart. Ideally I want better prints than I can make.
  • Cheap – Now, from my perspective, cheap is less than $1 per print, but I understand that for most people, cheap would be less than $0.40 per print, so that’s what I’m looking for.
  • Reasonable uploads – From worst to best: One file at a time via http, applet-based file browser, thick-client or plugin, FTP access.
  • Simple bulk ordering – It’s very likely that I will get into some sort of event photography in the near future. I would like the ability to generate a proof-book, order tons of duplicates, albums, etc. without too much of a headache.
  • The resultant list was:

  • Mpix.com – Cheap, supposed to be good, miserable upload process, basically like a high-quality ofoto.com. I ordered some test-prints from these guys. One big negative, they charge $5 for USPS ground shipping regardless of the number of prints you order… very odd.
  • Pictage.com – Very oriented towards event/wedding photos, expensive, supposed to be great quality, good uploads (I think), expensive… and finally… expensive. I did not order prints from these guys.
  • WHCC.com – The current winner (from a feature perspective). FTP image uploads, “thrifty or quality” file handling (not different printing, just allows you to do as much or as little processing as you want prior to uploading the files), very (unbelievably) cheap, a reputation for quality prints, and a great “signup process”… really an excellent setup. I hope the prints are awesome, maybe then I can sell my printer πŸ˜‰
  • I’ll follow up on all of this when I get the test prints.

    Written by jthurber

    October 25th, 2004 at 3:30 pm

    HowTo: Secure XML/WS Servers

    with 23 comments

    Rory Blyth – Neopoleon.com

    The best security in the universe is to not have an application to break into in the first place.

    Written by jthurber

    October 23rd, 2004 at 6:51 am

    Back to LaunchBar

    with 20 comments

    Well, I noticed that Quicksilver was consuming 400’ish MB of Virtual Memory (and 200’ish MB of Real Memory) and was starting to get sloooow. So, goodbye Quicksilver, hello again LaunchBar 4 Beta 9.

    Thing I really liked about Quicksilver:

  • Free
  • Some cool plugins (like the iTunes plugin)
  • Automatically knows how to run dockless and start at login (which is the right way for a program like this to run)
  • Things I didn’t like so much:

  • Very little content indexed by default
  • Seemed to slow waaaay down when more content was added
  • Default interface consumed a LOT of space when activated (unlike the “mini interface” which looked just like Launchbar)
  • Doesn’t use cmd+space as the default activation key… only a negative if you’re used to Launchbar
  • BTW – If you’re running OSX and not running one of these programs (or one of the other flavors of the same) you’re really missing out!

    Written by jthurber

    October 20th, 2004 at 3:40 pm

    Posted in apple,computers

    Ad Blocking CSS – I almost feel bad…

    without comments

    Slashdot’s mid-article ads drove me to Google, and 15seconds later… No more ads. You can do the same if you’re using a “Real Browser”: Ad Blocking for Mozilla, Netscape 7, and Safari

    Alex, if you want to mod it so it doesn’t block your Google Ads, I’ll post/use that instead πŸ™‚ I gave it a shot, but there’s some “magic beans” goin’ on there.

    Written by jthurber

    October 20th, 2004 at 12:46 pm

    Posted in General

    Migrating from Windows Outlook to OSX Mail.app

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    I’ve encouraged a friend of mine to move to Mac. He bought a Powerbook 15in, iBook 14in, two iPods, Airport, Airport Express…. the works really. He’d been running Outlook as his email client on Windows against a pop3 server, and had all of his email stored on his local machine.

    After a bit of rudimentary research I learned the following process:

  • Install Eudora
  • Import from Outlook using Eudora
  • Move the Eudora mbox files to the Mac
  • Import using Mail.app (which can “habla” mbox)
  • Well, that didn’t work (but did consume many hours with import/export fun). It “almost” worked, but the html email looked like crap, and attachments were mangled.

    So, I googled some more and constructed a Byzantine process involving Windows Outlook and Outlook Express, dbxConv and Mail.app. All I can say is, “it worked for me”:

  • On your Windows machine import your email to Outlook Express
  • Find the .dbx files that Outlook Express creates (I can’t remember where it put these)
  • Drop this program dbxConv into the same folder as your .dbx files and run it using *.dbx as the second parameter.
  • Connect to your Windows machine using the Mac (cmd+k from the Finder) and drop your .mbx files somewhere temporary
  • Import the .mbx files into Mail.app using the “Import Mailboxes” command
  • Curse because the process is so complicated, then drink something to celebrate
  • Written by jthurber

    October 18th, 2004 at 1:31 pm

    Posted in programming

    Buying a Car – A Saturday Adventure pt 1 – backstory

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    So, I guess it’s time to come clean: I’m an ex-Car Salesman. Well, not just an “ex-Car Salesman”, I was also a “ex-Used Car Salesman”.

    I sold Ford/Lincoln/Mercury (well, I actually never sold any Lincolns) in LA over the summer of my freshman year of College. It was an awesome experience, primarily from a “learning about people” perspective. You meet a broad “cross-section of humanity” in the Car business, both the salespeople and the customers. Good experience for an 18-yr old as you (hopefully) learn to distinguish between good advice and terrible advice (from the salespeople) and how to interact with many different types of people, “figure them out” at some terribly superficial level (useful, true, but terribly superficial) and ultimately sell them a fine automobile (well, actually a Ford, but that’s all we had πŸ˜‰ ). This experience also had the side-effect of making me an odd car buyer. I’m an extremely lazy bargainer and have a bit too much empathy for the guy on the other side of the table, so I tend to play both sides of the process. As I said, “odd”.

    Friends have asked for advice about “how do I get the best deal on this car”, and similar. Basically, here’s what I’ve learned:

    There’s no “best deal”. The deal that has you driving home in the car you want with a price you’re happy with (and isn’t an obvious rip-off, like paying more than MSRP for a normal car) is the “best deal”. If you get home and find out that your neighbor paid $100 less than you for the same car you need to think “who cares!”…. it’s a multi-10’s of thousand dollar vehicle. $100 (or even several hundred dollars) is nothing in the scheme of things! I contrast this attitude to the buyer who always thinks they’ve been cheated and makes themselves sick over not extracting every last penny of margin out of the salesman and managers. I’ve known people come back to the dealership two or three times to discuss a new “counter-offer” that the dealer has put on the table. These are people who seriously under-value their own time and mental health, in my opinion.

    Are you shopping or buying? There are good salespeople and bad salespeople. Here’s how you can easily distinguish the two categories: When you tell a good salesperson “I’m just shopping today, I’m planning to buy a car in x-timeframe, but am not going to buy anything until then.” they will respect that. They might try a very subtle sales opener during the process asking either why you have this timeframe or letting you know that they’ve got “some good rebates on this vehicle this weekend”, but these should be a natural part of the discovery process for the salesperson, not obvious and strong-handed. A bad salesperson, when you tell them you’re “shopping”, will ask “is there anything we can do to have you drive this car home today?” (generally in exactly these words). My approach is generally to tell them, “that’s an unacceptably stupid thing to ask me, I won’t buy a car from you or this dealership, but thanks for using that sad clichΓ© on me and treating me like an idiot” and then I’ll walk off the lot. Damn, that particular phrase pisses me off! If I’m really pissed I may ask to talk to his manager (it’s invariably a guy that will use this approach) and tell the manager why I’m leaving and recommend that they ban that particular phrase on their lot.

    Now, it’s also important to tell the salesperson when you’re ready to buy. Once you’re done shopping (see the next topic for more on this) it’s time to buy, so it’s perfectly acceptable (and advisable) to tell a good salesperson (you already know them from the phone or previous shopping trips), “I’m here to drive this car and make sure it’s as I remember it, then if we can come up with a deal that works I’m planning to buy it today.” It’s the absolute easiest approach to use because you’ve made your intentions clear up front, let them know the conditions (if you need a particular color, features, whatever you would tell them that at the same time) and they know what to expect. If they don’t mess you around you’re going to drive a car home today.

    Know what you want. When you walk on the lot you should either be in “shopping” mode or “buying” mode. People generally hate car buying because a) salespeople are sometimes jerks b) the process takes FOREVER c) they allow themselves to be led thru the process without realizing when they’ve moved from “shopping” to “buying” and they think they’re being manipulated (they are and they aren’t… it’s the natural progression of the process, but most people are happier when they intentionally make the transition). The easiest way to avoid a) is addressed in the above topic, the easiest way to avoid c) is to make at least two trips to the dealer (or one trip, but know that you’re shopping and buying in one go). I’ve got to admit at this point that I don’t have a solution for b). The buying process takes between 2 and 3 hours generally and there’s very little you can do to shorten that… well the next topic helps a bit, but not enough. In any case, back to knowing what you want.

    Talk to people at work who own the sort of car you’re interested in. Are they happy with it? Ask for details about maintenance problems, etc. Most people exist in a sort of foggy happiness or anger with their car that has little to do with its actual reliability or performance (take VW owners who like their cars and consider them reliable as an example of this phenomenon πŸ™‚ ). If it’s a new car, and they’ve needed major service, that should be a HUGE red flag. You can also find out about good local service departments, because a good service department can make a mediocre car great while a mediocre service department can make a great car terrible. Read about the specs/reviews online, talk to your buddy who is a car nut (but take everything he/she says with a grain of salt, ’cause they’re generally hugely opinionated and only sometimes are those opinions based in reality… I’m a good example of this). If anyone can recommend a local salesperson you should consider using them, but only if you want that brand of car. Basically, like any other time you’d spend between 15 and 50 thousand dollars on something you should invest a couple of hours doing your homework! You should never be totally surprised by the pricing or specs of a vehicle you’ve researched when you’re on the lot. If you are you may need to go spend some more quality time online.

    Finally, you should be able to arrive at a list of two or three cars that interest you. They may be cars in a similar class (e.g. Corolla, Civic, Mazda3) or models across a single brand (e.g. Corolla, MR2, Tacoma, 4Runner) or (as has happened to me) cars that have nothing in common (e.g. Accord, Tacoma, Corvette)… but I may be unique in my more “general” appreciation of vehicles. Salespeople get really spooked by that last list by the way, as there’s no way to talk about brand strengths πŸ™‚ Now you take your list and go test drive. Tell the salesperson what cars you’re looking at, don’t be surprised if they speak badly of the other brands (but it does reflect badly on them unless they’ve obviously speaking from first hand knowledge) and let them know what you think so far. The way you’re approaching this process there’s no reason not to say things like “This is the best car I’ve driven from my list”. Saying something like that if they thought you were an emotional buyer would be a huge no-no, but you’ve got a list and you’re shopping, so you’re a rational buyer, and you’re safe!

    Now you’ve driven your cars, figured out which one you want and it’s time to buy…

    Consider buying it over the phone. First, go to CarsDirect.com. If you haven’t found a salesperson you like, or a dealer that hasn’t pissed you off then consider buying it from them. I bought my Tundra from them, and it was a nice experience. If you’ve found your dealer then use this as “the price”. Make sure it’s not including rebates that you’re not eligible for, and that the zip code you’re using is correct. Add the options on the car you want and you’ve got a very realistic price to bargain towards. Now call your salesperson. Re-introduce yourself, tell them which car you want and ask them to make sure they’ve got it. Do not go into the dealership until they have the car (unless they’re going to trade another dealer for it, in which case make sure they’ve got the trade lined up before you go in). Let them know that if they don’t have the car of the trade set up when you get there that you will not buy any car from them.

    It’s good to have a bit of flexibility in color or options, but if you don’t then make the dealer work for you and get the car you want. Now, you can try something unorthodox at this point and make them “sell you the car over the phone”. Ask them to fill out a credit report, give you the final price on the car, etc. before you come down. Most “Internet Sales Departments” will do this without complaining, but some more traditional dealerships just won’t do it. It’s not a deal-breaker in my book, but you may want to broach the subject with your salesperson during the shopping phase and let them know that you’ll want to do this. Preparing most of the sale over the phone will shorten the amount of time you spend on the lot, but not by as much as you’d think. You may only spend an hour instead of two, but (sadly) you won’t spend 15min…

    Understand the pricing variables. Lots of people hate to “haggle over price” at the dealership. Lots of people have unrealistic (optimistic or pessimistic) expectations about what they should pay. You don’t have unrealistic expectations, because you know what CarsDirect will sell you the car for, and you don’t really need to haggle (for the same reason). There are several variables involved in buying a car (represented generally by a 4-square, that horrible sheet of paper with 4 boxes on it), but they are not really the ones the dealer shows you. Traditionally, they’ll ask you about “what do you want to get for your trade-in” and “what were you looking at in terms of down payment/monthly payment”. All of that is sortof stupid.

    Regarding trade-ins: The dealership will try to pay you at or below “Fair” Kelly Blue Book value for a reasonably desirable car in “Good” to “Excellent” condition. If you have a ’98 Jetta or you’re car is beat up or has a million miles on it, they’ll pay you a couple of hundred dollars. This is the nature of the beast and you will be hard pressed to get much more money out of them. They may “give you more money”, but at least some of it will end up in the amount you’re financing. If you have a car with no/low trade-in value you should consider selling it yourself, or just know that the dealership doesn’t want it. They want to wholesale out most of the cars, so they don’t want to pay more than they can get without breaking a sweat. Just know this and don’t be unrealistic about the value of your trade, it will make your life easier.

    Down payment/Monthly payment: Look, your monthly payment is a function of the amount you put down, the remaining amount you’re financing and the interest rate. That is all! It’s not magic. If you put more money down (and it’s not going to pay off a trade that you owe money on), it will reduce your monthly payment. If they reduce the price of the car, it will reduce your payment. You can do the math in your head to figure out a rough payment by knowing that borrowing $1000 for 60mos costs about $25/month. This is a hugely rough number, but if you’re trying to get your payment to a certain spot it’s better to know how far the down payment and cost of the vehicle need to move. Some people are payment buyers and some people are total vehicle cost buyers. You can be both. You’ve got your CarsDirect price. You’re going to wait until the dealer tells you want they’ll sell you the vehicle for (generally after they walk back to their manager the first time), then you’re going to tell them what you’re going to pay for the vehicle. They may balk at this. You don’t care. They may ask you to consider that they need to make money to stay in business. This is not entirely true (as most dealerships make the bulk of their money in Service and Used Car sales) but you can ignore it and just state that “you’re not asking them to not make money”, but that you can buy the car at this price from CarsDirect tomorrow, but you’d rather buy it from them today. At this point things should get quite a bit smoother. If they don’t you should (quite literally), ask for them to make this easier or you’re going to leave. If they don’t, then you should leave and buy the car online. Assuming they’re not stupid and decide to sell you the car you’ve now got a vehicle price, now your payment is a purely a function of trade-in value, down payment and interest rate/loan term. You move the down payment and term to get a monthly payment. You should probably know what rate your bank can give you, and make sure the dealer can beat that (they generally can… car companies love to loan people money on the cheap πŸ™‚ ). You should keep in mind that if you have super-crappy and/or a new credit history you may just need to put more down for the bank to finance you, this is generally not the dealerships fault.

    Keep your cool in finance. I hate going to the finance department. The Finance Manager makes his money by selling you extended warranties, paint sealant, service programs, lojack, etc. I don’t ever buy any of that, but some of it can be a good deal. Just use your head and say no to things you aren’t sure you want. This guy is generally a great high-pressure salesman! If you just keep saying no and don’t get drawn into discussions of “why” you’re not buying something you should emerge unscathed. It’s not even worth complaining about this to management, the Finance Manager is just a necessary evil at most dealers. Having said that, I’ve met three Finance Managers that were really great guys, maybe you’ll get one of them πŸ˜‰

    One thing to remember while in Finance is RTFD (Read the Documents). That really long sheet of paper tells you exactly what you’re paying. These numbers should be exactly what you agreed on. If they’re not it’s possibly a mistake, but they should immediately correct the problem. Just make sure everything is as you agreed upon outside and take your time reading the docs. They’re very readable and generally written in plain english.

    Ok, this has run on long enough. For the one person still reading, hopefully you’ve gleaned something useful from this. It’s my current approach to car buying. I may make this a guide of some sort in the future.

    Coming soon, helping my buddy buy a car. The reason I started this post in the first place…

    Written by jthurber

    October 18th, 2004 at 9:52 am

    Posted in General