What about this car is Smart, exactly?

I know, I know, it’s been a few days since you heard from me last. I’ve worked for the past six days and I’ve been busy, but we’re back! I kind of liked the review I did of my new Galaxy Tab, so I figured that I would continue along that vein for a while. The other day, while I was out collecting material to blog about, I happened to stop by a car dealership. There’s a story here.

My mother’s Hyundai needed to have a weatherstrip reapplied to it, so one morning, I woke at the crack of dawn to drive it over to Hyundai for her. While I waited, I walked through the local area, and happened by a car dealership (whose name I will withhold, because I have no sponsorship deals, *cough* *cough*). I wanted to sit in a Smart Car. Not drive it, per se, and I’ll explain why later, but just sit in it.

So I made my way into the dealership, walked around a little, metaphorically kicked a few tires, and then found my prey. This…little number…was black, and looked like it was smiling at me. (I can’t be the only one who thinks that the front end of cars look like smiles, can I?) I walked around the car, taking all of two seconds to do so, and sat inside. I should just say now that they’re absolutely adorable. They can even come with moo cow stripes, and faux wood vaneer paneling (if you should ever want that…). This will be the last time I say anything positive about the Smart Car. But look at this one!

We're going off-roading!


The inside of this car was…well, was it the inside? I don’t even know, really. It was so small that I could have been sitting on the outside and have felt equally as comfortable. It was a very luxurious “interior”, I will say that, but I could really only fit myself and perhaps a backpack on the seat next to me. The “trunk” could fit maybe a loaf of bread and four litres of milk, but I’d be deeply afraid of exceeding the car’s weight capacity if I dared but that much into it at once.

The controls were relatively intuitive, all of the levers were in the right place and the display was clear. Surprisingly, the blind spots in that car are quite large; I was shocked by this because, again, there isn’t really much of the car in the first place, so how could there be blind spots? The fuel economy is astounding, though, at roughly 36 miles to the gallon (or roughly 6.5 litres/100 kilometres). Wait, hang on. My mother’s 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe gets nearly that many miles to the gallon (32), and it is a much, much bigger car. Am I missing something here? I know that it’s a hybrid vehicle, but does that mean that you can just give up on fuel economy?

There was a specification sheet posted on the window, so I got out again and looked at that, though it wasn’t really much to call home about. On the upside, should the owner of a Smart Car want to replace their entire engine, it would be relatively cheap, because all they would need is the engine from the newest Singer sewing machine model. (I actually have a whole slough of jokes involving sewing machines, I might whip that out again.)

I toyed with the idea of test driving it, but then caught myself. For those of you who don’t know, Kamloops is built almost entirely on hills. If you want to go anywhere in this town, you have to go up a hill or down a hill, and frequently, many of these hills are also highways! So, some older cars, or cars with less power may have a little trouble here and there. I have no doubt in my mind that this car would be unable to do highway speed at all, let alone up a hill. Furthermore, Kamloops, like most of Canada that isn’t Vancouver, has a vicious winter. There can be several feet of snow, thick ice, blizzards, you name it. Some quick questions: does this car even have a heater, or is that too heavy? Do they make doll-sized snow tires, too? You’d probably want more weight in winter anyway, so what does one do? If you have a Smart Car and drive it in winter, let me know.

So now that I have inspected the “interior”, the power and specifications, I want to know more about what really matters, price. This car dealership wanted to sell me this car for $15,000. Sorry, how much? Is the metal in this car even worth that much? I could get a new Honda Fit or a Hyundai Veloster for that price! The cost of this car must have come exclusively from the doll-sized tires. I imagine that I could likely build a Smart Car myself with only the following parts: a Singer sewing machine for an engine, four wagon wheels for tires, an industrial sewing needle for a transmission, a milk jug for a gas tank, some assorted rubber pipes for the various tubes, and plexiglass for the windshield and windows. There you have a brand new Smart Car for less than $1000.

Maybe I’m being too hard on this poor little car, but really now. If all you’re going to claim is fuel economy, and you’ve almost lost that to a car nearly 6 years older than you, you really ought to work on your innovation. Especially for $15,000.

I promise I’ll post again tomorrow, I need to sleep now. Rant coming soon!



In a Galaxy far, far away…

Copyright goes to Samsung and all respectful owners.

I have been in the market for a new tablet for quite a long time. I’ve looked at Acer models, the Playbook, the iPad, just about every tablet out there, except for the Galaxy Tab. I normally don’t do product reviews on this blog, but I figured that I could mask that by sharing my experiences with my new tablet (spoilers).

For this review, I should say first that I am using the Galaxy Tab 2 7″, which is running Android 4.0, and I have 8 GB of built-in memory. If you would like to read more about this particular breed of Galaxy Tab, please see Samsung.

Now, what will I go over? I want to touch on my first impressions, the usability, and the app experience. This may not sound like a lot, but usability is a very broad category. I’ll even try and throw in some humor along the way.

First Impressions

I woke up this morning, not intending to buy a tablet, and somehow found myself racing off to the electronics store. I don’t really know how this all happened, but I think I managed to justify it against future earnings. I was testing the tablet out before I bought it, and right off the bat, it felt smooth. There’s nothing that can ruin the experience of a tablet more than having to wait for a screen to load or watching the graphics glitch, even if just for a second. I didn’t experience that on the tablet when I was trying it (and I still haven’t, spoilers again). It feels light in your hands, and it’s a good fit; I personally find 7″ more reasonable than 10″. For price, I paid $283, taxes and surcharges all in, but I didn’t buy a case of any kind, nor did I buy product protection. This isn’t a bad price, especially for what you’re getting, but I think I would have been more comfortable with a final price of $250.

Bringing it home, the box is very simple. The tablet is tucked snugly into a paper holder, and underneath, there are only three other pieces: the charger adapter, the charging cord, and the manual. After removing some protective stickers, one button press turns the device on, and set-up is a snap. It’s recommended that you have a Google account when you buy any Android device, because Google’s apps are so tied into the system. I have several Google accounts, so this was no problem for me. The touch screen still feels smooth, although at this point, I was trying to remain keenly aware of any changes to that. Set up took all of five minutes, and that’s just because I got up to get a glass of water. If you have a Google account on another Android device, say your phone, your apps, settings, bookmarks, and history is already imported into this tablet, making working with both extremely easy. By this point, I was thoroughly pleased with what I had seen.


The real test was yet to come, though, because I had yet to see if it could handle my usage. After the transfer of my settings was completed, I noticed that the apps on my phone had been installed on this tablet. I opened up the app drawer, but instead of having all of the apps sorted alphabetically, I noticed that the pre-installed apps were in one section, and my apps were in another. This isn’t a huge thing for me, it was just weird, because this is the first device I have ever had that did that. In a way, it’s kind of handy, two flicks and you’re at all of your downloaded apps. Another downside, though, is when you want to add an app to the home screen, the graphical process is a little awkward. There’s a small delay while the device loads the graphics for the procedure of moving an app to the home screen, and while this looks very fancy, if you want to move apps around quickly, it can be kind of a pain.

In terms of settings, I found it relatively easy to configure the device to do whatever I wanted. I say relatively because I might have liked a small tutorial in terms of where my notification bar is, but the device is very forgiving in terms of one’s ability to play around. The speakers on the device are quite nice, and the sound is clear. A headphone jack is also built in, as a plus. One downside I noticed was when I was watching YouTube videos, and I would imagine this would apply to any video being watched. Holding the bottom of the device (while in landscape mode. I know, it’s confusing), can put you in a position to accidentally block the speakers along the bottom. Though this can be easily corrected by using a different position, it seemed strange to me to put the speakers in an unnatural position. I found the device very easy to use, though, and I would certainly deem it “mom-proof.”

App Experience

Wow, I love this app store. In this version of Android, it’s called Google Play, and it looks so slick. The app fills the screen with all kinds of content, and it’s very easy to navigate for any games, applications, movies, books, or music. Almost any app you could imagine is in this app store, but it’s important to keep in mind that some apps are not designed to display on a tablet, so mileage may vary. All of the apps I had on my phone (Facebook, Twitter, the BBC, Skype, etc) all work beautifully with the tablet, but some apps developed by smaller outfits may not be as rapid to update. One of the very few downsides I noticed falls mostly to my old habits. On my Android phone, there is a button built into the phone to access settings. This button works on the home screen, in apps, and just about everywhere. This tablet does not have a button built into it like that, but there is often a similar button coded into the app itself. All this really took for me was a little searching and I found it, but I figured it was worth mentioning.

All in all, this is a gorgeous tablet. I told myself that I was going to return it, and that’s how I justified buying it, but I think I fell in love with it. I like that I can expand the memory with a MicroSD card, and I like that it plays so well with my Android phone. If I had to rate it out of ten, I would say a 9, just because of the graphical delay when moving  apps to, and around, the home screen. If you have a chance to, I recommend trying it out. It may not be as popular as the iPad, but for a price that is $300-500 cheaper, it’s an excellent second choice.

Harper & Davos – David Warren from the Vancouver Sun

By David Warren, The Ottawa Citizen January 27, 2012

Apparently, we must go to Davos, Switzerland, to find out what’s on Stephen Harper’s mind. This, anyway, is the impression given in Canadian media reports, which splashed his remarks to the World Economic Forum about yesterday as if they amounted to a blueprint for our national future. Yet I don’t think any of the themes he touched upon were new.

The general problem of funding “entitlements” — and in our case especially an Old Age Security program which is the loss-leader among government services (funded directly out of tax revenues) — is shared by every other western nation. The political fix is also the same everywhere. Programs that no country could ever afford were launched in an era of unreasonable optimism. But only the first generation could be paid off handsomely for their votes.

Our “next” generation contains vastly more elderly people, and at this moment costs for the OAS are on track to double in the next decade or so. There is no national economy in the developed world that can keep up with that. And at present, none that can afford a heavier tax burden, which would compound upon an ever-smaller proportion of working-age people.

In the last drying wharks of the optimist generation, “immigration” was cited as the solution to this problem. The doors were thrown open — without much attention to the quality of immigrants, from a mean, self-serving, cost-benefit point-of-view. Suddenly we, like everyone else, want to be sure our immigrants are more likely to generate wealth than absorb welfare. So, suddenly we are competing for the same kind of immigrants with everyone else.

Harper will be condemned, even execrated, for what he must do, and what any government must do, in the national interest. For as we have seen from Greece, balancing the books is in the national interest.

I think everybody who knows anything, knows what I have written above, though not everyone will admit to knowing. Soft love is easier than hard, and the easiest thing is compassionate posturing. We elected Harper because we, the people, do not think like Wall Street occupiers. But the people who stand to receive OAS have no intention of being cut off, either.

The only practical solution, beyond nipping and tucking wherever possible, is to move the age of retirement sharply higher, while gradually shifting the actuarial principles to within sight of land. This makes sense, given a population not only aging, but living longer in relatively good health. Yes, one generation benefited at the expense of another, but so what? We’ll live.

On another front, Harper came close in Davos to speaking aloud what he has been saying previously only in mute gestures.

For many generations, it made sense to count on the United States, alike for security and for our economic well-being. Trade with the U.S. has entirely dominated our foreign trade, indeed our whole economy. Long before Brian Mulroney’s North American free-trade agreements, we had shifted from our dependence on preferential terms throughout the old British Empire. Our dependence on the U.S. was paradoxically accelerated by Canadian nationalism; but in truth, we didn’t have a choice. Britain abandoned us more than we abandoned Britain.

Today, it is the U.S. in economic decline, and abandoning us to turn inward, as Britain once did. Unfortunately, the old Left anti-Americanism of our chattering class blinds us to this reality.

The U.S. was already in trouble, but the new America of Obama is “exceptional” among western countries in refusing to address entitlement issues, in attacking wealth-creation head on, in vastly expanding government participation in the economy. Moreover, the U.S. military is now being slashed: a signal to all allies that the days of American “hyperpower” are over.

The natural comparison would be to Clement Attlee’s administration in the years immediately after the Second World War, when Britain made an almost conscious choice to fold up as a world power, and self-immolate as an economic one.

The recent Keystone pipeline decision — to indefinitely delay a huge and vital energy project on the basis of vague environmentalist neuroses — makes the situation plain. We need new trading arrangements, especially to sell our resources.

Security and economic considerations combine in making China less than an ideal trading or investment partner. My impression is that while the Harper government is waving China as a red cape, to get attention in Washington, China is not the principal object of our current outreach.

India and Europe are the alternative major customers, and our salesman-diplomats are further persistently cultivating Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, etc. — resource-hungry countries vividly aware of potentially catastrophic instability in the Middle East.

In addition to the tarsands, we have Atlantic coast resources, and customers in Europe currently ill-served by Russia.

The wall we’re up against is not insuperably high, but as Harper knows, and we must understand, there is no time to waste in climbing it.

David Warren’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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