August 2009

MINI Cooper S Convertible Review

My wife and I bought a MINI Cooper S convertible almost a year ago. These are my thoughts about it:

The MINI Cooper convertible is the Apple Macintosh of cars. It's very expensive in comparison to other models with similar performance and features, and it has a lot of annoying flaws, but people who own them absolutely love them. It is the only car I've owned that has delighted me.

First, I'll note that I am not a "car guy." I won't say anything about horsepower, torque, zero-to-60, how it handles on a race course, or how it compares to any of the bazillion other cars on the road.

I'll start with what I don't like. It's small. Two adults fit in the front seats fine, but the rear seat is basically unusable. The trunk is almost unusable as well. We've had to cut shopping trips short because we knew we were carrying more shopping bags in our hands than would fit in the car. A full-size suitcase won't fit in the trunk, so think "duffel bags" if you want to do any traveling.

While it's small, you don't get a lot of the advantages of a small car. We only get about 26 MPG, in mostly highway driving. It's short nose-to-tail, but is about as wide as a typical car, so you can't squeeze into those parking spaces that other cars have to pass by. The turning radius is a lot wider than you would expect.

With the convertible top up, visibility is terrible. You can't see much out the rear window, due to the roll-bar thingees on top of the rear seats, and the blind spots in the rear quarters are huge. I often have to put my chin down on the steering wheel to see traffic signals, due to the low ceiling.

The GPS system sucks.

But with all those problems, I'm still thrilled with it.

Despite its small size and tiny engine, it feels more like a mid-size car. It's very stable, and takes corners well. The automatic transmission works pretty well in most circumstances, and switching into the semi-automatic mode is great when driving on twisty mountain roads like the one that goes up to my house.

And it has this magical aura that makes people smile. People come up to me in parking lots and ask about it. Other MINI drivers wave at me on the road.

So, if you just want practical inexpensive transportation, stay away from the MINI. But if you want to be happy when you're driving, give it a try.

P.S. Don't buy a MINI or any other car from Global Imports BMW in Atlanta. Those guys suck.

Changing Background Color and Section Header Text Color in a Grouped-style UITableView

While working on an iPhone application, I decided I wanted to change the colors of the background and section headers of a UITableView with the UITableViewStyleGrouped style. It took a lot more work than I expected, so I'm sharing what I learned with anyone else who needs to do this.

Netgear ReadyNAS Duo 2000 Setup and Review

I have previously written about my backup strategy. I've never really worried about backups too much. In the 30 years I've been using computers, I've never lost a hard drive.

...until last weekend. My wife's MacBook Air was displaying some funny behavior, so I ran Disk Utility on it. Disk Utility said the drive had problems, so I clicked Repair Disk, and it would not boot thereafter. I called Apple, and their expert told me I'd have to erase the drive and reinstall the operating system. We had no backups for that machine. My wife was not happy to lose everything. And of course, it is my fault she had no backups. (I've told her about Time Machine, but she didn't believe it could really be that easy to set up, so she never did.)

So, better late than never, I decided to get some network storage and start backing up everything to it. A friend was happy with his Netgear ReadyNAS, so I ordered a Netgear ReadyNAS Duo 2000 from Amazon, along with two 1-TB Western Digital Caviar Green hard drives. Total price came out to about $400.

The ReadyNAS has two drive bays. Most models come with a drive included, but I bought the "bare" one that has no preinstalled drives, assuming that it would be cheaper to buy my own drives. Upon reading the manuals, I immediately hit a problem: the manuals explain how to add a second hard drive to a ReadyNAS that comes with a single drive, but nothing about what to do if you have an empty ReadyNAS.

Hoping for the best, I installed the two Caviar drives in the NAS, plugged it into the network, plugged it into power, and hit the power button. It turned on, but the slowly blinking LED didn't give me a warm fuzzy feeling.

I installed the RAIDar software, which one uses to manage the device, and it told me I had bad disks.

After about half an hour of Googling, registering the product, registering for the Netgear forums, and registering for the ReadyNAS forums (each of which required separate sign-up forms and e-mail confirmations), I finally found a current ReadyNAS FAQ (after hitting a few old FAQs that were created before my model existed). There was nothing specific about my situation, but I decided I would try the "factory reset". That worked: RAIDar enabled its Setup button, and I was able to initialize everything.

I was initially worried about the fan noise. When the ReadyNAS boots up, the fans are incredibly loud for something that small. After 30 seconds or so, the noise drops a little, but it was still really loud. A Google search for "readynas loud fan" indicated that lots of users have replaced their ReadyNAS fans, due to the noise. But after the drives got formatted, the fan noise dropped to a barely detectable level. It's not as quiet as my Macs, but it's not loud enough to be annoying.

It was very easy to set up Time Machine with the ReadyNAS. (First thing I did was back up my wife's Air, of course.)

The ReadyNAS has a lot of other features that I am not yet using. $400 for a backup solution seems a little pricey, when one can buy a 1-TB drive and enclosure for about $100, but having storage available on the network means we're more likely to actually do backups. We'll see how things go.

A complete description of all the features can be found here:

When Bailey Grows Up...

On the drive home today, my ten-year-old stepson Bailey told me what he is going to have when he grows up:

  • 20-30 billion dollars
  • A really big house, with a fence and guard dogs
  • Two Ferraris, and a Corvette
  • Hundreds of kittens. (He'll have to hire people to take care of the kittens, because he'll be too busy with guard-dog training.)
  • An aquarium with rare fish
  • Security dudes
  • Snipers hidden in the dark
  • Motion detectors that will deliver an electric shock to anyone who tries to hurt any of the security dudes
  • A special button, carried in his back pocket, that will instantly drop an anvil on any attackers. The anvil won't hurt them too much; it will just knock them through the floor into a jail cell.
  • A locked room containing gold bricks. The only people with keys to this room will be Bailey, his best friend, and the security dudes. The security dudes get paid twenty dollars per week, and two gold bricks per month.

Sounds like a plan. I hope he'll let my wife and me stay somewhere on the grounds, preferably in a rent-free beach house like Thomas Magnum.

He also asked me if he could get rich by making toothpaste. I wish him luck.