BMW 325i build quality problems

I put together a short video review of the build quality problems in the 2006 BMW 235i sport sedan. These are things like:

  • Rotting or loose rubber seams on the outside
  • Easily scratched/worn door handles
  • Faulty cup holders
  • Flimsy, easily melted cigarette lighters
  • Soft plastic finishes that disintegrate and scuff right away
  • Broken window shades
  • Plasticky, snap-together feel of ceiling consoles
  • Fading radio display
  • Various cockpit noises

Watch the video on YouTube |

As one of the commenters in a BMW forum puts it, it comes down to “BMW’s choice of low quality materials in high wear areas“. That is a wonderfully succinct explanation of the problem.

These things keep breaking down, they get replaced, then they break down again. If BMW would bother to add up all the service costs they incur for repeat repairs to the cockpit, they would realize it would be cheaper to make them better in the first place. This is my plea to them: start building better cars — a bad cockpit ruins the driver experience and takes away from the wonderful handling and performance of a BMW.


Republicans move to block net neutrality

The latest push to get the net neutrality bill passed met with resistance from Republicans and Comcast, one of the large American ISPs. Apparently they think the market regulates itself. It would, in a perfect world, but not in one where politicians working hand in hand with ISP lobbyists move to block any measures that would encourage real competition and require increases in broadband speeds, which is what the US politicians across both sides of the aisle have been doing for the past decade.

Is it any wonder then that broadband internet still sucks in the US? I say 5 Mbps broadband at $20/month or less ought to be legislated as a minimum, and all ISPs ought to be forced to offer it as one of their monthly subscription options. That would teach them a lesson they deserve.

Reviews gets more expensive

Ever since I learned about WordPress, I thought it was the coolest blogging platform, and the more I found out about the network, the more I liked the options they offered their users. To this day, I regret not having started to publish directly on instead of doing it on my own with a self-install of WordPress, but each path has its pros and cons. Incidentally, I discussed them (the pros and cons) at length with WordPress staff recently, and may put together a guide to switching from to and vice-versa, at some point.

One of the things I really liked about was the 5GB space upgrade, which, among other things allowed me to upload videos that would be transcoded and played directly inside the blog. For $20/year, it was a great deal. I never got to use it on my own blogs, which were and still are self-hosted, but I recommended it to clients and friends. I liked it because the video player was and still is integrated into the blogging platform. This saves the user the hassle of uploading it to a different video sharing site, then putting the right embed code into the blog post.

Now, sadly, that option is gone. I received an email from WordPress today which announced the arrival of a formal video upgrade option, called VideoPress, at a cost of $60/year. Like other video upgrades on the market (such as Vimeo’s own Plus program), VideoPress allows the upload and streaming of SD and HD video. The price is also the same.


I can understand this change though. According to WordPress, allowing people to upload videos under the regular 5GB space upgrade was a testing ground which allowed them to figure out what they needed to charge long-term. After all, HD video eats up a lot of space and requires a lot of processing power to compress, not to mention the bandwidth needed to stream it. Here’s what Matt Mullenweg, WP’s founder, says in a response to a question about the price tag:

“We try to run every part of our business in a way that’s sustainable and supportable for the long-term. By charging a fair amount for a superior service we can continue to invest in expanding the feature to be a great option for high-end video, just like WordPress is a fantastic option for high-end blogging. (And you wouldn’t believe how expensive it is to host and stream video, which is part of the reason we’ve waited to launch this until now, we’ve been working at getting the costs down.” [source]

Now when you realize that both WordPress and Vimeo charge $60/year for HD video uploads, think about YouTube, and the astronomical expenses it has to eat up every year because it doesn’t charge its users anything to upload gobs and gobs of video.

I looked at the specs for the video sizes of the new WordPress Video Player, and there are three of them: 400px (SD), 640px (DVD) and 1280px (HD). That’s plenty for live streaming. I do wish there was an option that would let the video authors allow downloads of the original video files, like Vimeo does it.

The upper limit on a single video file is 1GB, although it’s not hard-capped like at Vimeo. WordPress will let you upload 1.5-2GB files, although they say results may vary and uploads may die out if your connection is slow.

One thing I’m not clear on is the space allowed for the uploaded videos. Is there a weekly cap, like Vimeo’s 5GB/week limit, or can we upload as many videos as we want? And if so, what’s the total space limit allotted to us when we purchase the upgrade? Is there a special cap, separate from the standard space of 3 GB per blog? Or does each video count against the total space allotted to the blog? Because if that’s the case, that would mean VideoPress is going to be more expensive than Vimeo Plus, since users will need to purchase space upgrades for their videos in addition to VideoPress.

For example, a user would shell out $60 for VideoPress, then soon find out they’ve filled up their 3GB quota, and need to purchase a space upgrade. It’s not hard to imagine one would need about 15GB or more per year with HD video, and that would mean an additional $50 on top of the initial $60, bringing the price tag to $110. This point definitely needs clarification, because it just wouldn’t be fun to get taxed twice for it.

I do like the nice gesture on WordPress’ part, where they gave existing users of the space upgrade and the video player a free VideoPress upgrade for a year. Had they not done that, the transition would have been too jarring for them, so kudos to WordPress for putting money aside and thinking about the user experience.


Micropayments: the only equitable way to reward web publishers

The more time I spend writing and publishing articles on the internet, the more I realize that trying to get paid for my efforts through advertising is not a sustainable way to make a living. I get decent web traffic, but that’s not enough. Have you seen the going CPM rates these days? I’d need to get ridiculous amounts of traffic in order to see any sort of worthwhile profits, and even then, I’m not so sure the costs of running my website wouldn’t trump my revenues or at least take a big bite out of them.

The current system is messed up. Most web publishers don’t get tons of traffic, which also means they don’t make money. They’re lucky if they break even with things like Google AdSense or affiliate programs or other some other ad programs. They, like me, don’t want to load up their websites with ads, left and right, top and bottom, inbetween the lines and everywhere else. They just want to worry about writing and publishing informative articles. They don’t want to spend ¾ of their time (or more) advertising their site and getting their buddies to vote up their posts on Digg or StumbleUpon or who knows where else. They’d much prefer to not have that headache at all, and to only write and publish. But they can’t, because the system is faulty. It only rewards the very few who get the most traffic.

Do you want to know why newspapers aren’t making money these days? Why they’re going under? Sure, blame shoddy journalism, blame whatever else, but the truth is they relied mostly (or solely) on advertising for their revenues, and look where they are now. Subscription fees were kept artificially low, and as circulation numbers started to go down, they couldn’t charge their regular rates for ads, and revenues went down fast, in a vicious spiral that fed itself.

Had a decent micropayment system been in place, the web would be a flourishing, profitable, preferred way to make a living nowadays, instead of the insane, overloaded, “buy, buy, buy, look at me, no look at me, no, I’m better, wait, my titles are more interesting, I get more traffic, I make more money, I know how to increase your traffic, I have more free stuff” nuthouse that it has become. Everyone’s desperate to publish more articles, to make the titles and text more titillating, to grab an extra click from you here and there, to make you vote or like or bookmark their stuff so they can supposedly get more clicks and votes and likes and bookmarks and more and more and more meaningless crap that leads nowhere and contributes to nothing.

Unfortunately for the world and the web, micropayments were talked to death, even in the early days of the internet, and all the fancy initiatives went nowhere. A lot of people were wronged because no one bothered to get things going. Just think, all this time, web publishers of all sizes could have been making an honest living! Fortunately, this nasty situation can still be set right.

Here’s my micropayment initiative. I think it’s workable, and more than that, it would allow a lot of people to make a decent living by doing what they love: writing, not hustling and wasting their time pushing their site on people.

First, we need all the browsers and feed readers to work with the companies or organizations that would process micropayments. Whether the functionality is built in or added through plugins is up to the browser makers and feed reader makers to decide. Users would enter their account information directly in their browser’s or feed reader’s preferences, and their micropayment accounts would be automatically charged every time they access a micropayment-enabled article, on the web or via a feed. There’d be no logging in every time, like with PayPal, which is a hassle when all you want to do is read an article.

Second, search engines and websites would display the price of the article next to its title, just like they’d display the site or the date the article was written. The browser itself would display an extra icon when such a web page is accessed, just like it displays a lock when HTTPS websites are accessed. Perhaps a dollar sign or some other currency sign would show up next to the website’s address. If the user would move their mouse over the button, the price would be displayed, similarly to the behavior of the alt or title tags.

Third, and this would happen behind the scenes, the browser itself would read the price tag of the article the user is reading, and would send that information along to the micropayment service along with the user’s account information. Notice this means the user could use their micropayment service of choice — so there wouldn’t have to be just one — and the browser or the website wouldn’t care. The micropayment service would then transfer the price of the article from the user’s account to the web publisher’s account. The transaction fees would best be charged in bulk, per 50 or 100 transactions or so, and would be deducted from the web publisher’s balance.

That’s it! It’s so simple I just don’t know why it hasn’t yet been implemented.

As for the price of the articles, each web publisher could set their own price. I propose 5 cents per view. When candy and soda costs 75 cents to $1 or more, I think no one would balk at paying 5 cents to read a good article. But let’s have a look at some proposed traffic figures just to give you an idea how 5 cents can add up.

Say you get 5,000 views per month. That’s a modest amount of traffic, but at 5 cents per view, you’d still make $250 at the end of the month. That’s nothing to scoff at. Tell me if you wouldn’t be happy with that money in your bank account!

How about someone who gets 25,000 views per month? That’s a fairly decent amount of traffic. At 5 cents per view, they’d make $1,250 per month. That’s already a line of income. That’s money in the bank you could be using to pay your bills, but you’re not seeing it because micropayments don’t exist yet. Isn’t that infuriating?

How about someone who gets 50,000 views per month? That’s a nice amount of traffic. At 5 cents per view, they’d make $2,500 per month. That’s practically a decent salary right there. If you keep your expenses low, you might even be able to live off that in the US. If you lived in another country where living expenses are less, you could live nicely on that money.

The best part is this: it isn’t free money, and it isn’t money that could be yanked away if your advertisers get pissed off with something you wrote. This is money each and every web publisher has rightfully earned through their work, and yet there is no micropayment system out there to make this possible. This means all the web publishers out there are currently being cheated out of money they could be earning. Isn’t it ridiculous and completely unfair? Think of newspapers, where dedicated journalists work, day in and day out, and who have to close when they could focus their efforts on web publishing and turn a very nice profit with their traffic!

What about developing countries? I suppose the price for reading an article could differ based on your country of origin. The micropayment processor would automatically charge those countries less per article, say 30 to 40 to 70% less, depending on their general economic status.

What about subscriptions? They’re nice but not sufficient. They’re nice because you can predict your income more reliably when you know you’ll have so many subscriptions coming in every month, but not sufficient because users don’t pay per usage. If they end up spending less time on your site, then they’ll feel like they’ve wasted their money on the subscription. Also, just in case you haven’t noticed, subscription numbers are down everywhere these days. When money gets tight, subscriptions are among the first things to go.

What about goodwill, and doing stuff for free? That’s nice, and I already do plenty of stuff for free, but the problem with goodwill is that this world still functions with money. When was the last time you paid your mortgage with goodwill? When you buy your groceries, do you pay with a smile and a hug?

Micropayments are the best way to go forward. I wish people would stop talking about them already and someone would get going with the idea. It goes without saying — but I’ll say it anyway — that I for one would be glad to work with any legitimate company that wants to start processing micropayments.


Is it any wonder there's computer piracy in Romania?

If the US and other Western countries are looking at Romania and shaking their heads while wondering why there’s so much computer piracy there, perhaps this will help them get the picture.

In 2008, the median monthly salary in Romania was €285, or $353, as another source quotes it. The same source says that by 2014, the median salary will grow to $1,400, but that’s another story. I’ve heard a number of such predictions in previous years, none of which have yet come true.

Let’s look at Microsoft Windows, probably the most pirated piece of software in Romania. Vista Home Basic, which is really just XP dolled up a bit, is 325 RON, or around $101. The decent version of Vista, Home Premium, is 434 RON. When you convert the median monthly salary to RON, the Romanian currency, it comes out to about 1,120 RON.

Now, when you keep in mind that most people make less than 1,120 RON per month, do you think they’d give up a third of their gross monthly income (before taxes) so they can buy an operating system legally? Would you do it?

Say you made $40,000 per year in the US. Wikipedia says the median income for men in 2007 was roughly $45,000, and the median income for women in 2007 was roughly $35,000. If we use $40,000 as an example, that works out to $3,333 before taxes. If Windows Vista cost you a third of that monthly income, or $1,111, would you pay full price to get it?

Don’t think only software costs this much in Romania. I have on my desk right now two inkjet cartridges from HP, one color, one black. The black ink cartridge, a 338 Vivera, cost 67.75 RON, and the color cartridge, a 342 Vivera, cost 73.05 RON. Those prices are in line with what these cartridges cost in the US, but that’s the problem, isn’t it?

People in Romania don’t make the same salaries as people in the US or in Western Europe. Since the 1990s, prices in Romania have risen to match those in Western Europe, yet salaries have risen at a much, much slower pace. Romanians have to contend with paying Western European prices for food, clothing, utilities and fuel, yet they make a mere pittance compared to their European counterparts. It’s simply not fair.

When you have to decide between buying food or paying all your utility bills in the winter, or when you can’t buy adequate clothes or shoes because you have to pay your rent and other expenses, paying for software is the least of your worries. I for one don’t blame Romanians one bit for using pirated software. Considering the amount of money they’re making, I completely understand why they turn to cheaper solutions.

UbuntuDo you know what I advise my Romanian friends and family when they come to me for help? I tell them to use Ubuntu. It’s free and it’s legal. I’ven even installed Ubuntu recently on two computers, one for family and one for an acquaintance. So far, the reaction was positive. They’ve been able to work with their Office documents on Ubuntu thanks to Open Office, and they’ve been able to view and play their photos and movies as well. For most people, the Linux platform is the way to go, especially when you consider that they can’t afford to get the faster and more expensive hardware that’s needed to run Windows Vista.