One less car

The total weight of my worldly possessions dropped by about 2,557 pounds a week and a half ago: I gave away the 1992 Acura Integra that had become a driveway-bound monument to how getting around D.C. has changed for me.

Integra mileageI should have done that long ago: November of 2007, to be exact, when the Washington Area Bicyclist Association had a promotion running with Zipcar that would have yielded $500 in driving credit on the car-sharing service.

Instead, what finally pushed me to research my options (I was the “Rob” who sought Greater Greater Washington’s advice) and choose WABA’s current, less generous offer of a year’s free membership was seeing the oil-pressure light come on.

Two mechanics told me that probably would require dropping $1,000 or so on a new oil pump, and that the diagnosis alone would cost over $100, and that was enough to end an automotive relationship that began in the spring of 1997.

Transportation in Washington was much worse back then. There was no ZipCar, no car2go, no Capital Bikeshare. Bike lanes were vanishingly scarce, protected “cycle tracks” unimagined. No signs or mobile apps counted down the minutes before the next train or bus arrival. The city’s taxis ran on the idiotic and unfair zone system, as interpreted by cabbies who rarely missed a chance to rip me off. App-driven, ride-hailing services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar were a decade from being possible.

What would it take to get somebody with no off-street parking and no need to drive to work to write a check for $9,294.60 to buy a used car? All of those things.

Integra gearshiftAnd I really did love that car, so much that it took this long for me to accept that I ought to give it up. This Integra RS must have been the least luxurious Acura ever made, lacking power windows, power locks or even power side-view mirrors, but it handled great, the stick shift was a joy to work, and that little four-cylinder engine roared delightfully as it neared its 6800 RPM redline.

(One memorable drive: On New Year’s Day of 1998, I made it from Greenwich Village to Clarendon in three hours and 45 minutes by not stopping for anything and generously interpreting the speed limits. That’s not a record I plan on breaking–as if I-95 these days would let me.)

And for a car bought basically for fun, this was amazingly practical. I often beat the EPA highway estimate of 28 MPG and once notched 36 MPG on a particularly blessed tank of gas. And with the rear seats folded down, the Integra could haul almost anything–a full-sized bed frame, a Christmas tree of any size, not one but two bicycles.

(Another memorable drive: In May of 2000, I went to Manhattan with my friend Doug for Bike New York, with said two bikes in the back. We somehow found an open parking spot outside my cousin’s apartment on Carmine Street–at which we had to pay for less than an hour before it went unmetered for the weekend. That’s probably the greatest street-parking job I’ll ever accomplish.)

Acura Integra in 1997I babied that car for years, regularly washing and even waxing it, as the photo at right reveals. But then in late 2001 I scratched the passenger side by taking a turn too tightly on the way out of my condo’s garage and decided that I did not need to spend almost $800 to fix the damage.

Getting married didn’t really put a dent in my driving habits, but my wife’s problem-plagued Dodge Intrepid blowing a gasket in the summer of 2005 did: The Toyota Prius we bought to replace that snakebit vehicle could carry almost as much stuff as mine, fit into the same parking spaces and got better mileage. And then my wife got a job within easy walking and biking distance, leaving the Prius free for me to use almost all the time.

My annual mileage totals went from four digits to three digits–I’d put over 33,000 miles on the Integra by then–to the low three digits. The biggest problem on this incredibly reliable vehicle became having its battery run down from a lack of use.

And so after 38,478 miles together, it was time to say goodbye to what is almost certainly the last solely gas-powered car I’ll ever own. A week and a half after I last saw my car–behind the tow truck hauling it down the street–I can’t say I miss the old girl. But I do have one small regret: I forgot to check the coin box when I cleaned out the inside, and I suspect I left a quarter or two there.

Belated updates to this year’s stories

You don’t have to run a correction when a story changes after you’ve written about it–but it is polite to follow up. Here’s a not-so-short list of updates to stories I’ve done this year.

Old stories sepia toneWhen I wrote that Google’s new, unified privacy policy would almost certainly be recast to let users opt out of having the company assemble a detailed portrait of them based on their use of separate Google services, I was wrong; that has yet to happen.’s groundbreaking fiber-to-the-home service–a steal at $69.95 a month for 1 billion bits per second–seems to be off to a fine start in Sonoma County, but the planned expansion to San Francisco’s Sunset District is still on the way. It hasn’t shown up as an advertised offering on this Santa Rosa, Calif., Internet provider’s home-services page either.

Remember when adjacent-friend-discovery apps were going to blow up after their moment in the sun at SXSW in March? Didn’t happen. Facebook bought Glancee (and has yet to do much publicly with its technology), while Highlight seems to have fallen off the map (maybe I’m not hanging out with the right crowd?).

The ethics of outsourced manufacturing, fortunately, have stayed in the headlines since I wrote about them in March for CEA. And we may even be seeing legitimate progress, to judge from the New York Times’ story earlier this week recounting upgrades in pay and working conditions at contract manufacturers Foxconn and Quanta’s Chinese factories.

I’m still waiting to see comparable progress in liberating e-books from “digital rights management.” The sci-fi publisher Tor/Forge–a subsidiary of Macmillan–went DRM-free in July, but other branches of the major publishing houses have clung to this self-defeating measure. 

After saying so many good things about the car2go car-sharing service–and seeing that story get picked up in a few other places–I have to confess that I, ahem, haven’t used the service since. Capital Bikeshare is even more convenient and cheaper for trips under two miles, plus I need to make my way into the District to jump into one of car2go’s Smart fortwo vehicles.

I tempered my praise for Sprint’s Evo 4G LTE by wondering how long its users would wait to get Google’s software updates. Answer: almost six months, the time it took HTC and Sprint to deliver the Android 4.1 release Google shipped in June.

I was pretty sure I’d buy a Nexus 7 tablet after liking it as much as I did in July. But now that I own an iPad mini, that purchase seems like it would be redundant. Am I making a mistake there?

After teeing off on Apple Maps in the first chapter of my iPhone 5 review for, I have to give Apple credit for fixing the two worst flaws I called out. It now lists the correct address for the Kennedy Center as its first search result and provides a route to Dulles Airport that don’t cross any runways. But it still doesn’t know about Yards Park or the new 11th Street Bridges across the Anacostia–and the latter omission means its directions will now send you on a closed stretch of freeway.

My upbeat review of Samsung’s $249 Google Chromebook noted some build-quality concerns, in the form of a loose corner of the screen bezel. I found out the hard way that it’s more delicate than that; its LCD is now broken, and I don’t even know how. (We do have a two-year-old at home, but it’s also possible that I dropped something on it.)

My advice about enabling multiple-calendar Google Calendar sync on an iOS device by setting up your Google account as a Microsoft Exchange account will soon be obsolete. Effective January 30, Google will no longer support Exchange syncing on new setups (although existing ones will still work). Fortunately, it’s also posted instructions to enable multiple-calendar sync without the Exchange workaround.

3/23/2013: Updated the link for the car2go review after the post vanished in a site redesign and, for CMS-driven reasons that escape me, could not be re-posted at the same address. 

Attribution is accuracy

One of the less exciting but even less avoidable parts of my work as a journalist and a citizen of the Web is proper attribution. You can’t count on a tweet, a Facebook update or a blog post accurately identifying whoever first posted the fact, witticism, image or video in question; you have to keep clicking “via” and “source” links until you reach the headwaters of the story and can credit the author by name.

This is both good manners and part of telling the truth. Passing off somebody else’s work as your own is wrong, and passing off somebody else’s work as a third party’s isn’t much better–especially if that third party did a quick copy-and-paste job.

But everybody’s busy, especially in most newsrooms, and it’s easy to link to whoever brought something to your attention and leave it at that. I also often see sites reserve their attribution for a short, vague link that may not even be in the body of a story.

I had a reminder of this risk earlier this week. My review of the car2go service for Discovery featured a number I hadn’t seen before: the $578,000 this car-sharing service paid the District of Columbia to obtain free on-street parking for its Smart Fortwo vehicles.

(This did not require any great reporting. I only thought to inquire about that as I was finishing the post; after an amazingly efficient PR interaction, a program manager with D.C.’s Department of Transportation e-mailed the figure.)

John Hendel, who writes the TBDOnFoot blog for (what’s left of) the local-news site TBD, saw that and added more details about car2go’s deal with DDOT in a post that linked to mine. And then the Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis wrote a summary of the situation that credited Hendel for digging up the $578k number. Oops.

Things ended fine–I e-mailed DeBonis about it, he updated the post more prominently than I would have, we’re all good. But now I’m worrying if I myself have forgotten to credit somebody for a good quote or interesting factoid in any recent posts. If that somebody is you, please let me know.

Weekly output: cordless charging, Vivek Kundra, car2go, hard-drive lifespans, camera cables

This list includes a rarity for me: a story that appeared in print–glossy print, no less–before showing up online.

5/2/2012: Cordless Charging Awaits A Jump Start, CEA Digital Dialogue

I’ve been talking to the people at CEA about revisiting some past stories from CES–we in the media often fail to follow up on show debuts to see how they’ve fared, while the association, obviously enough, would not mind more publicity for its signature event. This post looks at the fragmented market for cordless and wireless charging; the next day, Samsung announced its Galaxy S III smartphone with a wireless-charging option that, to judge from its membership in a new, vaguely defined trade group, may not work with either of the current semi-standards.

5/3/2012: Vivek Kundra: Boiling The Ocean, Washingtonian

In my first piece for the monthly magazine, I interviewed former federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra about his experiences working in IT at local, state and federal levels. (The article would have run sooner had I asked more big-picture, non-techie questions in our first conversation.) He has some harsh things to say about how the government does computing–the phrase “boiling the ocean” is Kundra’s term of art for doomed IT projects that try to solve every possible problem out of fear that the currently available funding won’t be around next year–but also remains optimistic about the difference you can make there.

5/5/2012: The Borrow-At-Will, Park-Anywhere Smart Car, Discovery News

I was introduced to Daimler’s point-to-point car-sharing service at SXSW, when one of the people I stayed with ran me around town a few times one of car2go’s Smart Fortwo vehicles. Two weeks later, the company set up shop in Washington, and I took advantage of a free-registration discount code (“CAPITAL,” expiring today) to open an account and use the service for a couple of crosstown drives. In the bargain, I got to shift gears in a car without a tach for the first time since maybe 1993.

5/6/2012: Will audio files kill my hard drive, USA Today

A reader asked if using a new iMac as a home recording studio would shorten the hard drive’s lifespan; I don’t think so, but the question gave me the opportunity to talk about how the drive usually is the first thing to go–and can be one of the most difficult components to replace. The column also has a tip for those of you still habitually reaching for your camera’s USB cable to transfer photos to a camera: Set it aside and pop its SD Card into your computer’s slot instead.

3/23/2013: Updated the car2go link after the post somehow vanished in a site redesign and, for CMS-driven reasons that escape me, could not be re-posted at the same address.