Author Archives: omo

Ford F-150 Lightning: Early Impressions, Purchase Journey

We purchased a F-150 Lightning this past weekend. My dad is the primary driver of that vehicle, but I think I drove it more than him so far, by mile at least.

Of course, now that the truck is on our driveway, I can exhale and focus on writing the purchase journey. As people who know, knows, having one of these in your garage or driveway today is part luck and a lot of work/skill. Most first-hour preorders have been converted, but unless you splurged like we did, odds are you are hemming and hawing between buying the 2023 Pro or dropping it entirely. Probably less than 30% of the intended Pro trim buyers from day 1 were able to get a 2022 order in, since it has the highest demand.

Before I get too far, we purchased a Rapid Red (metallic clear coat) Lariat Extended Range (511A) with Max Tow and Tech Tow package. We got the stock spray-in liner but that turned out to be a mistake (because it delayed delivery and it’s better to do it aftermarket).

Anyways, enough inside talk. The hotly demanded F-150 Lightning is the first real EV pickup truck for the masses (sorry Rivian/Hummer). It’s huge just like all the other F-150s today (more on that later). It packs a standard range battery of 98 kWh, and goes to 131 kWh for the extended range. For a point of contrast, my Model 3 Long Range has 75 kWh (and goes about as far as the ER truck on a single charge, maybe 5% less?). Demand for the truck was so high that Ford stopped preorders at around 250k. There were 20k preorders as of 24 hours since it started. They also announced the production numbers for 2022 to be up to 25k units or so.

The ordering process for this vehicle is different than most. First you register with Ford.com plus a $100 refundable deposit, and this is called a “reservation.” During this time you need to associate the reservation with a dealer. Then you wait until your dealer figured out this new preorder process, and then invites go out from Ford to reservation holders (in some secret order) to make an order. Once you get that email, you can go into the order portal and config your truck for order directly from Ford.com. Ordering also takes a $500 non-refundable deposit and your truck is locked in to be purchased for all practical purpose (and for tax rebate purposes). At that time your dealership is locked and can no longer be changed. If you had read up on all this you would know to talk to the dealer between reservation and order period to confirm the price and if ADM is going to occur. Some people made the dealer do it in writing (which is a good idea). Ford has said that they are going to go after ludicrous ADMs and dealers have the option to enter the ADM into Ford’s system so it shows up before you complete ordering the truck.

I picked actually one of the closest dealer to me, who turned out to be champs and took that MSRP deal and got us in and out with zero hassle and zero dealer markup. Well, zero as for paperwork purposes, but I think the doc fees are a bit higher than what I expect! I’m not bothered by an extra $100 or whatever in this 2022-inflation-minded economy though. More over, the horror ADM stories and shady dealer behaviors are what is truly worrisome and we were spared all of that. Probably a good half or more dealers in NJ are charging a markup today on the Lightning. Part of the luck was picking that dealer in the very early minutes of the reservation process (we were 3rd in line at the dealer and they honored our place in line).

Still, we preordered the hour the Ford keynoted ended on May 20th, 2021. And I ordered the truck the same day when the email for ordering came in on April 16th (a very memorable moment because I happened to be with my dad in Texas lol…and for other reasons). We were “wave 6” orders so the Pro and XLT standard range had already been sold out. In fact, for the 2022 builds, they were sold out since late March if I recall correctly. Lariat Long Range is actually the third most cost-efficient model I think, so we went for that one despite the higher cost (I mean it’s literally 2 2022 Pros).

According to Ford, they had a certain number of allocation for each trim in 2022, with maybe 20% going to the standard range XLT and Pro models. They were saying people would buy the Lariat trim the most, and they show us this afterwards. It’s only because you would only allow people to buy them based on that allocation… As you can see the number of Pros did not meet the demand. Standard Range XLT was in the mid 50ks. The 40k Pro 2022 model is now a unicorn, in that while it exists, nobody can buy it. It’s literally a half-luck, half-skill lottery, and probably involves bribery or something, or living next to a large Ford dealer (for allocation purposes) that doesn’t rip you off.

People who didn’t want to order the more expensive trims can defer their order for the 2023 model year. As we know recently, 2023 order emails have now starting to go out. Holdover reservation holders who got to defer their order, in the USA, get a private offer for their deferred trim that takes the price down to 2022 levels, but they can’t change it to a different trim in 2023 and maintain the same 2022 price. Everything went up by about $6-8000 in 2023 so it’s what it is. (Canadians got shafted since they didn’t get to have the private offer.)

It’s mid-September. When we picked up the truck, we were just the 3rd Lightning our dealership delivered. I don’t think they’ll be delivering too many more this year. They still have 20+ reservations in line when I checked in June. Again, we were also 3rd in line. Sometimes, it’s literally mostly about speed.

For those who aren’t familiar with the auto market in 2022, cars are expensive. Supply chain woes means many dealers are now selling fewer cars, but at higher prices. Used cars are going bangers, there has been many articles about this. It also means F-150 Lightning has some production issues. As I was following the news of this very expensive purchase from May 2021, I’ve seen the following rock others who were also following:

  1. The various EV tax credit changes from the President/Dems in power, BBB (or the chance thereof) and now IRA (more on this also later).
  2. Supply chain woes holding back power/massage seats in Plat trims; onboard scale for late 2022 builds
  3. Nonstop dealer horror stories, including a family friend who got sprung the ADM after ordering (but he didn’t do diligence)
  4. People flipping lol

It’s not surprising–the Lariat and Platinum ER trims are very expensive and you can’t even buy them unless you are a super lucky and savvy shopper, tracking these vehicles in their pre- and mid-production cycles, taking up all the Ford news and the buyers discussions online. Oh, you had to have ordered them in mid-2021. The Ford F-150 is a perennial best-seller doing many hundreds of thousands of units in North America every year, so lots of people buy these trucks. It also turns out these are one of the best, if not the best F-150s Ford has ever made (to date, of course), and as an aside they don’t even run on gasoline. The markups on these trucks are significant in the open market as a result.

So yes, I can confirm personally that these are great trucks. I have really only daily-driven a Chevy Silverado, a Honda Ridgeline, and now this truck. The Lightning zips, it has no right being this fast–at all speeds–for a half-tonner. It’s literally faster than my single-motor LR Model 3 by quite a bit. Unlike the Tesla it’s easier to spin out on the F-150, but the fresh all-weather tires tried their best. It’s “blink and you’re at 80mph” kind of fast–at least while you’re on the on-ramp to the freeway. Maybe the best way to put it is how some people say “once you go electric you never want to go back” and it’s super true for the Lightning, at least mechanically and in terms of pure driving characteristics. This much more drastic to me coming from a smaller truck even; and much more than when I swapped to the Tesla the first time.

That said, it’s one thing to enjoy the electric drive acceleration that we all have some experience with now in smaller cars, but the EV F-150 flies not like a roller coaster, it feels like a truck still. The lightning handles like a full-size truck unlike the Ridgeline, which drives stiffer and corners better actually, but not at this speed, acceleration and this weight…

We did like the Ridgeline a lot; it’s a light truck that did everything, easy to maintain, reliable, and easy to drive. It was getting very long in the tooth and it would have been on the weak side to tow the travel trailer we got some time ago. We sold the Ridgeline in anticipation of the truck in late July to a friend who needed a used car fast, hoping for a late August delivery. It took till mid-September. I think we definitely lost 2 weeks on the bed liner work, compared to other owners who were tracking their orders together with mine with the same blend date (the Ford factory build date basically) in late July.

Just to finish my thoughts on first impressions, here are all the real negatives on the truck so far. I think these are not critical on a practical sense, but they are all real problems that should be fixed.

The Ford Sync system you have to deal with is kind of bad. It’s not quite at the level of broken and unusable, but it definitely feels like a product that ought to have stayed in the 2010s. In terms of usability, UX styles, touch detection and input lag, and what you can even do with it. It’s got some signs of unpruned tech debt when its fairly extensive menus are stowed away in different places that you have to tease out. Most of these problems are not unique to the Lightning of course, but you do have to lean into its GPS for EV-based route planning if you’re going long distance. You still need to struggle through its menu to do basic things like program the radio presets a certain way, or to remember the driver profile presets, and what have you. The various towing features need this UI. The EV driving settings need this UI. The basic vehicle configs need this UI. Even with Apple Carplay and Android Auto it’s at most taking over half of the screen. At least they made it a bit easy with full wireless Carplay/AA and it’s easy enough to disconnect/reconnect when needed. Did you know the built-in GPS map searches using Yelp? LOL. Works fine if all you’re going to are public-facing businesses but it failed at searching a handful of things we wanted to go to–that is already one strike too many for its usability to be considered “good” in 2022.

The truck has a lot of buttons, you can probably get away with not using Sync much as long as you master the touch screen-based climate controls (which…I still quite have not yet? It’s not suppose to be this unintuitive). The companion app for the truck, FordPass, has some remote features like turning on/off the vehicle for up to 15 minutes, locking/unlocking it, and other basic stuff. I barely used it but they do work.

Lastly, there’s the charging situation. I’m guessing Ford made the whole battery management thing super simple. The only options you have are 1) a one-time charge limit, 2) preferred charge times (absolutely needed for TOU benefits–when utilities offer lower rates for late night charging), and 3) departure times for warming up the truck before you leave the house. (As an aside, I wonder if you can use Alexa to do the same, since this has Alexa integration.) Even where you can check the battery states is limited (and this is often called out by youtubers reviewing this vehicle).

What I really need is a current limiter, and a battery capacity limiter. A limiter because this truck is going to draw as much as the outlet is going to let it (up to 30 amp with the travel charger) and that might be too much depending on where I ended up charging. You don’t want to be unable to charge at a site because you trip its circuit. You also kinda want a charging limiter since the truck levels out on charge rate at 80%. Maybe Ford held back enough of spare battery capacity from you being able to “overcharge” it, so this is less of a problem to me. By “overcharging” it’s simply that fully charging these lithium ion batteries increases the rate of the battery degradation slightly. Tesla allows you to set it to max and gives you a warning (it recommends 90%). Ford lets you set a 1-time limit via the Sync console, which maybe it’s enough. I suppose there are the rare chance when your bank balance doesn’t pay for the price of electricity while you’re doing a DCFC session so you want to cap it? Anyways, these are 2 basic features needed features needed in any EV I think, and it is weird that Ford decides to omit them.

What we do know is Ford will eventually go to Android Auto completely and sunset Sync, and that’s good on them. What we can also infer from all the PR is that the 2022 F-150 Lightning is a first-to-market play where Ford tries to shoehorn all of that good EV engineering in the body of a gas F-150, complete with its last-decade infotainment system. It is not the future, and it’s a product that’s one foot planted in the present and one foot kind of in the future. That’s why things like CoPilot Active 2.0 or whatever they call their driver assist/safety suite, has a weird name like that, as it doesn’t even have full hands-free BlueCruise until sometime later this year after a software update? Yea, you buy the hardware first and wait for the software features later, so much for a legacy company’s way of doing business. It’s half-assed just like the way I had to go about buying this truck, I guess.

PS. Tax credits. With the Inflation Reduction Act, the old 200,000 cap and 7500 Fed income tax credit is gone. What replaces it is something similar but different in some key ways. Gone is the 200,000 cap. In are the “where it’s from” schemes, which applies to where the car is assembled (USA only), and where the batteries comes from (US allies), and even more so, where the material for the batteries come from (US allies). In addition there are cost and income caps to who can buy what car with what incentive. It is also a straight credit that eventually can be claimed at point of sale. The old system should still apply until the end of 2022 as far as tax credit goes. The new law while replaces the old one immediately after 2 weeks being signed into law, not every part of the new system kicks in at the same time. For 2022, only the made-in-the-US law kicks in. There are some other stuff that’s not clear for these transition times. It does mean Kia/Hyundai/Genesis EVs loses out on this, as well as some BMW/MB EVs. It’s great that VW has that US plant up and going strong already. What isn’t is most EVs made in the US use Chinese batteries (like the F-150 Lightning), except Tesla’s. Trucks and SUV gets a $80,000 limit meaning expensive SUVs/Trucks like Rivian are now out of luck most likely, as well as Lariat/Platinum Lightnings.

Tesla Model 3 after 4 years

Google News gadget recommended me an article about this Youtuber reviewing their Model 3, and it is a similar car to mine. I felt a response is worth it. It’s also a good video to watch to give you a sense of what owning that car is like, even if it is way biased IMO.

Just going to focus where my POV is different from this video. You know, to keep it short.

This guy’s Model 3 is a Rear-wheel-drive, Long Range model from early 2018 or late 2017, which is a bit earlier than what I got. The main differences between that car and mine are color, wheel (I have the bigger wheels), and I only got Enhanced Autopilot while that one has FSD. Just to note, EAP is no longer an option as some of the EAP features are now in all cars, and some are only available in FSD (like navigate on Autopilot and smart summon). Well, this particular trim is also no longer available, basically for a similar price you can purchase the dual-motor long range model, which the video also shows.

Surprisingly, my mid-production Hell Model 3 has stood up well, but unlike the guy who drives 100k miles in 4 years, I only have about 14.4k miles in mine after about 3.5 years. The value proposition for this car will be drastically different than that guy, who benefits greatly from driving an EV over a gas car at such a high mileage per year. Also I live in a colder climate than some dude in Louisville, as you’ll see he’ll probably never experience what I did which brings out the worst in EVs (and arguably Teslas, which is the only product that made me think of “designed in California” to be a huge liability). Also, his supercharging numbers are kinda sus! $60 a year is not a lot. (Also $100 on oil changes! Is that MB numbers or what? Gimme the Infiniti/Acura numbers please.)

On that note, my average electric cost over the last 4 years is about $0.15 per kWh. My car says it used 4272 kWh thus far for traveling on the trip meter. Until last year I was using the 12V wall charger, so let’s say that’s 70% efficient overall from the electric meter to the car. That’s about $915 USD total or about $261/year. This probably doesn’t include overhead costs of heating, AC, conditioning the battery and motor, and other vampiric uses. That also doesn’t include the supercharging cost. For a point of reference, I put up $204.43 in supercharger fees in 2019. A lot higher % of my driving is done via supercharging, I guess. If I were to prorate it, I could take the total power I got from supercharging and compare it to the total number up there (most supercharger bills include total kWh so it’s just a matter for me to download all the invoices and add them up, so it could be done, and I can guestimate the ones that don’t, but it’s too much effort lol). It’s close to double of my normal rate anyway–let’s say I charge 70 kWh worth of electricity at $0.15/kWh, that’s $10. Most charging stops is about twice that, maybe a bit less, so let’s just say 100% more. So if I ballpark 40% of my travel on superchargers, that adds another 40% to my costs or it goes to almost $1300 or $370/yr.

For comparison, at $3.45/gal and 30MPG (because, why not), 14.4k miles is at about $1650, and I likely saved a couple hundred dollars versus driving even a very efficient gas car (like a vanilla Corolla or a Prius). It might make up the difference of the Tesla wall charger that I bought ($500) a couple years ago. Technically that could save me a few hundred dollar over time just by going from 70% efficient to 90-95% efficiency. If we use $3/gal as a closer-to-truth average (NJ is a cheap gas state), we see $1440 for the same mileage, which gets us close to my ballpark electricity use, even if over 4 years that still equates to a wall charger.

To put it closer to a real world example, the BMW 330i gives about 30MPG. It uses premium fuel (as most luxury cars do) so we’re talking about $3.5/gal or $1680, which is just a bigger saving. Plus, lol, $100 oil changes. If you are a high powered lawyer this is one hour of every 6 months you can get back and bill to the customer. Or maybe, about zero trips to the gas station also counts for something. Tesla remote tech is a real advantage. Doing majority of your appointments and interaction with the company on the web or phone app, for most people like myself, is a real advantage.

Anyway, as I expected from the start back in 2015, buying an EV doesn’t save me much money at all on the gasoline front. Well, turns out I still saved something, just not very much. The rest still makes up for the shortcoming of living with a new-ish EV, besides the whole greenwashing part. But there were shortcomings, for sure.

Let’s start with the list of repair items I had. They were:

Not too soon since I got the car, a wheel was deformed when I jumped a “curb.” (This car, well, is very heavy and it zips.) This caused a leak in the right rear tire that had to get the wheel replaced. This was supposedly something I had to pay, but didn’t. I went to the service center (about 40 min away) and had a “spare” wheel put in for 2-3 months while I sat in a backlog queue. They ended up doing this work for free via remote repair tech.

Over my Tesla Model 3’s first winter, my charging port latch froze on a road trip, which required me to sit at a supercharger slot while my back seats were down, so the latch can warm up from the inside. It was for hours. The ambient temperature was below 14F/-10C that day and I drove over 2 hours at highway speeds just prior to that. This one was particularly bad because it was a range anxiety scenario: you can’t charge despite being low on power and nowhere close to home. This was part of a low-key recall which they took cared when they swapped my tires via remote tech. I wrote about this in more detail on my 1-yr review.

On a related side note, I’ve had a few times when my charging cable froze into the charging port, while at home, for the same reason as that recall. This is definitely not something someone in Louisville would have regularly experienced (long periods of <-10C temps). Thankfully, this is no longer an issue after the aforementioned replacement.

A year later, I got two flat tires at the same time, both of my left front and rear tires popped while going over some potholes at highway speeds. I decided to get it towed to the service center (which isn’t too far from EWR which was where this happened) and there they found that another, third wheel, was also deformed and had to be replaced. Three tires and one wheel costed me just over $1000, which they were able to do same day. Tesla serviced comped me about $200 worth of Uber credits which I needed since I planned to drive some folks into NYC that day. This way I even saved a trip…and made the bill a tad less of a sting. But I drive so little, and my tires are almost new LOL.

I had my car do the dealer service at the 2 year mark. Only thing I paid for was air filter change, which cost about $80 (half that if you did it yourself). It was probably unnecessary since I drive so little. This was done via remote tech.

I had my Summon feature looked at by 2 different remote techs and they can only open tickets. Basically there is a “tight” mode where you need minimum of 8″ clearance to park your car into the garage via Summon feature. This stopped working around August 2021–or rather, I can’t get Summon to work with my garage at around that time. It worked well enough until then, even if often it would pause half way or something. Nothing got fixed, and I wasn’t charged for anything. This is a bit of a down side to all that software updates, even if on the net it was definitely a positive.

That is it on repair/maintenance spending.

I didn’t include things like the floor mats I bought or whatever, because I would do that for any car. Maybe I should include the $10 screen protector, or the USB thumb drive and USB hub I have in there, lol. But nowadays more cars have big, touchscreen displays and other tech, yeah? It’s definitely not an EV thing and more a Tesla thing I guess.

There are other things I had to fiddle with the car. The initial rollout of the security camera was wonky with people who want to use 1 USB drive for both music and video camera footage. Later updates made this easier. A build quality issue is the driver seat trim is coming loose where it’s attached to the door part of the frame, but it isn’t something you can see. I often brush up against it when I enter or exit the driver seat and it would pop open and pop right back. Not really notable there (insert your favorite American-made Build Quality Joke here) I think.

More of a quirk and less of a feature is that my Model 3 doesn’t have a OBD2 port. This means some things won’t work with the car (like one of those insurance things that tracks how you drive). There is a port that is similar on later Model 3/Ys that can be connected to OBD2 with an adapter, and S/X had them at least at some point. Mine didn’t have it at all though.

The last quirk is autopilot. I think it takes getting used to, and once you do, it is a big time help. Rather than having it drive for you (which it does), it’s more like a new way to drive a car (which is what you practically do). Think of it as if you’re playing Gran Turismo on a PS4 controller. Just a new control scheme and more auto lane keeping–you are controlling the car at one more layer of abstraction up. I highly recommend it especially for people who drive long distances often. I probably didn’t need it given how little that I drive, but I took use of it as much as I could on the highways. The main features between just properly able to drive down a lane with curve (it will slow automatically) and being able to change lanes automatically are all that I need, and is majority of the value proposition in this type of system. As an EAP owner, I can pay $6000 to go to FSD, and it isn’t so much that it is out of realm of possibility, but it’s not needed still.

Other than that–that’s really all there is in terms of negatives. Oh, I guess having to plan road trips based on charging is a negative, but it is not a big deal since it gave me a good excuse to take breaks every 2-3 hours and check out the local eats and scenes on those drives. Having to plan hotels that have charging is not always necessary but a thing I have also done, so that could also be a minus.

On the upside, which gas car has all these stats in the computer that you can just look up? Let’s start there. Maybe some do now, and tells you the fuel efficiency and what have you. I just don’t know of one.

We can talk about AP, software, keyless-by-phone, app-based control, and other things the Model 3 excel at and others are now catching up to, but how many of them bring it all to you as standard on all their cars? Nobody. What is the minimum spend to even get SuperCruise? How much does BMW and Mercedes Benz charge for their equivalent?

Finally, the Tesla supercharging network is still by far the best way to road trip in an EV in North America in 2022. This is not even close to being contested.

And perhaps equally important: I love never having to go to a gas station, basically, ever. Or worry about gas prices. Only on road trips I have to do the supercharging. No oil changes, as mentioned earlier. There is barely any maintenance. My brake pads are probably going to last 10 years lol. I can change my air filter in 2024 and probably get away with any other maintenance until then.

As for value, well, if KBB is true, I almost made money owning this car, as it sits at about $48000 on the used market as of this writing. Out of the door I paid about $56000, then there’s the $7500 federal incentive. Not counting on any other savings. I guess I did paid interest on this car for the car loan. Dang those greedy banks.

I was initially worried buying a car that is so tied to consumer electronics as a value proposition would depreciate fast given how fast smartphones and computers depreciate. I am kind of glad to be wrong now, even if part of this is due to the current supply chain constraints. I guess they are not kidding that cars and car OEMs take forever to innovate and catch up to real competition, relative to the life of a car itself.

Files, Files, Files

Sometimes it feels like the world is a small place, and sometimes it feels like we live in different universes. Sometimes it might just mean that most people really don’t know what they’re even talking about.

It is good that you first read or skim the article linked in the tweet if you have not. It won’t make a lot of sense until you do. In short, it’s about how college professors are now unable to explain to freshmen students on how to open files, because a lot of younger folks never really had to learn it.

This is the kind of content that is perfect for trolling, personally, because some people feel strongly about tree-based filesystem designs, for reasons that has to do with a serious answer I’ll provide to why it’s even happening in the first place. But that’s like having emotional attachment to, say, a mesh based gutter guard versus a flow based gutter guard just because at some point you had to hire someone to put it up on your house. It makes sense if you are also a gutter technician or a home improvement pro of some kind, but random professors who are just trying to get spreadsheets opened?

So yes, I think it’s because software tools have changed over the decades, and middle and high school curriculums have also changed to keep up. Thus tossing the filesystem out. In my experience you learn this kind of “hard” UX experiences in school–along with QWERTY typing and using a spreadsheet. Blaming it on new tech advances is fine too, but that’s like complaining about Java garbage collection taking away programmers who are skilled in indexing memory manually. Not having to manually assign memory has its pros that translate to, well, now most things are done this way for various reasons.

It’s just to say some college professors are still running C on their grey matter and are now complaining about node.js running somewhere else. Do you, too, prefer to allocate memory manually? In short, this is the “we don’t care about punch cards anymore” argument.

There is another take. The file system tree and concept of files and folders, or that I may have 100s of icons on my desktop, are what forms the basis of etiquette, but they aren’t actual etiquette. You can complain about my work desk being a mess, but who cares if my Desktop folder has so many things in it? The whole notion of data and files in folders is, at some level, a thing in computer science and engineering, about an abstract concept on how to index data. How is this at all a concern about what people know? Are you suppose to be upset if people don’t analyze their tables in Oracle DB? No? Maybe you should join these boomers and ensure the fastest performance? LOL.

Which is just to say this is perfect trolling fodder–mostly white, out of touch old people complaining about kids for no reason? Sure, complain about how Apple and Google made us dumb. Because it’s at least something that boomers can do that we don’t have to worry about.

PS. This confluence of boomers realizing what has been happening to children is probably equally eloquently put by this series of insurance commercials. Same energy, basically.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

As the Marvel Comic Universe marches on like an unstoppable army across pop mediascape, box office charts, internet discussions, and global playing field made for Hollywood production, Asia is next. That stop is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Light spoilers ahead.

I don’t really know anything about the comic books related to Shang-Chi, but I am also thinking like, if you weren’t an African-American, can you really fully appreciate, say, Black Panther? I mean, you can enjoy it–it’s a fine movie and quite good, for most people. Same can be said of Shang-Chi.

But Shang-Chi is more than just Asian representation, it crystalizes a lot of East Asian-American “if Hollywood wasn’t a racist POS they would have made X more like Y” kind of thinking. For starters they did have someone who is Asian-American make the movie, and you can tell the difference between meaningful homage and just dropping bait. It’s the difference between General Tso’s Chicken and White Macha. (Who knew White Macha is such a great way to explain racism and racial appropriation?)

Which is also to say, I feel a bit torn in that ultimately Shang-Chi is also a Hollywood film. It’s squarely targeting Asian-Americans and I’m really curious how non-American Asians feels. Like, plenty of Chinese people would enjoy General Tso’s Chicken, especially when it’s done so well like most top-tier MCU flicks. But this isn’t Crazy Rich Asian, this is ultimately still a superheroes fantasy film that has to slot in a new origin and reoccurring cast like another rock on the infinity gauntlet. I’m concerned about authenticity, but it’s at least here in some measurable dosage. It isn’t performative, at least to people to can tell the fake stuff from the real stuff–which is unfortunately probably not a lot of white people, at least if you surf Metacritic or RT’s criticisms from pro critics.

The real test would be how Shang-Chi’s character and themes survive the collision with the MCU. If Captain American can, and to an extent, Black Panther can, will it happen for the rest of them? At this point I’m just glad the film is so succinctly pandering to Asian Americans that the CG kirins is both a superficial weeb kind of thing, and a reminder to myself that I don’t know my Chinese history and culture lore well enough to pick everything else out. Or perhaps, calling Shang-Chi out for the things it didn’t do is probably the right take. Like unable to go all the way with all those argument-ending Chinese proverbs, there were so many occasions for them. They went pretty far with the raw Mandarin, I was hoping for more to be honest–but I guess the cast has some limits LOL. That in itself is a reflection of Asian-Americans. I think the 3rd Q&A in this short video with the actress of Xialing nails an example of That Problem With Tokenism.

As for the actual film, it’s definitely my second favorite after Captain America, and at the same time it’s probably the one I would rep the most since of all the East Asian-ness. At the very least it didn’t copy some blatantly Asian thing. Making Black Panther just like Lion King lost some respect for me, but at times while watching Shang-Chi it felt like it tries to ring home those familial-friendly themes a tad too hard, in a Disney kind of way. Well, see above about Chinese proverbs. Which is just to say this is a billion light years better than the new Mulan. Maybe Disney princesses are toxic from an intersectionality POV? Just saying.

As far as the cast go, I dig that new face they found for Xialing, who is a Chinese actress who studied internationally but somehow made it, and got married to one of the action directors while making the movie. Shang-Chi is her first mainstream work. Simu is a good fit, and Awkwafina came off properly and she has just the right amount of spotlight on her to fit her outsized personality without taking away from the main story. I think in CRA she definitely was too big for her role, for example.

Speaking of too big, though, I think all the classic stars are too big. Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh, and others are in their classic form. They overshadow Simu, but in a good way, kind of like you got superpower parents and relatives, so they should take more of the spotlight than the main guy, who’s going to inherit that and make it his own. The film gave Simu a bit of that towards the end–and it’s my favorite part of the movie. It’s both thematically appropriate and in parallel with the acting. The bigger question is if Simu Liu has acted enough to own that. I’m not sure he did, but time will tell once, again, when Shang-Chi collides with MCU Phase 4.

And yeah, I think the story is really why this isn’t my favorite MCU movie–Cap’n gets to fight Nazis. Shangchi and the gang get to stop Dad from being fooled by ghost voices trying to open the jail door? Seriously? That makes Lion King look good.

PS. This is all a great set up for that Indian subcontinental MCU bandwagon stop, whenever they get to it. You are Asians, but we know, it’s not the same.

Razer Barracuda X First Impression/Review

Long time no blog.

As with the other white-collar types during the Pandemic, I worked from home a lot–almost exclusively now. That’s great for my hour+ commute life, but I had to upgrade my home IT equipment to make things work well. I can probably get deeper into this at the end of this post.

But it’s in this backdrop that Razer drops their latest wireless gaming headset, which comes with this T-shaped USB-C dongle that works with Playstation, PC, Switch and your smartphone, most likely. I think that’s awesome, and I didn’t really try it out on the smartphone, for reasons I’ll explain, but that’s great on paper. For $99 MSRP that’s a nice set of reqs.

In addition, there’s a proper microphone on the stalk that even has L/R directionality. The padding on the ears are memory foam. It provides great passive audio isolation for a $100 headset arguably for gamers. Prior to the Barracuda X, I was using the Logitech G733, which is, uh, way too gamerZ for this old man who is using it to run, uh, raids, the dungeons are called “Quarterly business review” and “customer escalation bridge.” I mean, I do talk to my team every day, we are on vc often, just that we battle using Zoom, Slack, email, Jira, and, well you get the idea.

Razer Barracuda X‘s sound quality is significant better than the Logitech. The mic quality is also better. There’s more isolation. It purports a longer battery life, and is charged in the same way through a USB-C charging cable. Volume control, secondary button (which is mapped to the power button), and a mute button, plus volume, all on headset. The wireless range is on par with the G733. It’s about the same price. The T-shaped USB-C dongle also comes with a USB-C(f) to USB-A(m) cable for sanity’s sake if you have to plug that into a PC or a crowded laptop port.

It all made sense to me, which is why when it was released, I bought it the day of and went right at it for almost a week. Turns out, this product just didn’t quite cut it, for these reasons:

  1. The memory foam doesn’t dissipate heat well, and my ears get warm after an hour. That’s not going to cut it especially in the summer months.
  2. My head is on the large side, and the fit is a little tight. The G733 uses an elastic band to basically double-support the top of my head (think AKG), while the Razer looks a bit like my Sony WH1000X-MK4. I’m happy with the Sony (in fact I flew transpacific with them all the time no issues, back when that was a thing qq). It’s just that the Sony headphones are notably bigger than the Razer, and actually is meaningfully “over ear” where as the Razer is more “on ear.” Without those comforts the heat and pressure become a notable factor in short order.
  3. The microphone stalk has a cover that is symmetric (like a grape), it is also symmetric once you cover up the mic part with the cover. Which means people may not hear you properly if you didn’t orient the stalk correctly given it is a stereo mic. It’s all black and symmetric, so you wouldn’t be able to tell if the mic is oriented correctly unless you 1) figure it out by touch or 2) remove the cover. This got me on a work call, which basically soured me on this headset completely, even if I now know why and can address it. The funny thing is for people without stereo output on their headsets, they’ll hear you fine. Imagine that confusion while raiding. No thank you.

Overall, this is a great pair of headphones and I probably would be able to put up with these pitfalls, but they’re showstoppers versus what’s on the market now. I don’t think there are better wireless PC/gamer headphones than these on spec, however, especially given the $99 starting price. It’s surely going to get discounted, and these would make pretty good work headphones too.

If Razer makes a v2 that address those 3 problems, they have a winner. Actually all they need to do is make a more directionally visible mic stalk that captures the audio correctly (maybe they can also do a software cue), and make these bigger. For now, back to Amazon they go.

PS. Just as a matter of spilling it out, I basically converted my everyday workstation for work purposes. I put a VM on it to do the VPN stuff. I hooked up part of it with OneDrive for work. I drive my apps mostly via old copies of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and a Chrome window doing everything else (like email and stuff I don’t run local). Since I already run 3 monitors, this makes working easier than I had on hand in the office. For audio, at first I ran with my Blue Yeti with a pair of headphones as monitor, and I would run the Zoom audio into the Yeti. This probably sounds great, but I had to be talking into the mic and it’s tiring for long calls, plus the Yeti picks up all the background sounds. I also tried my previous go-tos, like that Fiio bluetooth dongle I used with my wired earphones back when I get to travel more. I also used my WF-1000m3s. Those all worked, but the mic quality were lacking. The BT transmission is not great either, so the range isn’t good enough–not even so I can sneak into the bathroom. That’s when I went to the G733, about a couple months before the holidays in 2020. In short, the G733 fixed all the issues, even if it is not a great headset either, especially in terms of quality. For video, I had this kind-of-old Logitech C920, which worked perfectly fine. I also did not have a shortage of laptop and laptop-likes that had front-facing cams. Only thing that I wish would work better was the action cam I got, which couldn’t quite just work like a webcam straight and required finagling.