Sunday, October 26, 2008

The joys of the Volkswagen Caddy Natural Gas car

So I do own a car (contrary to what most people expect). About a year ago, I bought a VW Caddy EcoFuel. It runs on natural gas in normal mode and only uses the gasoline tank for starting (and when the natural gas has run out).

Up until 4 weeks or so ago I was pretty happy with it, but one morning, the car refused to start unless I hit the gas heavily while starting. I brought the car to the repair shop that belongs to the same place where I bought the car. After a few days of tinkering, they told me that
  1. The particular car I own doesn't lock the tank when the rest of the car is locked and
  2. Somebody poured an unidentifiable liquid into my tank causing the problems
  3. Because this is not a problem with the car itself, warranty doesn't cover it
  4. Removing the tank and the fuel pump and cleaning everything is going to cost 1200 EU
I am somewhat annoyed by some punk pouring an unidentifiable liquid into my tank and agree to pay the money. I also ask for the shop to retain a sample of the tank contents so I can at least find out what was poured into the tank, and perhaps get money back from my insurance.

They agree. When I come to pick up the car, the guys at the shop for some bizarre reason cannot find the sample. I sit and wait for ~1 hour, and they finally produce an unlabelled can from somewhere. Ok. I ask them to sign a piece of paper certifying that this sample is coming from my tank, and they tell me they will send it to me via regular mail the next day. So far so good.

So two weeks pass, and I call back 3 times for that piece of paper. At the beginning of the third week, I have to take my guinea pigs to the vet in the morning (yes, I don't only own a car, I also have guinea pigs). On my way back from the vet, the natural gas runs out, and the car switches to gasoline mode -- while I am going about 130km/h with a large truck behind me. The only complication: My engine switches off. Awesome.

So I manage to stop the car safely on the side of the autobahn and get towed to the next Volkswagen shop. About 2 hours after I leave my car there, I get a call from the repair guy there, telling me that they can see in the VW database which repairs were done on my car recently, but from what they can tell, these repairs never happened. They call in an expert that is certified to appear in court to take pictures & write a report, and he also confirms: The tank was never removed, the gasoline pump never replaced, and the 1200 EU were apparently charged without any of the stuff ever happening.

Clearly, I am somewhat surprised. To my dismay, I am also told that the actual repairs will cost about 2000 EU, and that there is still unidentified stuff in my tank.

So all in all, I am currently stuck with
  1. 1200 EU for repairs that never happened
  2. 2000 EU for repairs that are happening now
  3. 2 * 300 EU for chemical analysis of the two samples taken
  4. unspecified legal costs (most likely covered by my insurance) to deal with the situation
All in all, I am quite dissatisfied with VW on this front -- IMO they should've warned me that the tank doesn't lock, and they shouldn't have "VW Certified Repair Shops" that appear to attempt to defraud customers. I have trouble imagining that not actually performing the repairs was an "honest mistake" (although I usually live by the motto that "one should not attribute anything to malice that can be attributed to incompetence").

Anyhow, let's see how this plays out. As if I don't have other stuff to do.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

For those playing with the printer bug...

... I can't help but post this small PNG. And since blogger rescales/blurs the picture, here is a link to the "full" one.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

My bro's comments on the financial crisis

My brother wrote an article injecting some reality into the discussion about the banking crisis on Spiegel Online. The german version can be seen here. I'll share a short summary of his arguments here (and he'll complain about my distortions later ;).

Short version: The article describes why the situation is less dire than many pundits claim, and explains logical fallacies in commonly-heard arguments.

In the following, here's a summary of his arguments, in the form of "Myth --> Reality"
  1. The US government is taking on a total of 7000bn in liabilities -- about 5500bn by agreeing to step in for Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac, and about 700bn in papers bought by doing the bailout. This equates to roughly half of US GDP, and since the US is already in debt by about 65% of GDP, this would push the total indebtedness of the US to be clearly past 100% of GDP. As a result, serious doubts would have to be cast on the US governments ability to repay debts and service interest on debt.
    Reality: Most of the 5500bn are backed by "proper" mortgages with decent quality. It is unclear whether the US gov will lose money on the Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac deal at all. Even the 700bn in "toxic assets" the US is willing to buy have some underlying value. Realistic expectations at the total loss for the US government in this deal runs in the area of 500bn, which would be less than 3% of GDP -- and therefore not a significant source of problems.
  2. The liquidity that central banks are injecting into the markets should lead to hyperinflation. Reality: The measures to help liquidity in the markets do not increase the money supply in the long run. They are usually short-term credits given to struggling banks for a limited amount of time -- weeks or months. After this time, the creditors have to repay the loans, and the money disappears. At the same time, the willingness by existing banks to lend decreases, thus decreasing the money supply in the economy. The statistics by central banks show that the actual money supply M2 is growing a lot less slowly at the moment in spite of all the liquidity injections. Since the money supply is only growing very slowly at the moment, the inflationary pressures are low.
  3. The banking crisis is responsible for the overall slowdown in the EU's economy, and the German government is thus not responsible for having to adjust their growth estimates downwards sharply.
    Reality: Most indicators show that the slowdown started way before the crisis reached it's current urgence. The indicators started pointing down much earlier as a result of the heavy increase in energy costs, the appreciation of the euro (and the resulting loss in competitiveness), and Germany's botched reform of accounting rules for writing down investments in equipment. The banking crisis is just the latest "kick" -- but the three previous ones were all known early (and could've been partially corrected).
  4. This is the mother of all financial crises. This banking crisis is the worst crisis in several generations, up to the 1930's crash. Reality: Dramatic banking crises are more common than we think. Since 1970, the IWF has counted 42 crashes in countries like Argentina, Indonesia, China, Japan, Finland or Norway. In comparison to these crises, the current crisis isn't even very deep or expensive: The Paulson-bailout comes at a cost of 700bn, not even 5% of GDP, and only a fraction of this will be actually lost. According to the IWF, the average banking crisis in a country came at the cost of 13% of GDP for that country's tax payer. The Indonesian crisis even came in at four times this. The big difference to the other crises is that this one has caught on in the world's biggest economy, and as such reaches unknown dimensions in absolute terms.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A few things I forgot to mention :-)

Hey all,

I forgot to mention a few things in the previous post:
  1. We're going to release BinDiff v2.1 on the 15th of October 2008. This is still the "old" diffing engine, albeit with a number of speed & reliability improvements.
  2. We're going to release BinNavi v2.0 on the 15th of October 2008. The number of new features in this release is huge -- it's really quite significant. You can read about it in detail on SP's blog.
    I will post some more information myself in the next days. Just a few mouth-watering keywords: Plugin API to extend Navi from Java/JRuby/Jython/JavaScript, built-in intermediate language, hierarchical tagging / namespaces for structuring large disassemblies, cross-module-graphing, managing multiple address spaces in one project, many user interface improvements, faster IDA->SQL export etc. etc. etc.
  3. The DiffDeluxe engine will be part of the next BinDiff release thereafter, probably no later than February 2008. If you are an existing BinDiff customer and would like to try the DiffDeluxe engine in order to provide us with feedback, do not hesitate to contact us -- it's available for testing now. We're especially interested in finding instances where DiffDeluxe performs worse than BinDiff v2.1. Switching the core diffing engine is a significant change, and I would not want to know of any instances where the new engine is worse than the old one.