Honda Civic 1600 i-DTEC: first contact

Yesterday I picked up the new car and I made a hundred kilometers inside Milan and on the streets of the Brianza area.
Not many, but enough for a first impression.

The engine is very “electric” in the power output, no excitement (unlike my former 170cv Alfa Romeo 147), but in fact is present when is needed.
It provides a clearly superior performance compared to the 1500dci in my 2008 Renault Laguna: today it has 100,000 km, but I don’t recall it being different when new.
All of the stories that Honda told to the car magazines on the reduction of internal engine friction must be true: the engine brake is almost non-existent even in comparison to the 1500dci.
Fuel economy, even with the brand-new engine, seems very interesting (5.6 liters per 100km at the moment)
The start & stop is not intrusive: kicks-in if you are in neutral with the clutch disengaged and not moving. You do not need your foot on the brake as, for example, on the Mercedes class A (tried yesterday the 200CDI)

The visibility in the rear mirror is almost nonexistent for the maneuvers, but adequate for the march.
Parking sensors are installed and welcome (even if I need to turn them off to enter my garage or they will drive me insane) and the rear camera appears quite accurate.
Also convenient is the repetition of the directions from the sensors in the camera screen.
At the moment I find it difficult to take measurements of the front: the car is almost all behind the driver and the bonnet (hood) is very short. The uncommon shape of the dashboard also requires a bit of practice to figure out where the car ends.

The driver seat seems comfortable, but with the standard velvet upholstery is too hot even with the air conditioner on.
At least in the Italian summer (outside temperature during the test was 34 celsius)
Seat comfort to be verified in a long trip.

Suspensions are fairly soft and absorb well the harshness of the road.
The combination with wide tires (225mm, the main source of noise ) leads to a dynamic behavior that inspires me little confidence at the moment: the car body moves quite a bit for a european car.
The steering wheel is very light and uncommunicative (again for a european car).
For now, on the whole, the Laguna with Dunlop SportBluRespose and shocks 100.000km-old has a better dynamic.
On the dynamics the former 147 with sportpack and oversize rims is clearly unmatched, but this is true also about the high level of discomfort when driving provided by that Alfaromeo.

The shift stick (is a manual car) requires a little of attention to get the gear in.
A short lever in a forward position invites more to a relaxed driving than to the search of fast shift performance.
The Laguna’s shift command was perfect from new and is better than the civic even after the relatively long use.
Judgment in this area is suspended pending the completion of the run-in.

The satnav: at the moment I’m not in love with it and I prefer the tomtom with IQroutes, but perhaps with the use I’ll change my mind.
Is good to have the GPS antenna on the roof because it provides good reception.
The navigator is integrated with the radio and the screen is shared with the rear camera and with the video input.
The repetition of turn directions (pictograms without map) on the screen of the trip computer inside the normal driving viewing area (without taking his eyes off the road) is a nice addition.

Round trip to San Diego on Delta Airlines: nice seats

I was recently in the USA for business and due to the past experience with BA’s delays (3 trips to San Diego in 2012), lack of comfort on the economy cabin of the 777 from London and significantly better price I’ve changed habit and went for Delta with connection in ATL when going to the US and in JFK when coming back.

Web checking was problematic in both direction: it wasn’t possible to book the seat for the domestic flight and I had to check-in at the airport and get the actual seat at the gate.
This was nicely compensated by the fact that both times I was assigned a seat in the comfort economy and I was able to sleep fairly well.

The in-flight entertainment was a bit problematic in both intercontinental flights: audio was missing in my seat row (not only my seat) on the flight to ATL (overhead monitors) while in the flight from JFK the system had to be hard reset to deal with major problems in playback (individual screens, system running on RedHat Linux dating from the 2002-2003 period) and the resistive touch control on the screen was not working in the lower left part.

I think that in the future cabin refreshes all that will be needed from the entertainment point of view is power outlets (CA and USB) and a simple retain system for the tablets that are becoming more and more ubiquitous.
If differentiation is desired an app (android and iOS) to stream content from the USB link should complete the needed package.

The quality of the seats, or to be more precise the fit of the seats to my body, were more than compensating the issue with the entertainment system.
The overall balance was good: Delta will be high in my preference list for future trips to SAN.

Comply tips: there’s no rose without a thorn

I’ve recently posted my extremely pleasant experience with the Comply tips in my Ultimate Ears 700 and is really sad that I have to add a downside.

The Comply tips seems to be very fragile and don’t last long.
The first pair is already showing a major indication of wear: you can see that is tearing apart in the picture below.

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At 19.99$ for a set of 3 pairs the tips could quickly become a greater cost than the earphones themselves.
Hopefully it’s only bad luck with one of the tips.

Bernard’O restaurant in San Diego

Yesterday evening a colleague pushed me to go to Bernard’O for dinner.
The dishes in the menu appeared overly rich in the list of ingredients for my general preference when I took a glimpse before entering but looks like it is a fairly common practice in this area making the choice hard for someone looking for simple food.

I was not very hungry so I went for something small and that should fit well with the fact that the cook is french: a french onion soup.

While waiting we were offered bread and butter:
the bread was hot but fairly undercooked (at least for the italian standards) and the butter was absolutely sub par: almost perfectly tasteless.
If I decide to hit my health I want it to be worth and I think this should be a general guidance for everyone.
Skip the butter altogether at Bernard’O.

Then the onion soup arrived.
The first thing that I noticed as soon as I raised the first spoon is that the broth was heavy on taste enhancers.
I wonder if it actually ever had the opportunity to see some actual meat.
The taste was very heavy on pepper while the onion test was almost completely missing: ridiculous for an onion soup.
It’s a classical french dish: it’s not acceptable to have it made like this in a french restaurant.

The restaurant site claims that they won the “best french restaurant in San Diego” in 2008.
Either they changed cook in the meanwhile or I don’t want to try any other french restaurant in the area.

Save yourself the money (the place is not cheap) and the time and avoid it as long as you can.

The figth against noise on long flights: ultimate ears 700

A few weeks ago I posted about my experiments dealing with in-flight noise and anticipated a new test.
Today I’m reporting what I found when using the Ultimate Ears 700 from Logitech that I recently purchased.

It is an in-ear solution that is noise blocking or, if you prefer, is doing passive noise canceling.
It comes with the option of using either silicone plugs or foam plugs (“Comply” tips): the former solution is comparable with the standard tips coming with most of the in-ear solutions while the foam tip is less common and makes a difference.
I’ve tried both and picked up the Comply as the best solution for me: better noise blocking, more comfortable, lower cable noise.
Pay attention when fitting the foam tips as it’s a bit harder than fitting correctly the silicone ones and you don’t want to remove the earphones leaving the tip inside your ear.

How good they are?
unbelievably good.
Two weeks ago I was in our London office working on a presentation and needed to focus so I used the earphones to avoid the distraction of the conversations in the open space.
At one point I noticed the colleague on my right jumping on the chair: it turned out that someone slammed hard a door but I did not notice at all.

I thought that I might be too focused to notice but it turned out to be really the good performance of the Ultimate Ears that made the difference.

Last week I used them again, this time for the purpose I originally purchased them: dealing with the in-flight noise.
When the music was turned on, even at low volume the humming of the 737 was totally removed and the only noise was coming from the seat and through my spine.
With the music off the noise coming in is similar to what gets through when I use the 3M plugs mentioned in the earlier post.

It’s all perfect? Almost.
I have relatively small ear canal so there it is a bit of fatigue after a while. It may happen to other people too.
To ear the cabin crew you have to remove the earphones.
I discourage using them in places that are not totally under control because anything can happen with you not noticing; you really don’t want to do jogging while using them.

And the musical fidelity?
It is there too.
At least as far as an in-ear solution can go: I like the physical impact provided by a loudspeaker and no earphone can provide that.
They are in a totally different league compared to the Creative and Philips solutions I tried earlier.

When working at my desk I always prefer my pair of indiana line 5.04 with the support of the DTA-100a amplifier over the earphones when neighbours complains are not a risk.

I’m very happy with my ultimate ears 700 and I recommend them.

Thistle City Barbican in London: just a bit better than sleeping under a bridge

This week I had to be in London for the second time in one month and my experience was to some extent even worse than the previous one.
Apparently the city was packed and room availability scarce so I had to deal with a hotel that I would normally not pick up on the basis of the reviews: Thistle City Barbican.

The first night I was in the Thistle Kensington Park: my room was facing the HVAC cooling section that produced a continuous hum during the night and the bed was fairly uncomfortable: for 226£ expectations were higher.2013-05-22-095[1]

The very bad experience was the second night with the City Barbican: the room needs a major renovation for at least 10 years now.
In the bathroom a tile was missing from the floor and the chrome of the tap (two separate ones) was just a distant past.

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Wood panels and water don’t play nicely together and it is was clearly a bad decision to heavily use them in a bathroom.

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Tapestry on the wall was bulging, the desk finish was of low quality wood-like hard plastic and some large patches were missing altogether.

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No need to say that the carpet has made his time and the rest of the furniture was not in great shape either.

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I was lucky to be very tired and able to fall asleep without thinking of the cleaning.

226£ for a room that would be just ok for a free emergency shelter is absolutely a shame even if the personnel was very kind: in the end it’s 20 minutes dealing with them and 8 hours dealing with the room.

Stay away from the Barbican.

I was overbooked :-(

It’s widely common knowledge that airlines sell more seats than available in the airplane.
Maybe it’s because sometimes in the airport you hear the request for volunteers that are available to take a later flight (happened to me last year in Copenhagen) or because it’s frequent enough that it happened to a lot of people.

What is less common knowledge is that it might happen with hotels too.

I was in London 3 days ago and after a long day of traveling and business meetings I reached my booked hotel (Holiday Inn Express Park Royal) at 11pm.
I was warmly greeted and told the news about my missing room; I was then offered something to drink and invited to wait for the taxi that would bring me to a hotel with an available room with the reassurance that the complimentary taxi would be made available to me also the following morning to bring me where I needed to go.

The taxi arrived and after about 15 minutes I reached my new hotel (Holiday Inn Express Brentford Lock).
The clerk told me that the next morning there was no issue for transportation in the morning as a bus stop was near the hotel and would make me able to reach a tube station: no reference to the complimentary taxi.
I was very tired and simply went to my room to get some rest without arguing.

In the morning a different clerk mentioned the taxi (good move) but also told me that it would take 15 minutes for the taxi to arrive at the hotel and that using the bus would have worked fine and without additional cost for me as I have an Oyster card.
Unfortunately the part about the additional cost was not true (bad move): it costed me extra £ on top of the tube ticket. And clearly the hotel change costed me extra time (more train stops as I moved from zone 2 to zone 3 and a dozen bus stops not needed in the booked one) and discomfort.

No discount or complimentary benefit (WiFi, drink from the minibar) was offered to me.
I’ll think twice before booking again with Holiday Inn and I suggest that you do the same.