Living with an upgraded Kei Car – 2006 Daihatsu Cuore / Mira

Chapter 1 – The Initial Purchase

When it was relatively new, shiny and entirely adorable

Sometime in 2010, I bought a 2006 Daihatsu Cuore as my first car in Pakistan. Of course, when I say ‘my’, it is in the loosest sense of the term as my elder sister fell in love with it immediately and bought it from me. This was before she even knew how to drive. In the next six months, I gave a few lessons on driving, had a few near heart failures in the passenger seat. Fast forward the next two years, the little Kei car went to a new home along with my sister when she got married, carrying quite a bit of luggage and dents both. It was not the last that I saw of the little Kei car.

Chapter 2 – The Exchange

What is a car, after all? There is nothing like family.

Fast forward a few years to 2016 and I got myself a shiny, re-conditioned 2012 Daihatsu Mira – JDM version of the Cuore with a 660cc engine. That was in January 2016. Bought it for the wife who never got around to driving it and at the end of 2016, it had grown on me to a point where I’d actually look for excuses to show my baby off. Unfortunately, by this time the Cuore my sister was driving wasn’t doing too well and was leaking oil, coolant, electricity and everything else that could leak. I could see that the years had not been kind to the Cuore – a lack of maintenance and preventive work meant that the Cuore had a long, long list of problems. I advised my sister to get rid of it and got saddled with the task of finding a new car for her first, subject to approval from my brother in law and then getting rid of the Cuore.

I hunted high and low, near and far. Showed the B.I.L quite a few cars but he always had some issue. Stuff like”It’s ugly” or “It has no resale value” or “The paint job is terrible” or “its’ an automatic” and so on and so forth. 2 months later, I’m exasperated to put it mildly. It is mid January; I’ve been hunting since November last year for something that would please his highness. In a fit of quixotry I tell him to keep my car and give me the damned Cuore since my sister has been complaining non-stop about how it fails everywhere and would I hurry up with my search. After all, it isn’t fun to be stranded with a toddler at the side of the road every other evening and I am kind at times – when I think of it. To my brother in law, all his previous objections no longer existed as he didn’t have to spend a dime on getting what was practically a new car while getting rid of an old, troublesome one. My sister was hesitant but I was quite fed up with hunting for the holy grail-esque car and insisted she exchange the car and be done with it. The things one does for ones siblings.

Chapter 3 – No Pain, No Gain

It’s not what you buy that gives you pleasure. It is what you build with your own hand that does.

What did I get in exchange? Constant pain. The problems the car labored under were manifold. Please, share my misery, for misery loves company.

  1. Old, useless battery
  2. Leaking coolant & brake fluid due to punctured pipes
  3. Worn out (read as non-existent) front suspension
  4. Unbalanced & misaligned wheels
  5. Weak headlights
  6. Poor fuel economy due to a removed thermostat valve
  7. Worn out piston rings, engine seals, noisy main crank bearing and faulty camshaft
  8. Blown head gasket
  9. Worn out front brake pads
  10. Worn out electrical system including the spark distribution system
  11. Choked up air-conditioner
  12. Worn out clutch and pressure plates
  13. Dents and scratches all over the car
  14. Slight rot in the rear driver side wheel arch.
  15. Worn out front CV joints
  16. Worn out steering rack
  17. One of two speakers not working

All the above would have been enough to give most people a pause and the chance to quietly dump the car in the nearest junkyard. Not me. True, I was quite furious at what I was dealing with at times but then remembered a few good things that this little car also had.

  1. An excellent 4 wheel independent suspension system that was discontinued on later models
  2. Fairly new tires including the spare
  3. A good air-conditioner (minus the wonky blower fan)
  4. A relatively neat and clean interior

I had a lot of work to do. This is something I enjoy. So I got cracking.

Chapter 4 – The Rebirth

Death is merely the beginning of an end.

I was busier than a bee during the first 4 months and energetically went about the following tasks:

  1. Changed all the liquids – Engine and gearbox oil, brake fluid, coolant, washer fluid.
  2. Replaced the complete spark ignition system
  3. Put in a thermostat valve
  4. Replaced the clutch and pressure plates
  5. Replaced the battery
  6. Got the radiator serviced
  7. Replaced the faulty water circulation pipes
  8. Got the complete wheel balancing done
  9. Replaced the front brake pads and faced the front discs
  10. Removed the CNG gas cylinder and its kit. Good riddance.
  11. Got the rear glass tinted and the front windshield buffed for scratches, installed new rear lights and replaced a few bulbs.

This entire replacing and servicing etc was done in 4 months. At times, I was madder than a wet hen and for two pins; I could’ve set the car on fire and walked away. Why? Because now I was forced to stop and fix whatever was wrong with the car (overheating, electrics, and low coolant / brake fluid levels) after every two hours of driving. I couldn’t use the air-con during the heat of the day (overheating), couldn’t play music on the stereo (bad electrics), couldn’t see out at night because the lights were too dim and couldn’t turn too quickly because the steering rack had a will of its own. The ride was harsh and noisy as the bushings and the rubbers of the front suspension were non-existent and the air-con fan was pathetic.

That being said, the car was now less problematic to drive daily but it was time for an upgrade. Starting with the engine. Rest in pieces, little engine.

Chapter 5 – The Upgrades

With great power comes great hooniganism.

Out went the main cause of my misery – the 850cc naturally aspirated (wheezy) engine with a blown gasket, leaky seals, worn piston rings, faulty camshaft seats and crank bearing. I replaced it with a 660cc turbo-charged engine with a top mount inter-cooler, upgraded the air intake to a pod filter one (better induction sounds), changed all the front suspension and steering components, replaced the punctured brake lines and took a look at the air-con. Turns out that the airflow of the air-con was blocked by the leaves and mud that the fresh air mode of the air-con sucked in. Removed them, serviced the compressor, replaced the small 1 inch exhaust to a free flow, 2 inch straight exhaust pipe without resonators and a cannon at the rear end, a couple of aftermarket LED fog lamps, a hole in the hood for an air scoop and I’m not done yet.

Turns out, the replacement engine came out of a vehicle that had suffered an accident and as a result, the compressor for the air conditioning unit sits slightly tilted at one end. The results – the compressor belt wears out every 300 kms. I need to get that straightened at a denting shop. There is also the small matter of the turbo leaking oil. Not quite sure about that – may be something as simple as a PCV (Positive crankcase ventilation) valve or a worn out shaft in the turbo. If it is the latter, I’ll need a new turbo and if not, I’ll have to hunt around and find out where the damn valve is. The speedometer cable is also gone – I have no idea – the cable connectors may be loose or the cable may have snapped and that job too will have to wait as I’m without tools at the moment.

As it is, the car is now a handful. It will spin the wheels in second gear (I blame the grip less General Tyres, not the engine), the acceleration feels like nothing, nothing and then boom! turbo kicks in and whoa! Off you go. Top speed? Well, enough for the car. I’ve managed to cross 160 kmph and that should tell the tale. I couldn’t take a snap since I was too busy keeping it on the road and the slightest distraction could spell disaster at those speeds in a Kei car.

I’ll keep you guys posted. In the meantime, happy motoring.

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Posted in Cars

2016 Yamaha YBR 125 Review

A colleague of mine has bought a brand new, shiny Yamaha YBR 125. Courtesy, me. How, ask ye? Here is how it happened. (If you don’t want to know and are more interested in my review, skip to the introduction section)

Le Colleague: I want to buy a new motorbike.

Le Me: So? What am I supposed to do?

Le Colleague: I want your expert opinion, you numbskull.

Le Me: Oh. What choices have ye?

Le Colleague: A Suzuki GS150.

Le Me: That’s an old man’s bike. Seriously?

Le Colleague: Well, I want something relatively modern. Honda has been selling the same crap for the last millennium.

He had a point. So I suggested a Yamaha – I’d seen a couple, had a brief ride on one and was favorably impressed by it. Actually, I fairly coerced him to buy one. I don’t like the GS150 he was planning to get – in my opinion, that is an overpriced piece of crap. The only benefits I see in a GS150 are durability and fuel economy. The styling is not my cup of tea, the brakes are from the horse and buggy age, the spares are hideously expensive and the local mechanics are a bit leery when it comes to repairs. Off we went to Akber Market, Karachi – and after a bit of convincing (read as browbeating) my colleague was the proud owner of a shiny new Yamaha. Since he’s a nice guy, he lets me ride it whenever I want to. After having ridden it for a few hundred kilometers, I can give an informed opinion on it.

Introduction:

The Yamaha YBR – a breath of fresh air in the stagnant local motorbike industry. It’s the first bike launched by Yamaha after their break up with local partners Dawood Yamaha Limited (who are still offering their own bikes that have nothing to do with the Yamaha lineup) and as first appearances go, it is unlike anything that Honda, Suzuki and the local manufacturers combined have ever offered. The styling is predominantly aimed at the younger generation and often gives an impression of being a larger bike than it actually is. The engine is a 125cc OHC affair that has about 10 BHP, the wheels are alloy rims instead of the usual spoke and rim affair, the brakes are a drum at the rear and a disc at the front, a 5 speed gearbox and the gear shift pattern is something usually found on sport bikes with a 1st – Neutral – 2nd – 3rd – 4th – 5th. There are a lot of other things too which are detailed later, but there is the sheer size of the damn thing. I thought my Honda was big. Hahaha – silly me.

Engine and Performance:

A 125cc OHC engine, with a 5 speed gearbox and a relatively high compression ratio of 10:1 means this thing is fast. True, we get the carby version instead of EFI but apparently the issue of misfueling at high revs was sorted out by the company and this particular sample was perfect in fuel delivery. Cold startups are not an issue either in our part of the country since the temperature remains relatively balmy. It has a starter motor too, so you don’t need to kick it to life which is an added convenience. I’ve managed a top speed of 120 kmph on it – which isn’t bad and I’m guessing it’ll go even higher, provided I get a road relatively traffic free and an insane amount of luck with it. Acceleration is pretty linear with low and medium revs being the strongest. At the higher revs (above 6000) it fizzes out and that makes the 10,000 rpm redline seem a bit silly and a maximum rev range of 11,000 rpm even sillier. Then again, this is a city bike at heart and not a sports bike, so the maximum torque arriving at relatively lower rpm isn’t an issue but a benefit – low end torque will help you accelerate on demand unlike a Honda CG125 which makes its max torque at 7-8,000 rpm while redlining at 10,000 rpm which you really have to push if you need some performance.  You have to shift gears more often to keep the Yamaha at the lower rpms where it excels and that’s about it. With 5 gears to play with, you really don’t need the torque at stratospheric levels either.

That said – I prefer the screaming Honda to the purposeful Yamaha. That’s just me.

Acceleration figures are more or less standard – 0-60 kmph appears quickly (5-7 seconds) and 100 arrives quite a bit later (15-18 seconds) and if you’re really feeling the need for speed, you’ll see 120 kmph at the top.

Braking:

The braking power is supplied by a disc up front and a drum brake at the rear. The disc brake is a single piston caliper (provenance unknown) which offers good feedback and reels in the bike with authority. The drum brake however, is more or less useless if not used in conjunction with the front – the feel is wooden at best and the decrease in velocity not very evident – plus it does have a nasty tendency to lock up suddenly if pressed hard. The reason for this is primarily the way the bike’s weight is distributed – unless you’re riding two up, the rear end doesn’t have much to press it down which makes the rest of the story easier to understand. On the plus side, no matter how fast you’re travelling, braking using both front and rear brakes will slow you down pretty quickly without any drama, which is a relief in the city, where idiotic drivers, pedestrians and bikers make this a very comforting. The front end does dive a bit when you use the front brake, but compared to the Suzuki and the Kawasaki’s of old, it’s very, very stable and firm. Very confidence inspiring and encourages you to go that wee bit faster and brake a wee bit later, safe in the knowledge that it will deliver when asked to perform. That said, it is better to invest in an aftermarket handlebar which is lower than the factory fitted one and will allow you to shift weight to the front when braking in a better manner so that you can get some additional grip on the front wheel. The initial bite is also stronger than the competition – i.e.; Honda – so you’ll have to be wary and use it with care lest you end up measuring the pavement with your body.

Suspension:

The suspension is more or less on par with the other bikes in its class, with a non-adjustable front end and a pre-load only rear end with 4 settings. It’s setup is rather soft – even riding one up isn’t uncomfortable and with two people, the softness is a bit daunting if you’re a spirited rider. Or if you weigh the equivalent of two people. In that case, you might have to invest in some stiffer springs and dampers for both ends or it does tend to buck and wobble under hard braking.

In the city, it is planted and sure-footed when upright but the lean angles are not generous – but that may be due to the fact that the bike is a bit top heavy. I feel a bit less confident on it when compared to the Honda CG125 Deluxe I own. Its also nearly as good as the the aforesaid Honda when it comes to quick wiggles – though the effort required is much more as you have to really muscle the handle bars and shift your weight in order to do so, because of its added height and weight. When all’s said and done, this is a bike meant for straight line speed as opposed to spirited twisties, in my humble opinion.

Unusual features:

There are a host of features on this bike that aren’t found on the competition – allow me to elucidate.

Faux air scoops on the tank: These are more of a design fad and have no utility whatsoever. The fuel tank is already largest in class, adding these make it look larger than it is and also slow the bike down by adding weight and drag.

Starter Motor: A welcome addition – So far, only the Ravi Piaggio storm had one in the 125cc category. That bike didn’t go too well with the public though.

Euro 2 Compliant Catalytic Converter: As far as I’m aware, Yamaha is the only bike to offer a catalytic converter built into the muffler. The rest have this odd looking device fixed with the carb of the bike to ensure that they are Euro 2 compliant. This is definitely an improvement and the engine looks less cluttered than the competition.

Alloy Rims: Another first. Sure, the Habib Stryker too had alloys but that bike is very rare even in the used market and you can’t get a new one – I did check with Akbar Market dealers. The only new 125cc bike to offer Alloys are Yamaha – and these alloys are lighter than the hub-spoke-rim arrangement used on the rest of the bikes. This makes the bike lighter and quicker than the competition and yes – this isn’t a claim by me. These alloys reduce the rotating inertia – good thing for quick accelerating and braking.

Five speed gearbox: The five speed gearbox on the Yamaha is a 1-N-2-3-4-5 patterned one instead of the usual N-1-2-3-4-5 found on the competitors. The gearbox could’ve been better – finding neutral is a bit like finding Nemo. Sometimes, it shifts from 1st to neutral when you want to find 2nd gear and vice versa. Takes a bit getting used to, that’s all.

Controls:

Rider controls have all been put on the left side – lights, indicators and horn. Fairly straightforward and nothing really out of the ordinary. The starter motor switch is on the right with the engine on/off switch. The instrument panel has been improved from the standard and features the speedometer, tachometer, a fuel gauge and gear position indicator. The front brake lever is non-adjustable, but the clutch lever is adjustable on both ends which makes it very easy to adjust the lever travel and engagement even when riding – though it isn’t really advisable to do so😀 Gearshifts as stated earlier are of a different pattern and follow the sport bike pattern instead of the regular pattern which makes it a bit hard to shift for those of us used to the conventional setup and mis-shifts are common. Other than that, there’s not much difference with other motorbikes.

Conclusion:

This bike is one of the best bikes currently available in the market, no doubt about it. In the hands of an expert, it is much more rewarding and for those who think it can’t beat the classic Hondas in a street race – beware. Don’t let the looks fool you at all, this thing is every bit as quick – in some areas even better and will make you look like a fool if you take it easy. It’s a relatively rare bike though, since it is expensive both in the price tag and the maintenance department – the prices for spares are really high and not everyone can fix it if it goes wrong (which it rarely does – but if it does, it does so with a vengeance).

The only grievance I have is the shoddy build quality. The nuts, bolts and plastics have a very cheap feel not in character with the rest of the bike and you’d be ill advised to take it to your nearest mechanic – they tend to damage the screws and bolts which are best described as ‘fragile’. In fact, the whole bike can be described as fragile – the bike my friend has is usually having annoying problems like indicators popping out of their anchors, the rims will get dented if you’re not paying attention and go hard over speed humps and potholes, the faux air scoops are plastic and one fall is all it takes to break them.The rear foot rests are held by metal tubing instead of aluminum or steel supports which also detracts from an otherwise quality product. Funny how skipping the little things brings down the whole package.  Still, a 6 out of 10 is merited, which isn’t bad at all. I’d still recommend it wholeheartedly to the veteran but not the newbie – this is not a bike for newbies.

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Posted in Motorcycles

Review: 2012 Daihatsu Mira G Eco-Smart Edition

Yes, I can hear y’all laughing your asses off. Shush.

As you probably know, my last car was a 1992 Mitsubishi Lancer Sedan, which was a bit large and unwieldy  for my dainty wifey to tootle around in. It had no creature comforts (read air con) and no power steering / windows / mirrors and was a bit of a handful to drive and she didn’t like it. I was fine with it, seriously. However, the hand wielding the kitchen knife rules all, so I regretfully sold it and bought a re-conditioned, as good as new, 2012 Daihatsu Mira – mostly for wifey, you understand. Occasionally for self too. After a few months of ownership, I thought I’d share my views on it with the world at large. Besides, wifey stands behind me with said kitchen knife and a grim reaper-esque face stating I do so.

1

One word – Cute.

Introduction: For a brief introduction of the Mira – it’s a Kei Car. If you don’t know what that is, I’d suggest Wikipedia. Native to Japan, imported elsewhere as a grey import. Engine displacement is limited to 660 CC, the power from the engine is capped at 63 BHP. Yes – it isn’t powerful. Not the proverbial hot hatch or pocket rocket. Consider this though – it wasn’t meant to be powerful. It is meant to be miserly with fuel, to be used in the congested cities of Japan (and elsewhere too if you can get your hands on one) and to get you from Point A to Point B in relative comfort. That it does, admirably. Frankly, I wasn’t sold on the idea of this small a car at first. Having driven it though – I’ll have to say, this is a proper little gem of a car. Japan should export these to all over the world – officially. I have seen the light.

 Features: Mira’s come in a variety of trim levels, with features varying on each trim. My car is the Eco G-Smart trim level, which is more or less mid-range. The ‘Eco’ is not to be confused with Eco Idle or Stop-Start feature in cars which shuts off the engine after a definite time of idling (Normally after a few seconds of the car standing still, for example – at a traffic light) to conserve fuel. Eco in this car means keeping the revs as low as possible so that the car is low on emissions (recall the ‘Eco’ and the ‘Ecomatic’ labels that came with our local, Pakistan-assembled Daihatsu Coure) which also translates to a high fuel economy. The features of this trim level are:

  1. 66o CC EFI Engine with a CVT Transmission
  2. Front Wheel Drive
  3. Manually tilting headlamps
  4. Air Conditioner (No Climate Control)
  5. CD Player with a speaker in each door (with useless AM / FM Radio as Japanese frequencies start at 75 and end at 90 Mhz)
  6. Child lock on both rear passenger doors (Important if your kids like pulling levers)
  7. Central Locking
  8. Immobilizer
  9. Power Steering (Guess what, you really need it)
  10. Power mirrors
  11. Power Windows
  12. Anti-Brake Lock System (ABS) / Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD)
  13. Dual Airbags (Driver / Front Passenger)
  14. 4 cup holders up front for holding your soda cans, a couple in the rear for your passengers
  15. A couple of shopping bag holders (one in front, the other in the rear)
  16. Small rear boot whose capacity can be increased by folding the rear seats down
  17. Seat belts for front and rear passengers

Not bad, especially when compared to our local assembled cars like the Hondas, Suzukis and Toyotas. There might be a few more options you might get if the original owner had those specified when getting the car from the dealer in Japan.

Interior: Interior space is excellent, with even 5 adults able to sit in comfort – attested by my passengers who were all praises after a 200 KM round trip on the National Highway (Karachi to Thatta and back) which is a joke of a highway considering the condition of the road and the fact that you can play dodge the pothole on it.  People who are tall can easily be accommodated both up front and in the rear seats – unlike most sedans and hatchbacks this is a properly spacious little thing. Seated in one, it’s a bit hard to believe there can be so much space in a car of this size.

2

Gauges are easy to read and all relevant info is available at a glance.

The dashboard is also very well designed – there’s a tachometer and a speedometer, a fuel gauge, a few lights here and there (ABS, Engine, Transmission, Battery, Low Temp / High Temp etc etc) but surprisingly, no temperature gauge. You have to rely on the light in the dashboard which lights up if the engine gets too hot which isn’t a good idea as far as I’m concerned. Other than that, a two tone dash board with a light cream bottom and a dark brown / black top makes it look very nice from the inside. The transmission lever stuck on the dashboard is slightly odd for most of us who are used to the stick shift but then again, it makes moving from driver side to passenger side a bit easier – you don’t have to hop around like the Easter Bunny.

IMG-20160113-WA0001

Note the odd positioning of the gear lever. Also, that tiny pedal to the extreme left is a foot operated parking brake – no lever to yank up here. Center console is as bare as a baby’s butt.

The seats are fabric, decent in quality but tend to get dirty really quickly. Seat covers should be one the earliest purchases if you get yourself one of these.

Exterior: This is no head-turner, I’m afraid. It has no pretensions to be anything other than what it is – a small, non-descript hatchback. That said, it looks neat and tidy – there are no large panel gaps, the bumpers are well fitted and all. Ride height is a bit low, so if you regularly seat 4 people or more, I would recommend the addition of spacers to increase its height or you might as well get used to your undercarriage getting scraped regularly on the speed-breakers in Karachi.

3

The wheels are at the extreme ends of the vehicle – so scrapes on speed breakers (or car breakers that we Pakistanis make) are inevitable.

Mileage: Expect an average of 16-19 KM/L – or lower if your right foot is made of lead. The key to getting a good mileage out of this dinky little thing is to be gentle and consistent. Stay around the 2000-2500 RPM range and you will be rewarded with a high mileage yield – I manage 18 KM / L regularly with intermittent use of the air conditioner unit. Highway mileage is again satisfactory – an average of 20-24 KM / L with the air con on, depending on the driving conditions. Everything affects the mileage – the number of passengers, the headwind, the speed, tire pressure, air conditioner usage. If nothing else, this car will teach you how to drive as efficiently as possible.

Speed and Handling: First off, please remember that this is not exactly a Ferrari. That said, you can achieve a top speed of a 140 KM / H on a nice, straight and empty stretch of road if pity doesn’t stir in your heart after hearing the engine shrieking away. 0-60 KM / H is dealt with under 10 seconds, 0-100 takes roughly 12-15 seconds. Average speeds of 60 KM / H are recommended where it all becomes very nice, calm and quiet in the interior. Sound proofing is well done, so engine noise is very acceptable at normal speeds. The blower for the air con is a bit noisy though. Body roll is quite noticeable when turning in, so speeds should be at the levels indicated by the signs on the road at places where the road curves. For example, the turn on the Karsaz Bridge to Shahrae-Faisal is indicated at 40 KM / H and I keep it under that. Whereas in my previous car whose handling was very good, I managed to maintain speeds of 70 KM / H on the same turns. The reason for this is mainly a tall ride height coupled with a narrow width, soft suspension and skinny 13 inch wheels. So any stunts are inadvisable in this car or for that matter, any Kei car except possibly the sport coupes like the Honda Beat and the Daihatsu Copen. Understeer is very much present during cornering – It’s a front heavy car and those small tires do not help at all.

Verdict: To sum it up then, this is an excellent car to drive around town in. I would rate it a 7/10 as it is modern, comfortable, the ride is reasonably pliant and fuel efficiency is excellent. Spares are available but expensive and limited to the larger cities mostly. You couldn’t do better for a first car, or if you want a small car to tootle around town in.

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Posted in Cars

A chronicle of festive fervency

This, ladies and gentlemen. This.

My Proliferating Thoughts

I had been sitting behind the steering wheel of my car, head resting on my hand, the front two windows open, since the last 10 minutes. The air around me was thick with excitement and everything, from the traffic on the roads to the confines of my house, was in a state of tumult. Eid was just days away and it seemed, just like it had always been that everyone postponed their shopping till the very last week. Of course, this was nothing unusual in a huge metropolitan city like Karachi. Here, odd was the new even.

It was sometime after 12 p.m. People occasionally threw an antagonized glance up at the sun, and it defiantly glared back, even more ablaze. Everywhere the temperatures were running high and tolerance was consistently decreasing. On the boundaries of the roads were vendors or thailay walay, selling a variety of juices, ice-creams…

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Ricers

I’ll be the first to admit that your average Pakistani isn’t exactly a fluent writer, especially where motoring and motorsports are concerned. Add to that our woeful tendency to not proof-read, the pidgin form of writing we practice and the tendency to be an insufferable know-it-all and comprehension as to why I tend to stay away from such stuff approaches with the speed of an SR-71 Blackbird. Hopefully.

For example, I read this article that classified the artistic folks modifying their cars so that they are visually striking and at times even an eyesore (depending on how you like such things) as ‘ricers’. A ‘ricer’, ask ye?

A ricer is a wannabe racer who thinks that he has managed to make a race car out of his Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. Or some other equally ridiculously slow saloon, mostly by adding a few stickers, some bright colored interior, perhaps a body kit, a rear wing, a thumping loud stereo and some alloys. Oh, one more thing is usually present: a loud sound from a practically non-existent exhaust system. They’re a global phenomenon; surely you’ve seen these kids?

Ah, I knew you have. You can’t miss them even if you tried to do so. A result of watching too much “The Fast and the Furious” movies, these eyesores are. Car of choice: A Honda Civic. It has made me add Civics to my hatred of Corollas.

But – we’re meandering away from our topic.

The writer condemns these people as imbeciles. He goes on about four things and only four things – body kits, muffler tips, rear wings and a cold air intake. How they are of no practical value and at times even detrimental to the economy figures of the “econo-box” the poor sod is probably driving. So I’ll be gently poking holes in his theories.

First off, body kits. According to the sage writer, these negatively affect the aerodynamics of the car, by producing more drag and slowing the car down instead of speeding it up. I ask you, all in the name of that is holy – what is he talking about? Any decent body kit will add some down-force and a lot of stability to your car that would otherwise be a handful at speeds north of 60 mph. That is why they are there. If you toddle around in the city, chances are you are moving at speeds that have more or less no effect on the aero-kit. So by all means, add an aero kit. It’s your car anyway. Stand out visually and if you ever manage to actually drive it fast, it will be a helluva lot more stable than the guy without the aero kit.

Then comes the turn of the rear wing. According to sage writer, rear wings are pointless on front-wheeled cars. I assume he’s never really driven a car at high speeds. Or seen a touring car championship. I rest my case.

Then comes the cold air intake. Okay, I agree – if you put it next to the exhaust manifold, there isn’t much point to it. Right. The ‘econo-box’ doesn’t have anywhere else to put it in most cases, unless you plan on removing the front bumper and placing the air intake scoop or filter right next to the front radiator. Which also gets plenty hot. Or perhaps he had the front wheel panel in mind – or the cabin of the car with the air-con turned on. I don’t know.

Finally, the exhaust tip. Sage writer says it is pointless – the exhaust needs the back-pressure to work properly and adding a large exhaust tip with a hole the size of Jupiter doesn’t add any extra hp – but it chokes up the engine. He added something about exhaust gases coming out in pulses with high pressure at the beginning of the pulse and low at the end. I’m still laughing at ‘pulses’. Apparently he doesn’t know that after the catalytic converter, there are usually two other small mufflers en-route to the exhaust tip that are used to deaden the sound. If you merely remove the original small diameter exhaust and replace it with a ginormous exhaust tip, you won’t hear much noise unless you’re revving it to the max. To get the loud noise, you have to take out all of the ‘in-between mufflers’ and the catalytic converter too, if you want to hear the ‘ooh so lovely’ sound of afterburn. Which makes the exhaust system practically resistance free so that the engine does not have to ‘push’ the exhaust gases being slowed down by the catalyst and the mufflers and as a result, breathes free. The result it terms of power after doing all this? About 7-8% increase in bhp. Notice again the extremely loud noises made by race cars. Study one closely from underneath and see for yourself.

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Posted in Cars

The curse of the hybrids

Dear Reader, before you begin reading what is probably a long diatribe against hybrid cars, you might want to consider reading something else. You’ve been warned.

I like cars. They like me. I care for them. They care for me. We’re kindred souls, if you will. I understand cars.

Or so I thought, until I drove a Hybrid.

But we’re jumping the gun here. Folks who like are petrol heads like me may skip the intro I’m about to give. The non-petrol heads who think a car has four doors, four wheels and an engine may like to expand their knowledge on the varieties available.

There are two kids – one is the slightly dodo-istic, brawny athlete who gobbles food by the ton and belches in public but is a reliable, dependable kind of chappie. This kid is the combustion engine based car that we grew up with and know and love for all its idiosyncrasies and foibles.

The other is the smart one. It uses a variety of gizmos and witchcraft which tend to leave you amazed when things go right but the thing is – you understand very little of what it is doing and all you do is take care of it and hope it takes care of you. This is the hybrid, a combination of electric motors, batteries and an itsy-bitsy engine and while they say it is a brilliant machine that is gentle on the eco-system and the trees, I have my doubts.

Before the other petrol heads bash me for forgetting the third variety which everyone hates, let me assure you, fellow petrol heads, that I am ignoring the all electric cars. Living in Pakistan, we barely have enough electricity to power our homes and electric cars here – well, no one cares for the idea here. Plus, I’ve driven the toy electric cars and they’ve left me a bit leery of them – A car is supposed to make some sort of noise in movement and sound of merely tires on a road is a bit disturbing to say the least.

Coming back to our topic. Me, being a petrol head, grew up with and love the former. The world, however, has different ideas and loves the latter because they perceive it to be better in all aspects. Aha. No, they are most emphatically not.

Unless you happen to own a hybrid like a McLaren P1, a Porsche 918 or a Ferrari LaFerrari, that is. In that case, please offer me a job – I will clean them for you. I’ll be your general handy-man too.

But I digress. Ahem.

The internal combustion engine uses petrol. Or if you’re a little more environmentally concerned, you probably have a diesel. Or any other varieties of eco-fuels like bio-ethanol, CNG, etc. Some engines are naturally aspirated. Nearly every car is naturally aspirated. Others use forced induction. Turbo and superchargers – they force pre-compressed air to increase power and lower CO2 levels and are used in smaller engines or in performance cars or motorsport like rallies and such. The electronics in these cars – and I’m talking modern cars, not cars from the 70’s and 80’s that I adore – are usually limited to the management of auxiliary systems like braking, cooling, fuel management and other inane stuff and the engine is just the powerhouse to propel the car.

The hybrid is a bit tricky. It uses an internal combustion engine too. Albeit a small-ish one. With a turbo. (Yeah, turbo it is – superchargers are for the big boys) It also uses a couple of electric motors. These are run by batteries. Which are charged by the engine, so the engine is actually both an engine and a generator. Best example of a Hybrid? The popular Toyota Prius. (Ugh, that ugly thing) Up to a certain speed, the engine is off and the motors do the job of moving the car. As soon as you cross that speed or use up the batteries, the engine coughs apologetically to life and you have it doing both tasks of powering the car and charging up those pesky batteries. You’ve probably realized by now at least one thing.

Hybrids are slow. Very, very slow. Sure they do get better miles to the gallon but only in city driving conditions. They are also expensive to buy and maintain. The batteries need replacement after a certain number of charge cycles. The engine needs maintenance. The motors need maintenance. The regular car only needs engine maintenance. Regular cars are faster. Hybrids are not. Regular cars weigh less. Hybrids weigh more. (Pick up a box of regular AA batteries and a blender at the same time and you’ll know why.) The list is endless. Benefits? Better mileage, which is all that there is.

The greatest loss? You cannot take a hybrid to do racing. Unless, of course you own the aforementioned exotica. I repeat my offer for gainful employment again, in case you missed it the first time. A regular car can be bought, modded up and taken to track-days. Try modding a hybrid. Go on, I dare you.

In fact, even the exotica I mentioned earlier are still not really a match for the internal combustion exotica as yet. Sure, they’re very good, brilliant. Still, not fast enough. Try racing a 918 against a One:1 or even an Agera for that matter – the 918 will be trying to catch up and the Agera will be somewhere past the horizon. Fact. There is a video up on youtube if you’re interested.

I rest my case.

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Posted in Cars

Pimps, Preachers and Politicians

Succinctly put and beautifully told.

Mulos Blog

Growing up in a highly conservative and religious Zambia, you get to see the reverence we place upon our preachers and politicians. Fortunately pimps are not that common in Zambia, but they fall under the same brand of manipulators of the weak minded.

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Politicians and preachers are a necessary tool for social stability, whereas pimps are not as publicly lauded for the services they render.

I’m not judging every politician or preacher, but observing some of the extremities that their kind do.

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In every society there are the weak willed, who do not believe in their own abilities, but in the abilities of the well spoken, who promise them a better tomorrow by sacrificing today.
They encourage their followers to sacrifice and pay tribute, tithe, tax and royalties in exchange for security, stability, salvation and a better tomorrow.

To do this they must sell the dream to any who may…

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Photography 101

I’m sorry for the delay between posts.

No, I’m not. Frankly, I’m a busy individual even if I do say so myself. I have your best interests at heart though, which is why better late than never.

To the point then. Onward, tally ho, amateur photographers. Its time to talk of many things, of mice and men, of shutter modes and .. well. Just shutter mode, no men and definitely no mice.

The shutter or S mode is where things get interesting. The shutter is that part of your camera that exposes the picture sensor to the image you’re capturing. Essentially, what happens is that you capture the light and wizardry happens in the form of a photo. The longer the sensor is exposed, the brighter the image. So in darker situations, lower shutter speeds are required, whereas higher shutter speeds work for brighter scenes. You can of course, do a boost for dark situations using ISO levels, but later on that. For now, we’ll confine the discussion to shutter speeds.

The shutter speeds vary from model to model, so it depends entirely on the camera you own. I can tell you what most entry level DSLRs have – which is a speed from 30 seconds of exposure to around 1/3200 of a second. I have no idea what situations call for such extremes, we lesser mortals usually stay around the 4 sec – 1/400 of a second. Anything lower than 4 seconds means you need a flash – definitely. Otherwise, the picture would be rather dull and the colors very muted. Which reminds me – do get an external flash – the pop up flash on the camera is just useless in indoor photography. More on that later.

A practical example is called for here. Let’s say you need to snap a picture of the moon. Now the moon is a pretty bright object considering it has no light of its own but does a reflection of the suns’ light. You try capturing a piccy of it with a point and shoot, a zoom or a mobile and all you end up with is a blob of white with a black background. You don’t want a blob of light surrounded by darkness – you want that photo where each crater on the moon’s surface is visible.

This is what you want, right? Not a weird white blob surrounded by black, but a nice, crater-y photo of the moon.

This is what you want, right? Not a weird white blob surrounded by black, but a nice, crater-y photo of the moon.

This image was taken with a 210mm zoom, focus at infinite and Shutter speed set at 1/400 of a second. Yes, for the moon, you need a zoom lens of at least 200mm to capture anything approaching detail. More zoom is always better in such cases. Savvy?

However, when you go to the other end of the spectrum – somewhere at or lower than ¼ of a sec or are using a zoom lens (anything north of 100mm in my humble opinion), remember to use a tripod since hands tend to shake at longer exposures and the slightest shake will ruin your picture. Also, the larger the zoom, the more effect the slightest shake will have – your anti-shake / vibration reduction mechanism can only do so much before it gives up and you get a blurry picture.

For example, this is a macro photo taken in a fairly low light environment. The shutter speed was set to ¼ of a sec and flash was disabled, a bit of help in setting the levels was taken courtesy Adobe’s Photoshop since the camera couldn’t cope properly (Yes, most photos are fine tuned in image editing software to help pop out the colors and other stuff) with the exposure levels in this case. To give you an idea, the room is a 10 x 10 and was lit with a single energy saver bulb of 25 watts. So yes, not much light.

Tasty. No?

Tasty. No?

At the end of this post, a few general rules of thumb to guide you by – the faster the moving object, the higher the shutter speed you require to capture the subject in a frozen shot. More light is always better. Pop up flashes on the camera are to be avoided like the plague. Practice – it really makes perfect. Ask questions from people who are into this stuff, you can always pick up a few good hints.

Finally, use a good photo editor. Plenty of free ones out there.

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Photography 101

I must be doing something right for a change, if you’re still here. Right-o then, lets’ get cracking!

We’ll be talking about the modes today – or one mode in particular. This mode is the staple diet of the photographer, so to speak.

To access the modes, your camera probably has a round dial on the top, that bears some alphabets and in all probability, some pictures as well. There would be a P, an A, an S and an M for sure. If there isn’t a dial, consult your camera manual – maybe you access these via the menu instead. (In that case, honestly, where did you get that camera from – it’s inconvenient to be fiddling with menus.) P stands for Program; A stands for Aperture; S stands for Shutter and M for Manual. These are the shooting modes you’ll be working with. The picture based ones are presets that can be used in certain situations without going through the hassle of fiddling with the settings yourself. Nope, you can’t change them, so don’t try. I’m skipping the program mode because honestly I’ve never used it – I have no clue what it does. I guess it is similar to the program mode on a point and shoot, where you can fiddle with a few settings and that would be that.

Let’s start with the least understood of all modes as far as a newbie is concerned – the Aperture mode. I say least understood because every online article I’ve come across bores on and on about f-stops and this and that – confusing the non-techie reader who’d rather have a simple explanation or like me, is rather impatient and wants the crux of the information in a fast, snappy and easy to understand (Read – Idiot-proof) manner. Here it goes, something like this.

The aperture or A mode is the default mode chosen by most photographers. Think of an aperture as a hole in the wall of a dark room, letting the light in. The bigger the hole, the more light you have in the room so that you can see what is inside. Besides yourself, that is. You adjust the size of the aperture and the camera takes care of the shutter speed and other variables. The A mode also functions as a Depth of Field creator. (Again, I’m trying to explain this to a non-photographer, so experienced ones bear with me – I know what y’all are thinking right now) What is a depth of field? For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call it the area of focus within the photo you took. Notice how cell phone cameras have all the areas of the photo in focus, while a similar photo taken by a DSLR will have the near and far areas blurred out with only the object in focus? That blurring out occurs due to depth of field effect, which is manipulated by your aperture settings. Simply put, the smaller the size of the aperture, the smaller the DOF effect and vice-versa.

Here’s a couple of photographs for understanding this. First is with aperture set to 3.5, the lowest setting on my kit lens.

Aperture set at 3.5, notice how the leaves are in focus but the rest of the background seems blurred. Usually this setting is best for macro or portrait shots where you want the focused object in detail only.

Aperture set at 3.5, notice how the leaves are in focus but the rest of the background seems blurred. Usually this setting is best for macro or portrait shots where you want the focused object in detail only.

The image below is with the aperture set to 22.

With the aperture at it's widest setting, the leaves are still in focus, but so is most of the background too. Wide apertures are used to photograph landscapes or where the surroundings are as important as the subject of the photo.

With the aperture at it’s widest setting, the leaves are still in focus, but so is most of the background too. Wide apertures are used to photograph landscapes or where the surroundings are as important as the subject of the photo.

Got it? A little experimentation to work with, perhaps? Go ahead, try it out with your camera in a situation similar to the above examples.

Where to use aperture mode? Pretty much everywhere, if I’m honest. Why? Simply, we don’t have the time to fiddle around with other settings much especially in places like weddings and picnics – snap, move on. Set to aperture and control the DOF (Depth of Field) for some great photos!

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Photography 101

For the record, I own a Sony A-350 Alpha Series, which in my own humble opinion, is a camera best suited to people who’ve never owned a DSLR. People prefer Canon and Nikon models, but whatever model you have – be sure to know its functions inside out before you take it out in front of your friends and family. Trust me when I say, nothing is more embarrassing than not knowing how to use your equipment in front of a crowd. When you own a DSLR, people expect you to know how to use it and if you don’t, the phrase “A Monkey with a DSLR” will be heard and boy it hurts.

Image courtesy onlygags.com

That is probably how you’re being looked at.

Let’s walk through the basics first. This is going to be a multi-series blog, so please be patient. I will cover your area of interest sooner or later. The learning curve is pretty steep if you’re coming from a mobile camera or a point and shoot camera (those itty bitty cameras that fit the palm of your hand) or even a bridge or super-zoom camera (The ones with a 40x optical zoom) So you’re probably knowledgeable about stuff like optical zoom and digital zoom and stuff like filters (Sepia, B&W, etc, etc) but just forget all that. That stuff is now behind you. Welcome to the professional level, kid.

At the beginning, just leave the camera on full Auto mode. Auto focus, auto white balance, auto this, auto that. Just use the zoom and get used to that first. Any professional photographer who reads this will think I’m off my rocker – but bear with me. I say use auto because a) most people do exactly that, which makes your DSLR a great point and shoot) and b) a DSLR, unlike a point and shoot or a mobile, is heavy stuff. You need to get used to holding it properly, using both hands and there are plenty of guides on the internet on how to hold the camera in the first place. Steadiness is the key because a small shake can ruin an otherwise great picture!

Another important thing is to use the anti-handshake system of your camera. I believe Nikon and Canon have this system built in their lenses – VR or Vibration Reduction I think. VR lenses are more expensive than non-VR though. Sony, on the other hand, has the anti-handshake in the camera body itself, so lenses are now free of the duty. Lucky me.

DSLR cameras come with detachable lenses with a lot of numbers on them. Your first lens is probably the one that came with the camera and is called a kit lens. Most cameras ship with a basic ‘does it all’ lens and that’s fine for starters. Different lenses are used for different situations though. The kit lens is usually an 18-70mm or a 28-80mm lens – in other words, they’re usually under 100mm. The smaller the number, the wider the view you can capture. For a small idea, close one of your eyes. What you see with your other eye is roughly equivalent to 50mm, give or take a few. So anything lower than that is going to capture a wider area, and numbers above that will capture a narrower area. Also, a word of caution – the more you extend your zoom or go up in numbers, the more pronounced are the slightest of movements. So steady those hands!

Other numbers on your lens include the aperture of that lens. Think of aperture as the area where you can focus on. You’re reading this blog on a computer screen, but your eye also sees other areas where you are not concentrating, but are nonetheless very visible. Unlike the human eye though, which has the ability to focus on everything at once, lenses can focus on limited items. That ability in lens terminology is called the aperture and is inscribed on the lenses as 1:XX(XX)-XX. For example, a the kit lens with my camera is a 1:3.5(22)-5.6 which means that the kit lens is capable of a minimum aperture size of 3.5 at minimum zoom level (18mm) and a maximum of 22, with 5.6 being the minimum at full zoom (70mm). As I zoom into an object, the aperture will also increase correspondingly.

There’s also another number which starts off with Ø XXmm which is the diameter of the lens you use. Most lenses are of the 55mm variety which means that when you purchase items like filters and adapters etc, this is the size you should get for the lens you’re using.

My own image. Feel free.

The Lens at the front. This lens is also capable of taking macro photos from a range of 0.38m or 1.3 ft. away.

There are different types of lenses available for your camera. Kit lenses, zoom or telephoto lenses (acts more or less like a telescope), macro lenses (for close up photography of small objects like insects etc), fixed focal length or prime lenses where there is no range for zoom, usually used for portraits (your passport sized photograph was probably taken by one) which are the mainstream ones used by photographers. Depending on what you photograph, you probably will need one of these later on when you get tired of the limits of the kit lens.

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Lenses. I has them! They’re all mine, precious!!!

That’s all for now. Play with your camera, find out how many photos you can take on a single charge and very important – read its manual. You’ll get to know your way around.

Posted in Photography