Spain, Andorra, Portugal: What a ride!

In all, we spent 21 days away from Phoenix, from Sept 20th to October 10th. Roughly 1,600 miles on a rented 2022 BMW 1250GS with Maggie navigating driver Kim Marin’s rental car, mostly following the seven 1250GS rental bikes with nine passengers across 3 countries. The weather was highly cooperative, the roads amazing and the scenery stunning. The lodging and food would bankrupt anyone’s bank of superlatives to describe.

My first trip to Barcelona was in February of 2010 to attend the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) conference with a company I’d helped found. CallSpark was selected as a finalist for GSM’s Mobile Innovation Grand Prix. The company would later change its name to PhoneTell. My memories of the conference are hazy, but the impressions made by Antonio Gaudi’s architecture never left me. I vowed to return and show Maggie this amazing place, knowing she would see and appreciate this artist far deeper than I ever could, and the primary motivation for arriving in Barcelona a few days before our fellow travelers.

Antoni Gaudi lived from 1852–1926, stamping his revolutionary design vision on Barcelona and becoming one of the most referenced architects in history. The world knows the Sagrada Familia as the largest unfinished Catholic Church in the world. Construction began in March of 1882 and continues to this day. The coronavirus pushed the targeted completion date of 2026 back several years, although the church was consecrated (in 2010), holds services, and is easily Barcelona’s top visited tourist attraction. It is the most intriguing, captivating, puzzling, and impressive building I’ve ever been in. But Gaudi’s genius and innovation can be seen in other areas of the city. First, in two huge homes near our hotel (The Mandarin Oriental) which we toured. The second, the Park Guell, where Gaudi’s experimentation with angled columns, principals realized on a much larger scale in the Sagrada Familia. The Gaudi-inspired jewelry pieces purchased for Maggie on my 2010 trip have been some of her favorites. It made showing off how much his ideas influenced all of modern art throughout Barcelona so very special.

Before picking up our motorcycles and heading north two incidents reinforced the legitimacy of Barcelona’s reputation for petty street crimes and theft. The first was having my beloved, highly-dependable, well-traveled Canon camera with my favorite zoom lens stolen. The second was at the bike rental place and our ride master Skip Mascorro’s backpack was stolen. Both thefts were incredibly well orchestrated, and we were unaware of neither until the thieves had plenty of time to be gone. The loss of Skip’s bag (passport, cash, and trip papers) caused the bigger issue, necessitating him to drive back to Barcelona in the middle of the night, go to the US Consulate to acquire a temporary passport, and then journey back to us. My loss was more emotional. As the trip progressed each time we came across an incredible photographic subject I reached for my non-existent “big camera” in a way I’ve heard amputees feel sensations of missing limbs. While absurd to compare my camera loss to losing a limb, I repeatedly went to my top case on the bike to grab my camera, only to open it, look down, and remember it was gone. I expected these momentary episodes of loss and anger to go away, but they didn’t stop until we returned the rental bikes in Portugal.

My original plan for this newsletter was to summarize our trip, focusing on the highlights with the idea of conveying the high points. My good friend and riding companion on this trip was Rich Marin. Rich’s daily blog for each of this trip’s fourteen days, I felt, with a bit of editing, would do a good job of chronicling our trip. You can find that report, edited with Rich’s permission, here: Spain Trip Report Marin-Larsen

As to photos of the trip, follow this link to see over 100 of the best shots, cut down from just under 3,000 photos, some with commentary.

Keep it, trade it or sell it?

Our amazing 2014 Audi Q5 the morning of March 8, 2022

When our 2014 Audi Q5 passed 75,000 miles, (it has now surpassed 100,000), I began to get nervous.  On the one hand, the warranty was gone, so repair costs would fall on us. On the other hand, this had been one of the best cars we ever owned.  We purchased it in 2014, buying into the whole “clean, efficient, diesel” theme being hyped by Audi and Volkswagen.  Later our Q5 would get caught up in VW’s “diesel-gate” scandal; it minimally affected us or the car’s performance, other than about a year when letters with checks and apologies from Volkswagen, who owns Audi, filled our mailbox.

The Q5 happily pulled my other vehicles around. Here it is on a trip to a Lotus meet in Colorado.

The car performed admirably, to say the least. Its relatively low horsepower (240 HP) was offset by over 425-foot lbs. of torque. As Jay Leno once said, “Horsepower sells cars, but torque wins races.” Besides being spunky off the line, pulling a trailer loaded with my 4-passenger Polaris RZR, spares, tools, four adults and gear up Highway 17 from Phoenix into the higher elevations was a walk in the park for the Audi.  I used to laugh as we easily passed large, roaring and belching pickup trucks, gasping due to the long, steady climb.  On top of that, it was exceptionally efficient.   Filling the tank, we loved seeing the “miles remaining” indicator show 585 or more miles.  Sure, the Audi had an extra-large tank, but the number would not change for the first hour or so after we left the gas station, and only then would it gradually begin coming down. Audi claimed 32 MPG and our experience was it may have been better than that.  The 8-speed automatic transmission was tuned for efficiency and it delivered.  Nevertheless, no matter how much we love a car; there is a time to let it go.  How do we recognize that time? Should we keep it, trade it in or sell it?  When we got close to 90,000 miles I knew we were living on borrowed time and a year later I was proven right.

Fears about costly repairs on higher mileage German cars were pooh-poohed by several car expert buddies. They would nod sagely and say something like; “Diesel cars easily go 275,000 miles or more. Hell, at 100,000 it’s just getting broke in.” Still, I worried. We’ve had experience with several new cars over the years.  In most cases, we viewed their passing the 50,000 mile warranty period as the time to begin thinking about letting them go.  Many people take an opposite approach, thinking something like:  “Now that the $313.40 monthly car payment is gone, we’ll set that money aside in a special account for car repairs.  In the long run, we’ll be better off.”  I think that only works in theory.

Here is how it playing out for the Audi.  Our first, out-of-warranty service was for $849, at 53,350 miles.  Up until then, all warranty work was either included or part of the “pre-paid” warranty option. In 2018 our costs were $720 for brake pads and an oil/filter change.  In 2019 we spent $1,540.13 for its 75K mileage service and new tires.  In 2020 the car cost just $698 for its 95K service.

In 2021, things started to go south.  First, it was brake pads at $567.28, then a water pump leak for $1,209.18.  This was followed by a need to replace the front bushings (upper and lower) a cost of over $4,000 if done by Audi.  However, a local alignment and suspension specialist shop (Network Alignment) had done good work on my other cars.  Cheaper than Audi, it still cost us $2,969.59 using original Audi parts.

And then, just as we’re getting the car ready to transfer to my nephew, Audi decides it needs $8,881.91 in additional work.  $2,639.01 to replace the engine mounts, $3,723.11 to fix a newly developed coolant leak, $384.64 for a rear wiper blade (are you kidding me?), and 4 new tires for $1,739.

Kelly Blue Book indicated the trade-in value at about $13,500.  With the $3K already spent on the front bushings and another $2K for motor mounts I’ve got $5K into it and I’ve yet to address the coolant issue (potentially $3K but not urgent – it’s easy to add coolant and the leak is slow).  Plus it will need tires, another $1500 unless I buy some cheapies.  So, it could run over $8,000 and possibly more.

Bottom line, I’ll never again recommend the “keep and repair it” approach, especially once you’ve exceeded the warranty by 15-20,000 miles.  Perhaps, if you’re mechanically inclined and can do your own repairs, it might make sense.  However, given the complexities of newer cars, I suspect that direction is fraught with pitfalls as well. I’m curious as to what others think about this and your experience. Let me know in the comments section below.

Ethics Class Part 2: How it went

University of San Diego campus

My nerves were on edge as I took the wheel of Rich Marin’s Tesla Model X. We were driving from his Escondido hilltop home to old town San Diego for an early dinner. The car wasn’t what was worrying me. My issue was about after dinner when we would drive to the University of San Diego campus and I would guest lecture in Rich’s graduate class on Law, Policy, and Ethics. Agreeing to speak in his class a month before meant choosing a case to study (I chose Theranos), doing the research, and structuring the two-hour class to allow the key ethical considerations to emerge. I also wanted to impart a few invaluable nuggets from my years in business.

My nervousness was mostly due to typical public speaking jitters and so many unknowns – what does the classroom look like, how will the audio/video work, will we arrive early enough or be rushed, how will the audience behave? Knowing myself, nervousness rarely helps bring out my best.  As we rode, I told myself: “You’ve got this; these situations typically go well for you, you’ve done your homework, now just relax and have fun. Things will all work out.”  Slowly I relaxed and by the time we found the classroom, my frame of mind was where it needed to be.

My preparations had involved reading about half a dozen books  and watching the movie. It is the one I mentioned in The Ethics Class Part 1 newsletter and, Rich assigned to the class as preliminary work. The movie, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” was done in 2019, about two years after Theranos ran into all its trouble, but before Holmes and Balwani were indicted for fraud.  It is terrific and I recommend this documentary.  I also found a link to a video deposition Holmes did in 2017. This was revealing as I was able to hear Homes directly contradict, under oath, nearly all of the claims she’d made about Theranos and its technology.

In addition, one of the subscribers to this newsletter and a good friend, recommended “The Business Ethics Field Guide,” by Brad Agle, Aaron Miller, and Bill O’Rourke. It bypasses all the often boring “why’s” regarding ethics and focused instead on the how’s, creating 13 categories of ethical dilemmas, real-life stories for each situation and a basis for analysis and signposts for finding your way through each of them.

While practicing my presentation with Maggie, she gave me another example, closer to home than I had realized.  Some years ago, while editing a manual for the documentation company where she worked, she found a part number had been entered incorrectly.  She corrected it and sent the document back to the writer on the project. The next day she noticed he’d rejected her correction, forwarding it to the client uncorrected, with the wrong part number.  Confronting him on why he’d not taken her correction, he said it was a matter of “malicious obedience,” justifying his action by saying he’d been instructed, in no uncertain terms, to never make changes to an engineer’s mark-up.  He’d been told technical writers were not to second guess engineers – ever.  Maggie was furious and reported the incident up the chain of command and assumed the manual would be corrected prior to publication.  She was incensed when she later discovered it was not.  Should she contact the client directly and smear her company’s reputation or not? Choosing to be (or not to be) a whistle-blower is a very tough choice.

On the day before the class, Rich told me more about how this single class on business ethics fit into the storyline for the full course, Law, Policy & Ethics.  If you’ve not guessed, legal choices can be unethical and vice versa and policy can go either way as well.  The course will touch on not only ethics but impacts that need to be considered for stakeholders, which include shareholders and creditors, employees and consumers as well as suppliers and competitors. Arbitrage, markets & ethics get a deep dive as do a look at ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance, including anti-discrimination and socioeconomic investing).  He’ll end the class with a look at some of the fundamental concepts in business ethics, individual liberty vs. the common good, and how that affects capitalism, public policy, and civil society.  I hope Rich will be able to get me Zoom access so I can audit the entire course.

You can read Rich’s summary and impressions near the end of his recent newsletter here.  My favorite comment from Rich was this: “In twelve years of teaching I have never seen so much student engagement as we had during this debate.” My assessment is completely the same as Rich’s, although with a twist. My best college teaching experiences were always with highly engaged students.  For Wednesday’s class, I tried two approaches I’d used in the past to help move things in that direction.  The first was before the class began.  As students filed in I spoke to as many as I could. I asked where they worked, why they’d decided to enroll in this program, and what it was like taking classes at night while trying to hold down a job. Rich watched me as if he thought I was running for mayor.  The second step was to begin my presentation with an anecdote to subtly communicate it was okay to speak up, and their thoughts and ideas would be welcome. The above, combined with a contemporary and compelling case and the intelligence, preparation, and interest of these students, resulted in the unusually high level of involvement Rich’s comment points to.  The two hours flew by, all the key points were made and it was great fun.  As in nearly every interaction with graduate students in this age group, I came away having learned things I did not know and impressed with the generation who’ll take over for us when ours is gone.

Oh, one last thing.  Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes are about to get hot. Remember, you read about it here first.  An eight-episode series from Hulu called “The Dropout,” will go live March 3. There will also be a “Bad Blood” film based on John Carreyrou’s book directed by Adam McKay and starring Jennifer Lawrence scheduled to show up on AppleTV.   And last, if you have access to Apple Podcasts, you can follow “Bad Blood: The Final Chapter”, where John Carreyrou and Emily Saul discuss the testimony of witnesses in the trial and everything said by the lawyers and judge.

Five things Social Media does, like it or not

Official Trailer for The Social Dilemma

Yesterday my friend Frank Del Monte recommended a new documentary film called The Social Dilemma.  Maggie and I watched it last night and were stunned.  If you’ve ever used Facebook, Google, Instagram, etc. it explains how these platforms work and why you see what you see.  It is an exceptionally well done film and does not talk down to anyone.

This morning I’m alerting my friends to find this film and watch it as soon as they can.  It explains a lot.  Once my “alerting” is completed, I plan to watch it once more then do a longer write up here, detailing why these findings are so incredibly important and the impact I think these platforms are having on all of our lives – and not all for the good. But for right now, please make time to watch this movie.  That way, my analysis will have more impact for you as you’ll have seen what I’m talking about.  Let me predict something: After you watch this, you will be doing what I am, telling your friends and family to watch it, too.  What actions you decide to take are your own.