[UPDATED] Movie Thoughts: Touring the Creature Effects Shop StudioADI

StudioADI Amalgamated Dynamics Inc

[UPDATE: Added a slideshow of photos on 7/18/18] When I was a young lad (still am by the way…) I attended a Showbiz Expo at the LA Convention center in 1992. One of the booths was for a publisher called Cinefex, who was promoting their latest issue of their incredible behind-the-scenes special effects magazine, and the upcoming film Alien3. This was my first introduction to the work of Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr and their company, Amagalmated Dynamics Inc., aka StudioADI.

Okay that’s a little refresher of the flick if you haven’t see it [in a long time]. The pair were(are) alumni of the Stan Winston studio and have gone on to create the creatures for a litany of sci-fi, horror, comedy, and well any other genre of movie you could think of.

My tour was led by Alec Gillis, a gentleman and scholar who has a rather hilarious IG account and should add comedy to the list of services provided by StudioADI (an abbreviation Amalgamated Dynamics Inc. later adopted). The tour was of particular interest to me as Alec not only covered the making-of and cultural aspects of the effects industry, but also the business-of-the-business and memories of the Winston days as well.

At times along the tour, we were allowed to take photos, (which can be found in the gallery), and then there were times when we couldn’t due to the nature of upcoming projects or works that Gillis knew studios wouldn’t be happy with him sharing the aftermath of a given project with the world.

The trophy room (that’s what I’m calling it), was spectacular and contained souvenirs of their work dating back almost thirty years, including items that had been screen used in Alien3 and featured in that first Cinefex I got (FYI Cinefex did exist before Alien3). You can see a plethora of them in the panorama at the top of this screen (utilizing my recently refined technique of course…) and it’s a challenge to try and name every single movie that has an artifact displayed here.

Of course there was more than this to see and I do encourage a visit to the gallery, and after you’re done there, you should hop on over to StudioADI’s YouTube channel as it’s full of great behind the scenes videos showing how some of our favorite movie creatures were made and then operated behind the scenes.

Rover Thoughts: The RoverLog is Live!

Well, as promised, I finally built the RoverLog!

Rover RoverLog Range Rover Sport l320 repairs and reliability

The RoverLog will be the central repository of all relevant data I can think of with regards to maintaining, servicing, and repairing the 2006 Land Rover Range Rover Sport L320 I bought in 2018 with 126,000 miles on the odometer. I hope this log serves to entertain, inform and educate on just what a high mileage vehicle like this needs to stay running. I fully recognize that this Rover is going to need work. It’s no spring chicken, but I love it, and this is an objective log of the TLC it will get from here on out or something in my life changes significantly and I have to let it go (I certainly hope not. Head on over to the dedicated page (which you can also find a link to in the menu at the top of my page) for further info, an explanation of the spreadsheet is included in the spreadsheet as well.



I hope this sheet serves as a good representation of Rover reliability from 126,000 miles onward. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the service history for this vehicle from the dealer it was serviced at, as they cited privacy concerns related to the former owner…and I don’t think they want to get sued for something, even if that’s not my intent (spoiler alert: it’s not). Maybe some day I’ll figure out how to get my hands on that data and integrated it into the living spreadsheet I’ve created. Of course if you have any ideas on how to go about that, I’m all ears. Feel free to contact me. This would qualify as nice correspondence and I always look forward to that.

Onward and upward and above and beyond!

Thing Thoughts: Taylor Stitch has Gone Global

Taylor Stitch Jack Shirt Made in California

There’s nothing I love more than small local homegrown businesses that put out exceptional quality stuff via local manufacturing. One of the businesses I love that does that is Taylor Stitch, although they aren’t so much anymore and that makes me sad.

I discovered Taylor Stitch back in 2016 when I lost a lot of weight and no longer fit into any of my clothes. Of course since I wasn’t spending as much money on food, naturally, I decided to put it into clothes that fit. Having already been enamored of US-made stuff (which consistently cost more but lasted much much longer) I started looking up local clothing designers and manufacturers and came across Taylor Stitch, a small company based out of San Francisco that was making their clothing in California. I jumped on the opportunity to redo do things. For all intents and purposes, I have since become a Taylor Stitch collector. I have bought their Jack shirt in numerous colors and also own their Chore Pant in all available colors, including some not available on the site (only available in their San Francisco stores.). The Chore pant is awesome, but it does suffer from some fading issues. I might cover that later in a separate post.

Unfortunately, earlier this year, Taylor Stitch decided to move much of their production overseas to, most notably, China. One of the things I like about Taylor Stitch is that they often let customers vote on future clothing releases by sending you to a survey site to gauge your interest in upcoming releases. The most recent survey was entirely items made in China. In the past, they had outsourced items like some of their leather accessories and their Democratic Chinos to factories in Spain. It would appear that both Spanish-made items were/are consistent in quality to the goods they were making here in the US and this may be that they were made under the auspices of Taylor Stitch’s initial charter and what it expected in outsourced goods. In fact the only real issue I have with the Democratic China (which is an awesome pair of pants) is its use of a print of a map of San Francisco inside the pants…despite being made in another country. It’s just weird.

Unfortunately, I have no faith in the quality, materials, or fit and finish of items made in China. I’ve consistently been let down by clothes and shoes coming from China, and while I understand that it allows fashion designers to tag items with a 100,000% markup on items, it also allows them to rely solely on their branding and visual design to earn repeat business, which they get by importing Chinese-made clothing that [possibly deliberately] wears out and falls apart quickly. Given that there is little to no accountability and quality control, this is to be expected from countries with garment factories that place high volume/low price above high quality/low output. One consistently sees a difference here.

To digress for a moment, last year I made the switch from Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star lows (made in China) to SOM Footwear Zephyrs made in Colorado. The difference in fit, finish, and manufacturing is astonishing. I have highly arched small toes which would wear holes through the sides of Chucks in under three months and the sides of the midsole would crack and split. I am now eight months in wearing my Zephyrs and there is ZERO sign of fatigue in the shoe fabric and the soles aren’t cracking at all. On top of that, these shoes can be resoled for $35. I’m so happy with them, I haven’t ordered a resole yet…I ordered a new pair of SOMs (the Briquette) to start a collection, and will get my Zephyr’s resoled once the Briquettes get here. You can make the argument that the Chucks are cheaper, but with the option of resoling, the SOMs will outlast any single pair of Chucks by years. I’d show you a comparison pic, but I tossed the Chucks out eight months ago. I’m still getting used to the whole notion of documenting things here. I covered SOMs briefly in an earlier post when they sent me stuff for winning a contest, I’ll talk about the shoes more themselves in a later post.

Getting back to Taylor Stitch, For me, the red flag went up when I pre-ordered/crowd-funded my favorite cut of shirt ever, the Taylor Stitch Jack insofar as the reverse jacquard variant was the only one I’ve received that wasn’t made in California, rather, it was made in Portugal. The difference in sizing and cut was noticeable and I wonder how it will hold up. In fact, as I write this, I wonder if perhaps Taylor Stitch’s owners sold the company recently, whether as an ouster or part of a planned exit with venture capital investors. If that is the case, that is unfortunate and I would highly recommend you go buy up whatever US-made goods remain in their inventory, I know I’ll be taking a careful look myself.

So in conclusion, I have every intention of continuing to support Taylor Stitch’s domestic efforts, but the more production they move overseas, the less interested I become.

Thing Thoughts: It’s 2018 and I Still Can’t Find a Computer Mouse That Fits…or Have I?

I have a problem, and that problem is finding a comfortable, responsive, well made computer mouse. Seriously.

I’ve opted to embed separate video reviews of the mice included in this post. I recognize that my problems may not be reflective of everyone’s potential experience and I encourage you to try these mice even though my experience was just plain horrible.

As with many of my “life equipment” purchases of the past few years, I’ve relied heavily on The Wirecutter to guide me in the right direction, typically going with their Upgrade Picks on items. Unfortunately, in the arena of computer mice, I wasn’t able to find anything good.

Let’s rewind for a moment to a couple of years ago when I stopped using mice and transitioned to an Apple Magic Trackpad 2. I’ve really enjoyed using the trackpad (although there’s no way I’ve found to utilize even basic PC functions when it’s plugged in via USB to a non-bootcamp Windows machine) and given that I’ve worked on a laptop with a trackpad for the better part of my life, it was a logical move to make when using my laptop shut with an external display.

However my computer use increased tremendously in 2016 when I began writing and working on other media (such as this site) to a much greater degree than I ever had before in my life. The result was that I began to experience discomfort in using input peripherals such as my keyboard and mouse. I’ve written a separate article on my keyboard quest, and I am currently on a one-year test of the Leopold FC660C (deemed by a Wirecutter editor as his favorite for nonstop 40 hour per week typing…if not officially reviewed and picked by the site). You can read up on that separately. So far…it’s decent.

But the trackpad had also become a bit uncomfortable as well, not in my wrists per se, but the top of my hand was definitely feeling it. And so I turned to the WireCutter for mouse advice.

At the outset, I was at a disadvantage as I didn’t want anything wireless that would require battery charging, and it seemed that The WireCutter had only three categories they had reviewed mice in, and all three were wireless. The categories were:

As a rule, I always go with the upgrade pick as, well, it’s better than the best according to Wirecutter, and they haven’t let me down yet…scratch that, they did with the Matias Ergo Pro, but that’s a separate post, and technically, it was Matias who let me down, not Wirecutter.

I didn’t want a wireless mouse because I always have issues with connections and don’t like to charge or replace batteries. I didn’t want a gaming mouse because I didn’t want extra buttons nor glowy-flashy rainbow lights (which are just silly), and I didn’t want a trackball because I’ve never been a fan of trackballs. Regardless of all my policies, I decided to give Wirecutter a chance on their picks.

For best Wireless Mouse Upgrade Pic, The Wirecutter chose the Logitech MX Master 2S. Luckily, unlike many Wirecutter choices, this was something I could actually find in a store so I went on down to Best Buy to check it out.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t buy the thing. It felt cheap and flimsy and imprecise in its handling, and at $75 (at the time), I just didn’t think it was worth giving it a chance. Given that it was the upgrade pick, I saw no point in pursuing the main pick because I was already not interested in a wireless mouse, let alone a lesser one. So we can check this one off the list.

While at first I thought I was done, I then considered the possibility of using a gaming mouse, given their reputation for precision movement and ability to have their myriad of extra buttons customized. In looking at the Wirecutter’s upgrade pick, the Logitech G703, I was at first turned off by the fact that it was wireless, but was intrigued by its DPI settings and configurable buttons. Given my proclivity for writing, I had warmed to the idea of having hotkeys/buttons for, among other things, cut/copy/paste (which I wound up doing to my keyboard) Also, ironically, it was easier to find the G703 in stores and it did allow for use when plugged in via USB. I also liked the fact that full mouse functionality was available across both Mac and PC platforms, something that is not the case with my Magic Trackpad 2 (I cannot scroll or right-click on it when using a PC).

I found the G703 in stock at the local Fry’s Electronics (Amazon had a 1-3 week shipping estimate) and went down there only to discover that it was a bait and switch. They were plum out of G703’s but had the top of the line G903 in stock there, naturally, for more money. After some hemming and hawing and some youtube review research, I came to the conclusion that G903 might in fact be the better choice as reviewers claimed its strengths over the G703 made it better suited to media work (audio/photo/video)

It was f*********g terrible.

Where do I begin? Anywhere, so we’ll start with the wired/wireless aspect of it. I decided that at home I would use the G903 via its USB connection as that is where I do most of my photo and video work, and at work in the office, I would use the wireless USB receiver for convenience’s sake and one less cable to tote back and forth with me. At home I didn’t want to deal with any potential latency or choppiness that might result from a wireless connection that, Logitech claims, is eliminated by using their super spiffy light wave speed whatever technology that includes a female-to-female USB adapter that lets you plug in the USB receiver for the mouse to a normal USB cable so you can have it near the mouse itself. To me that was an utterly ridiculous concept (in photos on the Wirecutter they show this application and seriously, you might as well plug the mouse in for a better and guaranteed connection), but also one that I guess matters because I found myself needing to use it because, YES, the mouse does have latency issues and cuts out even when using an extension cable with the USB receiver right in front of the mouse. Another thing I noticed (which was reflected in a YouTube review) was that the fit/finish/refinement on the mouse was not particularly great for the price point of $126. The scroll wheel was wobbly (probably due to its half-baked implementation of left/right scrolling that was slow and arduous at best) and button on top to switch from smooth up/down scrolling to ratcheted (or stepped) scrolling had an incredibly cheap-sounding spring mechanism that brought back memories of switches from the 80’s. While its optical sensor tracked well, its scrolling functionality on a Mac was abysmal with choppy vertical scroll, and an atrocious forced incremental horizontal scroll that I could count a full second between each increment it moved to the left or right. The $20 purchase of the utility USB Overdrive helped a little, with the vertical, but did nothing for the horizontal.

All of these things were dealbreakers, but the worst part of this mouse wasn’t that it functioned, well, barely. The worst part of it was its ergonomics. It caused (and I am not understating this) my carpal tunnel syndrome to explode with my right hand/forearm becoming the symphony orchestra equivalent of amplified CT symptoms. Really. It was intense beyond belief and lasted for a couple of days after I gave up on the mouse. I can’t believe I’m the only person who’s had such a viscerally negative physical reaction to this mouse and I don’t see how an esports athlete could possibly use this for extended periods of time. To be fair to the Wirecutter, they didn’t recommend this mouse at all, but I thought that it was merely because its price point relative to the additional features it offered over the G703 wasn’t justified. I only wish they would have noted it’s severe ergonomic shortcomings. Either that or I have freakish joints, which I don’t think is the case. And so I gave up on the G903 and returned it. I couldn’t help but notice upon returning it to Fry’s that when I walked the gaming mouse aisle, there was an unusually high number of open-box G903’s for sale in the Logitech portion of the aisle. It would seem to be the case that users, be they gamers or otherwise, aren’t happy with it. Also, the G703 still was not back in stock.


(I have no idea if this review is any good but 60 days is a good amount of time to suffer through this mouse’s strengths and weaknesses)

Not the one to be deterred, and still believing in the Wirecutter, I went back to the site to look at trackballs (which I had in a former life not been a huge fan of but thought things might have changed in the 15 or so years since I last tried one). I settled on the Wirecutter’s pick for a thumb-operated trackball – the Logitech MX Ergo Advanced Wireless Trackball. It appeared to offer a natural resting position for my hand, seemed comfortable, and I liked its heavy solid construction. But of course, its weaknesses far outweighed its strengths. Like the G903 it was wireless, but unlike the G903, it was simply normal bluetooth and didn’t make use of the G903’s super-fancy Light-dingle-dangle technology. Like the G903, that didn’t matter anyway as I found it had the exact same latency and skipping issues the G903. But it also had other problems. One, that was irredeemable, was that it emitted an extremely high-pitched whine. You know the type of sound. It’s the unnerving sound your USB battery pack makes while charging that makes you think it’s going to combust. The thing about this trackball though, is that it did it all the time and it was loud enough to keep me awake at night (if I didn’t remember to switch off the mouse…but then again, who ever does that?).

The other baffling thing about this mouse was that the only way to connect it to a computer was via bluetooth or a Logitech Unifying USB receiver. The micro-USB plug on the mouse itself did not work for connecting it to a computer…so no luck in avoiding latency or interference issues there. To me this was a bizarre thing to leave off a $90 trackball. Scrolling had the same issues, although this being the fifth Logitech mouse I had used in recent memories (apart from the G903 I’ve gone through several at work), I have now come to the conclusion that there is ZERO consistency in terms of feel and feedback from the scroll wheels on all of Logitech’s mouse offerings. Each one is different, and bad, and Logitech needs to do something about this or at least do a better job of giving would be users the option of tailoring the scroll wheels to their individual liking. There are clearly a variety of ratchet settings and styles Logitech offers, so why not make them optional on every mouse they make? I’m probably asking too much. While I originally perceived the MX Ergo’s shape to be comfortable, it turned out to not be good enough to make up for the rest of the device’s shortcomings, and so I also wound up returning this mouse too.

You might be wondering why I haven’t included any photos of these devices in my post. Well…it’s because I disliked them so much I saw no reason to photograph them. You can’t really articulate the feelings of carpal tunnel syndrome and other discomfort while using a mouse in a photo, so I didn’t bother. I do regret not recording a video of the piercing noise the MX Ergo made though. In hindsight, I should have done that. You can also find pics of all these mice (not the Trackpad) on the WireCutter’s site, or google images and youtube of course.

After these two frustrating and genuinely painful experiences, I wound up reevaluating my Magic Trackpad 2. In the end I realized that, for my needs, it remained the best of the bunch. It’s only shortcomings being that it can’t right-click or two finger scroll on a native PC, and so I keep a dirt cheap mouse nearby for its right button and occasional scroll. Other than that, the Magic Trackpad scrolls beautifully (whether by bluetooth or connected USB) and naturally and takes into account “physics” so-to-speak in the way the scrolling action decelerates over time. It also scrolls smoothly from left to right, making it ideal for media timeline work unlike anything else I’ve tried. On top of that, I have never suffered from latency or choppy movement from the cursor.

I did wind up buying a cheap Glorious Gaming wrist rest for use with the track pad and that has helped quite a bit with my discomfort, so until somebody comes up with my grail mouse (which should have happened by now…), I’ve decided I’m perfectly content to continue on with my Magic Track Pad 2.

Local Thoughts: The Los Angeles Theatre and Perfecting My Panorama

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of the seminal movies of my life and holds up better than nuclear fuel rods, so when I heard that it was going to be screened at the iconic Los Angeles Theatre in Downtown LA, I knew I had to go see it and also capture a panorama of the interior. We all know the Los Angeles Theatre well from a variety of movies, TV shows, and excellent commercials. For example:

  

Okay that’s enough pop-culture referencing for the moment. The point is, you probably knew about this place, and as theaters go, it’s pretty epic inside, although not in the greatest of shape, as are none of the formerly grand Broadway movie palaces of the early 20th Century.

The theatre is part of the LA Conservancy’s annual ‘Last Remaining Seats’ festival that screens classic cinema in formerly glorious and ornate movie palaces mostly located in the Broadway Theatre District in Downtown Los Angeles, but also in other locations around Los Angeles as well. Previously, I had seen Citizen Kane at the Orpheum Theatre. Not sure which theatre I’ll see something in next time. For better or worse, the conservancy did not let us in to the theatre until 45 minutes prior to the screening of Roger Rabbit and so I had limited time to document the interior, but then I remembered: technically, the glass is always full and I can always come back. I shot this hasty video as I was more interested in photos this time out. Perhaps at a future screening, I’ll get better video:

What I really wanted to get, however, was a humdinger of a panorama of that glorious interior (barbershop quartet notwithstanding) and I put to use many bits of wisdom I had learned over the years from taking many many many less-than-satisfactory-to-me panoramas.

The first thing I learned was:

1. NEVER EVER EVER take a panorama with your smartphone. They suck. Of course I say that based on the assumption that you take photos with something other than a smartphone when you go out. Sure, a smartphone can stitch together a panorama in real time but the end result is incredibly distorted, has no additional stops of dynamic range, makes use of heavy JPG compression, and has to be quite cropped to account for variations in the user’s y & z axis jitters when panning. I could continue onward as to why smartphone panoramas are bad bad bad, but I won’t. Moving on.

2. While you should never use your iPhone, you should use your iPhone’s orientation (ie vertical) for taking panoramas. A normal camera’s horizontal bias (ie 4:3 or 3:2) may seem like the way to take panoramas, but this leads to a lot of distortion and eventual cropping of image data at the top and bottom of your photo and if the point is to capture as much area as possible, then you want to take more pictures in a 2:3/3:4 format to get maximum coverage.

2. Identify the center of your panorama and take a reference photo first to determine the look and focus and feel of the end result. Switch to full manual mode. Set your focus, shutter speed, aperture, ISO. All the things. Now take the picture of the center, and do not change any settings. Including focus. This is important. Most helper-functions on digital cameras have you start your panorama from the left or the right side of your perceived frame and base their settings for the entire panorama off of how the far left or right of the picture looks. The helper function is also typically limited to jpg output which crushes bit depth, compresses colors, bakes in white balance, and a slew of other undesirable things to your pictures, so that’s why we go full manual for this. Your camera is now ready.

3. Depending on your disposition, now start taking your photos from left to right, or right to left (in your camera’s RAW format). Remember. Your camera’s settings are locked from step 2. You haven’t changed anything right? Good. Here’s how many photos I took to capture this panorama:

Los Angeles Theatre Panorama Component Images

4. Load your raw files into your editor of choice. Mine was Adobe Lightroom CC Classic. (Note: Lightroom CC can’t handle this project. Adobe stripped features from the newer version which baffles me).

5. Again, process your middle photo first to taste, and then use those settings for every other photo in the series. Lightroom makes this very easy with the standard ‘cmd+c’ and ‘cmd+v’ allowing you to copy+paste your settings from one photo to another. Very natural.

6. Merge your photos. Again, this is handily done in Lightroom or Photoshop. I prefer Lightroom because it preserves raw data and still allows you to perform additional non-destructive final adjustments to your merged photo.

7. Happy with it? Good. Here’s how it came out:

Los Angeles Theatre Panorama - 20,000 Thoughts

And that, folks, is how I take panoramas these days. I guess you could just use your phone too though.

Seeing Who Framed Roger Rabbit was great as well. In person to take about the film was Don Hahn, Charlie Fleischer, and Joanna Cassidy, and the print used was an old film print instead of a digital file. This was nice because it fit with the theme of the old movie palace, and the visual effects held up better since they were designed to work in the more forgiving 35mm Vistavision format. When you watch a restored HD or 4K version, you can spot the old effects. Notsomuch here. It was great.

I do hope to return to see more flicks in the grand movie palaces downtown. If you’d like to know more about the LA Conservancy and Last Remaining Seats, please do check them out.

Movie Thoughts: Hotel Artemis Was Great But Needed to be 30-40 Minutes Longer

Hotel Artemis could have, and should have, and probably was, better than what came out and so I’m going to say I liked it based on what I speculate was cut.

Hotel Artemis felt like it had all the substance cut from it, and had its B&C plots tossed in a blender with the main plot to cut down running time.  Perhaps it was an exercise in efficiency, but my hope is that a director’s or uncut version will eventually be released to streaming or home video as this was a movie that was way too short…in my humble opinion. To that point, it was the product of Drew Pearce, a really talented writer who cleared earned the right to direct a movie based on his previous body of work. Hotel Artemis’  production design is gorgeous, everyone turns in great, if short performances (again it seems like so much was cut), and of course, I love the fact that it was shot in LA, and just as importantly, felt like LA. In many films now, Atlanta is doubling as LA, which is just silly and dumb and you can pretty much tell every time.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but the final shot just got me in the feels and I loved the notion that a franchise could come out of that one scene that, sure, maybe nobody but me (and every other intelligent moviegoer) would go to see. But it probably won’t and that makes me sad.

Anyway, a good movie with all the good stuff cut out. That’s The Hotel Artemis.

Rover Thoughts: “Here’s Why” Doug Demuro is Right and Wrong About Land Rover

If you think I’m going to trash Doug Demuro here, I’m not, not even a little. Doug Demuro is brilliant and I wish I had half the free time, patience, charisma, and prodigious ability to sniff out empty parking lots around literally the world where people won’t bother me while I film a car’s quirks and features. I’m not allowed to work with cameras anywhere it seems, without people getting in my business. Seriously, subscribe to his YouTube channel. It’s an all-time great that relies solely on Doug Demuro’s spirit and what is likely deliberate low production value coupled with excellent insight and granular observations on a given car’s design and manufacturing. His videos are great, easy to follow and digest, funny, and 99% of the time, are pragmatically correct on all points. Doug Demuro, when Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond are vaporized in an act of heroic but ill-thought-out male stupidity (“how hard can it be?”), I hope Jeff Bezos and Amazon sign you up to take the Grand Tour forward…assuming you want it.

And yes, this post is also a Doug Demuro drinking game. (takes a shot)



Doug’s big break on YouTube and the internet came when he released a series of videos chronicling his ownership experience with a pre-owned 2006 Land Rover Range Rover L322 which he bought from CarMax along with a six-year 100,000 mile warranty, and oh what a series of videos it has been.

Side note: Doug is the CarMax equivalent of a card counter. He’s a genius at buying & selling vehicles, which may come from his former career working for a car company (Porsche America I think?)

Anyway, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything for anyone when I tell you that Doug’s Range Rover wound up being a warranty nightmare for  CarMax. In addition to YouTube, Doug also had/has a column on Autotrader called oversteer where he also chronicled his “adventure” and shared other thoughts on Land Rover and Range Rover models respectively. And this is where we get to devil in the details around Doug’s two points:

  1. Range Rovers are notoriously unreliable
  2. Land Rover deliberately doesn’t care about making reliable vehicles because their owner-base will keep getting new models due to the cachet that comes with owning one.

Before I analyze and deconstruct Doug’s two propositions, I want to give you my short responses:

  1. …mmmYeah Doug has a point there
  2. Nope. No no no. Nopers. Notown USA. There is a fairer, more subtle, and nuanced speculative argument to be made than just “they don’t care.”

Range Rover classic Doug demuroI’m going to come at this topic from a couple of angles. First, I’m going to try to historically speculate/explain the history behind the correct  part of Doug Demuro’s postulation – that Range Rovers are notoriously unreliable. So let’s start with Range Rovers in general, and not Doug’s specific model, which was the first year of the Gen2 L322 Range Rover, a victimized chimera of a vehicle (more on that later). Alright, with that out of the way, the reason for unreliability is simple: Rubber. If you can’t seal it, you’re going to get water in places you don’t want to, and British Leyland (later Rover group) developed (or sourced) terrible rubber for use in its electrical wiring and weather stripping throughout its vehicles. James May picked up on this when reviewing the KWE restomodded Jaguar XJS. This lack of decent rubber led to terrible rust and frequent electrical issues like shorts as water is known to be a culprit of.

To be fair, this wasn’t necessarily British Leyland’s fault as the UK government kept in place many protectionist trade policies after World War II  that basically meant that certain manufacturing industries had literally nothing in the way of competition from anyone off the island. So you had no choice but to use Nigel’s rubber because Stan’s rubber cost five times as much.

 

The previous sentence is of course, a gross oversimplification of the situation designed to make the basic point that British rubber from the 60’s through the 90’s was rubbish…which is a fact. I’m not going to dive any more deeply into this because this is a blog post and not a Master’s thesis on real comparative advantage vs quality of goods and services vs efficiency, although it’s worth pointing out that the UK’s real comparative advantage in the rubber industry only ever hit positive numbers in the early 1980’s when literally everything being manufactured on the planet was junk before it hit store shelves. In the auto industry, the term is of course, the “Malaise Era.”



But this isn’t the reason that Doug Demuro’s Range Rover was so unreliable. Oh no. His L322 didn’t begin development until close to twenty five years after the P38 (on a technicality) which was largely an evolution of the original Range Rover and carried over much of its parts and hardware from the 1970’s. The L322 shared nothing with the P38.

L322 doug demuro range rover

This is where things get emotional and dramatic for Land Rover and its employees. Because no sooner did the P38 hit showrooms, then Rover Group was bought by BMW. And you know what BMW did? BMW pretty much abandoned any further development of the vehicle that had been slowly but surely and methodically tweaked and refined over twenty-five years, and set Land Rover to work…designing and building a BMW with Land Rover badges. In fact the only real change the P38 saw in its six years on the road was a new engine management system bolted to an otherwise unchanged engine (itself a Buick V8 from the 1960’s). Other than that, over the years, you got new colors, more wood trim, and different wheels, but all that time was really spent building the next Range Rover (cough!!bmwcough!!). So the reliability problems of a single-generation vehicle basically went completely unaddressed for those six years because BMW simply didn’t care about making this British designed vehicle work in the way in which it was intended.

And then the Americans rescued the British again.

BMW, in either a shrewd move, or shortsighted move (that wound up benefitting everyone in hindsight), tired of ownership of the Rover Group. Maybe it’s because they needed to make their quarter. Maybe it’s because they were overextended due to the nightmare that the Rolls-Royce acquisition became. It’s also possible (and this often happens) that BMW decided that the Land Rover ethos (of tough and capable and dependable-ish-until-BMW-came-around off-road utility vehicles) did not fit in with the BMW brand that offers practical high-performance vehicles in a variety of shapes and sizes that offer a pleasing and exhilarating-when-you-want-it on-road experience. So they made a cunning move…



A year away from the L322’s launch date, BMW sold Land Rover to Ford. This meant it was impossible for Ford to shift course on the vehicle’s development AND it meant Ford would have to keep buying pretty much all the mechanicals and electronics from BMW that it was manufacturing and sending to England to be used in the soon-to-be-released modern L322 Range Rover. It also meant that any reliability issues borne of German manufacturing (and yes, the German cars have their problems too) would be Ford’s problem. So let’s recap:

You have a British factory and British employees building what is basically a completely German vehicle and you’re under American management. Talk about zero accountability and a really zig-zaggy org chart of mostly dotted line reporting, if any reporting at all. It sounded like nobody wanted to build or sell or give a rat’s butt about the L322. And despite claims by LR executives to the contrary, what rolled off the assembly line was more of the same poor reliability that Land Rovers had become associated with, and it would get worse.(links to a top gear recap as I can’t find the actual video online).

Don’t worry, we’ll get back to Doug Demuro in a bit. Just roll with me here…

But then something odd happened. Ford turned out to be the cool parent. See, they gave Land Rover its Britishness back. Ford would go on to add Jaguar and Aston Martin to their Premier Automotive Group (along with Volvo…odd choice?) and in turn helped to reignite the best-of-british-spark that had been missing for some time. All development returned to the UK, and a very important fellow was hired on named Andy Wheel. Andy Wheel would go on to design the Discovery 3/LR3 which Richard Hammond called the best 4×4 ever made. As nearly as I can tell from a lack of available information on the web, the LR3, it didn’t share many, if any parts from the L322 Range Rover (BMW e39 540i) parts bin. It was a home grown product through and through. It would later go on to provide the mechanicals and electrics (in their entirety) for the L320 Range Rover Sport…like Bertram.

L320 doug demuro range rover sport

And then Ford got a brain wave: Let’s stop paying BMW for the big bits we put in the L322

And so in an effort to improve things and give the L322 a British heart, Ford opted to  put the engine developed by Jaguar for the LR3 /XJ8/V8 Vantage also into the L322. This was a bit of a double-edged basketball. Their intentions were good, but it was a bad executive decision because it’s not like the old days of shoebox vehicles where you could drop any engine into pretty much anything and plug in the battery and things would just kinda work. No, the L322 still had more miles of BMW wiring harnesses than an elephant’s intestine is long, and more BMW control modules than zits on a teen’s face and replacing a vehicle’s engine is one thing, but replacing all the wiring and control modules is something else entirely. Something Ford didn’t do…we think…until later.



What this meant was that Ford had to figure out how to make their jaguar V8 and all its ECUs and emissions controls and power management  systems talk to all the BMW brains and nerves in the vehicle. This was no small task given that the the downloadable PDF manual for the BMW software was probably in German. If you remember computers back in 2003, you remember that things were still pretty buggy and in their infancy relative to today and software didn’t make allowances for freezes and crashes to the extent it does now. Software would also function incorrectly with bugs without freezing or crashing, and that brings us back around to Doug Demuro’s experience.

Doug’s 2006 Land Rover Range Rover L322 is an unfortunate chimera of disinterested British manufacturing, absentee German design, and janitorial American management (although to be fair, Ford eventually did an incredibly good job of cleaning things up). I can only imagine how confused Doug Demuro’s vehicle was on the inside, questioning its existence, unsure where it was or what it was. It’s no wonder nothing worked, nor was his experience at all unique. Nothing inside the ’06 L322 was really made to fit together well.

So while that was going on, car designer Andy Wheel (and also Richard Woolley of Range Rover Sport fame) were busy making the vehicle that would exemplify the lessons learned from every previous Land Rover and Range Rover (not counting the L322 because screw that) and the result was, in my humble opinion, fantastic in terms of building a supremely balanced vehicle that was capable, understated, non-pretentious, and timeless. In fact its only weakness appears to be fuel consumption, which could have been addressed with a smaller engine, had the market not demanded “MORE POWERRRRR!!…”

A review of ownership reviews across the internets of the L319 Discovery 3/LR3 and L320 Range Rover Sport reveals them to also have been exceptionally reliable, contradicting popular opinions about Land Rover in general. One can deduce that real time and effort was put into changing that “feature” of previous vehicles. Given that it shared no parts with the L322, there was not necessarily any reason to believe it would share in the reliability problems either. Also, the 4.4L Jaguar V8 was rated as being one of the best engines ever made and is considered to still be better than the later 5.0L V8 in the refreshed models that came out in 2010.

Ford did an incredible job of cleaning up the BMW mess at Land Rover, and it was unfortunate that they had to dissolve their premium automotive group during the economic downturn of the mid-2000’s,with Jaguar/Land Rover being sold to Tata Motors of India, but they paved the way for further astonishing vehicles to come out of Solihull the current crop is likely still the lingering legacy of Ford’s time as the steward of the brand. I feel confident in saying that the L319/L320 were the true successors to the P38 and Discovery 2 and heirs to the Land Rover brand, and the L322 never happened.

Never ever.

Like Howard the Duck or Crystal Pepsi.

It never happened.

So no, Doug Demuro, it’s not that Land Rover doesn’t (or didn’t) care about their owners having reliable vehicles while yes it’s a fact that their vehicles were unreliable for a time. The fact of the matter is, true Land Rover vehicles with actual Land Rover energy put into designing them improved dramatically with the departure of BMW as a parent company and that the L322 should be put in a category of its own, much like people without a country. If you take the L322 out of the equation, you’ll find that 21st century LR vehicles do not find themselves at the bottom of reliability surveys, they tend to be average to good. Sure things go wrong with some, but that happens with every car, even Toyotas. I had a Subaru Impreza WRX that I got new that was in the shop more than Doug’s Range Rover ever has been. I had a Ford Focus Electric that needed a new engine and transmission in fewer than 20,000 miles (the latter being the “focus” of a class action lawsuit, although not the EV model technically).  But really, take a look around the internet. You’ll find mostly praise for L319s and L320s. They’re perfectly normal reliable vehicles that can do just about anything but 40mpg. And they’re going  to go up in value, eventually…like rusty old VW Westphalias. Who saw that coming?



Or I could be literally wrong about everything I just wrote. But I won’t admit to that until design executives from Ford, Land Rover, and BMW reach out to me and tell me the true story of that fabled forty year love triangle.

Okay, back to spending hours on Doug Demuro’s Youtube Channel

Travel Thoughts: The Sidney Business District is Totally the Matrix

When I say the downtown Sydney Business District is totally The Matrix, I’m not joking, at all. It’s the frickin’ Matrix.

While this wasn’t the primary reason for my visiting Australia, I admit I became a little tied up with experiencing it for the wealth of movie filming locations from that film. While I believe in Film Works and keeping production local to Los Angeles, I realized that Sydney was in fact, the perfect place for this movie to be made twenty years ago. The reason was simple: Sydney’s metropolis was, at the time, not instantly recognizable to most of the world and as such was the perfect surreal backdrop for a  world that may (or may not be) real.

The thing that made the Sydney Business District even more matrixy than The Matrix though, was the fact that it was practically impossible to get lost. All one really had to do was park at the Sydney Opera House (a later post), and walk back into the city, and somehow you can always find your way back. I cannot say this of Manhattan which, despite being laid out as a grid, I can’t find my way around to save my soul. It’s bad there. Sydney not so much! The other notable thing is that Sydney isn’t in a grid pattern, so you would think it would be harder. My theory is that “the machines” programmed the layout of Sydney into my brain with that thingie that’s plugged into the back of everyone’s necks.i

In addition to the spot where Neo called the machines at the end of the film, I also came across a couple of other locations while I was there, including the Martin Place Fountain (where the “Woman in the Red Dress” program was run:

Another non-location was the staircase inside the Westin Hotel in Martin Place. While IMDB lists this as the filming location for the staircase, as do many fan sites, however it’s most likely not…unless there’s another staircase in the bowels of the hotel somewhere. See for yourself, below is video of the staircase, followed by video from the original film. While they might share trim bits, they are most definitely not the same staircase:

There is one other possibility that’s not completely crazy: That the original staircase was torn out and a new one built in its place that used the same trim pieces. I say it’s not crazy, because I’ve seen large facilities tear out and replace structural elements like this all the time, due to things like failed safety inspections or interior redesigns, or new building code requirements and it’s clear that Martin Place had seen a bit of a renaissance since the Matrix was filmed there with the facades on many of the buildings receiving major facelifts prior to and even during my time there. I can’t even be sure that the Westin was a tenant in that building at the time the Matrix was filming. Many of the seedy locations used for the industrial and alleyway sequences in Sydney went on to gentrify in the years following the production. Most areas are unrecognizable and cannot be tied to the production.

This of course, was but a small part of my visit to Australia, and I’ll cover the other aspects of it in subsequent posts.

These photos were taken back in 2015 with what I thought was an underdog and unsung hero of a camera, the original Canon EOS M. Derided for slow autofocus, a lack of available lenses, and poor battery life, I thought it did a decent job, I debated whether or not to put any of these photos in the hi-res gallery, and in the end, opted to wait until I had put up additional subject specific posts on Australia and will then do a consolidated “greatest hits” album.

Past Thoughts: The MovieLand Wax Museum in Buena Park, California

In celebration of Flashback Monday (which isn’t a thing) I wanted to look back on the final days of the Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, California.

Movieland Wax MuseumNo I didn’t take this picture, it was from a postcard…and the lake later became a Starbucks

From 1961 to 2005 it was the goto place to feel like you were visiting the movies. This of course, was before many of the studios had their tours (apart from Universal’s…which was insanely awesome back in those days) and one nifty little thing to note was that, given its reasonably close proximity to the film studios of Los Angeles, stars had, in the past, visited and bestowed upon their namesake diorama’s genuine artifacts from what scene was depicted. So there was real Hollywood provenance there!

Unfortunately, in 2005, the MovieLand Wax Museum closed its doors forever, but, as is often the case with local fixtures going away, it drew ridonkulous crowds who had been procrastinating and putting off for years, a visit, which of course cost the museum and forced it to shut down. If you don’t support your local businesses, they can’t succeed. I’m not being sarcastic.

Buena Park was something of an oasis for amazing museums back in the day. The only one that pre-dates me (and which I regret being born too late for) was the Movie World museum which was dedicated to cars. It had a collection that will never be replicated as many of the cars wound up in private hands, or on display and eventually back out in the elements where they rotted away. Truly a sad tale.

The only two surviving amusement offerings in or near Buena Park are places you may have heard of: Knott’s Berry Farm, and Disneyland. And speaking of Disneyland, the line to get in during its closing weeks was longer than the line for an E-Ticket ride! But I did it, I succeeded in getting in, and took over a hundred photos for posterity. I can’t for the life of me, remember every film or star featured and some have the description plaques cropped out, but Wikipedia covers all of them, so you can certainly cross-reference.

Of course this was back in 2005 before digital cameras were the bomb-diggity they are today, and some of the JPGs have since corrupted in the intervening thirteen years, so please forgive me if one or two pictures looks a little off, but I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane.

Rover Thoughts: First Planned (and Unplanned) Repairs

Well prior to the Range Rover Sport’s check-engine light coming on due to me battling with not being permitted to use cruise control, I had already confirmed that there were things wrong with it (prior to buying it) that I was prepared to fix relative to the price I was paying. I had had it tech inspected, and some things were unnecessary annoyances, and others were critical to operation. I wrote “others,” but technically, there was only one repair necessary that was critical to operation: the rear door latches.

range rover sport l320 repairsIt looked pretty good after the detail, but it rained two days later…then it got dirty. That never happens in LA

For some strange reason, the locking mechanisms had failed on both rear doors! Odd right? I guess the previous owner had a spouse or children who manhandled those doors in a certain way that, while they still opened and shut perfectly normally, they wouldn’t lock.

So of course anyone could walk up to the locked vehicle, open a rear door, and walk off with my power inverter or dehumidifier (as the only things of value inside).

The shop I found in Orange County California to be my point of service was/is Euro West Rovers. They really seemed to know their stuff and as the only independent Land Rover tech in the area, the major Land Rover dealers sent a ton of non-warranty work their way. There was no shortage of Land Rovers lined up for work, scheduled maintenance, and also repairs. I draw a distinction between the three that I’ll go into in a later post. Continue reading “Rover Thoughts: First Planned (and Unplanned) Repairs”