Friday, November 23, 2018

Music: Autumn Leaves

The line between classical and jazz music was blurred in the mid-20th century, sort of like the hazy boundary between Thanksgiving and the holiday shopping season. If you need a timeout between rounds of leftover turkey and Black Friday doorbusters, may I suggest this somber version of Joseph Kosma's "Autumn Leaves," performed by Dami Im?

Kosma was steeped in the classical tradition (he trained with famous Hungarian composers like Béla Bartók), but he wrote plenty of popular music, too, including "Autumn Leaves." The piece is now a jazz standard, with the most famous versions featuring English language lyrics by Johnny Mercer.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Miscellany: Krav Maga class journal, session 1

I was getting really out of shape, so I'm taking a local beginner's Krav Maga class. I'll post updates here, mostly for myself but also to give people an idea of what you might expect if you sign up for one of these things.

The first class at Hwang's Martial Arts was free, as is the case with most of these courses. There was one other new student. The total size of the class was somewhere around 10 people, mostly women in their late teens or twenties. We train in a small gym inside a strip mall - I imagine there are thousands of places across the country like this.

We warmed up first by jogging and sidestepping around the room for a few minutes. Every class begins with a warmup - I wonder if they change it up from class to class.

The head instructor, Kristina Hwang, takes me and the new guy aside and gives us some basic instruction on stance, keeping your hands up, breathing, and punching. She advocates a wider stance than you might expect (the first time I throw a punch, she pushes me off-balance from the side to demonstrate the dangers of a narrow stance). She is an unassuming lady, but she hits like a Mack truck and obviously has a lot of martial arts experience (apparently Taekwondo):

We break out a tombstone pad to practice strikes with each other. I'm as frail as a kitten compared to the other newbie (really nice fellow - he goes to the gym several days a week). My jab-straight combinations biff the pad weakly, and I have trouble generating power by turning my hips and pivoting on my rear foot. Each punch is punctuated by a brief exhale - I can get up to about four in combination without having to breathe again.

Kristina shows us a couple more techniques - hammer fists, straight kicks - and then the whole class watches the other instructor, Matt, demonstrate a basic ground fighting technique against someone who is mounting and choking you. You trap one of his feet with your foot, snatch and grab the guy's wrists with your hands, buck your hips up and roll him around on the trapped side, and then follow up ASAP. If you don't execute the technique correctly, the opponent can easily re-establish his weight and prevent you from bucking him off. We pair off to practice it.

The class ends and Kristina and I talk turkey. The expectation is 2 classes per week, every week, for 6 months. It's not terribly expensive, considering the location, and I'll try anything once, so I sign up.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Miscellany: 2019 BMW X3 review - American German Club


During our epic trip to see the solar eclipse last year, the guys and I stopped by the Zentrum, BMW's visitor center and museum next to its Spartanburg, South Carolina manufacturing plant. The cars on exhibit, and the plant itself, told an interesting story - here was a Bavarian company, once known for compact sporty little sedans like the 2002, producing big luxury SUVs aimed squarely at American buyers:

Of course, X3s and other "Sports Activity Vehicles" (to use BMW marketing-speak) are now the company's biggest sellers...but is there any of the old 2002's spirit left in them? I had one to drive for a few days, so I thought I'd find out.


The X3 is classified as a "compact" SUV, but that's relative to what's out there in 2018. The thing is absolutely massive compared to the Lexus RX 300 crossover Mom used to haul us around in 20 years ago, and it's nearly the size of the first-generation X5 from 1999. Unless you have multiple six-footers in your family, I can't imagine anyone feeling cramped a 2019 X3.

Drivetrain and Performance

I tested the xDrive30i model, the overwhelming volume seller. It's got the same turbo direct injected 2.0L inline-four engine and ZF 8-speed transmission BMW uses across its lineup, with familiar pluses (punchy acceleration, smooth shifts) and minuses (unrefined NVH at low speeds, loses some oomph at high RPMs). In a vehicle of the X3's size, the combo provides good but not great performance, and decent fuel economy.

In terms of ride and handling, the X3 feels very solid at highway speed, yet still manages to be a bit more fun to drive than most of the competition. I think the credit for that goes to BMW's rear-biased all-wheel drive system and the SUV's reasonable ride height, which is low enough to be sporty but not so low that you scrape curbs and parking blocks. I suppose you could do some mild gravel roads and trails in the X3, but a hardcore offroader this is not.


If you've been inside any BMW for the last decade, you'll feel right at home in the X3. For some, that's a big negative, but I've never minded BMW's conservative streak in interior design. Materials quality in the cabin was noticeably better than in my 328i, but it better be, considering this is a four-cylinder SUV that stickers for north of $45k.

Tech and Options

The X3 was redesigned for 2018, but it doesn't have the swanky monolithic all-digital dashboard gauge cluster and infotainment screen found in upcoming BMWs like the next-gen 3-series. Instead, you get a weird-looking semi-digital gauge and an old-fashioned center-mounted touchscreen. The car comes with the latest version of BMW's iDrive infotainment system, but wireless Apple CarPlay is extra.

The X3 I tested came with a panoramic moonroof, a pricey $1,350 option. I must admit, though, it does work well, and might be worth it to some people.

Rear Seat

Unlike the 2002s of yore, you can actually fit three human beings in the rear bench, though the middle seat is still the runt of the litter thanks to a higher cushion and the transmission tunnel. The middle seat folds down to reveal a center armrest and pass-through, and the rear seats do also recline slightly.


The folks from Munich may have lost the plot in terms of performance-oriented driving over the past decade, but they've upped their game on storage design. The X3's cargo area is massively practical, with a power lift gate, easy split-folding 40/20/40 rear seats, a snap-in cargo cover that stores neatly under the floor, and all sorts of shifting tie-downs. With the seats down, this thing can hold almost anything.


If you're comparing the X3 to the 02 series just on objective performance bona fides, there's not much that's similar. The X3 is literally twice as heavy, with none of the compact agility or raw mechanical feedback you get from the 70's Bimmers. I found it offers a detached driving experience that might leave some cold.

On the other hand, the X3 is an entry-level luxury SUV, not a sporty coupe. When graded on that metric, it succeeds in its mission, and does it better or at least equal to most vehicles in its class. If I were ever in the market for this kind of SUV, I would definitely give it a test drive.