Thursday, December 15, 2011

Like this post!

Does anyone other than me find it annoying to go to a Facebook page, especially after clicking an ad in the sidebar that you may be interested in reading, and finding that you can't actually view anything on the page until you click "like"? What's the point in that? How am I supposed to know whether I "like" the page before you let me look at the content? STUPID! I think Facebook should prevent that type of code from being added to pages. (In particular, I clicked on the Edmunds "100 worst cars of all time" ad/link - and couldn't see anything on the Edmunds Facebook page until I clicked "like" on the page; afterward, I couldn't even find the article - or a link to it - on that page! I did eventually search "100 worst cars" and found the article - on Edmunds' site - but oh, how silly, to have to go through liking (and then unliking) the page on Facebook, especially when the article wasn't even there... why didn't they just link the ad to their article on the Edmunds site to begin with?)

Now, like this post, or you can't read it! Wait...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Common Failure

A local dealer has a 2004 Mazda RX-8 for sale. I was just doing some searching on the RX-8, and apparently, according to Edmunds reliability ratings, "a periodic problem on this vehicle is failure of the Engine. This failure may prevent the vehicle from starting." Really? Failure of the engine "may" prevent the engine from starting? And "cost to repair the engine" is listed as $6,282 for parts and another $722 for labor (at an unrealistic labor cost of $65/hour - when was the last time you had a mechanic charge you just $65/hour for labor?). So, $7,500 for the car, and reserve another $7k to replace the engine at some point in the future. Yeah, I think I may pass on this one, thanks anyway (the car is way out of warranty, so any additional mechanical expense would be my burden).

Another failure: why can I stream HD movies from Netflix on my PS3, yet YouTube can't seem to reliably stream low-def videos? I'm not quite sure I follow that.

So, anyway, merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bring on the Diesels!

Take a look at this chart; notice anything awesome? How about the US MPG numbers?  For instance, take the very last line: 2.0: MultiJet TCT.  44 mpg (US) city, 59 mpg (US) highway, 52 mpg (US) combined. Granted, that's on a European cycle test, but still. Now, if you look at the chart above, you'll notice that little 2.0 litre (notice the European spelling of "litre" here) diesel makes a good bit of power: 168 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. The car in which it is ensconced (an Alfa Romeo Guilietta, actually a rather neat looking little vehicle) goes from 0-62 in 7.9 seconds (yes, 0-62; that's actually a 0-100 kmh acceleration run, converted to mph for us Americans). Why can't we have this here? Oh, yeah, we're in America. Silly Americans... always wanting bigger, more powerful, and no diesels.

I think it's time for a change. America needs more diesels! Hopefully Fiat will start bringing them over (along with the Alfa Romeo vehicles, too!)... they have a small 1.3L diesel that is sold in the European 500, but hasn't made a debut in the American version yet. (Then again, I'd like to see the 2-cylinder TwinAir engine come over too; in turbo form, it produces as much power as the current 1.4 naturally aspirated four-cylinder in the 500, and supposedly gets an astounding near-60 mpg on gasoline.)

I really hope Fiat succeeds in its return to the US market (I'd like a 500 Abarth myself, until the Alfas start to show up), and that it brings more European flavor cars to the US market. Europe has all sorts of neat little runabouts that we don't have in the States (mainly because Europe has small roads and has had higher fuel prices for a long time, something that we Americans are just getting a taste of as our fuel prices start to fall in line with the rest of the world).

And European cars have soul, that bit of character that invigorates the driving experience, something that's not often found in American or Asian machinery (note: I don't really have anything against Asian or American cars; they're typically just not as enjoyable and engaging to drive as their European counterparts). Good luck, Fiat! And if you need someone to drive a 500 Abarth around the Mobile/Pensacola area, I'll be happy to advertise for you!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sinkie Day or Buy Nothing Day - your choice

Many (in America) consider the day after Thanksgiving to be "Black Friday" - that is, a day of fantastic shopping and spending (that generally turns the fortunes of retailers from being "in the red" - or negative - to "in the black" - or positive - hence the nickname, "black Friday"). If you think that's all there is to the day after Thanksgiving, you'd be quite wrong.

First, enter the International Association of People Who Dine Over the Kitchen Sink - IAPWDOKS (although I don't think they actually go by that acronym - instead, they go by the moniker "Sinkies"). That is, people who grab a quick meal over the kitchen sink. Although, apparently they're getting tired of eating over the sink, and are considering selling the domain "" (visit the site if you're interested in taking over or alternately using the domain for some other purpose, like maybe trapping typos of "" into watching some sort of weird eagle laying an egg video advertising car insurance - although why they'd both miss the "l" and misspell the "y" into "ie" I'm not really sure; ps: you can watch the video below!).

Second, if you're against capitalism, you may be interested in "Buy Nothing Day."  Per the web site, "Buy Nothing Day is your special day to unshop, unspend and unwind. Relax and do nothing for the economy and for yourself - at least for a single day." I think it actually has a larger following than "Sinkie Day" - at least, there are significantly more hits in a Google search for buy nothing day.

OK, as promised, here's the "Eagleman car insurance video" - enjoy!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On Overcrowded Prisons


  1. Don't read this blog if you are faint of heart or dislike things of slight gore. Or if you have no sense of humor.
  2. Credit for some of these ideas go to my dad (from a conversation we had earlier today).
  3. This blog, as always, is for entertainment purposes only; any resemblance of any persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. If you happen to form a real opinion from this blog, that is entirely your doing. :)
Prison overcrowding is a real issue facing today's governing authorities. This is revealed by numerous reports and sources, and the Supreme Court has ruled that "overcrowded prison systems are unconstitutional" (personally, I don't think that medical care and mental health compromises constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" - that should be reserved for, say, tying prisoners to nail beds under a dripping honey trough in an unfloored dungeon which has a large ant population - that might be cruel and unusual). The solution appears to be "release the prisoners."

Well, my dad's solution is, I think, pretty ingenious, and includes a built-in crime deterrent. Say a prison has a capacity of 100 inmates, and there are currently 100 people incarcerated therein. No, not out loud, I meant "say" as in "suppose," silly reader. Then say suppose one new person is convicted and sentenced to a prison term. Well, that would be 101, and the prison has a capacity of 100. What to do, what to do? Release one? (Whom do you pick for that?) Delay the new prisoner's sentence? ("Oh, don't worry, you won't have to serve your sentence until eleven years from today.")

Nope. Execute the inmate with the longest time in the pen. The one who's been there the longest - not released, just executed. "Oh, you were supposed to be released tomorrow? Sorry, your time just expired... shouldn't have committed that crime!" There's a great crime deterrent - any crime could end up carrying a death penalty if the prison gets overcrowded before you're supposed to be released.

Now, my addition to this is a simple one: instead of electric chairs, or lethal injections, or any other type of execution method, just convert all the prison cells into large microwave ovens. Then, when execution time comes around, no need to walk the prisoner to a new place (he might attack the guards on the way), just flip a switch, wait a few minutes, and then clean out the cell.

But wait: it gets better. That job of cleaning out the cell? Leave that to the next tenant.

Now, some would argue, you have to have all sorts of safety devices and procedures in place for this type of system to make sure you don't flip the wrong switch. I say, baloney. How's this for a deterrent: "Another prisoner was accidentally fried by a guard flipping the wrong switch today; John Doe, who was convicted of jaywalking and serving a three-day sentence, was accidentally executed in place of the mass-murderer Jane Doe, whom authorities caught while she was jaywalking with her anonymously named husband."

Of course, this system isn't perfect (but it may be better than releasing felons prior to serving their complete sentences), but neither are humans.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cutting Recommendation

If you happen to need to cut some wood, let me suggest the Vaughan Bear Saw. I have one like the second on that page, a medium/fine (I guess, might be medium coarse?). Very comfortable to use. Very quick to cut. Very accurate.

While working on repairing the frame on our love seat (the front wood brace broke in two, dropping the center of the seat to the floor), I wanted to cut a piece of reinforcing wood to attach to the glued-back-together main frame piece (I'm probably going to find some metal to reinforce the split area as well). The reinforcing piece is a 1"x3" piece of pine. Now, I could have lugged out the radial saw, perfect for the job, but it's so heavy to use for just the one cut... Bear Saw! It took me only a moment to rip through the reinforcement board, with a near-perfect cut (I hadn't bothered to make it exceptionally square, since it would be "free" and not abutted against anything). Similarly, the wooden dowel I used to help position the broken frame board was easily cut with the Bear Saw. (Watch out, by the way: that bear saw is sharp!) FYI, what I did with the dowel was this: cut it slightly longer than the correct spacing between the front and rear frame boards, insert it at an angle between the front and back, and my wife pushed the dowel toward "straight" between them as I pulled and positioned the split frame board. In this way, we managed to work the frame board back to its correct horizontal location (distance from the front board, aligning it with the other side of the split) in spite of the tension on the board from the springs and cords attached to the seating surface.

And that's not even the original purpose for which I'd bought the saw. I have a chunk (log) of an old cedar tree, and I wanted to take some slices of the cedar for a craft project. My radial saw was not sufficient due to the diameter of the cedar (about a foot), and any other power saws I had similarly would not suffice. The Bear Saw performed very well at making these slices. Granted, they are not perfectly uniform in thickness - I did not try very hard to make it that way, though, as it is inconsequential to the project (plus, I think the variance adds some character, definitely a home-made look to it). Now, it was hard work, cutting multiple slices off a foot-diameter log of cedar with a hand saw, but it did, in fact, work. And the saw was still sharp enough to easily perform the cuts for the couch-repair project.

Oh, and the Bear Saw has replaceable blades as well in the event that it does get dull or broken (I'm not handy enough to sharpen my own saw blades), although they didn't have any replacement blades at the Lowes where I bought the saw. That's OK, though; it will likely be a long time before I use it enough to dull the blade to the point of replacement.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It's chilly out here, and deception

I'm sitting on my back patio, and it's chilly out here! The thermometer on the back porch says 53, so maybe it's not that cold, but it sure feels cold - guess it's the relative temperature drop from the summer that's fading into memory. At least I've got my laptop to keep my lap warm... wonder if I could create a device to pump the fan exhaust around my head to keep my ears warm? Oh, and I can see my breath, the moisture from the warm air inside my body condensing as it hits the cool night air.

I just wish the street light up the hill behind my house wasn't there. (I know, I know, get a .22.)

OK, it's too chilly for me now (I'm adding this sentence about halfway through the next section); going inside!

Out of curiosity, what would you consider "false advertising" when it comes to a car dealer? For instance, if they list the MSRP on their web site for a vehicle, wouldn't you consider it false advertising if the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price, according to the window sticker on the vehicle, is actually a much lower price? Consider, for instance, this car, at a local car dealer:
Ford Fiesta at Chuck Stevens Ford 
According to that page, the "MSRP" is "$20,780" and the "Internet Price" is "$19,280" (and you can send them contact info to get "Chuck's price" which, I would assume, is even lower).

And yet, if you look at the window sticker from Ford (note: the following link will open a PDF of the window sticker from Ford; some browsers may prompt you to download it):
Ford Fiesta Window Sticker (direct from Ford)
Um, Chuck, the MSRP - from the manufacturer - is "$17,285."

Did I miss something? Chuck's "Internet Price" - showing you saving "$1,500 off MSRP" - is actually about two grand higher than the official MSRP from Ford. What's up with that? Now, don't get me wrong, Chuck Stevens is legally able to charge any value they can get for the car (within certain consumer protection provisions, of course - they can't scam you for extra, for instance). But, wait, this seems like a scam. Why are they posting "MSRP" that is, oh, $3,500 more than the MSRP on the official, manufacturer's window sticker?

And it's not just this one car. I actually chatted with one of their "internet sales reps" a few months about about this when I noticed it was the case on all the Mustangs on their lot, that the "advertised" MSRP was well inflated above the MSRP on the Ford window sticker. "Oh, that's a clerical error, we'll get it fixed." It was never fixed, and it was apparently a "clerical error" on every car they had on the lot (at least all the ones I looked at).

Here we are, a few months later, and all the new Mustangs on their lot once again have inflated MSRPs on their web site. And, again, not just Mustangs, but every vehicle I've looked at on their web inventory. Again I chatted the internet sales rep, a different one (the internet sales manager, actually), and she had no explanation, but "will look into it." When I said, "Honestly, it looks like deceptive sales tactics" - well, she didn't close the chat, but never replied after that.

If it's something that they've added, dealer markup, various "dealer add ons," etc., that's fine - but that's not MSRP. Maybe "DSRP" - "Dealer's Suggested Retail Price." But there's nothing on the web site of the vehicle to indicate why the listed "MSRP" is way more than the one that Ford - the manufacturer - put on the window.

So, what say you? Is it "false advertising"?

Note: Chuck Stevens has multiple brands - I have not attempted to check whether their other lines follow a similar deceptive advertising policy; I don't even know if you can get to the window sticker of other brands online like you can with Fords.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Interesting Alfa Romeos for sale

I apologize to my regular readers who have no interest in automobiles (other than transportation factors). You may stop reading now and return next time for something more interesting. To those car-head readers, or any Alfisti (Alfa Romeo enthusiasts) out there, please read on!

There's a dealer (Classic Cars of Plano) in Texas with some interesting Alfa Romeos for sale.  I say interesting, because they were never actually for sale in the US originally (and they both have speedometers marked in "KPH" - not "MPH").

If you happen to buy one (or both!) of these, and live anywhere near the Mobile/Pensacola area, please let me know - I'd love to come take a look (or a spin, if you're so inclined). I'd consider buying them myself, but there are other things that are of more importance right now (reliable transportation, college tuition for the kids, etc.).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

You will save money!

Just thought I'd let you know: you're going to save money. On fuel. Check it out:

Obama's Historic 54.5 mpg Fuel Efficiency Standard

That's right: automakers are going to have to increase fuel efficiency of their fleets, and that is going to save you money at the pump.  I haven't quite figured out how the increase in efficiency of cars I don't own is going to save me money, but according to the article, the agreement for model years 2012-2016 (35.5 mpg) will start saving families money at the pump this year.  Cool, huh?

These new standards will also "spur economic growth" - you know, by ... well, I'm not really sure.  Reducing income of oil companies.  Increasing income of automotive manufacturers (since you'll have to pay for all that fancy engineering to double the average fuel economy of vehicles in a decade and a half).

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said, “American consumers are calling for cleaner cars that won’t pollute their air or break their budgets at the gas pump, and our innovative American automakers are responding with plans for some of the most fuel efficient vehicles in our history.”

So, we'll have more fuel efficient (and more expensive because of all the engineering and R&D and technological advances that went into making them more efficient) vehicles, vehicles that you'll have to go out and buy (all the while taking a loss on the depreciation of the car you currently own), and will be more than making up for the savings at the pump by the increased monthly payment of your vehicle.  (Maybe this is really just a government scam to try to get GM stock up to where the gov't can sell it off and recoup the money they put into saving the company?)

Here's something else they should think about: ethanol vs. gasoline. Ethanol is not as efficient as gasoline. (Do your own research, but I'll give some links to get you started later.)  E10 (10% ethanol) is generally 3-4% less efficient than 100% gasoline, while E85 (85% ethanol) is 25-30% less efficient.  Now, recently, ethanol blends are slightly cheaper than "real" gasoline, which helps offset the reduced efficiency when looking at "cost per mile" - but this doesn't take into account the reduced efficiency from increased fueling frequency (say you're on an interstate trip - every time you stop for fuel, you're typically reducing your efficiency because of the energy spent in heating the brakes while slowing, excess energy spent to accelerate to interstate speeds vs. the amount of energy spent maintaining that speed, etc.).  However, engineering engines to run on various fuel sources, vs. optimizing for a particular fuel source, that's going to bring compromises all around.

Anyway, back to the original point: requiring increased MPG ratings for a fleet will have an effect on purchasers of the new cars only. There are somewhere north of 250 million passenger vehicles registered in the US, and of those, only 13.5% were less than two years old. So, of those 250 million vehicles, about 34 million are "new" vehicles and will get the fuel savings. And who will save? Those families that can afford to get a new car. How's that for ironic? If you can afford a new car, you will get to save money on fuel! If you can't afford a new car, you get to plod along at your old car's MPG rating, and likely losing money at the pump as the auto makers have to design to new regulations and MPG standards and take advantage of every possible trick to increase MPG, all the while "reduce dependence on foreign oil" pushes more and more ethanol out of the fuel nozzle (and into either your new car designed to run more efficiently on ethanol, or your old gas-burner that will be getting less and less MPG from the fuel that's offered to you, all the while the gov't quietly fails to tell you - other than a sticker on the pump - what you're putting into your car, and those stickers do not mention the reduced efficiency of the fuel in your designed-for-gasoline engine).

Well, that's enough encouragement for one day.  Here are some links if you want to start looking at ethanol vs. gasoline efficiency:

  • American Coalition for Ethanol fuel economy study (pdf) - note: this one may be slightly biased toward the ethanol side, based on the source :)
  • What About Ethanol MPG? Tech Tidbits (Road & Track)
  • E85 vs Gasoline Test in a Suburban -  this article notes that currently ethanol production is subsidized by the government - if unsubsidized, ethanol prices at the pump (E85) would increase by about 51 cents/gallon (this may be one reason for the price swap in the next link)
  • Nebraska Ethanol vs. Unleaded Gasoline Rack Prices - note that until recently, ethanol was significantly higher priced than gasoline (per this chart, which I've included because it goes through 2010, vs another chart I found that only goes through 2007); there are obviously many factors involved in the pricing, but government subsidization of ethanol production may be one influencing factor in ethanol's recent price falling at or below the price of gasoline - they want to make ethanol seem like a viable fuel source, so have adjusted the price to make it more consumer friendly
OK, I'm out of here... enough gloom and doom for one post!

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Gas. That's the primary infrastructure of the American traveling public.  There are gas stations just about everywhere (except at that exit you're about to pass when you really need to stop to unload some liquid instead of loading some).  What don't we have at every corner?  LPG stations (you know for LPG-powered vehicles).  Hydrogen stations (for liquid hydrogen powered vehicles, whether it's a hydrogen burning engine or a hydrogen fuel cell to create electricity from the hydrogen to power an electric motor).  240-volt quick-charging stations (for purely electric vehicles).  Granted, these technologies may be coming (or, then again, they may not be).  And there's still expense related to these types of vehicles (e.g., the Chevy Volt is much more expensive than the Chevy Cruze Eco - and the Cruze Eco actually has a higher EPA highway mileage rating!).

So, what are we to do?  Wait?  Come on, we're American, we have no patience for that!

But wait, there's something else... something that has a decent infrastructure in place already.  Something a little more closely related to gasoline: diesel.  Typically at any given "fueling location" (that is, a place with multiple gas stations) there's at least one station which sells diesel fuel.  Now, currently, we only really have the VW diesels: the TDIs (Golf, Jetta, and Passat).  (Note: I know we have plenty of large truck diesels, but I'm talking about fuel-efficient commuter cars.)  Granted, there are some BMWs, but they're more on the luxury end of the market.  Why do I mention this?  Because I think we're missing out.

Generations of Americans have been spoiled by relatively low fuel prices.  Horsepower has been the ruling stat in American vehicles, and diesel engines just don't put out the horsepower of their gasoline counterparts.  Fuel economy might be better, but most people weren't concerned about that "MPG" stat, instead looking at the "HP" number and 0-60 times from magazines and (later) web sites.  Diesel engines?  Those were the noisy, stinky, black-smoke-belching engines found in semis, some pickup trucks, and old, slow Mercedes.

Or are they?

Consider the Mini Cooper D (not available in the US): 0-60 in 8.9 seconds, 41mpg over the course of Car & Driver's two-week test, and "the sporty and fun driving experience we’re used to in gas-fired versions" - while beating the 30 and 23 mpg averages that C&D experience in regular and S model Coopers.  (Note: the Mini diesel does not meet American emission standards, so would require some reworking to be sold here.)  Similarly, the Fiat 500 diesel gets 56 mpg on the EU combined cycle.  It's only a bit over a second slower to 60 than the gas-powered 500.

So, why don't we have some of these diesels in the US?  Probably perception: they won't be "accepted" by US buyers, so going through the trouble of certifying them for American standards would seem to be a wasted expense.  But VW's TDIs seem to sell pretty well, and with current gas prices, I think more people might be interested in the diesels than most marketing types would guess.

Besides the efficiency improvements, there are some other advantages to diesels.  One is torque: because of the difference in the operating characteristics, diesel engines are much torquier than their gasoline counterparts.  For instance, that Mini diesel puts out as much torque as the much-higher-horsepower Cooper S model, and the Fiat 1.3 diesel puts out about 50% more torque than the 1.4 gas engine.  Torque is what you "feel" when accelerating - that's why a good ol' V8 engine "feels" so good and powerful.  They (diesels) won't rev as high as a gas engine, which is why they don't produce as much horsepower, but in most driving scenarios (other than running 0-60 or a 1/4-mile on a drag strip), the torque advantage more than offsets any lack of high-end power.  Diesels also generally are longer-lasting engines - they are built stronger (they have to be to withstand the diesel operating characteristics), and generally have fewer things to go wrong (e.g., no spark plugs or ignition system).

And, of course, there's that improved fuel economy.

I really hope that small diesels make their way into the US.  Mini, Fiat, even GM has some small diesels (initially engineered in conjunction with Fiat) that they could put into the Sonic line of cars (among others).  Small, light-weight, great-handling, "fun" little cars, with torquey diesel engines that get awesome mileage (even if they're slower on a drag strip than their gasoline-powered brethren) - that's what I'd like to see, and I think they may be more popular than some automotive executives might think, especially if advertised correctly.  And, the more they sell, the more word-of-mouth advertising will get around, improving the reputation of "little diesels" even more.

Friday, October 14, 2011

I don't think so...

Now, granted, I'm a fan of Yugos (and other Italian vehicles as well - yes, the Yugo was manufactured in Yugoslavia, but it's basically a Fiat 127).  Yep, I said it, and I mean it.  And why did I start this post by saying that?  Because, even though I actually kind of like the little cars, this is ridiculous.  Some auto dealer in Texas wants $7999 for a 1986 Yugo GV.  Yes, it's in remarkable condition, and has only 78k miles on it.  But come on - that's more than twice the original list price ($3990)!  I'm sorry, but "cheapest car in America" just doesn't qualify to double its price because the quality control was pathetic, Americans who could afford the car didn't care to take care of them, and as a result there are so few running around these days (there were only 141,511 of them sold in the US to begin with).  Interestingly, the vehicle was in production through 2008 (see Wikipedia article).  Here's a picture of a recent model:

Yeah, neat little car.  The guy at Apple Motors (in Denver, CO) likes them (among other Italian autos) too; I recall one time he had a hot-rodded Yugo for sale in his pre-owned autos section, and I think he used to race them as well (although I might be making that up).

Anyway, back to the original reason for this post - the twice-its-original-value economy car.  Yeah, I don't think so.  Maybe the original list price is a fair value for the car, but half the cost of a new Chevy Sonic or Hyundai Accent?  I don't think so.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Car? What car? (Or, rather, which car?)

In a recent trip to my local Kia dealer, Team Gunther Kia (so they could repair a flat when I got a key stuck in my tire with 7k miles on it - which they did for free!), I decided, since I was going to be there anyway, to take a quick look at the Kia Rio. The new one, the 2012 model. Why? Well, I have been very interested in the new Chevy Sonic (particularly with the turbo motor), and in one article or another it was compared with the Hyundai Accent, and by extension the Rio. The Accent/Rio has a 138hp GDI motor (that's "Gasoline Direct Injection" - that is, instead of the fuel being mixed with air and then sucked into the motor, only air flows through the intake valves, and the fuel is directly injected into the cylinder; check out this article if you want to know more). That's the same output as the 1.4L direct injection turbo in the Sonic (actually, the Sonic's 1.8L naturally aspirated motor generates the same horsepower, but less torque, as does the Hyundai GDI motor). And both cars hit the 40 mpg mark (with a manual transmission, on the EPA highway test circuit). So, I thought I'd go ahead and take a look at the Rio while I was waiting on the tire to be repaired (again, at no cost - thanks, Team Gunther Kia!).

I did not drive the Rio, but I did sit in it, and the seats seemed comfortable enough (for the few moments I spent in the car). However, what did impress me, was the solid feeling/sound when I shut the door. Last summer we bought a 2010 Kia Forte for my daughter to take to school with her. She loves the car (my wife loves it, too - she enjoys the way it drives, and, I'll admit, it is a fairly sporty little thing despite its automatic transmission). One thing I do not love about the car is the tinny feeling of the doors. When shutting the door, it sounds, well, hollow, like slamming an aluminum can shut. Not at all like the solid feeling of my much-missed BMW. I figured the Rio, being a "cheaper" car, would follow suit and, if anything, be even less solid of a vehicle. Wrong. The sound of the door shutting was - surprise! - very solid. Maybe not quite as much as the BMW, but then again, the BMW was a 3400 pound car, while the Rio is about 800-900 pounds less. In fact, the Rio felt more substantial, in many ways, than the Forte does. And there's actually room in the back seat, too - although, I'll admit, I only looked there and never actually climbed in.

So, was I impressed? Considering the vehicle, yes. Granted, I don't think it'll be my choice for when I need to get something as a daily driver (I love the Mustang - but when I get a job working further than a walk up my stairs, I'll want to get something with a little better gas mileage and that I won't mind putting into the bustle - and mileage - of being an everyday driver; as I told the Kia salesman, while I'm working out of my home, it doesn't matter whether my car gets 15-16 mpg or 40 mpg - it's no different when I don't drive anywhere; and, no, I'm not trading in the Mustang!). More than likely I'll go with the Turbo Sonic (reminds me of the old Chevy Sprint Turbo - one of the great "little" cars of the late 80s that I really wanted while in high school). There's a really good comparison test in the latest Car and Driver - and the Sonic finished second to the Honda Fit, but only by two points. Interestingly enough, the Sonic tested was a top-of-the-line LTZ model; the LT model costs a bit less, and might have tied (or beaten!) the Honda in the final points tally (the "as tested price" gave a two-point edge to the Honda). Besides, I've always generally had a liking for Chevy... probably because that's what my grandparents (on my mom's side) drove.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Short Post

1) Why do "all" magazine- or dealer-type web sites ALWAYS use these infuriating "do you want to take a survey?" roll-over ads, that get in the way of what I wanted to look at when opening the web site, and make me move the mouse to click "get this stupid ad out of my way"? PLEASE, INTERNET, MAKE IT STOP!

2) I really like the service department at Team Gunther Kia. Now, the sales department is "ok" (they eventually gave me an adequate deal on the car we bought for our daughter, including $1k on trade on a 1996 Cadillac DeVille with only the first two gears in its transmission working), but the service department is really nice. Best price on tires for our 2006 Sedona minivan (much better price than, say, Trax Tires or Goodyear - and only slightly more than TireRack), plus they fixed a recall on one of our sliding doors (that we didn't know about, making the door much easier to open instead of sticking like it had been) while they were waiting on the tires to be fetched from a Kia dealer across the bay. And now, after having pulled a key from one of the tires (with about 7k miles on it), they said they'll fix the flat at no charge. Awesome. And the oil change price is about the same as at any "quick lube shop" - plus they always have the (odd-style) filter in stock. Oh, and if you buy a car - warranty for life (as long as you keep up your maintenance).

OK, off to Team Gunther Kia with a tire in my trunk...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Privacy Changes

Prepare yourself: starting sometime early in 2012, Facebook, along with a number of other social networking sites, will start rolling out a new privacy policy. In order to maintain your account, you will be required to provide a notarized copy of a government issued ID (or, for those without such, a notarized copy of your birth certificate along with one other proof of identification, such as a notarized parent's affidavit that you are the person to whom the birth certificate applies or a notarized school registration), along with a DNA sample. In order to access the site, you will be required to "log in" via a DNA confirmation device (similar to a diabetic's blood tester), which most likely will come in the form of a USB-enabled blood testing device.

The Facebook login will require your user name and password (optionally; once "verified" you can turn off the password requirement, and simply check "DNA Login" on the login page), and then you will have to do the DNA Login. What this will do is sample your DNA (from a quick, mostly-painless blood test), send the DNA information to a DNA server site/service for ID analysis, and then send the ID confirmation to the Facebook login page. The DNA tester will discreetly dispose of the sampled blood via a vaporization technique (puff of smoke, slight "burnt blood" odor that will dissipate quickly and should not cause any smoke detectors in the vicinity to alarm), so you can be assured of your privacy from the machine once you leave (i.e., there won't be any leftover traces of "you" that a potential hacker could use to gain access to your account). Fancier systems will include "auto-sterilization" techniques, while more basic systems will require you to manually sterilize the test area before use (keep some Clorox® Disinfecting Wipes handy!). It is also possible to keep your own, private DNA analysis equipment, as portable models are expected to be available when the system is rolled out (being USB devices, they should easily plug-and-play with any system where you want to log into Facebook).

In some respects, this will simplify the login process for many users (who will opt to turn off "name/password" login requirements once verified). However, the DNA testing equipment and service will be a new experience, and for some, could be more costly than the value of the free services they allow you to access. Note: Facebook has no plans (at this time) to charge for any basic or premium account services, but it is believed that they will offer their own DNA analysis service at an as-yet-undetermined price. The DNA analysis service will likely initially come in two basic flavors: pay for equipment and pay for service. In the former scheme, you will buy the DNA testing device (while prices have yet to be announced, it is assumed that they will be more expensive than the simpler glucose testing devices available to the medical community; likely the initial hardware prices will be in the $1000-2000 range), and complimentary ID analysis services will be provided with the purchase. In the latter scheme, you will pay per month for the ID analysis service, and the device will be provided free (or at either a reduced cost or with a monthly rental fee included in the monthly service cost). It is expected that a large number of the devices, especially the portable devices, will also provide Bluetooth connectivity so that you can continue to log into Facebook via your smartphone's browser. There may be different pricing schemes available, but these are the first expected to be offered to customers. Also, the cost of purchased units will likely fall, especially as production and competition increases. Many cell phone carriers are expected to start incorporating the technology into their smartphones as well, although it will likely be mid-2012 at the earliest before devices with built-in DNA testing capabilities are available (HTC and LG are rumored to have already started working on incorporating the DNA analysis technology into an Android-based smartphone).

While the increased security and privacy benefits will be great, it is anticipated that many users will consider this an invasion of their privacy, and will consider dumping social networking services that decide to use this new privacy/security method. Facebook will be the first of the "social networking giants" to make this technological leap, but it is expected that Twitter and Google+ will follow very quickly. Yahoo!, AOL, and others will likely be slower adopting the technology, but will inevitably roll it out in mid-2012 as the prices drop and availability increases (Yahoo! and Google will likely "roll their own" - it is unknown at this point what compatibility issues may exist, but Google will likely be an open-sourced endeavor, and may already be participating in the DNA Universal Metadata Board, or DUMB, that is working on a common DNA ID Analysis Spec). Further, it is expected that DNA ID Analysis will become a new de facto security standard. For instance, once Google+ has run its trial of the DNA Login, it is expected that all Google accounts will incorporate the technology, from GMail to Google Docs to every little service Google provides. Yahoo! will likely do the same.

In fact, once the "social DNA ID experiment" has had some time to run, and feedback obtained, we expect that many financial institutions will adopt the technology for their banking and credit logins. We may even see DNA ID technology start to be incorporated into devices such as ATMs, self-service checkout kiosks, and magnetic card reader stations (e.g., your favorite check-out line, gas-station pay at pump screens, etc.), providing positive confirmation of identity before allowing transactions to proceed (this may become a burden to the users, as they'll have to have every family member that can use a particular card to be DNA tested and added to the card - a simple PIN will no longer be sufficient). However, this may offer an unseen benefit: you may no longer have to carry your card with you. Once DNA ID technology becomes fairly widespread and commonly used, financial institutions may make the switch to "DNA ONLY" services. That is, instead of swiping your card and using your DNA as ID confirmation, you may provide your DNA ID and then be presented with a list of "attached accounts" from which you can make payment. And, for those who have their own portable DNA tester, you will most likely be able to simply plug it into the machine (if you're paranoid about the sterility of the "public" DNA test module). However, this widespread adoption is not expected to occur until at least 2013 at the earliest. Of course, some believe the earth (or at least the majority of the human population) will cease to exist on Dec 21, 2012 (the link actually goes to a discrediting article - do your own research!), so widespread adoption may never come to fruition.

Yes, this is only a joke - a social experiment of my own; I hope it has amused you!

Saturday, August 27, 2011


While the east coast is enduring a beating at the hands of Irene, i sit in lovely (if a little warm) weather in South Alabama, sipping on a diet Coke while sitting outside Great American Cookie, wiping an ant off my arm. Earlier I was watching some videos of the weather in NC and VA (which, incidentally, is affecting gameplay in Simunomics, indirectly, as some of my fellow players brace for the storm). Irene looks like a big storm, and I always find it interesting how large the pattern of clouds and circulation are, especially in the large storms. However, it's a really nice day here in Spanish Fort (now that I'm done working on a Saturday and can get out and enjoy it).

Unrelatedly, I'm now getting offers of credit at one of the apartments that apparently shares my home address, and according to Equifax's report I moved to Michigan about a year ago (of which I was unaware). Of course, I had to pay for the report from Equifax (since I'd already used my free report in the last year).

OK, we're moving on... signing off now...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


This morning (well, almost noon) I ordered some tires from (for the Mustang). Pretty good price on the tires (local shops - if they had 'em - were asking "full retail price" - about 25% cheaper at Free shipping, too. That was a little before noon. At 2 pm I got an e-mail from TireBuyer that the order had shipped (again, free shipping). Checked the tracking number this evening, and the "estimated delivery date" is... guess when? TOMORROW! Free shipping on a set of four tires, FedEx Ground, and estimated delivery is the day after I placed the order! Granted, they shipped from a warehouse about two hours away from here, but still. That's 108 lbs of tires, shipped free, arriving the day after the order was placed. I'm impressed! Granted, I'll still have to load up the tires and take the car and tires somewhere for installation (wal-mart will do it for around $60, and I expect that will be the "going rate" for most places; I'll check around and see if I can find a closer place than wal-mart in the morning that will be around that same price). However, this is a total savings of about $100 off what I'd been quoted for "out the door" from local shops (one shop quoted me about this price on that tire, but didn't have any available source with the tires in stock).

So, to install AC in the Mustang or not? That is (probably one of) the next question(s). And whether to install a Pertronix Ignitor in place of the points. And there's still the paint and (minimal) body work...Link

Friday, July 22, 2011

Carbs... and I'm not talking nutrition!

A few weeks ago my beloved BMW bit the bullet. (OK, that sounds stupid, even if alliterative... the car is dead.) The last time I saw it was this:


Yeah, it was a pretty awesome car! Comfortable, near-perfect handling, reasonably peppy, and still returned 30 mpg highway! (It was a 2003 5-speed 525i with the sport package.) If you ever have a chance to own or at least drive one, please take it. (I'll admit, it wasn't a perfect car: the cupholders were quite lacking.)

So, in its stead, I decided that, as long as I'm working from home (really nice, by the way!), I'll just "fix up" my old 1967 Mustang and use it as my "around town" car. This Mustang was bought my my uncle brand new off the showroom floor in November, 1966. It has just over 100k miles on it. It's been living at my brother's house (thanks, Jayme!) while I was renting in South AL, and this past weekend I rented a U-Haul and trailer to bring it down (now that I have my own house). Here it is on the trailer:


(By the way: I was pretty impressed with my own trailer driving... I managed to back the trailer down my brother's long driveway, unassisted, without hitting anything! And I'd never really driven anything with a trailer before!)

Now, the old carb was basically disfunctional; accelerator pump was shot, vacuum issues, and just basically ran horribly, if at all (often wouldn't idle, and took forever to get started, and even longer to stay running). It was an Autolite 4300, which my uncle said he'd had problems with basically since the car was new. Looks like this:


My uncle, back when he'd given me the car, suggested that I put a Holley Street Avenger on it. Well, I should have. I should have done that LONG ago. I finally got around to putting a new carb on it yesterday (an Edelbrock 1406, not a Street Avenger, because the Edelbrock is what they had in stock at the semi-local O'reilly Auto Parts). Spent last night getting it (mostly) hooked up, but didn't crank it. Finally, this morning, I hooked up the last little bit and cranked it... and it started! Own its own! Without my having to pour gallons of fuel down the carb and crank and crank and crank... and it idled! High, very high... I hadn't hooked up the electric choke yet, and my first test drive: it was idling at 30 mph. But it was idling, and running.

Hooked up the electric choke, and it's running fairly well now (phenomenally well compared to the older carb: like a totally different car!). Without even spending any time "tuning" the carb. Really, it's amazing to me how much of a difference the carb has made... I may not even bother with going to an electronic ignition (like Pertronix Ignitor or Ignitor II). I'd expected it would run better, but this is much more than I'd expected.

Granted, the vacuum gauge (in the aftermarket gauge set under the dash) is showing no vacuum, but I think perhaps it's the gauge itself and not the vacuum (pulling the tube from the back, I can hear the vacuum, and I can feel it when I cover the tube with my thumb). The car still needs some brake work, tires (the ones on it have tread, but have mostly sat idle for the last ten years), and some body work (minimal rust areas and a leaking front windshield - at least, I think that's where the water in the driver's floorboard when it rains comes from) and a paint job (when it was restored in 1987 they painted it "the wrong color" - a very nice "Firethorn Red," but the car is supposed to be Dark Forest Green), but it's running fairly well now.

If you want to see more pics, check my Flickr gallery. And feel free to honk if you see me driving around Spanish Fort... but make it a melodic honk, so I'll know you're not just being a jerk. Maybe do a tune of "Superman" or something (OK, "beat of" the Superman theme song - I know you probably only have a single tone on your horn, not multiple ones!).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Livin' on the edge... (not really, it's GPRS)

I'm in my car (ok, wife's van), blogging on my computer, which is connected wirelessly to my Android phone (My Touch 3g Slide). So, I'm "living on the edge" - but not really: my phone isn't displaying the "E" of EDGE connectivity (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution - why it's not "EDRGE" I'm not really sure!) - instead it's displaying the "G" for GPRS (General Packet Radio Service). 3G? - hey, I use T-Mobile, what's 3G? (Although, according to the Wikipedia EDGE article, EDGE technically qualifies as a 3G standard.)

Got me thinking about Styx' "Edge of the Century" - and I found the video (above); note: I haven't watched the video yet (as it hasn't finished loading yet on my GPRS data connection), so use your own discretion when deciding whether to watch.

Anyway, kind of cool that we live in a world now where you can be conencted while driving down the road, working (as I was) or blogging (as I am) or whatever (having Facebook discussions on whether "nuclear bomb" can be used as a unit of measure when attempting to describe large quantities of energy like the sun to non-scientific folk - see what you started, Alex?). We're out of town, but don't bother trying to steal all the stuff from my house. First, it's probably not worth much. Second, I have dogs in the back yard that will bite you (they bite me, and I'm familiar to them!). Third, I have a house-sitter in my absence. Fourth, it's probably not worth much, so you'd be wasting your time (i.e., you could probably make more per hour at a clothing factory in South America or Asia than by robbing my residence).

On the other hand, it's kind of uncool, too... the more "connected" we become (as a society), the less "unwinding" time we seem to have. Yesterday evening I was wading around my pool (small, above ground thing - nothing spectacular, but nice to cool off in), thinking how nice it was to just be "off the grid" for a while, taking a break from the fast-paced society that is the norm these days. Sometimes I wish I'd been born 100-200 years ago instead of about 40 (yep, I turn 40 this year!). Granted, the work would probably have been much tougher, but I'd also be in much better shape. The interior environment in my home wouldn't be as "comfortable," but I'd be more acclimated, and stepping outside in summer wouldn't hit me like a really hot hitting thing. Evenings would be music and reading and stories, maybe some rudimentary board games with the family.

Oh well, we've pulled off the interstate now, gotta go get me some fast food, another of our modern societal joys. Later, all!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sorry about that, Facebook friends...

For those of you who are my friends on Facebook (note: if you're reading this "note" on Facebook, you are most likely my friend!), I apologize for the unrelenting onslaught of "status" posts from Empires and Allies. Now, I like the game (for a FB game, it's not bad), but I didn't realize just how much "junk" it was throwing on my wall! I've revoked its publishing rights, and painstakingly gone back and removed (most of) the entries it posted to my wall. That's one downfall of Facebook games - they all-too-often spam your wall (and sometimes that of your friends!) with too many stupid posts. And there's no way to say "clean up all posts by " - granted, you can "remove post and remove " - but then you've removed more than just the posts, you've removed the application as well. At least, I think that's how it goes.

I also found that my blog posts - via my "notes feed import" on Facebook - were not being updated. Looks like perhaps Feedburner had altered the feed URL since I started the import (long ago), but I've fixed that (by removing and re-adding the note-blog-post-feed-import setting on Facebook). Hopefully you'll be able to read this on my Facebook within three hours. If not, I'll have to look for some other way to get it there... not that it really matters, since I don't publish all that often anymore. Life getting in the way... but hopefully things will ease up a bit soon(er or later).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lucky Cars!

[WARNING: long post ahead! sorry about that...]

The title may be misleading. Maybe you thought I said "lucky stars," but I didn't. I said "lucky cars." Also, it's kind of a lie... I really intend to tell about my "unluck" with cars (but there's actually a lot of luck in there, too!). It all starts many years ago...

The year is 1978. I'm a wee lad of 6, turning 7 that year, and Alfa Romeo builds a vehicle that will eventually be my first car. It's their "Sport Sedan," basically the Spider drivetrain with a sedan body (you can see an example here - that's, I believe, even the same color as mine, but mine was a manual transmission; this was the same car that Ferris Beuler's friend comes to pick him up in at the beginning of the movie - the brown sedan, not the red Ferarri). Poor little car - it didn't get along well with my driving behaviors; that is, I didn't drive it on long enough trips to burn off the extra fuel the mechanical fuel injection system threw in the cylinders to start the thing, and it would foul plugs and injectors and then not start. About the third time we had it towed to the shop, my dad decided it was time to replace. Time of ownership: year or two.

Second car was French, a Renault Fuego... an engine and cooling system later (as well as a new glass hatch due to some, shall we say, less-than-gentle-shutting-in-anger) we eventually sold the vehicle to the local French specialist for parts. Time of ownership: year or two.

Next car that was mine was a 1985 Toronado... it got wrecked (multiple times; at time of disposal the driver's inner door panel would not connect to the door) and eventually was left to a junkyard for super-cheap (didn't want to take it with me when moving from South Carolina to Virginia). Time of ownership: a couple of years.

(Note that these first three vehicles were from my dad - totally free of charge; hence, the lucky! Plus, who gets to have an Alfa Romeo as a first car and a Renault as a second?)

Next was a 1984 Buick LeSabre (yeah, the big one). It was a relatively reliable car, and we got it at a good price - and owner financed - from my Grandmom B (and her husband, Irving, who - a retired Cadillac salesman - sold cars on the side). Can't complain about that one, except one time it did pop a ball joint and drop a lower control arm onto the interstate at 65-70 mph, which happened the weekend before we were supposed to go to sea. This left my wife (and kids) without transportation. (That car actually handled snow fairly well, as we found out the day we went to Wal-Mart in Virginia to get a bunch of stuff for the new place, just having moved there, and came out a few hours later to 3" of snow on the ground!) The LeSabre was joined by a 1991 Park Avenue Ultra (a gift from my dad) - and this is one car I don't recall ever having any problems with. These we owned for maybe 4 and 2 years, respectively (I don't recall exactly).

The pair of Buicks was replaced by a pair of Fords: a 1995 Ford Windstar minivan (traded the two Buicks on the Ford, difference paid for by a cash gift from my dad) and a 1987 Ford Taurus (gift from my parents - it was my mom's car, and she got a Mercedes to replace it: a fantastic 1990 300 CE coupe). The Windstar developed major transmission issues within a year and the Taurus decided to dump all its coolant at the drive through at Krystal on University Drive in Huntsville. Taurus made it home, but sat until I tried to pull the water pump; the last bolt snapped, and was of course in a spot where there was about an inch of clearance between the engine and the fender, making it impossible to get a drill in there to use a screw extractor.

The pair of Fords was replaced by a pair of Chevys: the Windstar traded on a 1998 Chevy Venture, probably the worst vehicle I've ever owned, and the Taurus replaced by my (late) Granddad B's 1977 Chevy C-10 pickup (a gift from my Grandmom B). The Venture had no transmission issues (one of the reasons I bought the Chevy: GM transmissions are among the best in the world), but had to have its engine replaced at 120k miles, always had the air bag lights on, windows didn't work (one "fixed" 8 times under warranty!), eventually had intermittent ABS issues, ate batteries and charging systems, etc. etc. etc. The Chevy truck managed to overheat and punch a hole in the #1 cylinder (I don't understand, fully: the distance back was the same as the distance out, from where I'd stopped it and left it, and it was cooler outside when I was trying to get it home). I tried to fix the truck's straight six (4.1L), but never got it running again (it was eventually sold to a coworker who dropped a 305 in it... still miss that ol' truck! "Sea-Foam Green" was the original color!).

During the Chevy ownership I also had a 1984 Buick Riviera (gift from aunt & uncle), and eventually sold that to a guy at church who needed a car. It had some choke issues, but not too bad.

After the Chevy truck broke, I borrowed a 1995 Ford Escort from a friend at church (actually, I think the act of borrowing helped create the friendship). Super-nice guy; you should check out his blog (but please come back when you're done!). Eventually I bought the car from him, and drove it until the clutch went out (along with the exhaust manifold) a year or two later. The Venture was replaced (yet retained) by a 1995 Mercury Villager - another gift from my dad. The Villager is a really nice minivan - very, very car-like. In fact, my parents still think it's the best riding/handling van they've ever had, and don't like the two Honda Odysseys that replaced it nearly as much. Alas, the Villager eventually developed a weird ABS issue, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

After the clutch went out on the Escort, I was nearing the completion of my degree at UAH, and we decided I could get a 2004 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V as my graduation present. That was a fantastic car... which had its windshield cracked by a rock on the 6th day of ownership. But that was fixed by my insurance company (with a factory OEM windshield). A few months later I was run off the road by an 18-wheeler, but that didn't really seem to do any damage. I wish I hadn't done what I did next... which was to trade the Sentra for a Toyota Tundra (while my wife was away, no less). That was probably one of the worst financial things I've done in my life...

Anyway, about 3k miles into Tundra ownership, I managed to pick up a screw in the sidewall of one of the rear tires, such that it was not repairable. That was about the worst thing to happen to the Tundra (except the time it got stuck in my own side yard... friend helped to pull it out). But the Tundra, wonderful of a truck as it was (but I still miss the old Chevy truck... it was after buying the Tundra that I sold the Chevy to my coworker), was too expensive for my income. So we decided to look for a replacement vehicle. I had pre-financing set up, and was looking for a replacement van as the Villager was beginning to show signs of wear, but we never could find "the right deal" to fit the parameters of the prenegotiated financing and lower our payment at the same time. Eventually, Driving 2000 of Huntsville (no longer open for business, I think) provided a solution: replace the Tundra with a Suzuki Forenza (2007). We also traded in the Venture on the Forenza.

That was in May, 2007. Made the June payment. July 4th of 2007 someone (identity suspected but never confirmed) decided it would be a neat "joke" to throw a roman candle in the car while I was asleep. Yeah, it burned up the interior. Two months later, after multiple attempts at "getting the smell out" by ServPro, the car was eventually totaled by my insurance company. That is, the car was totaled by an act of vandalism before the second payment was made on it. We ended up owing about 3k on it, but considering that we went in with a negative 5.5k trade equity on the Tundra, we actually came out ahead.

So, along comes my dad again, and we end up getting the 1994 Lexus LS400 that he'd bought used, then given to his mom, and she no longer drove it. The car was great (boring, but great)... until the power steering reservoir o-ring split and dumped power steering fluid all over the alternator, destroying it. About that same time the Villager developed its brake issue, which was this: somewhere inside the ABS unit it "locked" up... keeping the front left and right rear brakes applied at all times. Leaving us with zero working vehicles. After borrowing some cars for a short while from church friends, we eventually managed to 1) trade the Villager on a 2006 Kia Sedona (the whole amazing story of getting the Sedona, including the issues of the Villager in more detail, can be found at this earlier post); 2) fix the Lexus (details of *this* repair can be found at this post).

So far the Sedona's been pretty good; has a soft brake pedal right now, but we've put over 70k miles on it in the 3 years or so we've owned it, and haven't had much trouble other than having to replace one or the other headlight bulb every 3-6 months or so.

The Lexus... it let us down again. The amusing details can be found here. It was eventually returned to my dad to be used in a multi-way trade in which he ended up with a newer Honda Odyssey (his second), my youngest brother ended up with his first Odyssey (which had been my middle brother's before my dad bought it from him to help him out, which sent the Villager our way), and I ended up with my Grandmom B's husband Irving's 1996 Cadillac Deville.

Two months into owning the Deville the transmission went out (what was it I said earlier about GM transmissions?). I think it must've been due to having sat for long periods without being driven, then put under the strain of 60+ miles daily to and from Mobile. Or maybe it's just my luck with cars.

The Deville we traded on a 2010 Kia Forte (that my daughter uses... lucky kid!). I was driving the XG300, when my dad decided that despite the BMW 525 he was driving being the best car he'd ever owned, he couldn't deal with the four-door body any more. You see, he has back problems, and the BMW, being a sedan, has the back of the front seats behind the B-pillar (between the front and rear doors), forcing you to "twist" into the seat. That motion was killing him. So, he decided to get a Mini Cooper (people think it's funny when I say he sold me the 525 and bought the Cooper because of his back - but the Cooper's a coupe, so he can just "fall" into the seat, not having to twist into it, and while short, it's actually not any lower to the ground than the 525 - maybe even higher, due to the 525's having the sport package). So, I traded the XG300 on his Cooper and bought the 2003 525i for the difference between the trade value of the XG and the 525. (That is: I got a really, really good deal on it.) Note: back when he let me borrow the car last summer for a couple of weeks, after the first week one of the ignition coils went out and I had to drive it home running a little rough. I replaced the coils (and spark plugs) myself before he returned, and it was running as good as new.

That was back in September. The car now has ~145k miles on it. This past Friday my wife and I were driving on I-10 West, running 75 on cruise, passing a van. Faint noise was heard (tapping/buzzing), which we both thought was the tires on the van we were passing. It was getting slightly louder as we approached the van. About the time we got alongside the van, I noticed in the rear view mirror TONS of smoke coming out the back of the BMW... and looked down at the dash, and the temp gauge went to max; I think the oil light had come on, too. No buzzers or anything. Slowed, engine died when I depressed the clutch pedal, and we pulled off the road. Oil all over the driver side of the engine bay. Not good.

Firestone towed it to the local Firestone shop, and (a couple hours later) they called and said, "not good news: turns over freely (by hand), so zero compression, oil down one side of the engine, coolant down the other; basically, your engine's shot."

Today I had it towed to the BMW dealer in Mobile, hoping for (but not expecting) a better diagnosis (e.g., "it's only the head gasket"). Still waiting on the diagnosis.

Anyway... there you go. My "luck" with cars. Fortunately, my luck with parents is pretty good, and God has always provided (often through them). While being aggravated, I'm expecting no less (than the provision of God) this time around.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

It's only 90

I'm sitting out on my back patio, where the thermometer on the brick column (which has been in the shade all day) has dropped to 90 degrees. At nearly a quarter past eight. Guess that's what I get for moving to south Alabama, huh? That's OK, though... it's not terribly unpleasant, especially with the ceiling fan on the patio roof running on high. Crickets are chirping (in stereo, from the vacant, treed lots on either side of my house); occasionally the sound of a car or motorcycle wafts past my ears; clouds are slowly making their way across the sky that's beginning to darken, the sun having dropped below the horizon before I stepped outside. One dog is sitting at my feet while the other roams the yard, occasionally coming over for a toe-licking visit. Mosquitoes seem unaware of the citronella plants that we've strategically placed at each corner of the patio; of course, those plants are looking a bit weary, probably from lack of watering (at least the garden is producing - we're remembering to water it). One I squished against my shirt, leaving a small blood stain there; fortunately it's a shirt that, while I like, I'm not overly concerned about (it was a gift for donating my life force to the American Red Cross once upon a time). My eyes strain to make out the letters on the keyboard, when necessary, only the soft glow from the laptop screen dimly illuminating the characters that indicate what each key represents. While not really a "touch-typist," I'm familiar enough with the keyboard, not from training but from years of use, that I can generally find my way around without having to rely on looking at each key as I type.

Whoa, wait a minute... sounds like I'm trying to write some intro to a fantastic novel, or maybe a 2-nu song. (Click the link... it's ponderous, man... really ponderous!) Just fired up some Pomplamoose via Google Music (which is free for some amount of time... hopefully it'll be like GMail, free forever, and they'll have some "paid improvement" instead of charging for the basic service in the future). All on a laptop that I got for free from my mom because "it's running slow" - dad got her a newer one, so she had no use for this one. I like free stuff. I don't think my wife does, because I tend to accept anything that's free. In fact, we have a 10' by 15' storage place full - literally - of all the stuff we did not want to bring with us when we moved to the new house. (We still need to get that cleaned out sometime or other to get rid of the monthly storage fee.) At any rate, reloaded the OS on the laptop, and it seemed OK. Tried loading Windows 7, but no joy - way too slow to run that one (I guess it's the "mere" 512MB of ram in this puppy). Looked at a Linux, but was unable to get the one version of Ubuntu I tried running correctly. (Might try some other flavors of Linux at some point, but for now it's Windows XP.)

What am I doing out here? Well, obviously I'm writing a blog post. Besides that, though, I'm (planing to be) researching various guitar info for a potential pet project. Assuming I actually get it started, I'll be sure to keep you updated via my blog (this thing you're reading). Oh, and just enjoying the wonderfulness of God's creation. Creation, mixed with man's technology (computer, fan, rocking chair, lights...). Enjoying a Diet Dr. Pepper. Listening to Pomplamoose and crickets.

And wishing you a wonderful evening.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Interesting Statistics & "easy tech"

I was gandering (which the red squiggly line informs me is not a word; funny, as "gander" is a noun, informal, meaning "glance," but apparently it's not "verbized" and shouldn't be used like I just used it!) at Google's Webmaster Tools (which I usually forget about, but every now and again remember to take a look at my blog's statistics under), and found some interesting "here's the queries where your blog shows up" entries (and, again with my own self-policing grammar correction, that should be "here are" not "here is" - but "here're" just doesn't look right). For instance (italicized text in the following list is my own notes, not part of the query):

brain lapse (makes sense, given the blog name!)clash of the titans alternate endingelmo is deadwhat color is the old chevy pickup in justin moore's if heaven wasn't so far away video?history of "quiet zone" sickness signsnannerpuss ihopchopsticks instructionsa computer has been relocated and all the cables reconnected. when the computer is powered on, the correct post audio signals are heard and the hard drive led shows disk activity. however, the monitor fails to display anything. what are two possible causes of this problem?alien visit1984 renault fuego (note that I once had a 1983 Fuego)die in a holetg&y (really used to enjoy "TG&Y" days with my Grandmom B, who's now surely enjoying much more than TG&Y in heaven!)mcdouble nutrition factsguinea pig habitsxena x1noelle escort

First interesting thing: proof that you never know what you'll end up reading when you visit LBD! Second interesting thing: what in the world are some of these people searching for?

Anyway... in case you have forgotten, "Scratch" is a pretty neat little thing. You can see some of one of my son's efforts here; "Star Wars Lightsaber Trainer" and "Kill a Zombie" are some examples. Basically, Scratch allows you to "program" by connecting various blocks, sort of like building with Lego Bricks (they don't like you to say "Legos" - even though we all do it!). Well, Google now has a similar concept for Android Application Development: the "App Inventor" - a web- (or browser-) based application development environment that provides a similar, "building-block-based" programming approach. In fact, some of their tutorials include apps like games, painting apps, and "where'd I park my car?" All in an application development environment that is attainable even by (somewhat-) non-techy folk. That is, you don't have to have a computer science degree to understand it and make usable apps (well, in theory, assuming that it can do the things that the tutorials promise - I haven't gone much past looking at the very basic intro tutorial myself, and I do have a computer engineering degree). All in all, pretty cool, I think.

Until next time... a topato!

Saturday, June 25, 2011


My son calls and says, "Dad, I have a flat tire." So I head out to assess and assist. Sure enough, really flat, with steel belt showing on both sides of the tread (I guess that whole "check these things before you drive" from driver's ed didn't take, huh?). The other front tire is in similar condition, and the back tires aren't much better. Looking like a new set of tires is needed. Anyway, we put on the spare (after moving the car to some more solid ground vs. trying to jack it up on the soft shoulder, and, yes, i brought the floor jack with me instead of trying to use the scissors jack that was in the trunk) and find it's low on air. Should have thought to being the air compressor with me, but of course I didn't. Back home and back to the car, inflate the temp spare, and then head to the Goodyear shop to get some new rubber.

Guess what? The OEM size on the 9 year old car is obsolete (despite the fact that Tire Rack, I check later, has Goodyears in the original size). Anyway, the cheapest set they have there is $500. Really? Some steel and rubber, in mass-manufactured quantities, is $500? You can buy a computer, or a modern tablet or super smart phone, for less than that. And you can't tell me it costs more to design a tire than it does a computer, and the components in the computer are certainly difficult to manufacture.

Anyway, got me thinking, what can you buy for $500? Four tires, a computer (desktop or laptop) or tablet or smartphone, a nice TV, a month's rent somewhere, a really nice push mower or possibly a cheap riding mower, a really nice gas grill. What else? A pretty decent bicycle? A sofa? A cheap fridge or freezer? What about an 80-gallon water heater? A decent acoustic-electic guitar? Why are some of these things priced so expensively, while others, some seemingly more expensive to develop or manufacture, exist at the same price point?

Really, how long have we been manufacturing tires, consisting of rubber and steel (these days), and yet the price equals (or exceeds) that of the latest computing gadgetry, consisting of the latest innovations in silicon, displays, etc. Granted, there is "more" of the stuff in the tires, but it's still just some rubber and steel, and it's mass-manufactured in molds that are not as complex as the manufacturing processes of, say, your average notebook computer or smartphone.

Something seems amiss. Are we, the dependent consumer, being fleeced by the tire manufacturers? Just wondering.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Plus (and more) for Free

If you're a Sony Playstation Network member (and were before they got hacked), you get 30 days of Playstation Plus for free. Plus two free games to download (on up to five PS3 systems attached to your account) and keep forever. (Now, those games, first, they're not very stellar games, unless you count Super Stardust; second, in at least one of them I get advertising when it's loading - the Civic commercial plays in a screen inside my "loading" screen - that's a little weird.) Playstation Plus content you download, for free, is of course only "loaned" for as long as you have your PS+ subscription. (Supposedly this free trial is a non-renewing subscription - guess we'll see on that.)

Now, I also recently came across this little thing for Facebook: "auto facial recognition and photo tagging suggestions." Now, I'm not really sure what the big deal is about FB trying to help people organize the photos. I mean, Google's Picasa web album (free) has had facial recognition capabilities in it for quite a while, but I don't recall any uproar about that. In fact, that should be more of a privacy concern than this Facebook thing - imagine, Google Street View doing facial recognition to pinpoint who is where all over the globe! Speaking of which, I recently passed a Google Street View car on I-10 West leaving the George Wallace tunnel - I'll post a link to it if/when my car shows up in street view. Anyway, back to Facebook - they don't have all the live geospatial info in their system (not yet, anyway, although sometimes that data is contained in EXIF data in JPEG files). Maybe I'm being simple, but I'm not really sure what the big deal is about Facebook trying to help suggest image tags for you. (Please feel free to comment if you have an opinion one way or the other on this.)

So, I'm looking at getting back into FPGA and CPLD programming as a hobby (really enjoyed doing that while I was at UAH). Problem is, my dev kit includes a "parallel JTAG programming cable" - that is, the "old" connection you used to plug your printer into. Tough to find a computer these days that has a parallel port to connect my JTAG cable! (JTAG is "joint test action group" - unfortunately, the acronym became synonymous with the programming cable spec that defines how to connect to, enumerate, program, and debug various programmable hardware devices, such as FPGAs, CPLDs, microcontrollers and DSP chips, etc.) Unfortunately, the USB to parallel adapters aren't suitable for this type of parallel connection, as the JTAG programmers typically use a low-level access that the USB "parallel emulator" can't provide (those cables are really only useful for printers and not much else, like scanners or other parallel connected devices). The Xilinx USB-JTAG cable is pretty expensive ($200 from Xilinx, $130 or so from Digilent), and while other USB-JTAG cables exist (e.g., Digilent has their own, priced at $40), they typically don't work with the Xilinx software (they have their own interface). Probably not an issue, but I'd rather just use the Xilinx suite of tools. Granted, having the USB-JTAG cable is the "right" thing to do, but still.

Another option is a parallel port card for my desktop computer... but then I'm limited to using that computer. And I'd like to have a laptop with a parallel port to use for "playing" with my FPGA and CPLD dev kits. Looking on eBay, can probably get something in the $100-150 range. Still, I'm cheap, and I have four kids, one of which is in college, and another who's a senior in high school this year, so funds have to be carefully directed. Ah, the joys of technical "junk."

Anyway, probably no one cares about this last half of my blog post, and I'm getting tired, so I think I'll terminate this entry now...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Putt-Putt Cemeteries

DISCLAIMER: WARNING: the topic of this blog post may cause some distress in some readers; I caution you to consider the source of the material you're reading before getting upset and throwing something at me the next time we meet.

So, I was chatting with my dad the other day (as well as my mom, wife, and some of the kids), and we were discussing "burial" activities (generally, not specifics). My dad suggested that, when he goes, we should take his body to a taxidermist, have him stuffed, and place him in his chair, facing the TV. And occasionally put a video game controller in his hand when we're over playing Playstation or Wii.

After some various thoughts and laughter (some of which I just can't share here), we came up with a novel concept: instead of burying the dead, we should just stuff them and place them - standing, or in various poses - on top of the cemetery. That way, entire families could be "buried" together in the same space that would otherwise be occupied by a single grave. Also, it would allow people to see their deceased relatives in ways not previously possible.

Well, that brought this thought to mind: why not, instead of a cemetery, make it a putt-putt course, and use the stuffed deceased as the obstacles? "Around Aunt Martha's foot, over Uncle Henry's back, and off Cousin John's leg into the #4 hole." That would perhaps bring some merriment to what many consider a bleak time, and possibly make visiting the cemetery less of a distressing event, instead bringing whole families together to share a round of putt-putt.

So... what do you think? Putt-putt cemeteries?

Playstation Updates

OK, Playstation faithful, you can see Sony's full response to inquiries by Congress here. If you don't want to spend that much time, you can see the summary of their response as posted on the Playstation Blog site. Or, here, let me post some key points here:
  • The Playstation Network was hacked in a seriously devious, professionally choreographed infiltration (attackers coordinated a "Denial of Service" attack to tie up system resources and Playstation Network engineers so they could then slip in underneath the cover of the larger, denial of service attack)
  • Personal info was taken (names, addresses, user ids and passwords).
  • Potentially, encrypted credit card info was taken, although forensic analysis has not uncovered any evidence that this was the case, nor have any major credit card companies reported any fraudulent transactions believed to be the result of this attack
  • The intruders left a file on one of the Sony servers with the filename "Anonymous" and the words "We are Legion" (yeah, Anonymous denies any connection with this attack - right...)
  • Sony engineers are upgrading the virtual defenses of their network (and hope to have the services restored in the near future)
  • Sony plans to offer the following to Playstation Network account holders:
  1. complimentary enrollment in identity theft protection program, including $1 million in identity theft insurance (details will be sent via e-mail to account holders over the next few days)
  2. 30 days' free membership in Playstation Plus (and additional days extension to any paid services equal to the number of days the services were unavailable)
  3. free downloads of various "stuff" from the Playstation Network Store.
(You can see the details if you visit the various links, above.) Sony is "working with FBI and other law enforcement agencies around the world to apprehend those responsible." This is an example of how "cyber crime" is becoming much more sophisticated, and how we all need to be careful what we use where when information is being provided. It also goes to show how silly the guy who slapped a lawsuit on the table even before the dust was finished rising, let alone settling on all this, was. As expected, Sony has arranged to take care of its customers - without having to to go through the trouble of a class-action lawsuit. (I hope that guy still has to pay the attorneys... that was just stupid for him to file the suit in the midst of an ongoing investigation when he didn't even have all the info yet, let alone having given Sony time to respond at the consumer level regarding everything.)

At least we'll hopefully get the Playstation Network back up soon. I was going to mix another story/idea into this blog post, but it's already getting long, so I'll just post it as-is and write a separate post (in just moments) with the other idea. See ya across the break...

Monday, April 25, 2011


Day 387 of the Playstation Network outage... (online) friends have long since abandoned me, family member statuses are unknown, I haven't killed anyone - or even pulled the trigger - in Medal of Honor in so long I don't know if I even remember how (which button fires the gun? which button ducks? how do I toss a grenade?). Netflix seems to have resurfaced, despite the lack of PSN connectivity, leaving a slight glimmer of the former glory of online capabilities of the phenomenal black machines intact. Sony hasn't said much, although a minimal post on the Playstation Blog mentions that "an external intrusion" has affected the services. But we all know what happened...

Long ago, back when the Playstation 2 was still king of the consoles and Microsoft's Xbox was unable to turn around fully (rectified with the 360 release, of course), we saw the commercials (actually, this may have happened even before the PS2). Somehow, the execs at Sony - in the future - managed to send back, through some sort of time-portal-television-commercial interface, images of what was going to be taking place in 2078. Talk about phenomenal advertising - they're gearing up the past consumer to prepare the way for the future releases, virtually ensuring a monopoly on the video game market, altering their fiscal and technological landscape in ways unheard of by "regular" advertising. However, they didn't count on the repercussions of a whole industry. Unbeknownst to the future Sony execs, the now-relegated-to-minimized-community of alternative gaming platforms began working on their own devious plots. Since "mimic" advertising typically only serves to reinforce the originator, the "other guys" had to do something else. Something devious. Instead of their own time-traveling commercial ploy, they schemed and plotted a sinister attack on the very community that was going to be the driving force of the success of the Sony hardware. They sent back cyber-attacks on the Playstation network.

Crippling the network, they are attempting to destroy the loyal user base from which Sony will eventually rule the world. Fighting for their very survival, they are attempting to frustrate and infuriate the online community of Playstation owners and users to the point of rebellion, a rebellion without the rebels even realizing the enormity of the change being wrought.

Will they succeed? That's up to you, and up to me. Will the masses desert the Sony platform? Will they band together to support the now-struggling player in the gaming and entertainment industry? Will families and friends ever be reunited on Sony hardware, or will they have to turn to alternate platforms for social interaction? Only time will tell. If the video link above regarding Playstation 9 no longer exists, then you know that the vandals have won, and the Playstation Network may never be restored. As long as the video exists, however, there is a glimmer of hope for those of us who prefer a little "play" in our gaming and entertainment world.


OK, not really. It's been a little under a week since the network went down, and obviously there are other ways to communicate with our friends and family. And, as one article suggested, "Go outside for a while."

As for me, dinner's ready... I'm going to eat!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jerky Flies

Recently I've found there is a fly (or some other similar, anoying, buzzing insect) that seems to have a knack for locating me once I step outdoors. It also seems to follow me wherever I go, which makes this Ares physique search troublesome at times. Fortunately, it seems to be ignoring me right now as I sit on my back patio eating beef jerky (and letting a little fall to my canine companion) and drinking a Coke Zero (no, I haven't walked today, but protein and diet drinks, that's good, right?). It's not unpleasant out; the thermometer out here reads about 78 (Fahrenheit), and the sun is behind some clouds (ok, really it's me behind the clouds, but you know what i mean). Near non-existent breeze, but it feels nice when it's felt.  Thinking about a storage shed for my considerably sloped back yard; Home Depot has a 10x8 resin unit by US Leisure for a decent price, but I'm not yet sure a) where exactly to put it; b) how to put it there. The slope of the yard is about one foot every 7 feet, so that's pretty high to put it on pillars (the door would be at the 14" off the ground side, or pointed toward the rear of the yard). The alternative would be to dig out and level the yard, but that's a lot of work, and we'd want to make sure we put it in the right location the first time, as it would be a lot more work to try to undo the leveling afterward if we wanted to relocate it (note to self: buy a lot sloping toward the back, not the front, next time; even better, a relatively level lot). Guess we'll probably go with the leveling route, eventually.

I just installed the app to my phone (to verify I'd spelled "Fahrenheit" correctly), and guess what? It has "search by speech" capability. That's right: you don't even have to know how to spell the word anymore to look it up - just say the word, and it'll find it for you! Technology is making life ever easier, isn't it? Unless you happened to want to watch Netflix instant on your PS3 right now; apparently someone decided to take it upon themselves to "punish" Sony for protecting their hardware by orchestrating a Denial of Service attack on anything Sony related online, including the Playstation Network. Meaning you can't sign in right now, meaning you can't access Netflix. Way to go, freedom of speech hacking group: you've blocked millions of legal users of the Playstation Network from using the services that they've paid to use. (I liked the one comment on a blog about the issue: something about spending some time outdoors.)

Anyway, guess I'll get back to enjoying the birds chirping. And just be glad that I titled the post the way I did. Imagine the content had I reversed the words in the title: fly jerky. Now there's a snack I'm not sure I want to try!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


So, over the last 48 hours or so I've repaired a car (radiator replacement) and a monitor (replaced two capacitors), for a total cost of about $203 (plus my own labor, of course). Saving about $10 grand in the process (assuming a replacement monitor cost of around $150-200 and a 5-year used car payment of around $200). I've come to the conclusions that 1) I'm awesome (OK, maybe that's only in my head); 2) I can fix anything (again, perhaps only in my head); 3) repairing things can be a cost-effective thing to do (quite cost effective in this case); 4) capacitors are a limited-life electronic component (that was the cause of the instrumentation lighting failure in my Lexus a couple years back, capacitors in the power supply, similar to the failure in my monitor); 5) the internet is a great source for info on repairing things.

I'm also spending some time repairing me, all the years of eating and lounging around have left my body in less than pristine condition. Toward that end, I've started walking (was never much of a runner) and, a little, push-ups and (when I can) sit-ups. (Having recently been watching Xena, I've decided i want to look like Ares - my wife says that's fine, just don't bother with chest hair implants, which I hadn't intended to pursue.) I wonder how many years it will take to undo everything I've done since high school? Not that I was particularly fit then, just that I didn't have such a belly and could, actually, do a good number of sit-ups and ride a bike quite a distance then without getting fatigued.

Speaking of Xena, I've now watched all 134 episodes. Silly show, of course. And having watched (most of) all 134 episodes, I can't say it's particularly life changing. Then again, I did decide I want to look like Ares (Kevin Smith), so maybe it was a good thing?

Ah, well, guess I'll get back to my walk now. Until next time, a topato!