Friday September 29, 2006
Leave The Driving To Us: Last week I was in Portland, making the transition from I-205 s to I-84 w. As I was starting to exit 205, I saw something obliterate the view in the Jag's rear view mirror. It turned out to be a brown Nissan SUV which had suddenly switched lanes and was right on my bumper - no lane change signals, no nothin'.
I slowly backed off the gas to reduce my speed because, if I had to stop fast for a traffic bunch-up (something which happens frequently at this location), this idiot would surely rear-end me.
The Nissan backed-off and I finally could see the driver - a woman inattentively chatting away on her cell phone while driving one-handed.
This sort of thing happens far too often for my liking. I believe that using a cell phone while driving is wrong. The last time we visited Ireland, the rules were that you had to pull off the road and stop before you could use your phone. I liked that.
Unfortunately, in America, we'll never enforce such a law. People love to multi-task and won't give up their cell phones. Or eating in cars. Or shaving. Or putting on makeup. Or reading. (Yes, I've seen people do that. I bet you have, too.) Or other nonsense which distracts people from the task at hand - driving. That's why we're headed toward the self-driving car. I believe it will happen within 10 years. We've already got vehicles with lane change warning devices and 'smart' cruise control. Mercedes has demonstrated a self-braking car. Self-driving cars are the logical extension of these technologies.
Frankly, that's fine with me. I certainly enjoy driving on near-empty back roads but take no pleasure in navigating city traffic. Nor do I look forward to rush hour driving. I'd rather read a book. Or watch television. Or talk on the phone. With a self-driving car, I can do any - or all - of these things. Just tell the car your destination and it will get you there, using sensors, navigation software and a GPS.
Of course, a self-driving car would change everything. How can the police arrest one for being drunk if the car is doing the driving? MADD will probably go out of business. (I would hope they'd be happy to do so.) The taxi business would probably suffer - who needs a cab when your car is your own chauffeur? You could even sit in the back seat. Or take a nap.
Ever have one of those medical or dental procedures where you're told that you must bring someone along to drive you home? "Not necessary, doc. My car will get me there."
Intelligent cars can drive closer together than humans. Road traffic could be denser without the need for more roads. (Lower taxes?! Dare we hope?!) Self-driving cars would bring to an end to pokey drivers and road hogs, too.
Maybe we'll have robots as drivers. That would be cool in a kinda Fifties battery-powered tin toy way.
The future may be very interesting, indeed. (permalink)
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "For university presidents, as for politicians at all levels, one of the most valuable talents for the success of their careers is the ability to say things that make no sense, with a straight face and a lofty tone."
Wednesday September 27, 2006
The Truth About Clarkson: On Monday, my copy of Model Auto Review arrived in the mail. Inside was this odd sentence about Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear, "Mr. Clarkson at last gets involved in a children's character project himself, after a childhood enlivened by his mother's firm, which produced stuffed Paddington bears."
Curious, I did some research. (This may be common knowledge to people living in Great Britain but it was all new to me.) Here's what I found: Jeremy's rich ... old rich. Clarkson's family was pretty well off, making money from the stuffed bear franchise. Young Clarkson passed his driving test in his grandfather's R-type Bentley.
Gabrielle Designs was founded by Shirley Clarkson, who made her first bear for her son Jeremy and daughter Joanna. She said: "I designed the first Paddington Bear for their Christmas present in 1971." Mrs. Clarkson sold the successful firm - the only UK business licensed to make Paddington Bears - in 1995 to businessman Stephen Beaumont and his wife Lorraine. (The company closed due to bankruptcy in 1998.)
Jeremy Clarkson's first job was as a traveling salesman for his parents' business, selling stuffed bears. Clarkson, his wife and children now live in the Cotswolds. They also have a house - an old lighthouse on the Isle of Man. Clarkson owns various cars including a Ford GT, Mercedes SL55 AMG, Volvo XC90, Ford Focus and BMW M5.
His experiences with his Ford GT are well documented, having had many issues with the satellite tracker/alarm system - he reported that it would tell him the car had been stolen even when he was driving it. As a result of what he called "the most miserable month's motoring possible", he returned it to Ford for a full refund. After a short period, including asking Top Gear fans for advice over the internet, he bought back his GT. He has called it "the most unreliable car ever made", because he was never able to complete a return journey with it.
In the October 2006 edition of Top Gear magazine, James May stated Clarkson was looking to purchase a Gallardo Spider. He also owned a Ferrari F355 for a short while. This was sold to make way for an SL55 AMG to which an SLK55 AMG was subsequently added.
His known passion for single or two-passenger high-velocity transport led to his brief acquisition of an English Electric Lightning F.1A jet fighter, which was installed in the front garden of his country home. The Lightning was subsequently removed on the orders of the local council, which "wouldn't believe my claim that it was a leaf blower", according to Clarkson.
Several years ago, Hyundai cars complained about "bigoted and racist" comments Clarkson made at the Birmingham Motor Show. He reportedly said that the people working on the Hyundai stand had "eaten a dog" and that the designer of the Hyundai XG had "probably eaten a spaniel for his lunch."
In 2005, a news segment featuring BMW's Mini Concept from the Tokyo Motor Show showcased what fellow-presenter Richard Hammond quoted as a "quintessentially British" integrated tea set. Clarkson responded by mocking that the German designed-and-owned Mini Cooper should be fitted with "a quintessentially German ... sat-nav that only goes to Poland", referencing the Nazi invasion of Poland that started World War II. Clarkson also said that "one fan belt will last a thousand years", a reference to Adolf Hitler's "thousand-year Reich". These statements gained negative attention in the British and German news media. He made similar remarks about the new Mercedes S-Class when he used the car's speech recognition system, built into the sat-nav, to take him to Warsaw, the capital of Poland.
In the Sunday Times in 2002, he joked that he had spent the day hunting rats using tennis racquets and croquet mallets. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals issued a warning to him as a result of this comment. During a guest appearance on television, he claimed that seal flipper tastes "exactly like licking a hot Turkish urinal". He also ate whale (which he said tastes like steak but with an iron tang), covered in grated puffin. He said, "The waiter asked if I wanted some grated puffin on my whale and how do you say no to something like that?"
Clarkson has always been noted for his pro-smoking viewpoint, even publicly smoking as much as possible on Britain's 'National No Smoking Day'. Recently, however, he announced that he had given up smoking, claiming that he had found a cure for the urge - the Koenigsegg CCX roadster. (permalink)
Headline Of The Day is from The Onion: 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Gerrymandered To Serve King Friday's Make-Believe Agenda'.
One anonymous resident said, "Meow-me-meow can't afford meow property tax as it stands now meow, and meow don't want everything I've worked for to be destroyed meow."
Tuesday September 26, 2006
Car Stuff: I spent part of Monday waxing my Jaguar. It didn't really need the 'protection' but the Jag has soft paint and shows scratches in its clearcoat from six months of washings. The wax and buff got rid of the scratches. It looks fine now - damn fine, actually, for a car with 96,000 miles on it.
After wrestling with the electric buffer, my lungs felt a bit constricted. At first, I thought it was another heart attack.
Then I realized that the Ozone Layer in our area was simply getting too thick. "I can fix that," I bragged to myself. So, I fired up the Plymouth (with its big, gas-sucking, carburetored V-8 engine) and drove to Hockinson and back. A great ride - there's something special about the quality and spectrum of Fall afternoon sunlight.
I'm happy to report that ozone levels are now back in spec - thinner than a heroin-abusing French fashion model knocking back an Ultra Slim-Fast shake, spiked with an emetic.
I suspect the problem was caused by an excess of Priuses on the roads around here.
Technology Follies: BuzzDog, a poster on TTAC, opined about those miraculous GM hydrogen-powered vehicles: "Funny how that works … this guy (Bob Lutz) and his company now want to shoot for the moon when they can't even overcome a Camry or an Accord!
You know, I've always wondered how things would have worked out if GM has taken just 10% of their development budget for 'pie in the sky' ideas and applied this amount to upgrading their current products. But then again, I suppose that efforts toward improved interior plastics and switchgear aren't as sexy to investors as a car that runs on flatulence."
I think of GM's mega-hyped hydrogen powerplants as the gas turbines of the Twenty-First Century. Anyone remember the Firebird III?
Design Critic: Jeremy Clarkson examined the front end of the Ferrari 430 and said, "It looks like a trout that's just won a cider drinking contest." Hmmmm. I thought the last Buick Riviera had already received that award.
And, Clarkson suffers these thoughts whilst testing an Audi RS4 cabriolet: "The only person who ever looked good in the back of a convertible was Hitler. Everyone else just looks embarrassed. Or, in the RS4, squashed. And a bit frightened."
On A More Serious Note: My thoughts and prayers go out to Patrick Coffin and his wife. And their extended family. I am so lucky to have had healthy kids and, now, a healthy grandchild. Take time out from your busy schedule (right now) to thank God for blessings bestowed. And pray for Patrick and his family.
Scare Tactic: Almost everyone can do a vocal imitation of Paul Harvey; his voice is defined not by its timbre but rather the unique cadence and pregnant pauses. I've often wondered if William Shatner is his illegitimate son.
If I'm driving around during the noon hour, I'll often tune in to Paul Harvey News. I was doing just that two weeks ago, when Paul subjected me to a rant about the dangers of polycarbonate dishware, baby bottles and cookware.
In his warning, Harvey was quoting Dr. Andrew Weil. If you've ever watched Larry King Live on CNN, you know who he is - a white-bearded Santa-like fellow - a health nut who gives you seaweed instead of a candy cane.
Weil writes, "I'm wary of many kitchen plastics used to protect and serve meals. ... In June, San Francisco banned the manufacturing, sale, and distribution of child-care products and toys containing certain phthalates and bisphenol A, both hormone-disrupting chemicals found in some plastics that are thought to interfere with childhood development."
What bunk. First of all, everyone knows that San Francisco is the City of Wacko Ordinances. It is a once-pleasant tourist trap, now overrun with crazies, homeless, druggies and obese, foul-smelling Lesbians, who exude enough poisonous fumes to knock the esteemed Dr. Weil right on his mega-healthy ass.
But, more to the point - I personally know many people who have worked with polycarbonate. Despite prolonged exposures to bisphenol A at far higher levels than the average consumer would ever encounter, these folks are no less healthy than anyone else their age.
I'll include myself in this sample. I had injection molded polycarbonate plastic on many occasions early in my business career - at processing temperatures of 550 degrees F and above. In my manufacturing business, I ran lots of Lexan extruded sheet through many a saw blade, kicking up tons of fumes and dust. And I'm still here.
By the way, BPA is often used as a key ingredient in epoxy resins. If you're like me, you've probably used epoxy to bond, glue or repair a host of things around the house. I once rebuilt a rusted out floor pan on my 1967 VW Beetle (beneath the battery) with epoxy and fiberglass. Epoxy bonds much better than polyester and - because it cures completely - epoxy doesn't leave that residual stink that never departs.
Epoxy hasn't killed me and, if you're reading this, it obviously hasn't killed you either. Epoxy is a core value in my Philosophy of Gluing.
A pro-BPA organization (yes, Virginia, there is one) says this: "Bisphenol A (BPA) is a key building block of polycarbonate plastic. In recent years a number of researchers from government agencies, academia and industry worldwide have studied the potential for low levels of BPA to migrate from polycarbonate products into foods and beverages. These studies consistently show that the potential migration of BPA into food is extremely low, generally less than 5 parts per billion, under conditions typical for uses of polycarbonate products. ...
Stated another way, an average adult consumer would have to ingest more than 1,300 pounds of food and beverages in contact with polycarbonate every day for an entire lifetime to exceed the level of BPA that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set as safe. ...
The use of polycarbonate plastic for food contact applications has been and continues to be recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Food, the United Kingdom Food Standards Agency, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, and other regulatory authorities worldwide."
Paul Harvey, you disappoint me. Next time, do your homework. Good day.
Here's an update: John Stossel has reported that there's good news about Bisphenol A. Not only is there no good evidence that BPA locked into plastic can hurt people, it actually saves lives by stopping botulism.
"Since BPA became commonplace in the lining of canned goods, food-borne illness from canned foods - including botulism - has virtually disappeared," says the American Council of Science and Health. (permalink)
Good Suggestion: Andrea Harris writes that Katie Couric "is so cute we should drop her into the middle of Iran - they'd endure about five minutes of her hectic perkiness before committing suicide en masse just to get away from her and her Photoshopped hips."
Today's Inspirational Thought: Rome did not create a great empire by having meetings; they did it by killing all those who opposed them.
Monday September 25, 2006
Oil Smudges: On Saturday morning, I washed my wife's Avalon. It looked excellent afterwards. I was annoyed however, because when I raised the hood, there were oil smudges on the engine cover - resulting from a recent (and obviously sloppy) oil change at the Toyota dealership. No one seems to give a rat's patotie about doing a good job anymore.
What ever happened to pride in one's work?
Fast Train: A new train speed record has been set on the Glasgow to London line. Virgin Trains made the 401 mile journey in three hours and 55 minutes - knocking 19 minutes off the record set 25 years ago. The operator said it showed what had been achieved by Pendolino trains and a line upgrade.
On our last trip to Great Britain, we rode from Glasgow to London on Virgin Trains. The new Pendolino units were not yet in service, but the ride was excellent - food and service were outstanding, far superior to that of the Flying Scotsman.
Wasting Your Money ... And Mine: Last week's disgusting 'performances' by Iran and Venezuela at the U.N. made me take a look at where my tax dollars are going. And yours.
It appears that we are giving $13 mm per year in overseas loans and grants to that jerk Hugo Chavez (based on 2004 data - the latest available). Of course, you could always protest by refusing to buy Citgo gas. Citgo is owned by the government of Venezuela. (Alas, I haven't encountered any Citgo stations in my neck of the woods, so I have nothing to boycott.)
Or you could buy limited edition commemorative Hugo Chavez Plate of Hate. Greg Gutfeld suggests using it for dinner (tofu?) while watching Keith Olbermann.
But wait ... there's more:
• Haiti gets $157.6 mm per year. What have they ever done for us? And how much are the French contributing?
• Iran - $10.3 mm. For what?!?!
• Egypt - $1,958 mm!!! And they hate us!
• Mexico $94.2 mm. They should be paying us for taking all their illegals, doncha think?
• North Korea - $56.1 mm. Is this to keep Kim in scotch?
• $137.4 mm to the area euphemistically referred to as the 'West Bank/Gaza' ... ummm, that would be the Fictional Country of Palestine, wouldn't it?
• China (mainland, not Taiwan or Tibet) - $42.9 mm. Hey, shouldn't they be paying us because we buy all their crap at Wal-Mart?
• We give almost $4 mm to Fiji and Tonga - getaways for movie stars. Can't we just give them Robin Leach instead?
Finally, we gave Vietnam - that two-bit Commie nation (aka - China's lower appendage) - almost $40 mm! And speaking of Commies, we cut a check to Fidel Castro for over $10 mm in 2004.
Is your blood pressure elevated yet?
Check the data. Then write to your congressman - who's probably running for re-election this year. If he/she can't fix things, maybe it's time to elect someone new.
Lost Magic: When Magic Mountain opened 35 years ago, the theme park was billed as a magnet for development in the cattle ranches and pastoral hills of northern Los Angeles County. Now Magic Mountain's owners are planning to shut it down and sell off the 250 acres for development.
Disneyland has long catered to families; Magic Mountain has always been a magnet for teenagers lured by the venue's 17 roller coasters. Teen troublemakers have been a periodic problem. Several high-profile crimes have dismayed residents, including a gang-related stabbing spree in 1985, a riot that spilled from the park to businesses in 1993 and the shooting death of a teen in the parking lot in 1998.
In announcing his intention to sell Magic Mountain, Six Flags Chief Executive Mark Shapiro cited the park's rowdy teen atmosphere and how it has made it difficult to attract families. Real estate experts estimate that the land could be worth at least $200 million.
We went to Magic Mountain on a vacation in 1982 or so with our kids. We had a great time and the park will remain in my memory along with all the other now-closed amusement parks I've experienced. Sigh. Life goes on.
Celebrities - They Seem To Know Everything About Evil: Yusuf Islam, the British 'singer' known as Cat Stevens before his conversion to Islam and name change to something less pronounceable, has criticized Pope Benedict XVI, calling him ''evil and inhuman.''
Stevens is the same self-absorbed jerk who called for the death of Salman Rushdie, requesting his head on a plate with a side ... (more >>>)
Aging Slut Update: NBC television network is trying to decide whether it will allow pop star Madonna to stage a mock crucifixion on an upcoming prime-time concert special.
The 48-year-old entertainer has made the crucifixion stunt, in which she performs while suspended on a giant cross wearing a crown of thorns, a centerpiece of her global 'Confessions' tour.
Greg Gutfeld quips, "NBC won't approve the stunt until they're absolutely sure it won't offend any Muslims."
Quote Of The Day is from the late Johnny Carson: "I was so naive as a kid I used to sneak behind the barn and do nothing."
Thursday September 21, 2006
Does The World Really Need Mercury? I have a soft spot in my heart for Mercury. My dad owned a '47 sedan. I remember riding in it as a kid. And I always thought that the 1956 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser XM show car was super cool. And I liked the Mercury Cougar of the 1960s better than the Mustang.
That said, Mercury is a nothing brand. It never found its own identity. It was always, as my dad used to say, a "gussied-up Ford." Mercury was introduced as a 1939 model to compete with GM's mid-price offerings (Buick, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, LaSalle). Mercury has soldiered on for 67 years as a Ford Alternative With Aspirations. Buick was a doctor's car, Pontiac was a flashy salesman's ride, Oldsmobile was an engineer's vehicle of choice. Mercury was ... "well I wuz gonna get a Ford and had some money left over ..."
Today's Mercury is the poster child for 'Badge Engineering' and is an almost-clone of its Ford-badged sibling. Mercury is a virtually unknown brand outside of North America; Ford stopped selling it in Canada a couple of years ago.
Meanwhile, the world has moved on. Multiple brand offerings are ... (more >>>)
Start Early: If you give your child a sense of style early in life, maybe he/she will purchase an Alfa someday. Or a Figoni et Falachi-bodied something or other.
Presenting the 'Brevetatto', a 1950s-vintage Giordani Bambino Carriage made in Italy. Yours for only $2,200.
Won't It Be Nice ... when we finally become oil independent (scroll down to my September 1st posting to see my ideas about this) and can tell those tinhorn despots from Iran, Venezuela and similar places to pound sand?
Bad Pun Of The Day: A grenade fell onto a kitchen floor in France resulting in Linoleum Blownapart.
Tuesday September 19, 2006
Don't Do It ... unless you want a quick, painful death, that is. That's my advice to Ford and GM, who - according to Automotive News - are discussing a possible merger.
I recommend that all parties involved buy every book about the 1968 merger of the Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central. The monumental death throes of the merged entity have been chronicled extensively and the parallels between these two once-mighty railroad titans and the two fading automotive giants in question is frightening.
Read and learn from history. As the late Mr. Rogers would have asked, "Can you say 'train wreck'?"
Monday September 18, 2006
Bailing Out: A friend describes himself as a Lifetime Ford Guy. He has bought Ford products exclusively during his 60 years on earth. A few years ago, he began buying Dodge trucks for his business because they were-better suited to his needs. "Ford doesn't offer the right product mix," he said.
After owning a Lincoln Mark VII LSC, a Lincoln LS and a 2002 Lincoln Continental as company cars, he is now giving up on FoMoCo. He hates the way his Continental handles and is trading it in on a Mercedes Benz E-Class sedan. He has never bought a "foreign" car before but he's "disgusted with Ford and their junk offerings."
This is truly a monumental event. This man has Ford memorabilia throughout his office - models, posters, etc. And he owns several old cars - all are FoMoCo vehicles.
Consider this Exhibit A in the Fall of Ford. Even the hard-core faithful are deserting it.
The Question No One's Asking: How can Ford have a new product-driven 'Way Forward', when they're getting rid of so many white collar people?
They can't all be from the Accounting and Personnel Departments - some/many are from Engineering.
So, with fewer development engineers, Q.C. engineers, etc., Ford's future may be full of problem-prone, late-to-arrive, dull product. Just like Ford's recent past.
Congrats ... to my wife and daughter who participated in the Susan G. Komen 'Race For The Cure' yesterday.
Why Sears Is Dying In The Retail Biz (Reason #493): Last week, a Sears sale flyer arrived in the mail. It was addressed to the previous occupant, who moved away in 1989.
When An Irresistible Force Meets ... If Billy O'Reilly and Nancy Grace got within five feet of one another, would they both explode? Or spontaneously combust?
"Pi R-squared?" "No, Pie Are Round.": The historical, social and managerial aspects of pie - this is an example of PowerPoint gone amok.
Staying Connected: Jeremy Clarkson explains the BlackBerry, "It's a mobile phone that can also receive and send e-mails. This means that no matter where you are on the planet someone can always get hold of you to ask if you'd like a bigger penis."
Question Of The Day is from Greg Gutfeld: "Do twins count as two people? I'm just curious. They really aren't two people, are they? It's like they're basically two halves of one person. I don't think they should be allowed to vote in general elections."
Thursday September 14, 2006
Strut Your Stuff: I was reading Sajeev Mehta's comprehensive Saturn Aura review over at TTAC and came upon this sentence: "Trunk space is mid-pack, but the strut-assist decklid closes with minimal effort."
Man, did that bring back memories. Not good ones either. My '76 VW Scirocco had struts to keep the rear hatch open. Within four years, the rest of the car had fallen apart but the struts never let me down.
Its replacement, an Oldsmobile Omega, had decklid struts. They failed after less than three years. Replacement struts cost over $300 - about $1,000 in today's money.
Many GM X-car owners had similar problems. Most bought a broomstick to prop open the trunk lid. Seeking a more elegant solution, I fabricated a clear Plexiglas prop. It looked very nice but I'm glad I made a couple of them because they broke too easily. Finally, I made a one in Lexan which lasted for rest of the car's life.
Several years ago, I was looking at Cadillacs. The salesman opened the hood to show off the engine. The first thing I saw were a pair of struts. My first thought - never again. I wasn't going to pay 40 Large for a Caddy and be back in crappy Struttown again. At least, not with a GM product. (Fool me once ... etc.)
When I told Ray, my good friend and fellow car nut, about this, he advised me that the struts on his Seville "don't work worth a damn. Never did."
My wife's Toyota Avalon has struts to hold the hood open. They seem to work fine. It's not the concept of struts that's a problem; it's the execution by a penny-pinching GM, using bad quality components which failed waaay too soon.
Car Sighting: On Wednesday morning, I spotted a baby blue 1959 Porsche 356 cabriolet in downtown Portland. The car was in cherry condition and had British Columbia plates.
The owner told me he was on his way home after a Porsche meet in Colorado.
Soooo Much I Don't Know: Last week, Jonah Goldberg at NRO made reference to 'Peace of Westphalia'. I always thought it referred to a Volkswagen camper with hippie symbols all over it.
Planet Exhaustion: I feel bad about Pluto but not a whole lot. Frankly, I'm tired of reading about it. Thank God (or thank L. Ron) that Tom Cruise and his publicity-starved family has knocked it off the front page.
Since Pluto's planetary demise, I've heard a lot of rumors. People say that, when you come right down to it, Pluto was nothing but a dirtball. (Sort of an orbiting Paris Hilton, but without the neon 'Open' sign worn below the navel.) And Pluto wouldn't stay in orbit, staggering around the solar system like a drunken Mel Gibson. Or a sober Heather Mills, after Paul McCartney sprayed her peg leg with WD-40.
Of course, Neptune's not much better but seems to have a better publicist. Nevertheless, Neptune, you'd better shape up. You may be next.
Uranus, an unfortunately-named planet, will probably stay. I mean, if we demote that one, over 800 sophomoric jokes will be lost. Humor will disappear almost entirely from the astronomy section of middle school science classes, leaving students with only 'asteroid' to snicker at.
I still chuckle when I recall Dan Rather pronouncing its name as Urine-us. Dan, you lunatic wacko. What were you thinking? That it was some kind of piss planet? What a moron. I've noticed that since Dan's left, the CBS eye seems to water less. And has lost most of that blinky tic thing.
My favorite planet is still Jupiter. I can identify with it. It's ... ahem ... quite large. And impressive. But it has some dignity - none of that ring bling thing. (Saturn, are you listening?)
Jupiter also has that red spot that won't go away and occasionally has a flare up. I can identify with that, too. Personally, I've found Cortisone-10 cream to be helpful. I use it only because they won't sell me Cortisone-15. You know they have it. They keep it locked up in a subterranean vault, right next to the 100,000 mile tires. And the real Fish carburetor.
Looking On The Bright Side: Optimist Greg Gutfeld suggests some positive things may happen if America becomes part of the new Islamic Caliphate, including:
• Hustler goes "all-ankle."
• Finally, decent halftime entertainment at the Super Bowl (beheadings).
• Winner of 'America's Next Top Model' gets to marry a goat herder.
• Sexual relations with your wife is a conjugal obligation (bad news for James Brolin).
• Enterprise Rent-A-Mule
• Rosie O'Donnell will be in a burqa.
• Used Toyota pickups now seat 40.
Fact Of The Day: The three-hole punch debuted in April, 1940.
Joke Of The Day: A group of Americans were traveling by tour bus through Holland. They stopped at a cheese farm and a young guide led them through the process of cheese making, explaining that goat's milk was used.
She showed the group a lovely hillside where many goats were grazing. "These are the older goats put out to pasture when they no longer produce," she explained.
She then asked, "What do you do in America with your old goats?"
A spry old gentleman answered, "They send us on bus tours."
Monday September 11, 2006
The Machine That Threatens Detroit: In the heart of Kentucky, under the roof of Toyota's largest manufacturing facility in North America, the headlights flash and the horn blasts on a new Camry, Avalon or Solara rolling off the assembly line every 55 seconds.
Excerpt: "Robots weld the stamped parts into the naked frame of car bodies, which are then hung on an overhead conveyor system to begin a Disney-like ride through 7.5 million square feet of factory floor (the equivalent of 156 football fields).
Employees - some 7,000 at this plant alone - have exactly 55 seconds to install engine components, brakes, dashboards, windows, doors or some other piece of the car puzzle before it is transported to the next stage of the assembly line on the overhead conveyor. Driverless carts ferry parts just-in-time to assembly stations so inventory doesn't pile up, and everywhere, overhead signs, plasma screens and musical jingles alert team leaders to production status or problems on the assembly line."
Here are a couple of interesting manufacturing process techniques discussed in the article:
PokaYokes: Toyota uses a range of these low-cost, highly-reliable devices throughout its operations to prevent defects. A PokaYoke may be something as simple as a tool holder with an electronic sensor, or it may be a light curtain, a beam of light that sends a signal to a computer when a hand or some other object interrupts its flow. The curtain can signal a warning if, for instance, a worker fails to pick up a cotter pin, bolt, nut or some other required part.
Genchi Genbutsu: The literal translation of this term is, "Go and see for yourself." Rather than hear about a problem, Toyota requires its workers, team leaders and executives to go and see a problem directly and to work collectively on a solution. At least 50% of Toyota's information systems workers are stationed at plant sites to work directly with operations.
This was probably the most fascinating to me: "The most time-intensive part of the vehicle assembly process - almost half of the total - is spent in the paint shop. Until recently, this was one area where Toyota was stymied in its attempts to maximize business processes and achieve one-process flow. That's because it had been difficult to paint a white or red car after a black car.
Toyota formed a partnership with ABB Automation Technologies, a Zurich-based maker of manufacturing robots, to pioneer a painting system that uses swappable cartridges. In 1999, it began installing the technology in its plants worldwide.
Now, when a car enters the paint shop, the (system) tells the painting robot the exact color required; the robot grabs a red cartridge for a red car, or a blue cartridge for a car to be painted blue. Cleaning with solvents is no longer necessary. Toyota estimates the process saves about $29 per vehicle, and takes 2.1 hours off the time needed to produce a vehicle."
If you're looking for some hints as to how and why Toyota has become a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut, you'll find them in this article.
Ford's Idiocy Summed Up: Jerry Flint writes, "In 1996, the Ford Taurus sedan and wagon accounted for over half a million sales, including sales of its slower-selling sister vehicle, the Mercury Sable. Soon, the Taurus will be at zero. When you can run volume from 515,213 to zero, that is just dumbness, as is creating two totally different vehicles in a tightening market for family sedans, which is what Ford did in replacing the Taurus with the larger Ford 500 and the smaller Fusion."
The family sedan market was Ford's bread and butter for 70+ years. Then they forgot about it while they focused on trucks, SUVs, the Premier Auto Group and other distractions. Now Ford is suffering the consequences.
Consequences ... actions always have them, don't they?
Car Sighting: On Friday - at the Battle Ground Chevron, spotted a '46 Ford convertible gassing up. It was all-black with a chopped top, chrome wheels and slightly-loud mufflers. Driven by a seventy-something and his spouse. Sweet ride.
The Last Project Of Summer: I designed, built and installed a restraint system which will prevent my stored train platform/layout from tipping over in the event of an earthquake. The platform resides in my garage between the Plymouth and Jaguar and is a little top heavy, so - potentially - it could severely damage both cars if it ever fell over.
I constructed a ceiling-mounted brace out of furniture-grade wood, then sanded, stained it and - over Labor Day weekend - installed it.
The large train platform is now far more secure. I think it will work very well if there's a minor earthquake. (If it's over 6.5, the train platform will be the least of my worries. Since moving to the Pacific Northwest, the worst earthquake we've experienced was a 5.3 - in the early 1990s.)
Breaking Computer News ... courtesy of Conan O'Brien: "Apple has issued a recall on several models of Mac laptops because the battery can overheat and catch fire. Experts say a Mac fire is just like a PC fire, except it is more hip and condescending."
Quote Of The Day is from James Lileks on the future of home phones: "They'll never improve the home phone. They will get uglier and uglier and look less like phones; one day your kids will find you shouting HELLO? into the steam iron, and put you in a home." Actually, Grampa Simpson did this on an old episode.
Friday September 8, 2006
They Don't Make 'Em Like That Anymore ... Thank God! When it comes to cars of yore, the good old days were mostly crap. I was reminded of this when I spoke with someone whose neighbor just acquired a 1956 Continental Mark II. After a very brief spin around the neighborhood, he pronounced that the guy's new ride "drives like a dream. Not like today's cars."
Yes, well ... that "spin around the neighborhood" probably meant traveling on smooth residential streets at speeds of 20 mph or so. And doing so very carefully in someone else's prized classic.
Take a Continental Mark II on a road trip and it's a different story. I drove mine on lots of them, including a four-state trek to Utah and back. The Mark's a big old barge that leans heavily in the slightest of corners and squeals tires even at micro-Gs of lateral force. At interstate speeds, it soaks up the bumps decently enough but that period-steering, while spectacularly tight compared with an ordinary Ford, was a bit of a wanderer. And the wind noise at 80 mph was deafening.
Don't get me wrong - the '56-57 Continental Mark II was a magnificent car for its time. But no 1950s American luxury automobile can compare in ride comfort of an today's ordinary full-size sedan (as designated by our Rental Car Overlords - I'm thinking Taurus and Impala here).
Hey, that's progress, folks. Feel good about it.
On the other hand, if you took something from today - even an aging vehicle - back to the 1950s, people would be absolutely blown away.
Too often, we forget how far automotive technology has come.
Tasty Sighting: I took my '39 Plymouth out two days in a row - beautiful weather around here. While stopped at a traffic light in Battle Ground, I spotted a gigantic, mid-70s Mercury Grand Marquis coupe in that odd (and unique to Mercury, I think) custard and brown paint scheme.
The sight of the Merc made me start drooling because it looked like a giant chocolate-covered eclair on the move.
More Sightings: While dining at the newly-reopened Irby's Thursday night (wine-tasting night) and window-watching in East Battle Ground, we saw two Chevy SSR pickups - perhaps the only two ever sold - one metallic green with chrome dubs, one jet black. We also spotted two 'new' Thunderbirds - one with hardtop affixed, one convertible. Also saw a white Pontiac Aztek (ugh!) - twice. It was circling the place, I guess.
This Is Why I Promise ... to get the extra insurance coverage if I ever I rent one: Did you know that a replacement sideview mirror for a Maserati Quattroporte costs $1,069?
Speaking of "extra insurance", when offered it at a rental car counter, are you ever tempted to ask, "Why would I need it? Are your cars Extra Dangerous?"
Commies And Islamofascists Compared: Andrea Harris summarizes things very well: "We still seem to think we can fight Islamic fanaticism with a mixture of indifference and devil-may-care big talk. We are not willing to give up any of our creature comforts and the mental padding they offer, despite all of our chesty declarations of "we are Westerners together." We seem to think we are still fighting the Soviet Union's lumbering one-upmanship, when in fact we are fighting an ancient evil that cares nothing for competing with us. It wants to wipe us out entirely."
More: "A house that has been tunneled through by termites can collapse at the next breath of light breeze. A culture with no solid basis on which to make a stand, because it has allowed itself to be eaten away by bad ideologies, because it has decided that many of the values that its ancestors held were 'too hard' or 'too unfair' to deal with, can be brought down much more easily."
America's Poor Generally Aren't: This article notes that "the proportion of households lacking air-conditioning was lower among the officially poor in 2001 than among the general public in 1980."
By 2001, over half of all poverty-level households had cable television and two or more television sets. And one in four ... (more >>>)
Coolest Gay Guy Ever: Zanzibar Muslims are pissed at the planned 60th birthday celebration for deceased rock star and native son Freddy Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara), because his sexual preferences and flamboyant lifestyle insulted Islam. (hat tip - Relapsed Catholic) (permalink)
Screw 'em. Muslims seem to be "outraged" about every #$@&* thing the West does.
Because they know that We Are The Champions ... of the World.
Huzzah! Futurama is returning. That's a good thing. If you don't think so you can - in the immortal words of Bender, "Bite my shiny metal ass!"
Headline Of The Week ... is from Scrappleface: 'Little People Protest Classifying Pluto as 'Dwarf' Planet'.
Runner-up is from The Onion: 'Rob Schneider Lands Role Originally Written For Chimp'.
Advice Of The Day: If you have a lot of tension and you get a headache, do what it says on the aspirin bottle: "Take two aspirin" and "Keep away from children."
Wednesday September 6, 2006
Flying Ford: Unless you were trapped in a cave yesterday, you've heard that Bill Ford is stepping aside as Chief Executive Officer of FoMoCo (he stays on as Chairman), appointing Alan Mulally of Boeing as Ford's new CEO.
Mulally is an engineer and career Boeing guy (37 years) and is generally credited with the aircraft manufacturer's turnaround over the past decade. He is described as a "team builder" and was president and chief executive officer of the Boeing Commercial Airplanes division.
I wish Bill, Alan and FoMoCo all the best but I'm skeptical about whether Mulally's skills can create the much-needed miracle at Ford, because Boeing is so different in so many ways:
• Boeing "production" is very small, compared with the millions of finished products turned out by Ford. Manufacturing lead time is much longer for a 737 order compared with that for an Explorer.
• In the commercial aircraft arena - from which Mulally hails, Boeing offers a single brand ... Boeing. Management of a variety of brand names, with many overlapping each other in the marketplace, is something Mulally has never encountered. Boeing has no dying or near-dead brands, such as Lincoln, Mercury and Jaguar.
• The product line at Boeing is very limited - a cargo plane is pretty much a passenger plane with a gutted interior. Ford's offerings include vastly differing vehicular entities - trucks, sporty cars, small cars, large cars, vans, SUVs, CUVs, etc.
• Boeing has a stellar reputation in the aircraft field. Its models are legendary - from the B-17 to the 747. Boeing has never manufactured Edsels, Pintos, Mustang IIs, Tempos or other laughably-flawed products. Ford's reputation among consumers is seriously damaged.
• The design life-cycle of a Boeing model is measured in decades; Ford's is in years. Or should be. Development times for new planes are much longer (and less intense) than those for new vehicle platforms.
• Airbus is Boeing's single major competitor. Airbus is certainly not known as a low-cost, non-union manufacturer of superior products. Ford has many competitors. Its most serious challenger, Toyota, is a low-cost, non-union manufacturer of superior products.
• Boeing has no dealers; Ford has waay too many dealers. And Boeing's customers have readily-defined, rational needs. The retail automotive customer often buys on emotion. He/she is often swayed by the Trend-O-The-Moment. And is at the mercy of the dealer (and that dealer's 'influence' with the factory rep) for resolution of post-delivery product complaints.
• The union issues at Boeing are miniscule compared with Ford's. Mulally has never dealt with the UAW.
• Boeing has always utilized some sort of flexible manufacturing. If everyone orders 737s this year instead of 787s, the assembly area gets re-configured. Try making the Focus in an F-150 plant.
• Ford's "team" is not only "built" but deeply entrenched. It will take decades to change that ingrained Ford corporate culture - the way of thinking that got Ford into this mess in the first place.
As you've probably gathered, I'm not optimistic about Mulally's prospects for saving Ford. But, only time will tell.
PS - I don't think Al's a car guy. He pulled down some $9+MM per year in salary and stock options at Boeing but drives a Lexus LS 430 sedan. A car guy making that kind of dough would be behind the wheel of something a little more passionate. And expensive. I know I would. (permalink)
Flame-Surface This! Jeremy Clarkson opines on BMW design: "The old Z3 M coupé was deliberately ugly, like the bastard son of Gérard Depardieu and a bread van."
When Will 'Pimp My Ride' Stuff This In A Cavalier? Panasonic now offers the world's largest television set, featuring a 103-inch screen, for $80,000.
Targeting History: One reviewer, amazed at the stupidity of a Target Stores' offering (a Ben Franklin talking action figure, labeled as 'Franklin Roosevelt'), comments: "How well I remember the Democratic Convention of 1932 when Franklin Roosevelt flew a kite inside the Chicago Convention Center and first drew lightning to the amazement of Al Smith's supporters. The world was changed forever, and, mostly, for the better. As we all know, the Electric Kite-Powered Wheelchair eventually became the Segway." (hat tip - Kathryn Jean Lopez of NRO)
I would add this: Poor Al Smith. After his defeat, he spent the remainder of his days wearing blackface and singing 'Mammy' on bended knee in various nightclubs. So sad.
I would also point out that Franklin Roosevelt's predecessor, Herbert Hoover, got a bum rap about the Depression and such. After all, it's hard to stay focused on the economy and other presidential stuff and when you're spending every spare minute building a huge dam. (Especially while wearing a strapless evening gown.) I hope that historians will someday acknowledge this because it's just soooo not fair.
I'm headed to Target right now to grab up all three Franklin action figures: Franklin Roosevelt, Ben Franklin and, of course, Franklin Ajaye.
Family Friendly: Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman says he wants to convert the city's old federal courthouse, a National Historic Landmark, into a mob museum. Goodman, a former defense lawyer who represented many alleged mobsters, said the landmark would pay tribute to the city's founders. "The mob founded us, and I never apologized for them because I represented them, and they made me a rich man," he said.
A poster at Lucianne.com noted, "If Arkansas can have a Clinton Library, Las Vegas can have a Mob Museum."
Las Vegas is now promoting itself as a "family town." Some of us remember when it was really was a "family town."
Jumping The Season: The Swiss Colony Christmas catalog arrived on August 29th - a new record. My thoughts on the entire Swiss Colony phenomenon are here.
Cost Plus World Market also had Christmas candy on display last week.
May Our Merciful Savior ... slice and dice on his soul's behalf for all Eternity. Arthur Schiff, King of the Ginsu Knife, has died at age 66. "But wait, there's more!" was Schiff's signature creation.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "Climate statistics show that, with all the "global warming" hysteria today, our temperatures are still not as high as they were back in medieval times. Those medieval folks must have been driving a lot of cars and SUVs."
Friday September 1, 2006
Fueling The Revolution: I read a recent AP report which predicts that gas prices are going to drop back toward $2.00/gallon by December. I have no idea if this will really occur. But it shouldn't stop America from taking radical steps to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Buying lots of oil keeps prices high and, therefore, helps fill the coffers of such countries as Iran, Venezuela, Libya and Saudi Arabia, to name a few.
Let's make it a priority to reduce America's dependency on imported (especially Middle Eastern) oil. You can reduce consumption by:
• Driving less
• Carpooling, or
• Using a fuel-efficient vehicle.
How to inspire people to do so? Here's my proposal - motor fuel would be taxed an additional $2.00 per gallon. But every U.S. citizen with a valid driver's license would get a tax refund for 7,000 miles in a 20 mpg car. You'd get that refund of $700 when you file federal income taxes - a credit for 350 gallons (7,000 divided by 20).
Fifty percent of the tax revenues from this program would be used to promote energy exploration and alternative product development within the United States, including biofuels and gasohol; the remaining revenue would be used to pay down the national debt.
Users of fuel other than passenger vehicles (large trucks, locomotives, airlines, buses, etc.) would be subject to a tax of $1.00 per gallon - but no refund program would be available.
Users of home heating oil would pay a tax of 50¢ per gallon - no refund program.
This tax program would automatically expire in seven years unless renewed by a Congressional majority.
Such a program offers individuals the freedom to drive whatever they want and drive as much as they want - at a price. It's about choice. The tax on commercial vehicles is less because we don't want to shut down the economy - but we do want to encourage shippers to look at fuel efficiency. In Europe, UPS and FedEx use dinky little vans in cities. In U.S. cities, all I seem to see are the larger delivery trucks.
My proposed tax on heating oil is even lower - I don't want to drive people out of their homes - but a noticeable tax will give homeowners extra incentive to implement conservation measures.
Every one knows that the War On Terror (Radical Islam versus Everyone Else) is funded directly and indirectly by Middle East oil profits.
So, let's call my oil tax program a Victory Tax. It's about helping to win the war by defunding those who would annihilate us. (permalink)
Real World Pricing: It was amusing this week to see a new Dodge Charger (on display in the mall) with a side window sticker showing a 'Market Adjustment' upcharge (aka - Dealer Gouge) and a hastily-prepared front windshield sticker providing a very deep discount. They should call it Negative Market Adjustment.
Jesse James, Was That You? On Wednesday, I spotted a 1950 Lincoln coupe in black primer with Day-Glow wheels, driven by a guy with a heavily-tattooed arm hanging out the window. This prehistoric chrome beast was gliding down Route 500 at a good clip, headed towards downtown Vancouver.
Hot Acquisition Exclusive: You probably have already read that Swiss-based, Richemont (Cartier jewelry and watches) and LVMH (Louis Vuitton and Fendi luggage, hand bags) both want to buy Aston Martin.
But I bet you haven't heard this - (I just started the rumor) - Lillian Vernon wants to buy Kia.
It's A Bird, It's A Plane ... The hummingbird hawk moth is a day-flying moth with a wingspan about two inches, found in the UK and elsewhere. It looks remarkably like a hummingbird.
Hmmmm. I thought that the Hummingbird Hawkmoth was a small British sedan imported to the U.S. in the 1950s. (permalink)
Those Who Would Slaughter Us: Shelby Steele has written an insightful article about the Islamic extremism. Excerpt: "If this war makes anything clear, it is that Israel can do nothing to appease the Muslim animus against her. And now much of the West is in a similar position, living in a state of ever-heightening security against the constant threat of violence from Islamic extremists.
So here, from the Muslim world, comes an unappeasable hatred that seems to exist for its own sake, a hatred with very little actual reference to those it claims to hate. Even the fighting of Islamic terrorist groups is oddly self-referential, fighting not for territory or treasure but for the fighting itself. Standing today in the rubble of Lebanon, having not taken a single inch of Israeli territory, Hezbollah claims a galvanizing victory."
Steele notes that "Islamic extremists don't hate the West because they are oppressed by it. They hate it precisely because the end of oppression and colonialism - not their continuance - forced the Muslim world to compete with the West. Less oppression, not more, opened this world to the sense of defeat that turned into extremism." (permalink)
Succinct Restaurant Review: Ruby Tuesday, Vancouver, WA. Overpriced, mediocre food, slow service and they screwed-up my order. Never goin' back. (permalink)
Headline Of The Week is from The Onion: 'Verizon Introduces New Charge-You-At-A-Whim Plan'.
Question Of The Week: If e-mail spam really works, how come you don't see guys walking down the street with a fake Rolex, a giant erection and a newly-financed mortgage? And with all that Nigerian reward money, why would you need any mortgage at all? And wouldn't you buy a real Rolex? (permalink)
Quote Of The Day is from Paul Rodriguez: "Sometimes I think war is God's way of teaching us geography."