Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Old School Music
I also gave Oleander's February Son last week while working on the car. I remember that one being a lot better 5 years ago. I think that with the relatively dismal work that was predominant around the time I left college, the bar was set pretty low.
High School Sucked
Now, the Angry Engineer is not one who prefers to dwell on the past (that is, except for occassional regrets about finding a clean, virgin, MkIV Supra Turbo only days after committing to four year's of payments on an Impala SS, and a few select missed romantic opportunities that are irrelevant now). So I wasn't exactly heading into this thing with thoughts of reliving my high school "glory years", because I'm still of the opinion that each year in my life continues to get better than the previous.
Boy, if there was ever a moment that reaffirmed that philosophy, it was Saturday night. The vast majority of the people there were simply 10-year-old versions of their high-school selves. I'd like to think that I've changed since high school - perhaps I'm giving myself too much credit - and I know that I associate with people that have grown and matured since we left the halls of GHHS a decade ago. And for the most part, I've kept in touch with the people that really matter to me. There's some notable exceptions to that, and that was my main motivation for attending. Except for 2 or 3 people, none of the folks on that short list showed up.
Contact most often took the form of a nod and a polite "Hey" or "Hello"; conversations were a futile attempt to cram a decade's worth of events into a 90-second monologue and were extremely limited in detail. Not once did I enter into a discussion about the concerts I've attended, the places that I've rode a mountain bike, the time I've spent under the hoods of cars, the dumb shit I'll never attempt again. How can anyone understand the last 10 years of my life without learning about bleeding all over the place at a Tool concert, bombing down the hellish Amasa Back trail in Moab with a 5000-ft drop just inches to my right, the joy of disassembling a Quadrajet carb in a McDonald's parking lot in Nebraska on a 30-degree day, or thinking I could jump off a roof on my bike? And that doesn't even begin to touch on the really important aspects of my life, like the number of times I had to re-take DiffEQ or get dragged out of Rosebud at the bouncer's insistance. Everyone's got their defenses up, so there's no opportunity for meaningful discussion.
So I'm left with a somewhat empty feeling about the whole experience, but at least I didn't feel the need to relive past football locker-room glory in the men's bathroom, and I can honestly say that more significant things have occurred in my life since graduating other than simply hitting the legal drinking age. Frankly, I'd been happy if I had the opportunity to invite a dozen or so of those folks off the previously-aforementioned Short List Of People I Should Have Kept In Touch With But Didn't and sat down with them for an evening of food and drink.
At least the organizers did a great job of pulling the reunion together on relatively short notice, and the food was quite excellent. Their efforts cannot be faulted.
Things Not To Say To A Man With A Gun
I in no way wish to defend the actions of Chai Vang, because there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for what he did. Even if he felt threatened by the insults and by the alledged firing of the first shot, his actions go well beyond the limits of self-defense.
But isn't it just possible that, in this case, a simple lack of courtesy by both parties involved probably lead to the deaths of six people?
It's often been stated that an armed society is a polite society. Perhaps this isn't as self-evident as one would think.
A Copy And Paste Post On Health Care
I'm becoming convinced that the whole idea of health "insurance" is BS. What I'd be happy with is true catastrophic insurance coverage in case of accident or life-threatening illness, with the opportunity to set up a tax-free savings account that doesn't expire every year to pay for the day-to-day stuff. What we've got right now is some sort of half-assed hybrid - I still like to equate it to asking your car insurance company to cover routine maintenance - that's unfairly punishing the young and healthy people in a given pool, while still not providing great coverage in the case that there is a major illness or injury.
If there's a deductible or co-pay on routine visits and procedures, and 80-20 coverage on major stuff (which still wouldn't keep most of us out of bankruptcy), then really, then why should you and your employer pay hundreds of dollars a month? I think that at this time,
Sign me up for insurance that covers single instances of, say, $2000 or more, and re-occurring costs of, say, $5000 associated with any one particular illness or injury. I'll pocket the $2500 that's currently paying for my "insurance", toss it into a tax-free account, and I'm sure that I'll end up ahead in the long run, as well as being provided with an incentive to stay healthy and safe.
I'm willing to remain open to alternatives - any other suggestions? I just know that throwing my money at a limited number of highly-profitable firms who provide an essential service is going to be a good way to get fleeced. Perhaps I could hedge my losses by investing equivalent funds into the stock of insurance companies...
Auto News 11/29/04, Part II
First up is news that Nissan will be shutting down plants in Japan for up to five days per month due to steel shortages. What the article doesn't make clear is whether there's an actual shortage of steel, or simply a shortage of steel at prices that Nissan wishes to pay. Perhaps this is also just an convenient excuse to idle a plant due to simple overcapacity. But if it's a real shortage, then this might be looked back upon as the day that the industrial revolution ground to a halt. Bring on the age of the resource wars.
Next up is a prediction that 25% of the jobs related to automotive suppliers may be gone by the end of the next decade. That does not make the Angry Engineer one bit happier about going to work. The thought is that in order to survive, there will be a series of mergers, bankruptcies, and outsourcing in the upcoming years to meet with the "new realities of the global automotive market" or some MBA bullshit like that. It would seem that much of this will simply come through the failure of management to effectively employ the talented pool of labor here in the US, and instead turn towards the attractive cheaper labor offered overseas (for how long, who knows). The article claims that innovative products, efficiency, and high quality will be required to survive. I think it's mainly going to be a matter of shifting dependance from the Big 2.5 (or whatever we're supposed to call them nowadays) over to the "transplants", who seem to be in the process of expanding the market for innovative, efficient, and high-quality products. The American OEMS will likely continue to envision a high level of engineering as a hinderance to creating a low-cost high-quality part.
We've got some more info on the effects of the dollar's fall on the automotive industry, AKA The Chickens Come Home To Roost. At this point, I'll ignore the overall negative impact that this might have on the economy as a whole and myself in particular, and take a moment to snicker at all the dumbasses who figured that offshoring was the path to lower prices and higher profits. Yep, even those who build cars in Canada are suffering right now. I'm not sure what the real cost advantage is to building in Canada or what the shift in exchange rates has been in the past weeks, but I'm guessing that it makes a hell of a lot less sense to build a car up north than it did a year ago. How to best hedge against currency flucuations? Simple - build products where you plan on selling them. I firmly believe that Honda is the best at this right now, with Toyota and Nissan closely behind. All three companies are showing positive trends in the amount of work they're placing in the States, while the "American" OEMs all seem dead-set on moving work out of the country (exactly where to doesn't seem to matter, as long as it's not being built with "high-cost labor"; and while we're at it, just ignore the actual balance between labor costs and material costs while making these decisions). So while GM gets the crap beat out of them for building cars in Canada and Mexico using Chinese engines, Japanese transmissions, and Korean electronics that either are or will be steadily increasing in price as the dollar slips further, I'm sure that Honda will just chug right along and pay the same price for the same components, therefore maintaining a healthy margin.
Seatbelt use is up among adults, finally reaching the 80% mark. That still means that there's 20% of the public out there that's apparently too stupid to be trusted with their own life, and it took nearly Draconian laws in all but one state (let's hear it for New Hampshire!) to get it done.
Saturn reported is going upscale, getting a larger array of models on the upper end - including the Sky roadster. Great, just what GM needs - more muddling of their various brands. Where is GM weak? On the low end, where they're importing a Daewoo just to compete. What was Saturn supposed to bring to the table? Low-end American cars that weren't crap. I think it's cool that GM is finally building another low-cost RWD platform, but realistically, how many different models does GM think they can create and sell in the same marketplace? Does Saturn really need a drop-top two-door, or should they be instead looking closely at what Scion is doing? As a side note, Scion is apparently blowing away Toyota's initial projections and hitting their sales targets over a year ahead of time. Not bad for a brand that's barely been available nationwide for a full year, and much better than I'd ever thought they'd do. And when was the last time that GM had a similar success story to talk about? I doubt it'll be with any of the three new Saturns that we'll see in the upcoming years (the Sky, the Relay mini-van, and the L300 replacement that's likely to be a plastic-bodied version of the Malibu). It's highly doubtful that GM will bring in any new buyers with these vehicles, with the exception of a very small percentage of folks who might consider the Sky over the import competition. Instead, they'll just be taking away buyers from other GM brands who are cross-shopping to find that oh-so-perfect mix of price, features, and cheap interior trim.
Auto News 11/29/04, Part I
First up is the news that ZF is failing to find any business for their new 7-speed auto, despite the fact that it's been on the market for 14 months. This one seems real simple to me - a modern larger-displacement engine of the type normally used in luxury cars makes a lot of power over a very wide range of engine speed. Fuel economy does not seem to be a major issue for most buyers, especially those in the upper end of the market. And besides, the additional weight and complexity that surely must come with those extra ranges cannot be attractive to powertrain engineers. Combine all of these factors, and a 7-speed transmission just looks silly. Most larger vehicles can make do with 4 or 5 at the most; perhaps a compact car with a very "peaky" engine could make use of that many ranges (indeed, some two-stroke sportbikes use 7-speed transmissions), but that's highly unlikely given the cost pressure on that segment of the market.
Subaru is looking at diesel power, and will be building the world's only (first?) passenger-car horizontally-opposed diesel by 2008. This is due to the fact that their platforms will apparently not accept anything but a boxer engine layout. If they offer this engine in the US, I think they'll grab a big chunk of the market. They've already shown a prowlness for building a significant customer base by offering unique vehicles; this will only add to their appeal, in my opinion.
Friday, November 26, 2004
Greenspan Talks About The Weak Dollar
Where's the outrage? This problem isn't going to go away without severe political pressure being placed on the president and Congress. Maybe it's too late to start fighting this addiction to borrowing, but we just about guarantee the failure of our system if we simply sit back and continue the current course.
The people that should be angry about the current situation - the federal deficit and the trade deficit - are the folks that are too busy patting themselves on the back over Bush's re-election victory to care about anything else. The folks actually displaying any outrage, such as Kerry with his remarkably well-stated comments to the press on Nov. 17th, have no credibility. For reasons right and wrong, the left has been painted as a bunch of spend-happy bozos, and as such they are unable to gain any traction on this issue. Besides, the guy who's giving the warnings is no proponent of the left's pet projects - social entitlement programs - and so I'm assuming there's a general reluctance to acknowledge Greenspan on this one issue on the basis of the concern that it might lead to some sort of implied agreement with everything else the man has ever said.
This post on the FALfiles.com (a message board filled with folks of a particular political mindset) is but one small example of how much folks want to ignore this issue, or even attempt to spin these latest drops in the dollar as an advantage for the US. The consequences of the failure of the dollar - a loss of spending power for the truely important things that we purchase from other countries, a forced slow-down in government spending, an upward spike in interest rates - must just be too hellish for certain people to comprehend. So they simple ignore the facts and paint themselves a bright portrait of the future. Hey, the Republicans are in charge - our economic future must be safe! And if all other arguments fail, simply bring up the fact that the world's economy relies on the US and therefore we'll be propped-up through thick and thin (ignoring the fact that the European Union + England adds up to a bigger economy than the US, and China will likely be making both of those economies look insignificant by the end of the next decade). Of course, for the Democrats to successfully attack on this issue, the excessive spending of the federal government must be portrayed in a negative light, and no proper progressive wants to see that happen. They can't even attack the lopsided trade argeements currently in place, because Bill C. was integral to getting those laws passed and his actions are sacred. In short - the two-party system has fucked us again.
So the canary in the mineshaft has fallen dead, and yet we can't depend on our media to cover the story because it's apparently not sexy enough and takes more time to explain than simply stated that the stock market lost another couple percent in a week's time. We can't depend on either political party to offer up suggestions for change, because the resident spendthrifts in town are drunk on power, and the opposition party is scared to death of the action required to fix the problem. And speaking of the dead canary in the mineshaft - what happens once Greenspan does actually step down, or suffers (God forbid) some sort of health issue? What would seem to be the one credible person in the federal government would be gone, and I'm sure that his replacement will be saying things that make the folks in DC and on Wall Street more comfortable. If this problem isn't addressed before the end of Greenspan's reign, God help us all (actually, instead of hoping that the big guy upstairs helps guide us through this mess of our own making, perhaps it'd be wiser to find comfort in the sort of equipment, supplies, and skills that might be useful in a post-crash world).
REM Drops Another Clunker, And I Rant About Music In General
"New Adventures in Hi-Fi" should have been the opening chapter in a whole new era for the band, and indeed maybe for alt-rock as a whole. Instead, it probably should be viewed as the last great REM album, and as the end of our hopes that the early 90s "revolution" in rock music (more properly defined as a re-alignment of pop music with fundamental rock-n-roll) would lead to something permanent. Don't get me wrong - there's great new rock out there, and this year has probably been the best for new rock music in the past 7 years or so. But NAIHF promised that we'd be able to keep advancing the evolution of guitar rock, and for the most part that promise has gone unfulfilled. Indeed, throw virtually any track from NAIHF on the radio nowadays, and it'd sound contemporary at the least, if not groundbreaking by modern rock radio standards. That point was driven home hard two years ago when Nirvana's "You Know You're Right" was released 8 years after it was recorded and blew everything else off the playlists.
Speaking of Nirvana, at least I can get excited about the new 3-disc box set. That puts me in a place I had hoped to avoid - pining for the "good ol' days", times a decade or more in the past. I could find another genre to explore, but I doubt I'll find fresh modern music in the world of blues or jazz, and when it comes to hip-hop, the stylings and values of modern artists remind me of the worst of the 80s hair metal. It's always possible that we'll see some sort of "alt-rap revolution" in the next couple of years, through the same sort of backlash that brought bands like Nirvana to rock radio almost exactly 13 years ago (maybe we can view Eminem as the Metallica of modern hip-hop, the one big name that's providing consistantly good work in troubled times). But invaribly, any serious exploration of hip-hop will simply lead me back to the early 90s, and therefore provides nothing in my quest to avoid becoming a dinosaur. Perhaps I should just accept my fate, and continue fleshing-out my CD collection with a bunch of 10-year-old works that I never bothered to obtain (or couldn't afford) when they were fresh and new. But if that's the way this is going to go down, I won't be happy about it.
Interesting Tidbits On The New 2005 Mustang GT
1) So-called "torque management" has been implemented, even on cars with manual transmissions. Obviously, there's some folks that are screaming about this. They're also the same folks who will be beating-up their service manager for warranty service on drivetrain failures caused by driver hamfistedness.
I'd rather that a drivetrain be engineered to properly handle abuse loads, especially in a performance car like the Mustang. But I also understand that manufacturers need to do what they can to protect themselves from dishonest warranty claims.
I'd just be interested in seeing what sort of difference this makes in real-world acceleration times with an average driver. Sure, someone with the skills of MM&FF's Evan Smith can probably take advantage of the power that's lost when the throttle starts to close near redline, but I suspect that the average keyboard warrior can't.
2) That so-called hydrocarbon trap sure is interesting. It seems that key-off hydrocarbon emission requirements are getting progressively more difficult to meet in recent years, as evidenced by the switch to returnless fuel systems. When it comes to the point where the emissions caused by injector leak-down necessitates a filter on the intake tract, even my inner Tree Hugger thinks things have gone much too far. Seems like there's more-important threats to the environment in the long term, and therefore it's a waste of resources to pursue things to this level.
GM Turns Legal Team Loose On Those Who Posted Vette Z06 Pics
EDIT - Another good post on the topic.
And as a general rule, it's a good idea to hit CamaroZ28.com's Future Vehicle Discussion forum on a regular basis. There's an annoying amount of GM nut-hugging there (and to a lesser extent, a lot of blind GM bashing), but overall it's the best discussion forum of the type that I'm aware of on the 'net. Too bad we'll see less amount of good info with this new Gestapo-like attitude on the behalf of GM, which is kinda ironic considering the general lack of performance-oriented product from them.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
People Get Way Too Serious About A Car Club
Screw the idea of a big national club - I couldn't care less. I'd rather just hang out with a half-dozen or so guys from my local club (the non-ISSCA-affliated GVBBC) than get caught-up in the same sort of political bullshit that I wouldn't want to get paid to deal with, much less put up with in my hobbies.
Know Your Enemy - Or Not
MR. RUSSERT: Do you see him as a very formidable enemy?
MR. SCHEUER: Tremendously formidable enemy, sir, an admirable man. If
he was on our side, he would be dining at the White House. He would be a freedom
fighter, a resistance fighter. It's--and again, that's not to praise him, but it
is to say that until we take the measure of the man and the power of his words,
we're very much going to be on the short end of the stick.
Read the whole interview. It contains some very interesting comments, and sheds some light into why he is no longer with the CIA.
The thing is, I think he's right on the money - Bin Laden is exactly the sort of person that would be admired by our side if he were fighting against, say, the Soviet Union. Can you imagine the reception he would have gotten in DC had he pulled-off a 9/11-like attack against the Soviets in the '80s? For that matter, many men like him were welcomed with open arms during the Afghanistan war for their actions against the Great Enemy.
Without understanding what Bin Laden means to his followers, and without understanding how men like him came to power in the region, I don't think we've got a shot at winning this War on Terrorism. It's too bad that some want to equate this sort of frank discussion with treason.
He's also got a cliche search engine.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Intolerance Is Not a 'Value'
Here's what Republicans of conscience have to understand about the machinations
of Karl Rove and company. Fear isn't some emotion that can be easily bottled
back up after it's been -- viciously -- unleashed. It isn't a
once-every-four-years vehicle that can be wheeled out for a few months, then
stowed back in the garage to be retooled for the next election cycle.
Encouraging fundamentalist preachers to pound their pulpits and inveigh against
gay people has consequences. It puts men and women in communities across this
country at personal and professional risk. There's nothing more despicable than
creating a phony political issue (just how many gay couples are clamoring for
marriage certificates in the state of Ohio, anyhow?) and preying on people's
Very well stated. At this point, the genie's out of the bottle. Just about the time we can look at both parties and state with an almost-straight face that racism is no longer a mainstream value (although, do not get me wrong, it certainly has its proponents), we get yet another wedge issue. Sure, it worked well in the short term, but hopefully we get enough people thinking, Ya know, maybe this really isn't the biggest threat to our freedom in the foreseeable future, that we can move on to fighting election battles over issues of substance. Or not.
For The Malnurished Out There...
Saturday, November 13, 2004
American Brands Feeling The Effects of Anti-American Hostility?
Other signs. In late October, the Financial Times had a front page story
"Well-known US brands see sales in Europe fall."
Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Marlboro, and GM were all revealing problems
echoing those "already faced by Disney, Wal-Mart and Gap."
Corporate chiefs dismissed the connection between falling sales and
"But the timing of the decline lends credence to warnings by a
marketing and advertising group after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal that US
brands could face trouble. 'My sense is we are seeing a transfer of anger and
resentment from foreign polices to things American,' said Keith Reinhard,
chairman of DDB Worldwide, an advertisting agency owned by Omnicon."
Well, the corporate chiefs are denying that there's a connection, so something is obviously amiss.
It doesn't seem like this should be a surprise, right? I mean, I think we can safely assume that Europeans and Asians are not buying American projects like Levi jeans just because they're a better-made and more-economical alternative to their domestic brands - they're doing it because they want to own a piece of American culture. And if that culture is viewed negatively, for reasons valid or not, that is going to affect our ability to export products. So much for the only good excuse for a weak-dollar policy.
Sunday, November 07, 2004
The Future Of America, Further Defined
NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas — Comal County health officials were
searching for two teenagers who were seen playing with a sick bat that tested
positive for rabies.
The boys were using the bat instead of a bean bag in a
game of hacky sack, in which players try to keep a bean bag off the ground by
kicking it to each other, Comal County Health Department nurse Karon Preiss
Saturday, November 06, 2004
I still remember back around 1981, when Goldwater was told that Jerry
Falwell said that "all good Christians" should oppose some vote or other of
Goldwater's. Goldwater responded along the lines of "I think all good Christians
ought to kick Jerry Falwell in the ass." We could use more of such sentiment
these days. Unfortunately, many Christian "conservatives" only support limited
government when they are out of power, as is amply indicated by this
William Bennett column calling for federal legislation to "promote a more decent
Friday, November 05, 2004
Current deadbeat states who went for Bush:
(those getting >110%+ of their tax money back)
Non-deadbeat states for Bush:
Deadbeat states for Kerry:
Non-debeat states for Kerry:
Note - that may look like a simple cut-n-paste, but a lot of work went into it.
So what the heck is up with that? I don't have any good theories. Obviously I'm missing something here. But I can safely say that this should drive a spike straight through the idea that modern Republicans have anything to do at all with the ideals of smaller government. This would be an interesting topic to fold into the ideology-vs.-policy discussion.