Thursday, December 30, 2004

 

FAA Reports More Laser Incidents

Like, 6 total in the past 4 days. Dang. That would seem to indicate that this is more than just a random isolated thing. Obviously, we're talking about something beyond the average laser pointing, and acquiring and holding a target that's at several thousand feet and a few hundred miles per hour is clearly the result of some level of technological sophistication.

 

The Continuing Saga Of Fuel Contamination Issues

Looks like Citgo fuel and GM cars are a bad combination. That would go a long way towards explaining why I've seen mention of this so-called "Top Tier" certification in GM's service bulletins. One might like to think that GM would be able to replace the injectors on affected vehicles for less than the $500-700 range that seems to be mentioned by a lot of folks, but I don't think that's going to happen (in general, it sure would go a long way towards building customer confidence and brand loyalty if the OEMs would make concessions to those facing "known problems").

 

Chrysler SRT-8 Appears To Be The Real Deal...

...and it's pissing off a few GTO owners, as well. Heh hee.

 

Saturn's Sky To Outsell Pontiac's Solstice?

Possibly. Two reasons, one obvious, and one not so (at least to me). First, styling. As the GTO has shown, Pontiac's melted-jellybean look isn't going over well with the public. To me, the Solstice sits somewhere between the first- and second-gen Mazda Miatas in terms of impact, and that's not saying much (especially considering that the first-gen Miatas are now 15 years old). I think it's nowhere near the Honda S2000. On the other hand, it appears from officially-released sketches that the Sky might have some "edge" to it. Obviously, opinions will vary.

But the second aspect is a bit easier to quantify - price. One can assume that the respective sticker prices will be similar when adjusted for differences in equipment, but we also learned from the GTO experience that Pontiac dealers will jack up the price if they think they can get a few (thousand) bucks more. We've seen the same from other brands as well on everything from PT Cruisers to S2000s to XLRs. Saturn still has a no-dicker sticker policy. That might be enough to tilt the tables in their favor, as I can't see too many folks tolerating dealer "market adjustments" on what's presumably an entry-level sports car.

We'll see what comes out of all of this. Perhaps GM will adjust their official pricing policies (at least to the extent allowed under federal law), but this could have much larger ramifications if Pontiac effectively lays another turd, for if GM continues to push Pontiac as their "excitement division", then one would expect that they need to achieve some level of success in the showroom.

 

Will Diesels Spell The End For Parallel Hybrid Drivetrains?

It seems that in the past few months, there has been an increasing amount of information coming out about the development of diesel-electric hybrids by certain OEMs. This indeed is a logical development, as the primary purpose of hybrid technology is to conserve energy (whether they do so or not is the topic of another post), and without a doubt, a properly-utilized diesel offers an advantage over spark-ignition internal combustion engines through two primary means - an increased compression (and thus, expansion) ratio, and the elimination of pumping losses across the throttle plate (reduced by some extent by lean-burn, cylinder-deactivation, and fully-variable valve lift technologies, but never quite eliminated).

Many future hybrid designs depend on the use of a CVT transmission to keep the engine working at a point where the engine can develop the required power (a combination of the power required by the dynamics of the vehicle itself plus the desired amount of energy to be stored in the reserve mechanism). Sure, it's possible to use a stepped-ratio transmission in this application, but hybrids require optimization of, well, damn near every aspect of the powertrain in order to provide a usable improvement in economy. CVTs also provide a wide ratio spread in a small package, which is additionally important in a hybrid due to the added packaging volume that the electric drive brings with it. One can see that a CVT is simply the right transmission for the job.

But CVTs bring with them one major drawback, and that is a lack of torque capacity. 300 Newton-meters of torque capacity is considered by many to be the current benchmark, and at that, they are not suitable for use even with many of the smaller highly-turbocharged four-cylinder diesels, much less one of the larger diesel engines one might expect to find in future large-car and light-truck hybrid applications. Quite simply, the diesel's high cylinder pressures and low operating speeds are going to result in a significant amount of torque in order to meet the average customer's requirements for average (and to a lesser extent in hybrids, instantanous) power output.

But the use of diesel-electric hybrid drivetrains in applications such as locomotives and off-highway trucks has been going on for 50+ years at this point, due to the need to generate a huge amount of torque at a standstill, and the inability to develop a multi-ratio transmission and clutch or torque converter that will accomplish this task efficiently. The solution? Simple - a series hybrid drivetrain, where in the engine is only connected to the drive wheels through the generation and energy-storage mechanisms.

This completely eliminates the need for any transmission, and indeed, taken to the logical extreme, eliminates the needs for a drivetrain if the electric motors are simply mounted at the wheels. Doing so brings about its own problems (an potential increase in unsprung weight, for one), but there would be obvious advantages to eliminating the mass and packaging volume requirements that come with traditional drivetrains - the elimination of distinct vehicle platforms and all the restrictions they bring to new designs would be a start. In all likelihood, a series system would be less complicated than a parallel system (remember, we've been building locomotives and dump trucks like this for a long time), and it probably brings additional efficiency to the table as well.

Of all the good reasons we have to build series hybrids, it just might end up that we go in that direction due to the lowly torque-handling capabilities of the CVT, a problem that's as old as the CVT itself (going right back to the days of Van Doorne). Or, hey, maybe someone will decide that something like hydrostatic drive is really the way to go and the parallel architecture will live on for another few model cycles, allowing the current OEMs to become even more firmly entrenched in their current thinking and manufacturing capabilities.

 

More On The Rumsfeld Situation

It almost seems to come down to two sides trying to play each other as useful idiots:

Rumsfeld himself was never a neo-conservative. He just found them useful as he
took over the Pentagon for the second time. Clearly the neo-cons found Rumsfeld
useful as well as they pushed their ideas on transforming the Middle East.


The question here seems to come down to accountability - who's responsible? If we accept the premise that the neocons took control of the Republican party and put Bush (and subsequently, Rumsfeld) into power, then indeed, that loosely-defined group is to blame.
However, when it all comes down to it, Rumsfeld is the guy who hired the neocons to work for him in the Pentagon. Rumsfeld, then, is the one to blame for all that has gone wrong with Iraq, and the theory that a bunch of unelected intellectuals are the ones to be held accountable is, quite frankly, unacceptably weak. The neocons simply floated ideas and pushed forward their agenda - sure, they may have been the source of incorrect information and half-baked plans, but they were not the ones elected by the public or confirmed by the Senate to run this country.


 

Perhaps It's Not Time To Order Up The "Back-To-Back" Shirts Just Yet

It's obvious that the defending NBA champion Pistons are struggling and have been all season (even before someone throw the most-expensive beverage in history), and it's becoming clear that Larry Brown might be the source of the problem. And once again, us Piston fans are left pining for the days of Chuck Daly.

But, hey, maybe Bill Laimbeer is available. I have to imagine that he wouldn't spend his time with the press whining about how a fight took away his desire to coach. Hell, he wouldn't shy away from mixing it up himself, and not in that pathetic Jeff Van Gundy sort of way.

 

Tidal Wave Claims The Lives Of Few Animals

Interesting:

Wildlife officials in Sri Lanka expressed surprise Wednesday that they
found no evidence of large-scale animal deaths from the weekend's massive
tsunami — indicating that animals may have sensed the wave coming and fled to
higher ground.

An Associated Press photographer who flew over Sri Lanka's Yala National
Park in an air force helicopter saw abundant wildlife, including elephants,
buffalo, deer, and not a single animal corpse.


So, is this an ability that only animals have, or are humans also capable of sensing this sort of danger but simply ignore it because we're not "tuned in" to what our bodies are telling us?

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

 

Negativity Is In The Air

Juan Cole states that Bin Laden's recent tape might be an example of Al Queda's weakness, and Deacon from Power Line wonders if we might actually be losing in Iraq. I'm not quite sure what's going on here: Are we seeing a new level of intellectual honesty from each of these normally heavily-biased blogs? That'd be great if that's really the case. Or are some folks just be grumpy (or generous, I guess) around the holidays? We'll see what the first of the year brings. But one thing is for sure - folks who normally "tune-in" to each blog for the news they want to see probably got a bit of a shock with either of these posts.

 

My Mandatory Post On The Big Wave

Dang. Not much to say about it, other than when your time is up, you might not have much say in the matter.

Concerns about the lack of warning have surfaced, but even had a proper warning trickled down to authorities on a local level, how many people could have been evacuated in time? The difficulty of doing so is understandable to anyone who's, say, tried to go home after a big fireworks show or parade - and that's not even taking into account the "panic factor". This isn't meant to imply that there wasn't any action that could have resulted in a smaller death toll, but let's be realistic about the prospects of moving millions of (understandably) upset people via a somewhat primative infrastructure.

With regards to the issue of aid, I think Juan Cole makes a good point about how we may have missed an opportunity to improve our relations with that part of the world. Certainly, a more "human" response might have overshadowed the debate about our initial offer of aid. But the discussion over how much the US contributes to disaster relief brings up an important point - can a country so far in debt really afford to be making significant financial contributions? It's already been admitted that the $15M that we first offered-up pretty much drained our disaster-relief fund, so anything above and beyond that Congress authorizes is going to be deficit spending.

Friday, December 24, 2004

 

A List Of Firearms That Everyone Should Own

Firearms may seem like an unnecessary item in today's world, what with the lack of threat from daily grizzly attacks and the fact that there's a lot of 24-hour supermarkets that negate the need to hunt for food when one gets hungry at 3AM. But there are certainly aspects of modern living that still call for the ability to defend one's self and family, and it's never a bad idea to have the means to take game should the need arise. With this in mind, I've created the List Of Firearms That Everyone (or every household) Should Own.

1. A .22 rimfire of some sort. I think it can be easily argued that every household should own both a pistol and rifle in .22 Long Rifle (LR), given the fact that it's the most versatile of the metallic (non-shotshell) cartridges, it's certainly the cheapest to shoot, and that it should be the basis of any firearms training, regardless of the shooter's age or end goals (the mastery of even the nastiest big-bore boomers comes from basics learned with lots of .22 plinking).

A usable .22 rifle can range from a super-cheap single-shot, such as the Winchester 67, to mid-level semi-autos in the $200-300 range (the Ruger 10/22 immediately comes to mind), and well up into the four figures with high-end target rifles. When it comes to putting holes in paper or clearing the property of varmits, one will find that the cost of the rifle has much less to do with the end results than the person behind the trigger. Assuming that a hand-me-down cannot be obtained (these are often the best), then either spend the ~$250 on the aforementioned Ruger, or start looking for a used rifle in good shape. Fortunately, it's damn near impossible to wear out a .22, and most .22s are pretty accurate, so find something that's in good shape and enjoy it. I'd stay away from so-called "bull barrels" (of a larger diameter than standard; often approaching a full inch). I don't feel they offer any advantage for most folks in .22, and just add a lot of undesirable weight.

On the pistol side of things, the first choice comes down to semi-auto or revolver. The Ruger Mark II/III ($300) is the obvious choice for semi-auto .22s, and the Walther seems like a good choice as well. An alternative is the Marvel and Ciener conversion kits for centerfire pistols, such as the kit I own that converts a 1911-style pistol to an accurate (and affordable to shoot) .22. The big advantage here is that one improves the quality of their training by duplicating the gross motor skills required to operate the pistol. For revolvers, there's fine examples from Smith & Wesson, Taurus, and Ruger, among others. I'd base this decision on what I ended up with for my centerfire pistol (see below).

The rifle is probably more usable from a practical standpoint than a pistol, especially for a novice, but since a pistol is inherently more difficult to shoot, it provides additional much-needed practice. In other words, I've got a hard time saying which is more important to have around. I'd suggest staying away from the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR), as it's much more expensive to shoot, and doesn't appreciably broaden the usable range of applications.

2. A 12-gauge or 20-gauge shotgun. This is the most versatile of firearms, period, outstripping even the .22 in the tasks it can perform. Preference here goes to the 12g for its larger available range of power (primarily on the upper end), but for the recoil-sensitive, a 20g isn't bad. This should be a pump-action since they're much less sensitive to ammunition. If only one barrel length and type can be had, I'd make it a 20" with an cylinder (open) choke. Most shotgun barrels are easily interchangable, and often one can find a package with multiple barrel types and length. With ammunition ranging from birdshot to slugs, a shotgun is capable of taking game of nearly every size on the North American continent, and makes for one of the most effective and easiest to use home-defense tools as well. Something like a Mossberg 500 or Remington 870 starts off around $300. It's possible to spend a lot more, of course, but it's very debatable as to whether this offers a significant increase in functionality for most people. Better to spend that money on a variety of ammunition.

Here's where things get tricky. The next few items on the list are somewhat more narrowly-focused and tend to require a more-serious investment.

3. A proper centerfire hunting-type rifle, chambered in a caliber suited for game at least as large as whitetail deer (at least as powerful as the .30-30, 7.62x39, or .243), and covering the range down to the upper end of your .22. This can be a single-shot or any of the repeating actions available. Iron sights are pretty good out even 200 yards and beyond on deer-sized targets, but a low-power (3-4x) scope is much easier to use for most novices. Many of the more-powerful cartridges can be effective out to 300 yards and beyond, which may call for a higher-power scope, depending on the desired use. For shorter-range use, the ability to keep a single shot from a cold barrel in a 3" circle at 100 yards (3 MOA) should be sufficient. This is more a function of skill and ammuntion selection than equipment. Folks want to knock themselves out (or spend themselves poor) getting sub-MOA accuracy, but for the most part, that's simply not necessary or obtainable under normal conditions.

There's a lot of very versatile cartridges, but it's hard to imagine something that does more than the .308 or .30-06 (the differences between which are of little consequence to most users). The .243 is a great choice for those that want to do some varmiting but don't want to give up the ability to take larger game. I've never owned anything in the 6.5mm/.270/7mm/.284 range, but it would seem that they'd work just fine. Stay away from the .22 centerfires (.223, .22-250, etc.) on the low end and anything with the word "magnum" in it on the high end for the first rifle. A simple bolt-action rifle with a 3-9x variable-power scope chambered in one of the aforementioned calibers would be ideal. I'd go with .308 or .30-06 based on availability of factory ammunition under normal and, uh, severe circumstances. The Savage line-up has a lot going for it in terms of performance and price (most being as accurate, or significantly more so, than rifles costing 2-3 times as much), but they're not necessarily pretty.

4. A centerfire pistol. This can be a semi-auto or revolver, chambered in a respectable cartridge (starting at 9mm on the lower end and reasonably capped at the upper end by the .44 Magnum and .45 Colt), and of reasonable size and bulk (probably best to put an absolute maximum limit of 6" on the barrel, and better yet to keep it in the 3-5" range). Trying to narrow down this category any further would require the length of a small novel.

Suffice to say that it should be dead-reliable and compact enough to carry in a typical field situation (concealibility being desirable but not absolutely necessary unless this is to be carried in a day-to-day fashion). The proper selection of cartridge will enable one to cover quite a wide spectrum of hunting uses, especially once handloading enters the picture (this tends to favor the .45 ACP over the .40 S&W and 9mm in semi-autos). The main drawback to pistols isn't their inherent flexibility, but rather the difficulty of use - which can be overcome by practice, and which is countered by portability. Due to the price of ammunition and the simple fact that firing large quantities of powerful rounds is fatiguing, it's best that your centerfire and rimfire pistols share some resemblence (but this isn't absolutely necessary).

5. A semi-auto military-type rifle. Depending on chambering, accuracy, and quality, this might replace #3, above. This is where things go from the simple concept of self-defense and the ability to hunt into the realm of "homeland defense" - ya know, the "enemies foreign and domestic" thing, the whole reason behind the 2nd Amendment. If you're not comfortable with this concept, simply pass this one by unless you're looking for a fun toy. It's best that this be chambered for a cartridge that's available as military surplus (to reduce the cost of obtaining 1000+ rounds) and that can accept inexpensive high-capacity magazines. The choice of rifles here ranges from the rather benign-appearing Ruger Mini-14 and Mini-30 to the nasty-looking of Evil Black Rifles such as the AR-15, AK-47, HK91, and FN-FAL. The issue here is that we've got compromises between firepower, accuracy, and affordability - you can pick any two of three, unless you've got the ability to do some of your own gunsmithing (which often is little more than finding a parts kit and a receiver and figuring out how to mate them while remaining in compliance with the myraid federal and local regulations).

There's absolutely no reason that the first four items (five, actually, if we're buying two .22s) on the list can't be procured for around $2000 (the last item on the list along can drive this cost up by another $500 to $2000, depending on how picky one gets). This certainly is not a small sum of money, but we're talking about an investment that, properly cared for, will literally last for generations. And of course they don't all have to be obtained at the same time; in fact, that would probably be counterproductive. Picking up the suggested .22 rifle and pistol along with some basic safety gear and cleaning equipment should be enough to keep someone entertained for... well, that would be enough for a lifetime, if it weren't for the fact that there's just so many other cool guns out there. It's possible to treat each one of these items as mere tools, but to do so is to miss out on the fact that there's really a lot to be appreciated about firearms as examples of craftmanship and engineering ingenuity at its best (and in some cases, as art).

That's a long post, and a bit disturbing to some as well. So be it. If folks wish not to deal with the real world, that is their choice as a member of free society.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

 

Pat Buchanan Weighs In On The Rumsfeld Debate

He's not a fan:

But this administration had Iraq in its gunsights three years ago. Rumsfeld and
the Pentagon are thus responsible for any lack of armor that has resulted in the
woundings and deaths of U.S. soldiers in unprotected vehicles from the roadside
bombs that have become a major killer of American troops.


But he also goes on to analyze the relationship between Rumsfeld and the neocons:

Nonetheless, when one considers all that Rumsfeld has done for the neocons,
the depth of the betrayal astonishes.

Now many are snaking on him. What is going on? Simple.

Rumsfeld is being set up to take the fall for what could become a
debacle in Iraq. As the plotters, planners and propagandists of this war, the
neocons know that if Iraq goes the way of Vietnam, there will be a search
conducted for those who misled us and, yes, lied us into war, and why they did
it. Rumsfeld has become the designated scapegoat.

His clumsy response to Wilson is not the real reason Kristol's crowd
wants him out. As Kristol told the Post, Rumsfeld's "fundamental error ... is
that his theory about the military is at odds with the president's geopolitical
strategy. He wants this light, transformed military, but we've got to win a real
war, which involves using a lot of troops and building a nation, and that's at
the core of the president's strategy for rebuilding the Middle East."


Fair enough. Rumsfeld's goal, pre-9/11 (besides getting a new missile defense system to play with) centered mainly around a lightly, more-mobile military. He was considered to be a reformer, and thus was brought in to bring change in a military that was still, for the most part, equipped to fight the Cold War. And indeed, the sort of changes Rumsfeld sought are exactly what we needed to fight the opening battles in the War on Terrorism (it took less than a month to bring significant force down on Afghanistan, which is quite the accomplishment).

But Rumsfeld himself, the champion of change, does not seem to be all that flexible in adapting to the requirements of the modern world, for what we have seen in the last 18 months is a need not for light and quick strikes, but rather a massive force capable of occupying territory for a length of time. Instead, what we got were post-war predictions that matched the type of military that Rumsfeld wanted, rather than the other way around. And now we're paying the price.

Buchanan concludes his article with an interesting prediction:

President Bush had best recognize what Kristol is telling him. The neocon
agenda means escalation: enlarging the Army, more U.S. troops in Iraq, widening
the war to Syria and Iran, and indefinite occupation of the Middle East, as we
forcibly alter the mindset of the Islamic world to embrace democracy and Israel.

If that entails endless expenditures of tax dollars of U.S. citizens
and the blood of U.S. soldiers, the neocons are more than willing to make the
sacrifice. But if Bush himself fails to deliver, rely upon it. He, too, will get
the Rumsfeld treatment from this crowd, parasitical and opportunistic as it is,
as it seeks another host to ride, perhaps John McCain.


This, of course, raises that question of "who really is in charge in Washington?", and maybe sheds some light on the somewhat bizarre manner in which McCain runs his mouth in front of the press.

 

New Home Sales Drop

Like a rock, in fact - the largest hit the housing market has taken in a decade. I guess the real question is - what does this mean for the rest of the economy? Have we simply gotten to the point where everyone who wants and can afford a house has purchased one, and will now be looking to spend their money elsewhere? That doesn't seem likely, and it's not like prospective home buyers will simply plop down six figures on some other purchase. Will this slowdown help to ease the drop in housing sales that's sure to come on the heels of additional interest-rate hikes? Quite possibly, yes. Better for this to happen now than at the same time as a large rate hike. Is it an indicator of more overall bad news? That's not easy to assess - after all, last quarter showed some pretty good growth in the economy as a whole.

This is slightly interesting:

The average price of a new home dipped to $268,000 last month, the lowest since
September. And the median price was $206,000, the lowest since December 2003.


Dang, man - $206K is the median price for a new home? That is simply insane. With the current income levels in this country, I can't imagine this is any in way sustainable, which, uh, seems to be the case.

 

Rewriting "A Christmas Carol"

OK, this is pretty funny, if you can ignore the first few paragraphs of dribble (I'm not sure where I sit along the libertarian spectrum, but I've never called Dickens a "crypto-commie", so I think I might be a bit left-of-center). A few examples:

Ayn Rand: The ruggedly handsome and weirdly articulate Ebeneezer Scrooge is
a successful executive held back by the corrupt morality of a society that hates
success and fails to understand the value of selfishness. So Scrooge explains
that value in a 272-page soliloquy. Deep down, Scrooge's enemies know that he is
right, but they resent him out of a sense of their own inferiority. Several hot
sex scenes and unlikely monologues later, Scrooge triumphs over all adversity --
except a really mean review by Whittaker Chambers. Meanwhile, Tiny Tim croaks.
Socialized medicine is to blame.

The Libertarian Party: It's pretty much the same as the Ayn Rand version, but about halfway through the story, we learn that Scrooge is an alcoholic wife-swapping embezzling weirdo who's wanted for back child support payments in several states. Even readers sympathetic to the Libertarian story throw up their hands in disgust and grudgingly seek out the Republican version.

M. Night Shyamalan: In a completely unexpected twist, it turns out that Scrooge is the dead one, and the "ghosts" are actually the people that he's haunting.

Bernard Kerik: Let's just say the story doesn't get too far beyond the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Stephen King: It's a dark, spooky Christmas Carol that preys on the
inchoate fears of baby Boomers, but no one reads past page 1597. The movie
adaptation stinks.


Read the rest - it's worth it.

 

Overexaggeration Of The Day

From CNN's article on GM's latest recall:

GM, the world's largest automaker, has recalled more vehicles so far this year
than in all of 2003.

Um, well, it is Dec. 23rd, after all. I think someone's being a bit melodramatic. That's not a base requirement for picking on GM.

 

Actually, Our Border With Mexico...

...may not be as porous as we thought, at least not to illegally-immigrating parrots.

Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO) issued a statement on Tuesday contrasting
the government's zeal in preventing parrots from Mexico from illegally entering
the country with their efforts to stop illegal immigration in general.


Under the headline "Apparently There Are No Jobs Available That American Parrots Won't Do," Tancredo said he was surprised to learn of the "incredible success that
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers enjoyed in apprehending
smugglers attempting to illegally smuggle 150 Lilac Crowned and Mexican Redhead Amazon Parrots into the United States."

[A]dded Tancredo, "Perhaps we should explore the possibility of moving the
Fish and Wildlife Service from the Interior Department over into Homeland
Security."



Good burn!

 

Self-defense (defence?), English-style; Or, How To Be A Pussy

Here we get some stunning insight into the mindset of those who live in a country where self-defense has been made illegal:

When individuals are confronted by intruders there are some actions they should
follow. Direct contact should be avoided whenever possible. If unavoidable, the
victim should adopt a state of active passivity. In most cases the best form of
defence is always avoidance. If this isn’t possible, act passively, be careful
what you say or do and give up valuables without a struggle. This allows the
victim to take charge of the situation, without the intruder’s awareness,
through subtle and non-confrontational means. People can cooperate but initiate
nothing. By doing nothing there is no chance of inadvertently initiating
violence by saying something such as "Please don’t hurt me".


What a steaming load of crap. I prefer to dial 1-800-Mossberg.

 

A Great Winter Project Idea

A few posts down, I bemoaned the continuing increase in the complexity of space launch systems. Well, this should take care of that problem - here's plans to replicate the Apollo guidance control computer.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

 

The Becker-Posner Blog

I first heard about the Becker-Posner Blog via Power Line approximately three weeks ago, and the very first topic concerned the debate over pre-emptive war. Those two facts immediately had me, in a narrow-minded mode, thinking that this was going to be the journal of two neo-con intellectuals (having not understood anything about these two guys beyond the fact that one was a federal judge and legal expert, and the other was a economist). So, I kinda blew off the whole thing.

Well, last night, having exhausted the available reading on my usual list of sites, I decided to check back and see what the topic of the week was. Much to my surprise, they had tackled the issue of global warming and the Kyoto treaty, and the outcome was certainly not what I expected (that is to say, they did not advocate burying our heads in the sand and buying a few more SUVs while the incentives are still good, nor did they recommend immediately discontinuing the use of fossil fuels and the purchase of Birkenstocks). I then navigated back to the previous week's debate on pharmaceutical intellectual property protection and once again found a level of discourse that I would not expect from the usual partisan blogs (or from the mainstream media, for that matter).

While this is certainly not an endorsement of every conclusion they may draw, I certainly have to give this blog a huge amount of credit for (so far, at least) bringing up the level of debate to a level that most of us probably don't encounter on a regular basis. It would seem that intellectualism prevails over politics during their arguments, and that's kinda rare nowadays. As such, I recommend adding it to your bookmarks and checking back every week.

 

Neutrality

As seen in the daily health tip posting on our company's intranet:

Mood For Thought:

Important decisions, such as getting married or accepting a new job, should
be made while you have neutral emotions. Being in an extreme mood state, either
good or bad, prevents you from evaluating the situation effectively. A neutral
mood allows you to focus on the pros and cons more readily and objectively.

Uh-huh. A neutral mood, if there is such a thing, is called for when making the decision on, say, what blender one should buy the next time Sears has an appliance sale. I would have to say that marriage and career are great examples of things that perhaps I should be just a bit passionate about, and if I'm not, then perhaps it's time to start paging through the Yellow Pages for the name of a local mental-health provider.

I would respectfully suggest that those incapable of irrational thought and extreme emotions should shy away from the prospect of marriage, as well as any jobs that require something beyond what the average industrial automation can provide. Then again, I'm not exactly one that finds myself in a whole lot of neutral positions, and when I do, it's invariably at the wrong time.

 

Kos Gets Shrill

No, I mean really shrill - like, way more shrill than usual. Had the Shrillblog picked up on this, surely they would have ran out of italicized font.

Underness those blankets of shrillness lies, essentially, a lot of truth that's going to get ignored simply because everyone will be running around and shreeking, "How can he be so shrill?!?" Fact: Bush owns the Iraq war, it's not going as well as it was supposed to, and yet folks in his administration are not being held accountable. Fact: The Democrats managed to lose a can't-lose election, and did so precisely because their primary process was geared towards selecting the "most-electable" candidate.

It's quite possible that both of these facts are so immediately obvious that they require no specific attention from the media, and that Kos is simply overreacting to the apathy of the public that the rest of us just take for granted. But perhaps he also feels that it's necessary to raise his voice a bit, if you will, to bring attention to two topics that he feels are getting too little attention, and unfortunately for that, he'll probably get ridiculed (as we've already seen showing up on other big blogs such as Power Line and Instapundit).

 

Boeing Succesfully Tests New Heavy-Lift Rocket

The Air Force and Boeing successfully launched a new heavy-lift rocket, which essentially consists of 3 Delta first stages strapped together. I admire that approach. But this comment caught my eye:

"This launch system is the most complex system to come to the pad since the
space shuttle," said Dan Collins, vice president of Boeing's expendable launch
systems.


That doesn't exactly seem to be something to be proud of, considering the fact that we really need to be moving our space programs in the opposite direction to decrease the cost and risk of bringing cargo into orbit.

 

Delphi Takes A Digger

Delphi saw its bond rating cut to junk status by S&P yesterday, reflecting the 2005 market outlook and the fact that GM (its biggest customer) will almost certainly be reducing its output early next year. Ouch.

 

When Do We Get To See The Made-For-TV Movie?

A gang of 20 or so bank robbers in Ireland pulled-off one of the biggest heists in history, getting away with approximately $39 million. Families of two senior bank officials were taken hostage by the gang over the weekend, with the actual theft taking place near the close of business on Monday. It sounds as if their choice of currency may not have been the best, but regardless, one has to admire the tactical details of the operation.

Monday, December 20, 2004

 

Brits Pass Their Own Version Of "Enabling Act"

Boy, just when you thought the USA PATRIOT Act was bad, we get this load of crap from the UK.

Seeing the current judicial trend to look outside the country for inspiration, this disturbs me.

 

Time To Pay The Piper

Just like in those Mafia movies where a guy rises to the top via the dark behind-the-scenes actions of a shadowy group and eventually has to perform their bidding, GW is finding out that right-wingers are going to start pushing forward their concept of a Republican agenda:

"This White House will have a more difficult time convincing conservative
members to vote for more government," says Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., the new
chairman of the conservative House Republican Study Committee. That could pose a problem for Bush, who wants to overhaul Social Security, the tax code and the
legal liability system. Conservatives support those goals but may try to swap
votes for other concessions.


This might have been nice before we added another 30%+ to the annual budget and grew the national debt by a couple trillion dollars. I'd like to be able to say "better late than never", but I don't think that we can just brush-off the damage that's been done. And unfortunately, this House Republican Study Committee isn't exactly the staunchest supporter of small-government principles - they seem OK with spending federal taxdollars, as long as it's going to areas they approve of.

 

Best Blog Post Ever?

Kid Oakland weighs in on music, Grand Theft Auto, and the prison-industrial complex.

What's noticable here is that this post goes way beyond simply quoting a news article and making a snarky comment or two - seemingly unrelated subject matter was combined to make effective social commentary, while revealing a lot about the author. Too bad that most readers just didn't "get it", judged by a significant number of negative comments.

 

The Chickens Come Home To Roost?

Many automotive suppliers, facing ever-increasing material costs and a corresponding inability to win price concessions from their customers, are facing serious financial difficulties.

One of these, Intermet, has found itself in Chapter 11 due to the fact that its core business (castings) is highly-susceptable to these new raw-material cost pressures, and as supplier of "commodity" parts (more on this in a moment), has little leverage in the pricing game. And now that Intermet is looking to shut down a significant part of its operation, the Big 3 and other customers are in danger of getting shut down. As a result, Intermet's customers have filed suit in federal court, seeing an injunction forcing Intermet to stay in business.

Castings are a significant portion of a modern auto, having made their way from powertrain and suspension applications into nearly every other aspect of the car, and Intermet is one of a very few suppliers playing in this market. It's frankly a rather mature technology that's universally regarded as a commodity in the most basic sense - a widely-available technology with a broad supply base. In other words, the sort of parts that invite a lot of pricing pressure - after all, if anyone can supply this manufacturing technology, just ignore the capital investment required and drive the price down to the point where it's just barely - and I mean barely - worth doing business. Capitalism at its best, right?

But what eventually occurs is the sort of consolidation that we've seen everywhere in the past few years, and that results in a small number of large suppliers. Such a supplier now carries a significant burden on its shoulders; indeed, Intermet probably has "mission critical" parts in just about every domestic vehicle. This is not a situation unique to the metal casting industry, either. In just about every market in the automotive component industry, most OEMs have only two or maybe three at the most vendors that provide the vast majority of their components. Shut down any one of those, and cars don't get built.

So now we've established that we've got a very small number of vendors, operating at absurdly small margins, that are keeping the US auto industry moving along. Since the domestic auto manufacturers are operating under similarly absurd profit margins (GM and Ford taking in, on average, only a few hundred dollars in profit from each vehicle sale), there's simply no room to ask for more money.

Additionally, investment in the automotive industy just isn't attractive right now. Need to borrow money to invest in newer technology or simply ride out a rough patch? Too bad - no one's interested in investing money that they're unlikely to see again (remember, there's no profit). It's that old adage that banks are never interested in lending money to those that really need it.

What happens, then, when external cost problems arise - such as, say, an increase in material costs, or perhaps a union that's looking for more money? And what happens if the OEMs don't just want to see your margins get reduced any further - what if they actually start looking for cash kickbacks; ya know, the "cost of doing business"? Add in a sliding stock value, and you've got the perfect equation for closing up shop and walking away.

Obviously, that's not an option if you single-handedly control the destiny of, oh, a half-trillion dollars in industrial output (not bad for a company that had net sales of about $750 million). And so what we'll likely see is that they'll be forced to continue operating for the time-being. But Intermet's situation is not unique in the auto industry, and this will not be the last time such a problem arises. Really, it comes down to the domestic manufacturers' inability to make any money, and until they find it in themselves to make cars that are desirable without stacking piles of money on the hood, they put themselves, their suppliers, and quite possibly the whole US economy at risk.



Sunday, December 19, 2004

 

A Belated Happy Birthday To...

...our Bill of Rights.

Friday, December 17, 2004

 

2007 Subaru WRX STi

Picture here.

Not bad, other than the grill. But that thing is bad enough to ruin the rest of the vehicle. WTF where they thinking? I know that Fuji Heavy Industries is partially-owned by GM, but I didn't think that forced Subaru to subscribe to the Aztec School of Vehicle Design.

 

Where Do Our Priorities Lie?

Rumsfeld continues to come under criticism from Republican Senate members for the whole armor shitstorm. That's great and everything, but in all fairness, I've got to ask why it took until now to start putting the pressure on the Pentagon? I mean, I'm glad that reality is finally setting in, but why did it take a single question from a soldier (even if it was planted by a reporter) to get the ball rolling on this? 1,000 combat deaths didn't drive home this point sufficiently? Shame on Rumsfeld, but also shame on those that choose to speak up only now.

We've already allocated a couple hundred billion dollars to this war effort, and to think that in the 20 months since starting the war (not to mention the half-year-long run-up) we've found it possible to armor only 5,000 HUMMVs is ri-fuckin'-diculous. Sure, I'm sure that plenty of apologists will wring their hands and give standard excuses like we're got too much government regulation of contractors or that we're still suffering from Clinton-era cuts, but the fact remains that a 12-figure budget for this little exercise still hasn't resulted in putting a half-inch or so of steel plate between our soldiers and their enemy.

Yet, we still managed to pull off another anti-missile test this past week. It failed, and so it represents a $100B effort that has yet to bear a usable system. But if you want to hear Rumsfeld (a big proponent of missile defense during the Clinton era) talk about "a matter of physics", he isn't talking about trying to shoot down a tiny warhead moving at 18,000 MPH - he's instead trying to explain away the fact that we're simply not putting forth a reasonable effort to keep our men from getting killed in vehicles that were never designed to be front-line combat support vehicles (um, we learned this over 10 years ago - check out page 28).

 

A Stupid "Best of '04" List

Allmusic.com recently published their list of the best albums of 2004. I find it lacking, so here's my own take on the topic.

Let's start with the Biggest Surprises. Yea, so what if U2 turns out yet another great record? It's what we expect; anything less would be disappointing.

Topping this list has got to be Green Day's American Idiot. Skip the title track that leads off the album, or don't - pay attention to it, as it's the only "traditional" GD track on the album and sets up the surprise that comes upon realizing that the second track is a 9-minute-long melody consisting of approximately 5 seperate movements. This then leads into the spectacular "Holiday", which pretty much covers what's wrong with the world this year in three minutes while burying anything and everything that GD held sacred back in the days of slacker suburban culture. "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" sounds like nothing we've heard before from these guys, and then we get into the substance of the album. Truly amazing. How many times in music history has a band re-invented itself so thoroughly 10 years after hitting it big with what was essentially a gimmic?

Next up is Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society and Hangover Music: Vol. IV. This is a laid-back blues-rock album with loads of acoustic guitar and virtually no straight-up metal musicianship. But yet it's from Zakk Wylde. That doesn't compute. Think if it as his version of Alice in Chain's Jar of Flies, I guess. Regardless of what it takes to properly comprehend this whole situation, it's actually quite good.

The Drive-By Truckers make this list, which in itself is surprising considering the quality of their past two albums. But the drop-dead excellence of The Dirty South is enough for me to proclaim it as the rock album of the year, but more significantly, I honestly think they take the reigns of the top southern-rock band of all time. And even that doesn't do justice to the blend of rock, blues, and country that DBT blends together. Ranging from the three-guitar assault of "Where the Devil Don't Stay" to the intense solo-acoustic twang of "Cottonseed", this album covers a huge chunk of Western music (despite the title, hip-hop somehow didn't make the cut). "Daddy's Cup" should be the official song of NASCAR, if indeed that racing series could somehow remember its roots, "Carl Perkin's Cadillac" is a beautiful and honest tribute to the founding fathers of rock-and-roll, and "Danko/Manuel" pays tribute to a couple of fallen musicians that most rockers wouldn't even recognize, much less honor in song. Southern Rock Opera may have been more expansive and Decoration Day more intimate and personal, but The Dirty South combines the best of both and shows the work of a band at its prime.

It shouldn't be surprising that Bad Religion can still turn out the best political punk rock in the universe, but the ferocity of The Empire Strikes First earns them a nod. The title track combines with "Let Them Eat War" to blow away any theory stating that superb protest music is the exclusive domain of Vietnam-era musicians.

Sparta rose from the ashes of At The Drive-In two years ago, but their first effort Wiretap Scars sounded much too tame and mainstream to do any justice to the disaster-waiting-to-happen sonic attack of ATDI. Porcelain addresses this problem with some of the most ambitious work yet in the "emo" genre; in fact, it's probably one of those albums that could be considered a genre-breaker. "Guns of Memorial Park" starts off with a weird little synth riff and leaves it far, far behind in less than 60 seconds with one of the best-sounding choruses in modern-rock history; "Kiss the Villain" follows thereafter with that same derailing-train tension that was missing from Scars. Start to finish, it's a sonic masterpiece, even if the lyrics are occassionally a bit abstract (you won't mistake them for those on Thursday's War All the Time).

While Yellowcard's accessable sound and the seemingly gimmicky use of a violin makes it easy to regard their work as little more than MTV fodder, Ocean Avenue is actually a heck of a good modern-rock album. They manage to pull off the college-boy-whining-about-women lyrical themes with enough honesty and maturity to keep things interesting for those who have moved beyond the days of skipped classes and ramen noodles, and those same attributes even allow them to attempt a 9/11 tribute (complete with voiceovers from some speech I don't recognize) without embarassment. Good production really helps out, too. It might be a bit of a stretch to compare this to Everclear's Sparkle and Fade, but I think similar potential exists in this band.

Now on to the most disappointing of 2004. It'd probably be rude to start the list with Damageplan's New Found Power considering recent events, so I'll skip that one and head right to Hot Water Music's The New What Next. Is this a bad album? Certainly not. But it certainly doesn't following the trend of every HWM release to date, which is to say that it's not an outstanding improvement on the previous work. Too bad. And what's up with AMG comparing it to the Afghan Whigs? I just can't see the resemblence - the Whigs were primarily a guitar-driven funk and soul band whose work revolved around a dark sexuality; HWM adds a bit of punk influence to a Fugazi-like hardcore ethic and worldview. Totally frickin' different.

Mark Lanegan's Bubblegum sadly also makes this list. Perhaps I expected that he'd rise above the usual solo-work inconsistancy, but alas, this album bounces back and forth between standout tracks and stuff that probably should have been left off. Oddly enough, the B-sides on the "Methaphetamine Blues" EP are better than most of the songs on the main release.

Velvet Revolver's Contraband needs to be mentioned simply because it's yet another mediocre supergroup effort in the vein of Audioslave - the whole is less than the sum of its parts. To be fair, these guys pull off the wounded-heart ballad much more effectively than Audioslave and they do hit their stride in a few spots ("Set Me Free" and "Slither" almost bring us back to the good ol' days). But for the most part, Weiland falls flat on the whole anti-society fuck-you attitude that Axl pulled off to make GNR one of the most explosive rock bands of all time. Perhaps that same thing will give these guys a bit of longevity. We'll see. In the meantime, can we get Izzy back? Slash's solos don't seem to carry the same impact that they did when he had the vastly-underrated rhythm guitarist picking up the slack.

Jimmy Eats World and Futures rounds out this list (for now - maybe I'll think of others in a few days). Musically, it's actually quite good, even if it exchanges the punk/post-emo intensity of Bleed American for a more-polished but yet heavy sound. Lyrically, though, it just comes off flat at best, and puzzling at worst. It's not like emo has been about straightforward and easily-intepreted lyrics, and if that was the only fault here, then it'd be no big deal. But the writing on Futures actually seems downright immature. I don't think that the band's vocal delivery is all that strong, either, and certainly lacks the uniqueness of, say, Sunny Day Real Estate. At a make-or-break point in their career, I think JEW fell short of what was expected.

Finally, a short list of solid-but-not-exceptional efforts would have to include the following: Local H's "Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles?" (a very good album, but I expect good things from these icons of Midwestern angst); Taking Back Sunday's "Where You Want To Be"; and the results of Dave Grohl's Probot effort (which shows that metal doesn't have to take itself too seriously to be excellent).

Certainly, it's been a good year for music.






Friday, December 10, 2004

 

Your Financial Problems Are Never This Bad

Sounds like someone really needs to get Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. Or at least a good plastic surgeon.

I hope the ax was sharp.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

 

Dimebag Darrell - RIP

RIP:



Dimebag Darrell was shot and killed last night, along with four others (including the gunman, who was fortunately taken down by a police officer before causing even more carnage). He was 38. Two others were injured, included Darrell's brother Vinnie.

Dimebag and Vinnie formed Damageplan after their previous group, Pantera, finally came apart after years of internal conflict. The motivation for the killing is unclear at this time, but it's believed that Pantera's breakup may have had something to do with it.

Damageplan had yet to turn out anything of significance - their first album, debuting earlier this year, was mediocre at best (although I'm sure peoples' opinion of that, including perhaps my own, may now be subject to change). Pantera, however, could very well be credited with keeping metal alive in the mainstream through the 90s.

Pantera started off as a hair-metal band in the 80s, but moved beyond that (hopefully) forgotten phase and found a unique sound before finding fairly widespread popularity with their crushing album "Cowboys From Hell". I recall watching MTV's Headbangers' Ball and catching videos for both the title track and "Cemetary's Gates"; both stood in stark contrast to the hair metal that had yet to die off. In "Cowboys From Hell", Dimebag was creating more good riffs in 4 minutes than one could find on a half-dozen so-called "metal" albums of the day (the breakdown after the second chorus is particularly fierce). "Cemetary's Gate's" proved that tough guys could write a good ballad (this was before Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters"), and the guitar work on this song re-creates the full range of emotion that one goes through in the grieving process.

"Vulgar Display of Power" soon followed, and it was quickly apparent that it would not follow either of the two directions that metal was heading in at that time. Some bands attempted to distance themselves for the now-dead hair-metal stupidity by regressing back to the early 80s and pushing the limits of speed; others attempted to move more towards the hard-rock mainstream (as Metallica did so successfully with their self-titled album). Pantera instead choose to take a path of absolute intensity. Dimebag's sludgy guitar work combined with Phil Anselmo's growling vocals to create the heaviest mainstream music of that time. Because of this, they were able to survive the upswell of grunge and alt-rock, and found themselves with a rather broad fanbase. While "Walk" is undoubtably the signature track on this album, strong songwriting and brutal musicianship makes this a consistantly strong work. "This Love" is not only one of the angriest breakup songs of all time, but another excellent demonstration of Dimebag's ability to portray a range of emotion well beyond that which could be expected from an average metal band. The album's other ballad, "Hollow", does the same, while straightforward thugfests like "Mouth for War", "(Fuckin') Hostile" "A New Level" provide a sufficiently fierce venue to showcase Dimebag's metal chops and cement the band's place in metal history.

"Far Beyond Driven" came out in 1994. Let's keep in mind who was charting high at this point - grunge was fading fast on the heals of Kurt Cobain's death, and artists such as Beck and bands such as Blur would soon dominate the airwaves. Yet, for the first time ever, a metal band released an album that debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts. While the lyrics were not nearly as sharp on this album as on previous work (a symptom of Anselmo's drug issues, perhaps?), there is little doubt that the vocals and musicianship was absolutely top-notch. Pantera's cover of Black Sabbath's "Planet Caravan" took the band's sound into new directions while giving a very clear indicator of where they placed their roots. The heaviest of the songs, such as "5 Minutes Alone" and "Becoming", were awesome displays of the band's power, and were undoubtably driven forward by Dimebag's skills and attitude.

Later work, such as "The Great Southern Trendkill" and "Reinventing The Steel", despite continuing the tradition of cool album names, simply fell flat, likely the result of internal issues in the band. But even as the metal scene crumbled and fragmented during the late 90s, make no mistake - Pantera did not attempt to change with the times or make any effort to attract a larger audience at the cost of deviating from the sound that won them so many followers, and their legacy remained intact. By this time, the influence of the band's earlier work could already been seen on new and emerging artists within the scene - as mediocre as they may have turned out to be.

B-sides such as "Where You Come From" hinted at a bluesy side to Dimebag's playing, and it would have been interesting to see where this could have led the band (indeed, it seems difficult to imagine that a Texan rock band wouldn't eventually find themselves going in that direction). But the track that ultimately displays Dimebag's skill on the guitar is Pantera's cover of Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever". Face it - if you've got the ability and the testicular fortitude to follow in Uncle Ted's footsteps, you deserve the greatest respect.

I was able to see the band on my birthday back in December of 2000. I was suffering from a wicked case of the flu that had left me feeling like I'd already spent a few days in the mosh pit, but I was not going to miss this show. They did not disappoint, and I left the show feeling that although viruses can cause your body to hurt, they are nothing compared to the power of a few thousand Pantera fans crouded into a fairly small arena. I'm pretty sure that TheraFlu has nothing comparing to the sound of Dimebag, pushed through the largest Marshall stack I've ever seen in my life.

Pantera - the last great metal band? Perhaps, but only time will tell. If indeed they deserve that honor, then it should be known that Dimebag Darrell is the man that was responsible.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

 

IBM Sells Their PC Unit

To who? Would you have guessed the Chinese?


BEIJING — China's biggest computer maker, Lenovo Group, said
Wednesday it has acquired a majority stake in International Business Machines
Corp.'s personal computer business for $1.25 billion, one of the biggest Chinese
overseas acquisitions ever.

The deal shifts IBM to a peripheral role in a corner of the technology
industry it pioneered.


Holy fuck - I didn't see that one coming.

As the article goes on to state, this will make Lenovo the third largest computer company in the world, and leaves IBM with its outsourcing, consulting, and (presumably limited) software activities.

 

The Biggest Waste Of A Cool Song In A Car Ad...

... has got to be Aerosmith's "Dream On" in the new ads for the Buick LaCrosse. Take out this competent-but-not-exactly-noteworth sedan and replace it with, say, a Corvette (or - gasp - a Camaro replacement), and you've got an amazing ad campaign. Just imagine the one that has the kid racing the slot cars, with it cutting away to maybe a Vette and a GTO running nose-to-nose through the curves. I think it'd make a heck of an ad for the Cadillac CTSv as well. But for this car? It looks like a crass attempt at drawing Baby Boomers into Buick showrooms in an attempt to lower the average age of that marque's buyers by 10 years or so.

Don't get me wrong - this seems like quite a nice car, and it's nice to see GM coming out of the gate so strongly with a marketing campaign. I just see a missed opportunity for GM and its performance cars (the precious few they have left).

 

Best New TV Show So Far This Year...

... has got to be Fox's "House". The ads simply do not do this show any justice. Dr. Gregory House is probably the most amusing and unique TV character since Agent Mulder, and the rest of the supporting cast is superb. Absolutely a must-see, and this coming from someone who watches maybe three hours of TV a week.

 

GM gets desperate; Ferrari sells out?

GM Takes Aim with New Incentive Plan:

As its last incentive offer - "Lock 'n' Roll" - failed to attract more than
about five percent of customers, GM is planning a big public push for its next
enticement. Automotive News says the GM will unleash a new "Red Tag Sales Event" today, featuring major incentive deals on all Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick,
Cadillac, GMC, Oldsmobile, Hummer, Saturn, and Saab products. The Lock 'n' Roll
program gave buyers a chance to buy one GM vehicle and to lock in an interest
rate for a second vehicle up to five years hence, but the response to the offer
was light. GM sales were off 16.5 percent in November and the company's market
share hit a low of 24.8 percent, a level not seen since September of 2002.


Heh - great. Problems selling your wares? Just treat this like an end-of-the-year appliance blow-out. Check out those market share numbers, though. Remember the end of 2002, when 0% financing had people pouring into GM's showrooms? GM execs saw market share numbers topping 28%, 29% was just around the corner, and privately management was talking about hitting the much-desired 30% number. Now, they've slipped below 25%, and they probably haven't bottomed-out yet.

Oh, and Ferrari? Scroll down the page a bit further:

Indian Company to Engineer Ferrari Engines

Ferrari is the latest company to take advantage of low, low labor rates
in the nation of India. The racecar company has awarded software giant Tata
Consultancy Services a contract to design its Formula 1 engines. The Associated
Press reports the Indian engineers will start working with Italian engineers in
March. Ferrari confirmed a three-year deal to the news wires, but did not
disclose the value of the contract. Tata also performs software engineering for
companies such as American Express and IBM, the AP adds.


Holy bejeezus! Is there no end to to the insanity? And it's F1 work, at that. Dang. No insult intended to Indian engineers - clearly, this shows the high level of skill present in that country - but this just doesn't seem wise for a company as dependent on racing as Ferrari to outsource any part of their premier competition program.





Tuesday, December 07, 2004

 

The Worst Cars Of All Time

Forbes lists 'em (link to MSNBC article here; don't forget to view the slide show). The list may not be particularly fair especially when the proper historical perspective is provided, but at least it's an amusing topic to visit every now and then - and let's face it, if the only one they got right on the list was the Bronco II, then they still did OK.

What's interesting to note is that the poor start of Honda in this country was forgotten not even 20 years later. It can be argued that the failures of American car companies during this same era haven't yet faded from the collective memory of consumers in this country. It would seem that some customer service and a commitment to continous improvement goes a long ways; at least further than a decade of excuses.

Monday, December 06, 2004

 

The Evils Of China, Continued

First, the usual Bush backside-kissing of WorldNetDaily.com is replaced with some doom-and-gloom on China's plan to launch a propaganda-filled TV station in the US. Now, you know, this is typically the sort of stuff that I would have written-off as racist paranoia 10 years ago so or (indeed, that's how I felt about much of the negative feelings surrounding NAFTA). Today, I'd like to think that I'm a bit wiser and that I see this for what it is - a furthering of the Marxist concept of capturing the hearts of the Useful Idiots. Or perhaps I'm paying too much credit to the strength of China's commitment to the principles of communism. It's quite possible that they've moved beyond that.

The second article I'll tie into the first with the loose association of each to the theories of communism. Among the standard ugliness that we've read about so much by now, we get this warning that I have not seen before:

Further complicating the picture is that too much growth abroad, ostensibly
helping the trade deficit, creates other potential problems. Clearly, America's
interest rate structure is closely tied to how well growth and investment demand
proceeds overseas. This is why the pickup in the Japanese economy is probably
the biggest story in global finance, yet it is getting only moderate attention.
If that nation ever really did right its economic ship and sail off on a three
or more year period of strong growth, the amount of upward pressure the US would experience on market-based interest rates could be astonishing, particularly in
the absence of genuine balance sheet repair.


In other words, Japanese treasuries may replace US treasuries as the investment of choice for Asia if the US cannot get the dollar under control (by now, it should be clear that it can't). Most other folks seem to have their eye on the Euro as the investment of choice. It would seem much more dangerous to the US's economy to have Japan as a competitor, as I think they're potentially a much stronger adversary than Europe (who is being weighed-down by not only their large social overhead, but also the burden of some of the poorer countries in the EU; Europe is also going to need to start spending some money on a military if things continue to go sour in their relations with the US). Anyways, on to the communist punch line:

Asia in particular appears to have learned its lessons well from 1997: policy
makers in the region have concluded he who holds the credit, gets to choose when
to pull the rug out from under the dependent debtor, and on terms fairly
non-negotiable. At best, then, the imperial debtor can try to be cordoned of his
consumers of global goods from such blackmailing creditors, thereby undermining
their ability to accumulate further claims against him. But since it is in no
small part US based corporations or subsidiaries operating out of export
platforms in China and other Asian nation, this would be a hard one to pull off
without the imperial debtor power slitting its own throat. Lenin's "sell them
enough rope and capitalists will hang themselves" theory was incomplete. As
China may have figured out, you have to sell them the rope on credit to really
hang the little piggies high (or, at the very least, to keep the protectionist
wolves at bay).


Of course, what the author refers to is this:

"Lenin, who spent most of his life in the West and not in Russia, who knew the
West much better than Russia, always wrote and said that the Western capitalists
would do anything to strengthen the economy of the USSR. He said: They will
bring us everything themselves, without thinking about their future. And, in a
difficult moment, at a party meeting in Moscow, he said: 'Comrades, don't panic,
when things get very though for us, we will give the bourgeoisie a rope, and the
bourgeoisie will hang itself.' Then Karl Radek, who was a very resourceful
wit,said: 'Vladimir Ilyich, but where are we going to get enough rope to hang
the whole bourgeoisie?' Lenin effortlessly replied, ‘They will sell it to us
themselves.' " -Alexander Solzhenitsyn, speech to the AFL-CIO, Washington, D.C.,
June 30, 1975


I'm not so sure yet that everyone in Corporate America has tied the noose around its neck; I still feel that the largest of the multinationals will survive and thrive wherever the market brings them. But some of the smaller fish who are outsourcing to China? Yea, those folks are probably drawing the noose tigher around their own necks as I type this.

 

China Launches Ballistic Missile Submarine

Um, I'm sure they've only got the best intentions in mind.

This comment is interesting:

Although considered unlikely in the near term, the most likely avenue for
conflict between the United States and China is over Taiwan, which China
regards as a rogue province.


Sure, we've heard that before - why is it significant? Because I think it's dead wrong. My guess is that the US and China will do battle over resources before they go at each over over Taiwan. Heck, comments by the US in the past year have already pretty much written-off the democratic island nation. My guess is that China will need to make a move on Russia or the Middle East before we give much concern (I'm sure an attack on Japan would also provoke a response, but I'm at a loss to why China would do such a thing).

 

Senator Calls For Mandatory Constitutional Education

Sen. Byrd has called for mandatory education on the topic of the US Constitution:

Byrd carries a copy of the Constitution in his breast pocket — over his heart —
and often waves it on the Senate floor. He lamented in a recent speech that even
some of his colleagues in Congress didn't know fully what it said. "An informed
public is our best defense against tyranny," he said.


Pretty strong words for a former member of the KKK.

If the Constitution was taught the way that our Founding Fathers intended and people actually listened, I doubt that we'd re-elect more than a handful of our Congressmen to Washington. Thus, I don't see this happening any time soon, and if it does happen, the party in charge at the time will certainly twist the cirriculum for their own purposes. How many different ways can one twist "Congress will make no law..." or "...shall not be infridged"?

 

More On Pat Tillman's Death

Additional details concerning Pat Tillman's "friendly fire" death were published over the weekend. The news of his death was tragic enough; further reports of it being the result of friendly fire just added to the grief. But the full account of what exactly happened is about as sad as it gets. But to top it all off, it appears that the military attempted to, at the very least, paint the brightest picture possible. To do that is to serve a real insult to the man's legacy, in my opinion.

 

More On Pat Tillman's Death

Additional details concerning Pat Tillman's "friendly fire" death were published over the weekend. The news of his death was tragic enough; further reports of it being the result of friendly fire just added to the grief. But the full account of what exactly happened is about as sad as it gets. But to top it all off, it appears that the military attempted to, at the very least, paint the brightest picture possible. To do that is to serve a real insult to the man's legacy, in my opinion.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

 

Port Chicago Background Radiation Measurements

Here's a link to an interesting study by a student to measure the background radiation in areas surrounding Port Chicago, the scene of a massive explosives accident in 1944 that some believe was the result of a nuclear detonation. The results? Inconclusive. Seems to me that this is the sort of thing that'd be damn tough to cover up, but, hey, the report is a good piece of science.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

 

Redefining The Term "Conservative"

Charlie Reese gets labeled as a "limosine liberal" and responds. As he states to his accuser:

His mistake was in his apparent definition of "conservative," which he seems to
think is somebody who is in favor of foreign wars and against gay marriage and
abortion. That is a definition of conservative straight out of the "How to Dupe
the Dumb Masses" manual used by professional campaign managers like Karl Rove.


Of course, a quick stroll through Reese's archives (I particularly like "A Storm Is Coming") will show a history of opposing Bush, and after all, one must be a liberal to disagree with the current Republican party platform.





 

Dumb Ways To Die

Does death by lava lamp count?

Best comment on this "tragedy" from a message forum:

"Kids, don't do this to your parents. It makes you dead, plus it's painful
and embarrassing as all get out for them.

We now return to your regularly scheduled similar stupidity, made somehow
more respectable by being committed from the driver's seat of a motor
vehicle..."


 

Probably More Effective Than Pepper Spray

Ruger introduces the Super Redhawk Alaskan, a snubbie version of the Super Redhawk of the sort that we've been seeing from the custom community lately.

With approximately the same weight as a standard all-steel Colt 1911, but chambered in a cartridge (.454 Casull) that produces over four times that of the standard .45 ACP, I don't even think that "hand cannon" will adequately describe what it feels like when this thing goes off.

I am willing to bet that it's less painful than, say, becoming bear food.

 

More Than Meets The Eye

Perhaps the best-ever car commercial? Definitely the weirdest.

On the same topic, Car & Driver's January issue, containing their annual 10-Best roundup, includes a list of the best car commercials ever. Two notable flaws - the lack of that Honda Accord wagon spot from last year (maybe because it was a European-only thing), and a very unforgivable oversight of the Nissan 300Z GI Joe/Barbie/Van Halen spot from nearly 10 years ago.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

 

What Fast Impalas Look Like

More impressive than my car, to say the least. The red car in the foreground weighs in at over 4500 lbs with driver, and still runs 10.3s.

More pictures can be found here.

 

Ford GT 5.4L Head Flow Numbers

Via CamaroZ28.com.

Impressive mid-lift numbers, but the max flow ain't that great when we consider how exotic this engine is. I'd like to know what the cam specs are - I'm guessing they don't use a huge amount of lift, but that's to be expected with the small valves inherent in a 4-valve head design (especially one going on a 3.55" bore). Most heads will stop producing significant amounts of flow once valve lift exceeds 1/4 of the valve diameter (that's when the area of the valve curtain equals the area of the valve surface, and therefore the maximum throat diameter available directly behind the valve seat), so "mid-lift" on a two-valve head might be "max lift" on a four-valve design.

The reason I say that the maximum flow isn't great is because GM LS6/LS2/LQ4 heads and Chrysler Hemi heads put up not-dissimilar flow numbers. I think the point to all of this is to demonstrate what GM or Chrysler could do with a forced-induction system on a GenIV or Hemi engine. The Ford GT produces 550 SAE HP (actually more like 600+, given the fact that it makes maybe 525 at the rear wheels), and there's no reason to expect anything less from the pushrod V8s of the other two guys in town. Ya know, if they wanted to.

Gotta love the LT1-vs-Mod discussion that the thread eventually devolves into. It's been 12 years since the debut of the LT1 in the F-body, and Ford's still hard-pressed to equal it. I hope someone in Dearborn is really regretting this whole SOHC mess. I think that Ford will have lost about 15 years' worth of progress by the time the Mod motor runs its course.



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