Tuesday, February 9, 2016

"Free"

So, I keep seeing a meme popping up in various left-leaning circles (yes, I have them. Opposition research, dontcha know?). It's a variant of "Europe has free healthcare and college for all, why can't the US?" It's hard to tell which is worse: That the person posting the meme has no idea what "free" means, or that they do and just don't care.

First off, Europe absolutely does NOT have "free" college or health care. Most of Europe operates under a crushingly high tax rate - quite often over 50% of your income. Then add in the VAT (Value Added Tax) that most often runs 10-20% depending on the goods or services, and it's quite possible that the higher-tax-bracket Europeans are losing close to 2/3 of their income to taxes.

This is "free"?

Look, I get it. You're trying to appeal to Millennials, who have basically had everything they ever wanted in life handed to them on a platter. We saw this first hand when the kids were younger - hire someone to babysit, they never show up, "Oops, I forgot, sorry." Just try to find a teenager to shovel your driveway or mow the lawn. Good luck. You want to bring in the younger crowd? Promise them they won't have to pay off those pesky student loans. Tell them they won't have to "pay" for their health care.

Of course, they will, in both cases, and a lot more than the face value. But you know that, don't you? You know that Europe is a red herring, that your target audience will just accept it at face value and not dig into it. Yeah, damn those successful people. How dare they earn all the money so there's none left for me? Tax them at 100%! As long as some mythical "other" person is going to front the tax dollars, who cares where the money comes from, right?

What really worries me is what happens when - not if - we do run out of other people's money. All that "free" stuff the politicians have been promising evaporates when times get tough. And remember: If you're not paying for it, you have no say in when it arrives, how it arrives, and what kind of quality it will exhibit once you get it.

TL/DR version: It's free, and you get exactly what you pay for...

That is all.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Friday Car Pr0n #113

Only three more weeks after today, then it's onto a new schtick. I'm open to ideas on what cars to showcase...


2014 Cadillac ELR (introduced in 2013). I honestly don't know what to make of this. On the one hand, it's a Government Motors. Additionally, while it's considered an "electric" car, it has a range under 50 miles - that's not a range, that's a novelty. Once depleted, there's a 1.4L I-4 that keeps it going (as an on-board generator). For nearly $60K.

Is it surprising GM is killing it in 2017?

The single biggest problem I have with these types of vehicles is expressly that they make the entire genre look bad. The stated electric-only mileage on the Cadillac page is a whopping 40 miles. Adding in the generator brings the range to 340 - less than my RAV4 gets. At more than twice the MSRP of the RAV4. Oh, and charging time is 5 hours if you have a 240V service - and from 12 - 18 hours if it's standard 120. So, basically, you can drive to and from work - providing you're close - then spend all night charging back up.

File under "not ready for prime time," please.

That is all.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

They Say It's Your Birthday...

You know who's birthday is today? This guy:


Yep. TheBoy turns 15 today. FIF-TEEN. He's about 6 months old  this picture. He's now taller than I am. In six months he's eligible for his learner's permit. LEARNER'S. PERMIT. The little tiny baby that I used to hold in the crook of my arm is three years away from being an adult. THREE. YEARS.

Man, but it goes by quick. I got one of those "Facebook Memories" the other day from 2009. I think it's when I took over as Cubmaster for TheBoy's Cub Scout Pack. That was like a week ago, at least that's how it seemed. He went from a baby to a toddler to a preschooler to elementary school to middle school to high school in little more than the blink of an eye.

And in another blink, he'll be heading off to college, getting married, and having kids of his own. It's that whole "circle of life," "sunrise, sunset," "cat's in the cradle" thing going on. No one ever lies on their deathbed wishing they'd spent more time at the office, etc. One thing that dawned on me this year, as we planned our family vacations, was that we probably only have a few more years' worth. In another year he'll have a job; possibly a girlfriend, etc. Year after that he'll be looking at his senior year in high school. Then getting ready to head off to college.

We gotta make these next few years COUNT, knowwhattamean?

Anyways, HAPPY BIRTHDAY BUDDY!!! I don't think you read this blog (and if you do, well, when you read through the archives just remember that dad tries to moderate the expletives IRL...), but someday when you're older I hope you find it and read the entries on you. I'm all kinds of proud of you, pal, and couldn't love you more if you were twins. I still say it and you (for now) still say it back, but I love you buddy.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go get this, err, dust of of my eyes.

That is all.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday Car Pr0n #112

Four weeks left...


2012 Subaru BRZ. Subaru's joint venture with Toyota (Scion) to produce a lightweight, rear-drive quasi-sports car. It made the short list of non-SUVs that interested me when I was replacing the Earthf**ker, so I've checked the BRZ out a little bit. There were two reasons why it didn't make the cut: First, I have two human-sized children. The "back seat" is not suitable. Second, I drive an hour each way in bumper-to-bumper traffic every day. There's no way I'd do that with a manual transmission.

And getting a BRZ with an automatic is just wrong...

For slightly more than $25K, you get a 200 HP motor and a 6-speed transmission in a rear-wheel drive car that'll hit 0-60 in just a little over 6 seconds. Damn. If they come out with a convertible version, the folks at Mazda are going to be scared. As it is, it's an economical, reliable alternative to the Camaro/Mustang/Challenger. It's smaller, easier to handle, gets WAY better gas mileage, and handles better. It's a half-a-tick slower than the V8 counterpart, but at $10K less and with Subaru reliability.

There's a LOT to like about that...

That is all.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

I Built It Myself!

So, this has been getting some notice over on the work page...



I built* my own AR from the ground-up. Lower, upper, everything but the bolt carrier group was assembled from individual AR-15 molecules. Not only did it work, it worked pretty darn well if I may say so myself - this is easily a sub-MOA rifle. That I built*

*There's a debate raging over whether it should be called "building" or "assembling." There are those that feel that since all of the parts were pre-made, it's not really building but just putting together. Since I didn't mill the receiver or cut the barrel from bar-stock, it shouldn't be called "building" is the thinking from this camp.

*Shrug*

Whatever. I took a stripped lower receiver, a stripper upper receiver and a boatload of parts and turned them into a functioning rifle. I'm pretty darn excited about it, and very pleased with how it turned out. It's quite the shooter, and I'm hoping to put a hurting on the local coyote population (and distant prairie dog population) with it in the near future.


Not bad for a first attempt, if I do say so myself...

That is all.

Monday, January 25, 2016

SNOWPOCALYPSE!!!!1111

So, you might have heard we had a little bit of weather over the weekend. The greater NoVA area experienced an honest-to-goodness blizzard, with the DC area getting somewhere between two to three feet of snow. We got about 30 inches at my house, putting this storm squarely in the "respectable" column even for a guy from New England.

The obligatory back-deck patio furniture shot. That's not even the half of it - we got another foot and a half on top of this. It was basically level across the back deck - I know, because I had to shovel most of it to prevent a collapse and to keep water from getting in the house. Home ownership, it's a blast...
It's also the first time I've ever had a flight canceled on me, outright. I was in Las Vegas for SHOT Show, and Thursday morning I received notice that my flight home, scheduled for Friday at 3:30PM, had been canceled. A bit of wild scrambling and a hail-Mary call to our travel agent and I secured a flight home on Thursday, a full 24 hours ahead of schedule. Which is good, because folks that weren't so lucky were, as of the writing of this post, still stuck in Vegas.

The kids are loving life, because school was canceled Thursday and Friday in anticipation of the storm and is closed today and tomorrow for the cleanup. Our county sent out a notice that residential streets won't even start to get plowed until today, although our neighborhood was in pretty good shape.

The biggest difference I've noticed between MA and VA when it comes to snow removal has nothing to do with municipally owned equipment. There's about the same number of trucks, sanders, etc. owned by the city/county/state in both places; in fact, VA almost certainly has more due to the larger size of the state. The biggest difference is in the privately owned plows and sanders.

In MA/New England, pretty much every landscaping company (that's not a school teacher's summer gig) has 4WD trucks with plows to supplement income through the winter. Whether it's a state contract, a local gig clearing out a plaza parking lot, or just going door-to-door clearing driveways, there's enough snow in New England to justify spending the cash on equipment. Given that the landscaping season is only about 6 months (mid-April to mid-October), it's a smart investment.

Here in VA there are a lot less private outfits with snowplows. Landscapers are really only off December through February, so there's less down time to fill with plowing. The snow season is much shorter, really only January and February; with more years than not seeing only minor storms. There's much less incentive to invest in a full plowing rig when it's quite possible you might only get one chance to use it in a season.

It leads to interesting driving, that's for sure. The state guys get the main roads, but really only the center of the road. It's not unusual to see entire lanes lost because they just couldn't plow them out. On the main drag near our house, there's a series of lights for entrance to a large shopping plaza with several different areas, and the third lane disappears and reappears in several sections. Turn lanes are generally the first victims.

Of course, everything will be melted by the end of the week, when it's projected to get into the 50s. That's another big difference - in MA, when there was a big January storm, it was quite possible that snow would stick around until April. Here, it's a rare storm that leaves snow lasting more than a few weeks.

I'm hoping to be back on the Harley by mid-February...

That is all.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Friday Car Pr0n #111

Five more and we're onto a new schtick...


2011 Fisker Karma. Another boutique electric-only vehicle that costs more than a modest house. And catches fire if it gets wet...

The Karma was plagued by problems throughout its short life. Pre-orders for the car were taken as early as 2008, yet the car wasn't delivered until 2011. It was sold for two years, at which point financial difficulties pushed the electric manufacturer into bankruptcy. Allegedly it's making a comeback through a Chinese company, but time will tell.

The big problem, of course, were the fire reports. An initial recall focused on potential fire from battery leaks. Later, individual fires were reported, some stemming from cars not even plugged in. Hurricane Sandy and intensive flooding saw even more fires, and the Karma never really recovered - not to mention getting sued by Tesla over design elements...

Other than that, it was a fine automobile...

That is all.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Movies...

So, over the holiday break TheBoy and I finally sat down and watched "Diehard." He's heard us quote the movie extensively - especially around the holidays - and we figured he was old enough to deal with the language responsibly. A few days later we watched "Diehard 2," and he was hooked on the classic action flicks of the '80s and '90s.

New Year's Eve we were at my sister-in-law's house with my wife's two sisters and their families, and TheBoy asked the group what *other* movies he needed to see from that same time period. He's interested mainly in comedies and action movies, particularly ones that get quoted a lot in popular culture.

We sat down and brainstormed a list...

Comedy:
Blues Brothers
Holy Grail
Men in Black
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Vacation & Christmas Vacation
Major League
Sandlot
Slap Shot
Better off Dead
Blazing Saddles
Young Frankenstein 
Revenge of the Nerds
Animal House
Office Space
Ghostbusters
Airplane
Bill & Teds Excellent Adventure
Princess Bride 
Beverly Hills Cop
Trading Places
Spies Like Us
My Blue Heaven
Great Outdoors
Armed & Dangerous
Uncle Buck
The Jerk
History of the World Part 1
Wayne's World
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Dumb & Dumber
Coming to America
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Austin Powers
UHF
American Graffiti 
Weird Science
Cannonball Run
Smokey & the Bandit

Action:
Indiana Jones
Tombstone
Untouchables 
Pulp Fiction
Mission Impossible 
Fifth Element
Terminator 1&2
Lethal Weapon
Army of Darkness
Fugitive 
Big Trouble in Little China
Full Metal Jacket
Aliens 
True Lies 
48 Hours
Predator
Total Recall
Star Trek 4
Bladerunner 
Red Dawn
Above the Law
Road Warrior
 
Obviously, this is not an exclusive list. We've added to it as more folks have chimed in, and will most likely continue to add movies to the list. The criteria are simple: evocative of the time period/genre, memorable, quotable, etc. He's 15, so we're not quite ready for rom/com or dramas, so I left it mostly action/comedy with a smattering of sci-fi thrown in for good measure.

What else should be on the list?

That is all.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Friday Car Pr0n #110

Only five six more weeks until we're done with this series...


2010 Mini Countryman. Yet another in a series, similar to the Porsche Panamera, of "Cars I really don't understand." The entire idea behind the Mini was to capture some of the nostalgia made most famous by the Volkswagen Beetle revival in 1997, bringing back the iconic British micro-car in more modern guise. And then they took and made it bigger, and gave it four doors, and pretty much turned it into yet another small hatchback...

I actually looked at a Mini many years ago as a possible commuter car. Problem I found with it was two-fold: first, the gas mileage really wasn't all that great. I think it got mid-20s around town and low 30s on the highway. The second problem was the price: to get the features I wanted, it was coming perilously close to $30K. Um, no.

I still don't get why they'd bloat up the Mini like this, except as in the same case as the Porsche to expand the line. However, the Mini is a niche vehicle; those looking for something larger have, well, pretty much the entire automotive world to choose from. I guess it's a chance to get into a car made by BMW without spending $40K; other than that I can't see the appeal. Once you get away from the nostalgia angle, it's a box like pretty much every other hatchback.

To each his or her own, I guess...

That is all.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

So, I Have A Project...

Cleaning out my father-in-law's house last weekend, I inherited a project:


1974 Honda CB360. Father-in-law bought it new. I'm the second owner. It hasn't run in the time I've known my wife, so it's been dormant since the early 1990s at the latest. Probably mid-1980s, if I were a betting man. It lived under the porch at the old house (in-laws moved about 10 years ago) and in a shed at the new house, so it has been protected as long as I've known it.

I'm trying to decide whether I want to have it professionally restored or work on it myself. A co-worker who's into motorcycles brought up a good point: it's a 41-year old motorcycle. If I ride it, there's a good chance it will break down. If I do the work myself, I'll be better prepared to fix the little things to get it back on the road. On the flip side, there's a very good chance it will sit in the corner of the garage for the next decade while I work up the courage to work on it.

I've described myself as "mechanically declined," only half-jokingly. I can assemble furniture from IKEA with the best of them, and I've built my own ARs plenty, but when it comes to engines I just panic. I can change oil (although I don't) and perform the most basic of maintenance, but in general I prefer to let the professionals handle such things. Part of it is time-related: there just aren't enough hours in a day. I know myself; I'll put it off as long as possible.

In any case, it will be restored as best as possible. The body is in surprisingly good shape; it needs new tires, of course; the exhaust is rotted out; but the tank is solid. It looks like it won't take much to get it cosmetically back together. I might get the motor restored and running professionally but do the wiring/brake/exhaust work myself. We'll see.

Any and all tips on restoring 40-year old Japanese motorcycles would be appreciated...

That is all.

Monday, January 4, 2016

So, It's Been A While...

Yeah, with the holidays and all, life kinda got away from me for a bit. Consider it a year-end hiatus. In the past two weeks, I've had Christmas with all three families (hers, mine and ours); driven up to Massachusetts on Christmas day, driven into Boston, and put about a thousand miles on a rented box truck.

It's been pretty exhausting.

Driving from VA to MA on Christmas Day was actually pretty damn sweet. We left our house in VA at 8:00 AM Christmas morning, and pulled into my parents' driveway in northeast MA at 3:30, without breaking any significant traffic laws. We even drove through NYC, figuring (rightly) that traffic would be at a minimum. My son had the quote of the ride driving up 95 through NYC: "Dad, it looks like North Korea!"

We arrived in time for Christmas dinner with my family. If you've never had Christmas dinner with an Italian family, you haven't properly experienced overindulgence. I counted eight separate courses, not counting the three extra rounds of dessert and considering the antipasto and salad to be one course. Christmas is the one day out of the year that I don't count calories at all, and I make the most of it.


One of the main purposes of the visit was to work on clearing out my father-in-law's house. Monday saw us running around getting his car checked out by a mechanic (it's being willed to TheBoy for his first car, which is pretty frickin' sweet, especially considering it's a PT Cruiser - no racing in *that*!), then braving the wilds of Boston to see one of the farewell performances at Medieval Manor. I'd been twice before, as a younger man, and they really closed the place down right.

Wednesday I picked up a box van from U-Haul to bring some larger items back to VA (one of which will be featured later this week...). Started off delivering furniture to one of my wife's cousins, who lives in a densely-packed city on the north shore of Boston. That was a treat. Although the next day was even more exciting, hauling beds and dressers up to the cottage in Maine - including down a dirt road covered in snow that provided about the same amount of traction as a banana peel on a skating rink. Oh, and there was 6" of snow to shovel through to get in the driveway...

The U-Haul presented some interesting issues, namely that, even though it is the second-smallest truck they rent, it's still heavy enough to be considered a truck, and as such, our normal route home over the Garden State Parkway was not passable. I wasn't even going to consider taking a box van through NYC, so we traveled way west into PA and down route 81. It added a good hundred miles to the ride home, but absolutely no traffic. Made it home in 9.5 hours, longer than many previous trips but better than a good number.


It is good to be home.

That is all.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday Car Pr0n #109

Okay, so this week kinda got away from me. Looks like the weekly car pr0n is the only post this week, sorry...


2009 Porsche Panamera. I really, really, REALLY hate this car. It's not just that it's a four-door Porsche (which is an abomination unto Nuggan in and of itself), but that it's just so poorly done. I mean, look at it. It looks like a Nissan Maxima -- which is a perfectly decent car, but it's not a Porsche, plain and simple.

The Cayenne was bad enough, but at least there was precedent for a supercar company making an SUV. In fact, I mentioned it before - the Lamborghini LM. There's no Lambo sedan. Or Ferarri, for that matter. The closest you get is the Maserati Quattroporte, but that's starting to get into the lower tiers.

Look, I understand what Porsche was doing branching out. For the longest time, they had two, maybe three vehicles in their line at any given moment. There was an "entry level" vehicle (that cost double what a comparable Japanese car would cost at 1/10th the reliability), a 911 variant, and some form of supercar. If you weren't in the market for a two door sportscar, you looked elsewhere. It's smart business to branch out into the super-hot SUV market, and once the line expanded, to move it to sedans.

Doesn't mean we have to like it...

That is all.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday Car Pr0n #108

One thing I've noticed as we get closer to current day cars is that fewer and fewer new models seem to be introduced. Part of it has to do with the number of manufacturers dwindling, with Pontiac/Saturn/Hummer/Plymouth/Saab and others falling by the wayside.


2008 Ford Fiesta. Although it had a three year run in the late 1970s, I'm counting this as a new vehicle. I figure 28 years between U.S. models is good enough. The Fiesta, interestingly enough, has been sold continuously outside of the U.S.; there was a brief stint where the Festiva (not to be confused with the Fiesta, mind you) was Ford's subcompact.

The Fiesta is of note mainly because it followed a trend of using previous marques to launch a new vehicle. Notably, General Motors did it (BADLY) with the LeMans, taking what had been a decent rear-wheel-drive automobile and slapping the nameplate on a Korean FWD POS. They also did it with the Nova, although at least in that case they rebranded a Toyota Corolla. It's easier to take a rebrand if it's going on a decent donor vehicle...


I've considered very few Ford vehicles in my driving life, and never owned a single one. Much of it comes from a bad experience I had in the 1990s when I was looking for a 4WD pickup. The bone-stripped Ranger that I *barely* fit in (seriously, I was banging elbows with the salesweasel, and there was NO other room in the cab) was selling for more than a significantly-better-equipped Ram 4X4. I was decidedly unimpressed.

Now, though, I do have to admit I'd consider the Mustang...

That is all.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Limitations, and the Knowing Thereof...

Leaving the house Saturday morning, I found a white van blocking my driveway. Rather than stop the vehicle ten feet sooner - or 15 feet later - the driver had thoughtfully stopped right in front of my driveway, blocking about 2/3. He was sitting in the vehicle as I came out of the garage and got into my car. The jackass proceeded to then get out of the van and walk across the street to deliver a package.

I thought, for a moment, about saying something. First off, there's the complete and utter lack of anything resembling common sense that had him stop blocking my driveway. Either side was totally clear - he could have easily parked without blocking me in. Next, he SAW me get out of the garage and into my car. Any rational human would have thought to themselves, gee, maybe I ought to move. Nope. This jerkwad just went about his business.

I paused, though. What I really wanted to do was get out of my car and call the guy out in the middle of the street. "Hey! Could you move your f**king van so I can get out of my driveway, you inconsiderate nitwit?" What would have come out would have been more along the lines of "Excuse me, you're blocking my driveway. Can you move?"

And it dawned on me. If I asked him to move, and he had been a jerk (which empirical evidence suggests would have been the case), I would most likely have gotten angry. I'm bringing my kids to the hospital to see their mom after surgery, and this jerkweed is blocking my driveway and giving me lip about it? I was uncertain about my ability to keep my cool, and figured that the best course of action was to get out of Dodge.

Basically, what it boils down to is that I cannot honestly say that if the guy had been a jerk, I wouldn't have escalated. Ask politely, get a rude response, and I might very well have reacted poorly. It's probably for the best I walked away. Knowing your limitations is applicable in so many different applications...

Driving away, though, something dawned on me. These people get away with this crap precisely because no one calls them on it. It's a vicious circle. Much like the jackasses that drive past the long line waiting to turn only to cut in at the last second, it's the people that LET them cut in that are equally at fault. If everyone forced the jerk to wait, they'd stop trying to cut in.

Ditto calling out assholes. If enough people said, "Hey, jackass, move your damn van, you parked across my driveway," maybe it might convince a few to stop. Oh, had it been a company vehicle you better believe I'd have taken a picture and broadcast it widely, but it was a rented van. Maybe the anonymity gave the driver courage? Maybe a simple "What the hell is wrong with you?" or simply WTF at a volume the whole neighborhood could hear would have been enough.

That's the thing, though. There aren't any easy answers. Confront the jerk and you run the risk of getting into a shouting match/pissing contest, no question about it. There are enough stories of road rage and other confrontations that end poorly that the calculus strongly urges against calling someone out. But that emboldens them, doesn't it? All that evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing, something along those lines.

Knowing your limitations is key. I knew how I was feeling at the moment I came out of the house and saw some jerk blocking my path. A confrontation at that point would have escalated dramatically and significantly, and it's simply not worth it just to teach some jackass a lesson. I'm a firm believer in karma, and I just hope that someday, he gets it back in spades.

Until then, I hope he gets bit by a rabid pit bull with mad cow disease...

That is all.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Friday Car Pr0n #107

Sorry about last week. Just couldn't rouse myself out of the turkey coma to post car pr0n...


2007 Fiat 500. Long after most auto manufacturers had stopped doing the "retro" thing, Fiat decided the way to re-enter the American market after a nearly three-decade absense. They accomplished this with a re-imagining of one of the more iconic Fiats, the 500. Based on the original 500 (named after the 479 cc engine that powered it), the new 500 was updated with all sorts of safety features and - like the VW Beetle - changed from rear-engine to front.

I (very briefly) looked at the 500 in the Great Car Search of 2015. It got good gas mileage and was suitable for city driving, true, but upon closer inspection just wasn't a good fit. The gas mileage was good, but not great, especially for the size - my comfortable mini-SUV gets 24 MPG around town compared to the 500's 27. And price? With all the options I wanted, the 500 was over $25K. For a 4-seater, micro car. Um, no thanks.

At least it gives us the option of pulling out the old "Fix It Again, Tony" gag...

That is all.