Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday Car Pr0n #90

And with this week, we are out of the 1980s. That's a good thing -- the '80s were, by and large, a vast wasteland for automotive design and technology. When the Mustang GT of the mid-to-late '80s had a whopping 225 horsepower -- and this was considered a lot! -- you know cars in general sucked. Heck, the Chevy Camaro IROC could BARELY outperform the Ford Escort GT...

The 1990s didn't start off much better. However, there was this:

1990 Ford Explorer. The SUV craze began. It took an "everyman" sport utility built on the Ranger frame to really popularize the SUV. Yes, I know, the Jeep Cherokee and Grand Wagoneer had been around for ages. Heck, the Suburban had been around since the 1930s. GMC and Chevy introduced the S-15 Jimmy and S-10 Blazer in 1983. The Toyota 4Runner was introduced in 1984, and the Nissan Pathfinder in 1985.

Other than the Jeeps and the Suburban, though, *all* of these models were two-door versions until 1990. Coincidence? Doubtful. It took Ford coming up with an all-new SUV (replacing the positively dreadful Bronco II) to get everyone on board with 4-door vehicles.

I had a 1985 S-15 Jimmy. In the late 1980s, it was classified as an "Other" in the "Body Type" category. The Ford Explorer literally defined the SUV -- the classification was created when the Explorer came about and the genre exploded.

A number of things happened to make the Explorer so successful. The minivan, for starters, was instrumental in killing the American station wagon. While you were formerly able to get most cars in coupe, sedan, and station wagon form, the evolution of the minivan made the station wagon obsolete.

Secondly, the large car died. In the mid-1980s, the majority of cars were switched to front wheel drive and got smaller, leaving only the Chevy Caprice and the Ford Crown Vic for large cars. As cars got smaller, people started looking for larger vehicles. The Explorer, being built on a truck frame, didn't have to conform to the same standards as a passenger car. It could be bigger, heavier, and get worse fuel economy without ruining the manufacturer's CAFE standards.

Some call it a loophole. Others with a more keen grasp of economics would call it "supply and demand." Whatever you call it, the Explorer literally brought about the SUV craze that dominated the market in the 1990s and 2000s.

Which is rather interesting, considering that it was bland as hell and, for the first years, significantly underpowered...

That is all.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


It was bound to happen...

Yep, the Earthf**ker just broke 100K. Took 8.5 years, but she got there. This is the first vehicle I've owned where I've put 100% of the mileage on through 100K. I've had plenty of cars that wound up with > 100K on the clock; but this is the only one where I took it there from 0 (well, I think 12 or so).

I'm at a crossroads, of sorts. The truck's due for a new set of tires and brakes, and while I think I'll get it done for now, I realize that her days are numbered. When I bought the Dodge, I had a 26-foot camper to tow with it, and a 15-mile (one way) commute through back roads with little traffic. Now, the camper is gone, and I sit on a freeway for an hour each way. The 12 - 13 MPG the Earthf**ker gets digs into the ol' budget.

Except, of course, I love this as a replacement:

Dodge Challenger. R/T with the 370 horsepower Hemi V8. It gets slightly better gas mileage than the Ram, but not so much that I'd see any sort of savings. It would, however, scratch the itch that I've had for over 25 years, to have a muscle car. I looked at Trans Ams, Camaros, Mustangs and other such cars in my teens and early 20s, but the closest I ever got was a used VW GTI. Now that the kids are older, and I don't have to worry about months of deep snow, it's a possibility.

I'll most likely end up with a mid-size sedan, mind you (the Altima gets 27 MPG in *city* driving!), but I like thinking about the Challenger...

That is all.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Car Pr0n #89

Okay. This is it. We made it through the terrible 1980s. Last year. I had a hard time deciding which car introduced in 1989 would make the cut, as there were several models illustrative of the time period. Since they would define the early part of the 1990s, though, I left them off in favor of this:

1989 Infinity Q45. While the Audi/VW duo had been around for years, and even Acura had split off from Honda as the marque's luxury brand, it was the launch of the Infinity line that really sparked the badge engineering wars. While GM/Ford/Mopar had done it for decades, Japanese automakers had largely ignored the concept.

With the Infinity, though, the rules had changed. Nissan upped the game to improve on the already established Maxima to include a previously unheard of 8-cylinder engine. Toyota would launch the Lexus brand, and for the next generation a race was on between the two manufacturers to see whose upscale model would entice more buyers from Mercedes and BMW.

In a sense, it was very good for the automotive industry, especially for luxury marques. Looking at the Cadillacs, Lincolns, and Chryslers of the time (dear lord, the New Yorker was based off the gorram K-CAR...), the 1980s were an abyss for American luxury. It would take well into the 2000s before the American industry responded.

And next week, we begin the tepid '90s...

That is all.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Dear Apple...

You know what sucks? Having a phone that won't keep time. Spending several hundred dollars on a piece of technology that won't perform the basic function that a $20 Timex will is annoying as hell.

You know what's worse? Finding out that this has been a problem for very near three years

Look, I get it. Not all technology is perfect. But, damn. This has been a known problem for close to three years. I got the phone less than a year ago, so the problem was known for two years when I got it. And yet no one has been able to fix it? That's not the way to keep market share, folks...

Looks like there will be a trip to the Verizon store this weekend. Boy, I just love technology...

That is all.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What I Did On My Summer Vacation...

I took the kids to King's Dominion for three (well, 2.5) days of roller coaster fun. The Mrs. took them to WI to visit with family the previous week, and they had a great time playing at the water park with their cousins and visiting the county fair. This week they spent the first half riding roller coasters and going on water rides.

I'd forgotten how great a good roller coaster can be for bonding. There's something about the shared experience of adrenaline and terror that just brings a family together...

This is the Shockwave. It's a stand-up loop coaster. It is also the oldest stand-up coaster currently in operation in the US. It's also being retired after this year, so this was its swan song, and I'm glad my kids got a chance to ride it.

Here's the Rebel Yell. It's not a fancy loop coaster, or a speed demon, or anything like that. It's an old-fashioned, wooden-frame roller coaster that spans a rather sizable chunk of the park. The ride lasts 2 1/2 minutes, one of the longer coasters, and is - for a wooden coaster - one of the more gentle rides (the other wooden coasters were, well, less 40-something friendly when it came to knocks on the ol' spine...).

In the middle is the Ricochet, a variation on the "make really sharp turns and make you think the coaster is going to fall off" rides, with the Hurler wooden coaster (made famous in "Wayne's World" in the background). Yes, we're on the Ferris wheel for this picture, and yes, that's exactly why I went on the Ferris wheel...

Lastly, though, is the most modern roller coaster we went on:

The Intimidator. An homage to Dale Earnhardt, it stands 305 feet tall and propels riders to speeds in excess of 90 MPH. Folks can and do black out from the G-force. That's an 85-degree angle of drop right there...

I went to King's Dominion when I was 17 years old. A friend attended ECU, and I drove down to help him move into his apartment. We took a week and hit both Busch Gardens and King's Dominion, so it's a heady rush to hit these same parks now with my son, who is only 2.5 years younger than I was. Many of the roller coasters were actually the same, which was pretty neat.

I sure handled them better when I was 17, though...

That is all.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday Car Pr0n #88

Today's car is one of those coulda shoulda woulda cars. We've only got one more 1980s car after today, but we'll be quite ready to leave the 1980s after this guy.

1988 Buick Reatta. Next to perhaps the "revised" Ford Thunderbird, it's hard to think of another car that should have done well but cratered into the ground on fire. At least in the case of the T-Bird, it wasn't the car so much as the marketing. In the case of the Reatta, it was a little of both.

Had GM done a couple things differently - started out with a convertible and made it rear wheel drive - they would have completely stolen the thunder of the Mazda Miata. Instead, they released the Reatta as a two-seater, but with front wheel drive (lackluster performance). They added the convertible option in 1990 - after the release of the Miata - looking like they were playing catchup.

It's quite similar to the Cadillac Allante, actually. The first few years, the Allante was grossly underpowered compared to the Mercedes 500 and Jaguar XJS, against which it was expected to compete. In the very last year of its existence, GM did the only smart thing they did with the entire car and dropped the fire-breathing Northstar V8 into the Allante, instantly making the 1993 model the only one worth owning.

But I digress. How bad was the Reatta? Let's put it this way: GM expected to sell 20K units a year. They would up building (which is not the same as selling) 21,000 - over its four year lifespan. A few simple changes and they would have replicated the success of the Gran National, if not even more - imagine the turbocharged V6 (thanks!) of the GN crammed into a rear-wheel drive, convertible Reatta. They might have staved off both the Miata and the BMW Z series with that...

But it's GM - Government Motors - so their ability to fail naturally doomed this from the start...

That is all.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

So Impractical. SO WANT...

So, this exists...

X15 Personal Flamethrower

I like. Would be quite useful for wasp nests, clearing old brush, and keeping the walkway free from ice...

Why can I not get this scene out of my head?

"Just a little touch-up"...

That is all.

Monday, July 13, 2015

So, This Happened...

Brad_in_MA sends in a story from my old hometown...

Bomb Squad detonates old railway construction explosives
Groveland Police Chief Robert J. Kirmelewicz reports that the Massachusetts State Police Bomb Squad successfully detonated several explosives discovered in a Groveland home today.

Early this morning, a woman from a residence on Garrison Street called police at approximately 9 a.m. to report that she located a box with old dynamite inside. Groveland Police responded and confirmed the contents without touching or disturbing the box.
This was, literally, right down the street from where I used to live. My former town had a big dose of excitement last week - apparently, someone came across a box of old stuff that they thought might be explosives, so they did the prudent thing and called the local police. The locals turned to the state cops, who sent a bomb squad guy, who confirmed that the items in question were not explosives.

I really don't fault anyone up until this point. What I do have to wonder about, though, was this:
They determined the items consisted of an old railroad flare and audible warning devices that sounded when trains were approaching. While the items were not high explosives, Police decided that safely detonating the items was the best course of action.
A flare and some warning devices warranted detonation for removal? I dunno; I guess with the age of everything involved (50 - 70 years old or possibly older, from folks in the know in town), maybe they were working on the premise of "better safe than sorry."  Part of me can't help wonder if this wasn't a case of "well, we have all this shiny equipment here *anyways*, so..." I guess there are worse ways to squander tax dollars...

Although, he writes with a sly grin, they aren't *my* tax dollars any more...

That is all.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Friday Car Pr0n #87

We're getting there. After today, only two more entries in the "cars introduced in the 1980s" category. That's the good news. The bad news is that the cars introduced in the 1990s weren't much better than the cars of the 1980s...

However, some introductions were pretty damn amazing.

1987 Ferrari F40. The last Ferrari personally signed off on by Enzo himself. Designed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the marque, it had a 478 horsepower, twin-turbo V8 engine that propelled the F40 from 0-60 in times previously matched only by superbikes. It held, for the time period, the record for fastest land speed by a production car, and was the only such car to break the 200 MPH barrier.

While the Testarossa was the "cool" Ferrari thanks to "Miami Vice", the F40 was the ne plus ultra of the family. The 308, darling of Magnum P.I., and the Mondial were busy getting their butts kicked by Mustang GTs and Buick Grand Nationals, but the F40, man, wasn't nothing touching that car short of a Formula 1. Of course, given that the F40 cost some $400K (nearly $1 mil in today's dollars), one can be forgiven for expecting it to be able to outrun a GMC Syclone...

Just wait until next week, though...

That is all.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Explosives Make Poor Hats...

By now, most people have heard about the unfortunate young man from Maine who decided, as a joke, to put a firework mortar on his head.

Maine man dies after launching fireworks from his head
A 22-year-old man celebrating the Fourth of July was killed instantly over the weekend when authorities said he tried to launch fireworks from atop his head.

Devon Staples had been drinking with family and friends Saturday night in Calais, Maine, a small town near the Canadian border, when he put a reloadable fireworks mortar tube on his head and threatened to light it, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland told the Associated Press.
Now, first off, my heart goes out to the family of this young man. No matter what you think of the stunt, a man lost his life. Someone's son, someone's brother, someone's fiance has had their life cut tragically short. That it was a case of apparent stupidity, possibly fueled by alcohol, makes it worse - there is, quite simply, no reason for this to have occurred.

Some speculate that he thought the firework was a dud, that he picked it up and was goofing around when it went off. Others cling to the idea that he accidentally lit the firework with a cigarette. His mother wants to more strictly regulate fireworks, choosing to shift the blame to the inanimate object rather than the person that misused the inanimate object.

Hmmm. Where have we heard that before?

I think, though, that we have to step back and take a bigger look at things. Sure, to people with life experience, putting a high explosive right up next to your brain is a giant red flag, something we'd never do and would actively stop someone from doing. But look at it from the vantage point of a 22-year old manchild (and, honestly, 22 years old with no college and only time spent working at Disney? You're technically an adult but you haven't grown up yet).

He has spent his entire life in a cocoon of forced safety.

Let that sink in a minute. His entire life, things have either been mandatory or banned. Lawn darts? Too dangerous. Banned. Three-wheeled ATVs? Too dangerous. Banned. Helmets for bicycles, skis, roller skates, etc.? Mandatory. Backup cameras in cars? Mandatory. When he was a toddler, his parents probably padded all the corners, blocked all the outlets, and put all the cleaning supplies in the top cabinet. As a young boy, he was forced to wear helmets, pads, seatbelts, bright colored clothes, etc.

He's never learned what danger *is*. 

Everyone gets a trophy. Everyone's a winner. We can't keep score because then the losers feel bad. Feelings triumph over everything else, and we get so wrapped up in making everything "fair" that important lessons fall by the wayside. No one is allowed to fail. No one is allowed to make mistakes. No one ever grabs the handle of the hot pan and gets burned, learning the important lesson to listen to mom when she tells you to leave the stuff on the range alone.

I fear we will see a *lot* more stories like these.

Freedom is dangerous. It's messy. It's complicated. We can't legislate people into being responsible adults; we have to show them how to behave. You can't put a kid in a program to learn about the dangers of *everything* - too much of the world is dangerous. You have to equip your kids with the tools to make good decisions, and that's hard. It's a lot easier to blunt the scissors, to medicate with television and video games so that they stop asking the hard questions and stop seeking wisdom and knowledge.

We placate rather than educate.

Yes, he did something stupid. But put yourself in his shoes. His entire life, all the dangerous stuff has been kept far away from him. He's never been allowed to fail, never made a mistake that bit him on the @$$, never had something go horribly wrong that he had to fix. I'll wager he never had to change a flat tire or walk five miles to a gas station because he ran out of gas - the cell phone and AAA membership have rendered that life lesson obsolete.

It's easy to joke about Darwin and "stupid should hurt." It's harder to sit back and look objectively at the vast bulk of our society and realize that we're raising a generation who are going to do things just like this, simply because they've never learned otherwise. They've never taken chances, because they've never been allowed to take risks. If you take a risk, you could get hurt.

There has been a grave disservice done in removing all consequences from bad actions.

That is all.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

More Cool Gear...

It's a rough life, I swear it is. I mean, when you have to review gear like this:

CRKT Shinbu

Released today is Brad Thor's "Code of Conduct," in which the above short sword (really, it's too big to be considered a tanto) plays a role. Thor's Scot Harvath is a counterterrorism operative who relies on real-world gear (Thor knows his stuff!) to save the day. Thor detailed his experiences in an upcoming issue of Shooting Illustrated, and the Shinbu is one of the tools utilized.

Check out the linked article, and give "Code of Conduct" a read - you won't be disappointed!

That is all.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Friday Car Pr0n #86

1986 was a watershed year for automobile manufacture. It was the first year that the "third brake light" - the brake light in the middle of the back window or hatchback - was mandatory. Apparently, the government felt the need to give automobiles one more warning light for people to ignore. It was also a pretty damn good year for new introductions, seeing cars like the Acura Legend, the Jeep Wrangler, the Nissan Pathfinder, and of course, the Porsche 959.

But the introduction I want to talk about is this, the 1986 Ford Taurus. Pretty much every modern car today owes its appearance to the '86.5 Taurus (yes, it was a half-year release, that's how badly Ford wanted to get the Taurus out). Cars pretty much since the 1960s had been some variation of boxes: in the 1960s, they were large boxes with hints of chrome left over from the '50s; in the '70s they were gigantic luxobarges; and in the 1980s they were uninspiring, drab exercises in rectangular geometry.

The Taurus changed that paradigm and set it on its head. Within a year, *every* car had that distinct "melted gumdrop" shape. Gone were fenders you could shave with and roof lines with clear views; introduced were "A" pillars you had to lean around and rear windows you needed wipers for. The "aerodynamic" look was in, and the Taurus got the ball rolling. Of course, the Taurus also pretty much redefined the idea of "planned obsolescence", with transmissions that came pre-broken from the factory and such...

Almost there, folks; only three years left in the '80s...

That is all.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Real Menace...

While we're all distracted about gay marriage, Caitlyn Jenner or the Confederate flag, the true enemy is still out there, patiently biding its time until ready to strike. This story is but a warning...

Dolphin Leaps Into Family's Boat, Breaks Mom's Ankles
One California family's Father's Day outing at sea turned into pure chaos when a dolphin swimming next to their boat leaped inside — and broke mom's ankles.

Dirk and Chrissie Frickman and their two daughters were celebrating the holiday — the first day of summer and the couples 18th wedding anniversary — when a pod of dolphins began swimming by their boat as they were heading back to the Dana Point Harbor in Orange County.
It begins.

You have been warned...

That is all.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I'm Not Dead Yet...

...It just kinda seems like it sometimes...

Folks, I need to address something. Something serious to me. Something that pains me very much to do. Something I've dragged my feet on doing for quite some time now.

I have to call out some of my fellow motorcyclists.

First off, what in blue blazes are these idiots thinking that drag their feet along the ground at low speed? What, exactly, are you hoping to do? Break your ankle? That's the only thing I can think of that you'll accomplish by dragging a foot or, worse, both feet as you leave a stopped position (or worse, slowing to a stop).

Secondly, I had the most unsettling experience with a motorcyclist the other day. I'm turning left behind this guy on a small bike, maybe a 250. He gets into the right turn lane and is putting along. As I pass him, he drifts over DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF ME.

I jackrabbit into the left lane (thank goodness for large mirrors!) and accelerate around him, at which point he cranks the throttle and tries to keep up with me. Seriously? You're on a 300 pound motorcycle, you just cut off a 3 ton truck, and you're going to play chicken with me? Fortunately I got around him (a little bike carrying a large person just doesn't have the torque), but it really messed with my head.

When I'm riding, my head is on a swivel big time. I'm scanning four or five cars down the road to see if anyone is hitting their brakes, I'm constantly looking to my left and right for anyone that might drift into me, I'm checking out all possible angles of escape should things go bad. What I DON'T do is change lanes blindly without signaling or looking, and when I f**k up and cut someone off I don't challenge them. Things would have turned out VERY bad for our two-wheeled friend had I either not had good reflexes or decided he was going to lose the game of chicken.

Respect is a two-way street. I try really hard not to tailgate bikes and give them plenty of room. It's hard enough with people who are clueless at best and malevolent at worst on the road, but to be so oblivious? There's a guy who's going to wind up in a YouTube compilation some day.

Lastly, weaving in and out of traffic is a dick move. You're a dick when you do it in a car; you're a suicidal dick when you do it on a motorcycle. One pissed off motorist and you're road pizza while the car has to have a fender repainted. It's dumb. It's unsafe. It's also illegal, and when you're weaving in and out of traffic like you're rounding the curves at the Isle of Mann TT, all people see is a dick on a bike. They're going to keep that impression when they see the retiree on the Goldwing or me on my Harley.

Okay. Glad I got that off my chest...

That is all.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday Car Pr0n #85

More than halfway through the 1980s... Phew!

1985 Jeep Comanche. For seven years, you could actually buy an honest-to-goodness Jeep pickup. Following the success of the vaguely pickup-like Scrambler, the Comanche filled the niche formerly occupied by the J10 and J20, also known as the Gladiator. For thirty years, Jeep had a pickup in the line-up (and for years before that, when it was Willys), and rumors abounded in the mid-2000s that a mid-sized version might make a comeback.

Alas, it seems to have vanished, and Jeeps have gotten more [GASP] civilized. The suspensions have become more road-friendly as fewer and fewer drivers make full use of the Jeep trademark off-road capability, and the marque runs the risk of turning into just another SUV company. With Fiat at the helm, it's hard to see Jeep getting back to its down-and-dirty roots, but there's always hope.

I do have to admit, though, that the four door Wrangler with top removed and the half-doors is a passable modern version of the VW Thing...

That is all.