Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Rest of the New York Pictures

Great trip. Chinatown and Little Italy are the highlights for me -- I like visiting the different cultures better than seeing the 'bright lights, big city' part of the experience. That's just me.

Click here for more.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Rajput, hybrid car pioneer

Even though Rajput Mumhaz-Ahmed and I grew up worlds apart – he’s from Southern Pakistan and I’m from the Southeastern United States – we’re both car guys. While stopped at the first traffic light on our way from Midtown Manhattan to LaGuardia in his taxi, he looked at me through the rearview mirror and noted, “Can you hear how quiet my car is? It’s a hybrid. The engine is off right now.” The truth is, I hadn’t noticed. You see, Rajput drives a 2007 Toyota Camry outfitted for taxi service in New York City. Since my wife has a very quiet 2004 Toyota Avalon, I’d come to expect silence in a full-sized Toyota.

“See? Nothing.” he said, pointing at a tiny LCD display on his dashboard just beneath the speedometer. It showed a small battery-shaped icon with a thin line connecting a gear-shaped icon on the opposite side. As he took off from the light, I watched as the gear-shaped icon started to rotate, and the thin connecting line was replaced by a fat pulsating one indicating that energy was flowing. After a few minutes we were on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway where the gasoline engine icon appeared for the first time – also connected to the drive icon by a wide pulsating line. According to Rajput, the gasoline engine direct drive is only necessary when driving uphill or traveling above 35 mph. The rest of the time, it simply charges the battery as necessary.

Rajput put quite a bit of thought into this car and is quite proud of it. Nothing escaped him as he described the performance, care and maintenance of the vehicle. “I drive more than 100 miles per day. I only need $10 for gas,” he bragged, “My old car needed $35 per day.” I started doing the math – Rajput is saving over $5,000 per year in gasoline! He went on to say how he was derided by other cabbies for buying the Toyota since it is a more-expensive four-cylinder car rather than the cheaper V-8 Ford Crown Victoria favored by the other taxi operators. “I did the research – the Toyota has more power since the gasoline engine and electric motor work together.” I asked him about maintenance. “This car has a 7-year warranty, except the batteries. They are warranted for 8 years or 100,000 miles.” That blew me away. I expected the batteries to have a much shorter warranty than the car itself. Rajput has done the math; he is sure of his choice. I agree with him 100%.

New York City has encouraged the use of hybrid vehicles for ground transport, going so far as to commission a special badge designation so that patrons can easily recognize and choose the hybrid cabs. The reasoning is simple: Taxis in New York idle at stop lights, in traffic and at entry/exit points more than they actually drive. All of those avoided emissions really add up. It’s good for New York and good for the people of New York.

I’ve been critical of the hybrid electric/gasoline car in the past. It is a complex solution with marginal benefit for most American drivers. However, for Rajput and the legions of New York City taxi drivers, the advantages are obvious. Why does it work for him and not for me? Well the answer is really very simple: his driving habits are completely different than mine are. I drive in very little stop-and-go traffic, while he drives almost exclusively in one of the busiest cities on the planet. He drives 12-hour-shifts each day; I am in the car less than an hour most days. Finally, gasoline in his city costs 30% more than gasoline in my area. All of this means that the hybrid is a home run for those in Gotham, but a strike out in the provinces. One size does NOT fit all.

As I exited the cab, Rajput showed me the one drawback that he’s found – the trunk is smaller that the average Crown Vic because the rear-mounted batteries encroach on storage space. “But in a month or two, I will get my GPS system and I will be able to accept credit cards using a wireless internet system. No more meter. The GPS will chart the route and add up the fare. All I have to do is swipe the card and the billing is automatic.” Rajput knows that this will be a HUGE competitive advantage for him vs. the lower-technology cabs. “The car even has Bluetooth for wireless connection for my phone,” he says, giving an impromptu demonstration. “I can offer a speakerphone call as a service to my customers for an additional fee if I choose!” Now there’s an entrepreneurial thought!

So, hybrid power works for some drivers, and not for others. What would tip the scales for me and others like me?

As a huge fan of Saab, I’m begging, pleading with the company to release the BioPower plug-in version for the US market ASAP. I will be among the first to buy one if the price is as reasonable as Rajput’s cab. Why does the Saab make the difference? I live in Tennessee where electricity is very inexpensive – our power is second-lowest of any region in the US (the Pacific Northwest is lowest). If I could use only electricity for most of my driving and needed gasoline power only for lengthy trips (greater than, say, 30 miles round-trip), I would buy gasoline only once per month or so! That means cleaner air* and much, much lower fuel costs! Saab, I’ve seen the light! Send BioPower plug-in, post haste!

* The Tennessee Valley Authority plants are well within the EPA guidelines for emissions.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

New York - Initial Thoughts

After many visits to the New York metro area on business, this holiday season we've taken the plunge to visit for fun. We're in Midtown Manhattan for a day or two (or three).

After an abortive attempt to fly up (Expedia, you failed us), we re-booked on a later flight and made it only five hours later than originally planned. No big deal. For all the jokes about New York cab drivers, I've never had a single one that wasn't courteous and helpful to a fault. Mr. Wellhouse, a 60-something Jamaican immigrant, was no exception -- quite the tour guide and concierge, nattily dressed in proper wool trousers, tweed sportcoat, and matching flat cap.

Initial thoughts:

- New York (particularly Manhattan) is unique in the US, if not all of North America, because it simultaneously conjures up the history and feel of a gritty European city, yet has a very distinct melting pot flavor.

- Because of its size and relative cultural importance, there are amenities and displays that exist no where else. From Macy's 'Miracle on 34th Street' window display (because, after all, it's on 34th) to the complete ferris wheel inside the Toys R Us on Times Square, if you can't find it here, it probably doesn't exist.

- We've decided to visit during one of the busiest times of the year.

More photos to come (if my dying camera holds up).

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Iggy Pop, the entertainer's entertainer

Good ol' Iggy Pop. Ground-breaking punk rocker. Two-time heroin addict. Notorious iconoclast. Very funny guy.

What? You didn't know that Iggy had a sense of humor? I encorage you read his entertainer's contract rider for some guffaws.

Check out these gems:

'Broccoli/Cauliflower cut into individual florets and then immediately thrown into the garbage. I _________ hate that!'

'6 large bottles of good quality sparking water. Again, un-French is good. Unless we are in France, in which case - What a marvelous country!'

Read it!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Yule Log & Egg Nog 2006

My buddy Rob, who lives in Knoxville, has an incredible collection of music. As my wife will attest, I am an avid collector myself. With well over 1500 titles under roof my music menagerie is broad, but Rob's accumulation is at a completely different level. I'm guessing (having last seen his collection several months ago) that his current holdings are upwards of 4000 titles, give or take a couple hundred. He and I have similar tastes, mostly in the category of indie rock.

The great thing about Rob is that he shares this willingly. Before any of you start going all intellectual property law on me, his way of sharing is mostly in an advisory capacity. He knows what I like and he drops hints along the way for new music that suits me. Given his prodigious consumption of music, I've always benefitted from his research. Which brings us to today's blog entry.

Yule Log & Egg Nog 2006 is Rob's Christmas compilation for this year. He gathered up several songs from his collection that have a Christmas theme and passed them on to me. Excellent! I highly recommend Sufjan Stevens and Bright Eyes, and, of course, Fairytale of New York is a bona-fide classic. On the other hand, Billy Squier is old-school, and, frankly, a little sketchy.

Click the pic for a readable rundown of Christmas picks from Rob for this year. Merry Christmas everyone!
PS: He also provided selections in 2005 and 2004. 2005 may be the pick of the litter.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Holiday Political Correctness

It seems that someone in California (there's a shocker) shushed the high school chorus during a Christmas presentation because Sasha Cohen was performing. Ms. Cohen is Jewish, or at least partly so. Some local busy body took the opportunity to make all of these children ashamed of who they are and to teach them that their efforts were offensive. Good times, good times. Happy Holidays. Happy *bleep*-ing Holidays.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Who says the newspaper only prints the bad news?

Mac is a great example of people that don't get enough recognition in life. He's a difference-maker! Always an uplifting man, never a bad thing to say, and the consumate gentleman.

Of course, he's from Mississippi, and my wife always says that everyone from Mississippi is 'so nice'. Judging from the people that we know from the Magnolia State, I have to agree with her.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Why do we tolerate random acts of murder?

This week's murders of religious intolerance killed twelve innocent people in Algeria.

Why do we allow this? Why don't we punish these governments? Do we not give more in economic benefit to these lawless, third-world feifdoms than they can manage on their own? Let's cut off aid, trade and payments, and then see how long it takes Algeria or Syria to produce these craven criminals for punishment. I'm betting a week, tops.

Of course, the wailing and crying of the world 'community' would want America's 'bullying' to stop. I ask you: Who is the real bully? The one the witholds funds or the one that murders twelve people simply because they aren't of the same religion? If you say, "Well that depends upon the impact of the money", you simply aren't paying attention. Human life is worth more. Every single time.

People ask, "Why are we in Iraq?" To which I always reply, "Because Saddam tortured and murdered his people, and he threatened to murder people by the thousands and tens of thousands."

Respect for Ur Saab

Beautiful picture of Ur Saab by frp84. Ur = original, the first in Swedish.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dickens of a Christmas!

Photos posted of our day at Dickens of a Christmas yesterday.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Hugo Chavez buys another election

Very thought-provoking. When the Venezuelan economy goes farther south, will the trinkets and rhetoric pacify the people of the 'revolutionary republic'?

I think that we all know the answer.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Why do people believe these people?

I've never understood a long list of things about politics and the way the government works. And someone that knows his stuff could likely lengthen the list considerably. I'm an engineer in the technology field, and I like cars; I'm not an expert on government.

However, I do possess an education and a quick mind. So, generally, I can listen to political debate and, armed with a little information, make a decision about which candidate I will support. It's really a pretty simple process that seems to benefit from simplicity and solitary reflection. Give me the facts and I'll decide how to vote.

So, why on Earth do some people with little or no government or policital experience persist in using their chance at the microphone to play the role of the expert? You can't throw a rock in Hollywood without hitting a celeb that wants to bend the public ear about global warming, Iraq, flu shots or the civil rights of the homeless. These people have no special powers. They haven't been studying the system. Evidence shows that they generally have little experience beyond their latest record, film or marriage.

So, why on Earth do people actually listen to these people? It makes absolutely no sense to me.


George Clooney: Speaks out on Iraq, Darfur, Gun Control and a host of other social and political issues. His qualifications: High school diploma, one semester at the University of Northern Kentucky and running around Los Angeles begging to do television and movies until he worked hard enough and long enough to achieve success in that arena. Hmmm.... achievement, sure, but no real hard social, economic or political training.

Michael Stipe: Speaks out on homosexuality, gun control, Iraq, corporate greed, abortion (he's for it) and other things. His qualifications: High school diploma, incomplete studies in photography and art at the University of Georgia and writing and singing some of the best pop music ever heard on the planet. Wow. Again, nothing about political science, economics, nothing at all. I guess that he can speak on homosexuality with expertise.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Make up your own mind. Don't believe someone simply because they're famous. Do your own homework.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hey Vandy Fans! Thank goodness it's hoops season! (Or maybe not!)

Every year it's the same mantra among the dwindling Commodore faithful: 'Thank goodness it's basketball season.' This after the annual drubbing by the University of Tennessee Volunteer football team who are eternally bowl-bound while we Vandy fans are glad yet another losing campaign is over.

Hope springs eternal for us on the hardcourt. Vanderbilt University's Memorial Gym is a tough place to play and we are generally competitive in basketball. However, this season seems to be an exception. And not in a good way.

Losing to Furman at home and needing a buzzer-beater in overtime to win against Toledo doesn't bode well for the upcoming conference season. In fact, unless Alan Metcalf gets healthy, I'm not sure that we can confidently look at any Southeastern Conference game on the schedule as a sure win. Even with Alan, I'm not sure the picture changes drastically.

Sure, we're a shooting team and against Furman our guys couldn't hit a lick, but that's the point. Derrick Byars, Shan Foster and Dan Cage are all threats from the 3-point line, but we've learned the hard way that Tubby Smith can make his players play defense well enough to take shots away from anyone, especially a team that has few low post scoring threats.

And speaking of defense, I can't see the 'Dores scaring anyone defensively this season, either. Who's the 'defensive stopper'? Dan Cage is stronger than ever, but he's not the quickest man. And he's going to draw some very difficult assignments playing at the 4 position at his size. Byars and Red Gordan will absorb a few plays, but neither is exactly defensive player of the year material. At the low post, there simply aren't enough fouls to go around. Both Metcalf and Ted Skuchas are prone to hacking calls and there simply aren't any bodies that can effectively fill that role when they're out of the game in foul trouble.

I see a 2-14 league record as a very, very real possibility.

How did we get here?

I my opinion, I think that Coach Stallings and his staff are too hard on the players, and I don't think that Kevin Stallings is an especially good teacher. There have been a few recruiting misses that would have helped us had they gone the other way, but that's NCAA hoops. Stallings says repeatedly that he's changed his stripes, and he's 'relating' more to the players. I'm not convinced.

Coach Stallings lost two key players to transfer in the offseason -- DeMarre Carroll and Kyle Madsen. Both left the program because, at the end of the day, they weren't happy. They didn't trust Stallings and staff to bring them along as players. I don't think that Kevin Stallings sold them on their roles as players, students and Commodores and how those roles were going to get each of them what they wanted out of basketball. Coach, if you recruit them, you should be able to keep them, right?

Madsen redshirted last season and thus didn't play, but Vanderbilt needs another big man with skills, and Madsen looked the part. Carroll, of course, was a key player on the 2005 Commodore club averaging 10 points and 6 rebounds a game. Both will be sorely missed.

In related news, it appears that the regular 'Stallings regression' has started early this year. Against Furman, our shooters were tentative, seemingly afraid that they're going to mess up something. Therefore, they shot horribly and lost. Jason Holwerda, Mario Moore, Julian Terrell, Dawid Przybyzewski and more have all regressed under the tutelage of Kevin Stallings. I'm beginning to see a pattern that I really don't like. One that really needs fixing.

Finally, I'm not seeing great game preparation, another Stallings hallmark. Completely flat at the tip-off, never able to mount a true threat to take the lead, and several needless turnovers that show a lack of mental focus. That's a Stallings team.

I hope that we pull it out this year, but I don't think that we will. Kevin Stallings had better be on the hot seat. Or I think that Greg Williams needs a lesson in athletics.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Local Iron on Display at the Franklin Christmas Parade

Great-looking vehciles and a few oddities on display. Check it out here.

Buckley ANG Base - A trip down (Google) memory lane

Way back when the USSR and its allies were the Axis of Evil, I was a young lieutentant in the United States Air Force. I worked here, in this building at Buckley Air National Guard base just outside of Denver, Colorado. The outward appearance of the structure hasn't changed much, but I'll bet that a great deal of the stuff on the inside has changed over many times. From time to time I've wondered what they're doing. When I see sensational events on the news, I remember the days that I worked 12 hour shifts at odd times of the day to support forces on the other side of the world or worked holidays simply because that's when those darned Ruskies would decide to test us a little.

Ahhh... those were the days. The days when conflicts were symetrical and predictable. Those days are certainly gone. Maybe not gone for good, but for the foreseeable future.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Saibu Saab!

Swade showed me this one, but I recently watched it again and wanted to post it here. Enjoy!

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