Thursday, June 30, 2011

Climate Change - What to Do About Global Warming?

So, today I read that an annual climate report says that Greenland's ice melted more in 2010 than in any year since they began reporting it in 1958. It's just one of many little bits of news that pop up in the news links on my Yahoo home page.

This is hardly the first time I've read this kind of thing, and it's becoming more accepted every day that we have a climate change problem on our hands. But what are we going to do about it?

I don't know, but looking at the way I run my day, I'd say we need to change the way we go about our business.

Today I'm thinking about work. That's where I'll be today from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. During lunch I'll read my book. My attention all day will be on doing my job.

On the way to and from work, I'll listen to my iPod in the car--perhaps XM Radio. After work, I'm going to play music with my band, Red Paint. I'll have a couple of beers, play our music, and then come home. I'll futz around a little and then go to bed.

Will I do anything today to make a difference in our environmental situation? Not likely. How about you?

Who is going to solve this problem if we're all too busy going about our business to do anything constructive?

Something to think about.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Acura TL - Rhinoplasty at Mid Cycle

Mid-cycle updates are a perfect time to back off on a styling theme if you went just a wee bit too far. The Acura TL for 2012, released in mid March of this year, remedies an exuberance of chrome with a gentle and friendly rhinoplasty, while the tail gets reined in a little, too.

It’s not unknown for car manufacturers to do this. I remember the last of the big Chevy Impalas in the early 1990’s. It arrived with low cutouts in the rear wheelwells—like fender skirts. It made the by then huge vehicle seem even more whale-like, and after a few years, the rear wheels once again showed themselves. The 1996 Ford Taurus, a jelly bean introduced at precisely the time when sharp lines were coming back into style, lost some of its distinctive styling after a few years to keep up with changing tastes.

Not long ago, Subaru decided to emulate Alfa Romeo, or some might even say the Edsel, with a slim puckered grille up front. It was a non-starter, and within a couple of years the cars arrived with wide, generic grilles once again. Kind of sad, really, but the goal is to sell cars, and people have to like the way they look before they’ll write that check.

All this is to say that the Acura TL, the brand’s highly regarded sports sedan, will no longer need to be praised for its "inner beauty." I actually got compliments on the car from colleagues and even an unsolicited "beautiful car" from a guy at the Chevron station. The drama of the overall design is no longer hampered by excess in the details.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Neil Gaiman Draws an Adoring Crowd

My wife got tickets for us to go hear British bestselling author Neil Gaiman last night. I've never read any of his books, my loss, and I intend to do something about that. Mr. Gaiman has written a bunch of them in various genres and formats, and won many awards for them, too. Where have I been?

After hearing his funny and insightful interview/talk, in a church in Berkeley, I can understand the enthusiasm. Gaiman grew up practically living in the library and his love for the written word is sincere. He claims to just "get ideas and write them down," but there's much more to it than that. In his remarks he talked about the hard work that has to take place between the moments of inspiration and exultation at finding just the right way to say something.

Gaiman's American Gods was the centerpiece of his talk--it's ten years old now and available in a Tenth Anniversary Edition. Neil read a passage from it to the crowd--the part that takes place in San Francisco--and had everyone in the palm of his hand.

After his interview, the crowd immediately stood for a standing ovation. The author apologized for his "no autograph" policy, but it would have been a crush for hours if that had been part of the deal. Nobody seemed to mind, although I did see some attendees holding copies of his works.

Gaiman's blog
is read by many--I'm going to go check it out now.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Hemmings - The Joy of Old Cars

Yesterday, as I walked up to one of my favorite brunch spots, I saw a 1966 Ford Mustang coupe parked right in front (see photo). It was in nice, running condition, with good metallic blue paint and original wheel covers. I smiled in recognition and appreciation.

As I left after a tasty Creole chicken omelette, I saw a clean, driveable c. 1961 Volvo P1800 drive up and park right behind the Mustang. Heaven.

I love old cars, even if they are not very environmentally friendly. Seeing them out on the road is great fun, and always has been. I also enjoy reading about them, and for that, there's Hemmings Classic Car for American models and Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car for imported cars.

Not only is it fun to look at the photos of the old cars, but you can read about the adventures of people who go beyond looking and take on the often arduous long term and expensive task of restoring these cars and preserving them for future generations. These highly obsessive folks are like the people in, say, a muscle-building magazine who are highly developed, or the tattoo folks with bodies covered with ink. They're the super achievers.

I especially enjoy the Driveable Dream sections in each publication. These stories are about old cars and their owners, but the cars are used by the people and are normally running, clean, but imperfect vehicles--like the ones I saw in front of my brunch spot. Sometimes, they are surprisingly old--like a 1938 Buick, for example, but still have original paint and interior fabric.

Meanwhile, I keep looking and reading, and, someday, I'll get my 1956 Nash Metropolitan back on the road and someone else will get to enjoy it when they see me drive by.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Not Politics as Usual - Dr. Ong for Assembly 2012

I'm not the most political guy around, but I pay attention if I actually meet someone who's running for office. One of those people is Dr. Jennifer Ong, a beautiful and accomplished Bay Area optometrist who wants to do more for people than simply improve their vision.

Her vision, to use the same word, is to run for the California Assembly in 2012 to give back to the country she came to from the Phillipines as a child. And she has ideas.

Dr. Ong's priorities are to balance the budget without cutting police or schools. She wants to create more jobs, so fewer people need to rely on the government. She is concerned about conservation and recycling and has worked with local community groups to make efforts in that direction. As Commissioner/Secretary of the Alameda County Commission on the Status of Women, she is interested in helping women from underrepresented communities begin to believe that they can run for office too and make a difference.

Dr. Ong is concerned about the high percentage of Hepatitis B in the Asian community and wants to make sure more people are contacted and tested.

I enjoyed seeing her and meeting supporters at a luncheon yesterday. Among the speakers was current Assemblyperson Fiona Ma, who gave a short, rousing talk. Other speakers showed how community efforts are always going on and how taking action means focusing on important issues, taking a stand, and, sometimes, putting yourself at a little risk too.

The election is in November of 2012 but it's never too early to start running.

I'm glad there are some people in this world who are not just in it for their own personal interests and actually want to go out and make a difference for other people. Dr. Ong seems like that kind of candidate.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Dancing - Good for Everyone--Every Age

Last night, I had the real pleasure of going to see my friend and bandmate Colin's three-year-old daughter, Francesca, perform for the first time with the West Coast Dance Theatre. Of course the cute, beautifully dressed little people were fun to watch in their costumes, but there were some suprisingly thrilling performances by older students and the dance leaders, too.

I am not especially interested in dance myself, but I am a big supporter of doing what you love--and being exposed to art and music as a child. Having had clarinet lessons when I was 10, I know that there's a temptation to not practice and to get by--if you're not truly motivated (and most kids aren't). I also know what being part of a dedicated band or an orchestra can do for you. I saw lots of smiling faces on the performers last night. I'm sure it meant a lot to them--for many different reasons.

I'd think that a dance class could be a great alternative to a sweaty health club experience. As Marnell Xavier, the Artistic Director of West Coast Dance Theatre says, "A good dance education can be a huge part of a successful life creating discipline, perseverance, health, teamwork, arts appreciation, self-esteem, and so much more." She's been putting on productions since 1973 and performing since the age of four so she should know.

If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, contact them at and get started.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Darth Fiddler - The Force Hits the Street

I read yesterday about Darth Fiddler - a street musician in Victoria, British Columbia, who plays a black violin in full Darth Vader costume. Now that's cool. What's NOT cool is that a couple of weeks ago, someone attacked him and smashed his violin.

Luckily, the local music store replaced his instrument and even provided a light-saber-inspired bow and he's back out on the street.

Being a street artist is hard, even if you're not attacked. In San Francisco we've had the Human Jukebox at Fisherman's Wharf. The guy sits in his silver-painted cardboard box. Drop in some money and the "door" pops open and a trumpet pokes out and plays a selection.

My musical favorite has always been Norbert Yancey, who's played guitar and sung for forty years by Ghirardelli Square. I spoke with him many years ago--and even played at his same corner once!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Kia Sorento Easy to Live With

With a family of three, I really don't need a midsize crossover vehicle. But you might--and if you do, the Kia Sorento is a real possibility. Fresh off a week in a black one with shiny chrome alloy wheels, I can wax enthusiastic.

Everything seems right about this car. It looks sharp without extreme bulges or odd proportions. It's spacious but doesn't drive like a boat. Inside, the controls are nicely weighted, attractive and fit into the scheme of the dash in a way that shows it was all well thought out from the start.

Folks who might go for Ford Explorers can now safely try a Kia. There's optional third-row seating, which folds flat and invisible if you don't need it.

The new Sorento debuted last year, replacing the previous, slightly smaller model. Despite a bounteous range of new product offerings, it's now Kia's biggest selling car. And--it's assembled in Georgia.

The EX top-level version, like mine, is loaded with the good stuff--almost a luxury vehicle, really, at just over $34,000. Sorentos start $11,000 lower with the LX.

Pick a competitive 3.5-liter V6 of a more thrifty 2.4-liter four--both with a six-speed automatic. You get Kia's 10-year limited powertrain warranty.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Nissan VP Turns Full-time Musician--Hooray!

Bill "Boz" Bosley is a guy I can really admire. The longtime Nissan employee, now 56, took early retirement in 2007 after rising to Vice President, and is now doing what he really loves--playing music fulltime. His hair is long, his suits are in the closet (or maybe at Goodwill) and he's having a blast.

Boz saw Jimmy Buffett when he was a teenager and it made a lasting impression on him. Now, he's living the tropical lifestyle himself on the beach in Florida.

Besides performing and working on his CD, which is slated to come out in October, Boz wrote a song, Relentless, for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. You can buy the song on iTunes and profits will support the organization's work.

More power to you, Boz!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Begins - Now

Ah, those lazy crazy days of summer. Well, they were during my school years, when I put aside those pencils and books and had almost three months to sit in trees, ride my bike all day, or eat ice cream while reading comic books. Of course, that's not the case today.

Now, summer means longer days (more daylight is a mood lifter for me) and warmer temperatures--leave the jacket at home, but don't forget the hat. I haven't had a summer vacation since I was 17--at least one that went for months.

Now that I think of it, by mid August I was getting a little bored and it felt like it was time to settle back into the school year. A touch of cool breeze in the evening after a hot day. Then, September, a fresh start, with just a hint of melancholy--the party was over.

Favorite summer themed songs: A Summer Song by Chad and Jeremy (pictured); Summer in the City by the Lovin' Spoonful. How about In the Summertime by Mungo Jerry? One song that feels like summer, without the word in the title, is Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones. I was 12 and that song was playing night and day.

Summer begins in California at 10:16 a.m. today. That's when this blog was posted.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Brian Wilson, Former Beach Boy, is 69

The Brian Wilson story is pretty well known. He is the genius behind the Beach Boys' sound--a sensitive recluse who became a domineering perfectionist, got obese,went crazy, etc. With his two brothers, cousin, and a friend, he created the sound of the early sixties.

Amazingly, Brian is also touring today, and is the poster child for recovery. To me, he's the image of music being too strong to kill.

Like Paul McCartney, who is two days older, Mr. Wilson is a bassist, but is also a songwriter and tunesmith. God Only Knows? Good Vibrations? What about Help Me Rhonda, In My Room and countless others? It's a long and beautiful list.

The Smile album, redone to Brian's specific requests was a triumph a few years ago.

If only he could join the remaining Beach Boys and make some new music--that would be a dream.

Meanwhile, I celebrate his longevity. He himself has been quoted as being shocked to be the surviving Wilson brother (Dennis drowned decades ago and Carl succumbed to cancer a few years ago).

Live long and keep performing, Brian!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day: Bittersweet

Father's Day is bittersweet. Sweet, because I have my two fine sons, making their way in the world in such different but interesting ways. One is a father himself! Bitter, because, once again, I can't be or speak with my dad. He died this week in 2002.

June was always "Dad Month" anyway because besides Father's Day, his birthday was June 1. So, I was assured of at least two good, long phone calls and got to shop for two corny cards. June is still "Dad Month," but now it includes both ends of his 75-year-long life in it.

What I carry with me of my father is most obvious in my interest in cars, and I get my weekly dose of new ones. I still send my step-mom the printed stories. More subtle but equally important is my set of values and priorities, which starts with honesty and moves on to helping people who need it and contributing something positive to the world. It means becoming an expert in something and sharing it with others. In his later years, my father was a professor in his field--dentistry--and left behind valuable research--and a generation of graduates who likely are still in their own dental practices or contributing to the education of the future generation of practitioners.

Today's photos are of a car my father owned several of--an Austin-Healey--and one of a 2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata--a similar vehicle that I love. I assume my affection for small, imported droptops comes from him and the good times we had driving in those cars.

Last night, I enjoyed spending time with both of my sons--in the same room at the same time--so I'm happy, but I sure miss those phone calls.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Paul McCartney is 69 Today

I seem to be getting into the famous musician birthday thing lately, but, as they do on KCSM, my local all-Jazz FM station, it gives me a chance to focus on a musical great. And Sir Paul means a lot to me--especially as a Beatle. He, along with John, George and Ringo, were my heroes when I was a teenager, and they influence me today.

Paul was my first major bass influence--and that's my instrument now. I wear my two primary basses on my left arm as part of that enthusiasm, and am a member of both my band, Red Paint, and my community orchestra.

Paul, having started as a guitarist and being also a piano player, is a more melodic bassist than someone who plays it as simply part of the rhythm section. His bass parts often take on a second tune--as in, for example, Something, where, if you tune out George, it's a whole different, low-pitched world. I've noticed that when it's one of Paul's songs and he's singing the lead, the bass part is simpler. When John or George (or even Ringo) is singing it, he often gets much more elaborate.

Paul played with a pick much of the time--I don't--but otherwise he's a big inspiration. I loved his Beatles work best. Something in the chemistry of the group--or maybe his youthful energy. I've bought and listened to later albums--even up to recent CDs like Memory Almost Full, but he no longer makes albums you want to play over and over. He has certainly released a lot of material over the years after his relatively brief Beatles career.

There are the great Paul songs, like Yesterday, Hey Jude and Let it Be, of course, and some favorites of mine. I always liked For No-One, from the middle period. When I'm 64 is catchy and he's the only Beatle who could write it. Best post-Beatle song? Maybe I'm Amazed comes to mind.

I saw Paul and his band--not Wings--play a few years ago and he put on a great show. Many of the numbers were Beatles songs--it was the next best thing to seeing the Fab Four in action. I wish him happiness today and for what I hope will be a very long life--and a great new marriage.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday - Have a Beer

Now that Rebecca Black has pulled her infamous song from YouTube, we can simply enjoy the last workday of the week for what it is--the gateway to the weekend. By Friday night, I'm ready to relax.

We're used to the five-day work week, but of course it hasn't always been that way. And--if you run a farm, you're probably working every day--with half a day off on Sunday to go to church and take a nap (possibly at the same time).

When I lived in Israel, we had Saturday off (shabbat--the sabbath) but went right back to work on Sunday--in Hebrew, Sunday is Yom Rishon--the "First Day." In the image of God, we rested on the seventh day. Think of the word sabbatical--taking the seventh year off--and you see the origins.

Meanwhile, it's Friday and time for a beer.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Time: Milestones and What's Next at Blog Post 200

This is my 200th blog post. The first was on October 12, 2007, but I averaged 7 posts a year in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. This is the 169th of 2011. I committed myself to producing something daily--so here we are.

Is 200 a big deal? It makes me think of other milestones. How about birthdays? Are we celebrating the fact that you were born on a particular day or the fact that you've accumulated all those years? Why would a 50th be especially significant? Because we said it is.

Anniversaries? My 22nd wedding anniversary is about a month away. On that day, and leading up to it, I can remember my happy wedding day, and perhaps remember milestones along the way. And, I get the benefit of being married to my wife for 22 years--not a small thing in itself. This is a little different from a birthday because it represents commitment and some work to keep it going. My birth had nothing to do with me--I just showed up--but my marriage does.

I know that in my life I've been looking for the "next." That meant everything from the first penny of the year (I got my first 2011 one three days ago) to the new cars every year (I've followed the annual model changes since the 1964's rolled out) and even the next issue of Spider-Man (well, this was significant when I was reading these in the 1960s). These "next" incidents are outside of me, but it is fun to watch them appear. I had ten wonderful years gathering the 50 State Quarters, too. But there was no real accomplishment to these activities, although I have some slim blue albums full of metal discs on my shelf today. The comic books are long gone.

Next February, I'll mark 20 years of writing weekly automotive colums. Also in 2012, I'll hit the 1,000th test car. Now those are some happy numbers, aren't they? I just did it a week at a time and it added up. But it still feels different from collecting coins.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Owl City's All Things Bright and Beautiful..Is

Owl City (Adam Young) released his latest masterpiece yesterday. After downloading it to iTunes and listening through it three times, it's obvious that he has picked up where he left off with Ocean Eyes and is delivering a heaping helping of what got him to where he is today.

If you loved Fireflies you'll love this release. Thirteen songs, plus an online book provide all the unexpected twists of melody, electronically generated rhythms, poignant pauses, tight harmonies and a dash of disco fever.

Sometimes Adam starts with a simple guitar strum or plain piano chords, but with Mr. Young it builds and builds--sometimes dropping off suddenly. You can count on rich and sometimes thrilling swells of accompanyment to his clear, youthful singing. I know that I am completely smitten, and have blogged twice about him--February 12 and February 19.

One complete surprise on this album is the track January 28, 1986. It features President Ronald Reagan's speech after the Challenger Disaster with minimal background by the artist. Then, it swings immediately into the rhythmic celebration of Galaxies and you're off!

I made notes on each song, but I don't really need to present them here. The Devo-like hollering in Kamakazi was something new from Owl City. Mostly, though, it was more of what we want. Not sure which song will be his next radio hit, but you could probably take anything off this album and use it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Another Day Unfolds

At 5:25 a.m., my 43-year-old alarm clock clicks and quiet music begins to play. My eyes pop open. The first thought is sensing how much light is in the room and feeling my body against the sheets. In that first few seconds, I identify myself (yes, it's me) and then the thoughts come back. "Tuesday--that means orchestra practice" or "Have to finish that project I was working on yesterday." I may hope for nicer weather. But, within a minute or two, my feet are on the floor and I'm off to the shower. By the time the water is running, I'm pretty much awake.

What's funny is--I normally have a "profile" of what I expect my day to be. It's a mixture of the day of the week, the current thing(s) that are bothering me, the soundtrack from music I'm listening to, and sometimes the pressure of realizing that I have something to do that may take some extra attention--or be a little uncomfortable. If I'm lucky, I have something to look forward to.

At this point, with a new job at a good company full of good people, I'm happy to go to work, but it does involve some uncertainties as I learn my way, and I spend up to two hours of driving to get there and back. But that's what satellite radio and my iPod are for.

Inevitably, what I projected for the day changes during it. The meeting is cancelled or moved, the difficult thing proves easy, my time is spent on something I wasn't planning to do. Perhaps some major news story or event at work changes the tone of the day.

Part of my vision of the day includes making sure my two "must-dos" (besides brushing and flossing) take place. One is writing this blog--daily since January 1--and the other is practicing my bass. Daily means every day, and it's what makes things work for me. Little things add up.

By 11 p.m. I'm ready to lay down and rest. And before you know it, that clock will be going off again.

Monday, June 13, 2011

VW Beetle No Longer a "Chick Car"

I knew the new Beetle was coming for 2012--but today I got an email offer to sign up for one of 600 Black Turbo limited edition models. I guess if I wanted a new Beetle (notice the lowercase "n"--the car's called just Beetle now) I would want one with a turbo--but maybe not in black.

This special manly VW bug features a 200-horsepower turbo engine, a sport suspension, and special Black Pearl paint.

If the "New Beetle" that arrived in the late 1990's was a change from the old car, this is a little less so--still based on the Golf--but it is a huge change in proportion and style. See the photos for more details, but you'll immediately notice a much higher window line and a more upright windshield--getting away from the "three humps" look of the New Beetle.

The interior is retro, but all-new. However, in another move toward toughness--sorry, no more bud vase.

I learned from my local dealer that deliveries of these new Beetles are weeks away, but you will definitely want to check one out when they arrive.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mazda MX-5 Miata Rocks

People often ask me, as an automotive writer, what my favorite car is. Of course, that's a silly question, since after nearly 1,000, it's hard to pick out a single favorite. However, there is one car that I've enjoyed six times (I believe) since June of 1992, when I drove my first one. It's the Mazda MX-5 Miata, a two-seat roadster.

Mazda has built and sold more than 900,000 of them since introducing it in 1989. Now in its third generation, the MX-5 Miata continues to provide that quick top-down, part-of-you experience that makes it by far the most popular sports car ever made.

I love these cars because they remind me of trips in my father's small Austin-Healey roadsters as a kid. On a summer afternoon, we'd jump into the little bucket seats in the back (kid-size only) and the four of us would motor off to the ice cream place. These were the happiest moments of my childhood--part of what led me to write about cars in the first place.

The Miata is simple--and was especially so when it arrived. You unlatch the top and just push it back behind you--it takes two seconds. The small four-cylinder engine and manual transmission are as simple as the Austin-Healey Sprite of yore--but have today's technology. The electrical system works great--no Prince of Darkness Lucas wiring harness to bedevil you.

I am now testing the 2011 Miata with the recently-introduced electric folding hard top. I thought it might be a drag because it would be slow, or heavy, or somehow not "authentic," but let me tell you--it's heaven. You unlatch a single center clip and push a button. About eight seconds later, you hear a beep and you're done. The metal cover lifts to accept the top, which folds neatly into the space behind the seats, and you still have all your trunk space available. You can perform this trick at a traffic light with little worry of being stuck in the middle of the procedure.

I'm getting about 27 miles per gallon now, but, amazingly, the back of the fuel filler door suggests premium fuel! Still worth it--and that's what I have fed my borrowed Dolphin Gray Mica tester.

Well--gotta run. There's daylight left and I'm off for another drive. Yeah, I guess it's my favorite.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mountain Tamer -- Youthful Rock

I was just stepping into Panama Red in Concord to get a cup of coffee when I met Andrew. He saw my bass tattoo and we discussed our ink. He had a detailed gramophone on his right arm, a gorgeous Canadian maple leaf on his chest near his heart, a long tableau of a night sky on his left shin, and a few smaller ones.

In any case, as he prepared a latte for me, the 19-year-old musician told me enthusiastically about his band, Mountain Tamer, and gave me his cd demo of four songs (pictured). It contained just over 12 minutes of surging, jangling songs, featuring guitar, bass and drums, with some vocals not unlike those of Robert Plant or Jim Morrison. It isn't the music I normally listen to, but it was pleasing in an intense way. It surely would entertain a group of young men and women in a club--not for dancing, but for setting the right mood. Urgent, yet laid back. Nothing sounded amiss or out of place for a band that is just playing its first gig.

There's a lot of music out there for the listening. I feel like I'm 19 myself when I pick up the bass and play with my band. And Andrew, who's about the same age as my younger son, and I shared something today.

You can find Mountain Tamer on SoundCloud. I learned about this exciting music site from Andrew, too.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Power to Ride for Those Who Can't Walk

I learned today about a wonderful non-profit organization that helps people who, for various reasons, are immobilized or have other physical, intellectual or emotional disabilites. They do it by getting them riding horses! The National Center for Equine Facilitated Therapy (NCEFT), in Woodside California, provides a chance for children and adults with special needs to experience a new kind of personal mobility.

Out of their restored 1920 dairy barn, the dedicated staff and their team of horses (that's Cody, pictured) offer hippotherapy--using the movement of a horse to treat everything from physical to occupational to speech related conditions.

Just imagine how it must feel when you've been feeling limited and are suddenly high above the ground, controlling a friendly four-legged creature. The beauty of this method is that it not only exercises your body but can improve your state of mind and attitude, too. It's about empowerment. The NCEFT even offers horse and carriage driving for those who may not fit well astride a horse.

Contact the NCEFT if you want to contribute or volunteer. The person who told me about them finds it extremely rewarding.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Kill Camels to Save the Planet?

I ran across a story today on Yahoo about a plan being proposed in Australia to put a bounty on wild camels there--because their methane emissions are an ecological problem! The government says that the more than a million of these large animals cause various other kinds of destruction as well.

As a camel enthusiast (many years ago) this is pretty bizarre. And it's not a pleasant concept to anyone, really.

However, each camel reportedly burps out 100 pounds of methane a year, which is a lot, I guess. The EPA says it's about a sixth the amount of a car. And, it is true that our ecosystem must absorb emissions from many things besides factories and cars. I have heard more than once that cow flatulence is a significant cause of problems as well.

Somehow, "Go Green--Shoot a Camel" doesn't sound like it has traction, but with Australia's aggressive plan to slash emissions, which starts next year, it could happen.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Kia Optima Hybrid Another Advance for the Brand

I got a chance tonight to drive Kia's new Optima Hybrid. Just arriving in dealerships now, it offers another choice in the green midsize sedan field. While its 35 City, 40 Highway mileage is less than, say, a Prius, it is fully competitive with cars like the Camry Hybrid or the Ford Fusion Hybrid.

And what a nice package it is. I cruised along effortlessly hearing practically nothing. Like a full-time hybrid should do, it alternates between gas engine, electric motor or both--and neither at stops.

Kia has introduced seven new cars since the sporty Soul arrived in March of 2009, essentially remaking the brand. With exciting interior and exterior styling by led by former Audi designer Peter Schreyer, and lots of standard equipment for a good price, Kia has grown each of the 17 years since opening shop in the U.S. in 1994. Kia's market share, while small, has gone up significantly, making Kia one of the big success stories of the last few troubled years for the auto industry.

Prices are quite reasonable, starting at $27,250, including shipping, for the standard hybrid. With the $5,000 Hybrid Premium Technology Package, you get a panoramic sunroof, heated and cooled seats, heated rear seats and steering wheel, a navigation system and more.

I'll have more to say when I've spent a week with this car.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hooked on Game of Thrones (the Book)

The first time I heard of George R.R. Martin was in a long article about him in the New Yorker. It talked about how his fans were desperate for the next book in his popular series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Well, now that I'm on page 378 of book one I can understand their frustration.

Game of Thrones is the kind of book that you find yourself reading while waiting in line at Safeway, or before bed, or at lunch. You make time for it, and begrudge the "wastes of time" like emptying the dishwasher. It's great to find a series that takes your attention and pulls you into an alternative world of adventure.

The last time I did this was when I read through all seven Harry Potter books a few summers ago.

The story is now on TV, too, but I'm not going to watch until I've read all the books first.

Updates as they happen. I have to get back to reading now...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Jack Casady - Bassman Then and Now

I remember the thumping sound of Jack Casady's bass playing in Somebody to Love and other songs by the Jefferson Airplane. I also see an ad in the June 2011 issue of Bass Player showing Jack, who's now a great deal older, playing like a madman on the Epiphone Jack Casady Signature Bass--in an ad for the guitar maker. Looks like a fine instrument.

I have a CD--Jack's first solo effort, from 2003, called Dream Factor. On it, he plays fine and low with hand-picked musicians on a variety of cuts. Still a great listen.

I met Jack for about 10 seconds once in 1971. I was coming out of a health food store in San Francisco and saw him--looking unmistakably like the guy in the photo above--and he was trying to carry a load of gallon jugs of cider. I asked if he needed any help. He said, "No," and that was it.

Now, he's one of my bass heroes. The sound he made in those early years is part of my inspiration.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ford Pinto Turns 40--Join the Stampede!

Are you a fan of the Ford Pinto? Built from 1971 to 1980, Ford's diminutive little vehicle was meant to stem the tide of Japanese imports that invaded our shores starting in the mid 1960's. Sure, we had the first batch of "compacts" for 1960, when the Chevy Corvair, Ford Falcon and Plymouth Valiant (actually, it was just the Valiant the first year) arrived to battle the already-compact Rambler.

In any case, by the late 1960's more help was needed, so subcompacts arrived--in the form of the Pinto, Chevy's ill-fated Vega and the odd but loveable AMC Gremlin. Yeah, remember the Gremlin? It was two-thirds of a compact sedan, but completely unique and cost very little to design (AMC was hurting for cash). Chrysler began importing Mitsubishis to fill its compact car needs (remember the Dodge Colt?).

All this is prelude to the big news. To celebrate the anniversary, over the last several days, a convoy of Pintos, called the Pinto Stampede, has driven together for 1,600 miles from Denver, Colorado to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where a huge event, the Ford Nationals was taking place. Actually, it's probably winding down right now.

What makes someone a fan of an odd little car? Well, maybe it was their first car. Maybe they thought they were cute back then and always wanted one. As the owner of a Nash Metropolitan I think I understand.

The Pinto debuted as a three door hatch or a two-door coupe, but later was sold as a cute little wagon--including a model with woodgrain applique on it like a Ford Country Squire! Hmm, cute. It was more efficient and got higher mileage than contemporary big cars. It was a start. I kind of liked them, especially the hatchback with the large rear window. But I've never driven one.

Today, you can buy a Ford Fiesta that's much better in every way, but there's nothing like an American classic. Ask members of the Ford Pinto Car Club.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

New Tires for a Late Winter -- In June

Well, it's STILL raining in Northern California on June 4. This is just plain weird. In any case, it made me reconsider replacing the front tires on my wife's car. You really want to have some tread on your tires on wet roads so the water has somewhere to go and you still have some rubber touching the surface. Otherwise you are at a risk of hydroplaning and getting into an accident. I didn't want that for my loved ones.

There's an old informal gauge of using a penny to see if Lincoln's head is visible -- or something--I know that the entire head was completely visible. The tread looked like a drawing on the tire.

So, what do you do? I looked online and saw that some local places had bad Yelp reviews. Then, I remembered good experiences I had before with a local company, so I went there. I arrived just when the door opened at 7:30 a.m. and was 3rd in line. Sure enough, the friendly and efficient folks there found me a good pair for the fronts (the backs were still good--and they told me so and didn't try to sell me something I didn't need). Also, they provided me with good tires for significantly less than the exact replacement models. Then, they put them on in half an hour.

I then went home and brought over one of my other cars that had a slow leak. After using my $15 quickie compressor to fill the offending tire, I drove over. As they have done before, they fixed the leak--for free--and topped off my coolant, which I told them looked like it was running low.

Finding good businesses you can count on to do the job right at a good price isn't easy. If you need tires, go see them if you're in the neighborhood:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Nissan Leaf - a Real Electric Car

The Nissan Leaf is the first all-electric car to be a completely finished, normal, mass market vehicle. Dramatically styled outside, extremely pleasant to drive and ride in, and complete with all the accoutrements you require--satellite radio, USB, climate control, power acccessories, navigation--it's a dream come true.

Range is a consideration with a pure electric car, but the Leaf actually fit my needs pretty well. I have a 44-mile round trip commute, and it took me on it, gas free, with about one third of the full charge remaining when I rolled into my driveway. I used a 110-volt trickle charger--which is slow--but if I owned the car, my 220-volt home charger would do the job in 5 hours, not 16.

The motoring experience is serene. The car makes a cute little chime song when you push its "On" button. The icon of a Leaf with a two-headed arrow under it appears and you're ready to go. Push the car into Drive and take off.

If you put the car into the Drive position a second time, it takes the ECO setting. Then, it will generate more electricity with regenerative braking and accelerate a bit more leisurely--but you'll get a greater range.

A tree icon on the information-packed instrument panel lets you "earn" trees from your good driving behavior. If the old way of interacting with cars was through shifting, accelerating, and zero-to-sixty times, the new way is to see how far you can go on a charge--which means careful driving, not wild performance.

There's an iPhone app that lets you stay aware of the charge of your car remotely. I consulted it from work when the car was at home. It also tells you where the closest charging station is--and that list will include your house as soon as you've used it once.

The tan, organically shaped cabin coddles you, and with the silence of the ride, the audio system entertains completely.

The price is about $33,000, but numerous rebates and offers apply, so you may be able to grab a Leaf for the mid $20,000s. But, consider this. I earned 4.3 miles per kilowatt hour (KWh). That means that the 44-mile commute cost me, at my rates, about $1.40 in electricity. A Prius would burn just under a gallon of gas--which goes for $4.25 these days. A "regular" car, at 22 miles per gallon, would cost $8.50. So there's a definite savings there.

For now, you'll want to have another car available for long distance travel. I expect that charging times and battery life will improve significantly over the next few years until it'll mean a half-hour lunchtime charge at the Denny's halfway to LA and you'll be on your way. Meanwhile, the Leaf makes pure electric motoring not only possible, but enjoyable too.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Weather vs. Climate--and are we Screwing Up the Latter?

It's not supposed to look like the photo to the left in the San Francisco Bay Area at 6:41 a.m. on June 2. No, by now the green hills are dried to gold, the sky is clear and blue, and the thermometer is routinely hitting 80 degrees. But today, I'm taking my umbrella and wearing a long-sleeved shirt and coat. I am wondering if we're getting Seattle's weather by mistake.

Weather vs. Climate. What's the difference? And is climate change upon us, as scientists have predicted for decades? Kinda of looks like it to me.

Weather is what the guy on the TV news talks about before the sports updates. It's about whether you should cancel that outdoor party or wear your raincoat. It's always changing, is only somewhat predictable, and is a great thing to discuss at a party where you don't know anyone.

Climate, however, is more about mean temperatures and average rainfall. It affects which crops will grow, if the riverbank will hold the runoff, the breeding cycle of insects, and, indirectly, the livelihood of millions of people. We've seen extreme weather incidents recently--the tornados that ripped apart Joplin, MO, now flooding in South Dakota. Record temperatures in Southern California. Today we hear about tornados in Massachusetts! The list goes on and on. Is this related to climate change?

The science of climate change seems to boil down to more junk in the air causing the earth to retain more heat, which leads to rising global temperatures affecting the distribution of water on the planet. Too much rain here (floods), too little (draught), and the movement of air from these disruptions causing friction, leading to tornados. Melting polar ice leads to higher water levels in coastal regions.

I don't profess to understanding it, but it appears that we are moving from ignorance to disbelief to now a growing general concensus that something is amiss. We are starting to talk about handling the effects of climate change and not just about preventing it. It looks like we can't prevent it.

So, what do you do? Apparently, replacing your SUV with a Prius isn't enough. We need to understand the whole picture, and then have our governments "help" us do what we need to do to cope. According to the June 6, 2011 issue of Newsweek ("Weather Panic"), we are woefully unprepared. It is one thing we all can agree on--a world problem. Maybe we don't need aliens to land to become unified after all.

Here's where I go for a daily dose of information, but there's plenty if you go looking for it.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My Dad Would Be 84 Today

My father was born 84 years ago to a modest-income family in Buffalo, New York. He grew up with his father away much of the time, during the depression. H was taller than everyone else in his family. He was a "nerd," being interested in technology, science and books--but didn't wear glasses. Then, he lost both parents as a teenager, to different illnesses. Not a great start in life.

My father served briefly in World War II at age 17, but a friend accidentally shot him through the middle (luckily, missing everything), so home he came. The 6-foot-3 overweight kid came home a slim, handsome 6-5 man, and things started to move. Dad went to college on the GI Bill and then through dental school. This began a career that included private practice, teaching at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and later the University of Southern California, and finally, a series of lectures. The University of Buffalo, his alma mater, has an annual award in his name. That, by any measure, is professional success.

As an increasingly successful professional in his 20's and early 30's, Dad got interested in British sports cars, and ended up owning and racing a number of them, including three Austin Healeys and a rare (and tiny) Berkeley. The latter was recently restored in the Midwest and is pictured above. Dad's love of cars was passed on to me, but I'm a writer, not a racer or a wrencher.

My parents' marriage was not successful for either of my parents, but they both made good connections later that lasted many years.

My father died suddenly the day before he was to have surgery to repair an abdominal aortic aneurism--a life threatening condition. I think he knew the risks going in. He and I had great, long phone chats on his birthday (June 1) and Father's Day (mid-June). In my adult years, we became close in spirit, if not in distance.

I'm sorry he's missing out on his great granddaughter and seeing his grandkids become adults. I'm used to him not being nearby, but I'm still unhappy he's not around. He knew how to fix anything, had a lot of interesting things to say, really cared about me--and celebrated my successes. I sent him every auto story I wrote during his lifetime (hundreds) and a number of books in my car library are signed gifts from him.

His car, in my mind, will always be an Austin-Healey. Someday, I may even get to drive one.

From Dad I learned to be honest, to work hard, that focusing your attention leads to great results, that it's important to spend some of your time doing what you love and much more. I wish he was still on the other end of the line.