Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Devil's Canyon Brewing Company Makes Friday

After a busy week, it's good to settle into some fine beer and entertainment. Well, at least once a month, and the Devil's Canyon Brewing Company provided that last Friday. I'd enjoyed their beer at a local restaurant, Jack's Prime, a while back and when someone told me about the brewery's monthly musical after-work events, I scheduled it. Suddenly, it was the last Friday of the month, so off I went.

It was quiet when I arrived, but before long, a mostly young crowd had formed. I bought my Devil's Canyon glass for 6 bucks and then filled it, for $6 a pop, with three of the brew varieties the place offers: a lager, an IPA, and the Full Boar porter. All strong but not overpowering, and, when mixed with music, conversation, and cheap tacos from a truck parked right at the entrance, it made for a good time. And a buck from each glass of beer goes to a local charity, so you can think of yourself as helping the community while you're enjoying yourself.

You need the right kind of bands, and they had two. The first group, Cryin' Shame, was a country-rock foursome, featuring an upright bass (electrified). I chatted with the bass player afterwards and found we had some musical opinions in common--always a good thing. They reminded me of Red Paint a little. The second band, Mister Loveless, was more urban and punky--with a more driving sound from a picked bass part on a McCartney-style Rickenbacker bass guitar. The lead guitarist had a matching 6-string that added some visual and aural symmetry. The driving beat gave me thoughts of turning up my amp next time I play.

I'm really looking forward to next month's event.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Acura TSX - More of What We Need

Giving the Germans a run for their money.
Acura was founded by Honda in the late 1980s to be an aspirational brand for the company. Folks loved their Civics and Accords (both of which were significantly smaller and less powerful back then), but Honda wanted to expand and felt that prospective buyers would be put off by a higher-priced Honda. Despite it's head start, Acura has lagged in perception below Toyota's luxury line, Lexus, which originated just a couple of years later.

The TSX is the heart of Acura, sitting in the Entry Premium category (high $20K - mid $30K). It's not too huge nor too small. It is actually the European Honda Accord, essentially--smaller and sharper than the now lumbering Accord sold (and built) in the U.S. In Europe, this is a sizeable vehicle, although it's fairly compact by American standards.

Competitors include the German trio: Audi A4, BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. There are Japanese competitors from Lexus and Infiniti, too, and the Volvo S60 can be considered part of the group, too. The TSX recently became available as a lean and handsome Sport Wagon (tested last year), which lets it compete with cars like the Audi A4 Avant as well.

My tester came with Acura's well-regarded 201-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, but there's also a potent, 280-horsepower V6 available. The four got 25.9 mpg during its stay with me, which matches up nicely with what the EPA awards it. The six is rated at 23 mpg average--not that much worse for it's significant power gain. The V6 lets the TSX match up with the V6-powered versions of the above-mentioned cars, which is important if you want to reach that entry premium buyer.

The four-cylinder car is offered with an automatic or a manual six-speed (yes, it helps compete against the Audi and BMW), but the six comes only with the automatic.

I like nice cars that drive well and have good sound systems and are filled with electronic goodies. But the demographic for the four-cylinder model is age 28 to 34, college educated, about evenly split male/female. Two out of three's not bad, I guess. The V6 model is targeted at a somewhat older buyer, more heavily male.

The TSX has a nicely crafted feel inside, with lots of buttons all over the console, dash, doors and steering wheel making it feel a little like a jet. The exterior wears the requisite edginess that Acura is using to define itself these days--but the shovel nose has been toned down a bit. Take a look.

If you're willing to look at the whole package and keep an open mind, a TSX could be a nice alternative to the Germans you've dreamed of owning.

Video by Chris Kidwell.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cars of the (Sustainable) Future

It's a tough time in the automotive business now. Most of the companies are struggling to sell enough vehicles to make a profit, GM and Chrysler are emerging from bankruptcy, Saab is R.I P. But there's more. The manufacturers will have to meet greatly increased environmental standards.

The corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards in the U.S. now require that a manufacturer's cars average 27.5 miles per gallon. However, plans by the president would move that to 54.5 mpg by 2025. That's a huge jump, but it's based on many factors, including environmental concerns and a depleting supply of oil.

Manufacturers have explored alternative vehicles for years. Hybrid vehicles, exemplified by the Toyota Prius, can achieve higher fuel economy and run more cleanly, but there are also electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf now on the market, and other options includes (clean) Diesel vehicles, offered by multiple manufacturers, plug-in hybrids, such as the Chevrolet Volt, and in an emerging technology, hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles. There are also numerous efforts to bring greater efficiency to existing gasoline vehicles, such as Mazda's SKYACTIV Technology.

It's not a time to worry about the shape of a fender or how fast it'll go. There are some certainties and some uncertainties, but one thing is clear--to meet that 54.5 CAFE standard, something major is going to have to change.

Yesterday, at the Future Cars, Future Transportation Forum, put on by the Western Automotive Journalists (WAJ), I got to drive several vehicles that will be doing their part to help in this effort. I also got to hear industry experts from several manufacturers and two writers from major automotive publications give their thoughts on what's coming. Local TV station KGO Channel 7 covered the event.

My first drive was in the Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell electric vehicle. It's a compact hatchback, small but not teeny, that uses a hydrogen-powered fuel cell. Fuel cells generate electricity electricity in a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen that yields only pure water vapor. It sounds like a dream come true.

But--the downsides include the need to manufacture the hydrogen (it's everywhere, but not in the form you need for the car) and the biggest issue of all--there's no infrastructure. There are 250,000 gas stations in the country but virtually no hydrogen stations. Los Angeles has a few, and that's where you can lease one of a few initial Mercedes B-Class F-Cells.

Driving the car on a short test loop showed that besides being a very sweet little people carrier (with Mercedes styling), there is absolutely no loss of performance or utility running on hydrogen. Smooth and silent, it would be a guaranteed winner, if there was a place to fuel it. And--what would it cost? That could be a problem, at least until enough were produced that economies of scale kicked in.

I also sampled Toyota's FCHV-adv, fresh fuel cell technology in a previous-generation Toyota Highlander body. Like the Mercedes-Benz, it drove very nicely and quietly. Toyota has been working on this problem for decades. This latest model has improvements to the cells, the control system, the tanks, cold-weather startup, fuel efficiency and cruising range. But there are still no hydrogen stations around.

Electric vehicles have been in the experimental stage for many years and have even been on the market for limited purposes, essentially overgrown golf carts. The Nissan Leaf represents the first viable "regular car" that you can buy. I tested one recently, but at the event, I got to sample Mitsubushi's i-MiEV, a compact hatch that looks like a future pod more than anything else on the road. The bottom line? It drove silently and smoothly, like one would expect. It has rear seats that fold down and a handy hatch, a pleasant, if simple linterior, and would serve my personal commute needs exactly. However, Like all electrics, with the possible exception of the $100,000 + Tesla Roadster, it has a range of less than 100 miles, though, and would cost nearly $30,000 before national and state rebates dropped it down closer to $20,000. Dave Patterson of Mitsubishi is enthusiastic about the future of electric cars, and told us that the company will introduce multiple electrics over the next few years, including a crossover that seats seven.

The problems with electric cars, besides range, include the time (hours) it takes to refill the tank. With improvements in battery technology and quick charging, electric cars will have to play a big part in the future automotive market to help meet the CAFE standards.

The Chevrolet Volt tries to work it both ways by giving about 35 miles of service on pure electricity before switching to a hybrid mode, in which a gasoline engine kicks in to power the electric motor. It seems like an interim solution, but the Volt I drove yesterday felt solid, and with all its colorful displays inside, it would be  very entertaining for a while. If you had a 15-mile commute each way, you could end up using no gasoline at all. 

What about simply improving the cars we already have? Mazda is attempting this with the SKYACTIV Technology. I drove a Mazda3 with this recently, and also took a short run at the event. Nice: a six-speed manual for sportiness. The friendly Mazda rep explained the changes in the engine and transmission, and how the technology would include many more aspects in upcoming vehicles, including the brand-new CX-5 crossover, which will be out very soon. The experts in the panels all agreed that the internal combustion gasoline engine was going to be around for a while, so improving every aspect of it, and the cars that use it, makes a lot of sense.

Diesel cars have been around for a long time. Mercedes-Benz has sold tons of them. Nowadays, Volkswagen is a major Diesel marketer in the U.S. I drove the brand-new Passat TDI, which boasts amazingly high fuel economy (43 mpg Highway) and a huge range of nearly 800 miles! The downside of Diesel is that it's still burning a fuel, and Diesel emits more particulate matter than gasoline. But as a short-term solution, especially towards hitting that 54.5 mpg average, it's a player. And the performance can be quite thrilling with its high torque.

So, what's coming? None of the expert panelists could say for sure, but they all agreed that for a technology to have an impact it would have to represent at least 15 percent of the automotive market. Today, none of these alternative vehicle types comes close. Even the ubiquitous Toyota Prius barely makes a dent.

It's going to be very interesting, and 13 years is not a long time to get this very important job done.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Kopi Luwak - Poop Coffee Tastes Good

I had the chance today to try Kopi Luwak coffee. It's a super premium beverage in which the bean actually passes through an Asian Palm Civet (small animal, pictured). After being pooped out, the beans are scrubbed and ground and from their special passage, lose their bitterness.

It's produced in extremely limited quantities in Indonesia and the Phillipines, and can run $100 to $600 a pound, making it the most expensive coffee in the world.

It tastes much nicer than you'd think. I seem to have survived a half cup of it this afternoon. With the low bitterness, you can drink it straight with no milk or sugar and it's very smooth.

What would Juan Valdez say?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Red Paint CD Release Party Tonight - a Culmination

Tonight, Red Paint, an Alameda, California-based four-piece rock band, takes the stage at its first ever CD Release Party. It's the culmination of everything the group has worked for since it started up in lead guitarist Shaun Reid's livingroom in October of 2006. It also features Colin Close as lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Tony Herrin on drums and me on bass. Colin writes most of our original material.

For me, it began long before 2006. Sure, I got my Fender Precision Bass Special on my birthday in 2003, but my actual first bass goes back to when I was just 18, living alone in semi-poverty in San Francisco. I had dreamed of bass playing for years, perhaps from listening to Paul McCartney's brilliant work with the Beatles and other 1960's pop music. In any case, I was strumming my guitar and trying to start a modest career as a soloist in the image of, say, Bob Dylan. It was going slowly, with open mike nights at the Coffee Gallery in San Francisco's North Beach and a few little parties and events.

In any case, I decided to take my sole item of value--my coin collection--to a pawn shop in the Tenderloin and acquire a bass. I must have read about Jazz musicians doing this, I don't know. In any case, there was a green Fender-style solid-body electric bass. I made the swap, and saw all those remarkably unworn 19th-century Indian pennies, along with my $2-1/2 gold piece, slip away forever.

I took my new possession home and plunked away on it for a while, but, without an amplifier, I wasn't much good to anyone. Sadly, not too much later, someone broke into my ground-floor apartment and stole my bass. I figured it was a message. I devoted my energies thenceforth to my college education and tried to forget about bass playing, although I did still strum and sing with my guitar over the years and spent one fun year playing bluegrass mandolin.

A 50th birthday is a milestone. I decided, in lieu of a Ferrari or an affair, to acquire the bass I always wanted. I advanced this idea to my supportive wife and she said, "Go get it!"

After some shopping around I settled on the electric bass I still play most of the time. Although I acquired two other bass guitars over the years, and have made a whole second project with the upright bass, I stand today ready to play our band's 11-song CD (all original songs) live in front of as many friends and relatives as are willing to answer an EVITE and actually show up. You can hear some of it on our Facebook page.

We recorded this music a while ago, in two different studios, but it took a while to plan the event and get the date. We are excited to offer a second set of new original songs and a few covers in our second set. For our fans, it's a chance to hear something new from the band. You really have no good excuse for not being there, unless, of course, you're reading this in Anchorage, Alaska or Peru or Poland.

I always wanted to be in a band, was drawn to bass playing since Nixon was president, and love music. What could be better than this?

Red Paint plays at High Street Station in Alameda, California on Saturday, January 21, 2012 from 7 - 10 p.m.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Honda Civic Natural Gas - A Clean Alternative

In 20 years of automotive testing, it's rare when you get to drive something for the first time. Well, I just did. I spent a week with the Honda Civic Natural Gas, which runs on, that's right, compressed natural gas (CNG). While Honda has offered the GX model in small quantities over the last several years, particularly to fleets, it now has "Natural Gas" emblazoned on the trunklid, with a blue CNG diamond below it, and plans to make the car more widely available.

The CNG sticker, apparently, is for emergency crews so they'll know that instead of a normal gas tank, your vehicle has an 8-gallon (equivalent) one, which is not only holding the fuel in a gaseous state at 3,600 psi but takes up most of the trunk (behind a panel).

The good news is substantial. I averaged 30.5 miles per gallon (the EPA says 31), which is very slightly lower than a normal Honda Civic. Posted EPA scores are 27 City, 38 Highway. There was no difference in driving the car from the typical pleasant Civic experience, despite a difference of 30 horsepower (110 vs. 140). And the thing runs extremely cleanly thanks to CNG's inherently more efficient combustion. The EPA numbers are 9 for Air Pollution and 8 for Greenhouse Gas compared to 6 and 7 respectively for a standard Civic.

CNG is less expensive than gasoline. I paid $2.40 and $2.50 per gallon (equivalent). Oh, and CNG comes from the USA--not on tankers from hostile nations.

The bad news? Well, with a 250-mile range and few available filling locations, you've really got to watch your fuel gauge and plan ahead. I made two fuel stops instead of one during my test week. Also, the car is more expensive than a standard Civic. List price for my car, with the Navigation system, came to $28,425, which is a lot for a compact car with cloth seats and a plastic steering wheel. It costs money to modify the Honda engine and tank to accommodate the different fuel, which is delivered at higher pressure. But those are the only downsides.

I had two "learning experiences" filling the tank. It doesn't take long, but you do need to go to places you normally don't. In my case,  I visited the north and south ends of the San Francisco Airport, where two companies, Clean Energy and Trillium, offer unpretentious accommodations. You might drive right past the little row of pumps without even noticing unless you go to the websites and get the information. Both locations had attendants, and I needed both of them.

The first station, Clean Energy, had a short video training built into the pump that I had to watch before pumping. It explained the method of clamping the filler nozzle onto the slim chrome filler in my car and working the pump. Unlike a typical gasoline pump, this one not only shows gallons and cost but also percent of full. At 100 percent, you carefully remove the nozzle and you're done. See a short video by my friend Chris.

Trillium provided a different type of connection but was basically the same. They didn't require any video viewing, but I might have liked one. They had a list of steps posted on the side of the tank, but I needed the attendant to show me that I left a lever up, which is why the system didn't know I was finished.

If you don't plan on making too many long trips this car could work great for you. That's why fleets, in which the vehicles have specific routes and the company can run its own fueling stations, have been the primary clients for CNG cars. The Civic, at this point, is the only standard CNG car you can buy. My companions at the filling stations were shuttle buses and commercial trucks. Some municipal buses fleets use CNG, and I can see that it would be handy. Surely someone else could offer a CNG car, right?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Oatmeal Weather

Well, where is the rain we normally get in January? Nothing--and the ski resort folks are getting antsy. In place of the moisture we're getting cold. Yesterday, it said 31 degrees on my car's digital thermometer. That's below freezing.

It's a big deal--and not much of a deal--depending on how you look at it. With heat in my house, car and office, I went about my business. I wore a sweater. The plants around my yard--none too well cared for, sadly--remain green despite my neglect. Like so many things that are beyond my control, the weather remains in the background. For now.

Rain is actually a pain in the neck from a dog-walking, groceries-from-the-car standpoint. So I think I'll enjoy the dryness while I can, until I have to stop taking showers. I'm having a big bowl of steel-cut oatmeal today--the perfect cold weather breakfast.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Gotta be Connected Online

On Thursday night, my connection to the Internet went south--for no obvious reason. I decided to wait until Friday to see if the problem fixed itself--something that's not unknown with electronic gear. Well, Friday arrived and it was still disconnected, so I went to work early and produced my blog post from there.

Sunday morning, and still nothing. So--I called AT&T and they were able to reset it--and here I am.

But--the problem is--I HATE being disconnected. Surely it's one thing to be put out by not receiving the service for which I pay (substantially) monthly, but it's also a nagging sense of being in the boondocks--out of touch--and unable to communicate--that I wonder about. Because I am old enough to remember when if you weren't at home you couldn't make a phone call, and if you wanted to say something to lots of people at once, you'd have to rent a hall.

Whew. Perhaps someday this will all  be up in the cloud and we'll be device independent, but what happens when there's a cloudburst? What about super sunspots? Then, it's back to square one.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mazda3 - Doing the Job Well

I was expecting the Mazda3 five-door I tested to do a fine job of hauling me and my stuff in comfort and economy, and it certainly did so. It has been on my short list of "Cars I'd Buy" for quite some time.

As a compact wagon, it's the perfect car for efficient commuting during the week and carrying lots of gear on the weekend. I carry a bass and amplifiers, so that's easy. You may have camping gear or make periodic trips to Costco. Same difference. The rear seats flip down easily (and feel very lightweight when you release the catches on them). When the seats are up you can put real people in the back. Four might be happier than five, but three slim folks in back is do-able.

With its 2.0-liter, 155-horsepower engine, the Mazda3 delivered 32.7 miles per gallon--that's against the EPA's 27 City, 38 Highway (31 Average) scores. So--I outdid the EPA this week, for a change. Mazda is touting its new "SKYACTIV" Technology, which is their way of saying they worked on many of the details of a conventional powertrain to increase efficiency. EPA Green Vehicle Guide scores of 9 for Air Pollution and 7 for Greenhouse Gas, along with those favorable mpg numbers, make this a great choice for anyone who wants to go green without spending the extra money for a hybrid.

My tester came with a six-speed manual transmission, so it felt sportier--and a little more like its MX-5 Miata cousin. An automatic is also available, and it increases the fuel economy by 1 mpg.

Other than a mediocre audio system (and no USB port or satellite radio) I was happy all week in my tester. And the price brought a smile too--just $19,745, including delivery.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2013 Ford Fusion - European Beauty Comes Stateside

Ford has been doing everything right lately. Alan Mulally, it's visionary president and CEO since 2006, has helped the company weather the storm of the last few years while building up a new lineup of vehicles. Some of these, such as the subcompact Fiesta and compact Focus, have their origins to Europe, and add the graceful aesthetics and taut packaging that's expected there.

With the arrival of the surprisingly beautiful Fusion, Ford's lineup is now completely refreshed. Sitting in the volume middle of the product line and competing with midsize entries from Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Chevy and others, it looks like another winner from the blue oval folks.

Ford introduced the Evos concept car last year with a new look--a pretty face with lean headlamps and a finely detailed grille like an Aston Martin. It signaled a new look for Ford, and the Fusion gets it. And, the car will offer gasoline, hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions, so it can give Prius shoppers something different to consider.

The new Fusion is due out in the second half of this year.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Creatures of Habit

This morning, as I always do, I released my little Boston Terrier, Coco, into our back yard to do her business. As I watched from the top of the stairs, I witnessed the same process she does every day. She sniffs here, sniffs there, and nine times out of ten, ends up using the same two square feet to place her deposit. It made me think--is this the same way I live as a human being?

I don't mean this literally. Of course I use the same spot for my "business"--we have designated places for that--but in terms of the way I live. Do I always go to the same 5 restaurants when there are 50--or 500? Do I always put on the same radio station when there are dozens? Do I drive the same roads the same way to the same place five days a week? Even worse, do I think the same thoughts over and over?

This comes more into focus when I do something a little different. I went to two places I'd never been before on Saturday, one of which involved meeting some new people, and it was exciting. It gave the day a different mood. I've started a few new activities for my 2012 Jewish Roots Project and it's the same feeling. Yesterday, my band, Red Paint, practiced on Sunday afternoon instead of Thursday night and we seemed especially productive.

So, let's not be creatures of habit--unless it makes sense. Have something different for lunch today!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

San Francisco in 1955

Look at that skyline!
I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1965 and in the actual city itself from 1970 to 1985. I have many impressions of that great metropolis from the years of occuping different apartments in different neighborhoods and working at various jobs, starting as a dishwasher/busboy diagonally across the corner where Moscone Center (a large conference center) stands today.

So, I was excited to discover a more than 21-minute-long full-color movie of touring the city in 1955. So much has changed, but much looks, oddly, the same. Of course the old cars are fun to see in their shiny new condition, but many of the old buildings on the streets out of central downtown are quite similar. Downtown, though--Market Street especially--is almost unrecognizable.

It's a form of time travel to enjoy these preserved images. There's actually another short film shot in San Francisco just before the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. Now THAT'S really interesting. With a few tiny exceptions, my S.F. memories start in 1970, which is still a pretty long time ago.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Biking with Bluetooth

While I was researching Bluetooth wireless technology at work yesterday for the eBeam Edge that my company produces, I came across the HIOD One. It's a Bluetooth device for your bicycle. So, when you're riding along with your biking buddies you can communicate with them, placing phone calls on the run, and can stream music from your ipod into the earpiece that comes with it.

I'm guessing that for some bikers, getting away from technology and working up a good sweat on a challenging trail is the goal, but if you're out with others and want to plan your strategy or not get lost, this device claims to work up to 1,300 feet away.

The control panel mounts on your handlebars, but you wear the voice unit on your arm or chest, kind of like the Jewish tefillin. See the video at their website for a good view of someone wearing one. Pricing information isn't available yet.

I hope that this won't prove to be the same distraction that using a cell phone or texting while driving has become.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Where Do the Lost Things Go?

It seemed easy enough. Just take a photo and then upload it to my computer. But--what happened to the little gray USB cable? It's only sat in the same spot on my work table for the last several years. But it was nowhere to be found.

I tried looking again and still nothing. Who could/would have taken it? Did I move it for some reason? Did it fall behind something? I looked again. I even tried a borrowed cable--it didn't work.

I had this issue not long ago with my debit card. I remember the sense of disbelief that something you were just using has simply disappeared. With the card, I had to cancel the old one and get a new one--a minor inconvenience. I actually had forgotten about it until now.

A house full of clutter is a great place for an item to go AWOL. My father kept his house (and workshop) perfectly organized so he didn't have this problem. In my rebellion against his perfect order (long ago) I became only semi-organized, and now I'm paying the price.

Next stop? A computer or camera store to see if I can find a replacement cable that'll work. Then, of course, I'll turn up the old one. At that point, I'll remember the day I moved it (or something like that).

Oh well, it's not exactly a serious illness or unemployment or some other crisis. So I'm going to let it go (or try to) as I head out into my day. Now where did I put that pencil?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Acura ZDX is Certainly... Different

The Acura ZDX stands out. I especially noticed this last weekend, when I parked my test car next to another ZDX. The two together (facing different directions thanks to the other driver's backing in) emphasized the car's unusual proportions and edgy shape.

The ZDX is an upscale crossover vehicle. That means it rides high like an SUV but doesn't have the boxy profile or the great headroom. With its swept back windshield and low windows, I actually bumped my head getting in one time--and was much more careful after that.

But what an interior. Sumptious leather heat/cool seats, a generous, stitched leather swatch of golden brown leather across the dash and doors, handsomely turned out metallic (looking) console and dash trim, and the kind of overt, in-your-face styling that remains interesting to the eye.

The fittings feel very firm and solid--carved from one piece--and the performance from whats under the pointed hood is impressive too. You get 300 horsepower from a 3.7-liter V6 and it's right there and ready to rock with a touch of your right foot. Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SHAWD) keeps you in place even in inclement weather.

Fuel economy is 16 City, 23 Highway--average 19. I got 17.4 mpg over a week of driving, much of it freeway. Premium fuel is specified.

You'll pay for fuel and you'll pay to buy this luxury ride. Base price is $46,020, but if you want the Advance Package, which came on my tester, expect to pay $56,520.

But with that package, you've got a high tech marvel at your fingertips. The Advance Package includes Navigation, a super premium 10-speaker audio system, and special goodies like an adjustable suspension (comfort or sport--I left it in the latter), adaptable cruise control (keep a set distance from the guy in front), and the great safety of a blind spot warning system. With the limited visibility of this hunkered-down ride, that last feature will pay for itself every day.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Crazy, Stupid, Love isn't So

As usual, we watched a couple of movies on New Year's Eve at home while eating and drinking things that are not recommended for weight loss or long term health. This year, one of our two movies was Crazy, Stupid, Love. It's a comedy of midlife crisis, with a touch of My Fair Lady and some surprise twists.

Steve Carell plays Cal, who is a nice guy but totally uncool. His wife, Emily (Julianne Moore), wants a divorce, so suddenly he's out on his own, trying to pick up girls in a bar. He's hapless, but luckily, he gets some help from Jacob (played by Ryan Gosling), who seems to really have the knack. He fixes up Cal, but there's a lot more to the story--for Cal and for him.

Cal's 13-year-old son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), has a crush on his 17-year-old babysitter (Analeigh Tipton), just part of the crazy, stupid part of love. It's so touching though, because I remember that feeling, not only for a high school girl who looked after 12-year-old me but my life in high school that included a few of these unrequited love situations. And Ms. Tipton, who is actually 22 years old, and is quite fetching, too.

I was pretty uncool myself, but when I was divorced many years ago I might have liked to have a Jacob to show me around. I did OK. We learn more about Jacob in the movie--the other side of guys who seem to have it all together.

It's not my intention to spill the beans on this or any movie, but this one will work for anyone who can identify with poor Cal--or anyone else in the movie. A great time--and a fine choice for starting out the new year.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Accounting for 2011 - Big Growth

The goal with Test Driving Life in 2011 was to post daily. I did that--and somehow, at the beginning two extra posts slipped in, so there were 367 posts last year.

Total Views for the year were 35,091, and the number grew steadily all year, from 647 in January (after practically nothing in December 2010) to 2,312 in July and up to 6,254 in December--the best month of the year.

Test Driving Life is focused on two main subjects, Cars and Music, but the third, category, Miscellaneous, actually had more items.

Cars - 106
Music - 101
Miscellaneous -158
There were two additional stories that were specifically dedicated to both cars and music. Add them all up and you get 367.

My end-of-the-year survey shows that the Miscellaneous subjects included at least 28 categories, from Art to Food to Anniversaries (birth and death), Architecture, Tattoos, Movies, Health, Sports, Travel, Social Issues, the News, and more.

The top 10 stories of the year were:

Audi A2 May Return - Hooray   9/3/11     2,292 views
Ford Pinto Turns 40 - Join the Stampede  6/5/11   1,801 views
My Worklife in a Nutshell  3/25/11   975 views
Bob Dylan is 70 Today -- Really?  5/24/11   942 views
Jack Casady - Bassman Then and Now  6/6/11  691 views
Fiat 500 Brings Cuteness into the Present  8/2/11  644 views
Christina Perri - Jar of Hearts  3/1/11  491 views
George Harrison's Cloud Nine - Post Beatle High Spot  11/10/11  459 views
Paul McCartney Meets a Girl from the Motor Trade  5/6/11  436 views
Three Beatle Weekend  10/10/11   384 views

Of the top 10, three were related to cars, including the top two, which were far ahead of the pack. Of the seven remaining, six involved musicians, of which three were related to the Beatles. Christina Perri was not the only musician from today who was featured in the blog, but is the only one to crack the top 10.

Test Driving Life continues, but may not be daily. Check regularly, though. Thanks.