Posts By: Jack Baruth

By on December 22, 2016

Jack Baruth, Miami Valley Region, 2006 VW Phaeton

A couple of weeks ago, I told the tale of an extremely profitable Soul sale. Some of you criticized me for implying that the “doc fee” was negotiable. I don’t know what kind of mindset you would have to possess in this world to think that a doc fee is not negotiable. Even if you can’t get the actual line item off your deal, you should be able to obtain a similar savings elsewhere. It’s such a scam that lately a few state courts have gotten involved in the discussion. The actual costs of “documenting” a sale don’t come close to what dealerships are trying to charge. It’s pure, raw profit.

Still, I wouldn’t expect my readers to do something I’m personally unwilling to do. So I will tell you the story of how I walked out of a dealership over a $300 doc fee. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal — but, in this case, the dealership was six hundred miles from my house, and I had no way to get home.

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By on December 20, 2016

“Smooth, silent, and heavy.” That’s what I said when I drove a first-generation Cruze with 55,000 miles on the digital odometer. Another thing I said: “Ready for prime time.” Daewoo’s, excuse me, GM Korea‘s first take on a compact-class world car was, to misuse a phrase from an Eighties Updike novel, “a thick, sweet plaything” […]

By on December 16, 2016

2017-ford-police-interceptor-utility-1lb

Why merely explore when you can intercept?

A few readers of last week’s lookalike-Ford article mentioned that you can actually get the word “I N T E R C E P T O R” across the bonnet edge of a new Ford Explorer Police, er, Ford Police Interceptor Utility. This is good news for all those people who buy used cop cars and then try to restore them to approximate “on-duty” appearance in hopes of intimidating fellow motorists. (Within the tight-knit community of people who buy and restore ex-police Crown Vics, the guys who pretend to be cops are called “whackers.” The dividing line between mere enthusiast and whacker, as far as I can tell, appears to be the re-installation of lights.)

What about the rest of you? When Interceptors start hitting the auctions, will you bite? Or do you have some, shall we say, concerns?

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By on December 15, 2016

Volvo Cars and Uber join forces to develop autonomous driving cars

It’s neither on-message for this site nor terribly interesting to my readers, which is why I rarely mention it, but I have been almost feverishly interested in matters of artificial intelligence, machine consciousness, and advanced language parsing for a very long time.

Thirty-five years ago, I tried to write a very simple sentence parser and response generator for the Atari 800 for my school science fair. The effort failed miserably, in large part because AtariBASIC didn’t really have any usable tools for text handling — and because I was nine years old and had the attention span of a fruit fly.

The night before the science fair, I admitted defeat and decided to do something else: I wrote a quick program that would give pre-programmed responses to certain questions.

The next morning, I demonstrated my program to a couple of nuns. I asked them a couple of leading questions to get them to pick the discussion topic I wanted, then I had them type the questions in. The amazingly intelligent Atari responded in full sentences! Not even the utter pathos of my quickly sketched cardboard sign behind it could keep me from getting an A+. What amuses me, in retrospect, was that the nuns weren’t really all that shocked at the idea that an 8-bit computer could parse language and give reasonable answers. Had I demoed this program to anybody who understood technology, they’d have labeled me a genius or a fraud. But to the nuns, passing the Turing test was about as tough as making an artificial volcano. Blame the movies, I guess.

The problem with every “autonomous” car that has appeared so far is simple: they are all equal to my childhood Atari program. Real autonomous operation is a hugely difficult problem. I’d like to illustrate this for you by listing five rather astounding technical feats that will be easier to accomplish than true vehicular autonomy.

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By on December 13, 2016

boxster2

Earlier today, I published an article regarding the newest Porsche Club of America auction. Shortly after it went up, I received an email from Vu Nguyen, PCA’s Executive Director. In this email, Mr. Nguyen managed to refrain from calling me an idiot or implying that I could not read contest rules. But this is what he did say:

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By on December 13, 2016

raffle

$99,180. For a four-cylinder, two-seat car. This isn’t unprecedented; Lotus charged eighty-one grand for its Esprit S4S way back in 1995, a pricetag that would be equivalent to $129,000 today. But the Esprit was a sleek supercar that could run with Ferraris on the road and beat them in SCCA races. The 718 Cayman S, by contrast, is a squat toad of a car, suspiciously similar in appearance and performance to the decade-old Cayman S that your down-the-street neighbor has had listed on eBay for $17,995 since June, with no takers.

And yet I’ve voted for this car with my wallet, so to speak, having purchased a couple of entries in the Porsche Club of America’s Fall Raffle. I did this because I didn’t read the rules very carefully, as you’ll see below. But there’s still a chance for me to make lemonade out of a lemon — assuming I win said lemon.

The question is: take the car as they’ve built it, or take the money and run?

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By on December 9, 2016

Promo photo for "Into The Wild"

A few weeks ago, I finally got around to watching Into The Wild. I’d read Jon Krakauer’s book a while ago; although it was, and is, brilliant work, I have much less respect for the author after finding out that he agreed to whitewash the abuse that Chris McCandless suffered as a child. Everything that Chris did makes much more sense after you understand what happened to him, and his sister, in their youth.

It’s been nearly twenty-five years since the adventures were recounted in the book and movie. If you have even a bit of wanderlust in your heart, it’s likely hearing about Chris’s trip will make you at least consider a trip to “The Slabs,” Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, or the “Magic Bus” on the Stampede Trail.

But there’s one big difference between a would-be Supertramp’s life in 1992 and 2016: hitching.

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By on December 8, 2016

Car Not A Costume, Ford/Land Rover

True story: Many, many years ago I briefly dated a young woman who, at the age of 16, was the subject of a custody battle between her hard-luck mother and her suburban aunt. You’d expect this to go the way of the aunt, and you’d be right. But what you would not expect is that the aunt was married to a fellow who, some 15 years earlier, had been L. Ron Hubbard’s personal bodyguard. He was deeply involved in the “Sea Org” and a bunch of other Scientology-related stuff. He also claimed to have been a Green Beret and a decorated Vietnam veteran. (More information on the dude here, if you’re interested.)

Scientology in general, and my girlfriend’s foster dad in particular, was notorious for “fair-gaming” its lapsed members and anybody else who gets in the way of the organization. “Fair Game” is an L. Ron Hubbard phrase that means, basically, no action that can be taken by church members against the person in question is off-limits. It’s okay to attack them, kidnap them, have their home “SWATted”, destroy their careers or their credit rating. Being “fair gamed” by the Church of Scientology is very far from a picnic. The Church now disavows “fair gaming”. (More info here.)

The Ford Motor Company, on the other hand, doesn’t seem too reluctant to “fair game” a few of its lapsed members, as you’ll see.

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By on December 6, 2016

deal1

“Character is what you do when no one is watching.” This quote, ascribed to John Wooden, C.S. Lewis, and others, is doubly true when it comes to the oft-reviled profession of automotive sales. Any dealer can be “ethical” when they are facing an informed consumer with money, credit, the ability to hire counsel, and the self-confidence to fight for own interests. I’ve had plenty of trouble-free transactions with dealerships that had well-earned abysmal reputations for ethics. Hell, I’ve even managed to buy some new motorcycles over the years without getting raked over the coals too hard.

You can’t judge a dealer based on how he treats a middle-aged white guy with a spotless credit rating, a laptop full of information, and a thorough knowledge of the laws in his state regarding new-car sales. That would be like the Misfit having a good opinion of the grandmother in the Flannery O’Connor tale. Rather, you judge a dealer by how he behaves when there is nobody of consequence looking. Given a dark-skinned female customer with a decent co-signer and some down payment money but no genuine idea of how the process works, how much advantage will a dealer take?

The answer might shock you, as they say — but it probably won’t.

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By on December 4, 2016

PCOTY-055

“Just you for this whole place, huh?” The weatherbeaten old woman had met Sebastian at the foot of the wooden steps then laboriously climbed behind, breathing heavily, as he’d skipped up to the second and top floor to face the pool and the palm trees.

“Yes,” he replied, the smile starting to crack his face wide open despite every effort on his part to prevent it, “just me. My God, this is it. This is the same one. The same rental unit. You know,” he babbled into the owner’s uncomprehending face as she fumbled for the keys in a front pocket of her faded flower-patterned dress, “I wasn’t sure I’d get the same one. I think I spent four hours on Google Maps trying to line it up. This is the very same place. I hope you haven’t changed anything…”

“Not sure what you mean by all that,” she coughed, “but anyway, here are your keys. You’re booked for the next two nights. You can lock the door behind you when you leave and then drop them in the slot. Do you have any questions? If not… Welcome to Crystal Village.”

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By on December 2, 2016

2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Exterior, Avalon badge, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

“Well, I bought that car last night.” Craig has this unnerving habit of simply appearing at my cubicle while I’m trying to do something productive, like texting people or reading random articles from the Last Psychiatrist archive on my phone. He’s a soft-spoken fellow, entering late middle age the same way that I am but not showing nearly as much evidence of blunt trauma, well-compensated in his engineering job but modest in appearance and disinclined to spend money.

Regarding my life and temperament, I like to follow the example of Robert Bly in quoting Cesar Vallejo: “Well, / On the day that I was born / God was sick / gravely.” I suspect that on the day that Craig was born, by contrast, God was in perfect health and settling down with the newest issue of Consumer Reports. About a month ago, Craig started seriously thinking about replacing his 150,000-mile Honda CR-V. It’s been a faithful companion for a freeway commute that takes about an hour in each direction, but even the most prosaic of Hondas eventually reaches a point where the cost of maintenance starts to become a factor. Not in money, necessarily, but in time.

Knowing that I dabble a bit in things automotive, Craig had asked what I thought about the new CR-V. This was a subject on which I was glad to speak, because I absolutely despise the “cute-utes” and will take every opportunity to rooster-block the purchase of one.

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By on November 29, 2016

UberSELECT

There are some absolutely terrible people in this world who are fools for prestige, suckers for any shiny bauble or deplorable frippery that might permit them the despicable foppery of believing themselves to be somehow better than their fellow men for the least justifiable of reasons.

I am one of those terrible people. I wear Kiton suits even though I am so breathtakingly ugly that no manner of haute couture can make any possible difference. I have a “Black Series” toothbrush. When I saw a fellow racer who happened to be a hugely wealthy fellow from Hong Kong pull out an “Infinite” series Visa card to lay down next to my “Signature” series Visa, I did not rest until I was also in possession of an “Infinite” Visa that was stamped from actual metal instead of merely molded out of plastic. When my plans to acquire a European noble title from some down-and-out distant relatives around the turn of the century foundered, I actually purchased a barony from a (very small, not quite legitimate) country.

There is no activity or purchase too ridiculous for me to undertake in the name of perceived prestige. Or so I thought … until the day I paid $78 dollars to ride in an Uber Select.

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