Category: No Fixed Abode

By on January 17, 2017

2016 Nissan Frontier

Some people have one mid-life crisis; I’ve had a series of them, rearing their ugly heads in widely disparate manners, off and on over the past 20 years. In fact, I’m now having midlife crises that are repeats of previous crises.

Example: After a fairly successful knee surgery last month, I decided to buy some new BMX bikes and go riding again, the same way I did back in 2001 or thereabouts. Last time, my partners in this ill-advised venture were a bunch of Bolivian pro BMX racers whose constant orbits around my house combined with the glossy presence of a CL55 AMG and an Audi S8 in my driveway to convince my neighbors that I was involved with the cartels. This time, my main homeboy is my seven-year-old son, newly mounted-up on a watermelon-green Sunday Primer 16 skatepark bike.

The last time I got this serious about riding, I bought a Nissan Frontier. This time I’ve thought long and hard about doing something similar. True, I have a very nice Tahoe Z71 as part of the dowry from my recent marriage, but driving anything as profoundly elephantine as a Tahoe depresses the hell out of me. What to do?

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By on January 11, 2017

Child with mother in 2018 Honda Odyssey, Image: American Honda

Here’s a free lesson in life that you can use everywhere you go: corporate “morality” is almost always both flexible and highly subject to local gravitational influences. How else to explain the red-white-and-blue-painted previous-generation Camry, festooned with traditionally American imagery, that greeted visitors to the Detroit show on Monday? Maybe Toyota had two of them ready to go after the election, the way that T-shirt manufacturers prepare for both Super Bowl winners. Presumably the other Camry was a triple livery; the first third would have been a rainbow flag that called to mind both #LoveWins and #JeffGordonDivorce, the middle third would have been totally Islammed-out with the star and crescent just like my old Pakistan Express race car, and the trunk area would have paid tribute to the #ShoutYourAbortion movement while also tipping its fedora to written consent in triplicate for all sexual encounters.

Ah, but if wishes were fishes they would have served cruelty-free salmon at the meeting of the Electoral College. So the various pampered-but-oh-so-woke “journalists” attending the NAIAS were forced to taste the salt of their own bitter tears streaming down their cheeks as every manufacturer with even a token presence in the United States waved the red (imperialist), white (racist), and blue (sexist) flag in their press conferences.

Naturally, Honda sent one of the strongest messages; it’s arguably the most American automaker on the God Emperor’s green earth and the bulk of the cars it sells here were designed, engineered, and built in the USA.

The new Odyssey doesn’t buck this trend; to the contrary, it embraces it, right down to the new U.S.-sourced 10-speed transmission. But it’s also at the very vanguard (pardon the pun) of another, equally important, aspect of the zeitgeist. Let’s call it The Era Of The Imperial Child.

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By on January 4, 2017

Ohio State Highway Patrol Charger, Image: OSHP

I remember the day I committed the minor misdemeanor offense of reckless operation as if it was yesterday, although it was actually one day longer ago than the statute of limitations regarding minor misdemeanors in Ohio. I was surrounded by my accomplices — my “gang” if you will — and we were hell-bent on committing some serious traffic offenses.

The situation was this: We were all driving through Cincinnati, Ohio, at approximately 65 miles per hour. This is the speed limit for Route 71 on the north side of Cincinnati. Approximately five miles south of I-275, the speed limit on 71 drops from 65 to 45. There’s no visible logic or reasoning behind this; I-71 is still a five-or-six-lane road at this point. There are certainly times when the road is brought to a standstill by traffic, but the same is true of I-71 between Columbus and Delaware, Ohio, which has a marked limit of 70 mph.

As I passed the speed limit sign together with my gang of approximately 20 visible vehicles — most of which were doing about 70-75 mph but a few of which were going slower or faster than that — not a single driver touched his or her brakes. In the space of a few moments, we had gone from being legal or semi-legal road users to serious violators of the Ohio Revised Code. Had there been a sufficient police presence in the area, every one of us could have been sentenced to 60 days in jail and been subject to impounding of our vehicles.

This is clearly ridiculous, so it’s time to ask the question that is always relevant in situations like this: Cui bono?

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By on December 29, 2016

chief

The secret is out: my intrepid and long(ish)-suffering wife, Danger Girl, is the new owner of Matt Farah’s Corvette. This was my idea, for better or worse. She was all set on ordering a new Grand Sport for the 2017 autocross/trackday season, but I thought that it would be a better idea for her to experience all of the new-Vette-owner rituals (nose scraping, rocker panel ripping, mirror scratching, lurid 130mph backwards-facing exits into Mid-Ohio’s “China Beach”) with a used car. So now she has a “learner” Vette, albeit one with 421RWHP, Pfadt coilovers, a half-cage, and fixed Sparcos.

With just 32,200 miles at the time of sale, DG’s Corvette is still well out of warranty thanks to an in-service date from the (Bill) Clinton administration. (I guess I don’t have to put that qualifier in there any more, do I?) As my wife found out last week, however, having a car that’s under warranty isn’t always a blessing. In fact, sometimes it’s an outright curse.

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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 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 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 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 18, 2016

2017 Honda Civic Coupe Si – Image: Honda

Imagine a world without war. More specifically, imagine a world without the horsepower war that has dominated the automotive landscape over the past fifteen years.

It’s easy if you try. The Corvette would still have 350 horsepower; mid-engined Ferraris would have about 400. The Mustang? 260 raging ponies. Most pickup trucks would have under three hundred horses, and some would have fewer than two hundred. The V12-powered Mercedes sedans would have just a bit more than half the puissance they currently possess. The Subaru STi would have 300 hp to humiliate the VW GTI’s 200 hp, while the top-spec Nissan Sentra would send 180 hp through a six-speed manual, about which a big deal would be made.

Perhaps you experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance while reading that last sentence. After all, the current Subaru STi has 305 horsepower now, facing the 210 horsepower of the GTI, and the just-announced Sentra Nismo is expected to put out 188 ponies. Compared to their turn-of-the-century ancestors, both of those cars actually have a worse power-to-weight ratio today. And while the new Civic Si is expected to put up a slightly better number than the 2006 Civic Si, it’s going to come from a 1.5-liter turbo engine that will likely be stressed to the gills, not a tuned-down variant of the Type-R’s two-liter.

So, while the wealthy car buyers among us are enjoying an era of unprecedented power in their sports cars, SUVs, and big sedans, the entry-level buyers are being asked to do more with less. Sounds familiar, right?

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By on November 11, 2016

volkswagen 1938

They say that Donald Trump is Literally Hitler. That he is the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. That he believes all the things that Hitler believed. That his plan to restrict illegal immigration is literally equivalent to killing six million people. He says he can build a peaceful relationship with Russia instead of having an awesome progressive war over Syria. Guess what? HITLER ALSO BUILT A PEACEFUL RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA. Before attacking Russia. It’s true. Look in an old racist history book and you can see that Hitler made peace with Russia in nineteen-something, right before he sent Messerschmitt Bf109s to attack peaceful villagers in Mexico, or Spain, or whatever.

Alright, so all of that might be a bit exaggerated, although if you’re one of the participation-trophy Millennials who is currently milling about a Starbucks in an attempt to overturn a democratic election, you probably don’t believe in that.

But what if it had been true? What if Donald J. Trump wasn’t just a businessman, hustler, and television personality who managed to elevate himself to the Presidency mostly on his own dime despite being stabbed in the back by everybody from CNN to Paul Ryan, but instead he was literally Hitler?

Well, if you’re a student of pre-war German history like I was as a child, you know that he would immediately insist on a few things: a revival of traditional culture, full employment, and … wait for it … a People’s Car.

What would that look like? What would the American Folks-Wagon be?

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By on November 2, 2016

vegas

“You’re in Vegas? Me too! Hey, I’m at the Hoover Dam, waiting for them to come get my broken McLaren!” My phone was “blowin’ up,” as they say, with texts from “Brayden,” the infamous owner of the Bitcoin Bimmer. And it was true: I was in Vegas, along with Brother Bark, to drive with EXR in their first-ever endurance event — the day-into-night, three-hour “United Fiber & Data 250.” The race was held at the same purpose-built, 1.4-mile road course that EXR’s parent company, Exotics Racing, uses for their rent-a-supercar experiences. Our practice and qualifying sessions were woven into the day there in such a manner that I also got to watch several hundred normal customers arrive-and-drive the cars of their dreams.

The Exotics Racing experience is very track-centric. They don’t do street rentals at all. They put you in a car with an instructor and you drive in a very controlled, very safe environment. During some of the downtime between practice sessions, Danger Girl and I held an impromptu time-attack challenge — me in a 458 Italia and her in a Huracan. (I won, but not by much: 1.3 seconds.) But if you’d rather drive a McLaren or Ferrari up and down the Vegas strip, there are more than a few companies that will oblige you. In fact, that was how Brayden had come to be in possession of a broken McLaren 570S; he’d rented one, promptly “railed” it out to Hoover Dam, and just-as-promptly popped off a coolant hose while idling in a line of traffic.

During my three days in Vegas, I saw so many people trundling around in rented exotics that I started to wonder: What kind of person drops a grand just to troll around the Strip? I know you probably have an immediate and negative response to that, not in part because you can just imagine my spoiled little pal Brayden hollering at Saran-Wrapped “Pimp and Ho Party” participants outside the Bellagio. But after doing the math, I’ve come up with a very different opinion.

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By on October 24, 2016

fusion-hybrid-window-sticker

It was called The Automobile Information Disclosure Act of 1958 and it was sponsored by Almer Stillwell Monroney, the Senator from Oklahoma who preferred the colloquial nickname “Mike” and whose other legislative priority in 1958 was to create the FAA.

We owe Mike Monroney a lot. He was from that long-discredited and long-forgotten breed of old privileged men who believed there was such a thing as the public interest and that they had a genuine duty to act in that public interest. As with Rudolf Diesel, history has paid him the supreme compliment of omitting capitalization — it’s common for “monroney” to be used in correspondence or business as a mere noun denoting the window sticker in a new car.

We take the monroney for granted nowadays. There are few of us left alive who can remember the days when a car did not have its price and equipment fully and forthrightly glued to the inside of its rear passenger window. In fact, very few of us take the window sticker at all seriously. Everybody knows that in the modern car market the dealer invoice is the “real” sticker, unless you’re talking about a Ferrari or something where the MSRP is just a starting point for further discussions based on one’s history with the marque, the dealership, and/or Goldman Sachs. But the protection and information offered by that label in the window is real, it is meaningful, and it is absolutely critical to any remotely ethical business transaction between the dealer and the consumer. Read More >

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