You Got to Be Kidding Me!

What I’m Looking At, and a New Category – 12/8/2008

Posted in Box of Hammers, Computers and Software, Four Wheels by Stacy McMahon on December 9, 2008

* Bailed-out mortgage holders defaulting all over again.

“The results, I confess, were somewhat surprising, and not in a good way,” said John Dugan, head of the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, in prepared remarks for a U.S. housing forum.

You mean bailing out subprime mortgagees didn’t magically make them into responsible citizens who live within their means?

Dugan said recent data showed that after three months, nearly 36 percent of borrowers who received restructured mortgages in the first quarter re-defaulted.

I’m so proud to be an American.

Oh, the new category? “box of hammers”. Should be self-explanatory by now.

* On the other end of the spectrum, the lowly checklist is making a comeback (maybe) in hospitals, where it turns out that there are a few (hundred) too many things per patient to remember during a shift. Based on actual experience, it’s estimated that a $3m investment in creating checklists for standard ICU practices could prevent up to 28,000 deaths a year in the US.

* A guy with some wrenching talent and one hell of a rolodex has built a brand-new Jaguar E-Type from leftover factory parts (and a few aftermarket restoration bits – about 5% of the total) Cool, huh?

* And an interesting discussion about how lawyers (or other companies) do or don’t take advantage of technology in the office. In a nutshell, most people don’t think very far outside the box.

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Links For 11/21/2008

Posted in Four Wheels, Miscellaneous, Politics by Stacy McMahon on November 21, 2008

* Study says some kids can learn marketable skills through social networking. I’ve also personally seen several people learn social skills online and then go out and use them in the real world.

* Google isn’t the only game in town for web searching, but it’s one of the recommended ways to search for more specialized search engines.

* Don’t let people get away with being jerks in public. I’m of two minds on this. I’m all for taking hateful snobs down a peg, but I don’t see any value in having people get in each other’s faces over politics. Anecdotally, that’s what preceded the civil wars in Bosnia and various other places in the last 20 years.

* What financial crisis? Small banks that hold deposits and make loans the old-fashioned way are doing just fine, thanks. Imagine that.

* The electric Mini-E has impressive specs for a pure electric car, plus a long-ass press release. Though, at $850/mo to lease the car, it’s not for everyone. Or anyone.

* Lung cancer patient’s own stem cells used to grow a new section of windpipe! This is Star Trek stuff ; replacement body parts with no anti-rejection drugs. The future is now.

Links for 10/24/2008

Posted in Four Wheels, Politics by Stacy McMahon on October 24, 2008

A lot of political stuff this time:

* Via Ann Althouse, Radley Balko hopes the GOP a) loses the election, b) cleans house and rebuilds around small-government conservatism, and c) therefore becomes a force to overcome leftism in future. I agree that the Republican Party in its current form is useless to libertarian or classical liberal voters, but I’m not optimistic on points b or c. As Glenn Reynolds said the other day, people hoped for that in 2004, too.

* Via Instapundit, some asshat mugger in Pittsburgh decided to get his rage on when he discovered his victim was a McCain supporter. No, this isn’t Obama’s fault. Yes, it hasn’t shown up on AP or Reuters yet.

* John Murtha suddenly has to fight for his seat in Congress. I mean just because you call your constituents a bunch of racist rednecks – don’t “you people” have a sense of humor?

* Military absentee ballots being tossed out right here in Fairfax County, but it’s not a C-O-N-spiracy, just plain-jane government stupidity. Excellent ad-matching – the story came with an ad for an online degree in military history…

* Car Lust is covering one of my high school favorites: the mid-80s VW Scirocco 16v. If only the new Scirocco were that pretty…

* Editor & Publisher asks “Will the skills of ‘real’ reporting still have a place? Or is aggregating everything?”. Logic error: if nobody is reporting, what is everyone aggregating? (submit ‘big steaming pile’ jokes in the comments…)

* And a great explanation of why you should be careful what you say in work emails (or IMs for that matter) – it can come back to bite you in court. Based on my own court appearance, you can safely assume that things can and will be taken out of context to put you on the defensive. Read the article, it says it a lot better than I can.

Links for Oct 17, 2008

Posted in Economics, Four Wheels, Politics, The Intrawebs, Urban Planning by Stacy McMahon on October 17, 2008

I’ve been too busy to post this week, but here are some of the things I’m looking at:

* Stephen Bainbridge is hinting darkly that we’ll need to keep a close eye on our free speech rights under an Obama administration. The power of blogs: the very first commenter takes him to task for exaggerating the difference between Democrat and Republican smear tactics – and isn’t deleted or banned.

* The ZAP Xebra electric city car (via Instapundit) – I like the discussion of the actual driving regimes and how the electric car meets most of an average person’s mission requirements in spite of its slack 45mph top speed. I did a similar analysis in order to determine that a 200-250cc scooter would meet all my commuting requirements, at twice the mpg of my car. It’s been one of the best large purchases I ever made. It pays to step back and take an open-minded look at how you really do things.

* Jeff Lipshaw at The Conglomerate is praising GM’s board of directors for doing its job and panning the ridiculous idea of merging the General with Chrysler. Yes, upper management really suggested that. Jeff also wonders what kind of government remedy is really appropriate for problems caused by executive stupidity: “But what can we do about “mere” incompetence that imposes severe social costs? As I’ve been telling my corporate law class these last few weeks, current doctrine provides very weak to nonexistent remedies for negligence, no matter how widely its effects are felt.” Well, for starters we could try setting and sticking to a public policy of not socializing the consequences of bad business decisions.

* AutoBlogGreen has video of Audi of America Executive VP Johan Van de Nysschen discussing the “modern diesel engines” Audi is about to introduce in its US models. Vicky, Sean, Larry and I rented a diesel minivan for our trip to France in 2004, and I’d have easily believed it was a gas engine. Smooth, quiet, powerful and no starting problems at all. Roughly, the latest Euro diesel vehicles are getting 40-50mpg with low-sulpher diesel fuel, which is around 25 cents more per gallon than 93-octane gas in the US. That’s a decent business case for a diesel.

* And to go along with that, ABG also has a list of ten diesel vehicles coming stateside in the next couple years. If you can afford them…

* Fairfax County is expecting a revenue shortfall and is planning to make the hard decisions to deal with it. Local governments can’t deficit-spend, which may be something to keep in mind when thinking about what kind of elected office qualifies a person for the White House.

* Also via Instapundit, one-pot meals for around $10. We’re trying to do more of our own cooking, so I like the one-pot bit.

* Howard Wolfson has a ‘premortem’ of the McCain campaign up at The New Republic. What is he missing? The media outright campaigning for Obama, which has to have been worth several percentage points (though probably not the whole election)

* Planetizen is admiring Falls Church’s new urbanist infill development. I drove over to Coleman Powersports Monday and the new apartment blocks going up across the street (next to Elevation Burger) seem to be doing pretty well. The whole Rt 7 corridor has changed a lot in the last few years.

Warren Buffet Makes Money The Old-Fashioned Way…

Posted in Economics, Four Wheels by Stacy McMahon on October 2, 2008

…he bankrolls someone else to make and (hopefully) sell high-margin products like electric cars. Considering the level of space-dumbassery in the banking world these days, I like the idea that the richest man in the world is doing things old-school.

Well, Yeah

Posted in Economics, Four Wheels, Going Green by Stacy McMahon on October 2, 2008

Via Instapundit:

“A senior economist at the Argonne National Laboratory has come to an interesting conclusion: vehicles that rely on internal combustion engines are superior to electric vehicles in terms of what consumers would buy and what would save significant fuel. . . . By relying less on batteries, the cost of the batteries becomes less of a factor, while having a combustion engine that uses an established distribution system as a backup gives the owner the freedom to drive wherever they want.” So plug-in or series hybrids make better transition vehicles than pure electrics. Makes sense to me.

I’ve been saying this all along, and it’s amazing (or maybe not) how many people don’t get that the economics are more important than technology or ultimate energy efficiency. Regular people can’t volunteer to pay extra or give up functionality just to “go green”. Your alternative-fuel vehicle has to accomplish all your mission requirements, and do it for about the same TCO as whatever it’s replacing.

So I Have This Great Idea!

Posted in Four Wheels by Stacy McMahon on September 30, 2008

We’ll take a big vehicle, like an 18-wheeler, and put a bunch of seats in it so that lots of people can ride, and then it’ll be the greatest form of mass transit ever! Oh yeah, let’s also make it capable of driving on train tracks even though that’s the most impractical idea since the Segway. We’ll call it … the Blade Runner!

Silvertip Design Blade Runner

Silvertip Design "Blade Runner"

Or, you know, we could take the bus.

Battery Terminal Corrosion

Posted in Four Wheels by Stacy McMahon on September 29, 2008

This is a new one on me, though as my dad points out, a light switch is either on or off. Saturday night, I’m waiting in the parking lot while Louise runs into Shoppers to pick up a couple things for dinner. I literally shut the car off for five minutes, and when I tried to start it again — nothing. Not really expecting to find anything, I looked under the hood – and found the problem (though I didn’t quite recognize it at the time)

The roadside assistance guy chipped some of the corrosion off and was able to jumpstart the car, so I got away without having to be towed or pay someone else to do what I ended up doing the next morning:

Yes, that’s a can of coke, and no it’s not for me to drink while I’m working! The coke is supposed to be able to clean the battery terminals. Here is our patient before treatment:

And after. Yes, coke. Cool, huh? And I’ve chipped this junk off battery posts before without using any solvent. It’s not easy.

Is Ford About to Finally Bring Us a Euro Model?

Posted in Four Wheels by Stacy McMahon on September 28, 2008

As long as I’ve been into cars, Ford has said every year that it was going to bring this or that European model to the US unchanged. And in all that time the only one that’s actually made it over here was the Merkur Scorpio, weird (and therefore unsuccessful) even in its day.

According to Car and Driver, that’s all about to change. Now that Toyota and Honda have proven the market for microcars in the US, we’re – fingers crossed – going to get the new Ford Fiesta. European C/D correspondent Ray Hutton says ride and handling is on par with the Honda Fit. I’d go for it even if it was only up to Yaris standards. It’s definitely pretty.

Ford Fiesta

Ford Fiesta

Electric Trucks

Posted in Economics, Four Wheels by Stacy McMahon on September 27, 2008

This is pretty cool:

Britain’s largest retailer, Tesco, has launched a fleet of Modec [electric] delivery vehicles in Northern Ireland. The trucks will be used to bring customers’ orders straight to their doors. After beginning with a pilot fleet at its Shrewsbury location last year and receiving lots of “hugely positive” feedback from customers, the company continues to reduce its carbon footprint with this latest rollout. Says Tesco manager Maxine Thelwell, “Not only are the new vans carbon neutral and pollution free they are also very quiet – a double benefit for urban environments.

Well, they’re only as pollution-free as the power plant that runs their charging stations, but commercial fleets are a natural fit (just about the only one aside from bureaucrat-made niches like HOT lanes) for hybrid and alternative-fuel vehicles. Fleets operate in a restricted area where they’re always near home base and its fuel/charging stations, and hybrids get their best efficiency in stop-and-go driving. Plus, fleet vehicles roll up the kind of miles that make even expensive efficiency tweaks pay off quickly.

I saw a hybrid Coca Cola delivery truck in Baltimore last month; they’re getting popular here too.