Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Topic of Discussion, Not Discussed

The topic here is Fear. Fear related to unemployment then the crushing reality of not being employed. No, I haven't lost my job but tens of thousands have.

Yahoo is distributing an article written by Ron Scherer for the Christian Science Monitor. It has most definitely hit a chord with most of its readers. Near on 2,000 comments to a article about a lady who is having her unemployment cut because she took a part-time job. Most of them are frustrating (aren't they always?) so it is hard to take a step back from it and see what is really going on.

"What is that?" You may ask. "Well," I say "we are living through a challenging time."

I should end the conversation with myself there because I sound crazy talking to myself. Even still, at the risk of sounding crazy-er, I'll continue on.

The challenging time is one that was most likely brought on by bad home loans over the past couple decades. I'm not talking about auto loans or small loans to fix your deck. Not even credit card loans because most of those are due in part because of the center of the universe personal black hole loan that is a home. It's a six figure sum. A lot of times a sum that requires 30 years to pay off. It's not a bad thing that this is (was) allowed to happen. But I gotta tell you, home buying wasn't always like that. Homes are bigger and there are more of them. Working people want to fill those homes and banks wanted working people in them. So what happened?

Good paid professionals lost their jobs. This is what is going on right now. I would live in fear if I were to own a home in the range of 150,000 to 300,000 range. Especially if it was a cookie cutter type home that depreciates in value like a rental car Kia. A home where the chimney falls down because of a stiff breeze (real life example there). I would ask myself "what if I lost my job right now?". It's a frightening thing, that. What we are witnessing in the country right now is just that. Cheap gargantuan homes with gargantuan loans and people in them that have lost their jobs.

Reading through the comments on the article makes me sad. It's not about government handouts, lazy bums, NeoCONS, faux news, welfare, uncle Obama. It's about folks who got more of the American Dream then they could afford. Is it their fault? That is debatable. The fact that remains is this; these jobs that a lot of people are accustom to having and being paid a lot for are not coming back. But rest assured, other jobs will. It seems that we, as a country walked to a high mountain peak and fell off. It's high time we started looking back at that peak and think twice about going back up it. The harder row to hoe is not one that leads to riches from climbing the highest peak (to keep with my lame analogy) but the one that leads to stability, honesty and fair wages for hard work. Things that I, myself, have not succeeded in attaining (in fact, I have trampled them most of my life) but strive to achieve.

Pray for those who are in financial distress. Pray for those who don't know what tomorrow brings. It's a terrible feeling.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dirty and Clean

Good guys and bad guys in college basketball. It seems as if the college game at it's highest level is in a bit of trouble. I has been, in my opinion, for almost 2/3 of my lifetime. One of my first memories is in 1983... when NC State won the National Championship and Jim Valvano running all around the court. My dad was in and out of our den, pacing around as the game went on. Thinking back to that game and seeing some of the highlights today forced me to start making comparisons between the game then and the game now.

I know that basketball has a dirty history. I'd be naive of me to say that the kids then were better people compared to the kids now. College athletics, at it's highest levels, have always been messy. I could take you back the old Dixie Classic that was held annually with the four big teams from North Carolina. NCSU, UNC, Duke, and Wake and four other schools from other parts of the country. It was held in Reynolds on NC State's campus between 1949 and 1960. The legacy of the tournament sort of lives on. A lot of high schools took on the tradition of playing a tournament during the holidays, which was when the Dixie was played. Anyway, the Dixie Classic abruptly ended in 1961 when it was found that some players on UNC and NCSU were point shaving.

That's just one story. Let's not even get into the NBA in the 70s. Once cable got going though it seemed that college basketball cleaned up a little. But during the 90s got a little dirty again. Remember the UNLV and Michigan teams? Both of those schools are still suffering from what happened then. Something is different now.

I was even part of it then in the mid 90s. A very, very small part, but still part. I saw some of the things that went on even at my tiny little D-III school. Some of it was frustrating even then but it wasn't enough to really say it was bad. Just hints of what goes on at much larger schools.

What I learned was this: Either schools are committed to and guided by a strong set of values and mission. Education and development. Or they are just a sports school that pulls in money.

The sports school is a rarer breed of place. It may seem that every school is this, but that is only because they are on television a lot. Same schools over and over. Within the "sports school" is where you get bad guys. In basketball it's the Kentucky's, UConn's and Tennessee's. You too Maryland. They are win at any cost type places. Tennessee had four players arrested a couple months ago driving around in a new Dodge Charger with some pot, open alcohol container and a fire arm with a serial number rubbed off. John Calipari runs the dirtiest of programs. He has left two Universities tarnished and under NCAA sanctions. He has two tournament records vacated at UMass and Memphis. After seeing Kentucky play this year it doesn't take an investigator to see he is up to his old tricks.

The only reason I'm picking on Tenn right now is because they are playing in the elite 8 with 3 of the 4 players arrested against a good school in Michigan State. Tom Izzo runs a good, mostly clean program. He develops men through his program. I find myself routing for clean programs and find it hard to understand why others may cheer for dirty ones. I understand it has to do with school history and tradition and all that. But what will be there to cheer for in the coming years? Ask a long time Michigan fan if the Fab 5 was worth is now. Hell, ask an alum who isn't a fan.

Bah. It's an argument I cannot win as long as those schools keep winning. Also there are some many other points one could make on both sides and this argument usually devolves in to comments about race and poverty. We'll chalk this up nothing. Nothing at all.

Go good guys.


There is nothing I could say that hasn't already been said about this car. There are poems about it, songs and books. It's even made it's way into a plethora of movies. I found it in the classic car area of the Auto Show. It stole the show. Then entire show.

I like the picture of the kid walking past it. Something about that moment. I'd like to think he is feeling something that he didn't anywhere else on the 'real show' floor.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Way of the Gun

Ten years later. I picked this up on blu-ray today for $8 as an impulse buy next to The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I remember liking The Way of the Gun when it came out but I also couldn't get the misguided resemblances to Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Boondock Saints out of my head. For me those comparisons hurt the movie. But it stuck with me enough for me to pick it up today. After watching it I realize that it is something that I actually enjoy more then I probably should.

I like that Parker and Longbaugh do not talk to each other directly except where they explain the game of Hearts. I like how Longbaugh teaches Parker to not trust anyone by testing him (gun in doctors handbag, jacket left in hotel room). I like how I now realize that the beginning is actually the epilogue. And, finally, noticing at the end that Sarno is Robin's father. How did I miss this stuff the first go round?

Somehow, after 10 years, this movie has crept into my favorites list. Well done Christopher McQuarrie. Well done on Valkyrie as well. Now, get that Logan's Run remake finished.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fit and Finish Toyota

Toyota will get the quick and short post. I have come to the conclusion that it is the front ends that are driving me to drink. Worst in the business. Worse then Hyundai. Yikes. Mercifully, the FJ doesn't have it. The FJ is one of those cars that I just have a 'thing' for. Whilst looking at the car we were approached by a sales person. "Nice to see the FJ here this year" I said. The salesman said "there was one guy on the internet who said the car had been discontinued, but it isn't true." I was a bit confused, but it is good the car is back at the show.

One other thing about the FJ. This guy in the pictures dad was there. I shot this photo and he commented about paying him for it. Is this because he looked like the kind of guy that should be buying this thing? It was strange.

Note on brochure: smallest at the show. On page with a fold. Perhaps due to money being spent elsewhere? Nice to see the Camry still there in the mist of a bunch of boring/forgettable cars and trucks, because it is the Mount Everest of boring and forgettable. In fact. I think the Camry invented that. Anyway, not too much traffic in this area of the show.

Perhaps Toyota should just make the Camry and FJ.

Fit and Finish Hyundai

Hyundai is a surprise. Say what you will about it's history, name or country of origin. To me it is becoming clear that there are reasons for its recent success. Some may say it's due to a slick marketing campaign but I say that it is because they are making quality cars and designing "American" looking cars better then Americans. I realize that this is part of Hyundai mission... just to rip design and power queues from larger companies... but they are doing it well.

This years auto show showed that both its marketing and its design are on the top of the heap. The Genesis Coupe is a near perfect American Pony Car. It is what the Camaro should be (save for the front end). Part of that statement makes me sad.

Looking around I see that one could pick up a Genesis for around $20k base, 2.0 L 4 cylinder that will give you 210 HP. Great car for the price of a Honda Civic. But the Genesis isn't done there. For an extra $6k you can take this puppy up to Camaro levels with a 306 HP 3.8 L, V6. 0-60 in under six seconds. A comparable Camaro starts at $27k. In a way this shows the dexterity of Hyundai. One car model can go from competing with an industry leader (Civic) directly to competing with an American icon in the Camaro.

I'm not stating that this car is better or worse then either the Civic or the Camaro. What I am saying is that Hyundai can just about custom a car into two strikingly different car classes. To me this is the future of mass manufactured automobiles. The days of a car fitting nicely into one certain class are dwindling. It's too expensive.

Fit and Finish Ford

The traveling auto show finally made it's way to Columbus, Ohio. It has become one of my favorite events of the year. Let's get to my highlights.

Technology has always been something that automakers have pushed. In the past it may have had a more mechanical lean, but over the past decade or so it is electrical. More specifically feature ridden computer gadgets. This year is no different. I picked up every printed brochure I could find because an auto show is a fit and finish thing. It's about look and advertising. The car makers have to make their point efficiently because of the environment; the world's coolest car lot. One note here: Hyundai had the best swag bag to carry all the swag.

That said, here's a list of from some of the most ridiculous techno-babble (from Ford):

- BLIS: Blind Spot Information System
- Cross-Traffic Alert
- Multi-Countour Active Motion massaging seats
- Regenerative Braking
- MyKey Intelligent Access
- EcoBoost
- MyFord Touch ("Color-coded menus are easy to change and centrally located to help keep your focus on the road")

I choose Ford because the brochure they had there was fatter then others and 50% of the ink and paper was used for the features above. "We're putting more surprising and innovative new features on the road than ever before. So many, we can't even cover them all here. Drive one. You'll understand." Funny.

Ford also has a depressing graphical feature in their EV's. That's "Electric Vehicles". Most of the dash in those cars are LCD. On the far right they have a cluster of leaves. "Watch your forest grow. Stomp on the gas: See it fade." To say Ford is throwing the most darts in regards to features is an understatement. I know that Ford, historically, does this their way but it doesn't make sense to me that an electric car is overloaded with electrical devices and features. Wouldn't you want less drawing from that battery?

Lots of picking on Ford here, which is unfair. I have great respect for Ford and its history. Including surviving the government bailout last year. One distinction that Ford can now officially put on its mantle is this; "Buttercup Approved Vehicle" or BAV. This distinction goes to the Ford Flex. 2nd year in a row for this car.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Heavy Rain

I should put a roman numeral in my title because I will be writing about this game a few more times.

The best place to start with this game would be the choices and actions you take or fail to make. There are key moments that change the course of the game, no doubt. But from the start to the meat of the game you slowly start to realize that very bad things can happen if you fail and event or choose to do something one way and not another. When I started I really thought to myself that even if I didn't do something right that the story was on tracks and would end up the same no matter what. However, as I progressed I realized that the character your playing, one, two, three, or four could, in fact die. Or hit a dead end in jail, or not find enough clues and so on.

The games story is very dark. You play four characters in sort of a round robin way and each one has it's own story line yet has the same objective. Stop the Origami Killer. The stories of each are so powerful that it's hard to not stop yourself from talking about it. I will say that the story revolves around the kidnapping of one of the main characters sons. I say one, because the other does, in fact die. Yeah. Um, very dark.

Quantum Dream, the creators behind the game have nailed something that is difficult to express. You spend time in the game playing with your sons. Not in a cut scene, but actual completing a series of quick time events (think Shenmue) that can take about as long as you want. I changed a babies diaper, rocked her to sleep, and put her to bed. I made scrambled eggs. I looked out windows, sat on a lawn chair to think before my next decision. I tended to wounds one step at a time. Disinfecting, treating and wrapping it. I went through a detox moment by walking into the bathroom, turning on the shower and sitting fully clothed. All things where I was in control for each step of the way.

There is a scene early on where you are a character named Madison. Your sitting in your apartment in the middle of the night. The game doesn't guide to do anything so you end up walking around, checking things out. Turn off the TV, check what's in the fridge, take a shower... as time passes you see things in the corner of your eye. You move to try and check it out, looking, looking till finally you are assaulted. It's creepy and you feel fear as you are playing. All you think of is "I am actually frightened, I want to get out of this, this is awful". After that moment I was really hooked. The writers of a game, but setting up a vulnerability through attire, mundane tasks, and a shower created an environment for me to feel those things. And it didn't stop there.

I finished my first play through of the game and got, what is quite possibly, the saddest ending I've ever experienced in a game, movie, TV show, what have you. I thought to myself that this couldn't be the game everyone played. So late last night I went online to see what others thought of the ending...

What? I spent nearly an hour looking for someone who got my ending. I don't think I saw one person that got it. In fact, I realized that there were large parts of the game that I didn't even see. I even listened to the Gamers with Jobs discussion on the game where they talked about it for nearly an hour. Different games. Honestly. Main characters that died. Main characters meeting in places that I didn't get.

A game that at first I thought was an on the rails "movie game" wasn't like that at all. The people I failed to save could have been saved. Moments tied to a table where a sick doctor was trying to kill me, could kill me.

This game is an achievement. It's sticking with me. It's everything a game like Shenmue has, everything you like about that game, full on in every chapter.

I'm a day away from finishing it so it is still very fresh. But.

Oh my.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Detroit Downsize

There is an interesting article in the Washington Times today about the city of Detroit looking to turn abandoned areas into farmland. It's a foreign kind of reversal. I think it is built into most of us that cities only grow, not the other way around. I know that for me, coming out of northern Virgina, that is what I figured.

I do believe that what is going on in Detroit is being considered in many other cities. Will they do it? Don't know, we'll have to wait and see. But it is good to know that growth doesn't have to only be measured in population or tax revenue. I hope people see that turning empty homes and streets back into empty land is not a step backward.

Not to get into the nuts and bolts of this but one thing the city officials are going to have to consider, and plan for, is that much of this land will not be usable farm land for some time. I know that here in Columbus and it's surrounding areas it is not possible to turn land once owned by a manufacturing facility into usable farmland. At least not in the near future. It's too polluted (for lack of a better word). I once asked someone why some open areas where a factory has been torn down had not been cleared of debris so things could grow and thus become marketable again. The answer? "because nothing will grow there".

Point taken.

Yes, nothing will - but in a couple decades something will so why not start that clock.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Curbside Columbus: 1992(?) Topaz GS Coupe


Something that is always in the back of my mind. It isn't just Youngstown, Ohio or any particular town in Ohio. It's the region. Bring up the histories of the places around here to people born and raised and you get a touch of anger. Not at the history. But towards me. I'm not an Ohioan and digging up ghosts here means walking on thin ice.

Folks here work hard and play hard. They find themselves on their feet, working 10 hours a day, by the time they can drive. This isn't something that happened 50 years ago in some history book. It happens now. I see it with people I work with. Women: Foot surgeries at age 50. Men in their 40s broken, at home, with a multitude of health problems from 20 odd years of hard labor. People passing away at age 43 of "natural causes" (happened last week to a friend of a friend). I could go on.

I'm posting a video of a story which is similar to so many that I hear. If you know me out here and you find yourself telling a story like this to me you will quickly realize that you have my undivided attention. I have learned not to ask, but to listen. Your story is America. The America that makes everything work because you work for a living.

Curbside Columbus: 1976 Triumph TR7

This was a completely unexpected find. At first glance I thought it was a Fiero.

I found a Triumph sitting on the same lot where I picked up my z28. The lot owner must see some pretty interesting things come across his hands. The TR7 is, no doubt, one of the most interesting. He saw me out there taking some pictures and mentioned that the car had an interesting story (they always do, especially when he wants your wallet). The way he started the story was "the lady that owned it is dead". Ok... Turns out that it was owned by a family involved in a recent murder here in Lancaster, Ohio. After that a kid purchased it, spent some money getting it running, and traded it in for a Astro minivan. Ah, the same old story of neat little collector cars.

Back to the TR7... I was one when this car was produced. It has all the typical failings of other cars coming out of England at the time (from what I've read). Electrical gremlins being the biggest issue. Perhaps owning it would be akin to owning a Triumph motorcycle. A sort of an art of motorcycle maintenance thing. I do not think I would fit into this car. In fact I know I wouldn't (6' 5"). The styling was pushed as "the look of things to come". And they were right. The look of things to come in the 1980s.

There is an television ad I found on YouTube HERE. It looks like it is running for it's life actually. By far, the smallest car on the road thar.

Friday, March 5, 2010