Monday, March 31, 2008

A note to personal GPS manufacturers

Apologies for the quality of the pic. I shot it quickly with my cell phone. I'm trying to show you that it's bumper-to-bumper traffic on 34th St. in Manhattan, down which my GPS unit has stupidly decided to send me.

I still love my Magellan Roadmate - especially after upgrading it to the newest maps and the new interface that makes it look exactly like the new Maestro units. (Though it did lose the default sexy voice in the process... oh well, win some, lose some.)

But please. Every manufacturer out there needs to listen to me right now. There is no situation in which driving through Manhattan is the "fastest route", nor is it ever the "most use of freeways". I was coming from New Jersey - Basking Ridge, to be exact - and rather than put me on my normal 287-80-GW Bridge-Cross Bronx-Throgs Neck-Cross Island-Southern Parkway route, which takes 90 minutes on a good day and is all highway, it put me on 78-NJ Turnpike-495-Lincoln Tunnel-34th St-Queens Midtown Tunnel-LIE-Van Wyck Expressway-Belt Parkway. All because I went 2 miles out of the way at the very beginning of the trip to go to Starbucks. I ended up losing about 2 hours on the route it finally sent me on.

You would be right to ask why I was so dumb to follow such an obviously stupid route through the middle of Manhattan's city streets, and the truth is because half the time this thing does show me faster routes that I would never have thought of. So I thought I'd give it a shot - it was Sunday, after all, how bad could the traffic be? Well, I apparently forgot what day it really was - the last day of the New York International Auto Show. But it's true that even on a good day, 34th St. is just never, ever faster than I-95 to the Cross Bronx.

Anyway, just needed to vent. GPS makers, do us all a favor and when we say "fastest route", just put a big red "X" over Manhattan in your unit's internal calculations.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My other car is a Jeep

I'm still in the process of doing a little writeup on our central Oregon vacation last week, but in the meantime, some news.

I bought a car.

Last Tuesday we had 40mph sustained winds and it was about 25 degrees outside when I walked the mile to the train station on my way to work and I finally got sick of it. On days when my wife works, she takes the car in the morning and I'm stuck walking. I don't normally mind it if it's nice out, but it often isn't. This is an area of pretty extreme weather. Yeah, it gets colder in some places, it's rainier in some places, it's windier in some places, but honestly, the mix you get here is pretty unique. We have tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, thunderstorms, pretty much every weather phenomenon that exists. And it's rare to find a calm, still day - unless it also happens to be about 105 degrees out with 90% humidity. Then the air doesn't move.

Anyway, so I bought this:

Yeah, it's an SUV. So sue me. You know? I get pretty annoyed with the green movement sometimes. It's not that I don't support the ideals. I actually work for a company that's promoting "green" pretty heavily, but you know where we work? In a giant black monolith of glass and steel in the middle of the most congested, polluted city in the country. I hate the hypocrisy. So please - unless you're out living in the woods in a log cabin, save it. Those who live in glass houses etc. etc.

I did get the 6 cylinder model, at least. I could have gotten an 8. The 6 has plenty enough power.

I wanted an SUV because at the moment, I have no way to carry the large quantities of lumber around that my various home improvement projects require. The PT Cruiser's great, and it can carry a surprising amount of stuff, but it's still basically a compact car. I really needed a pickup truck, but I've gotta draw the line somewhere. I did also want a 4X4, because while the PT's pretty good in the snow, there are definitely days here when better traction and some larger tires and higher ground clearance are in order. I mean, the weather was the main reason I wanted another vehicle in the first place. So I may as well get a vehicle made for all-weather conditions.

I also just like the first-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee. I've always wanted one. They started rounding things out and softening the lines in 1999, and of course now the current Daimler-designed models look like a total suburb-mobile. The first-gen Grand Cherokees were real Jeeps.

This one had one owner, and I've got all the service receipts, so I know exactly what's been done to it. It came with a six month warranty too. It's got 137,000 miles - which for these things is pretty low. (I see them pretty regularly for sale with 180k or more - there's one near me right now at 240k.) Anyway, we only drive our current single car about 4,000 miles per year, so split that now. We really don't drive much. Just back and forth to the train station, and to our local stores. We take mass transit for everything else. I could probably get 10 more years out of this SUV before it dies... though I doubt I'll keep it that long.

It was cheap, too. Don't think I'm rich. We can barely afford to be a two-car family. The only way we managed it was by looking for an old beater. But I think it's in pretty good shape for a beater.

It's still at the dealer getting a few little things fixed, then inspected, plates, registration, etc. I'll be picking it up on Saturday. Starting next week, no more walking up hills both ways in the snow to get to work!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Election '08: Why the conventional wisdom is wrong

You'd think the so-called pundits would have given up by now. They called Giuliani "America's Mayor" and labeled him unstoppable as late as December of 2007. They called McCain's campaign DOA. They labeled Hillary's march to the nomination more of a "coronation" than an election process. When will they get sick of being wrong? When will they admit how clueless they really are about this whole thing?

The latest conventional "wisdom" coming out of this bunch is that a long, drawn-out primary campaign is bad for the Democrats. They say it lets McCain batter them undisturbed, lobbing volley after volley of attacks against them without reprisal as the Dems battle each other (just like they always do! Those self-destructive Democrats!).

What a bunch of bullshit. As a lifelong Democrat, I couldn't be more chuffed to have two strong candidates lasting so long and keeping all the attention on the Democrats. When was the last time you saw McCain debate anybody? When was the last time you saw a "Huge Day for Republicans" headline like the one above?

The longer the Democratic nomination is up for grabs, the longer the national debate stays on whose health care plan is more universal, or who is going to get our troops out of Iraq the fastest, or who is going to balance the budget first. This is a good thing. This is what the national debate should be, and the longer it goes on, the more "normal" it seems. Once McCain finally starts getting equal time in the press, it's just going to make him seem even more out of step with the mainstream than he already does. A 100 year stay for our troops in Iraq won't just sound ridiculous anymore; it'll sound psychotic. (It already does, to me.)

I'm rooting for the Democratic nominating process to go down to the wire: the convention. How cool would it be to have a convention that actually mattered again? Where ideas are debated on live national television, where the press are forced to actually cover events as they happen because there is actual news going on? Again, just more attention on the Democrats and their ideas. This would only be a problem if both candidates weren't as strong as they are. In a sense, this is like those years in football when they say the AFC title game is the "real Super Bowl". And the longer it goes on, the more meaningful it is - and the more it favors the Democrats.

One more thing. This race has energized Democratic voters. They're voting in record numbers. The pundits are openly wondering why. News flash: it's because the race is so close and so exciting. And the longer those voters stay energized and the more voters in each state feel their vote matters, the better it is for the Democrats in the general election.

Don't believe the hype. There's nothing the Republicans want more than for this race to be over so they know who they're fighting against, and so they can actually get some camera time. Republicans need an enemy and they crave attention. There's nothing the press wants more than for this race to be over so they can sit on their lazy asses and talk about how right they were. (And yes, I know what Howard Dean wants, and I don't know what the hell he's thinking.)

Real Democrats should want this to go on as long as possible. So, while I don't know what will happen tonight, I'm rooting for Hillary to at least do well enough to stay in the race. She may or may not, but it would only be good for us if she does.

(I voted for Obama.)

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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