31st May 2008

E85 Boondoggle of the Day: No Surrender for Federal Subsidies!

“Agriculture Secretary Edward T. Schafer is preparing to walk into a buzzsaw of criticism over American biofuels policy when he meets with world leaders to discuss the global food crisis next week.” Ouch! Clearly, The New York Times is through pulling is punches on America’s corn-fed bio-fuel bonanza. The majority of their article “Food Report Criticizes Biofuel Policies” is dedicated to a report criticizing biofuel policies (strangely enough), But before the knife is twisted (“The Agriculture Department’s own longtime chief economist, Keith Collins, who retired in January, said that ethanol was the ‘foot on the accelerator’ of corn demand), Secretary Schafer wants his constituents (corn growers) to know he’s got their back. By his department’s reckoning, biofuel production accounts for “only” two to three percent of the increase in global food prices, while reducing crude oil consumption by a million (a million!) barrels a day.”We think that policy-wise in the United States of America — and certainly in the rest of the world — as we see the price of oil and petroleum escalate dramatically beyond anyone’s imagination, that one of the ways to deal with that is to produce biofuels which are renewables, better for the environment and help lower that cost.” So E85 reduces gas use (although it increases gas use) and helps the environment (although it hurts the environment). Let the price supports begin! Oh wait…

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31st May 2008

Difficult: worth doing?

Did you see the Honda ‘Difficult is Worth Doing’ skydiving advert last night?

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31st May 2008

Matey boy was squatting with a tinnie and a fag

I have returned from a flying visit to Poland with GM which was part Aveo 3-door launch (it’s a revamp for the Kalos small hatchback), part general update on Chevrolet. Aveo certainly looks like a decent bit of car for not very much outlay. The 1.4 litre engine was better than the 1.2, but the 1.2 will get you around okay. You just have to be more careful about overtaking manoeuvers – and in rural Poland you find yourself overtaking slow-moving agricultural traffic quite a bit.

The update we were given on Chevrolet in Europe was certainly useful – I hadn’t appreciated quite how well the brand is doing in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Those Russian numbers are getting big and so is Ukraine. Borat’s mates in Kazakhstan will soon be driving Chevys too.

One thing that is interesting is how quickly places can develop in economic terms – always clearly reflected in the state of the vehicles on the road (and indeed the state of the roads). Mark Bursa – I was driving with him and his father was Polish - tells me that you would have seen many more old Polonez wheezers and ancient Fiats (like the Polish-built 126) just three or four years ago. A tidal wave of used car imports from Western Europe has made its impact. 

Any obvious signs we were in Poland and not any old Euro-identikit country? Well, there was that bloke squatting in the middle of a rural track-cum-road with a tin of beer and a cigarette. Three spanking new Chevrolets with Austrian plates slowed down and, respectfully, slowly swung around him. He carried on swigging and seemed oblivious. Good on him. And, without wanting to go all Bill Oddie, we saw real live storks sitting in nests atop poles on ordinary streets…

There were also plenty of shrines dotted around – it is a stoutly Roman Catholic country. The roads weren’t great, but they were okay and they were mainly only lightly used outside of Wroclaw. Did see a few old bangers to gladden the heart and there was an old Merc 190 doing some comical cornering at an alarming angle – but his shocks were shot, he wasn’t breaking sweat! There were also a few old Trabants to be admired for their sheer resilience, though not many. As I say, Poland is apparently changing fast.

The food? You will enjoy if you like meat, dumplings, cabbage and spicy soups. I liked the soups (especially the ‘zurek’). And I will be trying some chilled ‘bison grass vodka’ later. I picked it up in the Wroclaw duty-free shop. There’s even a piece of grass in it.

If you want to see the real deal in places like central and eastern Europe, I suggest you get out there soon, before they have McDonald’s, Starbucks and Chevrolets everywhere you look. Not that those things are bad, I know, but once the old cars and ways are gone, they are gone forever. That’s progress I suppose.

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31st May 2008

Basketball Tournament & Productivity


The True Cost Of March Madness
By Chris Schonberger

In 2006, one critic took on a report by Challenger, Gray &Christmas–a report claiming that March Madness costs employers $3.8 billion or more in lost productivity from workers.

The critic, Slate’s Jack Schafer, wrote that Challenger–a consulting company headquartered in Chicago–reached this catastrophic figure “based on an average wage of $18 an hour and 58 million college basketball fans spending 13.5 minutes online each of the 16 business days” between the start of the tournament and the championship game.

Schafer poked a few obvious holes in the assumptions behind this calculation–most notably that the base of rabid college basketball fans is probably not that large and that there are a lot of other ways employees procrastinate during a normal workday (such as online shopping and congregating by the proverbial water cooler).

Indeed, an AOL and Salary.com survey from 2005 revealed that the average American worker wastes 2.09 hours per eight-hour workday, mostly by hanging 10 on the Net. By 2007, that number was down to 1.7 hours, so maybe Challenger needs to crunch some numbers on the waning loyalties of NHL fans.

As a writer, I am inherently unproductive. But these calculations–and Schafer’s misgivings–spurred me to ponder the true nature of workplace efficiency. For one thing, are those 13.5 minutes of college hoops really in addition to the preexisting 2.09 hours of inefficiency? Even if they are, it’s clear that obsessive bracketology is just one prevalent example of a wider phenomenon.

So why did college basketball bear the brunt of this exposĂ©? Perhaps the college basketball lobby isn’t strong enough. What about the presidential race? A year of obsessive clicking on URLs containing polls and punditry must take a heavy toll on the nation’s productivity, no?

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    31st May 2008

    Car Lust–Toyota Prius

    In most car enthusiast circles, admitting affection for a Toyota Prius is like putting a “Kick Me” sign on your own back. While I like the Prius, I can understand the antipathy.

    I’ve read an amusing description of the Prius that describes it as powered by a small gasoline engine, an electric motor, and its owners’ smug sense of superiority. Fair or not, for many people who love cars, the Prius has become a symbol both of people who hate cars and of haughty environmental elitism. The Prius, as the most famous and visible hybrid, also takes a lot of the heat for the fact that hybrids often are overly expensive, complex, use lots of environmentally unfriendly batteries, and tend not to live up to their EPA mileage estimates. Given the fact that a decade-old Geo Metro can match the Prius’ mileage without a massive environmentally unfriendly battery pack, there is a perception that hybrids (and, by association, the Prius) are more a symbol of environmentalism than a useful way to save gas.

    I don’t really subscribe to either the viewpoint that the Prius and other hybrids are environmental saviors, or symbols of elitism and hypocrisy. I like hybrid technology–the idea of recouping energy lost in braking is pretty cool, and I think plug-in hybrids have some interesting potential. And, really, it’s not fair for the Prius to carry all of that pro- and anti-hybrid baggage. It should be judged on its own merits, and on its own merits I find the Prius to be a pretty compelling car.

    I’m on the record for being a sucker for bloated five-doors, like the early 1980s Saab 900 five-door, the Dodge Colt Vista and (shudder) the Suzuki Aerio, and like those cars the Prius combines a smoothly sloping roofline, the usefulness of four doors, and the extreme utility of a hatchback to carry people and cargo with ease. Its shape is geeky and bulbous in true five-door hatchback style, with a gawky but adorable face and clean lines. Its grinning “face,” lots of glass, and oversized headlights and taillights give the impression of a cheerful car. I like it in the same way I like the AMC Pacer. Oh, and the small clear glass section in the tailgate that supposedly improves rear visibility is a nice little nod to the second-gen Honda CRX.

    The Prius doesn’t offer a whole lot to people who really enjoy the pure act of driving. A co-worker of mine once made the amazing comment that driving a Dodge Dynasty was like “driving a pie.” Well, driving a Prius is like driving an iPod. While it doesn’t offer any visceral thrills, it’s still pretty interesting.

    Why? Well, for one thing, it’s genuinely cool to be able to drive just on battery power alone. The first few times you do it, the silence is so eerie to be almost Kubrickian. Then, too, it’s fun to watch on the central screen how the energy is flowing between the engine, the battery, the electric motor, and the driving wheels. It’s like a video game where the objective is to maximize your energy–not quite the same as driving quickly, but since I’m a bit of a video game nerd I was pretty engrossed. The start-up and shut-down procedure also seems willfully obtuse–it takes a little bit of getting used to and adds a slightly exotic feel to driving the car.

    Toyota intelligently clued into the fact that not all consumers who want a small car want a cheap penalty box. In fact, some are willing to pay a fair amount of money for high-level options. Touch-screen navigation, Bluetooth, leather, and a six-disc in-dash CD changer are all available on a Prius, which sets the Prius apart from other smallish cars and adds an additional technological sheen to the experience. The car-lover purist in me rebels at the idea of the technology being more important than the visceral driving experience, but at least it makes the car interesting.

    Francophiles everywhere will no doubt be pursuing me with torches and pitchforks for this, but the Prius feels to me like a modern-day Americanized Citroen. In fact, that probably explains a lot of why I like it. The tall, slab-sided wagon body and tiny wheels remind me for some reason of the Citroen 2CV, and the bizarre dashboard and intentionally opaque controls evoke the Citroen CX’s equally otherworldly interior. It’s easy to forget, since Priii are everywhere, but the Prius is a very quirky car–as quirky as a Citroen. All it’s missing is an overly complicated air suspension system.

    One quirk that I hate is the center-mounted instrument panel. I hate it in the Saturn Ion, I hate it in the Toyota Echo, and I hate it in the Prius. It’s a distraction, and I loathe the empty expanse of dashboard right in front of the driver.

    My wife and I were shopping for a family car a few years ago, and effort that eventually led to us buying our used Accord. My extensive shopping list included such disparate cars as the Prius and the Dodge Magnum R/T Hemi. The hybrid system made the Prius just a little too expensive for what you get, but if Toyota made a cheaper version with a conventional powertrain, perhaps a turbo four or a small but torquey V-6, there’s an outside chance that I’d be a Prius driver today, and receiving even more abuse from my friends than I already do.

    I added the commercial below for two reasons–it references Fresno, and because it has the bizarre but difficult-to-shake vision of a lot of cows hooked up in unfortunate fashion to a methane-collection bag. Weird.

    –Chris H.

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    31st May 2008

    Independent Subaru Repair & Service Specialist In Seattle.

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    Why choose a Specialist over a Generalist? Independent over Dealer?

    As a specialist we know your car better, especially when it comes to the right way to make economical repairs that a general repair shop wouldn’t know about or a Subaru dealer would never consider. Sometimes a vehicle will develop a pattern failure and a real solution needs to be found or a more economical repair procedure can be had.

    Through the years we have found solutions to replacing expensive parts by making repairs to existing components rather than just blindly install new ones. We have been able to become very good at repairs and service work by specializing in Subaru and we try to share this experience with our customer with lower labor prices.

    We know what parts we can use on your Subaru without sacrificing longevity. Most automakers have become pure design and assemble companies leaving the parts manufacture to other companies. These auto parts companies are free to sell the same parts in aftermarket channels with out the Subaru logo. While in some cases in only makes sense to stick with Subaru parts especially when it comes to slower moving items that may have not been introduced in the aftermarket by the companies that originally made the parts for Subaru. There is also a good chance that the exact replacement part can be found at a 20% savings if you know how to look (we do).

    From top to bottom we really know your Subaru well and want to help you get as many trouble free miles out of it as possible. We have seen these cars go well over 300k and I am the owner of a 1992 Legacy with 292k and counting. We take pride in servicing cars with higher miles and often have suggestions to help keep them going. Even though your Subaru may be getting up there in miles don’t discount just how long they will run.

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