Tuesday, March 21, 2006

And why should we all be there at 7:30?

Sometimes in life, things just don't make sense. One thing leads to another, unforseen complications arise, causality is indirect or simply lacking.

Around a week ago, I found myself at a party, eating sushi off of an ecdysiast's torso. I won't lie to you: in a way, it's a titillating idea. There are a couple of drawbacks, however. The fish, usually served cool, quickly rises to body temperature, the body in question belonging to a mostly naked woman that you, the eater of said sushi, really doesn't know very well at all.

I don't know quite what else to say. Don't try this at home? I mean, no one got hurt...

It should be mentioned that Brett Ascarelli (my domestic partner) took this picture, and also the picture in the "After the Flood" post, and should be credited, as she recently reminded me.

Friday, March 17, 2006


So, I showed my coworkers the posting with the side view of my car in it, and they all got excited that I had a blog! WOW!!!

The upside of this is I have new readers. The downside is that they'll make fun of me for writing stuff like, I dunno, alternate storylines for the Star Wars prequels, rants about audio or computer stuff, or just about any other topic would actually treat in this forum. The solution: make this blog so dull that no one in their right mind would actually read it.

It's almost as if I'd planned this from the start...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

iPod "HiFi"

Disclaimer: I have not heard the product.

Rant: What the hell has happened to home stereo.

In the 1970s, there was a war: this one wasn't related to oil, or terrorism or even communism. It was about winning the home stereo market, and it was fought in Japan, California and elsewhere. Marantz, Technics, Sansui, Onkyo, and many other manufacturers were building stereo "hifi" systems that pushed the envelope in terms specifications and features. You remember what they looked like: silver and shiny, with weighted controls and glowing lights in the darkness. Your dad probably had one until he threw it out in the early '90s or late '80s and bought a some black box that purported to have better specifications. That one probably broke about 5-7 years later, and he got another one. This one doesn't even have a phono preamp, and all the vinyl records your parents once had are not getting moldy in the basement. Then, one day, they just said "what the hell" and bought a Bose wave radio at the mall.

The iPod HiFi is for you, the hip kids.

Here are my objections:
1) Placement. The Apple website shows the HiFi next to your sweet flat-panel TV. I guess the imaging is so good that you can put it anywhere and still perceive stereo.

2) Frequency response. the plus-minus 3 decibel area is 53-16,ooo. I am more or less OK with 53 as the low end -- 40hz is generally considered the cutoff for perception, and a lot of the stuff down there is perceived as "thump." But 16k is just too low for truly detailed high end. There is nothing in the audio world that would describe itself as even close to "audiophile" that has a high end of less than 20k. High-end tweeters are much higher than that.

3) What the hell kind of amplifier is in there? What's the thd? Is it a 50w amplifier with a distortion of 0.01% or is it a crappy 8w piece of shit like what's in every boombox? Hmm, I wonder why there aren't any specs on the website.

4) No nobs or controls on the unit. Oops...where's the remote? Honey? Have you seen the iPod HiFi remote? HAVE YOU???? DAMMIT HONEY I NEED THAT REMOTE CONTROL, I CAN'T CHANGE THE VOLUME!!! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHERE IS IT!!!

Now, that said, if the thing sounds "good," I think that's great. Sounding "good" is certainly subjective, and if it does image halfway decently, and represent dynamics and timing well, I think it could be a steal at $349. I just don't understand why there aren't any tweeters on it.

Mind you, I just bi-wired my Linn Katans (~$900 or so, without stands, claimed performance 75-20k hz) to my Nikko NR-719 amp ($84 on ebay, with luck showed up working) which is a 35w amp from the late '70s that claims 35w into 4 ohms with 0.05% thd. What's more important is that the phono stage sounds basically like you're in the same room with the musicians. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't mind putting a little effort into having stuff sound good -- while iPods and the like are cool, and make it easy to listen to your favorite music, I'd rather work a little, pay some attention, and then have something pay off by sounding great. Plus I'd rather listen to reissues of Son House on Yazoo or Art Blakey lps than mp3s from the iTunes store. Jazz just sounds better on vinyl.

Man, it's been a fricking blogfest today. I guess I really don't want to do my taxes.

Condensed version...

Here is another view of the mangled SAAB. Check out the dimple over the rear wheelwell. The frame is so bent that the rear hatch won't open. They must have forced the doors open -- they won't close. I really could have died here, and I must say that I'm glad my SAABie gave its life to save mine (and the passengers in the other vehicle -- crumple zones help absorb impact that affects the other car as well.)

Drive safe, folks.

Doesn't look too bad there...

Through a wonderful and mysterious set of circumstances, my boss (and when I say my boss I don't mean my immediate supervisor. I mean the guy more or less in charge of Ravenswood's production, the wise and generous Peter Mathis) has lent me a truck. I know what you're saying -- "But that's not a truck! That's clearly an Audi TT Quattro!"

Why yes it is. See, the magnanimous Peter Mathis required the use of his pickup truck this evening, and rather than tell me "Tough luck kid," thereby requiring me to thumb for rides on the side of highway 121, he lent me his well-loved roadster. Which is, by the way, totally sweet.

This is a sports car. I'm not sure which edition this is, but it's either the 180hp or 225hp turbo version. It has a 6-speed manual, which is a wee bit clicky with short throws, but feels sturdier than just about anything I've used before. The brakes are awesome -- if my old 900 had brakes like this, I think that I may have avoided the accident entirely, or possibly just been rear-ended by the pickup behind me. I bet his ABS works too.

You know what definitely works in this car? The seat heaters. I've always been a fan of the feature, going back to the long, cold winters of my youth in Rhode Island. The heaters in our old SAAB 900s sedans would heat up just a wee bit before the engine coolant warmed enough to start blowing cold air. It's hard to describe how satisfying that was. Next to the seat heaters in the Audi TT, however, they seem like 90-pound weaklings at the Gold's Gym in Venice Beach. The heaters in this car were almost instantly noticeable. In moments, they were uncomfortably warm. By the time I figured out how to turn them off, I think I could smell cooking meat. You could probably fry an egg on the passenger's seat while driving, or at least keep your coffee good and warm.

What else? The steering is stiffer than anything I've driven, but feels really good. The car clearly has tons of grip, especially with the quattro option. Oh yeah, and it's fast. Way fast. Not by Lamborghini or even Camaro Z28 standards, but by 1990 Toyota Camry standards it's a screamer. And a revver. The redline is above 6000, heights to which I could never aspire on my boss's automobile.

Anything not to like? I'm not a complainer. But it is widely known that I have little but disgust for most newer cars, with their plasticky silver and heated drink holders. Despite the sumptiousness of the leather (which is considerable) the car's design is a little, well, gimmicky. There is a dimpled-circle motif that is maybe taken just a bit too far, especially since some of it is done in plastic that belies the VW thriftiness behind the Audi's luxo-splendor. That said, all the controls, even the digital ones, feel pretty nice.

If I had the money (surprisingly only three to five times what I'm considering spending on an 850) would I do it? Maybe, which is better than I thought. This car gives a pretty serious sense of control and seems sturdy. I think I would have survived the crash in this car -- the chassis of this car is definitely stiffer than the 900, and it has little mini-roll bars. I think it passes the safety test. The only downside is, of course, the cargo space in the roadster. That and the money of course.

Seems like a good way to cook bacon, though.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

And the winner is...

Coupla things. After a great deal of deliberation, it seems that my new vehicle will be...a Volvo 850. The SAABs 900s are too much of a gamble, and the only ones with ABS and airbags are the 1990-1993 models. If I could find one in good condition with relatively few miles, I would do it, but I think it's going to be easier to find a Volvo.

The only problem with the Volvos is that, basically, they're available in either manual transmission or turbo -- even the 1997 low-pressure turbo GLT model is only available with a four-speed auto. So I'm going to try to find a 1992-1996 GLT 5-speed, any color but white. (I am not about to be washing my car weekly, plus white just isn't my style.) I would love a turbo, especially since they cost only marginally more at this point, but the base model still has 168 hp, or just a tad more than the ol' 900 Turbo, albeit with a bit less torque.

I feel like the 850 is pretty much the last chance at having a really "Swedish" car. The post-1993 SAABs and later Volvos just don't have the simple, clean designs that made them feel unique. So, in that sense, I don't think that I'm abandoning my automotive roots. I'm just trying to make my way in a world where automobiles have become a rolling media center and breakfast nook.

Whatever, my issue. Maybe I should just get over it and buy a Grand Cherokee. Why not double my gasoline consumption for a little more room?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

End of an Era?

Recent events have caused a rather obvious and yet profound problem. I am, in a word, carless.

The problem is exacerbated by a couple of things. My car of choice, the Saab 900, is no longer produced, except in a debased form by General Motors. SAAB has more or less been dismantled. In fact, its headquarters are now officially in Detroit. Furthermore, even if I liked the cars, I couldn't afford them, seeing as how they are now aimed at the "luxury" segment of the market.

Last year, my father stopped driving them after having done so for 30 years, and I'm afraid that I may have to do the same.

But it gets worse. There are a few cars that I could be happy in, I think. They are cars which meet a certain basic level of safety (for which I have newfound respect) and performance (which I think has a certain bearing on safety) and a wee bit of style. In short, I want a car that runs, isn't a dog or a deathtrap, and doesn't look like crap outside, or have flimsy plastic bits everywhere inside. In cars made after 1998 or so, this is easy -- pretty much every car produced now is a luxury racer with an airbag and a dvd surround massage system with latte injection. I can't afford them.

This leaves pretty much one option, as far as I can tell: the 1992-1997 Volvo 850. More or less in my price range, first front-wheel Volvo, which adds to Volvo's bevy of safety features, quick and stylish. My new ride.

One little problem: very few of them, especially the more desirable ones with leather and/or turbochargers, are available with manual transmissions. I'm afraid I can't stand automatics. I don't feel like I'm driving.

What to do...I suppose it doesn't matter anyway, since I won't have enough cash for a new automobile until my insurance settlement happens (who knows when, or if they won't be able to wiggle out of it) or I receive a major donation or loan. (I've had some loan offers, to be honest, but I'm trying to avoid more debt.)

So what will it be? Anachronistic deathtrap or snore-worthy slushbox sedan? Stay tuned. Also there will be more pictures of the wreck, which currently adorns my lawn. (Insurance might need to see it, y'know?)

Thanks to all for your support.