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Meanwhile... back in reality

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31/07/2006

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Shoulder has Recovered

I can do chinups now, and yesterday carried 4 cubic metres of wood, paper and assorted rubbish out of the new house and into a pair of rubbish skips. I could even pick up the skips (one end at a time) and move them about, so I'd judge myself fully recovered.

Which is good, because I've still got a lot of moving to do.

I also counted the contents of the wine cellar. Only 251 bottles of wine, and a couple of spirits. Disappointed: it looked like a lot more than that. :(

20/07/2006

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Starting to Grow on Me

After a couple of days of driving the BMW on the same roads I drive every day, I've concluded that it is actually noticeably faster than I thought it was. To be precise, I still think it has better steering than the Lexus ES300, but now can see that it has better handling too (as expected), better grip under acceleration (also expected) and is actually quicker in a straight line too. This is contrary to my previous impression, and doesn't really line up with the power/weight ratio, but at the same position (up the freeway from the stop sign) that my car hits 80, this car is pulling 90. Which was a surprise.

I suppose you could explain it by pointing at a broader torque curve, more aggressive automatic transmission, the better grip giving a more confident launch or something. By "more confident launch" I mean that in the front wheel drive the ever present risk of wheelspin means that when I am driving casually I naturally use part throttle when taking off, even when trying to join the freeway ahead of traffic. In the BMW with rear wheel drive, 225/45 17 tyres and traction control, I just floor it.

Other things are getting nice too. Now that Ping and I have the seats/mirror/wheel positions programmed in, we just push a button to change drivers. This is nice (but I would still, probably, give it up for fixed racing buckets just to get the more secure seat and loose 100 kg of motors which must be slowing the whole car down.)

The satellite navigation has cut a few minutes off some of my travel times by suggesting improvements to my routes. I disagree with it on some roads though.

And almost every time I drive the car I find some extra feature that makes me think "cool!" or at least " that's a good idea". The latest being the automatic dimmer on the rearview mirror for when the car behind has its highbeams on.

17/07/2006

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It never rains but....

So I'm sitting at home nursing my recovering shoulder* when my wife comes home from supposedly spending the afternoon at a local chinese tea house. She has that expression on her face. The one that says "I have spent some money."

A 3 story house, all the furnishings, a BMW 530i, a fully stocked wine cellar and a shipping container of blinged up fishtanks all for one low, low price of under $600k.

Which sounds a lot until you realize the house is valued at $650k, the BMW at $50k, the fishtanks at $20k and the wine is 1000 bottles at a wholesale price of $5-7 each. (OK, that is pretty cheap wine, but still.). Mind you, the furniture is pretty ordinary too, but having all the appliances is nice (washing machine/dryer/dishwasher/fridge/lawnmower/vacuum/tv/video/stereo/a-c/..... all there and installed.)

We can start moving in on Tuesday night, but will probably wait until the weekend.

Murphy's law suggests that on the day before I buy a house to move to, I will have a shoulder operation so that my furniture carrying is severely limited. As usual, Murphy has it superficially correct, but actually it is healing really well. The op was on Friday but I was nearly confident enough to try a chin up yesterday. If I could step up to the handhold I would have, but as I have to jump and grab, I figured that if I started to tear stitches or something I would do some damage before I let go.

The idea is to sell the fish-tanks. Apparently they go for ~$500 each, but I don't know what the demand is.

The real question is will we sell the lexus or the BMW? Ping wants to keep the non-japanese car, I'd rather reduce our debt by a bigger slice. On the bright side, I now owe more than $1 million, which is always nice.

Actually it has reminded me on what I was missing, so I want to get something Japanese and twin Turbo, which means I would have to sell the BMW, and the Jap thing would clearly be cheaper.

What really matters is Ping, and she is still getting over the shock at finding that someone could actually dare to sell a car for $109k and have such heavy steering in it. I tried to tell her (and her friend) that Ferraris and Lamborghinis have even heavier steering, but I don't think they believe me. Surely the more expensive the car, the lighter the controls, it's just logical?

11/07/2006

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Car Tests 6: After the Purchase

This weekend Richard finally has managed to sell off his old camry (about 5 days before the next model came out, so it was getting tight) and so now had room for his new Lexus GS300, which he therefore picked up. Driving it around the suburbs has not (so far) revealed any new characteristics. It is still a newer, better equipped, sportier (but not actually faster in a straight line) version of my car. Or to put it another way, a less powerful version of the BMW 540 and 535 with too light (over-assisted) steering.

So to round out the comparison, (and because it was there) I went for a burn in the BMW 530. This has a 3.0 litre straight six, just like the Lexus, and with similar power and torque. 170 kW (a bit more) 300 Nm (the same) and only 1574 kg (about 100 kg lighter).

Result, almost exactly the same as the GS300, except the BMW has firmer, more supportive seats (good) is noisier (bad) and heavier steering (good, at least as far as I'm concerned.) The lexus is slightly cheaper for the same quality and age.

And that is about all I can say really.

Note that, contrary to some reports, the 6 cylinder BMW did not seem to have any better steering than the V8. I've already gone through reasons why this might be so.*

-7/07/2006

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Lack of Logic

Someone or other, without thinking it through, once quipped:

Women have worse self esteem than men, because boys grew up playing with Superman toys, while the women where playing with Barbie dolls.

Which is stupid if you ask me. I don't care how hard it is to live up to the expectations of Barbie, Superman is still going to be a thousand times harder.

30/06/2006

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Healthy Living II

The busy Sydney traffic I had to deal with on the way to work today:








The monotonous view as I am commuting:








27/06/2006

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Healthy Living

As mentioned below* someone had backed into my car, so it was in the panel beaters, having the pannels beaten under insurance payout. So I was left berefit of motorised transport and had to buy a bike from ebay.

There are a bunch of bikes available from ebay, but the more trendy mountain bikes greatly outnumber the road optimised racing bike style. So even though I was intending to ride it 99% on the road, and nothing that really needed a mountain bike, the mountain bike was what I ended up getting.

Looking back on it, I should have gone for the person who was selling a lightweight, fully suspended, alloy bike second hand for $30. I decided to get it after the auction closed with no bids but when I contacted her afterwards to ask if it was still available, she had already sold it. Now I had been hesitant because the bike had no seat, and needed a new chain. By the time I had priced a seat (free from a friend) and a chain I had missed my chance. Instead I went for a new bike being sold on ebay by an importer, thinking that this would be less trouble. I was wrong.

So what I ended up with was a brand new bike, final price of $44.55 plus $17 p&h. (What convinced me to get this was that the total cost was less than a tank of petrol. I didn't actually have to hand over any cash because I had some prize money in my paypal account.) This was delivered the next business day, which was impressive, and a surprise to my wife who was awakened early one morning by some guy handing over a huge box with a bike in it.

So I had a happy evening assembling the bike using the provided tools. The fact that I enjoy such an evening tells me that I have the correct job as an engineer. Then I took it downstairs and rode about the underground garage, changed all the gears back and forth and tested the brakes, set up the headlight (LED torch and some cable ties) and was filled with anticipation at going to work the next day. I had already dropped my car off for repairs, so it was all looking good...

The next day I dressed in suitable cycling clothes, popped on the helmet ($14.95 from BigW) got on the bike and started up the driveway to the road. As soon as the driveway got steep and the torque got above the level needed in a flat garage.... the chain snapped.

I popped the chain in a plastic bag, put the bike back in the garage, and caught the bus. (Yes there is a bus from right near my house to work, but it takes nearly an hour and costs more than driving does, add all the disadvantages associated with buses ( noisy, uncomfortable, a long wait at a wet, cold stop....) it is for emergencies only.) Once at work I send an annoyed email to the dealer and discussed bike chains with the various "bikey" people at work. Using work tools I was able to press out the connecting pin and remove the broken link, then go home and reconnect the chain on the bike. This time I took the test drive up the steep driveway... it snapped again, in a different place. This chain was stuffed.

So the next day I took the bus again, and then I found an email from the dealer offering to pay for any new chain. All I had to do was send then a scan of the receipt. So I went looking for a new chain, and eventually my wife found a shimano high tech chain in a specialty bike shop. She took in the broken old chain to make sure she got the right size, and they were scathing as to the quality of the crap chain I had. I was forced to agree with them. Once I saw and handled the new chain I agreed even more. When the new chain was side by side with the old one, it was clearly staggeringly better. Each link was more robust, each one of the 110 bearings was both beefier and far, far smoother. And once put on the bike it was heaps quieter and silkier in feel.

The price? $29, which is 2/3 the price of the entire bike. But the dealer (gear_to_clear@hotmail.com) did pay up right away, transferring the money straight into my paypal account. So if you want to buy a really cheap bike with possible chain problems, gear_to_clear on ebay is an honourable dealer to buy from. And given that they would have lost any profit from my deal with the cost of the chain, they may pay more attention to the chains in the future.

So... I have now been riding to work. And it is good. The bike journey takes as long as the bus journey. But it is free, it is good aerobic and some anaerobic exercise, and rather than sitting in a noisy, crowded, lowerclass bus, you are instead cruising through national park in the early, misty morning.

Or evening. In the dark. And cold. And once when it was REALLY misty I had a maximum visibility of about 5 metres (less when the fog reflected the headlight directly back into my eyes), which isn't much when you are doing 20 km/h on a pushbike. Still better than standing still in the freezing rain at a bus stop wondering if the drivers have gone on strike today over the soccer results or something.

How the Other Half Lives (If you call that living)

After all the BMWs, Audis and Lexi I've been driving lately, it was interesting to have a Hyundai Getz for the weekend while my car was in the shop. This was a 1.5 litre, automatic, cheap car.

So what was it like? Well actually I was impressed. I had previously driven the previous model Hyundai Excel, and this was a significant improvement over that car. Part of this may have been the gear box, a lot of what I disliked about the Excel was the poor gear lever position, vague and rubbery gear change, and lack of traction on takeoff. By having an auto box the gear lever is not used all the time so the position doesn't matter, the gear change does not apply, and the power lost through the auto slushbox helps keep traction.

Mind you it didn't feel like it was down on power compared to the manual Excel. If anything, this felt more responsive. This could be due to a lighter weight. It felt like a light weight car, it was OK to about 15 km/h, then the acceleration trailed right off. After that the auto was keen to kick down, but the only result seemed to be more noise than power.

The interior, equipment and handling were all down on the more expensive cars, as expected. But not by as much as I expected. Hyundai has clearly lifted their game from only a few years ago, and there is now a serious question as to whether a new Hyundai is not a better car than say a Holden Vectra with 100 thousand on the clock. Once you get onto the high speed roads however there is no question about whether the Korean matches a Lexus with 150 thousand km. The little hatch was rattling and squeaking. The little engine was droning, and there was no feeling of power at all, while the big old lexus was just silently cruising with the CD player cranking out some Orff and heaps of grunt in reserve.

Conclusion, much improved, but still only for the junior sales assistants who value newness over quality.

20/06/2006

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Car Tests 5: The Final Battle

Yesterday, at about 3 hours past the time I was supposed to come home, Richard FINALLY signed the dotted line for his new car. But what did he finally get? Was it the zippy little TT, the Zoomy little 350Z, the luxurious GS300, the alleged supercar S4, or something new? Read on....

First thing: My own ES300 was not happy. Not because I've been off with all these more attractive vehicles, but for a much more fundamental reason: Someone backed into it. Now she was reversing the wrong way down a one way street, but maintained it was my fault as I should have seen her reversing lights. Indeed I normally would have, but I was busy getting out of the way of the bus that was ALSO reversing at me, and so was distracted until it was too late for my slow reactions to get out of the way. Fortunately my insurance company does not agree with her assessment and so my car is at the repair shop as we speak. With any luck it will come out looking better than before, with all the tiny scratches and bumps that cars accumulate over time repaired.

But then, on Sunday, it was time for another round of car shopping. First up was a GS300 Lexus. We had already tested one, but this one was advertised as being less km and a lower price. It was not.

Whether Richard had misread the ad, or whether it had had 10 000 km of test drives since the ad was written, the car in question ended up with 88 000 km, same as the other GS300 we had driven. Furthermore, this car was black (a very hard colour to keep clean) combined with brown leather interior (compared with blue exterior and black interior for the other one, a much better combination.). And lastly, while the other GS300 drove and looked like a new car, this one seemed to have rattles and squeaks like any run of the mill ford or holden. A NEW Ford or Holden, but the other Lexus of the same age was much better, feeling and sounding like a new lexus. To add insult to injury, while advertised at a lower price, after haggling was finished it ended up costing more than the other car, so we walked away.

Next test: A BMW 535. This is the previous, non-sharp-edged shape, with a 3.5 litre V8. This was my chance to see what the fuss about BMWs is about. Is this really such a better steer than the Audi? Well it wasn't bad. But it didn't seem significantly BETTER than the Audi, especially the S4. On the other hand, this was comparing a 5 series BMW to a 4 Series Audi, whereas a fair comparo would be a 3 series Bimmer against A4 series Audi or A6 series Audi against a 5 series BMW. And lastly the V8 BMWs are supposed to not be as good as the 6 cylinder ones for steering. But anyway.... the BMW steered and went around corners as well as the S4, remembering that this was at sensible speeds, in the dry. I assume that at twice the speed in the wet, the superior grip of the S4, and the better weight balance of the BMW, would result in some differences appearing. Performance wise, the 180kW and 345 Nm naturally aspirated torque but 1730 kg of the BMW did not stack up to the 195 kW, 400 turbo Nm and 1680 kg of the S4. But there wasn't that much in it. (In both cases there were 3 guys in the car, but the 3rd guy may have weighed another 25 kg in the case of the S4.) The BMW was definitely faster than the Lexus GS300, as well as having much sharper and better weighted steering. The BMW was also heaps quieter and more refined than the Audi, though not quite matching the GS300. The small deficit in luxury combined with a serious improvement in driving ability made it preferable to the GS300 for me, and maybe for Richard. The 535 also had a slight knock in the engine noise. When we pointed it out the dealer claimed this was the noise of the fan, and "they all do that", but you know what that's worth.

After that, there was only one thing to do: Try a BMW with a real engine. The 540 packs a 4.4 litre V8 with 210 kW and 440 Nm of torque. And despite the image of BMW engines as rev machines, this is actually a lugger with peak torque at 3400 rpm, and peak power at a lowly 5400 rpm. Compare this to the ancient technology tractor engine Holden V8 with 5.7 litres, 235 kW @5600 and 460 Nm @ 4000.

Despite almost a litre extra capacity, the 540 only carries an extra 5 kg over the 535, to give a total of 1735 kg. However in this test drive, the dealer was a little girl so the total mass of car+people was less than the 535 and probably the same as the S4. The BMW would therefore have a better power and torque to weight ratio than the S4, and it's computer controlled 5 speed auto is probably as good as me at changing gears.

So? Well I was impressed. It actually seemed better than the S4. I don't know whether this was because it IS better than the S4, or if it was a combination of different roads and the S4 having a 60 kg girl in the back rather than a 110 kg guy, or just that I was expecting so much more from the S4 that it seemed slow on the day by comparison with my expectations.

So, seemingly as fast and responsive as the S4 (and hence about as good as say a worked turbo skyline or my Zed with 18 psi or a new 350Z) but with no turbo lag (unlike the Skyline or my Zed) and no rpm lag (like the only-at-the-top-end 350Z). With steering and feedback to match the S4, combined with that solidity and feeling of solid build that you want in a car. AND it was quiet and refined with little more noise than the Lexus. Well until you put the pedal to the metal and get the V8 roaring. THEN you can hear it, but is that a bad thing? Not even refined classical musician Richard thought so. It should also be pointed out that this BMW V8 did NOT have the faint knocking sound we found in the 535, so they DON'T "all do that".

So he bought the 540 right? Well no. It was everything he said he wanted in a car, and 90% of what I wanted (I want more power still, and being a naturally aspirated V8 it would not be easy to hot up.) BUT being a BMW the price/car ratio is all screwed up. That is, the 1999 540, with 124 thou. on the clock, costs the same as a 2002 GS300 with 88 thousand km. Plus the Lexus gets a 2 year factory style warranty from the Lexus dealership. Also, the Lexus is as new. Really. You could stick the Lexus with 5 000 on the clock and people would believe you. The BMW had clear wear on the driver's seat and centre console. The dealer promised to rectify this, but we weren't convinced. Also the Lexus had some extra features: Big screen sat nav (compared to the piddly little screen on the BMW.) Front and rear parking radar and a parking CCTV (the BMW only had rear radar) Stuff like that which I would ignore, but Richard thought that if his wife was going to be parking his new car, he wanted her to have all the help she could get. Especially as her current car has all that.

Richard claimed that if the 540 had the interior and kms of the 535 (but not the engine knocking sound) he would have bought it, but as it was he wasn't convinced.

So on the way back home, we dropped in at the original Lexus dealer to see what trade in they would give Richard on his camry. Once they started talking money seriously, the price of the Lexus began to drop. (I think a cold, wet June is the best time to buy cars. No-one wants to go car shopping and the dealers started to get desperate to close before June 31st.) Starting at the ad. price the Lexus dropped by $5000 and then another $1000 when Richard started to think about the BMW again. (I don't know if Richard was doing this deliberately, but the business card from the BMW dealer was in his top pocket where the Lexus dealer could see it. Very sneaky.).

Then the dealer pulled their old trick of bringing out the manager who started the negotiation process again, starting from the previously agreed price. But as Richard was still thinking about 540s and whether he could find a cheaper/newer one, the dealer couldn't make any traction, and only upped it by $500 including stamp duty. Realizing he was going backwards he tried to stop there, but then Richard got the 2 year warranty extended to 3 years for another $300. So then he signed up and we went home.

Conclusion: The GS300 is the cheapest luxury/sports car (leaning towards the luxury end) for what you get. But the BMW 540 is damn good, and better than twin turbo S4 at least under normal driving. Taking a sports emphasised sport/luxury look, the BMW is STILL equal first, which surprises me. At least until it rains or you really start to hammer it. Or modify it, because as a turbo car the S4 is $1000 exhaust and boost tweak away from 220 kW/450Nm, and an intercooler/pipework/chip flash ($2000?) from 250-280 kW/500-550 Nm. To hot the BMW up significantly I think you need a bolt on supercharger, capa.com.au have one for ~US$8000, plus installation and exhaust.

The disappointments of the group are the S4 (as explained) and the GS300. The point is that the GS300 is available with BMW540 level engine power, so if it handled like the BMW/Audi vehicles it would be ideal. So what is wrong with the allegedly "Sports Sedan" GS? Well I think that the steering is just too light. This has been noted in autospeed.com for the Lexus LS400, and electronic modification of the steering weight apparently fixed the problem. Maybe I should try making the ES300's steering heavier to see if that is a good idea? Then I could get a twin-turbo GS300 and be OK.

07/06/2006

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Car Tests 4: Attack of the Euros

So my friend Richard has still not decided what car to buy, or even what sort of car to buy, as will become evident. But anyway, it was a cold, windy, wet long weekend, so while our wives were drinking hot chocolate and watching Korean soap operas in front of a video and a gas fire, we ventured out to have some fun.

First of all was a Nissan 350Z. Now we'd tested one before, and it was good (though lacking in low and mid range torque, at least compared to a turbo motor). But this one was automatic. And convertible. This is very rare in 350Zs, and usually very expensive, but this owner did not speak English and so had trouble selling it in Australia. By pure coincidence, he did speak Mandarin which Richard is fluent in and I have a bit of, so we were able to look at it for a very low price.

Picture the scene, early morning, freezing, misty to the point of rain, rather dark under heavy clouds, the ground covered with red and yellow maple leaves from the winter trees, and out from an underground garage comes this low, black, gleaming shape with a menacing rumble. The roof was down, there were fat low profile tyres, and everything was polished black. The leather, the paint, the freshly cleaned tyres, the carbon fibre look interior were all shiny black. The only colour was the glowing instruments and the chromed mags. "That" I said to myself "is sex on wheels".

It was indeed a very good Zed. Except for the convertible bit, which Richard likes but I do not. The only damage was some slight scraping of the exhaust pipes and spoiler (what do you expect? You can only see it if you lie on the ground.) and scratches on the drivers side door pocket. The rest was as new. Driving? Well it was nearly as good as the manual coupe. Being a high RPM type engine it doesn't respond best to a lazy auto, so you need to have the auto on sport and/or use the tiptronic style buttons to keep the revs up. But once you do that it was pretty quick. We tried one launch from the lights, and Richards comment was that the acceleration was making his head hurt. But I've driven better. Actually my old Zed was better, at least when running 18 psi. It had the same power, 80 kg less weight, and heaps more torque. (My 300Z was about 1470 kg. The stock 350Z is 1450 for manual, and 1550 for the auto convertible.)

In general we couldn't go as hard as I'd like: The roads were wet after all. But the traction control light was flashing whenever I tried anything, and it still seemed to have a fair bit more grip than the front wheel drive Lexus ES300 on the same roads. It was a little noisy, but you get that with a convertible, and the steering didn't seem as positive and sharp as I remember the coupe being, but that's probably a convertible thing too.

More significantly, the suspension was not too harsh, even on rough potholes. Apparently Nissan stuffed up the original suspension, it was too hard for Australian roads. The convertible, being less full-on, got softer dampers and ended up a much better car. Because it has less bounce and shudder it even corners better than the coupe. Nissan has rectified the mistake and now all Zeds run the convertible spec. This being a convertible, it has the good dampers and so handled the road surface with aplomb.

Driving away from that test, Richard seemed to be thinking that he would buy this car. My opinion was that if he wanted a convertible sports car, this was the one to get, given his requirements. But requirements were made to be revised, right?

Next we went to a Ferrari dealer in Kings Cross. At this point winter really started to bite. The wind howled down between the rows of skyscrapers and cut through my foolishly chosen cotton shirt. Needless to say the dealer was closed, though we looked through the window at a sleeping pack of AMG Kompressor V8s, twin turbo V12s, Twin Turbo Porsche 911s and other such monsters. The window had a sign on it that I eventually read, it mentioned that they were only open Mon-Fri and Saturday morning. Richard remarked he would never be able to get off work at such times. But I remembered another Ferrari dealer around the corner, so we trudged on, to find that this one was wide open. No cars though.

We enquired about this unusual state for a car dealer. We were told that all the cars had been moved for a party they'd held last night, and they were coming back this afternoon. They should be here around 2.30. It was now 11 am, so we went away.

Off to the Lexus dealer. The internet had indicated that this dealer had one of the new IS250s for sale 2nd hand, but when we got there it was already sold. So we looked at the GS300 instead. These were in Richard's 40ish to 50ish price band, and looked very nice (having just had a dealer detailing.) So we took one for a drive.

This was a 2002 GS300 with 88 000 km on the clock. And it seemed new. Brand new. I mean the Zed was "as new" but even that had a scratch or two. These did not. More importantly, with 88 thou on the clock, they still drove as new. This is rare, normally any car with nearly 100 thou. under it's belt has a few rattles and creaks. This had none. A tribute to Lexus engineering. Richard claims his dad's E-class Merc. is the only other thing he's seen that did that.

Other than that, how was the GS300? It was like my ES300. Except better in almost every way. It felt more solid (mind you my ES300 has 148 thousand km on it), it had better materials on the interior (leather, more wood, more expensive looking/feeling carpet). It had more toys, though they were just as well integrated into the interior. The steering was just as over light, and low geared, but sharper with more feel. All the basic things were the same, and were completely familiar to use, with controls in the same place, and even looking identical, but somehow better.

EXCEPT for two things:

Performance in a straight line was the same, with the ES perhaps slightly faster. On paper this is no great surprise, the ES300 had 156 kW, the GS 166kW. But the GS is RWD so it will loose more in the transmission, and it would be slightly heavier.

Sound levels. The ES300 (with 148 000 km) is quieter. This could be the low profile tyres making more noise, a sportier exhaust, or something more fundamental.

So it was a better ES300. Better enough for an extra $30k? I don't think so. It disappointed me. People always refer to the GS300 as a "sports sedan" but on this showing even the much, much faster twin turbo version (which is getting temptingly cheap) is not really sporty.

Note that we didn't get to really cane it around corners, it was $50k and the roads were wet.

Then I spied a Rover 75. Now this is not a sports sedan. There is a sports version, it was the MG ZT, available with 140 kW (bleh), or a supercharged 165 kW (starting to be less embarrassing) or a V8 rear wheel drive 195 kW (starting to be interesting). But the base Rover 75 had only 125 kW in a 1500 kg front wheel drive sedan. In terms of performance it is barely ahead of Dad's Jaguar X-type 2.1 and so not really even classified as a car.

But the interior? It has the best interior I've ever seen. Ever. I've sat in a $450 thousand dollar AMG SL65 twin turbo, and the interior was not up to this $25k Rover. It was fantastic. All hand crafted leather, polished wood and brass. It looks like a top of the line Jaguar SHOULD look, rather than the more plastic and cheaper interior it actually has.

What a waste... I wonder how much the V8 ones are?

Now back to the Ferrari dealer.

Most of the cars were back now, with more arriving all the time. Despite the name, there was only one Ferrari, and only one Porsche, but at least the Porsche was a 4wd, twin turbo. The Ferrari was about the cheapest pasta-rocket you can get. At $38k it was well inside Richard's price limit, and approaching mine. But at 1983 it was a bit old. As a 4 seater GT4 it was the least beautiful Ferrari made since those ugly bloated things in the 1960s, and you know it would take $10k per year in maintenance, minimum.

Still I'd like a test drive, if only to say "Yeah I drove a Ferrari, it wasn't as good as a TT" or something. I didn't get to try it.

We were there because the internet said they had a 3.0 quattro Audi A4. Which they did. But it was manual, which ruled it out for Richard. So what else was here....? A Mercedes Benz SLK 230 Kompressor. This is mechanically the same car as the previously tested Crossfire, except it has a supercharged 2.3 litre 4 instead of a 3.2 litre 6. And it has a nifty folding metal roof instead of a cloth one. And it has interior by Mercedes instead of Chrysler.

So we hopped in and did a couple of laps of eastern Sydney CBD.

The Crossfire was much better.

The supercharged 4 was noisy, coarse and wouldn't rev. It had nice torque down low (for a 4 cylinder) but totally choked once you reached 5 grand. The car is much smaller than the crossfire (strangely, given the same floorplan) and with the folding roof has much less room in the boot. But the ultimate problem is the interior. The Americans, rather than cheapening the luxurious German interior as I had thought, had actually improved on it. This 2001 Mercedes had an interior equal to my mid 1980s 300Zx.

Yeah, that's what the SLK was like. A 1980s Japanese GT. A really good one, like my Zed after a full makeover and leather interior, or perhaps a top of the range Supra or RX7. Given the total lack of room most like a late 1980s RX7. Except with an engine that won't rev instead of an engine that can only rev.

And it has the nice looks, a useful rather than sports engine, a clever folding roof and of course that badge. If this had been brought out by Toyota in 1988 for $40 000 it would have been marvellous. If it was brought out by Hyundai right now for $30 000 it would be popular. Being a Mercedes for $80 000 it is a complete joke.

The Crossfire (for $60k) has a modern interior and has the good (or at least much better) engine. That's still a reasonable car, but to have an interior that looks 20 years older, with a noisy, coarse, revless engine and less room is not either my or Richard's idea of what a car should be.

Having said all that it was fun. In an older, cheaper sports car kind of way. If you could get this car for $7k it would be a great little car for thrashing around the city, and maybe seeing what you could up the boost to. But they wanted $38k????!!!! We went home.

In conclusion from the day's driving: The Zed was the sexy sports car with power, handling and style, the GS300 is the luxury car, the SLK is a fun cheap sports car that isn't cheap. Of them all I'd take the Zed, but in a coupe. Or maybe the twin turbo version of the GS300, but it still wouldn't feel sporty. The Zed is a Sports car.

The next day we drove a REAL car. Richard told me that he had lined up an Audi A4, with a turbo diesel. Seemed interesting enough to me so I went along. Richard needs to read his ads a bit more carefully. This was an S4. Yes it was a turbo, actually a twin turbo, no it was not a diesel.

The S4 is Audi's answer to the M3. 4 wheel drive fed by a twin turbo 2.7 litre V6 pumping out 195 kW@ 5800 rpm and 400 Nm @ 1850 rpm in a 1615 kg car. 0-100 in 5.7 seconds, electronically limited to 250 km/h etc. and so forth. Worth a test drive if you ask me....

The first thing that is apparent is that it is actually a rather small car. Certainly compared to the ES300/GS300/Camry type cars. This is much more a IS200 or Mazda 6 sized vehicle. On the other hand, it is very nice. It has the full leather and luxury equipment that the GS300 has, though with carbon fibre instead of wood. It's not as quiet as the GS300, being much more equivalent to the 350Z for both engine noise and road noise. Since it would have similar exhaust system and low profile tyres this is probably reasonable.

On to the important things: The steering is firm and sharp. At least equal to the 350Z. Now this is weird because the magazine reviews all slam the S4 for having poor steering. I can think of three explanations: 1. A real sports car is even better, if I drove a M3 or 911 I would realize what real steering is like, and then regard the S4 as the pig it truly is. Or 2. The understeer and poor response people complain about is the result of the weight over the front wheels (Audi engines are mounted AHEAD of the front wheels) which gives under steer once the cornering is hard enough to get the tyres to develop some serious slip angles. At lower levels of G-force (ie. anything you would do in a test drive with the owner in the car, or for that matter anything you should actually do on a public road in real life) the tyre slip isn't significant, and what matters is wheel alignment, steering ratio, assistance levels and system hysteresis and backlash. Or 3. The super sticky, ultra low profile after market tyres fixed the problem.

Needless to say, the 3 choices are not mutually exclusive.

Next is the acceleration. The quoted figure for 0-100 is 5.7 seconds, but as it is a 4 wheel drive this is artificially low. That is, a 4wd car can, if you don't mind risking breaking it, get an incredible launch just by taking the revs to peak power and dumping the clutch. This makes the 0-100 time a lot lower than you would otherwise get, and hence the on road, real world acceleration from either a rolling start or a sympathetic launch is not as good as the bare 5.7 seconds would suggest. On the other hand, this car is a turbo, so it has a huge lump of torque available at really low revs, meaning that real world acceleration is BETTER than the bare power/weight ratio would suggest. On the road, this car seems about as fast as the 350 Z manual coupe, which has slightly more power, slightly less weight, without turbo torque and without 4wd.

On the other hand, with all that torque available at 1850 rpm, it is much easier to drive fast than the Zed, because you don't need to row the gearbox to keep it on the boil. However it did tend to feel a bit restricted up top, with the engine not giving you anything more above about 5.5 grand.

It also had that "machined from a solid block of steel" feel to it, along with a "machined from a solid block of titanium" sort of high tech image and without the "machined from a solid block of lead" performance that the GS300 suffered from.

Overall it was a little disappointing. For such a famous hero car, one that is considered a direct rival for the M3 and Porsches, it wasn't the improvement over the twin turbo Jap things from 10 years previously that it should have been, if indeed it was any better at all. It was still really nice though. More importantly, it had what Richard wanted:

Not that Richard would get it. It was manual, and not available as an auto, so that was out of the question.

Soooo.... what could he get that had the same appeal, but was an auto?

Next test was a Audi A4 3.0 quattro. Same body, hopefully the same handling and steering, more luxury features, less power (but that was the one thing he wasn't after, me I want an RS4 which is actually seriously fast (seriously fast being defined as 0-100 in under 5.0 seconds these days)), but most importantly: automatic.

Now Richard had to go to work (yes he works on long weekends, how did you think he could afford such cars?) and so I went by myself. The car itself was a bit newer than the S4, and yes indeed it did have a few toys (reversing radar, electric seats) that the performance version had missed out on. But this was expected, what mattered was the driving.

OK. Noise was almost the same as the S4. There was less engine noise (not surprisingly) but the road noise was the same. This is because it was running low profile performance tyres just like the S4. (Point: It is now clear that low profile tyres are responsible for the road noise that seems so annoying. Does this mean that a TT with carefully selected, higher profile tyres would now be quiet (if a bit less sticky around corners) and so should be acceptable to Richard? I think so.) So overall, acceptable.

Steering seemed identical to the S4 tested 90 minutes previously, so that was good.

Feel, still the desired "machined from a solid block of steel". Check.

Acceleration... well what did you expect. It is back to average, with a normal 3.0 dragging a heavyish (though small) car about after loosing up to 35% through a 4wd drivetrain. The ES300 feels marginally faster. The A4 should be much quicker in take-off though, because there would be no chance of loosing grip.

It's still up to Richard to decide what sort of car he wants: Sports car or sedan. Based on his STATED desires, I'd say take the 350Z convertible or the GS300. But he keeps changing his priorities.

Me? I'd take the S4 and hot up the engine to 300kW or so. That would be after test driving the Ferrari. (Which is dangerous I know, you never know if you won't wake up the next day with some blurred memories and something small and red parked in your driveway.)

07/06/2006

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Fashion

Earlier I mentioned the lack of resources for someone who wants to know what is fashionable to wear without having to read fashion magazines and the like. Yesterday I discovered The Sartorialist. I have no idea if it is any good yet, either in the sense of being easy to understand or even vaguely right. But it looks good.

17/05/2006

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More on Alfas

After my reasonably positive impression of the Alfa Romeo GTV I've been looking out for information on them, and have just discovered a magazine test that compared the Alfa Romeo GTV, the Chrysler Crossfire and the Nissan 350Z*.

So what did this review say? Much the same as me. The Zed was the most sporty, the Crossfire was more of a GT but with American spec interior (bad) and Crysler look-at-me styling (good....ish) and the Alfa had Italian style (good) combined with front wheel drive (bad).

What was interesting was the performance figures. They had the V6 176 kW Alfa beating both the 162 kW Crossfire (not surprising, all cars are much the same size and weight) AND the 206 kW Zed (quite surprising).

Now all 3 cars have much the same engine size, and while this means little in terms of power output these days (unlike the old days when everything was a pushrod, cast iron, carby fed dinosoar and the number of cubic inches was almost synonymous with the power output in gross horsepower) it does still have a very strong correlation with torque. Very few modern engines put out much more than 100 Nm/litre, and sure enough, these cars fit that rule of thumb. Hence, with all three cars putting out 300 Nm and a bit, one could expect them to behave the same at in-gear-acceleration. With the engine speed kept low by virtue of testing in high gear, the Zed would not be able to use it's higher revs, and so everything should even out. Hence each car should be pretty damn close when in higher gear.

EXCEPT, that the Alfa is front wheel drive with a transverse engine. This layout has many disadvantages, but one advantage is the losses in the gear train are a fair bit less than if the power has to be shipped all the way down to the back of the car and then turned through 90. So we can table the power at the wheels for these cars.
Car Alfa GTV6 350Z Crossfire
Engine Power/Torque 176/300 206/363 162/310
Weight 1415 1468 1345
Power/Torque at Wheels 150/255 155/272 122/232
Power/Torque at Wheels/kg 0.106/0.180 0.106/0.185 0.090/0.172

So simple maths shows that actually the Alfa has some chance of beating the Zed providing it can get the power to the road. And that is what the magazine times showed. The in gear acceleration times were a clear win to the Alfa, and even the 0-100 time (usually a FWDs weak point) were 7.2 seconds v. 7.3 for the Zed.

But.... 7.3 is really slow for a Zed. Reason is that the road was wet. All cars were tested on the wet road, but that meant that they had to take off gently and not launch at full power. This could neutralize the big advantage of a rear wheel drive to some extent. The RWD increases the load on the rear tyres, and hence grip, during takeoff, but this is only as long as it can transfer sufficient force to the road before weight transfer begins. In the wet you could just spin the rear wheels, have no weight transfer, and hence being RWD doesn't help.

It also brings up the point that when you actually OWN the car, and have to pay for the clutch, tyres and gearbox repairs, 7.3 is probably the sort of time you can expect. It makes me wonder if there should be a "wet takeoff" time in car testing to show what you will get when you aren't brutal. However it still doesn't allow for the fact that in the dry a front wheel drive will spin its tyres heaps more than a rear wheel drive (assuming both cars have some real power) and so two cars with the same wet times, will still have the RWD take off much faster in the dry. Some American mags do a "street start" where you do a rolling start at 5 mph. This once again takes a brutal launch out of the equation. However it is an extra bit of data, not a substitute for 0-100, as the ability to do a brutal launch is a good thing, not because you want to be brutal to your pride and joy, but because the ABILITY to do a brutal launch means you have lots of grip.

The few 5-60 (mph) times I've seen are significantly slower than the 0-60 for the same car. Probably because you have taken away the brutal launch. I think that it would make much more difference to something like a GTR (heaps of grip, heaps of power, but no low down torque, so you launch by dumping the clutch at 6000 rpm) when compared to say an Automatic Falcon Turbo (50% more torque than the GTR, at 1/3 the revs, and no ability to dump the clutch anyway.)

There still needs to be some test that will give a "0-100 time without being hard on the car". Though one could speculate that as the cars in question get more powerful, the grip at 5 mph will approach that at 0, with substantial weight transfer occurring. Thus I suppose the 5-100 time will become more and more the one number of interest as the number itself gets smaller.

9/05/2006

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Biological Warfare Neutralized

Last night my wife served Brussel Sprouts.

However, she did them in a Chinese manner, sliced, fried in garlic and chilli and with little chunks of pork.

They were actually quite nice, and I heated up the leftovers and ate them for breaky.

So why, for centuries, have they been boiled? Is it just puritanism telling us that healthy foods should taste bad? Is it that our mums were punishing us for those things we thought we had gotten away with? Is there any answer at all?

4/05/2006

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Threat or Promise?

My salsa instructor last night muttered that I (or, I'll sadly admit, the guy next to me, who knows?) needed a good spanking, she whispered this to herself and didn't remember her throat mike was on.

I don't know whether this meant I was being very bad, or very good.

She certainly wouldn't elaborate once she realized the whole class had heard her.

2/05/2006

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Another weekend, another car test

Once again, this is not for me, well not directly. It was a combination of my friend (once again) and Ping, who saw this car and liked the look, and wanted to know if it was worth looking into.

So what was it? An Alfa Romeo GTV Spider. (In Europe, "spider" means "convertible" for reasons that are not clear to me. I suppose arachnids don't have roofs.)

The GTV is available with two engines:

A 2.0 litre four that ranges from 115 kW (more than the base Turbo Audi 1.8) up to 121 kW depending on the year and exact model. It has twin spark plugs but careful reading indicates that the 2nd plug is used for pollution control, and not to enable higher compression ratios and better torque like in race engines. The later (and more powerful) engines use direct petrol injection and a stratified charge that is claimed to give both better torque and less fuel consumption. But the on paper numbers don't seem any better than a normal old 16 valve four from Toyota or Renault.

A V6 that started at 3.0 litres and 162kW/270 Nm and then grew to 3.2 kW and 167 kW/300Nm. Alfa likes to boast about the power of this engine, especially when it is the GTA models and gives 184 kW. However there are a bunch of performance cars with 3.2 litre sixes so comparisons can be made. (There are apparently some technical reasons why this capacity is chosen. A bore of about 95 mm allows complete combustion from a centrally located spark plug using modern high octane petrol, go over this bore and you either need two plugs, or can't rev as fast without loosing combustion efficiency. Likewise a stroke of 75 mm gives a piston speed that can extract energy from the expanding flame front at realistic engine speeds (6-8 k rpm) while not either being a motorbike type torqueless short stroke rev monster or a Ford Falcon style long stroke torque king that can't rev.) The same theory predicts that the best performing V8 should be about 4.3 litres (the latest Ferrari anyone? Not to mention Lexus, Jag, Maseratti...)

Anyway, so we can look at other 3.2s.

So we can see that Alfa's screaming six is really pretty run of the mill, comparable to other engines with any pretensions to performance.

This is a common problem with A class Italian cars. (Italian cars can be divided into 3 classes: T class, A class and I class, depending on what letter the name ends in. A car ending in T is an underpowered, unreliable, taxi. A car ending in I is truly fun, if not always desirable for real world considerations. A cars are in the middle. This class scheme also works for Italian motorcycles)

There is also a 2.5 litre V6, but that sized engine in a full sized car without forced induction is just not serious. Forced induction is a whole other story of course...

However the GTA models and the GTV are all a fair bit lighter than the Mercedes, Holden, Subaru, so the Alfas are at least in the top half of the pack. There is no real comparo to the M3, NSX, 350Z or even R32 though, because Alfas are FRONT WHEEL DRIVE. Front wheel drive is all very well in a 30 horsepower Mini or something, but if the car has any pretensions to performance it has serious limitations. And not because of the handling, clever engineering and driving techniques has overcome this problem. It's the sheer traction. I'm driving a fwd car now (the Lexus ES300) and I spin the wheels much, much more than I did in a lighter turbo Nissan with 50 more kW and nearly twice the torque. A front wheel drive Hyundai was even worse, being the easiest car I've drive to spin the wheels, more so than a Series 1 RX7 with 150 kW turbo motor and live rear axle. Not that the Alfa is anywhere near that gripless, but it will have a fair bit more torque going through the front. Even the turbo Audi TT didn't have the take-off of a rear wheel drive, let alone a 4wd.

So, once you are going, a modern FWD should match a rwd, but on take-off, there is no comparo. (Which makes me wonder about all those turbo hondas the yanks use for drag racing. Maybe they have worked it out?) Given that the V6 GTA Alfas are close to the power/weight of a normal M3 (9kg/fwkw v. 8.6 kg/rwkw), the difference in acceleration times (6.2 seconds versus 5.6) could well be almost all grip. This is what the alfa dealer told me anyway. And on paper it seems logical. Which brings us to the next, major point:

New, an Alfa is 3/4 the price of an equivalent BMW or Audi. Second hand they are 1/2 the price.

Hence, they are worth a look.

So what did I test? My ideal car going in was the 156GTA, which is basically an Italian M3. Unfortunately even with the Alfa discount it is still $85k new, or $40k second hand. (So that is a 2002 M3 equivalent for $10k less than a 1992 M3 original, but STILL out of my price range (though not Richards... this is to be looked at).)

The cheapest car with the big V6 was the GTV6 coupe, and the nearly as cheap GTV6 spider. These are available for down to $20k for the cheaper ones. So that is what I set out to test....

However, what I ended up driving was the 2.0 litre fourpot spider. Why? Well it was what they had at the Alfa dealer. There was also a 3.2 litre spider, but with only 5k on the clock it was asking $36k (which was damn reasonable, but still about twice my limit.)

So, having foolishly given the salesguy a realistic view of what I was after, I couldn't justify taking the V6 for a drive. So I tried the 4 cylinder, reasoning that in most respects it would be the same, and I could always decide if more power was worth another hour or so of talking to another dealer. I will admit that getting test drives is MUCH easier if you turn up in a Lexus.

So what was the car like? Well for a start it was the poverty pack. Cloth seats and manual roof as well as the peasant spec engine. Sitting in the other cars showed that you HAVE to get the leather seats. It makes so much difference to the feeling of being in an "exotic Italian sportscar". The manual roof was... well I couldn't work it out. So I asked the dealer, he couldn't work it out, so he got another guy. He stuffed around for 10 minutes and concluded that the mechanism was out of alignment, but he did get it down and then up again, but it needed aligning. Not a good start.

Next was opening the boot and bonnet. The bonnet I eventually found as a lever under the steering wheel, right next to the identical lever to adjust the steering wheel, except that when you pull the lever there is no click, or clunk or any indication that something has happened. So it was only by a process of elimination that I worked out that that particular lever was the one when, five minutes later, I noticed that the bonnet could now be lifted, even though it still looked closed.

The boot I couldn't work out, neither could the dealer, the mechanic pointed out what looked like a hinge inside the glove box (which could, in truth, fit a single pair of gloves, if they weren't really thick, cold weather gloves) This "hinge" is actually a switch that pops the boot. The boot is the size the glove box should be. Well that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it was small, not surprisingly as half the space was taken up by the collapsing roof. Still bigger than a twin turbo 300Z or RX7 though.

Time for a drive.

The first thing that struck me was the sound. This is what the Audi TT was looking for. You can hear the sporty engine note, you can't hear tyres rubbing on the road. This is much better. What you can hear is the whole car shaking as you run over bumps and potholes. The Audi didn't have this, but then the Audi had a roof. It seemed pretty similar to the Crossfire convertible, so I suppose that's just convertibles for you. I'd take a roof personally. This leads me to suspect that a Crossfire coupe would probably lose all the squeaks and rattles that I disliked with that car.

Steering? It was pretty damn good. About as nice as the Audi. In fact, the little Alfa was almost exactly what I was saying the Audi should be, less road noise, same steering and feel, similar atmosphere on the inside. So it was the ideal car (at least for Richard) right?

No.

For a start it didn't have that lovely solidity and machined-from-a-block-of-steel feel that the Audi had. But I very much suspect that this is because it was a convertible. The coupe was probably OK.

And it didn't seem just as new and fresh as the Audi, but this car had 67 000 on the clock, compared to 3 000 for the TT. Probably a good excuse.

More fundamentally, the Audi is about 10 times better looking than the Alfa. This is not a bad mark for the Alfa, it is still better looking than most cars on the road, but the TT is gorgeous.

Lastly, in contrast to the virtually lagless Audi turbo, the Alfa engine has *dreadful turbo lag*. Horrific. You can begin at at standing start, and rev the engine all the way to redline and it STILL hasn't got positive boost. Analysis of the mechanical layout reveals the problem, it is a basic design flaw: There is NO TURBO. And no, they haven't used a super charger either? What were they thinking?!

The marketing dept. at Alfa, in a desperate attempt to make a glaring bug into a feature, talk about the virtues of "natural" aspiration. As though not having a turbo somehow makes it more like a dolphin or some other tree-hugging-hippy-shit. Well a moment's thought shows that when a dolphin dives to 200 metres the air in it's lungs is at 20 bar, or 295 psi. How's THAT for natural aspiration?

So, "natural" aspiration (NOT like a dolphin at 300psi) means that you have infinite turbo lag, the car NEVER comes on boost, and as a result you never get more than about 100 Nm/litre. (O.K. The BMW M3 gets 350 Nm from only 3.2 litres, but those M-tech engineers have already been shown to be way ahead of everyone else.)

Hence: The Alfa 4 never pulls as hard as the Audi 4, despite being rated at nearly the same power output. On the other hand, it revs. I mean it really revs. The only engine I've ever encountered that revs as smoothly and sweetly as this was the twin turbo rotary. At 7 000 rpm it feels as calm and fuss free as my Nissan did at 4.5 grand, or the 350Z did at 6 k. Of course both those cars were sending about twice the kw to the ground at those speeds, so the whole experience was less stress free (but a GOOD kind of stress).

So with proactive gear changing, and the fact that you can take first gear to 90km/h, it means you can hustle the little Italian along at a reasonable pace. This leads to the next issue, the gearbox is loose and rubbery and not anywhere near as nice as most sports cars that I have driven. And it also leads to another issue, it's a manual, there are no autos available, which is good and suitable, but totally rules out the car for Richard OR Ping.

Lastly, the infuriating turbo lag (I'd been driving the car for 15 minutes now and STILL had no boost!) meant that it was never going to be as effortless as the turbo Audi.

Of course, that would be why you'd buy the V6. These are available for quite reasonable prices, (maybe $3k more than the equivalent four) and Should give something with even more torque and power than the turbo Audi, or even the "natural" crossfire. Unlike the crossfire, there isn't any supercharger option for the six either, the Alfa guys made the same mistake twice.

OK. Leave the mystifying incompetence of the engine designers aside. How was the rest of the car?

The steering was nice and direct, but a tad light for my taste. I think one of the reasons the TT felt so nice was the lack of steering assistance, the Alfa is more normal, but still better than the average car. And it sticks to the road. Surprisingly the dealer was in the car with me telling me to go harder and tackle the corners, so I did. The car just stuck to the road until I managed to drift around a roundabout with squealing tyres and smoke. Even then it was perfectly behaved and the dealer was enjoying himself.

I can see the point of this car, especially with the V6.

And the sound? Remember the problem with the TT, the one thing that stopped my friend buying it was the road noise as you drove? This car didn't have a roof, and you could STILL not hear the road noise, unless you count the squeal of tyres as they generate white smoke around a round about. All you could hear was that Italian four making repeated lunges between 5 and 7 thousand rpm. Maybe the TT just had sucky tyres?

As far as accommodation is concerned, the convertible Spider has two seats, and a boot the size of a decent suitcase. The inside of a decent suitcase. This is worse than the TT or the Crossfire, a bit better than the RX7 tt.

So in conclusion: A smaller, less beautiful TT for half the price. The four cylinder is a torqueless little rev machine, the six should be decent, but still lacking any form of forced induction. Definitely something to try if you want a sports car that isn't hardcore fast. And there is still a nagging mistrust of Italian reliability, though recent reports state that the Germans aren't any better. If you really want reliability, you still buy Japanese.

This has, however, only increased my interest in the GT and GTA Alfas. The 156GTA is about 50 kg lighter than the Spider, with 184 kW, and almost the same power to weight ratio as an M3. It would probably match an M3 in every respect, except for low speed traction, interior luxury and the feel of the gearbox. Interior luxury wise, a 2003 GTA would match a BMW from 10 years ago, but in a more Italian way. And 2nd hand, a 2003 GTA costs $40k compared to $50k for a 1992 M3.

New, there is the Alfa GT. This is the same weight and nearly the same power as the 156 GTA, but with the looks and interior of a new BMW. It is a VERY nice car. And at $80k, still about half the price of a new M3.

Still for that price, I'd take a supercharged Crossfire RTS. Same weight with only two seats but more power and torque than a real M3. Then I'd get the interior retrimed with more dead animal and plant matter.

28/04/2006

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Sexual Arguments

I've been reading some political blogs, and listening to some political radio, and I just can't handle it any more.

Anyone who makes what is supposed to be a serious political argument, that features sexual perversion fantasies, is just a moron.

Examples from the last several weeks include:

If someone is wrong, show where they are wrong, but attributing sexual perversion to someone when you don't like their politics was only funny in junior highschool. No adult will take you seriously after such comments.

12/04/2006

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Modern Dance

I was at a function which was promoted as a "Ball" on the weekend, but it really consisted of a "Self Indulgent Speechnight" with about 30 minutes of dancing. Really, does anyone enjoy listening to other people crap on about how great they are? Well I suppose they do, otherwise the Oscars wouldn't be so highly rated on TV. But I mean any SANE people.

However at least there was some entertainment: A local singing and dancing school had sent along their best students to put on some shows between speeches. So we got a bunch of very athletic schoolgirls performing various dance routines, and dressed like extras from the movie Chicago, which apparently was a huge improvement on last year when the entertainment consisted of octogenarians doing dance routines.

So their performance of a range of old broadway numbers was entertaining enough, at least compared to listening to a speech about how they haven't had an annual ball like this since last year. But then things got weird.

They did some modern pieces.....doing what they've learned from music videos.

So now we have schoolgirls, some looking 12 years old, dressed as American prostitutes and doing bump and grind to some song about Hos Getting Doggied.

It was very disturbing.

Don't the adults ever look at what performances the kids are training in? Have they no taste?

On the other hand, the mass air-guitar performance of We Will Rock You was great. (Though once again, no-one EVER listens to the lyrics: It's a song about futility, defeat and powerlessness that is interpreted as being about Power and Victory. Though I suppose you could argue that it is your opponents who are the defeated, powerless and futile losers in the lyrics.)

03/04/2006

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King Kong

So I saw the new King Kong. It was absolutely fabulous. Forget Oscars, Peter Jackson should get a Nobel Prize. He is heaps better than most of the self absorbed, boring, plotless rubbish that gets Nobels for literature.

I also saw Lord of War. It was OK, but needed more guns. And more business.

Well it had all those things, but lacked the technical details. If they don't explain how to set up multiple interlocking offshore companies then how is the audience supposed to learn anything?

20/03/2006

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Kung Fu

I saw a good movie on the weekend. It was called Xiao Ren Fa or something like that, and it was a chinese Kung Fu movie.

Now I know what you are thinking, this means all sorts of stupid flying through the air and stealing people's Chi (like the last kung fu movie I saw, which was so lame that another Chinese director got a copy and re-edited it into a comedy, legal action pending) but this one was different. I am reasonably sure that every single action sequence was physically and even humanly possible, though they must have done a lot of takes.

It was about this guy (Xiao Ren Fa or whatever his name was) who was a real guy, and apparently Chinese, all comers, no holds barred Kung Fu champion in about 1900. He lead a dojo (or whatever the kung fu school is called) and had an open challenge to anyone. A lot of people took him up, no-one beat him.

He is really famous in China, apparently Ping used to watch a TV show in which he was a hero who fought against the hated Japanese, Germans and British in the boxer rebellion. This movie never mentioned the boxer rebellion at all, but it did have a huge gap in the middle at about that time.

There were heaps and heaps of fight scenes, and they were great, in the Chinese style of course. Well except for the Germans, English and Japanese who also had a go. (But not in an organised war like the boxer rebellion, this was more of a competition, like Kickboxer.) Actually the sword fighting wasn't that great. I've seen a few sword fights now, and someone with 2 or 3 years training is smoother and faster than these supposed masters. Actually they are so good that it might not be believable, so they have to dumb it down for the audience. Kind of like how Steven Segal had to add lame kicks and punches to his previously subtle (but not flashy) Akijitsu.

The movie was in Chinese, with no subtitles, but it's a kung fu movie, there is no need for dialogue. Actually there was a subtitle sequence that was labelled as English, but it wasn't. I'm sure the debate between the dojo leader and his accountant about his mounting debt was not a string of "cow, cow, cow"

The main actor is Jet Li, who has announced that this is his last movie. Apparently he was nearly killed in the Tsunami last year and has decided to devote his life to Bhudda.

Anyway, see it if you can. I think it might be released in English under the name "Fearless."

16/03/2006

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Plaahh!

I just burned my tongue licking a hot scalpel.

I hate it when that happens. I bet most people do.

15/03/2006

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New Link

If anyone has looked, or even visited this page, they might notice a new link I've added. This is Evolutionary Physiology, Probability Distributions, the home page of Arthur Devany, a retired mathematics professor who is into excercise science and body building. Or so he says, I mean it's just a web site, it could be written by a sixteen year old girl called Nilusha who uses photos of her grandfather.

Arthur (or Nilusha) writes a lot of things about maths, especially distribution functions and how they don't always behave the way people expect. Particularly power law distributions where many practical examples (eg. stockmarket movements) are very different from a normal distribution. People have been trained to use normal distributions everywhere though, and so when an event that is 21 standard deviations from the mean occurs (eg. The stock market collapse of 1987) they find their maths is crazy and instead of saying the maths is wrong (or rather, wrongly applied) they panic and start accusations of cheating, market manipulation and other silly things.

Arthur applies this sort of analysis to all sorts of modern issues, though being American he often chooses issues that are not that exciting. An example is recent accusations of steroid abuse in American Baseball.

Arthur's other main topic is excercise and health. He has some very interesting ideas about hormone states and fat/muscle balance, but I suspect he paints an overly rosy picture of the health of primitive hunter-gatherers. To give the most basic argument against the idea they were healthier than we, I have to ask why were the populations so low? Was it because hunter-gatherers didn't have sex? Did they have highly effective contraceptives that were lost in the mists of time? Or did they actually have high death rates, especially in infant mortality?

It's a pity really, because this is exactly the sort of the thing that can be analysed using a simple mathematical twist. I would say that the hunter-gatherers may well have had a higher average health state, and better average nutrition, than the agricultural communities that succeeded them. But the farmers had a lower variance. The primitive farmers may be chronically malnourished most of the time, but they very rarely starved. The hunters were better fed on average, but every so often would have no food at all, and so the children, babies and old people would die off. The result was healthy but small population.

The area of land that could support 100 hunters might support 10 000 farmers. So any dispute over land would be won by the farmers. 10 000 malnourished peasants will defeat 100 super healthy hunters 99% of the time. So the farmers took over.

(An alternative way of life was the herdsman. The herdsman can live in country that is too steep, rocky or bare for farming. And the area that supports 10 000 farmers might support 2000 herdsman. The herdsman will also be a fierce, healthy, muscular warrior type (think Mongols, Cossacks, even American Cowboys) and 2000 warriors CAN beat 10 000 malnourished peasants. The result will be a society of peasant farmers ruled by a nobility of warriors, which is exactly what just about every society became after farming and herding was introduced.

Actually this provides more evidence for Arthur's theories. The entire history of civilisation for millenia was that of the barbarian herdsman, who were fit and strong, conquering the farmers, becoming the nobility who can fight off other herdsmen, and then deteriorating in strength until the next wave of barbarians take over. If indeed it is the farmer diet that makes people weak and unhealthy then this is exactly what would happen. The herdsmen take over, and get the cushy lifestyle but retain their customs and diet. As they gradually take on the customs and diet of the majority of the population they loose their health and vitality over the generations, until the next drought/plague/ambitious leader sends another group of barbarians their way. See Herodotus for a contemporary account of just this happening.)

10/03/2006

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Question and Answer

Q. Quick! Why you not ready for party?

A. What party?

Q. The party, the party. I tell you all about it!

A. You never told me about a party.

Q. I was talk about it all last night.

A. You weren't talking about it to me.

Q. I was talk to Diana, but you were right there.

A. Were you talking to Diana in English or Chinese?

Q.....

Q....

Q. Get ready.

27/02/2006

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Worth Missing Lunch For

I spent my lunch time trying out some new toys.

I've just bought a G-tech for measuring acceleration times and power.

My friend Tim just got a new intercooler ($500), exhaust and piggyback computer for his GTS Skyline which dynotuned out to 199.8 kW at the rear wheels.

A good time was had by all.

The owner was nonetheless disappointed with the results.

0-60 mph came up in 6.28 seconds (him driving) and 6.20 seconds (me driving) which is not far from what the car is meant to do stock.

However both drivers had too much wheelspin on takeoff, and I know that I hit the rev limiter too. I also pointed out that this car had 2 guys in it.

I reckon that a clean takeoff and run would probably get below 6.0. Slammed gear changes, not having another guy in the car, and perhaps a smoother, grippier road might get the total down to a "magazine number" of mid 5s, but that is still not really FAST by today's standards.

In feel I would rate it as about equal to the (big exhaust) RX7tt, but with about 3 times the room, 10 times the luggage space, and vastly more suitable suspension for driving on a Sydney road. We were on a "test track" that wound through forest along sides a river (excellent) and the surface would have had the super hard Rex bouncing off the road at those speeds.

It was clearly quicker than the 350Z, and faster than my 300Z, though I reckon my Zed may have beat it over the first 30 metres, due to low down torque.

27/02/2006

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Movie/TV review

So I saw most of this movie (or at least I hope it was a movie, the thought that it is a series and that there is more to come is worrying) on TV last night. I was mostly doing other things so I missed details like if it was a movie or a series, and didn't really need to go looking for something better... because even on Australian TV there should definitely have been something better.

The show was called something like "Category 7: The End of the World". Which should have been a warning, I mean who calls a movie "The End of the World"?

At first I thought it was a comedy. The characters, filming, and plot was very reminiscient of "Mars Attacks", or "Team America". The hero was this beautiful young woman who somehow became head of a major US government agency. OK the character may have been intended to be in her 40s or something, but the actor they chose looked young enough to be a university student. A student nearing the end of her PhD perhaps. For a while I thought this guy was her boyfriend and he turned out to be her son. Another major character was a busty barmaid who was secretly a world class weather scientist who had a bad relationship with another major scientist who was the forgotten ex-lover of the beautiful head of the government agency.... I didn't notice any rockstar-secret agents but I wouldn't have been the slightest bit surprised.

And it was all filled with technobabble which blamed the weather on American Repuplicans and christians (who were the real bad guys). It was like a parody of everthing that conservatives accuse Hollywood of being (anti-christian, leftwing, pro-Earth-Mother-Goddess... I didn't see any celebration of non-maritial sex, but as I said I didn't watch it all) that someone had not realized was a parody and had gone ahead and actually made.

Actually, it really did seem like some of the people intended it as a joke. Maybe the writer and film crews made a comedy, and the actors and editors didn't get it.

Rating: Only 1 star, and that is if you intend to use it as evidence against the Entertainment Industrial Complex.

22/02/2006

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More Car Stories

I got to spend the weekend walking about in the full summer heat, and test driving cars, which showed me:

Of course I knew point b) already. So on with the report: (For the purposes of this report, remember I am looking for a car for Richard, a non-enthusiast driver with $40-50k to spend on a car, intending it to be more "fun" than his Camry Sportivo, but nothing outrageous.)

1. Lexus IS 300. I had previously tested an IS200, and concluded that:

Otherwise, the build quality and actual handling was great.

Clearly the solution is to add some nice leather and stuff to the cabin, and a twin-turbo supra engine to the engine bay. The original engine can be left installed so as to operate the windscreen wipers or some other task suitable to it's capabilities. Toyota has indeed done this, the result is called the Aristo, and it is a fine, M5 challenging piece of work. However that is based on the GS300 Lexus. Naturally this is not exported to us in the Colonies. And if it was our hated overlords in Canberra would not have let it in.

For the colonial Gaijin, Lexus took off the turbos and gave us the naturally aspirated 166 kW, 3 litre six in the IS200 to give us the IS300. And to pour Chilli powder on the wound, they detuned it to give only 156 kW. And the new engine is heaps heavier. So it now has both the same power and weight as my ES300, though rear wheel drive not front wheel. Which means:

So how was it? Well the cabin was nice enough. The powers that be have seen no reason to forbid us from having nice cabins... yet. This will last until a greenie actually sits inside a nice car. Once they realize it is based on dead animals and trees they will dream up some stupid reason to ban it, so as to protect the Australian plastic injection industry or something.

The driving was nice. Compared to the ES300 and Camry Sportivo, the IS300 was sharp and controlled. The steering was firm and direct, the suspension was tied down and well damped. The whole thing gave a much more secure and reassuring feel to every action. The motoring magazines claim that this too has been wrecked by the big brother interference. Apparently when you get this car to 9/10s, the traction control system automatically gives you controlled understeer everytime. Safe and dull. However, for Richard this is not a problem. Richard is not a 9/10s kind of guy. Richard is more of a 5/10s, with occasional wild flings up to 7/10s. Richard would never be bothered by a car being too safe once the tyres start to slip. That is a good thing for him.

(Don't get me wrong about Richard, he isn't some slack looser. For a start he has $50k cash to spend on a new car. When it comes to his areas of expertise he is very good. He is a world class musician. I mean a full on Pavarotti and Domingo, New York Symphony, $180 tickets type world class. He just is very relaxed and mellow.)

Another factor in the IS300's favour is the price. See Lexus had 2 cars, the IS200 for about $55k, and the IS300 for about $80k. But they just brought out the replacement IS250. This has (as the name suggests) a 2.5 litre engine with the same power as the IS300. But they will price it the same as the volume seller, the IS200. So if you bought an IS300 for $80k 3 months ago, you can now get a new, updated, equally powerful replacement for $55k. So naturally the resale of the IS300 has plummeted. You can get one 7 months old with 3000 km on the clock for $45k. This is a HUGE discount, hence Richard's interest in the car.

Back to the car: So the cabin is now OK. And the handling is still good (by Richards standards) but the driving feel, which heaps better than the barges we are both driving (ES300 and Camry Sportivo) still doesn't feel as good as the Audi TT which introduced him to sports cars. And that is what he is looking for, in a car that drives like a TT but doesn't have annoying road noise. Sadly, the Lexus had annoying road noise. This surprised us. I mean the one thing that Lexus, any Lexus, gets right is the total absence of any annoying noise. But here it was. Not as bad as the TT but still. Damn. To add cayenne pepper to this injury, there was also a rattle from the sunroof, but this is probably something the dealer could fix before sale.

Maybe it was the road? This was the same road we tested the TT on, perhaps the road surface is just very noisy. So we took the Camry on the same circuit: no noise. Yup, it's the car. Hmmmm. Time to broaden the search.

2. Chrysler Crossfire. The Crossfire is an interesting beast, at least on paper. Mechanically it is a Mercedes 320SLK with more exciting body panels. Now the looks are not everyone's cup of tea, but you can't deny it has looks. I drive to work every day, and pass maybe 1000 cars. Of those I would notice maybe 3. There would be a Nissan Sil80 (Silvia with a 180sx nose grafted on when you crashed the original doing some silly drift around a round about. A good sign that the car is modified and driven hard. Licence plate Sil-80). A Alfa Romeo GTV spider. And a crossfire. I wouldn't notice any other of the 997 cars. (OK there was that Mercedes with the two cute girls in the front kissing each other during a red light, but I didn't notice because of the car. I'm not even sure it was a Mercedes.)

Both Richard and I like the looks of the Crossfire. And we like the idea of buying new Mercedes mechanicals for half price. The 320SLK goes for about $120K, the Crossfire for $60k. That is above Richards self imposed limit, but he could get a 2nd hand one for in the $40k range, or just blow off his limit and go for it. He has the money, he was just being responsible when he set a price limit.

The dealer was really friendly, but didn't have a demo coupe we could drive. So we had to take the Convertible. This would have been great if it was 22C instead of 38C, but we lathered on sunburn cream and went for it.

The convertible crossfire, with only one layer of fabric between us and the outside, was quieter than the Audi TT AND the Lexus. It had more wind noise (especially with the top down) but it has less road noise (the really annoying one) and less engine noise. Until you put your foot down. THEN it has engine noise, an angry howl that says you are being very naughty with a potent European sports car big six. This is a lie, it isn't that potent (only 162 kW) and in the heavyish 1500 kg crossfire it isn't that fast, but it beats the IS300, and the Audi TT, and it sounds (especially with the top down) like a bad, bad car.

And it has less road noise than the Lexus or TT. I couldn't get over this, what are the other guys doing? How can they be worse than this car that doesn't even have a roof? (This is on exactly the same road.) On the other hand, there was a constant series of little squeaks and rattles from the plastics in the cabin that says mechanicals by Mercedes, interior by Americans. I imagine that the coupe would be quieter and more solid. (And lighter, and hence faster.)

Of course there is the Supercharged SRT version, which has 260 kW and does 0-100 in 4.9 seconds. But we didn't get to test that. :( It would have to be the performance bargain of the year though.

Well except that the handling and steering isn't THAT great. It's better than the IS300, and hence better than any of the sedans we've tried. But still not as good as the Audi TT. The interior is... similar to the TT, but doesn't give the impression of costing quite as much. Some plastics are a bit lightweight, the door handles flex when you pull on them, there is the rattle and squeak issue. And there is not much room. Two seats only and a smallish boot. That's smallish by proper boot standards, it's still enormous compared to 1990s Japanese sports cars.

So on to the next car.

3. Mazda RX8. Not a 1990s Jap sports car, as it has a boot, a real one. What it didn't have was a demo vehicle available. Not in auto. Doh!

4. Nissan 350Z. Interior like a TT. Sounds like a Crossfire except less noise (probably just because there is a real roof) and no squeaks from the interior (in keeping with the Audi like interior). Engine howls like the Crossfire when you plant it, except.... except.... the Crossfire gives 162 kW at 5000 rpm in a 1500 kg body (or 1450 kg coupe). So does the Zed. Except.... the Zed KEEPS GOING. 6000 rpm, 7000 rpm. The Zed is now pumping out 208 kW and so you flick it into the next gear and it does it again. The Zed is a real sports car, and when it's engine howls, it's not just crying wolf.

There was something about early reports having the Zed in Australia at a mere 180kW. I think the early reports went that the Jap versions had 208, and so did the Jap RX7 tt and Jap WRX sti and Evo 6 etc. When these other cars were retuned for Oz fuel they ended up with a mere 180-190 kw, so the assumption was the Zed would be the same. However either Nissan is better at tuning, Oz fuel has lifted its game (it used to have 96 octane max, now 98 is common and there is 100 octane in some stations) or naturally aspirated is less fuel dependant. Or a combo of all 3. Alternatively, the Zed engine is a 250 kW engine detuned to 208, so there was lots of headroom for changes. Kind of like how Nissan could bring in the GTR at the full 208 back in 1990.

208 standard, 225 for the special models. And only 1450 kg (coupe). But they still are a bit slower than the 208 kW, 1550kg twin turbo models of the previous shape. The lack of turbo lag can't make up for the lack of turbo torque.

To put it another way: Naturally aspirated means having infinitely long turbo lag.

Richard has said all along that he wants a car like the Audi TT, but with no road noise. Well he's found it. The 350 is quieter, as smooth, as sharp and responsive when you touch the controls, if not more so, but get the revs up and it is a serious beast with an extra 100kW over the base 1.8 litre Audi turbo.

It is comfortable on Sydney roads (those criticizing the ride as too hard were driving the "track" version, which as the name implies is compromised for the track. It is understandable, most cars with names like "track" or "race" in the name are not intended for such things at all, but Nissan seems to be serious.) It is quiet when you are taking it easy, and raucous when you are going for it. It is seriously quick, looks seriously quick, feels both sporty and luxurious, and is probably not very expensive to run.

Another point is that the 350Z is NOT like driving my old 300Z. Unlike the Twin Turbo 300zx, where from the drivers seat it could be a facelifted version of the same car. There are some common styling cues to the cabin and dashboard (that go back to the 240) but this is clearly a ground up new car.

Problems? Well it has only two seats. Mind you the Audi TT has only two seats that a human could use. The Crossfire has two only. The sedans (of course) have 4 or 5. The Zed has a small ish boot. Better than the previous model but while you could maybe get a bag of golf clubs in there, you wouldn't be able to put in a golf cart, let along a mountain bike. It doesn't look quite as good as the TT, though it's inoffensiveness might be a point over the Crossfire. And if you look back carefully at what I wrote, another problem comes to light.

The critical point is as stated above: "get the revs up and it is a serious beast with an extra 100kW over the base 1.8 litre Audi turbo". But if you DON'T get the revs up, the Audi turbo four is not really going to fall far behind. While the high revving naturally aspirated 6 has the same peak power as the previous turbo 6, it has nothing like as much torque. At two or three grand, the engine is no real fireball, it required rowing the gearbox to show any more power than the 3.2 litre Crossfire or even the turbo TT. At about 3 grand the TT tapered off, and after 5 grand the Zed was on its own... unless you'd driven the previous generation of Japanese turbo sixes, then you knew what real grunt was all about. Or for that matter stuff from the 1980s after the boost had been turned up to maybe 10-12 psi more than stock. You know, basic tuning.

This is all irrelevant for Richard. He thought the TT was fast enough, and the Zed is never slower than the Audi. He is in two minds at the moment, either be practical and get the 5 seater, luggage carrying IS300. Or get a 350Zed... convertible. Yes the convertible crossfire has twisted him over the to dark side, and despite the inherent problems with a soft top (security, noise, reduction in boot space) he has decided to see if he can combine the best aspects of the Crossfire and the Zed. One advantage of the soft top that I'll agree with is that your expectations are shifted. Levels of noise that wouldn't be OK in a hard top are perfectly acceptable. So I wonder what a TT convertible is down to...? (Answer: Also into Richards price range, i.e.. High 40s)

But for me.... I'd think long and hard about the supercharged Crossfire, but unless the coupe was a clearly more solid than the roadster, and had sharper steering, I'd get a 350 and take it to CAPA or Nizmo for some forced induction. This is assuming I was shopping with $40-50k, which I'm not.

So I'll keep going with my previous plan, unless I can get a cheap Japanese Import Aristo.

15/02/2006

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Types of Stories

Have you ever noticed that there are only about 7 types of stories? They can all be classified by the opening lines:

This is related to my theory that there is really only about 5 types of food.

14/02/2006

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Don't Ask Experts: Part 2

EarlierI mentioned my conviction that asking someone who is naturally good at something how to do it is doomed to result in failure. Well I got another example on the weekend. There was a 2 page article in the "news" paper on how to choose good shoes. Written, of course, by some shoe expert. This was about what shoes a guy should wear and when. What he should buy and with what clothes he should wear them.

I am aware, in theory, that many people (what we in the real world call shallow, superficial types, but also known as the general public) judge people on their appearances, especially their clothing. Now as many of these people have actual influence on your life, they are your boss, policemen who have just seen you drift through a roundabout, shop assistants deciding who to serve etc, it is a good move to dress so that these people regard you as a desirable member of society whom they should treat in a positive manner. Hence, it is worthwhile to choose attractive, fashionable clothing.

The problem of course is working out what the hell is "attractive, fashionable clothing" without spending hours each day reading fashion magazines and the like, a fate probably worse than having the odd policeman write you a ticket rather than letting you off with a warning.

So I do occassionally read some sort of article that promises to explain it all, and it never, ever helps. This shoe article was a classic case.

It's intentions were good. It started out saying that the average guy only needs a few sorts of shoe. And went on to list them and when they should be worn. Great stuff! Exactly what was needed. Except I had no idea what he was talking about. I understood the term "elastic sided snakeskin boots" which are apparently good for the snappier dresser in smart casuals. But I simply don't fathom any of the other shoe names that he rattled off. Now if this was an on-line article I suppose I could have googled them all, but it was in a dead-tree edition, so I just gave up and threw it away. It was even an illustrated article with lots of photos, but they were all of the snake skin boots, the one type I would work out in my head. There was no information as to what the hell a wing-tip is. Sounds like a type of feather to me.

The other solution is to have a good friend, or even better a wife/husband/boy/girlfriend who enjoys reading fashion magazines, and so can advise you. This works well though my wife in particular sometimes get infuriated at me not automatically knowing what is or is not fashionable to wear.

This does mean that I was able to give her a fantastic valentines day present on the weekend. I informed her that my pair of brown, leather, slip-on Colorado casual shoes (see, THAT's a description) had worn out (after maybe 5 years) and I needed new ones. She joyfully dragged me about from shop to shop to find the perfect replacement, and for once I was an enthusuastic companion rather than a bored, silent lump who leans against a rack reading a small book that I've smuggled along (my usual pose in girls shopping). Of course by the end of Saturday I had my new pair of shoes, so on Sunday I was back to reading George Eliot while she tried on $700 cosmetics. (Another good point is that she may try them on, but she isn't anywhere near crazy enough to actually pay for them.)



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