Gone for the Weekend!

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The Commuting Car of Choice

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Car designs have certainly changed over the years. Never mind Henry Ford. We'll start with the basics. Everyone's familiar, of course, with the earliest model, a 2 door with manual transmission:

This was quickly updated to the 4 door version to accommodate the needs of the marketplace, not to mention putting more horses under the hood.

Cup holders would come later.

Today, it seems that many upper middle class aren't content with the ho-hum Japamerican options of automotive transportation and comfort. They want European sophistication. Volvo, Saab, BMW, Mercedes... Ah, the desirability of German engineering!

On my drive home, I came across a picture-worthy car. It's not exactly selling like hotcakes in Europe or the U.S., but it does feature a fine engineering heritage from Mercedes.

Note the stylish racing groove through the doorway. I'll be this thing owns on the Autobahn!

(Patrol officers will note that both vehicles are stopped while this candid photo was taken. No risk to either driver was involved in the capture of this image. Prosecuting attorneys will note that the license plate has been blurred to protect the I.D. of the guilty.)

That's a Smart Car. No, really! A Smart Car! 33 mpg in the city/41 highway. MSRP $11,500. Nice price, but...I'm not so sure that it's that smart. Here's a better picture. With the backdrop, these things look as American as apple pie and somehow look much larger!


One must ask themselves, where do the Germans come up with such great design work? Ah, gentle reader, do not fret! I have the answer:

Now that's a Smart(er) car! Way to go, kid!

(Second note to attorneys: It's designed by Little Tykes. A little design infringement perhaps?)

(Third note to attorneys: Obviously, Little Tykes owes more than a debt of gratitude to Hanna-Barbera for their engine design. Because that may be unfamiliar to you, that's the production company for "The Flintstones." I know, you were busy watching "Perry Mason.")

It kind of makes you re-think the attractiveness of buying German autos. Taken only a week later on the same road, this picture suggests that perhaps people are looking for an Italian option to the Fahrvergn├╝gens of other lands.

That's a Maserati Quattroporte, a 4 door sedan, costing around $115,000. This smarter car offers a well appointed interior including, one must assume, Italian leather upholstery.

Anyone heard of a quality German leather upholstery? I tell you, buy Italian!

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Saint Paul, MN

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I visited St. Paul for the first time this week on a business trip. I didn't have a rental car, so I didn't get to tour the wider area, unfortunately. Still, as this was August (not January), this Southern boy liked what he saw.

First, and maybe it's in anticipation of the Republican National Convention, this is a clean city. Buildings and streets - practically pristine. Maybe winter icebergs scrape all the dirt away...

Secondly, from my limited exposure, it's a city that appreciates the arts. I was rather surprised in my own company's building where each major hallway is lined with artwork varying from local school children (not pre-K, but talented ones) to artists long passed. Sizes varied from the small to very large, rating a "Very cool." I tried to take a picture of some in a hallway with my cellphone camera, but it didn't work out. Fortunately, the cell phone did better with the pictures below.

I stayed at the St. Paul Hotel, a registered "historic" building that has been modernized. The room was nice enough (I'm not that picky), the lobby was fairly ornate, and the service staff were very well appointed, including a greeter with a top hat. It's not your everyday Holiday Inn, but at $110, it's cheaper than the other hotels in the downtown area.

Adjacent to the hotel was Rice Park, a small grassy area (did I mention clean?) with benches and a fountain. Bronze statues of Peanuts characters were placed around the park. One internet search away, and I discover that Charles Schultz grew up in St. Paul. There you go.

There were also "art inspirational" works built into some of the concrete around the park:

Inscription reads: "What inspires you?"

"What is the Power of Art?"

There were others.

Thirdly, it has some charm to it as well. As the hotel dining offerings were above my credit limit, a friend and I ventured out to find a meal. A few blocks away was Cossetta's Italian Market and Pizzeria.
On the sidewalk, the voice of Sinatra greeted us singing "My Way," and there was a signed portrait and card of The Chairman on the wall as we walked in. Add the Italian aroma, and count me in!

We walked in to find a line about 20 people deep for a buffet style meal. I'm generally not too keen on buffets (the food has been there for how long, exactly?), but this one was at least attended by staff who scooped whatever you requested onto a plate.

I ordered the Chicken Marsala, which emerged from a sea of thick dark sauce... tasty, and surprisingly spicy. This was served with a small hard loaf of bread and, being no expert, some kind of pasta with tomato stuff on it. We ventured upstairs to find a seat, as most seemed to do. It's apparently a very popular restaurant, and family friendly. The meal was well accompanied by a decent local beer, Summit EPA. As might be imagined, the place is "et up with atmosphere."

On the walk back to the hotel, we looked over a railing near the Science Museum (that was advertising a Star Wars in Science exhibit - more on sci-fi next week...). The view speaks for itself, complete with a moving train at the lower right. That's the mighty Mississippi River, the northern end of which I had never bothered to locate (it begins in Lake Itasca, MN).

All in all, it was a great trip, but a visit to a local CD store would have topped it off nicely.

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Black Mountain - In the Future

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Sometimes, listening to music takes you other places. Some are associated with certain people or events, and most recall an era, if not a specific moment, of your life. For example, listening to the Beatles' "White Album," I can't help but remember my Dad asking me whether I liked various artists while I canvased the record bins. After he bought me the record (on white vinyl even), I figured out that he was just reading names off of posters on the wall. Not quite so hip as I thought.

Pink Floyd's "The Wall" is another. I remember my high school English teacher asking another student how he might describe it. His answer was "music to get stoned to." I always took exception to that, as the work itself was outstanding without outside influence. Regardless of age, it's interesting how fans of certain artists get stereotyped by the type of music played.

Black Mountain's "In the Future" is considered "modern heavy psychedelic rock." What that means is that they explored the styles of Jefferson Airplane, Iron Buttefly, Vanilla Fudge, Deep Purple, Tangerine Dream and other late 60's/early 70's bands. Music to get stoned to.

Their music is heavy laden with keyboard and organ sounds, and perhaps they're notable for using a Mellotron - likely a more recent version as the originals tended to break - as they are rarely in use today. An electric guitar helps break up the potential repetitiveness of the keys.

This Canadian band shows they can use most of the elements of the old groups, but they haven't put it all together effectively yet. Lyrically, there's vague mention of angels, evil, demons, storms, shadows and similar that fit with "heavy" music. There's aspects of hope as well, but it's all symbolism without context. It doesn't really matter, though. Despite nice vocals at times, it's the music that carries the effort.

I never tried "drugs." This didn't result from parental warnings, but observations of my preceding generation and a fairly certain fear that I may actually like them.

I attended a King Crimson concert at Meriweather Post Pavillion when I was in college (road trip!). One friend that went with me, Dr. Chicken, as he was called, was deep into music and generally unconventional. Someone looking at him and knowing his musical tastes would probably thing he was a drug user, but his idea of a stiff drink was orange juice, and he's also one of the nicest and most authentic people I've ever met.

We arrived at the concert quite early and were seated in the lawn area. A guy came up and offered us "hits" if we needed them. Aside from likely being a fairly conspicuous undercover cop, this could have been one of those crucial moments where peer pressure results in a bad decision. Dr. Chicken's reply: "No thanks, man. This is a show I've got to see straight." Nicely done.

So, between the Beatles' "White Album", "The Wall," and Dr. Chicken, kudos for taking me back. Drugs aren't required to enjoy this CD, either. The album's centerpiece is called "Black Lights," an overdone, overlong, anthemic, and repetitive song in which some teenagers are probably finding great meaning while under the influence. They should look elsewhere. "Stormy High" is decent, but probably the standout is "Wucan," whatever that means, but it's fully dressed in nostalgia.

Suggested Tracks: "Stormy High," "Wucan," "Evil Ways"

3 Stars

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The Evil Look

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“I read the news today, oh boy” – John Lennon.

I read the news today also. Actually, yesterday, and on the web, of course. Interesting news for the Muggle world, indeed! (Harry Potter fans will understand that reference). Anyway, it’s almost here, that highly desirous fashion supplement known as The Invisibility Cloak. <-- Just click to read the article.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, actually. Anyone remembering Captain Kirk talking into what we would now call a cellphone to beam him up would know that science-fiction, amongst the better writers, has always had at least one foot in the door of current scientific research. Couple the “wow” factor of an invisibility cloak with the economic power of our military industries, and here we are.

The question is, where are we? Long before Harry Potter came around, it was a fairly regular childhood daydream to think about “what could be done if only I were invisible.” This varied from a surprising poke in a buddy's waist as a joke, to hiding from mom when yard work was impending, to… well, what did you think of? Practical jokes? How easy it would be to steal? A safe way to beat up a bully? A little excursion to the girls dorm? (if you’re a guy, anyway…).

If you’re honest at introspection, you may find that all of your thoughts involve some violation of a moral rightness. I know, sorry to spoil the party! An invisibility cloak necessarily invites getting away with “something,” though I’m certain the military would consider it a competitive advantage.

It’s much harder finding uses that would be considered beneficial to us, avoiding the large pallette of “somethings" that would be wrong to do. Assuming that we someday come to the point where we can manufacture things we don’t want to see, what would you make?

Billboards come to mind as they’re a blight upon the earth, but it’s not a likely application. Not much for a revenue stream. Invisible chairs? We’d have to put caution labels on them so we could see where to sit. Power lines? Another blight, but difficult to repair when storms knock them down, not to mention dangerous. Invisible lamp cords? Perhaps, until your kitty trips over it. Beverage containers? Maybe for novelty purposes, but you better keep up with them when they're empty. How about a cloak to put over the kitchen counter when unexpected guests arrive? Now we're talking!

Finding a "good" use of invisibility seems a challenge, and it seems the best I can come up with is marginal. Invisible straps on women’s dresses. Exciting, eh? I would suggest invisible designer footwear, but it would be difficult to spot a cheap imitation.

Also, as they are not allowed at my kids’ high school, perhaps invisible backpacks would be permitted so that our youth don’t get hernias while toting their books, yet making their bazookas and illegal drugs conspicuous should they abuse the privilege.

Anyway, think about what legitimate invisible products of which you can conceive that don’t fall into (captivating but) sinful or teasing categories, and post your thoughts! It’s not so easy, I think.

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Junk News

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Sometimes, the old TV shows have it right. Mom is in the kitchen, the kids are playing with trucks on the den floor, and Dad sits in "his" chair, reading the newspaper. It's an image almost as American as apple pie. Throw in a dog at the foot of the chair, and you have a winner.

As much as digital music distribution aggravates me, one has to wonder about the news - where it comes from and whether to trust it. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (the AJC), not so fondly referred to locally as the Urinal-Constipation, is the only newspaper in a metro population of 5+ million. One might wonder if public regard for the AJC would emerge beyond the bathroom if there were any competition.

In fact, there is. The commute offers a couple of "news-only" radio stations that give the basics each day. Internet news is a click away. Television is saturated with news channels, including both the events and opinion which my dad favors and the celebrity shambles that attract teenage girls and, apparently, many adults. Then there's ESPN, which we'll leave untouched its pristine glory. But I digress...

The AJC this week "bought out" the contract of its principle college football writer, Tony Barnhart in a cost reduction move. Barnhart provides the factual substance and opinion to college football that, for those of who follow it, is actually news. The reader learns something.

Curiously, they retained two writers who only purpose is to jot a ridiculous idea for the sole purpose of inciting their readership to respond. One wonders if simple feedback to the newspaper is the only measurement used to determine if a writer's work is being read.

Where does "news" come from? There has to be someone at the scene or making phone inquiries about "something," then setting pen to paper, who is getting paid to do so. Objective journalism, right?

To my father's chagrin, he must drive a few miles to buy a newspaper when he visits. I've got the chair to use, at least. Perhaps twice a year a college kid comes by a door with great offer to subscribe to the AJC, significantly off the newsstand price. As I live at the far end of the neighborhood from the entrance, their faces vary from being resigned to failure to outwardly aggravated that the offer wasn't accepted yet again. They really are good deals, after all. I'm not the only one who turns down their offers, it seems.

Why would I want to? The same newspaper has a website where I can digest all major international, national and local events within a few minutes. For free. No inky fingers. No mound of paper to haul off to be recycled. In fact, the only issues we buy are typically the Thanksgiving and Christmas editions for the advertisements. That's kind of funny - paying for advertisements. And I'm not sure how long we'll do that, as retailers seem to discount things throughout "the shopping season."

I understand the power of advertising. It works. But with circulations declining, the continued "greening" of America, and the alternate media sources available, it's hard to fathom how revenue will be sustained to support newsprint, or, more specifically, the news writers (never mind the editorial, sales, printing, and distribution aspects of a paper). Even on websites, revenue is a mystery because I know of no one who actually clicks advertising links.

News seems destined to come to us from two means (granted, I'm generalizing) - 1) Mega News Corporation - already known as "The Great Evil" by Conspiracy Theorists saying all news is controlled by one person seeking to create Utopia, crash the free enterprise system, or (insert motivation of choice). This would, of course, be sustained by Mega Advertising.

Or 2) Organic "news" populated by unknown people who lack credentials or a means of identification, and thereby accountability. As pen is no longer put to paper (reference source: my kids' handwriting), anyone anywhere can make keystrokes that fill the digital space. (reference source: me as I type this. Yessiree - verified references, so I'm legitimate!).

Overall, I don't think our newest generation will miss newspapers, just as they won't miss Compact Discs or physical books (Kindle, anyone?). Still, newspapers remain a major source of information, but their decline will be hastened when they discard their strengths (ala Tony Barnhart) in favor of junk news.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, given the state of Atlanta sports teams, the newspaper is simply depressing from beginning to end. Who wants to pay for that?

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A Mower Lesson

This is my son’s first attempt at mowing the lawn. Though perhaps most kids have a go at this at an earlier age, Brian did it

without complaint and even asked for some instruction beyond the initial safety tips. If you knew him, you would understand this to be a quantum leap. I’m quite proud of him, even with the thinner wallet.

The lines are not exactly straight, and little tufts of grass are visible where he didn’t quite line up the mower correctly on the following pass. There’s also a couple curves where function (the shortest distance between two points) won over a sense of the parallel art that he will hopefully someday come to appreciate. For a first attempt on a very humid morning, I’m not faulting him.

I can find fault in other places, however. I took Brian to Freshman orientation at Sequoyah High School, a well regarded school in all measurements, and where my daughter has attended for two years. The orientation was held in the gym, and due to the crowd size, the flow of people upon entering led us down to a lower set of bleachers.

That, as it turned out, was a good thing. It seems to be where the well behaved people sit. Up above us was a very loud chattering of students, obviously enjoying their reunions despite the start of another school year. The problem was that this continued while the Principal (or Asst. Principal, I’m not sure) and other speakers were speaking.

I guess I’m disappointed. I was quite surprised that, aside from holding a title, he also held a microphone and didn’t take some control of the audience. Perhaps he felt uncomfortable speaking in an authoritative voice when there were so many parents present. I suppose common courtesy can't be expected anymore, but it certainly can be requested, if not demanded in a particular setting.

As most students were accompanied by their parents, I’m also disappointed in them for not keeping their kids quiet. I’m certain that many in the rear could not hear what was being said due to the chat and laughter. I have a suspicion that the parents were talking as well.

Both of those relate to purpose. They presumably were attending for information, but at the same time were conducting themselves in a manner where they and those around could not hear.

But that wasn't the worst. When the speaker made it clear that he only had a few more comments, quite a number of parents stood up and began walking up the steps to find their kids’ homeroom classes, even those that sat at floor level directly in front of the speaker. A few rise, a few more rise, the majority rises, and the speaker was forced to conclude in short remarks, because an exiting audience talks even louder.

Whether I'm becoming a grumpy old man or not, I can't see this in any light other than as a valid conclusion. The parental behavior was rude, disrespectful, and a poor example to the kids, who will be asked to submit to the same authority that their parents just ignored.

It’s kind of like the thin stretches of uncut grass that escaped the mower. Some can’t follow a straight line, and they’re conspicuous for those that do.


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