Thursday, December 31, 2020

Sunday, December 27, 2020

New Rohingya refugee camp

These poor people. It looks like Bangladesh went out of its way to build something nice.

1950s cigarettes to go with your in-flight meal


Sunday, December 20, 2020

1/150 radio control car build

H/t Peter!

Covid in one California hospital

Holy shit, people.

New Gundam factory in Yokohama

Literally a few blocks from where I was born!

Eating the Globe update

With the pandemic and general chaos, I have not been going to restaurants or cooking unusual meals. These are the countries I have covered so far.

The only local restaurant on my radar screen is The Damel, a Senegalese joint. Alas, the brick and mortar restaurant is closed on weekends so I tried to find the food truck last night, but was unsuccessful. Here is a great video on the man behind the business.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Covid goodbye via iPad

This is devastating.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

From Russia With Love Movie Review

 Second up, From Russia With Love (1963):

Dave' review: 

A good argument could be made for this being the greatest Bond film of all time. John F. Kennedy was famously a fan of the book and requested a screening in the White House. From the moment it begins, with super henchman Red Grant stalking a poor expendable masked as Bond, the story is not only suspenseful, but incredibly sophisticated. The sequence inside the train near the end, where Bond escapes a near impossible situation by outwitting Grant, is delightful to watch. More than other Bond films, Russia is not only standard action fare, but intrigue. And Connery is at the top of his game.

TT's review: 

In every aspect, From Russia With Love is a better made movie than Dr No. The cinematography. The fight scenes. The sets. Many cite Goldfinger as the movie that solidified the Bond franchise, but a strong argument can be made that it was actually From Russia. I really enjoyed the romantic shots of Istanbul.

But like Dr No, From Russia is problematic. I have to keep telling myself that I have to watch it through the lens of a 1963 contemporary. The misogyny makes more than a cameo. The portrayal of the Roma people was gratuitous and insulting. And the awkward sapphic scene between Kleb and Romanova.

Of the supporting cast, the actor who played Ali Kerim Bey stole the show. Q made his first appearance, which was brief and flair-less. Donald Grant made a creepy yet ultimately forgettable villain.

Dave's response: 

I see nothing problematic with From Russia With Love at all. What misogyny? Bond and Romanova are agents tasked with seducing each other. And in other instances, 1960s or not, there is no evidence that the women did not wish to play the roles that they did. The dynamic between Kleb and Romanova added a little extra spice to the film. This is a movie that did not strive to be politically correct in any way, and was better off for it. 

TT's response: 

The greatest? Maybe. I guess I will have to watch all of them all over again for me to agree/disagree.

TT's grade: A

Dave's grade: A+

Saturday, December 12, 2020

My Daily Driver: @RRSEsquire's 2004 Chrysler 300M Special

1. How did you come to the decision of buying this car? 

I'm hooked on the Chrysler LH car platform, having bought my first car and first LH car, a 2002 Dodge Intrepid ES (that I still own) in 2005. Since then I have owned and daily driven my 2002 Intrepid ES, a 2001 Intrepid SE, a 2001 Concorde LXi, and a 2004 300M Special before I bought this 2004 300M Special. (I had a couple of non-LH DDs in there as well.) The 2nd generation LH "cab forward" cars have excellent interior quality and layout, great road feel and handling plus a great 3.5L V6 engine with plenty of power. The 300M Special in particular is the ultimate of the LH cars in my opinion as it has the best power and handling due to its lowered suspension, higher gear ratio, and different PCM tuning, combined with the looks of the ground effects.

This particular car was owned by a former member of the Chrysler 300M Enthusiasts Club. In November of 2019, he posted the car in one of the LH car Facebook groups and went on about how rust free it was and how he wanted it to be sold to an enthusiast owner. The car had a little less than 111,000 miles on it. He was in Pennsylvania and I was in Massachusetts, so it would be a relatively easy trip to get it. I communicated with him over the course of several days and he provided excellent photos to back up his claim that it was rust free and had never been driven in the winter by any of its three previous owners.

At the time, I was driving an identically-optioned 2004 300M Special with 152,000 miles that I had bought in 2013 from a Club Member and friend. It was a great car, but it had started to rust in the rear quarter panels, a common rust point on the LH cars. Rather than have those fixed, it seemed like a good idea to start over with a rust free canvas, even if I would be the first owner who drove the car in the winter.

My friend and I road tripped down to Pennsylvania to buy it two weekends later. I have been daily driving it since I sold my other 300M Special to a friend in January, 2020.

2. What has your ownership experience been like?

My ownership experience has been relatively easy with this particular car as my longtime LH car ownership has led to an extensive knowledge of how to fix/maintain them. When I bought the car I went through it with my friends' help to replace some leaking o-rings and worn out bushings and mounts to improve the overall driving experience. I've had to do a bit of maintenance since, but nothing major or very time consuming/expensive.

The LH cars get slander online from people who have never owned them. The reality is that they are very reliable cars on which you can easily fix most problems in your own driveway, assisted by the engine's longitudinal mounting and the great 300M Club community around them - including an old school car forum with Members still regularly sharing repair and maintenance knowledge and tips. 

The biggest problem with ownership of these cars is that they're becoming the car everyone forgot about, including Chrysler's parts department. Many OEM parts are no longer available, which requires relying on aftermarket parts which can be questionable in quality and longevity when used in a daily driver. They're also becoming scarce in salvage yards around me.

3. What is your fondest memory with this car?

I have two that really stand out:
The first is driving through the PA hills on the trip home from purchasing the car with one of my best friends tailing me in my Ram. We hit as many "you-pull" salvage yards along the way as we could, one of our favorite hobbies, met up with another LH car friend who lives in Pittsburg, stayed in a terrible hotel, and just generally had a great time on the trip back over the course of a weekend.
The second is the day after I fixed the control arms and my friends helped me build out the stereo. That morning I headed into work in Boston with the stereo bumping and the car quietly whizzing along I-93 and I was reminded of why the 2nd generation LH cars are so great, despite being designed and released over 20 years ago.

4. Why do you love cars?

I have always loved cars, starting with Hot Wheels. My father and both of my grandfathers liked cars and passed their interest on to me, but my love for cars really snowballed when I was about 5 years old and I found the ad for the 1994 Dodge Ram in my grandfather's Popular Mechanics magazine. It was one of those huge fold out ads and the truck was just the coolest thing I'd ever seen. Since then, I've been a big fan of Mopar, from old to new, and I own 5 Mopars currently, ranging in years from 1969 to 2009.

I wanted a Ram when I got my license in 2005, but my parents insisted I buy a sedan as a first car. That led me to my Intrepid and I've been hooked on the LH cars and modifying cars and trucks ever since. I've met some of my absolute best friends through the LH car community, I'm honored to be the Vice President of the Chrysler 300M Enthusiasts Club, and my life just wouldn't be the same without cars and LH cars in it. I think that is what is so amazing about cars, how they bring people of a wide variety of backgrounds together to share their love, whether it be for a brand, for a specific car, or just for weird/different cars in general. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Eating the Globe: Papua New Guinea

The coffee is pretty good. I drink mine black. This was bitter, but not too bitter.

Countries tried so far:

Africa: Algeria, Burundi, DR Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zimbabwe
Asia: Afghanistan, Armenia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, East Timor, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Yemen
Europe: Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, Vatican City
North America: Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, St Kitts & Nevis, Trinidad & Tobago, USA
South America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela
Oceania: Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

My Daily Driver: @ekimap's Mercedes 300D

1. How did you come to the decision of buying this car?

Since I was a kid, I had always admired and ogled the Mercedes-Benz W123. Our family didn’t have one, but several of my parents’ friends did, so I got to ride in them from time to time. Even as a child, I knew these cars were something special. There was a quality about these cars that even a child could recognize as being on a different level from other cars. Maybe it was the way the doors thunked shut. Maybe it was the materials or the impeccable assembly quality. All I knew was that this was no Lincoln, Cadillac, or even a BMW; this was on a different level.

It wasn’t luxury features that gave the W123 its elevated status either. Even by the standards of the time, a fully loaded 300D was fairly spartan. No, the magic of that era of Mercedes-Benz was that they represented quality as luxury, not features as luxury. The cars were expensive because they were impeccably engineered and assembled, and they drove with a sense of heft, precision, and aplomb that were absent in just about anything else available at the time. That’s what qualified these as luxury cars, not fancy gizmos or toys.

I’m generally not interested in expensive things for the sake of image or prestige, but I do believe quality is worth paying for. The W123 is an automotive embodiment of that idea. It’s humble enough that it was the de facto taxi in many parts of the world for decades; it’s not ostentatious at all. But it’s respected the world over because of its quality and engineering, and that’s what makes it both humble, modest, and prestigious all at once.

With all that in mind, as an adult, I had to have one and scratch that itch I’d had for that car since childhood, so I bought this one a couple years ago for about $4,000. 

2. What has your ownership experience been like?

It’s been amazing, really. I bought it with 291,000 miles on the clock. The car, with its legendary turbocharged OM617 five-cylinder diesel, ran flawlessly from the start and continues to do so. There are nearly no squeaks or rattles in the interior after nearly 300,000 miles and 38 years, and the car drives beautifully. Its ride quality in particular impresses; it’s very softly sprung but beautifully damped, so it handles undulations in the road with a fluency not commonly found even in many modern cars.

I’ve put precious little money into this car. The car came with a bad right front wheel bearing, and that was fixed immediately for a couple hundred bucks at a local Mercedes-Benz specialist. I had an alignment done after realizing that the front toe was way out of whack and eating away at the front tires, which meant buying four new tires as well. Also, I strongly prefer the standard steel wheels and color-matched hubcaps of that era over the so-called “Bundt” alloy wheels that mine came with, so I found a good set of steel wheels and hubcaps on eBay and sold the alloys. And that’s it. 

There is a short list of things I need addressed soon, but none of them are major. There is a vacuum leak somewhere, and those of you familiar with old Mercedes-Benzes know that everything from the power door locks to transmission shifting to climate control operation is controlled by engine vacuum. The power door locks work intermittently and the transmission occasionally bangs off a hard shift; wherever this vacuum leak is, it’s not severe, but attention is needed. The other item that needs attention is the air conditioning. The leak has been traced to a rotted hose that has been discontinued; I need to track one down or have a replacement fabricated. And that’s it!

Other than those two items, the 300D is a joy to live with. It’s stately, it starts every time, and it turns heads everywhere it goes.

3. What is your fondest memory with this car?

I don’t have a single fondest memory. There is a sense of occasion to driving it every time I fire it up, which is almost daily. Even as a daily driver, it feels special and I feel a sense of joy every time I’m behind the wheel. I do love that my family appreciates the car as much as I do. We often just get in the car and drive it. My daughter recognizes that it’s a lot cooler than most new cars and even boasts about it to her friends. New memories with the car are created every day.

We do want to do a long road trip in the car once the air conditioning is fixed. We will no doubt gain lots of great new memories when we do that.

4. Why do you love cars?

For me, there is no why. It just is. I was obsessed with cars from my earliest years. I learned to read because my parents had this massive book called 1975 World Cars that cataloged every new car sold around the world that year, and I wanted to know about each and every model. And even today, cars rule my world. My entire professional career has revolved around cars, and I intend for that never to change.

And here is Ed's car, on video:

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Dr No Movie Review

Welcome to 007 Movie Reviews! My buddy Dave and I are both 007 fans and we decided to watch all the films chronologically. We will separately write reviews of each movie, simultaneously exchange the reviews with each other, and respond to the other person’s review. Finally, we are going to give each movie an A through F grade.

First up, the first Bond film. Dr No (1962):

Dave’s review:

Grading the inaugural edition of James Bond is always tough, as Sean Connery is just settling into his role and figuring out who the character is. What helps is a stellar cast of memorable characters, including the strong willed Honey Ryder, one of the best Bond girls of all time, and the nefarious Dr. No, who you don't see for the first time until near the climax of the film. What's great about Dr. No is that Bond is ruthless, shooting an unarmed man and proving that he's willing to do anything for the job. The film, however, feels old and moves slowly. 1962 is a long time ago! A few more action sequences, or longer ones, would have livened things up considerably.

TT’s review:

Growing up in the 1980s, Roger Moore was my Bond. I always considered Connery movies as old fashioned and stale. Today, as a middle aged man living in a pandemic, and having just watched The Hunt for Red October for the first time as a tribute to Sir Sean’s life, I have newfound respect for the actor and the early Bond films.

The movie is old. 58 years old. I now see it as a bridge between pre-war and modern movies. It was made in the 1960s, yet it still had the stereotypical bug-eyed scared Black man, white actors playing Asian characters, and a lot of men wearing hats. At the same time, it was groundbreaking and forward looking in that it was an action thriller that had car chases and high tech gadgets. Dr No had an outsized influence on hundreds of films, from The Bourne Identity to Austin Powers.

My grade is as much based on the importance of the film in cinematic history as its actual merits.

I want to add that we praised Daniel Craig’s Bond because he showed emotions and exhibited pain. But in the very first Bond film, Connery was scared out of his gourd by a tarantula and had sweaty palms when he was about to meet Dr No. Connery was vulnerable too!

Dave’s response:

Great analysis. I completely agree that it was a ground-breaking film. And Roger Moore played Bond whereas Sean Connery WAS Bond. 

TT’s response: 

I agree with Dave that Dr No is a bit crude and underdeveloped. But it was 1962!

TT’s grade: A-

Dave’s grade: B

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Romain Grosjean's tale of survival


Tuesday, December 01, 2020

My Daily Driver: @_baldtires's Chevy Cobalt SS

1. How did you come to the decision of buying this car?

You know, I was tired of hearing about how bad American cars were. A lot of people I know would never even consider buying one, and they justify this by citing the poor build quality that they say defines every aspect of domestic cars. I had heard this so many times I started to question whether it was actually true.

For $4700, which is what I paid for this car, the Japanese and German options were definitely present. But I’ve driven those cars, I know what they’re like, and they are, in my opinion, pretty played out. Everybody buys Civic Sis, I already have an E46 3 Series, and every other imported enthusiast car just seemed so… common. They’re obvious choices, the Big Mac is the same everywhere, I didn’t want a Big Mac.

But outside of not wanting to buy something everybody else buys, the decision was actually pretty simple. The Cobalt SS sedan offers 260 horsepower from a strong 2.0-liter engine with a forged crankshaft, forged rods, and oil squirters under the pistons. There’s also a front limited-slip differential, a ton of space inside thanks to its goofy roofline and folding rear seats, and it gets 30+ MPG on the highway. 

The front brakes are massive units made by Brembo—you can’t fit anything smaller than a 17-inch wheel on this car—and it has no-lift-shift and launch control. It’s also cheap to fix, reliable, and inexpensive to insure. 

It’s faster than the Honda S2000, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, and BMW 135i around Virginia International Raceway. Here’s the full results of Car and Driver’s 2008 Lightning Lap testing, if you’re interested in seeing other, more expensive cars that the Cobalt SS is faster than. 

For $22k brand new, it held the FWD lap record at the Nurburgring in 2007.

2. What has your ownership experience been like?

My Cobalt was perhaps not abused by its previous owners, but it wasn’t actively cared for. I’ve had to replace things that previous owners clearly didn’t want to, and the alignment was so jacked up when I got the car that the steering wheel was cocked over to the left between 10 and 15 degrees. 

The hand brake, whose lever is the cheapest I have ever encountered, also somehow managed to feel even cheaper due to one cable just not being hooked up. As it turns out, one of the cables rusted, was stuck, and needed to be replaced. The previous owner solved this issue by simply disconnecting that side. Thanks professor!

One of the front calipers—made by Brembo—also had a ruined bore. I replaced that as well, which wasn’t cheap. 

The car also had a litany of small issues that are typical of a vehicle that hasn’t been cared for, but it’s things you get over pretty quickly, or are fixed easily. The nice thing about the Cobalt is that it’s very easy to work on, and all of the parts—besides the things exclusive to the SS trim—are very inexpensive. They made more than a million Cobalts, after all.

The interior in the SS is also slightly nicer than the one found in a base Cobalt, primarily because of the nice SS-specific seats. Other features I like on the inside are the USB port on the dash to charge my phone, and the standard AUX input, both things I have to do without on my older E46. The car’s sound system is also surprisingly good, which I did not expect.

3. What is your fondest memory with this car?

I wouldn’t buy a regular Chevy Cobalt, but the SS delivers a fond memory nearly every time I drive it. I’ll tell you my fondest memory in a moment, let me name a few other good moments first.

Even in its SS trim, the Cobalt sedan is a boring-looking car that, after all, says “Cobalt” on the back. People also must assume the SS trim—as I previously did—is just an appearance package with different transmission tuning, or something.

One fond memory I have, and I’ve only had the car for a few months, is right after I installed new MAP sensors and a tune. General Motors offered a similar tune that could be installed at dealers, but the aftermarket one I got from ZZP was a little more aggressive. $400 later, and my Cobalt was faster than my E46 M3. The tune claims 280whp and 320 ft/lbs (which I take with a grain of salt) but that first hole-shot with my friend—who has a 350whp VW golf—was a little shocking. The car was fast before, but now it was the sort of fast where you forget where you are and what you’re doing. He looked at me with the same look a lot of other people give me, which is a mix of disbelief, shortly followed by laughter.

Other people have given me that same look, one in a new WRX, another in a Focus ST, and other drivers in cars that people perhaps don’t think are fast, but must be faster than a Chevy Cobalt.

My fondest memory, perhaps because it’s the most recent, is bus-gapping the guy in a BRZ with a “SEND NUDES” rear wing on it. In the BRZ, he must’ve seen it coming, but I’m not sure if he did. He was with a few of his friends in other, similarly equipped cars, and he seemed pretty embarrassed. He exited off I95 South, companions in tow, a short time later.

4. Why do you love cars?

I’m not sure what there isn’t to love about cars besides the costenvironmental and financial. They’re a mobile environment that stimulates nearly every sense. The right car looks great, sounds great, feels great, and even smells great. Different cars obviously balance these senses differently, but you can get in a car anytime you want and experience sensory overload just by turning a steering wheel and pressing your foot into a pedal. In the right car, every drive is an opportunity to at least put a smile on your face, and cars that actively encourage you to smile, that want you to be happy, can be had for as little as $4,700. Ask me how I know.

If you would like to participate, just answer the above four questions and submit one to three photos of your daily driver to milhousevanh at geemail. Thanks and have fun!

Man has a farm inside Narita airport

 H/t to Stephan.

AMC Eagle in Walgreens ad

My Daily Driver: @GeoffNews's One-owner, 229,000-mile 2000 Acura 3.2 TL

1. How did you come to the decision of buying this car?

My ex and I bought it new. We’d cross-shopped the E46 323i, but the BMW dealer was super off-putting and the TL was a hoot to drive.  We loved the power, the comfort, the incredible value for money, and the surprising economy (I racked up a lot of 30mpg road trips). Five years later, we sold it to my Dad as a replacement for his mid-90s Buick Park Avenue. This was his daily driver through his retirement, when it was demoted to second-car status. Dad can’t drive any more, so it came back to me in October of 2020 after 15 pampered years of (mostly) Acura dealer service and heated garage storage.

2. What has your ownership experience been like?

This is the best car I have ever owned. After racking up more than 229,000 miles, the TL still starts right up and winds out smooth. All of the electrics still work, including the car’s only option: the built-in navigation system that was cool 20 years ago … but now feels very N64. The exterior and interior have held up well too, except for a little clearcoat failure on one door and a couple of cracks on the driver’s seat. When I got the car back, Dad included a folder full of maintenance and service receipts, covering everything from a transmission rebuild in 2016 to a timing belt service just 20,000 miles ago. The gearbox is still a little dodgy — apparently Honda transmissions of this vintage are made of glass — but I’m determined to keep it on the road as long as I can. 

3. What is your fondest memory with this car?

I have two. Back in 2005, I drove the TL from Chicago to Dad’s home outside Detroit to deliver it to him … which was a three-hour blast that included talking my way out of a 90-in-a-70-zone speeding ticket. The other one is the drive back to Chicago when I picked it up from Dad and remembered why I loved it so much the first time around. It was like getting reacquainted with an old friend.   

4. Why do you love cars?

That’s like asking “why do you breathe air?” I just always have. I grew up in Flint, and both of my grandfathers worked for GM. Mom and Dad aided and abetted my interest by taking me to dealership lots on Sunday mornings and car shows in the dead of winter, and to this day I’m drawn to cars from the early-to-mid-70s era when I first realized that vehicles were more than just appliances, but could be both a means to escape and an outward expression of the owner’s personality. 

If you would like to participate, just answer the above four questions and submit one to three photos of your daily driver to milhousevanh at geemail. Thanks and have fun!