Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Another Open Letter to Liberals

This is what fascism looks like... at least in the first few years.

At first, you may actually like the "change" that the ever increasing government control brings. People will be fed. The "malefactors" will be punished". The trains will run on time.

But... it reaches further and further into your work, your life... It becomes more and more intrusive, and eventually you will be complaining just as loud as I am now... but it will be too late.

You will have gladly voted them all the power to give you everything you want or need.

And the power to take everything you have.

Niemoller.

A simple review of a simple move - Monsters Vs. Aliens

Cute, sweet, fun, funny, kid safe, inoffensive, simple, and a little shallow.

Lots of pop culture references, and references to classic b movies trops. Straightforward plot. Very little in the way of story depth or character development.

Enjoy it for what it is, don't expect anything more, and you'll love it. Don't try and make it into Wall-E or "The Incredibles".

Monday, March 30, 2009

Eating Nikons Lunch


Last week Canon officially announced their new high end consumer camera, the EOS 500D / Rebel T1i (in the U.S. they use the Rebel name, everywhere else it's just another EOS); and to be honest, it blows basically every other consumer, and most prosumer cameras out of the water.

Here's the new product page.

and Gizmodos preview.

and Imaging Resources preview.

and finally DPreviews preview.

The salient points:
  • 15.1 Megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
  • 1080p and 720p HD movie recording with HDMI
  • Native ISO 100-3200 (expandable to 12800)
  • 3.4 frames per second continuous shooting
  • Max. 170 large JPEG images in a single burst
  • 3.0” ClearView LCD with Live View mode
  • List price, $799 (body only, should street for $649-$699 once demand calms down)
Seriously, this makes my Nikon D80 (which premiered at a considerably higher street price) look like a toy in terms of total features and capability.

Importantly, it also knocks Nikons current top consumer camera, the (currently several hundred dollar more expensive street price, though most likely not for long) D90, into the weeds. At the expected street price, it even obsoletes Nikons rumored new D40/D60 replacement, the D5000, two weeks before it's even going to be officially announced.

I predict that every pro Canon shooter is going to buy this as their backup/lightweight camera, it looks that good.

More importantly for Canon though, this is the camera that gets consumer/prosumer level Nikon shooters to switch to Canon. It's better than any Nikon short of the D700, at under 1/3 the price; and in some ways even more features (that HD video mode).

Yes, it really does look that good. Read the previews and watch the video:



15.1 megapixel APS-C sensor, very similar to the 50D at less than half the price (but without the "gapless microlens" technology; so it's not quite as fine, sharp, and good in low light); with live view, 1080p and 720p video...

Now, I've been solidly in the Nikon camp for years, but a camera this good, at this low a price... It has me seriously considering switching.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

To Amy (and others who believe government can do good)



Let me say again, for the statists on both the left and the right:

the government has no rights. Anything the government does, it must do within the rights that we as individuals delegate to it; and in order to delegate that right to government we must first possess that right.

You as an individual do not have the right to hold a gun to my head, take my money, and give it to someone else; no matter how good the cause. Neither do you as an individual have the right to hold a gun to my head and tell me how I can or cannot behave, or what I can or cannot do; unless you are preventing me from violating your rights, or the rights of others by doing so.

So, if you don't have the right to steal from me or tell me how to live, you cannot delegate that task to the government; because the government derives it's power from the rights you delegate to it.

It's wrong for you to steal from me; and getting 52 million of your friends together to to vote on it and say it's OK, doesn't make it so.


HT: Doug Mataconis

Friday, March 27, 2009

A note about social networking

I think I've made it clear before, I don't much care for the execution of social networking as it exists today (the concept is great, the execution leaves much to be desired).

However, I like people (as content; and in some cases... many cases in fact... social networks have become the primary content delivery vehicle, for people I want content from.

So I am reluctantly a member of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (a hybrid social/professional network).

I don't use twitter for "microblogging" as is often (rightly) derided in media; I primarily use it to share links, spread my own posts on my real blog arround, and follow other peoples content.

I barely use facebook at all; but a bunch of my friends and relatives do, and pester me if I don't update.

Just because I know I'll get the question, I'm @chrisbyrne on twitter (I knew twitter was going to be big and snagged it so that I wouldnt get stuck with something else); and my facebook entry is under the same email I use in comments.

As I'm participating in these social networks for their utility to me, not for press or popularity etc... I have a personal policy about adding network members.

I only friend, follow, or link to:
  1. People that I am actually friends, or friendly acquaintenances with (either in person, or over the net)
  2. Relatives
  3. Co-workers and former co-workers
  4. Colleagues I know well
  5. People, companies, and web sites whose content I want to read regularly
I do not followback, I do not friendback, I do not linkback; or at least not automatically. If I follow/friend/link you its for one of the reasons above.

I'm not looking for followers or friends randomly, and I don't promiscuously follow or friend.

If however you follow/friend/link me, and you are one of the above who I just hadn't added yet, or I didn't know was using the network; or if you are someone who I didn't know about whose stuff I like; I'm right there with the followthingy.

That is what I use these networks for after all. It's about building relationships, and content discovery. I have to say in the three years or so I've been using social networks, they have been great for that. I've been introduced to many people, and lots of content I wouldn't otherwise have seen.

Not only that, but I find my level of participation in the discourse these folks are having is hugely increased. I now tweet back and forth every day with a number of my favorite writers, authors, pop culture figures, politicians, and of course my friends. I get a better understnading of, and stronger connection with those people; and they with me.

Yes, to someone who doesn't use these technologies, it may seem ridiculous; and for many people and in many ways, it is. In the last few months though, I've had useful, meaningful, interesting, funny conversations with dozens of people I would never otherwise have had the chance to interact with directly.

This is how these networks were originally intended to be used. Unfortunately but inevitably given human nature; very rapidly, a culture of automatic promiscous friendbacks/followbacks/linkbanks, in a competition for total numbers of connections, has developed.

Yeah... not my thing guys. I'll leave the popularity contest to other people, and concentrate on building a network I actually want to be a part of.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

No, that's not a rug...

... Or a flowerbed, or a new form of organic fertilizer, or a piece of absorbent ground matting...


That, is what they took off of my heat exchanger. Or rather, that is one of two 1-2" thick mats they took off the bottom of my heat exchanger, and two thinner mats they took off the top.

My air conditioning system (as most do, though combo units are more common around here) uses an outside compressor/condenser and an inside heat exchanger and air handler unit.

Two years ago, the compressor/condenser was replaced, and theoretically the air handler was serviced (it should have been replaced, but wasn't for reasons explained later). Then last year we paid someone to come in, clean the ducts, condenser coils, and air handler unit.

Only as is now apparent, neither of those times did the heat exchanger actually get cleaned, as it was supposed to be.

We had some freezeup problems two years ago, but they went away after we replaced the compressor/condenser, which died a screeching horrible death the first weekend of September.

Then last year we had some freezeup problems again, which is when we hired the cleaners in. When that not only didn't help but made the problem worse, we had a different guy come out and look at the system again; and he said the coolant pipes into the heat exchanger were fitted to the new compressor/condenser improperly (which they were. Thats one of the messiest pipe joins I'd ever seen, and at some point it still needs to be fixed).

We both noted the airflow was less than it should be, even after we let it thaw for two days; but there was still a fair bit, and after all we had just had things cleaned, theres no way that the air heat exchanger could be clogged up right?

The diagnoses was they would have to rip out the bad hookup and redo it at the cost of about $1500.

So we just lived with the inadequate AC and freezeups every few days for the rest of the summer and fall.

I had developed the very strong suspicion that the previous two services had skipped cleaning the air handler. As summer and fall wore on last year the airflow kept getting worse, as did the freezups; and I was SURE there were icedams building up in there that were completely unjustified if we had a properly functioning heat exchanger. I even partially disassembled the heat exchanger and ductwork to confirm it, the thing hadn't been opened up in years.

Eventually the freezups built up so bad, that the AC unit actually made it's own little flood. There was a block of ice the size of the entire header duct (a 2 foot square box) built up above the heat exchanger. I actually had to pull off part of the ducting, and unclog the drains by hand, then get a shop vac and a heat gun in there to melt the block of nasty ice.

That said, I didn't want to tear my whole heat exchanger assembly down, and then try to clean and rebuild it myself; or at the time bother paying someone else to do so, because we weren't even sure we'd still be here come this spring, or if we were whether we'd be replacing the whole AC system top to toe (which is what should have been done in 2007 instead of keeping the 25 year old air handler, but the home warranty company would only pay for the compressor/condenser).

When we figured out that we would be here for at least another year but wouldn't be replacing the AC system, it was time to get the system maintained again; but properly this time.

You can see the result. Not only had the previous two "cleanings" not done the job; they most likely made it worse, pushing dust, hair, and debris into the heat exchanger in the process.

Now remember, that is the matting that built up, even though we've been using a special 3 layer filter made specifically for dusty environments and pet hair; and changing it every 60 days (or whenever it is clogged up by visual inspection) as recommended by the manufacturer.

The fact is, Arizona has dust issues, we've got two big dogs and a cat, and we've got a 60 year old house thats leaky, dusty, and drafty; with an open attic, and an open underhouse plenum air intake. Even with a good filter, that level of crud can accumulate just through the air that gets into the system around the filter.

Given that, our new AC guys (who were great by the way. Mazon Air Conditioning and Heating out of Scottsdale), advised us that rather than use the expensive pet hair filter changed every 2 months, we should just use the thinnest and most free flowing cardboard and fiberglass cartridge type filter we could; and just change it every 2-4 weeks depending on the level of clogging by visual inspection.

That said, it took YEARS for this to build up. If you have your heat exchanger cleaned every year or two, this shouldn't ever happen to you.

It's a miracle that we got any heat or AC at all... or that it didn't catch on fire... or for that matter that it didn't give us diseases. It's entirely possible that the respiratory problems I've been having were aggravated by this thing.

Now THAT is how you deliver a scathing rebuke



That is Daniel Hanna, MEP for southeast England, and writer for The Daily Telegraph.

Oh and while we're at it, I rather like his take on the concept of the EU intervening in Northern Ireland:



That applies to just about anywhere else as well, not just Northern Ireland.


HT: Crackledawg

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

That was then....



Mallard Fillmore gets it in one... again...

That looks like fun...



Now, I've done this with .30-06 ap rounds, and it will go through 5 and embed in the 6th. Talk about a different beast entirely.

HT: HardOCP

I Will Not Obey

As I have said here before, I am a senior technical executive at a large bank.

As it happens, a bank that was forced at gunpoint, by the secretary of the treasury and chairman of the federal reserve, to accept TARP funds (as all the top surviving banks in the U.S were).

Let me be clear. We did not want TARP funds, or need them; but were told in no uncertain terms that we WOULD take them.

As obscene as that is, it is irrelevant to what follows; excepting that we did take TARP funds.

The United States House of Representatives recently passed a blatantly unconstitutional bill, placing confiscatory tax burdens on anyone making more than $250,000 and working for an institution that received more than 5 billion of TARP funds.

The bill was in theory specifically addressed at the false outrage over retention bonuses paid to AIG executives; and is targeted only to their bonuses.

In theory.

Of course, this would be an unconstitutional bill of attainder, which wouldn't pass even the most cursory constitutional challenge; so it was re-written to be broader.

Broader of course means more people would be affected, and congress would be given more power to steal more money.

In fact, if you read into the implications of the bill; it could be used to levy a 90% tax on any income over $250,000, earned by any family making more than $250,000 per year, where either spouse is employed by an institution that received federal "bailout" funds.

It appears that the Senate, and the Obama administration are cold on the bill and that it will not pass, or be signed into law if it did.

I do not earn that much money; nor do my wife and I earn that much together (though in the next few years it is entirely possible that we will).

However, I have something important to say.

If congress should pass any such bill, and the president sign any such law, I WILL NOT OBEY IT.

I will not allow congress to tell me how much I can earn. I will not allow them to take my income because of the actions of others. If they attempt to make me do so by force, I will resist with force.

I will most likely die in the process, which I regret; but at some point a line must be drawn. The constitution must be respected, or it is meaningless.

Congress can make no law that is unconstitutional on it's face. If such a law be passed, it is the duty of the president to repudiate it; and it must not be signed. If such a law is signed, it is the duty of the agents of the government to refuse to enforce it. If the agents of the state attempt to enforce it, then they must be resisted with force, at all costs.

Anything less is submission to tyranny, and the diminution of citizens, to subjects; or worse.

I have made clear in the past that I would resist police abuse of the constitution. I will resist congresses abuses no less. I will resist the presidents abuses no less.

Agents of the state cannot exceed the legitimate authority of the state. When they do so, they are criminals, and they must be resisted as criminals.

Normally I do not advertise where my lines are; but congress is now in the midst of a tantrum of self indulgence, overconfidence, and hubris not seen since reconstruction.

Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama, are pushing our nation headlong into tyranny and ruin; and decrying those who resist as racists, or reactionaries; simply for not wanting to be serfs.

I would suggest that we petition for the impeachment and prosecution (for conspiracy to deprive every resident of the united states of their civil rights) of any congressman who voted for such a bill; but I know it would do no good.

Government must be made to understand, WE WILL NOT TOLERATE SUCH ABUSE.

We will resist.

We will revolt.

We will not be made subjects, serfs, or slaves.

Monday, March 23, 2009

To cap, or not to cap, that is the question

Actually, I already decided, to cap is the answer; I'm just trying to figure out which cap.

Yes I know, another truck thing; it won't be the last.

I've looked at the specs and pricing on A.R.E., Snugtop, and Leer; and I've decided to go with Leer. They have three models I'm interested in:

The 100xl cab height streamliner

The 180 mid height(8" over cab height)

The 122 high rise (11" over cab height)

The objective discriminating factors for me are the total interior height, the total exterior height, and the minimum door clearance. The subjective factors for me are looks, and "roominess" in the bed with the cap on.

In order to get a medium sized ATV into the bed (if I don't feel like trailering) I need 38" clearance. In order to get a large ATV in I need 43" clearance; both presuming I don't compress the suspension or air down the tires of course. If I feel like ratcheting the suspension down a bit, it's more like 34" and 39".

Basically though, I figure 38" is about the minimum clearance I want.

My truck is 20.2" to the baserail, which means my minimum door clearance is 18", and 19-20" would be preferred. The minimum to get a big ATV in without compression is 23", and 24" would be preferred.

According to the Leer spec chart, the 100xl has a 19" door clearance, with 20" inside height, and 23" outside height (to match the cab contour. The 3" is from the insulated roof).

Oh and by the by, that's why I rejected Snugtop and A.R.E. They offered less door clearance on each model than the equivalent Leer, and at a higher cost.

Anyway, the 100xl has enough room to handle a big ATV with compression, a medium sized one without.

Unfortunately, that's still only 40" of room total, with a 39" opening. That's not a heck of a lot. However, it looks very good; and in terms of streamlining is supposedly good for +1-2 MPG at 75mph.

The reason why 40" is a squeeze, is because we have an SUV type trucktent, and like to sleep in the bed with an air mattress (or we did with the Expedition, and plan to do the same with the Ram). I can JUST barely sit up straight with a 40" overhead and an air mattress.

The 180 has a 21" opening, with a 28" interior height, and 31" exterior height; 8" over cab height. That gives a 41" door clearance, a 48" interior, and an overall height of 87" (the truck is 79" high on stock tires).

So, I don't even need a tiedown to get the big atv into that, I can just put some weight on the bars and pop it under the sill from the ramp, and I'm good. Also a 48" interior is much more comfortable.

On the down side, I'm neutral on the looks of the thing, and you loose some or all of the fuel economy advantage.

I also considered the A.R.E MX series, which is very similar to the Leer 180; but it only has a 20" door clearance, and it's about $400 more than the Leer.

The 122 has a 25" door opening, with a 31" interior, and a 34" exterior height (11" above the cab); for a door clearance of 45", an interior height of 51", and an exterior height of 90".

Basically, the door will clear pretty much whatever I feel like loading; except maybe some large furniture if don't feel like laying it down on it's side. 51" will let me sit up straight, and still have a foot of headroom (though at the front of the cap, the room is basically the same as the 180); though it wont allow me to rise up on my knees fully (perils of being tall).

I'm still neutral about the looks though... and DAMN THE THING IS HUGE.

7 and a half feet tall to the top of the cap... that's a lot. I worry about taking it offroad just for the tree limb issue.

I mean look at this guys pics:

Dodge with Leer 122 - 1

Dodge with Leer 122 - 2

Dodge with Leer 122 - 3


From looks alone, I really like the 100, and I like the +2mpg. I just don't like the low door clearance. The 180 seems like it might be a good compromise, but it's sorta halfway stuck in between, and I'm not sure if half and half is worth it. With the 122, I'm just not sure if I want to strap something that big to the back of my truck.

Oh and the 100 has another advantage, in that it is by far the lightest of the three, and the easiest to handle and store when it's not on the truck. Again, the 180 is in the middle, and the 122 could be used as an emergency homeless shelter.

Physics will not be denied; if I want more room, I need a bigger cap. I'm just having a hard time figuring out if I want to make those tradeoffs.

The realization seems to be coming...

...even to his supporters; though slowly...

That we have elected a man of monumental incompetence, no depth, no skill beyond politics, no real accomplishment, no character; and no salient qualities other than facile social grace, and the accident of birth that is his mixed race.

He is clearly an intelligent man; but his intellect is occupied with drivel, indoctrination, academic theories and pet causes... but nothing REAL, or USEFUL, or of any substance.

It is not so much that he has no honor, or loyalty, or backbone; it is that he doesn't even understand the concepts; or worse, denigrates and derides them.

It becomes clearer and clearer to all, as every day goes by: Not only is he beyond his depth, but he cannot even successfully choose anyone to help him swim.

Effectively, we have Nancy Pelosi, and her breed of spoiled self indulgent children run amok; running this country until January of 2011 at the least.

So, how do you feel now, all of you who voted for "change" ?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Truck is Dead; Long Live the Truck


So, Tuesday, after three years of workmanlike service, delivering everything we asked of it, (which was sometimes more than we reasonably should have); our truck died, hard.

Specifically, the self leveling suspension crapped out completely. The rear suspension has collapsed; and in terms of ride quality roughly resembles a buckboard. It is drivable, but only in the broadest sense.

Ooooh boy...

Cost, to repair... about 2 grand give or take.

Value of the truck in absolutely perfect condition in a private sale... about 4 grand give or take.

Trade in value of the truck in absolutely perfect condition... about 2 grand give or take.

Yeah...

I should note, Mel is starting a new job next week; and we're definitely going to need both cars; or rather we definitely need a car and a truck, and we don't really have time to wait around.

As it happens, we were considering purchasing a new vehicle anyway, and have been looking for the last few months. We did our research, and test drove a LOT of trucks, then wrote it all up.

The Situation:

Back, in January GM was offering up to $15,000 incentive to buy a truck, that's how bad things had got; and people STILL didn't want to buy the damn things.

So my wife and I headed down to the dealership in early February, to test drive a Tahoe hybrid; figuring that the additional 8+ mpg (or even more around town under 45mph, which is most of her driving) might be a nice bonus.

Unfortunately, the Tahoe is a bit smaller than we need. With the third row seat in place there is NO cargo space; and even with the rear seats flipped forward, it's not that great.

Worse, I literally cannot fit in the SECOND row of seats, never mind the third row. My head has to be cocked to the side 45 degrees to fit under the headliner. On top of all that, the legroom is minimal.

Our Expedition on the other hand, I'm actually quite comfortable in the middle row seat, and there's tolerable headroom (barely, and no legroom) in the third row.

There's even enough space behind the third row (which we generally leave in the house to give us more cargo room) to take a few days worth of groceries home. Of course a bit more room is to be expected, because the Expedition is a bit bigger than the Tahoe (though not as large as the Suburban).

So, we really liked the Tahoe, great power, great interior (my God, GM actually figured out how to make a modern interior. It only took them from 1973 to 2007); it's just a little too small... and honestly we didn't think it was a very good value for what you got.

Maybe if you don't have two kids (and at least one more to come within the next five years), two dogs, a bunch of friends, a bunch of guns, and a bunch of tools, it would be good for you; but we do.

We own a big SUV because it's the best vehicle for what we do, not because it's a status symbol, or because my wife thinks station wagons are uncool. Actually, she really LIKES wagons, and so do I; they just don't have the room, and cant go where we like to go.

Sheets of plywood, long boards, and several hundred pounds of tools and gun gear regularly get loaded up in the truck; never mind the thousand pounds worth of people we frequently toss in there. We've got the extra heavy duty towing and suspension package, and the self levelling air suspension (which effectively makes the thing into a 3/4 ton instead of a half ton); and we've maxed out the load on the thing more than once.

Dirty, messy tools, dirty messy dogs, heavy weight, offroad... Not exactly wagon territory.

Minivans won't do it either. We tow utility trailers, and want to in future be towing camping, atv, and horse trailers. We take this large amount of gear into places where a high ground clearance and a trucks ability are necessary; and 4wd would be better over 2wd.

We keep cars a long time (basically until they are a poor economic propoisition to keep). We are planning for what we'll need two years from now, and five years from now, and even eight or nine years from now.

In the next couple years we plan to move where offroad and roughroad conditions are combined with ice and snow. We need a combination work truck, people hauler, and towing truck. In fact, I'd like a vehicle that can mount a plow if necessary.

The Proposition:

The Expedition is only worth about $4k, even repaired. Edmunds and KBB both say a high of $7k and a low of $4500; but a real private sale in todays economic conditions will get me $4-$5k.

In order to be saleable I need to essentially replace the entire rear suspension (air bags, shocks, air lines, bushings), which will cost about $2000. Also, it could use about $2k worth of additional work (new brakes all the way around, including calipers, rotors, and the master cylinder; plus some other stuff). The brake work isn't critical; we could get by with pads, some seals changed, and a system bleed.

The fact is, the truck is almost 9 years old (it's a 2001, made in late 2000), at 120k miles, and just isn't worth fixing at this point.

It might cost us more in the short term to buy a new vehicle; getting under warranty coverage on a new, or newer used vehicle will help protect against the catastrophic maintenance costs that may be right around the corner on our almost 9 year old truck.

Now, normally we would not even consider new vehicles, because of the generally poor value vs. short term depreciation. However, with the incentives currently being offered by dealers desperate to get new trucks out of inventory, and with new longer warranties, and lower interest rates on new vehicles (a 3 point difference actually); the new vs. used equation is looking much more favorable than it was a year or two ago.

I'm not happy about taking a $10,000+ depreciation hit in the first year, but if I'm going to get $7k off the front end price to begin with, and save $7k on the loan...

The Conditions:

So we decided that the Tahoe was out, as was anything not appreciably larger; dropping the Durango, Toyota Sequoia and Land Cruiser, and Nissan Armada out of the running as well; leaving only the Suburban/GMC Yukon XL, and the Expedition in SUVs.

Ford dropped the Excursion some years ago, and we aren't even considering paying a premium for a rebadged version of either the Expedition or the Suburban (they want almost $20k extra to call a Suburban a Cadillac... yeah, I don't think so).

On the other hand, we decided to seriously consider crew cab pickups. Given the room, and the comfort offered by modern crew cabs, they are a very viable option for a do it all family, haul, work, tow vehicle.

Also, crew cabs can be had with diesels. We LIKE diesels (for so many very good reasons).

In the rest of this post I'm going to refer to the Chevy version of the GM side of things, the Ford version of Ford, and the Dodge version of Chrysler; but they are all substantially identical to their corporate siblings versions, with some trim differences (we actually prefer the look of the GMCs to the Chevys).

I did an analysis of all the major half ton, and 3/4 ton crew cab trucks, and the two available large SUVs; configured as close to the same way as their trim packages and options allowed. I tried multiple configurations with multiple trim packages and options to come up with the optimal configuration for each model.

The features used for comparison were:
  1. 4x4
  2. Crew cab (or bigger if available), or large SUV
  3. Short bed (several had longer beds available) or large SUV
  4. Highest power engine available
  5. Maximum towing package with maximum hitch
  6. Heaviest duty suspension available
  7. plow and trailer wiring kits if available
  8. Cargo organizer system, bedliner, and tiedowns if available
  9. Leather
  10. Power everything
  11. Heated seats (if available)
  12. Captains chairs front, with center console
  13. 60/40 folding split bench rear
  14. Whatever interior cargo storage options are available
  15. Full climate control (auto if available)
  16. Navigation system
  17. CD/DVD changer with handsfree bluetooth speakerphone, and aux input
  18. Rear DVD
  19. Backup camera if available
  20. No sunroof (it cuts 2" out of the headroom)
I included all the prices, current incentives, power and torque, fuel economy towing capacity and payload, locking diff or not, bed length or cargo area length, and front and rear head and leg room.

I only included one diesel, because in all cases Diesels added approximately $7,000 to the cost of the truck, but were only offset by incentives on the Dodge. Otherwise the new diesels were simply too expensive (bringing the trucks into the $60,000 range).

The Numbers:

The spreadsheet I used to tabulate my research numbers is shared here: Truck Analysis

Unless you feel like paying $5,000 extra for the name, I would drop the Toyotas from your consideration entirely. We found that in all cases (all models of large truck and SUV), for equivalent features, the Toyotas were $4,000 to $8,000 more expensive than the other brands.

In general, I found that Dodge offered exceptional value in both 1/2 ton and 3/4 ton models; that Nissan offered just about as good value as Dodge (but with not quite as much in the way of features, and of course in half ton only), that Ford and Toyota were both relatively overpriced (more so for the Toyota), and that Chevy was around the middle.

Also I found that in general you got more for your money (better relative value) with a 3/4 ton. On average they only cost around $2k more, for double the payload, and 30% more towing capacity.

Downgrading from 4x4 to 4x2 generally saves about $4,000; and if you don't need it, deleting it reduces your maintenance cost, improves your fuel economy, your payload, and your towing capacity. However, after five years, it cuts your resale value in half; and in general reduces the utility of the truck.

I've gone on record before saying that I think that for most people, 4wd on a full size truck or SUV is a waste of time and money; and I still believe that.

Most people who buy 4WD never really use it. Also, unless you're very experienced and carry recovery gear around with you; when you do try and use your 4 wheel drive seriously, the only difference is that you're going to get stuck further, harder, and deeper in, than you would have if you only had 2 wheel drive.

However, if you live in snowy climates (especially snowy hills and mountains), drive a lot on rough roads (especially with heavy loads), or have to deal with mud or sand at all; 4wd is a lifesaver, and as I said, also improves the resale value of your truck considerably.

Now, you'll note in the conditions section above, we REALLY loaded up the options, including some that most truck buyers wouldn't really bother with; because this is our family vehicle in addition to our work/tow/haul truck.

Selecting navigation and DVD adds between $3,700 and $8,000 (the Toyota was ridiculous) to the price of each vehicle; and you can save a considerable amount leaving them off, and going for a standard stereo (with standard CD changer systems running in the $500-$1500 range).

Most other interior options were all relatively low cost and deleting them would have minimal impact. If you wanted to save money, removing nav and DVD would be the first place to start; with most vehicles costing $4000-$5,000 or so less without them.

Also, in every case, the backup camera was either included in the nav and DVD package, or was a $500 to $700 extra that can be easily deleted.

We found that it was hard to locate a loaded truck without a sunroof; but if you don't want one (and we don't. They cost 2" in headroom, and reduce the efficiency of your heater and air conditioning), you can save yourself $1000

The Experience:

After going through the analysis, it was time to actually drive the vehicles.

Based on the numbers we excluded Ford, and Toyota entirely; and decided to focus on Chevy and Dodge (because when we started this process Chevy was offering MUCH larger incentives than they are today, and Dodge is offering HUGE incentives).

We seriously considered the Nissan Titan as well, given that it is as roomy inside as the Dodge 1500, and moreso than the Chevy; and has the best payload, and the lowest cost.

However, with the smallest towing capacity and second least power of the bunch; at just about the same price as the Dodge (given the current incentives anyway), we decided to make it our third option.

Chevy:

The first thing we did was check out the Suburban, and my wife really liked it a lot. She likes the room, the power, the cargo space, and the look of it. It's just a great truck.

I should note, I rather like it myself, but not as much as she does. It's a little short on headroom for me; and while I think it's a good looking truck (especially the GMC version), I'm not in love with it.

Even better, the cargo room behind the third seat is great; and with the rears folded, it's as much as our Expedition with the rear seat out.

Oh, and I can fit in not only the second row (just), but the third row (though it's not exactly comfy); though if there's a sunroof I can't even fit in the drivers seat, never mind the rears (the sunroof pulls out 2" of headroom).

So, we like the truck, and we go back to start talking about pricing.

Now as I said, in January GM was offering up to $15k incentive to buy a truck. Well, apparently, now that they've got the gubmint bailout money, things have changed.

It's no wonder GM can't sell a damn vehicle.

List price on the 'burban with the options (3/4 ton 4wd, LT2 package, heavy duty tow package, navigation and entertainment. Not the LTZ which is $7K more, and not available on the 3/4 ton) we want is $56,000.

Let me repeat that.

FIFTY SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS.

Now let me ask you something. If you could afford to buy a truck for $56,000 would you be buying a suburban?

No wonder GM sales are down 58% this quarter.

Well of course, no-one pays MSRP. Right now, the deal is that everyone pays invoice less incentives. Invoice on the model we want is about $49,000 (that's a heck of a markup to MSRP, aint it). Ok, that's still a lot of money, but with a $15k incentive that's only $34,000... and that's not bad. That's actually pretty good, and very doable...

Only now that GM has the bailout money, the incentive isn't $15k anymore.... It's $2k

$47,000....

Ohhhh, I don't think so.

Now, take a look at the exact same truck, same options, but in the 2008 model year (there's four left unsold in the state apparently; all up in or around Flagstaff) and the invoice is $2k lower, and the incentive is still $7k.

Ok, maybe one of those. That brings it to $40k... not as good as with the $15k incentive, but possibly doable...

Until you look at the used price for a 2008 with 12,000 miles on it, equipped the same way... $30k to 33k.

Or a 2007 with 24k miles... $25k to 28k. And that's in absolutely perfect condition, with 5 years left on the warranty.

And those are full retail book. No-one pays retail book. Their resale value is about $8k under that; and you're likely to pay somewhere in between those two numbers.

Even at book though, that's about $25,000 less than MSRP on the new one, and $16,000 less than the actual sale price.

Who on earth is going to spend $54k or even $44k on a truck that will be worth $16-25k less in a year or two years?

Don't even get me started on the Escalade ESV (the Cadillac version of the suburban). They charge $20k more for the EXACT SAME TRUCK, with the exact same equipment; and 2 years later, its only worth $5k more than the Chevy. More than 50% depreciation.

This simply reinforces my long held opinion that you have to be an idiot to buy a new car without a huge incentive; and that goes double for a fully optioned up new car, or a new "premium" car.

But more importantly; it reinforces my opinion that GM is utterly clueless. They take the bailout, and then jack up the price of their trucks, that weren't selling at the LOWER prices.

Here's a hint for GM execs. Guys, if they weren't buying the trucks at $39,000, they aren't going to buy those same trucks two months later, for $11,000 more. We didn't get the bailout, you did.

Oh and not that Ford is much better.

The equivalent Expedition EL is smaller than the Suburban, doesn't have quite as much in the way of features, has 50 less horsepower and 50ftlbs less torque but just as bad fuel economy, isn't available in a 3/4 ton (though the heavy duty suspension package and heavy duty towing package give just a few hundred pounds less towing capacity); and prices out at just over $55,600, with an invoice of $49,800 and $4000 incentive.

Smaller truck, less power, less features, same price... Don't think so.

We also test drove the Crew Cab 1500, and 2500, Silverado; and liked them, though not as much as the Suburban.

The 2500 suspension was a bit harsh, and both trucks were somewhat unrefined. Though the interiors were very nice in the LTZ, and optioned up LT2 models, they were still a bit plasticky and work truck like (especially in the 2500, which had some funky switch gear). Also, the interior accoutrement weren't quite as nice as in the Suburban (you'd think they'd be exactly the same, but they aren't).

Surprisingly, the Suburban also handled better than either truck. Even though it was heavier, it felt more settled, and smoother (probably the weight, combined with passenger tuning rather than load tuning). With the 6 liter in all three, the 1500 clearly had the performance advantage however. That said, non of them were exactly sluggish; the 6 liter offers great power.

I don't want to leave the impression that these weren't very good trucks, they were; they just weren't as nice as the Suburban. I did however think that the Silverado was a bit nicer than the 2004-2008 Fords that I have previously driven (I haven't driven the 2009).

Of course they were also $6,000 MSRP less than the Suburban; which is a consideration. Surprisingly however, invoice was only $4000 under MSRP (on the 'Burban it was $7k under), and the incentive was only $1000 for the crew cab (it's $2000 for every other 1500).

The way they were, I wasn't exactly thrilled with the final pricing, at $44k and $46k for the 1/2 and 3/4 ton respectively.

We decided to move on to Dodge, and wait and see if a used 'Burban came into stock somewhere with the equipment that we liked.

Also because the numbers were so out of line on the 'Burban, and the Expedition; we decided to focus on the crew cabs, and we pulled them off the spreadsheet.

Dodge:

The numbers indicated that the Dodge was going to provide far better value, with their Employee Pricing Plus Plus Program (yes, that's really what they call it); giving a $7000 discount from MSRP, plus an additional $2000 in incentives.

Well, we test drove the 2500 diesel, and the 1500 hemi the week after the Chevys.

First things first, both are spectacular trucks. Far better than the Chevys that we drove the week before, or the Fords that I've driven over the past couple years. Even on the 2500, the interior was nicer, the amenities nicer etc.. and the in cabin storage is brilliant.

We drove the 2500 MegaCab diesel first, and liked it very much. The torque is amazing, and with no traction control (the diesels have stability control but no traction control) that motor will break the rear end loose any time you feel like it. That said, it's also smooth and quiet; not just for a diesel, but for a truck in general.

The only thing I didn't like about the power delivery is a little more delay in the kickdown than I'd like; but they do that on purpose, because with so much torque, and especially if you're hauling and towing heavy loads, a rapid downshift would be very hard on the transmission.

But for just one second, let me give a shoutout back to the torque monster. That is one hell of a motor.

The MegaCab interior is brilliant. It's a crewcab with an extra 4" of legroom, and 10" of space behind the rear seats for storage. That allows the 60/40 split bench to recline, and to fold forward into a more than 20sq foot flat load floor.

Combined with the doors that are 8" longer than normal crewcab doors (with HUGE windows that roll down completely), and you can esily fit a 3 foot square box, or a number of half sheets of plywood into the back.

With the huge double console, and cubbies everywhere, there is no shortage of storage and family room in this truck. The front seat console also folds up into a third seat, with a shoulder belt; that is good for a child, or a booster seat (and yes, it's car seat safe if you so choose; though it doesn't have car seat anchors).

The rear seats on the other hand have more than enough hip, shoulder, and leg room for three full sized adults. I can comfortably sit in the middle seat (yes, really); and with the front seats pushed all the way back, I have over 4" of room between my knees and the seat back.

Overall we were impressed with the 2500s handling; and it's lack of harshness even over poor pavement with no load. It did have slightly soft, long travel brakes, that stopped very well but didn't have great feel. The steering, was very sharp and responsive, but the turning circle on the truck was awful (49.7 feet according to the magazines), and reversing into tight spaces worse.

Happily though, even engaging 4wd low, and locking the diff, didn't worsen the turning circle or reversing circle (which I was surprised by. In most trucks, including the Chevys, there's some driveline backlash, and the turning circle widens slightly in 4 low with the diff locked).

So we were just about sold on the diesel, but wanted to drive the 1500 for comparison.

There is no comparison. It's a completely different truck.

From the minute you get into it, you can feel it's a completely different truck. The 2500 is a "really nice truck", but interior wise it definitely feels and looks like a truck. The 1500 has a completely different interior, and getting into it, the immediate impression is "luxury car".

I really didn't think it was possible they could be so different, but they are.

The 1500 is so much more like a comfortable car than a truck, it's hard to describe. The controls are designed and positioned better, so that nothing is a long reach (not the case with the 2500. All that room is great, but the reaches can be a bit long). The climate control is perfect, the audio/nav system positioning is perfect; and the seats are actually better than the seats in my caddy (and that's saying something).

That said, this is still a damn truck; how does it drive?

Amazing.

Firstly, the power. Yes, the diesel has more torque, but the absolutely instantaneous power delivery of the hemi is unbelievable. 390hp and 407ftlbs of torque with 225+ ftlbs available from 1500 RPM, and peak torque at 4000rpm, means fast off the line, responsive, fast passing and roll on. The feeling of instantly available power with this truck is great.

There is NO highway hop, no wheel hop in hard acceleration (the hemi does have traction control unlike the diesel) no harshness on any surface even with no load, and even in tow/haul mode (which stiffens everything up, and changes the shift program on the transmission).

Quick transitions are accomplished smoothly and with no drama, including accelerating and decelerating rapid lane changes; which usually throw trucks off balance. There is far less body roll in sharp corners than I would expect for a truck; in fact better than a lot of cars.

The 1500s turning circle is considerably better than the 2500 (about 28 feet). On the 2500, I had to three point in a narrow cul de sac; in the 1500 I was able to make full lock circles in it, even in 4wd low with the locker engaged.

Basically, this truck is in all ways far superior to the Chevys that I test drove last weekend; and the 2004-2008 F150s that I have driven before (I chose not to test drive the 2009s, because they are several thousand more expensive for equivalent features).

We went into the test drive expecting to like the 2500 more, and came out of it likeing the 1500 just as much; but for different reasons.

Although you give up a lot of towing capacity and payload with the 1500, and a good bit of room; the road feel, comfort, and manners you get back in exchange make up for it; at least for us, who are primarily using this as a family vehicle, not a work truck.

Now if they only made the MegaCab, with the 1500 interior, and the 1500 handling....

Actually, the 2010 2500/3500 models are getting the interior and exterior facelift the '09 1500s did; though of course they still wont have the independent suspension etc... but that's not what you want for a towing/hauling vehicle.

Nissan:


So, we went down to one of our local Nissan dealerships, and drove the Titan, and the Armada.

First thing, one salesguy took the up, I explained to him exactly what we were looking for, that we wanted only and exactly that; and that we wanted to talk specifics.

So he says "ok, let's go drive one" and he takes me out front, and immediate starts trying to downsell me "Oh, well, why don't you put the nav in aftermarket, it'll be cheaper". Then he says he doesn't have a 4x4 that I can drive. I tell him "look, I'm only interested in a 4x4" and he tries to tell me that I should drive the 2wd, it'll be just the same.

At that point I was rather irritated. I said to him "Look, I don't think you're taking my business seriously here. First you try to downsell me, now you're lying to me. You and I both know a 4x4 and a 2 wheel drive are going to feel, respond, and handle a lot differently. The suspension and drivline are different, the weight is different, the rear end is different... they are NOT comparable, and don't try and pass it off like they are just because you don't have one out here for me to drive. I think I have to go to another dealer".

At that point, he got kind of pissy and defensive, but he asked me to talk to his manager. I relayed exactly what was said, and the manager got me somebody who actually knew the trucks in question, and the product line; and knew what was in inventory.

So I found out from the new salesguy and manager that they haven't been getting any 4x4s with leather or nav from Nissan lately; and that they've had a hard time getting Titans in at all. That said, they did have an all leather and nav 2wd that we could check out the interior on, and they had a 4x4 we could drive.

I said OK, I'm still willing to give you my business, and I appreciate that they're ready to try and accommodate what I want.

So we drove the 4x4 with the crap interior; and we set in and played around with the optioned up interior.

We liked the Titan, but it's not as nice as the Dodge. Not nearly as much power, and the interior, though nice, isn't AS nice. That said, even with half the incentives, it's just as low priced as the Dodge (actually with current incentives, very slightly cheaper. You can get a loaded Titan for under $40k right now).

The wife however liked the Armada a LOT. We had looked at the numbers and decided it was too small initially; but actually sitting in it, and playing with the seats and cargo area, told a different story. It had substantially more room overall than the Tahoe, including more cargo area; and more headroom than the Suburban; as well as a more clever seating configuration that folded into a flat load floor behind the drivers seat (not long enough for plywood of course, just under 7ft; but useful enough that you can take a bungee with you and still pick up the wood)

So we decided to talk numbers about the Armada with the guy, and he finds one equipped like we'd like at an affiliated dealer in California.

Great, let's talk money.

So he goes out to do the manager dance and comes back with a printout for me, with a "market value" (note, not MSRP) listed $3k higher than I know the price is from the 'net.

Then he takes off $3000 in "savings", which is really just taking out the inflation he just put in; and the $4500 incentive.

Ok, that's at least a working number. Not a final number, there' more to come out of that "market value", but we can work with this.

Then there's a line item of $1894 for "accessories and value adds", which if you look into another section of the printout shows as "dealer prep" and "Arizona auto arrangement", on top of which he adds a $399 "documentation fee" and another line item of $1,009.80 in "fees".

So there's a $3200 line item for "Extra Dealer Profit".

Now I've just spent two hours with this guy. I've told him exatly what I'm looking for, exactly what I've done with other dealerships. He knows I know how much the thing actually costs. He knows I know what the options are. He should really know better than to start negotiating from this position... but he puts it down in front of me anyway, and says "So, can we make a deal?"

I literally laughed in his face, looked down at the sheet of paper, and said "not at that number, not even close".

Then he pulls out a sheet that he "can't let me keep" which supposedly shows his invoice and option cost (appx $5k less than the quoted "Market Value", but still $3K over what I KNOW the actual number is), and I laugh again.

The way he had the deal worked, the Armada was actually costing $4,000 more than the Suburban, which lists for more than the Armada, and has less than half the incentive and "savings" right now.

Yeah, I don't think so.

The deal that didn't happen:

So, we found a couple trucks very similar to what we wanted; but nothing exactly right.... or rather, whenever we found exactly the right truck, it would get sold before we could grab it.

It isn't so much that our option choices were selling like hotcakes; it's just the particular configuration we wanted was extremely rare. To order it would have taken 8-12 weeks, and in the mean time the incentive programs and pricing could change, and you can't lock in a price until the order is built... so that really wasn't an option.

We finally found two trucks very close to exactly what we wanted; a 2500 diesel laramie, and a 1500 hemi laramie. Both had nav and leather, but no rear DVD; and the 1500 had a sunroof.

The diesel listed at $57k but has $13k incentives on it, bringing it down to $44k. The 1500 listed at 52k, but had $11k in incentives, bringing it down to $41k.

We actually managed to squeeze'em down to $42.5k and $39.5k plus TLT.

Unfortunately, we just couldn't come to a deal. We never got to the point where the price, tradein, down payment, and rate made us happy; so we walked away from both and said we'd revisit things in a few months; when they'd be trying to get rid of unsold '09s to clear the way for the 2010 models.

Meanwhile I got to dealing with more fraud on my credit report, to help fix that rate issue.

Inflection point:

So that was six weeks ago; and the Expedition died on Tuesday.

I went back to our truck analysis, and looked at exactly what we wanted and needed from a truck:
  1. 3/4 ton preferred, but 1/2 ton acceptable
  2. Crew cab (or dodge mega cab, which is a crew cab, plus an extended cab grafted on) required
  3. 4x4 required
  4. Diesel preferred, gas acceptable
  5. Heavy duty suspension, with offroad package if possible (most dont let you get both)
  6. Towing package required
  7. Leather preferred, but cloth acceptable, if good and power
  8. Nav sytem preferred but not required
  9. Rear seat DVD preferred but not required
  10. NO SUNROOF
Also, I knew that the absolute maximum I could make things stretch would give us $5k for a down payment; and that's really cutting it tight for the next couple weeks.

$4k would be better, which gives us a price range of between $20k and $40k (getting financing today requires 10% to 20% down unless youre at 750 or above). Sadly, with the prices of trucks today, that means used to get what we want.

S'okay, as I said above I think used generally gives you a much better value.

So, we did a quick search on the net for trucks locally, found two dealers who had a number of trucks that were close, but nothing exactly matching the list.

The OTHER deal that didn't happen:

The first dealership had two decent trucks, but not really what we were looking for.

They also had a brand new old stock 2008 Expedition EL (that's the logn wheelbase version) King ranch edition with the tow package. We drove it, and liked it, so we decided to talk numbers.

Now, the truck originally listed at $47k. I told them right off the bat that I wasn't interested in paying anything near that. Also, I owe $6200 on the expedition, which will cost nearly as much to repair as they would give me in trade for it; which means we'd have to finagle the numbers to deal with that as well.

They offered me a great deal on it, but not great enough. They wanted an out the door price of $45k, including the underwater trade.

Now, normally speaking, I'd call that a good deal; but I know something. As of next month, any unsold 2008s will be reclassified for finance purposes by the banks as if they were used vehicles.

The wholesale used value on a 2008 Expedition EL King Ranch with 100 miles on it (it had been test driven a few times obviously) is $30.5k. Assume the Expedition is a total loss giving me a $6200 negative equity, that's $37k, plus TLT on the $30.5 brings me to just about $40k.

As it happens, the wholesale new value on the truck is just at $40k; which is probably what they've got in the truck; and in a month, the bank is going to write it down to $30k.

So I set a hard line, my out the door would have to be $40k. I said to him right off, "look I know you're losing money on this deal, but in a month you're going to be losing even more. This truck has been on this lot for 24 months (why didn't they auction it yet?), and absolutely no-one but me wants to buy an Expedition EL. So the question isn't are you losing money, it's how much money are you willing to lose".

They came down to $43k, but I wasn't interested in a dollar over $40. I told them as much, and said that I'd be looking at other trucks, if they were interested in dealing they had my number.

Yeah, I would have been skinning them blind, if it werent for the fact that I knew that truck wouldn't sell for the next month; and that if they hadn't auctioned it off (for the same loss they'd take with me) I would get the deal I wanted next month.

Found It:

The second dealership was a local truck specialty dealer here. Normally I don't like niche dealers (they tend to overprice a bit, and have iffy service); but we figured if we were going to find exactly what we wanted they were a likely choice, and their internet stock had some promising items.

We got there, and the internet trucks were good as promised, but we saw something else right away...

A big, black, badass of a truck, with chrome grille, chrome HD wheels, chrome bumpers, completely debadged (which looks great) and limoblacked windows.

It was debadged, but I could tell right away it was a 3/4 ton 4x4, megacab ram. Then I walked around back and saw the 4" tailpipe.

YES!

A 3/4 ton, megacab, 4x4, 5.9L Cummins diesel, in pearl black, with the heavy duty suspension, forged aluminum heavy duty wheels, chrome package, PERFECT spray in bedliner, tow package and lockers.

Exactly what we were looking for.

Unfortunately, it was an SLT-G (the upper middle trim package) instead of a Laramie, it had cloth instead of leather; and no nav system. Otherwise, it was fully optioned up. Power everything, perfect interior... I LOVE the megacab...

Yaknow what, we can live with that. Especially since the 3/4 ton diesel, is actually a 1.5 ton (max payload of 3220lbs, max towing 12,500lbs); and that diesel is going to be going strong long after I die (325hp, and 610ftlbs torque is a nice thing, never mind what Banks, King, Bullydog etc... can do with it).

That megacab is the best thing I've ever seen in a pickup.

The same truck, brand new, lists at $52,000 ($5000 less than the one with leather, nav, and DVD) though right now there's $10k in incentives available on it (less incentives than the Laramie as described actually).

This one is 2-1/2 years old with 45,000 miles on it; but it looks like showroom new; and they wanted $35,000 for it.

Seriously, there isn't a scratch, dent, chip, or spec on it; including the undercarriage. It's showroom new in and out. I would think it was a respray considering how good the undercarriage looks, but I know what to look for, and it's PERFECT. The bedliner is perfect except the rail caps are lifting up at the ends (that happens, They're only stuck on with doublestick tape). Even the floormats were perfect.

I did some quick internet research and found out that low wholesale on the truck was $27k, and the retail book was $37k. I offered $28k, $4k down, and no trade. They countered with $28.5k and $5k down, and they'd take the trade and wrap it in.

I made the deal.

They also took my truck in at $2500, which is honestly more than it's worth given the suspension repair required; but it was what they had to do to get the loan values right, and they were good with doing that.

So we're thrilled. This is a damn fine truck. It's gorgeous, it's almost exactly what we want, and it should last forever.

Now I need to get some steps/running boards for it (it really is high); a bed extender, and maybe a cap.

So take a look at this beauty:



The reflection in the tailgate is Mels old truck (now ceded back to her father as an airport/work truck), a '76 Chevy C10 longbed, I6 with 4 on the floor, with a granny and no overdrive.



One, I am not that fat (or that short), the tailgate is like a funhouse mirror. Two, the paint really is that shiny.



We're trying to figure out what to call it. Behemoth and "the beast" were rejected out of hand; but the wife liked Satch' (big, black, with a big mouth, deep lungs, and a deep gravely voice... very fitting).

COntest a little late

Ok since some people came on it late... and quite frankly because I'm a little overwhelmed by stuff at the moment, I wont be closing the contest til tomorrow, probably late morning.

We now have more than 10 solid entries; though several are multiple entries from the same folks; so I figure a few more hours will give the stragglers some time to.. umm... straggle.

Til then, keep'em coming folks. I'm loving all of them.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I Am the Universes Plaything

Murphy hates me, personally.

Always has.

Something about all the times he's tried to kill me and failed I think.

At any rate, life has been complicated the last few days.

Immediately after taking most of my free cash and paying down debt; the universe decided to say "Hah" to me.

More to come tomorrow.

A Legendary Gun Dealer Passes


Marty Mandall died this morning. He was 81.

Marty got out of the army, and started in the gun business in the 60s, back in his native Brooklyn. In 1974 he lifted his business whole, and moved it to old town Scottsdale; one of the first big gun stores in the area, and the only one in Old Town.

I knew Marty pretty well, and he was a character. I was a Mandalls customer, then a friend of the family, then an employee.

I helped shut the store down in 2004; in one of the biggest auctions of class III and rare and unusual firearms in years... of course it was also one of the biggest collections of cheap pre'68 European pocket pistols ever as well...

... because that was Marty Mandall.

Marty really was a legend... for both good and bad reasons. As a business owner he was a disaster. Marty was, to put it gently, nuts. He mostly hired fellow nutjobs and malcontents to work there.

He had a casual disregard for safety, accounting, record keeping, following the rules in general.

He also loved life. Every minute.

Marty would cheat you. Straight up. He wasn't exactly greedy, and there wasn't any malice in it... it wasn't even about the money; it's just that he thought of the whole thing as a game. As far as he was concerned if he skinned you raw, it's because you didn't play the game well enough.

On the other hand, if you did, you could get some spectacular deals (and I did).

Marty ran the shop more as his own private collection than as a business. On the guns that he particularly liked, he would set the prices so high that no-one would want to pay them, so he could just keep the thing, stare at it and fondle it.

Either that, or he'd buy 10, or 20, or 50 of the things; without regard as to whether he could sell them or not.

When we shut the shop down, we had over 200 $2000 plus Hammerli target pistols. In fact, for years, Marty was Hammerlis only importer in the united states; and was their number one dealer all through the 70s and most of the 80s.

In direct contrast to his other business practices, he donated a bunch of pistols to olympic shooting clubs, and jr. marksmanship teams.

A friend of mine is a former IDF sniper. He came to the U.S. in the mid 70s with his American wife; and they had no place to live. Marty put them up for a few months while they got their feet under them.

Marty donated a great deal of money and goods to support Israel; something most people never knew.

He would buy the absolute craziest things. When we cleaned out the store to get ready for the auction, we found hundreds of pairs of rubber waders... as in wade into a river waders. Thousands of left handed holsters. Hundreds of GI 1911 hammers in their original packaging.

In the same case, we had $3000 swarovski scopes, and $30 swift ones.

We had dozens of these $3,000 swiss target rifles. Marty loved 'em but we only ever sold one in the entire history of the store.

He bought dozens of these special editions, collectors editions, commemorative editions; some worth thousands, some worth... basically nothing.

On the other side of things, he bought dozens of these truly awful Turkish shotguns, which were only good as wall hangers.

He loved gold plated pimp guns.

He loved screwing with peoples minds.

He loved dirty jokes, and bad puns, and single entendre, and slapstick.

He had rather severe obsessive compulsive disorder; but hid it from everyone until it got out of hand toward the end of his life. It was the driving force behind his collecting mania, and yes it was a mania (hundreds of rubber waders remember)

Marty was one of the last of the breed... for good or ill; and the world is poorer for this loss.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Philippes Hot Mustard


Let me just tell you right off, this is the best hot mustard I've ever had. Given that I am a hot mustard fanatic, and have had hundreds of different kinds around the world; I might venture to say it is the best hot mustard in the world.

Imagine Chinese hot black mustard (it's not black when it's prepared, but the outer husk of the seeds are), mixed with a really good dijon, a little bit of Colemans English, a little bit of creamy hot horseradish, and a little bit of McDonalds hot mustard sauce...

..and that's almost the flavor of Philippes, but about half as good.

It tastes pretty good on the finger, but you can't really get the true sense of the flavor until you put it on something juicy and a little fatty, like some sausage or really good roast beef; or a fresh hot pan seared piece of chicken.

A little dab of Philippes on that, and you're in heaven.

Or one of my favorites, spread it on some nice soft bread with a good crust, and toast some sharply flavored cheese on top of it. No meat necessary, though a bit of ham, bacon, chicken, or roast beef wouldn't go amiss either.

There is no fatty unguence Philippes cannot cut through, and enhance; though I would say, if you are of a delicate pallette, perhaps it is not for you.

Similarly, I dont think I'd put this on a delicate piece of fish; as it would completely obliterate the subtle flavor.

Seared tuna though? Absolutely. I'd mix it with my wasabi and soy sauce.

You can get your own here: Philippes the Original

If you like mustard, and hot stuff, you really should.

Patrick Day 2009

I have repeated my basic statements on this day for the last few years, and since it's still what I want people to know about today, and what I want to say about today; I see no reason to change the practice this year.

Again repeating the tradition of announcing our meal, todays meal is going to be mustard and thyme glazed roast corned beef, with fresh sweet corn, mashed potatoes, and fresh home made soda bread.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Nations
I love my country and my country
my states and my counties
of purple mountains and four green fields
of pigskin and patriot games
of Stars and stripes and green and white
of micks and taigs
of my mother and my father
One world, and another

I am a genuine Irish American; so much as anyone can be said to be so.

Not some guy who's grandmother on my mothers fathers side stopped in limerick on the way over from France; I’m born to an Irish father and American mother, lived in Ireland for years, and moved there permanently after I got out of the AF. I only came back to the U.S. a couple years ago because my mom was sick (still is, but she's stable).

Today is the feast day of Saint Patrick.

While in theory Ireland’s most important holiday is St. Patricks day; in Ireland, the only people "celebrating" Patrick day (it's usually not called St. Patricks day) with wild partying, are the tourists (well... and the college students, but they'll celebrate the opening of a door with wild partying so...). Everyone else is home relaxing for the day off; or if they're still pious, off in church.

To Americans, it's a drunkards day, but to the Irish.. or at least to those who still give a damn about Ireland, and what it means to be Irish; its significance is something like independence day, memorial day, and thanksgiving combined; though that doesn't exactly capture it. It's a religious holiday AND a national holiday, and one of the strongest worldwide symbols of Ireland there is.

For a long time it was illegal to celebrate Patrick day; and the conspicuous display of green on this day could see one arrested. It was considered raising rebellion against the crown... something my family has a long history of really (look it up, fascinating stuff).

The celebration of this day is a very strong reminder to those who care about being Irish, what that means today, and what it has meant for the past 600 years.

Lest anyone think by these statements that I'm a supporter of the IRA, let me just say ohh ah FUCK THE RA. It isn't 1921 anymore, and those bastards have done more damage in the last 30 years than I can describe.

What most don't realize, or even even hear of; is that the IRA (and Sinn Fein the theoretical peaceful political component) are a Marxist organization. Yes they want a united Ireland; but they want it to be a socialist workers paradise like Cuba.

Yeah I think you all know how I feel about that.

Of course the other thing most don't know is, that since the late '80s most of the violence has been initiated on the protestant side.

The so called loyalists, and "protective associations" and other pathetic excuses for extortion gangs look at sectarianism as an ideal cover for their real goal; the control of the criminal underground of Northern Ireland.

If you want to know what someones opinion of it is, you don't need ask; just listen to what they call it.

If it's "The Cause", then they'll be singing "Boys of the Old Brigade" tonight. "The Struggle" is for those who march in orange down the Shankill road. The rest of us just call it "the troubles", and wish the lot of them to hell where they belong.

The worst part? At this point, The Irish don't want the north, and neither do the British. It's a gigantic welfare drag, with 20% or more unemployment, massive dole roles, and infrastructure costs that can't reasonably be borne... overall just a giant mess.

If you held a vote in all of Ireland today whether to unify the country, maybe half of the northerners would say yes, and probably three quarters of those in the republic would say HELL NO WE DON'T WANT YA.

Which is a damn shame, because the Irish SHOULD be one nation, and one people. Even the English seem to accept that now; they just can't figure out how to extricate themselves from the situation while still doing right by her majesties subjects in the north counties AND saving face for the last 87 years (some would say the last 839 years) of cockups.

So I think you can see why on this day, I find the singing of "rebel" songs to be a bit angering.

Now in honor of all the phony Irish assholes, and real Irish scumbags singing "The Men Behind the Wire" and "The boys of the old Brigade" in bars all over Ireland, Boston, New York, and Chicago...

FUCK YOU!!!!

The Patriot Game

Come all you young rebels, and list while I sing,
For the love of one's country is a terrible thing.
It banishes fear with the speed of a flame,
And it makes us all part of the patriot game.

My name is O'Hanlon, and I'm just gone sixteen.
My home is in Monaghan, where I was weaned.,
I learned all my life cruel England to blame,
And so I'm a part of the patriot game.

It's barely two years since I wandered away
With the local battalion of the bold IRA,
I'd read of our heroes, and I wanted the same
To play out my part in the patriot game.

This island of ours has for long been half free.
Six counties are under John Bull's tyranny.
So I gave up my Bible, to drill and to train
To play my own part in the patriot game.

And now as I lie here, my body all holes
I think of those traitors who bargained and sold.
I wish that my rifle had given the same
To those quislings who sold out the patriot game.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Trying out the Ubuntu Netbook Remix

Well, after a couple weeks of messing about with it, the wife and I both decided we really hated the limited version of Linux ASUS includes with the Eee.

Of course, being a linux based device, there are a lot of options to remedy the situation; and as a long term Kubuntu/Ubuntu user (I don't care for gnome; but the new KDE is horrible) I looked there first.

It turns out, the Ubuntu project has an official semi-distro that they call a "remix" (because a remix isn't really a fully different distro or even version, it's just got a lot less packages, and a few extra specific to a particular task) just for netbooks (and another for mini/micro-notebooks and another for UMPCs).

I tried doing a default install last night, but ran into the major problem with the 2G surf; the storage size limit.

THe default distro wants 1.87 gigs to install; and it will install on the 1.9 gig (formated capacity) SSD in the 2g, but it is very tight and behaves weirdly.

So I re-ran the install and used one of those lovely and powerful tools that UNIX like operating systems let you use; and I put nothing but the root filesystem on the internal SSD; moving /usr /home and /opt to the 16gb class 6 sd card I've got installed in the thing as it's secondary storage.

Yes, there is a risk there in that; if someone pulls the card out, then half the software is missing; but I don't plan on leaving it thagt way for long.

The next step is to completely strip out any unnecessary junk from the distro (and at nearly 2 gigs for the install, I'm sure I can find plenty).

Then, again, because it's a UNIXlike operating system, I can just copy whatever files are left on the second drive back onto the first drive into the same tree structure with different names, unmount the filesystems on the second drive, rename the directories I copied the files into back to what those filesystems were named, and reboot.

Try and change the "program files" directory on windows and see what happens.

This should be an interesting test if nothing else.

Extending the blog contest through wednesday

Alright guys, because we haven't had enough entries, and because I DID post it on a Friday and my traffic drops to non existent on Fridays and weekends; I'm extending the Blog Contest, either through Wednesday noon, or until we get 10 solid entries, whichever comes LAST; but no later than Thursday noon.

I've had a bunch of stories emailed to me privately with guys saying "I don't think I want to post this" etc... etc...

Guys, I appreciate your dilligence and concern, but it's not hard to sanitize a story, and note that the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

These are some funny stories people are sending me; and they aren't adding any additional security risk to these situations, nor are you violating any law, oath, confidence or trust in sharing them (presuming you clean'em up a bit as I said).

Also, I hate to say this, but the people trying to penetrate security ALREADY KNOW about your vulnerabilities.

Sadly, it's the people trying to keep things secure who are blind to them, which is why they still exist. It's been proven time and time again that it's better for a vulnerability to become widely know so it can be fixed, than buried and not fixed (which is what usually happens).

OK, so once again, the rules of the game:
  1. Submissions accepted as comments to this post, from now through Wednesday morning at 11:59 AM, or until we recieve 10 solid entries, which happens last (but no later than Thursday at 11:59).

  2. At 12:01 I will pick what I think are the top five posts if we get ten or more, or top ten if we get 20 or more. I will them put them up for a vote to the readers of this blog, open from the time I post the stories, until 5pm the following day (at which time I will also be posting a review of Dr. Paglens book).

  3. Entries will consist of one each of the following:

    a. Your best, funniest, most interesting, or scariest (from a security perspective) patch, flash, sign, symbol, or insignia story; preferably with a pic, but at least with a very clear description and detailed story.

    b. Your best, funniest, most interesting, stupidest, or scariest (from a security perspective) security story. It can be infosec, comsec, psec, prosec, opsec, doesn't matter.

  4. Stories do not have to be military or governmental in nature; though I suspect most of the best and funniest will be (governments are even better at absurdity than big corporations), so make it good

  5. Multiple entries from a single individual will be accepted; and if the stories are good, are in fact encouraged.

  6. All entries must be true and correct to the best of your knowledge (notice the out I gave you there).

  7. First hand stories are preferred, and will be given more credit; but a sufficiently good second or third hand story will certainly be considered.

  8. (I'd like to think this one would be obvious, but you'd be amazed... or maybe not) All entries should be either declassified, or sanitized sufficiently to avoid compromise; or in the case of non-military security stories to avoid compromise or disclosure of private or confidential (or higher) information.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Celebrating Linux's 15th birthday

The wife and I are celebrating the anniversary of Linux, by watching "RevolutionOS", streaming from Netflix to our TiVo.

I installed Linux for the first time back in 1994.

I installed Slackware release 1.1.2 off of, I believe it was, 24 floppies; the day after I managed to actually get it downloaded (it took me about a week from the release date of February 5th)... and another two weeks to actually make it work.

Early Linux distributions were very much hackerware. The Slackware distro I was using wasn't even on a fully released kernel; Linux was still on beta 0.9.

About a month later, on March 14th, 1994, Linus Torvalds officially released the Linux kernel 1.0.0.

That would be 15 years ago today.

Honestly, I found the first couple Linux distros I tried to be barely usable; so I went back to using a BSD variant.

I needed a UNIX or UNIX like OS at home, because in work, and college, I was using a half dozen different commercial UNIX plaforms, and I REALLY needed the compatible tools, and the power of a UNIX like OS.

At the time, I had different software I was using running on SunOS, HP-UX, AIX, Digital UNIX/Tru-64 (or whatever they were calling it that day... I think it was OSF/1 at the time... or it may still have been Ultrix. In remember we made a big change around that time, but I cant remember from what to what), and Irix (yes, at the time I was using all those different variants. Yes, it was a pain in the ass).

Then RedHat 2 came out in 1995, along with the Apache web server, the MySQL database, the PHP scripting language and Perl 5 (which actually hit at the end of '94).

That combination, now conventionally referred to as LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) completely changed the world. From RedHat 2 on, the adoption curve and software tools availability of Linux just went through the roof.

Pretty soon, although the tools werent necessarily of the same quality as I could get on the commercial distributions of UNIX; I could get all the tools I needed to do what I needed to do, and I could get almost all of them for free.

Since that time (14 years ago), I have never been without a computer running linux (even if it was just a dualboot or virtual machine).

The first thing I do with any new machine I buy, is find some way to install Linux on it; whether it be natively solo, native with dual boot, or through virtual machine. I simply will not have a computer without linux tools available to me.

Even on locked down work machines, if they don't have them already, I make sure I have a live VM available that I can run my linux tools on; because I simply cannot do my job without real UNIX tools.

Hell, even my wife uses Linux. She's not even a geek (in the conventional sense), and she much prefers Linux to windows.

I'm typing this post right now on a machine running the Ubuntu 8.10 Linux distribution, which is a perfect example of how the Linux open source model works.

Ubuntu, is a distribution built on the foundation of another distribution, Debian. My installation is currently running on Linux Kernel 2.6.27-13, which was released last month; but kernel 2.6 has been in stable release since Devember 2005.

Literally tens of thousands of developers have worked on this system, basically for free (though often their employers were paying them to do so); and all of it was shared between these companies and groups, to make it work on my laptop today.

When I first tried to install this revision of this distribution a few months ago, I had problems with the sound and video drivers, and the wireless networking drivers (a not uncommon issue with laptops).

Just in that few months, dozens or hundreds of developers worked on those drivers and applications supporting my sound, video, and networking hardware; and once I finished installing and patching three days ago, all those problems were simply solved.

It just WORKED.

I installed it three days ago, replacing the windows 7 install I had on this computer (which I discovered has major bugs relating to network file transfers) entirely for free. The hundreds of programs I have installed on this system to support me, also all entirely free.

How did computer people live without these tools before Linux and GNU?

I don't really know; because from the very first fully networked comptuer I was ever on (in the early 80s, actually connected to MIT. I'm not counting my C64 on compuserve) I've had access to these indispensible GNU (and other free software) tools.

I have never had to do any serious computing work, without having access to serious, quality, free software tools (except in some secured environments). I have Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds to thank for that.

Oh and remember I said up above I was watching RevolutionOS on my Tivo? Well, I was very specific about that, because my TiVo runs on linux too.

So does the router it's getting it's network feed from, and the firewall in front of that... and probably the servers they are streaming the video FROM back at Netflixes datacenters...

...though paradoxically, because of microsoft pushed DRM, they won't let me stream that same video directly to my laptop running Linux; though I can to my Mac media server, my apple tv with boxee, and my windows boxes.

It's an amazing world we live in.

Why Ride?



When you get hit, and fly through the air like that, it's called ragdolling... because you look like a ragdoll as you fly.

It isn't as bad as it looks; but how it looks could only possibly be worse by being lit on fire, or dropping into a vat of acid, so that's not much consolation.

Kevin Baker linked to that video above, with the comment:

"I get the urge to buy a motorcycle once or twice a year.

I go lay down until the urge goes away".
I've been riding for 28 years, and 17 years (legally) on the street.

The first bike I ever rode for my self was a little Honda ATC 70 (all pics taken from bikepics.com) that a family friend owned:


A few years later, I graduated to a 1979 Honda XR80, that I personally rebuilt (with some help, but less than you'd think) from a box of parts that had been given to me:


As it turns out the "bike from a box of parts" thing would become a recurring theme in my life.

I had several more small dirt bikes and mini bikes for the next few years; all of which I acquired as busted junk, and fixed myself. I taught myself how to be a mechanic on cheap little motorcycles and minibikes (and the occasional go-kart).

The very first "street bike" I owned wasn't even a motorcycle at all; it was a 1978 Puch VS50. I was 13, and again, it came to me as a box of parts formerly owned by my aunt, handed down to my youngest uncle, then left in a garage for 10 years (looked just like this one, but not as nice):

Once I got it running, I traded it for another BOP bike; a 1986 Honda Spree 50 scooter, in red, identical to this one:

Which I proceeded to get running, and trade up for an '85 Honda elite 250 that wasn't quite as much of a basket case as the Spree had been:


All this was long before I had a drivers license; but long after I'd started working. It was done with my own money, nothing given to me... Except the occasional birthday or Christmas gift of course. One birthday I got a new coil and regulator for the Spree, and I was thrilled.

Meanwhile, I was still offroading. On the dirtbike side of things, I eventually worked my way up to a '90 Kawasaki KDX250 (the pic is a '91 though. I couldn't find a decent pic of a '90).

The KDX was the first bike I ever paid more than $500 up front for. It was $1500 in three instalments, plus my scooter (I was making from $200 to $400 a week at the time working a couple different jobs):


In some states the KDX is street legal, though not in Massachusetts. The cops in rural northern New Hampshire never seemed to care much though...

By that time however, I'd actually figured out that I liked quads better for offroading. When I was 13, I managed to scrape up $500 for a thrashed '86 Suzuki Quadracer 250, with blue nerfbars:


Christ, I though I was Gary Denton. I even had the Hoosier holeshots (but not those magnificent Mr. Ed teeth. Jesus christ Denton was a horseface).

Then when I was 16 I got my license, legally bought and drove a car, and acquired my holy grail of offroading (which cost me the KDX, the Quadracer, and a bucket of cash):


A Yamaha Banshee 350 (with DG bumpers and nerf bars like that one)... and man did I trick that thing out. By the time I was done with it, if it weren't for the ridiculous air resistance, it would've done a flat hundred easy.

I also acquired another BOP bike, a 1981 CB750 (mine was red with gold pinstriping) for the princely sum of $700:

Which I suppose you could say was my first real honest to god street bike.

The only problem was, I couldn't get insurance for it (what company is going to insure a 16 year old on a 750)... so I drove it illegally anyway.

Yes I know. Bad Chris.

It was the first non-aircraft vehicle that I managed to do over 100 miles an hour with while I was in control (though I had cars up to that speed and beyond shortly thereafter); and I estimated a top speed of 130 (the speedo was useless over 100).

A few months later I started my great American and world tour; leaving home for college (I graduated HS at 16), and then the AIr Force; and I sold all my bikes.

I didn't have a bike for about a year and a half; then my room mate at the time crashed my car, and his insurance wouldn't pay, and my insurance wouldn't pay (some technicality about his license, and towing a trailer) so to partially
compensate, he gave me his '86 Honda V65 Magna 1100:


HOLY CHRIST that was a powerful bike.

Of course by the time I got a hold of it, it had seen better days (it was about 9 HARD years old at the time, and had more than 60,000 miles); but fresh from the factory it had 115hp, and could pull an 11 second 1/4 mile.

I could pick up the front wheel all the way up through 4th and I would guess the top speed was still over 130 when I got it (again, the speedo didn't accurately measure anything beyond 100).

Man I had a lot of fun with that bike. Highway 89a from Wickenberg up to the Canyon... it has to be ridden on a powerful but agile bike to be understood. It's absolutely unbelievable.

I would sometimes leave around 5, make the 90 miles from Prescott to Phoenix in under an hour (to see my girlfriend for a few hours) then blast the 90 miles back in under an hour again, to be back by around 2am.

Unfortunately, about a year after I got it, I laid it down. There was some wet sand in a corner, and I slid; and knowing I was going to high side if I didn't, I dumped it and rolled off. The thing slammed into a Joshua tree at 70, and pushed the front brake disks into the crank case.

That was the last bike I owned for myself; though I've rented, borrowed, had companies pay for (while I was living in Europe) and otherwise ridden many others since. I've crossed rivers and blasted through deserts on quads, cruised 1000 miles on a BMW sport tourer, and hit 176mph on a public road with a GSXR1100 (yes, I was VERY VERY STUPID).

I love riding, and I love the machines you ride on. I think the love of them both is intertwined, and in my case can't be separated. One adds to the enjoyment of the other intrinsically.

Is motorcycling dangerous?

Well, that answer is relative. In the U.S. it's between 2 and 5 times more dangerous in terms of injuries than driving a car an equal number of miles; but in terms of number of deaths and serious injuries, it's less dangerous than say, swimming.

In the last 20 years of street riding (including mopeds, and illegally riding in the street before I had a license), I've laid it down in the street twice (both environmental), and been clipped once ("Oh god, I just didn't see you"). By the grace of god, no serious injuries resulted from any of them.

I've actually had far more serious injuries dirt riding than I have on the street (nature of the beast. You don't get 30 feet of air off slippery dirt on the street).

Around the world, there are actually something like two times as many motorcyclists as car drivers; and over all they have a considerably lower accident rate. The problem is, motorcycle accidents are FAR more likely to result in death or serious injuries (again, nature of the beast. Not having a two ton.. or more likely three ton these days... steel cage around you when you hit something is a considerable disadvantage).

The question is, for you personally, is the increased risk of death of serious injury worth the increased fun, sense of freedom, increased manoeuvrability and speed, reduced cost of transportation, and other advantages of a motorcycle?

For me personally, it is; and though I don't have a bike now, it's one of the first things on the list for when we get out from under the legal bills.

Motorcycling combines recreation and stress relief with transportation. On a bike, the journey is at least as much a part of the experience as the destination.

When I'm riding, I'm reducing my stress level. That alone is worth the increased risk; never mind the fun, and the high speed, high MPG transport.

...Of course this is also coming from someone who finds the most effective stress reduction comes from things that almost, but not quite, kill you.