Thursday, February 19, 2015

I did it for SCIENCE!

Here at the ol' Patio Boat we firmly support science in the search of truth, no matter how difficult and arduous the process. And so, as a service to you, gentle reader, I conducted a grueling and difficult experiment Sunday night while Monique and I watched the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special.

THEORY: It's freaking cold out! I'll bet I could freeze a beer lickety split.

EXPERIMENT: Six room temperature Sierra-Nevada Pale Ales (ABV 5.6%) were placed out on our porch. By pouring them into a glass at intervals and measuring the temperature of the beer, I hope to establish the rate at which I can make a beercicle when it's freaking cold out.

(Rest assured, each beer was disposed of promptly and humanely after its temperature was measured. Here at the Patio Boat we temper our thirst for science with the milk of human kindness.)


Starting temperature of beer, which had been sitting on our living-room floor: 63 degrees. (It had gotten a wee bit chilly inside the house, too!)

Outdoor temperature: -5.7° F at the start of the experiment at 9:47 pm. -8.0° F at the conclusion, 70 minutes later.


Minutes Beer Temp Outside Temp
0 63 -5.7
13 53 -6.2
33 42 -6.7
50 32 -7.1
57 28 -7.5
70 28 -8

Note: Beers were measured at 0, 13, 33, 50, and 70 minutes. The 57-minute mark was interpolated once the temperature of phase change was established at 28° F.

CONCLUSION: It was freaking cold out Sunday night! Cold enough to freeze a tasty Sierra-Nevada Pale Ale in less than hour.

PUBLIC-SERVICE WARNING #1: Please do not try this experiment at home ... unless you, too, are willing to promptly and humanely dispose of several tasty Sierra-Nevada Pale Ales.

PUBLIC-SERVICE WARNING #2: If you choose to use Nature's Cooler to chill your adult beverages this winter, you'd better keep a sharp eye on them once the temperature drops below zero! Really, it's probably just best to drink them with little delay, just for safety's sake.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Big Problems

Maybe it's the Presidents Day weekend, but I was thinking about the really big problems in our country and the world as I drove in to work today. Nearly ten years ago I decided to focus my political energy on my village. I saw a lot happening in the world, our country, and our state that I didn't like. But I didn't think I was in a position to change any of it.

However, I did think I could make a real difference in my own community. I like to think that's worked out pretty well. "Think global and act local," you know? It's pretty good advice if you'd like to accomplish some things.

I spend most of my time in politics worrying about relatively small stuff: zoning ordinances, budget details, neighbor disputes, special assessment districts, pathway expansions and even how we mow our parks. When I talk politics and mention "goose eggs" I'm not talking about zeroes. I'm talking about literal goose eggs, laid by geese in nests.

All that small stuff adds up to a big thing in one small place: making our village a better place to live.

It's also cool because I like the small stuff and seem to have more patience for it than a lot of other folks. (Believe me, local municipal governance involves no small portion of patience!) I like seeing things before me that I can fix or at least improve a bit.

But even though I like the small stuff, I sometimes despair when I look at the utter load of insider baseball and irrelevant crap upon which our national media and political process constantly fixates. And even when the big problems come up, it's usually as a source of much sound and fury preceding an arcane tactical battle for political advantage on an unrelated but more immediate topic, usually one of great financial interest to one or another special interests. (Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Keystone Pipeline.)

I wonder sometimes if it's not so much a conscious decision as it is a carnival fun-house reflection of my own choice to work on small stuff. The big stuff is too scary and hard, so everybody at every level chases down stuff they actually can fix. Plus, there are very few "silver bullet" solutions even for small problems. The truly big stuff is complex and takes a huge amount of work and political will to impact. I've spent my last decade working on smaller things I know I can improve, and even that takes pretty much all my available effort.

Maybe my finger-pointing should include a finger pointed at myself, too. I dunno. I like to think what I've done has helped a bit in the big picture, but I also know that there are some enormous problems that don't seem to get nearly enough constructive effort.

I thought I'd list a few of the ones that came to mind as I drove in to work this morning, just for ... well, probably just to depress myself on a Friday. Let's see what's out there.

1) The Environment, in three parts:

   a. The Great Extinction -- We are in the midst of one of the five largest extinction events in history. The other four were natural disasters (asteroid strikes and volcanoes, or so it seems.) This one is a man-made disaster caused by human predation, invasive species, pollution, global warming, and habitat loss.

   b.  Global Warming -- It's real. It's man-made. And putting 1/3 of Florida and much of the Atlantic seaboard under water will cost considerably more than reducing greenhouse gas emissions now. Yet, for all the noise around this one (at least it's not getting ignored!) the little that has been done to forestall it is vastly inadequate.

   c. The Toxic Soup -- Speaking of complex and difficult ... man-made chemicals, heavy metals, and other pollutants have proliferated everywhere over the last 75 years. Many of these substances are known carcinogens or causes of birth defects and developmental disorders. Many of them will be here long after us. In cases in which we do understand their effects we have studied those effects on the single substance by itself, not the cumulative "stacking" effect with all the other ingredients of our daily toxic soup.

2) Growing inequality and the erosion of the middle class -- Most of this country is growing poorer while an extremely small number of people are growing much, much wealthier. That's not just wrong. It's bad for the long-term health of our country. And yet the political will to do anything about it doesn't exist. The left wing scapegoats the wealthy, the right wing scapegoats the poor, and the incumbents of both parties seem to have little incentive to do anything about this worsening situation, possibly because of...

3) The decline of our democracy -- Political disenfranchisement via gerrymandering, campaign financing, restrictive voting laws, etc. has created a growing sense that our democracy is broken and unresponsive.

4) World Peace? -- Eh, that one may be too big even for this list. I sure wish I could figure out how to fix it, though. Even a small bit of it. I've grown awfully tired of the endless carnage that greets me each day in the international section of every newspaper.

I'm sure there's plenty of other big, awful stuff to think about out there. But I reckon that list is enough for one Friday evening. It's no wonder even a guy as rich as Bill Gates decided to focus a big chunk of his fortunate on something concise like "clean drinking water." You just can't fix it all.

But you know what I can fix on a Friday evening? I can fix myself a martini. That'll have to do for today.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Super Bowl snowstorm

Detroit suffered a double blow on Super Bowl Sunday:

1) The Detroit Lions spent their 49th consecutive year as Super Bowl spectators. Sigh.

2) We got 16.7 inches of snow, the 3rd-largest single-storm in Detroit history.

For the most part we spent our Super Bowl huddled inside, watching the Super Bowl and celebrating Brigitte's birthday.

Even the electric reindeer showed up to pay his respects.

But on Monday, it was time to pay the piper. The next morning dawned cold and crisp: six degrees and not a cloud in the sky.

Snow drifts washed across the lake like waves, piling up on the island.

With the ground buried deep in snow the local birds enjoyed a breakfast feast at our feeder.

Out by the street the roads were plowed but the cars were buried. Several of our neighbors had already chipped away at the mess (Thank you!!!) but there was still plenty more snow left to shovel.

The well plowed roads of Wolverine Lake. As village president the number-one complaint that I get about our plowing is that it fools people into thinking the roads elsewhere are equally passable.

They weren't.

You could drive around Wolverine Lake just fine, but school was cancelled all over Michigan on this Monday. and even on Tuesday in a lot of districts, including our own. Kudos to our DPW for once again being ahead of our surrounding communities.

Of course, the clean roads did us no good at all, since our cars were entirely buried in the driveway:

It was time to get to work. Arsen and Monique cleared a path to Arsen's garage where -- miracle of miracles! the new snowblower that he bought last week was ready to serve. This was the most timely purchase of the decade!

Meanwhile, in our own driveway progress was a bit slower.

Notice between the garages. Our neighbor Wendy is making her way out by climbing over the snow drift and over to the wee path out our driveway.

Eventually, the snowblower made its way to our side of the street.

Our poor little Christmas reindeer were already buried before we started to clear the drive.

And afterwards? Hopeless!

Our mailboxes were free!

As was our driveway:

The final result. Hurrah! Freedom for our motor vehicle fleet!

One final task remained, clearing the snow from our porch:

In defense of my attire, it had warmed up to a balmy eleven degrees.

That evening, as we all enjoyed a well earned rest and recovery, the last few rays of the sunset cast a pink light on the snowy lake:

And to the East? Moonrise!

All in all, a proper snowstorm properly cleaned up.

But that was enough for this winter, thank you. We're now ready to go down to the Virgin Islands in a couple of weeks. Please! Oh, please!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Detroit Auto Show: what didn't catch our eye. Alas, the Jaguars....

Okay, so in my final post on this year's Detroit Auto Show let's talk about the elephant in the room ... er, make that the big cat in the room. The blandest looking set of cars at the entire show may have been the Jaguars.

As a newly minted Jaguar owner, it was a bit soul-crushing.

It was as if we stumbled across a batch of Volvos that somebody had accidentally dulled down then mis-badged.

"Look, Ma! Is that from Sweden? It looks boxy, but safe!"

I'm not kidding. Here's a randomly selected photo of a Volvo sedan, a 2011 Volvo S40:

Someday far in the future when mankind tries to pinpoint the exact day when the decline and fall of Western civilization became irreversible, some future historian will select the day on which it became difficult to tell the difference between a Jaguar and a 2011 Volvo sedan.

It didn't help that Jaguar chose a batch of charcoal grey cars for their display, either. It's as if there was a committee meeting in preparation for the auto show in which they took a vote based on the premise, "What's the dullest color we can display this year?"

Trying to put a brave face on it. In all fairness, the seat was pretty cushy.

Jaguar's design dull-down is something I'd noticed the last few years. But I'd never taken a direct interest in it before. However, now I need Jaguar to survive so that I can occasionally hand gobs of money over to the Jaguar dealership to do some things that only the Jaguar dealer can really do properly. (Like paying a couple hundred bucks for a spare key. Really. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not.)

Of more interest to the current Jaguar company, now that I'm in your sphere you've already spent a lot of money this year trying to convince me to "upgrade" to a new Jaguar. And I could potentially be interested. But as the recent purchaser of an older Jag ("Big Smoky", my 1999 XJ Vanden Plas Supercharged saloon) here's what I need you to understand. I bought it and will keep it because it drives like supercharged butter. But I went to go look at it because it looks freaking great:

Departing for the Dream Cruise in my dream car.

How great does it look? It looks so great that I'll keep it even though an oil leak forced me to nickname it "Big Smoky!" Take another look at the snoozefest sedan. This is allegedly also a Jaguar XJ:

(Hey, gentle reader, WAKE UP! WAKE UP! Sorry, your nap was my fault for inflicting this dull, dull photo on you again.)

I'm not going to get into the corporate history of Jaguar's change in design language. But I am going to desperately ask them to return two words to that design language: "swoopy" and "sexy". Need an example? Here are a few photos I've taken of older Jaguars in the last couple of years. This is what a Jaguar used to be:

Jaguar XK140.

Jaguar XKSS.

Jaguar XKE roadster.

Jaguar XKE coupe.

This car looks so flippin' cool that it put a smile on my face even though I didn't really fit in it very well. Yes, it's true. If I ever get an XKE coupe it'll probably have to be a 2+2, not the smaller one. On the other hand, the 2+2 coupes look damn cool, too:

Jaguar XKE 2+2 coupe.

Look, it's not as if Jaguar never faced design criticism before. Every design since the E-Type has met with criticism of one sort or another. But they all still looked like Jaguars, not freaking Volvos.

Jaguar XJ-C coupe. Criminy. It's a brown mid-70s hardtop and it still looks freaking great.

Probably the most criticized car in Jaguar history was the XJS line that replaced the XKEs.

But one look and you knew it was a Jaguar:

Jaguar XJS coupe.

Jaguar XJS roadster.

And Jaguar used to know how to capture that heritage in updated designs. The XJ series that ran from 1994 to 2009 was a really nice update of the classic XJ design of the 70s and 80s:

Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas (left) and XJ6 (right).

Here's something else I learned this year after buying Big Smoky. A great-looking car holds up well in front of great scenery. Could I have taken these photos with a Volvo? I think not.

Big Smoky in the Badlands.

Big Smoky in front of the Grand Tetons.

There is one tiny glimmer of hope.

The new F-Type Coupe looks really sweet. Here was one parked among the E-Types at this year's Battle of the Brits. It didn't look out of place. Really. That's the biggest challenge possible and it passed. It is still possible to make a good looking car in 2015.

And guess what? The F-Type is the one Jaguar model that's selling well in North America in 2015.

Coincidence? I think not.

So, get off your butt, Tata Motors. It's time to make Jaguars that look like Jaguars.

Supposedly Jaguar founder Sir Williams Lyons designed Jaguars by sitting in his garden for inspiration. Go find whoever designed the F-Type, sit him in Sir Williams Lyons' garden, and put him to work on the rest of the line.

I understand that design changes don't happen overnight. But I really don't want to see this at the 2020 Detroit Auto Show:

Honest to Pete, after looking at the current crop of Jaguars I had to go into our garage when we got home just to cleanse the palate.

Big Smoky, was it just a bad dream?

Big Smoky slumbers on, hunkered down for the Michigan winter and only venturing outside on dry, salt-free days.

Oh, and as long as I'm beefing, bring back The Leaper:

Yeah, yeah, I know. It's not aerodynamic and European Union pedestrian safety rules now require.... blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

It took Rolls-Royce about ten seconds to realize that if it wanted to keep its incredibly iconic Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament it would need to make one that popped up on demand when you were parked. Would it really be that hard for Jaguar to do the same with its own iconic hood ornament, even if its just a ridiculous option?

Does nobody in Coventry, England, remember what branding is all about?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Detroit Auto Show: the other stuff that caught our eye

Since the 2015 Detroit Auto Show itself is now in our rear-view mirror, it's time to wrap up our photo visit with Monique and me with a quick look at the rest of what caught our eye this year.

The Toyota FT-1 concept car. Dang, this thing looks sleek.

Porsche Panamera. Yeah, half a dozen Porsches and the one that really captured us this year was the four-door hatchback. What can I say? We thought it looks great.

Also from Germany, the VW Beetle is still cute as the Dickens after all these years:

Like most convertibles the VW Beetle looks better with a smokin' hot model in the passenger seat.

Mini brought a very cool concept car of their own to this year's show:

The Mini Superleggera Vision. I can't help loving the useless single tailfin down the middle. But even aside from that detail this car just looked great.

Alfa Romeo brought a strong display this year, featuring their return to North America with the 4C:

Alfa-Romeo 4C Spyder

Alfa-Romeo 4C

And, heck, have a few bonus photos of antique Alfas while we're at it:

Much to our surprise one of this year's hands-down best looking concept cars came in the form of a full-size Buick sedan:

The Buick Avenir. This car was long and lean and looked as if it was going 90 mph just standing there on the turntable. Really, the picture doesn't do it justice. If they built this car I could honestly be tempted and the last thing I need in all the world is a full-size Buick sedan. That's how great this car looked.

This might look like another concept sports car, but it is in fact the production version of the new Acura NSX. The NSX is a hybrid-powered supercar built in the US. It's full of all sorts of supercar goodies and will sticker somewhere around $150K. I look forward to seeing how the Stig does with it on the Top Gear test track.

You might think this is Monique behind the wheel of an Acura NSX...

... but in fact she's behind the wheel of a Cadillac ELR, Cadillac's plug-in hybrid coupe, which is based on the Chevy Volt and has a 30 mph all-electric range before the gas range extender kicks in. To be honest, the ELR didn't really make our hearts go pit-a-pat, but if GM wants to compete with Tesla for California's luxury-car commuters, this is probably the car to do it.

Speaking of Tesla...

Monique sits behind the wheel of an all-electric Tesla Model S: 0-to-60 in 3.2 seconds, up to 270-mile range on a single charge, autopilot, and a five-star crash rating.

And speaking of luxury cars, yes, I can see myself in the back seat of this new Mercedes-Maybach S600. This is the sort of unbelievable ultra-luxury cruiser that could one day be a successor for Big Smoky, my ridiculous Jaguar Vanden Plas Supercharged long-wheelbase saloon. (Chauffeur not included with either, alas.) I couldn't get a good picture of the exterior because so many people kept crowding around to peer inside. It looked smooooooth, both inside and out.

This Mercedes AMG GT S sports car grabbed our attention. It looked faaaaaaast.

Another eye-catching concept car, the Mercedes F 015 Luxury in Motion self-driven vehicle:

Not only did it have a very futuristic outer shell, but they had done some real thinking about what it might mean inside if your car drove itself. And what they decided is that the front seats would swivel, so that you could have a nice chat with your passengers while nobody was at the wheel.

Also from the world of ultra-luxury cruisers, Bentley brought another couple of superfast, superluxurious cars to the show:

The Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible in Azure Purple: 626 hp, 605 lb-ft torque, 0-to-60 in 3.9 seconds, and a top speed of 203 mph. I recommend a strap for your hat if you plan to go more than 200 mph in your convertible.

The ever so slightly more sedate Bentley Flying Spur W12: 616 hp, 590 lb-ft torque, 0-to-60 in 4.6 seconds, top speed of 200 mph. It should get you to the board meeting on time.

Our final stop, something from the opposite end of the scale:

The 2015 Smart all-electric convertible. Its range is only 68 miles, but it's cute as can be, incredibly easy to fit into a parking space, gets 93/122 (city/highway) MPGE, and it costs less than 1/3 the price of the Tesla Model S. This looks like a pretty sweet car for a short city commuter, especially someplace with sun.

Our final installment from the 2015 Detroit Auto Show is coming soon: the thing that (sadly) didn't catch our eye....