Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Tuesday notes

JW over at his blog talks about his recent experiences in Ft. Lauderdale, partying at the casino, waking up in bed with a beautiful naked woman, etc (all true except the last one evidently.)

He also accuses writers of blogs in general having "random crap in it which spoke little of the author except some random hobbies and an air of staleness." Just to assure readers that Caffeinated Raptor is indeed *not* stale. My early posts tended towards being a bit ranty, I'm sure that those of you who know me can see the rather dim view I have of modern society, and of Tallahassee 'culture' in general. Yes, I am a committed pessimist, and having to pick one out of the Calvin and Hobbes school of thinking, I am decidedly Hobbesian (anybody who has any of the big Calvin and Hobbes 'collection' books can read the section where Watterson compares Calvin and Hobbes to their namesake-inspirations John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes.) Over time (perhaps during that whole 1 year gap between the first post and the time when my blog really took off recently) I decided that I wanted to make the blog less about my personal rants (you can't control Tallahassee drivers with personal opinion) posted online and more about the news that interests me and how I see things. NASA has made this fairly easy for me recently, between Discovery's Return to Flight (and redux) and the ESAS rollout, there's a lot to blog about. At heart, I'm a geek, and space stuff: the shuttles, the ISS, etc etc, they all hit a kind of engineering-technical-otaku geek inside me.

I've kind of skipped over my Internet geek in this blog. You can't throw a stone without hitting a blog about gadgets, software, operating systems, networking, etc (all of which are actually on my 'dailies' list of reads.) There's only so much out there and almost everybody has a blog about those. For my own personal projects, 'Extreme Geekery' is coming, but the progress is slow so far. There's a lot of backend issues I have to work out, but for this blog I've made a pretty personal choice early on to stay away from the more 'tech' and more 'news'.

Anyway, that's about it for the Tuesday morning roundup.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The world's most expensive cars....

....and other updates.

1. Saleen S7 Twin Turbo — $670,384 (Europe)
2. Pagani Zonda C12S 7.3 Convertible — $598,025 (Global)
3. Koenigsegg CCR — $562,659 (Global)
4. Koenigsegg CC8S — $522,120 (Global)
5. Porsche Carrera GT — $484,151 (Europe)
6. Maybach 62 — $457,991 (Europe)
7. Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren — $456,526 (Europe)
8. Maybach 57 — $389,226 (Europe)
9. Rolls-Royce Phantom — $328,750 (Global)
10. Spyker C8 Double 12 S — $325,560 (Global)

[Via Forbes]

Regular viewers will also notice small changes to both this blog and it's sister blog, Something Cheeky (both part of the Mystique, Inc. imaginary blog company.) As of last week (as noted already) this site was switched to what I call the back-in-black template. I think this is easier to read and very minimalist (which is me.) On both sites, the CSS has been tweaked to allow the best use of the on-screen real estate of screens at least 1024 x 768. Let me clarify that I have no prior experience with CSS, if the site looks like donkey ass drop me a line and I can tweak it. Those of you who have an 800 x 600 screen, get a life and drop that POS machine you are running there. Those of you with larger screens (like the massive 1920 x 1200 screen on Raven's Inspiron 9300, codenamed: Sandbender,) I'm still working on a way for the width to 'float' versus being locked in to the 1024 optimized width.

You'll also notice small changes on my site, if you have the Microsoft font 'Calibri' installed, the bulk of this site will be displayed in it. If not, the classic stand by Trebuchet will suffice. I know what the site looks like on XP in Firefox 1.06/1.07 and IE 6. If you have another browser/platform that doesn't work, or the display of this site is wonky in your setup at all, leave me a comment.

Worth the Cost

"NASA's plan to send astronauts back to the moon and eventually to Mars is not just exciting and visionary. It's a smart investment that would maintain U.S. leadership in space exploration while returning significant scientific and technological benefits."

"In the short term, the plan could provide a much-needed economic boost to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. NASA has facilities in the region with good-paying jobs."

"Over the long term, missions to the moon and Mars could inspire a new generation of American scientists and engineers. It could spur discoveries and innovations that would help the United States keep its edge in the global economy."

I couldn't agree more.

[Via the Orlando Sentinel]

Friday, September 23, 2005

NASA Chief Griffin says "We're looking at May" for shuttle

So even with the news going back and forth, rumours that STS-121 would be delayed to at least June 2006 after the foam issue on Discovery's external tank during STS-114, all of those can be at least pushed aside for a little while.

During an interview with the Washington Post, Dr. Mike Griffin says the agency is looking to a May 2006 launch date, and notes that without the heroic efforts of the personnel at Michoud and Stennis during the storm (which included keeping diesel flowing to pumps) the shuttle might not have been able to "fly again at all."

This comes in the wake of other rumours that the White House OMB themselves were looking into cancelling the shuttle program soon, far earlier than the expected 2010 date.

[Via the Washington Post]

You and the Captain make it happen

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Miscellaneous Wrap-Up

A few things changed this week, mostly in the structure of the blog itself. If you are an avid reader, (all 2 of you out there) you'll see that the style has changed to the 'back in black' Blogger template. I'm not totally happy with it, and I'm planning on it being temporary, as both Raven and I are shopping for new blog templates. With luck you should see this within the next few days.

I've also moved around my link section and made all the appropriate links with the oh-so-fashionable-this-week 80 X 15 'buttons'. If I don't have a link there it's because I don't have a button so if you want one, make one and mail it to me (you should all have the appropriate gmail address.) I've divided them into categories so they are easier to see what's what now.

I've also gotten back to what I like to blog about in the last few weeks. During Katrina I got tired of certain things (especially how the media kept mistaking helicopters) and wanted to make a statement just because I had a way to do it. Now I'm just plain tired of hearing about FEMA dicking things up and who's to blame, etc etc etc. But I'm back to my core subjects, NASA and automobiles, and I want to add some gadgety/geeky stuff to this too (as well as rollout the Extreme Geekery blog I have sitting behind the curtain.) In short the content of this site is becoming tighter, and there's the promise of some expansion in the near future.

So heres a few links, getting back to regular content:

After all that NASA has gone through in Louisiana and Alabama, the employees are eager to get back to work. Michoud (for those of you who don't know) is the Lockheed Martin facility where they and NASA construct and maintain (as well as perform testing for the eventual re-Return to Flight) the external tanks for the shuttles. It's a stones throw away from New Orleans proper, and suffered wind damage and some flooding from Katrina, as well as acting as a shelter for employees and their families as that storm came ashore and in the immediate days after. With the threat of Rita essentially passing them (while closing the all-important Johnson Space Center on it's way in) life is slowly returning to normal. Lots of good reading here.

In other news:

I saw an older VW Cabrio on the way in today and remembered that VW is introducing the Eos concept, which is basically a Cabrio for this generation. No word yet if the name is going to stick, but it looks as if VW is at least considering producing this.

For those of you who don't know, I just within the last couple of years became a VW fan, and while I don't now, nor have I ever, owned one, I'd like to. My sister has been a Beetle fan for as long as I can remeber, as much as she likes the new one she likes the classic ones better. It surprised her last time we had a talk about cars and I mentioned that I'd love to have an R32, she said "What's that?" and I explained to her that it was like the uber-GTi/Golf, and that there was a lot of engineering shared between that and her beloved insect-car.

If you'd like to see what the Eos looks like, check out VW Vortex, it's forum perhaps so powerful that it has managed to influence the decisions of VW's corporate board itself (in bringing the future R32/R36 here, and in 4 door form to boot.) Right now it's the vehicle at the top of the page, although when the next story comes out, you should be able to find appropriate linkage.

That's about it for now. Stay tuned for more.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Pimp rides and such

For those of you interested in the whole new car saga (if you missed it, see this post) my pal JW finally made up his mind. A brand new '05 Honda Civic LX Special Edition.

And dude, if you are reading, I'm seriously hurt you didn't take my suggestions. (Just kidding!)

I talked to him the day after he bought his new car and said that in a way I'd called it exactly what he was going to get.

I remember a few years ago when he talked about getting a new car "...one of these days," this was during the time when he was driving a borrowed Nissan Altima or something like that. At the time I'd kind of thought he'd be a Civic kinda guy, something nice but simple. I have to admit my worst fears (that it'd be a riced-out ride, or be *just* like every other Civic out there,) really didn't come to pass, it's a special edition or some such thing so it's got wheels that you don't see everyday, a pretty snazzy looking spoiler, and in the oh-so-anti-Florida jet black.

For pics of the new ride, and the aforementioned hoopty pickup, click on over to Pics.On-This.

NASA's Hurricanes Part 2

Seems that they just can't get a break. Mere weeks after Katrina rolled in and flooded New Orleans and damaged NASA's facilities at Michoud (where Lock-Mart makes the external tanks) and Stennis, (which deals mainly with propulsion technologies) Rita is now threatening the entire Gulf region again. Plans are already underway to close Johnson Space Center, where the famed Mission Control Center is located. During the time that Johnson is closed, the ISS will be controlled through the mirror world control center in Korolev, Russia (not that far from Moscow.)

For more information, read this.

NASA Calling the shuttle quits?

Rumours abound. I read a snippet over at Nasawatch about how the Office of Management and Budget is looking at cost issues to cancel the shuttle program. Keith usually has pretty good sources, too.

Friday, September 16, 2005

NASA gets back to work

Keith at Nasawatch posts that NASA is getting back to work, expecting to have External Tank work continue at Michoud by October 5th.

A few of the sources I've seen now say the STS-121 mission has been pushed from March (as expected) to June now.

Edit: Oh yeah, I really want to see this.

Monday, September 12, 2005

FEMA chief resigns

Associated Press wire reports that Mike Brown has resigned from the post of Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the "in the best interest of the agency and best interest of the president."

Edit: Linked.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Raven blogs about NASA

Stealing only a *little* bit of my thunder, Raven over at Something Cheeky blogs about Katrina messing with Michoud and Stennis and delaying the next shuttle launch.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Follow up (because it was requested):

Toyota Camry:

The big brother of the Corolla, this car features the Toyota 'brand' design, although it hasn't been changed much since this generation was introduced in 2001. The current model is larger than previous models, as Toyta pushed this car to meet American tastes as it moved the model away from the Japanese market. The 2006 Camry is available in 4 different trim models with a variety of options, and has some slight styling tweaks compared to 2004 and 2005 models. Currently there are 3 different choices of engine, with 2 different V6's available in the higher end models.

Pros: VVT-i goodness, typically Japanese torquey and high-revving engine. High crash safety rating.
Cons: Most stolen car in the US (increases insurance costs.) Perennial competitor Honda Accord regarded as sportier with better handling.
Specs: $17,490-22,795; 154hp, 2.4L 4 cyl.; 190hp 3.0L V6; 210hp 3.3L V6. 24 city, 33 highway (4 cyl. numbers.)

Honda Accord:

The Accord was designed to be the sporty big brother of the Honda Civic. While the Camry markets itself as more refined that its smaller sibling, the Accord is more of a nice touring car. 2005 and 2006 saw a lot of changes, as even within the current model design of this car there have been some significant tweaks. Unlike some other cars in this segment, the Accord is offered in both a coupe and a sedan. Like the Camry, there are also a choice between the base 4 cylinder and V6 engines.

Pros: Sporty design and handling, lots of available power from the engine. 'Drive by wire' throttle system. VTEC goodness. 'K-Series' engine is proven and popular.
Cons: Base model is pretty sparse, options push prices pretty high. V6 with a 6-speed is 'top of the line' pricing.
Specs: $18,225-27,300; 166hp 2.4L 4 cyl.; 244hp 3.0L V6. 26 city, 34 highway.

Idle time...cars for J. Weston

My pal J. Weston in West Palm is finally talking about looking for a new car.

It's about time.

Currently his ride of choice is an 88(-ish) Toyota pickup, mostly steel gray (except for the darker gray fender that was replaced after an accident.) It's got a white bed capper that's probably as old as the vehicle itself, with clear silicone caulk sealing all the windows. The pneumatic shocks on the back glass don't work so you have to hold it up to get anything out of the back. The battery and fusebox are held in with zipties because that corner of the engine compartment was crushed during the accident. It's missing the right-hand turn blinker up front because of this. The tires are 3 inches wide and cost 50 bucks a pair. A while back we replaced the carburetor because one of the flaps was jammed, even after that I think the venerable 22R engine only makes a whopping 85 horsepower. At one time he was replacing batteries every week because a grounding issue would kill them flat even sitting in the parking lot.

There are good things about it, of course.

It's so light...it's only a 2 wheel drive, and it's a regular cab. Even with a million miles on it, it still gets fantastic mileage (thanks to that new carburetor, I'm sure, ) and beyond the problems in the past it's relatively maintenance free (the clutch was replaced less than 5000 miles ago.) Hell, there's an original sticker on it that recommends a 9000 mile oil change interval. The 22R is a 'classic' Toyota engine, off-roaders love it and worship it. And of course, if you watch Top Gear (and you should) you know that Toyota pickups (Hilux in Europe) are indestructible.

So....I had some free time at work. JW had asked about some recommendations for cars so I whipped up a quick list:

Chevy Cobalt:

Chevy's replacement for the long-running Cavalier. They finally updated the styling and some of the quirky GM interior issues, but it's a perfect example of classic American small-car. 2.2L Ecotec engine, which is legendary in some circles (GM has an Ecotec build-up guide that can get you up to 400 hp with some simple bolt-ons.) An Ecotec powers GM's Lakester, ION, and Cobalt out on the salt flats of Bonneville.

Pros: Legendary engine, solid drivetrain, fresh design. On the more inexpensive end of the scale.
Cons: Not quite as refined as some of the imports, first year model run for this vehicle.
Specs: $13,900-18,400; 2.2L, 145 hp Ecotec 4-cyl. 24 city, 32 highway.

Dodge SRT-4:

One of my "think outside the box" suggestions. Neon-based but don't let that fool you. With 230, easily the most horsepower of the bunch. Mitsubishi-sourced turbocharger. Edmunds calls it "A ridiculously fast econobox with the suspension to back it up, the SRT-4 is undeniably the most performance you can buy for $20K."

Pros: 'Rediculously fast', relatively inexpensive. Aggressive styling.
Cons: Based on a Neon (not *that* bad of a thing though,) Among the lowest mileage of the group.
Specs: Around $19k with current pricing; 230 hp, 2.4L turbo 4-cyl. 22 city, 30 highway.

Honda Civic:

Mainstay of the sub-$20k cars. Quality Honda engineering, each successive generation gets better and more refined. Probably the best equipped for the price range, with aftermarket customization options out the wazoo, but there's a fine line between 'rice rocket' and 'sporty'

Pros: Reliable engine, refined interior. Best mileage for a standard engine.
Cons: Looks are either 'econobox' or 'ricer'. Entry-level performance. Not unique as they are *everywhere.*
Specs: $13,260-21,760 (high end is the hybrid model); 115hp, 1.7L 4-cyl. 29 city, 38 highway.

Mazda 3:

Probably my biggest 'out of the box' suggestion. I think most people always think Honda/Toyota/Nissan when they think sub-$20k cars, I think Mazda's are especially underrated. The new Mazda 3's are sporty and fresh-looking, as Mazda is trying hard to get back into the small car business. Shares the same platform (Gloabl C1) as it's Ford-owned siblings, the Volvo S40 and Ford Focus. Probably my favorite of the list.

Pros: Solid, proven platform. Sporty handling and nice interior. Unique look. Highest non-turbo horsepower of the group.
Cons: Hard to find....uhh.....
Specs: $13,710-19,165; 148hp 2.0L or 160hp 2.3L. 25 city, 34 highway.

Nissan Sentra:

I included this only because I have driven a Sentra. They are decent cars, the best thing they have going for them is the quality of the engine. They are good, cheap cars. Like the Civic though, they are kind of the default, there's nothing special about them. Unlike the Civic, not a lot has changed over the years, the current generation has stayed the much the same since it's introduction.

Pros: Proven model, reliable engine. Good mileage.
Cons: Low resale value, engine is decidedly 'un-sporty.'
Specs: $13,680-18,780; 125hp 1.8L 4 cyl. 28 city, 35 highway.

Saturn ION:

I include this because JW mentioned Saturns. Modern Saturns are unlike the Saturns of yesterday's generation (like my SW2 or Raven's SL2.) Saturn has really become "just another GM division" in recent years, and as much, borrows heavily from the GM parts bin to build their cars. They aren't as unique as they used to be. Regardless, the current ION is based on the current Pontiac Sunfire and Chevy Cavalier platform, and has the same Ecotec engine as the Cobalt does.

Pros: Solid GM platform, polymer body panels (at least for now.)
Cons: Annoyingly funky centermount gauge-cluster, Saturn service is not as good as it ued to be.
Specs: $11,925-15,225; 140hp, 2.2L 4 cyl. 24 city, 32 highway.

Subaru Impreza (2.5i):

Duh, of course I have to mention this car. The Impreza is a rally-derived car, the WRX STi version of which is on my all time Top 10 list. Unlike the WRX version (which pushes the car over $30K, sorry) this car doesn't have a turbo. Thats about it though. You still get the smooth and venerable Boxer engine, you still get the all-wheel drive system, you still get the Subie look.

Pros: Rally tech in an affordable car. All-wheel drive goodness. Aftermarket power.
Cons: No turbo. And a turbo makes this car $30k. Lower mileage.
Specs: $17,061-18,295; 173hp, 2.5L boxer-4. 22 city, 29 highway.

Toyota Corolla:

I shouldn't have to say much about the Corolla...JW has experience with this car. Except now you can get the XRS version of this car which is all a-blinged and 164 horsepower.

Pros: Smooth ride, realiable engine. Decent mileage.
Cons: Options become pricey.
Specs: $14,005-17,780; 126hp/164hp 1.8 4 cyl. 30 city, 38 highway.

VW Golf:

Somehow I see this as being the car that JW will totally ignore. No offense but car-wise, he's a bit Nippon-centric, and I don't see him even looking at a VW. I can see him now "A Golf?!" followed by something typically J. Weston-ish: "That shit is whack!" Hah. Well, here's a few things he doesn't know:

The Golf is the basically the building block of the rest of the VW line. The Golf VR6, GTi, and R32 are all incarnations of the same car, and the Jetta is basically a Golf with a trunk. Like the Subie, the hopped-up R32 version of this is on my ultimate top 10 car list, and like the Subie, the 'budget' version of this car has no turbo. And 2 more doors. The car is typically German, excellent engineering, simple but impressive interior, everything efficient, everything in ordnung. It's probably the most-engineered car of everything on the list. Add TDI goodness (Yes, embrace it!! A diesel and a turbo!) and you get the most fuel efficent care on this list at a whopping 44 mpg. (The Civic's 48 doesn't count, as thats a hybrid, which I see him going for even less than a disel VW!) The guys in Europe go nuts over diesel cars, I'm not totally sure why it never caught on here. This car has legions of fans, more than any other car on this list (except maybe the Subie,) with forums upon forums. Hell, VWVortex.com has so much power, they were consulted and influenced which models VW is going to release here next year.

Pros: German engineering, proven platform. Efficient control layout.
Cons: Least likely to impress J. Weston. TDI has the lowest horsepower (remember though, it's diesel, and has higher torque.)
Specs: $15,830-19,580; 115hp 2.0L gas 4 cyl. or 100hp 1.9 turbodiesel. 37 city, 44 highway (gas engine is a bit less.)

Wrapup:

I tried to compile a list of sub-$20k cars I think someone like J. Weston would probably be interested in. You can look and noticed that I've skipped a lot. Automatically I took out Daewoos, Kias, Hyundais, etc. While the Koreans are improving on quality (I'd buy a Hyundai Tiburon...) their resale values are still pretty low. I also skipped over larger cars like the Toyota Camry, Nissan Maxima and Altima, Mazda 6, and the Honda Accord. While they are great cars, I know they are, and they start under 15K, most of them push over 20k and indeed, well into the 25K range.

I've tried to include some cars that someone in this market might not have thought of, including cars me myself and I would love to have (the SRT-4.) I looked at cheaper versions of cars on my Ultimate Top 10 list, (Impreza WRX STi, VW R32, and the Lancer Evo) and included all but the Lancer. The cheap Lancer doesn't include the AWD, the turbo, or even the same styling. At least all versions of the Subie are based on the same platform, in the US the Evo is a totally different car than a stock Lancer.

I've also skipped cars that are inexpensive but are outside the criteria of the exercise. While I think that something like a Scion TC, Ford Escape, or an Acura RSX would be perfect, the criteria is for a sedan.

Prices listed are from Edmunds.com, horsepower and engine specs are mostly from the manufacturers websites. Most of the info is for the upcoming (or already released, mostly) 2006 models, although for most cars on this list there isn't a big difference between 05 and 06 specs, and 2005 models right now are going for excellent prices (the domestic Big 3's 'employee' pricing, for example.) Mileage is EPA, so of course that's going to vary wildly. Opinions contained herein are those of ZipperSeven and trademarked Caffeinated Raptor, Inc, Ltd. GmBH, etc. Do not turn upside down, do not use while sleeping.

Friday, September 02, 2005

No more goddamned press conferences!

New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin at least knows how to get some ass-kicking in:

"I don’t want to see anybody do anymore goddamn press conferences. Put a moratorium on press conferences. Don’t do another press conference until the resources are in this city. And then come down to this city and stand with us when there are military trucks and troops that we can’t even count."

"Don’t tell me 40,000 people are coming here. They’re not here. It’s too doggone late. Now get off your asses and do something, and let’s fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country."

"[Y]ou mean to tell me that a place where you probably have thousands of people that have died and thousands more that are dying every day, that we can’t figure out a way to authorise the resources that we need?"

[Via the Times Online]

Edit: Full transcript at CNN.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Oh, and for the news media:


This is a Coast Guard helicopter:











This is not: (in fact, it's Army.)












I hope you can quite obviously see the difference. You would think, especially with a war on, that even you talking heads could tell the difference. That is all.

Attention residents of New Orleans:

Do you want assistance after Hurricane Katrina? Yes?

THEN STOP SHOOTING AT THE HELICOPTERS!!

Thursday, September 01, 2005 - 9:40:55 AM
Superdome Evacuation Halted after Shots Fired at Helicopter

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - An ambulance official says the evacuation of the Superdome in New Orleans has been suspended because it's too dangerous.

The
head of Acadian Ambulance, which is evacuating the sick and injured from the stadium, says the evacuation won't resume until security officials "gain control of the Superdome."

A
National Guard official says thousands of people have rushed toward the dome to try to get on buses taking people from the stadium to the Astrodome in Texas.

The
medical official says a medi-vac helicopter pilot reported an armed mob when he tried to land last night at a hospital in the city's outskirts. The pilot didn't land.

And
the official says medics are calling for help, because they are scared of armed people outside the Superdome.

This article can be viewed at:
http://www.kten.com/article.asp?id=9913