Government Creates Poverty: The Case of the Native American

Government Creates Poverty

Freedom leads to prosperity.

The U.S. government has "helped" no group more than it has "helped" the American Indians. It stuns me when President Obama appears before Indian groups and says things like, "Few have been ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans."
Ignored? Are you kidding me? They should be so lucky. The government has made most Indian tribes wards of the state. Government manages their land, provides their health care, and pays for housing and child care. Twenty different departments and agencies have special "native American" programs. The result? Indians have the highest poverty rate, nearly 25 percent, and the lowest life expectancy of any group in America. Sixty-six percent are born to single mothers.
Nevertheless, Indian activists want more government "help."
It is intuitive to assume that, when people struggle, government "help" is the answer. The opposite is true. American groups who are helped the most, do the worst.
Consider the Lumbees of Robeson County, N.C.—a tribe not recognized as sovereign by the government and therefore ineligible for most of the "help" given other tribes. The Lumbees do much better than those recognized tribes.
Lumbees own their homes and succeed in business. They include real estate developer Jim Thomas, who used to own the Sacramento Kings, and Jack Lowery, who helped start the Cracker Barrel Restaurants. Lumbees started the first Indian-owned bank, which now has 12 branches.
The Lumbees' wealth is not from casino money.
"We don't have any casinos. We have 12 banks," says Ben Chavis, another successful Lumbee businessman. He also points out that Robeson County looks different from most Indian reservations.
"There's mansions. They look like English manors. I can take you to one neighborhood where my people are from and show you nicer homes than the whole Sioux reservation."
Despite this success, professional "victims" activists want Congress to make the Lumbees dependent—like other tribes. U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), has introduced the Lumbee Recognition Act, which would give the Lumbees the same "help" other tribes get—about $80 million a year. Some members of the tribe support the bill.
Of course they do. People like to freeload.
Lawyer Elizabeth Homer, who used to be the U.S. Interior Department's director of Indian land trusts, say the Lumbees ought to get federal recognition.
"The Lumbees have been neglected and left out of the system, and have been petitioning for 100 years. ... They're entitled, by the way."
People like Homer will never get it. Lumbees do well because they've divorced themselves from government handouts. Washington's neglect was a godsend.
Some Lumbees don't want the handout.

Royal Wedding

As a Brit, I have to say, the wedding was pretty damn well done. I have not seen much of it so far, but yeah, I was impressed with what I saw.

The US is Falling

This morning, two things happened.

1) The US lost the bid to sell fighters in China in what is likely the largest competitive international arms purchase of the decade. Lockheed Martin and Boeing both were cut from the competition to provide India with fighter aircraft for the next 30 years. This is because the planes that they offered, the F-16 and F/A-18 respectively, are old. They both are upgraded planes dating back to the 70's, and India shot them down with good reason: they are alright today, but they will be out of date in 5-10 years, let alone 30-50 that these planes will be in service. Why is this? The US refused to offer India - an ally and increasingly important economic power and regional military counterpoint to China - the modern F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, let alone the F-22 Raptor. And thus, the US lost out on a $11 billion contract. The result? The US Ambassador to India resigned today and the administration say they are "shocked" at the decision. Am I shocked? Hell no. Europe offered two 5th generation fighters, we offered two 4th generation fighters. The 4th-gen fighters got cut. Wake up America.

2) The Yuan is rising, the dollar is falling. The Yuan broke 6.5 Yuan to the dollar for the first time since 1993. The dollar is pretty much in free fall, and we are not doing anything about it. Pretty soon we are going to have the Prime Minister President Harold Wilson Barack Obama announce that he will devalue the pound dollar saying it will tackle the "root cause" of Britain's America's economic problems. Specifically, "It does not mean that the pound dollar here in Britain America, in your pocket or purse or in your bank, has been devalued."

Yes, countries can fall. Yes, it has happened before. And yes, America is falling. Hopefully, we wake up before we crash.

Err.. Maldives to spend $500 million to build a floating golf course..

I'm hoping the Maldives has a good rate of return slated for their latest project.

They are planning on building a $500 million dollar floating 18 hole golf course, where the holes are connected by underwater tunnels..
Maldives Golf Course 3

Maldives Golf Course 1

Yeah... two interesting things here.

First, because the Maldives is at most about 10ft above sea level, the real purpose of this project is to make money so that the Maldives can buy land in some other country so that the refugees can set up shop in a new home. In that context, considering the Maldives has a grand total of 115sq miles of land, it would seem to me that the $500 million would pretty much cover the land purchase anyway... though granted, I am guessing some development company is putting up most of the cash in this case.

Second, goddamn is that thing sweet. Honestly, there need to be a lot more floating/underwater/GI Joe flying submarine projects being built around the world.
This was one of my favorite toys. And yes, I want a real one.

Obama Starts His Campaign, Promises 4 More Years of BS and Campaigning

In the little time Obama has actually spent being President, he has proved to be an idiot and an ideologue: inflexible in his beliefs, incapable as a leader and infuriatingly stupid.

With 2 years of economic malaise, unpopular politics, failed campaign promises and pathetic leadership behind him, Obama is launching his re-election bid. (which means that out of 6 years of public office - he will have spent 4 of them campaigning - good service there Obama).

Honestly, in the last 2 years he has gone from messiah to laughing-stock. His ratings have collapsed. His core is pissed at him because it turns out he does not really believe in social freedom (Gitmo, gay rights etc), and he is the same corrupt crony-loving Chicago politician he has always been. The middle is pissed at him because it turns out that he is a wide-eyed socialist who pushed through one of the biggest, and most unpopular pieces of legislation steaming cow turds ever - Obamacare, which, well, stinks like a fish-market on a sunny day in August. The Europeans used to love him, now they see him as a verbose and ineffective self-aggrandizing fool.

But the bad news? Oh, and there is bad news. These are the Republican candidates (and to be clear - I am a libertarian, not a Republican - but generally, I like sensible politicians in the middle who grow the economy, don't do stupid things, and are for social freedom).

You have:
Tim Pawlenty - Kind of a wack job social conservative
Mitt Romney - Former governor of Mass, architect in some ways of Obamacare, and failed candidate in 2008, this guy does not really have a hope, as the Tea Party will hate his guts
Newt Gingrich - Eww...
Mike Huckabee - Scum
Sarah Palin - Stupid, and possibly crazier than Obama
Mich Daniels - Gov. of Indiana, seems like he is actually a good bet, with a strong corporate background (President of Eli Lilly), and a history of sensible policies in Indiana
Jon Huntsman - former Gov. of Utah... yup, he's Mormon. Fiscal stuff he's good, but social stuff? Well, did I mention he was Mormon?

So really the best bet seems to Mich Daniels - but that would be based on the assumption that the Republican party gets its head out of its ass and realizes that a middle of the road politician and not a raging conservative is the best counter to Obama. Fight fire with water, honestly, it works better.

Why is Sprint against AT&T&T-Mobile?

Sprint is doing everything it can to block the purchase of T-Mobile by AT&T. They have filed briefs, requested confidential AT&T filings, made public statements, and run around shouting "that's not fair."

And I don't understand why. They say that it will stifle competition and prevent smaller companies (them) from getting the best phones and technology, as AT&T and T-Mobile combined would have about 129 million subscribers, compared with 94.1 million for Verizon Wireless and 49.9 million at Sprint.

Yeah... but not really. I mean, 50 million is still a lot of subscribers, and there are many many good phones out there with many different manufacturers making them. Honestly, with the exceptions of Blackberry and Apple - the difference between top-end Andoid (or Windows) phones these days? Meh. One is pretty damn similar to another. Sprint has never had the iPhone and possibly never will, and Sprint and Blackberry have always been close, as have Sprint and Palm/HP. 

Really, if I were Dan Hesse - I would be looking at this as a huge opportunity. With T-Mobile gone, how many value providers are there? Sprint and.... MetroPCS??? I mean, this is fantastic news for Sprint. Everyone, and I really mean everyone, who had T-Mobile had it because it was cheaper than AT&T and Verizon. Sure, AT&T will honor your current T-Mobile contract, but looking for a new low-cost contract? Sprint is going to be your only option. I think that unless AT&T started offering cheap plans - it wont - they will lose many of their new T-Mobile customers to Sprint. Especially if Sprint can come up with some cheap family plan options, which seemed to be the bread-and-butter of T-Mobile. 

So really Sprint - I think you are looking at this the wrong way. This is not Coke vs. Pepsi vs RC Cola...
yeah.... This is the best you could do Cadbury-Schweppes? Stick to Dr. Pepper... 
It is more like Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and Charles Schwab (and we are talking about the retail brokerage business here - not the Goldman proprietary-trading screw our clients business). 

So Sprint, stop your whining, keep offering your low cost services, and you'll be growing like mad. 

For Ladies Only....

Really, can't make this stuff up. An eastern European manufacturer of armored personal vehicles has come out with the first armored SUV made "for women, by women"... yeah... the press release is.. well... read on.

(And by the way - this is real - not a joke)

Dart Iron Diamond


World First SUV - Safety Uberluxury Vehicle created for ladies by ladies.

All we see the modern trends - more and more ladies like to drive big cars, and if so - of course they want to drive unique and exclusive. It's very hard to meet two ladies in same dresses on party - but quite easy to meet ten ladies come on this party on similar black SUV's.

DARTZ solve this problem.

And - as always this decision is bulletproof.

And not only because DARTZ cars stop the bullet - but because this idea is as always unbeatable.

The first car is ordered by one of famous kazakh oil kings daughters - and here is here what she got.

The base of new car from DIAMOND line is shorter than any other models - as all ladies are professionals in parking :-)

Same reasons is why TELEFUNKEN created for DARTZ world first 8 cameras system - now they can park not only "on sound" but also us monitors.

This car is 3-doors only - as mainly ladies drive in big SUV's with their handbags - which some hijackers like to stole. It;s impossible with DARTZ - there are no left passenger door :-).

And the main and most important - this car have 10 dresses. Snake, crocodile, whale, skat, xameleon and elefant skins or standart carbon's and matt's can be installed on this car in maximum 7 days.

And YES, there are first ladies who choosed world first LADIES.ONLY SUV - why waste money on standart car and after that to spoil(er) it - if easier to buy car from BOUTIQUE CAR makers with more than hundred years history?

Ladies who visited Top marques Monaco choosed car from boutique. Of course with dress for next year parties!

Stay tuned - new trends are coming from DARTZ as Vodka and Girls fuel our brains!!!

The Truth about Being Rich, and Paying Taxes

Shocking. Turns out that rich people are not just parasites living off the sweat, blood, and tears of the laboring masses, chuckling all the way to their dachas about trickle-down theory.

Now, I am for a flat tax which would mean many of the ultra-rich would not be able to take the deductions which they do. At the same time, it is ridiculous to lump any family earning $120,000 a year or $250,000 into some bucket of "the rich" which Democrats rail on against like Lenin having tea with Trotsky.

Avatar 2 will be shot in 5k (way more HD than HD)

So, your average, run-of-the-mill HD has a puny 1080 lines of vertical resolution. 5k, the new new thing, has... well, you guessed it, 5,000 lines of resolution. These camera come courtesy of RED, a small camera manufacturer which has been making a big splash as a better and cheaper alternative to traditional movie cameras (they have a lot in common with dSLRs, which have also been cutting into the traditional high-end territory).

James Cameron just picked up 50 RED Epic-M's (for a shiny $2.9 million, or as James Cameron understands it, lunch money) to shoot Avatar 2. As you can see, 5k is far higher resolution than "HD" - and clearly, there will be two of them shooting together to give you the real 3D which made Avatar stand out.

What does this mean? Expect higher resolution special editions to come out for years (decades?) to come, as your puny TV catches up with Mr. Cameron.

Nook Color now $250 Android Tablet - still not full android

So, the Barnes & Noble Nook Color is now a full Android tablet - something which has been possible through hacking, but the native software was seriously hobbled.

So, here is the good news: the nook color is a great little e-reader which also makes a full-function tablet in a pinch. The bad news? It does not have access to the proper android marketplace, instead getting apps from its own little B&N app world.

So is it a full Android tablet? Kinda. But it is a good deal at $250? Definitely, though personally I would still go for the Viewsonic gTablet over at woot:

Some Old Advice

The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.
-- Cicero , 55 BC

A New Low

Ugh. TV is seems has reached a new low. Well... Bridalpasty may actually be the most degrading thing ever shown on TV, but this is pretty bad also.

A new show from the producers of the Jersey Shore is based around repo of cars.
repo games trailer

Specifically, the repo guy shows up to take your car away. But, you get a second (3rd? 4th? 5th?) chance: if you answer 3 out of 5 questions correctly, you get to keep your car.

Yeah, that's pretty messed up.

Strong Dollar? Not so much

Officially, the US has a "strong dollar" policy. Which is like saying that officially, Red Sox players are allowed to have no facial hair.

What we really have, what is becoming increasingly clear, is a "weak dollar" or more particularly a "what the fuck is the dollar" policy.

Let me explain. The current administration, Geithner in particular, has made statements such as "We will never use our currency as a tool to gain competitive advantage," - clearly Mr. Geithner, that is not something I am worried about. For a country like the US, a strong currency is a good thing. The US is the reserve currency of choice. Our capital markets are (were?) the gold-standard of the world. Investing in the US, investing in the dollar, investing in US treasuries were all seen as the way to go if you wanted the best, and most reliable.

Now, for countries which are developing, are more focused on manufacturing, and are not well known for their financial markets (like... hmm..... China), a weak currency can be a good thing, as it makes exports more attractive around the world while increasing the cost of imports (this can be a good thing if you are trying to build companies which can compete globally).

However, what the US currently has is a policy of just not having a policy about the dollar. The last time anyone made an official comment about the "strong dollar" policy was back in November. At the same time, no one has made any comments about a weak dollar policy either. In other words, what the current administration is doing is printing lots and lots of dollars, sticking its head in the sand, and hoping that things work out. For Obama (and his supporters) "ignorance is bliss" has become something of a way of life.

The end result is, sadly, predictable. With no clear support of the US dollar, and with the US running massive budget deficits on top of an already epic pile of national debt, the US will end up losing its gold-plated status. Ratings agencies are already making noise about how they will have to drop the US's debt rating, and with good reason. The long term effect of this will be the collapse of the greenback as the global reserve currency of choice and of the US financial markets as the international standard.

America, and Obama in particular, needs to wake up and see that being the global hegemon does not let you write blank checks and ignore the consequences. Falling from power is a very real possibility, just ask Sparta, Macedonia, Rome, China (a few times), Japan, Venice, Holland, France (again, more than once), Germany, Prussia, Nazi Germany, or Bernie Madoff.

One camera, everything you need

Right now,  has one of the best cameras out there. The Panasonic Lumix offers pretty much everything that you need. I have one as my second camera (after my dSLR), and it takes fantastic pictures, shoots HD movies, has image stabilization, and a 12x optical zoom - which means you never need to worry about being too far away. Sure, it is a little bigger than most other point and shoot cameras, but that's the price of a camera which does everything.

Panasonic 12MP Digital Camera with Leica 12x Optical Zoom & HD Video

Panasonic 12MP Digital Camera with Leica 12x Optical Zoom & HD Video


  • + $5 shipping

1 Panasonic DMC-ZS6 12MP - Leica lens, 12x Optical Zoom (25-300mm), 3" LCD, HD Video +

Lotus Intrigue

There are now two, completely separate, Lotus car companies. Read on for a story of intrigue, murder, moonlight beaches, Nazi overlords, nano-technology time-warps and secret Nordic cults. 

Ok, actually, it is just about cars... but it's still a good story:

Some of you know and love Lotus. They make fantastic cars. Lightweight cars which handle better than pretty much anything in the world. Cars which prove that 'simplifying and adding lightness' is really the best possible way that you can go with a car.

Let's keep it simple. They make these:
File:Lotus elise green.jpg

Mmmm... I want to lick it... 

Yeah, they are goddamn pretty. 

Now, Lotus back in the day was one of the most storied F1 teams, winning many races, especially with the famous John Player Special liveried cars of the 70's
File:Lotus 77 Sears Point.jpg
Mmmm... I want to lick it... 
Now, back in the day Colin Chapman kept Lotus Group (the car builder) and Team Lotus as two separate but tied-at-the-hip companies... which sets up what happens later. 

The racing outfit came to an end in 1994, which is why such a big palava was made when, two years ago, Air Asia boss Tony Fernandes applied to Group Lotus (the car business owned by Proton) for licence to use the ‘Lotus' name in F1 (Lotus Racing).

Fernandes then bought the rights to use the name ‘Team Lotus' - the actual, real and historical Lotus F1 name - from David Hunt, brother of F1 champ James and owner of the name - in September this year. But Proton hit back, saying it would "support Group Lotus in taking all necessary steps to protect its rights in the ‘Lotus' name, including resisting any attempts by Mr. Fernandes or his companies, or any other unauthorised person, to use the ‘Lotus' name in the 2011 Formula 1 season."

And Group Lotus CEO Dany Bahar reckons he's got the real Lotus. "We're well aware that there has been a lot of controversy around the usage of our brand in F1 and I'm delighted to be able to formally clarify our position: We are Lotus, and we are back." 

This got really awkward when both teams were going to field retro-liveried F1 cars which were nearly identical.. 

Lotus F1


Yeah.... and they both use "Renault" because they both used Renault engines... confusing. The end result is, of course, that they are currently suing the crap out of each other. 

It also turns out that neither of them really did that well in the season, but Team Lotus (the ones who licensed the name) did better than Lotus Group (the car company). 

But now, apparently trying to become more legitimately 'Lotus', Team Lotus is planning on buying Caterham. Now, Caterham is well know because they bought the rights to the classic Lotus 7 from Lotus after they stopped making the little British sports car, and so since 1973, Caterham has made and sold the 7 as road cars, race cars, and perhaps most well known, as kit cars (a car that you buy the parts and put together yourself - it is also the basis of the 'locost' racer). 

This is the 7:
File:Caterham R300.jpg
Mmmm... I want to lick it... Orange....

It is a badass little racer which is immediately identified as a Lotus - though Caterham has been building them far longer than Lotus ever did, the car is quintessentially Colin Chapman. 

So yes, it boils down to this. 

There are two Lotuses. The old Lotus, the real Lotus, bought the Renault F1 team to get back into racing. The new Lotus bought the Team Lotus name, and is now buying the car company which makes the old Lotus so that the new Lotus will be thought of as Lotus, though there already is a Lotus making Lotuses for all of us Lotus lovers. Now, there is nothing I want more than lots of Lotuses in the world, but it gets pretty damn confusing when those Lotuses are built by different Lotuses, if you see what I mean.


The Subaru Impreza: It Gets Uglier, and Worse

First, let me get this out there. I love subarus. Specifically, I love the older Legacy sedan (and wagon at times) but most of all, I love the 1st generation WRX. The 2005 WRX is a thing of beauty. And beauty, I mean it in the eye-of-the-beholder-and-it-looks-like-a-bulldog kind of a way. That WRX was fantastic to drive. Honestly, it is one of the best handling cars made in the last decade... which means one of the best handling cars ever. It was light, had great feedback, impressive suspension (not shockingly stiff, but responded quickly while keeping you well planted) and had symmetric AWD. The hatchback WRX could quite literally, be everything short of a full-on truck: sports car, winter transportation, convenient hatchback.
File:04-05 Subaru WRX sedan.jpg
The WRX is, of course, based off of the plebeian Impreza. And don't get me wrong, the Impreza has been a great car also. Not the beast that the WRX was, but still a very fun car to drive that was also immensely practical, especially if your state fought on the blue side of the civil war.

There is no easy way to say this.... look what they have done to it:
2012 Subaru Impreza 5-Door

It's sort of a deformed mini-outback with weird bulges and the dimensions all wrong. I mean, yeah, Subarus are not really know for their styling... but this? This is just plain ugly. I would rather drive around in a Baja, and that is saying something.
I am too a real truck!

So now for more bad news: the new car has less horsepower. Yes - less. Remember what I was saying about this being the golden age of horsepower? Well, consider this a sign of the end of that age. In the name of fuel economy (something Subaru has never been known for), they decided to cut horsepower (which, interestingly enough, is also something Subaru has never been known for). The issue is this: the boxer engine has never been that fuel efficient, and AWD saps a lot of your dino juice as well. For years, base (read: not WRX engined) Subarus have just not had that much grunt. This new Impreza? 148hp. Seriously, 148hp.

My '95 Saab 900 had 150hp, and that was the base model from nearly 20 years ago. The worst part? 148hp is 22hp less than the old Impreza and it has 25lbs less torque as well (145 instead of 170). To top it off, the base model now gets a CVT... which is very fuel efficient. Reviewers say it does a pretty good job... but really, we all know that CVTs are for appliance duty only.

Which is exactly what this new Impreza is. A toaster. Or perhaps more accurately, a multi-function home printer. It sort of does a little of everything, cheaply. But unlike the old Impreza, and especially the old WRX, it is not really good at anything.

The Crown Vic Business Opportunity

The City of Austin is planning on buying 176 Crown Vics at $25,000 each before the model ends its run. Why? Well, because the new crop of cop cars just don't cut it.

Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor
Yes, this is one of the worst things to see behind you

When I started business school my first presentation was on the Crown Vic, and how someone should buy the factories and tooling (there are a lot of factories for sale right now - for every kind of car part and assembly). You see, the needs of fleets, and cops and taxis in particular, are very different from the needs of regular car buyers. To us, a body-on-frame car is a complete anachronism in an age when most "SUVs" are now unibody crossovers with curvy sides, all-season (not all-terrain) tires and 3000lb tow ratings.

It is manufactured at the St. Thomas Assembly is an automobile plant in Ontario, Canada. This is a 2,600,000 sq ft (242,000 m2) facility which lose the region 1,400 jobs when it shuts later this year.

I know that the world is changing, and I know that there are a lot of people calling for hybrid fleet cars etc. But a hybrid cop car? No. Cops need durability and reliability. You could sell 100,000 a year, at a profit, I think without much trouble. Total investment is low, margins are good, and while it might be a long-term dead end - it is a cash cow. Make it your Hathaway shirt company and become the next Buffet.

Norm Reviews: The Viewsonic G Tablet for $280

Tablets are too expensive right now for what they are. Or most of them are anyway.

$500 for a device which does far less than my 1yr old $200 netbook just does not make sense. More than that, they are a secondary, larger, smartphone. If you are getting a tablet,  you probably have a large-screen smartphone (or you might have a blackberry, in which case a tablet does make more sense), and that phone does  pretty much everything that a tablet can do, albeit smaller.

But what about $280? That's the price of the Viewsonic G Tablet these days. This thing is as powerful as an iPad 2, with Nvidia Tegra processing (basically, a high powered integrated processor/graphics chip) and with a big and pretty 10.1' screen (and, I will admit, a lot of bevel).

The look and feel. 
It looks elegant and feels very sturdy, not like a cheap knockoff at all. The back of the case is made of a sturdy plastic the materials overall feel good. On to the most important part: the screen. There is good and bad here. The good is that the screen looks great, especially in landscape mode. The bad? Viewing angles. They are pretty bad, which means that in portrait mode specifically, you end up with some odd distortion looking from the top to the bottom of the tablet if you are holding it place in  your lap. Basically, if you are looking for an e-reader, look somewhere else. However, the screen is great in landscape mode, so the internet, movies, and apps all look very good.

Software and Speed:
Basically, the installed software does not really work. First, the good: the TapTap browser is, hands down, the fastest browser I have ever seen, on anything. Really. It's amazing. I don't know why a custom webkit browser from a small Asian monitor manufacturer is the best in the world but.. it is. If I could get that browser, I would.

But the bad.. well the bad is bad. Basically, the screen does not respond immediately when you tap it. This is just not acceptable. You tap, and then 1/2 a second later, something may happen. This would drive you crazy in pretty short order...

But wait! There's More! There is a very easy (very very easy according to my brother) way to install a strong stable copy of Android 2.3 called Cyanogen. More than that, for the modders out there, this tablet can be overclocked up to 1.4gHz, which would make it the fastest tablet out there.

I have played with the iPad (not the 2 granted) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Other than the slightly uglier design (especially the huge bevel), and the viewing angles, this is just as good if not better. But really, this is a price play. Personally, I will not be buying one because I love my little Acer One netbook ($200, 3.3 lbs, 6-cell battery, 10.1 screen, Win XP Pro, 160gb.... and a keyboard... yeah, it blows tablets out of the water in terms of capabilities), but I do see the cool factor in using a tablet to browse the internet etc -- big capacitive touch screens are fun to play with.

Right now, this is the best tablet for the money, as long as you have some basic computer skills and can install a clean copy of Android 2.3 (and perhaps soon, Android 3.0).

iOS Tracks you, Reports to Apple Overlords

Yeah - this is what you look like to Apple. And you thought Google could be creepy...

Turns out that iOS devices (iPad, iPhone) document where you are in a secret file, and then send that file to iTunes when you log in. This is a completely undocumented feature. It is always on, and there is no way to turn it off. Is it creepy? Yeah. Really creepy.

The stick shift is being murdered, by these 5

Cadillac announced that it would no longer offer a stickshift with the upper level (3.6L) CTS, from 2012 it would only be available with the base--and pretty booring--3.0L unit.

This is part of a growing trend to eliminate the third pedal.

Which is too bad, because you will end up with lots more Prius drivers who's understanding of car control is on par with a well trained goldfish.

This little murder is no mystery. There are some clear culprits, colluding to considerably curtail car's classic controls.

1) The DSG
Yeah... the DSG is an impressive little box. The Audi unit which first came out with the TT a while back was a big leap forward over previous automatics. Now, there are a lot of DSGs out there, and a lot of them are very good. Well, let me qualify that. They are very good at shifting: they do it quickly, they do it competently, and they let you hit little buttons and paddles to do the shifting.

The issue is this: the DSG lets you control the car in a way similar to a stickshift: you can downshift before you pass, before the hill, before you squeeze into a spot which really, lets be honest, you have no right to try and fit into (t.w.s.s.). And for most people, that is all the really need. The rest of the time, these are just glorified automatics. You don't notice them when they work well, and you just cruise around. Kind of like every driver of the original Audi TT (I have bad news for 1st gen TT owners: you paid $10,000 too much for your VW Golf).

2) The Flappy Paddle
Yeah. These... suck. They are adapted from F1 cars.. and they should have stayed there. I had something similar on my old S4 (buttons on the steering wheel - which did the same thing) and... they are ok, for an automatic, or a Ferrari. See, on a Ferrari, you really might be looking for the extra 1/5 second in shifting speed that the flappy paddle will give you instead of reaching down to shift. But, unless your car is pushing limits of what is possible with an internal combustion engine (it isn't) and unless the you as a driver have nothing you need to improve on to the point that those 1/5ths of a second really add up, you don't need the flappy paddles.

File:Red Ferrari F430 Spider steering wheel.JPG
Yes - here, they are ok. If you don't have a Ferrari, don't get flappy paddles.

3) Horsepower
We live in a golden age of horsepower. Seriously. In the US, anything with less than 180hp is anemic. Any modern family sedan comes with a refined V6 which would have made BMW's from 20 years ago cry tears of coolant. To compete in the sports/muscle/luxury segments, 300hp is now the starting point. 300hp used to be supercar territory, then sports car territory... now it is the base model of the Ford Mustang, a car which 10 years ago came with a 145hp V6 and a 4spd automatic.... *shudder*... Though electric cars and idiot politicians may soon bring this era to an end, right now is a golden age where 250hp direct-injection variable timing V6's are finding themselves in Camry's and similar toasters.

And what happens with all that horsepower? You don't really need to shift. Most American's never see the right side of 3000rpm: they don't actually want to hear their engine, ever. Which means that they want enough power that they can overtake and sit in the left lane of the highway without ever hearing the engine strain. Which is why they buy cars with v6's etc, when honestly only about 1/100 drivers in this country need more than 150hp in their yachts.

Yes - it jumped almost 100hp in 10 years. Holy shit these are good times for cars.

4) Laziness.
You see - what the DSG and the flappy paddles give you is the "ooohhh" factor when you are showing off your car, and when you go through some turns with your co-workers in the car. But lets face it, most of the time, you like them because you put the car in "D" and cruise around like a septuagenarian rolling in a Camry.

This is why you have to get out of the left lane, you slow ass lazy bastards.

5) MPG
It used to be that manuals were about 15% more efficient than automatics. Now it is more like 5% on average, and some new automatics are more efficient than manuals. So, no longer is there an incentive for companies to put manuals on cheap cars, especially as cheap cars are increasingly becoming 'eco' cars, and 'eco' cars are almost all driven by idiots who would not know what a clutch looked like until it hit them in the face.

Samsung vs. Apple

So, Apple has decided to sue Samsung, saying that the Galaxy S phone line and the Galaxy Tab tablets rip off the iPhone and iPad. Which is pretty ridiculous - they are black, rectangular, and have rounded edges... which means.. they look like a smartphone/tablet without a keyboard. Woo. They all allege that the user interface rips off iOS, which is claiming (again - there have already been proxy suits with HTC and others) that Android rips of iOS... which it does. But if you want to get right down to it, iOS rips off Windows 3.1, and every other OS. Pages with icons for applications and files... never seen that before.

However, here is the interesting back-story: Samsung is Apple's #2 supplier, after Sony. Remember that Apple does not really make anything. They do design, marketing, and sales. Their parts come from Sony and Samsung along with a number of others (like the chip companies) and then are put together by Foxconn.

And Apple bought $5.7 billion from Samsung last year.

Have I mentioned I am short Apple? Because yeah - they are past their prime. They defined what the smartphone and tablet would be. Now it is time for Google and its army of manufacturers to take over.

The Pursuit Of....

My ski movie from 2009-2010. Kind of the wrong season right now, but I finally re-edited it so that youTube would accept it.

NOBAMA: He's an asshole

Yeah, this is a direct quote. One concerned citizen reasonably asked Obama about the high price of gas (now around $4gl in many places) and this was the response of the asshole in chief:

I know some of these big guys, they're all still driving their big SUVs. You know, they got their big monster trucks and everything. You're one of them? Well, now, here's my point. If you're complaining about the price of gas and you're only getting eight miles a gallon--(laughter)--you may have a big family, but it's probably not that big. How many you have? Ten kids, you say? Ten kids? (Laughter.) Well, you definitely need a hybrid van then. (Laughter.) . . .
So, like I said, if you're getting eight miles a gallon you may want to think about a trade-in. You can get a great deal. I promise you, GM or Ford or Chrysler, they're going to be happy to give you a deal on something that gets you better gas mileage.

Quite simply, screw you Obama. You are completely out of touch with reality and with the American people. The only thing that you have going for you is that most of your supporters also have little connection to reality. Honestly, I think there has been a mistake: Obama should be running France and we should have Sarkozy. 

Smartphone Market Share (and some silly predictions)

Garter is a major consulting and analysis company in the smartphone world, and they often come up with some pretty silly predictions as to market share. That said, it is still interesting to see what they are saying. 

Fundamentally, I think they have it wrong. Apple will fall to be about 10% market share, HP webOS will be about 10% market share, and android will be closer to 70%. As for Microsoft - I think they will have most of the remaining 10%.

To Volt, or Not to Volt, that is the question

The Volt is an impressive car. Autoblog just came out with their first full review and it meshes well with everything that I have heard: the most impressive thing about the car is that you barely notice it is an EV. It is a competent, easy to drive, practical hatchback, which just happens to be powered by electricity (and a gasonline generator).

But here is my issue. I just bought a new 2010 Saab 9-3, a somewhat outdated but still very nice compact near-luxury car. It drives better and has nicer materials than the Chevy Volt. I paid a little under $19,000 for the base model, 2.0T stickshift - a very good price that comes with buying a 2010 Saab right now. Yes - that is $11k below MSRP, but this argument would hold with a range of compact cars as well, such as a Civic or Mazda 3.

The Volt costs ~$44,000 with $7,500 less in govt. rebates gets you to $36,680. This is $17,780 more than I paid for my Saab. The Saab gets 30mpg in the real world. Autoblog got 80mpg in the Volt, an impressive number. However, driving 15,000 miles a year, with gas costing $3 a gallon, it takes 19 years for buying the Volt to make economic sense. The Volt is not as nice to drive, not as nice a car, and will undoubtedly cost more to maintain over 19 years than the relatively simple Saab.

In order for it to make sense to buy the Volt with 5 years of ownership, gasoline would have to cost $12 a gallon. That simply is not going to happen. And the Saab is still the better car.

Looking at it another way, if gasoline cost $4 a gallon, and the Volt got 1,000mpg (you only drive it to work and back on electric power), it would still take 9 years to make up the cost difference.

So, I wont be buying a Volt, or recommending that anyone I know does. However, I do hope people buy the Volt, because I like it when early-adopters make poor economic decisions and I reap the eventual benefit.

SpaceX will build the world's largest rocket

Another company that I love, SpaceX, said they had something big in store, and they did.

The company today revealed its plans for the Falcon Heavy, which promises to be the "world's most powerful rocket." Just how powerful is that? SpaceX says the 22-story rocket will be able to carry satellites or spacecraft weighing over 53 metric tons (or 117,000 pounds) into low earth orbit, which is nearly twice what the Space Shuttle is able to carry. What's more, this isn't just a far off promise. SpaceX says the rocket will be "ready" sometime next year, and the first test flight is planned for 2013. The rocket's sheer size isn't it's only selling point, though -- it also promises to drastically reduce the cost of sending things into space, with each launch expected to cost "only" $100 million.

Yeah, basically SpaceX just showed that it is not just planning at taking crumbs left from ULA (Boeing/Lockheed) and other national player's table: it is going after the whole dinner. It also makes NASA's continued ineptitude in terms of space launch even more pathetic. Honestly NASA, just give up and let SpaceX handle getting into space, and you focus on exploration and science. 

Richard Branson = Epic Win. Launches Virgin Oceanic

Yes - Virgin Oceanic. Not content to conquer air, land and space, and for that matter, the surface of the ocean with Virgin Cruise Lines, Richard Branson is now going after the ocean depths as well.

While it looks like a cute little sub designed to show rich passengers a good time at the Great Barrier Reef or during a break from cruising their yacht around the Caribbean, this is actually designed to visit the very depths of the world's oceans. Specifically, his partner in the enterprise will take it to the bottom of the Mariana Trench later this year - becoming the second human-operated vehicle to make that dive, and only the third vehicle in history. After that, Bransonator himself will pilot it to the bottom of the Atlantic - the Puerto Rico Trench. Once all that is worked out, the Necker Nymph (the type of craft - I am sure the ships will be called V.S.S. Nautilus or something like that) will be used to taking paying customers down to the ocean depths. Pretty incredible really.

VW's Move Down

My Dad just came back from a few weeks over in the mother country (the UK). While he was over there, he rented a VW Passat - the new one. He has owned a 2001 1/2 Passat (the redesign which made the modern chrome trimmed Passat) since new, and loves it. It is the base 1.8T, and I have driven it many miles myself. While sports car it is not, it handles most situations very well, with steady and predictable handling, a peppy engine with good power (with a stickshift) and a simple but refined interior.

That Passat enjoyed many years of good sales, establishing the Passat as a real contender in the US market, something the previous generation (*shudder*) did not...


So then, thinking that what the US wanted from their German cars was sophistication, VW tried to move the Passat (and the whole brand) upmarket. This started with the introduction of AWD (4motion) and then the W8 engine - which was a complete failure. No one wanted a $45,000 AWD W8 Passat when it was not that much better, or different, than the $22,000 base model. However, VW pressed on, and came out with the newer, more upmarket, more luxurious, and heavier Passat.

The model was, from a sales perspective, a complete failure. Basically, heavy, sophisticated, and feature laden were not what people were looking for from VW. If they wanted that, they would have bought a Camry LE, or a Hyundai Azera, or any number of other numb, heavy, and underpowered cars which sell based on their leather seats and flashy gauges.

At the same time, the moves in the Passat were being basically mirrored with moves in the Jetta, which went from boxy, to popular and rounded, to upmarket. The Passat and the Jetta both gained weight, features, and sophistication.  Here is the quick and dirty version, in pictures:

Now, my girlfriend has that last one, and I have driven it a fair bit (the v6 automatic). And it is a very nice car. Basically, it is affordable luxury - the interior and quality of fit and finish are on par with much more expensive machinery. It offers a nice ride, and good handling, all while delivering a very competent highway cruiser. To me it made a lot more sense than the same generation Passat: there are a lot of competitors for big heavy $30,000 cruisers, there are not a lot of competitors for $23,000 near-luxury compacts. It was not, however, a big success. On price it was competing more with a V4 Camry than a Corolla, and that became an issue in terms of sales.

So what has VW done? Moved the brand down-market. And the end result? Not very good. The Passat is now built on a new Brazilian platform, and shares very little with the car it replaces. Out of 11 compact cars, Consumer Reports just ranked it 11th - which is shockingly bad for a car at the beginning of its life-cycle:

"In an effort to bring the car's starting price down, VW cheapened the previous Jetta's interior and suspension, making it less sophisticated and compromising handling."

CR isn't pulling any punches while describing why the sedan fares so poorly, calling it "a shadow of the agile, well-finished car it once was." Ouch. Specifically, the VW was dinged hard for sub-par handling and cornering grip, poor interior fit and finish and its coarse-sounding 2.5-liter, five-cylinder. In addition, CR came away disappointed with long brake distances and a six-speed automatic that is reluctant to downshifting.

In other words, it is nothing like the car it replaces.

The same goes for the Passat. My Dad came away with the impression of a large, cheap car with poor handling. In his opinion, which I trust, it did not have anything like the feel and sophistication of his 2001 Passat - which managed to feel and drive like a $35,000 Audi rather than a $22,000 car.

The interesting thing here is that VW believes these two new cars will be the key which will unlock the US market for them - really forming the backbone of the US strategy to sextuple sales over the next 5 years. Basically, they see them as directly competing with the Camry/Altima/Accord/Sonata/Fusion and the Corolla/Sentra/Civic/Focus rather than off on the side as the German alternative for those a little more driver-centric. They may be right, and Americans might go for big and cheap with clean looks, but it seems more likely to me that they just hit a couple big fat pop flies to center field rather than home runs.

Dish Buys Blockbuster

So, Dish networks has now bought Blockbuster, which combines the awesome power of satellite TV and VHS rentals. Oooohhhh.

So - I think Dish network is pretty good, especially in areas where verizon fios has not yet reached. But you are still left with the problem that Dish can't offer bundled internet service.

And I don't think I need to explain the challenges Blockbuster faces. I mean, when was the last time you rented a movie for 5 days for $4.99? Do you remember where your Blockbuster card is? Do you have a Blockbuster card anymore?

Palm Touchscreen Phone

Looks like there is going to finally be a all-touchscreen webOS phone. Now, while that is not quite my thing, it is still very interesting, especially if it comes with slightly better specs than the decent but not top of the line Pre 3. Actually, the single biggest thing I hope it comes with is 4G, which for some reason Palm decided was not necessary on the Pre 3...

Nuggets from Norm's Noggin

Never wear flip-flops to the barber on a rainy day.

A little good news: Japanese dog rescued after three weeks

A dog which spent three weeks floating on a sea of rubble has been picked up by a Japanese rescue helicopter.

Main Image
A dog believed to have survived the massive earthquake and tsunami of March 11 and, also three weeks at sea, is rescued by Japan Coast Guard members off Kesennuma, northern Japan April 1, 2011.
Credit: Reuters/Japan Coast Guard/Handout

TOKYO | Tue Apr 5, 2011 6:38am EDT
(Reuters) - A dog that survived in a house swept away to sea three weeks ago by the devastatingJapan tsunami was saved on Friday by a coast guard rescue team flying over an island of debris.
Local television showed an aerial view of a brown medium-sized dog trotting around the roof of the house -- the only part of it floating above water -- before disappearing inside through a broken section of the roof.
The coast guard rescuers, thinking there might also be people alive inside the house, lowered one of their team onto the roof. He tried to coax the dog out, but then went in after tearing a wider opening. He came out with the dog in his arms and they were transported back to safety by boat.
Domestic media said no people were found inside the house.

"If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys"

Turns out that there is a major problem with education in India. While yes, it does churn out millions of graduates every year, most of those are not fit for work, according to employers. Indian companies are increasingly looking offshore for their new centers, due to the difficulties of hiring in India.

Basically, the issue is that in the giant and mismanaged bureaucracy which is the Indian government, no one has ever really reformed the schools. They are outdated, underfunded and completely out of touch with the needs of a modern India, with teachers earning almost nothing and students basically taught through rote learning.

Read on for the full article (click the title of the post)