Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Danger--Camry Operator in Borrowed Passat

Madison, WI October 31, 2007
An alert has been posted to drivers, cyclists and pedestrians in and around Madison, Wisconsin. A Toyota Camry driver has been spotted behind the wheel of a late-model, white Volkswagon Passat sedan. The Passat was seen on the corner of Old University and Chesnut Drive, failing to make a left turn at a clear intersection, then proceeding at between 10 and 15 MPH down Chesnut, and then stopping at a green light at a construction site on Chesnut. The driver was last seen headed towards University Hospital. The driver has not been in possession of the Passat for long, as all bodywork was still attached and free of scrapes, scratches and dents.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Dead Cat

Dear cat owner-

If I ever catch your cat in my garage again I will kill it. I may come kill you too, or at least I will sue you. Yesterday when it was so unseasonably warm and sunny, I had just finished washing my Volvo, and I put it away in the garage. While I was putting the supplies away, my wife came home and I helped her get our daughter out of the car and in the house.

When I came back to the garage minutes later, your dirty cat was sitting on the hood of my Volvo. It had left footprints on the hood, and dirt had fallen off of the cat onto my car. I would have thrown something at the cat, except it was on my car and I didn’t want to further sully my car that your cat had just dirtied. Seeing your cat on my car caused a rage to surface in me that I’ve been working for years to reduce.

Nearly ten years ago, when I lived in a different state, I pulled my then-new Saab coupe into the garage of my home on a warm summer evening, leaving the windows open. I went into the house without closing the garage door. I came out later that evening to go to the store, and I climbed into my beautiful Saab and drove away into the warm, dusky evening with the windows still open and the radio playing. Upon arriving at my destination, I rolled up the windows, locked the car, and shopped.

When I returned to my car a few minutes later and climbed in, I instantly smelled cat urine. I searched the car for a cat, but none was found. When I returned home in my reeking car, I saw a cat standing in our garage. It quickly ran out when I drove up.

As I inspected my car in the light of the garage, I was distraught to discover that the cat had climbed up on the hood of my car, and in through the open driver’s window. It left paw prints on the driver’s seat before standing in the driver’s footwell of the car and pissing on the carpet, pedals, floor mat, and footwell’s center console. I ended up disassembling the center console, lower dash and lifting the carpet to use “pet odor” cleaning solutions on the carpet. I hand-washed all of the interior plastic parts in the kitchen sink.

If I had ever seen that cat again, or if I had found out whose cat that was, I would have gotten sweet revenge. For good or bad, that never happened. Perhaps it would have been cathartic. Perhaps it would have been pathetic.

Ever since, I’ve never left my car parked with the windows or sun-roof open far enough that cats could get into the car. I don’t like to leave the garage door open for any length of time. I’m neurotic about it. So the fact that your stinking, dirty cat was in my garage sitting on my freshly-washed car last night absolutely crossed the line. Consider yourself warned.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Camry Hybrid- for Planet Clueless

As a car enthusiast, I subscribe to a few car magazines, and I watch several auto-themed websites to keep up with car news. I’m used to seeing all types of crazy ads promoting cars, but this one really got under my skin. It is titled “THE CAMRY HYBRID. FOR THE NICHE MARKET CALLED EARTH

The first paragraph includes the phrase “Engineered to squeeze up to an unheard-of 500 miles from a single tank of gas- practically twice the mileage of a regular mid-sized sedan”. The next paragraph states “It’s a feat that some claim is still years away. And without Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive®, it would be.” Too bad that isn’t true.

My wife and I own a 2001 Saab 9-5 sedan, with 2.3 liter, four-cylinder LPT turbo engine and 5-speed manual transmission. On highway trips in the 9-5, we routinely get 30-32 MPG. We occasionally see results approaching 35 MPG. At just 32 MPG, we can travel almost 600 miles on an 18.5 gallon tank of gas. And that’s without the added complexity of a hybrid powertrain. So that feat of 500 miles- without the hybrid system- isn’t years away. It’s years ago, as in 8 years ago, when the 9-5 was introduced to the US market. Of course, the 9-5 isn’t a regular mid-sized sedan. It’s a phenomenally competent, stylish, comfortable, spacious car, with a well-designed driving environment, none of which really applies to the Camry.

The ad goes on to describe the Camry’s hybrid system, stating that “The technology combines a highly efficient, gasoline-powered engine with a self-charging electric motor.” Umm… what is a self-charging electric motor? I’ve been an electrical engineer for over 10 years now. Motors aren’t charged. They’re powered. Batteries and capacitors are charged. I think they tried to simplify the words used to describe the fact that the motor uses regeneration to charge the BATTERY. Whatever. We all know that the people who operate Camrys don’t have any sort of technical understanding of how vehicles actually work.

Finally, you can see a little drawing in the middle of the page, a line-drawing of the hybrid system within the car. The caption under the drawing reads “Despite its unique technology, the Camry Hybrid drives just like a regular car.I know that to be untrue. No modern Camry drives like a regular car. It drives like a nine-year-old Buick with a 97 year-old deaf guy behind the wheel, at about 52 MPH in the left lane of I-5 with a dent in the back bumper and a scraped right-rear door.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

I’m a professional writer. Now, what should I write about?

On Sunday I had a phone “interview” with the editor of He had posted on that the site was looking for additional contributors, and requested a short email from people who were interested.

I replied, we set up a phone conversation for Sunday, and now he’s waiting for my first piece, which I promised him by the end of the week. Great. As a car guy, I’ve always wanted to be a bit of an automotive journalist. Here is my chance. There’s just one problem. I can’t think of anything to write about.

I’m afraid the demand for posts about a Saab 900 has pretty much been satisfied by the saablog. And there are only about six of you who like to read my gripes about drivers of inferior products. So what relevant auto-related topic should I be writing about?