Saturday, December 27, 2003

Comparison 2: Pontiac Aztek vs. Nissan Murano
Don't laugh. If you look at the specs, these cars are very close on paper. The AWD versions are within 50 lbs of each other in GVW. Interior dimensions are within an inch or two for most purposes. I picked on the Aztek when it came out because it was so ugly. It is still ugly, but less so, after GM facelifted it last year. The Murano isn't exactly a beauty queen itself. GM may have mostly just been ugly first.

The biggest difference is in horsepower 180 for the Pontiac and 240 for the Nissan. But in torque, it's a lot closer, 210 ft/lb vs 245.

The price isn't close at all. Considering GM is paying its dealers to practically give away the Aztek. For the difference of a second or two 0-60 (and image) you could take a nice vacation for two to Hawaii and buy a big screen television.

FYI, if you get any GM 3.4 liter vehicle, try a K&N air filter. Word on the net is that this engine responds well to the extra airflow.;jsessionid=1uKIy42y13S5feOPhotIM1jiybu3G2PeLEQuEEEksvJfa3Q2NTPa!-1105064615?styleid=100305229&styleid=100305230&styleid=100366707&refid=&maxvehicles=5&op=3&tab=printable
GM Closes the Gap: Buick Rendezvous Ultra vs. Acura MDX

It was always apparent to me how similar in concept the Acura MDX was to the Buick Rendezvous. Now the paper similarity is even closer because GM has made available a new 3.6 liter DOHC V-6 in the Rendezvous.

Below is a comparison that I printed up on

The biggest difference? The Buick is $7000 cheaper.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

One-handed and unconventional keyboards

A few years ago I had a bout with carpal tunnel and cubital tunnel syndromes. At that time I became interested in alternative keyboard designs including one-handed "chordal" keyboards. But where to get them? Ck out

Keyboards, Index
For the hard-to-buy-for this christmas: Mammoth Tusks

Canada Fossils: Mammoth Tusks
For the hard-to-buy-for this christmas: Mammoth Tusks

Canada Fossils: Mammoth Tusks

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Before you buy that Big Screen TV . . .

Before you buy that big plasma, LCD or rear projection HDTV that you have your eyes on, you might want to read the article linked below about Intel entering the LCoS television market.

The natural progression of this is a single chip high resolution television. How would you like to buy a high resolution 50" television for under $300.00? Check in about 2006 or 2007. Front projection systems should also become commodities about that time.

I need a new television for my basement. I'm not even considering a big heavy unit that not be worth fixing three years from now. Right now, I'm leaning toward a front projection unit, the InFocus X-1 which retails for around $1000 and has received excellent reviews. The X-1 is based upon a TI DLP engine. With the X-1 you have the big-screen effect, but not a huge price. Plus when it breaks or is obsolete, you don't have to haul a 200 lb hunk of junk out of the basement.

New Intel digital TV chip could remake the market | CNET

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Honda flies Business Jet

For a half dozen years, Toyota has been making a big stink about entering the general aviation market. There was talk of modified Lexus passenger car engines for small aircraft. Last year, Toyota flew its own small aircraft design, but with an engine from another supplier. Since then Toyota has been quiet about its aircraft plans.

That's why it was a surprise to me to find out that Honda has two announcements on the aviation front. The most surprising of those was the announcement that Honda has test-flown it's own home-grown 6-seat business jet. This jet is Honda from the ground up, including twin 1700 lb jet turbines. The test flight was in North Carolina of all places.

Honda, in its usual quiet way, has not yet released any photos. The link below includes a sketch.

Honda denied any plans to market the jet, but come on, why develop a 6-place business jet unless you plan to do something with it? Most likely Honda is waiting for the right deal from a potential manufacturing partner.

The development of gas Turbine technology fits with a growing segment of Honda's business - small scale electrical generators and cogenerators. Honda has good market share for small generators with piston engines, but gas turbine technology is more efficient the larger you go. In addition, gas turbines could possibly be the engine technology of the future for hybrid cars. Volvo had a turbine-electric hybrid a decade ago that looked promising. When Chrysler test-marketed turbine cars in the 1960s, the lack of torque was a big problem. With electric motors turning out tons of torque, lack of torque would not be a problem for a hybrid.

Gas turbines have a number of advantages over piston engines. For a given power output, turbines can be made lighter, and potentially with fewer parts (but some parts must have high heat tolerance.) They can run on just about any type of fuel. When optimized and operated within their target output range, turbines can be more efficient.

In separate news, Honda has developed a piston engine for the broader light aircraft market. This engine, co-developed by Continental, has not been a secret, but has not been touted. It looks like the Honda piston engine may be on the verge of being marketed.

AIN Alerts Weekly News

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Ford Focus PZEV

Ford is getting good reviews for its 2.3 Liter Ford Focus PZEV. PZEV stands for "partial zero emissions vehicle". The engine is a modified version of the engine that powers the Mazda 6. In the Mazda 6, it makes 160 HP. In the Focus, it makes 145, but the 149 lb/ft of torque is much higher than the standard or optional 2.0 liter engines. I've seen conflicting information regarding the future of the Focus PZEV. According to the USA Today article linked below, the 2.3 liter engine will be replaced by a less powerful 2.0 liter low-emissions engine when the 2005 model year cars come out in March 2004. Will 2.3 liter foci still be available then? We'll see. At any rate, the 2.3 liter engine is just a $115 check-off option on the Focus, and it seems like a good deal. Ford must need the emissions credit to sell more profitable (and more polluting) vehicles. - New, fast Focus doesn't drive like an eco-car

Friday, December 05, 2003

Lots of news from The 12-5-03

There's lots of interesting stuff in today's installment of's TCC Daily Edition

There are pictures of General Motors' upcoming "crossover sport vans" that replace their minivans.

News that Ford Focus Hatchback production is moving from Mexico to Wayne Michigan. Also news on improved quality ratings for the Focus. (Good news for UAWLSP attorneys who want a fun-to-drive hatchback that they can drive to work.)

There are photos of the new Volvo V50 station wagon, probably the most stylish station wagon I've ever seen.

The Car Connection [ The Web's Automotive Authority ]: "crossover sport vans"

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Best Deals of the Month

With media coverage saying rebates on vehicles are starting to diminish, I was surprised to find that there are $4,500 rebates on the Dodge Intrepid and the Dodge Stratus.

According to, with the rebates, you can get a Dodge Stratus SXT for just a little under $14,000, and an Intrepid SXT for just over $19,000. We might be able to do a little better with our A-Plan (or whatever Chrysler calls it).

I've always liked the Intrepid. I like the swoopy stying. I think the Intrepid is a lot nicer looking than the bloated tank (the Magnum) that will replace it next year.

Last year I rented a Stratus. I found that it was a pleasant, capable family car. It was roomy. The base 2.5 liter 4 cylinder gives sufficient pep for every day driving. It is a little loud, but not as loud as some reviews would have you believe. The most significant negative in my opinion is the real-world fuel economy. In a week with the car, I averaged a little over 18 mpg, about the same as my minivan, and 10 miles per gallon less than my turbocharged Volkswagen Passat, which weighs virtually the same as the Stratus.

The knock on both these cars is that they sell so many to fleets that the resale value is awful. True, but the cars themselves are pretty good, so let's say you buy a Stratus for $15,000. You drive it for 3 years, use up the factory warranty then sell it for $7000. That's an average depreciation of $222 per month. Not a bad deal, and it gets better the longer you hold onto it.

Let's compare to a Honda Accord. Buy it for $22000. Sell it in three years for $12,000 and it cost you 278 per month in depreciation, plus, because the initial sales price was higher, all else being equal, your finance charges would be higher too.

Best new auto prices from Edmunds TMV

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Google & Blogger Blogs

Surprisingly, though Google purchased Blogger, it does not appear that this blog is being picked up on the Google search engine. I searched on "Hofer" and "blog" and it didnt' come up. Perhaps I need to add the terms "Paris Hilton" and "video". Naw, that would be cheap. I'd never do that.
And the Oscar goes to . . .
Teacher's Pet, The Movie

Ok, you probably will never hear these words again, but the Disney Saturday morning cartoon show Teacher's Pet has been a guilty pleasure of mine.

The plot, a dog named Spot learns to read and decides to dress up in his master's clothes and go to school. Through a mix-up he becomes known as a boy named "Scott". The television show was well-written and directed, and Nathan Lane as Spot/Scott does great voice work.

Now I hear a movie version will be released.

Yahoo! Movies: Teacher's Pet - Greg's Preview
Jimmy Carter and The Hornets Nest

The more I reflect on Jimmy Carter and his days as President and as ex-President, the more I think that he was a President that we didn't deserve. We weren't worthy. I think we knew it in the time. After all, here was a President who had an energy policy which told us that we need to conserve, turn down our thermostats, drive slower and drive more fuel efficient cars. We didn't want to hear that. We wanted an ex-actor who told us that all of our problems were caused by some bullies in commieland.

I'd give my eyeteeth to have an afternoon to just sit down with President Carter and talk (and perhaps fish). He's written a couple dozen books since he left office. This is in addition to his peacemaking, house-building and Sunday school teaching.

At age 79, President Carter has just published his first novel. I haven't read it yet, it's on the top of my Christmas reading list. It's called The Hornets Nest and it is a historical novel that takes place in rural Georgia during the American Revolution. Read the New York Times review linked below (free registration required), and ask yourself if the current Tenant in Chief would be capable of writing a book this detailed and nuanced.

One more thing: he painted the cover picture, and it's pretty good.

’The Hornet’s Nest’: Founding Bubbas

Monday, November 24, 2003

Chrysler Prepares to Roll out 9 New Models - Most of them Gas Hogs

Daimler Chrysler had very little in the way of new product to roll out at the beginning of the 2004 model year. To help appease dealers, they are showing off the cars (actually mostly trucks) that they intend to roll out over the next 12 months.

Chrysler plans crucial rollout of 9 new models

The one thing that most of these things have in common is that they are predominantly gas hogs. Chrysler was among the most fervently lobbying companies against raising federal fuel economy standards. It's clear from this product lineup that they don't care a bit about fuel economy. The entire marketing push is on the "hemi" V-8 engine. This coming year, the Hemi will spread from the heavy-duty pick-up to the Durango, the 300M luxury car, and the Grand Cherokee.

A current commercial for the Durango shows a husband, wife and baby child riding in a new Durango. The mom tells the baby about the video screen and other interior amenities. The Dad tells the child that there's only one word the child has to know: "Hemi".

Apparently Daimler Chrysler thinks the ideal family car is a 5,000 lb. Durango with a 330 horsepower engine.

It bugs me that the car companies justify SUV's by saying that's what the public wants, but yet they are active participants in shaping expectations and aspirations in their marketing campaigns.

The 300 series and Dodge Magnum replace the Chrysler Concord and Dodge Intrepid. When the latter two cars were introduced in 1998, Chrysler touted the cab forward design and aerodynamic profile, as well as front-wheel drive as adding to the cars' efficiency. All three of these attributes will be gone with the new models. I would be surprised if the new models weren't 20% less efficient than the ones they replace.

The Dodge Magnum will only be available as a station wagon. Apparently Chrysler intends to call the vehicle a truck for federal fuel economy purposes. The manufacturer is catching flak from dealers for doing this, but there may not be a choice. The new cars might be such fuel hogs that the only way they will be allowed to sell them in quantity is to get them out of the CAFE car category and into the truck category.
Higher Speed Limites lead to more Deaths
But . . .

A study just released concluded that raising speedlimits caused 1,900 more highway deaths over a three year period.

Study Links Higher Speed Limits to Deaths

Here's the problem. You can say that any speed will cause more deaths than a slower speed. If everyone stood still, there would be no highway deaths. Of course, nobody would get anywhere. You have to do a cost/benefit comparison.

A quick few minutes with a calculator suggested that, assuming that the 1900 fatalities gave up 50 years of life each, the 260 million americans who didn't die and gained the benefit of the higher speed limit would have to save the equivalent of .00036 years worth of utility (spread over a three year period.) How much is this? 3.2 hours, or a little over an hour a year.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Is OnStar a Snooping tool for Big Brother?

Here's a link to a discussionon regarding whether government agencies can use OnStar to snoop on what's going on in your car. I don't see ho this could be true. After all, Batman uses OnStar, and he has to protect his secret identity.

See, whenever you confront a conspiracy theory, you have to attack it with logic. Once you do that, it falls apart.

Slashdot | Roadside Assistance System Used for Eavesdropping

Thursday, November 20, 2003

FTC Sues Ameridebt

The FTC has finally started taking action against credit counselors. I've talked before about the problems with the credit counseling industry. Misrepresentations and conflicts of interest abound. Most of the customers don't know that the counselors take back-end "fair share" (their words) payments from the creditors. These "fair share" fees are a percentage of the debt paid. In other words, the counselors get more money the more debt is paid. Imagine if an attorney was hired to negotiate the best terms to get out of debt and the attorney took a back-end payment from the other party that increased as more debt was paid, the attorney's license would be gone in a heartbeat. And what are non-lawyers doing negotiating contracts on behalf of consumers in the first-place?

Secondly, when the counselor gets fees from the consumers and from the creditors, what are the odds that the consumer will get unbiased advice regarding bankruptcy as an option.

The biggest problem that I have seen as a consumer lawyer is that the counselor takes the first month's payment as a "voluntary" contribution. This means that an account that is two months late becomes three months late before the money even hits the counselor's office. By the time it is disbursed, the account might be four months late or more. Instead of improving the consumers credit, the counselor actually hurts the credit. The consumers also aren't told that when accounts are settled short, that is a negative mark on the credit report even if the account is eventually paid.

The AP Miami Herald article includes the quote below regarding increasing complaints against credit counselors:

Complaints against such companies are increasing, according to Edward Johnson, president and chief executive of the Better Business Bureau-Washington D.C. In 1998, 237 complaints were filed nationwide. Last year, complaints grew to 1,480, with the largest percentage naming AmeriDebt.

This coincides with my experience. Although I have been practicing consumer law since 1991, I didn't get my first complaint about a credit counseling service until about 1997. After that, the complaints started piling in.

Words to the wise if you are a consumer lawyer trying to pursue a case against a credit counseling company: These suits are very difficult. You have to dig into the relationship between the credit counselor and the related for-profit entities. In the long run, you have to prove your client's damages, when your client may have been a lost cause to begin with. The clients who come to you with these kinds of cases tend to be unreliable and not always honest. Finally, there is always the possibility or probability that the client will end up in bankruptcy, and the case against the credit counselor will become the property of the trustee.

Before you take on a case, Google the company, check the consumer complaint site message boards. Check your local court records to see if anyone has filed suit against the company before. Try to line up more than one client with the same problem. If you practice bankruptcy, consider filing the bankruptcy then working the credit counseling offensive case as an adversary action in the bankruptcy court. Don't take on one of these cases without plenty of time to spend on it. Consider networking with another attorney. Check with the National Association of Consumer Advocates for an attorney who practices consumer law in your area.

AP Wire | 11/19/2003 | AmeriDebt Accused of Misleading Consumers

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Daimler Chrysler to sell diesel hybrid delivery trucks to Fed Ex

According to, DC may sell up to 30,000 hybrid delivery trucks to Fex Ex, with deliveries starting next year.

Ironically, although Toyota's hybrid efforts have been getting most of the press, and have been the most visible, both GM and DC may be on the right track for more net fuel savings. General Motors has had demonstrator transit buses and airport shuttles on the road for a couple years now. Because of the size of these vehicles, and the fact that each is on the road almost all day, hybridizing one commercial vehicle can save as much fuel as hybridizing 20 passenger cars.

Diesel Electric vehicles aren't new to General Motors. General Motors has been producing Diesel Electric locomotives for at least 60 years.

The Car Connection [ The Web's Automotive Authority ]

Friday, November 14, 2003

Production of General Motors Pick-up Hybrids starts in Fort Wayne Indiana

GM Hybrid Being Built at Indiana Plant - Motor Trend

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Toyota to up production of Hybrid vehicles to 300,000 by 2005

According to Battery and EV technology News, a newsletter dedicated to hybrid and electric vehicles. Toyota announced that it would produce 300,000 hybrid vehicles by 2005. It's not clear from the context of the article whether this is cumulative production or a yearly production volume. Even if it is cumulative production, when coupled with recent announcements by Ford and General Motors that hybrid plans have been downscaled, it means that in the efficiencies that come with the experience curve, Toyota is way ahead. I haven't had much time to work on my mini-review of the 2004 Prius, put I can tell you that what makes that car so impressive is the progress over the 2001 Prius that I looked at earlier. The "brake-by-wire" electronic regenerative braking is much better than before, so smooth you can't tell anything fancy is going on. The electronic steering is faultless (unlike that of the Saturns.) The car is quiet, solid and responsive. There is nothing that keeps this vehicle from being considered as a legitimate mainstream family car except for uncertainty about long-term liability.

Fast forward to 2006, when the domestic makers have their first generation hybrids out, even if the Domestic models are good, their reliability will be untested. Toyota will have a track record of reliability and will have learned lots of lessons from making a half million or more hybrids already.

: "Toyota"

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

2002 Graduate Salary Survey Results from Indiana University School of Law, Bloomington

What it is is what it is. The ultimate test of whether a salary is at the market rate is whether you can recruit enough qualified people to do the job.

The AOL Cancellation Problem

AOL is like a roach motel, you can get in but you can't get out. I've spent a couple hours over the past week trying to cancel aol via the fax number that they (supposedly) provide for cancellation. Busy, busy, busy. The FTC has been after AOL for making it unnecessarily difficult to cancel since at least 1996. Nevertheless, aol still makes it difficult to cancel. Just try, just try getting an AOL sanctioned address for canceling by mail. The FTC needs to go back to the drawing board on this one.

Ford and Rosie the Riveter National Park

I've picked on Ford a lot (and I'll probably pick on them again), but I need to give credit where credit is due. Ford is leading the way for the creation of Rosie the Riveter National Park in California. This park is in an old industrial area that was built up in World War II including an old tank factory and a factory that built liberty ships. It is meant to commemorate the production war on the homefront, and especially the contributions made by women.

Since it was overwhelming American production that overwhelmed the axis powers and insured their defeat, this park is overdue.

Today's News
What's this case worth?

How well can you value a case?

Test your metal with "what's this case worth?" from

(Actually, you don't have enough information to really make this as useful as it could be. I was disappointed when I clicked on the link for more information and it didn't send me to either a citation or a link to the real case.) It's worth a few minutes anyway.

Recoveries and Large Settlements.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Now you can write for Saturday Night Live
Well, kind of. Saturday Night You keeps track of theupcoming hosts and allows you to write and post sketches tailored for the upcoming hosts. You also get to write scripts for your dream hosts. Some of these are as funny as the real thing. Just like the real thing, some stink.

Saturday Night You - where fans write Saturday Night Live sketches

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Walmart in trouble for hiring illegal cleaning crews

It seems like Walmart is always finding another fast lane in the race to the bottom when it comes to labor practices. This time, they hired contractors employing hundreds of illegal aliens.

Walmart claims it didn't know the aliens were illegal. Come on. They paid $10.00 per hour gross according to the New York Times article below. This included two layers of contractor overhead, cleaning supplies, and in theory would have included payroll taxes etc. - except at least one contractor admits that those taxes were never paid.

Illegally in U.S., and Never a Day Off at Wal-Mart
Ford's Statement on Breaking its 25% SUV Fuel Economy Increase Promise

Our Actions - Our SUV Fuel Economy Commitment

Here's what it amounts to in summary: To save money, we cancelled or delayed all projects to increase fuel economy, but we decided to sell more big SUVs, make existing models heavier and give them bigger engines. Eat exhaust greenies.
Linda Tripp gets $595,000 settlement from the U.S. Government

Say it isn't so! Linda Tripp settled a privacy case against the Defense Department for almost 600k. Taxpayer funds ladies & gentlemen. She was probably entitled to something, but $600k? Linda Tripp Gets Big Cash Settlement

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

The Most Reliable Family Sedan is . . .

The Camry? Nope
Accord? Sorry - not it

It's the Buick Regal

The Car Connection [ The Web's Automotive Authority ]

Monday, November 03, 2003

Coming Soon - the report of my testdrive of the 2004 Toyota Prius

Grammatical Anarchy! - What do you use for gender-neutral possessive pronouns?

Way back in the early part of the last quarter of the twentieth century, I was taught to use his or hers as a possessive personal pronoun when the gender of the person is not known. Within the past 10 years, the plural, but neutral pronoun "their" was adopted. That always bothered me, because it was drilled into me that pronouns should always agree in subject and number. Now, it appears that the pendulum is swinging back the other way. The Chicago Manual of Style has backed off its advocacy of "their". What does U-Chi propose instead? Er, Um, well. . . Find out with the link below.

Chicago Manual of Style - Q & A - Pronouns

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Credit Counseling firm sued for misrepresenting not-for-profit status

Class action status was given to a lawsuit alleging Debticated Credit Counseling misrepresented its status as a not-for-profit corporation

CreditCourt Forum: Finally: Legal action against credit counselors

Is the credit counseling gravy train about to come to a screeching halt? I hope so.

The type of relationship alleged in in this lawsuit is common in the industry, in my experience. The nominal credit counseling company is registered as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt, but back office functions are handled by a for-profit corporation controlled by the same people. Secondly, there may be a loan brokerage firm involved as well, also operated by the same people. Kudos to
David Vendle, attorney for the plaintiffs from the firm Morris Polich & Purdy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

NASA - Going nowhere fast

For twenty years, NASA has been treading water, the agency has really been without direction since the Challenger blew up, much less the more recent Columbia disaster. The space shuttle would never be a cheap space truck. Soon it would be come apparent that there was never going to be a self-justifying mission for the international space station. Single stage to orbit designs ran into one snag after another. Now there are snags in the "Orbital Space Plane" program.

The biggest problem is that there isn't consensus on what it is supposed to be, a cheap lifeboat for the space station or a relatively cheap passengers-to-orbit vehicle.

Not So Fast, Lawmakers Say of Plans for a Space Plane

From a public policy standpoint, I think we need to go back to the starting ground. Instead of having a National Aeronautics and Space Administration, we need to have a National Science Administration.

Scientific projects outside of the space program need to be able to fight for funding on an equal playing field with those inside the space program. Then maybe we can address some of the scientific funding issues for new energy technologies and programs that can solve some of the environmental problems that we're dealing with.

Monday, October 27, 2003

The best in Mongolian Entertainment.

Here is the teaser for the top story in the entertainment section of the UB Post - "the Leading Newswire of Mongolia":

"The Mongolian Puppet Theater was commissioned to create several giant puppets for pop singer Ariunaa’s solo concert scheduled to take place between October 31-November 2 at the Ulaanbaatar Palace."

THE UB POST - Leading Newswire of Mongolia: Entertainment
Getting the job done in Iraq, the Genghis Khan example

blah blah blah . .. building pyramids of skulls . . . blah blah blah. I'm not sure that would be really popular with the locals.

THE UB POST - Leading Newswire of Mongolia
All the news from Mongolia that's fit to print

THE UB POST - Leading Newswire of Mongolia

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Honda to announce a Hybrid Odyssey?

The rumor is that Honda is going to announce a hybrid version of its Japanese market Odyssey minivan at the Tokyo auto show next week. The American Odyssey is due for a redesign next year. Honda has clearly been engineering its IMA hybrid technology as bolt-on components, so it would be surprising to me if Honda did not come out with hybrid versions of both the Odyssey and the Accord within 2-3 years. It is possible that Honda will have its third-generation hybrid on the market before Ford (or any of the other domestics) has the first generation out. Ford's hybrid Escape has been delayed again, and is now set for the 2005 model year. Toyota has publicly declared a goal of having a hybrid option for all of its vehicles by model year 2010.

The Gibbs Aquada - the coolest car on the market?

There have been amphibious cars before. Historically, they have had their followers, but they've been poor boats and poor cars.

The Gibbs Aquada, a new British design, boasts of 100 mph speed on land and 30 mph in the water. The wheels fold up like a James Bond car, and it's not even ugly - as a boat or as a car.

The price $240k - ouch - but we're talking about a status car here.

The Aquada is a refreshing design, and I hope it's successful.

The Car Connection [ The Web's Automotive Authority ]

Monday, October 20, 2003

Delphi comes up with innovative "dual disc" brakes

The Car Connection [ The Web's Automotive Authority ]
Dean Kamen's next act

The thing that I found most interesting was the hints about the next project.

"Right now, we're working on water/electricity for the emerging world. We're working on other medical products, and we're working on new and different versions of Segway technology for specific applications."

In a PC Magazine article, Dean Kamen defends "slow" growth of the market for the Segway Human Transporter.

Segway's Devoted Inventor

When the rumors surrounding "it" and "Ginger" first broke, I thought that the invention would be a breakthrough in desalination technology, possibly involving a solar-powered Stirling engine. Ok, I was a little off last time. Maybe next time I' ll be right.

I think they ought to work on photovoltaic roofing shingles. Photovoltaic shingles (as opposed to traditional solar panels) are on the market, but they are expensive, and more important, they are not easy to install. This is where a company like Kamen's can really add value. IF they work on the interconnections to make them self-configuring, with a ready interface into the power grid, and make them easy to mass manufacture, this could be a really significant advance.
Way to go Bernard Brown

Automotive News, a publication aimed at car dealers, published a profile of Kansas City Missouri based consumer attorney Bernard Brown.

Automotive News (free registration required)

The title of the article: Suing Dealers has Become a Growth Industry.

I met Bernard Brown about 8 years ago at a National Consumer Law convention. My initial impression was that he's one of the brightest and most creative (in a good way) attorneys that I've ever met. It's nice to see he's being recognized.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

The hidden costs of Electronics Disposal

This San Jose Mercury News article describes the poor working conditions of Aisian workers who disassemble old electronics equipment. This is just another example of how Globalism and the "race to the bottom" is affecting the world in which we live.

Welcome to the Mercury News on

I recall from basic economics that for supply and demand to reach an optimal level of production of a type of goods, all the costs of the goods must be internalized into the goods. Right now, for many of our products, the cost are extenralized. For elelectronic goods, it is the disposal costs. For automobiles, it is the pollution and the risk that larger vehicles impose on the smaller ones. Legislatively, we need to be more creative about bringing these costs into the costs of the goods. As consumers and voters, we need to be more honest and compassionate, and we need to be willing to pay these true costs and not look for a free lunch.

For electronics, this means that there should be a disposal fee assessed at the point of purchase. For cars, we should pay a carbon tax that can be directed towards conservation efforts and alternative energy technology.

Writings on Globalism from a Catholic Perspective

Globalization, the Catholic Response,
Working Woman's 100 Best Companies to Work for includes Corporate Sleezeballs

Working Woman magazine released its annual list of the best 100 companies to work for for working mothers. As usual, a number of ethically challenged corporations made the list, including alleged predatory lenders Household International, Citifinancial, and Wells Fargo.


Every time I see this list, I think of the episode of the Simpsons where Homer gets the ideal job in the ideal setting, but he just happens to be working for a James Bond-type super villian.

Shockjocks target bicyclists

This wire story discusses how there is a trend for shock jocks to target bicyclists for violence. The jocks encourage listeners to throw bottles at the cyclists and run them off the road.

Having been hit by a beer bottle & run off the road down a dirt embankment, I am stunned that these idiots don't understand what they are doing is equivalent to advocating lynching.

Now, I'm the last guy in the world to defend Rush Limbaugh, but I'd like to know why these other idiots don't get half the flak for advocating assault with a deadly weapon as Rush received for criticizing a football player.

Hostility of shock jocks concerns many bicyclists

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Wisdom from 9 months ago

With various presidential candidates waffling regarding what they would have and wouldn't have supported in Iraq, I find it interesting that one democratic statesman was crystal clear to the point of being prophetic. In a Op-ed piece dated January 31, 2003, former President Jimmy Carter dismissed claims of weapons of mass distruction. Certainly, in retrospect he is persuasive in the arguments against US military action in IRAQ.

t r u t h o u t - Jimmy Carter | An Alternative to War

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

From New York Times - Not-for-Profit Credit Counselors Targets of IRS inquiry.

Not-for-Profit Credit Counselors Are Targets of an I.R.S. Inquiry

It's about time! I've had several cases where my clients, in an effort to pay bills got involved with various "credit counselors".

What's told the consumer is totally different than what the paperwork says. The consumer is surprised to find out that the first month's payment goes to the counseling service and not to the creditors - therefore accounts that are current go into default, and those that are a little delinquent become very delinquent.

The consumers aren't told - but it's buried in the paperwork - that the counseling service receives a kickback (my word) payment from the creditors in addition to what the consumers pay. They call this a "fair share" payment. I call it double-dipping. I also call it a conflict of interest.

One of the core principles of agency law is that the agent owes a duty of loyalty to the master. The credit counselor has a conflict of interest, being both an escrow agent and advisor for the consumer, and a collection agent for the creditor, a collection agent that gets paid based on how much it can funnel into the creditor's coffers.

Here's an interesting quote from the NYT story regarding the corruption in the industry in these supposedly "not-for-profit" counselors:

Not-for-Profit Credit Counselors Are Targets of an I.R.S. Inquiry

Published: October 14, 2003

Over the last three years, AmeriDebt has paid $75 million to have its customers' accounts managed by companies owned by Andris Pukke, the husband of its founder, Pamela Shuster, and a former officer.

AmeriDebt said "it would cost millions of dollars to invest in the same technology and personnel that are available at less cost from vendors."

Mr. Pukke, 34, left AmeriDebt three years ago, the company said, and has since had no affiliation with it.

Cambridge Credit manages its own accounts. But it pays much of its revenues to for-profit companies owned by its founders, John and Richard Puccio, who are brothers.

Tax returns show that it paid millions during its fiscal year ended July 31, 2002, to a debt-referral company owned by John Puccio.

Cambridge also paid the brothers $984,000 last year toward its $14.1 million purchase of two other for-profit credit counseling companies that the Puccios founded. The sale price, said Cambridge's lawyer, Paul Kaplan, was independently reviewed and approved by the accounting firms BDO Seidman and KPMG. Cambridge said that its executives' salaries had also been reviewed and approved by an outside firm. John and Richard Puccio earn six-figure salaries from either Cambridge or two related companies, adding up to more than $500,000 a year for each, according to tax returns.

Last year, a report by a Massachusetts Senate committee expressed concern about Richard Puccio, noting that the Securities and Exchange Commission barred him for five years from the securities industry in 1996 for "engaging in high-pressure, fraudulent sales tactics in utter disregard of his obligations to customers and their welfare."

If you do some research on credit counselors, here are a few websites to check out in general:

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Elton John's Midi Cafe

I just stumbled upon this site. It includes excellent original midi files of a variety of Elton John songs including B-sides and album cuts that are obscure to non-fans. The most interestingthing about this site is that the proprietor - listed as "glenboy" disects the song and explains each song from a music theory perspective. He also includes charts for several of the orchestrated parts.

Elton John's Midi Cafe
Long term test - 2004 Toyota Sienna

From a purely objective standpoint, here's a vehicle with more practical value than the Chrysler Pacifica. More room, similar features, similar or better performance, 20% better fuel economy. A lot cheaper. In other words, a minivan, but a relatively advanced one.

2004 Toyota Sienna specs, auto safety at Edmunds
Long term test - 2004 Toyota Sienna

From a purely objective standpoint, here's a vehicle with more practical value than the Chrysler Pacifica. More room, similar features, similar or better performance, 20% better fuel economy. A lot cheaper. In other words, a minivan, but a relatively advanced one.

2004 Toyota Sienna specs, auto safety at Edmunds
Chrysler Pacifica - An answer to a question not asked?

I don't get this vehicle. You give it the low stance of a sedan, the seats of a minivan, the weight and the price tag of a luxury SUV. You take away cargo space, fuel economy, performance and off-road ability. Who is this vehicle aimed at? Will I ever be that old? Do I have to listen to Celine Dion?
2004 Chrysler Pacifica specs, auto safety at Edmunds
Did the UAW really get organizing concessions from DaimlerChrysler?

The New York Times article below (free registration required) suggest that the press releases re concessions on organizing the Mercedes and Freightliner plants were exaggerated at best. I think there will be more on this story later. . .

Union Organizing Remains Muddled in Chrysler Pact
Chrysler 300C

Chrysler just released the first official pictures and information of its production-version 300C. The car continues the recent trend towards heavy, blunt and bloated DC vehicles with Mercedes content. The old car managed good performance with a V-6 engine thanks to its moderate weight and front-drive layout. The new version is heavy, rear-wheeled drive and blunt. The top-engine is a 340 hp V-8.

I suspect that the new 300C will continue the DC trend towards vehicles with lower fuel efficiency than the models that they replace. Note, DC was among the automakers that told Congress that they can't meet modest CAFE increases. Gee, lets see, you replace an aerodynamic 250 hp 3500 lb car with one that weighs 4000 lbs, has the wind profile of a truck, and put a 340 hp v-6 in it. Do you really think you're trying very hard?

The Car Connection [ The Web's Automotive Authority ]

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Collective Bargaining Basics

Things every union member (and non-members) should know. Ok, I admit that I've only read part of this. I intend to get around to it RSN (Real Soon Now).

If you are a delegate in Orlando - it would be good to know this stuff.

Collective Bargaining FAQs
Household International and Conspiracy theory

Well if you p*** off enough barely functioning people, you're bound to end up linked to the grand consiracy theory. With the billions of dollars that Household brings in, it's not surprising that some of that is linked to a number of evil enterprises,whether those links are real or imagined. Here's a site that claims that Household is the successor to the CIA's infamous Nugan Hand Bank. Is this legiit? How would I know? I didn't write it, I just linked to it!

CONSPIRACY UNVEILED - August 23-26 (aug23unv.htm)
Old Press Release - 1998 Household International gives $5 million to Harvard Law School

Law School Receives $5M Gift from Household International Inc.

So I'm sitting here at my desk working on half a dozen cases by consumers who think they've been ripped off by Household Internationa, people who were clued in by the attorney general settlement. I'm working on a HOEPA rescission letter, and when I do a search, this pops up.

(Here's a tip - if you're looking at these loans - don't assume that their calculation of "points" is correct. Also look for appraisal fees and closing fees to IRE and IRES. Read the NCLC Truth in Lending manual.)

I wonder how many widows and orphans had their homes stolen so Household could add to Harvards multi-billion dollar endowment fund?
Same Sex Domestic Partner Benefits & the UAW contract

We just received notice that many if not all of the recent UAW contracts just signed provide for UAW-LSP benefits for same sex domestic partners. I don't know if this extends to all of their benefits.

The Real California Governor's Race

With all the talk about Arnold beating Bustamonte, not enough attention is given to th real race. The race for dignity among the also-rans.

Here's the interesting part:

Arianna Huffington 42,227
Peter V. Ueberroth 21,561
Larry Flynt 15,112
Gary Coleman 12,514

Huffington virtually doubled Ueberroth even though Huffington dropped out. Still think you were a serious candidate Pete? Larry squeaked by Gary.

In the race for affirmation at the bottom, among the candidates that I have, here are the results:

Gene Forte 190
Todd Richard Lewis 171

Todd has nothing to be ashamed of though, I don't know if I could get 171 people to vote for me. On a vote-per-dollar spent basis, I suspect that he was right up there with the big boys.

Election Results

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Joseph Wilson

Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson has been on the air a lot lately talking about the outing of his wife as a former CIA agent. My impression from listening to him is that he is articulate and is justifiably mad at the tenant-in-chief and his minions. He's also full of himself. What I can't figure out is whether he comes off as being full of himself because (1) he wants to convince us of his credibility on the issues in question, or (2) he's just full of himself.

Googleteer(tm) search - "Joseph Wilson" and "publicity hound"
8 hits

Is the "Futura" of Ford in Mexico?

Ford confirmed that it will be building the upcoming Futura sedan in Mexico. The Futura is an indirect replacement for the Taurus. I say indirect because Ford intends to keep building the Taurus for a while at least after Futura production begins.

Ford plans to build up to 400,000 Futura sedans in Mexico and 200,000 "sport wagons" in Canada.

All of this, of course, angers those with vested interests in Atlanta Georgia, where the Taurus and Sable are built. Ford has no plans for the Atlanta Factory after Taurus production ends. This is interesting because Ford has issued numerous press releases over the years touting the efficiency of the Atlanta facility.

I wonder how many Futuras they'll sell in Mexico?

News: Ford to Shift Planned New Atlanta Production to Canada and Mexico

Monday, October 06, 2003

Single Payor Health Care - Myths and Facts

Alice in Universal Health-Care Land: Myths and Facts

How is this important to us and to the auto industry. Consider this: if all the retirees had health care sponsored by the government, these "legacy costs" wouldn't have to be born by the few remaining active auto workers, and the US companies wouldn't be at such a competitive disadvantage.

I heard ten years ago, though I don't have anything to back it up, that representatives from both the auto-manufacturers and the unions were initially part of the coalition working with Hillary Clinton on the Clinton Health Plan, put after the plan was roughed out, they switched sides and worked against the plan.

That being said, what shaped up as the Clinton plan then was not single payor health coverage, and I'm not even sure that Ms. Clinton was too happy with the results.
Jane Bryant Quinn on Fake Medical Insurance and other ripoffs

Is Your Health Plan Crooked?

It's astounding how many holes there are in our healthcare safety net. I first became interested in the problems with our health care financing system when I had not one, but two employers (small businesses) cancel my health insurance without telling the employees. More than a decade now, states are still preempted by ERISA in mandating insurer notification of employees in ERISA policies, and Indiana doesn't require group carriers to notify the group members in non-ERISA plans.
Edmunds' Review - Ford Freestar

Here's a link to the review of the Ford Freestar

The Car Connection [ The Web's Automotive Authority ]

Even though the Ford Windstar was on the market for more than a decade, Ford never fully redesigned it. (I guess Ford was too busy buying Volvo & Jaguar etc.) Now Ford has come out with the Freestar, a moderately facelifted Windstar with a new name.

Instead of competing with the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, the Freestar's closest competitor actually appears to be the rear-wheeled drive Chevy Astro and GMC Safari, with an emphasis on low-end torque and towing ability. Kind of a narrow niche if you ask me. Since the fuel economy of the Ford minivan has gone down with the redesign, it's running smack-dab into the niche of its best-selling comrade, the Explorer.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Midsize Wars - Take TWO

"Long Term" reports are now in on last year's prime family sedan contender, the Mazda6.

2003 Mazda 6 specs, auto safety at Edmunds

Even though it is a Mazda, this is a UAW-Built car, built in a joint venture factory with Ford in Flat Rock Michigan.

I test-drove a Mazda6 last year right after they came out, and right after I signed an order for a new Volkswagen Passat. Actually, I drove three both manual and automatic-equipped four cylinders, and a manual-equipped six. I liked the Mazda6, but I think I made the right decision for me. The Volkswagen Passat is the car that I wish the US automakers would build, and I don't want to send them a signal that what they are building is right by buying something that's not quite what I'm looking for. As for wage equity, yada yada, all I can say is that my Volkswagen was built in Germany by Unionized workers that make more than I do. I don't think this is the kind of globalism that we need to worry about. As I think about it, if I hadn't have gotten the Passat, I probably would have gotten the Mazda.

The Mazda6 has more personality than the Accord and the Camry. It blows the other domestics away. It handles tightly and confidently. Inside, it seems more cozy than its specifications would suggest. The four cylinder doesn't set the world on fire but is adequate. It is not nearly as fun as the turbo4 in my Passat which has quite a kick with the manual transmission. The Passat also beats the Mazda on fuel economy. I'm averaging over 28 mpg for mixed driving in the Passat. Actually, I should say my wife is, since she's the one that drives it most of the time. The six cylinder Mazda is fun to ride, but I don't want to have to feed it every day.

The red instruments in the Mazda are pretty cool, but not quite as cool as the red on blue of the Passat (with a trip computer), or for that matter, the white to green instruments of the Dodge Stratus. All Passats come with six airbags. You have to jump through hoops to get six airbags on most of the competition.

Since no dramatic systematic reliability flaws have shown themselves over the past year in the Mazda6, I can recommend the Mazda6 if you are looking for something fun yet practical to drive to work. I'm told that sales are below expectations, so you may be able to deal significantly in price.

Midsize Wars - take One
2004 Chevy Malibu

The first reviews are in on the 2004 Chevy Malibu, which should be hitting the dealers about as you read this. Generally the reviews are good.

MARK PHELAN: '04 Malibu can trade punches with Accord

Chevy needs a hit. Still, it's a very competitive segment. I'm looking forward to driving a Malibu. Over the next few weeks I hope to pick up my car commentary concerning cars that we can (and sometimes can't) drive to work -- if you know what I mean.

Let me preface by saying that I'm Huffingtonian in my opinion of SUVs. I suspect that the average SUV owner spends more just on the difference between an SUV and a normal sensible vehicle than that person puts into his/her 401(k).

I talk to several hundred autoworkers every year who are considering bankruptcy. Virtually all of them make 50-100k per year, plus whatever their spouses' make, and the majority of them have truck & SUV payments that they can't afford.

Here's Hof's rule regarding SUV's and personal finance:

If you haven't put at least $3000 of your own money into your 401(k) this year, you can't afford an SUV.

When you think about it, you'll know I'm right.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Association of Legal Aid Attorneys - UAW LOCAL 2325
This a link that I've been meaning to post for some time, and for whatever reason, it's been put off.

UAW Local 2325 represents Legal Aid attorneys in New York City. Their contract is posted on their website, but not their salary schedule.

The Association of Legal Aid Attorneys
SCREEN IT! - Detailed information on current release movies for Parents
Sometimes MPAA ratings like R, PG-13 etc. aren't enough. Screen it! gives detailed information so you can see if a movie is suitable for YOUR child.

Saving the Alien Children - The Battle of Freedom Ridge

By popular request, here's my link to the installment of Glenn Campbell's "Desert Rat" (a blog before there were blogs) describing the hearing in Las Vegas in March 1994. The truth was stranger than fiction that evening folks. Here's part of the testimony of "Moe".




[Points accusingly at BLM officers on the stage.]


[Points again at BLM.]


[Points again at BLM.]


href="">Groom Lake Desert Rat #4: "ALIEN"

For a more detailed perspective, check otu David Darlington's book, Area 51: The Dreamland Chronicles.

a href="">
Saving the Alien Children - The Battle of Freedom Ridge

By popular request, here's my link to the installment of Glenn Campbell's "Desert Rat" (a blog before there were blogs) describing the hearing in Las Vegas in March 1994. The truth was stranger than fiction that evening folks. Here's part of the testimony of "Moe".




[Points accusingly at BLM officers on the stage.]


[Points again at BLM.]


[Points again at BLM.]


The whole issue of Desert Rat is below. The most interesting stuff is in the second half.

href="">Groom Lake Desert Rat #4

For a more detailed perspective, check otu David Darlington's book, Area 51: The Dreamland Chronicles.

a href="">
Will the last one on AOL turn out the lights - DSL Closes the gap again: SBC-Yahoo DSL minireview

Twelve years ago, when I moved into my (then) new home. I signed up for America Online. At that time, it was the best on-line service. The pre-loaded graphics and sounds added some pizzazz to the interface, and download time was acceptable for text even with my (gasp) 2400 baud modem. At 9600 baud, it was actually zippy. Through the special interest groups message boards, I met folks on line and enjoyed numerous discussions about esoteric things like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon and the mythical(?) Aurora spaceplane. I even got involved with "the Battle of Freedom Ridge" protesting the closing of public access to hills several miles from the Air Force base that didn't exist in Groom Lake Nevada, a base that became famous as "Area 51". But that's another story from another decade . . .

I just changed residences and I am changing on-line providers. I'm saying adios to AOL and aloha to SBC-Yahoo dsl. I never cared much for Ameritech, one of SBC's subsids. SBC did mess up my initial order, but so far the performance of the connection has been zippy. The Yahoo-enhanced interface does seem to add some value.

The kicker is the cost. I think AOL is now up to $23.99. I'm paying $29.99 for the SBC dsl. In addition to the difference in speed between the 50k (at best) aol connection and the 1250k (real world) speed of the SBC-Yahoo dsl, I don't tie up a phone line with the DSL. In addition to however many people I have connected over DSL, I can have up to two of my screennames (read - relatives) hooked up via dial-up from remote sites. You can't have more than one person online at a time per account with aol.

Here's the kicker, SBC-Yahoo just lowered the cost of their DSL to $26.99 per month. Unless you need the higher speed of cable modems (3megabits per second vs up to 1.5megabits per secondfor dsl), I urge you to take a look at the SBC-Yahoo dsl.

If you have AOL stock, why?

broadband » News » Dirt Cheap DSL? - SBC takes intro-offer lower still

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

How much is an attorney's experience worth?

The link below is to the U.S. Justice Department's "Laffey Matrix". This gives suggested rates that would be reasonable in fee shifting cases. These rates don't really have anything to do with what an employed attorney can expect as a salary, BUT notice that an attorney with 11-19 years experience is worth almost double an attorney with 1-3 years experience.

United States Attorney's Office, District of Columbia - Laffey Matrix

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Today's Animal: The New Guinea Singing Dog

It's been a long time since I featured an animal. I like to present links to animals that you've never heard of. I'd never heard of this one. I wonder if it takes requests?

Lioncrusher's Domain -- New Guinea Singing Dog (Canis lupus familiaris dingo) facts and pictures

Monday, September 29, 2003

Consumer Reports Petition to OCC to reject state pre-emption of predatory loans

Consumers Union

Friday, September 26, 2003

The Apollo Alliance

Hey AFSCME 3357 fellow brothers and sisters, you know what! Our parent union is a member of the Apollo Alliance. So is the UAW.

What is the Apollo Alliance?

As I understand it it is a coalition of organizations that are calling for a massive investment in alternate energy and energy efficiency technology in a coordinated effort with the national priority of the original Apollo man on the moon project. I think that's a wonderful idea. A great idea. The question is, is anybody doing anything about it - really?

The UAW lobbies against fuel efficiency increases. When was the last time that you heard about AFSCME getting involved in any public issue?

I recently tried to buy compact fluorescent lightbulbs for my house. I could find hardly any lamps designed to use them. I was eventually able to buy $200 of CF lightbulbs. All the CF lightbulbs that I could find were made in China. As for the future of lighting LED lights - Oh please!

As for EnergyStar appliances - hardly any of the appliances that I saw had the stickers on them.

Judging from press reports I've read, the Bush Administration has raided funding (which was only in the tens of millions of dollars to begin with) for the EnergyStar program to pay for other programs. We apparently have enough money to fight a war for oil, but we don't have enough money to make sure your refrigerator doesn't cost you double to run every month. Man, that's an energy policy.

I think the Apollo Project is on to something. I don't know how to get there from here, and it doesn't look like they do either. I think first we need to say that before we need a space policy, we need a science policy. When we set our national Science policy, we need to weigh government sponsored science projects in relation to important goals. Environmental preservation, energy independence, long term employment security and public health.

Bill Gates has done this with his Gates Foundation, and he appears to be on the right track in terms of putting the money to a good civic use.

Apollo Alliance : Apollo Alliance: Ready for Lift Off
Oh, Ok, the Unified Theory of the "Wesley Problem"
Better Living Through Blogging!: "Problem"

I still have two questions:

1. Do have to be a dweeb to evolve into a more advanced lifeform?

2. Did Wesley Crusher wear turtlenecks to cover up hickeys?
The Wesley Problem - It's a Neck and Neck Race

The Googleteer(tm) compares with this search

"Wesley problem" "Wesley Clark" (10 hits)

Wesley problem" "Wil Wheaton" (11 hits)

Something tells me that Wil Weaton's going to have to do something drastic like run for Governor of California if he wants to stay in the lead.
Just what was that cliche anyway?

Here's an interesting site, The Phrase Finder can help you find the "meanings and origins of phrases and sayings."

Phrases, sayings, quotes and cliches, with their meanings and origins.
Just what was that cliche anyway?

Here's an interesting site, The Phrase Finder can help you find the "meanings and origins of phrases and sayings."

Phrases, sayings, quotes and cliches, with their meanings and origins.
Google Toolbar
E-bay Fraud

Every now and then we get cases involving EBay fraud. Usually the ones I see involve somebody getting suckered into sending money outside of the normal e-bay security processes. I think the biggest problem with EBay is not the fraudulent transactions, but what a giant timesuck that it is, and that it causes people to buy stuff that they don't really need and wouldn't buy otherwise. (I could say the same thing for COSTCO and the HOME SHOPPING NETWORK.)

Here's a link to an MSNBC story on an EBay scammer.
EBay thief reveals tricks of the trade

Blogger Toolbar

I installed the google 2.0 toolbar - it has the option to link to There's now a spell checker - a needed addition.
If you've been around the net awhile, you've probably run into the corporate rumor site F*** I just checked it out to hunt for information for my cases against Household Finance. I was surprised to find that you have to pay good money and get a gold membership now to get anything useful. I have to take it off my bookmarks list. - Official lubricant of the new economy

Friday, September 19, 2003

Low Cost Cruise Missiles & Anti-Missile Technology

A couple news events are intersecting in an interesting way.

The Bush Administration wants to put anti-missile countermeasures on all commercial aircraft. This will cost billions of dollars.

A guy in New Zealand, Bruce Simpson, is putting together a low-cost cruise missile just to show that it can be done.

As it stands today, the threat to commercial airliners isn't cruise missiles. It is shoulder-mounted heat-seeking SAMS. Simpson's conjecture is that the trend in technology is to reduce component costs that would make cruise missile technology accessible to the do it yourselfer.

The primary technologies are powerful, compact off-the-shelf jet engines, or easily fabricated pulse-jet engines, GPS systems that can be modified for navigation purposes, and computers and sensors to put it all together.

This means in practice that Terrorists can put together in a garage the equivalent to a V-1 buzz bomb, except more accurate. They can put together a bomb that can fly a hundred miles or more and land within 30 feet of its target. Who needs to steal an airplane? Who needs to blow one up with a cruise missile.

Further, if you want to blow up an airplane, this technology is obviously adaptable to the purpose and can defeat the countermeasures envisioned. If the enemy puts in thermal countermeasures to defeat heat-seeking missiles, then the smart terrorist puts in a $2.00 radar chip, or in the alternative, programs an optical recognition guidance system.

Once the countermeasure is in place, it is a fixed target and easily evaded. It is the general nature of terrorism to go for the weak link. For this reason preventative defenses against terrorism are rarely cost-effective.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

China Studies New Import Restriction on Cars

From - China has drafted a new Regulation designed to protect their domestic auto industry. This at the same time, Chinese production for foreign markets, especially for car parts up to and including engines is growing by leaps & bounds.
The Googleteer(tm) shifts production to China

It's been awhile since our friend The Googleteer(tm) paid a visit.

Here's the search term & results:

shift production to china

Results about 383,000
DC announces a new incentive for suppliers


"DaimlerChrysler Corp. will begin offering "preferred" new-vehicle pricing to employees of Chrysler Group suppliers, beginning in August 2003. The program, the DaimlerChrysler Affiliate Rewards Supplier Program, gives the U.S. employees of Chrysler Group suppliers and their subsidiaries the opportunity to purchase or lease Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge vehicles at one percent below factory invoice."

Naturally, UAW-LSP workers, suppliers though we may be, aren't included.


Tuesday, August 26, 2003

More on the Experience Curve

Here's a link to a weblog all about the Experience Curve
Second Generation Toyota PRIUS to debut

Three years ago Ford announced that it would be coming out with a hybrid version of its Ford Escape SUV by 2003. Well, 2003 is almost over, and the Escape is on the schedule for nyear, probably as a 2005 model. In the meantime, Toyota is on track to debut its second generation Prius hybrid. This version is bigger, faster and more economical than the first generation, but the pricing remains the same. The New York Times review (free registration required) linked below is typical of the praise the new Prius has generated.

I am concerned that the domestic car makers are late to the party on the hybrids. They may have great stuff in the labs, but you really have to get them on the street to shake the bugs out. Given that experience curve effects tend to accellerate technology as a function of total units produced, you don't get the benefits of the technology unless you are actively producing.

As a side note, General Motors has a wealth of experience in hybrid powertrains, just not in its automotive units. GM has produced diesel electric locomotives for most of this century. This experience could also be useful in the cogeneration applications that GM has identified for fuel cells.
Sobig F virus = racketeering?

A news item on ZDNet explains that the Sobig F virus includes code to make spam e-mails anonymous. The creators can sell a list of infected computers to the advertisers. It seems to me that this might be expose the advertisers as well as the creators for a civil Rico suit. Advertisers beware!

Blogger isn't posting my hypertext links for some reason, you'll actually have to cut & paste this to your search bar if you want to see it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Could 4 Wheel Drive be universal in 10 years? reports that GM has developed light-weight electric motors to power the rear hubs in cars that would ordinarily be frontwheel drive. The motors weigh 30 lbs each. Coupled with a hybrid drive system with a modest-sized battery, the whole secondary powertrain could weigh less than the 300 lbs or so that a part-time 4WD system adds, but the hybrid system would deliver the additional benefits of recovering lost braking energy and delivering additional power during peak accelleration.

Although most current hybrids don't do this, the system could be programmed to deliver power get the car out of the way when the primary powertrain fails. Considering that a significant portion of urban congestion is caused by cars that don't run, this redundancy would be a significant safety advantage and could contribute to the efficient running of congested motorways. It therefore wouldn't surprise me if it were to be made mandatory once it proves itself.

GM isn't necessarily ahead of the curve on this. Don't be surprised if the next generation of the Honda Odyssey includes an electric hybrid 4WD feature as early as 2005. Based on my educated guess, Honda has the technology to deliver a hybrid minivan with 240 hp gas and 60 hp electric (300 hp total) on a 4600-4800 platform. You're looking at the potential of a minivan with 0-60 times under 8 seconds and 30 city/30 highway gas mileage.

And yet, Ford has the nerve to put an old 4.2 liter van engine in the Windstar, change it's name to Freestar, and think it's really going to be competitive.

I know what you're thinking . . .

Gee, I wonder how you do a taxidermy mount of a two-headed calf. Once again, the web comes to your rescue.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

The Kinkos Scam

In the news not long ago was a story about a guy who stole people's passwords with a keystroke capture program when they used the public computers at Kinkos in New York. This really hit home with me because I have entered passwords on public library computers before and I wondered if that could happen. Yup.

The program he used was Amesico Invisible Keylogger Stealth

Luckily there is at least one countermeasure, a program called Spycop

I haven't used this product, but it is good to be aware that it exists. Note, if you believe someone is spying on your computer usage at work, spycop should work under those circumstances as well.
The Customer is always right?

Not at

The World's Busiest Movie Reviewer

I stumbled upon James Dawson's Back Row Reviews movie review site. This guy must be the busiest movie reviewer on the planet. As far as I can tell, the guy appears to be an amateur. Since I see maybe three or four movies a year, I don't know whether to be jealous because he sees so many flicks or feel superior because I have a life.
Gigli - Part II

Ben & Jen make the best on-screen couple since Harrison Ford & Josh Hartnett.
What can you say?

This is William Shatner at his best - singing "Rocketman" in jerky multimedia splendor.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

You know you're lucky when . . .
when your son is into Pokemon & your daughter is into Mary Kate and Ashley. Bad children's literature for 1000 Alex . . .
Ben & Jen take two

The dashing young (?) lawyer goes to the phone booth, turns into the Googleteer(tm) and performs this search

"Ben & Jen" overexposed

and came back with 23 hits - not all of which were relevant. You've got to be kidding!
Ben & Jen

On news there’sthis headline

“J.Lo and Ben Look Forward to Next Film”

Let’s see, that makes the score

6 Billion to 2.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Hof's Ramblings on Contract Negotiations - Part One
Michigan Teachers earn more than UAW Legal Services Attorneys

From an article in the July 5, 2003 Detroit Free Press

"The average teacher in Michigan earns $52,497 a year, more than $8,000 above the national average of $44,367, the survey shows. "

"The AFT said teacher salaries would be lower than those of white-collar peers -- such as accountants and engineers -- even if teachers worked a 12-month year. Factoring in an additional 35 days, the average teacher salary would be $52,541, the survey said. "

Lower than those of white-collar peers? In the words of Fluffy the Guinea pig, "I DON'T THINK SO!"

We at local 3357 are at a disadvantage on contract bargaining time when we negotiate in Detroit. We are always the visiting team. We're away from our work and families. The Plan's negotiators can go home to their families at night, and get their work done on breaks. It is a horrid negotiating practice and one that we were crazy to ever adopt. It would be better for us to pool our support behind the Michigan group, stay home & save money than to go up to Michigan for protracted bargaining sessions at contract renegotiation time.

This article suggests that we may be lucky to have Michigan brethren to do pattern bargaining. If the Michigan teachers bargain substantially higher than the national average, then there is potential for Michigan UAW LSP attorneys to do the same thing.

It would be interesting to use teacher contracts as a reference when setting up our contracts. Teachers start much lower than attorneys, in the 30s, but the Michigan public school teachers top out well over $60,000, with bonuses for a masters degree etc. These contracts are publicly available on the web. Very few other professionals collectively bargain.

As a second touchstone, we can use the UAW's own contracts. We need to make it clear to the UAW members that we make less than they do. Not only do we make less, but on the last contract, they received double the raise that we did. Secondly, we do not have the pension benefits or other side benefits that they do.

How about the argument: "If I can hire as many lawyers as I want for $45000, why should I pay AFSCME 3357 members $60,000." The answer is reflected in the whole nature of collective bargaining.

I can hire all the high school graduates that I want to do auto assembly for $35000 a year, why should I pay them $50,000 - because that's what the union held out for, and I agreed. Ditto teachers. Nonunion teachers make substantially less than unionized teachers. Why should unionized attorneys make the same OR less than nonunionized attorneys?

Part of the answer is that we have historically not even considered playing the strike clause. Ok, that's fine (even though UAW-represented legal services lawyers struck in New York.)

There are other alternatives - informational picketing, working without a contract, disbanding and forming a professional association. I hope to discuss these in future installments.

The Plan is likely to take a hard line at contract negotiations. It will be challenging to come out with a favorable contract. The auto industry is contracting. Healthcare costs are skyrocketing. Nevertheless, we can't give up come contract time. Each one of us has to challenge ourselves to say no to a marginal offer.


The UAW is now bargaining on its major automaker contracts. All AFSCME 3357 members should keep a close eye on this. As you know, our last contract wasn't as good as theirs. (More on that later.) Now, however the UAW is under a lot of pressure regarding healthcare costs and overcapacity causing the need for plant closings. (It would have helped if the Big 3 would have put more money into its main line products, and less into merging with German Automakers, buying Jaguar, Daewoo, Volvo, Saab, and dumping money into a black hole called FIAT.)

How much is a law school education worth?

I found this spreadsheet

Here's the assumption that struck me: It assumes a 40 year professional life, and a starting salary of $40,000, and equal increases until a final salary of $250,000 is reached.

Another CAFE increase is shot down: Is LED (Solid State) Lighting our best hope for achievable energy-consumption reduction?

Last week, the Senate rejected an increase in CAFE fuel efficiency requirements for light trucks. Newsweek ran a story discussing why the US lacks an energy policy due to powerful special interests, including autoworkers.

Here's an energy initiative that everyone can get behind - changing our lightbulbs. Almost no lightbulbs are made in the United States. We have the opportunity to grow a new industry, LED lighting, that can save 10% or more of our energy consumption.

More than 10% of our energy consumption comes from lighting. More than 90% of the energy consumed by a standard incandescent bulb is dissipated as heat. New LED lighting technologies are 90% efficient at producing light, not heat. This means that you don't have to pay to chill the heat out of the air with air-conditioning.

What's the catch? The technology is still low on the experience curve. There is little mass production in place. (Although Honda does use LED lighting in its 2003 Accord.)

If the progressive consumer lobby would press for stong government backing of new lighting technologies, including having the GSA purchase large quantities for government buildings, we can get this technology up to speed faster - this would be a good face saving measure as a consulation when the lawmakers reject the next CAFE increase proposal.

For a Sandia National Laboratories report on LED lighting click the link below.
(I wish had a spellchecker.)

White Collar Jobs the next thing for globalization

The next time you talk to an insurance adjuster - could the adjuster be in Punjab? Here's an interesting USA Today article about the trend of exporting white collar jobs.

Blue Collar workers aren't the only folks who have to worry about the effect of globalization.

Friday, July 11, 2003

A 40 MPG Ford Taurus?

Could Ford be selling a Ford Taurus right now that gets a real-world 40 MPG? Well, they could, but they aren't.

In the European markets, the Ford Mondeo (just slightly smaller than the Taurus -- a little larger than the Ford Contour that was sold here in the 1990s) is getting a new direct injection gasoline engine. The tester for Yahoo cars got 39 mpg consistently in real world driving conditions.

The Mondeo is based upon the world car platform that gave us the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique in the 1990s. Ford cancelled the Contour and Mystique to use the plant for the Ford Escape SUV. In doing so, Ford replaced a car that got up to 34 mpg with a truck that topped out at 28. As the new Mondeo shows, using current technology, and automatic-transmission family-sized car can get 40 mpg without resorting to hybrid technology. At the same time Ford (and other carmakers) lobbied Congress saying they couldn't meet tougher fuel economy standards.

The Engine of the Mondeo 1.8 SCi is a direct injected 1.8 liter gasoline engine. Direct injection gasoline engines (modern ones anyway) were introduced in Japan in the mid 1990s. They have not made it to the U.S. yet because of emissions concerns and the fact that they don't get along with our gasoline standards. Similar issues regarding the quality of our diesel fuel have kept high performance turbo-diesels out of our market as well. If the automakers would have spent have the time lobbying for cleaner fuel as they have spent lobbying against higher CAFE standards, we never would have had to invade Iraq.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Notebook Computers Outsell Desktops

For the first time, notebook computers outsold desktops in May. To me, this just makes sense. The displays are so good now, and they're plenty fast enough. The price difference is at a record low. Here's a tip. If you are buying a notebook computer, make sure it has a graphics chip from either NVidia or ATI. Without a third party graphics chip, you are really crippling your system performance.
Notebook Computer Sal
Is Chrysler the "World's Sweatshop" editorial writer Jerry Flint calls Daimler Chrysler the "World's Sweatshop" because of the company's current campaign to make suppliers match Chinese prices.

(Flint refers to a New York Times series on the subject, but I couldn't find it in my search of the site.)

Here's the Flint editorial:
Quoting from Flint's editorial:

"Nice work for Peter Rosenfeld, who is Chrysler’s purchasing chief. You want our American suppliers to match prices from “The World’s Sweatshop.” Do you want them to match working conditions, too? How about death rates among Chinese workers? Do you want those matched, too?"


"Another thing, I haven’t noticed that Daimler in Germany, the parent company, has told its suppliers over there to match Chinese prices. You know, Bosch GmbH and Siemens and ZF Friedrichshafen and ThyssenKrupp and Continental AG and Freudenberg and Behr and Benteler and Mahle GmbH. Enough of the names. You get the idea."


"Could it be that the Board of Supervisors of Daimler, and every other German company, includes a strong representation from the workers and their unions? That they might not be happy to have their fellow German workers at parts-making plants put out of work because they couldn’t match the sweatshop pay and conditions in China?"

Here Here Jerry!

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

[ Wed Jul 02, 01:02:55 PM | Steve Hofer | edit ]
I liked the show Bewitched. My favorite character was Gladys Kravitz

"Abner, there's an elephant at the Stevens' house. . ."

Incidentally, this site follows the seemingly endless rumors of the Bewitched feature film. The latest buzz is that Nichole Kidman will play Samantha. My vote goes to Christina Applegate, who from some angles, is a dead ringer for Elizabeth Montgomery.
I liked the show Bewitched. My favorite character was Gladys Kravitz

"Abner, there's an elephat at the Stevens' house. . ."

The harpiesbizarre website shows what happens when fans get a little carried away.

Incidentally, this site follows the seemingly endless rumors of the Bewitched feature film. The latest buzz is that Nichole Kidman will play Samantha. My vote goes to Christina Applegate, who from some angles, is a dead ringer for Elizabeth Montgomery.

Monday, June 23, 2003

It's been a long time since I posted a site that's just crazy stupid fun. is that. It's fake news stories like The Onion, but funnier.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Census Data by Address

Here's the link to the government site.
100,000 Hummers a year

GM hopes to sell 100,000 Hummer H3 trucks a year. Just what the world needs 100k Hummers

Monday, June 16, 2003

From the Cartalk website - Tom's editorial that cars with a horsepower to weight ratio of .06 to 1 shouldn't be on the road.
When the subject of bassboats came up, this old article from The Onion crossed my desk. It's from 1998 but still appropriate.
From the Automotive News website:

DC is telling its suppliers that it has to meet the price of the world's lowest cost suppliers. Once again, globalism's race to the bottom effect is demonstrated. Only time will tell if the Chinese workers will buy as many DC products as the workers of the American suppliers. Perhaps they can use Chinese lawyers as well.

(registration Required)

Monday, June 09, 2003

From the Get a Life Department . . .

I've been following writer Nick Stam's series of articles on high definition television on

Nick Stam bought and returned 5 different HDTV sets before finally keeping a Samsung 43 inch rear projection DLP set. Having resigned myself to normal television for at least a couple more years, it gives me a little bit of satisfaction to find out that early adopters are having quite a few problems.

Reading this article makes me think this guy must have a wife with the patience of a saint.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Stick Figure Death Theatre:

Pretty much self-explanatory:
Who_s_Trying_to_Kill_You_Frank Surprising stories from the media and primary sources:

New GM credit cards & supplier discounts:
From 5/16/2003

General Motors Plans New GM Credits Cards General Motors putting some new muscle behind the GM Card in an effort to broaden its appeal. John Smith, GM group vice president, North America vehicle sales, service and marketing, said Thursday the GM Cards will be offered to small business owners. In addition, GM also plans to offer an updated version of the card to the company's employees, dealers, retirees and qualified suppliers. "With the introduction of these new products, and the support of our bank partners, GM is looking forward to extending the fundamental value proposition of The GM Card - to save toward the purchase of 'gotta-have' GM products - to millions of consumers, small business owners and GM family members throughout the country," Smith said. Since it was introduced in 1992, The GM Card has helped sell four million GM vehicles, GM officials noted. Jack Bowen, general director of GM Card, said the decision to offer a card specifically aimed at small businesses grew out of GM's experience with its own fleet customers. Small businesses using the GM credit card under the new service will be able to save money towards GM vehicles, Bowen said. "If you spend $50,000 a month on GM card, you will qualify for one new, $30,000 vehicle every five years," said Bowen, who added that GM won't cap the savings under the program. The target market, however, extends beyond GM's fleet customers to all small businesses, he said. GM also will now offer the GM Extended Family Card to employees, retirees, dealers and qualified suppliers. The new extended family card will allow owners to combine unlimited 1 percent earnings with GM's New Vehicle Purchase Program discounts and use them toward the purchase or lease of a new GM vehicle. In the past, GM had placed restrictions on the use of the rebates from GM Card and employee discounts in the same transaction, Bowen said. -Joe Szczesny

Hyundai to pay lower wages in Alabama:
Globalism strikes again - Hyundai to drive down wages in Alabama.

Historical article on Ford's union history is a reminder of what the parents and grandparents of today's UAW members had to go through to get the wages and benefits that the current workers enjoy.

Bill Ford sees the future in hydrogen & hybrids:

I guess that's why Ford's first hybrid will come out when Honda & Toyota's second generation cars come out.

Remember Michael Keaton dictating his ideas into the tape recorder in Nightshift? is a site for people to try out similar ideas and introduce them into the field of discussion. It is humbling to think that you've found an idea to change the world only to find out that someone else thought of it first & got shot down for what should be obvious reasons.

e-stamps to end spam?:

Last Fall, Microsoft and the US Post Office announced an agreement on a protocol to introduced "certified e-mail" through an e-stamp process. For a cost from $.10 to $2.00 the sender can receive an assurance and proof of identity through a digital postmark.

A similar process can be used in theory to reduce spam by passing only paid e-mails through a spam filter. A user can choose to continue to receive free e-mails from known senders.

Crappy Journalism, Crappy statistics:

I'm working on a letter to the editor on the subject of teen pregancy & sex statistics.

This is the time of year where the annual Surveys of sexual behavior and teen pregnancy are released. The reason I bring this up is that there is an inherent contradiction in the studies.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 8 in 10 girls and 7 in boys are sexually Inexperienced at age 15.

In other words, young teenaged boys have more sex than young teenaged girls.

According to the Chattanooga Resource foundation, of children born with a teenaged mother, 81% have adult fathers. On average, the father is 4 years older than the mother.

So if the teenaged girls have partners that are 4 years older than they are, just who are all these teenaged boys having sex with?

What this is telling me is that the Beevis & Butthead factor is at work when it comes to sex survey. You ask a 14 year old boy if he's had sex, you're going to get Beevis & Butthead laughter, and more often than not, the kid's gonna lie. What the birth statistics tell me is that we have no idea how much sex teenaged boys are having, but not nearly as much as they say they're having. From a public policy standpoint we have to take these statistics with a grain of salt.

AAA study of car costs 2003 $.517 per mile:

From 5/13/03

AAA: Driving Costs Rise for 2003 The cost of driving a car in the United States is going up, according to AAA. The organization's annual study pegs the expense of operating a vehicle at 51.7 cents per mile this year, up 1.5 cents from 2002. Broken out over 15,000 miles, the AAA says drivers will average $7754 in spending, thanks to a 7-cent increase per day in taxes and registration, and 1.3 cents more per mile for fuel and maintenance. The costs are calculated by averaging composite costs for three vehicles: a Chevy Cavalier LS, a Ford Taurus SEL and a Mercury Grand Marquis LS all equipped with automatic transmission. The AAA says the increase is the biggest it's seen since 2000, when costs rose more than 2 cents per mile.

(All submitted by Steve Hofer)

4/30/03 This is the second generation hybrid from Toyota, coming out before the first generation domestic. Not a good sign. The car looks cool though. Midsize 50 MPG 0-60 Ten sec. 20k or so.



4/30/03 Remember Gomer Pyle? What do you thinks a "gomer" is?


4/30/03 I found this interesting. The connotative meaning of "nimrod" as an idiot probably started with Bugs Bunny. The traditional meaning is "hunter"


n. also Nimrod A hunter. Informal. A person regarded as silly, foolish, or stupid.

[After Nimrod. Sense 2, probably from the phrase "poor little Nimrod," used by the cartoon character Bugs Bunny to mock the hapless hunter Elmer Fudd.]

Note that the origin of the word has been traced to a ruler of the ancient kingdom of Assyria, partially coextensive with modern day Iraq.


4/30/03 Famous people who died in auto accidents


4/30/03 The Harry Chapin Archive at Maintained by Brian Bieluch.

I always found it fascinating that Harry Chapin gave millions of dollars to fight world hunger (one out of two concerts were benefits) and died driving a 6 year old Volkswagen Rabbit.

A couple years later, Michael Jackson & Lionel Richie would get lots of press for recording one song and holding one concert.



4/30/03Wards Automotive editorial favoring raising the gas tax


4/9/2003. Toyota Poised To Drive For Fifteen Percent Market Share. Here's a factoid about Toyota. From Far from resting on the oars, Japanese auto giant Toyota Motor is preparing to enlarge its growth strategy and pursue a fifteen-percent share of the global market that would eclipse GM's 14.2-percent share to make it the number-one automaker. The strategy will be outlined soon, say Tokyo sources, when Toyota reports it made more profits in its recent fiscal year - $12 billion - than any automaker in the past ten years. In the fiscal year ended March 21, 2003, Toyota collected worldwide revenue of $143 billion with an estimated 8.3 percent operating margin. Its market capitalization, a whopping $84.3 billion, exceeded that of General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler combined. Toyota's market capitalization (the share price times the number of shares outstanding) is greater than General Motors, Ford, and Daimler Chrysler combined. Could it be said that the Big 3 are now the Big 1, or perhaps the Big T?

4-16-03 Oh, no EPA, we can't raise our C.A.F.E. numbers 2 mpg. We're too busy replacing cars that have good aerodynamics with those that are shaped like a barn. Chrysler 300C preview at

4-16-03 It looks like Ford waited 20 years to replace the Taurus with the Chevy Malibu. Ford Futura Preview

 (All submitted previously by Steve Hofer)