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Increasingly unimaginative

This was the dessert on offer at my favorite work cafe on Wednesday. Normally the titles of the dishes are more descriptive, or at least not quite as subjective. But this one cracked me up.

(And it was indeed yummy.)

Bragging rights

I went to Germany last month, supposedly to relax, vacation, etc. But by cost the most expensive thing I did there was to obtain bragging rights by driving on the world's longest and most dangerous race track.

And all I got was this lousy sticker.

(Applying the bragging sticker to my car is actually a bit controversial, since there is a large faction of racers who feel that you can only put the sticker onto the exact vehicle that went on the track. Until last month I found it convenient to agree with this rule, but since I'm not going to fly my Subaru to Germany any time soon, I'm stretching the rules a bit.)

Brazen spam
I have received this mailer from AT&T at least 10 times.

I know it's from AT&T because it's addressed to me with my last name misspelled in the exact way that they used to misspell my name on my cellular phone bills before I cancelled my account in disgust.

(I tried to fix the misspelling about 6 years ago. Eventually it escalated to a supervisor, where I was told that they couldn't spell my name correctly unless I breached my contract with them.)

Anyway, what blows me away about this mailer (this "creative", as they call it in the spam business) is how incredibly stupid they must think I am:
  • The envelope is addressed by machine, but in a font that is supposed to fool me into thinking it's hand-writing, as though from a trusted friend of mine. (You know all those trusted friends who send me physical letters in the mail? One of those.)

  • Even though the envelope has no return address (kind of like a ransom note, I guess?) it does have a physical stamp instead of a prepaid code. A personal touch, I guess I'm supposed to think.

  • The paper itself is crafted to look like a faded Xerox copy of an AT&T advertisement, like the low production values suggest that it was sent by one of my fellow stupid humans, and not a gigantic digital printing robot.

  • The paper is then covered with blue hand-writing, as though annotated by this same incompetent trusted friend who addressed the envelope. The writing has a bunch of commentary on it that adds further emphasis to the already emphatic graphic design of the "original" advertisement.

  • My favorite is the phrase "Why wait? I'm calling today!" Who??? Who are you??? Who do you think I think you are??? Why would I be fooled by this? How fucking thick do you think I am?

  • They've sent me this thing 10 times. What on earth do they think happened to the other 9 failed attempts at getting my attention? Do they think the USPS is that unreliable? Is it so far out of their heads that maybe I HATE AT&T? Could it be that that's why I cancelled my account?
Anyway, just another example of AT&T's ability to be both evil and incompetent at the same time. Are you getting these too? Or is it just me?
Moving parts

My dad found some old photos in slide form (more on that later) and decided to go through them. To do that, he employed this contraption, at right.

It was insightfully pointed out to me that, before slideshows were made with PowerPoint, they were made with physical slides that were shown by a special machine like this one. This particular machine is older than I am and it still works. (Here the word "works" is applied... generously.)

Needless to say, I'll be scanning all of the slides into digital form as soon as possible.

Arts and crafts

I love this hand crafted seasonal bunny flag that I saw in a local veterinary hospital. It features an animal with murderous, hollow black eyes and a rabidly panting tongue. (I assume the black lines coming from its mouth are meant to be its hyperventilating breath.)

Happy Easter!

Why we can't have nice things
Without going into detail about where I was or what I was doing at the time, suffice it to say that last week I saw a real flying car. The future is here, people, and it is lame.

I don't know about you, but I kind of assumed that the reason my childhood dream of flying cars hasn't happened yet is because science hasn't yet made it possible. But actually lots of cool things that are technically possible will never happen for other reasons.

Take the flying car. One of these people told me that soon I'll be able to buy one of these. Awesome, I say! Then I asked for details:
  • How much does it cost? Well, the cost will be about as much as the same Cessna 172 airplane that they've been making since the 1950s: hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • What's the fuel economy like? About the same as a typical private plane, like a Cessna.
  • But what about flying and driving! Can't I drive it and then fly it? Of course! You can fly it at any FAA-approved airport, using the skills you developed with the complete pilot's license you have to have. Just like a Cessna.
So in summary, if you haven't already bought a Cessna 172, don't assume you're any more likely to get a flying car. Even if costs could be brought down, the FAA is never going to let this thing be as common-place a way to get around as cars are today. (And really they shouldn't anyway--- if people are as bad at flying as they are at driving, then flying cars will be killing a whole lot of people.)

And there's tons more stuff with this problem:
  • jet packs will have the same problem with training and safety.
  • World-wide wireless networks could be 2 or 10 times better if the companies that ran them cared as much about improving coverage as they do about competing with each other.
  • We could easily have trains in every city and across the country if people would spend as much on trains as they did on cars, parking, insurance, and gas.
  • Smart appliances and smart homes could have been a reality 30 years ago if companies and people had agreed on some standards instead of fighting with each other for control and money.
  • Cashless, secure, world-wide payment systems could easily be created if only banks cared as much about technology as they do about tricking you into paying credit fees.
So the real reason we're not getting our jet packs is that even though science has improved, we still haven't.

A friend of mine recently found the text of an article that Car and Driver wrote back in I think 2002. I would consider it basically the best car review ever written, so I'll post it here, and leave it until someone forces me to take it down. Now without further delay:

The Cadillac Escalade EXT

It's a truck that's hard to miss. Plus, you can frighten small children and suburban livestock with it.


The Escalade EXT is Cadillac's answer to the Avalanche, not that anyone at Chevrolet actually asked the question. But someone must have, because an EXT showed up in our parking lot, and 5900 pounds of black Cadillac is hard to miss. You could think of the EXT as an Avalanche but with a 345-hp "Vortec H.O. Engineered Exclusively for Cadillac Motor Division." That's what it says on the EXT's engine shroud. In our opinion, this truck could have been called an Avalade or an Escalanche but not a Lanchelade. If you combined a Ford Ranchero and a Chevy El Camino, you'd have a Ranchamino. Remove the "R" and the first syllable is "anch," same as the last syllable of Avalanch. Coincidence? (You really need to move on, okay?—Ed.)

Or you could think of the EXT as a shrine to Harry's Big and Tall. It's as long as a 1977 Fleetwood Brougham d'Elegance with Florentine velour cloth and a Tuxedo Grain vinyl roof. The Cadillac wreath on the EXT's nose is 6.25 inches across, as big as your average acorn squash. The radiator hose is four feet long. The chrome "Escalade EXT" badges on the front doors and tailgate are each a foot and a half long. Each running board exceeds a Porsche 911's wheelbase. The truck bed's walls are 10 inches thick. The rear-seat armrest is 15 inches wide. Pee Wee Leaguers will find the column-mounted shifter useful as a hockey stick. One of the dash panels consumes six square inches yet contains only one button—for the "Power Fold Mirrors," whose mallardlike flapping, by the way, holds preschoolers paralyzed in fascination. The passenger-side grab bar is two feet long. The 45-inch-wide CHMSL looks like something a vandal might have pried off the Caesars Palace sign in Las Vegas. (John, did you drive this vehicle at all?—Ed.)

Cadillac's brand manager says, "Cadillac research showed that there was a real need for the EXT." A real need for a Cadillac pickup? Really? If so, then here are a few things that I really need: An air-conditioned front yard. Iguana-skin patio furniture. Stigmata. Mint-flavored Drano. Gold-plated roof gutters. A 190-hp MerCruiser SaladShooter. A dog with a collapsible tail. An office desk that converts into a Hovercraft. Chrome slacks. A lifetime subscription to Extreme Fidgeting. A third arm. A fourth wife. A smokeless Cuban Robusto. Reusable Kleenex. (Were you under the impression that this was to be an editorial, John?—Ed.)

I actually drove the Escalade EXT. It is very quiet. It has a remarkably supple ride. Its tires work well on dry pavement. It's a serene freeway cruiser, in the manner of modern Greyhounds that are simple to nurse downstream as long as you're not impinging on vast portions of the adjacent lane. Over 40 mph, the steering is beset by an on-center dead spot, though this may be an option.

A "Road Sensing Suspension System" (RSSS) comes standard. Sure enough, it senses roads. But can it sense outdoor carpeting, corduroy, Florentine velour, or the decorative lava around Mrs. Zeile's marigolds? All we can report for sure is that the EXT is a dream on gravel. "Not bad for a solid rear axle," someone noted, though it wasn't me. You know you're on gravel only because of a tinkle-bing-da-da-bingle of rocks bouncing off the polished-steel exhaust tip, which is as big as a soup tureen. Otherwise, the EXT is a magic-carpet ride because it crushes its own gravel as it goes.

I drove this Cadillac to our 10Best loop to test its handling. Later on, I came back.

Did I mention that the EXT is pretty much a $33,965 Avalanche (C/D, July 2001) but with a wood steering wheel, chrome lamp bezels, more than three feet of egg-crate grille (Cadillac calls this "form vocabulary," not a grille), better floor mats, and an extra 60 horsepower? I think I did. Surplus horsepower, of course, is a useful commodity, especially when it comes to motivating a vehicle that weighs the same as a Nissan Sentra and a Subaru Impreza and a medium-size Carrier air conditioner. To 60 mph, the EXT beats the Avalanche by 0.4 second. Impressive. But if that's your only reason for selecting the former over the latter, you should notice that it will cost you $4006 per 10th of a second. In that sense, the EXT is similar to purchasing an invigorating sexual experience with the entire Ford modeling agency.

The 6.0-liter pushrod V-8 emits an audacious whoopitah-whaaaAAAAHH-ing sound that will remind your wife what time you came home and will never be confused with an Orbital two-stroke or a Hoover upright. It may frighten your horses. We mention horses because Cadillac mentioned them first. "This is a great vehicle for suburbanites who own horses," they said. We don't agree. We couldn't fit one in back, even with the "Midgate Utility Enhancement System" (MUES) fully enhanced, extending the bed to eight feet, one inch. In fact, the horse nearly kicked out the removable backlight before we got its attention with a 500,000-volt Panther stun gun ($99.95). Did you know the tonneau comes off in three 20-pound chunks? The horse learned this first.

At one point, we got the EXT up to 107 mph. That's all we're going to say about that.

The huge C-pillar flying buttresses make this truck the envy of Notre Dame and railroad buffs, who report it is easy to mistake the EXT for a train trestle. Those buttresses help deflect air from the backlight—helpful when the glass is removed —but they're covered in plastic shrouds that squirm, spoiling the urban-warrior effect. As a famous American once said, "It's not a good wax museum when there are wicks coming out of people's heads." It could have been Art Buchwald. It definitely wasn't Herbert Hoover.

Gears? You bet. Four. Plus, the rear side windows lower all the way so that you can toss your long-necks into the woods without fear of lateral splatter.

We took the all-wheel-drive EXT off-roading one time.

At the end of the shifter is a Toad Hall button (It's "Tow/Haul"—Ed.), and the 3.06 first-gear ratio means the EXT is useful for dragging the wreckage away from locomotive collisions. There's even an in-dash computer program called "Vehicle History Last 15 Days." Ours recalled the Battle of Hastings, the movie Nurse Nancy, and quite a bit of time spent idling in a Krispy Kreme parking lot.

This Cadillac includes an "Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist" (URPA), so that you don't back over a runaway bison or a Humvee belonging to the military police. Cadillac says the device "now incorporates a new snow, ice, and mud algorithm in its software." What it does is this: It works to tell you when it's not working.

Observed fuel economy was not so good. The EXT was 28 percent less efficient than a 5534-pound Sayers & Scovill DeVille Masterpiece hearse sans casket, in fact. One difference between the two: The hearse doesn't require premium fuel.

Several C/D editors suggested I compare the EXT with a blackwall. (BlackWOOD. It's a Lincoln, for God's sake—Ed.) But the EXT already has 17-inch blackwalls, so I compared it with a 1976 Cadillac Mirage pickup. They both have flying buttresses.

While I was driving the Mirage, it occurred to me that, back in 1976, Cadillac buyers didn't want their luxury sedans to be confused with anything so mundane as a truck. Hence, a car-based pickup. A quarter-century later, Cadillac buyers don't want their trucks to be confused with anything so mundane as a luxury sedan. Hence the EXT. I didn't say any of this out loud.

I'm glad I didn't. Cadillac's engineers are sensitive about the word "pickup." The assistant vehicle line executive for full-size trucks gets quite huffy as he reminds, "The EXT is based on a utility chassis, not a pickup-truck chassis." He means the Chevy Suburban. We know why he's touchy. For many years, Car and Driver insisted it was a lifestyle, not a magazine. None of our parents ever bought this.

Cadillac says 20 percent of EXT buyers will be women with a $125,000 household income. This is lucky. It means they'll already own their own ladders. We predict that the EXT will be snapped up by buyers whose lifelong credo is "Hey, watch this!"

Only in America could something like the Cadillac EXT be built. This makes you wonder why it's built in Silao, Mexico. (John, do you have anything resembling a conclusion? Purchasing advice?—Ed.)

There are lots of things on which you could spend $49,990. This is one of them.

Hip? Or under construction?

This store appeared to be in the midst of a remodeling project, with strange scaffolding and canvas guards everywhere. I was later told that actually it was actually complete, and "under construction" is just the theme of their decorations.

Also, they sold $500 jeans. No thanks.

Gougety gouge

Apparently while I was out of the country you all let it go to hell. Almost five bucks a gallon for the swill they call "premium" here in California! For shame.

Checkout line

It drives me crazy that I have to try to guess which lane at the grocery store is the fastest. The way Fry's does it is so much better.

But if you have to pick, it's hard to do better than this guy. He's got his money out, he's paying with cash, and all he wants is fish in a box. It's going to take him like 15 seconds at most. If only everyone bought their boxed fish this way.


I went to Germany! Here are some pictures and stuff.

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