Auto-start Auto-stop Engines

I recently had the opportunity to drive a car with these new auto-start/auto-stop engines. You know the type. You are standing next to an idling car, and suddenly the engine stops. In the old days, we called it a stall, but new engines are doing it for fuel savings and saving the environment. I am all for protecting the environment, but I am not a huge fan of these engines. Let me explain.

These were first seen in high-end Mercedes and BMW cars. Today, they are everywhere that is not a hybrid. The idea, as I said, is to reduce carbon emissions while at idle, something most cars do a lot of in urban environments. Idling creates a lot of carbon because the gas does not fully combust, unlike when the vehicle is in motion (not entirely sure why) and it also creates a pocket of concentrated CO2 gas, along with some other not so healthy gases. So anything that makes idling cleaner is a good thing.

The problem comes about when you need to actually get going again. Because the engine actually stops, there is a brief delay before it gets started again. This is a bad thing in certain situations.

For example, if you are anything but number one in line, the delay in getting the engine started, and the gears engaged (all of which is automatic) is not a big deal. The three or four-tenths of a second it takes is manageable and usually is accounted for by the car in the number one slot getting his vehicle moving. Not a big deal.

However, if you are in the number one slot, and the car behind you is not suffering from waiting for his engine to start, you are going to get honked at, at the very least. I had a couple of near collisions simply because it took that much longer to get the car moving off the line when the light turned green.

The second issue is safety. I was taught, when I learned to drive a stick shift, that you never ride the clutch. The engine should be engaged at all times. The problem is that the sensor that puts the engine to sleep when you are idling at a traffic light does not know the difference between idling at a traffic light and waiting to make a left-hand turn. I had the engine cut out just as I had an opening to make a turn and missed the opportunity because the engine was off and had to restart. Fortunately, there was no one behind me trying to make the light as well. This is not safe. The same is true with stop and go driving. I had the engine shut off just as I went to touch the accelerator.

Finally, a minor note. The engine shutting off also shuts off the air conditioner. It will kick back on, but I can see where hot climates will result in higher in-cabin temperatures, especially in stop and go driving, where the engine shutting off actually makes it more uncomfortable inside for the passengers. Again, I cannot see this as a win.

I am sure someone has done the math, and everyone is perfectly happy with the reduced emissions, while the safety issues are perceived as minor. As a driver, I do not find that these sorts of engines are good, or safe. Time will tell.

Your Rights Are Not What You Think

“Aden described the scene in a Facebook post Saturday, adding that the officer who told him that he wasn’t being detained has an “ignorance of the law and the Fourth Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution that should disqualify him as a customs officer.” (WTOP)

Regrettably for Mr. Aden, as well as everyone else that considers themselves a citizen of the United States, whether natural born or legally converted, the law is not that clear and the rights granted under the Constitution do not actually apply as you have been deluded into believing (and if you think a Founding Father or two just rolled over, join the crowd). The article What Customs and Border Officials Can and Can’t Do highlights this in chilling detail.

As more and more of us are learning, especially with the more tyrannical leadership under Number 45, the Constitutional provisions offer you no protections within 100 miles of the United States Border. Let me say that again. According to the law, any member of the Customs and Border Protection Agency (CPB) has the legal right to stop you, perform an unsanctioned search and seizure, and detain you without a warrant. If your jaw just hit the floor, join the club. If you are confused, think about this. The Border of the United States is not just with Canada and Mexico. There is an invisible border twelve miles off the coast of the United States. Take a ruler. Draw a line from that 12-mile limit one hundred miles into the interior of the United States. Draw it one hundred miles from the US/Canadian border and 100 miles from the Mexican border. Tell me how many cities are inside that border? Tell me how much of the population fo the United States lives inside that line. Upset yet? You should be. Inside that zone, many of the provisions of the Constitution can be suspended without cause and there is nothing you can do about it. And it is only going to get worse, not better.

The person in the street shrugs, security comes first [B. Cockburn]. If that is your attitude, either you never plan to travel anywhere, or you do not understand how damaging this is to our foreign relationships. But as this sort of nonsense continues, it is likely that the United States will see a departure of its citizens. Those citizens that have the option to go somewhere else. The brain drain started when the IRS cracked down, in many cases irrationally, on funds overseas. This resulted in a serious backlash in financial markets that is already causing issues with US funds abroad. This type of harassment of citizens and foreigners alike will have negative impacts. Travel, tourism, and goodwill are important in international relations. When the country’s citizens are treated as criminals, the only one left will be criminals.

Why Primaries?

Sunday morning, I awoke to discover that Marco Rubio had won the primary in Puerto Rico. Two thoughts emerged from this.

First, why is there a primary in Puerto Rico? Or Guam? Or any other non-state, since none of these people get to actually vote in the Presidential Election because none of these jurisdictions send people to the Electoral College. They do not even have voting representation in the House or Senate. So why, exactly, was there a primary there?

And this brought me to my second question. Who, exactly is paying for all of these primaries? I have a sinking feeling it is me. In my little town, they had to pull out the voting machines and ran through the process as if it was a real election, including the full up election board. My question – why? Who cares? Why does this have to be done this way and, more importantly, why do I have to pay for it? The primaries are a function of the parties. They created them, they direct when they happen, and they throw a snit whenever one state or another decides to hold them out of some predetermined order.

Again, why?

I have to dig back through US history, but I cannot believe that this whole circus of primaries has been around since the beginning. And I am pretty sure most Americans would be relieved if they did not have to listen to all the vitriol and blovating that has been consuming the media for the better part of the last two years, and certainly since the beginning of 2016. Is there a reason that the United States cannot choose a President in less than four years? At the very least, is there a reason we have to go through the mess that is the primaries? Given how few people actually voted in the primaries, most have tuned out the noise. If the goal is to get more people involved, perhaps the cycle should be condensed. I know I would pay more attention if the elections stated in September and ended in November of the same year. Instead of starting in December, the month after the elections have occured.

A Month of Letter Writing

In January, we have National Handwriting Day an excuse for those of us who like the art of writing to celebrate what is becoming a dying skill in this age of digitally processed information sharing. Following on that, a new challenge has popped up in February, called A Month of Letters. The goal of a month of letter is to send a letter, postcard, or respond to any handwritten message, by mail, every day of the month except for Sundays and President’s Day (since it is a US challenge).

Original iconWhat I love about this challenge is it exercises two things, one, handwriting, and two, sending letters. I grew up in a time when instant communications was picking up the telephone and dialing someone’s house and if they were not their, you either left a message with someone else, or it just had to wait. If you wanted to communicate with someone in another city, you could call, but most times, the cost was prohibitive for anything other than critical messages. The rest wrote letters.

I spent most of my teenage years away at boarding school, and at summer camp. The idea of using a phone was just not viable. I wrote letters. Lots of letters. And I liked getting letters. If you write letters, you get letters. At least most of the time. I did have a few friends that were not good letter writers, but most wrote regularly.

Flash forward to 2016. The number of people writing letters has dropped so much that finding writing paper is a challenge. There has been a resurgence of writing, especially writing with fountain pens, but there has yet to be a similar uptick in the physical act of sending letters. But, hopefully, challenges like A Month of Letters and Postcrossing are two ways to stimulate the love of mail. If, like me, you are fascinated by letters, there is a wonderful book called To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing that you might enjoy as well.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go and write a letter. I just do not know who I am going to send it to. It might be you.

We Keep Shaving the English Language

On the way to work this morning, I heard an advertisement for unlimited apps. For a moment, I thought it was for a new pricing scheme on the Apple store, or similar, but then they started talking about buffalo wings. It took me a moment to make the shift. And that confused me even more. And got me thinking, when did we start shaving the English language to the point that a commercial about appetizers has me thinking about software.

Once upon a time, there was a little code of software called an applet. Usually prefaced with Java, as in Java Applet. This was code that was downloaded from the server to a client, the first step along the way to the browser based world of today. You could argue that today’s app comes from. You could also argue that it comes from an abbreviation of application. Which makes some limited sense, because they are small applications.

But when did we start shaving words that did no need to be truncated and make no sense to be truncated. My least favorite is convo, short for conversation. When did the word conversation get to be so bothersome that we needed to shorten it? Similarly with appetizer, being truncated to app. In Politics and the English language, George Orwell comments on how powerful words are, and not only that but how badly, for political reasons, words are warped and changed to no longer mean what they did, but what the body politic wants them to mean. A perfect modern example is pro-life. This does not mean the individual is actually in favor of life, just opposed to abortion. Most who claim to be pro-life also support the death penalty and, in the United States, the Second Amendment, both of which are completely in opposition to life.

Why would we shave the language this way? Why would we let ad agencies, and others get away with this sort of thing? Why? Because we are too lazy to prevent it from happening. I for one am not going to let it happen.

Rand Paul and the Patriot Act

Passed in the wake of September 11, 2001, the Patriot Act was a rush to grant law enforcement sweeping powers that they had not had prior to its passage.  Most of the act is classified, and it it rumored that just talking about it is a felony.  Over the weekend, the Patriot Act was on the chopping block, with numerous politicians scrambling to save it, and the authorizations that it grants.  The most sweeping of those being the bulk collection of meta-data by the NSA. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) stood alone against its renewal. In fact, Senator John McCain (R-Az.) said:

He obviously has a higher priority for his fundraising and political ambitions than for the security of the nation.” (as heard on CBS World News Roundup – 1Jn2015).

Despite Senator McCain’s opinion, many people would disagree, both in the United States and abroad.

That being said, it is clear that Rand Paul is not naive, admitting that the bill will eventually pass and the wiretapping will go on.

What surprises me is that Senator McCain even thinks something like a filibuster could or would have any effect on the bulk collection of data. As if the expiration of a law could stop it? And before you get on your soapbox and rant that “It is a law, it is no longer in force, therefore it is illegal,” allow me to point out a few facts.

The federal bureaucracy moves with glacial inertia. It is very hard to get things moving but once you do, it is almost impossible to make them stop. This is even more so in the intelligence community with is not subject to any sort of real oversight. The bulk collection of data is a huge industry. There are building springing up like mushrooms to support the effort. Contracts worth billions of dollars have been let by the government and the companies that hold those contracts will do everything in their power to keep those contracts active.

Short of an international delegation overseeing the complete shutdown of the collection process (much like under the SALT agreements for nuclear disarmament) the bulk collection of data is here to stay.  Legally, or not.

The Corner Pharmacy

Is the corner pharmacy a relic of the past? Oh, sure, if you want a quart of milk and some baby wipes at 3AM, it might be a convenient place to drop in. But if you are in need of medications, specifically, acute medications, they have to order them, and they will be available in two to four weeks. Maybe we should let Amazon know there is an untapped market here.

I am not talking about maintenance medicines. Those medicines you order 30 at a time to keep your blood pressure or your diabetes under control. Not the medicine that you know you need and that you can plan on when you pick them up. I am talking about those medicines that are meant to stave off something and you need them now. Pain medications, antibiotics. Those medications that, if ordered, are valueless by the time they arrive two to four weeks later. At best, the infection has been fought off. At worst, you will be dead (or in hospital).

Now, I am not saying that they need to stock all combinations of the medications that are on the market today. But one would think that basic pain medications, antibiotics, and other acute requirement medications would be on the shelf.  You would also expect that, if you were a regular customer, they would have your needs on file and since their automated systems can call you and tell you when your prescriptions are due for a refill, they could at least have those medicines on the shelf and ready for you to pick up. Even this seems to be too much of a challenge for most local pharmacies.

I do not understand why they are taking on supermarkets. Or rather, maybe I do understand better. Since they do not seem to stock medicines, as is their primary function, they have to make their money somehow.

Enough With The False Anger Over Stores Opening On Thanksgiving

There is a current upset over stores opening on Thanksgiving here in the United States. Being born in Canada, I don’t care either way – Thanksgiving is not a sacred cow. But what I find amazing is the same people that are ranting about the stores being open on Thanksgiving seem to not care that these same stores maintain almost normal hours on Memorial Day, Labor Day, even Independence Day.  Nary a whimper about this.

In an article in the BBC, an article about “Life in a no-vacation nation,” it documents the, well shock, of an American now working in Australia where vacations are essentially mandatory. I have been making it my personal project to get the federal holidays repealed.  Why? Because no one, outside the federal government and a few select individuals get them. So why have a calendar full of them if you are going to have to work them anyway. I used to refer to the little four and the big five.  The big five were those sacred holidays – Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  The little four were New Years, Columbus, President, and Veterans Day. In most real, non-retail companies, the little four were either forgotten entirely, or were shuffled around to make things easier, like the Friday after Thanksgiving, or the week between Christmas and New Year.

Lately though (since the turn of the 2000), even the big five seem to be pretty much ignored, especially if you work for a global company. The holidays are dates on the calendar and mean about as much as Saturday or Sunday do, or essentially, they are just days of the week that may or may not require you to be working. So why do we bother pretending that these days are “holidays.”

If we were serious, we would close everything on these days, much like what happens on Easter Sunday. Wait, what? Yes, until recently, Easter Sunday was the only day of the year when everything from retail to restaurants was closed. I mean signs on the door, we will not be open closed. And this was as recently as the middle of this century. Now things have changed and it is considerably less stringent than it used to be, but it does beg the question – if we can be closed for a non-holiday, why can we not close for such important days as the birth of the nation or Thanksgiving? Such false complaining really makes the rest of the world laugh at us more than they otherwise do. And by the way, why is the Friday also not a holiday?  Oh, that’s right, because we are all too busy shopping….

Reservations required

Walt Disney World is the childhood milestone of many as the first “happiest day of their life” — or at least half of your day at the park is. During the other half of a trip to Walt Disney World, you’re waiting in line. But a new ride is demoing a system that Walt Disney World wants to try out in the future to evade the obnoxiously long wait times — allowing guests to make a reservation in advance to assure they will land a ride. (Inquisitr)

Now, I will be the first to say that on crowded days, the wait for some rides, especially the Toy Story ride where they are going to try this, can be hideous.  I have waited in that line exactly once and the ride was fun, but as pointed out in the article, not fun enough to wait in an hour (or considerably longer).

That being said, I am not sure I like the idea of making a reservation. DisneyWorld is supposed to be a vacation, and yet as I spend more time there, I feel less like I am resting and more like I am back in the office, only with more deadlines, time constraints, and you have to be here now. Makes the whole idea of a vacation kind of moot.

I am looking at this also from the position of someone that is part of the Disney Vacation Club. I own at Disney, so I do not have all the same issues as those that are coming for what might be that one magical weekend of their life. I can go back anytime, and in fact that is why I bought into the DVC was precisely so I do not have to commando the park from open to close, including magic hours when I am there. If I want to spend an hour, I spend an hour, if I want to spend a day, I spend a day. I have that option.

I learned long ago that you need to make reservations for dinner, especially if you want to eat in the parks or at busy times of the year (like Christmas). But I really don’t want to make reservations for rides. I want to walk up, get on, have fun, get off. And that might explain why I am going on fewer rides. I just do not want to wait an hour for a three-minute ride. Which I guess is the point. If you are only going once, you will make the reservation. But it sure is not much of a vacation.



High court voids overall contribution limits

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court struck down limits Wednesday in federal law on the overall campaign contributions the biggest individual donors may make to candidates, political parties and political action committees. (WTOP)

I am not sure how anyone can see this as anything but a bad thing for American politics. It is now an open market for special interests and political action committees buying their seats in the legislature.  The 2012 Presidential process cost more than $1 billion dollars. With a national debt in the trillions, millions of people out of work and the Congress squabbling over who will pay for much needed benefits, people contributed more than a billion dollars to elect the president.

There is no more democracy in the United States. It is now just an issue of price. How much can you afford to pay?