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Ask Stan: Looking for a used car

Saturday, 20 September, 2014

I am seeking a cheap but reliable used car. Because I have no car knowledge, here are my questions:

  • Are there more reliable makes or what variables most impact the reliability of the car (aside from maintenance)?
  • I live in the west valley Arizona-are there certain features to look out for when purchasing a used car in this extreme heat?
  • If the age of a car matters, what range in years is worth buying-meaning if the owner kept good routine maintenance- would still give you overall reliability without a high fixing cost?
  • What sort of mechanical issues (previous or current) should be deal beakers on a purchase?
  • How important is mileage? What is the highest mileage to consider when buying?
  • Any other key points to look out for?

You ask very good questions. Sadly, the answers to all of these vary from model to model of car, and even among production facilities. Because of innumerable ineffable factors the California-built Corollas are heartier over time than Canadian vehicles which are on the same platform.

Are there more reliable makes or what variables most impact the reliability of the car? Climate, especially moist conditions, the quality of the materials used in original manufacture, the actual design, the blueprint essentially, of the car is critical. You are not just buying a car, you are buying a design, the product of a particular factory and a lot of materials which someone somewhere believed would make an acceptable car. These factors are why “car guys” are a bit cultish.

Are there certain features to look out for when purchasing a used car in this extreme heat? The biggest problems are the condition of the paint and interior due to ultraviolet light exposure. The common problems of the Midwest, such as rust or mold growth are unknown in your area. When you test drive watch the temp gauge. The car may not have been maintained well, despite the testimony of the owner, and if the radiator is blocked or has a lowered capacity for any reason, this would be a critical issue.

If the age of a car matters … it does and it doesn’t. Well maintained miles or highway miles, don’t really hurt a car overall. I would buy a Buick-3800-powered vehicle or Toyota from the 80s for daily transportation. (They would not be my first choice.) Other makes do not fare as well over time. Fords develop electrical gremlins over the decades. You don’t want a Hyundai older than 2006, the rule-of-thumb year where they finally got it together. As for cars overall, there is not and cannot be a general rule.

What sort of mechanical issues (previous or current) should be deal beakers on a purchase? The car should accelerate, brake, steer and roll along the road within 80% of the quality the car had when new. Any deviation means this car is not for you. The only dripping which is acceptable is condensation from the air-conditioning condenser. Crankcase oil should be green to beige and transparent. Although fluids which are too new should be considered the sign of a problem which may be covered up.

What is the highest mileage to consider when buying? For Toyotas or Hondas I would hold back after 150K, and only that if the price is right. For anything from America, around 100K. Avoid European badges as if they transmitted disease at any mileage unless you have plenty of money to pour into maintenance and do not need regular transportation. Koreans have become good so recently no rule of thumb yet exists. The condition of the front tires implies the condition of the steering gear; wear should be even side-to-side. The car should pull well off the line else the exhaust or fuel-delivery system may require potentially expensive service. Any thing a car “just needs” means it is too expensive for the present owner to cope with, and presumably you too.

For someone in your position, the general rule is to get the best car called “Toyota Corolla” within your budget. This is the only all-but-foolproof answer. It’s not an exciting or impressive car, but will get you where you need to go without hassle for years. Find or borrow a rednecky guy who is at least a bit of a know-it-all about cars. He will be happy to accompany you with your shopping, and will be familiar with the variables and know how to find the forums discussing problems and critical issues with any particular make or model of car.

Almost forgotten conversation

Monday, 1 September, 2014

We were in my old apartment, and still naked.

She asked, “What kind of porno do you like?” This question makes me even more uncomfortable than it does you.

“um, well, you know I don’t really …” as I reached for the sweatpants I hoped were still in the second drawer up

“Dude. C’mon.”

“What?” he replied as if innocence was possible.

“You have this tiny apartment. You are almost 40. I don’t see any videos or anything. Do you like magazines or what? Where do you keep your porn?”

I gave up on the sweatpants. “Really? This is what you want to know?” and I get up. “I didn’t really appreciate porno until the internet era. I rented videos once in a while but that just didn’t do it, really.”

“That isn’t the question. Are you going to tell me or not?” She’s still in bed, defiantly bare breasted, blankets down to her waist.

“Okay, come over here.”

“I knew it would have something to do with the computer.”

He sighs, then types cryptic stuff into the machine. She takes a chair from the “kitchen” table and sits hopefully next to him.

“This is what I like.”

“What’s wrong with this? Lots of guys like videos.”

“They aren’t videos. These are live feeds.”

“What do you mean?”

“Women choose to wire up a webcam and broadcast to this website, and there are a few others.”

“Hold up. This is all live? All those windows has a live person doing porno?”

“Um, pretty much.”

“Fuck you. Bullshit. Women aren’t going to do this.”

“Well, you asked.”

She gets up to pour the last glass of wine. “So. Are there girls you like on here?”

“oh yeah. I’ll see if anybody’s on.”

She returns to her seat well ready to watch her bang buddy humiliate himself. “Did you find something?”

“Yeah.” a steady 16 FPS video feed is on the computer screen.

“Do you know her?” she asked facetiously.

“Not really.”

At which point the woman on the computer screen wearing only fishnet stockings says, “Staaan! Hi, baby.”

At this point my corporeal companion short circuited.

The Tour in Middle America

Sunday, 13 July, 2014

Since the last check-in the tour is going well. After a prolonged break in Montreal and Buffalo NY, and it becoming evident they they are not all piled together like so much cord wood and hauled around, things are beginning to happen.

In Buffalo of all places and Toronto fans “in uniform” have appeared. A fanmeeting was hastily organized in Toronto with about 10 fans appearing and 1 other not quite getting the hint from fan-site postings and being heartbroken afterward. After Toronto, they had a continental breakfast, didn’t know what was forthcoming and spent a solid 11 hours in the bus to Chicago. This actually raised a public complaint from a member of the group.

What happened in Chicago was unexpected. This was their warmest audience yet during the tour. Whether the audience were fans, fans of the headliner who became familiar with their work, or were simply charmed by their appearance is not clear. Most importantly the stop in Chicago prompted their first ever performance (and third media mention ever) on American television as they appeared on the WGN Morning Show. WGN did not do an interview segment, and they were explicitly identified as Japanese. This was corrected on the web site. There is also a charming photo of the group “in uniform” posing next to The Bozo Pillar presumably having no knowledge of its significance.

This will be characterized as the group appearing on a TV station which is seen all over the continent, which is strictly correct, but the show on which they appeared was only available in “Chicagoland”. I am somewhat disappointed this first appearance was not on national TV. I am blaming the promo people again.

After a five-hour delay at O’Hare (imagine that) the girls are casual driving distance from my home and surely taking in the sites in the bizarre wonderland some people call Texas. No, I have no plans to do anything about this and shall make no unplanned excursions. If fate intervenes and I find myself in the same room with them I will crumble like a little fangirl.

In the Middle of the North American Tour

Saturday, 5 July, 2014
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The show was not altered in any way for the much larger venues. The lighting people don’t know what to do with this show, and clearly have not been informed in any way. It is surprising just how much the lighting and effects are critical to the show. It is more curious how minutes of the official show pass with the girls standing around drinking water. The performances are mostly synchronised, “lip sync” to most of you, which may be a culture-based error. The girls are far less curious about the continent they are visiting than one might suspect. They are spending their days sitting around far better hotels than I would have imagined and are getting stir crazy. Once back home, they may never complain of the usual manic schedule ever again.

The show includes their Christmas song, without which the show would be four-minutes short. My solution would have been to produce and introduce a cover of a well known hit following the usual rules for such things, but this may be more trouble than it is worth. Doing a Christmas song out of season is perceived as a “wacky Asian” thing and enhances the weird-and-cute appeal.

Although my assumption may be in error, it appears this golden opportunity to generate original video content for the internet is largely being missed. Presumably the group is using their pads to, at least, entertain themselves and this has produced viable product in the past. Their usual cinematographer is meeting up with them when they arrive in Las Vegas and will journey with them to Los Angeles, these being the final two cities on the tour.

The stir crazy is leading to some charming and original content. They have pads and are said to be keeping non-public diaries. One of the group is exploiting an Instagram account started in April. Another is posting to their formal fan forum unfiltered but very gracious. The other three are posting through the filtered, official Twitter or Facebook accounts. Presumably the issue here is security rather than the potential for obscenity.

This tour has received exactly zero coverage in American media. No curiosity. No mention, outside of merely listing the billing of the concert tour itself. I shall repeat, whoever is handling the publicity for this unique opportunity may never work again.

The reception in Milwaukee was especially bad, as I have noted. They flew into Philadelphia to meet up with their silver eagle. This was a welcome surprise to this observer who honestly assumed their people would have them “jamming Econo” just like back home in spite of the distance issues. Atlantic City seemed to have a high proportion of people in the audience who knew who they were, or who were otherwise welcoming. They visited what may be the only Korean restaurant in that city and were very polite.

The next stop was Boston. I anticipated a blood bath. If you don’t know, Boston crowds are notoriously brutal under the best of circumstances. Boston crowds are prone to reflexive, racist sentiment of a kind that would make the stereotypical Alabamian blush. Contrary to expectations the Boston crowd was enthusiastic, and post show Twits were largely positive. The most harsh critique coming from those who dislike that they are obviously lip synching.

One of the members posted that she was surprised to learn of a part of North America where French is the predominant language. This serves primarily to remind your correspondent how little he knows about Korea. Their warmest welcome so far was in Montreal. From what footage has been made available, the lighting guys are working out what to do even in the absence of anything but improvisation. Montreal was also the site of something, so far, unique on the tour. Three fans succeeded in finding the path from the venue out into the world of the tour-support vehicles and flagged them down. It was helpful that one of them was wearing a common fan costume and they were carrying a banner of support.

This story has been related by two of these fans, and also relayed by the member on the official fan forum who claims to have spotted them then had trouble remembering how to communicate “Stop the bus!” in English to their driver.

Although the tour continues, for reasons which are unclear, this group is not part of several dates and is taking an apparently unwelcome five-day break. I know which city they are were in as of yesterday, and suspect I know which hotel but it seems like a security breach to say anything. They are roaming at least part of the city largely unmolested, and have not at all so much as mentioned the potential of being approached by fans or having much contact with an adoring public. Then again, even at home they are curiously unrecognizable in civilian drag. Media stories have been written noting the absence of attention they receive when not at an event. Two of the members are presently enrolled in University and no one ever so much as says anything.

Upcoming: Buffalo, Toronto, Chicago then off to Texas. The cameras should be rolling on the stretch between Chicago and San Antonio. They have 43 hours between shows and at least 20 of those they will need to be moving, unless sense prevails again and they fly.

If they don’t fly, they will actually pass within 150 m of my home. I feel like I should do something about it.

North American Tour

Wednesday, 25 June, 2014
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I am paying rapt attention to a pop-culture phenomenon, which I am not prone to doing. When they are safely home, I will add proper nouns to this. Some of you who know me in life, or whatever, know who I am talking about anyway.

Our story so far. In January the organization behind a major American artist approached a relatively obscure Korean girl group to become that performer’s opening act for North American dates this Summer. They could only commit to a month of touring, but even so these 13 dates are the largest tour ever for a Korean performer of any kind in North America.

The company behind this group has been formed around their relative success. It is tiny, consisting of four acts two of which have launched within the last two months. Since the announcement in March of this tour I’ve been waiting for some kind of media push in the US. Anything. I’m still waiting. They didn’t hire a US-based publicist, or if they did I hope this person never works again, or assumed their mere association with the American performer would do something that doesn’t actually happen here. This is malpractice. With just a meager push the idea that this group you never heard of who dress up kind of like superheros from a country adult Americans don’t know have a whole pop-culture universe to themselves is going on an unprecedented tour should get some kind of traction.

The selection was made on the basis of a single video clip. They will be doing a 30-minute show. This “girl group” has a NA fanbase, of which I am obviously a part. I’ve spent part of the last couple of months trying to estimate the number of fans they have over here. So many factors go into this, I shall not bore you with the details. On the assumption that 1% of any fandom is passionate enough to play a notable role in their internet support community, and the communities for this group are so intimate their existence alone serves as a invitation to the less passionate, a generous estimation would be 2500-5000 fans in the US. No more than 100K have so much as heard of them beyond the group’s name. You can’t tour on that. They played at a kpop event in Los Angeles in May. In front of that friendly audience response was tepid. Clearly even that audience didn’t know who they were and was not compelled by their unconventional antics.

Their “company” is letting their tiny, personally funded US fanbase attempt to do the heavy lifting. That’s not how it works, at least over here.

As this goes to post they arrive in Milwaukee, their first foray into the US beyond Los Angeles, to begin the tour. They will be on stage within six hours following a 22-hour transit including clearing customs and otherwise sitting around for five hours in Chicago. During shows and avails in Korea over the last two weeks the group looks like they’ve been through hell. God knows what The Company has been putting them through due to their perverse notions of whatever might happen in the US. A major American talk show has featured one of their songs on a segment which might provide some leeway to at least getting on TV. Bupkis.

Meanwhile the publicity has been handled so poorly. The sponsoring performer’s organization is all but publicly regretting the whole thing. Somehow The Company acquired an e-mail list and sent out an especially vague message written by someone whose first language isn’t English (they have US-educated people on the payroll, so there was no excuse for this) to night clubs in the US soon after the announcement of the group joining the tour. Presumably with the interest of getting additional dates. The name of the group was not mentioned. There was no response. The group which follows them on the next leg of the same tour has already announced additional dates.

I have more angrystan-like posts pending. When I attempt to write seriously these days it just all come out as so much redundant goop. Among these posts is the last-ever Hamburger Diary, with the principle behind ending the series. I have views on geopolitics and so forth I just want to get out into the world.

For the next four weeks how these five women are getting hurt, personally and professionally, by their naive management will be a fixation, and you will be seeing it here.

The defunct house brands of Winn-Dixie

Monday, 19 May, 2014

I am a passionate fan of the Pleasant Family Shopping blog. On the author’s Facebook presence, he posted a photograph of a Kwik Chek supermarket, a division of Winn-Dixie which somehow inspired your correspondent to look into the retired brands of Winn-Dixie. Between 2000 and 2010 Winn-Dixie commenced a period of reorganization, and emerged a much smaller and presumably leaner company. Among their reassessments during this time was the abandoning of several trade names which have much equity with natives of their service areas in the twentieth century which includes your correspondent’s native Louisville, Kentucky.

My most recent visit to a Winn-Dixie store was in 1998. The store was on Highway 6 near Waco, Texas. I stopped by in lieu of fast food for lunch primarily because I had not visited a WD store in four years at that time. The brands mentioned below are all considered abandoned by Trademarkia. I have sought no further confirmation.

Superbrand and Thrifty Maid could be adopted as the bottom two tiers of any retailers house brand offerings. Superbrand could be a cheeky all-purpose generic brand, like Target’s Up & Up or Kroger’s FMV. Thrifty Maid seems a natural for any household products, cleaners, cleaning gear or any kind of packaged food, canned or frozen.

I also like Velva, originally butter. No idea what it could be used for. Toilet tissue? Tires? The name suggests softness, smoothness or relaxation.  It could be used for a brand of mattresses or blankets.

I have mixed feelings about Deep South, Crackin’ Good and Dixie Darling. (at the end peanut butter, prepack cookies & crackers, and prepack baked goods respectively) Superficially, the brands retain equity among people from Winn-Dixie’s core markets but would almost certainly raise suspicions of some kind of white-hegemonic intentions. Cookies & crackers are a concentrating market for reasons which are not clear to me. In this market bad times meant volume sales for established brands, good times meant an expansion of varieties and both are retreating. Prepack baked goods seem to be similarly consolidating around a limited number of brands, with fewer and fewer varieties appearing at my local groceries.

I somehow picture Dixie Darling being reintroduced as a semi-premium brand of baked goods, not unlike Entenmann’s. The image would be based on art and logotypes of the era before 1920, but with a reminder that the New South is inclusionary. In ads and other promotion focusing on a modern multi-lingual, multi-cultural accurately modern South with a reminder of English, Spanish, French Creole, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Korean speakers enjoying the bounty of the South following a noble day’s effort. Dixie Darling could be “the very best of Southern traditions” implying hospitality. That is, instead of avoiding manufactured controversy, tackle it with an accurate contemporary image.

Someone should probably find a context to do that anyway. One of those outfits that recycles old brands could jump on these, and if there has been no interest whatsoever that is tantamount to malpractice.

Stan’s Vegan Pasta Casserole v 3.0

Friday, 16 May, 2014

This is the third variant of this I am posting.

This is based on Soul Vegetarian’s Vegan Mac and Cheese. It is a filling, hearty dish which may be served alone or as a side.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F or 200 degrees C.

1 qt. or 1 l unadulterated, no sugar or additional flavorings, soy milk Your regional soy-milk company’s product is preferred over the ubiquitous Silk, but get what you can. Fewer ingredients is always better.

1½ cups “vegetable oil”, typically soy, corn, canola or a blend. Any oil with a high smoke point depending upon what’s in the kitchen or how much you are willing to pay.

2-3 Tbsp crushed, grated or granulated garlic or 1½ Tbsp garlic powder (I almost always use powder and add it to the dry ingredients below. It’s just trivial to handle.)

13.25-16 oz whole-wheat macaroni or any other short pasta (a box). If buying bulk get the full pound.

(optional but recommended) 8-10 oz. package of sliced white-button or portabella mushrooms

(more so optional, consider marinating the mushrooms in soy sauce or leftover red wine, but drain well)

Dry ingredients: place these ingredients together in a bowl.

1 Tbsp each dry mustard (“hot Chinese” strongly preferred) , paprika, sea salt, (optional chili powder, chipotle powder, black or white pepper)

1½ Tbsp Cumin

½ Tbsp Ginger

2 cups nutritional yeast

While blending the sauce, prepare your pasta. Eight minute boil, then cooled under a tap or sprayer.

Slop the soy milk into a blender, food processor or into a large bowl and whisk. On medium speed add the oil through the blender or processor lid. If using proper garlic, add now which will mince further and flavor the sauce well.

While still spinning, place a funnel into the top of the appliance and spoon your dry ingredients into the soy and oil. You want a very thorough blend. Let it spin after the dry ingredients are in for an extra minute or two. This mixture will look more orange than you think it should. It will also be bubbly or well aerated. This is ideal.

Place the prepared pasta in an oiled 9×12 pan. Pour in your slurry and distribute well by hand. The first thing you will note is that it just doesn’t seem like enough macaroni. That’s okay.

If using mushrooms, simply pour and distribute over the top.

Optional: Sprinkle with parsley flake, garlic powder, garlic salt or black pepper. Parsley flake is strongly recommended.

This stores well for up to 24 hours refrigerated and uncovered, but is ready to bake immediately. If kept cold, move directly from the ‘fridge to a pre-heated oven.

Turn down the oven to 350 F or 180 C and bake for 1 hour.  After baking it should settle for at least 15 minutes. It will keep warm after baking for up to two hours.

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