Archive for March 2006
Hyundai did not sell the Stellar (stolen picture at top left) in the US, but it was your basic Asian compact in philosophy.
The Stellar is the anti-Alliance. The engine, although small, performs reliably. (The Stellar engine has since earned a reputation for ruggedness and continues to perform well even in 20-year-old cars.) That is one tiny engine, though. When you open the hood and look in, the engine block looks like a die suspended in a jewelry box. The engine compartment has no floor, and you can see a lot of road below it (see the picture at right, also stolen, but from a different Web site).
The engine behaves, and that’s an automatic plus. The Achilles heel of the Stellar is the body and all its accoutrements. The vehicles rusts out and falls apart. I’d say the body panels were made of aluminum foil, but aluminum doesn’t rust. Rust spots grow to sizable holes in a season.
I don’t know a lot about Korea and some of what I do know comes from watching M*A*S*H. So I do know that Korea suffers cold winters and that people gather around fires in barrels. So why don’t Koreans know how to build a car that will function in winter? Maybe Korean winters are really mild, and the M*A*S*H cast members were put into cold-weather gear only to teach them a lesson.
I take some share of the blame for my inattentiveness to the rust in the many, many places it first appears, but I try to put as little cash into maintenance of the Stellar as possible.
The car is maladapted to the Montreal climate in other ways. It is extremely light, even with body panels not yet thinned by corrosion. That tiny engine doesn’t add much weight. The problem is magnified by the rear-wheel drive. When it snows, the car can’t make it up a hill of any significant grade.
It snows one day while I’m visiting my dad’s place. I try to take the Stellar uphill where Cote-Saint-Luc Rd. turns into the Boulevard past Decarie. It’s a decent slope, but San Franciscans would chuckle at it. I almost make it, but while my wheels rotate forward, the car slides backward. It’s a good thing there was no traffic behind me. I roll backwards down the slope and find an alternate route. Here’s a map:
Eventually, the Hyundai’s rot starts to permeate secondary systems as well as body panels. Key among these is the windshield cleaning apparatus. The wiper fluid pump goes out and it’s just not worth repairing. I don’t need wiper fluid in the summer or as long as temperatures remain below zero in winter. Spring is the killer, especially on the highways. I develop the art of following large vehicles. Their large tires kick up water that I can use to clean the windshield with the wipers.
The strategy works – I’m typing this, aren’t I? Eventually, the driver’s side wiper itself starts to fall apart. With hockey tape and a chamois ribbon, I gerryrig enough support to avoid a costly repair. It’s bad enough that I have to shell out for a brake job.
At some point, a snow-hauling dumptruck annoints my windshield with a piece of gravel and cracks it. Ironically, I was not following that dumptruck in hopes of getting splashed. In fact, that whole particular night was crappy – so crappy, I was inspired to write it down. I still have that file and maybe I’ll post that to the blog next.
The peak story of the Stellar – I can’t in good conscience call it the “greatest story” – involves the time I came closest to killing another person. Twice.
I’m driving home from softball, and by now it’s dark and raining. I’m driving east along Sherbrooke just past Atwater and I come very close to squishing a guy on a bicycle between my car and the row of parked cars. He’s wearing black, including a black hood, because he, I presume, prefers to look cool than to look visible on a dark rainy night.
I pass him without contact, but I get his adrenaline going. At the light (corner of Chomedey, I think; see map below), he catches up to me and slaps my passenger-side mirror. The mirror arcs up into the rainy night sky, never to be seen again. The biker takes off, through the red light, and turns down Chomedey against the one-way street (there was no traffic). I am incensed, and I have a softball bat with me.
The second time I came close to killing this guy is over the next 15 minutes, as I cruise the one-way streets in the neighbourhood with my bat, looking for him so that I may convince him to chip in for the cost of replacing my mirror.
I didn’t find him, but I still get a kick out of the moment of panic he must have felt just before he took off. Can you tell?
The Hyundai lasts me until I leave town with Elvi. I leave it behind and my dad soon sells it for $200 to a Rumanian immigrant. If I recall correctly, this time I get to keep the money.
In the next installment, I finally get my Japanese compact. Unless I post the story of the night my windshield cracked instead.
I couldn’t upload that first JPEG to Blogger when the file was named stellar.jpg, but when I changed the name to hyundai.jpg, it worked fine. Odd.
So I graduate university. I have a summer to spend back home in Montreal before heading off to grad school in the fall. My budget for grad school was $16,000 to live on for the year, after tuition. Not great, but not impossible. One of my goals that summer was to buy a decent used Honda or Toyota.
My dad picks me up at the airport when I fly home. He leads me through the parking lot to – surprise! – the car he bought me. My dad is big on surprises.
He’s bought me a used burgundy AMC/Renault Alliance. I’m stunned. I’m stunned because a car is an awfully nice graduation present. I’m stunned because even my car-neophytic brain is aware that this may not be the greatest used car for the money. I’m stunned because I can’t look a gift horse of this magnitude in the mouth.
I remember a business card that I found on the floor by the passenger seat. It had the name Susan Deitcher, from the Eastern Townships. That’s all I remember about the card, but if you’re ego-surfing, Susan, welcome. Maybe you can fill me in.
First thing I do is head for a Chapters (brick and mortar in the days before the Web), and consult a Consumer Reports guide to used cars. It rates the Renault Alliance dead last for used compact cars.
The Renault’s engine runs a little warm and there are a few cosmetic annoyances. The driver’s side sun visor does not retract flush with the roof, for one, and I have a phobia about things pointing at my eyes. My dad agrees to spring for a few repairs. The garage can’t fix the visor.
As I drive the car that year, the engine temperatures climb and climb until finally I can’t drive more than 20 minutes before the engine overheats. I take it to a few garages. Usually, the garages say a mechanic fixed the problem, but it keeps happening.
One day, while the Renault is at another garage, my father calls me. “What did you put in the radiator?”, he asks me. I put nothing in but water and coolant. The radiator is filled with a mush that has the consistency of clay. I can only assume the previous owner pumped that little car full of the stuff that’s supposed to stop radiator leaks.
So the Renault get a new radiator. The car runs OK during the school year, but come the next summer, it starts overheating again. Just like the Consumer Reports book warned. The model is prone to overheating, even with a good radiator.
I spent a good part of the first summer of grad school in Montana, and after a year of studies, I decide that grad school isn’t my thing. I’d elaborate, but this is about cars.
That fall and winter, the car is in and out of Jimmy’s garage. Jimmy does decent work, and he gives me a beater to drive while he works on the Renault. I half-seriously ask if he knows anyone who would want to buy the Renault. He laughs.
It’s spring now, and I move out, to the Plateau. I need a car for work and to get to hockey. The Renault does not cooperate and spends a few days with Jimmy every so often.
During one of those times, Jimmy calls me up and asks if I want to sell the car. I can’t. I need it, and I wouldn’t get enough cash to offset the cost of replacing it. Jimmy really wants to buy the car. I really can’t sell it. Something is up. I suspect that during a test drive, or possibly an errand, Jimmy or one of his mechanics has wrecked the car.
I don’t have one of Jimmy’s wrecks this time, so my dad drives me to Jimmy’s garage a few days later. It’s closed. Permanently. The garage is abandoned.
My dad and I file a police report for a stolen car. (My dad was the official owner to cut down on my insurance costs.) We get $2,000 (Canadian) for that crappy little Renault. It’s the best of all possible outcomes.
Then my dad takes the money and hands me the keys to his old, rotting Hyundai Stellar. I’ll leave that for the next installment.
Bonus bizarre search of the month (so far):
Somebody found this blog with a Google search for “Chinchillas in Echelon”. I understand finding 101 in that search, although not why it would be search result number one. What is hardest to understand is why anyone would search for that in the first place.
I was surprised this morning to find an e-mail from Rich Redman in my in-box. In February, Nearmiss contacted Wizards of the Coast for permission to use a “Monster Manual” in the shoot. We got that permission verbally, but the company still wanted to see a copy of the script. Nearmiss sent that, but somebody misplaced the cover letter. Rich wrote to puzzle out why we sent a script to the company.
Apparently, Wizards of the Coast has an entertainment agent to look at scripts. Once I get the “By the Book” treatment done, it may be time to do a “Sheep’s End” rewrite and find out if it could become the next D&D; movie.
In Nearmiss’s reply, with a copy of the cover letter, I finally learned our director’s last name, so the the mix-up, at least from my perspective, certainly had its positive side.
The image up there is a first sketch of the “Time and Space” poster. Once completed, the director Marior will screen the short at the Roxie in San Francisco before it tours the film-festival circuit. While Nearmiss is handling most of the business side of shooting, she wants me to be the public face of the writing crew. As I’m known among the people for my natural rapport and social skills, I’ll gladly wear that mantle.
In my next post, we will learn the history of the automobile, with respect to my ownership of them. It won’t be pretty.
The Disciples of Ursula Big Band, Elvi’s band, has two shows this month.
The first one is a mini-show at which they’ll only perform five or six songs. It’s the second round of an international band competition called Emergenza. The goal there is to get as many people to show up and vote for the Disciples as possible.
This first show takes place March 17 at Le Petit Campus, 57 Prince Arthur. Showtime is 7:30 pm. The band goes on stage first that night, so you can stay for the few songs, vote for them, and leave. If you like death metal, you should stay for the other bands, too.
The Disciples play a full show the next weekend, on March 25 at La Place à Côté, 4571 Papineau, corner Mont-Royal. A band called Caloon Saloon will open for the Disciples at 8:00 pm. Figure the Disciples will go on at 9:00 pm or so.
The band is selling one ticket for both shows: $12 if you buy one from Elvi (or me) or $18 at the door. It would be great if everyone could make both events, but you oughta take at least one show in.
I’m trying to get Elana from Thunderdome to show up. Feel free to forward this to anyone you think has an appreciation for the big-band sound.
I have no coherent theme for the following notes, but it is time to post, so….
I spent most of the day working up Alex’s new Web pages. I’m impressing myself with my l33t CSS skillz. I’ll let you know when the pages go live, although I bet my test pages already show up on Google.
I watched the Oscars and have no comment, other than to note that they sure were hawking movies to be seen in movie theatres.
Ken Levine points out a fascinating paradox. (Is that even the right word? Hypocrisy, maybe?) Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is the guy who appeared at the Oscars ceremony to give “an impassioned speech on storytelling and the need for Hollywood to strive for excellence. Mr. Ganis is the producer of ‘Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo’.” Is that funny or sad?
In the last few days, the sports sections of the CanWest-owned Montreal Gazette has had two relatively lengthy articles on the plight of the hapless Toronto Maple Leafs. That wouldn’t normally be so bad, but neither piece featured any gloating. Naturally, neither was written by a Montrealer, either. These were serious worry pieces on the poor Maple Leafs. (No, nobody knows why they are not the Maple Leaves.)
I’d say it’s a symptom of non-local ownership of media, but even RDS (the French local sports cable station) had a feature on les pauvres Maple Leafs during the first intermission of the Habs-Flyers game this evening (somehow, still 0-0 despite numerous scoring chances for nos glorieux).
Really, what good are the Maple Leafs if you can’t laugh at them?
What does Toronto have that Montreal doesn’t? Black-and-white footage of their last Stanley Cup.
A few weeks ago, the family and I visited our friend Neil and his family for a movie night. (We saw “Stuck on You“, and I quite liked it.)
Neil has a history of volunteer work with Israeli children’s charities, some of them associated with the Israeli military. One of the gifts he has received is a book called “Shamayim Nakiyim” (“Open Skies”) a hardcover volume that celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Israeli Air Force.
I noticed on page three or so, a version of a photo I already had in my 101 Squadron collection, a photograph of Modi Alon in his S-199 as he closes in on one of the first two Israeli air-to-air kills on June 3, 1948. The photo in “Shamayim Nakiyim” shows Alon chasing both the Dakota bombers he shot down that afternoon. Unfortunately, some miscreant graphic artist marred the image in the book with a large yellow circle.
Thinking that the second bomber was cropped out of the photo I already had, I thought I could scan the image from the book and eliminate the yellow in Photoshop with some layering of the two images.
Here’s the book photo:
I layered it with my photo as I prepared to “fix” the yellow. I discovered something surprising. These are the not the same photos. The buildings, although both occupy the left side of the frame, are not the same building. These photos came from two different positions in Tel Aviv.
Here is the layered composite. The numeral 1 marks the position of aircraft in the photo I previously had. The numeral 2 marks the aircraft in the “Shamayim Nakiyim” photo.
But which photo came first, and what happened to the leading Dakota? There’s enough room for it to appear in photo 1.
Alon is closer to his victim in photo 2, so it’s probably the second photo chronologically.
The trailing Dakota and Alon are at lower altitude than the leading Dakota. I suspect the Dakota is (foolishly) trying to dive away from the S-199. You gain speed in a dive, and so I would guess that the chase has caught up with the leading Dakota by the time the second photo is snapped.
Time for some cocktail-napkin math. The Dakota is 28.64 pixels long and 64.5 feet long in life. That’s a ratio of 0.4440. The S-199 is 12.31 pixels long and 29.3 feet in life, a ratio of 0.4197. I’d have preferred a closer ratio, but perspective and optics may prevent that. Let’s average the two ratios to get 0.4335 as a useful compromise.
Photo 1 has a separation between S-199 and Dakota of 121.06 pixels = 279 feet. Photo 2 shows the gap to be 110.80 pixels, which converts to 256 feet. That’s very close, kids, and should serve to warn you not to go bombing without a tailgunner. A more typical attack in these aircraft would take place 200-300 yards out, nearly three times the distance.
Look like I’ll have something else to revise in my “101″ screenplay. If y’all nag me enough, I can post my screenplay version of this very attack.
I wrote ten pages of “By the Book” treatment today. I have my outline to follow, but I feel productive. New ideas are springing up as I write, which is always a good sign. Some scenes are disappearing as I find them superfluous and tighten the story.
I haven’t followed a strict process of outline to treatment to screenplay draft on any previous work. My treatment is coming in a shade short of black. Imagine a screenplay without dialogue – that’s sort of what I’m writing, although the description, the black, isn’t as specific as it will be in the first draft.
My outline was eight pages plus. at roughly the halfway mark, the treatment is at nine pages plus, so it’s roughly twice as long. The outline in Microsoft Word blew through 2,573 words. I’m doing the treatment in Final Draft – 3,047 words and counting.
The treatment is due March 15. Before today, I wasn’t sure I’d make it.
My biggest problem so far is that I’ve grown annoyed with the original title. “The Book of John” is what what I’ve been calling it instead. For future reference, they are one and the same.
That’s a good biggest problem to have.
Bonus rueful observation:
Netsurfer Digest subscribers continue to ask for their favourite e-zine four months after its unexpected demise. Here’s a typical response to the news (I forward all inquiries to my relevant blog posts):
How terribly sad. I found NSD to be one of the best things about the Net. I don’t pay for content, but I was glad to pony up for NSD. At least I can say thank you. THANK YOU. You were awesome while you lasted.
Thank you (again).
It still makes me sad too, sometimes. And I still have the itch….