Friday, January 29, 2010


Regular readers know that xkcd is may favorite comic. It's reliably both intellegent and funny. Today's comic, however, is also a little heartbreaking.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Straight Flush, NC High

Regular readers---at least those who don't tune out when I start gabbing about my automotive addiction---know that I've been wanting an NC (third-generation Miata) for almost 2 years now. On Saturday, my very understanding wife drove me to Frederiksburg, Virginia to purchase one.

The new car was a leftover 2009 model, so I was able to get a pretty good deal on it: 7,660 dollars off of MSRP, in fact. I started my search for an '09 a bit late to find exactly what I was looking for in-town. Hence our schlep out to Fredericksburg. The scarcity of leftovers also meant that I wasn't able to find exactly, exactly what I wanted anywhere closer than Massachusetts, so I had to compromise a bit. More on that in a few paragraphs.

Why was I so dead-set on the 2009? Well, I was originally looking for a 2006 to 2008, preferably a 2007. Then I read of people on getting 6000 or 7000 off of MSRP on leftover '09s, and my interest was piqued. You see, the Miata received a midcycle refresh for 2009, resulting in what has come to be called the NC2. The changes, which constitute more than a simple facelift, consist of numerous small but meaningful alterations to the engine, transmission, suspension (6MT only), interior and exterior. Almost all of these changes, especially the 500-rpm redline increase, are for the better.

Except for the grill. Oh, and the "induction sound enhancer."

The new grill brings Mazda's company-wide smiling grill to the Miata. It's enormous. And hideous. At least in my opinion. I'm especially annoyed that about 60% of it is blocked off, fake.

Anyway, the new car is the Touring trim level, which means it comes with some nice performance parts, like the 6-speed transmission and a front-shock-tower brace. Additionally, all the '09 and '10 manual Tourings are bundled with the Suspension Package, which includes Bilstein dampers, different springs, and a limited-slip differential.* Sadly, to acquire all those goodies, I also had to get heavier, 17-inch wheels, and a bunch of comfort-and-convenience features in which I was uninterested: power windows, a fancier stereo, fog lamps, auto-dimming mirror with Homelink, and the aforementioned induction sound enhancer. The ISE is a plastic pipe, branching off the induction system and running to the port side of the firewall, thus pointing the intake sound at the driver, presumably to make him feel like he's driving a sports car. I guess it's less obnoxious than a loud exhaust, but it seems like a stupid expenditure of perhaps 3 lb. Especially given the way Mazda touts the "gram strategy" they used on the NC, like how how they shaved 80 g from the (base) rearview mirror. Did I mention that my car has the "luxurious" portly mirror with a bunch of built in electronics? Gram strategy? No.

I decided that the weight penalty---I calculate about 10 to 15 lbs---associated with all those extra, unwanted luxuries, combined with the additional weight of the 6MT and FSTB---probably around 20 lb---was counterbalanced by the performance enhancements of the 6MT and the Suspension Package. I guess Oh, I suppose I should add the weight of the spoiler that came on my particular car into this computation as well. I'm still not convinced it was a worthwhile tradeoff.

Anyone other than Colin Chapman would say I'm being ridiculous, beyond up-tight, about the weight of my Miata. According to Mazda, the curb weight on my new NC is 2511 lbs. That's 19 lbs lighter than Mia, my Mazdaspeed (NB) Miata, even though the new car has those extra features, a noticably stiffer chassis, and an integrated rollbar. And the new car is more than 300 lbs lighter than the lightest Honda S2000---the S200CR, but only if the hardtop is counted---or the Pontiac Soltice/Saturn Sky. Now that those cars are out of production, you can't find another non-Lotus sports car under about 3200 lbs. That's right; the Miata is the lightest production sports car an American can buy that isn't an Elise or Exige. And those cars have waivers for certain safety standards because of the small production numbers. So I guess I shouldn't be too upset.

"Enough about weight; what about the power?" I hear you ask. The Mazdaspeed Miata was the highest-power, highest-torque Miata ever sold by Mazda. It was rated at 178 bhp and 166 lb-ft using the pre-2006 testing protocol. Using the same procedure, my car would come in at 171 bhp and 140 lb-feet. So, the power-to-weight ratio is almost as high, but the torque is comparatively lacking. I plan to fix that shortcoming this summer. Because the NC is naturally aspirated, it doesn't benefit from simple intake and exhaust modifications like the MSM would. I can't take the NC to 200 wheel horsepower (about 230 brake horsepower) like I could have with the NC, but 167 whp (about 200 bhp) is possible, and that's about the right amount of power for street use in this car, at least in my opinion.

I'm enjoying the car so far. The chassis is clearly much stiffer than Mia's, and the doors are much weightier, indicating improved crashworthyness. How is the weight actually lower, then? Partly because more liberal use was made of aluminum in place of steel; in addition to the hood and engine head, which are aluminum on the NA and NB, the NC uses aluminum in the trunklid, front control arms, and engine block. I think a lot of the weight reduction came from clever engineering; I guess the gram strategy did pay off. My MSM is the ultimate evolution of the NB, which was itself an overhaul of the NA, but not a clean-sheet redesign. The NA was designed in the 1980s, so the MSM is saddled with an engine and chassis that are essentially '80s designs. The NC chassis---a modification of the RX-8 chassis---and engine were designed in the 2000s. Actually, everything in the NC seems both better engineered and better assembled than on Mia or Emma, my NA.

For example, on the NC, the coolant is routed correctly,** and the heater can be turned all the way off, so both the engine and the driver can stay comfortable, even when the car is working hard. Additionally, because the pistons and engine block are the same material, their thermal coefficients of expansion match, preventing the pistons from being either pinched or loose, a condition that both Emma and Mia suffer from.

And that brings me to the name for my latest tiny car. I was originally looking for a True Red example. Since I'm an avid Batman fan, and I've recently been playing Batman: Arkhan Asylum, it seemed natural to me that a red-and black car with a huge, black Joker grin should be named Harley, as in Quinn. I mean, such a car would clearly be the automotive incarnation of Dr. Harleen Quinzel. But, since the best-colored '09 Touring manual soft top*** I could find was Liquid Silver, I'm uncertain what do now. I considered Selina, but this car seems too happy for such a serious name. Besides, Ms Kyle usually dresses in black, though sometimes in purple. Your suggestions are welcome.

Well, I've told you far, far more about my latest automotive acquisition than you wanted. So I'll shut up now. For a bit, at least.

(And don't worry; I'm not keeping them all.)

* The LSD alone is worth the 500-dollar premium for the Suspension Package.
** In one end of the block and out the other, not in one end and back out the same end.
*** No power-retractable hard top for me. If you think I get annoyed about the 10- or 15-lb weight penulty associated with some superfluous conveniences, you should see my head spin around at mention of the 75 lbs the PRHT adds to the car. Plus, I'd prefer to avoid all the elctro-mechanical complexity of the powered hard top. Doubleplus, none of the aftermarket rollbars will fit under the PRHT.


Apple should have just called their new tablet the PADD.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Recipe: Roasted Garlic Cauliflower Puree

First of all, let me state for the record that I have never been a fan of cauliflower. It's like weird, mutant, albino broccoli. So, when various people would tell me that they made pureed cauliflower and it was "like mashed potatoes!" and it was "soooo good!", I was, shall we say, skeptical. I guess I finally was told it was good by enough people that I decided to give it a shot, but I was still not expecting much.

As it turns out, I was wrong. This is soooo good and it ends up being quite a lot like mashed potatoes!

  • 1 bulb garlic
  • 1-2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cut the end off the garlic bulb to expose some of the cloves (not the root end...the other one) and remove as much of the outer paper as possible while keeping the cloves together. Drizzle the cut ends with olive oil and wrap in aluminum foil. Bake in a 425 degree oven (I like to use the toaster oven for this) for approximately 1 hour or until garlic cloves are soft. Take out of oven and allow to cool at room temperature (it just needs to be cool enough to handle without burning your fingers).
  2. Cut the cauliflower into even-sized florets. Boil, covered, in the 1/2 cup broth for about 10 minutes or until cauliflower is easily pricked with a fork. Careful...not too mushy! Also, 1/2 cup broth won't look like a lot, but don't add more! You puree the cauliflower with the liquid later, so adding more will make the puree come out too thin.
  3. Remove cauliflower from heat. Squeeze roasted garlic cloves out of their skins and add it all to the cauliflower.
  4. Use an immersion blender to puree the garlic, cauliflower, and broth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
I enjoyed this so much, I'm making it again tonight. I'm serving it with bison burgers....yum!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Lessons Newton Taught Us: Trees

I suppose this one should have been obvious:
You can lead a dog to a tree, but you can't make him pee.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Audiobook Review: The Life of Pi

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

I recently finished the audiobook version of The Life of Pi. Here's my review.

The Setup

The book follows a young Indian boy, Pi, through his youth in India, as the very spiritual son of a zookeeper, and his somewhat...complicated relocation to Canada. The story is told mostly Pi himself and partly by a writer chronicling the central character's life.

What I Liked
  • The plot. The central story of the book is quite engaging. Both Part 1 and Part 2, which are very different, are interesting.
  • The central, and principal, character. I found Pi to be quite sympathetic.
  • The voice acting. The actor who provided the voice of Pi (and all the characters he meets) did an excellent job.
  • The zoological content. The author clearly did his animal-behavior research.
  • The imagery. The book is filled with very evocative imagery.

What I Disliked
  • Some parts of the book feel a little...awkward.

The Bottom Line

Overall, I give The Life of Pi 7.5 out of 10. It's certainly an unusual book, and an interesting one, to boot.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Condensed Internet-Forum Car-Buying Advise

Are you unsure what to get for your next car? Do you think you might ask what to get on a car forum you heard about? Don't bother. Here, courtesy of someone called JuniperMonkeys, is everything you are likely to read on an auto enthusiast forum, distilled into one easy-to-use flowchart.* Ready, set, go!

A few notes for the uninitiated:

* Plus, some kind of jellyfish/squid creature. Bonus!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Audiobook Review: Metatropolis

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

A few weeks ago, I finished the audiobook Metatropolis, and here is my review.

The Setup

Metatropolis is an anthology of novellas written by Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell, Elizabeth Bear, John Scalzi, and Karl Schroeder. Scalzi also edited the book. One feature that sets this anthology apart is that all the stories take place in the same universe, one that was collaboratively built by all the authors. Another unusual feature is that the compilation was conceived as an audiobook. The stories are read by two famous audiobook narrators and three Battlestar Galactica veterans.

The title gives some clue to the shared universe of these stories. The novellas take place sometime in the middle of the Twenty-First Century, when the nature of cities is changing, evolving into something new. The final story, in particular, shows how even the words we use to describe cities may have to change to keep up.

What I Liked
  • The plots of the five stories are all very engaging. They are all distinct, but, since they take place in a single imagined universe, they feel like components of a single whole. The last story was easily my favorite; listening to it was a mind-expanding experience.
  • The future envisioned in this book is realized thoroughly. The details really bring the world of the book to life for the listener.
  • The voice acting is top-notch. All of the narrators do excellent jobs of not simply reading but acting the stories. For example, each narrator gives each character his or her own voice.

What I disliked
  • The first story contains a character with a poorly justified, almost supernatural ability to charm the other characters. I just didn't buy it.

The Bottom Line

Overall, I give Metatroplis 8.5 out of 10. I really enjoyed this audiobook, and I recommend you download it or buy in on CD. You can even read it, if you want to be old-fashioned. If my recommendation is not enough for you, you might be interested in reading Scalzi's reasons you should buy it.