Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Book Review: The Beleaguered City--The Vicksburg Campaign, December 1862 – July 1863

This book by Shelby Foote is an American treasure.  Foote himself should be considered among the great historians of the last 1/2 century or so. Though this book represents only an excerpt from Foote's 3000 page account of the American Civil War, it is a phenomenal work in and of itself.

Foote will be forever tied to Ken Burns' "Civil War" TV program on PBS but in truth had established himself as a leading Civil War authority decades earlier.

Regardless, this book which covers the Union's campaign to take the city/fort of Vicksburg which stood strategically overlooking the Mississippi and its crucial shipping/transportation lanes with heavy cannons.  As Foote suggests, the taking of Vicksburg may have been as crucial a turning point in the war as the South's defeat at Gettysburg but is frequently overlooked (perhaps due to mere bodycount at Gettysburg or its proximity to Northern media outlets?).

Foote's account of this campaign is brilliant.  It is as well crafted a military history as you will find.  The detail is here without becoming burdensome to the overall arch of battles.  You are made aware of each of the important figures without getting bogged down in minutiae.  The ebb and flow of battles and troop movements is clear and concise without ever becoming boring.

No, there are no footnotes contained herein (as some critics have griped) but to me that's the beauty of this narrative.  Foote is not merely regurgitating a string of items carved out from other sources--he is crafting his own accurate and descriptive account of the action on the ground.  The book doesn't sound encyclopedic because its not an encyclopedia--something I think may military historians miss the point on.

This book gave me a wonderful understanding of a small portion of the Civil War--one that I was certainly unaware of in only my very meager education on America's seminal conflict (for some reason my grade school and high school history never really covered or got to the Civil War--let alone anything in the 20th century, and god knows, my one college history course was a joke), and leaves me hungering for more knowledge about it.  I will be sure to return to Mr. Foote again for the education I have to this point been missing.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Childhood Memories: Duane's Toyland

Duane's Toyland in Albany, NY remains one of the best memories of my youth.  It is a shame it is no longer around.  Shut down in the mid 90's due to competition from Wal Mart it was an early victim of the same cycle that killed off or massively changed other toy-stores such as KB Toys, FAO Schwartz, Child World and others.

I distinctly remember traveling the hour or so over to the store with my father and brother on cold winter weekends and staring up at the aisle after aisle of toys that were stacked to the high ceilings.  While the upstairs of the building were fantastic and held all the GI Joes, Star Wars, He Man, Transformers, plastic guns and other toys (some of which I'm sure were sold no where else locally given the massive size of this toystore) it was the basement of the store where we always went to last and where I was most fixated on visiting--almost a "saving the best for last" plan of attack.

The basement of Duane's Toyland is where the really cool, big boy toys were kept.  Down there is where all the role-playing games (Dungeons and Dragons, etc.) were displayed and they had one of the biggest collections of RPG games anywhere.  Book after book, module after module they had.  Duane's even had some of the more obscure RPG offshoots such as the Conan the Barbarian stand alone RPG that I picked up on one of my visits.

The basement is also where all the models were kept--though these never really interested me as my hands shake too much and my art skills leave a lot to be desired to this day.

Moving from the RPG area to the "computer room" was always our last move.  The computer room was a separate, walled off room that contained all the software and hardware that a young boy could desire.  At this time, our Commodore 64 or Vic 20 even (though I think our visits to Duane's took place mostly when we had the C-64) was a fantastic game machine on which we could run various flight simulators, sports games and RPG computer games that were all sold in nice solid cardboard boxes that you would stack up at home like a collection of records to peruse.

In all my brother, father and I could spend hours in that store and its lighting, atmosphere and design stick with me to this day.  After visiting the store in what was typically the mid to late afternoon we would require some food before heading home on those cold dark New England roads.  For that there was a Subway I believe in the same shopping plaza, to the right of the store if you were facing the outside.  We would walk on down there and grab a meatball sub or the like and try to eat it while looking over our new acquisitions.

I'll remember those trips for my entire life and I'm not sure exactly why...there was nothing overly remarkable about them but in looking back, they sure feel like a wonderful adventure with a happy ending to me.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Book Review: Teatro Grottesco

A recent Christmas gift from my brother in law, I had never heard of Thomas Ligotti before this collection of short stories.  With numerous claims on the cover and elsewhere that Ligotti could be fairly compared to Lovecraft and Poe, I was greatly intrigued.

Indeed, in terms of his style of "horror" he is similar to both of the aforementioned writers.  There is little if any blood or violence.  The horror here is impressed upon the reader via the oppressive atmosphere or the strangeness of the given situation.

Additionally, the locales of each story is firmly set in the modern industrial world and reflects the "horrors" of current society.  The stories are effectively creepy and odd in a Lovecraftian fashion and in that regards I would consider the collection a success.

My gripe with the works contained herein is their "voice".  As all (or nearly all?) of the stories here are written in the first person there should be at least some difference in the voice of one story to the next.  Unfortunately there isn't.  Ligotti uses the same style, cadence and structure in every story.  The verbal repetition and other queues remain identical from story to story making the reader "hear" the author and not the character.  This detracts greatly from being drawn into the individual stories as it prevents the reader from believing in the story being told.

If Ligotti could refine his style to present a different stylistic view or different voice for the world he is creating from story to story his works would move that much closer to those of the authors he is compared to.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

What ____ Thinks I Do...

This meme has already pretty much flamed itself out on the Internet over the past few weeks and this is the one I'll remember the most.

Now can we put this "What ____ thinks I do" thing to bed?

Friday, February 17, 2012

EPAS Announcement...

Eastern Pennsylvania Stages 2012 Announces Initial Event


Windham, NH (February 18, 2012)

Today, NISMO Stuff Racing LLC formally announced the introduction of a new event for the 2012 NASA Rally Sport season. Eastern Pennsylvania Stages (EPAS) will be held at a location long-familiar to stage rally fans in that it will mark the return of rally cars to the Rausch Creek Offroad Park. Earlier this century a number of top flight teams utilized this location for testing alongside a number of RallySprint and rallycross events featuring familiar names such as Dimiters, Hall, Kearney, Lawless, O'Brien and Przybysz amongst others, regularly drawing over twenty competitors. Saturday November 10th will be the day to witness a rebirth of grassroots rally action in Eastern Pennsylvania.

While the event will still be held at the familiar Rausch Creek Offroad Park, the competitive stages will be entirely new, featuring roads that have never seen rally cars in the past. The land upon which prior rally testing and events took place on is no longer part of the facility's available acreage. The new acreage already has numerous roads cut across it and has hosted a number of motorsports events including Ultra4 racing and Wide Open Baja car excursions. Park owners Bruce Shallis and Lynn Ehrenfeld have been instrumental in bringing the opportunity for rally racing back to Rausch Creek and are working diligently with NISMO Stuff Racing LLC to lay out the best possible course amongst the near limitless possibilities offered by both the terrain and the road surfacing equipment available. Their new ownership of the facility is making great events possible.

The mid-fall, Saturday scheduling of the event is intended to make it available to as many grassroots participants as possible, keeping the date as far away from other traditionally East Coast oriented events as possible while also accommodating local hunting seasons and winter weather conditions. The early November date, high in the hills of eastern Pennsylvania should make for some brisk conditions--ripe for a warm campfire with competitors when the day is done!

With local hotels and eating establishments only a ten minute drive or less away and primitive camping available on-site, budgets of all sizes can be accommodated. A large gravel parking lot is also present at the site--directly across the street from where the race will occur--making service, storage and scrutineering and contingency a breeze for all involved.

For this season, EPAS will now be the seventh and final stop of the NASA Rally Sport season. The November 10th date will come after the conclusion of the Atlantic Rally Cup series which occurs on October 27th at the Rallye Charlevoix.

As befitting a season ending event, NISMO Stuff Racing LLC has something special in store for this weekend. "I've always taken an interest in a number of differing motorsports and have always favored drivers that excel at a number of disciplines," said NISMO Stuff Racing's Dan Spalinger "I hope to bring a bit of that variety to this event."

NISMO Stuff Racing LLC is working with its partners at NASA Rally Sport to open the entry field to competitors operating Ultra4 desert-buggie style (, as well as the SCORE tagged Wide Open Baja, vehicles (, while still adhering to NASA Rally Sport safety requirements, to expand competition. This should allow for a substantial increase in entrants over prior rally events at this facility, expand knowledge of the sport and put on a great show for both competitors and spectators.

Having a larger, varied, field of competitors can only help the grassroots of all these varied motorsports as well as result in a successful event that will allow rally vehicles to return to Rausch Creek time and time again as a mutually beneficial relationship is developed over time. Just imagine, a screaming, anti-lag Evo, sliding its way around a Right Two, followed by a giant, thundering V8 Ultra4 able to ignore the snowglobe size rocks the Evo needed to pick around, while right behind comes the Wide Open car with the travel necessary to float over the tabletops the Ultra4 needed to crawl over. Each vehicle has things it does well and things it does not so well--it will be up to the DRIVER to make the best of it and come out on top!

The event (run under a Rally Sprint format) will be sanctioned by NASA Rally Sport, the grassroots rally sanctioning body for the US. NASA Rally Sport focuses on competitor fun and providing support for rally organizers. Providing tools to the racers, organizers, and fans to increase their enjoyment of rally is one of the core missions of the organization.


Media Contact: Dan Spalinger / / 603-475-7860

*The event is sanctioned by NASA Rally Sport.

NASA Rally Sport logo:

*More information is available on:

Another Hint...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Big News Soon!!

Come back often for more hints of the coming news about a new Stage Rally event coming to the NorthEast this year!!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tons of Great Photos of NISMO Stuff Frontier from Sandblast 2012

These are some of the best shots to come out of Sandblast and are some of the better action shots taken of the NISMO Stuff Racing Frontier thus far.  Enjoy!

New Pair of GT-Rs to Enter SCCA World Challenge!

After the unmitigated disappointment that was Brass Monkey Racing and its failed GT-R effort over the past few years its nice to see the GT-Rs getting another shot at the SCCA World Challenge series--as well as a pair of 370Zs.

With CRP as the builder and racing effort behind these GT-Rs, the results should be much better.  CRP has been racing Corvette's in the last few years and has generated a 3rd place overall in the series in '11.  CRP also has significant backing from Hawk Performance products and Cragar wheels as well.

Nissan will also be providing a Nissan Leaf as the track safety car at each event and provide other support to those in the series.  The first race isn't until March but I already have my fingers crossed for some solid results!
CRP Signs on to Race Nissan GT-Rs in SCCA World Challenge...
CRP Homepage...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Nissan Sunny GTI-R Wins Legend Fires North West Stages Rally

 Though a relatively poor performer in the WRC in the early '90s some examples of Nissan's last serious stage rally effort do remain running and running well.  Take this bright yellow Nissan Sunny GTI-R over in England.

It was recently trotted out for an asphalt only stage rally of over 75 miles and walked away with the win by about a minute and a half. The event contained numerous top flight vehicles including Escort Cosworths, Evo 9s, Fiesta R2s, and of course a host of Subarus.  Nice to see that a 20 year old Nissan can still pack a punch.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Film Review: Atonement

Would someone pass me the razor blades please?

I "enjoyed" this film though this isn't the same as having fun watching a film.

I won't ruin the ending if you don't know it but I'm not sure it could be more depressing.

I liked James McAvoy in The Last King of Scotland and he is just as good here.  McAvoy's best trait may be his ability to portray emotional injury.  His protagonist here is the lower caste lover of an upper class girl played by Keira Knightly who is falsely accused of a crime by her younger sister.  Knightly is good--though too thin to be wholly believable in a mid 1930's set film.

The film works on a number of levels, comparing and contrasting levels of class and status, the unreliability of witnesses, family jealousy, etc.  and is paced and set up well.

The story itself, though simple, is filmed to include a number of flashbacks that keep it from being simple point A to point B exercise.

Though advertised as taking place during WWII this really has no bearing on the story itself and this is not a "war" film.  The war itself is not necessarily important to the movement of the plot, nor do you need to have an interest in WWII to enjoy the film.  The weight of the story is what carries the film and if you and or your significant other, as it should be viewed with someone you care about, can stand a depressing yet well crafted work then it deserves your viewing.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sandblast 2012 Video...

Some of the video coming out of Sandblast 2012 that contains footage of the NISMO Stuff Racing Frontier.  Two seperate shots of the truck in this one.  One at about 3:30 and the other late in the five minute period.  The first one is not nearly as clean as the second and luckily didn't put me over any berm and get me stuck!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Dacia Logan = Nissan NP200

Came across this little Nissan today.  Turns out Nissan is rebadging some Dacia's via Renault's ownership in the Romanian automaker.  I believe this vehicle is currently only sold in South Africa and is manufactured there alongside other Dacias but at least its getting some good press.
Nissan NP200 Review from S.A.

Another "Green" Nissan Ship...

The first one came about a year ago and currently plies the seas of Northern Europe (see the ship the City of St. Petersburg) and now Nissan is introducing another one--the Nichioh Maru.  This one will not have the aerodynamic shape of the City of St. Petersburg but will instead be adorned with low drag paint and lots of solar cells which will cut down on the need for diesel generators to power the ship's electrical needs.  Lowering the ship's annual usage by 1,200 tons of diesel (which should equate to a savings of some $1.4 million dollars in fuel costs per my calculations) as well as reducing carbon emissions by 4,200 tons (like taking about 810 cars off the road).  So this is really just a drop in the bucket in the larger scheme of things...but I suppose its a nice gesture...

Monday, February 6, 2012

7th Overall and 4th in 2WD at Sandblast Rally 2012!!

Wow, what a weekend.

Truly unlike anything I've driven in before.  Deceptively grippy at points and yet still slick as ice at others.  It is definately an experience I will never forget.

The event started with a drive up to Yorks, ME where I was to put the NISMO Stuff Frontier onto a two car trailer with Mike Reilly's Ford Escort Cosworth.  I was to sleep on the floor of his AWESOME shop which doubles as the home of his software company.  Nothing better than opening your office door and looking out onto the floor of an enormous garage holding four fully ready rally cars.

After getting about three hours sleep due to needing to try and stay up late to try and add little "shelves" to the side of the trailer to accommodate the 90+ inch width of the front track, I and Allen, Mike's right hand man, jumped into the tow vehicle (a 20+ foot E550 box truck) and headed out.  Mid afternoon and we're in Virginia and stopped for a break when we discover that the truck had blown a seal and dumped all its oil all over the highway and its current resting place.  The E550's event was over.

Pressing on we managed to contact at local Uhaul store at 4:58 just prior to its closing at 5PM and were able to rent a big Uhaul box truck to finish the rest of the haul.  We managed to transfer an entire box truck full of equipment from one to another and a large wrecking vehicle showed up to haul the broken tow vehicle away to a shop that could do the needed repair.  To make it easy on the new tow vehicle I drove the NISMO Stuff Frontier the remaining five or so hours to Cheraw, SC where I checked into my hotel where my codriver had arrived earlier in the day.

Check-in and registration the next day was easy and we ran the shakedown stage late in the day on Friday a number of times to get the feel of the deep sand the course takes place on.

Getting my first sleep of more than 4 hours in the previous two days left me refreshed come Saturday morning.  David Dennis my codriver was also ready to go having gotten into the rhythm of calling out stage notes very quickly the night before.

The race itself was incredible.  I think I enjoyed this one the most out of the three I've done simply because of the terrain.  Wide, fast roads that were very driveable and forgiving because of the deep sand.  No I couldn't really put what power I have to the ground because the sand just keeps the tires spinning but being on the rev-limiter with the engine screaming literally all day long is a ton of fun.  I also had fund in some head to head runs with other vehicles as well.  Sliding sideways through a turn nose to tail with a BMW 3 series with dirt spraying every which way and neither one of you having 100% control of your vehicle is truly wild.  We also got to pass a number of other competitors on stage at this event, some broke, some stuck--the deep sand had many lower clearance vehicles up to their frames or sills in sand unable to move an inch.  The NISMO Stuff Frontier, despite being 2WD, was able to float on top of the sand and not push it around, allowing free sailing to the finish.

And finish we did.  For the third time in its first three races the NISMO Stuff Frontier finished the event. This time it was 70 stage miles of racing without a hiccup.  Nothing broke, no punctures, no issues whatsoever.  Service was non-existent besides fuel and the truck is ready to run at a moments notice still.

Good thing too since the original tow vehicle won't be fixed until tomorrow and I had to drive the race truck all the way back (15 hours) from South Carolina yesterday!  Yes, so for the third time in three events I also drove the race vehicle to and from the race.  Can't say I know anyone else in that predicament (by choice or not) at the moment!

Bottom line results??  Pretty damn good if you ask me....I'm going to have to start a Wikipedia page to chronicle the team's efforts going forward.  The NISMO Stuff Frontier placed 3rd in its class, was the 4th overall 2WD vehicle in the event and placed 7th overall for Sandblast Rally 2012 out of the 24 car entries (there were 32 motorcycle entries for the race as well).

Next up??  Not quite sure...but I can't wait to get back out again.  More photos and video hopefully to come.  These are the first photos to be found and are all non-professional.