Saturday, August 31, 2013

Book Review: Leviathan Wakes

Written by the combination of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the pen name of James S.S. Corey (why?), Leviathan Wakes is one of the first large form Sci-Fi books I've written in quite some time and one of the most entertaining I've ever read.

Make no mistake, this isn't "hard" sci-fi.  You won't be getting into multipage descriptions of the technological minutiae of a propulsion drive or the math required to calculate the force necessary to move a heavenly body out of its orbit.

What you do get is a fully formed and eminently believable "world" in which the story functions.  Extrapolating from today's space technology, political machinations and corporate expansion, Corey weaves an extremely detailed pathway for his characters to ride.

Corey also does a fantastic job of literally weaving the story together--taking two characters and alternating chapters between them until they come together later in the story and then towards the end returning to the alternating perspective as the characters again are separated.  The convention works well and lends itself well to holding the reader's attention.

The story itself involves the hunt for a missing woman and the eventual conspiracy that is uncovered as being responsible for her death (? here as I'm not sure she really "dies").  You have all the typical features of a great sci-fi story with space battles, weird creatures, items floating around, the danger of space's vacuum, etc.  In fact, much of the story carries familiar aspects that we've all encountered elsewhere--whether its in Alien, Blade Runner, 28 Days Later, Outbreak, etc.  Corey is not exactly breaking new ground in terms of storytelling but he has wrapped together a number of genres into a very entertaining package.

With Leviathan Wakes being the first novel in a trilogy, it does what it sets out to do--which is to get you looking for the next chance you get to buy the followup.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Book Review: Ishi In Two Worlds

Published first in 1961 popular work recounts what came to be known about "Ishi" the last "wild" Indian in North America.

Walking out of the Northern California forests at the age of 49  in 1911 and arrested for trying to steal some meat, Ishi had spent the previous three years alone after the last of his tribe (Yahi) had either been killed or driven into extinction.

The book covers the long downward spiral of his tribe and northern California Indian tribes in general facing threats such as smallpox, land encroachment and just pure extermination by some of the Western settlers.  That Ishi and the Yahi hung on as long as they did was amazing and his brief incorporation into "modern" society in San Francisco is just as stunning.

The work doesn't have a lot of first hand material to work with.  Ishi could speak only minimal English before his death and no other Indians spoke his language (parts of, yes, but wholly? No).  Instead what material Theodora Kroeber had to work with were the recordings, writings and recollections of her husband Alfred Kroeber and other scientists and workers around the UCSF museum that he made his home during his brief stay in modern America.

The book is well worth the read covering a very interesting period in American history when the last vestiges of what we think of as the "old world" before the white man arrived, disappeared or mutated into reservation constrained perversions. In truth, to me the more interesting parts were those covering the decline of Ishi's tribe and culture vs. Ishi's efforts to eke out a life in modern society which, while necessary, are a sad denouement to what was a brave and remarkable life.

New Garmin VIRB Action Camera

As the owner of a Replay XD action camera and a constant observer of GoPros and other action cams I'm always interested in new and affordable, high quality video recorder that can take a beating.

Garmin (the company known for all its GPS related devices) is attempting to diversify itself with its Garmin VIRB action camera.  Likely a good idea as GPS information is becoming ubiquitous in seemingly every device that we own and turn by turn directions are available on nearly everyone's phone.

Though I haven't used the VIRB personally, I will say that upon initial impressions I'm not sure this is going to offer Garmin a new, viable, revenue stream.  For one thing its price point is too high at $299 and $399.  With middle of the road GoPros and Replay XDs going for significantly less and WiFi capabilities being built in on other models, the VIRB doesn't offer that much extra to justify the higher cost.

Secondly, it just LOOKS big and bulky right down to its attachments.  While the Replay XD is downright miniscule and unobtrusive and the GoPros have sleek mounting units (comparatively) the VIRB looks like it belongs mounted on some sort of crane or boom at a movie shoot and not on your head or bike.

Lastly, the video footage that Garmin has put up on their site is, well, less than impressive.  While GoPro has the marketing aspect of their product down tight (LOVE the videos of surfing in Hawaii or boarding at Mt. Hood or on a baby's head in the kitchen) with just gorgeous TV advertisements making everyone think "Wow, I could look that cool in my own video.  Look at the colors and clarity!!" the videos on the Garmin site reportedly from the VIRB look drab and boring without emotion or humor.

Again--I haven't used this camera myself so it could certainly surprise me...It just screams that it is a first effort from a company that has traditionally been focused on satellites rather than producing more fun and artistic products.

Wired GadgetLab on Garmin VIRB...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

2015 Nissan Armada Will NOT Get Titan's Diesel Engine...

It would have seemed like a no brainer...but I guess it isn't...

It was revealed today that while the 2015 Nissan Titan will get the V8 Cummins Turbo-diesel and its SUV sibling, the Nissan Armada, will be redesigned at the same time and use the same frame and other underpinnings as the new Titan, much as it does today, it will not be offered with a diesel.

This is kind of odd as I would imagine the SUV will get at least as bad gas mileage as the truck version but maybe Nissan's internal info says that families and others more likely (soccer moms?) to buy the SUV over the pickup truck have no interest in a diesel option. This is about the only thing I can think of at the moment...

The new Armada will remain a body-on-frame truck based vehicle and will remain LARGE in size. Nissan plans to use lightweight materials and aero-packages (active aero?) to hopefully eke out whatever mileage improvements they can.

Next Gen Armada NOT to get diesel engine...

Lac Aux Sables Rallye -- More Video...

This is the event's official video, recapping nearly all vehicles twice and at multiple locations. For the NISMOStuff Racing Frontier this means an appearance at about 5:10 and 10:05 of the video. Nothing too exciting here but it does show that we were there! My much belated report on the event as a whole to come shortly.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Juke-R Crash on Video...

Well, this sure sucks...though more for whoever is going to be taking a hit to their pocketbook to repair this vehicle.  With a Juke body laid over a GT-R driveline this vehicle is in excess of $500,000, exceedingly rare and it appears to have been quickly driven by its customer directly into a cement wall.  Reportedly the driver walked away but the passenger is in the hospital and the car (which is almost entirely custom from top to bottom) is a disaster...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Nissan Juke: Star Wars Edition??

For some reason the Nissan Juke seems to attract Star Wars fans/comparisons.  There have already been a number of Star Wars themed You Tube videos with Stormtroopers in them over the past couple years and it appears as if Nissan corporate has gotten on the bandwagon.

Teasing some sort of Nissan Juke Star Wars linkup, Nissan has just released a number of screenshots with a red and white Stormtrooper hyping the "Nissan Juke: The New Story" as well as the video you see below.  Some of the language, including that of the original poster of the video, is in Japanese so is this a Japan only announcement?  Have Disney (now owners of Star Wars/Lucas Arts) made some sort of marketing arrangement?  I honestly don't know but it appears as if 8/26/13 is the date we will find out.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Nissan Titan Diesel Details!!

Are you ready for this!?!?  It appears the next gen Nissan Titan will have not just one diesel choice but two!!  Details are still coming it but it appears that there will be a turbo diesel 4-cyl as well as a monster eight cylinder Cummins diesel!  First numbers I've seen flying around are 500 ft. lbs of torque and 300 HP.  Very nice!!  We will continue to update!!

Update: Link to the Nissan release below and there is no mention of a turbo 4-cyl...just the turbo 8-cyl which will be 5 liters in size produce OVER 300 HP and have "mid 500" ft. lbs. of torque...

Nissan Announces Turbo Diesel Titan... 

Nissan Titan Flying Off Freeway...

Looks like some people are using the Titan the way it was intended, airing it out over huge jumps with no regard for human life...While pulling a landscaping trailer and equipment no less!  This Vine video was captured recently and shows what looks to be a silver Nissan Titan taking the decidedly wrong way down a highway.  Enjoy!!

Cummins Confirms Diesel Engine for Nissan Titan

Confirming what has long been suspected/rumored, Cummins is announcing today their agreement to produce diesel engines for the next generation Nissan Titan.  Rumored to be a 4 cyl. turbo diesel we may get more details later today and perhaps they will be producing a large mill as well.  This is big news as Nissan will have beaten Toyota to the punch to being the first foreign manufacturer to embrace the torque, towing and mpg possibilities that oil burners provide.

Given the way public companies work I would envision that this announcement means that the  Nissan bound diesels will be rolling off the assembly line within the next 12 months, indicating that the '15 Titan should be on dealership floors in Q3/Q4 '14.  More details to follow as they become available.

Gimme my Nissan Titan diesel NOW!!

Cummins confirms production of diesel engines for Nissan...

Monday, August 19, 2013

Movie Review: Argo

Finally got around to seeing this film.  I've liked Affleck's other directorial works including The Town and Gone Baby Gone.  Argo continues Affleck's solid directorial resume.  While none of these three films will blow you away with storytelling, editing, acting or directorial chops.  What all will do is entertain the viewer.

Argo entertains the viewer with far fewer bullets and explosions than most films of similar ilk and there is little "action" as it were, in the film.  Almost all of the suspense and action here takes place in the minds of the viewer and characters.  Tension isn't hard to develop given the circumstances (escapees from the Iranian embassy takeover in 1980 hiding in the Canadian embassy) surrounding them as the risk of instant death at the hands of religious zealots awaits any mistake.

In a case of "if it weren't true, no one would believe it" the plot revolves around an American CIA effort to extract said escapees from Iran under the guise of a Canadian science fiction movie location shoot.  That such a scheme actually worked says a lot more about the lax airport security and overall lack of intelligence oversight during that period of time and place than it does about the quality of the plan (please see my review of The Skies Belong to Us for an insight into airport security during this period).  That said, it still took someone(s) with great courage to pull off the mission that successfully extracted those six American citizens.  Doing double duty, Affleck, in addition to directing, also takes on the role of Tony Mendez, the CIA agent who leads the American extraction effort.  While saddling him with a damaged marriage falls into the realm of cliche, luckily the film does not dwell there.

In truth Argo isn't a GREAT film.  Its merely a good one.  One that tells its story without getting in the way or playing its hand too heavily.  It might even be called "restrained".  Certainly other directors would have spruced up the story with more chases, more gunplay, more "gotcha" moments (even Affleck adds in a chase scene that never happened in real life toward the end of the film), but as a bit of a throwback to older "thrillers" Argo comes off fresh compared to something like Die Hard 4 or other set pieces for demolition crews.  While not deserving of its eventual Best Picture and other Oscar nods (there is nothing here that really grips you emotionally or that blows you away artistically), Argo is a good film not for what it is, but instead for what it isn't.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Movie Review: The Book of Eli

Some people hate bad movies.  I, in fact, hate, bad movies.  The Book of Eli however reminded me why you can come to love bad movies.  Make no mistake about it, The Book of Eli is a baaaaad movie.  It is a stinking pile of poo movie.  It does, however, make you appreciate all the things you enjoy about GOOD movies.  That is the best thing that can be said for it.

The film makes little sense, is poorly filmed, and is poorly acted.  The Hughes Brothers directed this sham and continue to find work as some sort of Hollywood affirmative action program.  They were blessed with some fine actors for the film--Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman and Mila Kunis are A list actor but are completely wasted--Kunis in particular.

In a post-apocalyptic world where women serve only as chattel and playthings, Kunis (as Solara--in a world somehow burned to a near crisp) appears as a walkoff from your local Prada shoot whining her way through the film as a dumb, powerless, waif.  Denzel plays a blind man (your welcome for revealing this spoiler so you don't have to watch the film) who is walking across North America in order to deliver the last remaining copy of the Bible to a place where it will be cared for.  Oldman (as Carengie--notice the juvenile naming conventions?) is a small town master controlling the local biker gang thugs.

The film plays out in a straight line--Denzel (as Eli) enters the town, has to kill some bikers, Carnegie wants the book Eli carries and Solara tags along with Eli...blah, blah, blah.  With the first half of the movie being filmed about 50% in sloooooow-motion (we get it, Eli is supposed to be a badass---oooooooo) the film seems interminable.  Then when Carnegie realizes Eli isn't going to hand over the Bible (really??  Every single one has been burned??  The bikers find copies of Oprah's magazine but can't find a Bible???) and the "chase" begins we get into a bad rendition of The Road Warrior.  The washed out look of the film and crispness of the shots just brings attention to the ridiculousness of the characters.  Even the big "twists" to the film feel forced and contrived---Really??  Eli is blind and able to walk around slicing and dicing bad guys, yeah, that's believable.  And Solara taking on Eli's role as a road walking tough out to find her mom and clear the world of evil scourges??  She gonna do that in her high heels, 110 pounds and manicure??

As bad as the movie is, I'd recommend watching it just to remind yourself that yes, bad movies are out there and sometimes they're even populated with good/great actors.  Bad direction and bad writing cannot be overcome, not by anyone.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Lac-Aux-Sables Rallye 2013 -- Video

This isn't the official video of the event which should be coming out in the next few days but it does capture a few passes of many of the vehicles.  Included here in three instances (one at the 11 second mark, a second at the three minute mark and lastly at the 4:25 mark) of the NISMO Stuff Racing Frontier.  Once in a still shot awaiting the beginning of a stage and two at higher speeds including one of the train track jump.  From what I can see the suspension was certainly drooped coming over the jump but I'm not sure if the truck ever left the ground.  If it did, it wasn't by much...

Found: A New Species of Carnivore!

And a mammal to boot!  As I always say--I love this stuff!  Just makes you realize, we don't know everything that is out there and there is still more to be discovered, if only we look and explore for it.  Plus the thing is so damn cute!!

New carnivore discovered in South America...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Brilliant: SpaceX Grasshopper Conducts Lateral Flight Test

Awesome to see the Grasshopper making consistent progress!  Here we have the first lateral flight test for the VTVL rocket where it moves some 1000+ feet away from its landing/launching pad before returning to ground zero.  Of particular note here is that it was on just such a test as this that the NASA Delta Clipper experimental vehicle had a catastrophic failure thus ending that program in the mid 1990's.

Mr. Musk's programs continue to impress (as well as his engineers who appear to be the best in the world currently at developing space/rocket technology---Oh what I would do to work there!!)

How to Repair Paint Chips...

As a rally truck owner, driving on gravel is a frequent occurrence.  With the gravel comes flying rocks.  With flying rocks comes lots of paint chips.  Now I'm not one who needs my race vehicle to look like a detailer's dream but I would like to keep it relatively presentable and keep rust away (from the body parts that are still metal at this point).

I've done some touchup of chips myself but always found the results lacking.  This video however seems fantastic for the proper instruction and tools necessary to get the job done right.  Now to go get some more tools and supplies!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Video of the 2013 Lac Aux Sables Rallye, Stage #7, Rang 3 #1

This is the only video I took from the event (which I will recap shortly).  It is of the shortest stage of the race, a stage we ran twice at the end of the day.  This is the first run down this stage and the slower of the two.  There were three train track crossings and three big jumps on the stage which had lots of spectators along the road.  I haven't seen any video of the truck going over the jumps so I don't know if it got off the ground or not.  I have a feeling on the second and faster run that it did but I am not 100% sure.  Its hard to tell with the softness of the suspension at speed.  I also need to figure out how to post these videos at a higher resolution on YouTube.  They are being filmed in 720 HD but are only going up on YouTube at 480...Here it is for your enjoyment (or not!)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Fuck You China!

Well, here's about the biggest middle finger I can think of that anyones given China in a while.

What we have here is the newly commissioned (yesterday 8/6/13) Japanese "destroyer class" Izumo.  It is classified as a "flat top destroyer" but if you're like me (and the rest of the sentient world) this looks much more like a carrier.  And it will be used as a carrier--just as a helicopter carrier only (supposedly) for now.

The 14 helicopters and "destroyer" will be used for anti-submarine, surveillance and disaster relief duties for now.  Correct me if I'm wrong however but typically you want your anti-submarine ships to be fast, small and nimble--not the lumbering, conventionally powered (the Japanese seem to still  be averse to nuclear power within their armed forces) bullseye that this ship represents.  You don't invest the capital required (some $1.2 billion) in a ship and staff it with some 1,000 crew to go hunt submarines.

While China has been busy buying old Russian carriers and trying to refurbish them and put them into service, Japan has just leapfrogged China's capability to project power in the region.  Though satellite shots show China having just begun construction on its first home built aircraft carrier this week (full construction to take about five years).

Though not nuclear powered, Japan doesn't seek here to project power across the globe and a conventional ship such as this can easily ply the waters around Japan and the South China Sea.  With the F-35B on order by Japan being a short/VTOL aircraft, the Izumo instantly becomes a massive thorn in China's side and one which they really have no counter to at the moment.  Oh, and Japan has the build of a second one of these "destroyers" already underway.

For comparison's sake here is the size of the Izumo (the largest Japanese military ship put into service since WWII)

Izumo (commissioned 2013):
Length--820 ft.
Beam--124 ft.
Weight--19,500 tons (empty)
Speed--30 mph
Aircraft--14 Helicopters

Gerald Ford Class American SuperCarrier (to be commissioned 2016)
Length--1,106 ft.
Beam--252 ft.
Weight--100,000 tons
Speed--35 mph+

Kuznetsov Class Carrier (China's current carrier bought from Russia, commissioned 1990)
Length--1,001 ft.
Beam--236 ft.
Weight--43,000 tons
Speed--30+ mph

Friday, August 2, 2013

Honda CB500F Review

I seem to be getting more and more interested in motorcycles.  Not pure street bikes necessarily, I don't want a crotch rocket but something of the two wheeled variety would be nice.  So I head over to the Ride Apart website frequently to see what new and interesting bikes they are reviewing as their writing and West Coast location for testing fits my interests to a T.

Here was an interesting one I ran across today that looks great for an entry level road bike for me.  The Honda CB500F.  For about $5500 this bike looks and sounds like a ton of fun for someone like me and without the poser day-glo paint or graphics and with a more upright stance.  It actually looks like an adult's motorcycle and not something you frequently see slid underneath a SUV with a local ambulance parked nearby.  One item I did not see covered in the article however was whether or not the $500 upgrade to ABS brakes is worth it.  I'm familiar with ABS in my cars and I hate it but I assume its a far different scenario on a bike and would be curious as to the difference.

That being said, if I was in the market for a road only bike right now, I would definitely be looking at one of these given my lack of experience and tastes.

Ride Apart Honda CB500F Review...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Book Review: The Skies Belong to Us

As a long time fan of Wired magazine (I was a subscriber from issue #1 for many years before my interest in all things computer related waned but have been following them more closely again as they have branched out into so many other areas) seeing that the author of this book possessed some Wired pedigree got me beyond just viewing the front cover as I knew it would be well written and interesting.

I was not disappointed. Brendan Koerner uses one airline hijacking in particular to delve into the whole skyjacking phenomenon prevalent throughout the 60's and 70's. From the reluctance of the airlines to submit to passenger screenings to the sometimes off the hinges methods behind the skyjackings, Koerner covers it all with humor and insight. This is not to say the the book is funny, its not. Its just that its overall attitude is an off the cuff, slightly irreverent one that I enjoy.

One comes away from the book understanding why skyjacking rose in prominence and frequency during this period and why it is nearly extinct today. In today's world of undressing, full body scans, explosive material wipedowns, confiscation of water bottles, etc. it seems downright amazing that in 70's individuals were allowed to board unscreened, unsearched and virtually unquestioned. Carrying a loaded gun onto a plane?? Sure, have at it!!

Not only that but the policies in place by both the airlines and the federal government virtually ensured via their complete capitulation to the hijackers on all terms and conditions (a million dollars?? Sure!! Here you go!) that the numbers and severity of the instances would only increase.

While the book focuses on the hijacking of a plane in California by a Richard Holder (African American, Vietnam Vet with delusions of the many and varied kind) and Cathy Kerkow (a white, hippy, moron--are there any other kind?) and its resulting attempt to free a communist philosophy teacher from her murder charges while absconding with $500,000 at first to North Vietnam and when that didn't work out, to Algeria where they would join the Black Panther leadership in exile and eventually gain asylum in France where they were lauded by all sorts of left wing sympathizers (Jean Paul Sartre as one amongst many).

The story of these two wanna be world changers ends with more of a whimper than a bang (best thing to be said of them is that they never directly injured anyone during their escapades) but by that point you are satisfied with the book because you've learned so much. The advent of modern day airport security, the end of hijacking as we knew it (until 9/11), the collapse of Cuba as a haven for American terrorists, the virus spreading like nature of skyjackings, etc. It is shocking to someone of my age to find out that during the late 60's and early 70's that there could generally be said to occur a skyjacking on American soil every week. Compare that to the 1990's where there wasn't a single skyjacking in the entire decade and you realize the massive change that has occurred. Prior to reading this book I thought the famed case of DB Cooper (the guy who got a ransom and then parachuted out of a plane with said ransom into the wilds of the American Northwest, never to be found) was a one off instance--turns out it was one of MANY instances where hijackers commandeered an airplane, received money and jumped from the plane with a parachute (to one level of success or another). I was dumbfounded. You mean there was a time in recent history where people were routinely taking over planes, obtaining six figures ransom sums and parachuting out all around the country?? That's insane! And sometimes it takes a quality bit of reporting and storytelling to bring the craziness of our recent, overlooked history to light.