Saturday, February 28, 2015

First World Gadget...

In a world where probably a billion or two people light and heat their hovels by burning yak butter candles and ox dung bricks it says a lot about me that I get such glee at such a simple gadget...but there it is....

The SnapPower SnapRays Guidelight is a brilliantly simple device.  Consisting of little more than your standard plastic outlet cover a couple tabs on the back to contact with the positive and negative terminals on your standard outlet connected to three small, white, LEDs, and a light-sensor the Guidelight replaces your standard outlet cover providing you a built in nightlight that allows you to ditch either the plugin incandescent bulb you likely have in your children's bedrooms and get that outlet back for use or the more expensive and time intensive to install versions that leave no outlets in their place.  Maybe its the Dad/Father/homeowner in me that thinks this is really neat but it just seems so natural an invention and one that screams "cool".

I know...kinda silly to get excited for this...but it is such an elegant and simple design and seems that I grabbed up a bunch and put them in my kids' rooms and elsewhere around the house and now my house is nicely lit with a dim little, comforting, white light in the kitchen, living room, kids bedrooms and upstairs bathroom...Oh, and they're energy efficient too!!!  Spending $12 a piece to replace a .50 cent outlet cover...ahhh...America...

SnapPower Website...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lords of the Atlas -- Icon Raider Film of Triumph Tigers at Mexican 1000

Another well produced film of the race I ran in last year...kept looking to see myself in it, but no...not in there.  Can imagine trying to manhandle big bikes like this in that terrain and heat...Film is well shot and quite clean however.  Worth the brief 20 minute watch for a look at the terrain and race conditions.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Another Death in the Whites...

With every Winter comes a similar story here in New Hampshire.  The death(s) of hikers/climbers attempting to tackle various summits in the White Mountains.  While big events like losses of entire climbing parties on mountains like Rainier, Hood, and others typically make the evening news, the constant drips and drabs of hiker deaths in the Whites is rarely noticed though on a gross number basis, the Whites are likely the deadliest mountain range in the States.

This past week however the death of Kate Matrasova made it as far as being covered in the NY Post, NY Daily News, Bloomberg, and various blogs/websites that cover finance and technology and general gossip due to Matrasova's daytime job as a trader for BNP Paribas, her husband's job as a VP (one of thousands) at JP Morgan Chase and their (reported) million dollar mid-town Manhattan apartment.

Matrasova was attempting a Northern Presidential Range traverse.  She was not attempting the entire traverse but sought to top out on the peaks of Madison, Adams, Jefferson and Washington followed by a descent to the base of the cog railway.  A challenging effort no doubt, especially in Winter but not one that was beyond her skills.  What has not been generally reported on her is her extensive climbing/mountaineering background that includes summits of McKinley, Elbrus, Aconcagua, and Kilimanjaro amongst others and was an avid marathoner leaving her in peak shape.  With her extensive income she also had top of the line gear with her.  Bottom line is that she was more than qualified and competent to make the attempt.

Many will question her choice to make a solo attempt, I generally don't.  I don't have near the experience that she had but I have completed solo winter summits of Washington (NH), Marcy (NY), Greylock (MA), Bear (CT) and Mansfield (VT) as the highest peaks in each of these northeastern states.  I certainly understand the thought of doing these things solo.  No one else to rely on, go at your own pace, no one to irritate you, good or bad its all on your shoulders, etc., etc.  There is something about accomplishing something hard on your own that interests a good number of people, Matrasova was evidently one of them and attempting the Northern Traverse was not outside her capabilities as a solo mountaineer.

Her chosen route was generally conservative.  Taking the Valley Way Trail up to a col in between Madison and Adams was about the easiest route she could have chosen.  If she was trying to bite off more than she could chew she would have chosen the much steeper Kings Ravine Trail or more exposed Howker Ridge Trail.  The path she chose would be amongst the most protected ways to get to the ridgeline.

So that pretty much leaves us with the weather.  Going into the hike weather reports disclosed that peak conditions had temperatures of about -6 F and winds of about 40mph.  Pretty brutal for those used to living in the valleys and plains but near balmy (no joke) for the Presidential Peaks in Winter.  During my Winter climb of Washington the conditions were similar though in my case the sun was shining and no significant changes in weather were forecast.  Encased in a standard mountaineer's bubble of down, Gore-tex, mountaineering boots, crampons, goggles, etc., Matrasova would have been quite comfortable in that weather--likely sweating profusely in fact when faced with strenuous exertions required of climbing in deep snow.  Unfortunately, the forecast was wrong and conditions deteriorated to levels where no one could survive.

Matrasova would have KNOWN that deteriorating conditions were predicted for the area and was likely pressed to complete her climb and return to work (this was a Sunday afterall).  She wouldn't be getting a second chance to do this a day later (though being young, wealthy and having a supportive husband she could certainly have returned in a week or two...)  By the time Mastrova set off her emergency beacon around 3PM the temps had dropped to -21 and the winds increased to 77mph.  She had succeeded in summiting both Madison and Adams but turned back after reaching Adams peak in an attempt to get lower.  She missed her bailout opportunity some 2 hours earlier.  After sumitting Madison she would have had to pass both the Madison Spring Hut AND the Valley Way Trail she had come in on as the direction she chose required retracing the path up to Mt. Madison before continuing on to Adams.  At this point the temps would have already been dropping and the wind picking up.  It would also have been obvious at this point (about 1PM) that there was NO way she was going to complete her traverse.  She had started out at 6AM and some 7+ hours later she had only completed a single peak with an uphill climb the rest of the way (Madison being the lowest of the four peaks she had intended on completing that day).  With the Sun going down around 5PM or so and no mountaineering tent or overnight supplies with her (at least as has been reported) she stood ZERO shot at getting to Washington and down even in the BEST of conditions.  There should have been a single choice on her way back down from Mt. Madison towards the trail she already knew and had traversed earlier that day.  Bail and head down.  She'd have been back on tarmac before the Sun set with ease.

Instead, here is my speculation.  Matrasova was obviously experienced and driven and had succeeded in nearly everything in life having been born in (literally) Siberia and having made it to the top of her profession and the rest of the globe.  If she wasn't going to complete what she had set out for, she'd at least put in a good faith effort, challenge herself and grab one more peak before heading down.  This would, after all, make for good training for the rigors to be demanded of her in her future attempts at Everest and Vinson (looking at her list of summits, completing the 7 Summits was definitely a goal of hers).  At only 1 in the afternoon, she couldn't imagine herself bailing out NOW...that would have been a waste of a day.  So her intent was to push herself a little bit, bag Adams and THEN head down.  Which she completed.

Unfortunately the winds picked up beyond what she had ever experienced and literally blew her off the ridge.  Sometime after she initiated her distress signal the peak winds were recorded to exceed 140 mph.  Well above what it would take to sweep a fit girl of at best, 150 lbs. off her feet and down the mountain.  Her body would be recovered a few hundred feet off the trail, still above treeline but on the lee side of the ridge.  Given the scrapes on her face and removal of her pack she was either blown there or tumbled there, came to a rest and expired after having lost the will or ability to fight.  After having traveled the world, summited peaks in the most remote locations some three or four and five times the height of the Whites where only pressurized jet liners play, pushing on to summit Adams looked like a simple one dies in mountaineering accidents five hours or less from NYC in little podunk New Hampshire right?

It was a simple mistake of hubris.  She shouldn't be vilified or made fun of nor her husband chastised for letting her go alone.  She could have made a better decision and turned back earlier (such is the story of 50% of mountaineering accidents) the other 50% being morons who don't belong up there in the first place.  But she didn't.

My only question here is--what was the delay in getting up Madison in the first place?  Someone so fit, and so experienced, should have FLOWN up her chosen path and gotten there much earlier.  Was the snow deeper than she expected?  Did she have snowshoes?  Did she get lost in the woods BEFORE ever reaching the ridge?  Something slowed her down early on and may have been the driving force behind why she was pushing to summit Adams, despite the deteriorating conditions, blaming herself for a silly error earlier in the day that eliminated any chance of the stated goal of the Northern Presidential Traverse.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Three New Lightweight Dakar/ADV Bikes Coming Our Way...

Question is...which will get here first and which will be the best product.

First off we have the CCM GP-450 Adventure.  A small British company who has supplied the military and NGOs with bikes for some time.  They have been out testing this bike across the globe (South America amongst other locations) and are doing demo rides for potential customers in England currently.  An interesting innovation is that the frame is not welded together and is instead uses an aluminum bonded design.  The bike definitely leans towards the "Dakar" style end of the spectrum vs. a ADV style bike.  Pricing in England is listed at about 8,000 pounds which translates to about $12,000 and putting it firmly in the KTM/BMW pricing range, particularly for a 450CC bike (though its weight of 290 pounds is pretty darn light).  At last notice CCM hopes to have the bike approved for sale in the US by late '15 with first sales I would imagine in early '16.

CCM Motorcycles

Then we have the AJP PR7 660.  A Portuguese product from a company that has to date focused on small enduro style bikes the PR7 was introduced as concept vehicle late in '14 and has reportedly been put on track to be introduced for sale in late '15--though this is in the UK with a US date not disclosed.  A significantly bigger bike than the CCM GP-450 using a 660CC Yamaha engine seen in the Tenere and weighing in at 342 pounds (dry), the PR7 is only a "lightweight" in comparison to the big BMW and KTMs but in the world of ADV and "Dakar" style bikes this is actually fairly small. In terms of styling and anticipated performance the PR7 appears to be on par (or nearly so) with the GP-450 targeting a more hardcore rider with intentions (dreams?) of actually racing the vehicle in a real rally race.  Pricing on the AJP when it is available is reported to be 9,000 pounds or $13,900 with like the CCM above puts it in the "premium" category of ADV motorcycles.


Lastly we have the CSC (California Scooter Company) RX-3 Cyclone.  A true "lightweight" bike at
only 250CC but with a weight of 386 pounds, you won't be outrunning many fellow riders on this Chinese sourced bike (which goes under various other names in other countries around the world).  The RX-3 is styled and aimed much more towards the introductory ADV riding market vs. higher end bikes above.  Its price reflects this target audience at a eye-opening $3,495.  The power of paying people peanuts in China is obvious and while the bike does seem to be covered in a lot of shiny, bright, cheap looking plastic, it does come with a full, unlimited miles, two year warranty on all parts (first year sees all labor covered as well).  That said, the warranty is only of value if the primary company is still in business, time will tell whether the RX-3 is a bargain and great stepping stone to get people on a bike and at least CAPABLE of running fire roads and other more extended terrain or if CSC becomes a negative touchstone for any thirdworld motorcycle product in the ADV segment introduced to the US.  The first shipment of RX-3s have currently left mainland China and with a stopoff in Korea will arrive at the Long Beach port on 3/6/15 but are not scheduled to be unloaded till 3/24/15 due to the ongoing worker slowdown there (I would imagine it will be later this).  But if you can't wait for the PR7 660 or GP-450 or can't afford them, you could buy three RX-3s for the price of one of the aforementioned.

California Scooter Company

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Book Review: Zero to One by Peter Thiel

This book was one I had to hunt down on Amazon as it was not popular enough to show up in my local Barnes&Noble stores.  I knew of Peter Thiel from his involvement in the formation of PayPal and his continued private equity investments.  His membership in the "PayPal Mafia" is well known as are his libertarian-ish views and personal causes such as paying smart kids to NOT go to college and instead focus on a singular idea or product of their own development.

The book is written in a lecturing style which is fitting as the work is essentially a collection of his lectures to students at Stanford within a course on startups.

Within this collection are his thoughts on people like Malcolm Gladwell and John Rawls (who he thinks are pretty much boobs who focus on chance and "fairness" in their explanations for success and economics), the reason why current education and college produce a bunch of people studying everything but knowing nothing, why planning matters, how monopolies are a good thing, why successful startups contain people who are of a like mind/personality, etc.  Its all quite good and I must admit, my own particular political, social and economic leanings tend to make me a fan of Thiel's ideas.

What is most important about the book is its call to arms for people to think big, to plan, to try new things, and be contrarian (though you then get the "if everyone is being contrarian, is it contrarian anymore" argument, similar to the 1990's "Alternative" music argument).  Calling for a return to what he calls "definite optimism", a trait he finds in the world from the 1600's through the 1960's quoting Marx and Engels who stated that society had "created more massive and more colossal productive forces than all preceding generations together.  Subjection of Nature's forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground--what earlier century had even a presentiment that such produced forces slumbered in the lap of social labor?"

Thiel likely sees and cites herein, man's placement of 12 men on the moon as the ultimate example of planning, creation and optimism.  Mentioning the plans of a 1940s schoolteacher by the name of John Reber who was a self-taught engineer and proposed a series of dams in San Francisco Bay designed to reclaim land, provide freshwater, etc. Thiel states that such a plan would never be taken seriously today but at the time the plan ended up being endorsed by newspapers across California, congressional hearings were held and the Army Corps of Engineers built a 1.5 acre scale model of the plan.  The fact that such an idea from such an individual would be dismissed outright in today's society is a major failing of our current culture he feels.  No longer do we welcome big plans and ask merely if they would work and instead we have turned into a society ruled by the Baby Boom generation, like Gladwell, who see little to no value in planning or individual effort but instead see only luck, happenstance, and social context.

We need more people who believe in individual exceptionalism, the ability to make one-self into whatever we wish and to dream big ideas.  We need more people like Thiel and less people like Gladwell (who's book Outliers I reviewed positively here in the past) if we hope to move the human race forward.  If you are developing a product or company or even just fantasize about carving your own path rather than being told what your path will be, then Zero to One is worth the read.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Cool Nissan NISMO GT-R LeMans Racer Print...

This print is available on Easy (a website for "handmade" items) and is signed by the artist, Roger Warrick.  Warrick seems to be a big time endurance racing fan with most of his art centering around tracks and events like Sebring, Indy, LeMans, etc.

He essentially has two styles of art with one being a "serious" realistic depiction of the racing action and the other being a Dave Deal-esqe "car-icature" of various vehicles and their drivers.  This one is his most recent production and depicts the recently introduced Front Wheel Drive Nissan NISMO GT-R LeMans racer that will be contesting various WEC events (including LeMans) this year.  Some of the nice details seen here including the fire breathing exhaust exits on the hood of the vehicle (where they actually ARE located) and the positioning of Godzilla (the GT-Rs nickname) in the front of the vehicle where the engine is placed, are nice touches.  It will look nice in a frame on my wall.

Roger Warrick Etsy Website...

Monday, February 16, 2015

Film Review: American Sniper

As is usually the case, I don't get out to see many films in the theater and only end up seeing the ones that both my wife and I both have an overwhelming desire to see.  American Sniper was one such film.  Having read the biography about two years ago I was well familiar with the background and though some of the film was fictionalized to create a narrative that would provide an arc it was largely in line with the details from Chris Kyle's book.

The film itself was excellent with Bradley Cooper's portrayal of Chris Kyle being spot on.  From Kyle's Texas accent to his physical build, Cooper does a masterful job in imitating his real life model.   In story and direction there isn't much new.  We get Kyle's reasons for entering the SEALs, his time in BUDs, his meeting with Taya (his future wife), his deployments, his actions in Iraq as both a sniper and in more close quarter battles, the deaths of close friends, marital problems, etc.  All of it is well portrayed and Eastwood provides enough context to understand where Kyle comes from and why he views the world the way he does.  Yup, some of it may seem too simplistic for modern audiences but based on his own words, it rings true.

American Sniper is not a "great" film.  It doesn't belong up there with any pantheon of Buzzfeed lists of the best films of all time.  Its a very good film that is exceedingly enjoyable but it isn't Earthshattering in its delivery.  Unforgiven remains Eastwood's high-water mark and by a large margin and Mystic River is also better...

It may, however, be a more important film than any of these for what it brings out of its viewers.  Becoming one of the largest grossing "R" rated movies of all time and already the highest grossing "war" film of all time, American Sniper becomes a Rorschach test for any viewer.  Those on the left see it as gringoism at its worst, transforming the Iraqis into mere meat to be mown down by the hands of an avenging American.  Those on the right see it as an expression of American Patriotism and Texas individualism.  As always with these things, its neither.

As Eastwood has actually stated himself, its more of an anti-war film than either the Right or Left want to portray.  By the end of the film Kyle has been broken down both physically and mentally by the tasks required of him.  We've watched his friends die, his justified but difficult shooting of a boy and his mother, marital difficulties, absence from his children's life, the questioning of the war's purpose by his brother and others around him, watched him piss himself as he stands overwatch, and finally, his own destruction at the hands of someone he had hoped to help.  To view the aforementioned and find that the film is either a white-washing of the American effort there or a purely Patriotic retelling  of a Christian, Texas, good old boy is to ignore what one has just seen.

American Sniper is an honest retelling of an exceedingly brave and capable soldier who served his country to the limits of his existence.  It deserves to be told and seen and understood--properly.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Film Review: House of the Devil

Looking for an anti-Valentine's day film last night this horror film was picked due to its good reviews and its director, Ti West, being viewed by many as a up and coming director to watch.

Certainly the film is not your traditional modern horror film.  There's no torture-porn, a relatively minimal amount of blood and gore, no "found footage", no "paranormal activities", etc.  It was stated from the get go to be a homage to 70's and 80's horror films and it definitely looks and feels like it.  The clothes, cars, hair, Sony Walkman, grainy film stock, music, corded telephones, payphones, etc. all give the appearance of events and filming that took place in the late 70's or 80's.  I had to go and check the release date of House of the Devil a number of times to ensure that it was made just a few years ago...there is nothing really here to give away that it wasn't made some 30-40 years ago.

The pacing of the film is also decidedly un-modern.  The edits are far apart and virtually NOTHING happens in the first 45 minutes of the film which merely sets up your standard horror trope--a young girl is hired as a babysitter for a baby that doesn't exist in a big scary house in the deep woods by a very weird couple on the night of a lunar eclipse.  If that doesn't give you an idea of where this story is going you haven't been paying much attention.

While the story is typical it is still well put together and once you are in the major set piece of the film (the house), Ti West does an excellent job or ratcheting up the tension.  Its here that the film shines with lots of odd camera angle shots and still frames where the female lead goes in and out of the shot and your SURE something bad is going to befall her--but doesn't.  When things begin to go badly for our heroine the tension West has been building over the last hour or so is released and it returns to some fairly typical "girl covered with blood being chased through a scary house by a tall creepy guy" action.  The film ends with what I guess is supposed to be a "twist" or "surprise" much like say Nightmare on Elm Street or the like but really it doesn't fit with the events of the story and seems just tacked on so that the viewer has something to wonder about after turning the film off.

There are certainly elements here that deserve watching and Ti West's development as a director has potential--particularly since he is branching out into other genres with a Western (always a favorite style of mine) with Ethan Hawke (himself a recent star of a number of horror films), John Travolta and Taissa Farmiga (younger sister of Vera Farmiga) watch" but any stretch of the imagination.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Film Review: Out of the Furnace

This was a film I had been interested in when it was in the theater due to its intense trailer and laundry list of good actors and producers.  With Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio as producers and Casey Affleck, Willem DeFoe, Forest Whitaker, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, Woody Harrelson and Christian Bale as actors, Out of the Furnance may have been one of the most star laden vehicles in recent memory.

One of the greatest things about the film is how each actor subverts their fame in service of the story.  The story itself is what stands as the backbone of the film.  Out of the Furnace is a fairly straightforward tale of one good brother and one questionable brother wherein the questionable brother falls afoul of some bad people thus necessitating the good brother to take revenge and cross over into a grey area of morality.  What makes it more interesting that your standard fair are the interracial triangle between Bale, Whitaker and Saldana's characters, the dark side given to the "good" brother present in his vehicular homicide displayed on screen and the depiction of white poverty present in the Northeastern US.

Directed by Scott Cooper who has studied under Robert Duval and was the filmmaker behind Crazy Heart and the upcoming Whitey Bulger bio Black Mass, the film is easily viewed as a modern Western, with meth, underground fighting, the Iraq War and ruined mill towns taking the place of cattle rustling, card playing, the Civil War and the far West.  Cooper also seems to have taken on producer Scott's penchant for dark  scenes and sharply shot scenery.  Additionally, Cooper paces the film as Scott might, taking the time to tell the story with fleshed out characters and not pushing the action.

With the truly bad characters in the film based upon the "Ramapo Indians" (more white trash than Indians and not a recognized "tribe" by the Feds at this point) living in and around the Ramapough Mountains in Northeastern New Jersey it merely confirms my view of NJ as a thoroughly detestable state--my in-laws not withstanding.

The film itself opened the same weekend as juggernauts Frozen and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and was almost entirely ignored at that time, it doesn't deserve to be.  Those looking for shootouts and John Woo style action will not care for Out of the Furnace but those enjoying quality work and film noir will.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Book Review: Authority (Southern Reach Trilogy Book 2)

I was in the middle of reading four books at the same time.  Authority was the last one I started but the first one I finished.

The second novel in the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer I previously reviewed the start of the series, Annihilation, previously stating how much I enjoyed it.  I was worried when I picked up Authority that it would leave me disappointed as a number of other series have done of late.  Instead Authority held me by the same tendrils that the first novel did and again it was virtually impossible to stop reading it.

Again we have a "weird" almost Lovecraft like situation but with a thoroughly modern take.  We cover the destruction of the first expedition into Area X and we know that a terrible fate befell them but if in a Hitchcock film the violence takes place off camera, here it takes place off page.  Vandermeer merely surrounds the action and horror with his words leaving the reader to fill in the blanks.  I've often watched films that do this, but rarely any novels.

Authority hides is surprises well and the reader gets an inkling of what might be going on but the depths of the mystery surrounding who or what controls the Southern Reach agency tasked with managing/investigating Area X and who or what may be on the chief protagonist's side are masked well throughout the work's length.

While taking place entirely outside of Area X whereas Annihilation took place entirely within Area X, Authority does retain a familiarity even though none of the characters in the second work are found in the first.  The "feel" of being in the South is there, the "feel" of being in the woods is there.  Vandermeer also keeps the reader's attention with a new perspective as well.  While Annihilation occurred from the standpoint of a biologist and its viewpoint followed suit with tangents on flora and fauna, Authority branches off into the inner workings of a CIA-like agency and instead we get discussions of missions to disrupt domestic terrorism and sleuthing procedurals.

Authority remains firmly bound by the "odd" world created in the first volume with a mysterious Area X gradually encroaching upon the modern world, destroying (?) everything as it grows and seemingly returning some expedition members in very changed states.  Yet here it does so only on this novel's the weirdness is not the central focus of the work but it is instead the motivator behind the more detective oriented story closing with a cliffhanger that requires you to read the concluding work--Acceptance.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

State of North American Rally for January 2015

Maybe we'll try and look at the state of Rally on a month to month basis in 2015 so that we develop an ongoing story as to what is going on and where things stand.  A nice narrative may give a better impression of the health and development of the sport than picking out singular points in time and individual events/circumstances...So for now we'll just try and cover the major events and news in stage rally as they occur.  If you are reading this and have info/results/data/developments that are not mentioned, please feel free to forward them to me at and I will either go backwards and edit prior entries to include this info or place the information in the following month's recap.

Lets take it series by series...

Rally America was the only major series with an actual event occurring in January with Snow Drift in Michigan. Though '14 saw TV coverage on NBC Sports of this event, that coverage disappeared after a few events without stated reason and has not returned for '15. Replacing the TV coverage was an Internet broadcast by Jim Beaver (a noted Trophy Truck driver and internet radio host via his weekly Down and Dirty Radio show). Airing during the event were various interviews with drivers and crews, "Rally America Radio" is seeking to provide live content and scoring at all eight of the National Rally America events in '15. Listening in to the broadcasts revealed a professional operation and near realtime updates but its still radio and leaves the action and personalities to exist in the mind's eye only. This also comes after prior abortive attempts such as, as well as the non-payment of prior RA radio host Greg Strange who died without ever being paid. Rally America also announced the platform for sale of photos and in the future, video shot by Rally America itself and then sold by Rally America. It does seem to have Sno Drift 2015 photos included already so it is fairly up to date but does not seem to have fairly intuitive breakdowns of photos by event with everything dumped in one large folder and relying upon the user to search by driver, event, car, etc. A nice menu with dropdowns to at least the most current events and then breakdowns by class, driver or car would be something you would think would be present. Speaking of Sno Drift, it was the one significant Rally event to occur in January and saw 13 National entries and 24 Regional entries begin the day vs. 19 and 38 in '14 (a drop of 20 entrants). David Higgins would take the win in both '14 and '15, with his '14 margin being 2:10.5 over Antoine L'Estage and his '15 win being 9:05.5 over Nick Roberts. Rally America's next event takes place in late February at 100 Acre Wood where Ken Block has already announced his entrance and will provide a legit competitor to Higgins in this event while extremely fast National competitor David Sterckx is also participating. As of now there are 62 listed entries (19 National and 43 Regional) vs. the 25 National and 29 Regional entries in '14. If these entries come to fruition it would make for a great turnaround in the number of participants from Sno Drift but not completely making up for it. Rally America also saw some great publicity via popular stories and videos written by Alex Lloyd of Indycar fame regarding his entrance in a Honda Fit at LSPR in '14 as well has his driving of Higgins' Open class Subaru for Yahoo. Lloyd seems to have gotten the Rally bug. On the video side of things, Rally America posted two videos of Sno Drift interviews/action, their first videos posted on You Tube in some four months. The quality of the videos and action was good and fairly timely being released shortly after the action was recorded though the aggregate number of views for the two videos is less than 10,000 and shows a decided lack of attention to this media production. Rally America--29,748 Facebook likes, 10,033 YouTube subscribers, 19,700 Twitter followers, 4,246 Instagram followers, 139,632 ranking for in the US via Alexa rating.

Monthly NISMOStuff grade: B (The "biggest" US Rally Series had a low turnout for its first '15 event and was unable to explain or replace its '14 TV coverage while it did have live radio coverage from a well known talent, released its internal photography on a new platform, has a solid # of early entries for 100 Acre Woods and generated some solid media coverage).

USRA (United States Rally Association) is the upstart series that began early in'15/late '14 with its announcement of formation from a number of former current Rally America associated organizers and with a supposedly new insurance backer and a nationally known sanctioning body. It was supposed to have a schedule for '15 as well as a ruleset and other info out by now but none has been forthcoming. They did announce a partnership with Mad Media to assist in the production of PR and other media related items. Without much news, there hasn't been much for Mad Media to do. USRA's first event was SUPPOSED to be the Waste Management Winter Rally in Pennsylvania with its organizer Meredith Croucher being part of the USRA but as stated in a press release "Due to contractual obligations, WMWR 2015 will be sanctioned and insured by Rally America, Inc." What this means to me is that USRA was either threatened with a lawsuit by RA or there were late noted terms in the STPR contract that prevented the WMWR from moving over. So that was 0 for 1. 0 for 2 came with the move of the Arizona Extreme Shortcourse Rally from 2/14 to 9/12 reportedly due to feedback from racers looking to avoid the Valentine's day racing. The first event that looks like it may occur under the USRA banner is the Matthew Marker-Noble "Livin' the Dream" RallySprint organized by Steve Warren. Scheduled for 3/7 it certainly seems to have a lot of local interest but we'll have to see if it comes off as rules, pricing, entries, etc. have not been fully released. No media has been produced by USRA to date and it doesn't seem to have a FB page, YouTube account or other social media presence. Its homepage is currently ranked as the 22,051,690 most popular website in the world with no ranking within the US. In somewhat related news USRA's media partner, Mad Media did announce that they will be welcoming stage rally vehicles again at the Mint 400 (most popular desert racing event in the US and based out of downtown Las Vegas) contingency. The Subaru Rally Team (with Higgins' car likely) have announced they will be there and given the 25,000+ offroad fans present at the Mint 400 contingency, this will likely be the most viewed in person Rally/offroad focused display this year.

Monthly NISMOStuff Grade: C (the new series didn't hold to its announced release of information and had could not put on two events that were anticipated to be USRA sanctioned for various reasons while a new RallySprint seems to be coming to fruition and a USRA partner is welcoming rally vehicles to get in front of the most number of living bodies this year)

NASA Rally like USRA did not have any events in January. Upcoming events for NASA include the California Rally Series Rally School on 2/21 with 38 entries listed and then the Sandblast Rally on 3/7 with some 47 car entries and another some 47 motorcycle entries (both are maxed out and final numbers to be seen on race day). The popular Empire State Performance Rally in New York announced its move to a gravel event from a tarmac one disappointing a number of competitors who liked the difference in surfaces as well as the uniqueness of running flat out through the streets of small towns--something not seen in any other current US Rally event. Reportedly the "new" roads will incorporate some of the roads utilized last by the Rally New York group a few years ago, perhaps back at the Boy Scout Camp they utilized? NASA Rally also announced a "Test and Tune" program, basically downsizing its "Rally Sprint" format to an event held for up to 10 entrants on roads up to seven miles in length. This is not an SCCA Rallycross or SCCA Rallycross test and tune. No need for cones with this type of event, this is full stage rally test/tune or "race" on real roads or course. NASA also saw its stage rally event at the FIRM shown in part on the Extreme Off-Road TV show on Spike TV. The program covered the build of entry level Ford Focus as well as its entry into its first event where program host Ian would wring it out (though not showing on the results page?). Perhaps NASA's biggest announcement was that its Rally West Virginia '15 event will be part of the FIA NACAM Rally Championship. This series will come to the US after two events in Mexico and prior to events in Costa Rica, Panama and Jamaica. It will bring some major international attention and competition to the US and hopefully this can be taken advantage of. NASA Rally--2,615 FB likes, 232 YouTube subscribers, 301 Twitter followers, 378 Instagram followers, 526,968 most popular website in the US per Alexa.

Monthly NISMOStuff Grade: B+ (no events took place while near term events look to have excellent turnouts while introducing a new, low cost/impact event option, Rally West Virginia joins with a FIA associated series and NASA Rally gets great visibility through a cable TV outlet)

Again, this is just off the top of my head. I think I have been "fair and balanced here" and if anyone wishes to dispute that or point out where I am wrong in any of the above, I'm open to hearing your view. If there were major developments/announcements/events that I have missed here, please let me know--racers, organizers, advertisers, etc. are reading this...

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Film Review: Prometheus

As is typical of me, I'm a sucker for a Ridley Scott film.  And a return to the franchise that he began near 40 years ago with one of the best sci-fi/horror films ever done?  Yup, double the sucker...

Its unfortunate then that Prometheus is yet another Scott shortfall.

Prometheus LOOKS like a Scott film--beautifully shot, inky blacks, crisp frames, powerful female characters, etc.  In this case I find less fault with Scott the director than Scott the producer.  Using Damon Lindelof to rewrite a script by Jon Spaits, Scott seemingly failed to actually READ the story before turning it into a film.

PERHAPS someone who hadn't seen the original Alien films would find the material new but anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of the Alien canon would find Prometheus shockingly repetitive and derivative.  We return to the same world we've seen in the original Alien and Aliens and where again we watch a diverse crew of mismatched individuals explore with flashlights a dark and slimy interior with evil things moving around in the dark.  We have something bursting from a female character's belly.  We have something jumping on a characters facemask.  We have acidic blood.  We have flamethrowers.  We have an evil corporation behind the mission.  We have an android with questionable motivations.  Really this is an complete retread of the same elements that made up prior Alien films just thrown up in the air and filmed in their new arrangement as they fell to the floor.

There is nothing here worth viewing and trying to integrate into the existing Alien storyline.  In fact it even ruins part of prior Alien films as (spoiler alert!) it reveals that the giant Elephantine pilots from the first film (who were MUCH larger as presented there than they are here) are merely photo-humans wearing elephant-like space suits.

If you are a Scott fan or Alien fan I suppose you must view this film...and unfortunately, seeing as how they are actually making a Prometheus sequel (really??) I'll have to see further deconstruction of a series I once loved...but otherwise, it neither scares nor wows a viewer and isn't worth supporting.

Friday, February 6, 2015

New UCAs...

Well, I suppose it was about time...While the NISMO Stuff Frontier was still drivable, its steering was off and couldn't go to its full range due to the UCA on the passenger side binding against the shock...

All this thanks to its last hard run back in May in Mexico which popped the tierod out of the steering rack and resulted in the bent UCA seen here.  I'm finally replacing it here with a new one on each side and have the time to make these look all nice and shiny too vs. the one that went on in the "field" in Mexico after the first tierod and UCA issue in Mexico.  Have new heim joints to go on both sides as well...Thanks as always to my favorite fabricator--Brandon at BTF Fabrication...

After we get these on then we tackle the issue of improving the strength of the steering...