Sunday, October 31, 2010

Survival 101

Well, it’s that time of year again. Everywhere you turn, it seems there is no escaping the soulless, blood sucking, life draining creatures hell bent on destroying life as we know it. No, I am not talking about the midterm elections next week. I’m talking about Halloween.

Just about every channel on TV has been playing scary movies for the past two weeks or so. You’ve got your teenie bopper slasher films. Your vampire films. Your zombie films. Your werewolf films. Your demented, psycho serial killer films.

The Queen is a big fan of scary movies. She will watch pretty much anything except for the really gory demented psycho serial killer genre. I’m a little more selective. I like the zombie movies and some of the vampire/werewolf movies. Slasher/psycho killer movies…not so much.

As I write this, The Queen and I are watching the much anticipated premiere of the AMC series, The Walking Dead. So far, it’s pretty good. We’ll see if they can maintain the pace over a series.

Now, I know others smarter than I have already written several rules for surviving encounters with the undead/psycho killers. It’s well tilled but fertile soil. In fact, one of the premises of the movie Zombieland was The Rules. However, as a connoisseur of the genre (and listening to The Queen shout “That doesn’t make any sense!” at the TV/movie screen during key moments), I thought I would offer up some (hopefully original) observations on how to survive your next encounter with the undead/psycho killer.

1) No rescues. They’re a bad idea. Invariably, you lose more people than you save not to mention the fact that one of the people you save will have been bitten and will change into a zombie/werewolf/vampire any minute. If they can make it to you unscathed, great. More people to fight off the horde. If not, it was nice knowin’ ‘em.
2) Never trust what you hear on the radio/TV/internet. Just because some voice on the radio says “There are no zombies here. Come join us” doesn’t make it so. It might be an automatic signal transmitting on a loop. The people who recorded it might already be dead, or they may not be very nice and want to enslave you, eat you, use you as their personal sex slave, experiment on you, etc. Remember, trust is earned.
3) Learn from the experience of others. If someone took the time to spray paint a warning on a locked door. Don’t open it.
4) If you wake up in a hospital room wearing nothing but your skivvies and a hospital gown, get dressed and gear up to the extent you can before trying to explore. Does it make any sense to you to go walking around the post apocalyptic world in your bare feet with all that broken glass on the ground. It’ll put a dent in your ability to run from the undead.
5) Focus on the task at hand. Distractions and multi-tasking will kill you. Fly the plane, drive the car, ride the bike, shoot the gun, etc. first, then do something else like look behind you, talk on the radio, pick your nose, change your underwear, etc.
6) If it don’t go bang, slice and dice or sustain life, leave it behind. Family photo albums are nice but not particularly useful when fighting off the hordes.
7) If someone you know and love it bitten, they are no longer someone you know and love. It’s more merciful to put them out of their misery.

Remember, preparation and having a plan are key to survival.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Car Review: 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt LT

Yesterday, I had yet another opportunity to spend quality time in the bustling metropolis that is Houston, Texas. Since I was supposed to be there ALL day from 9:00 in the morning until an undetermined time in the afternoon/evening, I decided to rent a car and drive down on Monday night allowing me a chance to spend the night with some very special friends.

Some of you may remember the last opportunity I had to rent a vehicle for business. According to Blogger’s nifty neato new stats option, that post is the most popular post I’ve ever written if you consider page views to be the benchmark for popularity.

By a wide margin.

The Zombie Gun post, which has generated the most comments so far (if that’s your benchmark for popularity), is the next most popular post.

So, in light of the fact that there is clearly demand for more quality car reviews out there in the ether, who am I to ignore the will of the people? Without further adieu, I offer my humble impressions of the 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt.

As with my previous car review, here are the official disclaimers and disclosures.

1) Neither General Motors nor its current owners, The United States Federal Government and the huddled masses yearning to be free from the excesses of exploding government spending and taxation, have paid me even one thin dime for this review. As far as I know, GM has no clue that I even exist. The Selective Service card in my desk drawer and my tax returns would seem to indicate that the government has a clue as to who I am, and there are several taxpayers who know me personally. However, I don’t think that creates a conflict of interest.

2) I (actually my company) paid for the privilege of being able to rent this vehicle from Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Again, no promotional consideration was paid by Enterprise to me for this review. Aside from the guy at the Enterprise rental counter, I don’t think they have a clue who I am either.

3) I have nothing against GM (except for the whole government bailout thing which we probably will talk about several times during the course of this review) or any other car manufacturer. I have looked at GM products on several occasions including every time I’ve considered purchasing a new vehicle. To date, they have never produced a car that I wanted to buy that was in my price range.

4) I am not now, nor will I be in the near future, in market for a new car. In fact, I will probably never buy a brand spanking new car ever again. I’m more than happy to let some other hapless soul take the hickey on depreciation while I merrily pick up gently used cars for more reasonable prices. In fact, The Queen would be ecstatic if I were to pick up a gently used Chevy Corvette or Cadillac XLR. If you know of one for sale in good condition for which the asking price is less than $100, please let me know.

So, what’d I think of the Chevrolet Cobalt? I’m glad you asked.

I arrived Monday evening at the Enterprise rental counsel and was handed the keys to a “Victory Red” four door sedan that had about 29000 miles on it that appeared to have been well maintained but gently abused as most rental cars are want to be. The car came equipped with 16” aluminum wheels, AM/FM stereo with CD player and MP3 jack, cloth seats and cruise control. According to Chevrolet’s website, this car had the 2LT trim package and would sell for $19,710 in my area.

Right off the bat, I have to make a comparison between the Chevrolet Cobalt and the Ford Focus to point out the obvious disparity between what you pay for versus what you get. The Ford is about a $1000 less than the Cobalt and came with heated leather seats, a sunroof, satellite radio and the ultra cool ambient lighting (which Chevy doesn’t even offer as an option that I can tell). The Cobalt didn’t even have the much vaunted Onstar system. I guess no self respecting member of the proletariat would be caught dead with such trappings of the bourgeois capitalist pigs. So, to recap this point, Ford gives you more stuff for less money. When we are talking about an economy car for the budget conscious, paying more for less doesn’t really make for a great selling point. Just a thought.

Let’s talk about the exterior for a moment. While I know we are not talking about the latest and greatest super sexy looking European super car here, the Cobalt has all the aesthetic appeal and styling of a sandblasted brick. To be fair, the Ford Focus was beat with the same ugly stick as the Cobalt. The best looking econobox I’ve ever seen is the Honda Civic, and even that car can be reminiscent of a door stop or a tortoise at times. Aerodynamics…ppffftthh. What’s that? I had to keep a handful of right rudder on the steering wheel for a good portion of the trip south due to some steady wind out of the southeast.

Now, some of you may be wondering how the unionized government employees at GM are at building quality cars these days. Overall, I would have to give them a passing grade on their construction of the Cobalt. Fit and finish did not appear to be any better or worse than the Ford Focus. I did notice that the inner panel of the driver’s door rattled when I closed it and the driver’s seat did not seem to be completely anchored; however, that may have been due to the fact that it was a rental vehicle with 29,000 miles on it based at a rental location in South Dallas. I will give them the benefit of the doubt on this one with the cautionary caveat that build quality on any high volume fleet vehicle can be spotty from time to time.

Next, how comfortable is the Cobalt? I honestly have no real complaints about the interior comfort of the Cobalt. In fact, in some ways, the cloth seats in the Cobalt were more comfortable than the leather seats in the Focus. The trip to Houston usually takes me right at four hours from door to door. Due to traffic, I actually spent a total of 5 hours in the car coming back last night of which I drove the last three hours nonstop without my butt falling asleep. My lower back was killing me due to the lack of lumbar support in the seat…but my legs and butt were awake and alert. The head room and leg room were adequate for my frame (6’4” and 240 pounds); however, had Chevy put a sunroof on this car, the head room would have been a smidge on the tight side.

One plus with the interior is that the window sill is thoughtfully placed at the right height for me to drive with my lazy elbow on the sill. The driver’s door rest was a little low for me, but it was closer than the arm rest in the Focus. The dashboard was well laid out. Unfortunately, that’s not saying much when you only include three instruments: a speedometer, a tachometer and a fuel gauge. Another plus was that the radio controls were within easy reach compared to the Focus. I didn’t have to reach quite as far for the radio tuner knob.

I must note here that I had planned on complaining about how bad the radio reception in the Cobalt was until I noticed, upon returning the vehicle to Enterprise this morning, that the radio antennae was missing completely. So, the fact that the car got any radio reception at all much less reception from about 45 miles away from the towers is pretty good in my opinion.

One final note on the interior before moving on, the passenger side airbag/seat belt sensor is sensitive. No, really…I mean SENSITIVE. I stopped on the way south to grab some dinner to go from Chili’s. I got an order of boneless buffalo wings and a salad, placed them carefully in the passenger seat, turned on the car, and was informed via a glaring red light and annoying little “alarm” tone that something or someone was in the seat. Think about that for a moment…the sensor was triggered by A SALAD. What happens if you put a Chihuahua in the front seat? Does it start cursing at you about the morbidly obese whale sitting next to you?

Oh, and no comments about eating a salad while driving. It can be done if you know how.

Moving on then…it’s time to tell you how well (ahem…cough, cough) the Cobalt performs.

Chevy claims that the Cobalt will get 37 miles per gallon fuel economy on the highway. I personally observed 36.0 mpg over 3 nonstop hours heading north at an average speed of 68 miles per hour. Keep in mind that the trip north from Houston to Dallas is generally “uphill” from Houston’s elevation of approximately sea level to Dallas’ elevation of about 800 feet above sea level. The car did come with a trip computer info option for instantaneous MPG, and I observed mid 20s to mid 40s depending on uphill vs. flat vs. downhill. If I had set the cruise control at 60 MPH instead of 68 or 69 MPH, I’m pretty sure I would have averaged about 40 MPG.

As with the Focus, the Cobalt won’t be winning you any drag races anytime soon; however, it has enough get up and go to get on the highway without being crushed like a beer can. It also had no trouble passing trucks when necessary and maintained a perfectly respectable and legal highway speed.

The one area that I give the Cobalt higher marks than the Focus is the handling. Unlike the Focus, the Cobalt’s steering was tight without being twitchy. It had a tight turning radius just like the Focus and was responsive when necessary. The brake pedal response was a little inconsistent. Sometimes you would step on the brakes lightly and nothing would happen. Other times, you would get what you would expect…a smooth and predictable stop. The Cobalt also did not have the tendency to nose dive and stop on a dime and give 9 cents change like the Focus. Here again, it’s probably a matter of personal preference and something you would become accustomed to over time.

And now, for the moment of truth…is the Chevrolet Cobalt a good car for its intended purpose and would I buy one? In short, yes and no. The Cobalt is not a BAD car for its intended purpose; however, it’s not really a GOOD car either. It performs its function adequately enough to be useful for its purpose. Unfortunately, Chevy and GM have maintained their streak of not making a car that I would WANT to buy. There’s nothing about this car that makes say: “Hey, that’s neat.” Or “This is REALLY nice.” For my money, I would rather pay $1000 less and get more car in the Ford Focus.

Your experience may vary.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A View From The Exit Row

After the mercifully short first leg of my return flight home last night on a Boeing 737 crammed to the gills with 137 fellow travelers and me stuck in a middle seat between two gentlemen who were fortunately not nearly as broad shouldered as I am or more girthy around the middle than me, I was able to bask in the luxurious comfort of this glorious emergency exit row seat on the final leg back into Dallas Love Field.

All hail Southwest Airlines' most recent seating configuration.

Be it known, if given the opportunity, I will, without any sign of remorse or regret, throw small children and little old ladies out of my way to get this seat. If necessary, I will resort to bribery and shameless blackmail. Short people should not even THINK of sitting in this seat as it will not even cause me a moment's hesitation to sit all 240 pounds of my slightly overweight frame on your lap to enjoy the TWO FULL ROWS of abundant leg room without fear of some morbidly obese whale reclining his or her seat into my already shot knees.

When you are 6 foot 4 inches tall flying on ANY airline these days, you will resort to any measures to achieve even the slightest bit of comfort.

Campaign Yard Sign

Yesterday, I had to make a trip to the far flung reaches of the Great State of Texas for business. On my way to the airport, I spotted several yard signs in support of the upcoming mid term elections. One in particular stood out. It read: "Defend Change Vote Democratic."

The Snark being strong in me at 7:45 AM after being fortified with donuts and orange juice; the absurdity of that sign could not be left unchallenged.

Consider, for a moment, the first glaring inconsistency memorialized in a mere four words. "Defend Change." Change implies that something different than the status quo needs to occur. Currently, DEMOCRATS are the status quo. So, if we are to "defend change" by upsetting the status quo apple cart, we need to vote AGAINST the Democrats (notice I didn't say vote FOR the Republicans).

I am sure that was not what the Democrats had in mind. So, let's exam their next implied faux pas.

Change is supposed to be for the better, right? No one wakes up in the morning, looks around and says, "Things are going pretty well around here. I think we need to screw things up so everything gets worse." Okay, maybe there are a few that say that, but the majority of the population wake up and want to make the world a BETTER place. So, if change is supposed to be good and make things better, why does it need to be defended?

Blink, blink.

Oh, that's right, because a majority of the population thinks that the "Change" we've been given by our illustrious horse thieves in Washington is, in fact, screwing things up royally and making the country generally worse off than we were before the Democrats took control. So, in actuality, the sign is telling us to defend their stupidity and allow them to make more stupid mistakes.

Change needs no defense. The only thing I see that needs to be defended around here is The Constitution. Are you listening horse thieves? Remember "...preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why Didn't I Think of That?

Most people who know me are aware that I almost NEVER forward jokes and stuff received via email. Most of it isn't worth the time and effort. That alone should tell you something about what you will see below. My mother sent this to me, and I thought it was great. I might even have to make one of these signs. So, without further adieu, here is the email and photo mom sent:

Ralph, my neighbor is a "lefty" of sorts ( gung-ho socialized medicine, "guns should be banned", etc.). So last week I put this sign up in my yard after one of his anti-gun rants at a neighborhood cocktail party. The sign wasn't up more than an hour before he called the police and wanted them to make me take down the sign. Fortunately, the officer politely informed him that it was not their job to take such action without a court order and that he had to file a complaint "downtown" first, which would be reviewed by the city attorney to see if it violated any city, county, or state ordinances, which if there was a violation a court order would be sent to the
offending party (me) to "remove the sign in seven days".

After several weeks he was informed that the sign was legal (by a quarter of an inch) and there was nothing the city could do, which obviously made him madder. I tried to smooth things over by inviting him to go shooting with me and my friends at the hunt club but that seemed to make him even more angry. I then asked him if he wanted to go to a Tea Party rally but again he declined my outreach efforts to bring about a better understanding between political and social opponents.

I am at a loss how to reconcile our long relationship (notice I did not say friendship), any suggestions would be welcome.

Anyway, that's life in our neck of the woods, how about yours?

Zombie Thread

If you've got some time on your hands, go read this. Fun stuff by MagOgre and friends.

Murphy’s a Dead Man…

…if it weren’t for the fact that he’s already dead (yes, he was a real person believe it or not). That rat fink Murphy and his crappy law have been at it again. I thought I’d lost him there for a while, but nooOOOOooo, he tagged me with a GPS tracker or radioactive dye or something.

The Queen, being the helpful and generous soul that she is, was out yesterday helping our oldest niece look for an apartment. I, of course, being the unlucky wage slave chained to my desk earning us our daily bread was not able to provide chauffer services.

So, Murphy decided to nail me by proxy.

I got a call from The Queen while engaged in my work activities to inform me that she got pulled over for 29 in a school zone and an expired registration sticker (my fault…meant to take care of that last week). We would have had another ticket for expired inspection (neither of us had a clue about that being expired), but the officer was giving The Queen a break. I think it was because The Queen waved at him just before he pulled her over. She’s friendly like that. I think it just called the officer’s attention to her.

Fortunately for my wallet, The Queen was not talking on a cell phone at the time which would have been a super special added bonus fine. She claims she was paying attention and never saw the flashy school zone lights; however, she admits to being engaged in conversation with the aforesaid niece. The Queen is a very active listener and an easily distracted driver. We were in Jamaica for our yearly church trip a few years ago where the folks drive on the wrong side of the road. The Queen was driving, and I thought I’d take a picture of her driving from the wrong seat. The Queen, who finds it impossible to allow candid photos to be taken of her, attempting to sit up straighter and pose for her photo…and ran the car up on the curb in the process. That cost me $40 for a new set of hubcaps.

So, it is possible that the school zone sign ducked behind a tree or something while she had her head turned briefly in the direction of our niece or was otherwise distracted by something shiny.

Unfortunately for my wallet, the total fine is going to be something like $333 dollars. !!$^&*&^$#$#@@***^%#!!! That’s most of a new gun. That’s the reloading equipment I thought I was going to buy. That’s two weeks of groceries.

Murphy, if it weren’t for the fact that you’re dead, I’d send you the ticket to pay. I might just have to hunt your grave down and put a stake in whatever’s left of your heart just to make sure you really are already dead.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Miscellaneous Stuff

Alright, I know it's been a week or so since my last post. Okay, more like 10 days or so. Hopefully, you've had a chance to get the mental picture of catfish eating manatee poo directly from the source out of your heads. Oops...sorry. Or, maybe I'm not sorry. I've never been a fan of catfish.

Oh well...and now...on with our story.

When you last heard from our hero (that would be me...grant this little illusion of grandeur for a moment...thank you), he was in the midst of taking some well earned time off after leaving his laptops (work and personal) behind with barely a "so long, suckers". I apologize for failing to advise you, my loyal readers, of my travel plans (travel is probably the wrong term for hiding out in various, secret locations in the same general geographic location as where you live).

While I was gone, Monda at Easy Street Prompts choose my post about racial issues as a winner for September's edition of the Block Party. That makes for four selections in four attempts. One of these days, I need to sit down with her and give her a sanity check. 

As per the rules, I am required to post a link to the block party submission form. Done. It was supposed to be done within 7 days. Y'all will forgive me, I hope, for the delay since I wasn't near my laptop and all.

In other news, the diety of all things food related has smiled on my little corner of the world. A Rudy's has opened up (today, in fact) in South Arlington not 15 minutes from Castle Erickson (or should I be calling this the parsonage since I claim preacherhood in this little corner of cyberspace...nah...). It is some truly good barbeque. They serve it by the pound. You have your choice of turkey, lean and regular brisket, chops, prime rib, sausages, chicken, ribs and the usual fixin's. Yes, I had dinner there this evening. No, I am not getting paid to advertise for them.

Today was another milestone of sorts. The Queen, as some or all of you are aware by now, has been fighting several health issues for about four and a half years now. She started having initial symptoms in June 2006, and things were really in the toilet by December 2006. One of the issues we discovered was that  the dental work she had done in August of 2005 was causing her severe trouble. She had cavities on eight teeth filled at the same time. The dentist used composite resin filings which are not supposed to be a problem; however, he also used a "desensitizing" compound called Gluma which contains glutaraldehyde as its active ingredient. Gluma is used to disinfect the cavity and act as an insulator of the tooth to prevent cold/hot sensitivity. Turns out that glutaraldehyde and The Queen do not play well together. It causes The Queen to seizure. Violently.  We know this for a fact based on careful testing by her new dentist.

So, for the last three years, we've been having The Queen's new dentist work on clearing out her old fillings (along with the Gluma) and doing some other neat and interesting dental magic to get The Queen's teeth from causing her neurological difficulties. The last of the old fillings got drilled out and sucked up today. It is too early to tell how much, if any, of an affect this will have on her overall health, but The Queen and I are cautiously optimistic that progress is being made.

That is all the news that's fit to print for now. If I think of anything else, I know where to find y'all.