While we wait for flux capacitors

Ronnie Schreiber turns up a well-kept 1948 Packard, straight eight and everything, and in passing mentions one of the differences between Then and Now:

It’s not the easiest car to drive. Today we measure luxury by the number and kinds of toys a car has. In 1948, luxury was more about quality construction. Though Packard had introduced air conditioning by the time this car was made, the only luxury equipment on this model was a heater, radio and vacuum operated windshield wipers. No power steering, no power brakes, not even an automatic transmission. Packard would not introduce the Ultramatic transmission for another year. This straight eight powered car has a “three on the tree”, a 3 speed shifter on the steering column, along with overdrive that is engaged by pressing on the clutch pedal at highway speeds.

The Ultramatic (a $199 option starting in 1949) was unique in a couple of ways. The Big Three had had the engineering facilities to develop their own automatics; the independents, by and large, didn’t. (Ford, in fact, bought Hydra-Matic boxes from GM before finishing up its own version.) Smaller automakers usually teamed up with existing gearbox suppliers. But Packard did the Ultramatic entirely in-house.

And Packard’s slushbox, at high speeds, did not slush: once you were up to speed, the torque converter would lock up. Most other manufacturers didn’t hit on this gas-saving idea until the 1970s. The downside, of course, is that the device was fiendishly complex, and while Packard continued to improve it, the failure rate cast a pall over the company’s otherwise-sterling reputation.

Today, though, it’s toys that drive the market, at seemingly all price points. Car and Driver complained the other day that one of their test cars didn’t have automatic climate control. The offending vehicle? A Hyundai Elantra. (It did, C/D noted, have heated seats.)

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UT diversifies its investments

University endowments are no less susceptible to wide swings in value than any other collection of equities these days, and those schools which worry themselves about “socially-responsible” investments have fewer options for hedging.

Meanwhile, the University of Texas is buying gold:

The University of Texas Investment Management Co., the second-largest U.S. academic endowment, took delivery of almost $1 billion in gold bullion and is storing the bars in a New York vault, according to the fund’s board.

The fund, whose $19.9 billion in assets ranked it behind Harvard University’s endowment as of August, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers, added about $500 million in gold investments to an existing stake last year, said Bruce Zimmerman, the endowment’s chief executive officer. The holdings are worth about $987 million, based on [Friday’s] closing price of $1,486 an ounce for Comex futures.

Hedge-fund manager Kyle Bass, who sits on the UT fund board, explains it this way:

“Central banks are printing more money than they ever have, so what’s the value of money in terms of purchases of goods and services? I look at gold as just another currency that they can’t print any more of.”

They can dig it out of the ground, but there’s not all that much to be dug.

(Via Fark.)

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Copies: 3

You may remember this from 2004:

Here in the oil patch, the price of crude is always a topic of discussion, and with the price hovering in the low $50s of late, and gas prices running $1.85 per gallon around town, speculation as to what will happen at the pump next week is always rampant. And at some point in today’s speculation, we wandered off-topic to the question of More Expensive Liquids, of which the most expensive, of course, can be found in the cartridges of your inkjet printer.

The common comparison, of course, is with Dom Perignon, but since not even The Donald buys Dom in 42-gallon barrels, we decided to do the math one more time. An HP 56 cartridge (black) for the DeskJet I use at work runs $35 and contains 19 ml; one liter of the stuff — 52.6 cartridges full — comes to $1842. Multiply by 159.05 liters per barrel, and you’re looking at $292,900 for a barrel of ink.

The link therein leads to a 2003 BBC report making a similar comparison to Dom.

In The Champagne of Office Supplies, Wired (May 2011) falls back on the same shtick:

[A]t more than $3 per milliliter, it would be cheaper to print your vacation pics with Dom Perignon.

And proper photo paper, of course, would make matters even worse.

Then again, those halcyon days of $50 oil and sub-$2 gasoline don’t seem to be returning either.

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People who need “People’s”

Nothing in the name of a country gives away the game faster than the term “People’s Republic”: you just know that their favorite Marx isn’t Groucho, Chico, Harpo, or even Zeppo, but the drearily-unfunny Karl. (We will entertain no discussion of Gummo at this time, or at least it won’t entertain us.)

This wasn’t always the case. The Central Council of Ukraine, formed in 1917 to support the newly-proclaimed Ukrainian People’s Republic, was viewed by the Bolsheviks of the time as a collection of counterrevolutionary cads. For that matter, the full name applied to Libya by Colonel Gaddafi — Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya — well, the opposition prefers simply “Libyan Republic.”

And in fact, there aren’t that many actual People’s Republics left: China, North Korea, Laos, Berkeley. None of the first three had much input into the so-called “People’s Budget,” a name which Dave Schuler finds unfortunate:

Could any naming be less felicitous? Not only does it bring to mind The People’s Republic of China and other communist states it would appear to be a direct reference to Lloyd George’s 1909 People’s Budget, a budget that increased Britain’s welfare state by a substantial increase in taxes. It lost the Liberal Party seats in Parliament, took more than a year to pass, and only passed after the land tax was removed.

Were this actually a reference to David Lloyd George’s policies, it would imply that the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which came up with the People’s Budget this time around, actually knew some history, a proposition low on the plausibility scale. But more to the point, while Lloyd George’s budget was staggeringly unpopular among the peerage and the producers, all of whom saw targets painted on their wallets, it did eventually pass; what’s more, the power of the House of Lords, which had opposed the budget, was subsequently reduced. How likely is it that Congressional Republicans remember that?

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Saturday spottings (of architectural significance)

The Central Oklahoma Chapter of the American Institute of Architects holds Architecture Week every year about this time, and on Saturday of that week comes the Tour, wherein several recent projects by members are opened to the public. This is something I do not miss if I can help it, and at noon today, we were heading down to Norman for the first stop.

1) 530 Eufaula Street, Norman
530 Eufaula Street
Just outside downtown Norman — barely two blocks off West Main, in fact — this space used to be occupied by an indifferent duplex. The new place, not quite so large, has a series of garden walls which conceal a couple of dinosaurs (!) and allow for garden and/or courtyard views from nearly every room. (This picture was shot over the west wall.) The interior proportions were, to my thinking, just about perfect, and I said so to one of the owners. This part of Norman, except for the inevitable traffic, retains its small-town feel, which is a neat trick in a city of 110,000.

2) 204 North Robinson, 32nd Floor
City Place
Back in 2008, I mentioned that this old skyscraper — it’s just now turning 80 — was being refurbed, and the top floors were being turned into high-rise residences. The top two floors, in fact, were turned into one residence, about 5000 square feet, with a price tag in the general vicinity of $3 million. I figure $1 million of this was for the view, which is pretty much unparalleled anywhere else in town. The amenities are commensurate with the price tag, but there are unexpected bonuses from its bank-building days: the old drive-in is now the parking garage, and the vault has been converted to local storage. It was about this time that Trini started making noises about buying more lottery tickets.

3) 811 North Broadway
811 North Broadway
Packard, the motor car, passed from the scene in 1958. This particular building along Automobile Alley has had several uses since then, though always pretty much the same front. Last time I was there, it was the gallery of Individual Artists of Oklahoma, which has since moved to Film Row; it’s now the home of Accel Financial Staffing, owned by Meg Salyer. Office space in general I tend to judge by how closely it resembles Cubicle Hell. This one scores no points for devilishness. (And yes, that’s the same Meg Salyer who represents Ward 6 on City Council.)

3.5) 815 North Hudson Avenue
This technically wasn’t a Tour stop, but Elemental Coffee Roasters, which supplies several eateries in town, is opening its own coffeehouse at this location, and they offered a free sample to any Tour participant. I passed — damn diuretics — but Trini was delighted with her latte.

4) 825 Northwest 7th Street
825 NW 7th St
I first visited the so-called Oklahoma Case Study House in November ’09 and took this shot. At the time, it seemed utterly out of place on its little hillock just west of Midtown, but it fascinated me just the same. It was not quite complete for the 2010 Tour; now that it’s done, it still seems like a work in progress. Architect Brian Fitzsimmons has plenty of photos to show you.

5) 834 Northwest 7th Street
834 NW 7th St
Across the street and down one, this house in its larval stage was on the 2008 Tour; the photo dates from the fall of ’09. Architect Dennis Wells lives in this nifty concrete box, which sits on a small 50 x 70 lot. (The structure itself is a modest 40 x 40.) The living quarters are upstairs; there’s a guest suite downstairs. (“I want a guest suite,” said Trini.) The house sits about halfway between the Case Study House and the OKasian House at 719 North Francis, seen on the 2007 Tour. Wells’ own rendering looks something like this.

6) 5900 Mosteller Drive
Founders 360
If you just adore a penthouse view but aren’t inclined to buy downtown, this is the suburban choice, off May and Northwest Distressway. The old United Founders tower, once home to a now-deceased insurance company, has gone residential, as mentioned here in 2007. The advantage here is that almost every room has a view and full-height glass to maximize it. We saw a couple of single-bedroom units, which were a bit out of our price range, and a pair of two-bedroom units, which were more so. (See their Web site for floor plans.)

7) 7720 North Robinson Avenue
Design Resources has been doing window treatments for the trade for the better part of 60 years; they took over an old bulk warehouse in the Broadway Business Park, and Randy Floyd revised it into showroom, offices, and workroom. (We peeked into the samples area and were dazzled by the sheer variety.) No trace of Cubicle Hell here, either.

(Previous Tour reports: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010. Photo credits: #2 courtesy of AIACOC; #3 courtesy of Waymark; #6 courtesy of Founders Tower; others by me.)

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Fark blurb of the week

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In the name of consistency

After waxing lyrical, sort of, on the subject of the Little Black Dress earlier this week, I decided I probably ought to show you one. Not that you’ve never seen one before, of course, but because I get about a twelve-percent traffic bump if I come up with two Fabulous Babes in a week instead of one.

With that in mind, here’s Penélope Cruz in a wool-blend LBD by L’Wren Scott, outside the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York:

Penelope Cruz in black

Not too little, you’ll note. Then again, I’m pretty sure Letterman liked the outfit.

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The search of a lifetime

The blog Well Hello There Lover has now completed 365 letters to someone who may or may not materialize in real life. (I mentioned this enterprise last fall.)

As a general believer in the idea of messages in bottles, and as a retired member (emeritus) of the Hopeless Romantics League of the Galaxy, I of course prefer that the individual in question actually show up.

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Positive feedback from Methuselah

Got a nice little note from eBay last night, reminding me that it was my anniversary, and that there were all sorts of deals not necessarily related to that fact, into which I might want to look.

I hadn’t even noticed. Which anniversary? I thought, and then saw the answer farther down the page.


Ye gods, I’ve been on eBay since 1999? Yes, it’s true: in my absurd email archives I found auction-related correspondence dated as early as June ’99, so I must have signed up that April.

As members of Congress can undoubtedly testify, time flies when you’re spending money.

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Penalty kick

If there’s one thing worse than murdering scum, it’s methodical murdering scum:

A 20-year-old Canadian man methodically stalked and tracked a Westmont woman before killing her Wednesday night in Oak Brook — even stopping to reload his gun and continue shooting during the attack.

DuPage County Judge Michael Wolfe denied bail Thursday for Dmitry Smirnov of Surrey, British Columbia, who is charged with the first-degree murder of Jitka Vesel, 36.

How methodical was he? This much:

[State’s Attorney Robert] Berlin said Smirnov had done research on the Internet to determine if Illinois had the death penalty, deciding to go through with Vesel’s murder when he discovered it does not.

It is arguable as to whether the presence of capital punishment has any deterrent value; its absence, however, seems utterly to lack it.

(From a Facebook friend in the Land of Lincoln, or, in perhaps happier times at Ford Chicago Assembly, the Land of Lincoln-Mercury.)

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It’s Friday, Friday

Which means it’s time for your Rebecca Black update of the week. And it’s a doozy:

Glee’s prom episode will include a cover of Rebecca Black’s infamous YouTube hit “Friday,” and Vulture can confirm that and reveal an opposite-sex twist: The ode to fun, sitting in the backseat, fun, and fun will be sung by Kevin McHale, Chord Overstreet, and Mark Salling.

Because, you know, nothing says you’ve arrived, back seat or front, like being referenced on Glee.

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Formal bowtie

I spent a few seconds yesterday behind a very old Chevy with this emblem on its tail:

Old Suburban logo

The font suggests fun of a sort. But that was then. Today — Chevy, y so srs?

New Suburban logo

What is this, a squad car for General Zod? Lighten up, guys.

(Old logo found here; new one off a dealer lot.)

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Quote of the week

In Oklahoma City, we have something called the Litter Blitz; similar programs exist in other cities in the state. And they all have the same problem:

The thing that frustrates me a bit about the trash-off days is that the population of people who PICK UP trash, and the population of people who TOSS OUT trash from their cars are two different populations.

And this frustration leads to screaming (voicelessly, of course) into the sky:

“Oh (not very nice word). That’s right, just throw your (another not very nice word) trash out of your car. Go about your (yet another not very nice word) merry lives; there will ALWAYS be someone who comes behind you and takes on the (and another not very nice word) responsibility and picks up your trash, both literal and figurative, for you.”

Unfortunately, this principle, or more precisely lack of principle, is almost infinitely extensible into other aspects of life.

I keep hoping for the day when some lunkhead lobs a cup out the window, and the concealed cop on speed watch suddenly comes to life and shoots out the miscreant’s tires — or worse.

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Ayapa, when the walls held

The Ayapaneco language, one of several dozen tongues indigenous to Mexico, is down to only two speakers, and they aren’t speaking to one another:

There are just two people left who can speak it fluently — but they refuse to talk to each other. Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69, live 500 metres apart in the village of Ayapa in the tropical lowlands of the southern state of Tabasco. It is not clear whether there is a long-buried argument behind their mutual avoidance, but people who know them say they have never really enjoyed each other’s company.

The decline was presumably inevitable:

Its demise was sealed by the advent of education in Spanish in the mid 20th century, which for several decades included the explicit prohibition on indigenous children speaking anything else. Urbanisation and migration from the 1970s then ensured the break-up of the core group of speakers concentrated in the village.

Work continues on a dictionary of Ayapaneco.

(Via Geekosystem.)

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So uncomplicated

Admittedly, it’s the same five districts and the same Congressmen, so the redistricting required by the Census was apparently pretty painless: Rep. Danny Morgan (D-Prague), vice-chair of the House Redistricting Committee, says that a deal has been reached and the enabling legislation is on its way.

So far as I can tell, I remain in District 5, represented by freshman James Lankford (R-OKC).

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Mash notes

Nicole, on Evan Williams’ distilled spirits:

It wasn’t horribly expensive and it is in the list of the last name alcohol you probably shouldn’t be on a first name basis with (Jack, Julian & Evan).

Jack, of course, everyone knows, but I had to think a bit about Julian. Eventually I came up with Julian Van Winkle III, who runs the Old Rip Van Winkle distillery, which suggests that Nicole’s tastes might be just a hair more refined than mine. (Then again, I did my serious drinking in the NCO Club, where quantity tended to overshadow quality.)

George Dickel, incidentally, was not available for comment.

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