True 1:48 O scale cars (as in autos)

True 1:48 O scale cars (as in autos)

Scale-oriented O scale enthusiasts often bemoan the lack of true 1:48 O scale cars (as in automobiles) to go with their O scale trains. Often they go so far as to call 1:48 scale autos non-existent. That’s not entirely the case. There are 1:48 scale vehicles out there. Finding them just requires some creativity and imagination.

I know of more than 20 1:48 scale vehicles suitable for O scale train layouts. They fall into two broad categories: ready made diecast vehicles, and plastic 1/48 scale model car kits, which require assembly. The model kits tend to be costlier but allow a greater level of detail. Not only that, some of the model kits are 4-door sedans, the perfect ordinary car. For the realism-craving hi rail or 2-rail enthusiast, they are hard to resist.

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Pros and cons of RightTrack or SnapShot devices

Insurance companies are starting to offer discounts if you plug one of their devices, often called a RightTrack or SnapShot, into your car’s ODB2 port.

One of my college buddies asked me about them when his insurance company offered his family a 5% discount to plug these into their cars, and then make them eligible for up to another 25%. Those are compelling numbers. So what are the potential drawbacks?

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Stunt Hacking: Why Charlie Miller hacked a Jeep driving on I-64

St. Louis-based security researcher Charlie Miller and his collaborator Chris Valasek got themselves in the news this week by hacking a Jeep driven by Wired journalist Andy Greenberg on I-64.

The reaction was mixed, but one common theme was, why I-64, where lives could have been at risk, rather than an abandoned parking lot?

I don’t know Miller or Valasek, so it goes without saying I don’t speak for either one of them, but I think I have a pretty good idea why they did it that way.

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My coworker’s car got stolen. His 10-year-old found it.

“I started my car this morning to let it warm up,” my coworker, Jon, told me on Tuesday. “And when I went back out to my car two minutes later, it was gone.”

It took a few seconds for that to register. “Stolen?” I asked, finally.

“Stolen.”

That’s not a story you hear every day. Not even in the crazy world he and I live in. Read more

I didn’t cause the depression

Various analysts are blaming the current depression on people like me. The reasoning goes like this: I have money in the bank, therefore, I should be out spending it, for the greater good, to stir the economy.

Let’s correct that right now.People like me “hoarding” cash didn’t cause this depression. I played by the rules. I didn’t lie on my mortgage application. I bought less house than the bank said I could afford, because I didn’t see how I could make that payment and still buy groceries. I bought a Honda Civic because I didn’t see how I could afford a car that cost $25,000 or $30,000 and I really didn’t see how I could afford to put gas in it. I made this decision when gas cost $1.59 a gallon in Missouri.

Basically, I made a budget and then I made the decision to stick with it. It wasn’t rocket science. Any time I thought about buying something, I sat down with a spreadsheet, entered in all the money I paid out each month, entered what I made, and figured out if the money left over was enough to buy whatever it was I wanted.

We were due for a depression, or at least a recession, at the beginning of the century. The dot-com boom and Y2K was a bonanza, but then two things happened. Y2K came and went, the world didn’t end, and people quit buying survival supplies in large quantities. Meanwhile, these startups failed to come up with viable business plans, continued to spend money faster than the government, and ended up going out of business. This hurt those companies, but it also hurt companies like Cisco and IBM and Intel, because as these companies went bust, their inventory of technology equipment, some of it unused, went on the market at bargain prices. There was no reason to buy a new Cisco router from CDW when you could buy the same thing, still sealed in the package, from a liquidator for half the price.

Then 9/11 happened and it really looked like we’d get our recession. But the government slashed interest rates, changed bank regulations, and encouraged people to buy like there was no tomorrow. GM started offering 0% financing on its cars in order to move them. Soon you could get free financing on anything but a house, and interest rates on houses were ridiculously low. And anyone could get a loan. Republicans loved it because it made the economy go boom-boom again. Democrats loved it because people at any income level could get mortgages.

But the problem was that many of these loans had onerous terms and conditions, and just because you could afford the payments one day didn’t mean you’d be able to afford them in two, three, or five years after some of the back-loaded terms kicked in. Of course, nobody worried about that because they were living the high life.

And then it all fell apart. It wasn’t quite as rapid as it seems. I think people started having problems paying their bills in 2005 or so, but it didn’t quite hit critical mass yet. It hit the smaller banks first. I know because the banks who had my mortgage kept going under, and every year or so, a slightly bigger bank would end up with my mortgage. But those weren’t any match for this monster either. Countrywide got my loan in 2007, but Countrywide wasn’t a dinky little bank. It went under, and when I made my final house payment, that payment went to Bank of America. Now it looks like even the mighty Bank of America might make me look like the kiss of death.

But that wasn’t the only problem. These bad loans got packaged up and re-sold. And somehow, these bad loans got higher grades than they deserved. A guy working as a slicer at Arby’s making $9/hour living in a $150,000 house isn’t a good investment. When everything’s going right, he can afford to make his payments, but the minute something goes wrong, he’s going to start missing payments and might not ever recover. So unless the guy gets a decent job, he’s not going to be able to afford to stay in that house. Yet somehow, a bank could package a bunch of loans like this and spin it as a grade-A investment.

Imagine me going around to my neighbors’ houses on trash day, filling boxes with trash, and selling the boxes, legally able to tell the buyer that the box contains something valuable. That’s great, until someone opens the box and realizes it’s just a box of trash.

No, this depression wasn’t caused by people like me. It was caused by people living beyond their means for too long, and not being able to pay the piper when the time came.

There’s another word for what’s happening right now, besides recession or depression. That word is “correction.” When the economy has been going in one direction for too long, it corrects itself. Sometime in the future, there will be another correction, and the economy will start improving again.

But I read my ultimate proof yesterday. Supposedly, if people like me would just spend their money, things would get better. So why does someone walk into a Jeep dealership with $24,000 in cash, intent on driving home in a new Jeep, and end up driving himself and his still-heavy wallet home in his old car?

And let’s look at people like me one other way. When I nearly lost my job in January, I had almost six months’ worth of income in the bank and a plan in place to be able to live off it for a couple of years, potentially. It wouldn’t have been a comfortable living, but it would have been doable. There would have been no need for me to go collect unemployment. I would not have been a burden on society. And when I retire, I’ll retire with enough money to get me through the rest of my life, with or without Social Security. I won’t be a burden on society either.

People who save their money might not spend it at the most opportune time for everyone else, so they might fail to even the economy out like a capacitor evens out electrical power. But they are never, ever a drag on society.

Visiting the house where my ancestors grew up

I went to a family reunion this past weekend. You typically need rosters at my family’s family reunions, because my grandmother had 13 brothers and sisters. I don’t know why, but before I got into genealogy, I just couldn’t keep everyone straight.

Now that I know how people are connected to one another, it’s somehow easier to keep it straight.

At the end of the day, my aunt drove me out to the house where my grandmother grew up.Along the way, she told me my great grandfather, Tom Kimrey, didn’t buy a car until after World War II, when he bought a surplus jeep. She said she didn’t know if he ever learned how to drive it, although several of his daughters did. We pulled onto Kimrey Lane and drove all the way to the end. It was cool to see a street named after one of my ancestors, even if it was on the edge of a booming metropolis of 74.

The house was a humble affair. It’s a four-room house, with a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms. The living room doubled as the master bedroom. There was no running water. The house had a tin roof and tarpaper on the sides. A brick pattern was etched into the tarpaper. My aunt showed me where the pot-bellied stove used to be, and where my great grandmother Sallie Groves’ pump organ used to sit.

The whole house was probably smaller than my kitchen and my study put together. And Tom and Sallie raised 13 kids in it. (One died very young.)

I guess standards of living have changed a bit over the course of four generations.

At any rate, seeing that old house gave me some idea of why my grandmother and great aunts and uncles were the way they were about some things. Sharing a bedroom with six other people changes your perspective about things, I guess.

More Wikipedia adventures

The Wikipedia marked its 100,000th article this past week. It celebrated by getting Slashdotted. And when I checked this morning, its count stood at 101,999.
I visited this evening to try to find some information about Studebaker. In typical Internet fashion, I didn’t find what I was looking for. And then, somehow, I found myself researching for and writing Wikipedia articles about AMC, its Rambler nameplate, and its successor, Eagle.

How’d I end up going from Studebaker to the maker of the Jeep and the Rambler? Well, that brings up the useless trivia question of the day: What four U.S. automakers intended to merge in 1954 to form American Motors Corp.?* And the bonus question: Which of those two companies fell through?**

So now I’ve written about baseball players and New Wave bands (both too numerous to mention), computers and CPUs (I made a number of revisions to some of the articles pertaining to the 8-bit computers of my youth), tycoons (Mark Hanna and a hastily written biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who interestingly, despite founding a university, himself dropped out of school at age 11), my dad’s occupation and his religion, and now, cars.

* Nash, Hudson, Studebaker, and Packard.
** Studebaker and Packard, who merged with each other. Packard would supply engines and transmissions to AMC for a time, but the combined company ceased building Packards in 1958. The combined company merged with a number of other companies and ceased making automobiles in 1966.

I know that this is not goodbye

I just heard a name I didn’t expect to ever hear again, because it had been almost 15 years since I last heard it. And in this case it wasn’t good news.
The name was that of a classmate from grade school. His name was Geoff. His kid brother, Danny, was getting married this past weekend. After the rehearsal dinner, Danny and his two brothers and four friends piled into a Jeep CJ5 and went driving around in the boonies in the dark. What they thought was a clearing in the trees turned out to be a 30-foot cliff. Read more

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