Month: November 2008

 

Buying American

Several times a year, I get on a “buy American” tear — or at least I want to do it but I find it very difficult to accomplish such things. While I can go into any of the major retailers and buy foreign made goods… Finding ones stamped with “Made in the USA” seems to be a difficult task.

For example, I’m currently looking for shoes to replace my “No Sweat” Chuck-Taylor-esque sneakers. Knowing the chips are down here in America with the economy — and knowing Nike, Reebok and the other major brands make their shoes in Asia — I’m scanning around for American made sneakers.

And what I’m finding is making me more frustrated than I already am.

Do a search on “American Made Sneakers” on Google and what is the first site that comes up? An old article highlighting the lack of such things as American sneakers.

You come across sites like AllUSAClothing and of course, some of the styles aren’t that great, but they are out there for you, and the interface is a sight better than BuyAmerican.com or other online companies taking the “Buy American” banner and running with it.

Most of the sites trying to rally Americans to buy products manufactured here at home are out of date, or so bare-bones it’s a turnoff. US Stuff is a great example. Maybe I’m so used to blogging and seeing dates over posted items to get a sense of continuity… Or the Internet standard of newest-posts-first, oldest-posts-last. US Stuff just jams it all in there and you’re lucky if any of the information is less than five years old. You don’t know how often things are updated – or if they are updated at all. And yet this is the most comprehensive list of shoemakers in the United States. It’s troubling to try to decipher everything as some of the latter information contradict the earlier info.

After some searching that US Stuff page, I did find New Balance’s “Made in America” store… But I was looking for simple and stylish sneakers — not running shoes and top-o-the-line sneakers.

How about televisions? My Sharp 26″ television doesn’t have a remote and the sound/channel control buttons no longer work right. I could use a new TV. Of course, none of the big name electronics manufacturers build in America. Most of the major electronics manufacturers of current never did… So what can I find on the subject? For starters, a 2002 article on the very fact TV’s aren’t built in America (or are hard to find). US Stuff cites several of the major players assembling their TV’s in the US (but then again, how can you trust data when you don’t know how current it is and can’t tell if the site has been updated in a while?).

But Leanblog.org — Yay! A blog post of a rather young age! — points out as of August of this year that Olevia builds their TV’s in California. Much like Dell Computers, Olevia has their parts shipped in from other places around the globe, but the sets are put together and shipped out from within the US.

Trying to find products from US Manufacturers shouldn’t be this tough, or this confusing. I don’t expect special sections of Wal-Mart or Target to be for American made goods or something like that… I just don’t expect everyone to only have the option of buying general goods stamped with “Made in China” on it, or all shirts and textiles being products of third world countries.

Consider re-investing your cash in American made products this holiday season… Well, if you can find an outlet to do as such. I welcome comments from people who want to suggest places to purchase US made textiles and durable goods, electronics and such. Also, I’d be happy to hear of name brands that are made-in-the-USA.

if he could do it, why couldn't GM?

All this talk of a Detroit bailout has had me angry. Not angry at the idea taxpayers would have to keep Detroit afloat (this is, after all, an opportunity to force Detroit to be more ambitious with CAFE standards and other such things) but it reflects so much on how poorly General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have operated over the years.

They’ve craved the status-quo and have shunned, if not feared, the idea of innovation in the production and design of their vehicles. Oh, the fabled “Big Three” have evolved over time but they haven’t broken any new ground. They haven’t taken an ambitious chance. What they have done is simply offer more of the same in different wrappers. Big cars turned into station wagons, station wagons turned into vans and mini vans, vans turned into Sport Utility Vehicles.

When it looked like automakers would be forced to adhere to tough air regulation rules in California? They fought it with lawyers. Oh, General Motors went ahead and actually made an electric car in case they lost their case but after they won? Not only did they shelve the things, they had all existing models destroyed. Perish the thought they would try something different when they didn’t have to.

But big cars don’t need to be fuel inefficient. Ask Jonathan Goodwin.

Over the last few weeks, that article on the “Motorhead Messiah” kept coming back to my mind. I originally saw it in 2007 before gas prices topped 4 dollars a gallon in some places. Goodwin has taken Hummer’s and made them flex-fuel (biodiesel, diesel, etc), more fuel efficient and with more power than they originally had. All with standard parts from General Motors. And he’s been doing that for years. He’s been working with Neil Young to convert Young’s 1959 Lincoln Continental into an electric-natural gas hybrid.

Oh, General Motors finally caught on… But they did it real late at that.

In reality, Goodwin’s work has begun to influence some of Detroit’s top auto designers, but through curious and circuitous routes. In 2005, Tom Holm, the founder of EcoTrek, a nonprofit that promotes the use of alternative fuels, heard about Goodwin through the Hummer-junkie grapevine and hired him. When Holm showed GM the vehicles Goodwin converted, the company was duly impressed. Internally, Hummer executives had long been looking for a way to blunt criticism of the H2’s gas-guzzling tendencies and saw Goodwin’s vehicles as an object lesson in what was possible. So GM decided to flip the switch: It announced the same year that, beginning in 2008, it would convert its gasoline Hummers to run on ethanol; by 2010, it said, Hummers would be biodiesel-compatible.

I went into absolute hysterics when I read that paragraph. Hysterics because GM was not only introduced to this years ago, but also because they were going to wait years to implement things… That 2008 target? Gone, because the Hummer brand is for sale and the production all but ceased.

You look at Apple Computers and the ambition they have shown the last decade with the iMac, the iPod and the iPhone — three items that have revolutionized computing and consumer electronics… And then you look at the Big Three US automakers and note that there is no innovation and ambition in their development and design of vehicles.

There is the status-quo, the tried-and-true… and that’s why all three are suffering billion dollar loses fiscal quarter after fiscal quarter.

GM, Chrysler and Ford need ambition and innovation again. They need someone like Goodwin (outside the box, outside the bubble) in charge of engineering, and someone of the same quality in charge of the companies themselves, to get back into the swing of things.

You can’t bank on things staying the same, and for the Big Three? Their downfall was expecting just the opposite – for things to stay the same, perpetually.

Ye Gods! (Take Two)

I continue to believe Roland Deschain (aka Stephen King’s Gunslinger) would go into convulsions if he saw the Burj Dubai:

Somewhere over 700 meters (2,100 feet for metric ignorant Americans) in height. It will be over 800 (from rumors and hersay) when completed.

(k)needful things

I guess my most eventful day in Los Angeles in October was my last day in the city. It was not out of enjoyment, but out of “this would only happen to me — lets see how I handle the challenge.”

Yeah, Johnny got himself into a bit of a predicament in La Cuidad de Angeles. Again.

One of the stories I bestowed upon readers of Stonegauge was my venture to the T-Mobile store at Hollywood and Western. What I didn’t happen to mention is what caught up with me upon leaving the store.

Walking is something people take for granted, and knowing I haven’t done all that much of it prior to the trip (though I was in much better shape than a year earlier) I sort of set myself up for my body reacting in an adverse way after the umpteenth mile was registered on the old pedometer.

As I left the store that Friday afternoon, my mind was on lunch and trying to decide where I would go to at the 7th and Fig plaza once I got back downtown… I was leaning towards California Pizza Kitchen and maybe having a cocktail with lunch while blending in with the business crowd. I reveled in mixing in the the business people and seeming like I was just part of the normal financial district workfor–

Ow.

I didn’t trip. I didn’t stumble. I did not fall. I didn’t knock into anything. I did not get hit by anything or anyone. There was no pop. There was no snap.

Ow.

Every step I took started to result in a knife-like pain near my knee. My mind wanted to be on other things but…

Ow.

I was hungry, I thought it would be a good choice to get lunch and rest and figure out my next move after I had sat down for a few minutes and put some nutrition in my belly. I crossed Hollywood Boulevard with a limp while leaning on my cane and headed towards the Metro station.

The escalators down to the station were halted and I looked around for the elevator down to the station to no avail. Walking, climbing stairs, generally further stressing the knee with every step I took while scouting for that damned elevator.

I soon gave up and climbed the concrete stairs down to the station, and hopped on a train back toward Downtown… Of course, the train was packed and I had to stand the entire time.

Ow. Ow. Ow.

…and upon arriving at 7th Street Metro Station, I learned a tactical lesson that I need to heed from that moment on. My mind was on lunch, my mind was on my knee, my mind was on the pain… My mind was not, however, on the fact that there are two platforms at the Julian Dixon Transit Center. Taking the wrong escalator will lead you to an exit point on Hope Street — several blocks away from where you intended to be at the 7th and Fig exit point.

“I think that cancels lunch,” I said with a huff in the empty Blue Line section of the station. I couldn’t make up my mind several times what to do — retrace my steps and correct any mistake I may have made or just leave and deal with what is in front of me — and must have walked another quarter mile inside the station while trying to make up my mind.

Ow. Ow. Ow. Stupid. Ow. Ow.

Back at the hotel — after a few hundred Ow’s from my elongated walk — I tried my best to sit still but couldn’t quite relax. I grabbed lunch in the Galleria and tried to figure out how bad things were. I knew it was likely just a strain but I still had plenty of walking to do before I’d be back in Tampa. Sometime later in the afternoon I asked the concierge desk where the nearest pharmacy was — and after explaining my situation, they pointed me across Flower street to the Uptown Drugs and Gifts shop. They didn’t say WHERE across the street… just across the street.

Now, if I had more free time, I would have loved to have gotten lost and walked around downtown and explored things. On a bum knee? Walking and walking up several stories of steps from Flower street to teh base of the Library Tower, back down to the intersection of Fifth and Flower… Well, it was a lost and found experience that I could have done without.

Social Nutwork

Here’s a quick way to either get on my bad side or get yourself flat out removed from my friends list on Facebook: Use status updates for advertising and only advertising.

I hate to break it to bloggers across the Internet but Facebook has a tool built in called Notes and that gives you the ability to import your RSS feed from your blog onto your profile.

Your status? That’s about you. That’s not for blog headlines, requests for people to become-a-fan-of through Facebook Pages or some other promotional crap like that. If you need help marketing your blog or site, there are plenty of tools out there on the web and plenty of better (less annoying) strategies regarding social media.

I add friends and networking contacts because I’m friends with them or they are colleagues. Sometimes it’s because I am a fan. But it’s a real big pet peeve of mine for someone to find the only use for their Facebook profile as a large EAT AT JOE’S advertisement.

A lost world — rest in peace, Michael Crichton

I started reading the works of Michael Crichton in late middle school and freshman year of High School. I read his stuff voraciously and found myself falling ever so joyfully into his worlds of tension and tech.

While I enjoyed the book version of the movie that had pulled me into Crichton’s world (Jurassic Park), it wasn’t my favorite book of his (though I found it wonderful when I did get around to reading it). Sphere, Congo, Eaters of the Dead (now known as “The 13th Warrior”) all entranced me. Disclosure, The Andromeda Strain… They both kept my mind tripping and the pages turning.

Of course, when I finally saw some of these movies on the big screen, I cringed. I scowled. I changed the channel. But when I read them, I fell into the works and was safe in a womb of fiction.

I think the only book that I couldn’t stand from Crichton was “The Great Train Robbery” — and at this point I cannot recollect the reason why I hated it so much. Might have to pick it up again sometime soon.

I heard the news that Michael had passed and was absolutely shocked. He was a talent, and he will be missed.

The last book I read and reviewed of his was Prey, you can check that out here.

Vote Calrissian

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

My issue is transit

The one local issue that I have hit on and written about over various mediums the last ten years is transit and mass transit here in the Tampa Bay area. This post isn’t supposed to be about hyping those letters, blog posts and what not though.

It’s an election year… Early voting is over and the bulk of those planning to vote in this country will do so on Tuesday. Me included.

So I took a look at my own ballot this afternoon on the Supervisor of Elections web site to see who would be running for what. I know who I will be voting for in several races (be it presidential, federal, state representation, school board, etc) except County Commission. I had thought to vote party line on everything but this is where I’ve gotten frustrated with either party involved: The planning in Pinellas County and it’s involvement in the region.

Which brings us back to transit.

I’ve got two county commission races on my ballot, both at-large seats here in Pinellas. One pits Rene Flowers against Nancy Bostock while the other pits Paul Matton versus Neil Brickfield.

I visited all four candidates web sites and… well, I’m a little upset. Yeah, a lot of citizens are upset over a lot of issues from the County Commission regarding their conduct (the Jim Smith land deal and other such things), seeing phrases like Restore Confidence in our local Government doesn’t surprise me, and seeing a heavy use of phrasing about responsible spending doesn’t surprise me with candidates of either party…

But where’s the beef?

Seriously, there is no true coverage of the issues on Bostock or Flower’s web page — one has banalities and another has nothing at all.

Matton and Brickfield aren’t much better — Neil has key phrases for stump speeches used on his site while Paul has essays about Accountability, Sustainability and Responsibility.

But as a voter, I am not looking for catch phrases or essays. I’m looking for an answer. An answer to a question that seems to be missing every election year in Pinellas County: What do you plan to do about transit issues?

Earlier this evening, I emailed all three campaigns and posed a variation of the same question:

know it’s AWFUL late in this election cycle to ask questions, but I was wondering about your stances on local transit and mass transit?

Are you for the go-it-alone version of transit solutions or are you a backer for the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority? Are you more inclined to support road projects or do you see a fixed-guide way (rail) form of transit as an integral part of Pinellas’ (and Tampa Bay’s) future?

These issues — planning, implementation, administration, funding and oversight of transit in the county and the region — have an effect on residents lives every day. It’s not in the same league as some party-line generality issues such as positions on guns, having military service to ones resume, position on marijuana or what not. Every time you step out your door and drive somewhere, walk somewhere, grab a bus somewhere, etc. you’re affected by how Transit is handled in the area.

I’ll post any replies here when they come in.

Update 11/03/2008 8:30 AM: Paul Matton replied to my email with a short line that didn’t really answer my questions:

before we go with rail we need to fix transportation as your commission I will do that

"The Natural" is the surest way to waste money

I’ve bought from Pizza Hut a total of 2 or 3 times in the last year with thanks to them raising prices and fees and the dropping of quality in their pies. I used to be a regular but now get better quality and better costing pies from other major chains and even the local neighborhood joint around the corner from where I live.

But on Friday, I decided to mix things up and ordered online once more from Pizza Hut, requesting “The Natural” medium pie (costing the same as what a large pie from other competitors would)…

And this proved to be the biggest waste of money I’ve spent on pizza in years, and the only contradiction to the saying “bad pizza is better than no pizza” that I have ever literally encountered.

Service wise, I could complain about gas fees still being $2.50 from Pizza Hut (hell, I will: drop your friggin’ fees, will you?!! Gas prices are DOWN!) but with an early delivery, there really was nothing to complain about… Until I actually tasted the pizza.

Now, I’ve spent money and time on DiGornio’s Harvest Wheat frozen pizza’s, I’ve wasted money on lower quality frozen brands without “Natural” tied to it’s name, I’ve pissed away cash on ingredients to make my own pie at home….

What I tasted mirrored upon the latter — like a home made pizza, made by an amateur with the quality of the cheese and crust to match. All for the low-low cost of $12.57 (plus 2.99 for a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi). That’s 15.50 for a home-made-quality pizza with a bottle of coke… Oh, plus tip.

A cardboard quality crust with a cheese that seemed straight from Kraft…

Suffice it to say, I’ll be spending my money on other pizza options in the future. I’m a regular with Domino’s. Jet’s Pizza is going to start offering online ordering soon… You can’t beat the Little Caesar’s pizza deals… And of course, DiGiorno’s pizza is a fantastic option compared to the ultra-convenience and shitty quality from Pizza Hut.

I realize that some pizza’s don’t get baked properly… But with a crappy cheese layer and a cardboard crust, the Natural was a crappy, crappy pie and I would have been better off sticking with their regular fare.