Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Goin' Nucular

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

Let me direct your attention to an interesting discussion going on over at Reason's Hit and Run regarding the pronunciation of "nuclear." Jimmy Carter has long pronounced it "nucular," just as George W. Bush does, but the former president, peanut farmer and nuclear engineer is not derided for his lack of intelligence in so doing.

It's easy enough to pick on other people's pronunciation, but hard to keep yourself to the same standard. In my experience, "nucular" is the preferred pronunciation of many folks who pronounce "coupon" as "kew-pon," and it's not entirely or even mostly a function of their level of education. I interchange "coo-pon" and "kew-pon," but manage to say "nuclear" mostly because of one junior high teacher who fixated on it.

Assailing pronunciation that does not impair communication is lazy elitism. That the chattering class engages in it is unsurprising, as its members possess an inflated regard for a particular brand of book-learnin' (call it "showy but shallow," as personified by Al Gore through most of the 2000 presidential campaign; John Kerry is trying to avoid it).

Besides, if Ted Kennedy can call Castro's island "Cuber," then what's the fuss?


Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Baseball blogging: I want to believe!

Hello Kari:

I suppose someday I'd consider getting season tickets. But it is pretty hard to go to that many games. Last year was a high water mark for me when I attended six Dodger games. So far, this season, I've gone to three.

Today, I placed an order for the current promotional, the summer six-pack, where you can get tickets for selected games in certain sections for 50% off. The current package configuration gets me these games:

August 8 vs. Philadelphia Phillies
August 16 vs. Florida Marlins
August 22 vs. Atlanta Braves
September 7 vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
September 11 vs. St. Louis Cardinals
October 1 vs. San Francisco Giants

Unfortunately, it looks like I may not be able to go to each game but I think I know enough Dodger fans such that I could give or sell them off to them. And there is always the option of utilizing the Craig's List phenomena.

Dodger fans have been led down this path the last few years with some hope; but in the end, the team runs out of gas and falls short.

We are all hoping this year it will be different!

It was 1988, sixteen years ago, when the Dodgers last made a big splash. The fans are hungry and are hoping that lightening will strike again with a team that on paper doesn't look like it has what it takes to go all the way.

The hitting is perking up. The bullpen has been spectacular. The worry is the starting rotation which traditionally has been the strength of the team. Perez and Weaver have been having good outings but run support has been lacking sometimes. Ishii manages to win even if he doesn't have his best stuff. I am concerned though as he has been hit pretty hard the last few outings. Lima and Alvarez have had to spot start for injuries and have done way better than expected. But their aging arms could be a problem if they wind up having to be the starters the rest of the way. Nomo and Jackson are in rehab and it is unclear whether they will return and how solid they would be if they do.

Nevertheless, I want to believe.

Go Dodgers!


Sunday, July 25, 2004

LA Scene: the "new" Hollywood Bowl

(Eleventh in a series of occasional posts on Los Angeles life)

HI Kari:

In one of the early posts in this blog, I mentioned the Hollywood Bowl.

Well, during the off-season since then, the Bowl has gotten a big face lift for the shell as well as a bunch of other technical upgrades.

Finally went to the newly renovated Hollywood Bowl to see the event last Sunday night. The Joffrey Ballet did Nutcracker Act 2. The costumes were lovely and I am always amazed at the blend of grace and strength in ballet. The night was closed out with a performance of Pictures of the Exhibition with fireworks. The audience was treated to two encores: Sabre Dance and Sleigh Ride.

Yesterday, in the Saturday paper of the Los Angeles Times there was an article about the upgrades and how the bowl can reconfigure the acoustical features for orchestral music, small ensemble jazz and world music and for full on rock concerts. Unfortunately, that online edition of the article requires paid registration to view so a link to it is probably not meaningful our audience. Instead, I'll share what from memory what I read from the actual paper edition.

The art and science of sound is familiar to LA culture watchers with the troubles with the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Almost everyone agrees that it is a vast improvement over the old Dorothy Chandler. Praise for how it handles unamplified orchestral music is nearly universal. However, when amplification has been used, Disney Hall has had problems. Also, reports of how the venue sounds for choral works has been mixed.

The renovated Hollywood Bowl faces different challenges as an outdoor venue capable of holding 18,000 people. For people in the cheap seats they hear a mix of direct sound from the orchestra and from the array of speakers aligned to spray sound to all sections of the Bowl audience. Then there are the people who pay large sums of money for box-seats very close to the shell who get mostly sound from the performers and some from the speakers.

There is also the challenge for the sound engineers who do much of their calibrating during the morning rehearsals when nobody is in the audience. As you might guess that is a completely different setting then the actual evening performance in the cool night air with thousands of humans sitting in seats!

But for most who go to Bowl events, we are quite content with how it sounds and we know the engineers will keep tinkering and get it so they like it. For the average Joe and Jane Angelino, the Bowl remains simply the signature venue and event for Summertime in Los Angeles for the enjoyment of music, food and companionship of friends.

Perhaps, someday, should you and your other half make it out to LA, you can hear it and enjoy it for yourself.

In the meantime, how about a few pictures?

Take care and be well,

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside

Hi-De-Ho Rene!
Well, we’ve done it. We’ve gone past the point of no return on our quest to get out of the suburbs. We did not head towards a thriving urban core. We headed back to our roots – back to the country.
Our offer was accepted on a home in rural Leavenworth County. It’s a few miles north and west of Kansas Speedway, which you had an inadvertent chance to view on your visit last month. We close in a month.
Isn’t it cute?

It sits on a little more than three acres, on an asphalt road that connects to other asphalt roads to Kansas Highway 7, then Interstate 70 into KC. (I point that out because other homes we looked at in the area were a few miles off blacktop, on gravel roads.) We will have neighbors on similar-sized lots, but across the road, it’s all farmland. The rear of the lot is wooded, with a creek cutting through the lowest elevation.
There are tradeoffs, of course. The nearest grocery store is about six miles away; the nearest hospital or movie theater 11. It will take the better part of a day to mow. We knew going in that cable TV would not be available, but there’s always DirectTV, Dish Network, or a good old-fashioned antenna. More significantly, we learned this week that the house is about a mile and a half too remote for DSL service. That means either a return to dial-up or an experiment with a wireless high-speed provider, either satellite- or tower-based. The hardware associated with the wireless options is pricey on the front end, which is scary when we don’t really know how well it would work. Any advice from you or readers will be appreciated.
On the economics lessons front, this search highlighted some things I found interesting: 
  • The last two homes I’ve bought – one on my own, this one with the Other Half – were listed by Realtors, but both had spent some time on the market, unsuccessfully, as For-Sale-By-Owner. The FSBOs are at a big disadvantage in reaching potential buyers. The Multiple Listing Service is not as accessible to them, and the MLS is the main way that buyers and their agents scour the market, either directly or online, at sites like this one (I had access through my agent; other sites, including, don’t require logins but are not updated as frequently). In any case, there is no way a newspaper classified ad can compete with the detailed information on the MLS.
  • It should have been obvious, but attached garages add more value per square foot than additional living space. One reason we could afford the home we’re buying is that the previous owners had converted the two-car, side-entry garage into an additional bedroom and a home school classroom. (They didn’t just seal the garage; they reclaimed the space, removing the overhead doors and reframing so that it no longer looks like a garage, inside or outside.) A home located a few miles away, also on 3 acres and with an otherwise identical floor plan, but with the two-car garage intact, is currently listed on the market for 10 percent more than the home we bought. Both homes also have detached workshop/garage outbuildings.
  • Despite the wonders of the MLS, nothing can beat seeing a house in person. We were drawn to four other homes in the area based on their MLS listings and online photos, but none of them were as good in person as online. (One was so deficient that we turned around on the front porch without even going inside.) Another home we were led to by a buyers’ agent had not interested us online, but in person was very impressive (and a bit above our price range). The home we’re buying was interesting online, but wowed us in person. Digital photos have a hard time capturing the broader setting of a home, particularly in a rural area. 

And keeping up the tradition of Virginia Postrel tie-ins, on the subject of housing bubbles, it’s safe to say that Kansas, even in the KC area, is a great place to buy. The own-to-rent ratio is great here; using Arnold Kling’s rule of thumb, the ratio of home price to monthly rent is very low – from 120 to 180. And that’s in the KC area – out where we’ll be, it’s hard to calculate the ratio, because very few rural homes are for rent. If you’re in it for the long haul, buying is by far the best option around here. 

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Doing my part to stimulate the American economy by buying a new car

Hey Kari:

Well, I did it. I went out and bought a new car.

I did my part to stimulate the American economy and, gasp, I even bought an American car!

As a fine mid-western gal, I have the feeling you have probably always had American cars?

You have to understand (and you probably do), us left-coasties have a fondness for foreign cars. Take a look at my workplace parking lot and you will see mostly foreign cars. And because I work near Beverly Hills, a lot of the cars are foreign luxury cars.

How about your parking lot at work?

My parents have had a few German ones. In my youth, I remember riding in my dad's VW Bug! I'm talking the original where the engine was in the back!! We also had a lemon of a VW Rabbit.

I have driven mostly Japanese cars. During graduate school, I had a Nissan Stanza. When it hit 60,000 miles it seemed like everything started to fall apart! I then had two wonderful Honda Civics. They are great little cars and I love them. One of them took me from LA to DC in 1993 and back in 1997. Alas, that car went to the salvage yard after an intersection collision a few years ago.

Anyway, my Nissan Maxima had turned 180,000 and I thought it was time to retire it. I was thinking used car but somehow I felt like going for a new one. Thus, the decision was not a financial one. As you say, the strictly financial choice would have been to stick it out with my Maxima.

Picking out a car

Talking to different people, I found myself steered towards the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus.

Toyotas are very popular and thus can command a high price and it was on the edge of my budget. I visited one dealership and made inquiries via the internet. Their stock of 2004s was pretty depleted and the 2005s were just arriving. There were certain features I wanted and most of the Corollas the dealers were pointing me to didn't have those features and they didn't seem too eager to push me into getting a 2005 ordered with the package of features I wanted. I wonder why they didn't push me in that direction? Odd, you think?

The Hyundai Elantra looks like a nice little car. But I have to confess the dealership experience left me a bit underwhelmed. At the Toyota and Ford they were pretty excited about describing the cars. I suppose they saw me as a walking piggy bank! The Hyundai dealership seemed... well, to be honest, dead. There were 2 people looking at a another car and that was about it. We are talking a nice Sunday afternoon when many of the dealerships had BBQs out making hot dogs for the customers!

I visited two Ford dealerships and they seemed pretty eager. I had heard on the radio that sales were below expectations and so I think they were getting antsy with all that inventory. The 2004 Ford Focus was being offered with $3000 rebates.

The $3000 rebate was tempting. But I needed a little more than that to go for a Ford, an American car.

My parent's experience with American cars has been mixed. We had a full-sized Chevy Monte Carlo a number of years ago. At the time, Japanese cars were only noted for economy cars. If you wanted something bigger and luxurious you had to buy American. The Monte Carlo was big but had its share of mechanical problems. There was the years we had a Chevy Monza and that too had some troubles. Currently, my dad is driving around in a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Initially, it had some electrical bugs which after several rounds of repairs eventually was resolved and the car is doing fine now.

Thus, my personal experience with American cars was not confidence inspiring. However, I have a friend who was an engineer at Ford and when I mentioned I was looking at a Focus he said they have come a long way in reliability. But I guess what clinched it for me was the Consumer Reports list of recommended cars. Absent was the Hyundai Elantra. Not surprisingly, the Toyota Corolla was there. What I didn't expect was the positive comments about the Focus.

I utilized the dealerships just to see and test drive the car. After that, I went to the Internet.

Settling on a price

I remembered that Postrel wrote in the NYT about her car buying experience. Excerpt:
Consumers who use Internet referral services pay about 2 percent less for their cars than people who shop the old-fashioned way, according to research by Professor Zettelmeyer, Fiona M. Scott Morton of the Yale School of Management and Jorge Silva-Risso of the Anderson Graduate School of Management at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Using data from J. D. Power & Associates and Autobytel, the economists tracked about 700,000 car sales in 1999 and early 2000. (Their paper is available at Comparing equivalent buyers who shopped online and offline, they found the exact opposite of what they had suspected.

"The people who use this medium," Professor Zettelmeyer said, "are those who in the offline world would have done worse than average." Internet referral services are, in effect, transferring money from car dealers to the consumers who used to pay the most.
Postrel further commented: On the Internet, it turns out, everybody gets the "white male price," even those of us who hate to bargain.

I went to to select three local dealerships to interact with. I picked one dealership via and I got one more at Autobytel.

I sought financing via a credit union and Capital One online.

Interestingly, after getting loan approval from Capital One, they connected me with a Ford dealership they have a relationship with. So I had contact with six dealerships.

From the internet salesman's perspective he (it seemed everyone I interacted with was male and I'm told most car sales people are male) has to figure out which are serious inquiries versus just price comparisons. How quickly can he figure out he has a live serious customer who is ready to buy? When he puts a price out there, he knows he is competing against other dealers via the internet. He has to put out a number low enough to get the attention of the buyer but still big enough so he gets a hefty commission. Too high a number and the contact goes cold. Too low and he is taking money from his pockets.

I also had a list of things I wanted: 4-doors, 5-speed, side air bags, ABS, moonroof and air conditioning.

The dealer has to decide, do I push a vehicle I have on the lot that has only 3 of the things this guy wants or do I broach a car from another lot that has more of what the customer wants. I learned that dealers trade cars with each other but sometimes they have to buy them off each other!

Anyway, in the end, one dealer seemed to pick up that I was serious and found a car that had 5 of the 6 features I wanted and fired back a quote that beat one of the other dealers who also found the SAME car! Other dealers were slower on the response and seemed to push cars with only 3 of the things I wanted and when I re-iterated my list some didn't respond while others moved slowly to broach cars closer to my "wish list."

Actually getting the car

Me and my buddy drove down to the dealership where the car was being washed and gas tank filled up. With the down tine, we chatted up the dealer and found out the manual cars are very rare these days. He said he knew of only four 2004 Ford Focus with stick shifts and he had to have his dealership buy it off the other dealership.

We took the car for a final test drive and was satisfied with the car. We then went to the finance office where time... shall we say ... stood still seemingly?

First thing they did was knock off a few fraction of percentages off the loan rate. I have to wonder if CapitalOne gets a piece of the action because they pre-approved the loan for me AND referred me to this dealer. Once on the dealership grounds, Ford promptly beat CapitalOne's rate. Admittedly, 4.49% down to 4.19% isn't much difference but it would seem to me that CapitalOne will always lose if Ford Financing feels the borrower is a reasonable risk.

Then the sales guy (not the same who I got the car price from) pushed various warrenty items. It was a hard pitch or at least it seemed hard to me being a new car buying newbie.

I hate to think how much negotiating there would be if I had to meet the used car trade-in guy, do in-house new car price negotiating (instead of low key internet pricing) and finally rassle with the finance/warrenty guy!

Well, eventually, I drove out with my new car.

I've been writing words and words so here is a photo.

News item: sales of Ford Focus do NOT go up with new blogger spokesmodel appearing with said vehicle.

Take care and be well,

P.S. Hey, maybe you could give pointers to readers who are in the house buying mode? Being in LA and on my salary, house buying is not on the horizon. 8-(

Friday, July 16, 2004

@ the movies: I, Robot

Hi Kari:

Is "I, Robot" on your list of movies to see?

Saw it Thursday night at a pre-release marketing event with the local ESPN station here in Los Angeles, KSPN-710.'s round-up has more positives than negatives. Yahoo! Movie's round-up has the critics less than impressed.

Our audience was overwhelmingly positive. However, given that it was an ESPN radio demographic, that might not be so surprising.

I'm giving it 3 stars out of 4!!

I've only read Asimov's Foundation series. In those (an initial trilogy which got two additional books decades later) books, the topic of robots did appear and his famous Three Laws of Robotics were discussed. The Three Laws are probably so well known that non-readers of his books have probably been exposed to the concepts.

And so the logic of the Three Laws seems to insure that things would go fine. Of course, Will Smith's character soon finds out that things are going wrong and he has to figure out what happened. He has to convince robotics engineer played by Bridget Moynahan to help him solve the mystery.

Will Smith and Bridget Moynahan in 20th Century Fox's I, Robot
The two stars in a production still. Image source:

Will Smith does have a certain type of character he often plays and indeed he is that here. And certainly the action set pieces are sort of obligatory in a summer action flick. The action sequences are quite well done and draw stylistically upon other films. Thus, there is a certain visual familiarity to the scenes but they feel they belong and are not so overwrought as to become boring.

Most importantly, the story line unfolds nicely and intelligently. The film applies the logic of Asimov's concepts quite well to the extent I understand Asimov's robotic notions. I found myself following along trying to figure out what was next. The humor in the form of some amusing banter between Will Smith and co-stars is pretty good. We aren't talking rolling in the aisle type of humor but its snappy enough for my tastes.

I'll be curious to see what you think.

I'm definitely giving it a big thumbs up to anyone who asks.

Have a nice weekend, Kari.

Be well,

P.S. Oh, and by the way, Happy Birthday!!!

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Around the internet: another quiz

Hi Kari:

Postrel links to this Slate quiz to give you a sense of where you are on that quiz's cultural spectrum of Red State-Blue State

I'm ... in the middle.


Monday, July 12, 2004

@ the movies: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


Are you part of HP fandom?

Can't say I am a fan. I've only read the first two books and only after the movies came out. Having said that though, I am enjoying the films and the books. The books are quick reads and enjoyable and even though I'm a middle-aged person, I still find the "finding your place in the world" and "self-discovery" of the Potter character quite interesting and moving.

The third installment is getting generally good reviews.

I finally saw the film Monday evening. In brief: 3 stars out of 4.

I think this episode is the best so far. The first two films, at times, gave me this feeling: we are going through the motions of making these movies because they will make boatloads of money. I didn't sense that in this edition. The young characters and the actors are growing into the roles nicely. The pacing of the story was good (they kept the Quidditch playing to a minimum this go around) and I liked how the concluding act was played out. Not having read the third book, I didn't know how the story would play out. Being a little on the dense side, I didn't forecast the plot twist so I was impressed.

Really loved Emma Thompson in her guest role. Michael Gambon has ably taken up Dumbledore. I also very much liked David Thewlis as the new Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts.

I was told that the books get "darker" as you go along. Indeed, visually, this film was literally darker than the first two films which is probably more in line with the flavor of the books. And the film visually darker feel tracks with the story telling where the Potter character is becoming more complex.

Finally, a few words about John Williams' score. I know we have some difference of opinion on his talents and I'm sure his work on this film and the Potter films in general won't shift anyone's views. In this go around, Williams got the chance to have a little fun scoring the multi-decker bus romp through busy streets at the beginning of the film. Beyond that though, the music is adequate. The main Potter theme is nice but beyond that the score doesn't really stand out but it did avoid being bombastic and distracting from the film which is sometimes a knock on some of his works.

For a big round up of reviews check here.

In the many minutes of trailers before the film I'm looking forward to: I, Robot which I maybe seeing on Thursday in a pre-release promotional showing and Thunderbirds which could be a total disaster but I grew up watching the puppet based TV show!


Thursday, July 08, 2004

Cultural Concurrence Index

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

Quick post today, just to point you and interested readers in the direction of a fun little quiz over at Terry Teachout's About Last Night blog on

In it, Teachout, the Wall Street Journal's drama critic, poses 100 either-or questions of preference (i.e., Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny?), then has a simple way to tabulate our responses to compare them to his preferences. He calls it the Teachout Cultural Concurrence Index -- although we can, by inference, use it to compare our own concurrence. Bet we could come up with a few of our own too. To wit:

Star Trek or Star Trek: TNG?
Dick York or Dick Sargeant?
Chet Atkins or Dr. Atkins?

You get the picture.

Anyway, on the TCCI, I checked in with 57% -- 53 of 93, with seven questions featuring at least one option with which I was not comfortably familiar enough to make a value choice.

Give it a whirl, and report back...


Saturday, July 03, 2004

Need your advice

Hi Kari:

I have a nice reliable car. However, it is closing in on 180,000 miles. I have several options:
(1) I'm guessing within the next 6 months something is bound to break down. It ain't a lemon it has 180,000 miles. I could go ahead and fix it at the cost of $500-1000. Such a repair will hopefully keep the car going for about another 2 years.
(2) I could go for a used car around $10,000 and that should last about 5+ years.
(3) I could get a new car for around $15,000-20,000 and that should last about 10+ years.

What do you think?

Be good and be well,

ed. note - this post is a repost as the prior version went buggy...


Kari said...

I forget who it is, but there's a financial advisor with a nationally syndicated program who says the car you have is always the best deal. He's talking financially, of course, because after some point it doesn't make sense to hold on to a car that either isn't safe or no longer meets your needs. His point, though, is that you pay a premium for anything you buy -- particularly new, but even used.
10:49:00 AM

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The most impressive baseball streaks

Howdy Kari:

Did you see this item over at

Starting Aug. 28, 2002, he has converted 83 consecutive save opportunities, 29 more than the previous record of 54 by Tom Gordon, and doubling the streak of any other reliever since the save rule became official in 1969. Gagne has accomplished this remarkable feat for a winning team, and with a hits-to-innings-pitched ratio that is Danny Almontean, a walk-to-strikeout ratio that is Koufaxian and a reliability that can only be described as Gagnenian.

So, how does his streak compare to other great streaks in baseball history, those of Joe DiMaggio, Cal Ripken and Orel Hershiser?
The 83rd save was notched tonight as he struck out the side and preserved a 5-4 win over the Giants.

The order of Kurkjian's comments is how he rates the streaks.

I have to say I can't disagree with his putting DiMaggio's streak at the top of the list. It is often said that hitting a baseball is the toughest skill of the major sports and the fact that DiMaggio got hits in 56 straight games is incredible.

I'm a little less certain about his putting Ripken ahead of Hershiser's streak. I assume in Ripken's 2,632 consecutive games, there were games where he didn't play all 9 innings? And I'm sure in some of the games he wasn't at his best or even close to his best.

For Hershiser to get 59 consecutive scoreless innings, he had to be pretty much on top of his game or close to it for quite a long stretch. Ripken's streak is a case where the sheer quantity makes a qualitative statement. But I'd put Hershiser's streak ahead of Ripken because of its qualitative difficulty.

I'll have to agree with Kurkjian in putting Gagne's streak as number four on this list. The save as a stat is not the most stringent as is consecutive games. But since Ripken's streak is so far and away beyond anyone else and in the era of managers and owners playing it safe with their star players, it is a record unlikely to be challenged thus it edges out Gagne's streak ... for now.

Have a fine fourth of July, Kari.


UPDATE: The streak is over. 84 saves! What a run Gagne had. I'm sure there will be articles detailing the stats of the streak in the sports pages but for now this excerpt will do:
Realizing that Gagne's streak was over, the crowd at Dodger Stadium gave Gagne a standing ovation as he stood on the mound with his head down.

Gagne retired the next two batters and got another standing ovation on his way to the dugout, before taking a curtain call to wilder cheers.

UPDATE: Here is some reaction from the blogosphere. Priorities and Frivolities (Tagorda) says:Through the franchise's ups and downs these past few years -- and, indeed, there have been many -- we've had one constant, supplied by our closer win after win after win. Tonight, "game over" it isn't in the middle of the ninth. But we still salute our man.

Tagorda links Baseball musings and Dodger Thoughts.

This item is an older post from Dodger Thoughts describing the atmosphere and stats of the Gagne phenomena.