2011-01-31

Sponsoredwhips.com is a scam

I saw an advert for this service on Facebook, so I thought, let me try out "Sponsored Whips." I heard about legitimate services like this one before, so there was no reason to immediately suspect a scam: Some companies pay up to $400 a month to wrap your vehicle in vinyl covered with marketing messages and branding.

I got a little suspicious however when the web site started playing music on load. But considering that the target demographic may actually like it, along with the sexist imagery, I decided to ignore that and filled in their application form.

A day later I got a phone call from a dude who said that he was surprised that as a race car driver, I still didn't have a sponsor. He sweet-talked and flattered, and used many social-engineering tricks to play on greed and ego.

I am not a bad social engineer myself, and picked up on that very fast, so it was not a surprise at all when he said that now that he has pre-qualified me, I'd need to pay $190 to "process the paperwork" and set me up with sponsors.

I said this sounded weird and asked for reference customers or maybe a visit with a local rep, so I could meet them in person. No, he could not disclose customer information for privacy reasons, and I could not meet anyone from the company either. "Not unless you want to fly out to Delaware!" he said.

Hmmmm.

I said I needed to think, and he countered that maybe I was not the right kind of person to be a "brand ambassador." To which I said, I had a car on the lift and needed to go, and he hung up without a goodbye.

A brief search online revealed that this outfit is a scam.

Reading through the reports of people who got ripped off, I noticed that the dude varies the amount he asks for "processing" of the application -- probably based on the person's car and what is the maximum amount he estimates his mark is likely to be able to spend without thinking too much, during the phone call.

Anyways, if you see this ad on Facebook, please mark it as a scam. I did, and I don't see it anymore, but I am not sure it actually got removed entirely, or is just not shown to me. I left a comment when deleting the ad, but doubt that Facebook ad people read everyone's comments, so a concerted effort may get this shut down, or at least removed from a popular platform.

Please pass this on, and let's spoil the scammer's game!

2011-01-29

Rosenblum Vintner's Circle Zinfandel

Trader Joe's has many good wines at really good prices, but I can never remember which are which. So last week I began logging my adventures in Trader Joe's wines in hopes of avoiding repeating my mistakes. And of course, being able to repeat the good experiences won't suck either.

Today, I give you the Rosenblum Vintner's Circle Zinfandel.

Decidedly not awesome. Nice color though. Pretty sharp on the palate, with a strong metallic finish.

It got slightly better with prolonged aeration, or possibly higher blood-alcohol level.

2011-01-27

Engine blues

Explosions are cool. But when they happen in an engine cylinder at the wrong time, they are called detonations and then they're not really so cool anymore.

That's what happened in my little Miata's engine. As a result, it began using a bit of oil and also lost some compression.

On a leak-down test, we measured eight percent compression loss, and when we looked inside the cylinders with a scope, we saw scoring on walls and piston heads in cylinders One and Four.

The current theory is that detonation was caused by a temporary leaning out of the mixture after my car sucked in some gunk (it's a technical term!) through the intake. The two cylinders that are on the same cycle are both affected, while the other two are a-okay.

For now I will continue running the car as-is and see if it deteriorates any further. The engine is a Rebello, built in 2006. It is still going strong, even with the compression leak, and can pull on bone-stock Miatas in a straight.

When the time comes, this engine will come completely apart, and the block will be honed and rings redone, a valve job too--the whole nine yards.

Another idea is to build a whole new race engine while this one is nearing the end of its useful life. It wouldn't be a bad idea at all to have a spare race engine.

Luckily I got time to figure it all out, and there's no real need for immediate action.

2011-01-26

В. Высоцкий: Песня о двух красивых автомобилях

If you know me, you'll know that I am not into sappy romantic stuff at all. But there is one love song that gets me every time. Little wonder that it is about cars.

I always imagine the two cars as a gull-wing silver Mercedes and a sleek red Ferrari Daytona.

This song was written and performed by Vladimir Vysotsky, an actor and singer-songwriter who was active in the dark Soviet ages. Because his songs were frequently openly critical of the regime, he could not record in a state-run studio, and so all we're now left with are amateur tapes recorded at live performances, like this one.

Song about two beautiful cars


Without limits, leaving no tracks,
Burning tires on the asphalt
From the nightmare of the cities
Cars are tearing down the road:
Huge, tank-like
Fords, Lincolns, Selenes,
Elegant Mustangs,
Mercedes, Citroens

As if they know that this game's worth the risk
This will be like a blood revenge to the cities!
Faster, just don't foul the spark plugs,
Carburetor... and whatever they got there.

You can't see the pavement
For all the sedans
And among them like two bright spots
Two beautiful cars.
As if connected by a tow line
(There's the weakest link).
Throttles, intakes
Can't help here anymore.

As if they know that this game's worth the risk.
Just get out, they will make it all worthwhile.
Maybe he'll talk to her
With his horn, or whatever they got.

This mass of cars
Holds the grudge against you
Hey there, silver sedan,
Don't lose sight of her!
Look ahead, there's an interchange-
More risk and more faith!-
You will miss her! And you did--
You were late, silver.

They knew, this game was worth the risk,
Why bother honking at billboards now?
Maybe that's a weight off his chest,
Or his bonnet, or whatever they got.

This interchange was bad luck,
Separated, and now you aren't here.
Don't interchanges
Ever bring us closer together?
Look! This one does!
And switching to seventh
Silver sedan forgot to brake.

Is finding each other an idle dream?
Is it our blood revenge to the cities?
Wheels, axles scattering,
And hearts... or whatever they got.

1968

Original Russian lyrics here.

2011-01-25

Lazy Bones cabernet franc

I know it is a bad idea to buy a wine for its label. But with a label
that could have been drawn by my hero Aubrey Beardsley himself, did I really have a choice?

At $6.99, the price was not boding well for me, but I boldly stuck it in my Trader Joe's shopping cart, along with a wild mushroom and truffle flatbread, for dinner.

Upon arrival at home, I put the flatbread in the toaster oven and opened the wine. I have to say, it turned out to be a very, very decent table wine indeed. Kinda strong, but I like that sort of thing. Not too fancy, or balanced, or refined, or any of those things that you have to pay real money for, with a fairly light--dare I say watery?--finish, but hey, it's still quite drinkable.

All in all, a perfect wine to wash down some tasty dinner with, and finish the bottle on the couch watching Top Gear. Because I can't stand Clarkson sober, and the Stig looks even sexier with elevated BAC.

2011-01-24

Just do it (TM)

You know what I think is going to kill us all? Our fear of getting hurt, and our desire to protect everyone from any potential harm, that's what!

Literally, this shit can kill you. Almost killed me!

Of all the dangerous activities I partake in, such as racing and martial arts, it happened in a yoga class.

I shit you not.

I came very close to having my trachea broken, and it all came out of the best of intentions.

Now taking a step back, I am a big believer in the "just go for it" strategy of learning something new. Children don't learn to walk with crutches (at least historically they did not), and just like with children, experiential learning is usually best with me. Could be the case for you too, but I'm definitely not a fan of training wheels on anything.

You want to learn something, you do it. The real thing. As good you can, and if you fall on your face, you get up and try again.

So I was in the yoga class, and trying to do this pose called the Crow, where you place your palms on the floor and crouch and place your knees on your arms just above your elbows and balance in this manner on your two hands.

This is how it looks.

Note that I am not the one in the picture, and that's because I can't do it yet. But I try. And I fail. A lot. And I try again. And I laugh a lot when I land on my butt.

Now last week, the usual yoga instructor who is very encouraging about "just going for it" was not there, and the substitute instructor was all into playing it safe and respecting your limits. So seeing me flop about on the mat and giggling like a fool trying to make the Crow pose work, he came over with a yoga block and the best of intentions--to help.

He suggested that it's a good idea to place the block vertically underneath your forehead and rest your head on that in hopes that this will make you more stable and you will be able to pretend to "balance" on three points.

Fine, I am always open to suggestions, so I decided to try this.

I placed my forehead on the block, got my knees onto my arms, lifted one food (Baby Crow) and then courageously pushed off with the other.

Well, I must be the wrong kind of person for this cautious technique, because I pushed off with too much vigour and enthusiasm, and fell forward (which was not unusual), with the yoga block still vertical and positioned strategically underneath my throat as my head was nearing the floor.

I somehow was able to put my hand in front of my face and catch my fall quickly enough not to break my trachea. But boy was I excited afterward!

Bottom line, next time I try the Crow, there will be no block anywhere near, and probably a lot of falling. Which is fine by me.

2011-01-23

Making more progress still


A few months ago, I bragged about making some progress on improving the community website that has been entrusted to my purview. If you think that was awesome, wait till you see how great it has become since!

To be fair, I was not the only one working on making it better, but it is mah baby, so true to tradition of shoving pictures of your progeny into everyone's face whether they like it or not, here it is!

Ta-da!

Note that most, if not all, static marketing content has been banished from the landing page and replaced with dynamic feeds of things that can be of interest to a first-time visitor, as well as to a community veteran.

For the former, we have the tabs up top presenting the different aspects of our community: VMTN forums (don't ask, name will be fixed), Twitter, Blogs, Facebook, and YouTube. Then there are also the "did you know" links pointing to the FAQs and video demos of how to use the newly-upgraded page. Hard to miss, in the middle, is an a-la-carte type menu of all the things we invite you to do on our community site, with nifty graphics.

Now if you are no longer a bloody n00b, you can be interested in unanswered questions and the VMTN blog feed. Top member stats serve to encourage healthy competition to collect points earned by answering questions.

And of course navigation (a new addition!) is there for everyone, as well as the search.

I am particularly proud of the fact that the majority of content on this page is not static and that it helps drive the user's focus and get them to explore different aspects of our community. Also of note is how short this page is. If you are looking at it on a decent-size monitor, you will be able to see it all on one screen.

Now that there is a blog feed on the front page, I have begun posting on the VMTN blog, and I think I like it. It's a much better tool for communicating out things like moderator elections, site improvements, new features, events, etc. Before I had this channel, I tried using Twitter for that, but mostly just did nothing. Now I find that I also use Twitter more, because I can better separate what goes into which channel and communication flows nicer.

Anyways, that's it from the work front for now. Comments are open as always, if you want to pat me on the shoulder or make suggestions for what else can be done to improve the site.

2011-01-20

Red dress


I frequently take inspiration for my pieces from the materials I work with. This drawing was based on an old sketch I found in the stack of unused paper while looking for inspiration.

The paper seems to be some sort of a brown packing or wrapping paper which is smooth on one side and rough on the other. I used the rough side.

I have all sorts of interesting papers in that pile, from glossy photographic print paper to wallpaper swatches and polymer sheets.

The sketch had just the skyline and some Chrysler Tower detail, and the figures have asked to be put in front of the cityscape.

Most of this drawing is done in waterproof black ink. Some was done with brushes, and some with dip pen. The sky is painted with a transparent sepia ink. The rough paper would absorb the ink unevenly, making for the funky stripey effect. I used dry ink stick for the red dress. Don't get to use my ink stones often, so this was cool.

The scanner got the colors all wrong BTW, but I like the effect, so I left it as-is. Anyways, I think I will begin blogging my art more from now on. It's much less hassle than maintaining the static web site.

High quality giclée prints are available. 8x10" $30; 4x5" $17 - plus shipping. Other sizes can be priced upon request.

2011-01-16

Jump already


It seems like everybody on the intartubes is either talking about suicide or committing one these days, so I thought I'd chime in.

Earlier this week, a wannabe "suicide" dude was sitting on a bridge railing, threatening to jump, so the authorities closed off the bridge during rush hour to talk the idiot down.

As to be expected from a dramatic standoff, the dude did not jump and let himself be talked down by the police officers. But even after he was long taken to a cozy psychiatry department somewhere, the chaos he has caused by disrupting peak traffic continued.

Thousands of people lost hours of their lives. A conservative estimate of only 100,000 people losing an hour each in traffic jams gives us 11.5 years lost collectively. A great trade indeed. Instead of taking his own life, the dude nickel-and-dimed a whole bunch of people out of theirs.

I say, you want to jump, jump. If you want help, go talk to someone and don't be an asshole.

I have been thinking about moral aspects and implications of suicide for a long time, and my view is that suicide is an acceptable solution to an individual's problems. I do not think that everyone should be forced to continue on if the suffering is too hard. Suffering can be mental or physical. If it hurts, it hurts, and outsiders can't objectively judge another's experience.

The narcissistic pseudo-suicides who in reality want to be "talked down" are just discrediting those who actually make a rational choice and trivialize it by making people think that everyone can be "helped," and that help equals life.

As I am writing up this post, I expect some people's reaction to be "OMG, Alex, but you are so wrong! Life is good!" As if this conversation is about whether life is good. And as if every life was good.

Don't get me wrong, I don't wish the Dumbarton Bridge dude had actually jumped, I just wish he found a more rational way to get attention and help.

Since that's exactly what we ask of people who are planning to actually kill themselves: to be considerate of the impact their death will have on others. So why wouldn't it be reasonable to ask pretend suicides to consider the pain and disruption they are causing too?

I do realize that all of this ranting on my part is gratuitous and not really constructive. But I feel strongly enough about this issue to share my thoughts here with you. Comments are open.

2011-01-15

Q2 radio: Modern classical music rocks

Not like I have been searching much, but today I have finally found a classical radio station that does not suck. Too bad that it doesn't have an iTunes podcast. Well, I will have to listen on my computer then.

Your run-of-the-mill classical radio stations usually play the equivalent of "oldies but goodies," and while there's nothing wrong with the good old stuff, there's only that much Mozart and Tchaikovsky that one needs in a year. Classic radio usually exceeds my annual maximum dose in one month.

It's like the time has stopped for them back in the early 20th century, while there are hundreds of people writing modern classical music like the awesome stuff I am listening to as I write this post.

I bet this is how Wagner and Tchaikovsky and Mozart sounded to their contemporaries back in their day: Fresh, innovative, and edgy.

But it seems that the old farts in charge of classic radio today can stand the new classical music as little as they could stand death metal. I can tell by the ads on the radio that i have about another 35 years before I become their target demographic. And even then, I hope I will not come to a mental stasis.

2011-01-13

Dewar's tasting in SF

Went to a whisky tasting the other night. Was pretty cool and I learned a lot. Like that the year on the bottle of blended whisky is the age of the youngest liquid used in the blend. And that in order to maintain the flavour profile of the whisky, 50+ different whiskies can be used in different combinations over the years.

At the tasting, each of us were given a little chemistry set and a selection of whiskies to use for blending. The whiskies were ordered according to the dominant flavour note: Floral, fruity, honey, vanilla, and smoke. In vials in front of the whiskies were samples of the real thing: some dried lavender petals, an orange zest, honey, vanilla, and peat.

After listening to the brief history of the Dewar's company and some of the basics of whisky making, we in the audience got to try our hand at mixing our own blend. I tried, but in my heart of hearts I still preferred the simple unadulterated smoky flavour of the single malt.

Islay single malts have my vote. Particularly since I got to try that 40+ year Bowmore that I could still taste hours later, after enjoying just a few tiny sips.