Saturday, July 29, 2006

So why are there no tall blogs?

Because being tall is so incredibly boring? I mean there are scads of fat blogs, and I don't think being fat is any more interesting than being tall. More common, maybe. Short people blog, but being tall is much more difficult than being short.

Car to hurry in

Yesterday, late for a meeting, I found myself needing to travel from an outer suburb of Boston (Natick) to an inner suburb (Newtonville) in a hurry. This turned out to be a perfect application for the Mini Cooper S.

Each control (steering, throttle, and brake) has immediate response and prodigious range. As soon as you see a gap in traffic, you can fill it. Not just because the car is small, but it's also fast and it changes direction quickly.

The only limiting factor is how obnoxious the driver is willing to be.

New cell phone

I have a pretty good job, but just recently I was given a bunch of new responsibilities that entailed a lot of talking on the phone with folks in other parts of the planet. I really loath talking on the phone, so I extracted from my boss an agreement to get a company-paid cell phone.

I ordered a Motorola RAZR phone, because it was compact and seemed to have good battery life. I have it now, and with the exception of a couple of odd usability choices, I'd have to say it's a pretty good phone.

I happened to come across the first cell phone I ever owned, which by chance was also a Motorola from the late 1990s. I thought it was interesting to compare the size of the two phones:

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Small cars

As you can see by the list of cars I've owned (and that I now own), I like small cars. This is ironic, of course, since I am anything but small myself. Now that I drive the Mini on a daily basis, I get a lot of razzing about being so tall while driving such a small car.

I'm not sure why I like small cars so much. They're generally fun to drive, since they have low polar moment and less inertia sloshing around. I like that making a car lighter creates a positive feedback loop (a lighter car can use smaller brakes, which makes it lighter, which means it can use a smaller engine, which makes it lighter...).

People often wonder why, since I'm so tall, I don't drive a big car or SUV. Being 205cm tall, the first thing I look for in a car is how roomy it is for the driver, and I have not found any correlation between exterior size and interior room. Some cars that I have looked at that have excellent room:
  • Mercedes E-class, S-class
  • BMW 3-series and 5-series
  • Mini Cooper
And some cars that have rotten interior space:
  • Porsche Cayman
  • Porsche 911 (1965-1986, 1999-on)
  • Ford Explorer/Expedition
  • Nissan Quest
Being tall has kept me out of some cars that I would have loved to own:
  • Formula Ford
  • Mazda Miata

The circus

My son is just getting to be old enough to enjoy the circus.

The last time we went, he was such a mass of fidgets that I didn't really enjoy it. But this time, he made it through nearly the entire show, and I had a great time. I especially enjoyed the clowns and the trapeze artists.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bottom freezer refrigerator

I'm visiting relatives today, and they have a normal refrigerator with the freezer on top and the refrigerator on the bottom. Bending over to fish a gallon of milk out of the refrigerator made me realize how much I like our refrigerator at home. The refrigerator section is on top, so it's easy to reach the stuff you use every day, like milk. The freezer is on the bottom. I love it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Field of grass

My neighbor has a 20 acre field behind his house, which he uses to grow hay (and thus save money on his taxes, as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a program to abate taxes for active farming operations). With his permission, I walk across this field on my morning walk, and lately as I'm walking back, the sun is rising above the field.

If you stand in just the right spot, you can see the twin white chimneys on his house rising above the field of hay, creating the feeling that Wyeth's Christina evokes in me:

Something that made me happy this morning.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


The BMW wagon is now almost six years old, five of those years with us. It has 54,000 miles on it, and I've spent this weekend fixing little broken bits, like a new cup holder and a new exterior temperature sensor. A couple of weeks ago, I had Landshark Automotive in Natick change all of its fluids (brake, coolant, transmission, final drive, and engine oil). It is going to need new tires soon, and it has a bit of a shimmy at 62 MPH, which I think is from worn bushings in the front trailing arms.

I'm hoping this car will serve our needs well for another five or six years, and I also figure that giving it a nice wash can't hurt:

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Not having to work weekends

The workload at my job fluctuates, like most jobs. It's been pretty intense lately, and last weekend (and on my vacation the week before) I needed to spend some time working, just to keep up.

But this weekend, all I really need to do is take an hour or two to go through my e-mail inbox and clear out the debris from the last two weeks.

Plus no social engagements and no travel.

So I can mow the lawn.

Something simple that I like.

How rare?

The 99th percentile for the height of adult USA males might be 6' 3 5/8" (192 cm). So if you're 6' 4" tall, you're taller than 99% of other adult males.

If you're 200 cm tall (6' 6 3/4"), then you're taller than 99.98% of other adult males.

If you're 205 cm tall (6' 8 5/8") like me, then you're taller than at least 99.999% of other adult males. Among the US population, you are taller than all but about 7,000 other adult men.

Which is why, in my life, I have only met 2 people who were taller than me. And one of them was Robert Parrish.


Three oddball toy cars that my darling wife gave to me:

Replica of a wind-up tin toy (even the tires are folded tin) loosely modeled Malcolm Campbell's Bluebird LSR car:

LEGO model of Michael Schumacher's Ferrari F1 car, circa 2001:

Automoblox C9 sports car:

No reason, just for fun.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

BMI (Body Mass Index) for tall folks

If you went through high school physics, you probably learned the cube rule: as you increase the size of an object, the surface area increases by the square of the linear size while the volume increases by the cube. Thus, if an object is twice as big in linear size, it has four times the surface area and eight times the volume.

The (often discredited) BMI or body-mass index formula is designed to provide a quick estimate of whether one is underweight, of normal weight, or overweight. The formula assumes that weight increases with the square of height rather than the cube, so it tends to overstate the BMI for tall folks.

This page provides a calculator which adjusts for this effect.

Extremely lame Mini swag

I received my "Motoring Welcome" kit in the mail from Mini yesterday. Truly some of the lamest swag ever:

- "Buy a Mini" trading cards to hand out to my "like-minded" friends
- Window placards with such charming messages as "Hey, Sexy"
- A cheesy ballpoint pen
- A really cheap Moleskine knock-off notebook from China
- Various come-ons for Mini financing
- A duplicate roadside assistance card

The only remotely cool item was two "Interstate Bingo" cards. Of course they were bent in half by the ape who packed the box.


I have to say, I've really grown fond of blogger. It's so easy to create a reasonably good-looking blog, easy to add pictures and other media, and easy to post videos. I'm running four blogs now, and I just like it. Free, easy, satisfying. Something simple that I like.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Casual Male thinks I'm "freakish"

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Casual Male CEO David Levin displays the contempt with which he regards the customers of Casual Male Big and Tall, recently renamed Casual Male XL.

Q. What exactly makes the name XL more palatable than Big and Tall?

A. It is strong. It exudes confidence. Whereas big and tall is like, 'I am a freak.'

Other tidbits from the interview include a discussion of the travails of getting "premier" clothing labels to manufacture (or license the manufacture of) large sizes:

Q. Casual Male XL has persuaded elite brands to manufacture big and tall sizes. Why did it take them so long?

A. These brands do a lot of aspirational, inspirational-type branding. To see it on a big size — they don't want to go there. It took us a year to work with Reebok, to have them shop our stores and realize that a lot of these customers are jocks themselves. These were football players and basketball players so why would you not try to continue the brand heritage into those sizes?

I find Mr. Levin's cynicism breathtaking. In an earlier interview with the Boston Globe, he said:

Q: You recently changed the name of stores from Casual Male Big & Tall to Casual Male XL. Why such a fuss over a few letters?

A: The big and tall market is a $6 billion business. It was puzzling why our market share -- at $430 million -- was so small. We got a focus group together of men those sizes who never shopped at Causal [sic] Male. We asked them what their perception was and it was alarming. They thought we didn't carry their sizes, that we don't have their brands, and that our clothes are for older men. When we asked them about the big and tall market, they said: 'We're not those guys. Those are obese guys, overweight guys.'

Q: But these sound like big and tall men. Aren't they?

A: Even though at a 42- or 44-inch waist, they are pretty big guys, it's a matter of self-perception. Today, we don't think we're as old as we are, as big as we are. We don't look in the mirror and see ourselves that way. Lazy, fat, and unmotivated were what they associated with the words big and tall. XL, though, that's powerful, that's masculine. So the light bulb went off.

It's wonderful for David Levin's wallet, I'm sure, that he has figured out how to sell clothes to overweight men without forcing them to admit that they are overweight. But what about tall guys? Casual Male retail stores do not stock any pants with inseams longer than 36 or waist sizes smaller than 44.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Many (OK, ten) years ago, I lived in the small town of Maynard, MA. I lived at the edge of the town forest, which abutted a large, abandoned US Army facility.

Then, as now, I love to walk in the woods, so I used to venture from the town land onto the Army land. The annex was, I think, about 600 acres, and it included some truly beautiful wetlands. I particularly enjoyed exploring the old networks of roads. You could see the traces of the original farm roads (the Army seized the property during WW II) overlaid with the newer paved roads used by the base. There were numerous abandoned ammunition bunkers as well. At that time, the annex was not open to the public, and in fact was actively patrolled, so you had to be on your toes to enjoy a decent walk.

When the toxic cleanup and remediation is finally completed, I believe that the land is going to remain undeveloped. I also understand that the bulk of the land is to be opened for hunting, which is great for hunters but not so good for everybody else.

What brought this to mind was a walk I took yesterday, to the abandoned US Air Force base in Truro, Massachusetts on outer Cape Cod. The same derelict buildings and roads, but this time sited on a 200-foot high bluff overlooking the Atlantic ocean.

I really enjoy walking through abandoned ruins, even modern ones. People (and societies) are happy to talk about themselves, but it's what they leave behind that really tells their stories.

Garage Queen

Well not really, but ever since I got the Mini, I only take the Porsche out for fun, and only on nice days.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

911 Handling

The Porsche 911, especially the pre-964 cars (1965 through 1989, except the 1989 Carrera 4), have a bad reputation for handling, particularly unexpected oversteer.

The first time I took my 911 on the track, it was with a fair bit of trepidation. But I found that when driven normally, it handled wonderfully. Brake steadily for the turn, begin turn in while the brakes still on (to get some weight on the front), then steady throttle to the apex, followed by full throttle from the apex to the exit. At any point in the turn, minor throttle adjustments can be used to trim the line. Perfect, just like a race car.

I've done a fair amount of racing and time trialing, and I've also done a lot of instructing at BMW and Porsche driver schools, and I would say that a Porsche 911 also serves as an excellent error amplifier. For example, if you get on the throttle before the car is turned into the corner, you will experience tremendous understeer. React by cranking in more lock and easing off the gas and you will experience a dramatic shift to oversteer (as the cranked front wheels find grip) followed by tail-first exit. Or if you come in to a turn too hot, turn in to early, then get off the gas in mid turn, same scenario.

But in the hands of a capable driver, what a thrill:

Land conservation groups (in general), Mass Audubon (in particular)

When I need a simply sublime experience of the outdoors, I head for one of Mass Audubon's sanctuaries. Mass Audubon sanctuaries are masterpieces of land management. The sanctuaries provide extensive, protected wildlife habitat, wonderful passive recreation (walking trails), and extensive educational programs.

I'm a big fan of land conservation groups in general, such as the Trustees of Reservations (TTOR), but Audubon is one of my favorites. The three sanctuaries that I know the best are Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, Wellfleet Bay, and Broadmoor in South Natick.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Deer fly defense

During their relatively short breeding season, four to five weeks in June and July, the deer fly (Chrysops discalis) can make life miserable for the dedicated woods walker. These flies feed by dive-bombing the victim, quickly slashing a hole in the skin, secreting saliva with irritating chemicals that increase blood flow, then eating blood from the wound.

These flies typically feed on large mammals. They are attracted to the plume of carbon dioxide that typically emanates from such mammals, as well as to the movement of large dark shapes. Their brute-force feeding style does not work well on fur-covered surfaces, so the flies tend to seek out parts of the body without protection, such as the eyes and ears.

In my experience, the use of DEET-containing repellent has absolutely no effect on deer flies. What does work is to wear a broad brimmed felt hat. The flies lock on to your CO2 plume, then home in on the hat, then dive in and attempt to feed madly on the brim of the hat. Their behavior pattern is fixed. They do not attempt to move around on the victim prior to feeding; the dive bomb and instantly start chewing.

Discovering this quirk of deer fly behavior has really improved my experience of the woods this time of year!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Spare tires

My BMW has the best spare tire in the world: The spare wheel is an OEM alloy that matches the four on the car, as does the tire, a 235/45-17 Michelin Pilot. Any kind of flat tire or wheel damage and I can pop on the spare and continue my journey for any distance at any speed. If the tire must be replaced, it is a standard size available anywhere.

The Porsche has a temporary service spare which must be inflated using a pump prior to use. It has restricted speed and distance limits.

The Mini has no spare. The tires are run-flats, which can be driven on with zero air pressure for a limited distance (120 miles) at a limited speed (50 MPH). Once they've been run flat, they must be replaced. They are not commonly available, especially outside of the core Mini markets (the Northeast, California, and the Pacific Northwest).

The two types of tire problems that I've experienced in my motoring career (not counting delaminating retreaded tires) have been slow-to-fast leaks caused by nails in the tread and catastrophic loss of pressure caused by bending the wheel rim on potholes. The former can typically be repaired, and as long as you keep pumping up the tire, aren't a big deal. The latter, of course, require a new tire and a new wheel.

To make the Mini more useful and usable, and to reduce the chances of needing to buy a new run-flat tire just because I pick up a nail, I assembled the following on-board tire kit:

The items in the kit fit, more or less neatly, in a small bag:

which in turn nestles happily in my newly installed euro parcel tray:

I also purchased the smallest tire pump that I could find, which fits easily in the glove compartment:

I'm going to live with the run-flat tires for a while, but I expect to ultimately replace them with regular tires with better performance characteristics.