Friday, January 23, 2009

What I drove: Mazda 3

Not every vehicle I test drive can be a fully-loaded luxury car. Some are just good old-fashioned, reliable, economical, affordable sedans, like this week's Mazda 3.

It's your basic compact sedan, with one significant difference: This $18,000 car is really fun to drive. It's got a lot of get up and go, with its 2.0-liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine pumping out 148 horsepower (more than many of its competitors). And that's plenty of power for this small car that likes to go.

This is a car I would actually consider buying and could actually afford -- unlike many of the vehicles I get to test drive.

The Mazda 3 is sporty and fun to drive. It craves the curves, zipping along equally well on twists as it does on straight-aways. The car feels connected to the road with responsive steering and handling, thanks in part to the four-wheel independent suspension. And if you have to end the fun and stop quickly, electronic brakeforce distribution evenly sends brake power to the wheels to prevent nose dives.

Equipped with variable-valve timing, the Mazda 3 gets good gas mileage — 22 miles per gallon city/30 mpg highway, with the automatic transmission and 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway with a manual transmission.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What I read: "Watchmen" by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

I finished reading "Watchmen" last week and have been putting off writing about it, because, frankly I'm not sure what to say about it. With all the buzz surrounding the upcoming movie based on this graphic novel and the fact that TIME Magazine has named it one of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923, I'm a bit intimidated to say anything negative about it.

I should start by saying this is the first graphic novel I've ever read. And yes, I'm a bit of a snob about it. I don't think a graphic novel should be classified as a "novel" on a list of best novels. I don't think it's fair. Regardless of how great the graphic novel is, I feel like it's a bit of a cheat -- if a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words did this author not have to write to tell this story?

That said, I didn't hate "Watchmen." I found it intriguing and the characters likable and unlikable in turns. Good and evil are not black and white, and there are some funny moments, some scary moments and nail-biting moments.

On the other hand, I can't say I would put this book on par with titles like "1984," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "The Great Gatsby," "Beloved" and "The Grapes of Wrath." I think the editors of TIME Magazine might have wanted to show how cool they are by including a graphic novel.

I'm not sure if I would have included "Are You There God? It's me, Margaret" either. I always preferred "Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing."

Check out TIME Magazine's full list here.

(And no, I haven't read every book on the list.)

This is probably why we don't have kids

Ripley's a pretty good sport when it comes to tolerating our game of Let's Put Packing Materials on the Dog. She will demand treats when it's over.

I imagine kids put up with such nonsense until a certain age, but they can hold grudges and have the power to put you in a bad nursing home when you get old.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What I drove: Ford F-150

Although it doesn't really make sense for most of us to own a full-size pickup truck, they are pretty fun to drive. I recently drove the newly-redesigned Ford F-150. It gets ridiculously low gas mileage (14 miles per gallon city and 18 mpg highway) and is almost 20 feet long. But it has a presence, and if you need a truck, I think the Ford is the way to go.

I'll probably get grief from my GM-loving family, and my practical- (and green-) minded friends will probably scold me for promoting this truck. But I can't help it, I just really love this truck. I would never own it, but it was a sweet ride. The test truck was loaded with goodies, like 18-inch bright aluminum wheels, dual-zone automatic temperature control, power-adjustable pedals, leather-trimmed seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and climate controls, as well as power-adjustable, heated sideview mirrors, with integrated turn-signal indicators and auto-dimming driver-side feature. Additionally, the test vehicle has heated and cooled front seats — to keep you comfortable no matter what the weather’s like — with 10-way power-adjustments.

Not only is it not practical for me, but with a price tag of more than $43,000, it's priced way beyond my means.


January 20, 2009: The swearing-in of President Barack Obama

If you missed it, The Huffington Post has video and the full transcript of the new president's speech.
"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."