29 June 2007
SETI League
PriUPS Project

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Channeling Colonel Hall

Col. Hall was the commanding officer of Fort Baxter, Kansas.  He would enjoy now and then a conversation with the silver-tongued, conniving Sgt. Bilko.  Bilko convinced his colonel that he was being helpful and working in the best interest of the fort, the army, and the soldiers.  Bilko, of course, was in the process of fleecing one or all of the above in some preposterous scheme, usually involving gambling.  Colonel Hall, charmed by Bilko, would let him get away with it all, at least during the conversation.  But when Bilko left the room, Hall was overcome with a nimbus of realization and looked straight at the camera:

"What is he up to?"  Cut to commercial.

What is the World Up To?

Something is Going On.  When Sgt. Bilko, metaphorically represented by the United States Postal Service, keeps handing me free goodies, I know he's Up To Something.  And, like Col. Hall, I just don't know (yet!) what it might be, and, like Col. Hall, I'm getting nervous.  The three dollar bills sent to me in transparent plastic envelopes was the first part, at least in the chronology of my blog.  The second was the lovely little blue box with the dollars and (who knows?) the dye pack.  The third?  A few days ago, I received a $100 gift certificate to Neiman Marcus.

"Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action, Mr Bond."
(Auric Goldfinger channeling Ian Fleming.)

There is a bit of spurious drama in the above list.  I did not actually receive the gift certificate itself.  I had to work for it.  Instead of getting the gift certificate outright, the marketing brochure from Lexus that offered this boon had to be "validated" first.  That's right:  I was to be forced to test-drive a luxury car.  Only after this harrowing experience was I to be permitted to fill in a code on the Lexus web site that would result in my gift certificate arriving in "six to eight weeks."  I was up to the challenge.


Luxury is a word that, for me, has less association with "creature comfort" than it does with "cleaning the lake" la Monty Python.  Not that there's anything wrong with creature comfort!  I'm just too cheap to pay for it.  Therefore, even though Lexus offers a hybrid vehicle similar to the Toyota Highlander that I've been considering to augment my fleet of generators, it had never occurred to me to purchase one.  Sustaining as I did this earnest plea to scrutinize a luxury vehicle, I felt I should give it a try, either to validate my vulgar predilections in vehicular purchase, or, against odds, to convince myself that the Lexus hybrid is for me.  I searched the web for the nearest Lexus dealers and came up with two.  I selected the one in Englewood with Col. Hall in mind.

Entering the dealer"ship" I found myself in a different world.  Salestrons wearing suits and ties!  A friendly receptionist.  A refined and placid atmosphere.  They sell cars here?  Pressing on, my jeans- and T-shirt-clad self held high the marketing brochure and declared my mission.  A representative was summoned, and, after formalities (askance look, collection of name and phone number), we went for a jaunt.  I believe the vehicle was a "RXh 400h AWD."  And a nice vehicle it was.  My insistence on "blue" doesn't carry over to dealer demos, and this was a shiny and very clean black.  No need to detail the test drive:  Normally my main concern is "Do I FIT."  (I'm not a candidate for a Porsche any time soon!)  The answer in this case was "Yes."  Plenty of headroom and legroom, two items that are occasionally problematic.  I was pleasantly surprised by the agility and turning radius.  I'm not used to SUVs and this was not as clunky as expected.  Nice acceleration, toothe hybrid system is good for more than emergency electrical power, it seems.  Would I be happy with one of these?  Sure!  Would I buy it in preference to the hybrid Highlander?

Stay Tuned

The Lexus and the Highlander are essentially the same vehicle, or so I understand.  However Toyota is revamping the Highlander for model year '08, and both the standard and the hybrid are due to be available in just a few months.  My choice, therefore, would be between a brand new model Highlander, and a several-year-old model Lexus for a higher price.  You can see which way I would lean.  However, I have not yet seen the specifications for the Highlander.  Conceivably it will embody a fatal flaw, such as being unavailable in blue or having a battery pack with an unusable voltage.  Other potential customers for either vehicle might not regard these issues as seriously as I do, and if they start snapping up the Highlanders, one might find that the price of the Lexus has suddenly decreased, and despite the ritzy showroom they're "ready to deal."  Realistically?  I see myself folding into the Highlander in due course.

My Fourth Col. Hall Moment

Was it enough to get a free Neiman Marcus gift certificate?  If three times is "enemy action," what is four?  As I was contemplating which Lexus dealer to attend, I had a sudden realization:

It was Friday.  The last business day of the month.  The last business day before July!  Chocolate shops often close for vacation in July.  There is a chocolate shop in Englewood, almost walking distance from the Lexus dealer.  Today would be its last business day before vacation.  And that means...

Chocolate sale!  20% off!

THEY are up to something.  I hope I figure it out before it's too late.

NP:  Instead of a musical selection, I have been listening to a demo from ODIOGO, pronounced "Audio-Go."  The company purports to supply one's blog as a podcast, in a manner similar to what I have been doing with my MP3 link.  However, instead of having to read it myself, Odiogo has a computer that converts text to speech that will create the MP3 file on my behalf.  Their demo is surprisingly good.  At least it seems so to me, but I haven't listened to a lot of text-to-speech experiments in recent years.

I'm keen to try this out.  If I succeed, you will see a second audio link below the MP3-LISTEN link in the left column.  If you have the time and the patience, listen to them both and see what you think.

Richard Factor

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