The McLaren F1 was introduced 25 years ago this year. Road & Track has a nice oral history that’s worth your time, including bits from McLaren owners and employees.
Here’s my favorite bit from the story:
MARK GRAIN (Senior technician, McLaren Cars/Motorsport): There was a German customer, a businessman. He lived in Cologne, commuted in the car every day. He said, “Oh, I’ve got a problem, this warning light. I’ve looked in the manual, can’t find anything. Can you send somebody out, see what it is?”
So one of the guys went. It turns out it was the engine cover lifting slightly. The warning light for the engine cover.
But the only time the car ever did it was 185, 190 mph. “It does it on the way to work, and it does it on the way back.” Every day.
This video about the world’s first supercar is pretty fun. Lambo made the Countach from 1974 until 1990, which is kind of insane; at that point, they moved on to the Diablo, and then to the Murciélago, and then, in 2011, to the current Aventador.
For a comparison between an ’88 Countach (effectively, the pinnacle of the breed) and a new(ish) Aventador? We’ve got you covered.
And as long as you’re falling down this hole, Jay Leno has an ’86.
Over at The Awesomer, they have a bit about the new 911 Turbo S that’s kind of fun, but in the blurb I noticed some interesting verbiage; I’ve added some emphasis to point out the shocking bit.
Our friends at DriveWithDave spent an afternoon behind the wheel of the fastest accelerating non-electric production car in the world.
Have we really reached the point already where explosion-powered cars are the slower variety, at least in acceleration? That’s kind of amazing, but according to the list provided (sourced from Motor Trend), it’s the truth. The Tesla S P100D can get you to 60 in 2.3 seconds, and to 30 in 0.9. This 911 matches the 0-30 time, but is slower to 60 by 0.2, and everything else they list (Lambo, GT-R, Audi, Ferrari, McLaren) is slower.
Ars Technica has a pretty interesting piece up about the rise and fall of 8-track, but they miss some bits I wish they’d included.
I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and was always baffled at why those awful things existed in the first place when cassette was also available. The whole weird imposition of the 4 programs, plus the seemingly inevitable need to split songs between programs (complete with fade-out, that chunk-chunk sound, and the fade back in) really put a damper on actual audio pleasure, let me tell you.
Also, contrary to the 2nd graf line (“What went wrong is easily explained with hindsight—though it seemed mysterious at the time.”), there was nothing mysterious to ME about why cassette won, and it’s encapsulated in this fanTAStic Sony ad, which more or less pitches the lack of on-demand rewind as an impediment to getting laid.
In case you can’t read the text, here it is:
If you’ve got 400 horsepower and things still aren’t moving fast enough, try adding the new Sony Automobile Stereo Cassette-Corder(r). One big advantage of the new Sony Model 20 is that it plays cassettes instead of cartridges. And a cassette gives you twice the music of a cartridge (up to two full hours). What’s more, if she wants to hear “Light My Fire” right now, her fire can get lit. Right now. (With a cartridge machine, you’d have to wait for the whole program to recycle.) (Emph. added.)
What they mean, kids, is that there’s no rewind on 8-tracks. The music was broken into 4 “programs,” and to hear a given song again, you hit the “program advance” button 3 times and then waited for your song to come around again. Awesome, right?
The Draper-worthy Makeout Point location and “cassette = sex” positioning isn’t even the most dated thing about the ad. Look at it. It’s got a whole paragraph of intelligently constructed text extolling the virtues of cassette over 8-track, and it’s written as though talking to an intelligent adult. Find an ad in 2017 that has that much text. I dare you.
The story of how I found the ad itself is pretty hilarious, too, if you’ll indulge me. My dad passed away when I was a teenager, and it fell to me to clean out his office at his veterinary clinic. In a seldom-used drawer, I found a stack of random documents and folded-over magazines — professional journals, newspapers, and popular rags, too. The ad in question was in one of those popular mags, but it was folded over in a way that showed only a page of text on one side and this full-page ad on the other. I was so tickled by the ad, though, that I didn’t notice until several minutes later that it was from Playboy. Which, apparently, my dad really DID have for the articles. ;)
Or, musical history, inflation, and AV receivers
Dynaco Tube Amp, 1988
A gift from my uncle, who’d built it from a kit; this stuff was serious hi-fi nerdery in the 1970s, and I was lucky to get it (along with a tuner, a pre-amp, a tape deck, and a pair of really great Fisher speakers).
Thanks to Uncle Bob’s largesse, I was a very well equipped freshman indeed. Perhaps my favorite parts of this era’s rig were that (a) the tape deck was a toploading thing, which interfered with stacking and (b) the CD source was actually a boom box with RCA outs, which made it a great mix of old and new.
Low-end Pioneer, 1988
Sadly, the Dynaco didn’t last the semester; I suspect it had been on a shelf for years, so putting it into constant usage in a dorm room was a bit of a shock. My friend Peter insisted he could fix it, so I let him have it, and have recently confirmed via Facebook that he STILL has it, and it STILL doesn’t work. Hilarious.
Anyway, I scraped together about $250 for this low-end Pioneer, but it served me well until I got out of the dorm and wanted to upgrade. It lived out its final years with Heathen Chief Legal & Pancreatic Counsel Farmer.
Surround comes to town: Onkyo, 1992
This was actually a bit of a debacle. I started out with a Sony, but the Sony kept crapping out, so the 2nd time I drove it back to Birmingham to swap out, I said “fuck it” and dropped more than I should have on what remains probably the most high end piece of kit I’ve ever owned. The Sony was like $600, but stepping up to the Onkyo was a cool grand (about $1700 in 2016 money). You could feel the difference in the weight alone, to say nothing of the feel of its controls (or my credit card bill, for that matter; I didn’t pay that off for YEARS). This guy was SOLID, and made my apartment into my first “home theater” experience with then-novel Dolby Pro Logic.
I actually used this one until 2000, when I upgraded to the next item on the list as part of moving into what remains Heathen World HQ. Even then, I used it as the bedroom stereo and then, later, as the stereo in my office until last year, when space and convenience led me to Sonos.
After that, it languished in the closet until I found a good home for it. (No, seriously. It’ll live out its life in the home studio of a musician friend of mine, which is approximately as close to “your old dog lives on a farm now” as you’re likely to get in this life.)
The Age of Digital Hothouse Flowers, 2000: Arcam AVR100
When I bought the house, I also bought some very fancy speakers and a new receiver, because modern home surround had gone digital, and the Onkyo didn’t know how to do that.
Eschewing more mainstream brands, I bought an Arcam from the same witch-doctor woo-filled audiophile shop that sold me the speakers, and it was a mistake. It was technically cheaper than the Onkyo had been, by which I mean its price tag was the same, but the 8 year gap meant it was about $300 less real money in 2016 dollars. It was British and idiosyncratic, which lead me to note that I could tell it was high-end audio because it was a pain in the ass to use.
It got back at me by requiring factory service TWICE before a third failure in 2008 led to its ignominious end in a recycling bin. Oh, and in this era, the Onkyo had a triumphant victory lap because we’d started buying used vinyl as cheap entertainment — it was the post-crash years — and the fancyboy Arcam had no phono stage. My old pal the Onkyo, of course, did.
Let’s just make the damn thing work: Yamaha RX-V863, 2008
With the Arcam dead, I bought this one quickly. And I think Mrs Heathen may have even paid for it just to get the TV and whatnot running again. It was the third straight box with the same price tag, but time meant that it was the cheapest $1000 box yet: about $1100 in 2016 money.
This one also marked the point when the AV equipment turned towards ease of use, which is great, because at one point when I was using the Arcam I sat down to write a quickie guide for a houseguest and ended up with five pages. To watch TV. Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot.
Can’t this be easy yet? It’s 2016!: Denon
Yes. Yes it can. For $399 from Amazon, I just bought last year’s model. We’re back into goofy no-pre-amp territory these days (Denon doesn’t include one on any model south of $1300, so fuck that), so I had to add an outboard one, but even so I was still spending WAY less money than on any previous receiver except the gifted Dynaco and the cheap Pioneer. My $528 this year is about the same as $261 in ’88, $309 in ’92, $379 in 2000, and $470 in 2008.
Oh, and this time around the device is smart enough to calibrate itself with an included microphone AND be controlled by an iPhone app should the remote be too far away. Progress!
(Hilariously, the speaker story is way simpler: from the Fishers to a pair of Cerwin-Vega D3s to a pair of Klipsch towers to the Vandersteens.
The Fishers got lost along the way somewhere when I got the hyperefficient (and thus CRAZY LOUD) CVs in 1988 (sorry, college neighbors!).
In 1997, I gave them to Tim Carroll and bought the Klipsches, which got demoted to surround speakers in 2000 when I bought the Vandys. They’re still there, which makes them the oldest bits in the kit and, come to think of it, eligible to vote. Wacky.)
None of you have given me the LEGO Technic Porsche 911 GT3 RS, though I understand the reason may be that it’s only marginally less expensive, relatively speaking, than the actual car it represents.
Still: Very cool. 2,704 pieces!
Fifteen years ago when I bought my car, I kinda WANTED a 964, but in Houston you opt for newer cars to get better AC.
This guy didn’t, and it’s glorious.
In this episode of Harry’s Garage, he’ll tell you. The video is long — 30 minutes — but you’ll want to make time.
tl;dr? It’s fucking awesome. Fun fact: they’re tiny, far smaller than you probably think. At only 4.1 meters, they’re shorter than either a Cayman or a Boxster. Despite that, they hold over 30 gallons of fuel.
It’s a damn shame that there is literally NO WHERE in our home that Mrs Heathen and I could deploy these really cool doors.
Almost 30 years ago, my friend Rob had a laptop-like device made by Tandy called a TRS-80 Model 100.
It’s very much a sort of proto-laptop, and was widely used by non-geeks as a portable writing platform when similarly robust and functional laptops were still years away. There’s no hinge; it’s just a flat device with a small LCD screen. You could, if memory served, run programs (i.e., a simple word processor / text editor) or boot the thing to BASIC like every other TRS-80. I remember Rob using it backstage at the all-school production to catch up on a paper for AP English in about 1987.
(A few years later, Radio Shack was selling a descendent product called the WP-2; I bought one to take notes with in college, since (then as now) I can type much more quickly (and legibly) than I can write longhand.)
In the intervening years, laptops have gotten much, much more capable, to the point that for most folks there’s no reason to use a desktop at all. However, if you have a full computer with you, it’s easy to get distracted by other activities — especially if there’s a network connection. What if you just want to write without distractions?
Enter Hemmingwrite. It’s a little precious — the prototype is styled to look like a portable typewriter — but inside it’s reasonably clever:
The Hemingwrite is-a single purpose, distraction-free writing composition device. It combines the simplicity of a 90s era word processor with the modern tech we all require like cloud backups and integration into our favorite document editors like Google docs and Evernote.
They’re planning a 6-week battery life, internal memory for a million pages, and a proper, mechanical-switch keyboard.
I’m not sure I have a need for one, but it sure is neat.
This analysis is really astute and spot on, I think. Some bits:
The overall level of design in the Apple Watch simply blows away anything – digital or analog – in the watch space at $350. There is nothing that comes close to the fluidity, attention to detail, or simple build quality found on the Apple Watch in this price bracket. The Sistem51, for example, is a very cool, inexpensive mechanical watch. But it feels like it costs $150 (for the record, I bought one and adore it). Then, for closer to the price of the Apple Watch, you could own this, which is, well, downright horrific in just about every conceivable metric. Seiko does offer some nice things at $349 or less, but again, they feel like they cost exactly what they do. The Apple Watch feels like a lot of thought went into it, and no doubt it did. It feels expensive.
The Apple Watch, in its own way, really pays great homage to traditional watchmaking and the environment in which horology was developed. We have to remember that the first timekeeping devices, things like sundials, were dictated by the sun and the stars, as is time to this day. The fact that Apple chose to develop two faces dedicated to the cosmos shows they are, at the very least, aware of the origins and importance of the earliest timekeeping machines, and the governing body of all time and space – the universe. (Sidenote: this “Astronomy” face will make it super easy to set the moonphase on your perpetual calendar. #watchnerdalert)
Apple paid great attention to detail with this new wrist-bound peripheral, and it shows the Swiss that it is possible to have great design at low costs. That is the most exciting thing about the Apple Watch for me – it will push the Swiss to take the sub-$1,000 mechanical watch category more seriously.
Now, do I want one? Only maybe. I’d have to see one first. But I suspect later iterations will be even more interesting, so it does seem likely that, eventually, I’ll pick one up even if it’s not in 2015.
Mrs Heathen may regret that I have found this excellent exploration of Adam Savage’s shop & cave. Make time.
864 actual kilometers. One of only 50.
Expected bids $600,000 to $800,000.
Jeorg “Slingshot Channel” Sprave has created a football slingshot capable of launching a soccer ball the full length of a pitch.
Because of course he has.
You may have seen this video of fireworks as shot by a remote controlled photo drone by now; if not, go watch. Use the HD option, and see it fullscreen (just turn the volume down if you find Andrea Bocelli as banal as I do). It’s pretty remarkable.
What’s not immediately obvious, or part of the story in most of the links I’ve seen, is what I think is the coolest aspect of this. It wasn’t shot with professional or exotic equipment. It was done with less than $2,500 worth of gear, including the “live view” features. Basically, it’s a high-ish end remote controlled quadcopter with a GoPro attached. Check the link; it’s not even CLOSE to the nicest quadcopter that company sells.
File under: Whoa
(The footnote is that while this vid was apparently shot with probably $2500 of gear, improvements have already happened in the product line that suggest it’s now possible for about half that.)
Of course, it better be, as the Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight Plantarium Poetic Complication runs a cool $245,000.
The face itself is amazing:
At the center is the Sun, represented in pink gold. Surrounding it are gems representing the six innermost planets, each of which rotates the Sun in real time — by which I mean Mercury takes 88 days to go ’round, the Earth takes a year, and Saturn won’t make the trip for nearly 30 years. The actual time of day is represented by a shooting star on the outermost ring. By rotating the bezel, you can set the watch to note a “special” day — on which the Earth stone passes directly under a star engraved onto the crystal itself.
Click through for video. It’s totally ridiculous and over the top, but also cool as screaming fuck that this is all done with gears and springs.
“A 1950s whisky dispenser [was] sometimes found in offices.”
Oh, we are SO getting an Inside Slide for Heathen World HQ. Maybe two.
Yeah, I know. Can’t be made. But I still want one.
Note the stacked boxes of train cards on the couch, etc.
Top Gear sent Richard Hammond out on a pretty unique handling test. The question: Would you rather be in a BMW 1M or a Porsche Cayman R when trapped in a desperate movie-style car chase with snipers, commandos on motorbikes, helicopters, tanks, and off-road attack vehicles?
The Targa is back.
Sofa. King. Gorgeous.
PetCube is a remote-controllable device you can use to entertain your pets when you’re not home.
The future is weird.
The P1 produces 903 horsepower, which turns out to be good enough for a sub-7 minute lap. The official number hasn’t been released, but they’re claiming the record — and the 918’s already done it in 6:57.
I think certain Heathen should construct a tiny vehicle to go around it, and take it to Bonneville.
Parts of this are still in a box in my closet.
I am forty-three years old.
Here’s Super Mario Brothers rendered entirely in HTML5, playable in any (modern) browser. Enjoy.
SpaceX has been doing tests of a rocket capable of landing vertically (i.e. as opposed to splashdown). In this video, you get to watch a 2,440 foot test flight and subsequent landing from the vantage point of a hovering hexacopter with an HD camera.
To break this down for you even more: this is high-def video of a civilian space vehicle shot from a flying robot. Maybe we do live in the future after all.
In any case, it is very, very cool, and you will not find a better way to spend a minute and a half this morning.
Which of you Heathen-aged nerds can identify the doll used in the picture atop this Ars Technica story about the whole Silk Road affair?
Uncrate, a gadget blog I follow, is featuring an affordable, portable hydrogen generator for outdoor, off-the-grid use today.
This Mefi thread about playsets of yore will eat some of your time, but it’ll be worth it. Amazingly, the linked article did NOT include what I think of as the ur-Playset, the Fisher-Price castle I had as a tyke that was so well built that some kid is probably STILL playing with it somewhere.
(For the record, my Death Star is in my closet. Still.)
“Mexican Barbie” comes with documentation and a passport.
We had a great time on NerdCruise on the sailing excursion in St Maarten, wherein we got to crew a no-shit America’s Cup champion boat. The Stars and Stripes is the boat that Dennis Connor used to redeem himself in the sailing world; it’s also the last of the 12-meter monohull boats to win the Cup — which is to say, the racing boats of her era don’t look all that different from the day sailers you see at your local marina.
Times change. Nowadays, the race uses very, very different boats, with spectacular results. While the 12-meter class tooled around at 12-15 knots, the new catamaran multihull designs can nearly triple that.
I know at least two Heathen will be interested to read the history of the firm, and account of its loss.
The “modern” W&G was the work of Burt Avedon:
Burt Avedon (cousin of the famous fashion photographer Richard Avedon) revived the company two years after it went out of business in 1977 and helmed it until it was liquidated in 1999. Now 89 years old, Burt is one of the last remaining people to have hands-on experience with the brand. His bio reads like a Most Interesting Man in the World skit: He was a pilot by age 12, raced cars, played football for UCLA, fought at Iwo Jima, was awarded a Purple Heart in the Navy, went from Harvard Business School into cosmetics and fashion, married an Italian princess, and later led attempts to excavate downed World War II planes from Greenland ice. After a short search, I tracked him down at his home in Verona, Wisconsin, to find out what had happened to what many consider to be the greatest outdoor-clothing brand of all time.
Go read the whole thing.
Dig the “flame suit” on the Human Torch, which is even more halfassed than the “rock suit” on the Thing. At least the Hulk is vaguely Hulky, if completely undersized.
Why don’t I have a sport utility bathrobe?
Field Notes would like you to know what sorts of tests their notebooks endure.
Porsche is letting journalists see its new hybrid supercar, the 918 Spyder.
First, the bad news: it’ll cost a million bucks when it’s introduced next year. But, oh my God, this car…
The 4.6-liter dry-sump V8, mid-mounted in the chassis, generates 580 horsepower at 8,500 rpm and 370 pound-feet of torque at 6,500 rpm. Redline is 9,000 rpm. Mounted to the V8, actually bolted together to form a single drive unit, is a 95 kW (127 horsepower) electric motor. The centrally located engine and motor send their power through a seven-speed PDK dual clutch gearbox, rotated 180 degrees on its longitudinal axis (lowering its mass closer to the pavement), driving only the rear wheels. . . . But there is more to the powertrain, as the 918 Spyder is actually all-wheel drive. Mounted on the front axle is an 85-kW (114 horsepower) electric motor, sending power to both front wheels completely independent of the rear powertrain.
Add up the output from the one combustion engine and the two electric motors and the 918 Spyder’s total system power is 795 horsepower and 575 pound-feet of torque. According to Porsche, the 918 will rocket to 60 mph in fewer than three seconds and reach a top speed in excess of 200 mph in its most aggressive setting. On the famed north loop (Nordschleife) at the Nürburgring, one of Porsche’s 918 Spyder concepts ran a 7:14 less than two weeks ago (for comparison, Porsche’s limited production Carrera GT, introduced in 2004, circled the same loop with a best time of 7:32). When it hits showrooms, the 918 Spyder will be one of the fastest street-legal vehicles in the world.
The performance numbers are impressive, but keep in mind the 918 Spyder is a hybrid – Porsche says it is capable of a scarcely believable 78 mpg on the highway.
Bicymple looks really, really dumb.