The coolest thing on the Internet last week

You may have seen it elsewhere, but the Metafilter thread is where I first encountered the story of Kathryn, the 12-year-old Michigan girl who convinced her parents to let her buy a beater Fiero with her babysitting money, and then restore it herself. Two years later, and she’s still at it.

The original thread on a Fiero board has many, many pages, but read the first one at least to set the stage. There’s a shorter summary at Jalopnik.

Coolest 12 year old EVER.

There’s a whole lot of cool to unpack here

Some apparently very smart people went to Kickstarter to fund the production of their new intelligent watch design, Pebble. They sought $100,000 in backing.

With 25 days to go, in excess of six million dollars has been pledged, or 6,000% of their goal.

First, while the official Heathen position for many years has been “watches need springs,” but Pebble does enough cool stuff that I definitely see myself making an exception. (They won me over with the open SDK.)

Second, HOLY CRAP SIX MILLION DOLLARS. Kickstarter may be the most interesting development to come out of the Internet yet. It’s not microfinance, exactly, but it’s hard to see the ease with which Pebble reached 40,000 backers as anything but an enormously disruptive and powerful change in the way interesting things get funded.

Vroom Vroom Sob.

And now, an even MORE iconic obituary: Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, the man who designed the most beautiful car in the world, has passed away at 76.

Butzi was the third “Ferdinand Porsche,” and should not be confused with either of the other two.

The first was his grandfather, born in 1875, who founded the company and gained fame otherwise by designing (for the Nazis) the Volkswagen Beetle in 1934. He also had a hand in a number of German war machines, and was imprisoned for a time as a war criminal. Porsche the elder died in 1951.

The second was known as Ferry (b. 1909). Ferry designed the 356, and ran the company for many years including the critical postwar period. Ferry died in 1998.

I think I’ll go to lunch in my 911 now.

(h/t: Captain Butler)

Today in Heathen Deals

I don’t need one, since I already have a very similar watch from Oris, but if you’re in the market for a decent automatic wristwatch, Amazon has a good Seiko for less than $60.

Spring-driven (“real”) watches with decent movements don’t usually get this cheap, so if you’re considering jumping into the world of Proper Wristwatches, this is a great place to start.

HOWTO: Whip a Bugatti

Buy a Hennessey Venom GT. It sports 1,200 HP. It weighs less than 2,700 pounds with a full tank of gas. The 0 to 60 time is 2.5, but it’s interesting also to note that it goes from 0 to 200MPH in under 16 seconds. And it’s street legal, and apparently corners like it’s on rails.

Price unavailable, but my guess is that if you have to ask…

Gadget Love, or, Life in the Future

Being the travelin’ dude I am, I have abandoned my formerly monogamous book-readin’ ways and typically have at least 2 going at any one time. Usually, it’s a serious-ish tome and a lighter paperback, but not always.

Tonight, I stepped out after a day and a half of work (no kidding) for an errand and some thai, and grabbed my iPad, my phone, and what I thought was one of the books I was reading. When I got to Nidda, I realized it was another book altogether that just happened to be about the same size. It’s a great book, but I was fried and really wanted the lighter fare.

Well, no trouble. I’m also always reading one or two on my Kindle — which astute readers will realize I didn’t take. No worries; my iPad has the Kindle app, so I was able to pick up with some light SF fare. And then, just now at home, I turned on my Kindle and opened the book in question, and it immediately offered to sync up to the latest point read, i.e. the page I’d just finished reading on the iPad at Nidda Thai.

This is some Buck Rogers shit, right here. Making technology do fancy things is one thing; doing it seamlessly in a way that’s useful to people who don’t know how it works is something else again.

Dept. of Automotive Genetic Testing Gone Wonderfully Awry

Singer Vehicle Design makes 911s.

The Singer Concept 911 attempts to channel the spirit of the delicate 1960s original, the race-bred chic of the ’70s longhoods, the ’80s bombproof solidity and the power and sophistication of the 964/993 series [in a] single jewel-like form that represents the golden era of the world’s most important sports car.

The body is a lovely bespoke carbon fiber throwback, the chassis from the 964-era, but significantly strengthened, and the powerplant is a souped-up version of the air-cooled (duh) 3.6L from the Heathenmobile-era 993s. I’m not sure exactly what they’ve done to take it from 275 ponies to 410, but then again I’m not the target market.

They’re hand-built, so it’s no surprise that buying a new 997 instead would represent the “cheap” option by comparison: entry level here is $175K, according to a Robb Report article in their press kit. Even so: Gorgeous, enough so that I’m forgiving them for the utter bullshit of their Flash-heavy, music-playing web site.

Weird fact: ex-Catherine Wheel singer Rob Dickinson appears to be a Singer principal, at least according to this Excellence article.

What’s wrong with RIM, and How Platforms Die

Nobody was caught quite as flatfooted by the iPhone as was Canadian tech darling Research in Motion, the company that brought us the Blackberry. Palm was on the ropes, and Windows Mobile has been a joke more or less since introduction — but RIM had a solid product and a committed user community that Apple has steadily eroded as they improved the iPhone platform.

The MobileOpportunity blog has a great rundown of this, complete with charts and graphs, that really is a fascinating read. One of the takeaways is that, for a firm like RIM, new subscriber growth is a major deal. You can sell all you want to the converted, but you don’t grow your market that way. You’ve got to sell to new users to do that. And RIM’s new subscriber growth is down.

As a follow-up bit of information, Gruber points out something interesting from RIM’s last earnings statement, which showed those distressing new-sub numbers:

RIM says it will no longer report subscriber growth in future quarters.

They’re in a bad spiral. I hope they can fix it, because Palm is dead and gone, and I think a happy, healthy handset ecosystem needs RIM.

Of note: One 1987 Buick. 167 miles. Not for sale.

In the middle 1980s, the fastest production car in America was, for a brief window, not some piece of European exotica; it was a Buick. The Grand National and its big brother, the GNX, were sleeper cars — they looked just like every other G-platform GM car, but packed serious heat under the hood. The GNX variant pushed nearly 300 horses (Buick sandbagged the rating at 276) and over 350 lb-ft of torque. Sixty miles an hour was less than five seconds away. Quarter mile times were similarly impressive.

Of course, being GM products, they mostly all fell apart by the mid to late nineties. Except for one, apparently: Boulevard Buick, in LA’s Signal Hill area, still has an unsold, pristine GNX on the floor; it’s got 167 miles on it, accumulated mostly going to and from the service bay for periodic maintenance.

It is not for sale.

AT&T Is Still Trying To Fuck You

So AT&T has this new “microcell” product out, and I think it’s pretty poorly understood. I say that because there’s no way rational people would accept AT&T’s pricing if they understood how it works and what it does.

The pitch is simple: If you put one of these $149 devices in your home, you’ll have better cell service there. This part is true, but the next part is nefarious: AT&T wants to charge you, one way or another, for the calls that are routed over this device.

If you have no idea how they work, this probably seems reasonable, but let Uncle Heathen explain something to you: The AT&T Microcell is an example of the femtocell class of devices. They work by being, basically, a short-range cellular-to-Internet bridge. The device, about the size of a wifi router, works as a short range cell tower that covers (basically) your home, and which only works for certain phones. It then routes the calls placed by those (in-range) phones not over the cell network, but instead over your broadband connection and thence to the AT&T mothership for completion.

That’s a pretty neat trick, obviously, but leave it to AT&T to turn a technology boon into a way to rape their customers one more time. Calls routed via femtocell never touch the AT&T wireless network, and yet AT&T wants to either count those minutes against your allotment, or charge you a monthly fee ($20) for “unlimited” Microcell minutes.

That’s astonishingly brazen, and completely full of shit. An iPhone on another carrier simply cannot get here quickly enough. I know they’re all sociopathic greedheads, but I’m tired of giving this particular pile of jackasses my money.

Apple’s Original Tablet

The net has been all a-twitter about the anticipated Apple tablet product, but remember that they’ve trod this road before with the Newton. Unfairly maligned at the time, the Newton was actually an absurdly capable device that was simply in the wrong market at the wrong time; proof of its ultimate efficacy is found in the near-complete domination of the PDA market by Palm only a year or two after Newton’s launch — a device that can legitimately be called a smaller, less capable Newton. The experience of using either was very similar, especially in key areas (for example, neither had what you’d recognize as an “OS” visible to the user — you just moved from app to app).

Perennial Apple booster John Gruber has an excellent essay about the Newton you should read if you’re at all gadget-geeky.

Disclosure: I had three Newts: A 110, a 130, and a 2100. They were my constant companions for several years until I could no longer deny the appeal of a perfectly-synced device, and switched to Palm.

Here’s something you don’t see every day

A review of the $2.1 million Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport. This is a vehicle that generates over a thousand horsepower from an 8-liter, 16-cylinder engine, and uses it to get to 60 in under three seconds.

The author’s takeaway? It turns out not to be nearly as much fun as you’d expect:

The car comes with a great cocktail-party boast: if your Veyron, at rest, were passed by a $500,000 Mercedes McLaren SLR doing 100 m.p.h., you could floor the accelerator and still reach 200 m.p.h. before the Mercedes could match its speed.

That kind of physics-textbook problem is where my issues begin. At speeds where cars from a $40,000 Nissan 370Z to a $90,000 Porsche 911 become your wingmen, delivering pure blasts of driving joy, the Bugatti feels bored to death. The artillery-shell acceleration is diverting, but the Bugatti leaves you nowhere else to go, except directly to jail.

Yeah, you read that right. The official sports car of Heathen Central costs less than 5% of the Bugatti.

Many Bugatti buyers surely have access to racetracks, yet I’m equally sure that 90-some percent of them won’t have nearly enough driving talent to exercise this car. Mostly, I picture Euro-poseurs needing valet assistance to back up the Bugatti in Monaco, while jaws drop and the owner barks orders into his diamond-encrusted cellphone. When your car makes a Lamborghini seem tasteful, there’s a problem.

As with the New York Yankees or most Picasso paintings, I respect the Bugatti as an engineering exercise and a conglomeration of overpriced talent. Yet I might argue that any $2 million car should be powered by hydrogen, electricity — even nuclear fusion — not a gas engine blown up to overkill proportions. The Bugatti isn’t the future of the fast car; it’s the past writ in extra-large type.


For half the Bugatti’s price, one could buy four genuine exotics that I find better looking and more rewarding: the Ferrari F430, Lamborghini Gallardo, Audi R8 V-10 and Aston Martin DBS. That would still leave $1 million for a 10-car garage filled with classics like a Jaguar E-Type and a Corvette Sting Ray fuelie.

Update from the comments: I thought my old climbing buddy Joe was making a joke when he said “If you want to pick one up cheap, someone parked one in Galveston bay,” but it turns out someone really did put a Veyron in the marsh this week. Whups!


It is entirely unclear to me why, given the broad realms of expertise on offer in Heathen Nation, that we have not yet undertaken to build any seige engines.

Heathen Nation, please account for yourselves. Or, failing that, signify in comments below your willingness to undertake the mission of flinging large objects great distances for the sheer flying (yes) fuck of it some time in the near future. I am willing to start with fall harvest gourdfruit, chiefly because I believe them to be cheap, plentiful, and possessed of a satisfyingly dramatic endgame.

What we need:

  • A truck.
  • A place to fling.
  • Power tools.
  • Raw material (hello, Home Depot)
  • Plans (hello, Google)
  • Beer (not strictly required, but it sure seems wise, doesn’t it?)

Again, signify your willingness to participate in said tomfoolery with a comment below, or an email to me.

Dear Intarwub

Please gets us a coelacanth, k?

(Sadly, the linked story doesn’t give us an order link. Who are these Wild Safari people? Where’s the “add to cart” link? C’mon, Interwub, don’t let me down!)