Sunday, August 30, 2009


It could be a bias of my childhood, but I cannot do without music. Doesn't matter what the situation is, I need to have music playing in the background.

If I'm trying to fall asleep, I find it easier if, in the background, I have some chamber music playing very softly. Something with cellos and violins soothing me gently off to sleep.

For browsing the net, I'll go to Pandora and pick one of my channels (I usually go for similar musical tastes to Great Big Sea or Big Bad Voodoo Daddy).

For playing video games, I'll do the same, but pick any one of the power metal stations.

Driving, though....well, that's a tricky situation.

When you're driving, it depends on the situation.
By myself, I waver between a few different genres. Either I'm in the mood for some Rockabilly (especially if I'm channeling Brian Setzer or Johnny Cash), Swing (Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, or Brian Setzer, again), Power Metal (Ideally of a European origin here) or Traditional Irish (ideally with fiddles and the faster the better).

However, when you're driving with other people, it really depends on the situation. If you're driving with, say, your parents, you want to pick relatively inoffensive music.

But what if you're with your friends? What happens then? Do you pick music that everyone can sing along with, or do you compare musical libraries? Or, in the spirit of multiple choice, do you pick "C) None of the above"? Often, this third choice, especially if you have musically inclined friends, is the most entertaining.

Here's an example:

In the spring of 2007, two of my friends and I drove up to Seattle for a week in a car that had nothing more than a tape deck and no tapes. We stopped off for lunch at a truck stop in Redding on the way up and picked up 3 tapes: Jeff Foxworthy's You Might Be a Redneck, Bill Cosby's Himself, and The Best of the 80's. Suffice to say, after the end of the week and the return trip, we were tired of hearing the rules of marriage, lauging with Coz, and singing along with Pat Benetar. So, on the way home, since it was one of my compatriots' birthdays that day, my other friend and I sang happy birthday to him from halfway through Oregon to just north of Sacramento but, and this is the clever bit, we kept forgetting his name and branching off into different songs.

Feel free to leave your comments below about what music you like to listen to (even if it's nothing but the soundtrack of your car's motor and the wind whistling) and let us know why. In the meantime, drive safe.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fifty Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive!!!!

Humans love speed. We live off of adrenaline, going fast, and getting to our destinations faster. And the only thing we like better than speed is MORE speed.

Think about it. A hundred years ago, when the Model T arrived on the scene, the top speed was 40 mph, which today are speeds which only really happen in places like your garage. And it's not just cars either. Everything's faster these days.

We have planes that can go faster and fly higher than they could 100 years ago. And safer too.

Think about the internet 10 years ago. If you were lucky, you had dial-up, which was frustratingly slow. I remember in 1998 an AOL Instant Message conversation I had with my cousin Billy. He was in Fresno while I was in the San Francisco Bay Area. There was approximately 3 minutes lagtime between when we'd send out our messages to when we'd receive them, which really raised my thoughts on the "Instant" aspect of the messaging. Now we've got cable, dsl, and, if you're lucky, fiber optics commercially available for the average internet user. Fiber Optics, people! Those are unspeakably fast internet connections that 10 years ago were only available to, well, let's face it, either government or major corporations.

Take a look at your cell phone for another example. Early cell phones were the size of a brick and had about the same signal reception. Today, I have a Samsung Propel which fits comfortably in a shirt pocket. And, get this, it get's 3G internet, which I can, get this, get Instant Messaging on. Right now, I could get on my cell phone and talk, in real time, with a friend in Denmark.

All this wouldn't be possible if people didn't want to go faster.

So why can't we in cars?

Currently, my commute takes me through one of the prettiest stretches of road in California: rte 680 N, between Sunol (town motto: "Don't blink or you'll miss us!") and Pleasanton. This is a superb stretch of road. There are a good number of gently banking turns, straights, and the ability to really wind it out. Also, there's a magnificent view of the Pleasanton valley, with little homes nestled against the foothills, and Mt Diablo in the distance. And if you don't like the 680, there's a surface road that runs parallel which is almost as good, if not better.

Recently, however, California has done something that is, and I'll be generous here, monumentally stupid and poorly thought out.

What they have done is lowered the speed limit to 55 mph. Ostensibly, this is done to protect the road workers who are repaving the street, as well as those motorists who cannot cope with the excitement of doing 65 mph and crash their cars into the sides of those magnificent hills.

However, the mind boggling thing is that they've only done this for the southbound traffic. The north-bound lanes are still able to do 65 mph. I cannot begin to fathom why they have done this.

And neither can anybody else. As far as I can tell, the average motorist seems to have ignored the changed speed limit and is quite content to handle the road at the speed God intended: approximately 70 mph, with Sammy Hagar's I Can't Drive 55! blasting at 152,345,751 decibels.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Life is Too Short

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the first post of Cars & Driving with Fox Mulligan. I am your host, Fox Mulligan, and this blog shall be dedicated to Cars, Driving, and Observations on both, and life in general. I hope that you all have fun reading my observations (if you don't please don't let me know).

To begin with, I have noticed that life is just too short. Think about your average day: you wake up, often at stupid o'clock in the morning, shower, shave, eat your breakfast, head out to work, actually get to work, spend anywhere between 8-12 hours there, drive back home, have dinner, you have a few hours before bed, and then sleep before it all happens again. Depending on your method commute and local traffic conditions, you've got anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour total commute time. All things considered, that's a not insignificant amount of time to spend driving.

By the same token, let's assume you take time off. The cost of travel being what it is, let's assume that you chose to drive on your vacation. Unfortunately, this means you can spend anywhere between 2 to 15 hours (seattle to santa cruz, baby!) getting to your destination, which is time that can be better spent barbecuing, surfing, skiing, snowboarding, jet-skiing, or just pampering yourself at your chosen travel destination.

According to some , Federal employees spend 233 hours each year in the car on average. That's nearly 10 days! I can only imagine that the numbers are similar for workers in the private sector. With that in mind, and most Americans spending so much time in their cars, why not drive something that excites the passions?

On that note, we arrive at the topic of our first post: a 2003 Toyota Corolla CE .

Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Why, oh why is he talking about a Corolla? And a 6 year old one, to boot!" But I have my resons. First, and let's be fair, this is the first post in what basically amounts to amateur journalism. I do not have the clout that Car & Driver or the other large magazines have. Secondly, and as a consequence of this, I have to rely on the resources at hand. So, I am submitting my car for your reading pleasure.

Now, on paper, the Corolla's pretty good. The 1.8l 4 cylinder engine is, without a doubt, the best feature about the car. This engine is not only fuel efficient (I recently tested mine and I am getting about 30 mpg, even with 121000 miles on the car), but it is also rather clever with a separate valve timing camshaft that gets more horsepower over 5000 rpms. While it comes in at only 130 hp (they upped it to 170 after 2005), this engine is good. And it shows. Most cars that I've driven seem to have a speed they're comfortable at. This Corolla seems most comfortable at about 75 mph. The engine is so good, in fact, that Lotus uses them in their Elise here in the United States. Also, there is an aftermarket supercharger that I understand is fairly easy to install.

However, this would be a waste because, like most compact cars these days, the power goes to the front wheels as opposed to the rear. For example, 0-60 is dealt with at 9.6 seconds, which may be due to the fact that my tires need replacing, but at most that could only deal with one or two seconds off the clock. At 130 hp the chassis can cope fairly well, and produces very little understeer. The only occasion I had significant understeer was a very tight 180 degree turn that I needed to make on the way to work (if you're curious, the right hand turn onto Laurelwood off of Montague Expressway if you live near San Jose). However, if you were to up the power, I am pretty sure that youd wind up with significant torque steer as well as understeer.

Anyway, moving on: the transmission is fairly snappy, as is the suspension. The interior is logically laid out as well as having room for 5, a fairly spacious trunk, and plenty of headroom for yours truly (I'm about 6'1", so a fairly big guy). The ride is firm, but without being stiff, so that's good. The stereo has capacity for one cd, and fairly high quality speakers standard.

Finally, like the supercharger, there are a lot of aftermarket body-kits available, and the car is fairly easy to tune, which is something I always appreciate.

Overall then, the car seems like a slam dunk. It's got Toyota's reliability, it's fairly sporty, has the capacity to be modified to the user's taste, and has room enough for you and four friends for some organized mayhem, or for a school run.

But here comes the but. And it's one that's not readily apparanent until after you're off the lot and have driven the car for about a week.

While all the pieces are there, somehow, Toyota fails to put them together in a package that comes anywhere near exciting your senses. Most cars I've driven have personalities. Toyota has a work ethic. It's about as entertaining as an IRS auditor. Yes, it's professional, and yes it gets the job done right the first time, but it's about as boring as listening to grass grow. Overall, I'll give it 3 out of 5 stars, but if it entertained me, it'd have had 4.

And that's my overall point: Life's too short to have such a boring car. Carpe Diem!

Who should buy this car: This car is perfect for the high-school/college crowd. The reliability, cost, and utility is perfect for someone who doesn't need anything exciting.

Who should not buy this car: Anyone with a soul.

Engine: 1.8L 4-cylinder engine with 130 bhp
Brake Setup: Front Calipers, Rear Drums
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Drivetrain: Front Wheel Drive
Overall: 3/5 Stars. Like your accountant, and just as entertaining.