Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Funkengroovin News

I decided to cut the news from the photo blog this week, due to the amount of both news, and photos. Photos of my most recent Cairo find will be posted in a separate blog.

A friend sent me this photo. It's a police car, double-parked, with a boot attached - only in Egypt!

We are failing

BUNGLING Top Gear stars were slammed by coastguards after trying to sail the Channel in three cars.

Two of the specially-adapted vehicles sank within minutes of leaving Dover.

Presenters James May and Richard Hammond had to hitch a lift on Jeremy Clarkson’s Nissan 4x4, which had an outboard motor tacked on.

Daredevil Hammond, 37, had attached a propeller to a VW camper van while May, 44, adapted a Triumph Herald into a sailing boat.

No-one from the BBC was available for comment. The episode is on BBC2 in the autumn.

Can VW Finally Find Its Way In America?

Dealers think VW blew a golden opportunity when it chose not to introduce an updated version of the wildly popular Microbus from the '60s and '70s. Instead, the company is launching a repackaged, Volkswagen-branded, Chrysler (DCX ) minivan. Casey Gunther, VW's top-selling U.S. dealer, in Coconut Creek, Fla., is worried. "We're missing the funkiness" that U.S. buyers expect from VW, he says. "The Germans don't understand." And unlike in Europe, affluent buyers don't see VW as an aspirational brand.

Rx for VW USA

The brand needs a piece of showroom excitement that draws on VW's history to enliven the brand and juice up VW enthusiasts. The Microbus would have been the right design.

As much love as Volkswagen fans have had for the brand, since 2000 owners have become more vociferous on the Internet about their problems. They are increasingly less willing to put up with bad service and problems that land their cars in the shop.

I have heard VW executives jokingly refer to glitchy vehicles as "Monday cars," which are cars built by workers on Monday morning after a weekend of revelry. I have never heard Toyota or Honda speak of Monday cars. In any case, the problem is worse than that. VW ranks in the bottom fifth of J.D. Power's rankings for initial quality (first three months), vehicle dependability (first three years of ownership), and sales satisfaction (service). (Like BusinessWeek, J.D. Power is a unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies (MHP).)

Egyptian best-seller brings to literary sphere wisdom of Cairo's taxi drivers

CAIRO, Egypt: Most Cairenes see the city's army of taxi drivers as rude and conniving, overcharging their passengers for uncomfortable rides in aging cabs. But first-time author Khaled el-Khamissy saw them as the lens through which to view all Egypt's woes.

His book "Taxi, Tales of Rides" has become a best seller in Egypt, recounting nearly 60 dialogues between el-Khamissy and Cairo cabbies that unmask some of the darkest sides of Egypt — dictatorship, police brutality, corruption and exclusion.

"Taxi" is based on el-Khamissy's conversations with cabbies over a year ending March 2006 — a period when many in Egypt saw hope in a series of anti-Mubarak protests by pro-democracy activists seeking change, only to see it dashed when the 79-year-old leader won a fifth, six-year term in office and his party won a large majority in a general election marred by fraud.

The mirror that the drivers hold up to Cairo life has made el-Khamissy's book a surprise hit. Since it was published earlier this year, it has sold more than 35,000 copies, a best-seller by Egypt's standards, and is in its fifth edition.

It will soon be published in English, and there are plans to make it into a TV series.

Around the world, by road

How an adventurous duo travelled thousands of kilometres — and through dozens of countries — in their car?

At a time when the trend is to notch up air-miles, this medico couple decided to do it differently — notch up over 20,000 km on ground. It was a dream they nursed for nearly two years, before they could put it in action, having gathered enough money to set off on their own!

In terms of red tape, Egypt made up for all the countries that they passed through. “We spent over six hours at Customs to get the paperwork sorted. Running from one window to another, paying endless fees, getting the locals to fill out Arabic forms, fixing Arabic registration plates to our car, emptying out our luggage for the sniffer dogs, the hot afternoon was endless...” remembers Gopaldas.

Driving in Egypt was less harrowing though. Despite checkpoints at every corner, the locals were as friendly as those in Syria or Jordan.

My Volkswagen runs on veggie oil

Chantale Doyle needs fuel, but she's not looking for a gas station.

Instead, she steers her Volkswagen van down a narrow, graffitied Toronto alley and parks behind a pub. She walks past the flies buzzing around the recycling bin and peels the lid off a 60-gallon steel drum.

Ignoring the Tim Hortons cup and plastic bags floating on the surface, she peers at the viscous, cola-coloured liquid. "Ooh," she says appraisingly. "That's totally usable."

A few minutes later, and with permission from the slightly bewildered pub manager, she's pumping the used restaurant grease into a plastic container, from which it will fuel her diesel van as she drives to Vancouver.

Any diesel car can be converted to run on veggie oil. In fact, Rudolf Diesel used peanut oil for fuel when he invented the engine in the 1890s. Converting a diesel engine requires installing a second fuel tank and a mechanism to heat the oil so that it's thin enough when it enters the engine.

She bought her van off eBay, and has spent the past three months living in it as she travels through the United States and Canada, talking to people about her veggie van. (She cooks up fries in the van, gives away the food and then shows people how the used oil powers her ride.)

Gales, tent pegs and ear plugs: the perils of being an Alpha Mummy

Which leads me, inevitably, to our recent weekend camping trip. I was persuaded to go by an intrepid friend; she had a camper van and would provide me with a tent; what did I mean, I’d never been camping? How could I deprive my children of such an essential experience? That did it, of course.

An extraordinary buzz has enveloped camping this year. You can’t get a word in edgeways at dinner parties without hearing people droning on about Cath Kidston tents, VW camper vans and the stunning field in the West Country where you have to know the farmer but which is the only place for a really authentic camping experience. I conjured visions of an Arcadian idyll that was a cross between Enid Blyton and the Boden catalogue.

VW developing electronic sun-visor embedded in windshield
It's an electronic sun visor. Similar to those auto-dimming rear-view mirrors or opaquing sunroofs seen on Maybachs and the like, this is a system embedded in the windshield glass that tints only a portion of the window exactly where it's needed. It's described as an electronic anti-glare system and uses an "electronic matrix" that is controlled by a computer. Ok, sure

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