Sunday, June 28, 2015

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Goodwood Hill Climb Nick Heidfeld 1999

I can't get tired of watching this.

Top right is a 1/43 model of the Hill Climb McLaren.

Woman takes down South Carolina Confederate flag

Perhaps a bit much with the god/religion stuff, but still pretty badass.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A historic week for America

Back in November 2008, I spent Election Day volunteering for the Obama campaign in Reno, Nevada. The campaign needed attorney-volunteers to watch the polling places to make sure no one was illegally turned away from voting. No volunteers were needed in California because he was expected to easily win here. There were so many volunteers from California, nearly every polling place in the state of Nevada had at least two Obama attorney-volunteers on site.

So the polls closed and I headed back to the hotel. There, I watched the news and saw Obama declared the next president of the United States. It was an unforgettable, emotional moment. History was made. The impossible became possible. I have not felt like that since, until this week.

First, it started with the taking down of the Confederate flag in places I thought would never give up the flag without a literal gunfight. Then, the Supreme Court miraculously saved the ACA/Obamacare.

Coincidentally, I was at the same Reno hotel this morning (for work). And, in my room, I watched the news and learned that marriage was declared by the U.S. Supreme Court as a fundamental human right.

These oldtimers in Texas had been together for 55 years and just got married.

All of this progress, shocking both in its speed and magnitude, got me thinking. Back in 2005, when George W. Bush was re-elected to his second term, who could have imagined that within a decade, we would have a black president, significant (but by no means perfect) health care reform, gay marriage in all 50 states, and the taking down of Confederate flags? Not only were these achievements thought to be impossible, but the very notion of these potential realities were unfathomable.

Then, I thought-- Right now, comprehensive and effective gun control is a pipe dream. But maybe it can be achieved within the near future after all!

HMX-1 Marine helicopters for the president

Popular podcaster Marc Maron interviewed Obama recently (Ep. 613). Today, I listened to a debrief of the interview featuring Maron and his producer (Ep. 614), and it was just as fascinating as the interview itself. They talked about the scheduling, security sweeps, everything behind the scenes. Apparently, Obama's Marine One helicopter is now always escorted by at least two Ospreys carrying Secret Service agents.

Objectively, as a citizen and a taxpayer, I am not a fan of spending billions on military hardware. But subjectively, as a 12 year old patriot who likes loud machines, this helicopter pack flying over American cities seems pretty cool.

Parisian cab driver dropping cinder block on supposed Uber car

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Democracy scores for former Communist countries

Via Freedom House. 1 is best, 7 is worst.

1.93 Slovenia
1.96 Estonia
2.07 Latvia
2.21 Czech
2.21 Poland
2.36 Lithuania
2.64 Slovakia

3.18 Hungary
3.29 Bulgaria
3.46 Romania
3.68 Croatia / Serbia
3.89 Montenegro

4.07 Macedonia
4.14 Albania
4.46 Bosnia
4.64 Georgia
4.75 Ukraine
4.86 Moldova

5.14 Kosovo
5.36 Armenia
5.93 Kyrgyzstan

6.39 Tajikistan
6.46 Russia
6.61 Kazakhstan
6.71 Belarus
6.75 Azerbaijan
6.93 Turkmenistan / Uzbekistan

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

1988 Nissan Shiro Edition

Does anyone know anything about the Shiro Edition Maxima? I can't find much online.

Here is the Shiro Edition 300ZX:

Pixar explains Cars without hands

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Senator Graham on the Confederate flag

I'm not a huge fan of South Carolina's Graham, but this statement is simply extraordinary. Bravo!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Afghan parliament attacked while choosing defense minister

Goodbye, General Lee

Today is an incredibly (and unexpectedly) historic day. The governor of South Carolina, whose parents are Sikh, demanded the state legislature to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Cheney White House photos

The government just released over 2,000 photos of Cheney. 334 of the "best" were just posted on flickr. Make sure you take your blood pressure medication before you click here.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Got a seat cover for Cooper

Audi Q5 ad

What happens when everybody drives a Q5 now?

Mercedes W116 450SEL for sale

One owner; 55,000 miles; always garage stored in dry California climate.

What caught my eye with this one is that it is exactly like the car my step-dad had when I was growing up. Milan brown exterior, bamboo leather, zebrano wood, even the Becker Mexico head unit.

My step-dad bought his used from a Chinese businessman in the early 1980s. He kept it as a daily driver into the late 90s. Over the years, he had it repainted, and the interior redone at a Mexican upholstery shop in Santa Ana. For some reason, he switched out the original rims for black steelies and cheap plastic wheel covers. Mechanically, it died a slow death. The A/C never worked and towards the end, the gas pedal came off (we just stepped on the rod that protruded from under the dash). He ended up donating it to the local NPR station for a small write-off.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

I live in a fucked up country

Gun control will never happen in America.

This is the front page of the Charleston newspaper today. That's an ad for a gun store.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

2016 Presidential Candidates' Cars: Donald Trump

I was shocked that Trump announced his run today. The only car I could find that was associated with him is this Mercedes SLR McLaren. Back in 2005, he bought this for his then 35 year old wife Melania. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Pan-American Highway in a new LeBaron convertible

This is another episode of Great Journeys (BBC) worth watching. Hugo Williams drove from Texas to the end of the Pan-American Highway in Yaviza, Panama, in a brand new, late 80s, Chrysler LeBaron convertible. What's nuts, besides the fact that he was a gringo in a please-mug-me-car, was that he did this during the Central American civil wars.

Sadly, unlike the episode about China, not much has changed in Mexico and Central America in the last three decades. There is still a lot of poverty and violence. The only difference I've caught in this episode is that there are now more skyscrapers in Mexico City and Panama City.

And that Maximon character in Guatemala? I saw "him" too on my trip.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Xinjiang in 1988

Colin Thubron is one of my favorite travels writers. I highly recommend The Lost Heart of Asia (1994), In Siberia (1999), and Shadow of the Silk Road (2006).

In this episode of Great Journeys (BBC), he travels across Xinjiang in 1988. It's a great look at western and northwest China before it modernized and grew rich. At the 42:19 mark, he is on the Karakoram Highway near Karakul Lake, which is the URL of this blog.

Old school TV remote

We had an old Zenith with this exact remote. It had a ZOOM button which magnified the image on the screen.

Paging the reader from Lebanon

Please email me at milhousevanh @ gmail. Thanks!

Shiite militiaman dubbed Iraqi Rambo

This story is surreal. This caricature of a man is looked up to by the Shia majority in Iraq, boosting morale and blindly following Iranian edicts. And all those selfies!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Old footage of Lamborghini LM002

This appears to be from an old Dutch TV show. Look at it pulling a tank!

The LM002 portion starts at the 1:40 mark.

White woman pretending to be black civil rights leader

I guarantee this is the strangest story you'll see this week.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Wrist watch that commemorates Tiananmen Massacre

Source: This cool English-language blog about Russian cars, watches, and architecture.

The nun, the immigrant (me), and the Nova

It's 1983. I had just moved to the United States six months earlier. When I landed at LAX, I knew two words in English-- rollercoaster and Reagan. After six months in an English as a Second Language program, I was proficient enough to move to a regular elementary school. I was by no means fluent.
This being God's Country (read: 1980s Orange County), the public schools allowed all the children, once a week during school, to go off campus for an hour for Bible study. Since most of the kids were Protestants, there was a trailer-turned-chapel parked just two feet away from campus. There were far fewer Catholics, so a nice old nun in a Chevy Nova (just like the one taken by Ed's camera above) picked the Catholic children up and drove a block away to one of the children's homes to learn about Jesus.

So here is the story. When I started going to this mainstream school, the kids approached me, like a mob, and demanded to know if I was a Christian. I had no idea what a Christian was but with the mob applying peer pressure on me, I had to say yes. Then they asked if I was a Protestant or Catholic. I definitely didn't know what those words meant, so of course I said Catholic. And that's how I ended up riding in a Nova with a nun every Wednesday afternoon, from grades four through six.


Concorde's first flight

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

400 miles in the 9-3

I flew down to Los Angeles this morning, bought the car, and drove it home.

First, I want to thank you regular readers for putting up with my harebrained ideas and inability to make a GD decision. In the last six weeks, I've seriously considered getting the following cars-- Lincoln LS, Jaguar X-Type wagon, Lexis IS300 SportCross, BMW 535Xi, Honda CR-Z, Lexus ES330, Toyota Avalon,....

We are in a drought and of course, it rained in LA this morning. The car looked even cleaner in person.

The car is fantastic. It's much more refined than the Volvo. From the thunk of the door closing to the drivetrain, it's a big step up. I would imagine that in theory, it would be very solid and comfortable at 105 mph. In theory.

The previous owner is a Japanese fellow who is apparently a neat freak. There is no wear and tear on this 2008 model, which has just 43,000 miles.

I woke up at 4:30 this morning for the early flight, so I had to take a caffeine break on the drive back. The food was awful.

I drove through a dust storm for the first time.

There were a few oddities to get used to. First, I noticed that the font size for 100 mph and over is smaller than 90 and under. Also, there is the Night Panel button. I thought it just turned all of the instrument lights off, with the exception of the speedometer. But in addition, all of the gauges (except for the speedo) also turn off when the Night Panel button is engaged. They even make a whirring, zipping sound when they shut off (that may not be intentional).

The odd cupholder is not as flimsy as I thought. However, I accidentally struck it with my hand three times during my drive up. It's going to end up in pieces, one way or another.

Finally, the passenger's side rear view mirror also threw me off. The outer edge is curved in order to eliminate the blind spot, but it just confused me more.

Monday, June 08, 2015

I bought a Saab!

The inspection was relatively uneventful. I pick it up tomorrow.

Homemade laser gun

Holy crap. How does this work?

Two armed forces ads that aired during the NBA finals

With the U.S. being without a ground war for the first time in 14 years, we are recruiting again. They make the job seem glamorous and action-filled, like a movie. What's particularly interesting is the navy ad, as you can see a red pin clearly in the South China Sea.

Miss Japan is biracial

The xenophobic reaction is not surprising. The surprise is that 1 in 50 baby born in Japan now is biracial.

The Saab is being inspected right now...

Sunday, June 07, 2015

My Saab plan

1. Nobody buys the car this weekend.
2. Seller takes car to Anders for an inspection on Monday.
3. Anders gives the car a clean bill of health (other than a bad taillight).
4. I negotiate with the seller.
5. I fly down on Tuesday to pick up the car.
6. Decide between a Hooniverse or a Bernie Sanders 2016 bumper sticker.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

2016 Presidential Candidates' Cars: Jeb Bush

Though Bush has not announced his candidacy yet, it's all but assured. Here is his wife Columba driving their Mini Cooper S.

Two American hamburger ads

The first, for Carl's Jr., needs no comment.

This one has me thinking. Did they use a geographically correct, two-humped Bactrian camel? I can't tell.

Chilean town in Antarctica

The Antarctica interview led me to Wikipedia, and I found out about Villa Las Estrellas. Ramon, our resident Chileno, then sent this video.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Antarctican car nut interview

Charles is a Kiwi microbiologist by way of Taiwan. He was kind enough to sit down and answer my questions about working and living in Antarctica as well as New Zealand car culture.

1. I understand that you are a scientist who travels to Antarctica. What do you study there?

My main area of research in Antarctica is terrestrial microbial ecology, which means I study the microorganisms (primarily bacteria) found in "soils" (really more like gravel sand) in ice-free parts of Antarctica. Now, I'm not saying Antarctica is not a giant slab of ice and snow-- it is. But a tiny percentage of it (approximately 0.5%) is permanently ice-free. These areas are either the very tips of mountains that stick out of the ice sheet (the technical name is nunataks) or areas that are no longer covered by glaciers (they all were about 20,000 years ago). The biggest of such areas is the McMurdo Dry Valleys, which is ~4,000 km due south of New Zealand and my primary stomping ground.

Contrary to popular belief (you know this phrase is coming), these ice-free areas of Antarctica are not devoid of life-- they're just devoid of vascular plants and vertebrates. So no grass, no trees, and no animals that one would notice without being a specialist in them. Now, I know some people are going to mention seals, penguins, and other sea birds-- biologists regard them as marine animals. And polar bears are found in the Arctic, in case anyone is wondering. Anyway, this means that the ecosystem (and there is one) in the McMurdo Dry Valleys is primarily composed of unicellular microorganisms.

Now I should mention that microorganisms are the primary driving force of almost all ecosystems (including the lawn outside your window), so the Dry Valleys aren't unique for that reason alone. What does make the Dry Valleys unique are the facts that the food web is extremely simple (the "top predator" is a nematode) and that photosynthesis appears to be very restricted (it's a process that requires a lot of water). What this means is that the Dry Valleys can serve as a great model system for microbial ecologists like me to understand how microorganisms interact with abiotic environmental processes. I think it should be fairly obvious by now that my research in Antarctica is very basic science driven by curiosity more than anything else, but just because I haven't figured out how knowledge about Antarctic microorganisms can be applied doesn't mean no one ever will-- much of the technological advancement we have enjoyed for the past 50 years came from basic science that seemed esoteric and academic at one point.

This was me actually doing science in the field as a young postdoc. The white balance was not messed up--the tent was really, really yellow, which made color perception basically impossible.

2. Where have you worked in Antarctica? Do you hop from one research station to another? Or do you pretty much stay at just one location?

As mentioned above, I work primarily in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, and I have been to a few other spots in Antarctica. Before I dive into that, I should point out that the vast majority of my research is supported by Antarctica New Zealand-- New Zealand's Antarctic program(me). The American equivalent of it is the United States Antarctic Program (run by the Office of Polar Programs within the National Science Foundation). Antarctica New Zealand's primary (and only) permanent research station in Antarctica is Scott Base, which is located on Ross Island (about 120 km from the McMurdo Dry Valleys).

I actually spend comparatively little time in Scott Base since we establish and stay in field camps while we're in the Dry Valleys, so the goal is always to get ready as quickly as possible in Scott Base and get out into the field. There are people whose research is better supported out of Scott Base, and they spend extended periods there (weeks to months), but that's not how our research team works. In terms of other research stations, I have been to McMurdo Station (the largest research station in Antarctica, BTW) numerous times (literally too many to count), mostly because it's also on Ross Island and a short 5 minute drive away (or 45 minutes on foot). This is actually a privilege that my American colleagues do not enjoy-- they have to be invited to visit and/or eat at Scott Base. This has to do with the size of the stations: Scott Base peaks at around 80 people, and McMurdo Station can accommodate more than 1,200 in a pinch. So a few extra Kiwis showing up at the McMurdo Station galley is hardly noticeable, but certainly not vice versa. I have also had the privilege of going to the ice (that's the common expression) as part of the United States Antarctic Program, and I had to follow that rule myself (not showing up in Scott Base for dinner unannounced).

This is Ivan, Ivan the Terra Bus (get it?). Ivan is used to ferry passengers from Pegasus Field (NZPG, 3.7 stars on Google Map) to McMurdo Station. Kiwis normally jump on it as well and just get off at Scott Base.

I have also spent some time at the Italian Mario Zucchelli Station in Terra Nova Bay--it has the best food on the continent by far. There's a brand spanking new Korean station (Jang Bogo Station) right across the bay from Mario Zucchelli, but I didn't have a chance to visit it while I was there. The Chinese are planning on building a station at Terra Nova Bay as well, which I certainly would love to visit after it's built. I'm also trying to figure out how I can get myself to the Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole-- it's not straightforward since there really isn't much microbiology at the South Pole, but I will figure it out one day.

The chief meteorologist at Mario Zucchelli Station releasing his two-a-day weather balloon. I'm including this shot mostly for the Fiat 4WD in the background, although Lorenzo is plenty interesting to look at.

3. Are there any telltale and dramatic signs of climate change that you have witnessed in Antarctica?

It's an awkward question for scientists to answer. Intellectually we know that what we can observe within a few years can only be reliably attributed to normal climate variations that occur at annual or decadal scales, but we do see change, and we (as human beings) can't help but wonder if it perhaps is caused by CO2-driven climate change. However, at the continental scale, we definitely are observing (via satellite) destabilization of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and associated ice shelves and glaciers. This is all ice that is currently on land and will undoubtedly contribute to sea-level rise eventually. Scientists are trained to carefully qualify our statements (esp. in public) and only make statements unequivocally supported by evidence. However, we are not necessarily bound by these codes of conduct when making personal decisions. What I want to say is that I don't see myself buying beach-front properties in my life time (wink wink).

A really great shot of the Eurocopter AS350 B3 by @drisk_eh.

4. What is it like to live down there? What do people do when they are not working?

I would have to break this into two halves: at Scott Base and in the field. Scott Base is really kind of like an adult summer camp, especially after we return from the field and have finished all our work. The station is really well run and spotlessly clean, and the biggest hardship is eating too much and gaining weight. It's communal living--bunk beds and all, but it's very pleasant. For recreation, people read, watch movies, and go for a hike or cross-country skiing. There is also a bar. There is wifi internet access at Scott Base, but there isn't enough satellite bandwidth for Skype or FaceTime, much less video or music streaming.

In the field is quite different, obviously. We normally would have a big tent for analyzing samples and other communal activities, and people would sleep in alpine tents. At the most fundamental level, it isn't that different from regular alpine camping, except we move around using helicopters. 

Eurocopter AS350 B3 (known as A Star in the US) used by Antarctica New Zealand and operated by Southern Lakes Helicopter arriving at our camp in Taylor Valley.

Eurocopter EC130 previously used by Antarctica New Zealand and operated by Helicopter New Zealand. In case you're wondering, it was a cliff on the other side of the helicopter.

Eurocopter EC130 with its pilot, Rob, in the foreground. This is not a visual trick, and your depth perception is correct. Rob was very pleased that he managed to put the helicopter in that spot.

However, our activities are governed by a very stringent environmental code of conduct, which includes zero release of material into the environment (everything has to come back to Scott Base) and minimal disturbance to the environment. It's quite daunting at first, but one gets used to it pretty quickly. Recreational activities are actually very similar to what we do in Scott Base, except no skiing since it's the Dry Valleys. We don't have internet access in the field, and the upside of that is that people spend a lot of time talking to each other. Spending time with someone in the field is IMHO the best way to get to know them.

Camp life in the Dry Valleys. Here were three of my colleagues huddled around the heater/toaster looking serious. Chances are they were talking absolute non-sense.

5. What kind of land vehicles are typically used in Antarctica? Are they just used within the base and immediate surroundings? Any long distance land vehicles?

Wheeled and tracked vehicles are only used on designated roads around Scott Base and McMurdo Station (and all other research stations, I believe). In ice-free areas, this is to minimize unnecessary damage to desert surfaces. On ice, this is to prevent vehicles from falling through crevasses. The United States Antarctic Program does do a traverse from McMurdo Station to Amundsen-Scott Station occasionally, and this is done with big CAT tractors and various heavy tracked vehicles. They push a ground-penetrating radar in front of the caravan to detect crevasses before they get onto the plateau. Once on the plateau, it's really pretty smooth going, and you'd do okay even with a fat tire bike. In terms of the vehicle used, there are of course a number of custom-made vehicles (some of them in my pictures), but the fleet of "normal" vehicles at McMurdo Station consists of Ford F350 and E350 (with various levels of modification). Scott Base now runs a fleet of J70 Land Cruisers, which according to the mechanics I talked to, are very close to stock. We used to have a lot of Hilux pickups, but I think they became too sophisticated in recent years and more difficult to service than Land Cruisers. The Italian program uses Mitsubishi Triton/L200 pickups and various older Fiat vehicles, and I was told that the Korean program uses Kia vehicles exclusively.

Arrival Heights Laboratory (the white dome) seen from ground level. The area around the laboratory is a no-go zone (Antarctic Specially Protected Area, ASPA). Most ASPAs are designated for environmental or ecological reasons, but Arrival Height is an ASPA because any nearby EM emission would wreak havoc with the sensitive instruments there. Note the J70 Land Cruiser troop carrier used by Antarctica New Zealand.

Hägglunds Bandvagn 206, otherwise known as the most uncomfortable mode of transport in Antarctica. It does float on water (theoretically), which of course is a very useful feature for traveling on sea ice.

A shot of the brand new (i.e., recently refurbished) Hägglunds Bandvagn 206 that Antarctica New Zealand bought in 2014. I believe this shot was taken mere hours before it nearly sank in sea ice. Fortunately they eventually got it out. (credit @drisk_eh)

6. What is the most surprising thing about your experience down there that no one prepared you for?

Everything on my first trip, and really nothing after my tenth trip. It sounds cynical but it's true. And this is not because I'm becoming jaded-- it's because I have realistic expectations and a reasonable amount of experience. My motto in Antarctica is from Roald Amundsen: "Adventure is just bad planning", and my expectation is for our carefully laid out plans to completely fall apart (hopefully due to reasons beyond our control) and have to make new ones. Once I came to terms with this aspect of operating in Antarctica, nothing really came as a surprise anymore.

However, there was one instance that genuinely caught me by surprise. I was at a deep-field camp halfway between Ross Island and the South Pole, and I had to go out and use the facilities (indoor plumbing is difficult to achieve on a glacier). The weather was coming in, so everyone was making preparations to tie things down. While I was in the middle of my business, someone came and secured a cargo strap around the wooden structure in case the door got blown open and ripped off. Most unfortunately for me, there was a really strong gust of wind (probably ~40 knots) while he was doing this, so he did not hear my yell for him to stop. Now, these cargo straps aren't just regular ratchet straps--they're USAF issue and rated for 5,000 lbs. So I had zero chance of breaking out and a very real chance of dying in a frozen toilet. Fortunately the wind died down for a short period, and someone eventually heard my cry for help. I have played out the scenario in my head quite a few times, and I just can't see one where reasonable planning could have helped. I supposed I could have had a buddy system set up, but that's frankly ridiculous when you're just going to the loo in the middle of a 100-person camp. What's life without adventure, right?

A Twin Otter aircraft used by practically all Antarctic programs and operated by Ken Borek Air. This very aircraft unfortunately crashed in Jan 2013 en route from Amundsen-Scott Station to Mario Zucchelli Station. Sadly everyone perished, and the wreckage has yet to be recovered.

7. Are there any current geopolitical tensions involving Antarctica that we in the public are not aware of?

There is some geopolitical tension around sub-Antarctic islands south of South America among the usual quarrelsome pairs, but the relationship between all the national programs operating in the Ross Sea Region is very cordial and collaborative. In many ways, Antarctic research and field programs really represent ideal cases of diplomacy and international collaboration.

A shot of Lake Buddha and Joyce Glacier.

8. Is there any chance of a military or commercial/mining presence being established in Antarctica in the near future?

There is already military presence in Antarctica-- almost all national programs are implicitly or explicitly supported (or even run--particularly for Latin American countries) by their respective military forces. This is true for both New Zealand and the United States, but this should not be taken as a sign of military aggression. The truth is that asking national armed forces for logistical support is often the easiest (and cheapest) solution.

Having said all that, all national Antarctic programs exist in part to enhance strategic interests, and the United States stands alone as the only country that can get anyone from its capital to the South Pole in 24 hours without external assistance (except the use of Christchurch airport). Commercial fishing in Antarctic waters is already a reality (ever heard of Chilean sea bass?), and exploration of mineral and petroleum resources is actually listed as an explicit goal of the Chinese Antarctic program (much to other national programs' chagrin, but they're all thinking the same thing if we're being brutally honest). At this time (and the foreseeable future), extracting mineral resources from Antarctica is simply not economical, but I would say it's a matter of time. If oil is $2,000 a barrel, you can bet Exxon/Mobil will be drilling in Antarctica.

A shot from inside a USAF C-17 over Antarctica.

9. You live in New Zealand. Who has a greater influence on car buying trends and car culture there-- Australian carmakers, Japanese, someone else?

I have lived in New Zealand for about 12 years, and I have witnessed a couple of very distinct changes in New Zealand's car culture. When I first arrived, Australian marques dominated the new car market, and most of their sales were full-size sedans and utes (i.e., Falcon and Commodore). However, most people bought used imports from Japan (more on used imports later). Toyota was a clear third in the early 2000s (the volume model was Camry), followed by Honda and Nissan.

By the late 2000s, Toyota was the clear leader (Corolla now the volume model), and Holden and Ford were fighting for second place, with comparatively few full-size sedans being sold--we all know what that led to. Mazda became a mainstream brand, as did the Korean duo. Honda and Nissan new car sales plummeted-- as did Mitsubishi (but it deserved it). In recent years, the VAG brands became much stronger, and Nissan is enjoying a nice resurgence thanks to reasonably priced models imported from the US. Toyota remains the favorite of fleet purchase managers, so it's holding onto the top spot. A few Chinese makes have also entered the market: Great Wall (Haval), Chery, and Foton. At their rate of improvement, I expect the Chinese carmakers to play a much bigger role in the New Zealand car market in coming years once people got over the stigma like they did for the Korean brands. Oh, I should mention that New Zealanders (myself included) own more Subaru per capita than any other country.

A J70 Land Cruiser flatbed used by Antarctica New Zealand. (credit @drisk_eh)

Used imports are a very New Zealand phenomenon. As far as I know, no other advanced economy imports quite so many used vehicles for retail sales. The used imports predominantly come from Japan, followed by Australia (yes New Zealand is the poor cousin) and Singapore. If my memory serves me, in the late 90s and early 00s, more than 90% of the vehicles sold for the first time in New Zealand were used imports.

I didn't find used imports a particularly good value, partly because I knew how much those vehicles cost when they were new and that used cars were close to worthless in Japan. Many popular vehicles were selling at close to full retail price even though they were more than 5 years old (I remember one salesman trying to convince me that a 5 year old Mitsubishi Legnum [non-VR4] was a good deal at $20,000-- it sold for little more than ¥2,000,000 when new). Prices did come down after more and more people got into the used import business, eventually leading to a bubble (everyone and their uncle was opening a used car dealership) that burst in the late 00s.

Since then, New Zealanders have warmed up to the idea of buying brand new cars. In the space of 2-3 years, nearly all new car dealerships in my city built or moved into much bigger showrooms (with Honda and Mitsubishi being notable exceptions), and nearly all the large used import dealers had closed or changed hands. I still wouldn't buy used imports because they tend to be very poorly spec'ed on safety equipments-- can someone from Japan please explain the rationale of dropping $60k on a Toyota Alphard and opting for just two airbags? But prices are generally reasonable now except on really popular models (cough, RAV4, and cough, CR-Vs). Overall I think having used imports as an option is a really good thing, and I wish more countries opened up their automotive market like New Zealand has. It's nice to know that I can buy and register a Toyota Century or Nissan Stagea tomorrow if I wanted to (although I probably won't)-- all those exotic JDM cars are available legally to us Kiwis.

USCGC Polar Star coming into McMurdo Sound. An icebreaker is required to carve out a channel for the supply vessels to arrive in late January. The added benefit is that whales come in through the channel, making things much easier for researchers who work on them. (credit @drisk_eh)

10. Why do you love cars?

I think my dad had a lot of do with it. He was an executive at one of the largest automotive part manufacturers in Taiwan, and he dabbled in automotive light designs every now and then. In fact, he supposedly (i.e., according to my mom) designed the very distinctive hexagonal cell tail lights of the Yue Loong (aka Yulon) Feeling 101. As a result of his job, one of my earliest childhood memories was him giving me a tail light from a Yue Loong Sunny (aka Datsun Sunny B310) as a toy. That's all kinds of messed up, but chances are I asked for it. Unfortunately he passed away when I was a teenager, or I'm sure he would be involved in the booming Chinese automotive industry right now, working out deals to supply parts and designing tail lights.

The other explanation is that cars greatly satisfied my natural curiosity before I discovered computers (this is the 80s, remember). Just knowing all the nitty gritty about all the cars I see on the roads, and making it clear to the adults around me that I know vastly more than them about a particular subject was very satisfying to me. Who knows-- perhaps I wouldn't be as interested in cars had I had access to the internet growing up. Having said that, my daughter is getting very good at recognizing cars as well without me intentionally asking her to, so perhaps it's all genetic. I only hope that cars with full manual control (and perhaps even manual transmission!) are still available (and road legal?) by the time she grows up so she gets to experience learning to drive like I did. Perhaps I should go buy a FiST and garage it so there is one when that day arrives (not that I learned to drive in anything nearly as exciting as that)?