Saturday, August 27, 2016

Big honkin' trucks. America's got 'em

PAMPLONA, Spain -- We just returned to Spain after two months in the U.S., and nothing impressed me more than the size of the popular pickup trucks, like this one, the Ford F-150.

The Ford F-150 is the most popular vehicle sold in the U.S.

This is one big truck for tough guys who like to work hard. It has "military-grade aluminum alloy", according to the ads. But don't let anyone kid you.  

This truck is also for soccer dads and soccer moms, because right after telling you how tough it is, the ads tell you that it's the safest ever. Chevrolet's competing model the Colorado is advertised as "tough" for the dads and "refined" for the moms. Brilliant marketing.

The Ford F-150 has been the top selling vehicle in the U.S. for more than 30 years.

In my unscientific, completely random, totally unreliable survey of what I thought I was seeing in the states of Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and (mostly) Ohio and Michigan was that folks use these crew-cab pickups to commute to work, run errands, shuttle kids, and haul big toys like all-terrain vehicles (3,270-pound payload for the F-150).

All the manufacturers make their biggest profit margins on trucks and SUVs. This is because buyers' emotions take over. Ford reported that its record profits earlier this year were due to aggressively pricing their trucks.    

When logic goes out the window, salespeople can charge more. Mr. Money Moustache, the original cheapskate, has a very funny take on the whole business of Americans buying trucks. 

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The giants of Pamplona's Basque culture

Giants are a part of the festival of San Fermin, which takes place July 6-14.

The community center where I swim had a couple of 13-foot giants on display last week, and a sign said they would be "dancing" as part of a neighborhood Basque culture festival. Cindy and I decided to go check it out (50-second video below).

Pamplona is politically outside the Basque Autonomous Region (we're in Navarra), but the northern part of the city is culturally very Basque. We live in Etxacaboiz (etch-a-ka-BOYTZ), on the border with Barañáin, a couple of good Basque place names. 

Thursday, June 02, 2016

It's “less than three weeks”, not “fewer than”

The stylebooks are wrong on the rule about less/fewer.

Here is an excerpt from a Reuters story about the Egypt Air crash that made me cringe:
The recorders are designed to emit acoustic signals for 30 days after a crash, giving search teams fewer than three weeks to spot them in waters up to 9,840-feet (3,000 meters) deep, which is on the edge of their range.
It should read “less than three weeks”.

The stylebooks say that you should use “fewer” for things that you can count and “less” for things you don’t count. You can count one, two, three weeks.

But I am with Grammar Girl on this one. She says,
Time, money, distance, and weight are often listed as exceptions to the traditional “can you count it” rule because they take less, but when you use the “singular or plural” rule, time, money, distance, and weight all fall in line.
She has a couple of excellent examples to make the case that you should use “less” rather than “fewer” in those cases.
  • We had less than $1,000 dollars in the bank.
  • We’re less than 50 miles away.
  • I can fix the roof in less than 12 hours.
The number of dollars is one amount of money. The number of miles is one distance. The number of hours is one period.

And I’ll add this one: All the wrestlers in that class have to weigh less than 140 pounds. “Fewer” would sound absurd in that case and is, of course, wrong.


Sunday, April 03, 2016

Roman holiday in western Spain

Cindy inside the Moorish fortress in Mérida. The Visigoths built on top of the Roman fort, and the Moors built on top of that. Then came the Catholic kings . . . .
From the northeast of Spain where we live, Pamplona, to the wilds of Extremadura in the southwest is about eight hours by train or by car. We wanted to visit Mérida, which was an important Roman city 2,000 years ago and has many of the best preserved buildings from that era anywhere.

Extremadura is also famous for its hams, which come from pigs that run free and feed on acorns (bellotas). In the supermarket, Iberian ham runs for about $20 a pound. But the special purebred black pigs raised on certain farms produce hams that fetch $500 a pound or so in Japan and England.

Think Ben Hur

During Roman times, people in what is now western Spain were crazy for horse racing -- cuadrigas, or four-horse chariots, were the Formula 1 of the time -- and the horses from that part of Spain were famous throughout the empire for their speed and endurance. Many of the best charioteers to compete in the Roman Colosseum came from this region.

The Circus Maximus in Mérida was not excavated until the 19th century. It's about a half mile long, so it is comparable in length to a harness racing track. It could seat about 30,000 people.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Latin dancing in Germany, Cologne cathedral and Berlin

We spent two weeks over Christmas visiting daughter Bridget in Northwest Germany, specifically Gelsenkirchen (green marker). Took a trip to visit the fantastic Cologne cathedral (yellow marker) and spent three days in freezing Berlin (red marker). (You can zoom in on the map for more detail).

The most fun was getting to see her dance "Swan Lake" (above) in a choreography that she created, and to meet some of the dancers and colleagues.

After the New Year's Eve performance of "Swan Lake", Bridget had a party at her apartment. The Brazilians and the Cubans from the dance company, and their compatriots, got things moving on the dance floor.