Posts tagged ‘car’

May 18, 2011


Lemons are those yellow, tart, healthy things that taste so good with ice cubes some water, sugar and your hard liquor of choice – bit not only.  the term lemon is also used to describe severely flawed products, especially cars.

A real lemon, color and all, pic:

Generally the flaws are hidden and so people who buy the product/car think they are making a good purchase just to find out later that they – well, got a lemon.  To protect consumers against lemon cars so called lemon laws exist in all states.  The definition of what constitutes a lemon is different in different states a sort of consensus definition is: A vehicle that continues to have a defect that substantially impairs its use, value, or safety. Generally, if the car has been repaired 4 or more times for the same Defect within the Warranty Period and the Defect has not been fixed, the car qualifies as a Lemon.

The phrase dates back to the 19th century when people started to describe other people were unfriendly, not cheerful or “sour” as lemons.  From there it was but a small step to refer to broken things as lemons.

March 1, 2011


A case of Jayjogging, pic:

Jaywalking is the term for all you petty criminals who cross the street against the light, walk across the street between intersections, run across th2 street without yielding to cars  and otherwise engage in illegal crossing of streets.

The term jaywalking is a compound noun consisting of the words jay and walking.  In the olden days in the American Midwest jay was a derogatory term for people from rural areas.   Then, like it might still be the case, people fro the countryside were considered to, well, at least naive and inexperienced when it comes to the ways of the city, especially traffic.  And so the poor jays walked all over the streets with no regard to traffic.

The dissemination of the term after its (alleged) first use in 1909 is believe to have been helped by the car industry which wanted to redefine the streets as places were cars drive, not people wander around.

February 12, 2011

Metering lights

This is another of those Californian traffic things that a lot of people – foreigners and those from other parts of the US – don’t know: metering lights.  Like car pool lanes, metering lights are used to regulate the traffic on freeways.  In the case of car pool lanes once the cars are already on the freeway.  The metering lights regulate how fast cars get on the freeway.

Metering lights - improving traffic flow. Hopefully. Pic:

These lights are to be found on many freeway entrances and they only have two settings: red (mostly) and green (occasionally).  The cars that want to enter the freeway stop at the red metering light and wait for green.  Unlike the usual traffic lights the green phase is very short and only one car is allowed to go per green.

This way the flux of additional cars onto the already congested freeway is limited.  Metering lights are only in use when traffic is heavy.

Of course, metering lights can be combined with with car pool lanes: cars on the car pool lane get more frequent green periods than regular cars, but still only one car is allowed.  Here is a short article about the effect of metering lights on traffic flow.

February 12, 2011

Car pools

My German friends, when they come over, or rather if they come over, always find our Californian car pool lanes amazing.  After I explain to them what it is, of course, because the associations connected with “car pools” are all over the place and mostly off the mark.

The beauty of car pool lanes during a bad commute, pic:

Car pool lanes were invented to incentivize people to commute together, to share a car, save energy, and held avoid completely congested roads.  So during commute hours, from 6 t0 9 in the morning (yes, some people drive to work that early – or so the story goes) and from 3 to 7 pm on many freeways one lane is reserved for vehicles with 2 or more occupants (pets don’t count, nor does livestock – to the best of my knowledge).

Since these cars are few and far between the car pool lanes generally allow for faster driving than the regular lanes.  A big advantage if you say, drive south on 101 and end up in the usual traffic jam around Palo Alto every day of your professional live.

Not big enough, though, for most people to drive a big detour in the morning and evening to pick up a colleague who works at the same company or nearby.  I guess, that’s why it works.  If there were too many car pools the whole thing would become counterproductive.

Just to avoid problems: it is a bad idea to take the car pool lane alone.  If they get you, you pay – though the nose.

February 4, 2011

Pet peeve

Hummer in compact spot. Had to add the dots on the U which makes it duemmer = more stupid in German , pic:

I have a few pet peeves, one is big cars in general and another those same vehicle sparked in “compact cars only” parking spots thereby blocking two parking spaces, then there are people who skip the line (unless it’s me, of course), people who drive less than speed limit or text while driving, or have terrible table manners, or slam car doors shut in front of my window at 2 am and then have really loud, drunken, meaningless discussions, …

That might have made the meaning of pet peeve clear, if not, here is a definition:a pet peeve is something about which one frequently complains.  It is something (often small) that really irritates one which nobody else out there is bothered with.

The origin of the word is unexciting, its first usage was around 1919. The term is a back-formation from the 14th-century word peevish, meaning  ill-tempered.

February 4, 2011

Bigger is better, part 4

I have to return to my pet peeve of big cars.

Let me start 12 years back when I moved to California.  A gallon of gas was like $1.10.  A whole tank for my small VW cost me less that $15.  Then all sorts of bad stuff happened and gas prices were up to almost $4.60 per gallon in mid-2008.  Had I told my SUV-owning friends in 2000 that it would come to this they would have thought me crazy.

People were shell-shocked as they had come to expect cheap gas as their natural right.  Gas prices declined to somewhere between $2.50 and $2.80.  “For Sale” signs started to show up on SUVs and pick-up trucks, smaller cars started to sell better and the incorrigible optimists among us thought that – finally – something had clicked, that people did understand that those gas guzzlers guzzled too much gas and that a small car serves the purpose: moving people from A to B.

I was naive.  Even with as prices up again to almost $3.40 and further price increases likely to happen the car sales statistics for 2010 tells us in no uncertain terms that Americans taken as a whole want big cars, unreasonably big cars – at any price.  $3 + per gallon would have scandalized  people a decade ago but has now become the new “cheap”.

My evidence: the best selling vehicle in 2010 – vehicle, not truck – was the Ford F-150, a monster of a pick-up truck.  Ford sold 391,219 of the trucks, a 38% increase from 2009.   Number 2 was the Toyota Camry, the long-time number 1 up until 2009, and in third position the Chevrolet’s Silverado 1500 – another monster.

With high unemployment, stagnant if not declining wages, high gas prices, a shaky economy, dwindling oil reserves, a huge oil spill in the Golf of Mexico (seems almost forgotten by now) people go out and – buy trucks!

Somebody please explain this to me!!

February 3, 2011

Turn on a dime

Another phrase involving money, or more specifically a dime, a 10 cent coin, the smallest coin in the US.  The expression is “to turn on a dime”.

Something that turns on an dime changes direction very quickly, more or less instantaneously.  The origin of the expression goes back to to high performance cars, airplanes, boats.  The ability to turn around on the smallest of coins implies that you can turn very quickly in a very small space.  Turning on a dime does not imply change for better or worse, just quick change.

Here are two examples:

“We are all hoping the economy will improve quickly but it is not likely it will turn on a dime.”

And in a more literal sense: “I love this little car.  It can turn on a dime.”

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January 29, 2011

Bigger is Better, part 1

This is one of the seemingly deeply ingrained cultural norms of the US that I had (and at times have) the hardest time to understand in the sense of really getting it: Americans love big things! Bigger is better, pretty much always.

The examples are countless but most obvious to me in three things: cars, houses, and portions.

Bigger is better, especially with cars, pic:

Let’s talk about cars today: in Europe people drive cars that wouldn’t even be called cars here they are so small.  In fact they are frequently referred to as “shoeboxes”.  Here you pretty much have to own an SUV or a minivan in addition to your “sedan” , especially if you have children (or even one child).  The correlation between being pregnant and buying a minivan is pretty much perfect.  These cars are considered better, safer, more reliable, and more comfortable, more convenient (“when baby Jayden is 8 I want to be able to get his whole soccer team in the car to drive them to practice”) when in fact they are neither – they are just bigger.

Same with trucks.  I can see why somebody working in construction or a gardener would need such a vehicle.  But why does every other family guy who trims the trees once a year and needs to dispose of the twigs needs to own a Ford F-250?

For a long time I struggled to understand why people choose to buy these vehicles, when study after study shows them to have safety issues, be overpriced for what they are, and to be gas guzzling monsters to boot.   I missed the point, people buy them because they are big, the rest is just justification along the lines of:

“I could go off-roading with that car, I don’t, but it is good to know that I could, if I ever wanted.”

“As a parent I want the best for my child and that’s why I need a minivan to drive Amelia to piano class.”

“When our parents come to visit for Thanksgiving we want to be able to fit everybody in one car.”

“A guy always has something to haul around, that’s why I need a big truck.”

Deep down I still don’t get it.

I still don’t understand why size is a value unto itself.  I have, however, learned that that’s the way it is and stopped getting into useless discussions about off-roading, hauling stuff, the non-existent causal relationship between being a good parent and owning a minivan, and the relative cost of renting a larger car for a week when the parents are around versus buying one and paying for it all year.

January 21, 2011


Another of those not so funny funny-words: rubbernecking

Rubbernecking cartoon, pic:

You all have seen rubberneckers, probably engaged in some rubbernecking yourself.  Here is a typical situation in which you engage in that behavior: you are driving on the freeway and see police lights up ahead, the traffic slows down, an ambulance or two are standing by the side of the road.  You – like everybody else – slow down in the hopes to catch a glimpse of the carnage, maybe see a a bit of blood or at least a horribly damaged car.  You slow a bit more,  stare over some more, and crane your neck as you drive by to not miss a thing.

You have just been rubbernecking.

The origin of the word is obvious: people are craning their necks as if they were made from rubber in order to see more.

Rubbernecking is one of these things we all hate in principle but all engage in at some point of our life (or several points).  Most people just can’t seem to help it.

December 17, 2010


Here is an interesting expression for you: “where the rubber hits the road” or “where the rubber meets the road”.

A literal interpretation of rubber hitting the road. Pic:

It is a useful little idiom which – unsurprisingly – originated from racing.  When the rubber of the tires hits the road, that’s when the car starts moving.

It is now used much more broadly and with different meanings in different contexts.  So it isn’t easy to give a comprehensive explanation of this idiom.  Let’s try, though:

It can mean “when things get serious” or indicate the point at which reality must be faced, or the point at which a decision or a stand must be taken, the time when talking stops and the action must begin.

Some examples:

“This strategy sounds very promising but it’s the implementation of these ideas where the rubber meets the road.”

“You have to stand by your spouse not just in good times but also through bad times.  That’s where the rubber hits the road.”

An example from recent politics in the UK:  “David Cameron today warned his Cabinet ‘this is where the rubber hits the road’ as the Government prepares itself to unveil swingeing spending cuts within weeks.”

If you like science you will appreciate this quote (abbreviated, the article is here):  “Arguably the most difficult aspect of science-based medicine is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. That’s where scientists and physicians take the results of preclinical studies (…) to humans.”