Saturday, July 28, 2012

Vans Sneaker iPhone Case

My son Sean really needs a case like this. He's on his fourth new iPhone since February 1. He goes through them like crap through a goose. Each iPhone ends up getting smashed. Gorilla glass cannot stand up to the rigors of life of my 17-year old. If it were not for the iPhone AppleCare program, he would be phoneless.

Vans, maker of iPhone cases, understands my son. In order to maximize the grip that one can exercise when holding an iPhone, Vans has created a waffle case, just like you would find on the bottom of a sneaker. Made of gum rubber, the case is available in white, black or pink. The case sells for $28 and you can check them out here:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Jaguar Shooting Brake

The trickle of manufacturers introducing Shooting Brakes has started to turn into a torrent. Pictured above is the new Jaguar XF Sportbrake. Based on the midsize Jaguar XF sedan, this latest addition to the Shooting Brake population goes on sale in late 2012. As of this writing, there are no plans to bring the car across the pond.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

WeatherBug Elite

I love this iPhone app. It's beyond useful and of all of the apps I have installed on my iPhone, it's the one I use the most. I'm a bit anal when it comes to the weather and I have no less than six weather apps on my phone....but WeatherBug Elite is heads and tails above all of the others.

I walk a couple of miles each morning and this gives me incredibly detailed and precise information as to what's going on at my location. It starts when I crank the app up. Using the iPhone's GPS capabilities, it pinpoints my location and then adjusts all of the data accordingly:

On the main screen, I get a readout of the current conditions and a brief forecast:

When I click on the next screen, I get a detailed forecast:

And I can click once more to get an hourly breakout of the weather:

But the live radar is, by far, the best feature of Weatherbug Elite. I can get an up-to-the minute snapshot of radar/precipitation/lightning in my area (or for the whole country). There is also a time lapse button that lets me see the exact direction and speed of the storm:

This feature has proven to be invaluable on my morning walk, ensuring that I don't get stuck on the far side of the lake when the storm hits. It's also been extremely useful for my son Patrick's baseball games...I can plainly see in advance when a game will get called due to weather. And I was also recently at a classic car show when the skies started to darken. A lot of the car collectors were getting nervous and I was able to warn them that a hail storm was imminent. They were able to get their cars out of there before the hail started crashing down from the heavens.

Weatherbug Elite has a ton more features...too many to go into here. But suffice it to say that it is the most useful and most used app that I have on my iPhone. And at $1.99, I think it's the bargain of the century. There is also a separate iPad app with more elaborate functionality. And while I have that, too, I think the most important weather app is the one you have in your pocket. If you spend any amount of time outdoors or have a kid involved in outdoor sports, you really need this app. Get yours at the Apple App Store.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Brief History of the Shooting Brake

Back in the 1920's, there were no SUV's. So if you were a hunter, with an ample collection of guns and dogs, there weren't really any vehicles to serve your hobby. For those wealthy enough to afford it back in the 20's, there was a solution: The Shooting Brake.

Back in that period, the term "brake" meant chassis. And shooting meant just that...shooting. So a Shooting Brake was a specially made car designed to carry guns and hounds. But no one made such a thing back then. If you wanted this special, purpose built "estate wagon", you had to commission a coach builder to make you one from an existing car.

The earliest Shooting Brakes were made from fine motor cars like Rolls Royce. The car shown at the top of this blog was originally a touring saloon. A custom coach builder took the car apart and then custom fabricated the panels to turn it into a Shooting Brake.

The early shooting brakes were either 2 or 4 door vehicles. As station wagons started to appear on the scene, the term "Shooting Brake" was primarily applied to 2-door versions. Even Chevrolet jumped on the bandwagon, rolling out their version, the Chevy Nomad, in 1955.

The aristocrats kept the Shooting Brake term alive in the 1960's by commissioning bespoke versions of very high-end cars. One of my all-time favorites was this 1965 Aston Martin Shooting Brake:

The concept of the Shooting Brake languished for many decades. But then in 2011, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Ferrari shocked the automotive world by rolling out  a modern-day Shooting Brake, the Ferrari FF. The two "F's" stand for Four passengers and Four-wheel drive. The design is truly remarkable for a modern day production car:

I firmly believe we are at the beginning of a rennaisance of the Shooting Brake concept. Mercedes just introduced the CLS Shooting Brake. Porsche is rumored to be working on a version for the Panamera. And the upcoming Audi A9 is rumored to be a Shooting Brake version of their flagship A8. It's a great time to be a Shooting Brake fanboy.

Porsche Panamera Shooting Brake?

Ferrari started the re-birth of the Shooting Brake with their incredible FF model. Then, if you caught my blog last week, Mercedes stunned the automotive world by rolling out their astonishingly beautiful CLS Shooting Brake. That got the attention of the folks in Stuttgart...and the rumor mills are awash in whispers of a Porsche Panamera Shooting Brake.

The Porsche Panamera is, perhaps, the second ugliest German sedan after the BMW 5 Series GT. It looks like a pregnant beluga whale and the owners apologetically explain it is an extraordinary sedan....once you get past it's looks. If Porsche could put out a Panamera Shooting Brake that looks anything like the rendering above, they would have a bona fide smash hit on their hands.

Such a change to the vehicle improves the utility by about 25% and improves the appearance by 5,000%. The rumor mills are suggesting we will see the concept car at the car shows this October and it will roll out as a 2015 model. Be still my heart.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

3D Blu-ray Rentals

I made the plunge and put a 3D AV set-up in my game room this week. In doing so, I also discovered the total dearth of 3D viewing material out there in the world. Direct TV has a handful of stations broadcasting in 3D, but there's not much in the way of compelling content.

The best way to enjoy the 3D experience at home is with 3D Blu-ray discs. Amazon has  a fairly large library, but I have little interest in owning movies. I want to watch a movie and then move on to the next one. Buying Blu-ray discs is a very expensive proposition and that's not where I would like to invest my dollars.

Netflix does not rent 3D Blu-ray discs. But thanks to the law of supply and demand, a small company has set up shop that is offering 3D Blu-ray rentals. The company is 3D Bluray Rental and they operate the exact same way that Netflix did in it's infancy. You go online and pick out your movies, which run from $3.99 to $5.99 per rental, and the rental fee includes free shipping. The site mails your movie to you and you have 7 days to watch it. Then you just drop it in the mail and you are done. Late fees apply if you miss that 7-day window.

They have an enormous library of 3D Blu-ray discs...far bigger than anyone else. They take great pride in their selection of hard-to-find 3D titles. If you have a 3D TV, this site is really worth the visit. If you are thinking about 3D, this site gives you a really good idea of the 3D Blu-ray content available to you. Check it out here:

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake

I love German station wagons. They are all the rage in Europe. Not so much here in the US of A. The "station wagon stigma" is an unfortunate holdover from the baby boomer era and it has made the station wagon an endangered species here. Voting with their wallets, Americans routinely buy SUV's and ignore station wagons...or "estate wagons" as they are called in Europe.

I am perplexed by this phenomenon. A station wagon gives you all of the cargo-toting capabilities of a SUV, the handling capabilities of a car and much better gas mileage. Yet people opt for SUV's with their high ground clearance, which gives the vehicle a much higher center of gravity, compromised handling and a higher propensity for rollovers. And we Americans keep buying them by the millions.

Audi has withdrawn their A4 and A6 wagons from our shores. The only thing to satisfy the wagon urge for Audi fanboys is the stunning A4 Allroad. BMW withdrew the 5 series wagon and replaced it with the ugliest car of all-time, the 5 series GT. What in the hell were BMW's designers thinking when they penned that monstrosity? Perhaps they were giving Pontiac Aztek owners something to aspire to? On the bright side, BMW just announced that they will be bringing their new 3 series wagon stateside.

Mercedes has fought the tide by continuing to offer their gorgeous E-series wagon. And then they shocked the automotive world by creating the drop-dead beautiful CLS Shooting Brake you see pictured above. This is a wagon variation based on their popular CLS sedan (which is inexplicably marketed as a "four door coupe"). It goes on sale later this fall (price TBD) and will be available in both rear and all-wheel drive.

If you are in a hurry, you can opt for the CLS 63 AMG Shooting Brake. The monster, twin-turbocharged V-8 puts out 550 horsepower and will rocket the car from 0-60 in just 3.8 mind-warping seconds. Those kind of numbers give me thigh sweats. Just as I was getting all worked up for this beauty, Mercedes announced that the CLS Shooting Brake will only be available in Europe.