From time to time we all probably feel we've become prisoners to techno stuff-cell phones with minds of their own and, lest we forget, those ``easy to operate'' unprogrammable VCRs.
Suchart Jaovisidha, the finance minister of Thailand, found himself in a more serious situation when he was held captive...by his car. Last month security guards were forced to use a sledgehammer to break the windows of the minister's BMW 520 after its computer system failed, locking the official and his driver inside.
Mr. Jaovisidha told the Bangkok Post: ``I could hardly breathe at that time, so I decided to gesture to the guards to help, but it took a long time before they realized what was going on.''
The car's doors and windows locked automatically when the device failed and the air conditioning also shut down. The minister said that after he and his driver failed to break the windows by kicking them, ``at that moment, I knew that German car had very strong windows.''
Sounds like something right out of a James Bond flick and luckily- like 007 always does-Mr. Jaovisidha escaped.
This 'n that
A modest proposal-With apologies to Jonathan Swift for that reference, reality TV's ``The Bachelor'' on ABC just ended with a surprise.
Speculation was bachelor Andrew Firestone would pick audience favorite Kirsten to be his betrothed. But the great-grandson of Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. founder Harvey Firestone instead chose finalist Jen, a 26-year-old account exec, from a field of 25 suitors (or is that suitoresses?).
His marriage proposal gifts to her: a rose, a diamond ring...and a set of tires?
Clean machine-The votes are in: the International Carwash Association's ``Most Washable Car'' of the year award goes to...the envelope please...the 2003 Honda Accord.
It really soaked up the suds in the annual competition, leaving past winners Toyota Camry and Chevrolet Monte Carlo in the dust. Those folks who wash cars for a living base the award on things such as smooth, aerodynamic lines that do not retain dirt and the sturdy attachment of moldings.
Tasteless treads-Racing draws fanatics at every turn. One recently tried to make a few bucks in an unfortunate way.
A fan using the moniker ``fdino'' offered for sale on the eBay Web site shards of Formula One rubber thrown from either Bridgestone or Michelin tires. The collectible come-on was that they supposedly came at Michael Schumacher's first 2003 Ferrari win at the San Marino Grand Prix. And to pump up the value of the so-called ``memorabilia,'' the seller hyped the death of Mr. Schumacher's mom. The good news: the shreds didn't even sell at $1.
You pay for your kicks-After careful examination, Runzheimer International, which tracks these kinds of things, has crowned Detroit, Los Angeles and Philadelphia the cities with the most costly vehicle insurance rates.
Average annual insurance premiums for a mid-size car hit nearly $4,000 in Detroit, the Rochester, Wis.-based firm said, while the rates are under $700 in Eau Claire, Wis. We're not sure how that burb's night life compares to Motown, but we'd settle for cheap insurance and a chocolate eclair.
Money to burn-Looking for something really neat to do with that federal income tax rebate you may have been lucky enough to receive? (After all, it is your money you're just getting back.)
A columnist on the Web site Bankrate.com listed 14 things people can do with their new-found cash. Those included practical things like paying down credit card debt, opening an IRA account, setting up a ``rainy day fund,'' treating yourself to a full day at a local spa or riding the rails to see North America via Amtrak (if you can stand delays and derailments).
Coming in at the No. 10 spot is ``service your car.'' John Clor, the Detroit editor for Edmunds.com, noted the top thing ``people forget with cars is to maintain them.'' And, he continued, ``a well-maintained car with properly inflated tires burns less gas and saves you money in the long run.'' Still, we prefer No. 12 on the list: ``Go out on the town.'' Sounds like more fun than airing up tires.
Punch it-No, not the gas pedal. There's a new product its marketers say is designed to combat that ailment known as roadus rageus.
The goal of the ``Yacksack'' is to redirect that road-bred rage some of us mere mortals feel from time to time while trying to qualify for the pole position in the daily rat race. The sack's a miniature-sized punching bag containing a voice box that emits witty quips when slugged. The R-rated utterances (being a family newspaper, there's nothing we can repeat here) are meant to humor drivers and thereby diffuse anger. Then again, like a cell phone, maybe it's just something else to distract some drivers' already diminished attention spans.
Nonetheless, for more info check out the company's Web site, www.yacksack.com, where it states that the product is ``not intended for persons under 18 years of age.''
How's my driving?
In light of the previous item on road rage, we present for your consideration the results of a just-released survey commissioned by Drive for Life: The National Safe Driving Test and Initiative, a group that promotes driver education.
Its conclusion: Most motorists will admit to having some bad driving habits, ranging from speeding to eating behind the wheel (and driving with their knees?) or yacking on a cell phone. According to the Reuters news service, a whopping 91 percent of respondents said they engaged in at least one risky activity while driving. The national poll queried more than 1,100 licensed drivers, finding that 56 percent identified ``inattentive drivers'' as the greatest threat to driving safety.
With a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, here's how the risky list of no-no's played out:
* Speeding topped the list, with 70 percent of respondents saying they drove a little above the speed limit now and then, Reuters said. (Yeah, sure...now and then?)
* 35 percent admitted they crossed an intersection on a red or yellow light;
* 26 percent noted they didn't use turn signals; and
* 13 percent fessed up to aggressive driving (only 13 percent?).
Somehow, we don't think integrating Internet access and other distractions into vehicles will help the situation.
We do Your cars
OK, so Valentine's Day is way past, but you say your love affair with all things automotive is a year-round passion (just don't put it that way to your significant other.)
Since we're in a poll kind of mood, we offer a made-for-press-release poll the folks at Jiffy Lube International recently cooked up to point out how significant cars are to affairs of the heart. Here's how the results (oil) panned out:
* 62 percent went on their first solo date in a car.
* 29 percent went on their first chaperoned date in a car.
* More women (31 percent) than men (28 percent) went on their first chaperoned date in a car.
* 36 percent of all respondents-44 percent males and 29 percent females-said they have had some sort of ``intimate encounter'' in a car.
* 14 percent of all respondents said they had their first ``intimate encounter'' in a car.
* 13 percent either proposed to someone else or were proposed to in a car.
* 1 percent have been married in a car.
What didn't show up in the poll was the percentage of persons who have been buried in a car (there have been a few). And we realize it's a small, albeit non-vocal group.
Trust me, I'm a...
That age-old stereotype of the plaid-suited, fast-talking car salesman appears to be holding its own, based on fact gathering by the Gallup Organization.
Asking Americans to judge the honesty and ethics of 21 professions, it found that Americans love cars but apparently don't care much for the people who sell them. In the poll, car salespeople ranked near the bottom-at 20th while advertising execs finished 19th. Only telemarketers were lower, firmly grasping the 21st spot. According to Automotive News, only six percent of respondents considered car salespeople ethical.
We hesitate to say journalists were ranked in the middle of the pack in 10th place-just two rungs above congressmen. For the third straight year, Gallup's survey on honesty and ethics in professions found that the public gives nursing the highest marks, with 79 percent saying nurses have ``very high'' or ``high'' ethical standards. Military officers and high school teachers also ranked high.
Here's the number-by-number breakdown: 1. Nurses; 2. Military officers; 3. High school teachers; 4. Clergy; 5. Police officers; 6. Druggists, pharmacists; 7. Medical doctors; 8. Funeral directors; 9. Accountants; 10. Journalists, reporters; 11. Bankers; 12. Congressmen; 13. Building contractors; 14. Business executives; 15. Lawyers; 16. Labor union leaders; 17. Real estate agents; 18. Stockbrokers; 19. Advertising practitioners; 20. Car salespeople; and 21. Telemarketers.
Since nowhere in that list do tire dealers show up, perhaps they're flying under the radar. But who's to say whether that's good or bad.