23 March 2010

Starting to forget what I've read

I know I read Seized, which was available to me before it was available for sale. That's eight. I also read Confessions of a Stock Operator, which is a book I've read several times before.

I'm in the middle of The Master and Margarita and bogged down. I'm starting to worry that I won't finish 52 books by the end of the year. This is how failure at this task starts -- I've been at this book for two weeks now.

19 February 2010

Up to seven now.

Finished 33 Questions About American History You're Not Supposed to Ask by Thomas Woods Jr and The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.


I liked the former, loved the latter. The first book I've been reading off and on as it's not really a book in the strictest sense and more a collection of short stories. It was enjoyable, but it got a little tiresome toward the end. I felt I had to keep parsing the book through a bunch of filters to remove all the politics from it. Apparently the guy who wrote it is a libertarian, and while I'm a libertarian too, we differ a lot on exactly what libertarianism is. There's a bit too much conservatism in this book for my taste and a little xenophobia sprinkled in for good measure. While the questions were generally good (others were not or simply rehashed from other authors) and his premises backed up with good research, but I just felt like it was more "I'm just asking questions" and less "revealing insight".

The Forever War is a book I've read several times in my life. I went ahead and picked it up to get back on track for getting one book a week read. It's a fast read and an enjoyable book, so I was able to finish it in just a couple of days worth of free time. It's a sci-fi story based in the future and featuring an interstellar war in a world where relativistic speeds cause real problems in terms of planning and executing a war -- once you arrive at a star that's 30 light years away, your enemy might have had 30 years in which to invent better technology with which to defeat you. It's also a story about the Vietnam war, and the parallels to today's Iraq war is very interesting. My only complaint is that the story is told solely from the perspective of one soldier in the war, and while I find his struggles to cope with the world moving on while he never ages and the war never ends extremely engaging, I'd really like to know more about the planning and operations going on behind the scenes. But since he doesn't know, we don't know. It's not really a flaw in the story, it's just I think there's another story lurking around in this universe and I'd love to read it.

01 February 2010

Two more books down.

No time for a long post, but I finished up two more books to bring my total to five for the year.

This week it was The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things. This was fairly interesting in that I didn't know the book was written in 1999 before I picked it up and started reading it. Surprisingly, it was still relevant today and 10 years later, it appears we really haven't learned very much. I think it's human nature to overestimate some risks and underestimate those that are familiar to us. This probably has something to do with the fact that world in which we evolved in no way reflects the modern world in which we live in. I've found through reading books like these, I'm better able to check my emotions when assessing problems and assess them through a more rational state of mind. It's much more productive, especially at accurately assessing problems -- and not just every day dangers -- but I do find that even from an enlightened standpoint, I struggle with it. I suspect that many never stop to figure that out, and I doubt it's possible to change.



Breaking Rank: A Top Cop's Expose of the Dark Side of American Policing was my second read, and I've spent a solid week reflecting on it. I often struggle with the problems in today's police force, and I can be highly critical of the way many law enforcement officers do their job. At the same time, I realize they're only human, and I've read both the Milgram Experiment conclusions and the Stanford Prison Experiment conclusions and realize this is a tough problem to solve.

Reading this book gave me interesting and valuable insight to the "other side", and it was presented in a way that I was sympathetic towards. It's also hard to talk about how to correct the flaws in a system if no one's willing to step and actually address the flaws, and I applaud Norm Stamper for doing so. I hope that his words will not fall on deaf ears in other police departments.

At the same time, I was a little disappointed with the book. By the end it had gotten a little tiresome to read -- there was very little "meat" to the book, it was mostly just his experiences as an officer, supervisor, and police chief, and the problems he encountered and saw, but very little investigation into why these things are happening, how we got there, and what we can do to fix it. I found I reached some understanding, but not enough to understand the decisions that were made 25, 50, or 100 years ago to get us where we are today and little understanding of how we can change minds and attitudes in today's overly militarized police force.

Overall, a good book, but I did expect more.

18 January 2010

Tuning in Forza 3: a guide to the trickier menus.

Note: This tuning guide applies to track racing in Forza 3 and does not apply to drag or drift. It can also apply to real-world cars, as Forza really is a car and race simulator at the heart of it all. Almost everything that works in Forza works because it works in real life.

Having read a lot of blogs lately about tuning cars in Forza 3, I'd just like to say there's a lot of misinformation out there. I think because people aren't familiar with the concepts behind racing and haven't actually driven a real car on the track, they're adjusting things, seeing what that does, and drawing conclusions. This seems intuitive, but at the same time, with this approach, you're working backward. Because Forza 3 really is a simulation of the physical world, to make smart changes, you've got to understand what you're changing, why would be changing it, and how that will affect the physics model, not necessarily the results you think you see once you make the changes -- if you're changing things in the wrong order, or trying to dial out excessive understeer with aero for instance, you're going about things the wrong way and you'll not see the optimal results you want. To properly tune in Forza 3, you've got to tune as if you're tuning a car, not tuning a video game.

The intent of this guide is to take someone who knows nothing about tuning in Forza3 to someone who can properly set up a car and solve handling issues without having to resort to plugging in generic values in a spreadsheet. This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide, nor will it go into advanced concepts any further than is absolutely necessary to explain what you're setting and how it will affect the handling of your car. I may also make very generic statements like "positive caster is always bad" when I really mean "under almost every circumstance you'll ever encounter, this is a bad thing". Unfortunately, covering all the very specific encounters in which an advanced tuner might make this adjustment is outside the scope of this guide.

When you're modifying your car for the track, it's a good idea to get all the settings somewhere in a generic, workable range that works well for most cars on most tracks and then start tweaking from there. The default setting the car comes with is effectively this starting point. Once you're doing your "fine tuning", try changing one thing at a time and seeing if it improves handing or not. If you're changing ten things at once, you may find that you have improved the handling but you'll have no idea why. Worse, you might have done five things wrong and five things right which ended up giving you an overall gain, but you could have a much greater gain if all ten things were working properly.

Alignment
This is really where you should start. Without this, nothing else works. Or at least, works right. This is where you really correct gross handling errors -- a car that's just way too twitchy or a car that just won't turn in like it should or one that just feels unsorted. Once you set this, you can mostly forget about it with a few exceptions. Alignments that work for your car tend to work everywhere. If your car isn't working quite right for a certain track, but it has worked on others, then it likely just needs fine tuning in other areas. Still, this is the single most important part of tuning. A good alignment can turn a difficult car into one that's easy to drive (though it might not be as fast!) while a bad alignment can turn a car that's completely sorted in every other regard into an unmanageable monster.

To understand what we're talking about when we talk alignment, here's a photo.

Camber
Camber is quite simply how much the tire leans from the vertical. Let's just go ahead and state that positive camber is always, always, bad. In general, negative camber is always good. However, like anything in life, too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

Let's start by looking at what we're trying to achieve. In an ideal world, when we go around a corner, the tire would be standing up more or less straight. In a car with zero camber, that is true at rest. However, as soon as we turn the car, the tire rolls over, the suspension starts compressing, the car leans, and suddenly the tire has a lot of positive camber. Which, as we've said, is bad. It's bad because we're working the outside edge of the tire much harder than the inside edge. In a severe situation, we could overload the outside edge so much that the inside edge actually stops contacting the track. As you can tell, all of this works to decrease our friction circle.

To fix this, we have to dial in some negative camber so that when we corner, the tire stands up straight. As with everything, there's a catch. Negative camber means that when the car is going straight, it will be riding mostly on the inside edge of the tire, increasing wear. On a track, that's usually not much of a problem, but if there are enough long straights and a long enough time period -- say, 24 hours of LeMans -- tire wear can be a very big issue with cars that have large amounts of camber. As I said, we can also have too much of a good thing. If you dial enough camber in, you'll exceed the grip of the tire long before you bend the car over far enough to set the entire tread of the tire flat on the track.

Most cars can't use much more than one or two degrees of camber, so 1.5 is usually a pretty good starting point. Drive the car around and see if the inside or outside edge of the tires are heating up in the diagnostic screens. To access the real-time diagnostic screens, press up on the d-pad while you're driving any of your cars. Extra screens are accessed by pressing left and right on the d-pad. You can close the window by pressing down at any time. If the tire is maintaining consistent temperatures between the two sides (don't worry about the middle right now), then you're set up right. If the inside edge is heating up more than the outside, you need less camber. If it's heating up less than the outside, you need more.

Synopsis: Set this at 1.5 to start, drive the car and adjust as follows: if the inside edge of the tire is heating up more than the outside, decrease camber. If the outside edge of the tire is heating up more, increase camber.
Toe
Toe is fairly easy to understand. If you think of your feet as tires, walking pigeon toed would be the same as toe-in (positive toe). Walking with your toes out to the side would be toe-out (negative toe). Let's start with the obvious, any toe out on the rear is a recipe for disaster. Period. With toe out in the rear, you will have a car with virtually no straight line stability and one that will be nearly impossible to predict and control.

Apart from that, toe is all about feel. We won't really have any cool graphs to see where we should place it, because quite frankly, this setting is really all about how you personally like your car to feel and how much trade off you're willing to give in certain areas to get gains in others.

Synopsis: Set this at zero front and zero rear to start. After setting camber, dial in a little toe out on the front. If you want more stability, dial the toe back in. If you want faster turn-in, add more negative toe. The rear should stay at zero toe, however, if you find the rear end to be unstable, you may want to use some positive toe to bring it back under control. After adjusting the car to your liking, check the tire temperatures again. If the outside edge is getting too hot, you have too much positive toe. If the inside edge is getting too hot, you have too much negative toe. Adjust accordingly.
Caster
This one is a little more difficult to understand. Caster is the amount the steering pivot axis is tilted forward or backward. Simple, right? The best way to understand this is that a normal motorcycle has some positive caster. A 'chopper' style motorcycle has a whole lot more positive caster. A shopping cart has negative caster. Luckily, this one is easy to set. In general, more positive caster is better, and most real world people will align with the most caster they can get which is usually limited by steering geometry and other alignment settings. Positive caster tends to just improve straight line stability, which is helpful if you've already setting the car to be a little twitchy. However, at the extreme end of things, it can lead to abnormally high steering effort. Which, in Forza, isn't really a problem.

Synopsis: As much positive caster as you can get.

Anti roll bars
Anti roll bars stiffen the chassis of the car and prevent it from rolling. Pretty much as the definition says. Used in moderation, the bar allows the inside tire in a corner to maintain grip and keeps the car from rolling over too far and affecting camber, caster, and toe settings. If you use too much, it keeps the car's suspension from working as it should and actually decreases grip.

In general, to improve grip at one end of the car, either loosen the anti-roll bar at that end or increase the anti-roll bar at the other. This is only in general, you may find that you may need to do just the opposite to get the handling changes you require. A nice technique is to run the car with the bars set to the middle values, then do a "bar sweep" of each bar individually -- setting one bar to full soft and then working all the way through full hard. At the end of that exercise, you should get a good feel for the balance points of the car and you can do some fine tuning from there.

Synopsis: Set the bars at the middle setting. If the car is oversteering, decrease the stiffness of the rear bar and/or increase the stiffness of the front. If the car is understeering, decrease the stiffness of the front bar or increase the stiffness of the rear bar.



Springs and Shocks
Much like camber, caster, and toe, these are things that work together, but here, they help fine tune the handling you've already dialed in. While you may not adjust alignment much for different tracks and surfaces, you will adjust these and the anti roll bars a lot more often. First, let's talk about the difference between shocks and springs and what they do.

First, the spring is actually the part that supports the car and keeps shocks from being transmitted to the chassis. What we traditionally call shocks are actually dampeners, and they control the natural oscillation of the spring. Without springs, the dampeners would just simply compress and you'd get no suspension travel at all. Without dampeners, the car would continually bounce up and down (like a spring) after hitting a bump. How they work together is this: the spring is force sensitive, the shock is velocity sensitive. In other words, the spring should be used to control how much weight is pressed down onto the suspension. A heavier car will need heavier springs, and a car with higher cornering limits or increased aerodynamic downforce will need them even stiffer than that. The shock is then used to control how quickly the weight transfer and spring compression occurs.

So, once we actually use the springs to control weight transfer and the car no longer sways like a boat, we then use the shocks to make sure that it doesn't feel "springy" either.

A dampener also has two settings: bump and rebound stiffness. This is how hard it is to compress and extend, respectively. Usually, you want these to be equal, but there are times when you might want differing stiffness settings. For example, you may find that you want a high rate of bump stiffness on your car's front end to help slow the weight transfer down during heavy braking. However, you may find that the car oversteers greatly as soon as you get out of the brakes and start accelerating. In this case, you'd want to decrease the rebound stiffness so that the car can quickly transfer the weight to the rear and keep the rear wheels planted.

While stiff is usually better for flat tracks, once you start setting any of this too stiffly, the suspension cannot work properly. If the springs are extremely stiff, the suspension loses travel and shocks that would otherwise be absorbed will be transmitted to the car, upsetting the balance and possibly spinning the car. If the bump stiffness is set too firm, the tire will "skip" over bumps rather than riding over them, again upsetting the chassis of the car. If rebound is set too firm, the wheel can't extend quickly enough over holes and can't recover quickly enough after a bump. Notably, extreme stiffness isn't really a problem on glass smooth raceways, but it can be a major one on rougher tracks like Nurburgring. By the same token, on a rough track, we want to make sure that we don't set anything too softly either. A spring that can't carry the weight of the car or the cornering forces or handle the imperfections of the track will eventually cause the suspension to run out of travel and will bang it up against the bump stop. When this happens, your spring rate immediately and effectively goes to infinite, which causes the car to behave in unexpected and sometimes uncontrollable ways. Meanwhile, shock that's set too soft will allow the spring to oscillate or become overloaded, which will mean that the tire will have problems maintaining contact with the ground.

Again, there are no tools to help you here. You'll just have to use your intuition and "feel" your way around it. You'll also need to figure out just how you want the car to handle. I recommend setting everything to the middle and adjusting from there. First, set your springs so that the car isn't transferring an extreme amount of weight in corners or under braking, then set your shocks to control the handling and quickness of the weight transfer. While doing your adjustments, make sure the car isn't behaving unpredictably or getting out of control in corners or on bumpy parts of the track.

Ride Height

This is a pretty easy one to set. The lower your car, the more aerodynamic it will be, meaning your top speed will be higher, and the ground effect aerodynamics (if there are any) will work better. Of course, the lower the car, the less suspension travel it will have. As above, if you run out of suspension travel, you'll hit the bump stops and cause wildly unpredictable behavior. In general, adjust this for the track. If the track is glass smooth, set it as low as you can, but if the track is rough, set it just high enough that the car remains settled.

Aerodynamics

I think this is one of the least understood sections of Forza. It seems easy on the face of it, but it's actually a little more complex when you dive down into it. Aero effectively increases the weight of the car without actually causing the car to be heavier -- but only when the aero is active. Most modern aerodynamics aren't effective under 60 mph, and they get more effective the faster you go. The reason this is misunderstood is because people only focus on the most obvious effects and don't attempt to understand what all this means.

What does it mean? It means that once the aero starts working the effective weight of the car starts to increase, which in turn means that friction available to the tires increases. If you add a lot of rear areo, for instance, you'll notice the car understeers a lot at high speed and if you have a RWD car, it's not nearly as prone to power-on oversteer. Of course, if you were looking further, you'd notice this only happens at high speed, and you'd notice that you have more grip to do everything -- brake, corner, and steer. In fact, some F1 cars will go around a corner at 100 mph that they couldn't make at 65 mph, simply because the increased aerodynamic forces allow for enough cornering force to make the turn. It seems impossible, but it does work this way.

Of course, since we're effectively increasing weight, if you're really paying attention, you'll find that the suspension doesn't work as well as it used to. The springs won't be stiff enough, the dampeners won't be firm enough, and if everything is soft enough and the ride height is low enough, you can actually compress the car completely down on its suspension. So, when you add a major amount of areo, you are going to have to go back and rework your suspension settings. However, you're also going to have to strike a compromise because the car works completely differently at speed. If the track has a lot of tight corners coupled with a few fast sections, you might bias the suspension settings for the lower speeds and deal with the compromised handling at high speeds. You might make the opposite decision on different tracks.


Then, there's the added element of drag to deal with. The more aero you use, the more drag the car produces and the slower it goes. This isn't very noticeable at low speeds (where the areo isn't working) but it can take a huge chunk of speed off your top end. For a track like Le Mans, where you have very long straights and extremely slow corners, you might go with minimal areo, because where you really need it, you're not going fast enough to use it.

It's this kind of mastery of the compromises between settings that takes you from being someone who can just plug values into a spreadsheet and someone who can actually tune a car for a given track.

Braking Forces

There are two settings here. Brake balance and brake pressure. So long as you understand what we're trying to do, these are pretty easy to set. If you're using ABS, you can pretty much ignore this, but if you're not, this can make a big difference. What we're trying to do here is keep the wheels from locking up, and primarily, to keep one wheel from locking up before the rest. A sliding wheel doesn't have as much grip as one that's not sliding, so we want to avoid that at all costs. At the same time, if you can only get 50% of the braking force out of the rear wheels before the front ones lock up, you're giving up a lot of braking force.

You can mostly set the braking balance using the drag strip. Go very fast, apply the brakes and look for red, locking wheels in the friction telemetry screens. It should be pretty obvious which wheels are locking first and which direction you need to bias the balance to get them to lock up at roughly the same time. Now, the one change you may have to make depends on your driving style. If you're the kind of person to dive into corners and use a lot of trail braking, you may find that you're still locking the rear brakes up in the corners long before you ever fully optimize the fronts. This is because you're trying to do too much with the rear wheels, and you may find that adjusting the bias toward the front may be more effective for your driving style.

Brake pressure is almost completely subjective. If you're constantly locking up the brakes because you can't modulate the amount you're using them very well, a little (or a lot) less brake pressure might help. If you aren't able to get full braking force because you don't press down hard enough, or you can't seem to do it without pressing all the way and locking up the brakes, you can probably use a little less brake pressure.

Differential

This is the one place where I feel the game isn't very accurate to real life. You usually won't find limited slip differentials like this, but it's what we get here, so we have to use them. Let's look at the words "Limited Slip Differential". Every car has to have a differential on the drive wheels. This means one for each powered axle, and in the case of an AWD vehicle, this means another one between the two axles as well, for a total of three. Now, the reason for a differential is that when a car goes around a corner, the inside wheel turns less than the wheel on the outside because it's covering a shorter distance. Without a differential (to balance the difference between the two wheels), the wheels would bind and skip and cause all sorts of handling issues. Of course, once we do that, we have another problem -- all of the torque goes to the wheel that has the least amount of traction. This means it's easier to spin the inside wheel, and once it spins, all the power goes there. Worse, if you lose traction completely on that wheel, you can't accelerate at all.

Off road trucks and dragsters have it easy. They just weld up the differential and don't worry it. This way, no tires slip or they all slip. Simple. Easy. But dragsters don't go around corners, and off road vehicles can use the slip inherent in off road travel to offset the difference the differential would handle. We don't have that luxury, so we have to compromise. In an ideal real world situation, you'd use a Torsen-style differential and be done with it, but Forza doesn't allow us that option.

To make this work, we need to put a high enough setting in the differential that we're not experiencing wheelspin on the inside wheel during acceleration nor inside wheel lockup during braking. We can watch the friction telemetry again and see which tires are losing traction and when. However, be careful, because if we increase the setting too much, you'll lose traction, and we'll get inside wheel locking and popping in the corner, which will unfortunately show up the same way in the telemetry screens.
Gearing (individual gears + final drive)
Everything else considered, gearing is pretty simple, though it seems to be greatly misunderstood. You basically have two sets of gears you're looking at: the normal numbered gears (including reverse) and the final drive. Changing any individual gear ratio only changes that one gear. Changing the final drive changes them all.

Let's start with the final drive. In a normal car, this is found not in the transmission, but in the rear differential. It's usually fairly easy and fairly cheap to change, while a complete custom gearbox can be fantastically expensive and notoriously difficult to tune, so that's usually where people start. As the tuning page so helpfully suggests, a larger rear end ratio will result in faster acceleration. It'll mean that your engine spends more time in higher rpms where it generates much more horsepower and torque. However, it will come at a cost -- your top end will be reduced and you'll be shifting a lot more often. On smaller, tighter tracks without overly long straightaways, having a lower top speed doesn't hurt all that much. On tracks like LeMans it can be crippling. Of course, if you set it too high, you simply won't be able to accelerate fast enough and it doesn't matter how fast you can ultimately go if you can't ever get there -- or only get there in the last five feet of track. This is also car dependent. A torque monster like the Corvette can deal better with gear ratios that are spaced further out (lower final ratio) whereas a higher strung car like an S2000 is going to want gears that are spaced closer together (higher final ratio). So, this is somewhat of a balance you'll have to find depending on the car and the track you've chosen.

Now, let's look at setting individual gears. This is a lot trickier, and real racers will spend days just fine tuning individual ratios for one track. Unfortunately for us, Forza 3 doesn't really give us the telemetry we need to properly and easily set the gear ratios, so we'll have to do it simply by feel. What you'll have to do is consider the track you're racing and think about where you can make changes to your gearbox to optimize your speed. In general, remember that the more time the engine spends in the upper rpms, the faster you'll accelerate, and the smaller your gear ratios are the more time you'll spend in each gear and the higher speed you can reach in each gear.

For example, if you were racing a fairly tight but fast track where you had no speeds over 110 mph and at the same time no speeds under 40 mph, in a normal car, you have effectively eliminated two gears completely -- you'll never go fast enough to need sixth gear and you'll never go slow enough to shift back into first. In this instance, it would be better if you just threw out those gears altogether, and added more ratios in between second and fifth. And with the gearbox editor, you can do exactly that by setting first gear to the same ratio as second, sixth gear the same as fifth, and then equally spacing out all the ratios in between. Of course, this means that we're going to be a little slower off the line, but in a long enough race, we should be able to make up for it.

Conversely, for a track like LeMans, where we've got a lot of very tight low speed corners along with some very long straights, you might find the stock settings are the way to go with a lower final drive, or you might find that you need some really tightly spaced gears on the first few gears combined with some much longer gears on the last few to give you the immediate acceleration you need coupled with the top end speed you'll need on the Mulsanne straight. Exactly how to balance all that is where you'll need skill, luck, and little bit of experimentation.

Tire pressures
Tire pressures are one of the last thing you should touch, after you get your car handling and controlling the way you like. You can't make gross adjustments by tuning tire pressures, this is primarily for finally dialing in the exact handling you desire. The reason Forza 3 drops you here first is because it's the one thing you'll likely change the most often after you do your major tuning. A lot of guides I've seen have recommended just setting the tires around 32 psi hot (which is defined after the tires have warmed up, usually a couple of laps) and that's a decent place to start, but if that's all I did every track day, I'd be slow.

Luckily, in Forza 3, we don't have to deal with differing weather conditions, which cause me to have to tweak my tire pressures every single time I go to the track, but we do have to deal with tire compound, and different compounds respond better to different pressures, so this isn't completely a "set it and forget it" setting. You might even find that it will help to change pressures depending on the track as well -- especially if you decide to tune your cars for specific tracks rather than a generic setting that works well everywhere.

Forza 3 does give us a really nice tool to help determine the optimum tire pressure. The one you'll be using is in the diagnostic screens and it's the very last one that shows the tire temperatures for the left, right, and center of the tires. What we're aiming for is consistent heat across the entire width of the tire when we're driving the car correctly and at speed. If we're heating up the centers of the tire more than the shoulders, we've got too much air pressure. If we're heating up both shoulders faster than the center, then we've got too little. If we're heating up either the front or rear tires too much or too quickly, we've got too little pressure in that end. If we're not heating them up fast enough, there's too much. Now, we can't be perfect, but we're aiming for consistent temperatures across each tire as much as we can. I hate to say it's this simple, but it really is -- but only if you've set up your car properly to begin with. Something as easy as way too much toe can send outside tire temperatures through the roof and negate everything we're trying to do.




Solving Handling Issues:

At this point, you should have a car that behaves pretty well, but it needs a little tweaking. Either you missed something somewhere, or you think it could work better on a certain track. Where do we start then? There's no sense throwing out the baby with the bath water and starting fresh, so lets look at some common handling problems and some quick minor fixes. Again, this assumes a car that's not behaving horribly or set up poorly in the first place. This is fine tuning.

ProblemManifestationSolutions
Steady state understeerAll turns or low-speed turns onlyIf front tire temps are optimum and rears are low, stiffen rear antiroll bar; if front temps are too hot, soften front (most likely).
If front tire pressures are optimum, decrease rear tire pressure.
Improper front camber.
Too much body roll at front, causing excessive camber change.
Steady state understeerHigh-speed turns onlyIf front tire temps are OK, increase front downforce.
If front tire temps are too hot, reduce rear downforce.
Steady state oversteerAll turns or low-speed turns onlyIf rear tire temps are optimum, with fronts too low, stiffen front antiroll bar; if rear temps are too hot, soften rear antiroll bar (most likely).
If rear tire pressures are optimum, decrease front tire pressure.
Improper rear camber.
Steady state oversteerHigh-speed turns onlyIf rear tire temps are OK, increase rear downforce.
If rear tire temps are too hot, reduce front downforce.
Corner entry understeer
Front shocks are too soft in bump resistance.
Too much front toe-in; use a small amount of front toe-out.
Corner exit understeer
Rear shocks are too soft in bump.
Front shocks are too stiff in rebound.
Corner entry oversteer
Rear shocks are too soft in rebound.
Rear ride height is too high (too much rake) compared to front.
Corner exit oversteer
Rear shocks are too soft in rebound.
Too much rear toe-in or any rear toe-out.
Straightline instability
Tire pressure is too low in one or more tires.
Too little positive front caster.
Too much front toe-in or any toe-out in rear.
Straightline speed too slow
Too much overall downforce.
Too much toe-in or toe-out.
Ride height is too high.
Chassis or suspension bottoms
Spring rates are too soft.
Shock absorber bump rates are too soft.
Inadequate suspension travel.
Inadequate ride height.












Finished two more books

Last week I finished What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, and while I was thinking about what I wanted to write here, I dropped right into Speed Secrets II: More Professional Race Driving Techniques and finished that one too. That's three books and we're just starting the third week of the year, so I feel I'm really on track.

First, What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures. This was the latest book by one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell. I had really enjoyed Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking and The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference -- so much so, that I'm planning to reread both sometime this year -- and that meant that I had high hopes for this book as well.

I only wish I had known the kind of book I was reading before I started reading it. While all of his previous three books had an overarching theme that tied all of the stories together, this one did not. This was basically a collection of all the articles he's written for the New Yorker over the years. They are all exceptionally well written, extremely insightful, and a pleasure to read. However, since the book is essentially a collection of short stories, there are many reasons to put the book down and not enough to pick it back up again. As a result, the book ended up being a bit rough to plow through in the space of a week. Had I known ahead of time what I was about to read, I would have spaced it out over the course of several weeks while I continued to read other things, and I would have enjoyed it a lot more.

I do highly recommend it though, as a very casual read that won't feel casual at all.

As for the other book, Speed Secrets 2 is a very specialized book -- it's intended for people who are already successful in racing and want to get that little bit extra that transforms them from a very good driver into one that runs consistently at the front of a very competitive pack. i found it extremely interesting, and I will be spending the next few months on the racetrack trying to apply the lessons and techniques and training exercises described in the book. I'll also use it to help instruct my students that have already mastered the racing line and need "fine tuning" to go faster.

I can't recommend both this book and Speed Secrets: Professional Race Driving Techniques enough. If you're interested at any level in driving a car faster, better, and safer on a race track, these two books provide a really great place to start. The first in the series will take you from being a novice to a very fast skilled driver in a relatively short period of time. Once you've mastered the concepts in the first book, the second really elevates your driving, mainly by focusing on your concentration on expanding the subconscious techniques of interpreting the track and how the car is responding to it. While the first book has a lot of "aha!" moments of "so, that's what I was doing wrong", the second is more about training yourself to become one with the car. Both of these books are going in my race bag, and they'll travel with me to every track day and every day I instruct.




30 December 2009

New Years Resolutions

My New Years Resolution this year is to read 52 books in a year. Some have asked me to blog about the experience, so expect to see some, or perhaps, a bunch of book reviews over the coming year.

So far, I've finished Super Freakonomics and started Malcolm Gladwell's What the Dog Saw. I enjoyed Freakonomics a lot, the unlikely correlation between things and underlying circumstances that drive human interactions fascinates me. Super Freakonomics book continues in the same direction. The final chapter about how we're looking at global warming all wrong and how what we're currently trying to do could actually be making things worse was immensely fascinating to me.

Strangely though, it didn't really settle into my consciousness like Freakonomics did. Here it is about four days out from finishing it, and I can barely even remember any of the major points in the book. For a "dense" book, it's also a very fast read and seems a little thin. At the end of the day, it seems like the authors had a lot to talk about in the first book, and this is all the stuff that either didn't make the cut or they didn't have time to research. Some of it has also been covered already in a book I read last year -- Malcolm Gladwell's The Outliers. That doesn't mean it isn't immensely fascinating, but if you haven't read either book, start with Freakonomics. It's stronger and more cohesive.

All that said, the chapter on global warming is incredibly fascinating, and it touches on a think tank founded by some ex-Microsoft guys who might actually have solutions that work. Of course, getting environmentalists to try them out is difficult, as some of the conventional wisdom on what might solve the problem turns out to be wrong, and some of it (such as eating organic fruits and vegetables) actually might be making the problem worse. There's also some interesting ideas on building cheap devices that might break down the feedback loop that causes hurricanes. There's also some talk on fighting terrorism that highlights a lot of talking points I've been making over the years -- you can't harden every target, and there are too many possible plots to defend against them all. However, freaking out over an attack not only costs money, it costs lives as well -- for instance, in the three months following 9/11, there were over a thousand extra traffic deaths. Caused, of course, by the people who were afraid to drive or didn't want to be hassled by the TSA and took to the road instead. Which, of course, isn't nearly as safe.

I think I'll find myself rereading this book a year or so from now, as I'll likely reread Freakonomics and want to do some extra reading on the same topic. I think I'd also like to see how the books read as a whole unit rather than the disjointed set. Either way, this one stays on the "good" bookshelf.

27 December 2009

I'm going to write about that terror attack, but first ...

...I'm going to talk about my ticket situation. I'd love to talk about the idiocity that is the TSA and what they're doing, but I need to let my rage die down a little and let them shake out exactly what they're going to do. Right now, they're telling us they want things to be unpredictable, which just basically means, "we don't know what to do, so we're just doing stuff". If what they were doing was effective, they'd need to do it everywhere for it to be effective, otherwise, it's just for show. If it's ineffective, then why are they wasting time doing it? The time a TSA agent has to look at a passenger and his luggage is non-infinite. We shouldn't be frivolously wasting it on things that aren't effective.

But I digress. I can't write that post right now.

I'm talking about the ticket I got in March, that I went to traffic court over. After delaying the trial as long as I could and pressing the prosecutor as hard as I could, I decided I was tired of the nonsense and took their "plea bargain". Basically, pay the fine, don't do anything illegal for 90 days, and the ticket goes away like it never happened. I called the court and set everything up. Since there's some paperwork to be signed, they had to send some stuff to my mailbox.

Only something funny happened along the way: nothing ever arrived in my mailbox. I was told it would be about 10 working days, but after nearly a month, I started to worry. So, I called the court again. Got the same lady on the phone, she remembered my ticket and the settlement and said, "oh that's right, I forgot to send it out. I'll do that right away." Me, I'm feeling like an idiot because if I just hadn't called and asked, it would have just disappeared. Oh well, that's life, and peace of mind is worth that, right? Well, it's been another month and nothing's arrived. Actually, almost two months.

So, now what? I don't really want to call again, seeing as how the ticket seems to actually be lost ... again. Or maybe the woman is trying to cut me a break and "losing" my ticket. Either way, I don't care, so long as it stays lost. I've also renewed my license a few weeks back, so it doesn't appear that anything at all is happening with the ticket.

Disclaimer: This is not the first ticket I've had that's been lost. See, when you get as many tickets as I do, sometimes things that are very unlikely to happen still manage to happen. Every day tickets get lost. Someone misfiles something, a ticket book gets lost, a file gets tossed in the trash or falls behind a cabinet. Chances are though, it's not your ticket. But if you get enough of them, it stands to reason that some of them might disappear.

This would be number three, by the way. The first one happened 15 years ago. I got two tickets in the same location on consecutive nights. Bad luck and not knowing where the speed limit actually started. I don't know if someone got confused or took pity on me, but when I went to take care of the second ticket, no one could find it. They also couldn't advise me on what to do, because if it did turn up, a warrant would be issued. On the other hand, they couldn't process any payment or court date for it because as far as they knew, the offense never happened. Strange predicament to find yourself in at 20. The ticket never turned up.

The second one happened in Giddings, TX but it was your standard run of the mill ticket, and I think I told them I would take defensive driving for it. Maybe. I don't know. What I do know is that somewhere along the line, I didn't do what I was supposed to do and someone never took my file out of the right folder and my ticket almost didn't get processed. I say almost, because about three days before the statute of limitations was up (three years), the Giddings Municipal Court called me. Seems they'd found the ticket and they wanted me to settle up. I couldn't remember when the offense happened -- I remembered that it did -- and asked them to remind me. When they told me, I told them that if they thought they could subpoena me and get me into a court of law and render a judgement inside of three days to go ahead and try. They kind of laughed and said, "well, we thought it was worth asking."

Now I'm faced with a similar situation. The ticket seems to have effectively disappeared into the ether. It may surface in the future or it may not. I'll likely call again on Monday, just to make sure, but if they still don't send me anything, I'm going to consider it lost. I will record my conversation though, just in case.

20 July 2009

Traffic Court Again

Went to traffic court again on Thursday. This is a ticket I got back in March for speeding. I got offered a pretty good deal -- 90 days deferred adjudication, take a defensive driving class, pay the fine, and it's like it never happened. This is a pretty standard deal in Texas, other than the driving class, and usually I'll take it. However, I feel the prosecution doesn't really have a case and I've got a witness, so I made my counter offer: 90 days deferred, no class, reduced fine.

Rejected. 90 days, no class, full fine also rejected.

So, looks like I'll be going to trial. I should get one more shot to negotiate, so we'll see how that goes. I need to file a couple of requests for routine paperwork in preparation, but hopefully, it won't go that far. We'll see.


For those who don't know, deferred adjudication just means that you can't have another ticket post to your record during the time you're on deferment. You can get other tickets, you can even get other deferments, you just can't let any of them go on your record. If you manage to stay out of trouble for 90 days, the ticket disappears like it never happened. This particular court is unusual in that they really like you to waste your time taking a DDC while on deferment. It doesn't count against the one per year agreement the state lets you use to get out of a ticket, but it doesn't change the fact that I hate taking them -- I could practically teach the class at this point, it's absurd for me to attend.

Don't valet park your car.

This is just a little tip I have for you after talking to a valet I know.

Everything you worry about when people valet your car, yeah, that sometimes happens. I've been forbidden to talk in specifics, but I'll do the best I can about a particular valet at a particular spot downtown and some specifics I've heard about.

This valet works at a very prominent location downtown and routinely valets cars that are worth more than most people make in a year. Nearly every single one of these cars he drifts around the garage when he parks them. The valet level of the parking garage is mostly closed off from the public, so no one other than the other valets and management actually sees what they do. What kind of cars are we talking about? Oh, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, Bentleys, stuff like that. I've heard stories about the races they stage down in the garage -- literal drag races between things like a Ford GT and a Porsche GT2. He'll talk about which cars can reach over 70 mph in the garage, and how close they like to slide the cars near the concrete at the entrance to the garage.

Even worse, they see nothing wrong with what they're doing. They claim that they're driving the cars no harder or rougher than the owners would, and the concrete floor of the garage is sealed and slick, so sliding the car is easier and more predictable to do than you'd think. All of this may be true, but it doesn't excuse the behavior. I drive the red Porsche Cayman S you see in the banner at the top, and I'm pretty generous with letting people drive it. I also race that car, and I can tell you that it's very likely that no one would drive the car as hard as I drive it. Even still, if one of my friends drove the car like this guy says he routinely drives the customer cars, the ride would be over real fast. We wouldn't even be having much of a discussion other than "Stop. Now." If I don't even know you?

Look, it doesn't matter one bit what the valet parker thinks. As the owner of a car that he thinks nothing of trashing, I can tell you that it does personally bother me. I didn't give you license to drive it that way, and while I might drive it harder, I also pay the bills and tires and other consumables. A better argument would be, "how about I fuck your girlfriend? I probably won't fuck her as hard as you would."

Oh, and for those of you who haven't yet signed off of valet parking, management is aware of this behavior and approves of it. No one's been fired for it, and no one's been reprimanded for it either.

Portholes confuse me.

And not just in the fact that people find them attractive.

So, this is the new ghetto modification -- fake portholes. Usually, they don't do this good of a job lining them up or even figuring out where they should go, they just do a real slapdash job of "good enough" which looks absolutely terrible. But, that's not what I find most interesting about this trend.

These things were started by Buick, back in the day when the Buick name actually meant something, and the number of portholes (3 or 4) denoted if you had the low-rent engine or the high-horsepower one. Buick reintroduced them in 2003 on the Park Avenue, mainly as a way to tie the Buick name back to its illustrious past. They still do it, but it was mostly a marketing failure -- no one's really buying that Buicks are somehow cool and everywhere other than China, it's a failing brand name.

Yet, somehow, the portholes became ghetto chic. They caught on in a way that Buick never has, and now I see these plastered on every low rent car on the east side of Austin. My only question is why? I mean I could understand it if Mercedes had done it, or Cadillac had done it -- well, maybe not understand, but at least it would make some kind of ghetto sense -- but I can't understand how something from Buick became the epitome of low class style.

So I just drive around looking at portholes and questioning.

11 February 2009

Making minitures from images of real stuff

There was a time when I was fascinated by miniature cars and had a fairly decent collection of them.  Never had the room to display them, and after a while, it feels kind of foolish anyway.   However, now I've found a way to indulge my habit virtually.  


04 February 2009

It Just Occured To Me

There's a helmet law for cyclists in Austin, but not one for people on motocycles.   Whiskey.  Tango. Foxtrot.

Not that I'm a fan of helmet laws for anyone, but I guess the bikers' PAC is stronger than the cyclists'.  

15 January 2009

Historical blogging, part 1

There was a time when I had another blog.  Due to some less than understanding significant others, along with a whole host of other issues, I took it down.  However, I did keep the posts.   While they are over two years old now, I was really enjoying reading back through them and seeing where my mind was not so long ago.   Because of this, I thought it might be a halfway decent idea to just go ahead and post them again, which I'm going to do over the next few days.

First up, Seattle sucks and I'm tired of it.  This post was from January 2, 2007.  My life was falling apart at the time, my marriage was ending, and I was 2500 miles from home and all I wanted to do was get back to Austin.

Seattle sucks, and I'm tired of it. 
Current mood: 
 aggravated

I've been consulting on Boeing's new 787 airliner, so that means I've got to spend an awful lot of time in Seattle.   I've earned over 200,000 frequent flyer miles this year, mainly traveling from Seattle to Austin. 

I'm tired of it.   Seattle is gorgeous if you manage to get here during the summer months.  It's mild, and it doesn't rain (shocker, I know!).   The other nine months of the year?  This cartoon pretty well sums it up:

It's just gray and gloomy and cold and that kind of bullshit rain that never really gets you wet but just serves to remind you how cold and shitty the weather really is.   And no matter what you may think, or how much fun an expense account is, traveling for business is nothing like traveling for leisure.

I've got to get back to Austin.  It's like recharging my batteries when I'm home.  I want to go hang out at Maudies Milagro and drink margaritas with my friends until I can't drive home.  I want to go run my car for a few dozen hot laps at Texas World Speedway.  I want to ride my motorcycle up and down Lime Creek Road until the sun goes down.   I need to be with my friends, my family, and everyone important in my life.

Not that Seattle's all bad.  I can go snowboarding, surfing, mountain climbing, off roading, fly around the city, visit Jimi Hendrix's grave, or any enjoy number of all the cool things Seattle has to offer.  It's just that it's not home, and with a few exceptions, my friends here are of the very superficial variety -- they'll be happy to drink your beer, but when the party's over, they're no where to be found.   And having visited here off and on for over year, I've seen everything here and I'm kind of done with it.

I'll have to make another trip up to Vancouver before I leave though.  They don't call "Vansterdam" for nothing.   If it's vice, it's probably legal.  And if it isn't, no one's paying attention anyway. 



So, in retrospect, what do I think?   Well, I never got back up to Vancouver, and I'm not entirely sure that was a big loss.   I have a couple of vices, which most of my good friends know well, but the vices allowed in Vancouver and Amsterdam really aren't any of those.  I think I was just upset and reckless and destructive and wanted to be stupidly hedonistic for a little while. 

Two years later, and yes, I really do miss Seattle.  I don't miss the weather, and I'll never visit in the winter time, but I did make some good friends there that I really do miss and there's some things in town I'd like to see again.   Hell, I even miss the calamari at my usual friday night eating spot in Sea-Tac airport. 

I'm starting to travel again for business, and that's a love hate thing all on it's own.  I'm looking forward to racking up miles and being upgraded all the time, but I'll miss being away from friends, family, and Austin.   Then again, I really miss my old Boeing job too.  It's still the coolest thing I've ever done and the highlight of my professional career.

13 January 2009

Got Out of Another Ticket


I have no idea how I managed to get out of this one.   Usually, when you get pulled over driving a bright red Porsche that's obviously seen track time and has a license plate like mine .... well, you just man up and take your ticket.    And yet, somehow, I got lucky.   Did I mention that I couldn't find my insurance card either?  

So, what happened?  Well, I was running around town, trying to pick up my date and get back to the annual SCCA party (did I mention that I was going to a party with a bunch of racers?) before I missed out on everything.  Luckily, the officer didn't see me showing off for my friends (~80mph in a 35 in the middle of downtown) or hauling ass down the interstate (~110 in a 55) and instead caught me leaving "spiritedly" from a stop sign.   

Honestly, I was just having fun and I'm not entirely sure I broke the speed limit.  But I am pretty sure that I could have gotten busted for exhibition of acceleration.   I don't know where the officer came from, but as much attention as I was attracting, he could have come from anywhere. 

Once he pulls me over, I wonder just how bad it's going to be.  When I can't find my insurance (took it out of the car for an inspection, forgot to put it back) I know it's going to be bad.  Not having proof of insurance pretty much guarantees you'll get a couple of tickets -- they're going to make sure you show up to court to prove that you were covered, and as long as they're writing one ticket .... well, you get the idea.  

When he asked me to step out and to the rear of my vehicle, I knew it was going to be bad.  They don't ask you to step out for no good reason.   Rather, he didn't ask, he ordered me.   So, we had a nice little conversation -- where had I been, where was I going (I sure as hell didn't mention I was going to a party with a bunch of race car drivers), and just what in the hell I thought I was doing.   I tried a bullshit excuse, and then just said, "I wasn't showing off, but I don't have an excuse either."   We danced around all the other bullshit, like had I been drinking or were there any drugs in the car, and then he informed me that he was just going to cut me a warning and let me go. 

I guess some days you just get lucky.  I have no idea.   He never noticed that I wasn't sporting my front license plate either.   

11 November 2008

Homeland Security Theatre


This was something I was reminded of last Friday as I caught a plane to Dallas: the absolute absurdity of the Homeland Security Agency and their color-coded threats.
I'd try to stay away from the fact that almost everything we're doing is simply for appearance's sake and has little to no effect on our safety. It really gets my goat, but that's not the focus of this post.
I want you to concentrate on the threat level orange. For most of the time this system has been in place, we've been under Orange threat levels. It's once gone up to Red, sometimes been at Yellow, and has never been at Blue or Green. Judging by what this chart says, during most of the time since early 2002, we've been at a high risk of suffering another terrorist attack. That sounds somewhat plausible on the face of it, though I'd take exceptions to that.
But let's study high risk some more. What would you consider a high risk activity? Or better yet, at what odds would you consider something likely to occur? Normally, I'd say something that happens greater than half the time has a high probability of occurring. However, if we're talking about death, I'd probably say that any activity that causes death one time out of a thousand is probably pretty high risk. Let's take it one step further and say that I feel that anything that causes death one time in a million is high risk. Most insurers would call this "effectively zero", but let's say I'm exceedingly paranoid and I want to be very safe in my activities.
Now, let's do some math. The population of the United States is just over 305 million people. Even defining "high risk" the way I am, something that's a "one in a million" chance will happen to approximately 305 people in the United States. That means that if I say there's a one in a million chance that someone will be killed by a terrorist attack in the United States this year, it will still happen to 305 people.
During the time that we've been under Orange alert exactly zero people have died in the United States as a result of a terrorist attack. Even if I roll back the data to the worst terrorist incident ever on record, 9/11/01, we're still looking at a sum total of 3,003 people killed as a result of terrorist actions (this includes the 9/11 hijackings as well as the 9/18 anthrax attacks). This is roughly 429 people a year. It's more likely than our 1:1,000,000 ratio, but not by much -- it's approximately 1:711,000. It gets much more absurd if we start rolling back to the previous terrorist attack, in 1995. The total deaths go up to 3171, and our time frame goes to 13.5 years. At this rate, terrorists are killing Americans on American soil at a rate of 235 a year -- which makes the effective odds of dying in a terrorist attack on American soil one in 1.29 million.
This is absolutely absurd to worry about, much less to even try to prevent. The chances that you'll be struck by lightening are only one in two hundred and eighty thousand.
But wait, you say. Look at how many people died on 2001 -- maybe it's ok to be on high alert when the consequences are so high. It's not, but let's start by doing the math. On the worst of the worst years for terrorism in the US, 3003 people died. The odds in 2001 that you would have been killed by a terrorist attack were 1:101,000. By using that year alone, we're finally more likely to die from a terrorist attack than to be struck by lightening. However, we're still at a level that just about any insurer is going to call "statistically insignificant" and pretty close to "effectively zero".
Let's keep looking at that number. 1:101,000. A pretty big number, but it doesn't even crack the top 10 for leading causes of death in 2001. Nephritis (39,480 deaths, #9) killed over 10 times as many people as terrorists, as did Septicemia (32,238, #10). Terrorist attacks don't even make the top 20 list in 2001, which happens to be held by Perinatal Period which caused 13, 887 deaths. To illustrate my point even further, 15,019 people died falling down stairs in 2001. Are you afraid of the stairs in your home? Do you think twice when someone tells you they saw some stairs in the mall yesterday? Would you consider someone crazy for harboring a set of stairs or two in their own home?
Literally, the risk of a terrorist attack claiming your life or even the life of someone you know is so incredibly low there's no sense worrying about it, and there is nothing you can effectively do to mitigate it. I remember when I was working at Boeing a year ago -- 787 simulators, fantastically interesting -- my brother asked me what was usually the cause of an airliner crash. He was expecting me to say something like "metal fatigue" or "pilot error" or "improper maintenance" but honestly, crashes of either Boeing airliners or Airbus airliners are so incredibly rare that they are effectively anomalies in the data. They do happen, of course, but they are so rare that we can't effectively predict them, prevent them, or even say that there's any commonality. Each one is unique, and while airliners do crash, they crash with such infrequency that there are few activities we can do that are safer. Terrorist attacks are more infrequent than that, and usually claim less lives. We can't predict them, we can't harden everything, and the cost of chasing this futile dream is more than it would cost to just deal with the ramifications of terrorist attacks when they do occur. So many man-hours are wasted just by people waiting in security lines now that every year more lives are lost by that alone than were actually lost on 9/11. We spent 50 billion just last year on the Department of Homeland Security alone -- an agency that didn't even exist prior to 9/11. The insured losses on 9/11 were 40 billion. We're effectively spending more every year in an attempt to prevent an attack that will statisitically never happen again.
Ah, but I digress. Let's look at that chart again. "High risk of Terrorist Attacks". If we were truly at high risk of another attack, don't you think it would have happened by now? Shouldn't it be happening every day? Under my definition of high risk, there should be planes crashing all over the place, and everyone should have a story about the guy that got pulled out of line with 10 pounds of explosives strapped to his chest. We don't have any of that -- we've just got glorified security guards giving people shit because they want to bring a half-liter bottle of Coca-Cola on an airplane. Maybe it's time we stopped scaring the general population and start realizing that life is dangerous but even with the threat of terrorism, it's still far less dangerous than the lives our parents and grandparents faced.
Otherwise, the terrorists really have won. They've made us scared and forced us to give up freedom for illusionary security.

04 November 2008

A Change in Focus

I originally intended to make this a blog about traffic tickets, their absurdity (they aren't based on safety, it's all revenue generation), and how to get out of them, among other things, but that just isn't happening. For one, I haven't had a ticket in a very long time. I had nine in 2007, but zero in 2008. Go figure. So, there just isn't anything exciting to write about -- which I'm kind of happy for, those nine tickets cost me a lot of money.

My other blog was far more successful when I was just writing about what I found interesting at the time, and I'm not really looking for a base of users, just a place to write my thoughts.

So, in that regard, the format is shifting. I'll still post about traffic tickets, but for now at least, it's just going to be a blog about whatever I find interesting. I'm going to try to post every day.

We'll see how that goes.

10 October 2008

Porsche buying Volkswagon?


Word on the street says that Porsche might just buy Volkswagen Auto Group.   Sounds odd, right?  I mean, Porsche is this little niche maker who nearly went bankrupt in the late 80's.   And VAG is huge -- for those not in the know, Volkswagen also owns Audi, along with several other manufacturers like Lamborghini.  

But the real secret is that Porsche has been buying up VAG stock for years, and has a majority share in the company.   Now they just want to own it outright and buy out the current legal ower Lower Saxony.  They're close to doing it and just might pull the trigger.  

I think it's interesting and neat, partially because I own a Porsche, but also because I wonder what Porsche would do and could do with all of these companies under their umbrella.  I will say that my Porsche is an amazing machine, and it amazes me how it does everything so well without much compromise (I can't carry three people, but oh well, I haven't owned a car with a backseat since 1999) and without breaking or needing much maintenence (my first scheduled maintenence/oil change was at 20k miles).    And then I think about how Porsche was nearly bankrupt not 10 years ago and think what an amazing board of directors this company must have.   What in the world could Volkswagon, Audi, and Lamborghini look like after 10 years under Porsche's leadership? 

They might well be the GM of this generation. 

09 October 2008

A page from the Nissan GT-R owner's manual












It pretty much says it all.  I thought owning a Porsche was high maintenence, but I never knew I could own a car with a disposable transmission.

Supposedly someone's already grenaded one.   $20k in parts and labor, and no, it's not covered under warranty.  Nissan says 15 hard launches are enough to destroy it. 

One down, six to go I guess.  

18 August 2008

Why you drink

Story of my life.


06 August 2008

Was airline food ever any good?

Apparently, in the 60's, it might have been.

Someone's managed to put all the major airlines' menus from the 60's online. Check it out here.

29 July 2008

Be careful out there kids.

This is what assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest looks like:



Gothamist has more about it, but basically, we're looking at a completely fabricated report. Since I'm still bitter about the fabrication that went on in my "reckless driving" case, it's nice to see this officer busted. Hopefully the ubiquitous nature of video recording devices these days means this happens less and less.

...if only I'd had a camera that night.

15 July 2008

Infiniti FX50S -- The Car that (nearly) drives itself


Not the prettiest car on the planet, but that's not what I'm talking about today.


Wha I am talking about is the fact that this car has more techno-automation-wizardry than just about anything I've ever seen. Now, I'm a tech guy, so this is fascinating, but on the other hand, judging by all the inattentive people I see on the freeway every day, I'm not sure all of this is a good idea.

Here's what's going to make me give this crossover a wide berth the next time I see one on the freeway.

  1. Let's say you're drinking your mocha coffee while you're talking on your cell phone and trying to keep your kid occupied in the back seat and you have this continual problem of drifting over the dividing line on the freeway. Here's where LDW (Lane Departure Warning) comes in -- it will beep whenever it detects the tires drifting over lane markings.
  2. But, let's say you're not paying attention and between the cell phone and the kid, you can't actually hear the lane departure warning. Never fear, we also have LDP (Lane Departure Prevention). If you don't respond to the LDW, it will use the rear brakes to nudge you back into your lane. Car and Driver says this allows for pretty much hands free driving, though it has trouble with strong crosswinds.
  3. Now that you're so busy you can't even manage to stay in your lane, we can't possibly expect you to be able to operate the throttle, right? Infiniti has you covered again! ICC (Intelligent Cruise Control) monitors the traffic in front of you to maintain speed and a safe following distance. It's also fairly intelligent and smooth, so it'll do all this without upsetting your latte or your late afternoon slumber.
  4. But, since we're traveling during the afternoon, sooner or later, we're going to hit rush hour traffic. Again, we're covered, because ICC is partnered with DCA (Distance Control Assist). Once you hit rush hour traffic, the ICC keeps working, creeping along and slowing the car as needed. At least, until DCA actually causes the car to stop. Then you'll have to actually wake up and tap the gas pedal to get the car moving again. Small price to pay for inattention, I guess.
  5. Then again, you may be really determined to crash your new Infiniti. No dice. IBA (Intelligent Brake Assist) is here to save the day. Even if you're a colossal idiot, IBA will still apply the brakes for you when it detects a crash is imminent -- even if you don't touch them yourself.

Now, I can certainly see the safety aspects of all this -- at least for the driver of the Infiniti -- and the technology behind it is kick-ass, but I can't help but think this is a fantastically bad idea. People already pay too little attention on the freeway, and it's not like you need a fantastic amount of skill or attention to pilot your car safely on one. This just encourages people to be bigger idiots and while on paper it appears to make things safer for us all, I think people are going to be encouraged to drive even more dangerously because the car "has an autopilot". Kind of like how ABS-equipped cars aren't any safer in the real world because people drive them faster in bad conditions because "it's safe".

Then again, maybe this means drunk drivers can get home without hitting anything, so that's a good thing. Unless, of course, it just encourages drunks to try this stunt.