2004

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The big Three-Oh

Monday, December 20th, 2004

Ugh, I’m can’t believe I’m going to be 30 in two weeks.

I want my twenties back!

… Not without its stumbles

Friday, December 17th, 2004

The phones in my office were out of commission half the day yesterday.

Why? Because they’re voice-over-IP phones (simply put, phones that transmit and receive voice audio over a computer network), and the network was on the fritz.

Also irksome, as I discovered, is the fact that the phones take about a minute to boot up. Did anyone foresee the day when they would have to wait for the desk phones to boot up before using them?

The march of progress…

Friday, December 17th, 2004

Last week I bought a couple 1-gigabyte flash memory modules from Fry’s for about $50 each.

Now, a while back I complained that the problem with solid-state (i.e. flash-memory-based) music players was that they don’t have enough memory to overcome the generally cumbersome music upload process. In other words, transferring songs to the player is something of a hassle (or at least, a time-consuming process), and the devices didn’t have enough memory to make that hassle infrequent enough to be worthwhile. Additionally, flash memory was expensive enough that it the cost of keeping multiple memory cards on hand (like one might CDs or cassette tapes, back in the day) was prohibitively expensive.

Assuming 96kbps for reasonable sound quality (easily achievable with the latest Windows Media codec, or variable-bit-rate MP3), $50 for a 1GB flash memory equates to 3.6 cents per minute of music. A high-quality cassette tape costs roughly $2 for a 60-minute tape, or 3.3 cents per minute.

In other words, for the purposes of storing music, flash memory is now as cheap as cassette tapes, so keeping a wallet of memory cards around for your solid-state music player is now an option. (Not to mention that flash memory is reusable without any loss of audio quality, unlike audio cassettes.) With memory cards are large as 4GB starting to come out, it’s now possible to have a solid-state portable music player with the same capacity as some of the hard-drive-based players like the iPod. The solid state units may soon win out because of much better reliability (no moving parts) and longer battery life.

No need to reinvent the wheel…

Monday, November 29th, 2004

I thought about writing some CGI scripts to make my wish list more interactive—allow people to mark off what gifts had already been gotten (after all, what would I do with 3 sets of Speed Bleeders?), that sort of thing. I thought about how to deal with update race conditions, update conflicts, and the other “usual” problems associated with maintaining a multi-user database system. Then I thought again and decided the problem had surely been solved already. I did some searching and sure enough, found a few sites that fit the bill.

Here’s a new link to my wish list on TheThingsIWant.com.

Xmas wish list

Saturday, November 27th, 2004

Thought I might as well use this blog to maintain my holiday gift wish list since it’s easy for me to update.

A busy “off-season”

Saturday, November 27th, 2004

The regular autocross season ended at the end of August, and I finished a close third, just out of trophies in A Stock Novice. In August I attended Evolution Performance Driving School in Seattle, an intensive autocross school taught by some of the best autocrossers in the country. It was definitely worth the trip as the school really helped to iron out some of the bad habits I’d formed, and beyond that helped to develop my driving skills.

In the coming year I have some ambitious plans with regards to motorsports:

  • Develop my roadracing (track) skills by participating in more track events and HPDEs (high-performance driving events);
  • Begin developing a Performance Rally car and use rallycross, autocross and track events to test the car and familiarize myself with its performance characteristics;
  • Continue autocrossing though less intensively than this year, in order to accommodate other motorsports activities.

However I’ve hardly been resting in the “off”-season; since I’m running in a different car class in the SCCA’s winter autocross series, I’ve taken the opportunity to begin making upgrades to the Evo:

  • Installed teflon-kevlar-stainless steel brake lines from WORKS and DS2500 brake pads from Ferodo to improve braking;
  • Installed my first “real” power upgrade in the form of a cat-back exhaust system from Buschur Racing which should (in theory) yield an additional 10-15 horsepower at the wheels;
  • Installed a rear sway bar from Hotchkis Tuning to reduce body roll and make the car a bit more neutral in its handling;

    [photo of car underbody]
  • Replaced my car’s battery with a lightweight Hawker Odyssey PC-680 sealed lead-acid (SLA) unit, reducing weight by about 20 pounds;

    [photo of car battery]
  • Installed Kartboy polyurethane shifter bushings that came compliments of my friend and autocross mentor Joe Harrison;
  • Put in a Mitsubishi rear trunk strut bar—standard in the Evo RS model—to stiffen up the back of the car slightly;
  • Installed an Evo MR “vortex generator”: little air diffuser “fins” on top of the roof to reduce lift and improve downforce at high speeds (but mainly because I thought it looks cool);
  • Removed the paint from my factory wing to give it that all-carbon-fiber look;

    [photo of wing and vortex generator]
  • Installed a T-Sport Rev-Lite Formula One-style shift light so I’d know when I need to shift (one rarely has the time to look at the tachometer while on the track or autocross course);
  • Bolted on some Mitsubishi brake air guides to improve brake cooling;
  • Wore out the original clutch on my car after 20,000 miles; Monday it will be replaced with a WORKS CK2 clutch featuring a heavy-duty carbon-kevlar disc.

Running in Street Tire indexed class at the local autocross events, I’ve been doing reasonably well, placing about mid-pack in the highly competitive class. One thing is obvious is that my driving has substantially improved from earlier this year; although I’ve yet to be as consistent as I’d like to be, I’m now putting down times that are competitive with people behind whom I lagged much farther during the regular season.

A few weeks ago I attended a performance rally school run by the SCCA and California Rally Series. I learned a lot about performance rallying and got to drive the Evo on dirt and gravel for the first time. I participated in my first rallycross that weekend and placed in the middle of the pack, not bad considering it was my first time and I had probably the least competitive tire setup of the day: almost-bald Falken Azenis Sport tires intended strictly for dry tarmac use.

[photo of my car at rallycross]

I also finally participated in my first track event with the Northern California Racing Club at Thunderhill Park. I felt fairly at ease driving on the track; taking those corners as fast as I could and zooming down the straightaway at 120 miles per hour still felt much safer than my typical commute to work. Due to schedule and budget limitations I probably won’t make it out to the track again until next year, but I hope do be doing this on a fairly regular basis in the future. Driving on a road-race course, getting almost an hour and a half of seat time (not to mention thrilling rides in instructors’ cars) in a day makes it so much more satisfying than autocross.

Got my car dyno’ed

Saturday, September 18th, 2004

Went over to Gruppe-S today to get my car “dyno’ed”—measure its horsepower and torque output on a load-bearing dynamometer. Usually people do this to measure the performance benefits of tuning and/or modifications to their car, but I was simply there “for fun”: Gruppe-S needed a couple of stock Evos to calibrate their instrument and provide a yardstick for others with more modified cars, so they offered some free dyno pulls to volunteers who could provide a car in completely stock form. I’ve seen cars dyno’ed before but it was fun and interesting to get mine done for the first time; my thanks go out to Cal and Mike and the rest of the crew over at Gruppe-S.

My car made a bit over 220 horsepower to the wheels, which was about the expected number for that particular dynamometer and car, so it’s good to know that the car’s engine seems to be in good working order and performing as expected. Later, when I’ll start adding modifications to increase power, I’ll be able to go back to Gruppe-S and dyno the car again to measure any power increases.

[dynamometer graph]

It’s interesting what people consider “stock” when you dangle some free dyno time in front of them. Quite a few on NorCalEvo replied to the offer with something along the lines of, “My car is stock… except for the turbo-back exhaust and aftermarket blow-off valve,” much to the amusement and/or annoyance of the Gruppe-S folks. I must have one of the few Evos that’s remained completely stock (in the engine and drivetrain anyway) after a year; my signature tagline on NorCalEvo reads, “Mod the driver before you mod the car”—on the racetrack, the greatest performance is to be gained by first learning to become a better driver.

Moving on

Saturday, September 18th, 2004

It’s official: this week I submitted a formal letter of resignation to my manager, and signed and sent an acceptance letter to my new employer. After what’s been a mostly-good five-year stint at NVIDIA, I’ll be leaving at the end of the month to start a new job at VMWare. Though things are still plenty busy over at NVIDIA and I’m still excited about many of the ongoing projects there, I felt that the time had come for me to move on, explore a different career option, work in a totally different part of the industry, try to stay flexible… As I’ve pointed out to many, I’ve never done the same thing or lived in the same place for more than five years at any point in my life, and I think having gotten used to that I was becoming increasingly restless.

When I started at NVIDIA I was just out of university, very gung-ho about work, overflowing with enthusiasm… five years later I find myself a bit jaded, somewhat cynical and ever so slightly bitter. Why? Overall I’m proud of what I accomplished and happy with the work I did, but to some extent the past five years seem somewhat like wasted time to me: sure, I did good work, made quite a bit of money in the process, but in many ways I’m left feeling… hollow, maybe… for having largely neglected other aspects of my life. My latest efforts have not only been about changing my career path, but more importantly “rebalancing” my life. I still have a long ways to go before I find that balance…

Both sides now

Sunday, September 12th, 2004

[photo of Schroth harnesses now on both sides]

Seeing that supplies were dwindling, I finally ordered a matching Schroth Autocontrol harness last week, and installed it today. Installation was much more straightforward today, firstly because I didn’t have to do quite as much, but also because this time I knew exactly what I had to do and how. It’s good to see harnesses on both sides so things don’t look as lop-sided now. I also read somewhere that at a track event, it’s considered good courtesy to provide your instructor with a harness if you have one too. Now if only I could get out to an HPDE event one of these days… Soon!

Time for an upgrade…

Tuesday, September 7th, 2004

My (three-year-)old mobile phone got extremely poor reception at the new house, to the point where it would drop into analog mode unless held high up on the second floor… and even after doing so, reception was usually not good enough to actually hold a conversation. That, combined with the fact that my last phone bill was for $97—due to a combination of overrunning my 60-minute airtime limit and making a bunch of “roaming” calls while in Seattle—finally motivated me to go upgrade phone and plans this past weekend.

I ended up getting a Nokia 3120, nothing fancy compared to its peers today but it’s small, light, has decent battery life, and was pretty inexpensive. And hopefully once I get the USB data cable for it I’ll be able to effortlessly transfer all my Outlook contacts to the phone. One woefully missing feature for me is voice dialing, which I had come to take for granted—after all, it was available on my old “dinosaur” phone—but I think setting up speed-dial buttons will remedy that to some extent. Now if I could only get used to the 3120’s rather idiosyncratic (some would say idiotic) user interface, it would almost be perfect.