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End-of-year ketchup

Friday, December 30th, 2005

Once again I’ve badly neglected this so-called “blog” of mine,
but now that I have a few free moments (slightly delayed by my
having forgotten to bring along the power supply for my laptop)
here at my parents’ in Montréal, I’ll do my best to bring
things up to date…

  • Traveled around Italy for two weeks with my friend Jae
    and four of her friends. We started in Venice (where we went
    straight after flying in to Rome), then went to Florence,
    Milan, and ended up in
    Rome. Though not without its occasional
    challenges, it was a wonderful trip overall; the weather,
    sights, sounds, food and people we encountered were generally
    fabulous. We visited the glass works in Murano,
    countless churches
    in Venice and Florence, went a biking tour
    to the wineries outside
    Florence, saw more galleries and museums than I can count or
    remember, explored the Colosseum
    and many other Roman ruins—and
    so much more. This probably merits an entry of its own
    but as I’ve still not gotten around to processing the thousand or
    more photos that I took, further details will have to wait.

  • Finished the year with 14 track days under my belt. I
    think—I’m at the point where I’m starting to lose count,
    though track days haven’t entirely lost their sense of
    novelty or become totally “routine”. Reliability has become
    something of an issue, as early into a two-day event at Reno-Fernley
    in October, the Evo suffered a critical turbo hose failure,
    ending my weekend (it could have been easily fixed had I had the
    parts, tools and motivation, but as I was slightly sick and still jet-lagged
    having returned from Italy earlier that week). At
    Thunderhill a few weeks
    later the car “popped” a brake line, just about the most frightening kind
    of failure one can experience, though luckily both car and driver escaped
    without incident.

  • The Evo has undergone further upgrades and changes. The
    aforementioned failed turbo hoses and brake lines have been replaced,
    obviously. The back seat and rear seatbelt hardware is gone, as is the
    the navigation system and stereo equipment. Small upgrades to the
    engine/exhaust system are pending, and I’m about to install a
    “piggyback” engine management computer to allow me to tune the
    car not only to optimize power, but also to maximize reliability.

    Also, gone are the temporary magnetic racing numbers that I’d put
    on the car before each event: the car now wears a more “permanent”
    vinyl “149” on a
    Grassroots Motorsports
    number panel sticker.

    [photo of my Evo, Nov. 2005]

  • With the Evo becoming more “race-car-like” in every
    respect—noisy, uncomfortable, conspicuous, and frequently
    undergoing repairs and/or upgrades, I bought a new daily driver for
    my regular commute and movement around town. For a long while I had
    my heart set on the new Toyota Yaris which is set
    to come out in the US this coming spring. However, after further consideration,
    I realized that I’d end up spending some $14k on the car, then another further
    $10k or so to modify it to my satisfaction—beefing up the engine
    and improving the handling by overhauling the suspension. It was then
    that I decided to spend under $10k to get a car that would already
    outperform the Yaris: after two weeks of shopping and test-driving four
    different specimens, I bought a lightly-used
    1999 Mazda MX-5 Miata.
    Practicality wasn’t too much of a concern, since I’ll be buying a tow
    rig—pickup truck and race car trailer—next year and the
    pickup would meet any large hauling needs that I might have.

    [photo of my pristine Miata]

    The Miata hasn’t exactly remained stock since I got it in early
    November. My first additional was a rollbar to
    make the car safer and make it eligible for track events. I’ve also added
    a Pioneer AVIC-D1 navigation system and will
    shortly add more creature comforts such as a remote entry system.

    I autocrossed the Miata at a local event and intend on preparing it to
    SCCA Solo2 C-Stock class specifications.
    This should incrementally improve the car’s already satisfying
    performance (at least in handling; it can’t touch the Evo’s power)
    while keeping it comfortable and “civilized” for daily driving duties. I
    also drove a track day in the Miata at Thunderhill; since it uses the
    same performance wheels and tires that I had bought as a “tarmac”
    setup for the rally car, burns 87-octane (“regular”) gas and at a rate
    less than half that of the Evo, and is light on brake wear, the Miata
    costs about one-third as much to run as the Evo. While not anywhere
    as fast around the track, it offers almost the same thrills, and my
    friend Jason—a more experienced and therefore faster racer
    than me by all accounts—has convinced me that I might learn
    quite a few things by driving an underpowered rear-wheel-drive car
    around the track.

  • The trials and tribulations of the VW Corrado rally car
    continue. I raced it at a nearby SCCA Rallycross
    event at Altamont Raceway, and despite our
    best efforts the previous day to improve the cooling system (by closing
    the gap between the radiator fan shroud and the radiator, and replacing
    the fan thermostat with a manual switch), the car overheated at the end
    of my second run. Luckily, other than ending my event prematurely, the
    car seems to have incurred no damage, as I was able to refill the coolant
    after letting it cool down and drive it home later that day.

    At this point I’m torn between hanging on to the rally car and putting
    it up for sale. I’d still like to get into rally, but as all rallyes are relatively
    far away (the closest are six hours away in southern California, and
    they’re generally reputed to be “car breakers” and not well-suited for
    the rookie driver), I have to admit that it may simply be not the right
    place or time for me to do so. However, realistically the best that I could
    hope to get for the rally car would be around $6k, the original amount I
    paid for it, so I’d be losing almost as much in the money I’ve sunk into
    it since—such is the nature of race cars. Therefore I might simply
    be better off just hanging on to it even if I do nothing with it for the next
    year or two…

    … Assuming I have somewhere to put it, which is my
    present challenge. Between my Evo and Miata and Jason’s M3 and
    our driveway and garage are full. The rally car sits parked in front
    of a house under a cover, a situation neither of us are particularly happy
    with. I’ve started looking for shop space to rent, which may also come
    in handy for working on the Evo. I’ve found that working on a car is
    made infinitely easier by having the right tools, and then doubly so by
    having lots of comfortable space to do it in. My garage, though
    adequate, is neither spacious nor very comfortable.

  • Life at VMWare goes
    on with no particular highs or lows to highlight. Which is not to say that
    I’m unhappy there—I’m not—and if I sound
    blas&acute& about my job it’s not because I don’t work
    with some pretty cool and interesting people and on some neat and relevant
    products—I do. I think it’s simply that during
    my time at NVIDIA I overdrew
    from the “rabid enthusiasm” account…

    Given my relatively new-found interests, would I be happier
    wrenching on cars for a living, for example?
    Maybe, though I have a nagging suspicion that something like
    fixing cars might very well lose its appeal once it became a “job”.
    The fact remains that writing software is the singular thing I’m best at
    and I’m far better off as a full-time software engineer and part-time
    race mechanic and driver, than the other way around.

Just for you, Nate

Friday, December 30th, 2005

Per your request, I’ve updated this blog. That is all.

(Just kidding, big update shortly…)

Quick catch-up

Saturday, September 24th, 2005

Been a very busy summer; I’ll try to follow-up with details later, but here it is in summary:

  • Autocross: kind of my “default” motorsports activity. Ran the full season of events with the SCCA, San Francisco Region. Finished mid-pack which is about as well as I expected, though I’m definitely continuing to improve. Won an autocross event at the Rim of the World Rally. Co-drove Navid’s class-favourite ESP car at SCCA Solo Nationals a couple weeks ago. He finished third due to a bit of bad luck on the first day; I finished a respectable 17th out of 26 despite not really putting down my finest driving performance on either day.
  • Track days: nine this year so far, at Thunderhill, Laguna Seca, Reno-Fernley, Willow Springs, Streets of Willow, and Buttonwillow.
  • Car: the Evo has undergone more upgrades, in addition to the usual fairly rigorous maintenance regiment.
  • Rally: we fixed the rally car up enough to the point where it was running fairly well. I took it to an SCCA rallycross event. It drove well enough at the rallycross but had some major overheating problems. It drove back from the event without incident but mysteriously stopped working shortly thereafter. I suspect some fairly expensive overheating-related damage to the engine but haven’t had time to look at it. I worked as a volunteer at the Desert Storm Rally and Rim of the World Rally events as a way to familiarize myself with the sport and the people involved.
  • Attended my friend Iliese’s wedding at Niagara-on-the-Lake; I’m attending my friend Paul’s wedding nearby tomorrow.
  • I’m going to Italy for two weeks in October with some friends.

Well there you have it. Details to follow…

I’m a star

Monday, July 25th, 2005

[eBay Turquoise Star certificate]

Got my “turquoise star” from eBay last week—meaning my buyer/seller rating is now at the 100 mark. I’ve been using eBay since 1998; on one hand you won’t find as many “bargains” as you once did when there was a chance that something would go up for auction and nobody else would know about it… On the other hand I think it’s still just about the best place for buying and selling stuff that falls into the “random crap” category. If ever you ask, “Where the heck would I buy         ?” Answer: eBay.

Yes I know

Friday, July 15th, 2005

I’m extremely laggy on blog updates. New entry real soon now. Promise!


Thursday, April 21st, 2005

Installed an Autopower race rollbar in my Evo last weekend, in preparation for this weekend’s two-day high-performance driving event with NCRC at Reno-Fernley Raceway. With the rollbar in place, my four-door car effectively becomes a two-seater as the rear seats are no longer safe—nor accessible—for passengers.

[photo of my rollbar]

Of course, I hope I never have to use it… except maybe as a more solid mounting point for my in-car video camera.

Snapple needs to hire some fact-checkers

Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

One of the perks of working at VMWare is the free snacks and drinks available in our lunchroom. Though well-stocked, the only “diet” drinks (not including water) available are Diet Coke and three varieties of Diet Snapple. I don’t like the former so I end up drinking around two Snapples a day. Printed on each Snapple bottle cap is a bit of trivia that they call “Real Facts”. Maybe the use of quotes is appropriate because I’ve found many of these to be poorly framed, extremely dubious or outright false. A few examples:

  • “‘Real Fact’ #87: A mile on the ocean and a mile on land are not the same distance.” I believe they are referring to nautical miles versus regular miles. Of course one can use nautical miles on land as well (and they’re also used for aircraft navigation)… So a nautical mile is a nautical mile regardless of if it’s on the ocean, in the air, or on land, and the same goes for an English unit mile. As stated, this “Real Fact” is simply false.

  • “‘Real Fact’ #36: A duck’s quack doesn’t echo.” False. This was disproved on an episode of Mythbusters

  • “‘Real Fact’ #20: Broccoli is the only vegetable that’s a flower.” What about cauliflower? Also, there are other flowers that are edible (and commonly eaten), and since they’re not fruits, they’re “vegetables”.

  • “‘Real Fact’ #65: A one-day weather forecast requires about 10 billion mathematical calculations.” Depends entirely on the type of forecast, the hardware and software used, how you define and count “mathematical calculations”, if you count calculations required to generate the data upon which the forecast relies, etc. “10 billion” is a number that’s supposed to sound impressive but the average desktop computer nowadays can do that in a few seconds; this ‘fact’ is entirely vacuous or meaningless.

  • “‘Real Fact’ #10: Licking a stamp burns 10 calories.” Doubtful. If this were true, eating an ice cream cone by licking it would result in a net loss in calories. Oh how I wish that were true! Then again, maybe they really do mean “calories” as opposed to “Calories” which (as I learned in high school chemistry) actually means “kilocalories” in scientific terms. 0.010 Calories definitely sounds more plausible.

  • “‘Real Fact’ #173: Chinese is the most spoken language in the world.” While Mandarin—a Chinese dialect—is the most spoken language in the world (according to my cursory research), there’s no single language one could call “Chinese”. Well, I suppose you could, but do so at the risk of offending all those Cantonese speakers out there (not to mention all the other dialects).

  • “‘Real Fact’ #167: You have to play ping-pong for 12 hours to lose one pound.” Depends entirely how you play—if you’ve ever seen world class table tennis players you’ll be pretty certain that for them, this is absolutely untrue. By weight alone, you’d easily lose more than a pound through perspiration.

Where do they come up with this BS? Are there not enough interesting real facts out there that they just have to make up stuff?

True colours

Saturday, March 26th, 2005

Got a bit of graphics work done on the Evo for the upcoming SCCA Atwater National Tour autocross competition; I drew up various designs and surveyed people on Solo2.org and NorCalEvo.net for their opinions and feedback, finally arriving at the following design:

[Evo 'flag' graphics design drawing]

I then had Jay at GraphTech cut out the design in vinyl, and I applied the graphics this week after it finally stopped raining:

[photo of my Evo with new 'flag' graphics]

I’ve received fairly positive reactions so far… Driving around in it feels much like when I first got the Evo and they were somewhat rare—turns a lot of heads. I’m a bit worried about vandalism but all the people I’ve voiced my concerns to so far have said, “Who hates Canadians?”

Much work on the project car

Saturday, March 26th, 2005

The trip to Arizona went more or less as planned, and my friend and co-driver Nick and I successfully trailered the Corrado rally car to San Jose over the February 12-13 weekend… Not a bad road trip though driving the U-Haul truck was something of an experience; I now have a small measure of appreciation for what truckers are up against, driving their huge big-rigs around.

[rally 'Rado on trailer]

In the weeks since, we’ve been busy getting the car up to shape again. The car has about 48 thousand miles on it, and while a thousand or so out of those may have been rally stages, the engine should otherwise be in relatively good condition for a fifteen-year-old car. When I first got it, the car ran very rough, needing about ten attempts to start up, stalling very easily, and producing exceptionally noxious exhaust fumes. Nick tried to drive it around the block and barely managed as the engine was running badly and stalled so easily.

The first week, Nick and I poked and prodded a bit at the engine as we worked to learn about how this car had been modified from its original stock form. We tested the sparkplugs, did a compression test on the cylinders—all good, it seemed. The muffler that was on the car was in visibly bad shape—squashed tip and a big gash in the muffler body—so we cut it off and put on another “muffler” that came with the car, popularly known as a “fart can” for the poor sound and high noise level that it produces (but at least it’s free-flowing). This created something of a problem as the muffler tip no longer lined up with the gap in the bumper; I later used two five-inch-diameter steel elbow dryer duct joints riveted together to better deflect the exhaust through the gap and out of my garage.

By the end of the first week, things were not much better. In fact, I was no longer able to start the car at all. Friends Sarah (a self-styled Corrado expert) and her new husband Josh (a professional Porsche/Audi/VW mechanic) came over and helped out. Per Sarah’s advice, we replaced the sparkplugs—even though by all appearances they appeared to be working just fine—and sure enough, the car now starts in one or two tries and runs much more smoothly. Sarah took it for a rather energetic drive around the block, much to the alarm of many of my neighbours, no doubt.

Another problem was the strong smell of gasoline despite no obvious leak in the fuel system. The car has a racing fuel cell in the trunk to replace the factory fuel tank—a fuel container filled with a highly porous foam material that prevents the fuel from sloshing around. Braided metal lines connect the fuel cell to a fuel pump and then run forward inside the car, underneath the co-driver’s seat, through the firewall and into the engine compartment. Sarah identified the fuel lines as the source of the smell; after almost nine years fuel had leached through the inner rubber part of the line. The following week Nick and I replaced the fuel line and the smell of fuel went away almost completely.

Around the same time, I replaced the Sabelt harness belts with (more inexpensive) five-point camlock G-Force harnesses. Racing belts are made of nylon and the material degrades much faster than factory seatbelts; as such, they are required to be replaced every two (SFI-certified belts) or five (FIA-certified belts) years. I also decided to replace the seats, as they had a fair amount of wear and tear and the steel-framed driver’s seat was not as comfortable as I would have liked. I purchased matching Momo Start seats but as they did not have the same mounting bolt pattern as the Sparco seats that were in the car, was not able to install them right away; in any case the existing seat mounts and rails were slightly bent from the action they’d seen and I wanted to replace them—no need to compromise on safety.

I used a material called TirePlast—made of recycled tire rubber and plastic—to fabricate new mudflaps. I also had new rear quarter windows made from polycarbonate plastic (commonly known under the “Lexan” brand name); after installing them we were able to finally apply our driver/co-driver identification lettering and flags:

[photo of rally car rear quarter window]

I changed the oil in the car and was surprised to find that the oil that came out was thin and smelled very strongly of gasoline. I suspect that until I changed the sparkplugs, not all cylinders were firing (or not all the time), resulting in the extremely rough running that we saw and unburned fuel going into the oil. We installed an air-fuel ratio gauge to begin tuning the engine and figure out why it’s running so rich (too much fuel in the mixture). Without the catalytic converter, an overly rich mixture causes fairly spectacular “fireballs” occasionally shooting out the tailpipe, fouling of the sparkplugs, and very noxious exhaust fumes. Running rich for long periods of time will also damage the catalytic converter, which we need to have installed in order to have any hope of passing smog tests (required to register the car).

After obtaining a temporary operating permit (valid through the end of April) for the car, I drove it over to Bugformance a few miles away to have a new exhaust system built and installed, the new seats installed, and a new skidplate (a large aluminum plate bolted to the underside of the front of the car to protect it from rocks and other such hazards typically encountered on a rally course) fabricated. It’s been there since, a bit over two weeks now; longer than I would have liked, but I’m at least satisfied with the quality of work that they’re putting into the car.

Once I get the car back, it will need some alignment done; the drive to Bugformance was a bit “exciting” as the car had a way of unpredictably wanting to dart left or right at freeway speeds. I’ve also purchased a set of aftermarket wheels and Falken Azenis Sports tires for the car for better performance on the street and on tarmac rally stages.

The car will need more tuning but this should be easier now that we have a functional exhaust and muffler system; before, the car was so loud that I would not work on it after 10 at night to avoid disturbing the neighbours. This didn’t mesh very well with Nick and I’s schedules as we are both something of night owls—the net result of which was that we would only get one to two hours to work on the car on a given weeknight.

I’ve gotten word that the rollcage needs a few minor modifications to conform to new safety rules that were instituted recently. Finally, we’ll need to check out the intercom system and Terratrip rally computer; the wiring for the latter seems a bit flakey and probably needs to be re-done. At this point it seems unlikely we’ll be ready in time for next weekend’s Desert Storm Rally in Arizona which I’d really been hoping to attend, given how much more work still needs to be done. We need time to do testing and just to familiarize ourselves with the car; rushing things along seems like a good way to waste money (and absorbing the costs of all this fun over such a short period of time isn’t exactly trivial either) and put the car and ourselves at greater risk. In short, we’ll rally when we’re ready!

Rally ‘Rado

Monday, February 7th, 2005

I’ll be flying out to Arizona with my friend and co-driver Nick this weekend to pick up the yellow VW Corrado rally car I mentioned in an earlier entry. We’ll be renting a U-haul truck and car trailer to haul it, and all the spare parts it comes with, back to California.

The next month promises to be extremely busy as we’re setting our sights on running the “Seed 9” rally at Goodsprings, Nevada. A short 7-stage, 29-mile rally over mostly gravel roads through the desert, it’s about as easy or forgiving as rallies go, and therefore the perfect inaugural rally for us.

Before we get there, the car needs to be registered—since rally cars transit over public roads, they must be legally-registered road-going cars. To get registered, the car needs to pass emissions (smog) testing. To pass smog, the car needs an updated exhaust system, as it currently has no catalytic converter. What’s more, the car has been in storage for a few years and will therefore quire a full tune-up. The safety belts and harnesses need to be replaced, as required by rally rules. The car may need a new skidplate as the current one is somewhat bent up. The supercharger may need servicing as the “G-Lader” supercharger units in Corrado G60—nicknamed the “Grenade 60” by some—are notoriously self-destructive if not well-maintained.

And that’s just the stuff I know about. Hopefully when I pick up the car it won’t hold any major surprises…