December, 2005

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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,
    Cinque-Terre,
    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
    Raceway
    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
    Elise,
    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…)