Monday, September 30, 2013 5:45:06 PM America/Detroit

Time Passages

My daily driver recently turned 100,000 miles. Yet somehow I’m the one that feels old. Actually, any sense of time passing makes me feel old.

Technically I’m probably middle age, although that seems so old just to type that. I don’t have my AARP membership yet, so I’m not getting the Denny’s discount.

I can even still remember why I walk into rooms—usually.

No, I’m more like I-remember-looking-through-a-hole-in-a-camera-to-take-a-picture old. Or these-are-not-bifocals-they’re-called-progressive-lenses old. I’m old enough to know the Year of the Cat is not one of the Chinese zodiac years. And the Sign of the Cat on tv featured a different definition of Cougar than today.

More specifically, I am I-once-owned-8-track-tapes-and-oh-gawd-all-four-of-my-cars-are-over-100,000-miles old.


Didn’t I just buy this “new” car a little while ago? Did I just blink away 4 years? Where the heck was I driving during all that time?

“Most people don't grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity. What that is, is aging.”
—Maya Angelou

Realizing that your car has 100,000 miles is like realizing that your baby daughter has started going to elementary school and is acting like a teenager. What?!—et, tu, Tochter?

Time is so compressing.

Back in the “old” days, rolling over 100,000 miles was a monumental achievement for a car. It wasn’t impossible, but it was certainly difficult. It was probably a combination of driving less, lower reliability, and the low shelf life of Bondo® that kept older cars from going this far.

"You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred."
—Woody Allen

Well, what does 100,000 miles on a car represent anyway?

It means no more new car smell. There’s a chip or two on the windshield, and maybe a crack on the fascia from that thing you ran over on the freeway. The shake, rattle and roll come from the body and not the radio. Everything that’s supposed to be replaced in a car is typically replaced by now.

In other words, it’s been around the block a few times. In my case, about 251,428 times. And used $14,589.64 in premium gas doing it ($63.43/week, $3,647.41/year). That’s 4,336 gallons of gas, averaging about $3.36/gallon. The car gets 23.1 mpg.

Didn’t I used to pay less than a $1/gallon when I first started driving?

Cars are generally designed to last about 10 years or 100,000 miles. When engineers design a car, the parts are usually tested to simulate a 10-year life or 100,000 miles of usage. These are accelerated tests because watching paint peel for 10 years is really boring. In today’s manufacturing world cars can easily exceed these limits. I would say that 200,000 miles is the new 100,000. Sort of like 40 is the new 30. Or so no one tells me, but I wish they would so I would feel better.

With that said, 100,000 miles is still 100,000 miles. That’s about 4 times around the earth along the equator. If you could drive one over the ocean, that is. When my cars have this many miles, I worry about what’s going to fall off or what I’ll have to replace next. I think every new noise or smell is coming from my car when I drive it.

I start thinking about cost/benefit analysis of keeping the car. My eyes start wandering to or I start getting that 4-year, 10-month, 26-day itch (my average time between car purchases).

A 100,000 mile car feels like it’s on borrowed tires.


…what’s there to lose? The car’s older, so why not throw some sticky tires on it and drive it on the race track? It’s probably on basic insurance anyway. And since you have to replace parts, why not put high performance parts in it instead? You’ve gotten your money’s worth on it. In my case, I even have a new engine raring to go.

So, Go For It!

Confession: Most of the time, I’m a big Wuss. I’m a risk-averse engineer who wants to stay married. Maybe buy a pair of shoes (or two) for my kids. And spend most of my money buying shiny, electronic, blinky things. (Hey, I’m risk-averse, not fiscally responsible.)

So, No.

I will not be tearing up road courses with my <key term for future loophole exploitation>daily driver</key term for future loophole exploitation>.

This particular car and I will try to age in a cautious, prudent way. We will continue to dutifully haul children to and from schools and soccer fields. We will drive late at night to pick up chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles on them from all-night grocery stores to bring to school the next day. We will commute daily to and from work. Maybe even hit the gym once in a while.

We will not turn off traction control in deserted, snow-covered parking lots. We will not see when does the stability control takes over on exit ramps. We will not watch Dukes of Hazzards videos where someone yells out, “yee haa!”

Even on those long and lonesome highways, when no one is looking and old people tunes are turned up way too loud on the radio, we will not glorify days gone by with a wide-open throttle salutes and a rush of adrenaline-fueled acceleration, something I could only imagine in my horsepower-less, penniless youth driving a really sad Mercury. Nope, not going to do it.

Because we’re going to totally catch up to this guy who has 3,000,000 miles on his car. Only 2,900,000 miles to go (if Irv Gordon never, ever drives his car again)!

“You don't stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.”
—George Bernard Shaw
“How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was?”
—Satchel Paige

[The 100,000 Mile Club is completely, totally not like the Mile High Club. Please do not confuse the two.]

Blurry Subaru WRX STI picture
2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI

Blurry Subaru Legacy GT Limited picture
2005 Subaru Legacy GT.
I was out of the country, and couldn’t convince my wife not to drive for a week until I could take a picture.

Honda Civic Si picture
2000 Honda Civic Si
Umm… just ignore that light on the dash.

Porsche 944 Turbo
1989 Porsche 944 Turbo
(Meanwhile, somewhere in Germany…)

Blurry 1990 Chevrolet Beretta GTZ picture
1990 Chevrolet Beretta GTZ
The odometer says 100,000. Really. Just ask the NSA. They know.

Blurry 1984 Buick Skyhawk Custom picture
1984 Buick Skyhawk Custom
Yes, I know. Another crappy picture. Sorry.

Crankiness Rating: 3 out 11 (Dance with the one what brung ya.)

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Car People

There are dog people and cat people and bird people and somewhere I’m sure, lemur people. I am from the clan of inanimate objects, car people.

When I am introduced to people I’ve seen at work or at social gatherings, the light of recognition I usually get goes along the lines of, “you’re the guy with the black Subaru STI,” or some similar sort of greeting.

And I respond in kind—“and you’re the red Mazdaspeed 3, right?”

That’s followed by a short but significant judgement cycle. Is his car better or worse than mine? Are we equivalent? This establishes the proper socio-vehicular hierarchy.

I’m a little smug because according to my internal database of “Cars I Care About” from the last decade or so, my car presumably has a higher horsepower rating (305 hp vs. 263 hp) than his. So I won’t have to remember 0-60 mph times for the moment.

More careful owners may dig a little deeper to better evaluate the situation, though. I make the following observation.

“You’re car looks low. Did you do something with the suspension?”

“Yeah, it’s got different springs and sway bars.”

Depending on your prejudices, this could be quite relevant. I’ve already given up something about myself, because I asked about suspension work and not about the engine. In my book, this indicates a certain level of sophistication, showing that handling is more important over raw numbers like horsepower ratings, especially since I know I already have more.

“And I upgraded the brakes, too,” he adds.

Damn. He just escalated. Now I’m a little wary. Either he really likes handling, or he’s done more to the car than I expected. I have to proceed more cautiously now.

“What did you get?”


*drool* <wipe> *drool*
One of my company’s competitors. Sooooo shiny.

Crap! It’s on, then!

“Great brakes! Those come standard on my car. I love them,” I say.

This guy was getting obnoxious. I had to remind him of the proper pecking order here.

“Yeah, my last set of brakes were useless on the track. I decided to upgrade.”

Ah, a track guy. Brakes and suspension work are entirely justified. He’s okay, then. If I can remember his name which he just told me two minutes ago, I may add him to my contact list.

I’m pretty sure this is equivalent to dog people sniffing each other’s butts.

“Everyone’s projecting onto you, or you feel like everyone is judging you. I feel like I’m being judged a lot of the time. You become really self-conscious.”
—Kate Moss
“I can’t go anywhere without someone judging me.”
—Britney Spears

Crankiness Rating: 2 out 11 (Some people are okay, I guess.)

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Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

When I was growing up, I thought my dad was extra popular and well known in our neighborhood. As we would drive through our narrow streets lined with park cars, other drivers would stop and wave to my dad, and he would wave back. At some point, I asked my dad, “do we know that person?”

The reply was always, “no.” So who the heck were all these people?

The answer, of course, was that each driver was courteously letting the other pass by on the narrow street as they approached each other. They signaled each other with a quick wave of the hand.

I thought that waving was a really nice thing to do because I was a naïve little kid. I still do, partly because I’m now a naïve adult.

Other than 4-way stops where no one knows who should go first, I see the wave most often today as a sign of recognition or acknowledgement (I’m going to ignore the single-finger salute for now). The most common is with motorcyclists as they pass each other.

Certain car makes will also wave to each other, such Corvettes. Sometimes it is with an entire manufacturer, such as with Porsche.

The feeling of recognition and connection with another driver certainly gives me the warm fuzzies, but it’s not all rainbows and unicorns down at the farm.

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
--George Orwell

For example, it seems as if cruiser-bike motorcyclists only begrudgingly acknowledge those on sport bikes. A few years ago a friend wrote an article in a car club newsletter about the hierarchy of waving while driving a Porsche. It was funny and annoying at the same time, revealing a caste system in the sports car world. It’s especially annoying to me since my beloved front-engined, water-cooled Porsches (924/944/968/928) are apparently at the bottom of the totem pole.

Would a Toyota Prius owner wave or try to run down a Chevy Volt owner? What happens when a Viper and a Cobra find themselves on the same street? Will anyone ever wave to a Pontiac Aztek?

Sports car ownership is not an egalitarian society, but a bit of courtesy and civility would be nice.

Reventon and Veyron should be Crayola colors
Volkswagens that share the same garage.

And so I’m pleasantly surprised that Subaru Impreza owners also acknowledge each other with friendly waves. I’ve seen other niche models such as VW Beetles and Smart cars wave to each other as well.

I like to take it a step further and give recognition based on a certain class of sports cars. For example, a car most often cross-shopped and compared with the Subaru WRX STI is the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO. When I see an EVO as I’m driving in my STI, I want to wave to say, “Hi! I’m your evil nemesis! How’re ya doin’ today?” So far I’ve just received funny looks when I’ve done this, but I’m going to keep trying.

I’m sure the owners of Camaros and Mustangs (and Challengers, if you’re into garage à trois) would rather see human sacrifices, dogs and cats living together, and mass hysteria than wave to each other, but I’d be happy with a healthy respect for similar performance vehicles.

Theme music from Louis Armstrong

Can you see a world where a 911 and Corvette share the same driveway? Where a Lamborghini will park next to a Ferrari at a Wendy’s? Where a BMW Isetta, a Fiat 500, a Mini Cooper, a Goggomobil, a Messerschmitt, a Subaru 360, a Vespa 400, and an Atlas all park in the same two-car garage?

BMW Isetta at the Dream Cruise
That bicycle should really be passing the Isetta on the left.

“Can we all get along?”
--Rodney King

I don’t expect the day is coming soon when a Ferrari FF (or Lamborghini Aventador) driver will acknowledge me in my Subaru STI just because we’re driving all-wheel drive vehicles, but a friendly (and sometimes cranky) enthusiast can always dream.

Crankiness Rating: 3 out 11 (A soft sell gives me warm fuzzies, too.)

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The Package

“You have 10 minutes to drop off the package.”

The voice at the other end just stopped. I threw my cell phone down and started my car in the same motion. My motor was eager to prove its mettle. I had my navigation system on as I pulled out of the parking spot. My destination is 7.0 miles away in the most direct path, but then I would have to go through town. That was not an option. I had to get the package there in time.

I turned left into traffic and started heading in the opposite direction of where I had to go. It was time for something radical. I would go a longer but hopefully faster way by taking back roads and avoiding traffic lights. It was 5:50 pm and the traffic in town was as slow and unpredictable as a free Amazon Super Saver shipment.

STI Shifter

5:51 pm - I head down on 8 Mile Road while scanning my navigation system. I have to turn down a small dirt road that I typically miss. I can’t make a mistake today—I have to focus. Which also happens to be the car in front of me, a Ford Focus. Doing exactly 1 mph below the speed limit. Looking down the road, I could see that the traffic wasn’t going to let me pass anytime soon. I have to concentrate. Where is that road?

5:52 pm - There! I see it coming on the left, just like my trusty navigation system told me. I time the gap in traffic, make my left, and hit the gas!

And then immediately hit the brakes. I guess this dirt road hasn’t been re-surfaced in a while. Jason Statham would certainly think twice about taking an Audi or BMW down this road. I drive a mile on it until I hit regular pavement again. I summon all 305 hp in my car and accelerate once more into the breech.

5:54 pm - Two seconds later I’m behind a pickup truck. At least he’s doing the speed limit. I follow him for a mile. And after he turns, I follow him another mile. At. The. Speed. Limit.

5:56 pm - I make another left to get away from the pickup truck only to get behind a landscaping truck. Again, we’re doing the speed limit.

5:57 pm - I’m still behind the truck.

5:58 pm - I’m still behind the truck.

5:59 pm - I’m still behind the truck, but we’re 5 mph over the speed limit now, because we’re in city limits. I feel the rush.

6:00 pm - I’m waiting for the light to turn green. The truck is still ahead of me, but my target is just 100 yards past the light on the right. Time has now stopped. Actually, it hasn’t because I’m not traveling near the speed of light. Or at a singularity.

6:01 pm - I pull in to a parking spot. I’m late! I am ready to face my consequences.

6:02 pm - The UPS guy smiles at me as I walk in and says that he just got off the phone with my wife. She had called him to see if he could wait a couple of minutes for me to get there. He cheerfully takes my package and waves good night to me. I love UPS.

6:03 pm - Dinner was waiting. Would I make it in time? I slip the car into first gear and throttle onto Milford Road. I have to focus. My kids will bogart all my favorite chicken pieces if I’m late. I can’t let that happen. I roar to the speed limit.

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
--Douglas Adams

Crankiness Rating: 2 out 11 (An excuse to drive fast on the road? Oh, I’ll have think about it.)

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The Lingenfelter Collection

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Whatever. In the internet (which replaced “Life” in the 1990s), everyone has an opinion, and these opinions rarely agree. If I were to make a Top Eleven Most Beautiful Car list, each car on the list will have its detractors. Ultimately, a Top List of Something only matters for the person that made it.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
“Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.”
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Personally I believe there is beauty in everything if you know where to look. Except for the Pontiac Aztek. But in addition to beauty, I think there’s a quality beyond an object’s intrinsic beauty that people find attractive. This quality may actually be more important. After all, someone actually bought the Aztek. Skin deep and all that.

I gave this issue a lot of thought as I walked through the cars in the Lingenfelter Collection. Someone asked me hypothetically which car I would choose to take home as a daily driver out of all the cars in the collection. That’s like asking which Sports Illustrated swimsuit model I would want to do my laundry (I’d like tell you which one, but I don’t know what her face looks like—big beaches distract me).

“The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mode but the true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives the passion that she shows. The beauty of a woman grows with the passing years.”
--Audrey Hepburn

So what is the Lingenfelter Collection? These are Ken Lingenfelter’s cars which he’s collected over the years. He has three basic categories of cars: exotics, Corvettes, and muscle cars, or as I like to call them, Cars I Can’t Afford. The collection varies as cars are bought and sold, but there are probably between 150-200 cars in it. It’s 10 minutes from my house near Brighton, Michigan, but not open to the public.

I’m making this next part up, but I would guess that collections that compete with Lingenfelter’s include Jay Leno’s, Jerry Seinfeld’s, and Ralph Lauren’s. And it is probably exceeded by car collections from teenage kids of sheiks and sultans.

What kinds of cars are there? There’s the run-of-the-mill Bugatti Veyron. Every self-respecting collection has to have at least one of those. And even non-respecting collections must have a Lamborghini Reventón, too. Along with a Lamborghini Gallardo, these two seem to be the only Audi representation right now. Previous visits included an Audi R8 in the collection.

Volkswagen stable mates
Technically these are all Volkswagen cars, including the highly automated car in the back from my company

Lamborghini Reventón (#12 of 20) and a Bugatti Veyron
The price of these two cars alone probably exceed the property value of my entire subdivision.

Of course there are Ferraris in the collection, but I can’t even list them all here. Because I’m old school, or just old, my favorite is actually the 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO. Lingenfelter also has the Ferrari F40, Enzo, and a 599. The collection currently has no Ferrari F50. He’s also replaced the Ferrari California hardtop convertible with a proper winter car, the Ferrari FF (which he actually drives in winter. In Michigan).

Lots of Ferraris
That’s a lot of horses

The Enzo Ferrari—named after the founder
Enzo Ferrari - the Man and the Machine

Ferrari 288 GTO
Ferrari 288 GTO—it looks like Magnum, P.I.’s Ferrari 308, but it’s even cooler than his mustache

Tom Selleck, Magnum P.I.
1980s mustache reference

Off in a forgotten corner of the exotics room is a Porsche Carrera GT. Next to it is my favorite production Porsche, the 959. There is a 928, my second favorite Porsche, and a 968. (My third favorite Porsche is the 944. See: Lists People Make from above.) There’s also a 911 Turbo (997) hanging about, as well as a few others.

Porsche Carrera GT
Porsche Carrera GT—doesn’t any one care that this was the highest horsepower production car Porsche ever produced when it was introduced?

Porsche 959
Porsche 959—the car that Bill Gates couldn’t bring into the U.S.

Porsche 928—featured in the movies Risky Business and Weird Science
“Porsche—there is no substitute.”

Random cars in this room include: Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione, BMW Z8, Nissan GT-R, Saleen S7, and a Vector M12. Yup, a Vector.

Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione
Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione—1 of 90 in America

Saleen S7
Saleen S7

Acura NSX
Acura NSX—one of my all-time favorite cars, probably because Ayrton Senna and his Magic Loafers helped develop it

Ford GT
Ford GT—I guess there was one of these there, too

Vector M12
Vector M12—a car with an interesting history

Bentley brake rotor
This Bentley carbon ceramic brake rotor is absolutely huge. And how many pistons are in the caliper?

The Corvette room had many special models, like from Callaway and Guldstrand. There is also a GM prototype, the first Corvette with a V8. And of course there’s a 2nd generation ZR1 and a Pratt & Miller CR6.

Corvettes galore
The Corvette Room

Classic Corvettes
Surely one of these must be a spare that I can use

Duntov Corvette Prototype
Duntov Corvette Prototype

The muscle car room could be the fun room as it also has some random cars in it. There are a few race cars as well as some old Detroit metal like the Chevelles and Oldsmobile 442s. My favorite car in this room is the Buick Grand National GNX as it was the quickest U.S. production car when I was in college.

Buick Grand National GNX—faster from 0-60 mph than the Corvette back in 1987
Buick Grand National GNX—completely not my type of car, yet I still love it even after all of these years

AC Cobra
hmm... looks kinda like a Mazda Miata... I’m sure it’s just like that

DeLorean DMC-12—sans flux capacitor
DeLorean DMC-12—no one is going to mistake this 130 hp timeless machine for a muscle car. How can it even hit 88 mph?

1970 Plymouth AAR ’Cuda
Plymouth AAR ’Cuda—sure this is a rare car, but he should get a 1969 Dodge Charger that can jump broken bridges

Yenko Super Camaro Shelby GT 500
At least some of the cars look like they’re being driven

So of all these cars, which was my choice? Which car could I live with every day, driving on Michigan roads in sun and snow? Which would I throw a couple of child seats in to take the kids for a ride? Which would I take for my Home Depot run?

The all-wheel drive, redundantly-named Ferrari FF hatchback, of course.

Ferrari FF (FF=Ferrari Four)
Ferrari FF—this is just like my Subaru

Do I love you because you’re beautiful,
Or are you beautiful because I love you?
--Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Cinderella

Crankiness Rating: 1 out 11 (I couldn’t get him to adopt me.)

Addendum: In 2008, Ken Lingenfelter bought Lingenfelter Performance Engineering after the death of John Lingenfelter, a distant cousin. Some cars that LPE work on were in the collection, including a 200 mph Camaro and what a Trans Am may look like if Pontiac still existed.

LPE Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1—LPE got this Camaro to do 202.7 mph on our test track in Texas

Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
I really like this paint scheme

LPE Fake Trans AM with shaker scoop
LPE Trans AM: Screaming Eagle: check. Black: nope. Mustached driver: nope. TLC needs more mustaches.

Burt Reynolds - Smokey and the Bandit
1970s mustache reference

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National Donut Day

In honor of National Donut Day in America (the first Friday in June), I bring you random Stig/Ken Block/General Hooning videos from around the world. So sit down, grab a bagel, and enjoy!

(I will not celebrate today in the Porsche, because I’m running out of cars. I will celebrate Donut Day later this year when I eventually get my other car back. Unless it blows up.)

Ken Block’s Gymkhana II

Ken Block vs. Australian Stig

Stig goes for donut record

Italian donuts

Sloppy ZR1 donuts

Crankiness Rating: 0 out 11 (mmmm.... donuts...)

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One Track Mind

[Update below]

Waterford Hills
Rejoice: Curves Ahead

I’m just an old, red-blooded male whose mid-life crisis was a few miles ago. Like most males my age, I tend to think of only one thing: watching TV in peace.

Back in my younger days I’m sure I had something else that pre-occupied my thoughts, but I can’t seem to remember what that could have been. Maybe if I buy one of those little blue pills I keep getting e-mails about, it may come back to me.

Oddly, if I go back even further in time, I remember very clearly what was on my mind: to be Speed Racer.

Speed Racer was an extremely gifted driver backed by a talented racing engineer (“Pops”), a cute girlfriend (“Trixie”), and of course, a monkey. And he had the world’s most desirable race car, the Mach 5.

I can’t compete with that. The best I can do is to fantasize about driving on a race track. On a recliner. With some tortilla chips. While watching on a 72" HDTV (I may need to start working on my fantasies a bit).

The race track in this case is Waterford Hills race course, about a half hour north of Detroit. It’s a little 1.42 mile track tucked away in the suburbs. According to Uncle Internet, Sterling Moss is supposed to have said about it, “If you can drive Waterford Hills well, you can drive anywhere!”

Back before I was Married with Children, I would go out regularly to Waterford Hills with other delinquents and pretend to be Speed Racer. It wasn’t a very good impression, but that wasn’t the point. It was for a Hoot and a Holler. The only thing that could have made it better was if I could jump bridges like the General Lee and have Daisy Duke serving me drinks.

Warning: Do not attempt to drive after watching this video. Really. Put those car keys down. You cannot jump bridges. Unless, of course, you own a 1969 Dodge Charger. Then by all means go ahead.

The original Ms. Daisy Duke - Catherine Bach
Yes, it’s another chance for me to put in a 1970s/1980s reference
“How do you make a small fortune in racing? Start with a large one.”
--old racing proverb
“A bad day at the track is still better than a good day in the office.”
--even older racing proverb

The car I took on the track was my 1989 Porsche 944 Turbo, which I bought specifically for track use.

I remember our first time, because you always remember your first time. I was scared, yet trembling with excitement. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Then it was all over before I knew it. And afterwards I was all sweaty and craving for more.

(Wait—what was I talking about again? Back on track...)

In the beginning my 944 and I did it as often as we could. We did it all over the place, from Waterford to Elkhart Lake, WI to Braselton, GA. At some point in the relationship, when we got to know each other really well, we finally did the ‘Ring thing.

And that’s when it all went to pot.

From then on, we stopped doing it. We separated for a long while. When we got back together, it just wasn’t the same any more.

I started noticing droopy parts, creaky joints, and fading bits. The luster (and the Zymöl) was definitely starting to wear off. I had lost the confidence to do it together on the track again. We were spending less and less time with each other.

Inevitably, my eyes started roaming and noticing younger, faster models. Sure I still felt the 944 was capable and I still felt a bond from all those years together, but have you seen the specs on these new ones?!

Man, I’m so glad marriage is way easier than this.

“When a man opens a car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife.”
“In less enlightened times, the best way to impress women was to own a hot car. But women wised up and realized it was better to buy their own hot cars so they wouldn't have to ride around with jerks.”
--Scott Adams

So now I’m running around with a nice, newer model, a saucy Subie. This one has tighter fit and finish than the older one. It’s faster, too. And we finally did it—at Waterford Hills. It was a high performance driver education (HPDE) event by Rally Sport Region of Porsche Club of America.

It took us a while to get our rhythm, but by the third session, we were in sync. It was all fun and joy and unicorns with rainbows.

Until the engine blew.

Look! I still remember which direction to drive on this track! (Final laps before my camera batteries ran out and the piston decided it hated me.)

No gory details, but the Achilles heel of the current generation (GR type, 2008-2012) Subaru Impreza WRX STI is piston ring land failure. There are many forum threads around the internet regarding this problem.

I ordered a new short block with forged pistons for this car, which should prevent the problem from recurring (see old racing proverb above). I just have to wait a while for the work to be completed.

In the meantime, I’ve crawled back to my 944. We’re getting to know each other again. It’s a slow process but one I’m looking forward to. And I’m almost getting used to the taste of crow. Almost. Which brings me to the truism that best sums up this whole affair.

Porsche. There is no substitute.

Crankiness Rating: 3 out 11 (The track is just way too much fun.)

[Update 2012-05-29] Wow. I need a second job.

I ordered a new short block for my car. And it went downhill financially from there. First, I upgraded the pistons to forged Cosworths, because I don’t want this to happen again. Then that “track devil” started talking to me. You may be familiar with this conversation.

TD: “You know, now that the engine will be out, you can make other modifications.”

EM: “Like what?”

TD: “Well, now you can add horsepower. Check out these turbo prices. Not too bad, huh?”

EM: “Hey, you’re right! Of course, if I’m doing that, I have to it right. That means a new downpipe, equal length headers, injectors, and a fuel pump.”

TD: “If you’re going that far, you’ll have to get it professionally tuned.”

EM: “I guess so.”

TD: “You know, you might as well make it a dedicated track car. You should get coilovers and new sway bars. And to be safe, you should get a harness bar and new harnesses as well.”

At this point, these modifications total a little more than the GDP of Belize. Since I am not a country that can just print money and ignore my debts, I scaled my purchases down enough that I may have a chance of getting bailed out by Germany.

I upgraded my short block (again) to a race version. More money, and more peace of mind, although not a fiscally responsible start. Then oil pan upgrades, followed by springs and sway bars. Finally, I decided stopping was a good idea, so rotors and pads were ordered as well.

At least my dealership is naming one of their bays after me, so maybe I can sleep there when my wife finds out about all this.

This was after just one track event. In comparison, this is what I had to do to the Porsche 944 Turbo to run in a wide variety of tracks (excluding wear items like brake pads, brake fluid, tires, etc.):

  • roll bar
  • harness

[Update 2012-08-01] It was not the piston ringland as I had suspected, but the piston connecting rod bearing. See post Slow Subaru, Practical Porsche.

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Brain Buckets and Organ Donors

I recently bought a helmet for the track. It’s rated SA2010. This replaces my old SA95 helmet, which I’ve been wearing just to look cool at go-kart tracks (they’re quite fashionable).

Bell AFX-1
This really intimidates the little kids at the go-kart tracks. Once they start crying, you can easily put them into the tire wall.

I want to say that I spent a lot of time researching this helmet, but that would be like telling stories on the internet. To be honest, I was looking for the same helmet as the Stig wears, but ultimately decided that the Simpson Diamondback was a bit too expensive, and the Bandit didn’t quite appeal to me.

Instead I looked for the cheapest SA2010 full face helmet that didn’t look dorky. In the end I chose the Bell M4 in black, because black is slimming.

Bell M4 in matt black
New Bell M4 helmet

“American stuntmen are smart—they think about safety. When they do a jump in a car, they calculate everything: the speed, the distance. But in Hong Kong, we don’t know how to count. Everything we do is a guess. If you’ve got the guts, you do it. All of my stuntmen have gotten hurt.”
--Jackie Chan

With the thought that my helmet choices are strictly fashion related, I recently attended a safety talk by John Melvin, a member of my car club. John had worked for UMTRI (University of Michigan Transport Research Institute) and GM Research. He’s worked with both the IndyCar series and NASCAR on driver safety.

His talk covered safety equipment for cars on the track. He talked about helmets, HANS, nets, and seats. He showed videos of seemingly innocuous crashes where the driver died, and videos where the only identifiable parts of the cars was a wheel in the vicinity of the crash but the driver turned out all right.

We saw videos of a sled test where a test dummy ends up kissing his own belly button while wearing a seat belt. I’ve seen barrier test videos from years of working in the airbag industry, but never with a dummy wearing a helmet. That’s a lot of additional weight that adds to the momentum of the head.

He showed data why a 6-point harness is better than a 5-point harness, and why an SFI-rated 2-inch harness is as good as a 3-inch one. He explained how the HANS (head and neck support) device minimizes basal skull fractures (and the associated probability of bleeding out from a severed carotid artery). The list of race car drivers that have died from this injury is long and sad.

John basically put the fear of God in all of us.

At the end of the presentation we were all mentally calculating the cost of all of this safety equipment. Real racing seats can cost from $2,500 to $10,000 each. Most guys I know with aftermarket seats spend $500-$1,500. A 6-point harness is about $350. Then there are nets and harness/roll bars. And in our club, a car on the track must have equal seats and restraints on both the driver and passenger side, which doubles the costs.

The question becomes how much is my time in a hospital (or cemetery) worth? And why am I driving around with just a 3-point seatbelt with all these wackos behind the wheel all around me?

I once had my 944 Turbo in Germany for a year. After observing what driving on the autobahn and the Nürburgring was like, I decided to put a roll bar in the 944 before shipping it to Germany. Whenever I drove it on the ’Ring, I wore my helmet and 5-point harness. That was about the right level of safety equipment for the situation.

“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”
--Oscar Wilde

That was a long introduction to say that the picture below truly freaks me out (just like @natalieneff).

Nice Harley
I can’t even ride a bicycle a couple of blocks to the hardware store without a helmet. And yes, this guy is pretty wet from the rain today.

Michigan apparently changed its motorcycle helmet law. I read about this possibility some time ago, but I didn’t think it would actually go through. I know states out West and some around Michigan have not required helmets for many years. But we’re talking about mouth-breathing Buckeyes Ohioans here, so I never cared.

Just to be clear, I love motorcycles. I’m going to steal my own material here, but as much as I love motorcycles, I can never, ever ride one. Ever. Because if I do, I will twist the throttle too hard, causing the motorcycle to wheelie and flip high up in the air, then fall on top of me, crushing me to death in my own driveway. In other words, it’s a probabilistic certainty that a motorcycle for me is a bad idea.

If you’re on a motorcycle, you should wear as much personal armor as you can carry. Have you seen how people drive? They don’t see other cars, let alone motorcycles. A helmet is a really good place to start. I could link about a helmet protestor getting killed for not wearing a helmet. This may seem ironic, but it’s actually statistical. I could go on about more statistics of helmet usage, but I can boil it down to this question: do you want to end up like Gary Busey after his motorcycle accident?

Maybe what we really need is the fear of Darwin in us.

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Dead Man Driving

I’m a dead man.

According to College@Home’s infographics (thanks to @klagowski), a long commute is very, very bad for you. (As an aside, it also mentions a phenomenon I’ve called the Traffic Caterpillar of Death. I just have to find someone to officially use my term.) So how does a commute longer than 45 minutes kill you? Let College@Home count the ways:

  • you worry more
  • you’re angrier
  • you’re 40% more likely to get a divorce (smarmy remark... never mind—no comment)
  • you develop neck and back pains
  • you get high cholesterol
  • you get fat
  • you sleep less (you lose an average of 2183 minutes of sleep per year to traffic)
  • your risk of heart attack triples

I drive over an hour to get to or from work. That’s over two hours every day that I’m dying more quickly (after all, we’re all dying, just not at the same rates). I’ve contemplated different solutions, and actually tried a few things to mitigate my descent to worm food.

“I want my food dead. Not sick, not dying, dead.”
--Oscar Wilde (did not star in Soylent Green)
Stau on the A9 to Munich
Even German traffic jams are very organized

Take the Long Way Home

I actually take a longer route to work rather than the more direct route, mostly because I hate people (or at least, other drivers). The direct route takes me through the heart of westside traffic in metro Detroit. Going this way makes me more aggressive, angrier, and less patient. I’m pretty stressed out by the time I get to work. I once went to a health screening at work right after this commute and my blood pressure was through the roof.

Instead my route is now a lot of two-lane back roads. There’s the occasional pokey driver, but you just have to remember where the passing areas are. It’s more scenic, too—green in summer, colorful in fall, and crappy in winter (I hate winter). With less traffic, it also tends to be more consistent. This significantly reduces my driving stress. The only problem is it adds over 15 minutes to my drive.

“Death is always around the corner, but often our society gives it inordinate help.”
--Carter Burwell
“Some men are alive simply because it is against the law to kill them.”
--Edward W. Howe

Listen to What the Man Says

Listening to music through my iPod can help me be more relaxed as I drive. What I’ve noticed is the more relax I need to be, the older my music tends to be, regressing to the ’90s, ’80s, ’70s, ’60s, down to classical. If all else fails, I switch to Christmas music because who gets stressed at Christmas?

What’s even better than music for me are audio books. With audio books I pay less attention to what’s going on around me to concentrate on the book’s content. This can actually be a concern, as I normally use 125% of my driving concentration to make sure I get good data from my Valentine One by identifying unwanted radar sources like police cars.

I’ve listened to novels, non-fiction, and self-help books. Some books are better than others, of course. For example, while I never actually learned how to repair a 1964 Honda SuperHawk CB77 from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, at least Tom Clancy’s heroes in Dead or Alive get their man in one of those two states.

Robert Pirsig and son
Ommmmmm... ommmmmmm... ommmmmmm

I’ve also listened to podcasts, which I suppose is like listening to AM radio stations (which Subaru owners are supposed to do). Luckily these are prerecorded so there’s no temptation to call in to hear yourself spew. I would recommend against watching videos while you drive, though. Pointing your car into a wall and mashing on the gas pedal is the only driving maneuver I can think of that will cause you to crash faster.

She Drives Me Crazy

One great idea is simply not to drive. If your work allows it, telecommute by working at home. Unfortunately we have the technology, but not the progressive work places to make this more prevalent.

Another possibility is brought to you by internet searches and their ads—Google’s autonomous car. This is almost as good as Willy Wonka’s Great Glass Elevator. And lest you think this is pie in the sky, my company has put together an automated car. While it doesn’t do as much as the Google car, it’s also much closer to being production-ready.

I’ve also heard that in states beyond Michigan, they let more than one person be in a car. I would presume that only one of these people is driving, allowing the other person to make all of the gestures to other cars that the driver would normally make. In mythical kingdoms like California, these people (and their inflatable dummies) even have their own lanes.

These mystical lands may also have something called “public transportation,” although no one really knows how this works. There are urban legends of “schedules” that can be found in the Book of the Dead, although I think if you check in, you’ll find that there are actually buses in Europe with people in them.

She Sells Sanctuary

Another solution to the long commute problem is either to move closer to work, or find another job. While elegantly simple, not everyone can do this. Still, it’s better than moving closer to the cemetery.

My ultimate solution was to buy a faster car. It’s faster not to get me to work faster, because traffic lights keep me from getting there any sooner. It’s faster because that makes me happier. And ultimately, isn’t that what living is all about?

Mach Schnell!
The Happy Maker

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.”
--Woody Allen
“Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.”
--W. Somerset Maugham

Crankiness Rating: 5 out 11 (I have to check on my life insurance.)

Addendum: Doing some math, I realized that I spend just under 20 days per year driving to and from work, equivalent to 4 weeks of vacation. And here’s a Slate article that expands on the infographic.

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The Stereotype Games

I play different mental games in my head. One that I can actually share in public is something I call the Matching Game. It’s simply matching a person to his/her car.

You can play this game anywhere, although probably not for fun or profit. Even though I don’t like stereotypes, it helps in this game. Casual random conversation is also helpful, but full Google-like stalking is just cheating.

“All the people like us are We, and everyone else is They.”
-- Rudyard Kipling

I play this game at the gym in the morning. The older, really fit gentleman with regular work gloves for weight lifting, and works outside a lot? An older Ford F150. The well-groomed guy with the matching sweats, but never gets too sweaty? The Audi A6. The housewife trying to get her pre-third kid figure back? A Chrysler minivan.

In my house, what does the female, granola crunching, tree-hugging, European liberal teacher who lives too close to Ann Arbor drive? A Subaru Legacy GT station wagon (with a manual transmission). And the male, testosterone-fueled, Tanner Foust wannabe, but more like a Ken “Crash” Block driver? A Subaru Impreza WRX STI (with a manual transmission). These, by the way, are the only two demographics for Subaru.

Once in a while there’ll be some fascinating surprises. The small, blond female engineer at work? A Camaro SS for painting twin black lines in the parking lot and a Kawasaki Ninja for passing people on the I-75 on-ramps.

Or the elderly gentleman I was chatting with at a Subaru dealership. His car was a souped up (!!) Corvette Z06 (this was before the current Corvette ZR1 came out), and a souped up STI in the sho.

Sometimes you can work this process the other way. Someone in the gym mentioned that he was getting his race car together. He didn’t mention what kind of racing he does, but he drives a Chevrolet Malibu. I have no idea what kind of race car he has, but I would guess he races either short ovals or drag races based on his Malibu. Because if he did road racing, he’d be driving a Mazda Miata.

Pit crew to the rescue
One of me must be compensating for something with this Porsche

Obviously this game has its pitfalls. If a total stranger comes up to me and gives me his life story and psychological profile, I will not know what car he drives. But if also given a short, multiple choice list of possibilities, I think I have a good shot at guessing which is his car in the parking lot.

Try it at the next party (it’s a lot easier than getting skinny teens to fight to the death for food).

As you walk in, try to guess who drives the Hummer H2 with the dubs (which may or may not have spinners). It’s probably not going to be the grandmotherly 60-year-old high school English teacher. Hint: look for gold jewelry and a Rolex. (If it’s an H1, look for brawny Austrians.)

“All this talk about equality. The only thing people really have in common is that they are all going to die.”
-- Bob Dylan

(Well, Bob, that’s kind of a downer. Let’s end it with this other quote instead.)

“I am free of all prejudices. I hate every one equally.”
-- W. C. Fields

Addendum: We were paying for lunch at Tom’s Diner (no relation). I looked out the window and saw a bright red fifth-generation hard-top Corvette backed into a parking spot off to the side. A few of the booths in the diner were occupied by families with young children. A couple more have some high school kids finished with their classes. A pair of Oakland sheriff regulars are talking with the wait staff. In the corner is a pair of rough-and-tumble construction looking guys. Another pair of guys are wearing untucked flannel shirts and ripped jeans. One table has three 20-somethings, two women and a man. At the counter is a 40-something man wearing a tie, and a 60-something man who looks sadly lost.

The parking lot has a couple of minivans and Jeeps. There’s a pickup truck, an Oakland sheriff’s patrol car, and a work van of some sort (couldn’t read the sign on it). On either side of my Subaru is a Ford Taurus and an old Tahoe. The rest of the cars were as interesting as the asphalt they were parked on.

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My Sweet Valentine

There’s nothing like buying the love of your life a Valentine. Just don’t tell your wife about it.

I bought my Porsche its Valentine in 1994, and it still uses it today. I bought another one in 2008 for my Subaru that is used daily. These Valentine One Radar Locators (V1) are typically called by a more generic name. As an engineer, I call them microwave and coherent light data acquisition sensors. And as far as you know, that’s what I use it for—data acquisition.

Subaru’s Valentine
The Subaru’s Valentine mounting location

As someone who works with LIDAR and RADAR sensors, this can be very handy. For example, the Valentine can pick up infrared (IR) signals. These signals typically have a wave length around 900 nm. (Visible light is around 390 nm - 750 nm.) There are many vehicles that generated these IR wavelengths. Some Infiniti and Lexus vehicles have used LIDAR-based adaptive cruise control (ACC) for some time. Because of the range necessary to do ACC, the Valentine can detect such vehicles from 100 meters away if pointed right at the Valentine.

Volvo vehicles equipped with the City Safety option also generate infrared signals around this wavelength, but with much shorter ranges.

Older GMC Envoys (and Chevrolet Trailblazers) generated this wavelength from its neon center high mounted stop light (CHMSL). Waiting behind one of these vehicles, or having a Volvo right behind you at a stop light can be very annoying. They will constantly set off the LIDAR “data acquisition” of the Valentine.

By a strange coincidence, a police LIDAR gun, designed to measure an on coming vehicle’s speed, generates a wave length around 904 nm, which will be detected by a Valentine. From personal experience, this usually means that the LIDAR is pointed right at you when the detection occurs.

Most vehicles sold in America today use windshields that significantly cut down infrared transmission, which keeps a vehicle interior cooler. This can be as much as 60-80% reduction of the LIDAR signal getting to the Valentine One. If the Valentine One is behind windshield tinting at the top, that reduces the signal even more.

“Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.”
--Clifford Stoll

The Valentine One also happens to detect RADAR in the 24 GHz frequency range. There are quite a few sources of this signal. For instance, my older Valentine One is quite adept at detecting the RADAR from CVS automatic door openers.

There are also a few vehicles that generate this frequency range. For trucks, Eaton had developed its VORAD (Vehicle On-board RADAR) as a front facing RADAR unit used to warn drivers if they were dangerously closing in on a vehicle ahead of them. Audi Side Assist, which is used for blind spot detection when changing lanes, also works in the 24 GHz range. Early versions were developed by Hella. Valeo 24 GHz RADAR sensors are used in GM and Jaguar vehicles with blind spot detection. Some Mazdas also have 24 GHz RADAR blind spot sensor from another manufacturer. The Valentine One detects all of these, except for the Mazda. I have, however, seen other “data acquisition” devices detect the Mazda.

Although I’ve been referring to these sensors as 24 GHz RADAR, their exact frequency range may be something else. For example, the ISM (industrial, scientific, and medical) radio band for 24 GHz is actually 24.000-24.250 GHz. The K-band is 18-26.5 GHz, and the Ka-band is 26.5-40 GHz. I don't know what exact radio frequencies those manufacturers above are using for their RADAR sensors, I just know that that Valentine One detects them. Some must be using ultrawide band (UWB), meaning the frequency range is at least 0.5 GHz, because the same sensor will register as K-band and then Ka-band (as if it was sweeping through those frequencies).

For the RADAR applications I’ve listed above, the range is general very short, around 10-20 meters. So, for example, as you’re about to pass a Jeep, at under 20 meters you may start seeing a signal on your Valentine One and peaks when you’re in its blind spot. (You may also see a small yellow light on the side mirror indicating to its driver of your presence.) The level may be high but may not reach the maximum count on your Valentine, however, due to FCC limitation on the output of these types of sensors. The signal may disappear completely after passing the vehicle, with just the possibilities of reflected RADAR signal bouncing back to the Valentine One.

A patented feature (expired since 2011) of the Valentine One is directional arrows showing where the RADAR signal is coming from. You can use this on the previous example to confirm that the vehicle is the source of the signal.

I encountered a BMW once that pegged the Valentine One at about half a mile behind it. That may have just been a vehicle with special equipment, as I drive by a lot of places where vehicle products are being tested.

An odd source of RADAR signals that I’ve discovered around the Detroit area is the typical temporary flashing “contruction ahead” sign you see before a construction zone. Many such signs have them, and I don’t know why. Also, on my drive to Pikes Peak last year, I encountered many Ka-band RADAR signals that seemed to come from the highway infrastructure at regularly spaced intervals. This was in cities like Des Moines and Omaha. My guess is they’re used for traffic monitoring, but I have no idea if that’s true or not.

And again, by an even stranger coincidence, a typical police RADAR gun also emits 24 GHz RADAR, which will be detected by the Valentine One. Most of the police in the Detroit area seem to be using Ka-band RADAR in my informal survey, with the rest using K-band. If you collect data like I do, you may have to separate these police signals from other vehicles on the road.

“Data is what distinguishes the dilettante from the artist.”
--George V. Higgins

Now, while I use and recommend the Valentine One as a data acquisition device (I like arrows), please feel free to use other manufacturers’ products, such as from Escort and Beltronics. Various sites have performed evaluations of these sensors. Pick which ever works for you, and soon you will be enjoying the thrills of finding new vehicles with LIDAR and RADAR sensors like myself. If only the police would stop using their pesky speed detecting devices which adds unwanted noise to this data collection, then this would indeed be a better world.

Rock beats RADAR and LIDAR, if you hit them right with it
Colorado Springs police officer using both RADAR and LIDAR. Because the police officer left the RADAR on, I was able to detect it at a far greater range than the LIDAR he was manually aiming at me.

“Experts often possess more data than judgment.”
--Colin Powell

Note: RADAR and LIDAR are acronyms, so I capitalized them to see how they would look. I have to say, I don’t like them capitalized.

Addendum [2012-07-07]: I’m really annoyed by the Audis. These have rear facing 24 GHz radar with significantly longer range than the Chrysler or GM radar units. That means I can pick these up from 50-100 meters away. If an Audi with this radar is in front of you on the freeway during your commute, it will set off the “radar data acquisition unit” for quite a while.

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The Need for Speed Is a Leading Cause of Brain Drain

This internet thingy is.... interesting. When I’m not looking at videos of cute kittens (which may or may not be a euphemism) or showing 1980s music videos to my kids, I watch car videos. I recently watched this video of a Corvette crashing followed by another video of a Corvette crashing. I would normally make a joke at this point, but Corvette drivers wouldn’t get it anyway, so I’ll just let that pass.

Belle Isle during the light of day. With controlled access. And lots of witnesses.
A gaggle of Corvettes inexplicably not crashing

After watching those videos, I had to resist the urge to provoke Corvette drivers into doing something video-worthy. Or doing some “engineering analysis” to see if I could replicate the Corvette-turns-on-a-dime-randomly scenario in an all-wheel drive vehicle.

See, here’s my problem. Deep down inside, under this sheer veneer of adulthood, I’m still a juvenile delinquent, especially when it comes to cars.

And from watching many videos from Mr. Internet, I have a suspicion I’m not alone. I’m also pretty sure it’s the same gene that makes us say, “hey, watch this!” or “what could possibly go wrong?” I don’t think this gene is gender specific, but we men seem to choose vehicles as (one of) our implement(s) of destruction. Men think with their stick shift, or something like that.

When we gather with our cars, the results can be dramatic, like the recent infamous Ferrari/Lamborghini (/Prius) crash. I’m actually surprised this hasn’t happened in my car club yet during one of our tours. Of course, we may have had thoughts like, “are my tires still in contact with the pavement?” Or that could have just been me. Maybe the best way to say it is we haven’t been caught on video. So far.

I should also count how many bees his car attracts.
Maybe I should put a video camera on my dad’s car, too, just in case.

Thank God this speed affliction only affects mere mortals like ourselves, and not race car drivers who conduct themselves with utmost professionalism, or even those we entrust to serve and protect us.

But I’m the first to admit that it’s hard not to be seduced with horsepower. When you have 300+hp on tap, you want to race from traffic light to traffic light, shifting at red line, painting lines of black rubber as if marking your territory. It’s hard to resist that temptation.

“Power is not alluring to pure minds.”
--Thomas Jefferson

And sometimes there are other forces that jack the testosterone to Epic Stupid levels, like the Other Guy. When I first got my 944 Turbo, I was constantly being goaded by other cars (usually Mustangs, but sometimes slumming Testarossas) into displaying my masculinity, which I did because I’m stupid, often hitting speeds I can’t post on a family-friendly blog site (hint: almost as fast as my sister).

My current car, a Subaru STI, is a magnet for this as well. On my recent trip to Pikes Peak, I had cars come up next to me on the freeway in almost every state I drove through, rev their engines, and try to get me to run with them.

Of course, because I’m an idiot, I was really, really tempted. And amused. (A Honda Civic Si revving its motor next to me? Really? Sure, it could have had a 650+hp twin-turbo motor under the hood, but come on. I own a Civic Si.)

There’s no shortage of stupid in this world.

“I have one speed, I have one gear: go!”
--Charlie Sheen

The difference between then and now is that I have a family, which is a reminder for me not to do something stupid when I’m driving. But that may start backfiring on me, with my two-year-old son screaming, “faster, daddy, faster!” from the back seat at every freeway entrance ramp. I mean, how can a dad disappoint his son?

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, so I’m not going to make one about driving maturely. I’m just going to pretend harder to be a real adult when behind the wheel. Actually, that’s bad. I’ve seen real adults drive.

I’ll just say that I will maintain my higher brain functions when I’m out there on the road. Or start hormone treatments for those pesky testosterones.

Have a safe, smart New Year.

“Speed, for a lack of a better word, is good.”
--somebody must have said this once.

Bonus ZR1 Corvette video (warning: lots of loud, gratuitous swearing in under 11 seconds— don’t show near children, unless they’re German)

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The World’s Hardest Job

The entrance ramp was waiting for me, beckoning. It’s a challenging, imperfect ramp. It’s choppy in places, marked by crumbling asphalt. There’s a pothole on the racing line (I have to remember that). The first curve is slightly off-camber, and the guardrail is pretty close on the exit.

Traffic finally clears, and I make my turn. All four tires grab asphalt, motivated by 250 horses. A quick tap for the yield sign, and it’s all clear. I hit the apex for the first curve and then hammer the throttle. As I approach the curve before the freeway, I glance at the traffic. My lane is clear.

Before I know it, I’m way over the speed limit and merging into traffic. And from the back, I hear my two-year-old son, “schneller, papa, schneller!”* I think I hear a “wheee!”** as well.

(* “Faster, daddy-o, faster!”)
(** “This makes fun!”)

Coming from a kid who picks through garbage cans looking for food and eats “chocolate” icicles off my car, I’m thrilled as a life lesson finally gets through.

Excuse me now while I get my son fitted for a go-kart.

And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom! Alba gu bràth!!
I’m pretty sure that’s a real diaper and not body paint

“We are apt to forget that children watch examples better than they listen to preaching.”
--Roy L. Smith
“Everybody knows how to raise children, except the people who have them.”
--P. J. O’Rourke
“Parents are not quite interested in justice, they are interested in quiet.”

“Raising children is an incredibly hard and risky business in which no cumulative wisdom is gained: each generation repeats the mistakes the previous one made.”
--Bill Cosby

[Addendum 2011-12-21] Raising kids isn’t like herding cats, or other such similes and metaphors. I think it’s the other way: herding cats is like raising kids (well).

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Shift Happens

Every car I’ve owned has had a manual transmission. I don’t see this changing in the foreseeable future, as my wife won’t let me buy a Ferrari 458 Italia, which doesn’t come with a manual transmission. Something about not willing to sell our house and live in a cardboard box. Women.

The simple reason why I like a manual transmission is because it lets me pretend to be a race car driver. I know in some racing series they’ve been shifting with their thumbs for years, but hey, it’s my fantasy. I can still remember episodes of Speed Racer, that if you just keep shifting gears, you keep going faster. Sometimes in stop and go traffic, I still make engine noises just to pretend I’m actually going somewhere.

“There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”
--Ernest Hemingway

My daily driver, a 2008 Subaru STI, has the most gears of any car I’ve owned: six. It’s not a bad gearbox, but its total range is actually not much different than the 5-speed it replaced. It just makes me shift an extra time before I can hit 60 mph. And many times, I will actually skip one of the gears (usually 5th) because I’ve already exceeded some random speed limit. In other words, depending on how I accelerate, I drive it more like a 5-speed.

I’ve just read about the new Porsche 911 recently introduced in the Frankfurt auto show. Its new manual transmission has 7 speeds, just like its PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplung) dual clutch manu-matic transmission. And from Autoweek I’ve heard that the next generation Corvette is also supposed to have a 7-speed manual transmission.

My wife won’t let me buy a new 911 either (this time something about feeding our kids), but if I could, what would I do with all of those gears? In theory more is better, but my driveway isn’t an entrance ramp to the autobahn.

One of my cars, a Honda Civic Si, could use seven gears. It has an 8000 rpm redline, and seems to be at least at 4000 rpm all the time in any gear. It always feels like it has to be shifted to a higher gear.

Honda on the A3
It takes a really, really long time to hit the 8000 rpm redline in 5th gear

It would be fun to run the gears to redline for all seven gears in the 911 or Corvette. Of course in America you’d be exceeding all speed limits by 3rd gear. With “normal” driving, I could see my gear selection being: 1-2-3-6/7. I would probably skip-shift a lot with a 7-speed.

And what about on the race track? In the heat of the moment I don’t always do the right thing. Coming down the middle straightaway in Road America in 7th gear, will I really be able to grab 3rd (or 2nd or whatever gear I need) to make that left-hander?

I’m sure Porsche and Chevrolet have done extensive testing with their transmissions, but I wonder how many Joe-Schmoe, Speed Racer-wannabes like myself have driven their 7-speed cars in the real world. If anyone from either of these companies out there is reading this, please know that I will be a willing guinea pig for this experiment. All in the name of science and the betterment of mankind, of course. And possibly world peace.

New 911 shifter
Sie müssen auch auf deutsch fahren (source:

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There Is No Substitute...

... for a day off work. Especially if it involves driving Porsches.

The local Ann Arbor Porsche dealership, Howard Cooper Porsche, sponsored one of the half days for a Porsche Sports Day at the Palace of Auburn Hills. We got to drive pretty much all of the different models that Porsche makes: the 911, Cayenne, Cayman, and Panamera.

(I really want to like the Panamera. It does amazing performance things for a big car. It’s just that back end... woof. But then again, I drive an STI.)

“Who’s the U-boat commander?”
--Joel Goodson’s service manager

We took turns with different cars at three activities: ABS braking, emergency lane change, and autocrossing. The general procedure we were given was: mash on the gas, then mash on the brakes, and if something gets in your way, turn. (Well, not exactly. There were words about “smoothness” and “weight transfer” and stuff, but I’m pretty sure that was code for “mash on the gas.”)

We basically hammered these cars for a few hours. One of the Cayennes was a (company) daily driver for someone, which they also used to pull one of the trailers for the event.

I think it speaks highly of the ruggedness and dependability of Porsches to allow regular schmoes like ourselves flog their cars all day (another group did the same thing in the morning).

Let’s check my mood chart after a sunny afternoon’s worth of brakes and tires smell, and not sitting under florescent lighting staring at a computer screen:

Mood: Not cranky!

Porsche Corner
Camera? Who needs to bring one of the four cameras sitting around the house that are better than this phone camera to a Porsche driving event?

Instructor's Revenge
Hot laps with the instructors = E Ticket

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My Rubber Fetish

I love rubber. Not just any rubber, though. I like my rubber black and circular. That’s right— I love tires.

I like sporty tires best, of course— oversized with a low profile. And the stickier the better. When the UPS driver drops off new tires at my house, it might as well be Christmas.

This unhealthy fascination for tires started when I bought my red car about 10 years BF (before family). I bought my first set of sticky tires for it a month after owning it, when I bent a rim after spinning out at work (don’t ask). The cost of an OEM replacement rim was the same as new wheels and tires from Tire Rack. And so started my vulcanized path (no relation to Spock) on the road to the tire store.

“Reinventing the wheel is sometimes the right thing, when the result is the radial tire.”
--Jonathan Gilbert

One big difference with sticky tires and “normal tires” is the tread life. Sticky street tires will typically last from 10,000 to 20,000 miles. For this “feature” you get to pay extra. And so I was buying tires for the red car on a yearly basis.

When I started taking the car to the track, I start buying additional sets of R-compound tires for the car. This is when my local Discount Tire started to know me on a car-guy acquaintance basis.

A car-guy acquaintance is someone whose car you know pretty well. You will know the make, model and possibly year of the car, as well as at least one distinguishing feature. This happens a lot in car circles. You meet someone a few times on the track, and your greetings are something like, “hey, you’re the one with the black E46 M3 with the exhaust.”

“And you have the white GT3 with the BBS rims, right?”

Knowing a car-guy acquaintance’s first name is strictly optional.

I don’t take cars out to the track anymore, but I’m still buying a lot of tires. My four cars now have summer and winter tires, instead of summer and track tires, each on their own set of rims. I don’t even care that winter tires aren’t sporty or have no grip on dry pavement. When I put set of winter tires on a car, I go looking for snow to drive on to properly enjoy my new tires. I’ve gone up people’s steep, snow-covered driveways just to try out new tires.

There is, however, a category of tires I’m ambivalent about— the all-season tire. Engineering is about managing compromises, and that’s what an all-season tire does. It is okay in summer, and decent in winter, but not exceptional in either conditions. Its benefits are in the time and money you save from having to buy another set of tires that you have to switch every half year.

Such a tire has its place, and I use it on my wife’s car as a summer tire. I’m not allowed to make the kids go, “wheee!” in their child seats any more, and my wife likes a quieter ride. And so that’s the compromise I make in her car, all-season instead of ultra high-performance extra super duper extreme summer tires. I still put winter tires on her car, though, because I find them significantly better in winter.

“The guy who invented the first wheel was an idiot. The guy who invented the other three, he was a genius.”
--Sid Caesar


I have to mention that I work for a company that also makes tires. We can buy 3 sets of tires each year at a hefty discount on-line. In the three years I’ve had this benefit, I’ve hit the limit once and exceeded it twice. And I’m not even a big fan of our tires.

In my attempt to impersonate a grown-up parent, I’ve tried to drive reasonably in my cars. I don’t need to buy the stickiest tires I can get. My company’s summer tires are adequate, and (most of) the winter tires are passable. Except for my daily driver.

The amazing Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 Star Spec

My daily driver, the black car, gets sticky Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 Star Spec tires. This is not one of my company’s tires, but I love it. The Dunlops have one major drawback, though. They sound like bad wheel bearings. The OEM tires, Dunlop SP Sport 600, sounded so bad I actually took the car back to my dealer to have all four wheel bearings checked out. My friends and I couldn’t believe that tires could sound so loud.

But I really like the grip in both dry and monsoon conditions, so I just turn the radio up louder.

I did try company winter tires for the black car. The discontinued model I bought were without a doubt, the absolute worse tires I’ve ever owned. I don’t know enough languages to describe how much I hated these tires. I now use Bridgestone Blizzak WS70s for winter, which I really love. Of course.

The other cars have company winter tires, which as I’ve mentioned, are passable.

Bridgestone Blizzak WS70 winter tire
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German Engineering for Children

Some German wise guy once said something about time being relative. One German example I have of relative time is my first apartment in Germany. My neighbors in the building kept referring to my apartment as one of the “new” ones. Later I found out it’s because my part of the building, which was actually once the outer wall of the city, was built in the 1700s, a couple hundred years later than the rest of the building. The old stone bridge across from my apartment was completed around 1146AD, and carries traffic daily over the Danube river. The Germans know old.

We don’t have this same sense of time in America. When was the last time you saw a 500-year-old building in America? We’re more of a disposable society. We package our fast foods in paper and plastic; we lease a new car every two years; we change houses every few years. Some houses are disposable, too (see: Mobile Home vs. the Tornado).

Meanwhile Germans build Porsche 944s with 14-gauge wire going to the tweeter speakers. That’s one less wire I have to worry about.

My latest example of German over-engineering is the car child seat. We borrowed this from friends in Germany. It weighs about as much as a Smart car (and is only slightly smaller). Those two menacing steel prongs are for the ISOFIX latches in the seat. The ISOFIX is similar to the LATCH system American cars have, but is, you know, more European. The other appendage up front goes to the floor of the car, substituting for the rear anchor attachment in our U.S. car seats.

Das Kindersitzmetallsicherheitstangedingsbum
I’m sure this model is called Der Kinder Panzer 2000 or something like that

This is actually a good engineering solution. If you can carry this to your car, it attaches relatively quickly to an ISOFIX seat, and is pretty stable with that plastic and metal stake up front.

“A suburban mother’s role is to deliver children obstetrically once, and by car forever after.”
--Peter De Vries

I’m pretty sure if you buy such a child seat when your baby is born, it’ll still be just as strong and rugged as when your baby is 40-years-old.

The Sound of Music

I’m one of those people that can’t drive without music playing in the car. It’s an intrinsic part of the driving experience for me. If my radio is off while I’m driving, it’s probably because I’m listening to a strange sound my car is making, or I’m looking for an address. And now that I’ve upgraded the radios in my cars, I listen almost exclusively to whatever is on my iPod.

I used to lovingly craft tape mixes before any road trip. I’m not sure why I did, though. I didn’t have a lot of music at the time, so the tapes tended to have the same songs, just in different order. I liked the old tapes because they could hold 90 minutes of music. When I switched to CDs, I was limited to about an hour. Today an MP3 CD, which many car radios can play, will hold over a hundred songs. And of course, there’s the 600-pound gorilla of mixes: the iPod.

I have a 160GB classic iPod and a video iPod that I upgraded to 240GB. I have one or the other playing in my car when I drive. I’ll say about 98% of the music there are mine, usually ripped from CDs. The rest are off-site backups that I’m holding for other people. I don’t have every song on a CD transferred to the iPod, usually just what I would actually listen to. This works out to be about 5,500 tracks, less than half of what’s on the CDs.

Sing, sing a song
Sing out loud
Sing out strong
Sing of good things not bad
Sing of happy not sad
--Karen Carpenter

You would think that with a large library, the chances of someone hearing a song that makes them say, “That’s a cool song. I haven’t heard that in a while,” would be good. Instead, I get a lot of, “what is this crap we’re listening to?”

As someone who loves numbers and especially statistics, I find that utterly fascinating. I could be driving with someone who hates country songs, and of course some country song will come on, usually exactly the singer that makes this person hate country. Same with rock— it’ll probably be an AC/DC song.

I could be driving with my mom and Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer to God” will start playing (“he wants to ‘what’ her like an animal?”). My co-workers and I will be going to lunch and I’ll get, “is that a show tune?” Yes, the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.

I have a friend who is an opera singer. Inevitably a Bob Dylan song will come up when she’s with me. His voice apparently makes her ears bleed. Literally, I think.

Triangle man, triangle man
Triangle man hates person man
They have a fight, triangle wins
Triangle man

I’m not going to apologize for my taste in music, but I will apologize for the bleeding ears. I happen to like a lot of music. If I listen to something long enough, I may eventually like it. A lot of times, it’s even ironic, like Kylie Minogue’s song, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head,” which I kept hearing until I couldn’t get it out of my head.

Most of my music is from the 1970s and 1980s. I stopped listening to local radio stations regularly in the late 1990s. Since I don’t listen to radio stations, that means I generally have no idea what’s going on in music. I get have to get my music information from other sources.

For example, according to most social networks on the interwebs, I’m supposed to hate Nickelback for some reason. Since I don’t know Nickelback, I will probably hear one of their songs, like it without realizing it’s them, and as a result become tragically unhip. That’s just what I do.

When I lived in Germany, I had access to a lot of music from other countries, like France, Spain, Italy, Romania, Russia, and of course, Germany. I can’t speak all of these languages (or any, actually), but that doesn’t keep me from enjoying the music of these artists.

One such artist is the Russian group t.A.T.y. (or in English, t.A.T.u.). I’m sure I like them because they channel the existential spirit of Dostoevsky, and not because they’re two hot Russian babes.

Lena and Yulia
Definitely not the Brothers Karamazov

In the end, it probably doesn’t matter where the music comes from, I will probably like it. The tough decision for me would be a variation on the desert island album concept (if you were stuck on a desert island, what 10 albums would you have with you?).

If you were on a road trip and only had an iPod shuffle, what songs would you put on your 1Gb iPod?

Stood alone on a mountain top starin’ out at the Great Divide
I could go east I could go west it was all up to me to decide
--Bob Seger

Still Here

Between my current crazy work schedule, and my kids’ inability to sleep through the night, I can’t seem to put a complete senten— hey, look! Imaginary puppies!

A new post is coming soon.

Also, if you post a comment, I’ll be able to see it but not be able to respond. Instead, please just send me an e-mail. Thanks!

“If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.”
--Mario Andretti

Sign of the Times

I learned the importance of correct time while waiting for the busses in Germany. After a couple of long walks home when I missed the last bus of the day, I learned to keep my watch set accurately.

These days it is pretty easy to have the exact time. Computers automatically sync up to atomagical clocks for the correct time. Cell phones get the correct time from their networks. GPS devices have the exact time from alien countdown satellites. There’s really no excuse not to have the right time.

I’m sure everyone at this elementary school has the correct time. I can imagine the local police pouncing on those whose Timex is a few ticks slow. I’m surprised the speed isn’t 40.225 KPH, or 5² MPH, since counting with fingers and toes is already involved.

Time to go
Do you have the exact time?

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”
--Albert Einstein

I mentioned in a previous post that slow people in the left lane is my biggest pet peeve. It’s actually more like a wild, feral peeve. And this time I have the State of Michigan backing me on this one. Sort of.

According to Michigan compiled laws:

Chapter 257.634 (2) Upon a roadway having 2 or more lanes for travel in 1 direction, the driver of a vehicle shall drive the vehicle in the extreme right-hand lane available for travel except as otherwise provided in this section. However, the driver of a vehicle may drive the vehicle in any lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction of travel when the lanes are occupied by vehicles moving in substantially continuous lanes of traffic and in any left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction of travel for a reasonable distance before making a left turn.

(I’m an engineer. I read specifications for fun. Laws are almost the same, although the legalese sometimes escape me.)

So unlike this other guy, the guy below that I’ve been following for miles is technically okay. I will not have to turn the Destructomatic 3000 to the Obliterate-into-Sub-Nanoparticles-and-Spit-on-the-Remains setting because other cars have been in the right lane “moving in substantially continuous lanes of traffic,” or some nonsense like that.

Get right
Move. Over. Anyway.

It’s the frakkin’ Law
It warms the heart knowing this is the law.

“If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world.”
--Francis Bacon

I’m happy that Michigan posts these signs on the freeway. I’ve only seen them in the past few years, so it’ll only take a few decades before drivers start noticing them. The only thing I would change is to place the sign on the left side of the road, not the right. People on the right are already doing what the sign says. It’s the left lane zombies that need to be tortured with ants and honey see this sign.

That’ll be one of the first things on my to do list when I become Czar of All Cardom (mmm...honey...).

Me and My Porsche

I’m a pretty rotten friend. I’ve let an old buddy, my 1989 944 Turbo, languish in the garage, buried under the debris of family.

My sad, sad life
Yes, bales of hay are involved. Our homeowners’ association makes us keep the goats and chickens out back.

“We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best that we can find in our travels is an honest friend.”
--Robert Louis Stevenson

The 944 and I have been together since 1994. Back then it was considered a fast car, and I was skinny. Today, my daily driver (complete with two child seats) will run rings around it, and I have to drag my butt out of bed at 4 am to run, just to be not fat.

My first major trip with the 944 was in 1995 to Edmonton and back. The following two years we travelled to Battle Mountain, Nevada to run the Pony Express 100 (coming 2nd in class once). We’ve been on race tracks around the country, from Road Atlanta to Road America. We’ve been to Pike’s Peak and the Nürburgring Nordschleife. We’ve gone down the Mulsanne Straight in the rain, and tried to follow the route from Rendezvous in Paris. I was able to do this back in pre-historic times— pre-wife, pre-house, pre-kids.

Stickers make the car go faster
The 944 during its happier times.

Today we both tend to sit around a lot. Our reflexes aren’t what they used to be, and we both occasionally emit strange, unnatural noises. We both probably have more back pressure than before. We remember being faster than what we are now. And we’re both getting to the point where we just talk about our glory days (actually, we’re there now).

I used to drive the 944 year round. I’ve been dumb enough to get caught in ice storms and blizzards with my summer tires. We’ve driven through the desert in July. Nowadays, if the forecast doesn’t call for at least a week’s worth of sun, I won’t even bother taking the car cover off.

On sunny Saturday mornings, I used to get up early to wash the 944 and drive for a couple hundred miles with no particular place to go. Now on those sunny weekend mornings I think, wow, I can mow the lawn today.

As I write this, it’s July, and I still haven’t restored my insurance coverage for it this year. I disconnected the battery trickle charger sometime during the last recession, so the battery is probably dead. A flock (gaggle? brood? covey?) of lemurs could be living in it by now for all I know.

I find it sad how little time I spend with the 944, and how little energy I have to do anything about it. Who put Old Pills in my water? Who snuck in and made me a grown up? Where did these kids come from? Wait— I might know the answer to that last one.

Daddy's little Disney Barbie mermaid fairy princess ballerina race car driver
“Daddy, can I paint your car pink?”

If anyone is looking for me, I’ll be in the corner of my garage crying in my Mountain Dew.

A Bavarian Belle

My wife is German, but that’s not really her fault. She’s actually from Bavaria in southern Germany, which is the image most Americans have about Germany. Ask an average American of their thoughts of Germany, and they may answer with Oktoberfest, Lederhosen, and beer gardens— all Bavarian institutions.

(To continue with the German lesson, women traditionally wear a Dirndl in Bavaria to the men’s Lederhose. With that, I can post Salma Hayek in a Dirndl she wore for Wetten Dass?, a German tv show. For educational purposes, of course.)

Not my wife (source: Google images and the inter... wait, what was the question again...?)

Ask an automotive enthusiast of their images of Germany, and s/he will probably answer the autobahn, Nürburgring, Porsche, BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi. (And there’s always that GTI driver adamantly adding Volkswagen to this list.)

My wife is not what one would call an automotive enthusiast. She could care less what she drives, which may explain why she had a Renault Clio. But being a German driver, she has certain driving traits not common in most Americans.

The first is parallel parking. She is amazing. We’ll be driving in the city in her Renault, and she’ll see a gap between two cars which most Americans couldn’t even walk through, and she’ll somehow park her car in there. The first time I tried to park her Clio (there’s an innuendo there somewhere), I almost caused an accident because my wimpy American arms couldn’t turn the steering wheel. She can apparently parallel park a car with manual steering.

If you scoff at this seemingly minor feat, go to your garage and cut the fan belt to your power steering and then try to parallel park somewhere without two buddies telling you how close you are to the other cars. I’ll wait.

All done? If you didn’t have to pay your deductible, consider yourself a real driver.

(okay— she’s not this good)

Another thing she does is drive fast, but only because she doesn’t look at speed limits. I’m not sure if she’s even aware of the concept. She doesn’t drive dangerously, she just doesn’t know what the speed limit is for any given street she happens to be driving on.

While living in Germany, we were once visiting her parents who live about an hour away by autobahn. I wasn’t feeling well, so I asked her to drive on the way back home. Our Honda Civic Si is stock, but it is pretty noisy, especially on the autobahn. It is not possible to have a conversation above 80 mph without yelling in this car, and that’s before the VTEC kicks in at around 100 mph. I like to drive right below that speed on the autobahn.

I was in the passenger seat trying to take a nap, but the noise seemed to be worse than usual. I attributed that either to my headache or sitting position. I thought maybe it sounded louder if you’re on the passenger side rather than the driver.

On a whim I slowly leaned toward the middle of the car to spy on the speedometer.

117 mph.

That’s when I realized the Honda at 117 mph was about as loud as her Renault at 85 mph, which is what she drives in her car on the autobahn.

Ahh... my wife drives with an acoustic speed limiter.

It takes a really long time to get the Honda going this fast. Max is about 145 mph.

A third thing that makes my wife different from most American drivers is that she has never driven an automatic transmission car. I think she’s afraid of it, like it may be too complicated. You just step on the gas and go. What’s so hard about that?

Actually, I’m really glad she likes manual transmissions, because that’s also what I prefer in cars. It means we’ll never have an American minivan.

So while she won’t drive a car with a PRNDL, I’m still hoping I can talk her into a traditional Dirndl.

“Kaffee und Liebe sind heiß am besten.”
--German proverb

Secondhand Texting

So there I was, about to text while driving to visit my family. In my mind, it was (literally) a no-brainer. My text message was going to be simple: “10.” The holiday traffic on the freeway wasn’t that bad, and the thunderstorm was turning into just a heavy downpour. Why not, I thought.

“One can survive everything nowadays, except death, and live down anything, except a good reputation.”
--Oscar Wilde

I met my wife’s icy, incredulous gaze as she stared first at the phone, then at me. Proving that there might yet be hope for man, I handed her the phone. “You text,” I said.

“Text whom?” she asked.

“My brother. Just reply to his SMS.”

“How do I do that?”

Leaning over, I said, “Press the red phone button, and then look for messages.”

“Like this envelope-looking thing?”


“How do I reply?”

“Press the menu button.”

“This one?”

I shift my gaze over. “Yes,” I replied.

“What do I tell him?”


“10 what?”

“Just ‘10.’”

“The numbers aren’t coming out.”

“You have to push the <alt> key.”

“Okay. And how do I actually send the message?”

“Press the trackball button.”

“Oh. Got it!”

My wife and I have identical phones. I should have told her to text, “2.”

Will Driving Enthusiasts Embrace Hybrid Vehicles?


[update: still no] 

[update: uh, no] 

[update: I really, really mean it— no] 

[update: Well, okay. Maybe, if they are like this, I don’t mind so much.] 

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” 
--Arthur C. Clarke (Clarke’s Third Law) 

Below is the Porsche 918 Spyder plug-in hybrid concept, introduced in the Geneva auto show. According to the New York Times, this is Porsche’s first concept since the Boxster was introduced in Detroit back in 1993.

(image source:

Briar Rose

I guess it’s about time I woke this blog up. It’s been quite a while since I last posted something— almost exactly two years, actually. Obviously, a lot has happened since I’ve last blogged:

  • the economy tanked big time
  • GM declared bankruptcy
  • Chrysler declared bankruptcy
  • my company got bought
  • I didn’t receive any of the $1 trillion bailout money
  • I wasn’t selected to run GM
  • Detroit has been overrun by zombies
Okay, maybe the last item is a premature, post-bankruptcy, apocalyptic scenario (but which could still happen), however, the rest are definitely cranky-inducing events. Luckily, I few things did go my way:
  • my son was born (4 months ago)
  • I bought a new car (1 year ago)
  • I kept my job
  • we discovered a huge black monolith orbiting Jupiter (2010)
All of these are just part of the trials of working in the auto industry in Detroit. If it’s not making me cry, it’s making me crazy. So why don’t I leave it? Because I love the auto industry.

And that’s why I’m writing again. I can’t guarantee that I won’t go another two years for my next entry, but I’m going to try really hard to post regularly.
“People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one.”
--Leo J. Burke

Hyperactive Miler

Get 50 mpg -- in your own car

Back in June, when I first wanted to write this article, Michigan gas prices were at an all-time high. Right now, our prices aren’t too far off from those highs. You might want to book mark this page for quick access when gas prices go over $4.00/gallon this year in 2008 here in the States.

The link above is an article about “hypermiling,” the technique of driving to increase your gas mileage. The person being interviewed claims he gets 50 mpg on his 2005 Honda Accord.

“A pedestrian is someone who thought there were a couple of gallons left in the tank.”

Some of the techniques are obvious and boring: drive at (or below) the speed limit; don’t accelerate quickly; keep your tires inflated.

Some, however, are more interesting: draft behind cars; reduce a vehicle’s weight; and don’t slow for on or off-ramps.

That’s right-- practicing your track driving on the street can improve your gas mileage. Who knew?!

I’m trying some of the techniques from this article and other hypermiling websites. I try park so I don’t have to back out; I try not to maintain my speed up a hill (I just keep my throttle position the same); I try not to accelerate hard too often. I also don’t let the engine idle, like when I scrape the ice of windows. I would estimate that I get an extra 1 mpg from these techniques. At 18,000 miles per year, going from 30 mpg to 31 mpg will save me 19.4 gallons per year. At $3/gallon, that’s 14.5 grande frappuccinos.

I’ve also done some informal studies on the effect of an air conditioner on gas mileage. I drove with the windows fully open, with the windows closed and air conditioner on, and with the windows closed last summer in my 2000 Honda Civic (1.6L VTEC). I drove each condition for two fill-ups (at least 9 gallons) on my daily commute to work (one-third freeway, two-third surface streets).

With the windows open, I averaged 31.3 mpg. With the air conditioner, I averaged 30.4 mpg. With the windows closed, I averaged 32.2 mpg. This was hardly a conclusive test, but the trends reinforce traditional thinking. There is almost a 2 mpg advantage to driving with the air conditioner off. Barista, more frappuccinos for everyone!

I tried something similar later in the summer, as I drove our 2005 Subaru Legacy (2.5L turbo) from Michigan to California and back. On this drive, my data was based on highway driving. I averaged 1.8 mpg more with the air conditioner off. [Update: Each run was done with one tankful of gas, but at different times of the day in August 2007. The run with the air conditioner was done in the afternoon.]

This certainly bodes well for deodorant manufacturers.

However, I still have a long way to go if I want to be a card-carrying hypermiler. The highest gas mileage I’ve seen on my Honda is 38 mpg, as we drove on the high plains from Denver to Nebraska when the car was just six months old. I will go against every driving instinct I have and try to beat this gas mileage for at least one fill-up in 2008. Ideally, I want to average at least 40 mpg (that’s 5.6 L/100 km for European readers).

I’m going to need a lot of luck.