Tuesday, March 31, 2009

PR: Front and Back

Tonight, I set a PR for today's WOD:  8 minutes, 1 second, about 30 seconds faster than my previous.  Sadly, my reduced time stemed not from improved fitness but better motivation.  Oh well.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Productivity

I had a very productive Saturday today.  Check out what I accomplished:
  • Scheduled 9---count 'em---eBay auctions.
  • Ran errands with Alison.
  • Went through one of our bookcases and eliminated unneeded volumes.
  • Took Newton for a walk.
Now, I just need to prepare Mia and myself for tomorrow's autocross, and I will consider today a raging success.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I <3 BSG

Do you love Battlestar Galactica so much you want to sing about it?  Here's how.

Let's Pizza

Do you crave a freshly made pizza but only have three minutes to wait and five dollars in your wallet?  Then you need to get yourself to a Let's Pizza.  Too bad there's only one.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

AutoX


Yesterday, I attended another SCCA autocross school. This one was the Level 2 school, which I've taken twice before.


I haven't autocrossed since last Autumn, so I was quite rusty. In fact, I was very frustrated with the lack of progress over the last time I took the class. I had trouble with the figure-8 drill, which is designed to teach the student to steer with the throttle, to direct the car with over- andundersteer. I felt OK with my performance on the slalom drill. The sample autocross course, which is about half the length of one you might find at a competition, gave me the most trouble. I had trouble equalling my previous best time of 36.4 seconds.  

I did reach an important conclusion, however. I tried shifting into third gear for the fastest part of the course, where I have previously been bouncing off the he rev limiter in second. You might think it's a no-brainer to upshift under circumstances like that, but downshifting in an autocross course can be time-consuming. I managed to fit the downshift into the next braking zone without too much loss of time. In fact, since I was shifting anyway, I went all the way down to first, to pull away from what was the slowest point on the course. The ensuing upshift to second wasn't too time-consuming and was probably compensated for by the superior acceleration in first. With this approach, I was able to post a few funs below 36 seconds. My best time was about 35.4, which is a substantial improvement for such a small course. Sadly, I can't say that my reduced time was due to improved skill---I was still struggling with car control---rather than tactics.


Here are some assorted notes about the cars and drivers in attendance at the school:
  • The cars were fairly typical of autocross schools and autocrosses in general---at least based on my experience---except for the number of Miatas; there were 5 first- and second-generation MX-5s among the 16 student cars.
  • The fastest car there was an Apex Blue S2000 CR, just like the one I reviewed recently. Its owner was not very skilled, but, in the hands of an instructor, I saw it post a time of 29.9 seconds. And that was on the stock tires.
  • The second fastest car was a previous-generation STI. I saw its owner consistently post times of 32 seconds and change.
  • I spent most of my course-working time---when I wasn't chasing cones, anyway---talking with the owner of a current-gen Mini Cooper S---that's the one with a turbocharger, front-mounted intercooler, and a nonfunctional hood scoop, not the one with the supercharger, top-mounted IC, and functional hood scoop. He had a lot of experience in his Boxter but was new to autocrossing with front-wheel-drive. He had R-compound on his Cooper andconsistently turned in times of 33.2 and 33.3 seconds. I think that's a pretty impressive performance for that vehicle.


I'm sure that's more than you wanted to read on this subject, I'm sure. Please return to whatever you where doing.

Update: I've added some photos taken by Danny Kao.

Friday, March 20, 2009

First Impression: 2008 Honda S2000 CR

Today I test-drove a 2008 Honda S2000 CR.  I don't feel that I can give a full review based on my brief time with the car, but I can offer a few first impressions.  Oh, and more background information than you want.

Background

The S2000 is a small-ish 2-seat roadster.  You might think that it's a direct competitor to Mazda's Miata, but the S2k is a much more focused performance car;  as such, it offers somewhat less practicality and much higher performance.  Oh, and it costs about 50% more.

The first "generation" of the S2000, the AP1, was introduced for the 2000 model year.   The car and its name carry on the tradition of earlier Honda roadsters, such as the S500, S600, and S800.  The numerals in the name indicate the AP1's displacement of 1999 cubic centimeters or about 2.0 liters.  The S2000 was built to showcase the performance potential of a company most well known for building commuting appliances like the base-model Civic and Accord but which also competes in motorsport at the highest levels.  Honda is arguably the best engine-builder in the world, and they are indisputably the planet's best builder of of naturally aspirated inline 4s.  Given this vehicle's role as halo car, you might expect something special from the S2000's mill, and you wouldn't be disappointed.  The F20C engine, which powered the AP1, redlines at an astonishing---for a reciprocating engine---8800 RPM.  It puts out 240 BHP and 153 lb-ft.  The high ratio of torque to power results from the extraordinary engine speed, since power is given by the product of torque and angular velocity, with an appropriate constant to give you the units you like.*  

The mill, by the way, is positioned entirely aft of the front axle, making the S a true mid-engined car and giving the vehicle a near-perfect weight distribution.  The S2000 actually has a rearward weight bias, carrying 51% of its weight on the rear axle.  Add an occupant or two, and the situation will get slightly worse.  Speaking of weight, the AP1 weighs 2809 pounds when filled with fluids, about 350 more than a naturally aspirated NB Miata.

When the car was tweaked to become the AP2 for the 2004 model year, it was sold, in the North American market, with a new 2.2-l engine, the name went unchanged.  The F22C1 engine in the AP2 was intended to increase torque output, and it was created by increasing the stroke of the F20C, thus upping the displacement to 2.157 l.  The redline was reduced to a somewhat less stratospheric 8000 RPM to keep piston speed in check.  The F22C1 puts out only 237 BHP and 162 lb-ft.  Other changes were made to the car;  the suspension geometry was tweaked to reduce oversteer, and the interior was restyled.  However, the AP2 is essentially the same car as the AP1, and so it weighs just 46 lb more.  

For 2008, Honda introduced a second trim level to the S2000 model.  The CR or Club Racer trim was intended as an even more serious performance machine.  The base s2000 always came with a 6-speed manual transmission and a limited-slip differential, and, in Honda's words, the powerplant offered no room for improvement, so changes were mostly confined to weight, aerodynamics, suspension, chassis, and tires.  Here is a probably-not-exhaustive list of mechanical changes to the CR.
  • Stiffer dampers, springs, and anti-roll bars.
  • Harder suspension bushings.
  • Functional front spoiler and rear wing, reducing lift by over 70%.**
  • Soft top deleted and replaced with a hard cover with seat/roll-hoop fairings.
  • Hard top, which is optional on the base car, included.
  • Chassis brace positioned where soft top formerly lived, when folded.
  • Air conditioning and radio deleted, but available as an option for about 1000 $.
  • Spare tire deleted and replaced with repair kit.  (This is the same arrangement found in the NC Miata, RX-8, and some other cars.)
  • Slightly wider rear tires.
  • Stickier tires.
  • Slightly quicker steering ratio.
  • Leather upholstery replaced with grippier fabric to better hold the driver in place.
These changes result, by the way, in a weight reduction of up to 100 pounds---no air or audio, top off---from the base S2000.  There are also some cosmetic differences for the CR trim.  I won't discuss them here.  

The CR is priced about 2 grand above the base model.  That price more-or-less makes sense;  there's probably about 2000 bucks worth of parts missing from the CR, and there's about a thousand dollars worth of extra parts on it in, addition to the 3400-dollar hardtop.

I should add that no changes were made to the CR for 2009, so the leftover 2008 that I drove is representative of the 2009 car as well.

What I Liked
  • Instruments and controls.  The AP2's instruments are compact, and all digital, but very easy to read.  All the controls on the car are located less than 4 inches from the steering wheel.  There's even a set of remote stereo controls located on a pod to the left of the wheel.  The HVAC controls are on a pod to the right of the wheel.  The steering wheel itself has an almost perfect major diameter, and its minor diameter is pleasantly large.  I wasn't wearing the best shoes for heal-and-toe-ing, but I think the pedals are well laid out.
  • The engine.  The S2k's engine actually feels a lot like a rotary.  Look at their specs, and you'll note that the F22C1's power and torque curves are pretty similar to those of the 13B-MSP Renesis in the RX-8.  The mill doesn't have gobs of torque, but it puts out plenty of power and is perfectly happy to rev to a bazillion RPM.  This combination makes the S challenging but rewarding to drive.  I didn't get a chance to really stress the powerplant, so take what I say with that caveat.
  • Transmission.  The tranny is described by the word "close."  The shifter is very short, and the throws are extremely short, putting the gears very close together, front-to-back.  When I got back in my Miata after driving the S, I felt like I was moving my arm almost through it's full range of motion to shift from first to second gear.  I think that same motion in the S is about 2 inches.  The gears are also close together, left-to-right.  All this closeness might lead you too believe that shifting is challenging, but the transmission is quite smooth.  I didn't have any trouble shifting, once I became accustomed to the tinyness of the motion required.
  • Chassis.  The S2k's chassis is far stiffer than my Mazdaspeed Miata's;  there was no hint of cowl shake during my test drive.  Of course, you'd expect a stiffer chassis when driving a car that's not much bigger but weighs 300 pounds more.
  • Handling.  I frankly couldn't push the car very much on my short drive, but it seemed like it would be very happy to go any direction I wanted, at any time I chose.
  • Forward visibility.  You can see out the front of the car quite well, which is surprising, given the length of the hood.  Fortunately, the hood drops away toward the nose, giving you a good idea of where you are putting the vehicle.
  • Exterior styling.  The S2000 CR is a serious sports car, and it's dressed for the part. 
  • Exterior colors.  I should mention that Apex Blue Pearl, the color of the car I drove, is lovely in person and certainly the one I'd choose.  the CR is also available in black, white, and a very pretty yellow; any of these colors would be acceptable, in my opinion.
  • Interior styling.  The interior is clean and businesslike.  The yellow accents of the CR are a little over-the-top---slightly more so than the red accents on my Mazdapseed Miata---but not unattractive.

What I Disliked
  • The clutch.  The clutch pedal engages much too high for my liking, leading me to rev the engine unnecessarily when pulling away from a stop.  I suspect I could get used to this feature after an hour or so of driving, and it wouldn't bother me any more.  But, during my time with the S, it did.
  • Space.  Although the wheelbase and width of the S2000 are 6 and 10 inches, respectively, greater than the same parameters of my NB Miata, there is noticeably less room in the cockpit and trunk.  Actually, that's not strictly true.  The cabin is clearly wider than the Miata's, which gives more room for your elbows or race seats, should you choose to install them, but stock seats are very snug, and the cockpit feels very tight. It's great for driving the car, but there's no room for any other movement.  The trunk probably has about the same volume as the Miata's, but it's arranged somewhat less usefully.
  • Rearward visibility.  The window in the hard top is quite a bit bigger than the window in my Miata's soft top, but the view aft is compromised by the wing.  Still, the obstruction is not as bad as I expected, and it's certainly worth putting up with, in exchange for the lift reduction.

The Bottom Line

I really like the Honda S2000 CR.  It might be a bit...raw for some tastes, but it suits me well.  I can't really give it a rating, since I didn't get a chance to explore the power and handling of the vehicle, but I can say that I'd like to drive a CR again.  The dealer offered me 7,000 dollars off sticker price without any negotiation, so I may have to investigate more after our upcoming move.


* This mathematical relationship is the reason that curves showing power in horsepower and torque in lb-ft always intersect at 5252 RPM.

** Honda doesn't say at what speed the lift is reduced by this much;  it's certainly a function of airspeed.

Joss Whedon is My Master, Seriously

Tonight's episode of Dollhouse was awesome, as promised.  If you missed your chance to see it "live," be sure to watch it on Hulu.  If you are somehow reading this on the West Coast before it hits your airwaves, tune to Fox now.

As much as I enjoyed the ep, I'm frustrated that this particular show, which was by far the best to date, had to be scheduled against the first hour of Battlestar Galactica's series finale.  I'm sure Battlestar's final installment drew many of the viewers who would have watched Dollhouse otherwise, and some of them had Nielsen boxes.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

PR: Pullup Sampler

Today I set a new PR on the workout I call the Pullup Sampler.  My time of  18:50 was about 3 minutes faster than the previous---and only---time I did this workout.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Man on the Street

Joss Whedon and a few critics who've seen the episode in question claim that Friday's ep of Dollhouse, "Man on the Street," marks the point where the show really takes off. In my opinion, the series has improved almost monotonically over the first five episodes, so I'm inclined to expect great things.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

PR: Rowing Murph

I set a personal record on Rowing Murph today.  That's the name I give to the workout called Murph when running is replaced by rowing.  I should point out that the 20-pound weight vest makes this workout much harder than it would be at bodyweight.  Anyway, my new time of 41:26 puts my previous best---indeed only---time of 44:07 to shame.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Then Why Are You Smiling?

Clearly, I need one of these. Well, two, actually.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Automobile Review: 2010 Mazda3

This weekend, Alison and I test-drove a 2010 Mazda3 5-door.  Below is my review of the car.

Background

The compact Mazda3 is Mazda's best-selling model (or pair of models).  The 3 has been redeisgned for the 2010 model year, and 2010 cars started arriving at local dealerships this month.  It's available as a 4-door sedan as the Mazda3 i, with a 2.0-l I4 engine (148 BHP and 135 lb-ft) or the Mazda3 s with a 2.5-l I4 (167 BHP and 168 lb-ft).  The 5-door hatchback only comes in s trim, with the bigger engine.  The sedan's MSRP starts at $15,715,* while the hatch's begins at 19,230.*  The car we tested was the lowest trim level, which is Sport in the hatchback.

What I Liked
  • Passenger and luggage space.  The 3 is a compact, about the size of the Toyota Matrix, and a size larger than the Honda Fit.  It's a good size, at least for our planned needs.  There's room in the second row for 3 people, though 2 would be more comfortable.  The rear storage area is quite large, and when the 60/40-split rear seats are folded down the storage space is huge.
  • Handling.  I didn't push the car too hard, but it felt pretty agile for its size.  The 3 is many steps short of the RX-8 and the Miata in terms of handling, but, for a 5-door wagon, it felt reasonably chuckable.  I think the 3's independent rear suspension, which distinguishes it from its competitors, which have torsion-beam rear suspension, might contribute to that feeling.
  • Power.  This car has a little more power and little more weight than my Mazdaspeed Miata, but it moved out pretty smartly, for a car in it's class.
  • Exterior styling.  I'm not fond of the big smiling grill that Mazda's begun putting on all of its vehicles, even the 2009 RX-8 and 2009 Miata.  Other than that, the outside of the car is very attractive.  The rear three-quarter view is the car's best angle.  (Incidentally, the same is true of the 4-door.)
  • Interior styling.  The interior of the 3 is very contemporary.  I find it quite attractive.  The silver accents are particularly attractive.
  • Instrumentation and electronic features.  The 3 only has 2 dedicated, analog gauges:  a speedometer and a tachnometer.  Each gauge is housed in its own little hood, and each is large, easy to read, and attractively colored.  There is an digital fuel gauge below and between the tach and speedo.  It might be somewhat reconfiguragle;  I'm uncertain about that.  There're also a pair of mutlitfunction displays located to the passenger side and forward of the main instrument cluster.  We did not explore the full functionality of the displays in or test drive, so I can't comment on everything they can do, but they did seem quite useful.  The steering wheel is festooned with controls, controls  for the bluetooth link, the radio, the cruise control, and more.  I wouldn't want or need the multifunction displays or the steering-wheel-mounted controls on a sports car, but on a family car, they'd be quite useful.  Oh, there's also a DC outlet and an auxiliary input for the radio in the center console; a perfect place to put your MP3 player.

What I Disliked
  • Exterior styling.  As I said, the huge grin on the front mars and otherwise very attractive vehicle.  I keep expecting the 3 to ask me "Why so serious?" flutter its tongue at me.

The Bottom Line

Overall, I give the 2010 Mazda3 5-door a 8.0 out of 10.  It offers lots of room, power, style, and features for a fairly modest price.

* Plus a $670 destination charge.

Public-Service Announcement: Snuggies Are Not For Driving

I know your Snuggie keeps you comfortably warm while maintaining your ability to move your arms, but don't wear one behind the wheel.

Sn*w D*g

More photos of Newton.  I took these shots when we went out for a walk after the last big snowfall.

Newton!

It's been some time since I posted any photographs of critter, so here are a couple-two-tree:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mmm...Cupcakes!

I bought the COOLEST book today.

OK, so I like dessert, particularly baked goods. I'm not so much into candy or ice cream...when I crave something sweet, I want a cookie or a cupcake or pie. But store-bought ones are kinda meh and/or have weird, unpronounceable ingredients in them. So, I prefer to bake my own. However, Michael doesn't eat stuff like that. For those of you who don't know Michael personally, he has not eaten desserts since the summer before he went to college which was, oh, 15 or so years ago. So, if I decide to bake a batch of cookies, I end up eating them all myself, and trust me...I do not need to eat 36-48 cookies. One or two, sure! Not an entire batch. A slice of cake, great! Not a whole cake. And my willpower is limited around baked goods. Thus, I mostly go without.

Enter my new cool book entitled Small Batch Baking. I know, right?

Today I made chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting and they were AWESOME...and there were only four of them! I ate two and gave the other two away because, apparently, I have no better willpower with four cupcakes than with twenty-four. Still! I was very impressed and I can't wait to try more recipes. She has tiny cakes in there that she bakes in tin cans and itty bitty pound cake in tiny loaf pans and little pies and small batches of 6 cookies. I'm so excited!

Thanks to kchristie on the dog board for the recommendation!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Tech Day

I attended a tech day with my local Miata club yesterday. A tech day is an event where we get together to work on each other's cars, and I've gotten a huge amount of help from other members at the tech days that I've been to. Tech days are usually enjoyable, too, although they can also be frustrating.

Yesterday's event was held by my mechanic, Wayne Bright, of Wayne's Allpoints Auto Service. The above photo shows about half the cars that were there. Several Miatas were shuffled in and out for quick jobs, like fluid changes. Some Miatas didn't need any servicing; their owners were there just to help out.


This photo was taken by Mike J, who helped me with my Frog Arm installation while Jason changed my oil. You can see Mia on the left, closest to the camera, and you can see me, bent over and futzing with the right front wheel or fender.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Fun with Yarn! Thanks, Mom!

For Christmas this year, my mom gave me an umbrella swift and ball winder. What on earth are those things and why would anyone want them, you ask? Well! I have pictures to explain. *Ahem* (adjusts glasses).

Lots of yarn comes in skeins, not balls:


When you unwind that thing it looks like this:


If you try to use that to knit with, you will end up with a giant tangled mess in about three seconds flat. I know because that's what happened the first time I bought yarn in this format. It was very bad. In order to do any knitting, you first have to wind this into a ball. A really cool way to do this is to wind a center-pull ball, so that when you pull yarn out, the ball doesn't bounce around...the yarn just pulls out of the middle. One way to do this is by putting the yarn around your knees and winding it by hand. This takes about 10 minutes per skein, though, and some projects use many skeins. The top I knitted last summer, for example, used eight skeins. If what you really want to do is knit, winding balls gets boring really fast. So....you can use a ball winder and umbrella swift instead!


The umbrella swift is the big thing on the left that looks like a...well...an umbrella. That holds the yarn. The little thing on the right is the ball winder. It winds the yarn into a center-pull ball. Check it out:


video

Isn't that nifty? This is what you end up with:



Now I can knit with impunity! :) Thanks, Mom!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Public Radio Tuner

I've found another new app for my iPhone;  the Public Radio Tuner was brought to my attention---houw else---by public radio today.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Recipe: Oily Bread

Here's another of my bachelor recipes.* I call it oily bread, and I think it makes a great snack or side-dish.

Ingredients
  • 3 English muffins or small pitas.
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil.
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar.

Directions
  • Split the English muffins or quarter the pitas.
  • Toast the bread.
  • Mix the oil and vinegar** in a small bowl.
  • Dip the toasted bread in the mixture and enjoy.

* I can't help but wonder how horrified a gourmand like Nick is by these.
** As best you can.


PR: Rowing, 1-Pood Helen

Yesterday, I set a new personal record on the workout I call Rowing, 1-Pood Helen.  You see, for Helen, I scale the kettlebell swings down to 1  pood  (36 pounds) from 1.5 poods (54 pounds) so I can share it more easily with Alison.  Also, I substitute rowing for the running when I do Helen in bad weather.  Anyway, I turned in a time of 10 minutes exactly.  That's just 2 seconds faster than my previous best, but it's a PR, so I'll take it.

People are Idiots

Seriously.  The human capacity for idiocy never ceases to amaze me.

Smick-Smack

I made up the noun form of this onomatopoetic perfectly cromulent word while out for a walk with Alison and Newton:
smick-smack, noun.  A flat, backless rubber sandal secured to the foot by a thong passing between the first two toes, a flip-flop.
So, of course I had to develop a verb form:
smick-smack, verb.  To suddenly reverse one's direction, position, or attitude, to flip-flop.
Example:  The senator smick-smacked on the question of subsidising American smick-smack production.


Moving Day

Our ongoing home purchase means that we will be moving house soon.  Specifically, we expect the moving date to be April 25.  So, if you live in the area, and if you don't mind carrying other people's stuff , we'd be grateful if you would join us that day for a festival of moving.  See, festival?  It's fun!  Not arduous.

Return to the Cutting Edge

Those of you who enjoyed my post on the shaving-industry arms race may also be amused by the latest Penny Arcade comic.  Enjoy.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Welcome to the Grondulbarn

After some negotiation, we've agreed on a price with the seller of the house I recently mentioned. So, Alison and I will be homeowners as of April 15.

Yay. We're about to be hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.