Friday, May 30, 2008

Crossfit, Alison-style

Michael is going to be taking part in some speed skating fun today, so I did the WOD all by my lonesome. Today's WOD was Crossfit Total, which Michael has reported on before. Just to remind those who are not avid Crossfitters in the crowd, though, you do your 1-rep max of back squat, overhead press, and deadlift and then add the weights together to get your score. I was really happy with myself today!
  • I got a new PR on back squat: 165 lbs compared to my previous PR of 155 lbs. That means that I have now squatted my bodyweight. Woo hoo!
  • I got a new PR on overhead press: 75 lbs compared to my previous PR of 70 lbs. It was super sloooow...I almost got stuck around the halfway point, but I somehow managed to push just a tiny bit harder and I got the bar to creep past the hard part. Whew!
  • I matched my previous PR on deadlift (175 lbs). I hadn't hit that in a while, though, so I was pretty happy with matching rather than beating my previous PR.
All of this means that my new Crossfit Total score is 415 compared with my previous of 370! Yay!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


You know, for stick figures, the characters in xkcd can be very thought-provoking.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Second Thoughts: Mazdaspeed NB Miata vs NC MX-5.

(Warning: Unless you are really into cars, and Miatas in particular, you probably don't want to bother reading this un-asked-for and excessively long post.)

When I began researching sports cars, I settled on the Miata pretty quickly. It is essentially the cheapest sports car1 you can buy,2 and it's the lightest one you can get without ponying up the dough for a Lotus Elise or Exige.

I eliminated the first-generation Miata (1990-1997), called the NA,3 due to age and the finicky retractable headlights. I also dismissed the third-gen (2006+) model, called the NC, because I didn't like the styling or the larger size and I wasn't sure I wanted to spend the additional money on one. This process of elimination caused me to only really research the second-gen, or NB, Miata (1999-20054) and eventually lead me to the Mazdaspeed model, which is, in my opinion, the most desirable of the NBs.

Since the time I bought Mia, my 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata, the styling of the NCs has grown on me, and I've discovered that, though they are larger than the NBs, they are actually lighter than the MSM, as long as the NCs in question are not equipped with the power retractable hard top. Thus, I'm now reconsidering my purchase, and, after drivnig Rich's 2006 Grand Touring---thanks, Rich, I've formed some opinions. In this post, I will review the advantages, as I see them, of the MSM over the NC and vice versa.

Advantages of the Mazdaspeed NB
  • Lower price. Certainly, buying an older car saved me money, even compared to an NC with similar mileage. The price advantage isn't as great as you might think, though; because just over 5000 MSMs were made, they are holding their value rather well.
  • More attractive exterior styling. I still like the styling of the face-lifted NBs (2001-2005) better than the current model. The high beltline of the NC, a direct result of European pedestrian-safety regulations is the major aesthetic fault of the NC.
  • More attractive interior styling. The NB's interior is functional and attractive. The NC's isn't terrible, but the extensive use of "piano black," a high-gloss black much darker than the matte "black" plastic out of which the rest of the dash and wheel are made, is too flashy for me.
  • Smaller overall size. The NB is about 2 inches shorter, 1.5 inches narrower, and half an inch lower than the NC. Since I prefer my sports cars to be small and agile, this smaller size is an advantage.
  • Greater power and torque. The MSM offers 178 bhp and 166 lb-ft; NC puts out 166 bhp and 140 lb-ft. Even with the NC's lower weight, the MSM still has an advantage in terms of power-to-weight and torque-to-weight ratios.
  • Better outward visibility. The high beltline of NC not only corrupts the car's appearance, it also makes it more difficult to see out of, especially to the front. The situation is exacerbated by the third-gen's lower seat height. It's hard to know where the front bumper of the car is. The 2008 models have a height adjustment on the driver's seat. I'm not really bothered by this issue, even though I'm quite short; I like to sit low to reduce the height of the center of gravity.
  • Better aftermarket support. Because the NB is mechanically nearly the same as the NA, and those 2 models were made (and popular) for 15 years, there is a huge number of aftermarket parts available through numerous retailers, including Flyin' Miata and Goodwin Racing. Aftermarket support for the NC is growing, but there's not nearly as much, and Goodwin seems to be one of the few retailers with a good selection.
  • Better stock suspension setup. The MSM comes with Bilstien dampers and stiffer-than-usual springs, which give the car a firm, sure-footed, but comfortable ride. This setup also lowers the car by 10 mm, reducing the center of gravity and making the car more attractive. The NC, though it has a more sophisticated suspension, comes from the factory with very soft springs and a ride height that is about an inch and a half too high. This setup leads to excessive body roll and unsightly wheel-fender gaps.
Advantages of the NC
  • Lower age. Even the oldest NC is almost a year and a half younger than my car. Thus, you'd expect fewer failures at any time during ownership of the car.
  • Lower weight. The MSM, with it's turbo, intercooler, associated plumbing, 6-speed transmission, 17x7 wheels, fog lights, and power accessories, weighs 2530 pounds. The NC, without the PRHT,5 can range from 2445 to 2500 pounds. For an apples-to-apples comparison, we should use the weight of the Touring trim level, which includes a 6-speed tranny, 17-inch wheels, fog lights, and the same power accessories; that's 2500 pounds. I admit that the 30-pound difference is barely 1% of the weight of the car, but the point is that the NC is no heavier than the MSM, despite being a larger vehicle.
  • Lower moment of inertia. The massive components of the NC are moved closer to the center of the car. Most notably, the engine is pushed back several inches so that its center of gravity is well behind the front axle, making the latest MX-5 technically a mid-engined car, much like the C5 and C6 Corvettes. In fact, when you open the hood, you can see that the rearmost third of the engine is still hidden under the windshield. Additionally, the fuel tank is pushed a few inches forward. Although both cars have a weight distribution of essentially 50-50 (with a driver in place), the centralized mass of the NC gives it superior handling potential.
  • Longer wheelbase and wider track. The NC is 2 inches longer than the NB, but its wheelbase is 2.5 inches longer. That gives the NC improved high-speed stability and the cost of worsened low-speed maneuverability. The same argument holds for the wider track of the NC. Yes, I realize this point is exactly counter to the one I made about smaller overall dimensions above. Sue me.
  • More extensive use of aluminum. The NB has an aluminum hood and engine head to save weight; the rest of the car is traditional steel construction. The NC, by contrast, sports and aluminum engine block, trunk and suspension arms. You might think that I've already accounted for all the additional aluminum in the NC when I compared the weights of the cars, but Al has merits other than reduced weight, principally corrosion resistance. The only rust I have on Mia is on the lower control arms. If I owned an NC, there wouldn't be any.
  • More advanced chassis and suspension. The NC rides on a shortened version of the RX-8's chassis, which is much stiffer than the NA/NB chassis. Stiffness is even more important in a convertible's chassis than in that of a fixed-roof car. The NC is also sprung by the RX-8's suspension, which is more advanced and robust than the NA/NB. The first 2 generations featured double wishbones at both ends; the NC has double wishbones at the front, but a multi-link setup in the rear. Thus, the NC's suspension has more potential, though, as I mentioned above, not all of that potential is realized when the car rolls out of the factory. Fortunately, aftermarket dampers and springs (and anti-roll bars) are not too expensive. Additionally, the NC's suspension was designed to handle 16- and 17-inch wheels, unlike the suspension on the MSM, which was designed in for the 1990 Miata and intended for 14-inch wheels, but which has been pushed to handle 17-inchers.
  • 5-Lug Hubs. Because the NC's chassis and suspension are modified from those of the RX-8, the NC shares that car's 5-lug hubs. I don't think that 5 lugs are inherently superior to 4 for small cars like the Miata, but there are many more light-weight wheels available in the 5-lug configuration, if you are interested in 16x7 and wider or 17x7 and wider sizes.
  • Naturally aspirated, larger engine. The engine in the NC is naturally, or normally, aspirated, which means you don't have to wait for the turbo to spool up or deal with sudden boost on-set around 3500 RPM. Although the NC is slightly less powerful than the MSM, it gets that power through careful tuning and larger size. There's no replacement for displacement, as some say. Thus, the NC's power delivery is much smoother than the MSM's.
  • Better position for reverse gear. In the MSM, reverse is selected by putting the stick into the rightmost lower position. Since the gears are all placed close together in real space, it's easy for someone new to the car to try to put it into R instead of sixth. The counter-rotating gears prevent the driver from actually doing it, but they do grind when this move is attempted, no doubt producing metal shavings. The shavings may damage the tranny before being collected by the magnetic drain plug. In the NC, reverse gear is located in the leftmost upper position, to the left of first. Additionally, to engage reverse, the driver must press the stick toward the ground a few millimeters before moving left of first and second. These 2 changes make inadvertent shifts to R while moving very unlikely.
  • Superior fit and finish. The NC is just better made than the NB. This difference is most apparent in the interior, but is also evident in the engine bay.
  • Cleverer top design. The NC's top is a Z-fold design that stows a position that is not only more attractive and more secure, but also presents the upper, outer surface to the sun. As a result, not boot is needed to prevent UV damage to the underside of the top, as on the NA/NB. One downside to this design is that there is now no "parcel shelf" behind the occupants for storing small items, but I've never used that space anyway.
  • Roomier interior. The NC offers its occupants a bit more room. This feature isn't terribly important to me, since Alison and I are both small people, but it would come in handy if we ever need to carry any larger folks---say, Nick---around.
So, what conclusions do I draw from this comparison? Well, if I were to make this purchase over again, I'd probably get an NC. I might even be willing to pay the premium for a new car so that I could perform the engine break-in correctly, and be certain all the maintenance was handled properly. I think I'd get the Touring trim level, in Sunlight Silver Metallic or Galaxy Gray Mica, with the soft top, of course. I'd spring for the rear lip spoiler, but I'm not sure whether I'd get the suspension package or just go for aftermarket dampers, springs, anti-roll bars, and limited-slip differential.

I'm not planning to sell Mia anytime soon, though. She's a great little car. Of course, the Miata is scheduled for a mid-generation facelift for model year 2010. The front facia, headlights, and the tail lights will certainly be updated, but it's not yet clear if the interior will be refreshed as well. It's also not clear if any mechanical improvements will be made. I'd love to see the car with a stiffer, lower suspension and direct injection, though I doubt that will happen. Depending on how this facelift turns out, and our financial situation, I could be re-shopping in calendar year 2010 or so.

1 I define a sports car as a 2-seater with rear- or all-wheel drive. Other people may use other definitions for this term, which would then include some cheaper sporty cars such as the base Ford Mustang (4 seats, RWD), the Mini Cooper S (4 seats, FWD, and super-or turbocharged, depending on the generation), or even the CRX (2 seats, FWD).

2 For 2006 and newer cars, you can find or configure a Pontiac Solstice that is cheaper than a similar MX-5, but, given all the problems these cars are having, its additional 300 or 400 pounds, and the tiny trunk which is filled entirely by the top, I was certainly not going to purchase one of those.

3 These codes are Mazda's internal designations for the models, and appear as the fourth and fifth characters in each car's VIN.

4 There was no 1998 Miata. Production of the 1997s ran long, and the 1999s were introduced early to cover the 1998 calendar year.

5 The PRHT adds 77 pounds and surprisingly large number of moving parts to the car.

Plan 9.1

Who ordered that?

Monday, May 26, 2008

AutoX Course Description

Since I've mentioned the SCCA, Washington Region's Autocross School a couple of times, I thought some of you might be interested in reading in more detail about the course used to teach autocross skills at this school. By "some" I mean just 2 or 3 of you, but since we only have 6 or 7 regular readers, 2 or 3 represents a pretty significant fraction of our readership. This course is a little bit shorter than the typical autoX course---it takes me around 36 seconds, while most courses are designed to take 45 to 60 seconds---but it includes all the standard elements.
  1. The first element is a short, gentle S-curve to the left then right. It's only purpose is to make entry into the following element more difficult, and to give you a place to shift into second gear. You won't need your clutch or gear-shift after this. The first set of timing lights, the ones that start the clock, are located in the left-hander.
  2. Next is a long slalom of, I think, 5 cones. The goal here is to "backside" each cone, meaning to pass each cone while heading not parallel to the line of cones, but rather while heading in, toward that line. Doing this keeps you "ahead" of the slalom. (This notation makes a lot more sense if you have actually done this kind of thing.) Because of the orientation of the last cone and the following element---a left-hander---the last cone doesn't really matter, and I usually have my foot to the floor for the last 2 cones. Thus, by the time I brake for the next turn, Mia's tachometer needle is bouncing off the rev limiter. Well, I assume it's bouncing off, since I can hear the rev limiter pulling fuel flow; I don't actually know what any of the gauges are doing, since there's no time to look inside the cockpit.
  3. The third element is a left-hand sweeper through about 210 degrees. The turn takes you mostly up-hill and is on-camber. The only cone in the whole sweeper that matters it the last inside cone. You want to do whatever you need to in order to arrive at the cone positioned very close to it, but also pointed at the center of the next element. If, instead, you cleave close to the first cone, you will artificially tighten the radius of the turn, reducing your speed through the turn. This sweeper is my favorite element in the course, because I do a lot of the steering with the throttle. I look at that last cone from the very beginning, set the steering wheel at an almost fixed angle, and use the gas pedal to control the line the car takes. I can usually establish a nice, controlled throttle-induced oversteer almost all the way around the turn. I find it useful to lift off the gas as I approach the final cone, transfering weight to the front tires, and allowing the rear wheels to slip out, thus rotating the car and pointing it at the next element as I pass the final cone.
  4. The next element is called a "straight" in autocross, but, since it's only about 4 car lengths long, it's little more than a transition between the left-hand sweeper before it and the right-hand sweeper afterwards. I have my foot to the floor for about the first half, then slam on the brakes during the second half. I re-learned yesterday that it's essential to brake in a straight line, even with ABS; otherwise extreme oversteer can arise in the turn. That will not speed up your time, even if it does look cool.
  5. Next up is a right-hand sweeper of about 120 degrees that turns you back up the hill you just came down on the straight, and it's mostly off-camber. Again, the last pair of cones are the important ones, and I watch those during the entire turn. I think the off-camber-ness of it throws me off, because I can never execute this turn as well as the one before it. I usually end up understeering, pushing the car out to the outside turn. You could argue that I should really aim to arrive next to the inside cone, which would give me a better entry into the next element, but my approach allows me to carry more speed through the sweeper and doesn't impair my entry into the next element too greatly.
  6. The sixth element is a 3-cone slalom that takes you over the crest of the hill and down the far side. Like before, this slalom ends on a left-side cone and feeds into a left-hand sweeper, so the last cone doesn't matter so much. I'm usually at wide-open throttle through the last 2 cones and on the rev limiter by the last one.
  7. The following element is a left-hand sweeper of around 70 degrees that takes you down to the lowest point on the course. Because you are carrying so much speed out of the slalom, and are on the gas through most of this turn, you reach the highest speed of the course at this point. I'm usually on the rev limiter throughout most of this turn. Then you brake, hard, down to the slowest speed of the course in order to execute the following element.
  8. The eighth element is a sharp, off-canber left-hand turn of about 120 degrees that points you back up the hill. This is the point where you must "be slow to go fast;" you have to be patient here, going easy on the throttle in order to arrive at the final inside cone---again, the only one in the turn that really matters---at the correct position and angle to enter the next element. This is probably the hardest element on the course for me.
  9. Next is a single cone followed by a "hallway" of 6 cones, both going uphill. You must pass to the left of the cone, then enter the hallway, which runs off to the right. The difficulty here is that you need to be coming out of the hallway pointing to the left. Thus, you must pass on the left of the cone, then curve to the right to enter the hallway from right to left, at an angle of about 40 degrees with respect to the "walls" of the hallway. Well, it's 40 degrees in my little car. The hallway is pretty narrow, so if you are in something like a Corvette, you're forced to drive at a shallower angle. I think I usually lift off the throttle when setting up for the set of 6 cones, but I don't actually use the brake. I think.
  10. Element 10 is a single left-pass cone with 6 or 7 cones forming a 40- or 45-degree arc to the cone's left, all still uphill. The idea here is clearly to pass between the single cone and the arc, but you want to pass just to the left of the single cone and just to the right of the last cone in the arc. I usually brake as I enter the arc, then ease on the throttle as I pass through it.
  11. The final element is just a short uphill shot to the finish, which consists of a set of cones marking the timing lights that stop the clock and a "chute" of cones. The chute is a tapering S-curve that forces you to slow down to the walking pace mandated when not on the course. You need to be at full throttle from the end of the arc up to the timing lights, but, since that path is gently curved to the right---at least the way I drive it---you need to be careful not to understeer out and hit the left finish cone.
That's the course. As I remember it anyway. I hope this post has helped you understand what autocross is about. If you are wondering if you should try it, I say sign up for a competition or a class to find out. You could also just show up and watch an autocross for free.

Lessons Newton Taught Us: He Who Pees Last

We could have learned this lesson from any dog, I suppose---at least, any male---but we learned it from Newton:
He who pees last, pees best.

The Carwash

Newton, like many dogs, enjoys licking us after a shower or, especially, after a good, sweaty workout. Alison won't let him lick her, so he's learned not to even try. But I don't mind, so he's always ready to pounce when the opportunity arises:
  • When I turn off the shower and pull back the curtain, he usually appears within 15 seconds to lick the water off my feet and lower legs. I always dry them last to give him sufficient opportunity to enjoy his Michael tisane.
  • He has learned to stay out of the way when we work out; he usually sits in the corner of the gym---meant to be the master bedroom---and watches while we push heavy things around, jump up and down, or whatever. Once we start stretching, however, he comes over and begins lapping up the salty goodness. He especially enjoys licking my head for some reason. As he passes over my eyes and my ears, I can't help but feel as if I'm in a tiny, hot carwash.
Newton has learned both of the above behaviors without us intentionally teaching them to him. It's amazing what he picks up.

PR: Jason

I set a new personal record on Jason today: 16:33. That time represented an improvement of almost 3 minutes sine the one and only time I did that workout in August last year. That wasn't a great time; I probably could have gone faster. However, I just wasn't feeling motivated today.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mia Goes Out to Play

Today, I re-took the SCCA Level 2 Autocross School. I took the same class previously back-to-back with the Level 1 school. In the morning, I felt that I did a pretty poor job of internalizing the throttle-steering lessons of the figure-8 drill, but I made some progress with the slalom drill. In the afternoon, I improved my performance on the actual autocross course compared to 2 months ago. Then, my best time was 36.7 s, but I was very inconsistent, and most of my times were in the high 37s. Today, my best time was 35.6s, and I was much more consistent; I turned several times between 36.0 and 36.2. So, I consider the class a success.

I must say that I feel surprisingly fatigued at the moment. I got a little bit of exercise in today; I spent almost half of the 7 hours of the class working the course; either standing, watching for cones to be knocked out of position, or running after displaced cones. However, that amount of exertion can't explain my current level of tiredness. I think what wore me out was being in direct sunlight for essentially the entire day, whether working the course or driving. (I kept to top down for maximum visibility and ventilation.) Like Stingray, I picked up a sunburn today. Heat may have played a role as well. The ambient temperature wasn't too high today, but it was quite warm in the car, especially since I ran the heater to help keep the engine cool.

Just like last time, part of the fun for me was seeing all the cars that showed up. There were 4 Miatas in attendance, 5 if you count an instructor's car. Coincidentally, all the Miatas were NBs, and all but Mia were pre-face-lift NBs from model year 1999 or 2000. There were also 4 civics, 2 Mistubishi EVo IXs, a BMW 3-series, a Subaru WRX, and a Mini Cooper S, and 3---count 'em---Corvettes.

The 'Vettes were the most interesting cars there. One was a silver late-60s Stingray convertible. Its owner had a lot of experience and clearly knew how to drive, but he was held back by the car. The steering ratio was so slow that I could clearly see him working the wheel in big arcs, even during the slalom. The best time I saw him turn in was about equal to my best time, and I'm far from a skilled driver.

The next oldest Corvette was a burgundy C5 convertible, which had been fitted with a supercharger. That car was clearly putting out some serious power, but its owner wasn't a great driver.

The last 'Vette was a yellow 2006 (C6) Z06. It was easily the best looking car at the event, and it turned in the fastest times, too. Actually, its best times---in the low 32s---were about tied for fastest with those of the modified Evo I saw last time. The Z06 had far more power, but couldn't really use it on that small a course. The Evo, with it's sophisticated AWD sytsem and giant wing, was in a much better position to put power down and control its direction.

Anyway, the class was entertaining and educational. Now my plan is to attend a high-performance driver's education class at a road course. With my recent addition of a rollbar to the car---more on that soon---that plan can move forward.

By the way, I'd like to publicly acknowledge Charles, who helped me bleed Mia's brakes and clutch yesterday, so I could be completely confident in my braking and shifting on the course. Thanks, Charles.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Made-Up WOD: Sharon

During my trip to Illinois, I had to make up my own Workout of the Day each day, since I didn't have access to my normal suite of equipment. I did manage to make-up one good WOD while staying at Alison's mother's house. It was, in fact, the only good workout I had during my trip. I've decided to name this workout "Sharon," in honor of my mother-in-law:
For minimum time, do 4 rounds of the following:
  • 10 1-legged squats (pistols), left leg
  • 10 1-arm push-ups, left arm
  • 10 sit-ups
  • 10 pullups, underhand, strict
  • 10 1-legged squats (pistols), right leg
  • 10 1-arm push-ups, right arm
  • 10 sit-ups
  • 10 pullups, underhand, strict
The strict, underhand pull-ups came about because the in-doorway pull-up bar Sharon has isn't really sturdy enough for kipping and doesn't offer enough width for overhand use. I don't have my log book with me now, but I think it took me about 16 minutes. I think I'll add this workout to my list of made-up WODs that I'd do again.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Broccoli? Really?

Yesterday, Newton expressed some interest in the broccoli I was eating. I gave him a piece in order to demonstrate that it wasn't something he really wanted. This approach had worked before, with spinach. Newton took the broccoli bit over to his Eating Spot, chewed on it, spat it out, picked it up again, and repeated until he had eaten the entire thing. Then he came back to me looking for more. I guess my demonstration failed.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ouch, crap! My finger!

After Ashley's Graduation, Michael went home and I stayed behind to spend some extra time with my family and to help my mom with some home improvement projects. During the past week, we managed to install a hardwood floor in the living room. Here it is...a work in progress:

This was achieved by hand nailing the boards rather than by using a pneumatic cleat nailer, which might have been smarter given the injuries to our left index fingers that occurred during the course of the project (more on that in a minute). They make a manual cleat nailer, but it's almost impossible to use and the pneumatic ones are prohibitively expensive to buy. You can rent them for approximately $70/24 hours, but it probably still would have taken us several days to lay the floor, so we would have spent quite a lot to rent one, too. A lot of our time was spent finding just the right boards to complete a's a lot like a puzzle. They come in random lengths, and it's important that your seams not match up exactly with those on the previous row or two, so you can imagine that you could spend a fair bit of time finding just the right combination of boards to complete a row. You can cut them to fit, but then you end up wasting wood, which we were loath to do. Because we were so frugal with our wood, we probably have almost enough left to do the next room, too (yay!), so our plan is to lay out most of our rows ahead of time and then go rent the cleat nailer and just nail, nail, nail. That way we can get the most out of our 24 hours.

As I mentioned, there were some injuries during the laying of the floor. My mom managed to drive a nail set into her left index finger. My major injury occurred when I was holding a board in place while nailing it and I missed the nail and hit my finger, which drove the edge of the board into the pad of my index finger. OUCH. Both of these injuries bled profusely and, although we each dripped blood all the way to the sink we managed to not bleed on the new floorboards. Kudos to us.

Anyway, here is the finished product:

Isn't it pretty? I'm so excited that it's done! Let's not talk about the other, larger room that we haven't started on. Today I am clean and dressed and I have makeup and jewelry on and I'm not covered in splinters and sawdust. I'll think about THAT tomorrow, just like Scarlett.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nihon No Karuma Ga Suki Desu

Auto-folks in the audience may have noticed that a crop of Japanese supercars, designed to compete with those from the US and, especially, Europe has sprung up recently.

Nissan GT-R

The car getting most of the press at the moment is the Nissan GT-R, the latest evolution of the long-running Skyline GT-R model. The GT-R was designed to out-perform the Porsche 911 Turbo, but is sticker-priced about 65,000 dollars less. The super-Nissan is stuffed to the gills with all manner of advanced automotive technology: twin turbochargers, computer-controlled all-wheel drive, launch control, and more. Jalopnik has taken to calling this car Godzilla, because of its world-conquering performance and immense dimensions. And its Japanese origins, of course.

Interestingly, a bit of a sparing match has sprung up between Nissan and GM over the times Gojira and Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 can post around the famed Nürburgring Nordschleife. This is the kind of automotive oneupmanship I can get behind, since a car's time around the 'Ring tells you a lot more about its performance than its 0-to-60 time, quarter-mile time, or power output would. The Japanese car seems to have the lead at the moment, but the posted times are far from final, since the ZR1 put up its time on wet pavement.

I hasten to point out that the Nissan is about 30 grand cheaper than the uber-Vette, so it would be more fair to compare the normal to the Corvette Z06 and to pit the the Zr1 against the upcoming GT-R V-Spec.

At this point I'd like to comment on the contentious and polarizing styling of the GT-R. Nissan has stated that they styled this car to differentiate it as much as possible from supercars from elsewhere in the world. They wanted a distinctly Japanese aesthetic and thus took as inspiration the artwork found in manga and anime. I think they've clearly achieved a very distinctive and not unattractive style. Thus, although I don't think this vehicle is as beautiful as a Corvette ZR1 or a Ferrari F430, I endorse its appearance.

Lexus LF-A

Toyota has been working on its own halo car, the Lexas LF-A for several years, but the production version of the car still hasn't hit the dealerships. Much less is known about this vehicle than about the GT-R, but it is expected to be available in V10 or hybrid-V8 configurations. Oh, and it, too, has been spotted lapping the 'Ring.

Mazda Furai Derivative?

To my knowledge, there are no official plans to produce a production vehicle based on Mazda's Furai concept/testbed. However, as a newborn fan of Mazda and an engineer fascinated by the Wankel rotary engine, I think Mazda should build its own supercar to cast a halo over the rest of the model line. Plus, this car, clothed in the latest evolution of Mazda's Nagare (Flow) design language and built on a couple-year-old racing chassis, is gorgeous, with the possible exception of the tendrils on the front. I mean look at it. Seriously. Note how air can flow between the body of the car and the rear wheels. I even dig the flat gray paint job.

However, the coolest aspect of the car isn't the styling; it's the 3-rotor Wankel engine, known internally as the 20B. That mill puts out 450 horsepower from just under 2 liters of displacement. The sound this car makes is amazing, and it seems to move along pretty well, too. I'd love to see Mazda market a car based on this concept, using 3 rotors from---and thus 3/2 of---the new 1.6-liter 16X engine, which would give a displacement of 2.4 liters. The resulting vehicle would certainly have a strong point of distinction from all those reciprocating-engined supercars.


When I returned from my trip to the Midwest late Monday night, I discovered that some creature, most likely a squirrel, had gotten into our apartment, done some damage, and left some...deposits. The most significant damage was to my laptop computer, which had had about half its keys pried up or ripped completely off. What have I learned from this incident? That squirrels can't type.


I set a new personal record in the deadlift tonight: 316 pounds. I'm not convinced that I was 3 pounds stronger today than last time, just 3 pounds more determined.

Congrats, Ash

Last week, Alison and I traveled to the Land o' Lincoln to see her sister, Ashley, graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Ashley was awarded University Honors, which are reserved for the top 3% of each class. She was the only history major so honored.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Howling

I finally got a video of Newton howling along with an ambulance! OK, video might be pushing it as it was dark in my car and I took it with my cellphone. BUT, the audio works just fine and you can hear his cute little howl loud and clear. Enjoy!

I'll have to continue to try to get real video to go with the audio. Someday an emergency vehicle will pass us on our walk again and I will have my phone with me.

The Cleveland Show

Who ordered that?

Monday, May 05, 2008

2 + 2 = How Many?

I'm hoping to be in the market for a 4-seat car in 2012 or 2013. I'd be interested in a 2-door, rear-wheel-drive coupe, and preferably a lightweight 2+2. If I were shopping for that kind of car now, I'd mostly be limited to something like the BMW 1-Series, which is heavier, more expensive, and more German than I'd prefer, or the Mazda RX-8, which is considerably more quirky,* interesting,* and Japanese. I'm most certainly not interested in the Mustang, since I prefer my automobiles to have independent suspension.

Fortunately, it looks like there will be a few new models on the market by the time I start seriously looking. Here, listed from most likely to least likely, are 5 (or 6) of them:
  • Hyundai has already unveiled the production version of the Genesis coupe, a surprisingly attractive 2+2 with up to 312 bhp. Unfortunately, the car is burdened with a Mustang-like weight of 3500 pounds. The Genesis coupe should be in dealerships shortly.
  • Toyota and Subaru have announced that they will each offer a version of a compact, RWD, 4-place coupe that rides on a shared chassis and is driven by a Subaru boxer engine. That's right, a Subie with only 2 driven wheels. I suspect the Subaru variant's styling won't be my cup of tea; perhaps I'll enjoy the Toyota's better. I'll be able to say more about that when production begins in 2010.
  • According to "company insiders," Nissan is planning to release it's own lightweight, RWD coupe based on a shortened version of the latest Z-car's chassis. It's not clear if this vehicle would be a 2+2 or a 2-seater, but earlier reports have suggested the 2+2 is more likely. I'm skeptical that anything based on the portly 350Z could truly be light, but I'm still curious to see how this car turns out when it hits the showrooms in late 2010.
  • Mazda is rumored to offer a production version of its Kabura concept car in 2009 or so. The car will be built on a modified MX-5 chassis---itself is a modified RX-8 chassis---be powered by a reciprocating engine, and offer 2+2 seating. The vehicle should be priced much lower than the RX-8 (or presumably the RX-whatever described below).
  • Rumors are afoot that Mazda will be producing a new RX-7 in 2011 or so. The 7 was a 2-seater in all 3 of its incarnations, but said rumors are suggesting the car will be a 2+2. I'm skeptical of that; I'd wager that, if the car is labeled an RX-7, it will have 2 seats; if it has 4, it will be called an RX-8 or RX-9. These reports of a 4-place RX-7 may be the result of confusion between the aforementioned Kabura and the next-generation rotary-powered car.** In any event, the vehicle will be propelled by Mazda's latest evolution of the rotary, the 16X. The 16X not only bumps up the displacement to 1.6 liters from the 13B's 1.3 liters, but it also increases the rotors' diameter while decreasing their width. These changes are similar to increasing the stroke while decreasing the bore of a piston engine; they will increase low-end torque. The 16X is also said to offer improved fuel efficiency. Since low torque and low fuel economy are the main shortcomings of rotaries, these changes have piqued my interest.
So, check back in 3 or 4 years for the latest addition to our stable.***

* I find rotary (or Wankel) engines fascinating, and I think they have considerable potential. Thus, I'm glad that Mazda continues to work on developing them. However, the rotary does have substantial drawbacks, and I'm not sure it's the right engine for the kind of driving I do, especially when laden with the 2900-pound weight of the RX-8. The new 16X engine may ameliorate the situation. Time will tell.

** I'm also skeptical that a company as small as Mazda could support the MX-whatever Kabura, the MX-5 Miata, and the RX-whatever. 3 sporty 2-seaters or 2+2s seems like a lot for such a little manufacturer. The Miata has been a solid sales performer for 18 years, and Mazda seems dedicated to the rotary, so I don't know If the Kabura will happen. Perhaps we'll see a small rotary-powered 2+2 sold as an RX-9 Kabura.

*** Alison will likely need a car before then. Don't worry; I'll cover that purchase in excessive detail, too.

Movie Review: Iron Man (2008)

(This review does not contain significant spoilers.)

Alison and I saw Iron Man last weekend, contributing to the film's huge box-office gross. I've enjoyed several comic-book adaptations---notably Spider-Man and Batman Begins---but found several to be painful to watch---notably Superman Returns and Spider-Man 3. I wondered how I would enjoy this film, since it's the comic-book movie whose source material I was least familar with. Do I think this film's overwhelmingly positive reviews were justified? Read on to find out.

What I liked:
  • Robert Downy Jr., aided by the script, made the lead character of Tony Stark a likable jerk. I enjoyed seeing a superhero who had some significant character flaws but whom I still felt amiable toward.
  • Gwyneth Paltrow did a reasonably good job portraying Stark's assistant with the very Marvel Comics name of Pepper Potts.
  • The script has a sense of humor. Not only did it includes some good gags, but it just didn't seem to take itself too seriously.
  • The film chronicles Stark's construction of the suit that gives him the name in the title. He doesn't put it together during a single montage, but over the course of several scenes.
  • Stark's character evolves over the course of the film. As Joss Whedon might say, he doesn't have a character arc from hero to hero.
  • The effects in the film looked great. The computer-generated effects blended well with the practical ones.
  • The use of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" over the end credits was amusing.
What I didn't like:
  • There are several technical and logical flaws in the story. However, these mostly serve to advance the plot or make certain plot points more accessible to the audience, so they didn't distract me from the story like the much more numerous and egregious errors in films like Transformers.
  • The nature and capabilities of the enemy with whom Stark finally faces off is a bit too expected for a comic-book film. You'll see what I mean if you catch this flick.
Overall, I give this film 8.0 out of 10. It's one of the best comic-book movies I've seen, if not the best. That's a big statement on my behalf, given what a fan of the Batman I am. I encourage you to watch this film if you are at all interested in this kind of thing. Be sure to stay through the end credits to see a fun cameo.

I must say that I'm now excited to hear that a sequel has been green-lit. I'm even interested to read that Iron Man may appear in a theatrical adaptation of The Avengers, even though I don't believe those team-ups usually turn out well. Now which Marvel character do you think should be adapted for 2012 and beyond?