Saturday, August 30, 2008

Spheres are Good

OK, just one more post about the car, and I'll shut up.

After a few months of daily driving, some autocrossing, and a couple of track days, I decided I didn't like the shape of the stainless-steel shift knob I put on Mia in March. It was comfortable for a pistol grip, but I've found I prefer an overhand grip. So, I replaced the knob with a spherical one two inches in diameter. The new knob is stainless steel like the previous one, because I enjoy the texture and the way the knob acts as a haptic, analog transmission-temperature gauge.

After a few weeks of normal use and a couple more track days, I've decided I'm quite happy with the way the knob feels. I think it's fairly attractive, too.

Electronics Review: ScanGauge II

Several months ago, I installed a ScanGauge II in Mia. The ScanGauge interfaces with a vehicle's electronic control unit through the on-baord diagnostics port. It works with any vehicle with OBD II diagnostics, which includes most made since the late 1990s.

Because the ScanGauge has access to everything the ECU knows, it can display a large number of digital gauges, 4 at a time. These gauges can give the driver very valuable information. I normally have mine set to display water temperature,* intake-air temp, battery voltage, and instantaneous fuel economy, but the device will also display numerous other parameters.

The ScanGauge also offers the ability to read errors, or "codes," thrown by the computer. These codes are responsible for illuminating the mysterious check-engine light. The SGII also lets you clear these codes. I've used this feature precisely twice, both times to clear the same code resulting from transient overheating due to pushing the car hard on the autocross course or track on hot day. Given the moderate price of this device---160 dollars, shipped, from Amazon---I think it paid for itself with just those 2 uses.

Overall, I give the ScanGauge II 8.0 out of 10. I highly recommend it to any car enthusiast or any information junkie.

* The OEM water-temp gauge is only approximate on the late NA Miatas and all the NBs.

An Ten Uh

I've long been a critic of powered accessories in vehicles. Power windows, door locks, mirrors and such increase cost, add weight, consume power, and decrease reliability compared to their manual counterparts. Unfortunately, my Miata, Mia, came with "power everything," and it has caught up with me after only half a year of ownership. A few weeks ago, my power reacting antenna failed, and in the lowered position. This failure meant that I could only listen to CDs in the car. Fortunately, my desire to listen to new music and the NPR withdrawal I've been experiencing has motivated me to address the issue.

I could have tried to repair the motor, but I elected to replace the antenna with a fixed one, and I was glad I made that decision when I pulled out the trunk liner and saw how enormous the OEM antenna/motor assembly was. The photo above illustrates the size of this assembly, most of which is due to the motor.

The new antenna is one of the stubby kind that are so common today. It's not the tiny shark-fin style, but it still looks fairly sleek. It has an amplifier built in, to compensate for its short length, which means it must be tied into the car's 12-volt system. Fortunately, since the original antenna was powered, that operation wasn't difficult. Even with the amplifier, the new antenna only extends down into the car about as far as the red marks on the OEM model.

After the installation, I confirmed that the radio works again. It sounds fine, so I'm quite pleased with this minor modification.

When I set out to take these photos, I realized that I haven't documented a couple of other small changes I've made to the car. More on that soon.

Friday, August 29, 2008

PR: Nasty Girls

Today I set a new personal record for the workout called Nasty Girls: 11 minutes and 37 seconds, a 22-second improvement over the last time I did this workout in January.

Weetabix for Spike's Blood

Here's another metaphor I've been using lately, in one form or another:
Weetabix for Spike's blood, metaphor. Any food added to a dish solely for texture.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

OMG Ponies!

I guess a Bad Horse version would have been just too easy.


While writing my last post, I discovered that, although I've been using this word for years to describe Alison when she's helping me find my destination, it's not officially recognized:
navigatrix, noun. A navigator who is female.
Example: Alison is frequently my navigatrix, and someday she'll be the executrix of my will.

The Targa Miata is not an MX-5 with a Removable Roof Panel

Regular readers and those who know me in meatspace are aware that, although I have always been a car guy, I've been completely obsessed with automobiles and motorsports since I bought Mia, my Mazdaspeed Miata. One benefit of owning a Miata is the enormous online and real-space community of owners who are willing to share information and even help you work on your car. I guess that benefit is one ramification of the Miata being best-selling sports car of all time.*

Probably the most famous single person in the Miata community, at least in my mind, is a gentleman by the name of Keith Tanner. Mr. Tanner is the author of one book about working on the Miata, another on the Miata's history and the process of buying one, and at least one non-Miata volume. He works at Flyin' Miata, posibly the most popular source of aftermarket performace parts for the the first- and second-generation MX-5, and he frequently appears on at least a couple of the online Miata forums to answer questions about FM's products.

For over a year now, Keith has been building a Miata to contest the Targa Newfoundland, a rally race held in the easternmost province of his native Canada. He's named this car the Targa Miata** and given it its own website, the most interesting part of which is a very thorough build diary. Keith, with his wife, American Janel Tanner, as his navigatrix,*** will be starting the Targa in just a couple of weeks, so the assembly is essentially complete. If you've ever wondered how to build up a race car on a budget, I encourage you to read though the blog. I found it both informative and entertaining.

* That, and the huge amount of aftermarket support.
** Not very creative, I admit, but very descriptive.
*** The official title of Janel's position is co-driver, but functionally, the person in the passenger seat will be navigating. And I think it's perfectly cromulent to feminize "navigator."

Welcome Ash and Finny

I'm about three weeks late reporting it, but, as predicted, Ashley has moved to Maryland to begin her career as a high-school history teacher. She and her mother arrived on Friday, and on Saturday, Ashley, Sharon, Alison, and I all set off to buy Ashley's first car.

Alison and I had decided that the Honda Fit was the best vehicle for Ash, and she had reached the same conclusion herself. She had also decided on on a trim level (Sport), the options she wanted (principally an automatic transmission), and even the color (Blackberry Pearl). In this era of high fuel prices, the frugal Fit, which is also roomy, cleverly designed, fun-to-drive, and award-winning, is selling as fast as Honda can ship them from Japan. The dealership nearest Ashley's apartment didn't have the exact Fit she wanted. She called a second dealer and found one in Virginia, but it was sold in the time it took us to drive there. We finally got to drive the exact car in question at the third dealer, but when we got back from the test drive, an identical car had just been sold and was being prepped to be taken home by its new owner. So, after all that, we didn't feel that we had as much negotiating leverage as we would have liked. Still, I think Ash got a good, but not spectacular, deal on her new vehicle, which she has decided to name Phineas Fit.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

You Can't Get Blood From a Stone

I've given blood just a couple of times in my life. I feel good about doing it, but not while doing it. While giving blood, I mostly feel annoyed. I mean, the Red Cross just makes donating so onerous. First, you read some forms, then you fill out and sign some others, then they read the forms back to you and ask you if what you said was true. Finally, they take the blood, which actually isn't very time-consuming at all. But you aren't done yet, because then they try to give you sugary, fatty snacks and insist that you stick around even longer, just in case you pass out.

I gave platelets last time, which turned out to be a bad idea. This donation involves pulling blood form one arm, filtering out the platelets, then feeding the rest of your blood back into your other arm. This is actually rather convenient; since you get your plasma and red blood cells back, you are able to work out that day. Unfortunately, the extraction process takes much longer than a whole-blood donation does, and, since you are punctured in both elbows, you can't bend your arms. It's very irritating.

Movie Review: The Dark Knight (2008)

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

Alison and I, along with a few friends, saw The Dark Knight several weeks ago on the film's opening weekend. Somehow, I haven't gotten around to reviewing the movie until now. Here's what I have to say.

What I liked:
  • The cast performed well. In particular, Heath Leger was astoundingly disturbing as the Joker. The thing he did with his tongue was, in Alison's words, "the creepiest gesture ever."
  • The plot was very gritty and dark. This is easily the darkest comic-book movie I've seen. 300 may have had a higher body count, but it wasn't anything like as bleak as The Dark Knight.
  • The dialog was interesting and, occasionally, funny.
  • The effects and stunts in the film were all very well done.
What I dislike:
  • The voice Christian Bale used for the Batman, which was different for the one he used for Bruce, was very annoying. It was some kind of husky stage whisper, similar to the one he used in the previous film, but worse.
Overall, I think this is the best superhero movie I've seen. I give it 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Muffy Needs a Travel Agent

Well, folks, it looks like Muffy still has some life left in her. We have ourselves a new Muffy story...enjoy!

My mom just got back home from visiting me and helping my sister get settled in her new place here in MD. While she was here, Muffy was boarded at the kennel, which she hates. Well, it turns out that my mom had to leave town again rather suddenly. Muffy tends to get upset when suitcases emerge because that usually means that she is going to the kennel and/or somebody she likes is leaving, usually me or Ashley. So we generally try to hide our suitcases until the last minute to keep Muffy from getting too stressed out. Well, this morning my mom could wait no longer and the suitcase made its appearance before she went to get her bath. While she was in the tub, she heard a very strange sound...THUMP, THUMP, THUMP. Thinking someone was breaking in, she got dressed and went downstairs only to find Muffy jumping up at the closet door. Keep in mind that Muffy is 14 years old and does not do much jumping of any sort anymore. Yet there she was, jumping repeatedly at the closet door. Naturally, my mom opened it for her whereupon Muffy immediately jumped on top of her Sherpa bag that she rides in when she goes on trips with my mom. So, my mom took the bag out of the closet and went back upstairs to finish her bath. Once again she heard THUMP, THUMP, THUMP. This time she finished bathing, but when she came downstairs, Muffy had dragged the Sherpa bag to the front door and was sitting on it again. My mom opened it for her and she sat in it until my mom's ride to the airport arrived. Thank goodness my mom was already planning to take Muffy with her this time!

So, I think that's pretty clear...."Fine! If you are leaving again, lady, I am coming, too! There will be none of this kennel business this time!" I've said it before and I'll say it again...Muffy is one scary smart dog.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

PR: Tabata Something Else

I set a new personal record tonight on Tabata* Something Else: 406 repetitions. That's an appreciable improvement over the 376 reps I scored the last time I did this workout, almost a year ago.

* Tabata sets are explained here.

Track-Day Hiatus

I've researched my insurance coverage, and it turns out that USAA won't cover my car when it's on track, or near the track, or thinking about being on the track. I had somehow come to the belief that the car would be covered because HPDE classes are not timed events, in other words, not races. Clearly, I was incorrect. I looked into supplemental coverage, but the premiums are somewhat high, and the deductibles are exorbitant. Thus, I've put my Miata-tracking plans on hold while I look into other alternatives. I may have more to post about that later.


I set a new PR on CrossFit Total a few days ago: 723 pounds, which is a 3-lb improvement. That performance included a 290-lb squat and a 323-lb deadlift, both PRs. However, I looked more closely at the CFT specs, and I found that a squat to parallel with the floor is called for. I've been doing my squats to a 90-degree knee bend, which is a commonly used stopping point, but isn't quite as deep as parallel to the floor. As anyone who has done squats can tell you, the difficulty becomes a very strong function of depth in the last few inches. Thus, I expect my squat and CFT numbers to drop significantly next time. Oh well.

I didn't reach 323 on my deadlift workout last night. 305 seemed like all I could manage, and I was scheduled to do 7 sets of 1, so I stopped there. In retrospect, I should have tried 325 at least once. Deadlifts are always really difficult, even submaximal ones. I often find that I can do more than I thought. I didn't remember that last night, so that workout represents a lost opportunity. On the upside, I didn't re-injure my back, despite the cumulative 2100 pounds of dealifting.

Occupational Hazards

It occurs to me that my job is one of the few where one frequently carries the equivalent of 50,000 or 100,000 dollars in one hand. And it doesn't seem like a big deal, until I think , "this bit-error-rate test-set is worth as much as everything I own." Maybe I should be careful.

Other such occupations include jeweler, classical musician, and museum curator.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


There's some good news for Lithopanspermists in the readershop.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Nissan Murano Convertible?

Usually, my "Who ordered that?" tag is deployed against the entertainment industry, most frequently for pointless sequels, unwanted adaptations, or unnecessary remakes. This time, I'm pulling out that tag for a vehicle. Specifically the Nissan Murano convertible. I mean what focus group convinced Nissan there was a market for a drop-top SUV?

Snail Spam

No, this perfectly cromulent word does not denote a canned meat product made from snails. Eww!
snail spam, noun. Unwanted postal or "snail" mail.


Here's a word I created a few months ago, and which I've found quite useful ever since:
facon, noun. Artificial bacon, usually made with soy protein.
Example: "Alison likes facon on her egg Mike-muffins, but I prefer soysage."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Two Years Ago

Two years ago today:

And I haven't regretted it for a minute.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Gears of Conflict Resolution

Fans of the rather violent game Gears of War might enjoy the latest Penny Arcade.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Thunderbolt Part 2: Revenge of the Thunder

I added a few more photos to my recent post on high-speed driving at New Jersey Motorsports Park. So, if you are interested, please check out that post.

Buffy Toon

Ever wonder what the stillborn Buffy the Animated Series would have looked like? Well, wonder no longer. The 3-and-a-half-minute trailer created to sell the show has hit the Tube of You.

Control(ler) Freak

Allow me to review the Xbox 360 controllers we own:
  • Standard, wired.
  • Standard, wireless.
  • Steering wheel, with pedals.
  • Dance mat (2).
  • Guitar.
  • Drum kit.
  • Microphone.
What do you think the chances are that I can successfully play DDR with the steering wheel? How about Gears of War with the drum kit?

Friday, August 08, 2008

What Do You Call Fans of Battlestar Galactica, Anyway?

Fans of Battlestar Galactica may be interested to know that a new prequel telefilm has been greenlit. The movie will be written by Jane Espenson and follow Cylon Number One, Sam Anders, and Chief Tyrol during the aftermath of the initial Cylon attac featured durring the first minutes of the pilot miniseries.


This week, I traveled to New Jersey Motorsports Park for my second NASA high-performance driver's education class. The park is quite new, having just opened about a month ago. It's also very fancy. There are road circuits, a karting track, garages, and a club house. Further, plans exist for an off-road track, a small tri-oval, trackside "villas," a hotel, and more. It's like a country club for motorsports.

Actually, the park opened with only a single circuit, called Lightning. The Thunderbolt circuit just opened on Monday. We were at Thunderbolt on Tuesday and Wednesday and recieved commemorative T-shirts to mark the opening of the track. So, as you can imagine, not everything was really finished. All the earth was exposed, with no ground-cover, so dust was everywhere. There were big, yellow construction vehicles driving all over, doing the landscaping. The main flag tower was unfinished, and all the small towers for corner workers had not even been started. We, the drivers, discovered a problem with both the first turn and the last, so NASA convinced the park officials, who were looking for feedback, to add some pavement to those corners after the last session on Tuesday.

Speaking of corners, everyone was still trying to figure out the best line around this circuit, and different drivers have treated the track as having anywhere between 14 and 17 turns---and that's without the optional chicanes in Turn 1 and Turn 2, which were not used. The long, sweeping right-hander that suddenly sharpens up was a particular challenge. I saw cars in front of me taking at least 3 distinct lines through that section of the track, often while driving in a single group. That decreasing-radius turn is my second-favorite element of Thunderbolt. My favorite is the sweeping left-hander that immediately follows. I'd enter that turn with my steering wheel fixed at one angle, then use the throttle to precisely oversteer the car so as to gradually tighten toward the inner edge of the tarmac and arrive at the late apex I wanted. It was great fun. The main straight is significantly shorter than the one at Summit Point's Main Circuit, but because the preceding turn is a little less sharp, I was able to get to about 105 MPH* at the end of the straight, just a bit slower than at Summit Main. Overall, I like this track more than Summit Main, because it is more technical, so I'm quite excited to get on Summit's Shenandoah Circuit, which looks to be even more challenging.

I noticed that the collection of vehicles I saw at this event was markedly different from what I've encountered at Summit and at autocross events held at FedEx Field. I attribute this difference to a higher average income in the area and the country-club nature of the park, which are certainly correlated. First off, every motorsports event I've eve been to has been filled with Miatas. I only saw about 5 at Thunderbolt each day. Instead, the most popular car was the Corvette. There were numerous C5s and C6s, most of which were either Z06 models or had been blown by a company called East Coast Supercharging. I think many of the Vettes may have belonged to a local club that decided to attend in force. (Similarly, it looks like my local Miata club is going to make the September SCCA event at Shenandoah into a Miata-heavy one.) There were also numerous Porsches, 2 Ford GTs, 2 Ariel Atoms, and 5 modified Ferraris. So yeah, I think there's a lot of money in that area.

Like my last HPDE experience, the classroom instruction was underwhelming, but the on-track sessions made up for that. I ended up fairly happy with my driving at the event. I was frustrated with myself following the first and second sessions, but after I grew comfortable with the layout of the track, I began to drive faster with each session. Well, my next-to-last session was probably the best; the car overheated a bit during the final session on Wednesday, because it was around 90 degrees ambient, and I was pushing poor Mia pretty hard. I certainly passed more than I was passed, which also makes me happy. Here's a list of cars that I passed that should be much faster than mine:
  • A stock C5 Corvette.
  • A very loud V8 fourth-generation Camaro with a rollbar, hoodpins, and who knows what engine and exhaust modifications.
  • A 350z with 2 aftermarket turbochargers, racing seats, and a rollbar.
  • A Mitsubishi Evo.
  • An older 911. It had the old-style whale tale, so I think it must have been the 930 Turbo or 964 Turbo.
  • 1 or 2 BMW 3-series cars.
  • A race-prepared and very loud Mini Cooper S, driven by the wife of its usual driver. (Later that day or the next, I saw the car fly up into my mirrors. I pointed it by, and it blew past me and zoomed off on the rear bumper of a modified Mustang GT. When I chatted with the driver later, she informed me that her instructor had been driving the car, to show her what it could do. Ah-hah.)
So, yay me, I guess.

All-in-all, it was a good trip.

*This is the speed indicated by my speedometer. I believe the speedo is about 2% to 3% "optimistic" with my current tires.

Wired to Sci Fi

It appears that the Sci Fir Wire's news editor and contributors collectively share my opinions on the best TV series that were canceled before they had a chance to find an audience. Certainly, I firmly agree with the first and second spots on their list.

Blisters and Calluses

For many years, I've had large and thick calluses on my hands, from numerous hours of weight training and cycling. All the CrossFittery I've engaged in over the last 20 months has not only made them bigger and thinker, but also caused them to spread to odd locations, such as my inner wrists. Now, thanks to 2 days of driving through New Jersey at over 100 miles/hour and 2 nights of pretend drumming, I have calluses where I never did before. And nascent blisters to boot.