I'm officially badass now!

Could not wait another day, even though Mondays are the busiest days at the DMV, went and got myself the motorcycle endorsement at lunch today.

To the left is Exhibit A, my new NC driver license edited for personal information, with the endorsement.

The dealership includes two full-day motorcycle rentals in the price of the course (provided you get the endorsement), so soon-ish, whenever time permits and my hands and arms don't hurt anymore I'll go get a bike for a day and practice in some empty parking lot and some quiet side streets.


Something different

Call me crazy (as I did myself quite a few times during the last two days), but I went and took a basic motorcycle rider's training course. My hands are sore from clutch and brake operation, and I have a few bruises on my legs, but most importantly, I have my completion certificate!

The bike you see on the left is a Buell Blast, and that is the exact bike I and 10 other students were training on yesterday and today. At 350lbs (159kg) the Blast is considered a light bike, but I gotta tell ya, it is a whole lot of bike to throw around the range, particularly when you have never ridden a bike, like yours truly.

I have to admit, the training course was a real challenge. More so than autocross. At autocross, all you have to pay attention to are your inputs. Even your worst mistake will not cause more than a spin and a faceful of dirt you kick up as you go off the course. Not so on a bike: Your posture matters as much as your inputs, in fact, it is one of your inputs; and if you make a halfway serious mistake, you end up on the pavement, sometimes with the bike on top of you. There were moments where I was close to walking away, but I am glad I didn't.

I made it through the course without any injury, and passed both the written and the riding tests. At one point, I came close to dropping my bike after practicing an emergency stop, but both the bike and yours truly have come out of the little adventure unscathed.

With the certificate of completion in hand, I will only have to take a written test at the local DMV to get my motorcycle rider's endorsement. Not sure about getting the bike though.


FUDCon Boston 2008: Absolutely fedorable!

Spent a wonderful Saturday hanging out at the FUDCon barcamp at Boston University's Photonics Center.

I got there early, and helped to set up, and when the doors opened for the barcamp attendees, I was helping out at the registration table.

I ended up spending all my time at that table, because so many of my friends were hanging out with me, and also I had some work to do, so I spent a couple hours finishing a document for work.

Don't want to sound nostalgic, but I've been around Fedora for more than four years now, and it was so great to see everybody again.

I did catch the last ten minutes of the closing speech by our fedorable leader after cleaning up the registration space, and then it was time to go to the FUDPub!

That was a whole lot of fun, even though we did not end up at a karaoke bar, like last time. My absolutely favourite drink was available at the university pub, and I consumed a fair amount before the bar closed at ten.

Six of us went to a pub closer by where our hotels were and had another couple cocktails before calling it a night at about one.

New gallery on amaier.net

Created a new gallery in my online portfolio today, showing a selection of my commissioned work.

More artwork will be added soon-ish, when I finish another project.

Point of no return

So today I have committed to taking Bonnie down the CSP path and ordered a set of Ground Control coilovers, which will be stiffer than the stock springs and will be adjustable, meaning I will be able to lower them for autocross and then raise again for street.

This is the first in the planned series of mods, and one that would not be legal in the Stock class, so that's literally the point of no return for me, as I am now going to try to make my car CSP competitive.

Thank you everyone who commented on my blog and by email and in real-time and helped me make this decision. I really feel good about going CSP now.

The car will probably require an alignment after installation of the new springs.

Next stop, front sway bar.


Quo vadis?

I've got some tough decisions to make soon. Stay in CSP and keep adding performance parts? Or strip the car back to stock?

Competing in C Stock will give me a more benign PAX factor of 0.831. C Street Prepared PAX is a more aggressive 0.856. So from the competitiveness point of view, Stock is the way to go.

Now to the mods.

If you would kindly turn your attention to Exhibit A, the table outlining the cost (monetary as well as moral) to either converting to CS or making a real CSP car out of Bonnie.

You will note the color coding. Dark-green color means that I want to perform this modification on the car regardless. Blue means, it's not on my "can't live without it" list. And you will note that red means that I would hate to perform that change.

So torsen differential, front sway bar, springs, and cat-back I will have to buy no matter what.

However, going stock means that I will have to get my car to conform to one of the factory packages. Sports package being the one that's most feasible in my case, I will need to swap out the cold air intake and the exhaust manifold that I have installed for OEM parts in order for it to comply with the rules. I definitely would hate to see them go. Same with the addition of the rear lip spoiler, which seems to be quite happy in my storage shed. I will also need to run 15" wheels, because they came with the Sport package, and they will need a set of Azenis, at a minimum, to be competitive.

Front air dam is just for show (certainly at autocross speeds), adds weight, and costs a ton, so I am not crazy about it either. The strut bar I don't really hate, but it's a rare part and expensive, without adding much in the way of frame stiffness, hence the blue color. What I really hate is that if I wanted to be 100% legal in Stock, I will have to swap out my beloved Voodoo shift knob for stock! Now don't get me wrong, I didn't even install it, it came with the car, but I have grown to like it a lot. But what really gets me is the ridiculous requirement to swap it out.

My kind reader will also note that all of this humiliation will serve to effectively wimp my car down. All for an additional 0.025 in PAX!

Now to CSP. For about the same amount of money (and actually less, because the rear sway bar, the clutch and the flywheel aren't on my to-do list for Phase 1) I will get to enhance my car's performance further and have plenty of room to spare should I want any more mods.

I can take my sweet time installing the upgrades, as I am in CSP already, unlike Stock, which will remain out of my reach until I am 100% done with all the changes.

But! The obvious disadvantage is that of course I will have to make do with a higher PAX factor.

Which means, I will have to learn to drive better.

Which in turn, is not the worst outcome.

At the moment, I am not sure what I will do. What do you guys think?

One less

Paid off my AAA Visa card last week and canceled the account today. Good riddance!

The card was serviced by the evil Bank of America, and since the prepaid Visa disaster of about three years ago, I swore to never use them again.

The gist of that story was that I, as a newcomer to the States, did not have a credit history, and only could begin building it by getting a prepaid credit card. I did that, and after 6 months began receiving credit card offers. So I paid off my prepaid Visa and closed the account, and asked for my deposit back. It took Bank of America more than four months, and my complaint to the Better Business Bureau, to finally return my cash to me.

Needless to say, they do not offer any interest on deposits.


Triad event 4: Dixie Classic Fair

Regardless of how bad I think I drove, I managed not to be last, so I guess I am learning.

The event was in Winston-Salem, about one and a half hours drive from home. I set the alarm clock for 6 am when I went to bed the night before, to make sure I had enough time to change tires and walk the course when I get there.

I woke up before the alarm went off--at 7:13 am! Stupid twelve-hour clock! Stupid me! I scrambled to throw on some clothes and brush my teeth and was out the door in under 10 minutes, with just enough time to get there before the registration and tech closed.

I got to the site with 20 minutes to spare before registration closed, and 50 minutes before end of tech. The fair grounds was a bit hard to navigate for the first-timer, with trees and buildings obscuring the view, and while looking for a place to pit, I ended up in the tech line. My car still brim-full with tires and equipment, I asked them if I should back out and come back when I have changed into the right tires. They said I can pop the hood and they'll have a quick look-over and I'll be good with my annual tech sticker from the Tarheels.

So that saved me a lot of time right there. I looped back to the pit area and found a nice spot in the shade where I could spread out my stuff and leave the car for when I was not running. That's a great perk, because the forecast was for a +40C day!

In general, this site was quite luxurious compared to what I am used to from autocrossing at airport runways: Shady spot to pit (at least for small cars like Miatae), bleachers for spectators, and--get this--real bathrooms with running water!

So I dropped off my car and ran to register. I paid my registration fee and picked up the dash plaque. Tried to sign up for work, but was told this will be decided after the registration closes and announced at the driver meeting. I thought "Whatever" and went to walk the course. The paved area was in a figure-eight and there was a small section of the course one had to pass twice. The pavement was not particularly even, and there were a lot of marbles scattered on it, none of which was working in yours truly's favour. Triad club also seemed to use a different set of conventions to mark the course, so that some pointer cones were upright, looking like an impossibly tight slalom (see map).

I walked the course twice before going to unload the car and change the tires. A few males stopped to gawk, but thankfully did not comment.

Some folks were passing me as I was changing tires, asked me if I have registered yet. I said Yes, and they looked surprised.

I finished up with the tires and went to walk the course another time, and they started the drivers' meeting just as I was getting done with the final course walk.

They announced the run/work groups, and that was different from what I knew from the Tarheels as well: At Triad, one runs in one out of four run groups, completes all the runs in that time, and works once. My class was running second, and I was working fourth, so I decided to go climb up the bleachers to watch the first run group.

I managed to find a seat next to the guy I was pitting next to, who was also running in my class. No doubt I was no competition for him (or anyone in my class), and he did not seem to be concerned, so we enjoyed making fun of some slow drivers with really cool cars, and when the first run group was beginning the fourth and final round of runs, we went to our cars.

There was no line A or B, so everybody had to wait a full round till they could run again. This gave me a chance to talk with a few people waiting in the grid with me.

My first run was not all too bad, but I was coming out too hot from the unusual triangular element in the final third of the course and could not turn into the first of the two gates anymore, so it was a DNF. The second run, I spun out approaching the "fork" for a second time, after completing the loop on the right, and they seem to have given me a DNF for that.

The third and fourth run, I simply tried to carry more speed through all the elements, to brake harder, and to be more aggressive, but did not do particularly well as you see.

Here are the results:

After completing all my runs, I had a full heat to change back into street tires and pack the car, and also just relax before going to work the course.

So here I am, changing the tires, using my manual torque wrench. A guy comes by and says with a mock shock in his voice: "What?!? You only got manual tools?"

I say: "Yes, I do. The manual tools work for me. I'm fine."

"Oh, I can see that," says he.

I am not sure if this is meant sarcastically, in view of multiple drops of sweat on the pavement, as I am working on the tires in the 40C heat, or rather as an observation of my physical appeal to him, so I stand up and face him. "If you're going to just stand here and watch and run your mouth, you might as well help me change the tires," I say.

"She's feisty," he says, addressing the guy pitting next to me, also busy changing his tires.

"Oh yeah, she's feisty," I retort, "because she has to put up with guys like you a lot."

"Guys like me?"

"Yeah, the kind that would talk about her in third person in her presence," I say as I torque the lug nuts on my right rear wheel.

"Well, I didn't know your name... Was the next thing I was going to ask," he says sheepishly, "Didn't mean to offend." Then disappears.

I go about jacking the right front corner of the car up to get that tire off, but before I am finished changing it, he's back, wearing blue latex gloves, with a torque gun in his hand.

On one hand, I am pretty pissed at his uncouth attempt at a flirt and would rather tell him to go to hell, latex gloves and all... But on the other hand, it's +40C, and I think if he really wants to do the work for me, the smart thing to do would be to let him.

So I do.

His torque gun only torques to about 20 foot pounds (27.1 N m), and I usually torque my lug nuts to 75 foot pounds, so he had to use my torque wrench to actually tighten the lug nuts to specification.

I exercised all the willpower I got (as a matter of fact, it is still sore), but I did not say a word about how much help the so-called power tool actually was. He finished torquing the tire I started, and did the remaining two as I was standing by silently, watching.

He finished, we exchanged thanks and names and then it was my turn to go work the course.

I got assigned to the corner where hardly anything was happening: the last couple gates and offsets before the end of the first loop. My two "colleagues" were a novice driver and his underage son. I had the radio, the other driver held the flag, and the kid ran to pick up the cones. At first I felt bad for him picking all of the cones, but after the first two cones down, nothing was hit in our area until the end of the event, so he actually was saying he hoped someone hit a cone so he had something to do.

I got to call the two cones and a couple DNFs (all the novices were running in the fourth heat), and then it was time to go home.

I did not stay for the fun runs or the trophies. Went straight home and crashed on the sofa for at least an hour before moving again. Then slowly schlepped the tires and the rest of equipment to my storage shed on the balcony and vegged out watching House on hulu.

A good day, all in all.


Reinstated on Planet: Big thanks to Paul Frields

Paul came back from Europe and promptly resolved my problems, and then some! A huge thanks to him for that.

I was close to just giving up on Planet, because I am not all that technical, and never logged in to the fedorapeople account, SSH or no SSH, but then Paul swooped down in his shining armor and added my feed to his ~/.planet file. Yay!

We discussed the change to the way Planet aggregation now works, first in IRC, then by phone, and agreed that it could be made easier for people who are not routinely using remote shells, by adding a field in the web interface where one configures one's Fedora account.

So to complete his stellar cameo in Your Truly's day, he opened a Fedora Infrastructure ticket requesting just that!

Go Paul!


My blog no longer on Planet.Fedoraproject.org

From a chat with a friend earlier today.
(09:36:42 AM) yours_truly: i am not amused that they changed the way they aggregate blogs on planet now: 1. they never announced that the change will come; 2. they kicked existing blogs (like mine) out; 3. now i have to go log in to fedorapeople... and i have never done this. i am not even sure i still have that SSH key i created for the CLA back in the day, and even if i do, i forgot the passphrase.
(09:36:57 AM) yours_truly: so i am expressly not happy with that
(09:37:47 AM) friend: They announced it on fedora-devel. distribution was too narrow I guess
(09:38:26 AM) yours_truly: how come we always do that? -- do a million things right and then blow one really important one
(09:42:05 AM) yours_truly: i don't want to raise a stink, but i am reckoning there must be more people than just me being unhappy about it
(09:42:38 AM) friend: well, get your blog back on planet, then post about it
(09:42:41 AM) yours_truly: first we say we want to lower the barrier for participation, and then we go demanding that people SSH to a server using an encryption key for jake's sake
(09:42:59 AM) yours_truly: i would fix it, but i don't think i have the key anymore
(09:43:12 AM) yours_truly: and i certainly do not have the passphrase for the key, even if I still had it
(09:43:26 AM) yours_truly: i am toast


Jimmy V Charity Autocross

Last weekend's autocross was a little different from the rest. Firstly, I ran in open class for the first time. Secondly, I was co-driving a car for part of the event. Thirdly, it was not my car. And finally, I managed not to be in the bottom 3, so it looks like the skills learned during chick school and novice school earlier this year actually stuck.

First day, 31 May, was a non-points event, and not as many people showed up. We got three runs in the morning and two in the afternoon. As usual, I was running second and fourth heat, working third, and catching rides in the first.

I got there early, already on my Azenis, so I had time to walk the course three or four times before the drivers' meeting. Right after that, Mo, who in the past weeks has worked on convincing me to switch to open class from Novice, immediately seized the opportunity and paired me up with a novice chick to ride with and instruct. On one hand, that was flattering. On the other, pretty damn intimidating. I mean, I can't go fast yet myself, how am I supposed to help the novice go faster?

In the end, it turned out fine for her, she shaved off a couple seconds from her first time, and when it was time for me to run in the second, she rode with me and I drove just half a second faster than she did! That was pretty embarrassing. She was pretty gracious about it though.

Here are the first day's results. You will see that I was quite sloppy all day:

On day two, the course was very different, more along the lines of what I do well: subtle smooth inputs and throttle steering. There was only one slalom, where I lost some time and picked up quite a few cones, and a turnaround, where I lost a whole ton of time.

I was co-driving a first-gen Miata with a friend that day. His car, my tires. We swapped them in the pits before the drivers' meeting and were ready to go. His covette was out of commission, and he had no racing rubber for his Miata, hence the complexity. That's how the results ended up listing me as driving a "yellow Corvette". I wish.

My friend was running in X and I in CSP, which put him in the first and third heat to run, and me in second and fourth. It was quite lucky, because this way there was enough time for the tires to cool a bit between our runs. The forecast was for a 36C day, and tarmac gets very hot in direct sun, so tire overheating is a real concern.

Note to self: Buy and start bringing a water sprayer for the tires, as it will only get hotter as the summer progresses.

In the first heat, our car was in line B, so I went to hitch some rides from line A first. I ended up with no less (and likely more) than seven rides in the morning. All of them with experienced drivers, unlike the day before. By the time it was my turn to run, I had the course memorized and had a pretty good idea what to do out there.

My very first run was pretty good time-wise, but I botched up the slalom and picked off three cones. During the course of the day, I continued to work on the slalom and the turnaround entry, and the one run where I got them both acceptably well, was my best run of the day.

Here are the second day's resutls:

On the second day again, we had three runs in the morning and two in the afternoon. After that, there were fun runs and I wanted to see whether my car was handling much different from the spiff Miata I drove during the day. The spiff car has Bilstein shocks with coilovers, upgraded front and rear sway bars, and a torsen diff. So I fully expected my car to suck in comparison.

Imagine my surprise when I beat my own best raw time from the competition doing a fun run in my own car!

So now, I decided to help my baby along to become a really spiff autocross car. I am planning two phases of upgrades:

  • In the first phase, I will replace my open diff with a torsen, and install performance sway bars;
  • in the second phase, I'll swap out the engine (which has began burning oil recently) and while we're at it, install a lightweight flywheel and a performance clutch.

Will keep you posted on the mods.

Anti-rattle springs

Monday evening, right after work, I was changing out of the competition tires to street ones, and remembered that I had to install anti-rattle springs on the rear brakes.

Initially, there was nothing wrong with the brakes that I could tell, but with the pads wearing over time, the brakes started making a "ka-klink!" sound each time I'd roll over a bump. It got pretty embarrassing, but at that point I was not yet sure what the problem was, so I asked the mechanic who takes care of Bonnie to check the rear of the car for anything loose, and behold, he discovered that there were no anti-rattle springs installed on the rear brakes.

His quote was $50 to install them for me (just under an hour of work), but he also mentioned that to do it, one only needed needle-nosed pliers and could do it with just the wheel taken off, and no further disassembly (so the picture actually does not apply, but you can see the upper anti-rattle spring nicely in it: it's the M-shaped clip straddling the caliper).

So knowing how frequently I take the wheels off the car when changing tires for autocross, I said I'd try to do it myself and come surrender if I fail, and with a nod he reached into some box on a shelf, and counted off four springs into my palm: two per brake.

About a month later, here I was, sitting on the glowing pavement amid assorted wheels and tools, trying to fiddle in the springs, in my condo's parking lot.

The first one took longest, but once I figured out the position and the 3D geometry of fitting in of each spring, it was all fine.

Just as I was finishing up the second spring on the driver side, a four-door sedan pulled in from the street and stopped next to my car. A woman, about my age, who I never saw before, rolled the window down and asked if I was broken down or needed any help. I thanked her, but had to say that I did not need help, and that I was rather enjoying myself, tending to the needs of my car in the parking lot.

The lady wished me a nice evening, rolled the window up, and drove off.

I must say, it was exceptionally nice of her to stop and offer help when she saw me from the street.

Kudos to the anonymous lady.