Lessons learned

I keep thinking back to the gymkhana and I feel like I learned a lot. So what exactly did I learn from participating in an event so different from what I usually do?

First, I think I had a chance to get more familiar with what the car will do when you bring it to the edge of losing grip. At lower speeds, inducing a spin or merely pushing the car to the point of severe understeer, with tires chirping and all is much less scary than merely pushing the car close to the limit of traction in an autocross, where you'd be going three to four times faster. So I got a chance to get used to the feel and the sound of the car telling me "Hey, this is about as far as I can go. Push some more, and I can't guarantee for anything!"

The other thing I learned was how shocks and tire pressures affect the handling of the car. My car is set up for autocrossing, where sliding is not going to bring you any advantage, and you are clinging to every bit of traction you can get. So as a result, it is pretty reluctant to slide. Good thing for autocross. Bad thing for a gymkhana. So I had to figure out what I can do to change that behaviour. I had most success sliding with front shocks on full hard and rears on full soft, and front tires at 36 psi with rears at 46. The car still had too much grip for what I was trying to do, but much more willing to whip around when severely provoked.

This has also given me much more confidence in how far the car can be pushed and just how damn reluctant it is to let go of pavement.

So that is all pretty cool, and also the fact that the surface was slick enough that I still have plenty of tire left to run the two remaining events of the season. After that I will probably have to scrap the Azenis, because I don't expect them to keep well over the winter.

Maybe I will keep them until the first test-and-tune event early next year and see if they are any good, so I will have enough time to get new ones in time for the first points event.

Not like I expect to win any trophies that soon...

Oh, and just because I know my loyal readership can't get enough of this crap, here is a video of yesterday's gymkhana with yours truly being the first car shown. Shame that they did not catch me when I had the sliding thing figured out a little, because here you just see me drive the course. Oh well, can't have everything.

Triad points event: September 7, Greensboro

I checked today, and the results from Triad club's September the 7th event in Greensboro were posted. Without much ado, here they are:


Fast and furious: Fedora drift

Just got home from the Gymkhana a couple hours ago, and the first pictures from the event have already been posted!

Here is Bonnie car and I proudly wearing our Fedora "racing livery."

Here we are, waiting in the grid before the start.

I am not exactly sure whether it is the first or the second sweeping turn, but it is a sweeper to be sure.

This must be a slide either completing the 180 or the figure-eight. See how the front suspension is loaded while the rear is sliding about?

And this picture must be showing me coming around the second cone of the figure-eight.
If you have no idea what I am talking about, have a look at the course map.
Photos courtesy of my friend Rob.

I'm fast and furious: Greenville drift

So I learned to slide my car today, and was not too bad at it either!

The main difference between the gymkhana and autocrosses I have been to is that it is much tighter, causing you to perform your maneuvers quicker at the same time as the speeds are lower. So it is somewhat of a paradox, how gymkhana is faster and slower at the same time. Also, because of the need to make many 180 and 360 degree turns in very limited space, sliding your car around becomes the faster way to complete the course--quite a difference to autocross, where if you're sliding, you're losing time.

I have never induced a slide or a drift on purpose before, so I had to learn how. I asked one of the experienced drivers to ride with me and he explained the basic technique to me, most importantly, using the hand brake to make the car swing around. I could draw on my autocross skills for the slaloms and the sweepers, but sliding the car around the turnarounds and the figure-8 made all the difference, and I was able to run decent times. I have not seen the final results yet, but I was able to improve from 58.xxx to 53.xxx seconds during my first eight runs, which were the only ones that counted for the final standings.

After I got my eight runs in I had lunch and then ran another dozen or so times, practicing the slides. I also let two other guys (Rob and Tony) drive my car to see how it behaves in the hands of experienced drivers. That was pretty impressive. I definitely have a lot to learn.

I also got a chance to take my friend Rob's NA Miata for two fun runs, and that taught me a valuable lesson as well: Namely, power steering rocks! Rob's car has no power steering and I was constantly late for turning into different elements, and wide everywhere else.

A couple friends from the Tarheel club showed up to watch, and I took one of them for a ride out on the course during fun runs. His quote about how gymkhana compares to autocross was: "How different for something so similar!"

The folks who were running the event told me that my results were good, but I still have to see where I am compared to everyone else before I can say whether I am better at gymkhana or autocross. Regardless of the results though, it was a lot of fun!


My first Gymkhana

Tomorrow I am going to Greenville, to compete in my first gymkhana. Gymkhana [jim-'kä-nə, -ˈka-] is, I guess, a type of autocross, but with more fanciful course layouts where you have to go through the same elements several times, drift here and there and sometimes, though not tomorrow, even go in reverse.

I have never done a gymkhana before, so I am a bit worried that I will not remember all the different ways to go around the course and will DNF on all my runs. Other than that, I am excited about going.

Packed my car full of tires and other autocross paraphernalia earlier this evening and had to deal with neighbours' cat's territorial mark on two of the tires. That was not a bonus, I gotta tellya. The stink was to high heaven when I lifted the bottom tire under which cat piss sat for a number of days.

Other than that, all went well and I am anticipating a little improvement in performance from the wrapped exhaust.

Watching presidential debate

As non-citizen, I cannot vote in the US elections, but I still follow the campaign, and today I watched the first presidential debate between Obama and McCain.

McCain's messages were few and frequently repeated. Now I know that he "has not won Ms. Congeniality in the U.S. Senate," that he will "cut spending," and that he will "win in Iraq." No details were given, even when his statements were challenged head-on by Obama, and he sounded like he was working hard on repeating the sound bites prepared by his team.

Though this left a shallow impression with me, I am afraid McCain might have the upper hand with his messaging strategy, knowing that the average voter's attention span is about 30 seconds.

Obama was clear and to the point, however he had fewer sound bites and I did not notice any recurring litanies like his opponent's "Ms. Congeniality." He did well at ignoring McCain's derisive smirks and passive-aggressive body language, so I will give him plus points for that.

In general I have to say that this election year I am much less engaged that I usually would be. After volunteering locally a few times for one of the candidates who did not win their party's nomination early in the campaign, I lost interest to a large extent.

All dressed up and ready to go

One week after wrapping the exhaust I finally had the opportunity to finish the job and spray the header with the silicone sealant. I used some painters' tape and paper to cover surrounding parts and applied several coats wherever I could get with the spray can. There might be a few areas on the inside that aren't covered 100 per cent, but most of the wrap has been treated.

Added bonus: The stains on the exhaust header flange and the screws are now painted over black and look much more presentable!

I left the car with the hood up for a couple hours to dry, and when I drive tomorrow the sealant will properly cure when the exhaust gets hot.

I hope the sealant won't stink too bad as it cures, because the wrap developed a pretty penetrant smell that has finally gone away after a week of driving. I was lucky that the first few days it was curing the weather allowed me to drive with the top down!


Swinging Johnsons

Went to see the Swingin' Johnsons at the Berkeley Cafe. Burney had his new pink paisley Fender guitar, the going-away gift from the Creatives. They have a cool sound now and are looking quite professional on stage--but getting mixed up in Cocaine Blues seems to be a tradition.

I was wearing my Johnsons' baby-doll tee, doing my Johnsons' groupie thing, and sooner rather than later I started dancing and a bunch of others danced too. It was great fun, and it was too bad that I had to run home, so I didn't get my sleeping rhythm out of whack before having to get up at 6am for the event on Sunday.


Ten things I can do without

The Ten things Samhita can do without post has inspired me to come up with my own. Here goes:
  1. Constant questions from family, friends, and acquaintances about when I'll have a baby.
  2. Questions about why I am not married yet.
  3. Idle inquiries about origin of my accent in order to immediately forget the answer once received.
  4. Waiters who place the check in front of my male dining companion without asking.
  5. Women who enforce male privilege.
  6. Car seats that either place me too close to the wheel or too far from the pedals.
  7. Color-coded everything (pink for girls, blue for boys).
  8. Guys with cheap power tools offering help in the pits, only to have to let me pre-break the lug nuts.
  9. Shock expressions at my statement that I do not crave chocolate.
  10. Being treated like an idiot by most tech support males on account of my gender.

Happy birthday Fedora!

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag Fedora!
С днем рождения, Федора!
Happy birthday Fedora!

Meaner than a junkyard dog

Right. I am at the crossroads about my engine again.

So up until 12 months ago, it was not using a drop of oil. Then it went to using a quart (0.95l) every 1000 miles (1609.3km), then every 900 miles, and so on, until we got to the point where I am adding oil every 600 miles. Needless to say, I don't like where this is going.

So I began looking at my options. There are a bunch, too:

  • Get the existing engine rebuilt for performance, with overbore and the whole shebang. That would be in the $3-4000 range.
  • Buy a new engine from Mazda Motorsports (their racing development arm) for about $2500. That comes without any warranty though.
  • Buy a used low-mileage engine for $900-1300. They usually come with parts and labor warranties ranging from 3 to 36 months.
  • Take a wild guess that it's the valve guide stem seals and have those replaced without pulling the engine head for about $500. If it's not the valve stem seals (could be oil control rings, or something else for all I know), that might not help much or at all, making it money thrown away.
  • Do nothing, just add oil, until I run on oil and gas mixture, like a chainsaw.
  • Sell the car.
Somehow, the last two options do not appeal to me, and the third before last is too much of a bet to take. Building a race engine seems like an overkill. This leaves me with two truly viable options: buy a new or used engine and try to off-set some of the cost by selling my original engine.

Here's the entertaining part: I requested quotes for used engines from a number of junkyards, and a handful replied saying they had the engine I need. My follow-up question to all of them was the same: "What year is the donor Miata? Is the engine 1.8 or 2 liter? How many miles on it? Do you have leak-down test results and/or any other test results for this engine?"

Here's what some of the replies were:

We have many.
Are peace of mind & better choices important to you?
Does accurate mileage & a valid warranty matter?
To proceed, what do you plan to spend for condition, mileage & warranty you can verify?
ASK YOURSELF: "Can I afford to do this over & over, if the part is wrong, or fails sooner than I expected?"

Thank you for requesting a quote from D&J Auto Parts. We have the Engine you requested for 1999 Mazda Car - MX-5 Miata, in stock. All parts come with a 90 day warranty. We try to beat any vendor's price. Please call XXX-XXX-XXXX

Yes we have a nice low mileage engine in stock. All our motors are cleaned and inspected by our most qualified technicians. Our motors are compressioned checked, leaked down checked , palletized,and ready to ship same day. The cost of the engine you requested is $_____. If you have any questions please feel free to call our toll free number XXX-XXX-XXXX.

It is of course encouraging to see people comfortable with copy-and-paste functionality, however their use of it did not bring me any closer to knowing whether they had what I wanted.

And the quest continues.


Flyin' Miata: UR DOIN IT RITE

My loyal reader will remember the famed Ground Control springs I purchased at Flyin Miata a while ago. Well guess what, yesterday I got a little present from FM--a complimentary issue of Grassroots Motorsports magazine. Not much, I know, but in this case it's the thought that counts. Totally sweet of them to do this.

Now if you are truly a loyal reader, then you know that I am looking to upgrade my bump stops, and while I'm at it, I thought I could get some new dust boots, because the stockers don't fit with the new springs. So I just sent an email to FM last night, asking whether they had any boots that would fit me, and guess what, first thing in the (Pacific-time) morning I got a response, with a recommendation:

I would suggest getting our polyurethane bump stops and shock boots. The shock boots aren't the most thorough boots ever, but they work well enough. We include these bump stops with all of our suspension packages, as they're a softer durometer, so they don't bottom out quite as violently. I hope this helps, let me know if there's anything else I can do for you.

Granted, these stops look like quite a bit longer than the Fat Cat 36mm ones, but they do sound a mite harsh, so I will think about it. Maybe give FM guys a call or email them again, because they have been nothing but helpful, while FCM guys took two voice messages and one email to respond to the same simple question. So I wonder should I rather take my business to the guys who have the part I am infatuated with or the guys who'd help me when I need advice.

Guess where I'm leaning to ;)


Wrapped exhaust header

If you are wondering why I would spend close to $80 and about two hours wrapping my exhaust headers in what looks like coarse burlap, read on, and I will tell you all about it!

When I bought the car back in 2006, its stock exhaust manifold (made of cast iron) was cracked and the seller graciously helped me install a new one, made of stainless steel. It looks spiffer than the stocker part, is much lighter, and supposedly enhances the exhaust flow, thus improving engine performance. It also gets very hot. Very very hot. And my car has no heat shield.

This provides for a very toasty climate underhood and effectively turns my famed cold air intake into hot air intake. In summer, this contributes to engine pinging (so the theory goes). So what's a girl to do?

I have been thinking about it for a while, but with all the other improvements on the car this year, something as prosaic as exhaust wrap did not make it far up the priority list. At very long last I bought some DEI fiberglass composite wrap, plus some steel ties and silicone sealant and wrapped as much of the header as I could reach without taking the exhaust off the car.

Fiberglass particles went flying everywhere, so I was wearing goggles, gloves, and a breath mask. It took me about 1.5 hours to finish wrapping, now the car needed to be taken on the road to get the wrap dry before it could be coated with the silicone spray.

I needed to run some errands, and by the time I got home it was too dark to spray anything, so I guess I will have to finish the job later this week, after work.



Triad event at Greensboro Coliseum 2008-09-07

Folks, I waited long enough to post the course map to have it go with the results, but a week later the results have not been published, so I will simply add them to the blog when they become available.

The autocross was not too bad for me, and I improved my times almost a full 2 seconds from the first to best run.

I am feeling like I am being too timid on the course once again, all my runs but one being clean if memory serves. So tomorrow at the Tarheels event in Laurinburg my sole goal will be to overcome the timidity and to go fast.

Cones, beware.


:: LinuxWorld in sight [SEP 2004]

This post is migrated from my old personal page on people.redhat.com. If it annoys you to see old news, too bad.

It's approaching fast - the LinuxWorld Expo marathon.

We will start with the Expo in Milan, on September 22-24, then proceed to London on October 6-7, then to Utrecht, Netherlands on October 13-14, and finally conclude the run in Frankfurt-Main on October 26-28.

It promises to be great fun and I hope to be able to take some interesting pictures to publish here.

Cleaning out my storage

The more spiff stuff I add to the car, the more stock parts accumulate in my storage. Yesterday night I decided, "To hell with it!" and put all of the leftover parts up for sale on craigslist.org

Here's what I am trying to get rid of:

So far, no line has formed outside my condo to claim the parts, but it has been less than 24 hours since I posted them.


WANT! Fat Cat Motorsports Bump Stops

So since I upgraded the springs a while ago, the suspension must have settled, and the car came to rest firmly on the bump stops. That's not what it supposed to do, because suspension, no matter how stiff, needs some travel before hitting the stops in order to do its job.

Tomorrow I am going to an autocross, so I had to raise the car today, and it just so happened that I had to do it in the middle of tropical storm Hannah passing over Raleigh.

Granted, the storm turned out to be just heavy rain, flooding and blocking some roads and houses, but no strong winds or anything truly dangerous like that.

However, I have no garage, and with the steady rain the prospect of pulling the wheels and adjusting the spring perch height in my subdivision's parking lot did not appeal to me much. So my solution was to drive to my company's parking garage which would offer shelter, light, as well as close-to-level floor, which is always a plus when fiddling with ride height.

On the way there, I have encountered a few flooded roads and had to take a couple improvised detours, but otherwise got there without any trouble.

Rain water rivulets on the parking garage floor helped me find the most level area to camp out in and the work started. I raised the rear approximately 9mm (3/8in) and the front 6mm (7/32in). Also checked tire pressure and put some air in them.

On the way back, it seems the ride has become a little less harsh. Now, with stiffened suspension, I doubt it will ever be cushy, but the car seemed to rattle less and actually handle better. I will try it out in Greenville tomorrow, and I suspect that I'll have to raise the car another notch.

Now, raising the car is only one of two possible ways of dealing with the bump stops issue. Using shorter stops is another. When upgrading the springs, I have trimmed about 1/2in (13mm) from the stock stops that were on the car according to the spring manufacturer recommendation. That left them at about 2.5in (63mm) length if memory serves. If I keep cutting them, the material might not be resilient enough to absorb impact effectively and I could damage the shock absorbers.

Also, I can't really shave the stops while they are on the car, out of fear of damaging the shock absorber shafts, which effectively means that I need to pull all four shocks off the car again. While I'm at it, I think I might just as well put 36mm performance stops in, and also go for an upgrade of the shock mount bushings and put some dust boots on (stock ones don't fit with new springs). And I pretty much have my mind set on the Fat Cat Motorsports products. That's going to be about $120 in parts and another day working on the car, but hopefully I will be able to keep the car lower to the ground than stock.


AT&T comes through

So about that new phone. It arrived today, but of course nothing is simple in this world, so the new device did not have SyncML client to copy my contacts from ScheduleWorld. Since the SIM card in the old phone was too small to hold all contacts, plus the RAZR did not offer the option to only see one set (the ones stored on your phone OR the ones on your SIM), I stored them all on the phone only, and so my only accessible copy of the data was not usable.

After mucking around with USB cables (won't mount under Linux or Mac OS X) and various ways to get to the sync via internet services, I ended up going to the AT&T store where an extremely helpful customer service agent helped me until 15 minutes past closing time, until we found a sample phone in the store that had SyncML client on it, so I could

  1. Sync the contacts onto the sample device using my SIM card,
  2. then move my contacts to the SIMcard,
  3. and finally copy them from there to my new Sony Ericsson device seen on the left.

It took us about 30-35 minutes, and the CS agent went way above and beyond of what his job description was, and I am one happy phone owner now.

Plus: The new phone only shows one set of contacts and automatically stores a copy on the SIM card.


Confused by Obama campaign

Now that it weird.

There is no way to access the Obama campaign web site without surrendering your email address and your ZIP code.

Where the hell are his usability folks looking?

Later edit:
Apparently, if you retype the address and hit enter, you get put through to the actual site. Still, piss-poor way to treat your users.


Skirt! magazine

This post is about the magick art of stretching a minimum of quasi-feminist platitudes to sell almost twice as much ad space as there is editorial content.

Yotsuba&!.. Whatever that means

Casey made me read Yotsuba&!, allegedly to educate me.

No idea what I'm being educated in, but I'm half done with the book.

I am still not sure what it is really about, and whether I ever were the intended audience. I don't even know what I think about it yet, or what I might think about it once I'm done with it, but it sure is weird.


National Gallery of Art Cell Phone Tour: If you can't beat them, join them!

If you're like me, you don't want your enjoyment of art to be interrupted by cell phones ringing or people yapping away on their phones. Now this is something remarkable though, and I really liked the way the National Gallery of Art in Washington has turned this potentially disturbing medium into a useful addition to their offerings. Instead of borrowing an audio-tour piece from the front desk, you can dial a local phone number and punch in the number of the exhibit to learn about it.

Only a small selection of works has this option at this time, but nevertheless, I find this innovation really worth mentioning.


Google Chrome comic: Perfect geek to human translation

Say what you like about Chrome's features and Google's world domination ambitions, but this is the way to explain to users and the community why you think what you do is cool and useful. AND do all this without dumbing it down or geeking them out entirely. Fedora marketing group can learn a lot from this, even though being a hired-gun marketeer myself I know what kind of effort and coordination it takes to produce material of this size and quality.

My cell phone is dead. Long live new cell phone!

So after my fifth Motorola RAZR gave up its ghost, I think I have finally learned the lesson and picked a different phone: Sony Ericsson w350.

I had to sell my immortal soul to AT&T for two further years to get the phone for free. Inexplicably, only the ice blue version was offered for $0 with an upgrade, other colors cost $29.99, once again showing that some people are willing to spend palpable amounts of money on things as ephemeral as color of their cell phones.

Since my two-year contract with the devil has run out in June, I was toying with the idea of switching providers, but AT&T is the only cell phone carrier who offers GSM/GPRS compatible phones and service in Europe out of the box for no additional charge, just crazy expensive minute rate. So after looking at a few others I resigned myself to AT&T once again.

The selection of the phone was not very hard, and I am hoping the new device will turn out to be as good as it looks on the web. Supposedly, it has up to 7 hours talk time, while being comparable in size and weight to the infamous RAZR.

Like that would matter to me, it can also play MP3s and radio. I guess I can get used to this extra functionality, but then again, I already have an iPod nano I hardly ever listen to...

I ordered the phone online and it should arrive tomorrow or Thursday. In the meantime, I have no cell phone and am enjoying the life without my electronic leash.