Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Return to Oz

I got in the car this morning determined not to listen to Scissor Sisters. I dropped the iPod in the cradle, and after just 2 bars of Filthy/Gorgeous I was hooked. Damn that album just plain rocks. It takes me back to my childhood, before I began exploring music on my own.

I remember many late nights (and days, and mornings, and any time, really) of my dad sitting at the drawing-table, working on some illustration and blasting his favorite music from the 70's. There was Supertramp, Led Zeppelin, The Doobie Brothers, Bob Seger, David Bowie, and all of the great mega-bands, and all of it was brought to our house by XL102, that bastion of classic rock that blew the doors off Richmond for decades prior to its devolution into "The X".

A lot of the music was just too weird for me to enjoy. I never derived any pleasure from Elton John, and though I loved their power-ballads, Queen just didn't do it for me. The BG's were there, too, freaking me out with that guy's falsetto.

But I listened to this music for years and years, and my first personal interest in music came in a maniacal devotion to Pink Floyd. Then Led Zeppelin, and finally at age 15 I started liking new music, and rarely looked back.

Some months ago, however, something changed. Amanda picked up the Scissor Sisters album on a whim, and I at first had no truck with it. I started having "No Tits on the Radio" playing in my head one day last month, and have been stuck on that album ever since.

It's like Elton John, Supertramp, Queen, and the BG's got together for one great joint-album. They cover every aspect of the great 70's bands, omitting nothing, and adding a modern quasi-techno flair. It's awesome, and I can easily picture myself laying on the floor with artist's markers by my dad's drawing table.

I just can't get enough of this wacky throw-back. Is it that I really like the music, or that I pine for my lost youth? I cannot deny the strong sense of childhood that this music gives me, nor can I properly describe it fully. I see myself in the passenger seat of the Porsche 930, and--only when listening to this album--remember my dad exactly as he looked then. The feeling of nostalgia comes at me like a wave, and it's a wave I really enjoy.

I think they put some weird mind-control in the tracks.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Bad Habit

Music: Scissor Sisters
Movies: Batman Begins (rocks!!!)
TV: None, baby, I'm free!

I think I'm forming a bad habit. I like to drive my car, and I like to drive it hard. Two weekends this month, I've been drawn in by temptation, and put my car through the wringer. Twice we've driven West--RCM members and I-- to tackle some of the wild mountain roads that Virginia has to offer.

The first time we (Will, Samantha, Tony, and I) did Rte 250 from Staunton to the WV border. Very exciting stuff, with video! Yesterday, Chris and I hit Rte 56 from Vesuvius to Tyro. This was not as mind-bogglingly intense as Rte 250, but perhaps a bit more interesting, as there were beautiful vistas and sections that did not require 100% of your concentration to maneuver.

The bits in yellow are what we drove, and, once again, I got video. I forgot to use the G-meter for the first half, but lowered it on the way back up the mountain. Unfortunately, unless I can figure out how to lighten an area on the tape, it won't show up.

So why is this such a bad habit? Well, there's Lumpy, for one. It's not tremendously responsible of me to go putting my life on the line every couple of weekends when Lumpy is coming. Also, there's my loving and wonderful wife, who does not need to be my somber widow.

But there's an actual technical issue that makes this habit really bad from a financial standpoint: the brakes. My brakes have a rotor that is bolted on to a rotor-hat, unlike the stock system, where it's one piece. These bolts lie on the same plane as the ball-joints for the control arms, and, when not moving, are about 4mm away from that ball-joint. However, when turning hard, that distance is chopped as the suspension works, and there's a rapid-fire ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka as the bolts hit the ball-joint. This means there's friction, which means there's heat. I've read about one MINI where the control arm broke, and the car plowed into a curb. That guy was lucky: if I break a control arm on a mountain switch-back, I'm going over the edge or plowing into the mountain.

Somehow that doesn't appeal to me.

There are three options: grind down the ball-joint 1 or 2 mm (which will stop the rubbing and heat-transfer, but will also degrade the ball-joint's structural integrity), get different brakes, or find after-marked control arms.

None of these options are cheap, but all are preferable to major mechanical failure and potential bodily injury.

Lumpy: 11 weeks, 1 day.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The whole dang world's freaking out!

Jeff and Evelyn are getting married! Holy crap. Nobody told me the sky was falling, and I completely missed it.

I never thought I'd see the day, but I understand there was a lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, a rock, and much happiness.

You see, this is exciting because I've never been to the Caribbean. I think they'll want to get married on St. John, as they've vacationed there regularly. Amanda and I would otherwise completely overlook the Tropics and head straight for Europe, so this might be our one chance to laze under palm trees.

If we can get someone to watch Lumpy. 10 weeks, 1 day.


Ice>Link Plus is fully wired, looking pretty, and working (somewhat) like a champ. Amanda really enjoys the simplicity of sticking the iPod into the cradle and PRESTO!! it starts playing music. No more fiddling with searching for songs, no more needing to adjust the volume.

However, after updating the firmware, I can't get into the config. menus. Something of an irritation, there, but I figured out a way to trick it into playing albums: I start the album, lock the iPod, and put it on the cradle. The Ice>Link Plus cannot over-ride the lock. Yippee!

Now: harnesses or exhaust? Hmm...

Friday, June 17, 2005

Ice>Link, Weather, & Rallyes

Dad and I got together yesterday for what was supposed to be the simplest car-work in a long time: replace his rear sway-bar and install my Ice>Link. We got the car in the air, got the lug nuts off, and then proceeded to spend 20 minutes trying to beat the wheels off the car.

Dad has yellow powder-coated wheels to match his car. The powder-coating process added maybe 1 mil of material to the wheels, but it was enough to fuse those things in place. We tried a mallet, that didn't work. I tried pulling really hard; that didn't work. We put WD40 behind the wheels, left them to sit for about 10 minutes, came back, and kicked the crap out of the wheels. That worked.

Everything was cake from that point, except that it was just shy of 90 degrees. So I was a little sweaty. I made Dad put the horribly nasty grease in the new bushings, and we got the bright red sway-bar in place quickly. Rebuilding the suspension was a snap, but we found a major problem: there was a nail sticking out of one of his tires.

In a move that I still don't fully understand, Dad grabbed a set of pliers and yanked it out. Fsssssssssssssssssssssst. Getting it out turned out to be easier than putting it back in, but he got it in there.

Anyway, we realized that the yellow wheels should come off, at least long enough to get that tire patched. Fortunately, Dad had a set of identical silver wheels. Jacked up the front end, removed the lug nuts, and wham: same problem in the front -- the wheels just wouldn't budge. I broke the head off the mallet, tried kicking with all my might, and even (gently) tried prying against the strut with a breaker-bar. Egads.

So, to clear the head, I moved on to my Ice>Link. Dad got the battery disconnected, and I tore the dash panels apart quickly to extract the factory head unit. I was all proud of myself until I realized there was no way to connect the Ice>Link to the stereo. It has to be connected to the CD changer cables, which are routed to the trunk of the car. So that was Waste Of Time # 1.

I started fiddling with how to take the car's interior plastic panels apart, trying desperately not to take the whole car apart: Waste Of Time #2.

Turns out all of the interior panels, from the rear-most boot trim to the front foot-well, must be either removed or partially pulled out to route this stinking cable. I got it done, but I figure I spent about 1.5 hours of wasted time looking through the repair manual (which has wonderful mechanical illustrations, but NOTHING AT ALL on the actual routing of cables), tearing out the dash, and trying to be gentle.

It's all done, and it works very well, but it was a bitch. I'm charging for the next one.

But the weather! By the time I got home last night, it was in the mid-70's. What a change! We've been suffering under stiflingly hot upper 90's all week, and having the opportunity to motor around with the iPod playing and the windows down was just what the doctor ordered.

I just hope it stays nice for the rally. Oh, yeah, the rally...

So I come to find out that I might well have been cheating on the last rally. I've been using my car's on-board computer to get my average speed, and running in the "Stock" class. The SCCA rules are pretty specific about what equipment can be used, but then they get hazy on the area of pre-installed factory equipment. They only want you using the stock odometer in the stock position for Stock class, so I think I'm disqualified for that class, but there's an intermediate class called "Limited", which is restricted solely from using equipment that receives direct input from a distance-measuring device.

So here's my question: Does the OBC receive direct input from a distance-measuring device? It calculates average speed, and speed is the measure of distance over time. However, average speed is distance over time over time. So is it receiving direct input, or indirect input? If it's only taking the speedometer's reading and averaging it, then it's not direct input. If, however, it is constantly monitoring speed directly by wheel-rotation, then averaging it, then I don't even qualify for "Limited". That leaves me to run in the "Equipped" class, which just feels wrong. Of course, looking at the scores from last time, I'm guessing that's where I should be. I'd lose, that's for certain, but I don't want to cheat.

Ugh. I'm going to raise the protest against myself tomorrow, and see what the organizers have to say. I've mentioned my OBC to the coordinators in the past, and they saw no problem with it then.

9 weeks, 5 days.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


9 weeks, 2 days...
January 15.

Holy crap.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Denied no longer!

Amanda and I finally got to see Episode III last wednesday, and it was awesome. 28 years of torment rewarded at last...

I was particularly impressed with George's ability to tie the story in perfectly with Ep.'s IV - VI, and the wonderful bits of clarification about the appearances of the Sith Lords.

Also wonderfully done was the lighting and choreography of the light-saber duels. Rather than pan back and give a wide-angle shot of the intricacies of saber-battle, he puts you right up in the fight, letting the light dazzle your eyes, and give the impression that dueling with light-sabers is much more challenging than it has ever seemed. How could they fight with all of that light dancing in front of their eyes? Awesome.

Yes, there were some annoying bits, but it is, after all, Lucas dialog. And, when did R2D2 learn to fight? Or, better yet: when did he forget how to fight? The pluckiest thing we see him do in Ep.'s IV - VI is to fight Yoda over the food-stick.

Overall, I really enjoyed it. I would probably have been happier not watching Anakin successfully navigate a starship that had no control surfaces and no back-half (ergo, no engines) through the Coruscant atmosphere and onto a landing platform without any significant injury, but it's Star Wars. What can you do?

Hopefully I'll have some absurdly high resolution television by the time it comes out on DVD, so that I can get ultra-geeky when watching the series.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Star Wars

Movies: Unleashed - surprisingly good story and acting, wicked fight scenes - a must see for guys!
Music: Chevelle: This Kind of Thinking... - Lots of angst. The guy has a goobery voice, though...
Books: I think I'm going to take another stab at War of the Worlds.

Oh, yeah, baby: it's on. The Force will be with me this afternoon, at long last.

Amanda and I tried to see Star Wars on Friday, but all evening showings were sold out. This is why I try to avoid the early rush of opening weekends. We were disappointed, but wound up buying things that we needed for the house. So we really didn't lose.

But today I will not be denied.

I realized that I never wrote about our vacation. Sheesh, I suck.

Amanda and I celebrated 5 years of wedded bliss on May 19, the same day that Episode III came out. We celebrated in style, too, re-creating our honeymoon in Asheville, NC.

We spent a day at Chimney Rock Park, a privately owned natural treasure outside Asheville, where "The Last of the Mohicans" was filmed. We walked our little butts off, and treated ourselves to a nice meal in Asheville that night. Tupelo Honey was the restaurant, and the food and drink were quite good.

On our anniversary, we went to the Biltmore. 5 years ago, we took a tour of the house, wandered the grounds, and had a ball. This year, we were concerned about my ability to walk for hours (due to my spinal stenosis), so we took a different approach. We signed up for a tour, but rather than walk the grounds for hours, we also signed up for a carriage ride.

The tour was a "Behind the Scenes" tour, wherein we learned wild details about life at the Biltmore. For instance, areas that were open to guests were painted in a deep burgundy. Areas that were for servants were painted a sickly green. All bathrooms had marble thresholds, so that guests would not have to wonder if they were at a bathroom or another guest's room. All of the bathrooms (at least: the ones near the guest rooms) had pneumatic closers, so that sleeping guests would not be disturbed by the usage of the bathroom doors. Keyholes were covered to prevent drafts. Neat stuff.

The tour culminated in a tour of the utility area of the house. We got to see the refrigeration room, where ammonia was piped in to chill a below-ground tank. We saw the furnace room, where 3 enormous (and I really mean enormous) furnaces ran all the time in the colder months. We saw the electrical panels that Thomas Edison himself came to help install. We learned about the electrical wiring, which was DC, and required 1/2" thick cables with 6" of insulation at the most remote areas of the house, and the water systems, which were fed from local streams and could provide 40 psi to the top floors of the house.

All in all, it was a ridiculous achievement in engineering that the house was ever completed.

Then there was the carriage ride. I had thought that Amanda had reserved a private carriage ride. I was under this impression until we got to the stables. It had started raining shortly after we were done with our BtS tour, and we decided to drive to the stables a little early. The folks who worked in that area told us that if it didn't stop raining, they would cancel our ride. I asked why, since the carriage was covered. They looked at me like I was a space-alien and explained that the carriage was not covered. At that point I realized the 2-person carriage was not for us. Anyway, apparently the rain scared off everybody else who had signed up for the ride (Carriage rides cost $70 / couple, and are non-refundable -- yikes!), so we got our private ride after all.

It was really neat. We rode around to the back-side of the house, far away on a distant hill. On the way, we passed 2 families of deer, wild turkeys, and beautiful vistas. Then, upon the hill, we had a completely unimpeded view of the mountain-side of the house. What a sight! I think I enjoyed this trip to the Biltmore at least as much as the first one.

Then we recreated our very special dinner on the Sunset Terrace at the Grove Park Inn. The view overlooks the valley, and Asheville itself. Amanda timed our dinner so that we would get to watch the Sun set. Mother Nature, however, decided to up the ante on us: since we had wild torrential rain on our wedding day, she sent us a thunderstorm that took a couple of hours to come and go. We watched the lightning roll in across the mountains and "oohed" and "aahed" with everyone else on the Terrace. We love a good thunderstorm, and it really brought back some wonderful memories of our wedding.

On Friday, we went to the spa and had the "Couple's Retreat", which consists of a 50 minute massage for both, then they draw an aromatic bath and leave the room for another 50 minutes. It's worth mentioning that they also leave you a good bottle of champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries.


We then spent the rest of the day enjoying the environs of the spa: they have (in both the men's and women's sections) a dry sauna, a steam-room (with eucalyptus-infused steam), a contrast pool that consists of a 104-degree pool and a 65-degree dipping pool (this felt FANTASTIC after coming out of the sauna and the steam room). They also have (in the general men/women area) a regular lap-pool, a mineral pool (no chlorine, but lots of good minerals), a therapeutic waterfall (still mystified by exactly made it therapeutic, other than the fact that it felt really good), and an outdoor deck area with a hot-tub, cafe service, and another view of the valley below.

Talk about spoiled. I really would have been happy to have stayed there into the evening.

We brought back some art that we picked up in Asheville, and generally had an absolute blast.

I can't wait to go back, only this time I want to take a day-trip 100 miles West and drive The Dragon.