Sunday, August 31, 2008

How to start a Stihl

Stihl makes some of the best two stroke small engine machines in the world. Everything from leaf blowers to chainsaws to string trimmers. The best tip I ever got to nirvana when it comes to getting those small machines started is really simple.

Close the choke. Turn on switch. Do not touch throttle. Pull start cord. Should only take once or twice before it "hits." By that I mean it almost fires but doesn't. Open choke. Pull cord and it should start on the first or second try. Works for me EVERY SINGLE TIME. If you leave the choke closed, you will flood the carb and it won't start until you let it sit for a while. But follow those steps exactly and you'll be in two stroke nirvana, too. Probably works for other brands, but why would you buy another brand?!?

Many engines require the choke to be closed until it's completely started and warms up some. Not so with the Stihl. Just use it to get fuel to the carb, then open it up and it'll fire with no choke. And they just run forever if you keep a proper fuel mix in them.

This post is dedicated to Alisa, leaf blower lover.

Friday, August 29, 2008

My trip to the Emergency Room

Well, as some may know, a couple days ago we got six inches of rain in one day. That caused some random flooding around the ranch, but nothing terrible. The Haw River did come up over the banks, but we've seen much worse than this episode.

Apparently, however, a good long day of rain like that can make the bees somewhat energetic after it stops. And I'm allergic to bee stings. Not a good combination. I went down to our pond by the house to check on the damage done to our pier by the flooding. The pier was still wet and now sitting at about a 20 degree angle from horizontal. I had my cellphone in one hand and a cup of water in the other. I don't remember bumping anything as I went, but I must have bumped the post for our bell we have near the shore as I walked by it. I had just stepped onto the pier when I realized I was being stung on my leg and as I went to slap the bee I saw plenty more looking pretty excited around me. I have no idea what happened to the cup of water, but I slapped with both hands at bees and in the process slung my phone (a Blackberry 8830 World Phone) out of my hand. Fortunately I had a protective plastic case on it and fortunately it went toward shore and not toward water. I really didn't care much about it at the time, but as I tried to take off from the dock (and needed to turn around in the process while slapping bees), I busted my butt on the wet dock. At that point my phone was right beside my hand as I wen to get up, so I grabbed it and took off.

I ran into the house and immediately called Alisa at the barn to head to the house (Ashley was gone to town). I then found my venom suck kit and looked quickly for my epi-pen, which I didn't immediately find. Didn't need it yet, so I didn't worry about it. Also grabbed my bottle of Benadryl. Got the suck kit on one of the stings before Alisa got there, then got her help with the rest. I had one on each leg, one on my back near my arm pit, and I thought one on my head near my temple but actually inside the hair line. We got it on all of those for 30 seconds each.

I also just sat down and breathed deeply to get my heart rate back down. Very important step. Keeps things from getting circulated in the system so fast. Then once we had all the venom out we were gonna get, I quickly mis-read the dosage on the Benadryl bottle and took 75mg instead of 50mg. Probably not a bad thing. Then I found the epi-pen and sat down for a bit. Alisa was about to call my doctor to see what we should do when I started feeling pretty strange. I said skip it, let's just head to the ER. Off we go, with Alisa passing people on double yellow lines and me not really caring much. She did great, though I would have preferred she looked more at the road than at me. I didn't feel like talking, but it helped keep her eyes on the road, so I tried to anyway. I could feel my eyes getting a bit puffy and could actually feel what felt like some swelling inside my neck and chest, though it was REALLY minor and nothing that was affecting my breathing. So I just kept the epi-pen ready.

We got to the ER and they walked me back to the urgent care. Then the nurse looked at me again (and I seriously just mean she LOOKED at me) and said "uh, we should probably take you on over to the "main" room" or something like that. Okay, off we went. They were pretty quick to attend to me, but in the end all that happened was they hooked me up to some monitors, put an IV in me that they never connected to anything, drew some blood they never sent to a lab, and gave me some prednisone orally and just watched me. While the benadryl had me pretty lethargic, I pretty much just closed my eyes and zoned (I don't think I ever slept). Then they let me go home, where I pretty much just vegged the rest of the day in the theater. Went to bed at 11pm after watching NCSU take a beating in football (shocking!) and promptly woke up at 3:30am. Now it's almost 5:30am and I took some more benadryl before I wrote this. Time for more sleep finally, I think.

Oh, last thing. I don't mean to scare anyone, but apparently these stupid bee sting reactions get worse the more often you get stung. So now I have two epi-pens and may get more. And I already have venom suck kits tucked all over the place. If you know anyone with a bad hay allergy but hasn't been stung (or not since a kid...I was stung as a kid and this wasn't an issue), they should probably look into keeping a suck kit around, liquid benadryl on hand, and study the issue. They probably don't need an epi-pen yet, but they should take any sting seriously and be ready to head to the ER at the FIRST sign of breathing problems. Heck, I'd go if you just start breaking out anywhere NOT near the actual sting. That's a sign that breathing problems could be on the way (though they may not...I had a sting when I was 15 that broke me out all over, but some benadryl took care of that one). And if you use an epi-pen, GO TO THE ER ANYWAY. Those can fix the sting problem, but may cause other minor problems. And they'll probably want you on prednisone, too. (Hay allergies don't mean you are definitely allergic to bee stings, but they are strongly linked from what I've heard. Research!)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Missed first by .061 seconds!

I had an interesting weekend this past weekend. You might want to get a snack and perhaps a drink for this one. Oh, maybe hit the bathroom, too. We might be here a while.

It all started Thursday. Reid and Jeff loaded up a race car and I packed my stuff into my motorcoach and we headed to lovely Kershaw, SC. Nestled amidst the pulp wood farms is Carolina Motorsports Park, a road racing course. It took us over four hours to get there thanks to a killer traffic jam on I-85. But we got there around dark and got a good bit of stuff unloaded. CMP doesn't have any RV connections, but my coach is pretty self sufficient if you start with enough fuel and water (which we did).

Around midnight we were pretty much ready to hit the sack when I found the water pressure dwindling. Ugh. Turns out the water pump wasn't working. So basically I had a couple hundred gallons of water that I had no way to use. I poked and prodded at things for an hour in the dark before giving up for the night and finally getting in bed after 1am. Didn't sleep much that night and got up at 6:30am.

A daylight inspection of the water pump situation allowed me to find what I needed to get it working again. Good way to start the day. Then I went and found Tom Fowler of OPM Autosports who was delivering my new Spec Miata to me that they built. It's a '99, which seems likely to be the car to have at most tracks in Spec Miata racing.

Reid got there and we got the cars ready. Brian Smith rented my 1.6L Miata for the National race and so he did a couple sessions in it to get the feel of the car. I took my new car out with him to do some lead follow stuff and learn a little. I did four sessions total in the car and was about a second back from Brian, which is pretty good since he lives at CMP for the most part and is an incredibly talented driver and coach.

Then I took a shower in the coach and loaded up in my truck to head to Katie's wedding in Warrenton, NC. That's 250 miles away from Kershaw. Ugh. Got there near 10pm to find that the room we had to sleep in was about 80F. I don't sleep well when it's warm, so that was quite annoying. I tossed and turned but got enough sleep to be serviceable the next day, which was good since I was an usher in the 10am wedding.

The wedding went off without any serious hitches and was quite fun. They had a HUGE rope swing that we all had fun on, but we had the most fun seeing how high we could swing Kevin. Oh, and when I say huge, I really mean the size of the rope itself was huge. Like 4 inches in diameter. If anyone knows how to find rope that big, email me or post a comment. I need large rope. Bad.

Welcome to the family, Sean!

I left there about 1:30pm to head back to Kershaw and got there right at 5:30. Came in to find the AC and generator situation on the coach wasn't really quite right. Took a quick stab at that situation and then left with Jeff, Kate, and Jim to go eat supper. We had an all-too-slow meal at the Bantam Chef in Kershaw. NOT RECOMMENDED. Just do the Bojangles or Subway across the street when in Kershaw and requiring food. Better is to bring your own food or do the 20 miles to Camden (which has a Zaxby' Alisa said, any place with Texas Toast by default can't be bad).

Got back to the coach to find things were still wonky. Got on the phone with Featherlite's customer support folks and after an hour of digging found the source of the problem. Got it somewhat worked around enough to get it cool enough to sleep and got into bed. Got decent sleep before having to get up again at 6:30am. Had to make it to registration at 7am and then be ready to get on track at 7:45 for my first qualifying session. This one was for the Carolina Cup Pro Series enduro. Went out and did a 1:53.0, which I felt pretty good about. That ended up being good enough for fourth in the race. That was in the 1.6L car.

Then came back in and went out to qualify for the National. Trying to hang with Brian some and did some lead-follow with him able to talk to me on the radio. I got a 1:53.1 in that session, which wasn't great, but decent. Again, fourth in class. Brian was second in class by just a couple tenths that he probably could have gotten out of the 1.6L (I was in the 1.8L).

We ran the National race right after lunch. This is a 20 lap race. I got a pretty good start and got by the third place qualifier. He dogged me for a while, but eventually made some mistakes and I finished the race third in fairly boring fashion. The first two cars checked out and so I just ran consistent laps and kept it clean for my first road racing podium finish by myself (I drove on the winning 13 Hour enduro team at VIR in 2005, but that was four of us).

Then we had an hour break before the CCPS race. That's a 45 minute race with a mandatory two minute pit stop. You can do this race with a partner and change drivers during that pit stop, but few people bother. Most people just stop, hang out for a while, then go back on track. The key here is that they don't actually time your pit stop as they don't have the staff to do it for everyone. So they figure it like this...they figure eleven seconds for your pit road transfer speed (it takes that long to go from one end to the other at 40MPH, the max allowed speed) and add two minutes to that and then add your fastest race lap time. Then they look at the lap chart after the race and find your pit stop lap time. It must be greater than that total. If not, you get penalized.

Why does all this matter? I'm getting there. The guy who won the National was the pole sitter in the race. His car developed a problem on the "out lap" of the race (the lap you take before you take the green flag to start the race). So he did his pit stop on the first lap and had his son fix it while he did his two minutes. Apparently it was something dumb like a plug that came undone or whatever, so it was an easy and complete fix. He went back out and finished first. Unfortunately for him, however, you are not allowed to make your mandatory stop on the first lap (there's a good reason, but it's a long explanation I won't bore you with). He didn't know that, and that caused him to get disqualified.

On that race start, however, I screwed up big time. I was looking at the bumpers of the cars in front of me for a hole to dive into and forgot about the "kink" on the front straight. I was way on the outside and by the time I realized I needed to turn I was out on the "marbles" (the dirt and rubber that accumulates just off the racing line) and just about couldn't get the car turned. I slid it sideways before slowing some and collecting it. Didn't go off or hit anything, but I lost enough speed that a BUNCH of cars went by me. Ugh.

So I put my nose down and started passing people. Took me a while, but eventually I was in fourth on track with a couple laps to go and closed in on second and third. They were racing hard and second place (Cliff Brown) went off and that was the last we saw of him. I lost some ground on the new second place guy (Steve Bertok), but still had some time. I was within a second of him but couldn't get any closer as we got the checkered flag.

We went to impound where the guy who finished first learned of his error. He took it well and understood the rationale behind the rule. Then myself and the new winner got called to timing and scoring to learn our pit stops were "too" fast. His was by 2.5 seconds, which is pretty big. Mine was a whopping .061 seconds! UGH! The standard penalty for anyone three seconds or less too fast is loss of one finish position. so he got second and me third (which is ironic since that's how we finished on track anyway). I'm not even sure who ended up with the actual win.

But I got my first two solo podium finishes, and if I had sat on pit road an extra TENTH of a second -or- if my fastest race lap had been a tenth slower, I would have been the winner. Oh well, such is life. There was probably a hundred bucks in prize money I lost or something, but that's it. I'll take it and be pretty happy with the weekend.

You are now free to move about the cabin.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Memo to "forward-slash" users

There is no such thing as a "forward-slash." There is a slash and a backslash. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less. Yes, NBC, THIS MEANS YOU. The fine folks from Oxford agree with me, so why can't the popular media get it?

First Koni Challenge race is in the books!

Well, qualifying didn't go so well. I went seven tenths of a second faster than yesterday, but everyone got a lot faster than that. I never had but one clean lap and honestly was really working on just trying to fine tune myself to the course and the car and let the times come. But it didn't really come like it should have and I qualified us dead last on the grid. That's a completely new thing for me...I've been at the back before, but never last. It was only by fifteen thousandths, and the last excuse I have is that the entire rest of the field appeared to be on brand new tires and I was on used rubber (one session yesterday, but that can be a big deal sometimes).

But the race is a long one, so qualifying isn't terribly important anyway...

So I started from the back, but quickly picked off a bunch of folks in turn three. Everyone seemed to run pretty clean back where I was, but as the outside line stacked up I was able to jump to an inside line that worked pretty well to pick off a bunch of cars. Had a pretty long and interesting stint in the car. It was an hour and forty five minute race, and I think I went about 50 minutes. That last twenty was getting pretty hot as the rotary engine in the RX-8 is known for generating a LOT more heat than piston engines do. Combine that with the walled street course not allowing much fresh air into the track, and you have some fairly stifling conditions. I was pretty well soaked when I got out of the car.

I gained at least a few spots before handing the car off to Jason, and he gained a few more to get us to 22nd out of 34 qualifiers (only 33 started, however). The car was pretty loose and we're a bit down on power from where we should be, but all in all I was really happy for this since it was both Jason and my first Koni Challenge event and the first such event for this newly built car. The crew did a great job correcting a few minor glitches through the weekend, and the car will need a bit of body work thanks to some hard racing, but the car survived very well. We're pretty happy with how it went.

Next up, an SCCA National in Spec Miata at Carolina Motorsports Park next weekend in my new OPM Autosports '99 Miata. The next Koni Challenge race for Jason and I will be the race at Miller Motorsports Park in late September.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Practice day for Koni Challenge

Today's schedule had two practice sessions. The morning was a forty minute session and the afternoon a thirty minute session. The tentative plan for the morning was for Jason to start it, shake the car down some, then hand it over to me. That didn't work out terribly well as Jason had two different flat tires and some very minor contact with the wall that knocked the alignment out. By the time he figured out what he wanted, the session was almost over so he just finished it up.

We made some setup changes in the time in between and decided he should take it out for a few laps to start the second session, too. We also put new tires on it to see what those felt like versus the used ones we started practice on. Things went well and Jason turned the car over to me. Our driver change was fine and off I went...

I drove this track last year in an MX-5 Cup car, so I knew the track okay. Had to refamiliarize a bit and try to figure out the new car. The car seems very good with the exception of being a little unsettled going into turn one, but that's pretty normal for this track, so we'll probably just have to live with it. The bumps tend to make it difficult to trail the brakes into the corner at all without pitching the car sideways, but this car is very easy to keep under you, so it isn't worth bothering with.

I was a couple seconds off Jason's best times, but he has a lot more seat time at this track than me and a lot of talent, so that's not terribly surprising. The good news is that the data showed most of the time was being lost in two places, which is good. I can concentrate on those more tomorrow since I'll be the one running the entire twenty minute qualifying session. Then I'll start the one hour and forty five minute race. I'll run for at least thirty minutes and then turn the car over to Jason at the first full course caution or probably around 50 minutes, whichever comes first. Then he'll finish.

That's the plan assuming we have no mechanical issues, anyway.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Koni Challenge Debut This Weekend

Well, I'm off in a few minutes to lovely Canada. I'll be racing in the Koni Challenge race on Saturday at 1:30PM, EDT. You can follow the action online here. No TV for this race as of now, but it may be tape delayed later. I'll be partnered with Jason Saini, so look for one of us in the results (it should be listed with both names, but I have no idea what order they'll use).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Because we share the road with teens...

...let's make sure they can drive. Driver's Education classes don't cut it. More must be done. Seeing this project get funding is one way we can help. Kudos to The Tire Rack for sponsoring this project thus far. Let's get some free money for it from American Express, too!

Did you know?

Did you know the same person who wrote Sam & Dave's "Soul Man" was also the voice of "Chef" on the popular (and adult themed) "South Park" on Comedy Central? That was Isaac Hayes, who died today at the age of 65. Rest in peace, Chef. You will be missed on many levels. Your body of work speaks for itself.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Olympics Wish List

Just once I'd like to be watching the Olympics and when an American wins I want them to play the Jimi Hendrix version of the Star Spangled Banner. Just once.

Good Times on the Lake

So, Matt, John, Alan, and I are at the lake for the weekend having a little fun. Maybe too much fun. We hooked up the Manta-Ray behind the Waverunner and played a good bit with everyone taking turns before we got Matt on there with Alan driving. John was filming and I was driving the chase boat.

Matt got some good air before falling into the side of the Manta-Ray. Then he sort of gets stuck there and Alan wouldn't stop to let him up. Youtube isn't the greatest, but you can see his legs flailing. We've had lots of other good crashes and big air, but this is some of the better footage we got of air.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Another movie review double feature!

I guess I watch them in pairs. Got both of these watched while traveling on airplanes this past week. Man, I love that iPod Touch!

First up is Dan in Real Life. This is sort of a combination of a chick flick and long Seinfeld episode. It has some of the most awkward moments in it you can imagine. I mean I was almost in physical pain for the guy a couple times. It was that well done. I definitely recommend this one. Funny, warm, and well written.

Next up is The Great Debaters. This is a Harpo Productions film, which means Oprah had a big part in it. It's an excellent story of civil rights in the south, and has some amazing acting in it. It's a little bit long, but don't let that scare you. Totally worth the investment. I do think some of the wardrobe and setting was a tad over the top, but all in all it was a great movie.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Who owns your internet identity?

To answer this question, first we must define what your "internet identity" really even is. Is it your blog? Your web page? Your custom domain name? Well, technically it could be any or all of that and then some. But what I'm talking about is your email address. Seems relatively simple, doesn't it? Sure, but there are a lot of issues that people don't think about when it comes to how important their email address is.

Who owns your email address? You think you do? You might or you might not, it depends on the address. For example, everyone uses some sort of Internet Service Provider (ISP) to connect to the internet. In most cases that's your cable TV company or your telephone company via cablemodem or DSL. Many people use the email address that their ISP provides.

Many people also have internet access at work and were given an email address there so they use that for everything. And still others sign up for "free" email hosting at places like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo!, and even AOL (most started with AOL addresses when they had that as their dialup ISP but kept the AOL address after moving to some sort of high speed internet). A few folks use hosting services to register their own domain and then use those services (or even their own server somewhere) to host their email.

But none of that answers the question I asked of who owns your email address, does it? Nope. But it should make it a little more obvious that maybe you don't. Let's start with the places you should not use for your personal email. The worst two places I can think of are your ISP and your employer. How many people have the same ISP or the same employer forever? Not many. These things change. Why tie your personal life to a company that can terminate you or that you may want to terminate for a cheaper alternative? Don't do it. There are options.

The best thing to do is have a personal account either on your own server or hosting service (complicated, but if you want to truly own it, this is the best way) or go sign up for one of the free services. Which one? The best one I know of is Gmail. Hotmail is owned by Microsoft. Enough said. AOL is a strange company with a shaky foundation. Okay, I suppose, but they often have technical issues and don't always play well with other services. Yahoo! is likely to get bought by Microsoft, and even if not, they aren't much better than AOL in the technical department. Google is behind Gmail, and seem to be the best "steward" of free email services. They play very nicely with other services.

But why does this matter? Because your email address, unfortunately, really is your internet identity. When you sign up for a web forum or online banking or buy products online, everything is tied to your email address. Even if you select an actual "user id" on the system you're signing up for, that really gets tied to your email address because that's the only way you can retrieve or reset a lost password. What happens if you forget your password on an account you've signed up for but you've switched ISPs and thus email addresses in the meantime? You might be able to have your old ISP forward email, but what about a job change for those of you who use your work email? Most companies don't forward email for you simply because they don't want something work related getting out into the wild by accident. And guess what? You no longer work there and are thus now "in the wild" yourself, as far as they are concerned.

Gmail is free. They simply use keyword target advertising to have very easy to ignore advertisements on the sidebar of the web interface. But you can still use popular clients like the Mac Mail application, Outlook, Thunderbird, etc, to access Gmail and skip the ads. Google provides client applications for Blackberrys and other smart phones, too. And you can always log in via the web from anyone's computer. Yes, you are submitting your identity to the trust of Google, but for now I feel like that's a safe thing to do. Completely safe? No. But much safer than AOL, your employer, or your ISP.