Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Grandfather Mountain becomes a NC State Park

Hugh Morton was one of the greatest North Carolinians ever. He truly loved everything about our state, and made sure he did what he could to preserve it with his work at Grandfather Mountain. Sadly, Hugh died in 2006 and the mountain passed to his heirs. I worried then that perhaps his heirs might not be as good at being stewards of such a majestic place, but at the same time I felt like any heirs of someone as great as Hugh must have enough of what Hugh had to want to protect it. As I visited the mountain over the last two years I was very happy to see little had changed except the items put in motion by Hugh before his passing. I even exchanged reassuring emails with one of those heirs.

Now comes the news that the heirs have sold the mountain to the state of North Carolina and Governor Mike Easley has made sure it will become a state park. This should eternally protect the mountain from development while keeping it open for tourists to continue to do what I did, and that's grow up with a great family vacation destination right in their back yard. Thank you to Governor Easley and the legislature of North Carolina. For more on this story, see the WRAL news video here.

In that video, you will note a brief comment from Hugh Morton that just says "Wiseman's View." I don't know how that made it in the editing of the story, but Wiseman's View is not part of Grandfather Mountain. It is yet another of many great overlooks in the mountains of NC, and one I highly recommend to anyone visiting the NC mountains and the areas around Grandfather in particular. Be warned that it is a long drive down a fairly rugged dirt road, but it's usually passable by car (stop at the ranger station on your way in and ask to be sure), but almost always passable by SUV or truck. More info below...

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Side Effects

So a good friend is having some sleeping trouble and thus taking Ambien CR. She gave me the side effect warning label. Part of it reads:

"Sleep-Driving" and other complex behaviors: There have been reports of people getting out of bed after taking a sleep medicine and driving their cars while not fully awake, often with no memory of the event. If you experience such an event, it should be reported to your doctor immediately, since "sleep-driving" can be dangerous.
Well no kidding! But wait, there's more!

This behavior is more likely to occur when Ambien CR is taken with alcohol or other drugs such as those for the treatment of depression or anxiety. Other complex behaviors such as preparing and eating food, making phone calls, or having sex have been reported in people who are not fully awake after taking a sleep medicine. As with "sleep-driving", people usually do not remember these events.

This is kind of funny on a lot of levels, but I think my favorite is how "having sex" is equated as a "complex behavior" with eating and making a phone call. And in searching around for pics to use for this blog entry I found this little gem:

Talk about something that would sell! Too bad the warning label gets in the way.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman passes at 83

There are some people who seem ageless and immortal, and Paul Newman was one of those precious few. You can read any number of news articles today profiling his life and achievements (which included a fifth place in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and, more impressively, a second place at Le Mans...he was quite a race car driver). I just want to say simply that I will miss not only his work, but his amazing vigor for life. He was truly an amazing American artist who brought joy to people's lives in many ways, and his philanthropic endeavors are legendary.

The following snippet from The Late Show with David Letterman is a classic piece of Paul Newman. I loved every appearance he made on that show, and it's because it was almost always something like this.

Paul, I wish I could have known you personally.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Art versus Commerce

Heard an interview on an XM station with a country artist and songwriter a few minutes ago. Sadly, I have no idea who it was because I didn't stick around that long and jumped in during the middle, but the lady had a nice way of putting the struggle that artists face when trying to make a living at art. Three simple words: Art versus commerce.

What she was referring to was the fact that artists must often try to decide between doing something they find rewarding and doing something they think others will find rewarding enough to purchase. Fortunately for me I have no artistic ability so I don't have any such struggles, but I can sympathize with those that do.

But this leads me to a small rant, and that is the association here between art versus commerce and government spending on art. Government spending on art? That's right, the government buys art, and in increasingly large dollar amounts. Many cities now have ordinances requiring all large building projects include some percentage in their budgets for art. Like in Charlotte, NC, they apparently had to spend some percentage of the money that went to the new light rail system on art. That system cost quite a bit of money, so they had to spend quite a bit on art. Problem here is there's no process for how to find good art. But what's worse than that is that even if there is a process, it's likely to never be met with much popular appeal. Why? Because while most people like spending some amount of money on art they like, most people also don't like being forced to spend money on art even if it DID happen to be something they like. And I think most people see government spending on art as forced spending of THEIR hard earned tax dollars on something they probably wouldn't ever buy themselves.

So what is one to do? Not allow the government to spend money on art? Seems like a bit of a stretch there since one could consider any architecture style past "brutally basic" to be a form of art. Plus we need to be able to decorate our governor's mansions and have some pictures on the wall in our government buildings. But at the same time, I wonder about policies that force artwork into places where it probably just isn't going to be very welcome, like along a rail line. Nice landscaping is one thing, but trying to please most people with a big expensive piece of artwork is a recipe for disaster, I think.

Outside of the rant, I just found the art versus commerce line to be a very interesting one. Artists are obviously welcome to just do what they like and worry about money in some other way. And many artists not only choose but quite enjoy trying to find something that the masses will love enough to buy. There's nothing inherently wrong about either tact. It is fun to try to decode particular artists motives sometimes, however. The term "sell out" comes to mind...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Talk about a party foul!

Stealing a beer truck is one of those things every college boy jokes about. Okay, maybe not every college boy, but most of them. But this guy did it. He probably saw some serious hero status in his future, too. But boy did he screw it up.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Koni Challenge at Miller Motorsports Park

Well, my second race in Koni Challenge is in the record books. No, we didn't win, but I am proud to say we did fairly well given our situation. We thought the RX-8 might be a good car for this series, but it turns out we're finding we just won't be able to make enough horsepower to keep up. The car handles extremely well and is very fun to drive, but it just isn't very fun to have a Chevrolet Cobalt SS come rocketing up the straightaway by you only to watch him absolutely butcher the next corner (and you sometimes almost hit him because of it), and then rocket away from you out of the corner (even though you executed that corner much better than he did!).

We were also concerned that we wouldn't get quite good enough fuel mileage in the RX-8 for this particular length of event (two hours and thirty minutes) to do the race on a single stop. We should have probably tried it anyway, but that seemed high risk so we didn't. That meant we had to do two fuel stops during the race when most of the other cars only did one.

The weekend started out with Jason doing the first test session and feeling like he put some pretty good times in with something like high 3:18's. Then he had to leave to fly out for a test with his other team for the rest of that day and the next, so that left me with three sessions to do by myself (and with the help of the rest of his awesome Team MER crew). In my afternoon session that day the best I could do was a low 3:25. Not good. I wasn't feeling terribly well before getting in the car, so I think that contributed. Also, the car setup had been changed dramatically since I last drove it...then it was very much prone to oversteer and now it's very much prone to understeer. This situation is much better, it was just something I needed to get used to.

For those who don't know, oversteer is when your car tends to want to swing the rear end out due to a loss of traction at the rear tires (and NASCAR types call this "loose"). Some drivers like loose cars, most don't. Understeer is when you try to turn the car but it tends to keep doing straight instead thanks to a lack of traction at the front wheels (and NASCAR types call this "push"). Understeer is easier to manage in general because you can usually correct it by slowing the car which puts more weight on the front and gives you more grip there. Our car also happened to like to be loosened up by driving over the curbing at Miller Motorsports Park, so as long as you patiently drove it smooth down to the apex, you could pretty much get on the gas really hard at that point as the curbing would help rotate the car and avoid the understeer on corner exit.

Both sessions on Friday went fairly mediocre. Best I could muster in the first was a high 3:23 and the best in the second was a low 3:23. That second session was cut a little short for me as we had some power steering trouble that inexplicably just went away. I left on Friday somewhat disappointed in myself, that's for sure. I just didn't feel like I was in sync with the car, the track, or much of anything, and I didn't know why. Looking at the data we collect in the car for analysis later showed that I was generally just slowing the car down too much on corner entry. This was likely thanks to the fact that I'm so used to driving cars like the Spec Miata where it's more okay to brake, turn, and nail the gas all in quick succession. In this car you brake, turn, coast to the apex while still scrubbing speed thanks to the turning you're doing, and then go to the gas when you hit that curbing. Not that hard to actually execute, believe it or not, just hard to make myself execute, I guess. I'm stubborn.

Since we were going to have to do two fuel stops, we decided the best plan was to have Jason qualify and start the race, then I'd get in, and then he'd get back in to finish the race. That put our faster driver doing much more of the race, which is obviously a good thing. Jason qualified with a 3:19, I believe, and that was good enough for 23rd. Decent, but not great. Certainly better than I qualified us at Three Rivers, but the same as where we finished there.

The race start was clean and Jason drove well early, though we probably only got by one or two cars before a full course yellow came out about 21 minutes into the race. It takes two full laps under caution before the pits are open for our class, so it was going to be thirty minutes in before he could stop, which was in our first fuel window. That meant I needed to drive almost a full hour to get to the next fuel window, which sort of bugged me since I had been so slow thus far. But we didn't have much choice, so I jumped in and took off. Unfortunately, the pace car moves pretty fast and we couldn't quite catch the field on the four and a half mile track before the green flag came back out and we were racing again. That put me probably a minute behind the field and racing all by myself for a long time. That was annoying in some ways, but maybe good in others. My first lap was a 3:23, so that made me feel pretty good since I felt like that lap was kind of rusty and bad in a lot of places. So I kept working on every corner about eight or nine laps I was down into the 3:21's. Then a few laps later I popped off a high 3:20 followed by a few low 3:21's. I had finally gotten the hang of coasting with a lot of speed into the corners and using that curbing to help turn the car.

I was feeling good, but I knew when the radio clicked that I was fixing to be told my stint was over. Ugh! Oh well, all good things have to come to an end, I suppose. I was right, my time was up (and likely my fuel!), so I came into the pits and turned the car back over to Jason. I was fourteenth when I came in, but that was because we pitted so early during that caution and most everyone else stayed on track and then had to pit under green. But now we were pitting under green, so Jason went back out at 25th. He drove well and kept plugging away, though, to climb all the way back up to 20th, which I think was pretty dang good considering we had to make one more pit stop than everyone else, and even though it was during a caution it still didn't help us as much as it hurt since we couldn't catch up to the field under yellow. So you can say we probably lost an entire minute there, which is not so good.

But I'm very happy that my mostly depressing weekend turned very good at the end as I felt like I really got it together finally and turned in some good times. Being less than two seconds off Jason at a track this long is very good, especially since he's a race winner this season at this track in Speed World Challenge Touring Car, a very tough series filled with top professional drivers. Looking forward to the last Koni Challenge race of the season in two weeks at VIR! We should be a little closer to the faster cars at this track for a couple reasons, which will be nice. It's also a six hour race at a track I have a LOT of seat time at, which should be good.

Now for the best part...today's race will be on TV! Set your DVRs to record it from Speed Channel (DirecTV channel 607 and most cable systems carry it so check your local listings) at 11am on Oct 12.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I love quilts.

There's just something about a hand made quilt. It must be the sum total of everything...the fact that the design of a quilt is inherently comfortable combined with the fact that anyone hand making something like that is going to use good materials along with the fact that someone sweated over the thing for so many hours. I've rarely met a quilt I didn't like, but perhaps that comes from the fact that I grew up with so many around...

You see, my great grandmother Whisnant quilted most of her life away. She loved making them. She occasionally sold one, but I think most of them went to family. As I was growing up and would visit her I'd constantly ask "when do I get one?" to which she usually replied that she had to finish this one or that for someone who had been waiting longer than I had. So I waited patiently. Then one visit she presented me with a beautiful quilt with matching pillows. It was amazing. I was speechless. She asked if I liked it and I assured her it was awesome. At some point during that visit she made mention of me using it. Say WHAT? I replied that there was no way I could use it...it was too beautiful to take a chance at messing it up.

Now she was speechless. And somewhat confused, I think. So I added that I had waited a long time and she had spent MANY hours making this beautiful thing FOR ME. There was no way I could use it as I wanted to keep it forever, since we both knew she wouldn't be around too much longer and I needed it to help remember her by. She had outdone herself on this particular quilt, I thought, as it was a huge pattern of hexagons each only about two inches across. Too many hours went into it to simply use. This stymied her arguing about it, though I could tell it bothered her that her creation would not be getting used. We both moved on and I took my quilt home and vowed to have a place to proudly display it one day (we do now display it on the wall of our living room across an antique two-man saw that's about six feet long).

Imagine my surprise, when, at my next visit she presented me with ANOTHER quilt! This one was what I'll term a "quicky" as it was simply two layers of cotton fabric with a thin layer of batting in the middle and was stitched in about six inch squares. It was also HUGE. She said I could have this one, too, but only if I promised to USE this one. I shook my head in agreement, gave her a hug, and gladly accepted it. I used it all through college and still occasionally use it to this day. It's a prized possession, but a promise is a promise. I really miss that lady.

Companies: Make recycling easier!

So to recycle paper and cardboard products, they need to be as void of non-paper products as possible. Given that, why do companies insist on making packaging that's so hard to separate? Take Puffs tissue, for example (and there are many more). On the bottom of the box they proudly proclaim "Made from 100% recycled cardboard." Great. But why do they insist on that little plastic piece inside the top to help you dispense the tissues? Surely there is a way to achieve the same thing without the plastic. It's annoying to have to remove. I do it, but how many people just don't bother and toss it in the trash instead? Or recycle it that way and cause problems at the recycling center?

Or maybe that tiny amount of plastic is no big deal and nobody bothers to tell us that. I do know that if the packaging were more homogeneous this would all be a lot easier. And I've already been ranting against blister packs entirely, so other than to say "they are the tool of the devil," I'll skip them for now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Of music collections, iPods, the Airport Extreme, and being a freak

So I've got a pretty good CD collection. My "system" is any time I get the urge that I need a particular CD, my trusty assistant gets it for me. She rips it to our MP3 server and emails me. I then add it to iTunes via our network and it gets sync'ed to my iPod automatically. Lovely little system.

My main computer is now an Apple MacBook Pro. I like it, but in Apple's infinite wisdom they choose to believe users don't need a docking station. This annoys me a little, because it means I have to plug and unplug USB cables and power every time I want to take the laptop from my desk and return it. Lenovo has always made a nice thin docking station with USB, sound, video, keyboard/mouse, and power and that's the ONLY thing I miss from the days of using Linux on a Thinkpad.

Now, I can use a USB hub and only ever have to plug/unplug one USB cable. And Apple does have this AWESOME little magnetic power connector, so power is very easy. I'm fine with the built in screen/keyboard/mouse, so I don't need that stuff. That just leaves sound. This is where I turn into that, uh, occasional geek. Apple has another product called the Airport Extreme. It's a neat little box that can do things like be your wifi router. But it also has a sound port. And if you have an existing wifi network you can make it a client and then plug it into a set of amplified speakers and it becomes a remote sound output device for iTunes. Neat little trick for streaming audio to your stereo system if you like.

For me, this means I can have "wireless" speakers. That's a neat trick for me, since the way my office is laid out I prefer to have my music speakers behind me across the room on some built in shelves. So I plugged in an Airport Express there and hooked up some nice amplified speakers. Took a little doing to get it working (see that previous blog post about support issues, standards, and voodoo?), but Troy figured it out.

So where does "being a freak" come in? Well, for some reason I have a mental block. I hate selecting my own music. I can't make myself make playlists. I hate digging through my album or artist lists. I don't know what it is. I love music. I love my music collection. I just don't love going through it. So once I got this great setup, I still didn't care because I still had to go pick the music. I'll do it in the car with the iPod because when I'm driving I feel like I have nothing else to do anyway. But on the computer there's this whole great Internet thing, and well, I'll just surf with no music before I'll bother picking it. Freak.

But just a few days ago I had to subscribe to Sirius Satellite Radio for Ashley's new Jeep (it came with it). I've been an XM Radio subscriber and lover for a while. Part of the Sirius subscription is the ability to listen online, so that was fresh in my brain. Then it hit me. Listening to satellite radio is the bomb because I only have to pick a station, not actual music. I do that in the car a lot, too, so I had to do that.

One problem. The Airport Express only supports streaming from iTunes, not from any general application! UGH! But never fear, there's $25 shareware out there that will fix that and let you stream the sound output of any application (in this case, the web browser) to your Airport Express. Troy pointed me to that (or I would have never thought to look for it!) and it's working great. I'm digging some random tunes in my office.

And you might ask "why don't you just shuffle your iTunes collection?" Because I'm a freak who buys a good many albums only to find I like four songs and HATE the rest. And I don't like having to skip songs often. I'm nuts, I know.

The big plus of this scenario is that if I only ever listened to my great collection then it would get stagnant. At least with this exposure to satellite radio quite often (particularly at home where I can note what I'm listening to) will allow me to find and buy new music. But my mental block on making playlists and picking my own music still bugs me.

Technology and the Internet are forever intertwined

The more gadgets can do, the more complicated they get. It's the nature of the beast. We now have iPods that can surf the internet, control your TV, get you stock quotes, make telephone calls, show you movies, play games, stream live video, and, oh, play music. Being able to do all that is great, but it also requires interfacing with a lot of other things, not all of which are Apple products. So it uses standards and custom software and voodoo. And that's where the problems usually begin.

I used to pull my hair out for hours when something like that didn't work like I wanted to. These days, however, you can usually find the source of your problem through good internet searches. Sometimes it takes more than just Google to help as oftentimes you find that forums don't allow themselves to be Google archived. But forums themselves have search functions, so often you just need to find the defacto forum for whatever device you are having trouble with and search there. Usually someone else has had the problem already and has figured out how to fix it. I usually just Google for "gadgetname forum" when Google isn't giving me the info I want and go check the forum directly.

And even if you can't fix it that way, often you can post your problem to that forum and someone will help you. For free. This is the greatest thing about the Internet, and is a main reason, IMHO, that gadgets are getting so popular that do so many things. People feel comfortable they can work through issues. Companies don't have to deal with nearly as many support inquiries on their products. It's a great symbiotic relationship when you consider how many of these devices actually USE the internet in some way, too.

As web forum software gets better, this will only become that much easier. Once we get single login setups like openid.net for most forums, it will be even nicer. Life might be complicated in some ways by all these gadgets, but they do make it better in some ways, and the complications are getting smaller and smaller. Or larger and larger with easier and easier fixes. I'm not sure which.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Racing Schedule Update

For those wondering where to find me on the weekend, here's a rundown of where I'll be.
That's probably it for 2008, too. Seems like a lot except for the fact that the year doesn't seem like it should be nearly over. And yes, I'm driving from Topeka to Tooele from Wednesday late afternoon to Thursday by mid-day. Ugh. That's 1000 miles. Across the rockies. In a motorcoach with a big trailer behind it. Yay!

The MX-5 Cup race will probably be televised within a week or so after it happens. The Koni Challenge races may both be televised on Speed Channel in a tape delayed (and likely edited) fashion, too. And I believe I will have both family and friends present for the MX-5 Cup race! That's pretty cool since it's a long ways away. Can't wait!


He's not much of a talent at all unless he actually writes some of his own stuff (and he may), but even that is just lyric writing talent for rap music (which I do have some respect for, mind you). What really drives me nuts is he seems able to release one song every couple of years that they claim is country, really isn't, but the country world goes APE for. Like the one with Cheryl Crowe a couple years ago. I loved it when it first came out, but then the country stations played it every hour for months until I wanted to wretch.

Now we have his latest country foray, All Summer Long. The first time I heard it I went "hey, what a ripoff! That's Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon!" Go hit both on those Youtube links. Basically, All Summer Long takes the main tune from Werewolves and mixes in the guitar riffs from Sweet Home Alabama. I don't think the SWA thing is a ripoff since there's an SWA line in the song, so it's more like paying homage. But the main tune? Judge for yourself.

And then tell me what in the world makes this COUNTRY??? And, as usual, country stations are bowing to the pressure of every redneck in America requesting it OVER and OVER and OVER. Just shoot me now. I don't know who said it, but Kid Rock is living proof that "nobody ever went broke underestimating the American taste." Robert D. Raeford says that a lot on John Boy and Billy's radio show, but I'm pretty sure I've heard him say he swiped the line from someone. And yes, the picture I grabbed for this blog entry came from an actual MUG SHOT of Kid Rock. I better not hear anyone say they're surprised.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Snowman joins Smokey

The world lost a great entertainer today, Jerry Reed. I think he's best known as "Snowman" in Smokey and the Bandit (I may have mentioned that's the greatest movie ever made once or twice), but he was much more than just that. A great songwriter, singer, stage performer, and actor. I actually saw him in concert when I was a kid in Charlotte. Another one that will be missed. Godspeed, Jerry.

Lohan gets political on blog

So 22 year old in-and-out of trouble Lindsay Lohan is getting political on her blog. Apparently some journalist thought that was newsworthy, but I think it's just funny. There are a few outspoken and enlightened people in Hollywood (even though I disagree with most of them, I'll give the ones who deserve it some respect), but poor Lohan is merely outspoken. I doubt you could find many people who actually care what she has to say past what soap-opera crap is going on in her life today (or tonight, which is usually the case).

Who's on first?

Here's the "official" write-up on that race I "lost" by .061 seconds. Rossini (the guy who built my motor!) ends up elevated from third to first thanks to the pit stop miscues by me and Bertok. Had I not been just a hair too fast, I would have been first. I'll take it!

SM... Who's on first, What's on second!

What an exciting SM race and O-what a last lap! But wait, paper is flying! Here's the situation--- He can't finish first because of a short pit penalty, but they can't finish first because they short pitted too. So let's put... no, no, you can't do that! That team was DQed because of (you guessed it) an illegal pit stop. Anyway, back to the race. We will sort all of this out in a minute.

On the green, Henry VanVurst found himself with an ill cam sensor and had to roll into the pit for a quick repair. Back on track, Cliff Brown led the first 16 laps of the highly competitive SM field, before making his mandatory 2 minute pit stop, while Ron Munnerlyn/Jerry Munnerlyn, Steve Bertok, Donnie Barnes, Ess White, and Michael Rossini all took a turn at 2nd place. Michael Rossini led the pack for laps 17 and 18 before coming in for his late race pit strategy. VanVurst had finally made it back to the front after his 1st lap stop, and led the last 4 laps of the SM field back to the finish line. Brown was running a close 2nd...that is until the last turn of the last lap. With the checker flying for the OA win, Brown found himself tangling with some other competitors and spun off course, while the SM entries of Bertok, Barnes, Rossini and White freight trained past. Brown was able to recover, and just barely nicked Jerry Malsam back to the line. And so it is, that is the way they finished on track.

Post race T&S results unfortunately showed that there were some short pit stops and one illegal stop. After much debate and several days of pouring over the situations and comparing them to the Official 2008 CCPS Rules, here is the way it officially ended up:

1st Michael Rossini
2nd Steve Bertok (Panic Motorsports)
3rd Donnie Barnes/Reid Allred (Tarheel Motorsports)
4th Estus White IV (E-4 Racing)
5th Cliff Brown (USMC)
6th Jerry Malsam (Dread Nought Racing)
7th Jerry Munnerlyn/Ron Munnerlyn (Jerry Munnerlyn)
8th Carl Cason Jr (Cason)
9th Mark Senior
10th Bill Cullen (Bill Cullen)
DNF Steve Fricker (St. Andrews Express Body Shop)
DQ Henry VanVurst (Rossini Racing Products)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Katrina versus Gustav TV coverage

Well, obviously Katrina "wins" the biggest storm award. But now that we have coverage of Gustav and the damage, TV outlets are mixing in pictures of Katrina damage. And they're often doing it badly, so it's hard to tell if they're showing you pictures of now or then. Note to TV production people: A little icon in the corner of footage of damage telling you which hurricane it is would be helpful. Thanks.