Friday, October 31, 2008

Did you know?

In the past 12 months, more US Marines were killed in motorcycle accidents than in the war in Iraq. This doesn't trivialize the war or the need to end it, but it is shockingly significant. I'm certainly in favor of having the freedom to ride a motorcycle if one desires, but there's clearly a problem here.

(That logo you see is for the Leathernecks Motorcycle Club.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The kid got what he deserved, and his parents are lying.

This could be one of my favorite news stories ever. Some guy in Chapel Hill kept having his McCain signs stolen out of his yard, so he wired them up to an electric fence charger AND put up small warning signs that he had done so. He also (obviously) puts a video camera in a nearby tree and captures not just this kid, but YET ANOTHER NEIGHBOR trying to steal his signs!

I don't care which side of the, err, fence you're on in this election, this kind of thing is despicable and wrong (unless, of course, you know the owner of the sign, are friends with the owner, and it's a SMALL joke). What's worse, I think, is that the parents of the kid just plain lied when they said he "just wanted to see how the sign was put together" or whatever. HE HAD AN OBAMA SIGN IN HIS HANDS! Sheesh. What a crock. At least own up to what your kid was doing! It's not enough they're teaching the kid to steal or deface the property of others, they're teaching him that it's okay to lie about it in a public medium. All I can say is WOW.

Check out the kid getting zapped for yourself. It's obvious that it was pretty harmless (and yes, I've been zapped by those and it's annoying, but the kid isn't burnt or scarred for life or anything).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Go vote!

That's all I have to say, EXCEPT to add a little rant. I'm sick of political advertisements in just about every form. Wouldn't it be cool if our DVRs and radios could somehow know that we've voted? And give us alternate advertising? So then not only do folks have an incentive to vote, they have an incentive to go vote early! How cool would that be? I dig it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug.

In this one, I was the windshield. I got really lucky in the Laguna race that this tire still held air fine after the wheel damage.

That happened with about 15 minutes to go in the race. It wasn't due to contact with any other cars, it was simply due to running over the new "turtles" that they've installed at Laguna inside of the normal rumble strips to keep people from short-cutting the turns in the gravel (which can be faster). The particular turtle I hit was in turn six, one of the fastest and most dangerous corners on the course. It actually sent the car up on the other two wheels a little and was quite an interesting ride. I was sure that I had done some damage and that it would result in a flat tire, but I felt it out for a little over a lap and it was fine, so I just kept motoring. You can't see in the picture, but the sidewall of the tire is actually bulged out a little where the rim edge is missing, too. Lucky, indeed.

Laguna racing wrap-up

About a week ago I put an end to my professional racing for 2008 with the Mazda MX-5 Cup season finale at Laguna Seca, which is near Monterey, CA. I raced there for the first time back in 2007 in the same series, and really enjoyed the track. I enjoyed it enough that I'd really like to race there every year, so hopefully I can find another arrive-and-drive scenario for 2009.

For this trip I was able to talk Ashley into going with me. That wasn't hard since she had never been to California at all, and northern California has so much interesting stuff to offer. We got a really nice room on the ocean at the Spindrift Inn right on Cannery Row in Monterey for the first couple nights. That was perfect as it let us walk around that entire area in the evening and in between my practice sessions. The Inn has awesome valet parking service, and was generally beautiful and awesome all the way around. The only negative was a lack of air conditioning, and it was hard to keep the room even 72F, and I generally like it cooler than that to sleep. I finally asked for a fan, though, and that got it really good at night. We were about 15 feet from the ocean at high tide and it was awesome sleeping with the waves breaking right outside.

We ate at several random places in Monterey that were all pretty good, but the best food in that area was definitely our Friday night dinner at the Chart House. Very good place and highly recommended if you're in the area. We checked out of there on Saturday after qualifying and headed to Santa Cruz. That afternoon we did a really fun train ride up into one of the virgin redwood forests still left. The cars were all open top gondolas and it was a real steam engine. Another highly recommended stop!

After that we met Jane and Colleen at their friend Judi's house on the beach in Santa Cruz. Judi was gracious enough to let us stay in their house there that night, so we went out and had another great meal at Aqua Bleu in downtown Santa Cruz. I got up Sunday and headed back to the track for the race. Ashley and Colleen and Jane came in time to see the entire race, and Hilary and Scott met us all there to see it, too. It was way cool having real fans in the stands for a big race! I even got to wave to them from the race car as we gridded up on the front straight before the pace lap. Afterwards they got to come to the pits and get some pictures with me and the car.

After that Ashley and I drove on up to San Francisco to check into The Argonaut, our hotel right on Fisherman's Wharf (thanks to Scott for that recommendation!). We got in late enough and were tired, so we had room service. This is one very cool hotel that even had good room service! Another highly recommended spot! Their valet parking is a little slower (probably just have further to go to get the cars!), so plan accordingly. On Monday we got up and headed to Muir Woods, which was way cool. It's another big virgin redwood forest with a very nice set of trails through it. We met Jane, Colleen, and Colleen's daugher Hannah there and headed up to Mt. Tamalpais. This is the tallest peak with a view of San Francisco and the bay, and it's awesome! Highly recommended.

After that we all headed down into Tiburon (a small town on the bay) and ate lunch at Sam's Cafe. Good food and good times sitting out by the marina. Tiburon is a very cool little town to visit, and I was awed by the houses on the cliffs over the bay. Wow. Then Ashley and I headed to Headlands Park, which is probably the best place to view the Golden Gate bridge. It's got the added charm of the WWII facilities that were built and then never actually used as they weren't completed until it was apparent that no enemy ships would ever make it to the west coast. From there we headed back into San Francisco and met Hilary at her and Scott's new apartment and then on to dinner. This time it was Betelnut restaurant, and this was definitely the best food we had on the entire trip. Amazing asian fare and highly recommended when in SF.

We flew home the next day after I was able to finally get my In-N-Out burger on the way to the airport (the most important food stop in any west coast trip!). Okay, my first hot In-N-Out burger. Some people might be here for a race report, but the trip was so much more than just racing I decided to just skip that. Okay, I won't skip it. I'll summarize. I was mid pack for most of practice and qualifying. Had a good race from 19th in qualifying (out of 29) to finish 12th on track. But a flurry of post race protests bubbled me up to tenth before I was caught in one myself (which most sadly cost me my FIRST hot In-N-Out as my wife and friends headed there and I got stuck being interviewed and all that for the protests) and penalized back to 13th. The short version is I'd do it all the same again, and if I had been the guy that protested me I would have chalked it up to "one of them racing deals" and not thought about it again. Same thing has happened to me several times, in fact. But such is life, and I had a great time on my trip. Ashley and I found some really great stuff to do when we take the kids to visit Hilary and Scott next year, too!

Please, no poop!

Near the Palace of Fine Arts, in San Francisco, we stumbled upon a flower garden with this sign in it.I suppose people walking their dogs might be inclined to try to "help" by dumping the poop in a flower garden. Or they might even let their dogs poop in a garden and not pick it up like they would have to if it was on the street. I don't know. But what I do know is that there's no way having a little dog poop in a flower bed is less attractive than this dumb looking sign. No way.

Online Shopping Tip

Many online retailers offer promotions and the way to get them when you place an order is to fill in a "promotion code" or similar box during your checkout. I've recently found that any time I encounter one of these, I go to Google and search for the retailer name along with "promotion code" or "online coupon" or whatever that particular retailer calls it. Often you find forums or sites where people have posted promotion codes that are still valid. Even if they're not, it never hurts to try as usually these are nationally advertised promotions (like 10% off one item, etc) and you're just as entitled to use them even though you never actually saw the advertisement. Give it a try, it's worked several times for me! One time in particular saved me nearly $300!

Cooking with brown paper bags?

Yeah, me, and a cooking question. So often times my wife has Food Network on the TV. Sometimes watching, and sometimes just as background noise. I've noticed now, having seen exactly two episodes of Cooking for Real, that the cook on that show likes to use brown paper bags. Once for a fried chicken recipe and now for an oyster recipe. She just uses them to batter things, which I get. Except my problem here is that I can't find a sanitary brown paper bag anywhere. In quick google searches I have found recommendations to not use brown paper bags for the popular turkey recipe out there because they might combust and aren't sanitary. I've found places that sell brown paper bags, but none that list any as sanitary for cooking.

I know if you're just going to deep fry everything that you're not going to get any bacteria from the bag, but what about good old-fashioned dirt and/or bag material or even chemicals from the recycling process? You're eating that stuff. Now, I know that you can get a lot of different fried goods at the State Fair, but I don't think they are yet selling fried dirt or fried brown paper bags. And no, I don't plan to cook, much less with a brown paper bag. It's just something that bugs me to see repeatedly on TV.

Yes, I know it's been two weeks since my last blog. I'll do better, I promise.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A sure-fire way to make money on Wall Street right now!

Go to Wall Street in NYC and become a street vendor selling Tums! I suggest keeping the prices low...something that works easily with small coins. Your target market is easily identifiable...they'll have lots of visible sweat and a facial expression that reminds you of deer-in-headlights. Do not attempt to engage them in petty conversation unless you have a very good shoulder to cry on.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Final Koni Challenge update of 2008

Well, the last of my Koni Challenge races for 2008 is over, so it's time to recap it and the season. This race was at VIR, a track I know well and have done fairly well at in the past, so I had fairly high least of myself. This weekend was somewhat interesting as my co-driver and team owner wasn't around for any of the testing. That meant no data to look at, no coaching, and no setup help. For the setup help we enlisted the services of Brian Smith, who is a co-manager for Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, SC. Brian is a good friend of mine and a great professional driver.

The first test day had two sessions available, and I drove the first one on the same tires we used for the entire race at Miller Motorsports Park. That proved very interesting as our times were fairly mediocre compared to everyone else and it felt like there was a complete lack of grip all the way around. I thought it had to be tires, so we got some new ones put on for the second session and sent Brian out on them. He made a few minor shock tweaks and got some decent times out of the car...going five seconds faster than I had in the morning! I went out for the last session and immediately dropped 3.5 seconds off my time, which was pretty good. I'd still like to be much closer to Brian than that, but he's pretty good. I also wasn't feeling entirely well, which contributed some.

On Friday we had three more sessions. I jumped in for the first of those and in the out-lap the car decided to go into ABS failure, which caused me to make a minor detour into some strategically placed tires stacked against a wall. Cracked up the bumper cover some, but no damage. The ABS module continued to do that early in each session, but you could reset it and it stayed fine from then on. Very odd. Made a few pit stops in that session to check temps and things, but didn't really drop much time over the evening prior. The guys adjusted on the car some before the next session. I think it was better, but track temps were going up and grip was going down, so it didn't show on the clock. But the most annoying thing was the last twenty minutes of that hour session were pretty brutal on my body as sickness was setting in harder. I got fairly nauseous when I got out, in fact.

Our last session would have been in mostly dark conditions since that's how the race would finish the next day, which meant we couldn't really do much of that session as we didn't yet have working headlights (though the crew did get them working before the actual race). But since that was the case and I was feeling ill, I decided to go home and get some rest. The race was to be six hours which would mean I would need to do at least two stints of over an hour each, and each time I had gotten out of the car already I was completely soaked in sweat.

Our last practice session was first thing Saturday morning, followed an hour later by qualifying. There was an 11:30 drivers meeting and the race started at 2pm. Jason needed that practice since he hadn't been on VIR in the RX-8 yet and then he would qualify it. So I just slept in and got to the track in time for the meeting. Interestingly, we were told in that meeting there would be TWO pace laps before the race start. More on that in a bit.

I wasn't feeling at all well, but I did get some sleep and did hydrate okay, so I figured I had at least one stint in me, which was pretty important to me. We had a couple backups lined up in case I couldn't do the second one (as Jason would have gotten fried trying to do the rest of it himself). Jason started the race in 33rd out of 38 starters. Not good, but that was the best time we'd seen in the car all weekend so far, so it wasn't too far off what the car could do. We worked some good pit strategy early and worked our way into the top 2o about an hour into the six hour race. We hovered around 15th for the next hour and then I got in. I had done about 45 minutes and we were still easily in the top 20 when the motor decided it had enough of this abuse and gave up on us.

That's the first time I've ever had a motor just decide to expire for no external reason (missing a shift, etc). I wasn't able to make it around to the pits, so they had to throw a full course caution and pull me back in. Day over at the 2:40 mark.

Our car was never fully developed for this series as far as what we would have been allowed to do to the engine, so we were down on horsepower in a significant way to most of the field. We did get the car to handle better than most cars, though, and used that to stay somewhat competitive. It was a good learning experience, as we did see a lot of different conditions both with the car and the tracks we raced on. Fun stuff. Big thanks to the Team MER crew...Jason, Juliann, Darrin, and Wally in particular. Thanks for all the hard work, guys!

What's up for next year? Who knows. I do still have an MX-5 Cup race left at Laguna-Seca, a set of Spec Miata races at VIR, and then the 13 Hour enduro at VIR.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Illegal Immigration to increase thanks to weak economy?

So the subject of illegal immigration is a complex problem that becomes very annoying when you add the social aspects to it. On the one hand, there are lots of dollars at stake, but on the other nobody wants to be the "bad guy" to the poor and downtrodden. I get that. But then sometimes the dollar amounts are so staggering that one can't help but be annoyed. Take, for instance, the fact that not only is Mexico's second biggest source of foreign income the money that legal and illegal immigrants send to Mexico (around $2B per month), but Mexican oil production has been dropping such that their first biggest source of foreign income isn't so hot.

So now, according to this story, when the US economy gets hit hard, the Mexican economy gets hit harder. In August the amount immigrants sent to Mexico dropped 12%. Since most of the immigrants leave the poorer villages for a better life and then send money back to family still in those poor villages, we're talking about $300M that didn't go to those villages last month that normally would have. So that makes the poor villages poorer. So what will people do? More people will leave to find ways into the US! Then we have more illegal immigrants to add to the enforcement load of the border patrols and immigration officials. There are going to be more of them competing for the same jobs as US citizens. More of them using government services (like school for the kids they have here) even though many aren't paying taxes for those services.

This makes my head hurt. It's been easy for so long for the defenders of the illegal immigrants to say that they are only taking jobs that citizens don't want. But as this ecomonic crisis ripples down (and even if things start to turn around, the effects are most assuredly going to linger and work their way downward) you're going to see more citizens willing to take on those jobs they might not have had to in the past. They'll find competition from illegals hard to beat if employers continue to pay the illegals below minimum wage and not have to take out taxes to boot.

I'm all for giving everyone we can a fair shot. But I believe we need a firmly closed border and tight controls on how many people are allowed into the country. The folks allowed in should definitely be paying taxes and given all the freedoms and protections this great country has to offer. But those who can't get in legally? They'll need to be sent back home. I'm not necessarily opposed to amnesty and citizenship for those who are already here, either. But we've got to stop the flood, too.