Archive for November, 2010

Yin and Yang, Comedy and Tragedy, Drift and Grip.

November 29, 2010 4 comments

There is no denying how insanely popular drifting has become and I think it’s about time I make a post about it here on Mediocre. While it’s a well established sport with a huge fan base and some very big name sponsors in the game, some people still look upon the sport and scoff that only hooligans and show-offs participate. “That’s not the fastest way around a course!” track drivers will often exclaim angrily while quietly being impressed with the finesse involved. Someone even went so far as to call it the “ice dancing” of the automotive world and derided its fans as knuckledraggin morons (somene elses words, not mine). Frankly, I think that person was a little bit short sighted and clearly didn’t understand the draw of the sport because while he was decrying it thousands of fans flocked to its bleachers and sat mouths agape at the howling machines as their throats quietly vulcanized.

(Not the Vulcanize I was intending, but this works better as a visual)

No matter what you think of the sport it’s impossible to deny that the top cars involved are no joke, high dollar, completely built race cars. Teams as large as the auto manufacturers themselves have factory sponsored teams and their cars look as stickered up as any other racing league. It is just because their race is graded more about style and showmanship than who comes across the line first/has the best lap times that the “ice dancing” thing comes into play as an insult; If you look pretty doing it, you win!

(I fully support the no-hood “topless” drift movement)

Any car that powers the rear wheels can technically be a drift car and even some FWD/AWD get converted for the sole purpose of drifting. There are currently two converted Scion tC’s in Formula D (Piloted by Ken Gushi and Tanner Foust), as well as some Subaru STi’s and Mitsubishi EVOs turned from AWD into RWD. It’s always interesting to see just what people choose as their platform to bring to a drift event and admist the high dollar cars you’ll see the omnipresent unsponsored 240SXs that look like they’ve been beatn up since birth.

(Tanner Foust drifting a Scion tC with a Toyota V8 stolen from NASCAR)

While I will watch a few scattered clips of some drifting, I find the whole thing to be a little too showy and eventually I find myself terribly bored of the whole thing. I won’t argue the skill required to drift well, and I am not trying to smash on drifting as a sport. I just personally like to watch events that are focused more on “grip” rather than “slip.”

The point of this post is really to get you thinking about the kind of autosport that you like the most. Grip, drag racing, time attack, show cars, gymkhana, autox, the list goes on and on. Everyone has a favorite and there are huge fan bases for each of the styles so it’s not really about which one is “better” as that’s a multi-faceted conversation to have and it’s mostly subjective anyway. Which one do you like? Why?

– Steve loves gripping

Categories: Cars, Steve

Random: Steve spends $5

November 22, 2010 6 comments

Normally I don’t really like puzzle games and so I was a little hesitant after I had bought the game Zen Bound 2 from Steam for around $5. The description sounded pretty cool and the artwork made me look twice so I picked it up and it wasn’t until I got a few levels into it that I realized it was effectively a really cool, downtempo, relaxing puzzle game.

Here’s my problem with puzzle games: Fuck puzzles.

(Fuck your puzzle, I’m out)

Seriously, puzzle games are annoying because of the inherent nature of the difficulty of creating puzzles for a wide audience. There will always be a puzzle you can beat and a puzzle you can’t. The most fun puzzles are the ones that are challenging and make you feel like you can’t beat it, but there is a way and you will eventually find it. The problem with this is that everyone is on a different level regarding their puzzle solving skills or their patience level.

(The princess is in another castle… FFFFFUUUUUUUUUUU!!!)

Typically my skill is high, but my patience is very very low so I don’t normally do well in this type of genre. This game; however, is easily the best  $5 I’ve spent in a long time. It’s calming, simple, and yet frustratingly complex. Wrap some string (tied to a nail at some point on the sculpture) around until the sculpture is a certain target % wrapped (typically 99-100%). It’s complex because if you’re not focusing in on what you’re doing you’ve suddenly gotten yourself into a maddening tangle of rope that wouldn’t seem out of place at a BDSM festival. (Note: Best self set-up for an image search…EVER)

(Move over sweetie, you’re blocking the TV and Futurama is on)

The game is certainly beautiful with its wonderfully textured wood sculpture models that you must manipulate atop a semi-blurred background that occasionally distorts pleasantly and non-invasively. The music is even relaxing and does a good job of being relaxing without being “shhhhhh, shhhhhh, it’s ok, I’m relaxing music, shhhhhhh.”

(Nothing like a relaxing duckie)

Suddenly I look up and realize that I’ve now been wrapping computer generated string around stupid little figurines sculpted into Yoga poses for two hours now. How do I know it’s a good game? I want to play it. Like right now, fuck this post. I’m gonna go play with some string.

– Steve uses his time effectively, plays string puzzle games all day

Categories: Random, Steve

“Smarter highways” are kinda dumb so far

November 16, 2010 6 comments

Here in the Seattle area, the WSDOT has installed a wonderfully expensive looking set of computer controlled LED signs as part of their “Smarter Highways” project. As far as I can tell it’s “smarter” because it’s a way of having an adjustable sign base so that information can be distributed across the local highways while people are theoretically hurtling their 2+ ton vehicles down the road at high rates of speed.

(Smartest distractions I’ve ever seen…)

While it was amusing for the few months that these signs were installed, but not fully operational, to see the “TEST MSG: xxx” message appear on these signs with varying letters in the ‘xxx’ slot…it was slightly distracting trying to discern the cryptic meaning of those three letter messages. Every so often the signs would change from something like ‘KLR’ to ‘ SVM’ and it would leave the passing drivers with some interesting distractions as they drove their metal and rubber death missiles forward.

(I searched “death missile” and got this tattooed woman. I approve)

Now that the signs are actually up and running as intended, they have started to show variable speed limits. Now as far as I’m concerned the ability to adjust a speed limit in only one direction – down –  is relatively worthless. Traffic is a self-regulating system as the roads have a pretty set capacity to flow traffic at a certain rates so reducing a speed limit in an area that people can’t even achieve said limit is a bit silly. Because traffic systems are so complex and technically “alive” there is in fact a pretty detailed set of theory and formulas surrounding the study of traffic and it’s important enough that certain people even get their doctorates in the field.

(Not political humor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – Iran’s leader – really has a PhD in traffic management)

It disturbs me greatly then when I’m driving along at maybe 5mph due to the natural flow of traffic and I come across one of these variable speed limit signs that is happily reporting to me that instead of the normal 60mph limit, the current allowed speed limit is only 40mph. Looking down to my 5mph current speed and then back up to the 40mph limit I wonder exactly who it is in the WSDOT who thinks that anyone is going even remotely close to 40mph in this zone during rush hour. Hopefully someone who is not being paid to think that hard about what they do.

(Not the exact WSDOT signs, but similar in design and intent)

I could be wrong and I could just be jaded, but so far I’ve not seen any improvement in any traffic strictly because of a variable speed limit sign. Understanding traffic flows, eliminating forced bottlenecks, and increasing speed limits in certain areas has a far greater impact on traffic than a sign that changes from 60mph to 40mph in a time and location that is almost impossible for cars to even come close to breaching the new limit. I won’t even talk about how to enforce the variable limits in this post, but you can be sure that I have thoughts about the shortcomings of this system in that respect as well.

– Steve wrote a new post? Weird…

Categories: Cars, Random, Steve

Guest Editor Jeff: What’s your favorite number?

November 11, 2010 7 comments

Mine is 72.  72 is a weird number that keeps coming up.  Did you know:

  1. You can determine the synchronous no-load (natural) revolutions per minute of an (electric) AC induction motor by dividing the number of poles on the motor by 7200?
  2. You can estimate the peak torque (foot-pounds) of a naturally-aspirated gasoline engine by multiplying the displacement in liters by 72?
  3. You can calculate the optimum vee-angle of a V-engine by dividing 720 by the number of cylinders of the engine? 

Let’s look at the first one.  A two-pole electric motor has one north pole and one south pole (if I’ve lost you, go back to elementary school) on the permanent magnet (probably the rotor), and the same on the stator.  Let’s say electricity provided has a frequency f of 60 Hz.  Let’s say N is the motor speed in RPM, and P is the number of magnetic poles (note that P must always be an even number; you will have as many north poles as south poles).

By the equation N=120*f/P, you can determine the third variable if you know the other two variables.  Assuming you’re talking about line voltage in the United States, f will always be 60.  Therefore the N/P relationship will always be equal to 60*120=7200.

(Got it?)

Okay, car stuff now.  #2 is my gift to you.  I got into a conversation with my little brother (He has a PhD in Astrophysics.  No bullshit.) and he was trying to complain about how “inefficient” American cars (Cadillac CTS-V with the LS6 5.7L 400 hp Corvette V-8) were compared to Euro porn-stars like Ferrari 612 (5.7L V-12 530 hp).  He said something like “Dang the Americans, why can’t they make a 5.7 liter motor with more than 400 hp if Ferrari can make one with over 500 hp?” 

(Hey, I could have given you the picture of the CTS.  Booooring)

He was missing a fundamental relationship between displacement and horsepower: torque.  It goes like this (queue the Geek).

Horsepower is (always) the rate at which torque is “generated”, governed by the equation HP = Tq*RPM/5252.  Any engine, whether electric, Diesel, or gasoline, makes a given horsepower at a certain engine RPM based on the torque at that RPM, divided by a constant.  That’s it.

The Cadillac peak HP is generated at a lower RPM than the Ferrari (400 hp at 6,000 rpm vs 530 hp at 7,250 rpm).  The torque of the two motors is remarkably similar: 395 ft-lb at 4,800 rpm for the Cadillac and 434 ft-lbs at 5,250 for the Ferrari, a difference of only 40 ft-lbs, not the same magnitude of the 130 hp difference.  Yes there are probably deficiencies in the American design, but the difference could easily also be attributed to differing methods of measurement, manufacturer over/understatement, etc.

How can YOU, the wide-eyed consumer, be prepared to properly evaluate engine horsepower and torque?  Is there a convenient rule of thumb you can use to impress your friends when one says he just got a new Corvette and you don’t remember the HP figures from the brochure?  Yes.  Try the “rule of 72” that I’m inventing.  It works like this: engine displacement in liters, D, times 72 equal torque Tq, or D*72=Tq.  Let’s try it.  Ferrari 612 had a D of 5.7.  Multiply by 72 and you get Tq equal to 410 ft-lbs.  They claim 434, so we’re within 5-6% of MFG stated torque.  Cadillac says 395, so our estimate is 4% high (395 vs 410).  Overall you’re VERY close to the actual (crank) torque of the engine.  With that ballpark, you can ask intelligent questions like “at what rpm is peak horsepower generated?”, and you throw that RPM back into the first equation, and viola, you have a musical instrument.

(Unrelated musical instrument)

Horsepower is a function of torque AND rpm.  The Ferrari made more horsepower because it had higher rpm.  You see this behavior a lot with small-displacement engines that you have to “rev-up” to get any useful power out of.  That’s simply a function of utilizing the RPM side of the equation to calculate out to big horsepower.  Check out the following table.  Here’s a mix of engine configurations, displacements, and countries of origin.  Note that Diesels are not included because they use a different fuel, and the Mazda rotary engine is shown to have much higher torque than a piston engine of the same displacement would.  Go Felix (Wankel).  This is due to having three combustion “strokes” per rotor rotation instead of one combustion stroke every two piston strokes (as in a four-cycle piston engine).  Overall, my “rule of 72” seems to be a good rule of thumb for calculating torque based on a given displacement.

The third thing “72” does for me is provide the ideal vee-angle of a vee-engine.  This however has gone on long enough, so go read the article in this month’s Car and Driver for details.  If you have questions, let me know.  Let me leave you with this picture, the typical 80s Ferrari owner.  Honest.

(Actual Ferrari Owner.  I am not making this up)

Here’s your bonus picture.  This blows the “rule of 72” out the window unless you calculate the approximate equivalent engine displacement based on the manifold pressure multiplier to ambient.

(Forced induction changes everything) 

Jeff likes his forced induction.  Strangely, his engine displacement is 2.7, an anagram of 72.  Weird!

Categories: Cars, Jeff

Guest Editor Jeff: Troubles in car rental land

November 4, 2010 5 comments

Occasionally I travel on business and am obliged to rent personal transportation at my destination.  I don’t usually have a say in the rental; the administrative assistant supposedly does me a favor by booking the car rental for me.  I don’t think she likes me very much, because last time I traveled to Charleston, SC, she rented me this:

(Grey; it’s more than just a color, it’s an attitude)

You are forgiven if you don’t immediately recognize it as a Vauxhall Cavalier Opel Vectra Vauxhall Vectra Holden Vectra Chevrolet Vectra Saturn Aura.  This is the XR version, which is rated neither X nor R, but I am ashamed to say is the top-of-the-line model.  It uses the 3.6L V-6 from the Cadillac CTS and has a six-speed automatic transmission.  The latter is significant because it also comes with paddle shifters (called TAPshift; I had to look it up.)

(A steering wheel that means business)

I was excited when I saw it; my last rental here had been a Yaris (which tried to kill me by cutting throttle due to traction control issues while making a fast U-turn in front of much traffic).  This time I was travelling with my boss (a GM product owner) so I guess we warranted something bigger than the Toyota.  I got in the car, adjusted my seat, got excited about the paddle shift, started the car, and was surprised how quiet it was.  I exited the airport rental area discreetly, assuming 250 hp and lots of cogs would be a good combination once the road opened up a bit.

(Three “sporty” gauges placed in the one-size-fits-all dash opening.)

It did however turn out to be a disappointment.  The paddle shifters are as lame as you should expect from GM; this is not a DCT, it is just the latest Hydromatic, so “selecting” gears with the paddles is just like clicking 1>2>3>…>6 on the automatic gear selector.  The delay between command and executed shift is measured in whole seconds, not  milliseconds (150 for an Enzo sequential manual transmission, or 8 for an Audi DSG) like a true “flappy paddle” gearbox.  This ruined the car.  Yes, I realize it is a rental and therefore not treated with the love and devotion of an “owned” car (example, the keyless entry system could not unlock the car.  It was possible to lock the car and arm the anti-theft system remotely, but not unlock the car remotely.  Therefore one would set off the car alarm whilst unlocking the car with the key.  The alarm was silenced by actually starting the car with the key.  So basically the anti-theft does not actually prevent you from starting and stealing the car.  Nice feature.)  I doubt it was really making 250 hp (200 wheel?  I think not.)  Front wheel drive is a disappointment on dry paved roads, but none of those niggles compared to the failure to execute driving pleasure through control of the transmission.  Whoever approved this feature at Opel GM obviously had dreams bigger than their budgets, but who doesn’t?  I guess the bottom line is, if you’re going to do something wrong, should you do it at all?

I could go on about the interior materials being lower quality than I am used to, or the fit and finish being inferior, but you should already expect that from GM.  For all the compromises a designer or manufacturer has to make to satisfy all the vested interests, it’s irritating to see no bad idea wasted.

– Jeff is sitting in his Audi, smelling the leather, selecting his own gears, and ratcheting up his douchebag score enjoying the PNW sunshine.

Categories: Cars, Jeff