As sure as the sun will rise

August 9, 2007

When I moved several months ago, one of the major tasks I had to face was finding a place to live. While personal matters (living close to my significant other) were certainly the primary factor in my choice, I, like most people, considered a wide array of other issues as well. Things like the cost of rent, proximity to my new job and the grocery store, the neighborhood around where I live, and the lack or availability of particular amenities like air conditioning in the dwelling all factored into my decision.

While driving to work today, I realized that there was a hugely important consideration that I had entirely neglected, and which I suspect most other people entirely ignore when looking for a new home. Since I’ve moved, I have found that my commute to and from work has been notably less onerous than it used to be. This is strange to me, because my drive is not really any shorter than it ever was, and if anything, the traffic is worse. In spite of this, my whole experience is improved by the simple fact that I now live East of where I work.

Living to the east of my workplace is great because it means that when I am driving into work in the morning, I am heading West, with the rising sun at my back. In the evening, driving Eastward home, the setting sun is once again at my back. Prior to my move, the opposite was true.

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Pretty, Pretty Fordite

July 31, 2007

Here is a strange and interesting thing: Fordite.

Fordite Cabochon

A coworker pointed me at the website, and it is fascinating stuff. As their site explains:

Fordite is a unique automotive enamel material, with an interesting history. The original layered automotive paint slag “rough” was made incidentally, years ago, by the now extinct practice of hand spray-painting multiples of production cars in big automotive factories.The oversprayed paint in the painting bays gradually built up on the tracks and skids that the car frames were painted on. Over time, many colorful layers built up there. These layers were hardened repeatedly in the ovens that the car bodies went into to cure the paint. Some of these deeper layers were even baked 100 times. Eventually, the paint build-up would become obstructing, or too thick and heavy, and had to be removed.

As the story goes, some crafty workers with an eye for beauty realized that this unique byproduct was worth salvaging. It was super-cured, patterned like psychedelic agate, and could be cut and polished with relative ease! Wow!

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Getting back what you put in

June 10, 2007

Several weeks ago, I packed up all of my worldly possessions and moved them nearly 750 miles from Southeast Michigan to central North Carolina. Part of this process involved driving a seventeen-foot U-Haul truck, fully loaded and towing my car on a trailer, through the mountains. I found this process to be highly unsatisfying, but also thought-provoking.

For perspective, U-Haul lists this vehicle as being more than eight thousand pounds empty. Fully loaded, it weighs in at just about fourteen thousand pounds. In addition, the trailer is more than two thousand pounds empty, with a more than three thousand pound car riding on top of it. The effect is a fourteen thousand pound vehicle with a five thousand pound sea anchor hanging off the back. Driving a vehicle this size through the mountains is enough to make anyone develop a multiple-personality disorder. Going uphill, I would simply lay the accelerator flat against the floor, then listen to the engine roar even while the speedometer steadily dropped beneath the sheer mass of the vehicle behind it. Going downhill, I’d stand on the brakes and try not to think about the feeling of the massive, dead weight of the trailer cramming itself up into the small of my back.

Each time I rode the brakes down a hill and then listened to a huge, gas-guzzling engine wheezing as it struggled to heave itself back up the hill, I found myself thinking about regenerative braking. Even though it would not be the kind of thing that is even included on a vehicle of that type, such a thing felt like it would be exactly what I needed. I spent several hours thinking about the efficiency of regenerative braking systems.

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Can’t stand the heat? Get out of the engine.

April 11, 2007

I ran across an article not long ago in the Technology Review about improving the efficiency of the internal combustion engine. The technology it describes turns out to be nothing more than a particularly clever combination of several technologies that have been around for longer than I have been alive, but which when properly used in conjunction generate much larger increases in performance and efficiency than anyone has previously been able to extract.

I find such stories of people combining old dog tricks to obtain racing greyhound results very interesting reading. In addition, the very fact that people are still squeezing such remarkable gains in efficiency out of something as venerable as the internal combustion engine suggests to me that predictions of its imminent demise in the face of rising energy prices are likely to prove premature. It may well be with us for quite some time yet.

There is a strong tendency for established players to want to stick with those things that have already made them successful, and automotive manufacturers, especially in the United States, are nothing if not established. They got to be as big and established as they are on the strength of the internal combustion engine. It is a technology with which they are very comfortable. This means that if they have the option, they’re likely to stick with it for as long as possible, rather than risk venturing out into new and untested waters with some new system for powering cars.

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Physics is easier when it’s all in straight lines

March 28, 2007

I find that I must update my list of Crimes Against Machinery that I began in my earlier post about the shameful mistreatment of a Bugatti Veyron. The BBC is reporting that comedian and actor Eddie Griffin destroyed an Enzo Ferrari. Other news outlets have also picked up the story.

This is, again, likely something the seriousness of which will not be immediately apparent to some of you. I will do my very best to explain why. Once more, I resort to images to speak several thousand words on my behalf. This was a process that turned something beautiful:

Nose-on Enzo Ferrari

 Enzo Ferrari on the road

Enzo Ferrari front three-quarters shot

Into something tragic:

I do NOT want to talk about it

Once again, this incident, and the way it has been handled, leaves me to wonder.

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Where are my priorities?

March 14, 2007

Last week, I opened up a web browser, and noticed on the BBC’s news page an article (now no longer available, sadly) that nearly broke my heart. Some Muppet had destroyed a Bugatti Veyron. Yes, it made me upset enough that I started using British insults. This might have been because the story was on the BBC, and the incident happened in the UK, but I think it was mostly because it grabbed me somewhere down in my gut, and my more usual American-style insults just seemed too standard for me to use at a time like this.

Now, some of you are not likely to have quite grasped the enormity of this crime. I will do my best to illustrate. This person, their name never mentioned in the story or in anything I’ve seen in the news since, took what was once a finely crafted thing of surpassing grace and beauty…

Red Bugatti Veyron

Blue Bugatti Veyron

…and turned it into a twisted mixture of shame and tragedy:

The shattered remains of a once beautiful car.

This car, in the configuration you see there, has a 16-cylinder engine which produces more than a thousand (yes, that’s 1,000) horsepower. It can go from zero to sixty in a hair over two and a half seconds. This car retails for roughly one and a half million dollars. Let me write that number out for you too: $1,500,000. Its top speed is a little over 250 miles per hour. This car is, in fact, the fastest production model in the world. There have been only a few hundred of them ever built, and now, there is one less.

Oh, yes. In the process, the driver and his young passenger were involved in a 100 mph crash in which their car spun several times before striking another vehicle with several passengers, including a woman seven months pregnant, and then careening at high speed into the trees.

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