Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Memories as a Car Guy

In case you didn't catch the hint already, I'm a car guy. If you hadn't gotten the hint must be dense.  Read the top banner again!

Being a car guy, cars are very tied to my memories.  Any time I think of a car that has any type of connection to me, I am also flooded with memories of people, events, and funny stories.  I'll run through a few of the cars that bring up the strongest memories really quick so you can see what I mean.

1993 Dodge Ram Conversion Van - This was the first vehicle that was my "daily driver" with it's V8 and 40 Gallon tank.  At the time, gasoline was around $.89-$.99 per gallon, so it was bearable, although I was in high school at the time.  Thinking of this behemoth makes me think of Mike Bounds hitting his head on the upper part of the raised roof (the rest of that story will not be put in writing, but let's just say he wasn't exactly thinking at the time).  You know what...that is the only detail I will go into with the van in this venue, but many of you know stories or have personal experiences in the van.

1994 Ford Explorer XLT - I think of driving to a play rehearsal in high school, again with Mike Bounds, thinking the Explorer was in 4WD.  Well, it wasn't.  I made the right hand turn into the school and the back end broke loose and I rotated an additional 90 degrees clockwise.  I steered in the direction I wanted to go, but ended up over-correcting and rotating the other direction over 180 degrees.  This lined me up perfectly to pull into part of the parking lot, so much so, that Mike's sister and her friend (who were in the lane leaving the school) apparently thought I did it on purpose to show off.  I also think of Physics AP when we had to make water-powered bottle rockets because the hand-powered pump we were using failed.  We had an air compressor in the Explorer so I pulled it around behind the school so we could use the electric pump to pressurize the rockets.

1986 Cutlass Supreme Coupe - That car makes me think of the graduation gift I received from Kirk Petri - 1 gallon of Anti-freeze.  Why?  I regularly picked Kirk & Chad up on my way to school. Shortly after I got the cutlass, the heater coil failed.  It took a week to figure out what the smell was and why the windshield kept fogging up, but we eventually found coolant on the passenger-side carpet under the floor mat.  Whooops! I also think of an ill-fated date to the Riverside in Old Ellicott City.

1983 Caprice - Thinking of that car reminds me of trips up to Westminster with my grandparents at Christmas to visit my Aunts and Cousins.  Why?  On our way home from one of those, due to snow, rear wheel drive, and a hill, we almost ended up in a road-side ditch.   I also remember other times in the back of that car when I would be impressing my grandmother by figuring out what cars were coming up behind us at night by looking at their headlights.

2000 Nissan Frontier - When I think of my old truck, I think of my Uncle Frank, and by extension my Aunt Mill.  Aunt Mill had passed away a few years prior, and when Uncle Frank passed away, the money we inherited plus some money from our grandparents my sister and I were both able to get new cars (Heather's Celebrity and my Olds were both having serious issues).  I got the Frontier, my sister a 2000 Rav 4.  I also think of all the great times Matt & I had driving the unpaved back roads of Fredrick, driving on the beach in Wildwood, NJ with Chrissy, and getting stuck in "the sandbox" with Chrissy freaking out.

This list just includes SOME of the cars that either I have owned or have been in my family.  There are many more memories tied to each of these vehicles, plus many other vehicles that aren't on this list.  Sometimes I don't even know why I make a connection.  What prompted this post?  This morning I passed a 70's Chevy Camaro headed in the other direction.  That was what my mom said she had for her first car.  It is also very similar to the car her cousin, my late Uncle Bud, had as his first car. A Firebird.   So, whenever I see one of those generation Camaro/Firebirds, I think of my mother and Uncle Bud who coached me in little league one season.

So, if you mention a car to me, and I drift off into some nostalgic trip down memory lane, it's because I am a car guy.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Privilege and Success

@awindbynight shared an interesting article called Geeks and Privilege by Tom Morris.  I shared my thoughts on the article quoted below, but I wanted to expand on those thoughts more.
I was fortunate that I had access computers from a young age as well. Commodore 64/128, IBM XT, and so on. I also had internet access to help teach myself programming and access to programming classes in school to. I also knew a lot of people with the same benefits who tried CS and just couldn't cut it, so it is part both.
I want to delve into this a bit more.  Not only did I have access to computers at home, I lived in an affluent county with a strong school system.  My high school offered Pascal and C++ classes while I was there (I took both).  I also took Computer Science AP after hours at another high school (the last year it was offered in Pascal).  Had I not been playing with computers since such a young age, I might not have had the interest to take those classes though.  It is like a geek butterfly effect.

It someone didn't have the privileges I had, it is possible for them to overcome at least a percentage of that with motivation and hard work, but if you grow up in a town where the major source of employment is a steel mill, and most people don't attain college degrees, there is probably a good chance that is where you will end up with out a lot of hard work.  If I had those hills to climb, I don't think I would have ended up where I am today.

If someone does have the privileges I had, that doesn't mean they will automatically succeed either.  I know several people who had similar backgrounds to me that attempted to enter the Computer Science field and ended up dropping out of the major in college.  Others made it through college with a CS degree but then found that they absolutely hated it.  They have the know-how, they have the degree, but not the desire.

All things being completely equal in training, background and access to supplies, there still is an aspect of privilege.  In a world where it is hard to differentiate you from others in your field, it is often more of who you know, than what you know.  If you take two identical people in every way (not possible, but work with me) except one, connections, the more "connected" person will probably end up much better off.  Even if the connected person isn't as good, they are still likely to end up better off.

The last level of privilege is that I was born a white male.  This will usually work to my benefit just be default because of the makeup of the tech workforce, but enough has been written about this subject and I won't delve into that.

I'm not going to feel guilty for any of this, though. I acknowledge that things shouldn't be like this, but they are.  There are many that have been much more privileged than I as well.  The humanitarian in me says we should do something to grant access at least to the basic tools and training to those that want it (although I think forcing everyone to take those classes is bad).  But at the same time, I don't want excessive gov't regulation and spending to accomplish this.  Companies such as Intel, Microsoft, and Apple already donate computers to schools.  There are also discounted or in some cases free software for students wanting to learn the tools.  But if a kid has to work a job every day after school to help support the family (to differentiate from a prat time job to learn responsibility and spending case) they may not be able to make use of those advantages.

Not sure why I felt compelled to write this, but I did, so here it is.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Maybe it is Just Me

I seem to have a cycle.  Find new office, love my job, management change happens, hate my job, start search for new office.  The question I am faced with is, it it just me?  Am I just that unable to adapt to a management change, or have I had the absolute worst luck when it comes to managers? I have tried several approaches.  I have attempted to express the reasons I am unsatisfied to change the course of events.  I have expressed these feelings to both my direct supervisor and their supervisor at times.  This occasionally leads to a temporary resolution of issues, but usually doesn't last long.  I have tried to find ways to just adapt to the changes that have occurred, which usually results in me resenting my job even more, and trying to hasten my departure.  I can't seem to keep myself in the state of mind to stay in the office after whatever change occurs.

So, am I the one who is the "problem" through my inability to adapt?  I hope not.  My desire to depart from my current office has existed for 5-6 months now, but I was trying to hold out until my project was completed.  Things continued to spiral downwards until about 2 months ago when I finally made the decision it was time to leave my office.  Several people had been trying to recruit me for one office, so I finally explored that option and decided it would be a good place for me to move to, but in the last two months, no progress has been made.  During this time, I have been wearing down more, growing weary of my current office and losing the drive that has allowed me to be so successful* the last 20 months or so.  *Successful as judged by my customers, not by my management, as was reflected in my performance review.

So, am I the problem?  Is there something about my personality, some failing, that doesn't allow me to adapt?  Maybe I am just drawn to offices that no one tends to understand and there are just few managers that are proper for the task.  I don't know, but I am burning out and need to move soon, or somehow rediscover my passion for my job until I can finally depart.  If I can't recapture that passion, and I am stuck where I am for a while still, I won't be able to produce the kind of work that I feel I should nor that my customers have come to expect, which would be the hardest change for me to adapt to.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I am a Track Rat Once Again

In the past two weeks I have spent a LOT of time on the Summit Point circuit at Summit Point Motorsports Park.  Last weekend, I attended the NASA Fall Finale running in HPDE1, and on Friday I attended the final Friday at the Track of 2012 running in group 2i (group 2 with instructor).  This still means I have only attended 3 track events state-side, but all three of those occurred in the last two months.  The good, the Rabbit holds up very well on the track, especially after I updated the front brakes to R32 calipers and slotted rotors.  The bad, this is a very expensive hobby to have.  I really need to win the lottery.

Sometimes size does matter
Old rotors vs new

My goals for this year were pretty simple.  I wanted to go into next year not having to run in the lowest group because that group contains all of the people who are first-timers on the track and they don't know how to react, are very intimidated, and can't process all of the information coming to them (and thus forget to do things like point-by cars that are on their tail).  I also wanted to evaluate my skill (since it had been a few years), my car (the Rabbit had never been tracked before), and gauge how I wanted to proceed going forward with track days.  Most of that has been resolved now, it is just the "going forward" part that I am not too sure about yet.

NASA Fall Finale Day 2
Coming through Turn 10 on Summit Point Circuit

I succeeded on multiple fronts when compared to my goals.  The Rabbit handled remarkably well thanks in large part to the JOM coilover suspension, APR Carbonio Intake, Unitronic chip tune, AWE Tuning exhaust, and for the second and third events, R32 front calipers with ECS Tuning slotted rotors.  I also want to give a shout out to NGP Racing, since they did the coilover install and have done some other work on the car.  The car is still relatively under powered since it is a naturally aspirated 2.5l 5-cylinder, but unless I win the lotto, a power-train swap would not be possible.  Handling wise, I need to upgrade the front and rear sway bars to either OEM GTI sway bars, or even beefier aftermarket ones.  OEM GTI sway bars that someone has removed from their car would be the least expensive solution.  There are other modifications that should occur if I continue to track the car heavily, and I will address those at the end of this post.

Summit Point Turn 7 in the Rabbit
Notice the giant front brakes?

As for assessing my skill level, I can say that my skill level had not dropped off in any significant way in the years since my track time in Germany, and has now actually surpassed my original skill level.  While I don't have any official sign-offs for NASA events to move to HPDE2, my instructor during those events was impressed.  Given my status at Summit Point Friday at the Track events, it shouldn't be hard for me to skip to HPDE2 (or even 3) if I attend another NASA event at there. With the Summit Point Friday at the Track 2i group, I had an instructor for most of my first three runs.  I had a different instructor hop in the car during my third session, and he let me run solo for the last few minutes of session three and ALL of session 4.  With his, and my original instructor's signatures, I have been signed off to move to Group 2 SOLO in the future at Friday at the Tracks.  That also opens the opportunity to attend "Seat Time" events at Summit Point which allow me to even take a passenger along with me.  This makes Chrissy very happy.

Summit Point Friday at the Track 11-9-2012
Last run of the day solo through turn 10

Now comes the hardest part:  What are my plans going forward?  At the very least, I plan to attend many more events at Summit Point in the future, and the car will have to be able to withstand the abuse of double-duty because Chrissy will want to participate at least some in the events.  I also want to attend some NASA events at nearby tracks, such as New Jersey Motorsports Park, and Virginia International Raceway. Even a trip to Road Atlanta wouldn't be out of the question.  But how do I want to advance my "career" in NASA?  Do I want to work my way up to being an instructor (so I can get some free track-time)?  Do I want to consider competition, such as Time-trials?  Or maybe even the German Touring Car series?  Will I start competing in Autocross events? Time trials and actual racing would both actually increase my costs so I would have to hunt out some sponsors to offset my costs, and if I actually did want to compete, would I want to start over with a GTI for performance reasons ($$$$$$$$)?  Regardless of how I choose to advance, if I do plan on continuing this on a regular basis in the Rabbit, it will have to become more of a track car, and less of a street car.  It will be kept street legal though, because I still drive it on a regular basis.

Since it is a 2-door, we only use the back seat for actual people once in a blue-moon, so taking that capability away from the car is not a huge loss.  That allows for a roll cage to be installed in the rear of the car with a harness bar and racing seats with five point harnesses.  That would also help with the rigidity of the chassis going through turns.  So that brings the list of major upgrades still needed for track use to better anti-roll bars, cage, harnesses, racing seats, and upgraded rear brakes too.  Some "just barely street legal" racing tires would be good for the track events too.

So, now I need to decide where I want to go, and how I want to get there. I think becoming a NASA instructor would be awesome, but I have always wanted to be a "race car driver" so Time Trial at least gets that element of competition in there.  What to do, what to do?  Of course, I need to win the lottery first ;)

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