Thursday, August 28, 2008

In Memoriam: The Best American Racing Driver You Never Heard Of

Phil Hill died today of complications from Parkinson's disease. Although he does not have the name recognition of Mario Andretti, Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon, he was the first great American racing driver who achieved heights in his profession that have scarcely been equalled.

Hill was the first American Formula One champion, driving for Ferrari in 1961. He also won the Le Mans and Sebring endurance races, and was a successful sports car racer all over the globe. He retired from racing before the advent of widespread television coverage, so his name is best known only by sports car and racing fanatics whose interest runs back to the days well before NASCAR's rise to prominence. He also retired from the sport without injuries in an era when fatalities were a routine cost of doing business.

By all accounts, he was a brilliant, generous and kind man. He contributed to Road & Track magazine for years, which is how I came to be aware of him. The world of sports car and racing enthusiasts has lost a great champion.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Hand Hurts

I just signed my name forty seven times on numerous disclosure documents as our house purchase enters the end game. At least I know I will sleep better, aching wrist aside, knowing that I have read and acknowledged a letter from the California Energy Commission regarding New Duct Sealing Requirements that became effective on October 1, 2005.

And they say that California has budgetary problems every year. I can't imagine why.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

First Day of School

Not only is it the first day of school, but it is the first day of new school for each of the kids. As a new middle-schooler and new to the idea of switching classes during the day, Kelly and I scouted out her classroom locations last night. We weren't the only ones.

After walking her to school, we walked up the road to take Michael to school. He had seen his classroom yesterday at a popsicle social. As kids arrived and filled the play yard with their shouts and games, he got upset as he realized that they all knew each other and he didn't know anyone. By the time he went into class, though, he was back to reasonably good spirits.

It will probably be a long week for both of them as they not only adjust to the elevation in grade (kindergarten to first grade, fifth grade to middle school), but also must do it without knowing anyone else at their schools. Soccer also starts this week, though, and their coaches have been very nice about promising to make sure that the kids are included in everything.

It's tough being the new kid, but fortunately, they can each take refuge in their classwork and soccer until they develop a network of friends.

That's great for them, but what about us?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Time Wasting Internet Game of the Day

This game seems simple enough.

Until you see how some people tackle the problems.

Of course, it is possible to stay simple, or even green (no engines).

Let your inner Rube Goldberg run wild.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I'm Not One To Advocate Regulatory Legislation, But I Called This One

I noted awhile back that hybrid vehicles, for all of their benefits, present a peculiar danger to the public. They are silent when running at parking lot speed. Golf carts are noisier.

It is not a trivial point that golf carts also emit a high-decibel screech or beep when in reverse. This is obviously to warn nearby duffers of the presence of an electric vehicle being driven by someone who is potentially more likely to fail to see hazards behind the vehicle (particularly if it is late in the round and the beer cart has been by a few times, but that's a different issue). There is a clear and long-established understanding that electric vehicles, particularly when driven in reverse (impairing the driver's ability to see), present a danger to those in the immediate vicinity.

Hybrid automobiles, thanks to their refined engineering, are very, very quiet when in electric-only mode. I have been suprised by a hybrid in more than one parking lot over the last few years. The California state legislature apparently shares my concern that a 3000 lb. vehicle running silent, even at parking lot speeds, represents a potential for serious injury for pedestrians. The elected officials in Sacramento have passed a bill to require hybrids to make more noise.

As with all legislation or ballot proposals, it pays to actually read the law to understand its true scope and effect. The bill does not require Toyota to put baseball cards in its Prius's spokes. Instead, Senate Bill 1174 will establish a commission to convene a "Quiet Motorized Road Vehicle and Safe Mobility Committee" made up of representatives from vehicle manufacturers, the blind or visually impaired pedestrian community, the insurance industry, vehicle research entities, and law enforcement organizations. The committee is to study the stimuli needed by visually impaired persons to accurately detect the location and speed of an automobile, as well as determine the feasibility of adapting current vehicular avoidance systems for use by visually impaired pedestrians to detect approaching automobiles. The committee is to present its findings on or before January 1, 2010, and will then disband.

I am generally not in favor of burdening industries with regulations that force an outcome without an understanding of how that outcome might be achieved. However, this committee does not impose a direct cost on automakers (which would then be passed on to consumers). In the meantime, I would hope that automakers, which are in the best position to understand their own products and their dynamics, take note of this legislation and create a cost-effective solution to what could be a real problem before it is imposed upon them (and us) by our often foolish citizen-lawmakers.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Strange Word of the Day

I think everyone has blind spots when it comes to spelling certain words. I don't mean spelling bee level words that nobody has ever heard of, but words that are ordinary in usage yet have the capacity to flummox otherwise well-informed people. I believe this is a highly personal quirk, so that a word that is the bane of one person's existence doesn't cause a moment's concern to someone else. For instance, back when Speak and Spell was a state of the art marvel, "bureau" always slowed me down, and still does.

Today I found another one. What is the next item after the eleventh? Twelfth. Roll that one around in your mouth for a bit. No word should combine "l," "f," and "th" in such close proximity. It is a word fit only for Sylvester.

Or maybe that's just me.