on the edge

computers & technology, books & writing, civilisation & society, cars & stuff

Greg Black

gjb at gbch dot net
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If you’re not living life on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.

FQE30 at speed

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Worthy organisations

Amnesty International Australia — global defenders of human rights

global defenders of human rights

Médecins Sans Frontières — help us save lives around the world

Médecins Sans Frontières - help us save lives around the world

Electronic Frontiers Australia — protecting and promoting on-line civil liberties in Australia

Electronic Frontiers Australia


(Coming soon…)

Software resources

GNU Emacs


The FreeBSD Project

Thu, 10 Apr 2008

BMW E30 Track Car For Sale

I’ve finally decided to sell my E30 track car (in action above). Please have a look at this detailed announcement with all the information you could ever want to know.

Fri, 21 Dec 2007

Xmas Parking Perfection

At this time of year, pressure on parking spaces at Indooroopilly (and no doubt other shopping centres) gets pretty intense. But this morning there were a few spaces available in the reserved parking outside the post office for people to use when collecting their mail from the PO boxes there.

Even so, the hero of this story felt that the effort of parking her tiny car in a marked space was too much, so she just stopped in the roadway, locked her car and dashed across to get her mail. By the time she had the box open, both owners of the cars she had blocked had arrived at their cars and were looking a bit irritated to see they had no way out. However, everybody relaxed as the pest dashed back to her car with her mail.

This was when she discovered that she had managed to lock her keys inside the car. She had also locked her phone in there with the keys. So she then borrowed a phone from one of her victims, eventually worked out what number to call for information, got the number for RACQ, called them, waited for a bit and finally reported that they would be there—probably within an hour to an hour and a half. The trapped owners were as ecstatic as you might expect. All the cars that had to squeeze past were looking unhappy. And I had emptied my PO box by then, so I went home.

Fri, 21 Apr 2006

Bunnies and glitter

Was it the pink Playboy bunny or the glittering earrings that first got my attention?

Read the entire post ...

Tue, 28 Mar 2006

Lakeside revisited

I had finally got used to the idea that I’d never get another chance to drive on the Lakeside circuit, but yesterday brought a wonderful opportunity to go out and play—for the first time since 1999.

Read the entire post ...

Wed, 15 Feb 2006

Battery charging problem solved

I have previously reported on my search for a solar-powered battery charger and its installation in an attempt to get more than the usual seven months out of the expensive batteries in my little-used BMW.

About eight and a half months later, I reported on the lessons from that experiment. In brief, the solar charger might have given me a tiny extension of life on that battery—but if so it was too small to measure meaningfully. As a result of that unfortunate experience, I then found an alternative kind of charger which, in an almost miraculous achievement, resuscitated the dead battery.

I declined to offer more details at the time, as I wanted to see if the new charger might have potential in the longer term. The battery I bought in November 2004 is now more than 15 months old, despite having being so badly mistreated in mid-life, and is still working just fine. Even if it dies totally tomorrow, I’m now ahead—having more than doubled the lifetime from the battery. So now it’s time to give credit where it’s due.

I bought mine from Supercheap Auto because they are local and have a decent range. Since then, however, they have completely fucked up their website and made it impossible for me to find anything. So, I’ll illustrate from the Jaycar Electronics catalogue. The one to avoid is the Smart Solar Battery Charger which was a complete failure in my application. The unit I am now using, which I highly recommend, is the Battery Fighter Super Smart 12V SLA Battery Charger. It’s a steal at under $80.

Bear in mind that my car gets started once every four to eight weeks, is abused for a day and then parked again. I’ve been leaving the charger plugged in permanently and every time I go to start the car, it just starts and all is well. If you have a similar problem, this solution is well worth a try. There are other Battery Fighter models—for lighter duty applications, as I recall. I have no experience with them, but would expect them to perform satisfactorily if used correctly, based on my experience with my charger.

Thu, 01 Sep 2005

The ultimate parking champion

I think I may have just seen the ultimate parking performance at the Indooroopilly shopping centre. A big fat man in a big fat Ford with a big fat V8 engine was the star. He wanted to turn left into a slot which had a concrete pillar on the left side.

Although it was obvious to anybody with half a clue that he could only manage this by swinging out to the right side of the approach, he was determined to do it from the left lane.

The first five attempts involved turning part way in, scraping his left doors on the pillar and then reversing out—only to attempt it again from the exact same starting point.

Eventually, he ran out of patience—just like all the people who were waiting for him to get out of the way. When the car jammed against the pillar, he planted the throttle. Initially, this produced a lot of wheel spin and a huge cloud of smoke that almost obscured the sparks from his doors. Suddenly, the car got enough traction to drag itself around the pillar and took off.

The damage to the car next to his slot was substantial. The damage to the front of the late model Benz that he head butted was even more substantial. And the fat Ford looked rather the worse for wear.

Sadly, I’d used up all the spare time I had and could not wait around to watch the fun when our hero emerged from his car.

Thu, 11 Aug 2005

Cretins in cars

I’ve got used to meeting cretins on the road, especially when I’m driving my BMW which seems to tickle the idiot gene in most youthful hoons who see it. It happens less when I’m in the family saloon, but I got two samples on a short drive to collect the mail this morning. Maybe there is some loony dust in the air today.

I’m doing a left turn, under the control of a green arrow, around a blind corner into a major road. Half way around, I have to brake hard to avoid t-boning an idiot cop doing an illegal u-turn in front of me. He was so incompetent that, despite having a five-lane road to operate in, he turned it into a three-point turn and was in the middle of shifting into reverse when I arrived. So, naturally, his super-intelligent cop passenger gives me some pretty strong abusive body language as he sees me approaching his door.

For my part, I was aware of the youthful hoon close behind behind me and wanted to give him as much braking room as possible—and I saw no compelling reason to give the cops any more room than strictly necessary. Even so, hoon-boy tested his car’s ABS. And he blasted his horn at me for stopping in such a stupid place, before he saw the reason. This did not do anything to make the cops more cheerful and I thought we were going to have a discussion. But the cop driver, perhaps suitably embarrassed at this point, stomped on the gas and blasted off down the road.

So I go and collect my mail and head home. On the way, I get to follow a taxi whose driver is obviously lost. He goes slower and slower, but there’s no room to overtake so I follow him. Eventually, he stops exactly in the middle of an intersection. After some thought, he decides to reverse—without looking behind him. I see the reverse lights come on and lean on the horn just as he takes off. He backed into me, but did very little damage because he heard my warning.

Having been a complete dickhead, he then gets out of his cab and comes back to my car to abuse me for hitting him. I gave him a short lesson in road courtesy, backed away from his car and continued on my way home. Fortunately, I don’t think I need to go out again today.

Tue, 26 Jul 2005

Battery charger lessons

Late last year, I wrote about an attempt to preserve my BMW’s battery with a solar-powered trickle charger. Prior to that, I had found batteries tended to last about seven months before dying completely.

So, how did it work out? In a word, not too well. Last week, I went to start the car, only to find that the battery was so far gone that the clock had stopped, the immobiliser LED was out, and my volt meter showed something less than 1 volt. It was so bad that attaching jumper leads to a much bigger battery in a car that had its engine running did not suffice to crank the engine.

Before rushing off to buy yet another new battery, I decided to try a different kind of charger—as I now have power in the garage. I bought a device that has semi-intelligent electronics so that it can give a heavy duty charge until the battery is up to a normal level, and then gives a lower charge until full charge is achieved. It then sleeps until it senses a need for more charging. I wasn’t sure how well it would go, but it seemed worth a try.

It took a couple of days to bring the battery up to normal, but then the car started immediately. This seems to be promising, so I’ll monitor things more closely for the next few months and see how it goes.

No doubt, the abuse given the battery when it was allowed to go dead flat will have shortened its life—but if it keeps working for a few months, I’ll feel as though I’m on a winner and will buy the next battery with better grace.

As a minor point of interest, one of the features the new charger boasts is that it avoids the bad effects of trickle chargers…

Fri, 18 Mar 2005

Stupidity on wheels

I was going to let this go, but today’s final effort was too much. So here are a couple of anecdotes from Brisbane’s roads over the past two days.

Yesterday, leaving Indooroopilly shopping centre, I was amazed to see an aged hat-wearing loon in a Volvo driving anxiously along the footpath after apparently becoming confused in his attempts to use the normal exit from the carpark.

This morning, driving along Milton Road in heavy rain—on a day that had rain forecast and always looked like rain—I saw two complete idiots, one on a large motorcycle and one on a scooter. Their totally unsuitable clothing is what marked them as idiots. The guy on the bike was wearing a t-shirt, shorts and thongs. The girl on the scooter was wearing a skimpy fashionable top, designer trousers and high heels. They were both soaked, barely in control because of that, and in no state to survive a trip down the road.

Next was UQ, where the students seem to become worse drivers every year. This year’s crop seem to have a really aggressive attitude to roundabouts and no idea of the rules. And some girl in a small car was in such a hurry that she overtook me on the wrong side of double lines and forced an oncoming car to brake hard to avoid a head-on. And then, to drive the point home, I got stuck in a kilometre-long traffic jam on Sir Fred Schonell Drive, because a bunch of cars had driven up each others’ arses near the Gailey Road intersection.

Yeah, call me a grumpy old man, but I’m right about this—driving requires attentiveness, skill, courtesy and common sense. Too many people seem to think that none of this applies to them.

Sun, 06 Mar 2005

Australian F1 Grand Prix

Despite hopes for an interesting race resulting from the combination of the new regulations and the confusion caused by the wet qualifying that mixed up the grid, today’s event was boring and processional and gave us little to gauge the rest of the season by. The Renaults looked good in taking 1st and 3rd, but that was already known. The old Ferrari came through from 11th to 2nd, to nobody’s surprise. Michael Schumacher started from the back and tripped over somebody on the way through, which was completely predictable. The tyres had no problems lasting the distance, but it was cold in Melbourne and there was no real racing—so things might be different in the heat of Malaysia. And some teams parked their cars before the end to get free new engines for the next race, again as expected from the bizarre new rules.

So, although it was nice to see Fisichella take a real win at last, and to see a non-Schumacher podium, there was nothing much of note about this event. The crowd obviously wanted local boy Webber to do well and it must have been galling for him to finish behind McLaren discard Coulthard in Webber’s old clunker from last year, especially when that team’s chaos and drama are taken into account.

That leaves the broadcast, especially the commentary, as blog fodder. The vision was okay, given the lack of interest in the race, although I expect that people who were there might be able to point to gaps in the cover. But, once again, Ten chose to impose their own pathetic commentary team on us rather than use the British crew that I presume will bring us the rest of the season.

There are two classes of motorsport commentators—full-time TV people and ex-racers. Ten’s people, under the dismal leadership of Bill Woods, are unremittingly useless. The ex-racers vary. Neil Crompton is quite a good commentator and provides useful information for those who come to the broadcasts without any knowledge of the sport—although, in all the years I’ve been listening to him, Crompton has never told me anything I didn’t already know. The others, like Doohan and Beattie, are in the hopeless category. They’re quite nice blokes, but they’re just bike racers. In general, almost all elite sportsmen are pretty dumb, which is why they turn to sport in the first place. Bike racers, who have chosen a sport that only the dumb would contemplate, are close to the bottom of the pile in this regard, maybe just above the boxers.

As with all things human, there are exceptions. Some ex-racers make the transition to commentary quite well. Martin Brundle is one such case and his past experience as Michael Schumacher’s team mate, his recent experience in top level motorsport, his many contacts and his personality all make him good at this job. There are others, such as the late lamented Barry Sheene. Sadly, Ten don’t make good use of those with ability and give far too much space to the idiots. But it’s been like that for ever, so I suppose I should just shut up.

One final remark on the “dumb” categorisation might be apposite. One classic bit of stupidity, in the motorsport world, is the so-called expert commentator who remarks that your car speeds up when it goes off the track and hits the grass in wet conditions. I remember ex-F1 racer Alan Jones making this idiotic claim many times in the bad old days when he and the unspeakable Darryl Eastlake did support commentary on Nine. For those who haven’t experienced it, it does indeed feel as though you’ve gained speed when you hit the grass and are watching the wall coming up at speed. This is, of course, an illusion—caused by the sudden loss of the extreme braking effect that you had on the black stuff. But simple physics tells us that a car sliding across level ground with its wheels locked up cannot possibly accelerate. And top level drivers should really know enough about what is going on underneath them to be able to see past the illusion. After all, part of racing is ignoring the frantic signals that your body, designed for much more sedate speeds, is sending you. Oh well, like I said, these guys are as dumb as rocks.

Sat, 05 Mar 2005

F1 season preview

This is my last chance to make predictions for the new F1 season, just in time to be proved wrong tomorrow. In some ways, it will be clearly less of a spectacle than last year—we have “long life” tyres that must last a full race; “long life” engines that must last two events for qualifying and races; further restrictions on aerodynamic performance; and a bunch of smaller changes. These factors will slow the cars in two ways: they will be capable of less than last year’s cars and it will be critical to manage wear on tyres and engines in order not to be penalised by the new rules. On top of all that, we have an extension of the idiotic qualifying rules from last year that will make qualifying mystifying and dull for the on-track spectators and a waste of time for the TV audience.

On the other hand, the new rules will reward drivers who have the supreme skills to get good performance out of their package while also treating their car and its tyres kindly. The drivers who can best adapt to those requirements will do better than the ones who like to wring the car’s neck and rely on the traction control to manage the rear end. That might lead to some interest in at least some of the races.

Although I see no reason to imagine that Michael Schumacher might struggle this year, given that he excels in the skills that will be most in demand and is on a roll with the best team in the business, I think we’ll see interesting races within some teams and between some teams, even if the battles are not always for the top spot on the podium. For instance, McLaren now have the strongest and most competitive driver pairing of any team since the days when they had Senna and Prost in their cars. Raikkonen will lift his game now that he has Montoya in his team; Montoya is clearly much better motivated than he was at Williams and has sublime skills. They should be great to watch and their car, although probably not the fastest, should perform well enough to be interesting.

BAR stupidly sacked team boss David Richards who single-handedly lifted them from joke to number two—so that Honda could own the team and have a puppet in charge. That will hurt them. But Button and Sato are both on top of their form and very fast and the car itself should be good again. They will be worth watching.

And it’s time for Williams to emerge from the shadows too. For them, this will be hard. They’ve had really silly upheavals among key team personnel and they have lost two highly-ranked drivers who have been replaced by people with no real credit. While most Australians are hoping that Mark Webber will show himself to be another Alan Jones now that he’s at Williams, it’s important to note that he has never driven a car that had a hope of winning and that he’s never had a team mate who deserved a ride. He has a huge weight on his shoulders, both in terms of expectations from the team who need a turnaround in their fortunes and need a driver who is also a leader, but also in the need to beat Heidfeld (who often bested Raikkonen when they were team mates). And, with the loss of design people, and several years of building bad cars, much depends on Team Willy’s ability to build a suitable weapon for the new season—and that’s still an unknown.

In some ways, I regret choosing to compete in the Grand Prix Rally last year because I think tomorrow’s race in Melbourne will be very interesting. In other ways, I’m pleased that I’ll be watching from the comfort of home this year, as it will be easier to follow the progress of the race and to keep an eye on the interesting developments through the whole field. And, now that I’ve done a few laps on the track, it’s much easier to understand the choices the drivers make on the various corners—none of which look anything like they do on TV when you’re at road level and approaching them at speed.

Wed, 02 Mar 2005

What not to do about it

Yesterday, I wrote about some problems I had with a custom-built exhaust system for my toy. Since then, several people have contacted me with helpful suggestions about possible legal avenues that I could pursue in order to obtain compensation. To save others from wasting their time adding to that advice, I’ll explain my position here.

First, the whole saga has cost me far more time and energy than the mere dollar cost (which is around $3k). I cannot get compensation for that time and energy, no matter what process I follow; and monetary compensation is not worth any further effort on my part. I like to believe I know when to cut my losses.

Second, the guilty party is somebody who I considered to be a friend (at least in the wider context of the motorsport world) and I don’t wish to poison things in that world with litigation—something I look upon with a large degree of contempt. That contempt that is fairly evenly spread between the legislators, the interpreters and the enforcers. I have no desire to play in the legal system, except perhaps in extreme circumstances which do not obtain here.

And, for those who have suggested that I should take legal action to help protect other potential innocent victims, my answer is that I have taken what steps I reasonably can to publicise my experience precisely for the benefit of others. I’m happy for my story to be brought to the attention of those who are interested. But that’s as far as I plan to go with this.

Tue, 01 Mar 2005

How not to do it

When constructing automotive exhaust systems, there are several principles that are considered basic. This is a story of a system where pretty much all those principles were ignored.

After the umpteenth breakage in the very expensive system built for me by Midas Tingalpa, I was so fed up that—rather than deliver the car back there yet again for a lengthy stay and an uncertain repair—I had a completely new set of extractors built elsewhere. I’m not going to say where until I see how the new system goes, although I can say that it’s beautiful and that it feels better on the road.

Today, I took some photos of the old headers, while I was taking the opportunity of inspecting them from the inside for the first time. I knew they weren’t perfect, but I was amazed at just how bad they were. The first picture below is an overview of the number two and three primary pipes, showing the daggy welds, the over-stretched secondary pipe (which has, inevitably, broken where it was stretched), and the nice large primaries welded on to some recycled BMW flanges.

In the next two photos, things are washed out because I was trying to get the extremely black interior of the pipes and my camera’s flash control is not brilliant. However, in the next photo, it’s possible to see inside the top of one of the pipes through the flange and it becomes clear that, although the initial section from BMW is correctly sized, the passage then narrows down to about half size before spilling into the large primaries—which are completely wasted because of the restriction.

The final photo shows inside the bottom of the primaries at the join, looking in from the most recent breakage (with the broken-off piece also visible). This is not so much a case of a restriction as of disgusting workmanship, with great big pieces of pipe protruding into the system and creating bad flow, hot spots, and other problems.

I didn’t make a particular effort to photograph the welds, but every one of them is fat and ugly and that’s just the way to introduce extra weaknesses into the system, as if the excessive stretching of pipes at joins was not enough. It’s no surprise that these pipes lasted such a short time. It was extremely disappointing to discover that, despite having been charged a ridiculously high amount to have them made, they were so poorly done. Obviously, I won’t take any more business to Midas Tingalpa.

Mon, 28 Feb 2005

A bad day for a car dealer

A sales critter at Watson Holden in the Melbourne suburb of Bundoora will be kicking himself now. Taking complete leave of his senses, he allowed a 19-year-old male to test drive a new VY HSV Clubsport. The lad, confusing his abilities with his ambitions, completed the drive by arriving back at the dealership a mite too fast around the final corner when he mounted the kerb, attacked the gates and mounted a few cars. The picture shows how it finished.

Update: It seems that some of the minor details in the story above might not be correct—the age of the driver, the exact details of the car’s ownership, and so on. That’s the case with many such stories, and I have neither the time not the interest to explore it further. The lessons of such stupidity remain valid, regardless of those fine details.

Thu, 27 Jan 2005

Fun and games in the rain

After much research amongst club members, I finally settled on an auto electrician in Slacks Creek to fix my starter motor. Some of the other recommended places that were nearer to home lost the chance to do the job because they told me on the phone that it wouldn’t be the starter motor, despite the fact that I insisted that it was. Idiots.

So, I get nice and wet pushing the car out into the street so I can roll start it. Then, as I turn on to Coronation Drive, heavy rain starts falling—and continues falling until I arrive at Slacks Creek. That’s not so bad, at least until I get to the Regatta. The wipers and turn indicators suddenly stop working. So I do this long drive in early morning traffic along the motorway in driving rain and can hardly see. Naturally, the wipers start working as I turn in to the auto electrician’s entrance, so he is unable to diagnose that fault.

Fortunately, the starter doesn’t fix itself, so he pulls it out and shows me the problem—the last person who built that starter did it wrong and the cap has come off the end and various bad things have happened. However, it’s fixable. Three hours and $165 later, I’m on my way home. The rain starts again soon after I get on the motorway and the wipers go out to lunch again, but I’ve had enough for one day and don’t turn back. Strangely, when I hit the indicator switch to change lanes, the wipers start up again. It was too hard to tell if the indicators were working, but I decided not to worry about that.

The race seat and race steering wheel conspire to hide the most interesting instruments (for road use) in this car. The seat, being required by some silly law to be attached to the original frame, is a smidgen higher than it should be; the steering wheel is much thicker than standard and, being of smaller diameter, is effectively lower. As a result, it’s not possible to see the speedo except below 40 km/h or above 200. Nor is it possible to see the flashing lights for the turn indicators. And the car is far too noisy to allow me to hear the “audible” signals. So I just manage without some of that information.

So now I just wait for the other electrical problem to appear on a fine day when I have nothing to do so I can get it fixed.

Tue, 09 Nov 2004

More money than sense

A car club member with more money than sense buys a new E46 BMW M3 and brings it to the race track at Morgan Park. He has plenty to say about the racing he did when he was young, but he was either hopeless as a racer or has a really bad memory of how to drive. He sees me catching him in my old 4-cylinder 4-door sedan and starts trying harder and harder. When I catch him in the middle of the esses, he backs his car off the track in a huge cloud of dirt and vegetation. He spends the rest of the day trying to stay in front of me and falling off the black stuff repeatedly. Had the car been driven correctly, and a bit conservatively, it could have stayed in front of me easily.

Subsequently, he decides that the problem was the car, so he goes out and buys a Porsche GT3. He takes it to Willowbank and backs it off in turn 1 (the fastest corner on the track). That’s silly enough, but somehow he gets it so badly wrong that he contrives to hit the concrete wall so hard that he breaks an ankle, not to mention doing squillions of dollars of damage to the Porsche. Since it was him driving, I’m confident that he could not have got up past about 250 km/h on the run to turn 1, so he should have just stopped in the gravel trap—the V8 Supercars go into the trap at about 275–280 km/h and they stop before they hit the wall, despite the fact that their design renders the trap less effective than for a road car.

When our hero was asked how he managed it, he replied: “I left my brains in the pits.” At least he got that right.

Speed limits do more harm than good

I generally regard speed limits as stupid and hold the people who set them and those who enforce them in contempt. This morning I saw a classic illustration. It’s school time, so there’s a limit of 40 km/h in a narrow street with the usual assortment of badly parked cars, kids milling about, etc. There’s also a cop with a hand held radar gun.

I’m in a line of cars, all travelling at around the limit (which is the right speed for the conditions). The front car sees the cop, and jumps on the brakes just in case. The next two cars take their eyes off the road at the same moment to check their speedos. Result, three cars joined nose to tail with a total repair bill approaching $10k. Luckily, no kids chose that same moment to step into the road.

If there was no set limit and therefore no case for the cop to be there revenue-raising, these drivers might all have kept their eyes where they should have rather than diverting their attention from the real world to their speedo. The authorities pretend that these speed limits are imposed to make things safe for the kids; in reality, they add to the dangers.

Mon, 08 Nov 2004

Car repair surprises

Things don’t always work out at the car repairers. I heard both these stories, concerning people I know, this afternoon.

A customer takes his car in for diagnosis of an intermittent fault. Repairer rings customer to say, “Sorry, we dinged your door; but don’t worry—the insurance will fix it.” A few days later, the insurer rings to discuss the written-off car. “But I thought it had a ding in the door?” “Well, the left hand door is in the centre line of the car. It’s a write off.” Customer is not happy.

Another customer brings his car in because of an overheating problem. His usual repairer is too busy to deal with it in the immediate future, so customer finds somebody who works at a BMW dealer who agrees to fix the M5 at home. He removes the head and decides it needs to be heat treated. The idiots who do the heat treatment take the head as is, although they should have sent it back to have the valve guides removed first, as they are different material from the alloy of the head. Heat is applied and the head melts away around the 23 valve guides—for some reason, one guide was not in the head. The head is now completely fucked. The mechanic rings the local BMW dealer to price a new head. A bare head, without valve guides or cams or valves or any of the other stuff, will cost $16,000. Oops.

A head is located in Germany and shipped out. Mechanic fits it, but fails to do all the obvious things. He turns the motor over, valves hit the pistons and he gives up. Customer takes the mess back to the usual repairer and says, “please help me.” I saw the engine today and was amazed that the guy fitted a head to an engine that had pistons sticking up almost 2mm above the deck and that was missing a locating dowel. This was asking for disaster and it was duly provided. So his car will eventually be fixed, but the total time will be months and the cost huge.

Thu, 04 Nov 2004

Solar battery charger

I’ve found time to play with the solar battery charger now. I was a bit surprised to find that it came with a fitting to plug into a cigar lighter socket, as though all cars have the lighter socket active at all times. Checking the cars here, two activate it in the “accessories” position and the BMW—which is the one we care about here—requires the ignition to be “on”. So that’s a minor hurdle.

However, quick work with a lead and a couple of alligator clips has fixed that—I now have the solar panel sitting on the dashboard where it will attract my attention so that I disconnect it and stow it safely before attempting to drive off.

Now, it’s a matter of waiting a few months to see if it does anything useful. If the battery is still cranking strongly in 12 months, then I’ll know that the charger does work and by then it will have paid for itself. Must put a note in my diary to check. So, for now, it’s all good.

Wed, 03 Nov 2004

A question for the electrical engineers

Bought the third battery in 22 months for the BMW today. They are not all that expensive, but this is still a bit over the top. Can’t complain about the batteries themselves, as my use is contraindicated for lead-acid batteries—the battery gets used for maybe 15 to 20 starts on a track day and then sits idle for four to six weeks, with the only action being the slow drain from the immobiliser and radio LEDs. Clearly, this use pattern is never going to work well.

So I’ve been thinking about solutions. My current favourite is some sort of solar-powered trickle charger. This seems good to me because it would trickle charge during the day and the on-car electronics would trickle discharge during the night, so maybe the battery would give me decent life. But I’m not an electrical engineer and I’m not sure how right I am. Nor do I have any idea if this sort of thing is available off the shelf or if it would be easy to build one. Obviously, if it cost more than about $100 all up, it would be unlikely to pay for itself.

I had considered one of those baby batteries that they use in real race cars on the grounds that it would be easy to remove from the car for intermittent trickle charging via a timer in the workshop, but discarded that idea because I don’t think those batteries have enough grunt for events with night work like the Grand Prix Rally or a Duttons Rally. On top of that, if the battery was out of the car, the immobiliser wouldn’t work and Shannons wouldn’t be pleased. So I think some method of charging the battery in the car is probably the only way to go.

So, if you know the answers to the above and are willing to share, I’d love to hear from you.

Update: I’ve been pointed to Jaycar, who appear to have exactly what I need for $50. Cool.

Mon, 25 Oct 2004

End of season

Leaving aside the local taxi races, the motor racing year pretty well ended this weekend. The Gold Coast Indy 300 managed to run to the end without the rain-induced farces of recent years and even managed to sustain interest fairly well. The Brazilian F1 GP was a bit lacklustre, although the final stage when Kimi was chasing JPM hard was quite fascinating—these two will be team mates next year and their tussle will be a good launch point for them. Unfortunately, like the previous event in Japan, the enjoyment of the race was diluted by an incredibly incompetent television broadcast. The directors seemed to have no clue about what they were broadcasting and, apart from wasting lots of time following local drivers when they weren’t doing anything interesting, they managed to miss almost every event of real interest—so badly that they couldn’t even contrive to show the missed material in replay. You’d think, with the stupendous television budgets, that they’d be able to find people with a clue—just one more bit of evidence that the believers in the ability of the market to fix things have got it all wrong.

Sun, 26 Sep 2004

Morgan Park pictures

As promised, I have now put up a little gallery of some of the pictures that were taken by Wayne Reed last month at Morgan Park. Here’s a teaser:

Mon, 13 Sep 2004

Monza magic

Last night’s Formula 1 race at Monza was pretty exciting, helped out by a spin by Michael Schumacher on a wet second corner which put him at the tail of the field and left him well back in 15th place at the end of the first lap while Rubens Barrichello romped away by several seconds per lap for the few laps where his intermediate tyres were superior.

Michael was then forced to make a serious effort to work his way back through the field, and he was mighty to watch as he set about this. Some of the slow-motion shots of the two Ferraris bouncing over the kerbs in the chicanes were brilliant. In the end, Michael caught Rubens easily, and if he had not already won the world championship, I’m certain that he would have gone past. As it was, he eased off and rewarded Rubens for his loyal service and ensured yet another Ferrari one-two.

The only real puzzle for me was the comments by the “experts” who expressed surprise that Michael was able to come back from the back of the field—I wonder what universe they have been living in?

Wed, 25 Aug 2004

Pictures from Morgan Park

The CD with the latest pics from Morgan Park has arrived. They are 4 megapixel shots and there are 27 of them, so I’m certainly not going to post them here. When I’ve shown them to a few people and gauged their reactions, I’ll choose the most popular pics and crop and shrink them and then I’ll post their URLs here.

Fri, 20 Aug 2004

Getting air at Morgan Park

Yesterday was another great day at Morgan Park, if we gloss over the antics of one dickhead in a Falcon ute who—having got into a tank-slapper coming onto the straight on one lap—learned nothing from the experience and tried even harder next time around. The result was a huge crash into the concrete barriers. It made the concrete walls move quite a bit, and seemed to spoil the looks of the ute. By some miracle, he did drive it away.

The big thing for me was that ace motor sport photographer Wayne Reed came along and so I now have some good pics of the BMW getting air over the kerbs. I should receive them on CD in the next week and then I’ll order some prints to wave under people’s noses and hang on my wall.

Fri, 23 Jul 2004

Historic sports sedans

My mate Simon Harrex, long famous as a touring car and sports sedan racer in Queensland and interstate, has kept one of the space frames he built for his mid-engined sports sedans on the wall of his workshop for years, together with engines and assorted other bits that clutter up the place.

Yesterday he told me that the chiefs of historic racing had been in touch to remind him that his car was now eligible for historic racing and to encourage him to get it out again. I said, “So, are you going to do it?” And I was delighted when Simon said he was. This car is a beast—it’s a package that weighs around 600 kg and is powered by a mid-mounted 600 horsepower Chev V8. I found a few pix on the Friends of Lakeside web site gallery.

The picture below shows Simon leading a sports sedan race at Lakeside on some forgotten day in the past in this car:

And, while we were talking about the plans to rebuild the car, Simon promised me a drive when it’s ready—I can hardly wait!

Although it’s irrelevant to this entry, I’m just going to mention that I’m still waiting to see pix of my car cornering on two wheels from our last outing at Morgan Park—the pix are supposed to exist and people who saw the car said it looked exciting, but I have not yet seen the evidence …

Tue, 06 Jul 2004

Morgan Park provides plenty of fun

Finally, after a year of having a car that needed something fixed, I had an almost trouble-free day at Morgan Park on Sunday. It was a full day event, run as a driver training day and very well organised by the BMW Club Qld.

As always at such events, the early part of the day was focused on providing a safe introduction to the race track environment for those who were new to it. And, apart from providing expert instructors for those who needed tuition, there were also plenty of opportunities for people to have rides in the faster cars to get an idea of what it feels like to travel at speed on a track and to watch good drivers at work at speed.

A highlight of the day for me was a late session when I went out with a passenger—intending to give him a couple of hot laps and then drop him off so that I could do a few laps on my own. I found myself not far behind one of the faster cars, Greg Lee’s very powerful M6, with Greg in the passenger seat and racer Simon Harrex driving. This was too good to miss, so I set out after Simon who spotted me coming and started to get serious. It was great to watch the M6 being pounded around the tight corners and then to watch it pull away on the straights. My car was faster overall, but I had to wait for Simon to wave me past on the back straight. By then, there was a good crowd on the pit wall watching our little effort.

Once I was in front, Simon started putting on a show behind me. He had the big BMW sliding sideways through the hairpins, smoke pouring off all four tyres. It looked spectacular in the mirrors, although my passenger seemed to be too busy watching where we were going to get much of a view out the back. I hope somebody got some pictures. My car spent quite a bit of time on three wheels and some time on two wheels and the M6 just looked mean.

Once we were given the “last lap” signal, we brought the cars back into the pits, took off our helmets and we all had huge grins on display. That was just great. But the whole day was fun. That track is a real challenge, with lots of different turns, only two short straights, and plenty of run-off for those who make mistakes.

My new tyres, a harder compound than the previous set in the interest of getting a bit more life out of them, worked pretty well. They did not turn in as well as the softer tyres, but were nice and consistent under brakes and through the corners. The car was so well-behaved that I did not put a foot off the black stuff the entire day, despite some pretty spirited driving—and in marked contrast to the last outing with completely worn-out tyres. Much to my surprise, I only managed to do 56 km on the track, no doubt due to the large number of people we had on the day. And even that short distance took 0.7mm off the 5mm tread on the tyres. At that rate, I won’t get 500 km out of them. At $1400 a set, that’s going to be expensive. Ouch.

I mentioned at the start of this that the day was “almost trouble-free”. The trouble showed up early when I noticed exhaust noise which turned out to be a side effect of the fix done after the last track day. A pipe broke then and the system had to be removed in order to be welded up. The workers then failed to tighten up the four bolts on the flanges between the pipes and the headers. Why can’t people do simple jobs right?

Formula 1 at Magny-Cours

Lots of people—sometimes known as “fans”—have been complaining about the dominance of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari in Formula 1 over the past few seasons. No doubt they’ll be whining again after a crushing victory last Sunday.

I’m not a “fan”, whether it comes to motor sport, music, programming languages or anything else. It’s my opinion that fans are idiots. I do love motor sport, both as a spectator at top-level events, and as a participant in events that are suited to my age and budget and other responsibilities.

At Magny-Cours, we had a great chance to watch the best of the best turn a disadvantage into a strength. Clearly, the Ferraris were not as fast as the Renaults. But the Ferrari team kept thinking throughout the race and determined that they could get their man to the front by changing to a very aggressive four stop strategy rather than the three stop approach adopted by everybody else. All it required was that Michael be able to turn in ten stunning laps at the right time. They told him when to push; he pushed; they made up the time and used their lighter fuel load and fresher tyres to brilliant effect and so stole the race from the Renault. No other driver could have done it; no other team showed the ability to respond to changing circumstances as well. They deserved to win and it was great to watch them do it.

While I agree that it can be boring to watch evenly-matched second-tier drivers and cars engaged in processional racing, I have to say that I just love watching the very best doing their job at the highest standard. I’ll be sorry when Michael retires.

Sat, 19 Jun 2004

A huge day

What a huge day—washed the cars; washed the track wheels; checked the tread depth of the new track tyres (5.0 mm); took a picture of one of the new tyres (see side-by-side comparison below); checked that the leak in the new radiator really is fixed and that the broken exhaust really is fixed too. Now all is ready for Morgan Park on 4 July and that promises to be real fun …

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Thu, 03 Jun 2004

Tired tyres update

Finally got around to checking the usage I got out of those track tyres (see the earlier entry and pictures). They managed exactly 999km, which works out to $1.36/km. For comparison, the last set of street tyres on the same car lasted for 34,000km and cost just $0.02/km—and that included a few hundred km on various race tracks. So, in order to go a few seconds faster, I’m paying almost 70 times as much for tyres. Or, to look at it another way, a day at the track where I might expect to do about 150km at speed will cost me about $200 in tyres alone.

Tue, 01 Jun 2004

Tired tyres

Finally got some batteries for the camera and took some pix of the track tyres after Morgan Park. The most obvious damaged area actually shows two separate layers of steel that have been shredded on one of the front tyres—leading to erratic braking as the wheel invariably locked when that bit came around.

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Fri, 28 May 2004

Almost good

Morgan Park was fun; the BMW seems to have been cured of its miss and was quick enough to hunt down and embarrass late model M3’s.

The down sides were:

  • The exhaust pipe that broke off the back of one of the catalytic converters (in another triumph of engineering by the people who built the exhaust system)—the noise, both on the track and during the two-hour drive home, was just awful.
  • The fact that, in a fit of meanness after spending so much recently, I decided to get “my money’s worth” out of my track tyres which were really past their use-by date.

I was going to take a couple of pics of the shredded steel bands on the tyres, but that will evidently have to wait until I get around to buying some more batteries for the camera. Stay tuned.

Thu, 20 May 2004

It only took seven months

Got my toy car back today, after seven months of waiting while various workshops up and down the east coast farted about failing to resolve a slight miss at over 6500 rpm. It has been claimed that all is “fixed” but I’ll have to wait another week until I get it on the track at Morgan Park next Thursday morning to be convinced. If it doesn’t perform up to expectations after costing me almost $4k to get it “fixed”, I’ll be a bit put out—but I’m thinking positively for now and have every expectation that it will just fly. It has been so long coming that I don’t think I’ll sleep properly tonight …