Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On the movie "Senna"...

Go see it.

Whether you're a fan or not, you'll enjoy it (and if you're not a fan now, you will be). I walked out of that movie speechless with a big lump in my throat; all I could say to those that went with me was, "I need a beer". Hair up on the neck during the Brazil GP win, heart pounding when they splashed "Imola 1994" on the screen, head in hands when "it" happened.

Go see it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

DVD Collections

Remember the "video store"? You should, it's not been that long since you had two or three just around the corner. The VHS revolution started out as a simple time-shifting device along with replacing your 16mm camera for family stuff, then companies figured out you'd love stopping by on the way home from work to grab a VHS movie for watching that night. Didn't take too long for DVDs to supplant VHS tapes; probably the only reason you have a VHS player in your house right now is to transfer family stuff from VHS to DVD.

Well, paradigms are a shiftin' again.

Home "media centers" (or whatever the current marketing term is) are quickly replacing DVDs; I put together a system using a Western Digital Live Plus that combines access to a hard drive and to NetFlix. To get rid of all those DVDs on the shelf in the family room I "ripped" all the DVDs to that hard drive and now watch them through the WDTV device (I keep the physical DVDs as backups.) So now, "watching a DVD" consists of changing to that device and watching on TV right off the hard drive. My "DVD collection" has become a (regularly backed-up) hard drive, with the jacket info being some source on the Internet (like IMDB.com).

And then there's NetFlix. They're not there yet, but what happens when pretty much anything you want is available on-demand, real-time from NetFlix? For $8 (or whatever) per month you can rely on Netflix to provide to you the movie data that you're now keeping on VHS tapes, DVDs, and hard drives. As long as you have access to the Internet, your "DVD collection" is nothing more than a service fee to Netflix.Why buy when you can rent...?

And that's not even getting into watching regular TV shows off the Internet, such as via Hulu. Could the now-ubiquitous TiVo/DVR heading the way of the dinosaur?

Oh, you'll still want to have a place to save all your home movies, but eventually you won't burn them to VHS or DVD any more; your hard-drive-based media center will cover you there (and the data has a much longer shelf life on that physical media versus magnetic tape or laser DVD.) But don't be surprised if someone isn't already thinking of a way for you to store your home movies on the Internet somewhere, backed up safely and off-site, letting you access them on-demand via your TV (and you can share with family across the country, too!) If no one has thought of that yet, I claim the idea!!! Please pay me royalties...? Wait a sec...that's called YouTube! Though their 10-minute-max and file size limits pretty much preclude them from being a true 'home movie media center' and more like a 'Twitter for home video'. And, yup, the WDTV I have can also show YouTube videos on the TV (as well as many other Internet media sources)...

The times, they are a'changin'.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

On The Nürburgring

So, of the Nürburgring; or more accurately for this discussion, the Nordschleife ("Northern Loop"). Those of you that know it, need no further info; that of you that don't, well...it's hard to describe. You can "google" it to get the basic info, which really comes down to "...it's an old race track in Germany, very long, many turns (most blind) and it winds through the Eifel mountains. It was built in the 1920's as a testing and race facility to showcase German engineering, and is itself a feat of civil engineering. It is such a difficult track to learn and drive well - and in the end, so unsafe by today's standards - that even Formula One chose to stop racing there after 1976. World-famous F1 driver Jackie Stewart dubbed it "The Green Hell"."

But that's all facts and figures. Why would a race track in nowhere Germany deserve such fascination within the automotive world? Why are not other tracks as heralded a the 'Ring? Well, certainly the length is outstanding; where most race tracks are about two to three miles long, the Nordschleife is just over 14 miles; the all-time lap record for the Nordschleife is just over 6 minutes, and that was a professional driver in a full-up big-time serious Porsche protoype race car back in '83 when there were fewer rules restrictions (cars of the same vintage were lapping the 1.5-mile Lime Rock Park in ~45 seconds). Most high-performance street cars today will lap the track in around 8 minutes. Think about 8 minute lap times next time you're watching racing on TV...

Of course, another attraction is the configuration: it's an absolute joy to drive. Think of your favorite country road, someplace you really like to drive, and imagine it with clear road, no opposing traffic around that blind bend, and no speed limits. It's heaven for the driving enthusiast.

But probably the main attraction of the Nordschleife, the main reason the enthusiast's eyes widen when he or she hears of "The Nürburgring" is...you can drive it. As in I can show up in my street car and drive it, you can drive it. When it's not being used for racing or testing, anybody can drive up to the Nordschleife, pay a lap fee (typically around $25) and drive a lap of the Nürburgring! The track is publicly owned, and when it's open for public access it's run under the same rules and regulations as the autobahn. No speed limits, passing on left only, drive at your own risk. And, if you were to break down and/or wreck, all the same autobahn rules apply, such as how to handle it and if you're covered by insurance! In fact, ADAC (roughly equivalent to our AAA here in the USA) is on-site to assist motorists with any problems!

Try that at Indianapolis Motor Speedway!

Oh, you bet there's plenty of accidents at the 'Ring; go to YouTube and you'll find a lot of in-car video, both good and bad (though I have to wonder about the dolts that proudly upload their "fales"...) It's still a dangerous place and not for the faint of heart. The performance mix of traffic on the 'Ring is impressive, from Porsches and Ferraris, to crotch rockets and even scooters, all the way to Fiats, Golfs, and even tour buses! You can even hire a "Ring Taxi" where professional drivers will pack you and your friends into a BMW M5 and give you the thrill ride of your life...and if you feel up to it, you can rent full-up race cars for your laps.

Let's call it the German equivalent of DisneyLand for the gearhead. Sans Mickey.

You've may have actually heard of the Nürburgring in auto commercials; it's becoming standard practice for automakers such as Corvette, Porsche, Nissan, and many others to take their performance cars and set lap times at the 'Ring and use that info in marketing. And, because of the diversity of roadway, bends, and straights, many automakers are using the 'Ring to tune their cars' handling and suspension (Cadillac did exactly that with their CTS-V. In my mind, guys like that "get it", they understand the driving enthusiast.)

So, the whole point of my trip is to drive the 'Ring; it's not a tour of Germany, it's a tour of one track in one location. The tour group I'm going with is arriving in Frankfurt on Monday March 21 and driving to Stuttgart to visit the Porsche museum. After an overnight in Stuttgart we're driving to Nürburg for an evening at-track driver's meeting and follow-the-leader sessions behind instructors (it's not an easy track to learn or read). The next three days are open track days at the 'Ring, where we can do whatever we want from the track's 8:00 AM opening 'til it closes around dinnertime.

The following Saturday will be an "off" day but not boring: we are guests of some fellow racers in the VLN racing series (comparable to our Rolex GT) for their Saturday test day;  they'll be driving the "Whole Course", the Grand Prix Circuit plus the Nordschleif, laps of something like 17.5 miles. Then Sunday is yet another treat, when "Ring Lappers" (that's the public) get access to the "Whole Course" as well!

And, of course, we have evening activities planned for each night...Flying back home to Reality on Monday. But I think that's enough. For this year, at least.

Four days of driving the Nürburgring...painful, I know. ;) Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. Just a little bit.


Aren't blogs jumping the shark...?

So, I'm taking a trip to the Nürburgring late March. For those that don't recognize this name, "The Ring" is a race track in Germany, northwest of Frankfurt; mention this name to an automotive enthusiast and their eyes are sure to widen. To an enthusiast, it's automotive mecca...but more on The 'Ring later...

I created this blog on the suggestion of my wife, Thea. Since she won't be accompanying with me on this trip (I'm going with some racer buddies) she thought it might be interesting for me to create a blog about his trip, to keep track of thoughts and experiences. And, I suspect, since she kinda wanted to go with me, with a blog she could be there vicariously (and it doesn't hurt to keep track of me, either ;)...) She also probably remembers that during our last trip to Germany and the 'Ring (January '99) I was consistently on my laptop writing down thoughts and observations (like the one time we were at a museum cafe and I wrote for an hour while she sat there bored...)

After I created this blog, I found myself staring at an empty page, wondering what to write (hell, it took me 15 minutes to choose an available blog name, and I'm not particularly pleased with the choice I ended up with...) And I got to thinking: why a blog? What is it that I could possibly write on the Internet that would be of any value or interest to someone else? It's not like I have any particularly clever insights into life (I don't), or that I'm particularly entertaining (I'm not...well, maybe not sober, anyway).

And then there's the whole concepts of "weblogs"; in this age of short-sentence, abbreviated-words texting, Twitter, and Facebook "statii" (and its resultant thoughtless tossing around of mental diarrhea) aren't blogs long, boring, and stale? Are they still useful? How many members of today's ADHD-infected society ever get through something that has more than 140 characters (a problem I'm seeing when I write detailed emails and documents at work...) Being "apparently" insightful and clever using <140 characters is easy, especially if it has a half-life of 32 seconds (I don't expect to see any Great American Novels written on Twitter...) but something longer? When was the last time most of us have even read a whole book?

(I'm as guilty as anyone on this...my primary reading over the last 10 years has been mostly magazines. I've been trying to cut back on the mags and get to that nice stack of books next to the bed, lots of very interesting stuff...)

I've been a long-time fan of blogs of people who I find interesting. One of my early followings (late 90's onward) was my friend Steve Williams, now living in California. Steve is a fellow flyer and Grumman owner, and he's always had interesting and clever insights into aviation and information technology. Steve's clever insights have, in many ways, changed the way I think and look at things (such as my "Minimalist's Panel" on the flying pages of gatm.com).

Another interesting blog is "The Angry Economist"; I'm a closet fan of macro-economics. Russ Nelson comes across as one of those curmudgeonly "You kids get off my lawn!" kinda guys, but as with Steve, while I may not particularly agree with his conclusions I certainly appreciate the insights and cleverness on how he got there. He's one of those "hey, I never thought of it like that" kinda guys.

Another one I read regularly is James Lilek's "the Bleat". Like with Steve and Russ above, I find James provides different ways of thought and clever insights. Plus, he's a big fan of 20th-century Americana that I really enjoy reading.

The point of all this is that each of these blogs have something to offer. So that makes me wonder, what do I have to offer? Am I arrogant enough to believe that I have something to offer, or am I simply overthinking this? And, worst of all, how much motivation will I have to keep this going? I'd be willing to bet a beer that 99.999% of "blogs" started on the web are rarely maintained; hell, in looking for a blog name most of the ones I tried were nothing more than pages created with one post! Fortunately, with this post I've beaten that record... ;)

Of course, if no ones reads a blog on the Internet, does it still make a sound...?

In the end I decided that blogs still do have value, fitting into a niche between Twitter and "real" (magazine?) articles (but no where close to the info in a book), offering a bit more detail and insight than a Facebook status, but less so than something more-organized and detailed. And, of course, it's a very (little-d) democratic medium, without censorship (within societal and legal boundaries), and no requirement for editorial approval, allowing someone to make their thoughts known, regardless of the value of those thoughts. We here in the USA have the right to free speech, without a right to be heard, and I think that a free blog on the currently-uncensored Internet is likely the near-perfect medium for that.

This blog is here for me and for Thea, someplace where I can put in some thoughts in any easy interface, something I can use for own reference later. Effectively, it's my online "notepad" (don't be surprised if you see me posting a list of stuff I have to buy at Harbor Freight).

You may agree with me, you may (likely) disagree. But if in the end you also find it entertaining and informative, then so much the better...


Thursday, February 17, 2011