My annual F1 Post

March 13, 2013

mp4-28F1 returns this weekend! As usual the season starts down under which means that the first race will be shown live on NBC Sports Network here in the US at 2:00 a.m. early Sunday morning. It promises to be another exciting, closely fought season since the rules haven’t changed much since last year. This tends to let the slower cars catch up a bit since they can make bigger gains than the already better optimized cars. Fortunately, the ugly duckling look to the cars has been banished by a rule allowing a vanity panel to smooth out the nose. Next year there are big rule changes including a new engine (1.6L Turbo V6 with ERS). The biggest change this year is on the driver front – Lewis Hamilton has moved from McLaren to MercedesGP, replacing the retiring Michael Schumacher. Mexican Sergio Perez has slotted into the plum McLaren seat vacated by Hamilton and alongside my favorite driver, Jenson Button (shown above).

I’ve been thinking recently about why I love F1 so much when my interest in other professional sports has waned to the point where I hardly watch football or basketball on TV at all. The spectacle is certainly there – the start of an F1 race is a 22-car drag race to the first corner, where they usually (and miraculously) find a way to funnel into formation without crashing. Exciting stuff. But it’s way more than that. F1 isn’t really a driving competition, it’s an engineering competition. All 11 teams (two cars each) design and build a new car every year, and update that car throughout the season (new front and rear wings, bodywork, and more). It’s a relentless battle of minds that is manifested in an auto race every two weeks. Between those races teams are working flat out using CFD (computational fluid dynamics) systems, wind tunnels, simulators (similar to this one), and hundreds of people and hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s a pure meritocracy that would make even Ayn Rand smile.

I will, of course, be watching the race live in the middle of the night. Any F1 fans  (or “normal” insomniacs) who are reading this are free to join me.

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Squelch up!

March 15, 2012

Today I was talking with a friend who recently bought an oscilloscope, and the conversation reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to look up… the meaning of the squelch knob on CBs and other radios. Those of you who are too young to remember the CB (Citizen’s Band) radio craze should know that it was a phenomenon on the level of today’s text messaging. A lot of people had the CBs in their cars (usually hanging under the dash) and you gave yourself a “handle” (the equivalent of a screen name on the internet) to maintain anonymity. Today, truckers still use CBs to communicate important info (police locations  – “there’s a bear by the bridge near exit 9”).

Anyway, CBs had this Squelch knob and until today I’ve never known what it was for. It’s essentially an adjustable “mute” control. If you set the squelch to off it lets every “channel” play through the speaker, even if it’s a weak signal or just white noise. But turn up the squelch and it will only let stronger signals through to the speaker. This allows you to hear actually transmissions without all that headache-inducing static. But turn it up all too far and it will block everything but the strongest signals, which may not be desirable since you could miss a message from someone who has a weaker signal but is still discernible (and could save you from getting a speeding ticket).

I’m going to deviate from my recent obsession with architecture to write a bit about another of my old loves… automobile design. Here’s a photo taken right after I bought my Mazda3 in 2004. I bought the car for a number of reasons… driving dynamics, perfect size (I like sedans that are just big enough to transport four adults), a high-quality interior, and solid and sporty exterior styling. The car has excellent proportions with short overhangs and nice detail work.

My favorite part of the car is highlighted above… the C-pillar (for sedans, the C-pillar is the most rearward support of the glass area, the B-pillars are between the doors, and the A-pillars frame the windshield). The C-pillar of the 3 features an extreme example of the Hofmeister kink commonly found on BMWs, which sits above the hard (for the time) “shoulder” crease that runs the length of the car, another feature I like quite a bit.