31 October, 2014

I'm irresistable, you fool

It's amazing how an interesting spectacle can bring people together. I went to an American Autocross event recently, and had the great pleasure of seeing a Lola T-70 Mk1 for the first (and, quite possibly, only) time. The car was built in 1965, and is owned and driven by David Pozzi who has a page on the car here.
The race cars of that era had a particularly distinctive styling, which makes them easy to remember. As I took the car in, a combined sense of recollection and discovery wafted across my mind. The car is a gorgeous relic of a somewhat bygone era, and even though faster, safer, more efficient cars have followed, there's still a sense of something lost.

I imagine that those feelings of wonderment and wistfulness are something all of the onlookers shared as we admired the #26 — seeing this example undoubtedly stoked the memories of anyone who had seen one in person, on television, in posters, or elsewhere.
In my own case, I grew up watching the "Speed Racer" cartoon, which featured the somewhat similarly-styled Mach 5. Of course, at the time, the world of the Mach 5 was a pure historical fantasy for me. It's funny how things change.

So in the short time that I had a physical manifestation in front of me, I reveled in the details that a cartoon glosses over. Giant tires, mid-mounted engine, rear transaxle and radiator. Plus what I assume is a hinge to flip up (or remove) the rear clam.
Having spent an inordinate amount of time working on Truckula, my '85 Nissan 720 pickup, the Weber carburetors immediately caught my eye. The 720 comes stock with a diabolically complicated Hitachi-manufactured carburetor, but Weber swaps are incredibly common for people looking for easier maintenance and more simplicity.

Sometimes, it's easy to miss how connected our lives become with the unrecalled events and experiences of the past.
Of course, if you're having a once-in-a-lifetime experience, why not make it even more special? According to other folks at the event, the Mk III Cobra in the foreground is the sole remaining Shelby Cobra that is still owned by the original owner.

I didn't get a chance to chat with the driver, Ken McCullough, but what I heard is that he worked for Ford at the time, bought it new, and has owned it since. That's pretty amazing if accurate. McCullough was pretty quick in the car regardless, placing 10th by time, and 21st by index, out of 142 drivers.
Mary Pozzi, David's wife, answers questions about the car before the autocross session gets underway. Mary would go on to place first in her own class (and 46th overall, 35th by index) driving a Chevy Camaro.
No regrets.

23 October, 2014

Ad Hoc Challenges and Personal Growth

Sometimes it pays to throw caution to the wind. To try something just to see if you can do it. If it works, that's another skill or capability under your belt. If it doesn't work, that's extra experience under your belt. Either eventuality leads to personal growth.

In my own case, I was in the studio a few days ago to shoot a new passport photo for myself. I wanted to get home, and I idly wondered how quickly I could do a good-enough job. The answer was seven photos. I got to the studio, took seven pictures, and went home. I also made a lot of mistakes. I learned a lot, and if I were going to do it over again, I'd do things differently. Skills, capability, experience.

I analyze all seven shots below.
First shot. Making sure the light and trigger are working. Check. Tripod in the photo is the one that I used (since I forgot mine at home; whoops).
Second shot. Bumped the light output. Remember that this is the tripod that will be under the camera, so the tripod isn't actually in the hotspot.
Third shot. Camera mounted on tripod. Yoga mat as focus stand-in.
Fourth shot. Self-timer was shorter than expected. Obviously overexposed, framed too low, and out-of-focus.
Fifth shot. Bumped the camera from f/2.8 to f/4.0 to deal with overexposure. Used another tripod as a focus stand-in, because its legs kept it from flopping backward like the yoga mat did. Also, I made it taller to better approximate my torso height. Still out-of-focus.
Sixth shot. Pitched down a little bit, and finally nailed the focus.
Seventh shot. Focus is perfect. Framing is perfect. The main thing I got wrong is that the light is too directional. I pondered putting up a second light and decided that I was too lazy. That was a mistake — passport photos call for very flat, even lighting. In the end, I was able to fix that in post, but were I shooting for an actual (journalistic) publication, it would've called for a re-shoot.

The second thing I got wrong is that I needed more diffusion. I used a ~5-foot octa, set up pretty close, and the hotspot is too bright, which overexposed my left (camera-right) cheek, while leaving the rest of my face reasonably-exposed. If I drop the exposure so my cheek is reasonable, the rest of my face is underexposed. The effect is exacerbated by the fact that I wear UV-blocking sunglasses every day, which is why the area around my eyes is so much less tan than the rest of my face.

But all in all, pretty good. And even better next time :o)

11 October, 2014

Orgullo

flag, n:
    emblem usually consisting of a rectangular piece of cloth of distinctive design

At the most basic level, a flag is a symbol. It represents some other concept, and it's understood that the purpose of a flag's existence is to induce thoughts of that other concept. But flags don't simply exist. They are raised. They are waved. They are unfurled. They are shown. Sometimes assertively, and other times, quietly. But the display of a flag is always a conscious decision at some level.

Flags in motorsports are ubiquitous. The car control flags are most obvious — green means "go!", red means "stop," yellow means "proceed with caution." But there are plenty of others.
The car control flags are most frequently perceived as commands, but they become more personal when shown out-of-context. Moreover, as mentioned above, the display of a flag is always active, and in many cases can be a proclamation of pride.

A tiny checkered flag like this might indicate "I'm proud to be a racing fan." A legitimate checkered flag laying on a car, or being held aloft by a car driver, typically proclaims that they won the race. For instance, check out "Continuity" from the 25 Hours of Camaraderie series.
Flags that are incorporated into car liveries are often also proclamations. "I am proud to represent my country." (The "Rebirth from Fire" post shows another example.) But again, it's the conspicuous display of a flag where one might not be expected that makes the proclamation so emphatic.
Of course, the distinction may be subtle between an in-context and out-of-context (or expected and unexpected) display of a flag. The Taiwanese flag on this person's shoulder is ambiguous for me. Is it a standard part of a uniform? Or did the person affix it of their own volition? In the latter case, it's a definite expression of self, and in the former case, it may or may not be.
Some cases are mixed. The display of a country-of-origin flag next to a driver's name is a standard. But the side-by-side display of the American and Japanese flags is not. Instead, I'm confident that's meant to convey the partnership between Mazda (a Japanese company) and SpeedSource Race Engineering (an American company) in the development of the Skyactiv LMP2 cars for competition in this particular race series.
Some associations aren't with a country at all. I spotted this BMW fan during the grid walk, where, after the cars are parked on the starting grid, spectators can enter the hot pits to see the cars and meet the teams that run them. The flag features signatures from BMW RLL drivers Andy Priaulx (who drove the #55 BMW Z4 GTE) and Joey Hand (who drove the #56).
And again. These fans broke out their national flag to cheer on Mexican driver Memo Rojas, who placed third alongside Scott Pruett in the #01 Ford EcoBoost/Riley car, campaigned by Chip Ganassi Racing.
"Orgullo," the title of this post, is the Spanish word for "pride." And it felt fitting, since seeing the fans cheer for Memo Rojas was one of the most memorable aspects of the weekend, for me. In this case, the flag and it's various associations served to not only connect fans and driver with their shared mother country, but also with each other.

05 September, 2014

Drought Conditions

I was driving northbound on US-101 when I saw smoke emanating from something burning in the distance. As I approached, I realized it was an untended brush fire, burning the vegetation on the side of the road. I stopped. The easiest way to keep a small fire from turning into a big fire is to take care of it when it's still small. So I dialed 9-1-1.

Busy signal.

I dialed again. Busy signal. That was when my hands started to shake.

To be sure, I have panicked before. I panicked when the ceiling of my dorm collapsed under a flood of hot water. And then I dialed the emergency number that was listed on my room phone, and then I got out. But it's different when you're panicking, and the obvious next step turns into a dead end, and suddenly you have to figure out what you're gonna do about it. The adrenaline clouds your thinking either way, but the reason that 9-1-1 is repeated everywhere, all the time, is so that you don't need to think; you just do. That was no longer an option.

So, okay. Calm down. Think. What do we do? Fire extinguisher? No, way too big for a fire extinguisher. I don't have one anyway. It looks like it's not really moving very fast. I guess we just sit and wait…

After what was likely under a minute, though my perception of time was completely unreliable by that point, another motorist stopped, and I got him to call. Emergency services were already on their way. He took off, and a little bit later, a Foster City water truck showed up, followed in short order by a CHP squad car.

*Phew*. I took a couple pictures and left.