Wednesday, August 26, 2009

When Porsche Got It Right

The Porsche 550 and 718 Spyders were one of those lines of cars that somehow came together just right. Small, light and nimble, the original 550 defined "sports car" for a whole new generation, even without aspiring actors killing themselves in one and propelling it to cult status. Originally conceived as a racing car but with tremendous showroom success too, the 550 won the Targa Floria in 1956 and its successors - one of which, a 718/2 RSK is shown above - went on to collect even more race wins before this basic outline was replaced in the early 60s with the 904 (which looks remakably like a Ferrari Dino) closed coupe design that was only available on the road in limited numbers to meet homologation rules.

Interestingly, it's said that a German F1 driver drove a 550 straight under a railway crossing barrier in the 1954 Mille Miglia. Given that the above version is no higher than a small picket fence, I can quite believe it!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

You're Leaving?

Yup, with summer winding down it's time to get back on the road again. Once again I find myself in LHR's T5 waiting for an onward connection. This will be a short in-and-out trip, back at the weekend so nothing too onerous.

Seems like a pleasant day here in London. The sun is trying hard to come out for more than just a fleeting appearance, so I may have actually caught the end of what, by all accounts, has been a less-than-stellar summer here in the UK. However, looks like there are supposed to be thunderstorms tomorrow in Stockholm with showers later in the week, so I may yet get to see some rain. Actually, given how dry our summer is in California, I won't mind that too much.

(No dogs were harmed in the creation of this blog, but one at least seemed a bit disappointed at my impending absence.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Porsche 917: A Racing Legend

Here's a shot of one of the all-time racing greats: the Porsche 917. This is the short tail version, first produced in 1969, with in this case the full 5 litre engine, up from the 4.5 litre of the initial production.

Ultimately, the 917 was good for over 230 mph, and a 0-60 time of a quite remarkable 2.7 seconds. According to those who campaigned it, including names such as Brian Redman, Mark Donohue and Derek Bell, it was a real pig to drive, being both very fast and very unstable, all at the same time. In race trim it ended up producing north of 1,100 bhp while in qualifying trim, with boost would up to maximum (a quite astonishing 39 psi), it was reputed to put out around 1,500 bhp.

The Porsche 917 and its derivatives dominated GT racing for many years, scoring maiden Le Mans wins for Porsche in 1970, and again in 1971. Steve McQueen also drove one in the Le Mans film in 1971.

This is a quite astonishing car, and it was a rare and special treat to see multiple instances of this thing going round one of the world's prettiest race circuits. Quite a day!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Good News - Aliens Don't Smell

Well that's a weight off my mind I can tell you. I mean, it's bad enough being abducted and probed without also having to deal with bad alien breath or armpit odour (especially good news given how many limbs they likely have). Thankfully, the UK has finally allowed such important facts as these to be declassified.

In addition to knowing that alien space ships don't smell, we also get to find out many other things that the UK government have been deliberately hiding from the general population (something devotees of Torchwood or Dr. Who will already be all too aware of).

Firstly, they have an infinite variety of shapes, sizes and types of craft. No two sketches are the same, other than to note that many of them look to have been drawn by a spatially-challenged 5 year old.

Secondly, and for as-yet unexplained reasons, flashing lights are good, apparently. Either these aliens just want to yank our collective chains or they forgot to turn off the landing lights, not realising that these would make them somewhat conspicuous to even the most casual of observers. (Seriously, not even a half-way decent invisibility shield amongst them?) I find this all to be quite perplexing. Did NASA engineers, when working out the basic architecture of the LEM, ever reach a point where one of them slapped their forehead crying, "Bloody hell, we forgot the flashing lights. We'll have to scrap the mission and do it in a hanger outside of LA instead"? I think not. Well, at least not the first bit. So, unless this is as the result of some galactic edict, equivalent to the imposition of the back-up beeper we humans decided to stick on all lorries and trucks, then flying around some - likely hostile - planet advertising your presence with megawatt strobes going off all over the place really isn't the smart way to go.

Thirdly, don't ever, ever, treat seriously a statement from, as the BBC puts it, two blokes from Staffordshire who told the police that, "as they returned home from an evening out an alien appeared under a hovering UFO hoping to take them away" because "an evening out" was most likely a huge piss-up at the nearest pub. Just look at the drawing of the alien they saw and tell me it 'aint so!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Flying Ferrari

I spent Saturday at the 36th running of the Monterey Historics meeting down at Laguna Seca. Despite the on-going Lockheed fire, burning some 10 miles west of home, visibility wasn't too bad and although you could smell the smoke it didn't really cause any problems either for myself or the camera.

I'll post some more pictures etc. over the coming days but here's one for starters. This is a 1958 Ferrari 250 TR Testa Rossa, doing something it was never designed to do: kangarooing over rough terrain! According to the driver, David Love, he missed his braking point for the Corkscrew corner and ended up bouncing over the run-off and into the tyre wall. Fortunately, damage looked to be light but he ended up parking a few yards down the hill and jumping out.

Warning: motors sports can be dangerous, especially in the area of one's wallet ....

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Polar FT40 Heart Rate Monitor Review

For my birthday, and recognising that I had just hit 52, I decided to change around what I was typically doing at the gym each week. In order to make it more aerobic rather than just being based on weight training, I opted to get a heart rate monitor as a present this year. And I'm glad I did, because it's been a revelation.

I chose the Polar FT40, a middle-of-the-range device that cost around $140, including the chest strap and transmitter. Setting it up was quite easy requiring just telling it things like height, weight, age etc.

As part of the functionality, Polar identify two ranges you can be in : fat burning or fitness. These are roughly equivalent to the temperate and aerobic zones in the typical literature (e.g. here). Initially, the watch calculated that the break point between these two zones for me was 117 beats per minute (bpm) but now after about 4 fairly decent sessions it just upped it to 119 bpm. Interestingly, this break points at 70% of maximum is very close to what's calculated by the formula here (using the Tanaka method), which gives me a maximum heart rate figure of 172 bpm vs. the earlier link which gives me a maximum rate of 182.

Now I have a handle on my heart rate throughout a workout, I can ensure I stay in the chosen zone throughout. Interestingly, that's causing me to work out harder and longer because it stops me skiving off and resting too long between sets. It also has made me use the exercise bikes some more in order to go long enough overall to burn an indicated 200 calories.

The chest strap hasn't turned out to be either uncomfortable or hard to keep placed, and so far it's really not been something that has got in the way at all of working out or otherwise been a distraction.

Of course it's early days and it will be interesting to see if I can stay the course! So far, so good though, and the net result is I'm certainly getting more exercise than was the case before.

Negatives? The watch is a little bulky for me and the strap and strap clip are a bit of a pain because the catch pin is too loose and the strap retaining band too stiff. But really, that's about it. Otherwise, it really does do what it say on the box, and does it well.

Oh, one other thing. The transmitter seems to work a little too well! I noticed the other day that my heart rate was being broadcast to the two bikes either side of me. No problem so far but at some stage someone's going to wonder why they are pedalling harder and harder but their heart rate doesn't appear to be responding!

Highly recommended, especially for numerically-biased engineering types who also want to work out by the numbers!

Sunday, August 9, 2009


It's just been revealed that there's a new level of price been discovered above stratospheric: Veyronospheric. Named after the Bugatti Veyron, the 1,000 HP supercar from your friendly local purveyor of Golfs, it reflects not only the million pound price tag it costs to acquire one of these things but also that it attracts running costs that would make an Arab oil sheik look twice at the bills to see if someone was (unwisely) pulling his leg....

The latest copy of evo magazine details running costs for one of these things that up until now no one has really revealed. Here are a few examples, and all prices quoted in GBP.

First service: 13,645 GBP. Then they get pricey.

Tyres: replace every 2,500 miles for the princely sum of 6,325 GBP each. Every three tyre swaps, throw in a new set of wheels for good measure at an additional 29,900 pounds for the set.

Fancy the extended warranty? Two years for a mere 63,000 pounds! Absolute bargain.

Evo went on to calculate that, over four years of ownership and doing some 3,000 miles per annum, servicing and depreciation would mean that each single mile you drive will have cost you 38.51 GBP, or roughly $64. Nipping down to the shops for a tin of cat food has never been so expensive as it would be in one of these.

Turns out, the only thing faster than the 250 mph Veyron is the speed with which owning one drains your bank balance. Lottery winners need not apply. Owning one of these requires serious money!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Redneck Swimming Pool?

You tell me! Takes the notion of tailgating to a whole new level, though. It used to be about just BBQ and beer, but now there's a way to get the whole "by the pool" experience thrown in for good measure.

And Europeans wonder why so many pickups get sold over here?

(Thanks to Jalopnik for this and the other 11 examples of motoring folly.)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Tough Times All Round

Just in case you thought Silicon Valley was somehow immune from the currently high levels of US unemployment, the graph above, published by Silicon Alley Insider, shows we are just as stuffed as everywhere else is in the Golden State. To judge quite how crappy this is, you have to appreciate that outside of the Bay Area the only other industries you can work in are (a) agriculture, the employment of which isn't even measured because it's all done by undocumented workers and (b) construction, which has basically stopped.

Please also note one other thing: the current unemployment level is 2.5 points higher than it was after the dot com bust in 2001. In other words, not only is tech having a major workforce meltdown again this time around but so too is just about every other aspect of the Bay Area employment scene.

Although this might be good if you are moving into the area because you already have a new job here (cheaper housing, less traffic on the roads, eager contractors to fix things on your new house) it's makes it very tough for anyone who is already here but unemployed.

Make you think that maybe taking the leap now and changing jobs is a move you might want to think twice about unless it's somehow more secure than where you are today. It 'aint pretty out there in new job land just now ....