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Sunday, January 27, 2008


Yeah, I definitely made the wrong call on the headlights...

I was recently in Wal-Mart, and happened to walk through the car section. They had Sylvania headlights that were evidently almost identical to Silver Stars - same wattage and all - except they don't have the filter. And these unfiltered bulbs cost half of what the Silver Stars cost. Looks like I just spend $20 on what Dave Ramsey would call "stupid tax."


Saturday, January 26, 2008


Popular Mechanics vs Big Ethanol

The latest issue of Popular Mechanics had a cover story with a rant about the problems with corn based ethanol. It includes some very pointed comments, such as "There’s a simple reason that ethanol is popular with politicians: money." Very true. Mandating 15 billion gallons of corn based ethanol be used in 2015 isn't just a stupid corporate welfare law - it reminds me of Communist Russia's central planning, where it wasn't uncommon for the Party to set a goal to cut down X amount of trees, only to find that nobody needed that much lumber and they had to let the trees rot.

I'm going to have to write to Congress on this one, soon. When I do I will post a copy of the letter.

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IMS Motorcycle Show pictures

I went to the IMS motorcycle show in Atlanta, along with my wife Kelly, my brother Philip, and my sister-in-law Amanda. We brought back a few pictures, and as usual, I'm posting them a bit belatedly. But here's a few pictures from the show. Enjoy!

Amanda checks out a Yamaha TW200. For an itty bitty bike, it's got some really big tires. It was, however, taller than what Kelly would have prefferred.

Philip checks out a BMW sport bike. You can't see very much of the bike in this picture. That's probably just as well. BMW has been letting their bike stylists smoke whatever was in Chris Bangle's stash. They've also gone on a big assymetrical styling kick.

That's me on a Yamaha FJR. This one feels like it would make a great bike for long distance riding; it's very comfortable. Not like I could afford one right now, though.

Another Yamaha - this one's their new WR250R motard. Looks like it would be a fun commuter bike, or for just horsing around on back roads. Particularly ones with broken pavement. I'm just not sure how the pricing will go over with American buyers -something around the lines of $6,000 for a small bike. Still, it's an aweful lot of small bike, with a lot of high tech stuff packed into it. Seems like this bike makes sense if you want to flog your bike like a Roman charioteer without breaking the law too much.

Kelly really liked this little C3 scooter. Too bad it's not really able to keep up with traffic around here.

Kelly tries on a full faced motorcycle helmet for the very first time. This is a Scorpion EXO400, like mine but with graphics and, of course, in a smaller size. I also talked with a Scorpion rep and got him to explain what the vents actually do. They apparently circulate air inside the line to wick away sweat rather than directing the air to your skin. No wonder I couldn't feel them. I'm still not sure they do much of anything, but that does clear up a few things.

Here's an old school chopped Harley Sportster with a suicide clutch and wrapped headers. It looks a lot meaner than many of the bigger bikes. But with its low pipes and the shocks replaced with billet aluminum bar stock to make it a hardtail (why? Billet looks so out of place on this one...), I wouldn't want to ride it on the street.


Thursday, January 24, 2008


It's racing, too...?!?

I went to Monster Jam recently, and I've now had the photos developed. My digital camera isn't nearly fast enough to capture the action there; I brought an old school SLR with a huge zoom lens and caught it on film instead. And there was plenty of action. While Monster Jam is more about spectacle than most types of motorsports, it does have some real racing involved in the first half, where the trucks run against each other on identical courses. And monster trucks are quite impressive to a gearhead and engineer - you have to really know how to build engines and suspensions to get a 10,000 pound truck to leap into the air like this! Enjoy the pictures.

Racing with trailers When they were advertising "autocross" on the radio and billing it as "half racing, half demolition derby," I knew it wasn't going to be SCCA Solo II type autocross. It was more like basic dirt track racing, except with a pair of jumps. And that they sometimes added some wacky twists. Here they're racing while towing trailers. This always means for a lot of carnage - in fact, this time they had a pile-up that took bulldozers to untangle, and they couldn't identify a winner when the dust settled. But if you've just seen jet skis dragged through the dirt after falling off their trailers, and a guy running around towing a Port-A-Potty around an oval track, who cares who won?

Blue Thunder Blue Thunder won the racing portion outright. I felt this truck should have taken first place in the Freestyle, too. But when the judges are picked at random from the crowd, it's a safe bet that the crowd favorite will take the win in Freestyle. Not surprisingly, Maximum Destruction won that portion.

I later learned that while Ford put a lot of money into sponsoring this truck (you can't see it in this photo, but the flags have Ford logos on them), it's powered by a World Products Merlin engine based on a big block Chevy. I'm still scratching my head over that one.
Gravedigger It's Grave Digger! Check out the height on that jump. Hopping lowriders have nothing on leaping trucks. Seriously, I wonder how long it's going to be before someone figures out how to apply some of the lessons from monster truck construction to low riders? A lot of the low riders aren't really able to land from the height they can jump to, with broken suspension mounts and cracked frames everywhere. Monster trucks not only jump very high, but they're very heavy, around five tons. Sometimes getting a vehicle that high in the air isn't nearly as impressive as building it to survive the landing. And survive they did - I only saw one case where a truck broke from a landing, and that was a wheel that sheared off. Most of the trucks rolled over at least once, and usually that barely scratched the paint.Gunslinger It's Gunslinger. I don't know why, but I kind of like the paint scheme and the no-nonsense bodywork. Unlike Blue Thunder, this one uses a Ford motor.
Monster Mutt But I also like over the top, fanciful designs too. This one's Monster Mutt. What can I say? Sometimes I just like to root for the underdog.

Sorry, couldn't resist. But you've got to admit that it's a fun truck to watch.

Monster truck ralleys are a spectacle every gearhead ought to see at least once, and bring your earplugs. There's a lot of things that I like about it as a car guy. It's not just the sight of something that big jumping that high, making a lot of noise, and breaking a lot of stuff. Ok, so that's the biggest part of it. But there's also a lot of what I call mechanical creativity. These aren't some NASCAR-ish spec racers here. Monster trucks show a wide variety of design, as they're allowed to run almost any sort of bodywork and use several different types of engines - all of which make around 1,500 hp in a top notch monster truck. And designing an engine and a chassis that'll hold up to this kind of abuse takes some serious engineering talent.

Ok, maybe I'm over-analyzing things. Jeff Foxworthy once said that the biggest thing that defines being a redneck is "a glorious lack of sophistication." And monster truck ralleys show that sometimes it is, indeed, glorious to get in touch with your inner redneck.



Not sure if I made the right call with headlights...

I think I'm going to officially nickname the Corvette "Winky" because the way the left headlight's been giving me so much trouble. It's been refusing to pop up, had screws come loose making it not go all the way down, and on Tuesday, the bulb burned out. So I went to get a new set of headlights. I'd heard that "Silver Stars" were a good brand to get, so I went to AutoZone and paid $42 for a pair of them.

Then I did a bit of poking around and found I'd bought the wrong Silver Stars! You may be wondering how a major corporation could let people get away with taking their trademark. Well, as it turns out, the same company makes Sylvania and Osram lights. And for some reason, each of them make a type of light called the Silver Star... and they're not the same lights. The Osram Silver Stars are the good ones; they're a plain high output bulb with no gimmicks, just good quality.

What I have are the Sylvania version of the Silver Stars. These combine a 55 watt low beam (regular Sylvania lights have a 35 watt low beam) with a slightly bluish filter. I don't like filters; they cut down on the output, because they change the color of the light by absorbing part of the light. Lighting expert Daniel Stern (you may have noted I've linked to his blog at the left) has a very informative article on the troubles with legal bulbs with blue filters. Sylvania's cranked up the wattage to make them brighter than normal lights, at least on low beam, but that puts more wear and tear on the bulbs too from the extra heat. With their version of the Silver Stars, Sylvania appears to be selling a very well known cliche: the candle that burns twice as bright but half as long.

I went and installed them anyway. While these do have a blue filter, the light output isn't blue; it actually is a rather nice shade of white. And unlike some filtered lights, the color looks to be about the same in all directions. Back in the heyday of illegal "HID-look" bulbs, I'd often see bulbs that would turn from blue to purple to green depending on what angle you viewed them from. It remains to be seen how they work in the rain - a lot of people on some forums with owners who installed blue lights but were mature enough to look at them objectively reported they're a nightmare to drive behind in the rain. Since the Sylvania SilverStars are more of a pointless effort to make the bulb whiter than white, I'm not sure they will have that problem.

I'll probably leave them in for a couple years, then do what I should have done had I not been pressed for time: Give Daniel Stern a call and get some serious, safe, and powerful headlights.


Saturday, January 12, 2008


The Corvette's a picky eater.

The Corvette gave me a bit of a scare this week - it suddenly started running pretty rough. It turned out I'd got a tank of bad gas from a grocery store that also sold no-name gas. First time I've really had a car that was all that picky about gas brands (although I'm not sure about the Dart's current EFI trim). I'd figured that since the L98 engine isn't really all that exotic - low RPM, iron heads, Chevy recommends 87 octane - it wouldn't be all that picky about what sort of gas I put in it. Looks like I was mistaken.

The moral is that while an L98 Corvette will run quite happily on 87 octane, it has to be good 87 octane.

Also, I finally got the minor tune-up parts installed on the Corvette...Well, most of them; I'll get the spark plugs and O2 sensor later (and I may put something else in that O2 sensor socket than a stock part...). I used a set of Summit straight boot HEI plug wires. The fit isn't the greatest; several on the left bank had to go up over the valve cover to fit correctly. And the stock wires have 90 degree angle boots. But I was able to route them away from anything likely to burn them. So my impression of Summit's house brand wires is a bit mixed. Although if the #1 and #3 wires were a little longer I would be very impressed. They fit at least as well as many parts store wires I've dealt with.



My jaw is on the floor

"Heckshemi" on the Slantsix.org board has built a slant six with a crossflow cylinder head made out of sections of a pair of new 5.7 Hemi heads. Absolutely astounding. I wonder if the reason I've been highlighting slantsix.org threads is how long my Dart's been off the road...

Nah. This one's just too impressive to ignore.


Thursday, January 10, 2008


Another EFI slant six

While my Dart's been languishing waiting for the big turbo project to get finished, "Runvs_826" on the slant six forum has gone and put together a very impressive, cheap, and effective TBI conversion for his slant six. Check it out. I was particularly impressed by his clever way of adding an in-tank pump. If I redo my conversion - and there's a good chance I will - expect to see a similar fuel pump setup.


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