October 7, 2012

1,000 MPH on Land? The SSC Bloodhound takes aim

At the end of the English street where I was born sat the Alvis factory, turning out automotive works of art in a part of the world--The Midlands--that still harbors some of best engineering talent in the world. I've been a car nut and land speed record junkie since I was a boy, no doubt encouraged by learning that one of the legendary record holders was John Cobb (exact connection to family tree not known).

John Cobb was the first person to take a ground vehicle over 400 mph, back in 1947, and arguably held the land speed record longer than anyone (1939 to 1964). Cobb's Railton Special, with its twin W12 Napier aircraft engines, was the height of internal combustion-powered, wheel-driven technology. After Craig Breedlove put a turbojet in Spirit of America around 1963, the focus of land speed records shifted to jet propulsion. That is what took Andy Green and ThrustSSC through the sound barrier in 1997. Where do you go after breaking the sound barrier? How about 1,000 mph, the target speed of the BloodhoundSSC shown in this amazing computer visualization.
The power system for BloodhoundSSC is complex to say the least, incorporating a Cosworth V8 gasoline engine, a jet engine, and a rocket. Yes, a rocket. In fact, Gary Gabelich used a rocket to take his Blue Flame to 630 mph in 1970, setting a record that stood until 1983 when Richard Noble hit 634mph in Thrust2. BloodhoundSSC was originally designed as a rocket car but a jet engine was added for greater control.

The Cosworth V8, made in the Midlands and currently used in a number of Formula One racing cars, will not drive any wheels; its job is to pump rocket fuel and support the electrical and hydraulic systems on this huge vehicle.

The first attempt on the world land speed record with BloodhoundSSC should take place in 2013. To learn more about this extreme automotive adventure, check out the official BloodhoundSSC site.

July 21, 2012

The Rich Guy's Maserati GranTurismo by Pininfarina

For me, born and raised among some of the great automobile marques, one of the pleasures of living in Little Italy, a neighborhood within San Diego, is observing some excellent automobile designs up close. I do this while walking the dog or walking to the coffee shop or walking to work. In fact, walking is a great way to see cars, especially when they are parked. Which is how I came upon this beauty:


As many cars fans will immediately know from the distinctive trident emblem on the grille, this is a Maserati (the current Maserati GranTurismo to be more precise). Ask any automotive design aficionado which design house came up with this look and they are likely to say, without any additional data: Pininfarina. And they would be right. So who would own such a car without knowing that? Apparently the guy who owns this car.

While I was admiring this superb piece of automotive styling a man walked across the street making a b-line for the car and I asked him: "Yours?" He replied that it was. "Beautiful car," I said. He agreed. "One would expect no less from Pininfarina," I said. To which he responded "Huh?" Fearing it was my accent that confused the man, who was now standing by the driver side door, I explained: "Pininfarina design, always outstanding." I nodded toward the classic logo spelling out the name between the wheel arch and the door:



To which he replied: "I thought that had something to do with the rims." And he wasn't wrong, because the design of the wheels on this model does echo the trident emblem, repeated three times, but he clearly had no clue that Pininfarina designed the entire look of his car, or that Pininfarina is a legend in automotive design. Here's Wikipedia:
Founded as Società anonima Carrozzeria Pinin Farina in 1930 by automobile designer and builder Battista "Pinin" Farina, Pininfarina has been employed by a wide variety of high-end automobile manufacturers, including FerrariMaseratiRolls-RoyceCadillacJaguarVolvoAlfa Romeo,HondaFiatPeugeot and Lancia. It also has designed trams in France and Greece, high-speed trains in Holland, and trolleys in the USA. Since the 1980s Pininfarina has been consulted on industrial and interior design.
I might not be able to afford a Maserati, and frankly I don't need a Maserati, what with all the walking and public transportation, and cheap pay-as-you electric cars parked all around. However, I would like to think that people who can afford a six figure car at least have some idea of where it came from, but apparently that is not always the case. Sigh...

April 15, 2012

Hotel Travel Tip: More humidity, less luggage, and clean clothes

Here's my tip for alleviating a problem frequently encountered by folks on the road: notoriously dry hotel air. At the same time, this tip offers a way to travel lighter, packing fewer clothes:
Wash your shirts and such in the hotel sink and use the hotel towels to dry the clothes, adding moisture to the air as both towels and clothes dry out.
I used to think it was just me, but lately I have learned that many of my fellow travelers also suffer from the incredibly dry air you find in many in hotel rooms, particularly during the winter. This air often seems intent on totally desiccating hotel occupants.

One way to add moisture to the air is hang damp fabric around the room. So I figured, why not hang damp towels, my washed shirts and, yes, my washed boxers?

[WARNING: Never hang anything from a sprinkler or other fire response/alarm device!]

The damp towels are a by-product of a clothes-drying technique I learned from my wife. So here is my strategy for adding moisture to your room while traveling lighter:
  • Pack a smaller number of shirts than there are days in my trip; 
  • at the end of each day, rinse the shirt your wore that day in the bathroom sink; 
  • wring out the excess water from the shirt;
  • lay a bath towel on the bed;
  • lay the shirt on the bath towel; 
  • roll the shirt up in the towel;
  • then roll it tighter by holding one end of the towel/shirt bundle on the floor with your foot as you continue to twist; 
  • hold that for about 20 seconds and then unroll;
  • straighten out the shirt on a hanger and hang it to dry;
  • Hang the towel, unfolded, on the shower rail. 
Both towel and shirt put moisture into the air during the night as they dry. I rarely get up the next day to find either towels or shirts still damp. (On the other hand, I still feel dry in some hotels, so this is not a cure-all.)

Sometimes there are no convenient places to hang clothes to dry. One spot that can work is the swing out door on the TV cabinet. I found this works better if you put a dry washcloth between the shirt and the wood finish on the door.

Also, I normally travel with an S-shaped piece of coat hanger wire in my bag that works will to adapt hotel hangers when they have the small hooks on them.

But please, do not hang stuff on sprinklers, it is not worth the risk. Last year I stayed at a hotel where some kids had hung wet clothes on a sprinkler head and caused it to, well, sprinkle. Thousands of dollars of damage resulted in their room and on each of the floors below their room, all the way to the lobby where contractors were still peeling back wall paper and inspecting walls to find damage several days after the event.