Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Science of Racing: Tires

I don't get to talk about racing enough, so I've created a new series where I'll get to do just that. Once a week (if time allows) I would like to talk about something that makes a race car far different from the one you drive all the time. A big one is aerodynamics. That, however, is my bread and butter, so I'll save it for later.

The first component I would like to talk about is inarguably the most important part for any automobile: the tires! Why are they the most important, you ask? It's the only part of the car that actually touches the ground!

At first glance. a race tire looks fairly similar to your ordinary road tire.

They couldn't be any more different, however. The most noticeable difference is the tread pattern. Typically, the tread of a race tire is slick, as shown above. This is to maximize the tire's contact patch with the ground, thereby maximizing grip.  Many formula racing series do have rain tires for when it rains when they are running on road and street courses. This look much like a road tire in that there is a tread pattern rather than being slick. There are two different sets of rain tires, intermediates, and full wets. Intermediates are used when the track is wet, but little or no water is actually falling onto the track, whereas full wets are used when there is steady, consistent rain falling on the track. There are even more tread patterns for dirt tires, ice tires, etc. My specialty is formula racing, where neither of these are used, so I won't talk about them.

Many other differences come about due to the speed difference. Road tires are typically designed to maintain speeds up to 100 mph, where as a race tire has to endure speeds of over 200 mph! This means that the sidewall of the tire (the part where the manufacturer paints their logo) must be very sturdy so that the tire does not flex much. Speeds this high, as I'm sure you can imagine, lead to very high amounts of friction, and the tire starts heating up quite significantly, usually around temperatures where water begins to boil. To maintain the integrity of the tire and to keep it from blistering, the treads are incredibly thin, around the thickness of a credit card for slick tires (!!!). This temperature increase also means that the cold pressure of a racing tire is generally fairly low, around 20 psi where your car's tires have around 35 psi. Rain tires have much thicker treads and carry higher amounts of heat, but are cooled by the water on the track, so it is less of an issue. You typically want the temperature of the tire to be uniform, as this means that the entire surface of the tire was in contact with the road. If the middle of the tire is warmer than the edges, the tire is overinflated (and the other way around). Although for initial tests, it may be beneficial to overinflate the tire to see if the suspension needs tweaking to ensure an even contact patch (more on suspension at another point in time). You may have also noticed that pit crews seem to work effortlessly when changing tires, when you know your tires to be relatively heavy. It is not because the crew has superhuman strength, it is because the tire is so light!

Another thing to note is that the compound of the tire changes from track to track. Most tires are made of a synthetic rubber made from various chemicals, and the change in the recipe of the chemicals lead to a different end compound. These compounds change the overall "grippiness" of the tire. A tire with lots of grip is said to be "soft," and a tire with less grip is said to be "hard." There is a trade-off, however. Softer tires tend to degrade much quicker than hard tires, to you may only get a few laps of tire integrity before they start wearing away. (Yes, even race tires wear!)

I'm no expert on tires, and I'm sure there's far more that goes into them than even what I explained! I bet you never realized just how much goes on with something as mundane as tire. Race tire scientists and engineers certainly earn their income! I cannot remember the last time a Firestone failed in an IndyCar race.

Hopefully I'll get to keep doing these about once a week. Since I already alluded to it in this post, I'll probably talk about suspension next. Finals are next week, as well as checking residents out of the hall. It may be more like a week and a half, if not two weeks. If you have any questions, feel free to comment!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Science > Engineering

With my distaste of engineering manifesting itself recently, I thought I would take some time to list the grievances I have with engineering. Here goes.

  • With science, there is only one answer. The world has many problems that need to be solved. If you were to give six groups of scientists the same problem, they would come up with the same answer. If you were to give six groups of engineers the same problem, you would get six completely different answers (as evidenced by my senior design class this semester), and there would be absolutely no rules or standards to determine which was the best solution. There is far too much ambiguity in engineering.
  • Science is forever. If you make a breakthrough in engineering, you change the world for the near future. Somebody will just come along and make something better than your thing in a few years. The cycle never ends. If you make a breakthrough in science, it changes the world FOREVER. Besides, it's the scientists that are defining the work that the engineers are doing.
  • There is too much pressure in engineering. Scientists have been looking for the Higgs boson for what, sixty? Seventy years? If it were an engineering problem, they would have given up after a month. Scientists can devote their lives to figuring out one thing that really drives them. If you can't get a problem figured out quickly as an engineer, the company loses money, and you're out of a job.
  • Science is just plain cooler. I mean, this is probably pretty subjective, but uncovering the secrets of the universe is much more amazing than doing things like designing heat exchangers and high-lift devices with your life.
Another I have isn't so much a grievance as it is an observation. To be successful as an engineer, you MUST be 100% passionate about machines, especially the one you are devoting your life to designing. The only machine I have ever been 100% passionate about is race cars. I studied engineering because I wanted to design formula race cars. As I grow older and wiser (I know, a laughable claim considering that I am only 23), I realize the last thing I want to do is follow that dream. I love auto racing! And I would never be able to enjoy watching a race again if I were to actually work in auto racing someday. 

I'm sure there's more I will think of in time. I've only been pondering this for around a week now, but I feel this is a pretty good list for such a short amount of time.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Identity Crisis

Today I had my final presentation for senior design. Our design was getting ripped apart, and I finally had a moment of clarity. I don't want to be an engineer. And it's not because my team's design got ripped apart, either. Engineering is a sciency field, but I don't think it is concrete enough for me.

Our design was getting slammed mostly for inconsistency due to different values researched by each of us individually, but they were not cohesive enough when we tried to bring our results together. I don't want to be using science to create technology, I want to be creating science that in turn spurs technology.

As an engineering student, you don't realize the nitty-gritty stuff until you get pretty deep into your plan of study. At this point, I am only three weeks away from getting my degree. I might as well finish it out.

I'm just not passionate enough about making machines to do this the rest of my life. The shows that captivate me the most on the Discovery and Science channels all talk about the science itself. If there were a show outlining every individual system on an aircraft or spacecraft, I'd switch it off. Engineering is all about the teeny details, and I've always been more of a "big picture" kind of guy.

Somewhere down the line, I believe I'll be going back to school, but this time, to study science. Probably physics. I initially went into engineering because I thought I enjoyed the application of science into technology, but I have found that the science itself captivates me much more. I couldn't care less about the particular high-lift devices employed by an aircraft. The science of why those work interest me much more. I couldn't care less about specific chamber pressures on a rocket engine needed to generate enough thrust to get a spacecraft to a high enough velocity to maintain orbit, but the astrophysics involved in keeping the craft in orbit interest me greatly.

It is true. I am a scientist, not an engineer. I wish I would have realized that a few years ago, though. I have received training in something I am somewhat interested in, so it shouldn't be TOO painful to work for a few years and repay some debt before attempting to go back to school to get a degree in physics. Unfortunately, I believe that my lack of interest in engineering resulted in such a low GPA that I may have to start from the beginning with a bachelor's degree, I probably won't be able to get into a master's program...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Purdue Grand Prix - So Much Fail

Yesterday, I finally attended Purdue Grand Prix. After five years at Purdue and other experiences trying to interact with the Grand Prix Foundation in years past, I must say, it is the most poorly run organization I have ever seen, and it is a miracle the event happens at all each year.

My first three years, I was a member of Purdue Motorsports Association, one of many organizations that merged into MAP (Motorsports at Purdue). Unfortunately, I no longer had the time to participate once I became an RA. Anyway, they always talked about how poorly run Grand Prix was. I always thought it was in jest, but this year taught me first-hand.

As an RA, I was trying to put together an event for the hall to pay for tickets to go to the race. There was no information about ticket sales until a mere TEN DAYS before the race. Keep in mind that track activity had begun a few weeks before that. As soon as tickets went on sale, I emailed the director of sales to see if we could be invoiced for twenty tickets, as we need to transfer money to an account if it's through a Purdue club. I never heard back. Tuesday of last week, I emailed their president, and never heard back. Finally, on my way out of town to go see 30 Seconds, I stopped by their ticket sales booth.

The girl running the table at Stewart west foyer told me to go down to their office in the basement to get things taken care of. Fair enough. I head downstairs, and there are two officers in there talking to the Jimmy John's guy. One of them noticed me and asked what I needed. I had to wait until they were done with the Jimmy John's guy. They were done talking business after five minutes. I sat there another 15 until they finally filled out a VERY unofficial invoice (not the actual real Purdue one used for transactions, but basically a piece of paper that said "you owe us $140").

Saturday, the original race day finally comes around. It was raining and crappy and there was a very good chance that the race would be postponed. According to the hall's team, that decision came around 1:15-1:30 pm. There was no news posted anywhere on the internet until about 1:40, and we almost had everyone signed up to go out the door until someone from the hall's team came back from the track and said that the race had been postponed until Sunday.

So Sunday rolls around, and only a few people actually came; 18 had signed up, but only 6 showed up, two of which weren't actually signed up. So we walk to Wiley dining court where a shuttle is supposed to pick people up and take them to the race. And we wait. And wait. And wait. About 20 minutes. Finally, about fifteen minutes before the race was supposed to start, we decide to take the half-hour trek to the track. When we got there, the shuttle did as well.

We finally get to the track, and there is no one to collect tickets. This may be because it was a rain date, but still, the fact that the hall spent $140 for tickets was futile at that point. At this point, I was thoroughly convinced that Grand Prix Foundation was the most poorly run organization I had ever seen. As an RA, if I had months to plan an event (quite literally, it's the ONLY thing they do) and it turned out as poorly as Grand Prix, I would not get any credit for it.

Grand Prix has sponsorship from many restaurants in West Lafayette. They even have a corporate sponsor in Lockheed Martin, and this year marked the first in a new partnership with the IZOD IndyCar Series. Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher served as Grand Marshals for the race, and I'm truly embarrassed for the farce of a race they witnessed. I'm sure most freshmen don't even realize that there IS a race, and there's probably still some seniors who don't realize there actually is a race. This could be a great event with just a little bit of advertising to actually return the sponsors' investment and get people to the race.

They could probably also boost revenue by lowering prices. $7 advance/$10 at the gate seems a bit steep to me. The only people there seemed to be alumni or frat brothers whose house had a car in the race. Get the broke college student demographic in there!

Anyway, I'm starting to ramble. This university is a great institution, and Grand Prix is one of its biggest events. I know that it could be easily better run with better leadership. Someone needs to step up and get the Grand Prix Foundation pointed back in the right direction, or sponsors may leave and we could lose one of our greatest traditions.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

30 Seconds to Mars Concert Review

So on Thursday I went to a 30 Seconds to Mars concert in Chicago at the Aragon Ballroom with my girlfriend. She got me tickets for my birthday!

We stopped at my dad's house in Hobart on the way to pick up a few things before heading to the city. I forgot how busy it was! We were going INTO town during rush hour, and it was still busy. We got to the exit for Lake Shore Drive in about 45 minutes. Not a bad time. However, without massive amounts of traffic, we should have been able to get to the Aragon 15 minutes later. More like 45 with all the traffic.

The doors opened at 6:30, but by the time we got the car parked, we weren't in until close to 7. Apparently a band was on stage right at 6:30, as at the end of the show, Jared Leto gave 'em a shout out. I didn't understand him. I have no idea who they were.

The show was supposed to be a theme night, namely, the Bloodball. People are supposed to come dressed up like they escaped their video for The Kill.  Natalie and I stopped at Walmart on the way to get white shirts and black ties and planned to get bloodied up at the show as they had a blood booth. Apparently, nobody got the message. We immediately felt uncomfortable being the only people in costume. We didn't even bother getting bloodied. Natalie only bought the shirt for the night, so she tossed it at the show. I may have some use for it, so I kept it.

Anyway, while we were getting uncostumed, we missed Anberlin's set. We watched the beginning and end of their set. They played a lot of their new material that I am unfamiliar with, but I did enjoy the few songs that I did recognize. (EDIT: I've seen a lot of searches in my stats for the specific songs that Anberlin played. The two I recognized were Stationary Stationery and Never Take Friendship Personal. They played about seven songs. SS was the second, I believe, and I'm pretty sure they closed with NTFP.)

After Anberlin, the set change for 30 Seconds took nearly an hour! I have no idea what took them so long. Shannon's drumkit was up front, so it probably took awhile to put together, but an hour!? I don't think so. The rest of their stage was already set up. Later in the show Jared said that Shannon was ordered by his doctor to stay under supervision at his home in LA, but that there was no way that Shannon was going to miss Chicago. Maybe he needed more time to ready himself. I'm not sure.

I was rather unimpressed with the show. I still enjoyed myself, however. I just will probably not see 30 Seconds live again. The band was much more focused on trying to put on a show rather than actually playing music. Nothing they played was very true to what is presented on their records. The crowd was also NOT into it at all. Most of them seemed to be the club-going crowd rather than actual music fans. On a few occasions, Jared stopped mid-song to point someone out in the crowd to chastise them for not jumping. Or he'd tell the crowd to take three steps forward since they all had too much space. I have always felt that crowd reaction should be natural, and not forced. If your music doesn't naturally get people in the crowd to crunch together or jump, then maybe you're not a good enough musician or you're not playing the right kind of music.

Jared also played three or four songs acoustically to give his brother a break for awhile. I don't think their music translates very well into acoustic versions. They should have just let it be.

All in all, I was rather unimpressed. Then again, I am a metalhead. Everyone that goes to a metal show is enthusiastic and passionate about the band(s) playing, and metal naturally produces adrenaline in the crowd. For all I know, that was a great rock show. It was the first non-metal/hard rock show I had ever been to.

I also think that any show I ever go to again will be tainted from the Dillinger Escape Plan show I saw last year, complete with Greg Puciato in your face yelling at you, guitarists stagediving and walking atop the crowd, and lead guitarist Ben Weinman climbing into the rafters and falling onto the crowd.

I need to get to a metal show...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The New Purdue Pete

The new Purdue Pete was not meant to be unveiled until the spring game on Saturday, but it was accidentally leaked today. Before giving my comments about it, here he is, in all his glory.

Boiler up? (Courtesy Journal & Courier online)
Now, focusing on the face alone, I think they did a pretty decent job. The goal was to make him look like less of a pedophile, which I believe they succeeded in. He isn't horrendously pale, and he doesn't appear to be wearing lipstick. Both huge bonuses.

Also, a quick remedy would be to make the helmet black. The silver is just weird.

With the rest of his outfit, however, I believe they tried to make him look more like the Boilermaker statue. In this, they failed. They would need a collared shirt, not a T-shirt. Also, I think that if they are going with the felt suit most mascots are, it needs to be a full-body suit. You can clearly see below the slant P where Pete ends and the person in the suit begins. This then leads to an awkwardly narrow waist for someone that is supposed to be a big and strong man. Also, the picture here doesn't show it, but he has weird shoes on. If they're going to keep those, it definitely needs to be a full body suit.

Overall, I think it is a good start. I think they need to make it a full body suit. I think the shirt needs to be black, as well, as the shirt shown is practically the same color as the rest of Pete. I think with a little more work, this could work out to be a great-looking mascot.

IndyCar Double File Restarts

Now on to stuff I usually write about and much more light hearted!

This season, IndyCar is employing double file restarts. The first race was two weekends ago, on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. In addition to the double file restarts, the acceleration zone was moved much closer to the start/finish line. The initial start, which has always been double file, was the most hideous start to a race I had ever seen. The crash going eliminated two cars in the Andretti Autosport teammates Marco Andretti and Mike Conway, and damaged many others. This, of course, started a caution period. When the race went green, there was another incident in turn one. Then on the third restart. Finally, they got the hang of it on the fourth.

At first I was outraged because I thought it had ruined the racing, but then I realized the biggest hiccup was on the initial start, which was always double file to begin with. Granted, the movement of the acceleration zone kept the field much more bunched together than in the past, but these are professional drivers we are talking about. They just need to show each other a little respect in the first few turns, and everything will settle out.

The double file restarts even allowed some ambitious drivers to move up the field. At the end of the race, Simona de Silvestro was challenging Tony Kanaan for third place because she had picked up so many spots in the restarts.

It will take some time, but I think the double file restarts and the closer acceleration zone will greatly improve the racing, especially on the ovals.

First corner pileup, claiming Andretti (Venom car) and Conway (GoDaddy car).

Of, For, By the People?

First off, I know it's been forever since I posted. I have been so busy with school (designing an entire aircraft in about 13 school weeks) and my job (well, let's not get into that...) that blogging just hasn't been very high up on the list lately.

Also, I try to stay out of politics, usually because I don't have all the facts, and it will start some kind of debate I just don't feel like participating in. However, I felt this was something that needed to be said, and is something that many people, maybe even most people, could agree with, no matter their political views.

Anyway, I've been really dissatisfied with "my" government lately. When the founding fathers wrote the Constitution, they intended to have a small government of the people, for the people, and by the people. I feel that the current institution anything but this.

These feelings of animosity started a few weeks ago when the House voted to cut funding to Planned Parenthood. Outraged, my girlfriend signed an online petition to our House representative. He sent back a letter that said that he will always fight for the rights of the unborn, and that he wanted to protect the employees who were being forced into performing abortions. First off, Planned Parenthood does much more than perform abortions. Second off, no one is holding a gun to these employees' heads forcing them to perform abortions. If they are unhappy with their job, this is supposedly a free country, and they can leave and seek other employment. Finally, what happened to our "representatives" actually REPRESENTING us? As far as I'm aware, a sizable sum of Indiana residents signed this online petition, but our "representative" is so steadfast in his ways that he will vote for what HE thinks is right, NOT what his people want? Isn't that his job? What happened to a government FOR the people?

There is so much unrest leading into the 2012 Presidential election. Donald Trump is thinking about running, which is fine to me, he has a pretty solid platform and celebrities have run for office and won before (Ronald Reagan, anyone?). However, he is making priority number one uncovering Barack Obama's birth certificate. The government is on the verge of shutting down (more on that later), there are revolutions in the Middle East killing millions fighting for what they believe in, Japan is trying to put itself back together, and his number one priority is finding out whether or not Barack Obama was born in the United States? That is just absurd.

Now the government is just going to shut down because they can't do their jobs and come to a compromise. Again, I'm not really sure with what is going on to cause this, but isn't their job to work out compromises? If I were to just walk out of the building one night on duty because I was frustrated and not come back for a week, there DEFINITELY would not be a job waiting for me when I got back, and the same could be said for almost every employee in this once great nation; what puts the politicians above us? What happened to a government BY the people and OF the people?

We are all brought up to be open to diversity, but there is so much hate in the government. It is unbelievable. Again, I am not fully aware of everything that goes on, but it seems from what I do catch that, in general, the Democrats seem to run a ship that is what the founding fathers would want, but the Republicans make all their decisions with their nose in the Bible. This was a book that was written 2000 years ago. It was great for the simple people that lived 2000 years ago, but it should not be the deciding factor in the modern age. Many Republicans are on record as being uncomfortable with anyone that is NOT a Christian, and would never work with anyone that was a Muslim, Jew, and/or member of the gay community. But in the same breath, they tell us to be open to all cultures. I just don't get it. There are people dying in the Middle East for freedom, and all the American government wants to do is restrict everyone's freedom. I'm tired of all the hypocrisy. I'm tired of all the hate. All the Republicans and Tea Partiers claim they are doing what the founding fathers would want, but I believe that if they were to show up to Washington today, they would be very displeased and ashamed with what they found.

I want my government of the people, for the people, and by the people back.