Depressing blog of the day:

My dreams have been trending towards the apocalyptic real idea why: Last night I was reading on fark about some pending announcement from NASA about a "significant" event in the solar system. So, of course, some fellas are making cracks about some comet or asteroid being inbound and them not wanting to tell us about it.

So, I promptly go to sleep (well, at 1:30 am, but more on that later) and have this ultra-vivid dream about the End of the World: For some reason, I was at work, and the skies were dark and ominous. We were all looking out the window of Building 082 towards the south, and I got hints of conversation:

"They say it's going to hit Texas"

"They split it in two with those nuclear missiles, but it was too late". (Obviously, mangled references from the highly disposable movie: "Armageddon").

So, for some reason we went outside to the parking garage (note: 082 doesn't HAVE a parking garage) and then brimstone (yeah, as in 'fire and...') starts raining down upon the garage. A piece conked me in the head, and I woke-up.

Just call me Harold, prophet of doom. :-)

* * *

Anyway: so I got reading more on my book Going Faster! Mastering the Art of Race Driving

Insanely detailed book. Chapters on all aspects of racing: Preparation, cornering, braking, passing, racing etiquette. Meant more for the road-course racer than autocrossers, but all the same ideas apply.

So, around 12:30 last night, I'm reading a chapter on shifting. I figure I'm an expert on manual trannies, as I can double-clutch downshift + revmatch in my sleep. However, I learned something new: You can shift WITHOUT using a clutch, both up-shifts and downshifts. You just have to be orders of magnitude more precise about matching the revs of input shaft and output shaft. Basically, during each upshift and downshit, there's a split-second where the transmission has no load on it from the engine or wheels and at that split second you can slide the gear selector out of the gear with just your fingertips.

Now, this is a very cool concept, but apparently the MINI transmission doesn't like it too much. I tried it both on an upshift & downshift, and...uh....I don't think I'll be doing that again.

Besides, the book mentions that it's a technique more for use in endurance racing where your clutch may be going away at the end of a 12 or 24 hour stint.

Still, it's a marvelous book, and I think its suggestions on cornering are going to pay huge dividends this year in autocross...

* * *

Well, as for this weekend, I headed-up to the Great Louisvillian Autoshow. Was on car overload from the first 10 seconds. Saw and sat in more cars in a 3 hour period than I did all last year. Saw one of these babies on a stand:

Ford GT. 550 hp of pure sex. Instant classic. Can hand any thing under $650k (a.k.a. a Ferrari Enzo) its tail end, using basic 'Murican parts. I was 2 feet away from it and I have the slides to prove it. Long, low, sleek, fast, yet oddly classy and understated. Very much a modern interpretation of the GT40 from the 1960's, though I'm sure with much better road manners.

Whitney's favorite:

The Toyota Prius. This is one truly amazing machine, a marvel of internal packaging efficiency and technology. And, surprisingly, a roomy, practical car. I don't understand why they don't junk the Camry and start producing these things with both conventional and hybrid powertrains. The car gives up nothing for its efficiency; on the contrary, its hatchback and cab-forward design maximize internal space. At heart, it's a Corolla-sized car with the room of a Camry. I'm anxious to find-out how one drives.

Our unexpected love of the show:

Volvo S60

Yeah, I know, I know...big VOLVO sedan, right? What's to love? Well, for my widening behind and yen for long-distance travel, quite a bit. Let's start with a great interior, extraordinarily comfortable seats, and handsome styling. Roomy, without being truly massive, classy without being too much of a yuppie marque (Hello, BMW and Mercedes?), I'm going to follow these for a few years to come. I could definitely see myself with a used one as a long-distance cruiser to supplant the MINI as daily driver and around-town car.

For my father, we looked at most of the trucks at the show, and we're in agreement: The Nissan Titan is the real deal. Interior, exterior, and overall quality would seem to blow-away any of the current offerings from GM. The only real competition here is the new F-150, though it's overlarge for my tastes: I remember the days when a single-cab, 2 wheel drive truck was not a 5000lb behemoth.

Get the Nissan, Dad. Once they start dealing on 'em at end-of-model-year, a Titan at $20k would be a great deal, GM card be damned.

* * *

Before I close, I must write a small review of the book I just finished called Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield

The book is historical fiction based around the battle of Thermopylae (Greek for "Hot Gates" or "Gates of Fire"), the desperate delaying action a suicide division of Spartans, Thebans and minor local tribes fought against the (reputed) 2 million man Persion force of Xerxes in 480 B.C., from which we get this quote:

Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie.

Even in a historybook, it's a moving story. Pressfield's dramatic license makes it epic.

Told in medias res by a fictionallized squire named Xeones (or just 'Xeo'), survivor of the initial slaughter, the story arcs from the time just before the invasion when Sparta and her Greek allies are readying for war to an extremely visceral tale of the battle itself. It amazes me that a book that tells about a known event could be so riveting: I read the last 200 pages at a sitting last Thursday night, and it affects me even today.

For a man, the thing we want most is purpose, honor, and belonging. Thus, the Spartan life, though incredibly harsh, bloody, and fatalistic, is attractive: Whereas modern society separates us, removes our humanity, and imbues "citizenship" by birth, Spartans were about altruism, giving up their lives eagerly to defend their way of life. One could not be a true Citizen or "Peer", unless one took up the sword and defended his nation. Odd parallel here: The same concept is present in the novel Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein.

The main thing I took away from the novel is how giving and selfless these men were. Instead of ignoring their emotions and fears, they acknowledged them and mastered them. Discipline, even unto death, was their creed. Not coincidentally, it's discipline that I need in my life, and that America needs as a whole. It's hollow to be running amok, exacting your will upon everyone because it's your "right," when that right wounldn't exist in the first place without the discipline to carve it from the chaos that is the world at large. This is a lesson that humanity has learned and relearned throughout its history.

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