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2013/10/25 Another Halloween at Google
π 2013-10-25 00:00 in Google
Like every year, a few more pictures:







See more images for Another Halloween at Google
2013/10/22 Another Day at Sears Point (aka Infineon aka Sonoma Raceway) with the Audi R8 Experience Program
π 2013-10-22 00:00 in Cars
Year ago, I went with my F430 as part of a track day that was offered to my coworkers and I by Infineon. I was ignorant of the track, and thanks to instruction, I got from 2:20 to 2:04, and clearly I could have gone faster had I known the track better (it's a hard track that takes a while to learn). This was back in 2007 Track Day at Sears Point/Infineon.

18 months ago, I signed up for the Audi R8 advanced program and got 1-1 instruction to learn the track a bit more. I was a slightly slower R8 than the one I drove this time, and after a day of learning, I got down from 2:07 to 2:03 as my best lap then. Mind you, the car could do better (1:58 at least), but that day, I was just so tired from a bad night, that I just had a hard time learning.

So, I talked to Tim and told him I was interested in coming back, and he found a program he could squeeze us in, and while we had to wait up to October for it (almost 6 months), it was worth the wait. When we got there around 08:45, the fog was slowly lifting (thankfully it was not an issue on the track):



my car almost fit in :)
my car almost fit in :)




This time, I brought Jennifer over too, but since I don't think she was learning so much from the normal format of padock excercises and group instruction, I got her an instructor to do 1-1 with her and she got 5 sessions around the track in a TT. Before you ask me, why not an R8 too, honestly she would have been happy and learned in any car, and just like I learned tons in an underpowered miata, I figured gobs of HP is just not the best way to learn the basics.

Since I was French, the instructors didn't have to Roshambo for it, and I got Nico Rondet, who happens to be the lead instructor there. That was great, because it didn't take him long to find what I was doing wrong. First, he told me to stop even bothering with left foot braking, which incidently was something Ric McCornick had suggested that I use. Since I wasn't that good at it, especially on a new technical track I didn't know well, I did better after the 3rd session when I switched back to right foot braking.

Two students, 4 cars. It felt a bit overkill :)
Two students, 4 cars. It felt a bit overkill :)

Nico
Nico

Jennifer's ride
Jennifer's ride

My ride
My ride

Then, he beat on me to get me to unlearn the slow in fast out and my tendency to brake hard and transition to gas too early, removing the benefits of trail braking, which aren't as crucial at Thunderhill, but vital at Sears. That said, I'm eager to try that at Thunderhill next time too. Basically not only he knew his stuff, but he was very good at figuring out quickly what I was doing wrong.
Due to my left foot braking sessions that were kind of lost, I only had 2 sessions to work on trail braking in the R8, which wasn't enough, but I got down to steady 2:02s and a 2:01.

Here's one lap. Nothing to be very proud of, but there we go:

By then the program was over (14:20 or so), but Tim, was nice enough to let me run my own car for two more sessions since we had the track booked anyway. This allowed me to try my car for the first time at Sears, and got 2:02 my first time out where I was being very conservative, and got down to 1:56 on my second session when I started to drive a bit harder. I know the car can go much faster (at least 1:50), and maybe I'll get closer to that after I get better, and figure out why my car is swerving a bit violently under heavy braking (apparently an alignment problem).
Nico did a great job coaching me, and I'm looking forward to more chances to learn from him, and hopefully to try their formula cars class, and a big thanks again to Tim Moser for letting me run my car after their cars had to go to the garage for maintenance.

Here's my last and best lap of the day, just before I stopped due to low fuel:

Jennifer on her side said she learned a lot more from the 1-1 instruction in the car on the track. She may learn more from basic skills training on the paddocks later, but it sounds like track laps are probably a good way for her to learn for now.


Random picture I took next to the building during lunchtime:


2013/10/13 United Family Day at SFO with Arturo
π 2013-10-13 00:00 in Flying
Arturo had been wanting to go for many years and scored a couple of tickets this year, so he invited me and we went together this year.

He picked me up and we drove a special parking lot at SFO and got in the maintenance employee entrance:


One hangar had planes on display and MX people answering questions on how they do maintenance. That was interesting:


they use eddie currents to see invisible cracks
they use eddie currents to see invisible cracks

engines sitting outside pre or post maintenance
engines sitting outside pre or post maintenance

We got to visit the test cell, a very interesting part of the visit:


this is where the engines get overhauled and tested
this is where the engines get overhauled and tested



impressive facility to test engines (they get tested for over 8H)
impressive facility to test engines (they get tested for over 8H)


mega blast door in case the engine disintegrates
mega blast door in case the engine disintegrates


Planes on display were nice, including plane pulling contests

warmup for the plane pull
warmup for the plane pull

it would be fun if we used them to tow planes from now on :)
it would be fun if we used them to tow planes from now on :)

Emergency slide deployment
Emergency slide deployment

Plane tours
Plane tours

Yes Arturo, this is what coach looks like. That's where other people sit :)
Yes Arturo, this is what coach looks like. That's where other people sit :)



They also had random other planes and cars for display:




the fire truck was cool
the fire truck was cool






Sky writing, dot matrix style:



And that was it. The only thing we messed up on was not getting in line to see the 747 cockpit very early on before a crazy line started, but oh well.

2013/10/12 Air Combat USA Fighter Lead-In Program at Livermore
π 2013-10-12 00:00 in Flying
I had done Sky Combat Ace twice in Vegas (July 2012 and June 2013), so I thought I'd try Air Combat USA since they were coming to a local airport.
So, here's a comparison between the two.

Air Combat USA:

  • You can get 2 flights for $2000, which includes video (Sky Combat Ace can cost close to $2000 for one flight if you pay for adrenaline and if you pay for video which is extra)
  • Air Combat USA video is HD, SCA video is low res analog. Both videos are multi camera angles which are selected by the instructor. SCA does have nicer video angles though (from the tail of the plane and the outside of the wing), although those are mostly useful during acrobatics, not dogfighting, and ACU doesn't really do much acrobatics anyway.
  • ACU gives you video right away on an SD card. SCA needs some time to work on it and gives to you over the internet later. However, the ACU video is raw AHCD/MTS that you need to have softare to process (or a player that can read that directly). I had to re-encode the AHCD video from ACU and de-interlace it, although if you upload to youtube, it'll mostly do that for you. SCA gives you re-encoded video that is easier to play/deal with (they also add music) but you'll have to wait for it and download it over the internet (they also charge you more if you want the raw video in addition to the edited video).
  • ACU has a fancy visor you can actually use to target the other plane. SCA, you kind of just shoot in that direction. It still works, but no cool precise targeting like ACU.
  • The ACU Marchetti SF260 is slower and not as agile, but has a nice side to side seating configuration. It's probably better for non pilots actually since the instructor is next to you.
  • ACU offered more instruction on the art of dogfighting in their program, however they felt less organized. It was not clear what would happen before each flight, how many engagements we'd have, how many were practise, and how many were real. That was my flight though, it's probably different for each.
  • ACU used the time to fly to the fight location and back to allow each pilot to try formation flying. I found that both challenging and quite nice to try (not as cool as acrobatics, but definitely an interesting skill to try).
  • ACU travels around the US, so if you can wait for one of their dates, they're easier to get to.
  • Sky Combat Ace:

  • The Extra 300 planes they use have more power and are much more agile than the Marchetti SF260, but the instructor sits behind you. That said, while I prefer the 300 hands down, to be honest, it's a lot of plane and Gs for someone not used to flying though, so it is likely overkill for a non pilot (I did 6Gs in one of my SCA flights and got close to blackout).
  • The adrenaline program in the Extra 300 gives 2 practise targets, 3 engagements, and 15mn or so of cool acrobatics. There were almost no acrobatics in Air Combat USA (they focus on dogfighting).
  • The vegas location offered low level flight on the way back, and it was uber cool. Not as useful to a pilot as formation flying practise since you're not flying that piece, but it was just that cool.
  • It was shorter, but just felt more fun in the end, that said I think the fun factor will depend for each person (pilot, non pilot, how fit and how many Gs you can take, and so forth).
  • SCA is in Vegas only, so it's a no brainer if you're there, but if you have to fly across the country to go there, that makes them less attractive to you, unless you have other reasons to go to vegas :)
  • My verdict: if you'd like more flying time and engagements, Air Combat USA offers more flying time for sure. If you'd like more Adrenaline, Sky Combat Ace offers a more Gs and more adrenaline for the money. That said, travel and location are key, so Air Combat USA is likely the best choice if you're not going to Vegas, while Sky Combat Ace is the more fun choice in my opinion if you're going to Vegas.

    All this being said, let's talk about the program itself: I did the 5-6H Lead-in program which consisted of 2 flights with a break in between.
    We started with a class on the basics of flying and dogfighting taught by a former air force pilot:


    Then we went to our planes:





    They had a lot of equipment inside for video and targeting:


    The formation flying was quite cool and gave for great pictures:









    And all good fun comes to an end




    While it's not the same on a video, in you're curious, here are three:

  • Nice video of a takeoff and formation flight (skip one minute, and maybe watch for one minute):
  • Target shooting taken from the plane's HD cameras (jump to 1:45 to see an engagement):
  • Dogfighting taken from google glass (jump to 7:00 for engagement and you'll see the smoke at 07:20)
  • And there you go, after 2 flights that were over too soon, so was the fun, and it came time to go home. I hope to do this again and get more engagements next time.

    2013/10/11 Trackmasters at Thunderhill
    π 2013-10-11 00:00 in Cars
    My friend John Formoso drove the car this time. I had a last minute change of plane and was able to get out around the overcast weather:




    Laguna edition :)
    Laguna edition :)

    those were fast, 20 seconds on me
    those were fast, 20 seconds on me


    WTF?
    WTF?

    Lunch:



    Unfortunately someone hit the wall after T15:



    My car did well for a change. The CCM brakes didn't do well at first because turns out that they still weren't bedded in properly despite the shop and me doing it on the street. It was weird when I had to pump the brakes a few times as the brakes were getting bedded. After that, they worked great for the rest of the day.

    picture taken by John
    picture taken by John

    new carbon brakes after some use
    new carbon brakes after some use

    New brakes definitely run cooler
    New brakes definitely run cooler

    Broke another TPS sensor on a tire
    Broke another TPS sensor on a tire

    I was kind of tired, so I wasn't super consistent, but I got to learn to drive the new brakes and grow back trust in them. After a good day, despite my non consistent performance, I flew home before being too tired to do so :)


    See more images for Trackmasters at Thunderhill
    2013/10/08 Irobot Now Gouging Customers With Roomba 700 Series, Especially 780 and 790
    π 2013-10-08 00:00 in Public
    This is a Roomba 780 review (although this holds for the 790 and the rest of the 700 series)
    Long story short: Irobot used to provide great value and honest products. Now, they raised the prices a lot (50%) and are playing the inkjet game of expensive replaceable parts (very small expensive filters).
    I'm very disappointed, they used to be a great company.

    After my 562 started having problems with a wheel, I could have fixed it but I figured it was getting a bit old and I might as well look at upgrades.
    The 780 is my 5th roomba in 10 years. Ithonestly seems similar to my 562 and 580, although tests say it's supposed to pick up dirt better than them. It looks a bit more fancy but actually comes with a smaller dirt bin and filters you cannot self-clean/wash anymore.
    It still has weak suction and fails to pick up anything between my kitchen tiles, but it works well on carpet and hardwood floor.

    Functionality honestly looks much like my 580 (actually, the remote is not RF, and Irobot cheapened out and removed the extra dirt bin, while raising the price by 50% ($400 to $600). Actually the closest replacement for the 580 is the 790, and that one costs a whole 75% more!
    But the part that made me the least happy is their very small HEPA filters that are expensive to replace and that you are forced to use. I curse the marketing person who added this "feature" that forces you to give more and more money to irobot after already having paid 50% more for a robot that comes with less than the 580 used to. Paying for those expensive filters might make sense if you need them, but really blows if you're forced to buy them and don't need them.
    It probably cleans a bit better, but to someone looking for a roomba, I'd recommend finding a much cheaper 5xx series or consider a Neato XV-21 which has real suction and room mapping (that one is however louder).
    If you get stuck with a 700 series roomba series, I recommend buying filters from china via aliexpress, like 10 filters for $18 from aliexpress.

    2013/10/08 Yoshi Launch Party
    π 2013-10-08 00:00 in Google
    Our admins did an awesome job on this party, you can't beat this for a Super Mario/Yoshi themed party :)








    See more images for Yoshi Launch Party

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