Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ugly Gills = Luxury?

I am baffled by a recent phenomenon in the automotive styling world. It seems non-functional, plastic fender gills are now the price of entry in the luxury market. I first took notice of this trend in the 2000 BMW M3.

The overall styling of the E46 M3 was primarily non-offensive, excluding the cancerous growth on the hood dubbed "the power dome" and the plastic gills on the fenders.

The M3 gills coincided with the BMW Z8, a supercar with super-retro styling sans LSD. I liked the Z8, at the time, and appreciated the styling throw-back to the BMW 507, but why did these plasticy gills end up on the M3 and were they here to stay?

I didn't ask any of these questions at the time, but the E60 BMW M5 introduced in 2005 indicated the gills were here to stay and are now one of the most visible M styling cues.

Unfortunately, gills did not stop at the M5. You can see them on Cadillacs, Jaguars, Range Rovers, Minis and the 2008 M3, complete with holes in the hood, a-la Evo, to complement a larger, more cancerous "Power Dome."

Don't think it stopped with the M3. The new Ford Focus, Pontiac G8 and Hyundai Tiburon also get in on the gill action. The new EVO has upped the ante with this:

and the Lexus IS-F followed suit:

Where did this trend start? Why did it start and when will it end?

The 1956 BMW 507 is one of the first cars with this style gill I can put my finger on. I am sure there may have been others, but you can trace the BMW Z8 and future gills back to this car. It really compliments this car and doesn't seem like the plastic add-ons of today's cars.

Modern Day
The 1987 Buick GNX is the first modern car I can remember with the plastic side gills. I take them at their word that these gills were needed for cooling the engine compartment due to the turbo.

What's Next?
Now that everybody, including Ford & Hyundai, have copied the gill treatment, how long will these unsightly blemishes grace the luxury car market?

Beyond VLOOKUP: OFFSET + MATCH = Insanity!

OK, so you are comfortable with VLOOKUP, but tired of counting columns to point the function to the data you are interested in. Wouldn't it be great to have the formula do the leg work and find the # of Columns or Rows to where your data lies?

I have the perfect formula for you, OFFSET. This formula allows you to set a reference cell and find data Relative to that cell.

We are using the same data set from the VLOOKUP example. Imagine we are tired of counting how many columns there are between Outlet and 1st Quarter Sales. We tell OFFSET to use Cell A6 as a reference. OFFSET will ask for the # of ROWS and COLUMNS to move from this reference cell.

Instead of simply counting the # of rows and columns, we embed the MATCH formula into OFFSET. MATCH is very simple and simply finds a cell the matches the data you input. In this example, we need to use the Outlet data to determine how many rows from the Reference cell to travel. Notice that the array we use with the MATCH function does not include any data. OFFSET only needs the number of ROWS we want it to move. The Outlet data is in Cells $A$7:$A$14. NOTE: Do NOT include your OFFSET Reference cell in the MATCH lookup_array. Use the number 0 for your match type. Using 0 will direct MATCH to find EXACTLY what you are looking for, just like FALSE in the VLOOKUP formula.

Repeat the above with another MATCH statement with the variable you are looking for, in this case, 1st Quarter Sales. This value must be EXACTLY as it is in your data array. I STRONGLY recommend copying this value from your data into your output sheet to assure you are looking for something MATCH will Identify. (Many raw data sets contain hidden spaces after the text).

I Would Like To Teach the World VLOOKUP!

If I could impart one piece of wisdom to members of the corporate rat race it would be: Use VLOOKUP! I see minions hunched over their keyboards cutting and pasting or WORSE, Inputting data by HAND! This is 2008 and we need to let technology do the work for us, not the other way around!

VLOOKUP is the simplest way to quickly grab data out of a large data set. Its uses are truly endless, but a typcial corporate exmaple would be the catch phrase, "REPORTING."

The Example to the left contains a list of Retail outlets identified by a 5 digit code typical of most raw data in a corporate environment.

How to Use Vlookup:

1. Lookup_Value: You want to return a specific value from a list of data. In this example, you must indicate which retail outlet you are concerned with. You hardcode 23165 in cell A3.

2. Table_Array: This is the raw data. The number (or text) you are searching for MUST be in the first column of this array. In our example, the Outlet is what we are searching for and it is in column A. CAREFUL if your list contains numbers, make sure they are not a number stored as text. You simply need to reformat the cells as numbers to overcome this issue.

3. Col_Index: VLOOKUP will VERTICALLY search the first column of your Table_Array to find the value you are searching for. Excel defines the first column as column 1. If you indicate 1 for the Col_Index, VLOOKUP will return the value you are searching for IF it is actually in the list you are searching. In this example, we want to find the 1st Quarter Sales which are in column 4.

4. [Range_Lookup] When in doubt, specify FALSE. I would go one step further and say ALWAYS use FALSE. This value tells VLOOKUP if you want to find an exact match in the Table_Array, or just something that approximates what you are searching for. If you use FALSE and the Table_Array does not contain the value you are searching for, VLOOKUP returns an Error. If you use TRUE and the value is not in the data, VLOOKUP may find a value similar to what you are looking for and return that corresponding value. In other words, there are few, if any times the average Excel user would want to use TRUE.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Unforgetable Videos: RUF Yellowbird CTR Nürburgring

The Ken Block post below reminded me of the first time I saw the RUF Porsche "drift" around the Nürburgring Nordschleife. I had started a painful career of weekend autocrosses with the BMW club. I took my 1986 190E 2.3-16V to the football stadium fairly regularly to prove I didn't have what it took to be successful on a temporary cone course in a parking lot.

I met Dan Tackett, driving instructor extraordinaire of the BMW CCA. He had been an instructor at the annual Nürburgring driving school for many years. I knew of the Nürburgring and was very interested to combine a trip to Europe with a visit to the Mecca of all things automotive.

Before the trip, he showed me many videos of him attacking the 'Ring, passing Sport Bikes, Porsches and pretty much everything else you can imagine. The last video I saw was this:

An unbelievable and almost unparalleled example of car control. Not out for speed, but out for drama. This was well before the drifting craze and really had an impact on me. The first car magazine I ever bought was a copy of 1987's Road & Track World's Fastest Car. The RUF CTR, known as Yellowbird, was one of the cars tested and probably the fastest. (I can't believe I have actually forgotten).

Is there anything Ken Block can't do?

Twenty-four hours ago, I had not heard of Ken Block. Then I saw this video:

This gymkhana video is one of those life changing events where you promise yourself, "One day, I WILL DRIVE a rally car." To this day, the most exciting street going experience I have ever had was in an Evolution IX MR. I love that car and can not imagine how much fun it would be on dirt or and abandoned airfield! There are a couple rally schools on the East Coast (FL and New England). I would like to hear from someone who has been to one of those schools.

Then I remember I saw this guy get 2nd at X-Games XIII in 2007! I posted these pics & video in one of my first blog posts.

I own a couple items of DC shoes apparel, but picked them up by chance at Ross.

KEN BLOCK is involved with everything. He is a co-founder of DC shoes, a Rally driver and probably playing an important role in Obama's transition team. If this guy is an investment genius, he could give my all-time hero, Jim Rogers, a run for his money!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

BMW's Performance Steering Wheel- Unnecessary but Cool. Kind of...

I recently stumbled across this piece of kit: The BMW Performance Steering Wheel

Unfortunately, there is a small part of me that would like to play out the role of Robert Kubica and have this thing in my M3. Why? I already have a pretty good command of shifting prior to redline. I have a stopwatch on my OBC. Here is the Wheel in action:

I really don't know what to say about this thing. It costs over $1,000. Doesn't make your car any faster, and is most likely a pain in the ass to install. It definitely falls into the all show and no go category.

Well, the Alcantara grips would be nice, and who doesn't need an extra gadget in their car to take their mind off driving?

I am just sad to see BMW straying further from their brand identity of The Ultimate Driving Machine. This Steering wheel is cool, but it doesn't DO anything. It seems like BMW is all about show these days. Whether it is 300+ hp cars (show) without LSD's to handle the go, or the universally hated iDrive interface. It seems like Chris Bangel has been such a distraction at the company when they started flame surfacing that they have forgotten how to kick ass.

Don't get me wrong. The 335i still seems to be far above its competion (aside from the G37 which I have not had the opportunity to drive). BUT the G37 comes with an LSD and that is not even an option on the 335i. Unfortunately, I don't think three quarters of today's BMW driver's even know what an LSD is, nor would they be willing to shell out $500-$1000 for the option. They are more interested in getting the vinyl interior so they can make the monthly lease payment... Are those days over with today's economy?

Car Alarms, Really??

A typical day begins around 5:30AM with my neighbor's dog barking, I wake up and eventually drift back to sleep. The dog will bark several more times and THEN the car alarm goes off. I get up, shower, dress and head out to the garage. I get in my car, still a bit groggy and turn the ignition. My car roars to life and another car in my apartment's garage starts blaring its horn. This happens every morning all three cars are in the garage. (Acoustics seem to prevent it from happening if only the alarm car and my car are in the garage. My car does not really roar to life as it has a stock exhaust and is not an Nissan G37 or 350Z.)

Why, in this day and age of cell phones, GPS and Obama, do I have to put up with this noise pollution? It wouldn't be nearly as bad if the owners felt a wave of embarrassment flow over them as they scrambled to shut the alarm off as quickly as possible. They don't. They never do. They JUST DON'T CARE. AND they don't seem to be in complete control of their thief deterring system. I repeatedly hear the woman across the street activate and de-activate her alarm several times in sucession

I am flummoxed that in this day and age of noise restrictions for motorcycles and everything else, I still have to listen to car alarms. I want change! Obama, please ticket owners with offending car alarms! Well, I guess I should ask my Beach Community for change before Obama...(note the Drudge Report flashing light!)

Saturn V Rocket Turns 41!

I stumbled upon this post today about the anniversary of the rocket that took the US to the moon. This find derailed my productive morning and sent me straight to the YouTube to find more clips of the Saturn V in action. I also poked around Wikipedia and learned more about the program:

Apollo IV was the first Saturn V flight- "Gus" Grissom, Ed White and Roger B. Chaffee were all killed during a test that was later re-named Apollo I. Purdue has buildings named after Grissom and Chaffee.

Apollo XI- The first Moon Mission:

Fantastic High Speed Camera Footage:

Real-Time Footage from the gantry:

Apollo XII- Was hit by lightening after lift-off. Here is a video of the firepit:

Skylab 1- Mission using the Saturn V to put Skylab into orbit. I remember going to see the back-up Skylab in the Smithsonian Air & Space museum.

Soviet N1- The Soviets couldn't get their moon mission off the ground (literally). They built an N1 rocket that was far more powerful than the Saturn V, but had trouble getting all 30 rocket engines to work together. They had four launches and all four ended in an explosion shortly after launch. Here is an interesting video of the N1:

I remember watching the first Space Shuttle launch on TV as well as the shock of hearing about the Challenger disaster while I was at school during a library trip. I have always been in awe of the space program and what it took to build these rockets. NASA and the space program is probably a large part of what interested me in engineering as a child (unfortunately, it did nothing to keep me interested in engineering).

It is amazing all 13 Saturn V missions were successful. The Space Shuttle has shown us how dangerous manned space travel is to this day.

It's What I Like: Warm Nuts in Business Class

OK, I am not really sure what this book is about, but I am here to tell you how much I love the warm nuts in Business class. I was a very accomplished traveler before I had the opportunity to experience Business class during a trip Japan a couple years ago. The seats are nice and the food is palatable, but the unexpected: A ceramic cup of warm, salty nuts?? Who thought this one up? It sounds as if I am just throwing the innuendos around, but I am serious!

Did the same mind that brought us Clamato think up warm nuts(encourage you to click the Clamato link as it has an exciting Latin theme song and possibly its own dance)?

A more important question, Now that I have had warm nuts, how can I ever go back to room temperature nuts? Bars just aren't the same these days.

Monday, November 3, 2008

DC, Thanks for the Memories

David Coulthard, F1's fourth highest points earner behind Senna, Prost & Schumacher retired this weekend in a wild Brazilian Grand Prix. He showed a few sparks of greatness at Red Bull, but I will always remember him at McLaren, paired with Mika Häkkinen.

He was one of the only drivers of his era to take the fight to Schumacher, as shown in this 2000 French GP video:

Coulthard had the coolest name, helmet and accent on the F1 grid throughout his career. He was my favorite driver for a number of years and I always hoped he would be able to win the World Championship.