Monthly Archives: March 2012

The love of Formula 1

 

Why I love Formula 1, before I answer that question, I need to give you some background.

Grand Prix racing dates as far back as 1894 in France. The very early days were an endurance of man and machine pushing their cars to the limit. It then soon evolved to formula racing, becoming what is now known as “Formula 1”. The circuits of the day were mostly carved around city streets and town roads, most notable of which was LeMans, site of the world 24-hour Endurance Race. Other circuits included the Targa Florio in Sicily, Brooklands in England, and what would become the most iconic circuit in Formula 1, the streets of Monaco. All the famous marques of the era took part; Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, BRM, Ford, the list goes on.

After World War II, all the world’s Grand Prix were consolidated into the World Championship, in a showcase to see who was the best driver. Men like Nino Farina, Juan Manuel Fangio, Alberto Ascari were head and shoulders above the rest, pushing their cars beyond what other drivers could or dared to do. A decade later, in what many historians consider the “Golden Age of Grand Prix Racing”, the cars changed drastically from being front-engined beast of fury, to rear-engined rocket ships. As the cars became faster, the danger increased as well. There was not much in the way of driver safety, very little in fact. Seatbelts were minimalistic at best, the circuits were ill prepared to handle accidents, and worst of all, everybody associated with the sport went along with it because that was the nature of racing. It wasn’t until drivers Sir Jackie Stewart and John Surtees stepped in, demanding better safety. The rise of  big-market sponsorship made safety concerns a prevalent topic in the Formula 1 community.

Fast forward to the 1980’s, where politics and greed were (and still are, the status quo). I am not going to bore you with all the details, just the most important. With the influx of money and manufacturers, the privateer teams were becoming more and more frustrated with the governing body, the FIA (Federal Internationale d’Automobile).  The war raged on through the early 80’s before it was settled by team owner Bernie Ecclestone (the Napoleon of our time), who promised to give the teams more revenue as long as he holds the commercial rights (he still holds them today).

Now comes the year 1988, the year I was born. The first word uttered out of my mouth was “car”. From that moment on, my dad knew I was going to be a racing fan. Every sunday morning, my dad would have the Grand Prix on TV for us to watch and enjoy. It was at this time I started to hear and memorize the sounds the engines, the howl of a Ferrari V-12, the scream of a turbo-charged Honda, the thunder of a Renault V-10. Those memories of watching drivers; Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher battle it out in those overly engineered monsters still resonate with me today.

Watching Formula 1 for me is like a like a religion. It only comes around every so often, every race is an event to behold, the pageantry, the fans, the glamour, watching the cars on the grid before they start, it gets my adrenaline going. There is a reason why I get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to watch the Malaysian Grand Prix. I know its crazy to want to purposefully get at 4am to watch an auto race, but believe me when I tell you, no matter how I’m feeling; good, bad, sad happy, that passion is always there, waiting to come to the surface.

To put into pictures what I’m on about, please watch this preview for the 2010 documentary film, Senna. It tells the life story of Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna, who many believe to be the best driver of all time.

 

Stay tuned for more posts and videos about Formula 1 and just cars in general.

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Cate the Great

When one of your life-long friends dies, it’s hard to know how to digest it.

I feel that I’m handling it considerably better than I did on Friday, but today, I’m left thinking where I go next.

Maybe I’m deep in limbo in the stages of grief. Acceptance can’t come this soon, but I’m mentally spent on being upset. I don’t advise anyone trying it. It’s exhausting.

So, once again, I’m going to use this blog for my own selfish reasons. I going to write about her, because I haven’t been able to. To be clear, when I say her, I mean Cate, not Cate’s death. The details of her death are not important, they are not a reflection of her, they are not who she was.

Cate was… the coolest person I knew. She was only a few months older than me, but she was light-years ahead.

I don’t know when I first met Cate, but I do know why. Our fathers were best friends. They got their PhD’s together, and every year we would visit Cate and her family on our way to visit relatives in New York. Cate was always impossibly sweet and kind, but there was something about her that was very grown-up and infectious. Even when I was small, I realized that she knew more, did more, and was more worldly than I would ever be. I hung on her every word, and throughout childhood, we built a friendship on companionship and advice.

When I was six, Cate decided that I would look better without bangs. I happily agreed (Look at the picture above. It’s obvious that we made the right decision). Normally, I would have asked my mother for a haircut, but luckily for me, Cate had a pair of scissors. She cut and cut, until my bangs did not exist. She practically cut them at the root. Now gentlemen, I don’t know if you are aware of this, but if you don’t want to have bangs anymore, that’s not the most ideal way to go about it. The best part of the story is that my father, in all of his male thickness, did not notice my bizarre new look. However, when I saw my mother, she was… less understanding. She immediately demanded to know who had scalped me, and I quickly insisted that I had done it to myself. Unfortunately, I was about as transparent and sturdy as saran-a-wrap at the time, so my mother knew it was Cate. As a result, she instituted a rule that I was never allowed to let my friends cut my hair. Much to her displeasure, it is a rule I seldom follow.

The great thing about this story was that even years later, Cate still swore that my haircut looked great. There are no pictures to back up her claim, but Cate was never one to back down.

Besides my mother, Cate was the first person I let cut my hair. The more I think about it, the more I realize that Cate was a lot of my firsts. Cate made me ride my first roller coaster. I was terrified, but she insisted. Together, we rode up front, and I can still remember crushing her hand as I looked over the rail. Cate was the first person to tell me about the entrepreneurial benefits of collecting Beanie Babies. She had a collector’s book and at least a hundred of the carefully-chosen stuffed toys. I remember being so envious of her. She was so smart, and as she meticulously explained the importance of tag protectors, I remember thinking how I wanted to be like her, to have everything so figured out. Cate was the first person to tell me what boys and girls did behind closed doors. She told me all the gory details, all the mechanics behind something I had never thought of before. I didn’t believe her; I should have. Cate was the first person to be honest with me about anything I wanted to know, even herself.

When Cate was a teenager, she stole chapstick on purpose from a Walmart. I was too chicken. When Cate started smoking cigarettes, she surprisingly told me to stay chicken. “It’s not you, and I like that” she said. Cate made her life an open book for me, a road map advising me on every direction, every milestone, because Cate always got there first. She never judged my naive questions, and I looked to her for a long time.

She was my friend. Now she’s dead, and since Friday, I’ve given some thought to what that means. She will never call me again. I will never get a call about an engagement, a wedding, a baby, a dream job. She will never get to do any of those things. While this thought deeply upsets me, what I can’t wrap my mind around is the fact that, in all likelihood, I will be the first to do those things.

And at this point, I’m chicken.

I can’t be the first. Where is my road map? Who will unabashedly tell me the truth about things that are outside my understanding? Who will force my bubble, make me experience things I never would have otherwise? Without her, there would be no roller coasters.

Today I feel stunted and cheated in the white space that used to be my road map. I’ve been told that eventually I’ll feel better about this; that writing about her will make me feel better. It doesn’t. In fact, it’s worse. I wrote this entry earlier today and lost my internet connection when I hit ‘publish.’ When the page refreshed, everything was gone. I think I stared at the blank screen for twenty minutes. I got angry, I collected myself, and I started typing everything over. It’s worse the second time, it’s worse today.

But today I’m going to the Botanical Gardens in a dress Cate would have worn, and I’m going to sit on a bench and pretend that I can see the Beanie Babies that Cate swore escaped at night. She said that at night, her valued toys would take off their tag protectors and roam free in her backyard. I like to think that’s what happened.

So today, I’ll sit and remember what I loved most about Cate:

She was unbridled and adventurous.

She loved animals and, on an unrelated note, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

She would give anything to anyone who asked.

Her parents loved her more than any parent has ever loved their only child.

And I’m going to have to stop here. Sorry Cate the Great, you were a lot stronger than me, and you would know how to end a blog post about you.

I don’t

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Just wanted to get this off my chest…

This is a first blog entry. I am thinking my theme will be that of the perspectives of a thirty something college student. In keeping with supposed internet tradition, let’s start off with a rant.

To put what I am about to write about into context, first let me tell you a little bit about myself. I graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 2001 and promptly joined the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant. I have been serving on active duty for over 10 years and I have been stationed in Germany and Fort Stewart, Georgia amongst other places.  I have served two tours of duty in Iraq and I currently hold the rank of Major.  Finally, my current military occupational specialty designates me as a public affairs officer.  To that end I am currently pursuing a graduate degree in public relations at the University of Georgia to enhance my skills in future military endeavors.

Now that that is out of the way, let me move on to my primary reason for writing this post. For a while now, I have noticed a theme that has been making its rounds around the internet, news stories, and opinion pieces.  Specifically, it is that today’s young adults do not want to grow up. I recently read a New York Times article entitled “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” that discussed these said milestones.  This is the link to the article if you want to read it: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22Adulthood-t.html?adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1332544000-M4zFRCMT0zR07ICtsb+35g.  Hopefully it does not ask you to log in, but I digress. Long article short, it basically stated that by the age of thirty the average adult should have completed the following five milestones: 1) complete school, 2) leave home, 3) have a job and be financially independent, 4) get married, and 5) have children.  More often or not, it seems that this criticism is directed toward men and the assumption that they do not want to grow up.

My gripe behind this is that based on that based on that logic, I should not be considered a real adult because I have yet to meet all of these so called milestones on the path to traditional adulthood. Commentators currently seem to be making a hobby decrying the fact that fewer and fewer young adults – and men in general – are getting married and starting a family or are putting it off more and more. My favorite argument, if you can call it that, was one where you are being a selfish person if you are delaying marriage and kids.  I forget where I saw that gem; I would cite it otherwise.  Another good one is that fewer men are to be considered “marriageable” because more and more women are outperforming them in both educational and professional achievements.  There might be some truth to that one, but I get the impression that this is being assumed to apply to all men due to writers like Maureen Dowd, so thanks.  There is also the argument that I myself do not know real responsibility because I do not have any kids. This is sort of a repeat of what I said earlier, but it has the added bonus in the fact that some holier-than-thou jerk actually said it to my face a while back. Just so we are clear, I have avoided fathering a child while not married or in an otherwise stable relationship.  That seems responsible to me.  I define that as “doing it right.”

Okay, so obviously I have done the first three on the list. I have even owned a house, and my car is fully paid for.  But I am no closer to doing the last two now than I was 15 years ago.  Ask me in five years if that has changed.  Anyway, as to the sentiment that since I have not married and started my own family I should be considered a kid, please allow me to respond.  Remember that I spent four years stationed overseas. Once I came back from Germany, I had exactly eight months in the U.S. before I was deployed to Iraq for 16 months during the 2007 – 2008 Surge with the Third Infantry Division.  While deployed, I took command of a company, redeployed it to Fort Stewart in July 2008, and spent the next 15 months training and preparing it for the next deployment to Iraq.  Half way through that second deployment, I finally passed command to a fellow captain.  Believe me, I was ready to step down! But again, I digress.  My brigade returned home in late October 2010, and from there I focused on gaining admittance to UGA with the blessing of the Army.  My point is that I have been sort of busy the last 10 years. By my count, I have spent six years and two months of the last 10 years overseas.  At least another year and a half was spent conducting various training events, field exercises, and mission rehearsals. From my perspective, Halloween 2010 until now is the first period in recent memory that I have had in which I have been able to experience – what I consider at least – a normal shot at a social life.  If you could find someone you could date, have a relationship with, marry, and start a family under this timeline with these conditions, I take my hat off to you.

Alright, I’m done. So I am a thirty something, single male graduate student (and Army officer) who likes going to bars with his friends, who likes playing Xbox, and who likes sleeping until 10 o’clock in the morning when he can.  I also like skiing, reading, rock climbing, golf, camping, shooting guns, watching movies, and working out.  And I like sleeping until 10 o’clock. Maybe I am wrong, but I think I have earned my current station in life.  So what if I am unmarried and childless.  That does not make me any less of a man. I have simply taken a different – some might say harder – path. I just want the opinion writers and talking heads to recognize that fact and say as much. Maybe they should do a couple of military tours in a hostile area and then we can talk. I know they won’t, but a guy can dream. There is also the possibility that they are not talking about me per say, but when I fit the demographic it is hard for me not to take it personally. This might have come off a little more bitter and mean spirited that I wanted, but I did say it was a rant. Maybe I am being unreasonable and I am just in a bad mood and merely need to turn off the TV and internet for a while.

Stay tuned, there is plenty more where this came from. I might even have a war story or two…

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Thank you so much!

Perhaps this is not post-worthy, but it has recently been brought to my attention that I’m entirely too polite. Yes, you heard right, apparently there’s a limit to how many thank-you’s is socially appropriate.

My older brother visited earlier this week, and I, being an accommodating host, took him out for a night on the town. We went to a few different places downtown, and at the end of our evening, my brother graciously pointed out that I had a problem with politeness. Our conversation went a little something like this:

“Andrea, quit being so polite.”

“I’m sorry- what?”

“Seriously, you’ve said ‘thank you so much’ to our server five times in the last hour.”

“And that’s bad because… ”

“It’s weird. You’re weirding people out, and it’s distracting. And fake. You can’t be that grateful our server bought us our food. That’s her job, Andrea.”

I have to say that I was a little caught off guard with my brother’s gripe. We were both raised in the South, where politeness is supposed to be a valued trait. Maybe the value only goes so far. Should please and thank you be used sparingly, and does their value depreciate the more times you use them?

Perhaps my excessive politeness is a product of my PTSID (Post Traumatic Service Industry Disorder). Over time, I believe I have come to model my behavior from the customers I have appreciated the most. I can always tell if I have a customer that at one point in time was service industry. They are polite, maybe too polite. The “thank you so much” ‘s come as easily as the “whenever you get a second” ‘s. As service industry, I feel that we add the politeness, because we understand that one of our brothers and sisters in arms may be struggling during the course of their shift. We value any amount of good service, because a lot of times, the world does not. Sure, it may be part of the job description, but how can appreciation of one’s actions be unappreciated?

It has always been my understanding that you can catch more flies with honey, but now I worry that my brother is right, and it is possible to throw out so much honey, you drown the flies.

For more insight into this disturbing scenario, look to the Politeness Theory (yes, it does exist, ask Wikipedia). It basically breaks down the interaction of politeness into four basic strategies. I won’t go into them, for fear of furthering my cynicism, but it literally blows my mind that politeness can be turned into something that is not polite. I believe the University of Oregon sums it up best at the beginning of their own entry on the Politeness Theory:

“In everyday conversation, there are ways to go about getting the things we want.”

Maybe I should have had this epiphany earlier. It’s kind of obvious now. At face value Southern politeness is revered, but what is Southern politeness exactly? I like to think about it like this: sure I’m smiling, but that smile is probably as fake as the Sweet-n-Low in my tea.

…….That sounds awful. Like I’m a worse person for having written it. There’s something about this whole sentiment that feels intrinsically diametric to my soul. Can’t we just be nice? Can’t we just be polite and respectful for the sake of being polite and respectful? And what about if I actually want to express my appreciation for someone, will I always run the risk of seeming disingenuous?

This has happened recently where I sent an email thanking a person for going above and beyond to help me. To give you a little background, this person is in a position where my emails would normally be considered spam, or something lower than spam. Yet, this person took time to answer my questions and even scheduled a meeting with me. Now, these actions may be considered small potatoes to this person, but to me it was everything. So I sent this person an email, thanking them profusely for their graciousness and help. Immediately, I got a reply email from this person saying that I had given them “entirely too much credit.” The comment may have been a humbling response, but now I wonder if I once again drowned the flies.

The moral of the story, if there is one, is that I don’t know if I should tone down my politeness, but honestly, I don’t think I will. In fact, I might say it more often. If I mean every one of my “thank you”‘s, why should I limit my gratitude to fit in with a world full of opportunists? Just because you might not hear appreciation often enough, doesn’t make a “thanks” fake, or weird, or off-putting. Hopefully everyone who hears me say “thank you so much” knows that I mean it. I would never be able to get anything done or go anywhere without the help of someone else. I like to think my Mom raised me right, so thanks guys!

And to my astute older brother, hopefully you don’t get a call from Mom when she reads this post. You probably won’t be thanking me for that one.

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There’s Nothing Causal About Smartphone Gaming Addiction

No, this isn’t a wildlife print by John James Audubon. It’s just a bird that I drew this morning on my smartphone.

If you guys haven’t downloaded Draw Something yet, get on it. First of all, this brilliantly simple turn-based pictionary game will provide you with hours and hours of fun (outside of class, of course). Secondly, there are a number of elements contributing to this game’s success worth noting. And third, I want some more people to play with. (As you can see by my screenshot, I am playing with a random user because my 4 friends who play are taking too long in between turns.)

Draw Something was downloaded over a million times in the first 10 days it was released. As of now, the game is seeing 10 million new drawings every 24 hours. That is a lot of action.

This explosion of growth was made possible because Draw Something was released as a truly cross-platform app. Players can connect with friends via Facebook or Twitter, as well as invite people to play by email. Android and iOS phone/tablet users can play against one another. Also, Instagram has proven to be a surprise marketing engine because Draw users like to post screenshots of their pictures. (It is also worth noting that you are not required to connect with a social network to use the app, if agreeing to the Facebook permissions creeps you out) Because the game made a simultaneous splash on both major mobile platforms with options to connect with the two largest social networks, there was never any friction in the word-of-mouth machine. Some applications lose momentum when they roll out for the iphone and Android users must sit on their hands for another couple months while their version is in development, or vice versa.

The developers, OMGPOP, were smart to incorporate a variety of ways to monetize this app. The free version cashes in on banner advertising. Presumably these ads will have a much higher click-through-rate because they will leverage information collected from the user’s social network. Players can also buy virtual goods such as new colors, effects, and bombs for simplifying turns. This ability to collect additional revenue should allow the game to stay profitable longer by adding value for hardcore gamers without turning off more causal users. Interestingly, CEO Dan Porter reports that the largest source of revenue is upgrading to the $0.99 version of the game. The premium version is ad-free, with additional words, and a few extra gold coins to get you started. Overall, it is not all that different from Draw Free. In the end, it seems that the game is so addicting that users don’t think twice about shelling out the for the dollar upgrade. Right now, Draw Something is seeing 5-digit daily revenue.

Draw Something’s success is not unique. A post this week on the Facebook Developer’s blog highlights the success of casual arcade-style gaming. This is one of the oldest app categories on Facebook and continues to be a leader in growth. These games are especially beneficial to Facebook because of their high engagement factor. Users keep logging on to play, boosting page-views and subsequently increasing opportunities for users to see new advertising. In an effort to encourage developers to build upon these games’ success, Facebook points out a few strategies for success:

  • Bring friends into the game by promoting healthy competition
  • Allow people to brag about their accomplishments or highscores by posting leaderboards to timelines
  • Schedule weekly tournaments, giving users a specific reason to keep coming back
  • Promote collaborative competition and gifting by using frictionless requests

Good game mechanics are proving to be an essential quality for an app’s success, and Facebook is continually doing everything it can to create opportunities for developers to drive discovery and re-engament. Digging a little deeper into your favorite time-waster may reveal some great ideas for how companies can use applications to connect and stay connected with their most valuable constituents.

[Originally posted at Big Data (Really Gets Me)]

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Fair Tax, Wishful Thinking I know

After a recent conversation with my father about taxes, I began to wonder why our tax system has to be so confusing. Now to preface this post, I understand that a tax system such as the fair tax is not really in the realm of possibilities at the moment, but a girl can dream right?

If you had to choose a national tax system my guess is that it would not look like our current system. It would enable Americans to prepare their taxes without an accountant or software program, while also saving the billions of dollars spent each year on tax planning and audits. The fair tax is a plan to replace federal income and payroll taxes, including personal, gift, estate, capital gains, alternative minimum, social/security/medicare, self-employment, and corporate taxes. The fair tax replaces all of these taxes with a proposed 23 percent sales tax on new items and services, which means you could buy that used dream car and pay no taxes! Now I know that the arguments of this plan are formulating in all of your brains right now, but let me try to defend a few.

Many claim that the fair tax would just hurt the poor even, but what many don’t realize is that the fair tax would actually give out a prebate to make sure that no American would be paying taxes on necessities. If you take the poorest members of the generation born in 1990 under the fair tax, they would experience a 13.5 percent improvement in economic well-being, while the middle and upper class would receive a 5 and 2 percent increase. The last worry is what if Americans stop spending? The fair tax research has shown that consumption would increase by 2.4 percent in the first year and 11.7 percent by the tenth year.

Lastly, in these economic hard times, we need a tax system that helps keep jobs in the U.S. The fair tax exports more of our products rather than our jobs. By removing the cost of corporate taxes and compliance costs from  U.S. exports,  our exports will be on the same level as foreign competitors. This will increase the demand for U.S. exports, which will create a need for more jobs in the manufacturing sectors.

Now this is obviously just a snapshot of the fair tax, but go to the fair tax calculator and see how the fair tax would benefit you!

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This Will Destroy You (An epitaph)

Recently, the post-rock band This Will Destroy You announced they were parting ways. It’s sad because I came to know this band’s odd form of music only a short time ago. Last summer, I saw a trailer for  the Academy-Award nominated Moneyball. In the 2nd half of the trailer, a piece of music starts and was immediately hooked on it. It complimented the images in the trailer so well.

I decided to investigate by viewing comments on YouTube for clues to the Music’s origin. I came to a link for a pseudo music video based on the song entitled The Mighty Rio Grande. It was video about Earth’s climate from various heights. The music was entirely instrumental, very distant in nature, but sounded epic. It takes you to a place and a time, but you don’t where it is, but you know it’s there. It’s hard to describe how you feel when you listen to this music, in part because it tells a story. I compare it to like driving through the Mojave Desert at dusk. Now I’ve never been to Mojave Desert, but if I were driving through the Mojave at dusk, I would be listening to this music. It haunts you, not in a scary way, but in a way that sticks in your mind.

After listening to the song in its entirety (an astounding 11 minutes in length), I decided I wanted more of this music, so I went on-line via Itunes to search for the accompanying album. The search led me to their self-titled album, and without hesitating, bought the album off Itunes. In addition to The Mighty Rio Grande, the rest of album had the same distant, but epic feel. It’s not like prod-rock that goes on for 12-13 minutes at a time. This music is more focused, like a journey almost.

I implore anyone who reads this post to take a listen to This Will Destroy You. It might not your cup of tea, but at least try to understand what the music is saying because you might not hear something like it ever again.

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