31 May

Not much to report. Drove an uneventfully 60 miles round trip to a hobby store. A kid walking by Midlana got all excited and asked a million question, seemingly having forgotten why he was there. Good to see kids taking an interest in cars these days.

I was there to get some parts myself. After 35 years I’m getting back into RC gliders, one with an electric motor (Radian Pro if you’re interested). A LOT has changed over the last 35 years, with better batteries, motors and electronics. No more gas engines to pull it to altitude; today even an average LiPo battery pack is enough to fly during a lunch hour. Having been through the balsa construction process dozens of times, this time I got one that’s pretty much ready to go out of the box, all it needed was the transmitter. Flying gliders isn’t quite like riding a bike though – it is possible to forget the nuances of the sport and I’m once again back at the oh-geez-oh-crap-that-was-close stage. The motor is nice since where I work there’s little wind and no west-facing hills. Some people use really long stretchy-rubber launch devices, but a motor, while it adds some weight, makes it so much more convienent to fly that it’s worth it. Flaps and ailerons make it even better.

Some coworkers have been flying for years and it’s pretty amazing how technology has changed. There’s now video goggles and aircraft-mounted cameras, complete with feedback so that you can turn your head left, right, up or down, and the camera follows suit. Pretty cool, though everyone was joking that the goggles also double as “birth-control glasses”, making the wearer instantly repulsive to all women, or maybe we already were.

Back on Midlana, still haven’t done the high speed run to calibrate the knock sensor. The plan was to get out on the freeway about 5am on a Sunday morning, find a big gap, and data-log one run in 4th gear. Nothing happened because since I get up every workday at 5am, it’s nice to sleep in “really late” to about 6:30, and by then the traffic starts closing up. It’ll happen eventually…

24 May

After the detail-tuning to get the car running well on gas, it was switched back to E85 to confirm whether it’s still running fine on that – with its additional ~100 hp :). During the test drive, the car started idling about 100 rpm higher than commanded, so once back home the laptop was connected to see what was up. Hondas have a well-known problem where the ECU-controlled idle air valve (which gates air around the throttle plate to set idle speed) often gets sticky. It was a little surprising that that wasn’t the problem though, it was that the ECU was commanding the fast idle itself… why? Looking through the variables, attention focused on the idle deadband. The purpose of the deadband is to not overly “micro-manage” the idle, once it’s close enough to the target rpm, just let it be. Want to guess how wide the deadband was? Yup, +/-100 rpm, and as it was reduced, down came the fast idle. The deadband is now -100/+0 so we’ll see how it goes. It wasn’t a big deal, and I was glad that I could both diagnose the problem and fix it myself.

I pulled up to a light with a new BMW M6 behind me (570 hp but way over twice as heavy as Midlana). Normally I’m grown up and ignore taunts by other cars, but when the light turned green and I pulled away at normal speed, he was right on my butt. Oh, okay, just this once, and I romped on the gas with Midlana getting a bit sideways due to lighting up the tires in second. Third gear was better but still marginal, during which time the BMW got a lot smaller. Granted I didn’t signal to him when I was going to get on it, but didn’t really feel like he deserved one.

Anyhow, the to-do list is getting shorter: traction control and launch control.

Traction control: requires adding wheel speed sensors. Since I (still) haven’t swapped in the higher quality rod ends, it makes sense to add the sensors at the same time since the suspension has to come apart anyway.

Launch control/anti-lag: Launch control is used by turbo cars to build boost before leaving the starting line. This is done by imposing a low rpm limit (maybe about 5000) and retarding the timing. This extends the combustion burn cycle so late that the fuel is still burning as the exhaust valves open. The hot burning gases spin up the turbo which allows making full-power launches, but must be done sparingly since the hot exhaust gases are hard on both the exhaust and turbocharger. Regardless, it’ll be added because it’s there and because it’ll be fun to try out – heck, GTRs have it so it levels the playing field a bit. That said, it’ll hardly be used, partly due to the machine gun-like backfiring that occur which attracts all the wrong kind of attention. Still, it’s worth setting up to record at least one really fast 0-60 time and quarter mile should Midlana ever go drag racing.

12 May

Set up the alarms on the dash for low oil pressure (both high rpm and idle), oil and coolant max temp, battery voltage, and low fuel. All designed to get me attention if something goes amok on-track or off.

10 May

Over the last several months the Odyssey PC680 battery seemed like it’s started heading downhill. It starts the car fine but if the ignition is left on while working with the tuning, voltage seems to drop a little quicker than expected (having nothing powered other than the dash and ECU). I know it’s being charged to the right voltage because that’s shown on the dash, so out it came, replaced by another of the same size and make. While there are Li-Ion batteries out now that are pretty amazing, small and very light, the pricing is also amazing (think $$$$ for a US-made unit… I’ll hold off on that for now).

Just about every day the tune gets better. Over time, big issues have been tuned out of existence and Midlana’s beginning to act more like a stock OEM vehicle, starts fine, idles smooth, and has no flat spots in the tune. It’s not perfect yet though; letting the car coast toward a stop in gear often causes it to stall when the clutch is pushed in. Fixing it will take a bit of testing since about a dozen factors go into the seemingly simple act of idling.

4 May

Started up the car to go on another tuning run and the loud squeal announced that the alternator belt was slipping… huh, guess I’m not going anywhere. The bracket had cracked, but because it was fabricated from a cut-up piece of 1/8″ square tubing, it was a surprising that it had cracked along the corner – unexpected. It was welded back together, this time with a stiffener. Little stuff like this can cause drives out to the back country to come to a quick end. The water pump not turning isn’t a show-stopper because of the electric pump, but with no alternator, the little battery wouldn’t last long running the whole show.

1 May

Took the car out to Palomar Mountain, over to a bakery in the back country, then back home. The 147 mile casual drive consumed 7 gallons of E85: 21 mpg. That’s about right, roughly 30% worse than pump gas. I’m going to keep running the ethanol until the tune is deemed good enough for the track, then switch back to pump gas to see how well it does. The issue is that some tuning variables may affect one fuel more than the other. It was a bit ironic to hear on the news that a politician called for the elimination of the ethanol subsidy. I’m torn on the issue, I’m very glad to have it, but I just can’t see the logic of running the stuff in most cars – unless it’s solely to give the finger to the Middle East (which counts for something).

On the drive I got to experience something new – Biblical even. On one stretch of the road was what appeared to be dirt – open the first picture full size – only it isn’t dirt. It wasn’t until I got a glimpse of something moving that I slowed down to look closer. The second picture is a zoomed in portion of the first… grasshoppers, millions and millions of grasshoppers! I stopped long enough to get a picture and they were mostly crawling but also hopping, and some were airborne. After a few landed in the car, the whole thing started giving me the creeps so I got out of there. On the way home I saw two wandering around on the passenger floor where I couldn’t reach them. Later, after pulling away from a traffic light I looked in the mirror and there were 3-4 of them wandering around on the street. Great, I did my part to spread the plague.

When I eventually stopped for gas and looked the car over, I found several live ones sitting on the inside surface of my front wheels. I can only imagine their ride, pinned by centripetal force and probably dizzy as hell. I never did find the two in the car… hope I didn’t bring home a mating pair…

About the mystery sound, I found a socket wrench still on a bolt behind the passenger seat and really hope that was it, but it seems doubtful. It could have made the noise but since I hadn’t hit any big bumps when it happened, it’s a stretch. Also, during the drive today (before I found it) there were no noises. Who knows.

Forgot to mention, the dash has built-in accelerometers so I put the lateral value on the screen. To be honest I was amazed to pull 1G without even trying; modern street tires are pretty amazing compared to what they were 30 years ago. I’ll be curious what the car can do in a proper skidpad and hot tires…