Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Gordon Moore's Law and Indycar

It's been over 50 years since those heady days of the 1960s science and technology boom in the US. Electronic (vacuum) tubes were soon to be replaced by an interesting, solid-state device, known as an integrated circuit board. (What was it about the 1960s that made it so damned amazing anyway?)

Gordon Moore was one of three scientists and partners who came to be known as the founders of the company Intel.  They developed their ideas, leading also to the development of solid-state memory devices (i.e RAM chips) and many other advances, which in turn, also begat the rapid advancement of not only computing machines, but also the manufacturing processes that were developed to create these amazing technological tools. April 19th, 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of a paper released by Gordon Moore which later became more widely know at Moore's Law.

Still not ringing any bells? 

Don't worry, I didn't hear any bells either until I read this Economist article today regarding the 50th anniversary of Moore's Law. Moore realized in 1965 that the microchip with all the capabilities of it's solid-state integrated circuitry stated that the technology to produce microchip and to continually shrink the transistors would then allow for a doubling of transistors per unit of space in regular intervals (he settled on every 18 months or so), leading to an exponential increase in the ability of those circuit boards in addition to the decrease in cost to produce them. Largely his prediction held true, not for the 10 years as he foresaw, but nearly 50 years, longer than most ever agreed his "Law" would last.  

Eventually the increasing limitations of physical space lead to what is now being seen - a reversal of the decreasing per unit cost to produce to achieve that same or declining rate per area of microchip. (This is where the Indycar light bulb went on for me). 

In fall 2011, (maybe you were one of my tens of readers then) I wondered out-loud about the limitations and diminishing returns from increasing costs related to producing a leading-edge Indycar. Indycars (always in search of that next big idea to win the Indianapolis 500) were the working experiments in the laboratory of auto-racing which included design, manufacturing processes, and performance technology. From the early 1960s, steadily increased performance came with astounding regularity (and increasing budgets) until the early-1990s when it became no longer economically viable to build these amazing machines.  

The cost to produce a winner was becoming highly prohibitive to all but those who could be counted only on a bad-shop-teacher's handful of fingers. Even the "unlimited" strata of F1 has hit a ceiling where costs and technology are outrunning those who would put resources to them.

So when considering how Indycars could be much better, don't forget that at some point, power, speed, efficiency, technology, AND economic input per unit ALL reach a point that simply cannot be overcome. We found it in Indycars much sooner than with microchips. 

There was a time when the automobile was still new, out of the ordinary, looked upon with fascination and reverie. I grew up in the era when computers, for all their lack of personality, were also these amazing, cantankerous boxes that did increasingly amazing and streamlined tasks. 

So in better understanding that these are the times in which we reside, the current Indycar is quite serviceable for me, adequately and fairly delivering a racing product of enjoyment for those who partake. Short of blowing up the whole paradigm and having a totally unlimited format (including budgets), this is our Indycar, post-Boomer world.

Four generations since the automobile saw rapid development, and two since the computer did the same, the luxurious showroom shine is well and truly off the 'Apple' and we'll likely see neither automobile nor computer with quite such fascination again. 

I can't even imagine what the next big thing will be. 

Please just don't let it be artificially intelligent android/robots. 

They're simply WAY too creepy for me. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

J.W. von Goethe and the Ever-Esoteric Indycar

There have been several treatises written by many much more skilled than I dealing with the sturm und drang surrounding Indycar and it's TV ratings (which is oft used by media and advertising folks to indicate its relative popularity in our culture, and, in some cases, to indicate relative worth in the commercial marketplace) so I shall not attempt to add to it.

Oh, wait. I already have. Back in 2012, here. Another one of quality by our long lost comrade in Indycar arms, Pressdog, can be read here. Read those in your free time later. For now, just understand that we've covered much of this ground before, and reference the continually, relatively small TV ratings outside the Indy 500 as a backdrop to this post.

Today's Indycar Word of the Day is: Esoteric

esoteric adjective es·o·ter·ic \ˌe-sə-ˈter-ik, -ˈte-rik\

1 a : designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone (a body of esoteric legal doctrine — B. N. Cardozo)
   b : requiring or exhibiting knowledge that is restricted to a small group (esoteric terminology); broadly, difficult to understand (esoteric subjects)
2 a : limited to a small circle (in esoteric pursuits)
   b : private, confidential (an esoteric purpose)
3 : of special, rare, or unusual interest (esoteric building materials)

For this writer, attempting to express ideas through words are typically a source fun and 'esoteric' is among the most enjoyable for me to throw out in conversation or print. Regardless, I find this word especially useful to frame what I saw as a very good race at Long Beach last weekend. 
For a sport that is already quite esoteric, to continually heap upon the negative comparisons to the glorious past of 50 (or even 25 years ago) serves no good.

You may think you're doing the sport a great service, but you're not. It is pure folly and unfairly shackles the sport to something it cannot possibly be. It reminds me of a younger sibling who becomes a freshman in high school, only to continually suffer the unfair comparisons by possibly more glorious elder siblings' friends and teachers. To have these comparisons and judgements awaiting you, before you have a chance to develop your own identity, would be highly infuriating. Perhaps you were just such a sibling and can identify with this feeling, but I digress...
My point to all this can be summed up by a quote I came across yesterday attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - influential writer, statesman, and all-round free-thinker from late-1700s/early-1800s Germany. The english translation of his quote is,
"the hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes"

What is currently (and has been for a few years) in front of our eyes is the gilding of a new group of Indycar legends. 
Yet nobody seems to care.
Scott Dixon scored his 36th career win in Indycar at Long Beach last weekend, surpassing the golden-era legend Bobby Unser, and moving to 5th all-time, a full year quicker and in 17 less starts that 'Uncle Bobby'.  
Let that sink in for a bit.
I'm not going to attempt arguments which bring in subjective comparisons based on the sport or vehicle history - only the hardest, most basic statistics. We can certainly view them all through the lens of their time but I find it increasingly hard to say one era is better than another based on conditions of the time. Liars figure and figures lie, correct?
We are in a time when new legends such as Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Sebastien Bourdais recently retireds Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy, ALL are in the top 15 in career wins.
These drivers, some of whom are permanently gone from the cockpit, or likely soon to be, are legends in their own right, yet most often we only hear and celebrate the voices of those who continually lob mortars at the sport's façade, quite unfairly damaging this current generation of legends. The worst thing, the absolute WORST we do as fans is depreciate their status.
(c) Jeff Gritchen - OC Register
I'm making an concerted effort to eliminate the unfair comparisons with the sport's past. The drivers of today are legends in their own right, living in the shadows of the sport's earlier legends, yet they've earned the right to be treated as such. 
The subdued congratulations from TK and Helio on Sunday, seemed akin to a knowing nod that despite the weight of golden-era legends and their esoteric, nostalgic fans before them, they do understand their place in the sport's pantheon.
If only more Indycar fans did as well.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Middle of The Road

"the middle of the road, is no private cul-de-sac..."
- Chryssie Hynde, The Pretenders

As my tens of readers may or may not have noticed, there was no post last Tuesday. Due to a much-needed and enjoyable vacation week, I elected to enjoy my day at the beach and pool rather than stuff more content of questionable quality on the internet.

I found that, even on vacation, Indycar is never far from my mind. Road-tripping for 19 hours with my family to the sunny climes of Gulf-coast Florida, allows for copious driving time and the mind will wander, although auto-racing and Indycar is naturally very close to the surface.

The only major lament I'd have from this trip is that, while spending a vast majority of four days driving out of the last nine, a vast majority of people simply do not know how or do not care to know how to act while driving on a major interstate highway (RANT ALERT). There is ONE very simple rule on interstates that would ease SO many traffic woes:

It was observed that a goodly many of drivers from such great states as Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, seem to be keenly unaware of the laws of most every state in the union with regard to interstate driving. 

Perhaps they've not heard the cautionary words of Chryssie Hynde.

Perhaps they're unaware of the consequences of such actions.
Perhaps they simply do not care. 

Perhaps they're rude and unchivalrous with regard to road etiquette.
I find it quite an unseemly commentary on our society actually.

Regardless, it is in the middle of the road, where you do indeed see the darnedest things, and yes, it is no cul-de-sac. Seemingly safe and comforting to be in the middle farthest away from those scary edges of the known. U
nnecessary traffic snarls and semi-close calls belie that it's actually a treacherous place filled with danger. 

Just ask Kevin Cogan. 

Or Ryan Hunter-Reay.

I cannot say to this day, with the highest degree of certainty that Hunter-Reay or Cogan were totally to blame.  The preponderance of evidence seems weighted against them however and often the precise facts of the matter rarely count in the court of public opinion. Both did harm to their reputations as drivers and both did damage to the image of the sport to some degree.

Even the sport of Indycar itself shows a proclivity for the safety in the middle of the road with its oft-compromised decision-making and white-washing of the history of the sport.

Maybe I've just become more sensitive or tolerant of the realities of life. As I get older, the middle of the road isn't seen as a narrow balancing point but has come to represent a vast grey area that lies between the narrow lines of either extreme. For a great many days of our lives it is relatively safe there, but for the increasingly binary times in which we now live, for better or worse, it has come to represent a place lacking a sense of gravitas and especially at critical moments in time.  

Rick Mears' famous outside pass into turn one at Indy in 1991, en route to his fourth and final Indy 500 victory, was in no way considered middle of the road.  The fastest race speed he would turn that day going into one, taking the most extreme line possible with no guarantee of coming out the other side cleanly is an example of not compromising at precisely the right moment in time.  

And such is the stuff of legend.