2012 Propositions.

Education is an important part of this proposition season. Some of the more hotly debated propositions involve funding of education and tax increases. Also this is the first image that showed up in a google search of “CA propositions 2012.”


My blog is back! ASC is far behind me now, and it’s time to start talking about and thinking about new things. I put off my blog for a long time and the semester is catching up with me. Thoughts and feelings are slipping through my fingers like water through a sieve, and I need the written word to stem the tide.


I had planned my grand re-opening post to be of a different nature, but with a big election coming up in a week, I thought I would discuss California’s Propositions and how I feel about them. If possible I would like some discussion on this before I go to vote for real so that my opinions and logic can be critiqued or challenged. And perhaps just the act of me writing down my thoughts could be enough to change my mind on a subject.


Here’s a quick run-through of how I intend to be voting this season. I’ve included buzzwords in parentheses to help you remember what the propositions are about.

30 (higher taxes): Yes
31 (budget/performance regulations): ??
32 (campaign donations): No
33 (car insurance): No
34 (death penalty): Yes
35 (human trafficking): No
36 (change three strikes): Yes
37 (labeling GMOs): No
38 (taxes for education): Yes
39 (multistate business tax): Yes
40 (senate redistricting): Yes

For details on what each proposition entails, click here. 


Now I’ll go through and give a proposition-by-proposition analysis and explanation of my opinions. This is going to be a bit wordy, so you might want to just “ctrl-F” for “PROP __” that you’re interested in hearing about.



I’m going to lay down some reasoning here which will apply to a few of the later propositions. I have a controversial opinion regarding taxes. I like them. A lot. I like high tax rates. I think they are opposed very strongly in the US because it is a part of the US culture to favor the individual and to care more about money itself than the things that money provides. Taxes do a lot of good, because they pay for things that we don’t want in private hands. In the case of this proposition, that includes education. I’m also a very big fan of public education – in fact I think that education is the single most important thing in an advanced society, besides basic needs like water and food. This is because education begets everything else. An educated populace will make smarter decisions, which means every single facet of society will become more advanced and efficient. Common criticism to this proposition: “There’s no guarantee that the taxes will be spent well. We should instead devote effort to making sure the money is spent intelligently before devoting more money to the system.” This is a chicken and egg problem. A smarter populace will make smarter spending decisions. And besides, it’s not as though this proposition has a rule embedded in it that says “we’re not going to try harder to make the system more efficient.” I think it’s fair to assume that people are already doing what they can. It’s just not enough. We’re just not GOOD enough at education yet, plain and simple. We can’t be afraid of investing in education. Even if resources are not being managed perfectly now, the ability to pay teachers more, build more advanced facilities, have smaller class sizes, etc., these are all things that can be helped with more money and investment. And, even despite all that, I would probably still vote for this on the principle that I can cancel out someone else who voted against it only because they hate the word “tax” and for no other reason, of which I’m sure there are bound to be a plethora.


PROP 31: ???

I honestly don’t know enough about the implications of this measure to have a strong opinion for or against. I might just end up voting for whatever the California Democratic Party wants. I dunno. Very open to opinions here.



This proposition sounds good on the surface, promising to make elections more fair by banning monetary contributions to campaigns. The only problem here is that the contribution restrictions are not as all-encompassing as they should be, and end up creating an imbalance where a few sources who can contribute are going to have all of the power over the political candidates. I definitely think that less money should be spent on political campaigns, but this is not a good measure to make that happen in a level-playing-field sort of way.



This proposition sounds good on the surface but actually sucks. I think you can see a pattern here. It looks like it makes logical sense but in reality it ends up just screwing over people who don’t have insurance which is really not what you want to be doing. This seems like another in a long list of measures that is support by interest groups, for interest groups, and only seeming to help the general public on the surface. Think about it – why would this even be a law? Who would want to be pushing this measure? If it made people pay less, then why would insurance companies want it to happen? It just doesn’t really make sense. The only outcome I see here is that insurance companies somehow make a profit by giving advantages to the well-to-do and screwing over poorer people or college grads looking to get insurance for the first time.



I’m gonna admit some emotional bias here. I really really really don’t like capital punishment. I think it’s stupid. I could probably write a whole blog post about this. The only reason I would ever NOT be in favor of this proposition was if I thought that there was some better way to end the death penalty, and that passing this proposition would prevent that other way from happening. I don’t think that is the case. As far as I can tell, all of the arguments against this proposition have been arguments in favor of the death penalty, and I just can’t in good conscience support it. The only reason for a legal system to ever kill someone is revenge, and that is a terrible reason. Law enforcement should never be emotion-based. It should be the most objective system we have.



I fucking hate propositions like these. They basically say “If you don’t vote YES on me, then you support sex slavery! You are a demon!” and then nobody can possibly speak out against it or else they are ostracized by society. So let’s just be done with that bullshit here, OK? My opposing of this proposition obviously doesn’t mean I like sex slavery and if you think it does then you might as well stop reading. I’m going to go into detail on my opposition here because I think the reasons against are not obvious to a lot of people, and because an overwhelming number of people are probably going to vote YES.

First let me say that I really don’t like the idea of a sex offender registry. Here is part of the reason why. Like the death penalty, it’s a cruel and unusual punishment for a crime and has not shown to be effective at all other than as a means of revenge against those who have committed crimes. Especially really dumb crimes like an 18 year old engaging in sexual activity with a 15 year old, or public urination. Part of the reason I oppose prop 35 is because of the added bullshit having to do with the sex offender registry.

The main reason I oppose this proposition is because I feel that it is attempting to treat the symptom and not the problem, and I honestly don’t think it’s going to be effective in any way other than to give people who oppose sex slavery a nice legislative circlejerk. Really, what is this, besides revenge? Increasing sentences and fining offenders isn’t going to stop sex slavery. “I’m not going to participate in human trafficking anymore because I’m afraid that Prop 35 has made being a kidnapper just too darn risky” – said nobody ever. Nobody plans on getting caught when they enter the sex trafficking business.

You can solve the problem of sex slavery with four words. Legalize and regulate prostitution. Done. Why is this not a thing?

And to top it all off, the proposition is poorly worded and neglects to mention how it’s going to fund anything.



I don’t want to talk about this one too much. The three strikes law has been dumb for a while. It just doesn’t really make any sense. It allows a lot of silly things to happen and is yet another of countless examples of our country having a shitty justice system. There’s a reason why we have more inmates than any country ever, and it’s because of laws like the three strikes law. Let’s get rid of it please.



This is probably the most straightforward proposition of them all, and the one for which I’m most sure about my vote. I think labeling something as genetically modified is ridiculously stupid. What even is a genetically modified organism? An organism whose genetic sequence is not the same now as when it existed before humans started farming it, yeah? So how about everything that is farmed ever. It’s called breeding. Breeding is a form of genetic modification. We take 5 billion cows, take the two cows that we think are the awesomest, make them fuck, and the result after doing this for 500 years is a cow which is so different from a “natural” cow that it has been genetically modified to suit our needs. Why is this different than doing the same thing, except way faster, way more effective, and with way more potential for positive change? That is what “genetic modification” as you know it means. It means a better version of breeding that some people have a problem with because they don’t understand anything about evolution or genetic modification and they think that we are making corn into the Hulk. Genetically modifying something doesn’t mean that it will be radioactive or have dangerous toxins or develop into a crazy mutant strain which will destroy the balance of nature. It means that we increase crop yield, make food with higher calorie and vitamin densities, make crops pest-resistant such that they don’t require pesticides, and many other awesome benefits which most of the voting public are not educated enough to understand (see Prop 30).

Once we start labeling things as “genetically modified,” what other labels do we need to put? “This food was harvested by illegal immigrants.” “This cow was cut open with a giant cleaver and bled out.” “These bananas were imported from a tropical region by underpaid and overworked child laborers. One of them is missing a leg.” “This food was put through a machine that contained mercury [there was a thermometer in it somewhere].” There are things that I really dislike about the food industry, and genetic modification is not one of them. I might be in favor of this labeling if genetic modification was in any way harmful or if people actually knew jack shit about it. But neither of those things are true, and thus I stand opposed.



This proposition is pretty similar to Prop 30. Increase taxes to support education. There’s some controversy here because people are afraid that this proposition will cause votes to be split such that neither 38 nor 30 will win, so I’m just going to vote for both of them anyways and see what happens. I don’t even mind if both pass, and I’m not convinced that either will. It seems like 38 is less likely to pass and 30 more likely. I actually do like 30 more, but again, I really don’t mind if both pass, and I might as well hedge my bets here by voting for both.



This one is kind of a no-brainer for me. Keeps jobs in California. Makes it harder to exploit workers and to do sketchy loop-holey outsourcey things. Me likey. Most other people likey too.



I don’t know a lot about the implications behind this, but it sounds pretty sweet. Districts need to change with time because the number of people, the political climate, and the socio-cultural climate of California are probably changing a lot all the time, and it would be great if Californians could work on redistricting ourselves rather than asking other people to.


By the way, let me just take this opportunity to ask, where are all of these millionaires who donate to these propositions coming from? And why aren’t they donating millions to causes that are more useful? Take a look at Bill Gates, mother suckers. That’s the kind of philanthropy which helps the world. Whatever. Spend your money how you like, ridiculous random millionaires.


Ok, that’s all folks. Phew. Long post. Anyways, I’m glad to be back. Expect a lot more posts in the future – I have tons of ideas waiting to share! Here’s my theme song for the semester so far. Not sure why, I’ve just gotten really obsessed with it.

The trip back.

The landscape of Yellowstone was stunning. You can see more pictures on my facebook.


After ASC ended and awards were doled out, we spent the next couple of days around the St. Paul area (where the finish line was). 3M offered to give CalSol, Iowa, and Minnesota tours of their facility shortly after the race, so they graciously paid for some hotel rooms for us to stay in in the meantime. It was great to further our relationship with them, because they make a lot of useful products for our team, and because they represent pretty significant employment opportunities for our members. This is just another thing on the laundry list of reasons CalSol has been great for me – more job opportunities!


Our team lead Mike also lives in Minnesota, so we got to go to stay at his house, meet his family, and show Impulse off to his neighbors and family friends. We also all went out to see the Dark Knight Rises together (it came out right in the middle of ASC). It was pretty fun casually driving around town in caravan formation, communicating with radios and having signs and antennae all over our cars. I kind of wish we always drove around like that. It made it really easy and fun to communicate with each other on the fly.


After staying at Mike’s and touring 3M, we eventually had to get back onto the road to head home. We had wanted to have a bit more buffer time with the trip back so we could waste a lot of time sightseeing – unfortunately, even our very small return crew had time constraints, and we still had to get back home rather hastily. Luckily we had a few extra hours to spare, and we used that to great effect.  After a couple boring days of passing through North Dakota and Montana, we spent a day going south through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, which was extremely awesome. Most of us had never been to Yellowstone before, or at least I hadn’t, and I was blown away. There was just so much to take in.


Imagine that you want to go on a hike with your friends, and you randomly discover this really awesome place with scenery, wildlife, and cool rock structures, and you play around for a few hours and get bored and go home. This has happened to me a few times and has probably happened to you too. Now imagine that you had about five million areas that are just like that, all in one place, that take entire days to DRIVE through. That’s what Yellowstone is like. It was amazing. I could probably spend years hiking and camping around there and still not see everything there is to see. We spent the entire afternoon there, and it was nowhere near enough for me. I will definitely be going again in the future. Highlights included running through a field taking pictures (see my cover picture on facebook), getting stopped on the road by buffalo crossing the street, seeing multiple gigantic waterfalls, skipping rocks on and drinking water from a beautiful lake, and blasting the theme from Jurassic Park while driving through redwood trees. We were able to find a campsite in Grand Teton National Park (just south of Yellowstone), and Pol and I went swimming for a bit in the freezing cold lake as the sun set. The morning there was beautiful, and the crisp mountain air was refreshing – if a bit shockingly chilly – compared to the hot and humid conditions that we had become accustomed to over the course of the trip. We got some nice shots of the Grand Teats (or so I called them) and went on our way, not having any more time to waste before getting home.


We passed through Idaho and back into good old Nevada, where we stayed the night. We had delicious pizza for dinner, and made sure to get in one last round of Bang! before the trip was over – bittersweet times were had by all as we realized that we wouldn’t be Banging each other under tents and in hotel rooms for days on end anymore. On the last day, driving through Nevada I had a bit too much fun singing in the car. Who am I kidding singing in the car is awesome, even if you have a passenger and are singing poorly to a 4-car caravan over a HAM radio. I like to think that I kept everyone awake for the long and boring drive. Unfortunately I distracted myself just enough to get caught in a speed trap in a construction zone, but let’s not talk about that.


Coming down from the Sierra Nevadas was a very surreal feeling. This was the first time I was in California for a month. I have never been gone from California for this long before – the most has been for a couple of weeks. I had gotten accustomed to being away from home, to going to new places. It felt like that was just a part of my life, and I started realizing that it wasn’t going to be the case anymore. I was going to return to California and everything was going to be just like before we left. It was very strange. I experienced weird emotions. I wasn’t sure if they were good or bad. I actually really wanted to see my friends from home, so I was excited to be back to see them, but of course I was disappointed that my adventure was over. Even if I’m just sitting in a car, there’s something special about going to new places. It’s like taking a drug. I had been taking it so much for the whole month long journey that I had forgotten the feeling of NOT going somewhere new. Now going back home was new in and of itself. Anyways enough of that. I think my favorite part of the home stretch was watching the thermometer as I drove, since I could see it dropping from the 90-100 degree range down into the 60-70’s as I entered the bay area. Good ol’ Berkeley.


I am proud to say that by the end of the trip, I was the only person who drove the entire way there and back. Never did I let someone else take over for me. I don’t think this really proves anything about myself as a person nor my abilities. But for some reason I’m proud of it anyways. Maybe I just like feeling special. That accomplishment doesn’t count ASC – I didn’t drive my car during the race itself, although even when I wasn’t driving Impulse I still drove Lead car occasionally. But from California to the starting line, and from the finish line back to California, I drove the whole way. I actually really love driving. A pity that it’s so dangerous and carbon-intensive. I could drive all day as long as I have good music and a friend to talk to. The various landscapes of America were also quite the sight to behold.


Once we got back, we unpacked some shit and then all went home. It felt good to be back in Berkeley. Being gone made me realize just how much I loved and needed my friends. Well, my non-CalSol friends. I love my CalSol friends as well, and honestly I wasn’t even tired of them after a month of exposure, but I still missed my other friends a lot (not to mention my girlfriend…), and I couldn’t wait to see them again. Yes, my summer adventure has come to a close, but the adventure of life continues. In fact it has just begun.


It’s a magical world… let’s go exploring!

ASC 2012 Summary


Impulse at the finish line in St. Paul, Minnesota.


While I rigorously documented the preparation, travel, and qualification needed to compete in ASC 2012, I was unable to do the same for ASC itself, because I had little to no free time on my hands during that week. The irony of the situation is palpable, as this entire series of blog posts has been about ASC and yet I have woefully little to say here.


This is a quick summary of how ASC went down.

We started out in Rochester, New York at the RIT campus. The rayce lasted 8 days and was separated into 5 stages; stage 1 spanned 1 day, stages 2, 3, and 4 each spanned 2 days, and the final stage spanned 1 day, adding up to a total of 8. These were our stage results, out of 10 teams competing:

Qualifying (starting position, from FSGP results): 9th

Stage 1: 7th

Stage 2: 5th

Stage 3: 3rd

Stage 4: 3rd

Stage 5: 3rd

Overall: 4th!


We were very happy with our results, to say the least. Even though 4th is an unfortunate place to be in (the other teams got cool trophies), we were able to complete the entire race on solar power alone, which was our #1 goal for the event. All of the other 6 teams (the ones who placed behind us) needed to trailer their car to a checkpoint at one time or another, whereas we were able to drive Impulse the entire way without ever having to trailer it. This is better than CalSol has done for a long time, and it has allowed us to put UC Berkeley on the map in the realm of competitive solar car raycing.


While our result means a lot to the team, what’s more relevant to this blog is what it means to me. I have been involved with CalSol for the past couple of years, and invested hundreds of hours in the project of building and raycing Impulse. To be able to see this effort manifest itself through competing (and even driving the car) in ASC 2012 was exhilarating and allowed me to reach a sense of closure with the team. It validated all of the time and effort I’ve put into the car. And by the end of it, I’ve learned a ton, experienced things that most people will never experience, and forged valuable friendships that will last a lifetime. Being on CalSol has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and I don’t regret for a second the work I had to put into it.


Now you know the results and what it meant to me, but I also want to give you a sense of what the race environment itself felt like. The days were relatively formulaic.

5.30 am: Wake up, get ready, eat breakfast, pack up the cars, head out to the starting area

7 – 9 am: Charging time (we get to charge our cells for two hours every morning and every night without driving)

9 am – 6 pm: Rayce time! This is actually more complicated than it seems. There is a system of checkpoints and stage stops, which basically say that we need to be at location X by time T, plus a bunch of other rules that we needed to understand for our strategy but which you don’t care about. Anyways a full day of driving would require each of our 3 drivers to drive about 3 hours. Our driver order would be dependent on the topography of the day’s route – we wanted our heaviest driver going downhill and our lightest one going uphill, with myself (the middle) driving on the plateaus. I drove in the rain because I was the most experienced at driving in rainy conditions. Occasionally we had to pull over for tire changes, and we ate lunch in the cars.

6 pm – 8 pm: Evening charging time. We either cooked food for ourselves during this time, or went back to our hotel and ate out. There were also a couple times when we received free food at stage stops, where events were sometimes held (notably at the UM stage stop, since they have loyal sponsors who like to feed us).

Nighttime: We would check into our hotel, get settled into our rooms, dick around for a while (sometimes we were lucky enough to have a pool that we could cool off in!) meet up and discuss strategy for the next day, and sleep around 11 pm. Going to sleep later than that would mean being tired throughout a long day of driving – major no-no.

Even though it was stressful at times, this was so much fun. Waking up early, while tough for me, felt really good, because I was taking full advantage of the day. Even when not driving Impulse, I usually hung out in lead car, which allowed me to do fun things like navigate the complex route, communicate with chase car and other teams’ caravans over several radio systems, debate rayce strategy, scout out weather along the route on my smart phone, and take pictures. The morning and evening charging time allowed us time to socialize with other teams, and it was especially fun when campuses hosted events and gave us delicious food. All in all it was a great experience and it was so worth sacrificing my summer for. And that’s not even counting the trip there and back, separate from the race, which was actually even more fun. I’ll talk about that in my next post.


This race was a way to prove to myself that I could rise to a challenge. I pushed myself to exist for the sake of a competition and devote my body and my mind to solving problems, planning logistics, working with a team, being a leader, and racing a solar car. Most of the time, I just waste time on reddit or facebook or dominion online. I try to do homework but I get distracted. I hang out with people when I have work I need to do. I rarely felt this way during the race. There was always something to do and always some way I could apply myself, and there was constant external motivation pushing me and forcing me to get things done. I wish that this motivation could follow me into my school work and my other pursuits. Perhaps one day it will, but for that week I felt like I was truly maximizing my time, and that’s a feeling that i don’t get often.


This is perhaps an unsatisfying ending considering how much detail was put into the entries leading up to this one, but I didn’t think it was interesting to keep going into depth. Either way, this was an experience that words could not do justice. If you want to know more, ask me about it some time.


We got 4th in the US! WOOOOOOOO

ASC log 7/12/12: The Seventeenth Day

Me jumping for joy on the track we raced on. This is probably the last time I will see this track. Unfortunate that I forgot to remove my name tag…


Today is the last day of FSGP! At the end of today, awards will be given out for the three teams who ran the most laps in the past 3 days, and, more importantly, we will have a set of teams that are qualified for ASC 2012. As of this morning, UMich, Iowa, Minnesota, Principia, OSU, Indiana, Western Michigan, and CalSol have qualified. The main teams we are rooting for to qualify are Montreal and MIT.


Apart from cheering on those two teams and trying to help them in any way we can, most of our time today is devoted to organizing our caravan vehicles and buying new supplies to pass the caravan check. We actually ended up going to Walmart to buy plastic boxes to better organize our tools.


One of the more entertaining parts of today was when Michigan State finally entered the track – even though they qualified for FSGP last night, they still had more to work on this morning, so it was relieving for everyone to see them actually make it onto the track. They received massive applause from everyone as they drove onto the track. They are the true underdogs of this race.


Michigan State has two things going for it, and two things only – it has lead-acid batteries, which can draw a lot of power at once, and it is very heavy, which means it’s stable around turns. These qualities are very suboptimal for a long distance solar car race, where you want a light car with efficient batteries. However, they do make for fast and hard turns, which solar cars are typically not good at making. This resulted in a couple of interesting situations on the track. The first was when MIT, a notoriously fast and light team, attempted to pass Michigan State on a tight turn. Michigan State took the turn a lot faster than MIT was expecting, and they actually got dangerously close to a crash. In the end Michigan State pulled out ahead, and there was some brief debate as to whether anyone should get an infraction for being unsafe. I witnessed a heated argument between one of the head scrutineers and an MIT student, who disagreed on “whose fault” the near-collision was. In the end they decided it was MIT’s fault for attempting an unsafe pass. Later, Michigan State actually passed University of Michigan around the same corner, which was fucking hilarious to everyone because University of Michigan is a world-class team and Michigan State’s team was founded like a month ago and their car sucks ass. That was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, and I think all of the teams in the pits other than UMich enjoyed it immensely.


Montreal was skating on thin ice today, as they were scrambling to make enough laps in time (their laps from yesterday were not counted), and if either of their tires went out, it would take a while to replace and they would lose too much time on the track to be able to qualify. Luckily, they never had this problem, and them as well as MIT eventually qualified for ASC by the end of the day! Even though they are our competitors, this was a big victory for us too, because all of the teams that we like have qualified. This is going to be a good race. Michigan State ended up “conditionally qualifying,” which basically means they get to start off ASC, and if they can keep up with the stage stops, then they can continue racing, otherwise they will be disqualified. I think it’s unlikely that they will be able to do this because their car is so janky, but it’s cool that they even get to start the race with the rest of us.


By the end of the day we had passed the caravan check (finally all green on our qualifying checklist!), and celebrated with a free dinner at the FSGP award ceremony. UMich got 1st, Iowa got 2nd, and Western Michigan got 3rd. There were some other titles given out, such as fastest Slalom time (Michigan State) and fastest lap time (Iowa), neither of which were won by the best team, which made for an interesting ceremony.


We ended the day by doing a massive clean sweep of the track where we’ve been staying all day for the past week, picking up trash and disposing of it. It was a great team effort, and we left the Monticello Raceway probably cleaner than it started. We went home, made some decals for the caravan, listened to music, ate delicious watermelon from the Jewish market, and went to bed happy and rested. Tomorrow is display day, where we will all set up our cars at the Rochester Institute of Technology and show it off to the public before heading out the next morning to start ASC!


I’m running out of inspirational music so I’ll just post sun-related songs…. this one in particular was among scout car’s favorites during the trip.

ASC log 7/11/12: The Sixteenth Day

Racing on the Monticello Motor Club track – currently passing OSU’s Phoenix.


Today is the day. After almost a week of toil, we finally made it out onto the track! With our horn test and our brake test over with at long last, we set up camp by the track and watched as Derek, Jack, and I made our way around the loop again and again. We each did about 30+ laps, myself finishing the day by pulling in at 4 PM, having clocked Impulse’s 109th lap around the track – we needed 105 today to qualify. WE’RE GOING TO ASC!


Our team was ecstatic that despite missing the entire first day, driving slowly and carefully to conserve our short supply of tires, and getting onto the track later than other teams in the morning, we still qualified with time and tires to spare. The perfect weather conditions probably helped a lot with that – it was sunny and cool all day long. We will probably not even drive tomorrow – since we are already qualified, and there is little to no chance we will place in FSGP, we can just sit tight and not risk getting into an accident or needlessly burning through tires.


As for my experience driving, it was a lot of fun – before I had only ever driven on flat, straight, 1-lane public roads, and in a full caravan no less, which feels restricting. Here I was in complete control. I got to control my own speed, figure out the most efficient ways to take corners and go up and down hills, I passed other teams, I got passed, and I posed for cameras that took pictures as I drove by. I could see the advantages and disadvantages of the other teams on the road first hand – for instance, Iowa’s car was fast but it lost power quickly due to its small battery pack, so even though it passed us in the morning, we started passing it later in the day. Other cars were small and quick but took corners poorly, like MIT’s.


The whole day went spectacularly, not a single hitch. We had to change a tire but that was expected – most all teams had to change multiple throughout the day. This was definitely one of the best days of my ASC experience so far. And what better way to top off the day than with FREE FOOD! As the teams left the track and started setting up to charge their arrays, University of Michigan set up a food station coming out of their massive semi. They had hot dogs, chips, cookies, drinks, and cereal that they gave out to all of the other teams.


While snacking on UM’s wealth and generosity, we went around and talked to other teams about their cars as they sat and charged. We discovered that Michigan State qualified for FSGP, and will be driving out on the track tomorrow. This was super impressive to us, because their car is the ghetto-est car we’d ever seen, and was half built during scrutineering itself.


As we packed up to go back to the hotel, we received our first bit of bad news for the day – we failed our caravan check! Basically what this means is that we need to go shopping for supplies for our caravan. This is fine, because we have all day tomorrow and all we need is some cones and radios.


That night, instead of cooking food, we rewarded ourselves by going out and indulging in some delicious Wendy’s. Don’t judge us – after having hastily-cooked-in-the-dark-on-a-budget food for the past week, eating some fast food was actually really good. I myself ordered 5 chicken sandwiches and 2 small fries off the dollar menu and had a tasty and filling meal for $7, blowing everybody else’s meals out of the water.


We laughed and joked and relaxed for the rest of the night. This was the goal for which we had worked so hard and traveled so far – the privilege of competing in the American Solar Challenge. The first time our team has competed in this race for many years, far longer than anyone had been on the team. Things looked really bleak for the past few days, as we kept running into brick walls. Brick walls cannot stop us. We will crash through them.

ASC log 7/10/12: The Fifteenth Day

Impulse being put through the horn test – the green shirt in the background has a decibel measuring device.


This has easily been the longest week of my life. So much has happened in the past few days, it’s hard to keep them together – time is getting mixed up in my head. This is partially why I want to keep up this blog, even though I am so late on actually posting. Writing things down as they happen helps me remember.


I’m going to keep this post short. Basically, we fixed the horn problem, passed the horn test, and finally completely passed scrutineering with green flags on all stages. As we turned on the car and tested the systems, we found that our experimentation with the horn blew some electrical component, causing HCI (human-car interface) to malfunction. We took about 3 hours to debug this issue so far, with little progress.


We went out to get some food and came back, to see that other teams are making decent progress on the track – each team has logged between 30 and 70 laps today. Good – we want a lot of competition.


Back to debugging, and I feel completely useless. There’s nothing I can do to help this problem, I don’t understand the system – this is out of my control. Everything is abstract and not physical. Even with electrical engineers attempting to explain things to me, potential solutions that I come up with don’t actually make sense, and just make it more obvious that I don’t know what I’m talking about. However I’m getting frustrated that there is so much talk about what might be the problem and no actual action. I like action. But I guess in situations like this, we don’t yet know the action we want to take. Anyways, I can feel at this point that I’m losing my nerve, and that I need to stay positive. Even though these problems keep coming, giving up now is not an option.


Throughout all this, OSU remains my role model – they’re very efficient, well organized, motivated, helpful, generous, and they have spare parts for EVERYTHING, which is something that I wish we could say for our team. However they help keep my spirits up.


After a few hours, we eventually fix our electrical issues by the late afternoon, and are about to move onto the track. Just as Jack is driving out, he sees smoke and gets out immediately. Upon closer inspection, some wires were worn away and had shorted. Implementing a fix to this takes a few hours, and means that we definitely cannot rayce today. At least we have the next two days to qualify out on the track. This wire fix should be finished by this evening, at least. This is still frustrating though. We can’t keep hitting roadblocks like this.


This song title is an accurate description of the past few days.

ASC log 7/9/12: The Fourteenth Day

Impulse performing the braking test on wet pavement. (and failing miserably)


Natural selection has weeded out our most easily remedied problems, and now the most annoying ones remain. We spent literally the entire day trying to pass the brake and horn tests. However, we were able to pass the brake test eventually, and the story is pretty dramatic so I’ll tell it here.


So for the brake test, you have to drive the car over wet pavement and brake within a certain amount of time. A guy is waiting there giving you flag signals. When he drops the flag, then you have to start braking, and they time how long it takes you to come to a complete stop. The braking time must be at most one tenth of your speed when the flag was dropped. For instance, if you are going 30 mph when they drop the flag, then you need to stop in 3 seconds. If you are going 40 mph then you need to stop in 4 seconds, etc. So we were traveling around 30 mph consistently, and braked in 4 seconds consistently, leaving us 1 second behind – on our best runs, we would be .3 or .4 behind. We went through this test for hours, trying to perfect our braking technique. We eventually decided that something fundamental about the car must change. Around 3, we pulled off the track and brainstormed for a bit.


We had two primary things on our mind: tire pressure and weight distribution. Decreased tire pressure would lower the efficiency of the car, but cause us to brake faster. This is a desperate measure because dropping our tire pressure would drastically reduce our performance in ASC, but we might have to do it in order to qualify at all. The other option is changing the weight distribution, either by moving weight around on the car or adding weight to it. Since the brakes are on the front wheels, we want to put more weight on the front half of the car in order to improve our braking. Up until now, we had kept the ballast in a box underneath the driver – for our lightest driver, the ballast is about 50 pounds. If we shifted this to the front of the car, it would significantly change the weight distribution on the wheels, but this would require getting a new box and mounting it, and we were short on time since the dynamic tests are finished forever at 7 PM.


We quickly formulated a plan: immediately drop the tire pressure from 80 psi to 50 psi and try the braking test. This is the fastest possible solution, and the worst for efficiency. While that is happening, we send out some people to find a box of the right size and strength requirements to hold a 50 pound ballast, and when they get back, try mounting it in the front of the car to shift the weight.


This is when things got pretty interesting. At 50 psi, all 3 of our drivers were eventually able to pass the brake test. While we were attempting the test, we got a call from the group that went out to get a ballast box, informing us that they had rear ended someone in my car. I was annoyed, but I didn’t have time to worry about this now. Luckily nobody was hurt since it was just a fender bender, and they sat tight and got a police report. In the meantime we sent out another car on the box mission. By the time we passed the test with the low tire pressure and returned to our camp, we had a new box, and it was perfect. We mounted the box, moved the ballast to the new box, and got ready to increase the tire pressure back to 80. We figured that since we already passed the test, attempting again with a higher pressure can only help us – the tire pressure at which you pass the brake test needs to be locked in for all of FSGP and ASC, so we want to pass with the highest pressure possible. However, when we went to increase the pressure, we realized that the repeated brake tests had worn away a tire almost to the point of rupturing. We tried to replace the tire, but it took us much longer than expected – it is very hard to change tires with the limited tools that we have on hand. By the time we were able to do it, it was already 7:30 PM – dynamic testing should have ended by now. We asked around and discovered that because many teams needed more time, they had extended the deadline to 8 PM. It’s go time. We loaded up the cars, got the driver and radios set up, and headed out onto the track. We got there and had to wait in the queue as other teams took the test. We finally got on the track at 7:53 PM. We went around the track, and our driver performed the brake test. On the very first try, at 7:56 PM, we passed. We were now set to race at 80 psi tire pressure, our optimal pressure. We did exactly what we needed to do, and we are prepared to face the challenges of ASC head on.


But, there is still one more thing we need to fix – the horn. The horn is still too quiet, and we couldn’t work on it while attempting the brake tests. We went out and got a few new horns of various decibal ratings. In our process of testing the new horns, we ended up blowing a transistor on a key PCB. Now we need to fix that and fix the horn. It feels like 2 steps forward, 3 steps back. I had no idea how to fix this issue – this was entirely electrical and I had no idea what was going on.  If we don’t pass this, we don’t race, and FSGP starts tomorrow. We don’t need to race on all 3 days of FSGP in order to qualify for ASC; we only need to either do 105 laps on one day, or 160 laps on two consecutive days to qualify. So we are not completely fucked yet. But we are still running out of time, and I would be fucking pissed if we didn’t race because our horn was literally three decibels short of regulation. There’s nothing I can do now, and as for the team, it’s getting late – we will have to solve this problem tomorrow while other teams are racing, and hope that we can qualify for ASC in the latter two days of FSGP. As of tonight, only seven teams out of the 18 that signed up have passed scrutineering. Two gave up and stayed home, meaning that 9 teams in total are still trying to pass scrutineering when FSGP starts. These are unprecedented numbers – either the teams this year are particularly unprepared, or the regulations / scrutineers are particularly strict. I think both are probably true. Either way, it’s not a race if there are only 7 teams qualified. That’s so boring. I want at least 10 teams to be raycing for it to really be interesting. I guess we just have to hope for the best.


I went home and cooked pasta while electrical people tried debugging the horn problem, but eventually we all came back home to eat. We have to get up earlier than usual tomorrow, as there is a photo shoot will all of the teams and cars at 7:30 AM, and a meeting before that. We need to get some rest so that tomorrow we are fully prepared to fix our horn problem and to race in FSGP if we do.


Another day, another struggle. Back to work tomorrow. We’re so close! But our time is running out.

ASC log 7/8/12: The Thirteenth Day

Impulse getting ready for dynamic stability tests.


Second day of scrutineering! Today we got a lot of things checked off, and are close to passing. We fixed some mechanical issues, giving us a green in mechanical – we passed various tests such as figure 8, u-turn, lights, visibility, and rear-view camera. We had meat, cheese, and bread for lunch, which was a rather tasty departure from our typical PB&J. A lot of things went right today – we are slowly and steadily approaching success in scrutineering. One unfortunate thing about today was the noticeable lack of team Montreal – they usually work near us, but they were gone today. They had a lot of things to work on, with multiple red flags, so we suspect that they went away to fix things and come back. We had a sinking feeling that they might have given up and went home, and we prayed that was not the case because there are few enough teams here already. We don’t mind the competition. We want as many people here racing with us as possible – otherwise, what’s the fun in it?

Later in the day, by 5 PM, we got to move on to dynamic scrutineering, having eliminated all of our red flags. They randomly selected our drivers to complete the brake and slalom tests. I watched and took pictures / video as our first driver, Jack, eventually passed slalom, but not without knocking a cone down on his first run. We did not pass the brake test, but we got pretty close so we think we could figure it out when we have more time tomorrow. Tomorrow is devoted 100% to dynamic testing for all the teams. In the meantime I hopped in and passed slalom on my second try, although I failed the brake test just like Jack. We couldn’t seem to pass it before dynamic testing closed at 7 PM – hopefully we can complete it tomorrow.

Once we passed the slalom test, we only had three more things to do before passing scrutineering – pass the horn test and the brake test and replace a fuse. The fuse is easy because we can just go out and buy one (although it’s taken a decent amount of searching), and we’ll have all day for the brake test. We’ve been having unexpected problems with the horn. It was a part of the car that went under everyone’s radar because we typically never use it. However, it is very important during FSGP because you are required to honk whenever you pass someone. We failed the horn test because our horn does not reach the required decibel rating from a certain distance away. We tried to solve it by moving the horn to a different location so that the sound would travel better, but that didn’t seem to work. Our plan tomorrow is to get a new horn.

Anyways, we packed up, went home, and no one was working on dinner so we ended up just getting some McDonald’s very late at night and going to bed. I was obstinate so I ate some random leftovers at home instead of McDonalds, but I kind of regretted it later when everyone was eating delicious McChickens. Oh well. My body is a temple blah blah. We’re eating pretty late, so time for bed now.


We have one more day to solve our issues before the racing starts. Cross our fingers.

ASC log 7/7/12: The Twelfth Day

I needed to escape the vehicle in 10 seconds to pass regulation – I got out in 6.


Our first true day of scrutineering. This is when the real competition starts, not the race itself. We will be facing engineering challenges throughout all 3 days of scrutineering, and if we don’t fix what we need to in time, then we’re not going to race. It has begun.

A LOT of things happened today. We went through Body/Sizing, Driver, Electrical, Array, and BPS scrutineering today. Driver was fun for me, and the only stage that I was really involved in – as one of the three drivers of Impulse, I needed to get weighed in and assigned a ballast, and I needed to pass an egress test (pictured above). I also have to wear this annoying green wristband for the next few weeks to signify that I’m a driver. As for the rest of our scrutineering stages, the only one we passed completely was BPS – which is very good, because it’s hard to debug and it means that our car will not blow up. With BPS working and with everyone having passed the egress test, we have our safety systems down. It also helped that our Electrical Lead flew out just for scrutineering to help with this. For all of the other stages, we either didn’t finish completely or received red or yellow flags. Receiving red or yellow flags means that you can’t compete in FSGP or ASC. There are other flags which signify different things but I won’t go into detail. So, we have until the end of scrutineering (ends on Monday) to work out our red and yellow flags and turn them into green ones.

The weather has not been great today – there was cloud cover throughout the day, and at times it rained. The first time it rained, there was a mad rush for everyone to get tarps over their cars and other equipment. This was around the time when we were going to get lunch (1 PM), which we typically eat out of the back of a cooler in my trunk, but this was impossible in the rain. Everyone decided that they wanted to go back to the hotel and come back for our next scrutineering stage at 3.

This is when the day went in a drastically different direction for me. As we packed up our stuff into our cars and prepared to drive away, I observed the teams who set up on either side of us. On the right is University of Michigan – not only do they have a giant truck in which to easily store all of their things, they have a very large and sturdy BASE-X tent which probably cost thousands of dollars. They did not care at all about the rain because they have the money and the success to afford such a contraption. On the left is OSU. They drove their cars up to their trailer to form a triangle, and affixed a couple tarps over it to create their own make-shift rain fort. They worked on setting this up and protecting their car and tools while wearing shorts and t-shirts in the rain, and they all got completely soaked. In the meantime we packed up as quickly as possible and left for our hotel with our tail in between our legs. The Phoenix withstood the rain while the Bear fled. As we drove away and other teams receded into trailers and tents, team OSU stood in a circle and danced in the rain. At this point I knew that our team was not as good as it could be, and I wanted to do something about it. I kicked myself into high gear.

I sped back to the hotel, started setting up food, and had it ready for everyone when their cars arrived on my tail. As soon as everyone was done eating I directed clean up and led them out. It was apparent that others did not share my revelation, so I needed to transfer my sense of urgency to them. I needed to kick the rest of the team into high gear too if we were to be competitive.

We got back to the track to find that the rain had let up. We set up our canopy and had tarps at the ready should we need them. Fastforward through several scrutineering stages that I mentioned above, and it’s 7 PM. Scrutineering is over and the sun is going down – we get to stay at the track until 11 PM when it closes, giving us 4 hours of working time. The rest of the team wants to go back to the hotel to eat. This is not an option for me. I convince them to stay and continue working. We have to improve our array insulation, our battery box ventilation, and our belt strap mounting, and we need to eat. I assign a couple people to work on tasks in parallel, and suddenly I can see the team jumping into action as well. People go where they are needed and start getting things done. A duo is sent out to bring dinner to us, although in the meantime we are fed by University of Minnesota who has a ton of extra spaghetti. We work efficiently on 5 parallel tasks through 10 PM, and we’re packed up and gone by 10:45. This evening was insanely productive, and our team began to show its true colors. If we can work like this throughout ASC, we will be highly competitive. I need to make sure I can keep my energy up to match the energy of the team.

Another thing I wanted to talk about – the team collaboration here is fantastic. Everyone wants to help everyone else. When we didn’t have enough ballast, we got some donated from Principia. When we were hungry, University of Minnesota fed us. When we needed nylon peel ply, we asked around and got some. After they left for the night, OSU let us continue using their generator. In fact OSU actually passed all of scrutineering today, finishing even before University of Michigan. With 2 days left to go; they plan to use those days to help the rest of the teams in whatever way they can. This is such a great environment. A particularly endearing moment was when we saw the French-speaking Montreal team pull out a small bubble wand, and we matched them with one that we bought for 97 cents at Walmart. We took a short break to play with bubbles for a good 5 minutes while onlookers took pictures.

And with that, I go to bed at 2 AM to wake up at 6:30. Perhaps not the wisest of choices…


We have a lot of momentum from today. We don’t have any more time to waste!

ASC log 7/6/12: The Eleventh Day

Oregon State University’s top shell, complete with phoenix decal.

This is really cool. I’m starting to feel like I’m part of something big. We rolled in at 2:30 sharp for registration, to find that many teams were already here for their own scrutineering. I got a name tag, signed a waiver, and went to go explore.

University of Michigan, Western Michigan University, Iowa State University, Principia, University of Minnesota, and Oregan State University were all here already, as well as a couple other teams that arrived later. It is a very surreal experience to see other teams and their cars. All these people went through the same or similar experiences as us, faced the same challenges, had to meet the same regulations. However, all of the cars have their own style, character, and abilities. It’s almost as if each car is a different person, a collective personification of the team that made it.

My favorite car by far is OSU’s. Their car was destroyed about a year ago, when a battery pack exploded and the car burned to the ground. The driver escaped relatively unscathed, but only by seconds, and it was scary for a lot of teams, acting as a pretty severe wake-up call that this is a dangerous hobby. Anyways, if any of you know me you know how much time I’ve spent on this car, and the thought of Impulse being destroyed is heartbreaking. OSU’s car was obliterated, and then they remade it in less than a year for this race. The amount of time we spent making minor changes from WSC to today is the same amount of time it took them to build and test their entire car, and it’s going to be very competitive with ours. They even have a speaker system set up just for fun. Their steering wheel runs Windows. It’s not the best car here – that honor belongs to University of Michigan, the team that has dominated ASC for years, and placed third in WSC competing against the world’s best teams. However, I’m much more impressed by OSU’s ability to bounce back from such a devastating loss. They have appropriately renamed their car Phoenix, and it has a large phoenix decal on the top of the canopy. The car is painted red-orange and the team color is orange. I mean, how cool is that? I’ll be rooting for them all the way.

Anyways I could go on and on about the differences in design between the cars or about how I feel about each team, but for now I’ll just tell you this – I’m glad that I came on this journey. Getting to know all of these different cars and teams is an amazing experience. Hopefully I will have time to do that whilst also dealing with the hassles of scrutineering.

Tonight we went home and ate good old fashioned chili and rice, and went off to bed. We’re waking up at 5:30 tomorrow, since the Monticello Motor Club (where we go through scrutineering and FSGP) opens up to teams at 6 AM. We want to take full advantage of the day. Night y’all!

Much like OSU, we will carry on through the fire and the flames.