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The Computer Code Epiphany

By now you know that the technology content of vehicles has always interested us, starting with transistors, and moving to black boxes.

Perhaps its the fact that The Colonel decades ago built a capacitive discharge ignition system from scratch, and at the time realized that technology made an appreciable contribution.

We could keep on going, but you surely grasp the overall picture.

Let's rewind for a moment...

  • Way back in the day of mechanical vehicles, you knew the specs on a camshaft, you could alter the advance curve on a distributor, rejet a carburator to name a few.
  • You could alos tweak the oil pressure in an automatic transmission, adjust the kick down linkage, again to name a few more details.
  • In the early days of computer programming you wrote your own code, used a flow chart, and transferred the code to punch cards to program the computer.

If you were a hard core "gear head" you knew exactly what was going on with your vehicle, and could tweak, and alter a myriad of parameters. There was a fun factor attached to the exercise.

You perhaps even remember Don Garlits during the days of Saturday night drag match races mention that he finally bumped the advance on his nitro Hemi to some obscene amount and dramatically improved the performance. While deeply fearing that he would grenade his motor.

While reading various comments and opinions on the VW debacle...

It struck us that in 2015 we have absolutely no clue of what is going on with the engine, transmission, and most of the technology (ABS, traction control) in any vehicle...think about this for a moment.

The programs, computer code are closely guarded proprietary information...think of this for a moment. All manufacturers are totally reluctant in sharing the code for the programs, or even how they arrived or developed the code.

Here is a modern vehicle controlled by millions of lines of code in the various programs, and we are clueless as to how this code was derived, the thinking, the rational behind it....agreed its a Wow moment.

Simple example...

Way back in the day a 327 with a Duntov cam, you had the specs for the cam, you ran a roller timing chain, tweaked the advance curve, the jets in the carbureter, to optimise the performance of the engine above 3,000 RPM. Keep in mind that you still need gas to make horsepower, and the more power you want to make the more gas you need.

Today do we know what goes on when an engine gets on the cam or the turbo?

Do we know how this engine is tuned/adjusted to meet emission standards?

Do we know when an engine "opens up" to generate the massive amounts of power some of these engines develop?

A couple of months ago we had a Camaro SS for a few days. The 6.2 small block once it opened up would slam itself against the rev limiter in a nano second, if you paddled a shift a nano second too late. At lower RPM's that engine gave no indication of how aggressive it is once it got on the cam and opened up.

You can speculate that with variable cam timing its retarded at lower RPM's for a multitude of reasons, and its probably also retarded at highway cruising speeds. Once it gets on the cam, how far is the camshaft advanced, the timing, what is the delay between paddling a shift on the automatic and actually shifting.

The other side, is the folks at Chevrolet being very discreet, and activating an aggressive rev limiter to safe guard the engine. A rev limiter is a fool proof to keep the code / software locked.

Which begs the question "What would Smokey Yunick have done?"



The Technology We Use 

A couple of days ago we were reading that Microsoft is celebrated its 40th anniversary on April 4. It caught our attention of how quickly time passes, the immense leaps in all sorts of technology.

Then it sort of comes back home, and the thought of how did we get started with all this stuff?


Using transistors to build a capacitive discharge ignition system for a car, mounting it inside the car under the dash to protect the circuitry from the elements. Testing ti on a distributor machine, with worn out ignition points.

Today's ignition system are a quantum leap from a capacitive discharge system.

Cellular Phones:

It all started about 30 years ago, when a portable cell phone was the size of an attache case, with a coiled cord to the handset. They were installed in the trunk of a car, and the dial pad was on the handset.

Limited number of "cells",and calling ability. Today cell towers are all over the place.

The Motorola shoe phone was revolutionary, the Motorola Star Tac was a revelation at the time.

What do we use? A variety of iPhones from 4 to 6.


If you remember the early PC's from 30 years ago with a 5 1/2 inch floppies, and having start up floppies to boot up the PC on MS-DOS. Yes you are of a certain age. Limited software with Lotus 123 being the workhorse of the day.

Laptops were the size of an attache case.

Its come a long way...similar to the usage of computers in cars.

As an aside the concept of digital computers started with Alan Turing.


Dial up modems were the order of the day 20 years ago, with 56K being the fast connection. You probably used Netscape, and downloading IE required several hours. You had an e-mail address with few folks to communicate through e-mail.

Video was out of the question.

Today we run connections that are thousands of times faster, with seamless WiFi compared to the old routers.

Back in the day, broadband was on the horizon somewhere.

We jump from PC, to laptop, to tablet, to phone with a multitude of variations.

We use, a PC with a huge screen, laptops, iPad, and iPhones.

Most folks expect the connectivity of the home transferred to the car.




What's Behind The Connected Car

An informative and fascinating article on the connected car.





A Data Conversation

This morning we have The Colonel with us, and we are going to get his thoughts on data, especially with the emergence of big data.

Q- Colonel Good Morning, you look well, perhaps even rejuvenated.

A- Good Morning guys, thanks for the cappuccino, and blowing some smoke.

Q- Tell us about your experiences with data, how did it start?

A- Lets agree that data is numbers, and we always need to deal and grasp numbers. 

Q- We agree, its numbers.

A- Great, now go back a few decades, to the days of slide rules, log tables, calculus, and the frustration of calculating "rates of....(fill in your own blank).

Q- The classic example of calculating the speed, rate of acceleration of a rocket, enhanced by diminishing mass.

A- Precisely, it was easier to mentally visualise it, than calculate it.

Q- Would you have another example?

A- Calculating the piston speed in an engine, its relatively easy to do, but calculating different speeds, for different strokes, at different RPM's is time consuming. The ideal application for a "binary" system.

Q- You mean what we understand today as a computer.

A- Precisely...if you go back a few decades, it was clumsy at best to even get a computer to perform these generic calculations. You had to write the program first, then type it on punch cards, then get the machine to work. Then you could quickly repeat the calculations over and over.

Q- What about the advent of the spreadsheet.

A- Prior to the spreadsheet many companies dealing with massive amounts of data, information, and relying on a battery of clerks; started migrating towards call them computerised data bases. The spreadsheet came about with the advent of the "personal computer" (PC). the late 1980's we all started using Lotus 123 on 5 1/2 floppy discs.

Q- Those 5 1/2 inch floppies must have been cumbersome? 

A- Ideally you wanted a PC with 2 disc drives, you were constantly exchanging floppies in the drives to keep on going, it was cumbersome, but also very fast for the time.

Q- We could keep on discussing the various details. What underlying message did you grasp from the advent of the PC, and spreadsheets.

A- I was fortunate to have evolved from doing math mentally, to slide rules, log tables, punch cards, rudimentary computers filling a room, spreadsheets. The message for me "The human brain was quantum leaps ahead of all this stuff".

Q- You are saying that none of this stuff came close to the human brain in thinking. It must have enhanced the brain?

A- still enhances the brain when a machine does the "grunt work" for you.

Q- Grunt work? We have smart devices today?

A- A binary machine can do a ton of grunt work which saves a ton of time. The smart devices are primarily for communication, entertainment, and keeping folks tethered to "something". 

Q- Folks get engulfed in the abilities of these machines, and smart devices.

A- Its a formidable challenge to have folks use their brains to think beyond the machines.

Q- To think beyond the machines, and data requires a profound understanding.

A- It sure does...and it sure is part of the challenge.

We should continue... 



Vroom Room

Good Morning!

make ideas happenSXSW by GapingvoidYes...another Friday, its the Vroom Room, come in make yourself comfortable, join the conversation. 

This past week we started with Pete's Corvette, and who would have thought that in 2012 we would be doing an entry about the car rising like a phoenix...if you missed it scroll down. 

Last week while we were activily involved in a conversation about technology, and cars. We thought it would be review our encounters with computers and electronics, agreed The Colonel's encounters....

Computers have been involved in what we do, and the products we use for an entire generation (25-30 years) and often we still talk about all this digitial stuff as if it came about a few months ago...think about this for a moment.

Think about vehicles computer applications are totally seamless, and function under all sorts of conditions, from heat to extreme cold and everything in between. Best of all we expect them to work seamlessly...and remain unseen in the background.

Canadian sales for February are another record month, which is encouraging for the industry, and everyone involved with the industry. It will be interesting to see how March develops (probably not a record month) to conclude the first quarter of the year. One thing is certain a few additional manufacturers have thrown their hats in the ring to play the Canadian game.

While Canadian sales are off the charts in the first 2 months of the year, Canadian sentiments are decidedly more pessimistic about the

Did you see some of the stuff (being polite) some manufacturers, showed, unveiled, touted at the Geneva Auto Show...truly takes your breath have to wonder which whose ego was out of control when this "stuff" was approuved. 

By now its clear that "luxury" is inexorably making its way down the pyramid, and "economy" is steadily making its way up the pyramid. In a few years it will be the Mercedes-Benz Elantra, and the Hyundai S Class. 

A feel for the Amelia Island Concours D'Elegance starting




computer punch cardPunch CardDo we remember our first encounters with computers

Took a computer science course in 1968 (a few years ago) it was the first encounter with computer that was a glassed in climate controlled room. A programming language known as Fortran, flow charts, punch cards. It was an exercise of writing your own program in Fortran (2-3 mathematical calculations), converting it to punch cards, and hoping that the computer would understand what you were trying to accomplish.

Primitive...yes...while keeping in mind that electronic calculators did not exist yet. Computers were going to liberate folks from slide rules and log tables to make calculations. Especially calculations were the mass is diminishing, the acceleration is increasing (yes a rocket) which would include a myriad if calculations. 

Another encounter was "transistors" at a time when vacuum tubes (amplifiers) were inexorably giving way to transistors...the course was electronics (something)...where one makes circuits using transistors on circuit boards. 

Remember making a capacitive discharge for a car ignition system, and actually using it in my car for a while...a while later had an interesting episode with ignition point float (a subject for another time).  

To provide context, they were times when a calculator was a Friden mechanical machine, electronic calculators where still on the horizon, the same for photocopiers (if you remember carbon paper, and onion skin paper, and IBM Selectric typewriters). 

The lingering thought was always: once all this electronic and technology comes together and reaches critical mass it will be fascinating to see how it develops and what will come of it. 

On cars alternators were the first use of transistors/electronics. The transistorized ignition systems (as they were called in the day) were probably the second component that started using electronics. 

If you have been around car dealerships for long enough, you perhaps remember the Kardex system to manage and control the parts inventory. What we know as the DMS, started as a parts inventory system. 

The early PC's (personal computer) were rudimentary at best, with limited software applications. My first PC was in 1987, it was running MS-DOS, had 2 5 1/2 inch floppy disc drives (huge at the time), software was sporadic...if you remember Lotus matrix printers...need I say more.

Windows 98, Netscape, dial up modems were on the cusp of the early days of the Internet, along with an e-mail address....that was almost 20 years ago. 

Computers in vehicles have made a huge difference, especially on the safety and driving characteristics of all vehicles. Without computers, air bags, seat belt retractors, ABS, traction control, stability programs would not exist. 

Without computers the levels of performance that we enjoy today would not exist, fuel injection, electronic valve bodies, crank triggered ignition systems to name a few.

There is no way that the auto industry could sell cars with 500 HP without computers, let alone making 500 HP in a streetable fashion not resorting to a myriad of computers.