Tag Archives: chumpcar

Breaking the Silence: Missiles, Radios, Toys and Cars

This blog hasn’t received the attention it deserves lately… That’s gonna change right about now. My first post in this new era? What’s happened with me (and the implications for ShareBrained) over the last year or so.

Summer 2009, I attended the first “hacker” camp in the United States, ToorCamp. It was a spectacular experience to be among so many wickedly-smart people who are curious about technology’s implications for society. The scenery was amazing (a Titan missile silo in Eastern Washington State), and I made several friends who are goading me to work on new projects.

tunnel tent

Ham radio is an old interest of mine. Maybe ten years ago, I got a radio receiver and explored the radio spectrum — listening to airplanes, pagers, cabbies, and cordless phones. I was shocked to learn that radio communication is far less private and secure than we realize. This was driven home quite forcefully by Michael Ossmann and Dominic Spill‘s talk at ToorCamp, where they demonstrated sniffing Bluetooth keyboard keystrokes with a software-defined radio. After that, I had to have a software-defined radio of my own to experiment with, so I started developing various elements as separate circuit boards. Here is a picture of a PLL+VCO board I put together, using some nifty prototyping techniques (which I promise to blog about soon).


As for my day-job, I’m now designing electronic toys. I’m learning a lot about how to design and produce electronic products inexpensively and on a large scale, which I’m sure will come in handy for ShareBrained stuff. I’ve also been bitten by the 32-bit microcontroller bug, and would like to make all my future microcontroller projects ARM-based.

This year, I got into auto racing, which I suppose was inevitable considering my upbringing. As a child, a lot of my weekends were spent with my family, camping at race tracks and helping my dad race one Fiat or another. It was great fun, but by the time I was old enough to race, it was simply too expensive to do so competitively. So I never seriously considered it. I did, however, help out my dad periodically with his ongoing racing activities. For instance, last year he fell in with a crowd of stock car racers who wanted to enter a big-ass Dodge in the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. I went along to help do tire changes and keep tabs on our lap times. Our experience was less than stellar. Despite several heroic repair efforts, we couldn’t keep up with all the ways the car broke, and packed it in only 90 minutes into the race.

thunderhill1 thunderhill2

Regardless, the die was cast, and I was thinking of how I could get into a car and go fast. Fortunately, an affordable solution had presented itself a few weeks earlier. I’d attended the first-ever ChumpCar race at Portland International Raceway, which took place on Halloween. The defining feature of ChumpCar? Cars must be worth no more than $500 (not including safety equipment). My dad introduced me to a guy he knew who was looking for drivers for his ChumpCar team. Before I knew it, I was on a team of six drivers taking a Mazda Miata to a 24-hour race in Spokane, Washington.


Like the Thunderhill race, things didn’t turn out too well. Overnight, the car met a concrete barrier twice, and twice, the crew rebuilt the car and got it back on to the track. Then, as the sun came up, the engine came apart (unhappy valves). We parked the car six hours from the end of the race, then limped it across the finish line. Still, it was insanely fun.

Naturally, with such a dismal showing, I had to try again. So I signed up for the Portland race *this* Halloween. Things went far better! The car, in a ravishing new pink color scheme, ran well and our drivers avoided the concrete walls. I got to drive in traffic that was reminiscent of Bay Area traffic (70+ cars on a two-mile track). Madness!

kitty1 kitty2

You may reasonably conclude that ShareBrained will take a turn into software-defined radio and automotive telemetry projects. That’s not to say the Chronulator is going away. In fact, with my new ARM microcontroller skills, I’m thinking about a mega-Chronulator…