Tuesday, 06 April 2010 21:35

Our Ridiculous Adventure

We did it. It’s ridiculous, but we did it. It had to be done. We had to complete both cars and drive each of them 100 miles by March 30, or we would be eliminated from the X PRIZE.  We also had to submit our third technical report, photos and video.

On April 2, we learned that our technical report was accepted and that we now move on to the Shakedown Stage of the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE. That means we’re on our way to the Michigan International Speedway on April 24 for a week of on-track technical and safety testing. 

Getting to Michigan has been completely and totally ridiculous.  It’s so ridiculous I don’t know where to start, but I guess the beginning of the year is as good as any. To start off the New Year, we switched the batteries in our cars.  I don’t mean we took out a car battery from Sears and put in one from Pep Boys. I mean we replaced our we-love-this-lithium-iron-phosphate-battery-pack with a pack that has an entirely different chemistry from an entirely different manufacturer.  This also meant we needed new battery boxes.

This too, was ridiculous. We had to replace the perfectly lovely milk crates we’d been using as battery boxes with aluminum boxes fabricated by the manufacturer. (BTW, between the milk crates and the new boxes, we built about 4 different iterations of battery boxes, although we always seemed to revert to the milk crates.) Then we had to take the boxes out to have brackets welded to them. Then we drove the boxes back to the International Battery in Allentown. We did all this running around so we would have our batteries and battery management system installed in the cars by March 1 so we would have plenty of time to complete all our technical testing. That was delusional.

You know what else was ridiculous? The weather.  Philadelphia had 78.7 inches of snow this winter.  We had more snow than Boston, Chicago and Anchorage. Every time we needed to be in school working on the cars, school was closed. Some snow days were really bad. On some of those days Simon, who is the most ridiculous of all, drove through the city, picked up kids and went to school.  There were also the two ridiculous snow days when we waited – at home – for the storm that never came. We lost so much time from school that the Philadelphia School District cancelled the first two days of spring break. Are you kidding me? That’s what the kids were saying. The teachers were grumbling. Simon committed to a family vacation for the entirety of spring break or face divorce. I declared that I didn’t give a damn what Arlene Ackerman said, I was taking my spring break. I must now publically apologize to Dr. Ackerman and thank her for giving us the extra time to finish the cars.  

School was supposed to be over for all of us on Friday March 26. Our cars would be built, we’d have already driven them and Simon would write the technical report on the weekend. We’d get our report in way before the deadline. What an insane notion.  On Tuesday, our batteries were still in Allentown.

The batteries and a large flock of engineers installed the batteries and the battery management on Wednesday. That gave us a beautiful warm day to drive the cars on Thursday. We got the Focus to the lot first. It drove like a charm. Then the GT arrived and it looked great. It drove great – for about a lap. Then it started making horrific noises. We tried to diagnose the problem at the lot. We had come without a proper set of tools, so we used a lug wrench, a fence post and rebar as a hammer. They really didn’t work all that well, so we hauled the car back to school where we found that we had, apparently, ruined our fancy-ass Audi transmission.

After 2 ½ years of work, the idea of transmission problems knocking us out of the X PRIZE was staring us in the face. What an ignoble way to exit. Fortunately, we found another transmission in Texas and had it shipped overnight. It arrived on Saturday morning March 27, a day school would have been shut up tighter than a drum had it not been for the weather in February. We split our team of students and teachers with a small group of us going to the lot with the Focus to continue counting laps and recording video and the rest installing the new transmission in the GT. I even got to drive the Focus.

The new transmission was installed, the GT went on the lift and was started. NO! The same noise. The crew disassembled the transmission and put it together again. On this assembly, which was not by the book, Justin Clarke dropped a piece of equipment on the housing, denting it. Now we’re not sure if this bizarre accident was the reason, but the transmission stopped making the horror movie noises. We got it to the lot and spun off our laps.

This will be the last fact I relate about our adventure. It was about 30 degrees colder on Saturday than Thursday, and because we were so short of time, we compiled our laps on the GT without the body in place, which meant we did not have lights. Drivers, in long underwear, hats, hoodies and gloves rotated through driving assignments until we ran out of daylight. We got the final 35 miles on Sunday.  We are even happier to report that Simon made it to his spring vacation and remains happily married.

We hope you will continue to follow our great and ridiculous adventure.


Published in Blogs
Saturday, 13 February 2010 10:12

Auto Show Check Point

Today is Saturday, February 13, 2010.  Since the record-breaking snow storm that hit Philadelphia, we haven't had a chance to talk about our experiences at the Philadelphia Auto Show.  The Philadelphia School District only had school on Tuesday of this week.  With all this snow and ice, it’s been difficult to open the building to work on the cars.  A couple of the students were here yesterday with Simon from seven in the morning to about noon.  Today, more people are here working on the new suspension system for the Ford Focus.  Below is a dialogue between Daniel Moore and Justin Clarke about their experiences at the Auto Show.  Amazingly enough, some of the dialogue reflects on the GTM display, but mostly they talk about other "hot and sexy" cars.  At least, they know their priorities.

Daniel Moore: Basically, I thought the Auto Show was a great experience.  Not only we were able to see many different cars and styles, but we were able to explain what we were doing for the past couple months.  Many people came up to us and asked us many questions about our car and program.

Justin Carter: I wasn't able to attend the car show until later in the week.  But just to see our car on display was pretty awesome. Cadillac, Audi, and Mitsubishi surrounded our car.

Daniel Moore: When we were able to walk around, there was nothing better, more beautiful then the Corvette Sting Ray.   It was the sexiest looking car out there.  It had a great silver body with black rims.  It was covered in many different news outlets.

Justin Carter: Daniel could not be more wrong.  The Aston Martin is the most luxurious and hottest car at the car show.  It is the hottest luxurious sports edition car.  It is a cruiser specifically made for rich people.

Daniel Moore: There is nothing different from one Aston Martin to the next.  Each one is a carbon copy of each other.  There is nothing original about each Aston Martin.  They all look the same, but the Sting Ray is one of a kind.  It's just hot.  Its basic construction is genuine.  The style and detail are amazing.  It has nothing to do with performance.  After all that money, I guess performance is not the highest point of priority to buyers.

(Sekou shouts from the background.  Jaguar!  The best car was the Jaguar!)

Both Daniel and Justin can agree that the DUB booth was a great booth for free stuff.  Every time I saw Daniel, he had in his hand a Monster energy drink.  It was the same booth that was playing some of the latest pop and rap songs.  So I was told.  They also played 2k10 NBA for free.

Daniel Moore: I really enjoyed going to the car show after school.  I would leave school and hop on the El or sometimes take the trolley.  I liked going at the time from 4 to 8 because that is when most people would come to the show.  I talked to a lot of people about what we did.  It was exciting to talk to people about our car. Before I left for home, I would walk around some more and look at all the other cars that were on display.  And then I would show up the next day and do the same all over again.


Published in Blogs
Saturday, 13 February 2010 09:55

Friday School?

Yesterday, I was at West Philly Auto by seven o'clock, in the morning!  On Thursday, Ms. Ann called me and wanted me to call Simon about getting into the shop to work.  Simon came and picked me up at my house.  We worked on the GTM brakes and on the engine on the Ford.  On the brakes, we had to calibrate new brakes to see if it would weigh less.  It didn't work because the brakes weighed basically the same.  We tightened the pulleys on the engine, because that is what runs the belt around.  The belts were not rotating properly during our test runs.  We were able to do all of this before noon.  For lunch, we went to Fiesta Pizza Shop.  It is on 43th and Baltimore.  It was delicious.  I had pepperoni and cheese pizza.  Hauger paid.  Then he dropped us back home.

Today, we have to open up the suspension components in the Ford.  It makes the car handle better.  We put more weight on the car.  The batteries in the back will weigh 300 lbs.  The suspension has 300 lbs to maneuver.  In order for the Ford to have suspension and a proper frame, we are adding a sway bar in the back.

We still have so much to do.

Get Rich or Die trying.

Justin Clarke.

Published in Blogs
Monday, 11 January 2010 17:04

Looking In

When I first started my secondary education courses, nothing that was found in a textbook compared to the student-teaching observations.  You would read about the pros and cons of whole language, the various scenarios of ideal classroom management, and how to find all my boyfriends, Piaget, Maslow, Bloom, and Erikson, in the students' learning patterns.  But it wasn't until my first rounds of student-teaching observations and later in my first year teaching when I realized that I could know my textbooks cover and cover, and I still not know what to do with a pissed off teenager.  Maybe Maslow and Bloom would do a better job than I would the first time around, but no one can say for real.

Looking into Preiss' shop from his classroom, reminds me so much of how important it is to be in the moment of learning.  At 5:15 p.m. on a Monday, there are seven students working in the shop with Preiss, Dilossi, Simon, and Mark.  Mark is a self-employed specialist of the GTM.  He started working with the team a week ago. He fits right in.  He works well with the students in explaining the steps for the kit car.  Every now and then you hear, "shut up, shut up" from the students, which is a good thing.

These students are in the ideal situation.  They are learning something in theory and actually seeing how it works in practice.  Sometimes, I would find myself cringe reading the best practices of the classroom.  It just wouldn't work in reality.  Middle school and high school are the most difficult part of one's upbringing.  There is absolutely no textbook that contains all the right material.  You can't find the answers unless you are actually in the moment.

Within minutes, the students working in the shop confront problems and delays in putting together the GTM.  Poor Justin Clarke, he hurt his finger.  Justin Carter had to measure and remeasure the headlight and nose of the car.  Daniel is remodeling the harness for the Ford.

"I have completely assembled both headlights and started working on mounting them on the nose.  I had to think of different ways of tearing  the fiberglass on the frame of the car to fit the molds of the headlights.  I broke it.  I broke one screw on the corner when I was drilling.  Luckily, three screws would be enough to hold the frame in place. So I lucked up on that end." -from Justin Carter

Despite the setbacks, they are accomplishing a lot.  It is amazing to see what they did to the GTM just within the last week.  You know it is a good day when the shop smells like a campfire from the welding.  More parts are needed to order.  More wrenchs are needed for harnassing.  More hours are needed to prove theories wrong.

Ride or Die

Ms. R

Published in Blogs
Thursday, 07 January 2010 20:04

Working Hard for the Weekend

As of January 4, the team and I are working in the shop to finish the EVX GT kit car for the Philadelphia Car Show. We are pushing it to the deadline.

My job, as the leader of the mechanical team, is to begin building and putting together the doors for our car.  When I am done, I will attach them to the frame, but as of now, I still have to install all of the components into the interior of the door and panel.  Sometimes, the shop smells like it is on fire from all the welding.  Sometimes, I actually think it is.

For the rest of my teammates, their job is to place and center the electric motor in the right position of the GT frame.  I hope they do not drop it.  As soon as that is done, the diesel engine has to put together with the transmission and mounted in the car.  That is the most time consuming task, because if anything is out of line or inverted, it will not work.

The most consistent problem is the debate on the color of the car.  We didn’t have that much difficult picking out the size of the radiator exhaust fan or engine coolant, but this is way more serious.  Many of my peers want the school colors (I could care less about that) and others would like a sleek black car.  I am still undecided.

It may sound like a whole lot, but February is so close.  We have to have both cars running and ready for action by February 1st.  All of this is a lot, but are essential to getting to “VICTORY!”  We are on our way, and we can do so well.  I did not leave the shop on Tuesday and Thursday until 7 p.m.  We still have a lot to accomplish, but we have motivation from our teachers and instructors.  We will have no problem finishing the car.

Ride or Die

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