Monday, May 25, 2015

University of Dayton HST 344 Student "Auto" Biography -- Collin Coates

I have always been an automotive guy.  The automotive lust struck me as a little kid when my father was in and out automotive plants and expos for work. He would occasionally take me to a car show, or show me the work he got to witness.  By the time I was just 10 years old I was naming the cars that drove down the street and had managed to steal almost every car key I could find in the house.  I couldn’t wait till I could call one of those keys my own, and have a vehicle in which I could take as my own and be proud of.     
               I got my first car when I was 16 and was absolutely fascinated with it.  It was a 2005 Acura TSX, a beautiful sedan for a young kid. I managed to put an aftermarket air intake into it, a set of subwoofers, and a fancy spoiler before I sold it off a year and a half later.  Fast-forward 6 years, now 22, I own my fourth automobile and it is extremely special to me.  This automobile has taken me places unimaginable and opened my eyes to a life I never thought I would be blessed enough to enjoy.
               It all started with the University of Dayton, believe it or not. In my sophomore year I landed a co-op position with General Electric, giving me sufficient funds to buy a vehicle on my own, with no help from my parents. I sold my second car, a Subaru WRX hatchback that I had built as a stage II performance car, and my parents split the proceeds with me.  I used this amount of money to put a down payment on a two-door Jeep Wrangler Sport.
               I had always wanted a Jeep as I always enjoyed the outdoors and the thought of adventuring places other vehicles could not.  Throughout the duration of the first year owning my Jeep, I did what I had done with my first two vehicles. I began to build it into an off-road machine.  I got to a point where I was no longer satisfied and longed for more space for camping gear and a more off-road capable vehicle.  Two more internships had fallen into my lap with Marathon Petroleum and I had a chance to do something most 21-year-old kids would not.  Given my father’s automotive background with Chrysler, I had been offered an employee discount of 5% below factory invoice of a brand new jeep.
               So I did it, I sold my previous jeep and sprung for the most capable off-road vehicle off the lot, a 2014 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited.  This time a 4-door, offering the space I wanted, as well as a Rubicon, offering the off-road features I wanted such as front and rear axle lockers and an electronic sway bar disconnect feature.
               Given the habit of building vehicles I developed, it should be no surprise that I would do the same thing with this Jeep.  Over the course of a year and a half I have built my Jeep into a fully built, seriously capable on and off-road driving machine.  It has a 3” long travel suspension with 37” mud terrain tires, steel front and rear bumpers, rocker armor, and flat fender flares allowing for more suspension travel and protection to rocks and trees off-road.
               This summer, before traveling to Leipzig, I took my jeep across the country and through a few technical trails in Colorado and Utah.  One of them being a famed trail in Moab, UT called “Top of the World”.  We made it to Moab late the night before, camping in the canyons at the head of the trail.  As the sun rose and my body awakened, I was instantly filled with a sense of anxiety and adrenaline. I did not have anyone to do the trail with to help me in the event that I needed backup, and I was about to take my jeep on one of the most technical trails it has ever seen.
               The trail started easy on fire roads, and then the slick rock started to appear.  This required perfect lines and axle lockers in order to climb over the stair like cliffs along the trail.  About half way as I continued my way to the “Top of the World” rain began to fall, making the trail seem even more sketchy.  However, my jeep proved worthy, only asking for more. The minute I reached the top was one in which I will never forget. Over looking a scenic canyon and parked at the edge of 1,000 foot cliff, I have never been in so much awe at nature before.  After snapping a few photos and collecting my adrenaline rushed soul, I began to make the trip back down the way I came up, continuing on west to California where I was heading.
               My Jeep now waits for me in California where I will be co-oping for Boeing upon my return from Leipzig.  I have a trip planned for the 4th of July weekend to run the Rubicon Trail, a seriously technical trail in Northern Lake Tahoe in which my very jeep was named after.
               If it weren’t for my Jeep I would never have had the opportunity to travel across the country and experience the wonderful outdoors that our country has to offer. Having a Jeep has made me more adventurous, taught me to work harder to afford the expensive hobbies I have taken a liking to, as well as allowed me to connect with other off-road enthusiasts.  It has changed my life style and I am forever grateful.  At this point in my life I tell people that I will always own a Jeep!

HST 344 University of Dayton Student "Auto" Biography -- Jacob Browning -- the Church of the Open Throttle

Robert Schuler Preaching at his Drive-In Church

My step father owned a foreign car auto parts store for more than thirty years.  Some people talk about small business as having less than fifty people so we must have been a nano-business.  Mom ran the books and took orders over the phone.  Dad knew all the parts and had thousands of part numbers in his head.  He juggled multiple phone lines like it was the auto parts circus.  I spent a good portion of my childhood there, especially when I was sick or they couldn't afford childcare.  My mom would put some dirty blankets on the floor so that I could waller around in my illness with brake pads and clutch kits.  Later, they expected me to do homework or contribute to the business.  Sometimes we had a delivery driver and after I was sixteen, I got to drive whichever old Toyota or Nissan mini pickup truck we owned at the time to every repair shop within thirty miles.  The building had two store fronts and walk out basement garages where we stored and worked on the toys.  Many shops closed at noon so business trailed off as the clock approached lunchtime.

On Saturdays, we were open 9 to 1 and that is when church met.  Folks would start rolling in about eleven or twelve, mostly men but occasionally a woman would visit.  We met in the basement garages with the tools and the grease and whichever car we were working on at the time.  My brother and I were the ones in coveralls underneath the car, usually with grease covering our hands and forearms up to our elbows where the sleeves would protect us from the gritty “schmutz.”  We recognized the members from their shoes and pant legs.  My dad would preside from a naugahide swivel chair with armrests, McDonald’s coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other.  I feel that he only had one hair style my whole life: blond wispy hair simply pushed back with his hands in the morning.  I used to joke he kept it a bit long since he was a teenager in the 60s and it just stayed that way.  Dad was thin and muscular and my parents were quite tan in the summer because they spent plenty of time on one of those TVA lakes down in Kentucky. 

Cigarettes were our incense and we were a Winston family.  Dad smoked full flavors, Mom smoked mediums when she started again, and my brother and I smoked ultra-lights before we developed a tolerance for the stronger versions.  The congregation smoked other flavors and the minority nonsmokers were blessed with our second hand smoke.  I imagine they walked out of service with a headache. 

There was no sermon, yet truths of life and the automobile bounced around between the men and my dad.  They were sometimes there to pick his brain, but mostly for the holy fellowship of horsepower.  I never heard my father swear until I was almost 30 but one could hear in the exchange plenty of cursing.  It was a garage full of men, after all.  The talk of the newest BMW or the finer points of Porsche mechanicals was always sprinkled with colorful language and it is here that I learned the art of swearing.  My cursing usually was the result of a stuck bolt or my greasy hand slipping from a wrench and meeting sharp metal underneath the vehicle.  As each fellow would enter the garage, they would come over to the vehicle and peer through the compartment to see what we were working on.  I learned about patience from those men and there usually was a nugget of golden wisdom in their advice.  Towards its heyday, the congregation would swell almost to ten men if you counted us boys. 

Women’s service was in the office as my mom always had something to do at her desk and the women would drift into the office after about 5 minutes of interaction in the garage.  The cigarette smoke was substantially less dense in the office.  My mom’s friend Susan rolled up one day in her Porsche Targa to see us standing around worshiping at the workbench and hollered, “Is this the Church of the Open Throttle?”  As we looked to each other with a chuckle, we all knew the name would stick and she would eventually make stickers for our tool boxes so that we could display our membership.  The decal had a round female ass in a thong superimposed over my dad’s Porsche 911 and read, “Church of the Open Throttle, John C. Struve presiding, services Saturday, 9-?? and some Tuesday nights.”

You might think with all this talk of sports cars, motorcycles, and boats that we were wealthy people.  This was not the case.  My parents never purchased any vehicle that was not in a state of disrepair.  Dad would buy two wrecked Porsches and make one good one.  My first car didn’t run.  Their houseboat had been a twenty year old rental.  I grew up with the idea that you make money when you sell a car, usually because you bought it broken.

Dan was the member who made me laugh the most as a young man.  Dad and Dan had worked together at the original parts store before my dad bought and moved it.  He was a parts manager at a foreign garage where I saw my first Ferrari as a boy and I was allowed to sit in it!  After the name stuck, he would do the faux preaching, Holy Roller revival style to amuse us when he came in.  “Ch-ILL-dren, I ahsk, do ya ba-leeve in grease? Do ya ba-LEEVE in drop forged wrenches?  Do ya ba-leeve in black motorcycles?  If ya be-leeve in holy black motorcycles, (pause), say Amen!”  And we would all say amen unless you were in the middle of lighting a smoke.  Once when I was about 13 and not yet a proficient mechanic, Dan saw me throw a tool to the ground in frustration while working on my dirt bike.  He rushed his short legs over to me and the look on his face put the fear of black motorcycles in me.  I received a scolding while my dad looked at me with disapproval.  I thought for a moment that I would be spanked by a non-family member right there in the garage.  Dan explained to me a bit later why it is important not to throw tools and what a tool means and costs.  Of course, my motorcycle today is black.

Alan was the misfit of the bunch.  Not only was he English, but he was also the CFO of a very large multinational corporation.  This made him considerably wealthier than the rest of the congregation and able to afford classic examples of British sports cars such as Jaguar E-types and Lotus Elans.  At 6’4” and near 17 stone, I’m not quite sure how he fit in those cars.  Unlike some chaps who wear a driving cap while motoring in a British convertible, Alan could not as his dark gray curls protruded above the windshield and those little cars seemed to lean a bit to the driver’s side.  He once took me on a spirited ride in an old Jag as ballast, twisting through the roads as suburb turned to country.  He must have smoked the most of the bunch and made the rest of us look like casual smokers.  Many times he was a bit early and we would still be running the shop from the front of the store.  My dad had a stool behind the counter but employees were prohibited from sitting on it as he thought we should be doing something.  Alan would move this stool to in front of the counter, grab one of the ashtrays and sit at the glass display as if it were a bar serving auto parts, smoking and chatting with dad between calls or with the other customers.  We were all sad when he went back to England to run another company from the top.

The Church of the Open Throttle was not always the safest of places and I probably injured myself more than anyone.  We didn’t try to be unsafe, we just didn’t have the proper tools or weren’t using them as intended.  “Adapt and overcome” was an often overheard slogan when you got stuck.  This meant you were to forage around the shop until you found something to use, either in a big bin of rusty nuts and bolts or for a tool to misuse.  I am proud to say that cars never fell on anyone and my stitches were probably the most acute injury.  While trimming some plastic from a license plate frame, I sliced deep into my palm with a razor blade.  Although church was in session, my father said I would have to deliver myself to the emergency room.  A new faded shop rag was located and carefully secured to my left hand with duct tape.  I was also instructed to come back after repair as the vehicle I was working on would need to be finished and moved out of the garage.  Driving a manual transmission was interesting and I was lucky the seating position inside a Volkswagen Golf allowed me to steer with my knees.  Once off the garage floor and into the emergency room, I felt ashamed to be so dirty and had a fear that my “schmutz” would infect another patient or cause the hospital staff to clean up after my departure.  

Drivers are not sure about whether they will like autonomous cars

From Drew Harwell at the Washington Post;

Loaded with cameras, sensors and computing power, the cars’ performances have been, in tests, more sharp and consistent than human drivers without fear of drowsiness, drunkenness or distraction.
Yet the tension comes from a puzzling inconsistency traced in a survey by, which found that although most Americans say they are unnerved about ceding total control to a driverless car, they are happy to pay for all the piecemeal upgrades on which that car is built.
“When polls ask about driverless cars, people are nervous, they’re fearful,” said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with AutoTrader. “But when you ask them about all these individual technologies — lane assist, help parking — they say, yeah, we want all those.”
Researchers at HERE, a Nokia offshoot building maps for self-driving cars, also found a similar impression in surveys. Drivers still believe that cars make their lives easier, more free, more fun — though they also crave the next big thing, even if it weirds them out.
Industry officials acknowledge that self-driving cars may never be universally accepted by drivers, especially those who value being in control of their car. In the self-driving mode of Mercedes’ F 015 concept car, for instance, passengers can’t steer or brake and can use a touch-screen to request the car to speed up or slow down — but only if the car thinks that’s a good idea.
But engineers have made efforts to make the driverless technology act more familiar and human. In some earlier Volvos, for instance, the automatic brakes allowed such a wide and safe distance from the car ahead that the feature annoyed many drivers, who ended up disengaging it altogether.
The updated feature stops the car far closer, Volvo technology spokesman Jim Nichols said, in hopes that “the driver doesn’t have the desire to turn the feature off.”
Where the cars once made their decisions silently, they have begun to sound out their thinking in ways that drivers can understand. Cars will now explain their sudden slowing by saying, for instance, “Crosswalk ahead,” and dashboard screens will show directions and obstacles such as construction or broken-down vehicles.
But they are also designed not to be overly obtrusive. If too many unsignaled lane changes or other errors lead the safety system in Volvo’s newer S60 sedans to believe its driver is losing attentiveness, the car’s dashboard will flash a coffee cup and the words, “Time for a break.”
For the XC90, Volvo’s “semi-driverless” crossover SUV, sound engineers measured drivers’ reaction times and led focus groups in several countries to gauge which of a series of specialized chimes showed the “appropriate urgency.”
The big question: Should warning sounds be calming and subtle, to not shock the passenger, or shrill and insistent, to underscore how important it is for the computer to take the wheel?
The answer, Nichols said, was both. The car was given “psychoacoustic design elements” to heighten drivers’ focus on their surroundings when necessary, while less-urgent sounds were designed to be “much more calming, almost a melody.”
Automakers’ worry over the mixed feelings about driverless technology has kept several big safety improvements off American roads.
In Europe, Ford sells cars with sign-reading “Intelligent Speed Limiters” that ensure drivers can’t sail above the speed limit. Yet despite the safety benefits, Ford has not rolled the technology onto American roads because of concerns that drivers here may simply steer clear.
“There’s not a technical impediment,” said Alan Hall, a Ford spokesman. “The most important part is if they’re willing to pay for it.”
Ultimately, car companies and their engineers hope the benefits of driverless technology, which offers a relief from the annoyances of highway commutes and heavy traffic, will persuade buyers to let go of the wheel.
“Today, when you sit in a car, it doesn’t feel like freedom. You feel frustrated. What you’d rather do, you can’t do, because you’re stuck in a traffic jam,” said Erik Coelingh, a Volvo senior technical leader in Sweden.

“I don’t know if it’s old-fashioned, but we still think it’s a lot of fun to drive a car. For many customers that ... is really important. We don’t want to take that away.”