Archive for category Travel

2014 International Travel Update

One of my goals is to join the Traveler’s Century Club, a “social organization representing world travelers that have visited 100 or more of the world’s countries and territories”.  The full list of countries and territories can be found here. I provided an update in 2013; below is the list of countries/territories I’ve visited to date through the end of 2014:  With my trip to New Zealand and the Chatham Islands at the end of 2014, the total now stands at 80 countries/territories visited.

PACIFIC OCEAN (5 of 39)

  • Australia
  • Chatham Islands
  • Hawaiian Islands
  • New Zealand
  • Tasmania

NORTH AMERICA (4 of 6)

  • Alaska
  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • United States (continental)

CENTRAL AMERICA (5 of 7)

  • Belize (British Honduras)
  • Costa Rica
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras

SOUTH AMERICA (4 of 14)

  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Chile
  • Peru

CARIBBEAN (18 of 30)

  • Anguilla
  • Antigua & Deps. (Barbuda, Redonda)
  • Aruba
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Cayman Islands
  • Cuba
  • Curacao
  • Dominican Republic
  • Jamaica
  • Leeward Islands, French (St. Martin)
  • Puerto Rico
  • St. Kitts & Nevis
  • St. Lucia
  • St. Maarten (formerly Netherlands Antilles)
  • Turks & Caicos Islands
  • Virgin Islands, U.S. (St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas)
  • Virgin Islands, British (Tortola, etc.)

ATLANTIC OCEAN (0 of 13)

EUROPE & MEDITERRANEAN (25 of 67)

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Corsica
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • England
  • Estonia
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Ireland (Eire)
  • Italy
  • Liechtenstein
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • Russia
  • Scotland
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • Turkey in Europe (Istanbul)
  • Ukraine
  • Vatican City

ANTARCTICA (0 of 7)

AFRICA (3 of 55)

  • Egypt in Africa
  • Morocco
  • South Africa

MIDDLE EAST (4 of 21)

  • Dubai
  • Egypt in Asia (Sinai Peninsula)
  • Oman
  • Qatar

INDIAN OCEAN (0 of 14)

ASIA (12 of 51)

  • China, People’s Republic
  • Hong Kong
  • Indonesia (Java)
  • Japan
  • Korea, South
  • Lesser Sunda Islands (Bali,Timor, Indonesia)
  • Macau
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Thailand
  • Turkey in Asia (Anatolia, Ankara, Izmir)
  • Vietnam

“This list is recognized by the world as the standard of countries and territories that are politically, ethnologically or geographically different.”

Leave a comment

Tasmania 2014

So I finally made it down to Australia and planned a side trip to Tasmania to reconcile the Looney Tunes version of the Tasmanian Devil with the real thing.  Unable to get into the tour I wanted due to flight times, I rented a car and used their itinerary as a guideline.  We left Sydney early Tuesday morning, February 18th, landing in Launceston, Tasmania at 8:30am.  Our departing flight would leave from the capital city, Hobart on Saturday morning, February 22nd.  Between those two points we saw great sites, forests, beaches, and, of course, Tassie devils.

Our Tasmanian adventure started by picking up our Avis car rental at Launceston Airport.  We drove to Launceston and visited the Cataract Gorge, walking along the King’s Bridge-Cataract Walk into town. 

DSCN1362DSCN1374DSCN1381

We at lunch at the Old Mill in Launceston and returned to the Gorge via chairlift (longest single-span chairlift in the world).  Then we were off again.

DSCN1365DSCN1443

We left Launceston and traveled on A3 East to Binalong Bay on the Bay of Fires Conservation Area.  We swam in the soft, white sands of Grant’s Lagoon.

DSCN1476DSCN1482

We stopped for lunch at Binalong Bay Café and enjoyed the view of the beach and orange stones.

DSCN1491DSCN1492DSCN1493DSCN1496

After lunch, we continued down A3 to the Bicheno Blowhole.

DSCN1507DSCN1510DSCN1529DSCN1540

We ended the day at Coles Bay at Freycinet National Park and spent the night at Freycinet Lodge.

DSCN1549DSCN1553DSCN1591DSCN1592

Massive thunderstorms the next day gave us a late start in the day, but we were still able to hike to the Wineglass Bay Lookout, stopping first at the Coles Bay Lookout point:

DSCN1612DSCN1615

Before reaching the famous and popular Wineglass Bay Lookout Point:

DSCN1675DSCN1676

Hiking back from the lookout, we made friends with a wild wallaby.

DSCN1711DSCN1717

We headed off continuing south on A3 to Orford, where I took a “shortcut” across a dirt road through the forest to Copping, then continued down to Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula.  We ate dinner at ‘Felons’ in the Port Arthur Historical Site.  We checked into the Sea Change Safety Cove B&B, which has phenomenal views of the cliffs on the Tasman peninsula and is the only house on Safety Cove beach.  We’d spend two nights here.

DSCN1974DSCN1976DSCN1983011

We left early after breakfast to the Tasmania Devil Conservation Park where we got to see Tasmanian Devils being fed wallabies.

118132

Then we got to feed and hang out with kangaroos and other native Australian/Tasmanian creatures.

DSCN1967 - modified099 

We returned from the Conservation Park and continued to the aptly named Remarkable Cave.

DSCN2002DSCN2003DSCN2007DSCN2024 

197204

(Unfortunately, no more pics after this point as I left my camera on the plane back to JFK and it has not been returned).

We spent time on the private beach at our B&B, then off to the town of Nubeena for dinner.  This was our last night at Sea Change Safety Cove B&B.  The next day we continued on towards our final stop in Hobart.  We stopped along the way to enjoy the views from various cliffs and coves.  We finally arrived at Hobart and checked in to the old Wooling Apartment Hotel.  We walked along Hobart Harbor to Salamanca.

Our flight back to Sydney left early Saturday morning, so this concluded our Tasmanian adventure.

Leave a comment

2013 International Travel Update

International Travel ImageOne of my goals is to join the Traveler’s Century Club, a “social organization representing world travelers that have visited 100 or more of the world’s countries and territories”.  Having recently celebrated a milestone birthday, I decided to take stock of my current status by cross-referencing my travel against the standard TCC Countries and Territories list.  Below is the full list showing the status of my foreign travels.  After eliminating some duplicates in the list, I am almost 70% of the way to joining the club.  My goal is to be in the club before I hit my own half-century mark.

ABKHAZIA – AZORES

    • Alaska
    • Anguilla
    • Antigua & Deps. (Barbuda, Redonda)
    • Argentina
    • Aruba
    • Austria

BAHAMAS – BURUNDI

    • Bahamas
    • Bali (see Lesser Sunda Islands)
    • Barbados
    • Belgium
    • Belize (British Honduras)
    • Brazil
    • British Honduras (see Belize)
    • Bulgaria

CABINDA – CZECH REPUBLIC

    • Caicos (see Turks & Caicos)
    • Canada
    • Cayman Islands
    • Chile
    • China, People’s Republic of
    • Corsica
    • Costa Rica
    • Curacao
    • Czech Republic

DAHOMEY – DZAOUDZI

    • Denmark
    • Dominican Republic
    • Dubai

EASTER ISLAND – ETHIOPIA

    • Egypt
    • El Salvador
    • England

FAKAOFU – FUTUNA

    • France

GABON – GUYANA

    • Germany
    • Greece
    • Guatemala

HAINAN – HUNGARY

    • Hawaiian Islands
    • Honduras
    • Hong Kong

ICELAND – IZMIR

    • Indonesia
    • Ireland, Republic of (Eire)
    • Istanbul (see Turkey in Europe)
    • Italy

JAMAICA – JUAN FERNANDEZ

    • Jamaica
    • Japan

KALAALLIT – KYRGYZSTAN

    • Korea, South (Republic of Korea)

LAKSHADWEEP – LUXEMBOURG

    • Leeward Islands, French (St. Martin)
    • Lesser Sunda Islands (Bali,Timor, Indonesia)
    • Liechtenstein
    • Luxembourg

MACAU – MYANMAR

    • Mexico

NAKHICHEVAN – OMAN

    • Netherlands
    • Netherlands Antilles (see St. Maarten)

PAGO PAGO – QUEEN MAUD LAND

    • Peru
    • Philippines
    • Portugal
    • Puerto Rico

RARATONGA – RYUKYU ISLANDS

    • Russia

SABA – SYRIA

    • Scotland
    • Singapore
    • South Africa
    • Spain
    • St. Kitts & Nevis
    • St. Maarten (formerly Netherlands Antilles)
    • St. Martin (see Leeward Islands, French)
    • St. Thomas (see Virgin Islands, U.S.)
    • Switzerland

TAHITI – TUVALU

    • Thailand
    • Tortola (see Virgin Islands, British)
    • Turkey in Asia (Anatolia, Ankara, Izmir)
    • Turkey in Europe (Istanbul)
    • Turks & Caicos Islands

UGANDA – UZBEKISTAN

    • Ukraine
    • United States (continental)

VAITAPU – VOLCANO ISLAND

    • Vatican City
    • Vietnam
    • Virgin Islands, British (Tortola, etc.)
    • Virgin Islands, U.S. (St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas)

WAKE ISLAND – ZIMBABWE

Leave a comment

Paragliding The Crimea, Ukraine 2012

IMG_9091On my way out to a business trip in the Ukraine, I quickly looked up the weather conditions on Bing and did a quick search for ‘Ukraine Paragliding”.  A 10-second analysis told me I should bring my paraglider on the off chance that I’d have some spare time after work and was able to find a good spot to fly.  I am certainly glad I took the chance.  I had a great flight off the coast of the Black Sea near the town of Yalta in The Crimea, Ukraine.

A bit more back story – I flew out to the Ukraine to meet with an equipment manufacturer.  My key contact, Sergii, offered to make my hotel reservations since I have never been to the area.  I left it in his capable hands and was quite happy with their decision.  We stayed at the Oreanda Hotel in Yalta, a cool coastal town with a great boardwalk, rocky Black Sea beach, and a vibrant energy.  The hotel is listed as “One of the Special Hotels in the World”.  Anyway, after work they offered to take me to a local, world-famous winery, Massandra (more on that in another post).  Sergii did some research for me and found a flyable mountain about an hour away from the hotel.  The mountain is generally flyable only early in the morning or after 6pm, so we ate a meal after the winery and headed up the long, winding road in Igor’s BMW SUV to get to the top of Ay-Petrinskaya Yayla mountain.

IMG_9097 We arrived at the top of the mountain right at 6pm.  The views from this location were breathtaking.  We were clearly able to see both the towns of Yalta to the East (the picture here on the left) and Haspra and Koreiz to the south.  The Black Sea was an incredible deep blue, but unfortunately my photos don’t accurately portray that very well.  The surrounding mountains were a combination of imposing cliff-faces and lush, green trees, which are clearly visible from any point in town.

 

By the time I was preparing to take off, the SE winds died down significantly.  A few local hang-gliding pilots were hanging out after having done some flying earlier in the day.  Being locals, they gave me some pointers on the local flying conditions and the landing zone, which was a dried out vineyard off the main road and on the way to the coast.  Due to the light winds, take-off required some significant speed, with an overzealous pilot giving me an extra push for good luck.  Here’s a video of the take-off:

IMG_9332Once airborne, it was smooth sailing straight to the Black Sea.  I circled over the town of Kurpaty for a bit, tempted to make a dash for the Sea and put down on the coast.  I decided to err on the side of caution and headed back to the designated landing zone which was north of the main road.  The road and landing zone are visible in the picture to the left.  I decided to land as close to the road as possible near the center to minimize my travel over the dried vine-field to the exit.

IMG_9322 Total airtime was close to 30 minutes.  I packed up my gear in my stuff sack and started hiking east on the main road to minimize Igor’s trip from the top of the mountain to the main road to pick me up.  I walked about 2 kilometers before they made it down.  Overall, a great flying experience, my only regret is that I didn’t have more time in the Ukraine for additional flights.  If I ever go back, I plan to have my paraglider handy again.

Leave a comment

SXSW 2012: A First-Timer’s Perspective

PepsiCo Central Lounge at SXSW Austin, TX: This year I made the pilgrimage to the annual expo known as South by South West (SXSW).  As one of the Executive leads of Equipment Innovation at PepsiCo, I was there to showcase examples of innovation in marketing equipment, specifically our Smart Digital Cooler and Social Vending Machine concepts.  PepsiCo is a platinum sponsor of SXSW, so we had a large corner of the Austin Convention center dedicated as Pepsi Central, with our digital marketing equipment, the Zeitgeist, and Pepsi Central Digital Message Board.

In addition to working, I was able to enjoy panels, sessions, and parties at SXSW.  It was definitely an interesting and memorable experience, and here are a few of my observations about the event.

Registration/Badges:

Fortunately, I arrived on Thursday and checked in early for my badge.  My total wait time was less than 10 minutes as I waited in the ‘Platinum Sponsors’ lounge for my badge to be printed.  Folks on Friday were not as fortunate.  The line wrapped around the entire convention center, twice.  There was roughly a 2+ hour wait for attendees to get their badges.  For a conference that has a huge interactive component to it, I would have expected a much more efficient registration process.  They might want to take a page out of the book of CES and consider mailing out badges ahead of the conference.  For badges that cost $400 – $1,000, that would be a comparatively small incremental cost for a significantly improved user registration experience.

Panels and Keynotes:

The sheer number of panels was a bit overwhelming.  The first time I went to the SXSW website to investigate the panels which I was interested in attending, I selected a dozen from the list, before I realized they all occurred simultaneously.  You have to plan well ahead of time to see the panels that are of most interest to you, especially since the panels are spread across Austin.  Fortunately, the SXSW organizers had great apps for both iPad and Windows Phone 7, which helped tremendously in discovering and scheduling panels of interest.  I had an interesting conversation with someone I reconnected with at SXSW.  She mentioned the she and her husband no longer go to panels because they get well-recognized folks who don’t prepare, and since the moderators are talking to well-known figures, they don’t prepare either.  That was an interesting perspective that I actually experienced on one of the panels, but I wouldn’t say it was the norm. 

WP_001427 I plan to write about some of the panels and keynotes I attended on a separate blog post.  In the meantime, I’ll just say that I was impressed with the list of individuals that were tapped to speak at SXSW.  The sessions I was treated to included appearances by Biz Stone (founder of Twitter), Bing Gordon (EA legend), Al Gore, Sean Parker (of Napster and Facebook fame), Andy Cohen (Bravo), and others.

Parties:

WP_001530 There was certainly no lack of evening events at SXSW with many sponsoring and non-sponsoring organizations hosting some impressive soirees.  I attended two hosted by PepsiCo (one with Turntable.fm and the other with Star Wars and Brisk).  I also attended the Tweethouse Tweetup and a few others.  I’ll say that most were really not my scene (large mosh-pits of music where it’s really impossible to talk to anyone).  The Tweetup had a good music act but also the opportunity to converse with attendees and was held in an interesting spot (Lance Armstrong’s Bike Shop).  Easily my favorite was the Brisk Bodega sponsored by PepsiCo and Lucas and featuring Star Wars artwork and Brisk Star Wars TV Spots.  They had a great DJ playing the bottom floor, but also an open-air upper level allowing you to connect with attendees.

Films:

WP_001473 Unfortunately, my only experience with SXSW film screenings was just how hard it was to get into them.  I only tried to get into two, and the lines literally wrapped around the block.  It’s a shame because there seemed to be a really good selection of films there, but I no longer have the time or patience to form a queue two hours in advance of a film.  I ended up just taking pictures of the film posters to remind myself of the ones I wanted to see eventually.  One of those films was ‘The Hunter’ with William Dafoe.  Scheduling didn’t work out, but when I got home this weekend, I noticed on my Xbox 360 Zune Video Marketplace that I could actually watch the film before it hits theaters.  Sometimes it’s just worth paying for stuff.

Leave a comment

Emerald City Comicon 2011 Highlights

The first Comic Book Convention I attended was the 2010 San Diego Comicon.  I was there to help announce the Xbox 360 Halo Reach Special Edition console, which I drove as the Global Product Manager at Microsoft.  It was an interesting experience to say the least, and I did get to attend a Smallville panel (my favorite show), for their last season.  So when my wife (of all people) told me that Seattle has its own Comic Convention called Emerald City Comicon, I decided it would be an interesting way to spend the weekend.

IMG_1025 I arrived well before the 10am start time to purchase my tickets, spending just under two hours in line.  My first picture opportunity came in that line with a group of Star Wars Stormtroopers and a decent Obi-wan Kenobi cosplayer.  After getting in and walking the main floor, I quickly realized that this was quite the different convention than San Diego Comicon.  First off, it was actually truly a Comic Book Convention.  The majority of the booths on the main floor were for comic book stores, whereas the San Diego Comicon has been taken over by lots of different media, including TV, movies, and videogames.  After trolling the floor for a bit and marveling at the $400 classic Transformers figures (and being bummed out that I don’t have my childhood Transformers anymore), I decided to spend most of the day attending the panel sessions.

The first panel was the “Skewed and Reviewed” Movie panel by Gareth von Kallenbach.  Essentially it was an hour of Mr. Gareth dishing out confirmed (?) rumors about upcoming movies.  Some of the newsbites that Mr. Kallenbach announced that most caught my attention:

  • According to 20th Century Fox, X-Files 3 is in the writing stage.  The main plot revolves around the pivotal date December 12, which Mr. Kallenbach says was a major part of the fiction of the TV series.  The movie is tentatively titled “X-Files: End Game”.
  • Elizabeth Hurley is slated to play a villian on the new Wonder Woman television series.
  • Paramount Studios authorized $175M for the Star Trek movie sequel to J.J. Abrams without ever reading a script.
  • Robert Downey Jr. and John Favreau don’t like each other.  Because of this dislike, Mr. Favreau will not be involved in Iron Man 3.  Additionally, when Downey Jr. found out Mr. Favreau was involved in Cowboys vs. Aliens, he turned down the part which later went to Daniel Craig.

IMG_1039 At the end of this panel I received a pass for two to see a pre-screening of Battlefield: LA.  After getting this pass, I went to the main room in 4A for 5 straight panels.  First up was a panel on The Guild with Felicia Day, Wesley Wheaton, and Amy Okuda.  The banter between the three was some of the most enjoyable of all the panels that day.  Asked if it was difficult to audition in Hollywood being Asian, Ms. Okuda mentioned that she finds it easier since there are not that many Asian actresses to compete with as opposed to the glut of blonde Caucasian women.  Mr. Wheaton, who I’ll admit I loathed as the character Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, did a great job on the panel and had me switching my tune by the end.

IMG_1040 I stayed on afterwards to watch the Fringe panel.  I must admit, I had never heard of this particular Fox show, but since I was able to get a front row seat, I didn’t want to give it up as I was looking forward to the Frakes/Spiner panel.  As I tweeted about the Fringe panel, I started to get some fans sending me information about the show, peaking my interest.  Since I was a big fan of the X-Files growing up, this seems like a show I’d enjoy.  The panelists were show stars John Noble (Walter Bishop) and Jasika Nicole (Astrid Farnsworth). 

IMG_1045 The Jonathan Frakes (William Riker) and Brent Spiner (Data) panel was definitely a treat, kicked off by Mr. Spiner impersonating Patrick Stewart.  It was moderated by a local radio host BJ, who apparently did an excellent job moderating the panel on Friday and was therefore invited by Frakes to moderate this panel.  Unfortunately, he didn’t do a stellar job at this panel.  At one point he started talking about Mr. Spiner’s recent colonoscopy posts on twitter, and started sharing his own rectal exam stories, prompting the audience to shout to him to move on and take audience questions.  To his credit, he immediately opened the floor to questions.  One unexpected tales from Mr. Spiner was his admission that he remembered a certain episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation because it was on his birthday and he was suffering from a shingles outbreak.  As Mr. Spock would say, “Fascinating”.

The next panel was for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, including show stars James Marsters (Spike), Nicholas Brendon (Xander), and Clare Kramer (Glory).  My older brother was a huge fan of this show.  I’ll admit I know about it and have seen the random episode here or there, but never truly followed it.  I tried to remedy that by starting the series from Season 1 on Netflix, but didn’t get very far.  In any case, James Marsters played Braniac on my ultimate favorite TV show Smallville, so it was still worth sticking around. 

IMG_1052 The final panel I attended was “Spotlight on William Shatner”.  This was a self-moderated solo appearance by Mr. Shatner.  He started off taking questions immediately from the audience, and took an average of 5-7 minutes answering each question.  At one point he became so engrossed in his own story that he completely forgot the question he was answering.  Nevertheless, he made a strong connection with the crowd and kept us entertained with his stories.  My favorite story came when he was talking about his disappointment with the Star Trek Generations movie and the need to kill of the Captain Kirk character.  They originally filmed him being shot in the back.  Thinking that Captain Kirk deserved a more heroic ending, they re-filmed this to have him die by a bridge scaffolding falling on him.  Here he discussed coming up with his favorite line ever… With all the years of hearing “Captain on the Bridge”, he wanted to say “Bridge on the Captain”.  For obvious reasons, it wasn’t approved and the line was cut.

The rest of the show I spent walking the main floor and capturing some of the great costumes worn by the dedicated attendees.  I leave off with some highlights from what I was able to capture.

IMG_1106IMG_1063 IMG_1124

 IMG_1111

IMG_1065

 

Leave a comment

1994 SAE Mini Baja East in Quebec, Canada

First I get a tweet from a current member of the Cooper Union Motorsports team the same day I find my old presentation slides from my senior project in 1994.  A week later I find the negatives for the pictures taken during the 1994 SAE Mini Baja East competition AND an old school newsletter with details about the competition.  Uncanny.  Seems like the story wants to be told 🙂

In my previous posting on the Mini Baja competition, I described the design and construction of the “dune buggy” for my Mechanical Engineering senior design project.  Now that I found the pictures of the actual competition, I’ll talk separately about the actual competition weekend.

PIC_0044 It came down to the wire, but on May 26, 1994, I rented a Ryder truck and packed up the official Cooper Union Mini Baja vehicle in the back, along with the few tools and equipment we had. George was going to join us in Canada, but his mother didn’t want him driving the whole way up there, so she bought him a plane ticket. She was also nice enough to by my younger brother, Jiovanie, a ticket as well, since this now meant that I had to drive the whole way on my own. My college girlfriend joined in the trip, so Abdel volunteered to be buckled into the Baja vehicle for the long journey up to Montreal. At Canadian customs, the officer asked me if I had anything to declare. I told him that I had a friend strapped down in the back of the truck. He just waved me through, and that was officially my first time out of the country (of course, Puerto Rico doesn’t count since it’s a US Commonwealth).

PIC_0053 We realized that we were small fish immediately upon arriving at the event in Quebec. While it was just the four of us there (me, Jiovanie, Abdel, and George), many of the other teams were twenty students strong (or greater), had custom trailers, and a list of sponsors that would make NASCAR drivers envious. I heard talk of $20,000 budgets, an order of magnitude greater than what I had to work with. I still remember the first time we pulled the Mini-Baja out of the trailer. Across from us was a team from Stonybrook (if I recall correctly). They had a ramp for their car and 4-6 people to push the vehicle out of the trailer. My friend Abby and I watched them unload. When they were done, we each grabbed an end and lifted our car out of the U-Haul truck and plopped it onto the ground. The team across the way were completely amazed at how light our vehicle was. I guess it was a good thing that the budget was so scarce – it helped to build a bare-bones vehicle. I ended up working with one of those guys from Stonybrook at Honda R&D in Ohio just a year later.

PIC_0051

PIC_0069

 

 

 

 

 

 

PIC_0056Before any racing could take place, we had to go through a whole series of design and safety inspections.  We pretty much nailed the safety inspections with the exception of the rear propeller guard.  I had a just put a temporary makeshift chicken-wire cage around the propeller, but it didn’t meet safety requirements.  Jiovanie set about modifying and building a custom cage for the propeller that was more structurally sound and helped us pass the inspection.  The safety/design judge was nice enough to give us some pointers, given that this was our first time in an SAE competition.  His first comment was that the front wheels were too small (something I was completely aware of, but decided to go with the left over wheels from the previous attempt to save money).PIC_0058

We had a tough time with our engine throughout the first day.  We were only able to enter two of the driving events.  We had to call over one of the Briggs and Stratton representatives to check out our engine for us.  This was the engine that was delivered the previous year and was not opened or used until this event.  After inspecting the engine, the Briggs and Stratton representatives told us we had a defective engine and they would get us a replacement.  Unfortunately, the vehicle wasn’t really designed for a quick engine replacement, so we had to withdraw from the rest of the events, including the all day endurance race the next day.  It was pretty ironic that the one part of the vehicle that we didn’t design or build and that we weren’t allowed to modify was the thing that kept us from competing fully in the event.  In the end, we ended up placing 39th out of 55 registered teams.  This was thanks to the two events in which we were able to compete and my design report.

1994 SAE Mini Baja Side Trip While we didn’t place anywhere near the top, at least we weren’t in last place, and we were the smallest team that I saw at the event. We did have a load of fun at the event, and after it was all over, we all went horseback riding to blow off steam. The following year, as a graduate student at Cooper, we had two teams enter the competition, and I served as an advisor. This event was directly responsible for my first career after getting my Mechanical Engineering degree from Cooper Union – an Automotive Body Design Engineer for Honda R&D near Columbus, Ohio. I also later went on to serve as the Chair of the 1997 SAE Midwest Mini Baja Competition held in Ohio.

3 Comments

1994 SAE Mini Baja East Competition from Cooper Union

Yesterday I received a tweet from a member of the Cooper Union Motorsports team seeking sponsorship for an SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) Student Competition.  The timing was uncanny as I literally just found the slides that I developed back in 1994 for my Senior Project presentation for the very first ever Cooper Union entry into an SAE competition, the 1994 SAE Mini Baja East competition in Mont Saint Saveur, Quebec, Canada from May 27-29.   I also just purchased a slide-scanning machine, so I can recount and share some of the pictures from that amazing experience which set the stage for my future career in automotive design.  (Long post ahead).

It all began with a dream and a failure, the trust of a Dean, the abandonment of classmates, and the help of friends and family.  More than a decade and a half later, it continues with a fully-fledged program at my Alma mater.

001Let’s start with the dream and the failure.  While my Mini Baja entry in 1994 was the first vehicle entry ever by a student from the Cooper Union for the SAE Collegiate Design Series, it was not the first attempt.  That would be credited to a group of seniors in the class of 1993.  I attended a senior project and/or SAE presentation from these seniors, who described the SAE Mini Baja and the competition which was to be held in Orlando, Florida.  I was inspired!  I decided right then and there that this would also be my senior project the following year, not only because the thought of building an all-terrain, amphibious vehicle was captivating, but also because it would result in a paid trip to Florida (which at that time I had never seen).  My dream was firmly established.  Unfortunately for Cooper Union, those particular seniors never got passed the procurement and preliminary design phase.  They ordered a bunch of parts, even purchased a Cushman 3-wheel traffic police vehicle, started on an aluminum frame design, and ended it with a partially constructed skeleton which was extremely fragile.  A colossal failure to say the least.

PIC_0015This is where the trust of a Dean comes in.  The failure of my  predecessors made it a challenge for me to get this program approved as my senior project.  The first thing I needed to do was to secure funding.  I knew that the team from the previous year had received funding from the Dean of the Engineering School.  I estimated that I would need about $2,000 for the entire project.  I put a full proposal together and proposed the program to my Senior Thesis Advisor, Professor Wei.  With his approval, I set up some time with Dean Eleanor Baum of the Engineering School to present to her my proposal.  In the middle of my presentation, she stopped me.  She said she had received a similar pitch the prior year by senior students and nothing came of it, so she had only one question for me… Can I do it?  I looked at her and responded, “Yes, I can do this”.  That was it.  She approved my $2,000 budget.  She took me at my word and I didn’t even have to finish the presentation.

PIC_0005 Enthused, my next step was to recruit some classmates for this project.  My first choice was my best friend at Cooper, George T.  As a senior, I took over as President of the SAE Cooper Union Student Chapter, so as one of the first meetings, I presented this as a senior project and recruited two more students to be part of the team, R.R. and S.S. (their real initials, but I won’t use their full names).  Unfortunately, over the course of the year, they dropped off of the team without making any contributions.  Even George had to relegate himself to small contributions as the academic work in our senior year was excruciating and he was struggling.  Of course, I had the same workload, but I was the one who gave Dean Baum my word that I could pull this off, so I ended up working unbelievable hours to complete the design and construction phases (as noted from the construction pictures, I’m the only one in any of them).  This is where my family and friends stepped in.  My father, Vidal Velazquez Sr., my brother, Jiovanie Velazquez, and my friend, Abdel Jerez essentially took over the roles of my teammates, and with their help, we were able to complete construction of the vehicle in team for the competition in Quebec (which, by the way, I was pretty disappointed to find out that I’d be traveling to Canada instead of Florida for the 1994 competition).

002_b But, that’s jumping ahead.  I first went about designing the vehicle using the CAD (Computer Aided Design) package available at Cooper at the time.  I designed the entire frame of the vehicle, as well as the dual A-arm front suspension system.  For timing and simplicity, I used a solid rear axle design with no rear suspension (the rear tires had enough give to absorb a lot of the shocks encountered at the event).  003_bAdditionally, while it was not the most innovative design in the world, I felt this would be a structurally strong design with minimum construction time.  Much of the design was informed by the requirements of the competition, which provided minimum requirements for safety, such as the height of the rollcage, the height of the side impact protection, the size of the Briggs and Stratton 8HP engine, etc.  I will admit one flaw in my design was the oversized rollcage height, which was a result of erroneously measuring the minimum rollcage height from the top of the side impact beam instead of the base of the seat.  But, better more height than less, so I kept the taller design.

PIC_0026George and I then used the ADAMS (Advanced Dynamic Analysis of Mechanical Systems) software in Professor Wei’s robotics lab to simulate the conditions that would be encountered in the race.  The entire first semester was devoted to the design and analysis of the vehicle, and the completion of the design report for the competition.  With that completed in the first semester, the second semester was devoted to the construction of the vehicle.  At this point, I had to take stock of all of the equipment left over from the 1993 attempt and see what I could salvage given my small budget.  I had the Briggs and Stratton 8HP engine, which had never come out of its box.  I had rear wheels and front wheels (the front wheels were lawnmower wheels and not 005ideally suited for the clearances I would need, but I didn’t have the budget to get better wheels, so I worked with them.  I also had some additional components such as a steering wheel, brake cylinders and tie rods.  I had a lot of the safety equipment that were competition requirements, such as the fire extinguisher, orange flag, helmet, gloves, five-point safety harness, and life vest.  A full list of the recycled parts can be seen to the right in the slide taken from my senior project presentation.  A life vest is required due to the unique nature of the SAE Mini Baja East competition.  The vehicles had to be PIC_0014designed to float as part of the obstacle course was to navigate through a deep lake.  I went with a flotation foam design under the entire vehicle and with wings to achieve flotation (the blue flotation billet in the picture above).  In retrospect, had I a better understanding of everything that I would need for the competition and what had already been purchased, I would have requested significantly more money.  I had to make some serious design concessions to stay within budget, but that was a good lesson for my future career.

PIC_0006 These parts were stored in an abandoned gas station that the Cooper Union happened to own at the time.  I had hoped to use that gas station as my workshop, but unfortunately, the Cooper Union was about to sell that property, so I had to get all of the equipment out.  I found a small room in the basement of the Hewitt Building (which no longer exists), near the PIC_0012 makeshift workout room.  I began ordering parts and equipment, starting with the square and round stock steel tubes (high strength yet light steel) that were part of my design.  I was able to use the Sculpture Shop in the School of Architecture to construct the main frame.  The rollcage was round steel tubes that I bent into the required shape.  The PIC_0029main body of the vehicle was constructed from square steel stock for ease of construction and assembly.  I used the mig welder, also in the Sculpture Shop, to complete the vehicle frame.  While the Sculpture Shop was a great resource, there were too many demands from other students on this, so I had to buy a separate mig welder to make sure I was able to complete this project on time.  I stored this in the Hewitt building and worked out of the basement for a while, mainly to construct the smaller components.

PIC_0025 I also put our Machine Shop in the engineering building to good use, mainly for the precision drilling and cutting of components needed for the front dual A-arm suspension.  For these I used a heavier gauge steel and custom designed the bushings from the same stock.  As part of my senior design presentation, I added a bit of humor by showing me supposedly bending the A-arms into their proper shape with my bare hands.  Even more humorous by today’s standards would be the Motorola beeper on my belt 🙂

PIC_0035 PIC_0034

PIC_0019_b By the end of the semester, I had completed the majority of the work on the vehicle.  The frame and suspension system was completely constructed and assembled, I could get all four tires on and have a seat in the vehicle.  However, there was still a lot of work to be done.  The slide at right shows what was left to complete after my final presentation for my Senior Design Project and during graduation.  When school was closed, I had to get what was remaining of the car to my house in Brooklyn for final completion before the competition in Montreal.  To get the vehicle home, I mounted the fixed rear axle, attached the rear tires, and hooked the Mini Baja vehicle to the back of my car and towed it all the way to Brooklyn from Cooper Union.  My father had to rewire the house to get the appropriate current for the mig welder to complete the rest of the work.  My brother Jiovanie and friend Abdel also stepped up their help at this stage to get the vehicle completed in time.PIC_0004

Progress was rapid over the next few days with their help.  We finally got the engine mounted and hooked up and were ready for a test drive.  We had a bit of trouble figuring out the operation of the engine.  Abdel volunteered to be the first to test drive the car, but it would just putter and die.  All of a sudden, out of the blue, it just kicked in and took off down a street in Brooklyn.  Jiovanie and I ran after it because we PIC_0027hadn’t installed the brakes at that point.  Abby had a thrilling first ride in the car and let up enough on the gas for us to catch up and bring it to a halt before he reached the intersection.  Tragedy averted.

At this stage I still had not built the propulsion system for when the vehicle was in deep water.  I ended up buying a propeller with a fixed drive shaft that I then coupled to the rear fixed axle.  One of the many things we didn’t get to do before leaving for the event in Mont Saint Saveur, Montreal, was to test the vehicle in water.  There are not that many places in New York City where you can drive a vehicle into and out of the water.  I would just have to rely on my calculations and MacGyver style design implementation during the event.  One thing I didn’t realize was the the exposed propeller, by the rules, needed to be covered for protection.  During the event, Jiovanie fashioned a safety cage out of chicken wire so that we could pass inspection and compete in the event.  It worked perfectly.

Overall Costs SlideI recently found the pictures of the actual event, so I started a separate post to describe the details when we got to the competition.  That blog entry can be found at https://richardvelazquez.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/1994-sae-mini-baja-east-in-quebec-canada/

The history of the SAE Mini Baja East series is recounted in full at SAE’s website: http://www.sae.org/students/mbehistory.pdf

4 Comments

Wrapping Up 2010 in Central America

Happy New Year to all!  I just returned from a two week trip to Central America.  I spent the first week in Honduras with my wife and then did some solo traveling with my paraglider to El Salvador and Guatemala.  It was an eventful two weeks, with lots of things checked off the list:

  • Complete ownership of an entire beachside resort for a few days – check
  • Petting monstrous iguanas and feeding giant barracuda – check
  • Catching the lunar eclipse over the surf and sand – check
  • Zip-line through the treetops of Roatan – check
  • Seaplane ride to a small, deserted Cay – check
  • Lunch at a luxurious “mansion” accessible only by boat – check
  • Paragliding onto a surfer’s beach in El Salvador – check
  • Paragliding over the aptly named “Most Beautiful Lake in the World” in Guatemala – check

More details to follow.  Here’s to 2011!

IMG_0387 IMG_0500

Leave a comment

Getting ready for Comic-Con 2010!

This will be my first time traveling to Comic-Con in San Diego. I am really looking forward to it.
Aside from the Xbox Booth and MGS Game Panels, I would like to visit the Microsoft Store in San Diego. I also plan to attend the Tweethouse event on US Naval Carrier on Friday night…
More news from the show once I get there…

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: