Stanford Solar Car Project

Since my last post a couple more things have happened that are pretty cool. Actually a lot of things happened, like becoming a photographer for the Stanford Daily, applying to join BASES (an entrepreneur group with a budget of half a million frickin’ dollars) and making arrangements to discuss my choice of major and undergraduate research opportunities with one of the 1996 Nobel laureates (!) but I don’t have the energy to write about it all… So I’ll do a brief keyboard mash about the SSCP.

The Stanford Solar Car Project (SSCP) is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s undergrads only (i.e. no professors involved) and we build a car that runs on solar power and race it across Australia at the World Solar Challenge. It’s one of the first things I got stuck into, and even before starting any real work on the project, I’ve learnt a huge amount, just by being in a proper workshop with tools and working with genuinely decent equipment (as one of my friends once put it, tools become beautiful once 4th formers [read: 13 year olds] aren’t allowed to use them). I’ve used a soldering iron that works using ‘pure physics’ (as Nathan put it) – it’s simply awesome: RF AC gets pumped through the iron and due to the skin effect, all the current flows through the tip, heating it up; I’ve learnt to solder surface mount ICs efficiently (it actually only takes a couple of minutes to do each one); I’ve used a battery welder in which the current is so high that it’s measured in kiloamps and the cables jump due to the massive B-fields when making the weld; and I’ve learnt to weld and use a mill.

Probably the most exciting thing is the amount of influence a mere freshman with little experience like me is allowed to exert. Before I proceed, I need to say a little about DC to put it all in perspective. DC is the head of the software team, and he is legendary. Apparently he did CS 140 and got a girlfriend in the same quarter. Descriptions of his physical feats reminded me of Alcibiades’ description of Socrates – he apparently did a 10 mile mountain hike in flip flops—one of which was broken—without complaining and managed to fall asleep on asphalt in the middle of the desert with people shouting and engines running all around. DC’s programming ability appears to be revered within the team … and that’s coming from people whose skill sets include welding their names in cursive handwriting on 1” iron bars and solder surface mount ICs on flying leads … without a breakout board … in 20 minutes. So when I suggested a method of wiring the solar panels and his response was along the lines of ‘we’ve never thought of that before, we might implement that’, and subsequently let it be my call how to implement an entire software project, I was … a tad surprised.

As a sidenote, I think the best quotation to date on the SSCP has to be ‘Everything seems to be working except the ON/OFF switch’ (!)

P.S. List of non-American expressions that I use

I’m compiling a directory of these; supposedly Americans don’t use the following vocabulary / idioms:

‘Take the piss out of’ ≈ ‘to make fun of’
‘Bollocks’ ≈ ‘oh crap’
‘Lie in’ [n.] = ‘sleep in’
‘Half eight’ := 08:30
‘Query’ [n.] ≈ ‘question’
‘To get done for doing something’ = ‘to get caught by the authorities for doing something’
‘Shotgun’ (I extend its usage to just about anything; equivalent to claiming dibs on something)
‘Posh’ [adj.] ≈ ‘classy’ / ‘fashionable’

It’s through the use of some of these that I’ve managed to provoke several ‘oh you British people’ from my roommate…

P.P.S. How to like Stanford

This algorithm seems to work for me:

1. Find some random freshman
2. Talk to him/her
3. Be surprised

I could elaborate, but the fact is that Professor Harry Elam really wasn’t kidding when he declared at convocation that every single person is here for a reason; everyone I’ve met, without exception, is simply amazing.

EDIT: It still hasn’t rained yet

One Response to Stanford Solar Car Project

  1. davidfeinburg says:

    Bryant,
    It does my heart good to hear how much you are enjoying it there!

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