Today in class my friend asked me what I did this weekend. He asked if I went to Arizona again. I had to say, "No, but I did make it to Nevada."
A week ago my friend from church asked if I was available on Friday and Saturday. He was conducting a radio frequency test and wanted my help. He is involved with setting up a medical radio network for an annual relay race from Baker to Las Vegas. Since I did not have anything planned, I went on the trip.
I woke up around 3:15 on Friday morning and drove to my friend's house. He then drove us to Baker. If you are not familiar with the city of Baker, it is know for two things: having the world's tallest thermometer and being one of the the major stops on the 15 on the drive to Las Vegas.
Our first task was to put up three radio transmitter towers. These were placed at three different sites as far as 100 miles away from Baker. Next each of the transmitters had a setup to transmit a test signal every minute on a specific frequency. Setting those up and getting them up and running took all day.
While the area is a desert, it was cold. It dropped below freezing in some places during the night. On Saturday there was a lot of wind. I was outside for just two hours in the morning and the wind was unrelenting. I had a jacket, hat, and gloves but it was not enough. I was cold.
During the trip many problems came up. They were all the result of working on things until the last minute and poor planning. My friend was frustrated these issues appeared, but he also knew what steps to take to fix them for next time. Everything required was accomplished, but there was a lot of work, calibration, fixing, and figuring things out in the field. I hope I can help fix or reduce many of these problems.
We set up three cars with radio receivers which then drove the race course at 25 mph. Every minute the strength of each of the three radio transmitters was recorded along with the position of the vehicle. When the data are analyzed, we will be able to see if there are any areas on the course with poor radio coverage.
I liked seeing how radio transmitters are set up in the field and tested. The ideas involved were simple, but watching them come together and work was great. When issues came up everyone had to improvise, so I saw a lot of problems solved.
Learning to Drive
The most exciting thing for me was learning how to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission. For those of you not in the know, operating a manual transmission can be a lot of fun. However, there is a big learning curve. Making a mistake will cause the car will start moving when you want it to stay still or stay still when you want it to move. Hopefully when these thing happen you will not hit anything.
In cars with a manual transmission/stick shift/standard transmission there is a third pedal for the clutch and a stick on the floor to select a gear. The driver needs to select the best gear based upon the amount of torque and speed the car needs. When a car is just starting to move, it needs a lot of torque. However, after the car is moving, it needs less torque and more speed. In the truck I drove, the gears are labeled 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and Reverse. There is also Neutral, which is when none of them are selected. You start the car in 1 and after the car is moving you can hear the engine turn faster and faster. Looking at the tachometer and listening to the engine, you can tell when the car needs to be shifted into a higher gear. Putting the car into a higher gear is the easy part.
My biggest problem was starting the car or getting it moving after a complete stop at a stop sign, stop light, or after some pedestrians ran right in front of me. You have to release the clutch pedal and apply gas at the right time. If you release the pedal too fast or do not apply the right amount of gas, the engine will stall and you will have to turn the key to start it up again. While this is happening, the car is not braked so you could be rolling backwards if you are on an incline. This weekend I only stalled the engine twice in the middle of traffic. When I tried to start the car on a hill it took me a few tries and the cab was filled with the smell of ground metal as the gears smashed into each other.
Breaking and slowing down are also different. To brake, the clutch pedal has to be pushed in before the brake is applied and as long as the brake is in use. If the brake is pressed while the clutch is still engaged, the engine will stall. If there is significant slowing, you will need to downshift to a lower gear for when you start applying the gas again.
Like any skill, driving a manual transmission is something that gets better after more practice. I drove over 200 miles this weekend, but most of that was high speed highway driving. I still need to practice a lot of stop and go driving.