Nerd Word

Nerd Word






Spectra- Plural form of Spectrum-band of colors, as seen in a rainbow produced by the separation of the components of light by their different degrees of refraction according to wavelength.


Here is a Nerd Word just in time for the holiday season. How you may ask? Well,  a spectrum is basically an array of colored light just like a rainbow. Spectra occur (notice  I used the plural form that time) when light is projected through a prism, this we all know and remember from grade school. However, what isn`t as well know is that every spectra is unique to the atom or molecule that it is being projected through. So when atoms or molecules release energy, it is often in the form of light which has a specific wavelength. The wavelength, is what determines the color of the light.



So far this has been an informative mini report on spectra and why they occur, but how do they pertain to the impending holiday season? Because spectra change based on material, you can identify a material by the spectra it produces. Ever heard of Neon Lights? That`s how they get their name, because when electricity is run through a glass tube containing neon, it produces light. That light emits a spectra that is unique to neon, and is used to light up everything from Las Vegas, the corner diner, to houses at Christmas time.


Well this is the final Nerd Word of the year, but just like every major television network, we will be back in January with new and better material (but unlike them there is no annoying cliffhanger or reruns).


-Thanks for braving the offseason, Mike


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Mike`s Blog-The Chain Rule

The Chain Rule


Well, last time I ended the blog on the design of The Stig. Now the chassis is up and running. However, it was not all smooth sailing. As always with any engineering project there were a few kinks to work out.

Kink number one was the placement of the gearbox. The original design called for gearboxes that had a shaft drive. This means that the wheel can be bolted directly to the transmission, but the transmissions we had in stock were sprocket driven, meaning that wheel had to mount to a separate shaft, then the shaft had to be connected to the gearbox via chain (see picture). This in turn created problem number two: chain issues.

When the driver stomped the accelerator (well more like slammed the Xbox joystick to the forward most position) and subsequently retracted the joystick, the chain would bind or refuse to move. It would also caused a horrible, nails on a chalk board, grinding noise. This was due to the fact that the gearbox was slightly out of alignment with the frame. This is just a fancy way of saying that drive chain was crooked and caused the wheels to stop moving.

A some point during this time we got the crazy idea that our robot should not just be a prototype but should be built to competition specs. This meant that our robot would need some sort offensive device. So we did what any great inventor would do, we went rummaging through the spare parts and junk bin* (I might add that most of the robot was made from items found in this very bin). We managed to find a spare Frisbee shooter from this year`s robot, but it was missing a few key components. The Frisbee shooter also needed a frame and that was designed and built.

At this point The Stig is mostly complete, but there a still a few minor details to work out. As with any project, the devil is in the details. However, I can comment that the results of our initial testing are promising, despite the fact that when the robot runs it sounds like some is trying to start a lawnmower with the spark plug removed (result of the chain tensioning system).






* Junk bin- (noun) Treasure trove of invention inspiration, Thesaurus- junk-yard, junk-heap, invention boneyard.




Note the metal brace, this is where the gearboxes attach to the frame. Then the center shafts, which are attached to the wheels, will be driven via chain from the gearbox.

Nerd Word: Entropy

Entropy- a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.


If that definition made absolutely no sense whatsoever, believe me you are not alone. Basically what entropy boils down to is the concept of chaos. More specifically a measurement of said chaos. That means that entropy is the measurement of randomness or disorder in a given system. To further illustrate this concept think of a store the day after black friday. The store will have limited merchandise, broken shelves and have items spread amongst the floor, this would be considered an entropic environment. It is physically impossible for the store to magically return to the state it was before the sale. That is the concept of entropy.


As a race car driver I am very familiar with entropy. Many a time, I have found my self racing until something like debris on the track or another driver cutting me off has sent me from running at the front of the pack to watching my fellow competitors from the pit lane. No matter how hard I may try I cannot return to the state before the incident. In fact some drivers decided to teach each other about entropy by getting into shoving matches or fist fights.


Other uses for the word entropy


  1. Excuse on how you cannot clean up: “I`m sorry I cannot clean the house, but if I did then I would be breaking the 2nd Law of thermodynamics and you would`t want me to break any laws would you?”
  2. Casual conversation: “ I used to go to the coffee shop on third street, but the it has become to ‘Entropic’ for my taste.”







If you have an idea for a Nerd Word send it to us at with the subject Nerd Word Idea.

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-In case of Entropy Wear This.

Mike`s Blog: “Some Say…it`s a robot”



“Some say it`s a robot”



One of the reasons I founded Driving4Education was because of my experience in the FIRST ( robotics competition as a student. For those who are unfamiliar, FRC is a robotics competition for high school students, in which students are given six weeks to design build and test a robot that competes in a defined game: basketball, soccer ultimate frisbee etc.  There are also mentors who assist the students in designing and building the robot.  I am now a mentor and my project this summer is to mentor a group of high school FRC team members, design and build a 6 wheel drive robot for this years game Ultimate Assistant.


Our first objective was to design the robot we wanted to build. Normally, we would devise a strategy before actually designing the robot, however we just decided to use the same strategy that worked so well this year. The design process began with the students and myself researching other teams 6 wheel robot designs. This gave the students a chance to brainstorm and get an idea of how they might design theirs. We decided on a west-coast drive with a drop center. This basically means that our drive train chassis is a rectangular shape made out of aluminum rectangle tube.


It has six wheels that are cantilevered (only supported one side) with a dropped center wheel. This allows the drivetrain to turn only two wheels but drive on four wheels in a straight line giving us increased maneuverability as well as traction. The finished product looks similar to a lumber cart from a home improvement store.


The next step is one of the most important in the design process, naming the robot. Thankfully, like myself, my students and fellow college mentors are all Top Gear UK fans. So we picked “The Stig” (hence the blog title). Well, some say that the next blog will be about how we built the Stig and the results of the initial testing. No seriously, it will be about just that.




robot photo

A small glimpse of what`s to come

Centripetal Force

Centripetal Force- The force necessary to make an object move in a circle. It is directed toward the center of the circle

Yes, I understand that centripetal force is technically two words, nevertheless this is a concept that has many real world applications, especially in auto racing. First of all, centripetal force is always directed toward the center of the given circle and it is necessary to any type of circular motion (see diagram). It is a common mistake that centripetal force is directed toward the outside of a given circle.


So how is this applicable in racing? Well a turn on a race track is just part of a circle. This means that in order to keep the car from flying off the track, racecars that fail to due this rarely win races, the engineer/ designer must devise a way to increase the centripetal force acting on the car. In order to do that they must find a way to increase the friction between the tires and the track. This is because, friction is playing the part of centripetal force in this case. A much “easier said than done” task. This is why top engineers in NASCAR, Formula One, and Indycar etc, are paid so much, they understand Physics!














In this photo the friction between the tires and the track is the source of the centripetal force.