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Sunday, June 20, 2004

F1



Just to speak about the F1 Grand Prix for a moment. On www.boingboing.net today they reported that one of the F1 teams is using genetic algorithms to evolve better designs and setups of their cars. They use a popular Formula One simulator game to run their simulations. They run generation after generation of cars through race after race, spawning new cars from winners and introducing random mutations. We'll see if they can put something together to beat Ferrari, but regardless it'll be an impressive testament to the power of evolution if they can just stay in the running.

F1, although very boring on the surface considering Ferrari's absolute dominance, gets more interesting the more you know about it. With F1 the racing is secondary - the money is primary. F1 is probably the most blatant and extravagant display of greed, money and power on the surface of the earth to date (even more expensive and ugly than US presidential campaigns). I'd like to calculate the total amount of money involved in F1 and give you a real number, but I'm not feeling that inspired. I expect the total budget would rival NASA's - and is definitely more than Burt Ratan is spending trying to do something equally as glamorous and probably a hell-of-a-lot more useful. (Have a look at this link to the Mojave Airport weblog for update. Yes, there is a Mojave Airport Weblog - go figure).

F1 embodies the force of Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction and chaos. The cars, as vessels, are considered as feminine (Rubens Barachelo's Ferrari referred to as the "sister" car to Michael Schumacher's) - and they embody Kali perfectly. They scream, they thunder and stomp. Molten rubber, fire and smoke stream from them. They cut everything and they are terribly beautiful. As time goes on the aerodynamic appendages are even growing more grotesque, more like a model of the goddess. (fittingly most of the new wings and spoilers tacked on to this year's cars are designed to tame the vexing turbulence that surrounds the rotating tyres - the laminar flow is relatively easy to control over the body, but tyres are difficult - so it's the actual idea of turbulence/chaos that's evolving the once elegant and sexual looking bodies of F1 cars into something more resembling a torture device, or a dragon).

I won't belabor the idea of F1 as embodiment of Kali too much further, except to say that she is as wasteful as she is necessary. There is some necessity in human nature to take things to their Nth extent - American Football, 5 Day Test Cricket, F1, Sumo, America's Cup racing, terrorism, and US presidential campaigns are all examples of the same impulse. They all express the human infatuation with the rage and perfection of what Christians would call "The Fall", what atheists would call "The Unknown" and what is generally accepted as the struggle to survive. I don't watch F1 to see which driver or team will win. I watch it to see how the drivers and teams suffer with change over time. They strive for the perfect 8 second pit stop, or to drive a lap record - and if you're Michael Schumacher you might regularly achieve this. Most don't. Maintaining the destructive power of these machines through a threshold of perfection keeps us watching. Bullriding on rails, a constant acceleration, a fall - controlled and graded, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and then there's the rest of us.

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