Part-Time Passions: June 2008

These IEEE members' hobbies include restoring mustangs and samba music

6 June 2008

David Bassett
Reviving Classic Cars

It was a sad day for IEEE Member David Bassett when he traded in the Signal Flare Red 1966 Ford Mustang he drove in college for a larger car to hold his family. “I loved that car,” Bassett says, recalling its black vinyl roof and killer engine. He vowed someday to acquire another. Nine years later, in 1980, he got his chance: he bought his mother’s 1969 Mustang, repaired it, souped it up, and found a new hobby: restoring classic Mustangs. “That was the start of my hobby,” Bassett says. “I still have that car, and it has only 52 000 miles [84 000 kilometers] on it!”

Since 1980, Bassett, 58, has bought, restored, and sold several old Mustangs, doing all the repairs himself. Employed by PPL Electric Utilities, in Allentown, Pa., he learned to fix cars in college while studying electrical engineering. Several of his engineering classes covered strength of materials, hydraulics, and physics, which Bassett credits for helping him understand how to do just about everything: fix car frames, remove rust, weld, rebuild engines and manual transmissions, and replace wiring. “After all, I am an electrical engineer,” Bassett says. “My classes gave me a very broad background in engineering that I’ve turned into a successful career and hobby.”

part1 Profession:

After restoring his mother’s car, Bassett took on two 1965 coupes. He offered the cars to his wife, Janyn, as a gift for their 25th wedding anniversary. A Mustang fan herself, she loved the idea. But it took a lot of work before the cars became a worthy present. “It took two years and about a thousand hours to completely restore them,” he says.

Bassett has tackled many other Mustangs over the years, but one model stands out: the 1964½ Skylight Blue convertible he bought for his wife. It was going to be her “dream car,” but she died shortly after he purchased it. Too grief-stricken to continue working on it, he quit his hobby for two years. He tried to sell the car, but after 18 prospective buyers gave it a thumbs-down, he says he “got the feeling that maybe somebody was telling me I should finish it.” Four years of hard work later, he was glad he did.

He’s now working on a 1966 Mustang fastback. He plans to paint it pewter with black stripes, just like the car of his dreams: Eleanor, the 1973 Mustang that appeared in the movie Gone in 60 Seconds.

“What I love about restoring these cars is that I get to bring back a piece of the past,” Bassett says. He invites readers to e-mail him about their car-restoration experiences:


part2 Profession:

Mehmet Vurkaç
Samba Specialist

Growing up in Turkey, Student Member Mehmet Vurkaç loved samba, Brazil’s traditional fast-paced, rhythmic style of music and dance. Now he’s much more than just a fan. For the past 11 years, Vurkaç, 36, has been singing and playing the drums for several Portland, Ore., samba baterias (groups). Some of his bands (the Lions of Batucada and Mais Que Samba) have opened for Aerosmith, Smash Mouth, and other famous rock groups, and their music has been heard on the radio and in concert halls in the United States and Turkey.

Vurkaç (pronounced “Vurkatch”) also helps conduct the music. Some samba groups have hundreds of members, and with so many different instruments being played at the same time, it takes several conductors to synchronize everyone. “The underlying structure of the music is subtle, complex, and frequently misunderstood. There are strict rules of rhythmic harmony,” Vurkaç says. In fact, he has been analyzing the harmony as part of his doctoral research in computational intelligence at Portland State University. “The two sides of my life—math and music—came together in a meaningful way,” he says.

Vurkaç, who uses the stage name Memo Hg, started studying samba when he was an undergrad. Later he took lessons and learned about samba’s cultural roots and how to play its traditional instruments, mostly different kinds of drums. A student who had heard Vurkaç was a drummer told him to check out a Lions of Batucada show. Vurkaç did just that, and the band blew him away. “I couldn’t believe my eyes that there were so many people in Portland playing this crazy stuff!” he says.

After the show, he waited outside the dressing room to talk to the conductor. “I rattled off as quickly as possible, ‘I’m a drummer. Do you need more people?’” Vurkaç recalls. The director asked Vurkaç to come to the next practice, and since then he has played nearly a thousand shows with the band and with other samba groups.

Although he’s busy with his Ph.D. research and has taken a leave of absence from his bands, Vurkaç finds ways to pursue his passion. He spends what little extra time he has teaching a beginner’s class in samba drumming.

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