Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

Chevy Volt Analysis III

Chevy Volt Analysis III
The goalThe goal is to compare conventional internal combustion vehicles (ICEV), battery electric vehicles (BEVs), hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug in hybrids vehicles (PIHs). The hope, of course, is to provide an apples to apples comparison, but that’s nearly impossible do. Its not fair to compare a maximized design to an un-maximized design; it would be a lot like comparing a bottle rocket to a Boeing 747 and deciding that the airplane is therefore, more advanced than a Saturn V. I am going to explain the design details which are congruent to all vehicles so that we can understand the compromises inherent to each car.

Because ICEVs, BEVs, HEVs, and PIHs have such radically divergent strengths and weaknesses, the best comparison will be a limited one. I will use the following criteria. Obviously, vehicles can me made which do not fit these criteria, but my desire to compare the sort of vehicles which are immediately obvious to Johnny Sixpack to be, in fact, a car and not some sort of laboratory freak that does great things, but has a snowball in hell’s chance of ever being a real product this decade. I’m going to go into quite a bit of detail because only by comparing the vital subsystems can we make a fair comparison of such different cars.

Definition of a car

For our purposes, a car is vehicle that meets the following criteria: Has 4 wheels, seats (at least) 2 in a side by side arrangement, goes at least 60 MPH, has creature comforts comparable to other cars that similar drivers drive, and has a range of at least 1 hour or 50 miles, and can be supported by the existing maintenance and fueling infrastructure. Any car that does not meet the above definition will not be seen as “real” car by anyone but enthusiasts.

Design elements relevant to all cars

All cars need the following, power train, suspension, chassis, body, and fuel storage.

Power train:

Power train is the method by which potential energy stored in the fuel is converted in kinetic motion which moves the car. Rotary motion is put into wheel/s which cause the car to move. Some components are part of more than one system. The axles and wheels, for instance have a function to both the suspension and the power train. Each of the 4 cars in consideration uses relatively divergent methods to do this which will be explained later, but for now I will I will say this: ICEVs use an internal combustion engine attached to a transmission and differential (a differential is device which splits power between the two driven wheels). BEVs use an electric motor, which may be joined to the differential directly, or may have simple transmission. BEVs can also use an electric motor in 2 or more wheels called a hub motor. (This has serious problems with unsprung weight, as will be explained below). HEVs use most of the components of both a ICEV and a BEV. PIHs are HEVs that can be charged from conventional household current as well as from the ICE that is carried.

Suspension:

Suspension reflects a series of compromises on mutually exclusive conditions. The suspension is the foundation of the car in almost every way. Heavy suspension demands heavy cars, light suspension needs only a light car. Further for reasons explained below, every 1 lb in the suspension is roughly analogous  to 100 lbs on the car itself.

The most basic component of the the suspension is the tire/wheel. If the tire is high pressure and narrow in relation to its hight (like a bike tire) it will convey power to the ground with high efficiency but lack traction (ie, if the rotary force changes quickly, like a stab on the throttle or brake peddle, the tire will skid. It will also skid if the car goes into a turn to quickly as the centrifugal force will quickly be larger than the tires ability to resist it). If the tire is low pressure and chubby (like tractor tires) tire will dig into the road, allowing rapid acceleration, braking, and turns. But that “digging into the road” eats energy, lowing efficiency. Also, if the tire is too chubby it will roll perpendicular to the movement of the wheel in a turn, blowing out. (Much like a runner turning his ankle in a tight turn.)

The wheel must be connected solidly to the vehicle to prevent it falling off in hard turns, acceleration or braking. However, the heavier the wheel is, the greater inertia it gathers when it hits a bump. The greater the inertia in the wheel when it hits road irregularities, the heavy the shock absorber must be to absorb the shock, this heavier shock must in turn attach to proportionally heavy chassis. A heavy chassis, of course, demands heavier suspension to suspend its bulk. This can be a vicious circle and is the number one reason that car models tend to get heavier and heavier every year.

Brakes should be as effective as possible however, again if the brakes are too heavy they contribute to the weight problem mentioned above. Brakes can be mounted on the axle toward the center of the car rather than in the wheel, which effectively makes the brakes chassis weight, rather than suspension weight (in the industry this is called sprung instead of unsprung weight). Of course, this is only possible with the driven wheels, since they are the only ones connected by a rotating axle. Also, brakes are a friction machine. They convert the energy stored in the moving mass of the car into heat. The heavier the car, the more heat and the bigger the brakes have to be, the heavier the brakes, the heavier the suspension and the heavier the car. Regardless, brakes must be cooled to work correctly. The hotter they get, the less heat they can absorb and the less braking they can do. Brakes located inboard rather than outboard have a hard time getting enough cool air flowing by to cool properly.

The axle is part of the suspension as well. The purpose of the axle is to transmit turning motion to the wheels. The axle must be heavy enough to do the job, but not so heavy as to weigh down the suspension. However, if it is too light, it will break, or worse, deform under load in a manner that causes the failure of the more expensive parts in connects. If the axle drives the rear wheels it can be “solid” (ie the wheels move up and down together). This has higher unsprung weight than the wheels moving up and down independently, which should have all sorts of negative effects. On anything but race cars, solid axles rear wheel drive is actually lighter over all, though heavier in unsprung weight. The lightness over all spells a lighter total weigh, which means less energy for a given amount of acceleration.

As I said, suspension design represents a series of compromises the goals which are mutually exclusive. Good suspension design is the foundation of good car design. However, the best suspension is only as good as the strength and accuracy of the chassis it is attached to.

The chassis:

The purpose of the chassis to relate the loads to each other that are placed on the car from the following sources: power train load, weight of components, weight of fuel storage, inertia of suspension components, aerodynamic load from the body, and weight of payload/passengers. Further, the chassis must protect the passengers in the event of collision and provide a set of attachment points for the body. Again this involves a set of mutually exclusive and interconnected goals. The chassis must be strong. If its heavy, it must be stronger to carry its own weight. Also, if it is heavy, it demands heavier components, which having raised the weight of the car demands a stronger and heavier power train.

Suspension loads hit the car from individual wheel’s suspension points, but also in ways which are not immediately transparent to the casual observer. The car must be resist beam load which tends to bend the car in the middle between the two axles. It must also resist torque load which is twisting load between the axles (as if a giant took the two axles in his hands and tried to twist the car in half). The power train also puts in a torque load, but on the axis of the drive shaft. The problem of weight of components is usually fairly straight forward, however, collision resistance is very tricky. Large heavy components do not decelerate well. In an accident, when the vehicle stops, very very quicky (over 200 negative Gs for a moment) the engine will attempt to continue in the direction the car was going. Since most accidents are from the front, this is one of the reasons that heavy engines are rarely mounted BEHIND the passengers. The engine will tear through the back seat and turn the passengers into raspberry jam in far less time than it takes to talk about it. If the engine is mounted in front, its forward motion is far better checked by having to go through the front of one car and the back of another before it can squish a person.

 

The body:

The body of the car has several purposes. The first is to protect the other components/passengers/payload from the elements. The second is ensure efficient airflow around the car. The third is to make the car look pretty enough to sell. Thought the first two are obviously more important from a engineering standpoint, if no one buys a design, it will never be on the highway, regardless of engineering quality. Furthermore, design costs money, and people will not pay for engineering they don’t know they need. Pretty, or at least salablely attractive is (sadly?) totally necessary.

 

Fuel storage:

Obviously in a ICEV this is going to be a liquid fuel tank, be it diesel, gasoline, or ethanol. Perhaps in future it might be an ethanol or hydrogen tank. In a BEV its going to be the battery pack. In a HEV or PIH its going to be have both a fuel tank and battery pack

 

The Cars

 

ICEVs

The defining characteristic of an ICEV is the internal combustion engine (ICE). The purpose of the engine is combine hydrocarbon fuels (usually gasoline or diesel) with oxygen (in the air) to make heat. This heat raises the pressure of said air, which is expanded to make power. Most of the heat in an ICE is lost. To be affordable engines must be made of affordable materials, which means that a lot of the heat they make must be gotten rid of before it can damage the engine components. In a municipal power plants and large ships, purchase price isn’t that important compared to fuel costs over 25 – 50 years, so such engines are made with absolute premium materials. This allows for around 40% efficiency. A car engine will make around 25% on a good day. Further, the car engine can only make this efficiency in very narrow range of RPMs, which is why a car requires a transmission.

The transmission allows the engine to make power efficiently, while changing the input RPMs to the wheels. Transmissions always have losses, as do tires. In the average car after the energy in the engine has been created and must be lead in a torturous path through the engine, transmission, differential, axle/s, and tires, reducing totally efficiency can to as low as 15%. However, that is for the average American car, with a big lazy engines turning sloppy automatic transmissions, through differentials designed to be quiet rather efficient, and soft, chubby tires designed to keep drivers’ butts pampered rather than have maximum traction for minimum energy loss. In real, existing vehicles, 25% efficiency is attainable.

 

BEVs

Battery electrical vehicles are simple in theory: a battery and a motor. The battery replaces both the gas tank and the cylinders of the engine in an ICEV, the motor replaces the rest of the engine. In reality, they are not so simple. Batteries are NOT primarily electrical machines, they are chemical reactors which produce electricity as a result of the chemical reaction. This reaction is reversible. When a battery is charged it changes the chemical relationship of 2 or more chemicals. The creates potential energy. When these chemicals convert back to their resting state, they release electrons.

Lead acid batteries, for example, are the old standby for electrical storage. Lead acid batteries are not really great at anyone thing, but represent one of the best compromises to the (again) mutually exclusive goals that electrical storage technology must meet. The important things for a battery are energy/weight, energy/size, power to weight, charge or discharge efficiency, self discharge rate (per month), and cycle limit (how many times it can charged and discharged)

(Table 1 not representable in Y360)
As you can see, lead acids are very poor performers in many ways. Lithium polymers beat lead acids batteries in almost every way. Lead acids do have phenomenal rates of discharge, which is one of the reasons that they are still used in submarines and telecommunications backup systems. The other is price. $0.24 per amp/hr for lead acid. $3.25 per amp hour for li-pos. That’s 1350% A battery pack for a BEV (lead acid) will cost around $3000. Or around $40,500 for li-po. Just for the battery. Ouch.

Obviously, there is a huge weight penalty for battery packs, even good ones like lithium polymer. A kilo of gasoline contains over 5000% more energy than a kilo of li-po cell. A kilo of gasoline contains 46,900% more energy than a kilo of lead acid battery. Either the percentage of fuel storage weight to vehicle weigh goes up astronomically, or the amount of fuel/energy carried goes down astronomically, which in turns reduces range.

Further, while electrical motors can generate torque from standstill, and ICEs can’t, electric motors operate at peak efficiency in narrow range, just like ICEs. This means that electric motors demand transmissions as well, or the already enormous battery pack must be still larger due to the lack of efficiency. Also, if there is one electric motor, but two driven wheels, a BEV will still require a differential. Electric motors are often quoted as being lighter than a gas engine of equal horsepower. This is not strictly true. A very well designed electric motor functioning in an ideal environment will always appear to be better than a mass market engine designed to run under real conditions. But that is hardly a fair comparison.

A real world example is the D&D Motor Systems model# ES-31B. This motor has a peak rating of 50hp, and continuous rating of 18hp. It weighs 83 lbs. The Suzuki Swift/Geo Metro/Chevy metro engine (a 997cc triple) also had a peak rating of 50hp and a continuous rating of around 18hp. It weighed less than 75 lbs. Yet more telling is that an motor is merely an energy exchange device. It turns one form of energy into another, in this case electrical energy into mechanical energy. An engine is chemical reactor and motor. It creates the conditions for chemical reaction, reacts the chemicals, converts the energy from one form to an other and disposes of the reacted chemicals. All in one device!

The oft quoted “near 100% efficiency” of BEVs versus the 15% efficiency of ICEVs is a ridiculous distortion of the facts. An ideal electrical motor under ideal conditions will put out 97% at the shaft, not at the tire. A BEV has exactly the same drive train losses as ICE going through the transmission and differential. If the transmission and differential of an ICE take 10% of the top, so do the transmission and differential of a BEV. The differential can be skipped if each wheel has a motor, but this means that each wheel must have a transmission as well. If the motor is mounted in the wheel, 2 to 4 small motors weigh more than 1 big motor with the same sum power, and contribute to greater unsprung weight.

Worse still, electric motors are most efficient when connected directly to the battery, but a car must have a throttle to go any speed beside full. The “throttling” of DC electricity is a simple task. All that is needed is transistor, and transistors are efficient devices. However, like electric motors, and internal combustion engines, transistors have certain operational parameters where they are most efficient. Also, transistors can only handle so much current. Thus the controller (the solid-state device in an a BEV which controls current flow to the motor) must be made in a fashion somewhat like a microchip, containing thousands of transistors, with each transistor carrying a portion of the load. Though transistors are efficient, the tiny loses of each when power must pass through thousands of them becomes significant. Since they must also operate at a verity of loads, real world losses are often around 15%.

So BEVs have the following disadvantages: despite very high theoretical efficiencies, real world efficiencies are often around 50%, high weight, compromised suspension and chassis design (to accommodate the the battery pack) which in turn reduces traction, road holding, and above all range.

As mentioned, battery packs are only good for a certain number of cycles of discharge/charge before needing replacement. Though a watt of power from the light company cost much less than a watt of power from the gas station, the replacement cost of batteries is offsets this savings significantly. (Engines also wear out, but engines are can be repaired. Battery packs can only be recycled.)

Advantages are few, but important. Despite the cost of batteries, electricity, and the 50% efficiency, BEVs do cost less to operate. They also have significantly less maintenance costs. Electric motors use simpler transmissions, and put a smoother, less damaging load one them. If the BEV is designed with regenerative braking (the inertia of the vehicle drives the motor as a generator, returning energy to the battery pack) the mechanical brakes will last much longer. (Though regenerative braking only returns very limited amounts of power when the vehicle is decelerating from speeds of less than 30mph, it is precisely above those speeds where the most brake wear occurs.) Finally, even brushed electric motors (not the most efficient type, by any means) have less than 4 moving parts. The more efficient PMDC type can be made with a single moving part. The maintenance cost of BEVs, minus the cost of battery replacement is, in fact, almost none existent.

In conclusion, the BEV is still (after over a century) an immature technology, suitable only for commuter vehicles. This is not quite the faint praise it sounds like. Most Americans already own two vehicles, one designated as the heavy hauler and one designated as the commuter vehicle. For two car families, the BEV can be used for around 40% of all trips. (This conflicts with the oft stated 80-90% for obvious reasons. If two cars are being used, and one is only available for 80% of the trips, then it is only available for 40% of the total family trips.) BEV cost is currently to high for most people to accept the 60% loss of functionality entailed.

 

HEVs

The hope of HEVs is to carry a small battery pack (small in comparison to BEV, often they are over 1000lbs.) and an ICE which can either drive the vehicle forward, or turn a generator which charges the battery. The theory behind the complexity has been hit on several times in this paper, namely that different components have different ranges of operations in which they can operate at their highest efficiency. The first car to use this indirect form of power train was in fact built in 1912 by R. M. Owen & Company (Jay Leno drives one to the studio from time to time, oddly enough). EDM locomotives have been using a similar concept since 1939.

What is new is the use of a battery of supplement power and having small, cheap, powerful computers that can manage the current in small, cheap, powerful solid-state devices. The concept is based around simple fact of physics: an object in motion tends to remain in motion. A car does not use most of its energy to sustain motion, it uses it to accelerate. Then, when the car must decelerate (brake) the energy is simply lost. That accelerate/decelerate energy cost is why one of the reasons that cars get better mileage on the highway than in town. The other is the fact that Otto cycle engines (conventional gasoline engines) are terribly inefficient at idle. A car idling uses about 50% of the fuel it uses at full load, but produces 1/50 the horsepower. That means it takes 25 times more fuel to make 1 hp at idle than it does at highway speed. If a car is sitting at a stoplight idling, fuel is being used, but mileage isn’t being racked up so average fuel mileage is decreasing. (Diesels by the way have excellent idle performance, this is one of the many reasons they have better mileage and also one of the reasons they are used in semi-tractors, which must often idle their engines to provide energy to refrigerators on refrigerated loads, as well as provide energy to light and warm the sleeper cab.)

The hybrid in its most basic form cruises on the highway with a small efficient motor, getting good mileage. When it pulls to stop, the regenerative brakes take the deceleration energy instead of simply transferring to into heat like a conventional (friction) brake. Once stopped, the computer determines that the engine has interred inefficient idle mode, and shuts the engine off while simultaneously starting the electric motor. Inside the car air conditioning, heat, and electronics continues without any interruption. Outside the car, headlights, tail lights, etc, also continue to function without interruption. When the light turns green, the computer registrars how much power the driver is asking for (by how hard the gas peddle is pushed) and checks this value against a table of values programed to give the car the best reasonable compromise between economy and performance. The car then accelerates away from the stoplight with only the electric motor running on battery power until the power table versus the economy table shows the computer that it is time to turn on the engine. The computer then decides if the most efficient use of the engines power at that thousandth of a second is to charge the battery, or drive the car more directly.

This is basically a simple process, complicated primarily because of the consumer demand that change between different modes be totally indiscernible. The advantages are increased fuel economy (under most conditions) or increased acceleration at same fuel economy.

The disadvantages are numerous and serious. First is complexity. There is no magic potion to decrease the weight and complexity of two parallel drive systems and two energy storage methods (one of which weighs 10 times more than the other to contain the same energy [ie the gas tank and the battery pack]). The only method is reduce the size of both down to supplementary systems. Since both must be supplementary, neither is truly capable of being the primary energy system. That being the case, early hybrids are known for having problems in high plains transitioning to mountains. The driver would demand standard speed on a continuous hill. The software would oblige, having no idea that the hill would go on for 100 miles, so the battery would supplement the engine’s meager power (Remember that the engine must be undersized because of the enormous weight penalty of the battery pack that must be made up for, as well as for high economy.) When the battery pack was empty, the car would have only the small engine to drag the dead weight of the generator/motor unit and battery pack. Since weight allowance (again because of the battery pack) does not allow the use of a full transmission the small engine cannot do its best work. The hill is climbed slowly, at relatively poor fuel economy.

If this makes it sound like hybrids are would get better fuel economy without the additional weight of the battery pack and parallel drive system, its somewhat true. The Honda Insight was an early hybrid, and it has been proven that the same engine (a fairly advanced piece of work in its own right) fitted with a high quality manual transmission and the battery pack removed will actually get better highway economy. However, no battery pack and generator means both no regenerative braking and no electric take off, which is the key to the good in town mileage. Again, car design represents a set of compromises between variables, many of which are competitive and mutually exclusive.

However, the second generation of hybrids has taken a different approach to these compromises, merely providing above adequate fuel economy with a noticeable, though not substantial (again due to the lack of energy density in the battery back) improvement in acceleration. This is shown in a corresponding decrease in fuel economy. Early hybrids, like the Prius and Insight achieved economies of over 50 mpg. Second generation hybrids often struggle to get 35mpg. However, since the electrical element of the car is only serving as a supplement to the gasoline powered drive train, the vehicle has the expected power on very long grades. Also note worthy, second generation hybrids often have lower city than highway mileage, despite the fact that the gain in city mileage is the only technological justification for the dual power plant system.

The conclusion of HEVs: they represent a unique and technology daring method of design compromise, which like BEVs is clearly hamstrung by the lack of a better energy storage system. The technology may be immature, but realistically, with over 100 years of hybrid drive in ships, 70 years in submarines, and 60 years in locomotives, it seems more likely that the technology is simply not totally appropriate to consumer demands being placed on it. Further analysis of hybrid cars seems to point to the fact that all benefits being gained are the result of the maximization of design in the components that hybrids share with ICEVs and not unique nature of components special to the hybrid.

 

PIH

 

Plug in hybrids seek to combine the best (?) aspects of the HEV with best aspects of the BEV. Essentially, its as if someone realized that a small, maximized design with a 1000 lb battery pack was about 95% of the way to a BEV anyway. In fact, there are currently companies already modifying out-of-warranty hybrids into PIH.

I’ll use the example of the Chevy Volt. The car holds a large enough charge to go around 40 miles on the battery alone (which is charged at home or at work with a simple charger), or get 50 MPG highway mileage. If you need to go, say 60 miles, then the first 40 miles will be at zero fuel usage, and the last twenty miles will be at 50 MPG. 20 miles at 50 miles per gallon uses 0.4 gallons of gas. 0.4 gallons of gas to go 60 miles is 150 MPG, so even if your drive was 60 miles you still get 150 MPG.

This represents a excellent advance over BEV and HEV technology in functionality. Due to li-ion cells, and the need to only contain enough energy for 40 miles, the battery pack is a more manageable size and weight. Since around 78% of all trips are under 40 miles this means the car will operate in BEV mode often. With the trips of 100 miles offering a laudable 90 miles per gallon, nearly all trips but cross country excursions will benefit, and even those will take place at 50 miles per gallon.

Also beneficial is the fact that while many gains of BEV are made the single largest concern for many buyers (long charge times and/or lack of charging infrastructure) can be side stepped.

The disadvantages remain inherent to the HEV concept though somewhat reduced, namely, the expense of building two power trains, the expensive of maintaining two power trains, the compromised packaging resulting from having to store energy in a relatively low density medium. Further, the highway mileage of 50 MPG does not, ipso facto, point to design maximization. Indeed it might point the opposite direction, small cars of limited speed (which the Volt is) have been getting 50 MPG since the post-war boom of the late 1940’s.

Also pointing this direction, while the Volt offers outstanding improvements in the HEV power train (compared to first and second generation hybrids) there has been almost no improvement whatsoever to the ICE which represents at least ½ the drive train mass. If you recall from earlier, light-and-power plants and maritime diesels achieve efficiencies of 40% on a regular basis. This is at least a 200% improvement over conventional ICE car engines. This technology is not only scalable, but has already been scaled, analyzed, and executed by the auto performance after-market. Simple economic analysis would suggest improving existing technology with existing supportive technology will be more cost effective than attempting to support intrinsically limited technology with a newer and less developed, previously unscaled technology.

Again pointing to a lack of design maximization, the Volt does not weigh less than the cars it competes with. It is not more aerodynamic than the cars it competes. The lack of true transmission means that when the house charged 40 miles is up, the vehicle will always take a higher drive train loss than 1930’s luxury car. (Generator to motor couplings always exhibit higher losses than a drive shaft of the same length. Good manual transmissions, however, are 97% efficient.) In fact, the entire tool box of standard automotive efficiency improving modifications has been virtually ignored.

It is for this reason that I believe the Volt, though certainly better than many of the truly awful cars currently available, is not a real attempt to solve the problem of fuel economy from an engineering standpoint, but an attempt to offer the public limited improvement, congruent with techno popculture buzzwords and GM’s long standing practice of planned obsolescence. I believe that while GM is collecting meaningful experience and data, and may even produce the car, that the Chevy Volt has much more in common with the GMR (GM’s almost Wankle of the late 70’s) than it does with the EV1.

When GM made the EV1 did not merely seize the car from its lessees as it had the full legal right and financial obligation to do. GM was so repulsed by the idea of BEVS that it totally destroyed the cars and fired every person who sold them or engineered them. The Volt may be a fine little car, but ultimately, GM’s first obligation is not to its customers but its stock holders. GM can do better, but will not.

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December 30, 2007 Posted by | skepticism, Small Car, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Entry for December 30, 2007

Oh, yeah I’m leaving yahoo360 for https://truthwalker.wordpress.com

December 30, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The next illusion of choice

So I need to buy a new bike.
First, let me say, its not that I am obsessed with money, its just I value my life very highly. Money is what I trade with my employer for the hours of my life, so I take any large purchase very seriously. Since I don’t make that much, a large purchase is anything over $100.
So I begin to research this thing we call the bike industry.

First, a person isn’t a just a bike’s payload, its also its engine. Though capable of outputting a full horsepower (755 watts) for short periods, the average joe can only output between a 1/5 and 1/12 of a horsepower for any length of time (about 65 to 150 watts). All the way back to the 1820’s (when bikes were made of wood and had no peddles) the goal of biking has been to cover more distance with less effort. Specifically, the challenge has been to make something that can use those 750 W bursts of power as efficiently as those long 100W stretches. Items that maximize functions of input that vary by 1000% but aren’t to heavy to be carried by a engine that only outputs 100W are the chief design goal. The secondary design goal is price, because you have to sell a high enough volume to pay for the design of those special parts.

Bicycles are on the short list of machines about which historians get very heated. Some argue the bicycle may be the single most revolutionary invention of the last 200 years. Steam engines changed industry, but the bicycle had far greater effect in personal lives. A bicycle can cover more ground in a day than a horse, consumes no fuel at work and consumes no fuel at rest. Compared to the cost of a maintaining a car or horse, the bicycle maintenance cost is nonexistent.

Truly, the bicycle is a machine of revolution featuring predominately in most wars that occurred since 1890, with the Boer War being the first. (Their role in Vietnam is indisputable.) They changed work, play and sex (anthropologist say that the extended courtship range of the bicycle did more to change sexual behavior than any religion.) The appearance of feminism and cheap bicycles at the same time is not mere coincidence, the increased mobility changed everything. (When male students of Cambridge protested the admission of women to the school in 1897 they burned a woman on a bicycle in effigy.)

The Wright brothers were not “mere” bicycle mechanics. They made racing machines, not mass market drivel, and they made them very well. Bike building was sort of the aerospace industry of the late 19th century, with engineering’s best and brightest working on the latest way to go faster. Every technology the nascent auto industry needed was pioneered first on bikes. Pneumatic tires, advanced metallurgy, the sprocket, washer, and ball bearing were invented for the bicycle. If you don’t think ball bearings are important, you don’t know your history very well. When Allied military commanders had a to chose a the most effective target for their causality and equipment losing heavy daylight bombing runs they chose ball bearing plants.

And thats where the story of modern bike manufacture starts to come into focus. Any schmoe can weld some tubing together and call it a frame. Producing ball bearings and precision sprockets is another matter all together. A five foot section of 1/2″ pitch roller chain (standard for bicycles) consists of 960 moving parts, 480 of which must be precision ground to .000 025″.

The numerous sprockets on the back of multi-speed bike (called the cassette) must have each of the 150 some teeth ground to 1 of 5 angles, turning axially around and imaginary radial line passing through the center of sprocket tooth, as well as have ground or stamped into the sprocket itself a series of “ramps” which assist the chain of off and onto adjacent sprockets. These ramps must be accurate within only to a very sloppy .005″ or about 5 times the diameter of the the average human hair.

To make something like that takes deep pockets, and a wide industrial base. Also, cheap labor if possible. Assembly line construction is very difficult for very small high accuracy components, automatic quality control even harder, so even in this day and age, bicycle component manufacture involves a lot of elbow grease. And in this day and age, cheap labor means Asian labor.

Shimano is the mother of all bike part companies, posting $1,400,000,000 in sales last year. If you’ve ridden bike cheap or nice in the last 20 years it probably had some Shimano on it somewhere. Shimano is definitely the market leader and as such has been accused of monopolist practices several times. (They were sued and settled out of court for an undisclosed [but presumably large] sum, by Sram, the number 2 player.) Shimano was founded in Japan in 1921 and has over 7000 employees.

They build for every market, placing there top of the line road racing components in the winner’s circle of the Tour de France for over a decade. At the other end of the spectrum their “un-labeled” components are on every Wal-Mart bike that hits the road. Like all consistent winners, the host of also rans oft cries foal play, but the fact is, Shimano offers more pure quality per dollar than any other component manufacture on the planet. Others may offer more, but at so much more cost. Shimano achieves these economies of scale by having the vast portion of its production in Taiwan, Thailand, and China.

Sram is the number 2 player in the market. (I can hear the Campy fans yelling already. Sigh.)
Sram was founded in 1987 by some Chicago businessmen, who apparently were some pretty slick salesmen. Their first year goal was to sell 100,000 units. They sold less then 1000. Not withstanding, the following year they managed get Sram parts on the bike of Bob Mionske, who won 4th in the Individual Road Race in the Seoul Olympics. They got Sram parts on the winner of the Race Across America and the World Biathlon Championship as well. They also debuted the “Grip Shift” an indexed shifter than one turns like motorcycle throttle to change gears. All in 1988. From zero sales in 1987, they would hit $25 million in 6 years.

As mentioned, Sram sued Shimano for the “unfair business practice” of offering a discount to customers who purchased Shimano components in whole sets. By 1991, Sram, the “American company” expanded in production facilities not in Illinois, but in Taiwan. Sram would continue its growth not through expansion of existing facilities, but through the acquisition of other companies, notably Sachs (netting their lucrative internal hub) and RockShox.

RockShox was run by the founder, Paul Turner, a motorcycle racer turned machinist who made suspension forks in his garage with the help of his wife Christi. With vision, grit and skill, they invented an entirely new market. Sram bought the company in 2002, keeping the Colorado corporate head quarters intact and moving all production to Taichung, Taiwan.

If it seems like I am picking on Sram, I’m not. They too make some good stuff, but don’t buy the “American company” sound bite. All but the very best parts are made in the same towns and similar factories as “Japanese” Shimano. A lot of people seem to think that Sram is the plucky little American company taking on the big boys and winning with good ole’ American gumption. Not hardly.

Campagnolo (or Campy) is the last big player, though they have little presence in Mountain biking. Campy is famous for building equipment which cost more because it can be repaired, rather than cost less so it can be replaced. Well maintained campy parts can be passed on to grandchildren. They also have long history of innovation, being the first company to build derailers in any quantity, and the inventors of the quick release mechanism.

Senior Campagnolo, when he got to old to race, would still go to races and talk to the racers, seeing what ideas they had to improve the product. For
a long time, Campagnolo was it, if one raced seriously, however…

Remember that Campy parts are made to be repaired not replaced? Well that means for a long time they tended to be heavy. When Campy saw the expanding mountain bike market in the late 80’s the decided to jump in it. Unfortunately, they stepped in it instead. Campagnolo lost a huge amount of money on their off-road debacle. For a while it looked the world might lose Campagnolo to the likes of Sun Tour, Shimano, and Sram.

But Campy fought back. They formed a partnership with Taiwanese parts peddler Fulcrum. Keeping there design headquarters in Italy, but using cheap Taiwanese labor. (Sound familar yet?)

And there you have it. Remember the old joke about Model T’s? You can have any color you want as long as its black. Well, you can have any brand of bicycle components you want as long as it comes out of 1 of 20 factories in Taiwan.

And if Shimano, Sram, Campagnolo, Fulcrum, ect are building all the parts, then what do companies like Trek and Giant actually do???

Well, they don’t build the frames, for starters. The frames are made in China. In fact, 40 – 60% of all bike parts are made in China. Trek uses Chinese frames for all of their “made in America” bikes. The Felt brand, purveyors of fine carbon fiber racing machines, buys its frames from China.

In essence, the bike builders simply serve as purchasing agents buying large lots of parts cheaper than the average joe can, and putting them together. If the bike cost more than around $1500 its partial assembly is in the US. If the bike is going to cost less than that they assemble as much of it as possible in Taiwan where the all the components are made in the first place.

Buy what you like and can afford, but don’t think that you are doing anyone any favors, or supporting the little guy, or the big guy, or the scrappy guy, or the company who cares. Money buys quality, that is. Sram’s cheap cassettes get loaded side by side with Shimano’s cheap cassettes, Fulcrum’s cheap cassettes, and Campy’s. They all get loaded into the same shipping containers, ride the same train out of the same town in Taiwan, and get on the same container ships to Europe and the US.

December 29, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chevy Volt Analysis III

This is my first “feature length” blog btw, so make sure you have enough time to read it…

The goal

The goal is to compare conventional internal combustion vehicles (ICEV), battery electric vehicles (BEVs), hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug in hybrids vehicles (PIHs). The hope, of course, is to provide an apples to apples comparison, but that’s nearly impossible do. Its not fair to compare a maximized design to an un-maximized design; it would be a lot like comparing a bottle rocket to a Boeing 747 and deciding that the airplane is therefore, more advanced than a Saturn V. I going to explain the design details which are congruent to all vehicles so that we can understand the compromises inherent to each car.

Because ICEVs, BEVs, HEVs, and PIHs have such radically divergent strengths and weaknesses, the best comparison will be a limited one. I will use the following criteria. Obviously, vehicles can me made which do not fit these criteria, but my desire to compare the sort of vehicles which are immediately obvious to Johnny Sixpack to be, in fact, a car and not some sort of laboratory freak that does great things, but has a snowball in hell’s chance of ever being a real product this decade. I’m going to go into quite a bit of detail because only by comparing the vital subsystems can we make a fair comparison of such different cars.

Definition of a car

A car is vehicle that meets the following criteria: Has 4 wheels, seats (at least) 2 in a side by side arrangement, goes at least 60 MPH, has creature comforts comparable to other cars that similar drivers drive, and has a range of at least 1 hour or 50 miles, and can be supported by the existing maintenance and fueling infrastructure. Any car that does not meet the above definition will not be seen as “real” car by anyone but enthusiasts.

Design elements relevant to all cars

All cars need the following, power train, suspension, chassis, body, and fuel storage.

Power train:

Power train is the method by which potential energy stored in the fuel storage is converted in kinetic motion which moves the car. Rotary motion is put into wheel/s which cause the car to move. Some components are part of more than one system. The axles and wheels, for instance have a function to both the suspension and the power train. Each of the 4 cars in consideration uses relatively divergent methods to do this which will be explained later, but for now I will I will say this: ICEVs use an internal combustion engine attached to a transmission and differential (a differential is device which splits power between the two driven wheels). BEVs use an electric motor, which may be joined to the differential directly, or may have simple transmission. BEVs can also use an electric motor in 2 or more wheels called a hub motor. (This has serious problems with unsprung weight, as will be explained below). HEVs use most of the components of both a ICEV and a BEV. PIHs are HEVs that can be charged from conventional household current as well as from the ICE that is carried.

Suspension:

Suspension reflects a series of compromises on mutually exclusive conditions. The suspension is the foundation of the car in almost every way. Heavy suspension demands heavy cars, light suspension needs only a light car. Further for reasons explained below, every 1 lb in the suspension is roughly analogues to 100 lbs on the car itself.

The most basic component of the the suspension is the tire/wheel. If the tire is high pressure and narrow in relation to its hight (like a bike tire) it will convey power to the ground with high efficiency but lack traction (ie, if the rotary force changes quickly, like a stab on the throttle or brake peddle, the tire will skid. It will also skid if the car goes into a turn to quickly as the centrifugal force will quickly be larger than the tires ability to resist it). If the tire is low pressure and chubby (like tractor tires) tire will dig into the road, allowing rapid acceleration, braking, and turns. But that “digging into the road” eats energy, lowing efficiency. Also, if the tire is too chubby it will roll perpendicular to the movement of the wheel in a turn, blowing out. (Much like a runner turning his ankle in a tight turn.)

The wheel must be connected solidly to the vehicle to prevent it falling off in hard turns, acceleration or braking. However, the heavier the wheel is, the greater inertia it gathers when it hits a bump. The greater the inertia in the wheel when it hits road irregularities, the heavy the shock absorber must be to absorb the shock, this heavier shock must in turn attach to proportionally heavy chassis. A heavy chassis, of course, demands heavier suspension to suspend its bulk. This can be a vicious circle and is the number one reason that car models tend to get heavier and heavier every year.

Brakes should be as effective as possible however, again if the brakes are too heavy they contribute to the weight problem mentioned above. Brakes can be mounted on the axle toward the center of the car rather than in the wheel, which effectively makes the brakes chassis weight, rather than suspension weight (in the industry this is called sprung instead of unsprung weight). Of course, this is only possible with the driven wheels, since they are the only ones connected by a rotating axle. Also, brakes are a friction machine. They convert the energy stored in the moving mass of the car into heat. The heavier the car, the more heat and the bigger the brakes have to be, the heavier the brakes, the heavier the suspension and the heavier the car. Regardless, brakes must be cooled to work correctly. The hotter they get, the less heat they can absorb and the less braking they can do. Brakes located inboard rather than outboard have a hard time getting enough cool air flowing by to cool properly.

The axle is part of the suspension as well. The purpose of the axle is to transmit turning motion to the wheels. The axle must be heavy enough to do the job, but not so heavy as to weigh down the suspension. However, if it is too light, it will break, or worse, deform under load in a manner that causes the failure of the more expensive parts in connects. If the axle drives the rear wheels it can be “solid” (ie the wheels move up and down together). This has higher unsprung weight than the wheels moving up and down independently, which should have all sorts of negative effects. On anything but race cars, solid axles rear wheel drive is actually lighter over all, though heavier in unsprung weight. The lightness over all spells a lighter total weigh, which means less energy for a given amount of acceleration.

As I said, suspension design represents a series of compromises the goals which are mutually exclusive. Good suspension design is the foundation of good car design. However, the best suspension is only as good as the strength and accuracy of the chassis it is attached to.

The chassis:

The purpose of the chassis to relate the loads to each other that are placed on the car from the following sources: power train load, weight of components, weight of fuel storage, inertia of suspension components, aerodynamic load from the body, and weight of payload/passengers. Further, the chassis must protect the passengers in the event of collision and provide a set of attachment points for the body. Again this involves a set of mutually exclusive and interconnected goals. The chassis must be strong. If its heavy, it must be stronger to carry its own weight. Also, if it is heavy, it demands heavier components, which having raised the weight of the car demands a stronger and heavier power train
.

Suspension loads hit the car from individual wheel’s suspension points, but also in ways which are not immediately transparent to the casual observer. The car must be resist beam load which tends to bend the car in the middle between the two axles. It must also resist torque load which is twisting load between the axles (as if a giant took the two axles in his hands and tried to twist the car in half). The power train also puts in a torque load, but on the axis of the drive shaft. The problem of weight of components is usually fairly straight forward, however, collision resistance is very tricky. Large heavy components do not decelerate well. In an accident, when the vehicle stops, very very quicky (over 200 negative Gs for a moment) the engine will attempt to continue in the direction the car was going. Since most accidents are from the front, this is one of the reasons that heavy engines are rarely mounted BEHIND the passengers. The engine will tear through the back seat and turn the passengers into raspberry jam in far less time than it takes to talk about it. If the engine is mounted in front, its forward motion is far better checked by having to go through the front of one car and the back of another before it can squish a person.

The body:

The body of the car has several purposes. The first is to protect the other components/passengers/payload from the elements. The second is ensure efficient airflow around the car. The third is to make the car look pretty enough to sell. Thought the first two are obviously more important from a engineering standpoint, if no one buys a design, it will never be on the highway, regardless of engineering quality. Furthermore, design costs money, and people will not pay for engineering they don’t know they need. Pretty, or at least salablely attractive is (sadly?) totally necessary.

Fuel storage:

Obviously in a ICEV this is going to be a liquid fuel tank, be it diesel, gasoline, or ethanol. Perhaps in future it might be an ethanol or hydrogen tank. In a BEV its going to be the battery pack. In a HEV or PIH its going to be have both a fuel tank and battery pack

The Cars

ICEVs

The defining characteristic of an ICEV is the internal combustion engine (ICE). The purpose of the engine is combine hydrocarbon fuels (usually gasoline or diesel) with oxygen (in the air) to make heat. This heat raises the pressure of said air, which is expanded to make power. Most of the heat in an ICE is lost. To be affordable engines must be made of affordable materials, which means that a lot of the heat they make must be gotten rid of before it can damage the engine components. In a municipal power plants and large ships, purchase price isn’t that important compared to fuel costs over 25 – 50 years, so such engines are made with absolute premium materials. This allows for around 40% efficiency. A car engine will make around 25% on a good day. Further, the car engine can only make this efficiency in very narrow range of RPMs, which is why a car requires a transmission.

The transmission allows the engine to make power efficiently, while changing the input RPMs to the wheels. Transmissions always have losses, as do tires. In the average car after the energy in the engine has been created and must be lead in a torturous path through the engine, transmission, differential, axle/s, and tires, reducing totally efficiency can to as low as 15%. However, that is for the average American car, with a big lazy engines turning sloppy automatic transmissions, through differentials designed to be quiet rather efficient, and soft, chubby tires designed to keep drivers’ butts pampered rather than have maximum traction for minimum energy loss. In real, existing vehicles, 25% efficiency is attainable.

BEVs

Battery electrical vehicles are simple in theory: a battery and a motor. The battery replaces both the gas tank and the cylinders of the engine in an ICEV, the motor replaces the rest of the engine. In reality, they are not so simple. Batteries are NOT primarily electrical machines, they are chemical reactors which produce electricity as a result of the chemical reaction. This reaction is reversible. When a battery is charged it changes the chemical relationship of 2 or more chemicals. The creates potential energy. When these chemicals convert back to their resting state, they release electrons.

Lead acid batteries, for example, are the old standby for electrical storage. Lead acid batteries are not really great at anyone thing, but represent one of the best compromises to the (again) mutually exclusive goals that electrical storage technology must meet. The important things for a battery are energy/weight, energy/size, power to weight, charge or discharge efficiency, self discharge rate (per month), and cycle limit (how many times it can charged and discharged)

(Table 1 not representable in Y360)

As you can see, lead acids are very poor performers in many ways. Lithium polymers beat lead acids batteries in almost every way. Lead acids do have phenomenal rates of discharge, which is one of the reasons that they are still used in submarines and telecommunications backup systems. The other is price. $0.24 per amp/hr for lead acid. $3.25 per amp hour for li-pos. That’s 1350% A battery pack for a BEV (lead acid) will cost around $3000. Or around $40,500 for li-po. Just for the battery. Ouch.

Obviously, there is a huge weight penalty for battery packs, even good ones like lithium polymer. A kilo of gasoline contains over 5000% more energy than a kilo of li-po cell. A kilo of gasoline contains 46,900% more energy than a kilo of lead acid battery. Either the percentage of fuel storage weight to vehicle weigh goes up astronomically, or the amount of fuel/energy carried goes down astronomically, which in turns reduces range.

Further, while electrical motors can generate torque from standstill, and ICEs can’t, electric motors operate at peak efficiency in narrow range, just like ICEs. This means that electric motors demand transmissions as well, or the already enormous battery pack must be still larger due to the lack of efficiency. Also, if there is one electric motor, but two driven wheels, a BEV will still require a differential. Electric motors are often quoted as being lighter than a gas engine of equal horsepower. This is not strictly true. A very well designed electric motor functioning in an ideal environment will always appear to be better than a mass market engine designed to run under real conditions. But that is hardly a fair comparison.

A real world example is the D&D Motor Systems model# ES-31B. This motor has a peak rating of 50hp, and continuous rating of 18hp. It weighs 83 lbs. The Suzuki Swift/Geo Metro/Chevy metro engine (a 997cc triple) also had a peak rating of 50hp and a continuous rating of around 18hp. It weighed less than 75 lbs. Yet more telling is that an motor is merely an energy exchange device. It turns one form of energy into another, in this case electrical energy into mechanical energy. An engine is chemical reactor and motor. It creates the conditions for chemical reactio
n, reacts the chemicals, converts the energy from one form to an other and disposes of the reacted chemicals. All in one device!

The oft quoted “near 100% efficiency” of BEVs versus the 15% efficiency of ICEVs is a ridiculous distortion of the facts. An ideal electrical motor under ideal conditions will put out 97% at the shaft, not at the tire. A BEV has exactly the same drive train losses as ICE going through the transmission and differential. If the transmission and differential of an ICE take 10% of the top, so do the transmission and differential of a BEV. The differential can be skipped if each wheel has a motor, but this means that each wheel must have a transmission as well. If the motor is mounted in the wheel, 2 to 4 small motors weigh more than 1 big motor with the same sum power, and contribute to greater unsprung weight.

Worse still, electric motors are most efficient when connected directly to the battery, but a car must have a throttle to go any speed beside full. The “throttling” of DC electricity is a simple task. All that is needed is transistor, and transistors are efficient devices. However, like electric motors, and internal combustion engines, transistors have certain operational parameters where they are most efficient. Also, transistors can only handle so much current. Thus the controller (the solid-state device in an a BEV which controls current flow to the motor) must be made in a fashion somewhat like a microchip, containing thousands of transistors, with each transistor carrying a portion of the load. Though transistors are efficient, the tiny loses of each when power must pass through thousands of them becomes significant. Since they must also operate at a verity of loads, real world losses are often around 15%.

So BEVs have the following disadvantages: despite very high theoretical efficiencies, real world efficiencies are often around 50%, high weight, compromised suspension and chassis design (to accommodate the the battery pack) which in turn reduces traction, road holding, and above all range.

As mentioned, battery packs are only good for a certain number of cycles of discharge/charge before needing replacement. Though a watt of power from the light company cost much less than a watt of power from the gas station, the replacement cost of batteries is offsets this savings significantly. (Engines also wear out, but engines are can be repaired. Battery packs can only be recycled.)

Advantages are few, but important. Despite the cost of batteries, electricity, and the 50% efficiency, BEVs do cost less to operate. They also have significantly less maintenance costs. Electric motors use simpler transmissions, and put a smoother, less damaging load one them. If the BEV is designed with regenerative braking (the inertia of the vehicle drives the motor as a generator, returning energy to the battery pack) the mechanical brakes will last much longer. (Though regenerative braking only returns very limited amounts of power when the vehicle is decelerating from speeds of less than 30mph, it is precisely above those speeds where the most brake wear occurs.) Finally, even brushed electric motors (not the most efficient type, by any means) have less than 4 moving parts. The more efficient PMDC type can be made with a single moving part. The maintenance cost of BEVs, minus the cost of battery replacement is, in fact, almost none existent.

In conclusion, the BEV is still (after over a century) an immature technology, suitable only for commuter vehicles. This is not quite the faint praise it sounds like. Most Americans already own two vehicles, one designated as the heavy hauler and one designated as the commuter vehicle. For two car families, the BEV can be used for around 40% of all trips. (This conflicts with the oft stated 80-90% for obvious reasons. If two cars are being used, and one is only available for 80% of the trips, then it is only available for 40% of the total family trips.) BEV cost is currently to high for most people to accept the 60% loss of functionality entailed.

HEVs

The hope of HEVs is to carry a small battery pack (small in comparison to BEV, often they are over 1000lbs.) and an ICE which can either drive the vehicle forward, or turn a generator which charges the battery. The theory behind the complexity has been hit on several times in this paper, namely that different components have different ranges of operations in which they can operate at their highest efficiency. The first car to use this indirect form of power train was in fact built in 1912 by R. M. Owen & Company (Jay Leno drives one to the studio from time to time, oddly enough). EDM locomotives have been using a similar concept since 1939.

What is new is the use of a battery of supplement power and having small, cheap, powerful computers that can manage the current in small, cheap, powerful solid-state devices. The concept is based around simple fact of physics: an object in motion tends to remain in motion. A car does not use most of its energy to sustain motion, it uses it to accelerate. Then, when the car must decelerate (brake) the energy is simply lost. That accelerate/decelerate energy cost is why one of the reasons that cars get better mileage on the highway than in town. The other is the fact that Otto cycle engines (conventional gasoline engines) are terribly inefficient at idle. A car idling uses about 50% of the fuel it uses at full load, but produces 1/50 the horsepower. That means it takes 25 times more fuel to make 1 hp at idle than it does at highway speed. If a car is sitting at a stoplight idling, fuel is being used, but mileage isn’t being racked up so average fuel mileage is decreasing. (Diesels by the way have excellent idle performance, this is one of the many reasons they have better mileage and also one of the reasons they are used in semi-tractors, which must often idle their engines to provide energy to refrigerators on refrigerated loads, as well as provide energy to light and warm the sleeper cab.)

The hybrid in its most basic form cruises on the highway with a small efficient motor, getting good mileage. When it pulls to stop, the regenerative brakes take the deceleration energy instead of simply transferring to into heat like a conventional (friction) brake. Once stopped, the computer determines that the engine has interred inefficient idle mode, and shuts the engine off while simultaneously starting the electric motor. Inside the car air conditioning, heat, and electronics continues without any interruption. Outside the car, headlights, tail lights, etc, also continue to function without interruption. When the light turns green, the computer registrars how much power the driver is asking for (by how hard the gas peddle is pushed) and checks this value against a table of values programed to give the car the best reasonable compromise between economy and performance. The car then accelerates away from the stoplight with only the electric motor running on battery power until the power table versus the economy table shows the computer that it is time to turn on the engine. The computer then decides if the most efficient use of the engines power at that thousandth of a second is to charge the battery, or drive the car more directly.

This is basically a simple process, complicated primarily because of the consumer demand that change between different modes be totally indiscernible. The advantages are increased fuel economy (un
der most conditions) or increased acceleration at same fuel economy.

The disadvantages are numerous and serious. First is complexity. There is no magic potion to decrease the weight and complexity of two parallel drive systems and two energy storage methods (one of which weighs 10 times more than the other to contain the same energy [ie the gas tank and the battery pack]). The only method is reduce the size of both down to supplementary systems. Since both must be supplementary, neither is truly capable of being the primary energy system. That being the case, early hybrids are known for having problems in high plains transitioning to mountains. The driver would demand standard speed on a continuous hill. The software would oblige, having no idea that the hill would go on for 100 miles, so the battery would supplement the engine’s meager power (Remember that the engine must be undersized because of the enormous weight penalty of the battery pack that must be made up for, as well as for high economy.) When the battery pack was empty, the car would have only the small engine to drag the dead weight of the generator/motor unit and battery pack. Since weight allowance (again because of the battery pack) does not allow the use of a full transmission the small engine cannot do its best work. The hill is climbed slowly, at relatively poor fuel economy.

If this makes it sound like hybrids are would get better fuel economy without the additional weight of the battery pack and parallel drive system, its somewhat true. The Honda Insight was an early hybrid, and it has been proven that the same engine (a fairly advanced piece of work in its own right) fitted with a high quality manual transmission and the battery pack removed will actually get better highway economy. However, no battery pack and generator means both no regenerative braking and no electric take off, which is the key to the good in town mileage. Again, car design represents a set of compromises between variables, many of which are competitive and mutually exclusive.

However, the second generation of hybrids has taken a different approach to these compromises, merely providing above adequate fuel economy with a noticeable, though not substantial (again due to the lack of energy density in the battery back) improvement in acceleration. This is shown in a corresponding decrease in fuel economy. Early hybrids, like the Prius and Insight achieved economies of over 50 mpg. Second generation hybrids often struggle to get 35mpg. However, since the electrical element of the car is only serving as a supplement to the gasoline powered drive train, the vehicle has the expected power on very long grades. Also note worthy, second generation hybrids often have lower city than highway mileage, despite the fact that the gain in city mileage is the only technological justification for the dual power plant system.

The conclusion of HEVs: they represent a unique and technology daring method of design compromise, which like BEVs is clearly hamstrung by the lack of a better energy storage system. The technology may be immature, but realistically, with over 100 years of hybrid drive in ships, 70 years in submarines, and 60 years in locomotives, it seems more likely that the technology is simply not totally appropriate to consumer demands being placed on it. Further analysis of hybrid cars seems to point to the fact that all benefits being gained are the result of the maximization of design in the components that hybrids share with ICEVs and not unique nature of components special to the hybrid.

PIH

Plug in hybrids seek to combine the best (?) aspects of the HEV with best aspects of the BEV. Essentially, its as if someone realized that a small, maximized design with a 1000 lb battery pack was about 95% of the way to a BEV anyway. In fact, there are currently companies already modifying out-of-warranty hybrids into PIH.

I’ll use the example of the Chevy Volt. The car holds a large enough charge to go around 40 miles on the battery alone (which is charged at home or at work with a simple charger), or get 50 MPG highway mileage. If you need to go, say 60 miles, then the first 40 miles will be at zero fuel usage, and the last twenty miles will be at 50 MPG. 20 miles at 50 miles per gallon uses 0.4 gallons of gas. 0.4 gallons of gas to go 60 miles is 150 MPG, so even if your drive was 60 miles you still get 150 MPG.

This represents a excellent advance over BEV and HEV technology in functionality. Due to li-ion cells, and the need to only contain enough energy for 40 miles, the battery pack is a more manageable size and weight. Since around 78% of all trips are under 40 miles this means the car will operate in BEV mode often. With the trips of 100 miles offering a laudable 90 miles per gallon, nearly all trips but cross country excursions will benefit, and even those will take place at 50 miles per gallon.

Also beneficial is the fact that while many gains of BEV are made the single largest concern for many buyers (long charge times and/or lack of charging infrastructure) can be side stepped.

The disadvantages remain inherent to the HEV concept though somewhat reduced, namely, the expense of building two power trains, the expensive of maintaining two power trains, the compromised packaging resulting from having to store energy in a relatively low density medium. Further, the highway mileage of 50 MPG does not, ipso facto, point to design maximization. Indeed it might point the opposite direction, small cars of limited speed (which the Volt is) have been getting 50 MPG since the post-war boom of the late 1940’s.

Also pointing this direction, while the Volt offers outstanding improvements in the HEV power train (compared to first and second generation hybrids) there has been almost no improvement whatsoever to the ICE which represents at least ½ the drive train mass. If you recall from earlier, light-and-power plants and maritime diesels achieve efficiencies of 40% on a regular basis. This is at least a 200% improvement over conventional ICE car engines. This technology is not only scalable, but has already been scaled, analyzed, and executed by the auto performance after-market. Simple economic analysis would suggest improving existing technology with existing supportive technology will be more cost effective than attempting to support intrinsically limited technology with a newer and less developed, previously unscaled technology.

Again pointing to a lack of design maximization, the Volt does not weigh less than the cars it competes with. It is not more aerodynamic than the cars it competes. The lack of true transmission means that when the house charged 40 miles is up, the vehicle will always take a higher drive train loss than 1930’s luxury car. (Generator to motor couplings always exhibit higher losses than a drive shaft of the same length. Good manual transmissions, however, are 97% efficient.) In fact, the entire tool box of standard automotive efficiency improving modifications has been virtually ignored.

It is for this reason that I believe the Volt, though certainly better than many of the truly awful cars currently available, is not a real attempt to solve the problem of fuel economy from an engineering standpoint, but an attempt to offer the public limited improvement, congruent with techno popculture buzzwords and GM’s long standing practice of planned obsolescence. I believe that while GM is collecting meaningful experience and data, and may even produce the car, that the Chevy Volt has
much more in common with the GMR (GM’s almost Wankle of the late 70’s) than it does with the EV1.

When GM made the EV1 did not merely seize the car from its lessees as it had the full legal right and financial obligation to do. GM was so repulsed by the idea of BEVS that it totally destroyed the cars and fired every person who sold them or engineered them. The Volt may be a fine little car, but ultimately, GM’s first obligation is not to its customers but its stock holders. GM can do better, but will not.

December 22, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Nietzsche’s painting

For a long time it hurt so much to be me that I hated everything I did. I hated my life because I was the star, I hated my wife for not hating me. It was a long sucky false dawn that finally began to go away. But I still get blue sometimes…
I had an OK day today. I got up, went to the track on my home made bike. It works OK now, it just doesn’t feel right. My other bike fit me like a glove, fit me so well that when I buy a bike again I will probably get another Trek 7000. (I think I said that it was a 7500 earlier. No, just the 7000.) So, it doesn’t feel right. Now wrong mind you, just not right. Maybe the best way to say it is: on the Frankenbike, you don’t every enjoy ridding so much that you forget you are on a bike.
I worked out hard, really pushing it and making hurt. I ran a bit harder than I normally do. I normally jog at a nice ground eating speed that doesn’t wind me.) Today I was really annoyed with my lieutenant so I outran him for 2 miles.
I came home, showered, and ate breakfast. My is more proof of the theory that women with double first names (Like Mary Lou, for instance) make great pancakes. I drove my pleasantly passionless car to work and started my day.
I got an email that I didn’t go to a briefing that I didn’t get an email for. This sets into a chain of events that will finish with my commander getting a copy of the email that says I missed a mandatory formation that had been scheduled for me. I wouldn’t get in trouble for this since the briefing was scheduled without telling me, but its very important that the people who will get the call from the commander about me are NOT surprised by this. So I tell them.
I moved around 1600 gallons of gas, 150 of diesel, and answered the phone. I helped an absent minded tech-sergeant remember how to open a valve. I emptied a bowser. (A bowser is a big flat barrel on wheels that we use to catch fuel when we have more than we can catch in a bucket but less than is really worth getting a truck for.) I figured out a problem that was stumping a sergeant.
I learned why the auto cut off kicks in to early, and why our pumps seem to be slow, why we receive fuel the way we do, and a new way that a guy who is an idiot is an idiot. I read my Bible over lunch (PB & J). All in all it was a pretty good day.
But I came home frazzled and pissy for some reason. My adorable daughter irritates the daylights out me. My gorgeous wife seems annoying. I just want everyone to shut up and leave me alone. I’ve found the only cure is to put off anything important and play some good music. It has to be the right kind of music. Music that makes you feel or see a beautiful darkness. Its the kind of music that makes you think of smoky a club, strong tall women in long black dresses dancing with wiry men inked in rich, full sleeve tattoos. Its the kind of music that makes you see weak sunlight, more orange than gold, shining of off silver roofs of sky high roofs on careworn brick towers.
Somehow when I close my eyes and listen Regina Spektor’s soaring voice, Bjorks haunting whisper-singing, or Debussy mad ethereal vision it takes away that angst. Nietzsche was so right. God is not, in fact, dead (though Nietzsche is), butt Nietzsche had much more to say than that quote. He said that life is absurd and it takes courage to admit that. Life is absurd.
But he saw where the pond’s ripples where going. He saw nihilism becoming the order of the day and warned against it. He believed that while life was absurd it was not nearly pointless. He argued passionately that despite the fact that religion was big lie, life still had a point. Since the things you were handed by life were absurd your job wasn’t to find an imaginary order, it was to take the random bits and make them into art.
The purpose of the individual life, according to Nietzsche, was to become art. He said the moral and courageous man faced the madness of life manfully and attempted to make is life art. He warned us to the coming man of the future, who no longer held captive by fear of the church thought that life was about destroying the art of others rather than producing his own art.
Somehow listening to Bjork, Spektor, Debussy, Wagner, Prokofiev, and the Cure makes me believe in Nietzsche’s art theory. It makes me want to ride my crappy bike to work instead of take my car till I can get a real bike, because ridding my bike to work is part of the art that is my life, even when the bike sucks. It makes me want to be art again when the world wants me to be a product.

December 19, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I hate my new bike

I made a bike today. I hate it. Its heavy and slow. Its geometry is wrong. Its saddle is wrong. It has no fenders. I can’t adjust the no-name “indexed” derailer. Yes I said derailer. On the beautiful Trek commuter I’d bought it was a dérailleur. Now, on the Wal Mart POS that I am ridding its just a derailer.
I hate everything about Wal-Mar t bikes. I hate how they ruin people for biking. I think 90% of of the reason that most adults won’t ride a bike to work is they think back to the squeaking, life sucking, butt-pounding Huffy they had and don’t ever ever want to do that again.
I used to ride for therapy. Riding that piece of crap Huffy was what I did to keep the crazy down low. If you grow up in a small Midwestern town and you don’t fornicate or smoke dope you don’t have very many good ways to destress. I rode my Huffy. I stared getting serious about it.
I started ridding 30 miles a day, 5 days a week.
Then one day, I rode a real bike. It was like flying. It was everything that I had always wanted ridding a bike to be. The miles flew by. My legs didn’t hurt. My butt didn’t hurt. When I leaned into turns it felt like I was one with the machine.
I never rode my Huffy again. Broke at college I bought a Walmart bike. I think I used it twice. Somehow it made one of the top 10 best feeling is life a chore, something you endured, to get where you wanted to go twice as fast as walking, but it wasn’t magic.
When I joined the Air Force, I finally had the money to buy the bike I wanted. I got a Trek 7500 with 700c rims, Bontrager tires, suspension seat post, nice saddle, and good components. Over the months I added a LED headlight, LED blinkie, a cargo rack, and 2 panniers . Now, its been stolen. I have the money, I could just go buy a nicer bike than I used to have. But I just can’t right now, so I will have to limp this 40# pile of Walmart crap around until I don’t need the money for other things. *sigh*

December 18, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Homeless

So I want to talk about the homeless.

First thing you have to understand is that all statistics on the homeless are meaningless if you try and use them to create specific data rather than analyze the over all trends. This is for a simple reason: there is no legal definition of homelessness. In fact, there’s not even a consensus of peers as to the word’s meaning. This explains a lot of the disparity between different studies.

Sometimes, however, homelessness is a hot item for certain administrations at certain times. Often during those times, numbers begin to get thrown around that make the most generous studies seem coldly conservative. CNN and the Baltimore Sun have both said 3 million. The Clinton administration published a study in 1994 that said 7 million. When you hear a number it is often good to think about it a bit. This country has a population of about 300 million people.
7/300 = .0233. Thats 2 and 1/3 percent. One out of every 47 people is homeless.

That number is patently absurd. I live in a town of 30,000 people. 30,000/47 = 638 homeless people. We don’t even have a homeless shelter. If there are 638 homeless people, here I would really like to know where they are. I mean, seriously, you can’t hide 638 people vary easily. Not in a town with 5 main roads. I used to live in Kansas City. Now, KCMO has a lot of homeless people. But it doesn’t have 42,000 of them. 42,000 people? Thats an entire suburb. So how did they get this number.

Well, since there is no legal definition every study gets to make up its own definition. The Clinton study defined homeless as: any person who has to dwell in a way that that is either illegal or not intended to be permanent. Most city codes set 2 people per bedroom as an occupancy limit. If you have a family of three in a single bedroom, one of them is homeless.

If you are an adult living with a friend, you are homeless. If you are living in a hotel for more than 30 days, you are homeless. If you are living in an RV, and you are not a tourist in an approved RV area, then you’re homeless. If you are dwelling a space not zoned for dwelling (ie, a basement of attic apartment that does not have its own mailbox because the property owner doesn’t want to go through the zoning requirements) then you are homeless. If you live in a car, you are homeless. If you live in a shelter you are homeless. If you live on the street you are homeless.

Pretty much if you don’t have a an apartment or house below maximum occupancy, then you’re homeless. Thats pretty stupid. But so is this: There are less than 250,000 homeless people in the US. How did they get that number? They counted the people who go to free clinics and don’t have a address to contact them at. So the only homeless are people who go to free clinics but don’t have mailing addresses. Thats pretty sloppy statistics too.

In fact the homeless are, by definition, impossible to count accurately. A census is only as accurate as its verification. How do you verify the existence of person who has no dwelling and no documentation? You can’t. You could count the same person 3 times or not at all.

Another often quoted stat about homeless people is that they are all mentally ill. Thats very tricky. Doctors say that about 20% of the population will be mentally ill at some point during the year. If that seems high to you, it is. What that means is that 20% of the population will at some point in the year feel very differently than they usually do in similar circumstances. (I’m not joking thats really the definition.) HOWEVER, again, what most people think when they say mentally ill is not feeling little bit blue, but some one who wears tin foil in their head and their underpants on the outside and hears voices and should be kept away from children. The NAMHC calls that kind of crazy (versus run-of-the-mill-crazy) SPMI: severe, persistent mental illness. Those people make up about 2.5% of the population.

So, how many homeless people are SPMI? If you go by the popular concept of homeless (gutter bums) then a minimum of 33%. If you go by a more Clintonite definition as low 10%. So the trend is that homeless people are between 4 and 13 times (400-1300%) more likely to suffer from SPMI than the average person you meet.

What about job skill? Again, its tricky to get good statistics. At any given time about 1/2 of homeless people will not be homeless within 2 weeks. That doesn’t mean that there are always new homeless people, though. Near as we can figure the other half is the same people over, and over, and over again.

What about gender. Remember the statements that women and children are the fastest growing group of homeless people? Well sort of. Again, a lot of this represents a change from counting homeless people as people who live in urine soaked blankets on the street to anybody having a hard time finding a permanent place to stay. Even if you go with the highest stats available, single men without children are still more than 60% of all homeless people.

What about education? Well, again, near as we can figure the average homeless person has the education of a 5th grader. It is suspected, however, that the classically homeless have their average thrown off by the upwardly mobile homeless, the people I mentioned earlier that are back on their feet within about 2 weeks. Those upwardly mobile homeless are situationally homeless: apartment burned down, on the run from abusive spouse, etc. They have job skills and education.

So its entirely possible that the average homeless person has the education of a 1st grader, or less, and the really skilled homeless people have college and vocational training that throws off the average. Also the ability to read is pretty useless if one never uses it. Unrelated statistics tell us the average high school graduate who doesn’t obtain further education is functionally illiterate. He knows how to read, but chooses not to. It would seem likely that if self sufficient high school grads are functionally illiterate, that the average homeless person is probably not much of a reader.

Another stereotype is that homeless people are very poor. Well, again sort of. The Clintonite homeless are very poor. They fit all the specifications of the very poor:
1.They are uneducated
2.They are often unintelligent
3.They often work many hours for little pay
4.They don’t have the money to get money. (ie, they might be able to get better jobs if they had car, but they don’t make enough to buy a car)
The skid row bums are in a different spot. Since they have no expenses, their purchasing power can actually be totally disproportional to their income. They have no rent, no car payment, and pay no income tax. A good panhandler really can make around $100 a day. Most don’t however. When they have enough money for whatever they need at the moment (usually crack or alcohol, sometimes food, they spend it.) BTW, thats not just me being mean. That Louise Stark from her study on panhandling and panhandlers. They can make $100 dollars a day, but usually they aren’t trying for income, they are trying to get snookered.

Lets go over the facts

1.There is 2 kind of homeless: short term and long term.
2.Short term homelessness is situational
3.Long term homelessness is a sub-culture withing the larger scene.
4.The most LTH meet some of the following conditions, and some meet them all
A.Ignorant
B.Stupid
C.Crazy
D.Addicted

So, if you have the idea that homelessness is caused by expensive housing, you are somewhat right, and somewhat wrong. The situationally homeless often have situations brought on in part by the cost of housing. HOWEVER, if you think that just giving people cheap housing will cure homelessness, you are mistaking correlation for caus
e.
The fact that homeless people don’t have homes does not mean that their homelessness is caused by the lack of a home. It could well be caused by the fact that they suffer from fearful emotional problems whose symptoms include mental illness and addiction.

Many cities have undertaken plans to get people out of long term residence in hotels and into homes. Guess what happened? Over and over again the vast portion of the residents destroyed their homes through neglect in short order. It turns out that while it is circumstance that required them to move into hotels in the first place, that when they have chance to live somewhere else they recreate the original circumstance in short order.

A deep study of homelessness will, in fact, reveal that homelessness is nothing more than the face of deep poverty. That’s it. Nothing complicated. A lot of correlation is substituted for cause on these issues. More poor people are mentally ill than rich people. Its hard to get a good job if you hear voices that tell you not to go to work. More poor people are stupid than rich people are. Its not that being poor makes you stupid, its that being stupid makes you poor.
And the cycle continues. Children born to homeless mothers don’t get prenatal care. So they have higher fetal abnormalities and its harder for them to learn in school when they get older. They then have a hard time getting job which makes it more likely for them to be homeless.
I say again homelessness is nothing more than symptom of being very, very poor.

That said, some of the policies and papers that are presented reveal some interesting truths, even if much conclusions made are false. You can learn much more about the homeless by studying the very poor than you can for studying the homeless. Here’s some highlights.

1. Welfare is biased against the family. It totally is. If a man marries a woman and has 3 kids with her, she qualifies for less than 1/2 of what she can get if he divorces her. If she claims all 3 kids are from different fathers, she qualifies for even more money.
2. Welfare is biased against men. It totally is. If a man and woman have IDENTICAL situations of pay at work and number of dependents at home the woman qualifies for more aid
3. Zoning laws hurt who they were enacting to protect. Zoning sets minimum standards, which benefit the least poor, because they have choice to be homeless for less money or chose housing for more. The very poor, since they don’t have the option of poor housing, have the option of no housing at all.
4. Minimum wage laws hurt the very poor for the reason above.
5. Homelessness is not per say caused by mental illness. However, it can cause it. Think it’s hard to be pregnant and 15? Try it living in a car with your 30 year old boyfriend. The conditions of homelessness exacerbate themselves.

So what the solution to homelessness? Since homelessness is simply the face of poverty, whats the solution to poverty? Two thoughts:

One, there is no solution. The cost of living is based on the cost of the things you have to buy. The cost of everything that is sold is set on the middle of a bell curve. If the seller charged more they could make more per unit, but less people would buy at that price. If the seller sold it for less he could sell more but at less per unit. Thus, everything is targeted at the middle of the bell curve. Wages are a bell curve too. 80% of the population is in the middle of the bell curve, 10% are the poorest. 10% are the richest. Thats the way bell curves work.

The cost of living is decided by the the amount that the middle income people can afford to spend, not what the bottom 10% can afford to spend. No matter how rich a country becomes, there will always be a certain fraction of the poorest 10% that cannot afford the cost of living. Always. Can’t be avoided. Its not a capitalist problem. You can’t fix it with socialism, or communism, or capitalism, or education. The bottom 10% will always be just that.
Further, the largest single expense for any person is housing. Obviously, if you are in crushing poverty the fastest way to get some extra cash is to stop paying for housing.

This leads me to my second thought. As I said, a fraction of poor will always be to poor to pay for housing AND any other expense. We could subsidize their housing, the problem is that simply moves the fraction up. The new fraction that can’t afford housing won’t be ultra poor. It will be the poor who make $1 a paycheck more than the ultra poor, and thus don’t qualify for housing assistance. Those people used to be able to afford housing, but now that people who make even less have guaranteed income to pay the rent, the cost of living has gone up and priced the lower middle poor out housing. The result will be a constantly expanding group of people who need housing subsidy.

A far more American solution is this: Shrink the fraction that can’t afford housing. Remove laws that arbitrary prevent people from living inexpensively. Lower minimum square foot requirements, lower property tax. Allow apartments to be built with (horrors!) community bathrooms. Don’t penalize home owners who rent their properties with complicated rules.
Don’t tax rent income as unearned income and more properties will be rented, increasing the supply and lowering the price. Streamline the building code. Allow (No, not that!) trailers.
Eliminate minimum wage so that truly stupid people can get some kind of employment (because some is better than none) Simplify the tax code so more people can afford to hire.
Return to case law so that employers can spend less on lawyers, and either give more to employees or expand and hire more employees.

Its pretty simple: The capitalist, free market system’s greatest strength is its ability to lower cost. But it can only do that when arbitrary laws do not prevent it from doing so. Applied to the issue of poverty, allow the free market system to work, and the poorest fraction, though never eliminated will grow smaller.

December 14, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Car of the Future

Let me tell you about the “Car of the future.”

I’ve been reading descriptions of the car of the future since I was little kid. So now the future is here, but apparently, the car isn’t. The easiest way to predict the future is to predict that it will be just like now, only more so. This will steer you in some odd directions from time to time. H.G. Wells saw that women were acting more and more like men so he predicted that in the future women would act more and more like men. In one of his visions of the future he predicted that some day women would smoke cigars and drink liquor along side men. He also predicted they would do it wearing hoop skirts. He was so right on one hand, and so wrong on the other, but both were reasonable conclusions from what he saw.

If we could see perfectly, the wise among us could always foresee the future. Being accurate about what the future will look like is as simple as truly seeing the present. The problem is that seeing without some kind of bias is impossible. Everywhere you go you will find that there you are. A man is the substance of his memories, the experiences we have have made us who we currently are. The experiences we are having right now will combine with what has already happened to make us who we will be tomorrow.

Long way around it, the future of cars is very odd, perhaps because cars touch every part of us. The jobs we have, the money we make, the people we meet, and the places we meet them at, all hinge on the car. We go to the grocery store in a car, to buy produce shipped there in trucks, made by farmers on tractors. For good or bad, the car is the blood of this age. Without it, the form remains, but the life is gone.

So predictions about cars become a sort of utopia. They touch so much of our lives that we reinvent ourselves by reinventing the car. I don’t like this but I accept it. Let me offer two cars of the future. One for the future I wish to see, the other for the future which is more likely. I’ll do my best to take an unblinking look into the collective heart of our society. First, the likely future.

The general trends I see in society are this:

Decreasing partnership between the generations.
The old are landed. The young are not. Such has it always been. Revolutions are always about the young usurping the old. Restorations are always about restoring the old. The way to prevent revolution is partnership between haves and have-nots. The way to cause revolution is exploitation between them. I see decreasing generational partnership in our society, combined with increasing generational exploitation.

Exploitation breeds fear. Fear breeds distrust. Distrust makes for misunderstanding. Misunderstanding leads to elitism. Elitism sours to hate. Hate is self corrosive. Self destruction is riddled with guilt. The more guilt, the more you hate others for not hating you as they should.

The people of the future seem to be this: a bunch of people with a secret and raging self loathing. Despising themselves first and everyone else next, they will not partner with anyone. They are afraid of themselves, of their partner, and the pain it will cause. Not having partnership open to them, the only way they can relate to others is shallowly or exploitively. They then hate themselves for this shallowness and exploitation. Seeing this within themselves, they see it in others, and constantly feel they are being marginalized and exploited.

So, cars are made for people. The car as a vehicle of obtaining pleasure is gone. The car is now a vehicle of acceptance and protection rather than a source of pleasure. This is a natural direction for a people who no longer have productive relationship with their parents. The car is no longer a porn star. The car is a mommy. Acceptance and warmth rather than sensual enjoyment will be the order of the day. The car of the future is founded on self loathing.

1. In all things, the car will be marginal and not great. Greatness is not something that small bitter people like to see. When they see true greatness it reminds them of their own failings.

2.The car will center around cocooning the soul. Since people feel that their constant exploitation places unreasonable demands on them, they will want a vehicle that will place no demands on them. Functions which are unnecessary, or rarely occur, will be automated so that no person has to leave the “womb” of the car. Automatic tire changing is on the horizon, as well as a great many other useless things that serve only to make the driver feel babied.

3. Though increasing in sameness, cars will continue to sell the concept of personalization. This personalization will not be focused on items which increase sensual enjoyment (such as ride quality or road feel) but on modifications purely of presentation. These things, such as lighting, font of displays, sound environment, and, probably in the near future, scent, will not enhance the driving experience in anyway. They will simply improve upon the illusion that the car is a womb.

4. Increasing fear of others will result in cars being sold with a 2 fold purpose: protecting the “good” people inside and harming the “bad” people outside. Competition in the market will push vehicles to be increasingly similarly shaped. Color and pattern will become the subtle way of injuring the hated. In a less subtle way, safety features which protect people from situations with extremely low probability will become more common. As the car as a transit machine fades and the car as mother gets stronger, greater and greater emphasis will be placed on low probability situations which have less and less to do with driving. Bullet proof glass will become the new hot “safety” feature. Sound deadening will be used not to block out engine noise, but to drown out any sound which connect the driver to others, such as ambient noise.

5. Environmental features will be sold with shame rather than with wonder. If a car could get say 100 mpg at 100 mph, this will not be pitched as the wonder of man against the cruel masters of physics. That approach would smack of the intrinsic greatness of man. No, environmental features will be sold with layers of guilt. The car will be sold to absolve guilt, not create greatness. No car in the line up of models will be permitted to have such great mileage that the bread and butter consumer is offended.

6. The encapsulation of the driver is complete, however, the passengers could still try to form a relationship with the others in the car. Personal entertainment for all passengers will be a selling point. Cable packages will be bundled with new car sales with the cable package tailored to each passenger. Ideally, these personal entertainment systems will place calls to restaurants and gas stations so that food and drink can be ordered without the messiness of face to face communication, picked up anonymously and “enjoyed” by each person in their private cocoon.

7. Regardless of future environmental or technological advances, cars will be as large as possible, and get as poor as mileage as the government and market allows. This is for all of the above mentioned reasons and this: Mommy does so much for you that it is distasteful to speak of not providing for mommy. Whatever mommy needs, mommy must have.

This is predicting the future is tiring and depressing. Perhaps I’ll write about my future in the future. ‘Night all.

December 13, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Being responsible and smart is more fun than being irresponsible and stupid

Becky and I talk a lot about the future, about our future specifically and what we want to do with it. Here is my tentative plan.

1. Keep on in the USAF for a bit
2. Make a lot of money and save it.
3. Get training for a job that will realistically pay less, but have the benefit of not moving every 2 years. (and get said job)
4. Buy a very small house (in cash), outfit with high efficiency doodads, composting toilet, cistern, and solar power.
5. Buy a small apartment complex. Outfit with high efficiency doodads and solar power. Practice my bizarre cooperative housing theory. Let company run itself
6. Make shop/lab
7. Make cool stuff in my shop/lab
8. Convert others to my crazy plane of working really hard, being financially and environmentally responsible, and having as a result, the left over funds to do fun and productive things

You know what most peoples’ problem really is? They’re bored. Seriously. Being bored makes you lazy. You don’t want to get up and do anything because work sounds less entertaining that staring at the wall. (On the side, I think for a lot of people depression is the natural state, so they have to entertain their way into a total lack of self awareness.) Its more work to read a book than watch TV, so most people watch TV instead. So being bored causes laziness.

Laziness causes stupidity. Its not just the fact that if you watch TV all day that you’ll be stupid (though make no doubt, if you watch TV all day, you will be stupid.) Even TV can be very educational if you think about it. I’m not just talking about the Discovery channel either, you can learn a lot about companies just by watching their ads. You might rightly conclude that car companies really don’t make very much money on small cars. Think of how many adds you’ve seen for the H2. Think of how few you have seen for the Aveo. The same company makes both.
The catch is, you can learn that if you think about it. You can learn almost anything if you think about it. We got some statistics about drunken driving at work recently. I pointed out to a superior that they were wrong and misstated. He laughed at me for thinking about the statistics, but then asked me to explain. I did. He was offended, because these stats were done really, really badly. It turns out he was the one responsible for compiling them. Oddly enough, he took statistical analysis in college. I failed out of college. But I wanted to learn to do basic statistical analysis, and he wanted a piece of paper that got him a supervisory job. So guess who ended up with a better understanding of statistical analysis?

My point is: people are
1. Bored, which leads them to be
2. Lazy, which when combined with their natural boredom makes them
3. Stupid.

This gives me the ability to predict the future. Fairtax will never get signed into to law as currently envisioned. Because people are bored. Knowledge about Fairtax is less entertaining than whatever part of Britney Spears is on http://www.shufuni.com today. Because people are lazy. They could work as hard to understand the Fairtax proposal as they do fantasy football scoring systems (which are significantly more complicated) but it seems like more work to understand taxes than football. And because people are stupid. Why have an informed opinion about the single greatest monetary and government reward program in human history? Why would that be important?

I was looking at some solar panel providers when I found Home Depot is going to start offering home scale solar equipment. At the bottom of the page were comments that people had posted in response to this fact. Now, anyone who has ever met me knows that I am probably the most opinionated person on the earth. What people who know me well know is that I do not share my opinion unless I have done the research to make sure my opinion is informed. I don’t watch football, I don’t watch cable, I don’t listen to talk radio. I read, constantly, about everything I want to know, and I want to know almost everything. I have no problem with people sharing their opinions, I just ask that they think before, during and afterward. (My wife, btw, asks that I don not read people posts online. Their entitled ignorance tends to make me angry and not fun to live with.)

One of the posters had this to say ” And who of my neighbors will still live here in 15 years when the break even point is attained. We need everyone to make money off my installation and it still needs to cost me only a few thousand dollars. And I need my electric bill to be a credit the very next month. Until this happens there is never going to be a major shift to some other energy source, no matter what good intentions people have.

Lets restate his quote:
1. No one lives in houses for 15 years, so why pay for a technology that won’t pay itself off for 15 years.
2. It must be profitable
3. It must be really cheap
4. It must provide immediate residual income
5. Until, the above is met, no one will switch to solar.

The average US house uses about 9000 KWh a year at about $0.10 a KWh, or $900 a year. If this magical system this guy wants was going to cost a few thousand dollars (say $2800) and pay itself off in less than 5 years (the average time US citizens spend at one address) then it makes $900 dollars a year every year for 25 years or $22,500 for an original investment of $2800.
Thats pretty easy to run through an interest calculator: 9-10% interest. For there to be “a major shift to some other energy source” solar power can’t just be the same cost as normal utilities. Nope, its got to be more profitable than the 25 year average of the S&P 500. Yeah, thats a totally reasonable expectation. And I think GM should pay me to drive a Chevy to work. And I think the city should send me a check for gracing this city’s roads with my presence.

So, to tie it all back together, I want to spread the word: that being responsible and smart is more fun than being irresponsible and stupid. But I think that most people are to bored, lazy, and stupid to hear me, let alone try it. People like this guy will always be there, making expectations which have no reflection in reality, and leading people from simple little gospel (in case you missed it BEING RESPONSIBLE AND SMART IS MORE FUN THAN BEING IRRESPONSIBLE AND STUPID) to the idea that since you can have anything you want in exchange for nothing at all, why not do that instead?

And just in case anyone wants to know… I really am going to do it. I really am going to go live in the inner city where property values are low and they need some leadership by example. Feel free to join me. Unless otherwise noted the we are having a combination 10th wedding anniversary/deed burning party near Independence Ave in KCMO around march of 2012. Its a renaissance costume party. Anyone who want to partner with us, start a charter school, join my commie-capitalist scheme, open a business, etc is welcome. Christianity is optional, clear headedness isn’t.

December 9, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments