Sunday, 30 April, 2006

Truck nears completion

I'll go out on a limb here and say that the truck will be running next weekend at the latest.  I know it's been a while.  The last report was February 3, when Tom and I got the engine block and rebuilt transmission in the truck.  That's how it stayed until two weeks ago while I concentrated on work and The Big Ride.  After two long days working on it this weekend, I'm literally within hours of turning the key.  Tomorrow I have to pick up from the dealer a few parts that the chain auto parts stores didn't have, and over the week I should be able to get everything put together.

As with most projects that end up taking too long, my biggest mistake on this one was working without a schedule.  Even part time "fun" projects should have a schedule.  Otherwise you're just screwing off and the thing will end up taking much longer than it should.  In this particular case, the long time between disassembly and reassembly also meant that I forgot how much of it looked.  I thought at the time that I'd taken plenty of pictures.  I should have taken hundreds rather than dozens.

I'll have a lot more to say about this project once the truck is running.

Saturday, 29 April, 2006

More random tidbits

It's been a busy couple of weeks with little time for writing notes.  The good news is that we shipped the "final" version of the product to the client.  We'll be doing a little more work in May to add some features that we think should be there, but after that the funding is over.  Guess I'll have to start looking for work.  In the meantime . . .

  • Regarding my post of April 26, Pete Albrecht posted a much more informational note on April 22 (Earth Day).  Pete knows this stuff.  He's an automotive engine designer or some such.  The most important point he makes is this:  Putting "oxygenated fuel" in a modern, fuel-injected car with a three-way catalytic converter doesn't do squat for emissions.  The italics are his.  Modern cars (anything 15 years old or newer) have very sophisticated sensors and regulators that make sure the emissions from the car are at a particular level.  If you add "oxygenated fuel" in an attempt to run leaner, the system will burn more fuel to enrich the mixture.  Read Pete's description.  It's enough to make you cry.
  • Pete also posted information about the biodiesel boondoggle.  It'll work for a handful of hippies to run their diesel Rabbits off of McDonald's fry oil, but there's no way that biodiesel can replace even 1% of the diesel fuel and heating oil used in the U.S.
  • Friday afternoon I listed about 50 books for sale on Amazon Marketplace.  I had orders for two items within a couple of hours, and I've received a few more orders since yesterday afternoon.  I'm not going to get rich, but I've already collected more than the $15.75 that I got for the box of books I took to Half Price Books.
  • I renewed the Norton AntiVirus subscriptions on my laptop and Debra's laptop the other day.  The automatic renewal wouldn't work on my machine and I actually had to call Symantec Customer Support so that they could tell me to go to the renewals section of the Web site.  Automatic renewal worked on Debra's machine, though.  Strange.  The other strange thing is that my upgrade was $29 and Debra's was $29 plus tax.  Maybe I shouldn't do the automatic renewal next time.
  • It's almost impossible to lose weight if you're not paying attention to what you eat, how much, and how often.  Exercise is helpful, and important for overall fitness, but if you're not controlling what goes into your body, you're almost certainly overeating.  Yes, it involves counting calories in some form or another.  Whether you call it "net carbs," "points," "calories," or "food units," it's still a numbers game.  Do the math or keep the fat.  Your choice.

Thursday, 27 April, 2006

Really Random Notes

Cleaning out the In box:

  • This week is TV-Turnoff Week, sponsored by TV-Turnoff Network.  I like what TV-Turnoff is trying to do.  I don't have anything against TV in principle, just the programming in general.  And that people let the TV take over their lives.  For example, this morning I told a friend that it's TV-Turnoff Week.  He said, in all seriousness, "But I have to watch Survivor tonight."  A large part of maturity is knowing which battles to fight.  I just let that one go.
  • Royal Caribbean Cruises the other day took delivery of the Freedom of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship.  Capable of carrying over 3,600 passengers.  The list of features is impressive, and the Flash tour on that site is very nicely done.  I wonder, though, how good the service can be with that many people aboard.  It's almost triple the number of guests on any other cruise I've been on.
  • I sometimes think that politicians don't recognize irony.  Senators actually are calling FEMA a "symbol of bumbling bureaucracy."  One other senator said that FEMA had "lost the confidence of the American people."  Many are calling for FEMA to be disbanded because it's beyond repair.  It may very well be that FEMA has lost all credibility.  But Congress lost that and its effectiveness decades ago and continues to exist.  It's so like Congress to suggest replacing a big, bumbling, ineffective bureaucracy like FEMA with something that will likely be larger and even less responsive.  Make way for the National Prepardness and Response Authority.  Don't hold your breath waiting for significant change, though.
  • Congress also is holding hearings on the price of oil and both parties are scrambling to show that it's the other party's fault that gas is so expensive and, had their policies been implemented, we wouldn't be in this situation.  It's painfully obvious to anybody who thinks about these things, that neither party's short term policies have much of anything to do with the current price of gasoline.  Approving drilling in ANWR in 2001 wouldn't have made any impact to today.  Even if a new refinery had been permitted in 2003, it's unlikely that we'd see anything from it now.  The high price of gasoline is due to a combination of world demand for oil, uneasiness about the reliability of supply, limited refinery capacity, and pure speculation.  Congress can't do anything to significantly change what we're paying for gas.  Temporarily repealing the gasoline tax is a very bad idea that will have a small short-term positive effect for consumers and a huge long-term negative effect on the national budget.  The rest of the proposed legislation is just another pathetic attempt by Congress to show the American people that it's "doing something" about the problem du jour.
  • I thought the cyber squatting craze was over 10 years ago.  It turns out that only the first wave--grabbing common names--was over.  Cyber squatting became much more popular a couple of years ago when registering a domain name became very inexpensive and parking or minimal hosting became cheap.  With Google Adsense and similar pay-per-click advertising methods, it's pretty easy to make any domain pay its $13.00 per year registration and a share of the hosting fees.  I could probably make a business out of making up names and selling them to people who want to register them for purposes of cyber squatting.  I had registered CoolNewThing.com years ago, but didn't do anything with it.  It's gone to a cyber squatter now, as have many other names that I could have (and perhaps should have) registered and kept.

Wednesday, 26 April, 2006

Ethanol? Who are you kidding?

According to the media, the new fuels to save us all will be--wait for it--alcohol (ethanol and methanol).  That's right.  No more sucking dead dinosaurs out of the ground.  No.  Instead we'll make our fuel from corn, cane sugar, or some other fermentable sugar.  It's a nice dream.  Too bad it won't work.

Why won't it work?  There are at least two arguments against ethanol:

The first argument is simple math:

  1. U.S. gasoline consumption is about 320,500,000 gallons per day.
  2. Ethanol is made primarily from corn.  You get about 2.7 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn.
  3. Average corn yield is about 150 bushels per acre.

From (2) and (3), we can easily determine that you get about 405 gallons of ethanol per acre (2.7 gallons per bushel * 150 bushels per acre).  That's per year, by the way.  It's not common to get more than one crop of corn per year.

At 405 gallons of ethanol per acre, it would take 791,000 acres of corn to produce enough ethanol for one day of gasoline.  It would take 240,000,000 acres of corn to replace the U.S. gasoline consumption with ethanol.  The current planted acreage of corn in the U.S. is 80,000,000 acres, and that's already used for other things.  240,000,000 acres makes up the total U.S. acreage of grains, oilseeds, and cotton.  There's just not enough farmland to grow enough corn to replace the gasoline.

Okay, nobody serious is recommending that we replace all of our gasoline consumption with ethanol.  I just threw out the above to get rid of the alternate fuel groupies who glom onto any new idea without even trying to understand the ramifications.  Besides, the numbers above assume that we can replace gasoline with ethanol on a gallon-for-gallon basis.  We can't, because ethanol is less energy-rich than gasoline.

Argument number two is based on practical considerations.

Ethanol has long been used as an additive to gasoline.  It increase the oxygen content of gasoline to help burn the gasoline more completely and reduce tailpipe emissions.  Ethanol is being used increasingly to replace MTBE as an oxygenate because of the perceived harmful effects of MTBE on the environment.  (Search for "effects of MTBE" if you want to read the literature.)  There is some argument about whether ethanol is a suitable replacement for MTBE.

Existing automobile engines can burn fuel that is 90% gasoline and 10% ethanol.  Flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) with specially modified engines can burn an 85-15 mixture, but those engines are not common.  At best, ethanol could replace 10% of our gasoline consumption today, and if FFVs became more common, perhaps we could replace up to 15% of our gasoline with ethanol.

Pure ethanol is not a very practical fuel at all.  Ethanol absorbs water, which dilutes the fuel and makes it less effective.  Ethanol also is very corrosive and very hard to store or transport.  More importantly, ethanol has 37% less energy per gallon than does gasoline.  That is, it requires burning 1.6 gallons of ethanol to get the same amount of energy that you get from burning one gallon of gasoline.  Methanol, by the way, is more corrosive than ethanol, and has 55% less energy than gasoline.

It's simply not possible to replace gasoline with alcohol.  We can maybe reduce our gasoline consumption by up to 10% by using blended fuels, but that's the best we'll be able to do with alcohol.  Even if it were possible, I think you'll find that the cost would be prohibitive.

The other fuel that's being hyped to death lately is biodiesel.  That won't work, either, but I'm too tired right now to explain why.  Go look for the reasons yourself, or wait until I get around to writing it.

Several years ago Debra got a Capital One Master Card--one of those credit cards that gives you "miles" or "points" for every purchase.  Two years ago I finally succumbed and got a Capital One credit card myself.  That took some convincing, as I had been very happy with the Choice Visa that I'd had for 15 years.  But Capital One was offering "one point per dollar," which works out to a 1% rebate on all purchases.  It doesn't sound like much until you save up the miles and redeem them at the end of a year.  It's almost like free money.

In any event, the fun starts when we try to redeem these miles for something.  On the trip to Harlingen, we used Debra's credit card for the hotel stays in Kenedy and Kingsville, and my credit card for the hotel in Harlingen.  We had checked our miles balances and determined that we could redeem the miles for the hotel stays and have, in effect, a cost-free trip--at least as far as hotels were concerned.

We were planning another trip today and thought we'd clean up from the last trip before deciding how to pay for this one.  So to the telephones and the Web site, where we learned that things aren't as simple as we'd thought.

It turns out that Debra's "Miles One Rewards MasterCard" is good for cash back or redeeming miles for airline flights.  They changed the rules back in November and she can't use the miles to credit other purchases like I think she used to.  She can get cash back, but at 1/2 cent per mile.  She gets a full penny per mile if she buys air fare.

The card I got two years ago is a "Professional Visa" card.  Its rewards structure is quite different.  I can use miles to credit any previous charge, but at the rate of 0.75 cents per mile.  I found that very odd, because I can get cash back (a check in the mail) at the rate of 1 cent per mile.  If I want to credit a $200 hotel bill, it will cost me 26,600 miles.  But if I just redeem the miles for cash, I can get $250 for 25,000 miles.  Nutty.

I long resisted getting involved in these "rewards" cards and airline miles programs because I thought they were more trouble than they're worth.  For as little as I fly these days, the airline rewards programs are useless to me.  I'd be a bit more inclined to spend mental cycles on the programs if there was an easy way to combine miles.  For example, the first time I went to Japan I was on America West and then JAL on the way out.  The trip back was JAL and United (I think).  The second time it was United all the way.  I'd love to be able to combine those miles.  Absent the ability to combine miles, I ignore all of the airline programs with the exception of Southwest's Rapid Rewards.

The "rewards" credit cards are a little less clear-cut.  With all the rules and restrictions on Debra's card and on the business credit card, it's almost not worth having.  Sure, we can save up the miles and redeem them for cash every year or two, or perhaps book a flight.  But at 0.5%, it hardly seems worth the effort.  My "Professional Visa" account gives us 1% cash back on the first $20,000 of purchases each year, and 1.25% from $20,000 to $40,000.  It's tempting to cancel Debra's credit card and just put her on mine so that we can take full advantage of the 1% and other rewards.

One other thing to note:  I found that there are separate logins for rewards and for the credit card statements.  Why Capital One can't unify those is beyond me.

All told, I think my best bet is to redeem my miles for cash whenever I can and be done with it.  Even then we're skating dangerously close to the aggravation factor, where the mental pain of dealing with this silliness is not offset by the slight monetary gain.

Friday, 21 April, 2006

Computer Upgrade

I went down to Fry's today to get a memory upgrade for the laptop.  I've been running very happily with one gigabyte for the last year, except for when I fire up Virtual PC.  If I have a VPC image doing anything significant, my system starts thrashing.  I'm hoping that doubling the memory (which is all the laptop will hold) will fix that problem.  I went ahead and bought two DIMMs--one to replace the existing module in my computer, and the additional one gigabyte. 

I've upgraded Debra's machine with the old DIMM.  She had two 512 MB DIMMs in her laptop.  I replaced one of them with my old 1 GB DIMM.  The computer boots and seems to work.  I'll keep an eye on it, though, since some systems don't like having different type DIMMs.  We'll see what happens.

While I was at Fry's, I also picked up a 2 GB SD Card for my camera.  At $45 (after rebate), that's about the same price I paid for the 256 MB card when I bought the camera last year.  I noticed that the 4 GB USB drives are under $100.  I look back to what memory used to cost and just shake my head.  When I got my Osborne 1 in 1981, I could almost comprehend a megabyte of disk storage.  A whole gigabyte of disk--not to mention RAM--was unthinkable.

My final purchase today was a Hewlett Packard Double-Layer LightScribe Drive.  It's an external USB 2.0 DVD burner that apparently will burn every common format  (DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD+R, CD-R, and CD-RW).  So there I was in the store wondering if I should buy DVD-R media or DVD+R media.  I ended up buying both, coming home and doing some research, and returning the DVD+R media.  I didn't realize that I'd need a Ph.D. in order to create DVD backups.  This is just another case of us (the computer industry) loving standards.  We must:  we have so many of them.

Fry's also was running a special on 1 terabyte external USB hard drives: $600.00 after rebate.  Granted, there are multiple drives in the enclosure, but it's still amazing.  You can now get a computer with two gibabytes of RAM and one terabyte of disk storage for under $2,000.  All we need is to find something useful to do with all that cheap storage.

Wednesday, 19 April, 2006

Storm Trashes Pool

Getting the pool ready for summer is always a chore.  I try to keep it reasonably clean in the winter, but come spring there's always some work to do.  Yesterday afternoon I was saying how nice the pool was looking.  And then about 7:00 or so last night we had a storm.  It started with golf ball sized hail.  Then the wind picked up.  The hail stones got smaller and eventually stopped, to be replaced with a pounding rain.  It was quite a storm and made a mess out of our back yard, including the pool.  The picture on the left shows what the pool looked like at 7:30 this morning.

I cleaned the big stuff out of the bottom, cleaned out the filter, turned on the Polaris, and let the equipment run all day.  Debra hosed off the pool deck, and by 5:00 this evening the pool was almost back to its pre-storm beauty.  You can't see it in the picture, but there are some stains on the bottom from the oak blossoms that spent all night in the the pool.  I'll have to get some chemical or other to clean that up.

The trees at the far end of the pool, by the way, are red tipped photinia.  They make a great hedge, but they're not such a great thing to have near a swimming pool.  The blossoms are beautiful this time of year, but the flower petals are very small and tend to plug up the works.  Besides, it's a bad idea to plant any tree so that it overhangs the swimming pool.  Sap from the tree ends up staining the bottom.  I'm fighting with that on this end of the pool, too, but in that case it's the pool that was placed too close to the tree.  That oak is at least 100 years old.

Monday, 17 April, 2006

Competent Toastmaster

It took me 8 months, but I finally completed the 10 speech projects required to earn my Competent Toastmaster (CTM) award.  Now I'm a little disappointed that I don't have an employer because Toastmasters International will send a notification to your employer if you request it.

Toastmasters has a fantastic program for helping people become better public speakers.  The 10-project Communication and Leadership Program gets you through the basics of learning to control nervousness, organizing a speech, using gestures and vocal variety, and many other skills required to be a good public speaker.  It's all done in a very low-stress environment with lots of good positive feedback from people who are going through (or just recently went through) the same thing.  It really is learning from your peers.

Like anything else, some people have more natural ability than others, but everybody I've seen in the program has improved greatly since I first saw them speak.  Not only the beginners, but also experienced speakers who have completed 30 or more speeches with Toastmasters and who knows how many outside of our weekly meetings. 

If you're interested in becoming a better public speaker, or just learning to control that terrible fear that almost all of us have, I strongly recommend that you give Toastmasters a shot.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

I've been wanting to copy DVD movies from the distribution disks and save them on my hard drive.  The idea is to back up the movies on my big 150 GB USB hard drive and then copy two or three of them to my laptop's hard drive whenever I'm going on a trip.  I don't often get so bored that I need to watch a movie to stay entertained, but sometimes it's nice.

For some reason I thought the burner software that came with my system (Sonic RecordNow Plus Version 7.3) would rip the DVD to an ISO.  No dice.  It seems that this software only does stuff with CDs.  I guess Dell figured that since the drive won't write DVDs, there's no reason to give me software that would rip a DVD to an ISO.  Why that's not a part of the base operating system, by the way, is beyond me.  You'd think that the ability to do a low-level media copy would be expected.  But I digress.

Jeff Duntemann pointed me at DVD Shrink, which seems to work well.  At first I tried to rip the individual pieces of the DVD and eliminate some un-needed stuff like the French and Spanish language tracks.  The problem was that I didn't have a piece of software that would then play the resulting .IFO, .VOB, or whatever files.  So I ripped the entire image to a .ISO (the option is there, but you have to hunt it down).

That was only half the problem solved.  Now, with an ISO, how do I watch the movie?  The CyberLink PowerDVD software that came with my machine only knows how to play what's in the drive.  I suspect that there's a free DVD player out there somewhere that understands ISO files, but I didn't want to go look for it.  Instead, I found Daemon Tools, a free virtual cd/dvd emulator.  Daemon Tools installs a virtual DVD drive on which I can mount my movie ISO.  And then PowerDVD can play it.

[Note 04/19: A helpful reader wrote to say that DVD Shrink will play the ISO.  All you have to do is load the disk image and then click on the play button in the lower left part of the window.  I didn't even see that feature.  DVD Shrink doesn't have all of the VCR controls, but you can play and pause, and use a slider to move around in the movie.]

It's a terrible kludge, I know, but it's kind of impressive that I was able to get this to work using the tools that came with the computer and just a little bit of time surfing the Internet looking for stuff.  Ultimately I'd like to get something that can play the .IFO, .VOB, or whatever files so that I don't have to install Daemon Tools.  I like Daemon just fine, but anything that fiddles with my operating system at kernel level makes me a little nervous.

By the way, the NTSC region coding of DVDs is one of the worst "copy protection" schemes I can imagine.  I bought a couple of DVDs in Japan and hadn't watched them because I didn't have a player with the right region.  I found out that the DVD player in my laptop will let me change the region four or six times before it's locked in.  So I changed the region to copy the DVDs.  I think I need to buy a region-free DVD player from eBay, or find a player for which there is a DVD hack to make it play all regions.

If the region thing is intended to prevent copying, it's not very effective.  All it does is discourage people like me from buying DVDs when visiting in a foreign country.  Any DVD burning software can copy an ISO and burn a new DVD that is region free.  The region encoding stuff doesn't prevent pirates from making and selling illegal copies.  All it does is make it harder and more expensive for me to obtain, watch, and make backup copies of the movies that I want to enjoy.  Fortunately, I can get a region free DVD player and won't have to worry about it any more.

[Note 04/19: Michael Covington wrote to tell me that the region coding on DVDs was intended to reflect the economics of motion picture distribution that existed when DVDs were introduced.  Basically, it prevented a company from being unjustly accused of trying to distribute movies outside the region in which it has rights.  It's very common, for example, for one company to have North American distribution rights, and another to have Asian rights.  More information available here.]

Monday, 10 April, 2006

Odds 'n Ends

Back from the ride and trying to catch up.  No deep thoughts over the weekend, as I spent most of my time with beer in hand discussing old times with friends.  A few random thoughts on this Monday morning.

  • Chinlon is a Burmese team foot-juggling sport that's played with a ball similar to a soccer ball.  Film maker Greg Hamilton has made a documentary, Mystic Ball, and has a short teaser clip available.  [Requires QuickTime and Internet Explorer (at least, I couldn't get it to work with FireFox).]  These kids do some incredible stuff with that ball.
  • A recent study shows that only 15 percent of people who are obese actually consider themselves such.  The Body Mass Index measurement is skewed to an unreasonably thin ideal, but there's no way that 85% of people who fall into the BMI's obese category are blissfully unaware that they have some serious weight problems.
  • Speaking of weight, fitness, and such, Debra and I signed up with 24 Hour Fitness just before heading out on the big ride.  It's time I concentrated on something other than just my legs and cardiovascular fitness.  I hate lifting weights, but everything I've read indicates that I have to do at least a little of it.

Thursday, 06 April, 2006

Ride Update, Day 3

Earl Gander and SSgt Jaramillo, both on the staff of MMA, joined us in Kingsville this morning for the ride.  Frank had recovered, so the five of us rolled out and headed south.  We got lucky for the first couple of hours, with winds under 15 MPH.  We knew that the wind would be getting worse because Earl and J. had just come up from the Valley.

We completed the 27 miles to the rest area south of Sarita in a little under 2 hours.  We took a break, loaded the bikes and riders into the trucks, and drove to Raymondville where caded Chris Boyd joined us.  We left Raymondville at 10:30, straight into a 25+ MPH wind.  This was brutal.  It took us about three and a half hours total time (maybe 2.5 hours riding) to complete the 25 miles from Raymondville to MMA.  It was the hardest bit of flatland bicycling I've ever done.

Two of Gunny Ski's grandkids met us at the gate on their bikes for the last half mile, and a large crowd of cadets, staff, and local media were at the school to greet us.  We're all in and safe, and ready to start the Alumni Weekend festivities.

Wednesday, 05 April, 2006

Ride Update, Day 2

The energy cost to overcome wind resistance increases with the square of the velocity.  It takes you four times as much energy to overcome a 10 MPH wind as it does to overcome a 5 MPH wind.  Today we were bucking a 20 to 30 MPH headwind from the start.

Frank didn't roll out with us this morning because his knee was in very bad shape.  Craig and I took off from the hotel in Kenedy at just a little after 6:00.  The first 30 miles of the ride is through rolling hills that are a little steeper than yesterday's hills.  The wind was so strong that we had to pedal on the downhill stretches, too.  It didn't take us long to decide that, if we finished the ride today, we would have no energy for tomorrow.  So we called it a day at 40 miles.

I have mixed feelings about doing only 40 of the 105 miles, but mostly I feel good that I had the brains to make that decision.  Had we finished the ride today (sustained winds this afternoon were over 30 MPH, with gusts above 35 MPH), we would have been drained, and tomorrow's ride would have been completely miserable.  As it is, we're expecting 25 to 35 MPH winds, and we're planning on doing only the first quarter and the last quarter of the ride.  We won't be doing the 45 miles across the King Ranch.

Tuesday, 04 April, 2006

Ride Update, Day 1

Quick update.  We made it to Kenedy at about 7:30, after almost 14 hours on the road.  Frank had a couple of bad spills and injured his knee, and all three of us were tired after bucking a nasty headwind for almost 80 miles.  Tomorrow's forecast is for SSE winds at 20 to 30 MPH over the whole route.  Thursday we're looking at SSE winds from 20 to 35 MPH, getting worse as the day progresses.  We might have to re-think our plans.

I'm too tired to mess with uploading pictures and such.  I'm heading for the shower and then bed.

Monday, 03 April, 2006

Ride Preparation

Frank and Craig showed up this morning, and our support crew arrived this afternoon.  After a big pasta dinner at Olive Garden with fellow alumnus Fred Gladle and his wife, we headed back to the house to load the van and get everything set up.  It's 9:00 pm now.  We'll get up at 4:30 and try to be on the road before 5:30.

Our support crew consists of Debra, Kuni Beasley (MMA 1972), Kuni's wife Michelle, and her daughter Rebekah.  Michelle is responsible for getting the magnetic sign graphics.  The van is courtesy of Gateway School and Dr. Beasley.

The first day is 135 miles to Kenedy.  It's unlikely that I'll have an update here until at least Wednesday night.

Sunday, 02 April, 2006

Tiny

"Tiny" is a Belgian Draft Horse.  Click on the image for a larger version. I don't know how tall he is in "hands," but he's by far the largest horse I've ever come close to.  I'm 5'9" tall and can easily see over the back of most horses.  I can't even see over the lowest point on Tiny's back.  The picture does not clearly illustrate just how much larger Tiny is than a regular horse.  I can understand why people were frightened by medieval knights riding these monsters.  They are huge.

Today was the volunteer appreciation party for those of us who worked the Spirit Reins Ride for the Ranch that I mentioned on March 11.  A handful of us made the trek out to the Ranch to enjoy the fresh air, some good grilled hamburgers and sausages, and friendly talk under the trees while watching the horses graze.

It's a restful place, the ranch, run by some very friendly people.  We (the Williamson County Amateur Radio Club) will work the ride again next year.  I might even consider volunteering some of my time for building fences and such.  As soon as I finish a few things around here.

Sunday, 02 April, 2006

Next Project: An Electric Car?

As the truck sits in the garage looking guiltily at me every time I open the door, I'm contemplating my next project.  Yes, I know that I have to finish the truck first.  Things got a little crazy here after I returned from Japan, and I've been busy training and preparing for the big ride.   I'm scheduled to put the truck back together as soon as I return from Harlingen.

The next project?  How about an electric car?  It's an interesting idea, and not terribly difficult, according to all I've read.  Find a "donor car," rip out the engine and associated parts, and install batteries and an electric motor.  It's a little more complicated than that, but it's well within my meager mechanic abilities.

I'll be the first to admit that, beyond the cool factor of driving my own electric conversion, there isn't a lot to recommend having an electric vehicle.  At least, not in my situation.  Most electric vehicles (EVs) have a range from 40 to 80 miles, which means that I'd be hard pressed to use an EV for commuting if I ever get another real job in town.  I could use the EV for going to lunch or other places that are within 20 or 30 miles of here, but to go anywhere else would require some opportunity charging.  That might be possible, but it's not something I'd count on just yet.

It looks like an EV would be much cheaper to operate than a gasoline vehicle (known as an ICE, for internal combustion engine).  I'm paying $0.11 per kilowatt hour here.  A typical EV would have a 10 KWH battery pack, so a full charge would cost me somewhere between $1.10 and $2.20, depending on the efficiency of the charging process.  But if you figure $2.20 to go 50 miles, that's still 50 miles per gallon at today's gasoline prices.

Plus, there aren't any oil changes, timing chains, belts, hoses, radiators, or all that rot, either.  Lead acid batteries need to be replaced every 25,000 miles or so, which can be expensive, but apparently not as much as ICE maintenance over that period.  Lithium ion or nickel metal hydride batteries are more expensive, but last 150,000 miles or more.

Conversion cost is pretty high.  Electro Automotive charges $8,000 for their Voltsrabbit kit, which includes everything you need to convert a Volkswagen Rabbit into an electric vehicle.  My understanding is that you can probably do it for under $5,000 if you do some research and shop around for parts, and are willing to fabricate your own battery boxes and such.

It still doesn't make economic sense.  Considering that you can buy a Rabbit in good condition for under $1,000, it's hard to see where you'll save money--even in the long run--by putting another $5,000 into it.

Nope.  Gotta do it for the cool factor.  Now I just have to figure out what kind of car I want to convert.