Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Electric Math

The major flaw of electric cars is their lack of range. Top Gear dramatically demonstrates this in the above video. (Some would say they not only over-hyped the problem but actually mis-lead viewers about it.) Even as I've thought about how fun a Tesla Roadster would be, I realize it would not be practical for a long trip. An electric Smart car with an 80 mile range would be even worse and don't even think about one of the lesser models (some with a range of only 40 miles).

A few days ago I thought about range again and was surprised.

First the good news. Well over 90% of my wife and my driving is in town. Occasionally I make the 70 mile drive to work. Sometimes we make the also 70 mile drive to my sister's house in Apple Valley. We also make an up to 100 mile drive to visit family in LA and Orange County. For all of this an electric car with over a 100 mile range is actually more convenient than a gasoline vehicle. No need to go to a gas station -- just plug it in at night, while I'm working or while we're visiting.

Long trips are another problem. Having to stop and charge for several hours ruins the chance of making any significant mileage. One idea is I can just rent a car. I've often rented cars for vacations. Years ago it was because I owned cheap vehicles that were not that much fun to travel in and that I was afraid would break down. More recently I've rented because my car was too small to carry all the luggage or people coming on the trip. For an occasional traveler like me, this makes good sense. Why pay a premium (and the extra fuel costs) for a large car that I'll only need once or twice a year?

The thing I realized a few days ago is that Telsa's promised S Class changes the range problem. The S Class will have a range of 300 miles and can be charged in 45 minutes. It also will have quick-swappable battery (five minutes). And, by the way, it will have plenty of passenger and luggage storage capacity for a long trip.

Obviously if battery swap stations are available, there is no problem. A five-minute battery swap is as quick as a gasoline fill-up. But working out the kinks of battery swap stations any time soon (if ever) seems highly unlikely.

How will a long trip work with charging? From our house to Arcata, where our daughter Ruth lives, is 660 miles. It's about 12 hours counting our relatively quick stops. We get gas, take bathroom breaks and get our food to go. With a 300 mile range S Class, we would have to stop at one of the scattered places south of Stockton. They're sparse, but exist. We have stopped in the area many times because we have about the same range in our current car, a Scion xB. Instead of a 20 minute food-to-go break, we'd have to stop for about 50 minutes. I assume we could leave the car charging while we get something to eat nearby.

Since Arcta is 660 miles we need another stop to refuel. Humans usually need another stop too. Willits is a good place. The way we go it's about 230 miles more. That means we'd have about 70 miles left in the "tank". From Willits to Arcata is another 145 miles, so we'd only need a small charge, say another 80 miles. 80 miles of charge should take less than 15 minutes. (A full, 300mi, charge takes 45 min. 45min * 80/300 = 12min. I rounded up). By leaving the car charging while we pick up snacks and visit the restroom we can probably get away with our normal 20 min stop.

That means the only slow-down is our first longer stop, which adds 30 minutes to our travel time. The trip becomes 12 1/2 hours instead of a 12. The extra half-hour is spent sitting down to eat rather than juggling food in the car, not a bad trade, especially for the driver. Is losing a half-hour good? Of course not. But it's not that terrible.

But what about longer trips? There's no way you can go across the country, right? Yes, I'll admit that if you want to drive non-stop, pound out 900 or 1000 mile (or more) days the S Class will slow you down. But for me, that's a bit insane. 600 to 700 miles a day is more than enough driving for me. I prefer to rest and start again the next day.

Conclusion? Range is still a problem, but for me it becomes a small problem not a large one. I realize I can live with the S Class as my primary car. In fact, most of the time it would make my life easier than a gasoline powered car.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Life happens

Am I blessed or cursed?

My son, Dan, and I plan to run a half-marathon Monday (Memorial Day). He ran in high school and college. He's run lots of races. He runs fast. I have run only a few races in my life and this is the first I've trained for. I run slow. The race will be the longest I've ever run. To say the least, I'm nervous about it.

To get ready for a race we try to build up mileage and speed and then taper off right before the race. Mostly I've been surprised at how well I've done at running. However, I got sick right near the top of my build up a few weeks ago. Oh well, I'll run even slower. Now I'm in the taper off phase.

This last weekend we went to Arcata to see our daughter Ruth graduate from Humboldt. It was beautiful up there, the graduation was great and we had an awesome trip. My wife, Carolina, and I went with her sister, Rebecca, our other daughter, Sarah, and Sarah's husband, Austin. We arrived Thursday night.

Rebecca and I got up early Friday and went for a hike. I wanted to run as well. We hiked for a while and found a logging road into the woods. It was cool and beautiful, perfect for a hike or run. I took off running and had probably the most enjoyable run of my life. Quiet, perfect temperature, lush and beautiful. I felt great. Near the end of my run I was just cruising and enjoying the scenery. My left foot hit the side of a rock and twisted. No pain, but I felt blood rush in. I kept running because it didn't seem to hurt it -- the stretched part did not seem affected by my running.

After the run and hike back, my foot hurt some. I was disappointed and scared. Disappointed because I wanted to run again in the beautiful forest and now it looked like I couldn't. Scared because I thought my ankle might keep me out of the race. I iced it and wrapped it and it got better in a few days, but I did miss out on another run in the beautiful north.

We enjoyed the rest of the trip and made it home safely. I was able to run Tuesday with no problem. I avoided racquetball yesterday as a precaution.

Last night I was watching TV when my right eye started hurting. I've had something called Iritis a few times. It's an inflammation of the eye that can really hurt and needs a doctor's treatment. My eye looked and felt like I was getting Iritis again. I got depressed and cursed myself for staying up too late and treating my eye harshly. This also could affect my ability to run -- when it's bad I need to avoid sunlight and it's hard to see.

This morning it wasn't much better. I began praying a lot. Carolina had some eye drops she let me use and they seem to help a bit. After sleeping on the bus to work my eye was still sore but better. Thanks God! I was trying to be nice to it and was using only my left eye. After getting off the bus I walked across the street to work. At the far curb I tripped and almost fell. There was some kind of metal ring on the ground, about 18 inches in diameter. I managed to step on it with my right foot and in it and trip with my left foot. I stretched many of the same stuff I had twisted on Friday. Again no real hurt, but also it felt wrong.

I went running at lunch as planned. I figured I could stop if it started bothering me. It went well, but I can feel tenderness.

Am I cursed? I haven't tweaked my ankles for years. Iritis has not bothered me also for years. What are the odds I'd tweak my ankle twice, especially since today required me not seeing well, a ring right where I was walking, me stepping on it with one foot and in it with the other. Does God hate me? Does he want me to not run? With all this plus my arthritis, low thyroid, recent Carpel Tunnel Syndrome and normal aches and pains I feel like I'm falling apart. In many ways I'm in the best shape of my life, yet I can hardly keep up with my degrading body.

No, I'm not cursed. God never said it would be easy. If I can't run it's not the end of the world. More probably I'll be able to run, I just need to work through my issues and deal with problems as they arise.

In fact, I'm very blessed. Just being able to run is a blessing -- so many people can't. I have a great family, great friends and a great job. God loves me. These little worries are minor. I need to stay focused on what really matters.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tesla and Daimler

I've blogged about the Tesla's Roadster. I recently Twittered about how my next car could be electric -- I realized Tesla could make an affordable and useable car by 2014. Yesterday the outlook got even better. Tesla and Daimler announced that they are colaborating and Daimler invested in Tesla.

Why is this good news? First, even though they don't mention it, it gives Tesla more capital. Daimler now has a 10% share of Tesla, which has got to be a good chunk of change. Probably more than that, having Daimler behind them gives Tesla a tremendous boost in credibility, which can only help when Tesla seeks funding.

A second benefit Daimler brings is the renown Mercedes engineering. Daimler's expertise should help Tesla produce high quality vehicles. It should also help them bring cars to market more quickly and efficiently.

A third benefit is that we may see quality electric vehicles sooner than expected. Daimler has already produced the innovative and inexpensive Smart Car. They are working on an electric Smart. They plan to use Teslaa's battery technology to bring the electric drive (ED) Smart out at the end of this year. The plan is to use Tesla's battery until their own battery is up-to-speed in a couple of years. (Meanwhile Tesla and Daimler will share battery technology to improve both their products.)

The ED Smart will go 70mph and get about 80 miles on a charge. That's not great but better than most. It also makes it highway capable. For example, it would definitely get me all over the Antelope Valley where I live and it would probably allow me to make the 70 mile one-way commute to Woodland Hills where I work. I would expect to see the ED Smart numbers improve as batteries improve.

Current U.S. Smart prices start under $12k. Even with an ED premium that should mean the ED Smart will be under $20k, hopefully under $15k. That would make them very affordable.

Cheap, usable electric cars in a year or two. That would be impressive!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why Swine Flu Hype is a Good Thing

Swine flu has scared billions and killed, uh, tens. (In Mexico 58, in the U.S.  five) Meanwhile normal flu kills about 36,000 every year in the U.S. alone. So swine flu is well hyped.

Why is this good? Carolina and I normally go somewhere on our anniversary. Twice, on our special 20th and 25th we saved enough to go on cruises. This year we were going to go to Vegas for four days. With the swine flu scare we can now go on a five-day cruise for about the same price. Woohoo! Party in Cabo!