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June 19th, 2008

Electric age

Can you guess what this vehicle

has in common with this vehicle?

The answer is that both run on electric power.

It isn't commonly known, but the electric engine was one of the first types used in horseless carriages, which later became known as automobiles. In fact, electric power enjoyed a brief period of popularity over the internal combustion engine in the early 20th century. It wasn't until the electric starter was developed that gasoline-powered vehicles were considered safer than pre-transistor era electronic technology. It's strange that a century later we should be confronted with the same decision.

I've been teetering for the last 6-8 months over converting my car to pure electric. It isn't for the economy so much, I barely drive my car except for sunny day trips to the beach with the top down. Since I live 3 blocks away, cost of fuel is pretty negligible. It isn't because I'm particularly ecological. I still can't figure out exactly which plastics go into recycling and which don't and I don't quite understand what constitutes compost if you don't have a yard. But it is a relatively clean and cheap power. It's a fuel that's readily available, as opposed hydrogen cells or nuclear power. And the technology just isn't efficient or reliable enough for solar yet, although sunlight would be an amazing solution in its organic simplicity.

It's more the strange allure of electric power, images from my youth of grainy films of tesla coils, mystical Frankenstein machines, that automaton from Metropolis who was named after the Norse goddess of the underworld, this kind of retro-futurist dream that is finally at the cusp of becoming reality. It's a technofetish, probably similar to what the folks at Venturi must have experienced when naming their $630,000 electric car.

Which brings to mind the cost. It's all good and fine to get moist over new technologies (in this case, not so new), but it's another thing entirely when you gotta feed the monkey. Despite what ecologists try to sell, electric power is not significantly cheaper than gas, based on my studies. A person does not buy a $100k Tesla because it's economical. It's a bit cleaner, but when you consider that 50% of electric power in this country is coal generated, it's not perfect. No, you do it out of love.

Or lust, as the case may be.

Bottom line, the performance of your electric vehicle in terms of speed, distance, convenience, and general sexiness is directly proportionate to the amount of money you put into it. Getting electric technology to perform on par with ICE (internal combustion engine) expectations is not cheap. With the current state of technology, at 100 thousand clams, the Tesla is a good value.

AC Propulsion, who designed the electric drivetrain for the Tesla and the Venturi Fetish will make a Scion run on a similar system for a mere $50,000. That does not include the car, which will run you another $15k if you don't provide your own. Suffice it to say that more than half the cost of an electric car is in the propulsion system.

Not everyone has that kind of coin to spend, which brings us into the realm of hobbyists, gearheads, and generally, nerds. These type of folks gut their cars and replace anything that moves or oozes toxic fluid or fumes with wires. And it's a pretty cool thing, the solutions they come up with and the things they create.

I'll give you the short rundown of the prevailing method currently used, or at least the one I like best. I'm sharing what I've learned so far. Keep in mind I've never taken a physics, engineering or advanced chemistry class in my life. The honors program at my school exempted me from these studies, instead propelling me towards humanities, linguistics, philosophy, semantics, and dead languages (like proper English). Useful stuff like that, which I'm glad I know, but the scientific pursuits have always had sort of an alchemical attraction to me. I learn a lot on my own, like if I have a question I find out the answer from books, but some areas end up being kind of spotty that way. My primitive intellect wouldn't understand things with alloys and compositions and things with molecular structures. So if you're a Poindexter and I'm wrong about something let me know. It isn't really my element or religion so I'm not gonna be insulted.

Essentially the principle is you choose a light car with a lot of storage capacity, preferably aerodynamic. You take out the engine, the exhaust system, the radiator, the clutch, air conditioning, and any exceptionally parasitic electronic parts that provide less value than the energy they suck from the battery. Then you throw in a whole bunch of batteries, connect that up to the accellerator and an electric motor that is essentially the same as what they've been using in elevators and forklifts for the last 50 years. You need a variety of gauges, controllers, fuses, circuit breakers, and connexions hooked up somewhere in between. Not that complicated, really. Certainly less so than a machine that moves around based on exploding a bunch of caustic materials, kind of scary when you think about it that way.

Now, let's take a look at the spectrum of what you can do, once armed with this knowledge. At the high end, you've got the Tesla. Runs like a regular car, except you plug it in instead of gassing it up, no oil change, smog testing, or shit like that obviously. It runs about 200 miles on a charge and tops out at over 125 mph. You drive it off the lot, ready to go. After the waiting list anyways. That costs you $100,000.

At the low end, you've got a $200 salvage yard Pinto with a few golf cart batteries. It has a range of 25 miles and a top speed of about the same number of miles per hour. That might cost you $3000, plus labor. You have to charge it like the Tesla, and also occasionally top off the lead batteries with distilled water and a turkey baster. So basically, any amount more that you put into it increases speed, distance, convenience or sexiness. That's a good amount of wiggle room. I've settled on spending about $15,000, which gives me a 50 mile range and a top speed of about 70mph, the ability to upgrade as battery technology improves without a complete replacement, and some other goodies. Good enough for an afternoon picnic or a trip to Berkeley and back in the surfmobile, which is all I really need.

The car I'm using is 1974 Volkswagen Thing, convertible, British racing green. It's a direct descendant of the German Kubelwagen, which was the Hitler-era's version of the jeep. As a personnel carrier, it wasn't as suited to heavy terrain as the jeep (actually they used a predecessor, called the...heh...Willy), but the Kubelwagen was able to thrive in much harsher environments. This was a tremendous advantage in places like Stalingrad and the Sahara. Anyways, it ultimately became the Thing, or Trekker as it is known in Europe, used by NATO up until about 1983. Now they're considered sort of an oddity, they were only commercially available in the US for 3 years. Some think they're ugly, I love them. They're popular with surfers, as many air cooled VWs are, because they're cheap, easy to fix and modify, and can run forever with minimal maintenance. Parts are plentiful, relatively interchangeable with similar models, and available just about anywhere in the world. The VW Beetle is the most sold automobile model in world history, overshadowing the Model T. Beetles used so frequently in electric conversions as to have standardized kits for them now. The Thing shares about 90% of the same parts as the bug, and yet I've never seen an electric one. So I may be the first, which is kind of cool.

One of the first choices you have to make are batteries. What kind, how many. It depends on your budget, what kind of performance you want, and personal preference. There are lithium-ion and the like, commonly used in laptop computers. They are very expensive, (think the $50,000 Scion I mentioned earlier). Some kids at MIT are currently converting a 1976 Porsche with some 18 lithium batteries donated by Valence Technology. Total cost to you or I for that kind of power would run about $36k for the batteries alone. Not terribly viable on my budget.

Another option is NiCd, if you ever had rechargeable flashlight batteries from Radio Shack, you probably had these. You probably also know that they had a terrible battery life due to something called "charge memory". GM developed a really good one for an electric car they made in the 80's called the EV1. Never heard of it? That's because it was begrudgingly developed, and the project was shelved upon release. Maybe 40 of these cars exist now, and that beautiful NiCD technology disappeared. You can't buy it. Rumor is the rights now belong to some oil company. That's the occasionally cannibalistic power of free-market capitalism for you.

So, what you're left with is essentially lead acid batteries. Basically the same type you have powering your windshield wiper on your car. These suckers are heavy, coming in at 40-80 pounds EACH. And you need a bunch of them to power a car. The general rule of thumb is, more batteries = more distance; the more powerful the battery = more speed. The rest is up to you. I'm probably going to have a dozen (hopefully that doesn't require new shock absorbers) batteries, nasty Hawker deep cycle, absorbant glass mat military grade batteries. They use these things on tanks, and they run about $300 apiece.

Pair those with a WarP9 motor, Zilla 1k controller, Manzanita charger and some other stuff, puts me at the bleeding edge of the technology that's available to a normal human being. Even at that it won't win me any drag races or get me to Santa Cruz and back. But there's this thing about working on cars that's kind of fun, sunny days, Ramones playing on the radio, making weird exotic things that don't really exist in the collective consciousness yet, maybe even having a hand in shaping a better future...I dunno. I'm not really smart, I learn a lot from books and other people, more than any classroom. Mostly it's from just jumping in and doing things, making mistakes along the way. I've done a lot of research and I'm getting started, taking things apart, strategizing next steps. I think I can realistically get it done for next summer, but I really look forward to the process. I think it will be great.

June 11th, 2008

Context over dogma


I'm not a big fan of BMW, although in recent years designs have begun to evolve. This is a concept car unveiled at the BMW Museum last week. There's something really sexy about replacing the steel exoskeleton with fabric skin stretched tightly over a carbon fiber frame that changes shape.


BMW GINA Light Visionary Model revealed

The BMW GINA Light Visionary Model that was seen via video being installed in the BMW Museum in Munich last week has finally been revealed, and the futuristic design study shows how BMW designers are thinking outside of the box when it comes to the materials that make up a car and also how the car relates to the driver.

GINA stands for "Geometry and Functions in 'N' Adaptations", which basically means that designers from both BMW and BMW Group DesignworksUSA were allowed to throw out the rulebook. This is most evident in the GINA Light Visionary Model's outer skin, which is made entirely out of textile fabric that's pulled taut around a frame of metal and carbon fiber wires. The skeleton of the car is controlled by electro-hydraulic devices and can actually move and change shape beneath the fabric skin. For instance, the headlights of the concept can be exposed or hidden by the car's skin just like blinking eyes, and the hood opens from the center as the fabric parts to expose the engine.

This idea extends to the interior, where BMW designers have made visible only those instruments that are required at a certain time, while the rest of the time the same fabric interior "blinks" them out of view. The car itself looks somewhat like a Z4 Roadster, though after viewing the extensive gallery of high-res images below, you'll be amazed how much the outer skin looks like normal sheetmetal. Until, that is, you see how the doors open. They lift up in a semi-scissor fashion and since there are no exposed hinges, the fabric artfully binds up as the door swings open.

While the design of the GINA Light Visionary Model is very Bangle-esque with concave and convex surfaces intermingling everywhere you look, it looks appropriate and natural here. The car is very much a concept, meant more to inspire BMW's own designers and engineers rather than excite the public, but now we're excited about shape-changing, fabric-covered cars, anyway.

June 4th, 2008

Quote of the day

cobra kai
--> my jizz will blot out the sun

<-- ...then we shall fap in the shade
Not cool as in, hey he's really awesome.

Cool as in he doesn't lose his nerve and randomly freak out when things get rough, like, ahem...other candidates.

Dude's as cool as a Shaolin monk. Which is a good trait for a president, who would have the ability to push the Shiny Red Button of Doom whenever he likes.

I have a theory as to why:

Dude smokes.

Which is a fucking awesome accomplishment in the neo-puritanical climate that is the 21st century, where everyone is so busy putting their noses in everyone elses business and wagging their fingers, that they have no time for introspection or self improvement, or anything resembling true critical thinking. Alas, it's the American way.

Mind you, he only admits to 3 Marlboros a day, which if you're a smoker or have lived with one, you know that probably translates to 8. It's still not that much, and he'll probably quit if elected like Eisenhower, who went from 4 packs a day to nothing, just before becoming president. Honestly, I don't know how you'd have time to smoke 4 packs of cigarettes a day, unless you never slept.

Which brings to mind some interesting, albeit trivial facts about smoking in the White House (heavily culled from random internets):

A cigarette burning from the end of a holder became the trademark for Franklin Roosevelt. He was the last president to be seen smoking cigarettes. This was back in 1945. Dude dealt with the Great Depression and the onset of WWII.

First Lady Grace Coolidge kept her habit a secret. Pat Nixon stopped smoking in public during her husband's congressional campaign of 1946. The ever-adventurous Eleanor Roosevelt began lighting up at White House gatherings however, claiming women had as much right to smoke in public as men (awesome!). Mamie Eisenhower, Jackie Kennedy, Betty Ford, and Nancy Reagan also smoked cigarettes. Helen Taft smoked in her youth, but quit shortly after her marriage as did Laura Bush.

Cigars aren't really smoking in my opinion, but the highly publicized stogie habit of Ulysses Grant earned him 10,000 cigars from various voters upon winning the presidency. He tried to sample at least one from each batch and gave the rest as gifts.

Benjamin Harrison regularly received token cigars from the people of his hometown in Indiana and often used them as handouts. William McKinley insisted on smoking Havana's, but stocked the less expensive White Owl brand for presentation to reporters and guests.

Teddy Roosevelt, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Jimmy Carter also enjoyed an occasional cigar, as did John Kennedy who insisted on Cuban tobacco.

And then there was Bill Clinton, heh.

Incidentally, in 1993, Hillary Rodham Clinton officially declared all areas of the White House smoke-free. Bitch. I mean, it just isn't a workplace, it's somebody's home. It just goes to show, you can be Ruler of the Free World but you still have to answer to the First Lady.

June 3rd, 2008

Well, I guess it's down to Obama and that chipmunk dude now.


May 30th, 2008

I have the metabolism of a bumblebee, and I'm constantly eating throughout the day.

This week, Walgreens had a $1 sale on all the experimental Pringles flavors that didn't sell very well. I thought I'd buy them even though I don't usually eat a lot of junk food. It sounded like a good idea at the time.

So here's a review that will help you decide if $1 is a good deal if you should happen to drop by Walgreens and are wondering if you should splurge on cheap crappy food:

Kickin' Cheddar - Anything with the word kickin' in the title automatically arouses suspicion in me. I dunno, they really didn't go out on a limb taking risks with this flavor. I guess it's spicier than their normal cheese flavor.

Screamin' Dill Pickle - zomgwtf. Who came up with this flavor and how did it get approved by the Pringles powers that be? This is awful. It tastes like...I'm not sure, some kind of dill flavored crap. It is bad. I hope someone got fired over this.

Pizza - Sounds like it would be okay. But it is not. I have eaten many strange pizzas in my live and this tastes like none of them. I guess it sort of tastes like how those pizza smelly stickers used to smell. Still, it's palatable. Better than screamin' dill pickle.

Spicy Guacamole - Why are there so many guacamole flavored chips now? Guacamole is good because it is something you dip chips into. There is nothing appealing about dried out guacamole made into a chip shape. Did I mention they're green? Why? Screamin' dill pickle isn't green. It just adds to the nastiness. Tastes better than pizza though.

Loaded Baked Potato - Okay. No food should EVER have the words Loaded and Potato together in the title. It sounds too much like poo to make me want to eat it. I really didn't want to buy this one, but I'm a completist. And therefore I am doomed to suffer for it. I can't begin to describe what this tastes like, I mean a potato chip that is flavored like potato shouldn't be that hard to do, and it's kind of postmodern if you think about it. Somehow they failed, miserably. Let me assure you this tastes like ass, and should be avoided at all costs.

Blazin' Buffalo Wing - I was a little worried about a meat flavored potato chip, but this wasn't bad. Um...it's spicy, sort of. Doesn't really taste like chicken, or buffalo for that matter. But maybe I just don't notice the chicken flavor because everything tastes like chicken.

You know, I had this weird craving for junk food and bought all this random stuff.

I ate like 4 chips out of each can and the moment is definitely over now.

Maybe they should try selling it as health food or diet food, because I don't think I'm going to want any more junk food for a long time.

Trend analysis

I've been noticing that my LJ posts start out really angry about random things on Mondays and gradually become more positive about life as they get closer to Friday. Maybe I'm bipolar.


Here's a funny picture or something.

May 28th, 2008

Uh, wut?

O's iPod has been broken for ages, you can't even read the display so you kind of have to guess where you're navigating to, which kind of sucks. So I bought her a new one this weekend and thought I'd put some music on there for her. I figured it would be a nice thing to do.

I don't have an iPod myself, but I've worked with a lot of music software in my time and figured it would be no problem.

Let me tell you, in my entire old-ass life I have never experienced a such a steaming piece of crap that was anywhere close to as bad as iTunes. And people actually use this. Like, a lot of them.

I'm dumbfounded. It's like a bunch of overpaid marketing executives and graphic designers sat down and decided to code a media manager during some drunken 45 minute lunchbreak, then proclaimed this to be the Standard and forced everyone in the free world to use it.

So, first. How do you sort this shit? I have like 1000 artists in my library. I'm not putting fucking star ratings on each of the 20,000 songs in my collection. No way.

Secondly, genre is rendered totally useless for the sole reason that musicians and any other dipshit originating the music have the ability to name the genre. Let's see, I'm looking at her music. There's goth, there's Gothic, there's gothic, there's alternative gothic, alternative folk gothic, alternative gothic folk. Who the fuck kind of self-possessed musician has the fucking gall to call their genre "unique"?!?! Don't let these people name their own genres. You wouldn't give a gun to a monkey. Half these people are degenerates and druggies that can't even spell.

And what is with all these buttons that have no label and you have to just guess what they do? And they're all interspersed around different pages, and some of them are super tiny, like 2 millimeter diameter buttons that don't even look like buttons, and they do totally random shit. God help you if you touch the wrong one. It's like playing a really lame version of Myst. Except if you fuck up it's like, whoops. There goes another half hour of my life.

Okay, and let's say I just bought a new CD and I just want to add_just_that_one_CD to the iPod. Why do I have to update the entire playlist? No, for the millionth time I do NOT want to resynch the entire iPod. What the fuck. Man, I just want nice little folders inside of folders that I can load into and choose from.

You know, as someone who occasionally plays music to a group of other people (albeit music I didn't necessarily make), I'm tempted by pressures from the artistic community to switch from PC to Mac. Well fuck you, Steve Jobs and your damn jeans and turtleneck. If iTunes is any indication of how your products operate you have officially unsold me from purchasing anything from your company that I would have to rely upon if I wanted to seem remotely competent to another human being. I'm gonna stick with my Alienware for awhile. There's nothing cool and artsy about doinking yourself in circles for hours on end, not unless you're naked and covered in mud like they do at the Art Institute.

I'm looking at MediaMonkey as a software alternative to iTunes, does anybody have another suggestion?

May 23rd, 2008

Weekend update

I'm taking the next five days off. It's gonna be great.

Die Maschinen is on Saturday.

Also. Happy B-day divia. Thees is for yoo:

May 16th, 2008

Happy Friday All


I ain't gonna do shit this weekend. Can't wait.
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