i know it’s an opinion piece, but the BBC should do better than this.

10 September 2012

BBC presenter Jon Stewart had an article published online today that claims we need a new kind of internal combustion engine, because the Otto cycle engines in common use still have “similar” fuel economy numbers to the Model T.

here’s a link to it. go read it and come back. i’ll wait.

now, let’s examine his argument. first, i’ll compare the Model T (the most popular car of its time) to the Toyota Corolla (most popular car now), instead of his entirely hypothetical “modern car.” this will allow me to use actual figures, rather than generalizations of questionable utility.

Stewart states that the Model T had “a claimed fuel economy of 13-21 miles per gallon” and the typical modern car has “a slightly improved fuel economy of somewhere in the range of 20-30mpg.” the base or standard model US-market Corolla gets 27-35 mpg; using his numbers, modern vehicles get around 50% better fuel economy than the Model T. the Corolla gets slightly better than that. either way is hardly “slightly improved.”

but, according to Stewart, this is not enough. a fair enough assertion, actually, given the environmental state of the planet and the sheer number of vehicles on the road. but is it really the ‘fault’ of the Otto-cycle engine? is it really lacking in ‘efficiency’?

the Model T, according to Stewart, got 20 hp out of a 2.9 liter engine. that’s about 6.9 hp/liter. his hypothetical “modern” car lacks a defined displacement, but produces 200 hp. our base US Corolla gets 132 hp out of a 1.8, for 73 (and a bit) hp/liter. ten times the specific output would seem quite a bit more efficient, depending on how one measures efficiency.

which is where the author throws in a slightly silly curve ball. he points out (via a quote from an engineer shilling the revolutionary new engine we’re supposed to be switching to) that the “efficiency” of the internal combustion engine has been stuck at 33% for “100 years.” well, yes. and at the same time, no.

what this engineer appears to be referring to is thermal efficiency, an entirely different thing from (although not unrelated subject to) fuel efficiency. the Otto cycle (which is really what we’re talking about here) is, in practice, often a bit less than 33% thermally efficient. numbers in the mid 20-percent range are much more rational. these numbers are entirely normal in the real world, particularly given the compression ratios required for spark-ignition petroleum engines. an ‘ideal’ Otto-cycle engine, working in a (nonexistent) perfect environment would have to near 16:1 compression before it approached 70% efficiency. the Model T had a paltry 4.5:1 compression ratio, and our Corolla example has a 9.8:1 ratio. in other words, thermal efficiency is a less-than-entirely useful measuring stick.

where modern engines excel is in the maximum extraction of heat from fuel; that’s why they have a greater specific output and (only) 50% or so better fuel efficiency than the Model T. if your heat efficiency is stuck by physics at 30% or so (as it is), then you would be best served by increasing the amount of heat you get from a specific volume or mass of fuel. modern engines burn leaner and hotter than their predecessors; they use less fuel to produce more heat. they may function at the same level of heat efficiency, but the actual fuel efficiency is much improved.

and, perhaps worst of all, he ignores the elephant in the room of the fuel economy argument: weight. the Model T weighed a paltry 1200 pounds; the modern Toyota Corolla is over 2800. this directly impacts fuel economy (and should impact any discussion of real-world efficiency); the Toyota’s engine must perform 2.5 times the work of the Model T’s. even if we assume the best case for published fuel economy (in miles per gallon) for the Ford and worst case for the Toyota, the modern car is still getting over twice the amount of work done per unit of fuel than the older.

are there still places to make improvements? of course. but that takes baby steps based in real-world observation. unfortunately, the incremental improvement towards a mature technology is ignored or denigrated by Stewart. he seems to seek a eureka solution, some great leap forward. that’s not really how technology works, dude.

quote of the day:

“Statistics are no substitute for judgment.” – Henry Clay

thoughts on the new gay Green Lantern…

2 June 2012

first off: much of this complaint will be based in issues i have with the DCnU. although several books are very good, the overall tone is rather bleak. many of the changes have seemed intent on changing things that were good needlessly for the bad. and i dislike most reboots on general principle anyway. please keep this in mind as you read on, or take it as a place to turn back. also, i’m going to ignore the obvious jokes about the new/old gay character’s weakness being wood.

so, DC Comics has been telling fans for some time now that they would change an existing, iconic character gay.

i didn’t have a problem with this.

gay or straight, a hero is still a hero. and having one of DC’s existing characters “come out” (even as a retcon) would send a powerful message of acceptance. and DC claims to have have done so.

however, what they have done in actuality is create a new character with the same name as an old one, in a secondary alternate universe. this is not the main DCnU; this is a parallel Earth (Earth-2, in DC Comics parlance), less important than the main Earth-0. although things that happen on Earth-2 “matter,” they are by design less important than events on the primary Earth.

so this new character is already marginalized.

and instead of the iconic Alan Scott, the first character to be named “Green Lantern,” with a cohesive publication history and characterization dating back to the 1940s, this character is a young man in the 21st century. gone is the elder statesman of the superhero community with two children; instead, we are given a young business leader with a power ring.

so we’ve got a faceless cipher of a character in a backwater setting; what was the point of this evolution again?

what DC should have done was keep the pre-Flashpoint time scale for the Justice Society, instead of giving them the same origin (essentially) as the Earth-0 Justice League (albeit on another Earth). the pre-Flashpoint Alan Scott would have had the complexity of having been a closeted gay man in the 1940s; coming out now would have created a multitude of story possibilities. what would the reaction of his friends, family and fans have been? would there have been a public backlash? how would people have reacted to that backlash? this Alan Scott has adult children, a son and daughter. that son, Obsidian, is gay; would GL feel guilt for his son’s orientation? how would the father-son dynamic have been affected? (they didn’t have the best relationship).

there are just so many ways an established character, this one in particular, could have been used to explore real LGBT issues. instead, we get just another character who doesn’t matter overmuch.

rant aside, i do like the creative team working on this, and they seem enthusiastic. there’s just so much better ways this could have been done.

quote of the day:

“Stop the innocent act. You’re aware of the complexities of this world; you’re just choosing to ignore them.” – Alan Scott, Justice Society of America Vol. 3, No. 19

today is the 10th National Poem In Your Pocket Day…

26 April 2012

here’s mine:

Legate, I had the news last night—my cohort ordered home
By ships to Portus Itius and thence by road to Rome.
I’ve marched the companies aboard, the arms are stowed below:
Now let another take my sword. Command me not to go!

I’ve served in Britain forty years, from Vectis to the Wall.
I have none other home than this, nor any life at all.
Last night, I did not understand, but, now the hour draws near
That calls me to my native land, I feel that land is here.

Here where men say my name was made, here where my work was done;
Here where my dearest dead are laid—my wife—my wife and son;
Here where time, custom, grief and toil, age, memory, service, love,
Have rooted me in British soil. Ah, how can I remove?

For me this land, that sea, these airs, those folk and fields suffice.
What purple Southern pomp can match our changeful northern skies,
Black with December snows unshed or pearled with August haze—
The clanging arch of steel-grey March, or June’s long-lighted days?

You’ll follow widening Rhodanus till vine and olive lean
Aslant before the sunny breeze that sweeps Nemausus clean
To Arelate’s triple gate; but let me linger on,
Here where our stiff-necked British oaks confront Euroclydon!

You’ll take the old Aurelian Road through shore-descending pines
Where, blue as any peacock’s neck, the Tyrrhene Ocean shines.
You’ll go where laurel crowns are won, but—will you e’er forget
The scent of hawthorn in the sun, or bracken in the wet?

Let me work here for Britain’s sake—at any task you will—
A marsh to drain, a road to make or native troops to drill.
Some Western camp (I know the Pict) or granite Border keep,
Mid seas of heather derelict, where our old messmates sleep.

Legate, I come to you in tears—My cohort ordered home!
I’ve served in Britain forty years. What should I do in Rome?
Here is my heart, my soul, my mind—the only life I know.
I cannot leave it all behind. Command me not to go!

“The Centurion’s Song,” Rudyard Kipling (1911)

you knew it was going to be Kipling, right? was torn between this, “Recessional,” and “Mandalay.”

what’s yours?

an observation and a question…

20 December 2011

our local Chinese restaurant has been in existence for what seems like forever. i remember eating there as a child, meaning it’s been in operation for around thirty years. considering the average lifespan of an eatery is five years or less, that pretty much is forever.

needless to say, the food is pretty good and the service is excellent.

my observation is: there are always more African-American customers than Caucasian. by at least a 3:1 margin. and i can’t figure out why.

we all know what we call “Chinese food” isn’t really Chinese food, but i can’t see how that would have any effect. somehow, i doubt anybody really cares about the “authenticity” of their ethnic dining. if that were the case, all the local Mexican places would be empty.

is it because they don’t serve alcohol? you can eat without booze. and i know plenty of African-American people who can drink me way under the table.

price doesn’t seem like it would be a factor, either. while more expensive than fast food, value is roughly equivalent to the Mexican places, and far better than the chain places.

so why are the white folks staying away? it just makes no sense. must be a cultural thing?

quote of the day:

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” – George Bernard Shaw

things that annoy me, #456…

3 November 2011

i need to do an oil change on Das Auto, a.k.a. The Blue Beetle, my 2001 VW New Beetle TDI.

it’s not the oil change that annoys me. maintenance is a fact of car ownership, and doing one’s own repairs leads to a warm suffusion of contentment based in self-sufficiency.

what annoys me is the process of buying oil.

Das Auto uses 5W-40 full synthetic oil and needs changed every 10,000 miles. there are lots of choices of brand, but the accepted “gold standard” is probably Mobil 1 Turbo Diesel Truck oil. like pretty much every other oil in this grade, it’s intended for use in large-capacity truck systems – not just little Vee Dubs.

and that’s where the annoying part comes in. there are three major auto part chains locally: AutoZone, Advance Auto, and O’Reilly. AutoZone doesn’t appear to stock Mobil 1 TDT at all. Advance does, but only in quarts. O’Reilly only stocks it in gallons.

a gallon costs $30, a quart $8.50… and Das Auto takes 4.5 quarts. so i can pay $60 and try to store 3.5 quarts in an open container for 10k miles without contaminating it, or i can pay $42.50 for the five quarts i need.

or, i can do what i actually do, and that’s drive to multiple stores and pay $39. which is dumb. and annoying.


quote of the day:

“A consumer is a shopper who is sore about something.” – Harold Coffin

thoughts on marriage…

2 August 2011

first, let me preface this with some information about myself:

i’m a single never-wed heterosexual male who self-identifies as a classical liberal or libertarian. i voted for H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. i was raised Lutheran, and consider myself to be a Christian, even though i am infrequent in my church attendance. i consider myself to be culturally a “Southerner.” i listen to a lot of Rush Limbaugh and NPR.

i’m not a raving left-wing loony (though i know more than a few) or a right-wing Teatard (i know a few of those as well).

so, marriage.

the same-sex marriage debate is raging in this country, and has been since at least 1970 (when James McConnell and Richard Baker applied for a marriage license in Minnesota). but recently, it’s reached a peak with the growth in legal recognition across New England.

this, of course, has social conservatives livid and liberals hopeful.

but nobody really seems to be considering what marriage is, and whether the government has any business in it at all.

we know that marriage – in one form or another – predates written history. there are any number of definitions of marriage, varying widely across cultures, allowing for near-infinite permutations of partners.

what seems common across all of them – including the traditional US definitions – is that a marriage establishes a legal familial relationship, with defined rights and obligations to the members of that family unit. therefore, marriage is essentially a contract between individuals. as a private contract, the state has no business in defining the terms of that contract unless it can prove harm to the community.

it is difficult to imagine how same-sex (or polygamous) marriages could logically be shown to harm the community at large; instead, we are confronted with moral arguments, based in almost entirely in religion.

which again makes one wonder what right the state has to interfere; if marriage is a religious ritual, then the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution would seem to apply. as a religious ritual, the state’s recognition of only one narrow definition of that ritual is de facto establishment.

which brings me to my point: the government, whether state or federal, has no real business defining marriage at all. if it is a purely contractual agreement, then the definition of that agreement is up to the parties involved. if it is a religious ritual, assuming it does not cause harm to innocents, it’s none of the government’s business.

naysayers have claimed that a failure to define marriage as being between a man and a woman will lead to mass insanity; persons marrying inanimate objects and animals. i would suggest that cats and toasters cannot enter into contracts, and a human wedding a turtle could be demonstrated to be harmful to that turtle’s well-being.

but between two men or two women? or three men and two women? or one woman and two men? or a woman and a man?

it’s none of the state’s business.

and it’s not the state’s business to force churches, mosques or synagogues to perform rituals they don’t adhere to, either. so if a church doesn’t want to perform a wedding ceremony for a couple, they shouldn’t have to. the state, however, cannot be so choosy. what is legal for one must be legal for all: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” not “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

quote of the day:

“Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.” – Abraham Lincoln, 27 February 1860

just not feeling…

1 March 2011

the new bicycle “guide markings” (a.k.a. bike lanes) along Chapel and John streets in downtown Charleston.

some of you may ask, “Don’t you ride a bike downtown often?”

and yes, i do. in fact, i ride along Chapel and John almost daily. i also realize the new “markings” are an attempt by the city to live up to and improve upon their new status as a Bronze Level Bicycle Friendly Community. doesn’t mean they aren’t a bad implementation of a bad idea.

first, they’re too narrow to actually be bike lanes. this is because the entire street is too narrow to support bike lanes, motor vehicle lanes, and parking.

second, they are going to be fairly inaccessible for much of their length, much of the time due to the aforementioned parking. for example, today i rode along John St. twice in a three hour period; for that entire time, there was a semi rig, a box truck, and a luxury coach parked along the sides of just one block of the road. needless to say, you couldn’t ride inside the “guide markings” there. this ignores all the SUVs and trucks whose owners are unable to park within a parking space, causing one to have to ride around them as well.

third, let’s assume it’s raining. yes, people do ride bikes in the rain. particularly when they use them for transportation. if it’s raining, and the cyclist has to move in and out of the “guide markings,” the wide white stripes – painted with highly reflective paint – will be as slick as black ice to cross. which will only add to the cyclist’s danger.

fourth, bike lanes (particularly as treated in South Carolina law) are terrible. in South Carolina, a cyclist is required to use a bike lane if one exists. instead of reinforcing the fact that bicycles are vehicles, this segregation makes cyclists second-class citizens relegated to the door zone. motorists assume, therefore, that they have primary rights to the roadways and that bicycles are merely toys, preventing the mutual respect that is needed between all road users. bike lanes should be like HOV lanes; reserved to their particular user, but not a requirement for that user.

an additional problem with bike lanes is the lack of directional markings; i can’t count the number of times i’ve encountered bike riders going the wrong way in bike lanes. once again, segregation (combined with a lack of education) causes problems. the unclear status of the lane (is it really part of the roadway) and the bicycle (is it legally a vehicle) makes it more dangerous than no lane at all.

this isn’t to say there aren’t good things municipalities can do; i love sharrows. they’re clear in meaning, provide directional guidance, and reaffirm the cyclist’s right to the road.

but bike lanes? literally, nothing is better.

quote of the day:

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” – Groucho Marx

i want a…

11 January 2011

hybrid automobile.

and those of you out there who have heard me expound on the subject before are probably surprised.

the kicker is that i want a hybrid car that doesn’t exist, and may never exist, due to the peculiar nature of the automobile market.

the U.S. is the world’s biggest market for hybrid cars; Europe is firmly (and wisely) wedded to diesel technology, while South America is likely to follow Brazil’s lead and emphasize ethanol. countries in the Far East, namely China and Russia, are also working to wean off of petroleum and onto alcohol fuels.

the reason the U.S. so likes hybrids is because it’s scared of diesels; ever since the horrendous crap GM produced in the 1970s and 1980s, “diesel” has been a dirty word for anything but trucks. couple this with the way U.S. fuel standards lagged behind the rest of the world in things like sulfur content, and it’s amazing there are many diesel cars in the U.S. at all.

but what i want is a diesel-electric hybrid. diesel engines have some telling efficiencies over gasoline, and diesel fuel contains more energy by volume than gasoline. so let me explain the details, and you all can tell me how crazy i am.

1. i want four-wheel drive. not for performance, but safety. make this thing a plug-in series-hybrid, where the diesel engine turns a generator to charge the batteries. put a motor at each wheel, and cycle them on or off as needed. don’t forget the regenerative braking.

2. i want a 60-mile electric-only range. don’t tell me it’s not possible. make the body and chassis out of reclaimed plastics and composites; make it light and safe. tiny garage companies have been doing it (and meeting safety regulations) since the 1990s… one of the big boys should be able to do the same.

and this one’s the kicker:

3. i want the car to function as a generator at home. in a power outage the charging station should disconnect the house from mains power, start the car, and then run the house grid from the generator output.

a boy can dream, can’t he?

quote of the day:

“If we go on the way we have, the fault is our greed and if we are not willing to change, we will disappear from the face of the globe, to be replaced by the insect.” – Jacques Yves Cousteau

happy 235th, USMC!

10 November 2010

always my favourite service, if only because it was founded in a bar.

quote of the day:

“Lying offshore, ready to act, the presence of ships and Marines sometimes means much more than just having air power or ship’s fire, when it comes to deterring a crisis. And the ships and Marines may not have to do anything but lie offshore. It is hard to lie offshore with a C-141 or C-130 full of airborne troops.” – Colin Powell

“Green” Fair rant(esque) spasm…

19 September 2010

the third annual Charleston Green Fair is coming up and, while it doesn’t have any exhibitors quite as derision-prone as the infamous “clean coal” booth, it still seems to be a shining example of how “green” is missing the point.

i’m not a “greenie” or a “tree-hugger,” and i’m certainly no “progressive,” but i do believe that we should be proper stewards of our planet (if only for our own self-preservation).

so i recycle, ride my bike for transport as much as possible, drive a fuel-efficient car, etc. but i don’t have the almost religious adherence to the “green” cause that many of its members seem to.

anyway, i was browsing the Green Fair’s list of exhibitors – and it makes me wonder how obtuse some people can be.

so let’s take a look at some of them, shall we?

the first to catch my eye (but not the one that caused my crankiness) was Bota Box Wines. now, ignoring any virtues of the wine itself, the company stakes its green cred on its packaging – the “box” in the company name. box wine has been around for quite a while now, and there are definite virtues to the package – at least from the point of keeping the wine drinkable. but Bota claims their box is a better environmental choice than glass, which i sincerely doubt. according to their literature, the box is “100% recyclable.” guess what? so is a wine bottle. the internal bag takes up 85% less landfill space than a wine bottle – a recyclable glass wine bottle. assuming a natural cork (and yes, i know there are problems there), the traditional package is 100% recyclable or biodegradable. and while the initial environmental production cost for glass is much higher than for their box, the near-infinite number of times it can be recycled outweighs this.

so, basically, they’re missing the point. don’t throw out your bottles, recycle them. oh, and one other thing: that inner bag? in the landfill forever. the glass bottle? in a few thousand years, it eventually breaks and returns to sand.

hey, look: Costco is a sponsor. Costco has loads of environmental issues, from their office supplies to their seafood. they’re working to be better, but there’s more than a hint of “greenwashing” coming from their actions. sponsoring a local Green Fair seems like it might fall into that category.

Lightning Bugz Electric Vehicles is an exhibitor; they rent electric low-speed vehicles, primarily to the tourist/vacationer market. i have huge issues with hybrid and electric cars (even souped-up golf carts like these); they offer false economy and have huge disposal issues. while i admit that i’d prefer visitors drive one of these instead of a mucking great SUV, what ever happened to bicycles or shank’s mare?

but the source of my vitriol and the sponsor i most have to laugh at? Subaru of Charleston. now, i love Subaru cars. the Impreza WRX STI is a brutal little bullet of a performance car, and the Legacy 2.5GT is (IMHO) a viable alternative to a BMW 3-series. but green? you’ve got to be kidding. their absolute most efficient model gets 22 MPG (combined). Honda and Toyota’s least efficient cars get 21 and 23, respectively. their Tribeca SUV is pretty thirsty, too – though not much worse than other vehicles in its class.

Subaru is easily the least green of the Japanese car companies, and here they are sponsoring a Green Fair. it’s all about image. they sell the image of an outdoor lifestyle and have the reasonable expectation that most of their target market will buy it.

people think they want to be “green.” but they don’t really want to make the sacrifices required. this year’s Green Fair is just more proof of that. so do your research before you buy an image.

quote of the day:

“He who reforms himself has done more towards reforming the public than a crowd or noisy, impotent patriots.” – Johann Kaspar Lavater