Book of the Month

Doctor Cleveland's picture

The Other Thing College Is For (and Why It Matters)

If you ask anyone what colleges and universities are for, they'll give you more or less the same answer: to educate people.  That's a good answer. It's the one I give myself. But it's only half the truth. Colleges and universities actually fulfill two separate roles. We all know about both of them. We only talk about one of them. And because of that, we misunderstand almost everything about how higher education works and how it might be improved.
 [Read more]

Donal's picture

Piling on the Leaf

In between following sports and writing haikus, I've noticed that the Leaf can't catch a break. As if temperature management problems in Phoenix weren't enough, the NY Times' Wheels blog and Plugin Cars each report that for eleven Leaf owners, something has gone haywire between the Nissan Leaf and the GE Wattstation, leaving their batteries severely damaged.

TTAC's Alex Dykes offers a clear explanation of charging an EV or plugin hybrid in the US. Briefly, the EV's onboard system manages the charging as long as the charging station meets the minimum Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE) J1772 standard. What could go wrong? Dykes speculates: [Read more]

Assuming there is no design fault inherent in the Wattstation’s “control pilot” design (and we might assume this logically because the issues are limited to Nissan Leaf vehicles only), the most likely possibility is a problem with an underrated or faulty D1 diode in the Leaf’s charger that makes the control pilot circuit more susceptible to transient current and failure. While it does seem fishy that the problems are only reported with the Wattstation and not the popular Leviton and Nissan branded chargers, the issue likely comes down to surge suppression and bad luck. It is likely that Nissan uses a D1 diode with a lower rating (and therefore affording less protection) than the Volt and Prius plug-in. With so few EVs on the road, and little public information on the specifications of electrical components in the chargers it is hard to say for sure.
Donal's picture

Should MyCar be YourCar?

Last week in Mississippi, strange bedfellows former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe, former RNC chair Haley Barbour and former President Bill Clinton grandly unveiled the MyCar — an EV made in America. [Read more]

"Too many people have given up on American manufacturing, saying manufacturing jobs are not coming back. But GTA set out to prove them wrong," said Terry McAuliffe, chairman of GreenTech. "For too long, America has been inventing products here and sending the production jobs overseas. But we're part of a rebirth for American manufacturing. We're proud to bring manufacturing jobs back and prove that the U.S. is still the world leader in technological innovation and manufacturing."
Donal's picture

Interesting times

We live in interesting times, but everyone seems to be watching TV. Actors Andy Griffith and Ernest Borgnine recently died. Each man proved himself in serious roles, Griffith in A Face in the Crowd and Borgnine in Marty, but they were far better known for long-running comedic roles on television. Don Grady died, too. He was only 68, and was known for playing Robbie on My Three Sons, but apparently he was a serious and devoted musician.

I wonder how many of us will be better-known for our long-running comedic lives?

With bike share programs blooming, and so many people biking to work and even enjoying it, articles about automobiles vs cyclists vs pedestrians abound right now. The basic problem is that people are just about as law-abiding on bikes as they are in cars or on foot, and the foolhardy ones get all the attention. In the comment sections are the usual crude threats against cyclists by territorial drivers. I just defriended someone after reading that sort of comment on Facebook. [Read more]

William K. Wolfrum's picture

Web Austerity: It is time for the Internet to feel some pain

For too long, the Internet has run amok. It has been a free-for-all of freedom of speech and distraction. It has made men billionaires and ruined the lives of others. It has become an all-powerful juggernaut in our lives.

And it is time to regain control. [Read more]

Donal's picture

Is Arizona's Heat Wilting the Leaf?


In response to a The Truth About Cars article on the Volt, one commenter, then two, claimed that Leaf sales have fallen flat while the Volt is selling comparatively well. To my eyes, the Leaf is as sound a car as the Volt, so I wondered if range anxiety was keeping buyers away from the EV.

On Father's Day, a Bloomberg headline read, Nissan Sees Leaf Sales Doubling as Factory Begins Production, which would seem to contradict the TTAC commenters, but once past the headline, I read: [Read more]

Leaf sales have dropped the past two months, trailing General Motors Co. (GM)’s rechargeable Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Motor Corp. (7203)’s plug-in Prius in May. Volt deliveries more than tripled to 1,680 units in May, while Leaf sales fell 55 percent to 510. The Leaf is made in a single plant in Japan.

“We’ve had to fulfill demand from one plant globally,” Krueger said. “Once we localize it in December, the second half of the fiscal year is when we’ll see most of the supply, demand be available.”
Donal's picture

Romney Won't Force You To Drive An EV

With the same quote as Detroit News, HybridCars also suspects that Mitt Romney would be no friend to EVs: [Read more]

The Obama administration has also been a major champion for plug-in electric vehicles and hybrids. It has pushed for even higher plug-in vehicle subsidies and incentives on the supply side and consumer demand side of the equation to get the fledgling industry flying on its own. Those plus CAFE requirements – not to mention European legislation beyond the purview of the American president – are expected to be key motivation in developing more electrified automotive solutions in coming years, but Romney said he sees failure written on the EV wall already.

The Obama-led government is, Romney said, trying to "to force a market to adopt a technology that people aren't interested in."
Donal's picture

Diesels: So Bad?

My mama didn't hate them, but I never knew much about diesels. During the late 70s fuel scare, one of my many bosses bought an Olds diesel, probably with the 350cc engine, to try to get better economy without buying a small car. He complained about it constantly, and the 350 is now considered one of the worst engines of all time. I drove my aunt's big Mercedes turbo-diesel a few times, but never, ever considered buying a diesel myself. But diesel keeps cropping up in articles, and clean diesels regularly figure in green car competitions. If you've got a pile of cash, you can buy the world green car of 2012, the Mercedes Benz S 250 CDI Blue Efficiency (below) for under $70,000, except that it doesn't seem to be sold in the US. [Read more]

Donal's picture

Solar & Wind Expo


On Saturday, I attended a Solar & Wind Expo, which was held about three stops away on light rail. At the Timonium Fair Grounds stop, there was no sign that anything was happening. I walked past the empty entrance kiosks, and saw a truck with a horse trailer backing up to the mostly empty livestock sheds. I continued past the empty cow palace, and eventually saw some balloons tied to two tiny cars in front of a nondescript concrete block building. The cars were Think City EVs. A small banner announced that the expo was inside.

I was a bit early and when I tried to pay the $10 entry fee with my debit card, one of the cashiers went to a table and pulled a cardswipe machine out of a box. She fiddled with it and asked, "Do you have any cash?" I had eight dollars, so she took that and let me in. That worked out about right because I was supposed to get two dollars off for arriving by light rail. [Read more]

Donal's picture

Luxury Electric Motor Bikes



Along with their hybrids and EVs, luxury automakers have been developing prototype e-bikes, like the Audi Wörthersee above. These aren't full-fledged motorcycles, like the Brammo or Zero, but they aren't just bicycles either: [Read more]

Donal's picture

Tesla and the Uncertain Middle Class

Tesla is about to release its Model S sedan. Despite operating at a loss, despite never having turned a profit, despite being the recipient of government loans (which the right wing hates about the Volt), despite its stock price dropping due to perceived competition from the Toyota RAV4 EV, some Wall Street pundits are still bullish on Tesla.

Why? Well it promises decent range:

Tesla: The Time Has Come [Read more]

The Tesla Model S will give you significantly more range than a Nissan LEAF or any other practical all-electric car to date. The Nissan is EPA-certified at 73 miles on average. Tesla claims 160 miles for the base version of the Model S. ...

Tesla will also sell you an alleged 230-mile and a 300-mile version of the Model S. Each step up is $10,000 more.
Donal's picture

The Hydrogen Dog and the Quadrium Cat


The public reputation of nuclear power plummeted after the Fukushima meltdowns, but many in the energy sector still see nuclear fission as the only way to keep the lights on and stave off climate change. No private entities, and vanishingly few governments, though, want to spend billions to build new plants, so at least one manufacturer is offering smaller pre-packaged units. Will, The Stars Align for Small Nuclear Reactors? [Read more]

The Westinghouse Electric Company has lined up Ameren, a St. Louis-based electric company, as a partner for its small modular reactor project. Getting a strong indication of commercial interest is critical because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can review only a few of the many proposed reactor designs and gives priority in the licensing process to those with a stronger chance of getting built.

Some utility analysts have argued that small reactors would be good “drop-in replacements” for 1950s and 1960s-era coal plants that are now being retired, given that that their generating capacity would be about the same.
Donal's picture

Blood or the Volt


About a month ago, former GM vice-honcho Bob Lutz gave up on rational argument with Limbaugh, Hannity and the like:

I Give Up On Correcting The Wrong-Headed Right Over The Volt [Read more]


I am, sadly, coming to the conclusion that all the icons of conservatism are (shock, horror!) deliberately not telling the truth!

This saddens me, because, to this writer, conservatism IS fundamental truth. It only damages its inherent credibility with momentarily convenient fiction.

So, Mr. Krauthammer joins the list of right-wing pundits I no longer take seriously. After all, how do I know they’re telling the truth when the subject is one I’m not as familiar with as the Volt?
Donal's picture

Electric Vehicle: Positives and Negatives

In, Stop Bashing Electric Cars!, Brian Wynne, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, complains about adverse media coverage:  

It’s not often that you hear national elected officials and media pundits rooting against a growing American industry — especially when it’s reducing U.S. dependence on imported oil. It’s also unusual for them to argue against job creation, global competitiveness, even against innovation.

Strangely, that’s what’s happening to the U.S. electric vehicle industry.

Particularly striking is how far removed public debate on electric vehicles is from the facts. Our industry is growing fast, adding jobs throughout the supply chain and selling more vehicles and components than ever. The future is bright, but you’d never know it from some of the commentary.

There certainly have been right-wing attacks on the Chevrolet Volt and General Motors—ultimately intended to discredit President Obama. But there have also been straightforward discussions about unflattering facts, such as the still narrow market share of EVs and hybrids, the Tesla Roadster and Fisker Karma battery packs that failed and 'long tailpipes'—the actual environmental impact of manufacturing and driving electric and hybrid vehicles. Encouraging the media to accurately report the pros and cons makes more sense to me than Wynne's plea that the media do his job by promoting the industry. [Read more]

Donal's picture

Locked, Loaded and Guilt-Free


We were driving past the new location of East Coast Gun Sales a few weeks ago, and I told my wife I had been planning to check out the new store. They had been advertising their move to a larger location, with added facilities like a gun range, for over a year. I was thinking it would be interesting to fire off a few rounds with different caliber weapons and see what it felt like. "They went out of business," she said. She didn't know why.

According to the Altoona Mirror, back in 2007, East Coast's owner James Faith, and Michael Kurty, a police officer and firearms instructor, had been demonstrating a rebuilt mini-Gatling gun during a social event at a sportsmen's club. I'm not sure if this was before or after the chicken Kiev. The Gatling had an electrically-powered magazine, which soon jammed. So Faith unplugged the magazine, while Kurty, the firearms instructor, helpfully stood right in the path of the barrel. Because with no electricity, how could a weapon filled with bullets—which contain gunpowder—possibly fire? [Read more]

Donal's picture

Hot and Cold Running Fusion


In, 500MW from half a gram of hydrogen: The hunt for fusion power heats up, ExtremeTech trumpets a potential efficiency breakthrough in magnetic confinement fusion, the type used at ITER: [Read more]

Basically, to keep fusion going you need to sustain a temperature of around 11 million degrees Celsius, which requires a huge amount of electricity. Fusion chambers are usually lined with heat-resistant carbon tiles in an attempt to reduce wastage, but the problem is that protons and neutrons escaping from the fusion reaction hit the wall, cool down, and then bounce back into the reaction, reducing the temperature. Electricity must then be used to increase the temperature back to 11 million Celsius.

The PPPL [Princeton Plasma Physics Lab], led by Bruce Koel, have found that a thin layer of lithium metal (the third element in the Periodic Table) absorbs these protons and neutrons, preventing them from bouncing back into the pot, and thus reducing the power requirement of keeping the fusion reaction going.
Donal's picture

See Shell Sue by the Sea Shore


I often stop at a gas station/convenience store near Breezewood PA for their chicken tenders and potato wedges. Sometimes I buy gas, too. After the Macondo blowout and Deepwater Horizon spill, they covered up their BP signs with Shell tarps. They eventually got permanent signage, but I wonder what sign will go up next.

Shell’s Lawsuit Against Environmental Organizations Invites Disaster [Read more]

Shell is suing 12 environmental organizations to preempt legal challenges to exploration in the Arctic Ocean. The environmental groups include, among others, the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Audubon Society, Oceana ... and the Sierra Club. Crazy isn’t it, Shell, a $378 billion company, attacking the National Audubon Society? It’s a bully image that can only hurt, and Shell should know better because it’s happened to them over and over again.
Donal's picture

Clean Car Calculator

I ran across UCSB's Clean Car Calculator in a comment, and while it seems fairly slick, it could be better: [Read more]

CleanCarCalculator.com grew out of a homework assignment for Energy and Resource Productivity, a graduate course at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management taught by Professor Sangwon Suh. Initially, the assignment asked students to compare two vehicles—one conventional gas engine and one high-efficiency—in terms of their total lifetime costs. This net present value (NPV) calculation unearthed surprising results. Most of the students had anticipated that purchasing a high-efficiency vehicle, such as a Toyota Prius or Chevrolet Volt, would cost more over the lifetime of the vehicle (i.e. that savings from the higher fuel efficiency would not be enough to offset the higher upfront cost of the vehicle). Instead, we were surprised to not only find that established hybrids paid themselves back in fuel savings, but that newly released vehicles, such as the Volt and Leaf, were also extremely affordable.
Donal's picture

EV Politics and Promotion

First, the San Francisco Chronicle sheds light on the Republicans anti-GM, anti-Tesla, anti-anything Obama strategy:

GM, Tesla fight politicization of electric cars [Read more]

GM Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson has complained about the political atmosphere that surrounds the Volt.

"Sometimes I feel bad for President Obama," he said this month after an appearance at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. "This car was designed and committed to well before he was president, and it's called the 'Obamacar.' It's not the Obama car. I'm proud and I'm pleased that he thinks highly of it, but it's all on us. It's not a political issue."

The automaker accused Republicans and the media of hyping claims that the car caught fire during testing, which forced temporary layoffs at the Volt plant in Detroit.

Tesla, which received a $465 million Department of Energy loan, has dropped pursuit of new federal loans, raised private cash and plans in July to start deliveries of its $50,000 S car, claiming it is on its way to the mass car market.

"We applied during the Bush administration, and we were approved under the Obama administration, so as far as we're concerned, we at least had a bipartisan relationship for the loan," said Tesla spokesman Ricardo Reyes. "We got one of first loans and we used it to build the car that is now going into production in a U.S.-based facility. ... I'd like to think we're pretty much a case study on what the loan program was designed to do."
Donal's picture

Fix When Fail

The Infrastructurist blog shut down in January—but not because we have been paying more attention to our aging infrastructure.

Rivers and canals carry an enormous amount of goods through the hinterlands—coal, grain, fuel oil. Water transport is cheaper than railroads, and far cheaper than trucking. Monongahela or "falling banks," was the native American name for one such river, and we have built a series of manmade structures intended to keep it navigable by large vessels. At what is now Pittsburgh, the Mon joins with the Allegheny River to form the Ohio River, which is in turn the largest tributary of the Mississippi. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has posted two parts of a four part series on the locks and dams along nearby rivers. [Read more]

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