Monday, July 28, 2014

The Immigration Crisis & The Failing Of Our Values.

As I see images of people holding signs up demanding that we turn back the refugees and deport them back to their countries of origin, and it saddens me terribly.

To me it seems our morals have somehow gotten lost in the jingoism and made a straw man out of a really complex and ugly problem.  These children are fleeing endemic violence, corruption and exploitation so terrible that the prospect of walking through the dessert in the middle of the summer is the better option.  Mind you this is after all the other dangers they had to face to get that far.

There's a story that goes something like this: "A girl was walking down the beach, picking up starfish that had washed up during a big storm and throwing them back into the sea.  A man came along and looked down the beach at the thousands of starfish and said "You can't make a difference, there are too many starfish."  The girl calmly looked at the man, picked up a starfish and threw it in the water, turned to the man and said, "It made a difference for that one."

This is a ugly problem.  However, I feel it's morally wrong to send children back into an environment where their only options are going to be poverty, gangs and exploitation.

There's also another flip side to this that I don't think people have fully contemplated.

If there's anything a country is built on, it's its children.  These central american countries are exporting their next generation of doctors, engineers, lawyers, etc.  Those children who end up staying in the united states and end up getting an education are going to grow up and contribute to our society, not theirs.  Thinking ahead in 30 years, these countries are going to be cleaned out.  It's going to be a society of old men, some of whom are drug lords controlling streets full of uneducated street thugs.  If you think Guatemala is bad now, imagine what'll look like in 30 years.

I don't have any answers or good ideas on how to fix this.  Many of these places are just so corrupt that just throwing money at the problem isn't going to fix it.  However, pretending we don't have some moral obligation to help children in need is about as un-American as it gets.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What Is Ken Ham So Afraid Of?

Do yourself a(n un)favor and check it out Ken Ham's latest outburst in a cache somewhere, no need giving him ad revenue!  In a nutshell he's advocating the cancellation of the whole space program... because... wait for it... any life we find out there is damned to hell.

Let that thought detonate in your brain. In fact I'm sorry you even had to read it...

I got thinking about why Ken Ham really wants the space program cancelled.  I don't think it's because of his stated reason(s).

I think the idea that we could possibly find alien life scares him senseless.  He's spent a fair amount of his adult life completely invested in the idea that the scriptures, particularly Genesis as written are the straight dope and that's it.

Imagine if tomorrow NASA announces that Keplar has imaged an exoplanet that upon spectral analysis has plutonium in it's atmosphere.  Something that's NOT naturally occurring.  Imagine that NASA launches additional spacecraft to study this specific planet, makes much more detailed scans and makes the data public.  Upon analyzing all the data it's quite obvious that yeah, it's a civilization.

What could Ken Ham possibly say about this but to wave his bible about and call that civilization damned.  His world view is so constrained by his ideology he really can't have a rational position. The bigger problem he would have is that it would cause people to stop and reevaluate their beliefs.

Thus, his best move is to argue that we stop looking, you know because nothing you might find is worth seeing.

Think about what a maniacally close minded position that is.  Just imagine if whenever we found things that could possibly break or change our most cherished beliefs, we decided to stop because finding the truth might just be uncomfortable.

Where would we be as a civilization if whenever people were presented with questions they couldn't easy answer, they chose to close their minds.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Why I bought a Volt.

Three months ago, I took the dive and bought a 2014 Chevy Volt.  This blog entry is to explain my decision making process.

I'd been mulling over buying a new car for more than a year. My 12 year old civic, while serviceable as a commuter car was getting very long in the tooth.  Also my company took a row of parking spots designated them EV and installed 120v plugs.  With that knowledge I asked myself this question:

"Can I commute completely from work to home in a reliable fashion using the least amount of gas?

My commute is 31 miles each way, so I spend ~2 hours a day in the car total. Half my commute is highway and the other half is stop and go.  A long time ago, as I sat for a half in hour in traffic with the engine idling, I thought "If only my engine wasn't running... how much fuel would I be saving!"

Currently on the market there are a number of vehicles that range from pure electric to plug-in hybrid.
Here's each other car on the market and why it didn't fit the bill for my needs.

Nissan Leaf: While this car would answer my question posed above, there are days that I put 100+ miles on my car.  This would exceed the range.
Toyota Plug-in Prius: Range of battery (11 miles) too small
Tesla Model S: Cost
BMW i3: Cost and newness
Ford C-Max: Range of battery (20 miles) to small and newness.

In the final honest analysis it really came down to the Volt or the Prius.  I chose the volt for a number of reasons.

The Volt is actually an Extended Range Electric Vehicle, (EREV) the Prius is not.  I've had numerous arguments (oddly with Prius owners) regarding this point*. Quite simply, unless some very specific criteria are met, the engine doesn't start.  I could do 100mph on the highway and the engine won't start until I exhaust the battery.  From a practical sense, when I leave my house and the battery says it's got 40 miles worth of charge... I will drive the full 31 miles to work without the engine ever starting. Plugin at work and drive home... without the engine ever starting.  In this regard, I considered my experiment a success.  On an average week, Mon-Fri, I use zero gas.  On the occasion when I do run the car out of battery and it switches to hybrid mode, I get crazy awesome gas mileage.  I've been driving the car for 3 months and I'm still on my third tank of gas!  Who knows, when the MA winter weather kicks in and the battery is subjected to cold temperatures, maybe this won't hold true.  My co-worker who also owns an older volt reported his battery was maxing out a 24 miles in the winter.  However, my car has some enhancements to the battery system his doesn't, so who knows...

From a use point of view, I'm really enjoying the car.  Its comfortable and handles like a dream, when you put your foot on the accelerator your ass sinks in the seat.  The first couple of days it took me a while to completely figure out the driver panel and the center console.  Now it just all works.  My wife while initially intimidated by all the screens, loves to drive the car.

One odd thing about driving the car is how damn quiet it is and by comparison how noisy everybody else's cars are.

Finally, while I expected some interest in the car, I wasn't prepared for the number people who've come running up to the car gushing with a dozen questions.  I almost feel like Chevy should make me an official Volt ambassador or something.

Now, I think I should say something about the drive train... 
* - Prius vs. Volt drive train comparison and conversation.  On several occasions I've had a conversation with Prius owners that goes something like: (PO) = Prius Owner
PO: Your car isn't really an EV because once you get on the highway the engine starts.
Me: No.  The engine won't start until the ~48 mile rage is exhausted.
PO: Oh. But it's still just like my car because it can drive the wheels from the engine.
Me: No, my car is classified as a EREV Series Hybrid.  Your car is a parallel-series blended mode hybrid.  Different animals Yes, under a vary specific circumstance the engine is capable of actually driving the wheels. However, those circumstance only occur if it makes more sense to directly drive the wheels then generate the electricity to drive the wheels.  I suspect (without any proof) that scenario happens infrequently. 
PO: But it still can and there for your car is just a hybrid.
Me: No. It's primary an EV with a backup generator that's capable of directly driving the wheels.
PO: But, but...*gets flustered*
Me: I'm glad you like your car, I like my car, let's leave it at that.  In either case, we're both using a hell of a lot less gas than everybody else.

Here's the cut and paste from the relative wiki article.
Technically the Voltec drivetrain has three power converting elements:[63]

  • Primary traction electric motor/generator, provides good acceleration for driving at lower speeds and regeneration for braking, its maximum output of 111 kW setting the maximum output of the whole system.
  • Secondary electric motor/generator, assists the primary electric motor[64] or works as generator capable of producing 54 kW.
  • Internal combustion engine of 63 kW power,[65] engaged when the batteries reach the predetermined threshold.
  1. Single motor electric - The primary motor runs solely on battery power, maximum propulsion power is 111 kW.
  1. Dual motor electric - At higher vehicle speeds the secondary motor engages over the planetary gear such that it reduces the speed of the primary motor. This facilitates higher efficiency and better mileage for the combined system, without increasing the maximum power.
  1. Single motor extended - The battery reaches its minimum charge which triggers the combustion engine. The engine drives the secondary motor which now works as a generator, via the charging electronics, to keep the minimum battery charge level. The primary motor can still provide its 111 kW for short acceleration, albeit not sustained.
  1. Dual motor extended - The electric motors are used again in dual configuration with increased efficiency at higher speeds. Additionally the gasoline engine contributes propulsion power via the planetary gear. While power is drained from the battery the amount is less than in mode 2 for the same propulsion power, thus extending the range.

These units are connected via a planetary gear and electric clutches to provide power output for propulsion in four programmed operating modes:[63]

Monday through Friday, my car never leaves modes 1 and 2.

In conclusion, my plan was to purchase a vehicle that would let me get from work to home using as little gas as possible and still be usable for longer trips.  The Volt completely satisfies these requirements and to top it all off, is a great car to drive.

As an addendum, the volt is eligible for the $7500 EV federal tax credit.