Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Real World Lessons About Electric Cars

I recently watched a documentary on PBS "Revenge of the Electric Car".  You can see a preview here.

Today I was looking up Tesla cars on Google to see how they have been doing since the documentary was made, and one interesting development is a series of quick recharge stations called "Superchargers", that Tesla has installed across the USA.

But in researching the Tesla, I came across a different article that I believe shows all the negative aspects of the Tesla.  Whether this was a deliberate hatchet job, I don't know, as it seems an innocent enough test, and fair observations of the result.  The article was called "What Running Out of Power in a Tesla on the Side of a Highway Taught Me About the Road Trip of Tomorrow", written by Nate Berg on a website called "The Atlantic Cities"

There are many comments after the article, and surprising to me, most support the Tesla, and even more shocking, I saw none that were vulgar or rude.

One comment that caught my eye may be typical of many neutral observers reactions (because after all, the seemingly neutral article did spend a lot of time pointing out the electric car's main shortcoming.) :  Adam Schulz says "Fantastically balanced article. I really like how you didn't demonize Tesla for your breakdown but illustrate that there are genuine constraints to electric vehicles, even with the supercharging stations. Thanks for this work!"

That was in part, my impression also, but I did not take this as an illustration of "genuine" constraints on electric vehicles.  On the contrary, it's amazing to me that the author drove from Barstow to Kingman (206 miles) in an electric-only car, and that if he had gone three more miles, could have recharged in about one hour.  And after that, he could continue his trip all the way to the East coast.

Obviously, the main limitation of the car was the driver himself, who should not have blindly followed the computation of the car's range calculator.  If I was driving that car, I would have slowed down to less than 65 mph once I saw the that the extra distance turned negative.  And I would not have bothered to pass that "psycho" trucker that nearly forced Nate Berg off the road.  Instead I might have stayed behind the truck, and benefited from the lower speed and the draft of the truck to save electricity.  And I'm pretty sure I would have made it to Kingman.

By the way, dimming the car's computer screen to save electricity is almost funny.  Or was he being serious?

I suppose I should not be making such absolute comments about an electric car, when I don't own one, but come on!  This is just basic Physics.  Most cars operate on the same principle.  They carry X amount of energy, and have to go Y distance.  The big unknown is the efficiency of converting the energy into distance (also known as "miles per gallon" in the internal combustion world.)  Another factor is the grade of the road, and as the author noted, Kingman is higher in elevation than Barstow.  I checked, Barstow is at 664m, Kingman is at 1016m above sea level.  So again simple Physics would tell us how much electricity would be needed to lift a car that distance straight up, and subtract that amount from your range.

In the end, I was very impressed by Tesla's range and speed.  Even more impressed by the number of their Supercharging stations, and how fast they can recharge the batteries.  Not too impressed with Nate Berg's driving, but since I would not be hiring him to drive my car, I don't care.

Picture:  This is how you sell cars in the real world.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Noah Movie Review: Do Cats Hate Water?

Last night I persuaded Mary Ann to go and see the new movie "Noah" at the cineplex.  I was intrigued by this movie, as it is a bible story, yet I see in the news that Fundamentalists hate it.  Apparently because it is historically inaccurate.  I think that Atheists may have the same objection.

Anyway, it stars Russell Crowe (Noah) who is not my favourite actor, but I don't hate him either. As Noah's  wife, Jennifer Connolly, who I like because she starred in Blood Diamond, but also don't like because she seems to be starving herself to death.

I hope this does not spoil anything, but this version of Noah solves some of the age old questions, like what did they do with all the animal poop, how did they feed all those animals for so long, and how did they stop the animals from killing each other?  I will reveal the secret here:  They put them to sleep (like hibernation) with some kind of burning plant smoke that does not affect humans.  Wasn't that easy?  The Holy Bible should have hired a few more Hollywood writers and it might have come off as more believable.

Now back to the movie.  The director had a radically different interpretation of the Noah story from the one most Christians cling to.  The normal Christian interpretation is that God is an angry God who is easily annoyed, and punishes mankind quite horribly when he is in a bad mood.  And sometimes even if He's in a good mood!  So bottom line: better worship God as hard as you can, as often as you can.

The writer and director of this movie was Darren Oronofsky.  His view is that a Creator made a nice planet, but one of his specially created species is greedy and cruel, and causing a bit of a problem by wiping out every other form of life.  I don't think I'm giving anything away by revealing that the problem species is Humans.  And so "The Creator" can only solve the problem by wiping out most of life on Earth with a flood, and starting over, either with Noah's family, or without humans altogether.

Oronofsky's vision is not too far off the vision of many environmentalists.  The environmentalist view is that humans are just one species of a complex ecosystem, and should learn to live within that ecosystem without destroying it.  On the other hand, the Fundamentalists seem to believe a man-shaped God created Man in his image, and that the entire rest of the universe was only created by God for a backdrop to Man.  In other words, they believe that a universe without "Man" makes no sense whatsoever.

Would you want to see this movie? Probably not, if you only want to see the cute animals  like giraffes and zebras and gorillas marching two by two up the gangplank.  You will see that, but you will also see a lot of killing, and just plain nastiness.  Also you will see just about everything that you normally find in an epic action movie starring Russell Crowe: monsters, battles, a lot of screaming and crying, man-to-man wrestling and swordplay.  But most of all, if you are a Biblical literalist, you will find a lot of offensive stuff on a philosophical level and on a "factual" level. (especially the constant reference to "the Creator" instead of "God".)  It's also not tremendously appealing to environmentalists, if Mary Ann is a representative sample.  Of course, her main objection was that everybody seemed to leave their empty popcorn and drink containers in the theatre instead of taking them out to the garbage.  "Is this the new culture?" she said disparagingly at the end. So apparently not a lot of environmentalist saw this movie, but it does have a powerful attraction for litterbugs.