Personal Log  #252

February 10, 2006  -  February 21, 2006

Last Updated: Sat. 4/01/2006

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$2.29 per gallon.  It's hard to believe we saw gas prices below $2 just two days ago.  It hadn't been that low for ages.  Now the situation is looking like it may never happen again.  We are currently in the dead season, where not much traveling happens.  For that matter, vehicles are difficult to sell this time of the year too.  What follows in early Spring is quite difficult.  Traditionally, vacations begin and gas prices reflect that by going up.  Of course, in the past is was just a small amount.  So it wasn't a big deal.  But last year changed everything.  It proved that a $1 jump wasn't just a fluke.  Prices were ugly all Summer long.  This year has all the ingredients for a disaster recipe.  What do you think will happen?  Seeing the price of gas around $3.00 per gallon again (or worse) is enough to get people to abandon their gas-guzzlers.  The amount now on the road is definitely less than last year.  Are many of them sitting in garages and more sensible vehicles being driven instead?  I hope so.  Commuting to work in a monster-size vehicle just plain doesn't make any sense.


Plug-In Hybrids.  Things are getting weird.  The downfall of the "assist" hybrid is accelerating rapidly.  Focus instead is being placed on that special aspect of "full" hybrids I've been talking about even before I got my Prius.  The ability to driving with heavy reliance on the electric motor is becoming a very favorable feature.  Competition has emerged for aftermarket electric augmentation of Prius.  There are several manufacturers of Li-Ion batteries that are welcoming the opportunity to work with engineers that are striving to exploit what Prius was designed to take advantage of.  In fact, I have even seen my first Escape-Hybrid with an improved battery-pack now.  And today at an energy conference, President Bush spoke about how he's going to help out with the research to make the technology a more viable option for hybrids.  He even provided funding to rehire the researchers that had just been laid off due to budget cutbacks.  (Of course, it would have been great if they had not lost their jobs in the first place!)  The unfortunate part is that this effort is a bit premature still.  We don't have clean sources of electricity for owners to plug into yet.  Our current electricity creation is dirty.  I don't see wind turbines.  I do see coal though, being consumed in production plants that just barely meet the disappointing EPA minimums.  Oh well.  At least this is encouraging the research we'll ultimately benefit from later when the clean sources of electricity are finally common.


Grand Finale.  It happened.  It's over now.  The last major project for the Prius stuff on my website is complete.  Those animations of the PSD are something I've wanted to deliver for years now.  Overcoming the challenges of the detail document convinced me that I could also handle this unusually complex graphic work.  And I did!  The rewards are already starting to reveal themselves too.  Showing the collection of animations to people have resulted in comments about some appearing to be the same.  But then when I point out that a particular component is actual rotating in the opposite direction, the attitude quickly changes.  They hadn't realized that was even possible.  But looking at the PSD in motion quickly convinces them otherwise.  They suddenly find themselves intrigued.  That's pretty sweet!  I sure am glad I was able to deliver that.  With the online attitude now rapidly changing due to the huge increase in newbies from entirely different backgrounds than in the past, I wasn't certain I could create something appealing for them.  Turns out, I could.  Now I can move on to other things.


$59.88 per barrel.  That was the closing price for oil on Friday.  The day before was the first time it had dropped below $60 for months.  So I wondered how long it would last.  First thing this morning (Monday) we found out.  There was an attack on the supply infrastructure in Nigeria.  That quickly resulted in oil prices shooting up again.  People never imagined it being so high.  I did, but not so soon.  Good thing Prius is already well known for being a practical hybrid.


PSD Details.  Today, I added a new section to the PSD document.  It features "Reverse" with the engine running.  That was something I had actually forgotten about when attempting to create the simple outline, a complexity that really should have been included.  Oh well.  It's there now.  I wonder if it will be confusing.  Picturing that odd motion of the PSD in your mind takes a good imagination.  Heck, doing the calculations on paper for the animations was a mess for me.  And I knew it was possible.  Fortunately, that illustration along with an explanation is now available... PSD (details)


PSD Animations.  There's a new webpage available, featuring 6 modes of operation that the PSD delivers.  (Well, technically there is actually 7, but one is a duplicate animation.  So you'll just have to read the detail document to learn more about that.)  The animations are for simple exploration, a tool to stimulate interest.  And if you stare at them long enough, they become rather hypnotic.  It's a soothing blend of motion that definitely reinforces the "elegantly simple" design Prius supporters been talking about for years.  With so few moving parts being able to deliver such a wide variety of movements, it is quite astonishing.  How the heck did an engineering team come up with something so brilliant on paper?  Wow!  Anywho, I hope this serves as a resource that others can use to learn and to help end the spread of misinformation.  The presentation format is so non-technical, I'm really hoping it will entice the average person to observe the movement of those parts very closely.  With 72 frames of animation on 3 of them (36 for the other 3) and 7 components either rotating or revolving, it is fascinating dance to watch... PSD (animations)


More Headroom.  I made a discovery today.  I had no idea that Toyota lowered back seat in the 2006 Toyota until a new owner pointed it out.  There is more headroom than my 2004 offers.  Cool!  That makes Prius even more appealing.  How long do you think it will take for others to discover this?  It was a fact I either totally missed or none of the reporters have noticed it yet.  Hmm?  Oh well.  Leave it to Toyota to continue tweaking the design.


Cold.  It was -6 F degrees along with a fierce wind this morning.  Just slowing down from 70 to 60 MPH on the highway was enough to put the charge-level for the battery-pack into the green.  That never happens when it is warmer.  Fortunately, Prius still runs well even in those conditions.  In fact, it was still green when I exited into the city... which pushed the stored electricity even higher.  That, combined with shutting off the heater since since I was at my destination, allowed me to climb up the parking ramp 5 full levels entirely in stealth.  It was pretty sweet!  The Multi-Display currently say 42 MPG after that rather extreme commute.  Try that with a non-hybrid.


Warm.  Seeing 51.3 MPG on the Multi-Display after a day of running errands (a mix of city & highway, with several stops) sure was refreshing.  Of course, that is simply the result of the temperature.  A few degrees above freezing makes all the difference.  In a few days, I'll see that firsthand.  Forecasts say it will be at least 40 F degrees colder.  That's nasty.


Go Yellow.  That is the new campaign just launched by GM.  It is to promote their "flex fuel" technology... which is far from new.  But since all they do is mention a count, rather than how long it took to achieve that or what their goals are now, it leaves you wondering anyway.  So how much will that option cost?  Will it be standard, like it was on all Ford Rangers awhile ago?  Of course, what good is a vehicle that can use more than 10 percent ethanol if that 10 percent isn't even available in the first place?  Regardless, it does raise awareness of the E85 technology that has been available for 10 years now.  It also distracts from the reality that GM has absolutely nothing to compete with the technology in Prius yet.  Supposedly their design can be scaled down from monster-size vehicles, but that doesn't guarantee they will be as clean or efficient.  We'll see.  In the meantime, they are pushing the "yellow" theme rather than the "green" the rest of us have been pursuing.  That should make things interesting.


Forget Prius.  That was the theme in a rather deceptive article today.  The writer pointed out how few gallons of gas are saved by Prius compared to a Corolla verses a Cadillac SRX and a Hummer H2.  Comparing Prius to Corolla, there is supposedly a 250 gallon difference.  But comparing that large and smaller gas-guzzler, you save 600 gallons.  The logic was that you'd save more with the larger vehicles.  The conclusion was that tax incentives should be for the guzzlers instead, rather than Prius.  Isn't that sick?  Rather than acknowledging how much gas would be used, the writer focused on how much would be saved.  Haven't you ever wondered why our system uses MPG (Miles Per Gallon) rather than GPM (Gallons Per Miles)?  Just look at the rest of the world; they all use L/100km (Liters per 100 Kilometers).  The reason is that it is a measurement far more revealing.  Stating how much you used, rather than how much you didn't, doesn't mislead.  Too bad our system is backwards.  It allows writers, like the one today, to easily mislead.  They try to make you forget Prius, in favor of supporting our addition to oil instead.  That's sad.


Great Summary.  This quote from an article republished (and converted to metric) today about a Camry-Hybrid evaluation drive had a great summary about what's happening now: "Toyota has played this game exactly right.  The company invested heavily in its Hybrid Synergy Drive, won over early adopters with the Prius and is now amortizing the technology across its product line, all the while welding a bond in the consumer's mind between Toyota and high-tech fuel economy."  Pretty sweet, huh?


Monday.  That's when the age of the dinosaur ends and the domestic production of Camry-Hybrid begins.  Competition gets ugly then.  The other automakers have nothing to compete with.  Even those with hybrids, Ford & Honda, are at a loss since neither will offer a sedan that clean or efficient.  The potential is greater than with Prius.  Camry is already an extremely popular car.  Adding the hybrid option will draw even more interest.  Gas prices are expected to climb as the travel season approaches, just like last year.  Will the Detroit automakers get stuck with a lot of excess inventory again?  Toyota will be selling 3 distinct hybrid systems, each with a unique engine & motor size.  This is what will ultimately cause the dinosaurs (non-hybrid, traditional technology) to die.  It will create pressure for the competition's hybrid systems to become more diverse as well.  Monday marks an important point for hybrids, triggering the next stage in their history.


Hardware, not Sulfur.  In a round-about way it is sort of true that sulfur equates to clean, but definitely not the way some people believe.  The misconception that sulfur in gas is the direct cause of dirty emissions just doesn't seem to go away.  You cannot simply switch to low-sulfur gas and magically get cleaner exhaust from the tailpipe.  It doesn't work that way.  Emissions will only be as good as the hardware cleansing it.  The problem sulfur causes is the reduction of effectiveness, because it builds up inside of that exhaust system.  This was why PZEV warranties were only offered in states that already had low-sulfur gas.  That emission rating had to remain at the cleanest level for an entire 150,000 miles.  Accomplishing that with high-sulfur gas simply wasn't possible for the entire duration.  Yes, it would be that clean for awhile.  But eventually the sulfur build-up would push emissions below the threshold.  SULEV has a 120,000 mile requirement.  For ULEV, it is only 100,000 miles.  It's all about the hardware.  That is what delivers the clean.  Sulfur just shortens the life of that hardware.


Suspicious.  One of today's daily email topics from the Gristmill was even better than the usual excitement.  So I thought I'd give it some special attention: "Let's say you're threatened by hybrids.  Let's say you're particularly threatened by hybrids coming into the U.S. from another country, and proving mighty popular.  What might be a creative way to fix the problem?  Oh, how about suing for patent infringement?"  And that seems to be exactly what has happened.  Don't you love how problems like these appear out of no where?  This one happens to be rather remarkably well timed too, since production of Camry-Hybrid begins in just one business day.  What a pain.  How are efforts like this going to solve our emission & consumption problems?


Alternate Mindset.  Ultimately, the resistance I've been combating is to make the technology mainstream.  That's what I want.  To have technology (that delivers an ample gain) affordable for the masses is the goal.  Serving the majority isn't what those currently arguing for the plug-in option support.  They treat that ability just like the other alternatives in the past.  Electric, E85, and Biodiesel have all been considered as "think different" choices, rather than "everyone now use this" evolutionary improvements.  Their approach is somewhat counter-productive, requiring people to make some type of major compromise.  For electric, it was the range limitation and the reality that the battery-pack would likely need to be replaced later.  For E85, it's the availability of the fuel and (possibly) the efficiency/cost penalty.  For Biodiesel, it's the availability of the fuel, the higher fuel price, and the increased smog-related emissions.  The maximum approach (using the highest capacity possible) for a battery upgrade requires a substantial investment.  Instead, wouldn't pricing similar to the navigation or leather options make a whole lot more sense.  A number of people choose those, since they are priced substantially less.  Paying 50 percent the price of a vehicle for that better battery is simply way too much, preventing it from being a realistic option... instead, giving it the status of "alternate".


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