Chevy Volt: Too Little, Too Late

The real vindication that Obamas bailouts didn’t work comes today with the Chevy Volt getting a pricetag. I’m a car guy, I like American built cars, I even went out of my way to try to buy 4-vin (assembled in America) Toyotas. This kind of crap breaks my evil little heart.

Obama “saved” GM, and for that they designed a hybrid who’s main selling point is that it plugs into the wall.

What’s it cost?

Fully twice as much as a Prius. The Volt base edition costs almost $42,000 USD. How much does the base Prius cost? $23,000 USD. It doesn’t even have the cool stuff the high end prius does. No sunroof, no LED lights which will never burn out, no rabbits VS barrels display, no auto tinting windows or solar panel on the roof and spoiler. In short it’s grossly overpriced for what market it’s slotted for.

My take is he bailed out mediocrity and our reward is further mediocrity.

If Chevy had put out a Caddy for this price, people probably would have bought it, especially since both Chevy and Ford are marketing their luxury brands as being “sporty” and “high tech”. It would have competed well against the Toyota Prius. Sure, Lexus has luxury hybrids, but when you think Prius you think soccer mom. Chevy should have released their hybrid under the Cadillac badging. Not to do so, in my opinion, is a serious miss.

What’s the Leaf weigh in at? $32,000 (the tax credit for an “all electric” vehicle actually makes this $25,000 which puts it firmly in Prius turf). This makes it only $5k more expensive than the highest priced Prius, but it’s packed with features which meet or exceed those on the top end Prius making it a decent value for the money. It too has sunroofs, LED lighting, leather, rims, and solar panel options.

The range of the Leaf is 100 miles, which is also more than twice that of the Volt. Not having to lug a generator around really helps. There’s been some grousing that this may not be an accurate number but even if it really is half that, 50 miles is still more than most Americans commute to work daily. (I personally would end up 10 miles short). The other grousing is from the Tesla camp saying that the battery packs total lack of active thermal management will cause them to fail, the likelihood of this being an actual issue in my opinion is slim to none. It looks to me like it’s using the frame of the car as a heat sink, and this doesn’t strike me as a bad idea. I think it’s much more likely that Tesla is seeing someone come to market with more than two braincells to rub together and they’re bent that they didn’t think of all this stuff first.

My take on the entire situation: GM will die spectacularly by the next Presidency who isn’t going to put up with this horseshit anymore. The Volt is a nonstarter. From their ashes will be born a new GM who will do what GM does best – trucks. Nissan will corner the all electric market unless Ford does something surprising and quickly. Toyota will continue to keep a stranglehold on the hybrid market. The Prius will continue to suffer terribly for reliability on the used market, but this will be overshadowed by the incredibly competitive pricing in the new market.

How about the boneyard?

You can pick up a 2006 rebuildable for about $5000. But, knowing how expensive they are even when they’re wrecked, why would you want to?

Diesel is Wrong, Solar is Right for Backup Power

I’ve been on my emergency preparedness kick recently, and that includes power since the storms this last year have been a real pisser. Nothing like being without power for three days in the home you just bought.

I was previously looking at military surplus diesel generators. Aside of my friends stabbing me in the neck over and over again for me asking them to help me get it on and off the truck, I’m not too huge on the idea of having Yet Another Engine to take care of. On the other hand, that particular model is so popular that theres an entire MEP-004A forum dedicated to it. And, there’s the fact that I have 250 gallons of diesel sitting in a tank in my basement labeled “home heating oil – NOT APPROVED FOR ROAD USE”.

Now, assuming that the generator goes for the nominal price of $500 to $1000 (they’re getting really popular in the post-Katrina marketplace), maybe I could do better with something else. It’s not just buying the generator – it’s buying the generator, the engine rebuild kit (if required), the wiring, and doing the conversion. Military power is usually 208v rather than 120v or 240v because it’s easy to step up/down or DC to AC convert. The other side of the coin is moving parts are the enemy. Parts which don’t move tend to want to stay that way which is why I try to start the MR2 once a month or so in winter. (I’m probably being paranoid). I don’t want to deal with that in a generator. After mulling it over quite a bit I decided to investigate various things like water service powered sump pumps (dumb), power-from-phone/coax, etc. None of these seemed well thought out. Dumping more water in your yard for the sake of pumping out water from your well is stupid. If the power lines are down, phone and cable likely is too. It was tough getting away from the idea of a diesel generator or making my own nuclear reactor. While legal, your neighbors tend to frown upon it.

Finally after a bunch of surfing around on various industrial equipment liquidation sites there was another answer: solar. Solar panels, for whatever strange reason, are dirt freaking cheap. A solar battery charger might be $20. A solar panel alone, for $20 buys you a pretty big panel. So now we have ideas, the question is how does it compare to our diesel generator at 15KW and how expensive is it? There’s a few options. I tend to shy away from the battery chargers since they are rated to charge one battery. They’re cheaply built and they assume you’re also charging one battery. Putting it under load isn’t going to happen. On the other hand I could buy the end-of-the-world version. But as everyone knows if it costs $1800 online on your end of the world site you can build it for about 10% of the price.

Lets put that idea to the test. High end rectifier: $30 from Rat Shack. Low end inverter: $71 for 1.5KW.  Why a low end inverter? I want to use cheap batteries and I suspect the rectifier puts out fairly dirty power. Expect to replace this every few years if you’re using it intermittently but more on the point you might also want to buy a much bigger, nicer unit. So for $100 we’ve got the power path from the panel to the wall socket. How much are batteries? $20 a brick. Keep in mind battery acid is now a federally controlled substance and requires you sign for it, you can get it if you ask. So you can refurb those batteries if you’re not buying sealed cell. And finally how much is a fairly large solar cell? $500 new for a high end one, but since we’re buying junkyard batteries, $100 for a new, fairly nice one or $130 on ebay for enough of them to carpet the entire roof. Since the solar cells do eventually go bad, I tend to like the ebay solution of buying the rejects in bulk so I can simply replace them as the apple tree turns them into broken glass.

Now why does this system work better than the diesel? For one, I can charge the batteries off the existing grid (when it works). I can even charge them from a generator. I can charge them from a car. I can charge them from solar. I could probably even ride a bike connected to an alternator (another $20 junkyard part) and charge them. Car batteries grow on trees. In fact there’s 1.4 of them for every breathing American at the moment and they’re only going to get cheaper as Priuses start showing up in the junkyard. For two I can charge my MR2 and the lawnmower from the solar setup here. There’s no reason why you can’t just put jumper cables from the MR2 or the tractor to the batteries. For three, most of the parts are cheap or free once you buy into the rectifier and inverter. You’re looking at $200 for the whole setup, or $300 to make it nicer. If you want to go seriously high end you can spend $600 for a 6KW, 12KW peak 50A power inverter. I’m sure you can find it cheaper on ebay.

How much do you really need? The government guessdimates that you need 14.5KW a day in summertime (about 600W an hour). Doing the math you can see our low end inverter there (1.5KW sized for a reason) will run about 20 hours running full tilt assuming the batteries aren’t total crap and you have more than one. I used five of them for my math and the health of the battery is frankly a crapshoot.

Now, there’s a choice, and I’m hoping the more electrically inclined readers caught this. You could just unplug the fridge from the wall, plug it in here and forget about it. You could plug the oil burner in here and forget about it. It would probably work great for these two and it give you two more plugs for lamps. In fact that’s probably the safest way to do this. If you want to drive the house off it, you could use the incredibly dangerous male-to-male extension cord and plug it into the wall socket once you disconnect yourself from the grid. However this plan was never designed to run through the house wiring. If you do try it, you’re on your own and you’re strongly advised to buy the proper phase-matching circuits. These are spendy which is why they’re not represented here – I’m not trying to build a solar power plant. If you skip it and wire it directly anyway, you’ll blow a breaker if you’re lucky, if you’re unlucky you’ll set the wiring on fire, and if you’re REALLY unlucky you’ll be on the grid when the power comes back on and you’ll have phase mismatch and your power company will beat the living hell out of you if you live through the resulting explosion. Don’t do it. If you’re really interested, grid-tie starts at $1000.

Speaking of wiring: hows the wiring done? The batteries are dead simple and wired in parallel. You can’t possibly screw it up. You wire all the same poles together, put the charger on one side of the rail and the inverter on the other side of the rail keeping positive to positive and negative to negative and you win. You could stack a thousand batteries like this and you still win. The rub is on the solar panel side. You need, on a cloudy day, to generate a minimum of power to get the rectifier to turn on. On a sunny day this means you’ll be generating far too much power. Solar panels, therefor, are a game of wiring things in both series (to hit the minimum voltage) and parallel (to hit the minimum amps). The longer the parallel run, the more current it produces. The longer the serial run, the more volts it produces. The rectifier will turn on at a minimum of voltage and do it’s thing until you hit a maximal of voltage. In our case, that particular Sunforce product I linked to accepts up to 100 watts @ 7 amps by 12 volts. The voltage on solar panels is the game to play. Since that rectifier will only accept up to 12 volts, you wire the individual cells in series (postive-to-negative) until you hit 12 volts at sunrise. Once you’ve got a few of those, you wire the assembly in parallel (positive to positive) to the rectifier, trying not to exceed 7 amps. For whatever strange reason people seem to just make these huge strips of cells. The problem is that by doing this you waste any excess power you make – it gets converted to heat. Since we’re dealing with DC, we don’t need to worry about phase matching, but if you buy 10,000 individual cells like some of these idiots suggest, you’ll explode something in short order.

Oh, you could just skip all the solar stuff and charge the batteries from the wall socket. PECO price caps and all that.

Tax the Rich!

SAP, whom I used to work for, gets a hat tip. Although SAP’s offerings in the US always seemed like the US was the “outsourced labor” and the Germans were the actual workers. The truth was that these were mostly separate companies and simply shared the company name. Still, most of my corporate experience there was a feeling like most people were climbing and never got further than the bottom rung. There’s a few people I still talk to today there and they’ve got their heads on right, but the vast majority of people never seemed to get the idea that the US side of things was roughly the same as any other outsourced labor and treated accordingly. That’s important to keep in mind when you read this article – there’s nothing a company has or does which makes the US any more of a valuable market for labor or money than any other country. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still work there simply for the experience (again) but in terms of career growth it’s not happening without moving to Germany. Then again with how the US is doing this too is becoming attractive.

Now, there’s a bigger message here from outsourcing or delisting from the stock exchange. When you make companies jump through more hoops and pay higher taxes, they simply leave. This applies to companies, this applies to individuals. If you make the environment so hostile that it becomes attractive to be somewhere else, they pull up the tent stakes and dust off. More on the point the rich, the companies, they have enough money they can afford to be mobile. When you compound the tax hike with jail time for individuals, suddenly moving seems like an awfully good idea…

I wonder how much it would cost to get the MR2 shipped to Germany?

Wild Boar in Pennsylvania

The PA Game Commission made an incredibly wordy announcement that feral swine were now a protected species.

I did a WTF and sat down to actually read the thing. What it starts out with is a PA supreme court ruling that swine are now a regulated game animal, then it ends with a brief announcement that, unless it’s hunting season, anyone is authorized to trap and kill swine. If it’s hunting season, you must be a hunter to hunt them, but otherwise you’re OK to kill them on sight. So how are they protected? They’re protected under the authority of the game commission who has said “GO FORTH, KILL AND EAT THYNE BACON”.

Basically the commonwealth has granted citizens of the commonwealth the right to go balls out nuts on these things if they see them, just not use them as an excuse to hunt without a license. Now, I’m not entirely sure I can put one down with the 17HMR, but I am sure I can drop one with the bow or the trusty old 30-06.

If anyone has a tip where they might be let me know. We’ll have a pig roast.

Obama and the Budget has their Morning Bell piece on the Mid Session Resview. Frankly if I were them and I wanted to really make a point I would have done a line by line breakdown on the thing. The piece is worth a read as a summary, and they cut the administration some slack by using the “official” number for unemployment (8.7%) versus the adjusted number of 22%. My gut feeling from talking to friends is that it’s closer to 8.7% – it’s probably 10%. It’s worse than the government is saying but it’s not as bad as statisticians are saying. At some point you’re playing word definition games rather than looking for numbers.

My impressions are that I’m still surprised Obama is in Blame Bush mode. At this point he’s sounding desperate. From the very first paragraph alone:

In January of 2009, the economy was on the brink of a potentially severe depression, precipitated by an era of irresponsibility marked by excessive risk-taking in, lax oversight of, and an eventual meltdown in the country’s credit and capital markets. The result was a severe and rapid economic contraction, the collapse of the financial markets, and damaging and painful job losses. More than 750,000 jobs were lost just in the first month of 2009, 3.7 million were lost in the first half of that year, and 8.4 million were lost between the beginning of the recession, at the end of 2007, and the beginning of the recovery.

We’re still talking about The Last Guy is what I get out of that. That tone continues through the entire piece. At some point in his term Obama might actually choose to lead and take personal responsibility for what’s going on, but I suspect this year isn’t it. Maybe next year. Even people who generally do try to ascribe economic failure to The Last Guy tend to only count the first year of a Presidents term as The Last Guys economic policy, so the fact that we’re still talking about 2007 speaks volumes for Obama realizing he’s absolutely screwed. Not only does he realize he’s screwed but rather than try to take it on the chin and say “ok we’re just making a mess here, lets do something else” he’s still saying “but look what BUSH did!”

The other thing which really pisses me off is that the budget says “oh look we made PAYGO into law!” Which was good. For all I thought Clinton was a scumbag who should have been raped to death by dolphins (one of the few animals in the world with two penises), he could run a business. The problem is the Obama version can be superceded by “emergencies” which hes cheapened out to be “right now”. The law solely exists to make sure congress and senate has a tough time funding anything since the office of the President has spent every last dime (actually four and a half of them). Obama’s PAYGO isn’t about a balanced budget, it’s about making sure everyone in the other two arms of the government can’t possibly say no.

Another step towards disaster is the Dodd-Frank act. This act prevents taxpayers from having to bail out wall street companies. Like we just did. Several times over. But it’s an emergency you see.

OK trying to be at least a little bit positive – Patient Protection and Affordable Care act which has nothing to do with the balance sheet protects Americans from discrimination based on pre-existing conditions.

Anyway, the rest of it is standard issue hogwash. I think we’re going to return to 10%+ mortgage rates in a few years so BUY NOW.

Comcast DNS

In case anyone hasn’t figured it out yet, comcast does really horrible stuff with DNS. What finally broke the camels back was that instead of returning DNS errors, comcast started returning pages with redirects to their search page. This meant any time comcast couldn’t find something or it took too long they would redirect you. The problem is that if you’re, say, trying to resolve your buddy in japan, comcast will send you to the searchlight page about half the time and send you to his PC about half the time.

I know what you’re saying – “why not just do it by IP?”

Well, for all you Modern Warfare 2 players, your host resolution to the next xbox is done by DNS. Situations where you need to actually talk to someone else on another ISP and you have to resolve their name only worked about half the time also. Comcast could fix it by having actual DNS servers which didn’t molest your packets, but I decided to give third party DNS a try.

Folks, it used to take me upwards of three seconds to resolve stuff during peak hours on comcast. I put Google’s DNS in my router configuration and stuff connects almost instantly. More on the point it gives legitimate DNS errors which makes my at home network configs real simple and it resolves japan really nicely.

People are probably going to grouse “but then google is looking over your shoulder!” but how is this any different from punching a term into google search and connecting to something versus just going there directly? More on the point the speed is worth it.

Now watch comcast filter DNS queries to external servers next week.