Thursday, April 9, 2009

two miracles in one week

At least three miracles are needed for hydrogen vehicles to become practical and progress has been made on two of them this week.

1) cheap way to produce the hydrogen.

2) practical way to store the hydrogen in a car.

3) cheap fuel cell to use the hydrogen - progress is coming along generally. this is probably the easiest miracle, but it is at the product development stage so companies don't talk about their progress.

We obvious still need to get the energy to produce the hydrogen from somewhere and I think the crazy unschedule-able wind plants will do just fine for that. The hydrogen production facilities will only be profitable with the lowest cost electricity. The electric companies will give them the lowest rates in exchange for the hydrogen companies agreeing to follow the wind plants' output.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Battlestar Gallactica and the smart grid

There is a compelling story here, but I can't think of a clever way to state it.

Simply put:

There is a consistent (and fairly blind) effort to increase the level of automation in our nation's electrical system at all levels.

This creates an obvious and I think unavoidable way for hackers to play with stuff that might actually hurt people.

Some argue the benefits outweigh the dangers and that robust cybersecurity policies can protect us. I think that is 100% grade A BS. I don't think there is such a thing as a secure network and neither does the CIA. Their sensitive information is kept on computers that aren't connected to any networks. Networked information is basically public information.

As part of my work, I've seen some cybersecurity policies for the energy industry and I'm pretty sure the only reason we haven't seen a major hacker-induced outage is because nobody has really tried to cause one yet. Or maybe because they never learned power flow calculations.

Point being, I think we're better off going the Battlestar Gallactica route - embrace individual computing devices, just never let so many of them talk to each other and make automated decisions that they could endanger the reliability of the power supply.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

World Depression II

Lots of writers are claiming that the current economic issues aren't as bad as the Great Depression.

These comparisons are based on the US experience during the Depression vs the US experience today.

This article claims that if you compare the World then vs World now, every sign indicates that World Depression II is going to make World Depression I look like World War I.

World Depression I was severe, prolonged and unpleasant and all, but since then we've learned far more efficient and effective ways of turning our cash into confetti.

And yet I'm perfectly happy pulling up stakes and moving to a less secure new position. Am I really so confident in the invulnerability of my industry or do I not believe that things are as bad as the analysis indicates?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mr. Mori and I must share logic diagrams

Moving to the 'burbs of Denver in a few weeks, I've started to think about what I should get as a second car.

Naturally, I wasted a lot of time browsing ads to see what struck me. This is a useless process for me, because I am a lover of cars generally - and for a wide variety of reasons. My favorite car so far was a 12yr old Geo Storm. I owned it when it was announced the Lotus Elise would finally be coming to the US. I couldn't help but notice how the two were similar in many ways and how the Storm excelled the Elise in some ways (the chassis and the engine were built by the same company; the Geo wasn't held together by glue - well, it hadn't been when it was new, anyway).

Point being, cars are an emotional subject for me so browsing listings leads inevitably to frustration and fail. I'd end up buying something ridiculous like a Eagle Talon TSi (a hot little turbo-ed awd coupe with an engine so explosively unreliable that it has been referred to as a very expensive grenade from which the pin has been pulled).

Acknowledging my inability to make a rational decision, I decided to rely on a logic diagram to guide me.

The design was thus: we already have a reliable, competent, efficient, smallish car (a 2003 Pontiac Vibe). So the additional car should add as much vehicular capability as possible at the least total cost (initial plus operations and maintenance). The capabilities that I value are:

1) AWD or 4x4 for snow-going (AWD is slightly preferred because it is lower cost and probably good enough. I have no desire to drive off-road.)
2) a truck bed for hauling dirty stuff (for when I have a dirty garden)
3) decent acceleration from a turbo (for getting up into the mountains without putting excessive strain on the engine - turbos don't derate at higher elevations the way naturally aspirated engines do)

The required characteristics are:

1) must cost under $12k
2) must have less than 75k miles
3) must carry at least 4 adult passengers

Anyone who spends too much time reading car mags knows where this is going and is probably a little disturbed by it:

The much maligned Subaru Baja Turbo. Unofficially known as "the Subaru Outback that got in a fight with a sawzall - and lost." Depending on the price differential between the turbo version and the base model when it is actually time to buy, there is a decent chance I'll skip the turbo.

If you're still wondering about the title, Mr. Mori is the CEO Fuji Heavy Industries, the parent company of Subaru.