Monthly Archives: April 2009

Is it time for the Electric Car?

A reader asked about the Chevy Volt in comparison to the Honda Civic, which is a wonderful question. The Volt people claim that it can go 40 miles on just batteries, which is perfect for most people’s commutes provided they can plug in at work (or not for the really lucky ones). So, it’s obvious that there is no fuel consumed by the vehicle in these first few miles of driving, but I’m going to look at how much fuel is consumed to create those 8.8 kilowatts of electricity it takes to go 40 miles. First, the 8.8 number comes from Chevy’s claim that the gas engine kicks in at 30% battery charge, and the battery will only charge to 85% from the wall outlet, meaning it goes 40 miles on 55% of the battery capacity (16 KW), which equals 8.8 KW.
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Buying a fuel-efficient used car versus a new Prius

Update: I just found this article, which has the same point as mine, and assumes domestic production. It also pre-dates mine – that will teach me not to use google!

As one who drives a 2000 Honda Civic, which in many real-world driving tests gets almost exactly 30 MPG consistently (I keep pump logs), I wonder if I would actually create a net reduction in gas consumption by buying a Prius or other car. Now, I’m assuming a new Prius, but buying a used one is perfectly valid, and is outside the scope of this article. If you want to do that, more power to you – that’s a good choice hands down. Yet, most people I know would opt for a new one. Based on various seemingly valid estimates, it takes 113,322,000 BTUs to create and import a brand new Prius. It takes 0 BTUs to park a used Honda Civic on a lot until someone buys it.

So, for the data used to obtain this, I looked all over for real road tests of the Prius fuel economy.  This one seemed to fit well with everything else I’d been reading, giving an average range of 42.6-45.2 MPG.  So, I’m going to say 43 MPG.

The Prius uses enough gas to create 2639.53 BTUs per mile.  The Civic: 3783.33.  At these rates, and coupled with the initial component of the BTUs used to manufacture and import the Prius, we come up with the following:

$latex 2639.53x + 113322000 = 3783.33x$

$latex x = 99075.01$

Graphing this in gnuplot, we get the following:

plotSo, one would have to drive almost 100,000 miles to get an advantage over simply buying a used Civic.  Interesting.  Here’s the GNUPlot Plot File for anyone that’s interested.

Creating Beautiful Panoramas Easily in Linux

Recently, I’ve gotten pretty into photography.  I bought a digital SLR, a Nikon D40X, which I love.  I also went to Germany recently, which gave me many opportunities to take some really pretty pictures.  Many times, I couldn’t capture the scene in just one picture, so I had to take some panoramas.  I generally do my panoramas vertically so I can capture a larger amount of vertical area.  This requires more shots, but memory it cheap, and I don’t have to end up cropping parts I want to keep.  I’m going to guide you through making a seamless panorama using only free and open-source software in Linux, specifically Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope. 
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Rowan LeCompte is awesome

While waking up this Saturday morning, I heard one of the best interviews I’ve ever listened to on NPR.  Rowan LeCompte, a stained glass artist who has contributed greatly to the Washington National Cathedral, is interestingly agnostic.  His explanation of a philosophy of kindness is wonderful.  Have a listen. (Start at 3:55 if you’re short on time)