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Normal service is about to be resumed

I'm back home after a long weekend at the British eastercon; I'd be feeling recharged if it hadn't involved a 650 mile drive and the discovery that since I last dusted off the car the price of petrol has hit £1.44 per litre at motorway service stations (about US $8.60 per US gallon for you foreign Johnnies, in case you were wondering — we're not far off $10/gal).

Meanwhile, from the annals of corporate stupidity, I'd just like to share with you the discovery that Penguin Group's email gateway bounces email containing the word "viagra". Presumably they were experiencing a slight spam problem, but when the email in question is a glowing review of a book that includes the use of viagra as a murder weapon the lack of a whitelisting mechanism for known external correspondents (or any kind of sane error message to tell them what's going on) becomes glaringly obvious.

This isn't quite as crazy as the Tor/Holtzbrinck email fiasco of a few years ago, when the corporate mail gateway began eating mail with large attachments consisting of novels being sent to editors by, oh, yours truly and Orson Scott Card that I know of (they fixed that real quick when the editorial department began sending out parties with pitchforks and torches), but it is leading me to wonder how much longer email is going to remain viable as a communications tool ...

135 Comments

1:

No worries, once email is dead you can always send them your next novel via twitter. I'm sure the editorial department would be delighted.

On the other hand, I think I've heard the death of email (from either signal-to-noise ratio or "the kids prefer other medium X") announced every couple of years since the dawn of Hotmail.

2:

The thing is, the Spam Wars are over, mostly. Email would be a very reliable, nearly noise-free, distributed medium right now ... if it weren't for system administrators screwing things up (or, in many cases, leaving existing systems essentially uncared to for years)

3:

That sounds quite a lot like "email would work fine, if only humans weren't involved!"

4:

Oh totally. When the computers take over and eliminate us in the name of efficiancy the supernet will be as efficient as inhumanly possible.

5:

Seems like you're not using the car a lot. How do you get about usually?
(Been trying to find out which one (if any) of you and Cory is the bicyclist after hearing about the bike in Jury Duty..)

6:

Corporate paranoia becomes an institution after a while and frequently leads to debased functionality being put forward as the only alternative to low security. During a recent review prompted by a situation similar to the above it was found that some of the scripts on our network hadn't been reviewed or modified since the network first went online and had been retained untested through several hardware iterations. Naturally the original work was done by a consultant...

7:

"...US $8.60 per US gallon..."

Oh my. I'm trying to visualize the caterwauling and gnashing of teeth were USers to wake up tomorrow to that price.

8:

I live in the centre of a capital city. I'm about a 20 minute walk from Parliament and Holyrood Palace, and a bit less from Princes Street. There's a major railway station ten minutes up the road, along with a bus terminal for the airport: and if I want to buy food there are roughly a dozen supermarkets within a fifteen minute walk.

Meanwhile, the part of the city I live in predates the automobile by around 150 years. Parking is, shall we say, difficult.

So the car gets used for moving Stuff around -- Stuff too heavy to carry -- and for long multi-person road trips (viz. journeys that would be too expensive to undertake by taxi or train: the car becomes competitive when two or more PAX are traveling).

I am not a cyclist -- limited peripheral vision and living in a city built on an extinct volcano (i.e. every direction you go in is uphill) put a stop to it. I can't speak for Cory.

9:

Judging by symantec's figures from March 2011, it looks like spam still makes up 70-80% of all email sent. That's a huge drop from where it was (90%+), but if your system administrator stopped maintaining the spam filtering you'd still be pretty much inundated with spam. I don't doubt that there are some sysadmins who aren't very good at administrating an email server, but it's only *because* of dedicated sysadmins that it appears to users that the 'spam wars' are mostly over.

10:

I read blogs and twitters by US drivers, members of the middle calsss. They're already caterwauling and gnashing teeth in an extremely loud way because, oh horrors, the price has just gone up, past the "horribly high" number of one dollar per gallon.

11:

My late father's solution to comms problems was:
"Send a runner with a cleft stick" (to carry the letter/signet ring/whatever) in ......

12:

Bah. My comment got eated. I'll try to redo it.

My prediction: email, as we've known it, won't last beyond the death of IPv4.

However, IPv4 will stick around for a long time. One of the longest uses of it will, in fact, be for the big SMTP servers that will only speak IPv4 to each other, and only allow IPv6 for submit/POP/IMAP/future. (The reason for this is that IPv6 is really hard to do DNSBLs and DNSWLs on -- using them is easy, maintaining them is very hard -- and there's a decreasing need for everyone to have their on SMTP servers. MX servers may speak IPv6 to the hosts they're MXing for, but that'll be allowed via firewalls.)

In the future, one-to-one and one-to-few communications will be done via hosted applications -- this blog, for example; IM; Facebook, LiveJournal, Twitter, future apps, etc. The one-to-many will adapt to this. (You see this already, where companies are using SMS for what would otherwise have been done via mailing list.)

Mark my words.

13:

I have to send image files around a fair amount for print, and gave up using email a long while ago - most people's mail gateways will choke on anything with more than a couple of high resolution images in it.

Now I use Dropbox - put a zip file in a folder on my PC, right click and get a URL that I can send to whoever I need to. They can download the files at their pleasure.

I'd guess that with your novels you'd want something a lot more secure, but that's not difficult.

14:

"They're already caterwauling and gnashing teeth in an extremely loud way because, oh horrors, the price has just gone up, past the "horribly high" number of one dollar per gallon."

All the worse that it's bumping around $4/gallon in substantial portions of the US.

15:

Buying petrol at a motorway service area should be reserved for small amounts needed to recover from fuel planning screw ups. Between Edinburgh and Birmingham can I suggest the Carlisle Tesco about 1 km west of M6 J43? http://osm.org/go/evarBPBq Cheaper food and decent loos as well. H24 fuel if you use "pay-at-pump".

Interesting legal questions arise when a council planning department's spam filter throws somebody's e-mailed objection to a planning application in the bin because it contains the word "erection" (actually happened). They're obliged to consider the objection so it's difficult to see how they can escape liability for the actions of their software. OTOH, pushing that line too far would result in the death of e-mail.

16:

On a sarcastic note, if you count in taxes and average it out on a per person basis, we're probably paying much more per gallon. Thing is, a lot of our gas price comes out looking like taxes paid to the US military for mucking about in former bits of the old British Empire, and as tax-breaks to big oil (check out the news on Big Oil today. Something about record profits).

I think there's something to be said for cutting the labyrinthine payments and having us pay big oil companies directly for all of our money they take. It would at least let people know where their money is going, and stop the shell game. Not that this modest proposal has a snowball's chance in Houston, but you know, I can hope.

17:

You can suggest the Carlisle Tesco if you want, but in the absence of navigation aids that can take me to it and tell me it exists it's not much use to me -- I drive that way maybe once every few years. (In fact, I last put petrol in the car in 2010.)

18:

As for using (ahem) sildenafil as a murder weapon, it appears that the newest Batman TV cartoon has been sniffing around similar territory, in a kiddie-friendly version. Sad to say, I haven't seen it. Just making assumptions from reading the review.

I suppose the competition is getting considerably stiffer these days.

19:

E-mail will live on for a long time. It has never been the best way for large doucments to be delivered to people but it does make it easy for most non-technical people to find the document you are talking about ... it's ion the same place as the e-mail message!

I'm a fan of dropbox too. Anyone fancy an invite so I can get an extra 500MB per accepted invite? ;-)

In NZ, 91 unleaded petrol is 218.9 cents a litre. Given the awful state of the pound at the moment that is approx 105 pence a litre.

20:

You can suggest the Carlisle Tesco if you want, but in the absence of navigation aids that can take me to it and tell me it exists it's not much use to me

Well... there's almost certainly an app for that, with built in Nav... :)

I picked up a cheap sat-nav for travel during some sales for this sort of thing too, it updates over the web when I remember to plug it into the PC. As our car has it's own nav system, the spare sits in my travel bag and follows me around the world.

Of course, knowing that tonight is our quarterly CostCo run, I've been running the car down to fumes, so I can save the $0.30 a gallon it's going to be at CostCo.

21:

In fact, I filled up my gas tank today at $4.35 per gallon, which is the going rate in my area of the US. It's been a long time since gas was $1 per gallon here.

The reasons people in the US are upset over gas prices can be briefly summarized as: (a) the cost of gas has more than doubled in a short span of time, and (b) other modes of transit in the US are not viable for most people. They cannot respond by driving less than half as much to make their budget work out.

The underlying issues are hard to solve -- for instance, population density is very low in the urbanized US, compared to cities elsewhere. I could go on at length, but this isn't really the place for it.

22:

If you use Dropbox, just be aware that it is about as secure as the proverbial wet piece of tissue paper (JFGI for details).

Such services have always fallen into the "I encrypt it with something-or-other" category for me and mine, enough to stop a script kiddie but not a pro.

23:

If you're only putting fuel in the car every ~4 months, I would suggest the use of a gasoline stabilizer. In NA the brand with the widest distribution is called Sta-Bil; I have no idea if they're in Europe as well. The stuff prevents the unstable bits in petrol from breaking down and gumming up expensive bits like fuel injectors. I'm sure a local mechanic can suggest a suitable product--it definitely falls in the 'ounce of prevention' category.

24:

Doesn't Cory travel by balloon?

25:

There's a major railway station ten minutes up the road, along with a bus terminal for the airport: and if I want to buy food there are roughly a dozen supermarkets within a fifteen minute walk.

Meanwhile, the part of the city I live in predates the automobile by around 150 years. Parking is, shall we say, difficult.

So the car gets used for moving Stuff around -- Stuff too heavy to carry -- and for long multi-person road trips (viz. journeys that would be too expensive to undertake by taxi or train: the car becomes competitive when two or more PAX are traveling).

So how do people in rural areas of the UK manage?

26:

Back during the last significant price jump, well before the Deepwater Horizon, I predicted that $7/gal was the magic price point that would end any argument about drilling in the ANWR. Post Deepwater, I would revise that figure to $6/gal, and $9/gal to allow near shore drilling.

Not based on any particular research, mind, but rather to make a point about living in a democracy. And I rather suspect that in a truly popular democracy, that figure would likely be close to $3/gal.

27:

Unfortunately, this is no longer true. The vast majority of spam is sent through botnets nowadays. Now granted, if the broadband providers were to do minimal policing of their subscribers, the botnet problem would be solved, so essentially you're still right, the old model of open relays being the culprit is a thing of the 90's.

28:

"I read blogs and twitters by US drivers, members of the middle calsss. They're already caterwauling and gnashing teeth in an extremely loud way because, oh horrors, the price has just gone up, past the "horribly high" number of one dollar per gallon."

Danger! Incoming Bogons!

Actually, you don't "read blogs and twitters" about anything of the sort, unless you habitually frequent fora populated by fools. Which doesn't really speak well of you.

The average price of gallon of gasoline in the US is $3.93 or so. I paid $3.87 a couple of days ago. There's talk of $6 by summer, whether it will be due to speculation in the commodity markets, market unease due to unrest in the Middle East, etc. About what you'd expect, as prices really are unstable.

A bit of Wolfram Alpha is called for: http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=average+price+of+gasoline+in+the+United+states

Troll FAIL.

29:

@ 21 & 23
Erm - possibly Charlie's car, like mine is compression-ignition (Wrongly called "Diesel") ?
I too live in a large city, but nearer the edge.
The car gets used for out-of-town trips where the trains don't go. It's flatter than Dun-ei-dinn, so short-distance hops get the bicycle treatment, and my eyesight is better than Charlie's.
(So, if I want to go to York, I do get the train ...)

The US USED to have suburban and inter-urban railroads, and long-distance too (for passengers)
The Oil companies and vsted interests killed that.
See: "Who killed Roger Rabbit?" I believe.

30:

Who Framed Roger Rabbit only addressed the death of the Los Angeles Red Line at the hands of the tire companies. Or perhaps the oil companies. Or perhaps it was the developers who realized that light rail was incompatible with the urban sprawl they wanted to enrich themselves on, because it didn't spread fast enough. I've seen all three stories, and all three could be right.

Odd to think that LA used to have the best light rail system in the world.

I'd suggest reading City of Quartz by Mike Davis, if you want to learn a bit more about LA history.

31:

it's kind of weird I used to think of motorway fuel as significantly more expensive but back then it was 76p per litre against 72p now its £1.44 vs £1.40

it's odd that the price of fuel has doubled since I bought my car. i remember thinking when it hit a 105p that i was now paying in miles per gallon what i was paying for petrol

mind you the price inflation must be so much worse for United statesers since they don't pay much tax and thus prices must have tripled?

32:

Quick explanation there, I, like most of Europe use Diesel. I would think about a switch to bi-fuel with an LPG conversion but the channel tunnel refuses to let cars using LPG use their tunnel (but are fine about people taking caravans that are full of the stuff)

As for tesco in Carlisle, the petrol is more like 300 metres from the motorway at junction 43 and its a simple come off see tescos, AVOID CARLISLE, go back on.

I'm sad to say I know Carlisle Tesco's and in fact Carlisle far far to well. In the past before i knew people who lived in Carlisle I used to make a habit of stopping at Lockerbie for haggis and chips on route to glasgow/edinburgh . I really like lockerbie, it's nice wee town

33:

#25 - With difficulty. Fuel here is significantly more than it is in central Scotland, and "not driving" isn't an option. I do run a heavy oil CI car for its flexibility/drivability and economy. At British highway speeds (typically 60 to 80 mph or so) it can comfortably manage Dumbarton to Heathrow via Duxford (about 500 miles) on about 9 gallons of DERV.

34:

OP para 2 - My sis worked for $major_scientific_publisher, working on biology texts. Their IT set up their gateway to block any e-mail that mentioned the word "Sierra Echo X-ray"! :headdesk:

35:

Quick explanation there, I, like most of Europe use Diesel. I would think about a switch to bi-fuel with an LPG conversion but the channel tunnel refuses to let cars using LPG use their tunnel (but are fine about people taking caravans that are full of the stuff)
I can sort of understand that; I know people who've done DIY LPG conversions on cars, but caravan propane and butane systems use a simple single-point non-user servicable isolator, combined with tanks that are rented from $compressed_gas_company. There are many fewer failure points in the caravan system, particularly if you insist on the regulator being disconnected from the gas bottle for the duraiton of the trip.

36:

So how do people in rural areas of the UK manage?

Firstly, the UK population is about 70% urban. What Americans call "suburbia" would qualify as "rural" levels of habitation density in the UK.

Secondly, the UK is small -- unless they're living in the highlands of Scotland outside one of the towns (meaning: a total of about 0.5M people) they invariably live within ten miles of a large town or small city.

Finally, we still have vestiges of a decent out-of-town public transport system -- trains and buses -- and because the land area is so much smaller than rural North America those buses probably stop by often enough to be useful (i.e. a few times a day).

We just don't have very many people whose nearest town is 50 miles away and nearest city is 200 miles away because there isn't enough space for that kind of sprawl.

37:

Not exactly right: just bear in mind that DropBox is intended to emulate a hard drive shared over the internet, with all the security implications thereof.

I keep confidential stuff on DropBox -- in an encrypted sparse disk image. When I need to edit the spreadsheets I need to know the password to mount the disk image; then I disconnect, and DropBox only uploads the changed disk blocks. DropBox is as secure as the encryption system you use to secure the data you store on it. If you don't encrypt your data? Then you have a security problem.

38:

Pah. I hope email is around for a long while yet, even when we're all switched over to IPV6. I don't like using vertual keyboards. Touch typing and spell checking a message at my desktop. Saving it offline etc, I find, is by far the most convenient way to convey a relatively complicated or lengthy message. Seems a bit unusual these days but I still prefer using OE rather than logging into a web mail interface.

39:

The current one is petrol. The next one (I'm planning to start actively shopping next month) will probably be diesel. (If I used it mostly about town I'd be thinking about petrol because I don't want to contribute to the urban PM10 pollution problem -- besides which, I think there'll be a crack-down on it any day now -- but I don't think it's much of a problem on long motorway runs through the Borders.)

40:

For really low annual mileage, the petrol engine is possibly still cost effective. Diesel engine vehicles tend to have a price premium on the hardware, and pay back on the cheaper per-mile running cost.

When herself was looking at a new car two years ago, she only ended up going diesel because the diesel variant hit a lower car tax bracket than the petrol one. Otherwise, for ~30 miles per day, it wasn't quite worth it, over a ten year intended ownership.

(Fuel price changes do change calculations, so it might be different today.)

41:

I can't find a reference to the original study I'm quoting, but a 1980s German study suggested that about 50% of PM10s were tyre and brake dust rather than hydrocarbon soot at that time. I'm pretty sure that modern low-sulphur fuel, and improved combustion technologies have taken at least one order of magnitude off PM10 hydrocarbon soot, on which basis I'd suggest it's not a major issue, even on the "dry side" of the country.

42:

There's also the "comfort and work" factor. I've the impression that neither Feorag nor Charlie are really "enthusiastic" drivers, so they might feel the higher low end torque of the diesel is worthwhile?

Similarly, even though I am, I don't dash about at illegally super-high speeds, but the higher mid-range acceleration of a diesel wrt a given fuel burn makes it worthwhile IMO.

43:

The thing I don't understand is the relative expense of diesel compared to petrol has been creeping up over the last few years. The duty is apparently the same, so there must be other issues. I thought diesel was the heavier end of the fraction and required less processing than petrol, but is it the removal of the sulphur that is adding to the cost, or is there not enough capacity for refining diesel?

44:

Ah, I remember the days when the litres on the pump used to go up quicker than the £'s...

"So how do people in rural areas of the UK manage?"
We drive, to put in perspective, I earn ~£18k a year, of which after tax etc I receive ~£15k, and this year I think about £2k of that will go on fuel (with another £1k on tax, insurance and MOT). And that's with a relatively short commute that would only be about three times longer on public transport.

45:

In southern Britain, we've just had a PM10-related smog warning. They're still definitely a problem.

46:

I love it when the "need" for drilling the Alaskan Natural Wildlife Reserve gets trotted out. It happens every time there's a spike in oil prices, and especially in the summer, when US demand goes up (driving, airco). As if the oil pumped out of the ANWR will go straight into US voters' gas tanks at $2 a gallon, immediately. No, it'll join the rivers of oil flowing through the global market at current prices, most likely toward China and India, where demand is biggest. After a slight time lag for exploratory drilling, extraction, construction of storage facilities and pipelines and shipping to refineries.

But that won't stop the usual suspects from clamoring to open the ANWR to drilling. And leasing the mineral rights very cheaply to the oil companies feeding quarters into the Mighty Rightwing Wurlitzer.

47:

I'm not saying that they're not a problem in toto. What I'm saying is that the proportion of them that are HC soot rather than tyre and brake dust is lower so PC10/vehicle is lower, but that total traffic has increased.

48:

The EU has threatened to take legal action against the UK due to continuing poor air quality in London.

Was it here or elsewhere I read that speculation that at some point in the near future, it may be worth collecting road surface dust to recover platinum particulates expelled by catalytic converters?

49:

I am still wondering how I manage to survive my car ownership. Being a bit eccentric (OK weird seeing as I am neither rich or powerfull) I bought a PT Cruiser a couple of years ago. Seemed like a bargain at the time, only 16k miles on the clock, 4 years old, one lady owner who was a doctor. Sweet.

Except for one minor fly in this particular ointment. 23 MPG in town and if I drive very carefully 27 on a motorway. Yeah, I bought the beast with the 2.4 liter engine. DOH! Plus as its an American design it has certain issues. Dodgy electrics, every winter when I brake, the doors all lock. The alarm gets set off by cars with large exhausts, so loved by the local boy racers. Not to mention suspension bushes that wear out like their made from some kind of tissue paper derivative.

Mind you, it looks the absolute dogs bollocks. It is a great looking car (if youre eccentric, I mean weird, like me). Nothing on the road looks like it. And mine is black so its the perfect goth-mobile (if you are just sane enough NOT to buy a hearse that is) and it is pretty practical. Or it would be if you can ignore the pain in your chest when you fill the tank.

How do I manage? Beats me, I just make do and dont take it for long journeys. I have the wife's car for that. Mercedes C180 Kompressor... 40 MPG. Groovey.

50:

Thank you for the excellent extract from the annals of corporate stupidity.

I don't think the petrol-diesel divide is such an issue any more. Diesel cars are now _much_ cleaner than they used to be. The shift to the current Euro 5 standard means a massive (~80%) reduction in PM pollution compared with the previous Euro 4 standard (Euro 5 now covers all new cars sold in Europe, and reduces diesel pollution nearly to petrol levels).
The Euro standards are technology-neutral, but many (most?) manufacturers use diesel particulate filters to help achieve them. But these have their own issues in terms of maintenance and fuel economy. I don't know whether any manufacturers have managed to introduce technology that removes the need for a filter, but if so they might be worth checking out.

Incidentally, I don't know whether Edinburgh has a short-term rental scheme (aka car-sharing), but if so, it may well be worth considering. If you have a station within easy walking distance, it's quite easy to use, and friends in Brussels find it works well for them and their kids. In Switzerland, car-sharing works out cheaper than owning a vehicle if you drive less than 10K km per year.

51:

PT Cruiser. Dodge-y. Yep. That's why Chrysler is now owned in large part by Fiat. If the car company (and its designers) is located in Detroit, one might imagine that the car would work well in cold weather.

Years ago, I got in a minor front end collision with a Jeep Grand Cherokee. I was driving an old Hyundai Excel. Left front corner of my car clipped the left front corner of the jeep. Afterward I drove home and was out $700 for new bumper, headlight, and body work. The jeep had to be taken home on a flat bed, because its front axle broke, along with front corner and head light.

The last Dodge I rode in was a rental Dodge RAM truck 4WD to get to a remote job site. The door sloped in so much that every time we swayed over a wheel rut or rock, the seat belt suspender by the door hit me in the side of the head (I'm only slightly taller than average). I had to sit leaning towards the driver, which is not fun if you're riding off-road.

Sad part is that I learned to drive in a Dodge truck. They've really gone downhill.

52:

I feel your pain.

And envy your petrol consumption. I may be able to scrape 27 mpg on the motorway, but my in-town mileage is often down in the teens.

(2.5 V6, and a car that is considerably heavier, so starting and stopping is the major energy loss. The upside is low mileage, so some months I can get away with not filling up.)

53:

I very much doubt this. Protocols are hard to kill. There still exists a fairly large gophernet (there are slightly fewer live gopher sites now than there were when www sites first overtook gopher sites in count, sometime in the early nineties), and IRC and USENET still exist (though USENET is now largely used for file sharing amongst people who can't be arsed to use bittorrent and for spamming people who try to search google groups, but that's another story). Infrastructure is even harder to get rid of: there's still telephone equipment and recordings out there manufactured in the days of Ma Bell, still in use (as you will see if you spend a few weeks listening to Off the Hook). Where protocols and infrastructure meet, there's a lot of resistance: not only is there a lot of cobol and fortran still in use in industry and physical science respectively, but more is being written just to keep the old stuff maintained. Fortran became essentially obsolete when BNF was invented, which gives us a basic benchmark of at least 50 years of survival-past-obsolescence for a socially entrenched technology. While I agree that IP4 will stick around for a while, I don't think IP4 or email will ever be eliminated entirely, anymore than IPX or appletalk or OS/2 or RPG have been eliminated completely.

54:

UseNET is not a protocol. It is a distributed, peer-to-peer file sharing system, implemented on top of a whole bunch of protocols. It started out on uucp over phone lines; at least one peer had it delivered via magnetic tape, and another on CD-ROM; the most common mechanism now is NNTP over TCP/IPv4, but other methods still exist and are in use. And NNTP will transfer handily over to IPv6 with no problems.

As I said: Mark My Words: SMTP over IPv6 will not be as common as SMTP over IPv4, and other protocols will take over. And SMTP will not die for a long time, but the number of entities using it will decrease. (IRC, incidentally, is one of the things that has taken over email.)

55:

We do indeed have a city car club, but it's no damn use if your typical use for a car is an extended long-haul trip lasting a weekend or longer -- they rent by the hour.

56:

Since you say you're using petrol (gasoline on this side of the pond) I'll add a second recommendation for the use of Sta-Bil.

I use it in my seasonal vehicle, as I don't like the thought of draining fuel tank AND carburetor at the end of the season. (Motorcycles are fun, as long as the air is warm and the roads are dry...)

But as the previous commenter said, talk to your mechanic. Petrol may have a better formulation in your part of the world.

57:

Looking at my Gmail account, there's been about a 75% drop in the amount of spam caught, but their filters are now seeming a little too strict. On the other hand, the quantities are at a level where a human check becomes practical.

There are also attempts to masquerade as my bank. They're getting the envelope right, but they need an address that they control, and Received headers are obviously wrong. But watch out for "open this file" attacks which can get away with using a valid address to reply to.

It does seem email filtering does need good maintenance.

58:

I've rather been expecting co-ownership of cars to increase. If you can get around mostly by foot or public transport, it would make sense for several households to pool their money for a decent car/ people carrier suitable for weekend use, then divvy up the time permitted to use it.

59:

I keep confidential stuff on DropBox -- in an encrypted sparse disk image. When I need to edit the spreadsheets I need to know the password to mount the disk image; then I disconnect, and DropBox only uploads the changed disk blocks.


Sounds a bit unsafe to me -- what if you accidentally leave the disk mounted on two computers at once, or just mount it before DropBox finished sync'ing the latest versions? Most filesystems don't like it when the block device changes underneath them, resulting in tears and data corruption.


(Although I'm sure you've got encrypted backups stored elsewhere.)

60:

It's not a very large disk image -- it only holds a handful of spreadsheets and some rarely-changing PDFs. Nor does it need to be opened more than about once a week. Finally, it's backed up locally via Time Machine, on three different hard drives.

61:

Co-ownership or even car pooling is indeed a great idea. As is public transport but sadly of little use to me. I am a train driver so I AM public transport. Now you may think "Oh but surely you can get a bus to work or even walk". Well yeah I could walk, but I am sure as hell not walking to work at 3AM on a winter morning. That is also not a typo, my earliest shift starts at 4AM.

You will probably also be aware that bus services in the UK are... well, poor is a kind word for them. Shit is a more accurate word. And of course due to my own lovely shift patterns, buses are of no use whatsoever.

I used to run a friend from work home as she lived not far from me, but she now changed jobs and her husband collects her. So much for car pooling. And you know what? I managed for 7 years of my 20 years in the railway with no car, and it was a bloody nightmare, so let me be a lazy git and drive my gas guzzler the 1 mile to and from work at obscene hours of the morning.... I promise to get something a little greener next time.

62:

"So how do people in rural areas of the UK manage?

Firstly, the UK population is about 70% urban. What Americans call "suburbia" would qualify as "rural" levels of habitation density in the UK.

Secondly, the UK is small -- unless they're living in the highlands of Scotland outside one of the towns (meaning: a total of about 0.5M people) they invariably live within ten miles of a large town or small city..."


I live in rural northern England, 25+ miles from anywhere at all - that means the supermarket, doctors, hospitals, etc. Our bus service is so infrequent as to be useless for most journeys. (Also, it only goes to a town that is useless for services and transport connections.) Oh, and we're off the gas grid. Since late Nov 2010 we've spent over £1200 on heating oil (28-second kerosene), using just half the heating system, such is the price now. Getting about, on either petrol or diesel, and keeping warm are now financially crippling. Add in a long, long pay freeze and threats to employment, and you could say I'm neither a happy nor a wealthy bunny these days.

63:

This topic has reminded me of enjoying cycling round Edinburgh - the hills didn't bother me, the only problem was the cobbled bits. Probably with a modern bike with good suspension the cobbles would now be OK, but as it's 20 years on I think the hills would now be a problem.

Helpful advice for anyone passing Oxford on the M40: if you need to get petrol at Oxford services, don't. Instead, leave the m-way, follow signs for Wheatley, there's an ASDA just before the village which is a lot cheaper.

64:

I teach for a... less prestigious state university in the American south, and started working here last summer.

So about six months ago, I was in my office and tried to go to Our Gracious Host's website. The site was blocked, and so I figured that they were just blocking the website of a famed SF author so that faculty and staff would be more productive. So maybe a month later, I tried to go to the BBC. It was blocked. So I figured fine, maybe they've blocked BBC because it's not necessarily academic. I put in an IT request to unblock it, and they did. I bit later, I tried to go to the Telegraph, and, yep, it was blocked.

So at that point, I started doing some experimentation and realized that some genius in my unprestigious state university's IT had blocked all British IP addresses, because apparently someone had picked up a Trojan from a British IP address a while back.

So I put in a ticket to IT and said that since I was a historian who worked on British history, it would be nice if I could access the British side of the internet. And in fairness to them, they did approve my request. But--and I ask because Our Gracious Host has many sysadmins, IT guys, programmers, etc.--who on earth responds to a Trojan originating in the UK by blocking access to all British websites?

Oh, and a few months later, I was corresponding with a French historian who sent me some pictures. I went do download them and Outlook helpfully informed me that they were probably Spam.

65:

BLOCKING

OK, there's a famous set of "Natural History" texts, called "The New Naturalists" based on the ecology etc of the British Isles.
Number 62 ALWAYS gets filtered out. It's title? "British Tits" - referring to the sub-group of passerines called Parus .
Then there's this large steelmaking town in North Lincolnshire ... "Scunthorpe".
And a lot of Ornitholigy texts also get idiot-filtered out, because the female/male titles for birds are... hen & cock, respectively.

As for fuel and pollution, please don't!
As many here know, I have a Land-Rover Defender - and some idiot decided that all such were commercial vehicles.
Trying ( & succeeding) to get it exempted from the new London Emission Zone regulations took over TWO YEARS!

66:

The city car club has 24-hour rates as well as its hourly rates. I'm just about to book a car for a three-day trip away, whereas previously I have always hired a car for such trips.

I've no idea whether the car club would meet your needs overall, but on this particular point it may address your concern. See http://www.citycarclub.co.uk/about/what-does-it-cost .

67:

'Clutch size in Great Tits" was always one of my favorite ornithological paper titles.

A friend of mine wanted to work on bipolar asexual disjuncts. That's about lichens that live at both poles, of course (what were you thinking?). Sadly, he couldn't get funding for it.

68:

Hmm. There is in theory the electric option, but your use pattern is all wrong for it - electrics make the most sense for commuters, and in any case the current waiting periods on a Leaf are just silly. The economics look really quite shiny in general tough - 3 to 4 years and nobody is going to be buying combustion engine cars for anything but niche uses. Which should have hilariously disruptive effects all over the place. It is not just a question of which automakers survive either. Gasoline taxes will go away very quickly as a source of revenue, and they cannot really be shifted onto electrons, as that would not be politically acceptable at all. Suppose the current taxation levels on electricity will offset some small fraction of this, tough.

69:

The city car club has 24-hour rates as well as its hourly rates. I'm just about to book a car for a three-day trip away, whereas previously I have always hired a car for such trips.

Over here in the US we have multiple rental car companies and many of them offer reduced weekend rates to keep the cars generating cash. Anytime we go out of town for the last few years we just rent a model appropriate to the needs of the trip. Especially after I looked at it and found out it was cheaper than the cost of driving my personal cars.

70:

Here in the US politicians of all stripes are dishonest with the public. I've been telling my friends since the last spike back in 07/08 that we need to plan on gas between $5 and $10 per gallon. Anything less is a temporary situation. Sadly I may be right.

As to ANWAR. It will not change the price of gas anywhere in the US that's anything more but a rounding error. But it WOULD make a non trivial change in our balance of trade.

But until China and India plus a few other places want to stop growing their economies crude oil and fuel for out cars is going keep going up.

As to our politicians, both parties are promising to get to the bottom of high prices and pillory those responsible. Of course they are implying big oil execs, not the consumers in other countries.

As to most cars being electric in a few years. I can't see it. In the US we don't have the electrical production systems to support it. No way, no how. Most of the debates over here are about replacing coal with wind or similar, not adding 20% to 50% capacity via a gazillion wind turbines. And I doubt that the EU has the electrical capacity but others will have to speak to that.

As to me personally we've been moving the mpg ratings of our "fleet" up over the last few years. I still have a 16MPG (on a good day) Explorer but it's driven relatively few miles and the capacity still gets used for various things. The other 3 cars are rated 28 to 35. But I live in a commuter designed area. And efforts to build urban living have put multiple developers into bankruptcy. And people keep moving here. About 100 a day. I wonder how high gas has to get before the attraction of our suburban life fads.

71:

Current West Coast gas prices here are $1:31.9 a litre. That's Canadian dollars so I guess that equals about £3.77 per imperial gallon. Not great from this end of the world but much better then UK prices. A big chunk of that is tax naturally but that applies everywhere I guess.

72:

Potential major advantage to Diesel in Charlie's case -

Diesel fuel lasts for much longer (2-4 times as long) between refreshes / stabilizer additions.

If you drive only rarely, it's less likely to evaporate and leave you varnish in your tank, filters, lines, carbs, injectors, or cylinders...

73:
the channel tunnel refuses to let cars using LPG use their tunnel

Count yourself lucky. Over here in Italy, they won't let cars using GPL use their enclosed car parks. No open-source macchine allowed, presumably.

74:

No extra generation capacity will be needed to support electric automotion - electric cars will charge over night, where currently demand is much lower than it is during the day via the highly sophisticated technology of "a charger station with a built in timer" so effect will simply be a somewhat flatter demand curve for electricity. This will require more fuel, but not more power stations. Which is one reason the french are investing so heavily in this field - electric cars make a heck of a lot of sense in a nuclear dominated grid.

Hmm. and fukuyama or no, I am thinking that barring any new miracle power techs, most grids will very rapidly get very nuke heavy over the next couple of decades, because neither coal nor gas is going to stay cheap for very much longer. The demand and supply curves for a "buisness as usual" senario dont match, and with coal going on a oneway trip north of 100 euros/tonne the political opposition to nuclear will die very quickly.

75:

No extra generation capacity will be needed to support electric automotion - electric cars will charge over night, where currently demand is much lower than it is during the day

That only works where the majority of the driving is within the range of the car. There are many places in the US where that just will not work.

Heck, in Wake County NC we're having a huge fight over busing and is it worth it. Huge. Both sides using sound bites and bad logic with little data to back up many statements of "fact". But no one is even talking about how sending kids all over everywhere for school costs a fortune and will cost a bigger fortune soon. Like now and for the foreseeable future. My son went to a high school that was a 36 mile round trip away. $4/gal gas about killed us his senior year.

And of course this area has 1000s of jobs in Research Triangle Park where there are all kinds of rules about separation of sites, no residential near by, etc... that were set up in the late 50s / early 60s for the "perfect" suburban work site that make little or no sense today. (Not that it ever did but that's another discussion.)

And then there's the Dallas / Ft. Worth area where my wife works during the week. 50 miles a day is a typical commute for 10000s of people. So no stopping off for groceries on the way home.

I see it coming but I also see it being much further out than 3 to 5 years. But then again $15/gallon gas in the US will motivate a LOT of changes.

76:

Industry has been soaking up the overnight baseload capacity in most countries and there's not actually enough left tp provide a mass-market electric car charging capability, although there is enough to kick-start electric car takeup. The grid can't provide for commuter-garage charging during the day which will be a big daytime load demand in the future if electric cars take off.

My out-of-left-field guess is that the US might see a big upswing in LPG-powered cars fed with fracked methane gas as the demand for joules from native sources increases and the oil price doesn't drop again as the white American Jesus intended.

As for Charlie, myself and most other Edinburgh flat dwellers we don't have a garage or even a driveway. We park our cars on the street, often several hundred metres from our doors. We can't run an extension power lead out our windows to an electric car and digging up the streets to put in multi-megawatts of extra power distribution to provide kerbside charging stations is also very unlikley to happen -- charging a single car requires 10kW or so running flat out for several hours at a time.

77:

There is no real shortage of oil. Venezuela has almost as much oil as the rest of the world. It's heavy tar oil witch must be heated to be pumped. Our Republicans hate them (or their leader) because they tried to end OPEC rule of oil prices. They offered Bush-1 all the oil we could use at $55 a barr. Texas was getting $75. Then he wanted to use oil money to end NY Banks rule of South America. Then the CIA came in. America is fighting a cool war to keep them from getting new oil parts or pipe. Their oil production is way down.

78:

Battery electric is only "low emmisions" by the Californian definition of a "zero emissions vehicle" as "one which burns its fuel in a neighbouring state". Seriously, when you allow for transmission grid losses, a "battery electric car" has an effective C02 emission of about 160g/km, which is borderline uncompetitive with a last gen TDi such as my Octavia after including refining and transport costs for the crude oil and DERV.

As I previously stated, (assuming it doesn't use regenerative braking) the "electric car" will also emit about 91% of the PM10s of a "hydrocarbon car".

79:

My calculation (last time I ran it) indicated that owning my own car (note: I never buy on lease-purchase, and I never buy new) is cheaper than using rental vehicles if I use it more than 14 days in any given year. I'm cheap to insure (cough, middle-aged with high no-claims discount), relatively low mileage means cheap to maintain, and by not buying new vehicles I avoid the huge depreciation hit.

Looking at it, the current wheels -- which I bought third-hand eight years ago -- have depreciated by roughly £350 per year if I sell them as a £500 banger next month. That's less than the insurance, or the road tax and maintenance bill. My fixed costs are around £1000 per year -- thereafter I'm just paying for the fuel until I hit 10,000Km, at which point I have to cough up an extra £500 (for a higher insurance premium -- I'm on a low-mileage discount -- and for an extra service). As a car of this class (Volvo 850 estate) would cost roughly £100 per day to rent ...

80:

Your Economist Magazine has been saying for many years that a large part of oil prices is from speculators using the LONDON Commodities Market to do things anonymously are illegal here in the States. There is often talk harding rules over there, but money wins. Also, much of your gas price is from taxes that pay for your social programs. Ones we don't have or pay for in other ways. Your leaders still think anybody with a car is rich and has it coming. It's about 5 miles over the start of a mountain range to just the food here in the "GREAT ALKALINE DESERT" It's often 20 or 30 below zero (f) in the winter with more than 20 mph winds. I'll drive as long as I can. Do you think your bosses taking and keeping pics of your car plates is paid for by gas prices?

81:

In KC MO. light rail made the urban sprawl. people who could pay, rode the rail to better places to live. At one time you could go to other towns and out of state. But everywhere in the world people get cars as soon as they can. YOU MAY KNOW WHAT THE NEED, THEY KNOW WHAT THEY WANT. AND IT WAS ALL OVER, NOT JUST THE RED LINE.

82:

That only works where the majority of the driving is within the range of the car. There are many places in the US where that just will not work.

On this side of the pond, the average car journey is under 6 miles. For commuters who don't live in flyover country, electric cars make sense. For folks who live in the middle of nowhere, admittedly, the picture is cloudier -- but I can see plug-in hybrids making a case: battery for the first 20 miles, then switch over to diesel-electric drive.

Busing kids to school -- sooner or later there'll come a point when it's cheaper to bring the schools to the kids: put smaller local schools out in the suburbs where young families live, ideally within walking/cycling distance.

83:

Hmm. Looking out along Barony Street -- where my car is parked, nose-out from the kerb -- at 10kW per plug-in electric on charge you'd need a buried cable carrying 0.5-1.0Mw along that 100 metre street (with cars parked nose-out on both sides, jammed in as tight as they can fit). Yes, at night every parking space is utilized: during the day there might be as many as 5-10% free at any given time but there's very little slack in the parking situation. That'll probably neatly exceed the output of the local sub-station (in the basement below me), before you add in the other side-streets with on-street parking.

So they'll roll out about two charge points at first (like they have in central London) and as electric cars catch on they'll (a) be digging up the road permanently to install more cables, (b) be upgrading the substations every five minutes lest they start to sizzle and smoke, and (c) there will be fist-fights and tyre-slashings over parking spaces with power being occupied by gas-guzzler SUVs owned by idiots.

84:

LPG is not allowed in enclosed places in the USA. it's heaver than air and makes big bangs. In Nam they made small nuke sized ones with it at the end of the war. Here its price is up so far its not worth it even if the EPA allowed it. they don't. electric cars BURN COAL.

85:

With those figures, I'd think that the feed to the charge points would be better being at what the infeed to your substation is.

86:

So Charlie, when do you start the new series of Top Gear?

87:

If you are dumb enough to have a coalfired grid, yes.

Go look up the price development of seaborne coal over the last decade or so. It may not cost very much to mine most coal deposits, but supply and demand is driving the world towards a state where coal mine owners end up in a situation like the saudis - cheap extraction, high price. Now, near as I can tell, EDF is saying that saying that at carbon prices above 30 euros/tonne or so new-build nukes are money printing machines, even in OECD countries. Well, the price of coal is going to deliver a bigger price hike to coal fired power than that all on its own and shortly after that, there will be a rush to pile into nuclear energy because letting electricity bills rise without limit to pay the price of the coal princes will not be politically acceptable to anyone. Not even the rest of the plutocracy (captains of industry are dependant on cheap power)

Expect lots of geograpical arbritage to avoid particularily hostile political opposition - Why build reactors in Germany or the US when you can do it in the Czech republic or Canada and sell the power via HVDC lines?

88:

Busing kids to school -- sooner or later there'll come a point when it's cheaper to bring the schools to the kids: put smaller local schools out in the suburbs where young families live, ideally within walking/cycling distance.

Over here in the US a public statement to that effect will get you branded a Republican racist pig who wants to go back to segregated schools. It's happening right now where I live. We're making the national news with our school board fights over this issue. And yes the shoe fits for some of the folks advocating this. But all the other issues are getting drowned out except for this one aspect of it.

Isn't it grand how energy policy can become an issue of racism due to historical baggage.

89:

About thirty years ago, The Kansas City Star ran a large investigative piece on the demise of trolley service. In deference to our host, I'll have to let you guess at the conspirators.

90:

Fair point. Charging electrical cars is potentially a significant extra load.

But maybe not as massive as you suggest: I think the point that you may have missed is that you wouldn't need to charge up fully from zero every night, because you wouldn't be running your car dry every day if you're only driving a ten-mile commute.
Take a likely near-future electric car like the Tesla Model S. In the long-range variant it can carry 85 kWh of power. So on a 10kW feed it would need 8.5 hours to charge up.
But that full tank of 85 kWh will take it 300 miles!
If you're only driving ten miles to work and ten miles back every day, say, you're only going to need to put in a fifteenth of that - 5.7 kWh - every night.

So, in fact, your street won't need anything like a megawatt of power feed; if you're expecting, say, sixty cars to be charging up there, and each one's doing a 20-mile round trip commute each day and being charged up for twelve hours at night, you'll actually only need a bit more than a 28 kW feed. (60 times 5.7kWh divided by 12 hours)

The typical house has a 240V 100A rated feed cable coming into it - in other words, the typical house is rated to take a maximum of 24 kW. Adding electrical cars to the entire street requires making sure the substation can handle the equivalent of the maximum demand of a single additional house, all the time.

If your local substation doesn't blow up when everyone in the street puts a kettle on at the same time (say, forty or fifty households each with a 1 kW kettle), then it will be just fine handling the extra load of a streetful of electrical cars charging.

91:

Busing kids to school -- sooner or later there'll come a point when it's cheaper to bring the schools to the kids: put smaller local schools out in the suburbs where young families live, ideally within walking/cycling distance.

Other social problem with this fix is that the well-off suburbs and exurbs (at least in Metro Area around the Motor City) like to show off their Nice, Quality Schools by having Big, Fancy School Buildings.

92:

Oh joy, that truly hadn't occurred to me. Okay, scratch that. But there's got to be a more efficient way of doing things ...

93:

There are a couple of big unmentioned problems with batteries.

The worst is that they don't work well in cold weather, which is why the original American electric cars were rolled out in So. Cal. We can get around this with electric battery heaters, but that decreases the efficiency of the system.

The other issue is hills. Admittedly it's an issue with gas engines too, but in hilly areas (such as much of the western US) the electric's range goes way down. Since the only place I've driven an electric car is on steep hills, I can tell you that there are major issues with range.

Personally, I wonder if one answer (in the US at least) is to connect solar generation to car charging. The US Navy and other big firms are putting up solar panels on parking lots. It shades the cars and provides power simultaneously. Since the big problem with solar is storing all that energy and metering it out over 24 hours, there might be a clever way to direct solar energy into large parking lots, there to charge an electric vehicle fleet (for a fee) that's sitting idle.

94:

Ajay, do you know something I don't about a new form of light-weight battery that doesn't lose significant life if it's top-up charged regularly? I'd attribute the fact that the LION in my cell still has the original 96 hours standby life to the fact that I always deep-drain it and recharge fully.

95:

By the time SMTP 'dies' in industry it will have already become retro. We'll see the same overlap with email that we did with OS/2, where there were people adopting it as a hobby due to its obsolescence before it stopped being used. So, it won't die out entirely.

96:

If people set their cars to speed charge the minute they come home from work, that would completely fuck over the grid, because it would coincide with one of the already existing demand peaks. Thus, there will be fairly heavyhanded pricing schemes to discourage it. However, it would be a silly thing to do, anyway.
As an experiment, try this; Start noting exactly how many miles you actually drive on any given day. Dont change your driving habits while doing this. Hmm. Flaw in the protocol here, but meh.

Anyway, I am reasonably confident that you will find that daily total milages in excess of a reasonable EV range do not happen due to impulse driving. Ever. Any day where you end up driving over 160-200km in total the trip that takes you over that limit was planned in advance so "precautionary" charging of the kind you discribe would simply be daft.

97:

[Let's try this again...]

A few points, roughly in order:

Tesla make a big thing about their vehicle's range, mixing headline-grabbing top speeds and acceleration in the same sentence as the expected maximum ironing-board test track on a still day with a driver babying the throttle range on a complete charge of a brand-new battery pack that hasn't lost 20% of its capacity through ageing, vibration, temperature cycling etc. All electric car makers do this as it's the biggest gotcha their vehicles have when it comes to selling them to Joe Public.

If people are hooking up a car to charge the batteries they want it done ASAP, not trickle-charged as they might decide to go out for the evening for dinner to that nice place twenty miles away and they don't want to have to rely on a tow-truck to get it home afterwards since Chez Botula doesn't have charge points in the car park. It's a bit chicken-and-egg; there won't be lots and lots of charge points until there are lots and lots of electric cars around and there won't be lots and lots of electric cars until the number of charge points reaches a critical mass. Sucks, doesn't it? In the interim fast charging is the only way to go and that might be possible streetside but is more likely to be done in a garage attached to the family residence where all the other family cars are kept -- it's a sad fact but true that electric car owners tend to be multi-car households. Indeed it was a requirement for the GM EV1 lessee program back in the 90s that they have at least one gasoline car as well as the experimental electric car GM was testing.

Yes, typically individual house feeds are about 20-25kW. However if every house in a distributor group draws that amount of power at the same time then breakers will trip and lights will go out. The grid depends on load averaging a lot more than people like to admit -- the phase imbalances alone are enough to make grown men in the Grid control rooms sweat. Either the grid gets upgraded to supply an extra 20kW per household for fast chargers or lights are going to keep on going out (or transformers exploding, depending). That also requires suburbs to get extra MW-class cabling from the big peripheral switchyards, deep-buried 33kV feeders requiring serious excavations in-town, and that needs to be paid for too.

98:

This doesn't ring true to me (in Southern California): gasoline prices have been between four and five dollars per gallon, here, for several years. And most of the complaining (at least mine) has been based on the fact that the oil companies have been posting major increases in their profits.

99:

.. Economic incentives work - a trickle charge station typically used over night can be installed for pocketchange since it can be coupled onto the existing connection at the house by a lone electrician in about 30 minutes. A speed charging station will cost a heck of a lot more, as it will often require breaking ground. This means most ev drivers will not even /own/ one, let alone consistently turn it on the second they get home.

Using a using a timer on your charging station to do your recharging low demand periods will get you large price savings on your driving kwh consumption and since one of the main points of getting an electric car in the first place is to avoid having your pocketbook raped by oil prices, people will care about these things.
However, I do not belive you are likely to be swayed by my words. So do the experiment. Note down what your odometer reads in the morning when you get in the car every morning for a couple of weeks. See how risk of stranding your actual, as opposed to theoretical driving habits would put you at.

100:

MODERATION NOTICE

Please do not under any circumstances accuse Tesla Motors of lying, unless you are prepared to pay for a full court libel defense in England.

(They are suing "Top Gear" right now, and while I think the probability of them suing me is very low, I don't want to find out the hard way.)

NB: If your comments have been unpublished because you walked into this tripwire, please accept my apologies and feel free to rephrase.

101:

I don't actually expect any transformers to explode; given that the factory I used to work had drew several megawatts from the grid and when furnaces tried to draw too much power, everything tripped out, it seems rather unlikely to me that there will be many explosions. Lots of people annoyed that they have no power until someone comes and checks and resets everything appears more likely to me.

#94 - I was under the impression that newer lithium type batteries don't have much of a memory effect at all. Although that might be just the small ones used for torches. (I discovered the delights of good LED torches last year)

102:

The grid depends on load averaging a lot more than people like to admit -- the phase imbalances alone are enough to make grown men in the Grid control rooms sweat.

Electric vehicles and the associated battery charging stations can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. For example, the grid also depends on spinning reserves: perfectly good power plants, not generating power but ready to start adding power to the grid at a moment's notice, if needed. Adding wind power to the grid increases the need for spinning reserves. It's worth good money to the grid operator if customers allow the grid operator to switch off and on a big load at the operator's discretion, with a sufficiently fast response. Actually, EV charging stations would offer orders of magnitude faster response than the spinning reserves used now. So if say, if your car is more than 80% charged, you'd let the grid operator fiddle remotely with the power draw (and phase) of your charging station, then they could pay you for that.

Personally, I'd prefer to not deal with this complication to my utility bill myself, but outsource the whole issue. I figure I could lease the battery pack from an organization that let's me swap out an empty pack for a full pack at a charging station, just like I fill up the gas tank now at a gas station. If the car's designed for this, swapping the battery pack can be done about as fast as filling a tank of gas.

For longer trips, I also want the option of a little trailer with either a generator to charge the car while driving, or an engine powering the trailer wheels (and a remote to switch off the engine when stopped) and pushing the car along. You can think of this as a gasoline-electric hybrid with the gasoline part detachable. Electrified highways would perhaps be a more elegant solution, but the detachable trailer is backward compatible with the existing infrastructure.

As a drop-in replacement for gas-guzzlers, EV's are bound to disappoint in some respects. But the transition represents vast opportunity as well. Let's not squander that opportunity by pretending that cars must be everything that a gasoline-powered car has evolved into.

103:

For many families the window would be from sound midnight to maybe 6AM.

Evenings from 6PM till 11 or 12 is dinner, laundry, TV, Web, etc... And if you've never raised kids you have no idea how much laundry is a major continuous process. Plus in hotter areas you have the AC going when home in the evenings during the summer and a similar issue in the winter for other areas. Of course this is all impacted by choices made in the past about natural gas vs electric for water heating, cooking, HVAC, etc...

As to tapping into your existing power panel, in the US, by just wiring in another breaker "ain't gonna happen". By code in most areas you can't wire a panel assuming that the consumer will NOT be using it all at once. The rules are based on Joe public using everything at once. So adding another 20 to 40 amp 2 phase circuit will likely require a panel upgrade to 200 amps. Many new homes in the upscale burbs will have this but they are not the most likely customers at this time. Now factor in the 25% to 50% of your target market where the panel isn't isan the area where you park your car. And also add in the requirement to bring an entire house up to code (no knob and tube or ungrounded circuits or by current standards overloaded runs) if you replace your panel and in the US you're looking at $2000 to $5000 in electrical work before you get to plug your car in at your house. This is NOT in the brochure.

104:

If the car's designed for this, swapping the battery pack can be done about as fast as filling a tank of gas.

Just what do you think are the physical dimensions and weight of a typical car battery pack?

Do you have any idea of the cost of such a trailer as you've proposed. Engine, gas tank, generator, drive train, connecting cables, etc... Given all the safety rules you'd have to meet you'd have most of the costs of a full car except no room for people.

105:

Re: the whole street putting the kettle on at once, I saw a documentary just recently about the planning and response required to keep the power grid under control at the end of the last episode of Eastenders.

106:

Like it or not all this car stuff is old. To make electric only cars really work you need to change everything. The money spent on hybrids could have been used to put much better cars on the road. Back in the early 70's in what I called our farm shop I spent time with fast as well as slow things. Thinking about a electric car just to make something different I was more interested in tourker hot rod, on the road, not saving gas. who cared then. The only thing that looked like it could be used was a car with a gas motor running the batteries. I could not have been the only one to think that. I no longer think that's the way to go. The money spent on hybrids could have been used to put much better cars on the road. There are gas powered cars that are almost as fuel efficient and don't need to carry around 1500 or 2 thousand pounds of batteries and motor/generators. Batteries that will last about as long as a warranty. A lot of really neat things came out of hobbyists under your railroad arcs. If there are do-it types reading, heavy forklifts may be too worn to rebuild, but have powerful motors and still good batteries. We call over the road trucks hauling meat reefer trailers. Here they usually have 2 cylender Merk. motors, about 20 or 30 DIN horsepower. But they are old style cancer making diesels. Truck junk yards will just about give them away to make scrapping out the trailer easier. Your cars get much worse mpg here than back there. We have a really dumb EPA rule.

107:

US drivers, members of the middle calsss may be the ones heard. But the poor have big old 80's and 90's cars and no way other way of going 20 or 30 miles one way to where the jobs are.

108:

Charlie @ 79 & others
Cost of car-owning/running.
I concur. Epsecially if also: a] your vehicle carries a LOT of stuff. and b] does not depreciate appreciably (though I'm in an exceptional situation there.

D. Brown @ 80, 81
What were you on when you wrote those?

Cars, generally ...
Atirling-cycle motors - provided you FORGET "performance"?

Trying to be careful about Tesla Motors.
The web-site pointed to by Charlie says two things to me.
Someone, somewhere, has something to hide. And:
They're trying to bully someone by proxy, and have picked on the BBC (oops) - I would assume that the BBC have witnesses for their claims?
Will be loadsamoney for the lawyers, whatever happens....

109:

Just what do you think are the physical dimensions and weight of a typical car battery pack?

typical car battery (roughly): 20cm to a side, 20 kg
typical EV battery pack: roughly 20 times that

If you're implying that swapping an EV battery pack requires some heavy lifting, yes I know. Been there, done that... we did it by hand but the home-brew EV conversions I've worked on weren't designed for battery swapping. They weren't even designed for electric drive. I am not suggesting people swap the batteries by hand.

Until charging stations for EV's are standardized, designing an EV means designing a charging station too. So when I say designing an EV for quickly swapping battery packs, I figure that includes designing the machinery to at least do the heavy lifting, preferably to automate the whole battery swap. This isn't pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, the engineering has been done. There have been pilot-scale demonstrations of this sort of thing with buses and fleet vehicles.

Do you have any idea of the cost of such a trailer as you've proposed. Engine, gas tank, generator, drive train, connecting cables, etc... Given all the safety rules you'd have to meet you'd have most of the costs of a full car except no room for people.

So what if it costs nearly as much as a small car? I'd rather have one nice electric car, and have (or rent) the "engine-trailer" for longer trips, than have (or rent) a separate car for longer trips. The electric car could be cheaper and more performant since I can settle for a smaller battery pack, and a small "full car except no room for people" is enough for the engine-trailer since it only needs to provide the average power of the big car, not the peak power.

I don't know of any commercial examples, but the engineering for this sort of thing has been done too.

110:

Sorry I still think you're a bit pie in the sky.

I'm all for electric but I also appreciate the issues. You say the "engineering has been done". I'll give you that. But the book "The Mythical Man Month" written back in the 60s about the development of the IBM 360 main frame project has an interesting observation. A programmer could write a program and it be in very good shape for internal use. (engineering done) But to turn it into a product that can be sold, delivered, and supported to non internal customers requires about 9 times the effort done to date. Now over the years that number has changed somewhat. Both up and down. But the number is a good rule of thumb.

As to a general purpose battery swap station. I see a lot of issues. And like it or not a lot of them are related to insurance issues with liability of the batteries and damage to the car by the swap or battery. I suspect you'd have a hard time (in the US) getting insurance coverage for such a thing unless there was a government liability waiver or blanket coverage for consequential damages.

111:

For electric cars to work everything must change at once. And for what real good? Back in the crunch time of the 70's, Scientific American magazine said that natural gas had long been converted into a single molecule liquid that was better than gasoline. The cost at the time would have been 17 cents a gal including the NG. But who owns the natural gas. Big oil. Say, don't youall have a lot of natural gas?
Last I read there is one South African company making the refiners and they charge more for the NG kind than the oil ones.

112:

The thing you're talking about -- electric car, charged from the mains, with a generator pack for long-haul trips -- already exists: it's called a plug-in hybrid.

PiH's have a small petrol/diesel generator under the hood, but are basically electric cars. They plug in to the grid to recharge at night. The generator pack is switched on automatically if the batteries need topping up while the vehicle is in motion -- so for the first few kilometres it runs on battery, then adds in petrol power for motorway cruising and on-the-go recharging.

This seems to me to be the ideal way of powering a car, if the added complexity and weight penalty can be kept under control: flexible, low noise and local emissions on (short) urban runs, but with the ability to keep on cruising up the motorway on longer journeys by switching power source.

113:

At my workplace, the word 'music' prompts some software to block our internet access in case we're illegally downloading songs, but curiously if you type in '**** fisting', that's absolutely fine.

The word 'torrent' is also blocked, which I discovered when trying to create a book listing for a Turgenev novel. It's very tiresome.

114:

I agree that this model seems best. But the folks who want oil and coal to vanish don't agree. Of course they also don't like to talk about air and sea travel except to say we need to get rid of most of it. Or how to lube machinery except to get ride if most of it. And to get rid of coal means a lot of wind and solar.

But as you stated a few times, what they are really saying is we need to get rid of most of the people on the planet. Even when many of them don't realize this is what would have to be the result.

I more and more believe that many of these folks think that building batteries, steel, lubricants, etc... for this world they envision can be done without any cost to the environment if we just apply ourselves a bit harder..

115:

The companies that make plug-in hybrids as well as the completely electric cars are considering adding some noise. Apparently it scares pedestrians and other drivers when a car arrives next to you without noise.

116:

We walked by a Tesla dealership today. I believe (but didn't confirm with the Tesla guys) that it played a recording of an internal combustion engine when it was in reverse.

117:

ONE NEW CAR PLAYS A SOUND LIKER A internal combustion engine. DIDN'T CARE WHICH ONE AT THE TIME.

118:

Venezuela has almost as much oil as the rest of the world. It's heavy tar oil wich must be heated to be pumped. Our Republicans hate them (or their leader) because they tried to end OPEC rule of oil prices. They offered Bush-1 all the oil we could use at $55 a barr. Texas was getting $75. Then he said he was going use their oil money to end NY Banks rule of South America. Then the CIA came in. America is fighting a cool war to keep them from getting new oil parts or pipe. Their oil production is way down.

119:

some officials like Dan Gilligan, president of the Petroleum Marketers Association, representing 8,000 retail and wholesale suppliers has spoken out. He argues:

“Approximately 60 to 70 percent of the oil contracts in the futures markets are now held by speculative entities. Not by companies that need oil, not by the airlines, not by the oil companies. But by investors who profit money from their speculative positions.”

Now, a prominent and popular market analyst is throwing caution to the wind by blowing the whistle on speculators.

Finance expert Phil Davis runs a website and widely read newsletter to monitor stocks and options trades. He’s a professional’s professional, whose grandfather taught him to buy stocks when he was just ten years old.

His website is Phil’s Stock World, ...he was on fire, enraged by what he believes is the scam of the century that no one wants to talk about, because so many powerful people armed with legions of lawyers want unquestioning allegiance, and will sue you into silence.

He studies the oil/food issue carefully and has concluded, “It’s a scam folks, it’s nothing but a huge scam and it’s destroying the U.S. economy as well as the entire global economy but no one complains because they are ‘only’ stealing about $1.50 per gallon from each individual person in the industrialized world.”
“It’s the top 0.01 percent robbing the next 39.99 percent – the bottom 60 percent can’t afford cars anyway (they just starve quietly to death, as food prices climb on fuel costs).

“If someone breaks into your car and steals a $500 stereo, you go to the police, but if someone charges you an extra $30 every time you fill up your tank 50 times a year ($1,500) you shut up and pay your bill. Great system, right?”

Phil is just getting started, as he delves into the intricacies of the NYMEX market that handles these trades:

“The great thing about the NYMEX is that the traders don’t have to take delivery on their contracts, they can simply pay to roll them over to the next settlement price, even if no one is actually buying the barrels.

“That’s how we have developed a massive glut of 677 million barrels worth of contracts in the front four months on the NYMEX and, come rollover day – that will be the amount of barrels ‘on order’ for the front 3 months, unless a lot barrels get dumped at market prices fast.

120:

Is there anybody there who is old enough to remembers things like the BOND BUG. Down a bit of a hill and with a tail wind the cops sometime clocked them at over 80. Maybe not with a stock 250 cc Villiers motor. But they and the other three wheelers got over 80 mpg. They said.

121:

it is leading me to wonder how much longer email is going to remain viable as a communications tool ...

A modest law enforcement effort would get rid of all the spam problems very quickly. There are indications that it is coming, some botnets are being shut down by the FBI. A very small number of people are behind 90% of the problem.

122:

The thing you're talking about -- electric car, charged from the mains, with a generator pack for long-haul trips -- already exists: it's called a plug-in hybrid. [snip] This seems to me to be the ideal way of powering a car, if the added complexity and weight penalty can be kept under control

Exactly! The mass of enough batteries or an engine to give them >250km range is the problem with electric vehicles. I think many more people would accept the fact that a pure electric car with a <50 km range more than suffices for most of their trips, if they could get the benefit of a plug-in hybrid whenever they foresee they might need it, yet not have to lug around the added weight for short urban trips. The link I provided was to somebody who got around the weight penalty in a way that I have always found appealing because of its inherent flexibility: make the generator pack detachable. I know there are now a few plug-in hybrids from major manufacturers, but I haven't heard of any where the generator pack is a user-installable option as convenient as hitching up a trailer and plugging in a connector.

123:

A time ago they said almost all the problem spam was coming from one server in Russia. They cut it out and spam dropped 80%. Last I heard it was still coming from places that could be choked if our governments cared to.

124:

I was thinking that in the 60's a lot of race cars ect. started out in shops under railroad bridges. And offered info on parts if that kid of people wanted to work electric cars. THE KIND I DON'T THINK WILL REALLY GO ANYWHERE.

125:

The usual suspects are getting their kicks from thinking about bloody yanks "caterwauling and gnashing teeth." We are what your blue bloods made us.

126:

Yes, and whilst Clarkson exagerates it (for "comic" effect), that sort of single wheel front centre + rear beam axle design is genuinely unstable under enthusiastic cornering. That's quite apart from the likely unacceptability of a steel ladder chassis and GRP body to todays Elvin Safety culture.

127:

As opposed to the Messerschmidt (and similar) bubble cars, which had a single rear wheel.

Mind you, my father got a right bollocking from my Mum one day - collecting my two sisters from school in ours, he cornered a little enthusiastically and rolled the vehicle. However, since it continued all the way over and back onto the wheels, he just continued on the way home.

"Mummy, Mummy, guess what Daddy did!"

128:

Trikes are better than motorcycles with sidecars. Which is what they are legally. Three wheels are not be as stable as four. They can be. But it took a costly federal government study to prove it. The roll resistance is with the two wheels. So one at the front will overstreer at the limit. But if the wheels are far enough apart they can be stable. I would rather have four. but as motorcycle rider I could take three with a body in the rain. The same Department Head (a lawyer) was worried about unintended wheelies on motorcycles . So she ordered a very costly study to make a wheelie prof(?) motorcycle. One with front wheel drive that steered with the back wheel. Nobody could ride it with training wheels. The bad thing is they were they were the last of the well meaning liberals trying to so the right thing. Something that would work well is a two wheeled car. There was a study back in the 60's on that. Very low drag, and stabilized with gyros. It would look like a unlimited speed record bike. But would stand up on its own. A Swiss was making a un-stabilized BMW bike powered two wheeled streamliner that cruised the autobahn at 140+ mph. Messerschmids were still running around over there when I was there. Back then there were not any really good bike motors. But I wanted to put some power in one. After making it wider.

129:

#127 - starting (AFAIK) with the original Morgan 3-wheelers. If anyone is interested in those, start with Wikipedia. Incidentally, I've seen a Morgan 3-wheeler being rolled like you describe, and they're open cars!

#128 - For which value of "trike"?
1) Morgan, "bubblecar" or similar with 2 wheel IFS and single rear. Including the Lomax 223, these can be front or rear drive.
2) Bond/Reliant (or similar) with single central front wheel and rear live beam. These are the ones I just called intrinsically unstable.
3) Motorcycle front end and typically Vw Type 1 (Beetle) rear end.

I saw something about the BMW streamliner you describe once (in a dead tree magazine).

130:

#130 - I spy spammers, and foul-keyboarded ones at that!!

131:

They do seem to be being moderated out in quick order.

132:

Cheers to the mods.

They usually are, but I'll flag them just in case there isn't a mod on-line. I enjoy using a site who's owner takes this sort of aggressive line towards them :-D

133:

Over here in the 70's there was a sports car trike that testers said handled very well. It was very wide at the front and had a small car flat twin front wheel drive. Very low C of G. It was good enough in the gas scam that Harley Davidson bought them. They sold them until a land shark lawyer sued for selling something new. But no roof or heater.

134:

Someone in the US is showing ads for 3 wheelers on prime time TV. Two in front, one in the back. Pricey. I guess they are for the aging boomers who've always wanted a bike but now are too old to handle a Harley. Or much of anything else that has to be balanced when you stop.

The ads seem to show groups traveling cross country. Like the RVs of the past 30 years and the trailers of the 50s and 60s.

135:

#153 and 154 - The "Triking" springs instantly to mind, but that's basically a recreation of a Morgan 3-wheeler using a Moto Guzzi powertrain in place of the original JAP (real manufacturer from 1920s) one.

I can't place the name now, but I've seen something similarish using much more modern powertrains, wheel and tyre sizes, and styling.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on April 26, 2011 7:12 PM.

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