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Archive for April, 2006

There’s been a lot of nonsense written lately that reads as if it had been written by plants of the US automakers, who are trying desperately to convince us that the gas-swilling sleds they build are what we actually want. One of these, by Jamie Lincoln Kitman of the New York Times, which has been reprinted widely (but is now unfortunately archived by the Times), contains the following statements:

The car that started the hybrid craze, the Toyota Prius, is lauded for squeezing 40 or more miles out of a gallon of gas, and it really can. But only when it’s being driven around town, where its electric motor does its best and most active work. . . . For the owner who does the majority of her driving on the highway, the Prius’s potential for fuel economy will never be realized and its price premium never recovered.

Drivel. I have a 2003 Prius which I use in what could be called a “mixed suburban” driving regime, including significant freeway driving. Here is my current experience with this car, including both summer and winter driving:

  • Right now I’m getting 51.8 MPG for the last 400+ miles I have driven, just my usual mix of town / freeway driving. This is not “in town” as he states, it includes 24 miles each way on the freeway into / out of downtown plus around Chaska and downtown. At the height of summer (see below on the weather), I’ll get about 56 quite consistently.
  • A trip to my lake, which is about 4:45 hours, usually nets me about 49. Its less on freeway segment, but the slow-fast cycle on highway 61 pushes you back up there again. My wife’s Saturn, with very careful driving, can get about 41 for this trip, but only with Very Careful Driving.
  • One of the biggest determinants of mileage is the driver! You have to drive the same way you would drive to maximize any car’s mileage — be smooth, and keep off the freaking pedals. Start easily, let it coast rather than hammering the brakes, etc. You need to let the electric motor do as much as possible, and let the regenerative braking recapture energy into the battery. If you stand on the gas and the brake all the time, if you zip in and out of traffic all the time, you won’t get the mileage. If you ARE a careful driver, the Prius rewards you and rewards you well.
  • In winter, below about 10 degrees ambient, the mileage will drop off into the lower 40s due to the reduced chemical activity in the battery. This is unavoidable for any battery-driven vehicle. Park indoors in the winter and you will not feel it so much because the battery thinks its fall out, mostly.
  • If you run the air conditioner a lot in city driving it will knock some mileage off, because the demands of the compressor will prevent the gas engine from turning off at stop lights, etc., as often.

Summary: I would challenge him — or anyone — to show me any non-hybrid car that will give me over 50 MPG on my driving cycle; my Harley-Davidson gets about 48 – 50 MPG but that doesn’t count (besides, its too much fun!).

Now, Kitman is right about one thing in his article: the few US cars with hybrid drives (mainly licensed from Toyota) have engineered the drive system to provide more power rather than optimizing them for high mileage, but that’s their choice! The next time you see Bill Ford whining about how hard they are working to make a car America wants, clip an ad for a Toyota dealer. In Minneapolis right now, there is a 7 month wait for a Prius.

UPDATE: see my more recent post after 100,000 miles in the Prius here.

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The cowards at Borders seem to feel that self-censorship is the best policy when it comes to Islamic terrorists. The April / May issue of Free Inquiry will not be in their bookstores because it reprints a couple of the cartoons from Denmark.

''For us, the safety and security of our customers and employees is a top priority, and we believe that carrying this issue could challenge that priority,'' said Beth Bingham, a spokeswoman for the Borders Group.

"Safety and security?" I grant you that these terrorist maniacs will apparently stop at nothing, but it really bothers me that our fear of them has become so pervasive that here in the US we will bow to their requirements and publish only things that they approve of. Will we start submitting our book lists to the ayatollahs for their review? How soon will we stop carrying certain books because somebody might throw a bomb?

This news item has received almost no press coverage in the US, and what it has recieved has generated no public discussion. Does no one but me feel a little threatened — not by the terrorists, but by our own fears? The terrorists are carrying the war to our shores and we are surrendering!

How soon will we get serious about homeland security?

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A very coherent editorial by Dr. Sedat Laciner in the newspaper Turkish Weekly analyzes the ideology of Usama bin Laden (a plague upon him) and concludes that his identity as an Islamist is the least of his guiding principles. Dr. Laciner decries the West's tendency to see Islamic cultures as if they were all the same, for example, speaking of the diversity of culture in Islamic countries:

Hundreds of languages could be spoken in one state or very different sects of one religion could live together preserving all their characteristics for centuries. There are numerous differences between Nigerian and Indonesian Muslims. The ones defending that the music is forbidden share the same religion with the ones worshiping with music.

and:

Now the Western World means ‘Usame Bin Laden ideology’ when speaking about Islam although a number of Muslim clergymen do not support Bin Laden even they question him as Muslim.

(You have to forgive the grammar, this was translated from the Turkish, probably by a Frenchman) Of course, he is a Turk and speaking as a member of a moderate, secular Islamic society but I believe he does speak for a large number of Muslims worldwide. The great challenge Muslims face is for these peaceful, non-terrorist Muslims to speak out and act against the terrorists and bomb-throwers that currently afflict us. They SAY they are against terrorists, but are reluctant to show it in public.

And why should they not be afraid? Speaking out against these maniacs can earn you a death sentence — witness dutch filmmaker Theo vanGogh who was assassinated last year for making a film that questioned the Muslim treatment of women. Although Salman Rushdie escaped their wrath by going into hiding for two years, all three of his translators were violently attacked, two of them fatally. And most recently, the cowards at Borders Books refused to carry an issue of an American magazine because it contains a couple of the infamous Danish cartoons of Mohammed, for fear of the safety of their customers. In the US! Hello, doesn't that bother anybody?

Anyway, I highly recommend this article to anyone interested in understanding that Islam is not a monolithic club of suicidal terrorists. Find it here.

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During February and March of this year, several significant attacks were made against one of the core components of the Internet, the Domain Name System. This is the service that changes names we recognize, like http://www.yahoo.com, into the number-only address that the Internet's servers and routers use to actually find the website. If an attacker can disable this service, the Internet is, for practical purposes, almost completely disabled.

This is a very different situation from what most of the security community is focussing on, which is spam reduction, identity theft, and phishing attacks. Those are, if you will, commercial attacks against commercial targets, either consumers or businesses. These attacks are something else again, because their objective is to bring down the Internet itself, not just steal from somebody via the Internet. Whoever is probing these defenses is looking to strike a stunning economic blow against the developed economies by seriously disrupting our commercial and connunication infrastructure. Would they do it, or just hold it for ransom to get us to knuckle under?

A good user-level article is HERE.

They are using a technique called "DNS amplification" to do this, a more technical article by ICANN with some fixes is HERE.

On Sunday 5 February 2006, from 20:44 through 20:58 GMT, name servers operated by a key TLD name server operator received an average of 60 Mbps of traffic subsequently classified as attack traffic at each interface of every public name server node it operates. The aggregated attack traffic received was later determined to be approximately 1 Gigabitper second. Traffic analysis during the attack period showed that the operator was receiving abnormally large UDP messages (in excess of 1500 bytes), resulting in IP packet fragmentation.

I wish I had a better feeling about how we were being protected from this kind of stuff, but experience shows that an administration that was taken by surprise when New Orleans was flooded, something that was foretold for 15 years by engineers, is unlikely to do any better on this. Our emergency preparedness for true disasters seems to rest on "responsiveness" rather than preparation and what that boils down to is "victim assistance." I suspect we're gonna be sorry.

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