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Archive for July, 2007

Ever leery as I am about only throwing stones at other people and never offering anything useful as a solution, I now present my Four Great Suggestions for reducing the terrorist threat to the US. I do this as the current Bush administration seemingly seeks to prepare us for additional losses of personal rights and privacy in the name of “combating terrorism.” And administration shills like Senator Rick Santorum have started touring the country drumming “there’s going to be another attack, there’s going to be another attack” to try to scare us into submission. So rather than meekly giving in to this bogus raising of boogeymen, let’s just actually look at why these people are attacking us, and counter those reasons! Much simpler and more cost-effective.

I presented these earlier in a comment I posted to an article on Newsvine, which you all ought to be reading anyway, but here is my solution to this mess we have walked into:

1. Dramatically reduce our dependence on middle-eastern oil so they have less leverage on us;

2. Stop attempting to meddle in middle east politics and issues, those people have to work it out for themselves, they have to kill until they’re sick of killing and finally want to find common ground with each other;

3. Stop depending on a spy-counterspy mentality to save us, the Brits and the Germans catch terrorists with good old-fashioned police work, and we can do this too, we don’t need to sacrifice our hard-won freedoms on the altar of Homeland Security;

4. Ensure that we remain a (however flawed) melting pot that can absorb immigrants and make them part of a long-term American dream. We must BE the shining beacon on the hill to the rest of the world, we must implement in our hearts Emma Lazarus’ poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

None of this has the satisfaction of slaughtering people we disagree with, or reducing their countries and economies to absolute ruin, and watching their children starve in the street or be blown to smithereens because they disagree with our politics, but I believe in the long run it will bring us more safety and security than comes out of the barrel of a gun. “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword.” The standard we set in the world is the standard by which we, and our civilization, will be judged. What will that standard be? Rule of law, or Guantanamo? Geneva Convention, or torture? Freedom, or repression? It’s our choice, in fact, it’s US.

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It’s been slightly over a year since I wrote my first post on my Toyota Prius, and I’m now right at 100,000 miles on the clock, so I thought I’d write a quick update on my experience. Interestingly enough, that post is one of the most popular posts I’ve written, and accounts for about 30% of the accesses to my archived posts, mainly from links from Google. So obviously it’s a popular subject with lots of people.

So, here’s where I am:

  1. For the last 450 miles on my consumption monitor, I am averaging 52.4 MPG in my normal driving cycle, which would be classified by the EPA as “mixed suburban.” It’s in the high 80s to low 90s here in Minneapolis, so this should be the peak of my mileage, and last year during these hot spells, when the battery chemistry is most active, based on past experience I would be expecting to be getting about 55 MPG or so, therefore my mileage appears to have declined by 2.5 MPG, or about 4.5%. this is probably due to wear in both the gas engine and the battery.
  2. Due to both my careful driving style, and the regenerative braking on the Prius, I am still on the original brakes. All that deceleration has been used to charge the battery rather than just heat up the brakes!

In the maintenance department:

  1. I have given it only the recommended maintenance, nothing fancy, mainly oil changes at Rapid Oil. I’m using a synthetic blend since this helps an older engine seal at the rings and the valve stems, but that’s all, no other additives or gizmos.
  2. There was a recall on the starting battery, a 7.5-volt gem (my only real irritation with the car). The battery was free but the hold-down was changed (and has been changed in later production models, and they charged me to replace it, which I thought was dumb, but then anybody who puts a 7-volt battery in anything but a flashlight can’t be trusted to manage the hold-down, I guess.
  3. The only significant maintenance item has been a failure in some part of the driving battery management circuit. I left the car for a long weekend when went to the lake, and during that time it somehow managed to discharge itself to zero. Interestingly, the gas engine is not able to cold-charge the 240-volt driving battery, and when it detected what was up it simply refused to run. I had it towed in and they replaced the offending circuit board, but then had to bring the driving battery back from the dead, which takes a special charger of which there is only one in the region — and fortunately they had it at one of their other dealers, so I was soon back on the road.

So that’s it. The car’s still steaming along, the core of my car pool, looking toward 200,000 miles. Still regularly gets better mileage even than my Harley. I have no complaints and in fact I would buy another one in a minute.

To the various people who told me it would never last in daily use, HA! To the automotive writers and pundits who said that it’ll never really get that kind of mileage in real life, HO! As the sticker in my back window says,

EAT MY VOLTAGE.

 

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This was released on Wednesday 7/11/07 by the AP, the lead-in of which is:

“Detailed schematics of a military detainee holding facility in southern Iraq. Geographical surveys and aerial photographs of two military airfields outside Baghdad. Plans for a new fuel farm at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The military calls it “need-to-know” information that would pose a direct threat to U.S. troops if it were to fall into the hands of terrorists. It’s material so sensitive that officials refused to release the documents when asked.

“But it’s already out there, posted carelessly to file servers by government agencies and contractors, accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.”

Yes, your tax dollars at work as government agencies and their contractors manage to post desperately sensitive materials on open FTP servers on the Internet. Once again we have critical stuff like this managed by people who obviously don’t understand how the Internet works, thinking that if something wasn’t indexed in Google it was somehow invisible. They probably believe in Invisibility Cloaks too.

Are they concerned? Well, at the Corps of Engineers, where the AP got a hold of plans detailing upgrades to the fueling infrastructure at Bagram AFB, one of their PR drones delivered himself of the following statement:

” . . . so we’ve amended our practices here to require that any of those types of documents have restricted access when they’re placed on FTP sites.”

Hello? By Mohammed’s dog, why were these things there at all, ever? What are these people thinking? How could they be so stupid?

And why does there seem to be no vigorous public response to this? Where are our senators? When will the hearings be? Oh, but wait, we must not actually be concerned about this, because the guilty parties are still walking the streets, “amending their practices.” The president and technical officers of SRA and Benham ought right now to be in custody and on their way to Guantanamo, charged with aiding and abetting terrorists. When these people start paying the price for the gross incompetence of their subordinates, we’ll see some more serious attention paid to making sure this doesn’t happen any more.

Absent this, it’s apparent that we, and our government, don’t think this is a real problem that ought to have some real, tangible consequences for failure.

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Here’s some additional thoughts on substituting some great two-wheeled time for time in your rolling cage, excuse me, your car. This assumes that a jump to 45 – 70 MPG isn’t enough to make your mouth water, that you need some other excuse to dive in and ride.

There is a growing awareness that it is in fact possible to do your commute by scooter or motorcycle, read a little more about it in the Rush Hour Rambling blog, interesting and well-written and based in Minneapolis.

Then, there is the National Ride to Work Day movement, based in Proctor, Minnesota. This year’s is 7/18/07, be there (on two wheels) or be square! The hard impact of RTW Day is estimated to be 60,000 gallons of fuel saved, based on extrapolated reported participation nationwide. This translates into 15 million gallons of fuel saved for a year, if every day were like RTW Day. Wow.

Riding-clothes maker Aerostitch has a cute little list of objections to commuting via motorcycle, and responses demolishing these objections.

Here’s a fun discussion of the psychological impact of motorcycle commuting in Southern California, not something I’d necessarily like to be involved in.

Finally, let me point out that another out-in-the-open option for tooling around town, in addition to motorcycles and scooters, is a motorcycle with a sidecar. This may be less intimidating to some people because now you don’t have to balance anything, and of course now you can take a passenger and / or bring home the bacon in bags in the sidecar — admittedly easier than strapping it on the bike. Sidecars also have panache in spades, and are firmly 1940s retro, which is currently stylistically in vogue. Hauling up to your local coffee shop in one of these will, believe me, stop the conversation right there.

A few firms make sidecars, including Harley, Royal Enfield, and Ural. The Harley sidecars are available only on a couple of their heavy touring bikes, not exactly the zippiest little numbers, and terrifically expensive. The Urals are copies of a 1943 BMW, updated slightly to modern standards, and assembled in Russia. C’mon now, doesn’t this look almost irrestable?

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