Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff


The Prius Deception

I just saw Edmunds list of the 10 Hottest Selling Cars in the US. The hot 10, in order, are:

  1. Toyota Prius
  2. Mini Cooper
  3. Pontiac
  4. Scion xA
  5. Scion xB
  6. Scion tC
  7. Lexus RX400h
  8. Honda Civic
  9. Toyota RAV4
  10. Ford Escape Hybrid

As an aside, let’s hear it for Toyota who produces 6 out of the 10 vehicles.

Edmunds defines hot as selling close to sticker price, having minimal incentives or rebates, and spending little time in dealer inventory.

This got me thinking about the Prius, the long list of unfulfilled buyers waiting on dealer lists and the price they are willing to pay to buy less gas and be ecologically friendly. It doesn’t seem to matter to most that the premium they pay to buy the Prius could buy them all the gas they could consume during the life of their car after purchasing a nice gasoline-only fueled vehicle. Of course, if you ask your average Cambridge, MA, Boulder, CO or Berkeley, CA Prius owner, they’ll tell you that it’s not about money, but about burning less oil and polluting less air. Noble and reasonable desires, for sure, but let’s make it clear it’s not about saving money.

Now, I’m all for consuming fewer dead and rotted dinosaurs and for slowing down the growth of city-sized holes in the ozone layer.  I don’t believe that
the current hybrid technologies out there are the way to go about it, though.  In fact, I think the marketing machines at companies like Toyota and, dare I say, the US government through hybrid rebate programs, have forced us to take our eye off of alternative solutions that are not only much better, but could come to market more quickly if there was more push from the auto-buying public.  Knowledge is power, right? 

Let’s start with the facts, ma’m.

  • Battery technology evolves at a glacial pace.  There may be breakthroughs in the future in alternative technologies (e.g. fuel cells), but the standard chemical reaction in batteries has not improved much in a very long time.  Quantum improvements in engine mechanicals and fuel chemistry will happen long before similar improvements in battery technology.
  • Batteries weigh a lot!  My friend John Bower likes to quote a Ford engineer who said: “electric cars are a brilliant solution for the task of hauling around 1,500 lbs worth of batteries.”  All that weight has to be propelled by something and that something is gonna need fuel to run it whether it be electricity or fossil fuel. Electric motors are very linear. If you want more power, you need more batteries.
  • The Prius has an EPA rating of 60mpg in the city and 51mpg on the highway (city numbers are higher because the drivetrain relies on batteries for power in stop-and-go traffic).  The EPA does not get these numbers by driving around, though.  They take the engine out of the car and put it on a dynamometer to measure it in a lab.  During these tests, the maximum acceleration used is 3.3mph per second which is how fast you’ll drive on your 97th birthday. 
    Also, the tests are done with the air conditioning off.  With the extra load on the engine, some tests have shown the Prius’ fuel economy drops by as much as 33%.  In Europe, the car is rated at 47mpg in the city and 56mpg on the highway.  The European ratings are done with the engine mounted in a car, under the hood although, apparently, they still drive pretty slowly.

I am in no way stating that hybrids are a bad thing. But why are hybrids the only high-mileage solution in the US? In Europe, where fuel costs roughly one million times more than it does in the US, some 50% of all new vehicle sales are diesels. Why? Because diesel solutions blow gasoline/electric solutions out of the water. Let’s look at some cars available (or soon to be available) in Europe that use diesel fuel as their only means of juicing an engine . . .

  • Audi  A2 1.2 TDI
    • city: 65.33
    • highway: 87.11
    • average: 8.4
  • Smart fortwo CDI
    • city: 60.31
    • highway: 75.87
    • average: 69.18 
  • Citroen C2 HDi 70 SensoDrive VTR
    • city: 48
    • highway: 61.9
    • average: 56
  • KIA Picanto 1.1 CRDi EX
    • city: 48
    • highway: 61.9
    • average: 56 

All of these cars are better rated than the Prius in terms of mileage (compare to Prius’ European mileage numbers, above), some of them by wide margins. None of them have batteries.

How many people know that the US government has mandated that the diesel fuel sold in the US will have substantially lower sulfur content by the end of this year? This will make it similar to those fuels sold in Europe, although not identical and not quite as good. It’s a significant improvement over existing diesel fuels, though, and will help automotive manufacturers to filter out nitrogen oxides and particulates to the same level as is now the case with gasoline engines. Diesels are already better with carbon dioxide emissions than gasoline engines. Diesel fuel can make more power in a diesel engine than the same amount of gasoline in a gasoline engine. According to the Department of Energy, if 30 percent of the passenger cars and light-duty trucks in the U.S. had diesel engines, U.S. net crude oil imports would be reduced by 350,000 barrels per day.

I ask again, why are hybrids the only offering to choose from in this country?

To be sure, batteries and electric motors have a couple of significant advantages. They can convert the energy released from braking into electricity that can be used later to power the car. This energy would otherwise be released into space as heat, never to be recaptured. This generative process can also be used when gravity moves a car down a hill or momentum propels it as it coasts to a stop. The potential energy in the vehicle can be used to charge batteries which save the energy to be used for propulsion later. These are huge benefits, but they’re also all we should expect from the process. No need for huge batteries because this should be seen as power to aid propulsion, not to be the fuel itself.

Diesels also have a big drawback – they are hugely efficient engines as long as they stay within a certain rpm range. This is why so many diesels worldwide come with turbochargers. The turbochargers help the engine stay in a band where they are most efficient.

Now, what if we were to combine electric motors charged the way I mention a couple of paragraphs ago with diesel motors? What if the electric motors had one job – making sure the diesel engine stayed within its power band, basically replacing the turbo charger? My guess is that if you did this you could take the mileage numbers of the cars mentioned earlier and increase them by a significant percentage. This should result in a 2-3X increase in fuel economy over most current fuel efficient vehicles in the US.

My point here is not that the Prius is bad or that consuming less energy is bad. It’s that we’re looking at solving the problem in the wrong way. Introducing gasoline hybrids is a good thing. Exploring hydrogen power, fuel from plants and improvements in batteries is great. We shouldn’t stop. There are solutions, though, right in front of us that we appear to be ignoring. If we’re really serious about reducing our reliance on imported fuel, why aren’t we exploring all avenues simultaneously?

Let’s encourage individuals and companies to do research into propulsion systems that require no fossil fuels. At the same time, let’s push for broad availability of the solutions that can be engineered today. Really push. I’d like to see the first diesel hybrid that gets 100mpg in 2007.

Of course, this can’t be at the expense of having 500hp gas high-speed guzzlers available to whoever wants them. I not only remain a free market bigot, I need to make up for certain inadequacies with powerful cars.

As Dennis Miller says, “but that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.”

NOTE: my response to the very thoughtful comment from David H. Hawkins, below, can be found in another post: The Prius Deception . . . The Other Side of the Argument

 March 30th, 2006  
 Stuff with a Motor  

T-Shirt of the Day

National Sarcasm Society

 Like We Need Your

 March 29th, 2006  
 Misc Thoughts  
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Cut Me Doc

I’m a pretty active road
biker.  Bicycling, that is (although I
ride motorcycles as well).  I ride about
3,500 miles per year.  Since I live in New England, a lot of this riding happens indoors.  I’m pretty much a wimp when it comes to
temperatures below 40oF – the wind chill while riding 20mph is
something like 1,000o below zero.

I trained a lot this winter,
mostly indoors, spending hours each day on my Computrainer.  I’m not the fastest guy in the world, but I
set a goal for myself to do centuries (100 mile rides) at an average speed of
20mph this year.  That’s a step up from
my average last year of 18.2mph.  The
additional 1.8mph seemed achievable, especially late in the season – late
summer to early fall. 

About a year ago, I tore a
tendon in my right elbow playing tennis. 
It was a small tear which orthopedic surgeons say generally heals itself,
although they often take up to a year to heal. 
A couple of cortisone shots made last year’s riding season tolerable,
although late in long rides I had some trouble shifting the rear derailleur and
using the rear break (both done with the right arm).  I looked forward to the 2006 season because
my winter training went very well and my arm would be healed.

As it turns out, my arm
hasn’t healed.  So now I need to make the
call on whether or not to have surgery now and blow off this riding season or
to try to tough it out with the injury. 
The recuperation time is six weeks until I can use my right arm again
and up to three months until I can do any long-distance riding.  There seems to be a reasonable chance that
even if I don’t get the surgery, the injury will prevent me from being able to
do any of the longer rides later in the season. 

My general feeling about
life is to always play offense.  With this
in mind, I’m leaning to doing the surgery and then to focus on recovery.  Get back on the bike mid-summer for short
rides and to be in some form for the fall rides.  20mph may not be in the cards for this year
which is disappointing.  Every year it
gets harder to get better.

I get one last cortisone
shot in a couple of weeks.  Common wisdom
is that this shot, the third, will only provide relief for a few weeks at best,
but no one knows.  I’ll ride after I get
the shot and make the call then.  I think
I’ll be moping around during the short New England
summer with my arm in a sling.  Oh joy.

 March 29th, 2006  
 Misc Thoughts  
 Comments Off on Cut Me Doc

A Quiet PC Project

First off, let me say that I’m not a gamer. I don’t run an SLI or Crossfire setup (where multiple high-performance graphics cards work closely with the motherboard to create a better and faster image). I do build systems, however, that are the next step down from gamers’ rigs using high performance processors, matched memories (and loads of it), two disk drives in a RAID 0 configuration, and so forth. While my computers don’t run as hot as gamers’ rigs, they do run hotter than the run-of-the-mill setup. This means that there are more fans moving air in and out of the case to keep the system cool. Add this noise to the two disk drives in the
box, and you can have more noise than is comfortable in a quiet office environment.

The patient in this surgery was already constructed with an Antec Sonata II case; among the quietest cases around. Disk drives are mounted with rubber grommets and the one system fan in the rear of case is 12cm in diameter and also mounted with rubber connectors. The rubber keeps vibration from the drives and fans from being transferred to the case. The larger fan – most fans are 8cm in diameter – means that it can spin more slowly while moving more air through the case. The original setup used a stock Intel CPU cooler; an ATI Radeon video card with a small, extremely annoying, high frequency fan; two Hitachi Deskstar 160GB SATA drives; and an Antec 350W power supply.

The CPU cooler was replaced with a Zalman CNPS7700-Cu. This is a
large fan surrounded by huge copper fins to help dissipate heat from the processor. The graphics card was
replaced by a new, but last generation ATI Radeon card (no gaming required) that has a huge heatsink wrapped around it and, therefore, doesn’t need a fan. The disk drives were replaced with two Samsung Spinpoint drives that are not only cooler and quieter, but faster as
well.  The main system fan was replaced
with a SilenX Ixtrema 12cm quiet fan. 
And finally, the power supply was replaced with a SilenX 350W Ixtrema
Pro Series power supply.  To round out
the changes, all interior surfaces of the case not covered with electronics
were covered with Dynamat sound deadening material. 

The new power supply had the
single biggest impact.  The SilenX power
supply is whisper quiet.  It’s pretty
unreal.  The new CPU cooler did loads as
well.  The whiney little fan in the stock
cooler spins fast and makes loads-o-noise. 
The replacement cooler is much quieter. 
Getting rid of the high-pitched scream of the graphics card fan made a
big impact.  Perhaps more because of the
change in frequency of the noise from the machine than from its absolute drop
in volume.  The change in drives was an
interesting exercise, with small results, though.  The change in the system fan did nothing – a reasonable
12cm fan is spinning slowly enough that it’s hard to improve on the sound characteristics
of it. 

So, what’s the bottom
line?  An average dead-silent home is
usually about 40db.  60db is a normal
conversation.  The original PC ran at
about 56db.  My sound pressure level
meter doesn’t measure anything below 50db and the new, quiet pc doesn’t even
register at that level in normal running. 
While booting, where the drives are being hit a lot, the meter reads
about 52db, although I can only get this reading by placing the meter within
inches of the machine.  From .5 meters
away, again there is no reading.  Subjectively,
I work in a home office that is very quiet. 
The PC is almost imperceptible now.

 March 29th, 2006  
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Fantastic Voyage by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman

I’m a middle age guy. 
This is only true, at this point, if I actually live until I can see my 92
birthday.  I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the the fact that I’m
now finishing my life instead of starting it and I want to know more about
making sure that the rest of my life has neither a steep negative slope nor a
short duration.

The concept behind this book
is that within even my lifetime, medical and pharmaceutical science will
advance far enough to continually extend the life of the average person by . .
. forever.  Forever is an awfully long
time.  Let’s just say they are discussing
life extension for longer than any one of us can imagine.  The primary goal is to teach you how to
manage your diet, exercise and stress levels so that you can live until the
revolution in science that lets you live “forever” is discovered and then
approved by the FDA. 

Among geeks, I’m a
rarity.  I’m not a huge Kurzweil
fan.  I thought this book was going to be
like his usual pie-in-the-sky stuff.  I
was pleasantly surprised, though.  While
the basic concept of living forever is absurd, and it’s hard to imagine some of
the advancements he suggests happening in the next 50 years, most of the book
was full of practical suggestions and guides that made a lot of sense to me.

What to eat and when; what
supplements to take; stress management, lifestyle changes, and exercise are all
discussed in sufficient detail to make the program he suggests understandable
and easy to follow.  It’s not a diet, but
a way of life in terms of what you eat and drink, and how you take care of
yourself.  While I haven’t adopted the
full suggested regimen, I have modified my existing one, especially when it
comes to supplements, considerably to conform to his suggestions. 

The key here is that most of
the stuff he discusses is not new to anyone who reads on the topic of diet and
health in even a cursory fashion.  The
book is just a one-stop-shop of logical information.  Tables, charts and diagrams make everything
easy to understand and follow.  There’s
some extraneous stuff and some of his predictions for medial/pharmaceutical
breakthroughs need to be taken with a grain of salt, in my opinion, but
all-in-all it’s a good reference book for taking care of one’s self.

If you’re not really into
what you eat, this book will be a bore. 
If you are, though, the book is a great reference for information on
healthy living.  Mine’s got loads-o-dog-ears for the stuff important to me.

 March 28th, 2006  
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Using Your iPod with Your Car’s Audio System

While car makers are starting to come around and make the integration of your [insert the name of your favorite mp3 player here but, since it’s likely an iPod, that’s what I’ll use] standard equipment, third party providers have created dozens of kludgy solutions for “integrating” an iPod into your car’s audio system. 

Some products, like FM transmitters, just suck.  Cassette player adapters (those fake cassettes with a wire hanging out of them to connect to the headphone jack of your player) work fine and are cheap but, 1. you have to have a cassette player, 2. the player can’t be hidden behind something, and 3. you have to be content with a wire hangin’ out of your dashboard.  Still other solutions require the replacement of the headunit, which is more difficult each year as car makers move away from narrow, rectangular, standardized units. 

There is also a solution that allows you to tap off the CD changer feed or aux port of the headunit.  These are available from many companies and, sometimes, from the auto maker, themselves.  These solutions let you put your iPod somewhere reasonable – like the glove box or armrest and, often, allow you to use the car’s built in controls to operate the iPod like the rest of the audio system; including dashboard and steering wheel mounted buttons. 

The problem with many of these early solutions is that the iPod often doesn’t sound the same as the rest of the audio system.  There are issues with the amount of bass (not enough), background noise (too much) and volume (not nearly enough).  I believe that the cause of this is poor impedance matching between the interface (the box that connects the aux or CD changer port to the iPod) and the iPod itself.  Of course, this is really stupid, it’s not like the manufacturer of the interface doesn’t know the input impedance of an iPod.  My kids probably know it.  Perhaps these interface units are design to be flexible – just in case you want to attach your 8-track tape player . . .

The only way I’ve found around this stupidity is to do the following: 

  • Set your iPod’s equalization settings to “Dance” or “Pop”
  • Set your iPod’s volume at what you’d listen to with headphones
  • Change the replay gain on your entire music library to 99 db (ouch!)

Yup, this last one’s tough.  If you only listen to this music in your car, it’s not a big deal.  If you only listen to the music on this one device, in the car and out, it gets a bit tougher.  If you listen to this music on several devices, it’s even tougher.

Changing the gain is not hard.  Get a copy of MP3Gain, select your entire library, set the gain to 99db and let’r rip.  MP3Gain simply writes the gain adjustment into the mp3 tag – you can always change it again at another time.  This also has the advantage of sound-leveling your entire library.  Keep in mind, though, that most music starts at about 89db, so the extra 10db makes it a lot louder.

I know, I know, you audiophiles out there (well, real audiophiles would never listen to an mp3 – you know who you are) are thinking: doesn’t that create distortion on playback?  The answer is, yes.  It’s manageable, in my opinion, though.  If you’re listening in a car in the first place, it’s not exactly a concert hall.  There’s loads of ambient noise that makes most of the distortion undetectable.  Optimal, no, but far better than having to crank your stereo to full bore and fight with background hiss and noise to hear Pink Floyd’s Money at the appropriate volume.  It also has the advantage of preventing your ears from bleeding when you forget how high you turned up the volume and accidentally switch to the radio.

 The difficulty comes in when you want to listen to these tunes outside your car.  If you listen on this same device, you’re gonna have to turn the volume down very low to keep your earbuds from catching on fire.  The high gain will also make the little rotary dial on the iPod VERY sensitive to small changes.  Again, this should be manageable.

If you use this library of music on multiple devices, though, it’s a bit more problematic.  If you’re like me, you’ll never remember to compensate for the higher gain on each device.  I recommend you make a copy of your entire library and change the gain on this new library for use in the car or in the device that you also use in the car, leaving the old library for the rest of your players.  Disk space is free, right.

I made the changes above to the music on my iPod about a month ago and listening to it in the car has become much more enjoyable.  A little distortion, yes, but the volume and bass problems are gone and it’s worth it.  I came up with 99db after lots of trials.  This may not be the gain level suitable for your vehicle, but it’s probably a good starting point.

 March 28th, 2006  
 Gadgets, Stuff with a Motor  

The Bower Factor

My good friend John Bower came to visit this weekend.  Although we’ve known each other for almost 35 years (we are sitting next to each other in our sixth grade “graduation” picture), living on opposite coasts means we don’t see each other too often.  Like many people, we rely on electronic forms of communication to stay in touch.

John is an engineer’s engineer.  He has an intuitive sense of how everything works.  Whenever I can’t figure something out, which happens often since I take most things I own apart, I can always rely on him to explain where I screwed up.  While my engineering expertise has been relegated to twiddling bits and bytes, John has explored how one creates machines out of solid chunks of metal and how to attenuate beams of high
frequency light to explore the inner workings of stuff.  Geez, I feel small.

But I digress.

In high school, John and I spent way too much of our time locked in the garage of my family’s home taking cars apart.  For the most part, we had no idea what we were doing, but we learned quickly.  During our destruction and reconstruction escapades, John made the observation that it seemed that no matter what we estimated for the time it took to complete any one car repair task; the actual time to complete the task was roughly 10 times longer.  In mathematical terms:

Tactual = Testimate X 10

This became known among a small group of people (John and me) as The Bower Factor for self-automotive repair.  Now, since I’m not a big believer in universal constants, I refused to believe that this would hold up over time.  Oh, how wrong I was.  I have years of empirical evidence to show that The Bower Factor for self-automotive repair is, in fact repeatably, 10.

As Einstein said, “God does not play dice . . .”  Automotive repair is not the only category of proven, repeatable Bower Factors.  Here are some that still apply to my life:

  • For dealer automotive repair = 2.0 (how often is
    your car ready when they say it is?)
  • Kids’ homework = 2.0-3.0 (depending on your kids’ the constant only applies to individual kids, not kids as a group)
  • Board meetings = 1.25-1.5
  • Getting to the airport with family in tow = 1.5 (why is it that traffic is always worse with the family in the car?)
  • Doctors appointments = 0.8 (while it takes a long time to get into the physician’s exam room, the time with him/her is shorter than expected)
  • Catching up on email/blog feeds in the morning = 1.5

The bottom line is that no matter how you try to avoid it, or believe that time will somehow change it, The Bower Factor is a part of the order of the universe and cannot be defeated.  Accept it as part of your life and peace will be yours.

Great to see you again, John.

 March 26th, 2006  
 General Business, Misc Thoughts  

In Case You Missed the Fact That It’s a Civil War . . .

I’ve been reading Michael Yon’s Online Magazine
for a while now.  If you don’t, you should.  This guy’s been
embedded in Iraq for some time.  He is not affiliated with any
news service or publication and calls it like he sees it.  He and
it are terrific.  This guy’s got balls like I can’t believe. 
When I say embedded, I mean on the ground with the troups in the

Yon has been calling this war a civil war for over a year.  It’s
clearly a mess, but one that he believes that we are winning. 
It’s hard for me to see the end-game here, or what in fact, we win, but
the story itself is facinating.

Below is an excerpt from a recent “dispatch.”  I think it says loads.

“The best modern armors, which can include everything from sandbags to
special alloys and “reactive armors,” are simple to use and can work
well for short periods. Sandbags are good and cheap, but are cumbersome
and blow apart easily. As for the reactive armors, modern explosives
are more powerful than modern alloys and their associated engineering
can withstand. Pound for pound–and volume for volume–explosives are
miles ahead of metallurgy and engineering. No matter how sophisticated
the science behind the shield, someone can make a bomb to beat it.”

 March 24th, 2006  
 Misc Thoughts  
 Comments Off on In Case You Missed the Fact That It’s a Civil War . . .

Bill Belichick is Scaring Me to Death

I’m a pretty rabid New England Patriots fan. 
I’m a season ticket holder and I rarely miss a game.  I know it’s
easy to be spoiled as a football fan in New England – just in case you
were visiting another solar system over the last few years, the
Patriots won 3 out of 4 Superbowls.  But yes, I DO expect to win another Superbowl really soon.

Bill Belichick, the Pats coach, has earned an almost God-like
status.  Not only in New England, but throughout the football
community.  The guy has made strange moves and yet still fielded
great teams.  This year, though, any sane person has to question
what’s going on.  The team has already let the following free
agents go:

  • David Givens
  • Tom Ashworth
  • Tim Dwight
  • Andre Davis
  • Willie McGinest
  • Adam Vinatieri
  • Matt Chatham
  • Stephen Neal???

Belichick thinks he can build the only bargain (out
of what the Pats call “value” players) team in the NFL.  I hope
he’s right.  It’s not clear to me that there are any really great
free agents out there left to make a major impact and I doubt that
we’re gonna draft everyone we need.

One thing is gonna be for sure . . . either there are going to be a
bunch of lean years ahead, or Bill Belichick really is a football

 March 23rd, 2006  
 1 Comment

Consent to Kill by Vince Flynn

I am a big fan of Audiobooks.  Every day I
spend loads of time in the car either commuting from one meeting to the
next or shuttling my kids around.  It’s amazing how many hours get
spent this way.  My wife introduced me to audiobooks several years
ago and I’ve listened to well over a hundred of them since then.

The latest was Consent to Kill by Vince Flynn.  An epic listen at something like 18.5 hours (scary that I knocked it off in two weeks).

I’ve always liked espionage/thrillers and was thus, very sorry to see
the cold war end Big Smile [:D]  What better fodder than the super-secrecy
of the cold war could there be to fabricate stories with.  I guess
terrorism is the next best thing and Flynn does a good job of creating
a super-human American spy/assassin (Mitch Rapp) who single-handedly
takes on the terrorists of the world.

Apparently, this is one of many in Flynn’s series of espionage book
with Rapp as his hero and it is the first one I’ve read.  Rapp is
certainly a great tough-guy hero and you find yourself behind him all
the way as he kills people – patriotic duty, of course.

I liked the book, although I wouldn’t say it’s one of my top 10, or
even 25, in this genre.  Flynn spends a lot of time wrenching an
incredible amount of detail out of some characters and situations which
often never gets used later in the story.  As a listener, I’m
happy to make the investment into a character’s thoughts, family and
heritage as long as it adds value to the story and doesn’t just take up

On the positive side, Flynn keeps you guessing about the outcome to the
very end and creates some great, suspenseful situations while he leads
you down the path.

Maybe sometime in the future I’ll come up with some rating system, but
in the meantime, I’d recommend this book, but I wouldn’t put it at the
top of your reading stack.  I’ll certainly give one of the earliy
Flynn/Rapp books a try soon.

 March 23rd, 2006