Saturday, June 14

Not too much work to report today, but a good bit of rumination.

The work involved cutting out the remaining end plates for my cell carriers.

The rumination came from going to the New England Electric Automobile Association (NEEAA) meeting at Bob Rice's house.

There was a really large turnout this month. (Gas was $4.49 a gallon at the local Shell station this morning.) Richard Thomas had his Saturn at the meeting. I'd brought my car weighing gear so we weighed Richard's -- if I recall correctly it was around 3600 pounds! I also met a really nice fellow named Rick ??? who teaches automotive technology and alternative/green engineering at Gateway Community College. He had this really cool miniature Suburu van that he'd restored (beautifully) and converted to electric.

Towards the end of the meeting we formed a circle in Bob's living room and everyone took turns introducing themselves and describing their projects.

This roundtable discussion (and my repugnance towards some of it) led to a really crucial question. WHY ON EARTH AM I DOING THIS!!??

My own particular answer is that I feel driven to. But that's a bit of a cop-out, because now the question just becomes, "why do I feel driven to do this?"

There are a lot of reasons that people have mentioned for doing a conversion. I agree with many of them, but I don't know if any combination of them would be sufficient to motivate me to do this. Nevertheless, I feel powerfully driven to create a usable electric commuter vehicle.

There are the environmental reasons. The continued use of fossil fuels is polluting our air and water and releasing enough CO2 that the planet is incontrivertibly warming. Now this is a good reason to not drive a gas car. Or in fact to not drive ANY car. For quite a few years my only transportation was a bicycle (and the city buses, and occasionally a rental car). THAT is the real solution to global warming and pollution -- find a place to live fairly close to where you work and walk or bike to work; when you simply have to visit Grandma in Philadelphia, rent a car. I lived that way for about 6 years until a so-called friend sold me a 1984 Volvo 240 for a dollar. That car got over 30 mpg, weighed nearly 4000 pounds, and had decent pollution controls. The "Green Car of the Year" for 2007 was a Chevy Tahoe Hybrid that weighs around 5500 pounds gets 22 mpg it also cost a bit over $50,000. I'd be willing to bet that over half of all the miles wracked up on the entire fleet of Chevy Tahoe Hybrids will involve single occupant trips, so we're looking at a giant leap backwards for fuel economy (and common sense) from the mid-eighties. And this nonsense is getting awards for being "green."

There are political reasons. Our collective addiction to petroleum is forcing us to adopt untenable positions in the world.

There are conservation issues. If we use up the entire world petroleum supply as fuel, it won't be there in the future for other purposes. (For example, it's really handy in making plastics.) If, in our continuing search for more oil, we have to despoil the Arctic... Well, that won't look very good.

For me, I think the paramount issue is one of esthetics. I hate waste. My parents were both raised during the Depression; in our house you finished everything on your plate! My Dad was a sailor, in the sense that he motored around the world on big grey vessels which occassionally shot at other people and/or had other people shoot at them, and in the sense that he was adept at controlling small boats that got their motive power from the wind. I've done plenty of motorboating and sailing having grown up on the Chesapeake bay. Sailing is elegant -- you're fitting into your environment and bending it to your needs. It's also quiet. Motorboating can be fun, but it isn't quiet and it isn't elegant. And whenever I'm onboard a power boat I can hear my Dad's ghost muttering "God damned stinkpots..."

My father also drove sports cars for a time. While living in Germany (I was born while the family was over there) he bought a Sunbeam Alpine which looked something like the following image (stolen from Wikipedia) except Dad's was white.

This was a great car. Small. Small, but powerful engine. Amazing handling. Neutral steering. They raced cars like these on a winding course around the airbase. Compare that kind of racing to NASCAR -- around and around the same oval, or drag racing -- a dead straight 1/4 mile track. I know where my preference lies.

One of my favorite authors is Robert A. Heinlein. One of Heinlein's more underappreciated works is entitled "Job: A Comedy of Justice," I can only recommend this book if you're the sort of person who can stomach some fairly brutal lampooning of religion. The hero of Job, well actually antihero, is one Alexander Hergensheimer. Alex is a total putz, nearly the exact opposite of Heinlein's usual characters who tend to be bigger than life-size -- intelligent, competent, moral people. Nevertheless, you find yourself liking Alex, but that's not germaine. The reason I brought up this story is that Alex comes from an alternate reality in which the Wright Brothers never flew. Alex flunked out of Engineering School and entered the Ministry, but at one point he quotes one of his Engineering professors as saying something like "Noise is the enemy of efficiency. A properly designed machine is as quiet as the grave." Heinlein is making an interesting point here -- Engineering, like most other human endeavours is rooted in a cultural matrix. In our own world, in the 1800's there was an aversion to excess noise in machinery. Efficiency was deemed to be as important, if not more so, than raw power. If that aversion had been just a bit stronger, the Wright's solution to making a gas engine light enough to lift a heavier-than-air craft (namely make it inefficient as hell, noisy, clattery, cantankerous, but eak a bit more power out of it) might not have occured to them -- or been deemed acceptible to others.

The other thing that apparently didn't happen in Alex's world is the Hindenburg disaster. The only air transport he knew of were dirigibles. I wish we still had them! A lighter-than-air rigid airship made with modern materials would be safer by far than a jet aircraft, the fuel bill per passenger mile would be a LOT smaller, and although they'd be slower, the quiet elegance would outweigh that for a lot of passengers

Finally, there's an egotism issue. I'd like to prove to myself that I can do this. I started planning my electric miata project at about the same time that GM announced that they would be producing their Volt (radical hybrid with a 40 mile all electric range) by 2010. I plan to beat them on price, delivery date, performance and overall coolness!