Submitted by brad on Fri, 2005-09-23 16:31.
Many are commenting on the gasoline shortages and price increases involved with hurricane evacuation and other emergencies. Some people can’t get gas to get out of the city. Others full up giant tanks even when they don’t need it. Stations raise prices as supply drops and demand increases, as per the normal rules of the market. Some suggest the stations be price-controlled to stop this, but that would only result in even more gas hoarding by the public.
The government could instead have a strategic emergency gasoline reserve. However, it need not keep this reserve in tanks, it could “keep” it in the storage tanks of all the private gas stations, by arranging a special emergency-based futures contract with the station owners, in advance. Not all stations need participate, as long as enough gas for evacuation can be reserved.
During the emergency, it would be calculated how much fuel will be needed per vehicle. Each station would provide that much fuel to each vehicle. The simplest way to do this is to devise some long-lasting mark that will last at least a few days to a week, and for each station to put it on a car after delivering the fuel. Perhaps something as simple as a sharpie mark or other semi-permanent mark on the gas cap. This is unfair in that people with multiple cars could get extra fuel, but other systems, like vouchers and databases have their own problems. Vouchers would be lost or sold on the black market, unfortunately.
Any fuel over and above the contracted amount could be sold at market prices to those who want more fuel and/or wish to hoard. Probably quite high market prices. Fuel tankers could also be arranged to resupply stations with emergency reserve needs. Note that the customers could still pay a normal price for the reserve gas, reducing the cost of the contract. They would also sign a voucher at the station, on which random audits could later be done to confirm compliance. Stations would contract to deliver based on the minimum reserve they keep in their own tanks. There could also be a true reserve in government owned tankers to cover the slop factor.
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2005-09-13 18:43.
Every time I take an RV trip (ie. each Burning Man) I come up with more observations. The biggest one is that it cost $360 in gasoline to go from the bay area to the black rock desert, about 800 miles. And that’s at a price still well below world price. The RV owner said he was planning to get out of the business, people no longer want to pay the gas price.
So why is it taking so long to produce a hybrid RV? Hybrid cars are great of course, but trucks and RVs are what really suck gas and need the improved efficiency. And they have the room for larger and more unusual engine configurations. Most of all, RVs also mostly come with expensive generators and batteries, and a hybrid RV would of course have a super duper power plant and batteries and inverters, presuming the engine was efficient at lower revs. The Hybrid RV’s power plant could also be a backup generator when parked at the non-moving home. Probably make the most sense with diesel fuel, or as I have suggested before, even the highly efficient stirling engine. (Stirlings are big, and take time to warm up, but an RV with batteries is fine with this.)
Every RV’s shower has this hose based showerhead with an on-off dial with a slight leak. Our camp built a much nicer shower using a standard kitchen sprayer. A kitchen sprayer with a lock-on would be much better and would make it easier to conserve water by letting you pulse water where you need it when rinsing.
Cleaning the RV, especially when back from the desert, is hard. RV renters charge fat cleaning deposits and fees. Why doesn’t some company that hires out housekeepers do an RV service. You could come to them. Drive in, and a team of 5 attacks your RV, cleaning it in minutes. Do it at a car wash to also handle the outside if needed. Espcially after Burning Man there’s a business here.
I’ve said these before: Paper towel racks, built-in soap dispensers, inverters, flourescent lights. Why aren’t these everywhere in the RV world, instead of being rare?
Stabilizers jacks are great, but how about something simpler, some way to lock the springs or shocks (of course with an interlock to prevent starting the vehicle!) And while slide-outs are great, why do we never see flip out beds the way pop-top campers have, or a pop-up on the cab-over bed? (Most RVs don’t have any spare wall space except in the master bedroom, which does limit the flip-out bed concept. You also almost never see murphy beds.) Flip-out beds don’t take away your dinette or couch as do the extra beds commonly found. And how about a seat belt design for use on the beds for safe sleeping while driving? You can do this now but it doesn’t seem super safe.
Submitted by brad on Sat, 2005-08-13 19:29.
I recently picked up a surplus battery-powered motor assist for a bicycle, and it's a lot of fun. Due to lower power you have to start peddling to 3mph and then it can run the bike for 10 miles at 10mph (for normal weight people, not me.)
All-electric cars didn't do well in the market in part because people were scared of their limited range, slow charging and and high cost, and the annoyance of plugging them in. They love hybrids because they don't have the range problem. Some folks are promoting plug-in hybrids, which are hybrids with lots of batteries. You can and should charge them from the grid, but you don't have to, so your range is the same as a gas car (or better) and on most trips you are much more efficient.
But perhaps cars are the wrong target. Electric bikes are heavy and a little more unstable when slow or being walked, and get really bad if you put enough batteries on them to go 20 or 30 miles. But trikes on the other hand are stable and you can load a lot more batteries onto them for serious range. And electric trikes are wicked efficient, in terms of cost (and fuel burned) per mile of travel. Orders of magnitude ahead of hybrid cars.
And all this is quite cheap to make if done in quantity. If our cities made more bike paths and bike lanes these trikes could become a major commute form, especially in California with its assured good weather. Yes, it's not perfect -- you have to recycle the batteries, and you do have rain to worry about, and the speed is definitely lower. But for shopping trips, neighbourhood trips and short commutes it seems a giant win.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2005-08-01 12:06.
Mapping programs, and fancy GPSs come with map databases that will, among other things, plot routes for you and estimate the time to travel them. That’s great, but they are often wrong in a number of ways. Sometimes the streets are wrong (missing, really just a trail, etc.) and they just do a rough estimation of travel time.
Yet all the information is there, being collected constantly by every car that drives the roads with a GPS. Aggregating this data will tell you what roads are real, what roads might be missing, which are one-way, where freeway entrances and exists really are.
And it will also tell you real-world speed examples at various times and dates, at rush hour or otherwise. Even a range of speeds so you can know the speeds for faster and slower drivers and get a really good estimate of your own likely speed on a given road at a given time. After removing the anomalies (like people stopping for coffee) of course.
Rental cars with GPSs are collecting this all the time (sometimes to nefarious uses, like charging whopping fees for brief trips out of state). Technically this data can be had.
But here’s the bad part — there is a potential for giant privacy troubles unless this is done very well, and some may be impossible to do without a privacy risk. After all, until you upload the data, there is clearly a log of your travels sitting there to be used against you. Only a system with rapid upload (and which discards data that gets old, even if it’s not uploaded) would not create a large risk of something coming back to haunt you.
The data would have to be anonymized, of course, and that’s harder than it sounds. After all, your GPS logs say a lot about you even without your name. Most would identify where you live, though that can be mitigated by breaking them up into anonymized fragments to a degree. Likewise they’ll identify where you work or shop or who you visit, all of which could be traced back to you.
So here’s the Solve This aspect of this problem. Getting good data would be really handy. So how do we do it without creating a surveillance nightmare?
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2005-07-27 15:47.
Ok, this idea will make no sense to those who have not gone RV camping. RVs have 3 water tanks — one for fresh water, one for the toilet sewage (known as “black water”) and one for the other drains (shower, sinks) known as “grey water.” When you camp in unserviced campsites for a while you become very aware of the capacities of your tanks.
However, the RV uses the fresh water tank to “flush” the toilet. It seems to me that with a small extra water pump, one could use the grey water, or a mixture — grey with a final spurt of fresh to rinse the bowl.
RVs don’t really flush the toilet, that would use way too much water. You rinse the bowl after #1 and you pre-fill the bowl before #2 and rinse later. read more »
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2005-07-13 12:00.
Having completed a long fly-n-drive road trip, I have some lessons and observations.
If you will be driving a lot, use a rental car even if leaving your own city. We put 3000 miles on our rental car for $300 — far less than the depreciation cost would have been on my own car.
It’s great to have a cooler in the car, you can buy perishables and get cold drinks when you want them, but forget about those $5 styrofoam coolers for any long trip. Within a few days ours was leaking, we fixed it by putting a plastic bag inside and out, but they are not very sturdy. There are collapsible coolers and we have one but didn’t have luggage room. You can buy a cheap solid cooler for under $20 at wal-mart or Costco, but it seems wasteful to throw it away. If you have extra luggage, you can fill a cooler with stuff, duct tape it and check it as luggage, however. read more »
Submitted by brad on Sun, 2005-06-26 20:14.
This special forum topic exists to help people identify the best local company to use for a temporary prepaid GSM SIM card when you visit that country. If you research this, put your results here. In particular look for the best results for a short term visitor, who thus won’t care much about when the minutes expire and may or may not care when the number expires. A typical cost to compare would be the cost of the card and say 60 to 100 anytime minutes. However, if there is a major difference for somebody planning mostly night/weekend calling, note that.
Here are things to note in your comment:
- Company and their URL
- Price for SIM, price for a cost-effective prepaid card
- Ease of getting the card
- Other companies to check if this one isn’t convenient
- When will cheapest minutes expire, and how long after that does number expire
- Can you refill from overseas (ie. with non-local credit card)
- For comparison, cost of a prepaid account including (probably subsidy locked) phone. This bundle can be cheaper than an unlock and a naked SIM.
Important note: If you have any affiliation with a company you talk about or link to you must disclose it. No affiliate links allowed Furthermore, you must post your prices. (Create an account so you can come back and edit your posting when they change) and they must be one of the best deals out there. We want real information on the best deals, not self-promotion or typical vastly overpriced cards.
Submitted by brad on Fri, 2005-06-10 14:59.
Here’s an entry in my new “solve this” cateogry, which asks for reader input on solving problems.
When flying on a very full flight yesterday, we had an example of what my approach for faster airplane loading would have helped with. But until we get that, are there other solutions?
On the full flight, passengers would stand in the aisle trying to store their bags. With the compartments full they took a long time doing it, sometimes found themselves unable to. This blocked the loading and even though we started boarding 30 minutes before the flight, we were not finished by departure time. The flight attendants were on the PA every few minutes telling people not to stand in the aisle, to instead step into the row and let people pass, but very few paid attention to it. We don’t seem inclined to do this, and not just because we are desperate for storage space. (I’m one of the desperate, I carry on fragiles like camera gear that I refuse to let them throw around.) We just don’t believe that our own efforts will slow things much, and we also believe it will take “just a few more seconds” to get the bag in right.
… read more »
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2005-06-07 11:25.
So if you travel to different countries, you know that cellular roaming can be a pain, even with a GSM world phone, because they ding you for very high roaming charges.
So here’s a service I want. A kiosk in the airport to sell, or ideally rent me a GSM SIM card for a prepaid account, right in the airport. The kiosk would also sell me unlocking service for my phone, and of course prepaid cards. (By renting the SIM card, I mean it would sell it, and then buy it back at a reduced price on the way back out.)
Update Note: I’ve created a Special Forum to share information on the best SIM card sources in different countries. Search there for info on each country or enter your own findngs.
… read more »
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2005-04-04 14:38.
Perhaps this is one of those ideas that some car has implemented and I haven't yet seen it. As many people know, in several years ago a number of cars arranged so that their interior lights would not go off immediately when you closed up the car. This gives you the ability to still see shortly after closing up the car and walking away.
Of course this also drives people nuts, because in many cases you can't tell if the lights stayed on because you didn't close a door properly, and you would end up waiting around to see if they would go off.
Some cars fixed this by having the light fade out, but that's still pretty slow and of course elminates the light you were hoping for.
I would suggest that cars develop some more overt signal, to be triggered immediately when the car has decided that all doors are closed and the car is off, and the lights will be going off in 20 seconds. Such as a quick blink pattern when you close the door, or a flash of the headlights, or a quiet sound or bright internal LED.
Seeing this blink pattern, you would be 100% confident the car is closed and you haven't left the lights on, and could walk away, lit for a few seconds like you want.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2005-03-10 18:36.
Update: Well, clearly this was already being done when I asked for it, just not at the airports I flew from. It's now close to universal.
Airport pickup is becoming another nightmare in some cities, with police barring cars from waiting for passengers, causing people to circle.
Airports should take a piece of parking lot and turn it into a marshalling area for people with cell phones. If you are picking somebody up, and you have a cell phone, you go to the marshalling area, where cars wait in parked lines like a parking lot. When you get a call from your passenger saying they have bags and are ready to go to the curb, then you go out and get into a special passenger pickup lane. You go right to the numbered spot your passenger told you. For passengers without cell phones, phone booths will sit at the exits of course.
For those not with cell phones, there is of course short term parking or the endless circling, though generally you want less of that.
Submitted by brad on Sun, 2005-01-02 12:08.
Just back from the nightmare of holiday travel, which started at 5:30am on Christmas morning and a security line snaking all the way to baggage claim. Coming back 6 days later, I braved the door to door shuttles from the airport.
I generally regret the decision to use these shuttles, which seem to average about 1 hour 30 minutes for the 35 minute drive to my home from SFO. This time, they had 10 people waiting for my town (which would normally be a dream as you would not spend all that time wanding around closer towns dropping off earlier folks) but in fact after we saw others had waited an hour for any shuttle to show up, we went to the caltrain, which takes an hour for the trip but is predictable.
The curse of these shuttles is how unpredictable they are. For some they are a quick trip but often they will drive you many times around the airport waiting for passengers, and then on an unpredictable drive. The public hates unpredictability even more than slowness, and would pay for predictability, I think.
So can computers, and some common sense, fix this? Surely you could make reservations which tie your flight number into the database so the shuttle company sees your plane arrive and knows pretty accurately when you will make the curb. (You can confirm that with a cell phone speed dial if your cell number is registered.) If lots of people did this, you could know how quickly a large enough group of people who live close together would be ready to leave. read more »
Submitted by brad on Sat, 2004-10-16 13:36.
I've written about a few plans to get rid of the headache (and travel killer) that airport security has become. One of the great curses is that because you can't predict how long security might take, most people end up arriving way, way ahead of their flight in case the line is long, but often they clear it in just a few minutes. (Ditto the immigration/customs line at Canadian airports going to the USA.)
So here's another idea -- appointments for going through airport security. When you use web check-in (which many airlines now support) or even at the gate, you would be allocated an appointment in the latest available slot some period (say 20 minutes) before boarding ends for your flight. Appointments would be spaced at slightly more than the average time to clear a passenger through security.
This would work because there would be two lines at the security gate. One for people with appointments, one for those without (or who missed their appointment.) You could only enter the appointment waiting zone in the 10 minutes prior to your appointment, and presuming 30 seconds per party, that would mean it would hold about 20 people. An agent would check your bar-coded appointment slot in letting you in.
When your time comes (or at any free time) you would be taken through at the head of the security line. If somebody needs extra security (random search, suspect item) that of course delays the station they are going through, but the other stations are free to take the person with the next appointment. Only if all stations got bogged down with problem cases would people in the appointment line not go through at close to their exact appointment time. read more »
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2004-09-30 05:36.
We've gotten used to a painful, privacy invading security process when we fly. But why should we do this for shot-hop, small aircraft. Those ones on the 20 seat Canadair Business Jets and similar. Secure the cockpit with a sealed door and arm the pilot so that terrorists can't take control of the plane. Put in sealed transponders so ATC knows if the plane goes astray. Give the pilot a "disable" button that limits what can be done with the plane in the event of attempted hijack.
Other than that, give it no more security than a bus or train. Just show your ticket, or pay cash, and walk on, possibly going through no more than the metal detectors used at things like baseball games and museums. Possibly not even that.
Yes, evil people could smuggle a gun, and suicide terrorists could put a bomb in their luggage. And kill 15 people. Which would be horrible, but frankly there are a lot more dangerous targets out there for the terrorist willing to kill himself, where a lot more damage can be done, and a lot more people killed. Hell, there are more tempting targets where you don't have to kill yourself. It makes little sense to waste resources blowing up tiny planes.
Which means we should not go nuts securing them. This already takes place at small airports and on general aviation. I've seen post-911 stories of people just walking onto small corporate jets with no ID or search, as well as other private planes and charters. Combine that with other ideas on efficient plane operation and you might just have a very popular airline for flights under 500 miles.
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2004-09-21 09:30.
RVs come in all sizes, from 40’ bus to towable pop-up. But what about inflatable in a trunk in the back of a minivan?
Setting up and tearing down tented campsites is a pain, and there are instant-setup tents and even some inflatable tents. But what about a super-duper inflatable tent, designed for car-camping.
In the cabin-tent structure with high-pressure frame would also be (at lower pressure) one or more built in airbeds (that you leave the bedding on), an inflatable couch or chairs, wiring for LED or fluorescent lights in the roof with switches, 12v power jacks etc. On the outside might be an inflatable sink with 12v pump and drain hose and outside inflatable chairs. There would be an “air pressure bus” with quick-connects and turnable valves for each component. Inflation would be pushbutton, deflation might require turning values as you deflate components but still simple. Once deflated, the whole thing — components, bedding and all — would roll up and fit into a trunk or large suitcase that would fit in the back of a minivan or SUV. It would not be designed to be small or light like most tents.
It could also be designed to sit in a hitch holder, along with a bike rack. Add a portable toilet, camp stove, ice chest and folding tables (inflatables are not solid enough.) Ideally wire a special jack into the van battery, and replace the van battery with a marine battery (deep cycle and starting).
The goal: open the crate, open the valves and start the compressor. In a few minutes, a living space is erect. If needed, put in weights or stake it down. In the morning, start the vacuum on the internal components, then turn the valves to drain the support members, roll it up, bedding and all, and go.
I believe this could easily sell for $1,000 or more. It would be almost as easy as a pop-up camper, but best of all you would not be towing something. It would pay for itself for families on a cross country road trip pretty quickly. The key is to not think of it as a tent but as an RV.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2004-09-09 13:49.
First entry in a while due to trip to Burning Man ... more on that later. This time I returned to RV rental, after 2 years in a tent, so I thought I would make some notes on that.
It amazes me how little attention mainstream RVs pay to what is called "dry camping" -- away from electrical and water connections. Yes, they have batteries, tanks and generators, but it's very rare to see an RV use fluorescent lights, for example, even though they are available in 12v form and take 15% or less of the power of the incandescent lights they currently use. If running off batteries this is a no-brainer.
Inverters are also cheap these days, and more efficient. Some draw almost nothing now when not loaded, so a built in inverter to run 110v gear efficiently off the batteries also makes sense. As noted, a 1kw inverter is today quite cheap, and could even run the microwave, though you would not want to do that much. An automatic system to run mostly from battery but start the generator on-demand during daytime hours if it gets low could make sense.
Solar kits are sold for RVs but are rare and rarely standard. It also amazes me that they don't come standard with built in liquid soap dispensers, paper towel racks and other things to keep the commonly used stuff secure.
We have found it handy to use the rubbermaid (or similar) plastic storage boxes to put multiple boxes in the overhead storage. Pull out drawers would also make sense here. Each time you move you have to "rig for silent running" and some RVs we have rented come with metal blinds that will clank and clank unless you stuff towels into them.
The latest RVs only fill their water tank from a standard pressurized hose. Turns out that's a curse at burning man because the water truck is not allowed to have such a fixture due to the risk of backflow from an unknown tank. Doubt we will see a fix for that as it is an unusual problem.
RVs come with very low precision monitor guages, from before the digital age. They show you that your tanks are at 0, 1/3, 2/3 and full, for example, and likewise for your battery. On the fresh water tank they could measure flow through the water pump to get a much more accurate figure, and if they detected if the toilet was the use, they could also know how much was likely in the gray tanks. The black tank (sewage) sensors have been broken on every RV I have ever encountered, they gum up with toilet paper. You would think after decades of having unusable sensors they would devise some other method, such as a pressure sensor under a heavy membrane, or bouncing sound waves or light off the top of the sewage. You can of course shine a flashlight down the toilet, but that's harder to judge than you might think and of course not very pleasant.
Measuring the battery accurately is of course a much easier task, and I use my voltmeter to do it. You could also do a full coulomb counter like laptops do to really accurately measure charge level and the condition of the battery to find out when it's time to replace. None of this stuff is expensive in the modern digital world, but RV designers still think in 80s technology, I surmise.
It's also common to find just one 12v jack in an RV and at most 2, usually where TVs will go. They assume RV owners will not be using much 12v equipment even though it's quite common nowadays.
In order to protect the batteries when camping off-grid, there should be timers or automatic shut-offs of lights if voltage goes below certain limits. Many an RV camper has left a light on and found their battery drained. If they are there and the timer trips, they can just manually turn it on again.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2004-07-26 04:27.
I like to wear suspsenders sometimes, but they have become an added burden when you travel or enter certain buildings because they have metal. Not that there are any accessory-vendors reading my blog, but sadly it's time for somebody to sell belts, suspenders and shoes for people who need them without metal.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2004-07-22 13:19.
Ok, I'll admit this is a crazy idea, not likely to ever see the light of day, but it's worth throwing out as an exercise. It is often said we should keep the speed limit low to encourage good fuel economy.
What if there were no speed limit, but instead a "fuel limit." For example, 2 gallons of gas per hour.
If you are driving a 30mpg Honda Accord, you
could thus go 60 miles an hour, as that would burn 2 gallons in one
hour. If you had a 50mpg Toyata Prius, you could go 100 miles/hour
because that would also burn 2 gallons/hour. ZEV? As fast as you
want, just like Germany.
Bad news in that 20mpg Ford Explorer 4WD. 40 miles/hour maximum speed
A Hummer? Forget it, you'll be below the minimum speed. No highway
driving for you. Enjoy the side roads.
This is more an academic exercise, as the voters would reject it (they
love their big cars) and we actually don't want anybody going 40mph on
I-280. But in fact, if the limit is set to encourage good fuel economy,
this would be the way to do it. A simpler, but also unpopular way
would be to tax gas to $5/gallon. It's fair, because when you crud up
my air by burning your gas, you owe me something, and the least you could
do is reduce my taxes.
Now of course if you really did something like this it would be more complex. Probably not linear, nobody below 50mph. If 50mph is not enough, an 55mph exception for commercial trucks, busses and other non-passenger or many-passenger vehicles. Being a carpool would also alter your speed. Of course it would be a fair bit harder for cops to enforce, but actually not that hard. Cops are trained to identify cars very quickly, and of course would have a quick database. But frankly, you can tell a guzzler when you see one, most of the time.
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2004-06-02 15:58.
I'm not the only one to have thought of this, but as yet no real work has been done. How about a hybrid car powered with a Stirling Engine? (Not spelled Sterling, btw.)
The Stirling is more efficient than the internal combustion or diesel engine, and it's also a lot quieter. Sounds great, but it's not good for cars because it can't rev up quickly and it takes about 5 minutes to get the engine hot enough to run well. We want our cars to start the minute we put the key in.
A hybrid design (with enough batteries for 10-20 miles) solves this. You can get all the acceleration you need from the electric motors, and you can start driving right away, while heating up the Stirling "boiler". Then it kicks in to provide the power to run the car for the long haul. If you know the trip is short, no need to fire up the Stirling until the battery gets low.
The Stirling can burn anything. Gasoline, kerosene, diesel, vegetable oil, hydrogen, even wood! Yes, you could, in theory, be stuck by the side of the road out of gas, then go out with an axe to chop trees and refuel your car.
Well, almost. You want high-temperature burning for the best efficiency, and this would pollute and probably dirty your nice clean boiler. Right now the engines are expensive to machine but I suspect that could change.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2004-05-27 16:00.
Commodities traders buy gasoline futures all the time. Could they work at the gas pump? Imagine a big gas chain willing to sell you future gas today. You would buy a coupon, good for 15 galons of gas in August, the month you plan a big family trip in the minivan. You're afraid the high prices in the future might hurt the trip, you can be protected against them. The futures might even cost less than gas at the pump today due to widespread belief that supplies will open up. In times of heavy fear they would cost less. You could even buy some of your gas years ahead (from a big chain you know will be around) and then sell them on eBay if you don't need them. Would you need a commodities licence to do so?
Would anybody buy them?
(Thanks to Kathryn for this idea.)