Must See TV – February / March 2012 Edition

First is James May’s Man Lab on SBS ONE Monday 27 February at 2030.  Hard to go past this man’s well-written and -executed programs especially when he’s not with the other two.

The first series of 3 programs will show a man how to disarm a WWII bomb, shine a shoe and seduce a lady with music.  And I’m not just saying that because that’s what I read on wikipedia; I’ve actually watched them.  Maybe SBS will show the 5 episodes of series 2 straight after; I haven’t seen those.

Another gem is/will be Danger 5 on SBS ONE Monday 27 February at 2130.  If you thought that Team America World Police was OK, you’ll probably like Danger 5.  It is an Australian production based on a comic.  Here’s the teaser called Danger 5: The Diamond Girls.

Sadly Danger! 50,000 Volts! is still not on free-to-air.  This could be described as Nick Frost’s take on James May’s Man Lab, but that might be unfair to both.

Categories TV

Tree aftermath

That tree brought a lot of shade and privacy to the back of the house. The footpath behind isn’t used much but enough to discourage naturalistic tendencies with the curtains drawn. The other huge change is in the temperature. The back yard was often 10C° cooler than the front on a hot day and since I had managed to prune the branches high enough for me to walk under, it was a nice space.
Today’s jobs started with chipping the branches that were small enough to fit through my trusty Ryobi. Amazing to see a pile of branches the size of a small car reduce to the size of 2 pillows just by slicing it thinly enough. Already starting to warm up in the hot sun the pile was the perfect carbon to balance the nitrogen in my Aerobin® compost solution.
DISCLOSURE: The Aerobin produces more CO2 than other compost methods but none of the methane.

Next job was the fence. The fence posts are rotten at the bottom so there’s little support. I was astonished that the fence hadn’t given way but had actually slowed the tree’s fall and prevented any real damage. I had tied the fence post to the tree to hold the fence up, not the other way around.
One of the panels had pulled out from the top of the fence post leaving a gap. Closing the gap wasn’t so easy as I had to first make the gap wider, remove some very stubborn nails and somehow make it all better. The fence is a good 7 foot with overlapping palings and three rungs.
At the hardware store I found what is now my favourite tool; the Irwin Quick Grip XP600 One Handed Bar Clamp / Spreader. This thing can deliver 270kg of force with one hand. I also bought a crow bar, some huge galvanised nails and a rain gauge. (I figured that with the tree out of the way I could actually measure rain now.)
Last night the branches were thrown over my fence into a handy space in the shrubbery. Today I had to make it look presentable to 1. get to the fence and 2. to appear like I was just about to take it to the green waste dump in Mitchell.

Fence fixed, gutter fixed, tree still present

Realising that the fence post was no longer attached to the ground I decided to repair adequately and prepare for a tradesman’s opinion, tools and skill to do it properly.

Gutter was an easy fix.  One of the brackets had pulled out and it was straightforward to see how it fitted.  Clip, squeeze, clamp and it was done.  Pulled the last of the logs out of the gutter and it was done.

Just one job left…

Free to good home, 3 cubic metres of ex-tree

Tree fell over to some extent

Summer has been wetter and cooler than normal. I had the roof fixed yesterday to replace inadequate valleys that let in water even during light rain. Despite several heavy showers since the repair the roof showed no sign of water.
Then it really started bucketing down with hail from the Northeast. I checked the garage under the new roofing and saw a small leak, a few drops; nothing like the torrent I would have faced before. The roofer promised 98% chance of no leaks and he was right.
Moving to the back door to check the work at the rear of the house, I wondered why the yard seemed so bright. Where was the tree?

Resting against the fence and the roof, is where.

This was going to be tricky. First, call the experts. Told the SES (State Emergency Services) about tree and lack of apparent damage so that I wouldn’t get priority over some poor sod with an unexpected and unwelcome skylight.

Using my meagre hand saw and hedge shears I started to remove the “non-structural” branches to reduce weight on the rest. Texted a friend to borrow his chainsaw and for him to use his chainsaw since I had no idea how to us it.

Did I mention that we had friends over for a dinner party at the time? Sat down for dessert and coffee

So about 1 hour after my call no less than 6 SES arrived (and their supervisor later to check) dressed in orange and 3M tape with tools of destruction. The pipe saw was the most useful, an extendable whipper snipper with chainsaw head. Nice.

Quite a lot of fine trimming to lessen the weight before they were ready to risk dropping the rest. Gentle landing. A few more slices to reduce the trunk to bite-size bits and the job’s a good’un. Apart from the matter of clearing the green waste. Good thing I still have the station wagon.


Prius – what is it like on the highway part 2

I had another opportunity to gauge the Prius’ highway skills this week to spend a few days in Sydney.

Filled up in Canberra with 31l of 98RON (to dilute the E10 further) before leaving to get a full journey reading.  I can record fuel purchases in my Garmin 2460LT, which told me that my mileage to that point was 4.9l/100km 57.6 mpg(UK) 48.2 mpg(US) 20.4km/l.  This will take a little while to settle down as it is hard to filled the tank to the same point every time.  The figure is slightly greater than the HSI (Hybrid System Indicator) suggests.

Run from Canberra to Sydney measured 279.1km, averaged 86km/h and drank 4.3l/100km 65.7 mpg(UK) 54.9 mpg(US) 23.3km/l.  Conditions were slightly warmer to last weekend and again I set the cruise control to 114km (110km by GPS) and didn’t drive in any special way.  However, I was carrying luggage and a heavy portable air conditioner in the boot.  That indicates that the 4.0l/100km figure I got from nearly the top of the hills as it were to Sydney is only slightly affected by the previous 125km of climbs and descents.

The only trip by car in Sydney was to my sister’s house in Turramurra.  Again the elevation profiles to and from are quite distinct, however the bulk of the distance was on opposite sides of the same road and therefore the same profile.  Traffic was heavy on the way up, so the start-stop engine came in handy.  Light traffic and lots of long downhills helped on the way back.  The 50km took the HSI to 4.9l/100km 57.65 mpg(UK) 48.23 mpg(US) 20.41km/l overall at 231.2km.

The way North goes via Oxford Street and Hyde Park to the Sydney Harbour Tunnel.  Curiously the minimum altitude is supposedly 4m ASL even though the tunnel reaches 25m BSL.  The drop into and climb out of the tunnel are the steepest long sections.  There are steeper parts including a 25.9% climb from Woolloomooloo, but these are very short.


The return journey took the Harbour Bridge.  The elevation profile below is for the Cahill Expressway, however it was closed for roadwork that night.  The detour took the Western Distributor and Bathurst Street.  Again the minimum altitude of 4m was centred on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which is odd because I used to calibrate the altitude on my watch to 60m when I took the bus it each morning.  The real figure should peak at 59m ASL.


Return journey (less a portable A/C, plus lots of shopping) was mild with some heavy rain in parts.  Lots of roadwork involving 80km/h and even 40km/h stretches, which were good for charging the battery and using little petrol, but strung a bit on accelerating back to 110km/h.

The final figures were 649.6km (403 miles) averaging 73km/h (45.3 mph) drinking 4.6l/100km 61.4 mpg(UK) 51.4 mpg(US) 21.7km/l.

All this tells me a few things:

  1. Google Earth elevation profile feature is not perfect and depends heavily on the zoom level at which it is displayed;
  2. HSI figures may vary from actual tank-to-tank measurements;
  3. You don’t need to drive the Prius in a special way to get good economy figures.  Even driving on cruise control, using A/C and steep hills doesn’t double its consumption;
  4. 4.6l/100km is a reasonable estimate of fuel use on that run under a variety of conditions.

Yes, my sample size might only be two, but I think that I have a reasonable benchmark as a starting point.

Prius – what is it like on the highway part 1

First long trip

Today was the first long journey in the Prius (still unnamed) taking the dogs to Sydney for their grooming and some shopping for us. The Prius was known for having worse fuel economy on the highway compared to the city, the opposite of every other car I’ve known. The difference was slight but it highlighted that stop-start traffic and low speeds suited a hybrid whereas highway driving at 100-110km/h (62-68mph) required the engine to run continually. A modern turbo diesel would be expected to drink less as its torque helps it keep a steady speed regardless of load.

The official figures according to ADR81/02 for the Toyota Prius Hybrid 1.8L NVW30 are:

  • Urban 3.9 l/100km 72.4MPG(UK) 60.6MPG(US) 25.6km/l
  • Extra-urban 3.7 l/100km 76.4MPG(UK) 63.9MPG(US) 27.0km/l
  • Combined 3.9 l/100km 72.4MPG(UK) 60.6MPG(US) 25.6km/l

So that pattern is more conventional.

The route

Gungahlin to Sydney is about 280km (174 miles). The altitude starts at about 620m above sea level (ASL) rises to 695m near the ACT-NSW border, peaks at 756m a few times and remains above 600m for about 165km of the journey.

There's some hills between Canberra and Sydney

Route profile from Canberra to Sydney, courtesy of Google Earth

Until I had seen this profile I had no idea how gradual the slope was. Not very. Interesting also that one climbs 1553m and drops 2144m in the process. Now, the profile is very important to explaining the fuel economy figures, which I’ll get to in a minute.

The measured trip – out lap

The trip started from filling up with 31.6l of 95RON at BP Marulan, about 114km (71 miles) from home and 638m above sea level. From there to Sydney has 810m of climbs at a maximum of 4.6% and 1418m of descents at a maximum of 5.2%. So that stretch happens to include the steepest climb and descent of the entire Canberra to Sydney journey.

I used the cruise control at 110km/h by GPS (114km/h on the speedo). PWR mode was used to enter from ramps but I used ECO mode for the rest of the time. I tried to anticipate steep hills by accelerating before, but I wasn’t a good judge of momentum so the cruise control kicked in to full power mode to restore speed… not good for economy. I didn’t draft or use hypermiling techniques, but I was smooth. Top speed was a burst at about 120km/h (the de facto speed limit on the Hume Hwy) to make way for a another car. The A/C was low at 21.5°c (71F) against 15°c (59F) outside.

I found that on many descents, I was rolling and recharging the battery using zero fuel and maintaining cruise control speed. (Note: the engine must run at those speeds to avoid a large discrepancy between the road speed and transmission speed. It just does it without using fuel, just as a conventional engine might.) With plenty of chances to recharge, there was plenty of battery for hybrid eco gliding.

The last part of the out lap was an EV drive through the underground car park at Cathedral Street Sydney. (On the return journey I nearly used EV for the whole climb back out of the car park, but the engine started with about 50m to go.)

The trip computer read 160.5km (99.7 miles) 4.0l/100km 70.6MPG(UK) 59.1MPG(US) 25km/l with average speed 92km/h (57.1mph). I was very happy and a bit surprised. (That’s not the 168km from Google Earth as I took a more direct route through the suburbs to drop off the dogs and then to the bookshop.)

The measured trip – return

Conditions were a bit warmer for the return, so the A/C was set to 23°c (73F) against 28°c (82F) outside.

At the M5 entrance at Arncliffe the traffic was banked up. It took 10 minutes to drive (in EV) the 250m from the Marsh Street entrance to finally get onto the M5 itself. Soon after joining the stream the traffic sped to 60km/h! Bad merge genes?

Again I stuck to 110km/h (68mph) for the run back. We took one stop at BP Marulan for the dogs to takes a break and get some Hungry Jacks (Burger King).

Note: I might have been best to fill again at this point and get a reasonable downhill/uphill comparison, but I wanted to get home.

But wait! Oddly enough the elevation profile on the return is different. The climbs total 2064m (c.f. 2144m 4% more) the descents total 1465m (c.f. 1553m 6% more) and the maximum slopes are both 3.9% (c.f. 4.6% climb 5.2% descent). The north- and south-bound lanes are divided and in some cases separated by as much as 300m. Perhaps the grade was engineered to be less severe on the “uphill” journey?Going uphill is easier than going downhill?

Going uphill is easier than going downhill? Not quite

Arriving home the trip totals were 450.1km (279.5 miles) 4.6l/100km 61.4 MPG(UK) 51.4MPG(US) 21.7km/l Ave. 78km/h (48.5mph).

The smoother ride home helps explain why I rarely noticed recharging while descending; the slopes weren’t steep enough to maintain 110km/h without the engine.

Interesting preliminary results. We return to Sydney next week for a few days, so I’ll get another go soon. I leave you with this image as I stopped in my driveway with a Ford F250 truck in the background.