Must See TV – Stephen Fry’s 100 Greatest Gadgets

I’ve just watched the full-length version of Stephen Fry’s 100 Greatest Gadgets.  ABC 1 will be broadcasting it in three episodes, starting from Thursday 28 June.

Must see TV

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The death of the newspaper? Maybe not in Japan

I don’t read newspapers in Australia very much.  I used to read weekend papers but I don’t make much effort.  The last paper I read with any sort of regularity was the Australian Financial Review weekend edition; more for the David Rowe cartoon than the futures.

However, whenever I’m in Japan I try to read a newspaper everyday.  And it isn’t always easy.  Unless you’re staying in a hotel that delivers one daily you have to visit a (fairly major) railway station kiosk.  A very small number of  convenience stores might carry foreign-language newspapers, but you’d be lucky.  Japanese newspapers are 7 of the top 10 in circulation anywhere in the world.  Here’s a list of the newspapers I read on my last trip to Japan in October 2011:

  1. Mainichi Daily News (Kindle edition, received at 20:00 nightly but the same edition as the next day’s print verison)
  2. The Japan Times (my favourite and the only one not affiliated with a Japanese media organisation)
  3. Asahi Shimbun (and International Herald Tribune)
  4. Wall Street Journal – Japan (delivered to the hotel room by some ghastly mistake)
  5. Financial Times – Japan (where I read about the scandal in Olympus 3 weeks before it appeared in mainstream media)
  6. The Daily Yomiuri

What’s nice is that the English-language newspapers are really quite good.  In the depths of a Japanese Winter I’ve read the cricket scores alongside ice hockey, ski jumping, soccer and surfing news.  The three major dailies have a mixture of national and international news, business, culture and the occasional language lesson and gaijin help-line.

Thirst for news in one’s own language is probably the main reason for reading all of those newspapers.  If I lived there I certainly would read 1 or 2 only and probably stick with the Kindle editions for ease of reading on public transport.

Another reason might be the reasonable price.  Subscriptions are less than ¥3000 per month and an edition is ¥100-120.

And there is something relaxing in a sometimes frenetic city to drink a coffee while reading the paper in a Dotour coffee shop (or Starbucks, if you must).

Despite the ubiquitous Internet phone (since 1999) and lots of digital media, the newspaper in Japan is still very popular.  Whether the newspaper companies are thriving businesses is something I don’t know, but I’ll have a guess.

How much to charge an iPad for a year?

The Huffington Post cites a study by the Electric Power Research Institute into the cost of powering various household devices in the USA. Charging a the latest version of the iPad cost USD1.36 for year at the average power cost of 11.49¢ per kW/h.
I pay about 16.6¢ per kW/h plus a daily supply charge that I’ve conveniently left out so let’s call it 20¢. That’s about 74% more so let’s call it $2.35 to charge a new iPad in Australia.
Maybe I’m a bit lucky because the average the average household electricity bill in Australia is just under 25 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2011-12, which was 194 per cent more than that of Canadians and 122 per cent higher than those of Americans.
Canada gets a lot more hydro power than Australia, which may explain the lower cost. But I can’t imagine that the infrastructure in Canada is easier to manage than that in Australia, where infrastructure costs are to blame for a 40% increase in customer bills in 5 years. Forget about the Carbon Tax, since it hasn’t started yet, so it can’t have been the cause of the increases.
The good news is that if you use your iPad (other tablet devices are available) then you probably aren’t watching the power-hungry TV as much. There, you’re saving money already.

ISP Shaping – feels like early 2004!

My 60GB monthly download limit ha always be sufficient. Despite downloading quite a lot of podcasts, iView and similar from TV stations’ websites, I usually hover around 20-40GB of data each month. Some years ago I reached my download limit (might have been 20GB) and had to suffer with a slight slow down for 3 days. From memory my 512/128kbps connection was shaped to 64/64kbps.

This month I’m well over and I hit it with 8 days left in the month! Despite buying a 25GB data block, which should have kept me fine, I’ve downloaded close to 90GB so far this month. I managed to download 32.8GB and 33.3GB on consecutive days, which has probably placed me on some kind of register. So I am now shaped to 256/256kbps.

When I joined my ISP in 2004 I skipped their 256/64 offering for the 512/128. I had just returned from a trip to Japan where 2.5Mbps was the norm. Rather than leap to 1.5/256 I took the intermediate step. Being shaped to 64/64 was still way ahead of using a 56K dial-up modem.

Now that I can get 14-16Mbps down and over 1Mbps up, shaping the 256/256 is a special type of hell. Considering that there are 4 computers, 2 smartphones and a Wii that share the network, there’s a lot going in and out of the pipe. Feels like the time before ADSL.

As luck would have it, Vodafone have finally updated their network so for the first time in 9 years I can use a mobile phone in my house. In fact I have such a good 3G signal that I’ve disconnected my smartphone from my network to save bandwidth until my new quota takes effect.

Next month I’ll have 200GB for the same price (new plans), however I’ll be metered for uploads for the first time. Remains to be seen if that download/upload limit is enough!

UPDATE: I bought another chunk of Internet, effectively doubling my bill this month. I’ll be downloading til rollover to get my money’s worth.

Latest fuel consumption improvements: Is it my pulsing or my gliding?

On Sunday I had about the worst type of journey I could have for fuel consumption (FC) a short trip with a very steep climb, fast speeds, a dirt road and cold temperatures necessitating both A/C and rear and mirror defogging.  I returned a 5.0l/100km (5.3l corrected) for that trip.  Today’s work round trip has returned to the very good numbers of late last week.

Date Trip Distance Cons +6.5% Ave km/h
12/06/2012 Home to AIS 12.2 4.0 4.3 42
12/06/2012 Round 33.3 4.2 4.5 38

How am I doing this? Any reasonable person would think that the most efficient way to drive is to maintain a constant speed.  It is certainly more efficient than treating the accelerator and brake as an on/off switch.  Hard acceleration and braking can increase FC by 30% or more without much thought. But there’s a benefit to being smooth but inconsistent.

The key term is Brake Specific Fuel Consumption (BSFC)

Engines are funny things. It seems obvious that revving the ring out will use more fuel, but an engine under load generally uses fuel more efficiently.  There is a balance.  Here’s a very good explanation with lots of pretty pictures, though the author is referring to the original NVW11 Prius when he shows the BSFC curve.  It is a fairly complicated concept and does seem counter-intuitive, but then so is Quantum Mechanics.
Understand one thing; the Prius is pre-destined to run its engine in the area of maximum BSFC and therefore get the most out of each drop of fuel.  The clever computer keeps the engine revs within the 220g/kWh zone as much as possible. A typical reading from the gauges on my Garmin ecoroute HD might be engine load 90% at 1900 RPM.   Driving in this zone will produce gentle acceleration as the revs are low, but you can always put the foot down and lose a little bit of BSFC to gain torque and power if conditions require it.

As a rough guide, keeping the Hybrid System Indicator between 75-100% (that is, from halfway along the “ICE” section to the edge of PWR) will keep the engine speed in an ideal range to take advantage of the lowest BSFC.  This zone will maximise the recharging of the HV battery, which is important for the next point.

BSFC graph for 2ZR-FXE 1.8L Prius compared to the 1NZ-FXE 1.5L. The larger “sweet spot” of the 1.8 is obvious.

I think that I have finally cracked the secret of “Pulse and Glide

P&G is a hypermiling technique that is particularly well suited to the Prius Hybrid but can be done in most cars.  In short, you Pulse to gain speed or climb a hill and then Glide by getting the car to coast until the speed drops.  If the pulse is reasonably gentle, the engine will be in its sweet spot and the HV battery will get a charge as well.  What’s makes the glide easy with the Prius is that you don’t need to shift to neutral or switch off the engine; the car can do that for you.  You just have to learn how to press the accelerator ever so slightly to avoid its kinetic energy being used to charge the HV battery.  Here’s a video that explains everything:

So it looks like I have somehow cracked the P&G code such that despite cold starts, high speeds and stop-start traffic, I am getting close to the fantasy FC figures that ADR81/02 under fairly poor conditions.  I think that I’ll still buy that engine heater (that’s another post for another time.)

Watts Clever? Not using a dryer for a start.

My results for a load in the dryer Hoover 5050ED:

  • 2.0 kW/h
  • 1.6 CO2/kg
  • Maximum power 1992.4 W and 1760 W when running
  • Time 42″
  • cost of electricity used 12.9¢
  • When stopped it beeps for a short time and then moves to 0.9w on standby.

Compared to washing a (slightly larger) load with cold water, the dryer is responsible for:

  • 10 x the power
  • 9 x CO2
  • almost twice the maximum power and a sustained power use of about 5 x
  • and cost 3 x more to run for about 1/3 of the time.

Time to devise a low-energy, winter clothes drying solution.

Suddenly, my fuel consumption is much, much better…

…and I don’t know why!?!

Hypothesis

  1. If a Prius is not used for several months, it may become less fuel efficient.
  2. Using the Prius regularly prevents degradation of HV battery.
  3. After a period of inactivity, regular use can restore normal service and fuel consumption.

Background

I’ve been following the great advice on the PriusChat forum to improve my fuel consumption (FC)/mileage. The ADR81/02 fuel consumption figure for the NVW30 Prius is 3.9l/100km (72.4 mpg(UK) 60.6 mpg(US) 25.6km/l).  I have been getting nowhere near that!  Measuring FC tank by tank since I got the car has averaged 4.87l/100km (58/48.5/20.5). I seemed to be getting good results recently as my last 2 tanks averaged 4.7l/100km (60/50/21.3).

But then, suddenly, I seemed to step into the rarefied world of the hypermiler.

The other background bit before I get to the point

I just started a new job and I’m driving everyday instead of taking the bus. For the first time since I bought it the car is being used everyday instead of every weekend.  I used the Hybrid System Indicator (HSI) to measure the distance, FC and average speed each morning.  I then returned home and checked the total for the day.  Note: The HSI is 6.5% optimistic.  You’ll notice that the trips aren’t identical but the conditions are comparable.  Here’s what I measured:

Date Trip Distance Cons +6.5% Ave km/h
5/06/2012 Home to AIS 24.9 4.9 5.2 41
5/06/2012 Round 38.4 4.8 5.1 30
6/06/2012 Home to AIS 12.2 4.7 5.0 36
6/06/2012 Round 24.3 4.7 5.0 39
7/06/2012 Home to AIS 12.2 4.6 4.9 37
7/06/2012 Round 28.4 4.9 5.2 35
8/06/2012 Home to AIS 12.2 4.9 5.2 41

These numbers are in line with my previous efforts.  The trips are short, the mornings are very cold so the engine runs much longer to warm up and doesn’t drive the wheels until abut 1 minute after starting, there’s stop-start traffic followed by a 90km/h zone I have to use the A/C and defogger a little… all of which are bad for FC.
But then suddenly on Friday afternoon and then again Saturday I was scoring 4.0l/100km with little effort and no change of technique or conditions!

Date Trip Distance Cons +6.5% Ave km/h
8/06/2012 Home to AIS 12.2 4.9 5.2 41
8/06/2012 Round 60.7 4.2 4.5 39
9/06/2012 Everywhere 115.2 4.0 4.3 42

I repeated the line for Friday to show that I travelled 12.2km @ 4.9 to get the work, but then only @ 4.0 for the next trip of 48.5km, despite extra stops, hills and more stuff in the car to get a final score of 4.2l/100km.
And today after a very cold start I drove all over and up and down Canberra, made about 10 stops, short trips, several high speed moments and a few hill climbs and only used 4.0l/100km (4.3 corrected). Overall, not ideal hypermiling conditions but still returning much better fuel consumption than when I tried really hard to be good.

Car

  • Built May 2009, Gen III NVW30 RHD Australia-delivered, Base model (like USA Prius Two but with fog lamps as standard.)
  • From July 2009 to June 2011 it travelled 68027km (42200 miles)
  • From June 2011 until I bought it in January 2012, it travelled just 314km (195 miles), sitting at the dealer in Canberra.
  • Now that I look at the service record (!)… the previous fleet owner seems to have missed the 30000km and 50000km services.
  • I use RON 95. I don’t think that there are any winter additives.

Environment

  • Canberra is 600m (c. 2000ft) above sea level and it is not flat.
  • Winter (now) averages below 0°c at night and 10-15°c dry with generally sunny days. May averaged -0.2°c at night and reached -5° a few times with 15.6°c days. So far June is averaging 1.0°c (but the last 3 nights were -4 – -5°c) and 12.5°c days.
  • Lots of 70km/h (43mph) and 80km/h (50mph) connecting roads and 50km/h (31mph) or 60km/h (37mph) suburban roads.
  • Once a month I drive to Sydney, 300km away and 600m below, with 200km of mountains in between at 110km/h (68mph)

What I did to help, which didn’t seem to make a lot of difference at the time

  • Pulse and Glide
  • Dead 12 volt battery replaced a few months ago
  • Tyre pressure was in the low 30’s. 42/40 psi for the past few months.
  • Replaced some lights with LED.
  • Minimal A/C and defogger use. Heater off when warming the engine, then on Auto 21°c.
  • Headlights off when waiting at traffic lights. (Trick I learnt driving in Japan; doesn’t dazzle other drivers, saves a bit of fuel.)
  • On cold mornings, I let the car idle for 50s before I move.
  • Garmin 2460LT with ecoroute HD shows coolant temperate, RPM etc. and instantaneous fuel consumption. (It is more accurate than the HSI.)
  • Will be buying a DEFA engine heater. Possibly.

What is working against me

  • Ovation ecovision tyres’ rolling resistance is an unknown quantity, except to say that if their poor grip is a anything to go by…
  • Garage stays above 5°c. Coolant temperature is 10-15°c on start in the mornings.
  • I live at the bottom of a short but steep hill, great for returning in EV mode, bad for starting on a cold morning.
  • High average road speeds in Canberra make P&G tricky and EV less useful.

What is my problem?

  • The US EPA standard is 51/48/50 mpg(US) or about 4.6-4.9l/100km, which is what I was getting before. The ADR81/02 figure of 3.7/3.9/3.9 litres/100km is obviously unrealistic. But the UK claims 72.4mpg(UK) & 3.9l/100km.
  • That’s 2 trips. Show me 2 tanks and then you’ll have some evidence.

Watts Clever? A power meter, that’s watt

I’m strangely interested in how much power I use.  I’ve replaced all of the light bulbs in the house with CFL (except for the sensor light at the front and the lights in the range hood).  I wasn’t able to install the solar PV system of my dreams (4.5kW would fit on my roof) because of the expense of cabling from my property to the Point Of Entry via 3 other properties!  And my greatest source of exercise is from switching off lights and closing doors that my wife has switched on a opened to save power and heat.  (Remember the kitchen scene in “Sixth Sense”?  That’s our house.)

On the other hand I have a lot of gadgets and I probably spend a not insignificant amount on standby power.  I also have several computers that run BOINC 24/7 to cure disease, do really hard sums, save the planet and communicate with alien species.

To try to measure what I am using I bought a Watts Clever EW-AUS4001 power monitor for appliances.  (If their website wasn’t so hopeless, I’d show you a great picture and specs.)  It is simple enough to enter the electricity price or prices and times to change from peak to off-peak and then plug it in.  Then I can flick though the display to see lots of interesting measurements.

BTW I can’t easily fit a power monitor for the whole house for the same reason that I couldn’t feed power back to the grid; there’s no obvious cable upon which to clamp the detector.

Experiment 1 – Washing machine

Electrolux EWF 1282 8kg front-loader.  Energy rating 4 stars and will consume 114kW if run daily on a cold wash or 285kW for warm (60°c) Eco 60 wash.

My results for a cold wash were:

  • 0.2 kW/h
  • 0.2 CO2/kg
  • Maximum power 1035 W
  • Time 1′ 54″
  • cost of electricity used 4.4¢
  • When stopped and beeping at me was using 5.0w
  • or 0 – 0.9w on standby.

The Australian Standard measured 114kW/h for 365 washes or about 0.31kW/h per wash.  Given that the meter only reads to 1 decimal place, the 0.2 figure I measured could be close to 0.3.  At least it isn’t 27, 0.00001 or “medium”.

Wait until I test the dryer!  There’ll be no need for decimals for that one.

Remote Control Power Switches

The other spiffy thing Jaycar had on sale was a Watts Clever 3 adapter remote switch.  The adapters plug into the wall, plug the thing into the adapter, and then use the remote control to switch the whole smash off.  The kit was only $39.95 (what a bargain) so I’m hoping that there’s a bit lot of standby power ready to be quenched.

More results to come.