Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I'm taking a train trip tomorrow, and I am really excited about it. I'll be in Pennsylvania for a group theory conference, which I am also excited about.

I'm beginning to remember why I was on the Jesse Ventura bandwagon 11 years ago. I like that he is going on talk shows and smacking down people who need to be smacked down.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tsjaz and CHG visited on Saturday, and they brought a gift: the board game Pandemic. I love it. The four of us (with Skye, of course) played four times in 12 hours, Skye and I played another four times last night, and I played by myself another 5 times. I really like it.

Tsjaz got it for me because he knows that I like cooperative games. I like the idea of working together with people instead of against them - particularly when it comes to my wife. I am also pleased that this is starting to infiltrate my life. For instance, I was at a workshop last week where we had to do a silly exercise: we had to stand back-to-back with someone, turn around, look them over for 30 seconds, go back to back-to-back, change 3 things about your appearance, turn around, and guess what changed. We repeated this several times. I tried to make my changes as obvious as possible, since I thought this might be hard. Someone else - who is known to be a little competitive - said that she liked that she got to "challenge" the other person. Well, I liked making life easier for the other person.

Plus - OMG - the cooperative games link above mentions a Battlestar Galactica cooperative game. Awesome.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Skye is back in town, which is nice.

We are cat-sitting, and Olivia is not happy about the visit. Hissing abounds. Skye, though, is doing a good job of getting them to co-exist - I didn't feel that I could even do that.

I had meetings today about picking architects for the new academic building. My architect was unanimously chosen. I am very excited to work with them.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I had a really nice evening with the Rockroads.

CHG inadvertently convinced me to run the Twin Cities Marathon. I signed up and am in training. I ran three days in a row, and I feel great - I had forgotten how great running makes me feel. It somehow makes me feel "strong" all day long. It's weird.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I went to see Paula Poundstone last night with Tsjaz. It was a great night. First, Paula: about half of her act was pretty clearly scripted, the way a comedian normally goes about her business. This was decent. The other half was clearly material that was being thought up right then and there. This is why Paula is a genius. She is ridiculously quick on her feet, and this makes her hilarious. Several times, she asked a person in the crowd, "And what do you do?" The person's answer led to 5 minutes of material about the job/location/whatever information the person gave (the lute maker gave her closer to 15 minutes worth of material, unsurprisingly).

My only complaint about the performance is that our seats were screwed up. We were supposed to be sitting a lot closer than we were. It's fine, though.

Also performing at the same venue (but different stage) at the same time was Rockie Lynne. Paula's and Rockie's fans mingled together in the common area before the show and during intermission. Now, in case you are ever in the situation where Paula Poundstone is performing at the same time and location as Rockie Lynee and the crowds are mingling, you can tell Paul's fans from Rockie's fans by the following simple rule: Paula's fans were big, plastic glasses and Rockie's fans all wore some sort of "We Support Our Troops" indicator.

We then went home on the light rail. I loooooove trains, and this was the first time I had ridden Minneapolis's light rail. It was great, and helped support the night's theme of "I wish I lived in Minneapolis."

Finally, we walked to Tsjaz's house from the light rail station. It was such a beautiful night - it was comfortably cool. I loved it.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Today's Brilliant Idea

Chevy is coming out with the Chevy Volt, which is supposed to be the first "series hybrid" in mass production. A "series hybrid" is different from a "parallel hybrid" (the Prius is a parallel hybrid). In a parallel hybrid, there are actually two engines in the car: one is an internal combustion engine (ICE), and the other is electric. Roughly speaking, these two engines work at the same time, or in parallel (this isn't quite true in the Prius, but close enough).

A "series hybrid" only has one engine: an electric engine. The "hybrid" part comes from the fact that there is a generator onboard that produces energy from some sort of fuel. The basic idea is that there is a store of batteries than can be charged at night from a regular electrical outlet, the car runs for about 40 miles on the batteries, and then the generator kicks in if you need more electricity than that for your trip.

The advantages of a series hybrid are that it is more efficient and more simple (it only has one engine rather than two). The disadvantage of the series hybrid is that it requires batteries. Right now, the only practical solution are big, heavy (but cheap) lead acid batteries. These take up so much space that only die hards (like me!) are really willing to work with them, but they do work really well.

The solution is to develop small, light lithium ion batteries. The chemical properties of these batteries allow them to store much more energy per unit mass, which is why they are smaller and lighter - you just need less mass for the same amount of energy. These are popular in small items like laptops, but this is largely because laptops don't remember much energy, so the batteries are pretty small and cheap. Cars require a lot of energy, and there require a lot of battery to run them. This can be done in two ways: make a really expensive (but awesome) car, or figure out a way to make the batteries cheaper.

Chevy believes it can produce the batteries cheaply. Toyota does not believe that anyone can yet. I tend to trust Toyota on this one, due to their success with the parallel hybrids and their relative success in the overall car industry.

So what can be done now, assuming that Chevy doesn't come up with small, light, cheap batteries? This is where my brilliant idea comes in (I am probably not the first, though). Why not build a series electric car without the battery? You would have an electric motor on the car, but this motor would be run by a gasoline generator (for now) rather than batteries. Here are the advantages of such a car:

  • Electric engines are much, much simpler than ICEs.
  • All of the technology that would be used is proven. These electric motors are currently running our fridges, computers, golf carts, and electric cars. There isn't a lot of risk, since we are removing the only risky unknown (the batteries).
  • This appears to be much, much more efficient than an ICE. A typical ICE is roughly 20-25% efficient. That is, if you have a 10 gallon tank of gas, you are actually only using about 2 of those gallons to make the car go forward. The other 8 gallons go toward making the car noisy and hot (which can be good in the winter, but it would be much better to only create heat when you want it and not in, say, August). On the other hand, a home electric generator is roughly 80-85% efficient (it converts one gallon of gas into 30 kilowatt-hours of electricity, which ends up being 83% efficient, since one gallon of gas contains roughly 36 kilowatt-hours of energy). Even accounting for losses at other stages in the engine, it seems like we would immediately have a car that is 2-3 times as efficient as an ICE.
  • These cars could easily be retrofitted once the battery technology is ready. It would not be hard to add batteries to a car later. These means that consumers would not have to be scared off by the "there will be a better technology in five years" thing.
  • Detroit would be able to start preparing for the future today. If it could get a headstart on the basics of the electric car, it could be the leader once we make the inevitable switch.
  • We could gradually change our infrastructure. The first people to buy the cars would use them exactly as we use our current gas cars. As the cost of batteries goes down, the wealthier will replace them first (the batteries will still be expensive, but less so). We could produce a little infrastructure to support the early adopters, and gradually add more as more people get the batteries.

Basically, this seems like it could be the stepping stone to electric cars, and an awesome opportunity for GM (or Ford). They should do this.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Awesome. Of course, this destroys my "Republican governor-gay marriage law" correlation, but I can live with it.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

I went to pick up my cap and gown today, and I have a story about it. A little background, first: I work as a professor at two schools: one is all male (College A), and one is all female (College B).

So I go up to the desk and ask for my cap and gown. Since my office is on the College B campus, I had to go to the College B bookstore. I asked the woman behind the desk for the cap and gown. She asked me, "Are you graduating from College A or College B?"

Now, initially, you might interpret this as a compliment. I have not yet gotten so old and wrinkled that I look completely different from a student - she basically shaved ten years off of my age. I like that.

But if you think about this for a second, something else is going on. Recall that College A is all male, and College B is all female. So while I look like I am 22, I might look like a woman. I guess that I need to extend my five day beard growth to ten to remove ambiguity.

Monday, May 04, 2009

It's a crazy day. At least I get to show off my electric car at the Environmental Studies end-of-year picnic today.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Surprise Saturday Post

Here is an article on sugar facts. Much of the article is "sugar is bad." The eighth fact is "Turns out that cancer's preferred fuel is none other than glucose." They neglect to tell you that it also turns out that the brain's preferred fuel is none other than glucose, too.

I'm not saying that sugar is good for you, but I think that it (along with fats) gets an unfair reputation.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Today I lectured in both of my two classes for education majors. I lectured on the entire semester's worth of material in under an hour. I am hoping that the point is that you learn things better by doing things rather than listening to a lecture, although I am not convinced that my point was made.