You Got to Be Kidding Me!

So I Have This Great Idea!

Posted in Four Wheels by Stacy McMahon on September 30, 2008

We’ll take a big vehicle, like an 18-wheeler, and put a bunch of seats in it so that lots of people can ride, and then it’ll be the greatest form of mass transit ever! Oh yeah, let’s also make it capable of driving on train tracks even though that’s the most impractical idea since the Segway. We’ll call it … the Blade Runner!

Silvertip Design Blade Runner

Silvertip Design "Blade Runner"

Or, you know, we could take the bus.


Fairfax Shell Stations Out of Super and Premium

Posted in Economics by Stacy McMahon on September 30, 2008

But the BP had gas (at slightly higher prices) …anyone else having to look around for fuel?

Battery Terminal Corrosion

Posted in Four Wheels by Stacy McMahon on September 29, 2008

This is a new one on me, though as my dad points out, a light switch is either on or off. Saturday night, I’m waiting in the parking lot while Louise runs into Shoppers to pick up a couple things for dinner. I literally shut the car off for five minutes, and when I tried to start it again — nothing. Not really expecting to find anything, I looked under the hood – and found the problem (though I didn’t quite recognize it at the time)

The roadside assistance guy chipped some of the corrosion off and was able to jumpstart the car, so I got away without having to be towed or pay someone else to do what I ended up doing the next morning:

Yes, that’s a can of coke, and no it’s not for me to drink while I’m working! The coke is supposed to be able to clean the battery terminals. Here is our patient before treatment:

And after. Yes, coke. Cool, huh? And I’ve chipped this junk off battery posts before without using any solvent. It’s not easy.

Is Ford About to Finally Bring Us a Euro Model?

Posted in Four Wheels by Stacy McMahon on September 28, 2008

As long as I’ve been into cars, Ford has said every year that it was going to bring this or that European model to the US unchanged. And in all that time the only one that’s actually made it over here was the Merkur Scorpio, weird (and therefore unsuccessful) even in its day.

According to Car and Driver, that’s all about to change. Now that Toyota and Honda have proven the market for microcars in the US, we’re – fingers crossed – going to get the new Ford Fiesta. European C/D correspondent Ray Hutton says ride and handling is on par with the Honda Fit. I’d go for it even if it was only up to Yaris standards. It’s definitely pretty.

Ford Fiesta

Ford Fiesta

Not Every Bank Is Failing

Posted in Economics by Stacy McMahon on September 28, 2008

This is interesting – the CEO of BB&T Bank, which is apparently doing just fine, is sending an open letter to Congress concerning the proposed bailout plan. I’m on the fence about this bailout. If it’s really true that short-term credit markets could come to a standstill, then it’s worth a lot of egg on our collective faces to avoid it. If not, there’s no rational reason to bail anyone out.

Anyway, many good points at the link (via Instapundit) My favorites:

there is no panic on Main Street and in sound financial institutions. The problems are in high-risk financial institutions and on Wall Street.


It is extremely unclear how the government will price the problem real estate assets. Priced too low, the real estate markets will be worse off than if the bail out did not exist. Priced too high, the taxpayers will take huge losses. Without a market price, how can you rationally determine value?

Electric Trucks

Posted in Economics, Four Wheels by Stacy McMahon on September 27, 2008

This is pretty cool:

Britain’s largest retailer, Tesco, has launched a fleet of Modec [electric] delivery vehicles in Northern Ireland. The trucks will be used to bring customers’ orders straight to their doors. After beginning with a pilot fleet at its Shrewsbury location last year and receiving lots of “hugely positive” feedback from customers, the company continues to reduce its carbon footprint with this latest rollout. Says Tesco manager Maxine Thelwell, “Not only are the new vans carbon neutral and pollution free they are also very quiet – a double benefit for urban environments.

Well, they’re only as pollution-free as the power plant that runs their charging stations, but commercial fleets are a natural fit (just about the only one aside from bureaucrat-made niches like HOT lanes) for hybrid and alternative-fuel vehicles. Fleets operate in a restricted area where they’re always near home base and its fuel/charging stations, and hybrids get their best efficiency in stop-and-go driving. Plus, fleet vehicles roll up the kind of miles that make even expensive efficiency tweaks pay off quickly.

I saw a hybrid Coca Cola delivery truck in Baltimore last month; they’re getting popular here too.

PM Gets 32+ MPG from Chevy Cobalt XFE

Posted in Four Wheels by Stacy McMahon on September 27, 2008

Most of the story is in the headline. Popular Mechanics put 500 miles on a Chevy Cobalt XFE. That’s “eXtra Fuel Economy”, with a combination of relatively cheap tricks to reduce aerodynamic and tire drag and increase engine efficiency. With all that, and in a mostly highway driving regime, 32.2 mpg is frankly not very impressive. I drove a 2009 Toyota Corolla on my trip to California last week and got 36 mpg overall, even with all the long grades around Lake Tahoe.

Electric Supercharger

Posted in Electric Vehicles, Four Wheels, Going Green by Stacy McMahon on September 27, 2008

A British company has developed an electrically driven supercharger intended to boost small engines without drawing power from the crankshaft to turn the impeller. I’ll take their word that using electricity from the alternator is more efficient than driving the impeller directly from the crankshaft, but I have trouble seeing how physics allows this method to be more efficient than turbocharging, where otherwise-wasted heat from the exhaust drives it.

Anyway, the bigger news here is that the electric supercharger a fuel cell stack needs to produce enough power to drive a car (or an airplane) is now an off-the-shelf part. Take that, hydrogen skeptics…

Liveblogging the Presidential Debate

Posted in 2008 Election, Politics by Stacy McMahon on September 26, 2008

Since one of the big topics tonight was alternative energy, check out the discussion at (once it recovers from the traffic spike)

10:37 – Closing statements: Obama says children around the world need to see America as that shining beacon again. McCain says he came home from Vietnam to work for a better world. McCain and Obama don’t spend any extra time on the “good game” handshake. They don’t like each other. Now for the media BS

10:34 – Obama: “that sense” of broader strategic vision is what he wants to restore. But I think that’s the issue a lot of people have with him – he’s more interested in giving people a certain sense of things than of the substance behind that sense. Have to say, though, he’s put on a VERY impressive show tonight. Obama almost seems more grown up than McCain.

10:30 – McCain is avoiding the standing-in-the-world question, a sign of the circles he travels in. Liberals care a lot about that. Conservatives have to be reminded that some other people think it’s an issue.

10:29 – Obama: we need missile defense, Al Qaeda has to be top priority. He will “restore America’s standing in the world” – a sign of the circles he travels in. Lehrer asks if McCain agrees with that

10:26 – Last question: what’s the chance of another terrorist attack on US soil? McCain: less than on 9/12/01

10:25 – McCain: drilling is “a bridge” to the energy future. Obama smirks – I bet he’s thinking there’s a bridge-to-nowhere joke in there.

10:23 – Obama admits offshore drilling is part of the path to energy independence, says McCain voted 23 times against alternative energy. Now McCain looks annoyed.

10:21 – Not really apropos of the topic, but McCain gives a nice little rather scary (because accurate) assessment of Russia’s motives and intentions in eastern Europe. Obama says he agrees.

10:19 – McCain can pronounce Saakashvili’s name correctly. That’s something.

10:17 – Obama is much more impressive on foreign policy than I expected. Unlike any other Democrat (and half the Republicans) I can think of, he’s spent a combined half hour or so tonight talking geopolitics and hasn’t come up with one single howler.

10:15 – Ok really, McCain needs to drop this obsession with “no preconditions”. It’s lame. Obama did a good job explaining what he means (though his hair-splitting between “preconditions” and “preparation” reminds me of W’s “affirmative access” instead of affirmative action)

10:11 – Obama has a head full of facts, even on foreign policy. Still not clear whether he’s more of a Bill Clinton or a Jimmy Carter in that respect.

10:07 – Obama points out that Iran has been, to some extent, whipped into shape by pressure from US expeditions in the last 7 years. And it doesn’t make sense to refuse to talk to anyone; talking is just talking. McCain somewhat unconvincingly says “there’s gotta be preconditions” or else the world will somehow take a cue that the dictator is A-OK.

10:04 – McCain says he’s proposed a “league of democracies” – I like that idea, have liked it for a long time. Dictatorships shouldn’t get to make decisions. He also says Iran is covertly fighting US troops in Iraq, which by all accounts they are.

10:00 – McCain flogging the (also undeniable) point that a set-in-stone withdrawal date for Iraq will make life a lot easier for the bad guys. Lehrer goes to a new question: Iran

9:56 – Obama does a neat trick for a lefty – he almost seems serious when he’s talking about military strategy!

9:52 – Obama makes the hard-to-deny point that Iraq would (at least in hindsight) have remained quiet if left alone, and we wouldn’t have been stretched nearly as thin in fighting Al Qaeda. “A strategic mistake”.

9:50 – Obama is looking annoyed again. He’s got a good reason – McCain is more or less playing the ‘liberal’ card on him – but looking angry and antsy isn’t presidential (not that McCain’s giggly reaction to attacks is either)

9:47 – McCain says Obama refuses to acknowledge progress in Iraq, but he (McCain) just said a minute ago that Obama is now lauding the progress in Iraq!

9:43 – McCain flogging the fact that he was right about the surge in Iraq, and Obama was wrong. Obama responds that he’s very proud of his VP pick. Obama is hanging the 2003 version of Iraq strategy on McCain.

9:40 – Ann Althouse says something interesting: “McCain says those earmarks corrupt people, and Obama is proposing $800 million in new spending. Obama looks annoyed. He doesn’t know where that number comes from.” That strikes me as potentially a thoughtful response by Obama – he’s worried that might really be the right number and he just didn’t realize it. Bad from the horse race POV, but a quality I like to see in a person.

9:38 – Obama calls Bush “your president” (talking to McCain) …I don’t think the ‘McSame’ line is very effective outside of the cohort that was already voting Obama.

9:37 – McCain: “I know spending can be brought under control. I’ve fought my entire career to control spending” – doesn’t that indicate it can’t be brought under control?

9:37 – McCain mentions prioritizing veterans’ affairs again. He must personally feel we’re not doing enough right now

9:34 – McCain has lots of specifics, especially in alternative energy. Lehrer asks his question a third time.

9:32 – Lehrer asks again. He’s not getting an answer. McCain says spending freeze on everything but defense, veterans’ affairs and medicare. Obama says you need a scalpel, not a hatchet (reminds me of Kerry’s ‘nuance’)

9:31 – Lehrer asks for specific ways each candidate will tighten their policy belt due to financial crisis. Obama says he’s worked with Tom Coburn. But that’s McCain’s name to drop!

9:29 – McCain says he’s against ethanol subsidies. He may have my vote just for that. And he’s against defense contract cost overruns. I know people in DOD contracting and he’s the real deal as far as that goes.

9:27 – Obama sounds good saying “we aren’t going to be able to do everything I think should be done”. What’s high priority? Alternative energy. What’s the difference between these guys again?

9:24 – McCain keeps flogging his record of opposing spending. Obama looks to be getting a little angry. Is he?

9:22 – Obama says business taxes only look high, McCain will tax health benefits “for the first time in history”

9:21 – McCain says tax cuts are needed because Ireland has much lower corporate income taxes and we need to compete. And $18 billion in earmarks really is a big deal.

9:20 – Obama is really flogging the tax-cuts-for-the-rich theme. Lehrer asks McCain to respond to that directly

9:17 – Obama says [total, not his own – Ed] earmarks are $18 billion, but McCain is proposing $300 billion in tax cuts. Continuing the Washington definition of a tax cut as a form of spending is change you can believe in!

9:14 – McCain identifies spending that’s “completely out of control”, brings up Congressional corruption, says Obama has asked for “nearly $1 million for every day he’s been in the Senate” in earmarks

9:13 – And no, they’re not talking to each other.

9:12 – McCain repeats the story about Ike’s letter taking responsibility for the potential failure of D-Day to defend his call for the SEC chair to resign. “We’ve got to bring back accountability”. He’s right. Most of our problems these days seem to be related to people not having to suffer from their bad decisions.

9:10 – Obama: I, the freshman senator who’s never worked in the private sector, called the Secretary of the Treasury two years ago to make sure he knew there was a problem!

9:08 – Lehrer just told them to “talk to each other” …will they? Not sofar.

9:07 – McCain and Obama are both sticking to their joint statement on recovery, and both are long on good ideas (transparency, accountability, main street not wall street) and short – completely lacking, actually – on specifics

9:05 – First question is on the financial crisis. Obama’s position is good, minus the tacked-on McCain = Bush (which isn’t really very true) …and did he really say all that in two minutes?

9:03 – Interesting that Lehrer made up the questions himself with no help or public input

9:01 – I’m here and watching…

A Movie for Engineering Geeks?

Posted in Entertainment by Stacy McMahon on September 25, 2008

So Greg Kinnear and Lauren Graham are in a new movie about …the invention of the intermittent windshield wiper! The plot is a lot like ye olde “Detroit buries 100mpg carburettor” rumors, but is apparently a true story based around the seemingly incredible facts that a) somehow no automaker’s engineering staff was able to make an intermittent wiper work, while b) one guy in a college lab did it by himself. Anyone for a movie night? (trailer on the linked page)