Archive for May 2013

Another day, another part of the electric car industry goes bust:

Israeli electric car company Better Place shutting down

Battery swapping is one of the dumbest attempts to work around the horrible problems of charging electric cars fast enough to actually be able to drive them further than the local store.

Batteries are not standardised, and no manufacturer has any real incentive to compromise their vehicles to make life easier for their competitors. A battery that works for a Smart car will not power an electric pickup truck for long, and an electric pickup truck battery will not fit in a Smart car. Sure, you could have ten Smart car batteries in the electric pickup, but you’ve just created ten times the work to swap them.

Ah, but you could have a standard pickup battery, a standard Smart car battery, a standard economy car battery, etc, etc. Great, you just need to store many times more batteries than you originally intended.

Which brings us to another problem. Battery swapping doesn’t allow you to charge your battery in five minutes, it just pushes the charging offline. That old battery still needs to be charged and will still require hours to do so, which means the charging station needs a backlog of batteries on charge to ensure they have enough when customers arrive to swap them. If you turn up and they’ve just swapped all the charged batteries… you’re still going to be waiting hours for the next one.

Batteries require heating and cooling to operate efficiently and safely. This process won’t be like replacing an AA battery in the TV remote, it will require detaching and hooking up multiple connectors with potentially catastrophic results if it goes wrong.

Batteries are heavy. Swapping will require moving more weight and bulk than a gasoline car engine into a precise position. Even though the batteries might be designed to be removed where engines typically aren’t, that’s still going to be a difficult process with the potential to cause serious damage to vehicles and workers.

Batteries decay over time. You might have a battery that gets the full advertised range, and swap it for a battery that only gets 80%. Leaving you stuck at the side of the road in Cannibal Redneck Country because you’d planned to swap for another battery at the full extent of the car’s range.

Worse than that, the battery is going to remain a large part of the cost of the vehicle. So you buy your $30k Civic-equivalent electric car with a $15k battery in perfect condition. Are you really going to want to swap it for a ten year old battery that only holds 50% charge the next day?

For that reason alone, the only way battery swapping can work is to lease batteries from the battery swapping company. But that further reduces the number of places where you can swap your battery. You run out of power and there’s a Chevy battery swap station a hundred yards away, but that’s useless because you’re driving a Ford.

It just doesn’t work, because it makes no sense for anyone involved. For electric cars to be viable, they need much faster charging and/or much greater battery capacity, and that makes swapping irrelevant.

Small cover image

Petrina cover

I’m way behind on my writing because I’ve been crazy busy in my day job for the last two years. But hopefully I’ll have time soon to start catching up.

I’m currently working on finishing one of my old novels; in fact, the first I ever managed to write as a complete draft. This is the first of the 2070 series of novels likely to be released, though a long way from first in chronological terms.

The title will probably change somewhere along the way, but it was the working title I started with and I’ve yet to find anything better.

I’ve been testing out the Linux Mint 15 release candidate today and it looks pretty neat. Having Gnome back is definitely an improvement over the various annoyances I’ve had to live with in XFCE. Since I no longer use my laptop for Windows games I’m planning to replace the hard drive with an SSD shortly so Mint will probably replace Ubuntu at the same time unless I run into any show-stopper issues.

Of course if Ubuntu would officially support MATE (the Gnome 2 fork) I wouldn’t have to…

If you’re running Linux and wondering where all your disk space has gone, check the Wine temporary directories under C:/windows. I was almost out of space, and deleting all the junky temporary files freed up eight gigabytes.

Aside from wasting huge amounts of screen space compared to the old version and being a tabletised Windows 8 mess where they have to put text on the screen to tell you where to type because putting boxes around text fields is so old-fashioned, it also makes Firefox suck up 50% of the CPU on Ubuntu. I’d noticed the laptop was running hot and ‘top’ showed 50% CPU usage in Firefox, but no window seemed to be doing anything that would use up a lot of CPU, like playing animated ads. Eventually, after closing tab after tab, I closed the one to hotmail, and, lo, the CPU usage vanished.

I’ve no idea what the stupid site is doing, but just leaving the inbox window open seems to cause massive CPU usage. Fortunately I hardly use hotmail any more, so I can just open it when I have to, but it’s another example of the horrors of Windows 8.

DDR RAM prices are going insane. Around Christmas I paid $75 for 16GB of DDR3-1600 for my new games PC. Last week the same RAM from the same store was $119, and today it’s $130.

Guess if you need more memory it’s time to either buy before it gets worse, or wait it out and hope it gets better later in the year.

Anyone else getting Amazon recommendations for their own books? I received an email this week suggesting I buy Final Contact, which was amusing.

And no, I’m not posting about Star Trek again.

Chekhov’s most famous advice for playwrights was that if a writer shows a loaded gun in act one, it should be fired by the end of the play.

It’s good advice.

But it’s also backwards.

What it should really say, is if you need a gun to be fired in act three, you should hang it on the wall in act one.

While that may sound the same, it’s not. One of the most useful pieces of advice I’ve read on the Internet from a published writer was that when he wrote a murder mystery, he had no idea that the butler would turn out to be the killer. He didn’t look at the clues he had put in the story and reliase at the end that the butler did it, he decided at the end that the butler did it, then went back and wrote in the clues required to prove that.

So there’s no need to get everything right as you’re writing the story. When you realise you’ve missed some essential setup, you just go back and add it.