31 May, 2012

I often view myself as a connected individual. I have a smartphone, Internet access, and various social media and communications accounts. I respond to emails, chats, messages on Facebook… the works. I buy things online, and pay most of my bills online. And, occasionally, I take a break from it all. But sometimes I imagine a time before the Internet and how things used to get done.

Paul Miller of The Verge has done exactly that. For a year, he cannot use the Internet, or any feature of the Internet, and his journal entries give us a peek into his experience with this. It’s an intriguing thing he’s doing, considering he has grown with and relies heavily upon the Internet, even more so than myself. He has to find alternate sources for news, entertainment, and knowledge, not to mention having to pay bills and contact people using “old fashioned” methods.

Some of the things he mentions having issues with, like figuring out a news paper, breaking the habit of checking his phone, being unable to find answers quickly, and paying bills via phone and mail, I noticed something about myself – while highly connected, using some of the latest technology, I tend to be old-fashioned at times. I read the news paper, despite it having an online digital copy. I pay some of my bills via mail, and up until recently, in person (I’ve since bothered to pay my utilities and Internet online). I prefer to make phone calls at work rather than send emails. These are things that I find normal that Paul, on his journey, finds difficult or frightful.

And yet, I fall into the same pitfalls he does. He talks about some of the old habits he has regarding his devices (as he’s allowed to have them, just not online). Even when there is nothing to do on them, he will pull out his phone and push buttons. He will have his iPad and laptop out, looking at apps, not really doing anything. And honestly, I do the same things sometimes. I’ll pull my phone out when everybody else does, and even if my social networks have nothing new, and twitter bores me, I’ll look at those things, because everybody else is. That’s one habit I’m trying to kill, trying not to pull it out in social situations or just out of habit.

I can waste hours online, doing up the social media sites, checking the news, and doing things. But sometimes, I find comfort that newspaper, prefer to write that check, love hear and see people, and would rather not be distracted by electronics in social situations. As the world moves forward, we can’t forget why these technologies exist, and the people on the other side of that Facebook post or tweet.

Windows 8 and Why I’m Not So Sure About It

Windows 8 and Why I’m Not So Sure About It

10 May, 2012

Windows 8 is making the rounds as both the best new thing and worst new thing coming from Redmond. It features a revamped user interface, authentication using a Microsoft account to access cloud services, Xbox LIVE integration, and many, many new features, built from the ground-up. It’s a brand new Windows through and through. However, is it really what people want?

The first thing you will notice when you use Windows 8 – the Metro UI. It’s a series of blocks with icons, text, or images that you can click or tap on to access your files, media, and applications. It’s not too much different than what Microsoft has had on their Xbox 360 for quite a while. It’s a beautiful interface, and in the consumer preview, works very smoothly.

And yet, despite the looks and smooth animations, the Metro UI is not initially intuitive, and doesn’t really fit into typical computing. It’s a touch interface first, and after some complaints with the developer preview, a standard desktop interface second. This means that the majority of Windows users are now second-class citizens in this new OS. That’s a massive no-no. Not to mention that it will be highly confusing for non-power users.

But why did Microsoft do this? Why subject the typical user to such a terrible desktop interface? One word – tablets. Microsoft has been loosing out to Google and Apple in the tablet market, offering only a mobile phone OS and completely missing out on tablets. Yes, there are tablet PC’s, but those require styluses and are quite expensive. Microsoft wanted to create a powerful OS that was simple to use. On a tablet. And that they did, at the cost of the typical PC user. Yes, the standard desktop is still there, but to do anything that the old start menu did, you have to subject yourself to oversized blocks and hovering over certain areas. Very awkward to use.

Besides the tablet market, the Metro UI is also great for a media center PC. Big text, simple UI, and something already familiar to many Xbox owners, Windows 8 should be a great media center OS, right? If you want to pay extra for it. Windows Media Center won’t be included with Windows 8, but will be an addon. The article isn’t clear if it’s just the Pro version not having, or the same across the board, but if the announcement of DVD playback being an addon is any indication, it’s across the board. So it’s doable, but more expensive to do.

Back to the tablet, Windows 8 will have a version (called Windows 8 RT) that will run on those processors used in tablets, as Intel and AMD processors are still too power-hungry and hot to play nicely in an iPad-like tablet. But, the ARM version of Windows has third-party browser developers up in arms. Microsoft has denied access the APIs that IE 10 uses to third-party developers of browsers, blocking integration of Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox into the Metro UI. Hopefully, Microsoft can another antitrust case related to IE.

Windows 8. I’m not quite sure if I really want to upgrade to it. It doesn’t quite appeal to me, as a desktop user, and it has glaring problems, as a consumer, and will be giving me headaches, as a technician. Unless Microsoft can bring back the desktop-first approach, bring back the start menu, and make the Metro interface optional, I might consider it. But, for now, Windows 7 will have to do, just like Windows XP when Windows Vista came out.

Book List 2012

Book List 2012

2 April, 2012

This is a (short) list of books I hope to eventually get around to this year.

UPDATE: I’ve had more time to add to this list, and modify it, so I’ve republished this post.

A Game of Thrones
The God Delusion
A Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords
A Feast for Crows
A Dance with Dragons
The Extraordinary Tale of Nicholas Pierce

Photo Section Added

Photo Section Added

31 March, 2012

Ok, I’ve brought back the photo section of the site after much work. I apologize ahead of time for anybody using Internet Explorer 8 or earlier. The page will break for you. Well, break in the sense that the image will not re-size for your window. I figure that very few visitors actually use IE8, in favor of non-IE browsers and IE9.

For those of you who get to enjoy the neat feature, enjoy. This should be an improvement over the old design as in the photo is the focus of the page. I’m also excited to get to use a feature of the site that’ll let me directly link to a photo from the front page!

If you haven’t figured out how to get to the photos page by now, click here!

Google Latitude

Google Latitude

14 March, 2012

For the year that I had an Android device, I fairly regularly updated my location on Google Latitude. It was great, since my location data (and how often I check into a place) helped Google recommend places to me, and is usually good about it. An on the Android platform, Google Latitude is very good. It ties in with Google+ (allowing you to make a post rather than just a check-in), Places, and Maps. If your location didn’t exist, you can make one. And there was a little feature that kept track of how many times you went to a place, meaning you could become a “regular” at a place via Latitude.

That’s great an all, and while Android garners more than 50% of the smartphone market, iPhones are not devices to be ignored if Google really wants your location data, as that’s another 25% of the market. Since I switched to the iPhone, I’ve noticed how much Google has neglected the platform. The iPhone version is more true to the old “location on map only” model that was once Latitude. You can only share you location with Latitude friends (which I have very few of), you can’t create new locations, and there’s no real incentive to bother using it. I am highly disappointed, Google. I’m going to stop using Latitude because of how terrible your iPhone app is. Good job.



10 March, 2012

Non-believers of the South, I’m sure some of you may have heard of SAUCE FOR ALL. If you haven’t, you’re missing out on an awesome organization that has recently started to take off. It’s notable enough, in fact, that the friendly atheist wrote a small bit about it.

Why did I type the name of the organization in all caps? Because SAUCE FOR ALL is actually an acronym. A bit forced, but an acronym never-the-less. It stands for “Southern Atheists United for Candid Expression, Freethought, Openmindedness, Reason, And Living Life”. A bit long-winded, but cleaver.

“The goals of SAUCE is to united the godless of the South, promote tabula rasa atheism and atheism as consequence, and mitigate the deleterious effects of religion through education via the methods of online discussion, collegate discussion, and conferences.” – SAUCE FOR ALL

So why am I blabbering on and on about this? For one, I want anybody who actually reads what I write to know about the existence of the organization, since most live in the South. For two, I helped modernize the site, making it more streamline on the back-end and look far better on the front-end. The site relaunched today, providing some dynamic features that were missing from the old site, like multi-user editing and an events calendar.

There are more developments in the future for the site, but those are still going to be under wraps until they are launched.

So, check out the site, find a local organization in your area, and meet some other people like you (if you’re an Atheist).

The New System Anomaly

The New System Anomaly

21 January, 2012

A few long days, domain and host transfer, and several fixes later, I have a new site. I still need to finish one little part of it, the part with photos, but for now, enjoy the new site.

This change in design and location also speaks to a new direction for the site. If you notice, much of the backlog of posts are no more. This is because I’m going to embrace the social networks on my random finds, ideas, etc, and leave the blog as a platform for my ideas and things I have to say that require a bit more than 140 characters. This means more original articles and less re-posted things.

Another new features is that the comments are now integrated into Facebook. A neat feature about this is that it’s not limited to Facebook, but accounts from Yahoo!, Hotmail, or AOL may also be used. After ragging on Facebook, why would I do this? It makes it easier on both you and I regarding comments. I can moderate the comments, but don’t have to deal with as much spam (and spam registrations). Likewise, as a reader, you don’t have to create an account on my page (adding to the number of things you have to remember), but can use an existing one. Better yet, if you’re already logged into Facebook, you’re already logged into my comments. It saves you time. And you get notifications on replies to your comment.

I’m excited for this new look, something fresh for 2012. It isn’t quite perfect yet (and I’ll still do tweaks here and there), but for the most part, it’s done. I intended on using more of the color of the year, tango tangerine, but I feel it may not have been needed as much as I was expecting it to. It may find its way back, though.

Resolutions 2012

Resolutions 2012

31 December, 2011

This will be the year I will remember for a while. 2011, overall, was a great year. I got a salaried job with benefits, went to the hospital for the first time not as a visitor, got both Apple and Dell certifications, was one of the first people to root and install a launcher on the nook Simple Touch Reader, and other things. It will also be remembered as the year that politics, related to youth voters, has significantly changed, both locally and nationally.

1. Semester GPA 3.0+.
I’m not going to set the goal too high, but not lower it too much.

2. Get myself back on good footing financially.
Hospital bills didn’t help. Everything that was going towards saving up a small amount and paying the balance on one of my cards to clear it went out the window when I had to pay for a bunch of medical supplies and a hospital bill. I need to restructure my budget (it’s been an ongoing process) to get myself back somewhere a bit more stable. Some things can’t be changed, but others can. But it will happen, sooner or later.

3. Finish something regarding writing.
I have this desire to write that, on previous years, I’ve promised myself I would do, and fail. I’m going to do it again, but hopefully, actually do it.

4. Read through my reading list for 2012.
I don’t have a reading list set yet, and I need to create it. I’ll do it by early January. It’ll be a short, 10 book list, but that’s somewhere to start.

5. Go on a road trip.
Not a trip somewhere that I drive on the interstate the entire time. A trip where I take the back roads and explore some of the little towns on the way to a destination. A weekend to be reasonable.

Less this year than last year, but less to fail on.

Road Trip

Road Trip

12 October, 2011

On my way to Jacksonville, AL (home of the JSU Gamecocks!), one of the Alabama NPR stations, which, by the way, aren’t synced up like they are in Mississippi, nor have nearly the same continuous coverage, was playing This American Life. The topic this week was on our love affair with cars. Love it or hate it, cars are here, and here to stay. Some of us love them, some of us love to hate them, and the rest of us think nothing about them.

For some, a car is just a means to get from A to B, and no more. It’s a convenience that is taken for granted. Some even think that cars are of no use at all, can be best replaced by public transportation, and if can be eliminated, all the better.

I agree that public transportation can alleviate the energy crisis, traffic, and several other impending doom situations that cars create. If I had a good way to use public transportation to go to work (which might actually happen in the next two years in Starkville), I would use it.

So why do I like the car? A car gives me independence from the need to rely on somebody else or a schedule that is no my own. It gives me the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want. I can take a road trip, go to the market, or just drive around for driving sake. A car is more than transportation. A road trip is more than getting to the destination.

The act of driving a car is thrilling for some, terrifying for others. You’re in control of a beast bigger, more powerful, and faster than you. Like a horse. And like horses, some stay away from them like the plague, and others seek not only every opportunity to be in control of these beasts, but look for the biggest, most powerful, and fastest ones out there.

Continuing with the horse analogy, some people even develop a sort of relationship with their cars. The sort of relationship a trainer develops with their horse. After a while, a person is able to really master a car, get to know its qwerks and how to really make it run the way the person wants it to run.

A road trip is about those hours between your home and destination. It’s about spending time with people you like, don’t like, or yourself. It’s also about taking those long ribbons of pavement we’ve strewn across the country. It’s about seeing those cities between here and Atlanta. It’s about going over the river and through the woods. And the best part of a road trip – no TSA to deal with.

Cars will continue to get better, no doubt. Safety features, smarter cars, easier to drive cars, and cars that use electricity will become more common in the future. I’m excited about this, and for the most part, fully support it. But even as my daily driver gets replaced by these better, faster, smarter, more fuel-efficient things, I will strive to keep a good, old-fashioned gas-powered car in my stable. Nothing feels as good, sounds as good, or looks as good as a powerful engine. Yes, they waste gas. But as the car saved the horse for leisure, the electric car will do the same for the old beasts. While less gas is used on a daily basis, there will be less of a crisis for gasoline as demand for it goes down, and the car will be saved.

As I sit in my hotel room, watching a zombie movie, typing this post out, I am not thinking about the training I have to attend tomorrow. I’m thinking about Sir Stirling Moss’s Mille Miglia drive in 1955. I have this imagery of a silver bullet rocketing across the Italian country side, Moss at the wheel and Jenkinson trying to hold on for dear life, navigation notes in hand. The imagery is beautiful to me. That is what motoring, at its purist, is to me.

A Word on Thunderbolt

A Word on Thunderbolt

30 June, 2011

If you follow any news about new tech at all, especially news coming out of Cupertino, you probably already know about the existence of a new port called Thunderbolt, the be-all and end-all for ports. Except that, right now, it’s not. I’m not going into detailed technical specifications (go to Wikipedia if you’re interested), but in a nutshell, it makes a very fast port inside the computer, normally used for video cards and things of that sort, combines with with a new display port standard (called DisplayPort, how original…), serializes it, and makes it available to external devices. Since most of the technology involved already exists, it’s easier to implement than a new protocol, say, FireWire, for example (also known as IEEE 1394 by non-Apple users). While FireWire was intended to replace existing technologies, Thunderbolt uses existing ones to its advantage.

History is repeating, itself, in the form of Thunderbolt. See, in the mid 90’s, FireWire was introduced by Apple. It provides a high amount of power through the port. It can be daisy-chained. Its main uses were fast external hard drives and video capture. Sony was one of the first to adopt the protocol into its own proprietary format (as Sony does), called it i.LINK, and then PCs started adopting it. However, due to its higher cost (as compared to USB), it was pretty much limited in its mass-market appeal, never really leaving the realm of pro and semi-pro uses. A lot of computers have FireWire. Not a whole lot of people are using it, nor really know what the port is for.

Thunderbolt is, unfortunately, going down the same path FireWire is. Yes, it’s a different technology. Yes, it’s super-crazy fast. And yes, it’s expensive. There’s only one place where you can get Thunderbolt cables right now, and it’s $50 (and this is why). The port provides up to 10 watts of power. It can be daisy-chained. Its main uses, currently, are external hard drives, video captures, and (because it uses the DisplayPort… port) video output. Sony is the first manufacturer other than Apple to announce utilizing Thunderbolt, and (rumored) will have a proprietary port for it (admittedly, though, it’s possibly similar to USB, which might make future users know even less about it if it’s adopted like that). And, due to the high cost of “Thunderbolt-ready” devices, I don’t see mass-market appeal, and I don’t see it overtaking USB either. But, unlike last time, Apple does have a ball in its court: popularity. The cult following is much more powerful now than it was 15 years ago.

Only the future will tell how widespread Thunderbolt will get. I supported FireWire, and I support Thunderbolt, but, like many consumers, USB is just cheaper and easier to get devices for than either of these newcomers. Drop the price of Thunderbolt cables to something reasonable (like, say, $5 vs $50), and maybe we’ll talk.

nook STR

nook STR

11 June, 2011

That, above, is my new toy (and Kurt Vonnegut), the Barnes & Nobel nook Simple Touch Reader. For about 140 big ones, you too can get one, and I recommend this. 6″ E-ink touchscreen running Android 2.1. Out of the box, it can read nook books, ePub files (say, from a library), and PDFs. Claimed is a 2 month battery life, though most likely shorter. Definitely got some advantages over a Kindle (aside from the constant data of the non-Wifi only models). And frankly, after playing with both, I do like this one better. Don’t exactly know what it is, but it might be just the culmination of features.

I do enjoy reading the occasional book, and the only thing really stopping me was figuring out how to hold the book in certain positions and the bulkiness of some. I’ve been considering some kind of e-reader for a while, but after this device was announced and available for order (I tend to not pre-order things), I bought it. Just came in today, and I’ve already had a field day with it. It’s about the size of a small paperback book and light as a piece of cardboard. The back (pictured below) has a nice curve to it and the material is that soft-touch plastic that’s pretty popular. It feels good in the hand and doesn’t cause fatigue like tablets and some larger books would cause. Really, really nice.

The device is also pretty thin. Unlike a cell phone, this aspect isn’t as important, but is a nicety. Stick in a purse or a bag and it’ll barely even put any bulk in it. Big enough of a pocket, it’ll fit nicely. Also, in the photo above, you can see the cover for the MicroSD card slot. Expands memory up to 32GB for all of those books you want to download. Sweet.

So, start up the nook and the first thing you’ll get to is the home screen. Features what’s being read now, what you’ve bought and not read yet (and I assume downloaded if subscribed to magazines), and the B&N Top 100, should I want to read another book. Not a badly organized home screen.

Press the “n” button, select library, and you come to your library. A nice tiled list of books with covers. You can do a kindle style list if you want, but I think covers look nicer.

Of course, you can buy books too in the B&N nook Shop. Decent prices, though at times Amazon is cheaper.

The best part of this device is the e-ink screen. The text is nice and crisp (cell phone pics do no justice), response time is very fast and usable, and as with any e-ink, can be read outside in full sun. Perfect as a paper book replacement.

So, out of the box, the nook STR is a simple e-reader that pretty much does everything the Kindle does with some differences. Unlike the nookColor, it doesn’t come with a music player, browser (actually, it has a hidden one that isn’t that good), or even an app store. Or apps for that matter. But it runs Android. So, naturally, people want to root it. A short time after this was released, the device was rooted. And shortly after that, Angry Birds was run on it (though not really well).

So, this prompted me to go ahead and get it and see what I can do with it. It was a fairly straightforward process, and in less than 5 minutes, it was rooted. \o/

Then it took me a good several hours to get everything I wanted to run on it. But I finally got it working. It’ll now be more useful to me at work and on the road. I bought it mainly as a book reader, but on the side it can browse the web (thus checking things), take notes (kinda), and read e-books that the nook can’t read out of the box.

The first thing I did was use something I knew Android did when another launcher was installed. I (correctly) assumed that it just ran its own launcher and installing another launcher like ADW.Launcher would cause it to ask me which launcher I would like to use. I used ADB and push installed ADW.Launcher onto the nook, and, once again, \o/. So, with a launcher installed, I could run whatever I wanted without having to use ADB. Interesting to note, the stock software will put a back button and menu button on any non-nook software. Also, the n button will still bring up the nook menu. It will NOT bring you back to home, however, so I had to keep that in mind.

But, I now knew what I needed to do and tried to see what else I could push to the device via ADB.

I would like to do the occasional browsing on the device, so Dolphin Browser was installed. It works much better than the hidden one. Still some qwerks, but overall usable.

For shits and giggles, I decided to install Google Maps. No GPS, so it really won’t find you, but nice if you want a bigger map than what you can see on your phone.

I did want to take notes on my nook, so I installed a drawing application. It’s a big laggy, and really won’t be useful in a fast-writing situation, but I’m working on that one. I can draw, though, so that’s cool. Anyone want to suggest an apk that’s great?

And I do have some Kindle books I wanted to read. So, though this is a bit wrong, I installed the Kindle app on my nook. Still gotta wait for my Kindle books to sync. But awesome never-the-less.

Readability through the Kindle app is also good (after a bit of tweaking since it was optimized for smartphones). Notably, unlike the nook reader app, this app has animations. This does get annoying since page turns are not butter smooth, but every page turn is slightly annoying. I’ll get over it, though.

So, what to do about the lack of hardware buttons? Software ones. Softkeys, written for the nookColor (should you keep stock), works just fine on the nook STR. The only problem is that without certain root-related apps, this can’t be given super-user permission. This means the keys that are written into the nook software (back, menu, search) don’t work. I mostly end up using it for the home button exclusively. But nice.

There are a load of qwerks with this device, but considering I’m making it do what it wasn’t designed to, it’s not surprising. Twitter crashes, and some other apps require Android files missing from the nook. Also, the hardware buttons seems to be mapped differently, so the Softkeys doesn’t come up with a push of the “n” button. Mildly disappointed, and the little button used to call it up does get in the way (though movable). But, this is exciting. I’m not a big-time hacker, so I’m probably not going to go as far as trying to figure out how to flash my own ROM on my own, but I may figure out what the buttons are mapped to. Other than that, it’ll just be time before the nook community will release more and more for this device. It’s really only in its infancy.

The Daily Dwindling in Number

The Daily Dwindling in Number

7 April, 2011

A while back, I wrote about The Daily and old subscription model that the App uses would ultimately be its downfall. Well, it looks like number of tweets emanating from the App is dwindling since its launch. This can’t be a good sign.

To refresh your memory, The Daily is an iPad only interactive Magazine App that is subscription based. The content is available only through the App, though users can share it via social media. However, the shared content is not interactive, but just a static image. This is piss poor compared to the experience from the App. I’ve played with The Daily on a friend’s iPad (since they give out a free trial period for it), and though cool, I honestly couldn’t ever see myself subscribing.

The amount of Twitter posts sent through the App has been dwindling. While this is not indicative of readership, it does show that users are no longer willing to share content in such a crappy way. This is alarming since the daily numbers of The Daily tweets dropped from about 200 a day in mid February to only about 50 a day in March, though, the numbers have not dropped much more since.

Be this an effect of the two week trial period (hundreds of thousands have downloaded the app, but I suspect few have subscribed), or people just getting tired of a daily magazine, I don’t see much life left in The Daily. I predict that it will be shut down by the end of next year, if not this one.

Free (both in beer and speech) press is the future of news and opinions. I keep on saying over and over again, like a broken record, that paid-subscription, unless there is a tangible product, is dead. Pay walls and content walls discourage potential readers from accessing content.

On The Topic of EVs and Hybrids: The Chevrolet Volt

On The Topic of EVs and Hybrids: The Chevrolet Volt

11 October, 2010

GM touted the Volt at their electric savior. We were told that the volt would get 230 MPG and would be a plug-in extended range electric vehicle (See MSU’s EcoCAR for an example of a plug-in EREV). Everybody loved the idea and everybody supported GM in their endeavor. Clearly interest in this new generation of high-efficiency vehicles was there.

Unfortunately, the path to market has changed the Volt considerably. After some real-world testing by Popular Mechanics, a few things became clear.

First of all, the vehicle’s all-electric range was nowhere near great enough to award 230 MPG. Before these tests, GM announced that the all-electric range will be closer to 20 – 50 miles. From the tests, the average range was found to be about 33 miles. Fuel economy was found to be about 32 MPG city and 36 MPG highway. This is far shorter than the 230 MPG claimed. Of course, the caveat was that the fuel economy was calculated after the battery was depleted. While not very far, 33 miles is still greater than the commute of 75% of the population. I travel roughly 2 miles daily, so I could possibly go half a week to a week without having to recharge the car. In my situation, I would get, after 70 miles (assuming the battery depletes at the 33 mile mark), my fuel economy would be about 70 MPG. Still not 230 MPG, but better than the 21 MPG I get from my Sable.

But more importantly, Volt engineers announced that the gasoline engine would actually power the wheels directly like in a conventional car. No longer can the Volt be considered an EV, but is now classified as a hybrid. Edmunds called GM out over Twitter. We were lied to.

Honestly, through the course of development, designs change. Rather than saying we were lied to, I’d rather say we were misinformed by GM PR. The original concept of the Volt was for it to be a EREV. Many concepts don’t make it the market without changes. While the reasons behind why the change in the drive change may not be understood yet, it’s not unreasonable that these kinds of changes were made.

The old design of the Volt was that the electric drive-train was independent of the charging source. This is what an EREV is. It’s an electric car with a non-electric power source to charge the batteries when the batteries are depleted. And this is what I see future vehicles becoming. This design allows the car to run on gasoline, diesel, natural gas, propane, hydrogen, or any other fuel source without too much modification to the overall workings of the vehicle. Classifying an EREV as an EV is correct, however, the term electric vehicle is too broad. It’s better classified as a hybrid.

So why has the Volt always been, technically, a hybrid? The basics on the classification of a hybrid is that the vehicle uses two sources of power to drive the wheels. There are three distinct types of hybrids and two classifications of hybrids.

Parallel hybrids can simultaneously power the wheels with both the internal combustion engine and the electric motor. The distinct feature of a parallel hybrid is that the engine and the motor are not connected directly, though, some hybrids will have a motor inserted between the engine and transmission. This configuration is still technically parallel because the electric motor does not receive electricity due to the engine. The battery is recharged by the engine through regenerative braking and, in cases where the electric motor is not in between the engine and transmission, through the electric motor itself from the movement of the vehicle. Parallel hybrids are particularity efficient at higher, highway speeds.

Series hybrids convert power from the engine directly into electricity. The electricity generated is used to charge the battery pack and can directly power the electric motors. In this case, the electric motors can drive the wheels using two different power sources. Most diesel electric trains are series hybrids. This type of hybrid is starting to gain some popularity in passenger cars, but still doesn’t have the market penetration that parallel hybrids have. One of the biggest factors is that series hybrids are more efficient at lower, city speeds.

Finally, series-parallel hybrids take the best of both-worlds. Alternately, they can be called two-mode hybrids, referencing to the two modes in which they can power the wheels, though series-parallel hybrids are becoming more complicated and can have more than two-modes. These hybrids take the best of both worlds and can disable and enable certain parts of the power train to utilize the most efficient mode for the speed at which the vehicle is moving. The Toyota Prius is one big example. At lower speeds, the computer will disable the mechanical link between the engine and the wheels so that the electric motor is doing more of the work. The engine is only used to power the electric motor. As the vehicle goes faster, the computer will switch the vehicle to a parallel configuration so that the engine powers the wheels at higher speeds.

All three types can be plug-in or self-charging. This is fairly self-explanatory, and the intricacies of self-charging hybrid electric vehicles vary between companies and models.

Aside from the types of hybrids and the ways they are charged and can sustain charge, hybrids are either full (strong) hybrids or mild (weak) hybrids. Full hybrids can use both sources independently from each other or blend the two together. On the other hand, mild hybrids cannot rely on only one source of power. A lot of hybrid crossovers and SUVs tend to be mild hybrids because the electric motors are unable to efficiently propel the vehicles forward on their own. Because of this, many mild hybrids are parallel or series-parallel because of the need for the internal combustion engine to power the wheels.

The Volt uses some non-electric power source (in the current production model, a gasoline engine) to charge the batteries and to power the electric motors. By definition, even with the plug-in and electric only features, the Volt is still a series hybrid. And even though now it’s confirmed that the engine can drive the wheels directly, the Volt is still a hybrid, and was always a hybrid. The behavior of the Volt can now be described as a series-parallel hybrid instead of just a series hybrid since the car can go from a series to a parallel configuration.

So sorry to bust the bubble, but the Volt is still an EV, but it is also still a hybrid. Just as much as a Suburban Hybrid can be called an EV, the Volt is an EV. Just as much as the Nissan LEAF is an EV, the Volt is an EV.

KFC Double Down: Testing The Diner’s Will

KFC Double Down: Testing The Diner’s Will

27 May, 2010

A few weeks ago, I decided to try out the Colonel’s newest gastronomical experiment. Touted as a new way to satisfy a man’s hunger with a chicken sandwich, the KFC Double Down does away with the bun completely and sandwiches meat and cheese between meet. Essentially, the Double Down is a bunch of meat that KFC is selling as food that can be eaten without utensils.

From KFC’s own promotional image, the Double Down doesn’t look that bad. I mean, it’s just two pieces of chicken, delicious looking bacon, and some pretty good looking cheese. Pretty mouthwatering. Thinking more about it, though, it seems like less of a good idea and more of a reason why we’re so fat here in America. There’s a reason why sandwiches use bread as bread, not chicken as bread (even if it is breaded). Never-the-less, the Double Down looked delicious enough to bother to try.

I decided that one day I would go to KFC for lunch and get myself a Double Down. I did just that. I got my brown paper bag with the Colonel’s face plastered on it and a drink. Inside of the bag was a box that looked like it should contain a sandwich. I opened up the box and got the horrible monster that is very unrepresentative of the image KFC uses to advertise the Double Down. I mean, I understand your product not looking as delicious as the pictures. That’s standard fare with fast-food chains. But KFC’s images don’t look that different than their products. Except for the Double Down.

Between two pieces of moist fried chicken (which doesn’t crunch, and is very greasy), the double down had two slices of very sad and wilted bacon and melted white cheese that either looks like the glue holding the whole monstrosity together or something else that I will not mention (and let your mind wander). But, I had to push on, despite the terrible appearance of the product. I took a bite, took another, and instantly felt my arteries clog up with chicken grease, bacon, and glue-like cheese. After finishing the sandwich, the Double Down will leave an aftertaste that makes you think that the cheese has lined your mouth in it’s glue-like substance and your face will feel like the floor of an auto shop with the amount of grease you will be sweating out for the next few hours.

All in all, it wasn’t that bad, but I don’t think I’ll ever buy another one.

The End

The End

28 April, 2010

Forever the truth that nobody lives forever will be. Life is short, life is fragile, life is precious. We must cherish the moment, hold important the living, mourn our losses, but not dwell on the past. Life is like a lottery. We living are the lucky few. How we spend our lives all vary, but in the end, we all must all give up our wealth. It is an inevitable fact. An irreversible event. A product of entropy.

Sleep well, ole’ sailor, sleep well.

The Long Road

The Long Road

10 May, 2009

It didn’t quite happen overnight, but my acceptance that there isn’t a God and officially becoming an atheist happened shortly after I turned 18. The story doesn’t start there, though. I’m still trying to pinpoint what series of events happened that lead up to my deconversion, but here’s the story so far.

The Beginning
Shortly after Katrina, I finished my application to MSMS and received an acceptance letter that summer. This was very exciting for me. This would be the first time I would be staying away from home for an extended period of time. I would be living in a new city with new people and new things to see. It would be the experience of a lifetime. I met a few people from the Gulf Coast who were also going to MSMS, so I had a head-start in the social department. I also met my new roommate for my junior year. We got along very well – our interests were very similar and we both liked many of the same things. We had a common friend who introduced us to each other. It was turning out to be a good experience for me.

Then he dropped the gay bomb on me. That was certainly a shock for me. I didn’t know what to do. I said some hurtful things powered by the Bible and some of the beliefs that were taught to me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was showing some pretty bad intolerance. But, we made it work out and I tolerated this one gay person because he was a friend of mine before he came out and I couldn’t hate someone I made friends with. That was pretty much my first lesson in tolerance.

An Open Forum
The semester goes on and I make a new group of friends. I realized later how diverse this group was. It ranged from strong Christians to atheists, Protestants to Catholics, Jews, Hindus, and even Muslims. This was my second lesson in tolerance. MSMS is one of the most diverse schools you can find in the country. People of all races, religions, and political and personal opinions coexist on a small campus within the gates of MUW. In order to survive at this school, one must become tolerant, especially when bartering for ramen noodles. This was also my first real exposure to people with differing opinions. This was the first time I was able to see and hear the opposing side. It was an open forum of thought, opinion, and speech. This was a new experience for me. I went from a sheltered environment, blocked off from strongly opposing arguments, to an open environment where everybody was free to speak what was on their mind. I was free to form my own opinions rather than having my opinions forced upon me.

Questioning Church
Not to skip too far into the story, I spent my Sundays in a futile attempt at finding a new church. Raised a baptist, the only church I really attempted to go to was First Baptist Church of Columbus. They had a shuttle that dropped by every Sunday morning. The people there were nice and accepted me into their congregation. Yet, I didn’t feel like I fit in. It wasn’t quite what I was looking for. As the weeks went by, I began to realize what I wasn’t really enjoying about the church. Many of the sermons were contrary to what I believed. The more and more I listened, the more and more I realized how intolerant some of the messages were – in one message, he blatantly said that homosexuality was wrong. By then, I had pretty much formed a new opinion on homosexuals (I befriended several gays and lesbians by then). His message just seemed wrong. It prompted me to begin questioning the morals of the church, the morals of the Christian faith, and my own morals. It prompted me to question my own beliefs. I never went back to church again in Columbus.

Experiencing God
Having atheist friends when you’re a Christian is an interesting experience. It gives both of you a chance to talk about religion from your point of view and hear what the other side has to say. I remember clearly stopping at a light on the way back to campus with a car full of people. The topic of discussion was, of course, religion. I asked why my friend was an atheist. I remember not accepting his answer and told him that one day he would become a Christian. I clearly remember saying “You just haven’t experienced a life-changing event yet. It’ll happen someday. I promise.” He replied with something like, “How do you know? You don’t know the future.” I remember the conversation going awkward and the light turning green, so I just dropped it there. I really had no reply to that.

Did I myself really have a life-changing event? Did God really try to bring me closer to him? I really wasn’t sure by then.

Unanswered Questions
Even though I didn’t go back to the church in Columbus, I still talked to the youth pastor from there. He would come to the cafeteria every week and I would sit with him and talk with him. Many of the questions I asked never had a clear answer. Many more questions were not even addressed. It was the same story when I asked other Christians these questions. The variety in answers really did not point me in a single direction, especially answers that ended in “we really don’t know God’s will.” Not knowing was not enough.

Last Summer of Christianity
The summer between my Junior and Senior year was the last summer I participated in any really big Christian event. My faith was at a low point before going off to Florida for the annual BigStuf conference – basically a few days of intense concert style worship, bible study, and fun at the beach. My questioning really went on the back burner after going down to Florida. The rest of my summer I basked in the glow of Christianity. That would be the last summer I would ever do that.

Continued Questioning
Did I myself really have a life-changing event? Did God really try to bring me closer to him?

Honestly, I’d have to say no. All of the big things that have happened in my life weren’t influenced by God. They were simply events that had logical natural reasons behind them – Katrina was just a storm. My mom got off the railroad tracks just in time. My parents were able to work it out because they’re rational human beings. People are kind and compassionate on their own. Nothing really special.

Why do I believe what I believe?

This was a hard question to answer. My beliefs were made of a combination of stuff – dogma spoon fed to me from a young age and a bunch of opinions formed on my own. But that’s not really why I held onto the belief that there was a God.

What happens when I die?

I honestly thought I would go to heaven. I believed that there was a God and that there was a heaven and that I was saved because I believed that there was a Jesus who died for my sins and I believed that I accepted him into my heart as my savior.

Do I really believe that?

I want to. I really, really want to. I just can’t accept that death is the end. There has to be something afterward. Right?

Near the end of the first semester of senior year, I was essentially agnostic. I was unsure that God existed, but I held onto that belief because I was afraid of not going to heaven.

In The Shower
I do some of my best thinking in the shower. I have no distractions to deal with, the hot water is relaxing, and I have all the time in the world devoted to thinking and washing. It was in that shower near the end of the first semester of my senior year that I thought about my belief in God and why I held onto it. I realized that I had an irrational fear of not going to heaven. I had already come to the conclusion that God didn’t exist, but my fear was keeping me from acknowledging this. But deep down, I had a feeling that there was no reason for this fear. Who’s to say heaven and hell exist? By now, the Bible wasn’t enough evidence to support anything anymore. It is riddled with lapses in logic, moral conflicts, and physical impossibilities. The stories in the Bible existed long before the Bible was written, and not all of the stories were about Jesus or the Hebrew God. So who’s to say that heaven and hell exist?

God died for me that day. I was free from the fear of heaven and hell; my mind was free of closed and backwards opinions, morals, and thoughts. But, my God died that day. “A Makeshift Eulogy” accurately describes the way I felt.

A Bout of Nihilism
Something that is common with those who leave the faith is to experience a bout of nihilism. From our perspective, eternal life becomes an eternal void. We realize that any and all actions done here on Earth today ultimately do not matter in the frame of eternity – the universe is going to end anyways, why does living matter? Why do morals matter? Why bother?

This nihilism brought me into a bout of depression. I went from having a purpose in life to becoming purposeless. I was happy that I was free from the shackles of intolerant and close-minded thought, but was sad to lose purpose and meaning in life. I was sad that I lost Paradise. I was concerned with not experiencing the future, sad that everything I do here will one day rot, worried about my memories that will be lost once I die. I had no reason to live but I didn’t want to die. I was conflicted.

Losing Fear
I am thankful I have loving and compassionate friends. One of my close friends pointed me to a wealth of material that helped him deal with the issue of mortality. I eventually got over the sinking feeling of being unable to escape my ultimate fate. I eventually accepted that death is a final experience in the process of living. I eventually stopped worrying about what happens after I die. I eventually stopped fearing death. The only thing I really fear now is dying too early, but I am not afraid of dying, period.

Despite having no real purpose in this universe, I learned that I must make a purpose for myself while I’m alive. It is the only way for me to stay sane and to have motivation to live. I learned that I shouldn’t concern myself with the ultimate fate of the universe, but worry about here, now, and the people around me. If I could make the life of the people around me better, and the life of future generations better, I’ve done good in this world. And none of this is driven by a promise of Paradise for my good deeds – all of it is done out of my own compassion.

Enjoying Life
It has been said that life is like a lottery. Billions upon billions have played, but only the 6.7 billion or so alive today won. We are the lucky ones. But like any lottery winner, the winnings eventually run out. I want to experience life to the fullest before I die.

Nature is a beautiful thing. From the cosmos to the microscope, nature is beautiful. It is amazing how, through seemingly random events, things as beautiful as a flower can form and clusters of stars can create beautiful patterns in the sky. None of this requires a god, a creator, an intelligent designer. All of it is defined by nature’s laws. Mother Nature defines the universe and Father Time sets it in motion. We’re just here to enjoy it all while we can. I don’t have a needy god asking for all my attention, asking me to give this life up to spend an eternity worshiping a self-centered deity. It just seems like a waste of a life to do that.

Occasionally, I do want eternal life. But, I realize that not only is it unobtainable, but it is this short, mortal life that makes everything much more beautiful. If I lived forever, I’ll eventually grow tired and bored of it all. No longer would life be beautiful for me. It would become an eternal chore.

Cutting Ties
So it was time for me to cut ties with Christianity. It was easy in Columbus – nobody was forcing me to go. Cutting ties at home was difficult. For about five months after becoming an atheist, I continued to go to church. Just before graduation, I called my mother and broke the news to her. I was officially out of the atheist closet. My mother was heartbroken and begged me to come back to the faith and go to church with her. For several weeks, she continued to ask me to go to church. Eventually, though, she came to terms with my position and stopped asking me to go to church. I was finally free from church.

Next Page »