June 10th, 2007

#430: News from Fungus-land

New lawn mower today. Craftsman, bought at K-mart, $270 and tax. Briggs and Stratton engine--none of this pussy Tecumseh nonsense--and it's a good old-fashioned flathead motor, not the sissfied wuss OHV engine. When the B&S OHV engines have been around as long as the flathead engines, maybe then I'll accept them.

I am thinking of nicknaming it "The Awesome" because it quite literally mows down even the tallest grass we have--two weeks' worth of growth--without slowing down. I don't know how to relate the torque rating to actual horsepower, since I don't know the thing's operating speed, but it makes 6.25 lb-ft of torque. (I know the formula for converting torque to HP but it's useless without the RPM. And I don't seem to care all that much because I know I could find out its operating speed with a little bit of digging, but won't expend the effort.)

And I mowed almost the entire yard on a single tankful of gasoline.

I'm going to see to it that the discharge plate doesn't get misplaced, so when the grass gets really long I don't have to jerry-rig something stupid and unsafe. The mower defaults to "mulch" but there's a side discharge chute and a bagging attachment with it.

I took it out of the box, added the oil, filled the gas tank, and pulled the cord three times; it started. I didn't even know it had a primer until after I'd finished the lawn and read the manual. I don't know if that's due to its newness or just the sheer awesomeness of B&S engineering.

"A gas mower spews as much pollution as X many cars!" That's because the cars have gotten so clean, not because the gas mower is inherently dirty. Suck it. You want me to cut grass with an electric mower? Give me an electric mower which can do the job the same way a gas mower can. Otherwise, piss off.

* * *

My subscription to McAfee expired today. Guess it's time to uninstall it and get some freeware, since I'm not paying McAfee's prices for virus protection.

Especially since the computer has given me the Blue Screen of Death several times since the last upgrade of McAfee, and the explanation for the BSoD has been a component of the McAfee software.

The past couple of times it's happened, I've switched on the monitor to find the message, "Windows has automatically recovered from an unexpected shutdown" and explained what and why. Problem event name? "BlueScreen". How nice. Reason? McAfee. But the first time it happened, I was just merrily poking along when BLAMMO, the screen turned blue just long enough for me to read about three characters of what was on it, and then the computer rebooted.

All this in addition to the numerous times I've had to restart my machine after McAfee's proxy server died and took my net access with it. Renew? No, I think McAfee can stuff it.

* * *

I was thinking about the best way to build a hybrid vehicle the other day. The best conclusion I can come to is that the Honda and Toyota method is the wrong way to do it.

A proper hybrid would have batteries, a generator, and an engine, of course--but the engine would drive only the generator, and an electric motor would actually drive the wheels. For short hops the batteries would be enough; for longer trips the motor (maybe a 20 or 30 HP engine) would run at its most efficient speed, turning the generator, which would then run the electric motor. Any excess power could go into charging the batteries.

For extra efficiency, it wouldn't hurt to make the roof into a solar panel. It would save a few ounces of gasoline per trip--maybe enough to be worth it, over the lifetime of the car. And the lifetime of the car should be rather long since a good electric motor, properly maintained, will last a good long time. Most of the driveline could be completely sealed, too.

You wouldn't need a large number of expensive batteries, because the batteries would only provide power when extra acceleration was desired. I think maybe six or eight deep-cycle lead-acid batteries would do. (The car wouldn't have a transmission, as such, so this should be a weight-neutral design consideration.)

The engine could be anything--gas, diesel, 2-stroke, 4-stroke--whatever was available and could fill the bill cleanly and efficiently. The thermal efficiency of a diesel engine is increased by turbocharging, so a small 2-cylinder turbo diesel could make twice the torque of a similar gasoline engine, and with lean-burn direct injection technology it could make it very cleanly.

In 1989 there was a company trying to make ccmpact, clean, and super-efficient 2-cycle engines. They had built a 90-hp engine which you could comfortably tuck under one arm and carry--it weighed 90 lbs. It was a direct-injection engine--the components were lubricated with pressurized oil, as in 4-cycle engines--and it was both clean and efficient in ways most 2-cycle engines are not. I don't know whatever happened to them; probably they dropped off the face of the planet: gasoline was $0.90 per gallon in 1989.

But the idea of a 90-hp, 90-lb engine--I still want one. If the torque were about the same as in my Escort's engine, I'd swap them in a second. And I would then have to get a different set of springs up front, because chopping about 200 lbs out of the drivetrain would make the front end ride too high on the stock springs. And after all that I'd have to spend a lot of time re-tuning the suspension to get the handling back. But the weight savings alone would make the car more fuel-efficient.

Any auto manufacturer could could easily build a proper hybrid that was hyper-efficient and fun to drive; they have the resources--and it need not be a muscle car, either, to sell very well and be profitable, which the Prius is not. Particularly if they could demonstrate a real-world fuel economy exceeding 60 MPG.

* * *

Crystal Light lemonade really tastes good after you've been doing yard work.

* * *

Methuselah is hovering near 20-odd pages right now. I've gotten into the meat of the story, finally, and things are starting to move. I'm hoping to have it done before my trip to the Philippines, but that may be overly optimistic considing all the CRAP I have to do before then....

* * *

The lawn mower came in a big box. I was really hoping someone was watching me as I wheeled the thing out to my car. "Ha! He thinks that big box will fit in that little car? You need a van or a pickup or an SUV to carry something that big!"

I have surprised people before with the capacity of an Escort. Ford and Mazda, when they designed the car, somehow integrated dimensional transcendentalism into its chassis. I just folded down the back seat, hefted the box in, and closed the hatch.

And then I smirked all the way back to the store, to drop off the flatbed cart.

Then I told Mom, "All I need now is to make this thing travel through time and space." (She recognizes a Dr. Who joke when she hears it.)

I once had the satisfaction of seeing someone be surprised at the capacity of these cars. I bought a computer desk at Best Buy and then drove my car to the door to load it. I folded the seat down, pushed the passenger seat all the way forward, and levered the thing in; after making sure it was secure, I just closed the hatch.

"Hey, what kind of fuel economy does that car get?" Asked a guy, who--along with his buddy--had radiated surprise when the rather large box went all the way into the car.

"About 36 MPG," I told him with a smile.

People on the Fiero forum wonder why I like Escorts so much. It's like George Kennedy said in Airport: they can do everything but read. (He was talking about the 707, of course, in response to another person saying, "The manual says you can't do that!" Oh well. It's the best line in the movie, for crying out loud.)

The proviso is that the object to be carried must fit through one of the car's openings. I thought I had the beginnings of a welding table, last Wednesday, at work--a metal framework which supported five very heavy gazebos, in their boxes, on two pallets--but it was too wide to fit into the car. Oh well.

* * *

I've been thinking about an element for an SF story, one I'm not sure how or where to use. I was thinking about Dune, and how the Spice gets into everything (Herbert says nothing about the sand; he must not have gone to the beach much). I thought about an agricultural world which exports chlorophyll--though a rationale has not yet come for such--and realized that it was quite possible that everything would be green. People would have green skin and hair, though it would wash off rather easily. Maybe a world which makes some kind of green dye would be better.

The reason this occurred to me? I mowed the grass in sandals.

Let that be a lesson to you.