Archive | November 2013

Fool Cells here, but expensive

Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicles are essentially electric hybrids with a fuel cell in place of the gasoline engine. The fuel cell promises to be far lighter than the batteries required to achieve the 300 mile range that American drivers seem to expect, and in theory could be refueled about as fast as a gasoline or diesel tank.

In 2003, it was an article of faith among many in the Peak Oil community that automobiles powered by hydrogen fuel cells were a pipe dream. At Roscoe Bartlett’s 2005 Energy Conference, speaker John Howe derisively dismissed them as “Fool Cells.”

… Hydrogen is not a fuel source unless you take a lot of energy to separate it, and about 97 percent of our hydrogen today comes from natural gas, and natural gas … is in even more dire straits than oil. [This was before the fracking boomlet.] Even though there may be a lot of it around the world, it’s a stranded resource and you just can’t ship it here and there and most of it that is available in the world is already spoken for. …

Despite those challenges manufacturers have been steadily working on fuel cells for cars, trucks and buses. As described in Fuel Cells at Center Stage, the current crop of auto shows now feature fuel cell vehicles by Toyota, Hyundai and Honda. GM and Daimler are also promising fuel cell vehicles. They seem to work, but they are so costly that it is hard to imagine then as anything but luxury vehicles with clean emissions.

… The main challenge facing Toyota engineers, however, is the vehicle’s price.

“The effort to bring this car to market is about lowering the cost, while providing satisfactory performance,” said Matt McClory, principal engineer of fuel cell vehicle development for Toyota in the United States, as we did a test drive around Torrance, Calif. “Bringing the costs down was the biggest bogey.”

Toyota executives say they believe a target price around $50,000 is needed to make the cars attractive. That might require the company to price the cars below cost until production reaches a profitable level.

Toyota managed that with the Prius, and it paid off, but producing the hydrogen, and the infrastructure behind it is still a major challenge.

Update 20131126: In, Hydrogen cars won’t be marketable “until 2020”, says VW

VW Group’s commissioner for electric drive systems, Rudolf Krebs … pointed out that although hydrogen had the benefits of zero tailpipe emissions and none of the driving range issues attached to battery-electric vehicles, there are still concerns over the efficiency of producing the energy.

“We still have the problem that hydrogen mobility only makes sense if you use green energy – you have to use green electricity, then convert it from electric to hydrogen, during which you lose about 40 per cent of the initial energy,” explained Krebs.

“Then you have to compress the hydrogen to 700bar to store it in the vehicle, which costs you further efficiency. After that, you have to convert the hydrogen back to electricity through the vehicle’s fuel cell, which brings another efficiency loss. In the end, from your original 100 per cent electric energy, you end up with between 30 and 40 per cent efficiency.”

Krebs believed the best solution would be a vehicle that relies primarily on battery electric propulsion, with a hydrogen fuel cell as a back-up.

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Tips and Bonuses

‘Tis almost the season for the end-of-year bonus. For some of us. Wall Street was famous for large bonuses, and certain firms bailed out with public money became infamous for using TARP money to continue paying out large bonuses. The banksters benefiting from our largesse claimed that bonuses were actually a late payment of money they had earned all year, but most folk can’t expect a bonus if the firm isn’t profitable. Many can’t even imagine more than a token Xmas bonus at all, and WalMart employees can only hope that shoppers will drop a few sugar plums in their baskets.

Forbes, CNN and Reuters note that financial sector bonuses are rising in general, though more for the less risky side of the business.

Wall Street Bonuses Due To Rise 5% To 10%
Wall Street bonuses rise as jobs decline
Wall Street bonuses to rise 5 to 10 percent this year

A few weeks ago, some Wall Street ex-big shot made news by blogging a tirade about having to tip the bathroom attendants. The NY Post reported:

Managers at Soho’s Balthazar said Monday they’re wiping bathroom valets off their payroll after business-news blogger Henry Blodget made snippy comments about the antiquated, “extortion-by-guilt” practice.

Blodget, a disgraced Wall Street analyst who now edits the Business Insider Web site, wrote last week that dealing with bathroom attendants is “never anything other than uncomfortable and degrading.”

Since then, I’ve noticed several articles challenging the practice of offering gratuities for personal service. Sushi Yasuda in NYC made news by eliminating tipping and raising prices to pay the staff a bit more. US News offered five facts, while Pacific Standard questioned the rationale behind tipping:

… it makes very little economic sense. You can lose hours reading theories about tipping, but here’s a nice summary: “Economists presume that individuals act in their economic self-interest. Thus, individuals engage in transactions with one another when it is in both their economic self-interests to do so. But it is hard to see how tipping is in the tipper’s self-interest.”

I don’t pay anyone’s salary, hence I don’t pay bonuses, but I do tip for personal service. We don’t dine out much, but when we do I tip servers at least 20%. I discarded the old 5/10/15 rule for breakfast, lunch and dinner because it seemed clear the servers work just as hard serving eggs and pancakes as beef and lobster. I give my barber $5, and he seems grateful. Hey, the man holds a straight razor near my throat – I want to keep him happy. I would tip my masseur if he wasn’t self-employed. Massage is about as personal as service can get and still be legal.

Just for grins, I looked up gratuity and bonus on Dictionary.com:

gra·tu·i·ty [gruh-too-i-tee, -tyoo-] noun, plural gra·tu·i·ties.
1. a gift of money, over and above payment due for service, as to a waiter or bellhop; tip.
2. something given without claim or demand.

bo·nus [boh-nuhs] noun, plural bo·nus·es.
1. something given or paid over and above what is due.
2. a sum of money granted or given to an employee, a returned soldier, etc., in addition to regular pay, usually in appreciation for work done, length of service, accumulated favors, etc.

They don’t sound too different, do they? Unless you work on Wall Street.

NRA Presses FEMA to Send Real Aid to Tacloban

In the wake of Typhoon Yolanda (known in the US as Haiyan), NRA Exec VP Wayne LaPierre is pressing FEMA to send the survivors in the flattened city of Tacloban the sort of supplies that storm victims really need: Semiautomatic rifles.

“The biggest problem these Filipino people have right now is security. The best way to guarantee security is to be well-armed. That way, when a bag of rice becomes available, they don’t have to worry about some larger or stronger person elbowing their way past them to get it. They should stop whining about damages, grab a gun and take command of their lives.”

“Nothing calms down a disaster like the presence of semiautomatic weapons … except automatic weapons, of course.”

 

Amazon Closes Down

As workmen dismantled the modular furniture, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos sat in the remains of his office and mused, “We never saw it coming.”

A few years ago, businesses and governments alike bowed to Amazon’s economic might. Market pundits predicted that brick and mortar would be limited to personal service boutiques, as most people simply ordered everything from electronics to groceries through the former internet book merchant. Then Amazon began to tout a new product.

“We thought we’d make a fortune selling 3D printers … and we did quite well for a time. Then people realized that once they had one, they could make damn near anything. Once someone had one – they didn’t need us anymore! They could find some recycled scrap metal and plastic – or melt down stuff they had – and make stuff as they needed it. We were selling the instruments of our own demise.”

“We tried manufacturing our own stuff, too, but we couldn’t cut our delivery costs low enough to compete with a hundred million local producers.”

“I worked hard to build this company. I still can’t believe it’s all over.”

Healthy Candy Bars and Paleo-Bashing

A Daily Meal’s slideshow list of the 7 healthiest candy bars caught my eye. I was expecting obscure brands, but was surprised to find several classics.

For each winner, there is a link to the manufacturer’s site, which offers nutritional info – calories, sodium and percentages of RMDAs – but not ingredients. Hershey’s site notes, “Ingredients information for this flavor is not available online at this time. Please consult the package label or call us at (800) 468-1714 for further information.” So I found an independent site called Food Facts – which also assigns each food item numbers and letter grades.

Kit Kat: 18 – 26 D (Give me a break!)
Sugar, Flour, Cocoa Butter, Milk Non-Fat, Chocolate, Palm Kernel Oil Refined, Lactose, Milk Fat, Contains 22% or less Soya Lecithin, PGPR, Emulsifier(s), Yeast, Sodium Bicarbonate, Vanillin, Flavor(s) Artificial

Dove Dark: 27 – 34 D+ (I actually bought a bag of these a few months ago)
Chocolate Semisweet (Sugar, Chocolate, Chocolate Processed With Alkali, Cocoa Butter, Milk Fat, Soy Lecithin, Flavor(s) Natural & Artificial)

Hershey’s Air Delight: (Perhaps is too new to be on the list)
Ingredients: Milk Chocolate (Sugar, Milk, Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Lactose (from milk), Milk Fat, Emulsifiers (Soy Lecithin, E476), Flavouring (Vanillin)).

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