Infrequently updated blog of thoughts and feelings whenever I have time to sit down and write. It seems as though I have less and less time to sit down and write these days. That's why this page is static most of the time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Apahelion CXI
Terry Floyd tlfloyd@lmi.net
855 Emerald Avenue
San Leandro, CA 94577
Children grow up much too fast. All of you should be very careful out on the streets, because my youngest son, Nathan, now has a drivers license. Most of his other high school friends had to take their driving test two or three times to pass, but Nathan nailed it the first time, and we haven’t been able to keep him home at night since. Well, he did have a pretty good driving instructor (ahem, me).

Naturally, he now insists that he must have his own car, so we had to come up with some quick plans to keep ourselves mobile. I wanted very much to give him my Honda Civic so I would have an excuse to buy another motorcycle, but Pam would have none of it. She said he would have to have the Civic, but I would have to buy another car myself, something with a minimum of four wheels.

I’d actually been shopping around online through eBay and visited a couple of cycle shops before she insisted that I had to buy a car. I almost won a 1995 Harley Davidson Shovelhead in an on-line auction, and I also had my eyes on the 2006 Harley Davidson Sportster that was on sale at a dealership in Walnut Creek, but I wanted to maintain peace in the household, so I reluctantly abandoned my search for a motorcycle and returned to shopping for cars.

But not just any car. Since I had been denied my wish to purchase a gas-electric hybrid vehicle back in 2003 when we were last looking at cars, I decided that if I couldn’t have my motorcycle, I will at least try to get a hybrid.

I wanted to buy a hybrid back in 2003, when these cars were cutting edge technology, and I tested a Toyota Prius back then, but the salesman was a huge jerk, and I wasn’t at all happy with the dealership and their inflexible terms, so we next visited the local Honda dealer, only to experience more frustration. Demand for the new hybrid models was so high that they couldn’t keep any of the hybrid cars in stock, and they suggested we order one in advance and wait at least six months for delivery. That just wouldn’t do, so we ended up purchasing the conventional 4-cylinder gasoline-powered Civic.

Much has changed in the past four years, and new hybrids are all over the place and easy to find. Used hybrids, however, are not so easy to find, since the owners tend to like them a lot and don’t want to sell them until they’ve worn out. But I was lucky this time.

It took a while to find a used hybrid car that was in my price range, but thanks to CraigsList.com, I located a 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid in Hayward that was affordable. It was being offered through Honda Kars, a small shop in Hayward that specializes in Hondas. The mechanic who runs the place, Erick Ahmadzai, let me take it out for a test drive and then told me the history of the vehicle.

Late last year, the car had been stolen, and since it was not recovered for more than three weeks, the insurance company, Allstate, paid off the claim to the owner, who ended up just buying another car. Six weeks later, the car was found abandoned not far from the San Mateo Bridge and was towed to Erick’s shop. He paid a token fee for salvage rights on the vehicle and Allstate was only too happy to sign over the title to him. The car wasn’t damaged except for the back fender, which Erick replaced. He then posted the used car notice on Craigslist, where I found it by searching on the keywords Automobiles+San Francisco Area+East Bay+Hybrid. I wasn’t the first person to express interest in the car, but I was the first to show up and make an offer, so I put down a $200 cash deposit to make sure he wouldn’t sell it to anyone else. Once I had the funds to buy it outright, he gave me the keys and all the paperwork. I had to spend an afternoon at the Department of Motor Vehicles getting the title transferred, re-registering the vehicle, and paying the taxes on it, but it is now my new car.

I really like this car. It is a beautiful midnight blue, and clean as a whistle. It had 48,026 miles on the odometer, so the previous owner clearly enjoyed driving it. I haven’t had a car with a manual transmission since 1992, but it was very easy to drive. Once you’ve mastered the art of driving a standard transmission, you never forget, kind of like riding a bicycle.

The hybrid engine is pretty amazing. Toyota has patented their hybrid engines with the name “Hybrid Synergy Drive.” Honda uses a dramatically different technology that they call “Integrated Motor Assist” or “IMA.”

The Toyota Prius and Camry hybrid models have two motors, a 4-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric engine, and the drive train automatically switches from one motor to the other depending on speed and highway conditions. The first generation Honda IMA system, on the other hand, has one 4-cylinder gasoline engine and a smaller 20 hp electric motor integrated with the transmission that reduces the fuel consumption of the gasoline engine by giving it an electric boost whenever necessary, rather than having the carburetor increase the amount of gasoline pumped to the engine. The dashboard of the Honda Civic Hybrid shows when the engine is being assisted by the electric motor and when the battery is being charged by the regenerative braking action. The 5-speed standard transmission also reduces fuel consumption.

The battery pack is behind the rear seat, and consists of 120 D-Cell Lithium Ion rechargeable batteries. This is much smaller than the gigantic batteries in the Toyota hybrids.

Sometimes, when I stop at a red light, the engine will shut down completely, and the car will be absolutely quiet, but as soon as I release the clutch in first gear, the engine instantly comes back online and I move forward just as though I were driving a normal gasoline car. In the second generation IMA models (starting with the 2006 Civic and Accord), the electric motor is supposed to be able to take over completely even at highway speeds and shut the gasoline engine off to save fuel. Alternatively, the new V-6 Accord is reported to be able to sometimes fire only 3 of the six cylinders with the electric motor assisting it at highway speeds to further improve mileage.

The Toyota hybrids do get better gas mileage than the Hondas (62mpg in the city and 55mgp on the highway), but I am still pretty happy with the Civic, which is supposed to get 46mpg in the city and 51mpg on the highway. I only have to fill up the tank about twice a month now, so I definitely feel the improvement in my wallet. The dashboard has a constantly changing gauge that calculates the mileage while I’m driving, and it generally shows 39mpg at the lowest level and up to 48mpg at the highest. I was able to squeeze 36 mpg out of my 2003 conventional Civic under ideal conditions, so getting 45 mpg out of the hybrid may not seem all that dramatic, but with gas prices in California exceeding $3.40/gallon last spring, it gives me confidence that I made the right decision. I can easily drive over 525 miles on a single tank of gas in this car.

One of the unexpected delights of this wonderful new car is the Diamond Access OK sticker. Back when hybrids were first introduced, and fairly expensive, the Government, in its infinitely misguided wisdom, offered tax credits for consumers who purchased a hybrid car to encourage more people to buy super low emission vehicles. But this was, of course, the government and they really couldn’t afford it, so the $2000 tax credit was reduced to only $500 in 2005 and expired completely in 2006. To replace this program and keep the incentives going in California, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) offered Diamond Access OK stickers for hybrid cars, which permit these vehicles to drive in the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) carpool lanes on major California freeways without carrying the requisite minimum of 3 or more passengers. But this also proved to be too popular, and the DMV had to impose a cap on the number of Diamond Access OK stickers issued and in January 2007, they discontinued them altogether. But my Honda Hybrid has them, so even when I’m alone in the car, I can drive in the carpool lane without fear of the Highway Patrol slapping me down with a $275 fine.

I am also learning more about “hypermiling,” a method of increasing the mileage of hybrid cars to an incredible degree, far beyond what the EPA determines in their controlled tests. Some innovative Honda Insight owners maintain a website describing how they managed to hack their cars to get up to 99 miles per gallon (see http://www.99mpg.com) but they don’t indicate whether or not the same hack can be used on the Honda Civic Hybrid. Some Prius owners have managed to modify their vehicles to disable the gasoline engine altogether, and have made their cars completely all-electric plug-in machines. Of course, incorporating any of these hacks will void the vehicle warranty, but that’s just part of the fun of modifying your car. Teenage hot rod enthusiasts have been doing such things for decades. And since mine was a salvaged car anyway, I never had a dealer warranty to worry about.

Nathan is just happy to have his own car now, and is excited about graduating from High School, and finally moving up to Humboldt State University to start college. For his own reasons, he did not want to go to the same college as his brother, and he tells us that at least four of his high school buddies are going to Humboldt, so he decided to go where his friends would be and later transfer to another school in the Cal State system. Humboldt State is in Arcata, way up on the North Coast of California, not too far from Eureka. I guess he wants to get as far away from San Leandro as he can.

We sure will miss him. The house is so very quiet now that he’s gone. Our oldest son Alex and his fiancé Briana moved out of our house in 2006. They still come by to see us a few times each week, since they only live a few miles down the street, but now that Nathan is safely ensconced in the dorm at Humboldt, we probably won’t see him at all except for holidays, since Arcata is about a six hour drive away.

As we moved Nathan up to Arcata the other week, it occurred to me that it has been exactly 30 years since I moved out of my own home to begin college in Austin. I left Amarillo, Texas on the morning of August 16, 1977 in an old Ford Custom packed with most of my essential belongings. I was driving through Lubbock when I heard the news on the radio that Elvis had died. For the rest of the trip down to Austin, I couldn’t find a radio station anywhere in Texas that wasn’t playing Elvis Presley music.

I’m sure we will worry about him constantly. Even though I believe Nathan is arguably a better driver than his big brother Alex (who is already driving his second Saturn, having totaled his first one in 2005), I am still concerned when he’s out late at night and doesn’t come home on the weekends. Before he moved out, he always called us to let us know where he was when stayed overnight with friends, but when we know he’s coming home, neither of us can sleep until we hear him open the door and go to bed.

Pam calls him every day to see how he’s doing, and things seem to be going well. This is only his first week at school, so it will take a while for us to get used to this arrangement. But there are upsides to an empty nest. The whole house is much cleaner than it used to be when we often had gangs of teenagers over several nights each week playing videogames, watching DVDs or simply hanging out. We now have more room to park in the driveway and a lot more room in our refrigerator for beer (now that all the soft drinks are gone).

Mailing Comments:

Ken Gammage: As a martini lover, I was curious about the “dirty martini” you had in Florida, so I did a quick Google search to find out how one of these concoctions is made. Interesting. It’s just a regular martini with extra vermouth. The first recipe Google returned recommended adding 2 Tbsp of Olive Juice to the mixer in addition to the gin and vermouth, but if you purchase standard martini olives, they’re already packed in vermouth, so you’re just adding three times the normal amount of vermouth. My favorite martini recipe (a “classic martini” in the bar book I have), calls for only a very thin film of vermouth on top of the gin. I tried mixing a dirty martini according to that first Google recipe and found it extremely distasteful. I think I’ll stick with my classic.

Jim Bodie: I’m familiar with your description of Christmas at the Post Office. I send out our Libertarian Party newsletter every month at the Business Mail Entry Unit (Bulk Mail Office) at the Oakland Main Post Office, and the four weeks before any election are very busy there. We’re permitted to mail out our newsletters with the Political Mail red tags during the 30 days prior to the election, so our normally 3rd class mail gets delivered as if it were first class (along with all the other candidate junk mail). Political consultants always advise local candidates to use direct mail, since it is the cheapest way to communicate with voters. Only millionaires can afford television advertising, so local candidates running low-budget campaigns can use new data mining software that allows them to target only those voters who actually go to the polls, or only absentee voters, or only female voters, so they won’t waste their funds sending brochures to people who aren’t likely to vote for them or to those who register to vote, but never actually cast a ballot.

Alice Eaton: I loved reading your childhood memories about going to a rural school in the depression. Good luck finding another copy of “Little Black Sambo” though. While I, too, remember reading it in school in the sixties, it fell out of favor in the 1970s when the political correctness movement prompted a purge of many great books from the curricula of public education establishments. Even Huckleberry Finn was attacked as a racist portrayal of African Americans, even though Jim is the most noble character in the book. I also recall Sambo being an intelligent and resourceful young man who escaped from a dangerous situation and turned it to his advantage. As a young white boy about the same age when I read it, I remember that I greatly admired him. I also remember my family dining at Sambo’s Restaurants back then, but the franchise had to change its name when they were targeted by activists who claimed their use of the character as a marketing gimmick was offensive to the community. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, as I can understand how some could be offended, but every time we now have a meal at Baker’s Square (the restaurant chain formerly known as “Sambo’s”), I remember how things used to be when I was a kid.

Allan Beatty: It was good to see you again last month, and I’m pleased to know the difficult transition to the new environment has been relatively painless. Jobs make us do so many things that would not ordinarily be in our nature, but the security of a regular paycheck has a way of making our decisions for us. Twenty or twenty-five years ago, I would never have imagined I’d do some of the things I now have to do just to keep my job. Back then, I had no worries about finding a different job if one position didn’t work out, or I hated my boss, or a co-worker drove me nuts. I had no loyalty at all to whatever employer happened to be paying me from one week to the next. Fuck ‘em all. I wasn’t married to my employer. How different everything becomes when you have a family, children, a mortgage and all the other chains of adulthood!

Jim Bodie: I, too, feel that Johnny Cash did some of his best work in the last decade of his life. I love all of the American Recordings series. I hope your flood dreams are not premonitions, but the past few flood seasons in the South and Midwest have been pretty ominous. Time to look for higher ground?

Kennedy Gammage: It was weird to read about your return to Berkeley. Sorry we didn’t get a chance to hook up during the visit. Even though I work in Richmond now, I still have one office in Berkeley that I have to support several days each week, so I regularly see all those places you wax nostalgic about. You’ve been away from here a very long time, dude. The driftwood artworks in the Emeryville mudflats have been gone for over a decade. Berkeley is no longer much of a haven for artists. The Berkeley City Council evicted the shipyard artists colony earlier this summer, and their solar powered compound may be bulldozed into oblivion any day now (see http://theshipyard.org for details).
Nathan forgot to pack his Sirius receiver when he left for Humboldt, so now he is having to suffer from Howard Stern withdrawal. Frankly, I’m glad he no longer needs to be distracted by the foolishness. He needs more time to study. With the receiver in my control now, I can explore all the other options available with the service. I’ve been a fan of Artie Lange since the old MAD TV days, but he should have his own show, instead of being a sidekick for Stern.

Jennifer Dean: Yes, Second Life is really more about socializing than anything else. You describe it as a “glorified chatroom,” but I think it has the potential to be much more. It has been compared to the “metaverse” that plays such an integral part in Neal Stephenson’s novel Snowcrash, but isn’t quite there yet. I’m constantly amazed at how the SL community has managed to hack the environment in ways that the developers never intended (e.g., the virtual “bombing” of John Edwards’ SL Campaign Headquarters, the popularity of SL prostitution, etc.). I am curious to learn how things may develop with your SL buddy Surya. Keep us in the loop, okay?
SL has a lot of competition in the Web 2.0 world with other kinds of social networks like Friendster, MySpace, Facebook and others. I’ve gotten semi-addicted to digg.com, which has supplanted Slashdot for supremacy in my browser. Oh, yeah, I sent in my resume to Linden Labs since they’re right in San Francisco and apparently have lots of need for systems administrators. I may check to see when you’re online one of these days!