Category Archives: Interests

More Prius

I thought I’d provide a little more about the Toyota Prius that Trish and I bought last week, now that I’ve driven it around a lot and have more to say.

First of all, it’s a 2008 Prius with “Package B”. The base Prius has power windows & locks, air conditioning, and the other “usual” stuff for a car in its price range. The Package B includes heated mirrors, a rear-view camera for reversing, cruise control, and the smart key system.

The smart key system is one of my favorite features unrelated to the fact that it’s a hybrid. The smart key is so nice because I never have to take it out of my pocket. If the key is within 3 feet of the door handle and I touch the door handle, the car will unlock so I can open the door. Same with the trunk. Then I just sit down in the car, and it senses that the key (still in my pocket) is inside of the car, and thus allows me to start the car.

Starting the car is another story. I simply depress the brake pedal and press the large circular “Power” button on the dash. The dash lights up, the car beeps, and the “Ready” indicator comes on, and the car is ready to roll. Usually the engine comes on a few seconds after this, in order to charge up the battery a bit. But I can move the shift lever to “D” or “R” and start moving immediately, before the engine comes on. If I put it in “R”, the touch-screen LCD in the center of the dash (which by default displays energy flow and consumption information) switches to the rear-view camera.

The touch-screen LCD in the dash is also used for climate control (heater, air conditioning, etc.) and can be used for audio control as well — browsing files on an MP3 CD, for example. The default view, Energy Flow, shows an overhead cartoonish cutout of the car with the engine, electric motor, wheels, and battery all with arrows between them that change and show the flow of energy while the car is driving. You can also tap the “Consumption” button on the screen to show a graph of fuel mileage every 5 minutes since the car was turned on.

What’s really freaky is when you are pulling up to a stop sign and the engine dies. It is difficult to suppress one’s instinct to think “my car died!” and become worried. However it is perfectly normal for the Prius to turn off the engine when slowing down and at other random times when energy can be saved by not running the gas engine. Yesterday I was driving 45 mph, and I slowed to 40 mph to feel safer in a particular half-mile stretch of the road. The gas engine turned off and I drove the entire half mile at 40 mph on electric-only. It felt so cool!

The gas engine also is typically off when I’m driving around in a parking lot or in stop-and-go traffic, at low speeds. It’s not efficient for the gas engine to be running at those low speeds, so it doesn’t. It waits until the car is going fast enough to make good use of the gas, then turns on the engine to drive the car (and recharge the battery, if it still has excess energy production).

Trish and I drove down to the south end of Whidbey Island on Friday night and back on Saturday night, and we averaged over 50 miles per gallon for the trip. Some sections were over 75 mpg (like when driving through Oak Harbor during rush hour almost entirely off the battery). Weeeee!

Here’s a summary of the ways I can think of that causes the Prius to have better gas mileage that other modern cars in its class:

  • Braking generates electricity to recharge the batteries, storing energy. Most other cars turn this energy in to heat at the brakes, which is just wasted energy.
  • Coasting generates electricity to recharge the batteries, storing energy. Other cars just run their engine uselessly while coasting. Note that sometimes the engine is on when coasting, in which case all of the energy it generates is stored in the batteries. If the engine is off, some energy is still being stored up by the generators (it’s like braking very lightly).
  • Driving down hill is the same thing as coasting, storing energy. Most other cars still burn up energy and throw it away when going down-hill.
  • When the gasoline engine is running, it almost always runs at its most efficient speed. If this speed is too fast, the excess energy is stored up in the batteries. If this speed is too slow, energy is pulled from the batteries.
  • Stemming from the previous item, when quick acceleration is required, previously stored energy is pulled from the batteries to supplement the underpowered (but efficient!) gasoline engine.

In summary, the Prius stores up energy that is typically wasted in other cars and is then able to utilize that energy at a later time, instead of throwing away energy. This makes it a very efficient car.

That’s all for now. 🙂

Here on this lump of rock…

Do you ever find yourself sitting around attempting to contemplate the entire universe all at once? Or is that just me?

We sit here on this lump of rock. The immensity of it alone boggles my mind. Earth is HUGE, compared to me. But I haven’t traveled more than a couple hundred miles from home. I suppose if you travel around a lot it doesn’t seem as huge. But it’s still pretty big.

Yet this lump of rock is so small, pointless, and vulnerable on the grand scheme of things. We can look up at the moon, and it doesn’t look so far away. But it’s kind of hard to judge distances with something like that. If you were to actually move out away from the Earth and Moon a few hundred thousand miles or so, you would see them something like this:
    .                             .

Compared to their sizes, they are pretty far apart. Otherwise the moon would look much more gigantic in our sky (like it used to, billions of years ago). And yet, if you back even further, Earth and moon merge into a single point of light. The distance between the Earth-Moon system and other planets is HUGE! I can hardly even imagine it. Yet we’ve sent little (and big) spacecraft out there, cruising around between planets. That makes me feel really good.

Any time we send something (except ICBMs) into orbit or, especially, beyond, I get really excited. Humans are explorers. It’s just our nature. If we weren’t, we’d all still be stuck in one tribe in Africa (or probably be extinct). I hope we continue to invest in our explorations, and spread ourselves across the solar system and the galaxy.

Because, you know, Earth ain’t gonna be inhabitable forever (especially if we keep trying our best to destroy it). And it isn’t going to be here forever, either. I think we, as an intelligent species, deserve to continue to exist until there is no more energy left in the universe. In order to do that, we gotta get off this lump of rock.

It’s not easy, getting off lumps of rock, but we can do it, and we will do it. It is essential for the survival of our species.

Some people might say, “Well, the Earth is going to be fine for another couple hundred years at least… why should we worry about it now?” Well, you have to start at some point. If you wait a couple hundred years before going into space, then you’ve got a lot of technology to develop really fast in order to get people off this rock. But if you start early (now), you can take the time to develop the technology, and get it right, and improve it, as we slowly spread ourselves outward. Believe me, our great great grandkids will thank us for that, even if they hate us for destroying the planet.

So yeah, that’s my little rant for today. Hopefully we will get off this lump of rock and go to other lumps of rock and beyond, or something.

2007 MINI Cooper

The new 2007 MINI Cooper was revealed yesterday at a car show in France. It's not dramatically different at first glance, but really there's a whole lot they have changed about this car. has the full details including a large photo gallery.

Basically, almost every single thing about the car has changed in some very subtle way. For example, the headlights are now redesigned to include the turn signals within them, and are attached to the body instead of the bonnet (hood). The bonnet apparently has holes in it for the lights to fit through. The shape of it is slightly different, but hardly noticeable. The radiator air intake area on the front appears to be somewhat larger. The interior is a completely different style, although they've left the big gauge in the very center of the dash. It looks to me like they've lifted the front end a little higher off the ground. That's a very good thing — trust me.

I think if the dealer was a little closer and there wasn't a six-month waiting period, I'd get me one of these. 🙂

MINI Coopers aren't small

Proof that people who say MINI Coopers are small don't know what they're talking about…

They can fit 21 people!

Atlantis launched

About time!

Stupid weather.

Somehow they managed to get Atlantis launched on a weekend, though, so I could watch it live on NASA TV. However I thought the Russians were only going to let us launch through Friday. I wasn't able to find any information about further negotiation that allowed a launch today, but NASA did it anyway. *shrug*

I wish they could have launched a few weeks ago, then I would have been able to see the shuttle in the sky in the evenings, but now I don't pass under the orbit at the appropriate times of day anymore, so I can't see it. Oh well, there will be opportunities on future missions.

By the way, I've noticed that this journal has become very space-oriented. I didn't really intend for that to be the case. I'll try to think of something else to write about next 🙂