Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hum Cycle

Predictions on this blog have talked about how style, speed and prestige will define the new electric vehicle.

The Hum Cycle is certainly charging into this future - on two wheels.

A small gang of entrepreneurs are kicking the shins of the venture capitalists and blazing the streets of Silicon Valley with their potent new Hum Cycle - an uncompromisingly sportissimo, all-electric motorcycle.

I met with Forrest Deuth, and Jit Bhattacharya - two young guys looking very pleased with themselves - and a small crowd of onlookers to see the new Hum prototype in the flesh.

Deuth - an alumni of Tesla motors - was careful to elaborate that this prototype would vary in many ways from their final product.

But still some of the most obvious features that the prototype has that we're likely to notice in the real thing are that which are missing: no clutch handle, and no gear shifter by the left footpeg. It makes the left-hand side of the bike look decidedly bare.

Apart from that at first approach from the front it looks very much like many other sport bikes - modern full-fairing, stiff trellis frame (which will later be replaced by a fully custom frame, according to Deuth).

Then you notice between the frame and down under the belly of the bike telltale patches of yellow. These are the Lithium-Ion battery packs that power the Hum. Them, and a whacking great electric motor, its cylindrical bulk nestling down where the gearbox would be in a
conventional machine.

The chain sprocket goes directly onto the motor, and drives via an oversize chain and back sprocket to the back wheel. Riders I talked to that day reported plenty of pull from the prototype motor. Plans are afoot for a different drive set-up to elide the oversize gearing, and a more powerful motor.

The bike has regenerative braking - this is configurable, and was dialled down today since conventional riders are not used to their mounts being so very responsive on relinquishing the throttle.

And of course you can't blip the throttle when you're at the lights - not that you'd get any noise if you did.

This machine is almost completely silent. The only thing announcing its approach is the chatter of the chain. The makers are talking about the possibility of a belt drive, if the relative gearing of the drive train allows it.

Deuth and Bhattacharya say they're pitching right at the sports market with their first production machine - it will be a high-performance bike, with a decent range, suitable for the ride to work or short touring/sport riding.

Its something both the green community and the motorcycling community will be eagerly awaiting.

Me too.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

RE < C

Earlier this month:

Vapourware in the energy business...

And this:

I think we have vastly oversold the role of the market in the solution to this problem...

This is pretty radical stuff - was it those lefty Unionists again? Some hack in the marginal publications, some opinionated blogger?

This is from no less an august figure in Energy Policy than Professor David Victor, Director of the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development (PESD) based at Stanford University. Professor Victor is also a Law Professor at Stanford, and as it happens very knowledgeable about the action of world markets in coal.

One of the great challenges of the climate change crisis is to make renewable energy cost less than coals and high carbon footprint fuels. This is RE < C.

This can be done by increasing the cost of using such fuels, effectively making polluters pay for the cost of actually putting polluting substances into the environment, for example by schemes such as cap-and-trade.

But the other side of the picture is what is the economic realities affecting trade in coal?

Coal is still plentiful, and surprisingly at least to me is still a massively oversubscribed commodity. The USA are still commisioning new coal fired plants - in spring of 2007, 150 new plants were either in planning or under construction. This is surprising because the news has been full of how planned coal plant projects are being scrapped - but this is 59 or so by some accounts, plenty more are still going ahead.

China has recently become a net importer of coal, despite its massive reserves. To put how amazing this is into context, it is very expensive to ship coal - it can't be pumped and is heavy and difficult to handle, compared to its value. At least until recently - prices have been going up for coal such that there are now markets and trade in coal along routes that would not have been thought viable, according to Professor Victor.

Professor Victor highlighted the failure of the ETS scheme in Europe - one of the early innovators in market based schemes to reduce industry carbon emissions. He pointed out that in recent times the trading prices for carbon were at around 25 euros/ton - but it would need to be twice that to be in parity with gas. Here parity meaning that costs would be sufficient to cause polluters to switch to the next clean fuel alternative, being gas with solar, wind and so on dearer alternatives still.

I am not a political scientist, but I don't believe in strong, heavy government - I would like to believe that a light touch at the helm would result in the best outcomes for our nation states. However I also believe that the state must act to protect its citizens from direct and immediate harm - whether its comets from space, or asbestos in our ceilings; the State fails or succeeds in its duty to the extent that it can react potently and swiftly in the face of widespread imminent harm to its people.

With climate change, droughts, cyclones, and many other nightmare scenarios awaiting, it seems that allowing the market to decide on these matters is such a failure.

Again from Professor Victor:

My own view is that the carbon markets are a mistake - its created a casino. Should be a tax.

My guess which governments of the world will be the first to realize the sense of this? I am betting it will be Russia and China before the USA and the West, precisely because of our blind worship of the market.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


So the move to Googles cloud continues.

There's been lots of disruptions, but its well on the way now.

The big watershed has been getting my Storybridge Redirector app working on Google's AppEngine.

It redirects any URL I want to URL's in the new Google sites/blogger structure.

For example folks who used to go to my blog from can now do that again. Since AppEngine logs any URLs sent to it I can see which ones are not matching and add redirects for them too.

Its not exactly rocket science but its good enough that it might be handy for other folks doing what I am - namely trying to bring over 10 years of internet history (in the form of in-bound links from other sites) over to a new structure.

I have put the code up on Googles code hosting site, and logged a few bugs that I am aware of.

Material on the new sites already include:
Generally I'm pretty happy with the Google Apps for Domains experience. The sites themselves seem like a good product. My main goal was to get something low maintenance and low cost - so scoring a lovely round figure of zero on both those counts has to be a big plus.

But the loss of flexibility is tangible. Hopefully with more uptake Google will add extra features to the Sites product. In particular I miss the ability to add the widgets, url lists, and so on in the margins like you can with Blogger. Sites has very little flexibility in this regard. Maybe I have just not found it yet.

I would love to get some feedback on anything y'all feel like mentioning - speed of loading, look-n-feel, ease of commenting - would like to know how it looks from "the other side of the glass" so to speak.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Did I squeeze this picture in Photoshop?

No, this incredibly space-conscious mighty-mite is the all-electric Tango T600 from Commuter Cars. Tech blogs and the press have been a-buzz with this thing since the first ones were delivered back in late 2005.

As you see here folks are using them to get to work and back. This one is plugged into a bank of solar panels overhead, so its carbon footprint is basically zero.

According to the brochure it uses 4kWh of electricity on a standard commute - that is around what you use to tumble dry your load of laundry: even if you don't have a handy solar-powered carport with electricity at todays rates a weeks commuting is $2.40.

Despite its small size it is no lightweight. Even with its carbon-fiber and kevlar body to offset the weight of the batteries, it weighs in at around 3000lbs.

As far as I know Tango still uses lead-acid batteries - with the latest prismatic Nickel-metal hydride or Lithium ion batteries weight would greatly reduce that figure, and produce better performance, perhaps allowing for more conventional and cheaper materials. Commuter Cars plan to make available two lower spec vehicles the T200 and T100. There is talk of different battery technologies on their website. The other issue with batteries is of course patents.

Still, in this configuration the Tango T600 has blistering performance stats - a claimed 0-60mph in 4 seconds, and the standing quarter in 12 seconds. On the track it corners like its on rails due to its very low center of gravity.


The price tag on the T600 is currently around $100k - similar to the Tesla. And the Tango is a kit - you have to put it together yourself.

So the Tango has got the right performance, the right high-tech credentials, and the right environmental footprint.

But a kit-car? And its so small?

One of my predictions about electric cars is the trend will continue growing for an electric car to be a prestigious status symbol in the same way that turbocharged sports sedans with leather trim from well-known European marques are today.

The hoi-polloi will smile knowingly when lesser mortals talk about their fuel-guzzling internal combustion engined vehicles. The well-to-do will be buying top-of-the-line, completely silent, outrageously fast and very stylish electric vehicles - which all manufacturers still alive will be producing, as they struggle to catch up to market and prestige leaders like Lightning Cars of the UK, and Tesla of California.

Public feeling is changing in a ground-swell about cars.

Admittedly, conspicuous consumption of petrol is still a powerful style statement amongst those with the who hide their credit card statements under the rug.

But high-technology in the form of keyless entry, GPS, electronic traction control, and in fact electronic just-about-everything is really what it takes to impress folks these days.

And lighting a firing up fossil-fuels in the old pot-boiler under the hood somehow just doesn't gel with that trend towards the hi-tech performance model.

This is where Tesla and Lightning are early riders of a gathering wave. Prestige, performance - and saving the planet.

Tango could be up there too, but they need to show how their trademark small size is a luxury bonus; ditch the kit-car angle, and raise their tech level to include new battery technologies, reduce the price tag, and start featuring items like GPS.

I hope that they can beat these niggles because I would love to see more electric cars on the roads.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Starcraft on Wine

No I am not talking about Zerging while on the Cabernet.

At home whenver I want to play this venerable old game, I use Linux, fire up wine and it is all coolness.

Every so often I have to set it all up again and I forget the little tricks and twiddles that I needed.

There are plenty of great HowTo's around for getting starcraft running on wine. Here are the steps I use.

So here we go.

Step one

Get wine working. This should be pretty easy with any of todays new distro's. Use the package manager - Yast for example and install wine.

Step two

Create a mount point for the starcraft CD:

sudo mkdir /mnt/starcraft

Step three

Run winecfg.

If you have wine installed OK, then from a console window just type "winecfg". Note - use winecfg, not winesetup or any other program.

Click on the "Drives" tab and you should see a C: drive already setup. Create a new drive by using the "Add" button, or if there's a drive there with an empty mapping use that. Set the "Path" value to the mountpoint just created, eg "/mnt/starcraft".

This is telling the wine engine that emulates windows that you have a D drive, and when you mount your starcraft CD there, the Starcraft program will be able to find it. If you later get errors about your CD not being inserted, even tho it is mounted, go and check this step again.

Step 4

Set up your audio.

If you run winecfg from the console and see a message about "" - ignore it. We are not going to use jack.

One of alsa or oss should work. Try alsa first. Set it to alsa and come back and change it later if the steps below don't work.

Step 5

Mount the starcraft CD. For this you must have your own genuine starcraft CD.

sudo mount /dev/cdrom /mnt/starcraft

Step 6

Install Starcraft.

wine /mnt/starcraft/setup.exe

This should run the starcraft installer, which will copy the program files into the .wine directory in your home path, eg /home/jo/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/Starcraft

When the installer finishes it should start up starcraft and begin playing the movie.

If you cannot hear sound, exiting out and fix sound.

First check if you have the mixer level turned down - there maybe a level control in the system tray. Try that. If not try running "kmix" or the equivalent.

Try running starcraft again and see if that fixed it.

Still no sound? See if you have a program called artsd running - if so, kill this program by sudo killall artsd. You may also be able to turn off artsd by using the settings console for your Linux distro.

The artsd or equivalent is a sound mixer daemon that grabs hold of the sound device /dev/dsp and won't allow wine to use it. I have found the easiest way to deal with the contention issue is just to turn this process off. If your version of wine has artsd support (or support for whatever other mixer you distro uses) you can try using winecfg to turn that on.

If after trying all of the above doesn't work, try some of the other drivers via winecfg - turn off alsa and give oss a go.

Starcraft should start up in full-screen mode. If it doesn't make sure you have "managed" turned off under the graphics tab of winecfig.

If the mouse is jerky - stop all other unecessary processes running on your machine. For example, web browsers, apache or whatever other servers you might have set up.

If its still jerky, try running starcraft with nice -10 wine .wine/drive_c/Program\ Files/Starcraft/starcraft.exe.

Step 7

Edit the file .wine/user.reg so that you have a key called InstallPath set to the location of Starcraft (ignore the other entries I have below, they're just for context, starcraft install should have created something like this for you):

[Software\\Blizzard Entertainment\\Starcraft] 1217626321
"Game Speed"="Normal"
"Game Subtype"="4 vs 4"
"Game Type"="Top vs Bottom"
"InstallPath"="C:\\Program Files\\Starcraft"

Step 8

Upgrade to Broodwar.

First take out the Starcraft CD and put in the Broodwar CD. Then run the broodwar installer.

sudo mount /mnt/starcraft
sudo mount /dev/cdrom /mnt/starcraft
wine /mnt/starcraft/setup.exe

Step 9

Upgrade to the latest patch level. Go to blizzards website and click the link that says "Starcraft Patch". The patchfile you want will be called something like bw-1152.exe.

For faster downloads, try searching for the name of the patchfile on Google, and find a mirror site near you that hosts the same file. Make sure you check the MD5 sum, or otherwise you might get a virus infected copy.

Once you have the patchfile on your desktop run: wine ~/Desktop/BW-1152.exe to install it.

If you get an error about the patch failing make sure you have the registry key correct as shown above in Step 7.

After successfully installing the patch you now should be up and running with Starcraft under wine.

Step 10


Some HowTo pages show a technique where you run under a seperate xconfig file, and use a different xserver. I don't recommend this - on modern fast machines there is no performance benefit and you are likely to lock up your machine on exit from Starcraft.

If you are keen to do this, try the script below. You will need to create a special xorg.conf file by copying your existing file and editing the default screen section so that it only contains a modeline with "640x480". This is for the brave only.

Playing without the CD. The most recent patchlevel from Blizzard enables play without the CD. This is an official Blizzard thing - not a hack.

They way I do this is to actually copy the entire ISO of the CD to my machine and mount that instead of the cd:

dd if=/dev/cdrom of=~/starcraft.iso bs=8192
sudo mount ~/starcraft.iso /mnt/starcraft

This works quite well. Or you might be able to use the technique described in the article.

Here is a script that a friend wrote that runs starcraft - its not really needed - the commands above are enough, but if it works for you feel free to use it:


if ! test -f /mnt/sc/bw.ico ; then
echo 'Starcraft ISO image is not mounted; trying to mount; may need root password; ...'
sudo mount $SC_ISO /mnt/starcraft -o loop
if test -f /etc/X11/xorg.conf-starcraft ; then
XCONF='-xf86config xorg.conf-starcraft'
xinit /usr/bin/wine "$HOME/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/Starcraft/starcraft.exe" -- :2 $XCONF
if test x$UNMOUNT = x1 ; then
sudo umount /mnt/starcraft