Thursday, July 31, 2008

A brave new world

This kind of thing may be old news to some of you, but I still find it really cool.  I'm living a geek moment right now and just felt compelled to share.

I'm hanging out in a coffee house tonight to get some work done.  Vista easily connected to the wireless network they have, but unfortunately for me the network wouldn't support connecting over a private VPN to my corporate network. 

Luckily, I have my trusty Blackjack II with Internet Connection Sharing enabled (along with an unlimited data plan that includes tethering, by the way).  I disabled the WiFi connection, connected my phone to my laptop via a USB cable, configured ICS, connected to my VPN and whammo - I'm online!

On top of all that, I'm connecting to a virtual copy of Windows Server 2003 running on a Hyper-V virtual machine.  So in addition to running on a "virtual" network, I'm connected to a virtual PC.  It's virtually the same as a "real" connection to a "real" PC.

Ain't technology great?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More Qik fun

I created 2 new groups on Qik today: one for Hypermilers and the other for Chapel Hill goings on.  If you're hypermiling and Qik'ing, post a video of your tips & techniques to the Hypermilers group.  If you live in/around Chapel Hill (or perhaps just visiting), post videos to the Chapel Hill group.  See you on Qik!

Qik - Stream Video From Your Phone

qik

I just downloaded and installed the public beta release of Qik, an app & service that makes it easy to stream live video from your mobile phone to the web.  I've only played with it for a short time, but it's so great I felt compelled to share my initial thoughts. 

Here's what I like about Qik:

  • It's incredibly easy to use - 1 click, and you're streaming video!
  • Super fast load time - faster than the camera app on the Blackjack II
  • Painless integration with other popular services like Twitter, Blogger, Facebook, etc.
  • Everyone gets a Qik "homepage" where all your videos are stored
  • It's free!  (at least for now!)
  • Videos can be embedded or linked to in blog posts
  • They're building a nice community at Qik.com
  • Video quality is dialable, but very good from initial tests.  It will be interesting to see if this changes as the service gains in popularity.
  • Lots of convenient "hotkeys" - e.g. press "55" to blog your stream while recording
  • Streams are shown live on Qik.com and then archived for viewing later
  • You can make your videos public or private to your circle of friends

And of course, my inevitable wishlist:

  • The Qik website should be browse-able by mobile phones, or maybe the Qik streaming application could have a mode to enumerate and view my videos
  • Geotagging - For phones with GPS/GPRS, it would be very cool to enable geo-tagging of content & storing a location point (or stream of points) with the videos
  • Keep it free!

The implications of this kind of service are profound.  Now anyone can be a live mobile reporter.  Broadcast your kids' soccer games to the grandparents 5 states away, when you're in an accident, record the bozo speeding away after refusing to give you his insurance information, alert your town to the approaching tornado (assuming it doesn't take out the cell towers)... the possibilities are endless!

Qik supports a range of mobile phones, but not all.  Check their supported phone list to see if yours is on there.  You can sign up for the free public beta today! 

Thursday, July 10, 2008

My Hypermiling Story on the Evening News

This morning, a news crew from ABC 11 Eyewitness News in Raleigh/Durham, NC rode with me on my trip to work to learn about hypermiling.  They aired the segment tonight (I'll post video when I can).  For now, you can see the text of the story here at the station's website:

Hypermiling in the Triangle (ABC11.com)

I'd especially like to thank Tim Nelson for approaching me to do this story and in particular for not making me look like a complete wacko.  Instead, he did a great job (I thought) of focusing on the practical methods most people can employ to get better mileage.  I hope this is encouraging to everyone who saw the segment and more people take advantage of the tips!

Update (7/11):  They've added the video segment to the story posting now.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Fuel Efficiency Tips Roundup

Here's a quick round-up of fuel-efficiency tips I've posted about so far (and a few I haven't).  Of course, the best way to save gas is to simply drive less!  But since that isn't an option for everyone, I'm focusing here on tips you can use while driving.

Simple Tips - Tips everyone can use

These tips are geared towards the "every person".  Even if you can't use all of them, use the ones that work for you in your car with your lifestyle.  Every bit helps!

  • Slow Down - For every 5 mph you travel over 60mpg, you're paying on average $.30 more per gallon of gas.  Try to avoid Interstates where traffic regularly moves at speeds over 60mph.
  • Avoid idling & drive-thrus- While you're idling, you're getting 0mpg.  Park your car and go inside rather than waiting in line for minutes at the drive-through.
  • Coast up to red lights - There is no reason to accelerate towards a red light.  If you coast, the chances are still high that you'll have to stop entirely, but you'll be traveling slower, using less gas, and you won't have to brake as hard, saving wear and tear on your brakes too. 
  • Inflate your tires properly - Properly inflated tires can save you up to 3% (0.4% per tire per 1lb under pressure)
  • Plan your routes - Avoid steep hills and routes with a lot of stop lights whenever possible.
  • Avoid rush-hour traffic - In heavy traffic, you're likely to spend more time idling waiting for red lights or in bumper-to-bumper slowdowns on highways & interstates.  Leave a little earlier or later than normal when traffic is lighter.
  • Lighten up - Removing 100lbs of spare weight from your car can improve your fuel efficiency by 1-2%.  Check your trunk for junk!
  • Pull through parking - Try to find a parking space where you can pull through to the space in front of you to avoid having to use reverse when you leave.  It's also a little safer since you'll be able to see other moving vehicles better.
  • Avoid jackrabbit starts - For most of us, we get the worst mileage when getting our cars up to speed from a start.  Take your time and reach speed gradually rather than doing a "jackrabbit" start.
  • Combine trips - Rather than making several short trips in a day, try to batch up your trips.  You'll get better fuel efficiency once your car is warmed up, so making several short stops along one big trip will keep your car warmer than several short trips.
  • Use cruise control and overdrive gears - At highway and Interstate speeds, cruise control will help you maintain a constant speed, reducing the need to brake or accelerate.  Overdrive gears will help your engine run at lower speeds, using less gas.
  • Keep your car properly maintained - A dirty air filter, for example, can lower your fuel efficiency by as much as 10%.
  • Track your mileage - Keeping a log of your mileage and notes about your driving habits is a great way to figure out which tips work best for you.  Keep a notebook in your car or buy something like the ScanGauge II trip computer to log your trips.  You can also find mileage tracking applications for most current mobile phones.

Extreme Tips

I classify these tips as "extreme" because most people will find them difficult or risky to adopt.  However, if you're really dedicated to getting better efficiency, they can make a big difference.

Safety Note - Some of the following tips may increase your risk of causing or being involved in an accident.  Please use common sense when driving and obey all traffic laws and maintenance guidelines appropriate for your vehicle.

  • Fill your tank halfway - A gallon of gas weighs around 6lbs.  In a typical mid-sized car with a 16 gallon tank, you can save almost 50lbs by only filling up halfway.  The downside of this is that you'll be filling up more often.
  • Over-inflate your tires - This is very risky, as it increases your chances of a blow-out.
  • Don't use the air conditioning - Roll down the windows instead.  Personally, I leave the windows slightly cracked at highway speeds and then lower them all the way when I come to stops. 
  • Use low viscosity oil - The lower the viscosity, the less your engine has to work against the oil.  Use the lowest-weight oil recommended for your vehicle.
  • Ridge riding - When driving in the rain, you'll notice that water tends to puddle in the grooves in the road where most drivers position their vehicles.  By pulling slightly to the right and positioning your right tires on the side of the road and your left tires between the grooves, you'll be riding up on the "ridges" and out of the puddles.  Driving through the water increases drag on your tires and increases your risk of hydroplaning.
  • Drafting - This is extremely dangerous, but I include it for completeness.  By positioning your car closely behind a large semi truck trailer, you'll be driving in the vacuum created by the low aerodynamics of the truck.  If you follow too closely, you run a very high risk of being involved in an accident.  If you follow too far behind, you'll get stuck in the turbulence and you'll actually get worse mileage than if you were driving alone on the road.
  • One-shoe driving - This works especially well in the Honda Civic Hybrid.  This particular car can be coaxed into "EV glide" mode.  By applying the gas and then backing off until you hear the engine valves close, the electric assist motor helps maintain speed with very little gas consumption.  In this mode, you can cruise at an FE of around 85mpg on flat roads.  Driving without a shoe on your gas foot makes it easier to feel the subtle shift in engine response as you enter and exit EV glide mode.
  • Shift into neutral - This works well if you don't have a hybrid car.  Shifting into neutral while you're coasting down a hill or up to a red light can dramatically cut down your fuel consumption.  Just don't forget to shift back into drive before you step on the gas!

I'm sure I haven't listed all the great tips.  If you know of others not listed above, please leave a comment to let me know how you drive more efficiently.

more tips

Monday, July 7, 2008

Tire Wear Issues on 2006/2007 Honda Civics

I recently learned about a service bulletin for 2006/2007 Honda Civics that might be responsible for my tire wear issues. I had to replace my tires around 16k miles due to severe wear causing vibrations while I drove. Aligning/rotating/balancing didn't make any difference. Now, at nearly 32k miles, I'm starting to feel the vibrations again.

Honda has issued a service bulletin describing how the rear control arms were manufactured out of spec for these model years of the Honda Civic (and in my case, including the Hybrid variation). This is apparently not being treated as a recall class issue, however. Civic-related forums all over the web are full of discussions about this particular service bulletin with reports ranging from "quick and simple replacement + new tires with a smile" to dealers refusing to help customers with the problem.

I took my car in today to get this investigated. Also, over the weekend, my battery died, and after jumping it my ABS system is malfunctioning and the car won't auto-stop anymore. I'm really hoping all of this is covered under warranty and that the dealer takes a proactive/friendly/helpful approach. I'll post back once they've called me to discuss what's wrong with the car (though it's looking less and less likely I'll get it back today since it's nearly 2pm and they haven't called yet to get repair authorization!).

To the gentleman I met in the shuttle riding back to work, please check out the "hypermiling" tag on the tag cloud to the right in this blog to see tips on how you can get better than 35-40mpg in this car. With a couple of relatively easy changes in driving habits, you could probably easily get to 45-46mpg and with serious dedication you could get 52-55mpg around the Triangle.

Update (7/8/2008): I got a call last night that the dealer is taking care of the control arms and the ABS system under my warranty! I feel pretty good about how they're handling it all and I'm really looking forward to getting my car back!

Update (7/9/2008): I got my car back today with the ABS and auto-stop mode fixed.  The control arms are on order and should hopefully come in later this week.  I still need to do my 30k maintenance, change my air filter, etc.  Too bad they didn't do that while they had it for 3 days :(