Distraction Is Hurting Your Career

[Updated September 18, 2015.]

Yes, Virginia, advertising is hurting your career. Well, not just ads, but also crap content. You know, the Twinkies of text. Empty mental calories. It’s all serving to dull your edge and tarnish your chances of getting a promotion and that new BMW.

I know. It’s almost un-American to publicly proclaim one’s hatred for advertising. Maybe I’m weird. Or difficult to please. But I simply hate ads. In Don Draper’s world, he would have already paid someone to snuff me.

About ten years ago, my wife and I did the cord cutter thing, before anyone was familiar with the term or it was a trending topic. Removing Time Warner Cable from our home saved us $95 a month (which has added up to about $11,000 at this point, more than enough to pay for my fancy British speakers). More important, it also eliminated the obnoxious ads that used to emanate from our TV and derail our thoughts.

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Next, I quit playing the radio in my car. In fact, I’ve never played the radio in my current vehicle. As a music lover, it was easy to fall back on compact discs or plugging in my iPod. This freed time to think about career strategies and current projects or listen to educational podcasts, leveraging that valuable and quickly accumulating commute time…as opposed to being mentally jostled by mediocre voice actors trying to sell me carpeting or tires.

But what about those pesky web-based ads, like the stuff you see on Facebook and other sites? For a long time, I simply tolerated them. Crap about online games, celebrity cosmetic surgery blunders, and impossibly low insurance rates dominates the ads of many sites. They’re ugly, obnoxious, and—most significantly—distracting.

This advertising is very carefully crafted to appeal to basic human psychology and steal our attention. I’m typically not the smartest guy in the room, but I try to remember to plug in my brain each morning. I find these ads to be almost surrealistically insulting to my intelligence.

Everyone uses the web differently. Personally, I use it mostly for research. Sure, a bit of social interaction and certainly some entertainment (Netflix, HBO Now, and YouTube are always a click away). But most of my activity is doing research for my freelance writing and books. In this capacity, ads are especially painful because of their distraction.

I’m trying to get work done that directly impacts my career, not have my retinas barraged by frivolous promotions for products or services that in no way help me reach my goals. It’s highly ironic that my laptop and broadband connection, the “work truck” without which I simply can’t do my job, are laced with ADD-inducing ads designed, nay engineered, to derail me from my daily thoughts and work.

It’s as if I’m on a diet and, on every work commute, I lose control of the Ford F-250 I’m driving to the job site as it autonomously pulls into a Dunkin’ Donuts and someone at the drive-thru shoves a double glazed into my yap.

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Thus, last year, I installed an ad blocker in my browser. The particular one I use is fast, effective, and doesn’t slow my computer to a crawl (like some products). But, most importantly, it eliminates hundreds of ads from reaching my eyes every week. No matter how subtly, those ads are very carefully orchestrated distractions designed to suck away my focus from the task at hand (in my case, research for writing projects). If I’m investigating solar energy, for example, I don’t care about Toyota’s latest subcompact or, worse, celebrity dieting tips.

Before you cry foul and accuse me of undermining American democracy or being anti-capitalistic, realize that I’m willing to pay for information services instead of receiving a slew of ads. After all, these companies have to pay the bills somehow—and I’ve never believed in the theft of intellectual property. Often, however, service providers don’t offer an ad-free, paid option.

Take Flipboard, for example. This popular media aggregation app for mobile devices is available free. Unfortunately, there’s no subscription option or method for avoiding advertising. However, the full-page national ads it features are tasteful and professional. There’s no creepy caffeinated car salesman screaming “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday…Everything must GO!!!” at the top of his lungs or the “10 Biggest Celebrity Bikini Disasters” lurking in wait to put me into an epileptic fit.

For those of you unfamiliar, Flipboard displays your hand-picked media sources (from a large collection, in categories like News, Sports, and Tech & Science) in a collage of square tiles that “flip” when they’re automatically updated. I’m pretty picky about my news sources; most are related to consumer tech (like Engadget, Ars Technica, and Gigaom).

But then I noticed something funny: Articles were appearing from an undesired business news outlet I hadn’t selected (which I’ll leave unnamed, because it pays promotional fees to LinkedIn, the gracious home for my Pulse posts). Let’s just say I’m not a big fan of this news source and its use of click bait headlines, hyperbolistic language, and shoddy editing (and no, it’s not the Huffington Post).

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In fact, respected tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist Jason Calacanis called this news organization “the masters of linkbait,” adding, “That’s what the link-baiting press does today: They literally make shit up to get you to click the headline.”

It’s this type of trash content that blurs our vision, steals our focus, and doesn’t plant intelligent thoughts. You don’t need to have a journalism degree to find such media sources a waste of mental bandwidth, many of which don’t even try to edit their content (do you hear me, Gizmodo?). Few would disagree that, intellectually, we are what we eat. Doesn’t the quality of our thoughts, spurred by what we read and hear, heavily influence our careers and livelihoods?

I’m not one to tell a business how to run itself. As I’m always preaching, I can easily dump Flipboard and adopt a competing service. The stealthy appearance of these unwanted, smarmy articles in my Cover Stories most likely means that Flipboard is receiving promotional fees from this media outlet. I didn’t select them. But they’re also not ads.

Very sneaky, guys.

Some media outlets get it, though, offering consumers the option of paying more for fewer ads or their complete absence. Hulu Plus, for example, the popular video streaming service that delivers current-run television shows to one’s living room or mobile device, recently rolled out a premium level that eliminates all ads. Customers content with commercial interruptions pay $8 a month, while those like me who value our mental liberation pay a measly $4 per month more to rid our entertainment of them. Now Parks & Rec is interruption-free. Ahhh, sweet bliss.

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Pandora is another example of a service that provides consumers with an option. The free version of this uber-popular internet-based music discovery service delivers obnoxious local ads for dating services and car dealerships, but for a mere $36 per year, these ads can be eliminated entirely. A cheap price indeed to keep the music flowing and avoid the distraction and frustration of those obnoxious ads.

The combination of my ad blockers, Hulu Plus, and the fact that my other media and entertainment sources are already ad-free (like Netflix, iTunes, and HBO Now), means I now have a completely ad-free life, both professionally and personally. I have finally reached an ad-free nirvana.

Despite small setbacks like Flipboard (and the fact that my wife always leaves the radio on an obnoxious FM radio station whenever she drives my car), I’m happy that, in the year 2015, we’re able to so thoroughly eliminate ads from our lives. All while improving our work productivity, enhancing our home lives, and boosting our household budgets by cutting the cord.

Try to rid your life of distraction, in the form of ads and worthless click bait media content. You’ll be surprised how it allows you to focus on the things that really matter—like your work, career, and family.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

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iPod Touch, 6th Generation: A Teen’s Perspective

Both of my kids are addicted to social media and, by proxy, the devices made of aluminum and glass that provide access to them.

For the past several months, my youngest daughter has complained of a very sluggish third generation iPod touch. It was certainly getting long in the tooth; she couldn’t even install the latest version of iOS. The meager 8 GB of storage meant she had to continually uninstall and reinstall apps in the hopes of freeing up enough space.

Feeling her pain, I agreed to purchase her one of the new sixth generation iPod touch units from Apple. While some question the validity and purpose of a new, uber-fast iPod in 2015 (when so many people have opted for a smartphone), my daughter couldn’t be happier. Apps that previously would crash or exhibit extreme sluggishness now load and execute in record time.

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I’ll spare you the hardware spec details of the latest touch, but suffice it to say that it has twice the memory (a full 1 GB) of the fifth generation touch and the same processor chip as the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

Sometimes Faster Than the iPhone 6

However, because the touch features only a 4″ screen, not the 4.7″ and 5.5″ displays of the latest iPhones, it actually loads some apps faster than its phone-based cousin. The math is simple: The touch is simply pushing fewer pixels, meaning it can execute many operations, especially graphically intensive tasks, faster than a similar device sporting a larger display.

My daughter doesn’t care about the processing chips or memory configuration of her new touch. For her, it’s all about performance. When she swipes across the screen, how fluid is the display? How well does it keep up with her multitasking and hyper-fast keyboard entry? Do apps load instantaneously, without hesitation or stutter?

In all cases, the sixth generation touch excels. Those on a budget can get an entry-level 16 GB model for only $200. The latest generation iPod is also available with 64 GB of memory for $300 and tops out at a whopping 128 GB for another $100. Like all Apple devices, the touch supports Apple’s wireless wi-fi-based AirPlay system, allowing audio and video content to be cast to a supporting receiving device (such as Apple TV and many home theater audio/video receivers, like my 2012 Pioneer models).

Cheaper Than The Previous Model

Somewhat uncharacteristically of Apple, not only is the new touch sporting twice the memory and several times the processing power of its predecessor, but it’s also cheaper. The iPod touch fifth generation 32 GB model I purchased for my oldest daughter was $300; the new sixth gen model is only $250 for the same memory configuration.

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The aspect of the sixth generation touch that is most beneficial to my selfiephilia suffering daugher is the vastly improved camera. Sporting a slightly dumbed down version of the iPhone 6 shooter, the latest touch captures beautiful high-resolution images and high-definition (1080 p) video. It even offers a 120 frames per second slow motion mode to further keep kids (and adults) entertained.

Because the unit relies solely on wi-fi for connectivity, it supports the latest home networking standards (for those who own routers that also support the latest protocols and fastest data transfer rates). And, of course, like almost all Apple devices, battery life is stellar.

Sexy Form Factor

All of this technical gadgetry comes in a package that is slimmer than previous generations. The thickness reminds me of the feel I get when holding an iPad Air 2, with the thinness just begging for applause. Like all Apple hardware, the sixth gen iPod touch is a sexy, fast beast that will satisfy even the most hard core user who doesn’t need the cell phone network connectivity delivered by a device like the iPhone 6.

While kids love the iPad and, to a lesser extent, the iPad Mini, they still cling to their most personal of devices, the one that fits in their back pocket. While all use cases vary, it seems that the most mobile of devices are the ones that both kids, teens, and adults most covet and with which they engage for the greatest number of hours.

I realize you might be eyeing a hand-me-down iPhone 4S or 5 for your teenage children, or possibly buying them their own iPhone 6. But for those who don’t need the additional data plan and device charges on their monthly phone bill—or who are typically within wi-fi range and willing to use Skype—the iPod touch sixth generation is a sleek, leading edge solution to the social media and image/video capture needs of today’s millennials.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Hope for Hydrogen: Fueling Station Buildout

Welcome to the second installment in the Hope for Hydrogen series. In the previous article, the premise of this series was explained: Pretend there are no battery electric vehicles in the world. Imagine that hydrogen fuel cell cars are the inevitable replacement for the 155-year-old internal combustion engine and the two billion gas-guzzling cars currently roaming the roads of planet Earth.

We left off discussing the availability of hydrogen fueling stations. Currently, in the United States, there’s only 13 of them, 70 percent of which are in Los Angeles. In a country of 120,000 gas stations that thrives on convenience, the situation obviously must improve.

So, what is being done about the problem?


Genesis in California

In 2013, California Gov. Jerry Brown allocated $200 million for the construction of 100 hydrogen fueling stations in his state. While they are going up relatively slowly, at only about nine stations per year—and won’t be complete until 2024—it’s still a start. This is government attempting to kick-start what private enterprise and large energy corporations, driven (and funded) by consumer demand, must complete.

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Let’s also dispel the myth that hydrogen fueling stations cost $3-5 million to construct. California is proving that they can be built for $2 million each (if they can stay on budget). If a new hydrogen fueling station can be constructed for $2 million, it goes to assume that existing gas stations, like those operated by Shell, BP, and Exxon (or their franchisees), could be fitted for hydrogen at a lower cost. Let’s just assume this is $1 million (and maybe provides only two or four pumps, meaning waiting queues in areas of dense FCV adoption).

Criticisms that hydrogen is dangerous and highly explosive are somewhat, um, overblown here. Gasoline is also dangerous and highly volatile. Yet, we’ve managed to construct regulatory oversight, a production (refinement) infrastructure, and distribution networks that deal with it and protect consumers, ensuring public safety.

If we assume that big energy companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron must spend $1-2 million to retrofit existing gas stations with hydrogen fueling capabilities, the picture begins to clear. Despite the recent dip in gas prices, these are international corporations with deep pockets. If they choose to begin the mass conversion of petrol stations to hydrogen depots, they certainly have the funds.

Lack of Fueling Stations: Only Temporary

Criticisms that there are no hydrogen fueling stations, while currently true, are potentially very temporary. In only two to three years—if big energy companies and their franchisees wave their magic wands (bags of money)—there could be tens of thousands of such stations in the United States.

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However, let’s be realistic about the cost. Unless the driving range of fuel cell cars in the future greatly exceeds that of current gasoline cars (as in 500 or even 800 miles on a single tank), the convenience our society demands probably won’t be satisfied. There would need to be roughly the same number of hydrogen fueling depots as there currently is gas stations.

Because the genesis of hydrogen fueling infrastructure is California, let’s consider the Golden State as a case study. With 10,000 gas stations, it would cost between $10 billion and $20 billion to convert them all to hydrogen (assuming a cost of $1-2 million each).

Modeling the Nation

California is, admittedly, a large and very populated state (at 39 million, it exceeds second in line, Texas, by 12 million residents). Thus, for ballpark numbers, let’s assume that all other states would cost only half of California’s numbers to convert existing stations to hydrogen. Remember: These are just rough estimates. Pretend we’re blind and just trying to get a feel for the size of the elephant.

Thus, best case, 49 (states) x $5 billion (half the cost to equip California) = about $250 billion. Assume occasional budget overruns, unexpected engineering challenges, and consideration for heavily populated states (like Texas, New York, and Florida). This would inevitably drive this cost to $300 billion. The building of hydrogen fueling stations in the United States—minus all other production and distribution infrastructure—will cost more than a quarter trillion dollars. And possibly as much as $400 billion or even $500 billion (because this ain’t our first rodeo).

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Could this price tag be dramatically decreased by implementing a model like that developed by Toyota and the University of California (described below)? In a nation where convenience is king, will picky (and arguably lazy) consumers be willing to drive long distances to refuel? Will the millions of drivers not within a few minutes of a hydrogen fueling station eschew the technology, instead opting to continue purchasing old-school gas burners or opting for alternative clean technologies?

Enter Toyota’s 15%

That said, Toyota, the company on the verge of introducing its flagship hydrogen fuel cell car, the Mirai, begs to differ. At the January 2014 CES show in Las Vegas, Bob Carter, Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations at Toyota, said to a packed crowd, “If every vehicle in the state of California ran on hydrogen, we could meet refueling logistics with only 15 percent of the nearly 10,000 gas stations that are currently operating in the state. We don’t need a station on every corner.”

The Toyota executive emphasized that satisfying the needs of a hydrogen fuel cell driving population isn’t about the raw number of fueling stations, but rather their locations. He said that Toyota developed this model with the Advanced Power & Energy Program at the University of California and “…collaborated on a spatial model that maps out specific distribution of stations. The locations considered a variety of data, including hybrid and electric ownership patterns, traffic patterns, population density, and so on.”

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Carter stressed that this minimal refueling station distribution model centers on the assumption that owners desire to reach a hydrogen fueling station “within six minutes of their home or work.” I have to admit, I’m cynical of his assertions. I want to believe, but it simply sounds too good to be true. However, we should all support any effort to construct 1,500 hydrogen fueling stations in a single state in an orchestrated and intelligent approach to serve an entire population of drivers propelled by clean car technology.

Will the Government Help?

Will the U.S. government, which currently extends subsidies to the big energy companies equaling tens of billions of dollars per year, help fund this burgeoning hydrogen infrastructure? Will Uncle Sam allocate new subsidies and tax incentives aimed specifically at speeding hydrogen fueling station buildout?

How much of this tab is government—and, thus, U.S. taxpayers, many of whom don’t care about clean cars or the environment—willing to assume? (A 2014 study by Yale University revealed that 23 percent of Americans are climate change skeptics or deniers.)

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To start, California threw $200 million at the task—about 1 percent of the final tab to convert those 10,000 stations to hydrogen, or 13 percent of the cost to convert Toyota’s hypothetical 1,500 stations. Private enterprise and the energy company stakeholders and executives of the existing fueling infrastructure will obviously need to step up to the plate. But will dipping gas prices (lower revenue) and a sluggish economy disincentivize them from doing so?

Will Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, and other FCV manufacturers step in and help fund the buildout? Can Toyota and Hyundai afford to assist in this effort if they’re already giving away hydrogen fuel (at $50 a tank, retail) to their buyers and lessees? Automobile companies must invest billions in the development of new hydrogen fuel cells, advanced powertrain control systems, and the cars wrapped around them. Can they really afford to be helping build hydrogen production facilities and fueling stations at the same time?

Sales Will Falter Without Fueling Stations

Let’s face it: Nobody is going to purchase a Mirai, Tucson Fuel Cell, or any other FCV as long as they don’t have a fueling station within an acceptable driving distance. That means close to their home and office and on the path of their commute (like they enjoy now with gasoline). We already know that Toyota and Hyundai won’t even sell a Mirai or Tucson Fuel Cell to anyone but those who live within five areas, most of whom reside in Los Angeles.

“We expect to have over 50 stations [in California] by the end of 2015, early 2016. So it’s going to happen very quickly from here on out,” said Catherine Dunwoody, former Executive Director of the California Fuel Cell Partnership, adding “We have nine stations that are currently open, fueling cars today, and that will grow very quickly over the coming years.”

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Yes, we have a bit of the chicken and the egg here. Which Toyota is obviously trying to remedy by spending billions to introduce to market a comfortable, quiet FCV that is basically an entry-level Lexus (with a matching $58,000 price tag), despite the fact that it wears the Toyota badge.

Lest you perceive that it’s only California that’s forging ahead with efforts to establish a viable network of hydrogen fueling stations, the Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Association, based in Washington, D.C., on January 16 released a document outlining national efforts. “Eight states are working to develop a network of hydrogen fueling stations to support growing numbers of zero-emission FCEVs on their roadways,” the organization wrote in its press release.

Taking Sides

For those who care about issues like clean car tech, taking sides is not only inevitable, but also human. Be your motive political, technical, financial, or environmental, if you’re reading this, you probably feel strongly about hydrogen cars, whether you’re pro or con.

Don’t allow your allegiance to any particular transportation technology or platform to stand in the way of envisioning a hydrogen future. I’d be frustrated if someone wasn’t at least willing to consider my perspective on an issue—and think them very close-minded for not even entertaining the idea that it might be a good way to go.

Critical thought requires understanding both sides of an issue. Sometimes, to gain that understanding, we need to do some intellectual gymnastics. Stay with us, dear readers. You’ll be better clean car enthusiasts—and much more informed—at the end of this journey. After you gain enough knowledge to come to your own conclusions, you can begin spreading your own gospel.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

HBO Now: Completing Netflix

Netflix has garnished most of the media attention and praise in its pioneering—and very successful—effort to migrate consumer entertainment from coaxial cables to fiber optic internet connections.

While the company is certainly worthy of celebration and, with more than 60 million global subscribers, is making investors happy, HBO is quietly changing the way consumers purchase and pay for their TV programming.

HBO Sans Cable

HBO Now, a new product from the company, is a $15 per month subscription that gives customers access to HBO’s programming in a fully on-demand, Netflix-like interface. Want to watch the second episode of the third season of Game of Thrones? It’s a few clicks away.

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Not content to allow Netflix to monopolize the market for online video streaming of high-quality content, HBO has done nothing more than open its catalog to those who may love its content—but aren’t willing to sign on for cable or satellite TV just to get it.

This service from HBO is superior to others in two respects: First, like all HBO programming, it’s void of commercials. While Netflix is also ad-free, Hulu Plus features plenty of ads. Second, HBO Now offers a significantly better selection of top movies than most of its rivals, including Hulu Plus and Netflix.

While Hulu Plus offers films, it’s a very small selection. Few subscribers are paying Hulu for their movies; it’s all about the network TV. One of the major criticisms of Netflix is the quality of the films it features. While the service increasingly pushes subscribers to binge watch their favorite TV series, its movie catalog (which is continually changing) has always lagged behind those available from one’s local video store or what’s on HBO.

Unlike Hulu Plus, which makes available new episodes of television shows on a staggered schedule following their original broadcast, HBO releases new episodes on HBO Now simultaneously to their original airing.

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HBO Now is specifically designed for cord cutters. Until now, HBO has been unavailable to this group of more than 25 million Americans who have opted to cancel their cable or satellite TV service for streaming options. Now those streaming options include the ability to watch top-rated shows like True Detective, Game of Thrones, and HBO’s back catalog, including Sex and the City, The Wire, and The Sopranos.

Will HBO Now make you happy? That’s certainly subjective. Just as many cord cutters today subscribe to both Netflix and Hulu Plus, many will opt to add HBO Now to the lineup. Those who are not interested in network television series might skip Hulu.

HBO Now is just one more reason for cord cutters to celebrate. Whether you like HBO’s shows and are planning to sign up or you say no thanks and keep your $15 per month, it’s good to have options. Cord cutters now have one more reason to be glad they cancelled their cable or satellite subscription.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

The Future of Electric Car Sales

In early February, Neil Winton, a British automotive journalist who contributes to the Detroit News and Forbes, wrote an article headlined “Electric Car Sales Jump in Europe, but Likely to Stall Soon.”

No Consumer Demand?

The Forbes article was based mostly on data derived from Europe’s Automotive Industry Data (AID) newsletter and quotes from Peter Schmidt, its editor. Said Schmidt, as quoted by Winton, “Effectively, you have no detectable genuine underlying consumer demand from private individuals” for electric cars.

nissan leaf for linkedinSchmidt went on to describe how the next few years will be “a scary time for electric car makers, chiefly because, as the price of oil continues to hover around levels inconceivable a year ago, and with fuel prices falling month to month, those people who had thought about buying an electric car may give up when they look at motoring expenses.”

Gloomy Future?

Despite significant growth in electric vehicle (EV) sales in the United States, United Kingdom, and Europe, Schmidt believes EVs face a gloomy future. “The market appears to be going nowhere, absolutely nowhere. The numbers for 2014 look healthy, but they are not,” he reported. Schmidt went on to describe how new EV models experience only “initial fast growth.”

The real quote that caught my attention: “Effectively, you have no detectable genuine underlying consumer demand from private individuals” (emphasis mine). When Schmidt says “numbers for 2014 look healthy,” let’s examine these figures and the trend over the past few years (this is fresh on my mind, since I’m currently completing a book about alternative cars).

From Understanding Battery Electric Cars, a section in Chapter 1, What is an Alternative Car?:

“Sales of electric cars have grown rapidly during the past few years. In the United States, in 2011, only 17,500 EVs were sold. In 2012, the number leaped to 53,000 (a whopping 300 percent increase). Then, in 2013, sales nearly doubled to 96,000 units. 2014 was the first year in which EV sales in the States exceeded 100,000 (according to TransportEvolved.com). Of these, nearly a third, or 30,200, were Nissan LEAFs (an increase from 22,600 units sold in 2013).

If this increase of more than 570 percent in only three years in the U.S. is any indication of the future of EVs, they may be very successful indeed.

In the United Kingdom (a country of only 65 million residents, compared to the 315 million people in the U.S.), sales of electric vehicles reached 10,000 by May 2014. In March 2014, 1,200 electric cars were sold in the country, up from only 270 in the same month of 2013 (according to The Guardian).”

I recently contributed an article to CarNewsCafe entitled “Electric Cars: Low Gas Prices Aren’t Significant.” As you can guess, in it I argued that the current—and most likely temporary—low gas prices won’t significantly affect the upward trend in EV sales. Tesla Model SI referenced a January 2015 article by my colleague Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield at Transport Evolved, which quoted used car portal Carlypso. “By the end of the first quarter this year, [Carlypso] predicts that electric car sales in the U.S. will total around one percent of all new car sales, up from 0.86 percent in December last year,” wrote Gordon-Bloomfield.

Not Just Cheap Fuel

I went on to write of how it is not simply cheap fuel prices that attract prospective EV buyers. Very low, and predictable, maintenance costs are another major reason car buyers are considering electric transportation. Tune ups, oil changes, engine repair, and transmission work are all things of the past in the world of electric vehicles.

In her article, Gordon-Bloomfield emphasized the high-tech convenience features offered by most EVs as being, surprisingly, one of the most popular reasons for owning one. Of course, in a society that’s perpetually connected to social media and commonly toting app-driven mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, this should come as no surprise. (I have often argued that consumer interest in EVs is based in saving money and gaining high-tech, high-status personal transport, not saving the environment or decreasing one’s carbon footprint.)

“Features like remote climate control, remote unlocking, and never having to scrape ice off the windshield are a great bonus of plug-in cars, with pretty much every plug-in owner we’ve spoken to (new and old alike) citing them as their favourite features of owning a plug-in,” wrote Gordon-Bloomfield.

In addition, “low” gas prices really aren’t that low. Current gas prices seem cheap only because they are about 60% of what they were mere months ago. Likewise, $2 per gallon gasoline in the States is expensive compared to charging a battery with electricity, even in areas where electricity is relatively pricey.

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Consider what $2.16 will get you. Although in many areas of the U.S. it currently won’t even get you a gallon of gas, let’s say it will. It will also fully charge the battery of a Fiat 500e or Nissan LEAF electric car, which will transport you about 80 miles.

The average fuel economy of new cars sold, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, is only 25 MPG. In fact, the most popular vehicles sold, trucks and SUVs, typically get only 15-20 MPG. But assuming the 25 MPG U.S. average, that $2.16 will transport you 25 miles in a gasoline-powered car, or 70-80 miles in an affordable EV like the LEAF or 500e. Or, according to Car and Driver, 17 miles of city/suburban driving in the uber-popular 2015 Ford F-150 truck—but that’s only after this year’s model shed 700 lbs. of weight by integrating aluminum into the body and bed.

Pricey Electricity < Cheapest Gas

But I want to be fair. Just like gasoline prices fluctuate and vary across the nation and between countries, so do electricity rates. That $2.16 is for the state of Washington, which features the cheapest electricity rates in the country (nine cents per kWh). In New York, home of the highest rates (19 cents per kWh), that same Fiat 500e would cost $4.56 to fully charge. Assuming that would purchase two gallons of gas and propel our hypothetical average fuel economy car 50 miles, it still pales in comparison to the 70 or 80 miles delivered by an affordable EV. If we were talking corporate spreadsheets, CPAs and MBAs would be screaming—and demanding adoption of EVs.

Within the past year, residents of major U.S. cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles were paying upward of $4.30 per gallon for gasoline. Again, the petrol vehicle would get only 25 miles from that investment, while an electric car, if charging with the most expensive electricity in the nation, could travel nearly 80 miles (three times further). The sheer unpredictability of gas prices—and resulting inability to accurately manage a family budget—is reason enough for many to dump fossil fuels for electrons.

If you live in the United Kingdom or Europe, this argument is even more powerful. On February 2, gasoline was selling for $7.50 per U.S. gallon in Norway. Now you know why 15% of all new car sales in this Scandinavian country are electric.


No Crystal Ball

Back to AID’s Peter Schmidt and Forbes’ Neil Winton. Winton is claiming, based on quotes from Schmidt, that EV sales will begin to lag and that big companies, like Nissan and Tesla, which have each invested billions in electric car and battery research, will suffer. Of course, Schmidt also said that current gas prices “could hover around current levels for [the] next five years or so.” Nobody has a crystal ball, but that’s one hell of an assumption—especially given the volatility of gas prices during the past five years.

2013-fiat-500e_100410277_lWhat I really question here is Schmidt’s assertion that there’s “no detectable genuine underlying consumer demand” for EVs. According to Gordon-Bloomfield, convenience features are among the primary reasons current EV owners love their vehicles. Fuel is considerably cheaper for EVs, even with temporarily low gas prices. And maintenance expenses are a fraction of what it costs to keep a petrol-powered piston pumper on the road.

If Schmidt is right and there’s truly no “underlying consumer demand” for electric cars, I’d blame it on one thing, and one thing only: Ignorance. If iPhone-toting, Netflix-binging, budget-strapped consumers aren’t enticed by high-tech convenience, considerably lower fuel prices, and immense savings on maintenance, it means they simply aren’t aware of the benefits.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Hope for Hydrogen: Imagine Fuel Cell Cars

Welcome to the first installment in Hope for Hydrogen. In this series of articles and podcasts, veteran automotive journalist Nicolas Zart and I ask you to imagine a world void of battery electric vehicles (BEVs). In this contrived intellectual exercise, pretend that the inevitable replacement for conventional gas-powered automobiles will be the venerable hydrogen fuel cell car.

I’ve written before about the religious war between battery electric cars and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. We’re at the cusp of the end of the 100+ year reign of gasoline-powered personal transportation. It has been driven, literally, by internal combustion engine (ICE) technology. No, these vibration-riddled, maintenance-prone, noisy, polluting vehicles won’t go away overnight; the shift will be gradual.

However, the switch has begun. In the next few years, the speed of the transition will only increase. Prices will precipitate. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will improve, offering greater driving range, lower cost, and certainly more convenience.


Replacing Two Billion Cars

Consider that there’s more than two billion ICE cars in the world today, and 100 million new gas guzzlers are sold each year globally (with nearly 17 million of these in the United States). Only then do we begin to understand that it will take a while to overcome not only social stigma about new transport tech, but simply replacing the installed base.

It is estimated that it would take 20 years to accomplish this, based solely on existing production and consumption numbers. And this is if we could magically snap our fingers and immediately eliminate sales of all ICE cars today. Obviously, we must take a long-term view of the situation.

hyundai tucson fuel cell hydrogen station for linkedin

As passenger cars featuring outdated ICE tech inevitably begin to vanish, what will replace them?

This is an issue of no small contention within the ranks of experts and laypeople alike. We’re a culture of duality. You’re either a good guy or a bad guy, and your white or black hat gives you away. Republicans versus Democrats, Christians versus atheists, and progressives versus conservatives split our creative and intellectual aspirations into competing cultural camps.

Typically, the respective fans of battery electric and fuel cell vehicles find it difficult or impossible to reconcile or respect one another. For many, there’s no room in the Venn diagram for an overlap. In fact, there’s no Venn diagram whatsoever (but, fortunately, no gasoline either). There are only two distinct and widely separated circles. While both feature zero emissions, neither is void of a carbon footprint somewhere in the “well-to-wheels” energy lifecycle.

Hope for Hydrogen Series

Enter this series, Hope for Hydrogen. Today our intellectual game will be to pretend that there are no battery electric vehicles in the world. We’re going to assume that “Supercharger,” “LEAF,” “lithium-ion,” and “Soul EV” are terms that never entered the lexicon. We’ll psych ourselves into believing that our vernaculars are free of phrases like “range anxiety,” “charge time,” and “CHAdeMO socket.”

Instead, assume the new kid on the block is hydrogen. Pretend, for just a few hundred words of text, that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are the clean car model that will be embraced by one and all (which could turn out to be the case; none of us has a crystal ball). This is, of course, what reputable corporate titans like Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai are telling us. Organizations such as the California Hydrogen Fuel Cell Partnership and the South Carolina Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Alliance, among others, are touting the advantages of hydrogen over gasoline and aggressively advocating its use for personal transportation.

2016_Toyota_Fuel_Cell_Vehicle_for_linkedin

Family heir and Toyota Motors president Akio Toyoda has said that his company will migrate away from petrol-powered piston pumpers within a decade. “I do believe that [the] fuel cell vehicle is the ultimate environmentally friendly car,” he told Businessweek last December. Even the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, is promoting hydrogen fuel cell cars. He took delivery of Toyota’s first Mirai in a public ceremony in Tokyo in mid-January.

Thus, as a mental exercise, let’s embrace the mindset of hydrogen and explore its merits.


Excitement For a Better Car

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of ICE cars (with the exception of a few classics, like the Porsche 911, those gorgeous C2 Corvettes from the 1960s, and that Audi TT I owned a few years ago). The expense of gasoline and maintenance alone is enough to make me jump ship from internal combustion and the noise and pollution that it brings. One might as well just hitch a horse to a buggy and try to find a blacksmith. This is the 21st century, and old-school 19th and 20th century tech just won’t cut it. At least not where our wallets and the environment are concerned.

This being the case, many are excited about the availability of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs). Toyota will begin selling its flagship FCV, the Mirai, in September. Hyundai has already begun a limited leasing program for its first hydrogen-powered car, the Tucson Fuel Cell. That’s right, all of us now have the ability to lease or purchase a space-age hydrogen car that emits zero polluting emissions and features a familiar driving range of 265 to 300 miles (just shy of what most ICE cars achieve; improvements to these first generation versions will obviously extend this freshman effort).

Lack of Fueling Stations

Well, not so fast. These groovy vehicles aren’t really available to all of us. In fact, not most of us. Why? Because we don’t live close enough to a hydrogen fueling station. According to PC World, Toyota won’t even sell you a Mirai if you don’t live within a “reasonable” distance of a hydrogen fueling station. The same is true of the new Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell.

And here’s the rub, especially if you pride yourself in being an early adopter and want to put your money where your mouth is in terms of progressive transport tech: There’s currently only 13 hydrogen fueling stations in the United States. Nine of these 13, or 70%, are clustered around Los Angeles. The other four? One each in downtown San Francisco and downtown Sacramento, plus Wallingford, CT and another in Columbia, SC. Unfortunately, that’s it.

hyundai-tucson-fuel-cell-rear-three-quarters

If you look up hydrogen fuel cell cars on Wikipedia, it will indicate that there are more stations, like some in Dearborn, MI, Phoenix, AZ, and at Ohio State University in Columbus, OH. However, these either no longer exist, are private (like for corporate and commercial fleets), or are prototypes. In other words, you can’t drive up in your Mirai or Tucson, swipe your debit card, and fill your hydrogen tanks. As such, residents of cities like Portland, St. Louis, Miami Beach, Ft. Worth, Boston, and Indianapolis couldn’t even purchase a fuel cell car if they wanted to.

Creatures of Habit

Humans are creatures of habit. Thus, many will enjoy that FCVs offer the familiar experience of visiting a fueling station and standing next to their car for three or four minutes as they inject pressurized hydrogen into two or three tanks that reside under the back seat. Unfortunately, hydrogen fuel costs more than gasoline. In fact, the cost is about identical to pre-dip gasoline prices (think the first two-thirds of 2014).

Although both Toyota and Hyundai will be incentivizing new customers to purchase their fuel cell vehicles by offering free fuel for the first three years of ownership (including lessees), owners of other models—and Mirai owners after 36 months—will be paying roughly $50 to fill their cars with hydrogen (deriving about 300 miles of travel from the expense).

shinzo abe taking delivery of Mirai 2

This is somewhat disappointing. Can’t we come up with a transport tech that would allow us not only more flexibility in filling stations, but also a lower fuel cost? No wonder people don’t like to give up their gas guzzlers or be early adopters. There may be savings in maintenance (no oil changes, tuneups, transmission work, or conventional exhaust repairs), but there clearly are not in terms of fuel costs. At least not currently.

Only the Beginning

However, let’s be fair. This is, after all, the genesis of a revolution in personal transportation. Passenger vehicles didn’t instantly overtake the horse and buggy at the turn of the last century. Henry Ford’s Model T, introduced in 1908, didn’t spontaneously replace competing forms of transportation. Unlike today, there wasn’t a gas station on every corner when the Model T was first introduced (there are now 121,000 in the United States, with nearly 10,000 in California alone).

To make hydrogen fuel cell cars practical, we need not only a solid network of hydrogen fueling stations, but also what pundits call “infrastructure.” By this, they mean not only the consumer-friendly stations at which people will swipe their card to fill their tank (and buy a soda or a pack of smokes), but also the production and distribution networks that produce (extract), pressurize, and transport hydrogen to these stations.

Lest this become a 4,000 word article, let’s consider only the fueling station side of the equation. You already know that there are paltry few hydrogen fueling stations in the United States. Basically, it’s currently practical to own an FCV only if you live in one of five areas in the U.S. (and, to be practical, mostly Los Angeles). It’s easily possible that you live 30-45 minutes from one of the stations in any of these regions. Personally, I have a gas station that’s two minutes from my front door. Anything less convenient or more challenging than their current situations will be perceived as a pain by most consumers.

But that’s just the here and now. What does the future look like? What is currently being done to alleviate the lack of hydrogen fueling infrastructure?

Find out in the next installment of Hope for Hydrogen….


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:3d1

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his auto-related articles on CarNewsCafe, check out his Apple-themed articles on Apple Daily Report, and read his AV-related articles at rAVe Publications. You can also view his photos on Flickr.

Tesla Motors Acquires RadioShack Brand

In a shock to both Wall St. and fans of its popular electric cars, Tesla Motors has acquired the RadioShack brand. Tesla CEO Elon Musk called the move a “nod to nostalgia” and said he liked the fact that the acquisition cost him only $20 million.

“I think a lot of people cried when RadioShack went under,” said the charismatic CEO who inspired the Marvel Comics character Tony Stark. “As a kid, I was at RadioShack all the time, purchasing parts for engineering projects,” said Musk. “I’m embarrassed to say that I was always a sucker for their battery pitch, buying double As left and right. I couldn’t help but think: Surely we can do better. I knew I had to build a better battery.”

elon-musk-215

Musk criticized the charge capacity of the old batteries of his childhood as being weak. “Even after alkalines emerged, they were still junk and ended up in a landfill after only about 30 minutes of powering my cool RC helicopter,” he told reporters at Wednesday’s press conference at Tesla headquarters in Fremont, California.

Musk says he plans to leverage RadioShack’s reputation for selling anything and everything that runs on batteries. “I’m also going to add a buttload of drones to the catalog,” he said. “I think the stores will be perfect for selling our electric scooter, which will be released in 2027. Ooops.”

Some analysts are praising the move on the part of Tesla, citing how the company’s new Gigafactory outside of Reno will be able to provide better, cheaper batteries for American consumers. “Just think, you’re a household name and every damn thing you sell in the store requires a battery. He’s a friggin’ genius,” said Baird analyst Ben Call, adding, “I’m inviting Musk to my son’s birthday party, even though I know he probably won’t come.”

Tesla stock shot up 47 percent in early morning trading.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:3d1

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his auto-related articles on CarNewsCafe, check out his Apple-themed articles on Apple Daily Report, and read his AV-related articles at rAVe Publications. You can also view his photos on Flickr.

 

 

Apple vs. Lenovo: Devotion & Deception

The news of the Lenovo malware scare is simply another example of why I won’t use anything other than Apple products for my computers. Said Thomas Fox-Brewster from Forbes: “Lenovo might have made one of the biggest mistakes in its history.”

“By pre-installing software called ‘Superfish’ to get ads on screens, it’s peeved the entire privacy community,” continued Fox-Brewster. “Lenovo won’t want anyone to call it that, but Superfish has been described as a piece of malware, or an adware pusher, that the Chinese firm pre-installs on consumer laptops.”

lenovo-superfish-malware

Which is why all the computers in my house come from Apple. No, Apple isn’t perfect. Like cars, display panel TVs, and toasters, there’s no such thing as perfect.

Understanding mass production means comprehending that a certain percentage of units rolling off the assembly line will, for one reason or another, have a defect or problem. This includes everything from #2 pencils to the venerable BMW M5. Defects happen. Period.

Defects vs. Deception

Defects are accidental. Happenstance, if you will. Completely unintentional. Lenovo, however, engaged in deception and malice. After reading these first few lines of a TechCrunch article today, my sentiment regarding my computer choices was cemented:

Earlier this week, word started spreading that Lenovo had been pre-installing a sketchy adware program called “Superfish” onto many of its Windows PCs for months.

Then researchers started finding nasty vulnerabilities—namely, that Superfish was using some pretty ugly hacks to tinker with your computer’s encryption certificates, and doing so in a way that seemingly leaves your otherwise “encrypted” communications (everything that goes over HTTPS) unsecure whenever you’re on a shared WiFi connection (like at a coffee shop).

Preinstalling Sketchy Adware

“Lenovo had been pre-installing a sketchy adware program….” I really didn’t need to read beyond that first line of the article. I hear and read plenty of interesting things in the daily research for my writing. “Apple isn’t worth the extra money.” “Apple is too expensive.” “Apple is a rip-off.” “You’re just making Tim Cook rich; you’re a chump.”

tim-cook

But let’s read a bit more of that TechCrunch article. “Even without the security implications, Superfish was pretty sketchy. Its purpose? Catch Google search results before they hit your screen, then quietly modify them to include more ads.”

Yes, Apple products are certainly more expensive than Levono, HP, and Dell. But why do so many flock to Apple for their computing needs? I’ll admit, some do so only because it’s trendy or fashionable. These aren’t people who necessarily engage in a great deal of critical thought in deciding what computing device to purchase.

Can’t Afford Lenovo Crap

Then there’s people like me and many of my friends and colleagues. People who earn their living from the QWERTY keyboard sitting under their fingers. People who have children who rely on their income. People who can’t afford the bullsh*t coming from companies like Lenovo.

I’ve written in the past about how Apple products are superior. I even wrote about how I tried an Android tablet, only to have it croak on me within just a few months of purchase. I returned to Apple for my daily tablet needs. It’s the best thing I ever did.

macbook air for blog

The case of Lenovo is just another example of why professionals, and many who seek the best quality, reach out to Apple. Yes, there are the posers and dorks who just want to be seen with the “cool stuff.” But professionals don’t care about that. We focus on reliability, dependability, and performance. We can’t afford problems like Superfish and not being able to trust our computer vendor. We have enough vulnerabilities in our daily lives; inviting more just to save a few bucks is foolish.

Don’t Mess With the Work Truck

I call my laptop my “work truck.” Because it is. It’s my Ford F-350 pickup. And it better damn well get me to the job site every day. Lenovo may be the world’s biggest personal computer manufacturer, but it certainly isn’t the best. And, in striking clarity, it just proved it to the world.

“By this morning, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was urging Lenovo laptop owners to remove the tool.” Wow. When I read things like this, I smile, knowing I’ve made the right decision by positioning Apple as the default, trusted source for the computing needs of my family. My daughters will graduate from high school and emerge from my house knowing the value of their computing dollars.

download

For those of you boasting about how you saved a few bucks by going with Dell or Lenovo for your new laptop: Have fun with that (and worrying about if something like Superfish has compromised your communications or finances). In the words of Bryan Wakefield, a Lenovo customer who commented on the Forbes article, “Just purchased a Lenovo product for the first time this year. Might have to rethink that decision in the future.”

Rethink indeed. After the Superfish stunt on Lenovo’s part (all to generate a few bucks), more and more consumers are becoming aware of the true cost of “cheaper” when it comes to computers. Pay me now, or pay me later. That’s what my dad used to say. Like it or hate it, it’s reality. Lenovo just provided it.

Trust Your Vendor?

So choose your poison. Pay more upfront for a quality product that you can trust from Apple, or pay later in loss of privacy, hidden infections, vulnerability to hackers, even more ads, fear and panic, and whatever else has been surreptitiously loaded onto your PC.

Trust is the foundation of most relationships. Be it a marriage, business partners, or product manufacturers, how can you justify paying your computer vendor to lie to you and then hijack your personal computer—all while leaving it unsecured and open to hackers?

With Apple, I pay not only for quality and dependability, but also a seemingly invisible element that you won’t find installed on any hard drive: Trust.

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Curt Robbins

________________________________________________________________

Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:3d1

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his auto-related articles on CarNewsCafe, check out his Apple-themed articles on Apple Daily Report, and read his AV-related articles at rAVe Publications. You can also view his photos on Flickr.

Consumer Tech is the New Religion

I’m certainly not the first to declare it, but consumer technology is the new religion of the 21st century. With all due respect to your spiritual faith (or lack thereof), middle class consumers are quickly becoming technology zealots. Daily, we worship at the altar of social media and mobile devices.

Our prayers for the blessings of bigger displays, expanded storage, and thinner designs are picked up by wi-fi and Bluetooth as they’re synced with Heaven—up in the iCloud. We speak in tongues, hoping that our new car’s GPS system features voice recognition. If we lose our way, our guardian angels, Siri and Cortana, reveal the path to enlightenment.

church of apple

We ask for forgiveness for having neglected our children by spending too much time on Facebook or posting a nasty comment on Tumblr. We pray that we’ll be blessed with better lighting for our next Instagram photo of an especially good tuna sandwich, or maybe a stranger’s puppy.

Our churches are Apple’s iTunes, Google’s Play, and Amazon’s Prime media streaming and download services, including their holy app stores. To discourage dissenters from leaving the flock, our Bibles are often unreadable at a different church. Netflix and Pandora are two major exceptions, translating their scripture into every language under the sun.

There seem to be more religious wars within modern consumer tech than there are within religion itself. Richard Dawkins and Rick Warren have nothing on Larry Page and Tim Cook. What began as the “PC vs. Mac” platform war in the 1980s, punctuated by Betamax versus VHS, has evolved into Xbox versus Playstation, Android versus iOS, and Tesla Motors versus Toyota. Samsung, Sony, Google, Microsoft, and Apple take shots at each other on a regular basis. It’s Hatfield against McCoy—only this time they’re armed with touchscreen tablets and password-protected internet routers.

Sometimes these religious wars are monotheistic, like Apple’s closed ecosystem that offers both hardware and software from a single vendor. Other companies ask us to worship many gods, like the availability of Microsoft’s Windows and Google’s Android from a number of hardware manufacturers. Often, the battles are less proprietary and more philosophical, such as hydrogen-powered cars versus battery electric vehicles (kind of like Greek Mythology).

girls-on-their-phone

Some in the academic community agree. In 2010, ABC News reported that Heidi Campbell, a communications professor at Texas A&M University, co-wrote a paper “exploring the religious myths and metaphors surrounding Apple.” “[The company] could offer a religious-like experience. It could basically perform the same role in people’s lives that being part of a religious community could,” she wrote.

The vitriol and defensiveness in many factions of these religious schisms can become shockingly brazen and abusive, as if someone took the Lord’s name in vain—or peed in your Cheerios. The utterance of “Apple sucks” or “electric cars are stupid” is bad enough; the response is typically worse. Members of the choir routinely compete for “Most likely to have not graduated middle school.”

But we’ve considered only the religions themselves, not the priests at the pulpit. PC versus Mac, was, of course, Bill Gates versus Steve Jobs. Electric cars versus the established Luddites of Detroit is obviously Elon Musk versus…well, the established Luddites of Detroit (this one is a true David and Goliath metaphor). In terms of building their congregations, it could even be argued that Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg are running competing megachurches.

“Steve Jobs, one of the most powerful people of our day, has offered a secular ‘gospel’ to our culture,” wrote evangelical Christian author Sean McDowell when Jobs stepped down as Apple’s CEO for health reasons in 2011. Even Christianity Today in January of 2011, in an article entitled “The Gospel of Steve Jobs,” wrote, “The Apple CEO was able to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope.”

“The Apple CEO was able to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope.”

The adoration bestowed upon the top executives of modern technology companies is like that of Southern Baptist parishioners during the rapture. We worship at the feet of charismatic pontiffs like Elon Musk, Sheryl Sandberg, and Richard Branson. They’re our silicon saviors, and the only thing that shakes our faith in them is a dead battery or too many casserole recipes in our newsfeed.

android-fanboy

When it comes to mobile gadgets and streaming media, some of us even worship two gods—like a household with one Catholic and one Jewish parent that recognizes both Christmas and Hanukkah. These odd and overly open-minded people may sport both an iPhone from Apple and a Nexus 7 tablet from Google. Maybe they have a Galaxy S5 smartphone and an iPad. Hasn’t anyone told them that this is, basically, against the rules?

In the end, the best digital dogma is the one that suits your lifestyle, budget, and personal beliefs. Or the one with the coolest logo. But it’s your money going into the offering plate; worship with the company or platform of your choice.

And what about the sinners? You know, the gluttonous people at the airport who hog two outlets to recharge their devices, or the rude fanboys who leave flippantly disparaging comments on your carefully articulated posts? Well, there’s a special place in hell for them. A place where there’s a complete lack of extended warranties and app updates, where the only stores are Circuit City and RadioShack, and where they’re given only a PalmPilot PDA and a CalicoVision game console.

For eternity.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his auto-related articles on CarNewsCafe, check out his Apple-themed articles on Apple Daily Report, and read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications. You can also view his photos on Flickr.

Apple Watch: Out of Sync?

John C. Abell, Senior Editor at LinkedIn, recently published a blog post in which he suggested that society has nothing to fear from intelligent robots, a veiled reference to recent statements from Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Stephen Hawking about the future potential of artificial intelligence. Rather than robots or AI, Abell wrote: “Batteries will be the death of us.”

flip phoneWhile this brings a gentle chuckle, there’s plenty of truth in it.

Abell described how the first generation of cell phones (“feature phones”) sported replaceable batteries that lasted for days and could be swapped out at a moment’s notice. In other words, battery life wasn’t a concern. These devices, which had a core function of delivering voice calls to their owners, did so with efficiency and long periods between charges.

Core Functionality

This core functionality, however, was replaced when smartphones supplanted feature phones and scrolling through Facebook, watching YouTube videos, and—most significantly—perpetual texting became all the rage. The purpose of the silicon wonders in our pockets shifted dramatically. Yes, at their essence, they remained communications devices. But the functionality of a “phone” changed completely. And with it, battery life became a major concern, almost overnight.

Likewise, the functionality of watches is about to morph dramatically. Wrist-adorning devices that once delivered simply the time and date (and maybe a stopwatch or countdown feature, but still mostly only time-related features) are growing into small computers with elaborate sensors that offer continual connectivity to our other devices, like smartphones and tablets.

Practicality is paramount. I’m currently engaged in a book project involving the electric car market, and Abell made the perfect analogy between modern mobile devices and electric cars: Range anxiety. Back when we had mere feature phones with great battery life, fear of the device running out of juice rarely reared its ugly head. Ample power for our phones—or the lack of said electricity—was a non-issue.

apple watch clock faceIn this respect, the forthcoming Apple Watch may be two steps forward and one step back.

Pre-release reviews are beginning to indicate that only conservative use of the Apple Watch will deliver a full day on a single charge. Granted, despite the name, the Apple Watch is much more than a mere watch. Ironically, those who want to use it as a simple, but elegant and connected timepiece will be SOL. It will deliver very few hours of straight-up clock face display, depriving wearers the ability to simply glance at their wrist and see a ticking second hand.

According to 9to5 Mac, “We’re told that the Watch should be able to display its clock face for approximately three hours, including watch ticking animations, if nothing else is done with the device.” This reminds me of the primitive, yet disruptive, Texas Instruments watches that my father and grandfather began wearing and loved in the mid-1970s, almost exactly forty years ago.

The History

These first-gen digital timepieces featured bright red LED displays that required the wearer to press a button to briefly display the time—unlike their more advanced progeny, which featured continuous LCD readouts requiring no manual intervention to simply view the hour (that’s when Japanese Casio stole the crown from American Texas Instruments).

I recall my 6th grade math teacher, Mr. Musgrave, wearing one of the slightly inconvenient, but very popular, Texas Instruments LED models. My memory of this is distinct, simply because it was readily apparent whenever he took his right hand and pressed the display button on his left wrist to tell him how much time was left in the class period.

TI red digital watchI can imagine proud new Apple Watch owners nervous to show it off, afraid it will die before the end of the business day. The Apple Watch may be like a Nissan LEAF battery electric car restricted to traveling only 80 miles on a charge. Oh-so-nice and delightfully leading edge during that 80 miles, but then you have to plug it in and wait for your next playdate.

Great Gadget; Good Timepiece?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m an Apple fan and in love with (the idea of) the Apple Watch. But already we know that those acclimated to obtaining the time by simply looking down at their wrist will be in for a surprise—and recharging their watch every three hours if they do so.

As cited by Abell, 9to5 Mac also reported that the highly-anticipated Apple Watch will deliver “roughly 19 hours of mixed usage each day, but that the company may not hit that number in the first generation version.” “Mixed use” means that the watch display is mostly off and that it’s sucking only a small trickle of juice from the battery so it can receive notifications from the wearer’s iPhone or iPad.

It’s becoming clear that the Apple Watch, at least in its first iteration, will work well only within particular use case parameters, sometimes limiting its practicality. No continually displayed time. No hours of full-bore app use. No playing Angry Birds: Watch Edition on the trip to Grandma’s house on Sunday.

apple watchIt’s beginning to sound as if this miraculous little device, which in so many respects will be uber-cool, will also be hobbled by today’s relatively primitive battery tech. It’s sad that such a great gadget will be limited by a battery that hasn’t quite evolved to meet the needs of wearables that are extremely small, yet sport bright, high-resolution displays, relatively powerful processors, and juice-draining wireless connectivity.

Slowly Getting There

The energy density of batteries, for both cars and small mobile devices, is increasing rapidly. While I’m convinced that this first-gen Apple Watch will change the industry and perform miraculous feats of silicon syncing, it simply won’t suit all use cases or please all customers.

Remember the Oscar-winning 1967 film The Graduate with Dustin Hoffman? Remember the infamous post-college poolside investment advice from the family friend during the graduation party at the beginning of the movie?

“I just wanna say one word to you. Just one word.”

“Batteries.”

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:home theater book cover for blog footers

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Zealth Audio: Employing Homeless Veterans

If you’re like me, little things sometimes frustrate you. Maybe the kids left the cap off the soda again and it went flat. Or your spouse put a small scratch in the bumper of your sports car. Possibly the cat left you a present in a remote corner of a spare bedroom….

Then you learn about someone like Kevin Nelson and it puts everything in perspective. Nelson (about whom I’ve written previously), is the founder and owner of Zealth Audio, a small speaker company based in San Diego. He’s an eternal optimist who puts his money where his mouth is—literally—and does business a little differently.

zealth audioNelson is very open about the rough times he’s experienced in his life. After returning from his military service in the U.S. Navy, he spent years in homelessness in San Diego. Despite the hardship of living in shelters and on the street, it was during this time that his dream of designing and selling his own high-fidelity speakers took shape.

Fast forward to 2015. Nelson is now happily occupied designing new and affordable speaker models and with the effort of growing his fledgling company.

If that was the end of the story, it would be inspirational enough. But Nelson believes in giving back. Plus, he knows, first hand, the plight of homeless vets who have given so much for their country, only to face hardship and challenges after returning home. Hardship and challenges that, too often, lead to substance abuse, poor health, and even an early grave.

Thus, he hatched a plan. Nelson’s company, which hand-builds each set of speakers in a wide variety of beautiful wood finishes to the specifications of his customers, employs homeless veterans. For each set of speakers ordered, Zealth Audio temporarily hires one or two homeless vets at his small shop in Southern California.

During an interview, Nelson was frank with me about his inspiration for hiring vets to build his unique speakers. “I got the idea while on the streets, watching my fellow veterans just fall apart. Sometimes I would find them dead; it happened three times to me. So I made up my mind, right then, that I would not quit ’til I could do my part and help some veterans,” he said.

“I know how it is, so I can talk with them very easily. I can help them with resources they don’t know about. San Diego is a beautiful place, but it’s money hungry, so it really doesn’t have good places for the homeless. That stuff you see on TV about shelters is staged…they are a living hell,” he told me.

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When asked about how he selects homeless vets to help him, Nelson responded, “The veterans I help have to be in a program with the VA [U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs] or in a shelter trying to get life back on track. I help those that are getting something done. I know several still on the river, where I stayed when I was homeless. I will bring them in as long as they are sober—ya still gotta be tough.”

Nelson said he is frustrated by how both veterans and the homeless are treated in the United States. He’s critical of what he perceives to be the hypocrisy of many who claim to help the homeless or support veterans. “Don’t tell me how much you support them. Show me,” he said from his shop.

Nelson’s company wasn’t around when I was shopping for the speakers that populate my two home theaters. If it were, I would have seriously considered purchasing from Zealth simply to avoid padding the bonus of a CEO who probably wouldn’t have been employing military veterans down on their luck to build me audiophile-quality speakers.

The next time you’re feeling sorry for yourself, remember Kevin Nelson and Zealth Audio. Remember the homeless vets who are being given another lease on life by one of their own who, by the miracle of his own determination and hard work, has managed to escape a life on the street.

That man is now giving back, not only by selling killer speakers that satisfy audiophiles like me, but—more important—by helping others to rehabilitate themselves.

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Curt Robbins

[Kevin Nelson can be reached at zealthinfo@aol.com.]


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Tidal: Lossless Music Streaming

I recently learned about a relatively new streaming music service out of Oslo, Norway called Tidal, which became available in the United Kingdom and the United States last October. Since my discovery, Tidal has garnished quite a bit of media attention. Last winter, rap mogul Jay Z and a bunch of his wealthy music pals (like Madonna) purchased Tidal.

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Why do I care about a new on-demand music service when there’s so many great ones already on the market? Spotify, Google Play Music, Rdio, Rhapsody, and Beats Music (the “Big Five”) all offer very compelling services priced at only $10 a month. In terms of cost, music discovery/radio service Pandora is even more attractive and available in both subscription and free, ad-supported versions. Songza, another music discovery service (owned by Google), is ad-free and available at no cost.

So why get excited about a new music streaming service?

iPod Era: Convenience vs. Fidelity

The iPod era forced music consumers to trade quality for convenience. It was great to have thousands of songs instantly available from our iPods and smartphones, but sucked because those songs were of low quality (typically 128 Kbps). For the luxury of a “listen anywhere” media format that allowed one to plug their mobile device into their car or listen when at the gym or the office, audio fidelity went down the toilet. Audiophiles lamented the state of hi-fidelity; some declared it dead.

For those who are curious about the technical details, most music streaming services—and all of the Big Five, in addition to Pandora and Songza—highly compress their audio stream to allow it to flow smoothly from their servers, through the internet, to your listening device.

These highly compressed, or “lossy” formats (which literally lose data during the compression/decompression cycle) are typically MP3 or AAC, which offer various levels of audio quality, even the best of which is fairly hobbled—at least when compared to compact discs. While some listeners don’t notice the difference, it’s significant on good equipment. Those with nice hi-fi systems and premium speakers certainly can tell the difference. Many audiophiles have shunned highly compressed, lossy services like Pandora and Songza in favor of CDs or vinyl.

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Tidal’s primary differentiator is that it streams in “lossless” CD quality. This means that no data is lost during the compression of the music on Tidal’s end and the decompression of it on your end.

The Big Five stream at a fairly respectable 320 Kbps. Tidal, however, streams at 1,411 Kbps (in the ALAC and FLAC formats). This is nearly 4.5 times more data per second to satisfy one’s craving for music fidelity.

But the big question is: Can you hear the difference? If you have only a moderately nice sound system, the answer is a resounding yes. If you have a high-end system, you’ll be blown away.

During my time using Tidal, I can honestly say I’ve never heard a higher quality or more reliable music streaming service. I still love Pandora and Songza, and had a great experience with Google Play Music back when I subscribed. But if you care about the fidelity of the music, Tidal is the best online stream that’s ever reached my ears. Period.

[For those who are curious, since “moderately nice sound system” and “high-end system” are fairly ambiguous labels, I have been listening on a Pioneer Elite VSC-53 receiver outputting to a set of B&W 703 tower speakers, which is fed internet bandwidth by a Netgear Powerline 500 + powerline adapter getting signal from a Netgear Nighthawk R7000 wi-fi router and an AT&T 18 Mbps internet connection.]

Mark Henninger, senior writer at AVS Forum, commented in a Facebook group for audiophiles on a budget, “You have a fan of Tidal right here. The quality and the selection are fantastic.” Henninger makes a good point; a good music streaming service, regardless of its fidelity, is nothing without a satisfying catalog of songs.

The Upside

In addition to its main selling point, lossless high-fidelity music streaming, Tidal also offers offline listening. Unlike some other services, songs saved to your local device for offline listening aren’t “dumbed down” in terms of fidelity. They retain their CD-level quality. This is especially nice for things like a subway commute, flight, or anywhere you don’t have an internet connection—or don’t want to eat into your mobile phone data plan.

Tidal’s ad-free format is also nice, but certainly expected at the service’s $20 a month cost. After all, even lower-fidelity, $10/month services like Spotify, Rdio, and Google Play Music are void of ads and commercials.

One way of getting Tidal’s high-quality music into your hi-fi or home theater system, if you’re streaming from an Apple device like a Mac computer, iPad, or iPhone, is AirPlay. I’ve been using AirPlay to stream from my iPad to my audio/video receivers, both of which have AirPlay built-in. I haven’t experienced a single dropout or buffering issue. Of course, I also have ample broadband at nearly 20 Mbps; Tidal recommends a minimum of 2 Mbps.

Tidal is also available on more than 40 platforms, including all major mobile operating systems, like Android and iOS, and all mainstream browsers, like Firefox and Chrome. There’s also a slick and seemingly bug-free iPad app.

Tidal even offers a radio feature, including an Artist Radio function, meaning you can use it for music discovery, just like Pandora or Songza. There’s also playlists, repeat, and shuffle, fairly standard features found on nearly all on-demand competitors. In addition, a favoriting feature called My Music lets users tag songs and albums they like for easy retrieval in the future.

Unfortunately, there’s no Chromecast support. However, my contact at the company tells me that one is in development. In the meantime, I’m loving the iPad app, which is very keenly and minimally styled. I think it looks better than the iPad apps for any of the other music streaming services I’ve used.

Now with Led Zeppelin

Tidal recently added the entire Led Zeppelin catalog to its already impressive song collection. It is the only high-fidelity streaming music service to feature the venerable ’60s and ’70s heavy metal superband, and one of only two streaming services overall (Spotify is the only 320 Kbps service to feature them).

I’m currently listening to the group’s pinnacle double-album Physical Graffiti. It sounds every bit as good as my compact disc version of the album. Now I can just swipe and tap on my iPad, activate AirPlay to my AV receiver, and I’m in business. No more digging for my CD. I don’t even have to get out of my easy chair.

The Downside

The primary disadvantage of Tidal is cost: This high-quality music streaming service is available only for twenty bucks a month. This is precisely twice the cost of the Big Five. Only Pandora, which offers a weaker 192 Kbps (the mobile app is only 128 Kbps), is available for $36 a year (or $4 per month). Songza, which streams at a fairly anemic 64 Kbps (or 1/22 of Tidal’s fidelity), is free.

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For those who prefer free, ad-supported services (like how Pandora offers both a gratis version featuring commercials and also a paid side that’s ad-free), Tidal will be a disappointment. There’s no free version. Personally, I think this is fine. Tidal is clearly positioning itself as a premium music service, both in terms of quality and price. You simply can’t get a Porsche 911 for the price of a Toyota Yaris.

Check It Out

Tidal features a catalog of 25 million songs. This is enough, according to the company, to listen for 140 straight years. It is a slightly larger catalog than many music streaming services, but not as large as some, like Rhapsody, which features 32 million songs.

In the end, Tidal is a welcome addition to the small, but growing, collection of lossless music streaming services. Hopefully the higher price won’t scare away students and those on a budget. It would be nice to see this service set a precedent and usher in a new era of lossless music streaming.

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Curt Robbins


[To understand more about streaming music, check out Streaming Music: The Types.]

[In response to my favorable comments regarding Tidal, I’ve received accusations on Facebook of being a troll. I currently hold no stock in or employment with Tidal, nor am I affiliated with or related to any of its shareholders or employees. I’m a technical writer, author, and consumer advocate who is officially reviewing the service.]


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Elon Musk: Hydrogen Cars Are “Extremely Silly”

On January 13, when addressing reporters during a Q&A session at the Automotive News World Congress (part of the North American International Auto Show) in Detroit, Elon Musk was asked by Gabe Nelson, from Automotive News, about his previous statements regarding hydrogen fuel cell technology for use in personal vehicles—and whether he regretted previous statements in which he claimed that the tech is foolish and inefficient.

Below is a transcript of this interview segment, from a video published by BloombergBusinessweek of Musk’s Q&A session.

[If you’re a Tesla Model S owner based in Norway, please reach out to me by commenting below. I would like to interview you for my forthcoming book and a couple of blog posts. Thanks.]

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Curt Robbins


Gabe Nelson: “You’ve been very vocal about the need for other companies to produce EVs to reduce emissions and deal with climate change. If that’s the case, then why so critical of hydrogen fuel cells, which are another pathway to zero emission vehicles? Do you regret having been so critical? Do you stand by those comments?”

Elon Musk: “I don’t want to turn this into a debate on hydrogen fuel cells, because I just think that they’re extremely silly [audience laughs]. There’s multiple rebuttals of it online. It’s just very difficult to make hydrogen and store it and use it in a car. Hydrogen is an energy storage mechanism, it’s not a source of energy. So you have to get that hydrogen from somewhere.

Musk in DetroitIf you get that hydrogen from water, you’re splitting H2O. Electrolysis is extremely inefficient as an energy process. If you took a solar panel and used the energy from that solar panel to just charge a battery pack directly—compared to try to split water, take the hydrogen, dump the oxygen, compress the hydrogen to an extremely high pressure—or liquefy it—and then put it in a car and run a fuel cell…it is about half the efficiency. It’s terrible.

Why would you do that? It makes no sense. Hydrogen has very low density. It’s a pernicious molecule that likes to get all over the place. If you get hydrogen leaks from invisible gas, you can’t even tell that it’s leaking. But then it’s extremely flammable, when it does, and has an invisible flame.

If you’re going to pick an energy storage mechanism, hydrogen is an incredibly dumb one to pick. You should just pick methane. That’s much, much easier. Or propane.

The best case hydrogen fuel cell doesn’t run against the current case batteries. So, then, obviously, it doesn’t make sense. That will become apparent in the next few years. There’s no reason for us to have this debate. I’ve said my piece on this. It will be super-obvious as time goes by.”


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Chevy Bolt Concept EV: Meh?

On January 12, General Motors CEO Mary Barra introduced the Chevy Bolt concept car at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Media outlets far and wide hailed the poorly named Bolt electric vehicle (EV) as a strong future competitor to Tesla’s forthcoming Model 3. Unlike Chevy’s existing token electric car, the hybrid Volt (which features a small three-cylinder internal combustion engine), the Bolt (with a “B”) is an all-electric, pure EV.

What They’re Saying

CNET’s Wayne Cunningham wrote, “Chevrolet looks to beat Tesla to the punch, unveiling its Bolt concept, a hatchback using lightweight body materials and a pure electric drivetrain.” One cocky blogger, Anton Wahlman at Seeking Alpha, went so far as to headline his post “GM’s 200-Mile Electric Car for $30,000: RIP Tesla.”

chevy bolt 1Given GM’s poor track record for quality—plus its 2009 bankruptcy and taxpayer bailout—“RIP Tesla” smells a bit like clickbait. How quickly we forget that GM last year announced “six recalls covering 8.4 million vehicles globally” and reported “seven crashes, eight injuries, and three fatalities linked to the recalled vehicles,” [emphasis mine] according to a June 2014 article from Edmunds.com.

The most significant attributes of Chevy’s new electric Bolt are its predicted price and driving range. At just shy of $40,000 and with a between-charges driving distance of 200 miles, GM is squarely aiming the Bolt at the masses (i.e. Nissan’s LEAF and Tesla’s future Model 3). It is also addressing the most prevalent consumer fear about EVs: Range anxiety.

Hold the Press

However, GM is fudging the numbers a bit, and lazy journalists are going for it hook, line, and sinker. The Los Angeles Times and Car and Driver were two of the only publications to point out that Chevy’s target price of $30,000 is after a federal tax incentive (the current $7,500 federal tax credit might not even exist in 2017). It can be assumed that the Bolt will feature a price more like $38,000.

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This isn’t trivial, because the tax credit applies only if you owe taxes and simply discounts what you owe; if you owe nothing, you realize no financial gain (it’s not a rebate). [You can learn more here.]

Following statements from Tesla CEO Elon Musk, this would make the Bolt more expensive than the future Tesla Model 3, which Musk said will be $35,000 before tax incentives (making it only $27,500 if the incentives still exist in 2017). Let’s not forget that it was the Chevy Volt’s (with a “V”) original $41,000 price tag that, in the words of SFGate.com’s Tom Krisher, “…hamstrung sales, even with a $7,500 federal tax credit.” It’s fair to say that $38,000 would position the Bolt as more expensive than the Nissan LEAF and Model 3, which will likely be the most direct competitors.

Like popular electric cars currently on the market, the Bolt will feature a lithium-ion battery and plug into any common 120 or 240-volt wall outlet to charge. However, it will also sport advanced features not found on current affordable EV models, like carbon fiber and aluminum throughout, a 10-inch touchscreen, and even the ability to self-park—if these features make it into the production vehicle.

General Motors is committing not only to the Bolt, but also to the science of electric cars overall. In the past months, Detroit’s number two global automaker announced an investment of $65 million in lithium-ion battery research and production (which, while impressive, pales in comparison to Tesla’s $5 billion “Gigafactory” investment).

Like the Model S

Being a concept, there’s plenty that’s not known about the Bolt—and that will change significantly between now and when the concept goes into production in late 2016 (as a 2017 model). GM claims the ground-breaking vehicle will support DC fast charging, but hasn’t made any claims about charge time. Chevy also hinted that the vehicle will offer adaptive suspension, allowing the car to adjust its ride for different road conditions and, in theory, extend its driving range (an optional feature found on significantly more costly competitors, like the Tesla Model S).

chevy bolt 3Like the Bolt, the Model 3 is also slated to offer a driving range of 200+ miles. However, given that Tesla is investing billions into its own high-tech battery factory outside Reno (the Gigafactory), it wouldn’t be surprising if the Silicon Valley darling is able to beat GM in this particular department (Chevy is sourcing its batteries from South Korea’s LG Chem).

General Motors is trying to crack the EV mold by offering an affordable model that will provide a decent driving range and advanced technical features. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said, “The affordable-yet-functional electric car has yet to materialize, remaining an automotive unicorn.”

Questionable Styling

While larger than it appears in most press photos, the styling of the Bolt four-door hatchback is decidedly practical, yet modern. My first response was that it appears to be a Toyota Yaris on steroids. Road & Track said that the concept’s styling “is definitely evocative of the [BMW] i3—which is to say, a refrigerator on wheels…”

chevy bolt 4While I’m somewhat disappointed by the Bolt concept’s design—which reminds me of a large-scale econobox or slimmed down crossover SUV—it’s not ugly. In fact, the more photos I see of it, the more it’s growing on me. The Bolt’s blunt nose, which makes Chrysler’s old “cab forward” design almost Jimmy Durante-esque in appearance, screams to the world, “I have no internal combustion engine under my hood!”

It’s fair to say that the current seating for four may expand to five and that the concept’s panoramic glass roof will disappear. Auto manufacturers love to goose up concept vehicles with large wheels and glass tops in an effort to make them appear roomier than they actually are. In fact, the chief reason concept cars typically sport only two rear seats is so they won’t appear cramped when filled with auto journalists during photo shoots.

Competitive in 2017?

If the Bolt was available today, it would be extremely competitive. Nissan’s LEAF (the most popular electric car ever) and the Fiat 500e both offer a driving range of 75-85 miles per charge, less than half what Chevy is boasting the Bolt will deliver. However, rumors of an updated LEAF predict a driving range that will be more than double the current model (this is how fast EV tech is evolving).

Given the competitive spirit of Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn (pronounced “ghone,” like phone) and the fact that Chevy’s announcement is nearly two years in advance of the Bolt’s availability, it wouldn’t be shocking if Nissan actually bested the Bolt’s driving range. And, in fact, it will. Ghosn told reporters on January 13, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, that Nissan will update the LEAF to an equal 200 mile range a full year before GM’s bolt even comes to market. In fact, Ghosn told reporters in Detroit that the LEAF “may have even more range.”

chevy bolt 5Ghosn, known for his confident persona and management style, added, “We are the leaders and we frankly intend to continue to be the leaders. Generations of EVs coming are going to get better, less costly, lighter, [and] more autonomous.” According to Inside EVs, “Nissan’s answer to the recently unveiled Chevrolet Bolt is under development right now and is up to a year ahead of the Bolt’s expected production launch. Furthermore, Nissan’s answer will almost certainly be cheaper and seat five.” The popular electric vehicle blogging site estimated that the LEAF could arrive with a price of only $30,000, undercutting the Bolt’s true price by at least $8,000.

If the Tesla Model 3 can also exceed the driving range of the Bolt (Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk isn’t exactly known for lazily resting on his laurels), that’s two major competitors—one of which may undercut the Bolt’s price by nearly $10,000—that will embarrass Chevy in terms of the two major talking points of its big reveal in Detroit: Driving range and price.

I’m conflicted when it comes to the Bolt. Part of me loves it. Each new fully electric vehicle on the road means one fewer gas-guzzler and that much less CO2 being pumped into the air. But another part of me (the consumer advocate tech writer) realizes that this is, after all, General Motors.

Given the General’s inferior track record during the past few years, how many of the Bolt concept’s slick features, like self-parking, adaptive suspension, and carbon fiber body panels, will actually see the light of day in a production version? And, if they do, how likely is Chevy to be able to reach a sub-$40K price to compete with Nissan and Tesla?

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Curt Robbins

[For a different perspective on the Bolt, check out my colleague Nicolas Zart’s rundown over at CarNewsCafe.com or Aaron Turpen’s review at FutureCars.com.]


P.S.: In all fairness, some auto journalists love the Bolt’s styling. Wrote Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield at Transport Evolved, “The Chevy Bolt looks great too—a little like the illegitimate love-child between a BMW i3, a Chevy Spark, and perhaps a Renault Scenic MPV.”

Also, The Detroit News has reported, the day after GM’s official announcement, that company executives said they could change the Bolt name prior to the release of the new EV. According to the paper, “GM North American President Alan Batey said the company needs to communicate the name. ‘Bolt is the brother of the Volt—a bolt of lightning. It’s all to do with electricity,’ he said in an interview. ‘We’re going to have a lot of time to communicate this and bring it to life. It’s a concept, so we’re just playing with the name right now and our job is not to confuse people.'”


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Why the Toyota Mirai May Flop

[For more information regarding the Toyota Mirai, see Clean Car Comparison: Model S vs. Mirai.]

Since Toyota’s announcement of the September release of its hydrogen-powered Mirai sedan, there’s been a lot of press and social media chatter regarding this ground-breaking new vehicle. Hydrogen proponents and environmentalists far and wide are hailing this innovative car for its clean exhaust and edgy design. Toyota even calls it a “turning point.”

The Religious Debate

However, there’s a long and ongoing debate within the circles of automobile enthusiasts and clean energy advocates regarding hydrogen fuel cell cars. On one side of the issue are fans of all-electric vehicles, like the Nissan LEAF and Tesla Model S, who think hydrogen is a half-baked and inefficient tech that may never be truly economical, clean, or competitive.

Brian Cooley, when hosting an episode of CNET on Cars, said the Mirai is being released “At a time when most people think hydrogen fuel cell is either yesterday’s failed experiment or distant tomorrow’s technological witch.”

why-the-toyota-mirai-may-flop-gooey-rabinski-5

Conversely, hard-core hydrogen proponents believe that electric cars (EVs) are mostly hype that are based on trendy sex appeal, technophilia, and the impulses of ignorant tree huggers. EV opponents also cite the replacement expense and relatively short lifespan of batteries, which don’t last as long as internal combustion engines, but are much less expensive to operate and maintain.

The Mirai, which in Japanese means “future,” is a bold and controversial step for the world’s number one automaker. I’m generally a fan of Toyota’s vehicles. I got car envy when the company’s Prius first hit the streets, and have admired the quirky and ubiquitous hybrid as a powerful statement of how battery technology can improve—and eventually replace—internal combustion engines.

High Costs, Limited Availability

But there are several problems with the current Mirai. Most notable is acquisition cost: It will start at $58,000. This pricing is more befitting one of Toyota’s other brands, Lexus. In fact, for roughly the same cash ($61,300), one could get their hands on the significantly more luxurious Lexus GS 450h, a hybrid vehicle sporting 34 MPG, 338 HP, and acceleration from zero to sixty in only 5.6 seconds. The Mirai delivers only 153 HP and does the 0-60 jaunt in a sluggish nine seconds.

In fact, for those who care more about performance than saving the environment, the Corvette Stingray is available for only $54,000, $4,000 less than the Mirai. More expensive than a Corvette? Really, Toyota?

Regardless of relative values, few middle class consumers will be able to afford or justify a four-seat sedan costing $60K.

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Also, only 200 units of this limited-production vehicle will be made available in California in the fourth quarter of 2015. Toyota reported that it anticipates only 3,000 Mirais will be on American roads by the end of 2017. In a country where 16.5 million vehicles are sold each year, the Mirai is arguably a media stunt on the part of Toyota. In fact, some experts argue that Toyota is simply trying to satisfy government fuel economy regulations so it can continue to sell its gas guzzling trucks and SUVs.

Another problem with the Mirai will be fuel prices, which—at the very few fueling stations available—will be nearly identical to that of gasoline. Temporarily, however, fuel will be…free. That’s right. But guess why. According to Motor Trend, “[Fuel will] be free because presently, there’s no certified way to meter hydrogen’s dispensing.” And you thought Toyota was just being generous.

“What happens when the shoe drops after three years and Mirai drivers start paying for their fuel? At the moment, hydrogen is costing between $9 and $10 per kilogram; assuming it isn’t subsidized, the Mirai could end up costing about twice per mile what the Prius v currently does,” reported Motor Trend.

Wow. Twice as expensive to fuel than a Prius v (which gets 44 MPG). Is this really progress?

Lack of Fueling Stations

There’s also the problem of the lack of hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S. According to AutoBlog.com, in early 2014, Toyota’s Lexus division “had to retract a pro-hydrogen ad…when it was discovered that the ad made incorrect claims about [hydrogen], including that there were ’20 states with an established infrastructure for hydrogen [refueling].'”

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There are actually only three states with hydrogen fueling stations in the United States. And two of the three feature only a single station. The folks at Toyota and Lexus apparently can’t be bothered with the facts; they’re too busy revolutionizing the world with impractical, ridiculously expensive cars.

In the words of a colleague from Los Angeles who’s a senior advisor for electric mobility and battery storage, “The thing that dawned on me when I first saw the Mirai was: This is the end of Toyota.” According to a friend in Portland, Oregon who owns two Nissan LEAFs and an electric bus, the Mirai “…may become the Betamax of electric cars.”


The Dialog

I recently commented on a post from a Facebook friend’s timeline regarding the forthcoming Mirai. The following exchange features Thomas Earl Moore, a project scientist at NASA Goddard and Tesla Model S owner.

Thomas Earl Moore: There are only about 30 hydrogen filling stations in existence right now, all in southern Calif. versus 300 Supercharger stations [for Tesla vehicles] all over the world, thousands and thousands of public charging stations, and millions of potential home chargers.

At present, you can only take a round trip to half your range in a hydrogen car, and will have to return to one of those stations because you are never going to get hydrogen delivered to your home, because of what you also pointed out. The stations cost $2-3M a pop to build, so the hydrogen sellers are looking for public funding of them.

Curt Robbins: Hi Thomas. Are there really 30 hydrogen refueling stations? I checked the California Fuel Cell Partnership website. 60 were listed, but—upon further inspection—most were under construction or planned. Only nine were actually available for use.

TM: Curt, I was guessing based on recent reading. I thought the claim was somewhat higher than that, but it’s interesting that it’s still mostly wishful thinking!

CR: Thomas, I was shocked by the low number too. I know that California’s Governor Jerry Brown, in 2013, signed a law that funds $20M a year to build 100 hydrogen fueling stations in Cali by 2024 (not exactly an aggressive construction schedule; only about nine stations per year).

why-the-toyota-mirai-may-flop-gooey-rabinski

With all due respect, regarding Duncan Fowler above saying “locally is definitely the key word”: It’s really not. The only true math is “well-to-wheels,” considering the entire power generation food chain.

All electricity generated via coal is crap in terms of carbon footprint, so I agree with anyone who suggests that an EV that is charged from a coal power plant is of little environmental benefit (burning coal is the dirtiest form of power in the world). To Mr. Fowler’s point, a coal-powered EV delivers very little benefit to one’s local environment because the coal-burning power plant x-number of miles away pumps poisonous exhaust into the air, which then creates smog, acid rain, and other nasty side effects that directly impact your home, community, and neighboring crops (and eventually travel to other communities and combine with the exhaust from other dirty power plants).

In fact, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Coal plants are the nation’s top source of carbon dioxide [CO2] emissions.” Even more than cars. If these plants are generating the electricity that fuels electric cars, we still have a major problem.

Sorry for the long post, but this topic is neither trivial nor simple.

Better ≠ Best

Brian Fowler: I give Toyota credit for taking a step in WHATEVER direction in an effort to decrease the need to burn fossil fuels, and whatever technology comes out on top, be it electric or fuel cell, or whatever, it is something the entire planet needs, the sooner the better.

TM: Right, Brian. They got the Prius right for its time and who knows, someone may figure out how to make hydrogen work better than it currently does. My suspicion is the Japanese are trying to avoid building more nuke plants….

CR: I agree, Brian, that the world simply needs to be rid of fossil fuels. Considering melting ice caps and other evidence of climate change, you’re certainly correct in wanting this sooner rather than later.

However, just because an approach (hydrogen, or Mirai’s implementation of it) is better doesn’t mean it’s our best option. Many hydrogen pundits suggest that forthcoming (currently in development) hydrogen production and storage technologies will revolutionize the industry and make it a clearly superior option for all types of vehicles. If so, I’m all for it.

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But I doubt Tesla Motors would bet the farm on a $5 billion battery factory in Reno (that won’t be complete until 2017) if this was the case. The company certainly has the resources to purchase emerging technology companies or license patents. I’m not claiming Tesla is perfect, but they are very focused, intelligent, and determined. I don’t the company would go the electric-only route if it was inferior to hydrogen.

Hard Numbers

Given current and foreseeable tech, don’t give Toyota too much credit. As part of my book research, I just got off the phone with Wally Rippel, who worked on GM’s EV1 and the Tesla Roadster. When the efficiency loss not only for the power grid, but also for storage in the EV battery and other mechanisms is considered, EVs have a 70% overall efficiency. When one compares 70% full energy lifecycle efficiency in an EV to the 20% energy lifecycle efficiency of a hydrogen vehicle (current tech and infrastructure, which the Mirai leverages), the reality comes to light.

Many argue that Toyota is simply playing the regulation game (with California’s CARB mandate and the U.S. Government’s CAFE standards) and producing the Mirai so it can continue to sell it’s entire vehicle fleet into the largest car market in the U.S.: California. I won’t argue the nuances of that issue because I’m a technology writer and consumer advocate, not a political scientist or marketing strategist.

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But on the technical side, if you do an objective well-to-wheels analysis of the situation (or, as Mr. Rippel suggested to me, a “wind-to-wheels” consideration), the only benefit of the Mirai is no local emissions and a somewhat cleaner—but not truly clean, like solar or wind—energy source in the form of hydrogen.

Since most hydrogen in the U.S. is produced from methane, a natural gas, ownership of the Mirai still consumes fossil fuels. In fact, in the total energy lifecycle, hydrogen from methane produces about 50% of the CO2 made from the burning of gasoline in an internal combustion engine (according to Tim Lipman, co-Director of UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center).

In its current state, the Mirai—and all hydrogen fuel cell vehicles—still produce CO2 when the method by which their hydrogen fuel is produced is taken into account. Even though it’s only half of what is released by conventional cars, it’s still significant. Lesson: Don’t believe the hype.

I’ll save the rest for the book, lest this get even longer. But it again emphasizes that achieving truly sustainable energy for personal transportation is complicated and more than meets the eye. Fueling the Mirai will cost as much or more than gas-powered vehicles and the car will be priced at $60K when it debuts in September. I don’t see how this is a move in the right direction.

Only in Los Angeles

TM: With a bit more research I find there are a dozen or so stations in the U.S. [Moore then linked to a Wikipedia article regarding hydrogen fueling stations in the United States].

CR: Hi Thomas. According to the Department of Energy, there are 13 hydrogen refueling stations in the U.S., but with 11 in Southern California and only two outside the state: One in Wallingford, Connecticut and another in Columbia, South Carolina. And that’s it.

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Assuming these stations are accessible, we have 13 hydrogen fueling stations in a nation with 254 million passenger vehicles (according to a 2007 U.S. Department of Transportation study; one blogger’s unofficial estimate claims 305 million as of 2014). The state of California alone has nearly 10,000 gasoline stations.

Yet, the Mirai goes on sale in September. But how is this supposed to work? As you pointed out, Thomas, an EV can be plugged into any electrical outlet in the United States (tens of billions of them). The ubiquity of the charging locations for EVs is clear. Electric vehicles have a monumental advantage over hydrogen cars in this respect.

I’ll again emphasize “same team,” that we’re all trying to rid ourselves of fossil fuels and adopt clean, sustainable energy for our homes and cars. But my brain cannot wrap around the present-day practicality of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. If someone can convince me otherwise—via the Mirai or any hydrogen car—please, I want to be educated.

So far, no one has been able to do that.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his automotive-related blog posts on CarNewsCafe, his AV-related posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

It’s 2015: Stop Your Whining

Remember the old days, when you would struggle with Windows 95 or Windows 2000 to get it to properly load, say, a printer driver? Remember the love/hate relationship you had with Redmond’s Richest (Microsoft)? This schizophrenic emotional state was elicited by the relative convenience afforded by use of the Windows graphical user interface paired with the frustration of abundant software bugs and things like plug-n-play that certainly plugged, but often didn’t play.

windows 95 logoUse of Microsoft’s products and services, specifically its operating system and the applications found in MS Office, was a double-edged sword. On one side was convenience, speed, and user-friendly operation. On the other was buggy software, cumbersome tech support, and almost daily frustration—typically resulting in language befitting a drunken sailor.

Welcome to 2015. We’re officially 15 percent of the way into the 21st century. No longer do we marvel over smartphones and digital cameras. No longer do we say “Wow, that 42-inch flat panel sure is amazing.” No longer do we dream of a future of electric cars, smartwatches, thin touchscreen tablets, and free global video conferencing.

We’re home, Toto. All that cool stuff is here. And much of it is either free or very cheap.

After all, who could have imagined free video conferencing (using services like FaceTime and Skype)? When I was a kid, I recall my CPA wannabe grandmother always cutting short long-distance phone calls because of the expense and metered billing rate. We now conduct high-definition video conferences—of any length and with folks around the world—for free and on a regular basis.

But our technical schizophrenia remains. Spurred by relentless online ads and spotty wi-fi, our frustration seemingly won’t abate. Yet, we love the Google search engine and the magic of Twitter. But isn’t my laptop too hot? Why won’t it rip this CD? It did it last week. And why can’t I remember the password for my secret email account?

When thinking recently about our fickle use of technology, I realized something: Google has replaced Microsoft as our evil bipolar technological stepmother. The Silicon Valley giant, whose name has become synonymous with looking up stuff on the internet, is something that we think we can’t live without—but that we also curse on a regular basis. I’d hate for someone to steal or damage my Chromecast media streaming dongles. Yet, I want to throw them across the room when they drop the Pandora stream for the fifth time in two hours.

google_logoAlyce Lomax at The Motley Fool, way back in 2006, described Google as a “Jack of all trades, master of none.” In my blog post Apple vs. Google: Where Focus Meets Buckshot from September 2014, I pointed out how Google loves to experiment with a variety of products and services. From “smart” contact lenses to self-driving cars to huge balloons intended to bring internet access to undeveloped nations (and, with it, ads from the company’s search engine and other services), Google has its hand in a very wide range of products.

It’s almost as if the iconic Silicon Valley company doesn’t trust its ability to succeed in any one area. Maybe it’s so keenly aware of the fierce competition and incredible challenges of the technology that it gets involved in dozens of product areas with the hope that a few will actually pan out.

But everything is relative. Our love/hate relationship with Microsoft from yesteryear was based on the pervasive nature of the company’s operating system and software. Windows was everywhere. Very few people used Macs back then (hell, there wasn’t even a version of Microsoft Office for the Mac, so you can barely blame them). It was all MS Word and Excel and Windows XP. All of which sported some pretty serious bugs. We felt trapped.

Today it’s a bit different. I was recently frustrated when using Google’s URL shortening service for links within tweets. I found that, somehow, I had violated Google’s terms of service and it invalidated one of my URLs, giving my tweet, going out to hundreds of thousands of users, a dead link. Fine, I thought, and switched back to Bitly. Frustrated by the amount of paid links at the top of the results page for Google’s search engine, I switched to Duck Duck Go. Not happy with my sluggish, stuttering Nexus 7 tablet running Google’s Android mobile OS, I switched back to an iPad from Apple.

The difference today is that there’s options. Back in the day, those frustrated by Microsoft Word or PowerPoint had few alternatives, none of which were ubiquitous enough to make the switch feel practical or intelligent. But if you’re fed up with your Nexus tablet or your Android-powered smartphone gets wonky, there’s ready alternatives from companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Blackberry.

Unlike Microsoft’s stranglehold on us back in the 1990s, Google can no longer hold us captive.

So welcome to 2015 and the age of tech options. Don’t like the ad-laced Google search engine? Switch to Bing or Duck Duck Go. Don’t like the Goo.gl URL shortener? Use Bitly or TinyURL. Getting frustrated by your Android-powered smartphone or tablet? Give Apple or Nokia a try. Don’t like Google Maps? Try AOL’s MapQuest or Apple Maps. Don’t like Gmail? Try Outlook or Yahoo (or the messaging built into Facebook or LinkedIn). Not digging Google+? Try Facebook (ok, every human already did that…sorry).

But stop your whining and don’t feel trapped. Because there’s plenty of alternatives to the products and services you’re currently using.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.