Thursday, June 05, 2008

Fuel efficient cars

There was an amazing story on CNN about some engineers in the USA who have developed a fuel-efficient 3-wheeled vehicle that runs on hybrid or electric. The hybrid version was getting 250 miles to the gallon, thats good enough fuel economy to travel across the USA on a tank of fuel. This is not the typical car design. It is relatively roomy, and there is no doubt that its aerodynamic design.#, modest weight and small engine account for the significant efficiency. The question is - why can engineers build such a vehicle in a garage but well-resourced car manufacturers are doing nothing. To be sure car manufacturers are really not prepared to stretch themselves because of the high of fitting out and retooling their car plants. With high energy prices, the design of a car becomes more important. The need for some quantifiable measure of a car becomes important. People need an algorithm which would allow them to input details on their pattern of use. eg. Car buyers would need to tell a vehicle retailer their required typical and maximum load carrying capacity, their typical and maximum required daily travel distance, as well as driving conditions. These are the factors pertinent to determining the real cost of driving a car. Say we only need a vehicle to carry 500kg of goods twice a year for camping holidays. Maybe you can swap your far with a neighbour to achieve that rather than wasting energy on a larger van. That is the information people need to make intelligent economic decisions. Would people care if oil fell back to $US60/barrel? I doubt it would fall so low. OPEC would readily prevent such a fall by cutting production and developing countries are likely to re-ignite their strong growth in coming years.
Andrew Sheldon

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Mini laptops - the Cloudbook by Everex

Its been some years since I bought my first mini-laptop for $A1600. That was the Toshiba Libereto. It has a 5.1 inch active matrix display, but on specs its dwarfed by the latest offering. I used to travel around Asis on business, typing up my notes from meetings on this small screen. The keyboard was great for typing with one hand. Amazing how fast i could type. The great aspect about the Libereto was the carry bag I bought in Vietnam, the small size, the fact that a lot of the accessories like CD-ROM, floppy drive and ports were external. That was around 1996.
Now I want a totally different spec list, but its hard to move forward until the technocrats solve the software problem. We love MS because of its features, but having solved its stability problems, MS Office is just too bloted to use on mini-laptops, and Linux does not handle enough applications, so compatibility problems. Eventually these issues will die. I am actually moving in another direction. I bought a standard cheap Acer computer, and I instead use my Nokia E61i as a mobile solution. The typepad is a great size for typing on the go, and I just download data and image files to my laptop periodically.

I have looked at the Asus mini-laptops and whilst they have their benefits, like a solid-state memory, they use Linux, and are rather slow. The latest Cloudbook from Everest is cheaper still at P19,000 (USD400), but its got a less rugged standard HDD. The memory is mobile friendly at 30Gb, and its light 0.9kg. It can run Win XP, but it would be a snails crawl. The keypad is ok. Like the Libereto, they place the touchpad (instead of trackball) to the right of the screen. Importantly it has 2 USB ports and a SD card reader. The implication I guess is that you can always have various memory sticks added to your computer if you needed extra memory.

But it I was to compare like with like, its not like we have progressed very far. The problem is a combination of software and hardware. I want a more powerful mini-laptop, a capable and stable Win-type application with a low memory drag. Most importantly we want USB drives, wifi, modem, lightness, compact, great keyboard layout and at least 60Gb of memory. That is a liveable solution. I dont know why manufacturers lost focus. Toshiba was on a great path with Libereto. It has taken them 10 years to re-visit the concept. In the meantime I will stick to my Nokia. Oh, did I mention I want my computer to be waterproof to 500 metres :)
Andrew Sheldon
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