Archive for the Tech Category

20,000 rpm not in F1

Posted in Noteworthy, Tech, Transport with tags , , on November 9, 2009 by Apollo

While it seems a bit silly for a business that sees fines of over £100 million as little more than petty cash or small change to speak of “cost saving measures”, F1 development rules still means that achievements are made that we may be cheated of seeing.

I had anticipated seeing engines running to 20,000 rpm in the 2009 season, but the rules outlawed this figure, and capped them at 19,000 rpm in the name of economy.

However, as anyone with an ounce of engineering knowledge will realise, to run reliably at 19 k, you have to be able to perform unreliably at higher numbers, and 20 k is only some 5% more in terms of revs, although that same engineering knowledge will also tell that the energy involved will increase by something more like 10%, and that doesn’t merit the same use of the word “only” that 5% merits.

In a 4-stroke engine this is particularly significant, since it means the reciprocating parts – in particular the pistons – also carry that amount of additional energy, and the con-rods have to haul them to a full stop and reverse their direction 333 times every second, or every 3 ms. These really are speed and energies you wouldn’t want to be too close to when a rod lets go, and the pistons decide to leave the engine.

With that in mind, I was intrigued to see a Cosworth engine test at 20 k, although it may be significant to note that the test was not maintained once 20 k had been reached, but was terminated almost as soon as the figure was achieved.

Piston engines can go much faster, but not as car-sized V8 or V10 designs. These engines are tiny by comparison and can be found in models, and turn at ridiculus speeds by comparison, many times that of their larger brothers, but then again, they are very, very much lighter, but can still be built of exotic materials – they use so much less!

Supercars on show

Posted in Noteworthy, Tech, Transport with tags on November 7, 2009 by Apollo

Cartoon sports carToo far for me to go and have a look, those nice people at the BBC did a little report about some fast car on show…

It’s a pity they had to go some way towards wasting it, and let someone that thinks an over-loud raucous musical soundtrack was obligatory, had to accompany it get their way – mistake.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

It’s funny how the arrival of the Veyron a few years ago, lifting the production car top speed to a demonstrable 407 kph (253 mph), has spawned so many challengers, and this report included a British candidate, which has a claim of 261 mph for the title of Fastest Production car.

I always wonder how practical these later challengers are. The Veyron story has been told in some detail, and the power/heat/tyre hurdles are significant, as are the reliability aspects.

Are these later claimants to the title able to do their speed runs with little or no special preparation, and then just carry on driving on the road as normal, as the Veyron has demonstrated it can, or are they highly strung special, in need of fettling before and during their high speed runs, and not really in any condition to carry on driving on the road afterwards?

The other thought that occurs to me relates to the ultimate capability of the Veyron. As noted, we know what’s in it, and the exotic technology that supports it and it 16-cylinder quad turbocharged engine.

Would it be so hard to wind it up a little more and add another 10 mph or so, or turn one into a record maker one day?

Ford Focus RS/ST – just doesn’t do it

Posted in Tech, Transport with tags , , on July 4, 2009 by Apollo

While there’s no denying Ford’s motorsport success and pedigree, but I just can’t get excited about the Ford Focus RS or ST.

Although the words on paper say it is good, whenever I see one, it does nothing for me. There’s nothing interesting about it’s appearance, nothing to draw the eye, and little to suggest that it is desirable. Bigger wheels and a twin exhaust are really only noticeable to the expert, and a casual glance just bypasses it altogether.

The writers and journalists might keep on about it being a challenger to the Impreza and Evo, but it’s simply not in the same class. Even at their most boring, these two give the Ford a run for its money.

An orange RS passed me and stopped at the lights last night, and I’m guessing the owner is in the midst of tweaking it.

The thing sounded like a box of nails – and I don’t mean it was pinking or anything like that. It was literally making the same noise that a box of 4-inch nails makes as you rummage around in it when fishing out a handful. He was driving very slowly, and as he pulled away from the light, the exhaust went through all sorts of resonances – it was very odd, and the resonances were at relatively high frequencies, as if there were narrow pipes in the system, rather than the more usual wide bore efforts.

I couldn’t fathom it at all – and the only thing that came to mind was that he had perhaps blown the turbo, and was limping around with the remains until he could afford get it fixed.

That’s always been my worry about owning one of the Japanese cars, as the turbos on the road cars seem to be a bit fragile. I’ve been to a few track days, and it’s not unusual to see at least one of them come to a crawling and embarrassing stop in the midst of a demonstration of their power, as something goes “pop” and the engine dies, leaving them to limp, or be pushed off the track.

The dopey dongle

Posted in Tech, Venting with tags , , , on April 29, 2009 by Apollo

I can’t believe I’m alone in thinking that the USB dongle must be one of the most badly designed, if well intentioned, devices ever to be plugged into a laptop.

I’ve usually managed to avoid these items by generally going with PCMCIA options when adding things to laptops, but recently had to add a wireless mouse, which needed the inevitable dongle, dangling almost 4 centimetres outside the edge of the laptop body. I just knew the inevitable would happen.

Things were fine for a while, but eventually you grow used to these things, and I discovered it wasn’t only moving the laptop that could be a problem, but also things around it. The first dongle bend wasn’t too bad, and was easily remedied, but had proved the principle for problems.

The second event was more serious, and was simply a “real world” event when the laptop was moved, and the fact that dongle stuck out so far mean it caught and ripped out at an angle. It basically disassembled itself, and the USB section was all but ripped off the PCB. Fortunately, being mounted on the end of the board meant there was little to be damaged, and after a little re-engineering, glue, and solder, things were back together again – and working fine.

Third up was potentially the worst case, and with the best of care, a drop will happen, and did, soon after the first repair. Because the repair was stronger in some respects than the original USB fitting, and in this case the USB plug was slightly bent out of shape. Cue a repeat repair, and a little bit of delicate metal bashing and all was well again, but there little doubt that repeating this damage was not going to go on time after time with no ill effect, so although it means dragging a wire around, an extension will have to be used to avoid this in future.

It seems silly that the standard solid long dongle design persists, as it seems bound to get damaged at some point in its life.

I just picked up a free USB wireless dongle – same dopey design which sticks out of the laptop for almost 5 centimetres. Fortunately, I don’t actually need it.

These long USB dongles just seem to be crying out for some sort of intelligent redesign, or even just a simple hinge.

If they could be reduced in size, which doesn’t seem impractical given what is visible on the board (I reckon the length could easily be halved), it would help, although I suppose the antenna needs are likely to mean they would never shrink down to the size of the Bluetooth USB dongles which can be fitted and almost forgotten, as they only extend about 5 millimetres from the socket.

Oh well, I’ll just enjoy my cordless mouse… with its cord!

iLemmings

Posted in Tech, Venting with tags , , , , , on August 23, 2008 by Apollo

iPhone option

Watching one of the Sunday morning “lifestyle” programmes this morning – yes, I have better things to do, but do stop channel surfing if I see anything remotely gadget like in someone’s grubby little paw – I was reminded of why I’ll never succumb to any of the iCrap out there, and fund Apple again. Last time was an Apple II, and look what a mistake that turned out to be.

This morning it was a reminder at the cynical marketing of their iPhone. Having launched a bit of clunky, pathetically underpowered piece of hardware and software that depended on nothing more than its looks to make it sell, they’ve now released a more functional version of the thing, with proper software and network access.

If it worked, it might not be so bad, but even Channel 5’s biased Gadget Show didn’t award it top spot for what it did, only its looks.

Of course, this will do wonders for their sales, and empty the pockets of the faithful, since there’s no trade-in or upgrade route, all the folk that have already splashed out to have the latest overpriced “must have” shiny box will have to throw them away, having had them for only a matter of months, and shell out for the newest one, or be left behind with an old-fashioned, obsoleted, uncool gadget.

Now, we all know that that’s option 2 is never going to happen with the faithful, and they’ll happily dip into their pockets, and empty them to fill Apple’s coffers to buy the newest version – and folk complain about Microsoft.

Update

This post gost lost when it was originally made a few weeks ago, and it was filed away as a draft I just noticed today.

Since then, the “new and improved” iPhone has been released as expected and predicted – only weeks after its launch! I knew Apple were keen to rip-off their blind followers, but that’s ridiculous, and one can only assume the release of the first piece of junk at an inflated price was just a cynical ploy to boost sales, knowing the faithful iLemmings would ditch their old “unkewl” version, and go running for an upgraded models to flash around.

The Gadget show was keen to confirm this. as the bald geek was filmed getting up in the middle of the night so he could be at the Apple dealer’s door, ready to buy another iPhone – having just bought one a matter of weeks before (or did the Gadget Show pay for one or both?).

And what a rip-off he proved, as the newer iPhone boasts a faster network connection, more memory and more… (oh, find out yourselves – I don’t work selling iCrap), whatever it has more of and goes faster with, it costs less than the launch model, which was less than impressive unless you were wearing Apple-tinted glasses.

I wonder if there’s any truth in the story about the Apple bosses taking out insurance in case they get injured from falling off their pay packets?

Light bulbs, the new IQ Test

Posted in Tech, Venting with tags , on August 3, 2008 by Apollo
Hot stuff - the incandescent lamp

Hot stuff - the incandescent lamp

It’s not often you can find what appears to be an innocent little question that has a powerful answer, but it looks as if asking someone about their choice of light bulb can tell you if their mental capacity borders on what probably passes for normal (whatever that might actually be), or if their brain is little more than would be installed in something that only needs to grunt, and walks around with its knuckles dragging along the ground.

Reading through some of the responses to an article about the long overdue demise of the popularity of the incandescent tungsten light bulb is enlightening, and should also make you worry with some degree of concern about how some people’s brains are wired up. Some of these responses, if you consider they reflect on some folk’s thought processes, might make you want to take a step away from someone you don’t know, just in case.

Greenpeace manage to come of the story looking like a bunch of mindless idiots as usual, with a crazy claim quoted from them that incandescent light bulbs waste 95% of the the energy they use. In the real world, CFLs may be good, but not that good, and something closer to 80% would have been more than adequate to make the case. Smaller CFLs are less beneficial than large versions, as the running gear inside the base consumes a couple of watts, and this has to be added to the rating of the bulb. So a 5 watt bulb will gobble up around 7 watts – 40% more than expected, while a 20 watt bulb eats closer to 22 watts – 10% more. This also shows how one should take care when percentages and real figures are selected by the promoter – always ask what real numbers the percentages refer to – the reality of the numbers may be a lot more significant.

David Walker from Stirling, Scotland, tells us:

The so-called improved CFLs do not illuminate higher-ceilinged traditional domestic properties adequately. They do not suit traditional light fittings. They appear dim and have no equivalent to 150 & 200w bulbs which are necessary to illuminate older properties. The mercury content is of real concern in CFLs. We only use CFLs at home for cupboard lights as cosmetically, they are horrible – and don’t light up the cupboard either. Much more development is required before the nanny state in this country imposes yet another restriction on its citizens.

David clearly has more money than sense if using 150 watt and 200 watt bulbs to light ceilings, the rest of world now uses directed lighting to see what it is doing, and must like to smash his CFLs against the interior walls of his home if mercury is a concern (hasn’t it been superseded?). I suspect he’d be at the head of queue complaining if the government failed to promote any energy saving technologies.

Tim Beeche-Newman, Reading, England, shows why hyphenated names are best avoided:

Low energy bulbs do not, in any case, save as much energy as claimed. This is because unlike conventional bulbs they produce very little heat. Therefore in a house using low energy bulbs the central heating system will have to work harder to make up the difference. Thus assuming one’s central heating system is on for 6 months per year, the actual energy saving is only half what is claimed. Ask any physicist.

A physicist puts him in his place later, but unless you’ve got a very recent, highly efficiently insulated home, the amount of heat gain from incandescent lighting waste is not going to make any difference to the work done by your central heating system. It’s the comparison of a few hundred (intermittent) watts versus a few kilowatts running for a significant period of the year.

Jimmy R, Scotland:

The main reason I am hoarding them is that I object to the bullying attitude of governments over normal bulbs. I am quite willing to change when asked but I have always had an attitude problem with those who try to push people around without cause.

I’m lost here. Other than perpetuating the suggestion that Scots have a massive chip on their shoulder about everything, what has this to do with the goodness or otherwise of CFLs? Jimmy is still free to use what he likes at the moment, unless he’s looking for a fight.

Paw Bokenfohr, Bracknell, United Kingdom, raises a much repeated complaint about dimming:

Something I didn’t see mentioned in your article, is what about those of us with dimmers? I have one in each of the bedrooms; I don’t always want full brightness, especially when I am getting up in the mornings or winding down for sleep. Why should I be made to remove these switches in order to use CFLs? I shouldn’t is the answer. I am all for reducing our carbon footprint and all, but I already recycle, have a low emission car, and my commute is less than 5 miles, and I always shower, never bath. Why shouldn’t I be able to retain my incandescent bulbs? It seems a small thing to ask.

Again, I find myself a bit lost. Our earlier commentator complain that CFLs are not bright enough for them, now we have someone complaining that they are too bright. I know it’s an extremely simple solution, but dimmers weren’t always available (and are wasteful anyway), so Paw could do something radical and daring like having more than one size of bulb fitted, and use table or floor lamps with lower wattage bulbs when winding up or getting up. Paw also demonstrates flawed logic – something which many so-called green schemes foster – by ending up with no net saving. After reducing one’s carbon footprint, instead of reaping the benefit of the reduction, its used as a sop to indulge in something wasteful, thereby wiping out any benefit.

Alison, London, England, gives us the benefit of feminine logic – if it looks pretty, who cares if it wastes energy:

I will resist these energy bulbs for as long as possible firstly because I have just bought a beautiful light fitting that would look terrible with these bulbs and secondly because I suffer from migraine and do not wish to introduce something that could trigger an attack.

And she even managed to find a medical reason to justify never changing.

Chris Markiewicz, Barnet, England, manages to stay on the medical theme, even if he slips a little in his logic:

I have a visual impairment (retinitis pigmentosa), which means I cannot see well at all in low light. The new bulbs leave it almost impossible for me to see well – I often stay in hotels and now many of them use these bulbs and I literally have to feel my way around the hotel room, whereas with the traditional bulbs I can still see reasonably clearly.

While wishing Chris the best with his impairment, I’ll wager that his problem is not confined to hotels with CFLs. In fact, since they use a quarter or so of the electricity of their hot-blooded incandescent brethren, penny-pinching hotels than put light bulbs that are little better than candles in their rooms could afford to put more powerful bulbs in their place, and still use less power. Chris’s hotels probably still had the 10 and 15 watt “hotel specials” in place, as the owners would rather pay 50 p for an old bulb, rather than the £2.50 the CFL would have cost them to replace it a few years ago.

Finally, the physicist’s contribution in response to the drivel from the first correspondent.

Chris Latham (Physicist), England:

There is a factual error in the contribution from Tim Beechey-Newman, Reading. Each unit of electrical energy delivered to the consumer takes about four units of chemical or nuclear energy to generate it. Three units of energy are lost in the generation process and transmission.

Typically, central heating systems running on a fuel such as oil or gas use about one-and-a-half units of energy to generate one unit of useful heat for the consumer. Thus, when everything is taken into account, electricity is an inefficient way to provide heating. Indeed, this is reflected in the high cost of using electricity for heating. Energy-saving lamps, therefore, do exactly what is expected: they save energy.

Actually, slipping my mildly satirical hat off for a moment, it’s all a fairly sad reflection on people’s attitudes, and unwillingness to adopt to changes, and what might be described as the “comfy pair of shoes” syndrome.

Assuming global warming is real, and that there is indeed a tipping-point which represents the point of no return if we don’t change our ways, then don’t bet on the tipping point not being reached if we’re dependent on ordinary people to do anything about not getting there being coerced.

iLemmings

Posted in Tech, Venting with tags , , , on July 13, 2008 by Apollo

Watching one of the Sunday morning “lifestyle” programmes this morning – yes, I have better things to do, but do stop channel surfing if I see anything remotely gadget like in someone’s grubby little paw – I was reminded of why I’ll never succumb to any of the iCrap out there, and fund Apple again. Last time was an Apple II, and look what a mistake that turned out to be. The only useful piece of software I ever ran on it was an adventure game, and I never got past the first chapter.

This morning it was a reminder at the cynical marketing ploys of their iPhone. Having launched a bit of clunky, pathetically underpowered piece of hardware and software that depended on nothing more than its looks to make it sell, they’ve now released a slightly more functional version of the thing, with proper software, storage, and network access. In fact, for the ridiculous money, all the things it should have had the day it was first launched – but that might have hurt the “second sell” aimed at the early adopters.

If it worked, it might not be so bad, but even Channel 5’s biased Gadget Show didn’t award it top spot for what it did, only its looks.

Of course, this will do wonders for their sales, and empty the pockets of the faithfull, since there’s no trade-in or upgrade route, so all the folk that have already splashed out to have the latest overpriced “must have” shiney box will have to throw them away, having had them for only a matter of months, and shell out for the newest one, or be left behind with an old-fashioned, obsoleted, uncool gadget.

Now, we all know that that’s never going to happen with the faithfull, and they’ll happily dip into their pockets, and empty them to fill Apple’s coffers to buy the newest version – and folk complain about Microsoft.