Monthly Archives: March 2011

Hybrid Battery Fears

Back in 2004 we were looking to buy a car. I went out and test drove every car available that was rated at over 32 mpg (highway). It included the Civic, Mini, Scion, Mazda 3, a VW diesel, and a Prius (that I recall). I developed a spreadsheet that showed how much each would cost us over the next five years, based on estimates for maintenance, new tires every 35,000 miles, and gas. To factor in gas price increases I used $2.50 a gallon as an average price and adjusted the gas cost for each vehicle based on the fuel it needed (such as diesel for the VW and premium for the Mini).

Because of something the Toyota dealer in Clarksville told us, I also factored in the cost of doing a replacement of 50% of the battery cells in the Prius. The dealer indicated that they were unsure of how well the batteries would do and the replacement cost (at that time) was around $2,300. The warranty was “only” 100,00 miles on the batteries. Of course, I ignored the fact that the warranty on the entire rest of the car was 36,000 miles and it was fully reasonable to expect the car would do at least five times that  without any major problems. If the batteries were only twice as good as the warranty it would have been fine.

Since then, I’ve read reports of a guy n Canada that converted his entire taxi fleet in Toronto to Priuses (Prii?)  and all went well past 200,000 miles. Now (OK, back in January) even Consumer Reports has shot that “battery failure demon” straight through the heart. And the results?

… we borrowed a 2002 model with 206,000 miles on the odometer. Then we put it through some of the same tests we ran almost exactly 10 years earlier on a nearly identical 2001 tested car with 2,000 miles. We checked whether the battery had worn down, which would be expensive to fix because a new one costs $2,300 to $2,600 from a dealer (more like $500 from a salvage yard). We timed acceleration. And we determined whether the mpg was as high in the aged car as it had been in the new one.

Their overall mileage was about .2 less and that could have been due to the car needing a tune-up or cold weather. Acceleration was basically unchanged. The battery had not worn out and the car drove and handled pretty much like it did a decade before. It didn’t even have rattles.

The new Prius uses a lithium-polymer battery instead of the nickel metal hydride ones. Lithium-polymer  is newer and better technology and the manufacturers are offering better warranties on them. Worry warting about batteries isn’t justified.



It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I realized that news magazines tended to be liberal or conservative. I always thought they just reported the news. My father subscribed to Newsweek. Once I moved out of the house and was living on my own, I started subscribing myself. I’d grown accustomed to reading their analysis of the news and it seemed like the right thing to do. I’d read a Time or three and it hadn’t seemed as good somehow. The design wasn’t as nice and the focus seemed different somehow. As best I can tell, it was probably in 1971 or 72 when I first got my subscription. So we’ll just call it forty years of continuous subscribing.

Until this week, that is. Over the last couple of years I’ve watched the number of pages dwindle down until it seems to be half its former size but the quality of the content was still there. Over the years, correspondents and columnists have come and gone, including some really good ones, but the consistency was that they provided insight and in-depth looks at the major burning issues of the day.

When they announced that Tina Brown had taken over the magazine, I wondered how the changes would be reflected in the magazine itself. The first issue or two didn’t seem to radical a departure, but then last week’s issue came in. In the midst of the greatest turmoil of revolution throughout the Mideast and the huge earthquake and tsunami damage suffered by Japan, what did I find? Three pages on how Charlie Sheen was an example of the post-Empire way of life and three pages on how Starbucks lost its mojo. (Which was pparently due in part to the smell of cooked cheddar cheese and remedied by going with a different varietal – the horror! How had I lived without knowing this? God knows.).

Sorry, but if I’d wanted to subscribe to People or Us, I’d have done so. I’m cancelling my subscription after forty years. I can do just as well on the Internet. Oh, and in other signs the apocalypse is here, AP has decided to drop the hyphen from the word e-mail.

You May Have Heard a Rumor

Apple has introduced the second version of their iPad tablet device. Since I live and breathe technology, I lust for one. Being an admitted Apple fan for over two decades doesn’t help. They have an innate ability to develop technology that ends up being at the edge of the future of technology.

Lots of pundits have dismissed Apple and its products over the years as more “toy” than serious computer. But they have changed the industry consistently and repeatedly. Things we take for granted as normal parts of or lives, from using a mouse to using a simpler computer interface, are the result of Apple implementing things they have pushed to the forefront or developed. They didn’t invent the mouse, they made it necessary and ubiquitous. Markets and products that didn’t exist have been created by their releasing products onto the world. They change things. They set standards that most of us didn’t know existed.

Before the iPod, there were no digital music devices. Now an industry exists. Before the iPhone, touch-screens were few and far between. Now most phone manufacturers have incorporated then into their lines in order to survive. Not everyone uses all of these things, of course. Apple will probably never produce something that everyone needs. But all along the way, Apple has been criticized for seeming to make the computer into more of an appliance than a tool for technology adepts. Now, they have succeeded in their iPads. They aren’t for people like me who think nothing of spending a day playing in Photoshop or Excel or some other geekly application, deep into the applications of technology that run on modern laptops and desktops. And when the first version came out, many people in technology looked at them as an inferior laptop, which they are.

But technologists are myopic. We tend to think that what we need in out techno world is what everyone else ought to need. Everyone ought to be able to use computers and spend time in technology during every day. We breathe in the euphoria of the silicon world and we live here. We follow the latest trends and applications and movements on the web. We, to a greater and greater degree, also live there in some form or other. Disconnecting is disconcerting at best but something we do to “prove” we can – at least for a while.

But the truth of technology is that it can be made into something useful to everyone. The environment and the world of the web is full of ways and places to learn and discover and grow (and with apps like Epicurious and AllRecipes, that growth can be physical as well as intellectual). There’s everything out there. What the iPad has done and will continue to do is make the technology even simpler and more transparent to the users – and much easier to use. There’s no command line interface hiding behind the scenes that a technologist can use to manipulate the IP configurations or custom resource settings. That’s all diminished and the result is the next step in the transformation of technology. We’ve become used to the power of technology intruding on our lives in objects that surround us – everything from our cars to our coffeemakers and vacuum cleaners. This is just one more example.

They’ve sold enormous numbers of iPads since the initial release (most to technologists, by the way) and they’ll sell more and more. In a few more years, they’ll come out with something evenDamn, I wish we’d bought their stock way back when.