Tag Archives: Green

Toss Your Bic

I recently emptied a Bic pen. For a lot of people, this never happens. Disposable ballpoint pens are so ubiquitous, that we tend to lose them before we run them dry. I’m a bit particular; I almost never lose pens. Consequently, when I empty a pen I’m faced with a decision on how to dispose of it.

I’ve scoured the Internet, and the best course of action is to just toss them. They’re so minuscule that they’re just not worth recycling. On the other hand, being so minuscule makes them the perfect size to poke through a trash bag and escape over the side of a trash barge. Once free, it can makes its way down river and eventually joining the great Pacific Garbage Patch. OK, so that’s just my environmental guilt speaking, but it did get me thinking. Why are all of our pens disposable to some degree or another? They haven’t always been like that.

Fountain Pens

As an alternative to these common disposable pens, I considered using a fountain pen. I started researching them and found out that most inexpensive fountain pens use disposable cartridges. All is not lost though. You can often find converters for these fountain pens. A converter has the proper dimensions of an ink cartridge, but in fact its a small syringe.

Lamy Safari with ink cartridge (installed) and a converter

Lamy Safari with ink cartridge (installed) and a converter

I picked up a Lamy Safari pen, which came with a standard ink cartridge. I then ordered a converter for it. Sure this isn’t the most inexpensive pen out there, but it’s far from the expensive end of the scale.

Fountain pens write amazingly well. It’s a really different experience. I’ve got seriously poor handwriting, but it’s largely the result of being an impatient writer. A fountain pen forces you to slow down as the ink flows steadily and smoothly. If you pick up the habit of writing with fountain pens, you’ll find that the extra $6 to buy the converter will really pay off. Fountain pens lay down a lot more ink than a ball point pen, and so you’ll be going through cartridges pretty often. For me it’s more about reducing that plastic waste, and so saving a little money is just a bonus.

Rollerball Pens

If a ballpoint pen is more your style, then rollerball pens offer a nice compromise. Disposable rollerball pens have been around for a long time, but there are a few models now that actually take fountain pen cartridges. And just like their fountain pen cousins, you can get converters for them as well.

Lyra Calypso with Converter (installed)

Lyra Calypso with Converter (installed)

I picked up a pair of Lyra Calypso pens and converters. I order them from pensations.com, but I’m not linking to their site because it seems that their domain registration may have elapsed recently. The Calypso pen writes incredibly smooth, gliding even better than a fountain pen. The ball makes the ink delivery more even than a fountain pen while not requiring nearly the same kind of pressure as a ballpoint pen. In fact, it’s a little too smooth for me. I find my handwriting is a little better with a fountain pen because the resistance slows me down a little.

What’s old is new again

A while ago, I started carrying a handkerchief as a way of minimizing the napkins and paper towels that I use. Sounds kind of gross, but that’s exactly what our grandparents did when they were young. A little later I started shaving with a safety razor; again just like my grandfathers. I’m not exactly sure what kind of pens they used, but I’m guessing they didn’t have bics when they were kids. I’m starting to think that all of today’s modern (disposable) marvels are inferior versions of their reusable predecessors. I smell the work of marketers.

Suspension Setup for the New Brammo Empulse R

When news that the Empulse R would be available before the Empulse, I was pretty excited. This news was that last justification that I needed in order to spend the extra money on the R version. The R offers up some carbon fiber bodywork, fully adjustable suspsension, and (I think) a different motor. Of that list, it’s primarily the suspension that I was most excited about.

A lot of sportbikes come with fully adjustable suspension, but the Empulse belongs to that weird segment filled by street fighters and sporty standards. It sources Marzocchi forks and a Sachs shock in an OEM variety that is devoid of any kind of identifying marks. I had my concerns about the whether or not the extra adjustability would be of any consequence. Add to that some initial reports from the earlier owners that the suspension on the R was just too firm and would have to be replaced with something aftermarket. My heart definitely sunk a little as I waited for my bike to come in.

When I received my Empulse R, I didn’t know what to think. I was still in the break-in period, but it did seem really harsh. Did I just get suckered? Short answer is No. The Empulse R is undersprung for my weight (180 lbs. with full gear), but is otherwise phenomenal for stock suspension. Hopefully this blog post will help owners get the most out of the suspension on their Empulse R.

Where to Start

I’ve been doing a lot of research into suspension setup. In the past, I’ve taken my racebikes to a chassis/suspension shop. Their work was superb, but I learned next to nothing. The Empulse is my first sportbike since I gave up spirited riding on the street years ago. I do still have gas street bikes, but I’m more of a touring guy now.

I had a lot to learn about motorcycle suspension. As I read more, the more that I realized that suspension tuning information is out there, but it’s never in one complete place. You have to read a bunch of half truths from several different sources. Finally I found once source that really clicked with me:

Sean Onipede put together a great guide that does a few things that I found to be very important:

  1. Provides an order to follow when setting up your suspension.
  2. Details the key responsibility for each setting.

The first point is pretty critical. Just like a race track is a series of corners that must be linked together successfully, your suspension works in related stages to get you through the micro-steps of every corner. It steepens the front-end for turn in, relaxes the front end at the apex, settles the rear end for traction when rolling on the throttle, and it keeps the bike on line while powering out of the corner.

This moves right into the second point. In order to setup the suspension for each of those stages, you have to know which setting affect the bike through each of those stages. Typically people describe symptoms and then offer up one or two adjustments to correct those symptoms. The problem is, the description of these systems with “soft” terms that may have no meaning to most readers.

I can’t compete with the quality of Sean’s guide or even with all of the other random good information on the Internet, and so the rest of this guide is mostly just tips on how to make the adjustments to your Empulse R.

What You’ll Need

Tools needed to measure and adjust suspsension

Tools needed to measure and adjust suspsension

Most of the measuring is for calculating static sag. It’s easier with a helper, but I didn’t have one so I devised a scheme to set the sag myself. The above shows the tools that you need to adjust and measure your suspension without a helper. Here’s a break-down:

  • Wooden Dowel
  • Zip Tie
  • Telescoping Magnetic Retriever or Car Antenna (or a helper)
  • Metric Ruler
  • Bungies (or a helper)
  • Flathead Screwdriver
  • Spanner for 3/8″ Socket Driver
  • 3/8″ Socket Driver with 1″ extension
  • 7/8″ Wrench (22mm might fit best)

Sag Measurements

Sag goes by different terms and there are different ways to measure it. I’m going to stick with the Racetech terms and methods as outlined here:

First you need to measure full extension. Then you measure free sag (bike without rider) and static sag (bike with rider). For the two sag measurements, you’ll want to take two measurements for each. The first measurement is taken when the suspension is allowed to compress and settle to a stop. The second measurement is taken when the suspension is allowed to rise and settle to a stop after you’ve compressed it down and released. You take the average of these two measurements as a way to compensate for “stiction” (sticky friction).

It difficult to take these measurements without help, but the following descriptions illustrate a way to take the measurements by yourself for extension, free sag, and static sag.

Front Sag

The first thing to do is to put a zip tight on your right front lower fork leg.

Illustrates where to place the zip tie.

Illustrates where to place the zip tie.

To measure the extension, put the bike on the side stand with the bar turned all of the way to the left. From the right side of the bike, push up on the right handlebar until the front wheel is barely off of the ground. Then slide the zip tie up and measure from the top of the zip tie to the bottom of the silver fork leg.

Measuring front extension

Measuring front extension

To measure free sag, you’ll balance the bike straight up and down allowing it to settle on the way down or on the way up depending on which of the two measurements you’re taking. Once it settles, carefully reach down and slide the zip tie up. Then carefully put the bike on the side stand and take the measurement from the top of the zip tie to the bottom of the silver fork leg.

To measure the static sag, you’ll balance the bike with you on top of it wearing all of your gear. This is easiest next to a wall on your left side. You’ll want to hold the bars and center your weight over the bike in a natural riding position as it settles. I do this by leaning just slightly with my left elbow against the wall. Then slowly move down with your right hand and push the zip tie up. Stiction is your friend here, because it will prevent the fork from compressing as you slowly lean over the front more. Carefully get off of the bike and measure the zip tie again.

Free sag equals the full extension reading minus the free sag reading. And likewise, static sag is the full extension reading minus the static sag reading. Racetech recommends 30-35mm of static sag for street applications and 25-30mm of static sag for race applications. I run my Empulse R at 33mm of front static sag.

Now that you can measure static sag on the front, we’ll discuss setting it. You set sag by changing front preload. Preload is set by using a 7/8″ wrench on the red adjusters on top of each fork. I didn’t have a large enough metric wrench, but I suspect a 22mm is the perfect size. The imperial wrench did just fine since it doesn’t take much torque. My static sag was originally 38mm, and three full revolutions (tightening) added enough preload to bring me to 33mm of static sag.

Adjust front preload by turning red adjusters on top of each fork leg

Adjust front preload by turning red adjusters on top of each fork leg

What Does Preload Do?

Adding preload to a spring compresses it slightly, making it stiffer. Springs have a spring contant k. The force a spring exerts is determined by Hooke’s law where F = kx. Force equals the spring constant times the displacement of the spring which is a distance measurement. The more you compress a spring, the more force it exerts. By adding some preload, you change that displacement making it exert more force. If it exerts more force, then it will sag less. This is because the bike has a certain amount of weight that the springs must counteract with spring force. The system is balanced when the springs exert the proper amount of force. If the springs have a low spring constant, then the springs will compress (sag) until the force is right.

Why is sag important then? Keith Code explains static sag really well in his Twist of the Wrist book. Suspension is really designed to work well in that middle third of travel. In the initial third of travel, the spring force is too low. The middle third is just right. The last third is too stiff. Sounds a little Goldilocksian at first, but it makes sense on some level. So by setting your static sag to just less than 1/3 of the shocks travel means that when you’re cranked over in a corner, the cornering forces will compress the suspension right into the magical middle third of travel. Of course, if you go through corners fast, there’s going to be more compression. This is when you have to ask yourself how fast you want to go through corners. If you set you bike up with less static sag, it’s going to feel like crap if you pull into a parking lot through that dip in the concrete too slowly. If you pull through there going 35mph, it’s going to feel like magic.

How much preload is too much then? I can’t really answer that, but I do know that by adding preload you’re reducing the amount of travel available to the spring. If the fork or shock is designed to utilize all of a spring’s travel then this is bad news. Regardless, it’s best to start with the correct spring rate and use a small amount of preload. The rationale behind this is that by adding preload to your spring, it’s like placing a shorter, stiffer spring in there that will get stiffer sooner as the wheel moves through its travel. You really want a spring that changes its force more slowly.

I’m not sure about the dimensions of the fork and shock on the Empulse R, but I plan to at least pull my shock and get some detailed measurements of the spring and the shock without the spring.

Rear Sag

Rear static sag is probably more crucial than front static sag for most riders, because you’re going to feel it right in your spine. If you’re the kind of rider that trailbrakes really hard into corners, then I’d say the the front end is as important or more. When I first received my Empulse R, I was astonished at how firm the rear-end was…or so I thought. I would run over bumps in the road that would chatter my teeth. This is the point where I was really doing some soul searching about my decision to get the R.

Luckily I sorted out this method for measuring sag without a helper and I got some measurements. My rear static sag was a whopping 51.5mm. I was basically riding so far down in the travel that I was getting into that nasty last third of travel.

To measure my rear extension without a helper, I devised a scheme that provided the same benefit of using the zip tie. I bungied a telescoping magnetic retriever to the swingarm right over the rear axle.

Mounting the retriever to the swingarm

Mounting the retriever to the swingarm

Then I bungied a wooden down under the seat just above and slightly forward of the rear axle.

Dowel mounted under the seat

Dowel mounted under the seat

Then with the bike on the side stand, I pull up until the rear wheel was just off of the ground, and with one hand I extended the magnetic retriever until it hit the wooden dowel and then I move the retriever to the side just slightly so that I could lower the rear wheel without fear of compressing the retriever. Lastly I take the measurement from the top of the retriever to the middle of the rear axle.

Measuring magnetic retriever extension

Measuring magnetic retriever extension

Measuring free sag and static sag is much the same as before with the front, with the only real difficulty coming when you are on the bike and trying to reach back to extend the retriever carefully for the static sag measurements. There’s not as much stiction in the rear shock, so you’ll be doing a bit of a balancing act here.

Adding rear preload is a little more complicated. It’s done by loosening the lock collar and then tightening the newly released adjusting collar. The collars are two large nuts with notches. They’re located on the shock body at the top/front of the spring.

Rear preload is added with the collars

Rear preload is added with the collars

To measure how much preload you’re adding, people typically measure the length of threads showing above the collars. For my Empulse R, there was 8mm of threads showing from the factory. To loosen the lock collar and then to adjust the preload collar, you’ll want to use the spanner with the 3/8″ driver and 1″ extension. They sell normal flat spanner wrenches for this, but the collars are right behind the subframe on the Empulse and so it’s hard to get to.

Spanner on driver setup for loosening lock collar

Spanner on driver setup for loosening lock collar

You can also use a hammer and punch to loosen the lock collar, but I highly recommend against using it to tighten the adjusting collar since the numerous revolutions will bugger up the notches. Using the spanner to add preload can get difficult, and I found it best to attack it from the left side making sure that the spanner tooth is a notch correctly and that the spanner body is lined up and resting squarely on the collar. Lastly avoid any twisting motions when twisting the 3/8″ driver. The spring and lower collar will likely rotate too. That’s OK.

Adjusting rear preload from the left side of the bike

Adjusting rear preload from the left side of the bike

The whole process of adding preload will be much simpler if you can remove as much spring force as possible. I do this by keeping the bike on the side stand and then placing a scissor jack under the frame so that the rear wheel barely comes off the ground.

A scissor jack can help get the rear wheel off of the ground

A scissor jack can help get the rear wheel off of the ground

The procedure for setting rear sag is to add/remove some preload and then measure again. Once you hit your target then tighten the lock collar against the adjusting collar. Racetech recommends 28-37mm of rear static sag for street use and 23-32mm for the track. I ended up adding 10mm of preload for a total of 18mm in order to get my rear sag to 35mm. It feels phenomenal! I’m really impressed with how planted it is in nearly any corner I’ve encountered on the street. It’s a bit harsh for the low speed corners, but that was to be expected. I did end up adding a lot of preload, and so I’m in the middle of trying to determine what spring rate to choose for my new spring.

Damping Adjustments

The good news is that you’ve now finished the most critical adjustments to your bike’s suspension. The bad news is that the remaining settings are much less of a science than they are an exercise of personal preference. That preference is determined through lots of trial and error experiments as you ride through a chosen set of roads/corners the same way…again and again.

I’ve made several attempts to tweak my damping, but it’s really hard to come up with repeatable experiments on the street. For instance, in order to set your front compression dampening correctly for a corner, you need to hit a very late brake marker. I tend to brake early on the street and so it really doesn’t matter how quickly my front compresses. And as for setting up front rebound, the Empulse doesn’t have the bite in the corners that a V-Twin does and so you’re not likely to jack the front end up when rolling on the throttle. That leaves suspension packing as the likely only factor that you can use to judge your front damping setting and I don’t really know what suspension packing feels like. The rear is just about as difficult on the street with the exception of rear rebound. That’s usually easier to set up because it’s easy to get the rear end to chatter in corner exits under power.

Anyhow, I’m going to leave this up to you as a very long-term project. The critical thing you you need to know is the following:

  • How to adjust all four damping settings.
  • The range of each setting.
  • The original factory settings.

Three of the adjusters are free spinning (measured in degrees) and one has detents (measured in clicks). 0° and 0 clicks means fully open (fully counter clockwise).

Front compression damping is a flathead screw adjustment at the bottom of each fork leg. It has about 1080° of adjustment and is set from the factory at 360° or 33.3%.

Front compression adjustment is a small flathead screw at bottom of each fork leg.

Front rebound adjustment is a small flathead screw at bottom of each fork leg.

Front rebound damping is a flathead screw adjustment on top of each fork leg. It has about 1260° of adjustment and it is set fromt he factory with 495° or 39.39%.

Adjust front rebound with flathead screwdriver on top of each fork leg

Adjust front compression with flathead screwdriver on top of each fork leg

Rear compression damping is a black knob on top of the remote reservoir for the rear shock. It has 45 clicks of adjustment and is set from the factory with 28 clicks or 62.22%.

Rear compression damping is a black knob on top of remote reservoir

Rear compression damping is a black knob on top of remote reservoir

Rear rebound damping is a flathead screw adjuster on the lower clevis of the rear shock. It has 990° of adjustment and is set from the factory with 450° or 45.45%.

Rear rebound adjustment is a flathead screw on bottom clevis

Rear rebound adjustment is a flathead screw on bottom clevis

What’s Next

I still haven’t dialed in my damping settings, but I don’t know if I will move far from stock until I get a trackday under my belt. As for static sag, I feel like I’m there. I might add a little static sag to the front since the bike has a more upright riding position due to the standard bars. I am getting a new rear spring, but I still need to get some critical measurements of my shock and rear spring (including stock spring rate) before I can order one. Stay tuned (pun intended).

Office Charging Stations: Breaking Ground

I’ve mentioned before that the facilities manager at my office is a true-blue believer in EVs. He’s had a long career working with industrial electric motors, and understands them to their very core. He’s really supported me and the Enertia from day one. He even putting up with its charging fans blowing right outside of his office inside of our shipping and receiving area. He’s dead set on getting a Nissan Leaf too, because its got the range to suit his commuting needs.

They’re Here

He’s been giving me progress reports on the company’s initiative to install Coulomb Charging Stations at work. There have been some delays with the contractors, but I’m happy to say that they’ve broken ground this week. From the looks of it, we should have five posts serving ten spots with Level 1 and Level 2 charging.

Progress for Day 1

They made a little more progress on day two. There are trenches behind the ledges and some electrical utility boxes installed.The boxes are kind of ugly, so I hope they do something to disguise them. The last thing that I want to hear is people condemning them because they’re ugly. As it is, the location is already taking up exterior spaces where the car worshiping d-bags double park their cars like it’s some sort of Grease era car show.

Progress from day 2

I can’t wait to see them operation. From what I’ve been told, they’ll be open to the public too. So anyone with a ChargePass Card (like me) can use them. I’m not sure if that policy will be permanent, but I can’t imagine that there will be too many non-employees using them. When they go online, hopefully they’ll show up on Coulomb’s Awesome Webapp.

Of course, when they do go online, it means the end of my indoor parking. Oh well. :)

ChargePoint Charging Station Demonstration

I got a little caught up while filming some video on the Enertia this weekend, and I let the battery run down a little further than I planned. Luckily, I knew the perfect place to top off. A nearby McDonald’s has a pair of ChargePoint EV charging stations…AKA Prius Parking Spots. I figured that I would swing by and be forced to squeeze my Enertia between a Prius and the ChargePoint, but when I got there, I had it all to myself.

Here’s the edited footage from the demonstration. The audio was junky, so I just threw in some explanatory text and put a soundtrack on it. Feel free to drop a comment if you have any questions.

First 1000+ Miles on the Enertia

1000 miles on the odometer

I logged another 500+ miles on my Enertia. I’m amazed at how motivated I am to commute on this thing. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve owned road-going motorcycles for most of my adult life, and I’ve never felt compelled to commute on one more than once every month or two. This bike is such a pleasure to commute on. After 4+ weeks, I don’t know what I look forward to more in the morning, My cup of home roasted coffee or my commute into work.

Today’s mpkWh

My Enertia and I are definitely getting much more efficient. I set a personal record on my commute home today.

20.2 miles / 2.14 kWh = 9.44 mpkWh

I thought about putting up some more calculations about how much money I’m saving, but instead I’d like to leave the calculations out and simple state the following:

1000 miles / 14.5 mpg = 69.0 Gallons of Diesel

And that’s obviously diesel fuel that I didn’t burn. That doesn’t sound like much, but I’m just one person. As EV adoption grows, this will become significant.

A Truly Inspiring Ride

During this first month with the Enertia, Earth Week has come and gone. I’m not sure if it was Earth Week or the dozens of green conversations that I’ve had since owning the Enertia, but the environment has been on my mind a lot. Everyone seems to be interested in doing their part, but the overwhelming sentiment is that it costs too much to make any significant difference. The beauty about the Enertia is that it doesn’t take much to make a difference whether you measure in carbon, gallons, or dollars.

For the first 500 miles I showed a simple illustration of how much money I’m saving with the Enertia compared to driving my diesel pickup. I’ll definitely admit that I went from one heck of a guzzler to something much more efficient, and so my results are going to be much more significant that most. I could have seen a significant improvement by going to a modest ICE motorcycle or even a modest improvement with a small sedan. But this whole question of “improvement” depends on the criteria by which you’re judging. Counting carbon is a bit controversial with some, especially global warming doubters. But no one (save for oil barons) can argue the numerous negatives of oil.

Gulf Oil Spill

Well it’s true that I went from doing all of my commuting and errands in my diesel pickup to doing those same trips on a motorcycle, but I think it’s tremendously important that I did that trip without the use of fuel derived from oil. Sure I might get my energy from fossil fuels, but it sure wasn’t from oil pumped out of [and into] the Gulf of Mexico.

I’m from that neck of the woods. I grew up in the Florida Panhandle. We’ve got the worlds most beautiful beaches. The sugar-fine sand is as white as the driven snow and piles up in sand dunes almost overnight. Well what do you think that sand is going to look like mixed with crude oil? I’m thinking something along the lines of a Ben and Jerry’s flavor…with dead seafood mixed in. Gives a whole new meaning to Phish Food, huh?

Joking and tourism aside, let’s just take a second to imagine what’s going to happen to the massively large and delicate wetland ecosystems in the Mississippi Delta. I spent a day diving among the mangroves in Bonaire a few years back, and I learned a lot about these sheltered brackish ecosystems along the shore. They are basically estuaries where the oceans fish are hatched, sheltered, and raised until they can fend for themselves out at sea. These are the same fish that are caught commercially and fed to you and I…well maybe you.

Well not all people care about the ocean as much as I do, but I think everyone agrees that we can find some important reason to us to get off of oil. Loosing countless lives of the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, America, and the various allies is a strong reason to me as well. Global warming, the bleaching of the worlds ocean reefs, and the loss of island nations are a few others. I don’t care how much of a global warming denier you are…burning oil to get our lazy selves to the nearest fast food drive through has got to end in our lifetime.

Counteracting EVs’ Impact on the Grid

Let’s just say that the Enertia is a bit of a conversation piece. I literally have 3-4 “green” conversations every day. Most of the time the people that approach me are very friendly and supportive. Every now and then you’ll run across someone that starts out friendly, and then ends up in debate mode. I’ve often wondered why people get like this..and why debate the merits of EVs with me? I’ve got a theory, and is has something to do with their guilt surfacing a little then their pride overcompensating and immediately putting them on the defensive…even if I haven’t said a word.

That's a lot of cars to plug in.

Is Electric That Much Better?

Regardless of my pseudo-psycho-babble, this is one thing that I hear a lot from these “debaters”.

“Is electric that much more efficient? I mean there are heavy losses due to transmission. Much of America’s power generation is from coal still. And ICE engines are way more efficient than they ever have been.”

Well, I was one of the lucky engineers who’s curriculum didn’t require him to take thermodynamics, so I really can’t comment on the efficiency gains in ICEs. My EE background is awfully weak too, so I have no idea how much energy is lost to heat radiation in our nations long distance transmission lines. However, the topic has been tackled by bloggers and scientists alike here, here, here, and somewhere in here.

Sometimes, people talk about more specific issues, such as the strain on the nation’s power grid. They realize that the power has got to come from somewhere, and Nuclear Fusion isn’t here yet so it comes down to picking the lesser of several evils. Motorcycle.com recently posted a great Electic Motorcycle Primer and summed up the sentiment nicely.

However, while EVs can appeal even to conservatives, another concern is over where all the extra electricity would come from if the EV phenomenon really took off.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. That’s not to say that I’ve done any kind of research into powerline losses to radiation or even whether or not I get my power from the local nuclear fission plant or from coal. Honestly, all of that seems a little out of my control, but then inspiration hit. Why not look at what is in my control… The beauty about electricity is that it’s readily available to us. It’s readily available for me to use at home and work…but perhaps more importantly, it’s there for me to not use.

Offsetting My Enertia Energy Consumption

I love it when I get inspired. I set out to try and recover my daily energy consumption from my Enertia charges by doing some very simple work around the house. When I mean simple…I did most of this stuff at home while drinking beers one evening. I grabbed my trusty Kill A Watt, and went to town.

Best $19.99 you'll ever spend.

The first thing that I did, was to look for anything that’s plugged in that is rarely used. I was ashamed at what I started to uncover. I basically just took instantaneous reading to see what the power draw was for various appliances.

I started in the garage looking at my “garage theater system” and anything else I could find.
3.4 W * 24 h – PC Speakers in the Off position.
2.4 W * 24 h – DC Transformer for unplugged Wifi Bridge.
3.8 W * 24 h – Unused Motorcycle Battery Tender for Racebike.

Then I moved inside to the den, AKA my man cave.
13.4 W * 24 h – Home Theater Subwoofer accidentally set to On instead of Auto-On
1.4 W * 24 h – Home Theater Receiver
0.0 W * 24 h – Sony PS3
0.9 W * 24 h – Nintendo Wii
23.5 W * 24 h – HD Cable DVR
1.9 W * 24 h – 42″ LCD TV
22.0 W * 24 h – Uninterpretable Power Supply
1.3 W * 24 h – Empty Glade Plug-in Air Freshener

I didn’t find much in the kitchen.
1.3 W * 24 h – Another empty Glade Plug-In Air Freshener

And I don’t have much in my living room, save for my Mame arcade cabinet with the MythTV server.
6.2 W * 24 h – Broken Roomba Docked on its Charger
19.73 W * 24 h – Savings on MythTV Server through running Granola

There wasn’t much in the office as far as vampire appliances. But there was the rather obvious light fixture…duh!
45 W * 3 * 4 h – Replaced 3 60 incadescents with 3 13 W CFLs in my light fixture

OK, that was pretty ridiculous. I spend a few hours maybe twice a month in my den, unless I’m caught up in a video game. All of those items in the den can easily be turned off with a power strip when not in use, and they take no time to boot. The only exception is my cable box, but I so very rarely use it. I watch 98% of my TV on a Linux desktop in the office streaming from my MythTV backend. I can get the other 2% (motorcycle racing) through bittorrent. I’ve been meaning to cancel the HD DVR service and return it…I’ve just been too lazy.

Speaking of my MythTV server, I’ve been giving myself a lot of grief lately for running that puppy 24/7. I recently saw something pop up on digg.com about Granola. It is supposed to do more aggressive voltage and frequency scaling on Linux and Windows machines by providing proprietary algorithms that switch cpufreq governors back and forth based on performance need. I suspect they’re just watching things in /proc and responding to it in some sort of way that more intelligent that the “ondemand” governor. Anyhow, the savings that I report for my MythTV server come from Granola’s calculations/estimations, and not my own measurements.

So the grand total daily saving for my home improvements is: 2.97 kWh per day.

Savings in the (Work) Office

I could have called it quits with my savings that I found at home, but I charge up at work (for free) too. Furthermore, I tend to spend more waking hours at work than I do at home. So I decided to count the charging that I do at work, and to try to see how much energy I save during the day. Now I loosened up the rules a little bit. I’m already rather conscious about my energy consumption at work, so I’ve decided to count the things that I’ve been doing for quite a while along with a few new things.

17.66 W * 24h – Saving on Windows Desktop through running http://grano.la/
~3 W * 24h – Saving on Linux Desktop by setting “ondemand” governor (cpufrequtils)
25 W * 3 bulbs * 8h – Keeping my fluorescent lights off and using natural light

I couldn’t get Granola installed on my Linux workstation. I was having some problems due to the fact that I don’t have enough admin rights to add a new user to the machine. But that got me thinking…what I could talk IT into installing this on all of our Linux and Windows machines. As it is, by personally installing Granola on one machine at work, I might be in violation of their TOS. I’ll consider it an experiment at this point. I did get some savings on that machine through changing the cpufreq governor from “performance” to “ondemand. I measured about a 3 W difference when running the two cores at 2.0 GHz instead of 3.17 GHz.

The story might get a little better if I can get some measurements on my Linux desktop, but this is my savings in the office so far: 1.09 kWh.

How Did I Do?

With my latest Enertia efficiency calculations, I use 3.22 kWh to charge for my 30.4 miles commuted a day. And it looks like I’ve saved 4.06 kWh of energy a day through my changes at home and at work. That’s a net savings of 0.84 kWH.

Finally I have some “ammo” for the debaters that question if the Enertia is that much more efficient than an equivalent ICE motorcycle. I’ve offset the Enertia’s charging requirements…and then some. The only way I could get a Ninja 250 to be that efficient, is to slap some pedals on it. And what about the Enertia’s impact to the grid. I’ve actually found enough savings so that I’m actually lessening the impact to the grid.

I’m starting to think of the Enertia as an “ease-over” vehicle. I consider the Chevy Volt and other PHEV (plug-in hyrid EVs) as ease-over vehicles as well. They are solutions that help us bridge the gap to all-electric transportation without impacting the grid too heavily. These low-impact vehicles are going to be incredibly important to help us buy more time. The way I see it, our energy is running out, but in order to make sure it lasts we need to invest a tremendous amount of it to build renewable power plants, new long-range EVs, and smart grid infrastructure. The only way we’ll be able to afford the energy for such a massive build up, is to start saving energy now through the use of these ease-over vehicles and through energy conservation.

First 500 Miles on the Enertia

500 miles on the odometer

I hit a milestone this morning of 500 miles on my Enertia. At this point I consider the batteries to be sufficiently conditioned and working optimally…not that I have any data to back it up. I did do some mileage calculations today. I charged up at work earlier, so it was full before I left on my 31.0 mile trip home (I had to run an errand). Once I got home, I plugged it up to charge, except I plugged it into a Kill A Watt instead of plugging it directly into a socket. These things are so cheap. I highly recommend getting one if you’re ever curious about how much power you’re using. You can use it as a meter to check voltage, frequency, and current. Most of the time, you’ll just set it to measure kilowatt hours consumed over a period. In my case, I was measure how much it consumed while charging.

Today’s mpkWh
31 miles / 3.63 kW h = 8.54 mpkWh

I think I can do better, because that trip was on roads that I’m not familiar with. I’m much more efficient on my typical commute. Maybe I’ll try to calculate this again tomorrow, but on a normal commute. I smell a spreadsheet coming along sooner or later. For now, here are some calculations on my first 500 miles.

Money Not Spent on Diesel
500.1 miles / 14.5 mpg * $2.999 = $103.43

I’m averaging 14.5 mpg in my truck right now, and diesel has been at $2.999 lately.

Money (I’ve) Spent on Electricity
500.1 miles / 8.54 mpkWh * $102.5 pKWH1000 / 1000 / 2 = $3.00

I used my mpkWh calculation above and then used a figure for the average price of 1000 kW h in my area. I’m going to double check that against my actual statement. And then you’ll notice the little extra division by two. Well that’s because I charge at home, and at work equally during the work week. Since I run must of my weekend errands on the Enertia, this is inaccurate too.

My $avings

Now my goal with the Enertia has never been to save money, so this is quite surprising to me. In two weeks, I’ve saved $100. My next step it to find out the carbon that I’ve saved. It should be easy to find out what my truck’s emissions are, but I’m much more unsure of how my electricity is generated. I know there’s a nearby nuclear power plant, but since the grid is so expansive and connected, who knows where it’s coming from. Maybe I’ll call up the power company tomorrow.

Hmmm… so at this rate, my Enertia ($7200) will be paid off in 3 years. That’s if my chain and tires hold up. Oh yeah and I’ve got to pay a yearly highway use tax, and a yearly inspection. And I had to pay to have it delivered. Then there was the Best Buy prep fee. Yeah, definitely going to need a spreadsheet. :)

Geeks: Our Planet’s Saviors?

Nerds and geeks have come a long way since Weird Science. While the term “nerd” is still a bit derogatory, “geek” has taken on new meaning. After the .com boom, geeks all over Silicon Valley were vaulted into the millionaire club by the hundreds…(maybe thousands?). It seems that just overnight geeks were cool[-ish]. Of course, many of these Internet millionaires didn’t survive the .com bust with enough of their fortunes intact to make it to the Web 2.0 boom. Those that did were likely smart enough to not lose it again in our Great Recession. Many of these veterans are still quite young and looking for projects with deeper meaning.

Green Twilight Careers

Several of these notable tech entrepreneurs are using the global environmental crisis as their call to action to do something significant and long lasting. Tech veterans like Craig Bramscher are reinvesting their .com fortunes [along with other investors] into passionate ventures like the the Brammo Enertia. Even long-time geek philanthropist Bill Gates is redirecting his efforts towards fighting carbon emissions.

Bill Gates

And they’re not the only ones. Successful Baby Boomers who have retired early after great careers are now looking towards the new green economy for a twilight career, something a little more altruistic. Of course, you could argue that it’s that same generation that led us to the brink…but who’s pointing fingers. At least my Dad let me have that 1978 GMC 3/4 ton pickup with the 350 complete with a four barrel carburetor that moved the needle when I opened up all four barrels. Regardless, these are experienced professionals with the technical, managerial, and business skills to make a difference. It’s not just their skills that they’re bringing back to the industry, either. Green investing is on the rise and there are even several simple Green ETFs to get you in the game.

Geek-Friendly Administration

Perhaps the country’s most powerful geek is President Obama. I voted for him because I thought he was the more intelligent and rational of the two. I trusted that he would listen to his advisers, understand them, and make smart decisions. Sure I researched his voting record, stance on issues, and his campaign platform. Who knows how much of that can you trust? The only thing I was a little concerned with was foreign policy, since that’s hardly a rational game. Seems like he’s doing all right. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev thinks he’s a pleasure to work with.

US Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu

And when it comes to our nation’s energy needs, he’s doing exactly as I had hoped. Brilliantly, he appointed a serious geek as Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu, a man well poised to lead us in an energy revolution. Fossil Fuels have been at the forefront of the World’s energy infrastructures and government policies since the Industrial Revolution. Fossil fuels powered our country’s tremendous development, and now they are at the center of our very way of life. The cabinet position of Secretary of Energy has long been filled with lifetime politicians with backgrounds in law, finance, political science, and the military. The office has dealt with oil crises, the rise [and stagnation] of nuclear, and global warming, and yet this is the first time that we’ve appointed a scientist. Although, to call Dr. Chu a mere scientist is a bit of an understatement. He’s a Ph.D. from Berkley. He’s a physicist, professor, the former director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and a Nobel Prize winner.

I want that to sink in a little bit. This man is likely smarter [by an order of magnitude] than anyone you’ve ever met…or will ever meet. It’s not like he’s a barely functional super-genius either. He was a director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory after all.

Energy Revolution, the Start-Up

America’s administration and tech/financial talent are all rallying behind the environmental cause, and I find it very promising. During my tech career, I’ve worked for a few companies, worked with numerous other companies, and worked on many different teams throughout. I’ve seen the way defense contractors work, and I’ve seen the way start-ups operate. Of the two, the utility companies operate somewhere nearer to the defense industry on that spectrum. They operate enormous legacy systems where uptime is absolutely vital. Therefore they innovate at a ridiculously cautious pace. If it were up to these utility companies to bring about a revolution, we’d be doomed.

However, the new breed of green start-ups in Silicon Valley and Central Florida come from a very different background. They know the importance of uptime as well, but they use a mixture of today’s most advanced software and hardware to solve today’s problems. They’ve been operating like this for years, because the start-up game is fast and vicious. It’s literally innovate now or shutter up your swanky new office. The utilities have been in operation for decades and aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

Coulomb Technologies ChargePoint Charging Station

Coulomb Technologies is a perfect example of one such green start-up. As more and more EVs and plug-in hybrids make their way onto American streets, it’s going to put a tremendous burden on our energy infrastructure. I’m not just talking about the increased power demand, but simply the demand for places to plug in away from home. We’ve been building up our supply of corner gas stations since the first ICE (internal combustion engine) cars made their ways onto our streets. We can’t take that long to build up our network of charging stations. The answer getting these charging stations out quickly may be as simple as enhancing our many businesses and workplaces to accommodate charging instead of building massive banks of charging in special facilities. One thing that I’m learning on my Enertia, is that 45 minutes of charging can sometimes make the difference between getting home under my bike’s power…or under my foot power. Hence the rise of opportunity charging.

Coulomb Technologies is enabling such a system by selling charging stations to businesses and allowing them to set their own rate to charge for usage. This way companies like my employer can put them in and open them up to anyone for free, for a charge, or even just to employees. The brilliance of their design is that these charging stations are [relatively] inexpensive / dumb clients with the logic for all of the access control and billing done on their servers.

The door lifts to reveal the outlet, a 120V level 1 in this case.

The keep these charging stations cheap, they have developed an ingenious design using rather inexpensive wireless technologies. The station can be activated with a phone call from your mobile, but more importantly they use an RFID reader to allow access if you have an RFID enabled credit cards or a key from Coulomb. I’m not certain, but I’m assuming that even employers might be able to give access with the employee’s badges. Although, I’m not sure if they would want to share that information with Coulomb.

The stations are managed via a wireless modem (CDMA or GSM). To keep costs low, only one unit on a site needs a modem. The remainder of the units talk through the main unit over a low cost ZigBee link. The reliance on wireless technology makes the deployment of these units incredibly simple. There’s not need to patch into a wired network or phone line, they simply need to be hooked up to the facility’s power and their ready to go. The system is designed with some good physical security as well. A session is started via the RFID or phone call. Initiating the session opens the door giving the user access to the outlet. Once they plug in, the door is then allowed to shut and is locked again starting the session. It remains locked until the user unlocks it again with their credit card, key, or mobile call. This not only protects the user’s cord from being stolen, but it also prevents someone else from charging on their bill.

Even if your Hybrid doesn't plug in, you can park at this McDonald's lot.

The web 2.0 aspect of their technology is their client / server architecture. It enables them to deliver great features, such as email or SMS notifications when your vehicle is done charging. This allows you to free up the station early if you want. Although chances are, you’re just parking your vehicle there because it’s the next best thing to a handicapped spot and you drive a non-plug-in Prius. Please resist this urge. Some poor smuck on an EV might desperately need access to that charger to make it those last few miles home.

I'm third in line here...but they aren't even charging!

OK, so I didn’t really need this charge, and they actually had another charging station on the other side of the parking lot. I just thought it was hilarious that these to Prius drivers parked right there. And isn’t it remarkable that all three of our vehicles are gray?

While the email / SMS notifications are nice, I wasn’t really blow away. I was, however, floored by their Google Map mashup and their iPhone app. They provide users a way to find charging stations near them and to know important details about them such as public accessibility, type of station (1 or 2) and whether or not they’re in use. I speculate that they might also having billing rates in the future. Features like this are exactly the kinds of ideas that start-ups come up with and that a power utility might never.

Google Maps Mashup. There's an iPhone app too.