Wednesday, July 14, 2010

You'll get a charge out of this.

DETROIT – General Motors Co. is guaranteeing the battery in its Chevrolet Volt electric car for eight years or 100,000 miles in an effort to inspire confidence in the new technology.
The guarantee is better than warranties on GM's conventional car engines and transmissions, which are five years or 100,000 miles.
The rechargeable Volt is due in showrooms this November. The vehicle can travel 40 miles on
battery power before a small gasoline engine takes over to generate power so the car can go longer distances. The Volt is expected to be priced around $35,000 but will probably cost less after federal tax credits.
Other automakers are rolling out electric cars. Shortly after the Volt goes on sale, Nissan Motor Co. will begin selling the Leaf, which the company said will get up to 100 miles on a single charge.
By the way, notice how the GM designers put a grill on the car, even though it probably doesn't need one.
OK, so that's nice. GM is selling battery technology for $35,000 and the car will be a novelty around the Yacht club gala or picking up your spoiled little brats from pre-school, but I wonder about the other end.
If you own a home and have available outdoor outlets, you plug the car to the charger. What happens if you're out somewhere and need a charge? Not all of these electric cars are going to have gasoline engines. The battery runs low and you're at Wal-Mart or a friend's house. Do you carry an extension cord around so you can plug in? And who pays for the electricity? I'm sure the gang at McDonald's or your local convenience store won't be too happy about picking up the tab to get you home.
Can you drive back and forth to work on a 40-mile battery charge? I can't. How is your employer going to feel about recharging every employee's electric-powered vehicles? And where would you plug it in if you could? There's another payroll deduction for you!
If the Volt only goes 40 miles on a charge, where is the cost savings over running a gasoline-powered car? When you factor in the 20-miles out and 20-miles back feature, stopping to recharge will eat into a substantial amount of your on-the-road time. You're better off buying a Prius or some other hybrid. They cost less, to start with, and avoid power outlets like the Devil.
And how much does it cost to charge the battery? My cell phone battery probably doesn't register a blip on the meter, but I can't start my car with it either. I foresee a new revenue source for every commercial establishment with electric power outlets. Run a meter and charge us for a charge.
While I realize that getting off the oil standard is a primary goal of mine, I'm not convinced that these electric cars are the ultimate answer. It's nice to see, although I would assume that there is some financial (tax) incentive for the auto makers to build these things. That's why they're $35,000 (translated: Unaffordable for Most People). With that kind of outlay, you're probably better off spending $17,000 for a gasoline vehicle and paying for your own gas, at least until the battery range improves.
As it is with so many things in life, when one door opens, another door closes. Maybe we should keep opening doors until we find something better?

Lest I forget...

I'd be derelict in my duties as both a fan and a blogger if I didn't mention that my favorite athlete, Paula Creamer, won the U.S. Women's Open on Sunday. It was a popular win with the golf world as well as my world.
Since Annika retired and Lorena Ochoa left earlier this season, the search has been on for the next player to dominate the game the way those two did for several years.
Would it be Christie Kerr, who won last year's Open and has both the game and the temperament to be the best player on tour? Would it be Suzann Pettersen, who has the talent but not always the fortitude to come through and win when it counts? Or would it be one of the Asian players who seem to have taken the game by storm over the past 5 years?
The main reason Paula's victory was so popular is because she is so popular. She has a great attitude toward her fans and seems to be thisclose to winning almost every time she walks on a course. The past few years have been fraught with difficult health issues and strange injuries, the latest of which required thumb surgery and caused her to think that she may never play again. She played the Open with a wrap on her thumb (which you can see in the photo) and routinely ices it after every round.
Nevertheless, (or thumb notwithstanding) she played perhaps the best round of her career on Sunday, when you factor in the difficulty of Oakmont. While the field faded and struggled with narrow fairways and greens like car hoods, she hit 24 of her last 28 fairways and routinely made par and birdie putts to finish 4 strokes ahead and make the 18th hole more of a celebration than a contest. Those are good things.
As most of you know, I've been following her career for a while, and I never attend a tournament without walking with her for 18 holes. While she was out of action with the surgery, I found it difficult to watch a tournament knowing that she wasn't playing. I've seen her play some great golf but I've never seen her win in person. It isn't easy to be an in-person golf fan, since the tournaments move around the world like a caravan. Thanks to the Golf Channel we can watch almost every week, and thanks to NBC I got to see the final two rounds of the Open. I'd go so far to say that even Johnny Miller was impressed, and he isn't easily impressed.
For a while, she was known as "the best player to never win a major." No more. Now, she may just be the best player, period. They keep track of those things, and as of today, Christie is still number one, but Paula picked up 6 spots to place seventh going into a well-deserved week off.
It is pretty easy to be cynical about big-time sports. It's a world where a basketball player has a 1-hour television show to announce where he will be playing. Where the word "entered a plea" comes after a lot of names, where drug-addled athletes and felony charges wind up on the front page instead of the front of the sports page and in general we think of them as overpaid and unworthy of the adulation and societal rewards that come with their professions.
There are, however, exceptions. It is a treat to watch someone so gifted, joyful and gracious excel at something. The best part of it is, she has so many great days ahead. I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

We keep getting harder and harder to please.

We're a spoiled bunch. We have more technology than we can understand and require more to keep us busy and entertain us than our parents - or even us when we were young.
We need Kindle readers, Wii game consoles, laptop computers, iPad's, iPhones and other "i" devices that focus the pleasure on the I and not so much the us. It's all about you ... er ... I. Such wasn't the case a generation ago, when magazines, radio and television seemed to keep us entertained. Were we happy with that or were we waiting around for something more stimulating? TV and magazines were gateway drugs to the entertainment industry, and now we need a bigger fix, but at what cost?
It is certainly expensive to keep us entertained, and I suppose part of the expense is the stimulation that we're supposed to get from all those fancy devices. I'm not sure the expense always lives up to the hype. All those fancy apps that we keep hearing about aren't free, you know.
But it isn't just iPhone's and fancy book readers that cost a ton. The summer concert season is in high gear, and the cost of going to a show is about the same as you'd spend on a nice weekend getaway. The east coast swing of the Dave Matthews Band summer tour is coming to a close, and this year I "only" got to see 4 shows - one in Saratoga Springs, NY, two in Camden and one in Hershey, PA. Outside of the trip to New York, the two local shows cost about $200 to attend when you add everything up - which I have.
A ticket is $85, the great city of Camden charges $25 to park the car, food and beverages to cart along to the "tailgate" portion of the evening runs around $30, then there's the requisite gasoline and bridge tolls, which brings the evening's total cost to around $150. When those sorts of financial figures start rolling around, I ask myself if the evening is worth the cost, and I don't always have a good answer.
In the grand scheme (the only one that matters) there is the vague definition of entertainment value, which is a sliding scale. Sometimes I think about the music and sometimes I think about the cost. Meanwhile, I'm not always sure that spending $150 to have music fly around my head is a good bargain. There is a part of it that is a social event, but I can think of a ton of social events that are free, so maybe the social aspect is overrated?
Lots of artists have either cancelled tours or are having trouble selling tickets. Even pop sensations from that American Idol TV show have had trouble, so you know there must be a problem. If brain-dead TV viewers aren't willing to part with 50 bucks to see a flash in the pan performing old songs, what is the state of concerts in America? Are we finally starting to question our extravagances? I am.
Maybe finally, the cost of big-time music is starting to make people ask the same questions I've been asking myself, or maybe the music isn't that good anymore? Either way, something has to give, but it might not be me so much anymore.
I give so much.