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We struggled to get a show out this week.

Part of the problem was that I spent entirely too much time playing with RechargeCar’s AutoBlock AMP. For some reason, I keep having a brain freeze and calling it the AMPBLOCKER. I have no idea where that came from.

The REchargeGuys chose PROCESSING to develop the software for this device and it requires a Jave Runtime kernel. On Windows7, either the USB drivers or the Java slow this program to a crawl. It takes 3 to 5 minutes to LOAD any of their widgets. And when you do, they are largely non-responsive.

We added a MacPro laptop to the game and got the software to come up. But there is no documentation currently and so we were guessing as to functions. That said, it’s a good Beta team to be on. This device was announced over a year ago and is still not quite “available.” But it is very promising. It uses a hall effect sensor to measure current flows into and out of your battery pack, and can so measure instantaneous current as well as totalize ampere-hours – the only good way we’ve found of estimating state of charge for the pack.

But the philosophy and concept behind this product is very good. First, it addresses existing tachometers and fuel gages. I don’t think mastering a digital counter of amp hours is too high a price to pay to learn to drive an electric vehicle. It is a LITTLE different from a gas gage, but in a way, it is more the gage we always wished we had. It’s a number. It’s finite. You simply observe it until it reaches a certain number. You have to know what the number is. 180. Or 100. Or whatever. Easily enough labelled. But it gives you a pretty good count of amp hours.

But our viewers modify a variety of vehicles – some going back to the 1930s. Often the 1960’s. And they already had fuel gages. If we can’t make them work, they don’t really go away. They just sit there dead. And that doesn’t look like a very complete conversion when you have gages on the dash that no longer do anything.

The Autoblock AMP will drive your tachometer to display instantaneous current in hundreds of amps in place of rpm in thousands of rpm. We use a small switch to toggle between the two.

The fuel gage output is of course used to drive the fuel gage. And this can be quite flexibly tuned to simulate the fuel sender on a lot of cars using the GAGE program. This program allows you to tune the output of the fuel gage driver, the relationship to SOC, how many amp hours are IN full, and how it decreases. It also lets you set the pulses per turn for the tachometer. Better, you can enter values for current and SOC and watch the gages move to new positions to calibrate them.

This is infinitely better than the Ziva device we used before with blind trim resistors that were very difficult to tell what they did.

The Autoblock AMP has one final feature. It will output a 5v signal when a low SOC warning goes off, and again you can program that for anything you like. Since the device runs on 12v, we don’t quite get it. I would much prefer a 12v output sufficient to run a relay. But they envision a warning light LED obviously. It might take a transistor or opamp to actually drive a relay but you could use this to set a limp mode, or disable the controller, or anything else.

Playing with this rather set us back this week. We’re including some Speedster Nippon footage from the previous week that didn’t make it into last week’s show. We have the battery pack of 36 CALB SE180AH cells installed, thoroughly bottom balanced, and then charged as a unit pack to 120.5 vdc. That’s 3.35vdc and really rather fully charged. We’ve added a JLD404 to monitor all that and both J1772 and NEMA5-15 plugs to the car to do all that. We were able to devise a very attractive I think bedliner painted box in the front spare compartment without hacking up the fiberglass at all and it holds 14 cells. Each “saddlebag” box adjacent the motor in the rear holds 11 cells. And so we have really a very nice and secure mount for 36 cells of 180 Ah and I’ve never been so pleased with a battery pack in an electric car.

Unfortunately, our show was shot on November 2nd. And while I bleat piteously about the nefarious doings at Tesla missing their delivery marks, truth to tell we missed ours. November 1. This kind of assumed we could do this build in less than a month. It just didn’t happen.

We’re very close to the first roll. But that’s not quite a delivery. We have a lot of instrumentation issues, which is why I was working on the Autoblock AMP, which we really expected to receive weeks before. I don’t have the ELECTRIC emblem for the vehicle yet, though I’m told it will shilp this Wednesday – actually about a 100 of them. I had to buy 100 from China to put two on this car. Recurring theme? Methinds so. We’ll add them to the online store, though they are in rather a Porsche Speedster script.

We do need to test drive teh vehicle, and adjust the Curtis controller for proper feel on the regenerative braking and the accelerator. Shouldnt’ be too difficult actually. This final wiring and adjustment always seems like a big deal to me and everytime it kind of collapses to not much of a big deal at all at the end. Battery boxes are always 60% of the build effort. Drive train mounting is about another 20%. And that leaves 20% for EVERYTHING else.

But we do want to thoroughly test the car.

There is one thing I had not counted on. Speedster Duh was delivered to Tokyo the first week of August via Pomona. It was already licensed in Missouri. And we agreed to leave the plates on so they could test drive it around California before it went to Tokyo. I recall distinctly discussing this licensing issue and agreeing NOT to license the second car in Missouri in order to expedite shipment. We have obtained a dealer tag so we can test cars here, so no problem.

As it turns out, in licensing the vehicle in Tokyo, they made a kind of interesting discovery. Licensing kit cars is a bit different in each of our 50 states. Missouri has an interesting twist on this. First, you can license a vehicle that is 25 years old or older under a HISTORIC license plate. This is kind of cool. You license it ONCE and it’s good for LIFE – no re-registration every year. And that costs $25. Second, in a twist I don’t really understand myself, they title these kit cars as a 1957 PORSCHE REPRO. It is actually TITLED as a 1957 vehicle. And so even though it is brand new, it qualifies for the historical plate. This actually kind of makes sense. It IS a replica of a 1957. I guess this throws me because it is NOT a Porsche. But that is covered by the REPRO qualifier that it is a reproduction.

But in then moving the car to other states, or in this case countries, it IS a 1957 model because Missouri licensed it as such initially when assigning a VIN number. Kind of cool actually. Apparently this gave them some advantage in licensing in Tokyo.

So they tried to rewrite the history of our agreement to include the fact that we had agreed to license the car here. Didn’t happen. But can happen. So we’ll do it for them. The problem is, we have to apply for a title and wait for THAT and then drive it to Sikeston in the cold for a State Highway Patrol inspection and we have to have an appointment for that. This can all take weeks as I recall. Somehow, if we will do this Missouri Registration, they are ok with the delay.

This is all part of the tale of weaving in and out of governmental regulations in different jurisdictions. It is central to my philosophy of less government being better. This is because I see it in action, and can readily do the arithmetic to scale it to the millions. The cost of EVERYTHING is hugely higher than it needs to be, and the time to accomplish things is hugely longer than it needs to be, to satisfy what I view as simplistic child minds oozing good intentions but without sufficient savvy to get in out of the rain. They will put 99% of the population through eggregious hoops to solve a 1% problem, and they do it over and over and over. The cummulative drag on the economy, innovation, and the evolution of technology and our standard of living is NEVER accounted for. They are forever and BLISSFULLY unaware of the deep deep damage they cause. And I see our current economic malaise as simply being the sum total of too much of it over too long a time.

The public good? Look at all the thousands of lives that have been saved by safety inspections and these measures. Actually you can’t. They are the “blue elephant” for which the “blue elephant gun” exists. Certainly some level of advantage is gained somewhere. But the relative balance is just absurd.

A case in point is the UL1741 anti-islanding regulation. All inverters now have to be UL 1741. What this means is that they can only produce electricity when the grid is active. If you lose grid power, they shut down and do not produce power either. This purports to be so that utility workers are not injured trying to get the lines back up by power from individual backup units that are tied to the grid.

This makes PERFECT SENSE. Particularly if you are an eight-year old with Downes syndrome. But it implies that trained utility workers are unable to detect whether any particular line is live or not. And it flies in the face of generators that everyone hooks into their house anyway.
I have a Generac natural gas generator on my house – a 12kW version i believe. I installed it myself. With no inspections. I’m a lawbreaker.

I did however install the code requisite servcice disconnect, despite it’s $430 cost. This is a largish relay that DISCONNECTS my generator using the grid power on the line to keep it energized. In the even of grid failure, this relay DISCONNECTS the grid from my house circuit, and connects my generator. Actually it even STARTS the generator. At ANY time that grid power is restored, it again energizes, disconnecting my generator and reconnecting my house to the grid. It is entirely fool proof. I don’t need to do ANYTHING to make this work this way. And the only way it can fail is if the relay fails, which DISCONNECTS me from the grid. Simple. Robust. Virtually indestructible. And required by code anyway. Whether or not I have a solar inverter that HAS UL 1741 or does NOT have UL1741.

So what is UL1741 FOR? It is to actively PREVENT you from creating power for your home. Why would anyone want to do that? Anyone but an electric utility. Who as it turns out wrote UL1741.

An added safety measure? Added to what. We’ve never HAD a blue elephant in our area. Proof positive that the UL1741 requirement is WORKING to prevent blue elephants.

It actually prevents you from independence from the local grid. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, I would count this as high crimes and treason in the event of war – and subject to the punishment provided – hanging by the neck until dead.

It certainly makes it difficult to hook up your electric car and use it to power your house. I have found no suitable device to do this. I need a DC input range of 100=350vdc and an output of 240 vac and no anti-islanding. If you no of such…. let us know.

Meanwhile viewer Alan Levenson reports that after six days, he does indeed have electricity back, his car is fully charged and now he DOES have some advantage over those waiting four hours in line for gasonline, and electric cars are not so bad after all. But he said he IS still rethinking the electric car thing.

In this episode, we attack the description of how a lithium ion battery works. There are a lot of problems with this which is why I don’t do much of it. First, I see no value in discussing the grade school simplistic explanations of how such a thing works that at the end, leave you wondering how they REALLY work. Second, our viewership is so varied, from those with PHd’s in Electronic Engineering and Materials Science to people who’s dad taught them to work on hot rods and would like to get into this electrical thing. And so any presentation is going to either bore someone to death or scare someone to death. And finally, the shocker for most of you is that NOBODY REALLY KNOWS how it works. They were able to invent it. They are even able to improve it. But you would be amazed how little the best inds on the topic really know about what’s going on inside. The number of papers published attempting to measure and learn the specifics of any part of it, cathode intercalation, electrolytes, anode intercalation, Solid Electrode Interphase layer, diffusion, impedance, etc is just astounding. Easily 10 to 12 major papers per quarter – each announcing that what we knew 3 or 4 months ago apparently never was so.

It’s like an onion. The more layers you peel away, the more layers there are beneath. And I’ve been peeling for several years now – nearly every morning with coffee after addressing my electronic mail, this is what I read. And quality varies there as well.

The good news is that Google has just become phenomenal – a living breathing thing. It could very easily become self aware in the next year or so. The bad news is that it will vomit a lot more trash than it does gold, and you have to become very very savvy at sorting through it and rating/grading/considering the source. The concept of critical thinking doesn’t begin to cover the topic.

But the result is truly a remarkable firehose of information and investigation worldwide. The scientific INTEREST in the topic is clearly growing. And so inch by inch the knowledge.

I am fearless when it comes to producing long boring technical videos. We are not competing to go viral on youtube. We have our eyes set on a certain horizon of a certian number of viewers seriously restricted to a certain profile, and we are getting there hugely. But even I quaver at going to these depths and surviving the channel knob. If this is a bridge too far, let me know. I have to know it. But you probably don’t unless you just want to. You can build a very polished vehicle that does just what you want without ever considering charge transference as opposed to covalency. Or SEI temperature issues. Or Fe dendrites. And I really do NOT suffer from professorial desire to appear superior. Could care less what the world thinks about what I do or do not know. I focus on COMMUNICATING what might or might not be USEFUL to gain more enthusiasts for the electric car. Everyone thinks I was making some sort of inside joke in our very first video when I called for raising an army of 100,000 “guys” to go into their garage and build an electric car. I am actually quite literal in all things. And I can simply count on the fact that if they do so, they will also want to bring it OUT of the garage and demonstrate it. And it is my belief that is what is required to trip the entire planet into a mass movement to electric vehicles.

I have full faith in that. That IS the step. I don’t have to worry about technology or better batteries. I don’t have to worry about costs or economics. The price of everything. The value of nothing. The President. China. Or religious discussions. Or that lots of people don’t HAVE garages or for that matter electricity.

My hubris is actually limitless and I live in a self contained world. I have already determined that magnetic drive for personal transportation solves a LOT of problems globally and more or less permanently. Now how to accomplish that. And delightful as it is, because of some accidental happenstances of my earlier years, I know the answer. I need to find 100.000 guys that are not only like minded, but have probably already come to the SAME conclusion, and tell them it is alright to do just that, despite the askance of their wives, children, neighbors and the communal and confounding boobtube in their living room. They already know the answer. They need validation that it was truly a valid and appropriate question.

It is. Let it be so. Let it be written on all temple walls, obelisks and tablets throughout the realm. You are doing a good thing, and should do more of it. After that, we’re just doing guy talk in Tim Allen fashion on whose got the biggest tool. Ideally, but unlikely, …me.

Jack Rickard