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Busy week. I did not get a blog entry up for the show of the week of the 15th and now I already have the March 22 show up online.

I had a bit of a conversation with an old friend of Boardwatch days, computer columnist John C. Dvorak. I had followed John from the early 1980’s when he had the final word on the back page of a computer publication called INFOWORLD. Later, I was extraordinarily pleased to have him join us in the same position paper wise on the back page of Boardwatch Magazine where he appeared for a number of years.

John is still a noted columnist with PC Magazine but he plays around a lot in new media, with several podcasts and online blogs. In my estimation, he’s never found the formula or a good “gig” in this space. He does a news review at the podcast No Agenda Show He does a stock review podcast at DHunplugged. But I don’t think he’s really found a gig here in the way he did in print. And nothing special in video.

Of course, everybody else’s sins. He thinks I’m actually LATE to the party on video. He has been doing an IPTV gig for some time which tends to be a bit more technical on the topic. I don’t agree. I’ve been working the video thing for 10 years although the “perfect storm” of camera technology, editing technology, and bandwidth enabling it to be viable I would date from 2009.

In any event, he noted that I must really miss writing.

Apparently not, since it appears to be all I can do to get a single blog entry per week up reliably. But he may have been referring to the fact that I have a face for radio.

In any event, it is true that it has been quite a transition for me. In all modesty, I’m one of the best writers in the world and probably AM the best technical writer in the world – if John reads this please note that I’m a LOT better than he is.

But I knew full well that going into video was taking me out of my “comfort zone”.

What this refers to is that to be “good” at communications, the tools you use must be somewhat transparent. At some point in writing, the process of developing a theme, outlining, keyboarding, editing, and finishing all melds together into a natural and transparent act. You don’t think about where the keys are located on the keyboard or how all this is going to hang together structurally, or how to bend the language to your will. The tools become transparent. At that point, you can start to push the envelope on the actual communications and weave in a lot of things in and out in parallel and just do it on a different level. The mind sees through the medium to the end product in a natural flow.

Video is most often done by teams of people who must interact with one person framing the shot in the camera and another manning the audio and another managing the set and another managing the lighting. And of course the talent on screen is an entirely other set of people. Then it all goes to editing as raw material where it can be reworked to be anything you like. All under the aegis of a “director” who is supposed to provide a unified vision for this symphony and of course a producer who manages the business.

EVTV is an experiment in COLLAPSING all of that into at most a couple of guys doing video for near zero dollars, very quickly, and in copious amounts. The result herein is a feature length HD film each week with a shooting cost measured in the hundreds of dollars. Ultimately mastered, this is disruptive economically putting Sony Pictures basically out of business. They can’t possibly compete. If you are spending $100,000 per day to shoot against a guy spending $100 per day to shoot, how much BETTER can you be?

So all of this is very interesting, and very exciting to me, ENTIRELY aside from our mission of converting the planet to electric drive, which is very very real.

So we basically have TWO projects going simultaneously. How do you produce, develop, shoot, monetize, and publish video circa 2013 – my VIDEO ON THE RUN concept, while at the same time focusing totally on converting personal transportation to electric drive. The first is an extension of what I DO – communicate or “write” and the second is what I do it TO, the topic.

As the first leverages much of what I learned viscerally about the Internet over the course of the last 25 years, it is of course of ongoing interest to me. The current topic is rather newer and totally absorbing. I never get over the fact that I kind drive noiselessly, without any emissions, and without any gasoline, in a car.

The goal of the former is of course to achieve the TOOLKIT transparency I enjoyed in writing and print publishing, in this new medium (to me) of video. Video is a more powerful tool, but a more complex one at the same time. Kind of like learning to touch type on a 756 key keyboard.

For example, in this weeks’ episode, Brain is voiceless over the first 29 minutes. He’s actually being picked up on MY microphone. His being out of commission. Ironically, probably a BATTERY issue.

But I’m having a ball as the medium IS becoming more transparent. We spend less time shooting each week. Less of what we DO shoot gets cut each week. I spend less time editing on Saturday. And less time uploading and posting on Sunday. The mental image of what we are doing is clearer throughout the week. The relationship between closeup shots and framed shots and introducing various segments all gets easier. And so I expect our video to get better. Failures along the way are frustrating and annoying. But we progress a bit each week. And so the show should be improving in many ways, each week.

If we can improve just a fraction of a percentage each week, after a certain serial number of weeks, we win. And since the inherent premise was a very nearly cost free product, competing with Sony should be a lot of fun.

I’ve been through this before. PC, page layout software, and laser printer against six story building full of statcams and page layout professionals doing wax layups. I already know how it comes out.

This explains my bias toward personal innovation and lone innovators in their garage, in contrast to large corporate organizations and their scaling processes.

In my world, the ultimate electric car starts with a boy of 14 digging a discarded golf cart out of a salvage yard and fixing it up to run. After 20 years of devoting himself to basically that mission, personally building any number of electric cars, working professionally at several component companies on the heartbeat technology, and ultimately coming to a vision of what the perfect electric car might look like. That’s the JB Straubels of the world.

Elon Musk and a couple billion dollars leverages that to making 500 such cars per week. Yes, Elon is a bright guy. What that means was that it took JB Straubel less effort to sell him the vision.

But don’t get confused who’s vision it is. And even if the media and the corporation rewrites the story REALLY hard, if you want to know how things work you have to be able to decode how it really happened. Especially important if YOU ever want to replicate the feat.

Boeing 787 and the Battery Pros group on LinkedIn case in point. Boeing is enduring $50 million dollars per week in direct losses for EACH and EVERY week that plane does not fly. They are working with the NTSB and the FAA to get them back in the air as fast as possible. It is NOT in their commercial interest to acknowledge or otherwise deal with some clown who drops them a couple of e-mails over the transom with the “root cause” and “smoking gun”.

But although they will continue the current process though it be a felony and treason, it is not that it does no good to send the information. They can always work it in quietly later.

But it brings up the point, why would I have an immediate grasp of it and all these talented, educated, professional engineers NOT know it. Either I am suffering delusions of grandeur, or this makes no sense at all. Or does it?

Let’s NOT go to the obvious. That I worked for MacAir for several years, now OWNED by Boeing, and I am intimately familiar with the various levels of eggregious incompetence existing within the heart of the beast. It is a thing to behold, and quickly removes the awe of large corporations and “professional” engineers in aerospace. I won’t bore you with all that. Let’s go to the OTHER end of the question.

Once upon a time I overcharged a battery. In my bedroom. I actually have several computers in the bedroom. This is where we write and edit video and so forth – often in the wee hours of the morning courtesy of acid reflux. If I have to do a little software coding, it occurs in the same place. And at one point I was working on some Arduino software to drive a Porsche gas gage to display AH.
Unfortunately, I left a battery on a low level of charge. When I entered the room later it was full of a haze of sweetly smelling vaporized electrolyte. The battery had burned through the carpet and deeply into a wooden southern shortbristle pine floor. That’s an extinct species by the way.

The cure was pretty simple. Pickup the battery in a wet towel and walk out on the balcony and heave it over the rail down into the driveway into a snow bank. Snow is actually an effective extinguishing agent for lithium cells.

And it strikes me, among all the PROFESSIONAL battery expert engineers, what percentage get up EVERY morning to see the SAME blackened spot on THEIR bedroom floor.

And note that it is kind of curious that a battery I propose to put in my CAR can cause THAT much heat and damage from a very low level charge? So let’s file this incident away, and over the next three years try to devise in different ways various tests resulting in the near total destruction of $20,000 worth of cells to satisfy my personal curiosity. We can temper this with three years of reading various journaled publications on lithium battery advances and developments along the way in case they might provide a clue – to this and many other questions I have about these cells, many unresolved to this day.

I would note for example that to a man 100% of these experts discuss self discharge in lithium batteries in very knowing tones. As our viewers are aware, we can find no EVIDENCE of it in batteries that have been laying on the floor in the boxes they were delivered in FOUR AND A HALF YEARS AGO. This kind of explains why in ALL of the lithium literature, while there are REFERENCES TO self discharge, no one has even ATTEMPTED a theoretical description of what process internal to the cell describes it. None. There is no SHUTTLE mechanism like Pb cells, and no OTHER mechanism really described cogently.
It’s just a blank hole in space. Lots of people talking about its level and its impact. None verifying anything experimentally nor even attempting a theoretical explanation of it.

The world of lithium cells is RIFE with this. Everyone knows MANY things about these cells that are very difficult to prove because no one has yet proven it. Cycle life is dramatically shortened by heat. Except experimentally it appears to actually LENGTHEN cycle life. Still pondering that one. There are a DOZEN questions about these cells that are routinely answered, and all I can determine is that the ANSWER is totally incorrect. It takes a lot of work to tease out the reality surrounding the question. And it comes slowly and grudgingly.

Now let’s pose two worlds. In one, you are PAID to be an expert and have KNOWLEDGE of batteries. First, in answer to a question, you should have an ANSWER and the answer should be plausible and make sense to management people. Not hard. It doesn’t have to be CORRECT. It just has to be authoritive. Secondly, if you burn up and/or melt a lot of batteries in your lab, that is NOT considered a sign of expertise in corporate America. You will probably be asked to leave. You are being PAID to BE an expert. Not to BECOME an expert. And burning down four square blocks of downtown Phoenix with Lithium cells is NOT going to be persuasive to the guy sitting down with you for your annual performance evaluation. Or, for example, in determining whether a consulting gig should be renewed or extended.

In the other world you PAY to get to work on batteries. Each ducat dear, it is true that a single cell meltdown causes a kind of Vulcan Wallet Meld between you and the cell. But no use crying over spilt milk. The question as to WHY it melted becomes dear thereby and the only way to make that determination is to MELT MORE. At the point where they don’t melt, there is significantly LESS information. But we can draw some conclusions from pre-melt SWELLING. And if we couple those observations with readings of the chemical process problems tackled by those trying to create NEW and BETTER chemistries and solve some of the problems of the CURRENT chemistry, it can become intensely interesting.

The problem of course is that battery testing either requires a LOT OF TIME and effort, or a LOT OF EQUIPMENT and effort. I’m limited in both. But I can play. MOST IMPORTANTLY, I can play because I have the QUESTION.

If I already KNOW that you can safely charge cells to 4v and hold them there forever, and I already KNOW they self discharge, and I already KNOW that they need to be top balanced, and I already KNOW that their SOC will drift, and I already KNOW all this, I don’t HAVE any questions. So why would I be burning up cells, along with my employers money and facility?

And so the possibility arises that I AM in a unique position. As it so happens, despite the Vulcan Wallet Meld, I probably DO have enough money left in the kitty from the last rodeo to burn up a LOT of cells and still maintain my portly figure. Handsome was never the hard part anyway frankly.

As I don’t HAVE a job, don’t WORK for a corporation, and don’t have a consulting gig, it can be curiously hard to terminate my work. Brain tries to every few years. But as we both know, you only stay fired if you’re willing to stay fired. He’s fired me. And I’ve fired him. And neither one of us can make it stick either way.

I think I work for myself and our viewers. And suffering fools poorly, I occasionally have to fire one of THEM. But they too tend to come back.

It was curious to watch the reaction on LInked In. Several members jumped in immediately and picked up on what I was saying. It was a little left field thinking for them, but they picked up on it pretty quickly. That’s not to say they instantly agreed with it. But they took it as a plausible question.

What was more fascinating was the “clingers”. They took exception to my boorish manners, which is what suffering fools poorly looks like from the other end. And from there they went into ego/hubris defense, which is just the immediate confession of amateurism/poseur status as far as I’m concerned. If you’re too proud to fall on your own sword in the inquiry of the universe, you are forever relegated to making coffee for those who continue the learning experience. Players, and their supporting cast members. It has ever been so.

I remain committed, body breath and soul, to the conversion of personal mobility to magnetic drive. It is a passion. For acculturation of the body politic to this as a newly viable technology, we need an army of about 100,000 to demonstrate the true advantages of the technology to bring familiarity to a tipping point. This is all more plausible than it looks. But it requires growth of the group of passionate elect now extant. And that means to grow this segment has to become more plug and play. Minute incremental advances is how this is accomplished. This week we demonstrate Sebastien Bourgois billet aluminum adapter to mate a Siemens Motor to a VW transaxle. Study this device attentively and ignore for the moment what it narrowly does. There is a subtle design thing going on here that is a thing of beauty in and of itself. It does the minimum it needs to do, in the minimum space to do it, with a strength that is indestructible. It rather fails in economy. But excels in all other areas.

The interest of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) or Automakers, has given rise to some very capable equipment like this from some remarkably talented engineers that ARE indeed often in large corporations, but also small ones. Their products have not been available to us. There are some realities to building and marketing a product to the world that rather preclude making it a full time task to teach each individual how to work it, one sale at a time. This is why Azure Dynamics pays $2625 each for a motor that you as an individual are quoted $9000 to $12,000 for. This is why BMW can get a drive train for $7000 that if you call the company to inquire for one for yourself you will hear $25,000. If you actually DID pursue it, you would find that they will simply not sell you a single unit for $25,000. This is why Coda can sell a car for $32,000 with a UQM drive train that they will quote to YOU for $34,000. They don’t want to deal with you.

As Phoenix, Aptera, BrightSpeed, Azure Dynamics, Think, Enerdel, A123, and now coming to a theatre near you Coda and Fisker and AmpElectric and many more go broke, there is a forced rethinking within some of these companies as to how to accomplish this. The truth is, they actually NEED you. They need you to buy their product. They need you to beat up their support guys. And they need you to FAIL their products in public. This is the annealing process for these devices and these companies. The ones who don’t learn this will join their customers as the pioneers along the prairie with the arrows in their backs.

My hope is that a few smarten up, and begin to make such components available to the next JB Straubel in the garage. It will make his work much easier, and there will be more attracted to attempt it. A larger body of this bubbling witches cauldron of innovation will exist thereby.

We are trying, in our own small way, to encourage product development, and hopefully gather buying power from YOU cooperatively where some of these OEM components can be made available at prices that while still dear, can be realistically accomplished. Better components. More plug and play. And in migrating through this army of 100,000, the common body of knowledge and “group support” achieved to allow such things.

Lift your eyes to the horizon. Inquire in all things. Don’t worry about being an “expert”. An expert is just a spurt with a little age on it. Imagine what can be, without constantly counting every ducat. The Vulcan Wallet Meld.

And if you wind up with a burned place in your bedroom floor, tell her to put a rug over it. In the end, it can never be more than just a floor.

I don’t have an annual performance evaluation. We eat what we kill and I’m EXACTLY as good as LAST week’s show. No better. And no worse. Every week of my life. I rather like it that way.

Jack Rickard