“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Die Hard 2

This is, by no means, a movie review blog but I just can't resist here. I've wasted a few minutes watching part of "Die Hard 2." The extent to which the way the airplanes, the air traffic control system, the communication systems, etc. work is confused and distorted is unparalleled. It's said that a film maker can ask the audience to suspend disbelief for one major item. After that, the minor items have to be right. This movie doesn't merely break this rule, it obliterates it. Nearly every aspect of the way the systems mentioned above work is rendered incorrectly.

A great example is when Sam Coleman, a reporter who's standing at the airport, ostensibly with a gaggle of airplanes who are in a low fuel emergency circling the vortac in a holding pattern because terrorists have disabled the instrument landing system and taken over the communications system, says "I can see airplanes circling above me." Really? Do you suppose that, perhaps, the pilots can see the airport?

When Colonel Stuart wants to punish the Airport Manager, he adjusts the instrument landing system by turning a dial and using a light pen and "lowers sea level to minus 200 feet" so an airliner, whose tanks are "as dry as a martini" and which is "running on fumes" will fly into the concrete. Never mind that the ILS system does not work this way (altitude information is gotten from the - ready now - altimeter) and the descent rate of an airliner at 200 feet, what does this airplane, whose fuel tanks are supposedly as dry as a popcorn fart, do when it crashes into the runway? It erupts into a massive oily orange and black fireball, that's what it does.

I won't bother to wonder why the aircraft don't talk to approach control or ARTCC and, oh, go to an alternate airport. And, while we're at it, the Mythbusters in Episode 88 demolished the idea of lighting a trail of leaking kerosene (jet fuel) and having it catch up to an airliner to blow it up as happens in the climactic scene in Die Hard 2. Then there are the little things. The news helicopter pilot won't set down in front of the terrorists' 747 because he won't "play chicken with a 20 ton plane." Hello? An EMPTY 747 weighs well over 200 tons. OK,OK, it was pointed out to me that he says "200 ton plane." Repeated listening using the digital video recorder has confirmed this. My apologies.

But: below is a screenshot from Die Hard 2 where General Esperanza and Colonel Stuart are in their "getaway plane," a Boeing 747 of late 1980's (pre glass cockpit) era. Above it is a photo of an actual 747 cockpit of that vintage. Are you kidding me?

The one-time suspension of disbelief is used on McLane's circumstances. There are probably dozens of small errors, seemingly no five minute period could elapse without one. Just like newspapers, every time, without exception, some subject is covered in which I have either specialist or personal knowledge, there are factual errors.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Thinking of another new vehicle

The Land Rover LR3 HSE that has been my vehicle since November of 2006 now has about 95,000 miles on the odometer. I've stabilized at around 21 m.p.g. in the truck, which isn't so bad for a vehicle rated at 13 city and 17 highway. But it's getting a bit tired and fuel prices are on their way back up with, in my opinion, not excellent chances of dramatic decreases.

So, with the encouragement of our CFO (surprisingly), I'm thinking of a new vehicle. Unlike the last replacement which resulted in the LR3, fuel economy will be a primary consideration. I've fairly well narrowed the list down to two vehicles: the Ford Fusion Hybrid and the Chevy Volt. Each will achieve dramatically better fuel economy than the LR3 but they are quite different vehicles.

The sticker price of the Volt is around $40,280 with an available$7,500 tax credit for a net price of $32,780. With a couple of options (not many are available) the figures come to$42,395 and $34,895 respectively. The Fusion Hybrid, specced out as I would purchase it, comes to$33,260. Shockingly, this is about $8,585 above the non-hybrid Fusion. With respect to fuel costs, my estimate is that the Fusion would use about 42 gallons per month compared to approximately 91 for the LR3. This is assuming that I'd get 46 m.p.g., based on information gleaned from a blog devoted to hypermiling the Ford Fusion Hybrid (seriously!). Thus, I'd spend about$170/month on regular vs. $392/month on the premium fuel demanded by the LR3 (all estimates in this post are based on regular gasoline at$4.09/gallon and premium at $4.39/gallon). It's more than possible that I would not use any gasoline on some months with the Volt - if I leave home with a full charge and recharge at the office (actually close by at our laboratory since that has accessible outlets) I might only burn gasoline when going to meetings from the office. But speculation has to enter here and, using an estimate of trips that would require gasoline and this article about the mileage in "extended range" mode (i.e., using the internal combustion engine to charge the battery) I estimate that I'd use about 12 gallons per month, costing about$47.50.

But I'd also be using electricity. Using information from the same page, I'll estimate that I'd get 32 miles out of the 10.4 kilowatt hours usable in the battery pack. And subtracting the gasoline miles above from the annual total, I estimate that 17,700 miles per year would be on electricity purchased from the electric utility. Finally, I'm speculating that the average cost/kilowatt hour will be $0.12 for an annual and monthly electricity cost of about$690 and $58 respectively, or a total cost to provide motive power of a bit over$105.50/month. Note that this is $286.50 less than the LR3 and$64.50 less than the Fusion Hybrid.

I'm not completely sure why the U.S. government is in the business of subsidizing my Volt purchase but, without it there'd be no way I'd consider a four seat commuter car for over \$42,000. With it, this looks like a viable purchase. For most, it likely would not be. The things that make it compelling are that it would replace a gas hog, and that I drive 23,000 miles/year.

There are a couple of non-financial considerations that push me toward the Fusion Hybrid. The first is that the Sync system looks pretty cool. The second is that Ford did not need to declare bankruptcy and undergo a takeover by the U.S. government. They survived the economic storm on their own and are doing well. Philosophically, I'd like to reward that. The economics may rule that out. The decision is not final, however. In a subsequent post, I'll determine the net present value of each vehicle given what we'd spend, what we'd get for the LR3, the fuel savings, and a discount rate base on our company's actual cost of funds.