Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Fruition of Hybrid Technology

There were more developments last night (which bled into early morning) on the hybrid bike r&d front. It started when I started tinkering with the flywheel and playing around with the idea of installing an electric-ignition on my Honda pressure washer engine which I bought a few years ago, and ended with me stripping three ICEs (internal combustion engines)--the Robin 33c, an 80cc two stroke, and the 150cc Honda.

Basically I was looking for ways of stripping the engines to their bare essentials to reduce weight and size and seeing what might be best suited for the hybrid projects (including the trike, which I've started on again). The biggest thing I noticed is that the flywheel compromises a significant portion of the mass of the engine and eliminating it would result in a significant reduction in weight. I honestly wasn't sure if a flywheel was a necessary component to an ICE but after some research, here's what I've learned:

The majority of small engines (<7hp, which is what I confine myself to on the ICE end due to my limited mechanical knowledge of more sophisticated engines, like the three cylinder 750 on my old Yamaha, for example) are built as a self-contained unit, i.e., all the necessary components to make the engine run are together. This includes the gas tank (usually 1L or less) and the starter, which is typically pull-start (versus electric ignition, as on most motorcycles). When you pull the cord on a pull-start engine, you are essentially using a concentrated burst of force to get the flywheel--a heavy counter-weight connected to the shaft--rolling. The heavier it is, the more momentum it can sustain for continued rotation from that initial pull.

The flywheel contains one, or a series of magnets which pass by another magnetic which generates electricity which creates the spark which ignites the fuel which fires the pistons which turn the flywheel that continues to create the electricity necessary to maintain the combustion which keeps the engine piston's firing.

I realized later that spark plugs need an extremely high voltage that can only be generated by the magneto. I initially thought I could just remove the flywheel and use a battery to due what the magneto does with the flywheel, but the voltage is just too high. But if a 6 or 12v battery (I'm not sure what voltage would correspond to particular sparkplugs) could take the place of the pull-start ignition, the heavy flywheel could be replaced by a composite which would continue to do the flywheel's job of rotating the magnets to create the electricity needed for continuous combustion, at a fraction of the weight. I know composite flywheels are being explored in the field of regenerative energy production...I wondered if I could make one. But I realized in the meantime an electric start could wait and a heavy flywheel wasn't really hurting anything. I could continue to use the pull start.

After taking a drive with my dad in his new Prius, and getting a better idea of how they operate (and explaining it to him), it became clear that the car employs a sophisticated computer system that is constantly monitoring power requirements and making adjustments accordingly. Namely, at the times when peak hp is required, the gas engine and electric motor work together to produce it; when less hp is needed, the car will run on electric alone, and the engine will shut off automatically. Compared with a standard car, the ICE in a hybrid is constantly turning on and off, and that is part of what makes it more fuel efficient and less polluting--simply put: no idling. The engine is there when you need it, and takes a break when you don't.

Although such technology is well beyond my ability to fabricate, I realized that I already have a computer at my disposal to do a rudimentary job of fulfilling the same function (ie, deciding when the ICE should be running versus not). This "human override" option is the basis of the "plug-in hybrid" concept, and it just makes so much sense--to be able to run on pure electric if it is viable, such as on short trips when it is easy to come home afterwards and recharge the battery (hybrids run the gas engine sometimes strictly for the purpose of recharging the battery with the alternator). I think plug-ins should be on the U.S. market, and it is in Europe, but for all intents and purposes commercially available plug-ins are still a few years away. It just baffles me that this is the case, though, since they are already road-ready and tested (that discussion is for another time).

Anyway, the need for a hybrid-electric bike based off the hybrid car model became apparent during my r&d or pure L.E.V.'s (light electric vehicles): battery power alone confines people to shorter trips, since battery cost and technology is not where it needs to be for it to be able to compete with the amazing energy-storing capability of gasoline. People (esp. Americans) don't like the idea of being limited, and the thought of being stranded after you run out of battery juice does not inspire a lot of confidence for consumers who may like the idea, but are not willing to limit their range by using 100% electric vehicles.

But living in the city, the advantages of electric powered bikes are awesome: they are quiet, and non polluting. when you come to a stop there is no idling. when built into the ascetic of a standard bicycle, they do not attract a lot of attention to themselves. Honda caught on to this idea of "disguising" hybrid technology in their hybrid Civics, which are almost indistinguishable from the ICE versions (contrast this with the 1st generation Insight, which had conspicuous rear wheel covers and was a two seater). To me, the idea of riding through Kensington or Center City on a geeked-out E-bike is reason enough for me never to ride one. I don't think I am alone on this; E-bikes are not cool, and they are being marketed to look "different," and I think that's why they aren't selling (Schwinn is catching on, though, with their new retro-electric cruiser fleet with concealed cables, muted colors, standard dual-triangle frames, etc.). The present bike I am building is spray painted black and looks like an old English three-speed...batteries and controller are hidden in leather saddlebags hung from the rear rack, and the motor is concealed in a black metal box. It is so cool looking, and you would never know it was electric.

The 48v 10ah lithium-phosphate pack I recently ordered from a custom-builder in China is an incredible development in battery technology, and with such individuals building packs like this, cost is starting to come down to a point that makes them economically viable. It is a fraction of the weight and size of sealed lead acid packs (the standard for e-bikes) and lasts up to five times longer than SLAs, making them actually cheaper in the long run.

But such a pack will still keep me limited to a range of, say, 20 miles. I'd love to take this bike on longer trips this summer, but won't be able to do it on battery power alone. Here enters the Robin ICE.

"And in this corner, the Robin-Subaru EHO35, weighing in at 5lbs 10.6oz..."

As you can see from the photo, the Robin-Subaru EHO35 is an incredibly compact and efficient design that can offer up to 225 miles per gallon of standard riding (for faired recumbents and trikes, this would be closer to 500 miles per gallon). It's peak hp output of 1.18kw at 7,000 rpms would allow an cyclist to achieve a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour in the drops on a racing bike, or about 34mph on an upright cruiser like my English three-speed cruiser. That is a decent speed, but I would not mind going faster. Adding a 1000w electric motor to complement the ICE would allow top speeds of close to 50mph...that means cruising speeds of over 40mph, which is a great was to get somewhere fast.

But what's great about having both electric and gas at your disposal is it gives you options. For me in the city, the majority of my trips would be run on electric, and I would simply charge the battery when I get home. The combination of low gearing and a three speed transmission (complements of a 3 speed Sturmey Archer hub) makes running on pure electric an ideal option for in-town riding, where its quietness, lack of idling, and high low-end torque offer the best of an electric bike.

When venturing out of the city, the lithium batteries and small motor do not impose a restrictive weight impediment to riding under human power should you run out of juice. But even more exciting is right there, should you choose to use it, is a sub 6 lb ICE that runs through the same transmission, but combines it with three additional overdrive gears for high-speed, continuous running, or simply when you are out of battery juice and too tired to pedal. With the addition of an handlebar mounted electric start and kill switch, the bike has the potential to operate like a true hybrid: coming to a stoplight, you kill the engine; jump off the line when the light turns green using the electric motor (the throttle on the opposite side of the handlebar), thanks to the low gearing; when you reach cruising speed, switch on the ICE and travel, literally, forever, filling up every 100 miles or so with thirty cents worth of gas in your 1 liter tank. If you run out of electric juice on the road, just use the ICE by itself. After all, in addition to the over-drives, it has the same low-end gearing as the electric motor, since it shares its transmission. And there's always the potential to complement with human power.

If you are using a small 6 or 12v battery for the electric start, a small thin-film 12v solar panel mounted on the rear rack would supply the trickle-recharge needed to ensure that there is always enough juice for the electric start which makes this hybrid-performance possible. Small flywheel energy recycling and storage systems (like the CEMB, for one) are being produced as an add-on for vehicles in need of electric recharge. This, in addition to solar power, has the potential to recharge the main batteries while the ICE is running in the same way hybrid automobiles recharge their batteries.

There are so many possibilities, but it seems like things are finally coming together. Once I get a few prototypes produced, I would like to have a kind of mini-tradeshow, (maybe a sidewalk stand on a Saturday in South Philly on a yard sale weekend) to at the very least expose people to alternatives like the ones myself, and others concerned with energy conservation, are developing, advocating, and using as an alternative to the automobile. My friend Michael is also planning a video-documentary bicycle tour across Palestine to promote peace in that region, and I would love to possibly outfit him and his tour partner with one of these small hybrid setups as another way of exposure (and to save them some peddling in the hot desert sun when oasis get few and far between!)

Pics to follow. I felt, for the first time last night, that maybe this idea is not something to be scrapped. Maybe it is my calling. The Vatican has, after all, added environmental degradation to the Sin List...what better way to fight sin than with an electric bike!

Theo-political Discourse: an Exchange

This letter is in response to a friend's questions on my thoughts of how theology plays into voting. Here's my response:

Dear B.,

Thanks for writing; you raise some excellent, pointed questions about the election. I wish more people were thinking as critically as you.

It's true I am an Obama supporter, and I will tell you why in a few minutes. But first I want to talk about some of the points you brought up, starting with black liberation theology.

I have read some of James Cone's work and have referenced it on numerous occasions in past research (I'll see if I can dig up some papers, for curiosity's sake). While you seem to have a good idea of his general theology, I need to clarify a few points.

First, black liberation theology falls under the general umbrella 'theology of liberation' (aka, liberation theology) developed by Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez Merino, a Dominican priest from Peru. It's important to recognize that the social, religious, political, and economic landscape of Latin America plays an inextricable role in the development of this particular theology. Without going into too much detail, the general premise of liberation theology is founded in the Exodus movement...that the children of Israel called for help in their bondage under the Egyptians, and God delivered them, establishing an unbreakable covenant as a result; "You will be my people, and I will be your God." God made a promise to a people to deliver them from oppression, and as Christians of a new covenant, we are charged with the responsibility of carrying out that job, to be the "hands and feet of Christ," who no longer has human hands and feets besides ours with which to work. It is the social responsibility of all Christians to fight, and die if need be, on behalf of the poor, the oppressed, and the most vulnerable whose voices are trampled daily, but whose God "hears the cry of the poor."

Cone is not anti-white...he is anti-oppression. And in Cone's view, blacks have not, for all intents and purposes, been liberated by the political civil rights procured in the sixties as a result of political activism and civil disobedience. Although I don't know for certain, I would imagine Cone would be drawing from the influence of both Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr--recognizing the need for a spiritual discipleship fused with political responsibility in the civic arena. As a Christian, MLK felt that the oppression of blacks under segregation was not only unjust from a civil liberties point of view, but sinful, because it perpetuates the kind of injustice that, in his view, is incompatible with the justice of God, since as it is written, "God hears the cry of the poor."

Malcolm X felt similarly about the need to liberate blacks from oppression, but was not on board with King's Christian pacificism. X had a kind of "holy anger" directed at injustice that I, personally, find prophetically admirable (much more so than the righteous indignation of, say, the Religious Right) because he was more concerned with liberation from oppression for blacks than he was with getting such-and-such laws passed in the House. Cone's theology is based in the idea that oppression is incompatible with justice, which is both political justice and the justice of God--his promises to the oppressed for liberation. As an American black man, he is bringing his experience into his theology, which is what all theologians do (so called "object theologians" can also properly be called "liars") and as Cone sees it, racism and oppression, despite what White America might have you believe, is still alive and well and built into the very system on which this country stands. He is not a Latin American. He is not a woman. He is not a GLTB. There is criticisms from black feminist theologians that Cone's theology might not take women's struggles into account (his later revised edition of A Black Theology of Liberation addresses some of these issues in a more sensitive way, much like X's hardline Black-supremacy softened after his pilgrimage to Mecca.) Black theology can be ascribed to by whites for its general theology of justice and liberation. But it can only be written by blacks, because it can only be felt by blacks.

I did not vote for Kerry in 2004 because I thought he was a noble candidate, and while I think it was a case of voting for the "lesser of two evils," the particular issues surrounding him that were at odds with my personal religious beliefs were just that--issues. As a "big picture" person (versus a "details" person), I guess it should not be surprising that as a whole, I felt voting for George Bush would not be the best thing for our country. Though far from a being a responsible American citizen, I do not question that choice; in spite of criticism from many of my own people (if I can speak about my Catholic faith, and the global Catholic community, in that way) who felt that a Catholic could not, in good conscience, vote for a pro-choice [platform] candidate, or a candidate not fit to receive Communion because of his divorce and remarriage, I voted my conscience.

People vote their values. If the environment is your #1 concern, you'll vote Nader. If you are a hard-core libertarian, or someone with strong evangelical Christian values, you go Ron Paul or Huckabee.

I am an environmentalist through and through. Part of my obsession with getting these electric bikes and hybrid motorcycles and L.E.V.'s out on the road is because I believe it is a calling of sorts. With the Vatican recently listing environmental degradation as on of the newly established "social sins" (a huge step in papal recognition of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops letters addressing the need to consider social issues such as the environment, economic inequality, and institutionalized racism and discrimination, not as simply social issues, but as moral ones), I feel that part of my responsibility as a Christian working to build the Kingdom of God on earth is to use whatever gifts and talents that God has given me in order to answer and live out that call.

But as a conscientious American citizen, I recognize that my role in the political office is not to petition to elect representatives that represent strong beliefs in one issue or another. Ironically, I am strict conservative in that way, in that I believe that the original intentions of the founders of this country were ultimately good, and that at the heart of that is the belief is that all people are created equal and that all people should enjoy the opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That is why, after all, we are all sons and daughters of immigrants.

With all that being said, I have had no problem in the past flying my flag upside down from a high mast in protest of the degeneration of those values. My Christian beliefs are neo-orthodox in this way, and I have been strongly influenced by the theology of Reinhold Neiber and others in this school, who believe that above all ideology is, in a way, idolatry, and that above all sense of loyalty to self, others, or systems, must take second seat to the God who says, first and foremost, "you shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, strength, soul, and mind" above all things. Yes this is radical theology...but that also depends on where you are sitting. For me, I can't concede any other belief.

Hand in hand with that, however, is the adjoining commandment given by Jesus--the God-Man dropped transcended into the social-economic-political-cultural world of historical reality: "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." These two cannot be separated any more than Jesus' human reality can be separated from his divine. For this reason he said, "there is no greater commandment than these." Theologically speaking, since God's love is inextricably linked to God's justice (i.e., one cannot exist without the other), one cannot say they love God while maintaining injustice against one's neighbor. This, I think, is really at the heart of liberation theology.

But just like our country has crashed off the rails of its noble ideology time and time again throughout history, liberation theology itself has been misinterpreted in history and as a result has betrayed certain aspects of its core. The first example of that (and it continues to be a point of concern for the Vatican today, contributing to its early condemnations) is the taking up of arms in violent protest. If you have ever read The Last Temptation of Christ, it is most akin to the zealots fighting for Israel's liberation from Rome...and not feeling using violence as a means to and end was unjustified for that pursuit. It is my personal feeling that it is at this point that liberation theology--or those taking up arms under its banner--oversteps its bounds and moves away from its core to the point that in order to maintain one's integrity as a liberation theologian (or as one ascribing to this theology, as is where I find myself), it becomes necessary to distance oneself from such zealotry.

Which is why I am voting for Obabma; because I believe (and I stress the word belief), in that I can't prove it anymore than I can prove the existence of God; ie, I trust that it is true, knowing full well that there are no guaranteed returns on those chips (I have Kierkegaard, Marcel, and other Christian Existentialists who have been hugely influential for me, to thank for those beliefs) that he is a man of integrity.

I liken the media's criticism of Obama's association with his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, to my own history as a Catholic Worker and Christian Socialist, being part of a movement that claims such "radicals" as Dorothy Day, the Berrigan brothers, and the Ploughshares Eight, people who put God above Government and have paid a heavy price for their activism and expression of that belief. I am not an activist (I hate crowds too much)...but my association with such "Anti-Americans" who have performed radical EarthFirst! and Sea Sheppherd-type demonstrations (such as breaking onto Federal Government property and attempting to disable nuclear warheads, pouring blood on federal files and courthouse steps, and burning draft papers) could probably come back to haunt me should I decide to run for public office someday (which will be never).

Clinton "never inhaling," Kerry's Swift Boat headaches...anyone who is in the public spotlight long enough and has enemies will have dirt drug up on him. If I ran for president on a platform of non-discrimination, there is nothing keeping anyone who wanted to from charging with me hypocrisy, considering the Catholic Church officially does not recognize gays as worthy of having equal civil rights. They could even bring to light the existence of radical groups such as Catholic Counterpoint, who have officially been classified as a "hate group" in Pennsylvania, thanks to their anti-Semitic rhetoric and charges. I am a Catholic; a radical Catholic group thinks the Holocaust was a sham. Do I believe the same? See the connection here? As Zach de la Rocha screamed, "you know they murdered X...and tried to blame it on Islam."

You seemed concerned about how the media is going to jump on Obama's association with the anti-white and anti-American sentiments of his pastor (former pastor?), but then implied that the media's attempts to discredit Obama are reason enough not to vote for him. I have to say I can't agree with you on this point. I don't see these things as threat enough to Obama's nomination, and I also do not personally believe (though I could be wrong), given the recent Dem take over in the Senate and what seems to be a general public disillusionment with the GOP (thanks in large part to the war, the current administration, and Bush's being an idiot), that McCain has the support he needs to defeat either candidate. Your argument is that we need to bag Obama because the media is going to do him in on this whole Jeremiah Wright business and vote for Hillary because we need to defeat John McCain. Although I advocated the same general strategy in the 2000 election with people throwing votes down the toilet on Nader (sorry, my personal opinion for any Greens out there), that race was close enough to warrant the pressure on Green voters to, "for God's sake, keep Bush out of the White House!" I don't think your reasoning holds for McCain because it is a different race.

I have a lot of hope in Obama. I think the last eight years have brought our country to a new low in my lifetime. I'm banking on Obama to deliver the change he promises. But I am also concerned with how our country is perceived around the world. When I was traveling in New Zealand people advised me to say that I was Canadian when asked where I was from, and it quickly became apparent why: our president is an idiot. While I don't think Hillary is an idiot, I see her as coming to the table with much of the same hard-liner approach that Bush employs in foreign diplomacy...and its a fucking failure and embarrassment and continues to alienate us from the rest of the world. I think Obama offers some hope at being a public representative of a New America, not coming from the same tired Bush-Clinton poli-power families who are indebted to decades worth of political favors from nepotistic back-scratchers. And Obama, while being criticized for his "lack of experience," will not be leading our country cavalier style under his own banner...I have no doubt he will appoint a Cabinent that will, at the very least, clear out the Bush Cronies and the fucking Axis of Evil (Cheney-Rumsfield) that is our present administration and work towards mending severed ties with alienated countries, approach global issues multi-laterally, and restore our credibility as a truly democratic country. Our President is only our Representative...we are the people.

I'd like to send this to everyone who you had on your other email to the group concerning these issues. Would that be okay? I think its good you are pushing people B. and thanks for taking the time to write all you did, and giving me the opportunity to flush out a lot of my own thoughts and feelings.

But I'm still voting 'Bama;)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

In the Shadow of the Tomb-Stone

For all intents and purposes, my Lent was nothing more than a series of broken New Years resolutions. My desire for spiritual equilibrium was met with the intensification of idol-obsession; time set aside for being on my knees in Adoration of the Lord degenerated into time spent sitting on my ass in adoration of some piece of useless information on Wikipedia. Days of fasting turned into nights of drinking and attempts at chaste refrain were quickly twarted by boredom. For all my valiant efforts at asceticism, all I had to offer were the shards of the broken vessel I had intended to give my Creator, my Redeemer--my best efforts at spinning a pot that never saw a kiln. I admitted it to my confessor last week: I miss being in love. Its hard sacrificing when you know the only sacrifice worth offering comes from love...a love that seems to have since cooled to room-temperature.

Then again, Jesus' mission to redeem his people had its final chapter penned satirically by ghost-writers, hung for all to read; the public proclamation of his failure to deliver on a promise:


His disciples, who saw his death as the ultimate betrayal of trust and a catastrophic failure for Israel against Rome, were living in this dark valley that lay between Golgotha and Zion from Friday til Sunday. It was a time of conflicted and despair, anger and hope, selfishness and sadness all bled into a common pot, a twelve spoked wheel whose hub had suddenly failed and left its passengers in the middle of the desert with nothing to do but wait.

My dad and I were talking about the "energy crisis," a discussion spurred after a drive around the neighborhood in their freshly-purchased Toyota Prius hybrid. He said, "Always remember: no matter how bad things get and how much doom and gloom you might hear, mankind will always find a solution to our problems." I saw this message of inspiration as reflecting either a newly adopted naive humanism or an unshaken trust in the belief that "everything will be okay in the end." Coming home this evening and cleaning house in attempt to have at least the appearance of order and balance in my life, I started to feel that my efforts at cleaning myself up for Lent were good...but they didn't really matter much. It's like when we used to go on vacation and my mom would always make the bed in the hotel room; it would make her feel good, but I knew full well the maid would strip and remake the bed as soon as we left, undoing all my mom's good works. But it never kept her from doing it. I don't bother telling her anymore that it doesn't matter whether she makes the bed or not, that its all going to get undone. I think she knows in either case.

The photograph above was taken this morning--the shadow of a telephone pole with arm-like supports under the cross-brace was painted by the sun on the side of Sasquatch's neighbor's house. The silhouettes of birds flying and landing on it fluttered across the stuccoed canvas. Sasquatch died a few months ago, too, which made the witnessing of this ephemeral cross appearing on Easter morning all the more...timely.

Listening to: Samamidon, This Chicken Proved Falsehearted

Monday, March 17, 2008

In Sickness and in Health

When a Caveman wants a Cavewoman, he hits her over the head and drags her back to his cave by her hair. God is not above acting like a brute caveman when situation warrants it, and if you notice in the Old Testament, Yahweh's patience with the Israelites is not always everlasting...sometimes he wipes people out because he is tired of their nonsense and wants to make an unmistakable point. When we have said "not now" one too many times, God takes the liberty of hitting us over the head with the flu.

I don't have the flu, but I have come down with something: cough, achiness, sore throat...all those symptoms on the Nyquil commercials. I want to crawl up and eat soup and watch movies and I have no energy...exactly the trick for keeping me out of the basement. Since I had really wanted to recommit myself during Holy Week to my original plan of staying out of the basement, and had been praying for the strength to resist the temptation to transgress the prohibitions I had made for myself (it seems humankind has a not-so-stellar track record of such mischevious disobedience; as Augustine said of his pear-stealing episode in Confessions, "Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden."), maybe this was what needed to happen for me to make good on that desire.

I heard someone who had been diagnosed with cancer once say, "cancer was the best thing that happened to me because it slowed me down." It's as if, during those times of sickness, God has us right where he wants us: in bed, calling out for help, discovering all our idols have suddenly gone mute and left us for dead.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Prayer for the Morning

Psalm 24: Prayer for protection and forgiveness; an alphabetical psalm

After confident protestations of innocence, e.g. in Psalm 16, this sad admission of guild is for us most cheering: at last we feel completely in sympathy with the psalmist, since most of us are uneasy with the saints. God is the teacher, the loving Guide: he goes in front of us and we watch him, and at times, he turns round to see if we are following. This psalm is, like the Confiteor, a model 'act of contrition'. It does not try to stir up an emotional sorrow: it simply states the case, admits the guilt, and asks for mercy. Can anyone before God do more? --J.G.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
I trust you, let me not be disappointed;
do not let my enemies triumph.
Those who hope in you shall not be disappointed,
but only those who wantonly break faith.

Lord, make me know your ways.
Lord, teach me your paths.
Make me walk in your truth, and teach me:
for you are God my saviour.

In you I hope all day long
because of your goodness, O Lord.
Remember your mercy, Lord,
and the love you have shown from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth.
In your love remember me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The New 'Bent

Three years ago in a state of complete mania, I designed my first electric car. It was what I called a 'travel car,' in that it was designed to be used in conjunction with other modes of transportation, such as train, bus, plane, etc. It was also designed for business travelers making overseas journeys who did want to have to rent a car when they got to the airport. The chassis was collapsible and the entire car fit into two suitcases that could be checked on an airplane (The geometric configuration was completed on the back of a napkin while waiting for chinese food at Lucky's on Baltimore). There were four independent hub motors and it ran off lithium batteries which were wired in series-parallel to comprise the floor. The shell was removable and rollable and composed of thin-film flexible PV polymer for complimentary solar recharge (after a good bit of research, I have concluded that solar power is better suited for applications other than EVs). It weighed less than 100 lbs.

This project never got off the ground, mostly in part because I was too sick to think straight at the time. The concept of a collapsible LEV, though, was a good one, I thought, though it was not without its shortcomings. One was its classification as a 'car': this brought with it the possible harassment by law enforcement, the dangers or traveling at highway speeds and having to compete with other cars for road space, licensing, the necessity of stricter adherence to traffic laws, compromised portability, etc.

Then it occurred to me that its bikes, not cars, that I have grown up working on. Why not stick with what I know? Bikes have so many advantages over cars, but cars also have advantages over bikes as well. Is there a way to produce a sick hybrid that is capable of incorporating the advantages of both?

When the weather breaks I am hoping to take a weekend to visit my friend Andy in Ithaca. I don't want to drive or take the bus the whole way. It's too far to ride on pedal or battery power alone. I made a trip to Reading last year with my 33cc Robin engine hooked up to an old Schwinn cruiser and averaged about 25 miles per hour; (top speed was around 33mph). Using a gas-powered engine of size 49cc or less on a bicycle is within PA DOT law, but the wind resistance on a conventional upright setup was preventing me from doing much more than 30mph for a sustained period of time. If I wanted to go faster, I would have to either get a bigger engine...or get 'bent.

Recumbent bicycles ("'bents") employ a laid back riding style and typically use smaller wheels. This results in a more aerodynamic shape due to the reduced frontal area they achieve by traveling closer to the ground. World records have been set on fully-faired recumbent, with riders covering over fifty miles in a one-hour period.

Walter Zorn's Bicycle Speed and Power Calculator has been invaluable in the number-crunching part of this R&D process...because it keeps me from having to actually crunch numbers. To give you an idea of all the factors that go into determining speed vs. power demands based on variables such as weight, frontal area, slope, rolling resistance, etc., here is the old school pen and paper way to go about such calculations:

P Rider's power
V Velocity of the bicycle
W Wind speed
T Air temperature (reduced to deg. Kelvin) (influences air density)
HNN Height above sea level (influences air density)
rho Air density
rho_0 Air density on sea level at 0° Celsius (32°F)
P_0 Air pressure on sea level at 0° Celsius (32°F)
m Mass of the bicycle (influences rolling friction, slope-dependent pull-down force, and normal force)
M Mass of the rider (influences rolling friction, pull-down force, and the rider's frontal area via body volume)
A Total frontal area (bicycle + rider)
Cw Air resistance coefficient
g Gravitational acceleration
Cr Rolling resistance coefficient
Cm Coefficient for transmission losses and losses caused by tire slippage (the latter can be heard during powerful pedal strokes at low speeds, for instance by their echo when you're riding along a vertical wall)
stg Inclination (grade) of road (unit: percent)

rho = rho_0 * (273/T) * e-rho_0*g*HNN/P_0 (air density via barometric formula)
Equation for rolling friction force and pull-down force (pull-down force plus normalized rolling friction force on inclined plane)

Equation for the required human power

if a2 + b3 > 0
if a2 + b3 <>
with: Expression "a" of the velocity equation and Expression "b" of the velocity equation

Needless to say, I prefer to let the computer do the work for me.

The Robin engine has a max output at 7,000 rpms of 1.8kw. When this is computed given certain constants (hands on top, slope=0, racing tires, etc.), top speed is calculated to be 40.6mph. Of course you cannot run a 33cc engine at 7,000rpms continuously or it will blow up. That would mean cruising speed would be closer to 30mph.

Like I said, for a 200+ mile bike trip I would like to average somewhere in the 40mph range. I don't think I would like to gear the bike for a top speed higher than 50mph, but I would like to be able to achieve that speed for bursts when needed. Since the maximum output of the motor tops out at 40.6mph in a conventional setup, I wondered how the power requirements would change with a 'bent setup. According to Zorn's calculations, a 'bent lowracer would be able to achieve a top speed of 57.4mph at 7,000 rpms and maintain a continuous output of 1.1kw indefinitely averaging 48mph. Not bad, not bad at all.

I was fooling around in the basement last night after getting off the phone with Andy and pieced together a prototype 'bent from scrap in the basement. The parts used include: 20" rear wheel with 3 speed internal hub; 12" front wheel with coaster brake; front fork with underseat caliper brake; chopped downtube and 3/4 of headtube of adult road bike; 12" fork. The parts came from 1 adult and 1 child's bike and the total setup minus the 10 lb engine weighs in at less than 15 lbs. I still need to add a bent-form backrest, gearing, and front-wheel drive cranks, but everything is more or less there. The bike employs a 6 (3/3) speed internal transmission using two Sturmey Archer 3 speed internal hubs for jackrabbit starts and high-end topspeed. The best part? The bike can be collapsed at one joint (where the fork tube slides into the downtube) in less than 5 seconds and stored in a 20x28x10 suitcase for travel. It is a very simple design with few moving parts (the less parts, the less prone to failure). The gas engine averages 250 miles per gallon. Ithaca is 224 miles from my home, which means it would cost me around $3 to travel the distance averaging 48mph, arriving in less than 5 hours. Like I said, not bad at all.

I hope to have this tested and out on the road in the next few months. It seems like a promising alternative to both full sized autos and bicycles for longer trips in which bicycling is not a practical option. Hopefully my sleepless nights will offer the world an example of a low-cost, energy efficient alternative to the private automobile and incite revolution by summer's end.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

notes 3/12

Religious Experience defined in relation to spiritual experience;
Spiritual Experience, defined in relation to religious experience;
Clerical Jurisdiction;
Psychiatric Jurisdiction;
The Role of Language
Theology: The Science of God

Abraham Maslow wrote in1970 in Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences about the relationship between faith and science, painting a kind of 'Gaza Strip' picture of two camps fighting for sovereignty over a particular geographic space. While complete reconciliation may be a while off, it does seem clear, especially in light of the introduction of the 'Religious or Spiritual Problem' category which was added to the DSM in 1994, that the trend is moving in this direction of 'shared dominion.' That is, religious experience would not be the sole property of a particular religion but could just as easily be recognized and affirmed within the field of scientific study as it could be in a theological or spiritual context; likewise, the narrowly defined realm of science has, during this equinox, the opportunity to move away from the stringent empiricism and 'pure positivism' of Englightenment-era realm of science. In short, Maslow is challenging the idea of faith and science, of subjective and objective, as being 'mutually exclusive' of one another. The convergence of the two disciplines (or at least the overlap, as evidenced in the fields of metaphysics, bioethics, or quantum mechanics) suggests that these polarized fields of 'the religious' and 'the scientific' find some common ground for exploration in each other's respective field. [cont.]

Monday, March 10, 2008

God of the Insane

Season 4 of Lost is turning out to be incredible, very dense stuff, with a space-time continuum at the center. The effects of Desmond's prophetic disposition is discovered to be [stop reading now unless you want me to let the cat out of the bag] the ability to time-travel. One of my favorite lines in I Heart Huckabees is when Lily Tomlin asks Jason Schwartzman, "Have you ever transcended space and time?" and he answers,"Um, time not space. No, I have no idea what you're talking about."

But this idea of transcending space and time that Lost is beginning to get into does more than just pick at a ripple in the fabric of the universe: it is also touching upon a closer look at the life of the mentally ill, as illustrated by Desmond's portrayal of someone with possibly some kind of schizo-effective disorder (or possibly the ability to travel through time?)

Desmond's character was always interesting to me, esp. the fact that he spent time as a monk in Scottland at some point in his past. He spends most of the earlier episodes, in his flashbacks, assailed by a sense of calling, and weighted with the burden of recognizing it. His (and maybe John Locke's) is the most compelling portrait of all-chips-on existential cliff jumping that plays out in the very quantum-overlap I am researching, the place where psychology and mystical experience intersect; where the Mind meets the Spirit. I don't think I am the only one beginning to take note of such shifts in religious and psychological perspective.

In an effort to continue to blog and keep up with my research for the semester, I am going to be writing more blogs devoted to this subject. Hopefully you will find it interesting; if not, I am sure I will be back to writing about Sasquatch sightings and theological reflections soon enough. But I think it will help guide my research and keep me motivated and on track if I am writing thoughts out this way. And, hopefully, give some extra time to rest!

Listening to: 50 Cent. In Da Club

"Get me the Japanese cup." --me.

Sins Against Contemplation

What is that old saying..."idle hands are the devil's playground?" Sounds suspiciously like a Protestant work ethic adage to me. Which would explain why we reward and laud productivity in this country. In America, "nothing" is a negative concept--it is founded on the premise that there is a "something" and "nothing" is its polar opposite. If you are doing "nothing," you are not doing "something," and so what value do you have? Joshu's mysterious Mu (Jap.: wu), like any good koan, flips the logical mind on its head: Mu translates roughly to "no-thing," as in "Nothing,'re missing the point. Everything is no-thing."

My biggest temptation--one which I have been fighting a losing battle with this Lent--has been busyness. I can't remember being this busy for such a sustained period of time. It's not just external's things I put on myself, projects, ideas, things to occupy the mind. There has been no room for white space, which as any artist or interior decorator knows, is as important to a composition as color. I feel off balance and slightly sick over it. There is just so much I want to do...where is the time?

Jeannie was reading a book when I met her by Margaret Lobenstine called The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One. She has the same problem I do in this regard--how to do everything you want when you only have twenty-four hours in a day. Between the bikes and my research and editing my manuscripts and starting new books and traveling and reading for pleasure and's overwhelming, and a huge temptation to sublet out your white space for the benefit of trying to do it all. I heard on NPR the other day that Leonardo Da Vinci only slept two hours a night his whole life (he was big on napping).

There is a Sufi tale that describes this well titled "The Talkative Lover":

A lover pressed his suit unsuccessfully for many months, suffering the atrocious pains of rejection. Finally his sweetheart yielded. “Come to such and such a place, at such and such an hour,” she said to him.

At that time and place the lover finally found himself seated beside his beloved. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a sheaf of love letters that he had written to her over the past months. They were passionate letters, expressing the pain he felt and his burning desire to experience the delights of love and union. He began to read them to his beloved. The hours passed by but still he read on and on.

Finally the woman said, “What kind of a fool are you? These letters are all about me and your longing for me. Well, here I am sitting with you at last and you are lost in your stupid letters.”

I'm hoping to make a weekend retreat at Zen Mountain Monastery in the Catskills at some point this spring, and spend some time at Wernersville this summer. I am going to try to see Fr. Vince before Easter and recommit to my Lenten promise during Holy Week, less than a week away. I'm sure God will enjoy the attention; long-distance relationships can be a drag.

Suggested Movie: Shattered Glass
Currently listening to: Why? The Hollows

Prayer for the Morning

Psalm 14: Moral Code of a Good Man

"In this psalm there is a challenge for those who would enter the presence of God. The passport is a blameless life, righteousness, sincerity. If our conscience turns to almsgiving our commonsense may object (since the wish is father to the thought) that all this is taken care of by the State. Perhaps. But there is much to do that lies outside this narrow field: there is the kindness of the tongue and practical sympathy of so many kinds." --J.G.

Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful birthday wishes and gifts yesterday (esp. Jeannie's arranged private tour of the Ambler Wastewater Treatment Plant--number 2 on the "Top Three Things I Want To Do Before I Die."'re the best!) I'm not much for birthdays, but just to have people thinking of you means a lot. For those people most forgotten, this is sometimes the present most longed for...and never received.

Quote for the day:
"Eggbeaters give me an excuse to eat bacon...not that I need an excuse." --me

Sunday, March 9, 2008

'Louis Vitton' ou 'Gucci?'

I am watching America's Next Top Model on YouTube, an American Idol-type reality show produced by Tyra Banks for young amateur models 16-23. The girls are in Paris and are put through a series of elimination tests to see if they can cut it in not only modeling, but being a world-class model.

The girls are split (in one way) among the evangelical Christians and "pagans," as one girl put it. Adrianna, one of the girls, was at one point complaining about the way the Christians roll their eyes and pass judgment at her. "I do believe in God," she said. "I'm just not psychotic about it." A comment worth bookmarking for my research.

At one point, the girls were given a free day, but could not agree on where to spend it. One girl wanted to see the Eiffel Tower and visit Jim Morrison's grave, while the Christian girls wanted to go shopping. It was a tense moment (the Christians didn't even know who Jim Morrison was), and it was clear that the group would either split, or compromise. While the one Christian said it would be only fair to do both, the other repeated, "I want to go shopping." Hm.

The deadlock brought back ripe memories of last week's jury duty--a group of strangers put together for a common purpose. It was similar, at least in the situation of trying to decide where to spend the day in Paris. It occurred to me that it only takes one person's unwillingness to consider an option besides their own to prevent an entire group from doing something. There was a woman on the jury like this--it was the "I don't need a [rational] reason" attitude for the defense of her opinion (which went against the majority) employed by President Bush during international summits, delegations, and negotiations. Billy Bob Thorton was great in his role as the President of the United States in Love Actually, adopting a similar attitude--proud assuredness, bravado...and extreme arrogance. The fact that Christians (at least as represented in America's Next Top Model) can assume such an attitude is unnerving. In a jury room, though, the unwillingness to compromise, recognizing that you are part of something bigger than yourself, can be downright maddening.

ps: My Lenten promise of staying out of my workshop has crashed faster than a New Year's resolution. The bikes are in their final stages. Be patient with me; I'll be cranking things out in my hermitage for the next few weeks in the hopes that the cycle of Bicycle Samsara suffering will cease. It is the height of irony to be suffering and being able to see it and refusing to just step out; an absurd paradox. Paul Schrader said it best, "I want to be happy; why do I do things that make me unhappy?" (thanks to M.B. for the timely quote)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Enlightenment Test

There is a saying: "If you think you are enlightened, test it by spending a week with your parents." I spent an evening with my parents last week. But it was nothing compared to spending a day as a juror. I don't think my blood pressure has been this high since I don't know when. But when you hate people (as, I'm reminded, I've been known to say quite consistently), being sequestered with eleven other members of the general public in a room trying to come to a unanimous decision on six different issues, with people coming from every background and experience--black, white, gay, straight, rich, poor, smart, stupid, introvert, extrovert, loudmouths, quiet types, men, women--a literal cross section of Philadelphia--and disagreeing about everything...if this is a test, I am failing miserably. But I am getting boot-camp quality training in having to face the things I hate most--that is, people in general.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Justice For All

Hi everyone,

Have been on jury duty for the past week...hope to have some things posted later this week on the subject. Has also been busy with the bikes; hopefully something will be emerging from the basement in the next few weeks...just in time for spring!