February 24, 2007

Cool New Car Ideas Part Two: Tilt and glide

I recently mentioned a Yahoo group devited to titling cars in the Gyro Car blog. Here are two examples. The first is Carver. This vehicle--shown from the rear in the shot on the left--has a power unit with two wheels at the rear plus a body for driver and one passenger. The front 'people module' has one wheel and is linked to the drive unit in a way that allows it to lean in corners.

This design offers great aerodynamic potential and an amazing driving experience if the cool videos on the web site are anything to go by. So, you get the design possibilities of a three wheeler with a lot less chance of tipping over.

Second up in this post is BMW's Clever, which looks a lot like the Carver. I'm not implying anything by this, and BMW has plenty of cred in the alternative [and less than 4 wheels] vehicle space, notably with the C1. It would seem that something both designs have in common is the ability to alter the power source/drive train fairly easily. In other words, the vehicle consists of two main parts: the driver/passenger module and the drive unit. These are connected by the tilting mechanism. As alternative fuels and more efficient motors come online, it would seem that this design is well-placed to implement them quickly.

What is not entirely clear from either the Carver or Clever sites is how you would go about buying one of these vehicles. I realize that there are huge hurdles between a working prototype and a street legal vehicle. Crash testing and emissions being the two big ones I would think. Does anyone know if there is a category of road vehicle equivalent to the experimental aircraft? That would seem to make sense at a time like this, when rapid improvement and innovation in vehicle design and efficiency could reap huge dividends for the environment and global politics, not to mention driving fun.

The last item for this post, the Loremo, looks more conventional, but is actually quite radical. It has four wheels, but is very light in weight. Together with excellent aerodynamics this yields over 100 miles per US gallon. The light weight is achieved with space age materials and a design that features no side doors. Apparently this results in much greater cabin strength at lower weight.

The driver and front passenger step into the car from the front. The entire dashboard and steering wheel lift up. The rear passengers enter at the rear through a large hatch-back. Check out the web site for more photos.

Again, not clear when you will be able to buy one, but if I was an oil-dependent sheik, I'd be worried that designs like these are well-advanced and threatening to cut gasoline consumption as they become street legal.

February 9, 2007

Cool New Car Ideas: Compressed air power

Compressed air car? Yep, this vehicle is designed to tootle around town using a compressed air engine. Which means the emissions are? Cool air.

If you think compressed air is a puny power source consider that the US Navy mounted 15 inch compressed air guns on the experimental U.S.S. Vesuvius, in 1888. Today, you can buy a compressed air rifle that fires 6 rounds of 77 grain 9mm ammo at 900 fps.

So, the main limiting factor with compressed air is not power, it is supply, the need to recharge. Well, how about a small, efficient on-board powerplant that runs a compressor to recharge the holding tanks? This could be used for longer trips, typically outside of urban areas. We like it.

We'd like to see regenerative braking added to the mix. Maybe the compressor is electric, powered by lithium iron batteries, recharged by solar panels in the roof, regenerative braking, and as power source of last resort, a small diesel. BTW, kudos to BMW for putting regenerative braking into the 5-series.

February 8, 2007

Rock Your Hotel room TV: Use it as an iPod speaker system

Okay, so a lot of turned-on road warriors may have been doing this for a while. I know I've been thinking of doing for about a year but I kept forgetting to take the right cable. What is it? Playing an iPod, or other MP3 player, including a laptop, through the speakers in the hotel room TV.

About a year ago I noticed that a lot of hotels have been upgrading their TVs. Many now have stereo speakers. And quite a few have auxiliary inputs for video and audio. If you're lucky, these inputs are on the front of the box (sometimes they are exposed, other times they are hidden behind a plastic panel). With the right cable you can simply plug in your music player, switch the TV to AUX input, and get a decent room-filling sound.

On this latest trip to Malaysia I finally remember to bring along the right cable. Mini stereo plug on one end, left and right phono plugs on the other. Actually, the cable also has a video plug on each as well, handy for sending movies and photos from my digital camera to the TV screen. Not all hotel TV remotes have an AUX or alternative Video input button so you may have to select this on the front panel of the TV box.

My room at the Prince Hotel in Kuala Lumpur has a very nice Sony Triniton with stereo speakers and I am really enjoying the sound of my playlists on them. It is definitely richer than the sound on the small iPod travel speakers I have tried.

p.s. Hotels in Kuala Lumpur seem to be one of the world's best travel bargains. For $88 per night The Prince Hotel gives you a large, ultra-modern room with loads of tasteful woodwork and a superb view. Okay, you have to pay $12 a day extra if you want high speed Internet. But where else can you get a hotel this good with high speed Internet for $100? The service is first rate. The staff are cheerful and polite, attentive but discreet. Want room service to come back at 4PM because you're busy blogging. No problem and no grumbling. And no clumsy "Do not disturb signs." There's no annoying knocking on doors here--each room has its own electronic bell that guests can control from inside the room. And when you step outside your room you find the hallway is scented with aromatherapy oils.

February 4, 2007

24 Hours of Darkness: Flying the dark side of the world

How wrong can one man be? In my previous post--which I had the guts not to amend--I suggested that daylight would catch up with a few hours into my flight to Seoul. Well, far from it my fellow travelers. The very opposite is true. I landed in the dark at JFK on Saturday evening. The Korean Airlines 777-200 took off at 1AM Sunday. It skirted the top of the world in darkness. We landed in the dark and I got to the airport hotel in the dark. I went to sleep at 7AM Monday, with a 14 hour time difference. At which time it still dark in Korea at this time of year. So the picture above is basically the sky for the entire journey. Amazing.

On the bright side, service on Korean Airlines was excellent and the 14 hour flight is survivable in coach, even when coach is full. The inflight entertainment system was the best I've seen/heard yet. More details to follow. The folks at Incheon airport were terrific and the airport itself first rate. The hotel I picked for a day room also turned out to be a great find. More details to follow, including the amazing electric loo.

February 3, 2007

JFK Terminal One on a Saturday Night

Well, had I've more exciting nights than this, but so far it's not too bad. My trip to Kuala Lumpur started with a cool Delta Airlines feature known as "calling passengers to let them know a flight is delayed." Apparently a lot of airlines offer this, but this is the first time I have actually received a call on my cell phone from an airline in time to stop me leaving the house for the airport. It meant I was able to sit and relax at home for a while and do a few more Saturday chores during the 90 minute delay. And that also meant less time to kill at JFK.

If you have ever flown from Terminal One you may know that some of the foreign carriers don't staff their check-in desks all day. So it doesn't matter how early you get to the terminal, you'll still have to stand in line. You either wait on your feet for the desk to open, or you wait for the line to move through. The picture above is from my Treo, showing the line at Korean Air at 9:00PM, half an hour before the desks opened (and that applies to business and first class too). I had the same problem when I flew business class to Moscow from JFK on Aeroflot last year, although that flight had a fairly light load so the actual wait in line was not that long. Unfortunately, tonight's flight to Incheon/Seoul looks to be packed.

I plan to sleep as best I can although we will hit daylight after a few hours. It seems so weird to be boarding a plane on Saturday night and deplaning at 6:00AM on Monday. I have booked a room at the Incheon Hotel so I can sleep on Monday until the flight from Incheon to KL, which doesn't leave until 4:30 in the afternoon. We'll find out if it is worth the $80. And if I can't sleep, then a shower and a bit of blogging should pass the time (call me a wimp but I gave up the idea of taking in the sights in Seoul when I saw the weather forecast--freezing--while KL will be in the nineties).

February 2, 2007

Heading East, or Maybe West: Going to Malaysia

So this month I need to go to Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia. I will be delivering the keynote at a conference on enterprise [information system] security. I've been there before, about 7 years ago. Back then I was living right next to LAX (right next, like the first flight of the day was my wake-up call). So getting to KL was fairly simple. Fly LA to Singapore or Taiwan and then a short hop on to KL. But getting there from Florida poses an interesting question: Fly East or West?

My final decision came down to dollars and sense. The lowest fare from Jacksonville was out via JFK, then Korean Air to Seoul, thence to KL. Return is going to be China Air to Taipei thence to LAX and JAX. All are Delta code-share and so I will rack up some nice SkyMiles. But, and it could be a sore but, the layovers are loooong, particularly on the way out. So stand by for tips on how to kill 8 hours in JFK and Incheon, Seoul.

Also stand by for photos of KL, famous for the Petronas Towers and other impressive urban architecture. Last time I was there I killed a whole afternoon in the galleria-style mall in the base of the towers. Mainly people watching. And there are plenty to watch--24 million in a country not much bigger than New Mexico (according to the CIA).