Friday, March 30, 2007

On 10,000 and 300

This week, I hit the 10,000 mile mark with my beloved Prius. Let me repeat that a little more clearly: I have driven 10,000 miles in the 4 months I have owned this car. Egad. If I keep this pace up, I will break 100,000 miles in the 3-4 year time frame. That is simply insane.

Looking back on the 10,000 miles, I love my car. It's comfortable, roomy, and it has some cool features, like the video screen where I can keep track of my mileage average. And that brings me to a quick point of discussion for the car.

When I tell people that I get an average of probably 45 mpg with it, they seem shocked. After all, the commercials say 60 mpg. However, the 60 mpg rating is for city driving, while 99% of the driving that I do is highway miles. The highway rating is 51 mpg, so I'm not far off. In fact, I could get 51 mpg if I drove 55 mph. But instead, I drive 75 or 65, depending on what part of my commute I'm on. Also, I've noticed that the weather affects the mileage. During the cold streak a few weeks ago, I was getting about 42-43 mpg. Now, I'm up in the 47-48 range. To make a long story short, based on my experience with the Prius, I do not believe that the mileage numbers are as inaccurate as some news stories suggest.

Another question that people ask is how much money I have saved in gas. That's a pretty easy calculation to make. Averaging 45 mpg over 10,000 miles means that I have used 222 gallons of gas. I'm not sure what the average price of gas was over that time, but I would say that $2.30 is probably not far off. That means I have spent $510.60 in gas since getting my Prius.

As a means of comparison, I used to have a Honda Accord. It was the 4-cylinder model, which meant it was very fuel-efficient, as far as non-hybrids go. I was getting somewhere between 25-30 mpg. I would say 27 would be a good average. Over 10,000 miles that would be 370 gallons, for a total cost of $851.

Thus, in four months, I have saved $340.40, which comes to $85 a month. That yields a 40% savings in gas costs alone. And that's when compared to a vehicle that is already very good with gas.

Net result: I love my car.

Full disclosure: There was a recent report that claimed the Hummer was greener than the Prius when you consider the total cost over the course of the lifetime of the vehicle. As with any report, you must look at the assumptions made. For starters, they calculated the estimated total lifetime on the Hummer was over 300,000 miles, while the total lifetime on the Prius was 109,000. In fact, the ~100,000 figure is Toyota's estimate of how long the hybrid battery would last, not the car itself. To date, no hybrid battery has had to be replaced, despite the fact that there are stories of Prius owners putting well over 200,000 miles on their vehicles. However, even if the battery did need to be replaced at 100,000 miles, does CNW believe that replacing the battery requires replacing the car? There are other problems with the report, as well, but let me just say this: Bad assumptions = bad science = good press.

So that was the 10,000 portion, now let me move on to 300. If you are not familiar, 300 is inspired by the Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 Spartans led a small army of Greeks (estimated at 7,000), using the natural terrain of a narrow pass, held off the invading Persian army (estimated at 200,000) for three days while other Greeks to assemble their forces. In the end, a local resident betrayed the Greeks and told the Persians of another path, which the Persians used to attack the Greeks from both sides. The Spartans and an additional 700 Greeks fought to the end, while the rest were sent away. The battle was crucial in the Greco-Persian War, which was eventually won by the Greeks. This marked the beginning of the Golden Age of Greece.

The movie 300 is based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller. For those who have seen the commercials, you can tell that the movie remains true to its roots. Watching the movie is like seeing a graphic novel come to life. And the result is fantastic.

Let me state clearly that this is not intended to be a movie with Oscar caliber acting. In fact, the characters were all fairly trite cariacatures. You had the valiant king nobly fighting for his country, the invading tyrant, the scheming politician, the pitiful hunchback, etc. However, that was not what this movie was about. This movie was a masterpiece of visual imagery, plain and simple. The vibrant red of blood splattering contrasts with the brooding, lifeless, gothic, background of the landscape.

If you enjoy genres that bend the rules of reality in favor of visual effect, you MUST see this movie. The battles are violent, but beautifully done. The costume designs are as elaborate and exaggerated as any that you will find in a graphic novel. For instance, you can compare the ornate piercings of Xerxes with the simple robe of Leonidas.

300 was brutal and unapologetic in its orgy of violence. And it was magnificent.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Idiotic Patent

I thought I had seen some very useless patents before, but this one really takes the cake. Someone applied to patent the linked list in 2002, and it was awarded in 2006. For non-geeks, a linked list is one of the simplest data structures that computer science students learn. A class in data structures is one of the first classes CS students take. Linked lists are the very first thing you learn about. As you can see from the WikiPedia page, they were first developed in the '50s. So why on earth is someone getting a patent for "inventing" a variation of it 50 years later?!? I've read through the text of the patent, and the variation is pretty trivial. This is why we geeks like to scream for patent reform...