Hard Drives on a Diet!

Recently I bought a new Hard Disk Drive (HDD) to replace my old one, which had started making suspicious noises. I have always followed a simple rule – if you hear funky noises, replace it as it may be a sign of impending failure. Luckily, I don’t have personal experience with this, but I hear that recovering data from a failed drive is not a great pastime.

I have to say that I’m impressed by the improvements in HDD technology in the few years that have passed. My old one was a Western Digital (WD) Black 1.0 TB SATA drive with 32 MB cache, with manufacturing date of 11/21/2009. The new one is a WD Green 1.0 TB SATA drive with 64 MB cache, made on 3/26/2013. The fact that it was made in Thailand and then sitting on my desk two weeks later was amazing.

Before comparing the two, I have to mention that the Caviar Black series is supposed to be more on the “performance” side, while the “Caviar Green” series is more on the quiet and energy efficient side – so not exactly apples to apples.  Nevertheless, the new Green drive is performing just as well if not better, while maintaining low, almost non-audible, noise levels. I couldn’t be happier with it.

The part that really hit me was the drastic difference in weight! While they have the same storage capacity, the new drive is almost half the weight! The old drive weighs 1lb 9oz (0.71kg), while the new one is only 1lb 0.2oz (0.46kg) – that’s about a third less!

This is great on many levels. First, as a consumer, you have a lighter product, which is nice even for a desktop. As a manufacturer, there are savings in prime materials used as well as shipping and handling costs. This results in the society as a whole benefiting as fewer resources (including fuel) are used, reducing pollution and overall environmental impact.

Good work WD!

HDD Comparison

Chevy Volt Review – That was fun!

This past weekend I got to test-drive a Chevy Volt, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. While I still have some concerns about the price, and whether the upfront capital expense is worth the gas savings down the line, I would actually enjoy owning one.

First, let’s address the battery range. If you’re fortunate enough where you can charge both at work and at home, you can probably go for a year on a single tank of gas. After a full charge, the dashboard claimed that I could go 30 to 35 miles, but I easily got 40+. Sure, this depends on your driving, and I was fairly gentle on the gas and the break paddle – keeping the green ball happy! (See the picture of the dashboard). I’ve also found a fair number of public charging stations, with quite a few offering free juice! Thanks Santa Monica!

Side note about charging: while some charging stations are free to use, others do require a payment. One of them was $2/hour, or $1.50/hour with membership. This really made no sense to me. It takes about 4 hours for a full charge, so even at the reduced rate this would be $6 for a “full tank” or about 40 miles in electric only mode. Considering that gas is $4.50/gallon, and that the Volt will easily get over 40 mpg in hybrid mode, it makes no economic sense to pay for charging more than a $1/hour. In fact, charging at home is about a $1 for a full charge, depending on your electricity rates, which is a nice saving.

The car is quite comfortable, even for a taller guy. While it’s sure no Escalade, four adults can comfortably fit in. The trunk space is decent, although a bit shallow. It’s one of those funny things where some folks may complain “What if I need to move something giant… like say my brand new 60” TV?” Well, no, you won’t be able to fit it in, but you also won’t need to do that very often. In fact, most people rarely need more space than a Fiat 500, yet we’ll buy an 18-wheeler “just in case”. But I digress. (The book Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely explains this tendency to overvalue optionality very well.) My point is that there is enough space for four adults and the usual amount of junk in the trunk.

The technology part of it is done well. The interfaces are generally easy to use and intuitive. Some of the displays can be a bit distracting when driving, but I’m guessing that’s just the new car effect that would wear off after a week or so. The part that may require some getting used to is the regenerative breaking, and figuring out when it happens. For example, letting go of the accelerator can result in it. Generally, I would say not to worry about it, and just focus on the road first and on that green display ball second. If the ball is green and centered, you’re efficient. If you hit the gas or break hard, you’re not.

Overall, the car was a fun commuting experience. I put 122 miles on it while using just 0.1 gallons of gas and 3 free charges. That makes for a fuel cost of $0.003 per mile, which can’t be beat.

Chevy Volt Dashboard

Gas Prices

I’ve been keeping track of my gas mileage for a while, and as part of that I’ve been noting the gas price paid as well. I figured it would be interesting to plot this data, and see what the pump gas price has been over the past few years.

What I’m showing is the price I paid at the pump on a given day. There is some “noise” in the data, as I didn’t keep the gas station constant, but the difference in markup among the stations I normally use shouldn’t be more than 10-20 cents, so the overall trend can still be observed.

It is tempting to draw a straight line through the last 40 months or so, and assume that prices will keep rising at about 50 cents per year. Of course, this is ignoring that significant dip you see in second half of 2008…

While most of us dread high gas prices, there is some silver lining to it. Back in 2008, the relatively sudden spike actually resulted in reduced traffic congestion on the LA freeways! Less traffic and less resulting emissions are a good thing.

Save Time: Avoid Left Turns!

Here’s my simple energy saving, traffic congestion and stress reducing piece of advice for the day: avoid left turns! Unless the road is empty, there is always a wait to make it – and in more congested areas it may even take several light cycles to get through.  It’s also a safety issue – you avoid crossing the oncoming traffic, and being tempted to run that “orange” light.

Of course, the opposite advice applies in England and other countries driving on the left side. =)

I wish the GPS devices would account for this left-turn time lag when calculating your directions. Most of them will allow you to pick the shortest or quickest route, but when calculating the latter, I doubt they put in a proper left turn penalty factor. Of course, they can’t just make up a delay to use (say 30 seconds) and would have to collect and analyze traffic data to be able to do so – but maybe it could be a custom setting? Another option could be to provide you with alternate routes? Google maps already does it, although I don’t think they’re specifically addressing the left turn issue.

Speaking of technology – a few years ago UPS implemented software that allows them to efficiently plan their routes, and big part of it includes not making left turns in commercial areas.

For the record, there are some neat apps that will plan and optimize routes for you (i.e. MapQuest Route Planner) – I wish they included a left turn time delay / penalty in their calculations.

PS: If you find an app that does this, please let me know!