Sunday, December 30, 2007

Thinking about buying hybrid automobile?

Hybrids are all the rage whenever there's a spike in gasoline prices.

But while they might save you some gas, are they really saving you money? Afterall, isn't "saving money" usually the real reason why people want better gas mileage?

So lets see if a hybrid car really does saves us money or not.

There's a lot of things that go into the expense of operating an automobile. Its original cost, insurance, fuel, maintenance, etc. The sum of all of these is around 41 cents per mile, as per IRS tax law provisions (for non-cash donations to charity, etc). But I'm going to simplify things and only look at two of the variables, assuming that the others aren't going to change much.

The two I'm going to look at is the differences in fuel and maintenance expenses.

Fuel seems obvious...miles per gallon. Yup, its that simple, but I'm going to flip it over, to "cents per mile".

But maintenance isn't so straightforward, because Hybrid vehicle technology is more complicated than conventional automotive engines (including diesels). Simplistically, it is a conventional engine, "plus some other stuff" to pay to maintain. Without getting down into the weeds, I'm just going to consider two main components, the electric motor and the battery pack.

Let's get started:

The battery pack: when the Toyota Prius first came out, one of the pieces of information that was also released was the engineering acknowledgment that batteries don't last forever, and that having a bigger battery is going to cost more to replace than that single one that all cars have under the hood. At the time, Toyota estimated that the battery pack would last 100,000 miles, whereupon the cost to replace would be around $3,000. These numbers have probably since been updated, but I'm going to stick with these because they were real numbers and they serve as a good illustration of the cost comparison process: when we amortize this $3000 expense over its 100,000 lifespan, we get ($3,000/100,000) = 3 cents per mile.

The electric motor: its maintenance is hopefully zero, but some will break and need repairs that won't be cheap, plus it will eventually wear out. I don't really want to claim numbers because I've not researched any. However, if its similar to a clutch and/or transmission rebuild, we can probably expect half of a fleet will need such a service done by 100,000 miles and that it will cost at least $1,000. If you do the math, that works out to (1 cent per mile per vehicle)(50% service rate) = 0.5 cent/mile. For sake of keeping this analysis simple, we can assume that this is the lower limit for the sum of a bunch of the new electrical system components , such as the accompanying high voltage harness, etc. Keep in mind that the exact value isn't as important as how it is then used in the cost evaluation process.

And before I go on, it is true that we don't see these costs on a day-to-day basis: they show up when the car eventually gets service or repair, or by when we sell or trade-in the car before the repair is needed: more wear is invariably be reflected in a lower resale price, just like how you'll get a higher price after you've just made repairs, new tires, etc.

Okay, so the simple summary of the above essentially is that a hybrid costs more to keep maintained, and based on just these two factors, our estimate of this these expenses are (3 + 0.5) cents per mile driven.

And what this means is ~46 MPG (Prius) isn't the whole story: its 46MPG with a 3.5 cent/mile handicap that needs to be better, and we need to figure out the math to see if that's the case or not.

Assume: Regular Gasoline at $3.00/gal

46 MPG is thus: $3.00 / 46 miles = 6.5 cents per mile (direct fuel cost).

6.5 cents/mile + 3.5 cents/mile hybrid higher costs = 10 cents/mile (incremental hybrid cost)

Converting 10 cents/mile back into MPG: ($3.00/0.10) = 30 MPG

Thus, a Prius that's actually getting 46 MPG is the same as a normal car that's getting 30 MPG after we factor in the hybrid's higher incremental maintenance costs.

And since there's diesels that can do better than 30 MPG (even after we handicap their fuel cost), the simple bottom line is that a hybrid doesn't have the lowest cost per mile.

Do feel free to update & refine my numbers to make them more accurate.  However, you can't violate the general process of accounting for all operating expenses, and in particular the simple fact that a more complicated machine inevitably costs more to maintain.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fresh Rock

Got a few photos from the Goddess Pele, during a chopper flight that was fortunate enough to coincide with the "Thanksgiving Eve" breakout (2007).

Here's the US Geological Survey's map of the new terrain, as well as one of their professional photos, taken ridiculously close.

For mere tourists, this is about the best we can do:

There's no scale to provide perspective, but as per the USGS's website, the perch channel pond in the top corner (dark) has a 6m ledge (20ft) and is around 50m wide (165ft), so the lively red one that's in the center of this image is probably well over 100 feet wide, and probably closer to 125ft.

Another view, of the lava's leading edge, can be found here.

We later did some hiking in Volcanos National Park over old (safer) lava beds and while geological aspects of it were interesting, even though "desolation" was expected, our normal expectations are nevertheless that if Mother Nature did it and we made it into a National Park, it should probably be pretty too. Sorry, but I do have to admit that the footing was a lot like walking over an old broken up macadam parking lot in an old US city, like Philadelphia or Newark. A few hours of walking with lousy footing over ridges and piles of black rocks, only to see...more black rocks! ... isn't a particularly appealing hike.


Saturday, December 8, 2007

Hilton Waikoloa Village - Hawaii

Been away; spent some time of last month exploring Hawaii...

The low spot was the Thanksgiving Buffet at the Hilton Waikoloa Village. Food wasn't anything superior to a normal steam tray buffet, but what was most disconcerting was that the Service was ... non-existent! Yes, beyond Poor Service. The Dining Staff never followed-up to see if we wanted to buy additional cocktails, let alone even refill our water glasses, remove empty plates, etc. Considering that they didn't have to serve because it was buffet makes these shortcomings even more unacceptable.

Finally, after watching literally 20 minutes pass on my stopwatch for anyone to arrive, someone finally realized that two people with empty glasses, a half dozen empty dishes, napkins on the table top, etc, was a hint. We could finally ask for our check, and they got a mild earful about the utter lack of service. What was a further disappointment was the staff's failure to recover from this 'Customer Service' feedback, where they were literally hopeless to suggest anything to compensate, other than 'Coffee?'

(no thank you - its also too late for that, because I finished my dessert ten minutes ago. Just the check please).

Based on my positive business travels using the Hilton Family products, I would have expected that they would have Compensated us at least our drinks. Nope. Nothing.

So from two weeks of vacation in Hawaii, we can firmly say that in meals ranging from simple hot dog stands and shrimp trucks all the way up to the Hilton Waikoloa Village, the absolute worst service we received anywhere was at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Its prompting me to rethink what hotel chain I'm using for my ~10 weeks of business trips per year.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Irony of technology

I don't want to be OS evangelizing or political...

Nor do I really use You Tube much at all...

But I stumbled across this one in a technology article, and it has a certain irony to it:

Overall, it is inevitable that our computers will evolve and have different UI's than they have today. However, the consumer still gets to decide if he wants it or not. Thanks, but if we have room for something the size of a chest freezer, its going to be a chest freezer!

Other ironies in technology include those optional 'hands free' cellphone interfaces on new cars: a couple of years ago, I passed on one as it simply wasn't anywhere near worth the $1800 asking price for the feature. I'm still trying to figure out why it cost so much. I see the same thing happening today with navigation systems for automobiles: you can easily pay well over a Grand for one built into the dashboard from the OEM, or you can add an automotive GPS later yourself that sits on top of the dash from Garmin starting at only $200. Anyone care to explain why it costs so much to (figuratively) toss it into a reserved empty hole in a dashboard?


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Cayman Condo Development to Destroy a Coral Reef?

Its always hard to balance development versus the environment. However, some cases are more clearcut than others.

On Cayman Brac (in the Cayman Islands, BWI), there's a construction project that's been proposed to build a condo development on a relatively narrow piece of land that's on the windward side of the island and which lacks any protective fringing reef.

Its called the Crystal Azure Beach Resort.

Earlier this summer, when Hurricane Dean passed 100 miles (!) offshore, this side of the island was (as is usual for all hurricanes) pounded with ~20ft seas. Coral and rock rubble was thrown all the way out to the southside road. Hurricane Ivan (2004) also missed the Brac by 100 miles, so its damage was more similar to Dean. The rubble that currently fills the specific property in question was mostly deposited there by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988; you should be able to still look for Gilbert's rubble off the shoulder on the far side (bluffside) of the road.

Here's a house on a lot around a mile to the east of the Crystal Azure property. The shore topography here is IMO actually better than CA's, as there's a slight fringing reef out front and it is on higher elevation:

(Photo is Copyright © 2004 H. Huntzinger)

This photo was taken shortly after Hurricane Ivan in 2004 - - a storm that passed roughly 90 miles offshore of Cayman Brac. See all of that rubble around the foundation that's up to within ~9 inches of the building's windowsills?

I've seen a photograph of this same house after it survived Gilbert's near-direct hit. Its interior was FILLED UP to the windowsills with rubble. Yup, 2-3 feet worth of rock, inside.

Needless to say, building on the Brac's southside when there's no protective fringing reef is an exercise in repairing and rebuilding after every major storm ... and don't believe the claims that they only get hit a few times per century: the above damage was from the second of three Named Hurricanes that passed ~100 miles offshore just in this decade so far (the other was CAT-I Hurricane Lily in 2002).

I really hope that the potential buyers of this resort have done their homework before deciding if to invest or not.

In any event, the original 'Artist's Renderings' of the property included a boat dock. Yes, a boat dock on a windward shore where there this no protected anchorage of any form. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine, we can see it in this photo, on the righthand side. And if you compare it to the photo on the CaymanNetNews article (link above), see that the image has since been cropped.

So its probably not a great building site, but what's the deal about destroying a coral reef?

The CaymanNetNews article states:

"James Fox, Director of Strategy and Operations for Cayman Brac’s Crystal Azure Beach Resort said that the company’s engineer has been seeking approval to go ahead with the manmade swimming cove for quite sometime now. It is expected that the application and supporting environmental impact study will be reviewed and approved by this week....The manmade cove is designed to transform 100 feet of beachfront into the best beach experience on the island,” he said."

So a 100ft manmade groin will somehow create a beach that's better than the existing sandy beach that exists elsewhere on the same island that's behind a ~1 mile long natural fringing reef?

Plus, the problem is that this isn't dropping a rock onto a nice sandy bottom: this region is hardpan with small coral heads near shore, progressively passing through hard/soft coral further out and then classical spur and groove coral formations further offshore. As such, to build will require some degree of coral reef habitat destruction no matter what.

As such, the question is: are the Caymanians willing to destroy coral reef habitat in the name of development? And how much coral reef habitat destruction do they consider acceptable?

Well, the answer to that is that it depends.

First factor to consider: over on the north side, there's a commercial pier thats used to load crushed rock fill into barges that gets shipped over to Grand Cayman, and it there have been "industrial accidents" which have dumped stone on coral reefs that are within the boundaries of official Marine Park, resulting in their death.

Question is: has this business been fined? Ordered to clean it up? Well....a better question to ask is "who owns that company?" IMO, if it was foreign owned instead of by a local influential Caymanian family...nod, nod, wink, wink.

Second factor to consider: the Divi Tiara Beach Hotel, owned by Divi Resorts, shut down in 2006 and is up for sale. The property is deeper (water to road) and not only does it have a protective fringing reef offshore, it has a protected anchorage between the reef and shore. This area is known on the maps as Dick Sessenger's Bay, and is well known as the absolute best anchorage (and some argue as best beach) on the entire island. As such, a far better development site ... and one that doesn't require any environmental assessment because it is both pre-existing and natural ... already exists.

Other factors to consider: exist too. For example, what will really happen to the Caribbean real estate market when Cuba finally opens up and doubles the availability of waterfront acreage?

And maybe, the area offshore is somehow utterly denuded of life, unlike the areas that are all around it. Afterall, being that it is to windward, its not a particularly easy location to go in for a casual inspection by snorkel.

So the question remains: will the Cayman authorities approve dumping rock onto an area with coral habitat?

We will continue to watch and see what happens.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Each one of us has our own ways in which we take a respite from our daily routine, such as surfing the web as a distraction. Hopefully, we also have more concrete places to escape to when its time for a proper Holiday. We've been enjoying such a respite, and have had the good fortune to catch up with old friends and recent ones from various parts of the States while enjoying some time in the quiet seclusion of Cayman Brac. Most visitors here don't know that the small "Bay" ... if one can really call a body of water that's less than 100m wide a Bay, but here they do, for it is a rare protected anchorage ... actually has a name. It is Dick Sessenger Bay and what was memorialized in the book "The Firm" is a long ways from reality. I couldn't imagine twenty boats in here, let alone a hundred.

However, enjoyment of such respites always assumes, of course, that afterwards, we can return home safely and find all at our home still in order. After downloading today's new digital photos and picking a few to talk about, I'm thinking of K & P from San Diego, who were watching the news on Monday and making phone calls home to find if they're part of the quarter million households whose homes are being endangered by out of control wildfires. They started their journey home on Tuesday; hope that they find that they have a home to return to, safe and undamaged, as well as their family members too.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Venus at Dawn

It is shortly before dawn on Cayman Brac. The breeze last night was a wind, and it blew all night, out of the Southeast. Yet half the clouds are high, and the horizon to the east is clear, which is making for a nice pallet of colors for sunrise. High above in the quickly changing black-to-blue is Venus, as a bright morning star. Below at my feet, a hermit crab in an inch long shell marches across the dock's boardwark, then changes his mind and marches back under the bench at my feet.

Ten minutes ago, the Cayman Airways 737 landed, breaking the island's sounds of bird calls, counterpointed by the rumbling of waves breaking over the windward reef that's 75 yards from shore. Twenty minutes from now, the week's visitors will all be onboard and jet will again make its noise to leave, flying to Grand Cayman and taking its passengers one step closer to their homes.

Last night, I finished "The Last Season" by Eric Blehm. A book with the reminder that our time on Earth can end suddenly and at any time, over what could be a normal activity. This past week, the ambulance has come down to the dock for treating scuba divers twice for suspected DCS, plus Pam had a reverse block that resulted in an end to her diving this week while it heals.

Appreciate every day and every sight.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Of Grand Schemes

Bibliophile sailors will recognize the name of Donald Crowhurst.

A few tourists to the island of Cayman Brac may come across the remains of his trimaran, the "Teignmouth Electron" and wonder what it was, and what its history was. Fewer still will realize that this boat (despite the sad shape that it is now in) actually was part of a scandal, from the first solo, nonstop, round-the-world sailboat race back in 1969.

In a way, it represents the dreams of one man. In another way (and with a bit more information on his life at the time), it might recognize a 'Grand Scheme' of sorts - - to recapture one's self worth or self-esteem. Can't really say how unrealistic this was (or wasn't), as one must cope with midlife (and any accompanying "midlife crisis") on our own, and on our own terms.

Perhaps its because its finally autumn in New Jersey that one's thoughts turn to things like these. Too many things still left to be done, and a dawning realization that there's never going to be enough time.


Friday, October 5, 2007

Summer Wedding

Who says 13 days isn't enough time to plan a wedding?

This was from August, my brother's daughter. I was asked to be the Wedding Photographer. Ain't never done that before.

Things turned out well enough, including the quality of the photos.

Of course, what I didn't expect was for the happy couple to do was to take ALL of the photos, unedited, and upload them all to an online directory. Its in the URL Link, above.

What's still on my "To Do" list is to cull down through the photos to just the best ones, organize them into a nice photo album (I'll use iPhoto for this) and have it done in time to be a Christmas present for the newlyweds.


Sunday, September 30, 2007

Brac soon

Our usual trip down to Cayman Brac for some time in the sun is a bit later this year.

Its often a hassle to get all of the work wrapped up, plus stuff around the house in order, to head out the door to another place for awhile. And in our case, it certainly doesn't help that Divi Resorts has done a poor job in running the Club Tiara timeshares.

But there are some things that make the hassles all worthwhile. Taking a nice "dip in the pool" for example.

Since the Caymans are known for their Wall Dives, this is the shallow end :-)

Looking forward to seeing old friends this trip.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

How's your sense of humor?

Earlier this month, I happened to be in Brussels.

On the famous Grand Place, one of the 'brasseries' (think pub, cafe, bar, etc) is the 1697 Guild House "Roi d'Espagne" (King of Spain), which is located the northern corner of Grand Place.

For reference, their website is:

In any event, their men's room is up on the 1st Floor (ie, one level up), which had the following interesting decor:

This angle reveals that the "wallpaper" consists of full-size black & white (mostly) photos behind a sheet of glass. However, this angle gives an interestingly diffrent interpretation:

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Sometimes, there's just certain cars that hit some sort of primordial "lust" button.

The Mercedes 300SL "Gullwing" is one of those cars.

Naturally, the perfect color combination is a German silver exterior with a red leather interior.

I believe that this one was a 1955 edition; its in the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart, Germany (go!)


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Travel notes

Having just returned from another trip, I find that there's been a few businesses that I keep on recommending because we've had good success with them.

For cruising (particularly Alaska), the premier small (under 300ft) ship line is Crusie West. Their website is

For travels to Europe - the "Back Door" guide is Rick Steves. Rick has a TV show on Public Television, a radio & newspaper column, and a website,

And while Rick is mostly just encouraging you to buy his travel guidebooks - - you can find them online at Amazon, Borders, Barns&Noble and probably elsewhere (try your local public library too) - - overall, I find him enjoyable and humorous and most importantly, his books are quite worthwhile. Since Rick updates the books annually, we've bought multiple copies of some of the ones where we've travelled back to.