My opinion on the Volkswagen scandal…

I always had a big passion for technology and I am very excited to be living in this day and age because of how fast things are moving. A decade ago self driving cars, smart phone, tablet computers all seemed more science fiction than reality but in today’s world they are very real. You can buy cars that can do parallel parking by themselves! You can whip out your phone and share pictures to hundreds or even thousands of people in an instant! One of the things that excite me the most however is the upcoming transition to all-electric cars. The Tesla Model S and the soon to be released Model X are prime example of what is possible and what I think we will all be driving in the near future.

As cool as Tesla’s cars are, there is still something that is bothering me. Why aren’t there more cars like the Teslas? Or even simply why aren’t all car Hybrids already? While Teslas are still prohibitively expensive and cheaper electric cars like the Nissan leaf simply aren’t as good performance wise, Hybrid technology seems to have been perfected and ready to be implemented. Even Ferrari and Porsche made Hybrid supercars. There are no real drawback and several big advantages to Hybrids: better fuel economy and lower emissions for example. Why aren’t we all driving Hybrids then?

Heck what about bioethanol? My car has a flex fuel system that would allow me to run on it but I haven’t seen a single gas station that sell the stuff…

You would also think that with all the profit the car companies make, they would have spent quite a bit on research for electric cars, and yet don’t really have anything to show for it. Toyota and Honda have been talking about hydrogen cars for years and still seem to be nowhere near a realistic production model. I remember being in Middle school and hearing about hydrogen powered taxis and busses to be used for public transport in Japan, but that never happened. Even the upcoming Toyota Mirai seems to be more of red herring than anything else. Sure it’s a real car that real people could drive but you can’t really go anywhere, since Hydrogen fueling station don’t exist outside specific areas of California, and they are apparently not always operational…

We know that electric cars are a viable alternative, we have the technology to drastically improve current generations of cars with hybrids systems, and yet car makers either idly do nothing or seemingly waste their time on hydrogen cars that almost no one could practically use. What is going on in the car industry? Well if you have been paying attention to the news recently, I think we can guess why.

In case you missed it, Volkswagen, the german car maker that own Porsche and Lamborghini, has been caught cheating and avoiding regulation on emissions from diesel engines. Basically, there was software inside the diesel cars’ computer that would turn on emission control for the vehicle only during emission testing. The rest of the time, during normal driving, it would release between 10 to 40 times as much pollution as it was allowed by law to improve fuel efficiency. People at Volkswagen intentionally put a system to fool environmental protection agency and their consumers for fuel efficiency. They could have designed an engine that worked and didn’t pollute as much, like other car makers did, but instead decided to fake the results and break the law for more than six years.

This is not the first time that a major car company was knowingly producing dangerous product. There was the GM debacle with the ignition switch that GM knew for almost a decade before the story blew, there was the Takata airbags that would send shrapnel in your face.

I think it pretty obvious that major car companies don’t have the drive to innovate like smaller startup like Tesla because they care more about short-term profit and selling units than making better products. Sure, a better product should sell better, but if they can make their product look better without actually changing it, why bother innovate it? While it would have been easy to dismiss the GM incident as a one off problem, this new revelation about Volkswagen clearly show that there is a pattern of negligence, or even malignancy, in car makers today.

I think the saddest part of the Volkswagen scandal is the thousands of people who own one of those diesel cars. I sincerely doubt that Volkswagen can actually fix the cars short of simply exchanging the fraudulent cars with brand new, non-fraudulent ones, and I doubt that would happen. That would make the affected car completely worthless with little to no resale value.

It will be interesting to see what will happen with this scandal, and we can only hope that this will serve as a lesson to the car industry that they can’t cheat forever.

On final side note, this reminds me of this documentary called Who killed the electric car? that talks about early electric cars in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and how car makers engineered their failures. It’s a good watch but it might make you sad because of how greed manipulates corporations.

September general update post….

It’s been a while since I made one of those and there is not much that I could think of to write a long post about. So here is a couple thing that happened recently:

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As you may know, I own a Fitbit flex, and as you may remember, I hate it. I still continue to wear it because I feel like I would have wasted my money on a over-hyped step counter. While it has become somewhat more reliable with some of the recent software update, there is something that cannot be fixed via Wifi: the band is breaking apart.

WP_20150921_17_18_38_ProThis is due to the obvious design flaw of the band. Every time you pull the tracker out and push it back in, you put strain on the band and sooner or later, weak points fail and BAM! cracked bracelet. I have been wearing the thing for about five month, which is a decent among of time for this kind of bracelet. Now you would think that a getting a replacement bracelet would be really cheap. It probably cost Fitbit pennies per bracelet. However If one were to go on their website, You would find that they will sell you ONE bracelet for $15. ONE Bracelet! FIFTEEN DOLLARS! What a rip off!

Come to think of it, the Fitbit flex sells for $99, and that comes with two bracelets… which mean one third of what your are paying for is bracelets…

I did order some cheaper 3rd party replacement but they apparently won’t arrive until mid October…. what a drag…

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I ran another 10K this weekend! It was the Omaha Marathon this past weekend and my family and I all signed up for different races. My father (who has a blog) would run the full Marathon (which apparently was too long), my sister (who also has a blog) would the half marathon and my mother and I did the 10 kilometer. It went surprisingly well and I managed to do it in one hour and twenty five minutes! That three minutes faster that the 10K I did in Queens back in June. One thing that I found funny was the medal they gave for the Full and Half marathon’s is significantly bigger than the one they gave the 10K runners. Bigger distances, bigger medal I suppose.

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Starting to look nice, A few more medal would hurt though…

I do have to say that my legs were a bit stiff today as I went to the office. It’s not half bad once you start moving but if you seat down for a bit, it gets you again… I suppose that will become easier as I continue my training.

Movie vs Comics: Fantastic Four

Sometime ago in August, that horrible Fantastic Four movie came out and crushed everyone’s dreams and all that. Since then, something has been bugging me. Every time a book is adapted into a movie, the fanbase complaint about inconsistencies between the films and the books, but people seem to be more lenient with comic book movies (probably because it’s next to impossible to get your hands on an original copy of the comics). Since the two Fantastic Four movie series have different origin stories for the  main character, it made me wonder which of the two was the closets to the actual origin story from the comic books. Now, since an original copy of the first issue of “the Fantastic Four” is worth something like $100,000, I got the next best thing: A reprint

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That was only $3.50 thankfully

The thing that I find interesting is that it doesn’t start directly with the origin story but rather a short sequence were the Four assembles them selves for their first mission/adventure. As it turns out both movie have so small elements in common with the comic book but are mostly different. Now, in case you didn’t see any of the movies, let me give you a summary on the origin story.

  • In the 2005 movie, The fantastic four and Doctor Doom are struck by some solar flare while checking out some new Space station.
  • In the 2015 movie, three of the of the Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom get drunk and teleport themselves, Without authorization, to some parallel universe, get exposed to some weird wibbly wobbly goo, abandoned Doom behind and when teleporting back, they shock Sue storm with some whatever energy field.

As I said before, the actual origin story is a mix of both:

  • The Fantastic Four want to be the first to go to space before the Communists do it. They take of without proper clearance and get hit by “cosmic ray” while in space and crash back on earth.
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Remember, this was written in 1961…

The thing that strike me the most is obviously that there is no Doctor Doom in the comic, but both movies decided to include him and give him powers at the same time. The 2005 movie was the closest with the character going into space though I assume we could argue about wether the cosmic ray and the solar flair are the same but whatever. Surprisingly there are some elements in the 2015 movie that were present in the comic book. The teams in both case go on their journey without being authorized to go because they wanted to be the first to do it. Also, there is some similarity in the design of the space suit and the white suit used in the movie.

Obviously, this origin story has aged a bit. Simply going into space isn’t all that special anymore and Communists are not exactly the most believable villains anymore. They came up with new origin story to make the movies more contemporary I suppose. It could be very interesting if they kept the cold war setting actually. Ant man was created around the same time period and Marvel integrated that into the Movie continuity by having Hank Pym be an old guy passing the mantle, and they could have done the something similar with the Fantastic Four. If Marvel ever gets their hands back on the Rights for the Fantastic Four, maybe we can hope they do a better job that what has been done so far.

Now you might be wondering who the villain was in that first issue was. It was some dude called the Mole Man. It was some guy who was socially awkward and ugly who lost his sight after having found the center of the earth and planned to destroy major cities around the world in a revenge plot for being discriminated against. He also had this army of giant creatures that were not really explained, I guess they were just living at the center of the earth or something…

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Not pictured: the Mole Man

Maze cube: some observation…

So it’s been a while, and I still haven’t figured out the damn thing. As a matter of fact, I had to disassemble the thing and put it back together to study it properly, even then reassembling it wasn’t easy. But like I said in one of my previous post, I think I might have found somethings. I mentioned the cube itself has no colors but rather a very intricate pattern printed on each side. There two possible patterns, one being the mirror image of the other, as you can see below:

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Pattern A
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Pattern B

The easiest way to determine which pattern any give face should have is by examining the center tile. If you look at the center tile, there are lines the sorta of look like the letter “a” or the letter “b”, hence the naming. The way the patterns are laid out on the cube, it’s possible to orient the cube to have a pattern “a” on the bottom face, alternating “a” and “b” patterns on the middle four faces and finally a “b” pattern on top. I think this will be crucial in getting a reliable solving method.

Another interesting thing is that some pieces have their pattern spill over unto another face. More importantly, on each face, there are exactly four of those spill, one and only one on each edge of the face. I have highlighted them on the picture below:

edges

Again this should help with getting a reliable solving method and a good way to verify piece placements.

Finally, I am pretty sure that there has to be a simple way to piece the pattern together without having to learn the exact pattern. there has to be some logical construction in the pattern that helps you. I haven’t too much progress on that front just yet but I think I might be unto something. Several portions of the pattern seem to align quite nicely. I have highlighted some of those alignments on the following image:

line paterns

I am not entirely sure how much of this is wishful thinking but I think this might be the final piece to solving the puzzle properly.

I’ll continue to study it and if I manage to crack it, I’ll post an update.