Friday, August 18, 2006

The Twin Terrors

To help feed the mounting pile of FUD surrounding the "new danger" of liquid explosives, we have a sensational(ized) story to share:

This morning, the news wires were abuzz with reports of the evacuation of a small airport because "two bottles of liquid found in a woman's carry-on luggage twice tested positive for explosives residue
..." The more responsible reports indicated that these positive tests were not really probative, and that several standard household items could fail these tests. Other sources, however, seized on the opportunity to invoke fear. Citing that the woman in question was a "28-year-old Pakistani woman in traditional Islamic dress" and had purchased a one-way fare, we were clearly all supposed to leap to the conclusion that she had been handed a tube of facial cleansing gel and a bottle of some other liquid (which, undoubtedly, was the necessary complementary reagent to said gel -- resulting in the formation of a deadly and devious binary compound of mass destruction) by the vast hoardes of Al-Qaeda operatives in the Tora Bora region. (I'm not completely convinced that the timing of the Seattle Port 18 cargo container bomb scare -- also citing Pakistani origins -- didn't influence these reports.) Apparently, both the TSA tests and a bomb-sniffing dog had both alerted upon the deadly Neutrogena-like substance (save us all if it happened to have those little exfoliating grains in it, I'm sure they make fantastic oxidizers). Later in the day, it was revealed that further investigation into each of these incidents resulted in the distinct lack of any actual explosives. Props to the Times of London for at least bothering to eventually get their facts right, so many of these stories go un-updated...

Quick! Somebody remind the popular media: Pakistan has "the bomb" (Say it with me, my fellow Americans: "new-cue-lur").

For other related readings: check out the gel bra ban and tales of inconsistent screening practices. (Or, just laugh along with this Register story, instead.) Time to buy stock in Colgate, P&G, Loreal, and other makers of fine toiletries and cosmetics. I figure if there are enough people like me who abhor checking luggage, then the worldwide demand for tiny toiletries is going to skyrocket. Mini-deodorant, mini-toothpaste, mini-cosmetics, and other mini-niceties and mini-necessities are going to be the rage! I'm considering submitting a patent tomorrow for a passenger airliner with enhanced onboard security apparatus; the embodiment: no overhead luggage compartments! While we're at it, we had better eliminate those switched overhead lights, and the "call steward/ess" button -- those could both provide potentially-lethal power sources, just like your wrist watch and cell phone batteries (especially considering their relative proximity to the emergency oxygen supply)...

The Gran Turismo 4 Virtual Prius Battery-Drain Challenge

Early this week, I was showing my vast collection of GT4 virtual cars to a friend. For some reason, I remembered that the Prius included a wild and wacky engine/battery flow diagram (3rd-party screenshot) that is based on the actual 2nd-generation car. At the time, I was lapping Tsukuba and we watched the batteries drain as I drove (using the standard controller), with its characteristic non-conservative near-digital accelerator modulation. That evening, there were better things to do than stare at a virtual battery guage -- but the seed was planted.

So, I repeated the experiment, but this time on the Circuit de Sarthe II (the old LeMans course, without the chicanes, for even more flat-out acceleration time, and a couple fewer brake/recharge zones). The results were indeed entertaining:
  • First lap: thanks to a couple of brief off-track excursions, this lap took just over 6 minutes, and depleted about 75% of the battery.
  • Second lap: the battery lasted long enough to get me up up to speed on the Mulsanne straight, just as the virtual charge management software swiched to "oh crap, I need to charge the battery some" mode. Because of improved familiarity with the track and the car, despite the diminished acceleration on the latter part of the course, I managed to shave nearly a second off of the fairly pathetic first lap.
  • Third lap: the virtual charge management software refused to let the last bar from the battery go away; complete discharge is apparently not possible -- at least not in a GT4 virtual Prius. Because the battery was not being used to power the motor during hard acceleration, only the gasoline engine was available for almost this entire lap. By the time I hit the straightaway, I had already lost almost 15 seconds, and I finished the lap a full 45 seconds behind the second lap, despite improving my driving lines and braking timing yet again...
Based on this very spurious method of testing, one can only conclude that the combination of endurance racing and ridiculously agressive throttle modulation make for a fantastically bad mix in terms of the classic vehicular dynamics of a Prius.