Th!nk Ox Looks Promising but Read the Fine Print

My car is nearly 8 years old and soon I will have to pass it into the waiting hands of its next owner, a teenager. I have a couple of years until that happens and so I’m passively shopping for a new car. I decided shortly after buying my current car that I wanted a Mini as my next car. The Mini came out in the US just after I bought my New Beetle. I also would like a convertible. What would shake my convictions is if I could find a car that made such economic sense that I just had to buy it. It would take an extraordinary car to make me give up on owning a Mini Cooper S Convertible — do they even make that combination? A plug-in electric seems to have the potential to win my purchase. But then you start reading further.

What most people care about is what is the car going to cost me each month. Most people look at the sticker price or the monthly payment. Gas mileage is an after though. When you talk about gas-electric hybrid, people forget that you still have to pay for gas. Some of the hybrids get worse gas mileage than a diesel from 8 years ago. When people think about a plug-in hybrid or a plug-in electric they must think that the electricity coming out of the wall is free. Granted it almost is. I wanted to try to figure out how much it cost to operate a plug-in electric. How would you do that. I have looked around the web and not found that metric.

The best way I can figure out this problem is to look at the kWh capacity of the battery. I think a kWh is 1000 watts per hour. I have an electric bill that also uses kWh. My power company charges me 11¢ per kWh. So if we look at the Th!nk city‘s specs we can see that it has a 28.3 kWh battery. To keep things simple let’s assume that the battery only consumes what it needs to be charged and stops taking any juice. The web site says that the battery takes 10 hours to charge. It must go into some sort of topping-off mode after that which means it would be using more electricity. So that means that we are talking about $3.12 to charge the battery. Remember we are keeping thing simple. That sure beats the $50 I just spent to fill my tank with gas.

But you cannot compare a $3 charge with a $50 tank. I can drive 450 miles on my tank of gas. The little electric car has a range just over 106 miles. Once again we are keeping things simple. That is the range you will get when the battery is new and the temperature is nominal. What happens when it is 110º in Texas? Anyway, we need to keep things simple. Let’s convert them both to miles per $. How far can I travel on one dollar? My car gets 28 mpg and gas costs $3.75 per gallon. So the gas car cost 13¢ per mile and the electric car costs only 3¢ per mile. I’ve run this analysis before with a plug-in hybrid. When considering a plug-in hybrid you have to factor in the range you need to travel between charges because the economy goes down once you switch over to gas mode but the results we similar. By comparison a compact diesel comes in about 8¢ per mile even when you figure in the higher diesel prices. So far electric looks really good where do I get one?

Not so fast. You can’t get one yet. But when you can the price should be about $25,000. That still sounds great. Thats what I would expect to pay for a compact gas car.

Let’s say I drive 50 mile per on average and let’s multiply that by 24 days per month just to make the math easy. We can assume that I need to drive 1,200 miles per month. Now the gas car is costing me $160/month in gas while the electric car is only adding another $35 to my electric bill. What even better is that the $35 is hidden in my electric meter reading so I do not even notice it. That is a savings of $7,500 over 5 years. Advantage electric car.

Everything sounds great. So when they are available sometime in the next decade, I need to get one. Maybe I should order one now. Wait. What’s a Battery Service Contract? As you may have heard the achilles heel of the electric car is the battery. In 1990 the GM EV1 was leased because GM could not figure out a way to sell people a battery that was just so much toxic waste before it was paid for. Nearly 20 years later we have the same problem. My $1000 laptop has a $100 battery that is truly useful for about 1 year. The battery is 1/10 the cost of the computer and it is pretty much a joke by the end of 2-3 years. I do not know how to convert kAh batteries into kWh calculations but is is clear that the battery in an electric car is a much larger investment. Who wants to spend $10,000 to replace the battery in a 5-year old car? The folks at Th!nk have an ingenious, they sell you a service contract on the battery. They will take care of all the maintenance on the batter so you do not need to worry. They will even make sure you have the right kind of batter to match the climate and type of driving you will be doing. And this only cost you 200€ per month. That’s over $313 on this side of the pond at today’s exchange rates. That’s another $18,800 for the first 5 years. Add that to the price tag. That cost is more than twice the saving realized by the fuel economy. Now the electric car is costing you about the same as a gas guzzler that only gets 14 miles to the gallon.

The battery really is the big hurdle. Once the reliability goes up and the cost goes down the notion of a service contract on the battery will go away. The battery will be reliable enough to warrant. Let’s look at the plug-in electric cars again in a few years.

So all this to say that I’m looking forward to getting a Mini some day.

Apple Mail to Support Exchange?

I think it is really great that Apple has licensed ActiveSync from Microsoft. This means that with the iPhone 2.0 iPhone users will be able to be full citizens on a Microsoft Exchange server with access to email, calendar, and address book. If it were not for NDA I would have really good things to say about this.

So what about Apple Mail? Currently Apple Mail has an Exchange connector. From my experience this Exchange connector is just a façade on IMAP. It appears to behave just like IMAP except that it hides/ignores meeting invitations and receipts. I have not found it to be terribly useful. For the most part email is not a problem.

For the Address Book we are in pretty good shape too. Users can configure Address Book to use the Exchange Server as an IMAP server. When you compose an email Mail automatically queries your local address book and your LDAP servers. This works pretty well. You have to know a little LDAP voodoo when you first configure LDAP and you have to update your LDAP password anytime you change it on the Exchange Server.

Calendaring on the Mac with Exchange is in a pretty sad state. You have two software options. There are a couple other online service options but let’s stick with the software options for now. You can buy GroupCal from Snerdware. This is a great program for someone who needs to sync their calendar with Exchange but still use iCal. It works with sync services to talk to iCal. You set up one calendar in iCal as your Exchange calendar. It then connects to the Exchange server over Outlook Web Access. This is rather remarkable because Apple has change the format in SyncServices and Exchange has a couple of fundamental design differences in the way it handles repeating meeting exceptions, all-day events, invitations, and timezones. GroupCal lets you subscribe to other people’s calendars and display them in iCal. GroupCal has some support for resource/room scheduling. Every time Apple or Microsoft change something in their systems Snerdware has to scramble to catch-up. Like Thursby‘s DAVE/ADmitMac, if you are the lone mac user in a sea of Windows users you can use this software to be a good citizen.

Last year when day light savings time changed I spent a week with my calendar an hour off because my Mac was patched for the new DST rules but the Exchange server wasn’t. After a week, all was well. Whenever I travel I am very careful not to sync if all my timezones do not match or risk creating duplicate events all over the place.

The other Exchange calendaring option is Microsoft Entourage. In Entourage 2004 Microsoft added iCal sync. It was not in the first revision so you have to run Microsoft AutoUpdate to make sure you are current. Usually when people run AutoUpdate they are shocked to learn how many updates have come out. It is very frustrating because there is not one roll-up update. You have to run AutoUpdate over and over again until you finally see the message that “There are no updates available for you Microsoft software at this time.” You may need to run it a dozen times. If you are on Entourage 2008 the Sync feature is included in the first release. When you turn this option on, it will create a new calendar in iCal called “Exchange”. You do not have any options. It is just there. The sync is pretty quick. You have to leave Entourage running for it to update. iCal does not have to be open because Entourage is talking to SyncServices.

I usually launch Entourage and leave it running in the background. I do not want to get into an Entourage vs. Mail/iCal/Address Book debate. I have used Entourage in the past and currently choose not to use it as my primary app. The point of this article is how to use Apple’s tools to connect to Exchange. The fact is you need to have another program as a conduit to Entourage.

The sync between Entourage is tenuous at best. I am very careful to keep the minimum amount of data on the Exchange server. I maintain a private calendar in iCal for historical calendar events. Once an event has passed I copy it from the Exchange calendar to the local calendar and delete it from Entourage. Notice I did not say move. Moving an event from one calendar makes SyncServices unhappy. You do not want SyncServices to be unhappy. The whole point of Exchange is to trust whatever is on the server as the authoritative source. I should at any point be able to look on the Exchange Server and see my current calendar.

The support for meeting invites is really weak for Exchange even in Leopard. I generally accept or decline meeting invitations in Entourage. This causes the least problems with Windows co-workers. When accepting or deleting an invite Entourage will ask you if you want to reply to the meeting organizer. You can choose Reply-with-comments, Reply-with-no-comment, or No-Reply as appropriate. If I am accepting or declining a meeting invite, I will choose the correct reply. If I am deleting a meeting that happened last week I do not want to send a reply. iCal infuriates me in this area. First, it sends a reply automatically without asking. This is very embarrassing if you delete a bunch of events or a whole calendar all at once. Yup – that was me who sent you all those meeting cancellations from 2006. You can just ignore all those messages. It also sends those meeting message via whichever email account you happened to be view last. Which in my case it probably not my Exchange email address. If I delete messages in Entourage I avoid this whole mess. If I have to delete an invite in iCal I first unplug my Mac from the network and turn off Airport. This way my Mac cannot get to the net. I delete the iCal events and let the email message pile up in my outbox in Mail. I then go to Mail and delete all the message. I then quit and restart Mail to make sure there were no other outgoing message hiding in the corners waiting to go out. Only then is it safe to re-enable networking — please fix this Apple! I’m sure Apple is thinking that the computers should all talk to each other and not bother the humans. That is not reality.

My other complaint against Entourage is its lack of resource scheduling. I cannot book a room in Entourage. I had hopes that Microsoft would fix this in 2008 but I was let down. The only way I know to book a room is to fire up Outlook on VMWare. But I digress. If Entourage cannot do it, iCal by extension cannot.

So here’s what I want. I want Apple to bring the ActiveSync license to the desktop — at least for calendaring. I love what Apple is doing in the calendar server space but unless you can play nice with Exchange it is not going to do me any good. Using the iPhone implementation as a template have one place where I enter my Exchange server credentials. I think this should be a system preference panel but it would be acceptable to bury it inside of Mail. This way I would not have to enter my username and password in 4 places every time it change — the fourth location is Directory Utility for WINS/SMB.

Like the LDAP implementation in Address Book, I should be able have a personal calendar along side the Exchange Calendar. The ability to see other people’s calendars and schedule resources would really round out the implementation.

Aliens vs Predator: Requiem – Good Presentation of a B Movie

I finally got to watch Aliens vs Predator: Requiem. It is by far the weakest film in the series. The producers have reverted to a typical monsters everywhere plot. We go from one monster to monsters everywhere in just one night. All the gestation rules are out the door. Apparently you can grow an alien in just a few minutes. I cringed when the story went down some really taboo places and allowed the aliens to attack kids, pregnant women, and babies. Just when I thought they would not go further – they did.

The worst thing about the movie was the lighting and constant rain. You never get to see the aliens, nor Chet, the lovable Alien-Predator hybrid. Chet gets his name from the Bill Paxton character of the same name — follow that? Chet is on screen several times and is nearly indistinguishable from the other Aliens. Can someone please let these two characters fight in the daylight Effects people use dark and rain to hide their mistakes. There must have been a lot of mistakes in this movie

This film also failed to follow another rule from the Predator films — the predator will only kill you if you are armed. This Predator must not have seen those films. This Predator also lacked the basic cool factor that was inherent in the earlier films. When you see the Predator strapping on his gear it should be reminiscent of Rambo getting ready to go kick butt. There was a point when one of the characters is kicking butt against some Aliens. I wanted the Predator to see the situation and show some respect to the pathetic human. The writers missed that opportunity.

A for the DVD, it is available in 4 flavors: rated, unrated, 2-disc, and 2-Pack DVDs. I do not have a Blu-ray player so I cannot comment on it. There are even more Blu-ray versions of this disc. How is a consumer to choose. On top of that Amazon is also offering it as an Unbox download for people still running Windows. The rated version is the version that was shown in the theaters. The unrated version adds just 7 minutes to the film. The 2-disc version (typically $6 more expensive) includes a “Digital Copy”. And finally the 2-pack lets you buy both AVP and AVP:R in one box for the same price as the 2-disc version.

The extras on DVD are sub-par. The recurring theme is that these guy made the movie because they love the two franchises. There are 5 different featurettes with much of the video being repeated in between featurette.

Fox does seem to have the “Digital Copy” mechanism almost right. It is not worth $6 for this feature but it is far better than the Digital Copy that came with Legend. You pop Disc 2 into your computer. There is a link for iTunes if it does not automatically load. In iTunes you just type in a code. iTunes will then unlock the digital archive and copy the movie to your library. The flaw in this model is that iTunes must phone home to the mothership to make sure your code is still valid. How long will this code be valid? Can I “download” it again? If I sell the DVD does the recipient have permission to download the digital copy? Playback on my computer and AppleTV look great. It seems kid of silly to use an entire DVD just for the digital copy.

If you are a fan of the series and do not mind a B movie slasher monster flick then this might be the rental for you. Only but this flick if you are a completist and have to have it because it exists to fill out your collection.