Reimagined and Revamped. Fighting the spread of nonsense often feels like a Sisyphean task. However, the joy is in making the information available, not the hope of conversion.

The Medis Power Pack Part Deux

I wanted to spend a few minutes talking about why the Medis power pack will be a non starter. It isnt becuase of the technology. Its because of the market.

When looking at a new company to invest in, it is important to look at the technology (or the viability of the product if it doesnt require new technology), the market, and the managment.

We previously looked at the technology (see prior post) and found that it is not better than the incumbent alkaline battery technology. It is difficult to know about the managment of anycompany if you do not know the people personally (unless they have a history with other public companies). In this case, we are talking about a company that has been trying to introduce new technologies for 15 years, unsuccessfully.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. There are TONS of R&D companies around that go from technology to technology without focusing on any in particular. Medis however has now spent tens of millions of dollars developing their power pack and claims it will be on the markets in the beginning of 2007. So how will it do? Lets Look.

I found a number of charger products on the market today. I also can compare then to the 6xAAPP I made in the previous post. These products are:

the 6xAAPP (not a product, i made it)
The Medis Power Pack
Clipper Gear
Instant Power
Zap Power

There are three main groups here. Emergency chargers that provide very little talk time, these are the Turbocharge and the Cellboost. Then there are the energy camels that last a long time like the Mfuel and the Zap device. These provide long discharge times and can be recharged. Then there are the products in between. Im not sure what market they are targeting, as we will see.

Im sure there are other devices on the market. This is what I was able to find. To be clear: I have not tested ANY of these expect the one i made. All my data following is based on the manufacturers claims. So there is a large source of error here, for example the turbo charge says it can provide 2 hours of talk time from a single AA battery. Seems pretty incredible. Someone on the Medis message board claimed that a turbo charge was tested and only provided 22 minutes of talk time (for me its hearsay). However these two sites claim pretty good performance from a cellboost and a Clipper device. So take my data here with however many grains of salt you give to a manufacturer.

Here is the raw data (click to make larger)

Using this data I extrapolated cost vs run time. For example, the 6xAAPP cost for the first run would be about 10 bucks including batteries. But the second run would only cost $3.60 more becuase only the batteries would have to be changed. Conversely, a Cellboost only costs 6 dollars to start, but another 6 dollars for the next one.

I did my best to get the right data here. I had to infer some of it based on lithium ion data from say ultralife to extract energy density data and apply to the big devices. So until I see some real test data, this is what we have to go with.

So here we go:

The X-axis is total run time in hours. I went to 10,000 hours becuase the Zap and Mfuel can be recharged 500 times which leads to about 10-20K hours of use.

Its pretty clear that if you plan on using external chargers for many hours the CellBoost is not an economical choice. It really is best if you are in an emergency, and only very rarely. The high rechargables are only economical if you plan on using them for their whole life. Its the plethora of other devices that are interesting.

While the 6xAAPP scores the best over time for the middle range, this product doesnt actually exist. The closest the the Clipper which only uses 4 AAA batteries, so its initial energy is smaller and requires a new set of batteries faster.

The initial price of the turbo charge makes it not a good choice unless you use it often.

The two interesting things that really make me beleive that Medis has it all wrong is:

1) There is no point on this chart where the medis pack is the compelling choice


2) The manufacturer of instant-power device (which truly scores best here), has stopped making these becuase the market couldnt support it. This company was Electric Fuel. It appears that someone still sells these devices though, but i dont know if they are still being manufactured.

It appears that in order for medis to have a compelling product they will have to bring down the initial cost of their device and make it refillable, with the refill charges costing less than 3 dollars.

I expect that CellBoost and Turbocharge will still outsell the medis device (and even the 6xAAPP device if it were real) because they are so small and convenient to use. They are light weight and install directly to the phone.

Well thats my rant for the day. I'll be happy to answer any questions or comments about this data.

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The Medis Power Pack

This will be a long post. Followed by another long post. Sorry.

If anyone reading this (I dont expect its many people) invests in stocks, then you may have been on a message board or two. Yahoo! has them, Google has them, and there is Raging Bull. These generally have two parties, Pumpers and Bashers, otherwise known as longs and shorts. The long beleive in the company, be it the technology, the management, the market, or whatever, and the shorts simply dont for whatever reason.

I recently got involved on the Yahoo! board for MDTL, a company called Medis. Of all the message boards I have been on, this is one of the most entertaining with quite a cast of characters. I reccommend going there and taking a look. I am impressed with the logic presented by some, the faith presented by others, and the total lack of racism, or any sort of predjudice that is to common on other boards.

Some people do get frustrated and start calling people names and mock their intelligence (mostly people who are low in that resepct). But it is still rather fun.

Anyway, Medis has spent many tens of million of dollars developing a power pack. They claim this power pack will be better than anything out there. Some on the board claimed it would be "dozens" of times better. That would be pretty amazing.

Here is a graph of how much energy they were able to suck out of one. It shows that when they discharged it at a constant rate of .65 watts, they were able to pull out 15 Watt-hours. First, some notes about this graph.

I suspect that they picked 0.65 W as a baseline discharge rate because there are many articles such as this one, that say cell phone draws 180 mA on average and a capacitor is used to smooth out the spikes in current. A Lithium Ion battery runs at around 3.6V for most of its life (It starts at 4.2 and can go down as far as 3V, not in a linear fashion). So this means that a cell phone uses .65W. So they chose a good number for power draw.

However, then they choose to use 5.6V as the voltage to run at. No cell phone will tolerate this (The Li+ battery should not be exposed to voltages over 4.2V), which means a DC converter would have to be used which will reduce the total energy out since it will provide ineffeciency in the conversion. Lets say that this is 10% inefficient, so the real energy output is only 13.5 Wh.

Lets also look at this graph. They took the entire energy output and counted it towards the total. An underpowered cell phone will drop a call. It wont work below 0.5W average. Looking at their graph, this takes you to only 13.5Wh, then take of the 10% again and you are down to 12.1 Wh out of their device. BTW this Medis Power Pack (MPP) device is slated to be 12 to 20 dollars (this number changes with time).

One thing to note, by their data, it looks as if you could make a 17 hour phone call. This is cetainly better than the battery in the phone!

But lets compare to the incumbent technology, alkaline batteries. Lets get rid of all the problems with their data and just assume the 15Wh is correct. I set up an experiment:

From an idea someone on the Yahoo message board had, I took 6 AA batteries, hooked them in series and discharged them first at constant current, then at constant power (or best I could)

Cost to me for this power pack was
6 AA batteries 60 cents x 6 = $3.60 (test 1 and 2 used 4 year old batteries, test 3 use new)
2 battery holders 1.50 x2 = $3

If it were a real power pack there would a a DC convertor circuit that probably would cost about 2 dollars in quantity. I think it is safe to say that if a 6xAA device were made in quantity it would cost way less than 10 dollars to make.

Here are some pictures of the setup

The power pack
(used Energizer MAX batteries)

The circuit

I used a Blue Earth BE485 microcontroller to gather data. These are quite versatile and feature packed. Check out Blue Earth. The BE485 can only measure voltage between 0 and 5 volts. So I used a potentiometer to reduce the battery voltage down to that range and scaled the readings in the program.The scaling was 9:5 (9 volts on the 6AAPP was scaled to 5 volts)

Here is a picture of it in its interface board and the computer setup taken some time into the first run:

In order to compare apples to apples as much as possible, I am going to assume that this device (the 6xAAPP) should run at the same power as the MPP. In order to do that, it would require a step down DC-DC convertor. Here is a datasheet for one that shows you can get up to 90% efficiency doing that. Lets assume 85%. So, if my load is at 3.6V and 180 mA= 0.65W, then the 6xAAPP would have to run at 0.8W to accomodate the expected 15% loss. The average voltage as a AA battery discharges is 1.3V. So the correct current through a stack of 6 AA batteries is 0.8W/(1.3V*6)= 120 mA.


Here is the result of the first run (click to expand):

I was able to extract 16Wh out of the batteries. This phone would run for 18 hours. This result includes presumed DC-DC convertor losses. It also ran a bit high in power, the average power here is 0.85W. It is clear I had some noise on my lines I was sampling. The microcontroller imparted most of it as they are prone to do. Since the current is shown on the right axis, it looks magnified. I also had a bit of trouble in the beginning with data collection (lost connection between BE485 and computer) and there are some gaps, but battery discharge never stopped.

I ran the same test at 180mA. This resulted in less energy taken out of the 6xAAPP. Only 13 Wh was extracted but it was run at 1.3W! This means this device could work on even highly featured devices like a Treo. It ran for 10 hours at this power.

I then ran the same test again (brand new batteries), but this time I tried to do it at a constant power draw as the DC convertor would do. I didnt have any DC converter chips around so i did it by hand (poorly) by adjusting the current through the 6xAAPP to a level based on its voltage.

It is pretty obvious where the places are where I made adjustments. The average power here is 0.77W. Assuming the same 85% efficiency, that would provide 0.65W of power to a device. Also I lost some energy in the calculations becuase for a new battery the voltage converter was no longer set to show the true voltage on the battery. so while it shows 9V its was actually as high as 9.3V!

Here I got 16.4 Wh. The extra bit could have been because of the different dicharge profile, or it could have been becuase these were new batteries. It doesnt really matter. The key here is that at 0.77W, this device ran for 21 hours!

One more little thing to note is about the size. Here are the two sizes compared to each other

AA power pack Medis Power Pack
1.9"x2.5"x1.4" 3.7" x 2.6" x 1.4"

While there is no DC converter in the 6xAAPP, there is space between the two battery packs for a surface mount DC-DC convertor, so I think it is fair to use the measured envelope size.

So it seems that the 6xAAPP is cheaper (expecially when you go to buy the second one!), smaller, and lasts just as long or longer.

In the next post i'll go into why these are not the reasons I think that the company will not work out. Its a market matter, not just the fact that this device isnt technically superior to the incumbent technology. Yes, you can consider me a 'basher' for this stock. When the time is right I do plan to short it.

I will be happy to answer any questions or comments.

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Red State & Blue State Education

Just to keep this blog going (for no apparent reason) while my current project finishes, I'll put up some more data I collected a few years ago.

While not a whole hearted democrat (I would have voted for McCain), I am one of those people who truly felt that electing Bush to office would truly degrade American quality of life, liberty, safety, education, environment, etc etc. Unless, you actually feel safer, your kids are better educated, and you are better off, I'm guessing you may agree with me. If not, you probably are high up in a big corporation (drug, oil, insurance, whatever). When he was re-elected I couldnt fathom the reason. Failure after failure, proven issues with scientific censorship, continued harm to our economy, world opinion, trade relations, educational performance, and yet, he was elected again.

While its true I have calmed down now, I still cant get over the fact that it happened. How is it possible that despite all the data that showed his programs are not helpful to our country, and possibly detrimental, and many simply morally wrong, he was elected again. Political spin? Mass hypnosis? I have no idea, except for the power of faith.

I dont just mean religious faith. I mean faith in authority, faith in you party, faith that an elected official will tell you things as they are (despite the data). Faith is one of the most powerful human traits there is. People will do things becuase of faith, even in the face of contrary facts. Its quite an amazing (and disturbing) phenomenon.

In my frenzy I took year 2000 census data that gave me the educational level of the population of each state, I compared this with the states that voted for bush and those that voted for Kerry (who by the way, I certainly didnt think was a panacea by any means). Anyone is welcome to repeat this exercise. I would post the excel spreadsheet, but I dont think this will let me post files.

Here are the results :

For you statisticians out there: These two groups are statistically significant with a confidence of 95% (alpha = 0.05).

For everyone else, there is a statistically significant difference between these two groups. Meaning, people in red states, on the whole, have achieved a lower level of education than those in blue state.

Does this mean they are dumber? No way. (although others seem to think so). It could mean they are not as wealthy. It could mean they are given more incentive to go to work than to seek higher education. Statistics like this do not determine cause and effect very well. They can however correlate two things well or show relations between two things. All this chart shows that states with higher educated people in it tended to vote for Kerry. My reading of this is that people who are trained to examine, question, and research, tended to vote for Kerry. It sure doesn'tmean they were going to go out and sign up for the ACLU. But looking at Bush's failures, seeing past the painfully obvious spin the Bush campaign slandered Kerry with (and for that matter McCain also, in the previous election, go look up push polling), they chose to vote of Kerry.

I was told by someone that this is simply because those higher educational institutions are bastions of liberalism and they train their students to think liberal. Well, I went through a PhD and I sure dont remember any liberal brainwashing (perhaps it was in my sleep?). I would love to see any data at all to support that theory. My guess it that it has more to do with growing up with a certain type of parents and church than anything provided in college.

Like all statistics there are outliers, points that dont fit the groups. For example. Colorado has a very high level of education and voted for Bush. It was pretty much the only outlier.

update: Look like someone else performed a similar analysis
Update II: I have noticed that this remains one of my most commonly googled posts. I wrote this 2005. The mention of McCain was with respect to that election, not the 2008 election.

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freaky financial planner

Well since this is something I worked on recently I'll post it here. I went to a financial planner recently to try to see if they had some good advice. As I understand it, there are two types of people financial planners dislike working with Teachers and engineers. Im not sure about why teachers are one of them, but I know why engineers are the other. Im guessing Doctors dont really like us for the same reason. We question EVERYTHING they suggest looking for the reason why they make one decision or another.

Well I think we are justified in this. When I went there, they said I had enough money for them to give me this great service where they constantly monitor my portfolio, and guide the progress. I gave them a goal of providing 10% growth per year. I told them I didnt expect every year to be 10% but that at the end of 20 years I want to look back and find that my average growth was 10%. This is not an overly aggressive goal.

So he suggested 10 different mutual funds. None of the 10 were the same as what I'm currently invested in. So there would be fees and so forth upon buying all these. So I asked about why these ten and why not the 7 or so i already had. He gave me reasons about small cap and large cap amd balancing it all out and so forth. Of course I pressed on it. Isnt it the job of the fund itself to provide the growth? Why would I pay 1.5% extra to have this planner provide another layer of management on it? He said to take a look at the growth of his suggestions and that I would see the value he is providing. So I did.

The funds I had are pretty much a random smattering of funds. No real thought put into them. Someone suggested them, they had good morningstar ratings, so thats what I have. I am also invested in a few stocks (mostly alternative energy stocks, Texas Instruments, and Orchid Paper Products).

Well, I compared the growth of my present portfolio for the last 5, 3, and 0.5 years and the growth of the proposed porfolio.

Well this wasnt really a suprise to me (sorry about the 4 decimal places on the Y axis, thats dumb)..

The two portfolios performed essentially the same, mine is a little more volatile. Both had high rated funds in them. I realize this picture is small. It shows the growth of 100 dollars over the last 5 years with the two portfolios. The little box says that 5 year returns averaged to about 7%, 3 year returns came to about 19.5% and 6 month returns came to about 30% (these are annualized returns). While my current portfolios performed better in each case, I dont think I would say its a significant amount.

While this is certainly not a statment about the financial planning business in general, nor is it right to say none of the planners are particularly more acute than others, they just are not for me.

They are probably best for people who dont really want to get into the nitty gritty, but just want someone to trust to do it for them. Like having someone do your taxes. Im not saying I am qualified to be a financial planner, just that I suspect that they are not needed, you would be better served by doing a marginal amount of research and buying things on your own. Even as little as I did for these funds, I simply took high rated funds.

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Some people play sports, some collect stamps, some have a garden. I have a lab. I play in it by making little electrical and mechanical circuits that show something can be done, or how well (or badly) something can be done. Sometimes I'll talk about non electromechanical things, but I'll still provide data. I guess I like generating and collecting data.

Sometimes I'll tell people about something and they wont believe me. Sometimes I'll hear something and I wont believe it. What better way to work through it than to try it out and see what happens.?

Well thats what you can find here. May bore the hell out of you, or maybe you'll find something useful here..... maybe not.

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