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.

No True Scotsman Fallacy - science style.

I think I am going to do a couple of posts on perceptions of science. I am not in the science arena, I use it every day as an engineer and I understand many science related fields, from physics, chemistry, biology, electronics, mechanics, controls, etc. I'm more expert in some (electronics, controls, mechanics) and less expert in others (anything else).

By wife has almost no science related background, most of my friends have little or no science related backgrounds. Same goes for their parents, friends, new people I meet and so forth. In fact, most of this country has little or no science familiarity at all. No wonder we can't get on the ball with global warming and getting evolution to be the uncontroversial subject that it is. Same for all brands of woo that people keep paying for.

Anyway, on to the first subject. There is a common fallacy employed, often by religious people when you point out all the things wrong that so-and-so did as a Christian or Muslim. Or you may say to the fundamentalist," look, the Pope is cool with evolution". The response is something to the effect of "Well that person is not a real Christian". Moderates say this about fundamentalists, fundamentalists say this about moderates.

This is known as the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy. I wanted to point out that this is used not just by woo-mongers and the religious. Scientists, respectable ones, use this also. What makes it harder, is that sometimes they are not using it, but there is no reason to believe that they aren't unless you are already expert in the field. The NTS fallacy is perceived, but not actually used. Lets turn to Orac for the moment.

In a recent post, where he is decrying the actions of anti-vaccinationists (correctly I might add), he says this:

There is zero scientifically sound evidence that the MMR causes autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders--or even "autistic enterocolitis." None.
If I am an anti-vaccinationist, Orac just committed the NTS fallacy (replace the phrase 'scientifically sound' with the word 'real'). This is because, from my perspective, there is in fact, many, many studies that show this link. They are searchable on PubMed and have been in the Lancet. All I have to do is find the Wakefield studies, or anything by the Greiers. Look! There is published papers, there is evidence! If you are unfamiliar with the scientific process, if you are unfamiliar with what is good evidence and what is not, if you confuse the word hypothesis witht he word theory, you are going to think you have smacked Orac down with a reference to a few papers.

I have seen this exact same back-and-forth over at Skeptico's whenever anti-vaccine nonsense comes up (just search for vaccine, you'll find it). The hard part is that both Skeptico and Orac are correct. When the anti-vax studies are examined critical flaws in the procedure or interpretation of results are found.

Now don't get me wrong, this is part of the process of science, Wakefield made a claim and presented his evidence, his claim was examined, his results were attempted to be replicated, predictions were made based on his results and predictions were made by his detractors. The results of this process clearly shows that the wakefields and Greiers of the world, and their celebrity fan club are simply not right, no matter how much media they try to get.

My problem with all this is that its time to move on (as with so many other things). At the same time, how can we move on, if perceived NTS fallacies are employed by our most respected doctors, scientists and critical thinkers.?

I don't know the answer. I wanted to show that this is a problem.

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More nonsense in the energy sector

One of the things I like about the enrgy sector is that it is full of material to write about. There are entire communities of loonies with little or no science education who think they have somehow defeated the laws of physics, with what ends up being perpetual motion or free energy machines. There are even patents on free energy machines, by people who presume that just because it is patented means that it works. This is absolutely not true, you are totally welcome to patent an idea that does not work, there are literally hundreds of patents like this. Here is one nice list of nonsense free energy machines.

The company Steorn was once refered to me. You can YouTube some of their videos. They made the unbelievable claim that their device gains energy "just like when you walk up and down a hill, you have gained energy". I'm not even sure what law of physics he is trying to corrupt, I'm thinking he simply has no idea what Kinetic and Potential energy are , or he does and is going on the fact that barely anyone else knows.

And of course, one of the most common sources of free energy claims are that you can get energy from water. I've mentioned this before: It always takes more energy to split water than the energy you get from the hydrogen. Think of it, no process is 100% efficient. It requires energy to take the hydrogen off of the oxygen in a water molecule, why would the recombination of the hydrogen and oxygen provide more energy than you used to take them apart? There are things that look like exceptions (as I mentioned in that post), but the fact it that the chemicals the combine with water (usually stealing OH- from the water, releasing H2) use the extra energy in the making of the chemical.

Anyway, recently I was referred to a company called Black Light Power. They of course have a web page that looks legit. There are a bunch of other features that make this company look like a real company:

They have a list of people some who are called "Dr." (what is with the 8 'directors'?)
They have a picture of a lab with some cool loking monitors and equipment.
They even have a building with more cool looking equipment.
They have been funded with millions of dollars.

Those investors and people working there have got to be legit. Right? No one would fund nonsense (regardless of the billion dollar industry of homeopathics, naturopathics, CAM, astrology, etc etc), right?

Check out the list of people who are interested, mentioned in this article from CNN:

"BlackLight's board of directors reads like a Who's Who of finance and energy leaders, including Michael Jordan, former CEO of both Electronic Data Systems (EDS, Fortune 500) and Westinghouse; Neil Moskowitz, CFO of Credit Suisse First Boston; and Shelby Brewer, former CEO of ABB (ABB) Combustion Engineering Nuclear Power. "
They must know what they are talking about... right?

So what is all this fuss about? That same CNN article summarizes his claim:

[Randell Mills', the founder and CEO of Blacklight, theory] rests on what he describes as his discovery of the hydrino - an altered version of hydrogen that has an energy level lower than its ground state, or the baseline energy level. These modified atoms, he argues, are the stuff that comprises dark matter, the invisible material that many scientists believe composes more than 90% of the universe. The mechanism that creates hydrinos - a chemical reaction whose released energy can allegedly be harnessed for power - is what Mills calls the BlackLight Process.
A hydrino. Well, lets search for a hydrino. We have a whole study group associated with hydrinos. We have a couple of debunkings. We have a few hype machine articles in random newspaper clippings . What is missing?

There are no verifying journal papers on "Hydrino theory". There is no peer review, no replication of results. Nothing.

Going back to the website, what else do we see? A book. Mill's theory of physics. Where have we seen this sort of thing before? Well we have people who wrote books saying time doesnt exist and this unifies all of physics. We have another who seem to think that the earth has 4 corners and therefore there are four separate days at any one time on the planet, and this somehow unifies all of physics. Here is yet another , who has his own claim of unifying physics, and his own book and advertising in many legit magazines like Discover, Smithsonian, and Science. Others have taken that one.

What do all these examples have in common? They all attempt to side step science in order to try to get respect for their crackpot ideas. Who else does that sound like?

Its not just this attempt to sidestep the scientific process in order to purvey your own wacky ideas that is the problem. Its also the wacky ideas. Lets go back to the Blacklight website. Lets pick and choose from around the website:

Check out this picture and its caption.

Orbitsphere Supercurrent. The bound electron exists as a spherical two-dimensional supercurrent, an extended distribution of charge completely surrounding the nucleus. Unlike a spinning sphere, there is a complex pattern of motion on its surface (indicated by arrows) that give rise to two orthogonal angular momentum vectors that give rise to the phenomenon of electron spin.

Spherical and two dimensional? Complex pattern of motion ...of what? Some completely cryptic effect gives rise to electron spin? How do you know? This is exactly the same tactic the astrologers use to try to rationalize their nonsense. They string together a bunch of nonsense words and hope their visitor has no idea what they are talking about.

Blacklight technology is based on the innovative Grand Unified Theory of Classical Physics (GUT-CP) which is the theory that physical laws (Maxwell's Equations, Newton's Laws, Special and General Relativity) must hold on all scales.
Really? Because Newtons laws don't hold up that well at scales of very high speeds, that was the brilliance that Einstein brought us. Where can I find out about this GUT-CP stuff anyway? OOOOH at the Millsian website. How convenient!. Funny how the theory is the grand unifier of Classical physics, but the cook seems to be about the grand unifying theory of quantum mechanics.

The premise of this ridiculous theory is that you can split a water molecule (big energy consumption required), then split an H2 molecule (no problem there, fuel cells do that all the time, but that uses a catalyst and the presence of isolated O2, or power is required) and do something wacky to it in the presence of a catalyst. When you split a hydrogen molecule, you get two protons. Each of these protons is positively charged. His claim is that he can magically change a proton into a negatively charged proton (which he calls a hydrino). He uses a meaningless term like "resonantly transfers energy". He calls electronless protons "hydrogen atoms".

Here is another tip: tons of fun meaningless animations. No meaningful data. Zero.

They have a good presentation. What is the very first assumption?
"Assume physical laws apply on all scales including atomic scale"
But we already know that Newtons laws don't apply at small scales, or at high speeds. So.... this most basic assumption, the foundation for the rest of the theory and results is total bunk. We know that relativity basically become moot at large masses and low speeds, so they too don't apply at certain scales.

You need a physics degree to debunk the rest of this stuff. To me, and to his investors, he puts out there tons of long words and "sciency" sounding terms in hopes of appearing to go over his audiences head. Luckily there are people to handle that part too. We have a debunking of "hydrino theory". And another. And another. (Blacklight has responded to that last one). And another. And another. and so on.

I fully understand the response to my entry here is "you haven't learned it, or understood the theory, or even read the book, so how can you criticize it?" You'll notice I criticize very little of the theoretical claims. I let the others do that (and did). I'll just mention here:

  • They are using the old claim to be able to get more energy from water than they put into the process. That's the age old free lunch, you don't get to have any scale.
  • The founder wrote a book that rewrites the laws of physics. For this book to be right, the previous 30 years of QM would have to be wrong. The theories in this book would have to incorporate the results of the 30 years of testing, not go against them (it of course could go against the conclusion, but not the results)
  • Mills has been having his investors wait for the "Next Thing" for 19 years.
  • They claim to have independant testing underway... no independant result.. after 19 years.
  • There is no replication and verification of their experimental results. This is exactly how the Cold Fusion guys (Fleischmann and Pons) were got to look foolish.
  • Their website is rather typical of a hype machine.
So, I'm ready to make some predictions:

  1. In 2009 there will be no product or independant demonstration of a Blacklight Generator that meets their claims of providing power at 1 penny per Kilowatt-Hour
  2. In 2010 there will be no product or independant demonstration of a Blacklight Generator that meets their claims of providing power at 1 penny per Kilowatt-Hour
  3. A hydrino (a negatively charged proton) will never be shown to exist from this process
  4. 60 million dollars will have gone to pot
Update: Blacklight was recently covered at the Skeptics Guide to the Universe. Give it a listen, you can download the podcast #170 on iTunes.

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Not really surprising

This was bound to happen, wasn't it? I've read about this before. People go to china to have stem cells injected. They have no idea if they are getting stem cells, no idea if the treatment has been proven two work, no idea if they are submitting themselves or their children to danger, basically no idea about any of this.

This is pure desperation mixed with ignorance. Its exactly the same as any other woo, it just uses a term, Stem Cells, that is in the news with such positive slants. Instead of actually checking, relying on real studies, they do the exact same thing as the victims 'patients' of acupuncture, Zero Balance, chelating, chiropractic, homeopathy, etc.

I fully understand the intense desire to do anything for your child to fix them and relieve later stress. Its the same exact emotional force that drives parents to chelate their autistic children, stick them in hyperbaric chambers, or stick them with needles.

Think of this study when reflecting on how parents are trying to acheive short term rewards (making themselves feel better by trying 'instant' cures for their children - at least they are doing something! right?) and failing to use patience and logic in trying to acheive the long term reward (a true, peer reviewed, proven treatment for an ailment). The big problem is that this reward may not come within their lifetime, or even the lifetime of their children. It may not even be fixable, but only preventable. It may not be either. yes I understand that this is frustrating, infuriating even. It makes you feel helpless. But isn't it better to address the current reality instead wasting time and money endangering your children with nonsense treatments?

It is not only bad because it is potentially harmful to the children, not only bad because junk and pseudoscience spreads because of it, its bad because money and time is not spent on science based medicine, the only method by which we have been able to eradicate many diseases, reduce the suffering from many others, triple our lifespan, and improve the lives of people all over the world.

This is just sad. This is a total failure of our educational system and media to be able to imbue our population with some semblance of critical thinking skills. Why can't people see nonsense as easily as skeptics can? It doesnt take long to check if something is crap.

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Lost in the Averages : Direct Buy

A recent post by Akusai reminded me that I wanted to write a post about Direct Buy (warning that stupid link talks). Unlike Russel's story about Amway, this is not a tale of a cult-like business, preying on the simple minded who seem to have trouble with simple arithmetic. However, its not that easy to find much detailed information about Direct Buy, so I thought I would post some stuff about how it works, and why it works for some people. Its not a pyramid scheme, and I want to say this up front: I fully believe some people may save a ton of money by using Direct Buy. I just think that most people won't.

My wife and I renovated our kitchen recently. It cost quite a bit of dough (in the 40 grand range - wow). It looks great, we love it, and from my engineers perspective its solid (Corian is a bit wimpy, but the new stuff is nice looking). And yes, it took twice as long and cost twice as much as we expected. It seems to be a law of nature.

We also recently bought another building that we are renovating. This time, while we still wanted to put in a nice kitchen and bath, we decided we wouldn't be going full guns. We would be cool with looking nice without necessarily being nice. Since we ultimately have 3 apartments to do, we thought we would look into Direct Buy (there is one very near us).

I asked two friends of mine who did join Direct Buy if they thought it was working for them. They both said that they feel like it does. You know, that word really sets off alarms in my head. It means they didn't check. They each gave me one example where they were sure they saved a bunch. But as I pried more and more, it was clear that they didn't know about the majority of their purchases because once you join, you might as well get everything through there and presume that each item is a good deal.

So the first thing we did was schedule a time for one of their introduction meetings. They sit down with you, give a very short schpiel and then put you in a room where they give you a longer schpiel with some movies. The host was very nice and friendly. All in all it is very much like one of those sessions where you go somewhere to win free airline tickets and all you have to do is listen to a timeshare pitch for an hour or two.

The movie/talk session discusses their basic plan: You pay a fee to join, then after three years you pay a yearly fee. You are free to leave to program at any time (err, without your fee reimbursed). Their claim is that they have a direct link to the manufacturers, so that you don't pay ANY mark up between the manufacturers price. They claim that Direct Buy only makes their money from the membership fees.

To be clear, this fee is 4500 dollars. It pays for your membership for 3 years after which you pay something like 180 dollars a year. So when they tell you this, they also break down the average savings. They have a bar graph that shows the average savings for different types of products (I tried but could not take a picture of it, so I'm recalling this from memory. For example, the average savings for furniture was something like 44% off of the MSRP. Appliances were like 25%. The average of all the averages was something around 30%. I have no reason to believe that these numbers were faked in any way. But you will see how it works in a second.

The play is that since you save 30% on your purchased goods, you will get your membership fee back as long as you spend over 15,000 dollars. Will you spend 15K over the next 10 year? Of course you will, and they have everything for your house you will need: Lawn chairs, floorings, windows, kitchen cabinets, bathroom stuff, tile, couches, chairs, tables, beds, and the list goes on. They have over 700 products that you can buy.

Then came the anecdotes. Being relatively used to skeptical thinking, all of these anecdotes, even if true, have no basis in reality. The 4 people interviewed could be the only 4 people who this works for, how the hell should I know? For each anecdote they presented you can find many more who feel oppositely. So I am not a big fan when presented with anecdotes to support a case.

OK, so showtime is over. They give us a little tour. You see that there are lots of shoppers there. You see that they really do have lots of product that you would use if you renovate or are building a house. But I had no real way to evaluate their claim. I didn't have prices for things that I would buy from somewhere else. Frankly, no one sells at MSRP. So what are the average savings when you take that into account?

Folks, here is how Direct Buy can make their claims. When someone is using averages to make quantifiable claims you have to remember that an average is a single number that represents many points. So when they say they save you an average of 44% on furniture, that means that they save you 80% on some furniture and 10% on others. So, are you happening to buy the stuff that you save a lot on, or the stuff that you don't? There is no way to know without actually deciding what you want, checking some prices and comparing those prices when you get in there.

But we didn't do that. So I was trying to wean out the system from him right there. I wanted to know if this was going to work for me or not. He caught on that I was an engineer, and stereotyped me. Brokers do the same thing, apparently engineers and teachers are the worst. They want all the detailed information. Well excuse us!

Anyway, I asked about how many people continued their membership after the first 3 years. I wanted to understand the basic level of happiness from this. He told me it was close to 85%. But in retrospect, to me its amazing how many people are making choices on what 'feels' good. I asked about appliances. He admitted that they actually don't do that well on appliances. Only around 10% savings.

Thanks to my handy little iPhone i was able to pull out some more questions to ask him. I told him to describe all the costs associated with making a purchase. Now a shipping cost reared its head. He couldn't tell me what the shipping cost was, because it depended on the item. Then I asked about KraftMaid cabinets. Well those are done through a distributor, so there is an extra 1-2% cost associated with those. There were a variety of other things that were done through partners/distributors.

Other tidbits: They claim that if you refuse the offer, then you can't go back to Direct Buy for 7 years. This is to protect their 'secret' pricing. Even though the only pricing you have heard by this time was the anecdotal stuff in the movie.

Shopping Experience
I told my wife to go and try to find something she liked. The dude helping us out was friendly and explained that shopping there was different than in normal stores. You had to look through manufacturers catalogs. To be honest, its a pain in the ass, however all the sales people are quite knowledgeable and helpful if you are trying to find some sort of look. but it didnt matter, there is no real way to get an idea of the look and feel of a piece of furniture from a 3" picture.

Apples to Apples
This is something you will hear often from a Direct Buy sales person. "When you do an apples to apples comparison, you will find Direct Buy to provide significant savings". Well folks, there is one problem with that statement and its a huge one. There is almost never, apples to apples. What are really identical matresses differ from store to store by markings, stitching, the name and the price. Or oppositely, some products have the exact same part numbers, but differ from store to store by their construction. For example, a lawnmower may be cheaper by 200 bucks at one store, but it has brass pins instead of stainless steel ones. It happens for computer products. So even if you comparison shop, and find that something is cheaper at Loews, then the Direct By people will say "well that's clearly an inferior product!"

The Rest of the Experience.
My wife lost her patience and just wanted to get out. To her, she was cool with the claim of 30% savings while I wanted to press on it some more. But nothing pains me more than to see her in distress. We paid 4500 bucks and left.

We talked about it and decided with 3 apartments to do, we'll be fine.

New York State has a law that says, that anyone has 3 days to get out of any membership deal. Friday, when we joined was our first day. Saturday was the second, and Sunday (when they were closed) was our third. Further, to really see if there was savings we had to meet with their kitchen counter people to get a quote. I had to meet with their window people to get a quote for windows. Clearly we were not going to be able to check pricing within 3 days.

So, my wife went to Loews (if you don't have Loews near you, its like Home Depot, a gigantic hardware store). She walked around while I checked prices at Direct Buy. We checked on stuff we needed, some lawn chairs, a specific refrigerator, bamboo flooring, and a few other stuff. The lawn chairs were far more expensive at direct buy, simply because they had some far out name brand stuff and didn't have any of the made in china crapola. For lawn chairs, we are good with crapola. The bamboo flooring which looked identical to the stuff Direct buy had, was 26 cents per square foot cheaper than at Direct Buy. The refrigerator was about 10% cheaper at direct buy. Things were not looking good.

I told 'Todd' that I was ready to cancel my membership right now. I told him flat out that since I have not had a chance to actually check their claims, and the little that I have been able to check did not bode well, that there was no reason for me to stay. He fed me the apples to apples line again. Then he came up with a new line. This one was about long term investments. If I give 5000 dollars to a broker, what are my expectations. I told him, that on average I expect to double my money every 7 years. He said, "Right, and with this investment, on average we give you a 30% return, not just a 10% one!". Well, I must admit, I knew something was wrong but I couldn't put it together immediately. I told him "Wait a second.. The stock market is a long term investment based on future prices of stock. The difference is that I want to check current pricing for what I want to buy that you have for sale right now." It occurred to me then that, if they are so comfortable in their claims, that they should have no problem with me going to Loews, getting pricing, and coming back to have them match it, apples to apples. I told him, "Either you give me two more weeks to be able to leave with a full refund while I check this, or I am leaving today". He gave me the two weeks. I got it in writing.

In those two weeks, I had a kitchen designed for the apartment that I would really put in there. I'm not doing this for fun and games. I actually need a kitchen, and if Direct Buy is a good deal, then I am all for it. I didn't choose bottom of the line stuff from Loews, and I didn't choose top of the line either. Their Shenandoah series is middle of the road. It looks pretty good, and consumer reports rated it about what I expected, middle of the road. We didn't choose any wacked out styles, just maple shaker style, pretty common. We chose a granite counter top that we liked. I also prices out a large window we need for a renovated barn we have in the Catskills.

For a kitchen at Loews, they help you design the kitchen, choose the counter top, schedule the installation and so forth. Everything is done in one spot. Direct buy has subcontractors, who give you a better deal on their work, and vendors. So if you want a kitchen, you buy the cabinets at DB, but then you have to call the granite people yourself and schedule a design appointment with them, then you have to call the installers yourself, and schedule all that work with them. Its far less convenient, but worse.....

They couldn't beat Loews price. As I mentioned before, there is no apples to apples. DB doesn't have Shenandoah cabinets. They have other brands that Loews doesn't have (Omega, diamond). Diamond is lower end than Shenandoah, both consumer reports says so, and so did the DB people, by their own admission. So I told them to price it out with their lowest end stuff. Diamond has maple shaker style, so no biggie to me. THey simply could not beat the price. I handed them the exact drawing and parts list that Loews made.

So I go over to the windows. I priced out a Pella window. Same thing, it was cheaper but only 10% and the installation was more expensive.

Leaving Direct Buy
So, I told Todd I was leaving. He sat me down in his office and he told me he was mad at me. He went on about how I didn't do an apples to apples comparison. I told him about the cheaper bamboo flooring at Loews. He went into the rant about how DB stuff was better and as an engineer I should know that there are differences, and that he was very disappointed in me. I said I just wanted bamboo flooring. I had no way to evaluate the binders they used, and know way to know if one was better. Loews guaranteed their stuff for the same amount of time as DB. I told him that I asked their cabinet people to price out their lowest grade stuff and they still couldn't beat Loews midrange stuff. The funny part was that they had the consumer reports ratings out there in the open. It showed that Omega was top of the line, Shenandoah was middle and Diamond was lower (mills pride being at the bottom). I said, "why is your low end stuff more expensive than Loews midrange stuff?". He then went into why things aren't really apples to apples. I responded with "I know!". They seem to try to use the Apples to Apples argument in both directions.

In the end he kept his word and let me out.

Clearly Direct Buy was not for us. It limited our choices if we wanted to save money on each purchase, and it made shopping harder. Worse, our choices of stuff never lead to a 30% discount from other best it was 10% which would mean I would have to spend 45,000 dollars before my initial membership fee paid off. Forget about the extra shipping charges, or their 'qualified' vendors and partners that end up raising costs to you.

I have no doubt that someone could save a lot of money. But you have to think about the type of things you buy. do you generally buy high end, name brand stuff? Well Direct Buy might be good for you. I think most people don't and don't bother to check if they are getting a deal. I think with their system, most people are not getting a deal.

One bit of information I should have asked was if those average savings they like to blab about are averages for the products they have, or average savings of their customers. I strongly suspect its the former.

One quick hint. I will not do this, but both of my friends offered that I could use their membership to get the stuff I wanted. I told them not only would it be cheaper for me if I didn't do that, I don't have any desire to scam Direct Buy. But I know its being done, the way they are set up, means that anyone can 'lend' their member ship to anyone.

Lost in Averages
I wrote this post mostly to document how Direct buy works. But while writing it, I am realizing that many things are lost in averages. For example: what if Washington DC's gun ban actually did bring down violent crime by 10% on average. What if it brought it down by 50%? What gets lost in those averages is individual rights. I for one don't see how the constitution says anywhere about an individual right to own a gun, but apparently extreme right wing judges disagree with me (big surprise there).

Often individual rights are lost in averages. Its important to look for these when discussing the effectiveness of one program or another.

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Money where my mouth is

Well, one of the things that lead me to my last post, was the fact that its killing me to waste so much freaking gas just to get my lazy ass to and from work, or to and from home depot, or to and from the supermarket.

It now costs me 50 bucks to fill my Ford Escape Hybrid. We got it because we wanted good mileage but also really needed an SUV (daughter, 2 dogs, schlepping lots of stuff while we renovate buildings). but a good 90% of my driving is to and from work, supermarket, or home depot.

I'll probably need the car for when I get big stuff, but often I need just one more copper fitting, or just one half gallon of milk Its so stupid to take a car for this.

So, I dropped 2000 bucks and got an electric bike.

Did you know that despite rising oil prices, gas prices, food prices, construction material prices, etc etc, the cost of electricity has been going down since the 1980's? sounds great, but this is mostly due to remarkable increases in coal production and consumption and far more efficient ways to get the coal. Basically, we are consuming a local resource at a huge rate, and each pound of coal puts two pounds of CO2 in the air.

So while I plan on benefiting from this coal use, I see good things on the horizon. Solar thermal and windpower is starting to make its way into our energy market. Nuclear is clean too. I'd take a switch to nuclear, before continuing to increase our reliance on coal.

Anyway, back to my bike. It will cost me 1 penny per mile. Its pretty fun to ride (even if the top speed is about 40 on flat road). We'll see how the rest of the summer goes with it.

I looked at three bikes. The Zapino, the EVT, and the XM-3000. They are all made in china and they all are expected to have some issues as these are relatively new devices.

I found this site and forum very helpful in choosing the one I wanted. All the bikes come with Sealed Lead Acid Batteries (SLA), but some of them can be upgraded to Lithium ion for extended range.

I ordered my bike form Revolution EV LLC. The owner John Harding is very nice, knowledgable, and helpful. He has been riding his e-scooter for over 2000 miles. After reading about tons of failures in the EVT, and the newness of the Zapino, I chose to go with XM-3000 as they seemed to have the best record with regard to reliability (the 3000 is new, it was the 2000 that seemed to have pretty good reliability).

The XM-3000 has a big motor in the rear wheel. Its a 3000 watt motor, which brings the horsepower of the bike to 4HP. It also has regenerative braking, to help keep up battery life. The rest of the specs are here. If you have the dough and a motorcycle license, you can also get the XM-3500. Its more powerful, higher range, and looks different. But I thought I'd start out with the less expensive (about 1/2 price) bike that just got me around.

Shipping was only an additional 50 dollars (how can that be? it weighs over 300 pounds). But I was unsure what to expect when it arrived. Would I have to assemble big portions of it? Would I have to charge the batteries before I use it? Would I have to wire the thing up? I had no idea. but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

It arrived on a shipping truck in a large cardboard box (eek!).
But, happily, it was inside a metal frame. There was some plastic to remove, and then I had to take off the middle struts.
Once that was done, the frame comes apart in half. Once you remove a few bolts, the top comes off.
Then you need to undo the wires that holds the wheels down to the frame.
Then, honestly, this is how difficult it was...Flip the circuit breaker under the seat, Lift the front wheel out of its support, and push the bike forward - then you can ride!
Of course taking a moment to attach the mirrors is probably a good idea.

In full, between the time it arrived the the time I was riding it, was about 20 minutes. The batteries came fully charged. That circuit breaker is actually part of the security of the bike, the seat opens and you can store some stuff in there, but it locks too. So when you leave the bike you can turn off the power and lock the seat down. The seat hinge is pretty flimsy, though, but once locked down the seat is stable.

I'm not sure if the speedometer is in KPH, but its way off. I quickly figured this out when I had it cranked up and it said I was doing 65 MPH. I had my wife drive next to me, when the bike read 40, i was only doing 20, when it read 55, i was only doing 30.

The motor sounds weird. There is no chain, but the power is pulsed to it, and it sounds like there is a chain. But I gotta say, it was fun to drive, and sure is cheap to fill.

There is a break in procedure that I need to follow to optimize my battery life. But lets face facts, I couldn't just sit there and slowly discharge the battery with the lights before trying it out. Maybe on my next set of batteries when the thrill is gone!

Being an engineer I have some mods in mind that I plan on doing:

  • remove the idiotic decals on the sides and replace with some enviro-conscious stickers, maybe:
    • I may go slow, but its faster than you if you had no gas
    • $0.01 per mile
    • Laughing at you while sipping energy
  • Install a Batt-EQ. I'll do a post on this device later if I can. It keeps the voltages of the battery equal, this way a single battery doesn't get reversed. It is supposed to extend the life of the stack of 5 SLA batteries.
  • Replace the SLA batteries with LiFePoS batteries. These should give me extra range and can be recharged up to 2000 times.
  • Mount the charger right on the bike.
  • Create some sort of solar shield that I can pull out like wings, so I can charge while not near an outlet. Its just an idea, we'll see. I doubt I can get enough surface area to make a difference.
If anyone has any other ideas on how to mod it, I'd love to hear it.

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