[Editor’s Note: We hereby welcome our latest writer, Angry Diesel Engineer. I hope you enjoy his perspective on flex-fuel vehicles – ANM]

The Big Three have announced that by 2012, half of their production will be flex-fuel vehicles.  I’ll leave it to the other Angry Men to debate whether it makes sense to run your car on food at all (I’m sure Angry Biologist would have something to say about it), but ramping up on our current production FFVs is not the way to go about it.

If you’ve ever seen a FlexFuel sticker on a car in America, it means that that car contains an engine and fuel system which was designed and optimized to run on gasoline, but made to tolerate E85, a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.  Ethanol is not a bad fuel, per say.  Compared to gasoline, it has 61% the energy content (Lower Heating Value),  and, conveniently enough, 61% of the Air/Fuel ratio for Stoichiometric combustion.  For this reason, it blends well with gasoline as a fuel – a higher volumetric consumption releases the same energy.  Relative to gasoline, it actually has a much higher knock resistance (Octane rating), comparable almost to racing fuel. Coupled with the it can be made from a variety of sources, most of them renewable, and it becomes downright attractive.  

But gasoline it ain’t. Gasoline has about a 90 year head start on ethanol in engine optimization, infrastructure deployment, and the like. It bears the aforementioned higher energy content, so for the same weight and/or volume (both large considerations for vehicle designers), it can be converted to produce more work.  And, as Americans, this is the measure our car’s efficiency – units of work done per volume of fuel consumed, or miles per gallon.

Which brings me to the topic of this rant: chemical  energy to rotational force conversion systems, or as they are commonly called, engines.  The modern internal combustion engine is a marvelous piece of engineering.  It has been highly refined over more than a century resulting in ridiculous increases in specific output and efficiency.  Despite its advances, a modern example is rarely found operating at even 33% efficiency. That’s right, over 2/3 of the energy (gasoline) you are putting into your car is wasted.

Long ago it was discovered that raising the compression ratio (the maximum cylinder volume : minimum cylinder volume) increased the efficiency of the engine, but also uncovered the tendency of liquid fuel/air mixtures to explode spontaneously, as opposed to the desired flame-front propagation.  Spark ignition engines are by design “knock limited,” meaning were it not for this spontaneous combustion, the engine output or efficiency (or both) could be improved.  Historical solutions to this knock limit have been found, but in the end were deemed environmentally irresponsible.

“But wait,” you ask, “didn’t you just say that E85 has a higher octane rating, which means it should tolerate a higher compression ratio and thereby actually run more efficiently?”  And you’d be right to ask that.  Yes, an engine designed to run on E85 could theoretically achieve higher thermal efficiencies, achieving miles-per-gallon similar to (but probably still lacking compared to) its gasoline counterpart.  

Which brings us to Detroit’s folly.  In an age when fuel economy is the ultimate quest, and green house gasses are on the brink of being regulated, Detroit is saying “up yours” to mother earth.  FlexFuel engines are designed to tolerate E85, not actually achieve anything from it.  Actually burning the stuff results in about 2/3 the fuel economy compared to straight gasoline.  All that potential for any increase in mileage is scoffed at.  Detroit does with it what it does best: throws it out the tailpipe.

Before After


A while ago I posted a short note on one of the “green” initiatives by a student group on campus. This was funded from student fees as an effort, I suppose, to promote environmental awareness. To me, these two pictures represent perfectly the sometimes misguided efforts of people who generally ignore the law of unintended consequences.

In a political world close to an election, one would do well to look behind the fluff of election rhetoric and attempt to ferret out the substance of the candidates and the facts of what will occur. The Biocube is a fitting metaphor for what will become of our economy, our foreign policy, and our standard of living if we are subjected to a veto proof 60 member majority in the Senate under the governing reins of Reid, Pelosi and Obama (RePO).

Anyone reading through the list of bribes attached to the bailout bill passed last week eventually runs across this entry, and is utterly confused.

Excise Tax Exemption for Wooden Practice Arrows Used by Children. Current law imposes an excise tax of 39 cents, adjusted for inflation, on the first sale by the manufacturer, producer, or importer of any shaft of a type used to produce certain types of arrows. This proposal would exempt from the excise tax any shaft consisting of all natural wood with no laminations or artificial means to enhance the spine of the shaft used in the manufacture of an arrow that measures 5/16 of an inch or less and is unsuited for use with a bow with a peak draw weight of 30 pounds or more. The proposal is effective for shafts first sold after the date of enactment. The estimated cost of the proposal is $2 million over ten years.

I took it upon myself, being fond of archery, to look into this as a service to our loyal readers, and hopefully find something that made this make more sense.

Fortunately, there were a number of other sites more devoted to the topic, and with longer, more detailed write-ups of the issues, so here’s the summary:

In 1900, the Lacey Act helped return hunting to a for-sport hobby or for-food necessity, rather than a for-profit cash-crop mega-harvest that it had been, and the remaining hunters have had a key interest in proper wildlife management.

In 1937 the “Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration” program (referred to as the Pittman-Robertson program) was enacted and signed by FDR. This enacted that fish and hunting license fees would be used only for wildlife management and for hunting safety and training (such as setting up state-run shooting ranges).

In 1969-1972, in quick succession, an excise tax was imposed on hunting arms and ammunition as well as hunting archery equipment. This was mostly spearheaded by a prominent archery manufacturer and conservationist, Fred Bear. The archery tax was intended to be split 50/50 between the state for wildlife preservation and archery clubs for setting up instruction and shooting facilities — to help encourage the hobby. Because of a bit of politicking, the money for the archery facilities was never released, and all of it was kept by the governmental departments.

In 1997 collection this tax was moved from being at the point of retail sale (that is, at every mom & pop archery store — which was a serious headache) to further back up the supply chain at the manufacturer. Arrows, for various reasons, have to fit the individual archer and bow, and so are best assembled and finished at the point-of-sale. This tax change encouraged the continuance of point-of-sale arrow finishing.
But this specified that the tax on arrows would be on arrow components, not on finished arrows. This opened a loophole in that imported finished arrows did not have the tax assessed on them.

From 1997-2002, domestic arrow manufacturers increasingly lost market share to importers because of the unlevel playing field. ($.43M, $1.6M, $3.2M, $7.8M, $11.0M)

In 2003 the loophole was closed by taxing the first-sale of completed arrows regardless of where they are manufactured.

This eventually resulted in a $.43 tax per arrow. (Real arrows tend to cost between $5 and $10, so $.43 isn’t a huge deal.)

However, children’s practice arrows can be very cheap, even into the $.36/arrow range. This means the excise tax for these arrows is 120%! This priced archery as an activity out of the range of most youth programs when the price for the core expendable more than doubled.

Starting in 2005, a wooden arrow manufacturer in Oregon (Rose City Archery), whose business orders from youth programs had died off 40% that year, began lobbying for an exception to this tax for youth arrows. (Note: I’m not entirely sure where Rose City was getting their numbers (quoted from the link above) from here, since even their cheapest kids’ wooden arrows are $39/dozen = $3.25 per arrow ($2 per arrow for do-it-yourself), of which tax would be around 13%, still not ridiculous)

In 2008, this bill that didn’t have the weight behind it to get passed on its own, and it just sat around waiting for the right spending free-for-all to get attached to before it could pass. And now, voila! Youth archery is blooming abundantly this week and upwards of four (yep, just 4) U.S. manufacturers of wooden arrows are back in the cheap wooden arrow business! The economy is saved!

Overall, I didn’t know that hunting licenses and taxes paid for so much of the state fish & wildlife budgets. This seems proper that people benefiting should pay most of the cost.

I began thinking that the wooden arrow thing actually made -more- sense because it was correcting a fault in the tax code, and the new version would encourage youth archery, and lead to more adult archery, resulting in higher tax revenue amounts (not least of all because adult archery equipment is expensive). However, aluminum arrows were invented in 1939, and carbon arrows invented in 1983, wooden arrows are only used by “purists” and historical reenacters. Most real youth archery programs use aluminum or carbon arrows, and aren’t affected by this change.

I conclude that this is just another piece of pork for congresscritters from woody states, and won’t really have any affect at all on archery in America, except to draw a bit of attention to it from all the chatter about how ridiculous this tax exception is, especially compared to the actual matter at hand that it was tacked onto.


Despite the mounting evidence that more or less proves that current hybrids are less about energy efficiency and more about conspicuous consumerism, I have to admit I normally have a soft spot for hybrid cars. Not because I have any remaining delusions about their being good for the environment, or good for my wallet, but because… well, they’re nifty gadgets. That CVT is pretty damn cool, and the electric-gas motor linkage isn’t too shabby either. But this was all before I visited the Bay Area. Now the sight of a Prius fills me with a desire to go out and club some snooty hippies.

The Bay Area, being in California, sucks. One of the major ways it sucks is the serious traffic problems. If the highways and freeways are the arteries of the San Francisco Metropolitan Area, I’m surprised it hasn’t had a heart attack yet. You would think that California, being the home of supposed greenies and environmentally friendly folks, would have decent public transit, but no, you would be wrong. California has a huge car culture, the people out here love to drive (poorly), and can’t be asked to take a train or bus. This means all 7.2 million people are on the roads during rush hour, creating a problem of unimaginable proportions.

Much like the rest of the country, the Bay Area tries to alleviate the congestion using dedicated HOV lanes, and much like the rest of the country they allow hybrids to drive in these car pool lanes. The one big difference between the Bay Area and the rest of America is the level of conspicuous “green” consumption going on out here. All of the hippies, and their flower children have a Prius out here, and given the abnormal concentration of hippies, this means there are a lot of Prius’ on the road, and since these folks all want their “independence” it means all of these Prius’ are single occupancy vehicles. I guess it must make Gaia cry when you car pool, almost as much as when you shower.

Let’s get this straight people, your Prius is NOT a car pool. Those HOV lanes are there to reduce traffic, and since all of you nancy boys are driving single occupancy hybrids you’re not helping the problem in the slightest. Furthermore, you’re not helping the environment. Your Prius get’s a lousy 44 person miles per gallon [pmpg] (and that’s if we’re being generous), my Saturn SL1 get’s 32 pmpg if I drive it alone too (actual performance), but given that I regularly carpool my performance is much closer to 64-128 pmpg, and is a SULEV to boot. This means when I carpool, I do a hell of a lot more to reduce traffic, pollution, and gas consumption than you do. Not to mention the fact that, when I send my car off to die it won’t leave a lot of nasty reactive battery waste behind, just clean readily recyclable metals and plastic.

Please folks, think of the commute time, the environment, or just our plain good old energy dependence, and get your Prius out of the damn car pool lane. It’s for High Occupancy Vehicles, not Keeping Up with the Joneses.

-Angry Midwesterner

Hola amigos! Angry New Mexican here to talk a bit about the Land of Enchantment, and our neighbors. You see, New Mexico, the land of chile (red or green) and piñon, is a unique place. Granted, we have our problems, like crappy schools, the proliferation of pueblo casinos, and the influx of hippies in Taos and Santa Fe who drive up prices for the honest Joses like me, but overall New Mexico is a great place… except for the neighbors. Que? Let me explain.

First we have Arizona, which is like the dirty old man next door who spends his time staring sketchily out the window and muttering to himself. Like any good little kids, we just avoid him. Arizona is populated almost exclusively by retired Anglos who somehow thought that Phoenix would be paradise. And they’ve diverted enough water from the Colorado River to make their very own garden of Eden in the desert. What about Nuevo Mexico, you might say? Isn’t it a desert too? Si, compadres, but the high desert of New Mexico can actually grow things, like green chile (the non-Anglos in the audience are nodding their heads in agreement, I can tell), while plants would naturally waste away in the fiery hell-hole which is Phoenix. Besides having poor taste in places to settle, the geriatric Arizonans have a tendency to elect politicians who compulsively avoid Latinos who aren’t busy landscaping their freakishly lush yards. Barring the honorable Senior McCain, who (oddly among Arizona politicians) sees Latinos as human beings, many politicians in Arizona are fighting Don Quixote-esque battles against the illegal immigrant boogyman (he’ll deal drugs to your children and seduce your wife; the horror!). Folks like Russell Pearce and JD Hayworth seem to think that nothing screams “America” like oppressing Latinos (evidently it now surpasses both mom and apple pie). With my muchachos y muchachas in mind, I won’t say exactly what I think of these individuals, but rest assured, when they’re hitting up the geritol we’ll still be alive and voting, thank you very much.

Now we have Colorado, who I’d liken to the nice family next door who has a penchant for lavish ski vacations. Lucky for us we’re almost always invited along. Skiing in New Mexico is alright, but it’s worth the drive to Copper, Vail or Snowbird to get the real deal. I only wish that the Coloradans would stop diverting so much water from the Rio Grande (you see, the neighbor is a heavy drinker), which is decidedly not grande, if you know what I mean. Gazing at that sickly little stream which runs through the Land of Enchantment, I wonder, what did it once look like which earned it the name Rio Grande? Perhaps one day we might again know, but Colorado needs to lay off the water for us to find out.

And now we have Texas. Texas is like the neighbor who’s always sitting on his porch, cleaning his gun, minding everyone else’s business. By virtue of having the biggest house on the block, he’s cocky, obnoxious and self-righteous. If there’s a neighbor we’d want our neighborhood association to kick out, it’d be Texas. But thankfully, no matter how much he’s always talking about his gun, he’s not really good at using it. Perhaps he needs more gun control…

Exhibit #1 is the Battle of the Alamo, where the bravest Texans (and their heroic allies) needlessly wasted their lives to accomplish absolutely nothing. I’m sure that Santa Anna was laughing his head off when he found out just who his troops killed there. Heck, the swollen rivers slowed Santa Anna down more than the fools at the Alamo.

Exhibit #2: In addition to being a state full of traitors, they had the cajones to attempt to invade New Mexico. After marching through Los Cruces and bypassing Fort Craig (leaving an American army blocking the traitors’ supply lines), confederate forces took the (almost abandoned) Duke City and pushed up the Santa Fe Trail towards Fort Union. Confronted by American forces under the command of Col. Slough (1st Colorado Volunteers) the confederates fought a pitched battle in Glorietta Pass. Meanwhile, Maj. Chivington (1st Colorado) and New Mexico’s own Lt. Chaves ambushed and captured the entire confederate supply train. Without supplies and cut off from Texas by Maj. Canby (Commander, Dept. of New Mexico) at Fort Craig, the Texans beat a hasty retreat back to their home stomping grounds. The Texans would never again threaten New Mexico.

Well, that’s the neighborhood here in the Southwest… a dirty old man, the nice family next door with a bit of a drinking problem and the gun nut who can’t shoot straight. It’s a wacky place to live, but where else can I get Sopaipillas like this, hombre? It’s home and nobody’s going to take the Land of Enchantment from me. Except maybe the aliens if they show up at Roswell again…