Archive for September 26th, 2012|Daily archive page

Business Proposal: Rent your E Car–and manufacture it here

The business plan is simpler than its implementation. 

* Background. Electric cars are too expensive for most non-Romney’s to afford. 

* Electric cars need charging stations just the way that gasoline and diesel vehicles do. Putting such a network of stations into play is probably an easier problem to solve than it was for gas/petrol stations simply because the latter already exist (as do powerlines and railways and other interregional conduits).

* The technology is changing fast (but not fast enough) yet remains stuck at the point just before economies of (vast) scale would make a signal difference in price. 

* Ancillary issues, such as the disposal of vast quantities of lead-acid batteries, or even Lithium-based ones, seem to me to be unexamined or unsolved. 

 

Proposal:

Large scale rentals for electric cars and other vehicles. These would be rented to subscribers on the model of Zip, Auto Share and the like. The fleet of rental e-cars would necessarily be large and accommodate the present and near-future wants of urban populations of a certain density, at least at first. 

Cost for rental would likely have to be higher than existing subcompact or compact rentals but there could be inducements. For instance, governments in many regions offer rebates for e-vehicles and other technologies that supposedly help the world meet carbon goals.

* Most rental vehicles don’t last long. They are brutally treated. I do not believe that is so with the car-sharing model, however. And in this case, a goal would be to inspire loyalty and the consideration of others by encouraging respectful treatment of the car. That said, turnover wil still be high, especially as the drive technology will be improving. But as the new cars are put into service, their cost will likely be going down, not only as the economy of scale’s effect is more clearly felt but also as the corollary of better technologies become available. 

There might also be the added good feature of shifting regional factories to the production of these kinds of vehicles. This has been tried before, as when the City of Berkeley, under Gus Newport (I think), back in the 80s tried to invest in and build a factory making electric vehicles. Too early.

* Locations: As mentioned, urban densities but I’d like to start with those here in Canada, such as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and others. Cold weather might be an issue for batteries, but I’d like to think that by now that issue has been solved well enough, if only by using good insulation. (Which, along with hot chocolate, works for me.)

This is a serious proposal. I don’t think we are going to have a revolution in batteries nor a sudden drop in pricing for e-vehicles, at least not short of a commitment that will produce economies of scale. But with the low and lowering price of natural gas, that seems less and less likely. Yet natural gas’s extraction via fracking is anything but desired. So, there are limits to it–social and political ones.

There are limits too to the making of e-vehicles, such as the source of the power to drive them (some powerplant), the recycling or rubbishing of the used or broken batteries, among others.

But my vision is not myopic and focused on next quarter. I look to years. But we have to start now with establishing the infrastructure to get there–and that includes the political as well as entrepreneurial logistics.

As I wrote, this is a serious proposal. The primary cost would be in working with at least one e-car maker and setting up the charging stations. From the business development side, arranging the subscriber model and all its qualities would be needed too…. but none of this, really, is actually new or venturing into uncharted territory. It’s been done, albeit for internal combustion vehicles. 

As well, there is–yes indeed–there is government support in many polities precisely for this sort of thing: entrepreneurs and technology that go green in a big way and that further build the manufacturing capability of the nation. 

No, You Won’t See Me on Facebook, Google Plus, nor Skype – Bradley M. Kuhn ( Brad ) ( bkuhn )

No, You Won’t See Me on Facebook, Google Plus, nor Skype – Bradley M. Kuhn

Brad’s post raises some important points and these are not the same raised by, say, Steve Coll when he wrote on why he was leaving “Facebookistan.” His argument focuses on privacy and the user’s (un)willing engagement or emplacement in the market:

“Zuckerberg’s business model requires the trust and loyalty of his users so that he can make money from their participation, yet he must simultaneously stretch that trust by driving the site to maximize profits, including by selling users’ personal information.”

And Coll is right. Since FB’s plunge in stock valuation, the emphasis has been on finding a more efficient way to sell things to those who access FB using their mobile devices. The emphasis, in short, is not on making FB a better social environment but a better commercial mall. (In America, one can snarkily ask, What’s the difference? The mall is the social space par excellence and long ago replaced the bowling alley, the soda fountain, the whatever of years, generations, past. Shopping, in America, gives if not purpose to the life needing it then at least reason for its movement.)

But Brad’s point touches more on the obligation of free software. It’s an important post, and his point not considered enough, even by those whose life is all about Foss and the communities sustaining it:

When I point out that I use only Free Software, some respond that Skype, Facebook, and Google Plus are convenient and do things that can’t be done easily with Free Software currently. I don’t argue that point. It’s easy to resist Microsoft Windows, or Internet Explorer, or any other proprietary software that is substandard and works poorly. But proprietary software developers aren’t necessarily stupid, nor untalented. In fact, proprietary software developers are highly paid to write easy-to-use, beautiful and enticing software (cross-reference Apple, BTW). The challenge the software freedom community faces is not merely to provide alternatives to the worst proprietary software, but to also replace the most enticing proprietary software available. Yet, if FaiF Software developers settle into being users of that enticing proprietary software, the key inspiration for development disappears.

 

The best motivator to write great new software is to solve a problem that’s not yet solved. To inspire ourselves as FaiF Software developers, we can’t complacently settle into use of proprietary software applications as part of our daily workflow. That’s why you won’t find me on Google Plus, Google Plus Hangout, Facebook, Skype or any other proprietary software network service. You can phone with me with SIP, you can read my blog and identi.ca feed, and chat with me on IRC and XMPP, and those are the only places that I’ll be until there’s Free Software replacements for those other services. I sometimes kid myself into believing that I’m leading by example, but sadly few in the software freedom community seem to be following.

I would agree with Brad but I also am more lazy or pragmatic and use proprietary software galore, usually because others do, because it’s quite often good, because I persuade myself that there are gray areas where the use of proprietary software is not “bad” or “good” but simply reasonable. Thus, I drive a car based on proprietary technology, ride a bike that is totally proprietary in its making and even design, and use no end of technology whose patents, not to mention copyrights and trademarks, would  likely bury me, if printed out. Software is but one element. 

But just as there is movement to re-acquire the tools and objects by which we live, and to place proprietary  objects in their more historical perspective (“art,” but also “artisanals”), so too we can do the same with software, and conceive of the tools by which we make our modern life something “we” can build as well as use and exchange as well as buy and improve (or not) as well.