Sunday, April 19, 2009

Back in Kansas

I'm back in Lansing Kansas for another week. The morning started out with packed flight on Southwest from Orlando to Kansas City International. Then a short rental car ride up 29, then west on 92, and then south on 7 to Lansing and my favorite Econo Lodge.

Since this is the second time I've been to this particular garden spot I came armed with my camera kit composed of the E-300, the Sigma 30mm, the Oly 14-45mm and 40-150mm kit lenses, and the Oly 9-18mm ultra-wide-zoom. While I still like the 30mm, I'm also discovering the limitations of the 30mm, such as its limited close focusing of 15 inches (my 12-60 focuses to a little less than 10 inches), it's CA in very bright sunlight (high contrast) and small aperture, and the peculiarity of my having to override exposure by anywhere from -1 to -3 EV on the E-300 with that lens mounted. Most importantly, it's not a zoom. Duh. I didn't realize just how dependent I'd become on zoom ability until I realized how I kept unconsciously twisting the focus ring as if it were a zoom ring. That's the greatest challenge of using the 30mm (or any fixed length prime). You really have to frame your picture. Too much use of zooms makes them a creative crutch as much as a creative asset. And I've been using zooms instead of primes since I purchased my Nikon N90 film camera in 1989.

At least this time the Kansas landscape is a little greener, and the temperatures a little warmer. The last time I was here in late March the natives were expecting a spring snow-storm that went on dump 12 inches around the area. This time the lows are in the 50's a night; jacket weather for me, but anywhere from 10-20 degrees warmer than the last trip.

I finally found a decent place to eat south and east of Lansing called The Legends. I got salmon at a Longhorn Steakhouse for around $18, and blew my meal per diem. It's already low to begin with (it's based on Leavenworth, not near-by Kansas City), and the rules are now that it's cut a further 25% on the days you travel. I guess I'll be blowing my per-diem a few more days because the only thing around Lansing are Burger Kings, McDonalds, Wendy's, Sonics, Subways, and Pizza Huts; you know, healthy, high-quality fast food. There may be some places to eat in Leavenworth itself, but I'll have to go hunt them down.

The only good things to happen today is the sun finally came out in the afternoon and I found 96.5 FM, The Buzz, on the rental's radio (a Budget Toyota Camry). The bad part is looking at all the pictures I shot during the part of the afternoon that was overcast and basically deleting everything I shot because it was total crap.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What am I missing?

Schmap contacted me back in the middle of March to announce that a number "of your photos has been short-listed for inclusion in the seventh edition" of the Schamp Washington and Orlando Guide. They couldn't pay anything but they would include attribution and a link back to the original Flickr photos. I agreed and then waited for the guides to be published.

Sure enough, just as they'd promised, the guides were published (online) and my photos were included. It's just how they were used that surprises me. All three photos are part of my Economy set on Flickr. That's the set where I document the closed businesses I've been coming across due to the "recession" we've been living through. Schmap used one from Tysons Corner Galleria in McLean, Virginia, and they used two others from here in Orlando; an out-of-business boarded-up Sonny's near the intersection of West Colonial and Kirkman, and a closed-and-empty Belk's department store at West Oaks Mall in Ocoee.

I've included screen shots of each image in Schmap, with a link to each original photo and the comments I placed under each on Flickr.

schmap_03

Tysons Galleria Top Level 1

schmap_01

Sonny's BAR-B-Q

Here's what Schmap has to say about the closed Sonny's above:
Some restaurants just look like fun, and this is one of them. Management serves up slow-cooked beef in a dining area festooned with tiny white Christmas lights. Part of a beat-up camper is mounted over the bar itself, and scenes depicting the life of Elvis Presley have been carved into the bathroom walls. While you're enjoying the kitsch, dine on a Pork Platter, a jambalaya special and add a side order of collard greens.
I've been to Sonny's for decades going back to when I lived in Atlanta, and I've never seen a bar in any Sonny's. I have to wonder what Bar-B-Q place they're really talking about.

schmap_02

West Oaks Mall Dead Belk Exterior

As I asked earlier, what am I missing? Tyson's is in deep economic distress while the other two are flat out closed. The West Oaks Mall, where the empty Belk's is located, has anywhere from 1/4 to 1/3 of all its stores closed. The management has been opening some of them up to non-store tenants, I suppose in an effort to give the illusion of business as usual. But make no mistake, many of the mall stores are closed, and it's spread to a number of the outer stores that ring the mall.

Linux Mint 6 KDE on europa

After my surprising success with Linux Mint 5, I was emboldened enough download Mint 6 KDE Live DVD and give it a whirl (note: it's too large to fit on a blank CD, so it must be burned on a DVD).

It's a good thing europa has two DVD drives. The primary is a NEC ND-2510A player/burner. The secondary is a LITE-ON LTC-48161H DVD player/CD burner. Mint 5 had no problems booting on the NEC drive. Mint 6 failed with the NEC but succeeded with the LITE-ON. Both Mint 5 and 6 were burned with the NEC. This is not the first distro that has failed to boot with the NEC using the latest kernel. Ubuntu in particular did this.

As to be expected Mint 6 KDE booted up with the KDE 4.2 desktop. Nothing spectacular about Mint's KDE desktop, except that performance was usable if not spectacular. Which is a far cry from what happened when I upgraded to the final release of KDE 4.2 on openSUSE 11.1. With Mint 6 I was able to see all my older disk drives and areas. I was able to double click my ripped movies and watch them, except this time MPlayer played back the files. I them popped in a DVD (Over the Hedge), and Dragon Player was the DVD player of choice. So far everything worked fine, just like it did for Mint 5.

Then I went over to The Daily Show website, and it worked flawlessly as well (see right). The Daily Show wouldn't play back within Mint 5's Firefox browser, in part due to the older version of Flash embedded with the Mint 5 live CD. I suspect that it would have been upgraded if I had installed Mint 5, but seeing John Stewart's smiling face gives me hope that I can join the rest of cyber civilization with at least one Linux distribution.

John Stewart on Mint. Life is indeed good.

Riskiest Places for U.S. Homeowners

While slumming about Yahoo, I came across the alarmist article "Riskiest Places For U.S. Homeowners." This, in turn, was linked to a Forbes' slide show (pictures, some words, but nothing in depth, as usual) showing the 25 worst places to invest in real estate. I've grabbed the locations from Forbes' slide show, since it's much better to have that information in one convenient form. So, in ranking from worst (#1) to least (#25), I re-present the 25 worst places to own a home (according to Forbes).
  1. Mission, Texas
  2. Detroit, Michigan
  3. Miami, Florida
  4. Brownsville, Texas
  5. Merced, California
  6. Lakeland, Florida
  7. Bakersfield, California
  8. Fort Lauderdale, Florida 
  9. San Bernardino, California
  10. Visalia, California 
  11. Stockton, California
  12. Modesto, California
  13. El Paso, Texas 
  14. Ocala, Florida
  15. Port St. Lucie, Florida
  16. Fort Myers, Florida 
  17. Flint, Michigan
  18. Fresno, California
  19. Orlando, Florida 
  20. Memphis, Tennessee
  21. Daytona Beach, Florida
  22. Las Vegas, Nevada 
  23. Rockford, Illinois
  24. Tampa, Florida
  25. Valejo, California
Orlando is ranked 19th. Hurray for us.

An interesting set of paragraphs about why Florida is in such dire straights bears quoting. From the Yahoo article:
[I]n central and southern Florida the market was affected by those who took advantage of lenient rates to buy and "flip" second homes. Florida towns and cities make up one-third of our list.

According to Fleming, buyers in these trouble spots are simply walking away as home values plunge, even if they can still afford to make their mortgage payments. That explains why foreclosure rates in these towns are double or triple the national average of 3% [Orlando is 9%], even though unemployment rates are relatively consistent with the national average [again, Orlando is 9%].

Home-flipping Floridians were in a lower-risk credit tier than the Central Valley's first-time buyers. Able to access unusually generous loan terms, they took on more leverage and wound up on thinner ice than their subprime counterparts. First American's most recent market survey shows delinquencies among this group rising faster than among the highest-risk borrowers.
I remember several engineers from the early 2000s who were into flipping homes. One in particular had three at one time. His wife was helping him. They were using the money made from flipping to help finance their dreams; in particular it was helping him pay for flying instructions. We soon parted ways (he left the company we were both working at), so I have no idea how much longer he and his wife continued flipping home. I sincerely hope they made it out in one piece. It's easy to wish ill on someone under adverse financial pressures, especially for speculating in real estate, but I've personally been under such pressure due to medical reasons, and I will never wish that kind of pressure on anyone.

In the meantime I need to figure out how to move to another area. We've been in our current house since we bought it back in 1985. I want to get the wife her "dream home" even if it isn't very large (compared to today's McMansions). We'll see. We've been here for 25 years, so I suspect we can wait one or two more before making our final move in life. But we have noticed some life in the housing market. It's certainly not all foreclosures and doom and gloom.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Prius Report, Week 2

Toyota Prius 2009 side viewIt's the middle of the second week since I drove off with the 2009 Prius, and I finally had to purchase my first tank of gas.

The Prius fuel gauge is a digital display located to the right of the digital speedometer at the very top edge of the dash. It's divided into tenths. I knew I needed a fill up this morning because the last tenth was lit. But the Prius (or the Prius designers) are a little more insistent that you know you need a fill up. As I started to work this morning a little chime was emitted by the car, and that final lit tenth started to flash. I kept on going, first up I-4 and then onto the 408. The more I drove the more frantically the final tenth flashed. I managed to get to work on that flashing tenth, filling up at a BP on the work end of town.

I filled the tank with a little less than ten gallons, or $20 total. The last time I filled a car for around $20 was when I first bought the Kia Sorento in 2003. Gas was selling for 88 cents/gallon (there was a local price war at the time), and it took between 19 and 20 gallons to fill the Sorento.

I checked the trip odometer and divided the mileage by the gallons purchased. The trip odometer registered 536 miles. Even if I round up to an even 10 gallons, the math gives me 53 to 54 miles/gallon. The Consumption meter showed 46.3. I'm going to keep track for the next few tanks and compare simple math with the Consumption meter to see if the Consumption meter is more conservative. If this Prius actually gets over 50 MPG, and does so consistently, then its gas MPG well exceeds my old 1978 (and 1982) Honda Civics and gets into the realm of my wife's 1982 Nissan Sentra Coupe. That Sentra came with a five-speed stick, and achieved over 50MPG on the highway. That high MPG came in real handy driving Atlanta's massive highway system.

The more I drive the Prius the more amazed I am with its efficiency and overall performance. It may be boring in some quarters, but I'll take this type of boring any day.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Back to the Future

Yeah. That's Linux in the screen cap above, specifically Linux Mint 5 (Elyssa) based on Ubuntu 8.04. Running from the Mint 5 Live CD. After reading about the troubles another user had with Mint 6 and his move from Mint 6 back to Mint 5, I decided to download the Mint 5 ISO and boot europa with it.

And it's amazing. Everything. Just. Bloody. Works. Everything.

I can see everything on the existing partitions, I can run all my ripped content, I can even stick a DVD in the other drive and it comes up and plays. Automatically. In freaking Totem. And Flash is there. With full multi-media, which means I can go anywhere. To places like CNN video. Or YouTube. Places like that. With absolutely no hassles.

It's too late to do anything further tonight, but I'm sorely tempted to install Linux Mint 5 on europa, when I have the time, and then just leave it the fsck alone.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Olympus E-3 System 90+ days on

Orchids 18It's been a good three months since I got the Olympus E-3, and I've had tons of opportunities to use the equipment in many different and challenging situations. One such situation for me was at the Central Florida Orchid Society's Celebration of Orchids Show they held this past weekend at the Central Florida Fairgrounds. They were in one of the buildings, and it was filled with hundreds of flowering orchids, many I've never seen before.

It was a photographer's dream; they invited photography (as well as purchasing orchids; I purchased two and won one as a door prize Sunday) and there was no-one to throw me out. So I took as many as I cared to, especially the ones that caught my eye. The orange orchid to the right was a little thing that was tucked down in between many larger ones, and I almost missed it.

What the photo to the right helps illustrate is a key feature of the E-3 (and a number of other Olympus models, in particular the E-520, E-620, and E-30), and that's in-body image stabilization (IS). I was using the Oly 50-200mm SWD zoom lens and shooting hand-held at ISO 800 and with IS enabled. And it's a good thing it was. I was dismayed to watch the image weave and bob in the E-3's finder, thinking that I couldn't get a decent shot without a tripod. But sure enough I got plenty of decent shots under low light without flash. The only time I needed to use the E-3's built-in flash was when the lighting and contrast were so low that I had to use flash to pull the subject out of the background. The E-3's flash is even and doesn't cause harsh highlights. All my doubts about the usefulness of IS were put to rest this past weekend. When you can use it, Olympus' IS is a powerful feature in the E-3's extensive arsenal.

Long Zoom

The 50-200mm SWD is a remarkable 4-to-1 zoom. As excellent as it is I have two complaints. My first complaint is that at 200mm (400mm effective 35mm focal length) you can really see hand shake in the finder. And that's not a flaw of the lens as it is with me. As a consequence I try to either shoot in bright light, or baring the use of a tripod, find a convenient prop to lean against. But if I can't do any of that, I can still count on IS to help pull out some decent shots in adverse light and conditions.

A bigger complaint I have with the 50-200mm is with autofocus. There are times when the lens will hunt all over the place. Unfortunately it's very inconsistent when it decides to occur. For example, there were only two instances over the weekend where focus hunt took place; I expected it to occur a lot more. And there have been several instances in bright sunlight here in Florida where it's also happened. I think I'm beginning to note a pattern, but it hasn't happened often enough for me to speak with any great authority as to its cause. In spite of that, the 50-200mm is a beautifully-built, optically remarkable lens at all focal lengths and from wide open down to at least f/11.

Moderate Zoom

The 12-60mm SWD 5-to-1 zoom has lived up to its legendary reputation. When I was pulling together my current system, I went immediately for the lens before I went for the body. I had intended to buy just the lens for my E-300, but there appeared a number of body-lens-flash combos on the market that it made better sense to get the combo (I was also going to get the flash, the FL-50R). It stays on the body when I'm not using another lens, and when I travel it goes with me on my E-300 while the rest of my gear stays at home. The only other lens I've seriously thought of getting in this range is the higher-level 14-35mm f2 SWD, and that jewel will set you back a pair of Grover Clevelands plus change. For my use the 12-60mm is a superb workhorse.

Wide Zoom

The 9-18mm 2-to-1 zoom was the last lens I purchased, and the only one purchased in Orlando. While built at the Olympus Standard Grade, it's optical performance is outstanding, again from wide open down to about f11. It's small, compact, and a lot of fun to use. If it were built as a splash- and dust-proof lens, then it would probably cost as much as the 7-14mm lens (around $1,500), at which point you might as well get the 7-14mm. And while it's 'only' 3mm wider than the 12-60mm at its widest, the FOV at 9mm is 22 degrees wider, which makes indoor shooting and some types of architecture shooting easier to capture. It's a great wide-angle zoom at a great price.

Batteries

I've been purchasing alternative BLM-1 battery packs online from Blue Nook. My dad, who shoots with an E-300, brought them to my attention. The batteries I buy from them are made by Wasabi Power and sell for around $29.00. They're rated 1900mAh at 7.5 volts. They charge in the standard Olympus charger, or you can get an inexpensive Wasabi charger from Blue Nook as well for $25.00. I've purchased four packs so far. I've got battery grips for the E-3 (HLD-4) and the E-300 (HLD-3); both grips hold two packs each. I use the Olympus BLM-1's as the swapping pair, keeping them in the charger and rotating them out when either camera shows low battery. So far the Wasabi's have worked quite well, and at half the price of the regular BLM-1's and at a slightly greater capacity (1900mAh vs the BLM-1's 1500mAh) they're a pretty good bargain. And Blue Nook is a good place to buy them online. I don't know how long the Wasabi's will last; the original BLM-1 that came with the E-300 in 2006 is still working quite well, so the Wasabi's will have to work at least as long as that BLM-1 to be as good. As they say, only time will tell.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Netbeans 6.7 Milestone 3 released

It's been a while since I commented on either the Eclipse or Netbeans IDE. Depending on the project, I've been using both. As I've noted in the past both are of very good quality, so it's a matter of personal taste as well very specific requirements which one you select for a given job.

The Netbeans project is currently working on its next release, version 6.7. Milestone 3 was just released, and you should take a quick look at it's "New and Noteworthy" section (along with New and Noteworthy from milestones 1 and 2).

Of particular interest is the dependency graph in Maven support. I'm reminded of Doxygen and the graphical support in Together (now owned by Borland). Doxygen and Together are for software engineering as apposed to project management and control with Maven, but the core needs are the same. I could see myself working on extending UML support and round-trip engineering with dependency viewing just like in Doxygen (assuming it hasn't been done already; I've been wrapped up using Eclipse lately).

I'm also curious about the future of Netbeans. If IBM really does purchase Sun for $7 billion, then what will happen to Netbeans? Netbean's leap in features, usability, and overall quality is due in no small part to Sun's stewardship of the project. I don't see IBM backing Netbeans, and somehow I don't see a successful merging of Eclipse and Netbeans into something better, let along as successful as either. I know Eclipse is the leader, but that leadership is due in part to Eclipse's momentum, not necessarily technical merit. Both need the other to remain vital. To combine both or eliminate one over the other is to ignore the history at our peril of what happens with software monocultures. And I'm afraid that turning Netbeans loose as a purely community-supported project will doom it to a slow irrelevance over time.

Update

Looks like IBM might not be buying Sun after all. According to the New Your Times, "I.B.M. withdrew its $7 billion bid for Sun Microsystems on Sunday, one day after Sun’s board balked at a reduced offer, according to three people close to the talks." After reading that article I really am beginning to wonder about the 'sanity' of the Sun board.

North Korean Satellite Launch Epic FAIL

If you haven't been to Failblog.org, you should go. Really. It's a collection of stills and YouTube videos of all the ways that human beings can fail at just about every task in life. Failblog needs to open a special section just for North Korea, to include their "successful" 2006 nuclear bomb test and the original rocket test where it disintegrated within minutes of lift-off.

Right now the North Koreans are claiming (along with the Russians, who should know better) that the North Korean Commies did indeed loft a satellite into orbit "transmitting the melodies of the immortal revolutionary paeans 'Song of Gen. Kim Il Sung' and 'Song of Gen. Kim Jong Il' as well as measurement data back to Earth." Riiight.

My only regret is that the North Koreans barely had enough good sense to shoot their new rocket away from important Japanese targets and every other target of value. Both Japan and the U.S. were primed and ready to shoot that sucker down. I believe they should have, just on general principal. After all, we invaded Iraq on little more than faulty intel and wishful thinking, a far more costly adventure. Compared to that a rocket shootdown is nothing, a mere trifle.

But it gives us an opportunity to practice international political posturing while simultaneously rattling our rusting sabers towards North Korea. While North Korea, which can't even keep the lights on at night, backed by China and Russia in this game of global gamesmanship, gives us the virtual finger and dares us to really do something besides talk.

Link: North Korea's Satellite Launch: Fail?

Saturday, April 04, 2009

A personal tale of bad ol' Detroit

There's an interesting article cataloging the automotive sins of the Big Three. In "10 Cars That Sank Detroit" author Rick Newman maps the road(s) to destruction of Chrysler, Ford, and GM starting from the 70's up to today.

I'd like to add a bit of personal history to that sorry saga. My dad was a GM buyer, going back to a second-hand black Chevy he purchased when I was about 3 (we're talking the 1950's here, folks). I distinctly remember standing up in front of the steering wheel in my dad's lap, with both hands on the wheel, while we drove ever so slowly in front of the apartment we lived in at the time. From that time forward we seemed to buy nothing but GM, mostly Pontiacs. During the 60's in particular we kept getting a new one every two years. I even purchased two used Chevy's, a dark blue '63 in 1971 and a gold '67 in 1972 when I totaled the '63. The only Detroit-built non-GM car we ever purchased was in 1970 when my dad got my mom a 1970 Ford Pinto with the bigger engine. It was white, and it was what my mom wanted at the time.

My dad would later buy a second-hand El Camino he used exclusively as a pick-up along with a new Olds 98 for general family transportation. But starting in the late 70's my parents began purchasing Datsun's, then Nissans, as family cars. I remember in particular the 260Z my dad got for my mom because she thought it was cute. After driving it for a while my mom then told my Dad she'd rather drive the Olds instead. When the Olds 98 was finally traded it was for a Datsun 510 hatchback for my mom, and then handed down to my baby sister. That was a workhorse vehicle that faithfully served the family for 13 years. Ever since, over the decades, my parents have owned Datsun/Nissan sedans of various types, trucks, and vans. But never another Detroit product.

In recent discussions with my dad he told me the reason he kept buying Pontiacs every two years was because they were "pieces of junk." I remember dad complaining about noises the cars made, the way little things wouldn't fit right on the car, and the poor service he kept getting when he would take the cars in (he became quite adept at servicing the cars, correctly, at home). The Ford Pinto seemed better than the GMs, but just barely; I remember the alternator bracket breaking, and dad having to go over to a parts store to get a spare and then of replacing it. It managed to survive family service for six years, but not without a lot of TLC at Beebe Motors. It was traded for the 260Z.

About my Chevy's; out of economic necessity I kept that 67 from 1972 to 1978, and wound up personally replacing nearly every part that could break on that car, usually more than once. The most failure-prone part on that car was the starter motor. It didn't matter if I purchased the starter as new or remanufactured, I could count on replacing it just about every 12-18 months. I remember distinctly one cold December night in 1976, in a parking garage at Lenox Square mall, the current starter finally failed to work. I'd had warnings it was failing and I had a new starter in a box in the trunk, but I hadn't replaced it soon enough. Nothing I could do that night would get the engine to turn over just one more time and get me home. So I grabbed my tools, my flashlight, and my new starter motor out of the trunk and crawled under the car to replace the old and busted starter motor. Fortunately replacing the starter motor was dead simple and I had prior experience, so the task took all of 15 minutes from start to finish, but that cold December night, lying under that car on ice-cold concrete I made a solemn oath I'd never again buy another GM product of any description.

In early 1978 I went with my dad to look at replacing the 67 Chevy with a new Ford. I'd read something about the Ford Fiesta, and decided I would get a new economy car. So we drove over to the dealership, walked onto the show room floor, and started looking at their Fiesta. I remember how the driver-side door flexed in my hand when I opened and closed it, and how thin the door looked. The door had the window rolled down so there was no extra stiffening provided rolled up glass. I wasn't particularly thrilled with the interior, either. Again, it looked real cheap and thin.

While I was looking with growing dismay at the Fiesta dad noticed a silver Honda Civic CVCC off to one side. He showed it to me and it was almost love at first sight. The styling was more rounded, and the build was more substantial. The little silver car exuded quality. Unfortunately it was a 5-speed stick, and I had no stick experience. No problem the salesman said. All he had to do was show me how to put it in gear to get it going, and everything else would come "naturally." It's a good thing it did, because I bought the car. I spent the rest of the day getting used to the stick, and by the end of the week I was driving it like I'd never driven anything but. The Silver Bullet (so named by my baby sister) went on to give me great trouble-free service for four years and 120,000 miles driving around Atlanta. It's only flaw was it had no air conditioning. I couldn't afford it at the time.

The common thread to all these memories was the two decades of poor product quality of GM and Ford vehicles. My two brothers and my sister have purchased nothing but Honda's and Nissans. With the exception of my oldest brother, who drove the Pinto for a time out of necessity, they never owned anything from Detroit, and they would never think of buying from Detroit. Rick Newman says that Detroit's problems started in the 70's. I'd say they started even earlier than that, at least with GM. Problems that were never really solved and that are going to kill GM (and Chrysler).

Friday, April 03, 2009

Prius usage: week 1

2009 Prius ConsumptionI've had a solid work week to drive the new Prius around Orlando (hereafter referred to as the "Red Rocket", so named by of my friends and former co-worker). It's been driven up and down the freeways (I-4, the 408, and the 417), as well as up and down surface streets from my neighborhood to the area around U.C.F. and points in between. Average MPG since the day I drove it home from the dealership stands at 46.2. I actually had a 5-minute slice hit 100 MPG today while driving around my neighborhood, something I probably won't see very often.

Driving the Red Rocket and watching the Consumption meter out of the corner of my eye, I've come to observe the following.
  • It costs fuel, and lowered MPG, to overcome inertia and get the vehicle up to speed. How much? MPG drops down to the teens when getting started. A similar effect occurs when going up a hill, though not nearly as bad, unless you combine the two, and they MPG drops down to single digits.
  • You get that initial energy expended from the regenerative system tied into the wheels. This occurs when you break or when you're no longer accelerating (coasting), i.e. your foot's no longer on the acclerator. You can tell this is happening because the instantanious MPG meter hits 99.9 MPG. If the vehicle is moving and you take your foot off the accelerator you can also feel the subtle release of the gas engine as it shuts down. Intertia, which worked against you when you wanted to start, is now helping you as the vehicle continues to move forward by driving the generator and recharging the on-board battery pack, as well as allowing the engine to be shut down during the coasting phase.
  • When you come to a complete stop, the engine shuts off. It will start up if the voltage drops to too low a level due to internal loads such as the air conditioning, but so far it has stayed off until I have to start moving again, such as at traffic lights and stop signs. That single engineering feature probably saves quite a bit of gas just by itself.
I've also gotten used to keeping the keys in my pocket and using the keyless entry system as it was meant to be used. That is, I walk up to the car, touch the inside of the driver's side door handle to unlock it, climb in, press the power button, then toggle the tiny shifter on the dash to either back up or drive forward. Driving the Red Rocket is utter simplicity.

The car is still quite comfortable to drive, and the interior space is more than adequate. I thought perhaps I might find the interior more claustrophobic the more time I spent in it, but that isn't happening. The Red Rocket rides smooth and with good precision down the road, with very low levels of noise (unless I'm playing ancient timeless Led Zeppelin tunes).

So far the Red Rocket has more than exceeded expectations. I'd thought I'd regret not buying the Honda Insight, but that worry is rapidly receeding as I drive into the future with the Prius.