• Cars: Hybrids and an Electric Compared
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    Setting out to find the best hybrid or fully electric vehicles available on the Corvallis new car market, my trusty ’91 Lincoln Town Car and I had been tasked by some editorial dice roll to follow two rules in our search: to only consider cars available locally, and further to select the most efficient model on each lot.

    I started with the Honda Civic and meandered all the way to a fully electric Nissan Leaf. On the way, I tested the Ford Fusion, the Prius and Prius C, and finally the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. There are other hybrids available in Corvallis, but I included only those which achieved the highest miles per gallon offered on each lot. I did a simple assessment based mainly on style, comfort, handling, and agility.

    Honda_Fit_EV_2011_LA_Auto_ShowHonda Gadget Love
    Although no longer available to lease, I got to ride in the owner of University Honda’s personal Honda Fit EV, which was disappointingly less like a spaceship and more just like a human-sized RC car. The Civic Hybrid however, had the most intriguing gadgets and gizmos of all the green cars I test drove here in Corvallis. The 2014 Civic Hybrid gets a combined city and highway average of 45 miles per gallon, and has a sportier look to it than most hybrids. The brakes seemed to be a tad on the touchier side and the blind spots were rather egregious, but the Civic made up for these downfalls with a nifty passenger-side camera, known as the LaneWatch. As you signal to turn, this camera turns on, displaying all the pesky areas you can’t see in the mirror or in your peripheral vision. For a place like Corvallis, where bicyclists run rampant, some obeying traffic laws and others cycling under prison rules, this sort of camera truly comes in handy.

    Ford_Fusion_Hybrid_2nd_genFord Luxo-Shark Comfort
    Next I hit up Ford and checked out the Fusion Hybrid. This hybrid seems to be marketed toward the ultra-macho but ecologically attentive community in fear of being emasculated by the other Prius-style hybrids. It doesn’t conform to the aerospace, turtle shape of many hybrids, and instead resembles something more aggressive, somewhat shark-like. Although seemingly more like a luxury sedan in build, in terms of leg space, especially in the backseat, the Fusion seems much snugger than the Civic and Prius. It only gets 3 miles per gallon less on average than the Civic, and they both get a city average of 44 miles per gallon. I prefer the drive of the Fusion overall, based mainly on comfort.

    2012-toyota-priusToyota Gets Cargo Space Gold
    While the Prius C will never be much of a “grocery getter” and had a bit of a cheap feel to it, there’s no ignoring its combined city and highway rating of 50 miles per gallon. I would suggest a little more patience with the C when accelerating onto highways. It’s a bit sluggish, even compared to Eco Mode in the Leaf. The Prius has the same average miles per gallon as the C, but scores much higher on the comfort and interior style scale. I found the gas/electric display of the Prius to be a bit unnecessary and distracting. At times I found myself playing a game trying to only light up the battery section of the electronic display car on the console, rather than trying to stay on the road. I’d say the Prius takes the gold for extra cargo space and roominess, but lags far behind in style. I also felt the Prius lacked in agility compared to some of the others.

    SONY DSCVW’s Sporty Handling Plus Cuteness
    Where all of the other vehicles I saw were wanting in cuteness, the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid compensated for its competitors. This vehicle seems to be aimed at a younger market with its sportier feel and peppy handling. It can certainly compete at an average of 45 miles per gallon, but costs a bit more in comparison to its hybrid counterparts with a sticker price of just a dash over $32,000. Despite the higher price, I continually found myself returning to this one, quite possibly because of the genuine and surprisingly non-villainous sales reps I encountered at the dealership, but more likely because of the style, smooth transitioning, and agility. Not to mention, I won’t actually be dropping any real dough on this vehicle—I am a writer, after all.

    Nissan LeafNissan Offers Fully Electric Leaf
    As I pulled up to these dealerships in my Detroit parade float, I got more than a few second glances. In fact, while nearly laying frame in the Keiffer Nissan lot, a few lovely salesmen emerged from their cozy office chairs just to step outside and throw a couple pesky remarks my way. My predetermined impressions of driving the Nissan Leaf were not terribly far off from the real thing. It’s smooth, quiet, peaceful, and surprisingly simple to navigate. However, I didn’t feel nearly as akin to an Australian fairy working to save my beloved FernGully as I hoped I would. Perhaps if my drab salesman were more of a kooky Robin Williams character, I could have better entertained the fantasy. Outlandish expectations aside, the Leaf had decent get up and go, unless switched to Eco Mode, which is a battery-saving drive mode. I test drove the 2015 Leaf S, which gets a combined city and highway average of 114 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent. The Leaf gets an average range of about 84 miles per charge, and can be fully recharged in about five hours with a 240 volt charger. If you drive primarily in town and can bring yourself to drive a car reminiscent of a Pokemon character, then the Leaf seems to be a pretty smart investment.

    According to my painstakingly scientific testing, or lack of a quick dodge in an editorial meeting, these are the top hybrid and electric cars on the Corvallis market today. What it comes down to is lifestyle and budget. As for me, street cred is a much higher priority than gas mileage, or more truthfully, because my humble writer’s budget can’t allow for such extravagances at this time, I’ll have to stick with my trusty Town Car.

    By Maggie Nelson

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  • Cold Fusion: Hoax, Dream… and the Future of Green Energy?
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    Cold fusion has fought an uphill battle since its first public debut in 1988. It has been ridiculed, “disproven,” and like many other fascinating ideas it has been badly portrayed by a sub-par Keanu Reeves movie (Chain Reaction). The public has been fed a continuous stream of articles, interviews, and exposés decrying cold fusion in the name of mainstream physics. But increasingly, governments and militaries around the world (including ours), academic institutions like MIT and Purdue, and companies like Mitsubishi, Shell, and Total have been supporting cold fusion research with millions of dollars in funding. This level of sustained interest and funding deserves a closer look than it gets.

    At stake is the potential to generate nuclear reactions using just heavy water (deuterium instead of hydrogen) and metals like palladium, titanium, and nickel. If this could be done it could support a considerable source of clean energy that would not generate radioactive waste like today’s nuclear reactors.

    Cold fusion research never really stopped—it just got re-named “low energy nuclear reaction” or LENR work. In the 25 years since the original experiments by University of Utah researchers Martin Fleischmann and B. Stanley Pons, the issue with cold fusion experiments has not necessarily been the lack of successful results—many generate the anomalous heat and nuclear reaction products that started all the excitement—but the inability of modern nuclear physics to explain the results of these table-top chemistry experiments. At this point the question is no longer whether or not something happens, but why does it happen. And with a constantly improving understanding of nuclear physics (think Higgs Boson) due to a growing number of expensive toys like particle colliders and neutrino detectors we are finally beginning to explain the results of cold fusion experiments.

    To be honest, many of the physics explanations (and there are a growing number) sound like a sci-fi novel with things like dineutrons, deuteron fusion, Rydberg Clusters, and Bose-Einstein Condensates. Fortunately for the rest of us non-physicists, a cold fusion experiment itself (without explaining the results) is pretty straightforward. In general, you place a block of palladium, a rare metal used in cars’ catalytic converters, into heavy water, and run an electric current through it. The result if you do it correctly is usually Helium and excess heat—that is, more heat than is put into the system in the form of electricity. While many of the original problems with these experiments centered on repeatability, we have learned that variability in the purity, alloy type, and form of the palladium plays a significant role as well as the ratio of heavy water to palladium and the presence of certain other catalysts or impurities. These are variables that continue to be refined and standardized but are no different than the challenges we have already faced in commercializing semiconductors and superconductors.

    One of the earliest researchers in the field of cold fusion is actually right here in Oregon at Portland State University. John Dash has been carrying out cold fusion research for almost 20 years and is counted among the leading researchers in the field for his contributions to the Trapped Neutron Catalyzed Fusion model of cold fusion. In 1989, after his department requested that he study it, Dash conducted a cold fusion experiment. To his surprise, he found positive results in his very first experiment, in less time than it took most researchers.

    “I was surprised that you could see something visually in a short period of time, because what other people were saying was you had to wait a week before anything happens,” Dash said.

    Dash, now 79, credits his positive results with using a very thin sheet of palladium rather than bulk palladium. The palladium foil was simply what Portland State had on hand.

    “I was amazed because the originally flat electrode crumpled up,” he said. “I opted to find out what was going on. It’s been a 25-year ride now; it looks more and more promising.”

    Along with excess heat, Dash has shown that transmutation has occurred in his lab—that is, one element, palladium, has changed into another, silver: a kind of modern-day alchemy that occurs from fission and fusion reactions and in particle colliders.

    “We see excess heat, and along with that, evidence of transmutation,” Dash said. “It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack; it’s hard to find. This is a revolutionary idea but more and more people are obtaining that result.”

    Dash’s results aren’t always repeatable, but he calls his system better than what other scientists are using—and he plans to continue his work until funding runs out.

    Others like Dash share the dream that cold fusion could one day lead to cleaner energy production. Defkalion Green, a company in Cyprus, is working to commercialize a cold fusion technology for home heating. Even NASA and MIT have gone public regarding their support for cold fusion research. Beginning in January of this year, an MIT professor, Peter Hagelstein, ran a device that generated excess heat for months—he even invited the public to come see it. MIT will be offering a class that discusses the physics and chemistry behind the reactions this spring.

    It’s an interesting field of study that is gaining momentum despite its lack of explanation given our current understanding of nuclear physics—but hey that’s what science is all about (who thought smart phones would exist 10 years ago?).

    There seems to be an overall consensus among cold fusion researchers that no single reaction is responsible for the excess heat. The reactions are hard to study because they occur in a solid, making it almost impossible for us to see anything as it’s occurring—all we see are the products and we get stuck trying to reverse-engineer what happened at an atomic level.

    “Everybody has their pet theory,” said Dash, who’s confident that we’ll see widespread use of cold fusion in this century. “The bias against cold fusion is because it’s revolutionary. According to the physics bible, it can’t happen.”

    For more information, visit http://lenr-canr.org/.

    By Jen Matteis and Shawn Freitas

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  • This Week: Xenat-Ra Releases New Album at the Majestic Theatre, with Special Guest Mosley Wotta
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    If you’re a fan of novel fusions and meaningful lyrics than you have to give Xenat-Ra’s new album, Science For The Soundman, a listen. They fuse elements of free jazz, metal, and what sounds like dubish alternative hip hop. I really appreciated the song, Swalo Meh Hole—it has a funky jazz and salsa-like feel with excellent drumming that keeps the blood flowing.

    On top of the excellent sound are lyrics that I found to be meaningful. “Jungle! Swallow me whole. Break my body and free my soul. What I am, what do I owe? I’ll be fine on my own.” When I heard this line it really made me think about life and the inner push pull between modernity and nature.

    Long term, Xenat-Ra wants to keep playing and challenging themselves, and see where their particular configuration of musicians can go. They genuinely love playing together and feel inspired by the act of making music.

    With their new record out Xenat-Ra is looking to book more shows in Corvallis, Eugene, Portland and Seattle. They have also, like any musician worth their salt, begun working on another record.

    Unlike more mainstream groups, Xenat-Ra isn’t targeting a specific audience for their music, they just really enjoy playing together and challenging each other to go to new places musically. Xenat-Ra’s music has a depth of sound that is infrequently found in mass-produced music. And the lyrical poetry that overlays their free-wheeling beats has actual meaning beyond conspicuous consumption and populist jingoism.

    Given their divergence from the majority of mainstream music, Xenat-Ra feels that it has been extremely rewarding to know that they have built a loyal local audience. The members of Xenat-Ra have a lot of history within the Corvallis music scene; they’ve all been in a number of bands with some success locally. They know and appreciate the people who come out to their shows, initially there because of past connections, and are thrilled that they seem to keep coming back.

    Xenat-ra will release their new album with a performance at Corvallis’ Majestic Theater on Oct. 6th at 9 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.majestic.org.


    By William Tatum




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