You can write books!

Posted on July 5th, 2016 in books,Electric vehicles,Opinion,Technologies,testing by Julian Edgar

Earlier this year I published my 15th book.

Now that might sound impressive, but you can do the same.

Yes, you!

How? Read on…

My first book, 21st Century Performance, was published in a very traditional manner in 2001. A print magazine publisher (who I’d done quite a lot of work for) suggested to me that he’d be interested in a book on car engines. I asked if that could be broadened to all things car performance, and he agreed.

I put a huge amount of work into the book – not just its content, but also working with its graphic designer. The production quality turned out to be excellent – the photo reproduction (off quality 35mm slides in those days) was outstanding and the general presentation of the hardback darned good.

I also think – and forgive my arrogance – that the content was very good. There are perhaps only one or two points in the whole book I’d now change – though of course I could now add a lot more to the content.

I negotiated a small up-front payment for the book and then sat back and waited for the royalties to roll in. I think that history records it as the best-selling automotive modification book ever published in Australia, but getting royalties out of the publisher wasn’t quite what I’d expected. Cheques arrived, but there were never any statements of sales, and the cheques were all round figures…

Maybe everything was above-board (I still don’t know), but it didn’t feel right.

And the royalty amount? I’d have to look it up but I think the book sold (15 years ago!) for around AUD$70 each copy – and I got AUD$3 a book. That’s a royalty of 4 per cent. (Incidentally, second-hand copies of the book now sell for up to US$350.)

I resolved then never to do another book on the basis of traditional publisher royalties.

My next book – in 2004 – was Performance Electronics for Cars, written with John Clarke for the publisher of Silicon Chip magazine, Leo Simpson. At that time, I was a major contributor to Silicon Chip and, while I subsequently decided that writing for Leo was the last thing I’d ever do on Earth, the book deal was fine. I asked for my normal up-front ‘article rate’ for each chapter of the book, and I was free to use the material elsewhere as I wished.

The book sold well – I think – and probably made the publisher a tidy profit. I got paid a decent amount, so we were all happy.

Time passed…. a lot of time.  In fact, it was about early 2013 when I started thinking about book writing again. I’d just read a really interesting book (On a Cushion of Air: The Story of Hoverlloyd and the Cross-Channel Hovercraft) and the authors had self-published it. I wrote to one of the authors (Robin Paine) and asked him about the process. At the same time, I also wrote to a few other authors currently publishing tech stuff.

Self-publishing, it appeared, meant stumping up lots of cash to pay for everything, while the authors publishing through traditional publishers (like I’d done) did it more as a ‘labour of love’ than a money-making deal.

Then I did some more exploring… and discovered CreateSpace, Amazon’s publishing arm.

At first I couldn’t believe it – just upload a properly formatted pdf and they’d publish the book (complete with ISBN) and list it on Amazon. As people ordered, they’d print on demand (POD). There were no upfront costs, the author could set their own price (above a certain minimum that took into account the printing costs and some profit by the publisher), and royalties would be sent to the author monthly…  And that was it.

To say it again: I just couldn’t quite believe it.

I developed a template (actually the biggest effort of the process) and put together a book from my published articles – it was Amateur Car Aerodynamics Sourcebook, published in 2013.

I followed that up with Inventors and Amateur Engineers Sourcebook, Home Workshop Sourcebook and DIY Car Electronic Modification Sourcebook, again all published in 2013.

I then wondered about a smaller book, and did DIY Testing of Car Modifications, also in 2013.

In 2014 came Tuning Programmable Engine Management, Hybrid and Electric Cars Amateur Sourcebook and Thoughts about Driving, Car Modifications and Life (the latter based on these columns – and bought by basically no-one!).

In 2015 I wrote DIY Suspension Development and then, putting on my other hat as a trainer in high-level writing, I produced Writing Effective Arguments: How to Write Strong Arguments in Business and Government.

Also in 2015, I wrote Using the Brilliant eLabtronics Modules!

This year, in 2016, I have written DIY Loudspeaker Building.

As a contributor not just to AutoSpeed but also to UK magazine Everyday Practical Electronics, I have lots of material available to me. That makes it easier to assemble books, although the effort in doing so cannot be understated.

But the advantage is amazing – it costs me nothing in terms of cash… absolutely nothing at all.

And the royalties can be set as you, the author, wish. Remember the royalty I got with 21st Century Performance – 4 per cent? I typically set my CreateSpace royalties at about 40 per cent (but it depends on the distribution channel that the customer buys through). Therefore, sales can be much lower for the same income.

The downsides? There’re no publisher promotions, no placing of books on booksellers’ shelves (they can order it to sell, but often they won’t). On the other hand, eBay sellers often list your book, and you can buy copies of your own book at a discount and flog them off wherever you want… but you soon tire of that.

Me? I am happy writing books (good for my CV!) and receiving royalty cheques that result in monthly trips to the bank (CreateSpace won’t do direct bank transfers to Australia, so they’re always mailed cheques).

Am I making squillions? Absolutely not (though I would if more people bought my books!).

Is it worth it? – unquestionably yes.

If you have a story to tell, I think it’s the way to go.

If you’re interested, see my Amazon listed books here.

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Tuning programmable management on the road

Posted on September 23rd, 2014 in Driving Emotion,Electric vehicles,Engine Management,Hybrid Power,testing,Turbocharging by Julian Edgar

Never have I had such fun when playing with a car! So what am I excited about?

Tuning programmable management on the road.

Regular readers will be aware of our Honda Insight series. As you’d expect, the publication of the articles in that series lags well behind where I am actually up to with the car. (I don’t want to run into a problem and have a big gap in the middle of the series, so it’s best from a publishing perspective that I take this approach.)

So I am around three months ahead of the series in what I am actually doing – so explaining my recent tuning of the MoTeC M400.

In the last month I’ve been tuning crank and start, fuel, ignition, idle speed control, turbo boost, exhaust gas recirculation, acceleration enrichment, wide-band closed loop feedback and lots of others.

All has been done in my shed, driveway or on the road.

It has been an immense learning curve – I’ve never before tuned a programmable management system – with some problems to overcome along the way.

But what I have found so rewarding is the degree of control that you can have over how the car drives. Tuning an interceptor (that I have previously done) or making minor tweaks to factory ECU inputs and outputs allows you to do lots of things, but tuning programmable management allows you to do so much more. (The same would also apply to factory ECUs where the software has been cracked – not the case with the Insight.)

Having so much control means that you can stuff things up absolutely mightily. I am not talking about blowing the engine (though that of course isn’t difficult with wrong timing or fuel figures) but how the car can be made to drive so badly, so easily.

Or, more positively, you can tweak and tweak and tweak until you achieve things that appear initially impossible.

The Insight is running without its hybrid electric assist at this stage, so the bottom-end torque normally provided by the electric motor is missing. With just a 1 litre engine, very high gearing (especially in first and second) and 4800 rpm peak torque, getting the car tractable around town has been no mean feat.

That’s especially the case when no ‘start-up’ map exists for this car – the MoTeC has had to be programmed literally from scratch.

The excitement of activating and then mapping exhaust gas recirc that boosted part-throttle low-rpm torque to a major degree was sensational; getting acceleration fuel enrichment sorted so the turbo boosts much more quickly after a throttle movement was fun; mapping the control of the water/air intercooler pump so that the pump works only when needed was intriguing; and designing the boost table in three dimensions to give exactly the boost behaviour I want was exciting.

I can now see better why a friend of mine years ago talked about driving to work each day, laptop on the passenger seat and making tuning tweaks at every set of traffic lights! With literally thousands of data points able to changed, and often interacting with each other in the driving, getting the perfect tune could be a lifetime pursuit.

But in the mean time, it’s a helluva lot of fun.

My driving life is now changed forever…

Posted on April 3rd, 2009 in AutoSpeed,Driving Emotion,Economy,electric,Electric vehicles,Global Warming,Opinion by Julian Edgar

I feel like one of the first pilots of jet-powered aircraft. They immediately knew that they were flying the future: there could be no going back to pistons and propellers.

Today I drove the car that, for me, spells the end of the piston engine for performance cars.

The car was the all-electric Tesla, and its performance – and the way it achieved that performance – was just so extraordinary that I am almost lost for words. That a start-up car company has created such a vehicle is simply unprecedented in the last century of automotive development.

For the Tesla is not just a sports car with incredible performance (0-100 km/h in the fours) but also a car that redefines driveability. Simply, it has the best throttle control of any car I have ever driven.

Trickle around a carpark at 1000 (electric) revs and the car drives like it has a maximum of just a few kilowatts available. It’s the pussy cat to end all pussy cats: Grandma could drive it with nary a concern in the world. Put your foot down a little and the car seamlessly accelerates: heavy urban traffic, just perfect.

But select an empty stretch of bitumen and mash your foot to the floor and expletives just stream from your mouth as the car launches forward with an unbelievable, seamless and simply immensely strong thrust.

There are no slipping clutches, no flaring torque converters, no revving engines, no gear-changes – just a swishing vacuum-cleaner-on-steroids noise that sweeps you towards the horizon. The acceleration off the line and up to 100 km/h or so is just mind-boggling – especially as it’s accompanied by such undemonstrative effort. The car will do it again and again and again, all with the same phenomenal ease that makes this the winner of any traffic lights grand prix you’re ever likely to meet.

And it’s not just off the line. Want to quickly swap lanes? Just think about it and it’s accomplished. 

In fact drive the car hard and you start assuming that this is the only mode – outright performance. But then enter that carpark, or keep station with other traffic, and you’re back to driving an utterly tractable car – in fact, one for whom the word ‘tractable’ is irrelevant. Combustion engines are tractable or intractable; this car’s electric motor controller just apportions its electron flow as required, in an endlessly seamless and subtle variation from zero to full power.

It’s not just the acceleration that is revolutionary. The braking – achieved primarily through regen – has the same brilliant throttle mapping, an approach that immediately allows even a newcomer to progressively brake to a near-standstill at exactly the chosen point.

A seamless, elastic and fluid power delivery that no conventional car can come remotely close to matching; a symphony on wheels to be played solely with the right foot; an utterly smooth and progressive performance than can be explosive or docile, urgent or somnambulant – literally, a driveline that completely redefines sports cars.

There’s no going back – my driving life is now changed forever.

Footnote: the Tesla drive was courtesy of Simon Hackett of the ISP, Internode.

Changing the way you think about electric vehicles

Posted on March 17th, 2009 in Automotive News,Driving Emotion,Economy,Electric vehicles,Global Warming,Opinion by Julian Edgar

Today’s AutoSpeed article on electric vehicles is, as the box in the article states, based on a seminar given by Dr Andrew Simpson.

Dr Simpson produced the paper that we used as the foundation for the Assessing the Alternatives article we ran about a year ago – it’s amongst the very best of articles you’ll find in deciding which fuels vehicles should be using.

Andrew Simpson has just returned to Australia from four years in the US, where he worked at the US Government National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado, and then was a Senior R&D engineer at Tesla Motors.

I found his seminar quite riveting: it changed my views on a host of subjects relating to electric cars.

A stunningly useful design tool

Posted on February 17th, 2009 in Electric vehicles,Materials,pedal power,testing,tools by Julian Edgar

Over the years I have built plenty of simple structures that I’ve wanted to be both light and strong.

Those structures vary from little brackets that might be holding something in the engine bay, to complete human-powered vehicles that I trust my life to.

In all cases, the starting point for the design is to consider the forces involved. How does the force of gravity act on the structure? What direction do braking loads act in, or short-term transient loads like suspension forces? Will this tube be placed in bending (not so good) or is it being subjected to compression (good) or extension (better)?

More on How Much Power You Really Need

Posted on January 29th, 2009 in Aerodynamics,Driving Emotion,Electric vehicles,Opinion by Julian Edgar

Back in this blog I mused about how little power is actually needed in a car. My benchmark was not acceleration or top speed. Instead, it was the ability of a car to climb hills at the open-road speed limit (here in Australia, 110 km/h).

Based on dyno tests and the hill-climbing performance of my diesel Peugeot 405, I decided an at-the-flywheel figure of 35 kW/tonne was about the right minimum.

I applied that idea to electric cars, where for reasons of lightness, battery power consumption and cost, an electric motor that errs on the side of smallness makes sense.

A number of comments were then made that this was completely wrong, that electric motors don’t work in that way (apparently, an electric kilowatt is different to a petrol motor kilowatt!) and so on. However, I saw no evidence that suggested a power/weight ratio of about 35kW a tonne was not the minimum for a car to be competent on the open road. (And a reasonably aerodynamically slippery car, at that.)

Recently, I’ve driven three cars that have a instantaneous power output display on the dashboard. These are all Lexus hybrids – the LS600hL, the GS450h and the RX400h. The latter’s display is shown above.

With this gauge I was able to see exactly how much power was being transmitted to the wheels, irrespective of torque curves, throttle position or anything else.

The actual power going to the wheels.

The RX400h weighs-in at 2040kg – say with my body mass, 2130kg.

Typically, I used in normal driving – even sporty urban driving – an indicated 50kW or less. That’s just a little under 24kW/tonne.

Getting into it more strongly, 75kW showed on the dial – but I stress, this was now going harder than most people would drive most of the time. That’s a power/weight ratio of 35kW/tonne.

To get 100kW (or higher) showing on the gauge, you had to be clearly pushing the car hard.

And 200kW? Full throttle and with lots of revs – completely unlike 99 per cent of daily driving.

I already know from the Peugeot that, if the car is being driven well, 35 kW/tonne is enough for open road driving – and now I know that it’s also sufficient for even quite sporty urban driving.

New DIY Electric Car Opportunities

Posted on January 22nd, 2009 in Driving Emotion,Electric vehicles,Honda,Hybrid Power,Opinion,Toyota by Julian Edgar

People who have been into modified cars here in Australia have for decades known of the incredible bargains that can be had from Japanese-importing wreckers.

Because of the speed with which Japanese drivers discard near-new cars, the drivelines – or even complete front halves of cars – can be bought amazingly cheaply. Engines and gearboxes boasting late model technology, for less than the cost of having an old clunker rebuilt. It’s simple – buy a locally-delivered car and then install a new Japanese-import driveline having much greater performance. Over the years I’ve done this twice – and both times got a tremendous car for the money.

And now there’s a whole new and exciting Japanese-import field opening up.

Because Japanese manufacturers have led the world in the creation of hybrid petrol/electric cars – the first was built over 10 years ago – and because many were sold locally in Japan, hybrid car parts can now be sourced out of Japan at the same ridiculously low prices.

Should Tesla sell?

Posted on January 13th, 2009 in Electric vehicles,Hybrid Power by Julian Edgar

An interesting opinion article, especially in the context of the global financial crash that has occurred since this piece was first published.

Literally feeling the aerodynamic drag of vehicles

Posted on September 23rd, 2008 in Aerodynamics,Driving Emotion,Economy,Electric vehicles,pedal power by Julian Edgar

As we covered in Analysing Road Car Drag, most aerodynamic drag of current vehicles is created by separation pressure drag. Put simply, this is reflected in the size of the wake – the cross-sectional area of the disturbed air dragged along behind the car.

The most slippery vehicles in the world – the solar race cars – have reduced separation pressure drag to the extent that the other types of drag (eg viscous drag, induced drag and interference drag) become more important.

But in all conventional cars, it’s separation drag that remains the big one.

Now this gives rise to a rather interesting idea. Imagine you’re standing alongside an empty road. The day is a still one – there’s not much wind blowing. A car is rocketing towards you along the road, travelling at perhaps 100 km/h. It will pass close by to you. It grows in size and then roars past.

Now – what do you feel?

Clearly, you will be able to feel the wake – the eddies and turbulent air indicative of the aerodynamic disturbance of the car. This disturbance will take into account the separation pressure drag and the frontal area of the car – the two when multiplied form the vast majority of the actual aero drag that’s experienced by the car.

And, equally clearly, the smaller the air disturbance that you can feel, the greater the slipperiness of the vehicle.

For the Greater Good?

Posted on September 11th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Economy,Electric vehicles,Global Warming,pedal power by Julian Edgar

Here in Queensland the State Government has issued a discussion paper entitled Improving Sustainable Housing in Queensland.

The paper canvases a range of requirements the government is considering implementing for the construction of new houses and units.

I think it astonishing how little government regulation has been applied to the energy efficiency of housing. Especially in the context of the media attention given to fuel-efficient cars, there seems to have been a deathly silence on what is surely the far more important area of housing.

After all, a typical house is going to be consuming energy for something in the order of five to ten times as long as a car, and will be doing so most hours of the day and night.