Netflix – rate changes

I received an email from Netflix yesterday advising me that they are discontinuing the $9.99/mo program I originally signed up for.  This gave me unlimited streaming and 1 DVD at a time checkout (unlimited per month, I think).

They told me they were going to split my plan into TWO plans: 1) Unlimited streaming for $7.99, and 2) Unlimited DVDs, 1 at a time for $7.99.  So, I’d be getting this neat new plan for the low low price of $15.98/mo.  Gee, thanks guys.  Obviously, they are hoping that people will ignore the email or just not care and pay the extra money every month.

In my case, I use the streaming occasionally, but rarely care about the DVDs.  In fact, dealing with the physical DVD and having to mail it back is not really a pain, but is something more to think about.

So, I logged on and changed my account to Unlimited streaming, no DVD for $7.99.  I’m now saving a whopping $2/mo 🙂

Being a good and considerate son, I emailed my Mom and told her of the rate increase.  She’s on a fixed income and surprises are not a good thing.  She doesn’t care about the streaming, so she switched her $19.99/mo plan to Unlimited DVDs, 3 at a time for $15.99.  She’s saving a whopping $4/mo 🙂

She did comment that finding the right plan was difficult on their website as they seem to try to hide the alternates under a small text link.  Shame on you, Netflix

I’m wondering if this genius rate change is working well for them.  As you can see above, at least 2 customers are paying them a total of $6 less per month.  I’m just guessing, but my assumption is that making less money was not their goal.

Terrafugia flying car

Another company has joined the development effort to produce the elusive flying car.  As I mentioned in a previous post, this isn’t a new concept, and there have been several attempts over the years to address this market.  The “Transition” by Terrafugia is probably one of the better looking and more interesting ones though.

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The wings unfold at the push of a button in less than 30 seconds.  You do your preflight and redirect the engine’s power to the pusher prop instead of the wheels, and you are ready to take off.  Here is a video of the prototype’s first flight:

In contrast, one of the early and better known original flying cars is the Taylor Aerocar.  This vehicle (below) has a “pod” which attaches to the back of the car containing the wings and propeller assembly.  This pod is manually detached and left at the airport when the car is converted to road use.  This conversion reportedly took 30 minutes.  Clearly, pushing a button and staying in the comfort of the cab is much more convenient, especially in inclement weather.

File:Taylor-Aerocar-III.jpg
The Taylor Aerocar

The Fulton Airphibian AF-3-101 had a similar design:

File:Fulton Airphibian FA-3-101.jpg

The Maverick (the subject of my earlier post) flying car is interesting, but as it’s basically a ram-air parachute wing attached to a rather goofy looking sand buggy, it doesn’t win style awards in my book.  Also, conversion takes time:

File:Maverick Flying Car.jpg

The only other variant I am aware of is the PD-1 Roadable Glasair being developed by Plane Driven.  This one has an engine pod below the center of the fuselage which is slid on rails toward the tail of the plane, then the wings are manually folded against the sides for road use.  The conversion is more manual, but doesn’t seem to awkward.

Of course, I’m not forgetting about Moller’s Skycar (see my posting here).  That vehicle is a radically different design due to it’s VTOL capabilities.  It’s quite pricy, but very swoopy looking:

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There are many others, of course. Check out the Wikipedia article.  I chose the ones above to talk about because they seemed the most practical and actually affordable.  There are several interesting units being developed, but their pricing is ludicrous.  Take the Urban Aeronautics’ X-Hawk for example.  This has a projected price of $3 million.  Maybe that’s OK for government search & rescue use, but it is obviously not useful to the general public.

Prius carpool lane stickers – End of an era

I drive a Toyota Prius which I purchased back in 2005.  At that time, California DMV had an incentive program for low-emissions cars.  They allowed you to purchase a carpool lane access sticker which allowed you to drive in the carpool lane by yourself.  I was just moving to the mountains, but still working in Century City, so this was very appealing to me (my commute was about 100 miles each way).  Also, the $4k tax refund was nice, I must admit.

Originally, the allocation was 85,000 stickers and I got in at the tail end of that.  6 months after I bought my car, there were no more stickers available.  The stickers were supposed to expire at the end of 2010, but the CA Assembly voted 68-4 to extend the life to July 2011.

Now that the stickers have expired, my Prius is like Superman sitting on a block of kryptonite.  It has been stripped of it’s carpool lane superpowers and is now just a moderately comfortable high-MPG car.  Mine is also high-mileage as you might guess, at over 250,000 miles on the clock.

The only stickers still valid are the white ones issued for Natural Gas (CNG), plug-in hybrids (Toyota is due to release a plug-in Prius next year), fully electric cars, and hydrogen powered vehicles.  These stickers will be valid until 2015.

The LA times had an article on this entitled “For hybrid drivers, it’s now the past lane”.

Here’s some excerpts from it and my humble thoughts…

Beginning Friday, owners of hybrid cars were kicked out of carpool lanes and forced to crawl to work with the rest of the solo drivers. Though the change is lamented by hybrid owners, some carpoolers are cheering. Transportation experts say the shift could reduce traffic in carpool lanes at a time when some of the lanes are becoming more congested.

Hogwash.  I paid attention to the carpool lanes over the last month, and they were not congested in any sense.  The only time they were is when the entire freeway was backed up, and there’s not much to be done about that, unfortunately.

Sharing those lanes has never been easy. Carpoolers have long grumbled that solo drivers should not be allowed to use lanes designed for ridesharing. One common complaint: Hybrid drivers tend to drive slower than carpoolers to maximize their fuel efficiency.

LOL, probably true.  Except for me (Mr. Leadfoot)

Some guy they interviewed said: "I figure it’s cheating like, ‘Why do they get the special pass?’”

Well, it would be cheating if it wasn’t something available to everyone.  It was, and he chose not to participate.  Not my problem.

Hybrids made up about 6% of the vehicles in Los Angeles County’s carpool lanes.

Wow, six whole percent!  Clearly that points to how congested hybrids made the carpool lanes.

Allison Yoh, associate director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies, said congestion tends to be exponential, meaning that removing even a few cars can have a noticeable effect. As a result, carpoolers are likely to see smoother traffic flow.

We’d get a more noticeable effect if morons didn’t drive in the carpool lane doing 55mph with 2 miles of traffic backed up behind them.

When you are on a motorcycle, as I am from time to time, you actually get to see the culprit of these backups. You drive between lanes passing car after car until you come to the rolling roadblock with miles of empty road in front of them.  It’s tough to simply drive by them, as opposed to reaching down and slashing their tires or something.  But one can dream.

Experts have said they believe the bigger problem is simply too many cars on the road during rush hour.

Amen, brother.

Marco Ruano, chief of freeway operations for Caltrans’ District 7, which includes Los Angeles, said hybrids make up such a small percentage of the total number of cars on the freeways that their inclusion in the regular lanes is not likely to result in noticeably more congestion.

Can I get a witness? Hallelujah!

Up to 40,000 new-generation clean-running vehicles  primarily plug-in hybrids, like the new plug-in Prius will receive carpool stickers under a new program beginning in 2012. Fully electric cars and vehicles that run on compressed natural gas will also retain their rights to the carpool lane.

The old program was 85,000 hybrid stickers allocated.  Not exactly a direct replacement program.

A key reason why hybrids were kicked out of the lanes was to prevent further congestion as the new plug-in cars merged in.

Hmm – maybe. But then the hybrid cars in use now aren’t that old and in this economy I don’t see a massive flood of people wanting to upgrade their hybrid to the very latest model year.  Also, if the existing 85,000 hybrids make up 6% of the traffic, then that means there are about 1,141,667 cars using the carpool lanes.  Adding 40,000 more cars brings the hybrid user percentage to a whopping 8.6%.  Holy cow! it would be a complete parking lot!  Or… maybe it wouldn’t make really any difference at all.  I think that’s more like it.

Another quote they had: "A lot of people presumably bought the car in order to have that reward," 

A big Amen, brother.

I try to take advantage of tax deductions too.  Does that make me a bad person?

Light Field Camera photography – Lytro

A company named Lytro is developing some amazing stuff.  This all came out of research at Stanford.  One of the students, Ren Ng, decided to form a company to create publicly available devices, and bring the technology from lab to life.  One offshoot of this research is the Stanford CityBlock project.  Google’s StreetView grew out of that project. 

This is some truly amazing technology which could revolutionize the way we capture images.  You don’t focus the camera, you just shoot.  You do your focusing later!  Also, if you share an image with somebody, they can refocus and zoom at will.  Amazing stuff!

Play with one of the images from Lytro's photo gallery here!  There are more images to view and play with on Lytro's site.

You can double-click to zoom, and single-click to change focus to a certain area of the picture: