Monday, March 30, 2009

Why cars can't really be green with today's technology

Instead of trying to make the car green, we should just be using the car less and trying to make our cities green with more density, transit and pedestrian amenities.

Green cars are kind of an oxymoron.

For instance, electric cars have a lot of technical obstacles to being green and practical. According to a December 5 NPR Science Friday show that I blogged about then, our best battery for storing power in a car isn't that good. The lithium ion battery only stores around 1/100Th the amount of energy that similar weight in gasoline stores. Thus the electric car doesn't have much of either power or range.

* That tidbit from a book titled "Physics for Future Presidents," by a Richard Muller.

Of course, we might be able to improve the battery, but I don't think that technology is here yet.

I would guess, most electric cars save energy by just being lighter and more aerodynamic. This means it's scary to be on the freeway around all those other heavy cars and trucks if you and your family are in a pop can.

No wonder bigger cars become more popular when gas prices are low, as gas prices currently are. Low compared to summer of 2008.

Then the power has to come from somewhere.

Coal power plants?


Wind and solar are OK, but expensive and we get very little of our energy from those sources currently.

Hybrid "gas electric" cars are another idea.

From my understanding of the physics, these are better at lower speeds where there is stop and go driving.

Gas engines don't take well to "stop and go" so the hybrid allows the gas engine to run more steady and efficient while the electric motor takes care of the stop and go.

Also the gas motor can be smaller since it gradually builds up charge while electric motors provide those brief moments of "get up and go" for acceleration.

Electric motors provide regenerative braking for downhill.

Problem is, hybrids aren't much of an advantage at steady highway speeds; especially on the flat, from what I understand. If one is just driving down the freeway at 70 mph, that means pushing against the constant wind. At traditional highway speeds, one just needs lots of power over the long haul. I don't think the hybrid is an advantage here.

Maybe we need lower speed limits?

Then there's a whole raft of other problems associated with automobiles.

Space taken for parking and traffic means impervious surfaces; one of our biggest water resource problems.

The automobile makes sprawl more likely. Often sprawl is even mandated with parking requirement and zoning rules.

I can go on, and on.

Really, if we want a greener tomorrow, we need to change city planning so cars are less needed.

I bicycle, for instance. I live close enough to my work to walk. Our local transit is getting better. I'm a fan of density and pedestrian oriented city planning.

Changing lifestyles also. There is a whole lot more that we can do for a greener tomorrow than just bang our heads against a brick wall trying to come up with green cars.

For both safety and fuel efficiency, the answer isn't tiny cars, at least on the highway.

A better answer is public transit. Per passenger mile, the bus is both safe and green if close to fully occupied.

Cars can't really be green until we get even more advanced technology.

Maybe someday there will be a car that, for instance, takes up no space for parking. A car that one can fold up and put in their pocket when not in use.

Can Detroit build such a car? Asking for the improbable?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I went through Fargo, ND by bicycle in 1993

There was some flooding that year also. Not like this year. It was late summer when I took these pictures and more.

Sign coming into town from the west.

Red River spilling into a city park.

Pictures taken on my 1993 bicycle tour.

In 1998, I passed through Grand Forks, north of Fargo on another trip. That was a bit over a year from the devastating floods of 1997.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Home garden at the White House

Setting an example for a healthier America, I hear President Obama has had part of the White House lawn torn up for a garden.

I'm all for it. Could be a "shovel ready" way to improve health and reduce health care costs.

Also makes good fodder for March 26 Dianne Rehm show on Healthful Food. Problem is people keep getting derailed into arguments between "organic" versus "non organic."

I usually prefer non organic when it's less expensive. Apples, carrots and salads are healthier than the diets of so many folks, even if it isn't certifiably grown to organic standards. Sometimes lower food cost improves availability to wider range of incomes.

They talked about the problem of junk food being the only thing convenient to many neighborhoods; inner cities for instance (these days, inner city can mean expensive neighborhoods though).

How about suburban "so called" trailer trash areas?

When an AM / PM mini mart is the only place within miles, it can be hard to find things like apples. One can get potato chips, soda pop, candy, coffee, beer and cigarettes.

I often shop at the downtown Bellingham Food Co-op, but usually buy non organic if it's available and cheaper.

The co-op is known for good produce, but produce can need preparation. To keep things simple, I often just buy an apple, a carrot and a banana which can be eaten like candy bars. I also get salad greens which I eat out of the plastic sack.

Could grab a plate, but it's more putter.

My home is a room without kitchen.

Wish downtown Co-op was like Cordota Co-op with a salad bar, but I make due.

Downtown is near where I live, other supermarkets with big produce sections tend to be out by the freeway. Out in all that unhealthy sprawl.

I don't have garden space, but one can still eat healthier things than diets of junk food.

Garden space and fancy kitchens shouldn't be prerequisites for health. Also "yuppie boutique organic" shouldn't be a prerequisite.

Maybe "organic" is good for the environment, but regular produce, over junk food is a step in the right direction. I sometimes buy organic. Often the price isn't that much different.

Bellingham offers community garden space for those of us who don't even have large window boxes. If I had the time, I'd garden, but it's not high on my priority list.

More power to Obama's garden, however.

Hope people don't feel like it's all for the "elitist crowd" who can shell out more money for organic, have access to land, gardens and fancy kitchens.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Polyamory can mean a lighter touch

I've quietly slipped out of a few piles of cuddling people when the eroticism started getting more "hot and heavy." It's not hard to do and my absence isn't really noticed that much. At least the cuddling can continue while I step across the room and go back to another style of dancing.

One can do this with multiple people. It would be harder to slip out of a one to one relationship without the partner being disappointed or left in the cold.

I've been recently attending the meetings of a group that discusses various aspects of polyamory lifestyles. Basically, it just means eroticism can happen between more than just one other person.

People define polyamory in many different ways.

It can mean open marriages where there is a commitment between two people, but openness to another person in the lives of one, or both partners.

It can just mean partners are free to do things like date, interact, in some cases even just glance beyond the two person relationship.

It can mean groups of people getting together in various ways. Really, there are multiple definitions among the general public.

Once I heard a radio talk show where someone called to say she had caught her husband noticing another woman. She was outraged since there was a twinkle in his eye as he passed another woman on the street.

The talk show host was a psychologist and she had a great comeback. The host said to that caller, "you're husband's just married, but it doesn't mean he's dead." "Of course he's likely to have a variety of feelings."

For me, (which is what matters in this blog), eroticism is best when it's in the slow lane; one of the reasons why I chose "" domain name.

Theslowane also relates to a slower, more contemplative, "bicycling" lifestyle.

For eroticism, mildly titillating experiences work for me. If there's touch, it's better when it's light touch, like putting one's toe in the waters of human contact.

I've found these experiences are more apt to come from gatherings of people, rather than single partners.

Popular opinion might think that sexuality which is more toward polyamory on the scale would also be more risque.

Folks will say, "if sex with one partner is high on the scale of intensity and being promiscuous, multiple partners just turns the volume up even more."

So goes popular conception.

Well, maybe not. Multiple people can spread and diversify the experience. It can be even less; in intensity that is.

American culture tends to have a bias toward, "the max." The climax, extreme sports, extreme experience, consumption and ultimately extreme hangover.

I've been to naked dances up in Vancouver, BC or down in Seattle where eroticism can be at various levels from quite intense to just being into the dance and music as a great form of exercise. In a room full of naked folks, there's nice scenery, good conversation. I don't notice pressure, or expectations to go beyond comfort zones.

One to one relationships are often held up by society as the highest in moral standards, but these can be filled with possessiveness.

In our culture where intensity is the norm, many people in relationships seem to devour one another. Often folks get devoured and then spit out from relationships.

In a small community like Bellingham, folks can be afraid to go out socially for fear of running into ex lovers out there.

"In a small area, be careful what bread crumbs of hurt you leave behind."

Then I hear that there are only 12, or less minutes of in depth conversation per day in the average American relationship.

Only 12 minutes!

That's not much for something I get great pleasure from. In depth conversation and getting to know someone.

I've had deeper sharing with seatmates on Amtrak.

So I wonder, what's the point being in the type of relationships that most people strive for.

I to be non judgemental. Relationships are better for some people. Intensity can be good.

I just know that I enjoy the mildly erotic dance of life with lots of variety, meeting new friends and also being able to take a break from it for enjoying solitude when my mood desires.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Government spending, budget deficits

Our state of Washington is possibly facing a 9 billion dollar shortfall over next 2 years. State and local governments looking for ways to save money.

One idea is to delay the reopening of Lowell School for another year after the remodel is done. It's closed now for the renovation anyway, so people have adjusted. Just don't open it right away after remodel and save money since people have already adjusted, supposedly.

Putting the school in mothballs for a while. Not literally, but figuratively.

Does sound like a plan that might not hurt too much and save some money, but, lots of neighbors are objecting.

What can they cut, that doesn't cause objections?

Federal government has the same problems.

People value the services government provides.

Also, I read they've raised quite a bit of private money and volunteer labor for playground renovation.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Springtime at Fragrance Lake

Just rode my bike south of Bellingham into the Chuckanut Mountains to Fragrance Lake. It's off come old logging roads in the east part of Larabee State Park. With turmoil in the news, it's good that Fragrance Lake is still there. It wasn't as quiet as this photo looks. People were fishing around the lake and their dogs were with them. Dogs are often not tranquil. One of the dogs I saw was dancing and having fun, however.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

We can manufacture money domestically as Federal Reserve is doing

We don't have to import all our money from China and places like that. We can make it locally.


The Federal Reserve has printing presses, or the electronic equivalent there of.

In an age when so much of the American economy is outsourced, local manufacture of money might spur local production of other things like oil. I read that one of the early consequences of the recent move to monetize lots of debt by the Federal Reserve is an increasing price for oil on the world market.

More money chasing after same amount of oil means inflation of prices in that commodity. Rising oil prices can increase domestic production from American oil fields, such as in North Dakota where there's still some oil, but it's expensive to extract. Also higher oil prices can boost alternative energy and use of alternative things like the bicycle. Boost health also.

Value of the dollar is starting to decline which can help American export industries.

So, printing money domestically could lead to making more of other things domestically.

Inflation created by new money can be a problem, but it's nothing new. The housing bubble of a few years back was inflation. Now, even after some housing price declines, housing is still expensive compared to what people, on average make for wages.

If the dollar declines, domestically produced things become less expensive relative to world markets. Then our export industry might increase.

During the housing bubble, America was awash in overseas money, oil and products. This situation may have spoiled us. It's like we have become more of a consumer economy and less of a producer economy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

AIG experience, more to discredit brain drain theory

From college presidents to corporate executives, one keeps hearing how salaries must be raised to keep the top talent from leaving the organization.

Top talent?

Talented at running things into the ground. Good at being greedy to the level of criminal behavior.

With AIG, one sees another aspect of brain drain theory. Retention bonuses.

When someone screws it up, you pay them more in hopes that they will stick around the company because you fear that they are the only ones who know how to unscrew what they've screwed up.

Good to see that Obama has endorsed UN gay rights statement

A step forward.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Last paper edition of Seattle PI came out today

I'm thinking about a funny ad I heard on the radio many years ago.

Television and newspaper are debating when television says, "you can't change channels on the newspaper."

Newspaper counters with, "ya, but you can't line the bottom of a bird cage with television."

Radio enters saying, "interesting debate;" like interesting debate you guys are having.

Radio ends up the victor since this ad is for radio advertising, versus television or newspaper.

Ad was before "Internet," or at least Internet being widespread.

The world keeps changing.

Hopefully, society will figure out a good mechanism to pay for journalism in the Internet age. Investigative reporting, fact checking, research and all the kind of stuff that's sometimes mundane, but needs to find an economic home.

The Internet has certainly been a boom for expressing opinion and increasing access to community discussion. With so many new things, it takes a while for business practices and mindsets to catch up.

Hope the on-line PI succeeds even though it has a much smaller paid staff.

It certainly is a golden age for interactive media at least.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

In the park

A stage has been slowly taking shape in Boulevard Park. Many donations went into it. Looking forward to summer dances in the park.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Better to rent than own?

I found a good article in Yahoo real estate section today.

5 reasons renting still beats buying.

It's a great read.

One thing it mentioned was the lower overhead footprint of most apartments over detached single family homes. Good economics when things like the carbon and transportation footprints are taken into account.

Good article in Cascadia Weekly

Written by a friend of mine named Bo as a guest column in March 4 2009 Cascadia Weekly.

Cap and Trade, people don't cause sprawl cars do.

For instance there is one part of the article where it says, "Europe is so densely populated they had to implement good planning to survive, but the quality of life in Europe is very good." "Planning for people, not cars, makes for a richer life, not poorer."

He talks about nice apartment buildings in Germany where rent is affordable if tenants agree to not own a car. Money is saved not having to provide for parking.

Article says, here in Whatcom County, planners assume the need for 6 parking spaces per car. That's parking at home, parking at the grocery store, parking at work, parking at the theater, the bank, you guessed it. I assume.

He suggests a cap and trade system where growth in the number of cars in this area could be capped by permit to own a car. Folks wanting to relocate here could go without a car, or buy one of the permits from a local resident willing to give up their car.

I'd sell my permit to a new comer. I've never driven a car. I guess they would issue permits to current residents as of a certain date.

This would really help control sprawl, but it wouldn't necessarily need to limit the number of people moving here. People could live without cars. It could be very European.

He suggests a similar cap and trade system is working now for the number of commercial fishing boats allowed to operate in the area.

I like it when he says a self selection process would kick in. "People who love cars more than they love clean air and water would prefer to live in other areas."

700 appicants for a custodial position

Made the news in Ohio, but it's not unusual.

Much of the time, here in Bellingham, WA. it seems like custodial positions at the university or school district can draw a hundred applicants at least. Especially as they pay a bit more than most custodial positions in the private sector.

Benefits and health insurance also.

State jobs.

Custodial work is not bad work. Can be fairly hassle free and low stress. Of course depends on situation.

All through the 1980s and beyond, I remember years when custodial positions at Western Washington University would draw huge piles of applications.

The school district and city would be similar.

Much of our local economy is what they call a "service economy."

Retailing, restaurants, lawn mowing.

Lots of waiters, waitresses and store clerks. Many of the jobs have been part time and not paying much more than minimum wage.

Of course, if one has low overhead, life doesn't have to be so bad.

Good health, free time, flexibility and then people say they leave Bellingham when it's time to look for a "real job."

The places I have worked have only had a few full time jobs and large staffs of part time workers.

Much of the local work force is students who work their job schedule around class schedules. Classes come first. After one graduates, life comes first and the job comes second. There are not that many jobs which are super inspiring.

State jobs tend to be more likely to have benefits and full time hours.

Welcome to the new economy.

Bellingham has been there for a long time.

It pays to have "low overhead," but many of the houses in this area are quite large and expensive.

There's a disconnect.

Seems like many of the homeowners are retirees who got into owning in other areas and times.

Local workers are often renters.

Then there are the much sought after state jobs.

Our economy kind of revolves around education and retirement.

Some say it's the result of not being friendly to industry. Yes, much of the industrial base has deteriorated and gone overseas.

Volunteer sector is the most dynamic and exciting part of our city's economy. In spite of recession, one still finds vibrancy at various gathering spots. Political meetings, discussion groups, folk music, dancing, festivals.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Very good news. Kepler on it's way

Successful launch of Kepler space telescope tonight. Kepler will stare at a patch of stars; over 100,000 stars, to look for flickering of the light. Flickering that might indicate planets passing across the face of the star as seen from Earth.

Very slight light winks.

Watching like a hawk, or even more intensely than a hawk, it will take an inventory of what's happening, wink and blink wise, around each of those 100,000 stars. Could be signs of orbiting planets even as small as Earth. Maybe even smaller.

They'll be able to tell more about planet size, distance from it's star and so forth. Getting an inventory of data points.

I think the first mission of this kind is the MOST satellite which, coincidentally, is based out of University of British Columbia not far from where I live.

UBC campus is a day's bike ride away from Bellingham up there in Vancouver, BC.

One other mission since MOST has a similar aim. France's Corot.

Kepler is, by far, the most powerful. We'll learn a lot.

Also this is a good way to create some jobs that are more interesting than serving coffee. How would you like that, with cream or sugar?