When hearts attack, or “E(xplianing thanol)”

Tofurkey tastes like crap, but high cholesterol can mean a plate of veggie burgers. On a macro scale, mother earth has spiraling cholesterol, will almost certainly have a heart attack, and must start munching tofu dogs and veggie burgers today. They may not taste great, but who wants England to have another ice age? Read on.

While fluctuating gas costs make drivers think about the relationship of money to gasoline and the “cost” of driving, there are some interesting fixed relationships (read: environmental costs) which stay true no matter if the gas costs 12 cents per gallon (as it does in Caracas) or $6.50, like in the Netherlands (CNN). When a gallon (varies from 5.8 – 6.5 lbs, compared to 8.33 lbs for water) of gas is burned, the composition of the air used in combustion is drastically changed. Gasoline’s chemical structure varies slightly from gallon to gallon (and there are winter and summer blends), but it is basically thousands of carbon chains which have hydrogen atoms all down their sides (C8H18). Burn it with air, and you get carbon dioxide (and water). Well, it is easy to see where the carbon comes from, but the “dioxide” and “O” in H2O comes out of the air—it takes 21 pounds of oxygen to burn one gallon of gas. Goodbye oxygen. Here’s what’s going on (terrapass).

6.25 pounds of gasoline
21 pounds of oxygen


19.3 pounds of carbon dioxide
roughly 8 pounds of water vapor.

Lets say you put 15 gallons of gas in your car when you fill it up. That’s 94 pounds of gasoline. When all the gas is burned, 315 pounds of oxygen has been combined with the gasoline to form 289 pounds of CO2 and 120 pounds of water vapor (which is also a greenhouse gas). Over the course of the year, if a car goes 10,000 miles and gets 25 mpg… it will emit 7720 lbs of CO2, almost certainly more than twice the weight of the car itself. Furthermore, it takes over than 8000 lbs of oxygen gas from our atmosphere.

Is that a lot? I don’t know. Haven’t yet figured out how much oxygen a human turns into carbon dioxide per year through breathing, but I know I’d rather do it than have a car do it for me.

Now it gets weird--everybody knows there are vegetable substitutes for delicious high-cholesterol foods? They can make diesel and gasoline out of vegetables too!

Biodiesel is tofu-diesel and ethanol is tofu-gas. Lets focus on ethanol. Just like tofu-everything, there are tradeoffs, but they are reasonable. Yes, cars must be modified a tiny bit to run on ethanol, but the main issue is that there are only 80 % as many Calories per gallon in ethanol as in gasoline, which leads to a similar reduction in fuel economy.

People get all excited about ethanol because it means we don’t have to be dependent on foreign oil, but the chemically exciting part of ethanol is the history of the carbon inside it. Like gasoline, when ethanol burns a whole bunch of oxygen gets converted into a whole bunch of CO2--the very same CO2 which is formed by burning fossil fuels. What gets interesting is the history of the carbon—in gasoline, the carbon is from fossils and has been stored as oil for millions of years. In ethanol, the carbon is from the atmosphere, removed by the corn as it grew and is then stored in the ethanol. So it’s the same carbon, except that cars running on ethanol become part of the continuing carbon cycle, rather than just releasing hundreds of tons of "new" carbon into the air.


I've started watching TV again. My beautiful apartment in Brooklyn has HDTV and an HD-DVR. When bored, I look through the program listings and record every show which looks interesting, and the next day I scan through them all and watch whichever ones turn out to be good (side not: DVR lets you FF through the commercials, and then rewinds a few seconds when you hit play, to account for your reaction time).

Anyway, I've recorded (sorted from high to low in order of eventual interest) some great motorcycle races (with dudes pouring smoke off their rear tires as they back it in and overtake for position), the New York Triathlon, and Formula 1. But then I found a GP2 race--and it was the most exciting circuit race I've ever seen. GP2 is F1's little brother—a series packed with fearless young guns vying for spots in F1. Lewis Hamilton (19 years old) and Nelson Piquet Jr. are the stars. Piquet Jr. is like a little Gilles Villeneuve, stepping on the gas at every opportunity and generally being a huge badass. (Here is a race from earlier in the year, with Hamilton raging through the pack-check it out).

The cool thing is they race on Saturday, then the top 8 finishers are inverted for Sunday, so the best drivers must claw their way back to the front. At the beginning of the race, tons of cars flew off the track--then the real fun began. I watched Piquet Jr. attacking corner after corner until he overtook the cars in front of him. His car setup was brilliant and he could carry a tiny bit more speed than the other drivers. The cars don't have so much aerodynamic dependence as F1, and are a bit heavier, so there is much more scope for overtaking, and indeed, there were many, many more passes than in an F1 race. Furthermore, the person who gets the fastest lap gets a championship point, so when drivers are out of the points, they can put on a fresh set of tires, find some clear track, and put in a couple of scorchers. The best bit? A couple of times, I saw drivers take a whole corner on full opposite lock under power, laying two thick darkies. When's the last time you saw that in F1?

One more thing, the GP2 cars all run the same tires, as F1 is planning to do next year. Will we see such close, exciting racing from equi-tired F1 cars? It would be great.


Thoughts on cars

I looked at a website today, which talked about why cars are bad. Of course, it was a little over the top, but it made some interesting points. Here are my favorites:

Average speed of a horse cart, London 1909: 7mph. Average speed of an automobile, London 1999: 6mph. -- A goto B

"Widening roads to solve traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity." -- Walter Kulash, a traffic engineer, Orlando, Fla.

Crowded Is Good -- just as long as you are not in an automobile! [There is a] deep difference in travel philosophy. To the motorist, "cars are in the way, except mine." Thus the fewer other motorists encountered on the road, the better. But to pedestrians or bicyclists, a vibrant street or sidewalk filled with other people cycling or walking is much better than deserted block or creepily empty bus. We share a sense of community hard to convey to the isolated individual in his or her metal box. ... The thought of twice as many fellow car drivers on the road fills [car drivers] with horror.

Transit costs drop if transit ridership goes up. In the case of every form of transit, if ridership increases, costs per passenger mile drop sharply: by as much as 43 percent. Driving costs increase if roadway traffic grows at a high rate. If growth in roadway traffic picks up, the cost for each mile a person drives will go up, in some cases quite sharply

Three and a half states paved over!!!! (By 1991, 20,627 square miles of the U.S.A. had already been paved over for roads alone (no parking areas included!); That is larger than the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut combined with half of Vermont thrown in too!) --Alt-Trans index

Much has been written (ie Dune) about the damage to all facets of society when an economy is utterly dependent on one product. (Oil) It is foolishness.

Youth and the Elderly are excluded from the transportation system, and therefore from most of society.

To shelter us from automobiles, our living spaces focus away from the streets, thus severing us further from the people around us.

Moving people a step away from face to face contact, generating a false sense of superiority which causes people to reach a level of aggressive, angry, selfishness that they would NEVER ever reach if they had to take direct responsibility for their actions.

Some office developers now budget 200 square feet of space for each cubicle and 400 square feet for each car.

The death rate per 100 million passenger miles for cars is 1.05. The death rate per 100 million passenger miles for transit buses is 0.01.

Organ Donor Cards. Automobiles are the only machine we are asked to sign away our organs before we can operate it. No one asks you to sign an organ donor card before you operate a blender. --AltTrans

Turning a benign drowsiness into one of the most dangerous events in our life.


I'm not being a negative natalie- I'm saying public transport is great! I love cars, but am trying to become enamoured with public transit as well. Right now I'm mostly a fan of the bike. But it has become a bit of a hassle with NYC's high threat of theft and many cars! Maybe I'll like public transit now that I have a long commute to Manhattan (to see my friends), and will have more time to get into a book on the subbie.


Blocking the Merge

Driving is often relaxing--it is even possible to find amusement in traffic jams. But the fun vase is shattered when somebody blocks the merge.

The feeling of being stuck behind a "righteous" bozo who has caused a rolling bottleneck is one of frustration and rising anger, with a helping of claustrophobia mixed in.

Until recently, my anger just focused on the driver loping alongside the lane of merged traffic (which merged long before it was necessary), but then I realized that he's not the only one who is causing the problem


Think about this: the merge blocker can only pin himself to one car, blocking the traffic behind him. The 2-car unit becomes a cancerous "ready to merge" mass in a sea of what could be freeflowing traffic. To fight back, the line of cars in front of him needs merely to "unmerge" from one into two lanes (an unlikely prospect, since they sheepishly decided to merge so early anyway), drive up to the brick-and-mortar merge and re-merge there. Then the "ready to merge" mass of our aggressive driver would be following "ready to merge" traffic and thus it would become nearly invisible.

Well, the agressive driver should become invisible then, but he doesn't.

Why are there often only one or two cars driving in the lane behind the "merge blocker" while everyone else is struggling to get into single file (when there is a ton of room before the merge-blocker and even more before the real merge)? It's because the merge-blocker is treated as a merge itself, and drivers try to merge before they get to him (or already have), thus allowing the cancerous mass to have an even greater effect on traffic flow. driving directly behind the merge-blocker is seen as aggressive driving, and impolite when everybody knows there is a merge coming.

The best way to merge is still to have everyone slow down some, then alternate left and right. But this is only for the real (read: stationary) merge. Behind a mobile merge-blocker it makes no sense to merge, for there is no reason to-he's just creating a traffic jam.

If the people behind the merge-blocker would treat the 2-car lump like a traffic jam, and the people ahead of it would treat the real-merge properly, the entire concept of "blocking a merge" would disappear.

But I fear it may be too late. This release from Tennessee recommends early-merging, which will confuse people from out of state, almost certainly slow traffic flow, and cause incidents of road rage.

The "righteous" driver is the one waiting until the last safe moment before merging.


Thoughts on NYC transport

Read this fragment of an email I got this morning from Dave R., a onegallon reader:

"With gas as high as it is, I read once that even Detroiters are using public transit. Quite a feat since our 2-system "public transit" is so woefully inadequate."

It gets worse in the suburbs of Detroit, where a car is really the only option for getting around. Walking is for exercize; bicycles are for kids who are too young to drive. There are a couple of bus stops, but nobody has ever had the courage to deal with all the OAPs on the bus.

In NYC, there are so many different options. So far, I walked to get groceries, took a taxi to SoHo and a subway back, rode my bike 10 blocks to Kinko's to print out resumes for SW, and hopped on a crosstown bus to get across central park at night before running the rest of the way home in pouring rain.

The trips are all short as well--it is laid out on a very human scale. The hardware store is 2 doors away, the Food Emporium, Best Buy, and Barnes and Noble are 2-4 blocks away, and there are 5 Chase ATM's within .25 miles.

A welcome side effect of public transport is that you needn't drag a bike or car around. If you take a subway because it is raining, then the weather clears up, you aren't stuck in a car. If you meet up with people, you don't have to continue the night in a caravan, and the concepts of getting "dropped off" and "DUI's" vanish.

The apt. I'm in is on a human scale too- I can reach the oven, stove, sink, refrigerator, and every cupboard without having to take a step, everything is half a spin away when I'm standing on the lazy susan mounted in the middle of the kitchen floor.


Driving Miss Daisy

A simple concept - To save gas, just take your foot off the gas pedal.

On my way to NYC from Detroit yesterday (I moved to NYC), I got bored and decided to see if I could get 400 miles on a tank of gas (15.8 gallons). Normally it goes about 335, but that's at 85 mph, driving sideways, and generally being a hoon. So I went 55 mph for the entire tank. It was murder, all these trucks on I-80 were blazing by me, and I had to keep my lazy eye on the rear view mirror at all times.

The car has never returned better than 24 mpg, but, wait for it...

13.2 gallons, 405.6 miles --> 30.73 mpg

30.7 mpg!!! Can you believe it? Of course, mine is a car with particular aerodynamic issues, but what a huge difference.


Hey Maytag repairman, you any good at knots?

A way to save energy (a.k.a. $$): It's laundry day, and the drier heats up the clothes and blows some air around. It's a lot like summertime, really. A clothes line can help your beloved shirts last longer--the elastic won't degrade from the drier's heat, they fabric won't get worn out from agitation, and everything will have a fresh scent. Make sure to turn T-shirts inside out so the sun won't fade them prematurely (wash T-shirts inside out too).

I especially like the very slightly stiffer way clothes feel after they've been hung on lines.

They had me tricked!

This evening I went mountain biking with my dad on the singlespeed (no gears) mountain bike I just built. We went to Addison Oaks, which is mostly technical singletrack through heavily forested rolling hills, with some logs and the occasional rockgarden, much more heavily wooded than most of the trails I ride.

I had complete confidence in the drive for the first time ever. I could get out of the saddle on the climbs and hammer so hard, with no chance of gear slip, and no bobbing from suspension--the bike would just take off and go. The frame is terribly stiff, and my fingers got numb during the ride. Toward the end I got on my dad's geared full suspension bike. The drivetrain seemed so indirect and fussy--I lost speed with every shift. I was high up in the air (the bike has a high bottom bracket to allow suspension travel) and out of phase with the trail. There would be a compression, but the bike would continue going down for a fraction of a second after the bottom of the dip, and when I would brake, the bike would dive and transfer weight to the front wheel. When I got out of the saddle, the suspension would compress on each stroke before I would go forward. But it was a very soft, compliant ride.

I do miss the big-ring downhill rush of having gears, but can certainly get along without the uncertainty of drive during shifts, the noise and drag of the gears, and the cost of all the bits. Singlespeeds are meant to be pretty much silent, but my handlebar was creaking (unnerving) and my rear brake cable is routed along the top of the top tube and goes "ding" to alert me of any trail imperfection..

About that big gear bit- With only one ratio (36 x 16, and the bike can still freewheel, it's not a fixed gear) you can't really pedal on the downhills, and have to pedal every time else, especially right before and during uphills. This means that you are slow on downhills, normal on the flats, and fast uphill. Which means you are always going about the same speed, but with wildly inconsistent effort. On a geared bike, you go all different speeds, but with consistent exertion. Singlespeed is definitely faster for these sorts of trails, since you aren't hunting around for all the gears and are led away from laziness on the short rises.

The bike manufacturers had me tricked for years. Never did I need a bike with all those gears.


It's a single speed

I made the choice to go singlespeed after an experiment at Addison Oaks trails. I rode the trails using all the gears and averaged 11.7 mph, then rode the trails using only one gear (34 x 16) and averaged 12.6 mph. Singlespeed is a totally different ride - you maintain speed and power over small hills, but can't pedal on downhills, so you end up with a more consistent speed, but an inconsistent effort.

The bike was a bare frame 4 days ago. A quick hunt around the garage turned up a bunch of spare parts, which became the bike you see here. Looks so clean.

Rule 1: Do no harm

The end of this week was an adventure in repairing and modifying my bike and car. The Volvo's master cylinder had been getting progressively worse (read: no brakes!) over the past few months, so I purchased a new one ($114) and installed it. Just had to deal with a few bolts, then bleed the brakes. Not too tough at all.

The car also needed a driver's side tie rod end. I was dismayed when I found out I needed special tools, but learned that AutoZone lets you rent tools for free! All you have to do is give them a deposit, and you get a full refund when you give them back. The tools worked, but I stripped the new tie rod end with an impact wrench when installing it.

The alignment of the drivers door needed attention too--a 14 mm wrench on the door hinges fixed the problem. Before and afters:

The car is driving much better now (although I can't hear any difference in the driver's door).

**UPDATE 6 July** Today I fixed the overdrive in my car. It was easy--the fuse was blown.