Enter your email address to receive notifications when there are new posts
Powered by BLOG ALERT
You will get emails when I post a new blog. You will not get them for any other reason. I post on average 4 times a month. Each email will have a link to unsubscribe. You will not get any spam from me or Blog-Alert.

You have 993828 hits.

Latest Comments
Recent Entries

Blogs I follow:
The Briefing Room (White House)
The Future is Fiction
East Bay Bicycle Coalition
The Quiet Extrovert
Electrons and More!
Crystal Math
Green Eggs & Ham
Ghost Town Farm
30 is the new 13
The Gubbins Experiment
$0 Web Hosting
User Profile
Oakland, CA

Posted By Bakari

As you may have heard, an oil rig has exploded off the Southern Coast of the US, causing a spill almost certain to be the worst in human history, with a potentially devastating impact on the local environment and everything that lives in it (which would be everyone that is alive).

In the news, and in political emails, and among people's conversations, there is talk about what BP did wrong, how they might have prevented it, whether the government response was quick enough, how consumers should react....

But the truth; which almost no one wants to admit is:

This is OUR fault.
If you drive a car, ever, for any reason, you are personally responsible for the spill.

If you don't own a car, but sometimes you borrow one, or get a ride with a friend, or take the bus, or take a long-distance train, if you fly or travel by ship, that oil was being drilled for you.
If you are a hard-core oil abstainer, never travel long distances, do all short trips by bicycle, nearly everything you buy, food, clothes, books, paper, your bicycle, the computer you are reading this on right now, was both produced and transported with the help of oil.

We don't get to blame oil corporations, or government, or BP executives, and the capitalist economy.  It is US.  All of us. 
Instead of writing angry letters or boycotting a particular company, how about taking this opportunity to use a little less oil yourself.  However much that is, make at least a little change, and use a little less.

Buy something used which you would normally have bought new.
Ride public transit, a bicycle, or walk, when you don't have that far to go.
When you do drive, drive a little slower.
And stop accelerating toward red lights - it won't get you where you are going any faster anyway.

Posted By Bakari

Occasionally I end up driving other people's cars.

Invariably, I have to adjust the mirrors.
I often question why they were set the way they were, and the answer is usually some variant of "I like it that way".
I realized that probably a whole lot of people probably see it that way.

Setting mirrors is not a matter of personal preference.
There is an absolute right and wrong way to do it.

Before you accuse me of being a mirror nazi, consider that car accidents kill more Americans under 50 than disease and murder combined; 100 every single day.

As someone who rides a bike, skates, rides a motorcycle,  has driven large commercial trucks with large commercial size blindspots, and nearly been run over inside other peoples blindspots, I say again, with emphasis, setting the mirrors on your car is not a subjective exercise.
Doing it wrong can literally mean the difference between life and death.

I have heard on more than one occasion "I don't want to look at the ground."

Actually, the ground is EXACTLY what you want to be able to see.
Cars are on the ground. Bikes, and small children whose heads are no higher than the bottom of the window, and the balls they roll out into the street, all on the ground. When you parallel park, the curb is on the ground.
Even the largest truck has its tires on the ground, so if you can see the ground, you can see the truck.
The chances that you need to be aware of a very low flying airplane, or perhaps a hovercraft coming up behind you as you drive are very close to zero.

Many people set their mirrors so that the horizon is in the exact center of the mirror. This means an entire half of the mirrors area is wasted with sky.
That half of the mirror being wasted means an unnecessary blind spot.
If the horizon were instead at the very top of the mirror, you could still see all the way down the road behind you, and in addition you could see anything right beside you down lower than the window level as well.

The second mistake is setting the side mirrors so that a substantial amount of what you see is your own car. But just like you don't need to worry about the sky when you merge, the chances your rear fender is going to hit you is pretty darn low.

One reason people do this is because at that angle you can use the side mirror to see directly behind. That's what the rear-view mirror attached to the windshield is for.

The other reason is to have a reference point to help determine where what you see in the mirror is in relation to your car.
Of course, with a little time and practice anyone will get used to the new position. And everyone should really know exactly where the edges of their car are anyway (I sure wish the DMV mandated cone tests for everyone). And you can always just move your head a little bit and see the car in the mirror.
But if you really feel you need to see the car you are driving as a reference point, just leave the tiniest sliver of the back of the trunk visible, so you get maximum mirror area for seeing whats out there moving about and potentially colliding with you.

While its still important to double-check by actually turning one's head, with the mirrors set properly it is in fact a double-check, and not a first check of blind spots. Because there are no blind-spots.
Set up properly, you can make it so there is virtually no blind spot at all. So that if a little person were hiding right alongside the door, you'd know it without even having to turn your head. So that a passing car is visible at all times, first in the rear view, then in the sideview, and finally through the window, without any gap along the way.

It will feel a little odd at first. Give it a chance. And when you don't die in a fiery and gory wreck, come back and thank me.

Posted By Bakari

I have been requested to post something positive.

While I am generally good at pointing out problems and at complaining, I don't generally offer much by way of solutions.
This time I have a very concrete solution, which is within easy reach of ordinary Americans, with no risk, no cost, and a negligible amount of inconvenience.
It is something you, the reader, can do.

But first, a short history lesson:
In October of 1973 a group of nations got sick of the US foreign policy of military intervention, and, knowing we had developed a lifestyle totally dependent on oil, they agreed not to sell us any.
This caused massive and immediate effects throughout the US economy. Buying fuel, at any price, meant waiting in long lines - on those days you were even allowed to buy gas at all (hmm, so maybe Soviet era lines for goods were not caused by the distribution system of communism, but by a plain lack of resources...)

The government took steps to encourage conservation, which (unlike sourcing new oil) could be done immediately, such as banning Christmas lights.

Another major step they took was to enact a national speed limit of 55mph.

The reason for this is that at higher speeds air resistance increases exponentially* relative to speed. Going twice as fast requires 4 times the energy. This is as true of modern vehicles as it was in 1973. All vehicles, small or large, gas or alternative fuel, use more energy at speeds above 60mph. In fact, going from 55 to 70mph typically uses between 20% and 25% more fuel to go the same distance.**

Next, a physics lesson:
Similar to the relationship between wind resistance and speed, momentum varies with the square of speed.
This means that if you are going twice as fast, it will take 4 times as much force to stop - and 4 times the braking distance in an emergency.
It also means that if you do end up in a crash, at twice the speed you will have 4 times the impact. At 4 times the impact, crumple zones and airbags can't stop your organs from hitting your ribs hard enough to explode.

Most people actually believe they are safe when they are driving a car.
The number one cause of death of youth in the US in car crashes. It causes more deaths among young people than murder, suicide, cancer, and heart disease combined. It is the number one cause of death up until age 40, at which point it is still in the top 3.
We don't hear about it much in the news precisely because it is so common. There are roughly 16,500 accidents significant enough to be reported in the U.S. EVERY DAY. Of these, roughly 1/3 result in permanent injuries. Every 12 minutes, an American dies in a car crash. Every time you get into a car, you may die.

The number one factor in causing all of these deaths and injuries? It isn't alcohol. It isn't teen drivers or cell phones. Its speeding. Speeding is the single largest factor in injury and fatality collisions. Contrary to popular belief, driving slower is safer even when other cars around you are speeding.****

Note a couple studies on the issue:
"risk of involvement in a casualty crash, relative to the risk for a car traveling at 60 km/h, increased at an exponential rate for free traveling speeds above 60 km/h [37mph]"**

“... summarized in a general rule of thumb: When travel speed increases by 1%, the injury crash rate increases by about 2%, the serious injury crash rate increases by about 3%, and the fatal crash rate increases by about 4% ”**

(continued here, due to character limit)

Posted By Bakari

My friend/co-worker, upon hearing about my truck project, encouraged me (repeatedly) to do a write up for the do-it-yourself website
As it happened, I was working on consolidating my blog posts on the topic for the hypermiling websites from which I had originally gotten most of the ideas I've been implementing.
So I followed the link he sent, signed up, and reformatted the posts to be appropriate for the popular how-to site.

The site was new to me, so it took basically all day figuring out the features and making changes to the content and pictures and tweaking various things.  Comments started coming in, and I responded to the comments, and then a site administrator must have seen it and liked it because before the first day was over I was promoted to a "featured" item, which meant my post was put on the site's homepage.

And the views took off.  By day two there had been over 4000 views, and it was moved to the "popular" section of the homepage.
Right now (3 and half days since I published) its up to 6415 views and over 50 comments.
One of which was: "I think I might play the aero game on my car now!"

That's the best compliment I could get. If I encourage just one person to drive a little slower, or even do some mods, writing all this up will have all been worth the effort.

It's one thing writing on my own blog, or on a hypermiling website, but introducing these ideas to the general population, that is gratifying.

Posted By Bakari

I've been driving around 50-55 on the freeway for the past few months, managed to get my '83 diesel f-250 work truck from and average of 15mpg, up to 19.5mpg (this is with various loads of furniture, boxes, dirt, appliances, etc in the back)

Last night on my way home, going 50mph, some cars merged very slow, and instead of accelerating to pass them, I slowed even more to let them in, but they were going SO slow I just moved to the left instead.

As I accelerated gently back up to speed I noticed a cop behind me, and just as I put on my signal to move back to the right, he moved to the right without signaling.
So I stayed where I was, and waited for him to pass on the right, still not having accelerated up to speed yet.

After a couple seconds, instead of passing, he pulled back in behind me.

And lit up the red and blues.

After answering a bunch of questions (last thing I ate was ice cream, 2 strawberries, and 2 almond cookies, I am not under the care of a doctor or dentist) I did a balance test, and when I passed that, took my first ever breathalyzer.

In an area where everyone goes 75, why would anyone drive slow unless they were drunk?

I told him I drive slow in order to save gas (and I was going particularly slow while I waited for him to pass - I didn't point out that he hadn't used his turn signal).
He said that I was going 20 under the limit.
I wasn't sure how pointing out that the "limit" was a MAXIMUM limit, not a minimum, would be taken, so I was just mostly quiet and agreeable.

No ticket. 
I actually found the whole ordeal rather amusing, but I hope this doesn't become a pattern.

Posted By Bakari

I'll write something of my own soon, promise.
Until then, here are two articles, with some steps you can take in your own daily life which will ultimately benefit everyone (not to mention your wallet and health!)

Because every time you buy gas, the terrorists win:

"Wayne's driving obsession began after 9/11. Before then, he drove "75 miles per hour in the left-hand lane," but in the wake of the attacks he vowed to minimize his personal consumption of Mideast oil. As he sees it, Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda received their operating funds from all the U.S. consumers who bought Saudi oil... There was a direct relationship between our addiction to oil and the World Trade Center coming down."

Less consumption of Mideast oil would also make our economy less susceptible to spikes in the price of opec oil, which have triggered U.S. recessions. More than half the gas we pour into our vehicles in America is imported, and we send more than $4 billion a week abroad to buy oil. If we all got a 25 percent improvement in fuel economy (far less than the 50 percent improvement that Wayne and his hypermilers routinely get), we could reduce by half the oil we import from the Mideast for our cars. And then there's global warming. "I'm not just doing this for myself," Wayne told me before we met. "I'm doing this for my country and the world."


"guys in Priuses were bragging about 44 mpg, and I was doing better in a Corolla."

... As he drove, he began to see how little things—slight movements of his foot, accelerations up hills, even a cold day—influenced his fuel efficiency. He learned to wring as many as 638 miles from a single 19-gallon tank in the [Acura] mdx [SUV]; he rarely gets less than 30 mpg when he drives it. "Most people get 18 in them," he says."

(Summary: You don't need a hybrid. Just slow down.)

But wait, there's more:

Our collective diet uses as much energy as our driving. Eating vegetarian, local, and organic, isn't just about health or the poor little animals. Its also about our environment and energy independence. Eating low on the food chain needs to be a priority for everyone.
Excerpted from:

"Since America is responsible for 22 percent of annual emissions, I suggest we set a target of shrinking our personal carbon footprint by 22 percent, or 9,606 pounds...

So what would a 22 percent diet look like? Step Two is all about losing weight.

Seriously. Body fat. My personal flab is not just a private matter between me and my coronary arteries. Nineteen percent of US energy usage—about as much as is used to fuel our cars—is spent growing and delivering food to the average American who consumes 2,200 pounds of food a year. That's a whopping 3,747 calories a day—or 1,200 to 1,700 more than needed for personal or planetary health. The skinny truth is that as much as 7.6 percent of total energy in the United States today is used to grow human fat, fat that translates to 3,300 pounds of carbon per person.

For starters, half of our food energy use comes from producing and delivering meat and dairy. If we gave up just meat, we could maintain that hefty 3,747-calorie intake but consume 33 percent less in fossil fuels doing it."

(Entire Blog at MySpace)

Posted By Bakari

I just got cut off by someone with a Jesus "fish" on their SUV on the freeway.
I believe Jesus would use His turn signals.

For that matter, I doubt He would be driving a large SUV in an urban area, with just Himself in a 7 passenger vehicle

Posted By Bakari

I had thought, just from driving around, that it was almost half.  Turns out it is actually more than.  Around 57%
That means the chances are good that you, reading this, don't signal.

I honestly can not understand it.

The reasons given literally make no sense.  It takes virtually no effort.  Less than changing the channel with a remote (your hand doesn't move as far, and there are only two choices instead of about 20) and far less than the rest of driving.  It doesn't force you to drive any slower, or to take any additional driving time.

Your hand is already right there on the wheel.  It takes about a second of time, and moving one's hand about 3 inches.

If its just a lane change, not a turn, holding it down (or up) halfway prevents it locking in place so you don't have to remember to shut it off.  All cars have that feature, for at least several decades (The "Happy" Van, my first car which was built in 1968 had it)

Not only is it a simple courtesy to other drivers, it can also prevent accidents.
Having driven both large commercial trucks, and tiny motorcycles, and having been both the victim and cause of accidents, I am quite aware that, no matter how much you are paying attention, there will be times when you miss someone.
If you signal, it gives them a few seconds more time to either get out of your way, or honk to alert you of their presence.
I mentioned this to a friend of mine recently who pointed out that some drivers will speed up when they see your signal, to prevent you from getting ahead of them.
True enough, but personally I find not injuring or killing someone to be more important than getting an extra car length ahead.  That extra car length is likely, at most, to equal a few seconds difference in how quickly you get to your destination.


Plus, of course, it is just respectful to those around you, who could plan their own route more efficiently if they knew what you were planning to do.  For example, if you are on a four lane street, and the person in front of you turns on the left signal, it gives you time to change lanes so that you do not have to stop and wait behind them as they wait for an opening.

Wouldn't you appreciate that?  So why wouldn't you extend the same courtesy to others?


I suspect the general obnoxiousness of society is tied more than casually with the significant expansion of commercialism in recent years.  (For example, naming public stadiums after a company is an entirely new phenomenon.  We are moving more than ever towards the idea that profit is the only sane reason to do anything - but perhaps I will get into all that later)


I saw recently a motorcyclist who changed lanes every few seconds, cutting directly in front of other vehicles, of course never signaling.  Of course, if the traffic suddenly slowed, as happens without warning fairly often, he would have had no way to avoid being rear-ended.  I sort of hoped I could see this happen.  Unfortunately not this time.  At least in this case he was primarily just endangering himself.
I've also been seeing CHP cars not bothering to signal.  Since their primary job is enforcing traffic laws, it implies that as a society we have decided that if enough people break the law we should just ignore it.  Sort of like with all traffic laws in NYC.