Archive for May, 2009

Going down the drain.


The way that we live, the processes that make our lives possible, the nature of the work that we do, how we school our children, all of these in the midst of upheaval.  We have discovered that we are using energy in ways that are foolish and unsustainable.  The very fabric of our society is being changed by forces far removed from our homes.

In order to keep things affordable in times of inflation, quality has been sacrificed over and over again.  Many homes today will not last as long as the mortgage taken out to have them built.  Cars have become complex machines which are usually wrecks by the time that they are paid for.  Easy credit has been the sole reason for the economic growth of the last decade or longer,  and easy credit has come to an end.  Wealth measured in numbers in computers is still disappering rapidly, while bridges and schools are still there.

Underground houses, high speed rail systems, education tailored to the individual, given to the individual at that person’s pace.  The ending of using drinking water to flush toilets with, the end of giant sewage treatment plants, the end of driving everywhere, the end of flying everywhere, the end of supertankers, the end of newspapers.

We have managed to avoid drastic change for so long that we have lost all control over change, and now we are likely to change drastically, chaotically.  Our culture, our very dietary habits, were altered profoundly by the Industrial Revolution.  Now we are dealing with the fallout of sacrificing the family to the factory.  In a culture where the term ‘murder-suicide’ has become common usage, we have to hope for some kind of change.


The new automobile industry


As General Motors prepares to enter bankruptcy court, autoworkers across the country are waiting to see if their jobs will evaporate.  What many don’t realize is that building cars will probably be very different in the future.  In order to make cars as light as possible, composite carbon materials will probably be used.  Lighter and stronger than steel, composites are now used in building aircraft.  The Volvo Open 70 sailboats used in the Volvo Ocean Race are built entirely of carbon, making them about the most high-tech sailboats in the world.

Not only is steel likely to be phased out in automobile construction, but the kinds of motors used is going to change.  Electric motors are already in use in hybrid cars, and other electric cars are on the drawing boards.  Measured in terms of electicity, todays cars consume about one kilowatt for every horsepower.  Which means driving your car for an hour consumes somewhere on the order of 150 to 200 kilowatt hours.  Burning ten 100 watt light bulbs for an hour consumes 1 kilowatt, so you would have to have 2,000 100 watt light bulbs burning to consume the same amount of electricity as driving a car does.

So autoworkers will have to be electricians, able to understand wiring diagrams, batteries, capacitors, generators, and electric motors.  Sheet metal workers will become composites fabricators. Foundry workers will have to be retrained to work with aluminum, which will take the place of steel whenever possible.  Frames will be made of composites, and even engines might be made with composites, using steel sleeves in the cylinders.

All of this will be to reduce the weight of the vehicle dramatically.  The less the vehicle weighs, the less power it takes to move it.  To be able to drive long distances or at high speeds, weights will have to come down to around 2,000 to 2,500 pounds from the 4,000 to 6,000 pounds many vehicles weigh today.  Reducing weight wherever possible will be the priority, as luxury gives way to utility.  Our image of the automobile as a mobile living room, with various sources of entertainment is likely to change to that of a austere box on wheels to get from one place to another.

Whether the automobile industry will be able to cope with these changes remains to be seen, and new companies may end up replacing the giants we know today.  Willingness to change is not one of the qualities one associates with the Big Three of Detroit.

Beware of the Sun!


We are entering the season when people spend a lot of time outdoors, often dressed very lightly.  What many people don’t know is that we are also entering a season where the ultraviolet index can be very high, which means that someone can get burned very badly in short span of time.  Go to

to see a national map of UV levels.  You can also sign up there to receive email alerts when the UV index is forecasted to be high in your area.

This is very important to me, because a friend of mine who worked outdoors all the time died of melanoma, skin cancer, a few years ago.  It is impossible to say that exposure to the Sun was the reason, but I remember seeing him after a full day of work with boils half an inch high on his arms.  I warned him that he was putting himself at risk of getting skin cancer by burning himself so badly over and over, and that he should wear protective clothing, but he paid me no mind.

Although it seems counterintuitive, wearing long sleeved shirts, long pants, and a wide brimmed hat can actually keep one cooler than dressing down to skin.  Light colors reflect the eneregy of the Sun, wheras dark colors absorb that energy.  The cooling effect is more pronounced if the clothing is loose fitting.

Although tanning helps to prevent burning, tanning ages the skin, resulting in wrinkles and  dry skin.  Wearing sun screen is essential when swimming, unless you happen to own an 1890’s swim outfit.  The higher in elevation you are, the more UV you receive.

Protect yourself.  Because the Sun can kill you.