Driving smart

Posted on September 18th, 2009 by george.
Categories: automotive, coincidence, environment, friends, fun, society, technology, travel.

Five months ago I posted a photo on flickr of a SMART car.

SMART

I remember seeing these little jewels on a trip to Europe as a teen, where they left a lasting impression on a young American.  Would you look at that!  Cars don’t have to weigh two tons!  And these suckers can “parallel park” with their nose to the curb!  I posted this shot because I’m very excited that they finally made it to America.  I didn’t expect anything from the comments, but the first one, from my friend Atoosa, caught me off guard.

“My cousin Neda is a paramedic and she calls these ‘smartcoffins’ because she’s pulled so many dead people out of them. Basically she says in a collision, this is a little plastic deathpod.”

“That’s unfortunate. But understandable, considering how overweight American cars are. If everyone drove a SMART, I’m sure the story would be different,” I replied.  While the SMART car is perfect for the tiny streets and low speeds of European city driving, I now see what a frightening proposition it is to take these things out onto the highway to slice and dice with SUVs and pickups at 70mph.  I went on to post links to crash test videos of the little Mercedes/SWATCH “deathpod,” and an article on SMART safety, that indicates this city car wasn’t really intended for highway driving.  On the other hand, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety praises the car’s low-speed (40mph or so) crash safety in the official crash test video with commentary.  I finished my flickr comment by saying, “It’s much safer than a motorcycle,” to which Atoosa replied, “My dear G, ‘safer than a motorcycle’ is hardly a reassuring recommendation.”

Fast forward to present day.  I got an email from my brother-in-law (happy birthday, Dan!) about Volkswagen’s L1, a 170-mpg, tandem-seat-layout, carbon fiber monocoque concept that’s been around since 2002 and whose original prototype famously drove 100 kilometers on one liter of fuel.

L1

They’ve updated the design of the new prototype with a diesel engine and a more production-ready design, hence the buzz.  VDUB claims it will bring this beauty to market in 2013, but I told Dan I was skeptical.  I love VW; Lorenia and I just purchased a Jetta and a GTI.  But I admit I’d be surprised to see the L1 make it through to production.  If it does, though, I’d buy a 2013 model.  In 2018.  In the meantime, there’s the glorious Aptera…if it ever makes it out of California.

Aptera

And, if we’re lucky, the US will get the zippy new Fiat 500 in 2010 or 2011.

Abarth

I cracked up when in the comments on WIRED’s article about the L1, someone said, “Who’s going to be the first to comment on how the vehicle will fare in a collison with a semi?  Somebody always does.”

Indeed, Atoosa made the semi comment five months ago.  “And yes, they do pass all crash tests or they wouldn’t be allowed on the road, if they hit an SUV — or even worse, an 18 wheeler, the tiny car goes bouncing like a skipping stone. Remember the video with the concrete wall only demonstrates the effects of the momentum of the SMART car itself. What would the impulse transfer be like if it hit an 18 wheeler going 70 mph?”

And that brings us to the purpose of this entry, which is to post my little flickr manifesto from April.  I made the following reply.

“True. It’s not as reassuring as, say, a new Volvo. I’d just like to point out that even SUVs are no match for 18 wheelers, so that argument against SMARTs is moot. Knowing that a big truck would pulverize your Celica doesn’t stop you from driving it. These are the choices that the individual driver has to make when we’re forced into car ownership by the societal status quo of a sprawled America devoid of intelligent urban design or the individual will to pay for such design through taxes that contribute to hard-to-measure quality of life benefits.

Bike vs. car is an even worse proposition than SMART vs. SUV, but that doesn’t stop me from riding my bike. Long story short, European-style, high density cities powered by renewable energy and with centers that exclude motorized traffic and emphasize pedestrians and bicycles are the way forward. Ultimately, the safety of a car is relative, and for most people cost, fuel efficiency, performance, utility and looks are all more important, since fatal crashes are relatively rare (42,000 vehicular deaths per year in the US versus 300 million inhabitants, or 0.00014% — 14 in 100,000).

Furthermore, almost no one considers the cost to the earth in terms of the materials and energy that go into producing a new car, which is why most don’t recognize that the greenest cars on the road will always be the pre-owned models: their environmental production cost has already been paid. No matter how efficient a 100% electric Tesla is, it can’t match the alternative: not gathering the materials and energy to build a new Tesla, and continuing to repair and drive what you have. Or better yet: selling your car and purchasing the nicest bike money can buy.

Fatal accidents in which you as the driver have no fault are exceedingly rare, on the order of acts of God. The majority of accidents can be avoided by paying closer attention to the task of driving and using defensive driving techniques, especially leaving enough distance between yourself and the car ahead. The unavoidable accidents, rare as they are, are not going to convince me to drive an SUV instead of a SMART, especially when the smaller, lighter car is more nimble and thus better at avoiding an accident. I’d rather die while trying to minimize my carbon footprint than survive crashes to burn another dinosaur another day. We can’t avoid it when it’s our time to go. What matters is how we treat others and our global life support system until we do.

Atoosa replied, “Very well put, my friend. That was like a blogpost unto itself. We keep fixing up our old Toyotas and riding our bikes when we can, but hopefully we won’t be pulverized, but will live to see the day when society around the world is built to minimize the human footprint on our planet.”

How strange, then, that both my 1992 Toyota Camry and her mid-nineties Toyota Celica would die last month.  After an extensive search and over twenty test drives, Atoosa finally purchased a Hyundai Genesis Coupe.  Notwithstanding the repair nightmares of being an early adopter, I’m very excited about her car.  But I’m equally excited that after my own protracted search for four-cylinder standard-shift cars, I found the fastest car I’ve ever owned:  a 2003 VW GTI 1.8T.

GTI

That’s right, GDUB has a VDUB.  One that goes to 70 in second gear and still gets 30mpg, thanks to the turbo.  Not as flashy as the L1, and I’m working on a few repairs to problems the dealer failed to mention, but I’m thrilled.  Living in a “city” where cyclists have glass bottles thrown at them and working at a job whose security gate is six miles from the office and bans bikes during rush hour may force me into car ownership, but if I must drive, at least I can have a car that’s responsible, affordable and faster than a scalded dog.

14 comments.

Walking on the moon

Posted on August 18th, 2009 by george.
Categories: film, future, history, photography, space, technology, youtube.

via WIRED

Ever watch those old videos and wonder why the Apollo astronauts developed a loping gait when walking on the moon?  Turns out the spacesuit, being inflated like a balloon, helped support its own 220-pound weight.  The internal pressure also made it difficult to bend the joints of the suit.  When the knee did bend, however, it would spring back, providing an extra pep in each step.  This combined with the low lunar gravity meant that the transition speed (the point where humans break into a run from walking) for a suited Apollo astronaut was much lower on the moon.  Hence the moonwalkers skipped, bounced and loped across the lunar surface at speeds where we earth-bound humans would simply stride.  With any luck this discovery will be brought to bear on the design of Martian spacesuits.

BONUS:  I just realized the music video for the Police’s Walking on the Moon was shot on location here at the Kennedy Space Center, back when the unused Saturn V rocket was on display outside the VAB, rusting away until it was restored and placed in a dedicated museum down the road.

2 comments.

A new sound

Posted on August 11th, 2009 by george.
Categories: Uncategorized.

1 comment.

Boy with a Coincidence

Posted on June 19th, 2009 by george.
Categories: coincidence, epiphany, friends, life, music, numbers, poetry, serendipity.

This morning my hands were so full that I left In Rainbows on the kitchen counter by accident.  I had to choose a CD on the commute, so I picked one from my case that’s been neglected for weeks:  The Shepherd’s Dog, by Iron & Wine.  At work I got a tweet from Sholeh.  She hadn’t tweeted in over a month. It read, “One year since I came back from Haifa: http://sholeh.calmstorm.net.”  I hadn’t been to her blog in months.  I read her prose and poetry and realized I hadn’t written in just as long.  I was inspired, so I wrote this:

deep in diodes
the world at a stop
my lifeblood pulsed
the same shade
as the light
cast off by electrons
funneling down the rabbit hole
at the moment
providence beamed upon my crown
a glimpse
of the essence of red

now drinking daily
from the only watering hole
the ripples calm
to reveal a change in stripe

is this some new animal
some tender new shoot
or the same heart
sheathed in endless years?

what use is fluttering
madly
in a cage designed
not to confine
but instruct?

wings newly wed

will spread
soon enough

for now they flutter
bear
and endure

for ultimate reunion awaits

more powerful than any
in this life

At the exact moment I finished writing, I got a text from Lorenia reading, “New blog post!”  I clicked through the link to fresita.org on Sholeh’s blog, read all about psycho kitty (qu’est-ce que c’est?), and promptly posted a comment.  The second it posted, I saw that Sholeh had commented at the exact same time, down to the minute.

Ok.  So great coincidence, right?  Just wait, the braid draws tighter.  I was lost in thought on the drive home, Sam Beam

cooing my worries to sleep, when I realized I had just heard The Lovesong of the Buzzard, the song whose meter inspired my last good poem, Alhambra, written about Lorenia.  Down the road, I glanced up at the glowing, green traffic light passing overhead, right at the moment Sam sang, “Like stubborn boys with big green eyes.”  In fact, I saw it precisely as he said, “green.”  It struck me that in the poem I’d just written, I referred to sitting at a red light, staring at the LEDs.  Now the light was green, a symbol of hope, and I was moving forward.  The song ended, and the very next track was “Boy With a Coin,” which Sholeh had first clued me in to on 07-11-07, while she was in Haifa, the place she wrote about today.  Coincidentally, we had one opportunity to launch of STS-127 this week, but a faulty GUCP valve scrubbed it until 07-11-09, exactly two years later.  Furthermore, on the poem Alhambra, Sholeh’s comment was, “makes me think of sunsets, for some reason. lovely.”  The poem she wrote that inspired me today?  It’s entitled, “sunsets always make me miss everyone.”

In searching for where she mentioned that song, I entered “coin” on sliding thoughts and came up with exactly two entries…both about coincidences.  In searching on LJ for the same, I found a fitting end to this post.

into my heart’s treasury
i slipped a coin
that time cannot take
nor a thief purloin, –

oh better than the minting
of a gold-crowned king
is the safe-kept memory
of a lovely thing.

-Sarah Teasdale

5 comments.

Constellation

Posted on May 1st, 2009 by george.
Categories: life, mathematics, space, technology, travel, video, youtube.

Just in case you were wondering where I’ve disappeared to lately, here’s a quick recap:

I spend half my time in Florida testing, fixing, and launching shuttles, and the other half in Houston helping to design the GNC systems for the new Orion vehicle.

It’s a sweet gig.  I ain’t complainin’.

This new MacBook Pro ain’t too shabby either.

All bragging aside, I checked my voicemail today and had 20 messages.  In my defense, they aren’t showing up in my inbox.  I need to give Verizon a call and have that fixed.  My gmail inbox is below 100 unread messages, and that’s good.  I get around 40 work emails a day, so when I fall behind, it’s bad.  If I haven’t gotten back to you, I apologize.  Life’s going to be busy for at least the next couple of years.

4 comments.

Fresh fruit

Posted on April 17th, 2009 by george.
Categories: friends, fun, life, love.

Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to your new favorite blog, fresita.org!

Stop on over and say hi to Lorenia.  Maybe take a housewarming gift.  Or a pie.

6 comments.

Current

Posted on April 7th, 2009 by george.
Categories: dreams, poetry.

some days
dreams feel close at hand
lucid
lashes flecked with sand

starlight
the veil worn thin and soft
threadbare
betwixt the flame and moth

bending
a single tender blade
union
an endless windswept glade

3 comments.

Another accident

Posted on March 15th, 2009 by george.
Categories: death, life, prayer.

Kayaking today was a bust.  We woke up early to have brekkie before the sun rose (this is the month of fasting for Baha’is), but then we went back to sleep.  By the time Lorenia and I got out of bed at 11am to find her sister Marianna already awake, the prospect of driving to Tampa to spend $225 for a half day at Busch Gardens had lost its appeal.  We settled on kayaking, in spite of Lorenia’s sunburn and allergy to mosquitoes (kudos to her bravery in that regard).  Rather than drive an hour to Orlando for kayaking in Wekiva Springs, we called a local place and decided to paddle through the mangrove swamp.  Unfortunately, upon arrival the owner informed us that he had rented his seven kayaks to a large group before we could get there.  Unfazed, we regrouped at Starbucks (for Marianna, obviously, it is the Fast) and revised our plan of attack.  We settled on putt-putt golf.

On the way to Starbucks we drove through the intersection where, three and a half years ago, I witnessed a fatal motorcycle accident.  I thought about it as we passed, as I do every time I drive through that intersection, but chose not to voice the memory to my passengers.  After Starbucks we got back in the car to drive about five blocks north to the miniature golf course.  Spring Break traffic was poking along at about 35mph, moving in pulses through the redlights.  We passed a motorcyclist tailgating an economy car in the left lane.  He was wearing a black helmet, but no shirt.

“I’m glad he’s wearing a helmet, but if he gets into an accident, his chest, arms, shoulders and all the skin on his torso are gone,” I said aloud.  I was thinking of a skidding accident, though, not a collision.

At that moment, someone about six cars ahead in his lane slowed to make a left turn.  I could see the traffic braking in his lane.  My lane was clear, but his was quickly coming to a complete stop.  I watched him in my rearview mirror, trying to inform him telepathically.  I lost sight of him behind the traffic in his lane.  Suddenly I heard his engine rev to the redline.  Was he being impatient?  A split second later, a sickening, crunching thud.  No tire screech.  Just 35 to zero in an instant.

I lifted my foot from the accelerator, unsure of what to do.  I remember thinking, “If I were I doctor, I would be required by law to stop.”  As distance grew between us and the accident, I saw the driver of the economy car get out and walk to the rear of his car to see what the heck had just transpired.  I considered calling 911, but most times I phone in accidents they tell me I’m the fifth caller.  Within a few seconds we made our turn into “Fantasy Adventure Golf.”  I sat in the car for a few minutes while Lorenia patiently talked me through it.

Looking back, it’s quite possible that his engine revved by accident as he panicked when reaching for the brake and hit the throttle instead.  At the time, however, it sure seemed as though he was using it to voice his impatience.  And it certainly isn’t intelligent to follow a car with only five feet between you and the bumper.  As Lorenia pointed out, physics always wins.

Still, he was wearing a helmet.  Shirt or no, I don’t wish accident or injury on anyone.  We all make our own choices when faced with this reality.  Were we callous to keep going?  Not really.  The world cannot afford to stop for every human death.  That is, assuming he died, which is a very good possibility.  We humans die at a rate of more than one per second.  We’re born even faster.  Life, for better or worse, always moves on.  Your circle of influence affects the size of the ripple through the fabric of society that your absence leaves, but in the scheme of the universe, we don’t register.  Thankfully for my sanity, I believe in an omnipotent and benevolent Creator, or else this line of reasoning might drive me to suicide.  I said two prayers for him:  a healing prayer in case he survived and is in a hospital as I type, and a prayer for the departed in case his soul has moved on to the next world.

You might find it interesting to go back and read my account of the last time I witnessed a motorcycle accident in Cocoa Beach, contrasting it with this one, given the knowledge that when I wrote the 2005 entry I was not a Baha’i and could not bring myself to believe in God.  I figure now that if I’ve seen two of these wrecks in five years, it must happen all the time.  Just like people dying.  And life always goes on, just like it did for us.

We played eighteen holes.

6 comments.

This will make your day

Posted on March 12th, 2009 by george.
Categories: dreams, film, humor, life, love, music, video, youtube.

Discovered via Devon’s entry on soulpancake.  More on Oren Lavie here.  Funny that among his predecessors is Leonard Cohen.

1 comment.

Oprah interviews Dwight

Posted on March 10th, 2009 by george.
Categories: enlightenment, life, prayer, society, video.

I am getting chills…chills…listening to Oprah’s interview of Rainn Wilson, better known as Dwight Schrute on the Office.  To hear Oprah, vanguard of American opinion, the billionaire African American woman with a direct line into living rooms across the country, mention the Baha’i House of Worship in Chicago in reverent tones sent a shiver down my spine.  Do yourself a favor and tune in to this funny, enlightening, and uplifting interview about acting, Chicago, the Baha’i Faith, art as prayer, service to humanity as our highest calling, and the meaning of soul pancake.

4 comments.