Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Perseverance (Or-Getting Over the Fear of Looking Stupid and Having "Them" Laugh)

There's an insightful story those hard-working Toyodans in the San Francisco Chronicle ("Behind Toyota's Hybrid Revolution") . Robert Collier examines the woes (and later successes) of the first generation Prius' development. Engineers working two twelve-hour shifts, over weekends, missing vacations to build a more efficient car in a climate of cheap $15/barrel oil must have seemd ridiculous at the time, but it's looking like that dedication paid off.

Of course, they couldn't stop there-Toyota is not a company to rest on its laurels in the face of adverse situations, high gasoline prices being one them. Plans are seemingly in the works for the third generation of their wildly popular Prius hybrid, one that gets even greater mileage and has the potential to be plugged into an electrical outlet. Why would you do this? To extend the range of course, with the ability to drive in an all-electric mode in the city or stop-and-go Beltway traffic. And there's more....

From Green Car Congress:

"According to The Guardian, [Shinichi] Abe, who heads Toyota’s hybrid development program, further commented that future Toyota hybrids will be able to operate as mobile generators, and that the company is interested in the addition of electrical charging outlets to traditional gas stations as a step towards a petroleum-free future."

I'll delve more into the benefits of plugging-in tomorrow, but check out this quick primer first. Maybe, at some point in the near future folks will understand why this self-proclaimed car guy has outgrown a mildly juvenile preoccupation with the throaty rumble of a domestic V-8. These days, I'm more in lust with the quietish, almost demonic wail of a Jetsons-like high-performance electric speedster. You know, something on the order of 0-60mph in 3 seconds. Something like the Wrightspeed X1....

But we must not forget that little issue of perseverence. It takes bold leadership, personal devotion, and uncommon faith in one's convictions to jump out there and go shooting blindly in the dark. The rewards come when your intiution was right. Or maybe you just learned something really cool along the way. The cliched lesson is, you never know 'til you try.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Why's Gasoline So Expensive?

I've thought long and hard about why fuel is getting so expensive, trying to find a way that comforts folks while informing them of the real story. Like anything in life, of course there are many reasons. Everyone's upset at Exxon-Mobil, or Bush, or the government in general, or speculators...anyone but themselves. Without going into too much detail myself, I'll let someone else tell you.

There's a really good new blog by a guy named Robert Rapier writing for R-Squared. Check him out, he knows his stuff. He's got a recent posting called "Another Uniformed Consumer Watchdog" that I think delves into the issues in a way anyone could understand. You still might be upset but hey, it is what it is.

Another blog I read regularly (and have mentioned before) is The Ergosphere. Coincidentally, Mr. Rapier references it, and "Engineer-Poet" references The Ergosphere. There's a nice piece entitled "Conservation Is Not the Whole of Security" that I think you'll appreciate.

Thus, great minds do appear to think alike. Thanks gentlemen, you're doing a valuable service to us all.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Happy Earth Day

Today's Google logo says it all. I didn't think anyone else really noticed, but the good folks at Inhabitat did, and they have a nice little writeup that sums up my feelings on the image.

Last night DB and I were driving from one of DC's better neighborhood bars (Rendezvous on 18th St. in Adam's Morgan) and of course the topic of gas prices came up. I'd remarked that on Fox News the night before, Bill O'reilly actually agreed with the environmentalists, in that "maybe they were right [regarding alternative fuels]" and that the USA should have started on it sooner. He's calling for a reduction in consumption. This, on Fox News? I was awestruck. As most might know, I'm in favor of price increases for the simple fact that it is probably the only thing that'll reduce consumption and get Americans thinking about real solutions to real problems. Maybe fuel taxes could be levied and income taxes reduced? As I don't own a car and carpool (just got me a ZipCar card yesterday too, along with the free t-shirt), the prices aren't affecting me too much. For whatever reason a couple of years ago, I figured I'd hedge against price volatility by moving to a mass-transit oriented area with shopping nearby. Work is less than 5 miles away, groceries a couple of blocks. I realize everyone can't do this but it begs the question "How does one orient their lifestyle as to make it convenient yet affordable?" The growing trend in going old-school, that is the development of dense live/work/shop areas is helping to fuel the growth and renaissance of smarter cities.

Regardless, when a financially successful company such as Google recognizes the inherent value in solving global problems through say, the use of renewable energy, well you can figure out the rest. At the heart of the issue is this; deep down, the world's tech innovators are problem solvers. Many might not care a lick about the newest laptop processor or thin film photovoltaic technology or hybrid lithium ion batteries. What they do care about is a. making money and/or b. improving human lives. To do either, we have to tackle a range of intractable problems facing humanity, and indeed the entire planet. Those that solve these problems well will probably get very rich, not to mention become heroes of the global populace. When wealthy folks from Bill Gates to Richard Branson to George W. Bush (Crawford Ranch and the White House) decide renewables are for them, it'd do us regular people some good to take note. Thanks trendsetters. The rest of us will get on board soon. Maybe. Hopefully.